COVID took my Uncle Jim last week. Uncle Jim was one of many “susceptible” people with the age and pre-existing conditions ripe for this virus. My mother attended his funeral from her car because of her own concerns for her health. These are the unusual of circumstances in which we say goodbye during these most unusual times.
Tangent: As I write this there in an incredibly beautiful lightning storm passing through in full view from my window with the thunder bouncing off the mountains warping the sounds for an acoustic show matching the lighting. It is beautiful and I’m glad I stopped to note the storm passing. The neighborhood dogs are understandably not taking it in with the same level of appreciation as the humans and the neighbors dog has been darting around looking for the source and offering feeble barks at an ambiguous enemy. This is the first thunderstorm of the spring season with rain replacing snow – finally and thankfully but likely not permanently. We received 8” of snow on June 23rd last year. Know what you control and let go of the rest even if we collectively said “Go home winter, you’re drunk!” last June. The first storm is a reminder to cherish the simple moments in life and certainly the impermanence of seasons – though winter at 9000’ can certainly feel permanent at times.
Tangent: By this time we’ve almost all lost someone close to us or someone who inspired us and for many musician Bill Withers serves as this example. Bill was a musician and songwriter whose music I knew of but not deeply. In an odd coincidence I’ve been playing guitar (really badly) during quarantine and “Ain’t No Sunshine” is part of the songs I’m playing along to on my current level (Level -6).
Once he passed, I listened to Bill’s music and the beauty of his words from “Lean on Me” struck me as so relevant right now. Researchers have characterized what it means to flourish and one theory identifies five elements necessary for us to flourish. One of those elements considered as the most important in affecting our well-being: positive relationships. Supportive, authentic, meaningful and life-enhancing are four great characteristics to look for in those relationships in your life.
Bill captures these characteristics so well in “Lean on Me.”
“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show“
I also noted reciprocity, vulnerability and kindness jumping out of lyrics as the themes of the song and all of those fit in so well with positive relationships. What character strengths are present in the lyrics? Many! But what are strengths and why focus on them? Because the human brain tends to focus on the negative. Focusing on the negative is a survival trait and has helped keep us alive. Fire is bad. Being attacked is bad. Hunger is bad. Our brain triggers negative emotions to get us to focus on resolving the bad so we can survive.
How do we focus on the good? It takes practice and the practice today is called “noting.” Let’s come back to those strengths. Positive Psychologists developed a list of 24 character strengths in humans and we each have a unique mix of these strengths with our top strengths flowing naturally out of us. Bill’s lyrics (see the full lyrics here) are full of strengths like kindness, love, bravery, humility – it’s a beautiful song and I’m glad it wound up in my life.
Full-Circle: Humans are programmed to seek relationships as a survival tool so understanding this urge is of great importance – maybe now more so than ever. Character strengths are expressed all around us and finding the uniqueness in your colleagues, friends and family is a great way to note the positive people in your life and when you share what you’re seeing in them BOOM! Thunderbolts and lightning! Not very very frightening – even to dogs – but instead energizing and bonding.
So you have homework. Homework?!?! Yes, fun homework involving music and a relationship. Grab this PDF of the 24 character strengths and do these two things:
- Pick your favorite artist and a positive and moving song and see what strengths come out of the lyrics.
- Note the strengths of someone in your life and share it with them. I’ll share part two of my homework here for my Uncle Jim.
Uncle Jim had several character strengths and they all came rushing forth as I thought about him tonight and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to see this in him and for nostalgia. My Uncle Jim always tried with me and my siblings. Some adults just aren’t great with kids and so they back away from the discomfort. He never did back away, he always tried. Uncle Jim was intense but balanced the intensity with a lightheartedness and a great laugh (Humor). Certainly energetic (Zest) especially watching football – I remember watch him accidentally punch a hole in his ceiling in excitement! He was a practitioner of Aikido (Love of Learning). He was avid supporter of human rights (Fairness) battling against racism and inequality (Bravery) and an organizer for others in his workplace (Leadership). And in a pointed moment that now feels like it wasn’t coincidence: the preacher offering his funeral service was African-American. Goodbye Uncle Jim. Thank you for the strengths you brought to the world and especially those you used in service to something larger than yourself. RIP.