A brief history of selfies and narcissticks

There was once a time when we took pictures of other people, but now we mainly take pictures of ourselves. Sometimes we take pictures of ourselves with other people, but usually (hopefully!) with us in the center doing something more clever than the other people—things like crossing our eyes, flaring our nostrils or sticking out our tongues—so that the other people are not much noticed. They’re called selfies for a reason.

There was also once a time when we took pictures of interesting places and historic monuments. Today we take pictures of ourselves in front of a mountain carved with four presidents nobody can name, and a couple hundred snaps of ourselves in front of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Or is it the Lincoln Monument and the Washington Memorial? Who knows and who cares? All that really matters is that we were there and we have the selfies to prove it.

There was also once a time when we took pictures of architectural and natural wonders. Today many people consider their own bodies to be among the most amazing natural and architectural wonders of the world and, therefore, focus on taking pictures of themselves in various states of dress. But mostly undress. Then they share those selfies with others and then others share them with others and then, when the natural wonder-of-the-world selfies go viral, the people who took the selfies become indignant and garner massive amounts of attention and sympathy, even though they were the ones who took the selfies and shared them in the first place.

Don’t try to follow the logic. There isn’t any.

Today, everyone who is famous takes selfies, which inspires people who aren’t famous to take selfies, hoping that the accomplishment of taking a selfie will somehow make them famous, too.

And we question if a college education is still worth the money. Probably not. Especially not when you take good selfies.

And now, being that some people (those naturally clumsy or cursed with short arms) were previously at a disadvantage for taking selfies, we have the selfie stick, also known as the narcisstick. Simply mount your camera on the end of the selfie stick, with the remote control trigger, raise it overhead in a crowded tourist spot and watch it crash to the ground and shatter as another camera on a selfie stick whacks into yours.

Disney’s Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain rides have banned selfie sticks, as have the Kentucky Derby, the Smithsonian, Rome’s Colosseum, the Palace of Versailles, a host of museums worldwide and all of Brazil’s soccer stadiums.

Sure, it is a disappointment and a setback in the ever-evolving advancement of selfies, but who needs to go inside the Colosseum when you can take cool selfies on the outside?

Clearly, the most pressing question of our day is whether we can ever have enough pictures of ourselves, taken by ourselves, and clearly the answer is no. Never, ever, ever, not in a million, billion, trillion selfies.

Kindness on Aisle 14

We’re all a little on edge these days with tense race relations in many quarters, strained police and community relations, and the outline of a mushroom cloud hovering over the culture wars. You wonder who and what will explode next.

All of which is why I felt terrible about an incident at a big box home improvement store recently.

We were with a handful of the grandkids who had signed up to make a free Mother’s Day craft. We spare no expense for loved ones in this family. If it is free, we will be there.

The girls had finished assembling their little wooden planters, or rather they had finished watching adults assemble the planters, and we were ambling out to the garden center so they could pick out little plants for the planters.

The 2-year-old wanted to be held. I hoisted her in my arms, but within the length of one aisle it felt like I was carrying a sumo wrestler. I spotted an empty cart and put her in it. She tried to resist, but I stuffed her little legs in and plopped her bottom down.

Relief. Free arms once again. Maybe I wouldn’t need back and shoulder surgery after all. And then the husband called my name. He gestured to a man and said, “You just took that man’s cart.”

The man looked stunned. I was mortified. Having been the victim of shopping cart theft myself, I would never intentionally take another shopper’s cart. And being that the man happened to be black and I happened to be white suddenly complicated things in a way they would not have felt complicated even a year ago. These days the world is ripe with tension, innuendo and unspoken implications.

Did he think I was some uppity white woman thinking I could do what I wanted and take what I wanted? I apologized profusely and attempted to extricate the 2-year-old from the cart. Naturally, the kid who didn’t want to go into the cart, now didn’t want to get out of the cart.

Plus the twins had now plastered themselves to either side of the cart. We were shopping cart squatters, attempting to take something that rightfully belonged to another. “Off the cart, girls! Now!”

The man said it was OK, and I said it wasn’t OK. Other shoppers were looking now; we had managed to create a small scene among giant bags of Bug B Gon and Weed and Feed.

While I was still attempting to peel three kids off the stolen cart, the man walked over and put his arm around me. He smiled and said, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Kindness. Like a hot knife through butter.

For a second, I thought I might burst into tears. Not because of the cart, but because this world is so broken that something like a shopping cart could be ladened with hidden messages and hurt. But the man graciously, and firmly, put an awkward situation to rest with the simple power of kindness. We could use a lot more kindness these days.

Thank you, sir, for showing how its done.

Departed Dad’s voice a gift at son’s wedding

We tend to associate friends by the places we’ve lived, a shared season of life or the similar ages of our children. And then there are friends we associate with music.

One such friend was one of the musicians at church, a gregarious personality with a rich, powerful, deep voice. We knew him through the songs he composed for our worship services, many of which became part of the repertoire.

Not long after he died, we sang one of his songs in church. His wife’s straight posture and stoicism collapsed under the weight of grief, her shoulders shaking and her body wracked with sobs.

Time passed and when the couple’s four stair-step children were with her and when we sang one of his songs, there would be stirring and whispering and excitement among them. More time passed, the kids entered high school and college and still they recognized their dad’s music, but without the stirring and the chatter.

I heard our friend’s deep, rich voice again recently. At his son’s wedding. He had recorded some books of the Bible on tape, which is how he came to have a part in the wedding. There he was, or at least seemed to be, reading from 1 John about loving one another. He’s been gone a dozen years, but it was as if he weren’t gone at all, simply standing out of sight, speaking into a microphone, reading from the book he loved.

It was startling to hear his voice. Disconcerting even. But then, the phrasing, the tones, the richness of his voice rekindled a wonderful warmth and familiarity. It was fitting that he was part of the service. He was passionate about his role as father and husband, seeing himself not only as a provider, but as a teacher who could shape minds and open doors to discovery. That passion reverberated through his voice as instruction to his son.

No matter how much time lapses, we can hear a voice and instantly recognize the speaker. We hear personality in voices, confidence and enthusiasm or worry and fear. We can hear mood and outlook, sleepiness or alertness, kindness or harshness, patience or contempt. Tone of voice is nuanced and telling in a way that email, tweets and texts never can be.

It’s been years since my parents died, but I often pictured them once again at our kitchen table talking. Talking, talking, talking. It wouldn’t matter a bit what either of them said; it would be their voices, a certain confidence punctuated by a lilt that said life might get hard, but keep slugging because it isn’t over.

Strong and loving voices from the past are a comfort and a treasure, whether they’re piped in at a wedding or only in our memories.

The sweet side and the other side of motherhood

Every Mother’s Day we honor moms with cards filled with warm sentiments extolling our many wonderful and loving qualities that make us sound positively divine. We rarely acknowledge the fact that mothering isn’t always pretty.

One of the unforgettable images from the Baltimore riots will forever be of the mom moment when Toya Graham chased her 16-year-old son out of the brick-throwing mob, whacked him alongside the head and gave him what for all the way across the street.

It may not be my style or your style, but she was in mom-mode doing what needed to be done.

My own mother was legendary when it came to getting the job done. She was in the hospital once and caught wind that my brother, then underage, was in possession of some alcohol. From her hospital bed, the woman was able to issue a threat of such substance that he relinquished the booze.

A friend around the corner once intercepted some teenage communication leading her to suspect that her daughter was at a movie she’d been told she could not see. My friend got in her car, marched into the darkened theater where the movie had already started, found her daughter and marched her out.

The Baltimore mom who hauled her son out by the scruff of the neck is being heralded as heroic, with some suggesting she be named Mother of the Year. She did a good thing, but what she did should be commonplace and ordinary, not jaw-dropping and extraordinary. You see your kid headed in the wrong direction; you call the kid up short. It’s called parenting.

When you’re raising kids (as opposed to letting them raise themselves), every moment counts. Teachable moments count double and triple. The teachable moments are often hard, frustrating for both the parent and the child. But you hang with it; you don’t quit. Anybody can love a kid from the heart, with the soft and sappy, indulgent love, but loving from the gut means you’re willing to enter the fray, you determine not to give up and not to let the kid slide. You may not win, but you give it your best shot.

The thing with parenting is that you get one chance. There are no do-overs. You get roughly 18 years to set the ship on course.

The young man whose mother stood him down in Baltimore said that when he saw his mother, his first instinct was to run. But he knew that running would only make it worse. Smart kid.

You could see anger and embarrassment on his face and then there was a moment when he winced and displayed what appeared to be a twinge of regret. He knew he was busted because he knew his mom has standards, and at that moment he was on the wrong side of them.

When a kid knows that you love him and want the best for him, you can get in the kid’s face. It is that moment, when a kid finally understands that you’re doing what you’re doing because you’ve got his back, that you’ve also got his heart.