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Loving is Living

November 30, 2016 Leave a comment

The sleepy Davidson College campus awoke with a start.

It was graduation day in the Spring of 1960. I, a lowly freshman, sat quietly with fellow singers in the Male Chorus. We awaited our next turn to entertain with song. With the audience of faculty, parents, and fellow graduating seniors expecting him to dribble on for 15 minutes, graduating senior and poet-scholar W. Dabney Stuart had given an address that was not a speech but a dare. Here’s what he said, as I recall:

Many people have lived. Many people have died. One of these was Jesus of Nazareth. He said, “Love one another.” I have nothing of significance to add.

friendshipAnd then he returned to his seat. Some thought it an insult to tradition, a sign of disrespect from a rebellious hippy. I thought it the most powerful lecture/sermon/dare I had experienced. Often I have quoted Dabney, now a professor emeritus of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. At the risk of oversimplifying, Dabney had cut to the chase. He got to the point. Southern haiku, as it were. No meat, fat, gristle, or cosmetics–all bone. Life at its essence.

Sharing a value for poetry, I have subscribed to Poem-a-Day for many years. This program of the Academy of American Poets emails one contemporary poem every weekday to subscribers (for free, at www.poets.org,) and one classic poem on Saturday and Sunday.

To my surprise and delight, last Sunday I received Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Eros” (1847). I do not know if this gem was the inspiration for Dabney 56 years ago. It does not matter. What matters is that Dabney’s dare to live lovingly was nothing new:

The sense of the world is short,—
Long and various the report,—
To love and be beloved;
Men and gods have not outlearned it;
And, how oft soe’er they’ve turned it,
’Tis not to be improved.

I am amused to think that scholar-poet Stuart might have taken a professor’s assignment to paraphrase a poem and used “Eros” as his original. In either case, whether we say there is “nothing of significance to add” or “’tis not to be improved,” both Stuart and Emerson have struck the proper tone for any major religious or humanist holiday.

Giving of Yourself

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

                   The holiday season is fast approaching—the season (in)famous for gift giving. With a couple of weeks of prep time, I would like to propose some guidelines for inexpensive but deeply appreciated and satisfying gifts. I base them on a passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson from his 1844 essay “Gifts” (Essays, Second Series), where “the sage of Concord” laid out a roadmap for the ultimate gift:

     “The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in so far to the primary basis, when a man’s biography is conveyed in his gift, and every man’s wealth is an index of his merit.”

               In the spirit of one’s biography being conveyed in one’s gift, I propose that we consider conveying one’s salient trait(s) in our gifts. For most of us, one of the Big Five personality traits stands out as more extreme than the others. By employing that extreme trait, for which we happen to have an almost unending source of energy, we can give to others in a way that is natural, genuine, energizing—a “portion of thyself.” Consider what your strongest trait is, and come with a way to use that trait energy to gift a friend, family member, loved one, shut in, well, you get the drift.

               So, below we list the ten extreme traits. Find the one that most resonates as your dominant trait, and explore a way to gift someone based on the suggestions that follow:

Ralph Waldo Emerson

               N- (Calmness): Volunteer to stay with a dependent(s) so that their regular caregiver can get out for shopping, a movie, chores, or something else that would be a needed respite for them.

               N+ (Reactivity): Offer to house-sit and/or pet-sit so someone can get away for a needed break and you can experience an unaccustomed peace and quiet.

               E- (Introversion): Offer to write greeting cards, thank you notes, or other correspondence for someone unable to write themselves, for whatever reason; or offer to do computer work for them.

               E+ (Extraversion): Offer to throw a party for someone—perhaps a friend or family member of theirs visiting from out of town for the holidays, or to recognize their special achievement, or celebrate a birthday, promotion, anniversary, graduation, or recovery.

               O- (Preservation): Offer to do snow removal, leaf raking, gutter cleaning, or some other seasonal chore that they cannot do for themselves; or, offer to clean out closets, shelves, attic, basement.

               O+ (Exploring): Offer to read to someone who loves to read but is currently unable to; design a seasonal event for the neighborhood, family, or other group, such as a play, musical, talent show, service project, and so forth.

               A- (Challenging): Advocate for someone who needs an advocate—carry their argument to their landlord, zoning commission, homebuilder, or someone else who needs to be confronted but your associate is not up to the task.

               A+ (Harmonizing): Identify those close to you who are lonely, and take the initiative to find ways for you or others to help them overcome their isolation, whether through support groups (live or on computer), visitations, volunteer work, or other activities.

               C- (Spontaneity): Offer to do odd jobs around the house or yard for someone unable to do them or to pay to have them done.

               C+ (Creating Structure): Offer to organize someone’s closets, etc., or to organize their photos and scrapbook items; help them create a plan to accomplish a difficult goal, and offer to help keep them on track as they attempt to follow the plan.

               Above all, know yourself, and be true to yourself, and share your authentic self with others! Celebrate differences, and resist the urge for wishing others to be more like you.