Good Advice

Our city newspaper carries a column called “Ask Amy.” In a recent issue, the column titled “Conflicted bride is in the wrong movie” (Omaha World-Herald Living section, Nov 26, 2015.), a young woman asks Amy if she should go ahead and marry her fiancé, a “sweet successful man” or her old beau who is less than successful. Her former boyfriend “wanted to do the right thing but couldn’t afford to get engaged.” She misses his passion and the joy and love she felt with him. “My heart is torn,” she writes.IMG_2816

Amy tells her to decide which Julia Roberts movie she in – Runaway Bride or Pretty Woman. “Marriage is not a contest wherein various men compete over who can take better care of you.” Marriage is what each partner can to give the other. For better or worse! She points out that the future bride is the problem, not the guys. “If you are at all torn, then you are not ready to get married.”

The column reminded me of my past self. As a college student, I liked the movie, “The Graduate.” I thought it was the best. So romantic how, at the end of the movie, Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ben, rushes to the church where Elaine, played by the beautiful Katherine Ross is about to marry Carl, a boring, stable man she dated before Ben came along. Ben arrives just as the bride and groom are about to kiss.IMG_3524
I remember the scene vividly. Dustin Hoffman finds out Elaine is marrying Carl. He jumps into his little red Alfa Romeo sports car and races to the wedding. He parks and runs down the block, the hood of his off-white squall jacket bouncing with every step. He gets to the church and leaps up the stairs of the narrow passageway. He arrives in front of the huge windows separating the loft from the outside wall. The background is covered by white sheer curtains that allow the light to come through. Such a pure scene.

Ben looks down at the wedding taking place, throws his arms up and leans against the glass pane. “No!” The camera zooms in on the preacher and his prayer book. The bride and groom are facing the preacher. Dustin Hoffman yells “Elaine! Elaine!” several times. Katherine Ross and Carl, played by Brian Avery, turn and look up at Hoffman. She answers back “Ben!” and runs out of the church where they meet.

I was 16 years old when the movie came out but I didn’t see it until I was in college and probably around 21 years old. I thought it was great. A wonderful movie. So romantic. So beautiful.

Fast-forward about 40 years.

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My son gave me “The Graduate” DVD for Christmas. I was excited to play it and relive my memories.

As I watched, I started to wonder what the appeal had been back in the early 1970’s. Why did I think this movie was so great? I noticed things that I hadn’t noticed when I first saw it.

At the beginning of the film, when Ben arrives at a party in his honor, people are all excited to see the “award-winning scholar.” One woman asks him, “What are you going to do now?
“I was going to go upstairs for a minute.”
“I meant with your future, your life.”
Ben answers, “Well, that’s a little hard to say.”

Right away, I think Ben really isn’t good marriage material. He recently graduated from college and is trying to figure out where to go to graduate school. He can’t decide because he is enjoying sitting by the pool and not working, all the while having an illicit affair with Mrs. Robinson who happens to be Elaine’s mother.

An impulsive cad, Ben doesn’t have a moral compass, let alone goals for the future. Yet Elaine runs off with him towards the end of the movie instead of marrying nice, stable Carl who had goals for the future and good job offers.

In 1974, I got married. I remember having “cold feet” and wishing someone would whisk me away like in the Graduate. (Years later, my husband confessed that he felt like running that day, too. We had a good laugh about our younger selves.) Maybe the reason for the big ceremonies with all the friends and relatives present is so we don’t run. Maybe the best man and maid-of-honor are there to make sure we go through with it. Maybe when we add up how much money was spent on the wedding, we decide we might as well go through with it.


(Nowadays, people spend even more money and time planning their weddings. I often say that, if people spent as much effort and time on their marriage as they do their weddings, the divorce rate would be lower. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Our modest little ceremony “took.” Neither of us ran. We have been married over 40 years now and have grown closer through the years. We have learned to put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies and differences. In fact, we enjoy our differences. We have seen some hard times and many good times, but mostly day-to-day times. We are a couple, yet maintain our separate identities. We don’t try to change each other. We enhance each other. I think that is what Ask Amy meant when she pointed out that a person needs to figure out who they are first before committing to marriage.

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40 year anniversary dance

Marriage is a partnership, not a prize won. Maybe a lot of people get “cold feet” as the wedding day approaches. It is a big decision. But if you are wise and have chosen the right partner, it can be the best decision you ever make in your life.

Fighting the Bad Guys

Since the Paris attacks last week, people have posted all kinds of negative things on social media. But today, I watched a very touching video of a Parisian father whose wife was killed in the attack. He is a now a single father of a 17-month old son. He has vowed not to let the terrorists win. He will do this by doing every-day things and teaching his son to be a caring person.

I was raised in a small town in Nebraska in the 1950-60’s. I felt safe. Why? Because I knew people. People watched out for me. I knew people who knew people. We didn’t have electronic devices to communicate, so we learned to watch and observe. We could recognize strangers. We learned to recognize potentially dangerous situations. We knew there were risks of going to certain parts of town after dark. We were taught to observe people, places and things that might harm us. We knew our environment and people watched out for one another.harvest time Cozad 1958

I went off to college to the “big city” of Lincoln, Nebraska. But I still felt safe because I lived in the college community. I knew practically everyone in my dorm and many people in the other dorms. I knew classmates and professors, cleaning people and cafeteria workers. I recognized other college students as we passed, taking the same route to classes every day. We often nodded and greeted one another. I was in organizations on campus and I went to Sunday Mass at the Newman Center where there were more familiar faces. I knew a lot of people in the student section of the stadium, cheering the Huskers to victory. (It was 1971-73 and a great time to be a fan!)

On campuses today, people seem much more isolated, walking around with their heads down, texting or looking at their smart phones. We have not taught our children to be aware of their surroundings, to pick up on signs of danger.

I married a small town boy who had grown up in a more isolated area than I did. He took a job in Omaha. Scared me to death. Big, bad Omaha, where they shoot each other. At least, that is what we read in the newspaper. I soon discovered that Omaha people were friendly. Many of my friends were much like me—raised in a small town, but ended up in the city as adults. I felt safe. My childhood rearing had paid off. I knew what to watch for and how to avoid risky situations. Or at least, recognize that the situation might be risky before I did it anyway.

A few years ago, we moved to Chicago and it was quite a shock.
People in large cities are anonymous. Most people don’t give  eye contact. With all those people, it can be a very lonely place. If you don’t care to know your neighbor, you can have 100 neighbors but no contact with them.IMG_1957.JPG
Our new neighbors must have thought I was a crazy woman because I made cookies and took them to the houses around us and introduced myself. I got to know my neighbors, at least by name, because I took the initiative. Had I waited for them to introduce themselves to me, we would have waited a long time.

Four years later, we were transferred back to Omaha and moved into an established neighborhood.

Immediately, the neighbors came over with cakes and cookies and introduced themselves. One couple had an evening “coffee” with all the neighbors there to meet us. They wanted to know more about us, not in a nosy manner, but an inviting way. And they told us about their jobs, families and situation.

Our society seems to be losing that sense of community and neighborliness. We are so focused on work and making money, that we are becoming more isolated and within ourselves and small group.

The old adage “There is safety in numbers” is true. The more people you know and understand, the better off you are.

So, what does this have to do with terrorism? I think one of the biggest deterrents we can use against terrorism is being neighborly. Get to know people. Don’t be afraid to ask their names. Get to know their backgrounds. Show an interest.

Imagine if people had made an effort to know some of the guys before they shot up movie theaters or college campuses. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe someone would have recognized that this person was dangerous or was “on the edge” and got help or reported their behavior.

Same with the terrorists, who were members of a cell living in Belgium. Belgium, not Syria. NOW people share stories about these people, telling us how bad the neighborhood is, how they felt uneasy around these guys, how they witnessed suspicious behavior. What if these “witnesses” would have shown the same concern before the attack happened?

Of course, there are no guarantees that someone won’t attack, but it might help if we were a little more aware of our surroundings, aware of our neighbors, aware of potentially dangerous or risky situations. And act on them.

  • Get to know your “part of the world.” Observe your environment. Don’t walk around with your nose in your smart phone.
  • Notice things.
  • Ask people about themselves. Be friendly. Get to know them.
  • Become less self-absorbed and more interested in other people.
  • Protect and help those around you. Teach your children what to look for without frightening them.
  • Remind them of their strengths and abilities so they grow to be confident, aware individuals.
  • Focus more on others than your bank account. Check your priorities. What is really of value to you?
  • Broaden your circle of friends. Get to know friends of friends.
  • Don’t let the terrorists or shooters “win.” Live your life without fear.
  • Avoid lumping any group of people together. We Americans are all different. America is a country of refugees and our family roots show us that, at some point, we, too, were refugees. No color, religion, or form of dress defines us. We should not define others by color, religion or dress.

Our country was founded on freedom. We want to protect that freedom but we should also want that freedom for others.

Many times in our history, we have helped others find freedom. Americans helped free the world from Nazi terror in WWII. Our example helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Numerous people are living free today because of American sacrifice. We haven’t always gotten it “right” but we shouldn’t let that stop us.IMG_2872 (2)

Our forefathers didn’t say “Only Christians can come” or “America belongs to only certain people.” One person’s freedom isn’t more important than another’s and we need to show that to the terrorists by living as we always have, an open society willing to give others a chance at freedom.

As I wrap up this blog post this morning, I overhear a gentleman being interviewed on television about how to fight terrorism. He said “Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid.” He must have read my mind.

“Be alert. Be aware. Don’t be afraid” should be our mantra.