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  • Try Thinking New Thoughts

    • Posted on Sep 18, 2016
    Here's this morning's Courier column.  Trying to focus on where real change occurs, and how we might occasionally seek new thoughts.   

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    What do we do all day every day, and have since we were toddlers?  Not breathing, since that started after we hit birthing room light.   

     Not seeing or hearing, since they too started before we toddled.  

     It’s thinking—constant, unending, nonstop thinking, one thought piling on another, without cessation until sleep.  Even then, thoughts continue as dreams. 

     Estimates on how much thinking we do varies from just a few hundred to seventy thousand thoughts daily.  Most thoughts actually lurk subconsciously, often emerging to surprise without warning. 

     Conscious thoughts are just the tip of a vast hidden iceberg of mental activity. 

     Now get this:  We mostly think the same thoughts every day.  Most thoughts return every day for weeks, months, even years.  

     Doubt this?  Remember a few recent ones.  Still annoyed by Donald Trump’s inability to utter any truths?  Still wish Hillary were a better candidate?  Still worry about November 9?  (The day after.)  

     You likely thought those yesterday too, and every day for months.  

    The great 1993 movie “Groundhog’s Day” captures daily life as a stage production with the same sets, lines, and characters, endlessly repeated. 

     In life, we create just enough variety to keep us from feeling robotic.  That’s our saving grace, but we still resist change.   

    Even so, actively nurturing new thoughts increases brain power and creativity, making up for any discomfort.   

     Since so many old thoughts are grooved in like sidewalk cuts, so thinking anything new presents a challenge. Some old thoughts, after all, are actually true and deserve daily attention. Donald Trump really almost never utters factual truths.   

     As a public service to repeating minds, here are a few ideas that will likely engender fresh thoughts. 

    1. No matter how much you think you know about your loved ones and friends, you don’t know them.  This includes yourself.  We’re all mysteries, top to bottom, beginning to end.  See and ponder Orson Welles’ great “Citizen Kane” for a dramatization of this idea.    

    2. Villains never think they’re villains—only misunderstood and wrongly opposed.  The world’s great evils were committed by people who thought they were doing right. In a nation of immigrants, Donald Trump remains convinced that immigrants are the enemy, and barring them will serve the common good.  Go figure.  

    3. Conversations about politics, when done by people who agree on most everything but politics, can serve to bond friendships.  How so?  Start by reminding everyone that we’re all in this together, that we agree far more than we disagree.  Go from there.  

    4. You can stop doing anything habitual by pausing and remembering you have a choice. We’re all actually freer than we think if we remember to pause and ponder before acting.  Before you pull that lever for Donald Trump on November 8, consider:  Can a habitual bully and liar make a good leader?   

    So here’s to new thoughts, whenever and wherever they occur.  They’re rare, challenging, and foster change from inside out.  That’s the only change that counts.   

     

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  • Lunch with a Leader: Rosemary Beach

    • Posted on Sep 11, 2016
    Here's the sixth installment of my "Lunch with a Leader" series: Rosemary Beach.  It appeared in the WCF Courier this morning.

    What a leader she has been for decades; the whole Cedar Valley would be very different without her vision, not to mention her endless energy and constant positive attitude.   

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    Rosemary Beach lives with her personal casket in her house.   She had it designed and built especially for her diminutive body, well over forty years ago.  
    “I knew I was going to die before I was fifty, and I wanted my casket ready,” she told me over lunch.  She’s 81.   

     She felt so sure that she hired a craftsman to create her casket.  Why?   
     
    “Everything was hard for me,” she admits with disarming candor.   “I was raising three kids alone, working hourly wage jobs, not making ends meet.  I owed back taxes, and I was exhausted all the time.”  So she expected to die relatively young. 

    How very wrong she was.   

     I knew her first as a waitress at the Depot Restaurant in Cedar Falls, and shortly thereafter as a founder of Sturgis Falls Days.  She helped plan the first Sturgis Falls Celebration for June, 1976, with volunteers Tom Klemuk and Judith Cutler.   
    Local acts, local booths, local everything.  

    No professional Dixieland, no parade, no three-day throngs all over downtown. It only covered the one square block of Cedar Falls’ Overman Park, for one Sunday, but it was a smashing success.  She continued helping direct the Celebration for ten years, then moved on.    

     That was the humble beginning of one of the most enduring and popular community celebrations in Iowa, if not the country.   It was free then, and remains free after forty years, attracting thousands from all over the Midwest.   
     
    “It was so much fun!”  She insists, lighting up like a sunlamp.   No one refused when she asked for volunteers.   “It’s just ‘how can I help?’ And ‘tell me what I can do,’” as she put it, ever proud of her community.   

    Her secret?  “I only ask people who are willing and enthusiastic, and they’re all over Cedar Falls.  We’re lucky that way.”  

     I’ve fallen under her spell several times.  Her infectious enthusiasm makes me want to volunteer. That’s her secret, and a rare gift.   

     As a longtime community leader with her stamp on virtually every major organization, Rosemary Beach seems to have learned how to herd cats.  

    Volunteers are notorious for forgetting promises and not showing up, but not when Rosemary Beach asks.  

     Why has she lived four decades past her own predicted demise? 

    “Life got better for me.  I met Bob Beach, who became a good friend, then we up and got married.”  That was 36 years ago, and their marriage offers hope for mid-life marriages, a role model of a mutually respectful and supportive partnership.  
    Bob Beach turns 90 this month, and he and Rosemary’s community involvement has never flagged.  They’re among the most recognizable couples in Northeast Iowa.  

    However, “I do know when it’s time to change,” she admitted.  Director of the Cedar Falls Historical Society for thirteen years, Rosemary resigned when the organization went digital.    “I just didn’t want to go through that,” she confessed.  
    That’s another of her gifts—she lives and works within her capabilities, and knows what they are.   

    In April, she was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame, and her list of accomplishments published at the time is nothing short of astonishing:  Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Hearst Center for the Arts, Cedar Valley Arboretum, Blue Zones, the Oster Regent Theatre, the Cedar Falls Tourism & Visitors Bureau—for starters. 

     She’s also received the Mayors’ Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award, the Sturgis Falls Cornerstone Award, the Western Home Community Volunteer of the Year and the Governor’s Volunteer Award.  

    She mused, “At the Iowa State Fair this year, they announced that I was “Iowan for a Day,” and Bob and I rode around fairgrounds in an official golf cart. Everyone treated us like royalty.” 

    Of course she’s been flattered by all the attention, but insists that “Everything was more fun than work.”  

    Her only complaint concerned how much more difficult legally everything has gotten.  When she began volunteering, nobody worried about insurance or liability issues.  “We did things we could never do these days—too many liabilities.”   She shuddered to think about jumping all the legal hurdles for every creative idea.   

    Currently she’s organizing a Cedar Falls Authors Festival, gathering volunteers to celebrate nationally known writers from town such as Bess Streeter Aldrich, Ruth Suckow, Nancy Price, and Robert Waller.  “All I’m getting is excitement and cooperation.”  As usual.   

     So what about that casket that she had built four decades ago?  “It still sits in our house, and I still plan on using it.”   

     But not anytime soon.   


     
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