Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Random Act of Evil

When I was about seven years old, I watched an old black-and-white movie called The Bad Seed. It is about a pretty little girl, Rhoda, who is a sociopath. She can be as sweet and smooth as honey but turns into a cold-blooded killer if she doesn’t get what she wants. She kills a classmate who wins the penmanship award that Rhoda wants and kills the gardener because he discovers Rhoda’s secret.

I thought about this movie for years after seeing it. It’s the first time I remember thinking that true evil can exist, no matter the age of the person, and it can be anywhere, even living next door.

Many years have passed since I watched a scary movie or read a horror novel. I’ve seen and heard of more than enough real-life acts of violence, and like most people, I wonder why some people are evil and some aren’t. Can a person be a bad seed? Is it the nature/nurture thing? How can someone not have a sense of right and wrong or not feel guilt and remorse?

A few years ago, I taught a young man who was on a fast-track to prison. I knew it when he was in the ninth grade. He wasn’t like the kid who is naughty in school but has some redeeming qualities. This boy was cruel to classmates, disrespectful to teachers and cheated on everything. His home life wasn’t great – parents divorced, overindulgent dad, absent mom, raised by elderly grandparents – but his life was typical of many others. At age 16, this young man was expelled from school for drugs. When he was 18, he committed a felony and served five years in prison. He was out of prison for only a few months when, during a planned robbery, he brutally murdered two young men and their dog.

What makes a person like my former student commit such evil acts? Sometimes villains commit terrible deeds because of mental illness or acts of passion. Addiction also causes people to become totally opposite of the person he/she once was. But are we just giving evil a way out, an excuse that it’s ok for this person to display violent behavior because he is schizophrenic, on drugs or angry?

Does the evil-doer ever consider the effect on the victim? I don’t think he thinks about anything except himself and his wants. After a random act of violence occurs, the lives of the victims and their families are changed forever. Anger and disbelief take the place of the feelings of safety and innocence they once had. I’m not sure if I could ever fully recover from an attack on my family or friends.

This post really has no clear point. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how terrible some people are. This week, a person attacked and killed my friend’s mom during a home invasion. This woman was an elementary school music teacher who would have soon retired to enjoy her grandchildren.

I don’t know why some people carry out evil plots. Maybe it is the way the person is born or maybe it’s his environment. I heard once that the genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger. My pastor explained that at these times, the devil takes control. In the age-old fight between evil and good, evil wins during intentional acts of violence.

I wish I had a way to rid the world of evil, but I don’t. There are too many bad seeds scattered all over, and no matter how vigilant we are, evil can find us.


Friday, March 17, 2017

I'm All In!

The older I get, the more I seem to slow down.

I don’t mean the slowdown that comes with age. I mean the leisureliness that allows me to evaluate my life.

In my younger years, I rushed through everything, moving mostly on auto-pilot. While at home, I worried about work and at work, I worried about home. I was anxious about my kids all the time and about my ability, or rather inability, to be a decent mother. My children are grown and happy, my granddaughter is approaching her teens, and I’m not moving at such a hectic pace. I work part time and have my afternoons free to complete tasks or to just sit and think about important issues or useless junk.

I have many conversations with myself – not the crazy kind where I verbally ask and answer my own questions (cue Sally Field in Sybil). I have these internal dialogues going on that I don’t remember having up until about a year ago. I’m a widow and there’s no one at home to listen to me verbalize thoughts, but I also think I’m able to focus more because I have decelerated.

One internal conversation that plays is the “what if” one. What if I don’t lose weight? What if I run out of money? What if my kids don’t succeed? This little two-word phrase can drive a person nuts! Now when I’m having the “what ifs,” I intentionally change my thoughts. Instead, I focus on what I’m getting out of or learning from the experience or the thought. By doing this, I believe I’m becoming a more positive person. I’m not tiptoeing through the tulips, but I’m not drowning in worry or negativity either. Maybe I’ve achieved a small balance in life.

I tend to be more grateful, too, and I divide this gratitude into smaller increments. I focus on today and how my life is at this moment. Mindfulness – being present in the moment – is a big buzz word in psychology now. I know this as a fact because Pinterest has all kinds of boards on how to do it. The key to mindfulness is that your thoughts should not dwell on past mistakes or on worry about the future. All these Pinterest people should realize that mindfulness isn’t a new thing: the Bible has instructed people to do this for centuries.

Frequently throughout the day, I stop to consider how the day is going and how those around me are faring. I say a prayer of gratitude for my blessings because I truly am thankful for all I have right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced a lot of bad events that I’m now very grateful for small, happy moments. If I don’t consciously consider these events, I might jinx the flow of goodness. 

Even with my trying to live in the moment, I still get impatient. I’ve figured out that the impatience comes from this little control problem I have. My chosen career is to blame for a big part of this problem; I must be in control in the classroom or anarchy happens. Often, I want things to happen right now, and I want them to happen my way. This is especially true when I see events happen to my children which make them unhappy or knock them down a notch in their life’s plan. I used to be a huge enabler and fix problems so that my kids didn’t have to do it. Enabling is one of my biggest mistakes in parenting because I didn’t let my kids suffer the consequences of their choices. Now instead of rushing in to fix things, I help them focus on their choices and on what they can learn from the experiences. It’s hard for me to admit, but they are actually doing ok without my attempts at control.

So, cheers to life right now! I can’t change the zillions of bad decisions in my past, bring back people I’d love to have around me or direct the course of the future. I can, however, focus on this moment, and I’m all in.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mentally Strong in 13 Steps

"Good habits are important, but it's often our bad habits that prevent us from reaching our full potential." -- Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

Over the past year, I’ve been working on making myself a better person.

My earlier posts tell my journey to better physical health by following Weight Watchers and exercising. I’m pleased that I’ve been very successful in that area and at age 59, I’m in the best health of my life.

My physical health is easy compared to my mental health. It seems like the more I want to improve my brain, the more it goes to mush. Supposedly, people my age are destined to have a sloppy brain at times, but I’m not ready for my mind to become porridge. Going back to work after a year of retirement forced my brain to get into shape. A teacher must have a pretty sharp brain to keep up with teenagers.

I also decided to focus on a positive attitude. I’ve listened to many podcasts and read several books on this topic. One book that I liked is 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin.

I don’t remember how I found out about this book, whether it was suggested in a magazine or online. However, I’m glad I did find it. I wouldn’t say that it’s a life-changing book for me because I knew about these ways to stay focused on happiness and to stay strong minded. After all, I read Dr. Phil’s books back when he wasn’t so into shocking his audience for ratings (example: "cash me outside how bout dah").

What I like about the book:

1.  It takes a different approach to handling problems. Instead of telling me what I should do to make life better, it tells what I shouldn’t do.

2.  Morin gives examples of everyday people who have come to her for therapy sessions as well as stories of well-known people’s struggles. In Chapter 7 “They Don’t Dwell on the Past,” Morin writes about 55-year-old Gloria whose adult daughter kept moving back home after short-term, failed relationships. Gloria felt guilty because she had not provided a stable childhood for her daughter and was presently allowing her daughter to take advantage of her. Trying to right the past was keeping Gloria from being a good parent in the present.

Morin tells of Milton Hershey’s struggles with his candy career in the chapter “They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over.” After several failed attempts at establishing a candy business, Hershey changed strategies but stayed focused on success and not on his failed attempts. In the end, he owned the world’s biggest chocolate company.

3.  Amy Morin writes of many personal experiences to which I can relate. The introduction describes several heartbreaks she experienced due to deaths in her family. Tragically, Morin’s mother and husband died suddenly within three years of each other. She describes grief as “an emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting process.” Amen to that! When dealing with the impending death of her father-in-law from cancer, Morin came up with her list of 13 Things.

4.  The book doesn’t have to be read in its entirety to get its essence. Each chapter is helpful in its own way. I have re-read the chapters “They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure” and “They Don’t Expect Immediate Results” to keep me focused on my weight-loss journey.

When Amazon came out with Kindle e-reader, I got one. Some may consider it strange that an English teacher would rather have a digital book than the real thing; most bibliophiles want the feel of paper and the smell of a new book. The truth is that I was tired of storing real books. I had shelves and shelves of books I had read or were planning to read, and I was tired of dusting them. The Kindle allowed me to give away my books and get rid of some clutter. I don’t have to dust an e-book. However, some books I buy in hardback format because I want to loan to them to friends. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is such a book.