anne mikolay 2012 120After several unusually busy weeks for me, it's time to sit back and reflect. After-all, the true merit of any experience is measured in lessons learned. What, then, have I gleaned from the changing times in my life?

It's always an interesting – and often frustrating – experience when a family member is hospitalized. Spending time in a hospital either as a patient or a visitor is an eye-opener. While the rest of us are rejoicing in spring's arrival, planting our annual flower beds, planning for Memorial Day barbecues, others less fortunate are hospitalized, some for serious ailments. It's quite jolting to witness another person's pain; it's a rare individual who visits a hospital and doesn't give thanks for one's own health, as I learned recently when a family member was hospitalized. Empathy and consideration, I discovered, are necessary for any hospital stay or visit, yet every now and then you come across people who have neither. These are the “emergency room rubberneckers”, those individuals who sit on their gurneys gawking at other patients waiting to be seen by the doctor. Of course, boredom and impatience while waiting in an emergency room is commonplace, but that is not license to be intrusive and rude. A caring attitude is paramount in a hospital – and that goes for the nurses, too. Some nurses are all business, automatic robots without personality or the “human touch” so necessary to sooth anxiety or pain. And then there are others...merciful angels in hospital scrubs who instinctively respond with kindness and skill. I have learned that a good nurse makes all the difference. Doctors may get the glory and the big bucks, but nurses run the hospital. Without them, the medical system and patient care would crumble.

May is college graduation time, and I am blessed to have two sons who successfully completed their course of study. My youngest has graduated with his bachelors degree; my oldest has received his masters. For the first time in years, there are no tuition bills forthcoming! Glory hallelujah! What have I learned from my sons' college years? What wisdom can I impart to parents who will send their kids off to a college campus in September? Well, basically, it's all about the bin. Yes, the bin, that big laundry hamper thing on wheels you desperately need on move-in day. When packing for college, if your kid's supplies don't fit in the bin the “ambassadors” give you on move-in day, you're young, budding professor isn't focused. A college student doesn't need to bring a ton of fancy clothes and student furniture to campus. Not only are dorm rooms small, but a serious student doesn't need a bunch of junk cluttering his/her space or time. Pack academic supplies, basic wardrobe and toiletries, flashlights and lanterns in case of black-outs. In other words, be practical...in all things. Parents, a good college experience (and a healthy return on your investment) definitely begins in high school. Encourage your high school student to take as many advanced placement classes as they can reasonably handle; doing so puts them (and your bank account) ahead of the game. And remember: if it doesn't fit in the moving-day bin, the kid probably doesn't need it.

Experience, whether firsthand or via current events, teaches the sad fact that when God (or whatever Higher Power designed the Universe) was handing out common sense, some folks were sleeping. Last week, in Allegheny Township, Pennsylvania, a man was arrested for desecrating the American flag. Mr. Joshua Brubaker spray painted the American flag and hung it upside down outside his home allegedly to express his American Indian heritage (in which an upside down flag symbolizes distress). Brubaker faces misdemeanor charges for desecration and insults to the American flag. According to Foxnews.com, Brubaker defended his actions: “If we can't express ourselves freely,” he said. “And not worry about any repercussion from that, what's the point of having the flag?” You can argue free speech all you want, but common sense prohibits desecrating the beloved symbol of our United States. End of story.

And there you have it. What I have learned in recent weeks can be summarized as follows: empathy, practicality, and common sense can make the world a better place.