Humble and Kind

I am not usually a country music fan, but I heard a Tim McGraw song on the car radio this afternoon that gave me pause. It seemed to be an advice song to a young person setting out from home, and the often repeated line was to be “humble and kind.” It is  an echo of the line from the Old Testament prophet Micah: “and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Sometimes discussions of values, ethics and character development make the subjects seem unnecessarily complicated. There are lists of desirable personal traits all over the elementary school where I go to vote. How much clearer we could be if we just emphasized the simplicity of “be humble and kind.”

In The Good Old Summertime


My grandparents had a farm house in western New York State where we visited several different summers. The highlight when I was 11 was swimming in Wiscoy Creek which ran over a little old dam. We had no adult supervision and the town kids swam, splashed, pushed each other over the dam and held each other under water. Some older kids convinced me that a snapping turtle lurked in the deepest water.

Many years later, I took my husband to see this stellar swimming spot. The water fell peacefully over a several inch high dam and my husband said I must have been idealizing the past. Fortunately, this photo arrived a few months ago in a collection sent by my brother. Clearly in the intervening 50 years, silt had filled in the swimming hole, but my recollection was accurate.

As for the snapping turtle..Men fishing in the creek told me that there had never been such a turtle there. The men looked to be my age. Perhaps they were once the boys who had told me about the dangerous turtle!



Pete’s Dragon


One of the many delights of having grandchildren is the excuse to go see “kid’s” movies. This afternoon we bought the family four pack of tickets, two huge waters and a tub of popcorn and watched Pete’s Dragon. Not in 3-D. Some things are too challenging with trifocals!

Robert Redford, who seems to have aged more than I have since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, plays a curmudgeonly grandfather. Maybe that is redundant. Most grandfathers I know are curmudgeons. I think it comes with the territory of trying to keep up with little boys.

The movie was satisfying on many levels, entertaining two kids and two adults for an hour and a half. I even cried a little, to the surprise of the kids. They seemed very assured–correctly–that the movie would have a happy ending. I think I may stick with their choices from now on. I have had enough of “adult” movies of despair such as the much touted 45 Years. Give me a happy ending from here on!

One is the Loneliest Number


In the last few days I have pumped my own gas, self rung my own store purchase, used an automated system to refill my prescription, and entered numbers to tell the New York Times that the paper was incomplete. I have listened to a phone call from a woman in India who told me that my Windows software was in danger, but she didn’t want to listen to me tell her I used IOS only. So that wasn’t an interaction either.

For some reason, it is now assumed that we value speed over interaction, solitude over engagement. This can make for a pretty lonely daily routine. I have tried to counter this trend by consciously deciding to go against it. I use a human teller when my bank is open. I go through the staffed checkout lane at the store when I can. But it has led me to wonder what we are gaining in this new self-help world and what we are losing.

Accompanied by Song


I have loved listening to singers as long as I can remember. As a young child I loved Burl Ives, and I played Little Golden Records over and over on my little phonograph. I got my first hi-fi in high school and listened to Joan Baez for hours at a time. In college I got my first stereo, a portable with two detachable speakers, and immersed myself in the folk artists then playing regularly in Cambridge.

Today I am nourished by the lyrics of what are now called singer-songwriters. Of particular solace lately is Carrie Newcomer whose music I bumped into a few years back. A Quaker, Carrie explores daily life and its deep questions. She is an antidote to cynicism and despair. You can find her at

Speaking Wisdom


My grandfather was 65 when he sat down to talk to Mrs. Saltonstall. She is seated more comfortably than he, in a padded armchair, while he perches on a piano bench. He shows by the tilt of his head his willingness to hear what she had to share. She speaks with assurance, her body appropriately aged, her viewpoint clearly worth listening to.

As my generation spends more and more money on anti-aging skin treatments, “plastic” surgery, and “bucket lists” of extreme activities, we seem to have lost sight of the benefits of aging. Erik Erikson said that the task of old age was “ego integrity vs despair.” Despair manifests as endless attempts to deny the reality of age. Ego integrity embraces age and allows one to say, “I have lived through a lot and I have a lot to share with you.”

May we speak with the authority we have earned  living through our years.


“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out.” Robert Frost

It would be wonderful to go back to living in a country where young men didn’t  take machine guns into schools and kill first graders, or into movie theaters and kill attendees, or into shopping malls and kill shoppers. But all those young men were American citizens, not foreigners here on visas. Screening visitors to the United States wouldn’t have prevented any of those senseless murders. Neither would a wall.

It would be wonderful if young men didn’t kill each other every day across for perceived slights; if disgruntled husbands didn’t kill their wives for asking for divorces; if angry drivers didn’t fire shots at other cars. But all these are enacted by American citizens, not foreigners here on visas. Screening visitors to the United States won’t prevent any of these senseless murders. Neither will a wall.

If we abandon simplistic solutions to a very complex set of problems, we are left with the hard work of deep change. We would have to confront our country’s love of violence, our fascination with guns, our romance with revenge. It would require humility, a commodity in short supply this election season.