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Two Opposite Perspectives on Life

2018-12-20T15:00:49+00:00

Sage-colored oak trees in the distance glow with dew as the sun glistens off their leaves. The mountain in view creates a stunning silhouette and cantaloupe color fills the sky as an Indian yellow sunrise peeks through the leaves with intense color. What were massive beds of little yellow flowers just weeks ago have turned into toasty, oxide-colored weeds.

The old studio porch is glowing, with the orange sunrise light flooding its dark wooden shiplap boards as the sun projects shadows of the twisted trees on the walls. Even the festive strings of lights that edge the porch are glowing from the sun, though the lights are not even plugged in.

Mornings, and sunrises, are magical in every way, and though there is no snow here and it’s a cool 50 degrees, the air is still filled with the magic of Christmas. And somehow we managed to get the Christmas tree and decorations up and even got the lights up on the front of this old house, just in time to celebrate the special day that comes this time of year.

Christmas Insanity

The word “tender” comes to mind for the holiday season. In spite of the pressure to perform miracles selecting the perfect gift, and perhaps pushing ourselves deeper into debt, come Christmas Eve there will come a calm, truly a silent night, and a time when, if we’re fortunate enough, we’ll fill that special night with tender moments and memories with our families or special friends.

A Final Farewell

Tender is on my mind because of a phone call I just had to make to a dear friend whose Christmases for the past three years have been spent wondering if each would be the last Christmas for her husband and best friend. My call was prompted by getting word that this will indeed be their last Christmas together. Her description of their last year together is “tender, not bitter.” Though they have fought his illness for three years, she tells me this process of dying is one of the cycles of life, and that they have enjoyed each cycle together and are determined to embrace this final cycle with dignity, grace, and abundance of love.

Intense Anger

Tender is also on my mind as I think of an old friend who has filled his heart with anger. It began like gasoline poured on a small spark, then spread like a forest fire in high winds, leaving destruction for miles in every direction as he destroyed ancient-growth friendships because of his obsession with politics. Everyone else abandoned him much sooner than I, but I hung in there, knowing the gentle, tender man he once was. Yet even I finally had to distance myself because it’s too painful to listen to the vitriol and watch his self-destruction.

Life in Contrast

The contrast of these two events is painful. In one case a couple is facing the most difficult possible time of their lives, yet they have found the peace and even joy in it, not allowing it to destroy their final weeks or months together. The other is allowing the media to manipulate him and add daily fuel to the obsession that is killing him from the inside out, as he carries so much unnecessary anger and drives his family and friends away. One family is facing their pain with dignity, the other with anger and disgust.

The Paradox of Friendship

Why is it that we can invest decades into friendships and look back on those years fondly, believing the friendship can outlive anything, only to find out that it can turn into contempt because of disagreement in one small part of our lives? What happened to trusting people for who they are and have always shown themselves to be? Yet they — or we — allow a disagreement over politics to bring it all to an end.

The Prescription for Sanity

This political anger is changing our behavior and increasing our blood pressure, and too many of us are allowing it to disrupt our lives, our relationships, and our day-to-day behavior. One woman told me she is not going to our Plein Air Convention this year because she is so upset over the recent midterm elections — she just isn’t going to go. Yet getting away from all that to be around people who love what she loves, and finding a much-needed painting distraction, is just the prescription she needs to bring some peace to her heart. As people ruminate over the horrible things they think are happening (no matter which side they support), they are putting life on hold out of fear that something even worse is about to come.

“Never talk money, religion, or politics,” my folks used to say as they were putting us through life boot camp. “It’s a good way to lose friends, and no one is going to change their mind anyway.”

A Crumbling Foundation

I remember hearing stories about families divided during the Civil War, brother fighting and killing brother, over their beliefs and ideals. Have we come to that again? Your beliefs, your ideals, whatever they may be, are worth fighting for, worth disagreement, but are they worth killing friendships over? Change what you can change, use your best efforts to make the change you wish to see happen, but don’t allow it to rip the very foundation from under your feet. Your family and your friendships, in my opinion, should be protected like your most precious possessions, because when we too face those final moments in our lives, we won’t be obsessing over politics, we’ll be wishing we could see all those people we love, just one last time. And if we’ve driven a wedge between us and our family and friends, they won’t be there. Our friendships and our families are our foundation, and if a foundation cracks, the house falls.

Use Time Wisely

My wife always reminds me that our final words won’t be “I wish I had spent more time working.” Alive and well, I am wishing I could spend more time with my wife, my kids, and my friends now, and trying to figure out how to get off the road and travel less. The recent loss of Sean, a lifelong friend, was a reminder that you cannot reconnect enough. And now that all three kids are driving and will be off to college in short order, it’s a reminder that we can’t look back, all we can do is focus on now.

I once wrote about battling troops who played football on the front lines of World War I. It was Christmas Eve, and out of respect, they put their anger aside to play football together, gifting themselves with a couple of hours of joy before they returned to killing one another.

I propose a truce. Not just a Christmas truce, but a lifelong truce.

A Rule Worth Following

Going back to my mom and dad’s advice about not talking politics, when I hold my events in the Adirondacks and Fall Color Week, we have a no-politics rule. We’re there to escape, play, and have fun, not to fuel anger and disagreement. The rule is that we simply don’t talk about it, and try to avoid looking at the news on phones or other media.

Escaping Pollution

This past fall one person brought up something political from the news to me mid-week, and it truly spoiled my joy for a couple of hours. And though I said this in a loving way, I suggested that I’d happily refund his money if he was going to pollute the atmosphere for me and the group at a time when we’re all trying to get away from all the political angst. I intend to recommend the “no politics truce” at the Plein Air Convention and the Figurative Art Convention as well because we’re there to celebrate our commonalities and the painting that gives us joy. We all need escapes.

What if you were to suggest this rule at family and friendship gatherings? Chances are everyone knows that there would only be disagreement and debate over politics, and it typically results in bad feelings, anger, and sometimes the end of friendships.

Keeping Certain Things Private

Honestly, we should not make it our concern what each other’s politics are. We should not want to know how others voted. We should not want to know who they support and who they hate. Political discourse used to be more civilized, but it’s become toxic, and that is why we should all make a truce to remove that from our dialogue with friends and family. Meanwhile, the media loves keeping us on the edge of our seats and fueling our anger so we go back for more. Resist it.

Our obsession with politics is hurting us all.

No More Poison

Last summer I disconnected entirely. No television, no radio, no news websites, and I asked my wife not to tell me about things she was reading. I was filled with joy; all that poison was not polluting my system. I enjoyed it so much that I try to go to my studio instead of turning on the news. I get to change things when I vote, and unless I run for office, which I would never do, there isn’t much else I can do. So why get worked up?

Extracting politics from my life may be putting my head in the sand a bit, but I’ll learn about everything important one way or the other. And doing so has brought me peace and tranquility. It’s not controlling my life, and the media is no longer pushing my buttons.

You have every right to be concerned with politics, of course, and I respect that. But is it truly worth the loss of friendships and family?

Are you feeling defeated, angry, or frustrated with politics?

Is it serving you or hurting you?

Perhaps it’s time for you to consider a truce. And there is no better time than now.

Eric Rhoads

PS: When we next talk, Christmas will have passed. Please accept my deepest and most sincere wishes for a wonderful Christmas. I intend to take some time off, so if I don’t show up next week, you’ll know why. Frankly, I won’t know what I plan to do till the day comes.

30 Comments

  1. Gail Giancaspro December 23, 2018 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Your likeminded thinking is a breath of fresh air!
    Have a blessed Christmas and New Year. Continue to cherish your family

  2. Christina Winkelstraeter December 23, 2018 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric,
    I wish you and your family a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year, may all your wishes come true.

  3. Sangeeta Patel December 23, 2018 at 8:12 am - Reply

    This article hit home with me because it encapsulates what everyone has been going through for the last few years – families divided and friendships divided. There are many days that I have wanted to turn off the news and escape. I want to go into my own world and pretend this isn’t happening. I want to spend all my time painting because when I paint I forget the world.

    But then with tenderness, I remember why I can escape. I don’t know a single person who lives with the possibility of being sent to jail, and deported from this country and the life they have built. I live a financially secure life so i can afford to escape when I want. The people I know who are angry are actually afraid of what might happen to themselves or someone they know. They are hurt when people who live in security can’t understand their real fears. Today, much of country dwells in politics and really needs to be able to escape the ugliness and go back to the beauty in art. But, others live in a world filled with fear and hurt. Anger is a secondary emotion; it is a mask that people wear to protect themselves from fear and hurt.

    With tenderness, I understand both needs – the need to escape and the need to be angry. I was born and raised in the US, but am ethnically and visually different from the average American. Somedays I feel the fear that I or my children will be harmed just for how we look and am angry at the injustice I feel, and other days I feel I can escape because we have the right “papers.” And I hope that someday, with tenderness, you can understand your friend’s anger and repair the friendship that you clearly valued enough to write about.

    • Elizabeth McCambridge December 23, 2018 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Sangeeta. My heart hurts and I am fearful for many, many refugee students I have taught for over 35 years. The uncertainty and fear they face is real. And as I recall, Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, forced to flee their homeland for the very real fear of persecution by the government. According to the New Testament, King Herod slaughterer all the male children in Bethlehem under two years of age because he wanted to kill Jesus. I have a rule not to talk politics with my friends who have different political views than mine, I don’t believe I can change their minds. But I won’t stop lobbying, protesting and donating to the organizations that support what I believe in. I will not go gently into that good night.

  4. Linda Kortesoja Klenczar December 23, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

    Christmas Blessings to you and your family the entire year. Thank you for this message each Sunday you write, as I read it, just before I head off to church. It is a blessing for my day to begin.

  5. Aileen Cave December 23, 2018 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Very well said! Thank you.

  6. Mikki Senkarik December 23, 2018 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Eric, My heart goes out to you at the passing of Sean. But what is so wonderful is I know you take comfort in knowing he is with Our Lord at this most glorious time. AND you could not have said it better about politics, I’m right there with you with my head in the sand. Friends and Family are infinitely more important. Please know I keep you in my prayers and am so grateful God has brought you into our lives! I’m certain Jack (White) is applauding you from Heaven for all you’ve done to help fellow artists. Mikki

  7. Pam December 23, 2018 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Well said, thank you!

  8. Jeanne Urban, Calgary December 23, 2018 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Bravo – well said sir. Civility seems to have been forgotten these days. An infusion of such is welcome.

  9. Kathryn Leitner December 23, 2018 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Dear Mr Rhoads,

    I have been following your writings for some time and truly enjoy hearing your perspective! Your words are so timely and your faith and attitude are refreshing! So many times, I am trying to apply the same principles and it’s very encouraging to read your piece. Thank you for taking time to share!

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas Season and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

    Sincerely,
    Kathryn

    PS God’s blessing of peace to your friends as they find their way through this difficult time.

  10. Maureen Tarazon December 23, 2018 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Such a wise letter, thank you.

  11. Dianne Mize December 23, 2018 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Eric, thank you for this post. It certainly got MY attention and soothed in me a tension about my own allowance of political angst that could, if I allowed it, destroy one friendship in particular. In the long run, the madness that has made its ugly presence into our nation’s body would not be there if, as individuals, each of our 323-plus citizens prioritized what’s really important in our lives rather than allow our minds be overcome by the same kinds of poison that cost the lives of thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the 20th century.

    I applaud your intention for a “no politics truce” during the two upcoming Conventions and I hope all who read your Sunday Coffee post today will follow suit in all the painting gatherings during 2019 and forward. We can, indeed, do something about the political breach and that is to follow your lead.

    • Dianne Mize December 23, 2018 at 10:35 am - Reply

      (Correction) 323-plus million citizens (rather than) 323-plus citizens

  12. Linda Browning December 23, 2018 at 10:37 am - Reply

    Eric you have a tremendous gift for writing. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.
    I met you at the convention in Tucson. Wonderful inspiring time.

  13. Betty December 23, 2018 at 11:03 am - Reply

    Dear Mr. Rhoads,
    What a gift you have for self-expression! I look forward each week to Sunday Coffee, and am often moved to tears by your heartfelt writing. Thank you for reminding us all to remain humble and appreciate the important people and elements of our lives. I wish for you and yours a peaceful, joyous Christmas.

  14. Kathleen A Towne December 23, 2018 at 11:16 am - Reply

    What a well written article! Thank you for expressing what I feel is such an important message right now. I also have given up social media, and avoid the news (I depend on others to fill me in on important happenings). The anger and hatred in our culture is absolutely toxic right now, and I refuse to be a part of it. Politics will never heal us. It doesn’t have the power to. We have to live our lives with grace and love toward each other, no matter what our political bent. Thank you again and Merry Christmas to you!

  15. Maryann McNamara December 23, 2018 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Wow! I wonder if there are any families in the US who are not worried about potential conflict during these holidays. Such wonderful, wise words. It makes so much sense to ignore the siren song of politics. We are profoundly blessed and need to connect with that. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

  16. Gabriele Baber December 23, 2018 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    I very much enjoy your writings Eric. I look forward to your thoughts in my in box. I agree with the politics and religion discussion being abolished at family gatherings. It is important that we protect our own serenity in our lives, and the peace of the blessed days in our lives, the times we gather with those that are most important to us.
    Wishing you tand your family the very best this holiday season. I hope our paths cross again soon.
    Gabriele

  17. Ruth P Weiss December 23, 2018 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    How wise and timely. As you well know from your broadcast past, the more one can shout about disaster and inflame emotions the more people will tune in. But I too have tuned out—the divisiveness is deadening and anxiety provoking. Your mom and dad were wise, but you already know that. Have a wonderful time with your family this week Eric.

    Best wishes, Ruth & Gene

  18. Lydia Falletti December 23, 2018 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your honest insite. When I’m stressed I go to my painting, and I drift away to another world. Merry Christmas

  19. Schlesier Grace December 23, 2018 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Your message was SPOT ON. Thank you. Your NO DRAMA hat and message at FALL COLOR WEEK spoke volumes.
    I’m turning off the news, I don’t need political poison in my world. Being in my studio is bliss, so more studio time if I don’t turn on the news.
    When my children were small, I never got involved in listening to politics. It seems as if I LOVE LUCY or LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE was my TV diet. The kids and I would share those happy times together making great memories.
    Ok NO MORE NEWS is my new New Years resolution.

    Bob and I wish you and your family a wonderful, stressless Christmas. All the best in 2019.

  20. Valerie Payne December 23, 2018 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I so look forward to your Sunday talks. You are a wise man Eric. The political atmosphere I the country is so over the top and I agree that we should our personal opinions regarding issues should stay private and not undermine our friendships. We need to love each other for who we are not what we think. Life is too short to allow negativity tarnish our days, especially as an artist. We need our creativity to be fresh, inspiring, and full of positive energy. Enjoy your time with your family Eric, and glad you are taking time off. Merry Christmas 🎄

  21. Brian LaSaga December 23, 2018 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    Thank you Eric. That was a great read and sound advice. Merry Christmas.

  22. Pat Suggs PSA-MP IAPS-MC December 23, 2018 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    Eric, An outstanding letter! Just enjoy resting and your family.
    Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy 2019!
    Pat Suggs

  23. Ann Henley December 23, 2018 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    Wonderful article. In my art journals I have found lately I use the words Today I Choose Peace. I think that is what you’re talking about in this timely article. Being disconnected from so much hate and violence and potential threat to relationships has been so freeing. Thanks for adding your validation! I really enjoy Sunday Coffee. I wish you and your family a beautiful and peaceful holiday season.

  24. Linde Gold December 23, 2018 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    Excellent suggestion ALWAYS we are to have creating our works and inspire each others joyously. So our memories are truly worthwhile CREATION.
    HAPPY HAPPY holidays , good Health, good Friendship, and Gratitude for all we already have and still aspire to new Height.
    Much Love and Light, Linde

  25. Clarice Aaron December 23, 2018 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Eric, for your words of wisdom.
    I live with my 25-year old son and he often vocalizes his very strong political leanings. I usually sit patiently listening to him and when he has finished, I say to him, “Now tell me something good.” i.e. Refocus, think of the good things in life rather than the things that make you angry.
    I stay patient with him because I remember that when I was his age, I also tended to stand on my soapbox and spout my views on how people should behave.
    Recently, my only concession to talking politics is that I don’t think a wall can be built through the Rio Grande, Santa Elena Canyon, Lake Amistad, etc. It might get in the way of my paintings.

  26. Linda Cantey Slonim December 24, 2018 at 8:00 am - Reply

    Eric … the part about not watching the news and the never ending political thrashing about and worse is also how I deal with the barrage of negativity and hate. If it is truly important I will eventually learn of the … whatever it is. I proudly bury my head in the sand in an attempt to avoid constant reactions that pull me away from what is important in my life. Political and social beliefs are quietly attended to through loving support of of issues I can actually do something about. Thenk you for your always thoughtful comments and for all you do in the art community.

  27. Carol A. Holland December 25, 2018 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    As I get older, I find an inner bravery I wish would surface at any time I want or need it, but at least this once very shy little girl has grown into a woman who has experience under her belt and leans on the true Word of God,knowing He cannot lie. So when the inspired Word of God tells me to share the good news of Jesus Christ, I know that’s the right thing to do regardless of any old wives’ tale or adages from those that were shot down from sharing religion, money or politics. If it were not for a friend of mine who got on her soap box and starting sharing politics with anyone within earshot, I would not have taken any interest in it and now I see what a good difference it makes in my life and my country’s present and future. Money–I’ve had times when I had less than a dollar in my bank account to use, and times when there was at least a bit more so I wouldn’t worry about the next paycheck anyway. Because people spoke up and shared how God blessed them as a result of their giving and also tithing, I am inspired and see how I too, am blessed as a result. There’s more to benefit from talking about money, but I can’t write it all here. Then there’s religion (which can be anything) and then there is spirituality and the right relationship with Jesus Christ. You HAVE to talk about Him if you know He loves you and loves the other person too. You have to share the news of the gospel if you believe in Him and want a person to be born-again in Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and life everlasting. So talk politics, talk money, and talk about the Lord and His Word.

  28. wendy L Herubin December 26, 2018 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Enjoyable read and much truth. The media has become the ‘tail wagging the dog’. Walter Cronkite must be spinning in his grave! I found myself being sucked into the drama and have had to make a conscious effort to pull away. I used to go on FB to see art posts from groups and my friends. It turned into a battleground,so I’ve had to ‘unlike’, ‘unfriend’ and throttle back my viewing…I hope your email is seen by many,many people and passed around from friend to friend. I know I will be passing it around. Thank you for the sanity in a world gone insane.

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