Category Archives: Personality
I was born in 1937 and married in 1958. I was a born idealist, living mostly in the imagined beauty of future possibilities. I grew up Catholic, but with only one sibling who was ten years younger than I am. I envied my Catholic school mates with lots of sisters and brothers as built-in playmates. My religion sent me a lot of mixed messages about my worth as a woman, but motherhood was definitely held up as the ultimate purpose for a woman.
Although I went to college on a full scholarship at Rice University, which was a predominately male, technical school, I simply didn’t feel attracted to a career. I was a history major that didn’t want to teach. I wanted to get married and dreamer that I was, I thought I’d enjoy having a lot of children as playmates. In fact, when I married, we spent time picking out names for thirteen children of both genders. (Thirteen was my lucky number. I passed Calculus on the thirteenth of one month and was chosen as a Yearbook Beauty on another thirteenth. At the time, I didn’t realize that neither of these was going to be particularly helpful in bringing up children.)
My father wanted me to be a scientist. So he discouraged me from taking Home Economics at my girls’ only high school and my mother gave up after one disastrous attempt to teach me how to cook.
She had decided to start me off as simply as possible with a cornbread mix. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl, add water, some vegetable oil, stir and put it all in a greased pan. She put everything out, pointed out the instructions on the box and left me to it. I was doing fine, really. But she came in right before I was going to put it in the pan. She said, “OK. Now, wash your hands and put it into the baking pan.” And she left again. I was confused. My mind tends to connect ideas and discover new possibilities. This is often a gift, except when I connect the wrong things. I wondered why I needed to wash my hands? I did remember reading somewhere that bread baking involved using your hands for some reason. So, I began to scoop out the mix with my hand and shake-fling it into the pan– and around it. Between what missed the pan and what was stuck to my hands, there wasn’t much left to cook. As I was standing there puzzled, mom returned, took one look, and yelled, “What in the world are you doing? What a mess!” I started crying and backed away from the mess. Unfortunately, I backed into the stove where there was a small pot of melted butter for the fresh artichokes mom was cooking. The butter went everywhere, down into the burner, down the front of the stove, down my back, onto the floor. As Mother stood open mouthed in horror, I fled sobbing to my room and threw myself, butter and all, onto my bed.
Mother was also a perfectionist housekeeper. Since my mind was usually occupied with ideas and impossible dreams, my attention to physical details was pretty much non-existent. So Mom didn’t delegate many housekeeping tasks either. And since she herself didn’t iron, I never acquired that skill either. Are you beginning to feel sorry for my husband, who fell in love with me at first sight in Calculus class?
Coming back from our honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, we visited my in-laws in Nashville. Then as now, fifty-eight years later, my husband wore white button down dress shirts. I decided to wash and iron them, more in an attempt to impress my in-laws, than out of love. It never occurred to me that this was an acquired skill, not a natural talent for all women. I remember hearing my father-in-law come into the house asking in a loud voice, “What’s burning?” and my mother-in-law hushing him with, “It’s Eileen ironing.”
The next part of this series will deal with both some of the humorous challenges of having four children in five years and the Religious crisis of my doctor telling me that having another cesarean section in the next few years would most likely kill me and my Catholic Pastor’s response that, “Lots of children end up with very good step-mothers.”
Differences in personality types can have a lot of effect on marriages. I respond to the outer world emotionally first. My husband responds with logic. I am an extrovert, so I tend to react openly immediately. My husband is an introvert and he only responds after much thought. When I would get either excited or upset about something and babble over about it, he would sit back, cross his arms and put on his “here come the judge” face. After several moments of waiting, I ‘d get frustrated, either disappointed that he didn’t share my enthusiasm or angry because he was looking judgmental. And unfortunately his first logical problem solving response is to focus on the practical problems or negative aspects. After some years of marriage, without realizing it, I began to try to push his buttons just to get him to express a feeling of any kind. The problem with this is the introverted thinker may go years without responding openly to provocation, only to one day reach overload and either explode violently or simply leave and not look back. Fortunately, since we had five young children, I recognized my pattern before my husband reached overload. I have since realized that when asking him for a yes or no decision, I need to give him plenty of unpressured time or he will play it safe and just say “No.” The same with arguments. I now state my case and go wash dishes or do something else while he works out his response, and then gets back to me. Unnatural as this is for me, doing this brings much better results and lessens conflict. I’m pretty sure that it is a total shock to one of the spouses, when marriages disintegrate from unrecognized inborn differences such as these.
I had a somewhat amusing, slightly terrifying thought this morning. God loves both Trump and Hillary equally and unconditionally. God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are. I’ve always said God has terrible taste, because God loves everyone. God loves sinners and saints, the smart and the stupid, the kind and the cruel, the sane and the insane, the crook and the law-abiding. Boy! That means if God has His/Her way, heaven is going to be as diverse as earth. I guess I better start forgiving a lot of people, so I can fit in with all of the above. I find I can forgive people if I can picture them as a child with a childhood that was unbalanced between love and the reality of there being consequences of our choices. Often, too much love and no consequences has pretty much the same effect as too little love and unrealistic expectations. Both are impossible to outgrow without the grace of recognizing both God’s love and the consequences of our choices. The present friendship and cooperation between Bill Clinton and the Bushes show how the responsibilities of the office of President obviously challenge Presidents to outgrow their limited viewpoint. So, regardless of whom you vote for, pray for both of them to experience God’s love and be freed to become the person God created them to be, whether they are in or out of political office.
When we get into our seventies and eighties we begin to get a different perspective on lots of things. Morality is one of those.
Girls dating in the 1950’s didn’t plan on having sex with boyfriends until married to them. Of course, there was some negotiating room on just how close we would come. And if we went to college, often we didn’t get to go to the same one as our high school boyfriend, so playing the field in college was fairly common. Being popular was considered a perfectly ethical goal in our lives. Unfortunately, a good looking girl with personality often stole and broke the hearts of quite a few boys, boys that were not necessarily high, or even on, the girl’s personal list of marriage possibilities. There was, in fact, a fine line between playing the field and collecting scalps. There comes a time when at least some of us little old ladies begin to question whether we can actually claim the moral high ground compared to girls and women of today.
Once married, our generation of women seldom initiated a divorce. Not only was divorce scandalous, it was seldom practical. Women couldn’t make enough money to support themselves above the poverty level, never-the-less raise children in a safe and healthy environment. Even if a husband was wealthy, the legal system was totally male. And most religions forbade remarriage, closing the door on making a better marriage. Children were trapped along with their mothers in horribly abusive situations. Having to stay in marriages that were destructive to all concerned now seems far more immoral than divorce.
So, wherefore art thou, morality?
We seem to be in an era where traditional (though often dubious) morality has been officially abandoned, but no one appears to have come up with a new way of preventing chaos, protecting children, and nurturing commitment relationships. The most obvious thing is that no size fits all.
Not everyone is cut out for marriage and many should definitely not be parents. But most people definitely seem to need sex. I think the basis of sex being wrong outside commitment relationships is that the reality is, One: It increases the incidence of unwanted children and disastrous marriages. Two: Using people simply for our own pleasure or out of loneliness is not only wrong, it can destroy other people emotionally. Three: The danger of sexually transmitted diseases that can damage people for life is very real. The rules for morality were created to protect us and to increase our chances of living in peace as societies. But my observation has been that the rich have always considered themselves above laws and the poor don’t have much in the way of pleasure except sex. So, I think even in the supposedly moral fifties, it was pretty much only the middle class trying to follow the rules. And I’m pretty sure even then, it was more the women than men. My thought used to be to teach our children, One: If you don’t want it on the front page of the local paper, don’t do it. Two: If you don’t want the same thing done to you or your children, don’t do it. And Three: If everyone doing it would make the world a worse place to live in, don’t do it. Sadly, I have come to realize, One: When hormones kick in consciousness of future consequences disappears. Two: Many people have no sense of responsibility for society. And Three: When people holding society’s most prestigious positions of public responsibility or having hero status through sports or entertainment are daily on the front pages for sexual irresponsibility, no one cares about that anymore either. I also see that we seem to have missed the fact that there is a morality for sex within marriage. I have become aware that along with the pleasure, men need sex to feel good about themselves, but women need to feel good about themselves to really enjoy sex. In fact, an important part of foreplay for women includes affirmation, tenderness, and other things that make us feel cherished as a whole person, not just a momentary pleasure or release from stress. But when the stresses of survival take their toll on men, they seek what is for them the ultimate in acceptance and affirmation, physical sex. You can see pretty obviously where problems begin in marriage. For millennia, religion, as the arbiter of morals has been run by men. The predominant attitude was that a wife must meet her husbands need for sex, in some religions, even if it meant losing her life through too many or dangerous pregnancies. Women were considered pretty much dispensable. And men were considered either unable to control their sexual urges or unable to put another person’s life before their desire. In present times women are beginning to be considered equally important in the scheme of things and the physical act of sex is being recognized as only one part of intimacy in relationship. In marriage a lot of things can handicap intimacy. Financial problems, pregnancy, children, career ambitions, exhaustion, health issues, and even unmet needs from our past all sap our physical and emotional energies. But perhaps the least recognized, but most serious challenge is disillusionment. Every relationship, but particularly marriage, will eventually bring disillusionment. Nobody is perfect. Nobody can meet all of another person’s needs. Nobody can keep up an image 24/7. Nobody is the total answer to anyone’s problems, wounds, desires, needs, dreams, and illusions about humanity and life. But often we come into marriage with that exact unconscious delusion. Add to that our lack of awareness about both our own imperfections and our own and our partner’s unrealistic expectations and it’s just a matter of time before disappointment rears its ugly head as resentment and criticism or a roving eye. I am not making excuses for infidelity or abuse. Those are killers of relationships and murderers of the other person’s sense of value. But so is constant criticism from the one person that knows you best. Watching men and women under the stress of a public spotlight and a nation’s expectations fall into those traps over and over with so much to lose, makes it obvious that both lack of self-awareness and no realistic understanding of the limits of any relationship to meet all our needs are a crucial part of the pattern of most marriage failures. Reading biographies of famous marriages such as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, raised my awareness of how difficult it is for an intelligent strong minded wife to be supportive without it being experienced as demoralizing criticism, particularly when a public figure is the target of constant criticism. And now we are possibly going to witness a woman president being second guessed by a husband who has been president already. The challenges to marriage relationships have increased exponentially in my lifetime. Though affected by childhood experiences, personality differences are inborn. These differences can literally make us deaf to each other’s language of love. We do unto others as we would like them to do unto us, because we assume that will please them as it does us. Unfortunately, that is frequently not true. Surprisingly, I’ve recognized that Jesus made that transition from “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to “love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a whole other ballgame. He gave his life for us. I think that for us it translates into becoming other focused, willing to make sacrifices rather than make demands. Both people in a relationship seeing this as the ground rules for love will create a lot of room for negotiation and will ensure that both partners experience being truly loved.
But as unaware as most of us are of the differences between our needs and our prospective partner’s guarantees trouble. A friend of mine, who divorced a former football star,told me that she just couldn’t measure up to those stands full of cheering crowds to meet her husband’s need for affirmation. Another friend, who was just naturally able to see and accept reality, including the reality of her own and even her spouse’s different way of being in the world, married an idealistic personality. Idealistic personalities see everything as improvable, so automatically attempt to improve both themselves and their spouse. Another tremendous challenge is the chasm of difference for those who respond to their world with logic and those who respond from their feeling values.As one husband pointed out to his wife, there is just no logical reason to get a kitten unless you have mice. Another wife confessed to going into shock when her flower sending, poetry writing, compliment giving fiancée never did any of the above from the moment the wedding ceremony was over. It seems her husband is a problem solver. A very good one obviously, since he figured out what he needed to do to win her. But once the problem was solved, he saw no need to continue the behaviors. Of course even couples with similar personalities have difficulties. Some are totally unaware that they are both so competitive that even the smallest thing becomes a debate they need to win. Writers and artists are often so sensitive that showing their work to a problem solver/critic spouse is like having surgery without an anesthetic. Often those of us that tend to live in the future, imagining even every negative possibility, may be attracted to personality types that live in the present moment. They can respond calmly to a crises without becoming overloaded by negative possibilities. But that same person will often make ‘in the moment’ choices without considering the possible consequences for the person they love or even for themselves. These are just a few examples of the challenges we face, when we seek relationships that will not only be stable and long lasting enough to provide what children need to become loving adults, but are secure and nurturing for the adult partners. Both self-awareness and the ability to understand people different from us are vital needs for good relationships. We educate for careers, but not for relationships. Yet relationships are the foundation stones of society. And sustaining society was actually the whole point of having guidelines for morality in relationships to begin with. With human progress and development comes the need not just for laws, but also for understanding. There is a difference in how you keep a one year old from sticking a fork in an electrical outlet and how you teach an adult to work with electrical tools. Humanity needs better understanding and not only acceptance of the diversity in our shared humanity, but appreciation for all the different gifts for the good of all of our relationships. Unless we, as both a society and as individuals, seek greater understanding to overcome the problems in creating and sustaining healthy relationships, society itself will continue to disintegrate. With understanding, we have a better chance of knowing when and why we may need to put the other person’s needs before our own. And that is the heart and core of loving. This, then, is both the new and old morality.
There was a note from Netflix in my email today. It said,
“We sent you Spare Parts.”
I got excited for a moment, because I certainly could use some replacement parts! Then I realized it meant a movie named, “Spare Parts.”
Pretty soon I guess, though maybe not in my life time, we’ll get catalogs in the mail for spare parts. If, they get where we can shop for a new brain, I’d want to know a whole lot about the person it came from.
It’s taken me over seventy years to get comfortable with mine. Even with its retrieval hiccups, I’ve become quite attached to it.
And its quirky little thoughts give me a lot of laughs. That may be more important than knowing people’s name or phone numbers.
Anyway, there’s probably an app somewhere for phones, that shows faces with names in files grouped by gender, age, likability and relationship to me.
Think I’ll keep the brain I have, just for laughs.
For me who naturally lives in the ideal land of possibilities, it takes both faith and perseverance to find grace when facing the harsh limits of human reality. I can only stand up to my inner Greek Chorus, that keeps me frighteningly aware of my frailties, by focusing on God who simply says over and over, “I love you.”
Some twenty-five years ago by the end of my mother’s fourteen years of dying by inches from Alzheimer’s, I really wasn’t strong enough to devote myself to holding her hand and sitting helplessly with her at the foot of her cross. It was partly because of my own emotional weakness, some because of selfishness, but ultimately because her suffering shook my faith in God.
Now, I’m being challenged once again to seek grace to live that out as my husband’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis progresses. Some personalities are naturally reasonably good at accepting reality, however harsh it may be. But I’ve always been a change agent, a problem solver, a person that is good at finding alternative solutions.
Now, I know that there comes a time when that is not what we are able or even called to do, no matter how naturally good we are at it.
We are called to find grace in our weakness. But that is terrifying and only done by staying aware that though we are not good at this, God is and God is with us.
And grace comes only in the present moment. That is where God meets us. And learning to live in the present moment is a whole new way of being in the world for many of us. Some of us live in the past, while others focus on the future. I’ve always focused on the future with its infinite possibilities. So my first challenge is to only ask where is God in this moment and reach for His hand. My second challenge is to accept that God isn’t asking me to solve anything, but to trust and stay with Him in the circumstances, like Mary at the foot of the cross of those we love most.
One of Louise Penny’s characters, Myrna, who is a psychologist in the book Still Life, discusses a quote, “Life is loss.”
Myrna goes on to say, “But out of that comes freedom. If we can accept that nothing is permanent, and that change is inevitable, if we can adapt, then we are going to be happier people.” (My note: Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament emphasizes the same idea.)
Myrna explains a turning point in her career and life, “I woke up one morning bent out of shape about this client who was forty-three but acting sixteen. For three years he had always had the same complaints, ‘Someone hurt me. Life is unfair. It’s not my fault.’
For three years I’d been making suggestions and for three years he’d done nothing. I suddenly understood. He had no intention of changing…
Many people love their problems. They give them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life…… They spend their whole life waiting for someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world.
The thing is, no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get them out of it….but that is the grace.….the fault lies within them, but so does the solution.”
These thoughts speak to my stage of life and current challenges. My life has changed drastically since the beginning of this year. But what I am experiencing is that while there are sorrows in life that have no physical solution, we can change how we see them and find the gift they bring.
Just last fall my husband and I traveled with one of our sons around the South West of France. This is Middle Pyrenees’ country so it involved quite a bit of uphill walking and stair climbing. My husband wants to explore every inch of Castles and ruins. We recently turned eighty and seventy-nine, so it was a challenge, but we managed it using a walker in some places and taking lots of Bistro breaks. He still designs on his computer in his home Architecture office and I cook and clean, do his bookkeeping, and chauffeur grandchildren and friends to malls, museums, restaurants and even the zoo. I also lead worship once a month and began at seventy-five doing some stand up comedy on aging. So, though no longer young, we had interesting and purposeful lives.
Until New Year’s Eve.
Then I became ill with a respiratory infection and ended up bedridden for three weeks. The day after I got well enough to grocery shop, we were shut in by snow and ice for two weeks. The next week, I tripped carrying laundry down our hall and broke my right shoulder in three places. The two weeks waiting for surgery were unbelievably hard for both of us. I was totally helpless and in excruciating pain even with pain medicine, so my husband had to do everything for me around the clock. But his tenderness and constant concern for me brought us to a whole new level of intimacy and love. I had never felt so cherished and tenderly and totally loved by anyone except God. Even in the worst pain I had ever experienced, there was joy.
But after my reverse shoulder replacement surgery, it was obvious my husband was too exhausted to continue taking care of me. So I went to a nursing home for physical therapy for two weeks to get over the worst of my pain and helplessness and give him time to recoup. After the first few days, I actually enjoyed the people I met in therapy. Even the therapists and nurses were kind and laughed at my jokes. The food was amazingly good, and my room was filled with beautiful flowers. Friends and family came to visit bringing treats. I didn’t have to clean or cook and aides even helped me shower and dress. After eating in my room a few days until I could manage it left handed without baptizing those near me, I went to the beautiful sunny dining room for meals. The first day, since dressing took help, I was in my slightly scroungy clothes for Physical Therapy. So I felt seriously intimidated when I realized the other women were dressed in elegant suits with matching jewelry. I soon relaxed however when a caregiver came around and put large terry cloth bibs on all of us. Bibs are a great leveler. I confess there were times after I returned home that I missed my vacation experience. As I left the facility the therapists and nurses asked me to return to do some stand up comedy for the people living there.
When I came home we managed well with lots of help from our son and daughter-in- law who live near by and friends at church who fed us frequently for two months. My husband drove me to out patient therapy and we celebrated each bit of progress such as the red letter day I could use my right hand for eating and brushing my teeth. Becoming able to shower and then finally even dress myself were momentous events. With each small accomplishment I felt like an Olympic winner.
But, then my husband, who has had lung problems previously, came down with the respiratory infection. After three weeks in bed none of the steroids or antibiotics had helped and he was fighting to breathe and almost too weak to get to the car. He was hospitalized for two weeks while the increased steroids and antibiotics not only didn’t help him, but gave him thrush in his mouth and throat and a yeast infection in his esophagus. A bronchoscopy finally showed that he had serious permanent lung damage from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is incurable and progressive. They sent us home with my husband too weak to walk, unable to get up from a chair without help, and still having trouble breathing when sitting up or standing. Fortunately, I had been cleared to drive the day before he went to the hospital and even our children who lived in other cities and states rallied and helped get us through the first hard weeks. About mid-May my husband began to go to therapy with me to build up muscles in his legs. We were managing fairly well with two walkers and a new to us larger car we had just gotten at Christmas. Good timing once again.
We found many people our age and even younger with problems similar or worse than ours at therapy. And we bonded with them and laughed together more and more. We went to therapy three days a week and it became the highlight of our week. We both improved enough that when I ran out of Medicare for therapy, he was able to continue on his own. When we were able to go back to church everyone applauded and welcomed us back with hugs, which I managed to turn my left side toward. Grace abounds in community, whether of shared challenges or shared faith.
We found that we were still limited in how much we could do physically. If we did what used to be a normal amount one day, we were wiped out the next. My natural rhythm for work is to work in spurts and do something pleasant and sedentary in between, so it suited me to not over do. (In fact, it was sort of nice not to have to feel guilty about it.) But my husband just naturally works until a job is done or he is exhausted, so this was a difficult adjustment for him. Finding some TV series that were mentally stimulating on Netflix helped him accept the need to rest and increased our time spent together. For a while, I needed to do most of the house hold chores my husband used to do, like taking garbage out and filling bird feeders and watering outside plants. After his devotion to me when I broke my shoulder, it was a joy to have the chance to do things for him. He had always preferred cold cereal while he read the paper undisturbed early in the morning, so I used to sleep in (I tend to want to talk). Now I managed to get up four or five days to fix hot breakfasts that he needed and now began to enjoy. He even started reading bits of things from the paper to me and we discussed them or laughed about them. More and more we have begun to see the humor in even frustrating things. These are new blessings for us.
To be continued…………Learning to Live One Day at a Time.
I used to think intelligence was the most important trait. Later in life, I decided kindness was.
After this election year debacle, I suspect both are equally important and that a sense of humor probably is way up there with them, because it can free us to see ourselves honestly. Age doesn’t automatically bring wisdom, but it often brings humor which can be the beginning of self-honesty. And once that happens, you empty your pockets of all those stones you are tempted to throw at others. And that’s the beginning of wisdom.
Kiddos! We ALL see through the glass of our limited perception darkly (imperfectly)! Quick! Get rid of the temptation of those stones before they come back to haunt you.