Saturday, May 28, 2011

21 Grams

I know you’re there
Although it’s nothing I can prove
I know you’re there
From just the way the shadows move
And though I said goodbye and fin’ly let you go
I know you’re there
Although I don’t know how I know.
                            –Alix Korey, American composer

In 1907, researcher Duncan MacDougall found that 21 grams of body weight were lost immediately after a person died. He attributed the weight loss as a result of the soul leaving the body. The tests were never replicated and the results were widely dismissed by the scientific community. Still, it does bring up the question of what, if anything, remains when we die.

We may never be able to prove that the soul or spirit exists or whether it leaves the body upon death. But what we can be certain of is a lingering memory of those who have gone before us. And that, if nothing else, is the true soul or spirit of a living being.

It is that spirit of the deceased that we carry around with us in our thoughts. It is those memories that keep that person’s essence alive. And, when we think or speak of that person, though the body may not be around anymore, that person’s spirit continues forever.

(Excerpt from Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss
Goodman Beck Publishing)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Secrets Kids Know

"By learning to act more like a child, human beings can revolutionize their lives and become for the first time, perhaps, the kinds of creatures their heritage has prepared them to be—youthful all the days of their lives."
 —Ashley Montagu

Waiting for my plane one morning, I was not aware of any children nearby, only adults reading their newspapers, chatting with others or gazing into space. Suddenly there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that the flight had been canceled. Disgruntled, the passengers made their way to the
counter to be re-ticketed. Two children, perhaps six and seven-years-old caught my eye. They were the only ones not complaining. They were the only ones who seemed to be having a good time in spite of the situation.

Sitting on the floor, they reached into a small carry-on bag, pulled out a handful of plastic Mutant Ninja Turtles, and proceeded to enjoy themselves. When they tired of this, they traced the lines of the carpet with their feet. They repeatedly counted the number of colors in each section of the rug. And they made up a game by hopping from one pattern to another.

Kids can amuse themselves with almost anything. I remember my mother telling me that when I was very young, we would sometimes visit a distant aunt. I would immediately go into the kitchen, take out all the pots and pans from the cabinet and proceed to play with them for hours.

To a child, often the box a toy came in is more appealing than the toy itself. "My one-year-old is never happier," says Susan Lewis, "than when he is unraveling an audio tape, wearing underwear on his head or making music by clinking a crystal ornament against the glass coffee table. Even my older children don't need toys—they are quite content reprogramming my computer, taking apart the lens of my camera or face-painting with the makeup in my bathroom." Lewis amusingly notes that maybe it's really the adults who need the toys to keep the kids away from their possessions.

Kids even find joy in things that annoy adults. For Rich Fullerton, who was trying to do some quiet work at home, one of those things was an incredibly noisy garbage truck. Every few houses it stopped to grind and crush the trash. Each time it would break Fullerton's concentration as he struggled to continue working. Finally, he walked to the window hoping, he says, "to speed the truck’s passing with an annoyed glare." But, instead, what he got was a big lesson from a small child.

"In the front yard," Fullerton says, "my five-year-old son was thrilled. I watched him climb on top of a fire hydrant near the street. From there, he had the best possible view inside the back of the huge truck where giant mechanical teeth chewed up the garbage. The noise just made it more fascinating to him." Fullerton concludes, "It’s a marvelous thing that five-year-olds can enjoy life by just watching garbage trucks. . . ."

The lesson adults can learn here is that the world is filled with things for our enjoyment. The trick is to open our eyes and look for them. "On the are pretty lucky," writes Michael Burkett, author of The Dad Zone. "They can find a penny on the sidewalk and feel rich. They can find a fossil-shaped rock and feel like Indiana Jones. They can find an anthill and feel like God.” Kids find enjoyment in the simplest of things. You can too.

Children remind us to treasure the smallest of gifts, even in the most difficult of times. Erma Bombeck found this out when she was doing research for her book about kids with cancer, I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise. Dealing with cancer herself, Bombeck remembers one eight-year-old diagnosed with cancer of the nervous system. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Christina answered after much thought, "I don't know. I have two sticker books and a Cabbage Patch doll. I have every-thing!"

No matter what has happened, you too have the power to enjoy yourself. One woman told me how her young son helped her do this and to relish life again after her husband was killed in an accident. Thinking his mother could not see him, the ten-month-old child hid, stark naked, behind an open-meshed chain link fence. At that moment, it became clear to her that she could not raise her son with solemnity. She says, "I resolved that I was going to find things to enjoy in life. The playful child was a turning point for me to realize that no matter what we have lost or gone through we can still find joy."

The toddler also helped her turn tears to laughter. When she would be crying he would go into the bathroom and repeatedly return with tiny postage-sized pieces of toilet paper to dry one tear at a time.