With life’s “Big Events,” the questions are always the same: When did it happen? Where were you when it did? And how important was it for you in your life?
For me it happened when men stopped wearing hats, real hats that they tipped as an expression of respect, good manners, and grace. Fedoras, Stetsons, even Derbies. When they stopped getting up to offer a women a seat, and not just when she was nine months pregnant. When people stopped saying “After you,” stopped holding doors for each other, or nodding to acknowledge that you were there, and parents stopped telling their children that they needn’t scream to be heard, especially not in public places. And, yes, I thought it was important. It changed my life and everyone else’s. And not for the better..
In Popover’s, a homey, Upper West Side eatery the children’s menu lists basic restaurant manners ─ something, which in the glorious days of yore, parents taught their offspring before taking them out to eat, not during. Here’s what It says:
- Stay with your grown-up at all times
- Keep your shoes on,
- Don’t play in the aisles or walk on the furniture
- Have your tantrums outside.
Okay. Take a good look in the mirror of life. The kids may drive us crazy, but it’s the grown-ups who abandoned ship. If you or I fail to hold doors, step aside, say thank you, or offer help when someone needs it. If everywhere we go, including theaters, restaurants, buses, trains, and even as we “socialize” in each other’s homes, we scroll our iPhones so intently that nothing else exists for us but our thumbs and ourselves, we lose. And if for even a second we imagine that this replaces real communication and relationships, instead of being just one more technological event, we contribute mightily to the growing sense of distraction and entitlement — the status quo of narcissistic self-involvement where the collective adult/child voice insists: I want. I deserve. I count more than you do. And round and round it goes.
At sixteen, when I started to date and told my mother about a boy I liked: her question was always the same.
“Is he refined?,” she’d ask.
Not whether he was fun, funny, handsome or smart. Just whether he was refined. At the time, I thought she knew nothing, or at least nothing much. I was wrong. For refinement is the sweet sibling of manners, first cousin to “class,” and together they are the seed core of civilization. Without them chaos reigns. And though chaos makes for an interesting theory in physics and biology, it wreaks havoc in the world as we know it, where even a slight change in conditions can result in huge differences and outcomes .Think just one degree hotter. Not good. Not good at all..
Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? The theory that the formation of a hurricane depends on whether or not a butterfly flapped its wings several weeks before.somewhere in the world? And though butterflies, chaos, and manners seem to have nothing in common, dig deeper and you’ll find they do.
Even the slight event of holding a door so someone can pass through, or letting it slam in his face; of saying pardon me as you brush past a person in the crowded aisle of a grocery store, or allowing the person with only an item or two to go ahead of you on line, can determine that persons mood, and change the course of his day, moving him to anger, gratitude, laughter or despair in the course a millisecond, thus creating a new storyline ─ one that diverges from its original path and results in an entirely different outcome, not just for him and/or you, but for the next person he meets, the next task he undertakes at work, or the conversation he will or won’t have with his wife when he finally gets home.
So think of manners as a starting point, a catalyst for future events, even as a crucial determinant for the future of the world. And consider refinement as alchemical, a quantum leap from a baser state of being to becoming evolved, mature, elevated and enlightened. When I looked up refinement, the Merriam –Webster Dictionary described its opposite as a setback; breakdown; collapse and diminishment. So my mother was right. Good manners and refinement are not just some flimsy niceness, a face we put on to impress others. They are an integral part of the magic with which we repair ourselves and the world.
Should you be interested, this imagery exercise can further your efforts in this regard.
Repairing the World
Close your eyes and breathe out one long exhalation through your mouth.
See yourself out in space among the stars and the galaxies. See below you the earth in all its natural beauty. Imagine yourself reaching out, and taking the earth in your hands. See how it feels to hold it and to be here with it in this new and intimate way.
Now see yourself breaking the world apart and seeing what’s inside it, with no judgment or expectations..
Using the unlimited power of your imagination, put the world back together. Repair and recreate it in any way you choose, and see what happens.Once you’ve done this notice how you feel, then breathe out, open your eyes and return.
* * *
Okay. How do I say this? Let me count the ways. Should it be 1. As a something shared with me by a friend or a client, 2. As a program I saw on TV, 3. As a story I read in a book, 4. As an experience encountered in a dream? Or how about none of these, how about the truth? That at 10:15 a.m.Tuesday morning, without prejudice, or preconception ─ with only the slightest notion of what to expect or how to handle what I might hear or learn, I spoke by phone with someone I had never seen and had only a slight knowledge of, but whose credentials as a medium were both respectable and respected, and who asked me the following questions, which blew away the veil between this world and the next with these few simple words.
“Can you tell me who Esther is?”
“Do you know anyone named Betty?”
“Who is Sol or Samuel?”
“Who is Howard or Harold?”
Esther was my mother-in-law. I called her Queen Esther. She was Eastern European royalty with a Yiddish accent. Betty was my mom. There are no words to do her justice; she was far too good for this world. Sam was my father; he taught me resilience and generosity by living it each day of his life. And Harold was my beloved friend. He helped me to repair my life and restore my soul. His love for me was a miraculous surprise, a saving grace.
The medium speaks not in hushed tones, nor in anyone else’s voice but her own, which is calm, normal and bright. She sees my father in uniform. She sees a horizontal sepia toned photo of him with other soldiers. (once she mentions it I remember. It was at least a foot long, perhaps more. I kept it rolled up in a box until it fell apart and disappeared). He keeps shaking his head to tell me not to feel guilty. He says he knew I was busy with my family and my life. That I couldn’t always be there for him.
She knows I took care of Harold while he was ill, but she also knows I wasn’t with him when he died, that I got a call to tell me he was gone. He wants to thank me for how I cared for him during his illness.That I helped him to have a “king’s exit.” That I was not there when he passed because he wanted it that way. Harold had been an actor for many years. “A King’s exit,” was something he would say.I can hear him saying it.
She knows my mom’s name; my mother-in -law’s name; my dad’s name.That my dad had been in the service and there was this photo of him in uniform. That I had taken care of Harold while he was ill. How could she know all this? It’s “impossible”.
She says my sister is doing great. That the pain of her passing has “evaporated.” That during her greatest suffering her higher self departed her physical body leaving only raw ego behind ─ as though an alchemical process had taken place. How comforting to hear this. Yet, why would I believe a word this person says? Anyone can say a loved one is doing great. It’s what we want to hear. It’s what mediums tell us, a lucrative gimme.
Before we spoke I told her nothing about myself, except that my sister had passed. I began to let a small piece of something slip out when we started our conversation and she quickly shut me down, told me not to say more about anyone or anything so her reading would not be tainted, her mediumship could remain uncompromised.
Things came up that I didn’t expect, not that I “expected” any of it.
Perhaps this is foreign territory for you (as in some ways it is for me). But she had me at:”Can you tell me who Esther is?” And she sealed the deal with ”Do you know anyone named Betty?”
This may or may not hold meaning for you or give you some comfort. My logical mind feels squeezed, bent out of shape. But despite this assault on my left brain intellect, what I experience blows away any remnants of doubt that I have in the eternal, and affirms my belief that this is not all there is by any means. How could it be?
Just because we can’t wrap our minds around this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, the opposite is true. There’s just too much impossible knowing here to think this was anything but a connection with the other side. What’s in it for us to think otherwise?
But now I want more. I wonder what are they doing? Where are they? Are they here beside me, or are they somewhere out there in the cosmos? How do they spend the day, the night? Do they watch us? Are they alone or together? Do they miss their physical bodies? Do they work on reversing bad karma? Do they fall in or out of love? Or is their energy invested in repairing themselves and the world?
There’s much to think about. Even more to experience. But I can wait. Really. I can wait.
Here is an exercise for those with someone whose passing was fraught with anguish and pain.
Take a piece of paper and write down all the horrific things that went on during this person’s passing. Crush the paper. Burn it. Get rid of it in any way you choose: Bury the ashes, throw them in the river, to the wind, down a toilet. And know that the pain and darkness is gone.