A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
Every day I look at random through my hard drive for undeveloped and ignored photos. Today I came across 20 photos of a bouquet from five years ago in 2010 that I took, dumped, and never looked at again. I have more fun than you can imagine when I find treasures like these photos to share with you.
By asking you to plant a field of poppies, I am using a field of poppies as a metaphor for doing good works for others in a way that grows and spreads and multiplies well beyond anything you ever intended by your initial and perhaps spontaneous good deed. Several years ago, my wife and I set out to find the poppy fields in the brushy foothills west of Alpine, Utah. By following directions, we drove on one of the bumpiest roads we had ever traveled on, and then after walking a short distance, we found the poppies.
I don't know if the person who started these poppies lived there for awhile, but he planted poppies while he was there. And then, year by year, the seeds spread and spread and spread. So now all of us who make the trek can view the results of his efforts to spread bright red cheerful color in the desert brush.
Although I will probably never be able to make the trek into the poppy fields again, I have over 100 beautiful photographs from that day six years ago when we were able to go to see these beautiful blossoms.
Doing good things and spreading kind words can produce results much like the spreading of the poppy fields. Smiles are contagious. Words like "Can I help you?" and "What can I do for you?" and "I've missed you" and "Here's a $20 bill since I can see you're short of cash" and countless other words spoken from the heart can cause our metaphorical poppies to grow and spread and blossom. The man who left some extra money on a sticky note at a fast food place for someone who might be hungry grew into a huge and growing bulletin board of sticky notes for hungry people to come in and redeem and have something to eat. The elementary school teacher from Albuquerque on Ellen's TV program the other day who spends her first hour each day making sure her children are fed, teeth brushed, ears washed, and in any and every way have their needs met before school starts is spreading love and loyalty and willingness, in turn, to be kind to others. The term "paying it forward" has been shown to have many poignant meanings as the person being helped is asked to pass the help along to the next person and then the next and then the next.
I wrote earlier about my colleague at Brigham Young University who was a weekend cattle rancher in southern Utah and about the day he ran out of gas with a truck load of horses. Many people dressed for church passed him by but a grizzled pickup truck driver with a cigarette dangling from his mouth stopped to ask if my colleague needed help. After filling his truck tank with gas from the drum in the back of his pickup, the helper refused money. His request: "Just help the next person who needs help." That is exactly how you plant a poppy field and spread the seeds and spread the blooms.
As I have written many times, focusing our attention on someone else we can cheer up, help out, lend solace to, provide a shoulder to cry on, provide them with something to eat, or whatever act of kindness, large or small, major or seemingly inconsequential, that we can do, inevitably helps each of us as much or more than it helps the person or persons we are trying to help. By putting our own trials and tribulations on the back burner, we are setting forth on the path to heal our own sorrows and aches and worries.
So when you see a field of poppies, think of the person who sowed the original poppy seed years and decades ago, perhaps with little thought about the benefit those seeds would bring to countless others who would marvel at the bright red beauty of a field of poppies against a beautiful mountain backdrop. And then think of the ripples that acts of kindness can spread and of the gratitude a person in need of help can experience from your deed, large or small.
Task Number 85: Spread acts of kindness. Or plant a poppy field. Or do both. Good luck, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
We are now on day four of your Helping Others Week. First, we made a list of who we were going to help. Then we wrote a love letter or two and told people we cared about that we loved them. Then we launched a campaign to send written thank you messages to anyone and everyone who has helped us in any way.
Today we want to focus on thanking our teachers. The letter I received the other day from my money and banking student from fifteen years ago just reinforced my realization of how much this letter meant to me, how much a showing of gratitude can bolster our spirits and make us feel we have actually done something worthwhile in affecting the lives of our students.
If you are a teacher or have been a teacher, you know what a tough that job being a teacher is. Non-teachers often criticize teachers unnecessarily because they have little or no understanding of what teachers sacrifice to stay in the teaching profession. Unfortunately, not all teachers are good teachers and it is often nearly impossible to get rid of poor teachers. I taught college classes for 45 years. For many of those years, my wife ran out of grocery money in the middle of the month and we had an improvised diet for a few days until payday came again. I often went back to the office at night and worked several hours on boring consulting projects to make enough money to pay the bills. You will often find your local school teachers, especially those with families, working two or three jobs to make enough money to stay afloat and continue teaching.
Once the new teaching and school term begins, no letup is in sight. Day in and day out teachers must rise and shine after often spending their evenings grading papers and preparing lessons. Whether teaching pre-schoolers or Ph.D. students, the pressure is on once a teacher is in the classroom in front of his or her students. A few students out of every class typically cause more problems and stress than the rest of the class put together. But, fortunately, most students make the teaching profession a joy.
Yet, year after year after year I returned to the classroom. Some years I went without a break or a vacation because I had to teach summer school to stay afloat. I typically spent the day before Christmas turning in semester grades for one or more classes of at least 350-400 students and then made a quick trip to the local mall to find a Christmas present for my wife. Some nights I would nod off while trying to sort out my lecture notes and class assignments for the next day.
And yet, I decided to be a college teacher while still in high school. Through four years of undergraduate work and four years of graduate school, I never gave up on achieving this goal. And once I became a college teacher, I never wanted to leave the university. I loved students. I loved books and libraries. I loved learning new things. I felt inner glee when a student told me they finally understood what I was trying to teach them. I never seriously thought about doing anything else.
I constantly am aware of the many teachers and mentors who shaped my life. My third grade teacher rescued me from the dictatorial second grade teacher who bumped me out of the second grade for making up stories about what I did over Saturday and Sunday. My high school vocational agriculture teachers tutored me in leadership, public speaking, and in seeing what went on in the world. Various teachers in college opened my eyes, opened windows to what I needed and wanted to know. One of my undergraduate teachers was responsible for getting me into graduate school at Montana State. My Master's degree thesis chairman was a model of professionalism and kindness. My Ph.D. dissertation chairman was one of the kindest, most influential tutors and intellectual guides anyone could have ever had. I have been influenced all my life by the role models and teachers who made it possible for me to teach for forty-five years.
So think about your teachers and those who have helped you along your own path in life. Let them know, now, while they are still here and can appreciate your thoughtfulness and appreciation for what they have done for you. I told one of my colleagues the other day that our real wages came from students who acknowledged our helpfulness and the influence that we have been in their lives. The money doesn't count that much, aside from having enough to live on.
Task Number 84: Send hand-written letters or notes of appreciation to the teachers who were responsible for what you have learned, for what you have become. You didn't get where you are on your own. Just acknowledge what you owe to others for their hours and hours of devotion to learning and teaching. Good luck, keep going, The Curmudgeonly Professor.
How could I ever have missed and ignored this gorgeous photo? But thankfully I didn't delete it, so five years after taking the photo, now it sees the light of day and the beauty that was hidden all these years.
My wife had hip replacement surgery in November 2009 and these bouquets of flowers were sent to her while she was in Coral Desert Rehab following the surgery. For some reason, I let these photos languish for five years in outer darkness but here they are again, to brighten another day.
I keep thinking I have found all of the stray photos that were never developed or edited because they looked too black and were slated for the delete button. And here were these wonderful paper whites, just waiting for some kind person to give them the light of day and let them bloom again to cheer someone else up five years later.
We are now in day 3 of our week of helping others. On day 1, we made a list of ways we could help others. On day 2, we wrote love letters to those who mattered most to us. Now on day 3, we focus on the two lovely words "thank you."
I had a post on this blog a while back on John Kralik's wonderful book titled "365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed my Life." I'm not in the business of selling books, but thought some of you may want to spend a few dollars to get Kralik's book and read his inspiring story. His law firm was failing, he was struggling in a second divorce, he was living in a miserable small apartment, he was overweight. And then, and then, he woke up and decided to focus on showing and sharing gratitude by sending thank you notes--not text messages, but hand written thank you notes to, as he puts it, friends and foes alike, with a goal to send out 365 in a year, one each day. His story is touching, unforgettable, and will provide a guide for you in seeing how one man turned his life around and how his story can inspire you to follow the same path he followed.
I have tried to make sure that I thank people verbally on a daily basis for any kindness or act, large or small, that is helpful and considerate. Actually, I start with my wife, and make certain that any thing she does for me, or even thinks about doing for me, gets a thank you and word of appreciation. And once in awhile, I write a message on a photo card and leave it on her chair so she can find it when she awakens. I think I am making some progress in correcting my inadequate attention given her during some of our long years of marriage.
We can say thank you in a multitude of ways. We can give verbal thanks, we can telephone, we can text, we can send an email. But I can tell you, from my own experience, and from the inspiration I received in reading Kralik's book, that the best thank yous are hand-written notes. I sent a thank you card to my dentist a couple of years ago, and he went out of his way during my dental visit to tell me, almost teary-eyed, how much that simple act of gratitude meant to him. I received a two-page letter from a wonderful teaching assistant in my money and banking class fifteen years ago who told me what a great influence I had been in her life and how much help I had given her. I almost shed a tear and thought, here are the real rewards of spending 45 years in the classroom.
The important step here is to have the thank you messages hand written. No text messages, although they are better than nothing. What my wife and I do is make photo cards from photos of flowers, sunsets, and any beautiful scene we may have. We buy blank photo cards from Photographer's Edge (find them on the internet) and print photos at places like Walgreen's, very inexpensive, or from MPix and other online photo printers. For about one dollar a card, we have a beautiful card with a beautiful photo that amplifies the message we are sending. We often get replies back from people thanking us for the card, and telling us that they frame it and hang it on the wall, place it on their bookshelf or mantel, or save it in a scrapbook. Or, you can just write your thank you on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope (yes, text messagers and emailers, the US Postal Service is still running), buy a stamp, and mail it.
What is meaningful in this process of sending thank you messages is that we are focusing on someone besides our self. And yet, miracle of miracles, we discover, sooner or later, that by focusing on others, by showing gratitude in many ways, that we have miraculously also healed many personal hurts and helped ourselves overcome many of our own pains and problems.
Unfortunately, and sadly, I am too late to say thank you to some of the people who most affected my life. I left home for college just after my 17th birthday without a penny of help from home. I never got any help from home because my parents couldn't afford to help me. What I did get was at least one letter a week from my mom, some times written late at night when the pen drifted off across the page after she fell asleep. Those letters were my life line and I still have every single one of them and even reproduced them all in my memoir about my college life. The list of others I wish I could thank goes on in my memory. But the list of those I can thank today still grows, day by day, and now my resolve is increasing to make sure I say thank you to anyone who matters and maybe even some who don't while I still am able to say thank you.
The simple but life-changing effort we may spend saying thank you can also be contagious and inspire others to follow your lead. So think about it, then do it. Send hand-written thank yous. Don't just send two or three and then trickle out back to your usual inattention. Stay with it. Remember the day you began Task Number 83 on the Curmudgeonly Professor's 2015 Do list and the effect that your cards had on you and on those to whom your messages were sent. As one of the reviewers for Kralik's book wrote ". . . gratitude is one of those things you get more of by giving it away." Good luck, write many, many thank yous, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.