Sunday, February 16, 2014

Confessions of a Dilettante

"Dilettante - A person who cultivates an area of interest without real commitment or knowledge"

Many years ago I graduated from high school with three years of secretarial training; I was an extremely competent secretary.  Unfortunately, that was my last formal education or training.  I worked as a secretary for three years after high school, and then left the work force to begin raising a family.  By the time I was ready to supplement our income with something less demanding than running an informal family day care, I realized that my training in typing and shorthand was inadequate in our newly computerized world.  I bought a computer from Radio Shack and learned the basics of word processing, so I could run a secretarial business from home.  No longer did I feel competent.  I learned what I needed to learn to do the jobs that came my way, but that was all.  There was always the nagging doubt as to whether I was good enough.

Basically, while I have a huge variety of interests and abilities, I always feel somewhat of a fraud.  I am a writer by nature, and how I wish I had pursued a degree in some form of writing through the years, but I didn't.  There were always family issues and money issues, and the possibility of college courses was a dream that I never fulfilled.  Now I write for pleasure; I keep journals and enjoy writing my occasional blog posts; I am a writer at heart, and I am constantly forming words together in my mind, but I am an amateur, and nothing more.

 One of the great pleasures of my life is reading.  I almost always have at least two books on the table beside me; I devour them, loving the feel of the book in my hands, savoring the words and the stories, and often coming away from the experience with new insights.  I am not a reader who enjoys "chick lit", or fluffy little romance novels; I prefer my stories to be more honest portrayals of life.  However, I am ashamed to admit that I have read very few of the classics, and while I have the intention of reading them some day, I haven't so far.  When in a discussion of great literature, I am at a loss.

I love to garden.  I have created a cozy haven in my yard, for both people and wildlife.  It is lovely to look at, and peaceful to the soul, but it is a haphazard garden.  I have never taken the time to learn the fine points of gardening -- composting, soil testing and preparation, perennial division, organic pest control.  My yard is too shady for vegetables to thrive.  My tiny little vegetable garden produces very little for the time expended on it.  Gardening is my joyful pleasure, but I am an amateur at best.

Sewing and crafts were a big part of my life as my children were growing up.  I went through a period of knitting, occasionally with lovely results, but with no special skill.  I used my sewing machine often -- crafting Halloween costumes and dresses for my daughter, but it was obvious that my results were less than professional. 

One of my favorite activities is flower arranging; how I love the entire process of choosing the blossoms and greenery, creating the arrangement, and enjoying its beauty.  I have done flowers for numerous parties and showers, and even for a very small wedding, but, there is always the doubt in my mind as to whether I am "good enough," with only a few short hours of training.

I enjoy cooking and entertaining.  Unfortunately, I have not changed with the times to lighter, faster, gourmet meals.  I prefer my old standards -- roasts and potatoes, spaghetti & meatballs, lasagna, hearty soups simmering on the stove, homemade breads in the winter; the lighter tastes of grilled meats, macaroni or potato salads, and grilled fresh vegetables in the summer.  I love creating the tablescape, with flowers, beautiful china, candles, and a lovely old tablecloth.  This is my comfort zone -- here I feel competent, even though I have not kept pace with the times.  But, no special training was required here -- only the gentle helping hands of my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law through the years.

And, of course, I feel a sense of competence as I care for my little grandchildren.  There is no training for being a good mother or grandmother.  It comes to us the moment we hold that first precious baby in our arms -- the love is all encompassing.  We offer them love, security, a listening ear, behavioral limits, and a slow unfolding of the life knowledge we want to pass on to them.  We may be amateurs in the very beginning, but we are experienced professionals by the time they are grown. 

So, basically I have led a very full life with interests that consume me and bring great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment.  Maybe someday there will be time for writing courses; maybe someday I will have the time to pursue my gardening in a more serious and educated manner; maybe I will take a part-time job at a florist and learn first-hand the art and skills necessary to be competent in this field.  Or, maybe I will forevermore remain an amateur, a dilettante -- after all, how lovely it is to receive so much pleasure from a way of life, regardless of the degree of training or recognition received..

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Contradictions of Swift Judgment

When The Person "In the Daily News" is Your Friend

How smug and condescending we can be as we watch the evening news and read the paper.  We make such quick, harsh judgments about the people caught in the cross-hairs of public scrutiny.  As a man is being led off to a police car, we think, "A crime is a crime."   As we hear of someone killed in an accident where carelessness is involved, we shake our heads and say, "It was his own stupidity."  When someone dies of a drug overdose, we say, "Well, it was his own fault."  When a young shooter sprays bullets into a crowd, we think, "Why didn't his parents see this coming."

I am a compassionate person, but I admit that I often make these same swift judgments, without any knowledge of the full story.  Unfortunately, in the past few years, I have been forced to acknowledge the shallowness of judging others.  Suddenly, these "others" became people whose lives intersected with mine through friends and family. 

A man died while riding his four-wheeler on his own farm, as he ran into a "neck high" wire he had placed around his field of marijuana plants.  Upon hearing this, I shook my head and said, "Another example of stupidity."  And then, I heard his name.  He was a long-time friend of members of my family.  How I regretted my harsh words, as I realized the anguish his death would cause to so many I knew. 

A man set fire to his farm and kept fireman from entering his property.  As photos were shown of him walking to the police car, I thought, "What a jerk!  Who would burn down his own house?"  That night I received a phone call from a good friend who had watched this man grow up on this family farm.  She was devastated at the news, and talked to me of the good times their families had through the years on this very farm.  Once I heard the background to his story, I was appalled at my callous judgment of his actions.

I recently watched the news as parents turned in their mentally disturbed son who had bought a gun and was having thoughts of harming people.  How unthinkable to be in a position where you must place your own child into the hands of law enforcement in order to protect others.  As we agonize over the increase in mass shootings, and often place blame on the parents, we must remember the grief and disbelief felt by the families and friends of these shooters -- the question in all of their minds being, "How could I not have seen this coming?"

We sit in judgment as we watch these brief news reports -- how easy it is to see the world as black and white when we are talking about strangers, and hearing about the crime or the accident itself, with no inkling of the background story involved, and the ripple effect on the emotions of family and friends, whose lives will never be quite the same.  How easy it is to condemn a criminal without knowing the details; how quick we are to judge the drunk or careless driver. 

The truth is that we can all find ourselves in these nightmarish situations.  A phone call in the night, or a policeman at your door, and your entire world can shift in a heartbeat.  And then, instead of being the one standing in judgment, we will be the ones forever haunted by the questions and the anguish.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Matthew  7:1-2