Love is the Most Important Thing – Notes from Dr. Muriel McKenney

Dr Muriel’s Notes chapter 1

It was the first day of school and Muriel was eager to go. She would be riding there with her friend Kate in her father’s buggy. She was so excited. She was her face in the big bowl by her bed.

Her grandmother had made her a new dress just for this day. It was a deep blue with white lace trimming. ‘It made her look mature!’ That was what her grandmother said.

She rushed downstairs and into the kitchen. There at the table her father, Winfield Scott Redman, and her older brother Johnny had already finished there meals. Her younger brother Arthur was sitting in his high chair making something out of his food.

Everyone helped her get her breakfast together as she sat down. Her mother, Grace, looked slightly disapproving of the handmade dress; she would have preferred that they had ordered a dress from Boston. But grandmother Redman had insisted that she make a dress for Muriel’s first day of school.

All through breakfast Muriel kept popping up from the table to look out to see if the buggy had arrived. Even though her parents assured her they would let her know, she still felt a need to check.

Finally she was done. She grabbed her lunch pail. (this was a real pail) She kissed her mom and dad. She rushed outside to sit on the stoop as she waited for the buggy.

It seemed an eternity, though it wasn’t probably more than a half hour, for the buggy to round the bend and clop, clop, clop up to the walkway.

She rushed down the walkway and nearly into the path of the slow old horse that pulled the tired looking old buggy. She scrambled up beside her friend and immediately they were deep in conversation.

The trip seemed to be over too fast. Young ladies and their secrets made the trip fly by, even though it was nearly three miles to the small one room school house in the center of Burnham.

Muriel and Kate nearly fell off the buggy in their rush to ascend to the school yard. There the other six children that made up Miss Reynolds class were already hard at play.

Muriel knew Miss Reynolds from church so she knew that she would like school.

Muriel was right from that first day with Miss Reynolds, her favorite teacher ever, till her last day taking doctoral classes, school was a love she never lost.

From this humble beginning Miss Muriel started one journey after another, each started with anticipation; next came preparation; then the wait, the long, long wait full of anticipation and longing; finally the opportunity to learn new things; then a new journey would begin.

Over her eighty plus years, Miss Muriel earned a basic education; studied fencing, horseback riding, skiing, art, dental technology, psychology, reality therapy, religion and graph analysis.

By sixteen she had graduated high school and started college. Near the end of her second year she had to leave college to take care of her ailing father. Not long after that she married Albert McKenney when he was home on leave from the war. That hadn’t been her plan for life, but it was a choice she made. For the next twenty years she raised eight children. She read constantly, always bringing in new books to fill her mind and the minds of her children with dreams.

With her children starting to leave home about the time of the Vietnam War, she returned to College to finish her bachelor’s degree. Over the decade she completed a bachelor’s degree, masters of fine arts, a doctoral in psychology, a certification in handwriting analysis, psychologist license, and certifications in several types of specialized psychology.

For the next twenty years she created art in the form of murals, oil painting, water colors, sculptures and mixed media presentations.

When not working on her art she was engaged as the local Director of Literacy Volunteers, Chair person on several church related groups and house mother to several wayward youths who she took under her wing.

In the area of psychology she had a small practice in her home and took only a limited number of patients. She preferred a small practice where she could give each person as much time as they needed. Most of her clients were women who had been unsuccessful in solving their problems with other practitioners. Her practice relied heavily on behavior modification and not on the use of any drugs. Her patients felt that she had really helped them, perhaps because she was able to help them identify what they could do to help themselves.

In her spare time she wrote articles for neighborhood papers and any one else that wanted her thoughts. She also taught local school teachers how to use Reality Therapy to lesser their problems in the classroom.

She never did any of this for the money; rather she did it because of her love of people. If someone liked her art when she was at a show, she almost always would give them the painting or sculpture for free.

Several times her generosity resulted in some panhandler walking away from her door with a freshly baked pie in hand; pan and all.

Within the chapters of this book I will share her notes and stories with the reader in hopes they find them helpful in traveling through this life, just as she would like her notes to be shared.

Her notes from February 1992

In preparation of an article called Love is the Answer, Muriel wrote.

“Here we are anticipating another St. Valentines day. Hearts and Cupids are showing up all over the place reminding us of the importance of love in our life. Important enough to set aside a day every year to celebrate it.

(Dr. Muriel references to the Encyclopedia Americana. St. Valentine, bishop and martyr of the church, was put to death at Rome for his faith during the persecution under Claudius II, February 14th, 270 A.D)

It happens that February 14th is the day that the birds were believed to mate each year. The combination of these two events gave birth to St. Valentine’s Day, so the custom of choosing a person for one’s Valentine is very old. This custom spread from Rome to France, England, and beyond. In he 1600’s the first greeting cards written were sent.

This bit of history tells us a lot about ourselves. It is obvious that this would not have survived for hundreds of years if people did not value love very highly. Perhaps for that reason, we tend to feel some embarrassment when we talk about love, but we all, consciously or unconsciously, know that love is the most important element of our lives.

It is essential because human beings need to love and be loved in order to feel worthwhile and to become fully functioning persons, otherwise, life loses its meaning and significance.

Psychotherapists are well aware that the absence of love in a person’s life is a major cause of mental illness. Conversely, when love is present, the greatest and most effective mental healing takes place.

On St. Valentine’s Day we tend to focus on the beautiful love of lovers, romantic love. But love takes many forms and produces different experiences. Following are some of the expressions or forms that we experience.

Motherly love or unconditional love (not exclusive to mothers allows individuals to experience being loved for just who they are, faults and all. This is a great and healing gift because when we are fully accepted and loved by another person, we are then able to accept and love ourselves as well as others, and are able to feel confident that we are OK.

Fatherly love or conditional love (not exclusive to fathers) is very important also. We have to earn and deserve this kind of love by living up to certain ethical principles and standards. If we succeed, we grow in character and self-esteem. Self-discipline develops from this form of love.

Brotherly love, called agape in Greek, is the force that motivates us to be good to one another, to respect and care about each other, and even to give up our life for another or for a greater good.

Romantic or erotic love is a craving for union with one other individual exclusively. The range of emotions experienced runs the gamut from ecstasy to despair. However, no matter how painful the experience may be, most persons would not change it. As the saying goes, “Tis better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.”

And of course, the love of God is the most important and necessary form of all because it is all inclusive. When individuals have a loving relationship with their God or their own personal higher power, they experience feelings of joy, peace, and harmony. Everyone longs to feel a sense of belonging. This form of love satisfies that need and the person no longer feels alone, isolated, separated, or abandoned. Many persons have experienced miracles of mental and physical healing as well.

In psychotherapy, the presence of love is the essential for healing. We can recognize it by its elements which include caring, respect, responsibility, and ability to know and understand others.

Love is the essential need of every human being and the only answer to all our earthly problems in life.”

These are the words of Dr. Muriel Redman McKenney.

Talking to Dr. McKenney recently I asked her what she thought love was. She had a one word answer; “Lucy!”

This wasn’t really a surprise as ‘Lucy’ had come into her life at a time her husband, Al, was declining in health. Her son Michael took her out to the Maine Mall to get her out of the house.

As they were walking through the Mall they began to pass a pet store. There, in the window, she noticed a cute sad eyed Collie puppy. Immediately she halted Michael and said she wanted to “look” at the dog.

She asked the sales clerk if she could hold the puppy. Once in her arms, she has never let Lucy go from her heart. For the next few years Lucy gave her great pleasure by being a companion to her husband.

The twice daily walks re-awaken Al’s desire to live. With many old friends dying he had lost a reason to get out of the house. Lucy became that reason until his diabetes finally won. Up until a few months before his death, Lucy made sure he had a reason to leave the house. This made Miss Muriel very pleased.

After Al’s passing Lucy continued to keep Miss Muriel going. She tried to walk her, but often found herself on the ground as the large collie pulled relentlessly. She had never trained Lucy nor worried about housebreaking her. It didn’t matter. Lucy was her companion and held memories not only of herself but also her late husband.

Alzheimer’s had already begun ravaging Miss Muriel’s mind at the time of Al’s death. As a result many memories of the last years of her marriage have been denied her.

Lucy represents those lost years in many ways. When she sees Lucy she knows everything is right. She is in assisted living these days, so Lucy can only visit from time to time. She would love to have her with her, but Lucy is still not house broken and probably never will be. Nevertheless, at least once a week and sometimes twice, Lucy visits her. She may not remember names, faces or when things happened, but she always remembers Lucy.

Love is the most important thing and to her ‘Lucy’ represents all the things she loves and has ever loved over the course of more than eight decades.

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