Tag Archives: listening

Enjoying traveling in silence

St. Augustine FL

St. Augustine, FL is a favorite destination for us.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I like to travel. We’re not world travelers by any stretch of the imagination. Mostly we embark on both long and short ventures to visit friends, explore new places, and revisit old haunts.

Given today’s complexity and expense of flying, road trips are our favorite. That means Neva and I spend lots of time together in our vehicle.

Our peers, other retired couples, do the same of course. Most report that they use the road time to chat with one another, plan future activities, and discuss ongoing world events. Not us.

When we travel by motor vehicle, Neva and I have a solemn, implicit pact. We seldom talk. It’s been that way almost from day one of our marriage. I suppose it’s just a habit that we quickly fell into. But we have made it work for us.

From my experience, most folks seem uncomfortable with silence. Neva and I take it in stride, each using the quiet time in different ways. Neva reads, stitches, does word puzzles, or plays games on her iPad. Me? As I drive, I observe, think, and plan. I know that sounds a bit boring, but I find the quiet time refreshing.

We can be spontaneous, though. We don’t necessarily travel from point A to point B. We like to stop if we see something that catches our eye. That’s especially true for me. I’ve even been known to turn around just to photograph a lovely landscape scene or an attractive old building or an eagle snacking in an open field.

WV farm, cornshed

This farmstead in West Virginia is typical of the scenes I stop to photograph.

When we can, we drive the old surface routes, avoiding expressways and interstate highways, especially if we don’t have to be somewhere at a given time. Doing so makes life so much more interesting for us.

We also traveled with our son and daughter when they were young. That was before cell phones, iPads, iPods, and in-vehicle entertainment centers. We would have the typical family verbal interactions. But on long trips, Neva always had individual activities for the kids to fill the road time.

Those trips weren’t as peaceful as the ones we take now by ourselves. No one would have expected them to be, but our son and daughter weren’t rowdy either.

As we’re driving, every now and then I’ll think of something I meant to ask Neva but forgot. I seem to do that more and more these days. So I’ll ask on the go. She does the same with me. That question may lead to further discussion and a resolution to a dangling participle in our lives. Without long stretches of silence, that unresolved issue might not have even been discussed.

I also find sustained silence helpful in flushing out touchy topics I have avoided for fear of disagreement. After all these years together, we know that it’s better to lay all the cards on the table than secretly hold them to fester. Perhaps a moving vehicle keeps conversations progressing, too.

The happy couple

In my younger years, I was a bit uncomfortable with silence when others were around. I tended to fill the space with words like I loved to hear myself talk. I didn’t. Experience has taught me that listening can be more valuable than speaking.

For Neva and me, sustained silence has strengthened our relationship. It’s a nonverbal equalizer where neither dominates, and we both can participate as we choose. In our specific case, it’s been an essential part of our wedding covenant for 47 years and counting.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Resolve to listen in 2018

park, Harrisonburg VA

Like a walk in the woods, listening is good exercise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. In general, I think they are just so much hype without much substance. For those who are serious about such resolutions, however, I wish you the very best at keeping and meeting those New Year challenges.

Not making resolutions doesn’t mean I don’t desire to improve the world and myself. I do with all my heart. I’ve discovered in my many years of living that it takes more than wishing.

Drive and desire are key ingredients to making the world a better place for all of us to live. And by all of us, I mean every single human being. In the eyes of the Maker, we all have equal worth. Those are His words, not mine.

With that in mind, I want 2018 to be the best year yet. Given the world’s troubles, that’s going to take the work of all of us to help make that happen.

That’s the thing with resolutions. They tend to be too individualized. However, working together creates a more substantial margin for success. If we want to improve the world, we have to help one another.

Let’s agree to make our surroundings more beautiful, peaceful, kind, inviting, welcoming. I can’t do it alone. I’ll need lots of help. You and you and you. Regardless of our political affiliations, religion, race, ethnic background, one by one we can together resolve to bring peace to this too troubled world.

We don’t all have to agree on how that gets done. Too often the details are what derail us from accomplishing anything good at all. Forget the details. If we are clear on the aim and outcome, a legitimate process is required. It doesn’t have to be complicated, however.

As ordinary citizens, we need to strive to do better than the ballyhooed politicians for our families, our communities, our country, our globe, and ourselves. It’s the least we can do for our children, our grandchildren, and all the generations to come.

conversation, listening

Listening requires full focus and attention of all our being.

What’s my grandiose plan for this noble goal of reconciliation and harmony? You and you and you, and me. Together we can help soften the rancor in the world if we only take time to listen to what others are saying, asking, claiming, even accusing. Yes. That’s it. Just genuinely listen to one another. It doesn’t have to be an inquisition, merely face-to-face listening. After hearing the other, ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding. And with that knowledge, we ask more delving questions.

I don’t intend noisiness. I mean sincere inquisitiveness that leads to a mutual understanding of each other. And yes, in the end, we may still respectfully disagree. But just because we may differ on how we see a given situation, listening should not lead to denigrating the other person or the belief they hold. Dialogue should lead to mutual respect for one another. Our integrity as human beings depends on it.

If we agree to focus on clarity of issues, truly listen to one another, and respond with personal respect and understanding, perhaps we can make not only our lives but also the lives of those we affect a tad better, conversation by conversation.

In 2018, can we all at least resolve to try to improve the world by listening without judging? Besides making the world a better, safer place, wouldn’t that also make each one of us better people, too?

I’m ready to listen. How about you?

Silver Lake, Dayton VA

Listening and understanding without judgement create a quiet beauty even on a cloudy day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Listen. Live. Lead.

Ohio's Amish Country, Holmes Co. OH

Taking the road less traveled?

By Bruce Stambaugh

The headline on the promotional, educational email I received got my attention. Listen. Live. Lead.

I had just finished reading a nationally known political commentator when the email arrived. Though written from entirely different perspectives, their messages mirrored one another.

The email’s main point perfectly meshed with that of the columnist’s. In this time of turmoil in our global society, we need to listen to one another earnestly.

rural view, farmstead

The rural view is changing.

We live in noisy, chaotic times. Even here in our rural setting, we feel the pressure of universal unrest. We can thank technology for that, for keeping us up to date with the world’s events as they happen 24/7.

At times, there appears to be no escape from the convoluted static that counters the pastoral approach to life here. From my senior years of observation, it seems that lifestyle is even wavering at times. I lament that fact as I see more and more compromising of our once calm, compassionate way of life.

The news isn’t all bad of course, but we need to be wise and use our common sense filters to sort out some of the ugliness. These are uncertain times. I think my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all could have said the same thing.

Life is full of doubt, disappointment, and dismay. That should not deter us from being civil, generous, and kind, especially at this time of year.

To avoid the appearance of casting stones, I’ll take responsibility for my own actions. It’s all any of us can ever do.

As I age, and I just had a birthday, I remember that everything I do and say has an impact on someone, someplace, somewhere. We don’t always know whom, when, and where that may be.

So it is critical, as the email stated, to listen to different perspectives, to live as global citizens, and to lead for the common good. I try to remind myself of those necessary life skills every day.

Honduras, coffee berries

Picking coffee beans.

I think about my friends in Honduras who have taught me so much over the past 16 years. I first visited that lovely Central American country with a church group just as the new century arrived.

Not knowing much Spanish, I had no choice but to listen as I worked side by side with my new friends. We picked coffee beans together, mixed cement together, and shared meals together. For a few days, we lived the lives they lived.

Those in our groups learned so much about our hosts’ lives that varied so much from ours. The children especially were eager to teach us Spanish and we, in turn, taught them English. Listening significantly enhanced our cultural interchange.

When you’re knocking on the door of 70, words like listen, live, and lead grab your attention. I’m overjoyed for each new day I’m given.

In this season of gratefulness and celebration, it’s easy to get caught up in the all the hubbub of the holidays. The glitzy commercials extolling the charms of speeding, flashy, expensive automobiles, sparkling diamonds, and the latest computer games can overshadow the real reasons for the season.

That’s why the mutual messages of the newspaper columnist and the email hit home with me. Listen, live, and lead took on deeper meanings than buy, buy, buy.

If we apply those words of advice selflessly, our world and those we touch will be a better place. That’s a birthday gift I can gladly unwrap, heartily embrace, and willingly share.

Amish farmstead, dawn's light

Dawn’s creamy reflection.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Feeling guilty about surviving cancer

foggyridebybrucestambaugh

Life sometimes is a foggy ride. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I wasn’t surprised when I got the word. Three years after my successful prostate cancer surgery, I remained cancer free.

Of course, I was glad, ecstatic really. But after getting the all clear from my doctor, I never celebrate, and I don’t gloat. I know I am one of the fortunate ones. Far too many people diagnosed with cancer never hear those blessed words, “cancer free.”

I had excellent doctors who expertly monitored and guided me through my journey. When it was decided to do the robotic surgery, I hoped and prayed for the best results.

rainbowbybrucestambaugh

A sign of promise. © Craig Stambaugh 2014.

Fortunately, my prayers were answered. Those of too many others with cancer have not been, will not be. At times, I feel bad about that, guilty even, sometimes to the point of depression.

I never know when those feelings will arise. I’m not even sure what triggers them. I just know at times I feel really sad for others, and guilty because I made it while others did not.

I recognized that an important first step in fighting this negativity was to personally acknowledge my situation, and seek the appropriate medical and therapeutic help. It’s good to be honest, especially with yourself.

It was also reassuring to learn that my anxiety propensity is fed by a genetic disorder only recently diagnosed. Medicine and diet help balance my emotions. That doesn’t eliminate my remorse, however.

Whenever I share these survivor guilt feelings with others, reactions vary from understanding to bewilderment. Some question the idea entirely, and wonder how in the world I could feel the way I do.

There is no easy answer, just like there is no good cancer. Cancer is cancer. Guilt is guilt, whether it is justified or not. Like so many other survivors, I ask the obvious questions. Why was I saved? Why were others not?

I am not sharing for sympathy. I do so for understanding, not for me so much as for all the others who suffer similarly.

I am not alone in dealing with this survivor’s guilt syndrome. The condition ranges far beyond the circles of cancer victims. Firefighters, military personnel, first responders, victims of violence all hurt likewise.

hopebybrucestambaugh

A sign of hope. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

The good news for me, besides being cancer free, is that I try not to let my sporadic despair overwhelm me to the point of hopelessness. I always have hope, and always hope the best for others.

I tell my own story when asked. But I found a pair of other actions far more helpful. Simply being there, and listening to others are both critical to cancer victims, their families and friends, and to survivors, too.

I have found a sincere presence, and kind, active listening beneficial healing approaches to all touched by this horrible disease. Such support encouraged me during my ordeal, and I try to do the same for others in need when and where I can. There seem to be too many opportunities lately.

I greatly appreciated the encouragement given by my loving wife and family. I also belong to a very supportive small group with other cancer survivors and victims. We share openly and honestly with one another, without judgment or shame. We meet regularly to stay in touch with how each of us is doing on our cancer journey.

Still, when that dreaded guilt shows its ugly face, I know what to do. I visit and I listen. Purposeful focusing on the needs of others helps me heal, too.

liferenewingbybrucestambaugh

Life renewing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Vivian Miller offers compassion through cards and visits

By Bruce Stambaugh

After the doctor informed Vivian Miller, 68, four years ago that she had Parkinson’s disease, he asked how she felt about the diagnosis.

Miller didn’t flinch. She mustered up her usual pluck and said, “It’s not going to put me in a corner someplace.” Indeed it hasn’t.

In the time since, Miller has spent her life quietly helping others.

“It’s not about me,” she said modestly. “God uses me as an encouragement and support for others.”

Miller, who lives in Berlin, Ohio, intentionally looks for those in need, though she clearly tries to be subtle and discreet. If she finds out about someone with health or personal problems, Miller doesn’t hesitate to help, even if it’s simply by sending a homemade card.

She uses a software program to create personally appropriate cards. Miller often incorporates a picture of the person or herself into the card’s design.

Vivian Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

Vivian Miller enjoys making personalized cards for people.

When she was unable to go on a cruise with her Sunday School class, Miller knew what to do. Instead of being envious, she made a welcome home card for each member. On the front of the card was the picture of the cruise ship on which the group had sailed.

“I wanted them to have a special memento from their trip,” Miller said.

That statement pretty well sums up Miller’s approach to life. Her doctor told her she would do well with that positive attitude, and Miller has. Miller said it really boils down to a pretty fundamental formula.

“It’s about listening to others,” she said. “Everybody has a story, and all you need to do is listen.”

Miller retired as a deputy director in the Holmes County Treasurer’s office in 2006. She had also worked in the office at Rodhe’s IGA in Millersburg for several years.

“From my vantage point in the office, I would see the same people come into the store over and over,” she said. “They usually just wanted someone to talk to.”

“I try to see the goodness in people,” Miller said, “no matter what their situation is.”

Miller credits her term as a deaconess at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church with giving her the courage and opportunities to be in a helping mode. She did hospital visits and checked in on the less mobile.

Miller looks for every possible way to help and to meet new people. She even works at the polls at times to help expand her circle of friends.

Miller especially has sought out others who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She explained that support, no matter what the issue, is critical for quality of life.

According to the National Institute of Health, Parkinson’s disease is a motor systems disorder, which is the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of the disease are tremor or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face.

Often times the onset of Parkinson’s is due to surgery or a head injury. In Miller’s case, she noticed the symptoms after a series of unrelated surgeries following her retirement.

For Miller, the disease has affected her left side. She discretely calms her left arm with her right hand and continues her conversation. That in itself is a physical sign of the inner awareness that Miller has. She is determined to share her compassion no matter what.

“Sometimes people seek me out,” Miller said, “and sometimes I go to them.”

Each situation is different, and Miller tries her best to be mindful of that. Miller just takes her illness in stride.

“Now it’s my turn to help,” she said. “Some of my best friends have come as the result of just being with families in need.”

Strident comforter that she is to others, Miller recognizes that she, too, needs support to do what she does. Miller credits her husband, Duane, and adult children, Valerie Gerber of Sugarcreek, and Scott Miller of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with providing the emotional and physical uplifting that she needs to maintain her active and involved pace.

“Duane has been wonderful,” she said, “and Valerie calls me everyday.” Her son sent her a laptop computer while she had an extended stay in the hospital. In part, that gift is what led to Miller’s practice of designing, printing and sending the personalized cards.

“I have been blessed by everyone I have met,” Miller said. Most likely, the recipients of her kindness could say the same thing about her.

This article was initially published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.

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The painful truth of reality

By Bruce Stambaugh

The scene seemed a little surreal if not downright incongruous. If it didn’t hurt so much, I might have been laughing. You can if you want.

Even though it was still early April, outside it was like summer, warm, sunny, and balmy. But I wasn’t able to enjoy it.

Instead, I was forced to remain inside. I sat in my favorite overstuffed chair, television remote control by my side, heating pad on my back, and chunk of ice on my left foot. As my friend Steve would say, “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not seeking sympathy for my ills, mostly because I probably wouldn’t deserve any. A little common sense might have prevented my mostly self-inflicted problems. But man that I am, I was either too stubborn or too proud or both to pay attention to the messages my body was sending me.

Maybe that was the real issue. The signals were just too simple to heed. Or perhaps I subconsciously heard them and tried to deny the obvious. My 20th century Baby Boomer brain was trapped inside my 21st century grandfatherly body.

Because I didn’t listen or didn’t believe what my body was telling me, I kept my usual pace when I shouldn’t have. I just wasn’t careful. I shoveled too much snow. I lifted too many heavy items too many times. I strayed from my exercise routine.

Finally, the consequences of my actions caught up to me. And there I sat warming my back, while freezing my foot, and surfing the channels like I was on a safari.

If there was an upside to this conundrum, it was that I had no choice but to come to terms with my physical situation. I realized that I simply had to accept the fact that I am aging, and that I must take better care of myself if I ever wanted to someday achieve my dream of driving the staff at the local nursing home absolutely crazy.

I recalled a conversation from Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith.” When quizzing his elderly rabbi about his advanced age, the rabbi wisely replied, “It’s not being old that is the problem. It’s getting old.”

I couldn’t agree more. If I want to get old, that is older than I am now, I have to take better care of myself daily. I also have to accept life’s realities and parcel out any physical work I do.

I have to look in the mirror and tell myself everyday that I need to get real if I want to enjoy whatever number of days I have left. I hope they are many, but there are no guarantees.
I don’t want to sound morbid about this. I just want to be honest with myself and with where I am at this point in my life.

Sitting there in the chair I also realized that it could be a whole lot worse. My situation pales in comparison to individuals and peoples in the world who suffer unimaginable hardships far beyond my temporary inconveniences.

Unlike my icy hot circumstance, no amount of rehab or exercise could rescue them from their agonizing plights. They could not extricate themselves from the inflictive pain of their illnesses or poverty or servitude. I could.

If I didn’t want to continue the folly of warming my back and icing my foot simultaneously, I had an easy out. I simply needed to slow down and listen to my body.

There is only one traffic cop that can make that happen. That’s me.

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