Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Commemorations don’t seem to matter as much right now

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Friday is the 50th anniversary of the day President John F. Kennedy fell victim to an assassin’s bullet. Normally, as a history buff, I’d be all over those stories. 

This year, though, keeping history alive just hasn’t held the passion for me that it usually does. Part of that may be that I felt I was facing my own personal tragedy. 

For the first time since I entered the workforce a few days before my 16th birthday, more years ago than I will admit here, I am unemployed. That word is one that usually goes with statistics. I never expected to be one. 

Yet, in mid-August I learned that the long-term contract editing position I’d hoped would take me to retirement was ending Oct. 1. Try as I might, I haven’t yet found a position to replace it.

Until Sunday, Nov. 17, my situation felt disastrous. The things I enjoyed—reading, writing, studying history and engaging on social media—just didn’t call to me as they once did. It was as if the air were let out of my balloon of passion.

More than one reason to give thanks

As I traveled with my husband to an early Thanksgiving celebration late Sunday morning, I began to see posts on my phone indicating that central Illinois, which we called home for many years, was hunkering down against a swath of bad storms. A welfare-check phone conversation reassured us our family was okay – whew! Once at the hall where our dinner was held, we learned even the Chicago Bears game was delayed due to the weather. 

We said our thanks, ate our turkey and cranberry sauce, and made a new friend or two. 

When the last fork was washed and put away, we headed home. Our smartphones and the TV told stories of the devastation in Washington, Ill. and other communities. We began to think of the people we knew whose homes may have been in the path. We made another phone call, learning that a new friend had lost his home and a former coworker’s was surely in the path as well. 

Over the last couple days, we’ve watched and read stories of survival, faith and resilience. We’ve prayed. We’ve cried. 

What really matters

Losing a job doesn’t seem like a disaster at all anymore. Unlike our friends, some acquaintances and hundreds of families in central Illinois and other states, we still have our home. Our loved ones are safe. 

I think Washington resident Steve Bucher captured what really matters in life as he talked to CNN about the home he lost and the wife with whom he weathered the devastating storm. Bucher says their home is “rebuildable,” but he couldn’t replace his wife. 

Sometimes it takes getting “hit up the side of the head” to know what is tragic and what isn’t, what is important and what’s not so much so. Where we live in mid-Missouri, Sunday’s winds didn’t carry planks through the air as they did in Illinois, but getting hit with the images of devastation did give this blogger some much-needed perspective: I may not have a job right now, but I have a home and a family. 
As much as I love history, being thankful for my blessings just matters a little more to me right now than writing posts about Lincoln at Gettysburg or watching hour upon hour of film about JFK. One thing is constant when it comes to anniversaries of historic events—there’s always next year, maybe not as big a splash, but an anniversary none the less. And, in this day and age, there are Facebook posts, YouTube videos and online news stories to keep stories of milestone commemorations alive.

I’m not at Gettysburg today, as I was during the Lincoln Bicentennial year, and I probably won’t spend much time watching the Kennedy coverage this week. I’ll still say a few prayers and fill out a few more applications in hopes of landing my next job.

Those things pale in comparison, though, to the prayers I offer in thanksgiving for the lives spared as the tornadoes hit and in supplication for families uprooted when their homes were destroyed. 

That seems to matter most right now.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A return to Lincoln’s haunts

Nearly 100 years ago, Springfield, Ill. poet Vachel Lindsay penned a poem, “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.” In 32 lines of verse, the poet spoke of the President stirred from his grave, walking the streets of the city he called home for more than half of his life, restless even in death because of unrest in the world. 

The central Illinois poet was troubled himself by the discord in the world in 1914. World War I had begun. 

Lindsay’s poem is powerful, but many of us who frequent Springfield know that it wasn’t just on a night a century ago that Lincoln’s spirit walked the streets of the capital city. 

Those of us who spend much time there, who study the 16th President, his life and his legacy, know that, ghost-like being or not, the aura of Abraham Lincoln lives on in the town to which and the home of the people to whom he said he owed everything. 

In the rooms of the Old State Capitol or the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office,  in his home and along the streets he walked, if you stop, close your eyes for a second and open yourself to the possibility, it’s not at all hard to see this tall, lanky prairie lawyer in the city he called home. 

Because I live in mid-Missouri now, instead of an hour from Springfield, as I did for more than a decade, I don’t get to return to Lincoln’s adopted hometown as often as I once did. On Oct. 18, I returned for an opportunity of which I’ve dreamed for nearly two decades. I visited Springfield to speak about Abraham Lincoln. 

The occasion was the national conference of an organization in which I found tremendous value and through which I met vibrant leaders, encouraging mentors and brilliant communicators, when I was a member early in my corporate career—the Association for Women in Communications (AWC). The Springfield chapter of the organization served as host of the event, which has been held in a number of large communities across the nation through the years. 

One of my bucket list items was to speak on the national level sometime, somewhere. Another was to deliver a speech about Abraham Lincoln.  

I’d fulfilled the second of these wishes on a small scale on a number of occasions when I lived in the Bloomington-Normal area. I’ll bet if you asked them, you’d be surprised at the number of Sunrise Speakers Toastmasters members who could tell you that I opened their eyes a number of times at our 7 a.m. meetings with information that inspired them to learn more about Abraham Lincoln. As I shared my lifelong passion for his story, I guess I whetted their interest in him a little, too. If so, I did what I hoped. 

But, I’d never spoken about Lincoln in Springfield, the city where his legacy lives and inspires every single day.

On Friday afternoon, nearly 100 professional communicators gathered to hear “What Communicators Can Learn from Abraham Lincoln.” As I’ve studied Lincoln, I’ve noticed a number of similarities between things he did in his life and things communicators do in theirs. I believe there are 10 lessons that we can take from his life and example that can help us in our own social media efforts, our careers and our lives. 

I won’t share them all here today, but will give you a hint. For the last few minutes, you’ve been practicing one of them. To be like Lincoln, read. Read every day – and share what you read. Share it in a conversation over lunch or dinner, in a blog post or on Facebook, in a tweet.

This weekend, more than 100 women from across the nation gathered in Springfield to hear speakers, ranging from a Paralympic champion to this communicator who is more than a little bit nutty over a President from the Prairie State. I’d like to think they left with a bit more enthusiasm and knowledge about Lincoln than they had when they came. I do know they left inspired by the example, enthusiasm and nurturing of this dynamic group of women – and thankful to the efforts of the Springfield Chapter who showed them why the community and its people meant so much to the development of the president whose legacy is honored there.

Yes, Lincoln does still walk in Springfield – and not just in the light of the moon.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The emerald dream: Planning an Irish adventure

Ever have one of those way-out-there dreams—something you wished for a lifetime, but never thought would come true? 

For me—and for my octogenarian mother—the dream was a trip to my maternal grandmother’s ancestral home—Ireland. 

Mother and I first talked of the trip a couple decades ago, but the stars didn’t align to make the trip a reality back then. 

This time they did. Accumulated airline miles helped. A trip such as this is easier to finagle when airfare isn’t in the budget. 

I knew several things going into the trip. 

First, we were limited in our choice of dates. We needed to schedule our flight quickly once we decided we were going so that we could arrive in Ireland in decent weather, but before higher in-season tour rates and lodging prices applied.

Two, I didn’t want to drive in a country which allegedly had narrow winding roads (ironic considering I live in Missouri, where such roads are commonplace), some big cities and where people drove on the “wrong side” of the road. 

Three, we knew that we didn’t want to miss seeing County Limerick, from which we knew some of our ancestors emigrated during the potato famine of the mid-1800s. (The accompanying photo is of the Famine Memorial along the River Liffey in Dublin.)

A diligent researcher, I spent hours on the Internet, pouring over train and bus schedules, looking at hotel and bed and breakfast websites, and pondering over tour company itineraries. The more I looked, the less confident I felt that I could plan the trip and the more overwhelmed I became. 

“What if I booked a trip or a room and the website I chose was a scam?” I wondered. “How on earth would I know from here in the States what company over there was legit?” 

Finally, I cashed in a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” chip—I phoned a friend. 

One of my high school classmates has made several trips to Ireland, with her dad, her mom, siblings and friends. If there was anyone I trusted in steering me right, it was my Irish classmate. 

Her advice: “Mom and I went on a CIE bus tour. It was great, especially for a first-time visit.”

Whew! I had that decision out of the way. 

Now I was back to the drawing board to find a trip that went where we wanted to go—along the coast of southern Ireland and to Limerick during the dates we’d be in country. The coastal trip wasn’t a problem. We could see the sites we wanted to see—the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, Blarney Castle and County Cork—but Limerick wasn’t on any itinerary that would fit our schedule. 

So what did I do? I planned a side trip—on my own. I just had to find a little village in Limerick that was easily accessible using public transportation and that had the charm we always imagined our “homeland” to hold. 

I found it—the village of Adare—and it didn’t disappoint. I also scheduled one extra day on our own in Dublin before we left the country. I was glad I did.

In my next post, I’ll share what went into preparing for the trip and some of the ways we found to make our travel easier—here in the States, in the air and on the Emerald Isle. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013 (Words and image)

Monday, May 13, 2013

An emerald dream come true

What’s on your wish list? Are there people you want to meet, things you want to try, places you want to visit? 

For me, it’s all of the above and more. 

Some people say dreams are more likely to come true if you write them down. I tend to believe it. 

A few years ago, a friend of mine created a ‘50 at 50’ list. Over the next few years, I watched as she made one after another of her dreams reality. 

It took me a while, but eventually I created my own list. Each year, I cross off the dreams I’ve seen come true, replace the ones that aren’t important to me anymore and add enough to make the number of dreams equal to number representing my most recent birthday. I’m working on 60 at 60 for a couple more weeks; then it will be time to look at the list once again. 

Recently, I crossed off a big one – one of the biggest, perhaps. I went to Ireland – and so did my mother. We talked about going a number of years ago, but one thing after another seemed to get in the way, and we didn’t make the trip back then. 

This time, thanks to lots of free airline miles, my mother and I were able to cross the Atlantic for nothing. Once there, we had expenses, of course, but the overall cost was considerably less than it would have been had we had to pay for our air fare. 

I think both of us have held a little piece of this dream in our hearts for most of our lives. 

My mother’s mother, full-blooded Irish, was always proud of her heritage. Her ancestors had come from the Emerald Isle, most during the potato famine. One young married couple lost their first-born daughter on the overseas journey. Like many of her day, little Mary was buried at sea. 

Mother grew up hearing this and other stories from my grandma and great-grandmother. Grandma and mother shared them with me. 

Through the years, I think Mother and I imagined that Ireland must surely have been a magical place. We longed to see it and painted it in our imaginations brighter than the gold in a leprechaun’s pot. 

From the moment we stepped off the plane, and I suggested we kiss the ground for Grandma’s sake, (we didn’t, though) to the time when we stepped from the Dublin airport floor back onto the ramp to our Boeing 767, we felt as if we were living a dream. And, indeed we were.

In coming blog posts, I’ll share snippets of the places we visited, the sites we saw, the people we met. 

Was the dream worth the effort, the experience all we’d hoped, the time the gift we thought it would be? 


What’s your dream? 

First, imagine it. Then, put it down on paper. Next, work to make it come true. All you’ve got left to do after that is to savor it. 

We sure did. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013 (Words and image)