Friday, January 20, 2023

The Best Advice: CALM DOWN PATSY

FROM MY MOTHER: Mom had a small 4” x 6” picture frame that contained a colored poster with the words “By the street of by-and-by one arrives at the house of never.” After mom's death, I got the framed poster and for years it had a prominent place among family pictures on a shelf in my house.

 These were words Mom and I took to heart and most times whatever we were thinking of doing, we would “Do it now” and not procrastinate. Good advice for me for many years.

But... now that I'm old and tired more often, I'm OK with putting things off. And sometimes I get to them and other times not. This is true even though I know my days are numbered and I know that if I don't do :whatever" now, it may never get done. I'm OK with that too.

FROM MY FATHER: Dad carried a small silver triangle with the words “This too shall pass” in his pocket for as long as I could remember. I don’t know what happened to the pocket piece but during his life, Dad showed it to me frequently.

These were not words for me to live by. Not at all. Never. I was born in 1944 and all my thinking life I knew about the Holocaust and about the Jews and others who were rounded up by Nazis and Jew-haters and for them the horrors would not pass. Their inevitable end was death.

 So much for Dad’s advice.

 However, I recently heard a Rabbi tell this story that involved Dad’s favorite saying. 

A powerful king asks his assembled wise men to find something that will make a happy person sad and a sad person happy. The wise men traveled the country far and wide. Finally, one came upon a peasant who told him to return to the king with these few words: “This too shall pass,” meaning when you are feeling happy or experiencing happy times, know it won’t last, and conversely when you are feeling sad or experiencing sad times know that also won’t last.

 “This too shall pass” is true under normal circumstances. But under major terrible irreversible circumstances, these words were and still are useless as words to live by.

Curiously Mom and Dad's favorite words to live by are opposite. From Dad, "Just wait it out, whatever bad circumstances happen. Things will change." From Mom, "Get going. Time is passing. Don't wait. If you don't do it now, you may never do it and you'll be sorry." But most curious of all, the best advice for me today came from an unusual source many years ago.



About forty years ago, my partner Cheryl and I were at dinner at the home of friends who had a four-year-old daughter named Margretta. 

The conversation was lively. All four of us were talking about this and that and suddenly Margretta interrupted us saying loudly and as forcefully as an insistent four-year-old can “CALM DOWN PATSY!” We looked at her and looked at each other and didn’t understand what she meant, so we continued talking. Again, Margretta said even more loudly “CALM DOWN PATSY!!” This time we stopped talking and all of a sudden it came to me that she was addressing me, meaning to say to me: “CALM DOWN BETSY!”

 I have been known to talk loudly and insistently and must have been annoying Margretta big time. I shared my insight with Cheryl and Margretta’s parents and we had a good laugh. Over the years I’ve told this story many times.

 But why, you might ask, today would I identify Margretta’s directive from so many years ago as the best advice? Today at age 78, if I do things that take too much energy, if I walk too fast for example, or try to do too many things at once, or maybe get too excited about this or that, I get out of breath and my heart feels like it is beating too hard. When this happens, I say to myself “Calm down Patsy” which amuses me greatly and reminds me that I must slow down and remember to breath. 

If I can, I will stop what I'm doing and sit down for a while and breathe, just breathe until I -- “PATSY” -- am able to calm down and resume what I was doing at a more reasonable pace. And I send thankful thoughts to forty-plus year old Margretta wherever she may be.