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Drive

Recently, I made a trip to say goodbye to a close friend – he is moving south. It’s likely the last time we’ll visit face-to-face, so it was a bittersweet episode. But as the time approached to traverse the 85 miles to his house, I found myself becoming apprehensive in a manner that had no connection to our farewell visit. In fact, it felt like the day of a high school or collegiate wrestling match, where I’d turn inward to steel myself for the upcoming contest. Why?

It was the anticipation of the drive. This is peculiar, because my friend’s house is on the route I used to follow for my work commute. I have literally logged over two hundred thousand miles along this track and can recite every facet of the trip – from the blinding sun at mile 6 on Bulls Head Road to the inevitable traffic pile-up at Golden’s Bridge. My commuting trips usually started at 5AM and brought me sightings of coyotes and bobcat that I never would have otherwise seen. There were beautiful sunrises and sunsets and plenty of flowering trees in season.

But, there also is the high speed choreography of flocks of commuting cars and trucks. In good weather I choose the Taconic Parkway, just to break the monotony, starting in an easygoing manner with a clear road ahead. Smooth sailing to Baird Park. However, cars start to pass me and I find myself pressing the accelerator a bit harder, while watching the abrupt merging opportunities from side streets. The shoulders are minimal and road banking is nonexistent, so focus heightens. The truth is, I have avoided rush hour commuting for two decades and a good part of my apprehension is loss of confidence.

By the time I reach the former gas station in the center island ten miles from route 84, I’m driving faster than I’d like, but not as fast as I will be traveling on route 84. The exit from the Taconic to route 84 merges at the bottom of a long hill. This is not traffic genius, because trucks have built up rolling speed and usually stick to the right hand lane in preparation for the steep uphill climb after the merge. In short, you need to time your merge and punch the gas to avoid the behemoths bearing down on you.

By the top of the next rise, everyone is doing at least 75mph at close quarters. My adrenaline is pumping and I’m looking for a bit of breathing room in the crowded field. I’m beginning to get an idea of how sockeye salmon feel on the upstream journey. All of a sudden, the whole experience becomes automatic, plugged in. I’m gliding in and out of clusters of commuters piloted by my autonomic nervous system. “See, I can still do this”, my left brain says. “But, do I want to?” my right brain replies.

The turn south on rt. 684 brings me in sight of the old Pepsi Cola headquarters with its I.M Pei glass pyramids floating on top of its bricks and mortar. Once upon a time, long after Pepsi departed, I had an office on the 4th floor overlooking the southbound traffic on 684. I would have been in my office by 7:30AM, so I say hello to imaginary me watching real-time me speed past. I never was turned on by a “need for speed”, but did respond to a “need to succeed”. Those were the days when my prime focus was work and I was an absentee family member. This drive brings back the guilt I feel for missing so much relationship time.

As usual, Golden’s Bridge slows the rolling hordes down to 10mph and I pass three cars in the median, the product of vehicular Darwinism. There’s no visible damage, so I assume a three car fender bender has taken place. One guy standing by his van is on the phone, no doubt explaining why he will be late to his job. I’m convinced that most accidents on rt. 684 (and maybe most highways?) do not occur at speed, but from inattention during stop-and go intervals. I exit at rt. 35 and breathe a sigh of relief – ‘what was I worried about, anyway?’ True, I’ve experienced worse on the LIE, Chicago, and Atlanta, not to mention California. Yet, none of those drives has the repeated history of travel as does this route. Sometimes I feel like I’ve played the odds too long and a reckoning is nigh. However, now, in the stolid company of landscaper trucks fanning out to Pound Ridge and New Canaan – usually with no sense of hurry – I can relax and coast the rest of the way. A curious fact, I never see any people in their manicured, spacious grounds and large homes – just landscapers. My fantasy circuit kicks in and I wonder if the residents are being held hostage by their groundskeepers – or maybe the groundskeepers now live in the mansions, the elder rich people having passed away unnoticed? Probably, that’s just survivor endorphins talking – it won’t last: I have to think about the return drive.

The Rush!

I just read Wal’s piece about the feelings evoked as he retraced his car tracks along his former commuting route.  The timing of this couldn’t be more perfect as I just finished three days of work in Rye, NY and, during commuting hours, covered many of the roads Wal referenced. 

I left early for my appointment, feeling good about the amount of extra time I allotted for any delays that I might encounter during the predicted one hour and thirty-two minute drive.  This was not normally the case when I was working full time and entering the daily commuter race with hopes and prayers and a belief that I deserved clear sailing and to be at work on time!  This time I was relaxed, and was prepared to stay so throughout my ride.  However, as soon as I entered the Taconic Parkway I soon realized that going 5 miles above the speed limit in the right lane would put me well behind the flow and would make me an obstacle for others to either swerve to avoid or tailgate in hopes I would go faster.  Eckhart Tolle once told a story about his stay in Manhattan.  He awoke and decided to go for a leisurely stroll down some of the many famous avenues.  Much to his surprise, almost everyone was walking at a fast or frenzied clip and walking slowly became a chore rather than a soothing way to spend the morning.  So, rather than quit or bemoan the fact that his plan wasn’t working, he simply picked up the pace and joined the wave of people traveling at a New York City tempo.  And so did I.  Rather than fixate on what I couldn’t do, I matched speed with the flow and continued.  And while it admittedly raised the intensity of my attention as well as my concern to sustain the pace safely it was less stressful and I eventually arrived without incident.

This experience was not unique in my traveling during commuter hours as a senior citizen.  A couple of years ago I was caught up in a similar scenario and I was surprised by the zigzagging and frenetic maneuvers of the cars around me.  I commented to my daughter on the phone one evening about how bad this was and while I couldn’t see her gentle smile, she paused and reminded me of how I used to navigate the daily commute when I was a younger pup.  Gulp!  She was right.  I was just like the people I was now criticizing.  I had forgotten how easy it was to get caught up in “the rush” never making the time to see how I might have looked to a retired senior or someone who had mastered their inner calm.  And while this reminder didn’t make the act of driving during rush hour any easier, it allowed me to better accept it.

Driving Me Crazy

I didn’t get my driver’s license til late.  Growing up in the suburbs of NYC no one had his license before graduation and the public high schools didn’t offer Driver’s Ed or anything like that.  I didn’t get my license til I student taught when I was 21.  Now as a senior citizen I can’t help but think about the day when I have to surrender that license and my mobility and independence comes to an abrupt end.

5 years ago I had a scare. Rushed to Albany by ambulance and 2 stents placed in clogged arteries. I was out of the hospital the next day, sent home, scared to death and my confidence in normal everyday living shot to hell.  But time passed, my life normalized thanks to the care of my daughter, but the confidence needed to drive anywhere longer than a ten minute trip to the grocery store didn’t return so easily.  It was a year before I could even get up the nerve to drive to Albany for a checkup. But it happened and I slowly regained my confidence.   Then, for two years just before Covid struck, I began running back and forth to Vermont every weekend- a two and a half hour trip to my antique store.  It was an easy trip because there was no traffic if I left at the right time.   Part of it was thruway driving and the rest a heavily traveled Rt 4.  In addition to the concerns of an old man losing his mobility, there are other issues that enter the picture.   I would break my journey down into laps.  The first lap was from Ulster County to exit 24 on the NY State Thruway. Like Wally I would experience a dread, well more of an anxiety, about the journey ahead. I would leave at just the right moment to avoid the traffic jam at the end of lap 2- the stretch of outlet stores in Glens Falls just off exit 20 of the Northway.  The logic behind the definition of the laps was each lap ended right near a public restroom. Another age related blow to one’s confidence. The final lap was relatively easy across the state border on Rt 4 into Vermont.  In the last lap the speed was controlled and slower, the intensity of driving was diminished and the road was curvy and hilly so I had to be attentive but even so I was more relaxed. The first two laps I set my cruise control to assure my heavy foot didn’t over step the legal limit.  I always felt a sigh of relief when the second lap was complete and I was no longer on a 4 or 6 lane highway traveling well over 70.  The thruway is 2 lanes in each direction, full of tractor trailers and speeding sedans, and once you’re on the Northway those four lanes expand to 6, with lower speed limits and fewer people following them.  I could just feel the tenseness in my shoulders release as I passed The Log Jam restaurant at the beginning of Rt 149.  It was soothing from there on in to Vermont.  Rolling hills and pasture lands, garage sales and mom and pop restaurants. As soon as I got to Vermont and shut the car off I took a breath, closed my eyes and reaffirmed to myself that I was capable of doing this.  The return trip had to be later in the day to avoid the traffic at the outlet stores, the only place where backups and traffic jams occur.  Timing was everything.  But the anxiety of the trip still loomed ahead of me. God forbid there was snow. That would be enough to drive me crazy!  Covid ended all that.  I didn’t have to buy gas for weeks, and my oil changes became few and far between.  Life has definitely changed!  That anxiety I felt every time I began the Vermont sojourn I no longer experience.  It will probably return as life becomes more and more normal again.

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Manana is Good Enough for Me – NOT

Since Covid, no-since childhood, I have procrastinated. I put things off til the last possible minute.  If something had to be done by Monday morning, I did it Sunday night. That has been the story of my life.  My dad called me lazy when he would get exasperated with me cause I needed his help at the last minute.  All through my life I was guilty of such practices. As a young father I have Often felt like a hypocrite when I would chide my kids about waiting til the last minute to do things. They were smart enough to know I should practice what I preach but they never threw it up in my face!  In spite of this I had two very successful careers. Perhaps I had fine tuned my skills enough that they prevented my discovery as a fraud.  Every day in my classroom I expected the principal to come in and say, 

“Aha!   You are not a teacher!”  I always felt deficient!

That’s another story for another blog.  But I digress!  Since Covid, I have been doing a lot of introspection.  I have also been doing a lot of buying stuff on line. I needed a printer/copier and ordered a great wireless one through Amazon.  It sits in the box on my living room floor. I needed a light over my bed so I could read at night and found a nice sconce to hang on my wall. It sits in the box next to my bed. Through Wayfair I ordered a Mid Century TV stand.  It sits in its box in front of my tv.  Then, of course, there is my office, desk piled high, bills begging, pleading to be filed neatly away in their respective folders, tabletops piled high with mail and hearing aid proposals and return address labels from every organization I ever donated to(never end a sentence with a preposition!)  So what is the point of all this?  I said that I have been doing a lot of self reflection.

I sat in my house one day and saw all the boxes, saw the pile of stuff in my office and scratched my head.  What the hell is wrong with me?  Those boxes have been there for months, the office has been this way since the fall. Enough, tomorrow I will get to work on these projects.  But I didn’t expect to be up half the night trying to figure out why I do this.  After running it silently through my head a million times the pattern and the motive became clear.  I wasn’t lazy or afraid of doing the work.  I was afraid of starting the project.  But why?  And suddenly, like the flashing neon lights from the motel across the street, came the reason –  loud and clear.  I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed.  I feared I couldn’t do what had to be done.  I am not mechanically inclined, don’t know how to use all but the basic tools!  By putting it off, I am avoiding the truth about myself as I know it! My confidence is shot!  Actually, I never had confidence in the “manly” world of building things. Put me in a social setting and I have no hesitation to succeed. The realization was miraculous, and it only took 60 plus years to identify what has me frozen.  I am  proud to say I have a beautiful new tv stand, a light over my bed and an office that smells of lemon wax and cleanliness. There are still a few jobs left but I can put those off til tomorrow!

Fear of Fixing

Well, George could have been writing about me – end of (as the British say)! Well maybe not actually end of story, because I have a hypothesis: procrastination = learned helplessness. Yes, I think it’s learned.

When I was a kid, I idolized my Dad – he could do anything! I watched him cut a perfect archway in a blank plaster wall, armed only with a handsaw. Now c’mon, if I tried that it would be an episode of Polyhedrons Gone Bad. I watched him bring a listing brick chimney back in line with the house. There didn’t seem anything he was afraid to tackle by himself.

He had time to teach me baseball, boxing, archery, golf, chess, and all kinds of card games; there was lots of praise and lots of shared laughter during those activities. But repair was a different story – it was dead serious and not an instructable. I was the kid who always handed him the wrong wrench and shone the flashlight in the wrong place. Repair always seemed like an out of body experience for me. My younger brother initially felt the same way – but more about that in a second.

My Dad grew up without a father and worked from an early age. He had no paternal guide, but also no one told him he couldn’t do something, so he fearlessly jumped in. I think that’s important.

Back to my brother. Rich found a group of friends that liked to revamp bicycles and build model rockets. He became a hands-on guy. Somehow that street cred worked for Dad and they both had their heads under cars every weekend. I looked on and just gave up the possibility of being initiated into these mysteries. Truthfully, I did not miss it.

However, the net result was that for years I’d shy away from tasks I did not think I could do well. This was unfortunate, because my father set the example of doing everything himself, so I also felt the failure of not being up to the task. Faced with the choice of attempting something I ought to do, but did not have the confidence to do – or hiring a skilled person to do that task – I would do neither. Lots of procrastination. What was it that Henry Ford said: “If you think you can do a thing or think that you can’t, you are right?” Interestingly, because I didn’t put a high expectation for “fixing” on my kids, both turned out to be amazingly capable of fixing anything. Just like my father!

It took years for me to realize the methods for breaking down a task into bite-size elements – I nudge things to death — that’s my approach these days. Plus, there’s a YouTube for every problem. I’ve also relaxed the standards by which I judge my work. All of that seems to lower the barriers to moving forward with projects.  And the bonus is that I can also call my wizard kids for advice!  

Putting Things Off

Yup!  Guilty!

In my work, as in my life, I learned the value of doing what needs to be done in a timely fashion.  In addition, addressing those things that are most difficult and challenging should take precedence over those that are easier.  However, understanding these important principles and consistently acting on them are not necessarily synonymous: at least in my personal experience.

For me, motivation plays a big role in whether I address and complete things in a manner that allows for interruptions, accidents, or unanticipated obstacles.  If I need to get my house ready for an upcoming home inspection I’m good at planning ahead, targeting a completion date days before it’s needed, and then addressing all those things I didn’t account for in the extra time allotted.  And, I’m getting better at making those difficult phone calls sooner rather than later or never.  But, rest assured, I don’t often identify such things as “important” enough to take care of them when I should.  Take this blog entry, for example.  I am fortunate to be working with two of the most supportive and understanding men I know.  Consistently being the last one to submit my blog original or blog rejoinder, I know they will sincerely accept my delay without question.  But why do I put off my writing?  Sure, I’m going through the process of selling my house and looking for a new primary residence.  But each of them is also, at any given time, going through challenging times and yet continue to provide their entries on or closer to our target dates.  

I’m not sure I understand my procrastination.  Yes, reading their pieces before I respond often inspires me.  Yes, I know they will not pressure me or say anything to cause me to feel guilty.  Yes, I do feel this is not only important but one of the few things over the last few years that has offered me a sense of community, a sense of value, and a source of learning.  And yet, I continue to take a laid back approach to getting my piece done in an equitable and timely fashion.

This is one example of many for me.  And, since I don’t feel particularly good about putting off those things that matter, it’s time to do something about it.  Stephen Covey wrote, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” 

Perhaps it’s time to change up some thinking and some poor habits.  Of course this necessitates starting immediately rather than after the sale of my house or after I get some rest or …you know the drill.

George and Wal, get ready for Hen’s new and improved, on-time blog delivery system!

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To Give or Not to Give

One of the constants in my life has been the request of others for me to donate money.  An endless list of charities find their way to my email box asking for me to donate to a cause.  Usually, via some internet magic, the requesting agencies are in line with my interests, beliefs, and passions.  More recently, political entities ask for me to support candidates who promise to further the causes I believe in.  Sometimes, I pass people who appear to be either homeless or hungry and ask me directly for a handout. Today, one television commercial showed me starving, mistreated dogs and another, the plight of elephants with babies in tow.  Their messages tugged at my heart and my purse strings.

The quest for financial resources is endless but, since I don’t have an endless supply of “extra” cash, making decisions about what to give is a dilemma.  Even after I develop a process and or guideline for who to give and how much, the question of trust arises.  How do I know if these requests are legitimate and how do I know if the funds are going to the intended recipients and if they are, what percentage may be going for administrative costs? 

Over the years, I’ve asked friends how they make decisions about donating.  As you might guess, it varies from person to person but none have an absolute, clear-cut formula with one exception.  In this case, if he’s asked, he gives. If he encounters a person who is sitting or walking on the street and they make a request for cash, he gives with no exception.  He has chosen to completely accept that if they are asking, they are needy and he gives them money unconditionally.  If they chose to spend it on liquor or drugs or food or clothing, he contends that is their choice.  He is only responsible for responding to the act of one human asking for help, not to bother himself in the affairs of how the individual choses to use the help given.  It reminds me of our conversation about labels and judgments.  I might find it irresponsible to enable someone who is intoxicated to use my money to buy more alcohol so I would likely not give them money. Of course, in that case, I’ll never know whether this was a moment when this person may have chosen to use my contribution in another way to help themselves; all because I speculated that I knew better.  Who is to say?  In the end, if giving this person money that I didn’t need, money that wouldn’t negatively impact my life, might the feeling of giving with the hope of helping, add value to my life?

I enjoy helping others but still hesitate to give out my “hard-earned” money to strangers who may not have “worked hard” and who are “deserving” of charity.  But as I grow older, I am re-examining those old beliefs and am reconsidering the idea of unconditional giving.  I look forward to seeing my own reaction the next time I pass a person who asks me for money.

Giving is a Function of Trust

I’d argue that giving money or donations to others is the same as the decision to place love or trust in a relationship. In a perfect world, the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ would be limitless. In practice, there is always a part of me that wishes to hold something back — whether it’s trust or donations, is immaterial — but that’s my quirk.

However, one thing is clear to me: I won’t donate without some level of trust having been established. Hen raises the point that perhaps it doesn’t matter if the recipient uses the gift in a manner in which you approve. After all, ‘help’ is defined by the receiver. And yet… remember a few years ago, when the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, and the Breast Cancer Society were accused of diverting $187 million dollars to lavish salaries, trips, and perks? In fact it was alleged that only 3% of the donations actually made its way toward cancer research. (NB: these groups are not affiliated with the American Cancer Society). Even in respected charities, the CEO may earn penthouse-level compensation. Charities are big business – and somehow this seems like an oxymoron to me. Ah, there’s me being distrustful! 

We all feel better when we give of our resources. Sharing is an essential part of living with others. It is a recognition of another’s need and our ability to nurture those in need. However, many of us also give as an antidote to guilt. The paid advertisements Hen described certainly appeal to that motivation. Such appeals feel like manipulation and I won’t have it.

My giving formula boils down to this: I will give generously to those I know and love, even if they do not use the resources as I would. I will give regularly to community institutions that are local and I have seen their good works. I will take a chance on giving to an individual I don’t know, if a connection is made that doesn’t tingle my distrust. I will not give to a suspected liar – or to most national fundraising organizations. In other words, I mind my patch and invest in my community, trusting that the investment will help others. 

The Act of Giving

Lately, I have been generously giving contributions to people on the street who ask.  I figure I can afford to donate a ten-dollar bill to someone down on his or her luck.  I know it could be a total
sham but I figure if by chance it is legitimate I could contribute to someone’s getting a meal or paying a bill and that would make their day and mine as well. Of course you just never know.  When I was going to Vermont every weekend I used to see the guys with signs in the entrance to the shopping malls.  The signs usually indicated the guy was an out of work veteran who was hungry, many times small children were holding the guy’s pant leg or something for an additional emotional tug.  The Rutland Journal did a report and followed one guy and found out that he raised over $100,000 in a year’s time.  When you think about it, it is hard work and probably won’t get you a pass at the Pearly Gates!  Sometimes I think I often give to people out of guilt.  How come I had the wherewithal to have spare cash while others can barely make it day to day?

A year ago Christmas I was especially tender for many reasons and watched the shivering puppies chained to an old fence and became a monthly “Guardian” with the SPCA.  I can’t stand to see animals suffering because of human cruelty!  And the next commercial was of St Jude’s Children Hospital and became a “Guardian” there as well.  I chose to believe that most of my monthly contribution goes to helping animals and children but I just have to have naive faith about that!  Don’t burst my bubble please.

But donating money was never a problem for me.  Both my kids worked in restaurants and taught me to give hefty tips as well. However, my shortcoming is giving of my time.  I have never contributed a few minutes to talk to the guy begging on the street or actually going with him and buying him a meal.  The nursing homes are full of lonely people abandoned who would love to have a conversation or a hug.  I realized that this year as the isolation overwhelmed me. People in these facilities live like that from year to year and not because of Covid.  Perhaps it is the sadness factor that stops me. My tears come much more easily now and I’m not sure I can deal with the sadness I would see around me.  I actually feel terrible admitting to this but it has always been a shortcoming of mine.   I should know better, I was that outcast kid in school for several years and knew how it felt.  I need to be as generous with my time as I am with money.  Maybe then the Pearly Gates will open for me!

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Russell’s Teapot

Maundy Thursday is a profoundly sad day. It reminds me of our unfailing default behavior of cruelty and self-service. It doesn’t take much to see how that behavior is still present in our DNA. Perhaps it is a collateral requirement for survival that we can justify any action which assuages our fears.

This is a day when I confront my beliefs about faith. After all, faith is about hope – hope that there is a better version of myself and all of us; something timeless and clear, synchronized to a cosmic truth. That’s why I’m thinking of Bertrand Russell’s teapot.

If you missed it, Bertrand Russell stated his reluctance to believe in God and placed the onus on religion to prove that God existed. He put forward an analogy: what if he stated as a firm belief that there was an undetectable celestial teapot traveling in an elliptical orbit in space? Who could prove him wrong? Russell’s argument is that the burden of proof does not fall upon the skeptics, but rather the proponents.

Rare Sighting of Russell’s Teapot

At first glimpse, this seems like a reasonable assertion. It is always a good idea to examine the basis for your own assumptions; what you cannot prove should be placed in that Box of Uncertainties. And yet… that box of uncertainties is pretty large. Sometimes, planks in that box are needed to bridge gaps in understanding how the world works – or how you should work within the world. As you construct your personal bridge, some of the planks are less than solid. So, do you stop your journey, turnaround, or continue on?

I’m reminded of that 1970’s bestseller Don Juan, A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. This was the first in series of books which chronicled the socialization of an anthropologist into the world of a Native American shaman. Don Juan recalibrated the perception of the young anthropologist to identify strong forces at work in the world; how to use that power; and how to identify ‘witches’. Objective proof: doubtful. By the end of the books – which were the basis of the anthropologist’s doctoral dissertation – Carlos Castenada had absorbed the shaman’s worldview to reflect a philosophy which was compelling enough to attract a number of fans. Could it be possible that today’s mysticism is tomorrow’s science?

Every journey requires some degree of faith in assumptions that cannot be proven. The need for proponents to prove their case is only necessary if they attempt to press their assumptions onto others – and I accept that this is pretty common in day-to-day life. Yet, the tyranny of Russell’s teapot argument is that it precludes ‘possibilities’.

If I were to counsel my grandchildren, it would be to rename the uncertainty box as the ‘Box of Possibilities’ and use some of those planks in their bridge construction. I think it’s better to be open to a broad vision when facts don’t connect the dots.

Not A Religious Man

I was never religious.  I always questioned it and asked for proof which I never got.  I considered myself spiritual.  I was raised Catholic, my mom was Congregational, but I went to Mass every Sunday with my dad. That lasted until they dropped the Latin and started saying Mass in English.  My dad stopped going because he said now that he understood what was being said he couldn’t sleep through it!   We still did the no meat on Friday thing, always having macaroni or spaghetti (I never heard the word PASTA til I was married). On Good Friday my brother and I couldn’t play outside or watch TV between noon and 3.  It seemed more like superstition than religion.  My Aunt Eleanor was the only one who was really into Catholicism. She said the rosary every day of her life until her death at 99.  It gave her comfort and serenity and I wanted that for myself but couldn’t find it through religion.

I guess I always believed in God but didn’t subscribe to the rigors and routines of Catholicism.   As my sexuality developed it estranged me even more from organized religion but I didn’t want to give up the promise that a spiritual life provided and I kept questioning and praying that the “All Mighty” would show me, give evidence to me that it truly existed.  Then I kind of gave up the search.  Life was busy and exciting and I stopped questioning and searching. College, marriage, family, buying houses all got in the way and there was no space for my search. 

When all that calmed down I began experiencing things that I couldn’t explain.   My wife and I divorced and she moved out. I think it was the first night I slept alone.  I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating, scared, and crying.   I felt as if I was cradled in someone’s arms and it soothed me.  I heard inside my head a voice that said, “It is going to be okay, everything is going to be ok!”  I woke up in the morning feeling secure, knowing something had happened that I could not explain.  It was years before I ever told anyone about that, even admitting I thought it was Jesus who rocked me. Many years later, after retiring, I experienced two other events that helped me answer my questioning.  My partner and I were traveling through England visiting friends we had met in Italy.  They wanted to take us to the place where paganism and Christianity was supposed to have met.  It was a little island they referred to as Holy Island, but is named Lindesfarne.  We traveled to Northumberland in northern England.  You can only reach the Island at low tide so you have to know in order to get off the island before the tide comes back in.  On that island is the ruin of an old Cathedral where they ancient saints, Saint Cuthbert and St Aidan tried to convert the pagans.  Upon entering that sacred space, every hair on my arms and back stood straight up and a cold rush went through my body. My partner was Jewish and he experienced the same thing.  We prayed at what was left of the altar and escaped the island just before the tide returned.  It was spiritual, eerie and freaky.  I had never experienced anything like that before and never expected to again!  Wrong! Several years later on a trip to Italy, promising my aunts to go to Assisi, we stopped there and visited the churches of St Clara and St Francis only to be disappointed by the touristy nature of the city. We spoke to a local shop keeper who told us if we really wanted to experience St Francis we should go to a little mountain town named LaVerna not far away.  The next day we drove up the mountain and parked outside the little town with the Franciscan monastery.  We discovered that St Francis slept there in the caves and that was where he experienced the stigmata.  I didn’t even know what that meant but it was explained that it was where he bled from his wrists and feet from where the nails held Jesus to the cross. We headed into the caves and without realizing what cave we were in, once again I experienced that sensation of cold rushing through me as all the hair on my arms and back stood on end.  My partner also was experiencing it as well. The guide told us that it was on that rock in front of us St Francis experienced the stigmata. It was a very special experience that I hope to experience once again.  I sure could use that voice telling me everything will be all right once again!

Beliefs Re-examined

Wal begins his piece by confronting his beliefs.  I love the notion that while we can accept who we are, it can be healthy and helpful to challenge what we have learned to believe.  For me, time can lull me into complacency about viewpoints that I’ve adapted and practiced.  As I tell my stories, I inevitably reinforce those perceptions and they become a baseline or context from which I live my life.  But, as Wal mentions in his post, he questions his beliefs in hopes that he can become a better person.  As I think about some of the things I “knew” to be true when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I realize that my thinking wasn’t as broad or open as it is today and some of those beliefs have given way to very different notions.

As I examine and re-examine long held ideas I find I am becoming more comfortable with uncertainty.  Years ago I needed to know.  The answer was important.  Right and wrong were clear-cut and necessary.  Today, like my hair, I find life is much more grey than black and white.  I more often understand multiple sides to an issue or belief and recognize how often I missed opportunities for connection by holding fast to one side or another. 

There is also value in strong beliefs.  To feel passionate about faith, religion, or some form of source energy gives us a foundation from which to make decisions and guidelines for how to live and what to teach our children.  However, even within this commitment to our faith, I believe there is added value to re-examine and question what we hear, read, and practice.  This self-reflection can help us confirm, adjust, or re-align what matters and prevent us from blindly following the wrong path just because it is so well worn.

As I grow older and recognize that each day matters more to me now than it did when I was younger and invulnerable, I look forward to attempting conversations with my grandchildren about what we believe and what we assume, and what limitless possibilities exist for them as they make choices and the importance for them to continue to challenge those choices.

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The Family I Never Met

I recently received a package from the executor of my brother’s partner’s will.  In the envelope were letters that my dad wrote to my mom during the war when he was stationed on Iwo Jima.  The picture is a photograph of my mom, my dad, and big brother.  It was taken sometime in 1941 or 1942 in my mom’s parents’ house in Pennsylvania.  My dad enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 and because of his age, being 32 at that point, he had to get a Congressional appointment because he was officially too old to be called up.  My mom’s uncle, Uncle Ivor, was a sitting Congressman in the voting district they lived in and he wrote the letter for my dad.  I am assuming shortly after this photo was taken Dad left for boot camp.

I spent one entire evening reading through letter after letter that my dad wrote to my mom during the war.  Needless to say , it was a night of tears and questions.  The tears flowed easily and it was a good cry.  The questions flowed equally but there were no answers and no one who could answer them as I am the solitary living person of my family with the exception of my two kids.  I must have stared at that photo for an hour, talking to it as if it was going to answer me.  I looked at their faces, one by one, and didn’t recognize them.  I was more than 4 years away from existence and I was staring at these three strangers.  These were not the people who raised me!  Sure, I recognized the features but the expressions were so different from what I remember.  I look at my mom in that picture and I see a woman at peace, a strong woman who defied her dad and left home to go to the big city and train to be a nurse against her dad’s will.  I see my dad’s picture and I see a young man with confidence and a devilish, mischievous smile on his face.  And then there is my brother, what a cutie!  I cannot remember a time when he wasn’t intensely overweight.  This was his family, mine was different!

I read each letter in chronological order, from boot camp to shipping overseas, to fighting on Iwo Jima to the bombing of Hiroshima. It was like a personalized history of our lives, our country, our world as it existed at war in the 40’s.  The last letter my dad sent to my mom in October of 1945 was written right after his ship docked in California after crossing the Pacific.  All his letters referred to my mom as “Honey” or “Dearest Mary” and all kinds of affectionate terms for my brother.  His last letter ended with a thought I am sure many service men had as they were returning from combat.  He ended it with, “I bet Little Jerry would love to have a baby sister!  We’ll talk about it when I get home!”  I arrived about 10 months after he returned but to their surprise I was not the sister they apparently wanted.

I was born in Bellevue Hospital in NYC where my mom got her RN degree and worked.  We lived in a railroad flat on East 23rd St and 2nd Ave just blocks away from my Italian grandparents.  Several years later we moved out to Queens and my brother would tell me stories about how he had a different dad than the one we have.  He told me that the difference was significant from pre war Dad to post war Dad.  I listened to that for years as my dad developed a drinking problem and mom worked herself nearly to death.  The serenity on Mom’s face was gone and the happy, mischievous smile was gone from my dad’s face.  My brother gained a large amount of weight and the daily grind became arguments over money every night at the dinner table.  They didn’t know a lot about PTSD back then, in fact I think it was referred to as shell shock.  Dad never told stories about the war and rarely shared any feelings he had about going to war.  Don’t get me wrong.  I knew my parents loved me and my mom was the most loving, understanding mother a kid could have.  My dad did things to make my life and my brother’s life better but the affectionate terms they had for each other were gone.  Our extended family members were always telling us how proud my dad was of us but he could never tell us that- we always had to hear it from others.  So when I saw that photo this week a real sense of sadness came over me.  I wished I had known those people in the picture.  I would give anything to see mom’s face light up with happiness or dad’s mischievous smile come over his face.  Life became hard for them, for us!  I can’t help but wonder if the faces would have remained more like the picture if Little Jerry had gotten the baby sister they wanted…….

B4ME

I enjoyed reading George’s story of his parents through the lens of his father’s letters. What a fabulous insight into a time of mass upheaval! It’s easy to understand the fascination with the time before your birth to get a clue about the antecedent conditions. It’s sort of “You – the Prequel”.

I’m imagining that George’s Dad was changed by the war, but also returned to a different environment. Women had joined the workforce in huge numbers and no doubt enjoyed the freedom of choice and self-confidence gained through achievement at work. The post war world integrated returning service men into the workplace, but change was already in play. Perhaps that accounted for some of the differences that George described?

I can share my family’s story in part – with some similarity to George in that it seems hard to form an accurate impression of their hopes and dreams. My mother was raised in a warm, but scrappy Italian family – the youngest of five. My father was also the youngest of five in a single parent family of emigrated Londoners.

Both parents were pre-teen during the Great Depression and grew up with a strong understanding of being without – whether that was food, or simply money. Mom lived in a family enclave a block from Rockaway Beach – her fond memories included the “League of Nations” diversity of her summer friends at the beach. She won the art medal at her High School graduation and hoped to attend tuition free Cooper Union – but that was not to be. Her yearbook comments suggested she was friendly and upbeat – -with the nickname Sunny. She took a job at a Grumman Aircraft and was a literal Rosie the Riveter.

My Dad struggled in a dirt poor environment. He experienced abandonment by his father and the deportation of his older brother to Australia. At thirteen, he was shoveling coal in the school boiler, while his mother worked in the school cafeteria. His high school yearbook comments indicated that he was a science whiz. After graduation, he was also hired at Grumman Aircraft, but took a hiatus to join the merchant marine, rising from machinist mate to Chief Petty Officer during the war. Although he did not encounter enemy fire during WWII, he was shot in the shoulder walking the streets of Astoria as a teenager – and was later shot at by striking maritime workers while in the merchant marine. 

I see pictures of my parents at a roller-skating rink and horseback riding during their courtship – activities that didn’t survive past their marriage vows. Mom and Dad did not have the blessing of their families to marry; apparently, Italians thought the English never bathed – and the English apparently had similar hygienic thoughts about Italians.  So my parents eloped. Things eventually worked out, however: soap was in abundance.

Once married, both my parents worked – all the time. Dad had two jobs until my younger brother was born. Clearly money was tight and there simply was not room for many social pleasures. I sense that was the same for George’s family. 

What I appreciate the most about my parents is that they never allowed their tensions and worries to affect the love they showed my brother and I. They coped. Like George’s father, my folks had hoped for a daughter to add to the family – but they were proud of their sons. All in all, I can only hope to do as well as a parent as they did.

I Wonder…

Unlike my blogging partners, I know little about my parents as partners.  Back in my day, very little was shared with children about family and, I would hazard a guess, there was background information that they wouldn’t mention to many adults as well.

I am the oldest of three children and though I’ve been around the longest, I have little first hand knowledge of my father.  In addition, my mother and her parents felt children shouldn’t be exposed to “adult” matters. There is a strong likelihood that there was wrongdoing and legal ramifications of my father’s actions that likely added to the censorship that I was surrounded by.

My mom had two brothers, one older and one younger.  Her father came to this country from Austria and was a musician.  He made a living by playing the bass in the orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria.  Her mother came from Rumania and worked as a seamstress there as well as where they lived in the Bronx.  My mother grew up at a time when many left-handed people were forced to write with their right hand and young women were expected to become housewives, not college students.  With a musical talent for the piano, my mom was accepted to the Julliard School of Music and secretly attended classes for one year until her father found out and ended her studies.  She met and married my father and had three children.  I wonder what her choices would have been had she had the support of her parents to finish her degree and write her own music with the freedom to use her left hand.  Would she then have developed the confidence to understand that she truly had the right to determine the course of her own life?  Would she have married when she did?  And, from all that I can determine, if she did, it would likely not have been my father.

My father was born of Russian Jewish parents but grew up with them and his older brother in Italy.  His father owned a large shoe repair factory, and his mother, (who was educated as a doctor in Switzerland, but was only allowed to be considered a healer at that time in Italy) apparently enjoyed a well to do life until they were abruptly placed in an internment camp.  My father and his brother and his brother’s wife were able to escape to the United States.  Not having finished a formal education my father used his charm and natural intelligence to make his way.  He was adept at convincing people to trust him and to give him undeserved opportunities as well as loans and investments.  However, he would often take advantage of his benefactors and after moving about from one career to another and one part of the country to another, he ultimately disappeared abandoning all who had known him, including his family.  It has been easy for me to judge him from the standpoint of the effect his actions had on my life and that of my mother and sisters, but I don’t really know what it would have been like to follow his path of survival as a young adult.  He arrived in this country knowing he’d never see his parents again.  His brother had made a life for himself and his wife with little room for my father.  He had no degree, spoke English with an Italian accent and had to forage for his twenty-something self, alone in a foreign land.  I suspect meeting my mother offered a path to citizenship and stability more than the lure of young love.  If he had come to America under different circumstances, these two very different people would likely never have married.  Of course in that case, I wouldn’t be around to speculate!

Regardless, my mom managed to raise three children with successful careers, beautiful families, and more happiness than either of my parents likely experienced.  I’m content to wonder what it would have been like for them under different circumstances but whatever they had to struggle with and whatever choices they made I’m grateful for the role they played in helping me and my sisters get to where we are today.

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Labels

I find it nearly impossible to negotiate in this world without attaching labels.  That labels help us organize and categorize, thus giving us a sense of order, I understand.  It’s the extension of that practice beyond the need for context that causes me to question my reality.

While labels are beneficial they can also negatively impact our ability to objectively enter into a decision about a person or thing.  From an early age, I remember being taught which behaviors were good or bad.  This included labeling a person as good or bad based on their actions or reputation.   Not until middle age, did I soften my opinion enough to question its absoluteness.  I was able to then understand that we all function on a continuum of behaviors and, while some cross the line of what we label as acceptable or not, some are closer to the cut-off than others.  In fact, even if someone fits into my label of good or bad or supports a cause I won’t, the range of differences within that group are often more broad than I would think.  And, the similarities they have with me are also likely greater than I would anticipate.

Yesterday I went to town hall to pay my local taxes.  It was cold and rainy and as I exited the door a man of similar age was entering.  I held the door and said hello and he smiled (at least his eyes did as his mouth was also covered by his mask) and begin a friendly conversation.  As I walked to my car I was quickly reminded of how warm and friendly people are and how this person could likely become a friend if we had more time to get to know each other.  Next to my car was his vehicle with a bumper sticker of the political party I don’t support.  For a brief moment, my perception of him immediately changed.  Then, it got me thinking about how quickly I label people.  What if I had seen the bumper sticker and then met the man.  Would I still see the potential for a friend then, or by grouping him with all the other members of his political party, see that as an impossibility?

For years my business partner and I consulted with school districts and social service organizations.  Part of our work was to help leaders understand and deal with conflict.  In the process we helped participants recognize that even if they had an issue/conflict with a colleague or client, it was usually around a particular behavior or action not with the entire person.  Sometimes we would sketch an outline of a person and then shade in a small portion to illustrate that point.  We hoped to help them understand that the mistake of labeling the whole person as a problem because of a behavior or incident was diminishing their ability to maintain the relationships that were so important in their work and personal lives.  Given a mix of strategies, positive intention, and patience most relationships could be maintained if not strengthened.

As with many things in life, it’s easy for me to understand and even to explain positive principled behaviors.  To consistently practice those desirable beliefs is clearly a work in progress.  Today I’ll remind myself to be more aware of what labels I might use that are unnecessary and replace them with simple observations.  It won’t be the first time I’ve tried and I’m sure it won’t be the last.  And that’s neither good, nor bad!

Tag – You’re It!

Let’s step back from the term “label” for just a minute and substitute the term “metadata”. Sounds more dispassionate. All of us check off little boxes of these attributes – companies have made fortunes using little pieces of information that describe our physical measurements, social affiliations, economic status, spiritual and political leanings, food choices, fashion tastes, and more. Thousands of ways to be assessed.

And we do assess – and make judgments – and rather quickly as it turns out if you’ve read The Tipping Point.  John Hume, the Scottish philosopher, believed that the intellect serves our emotions. And if our passions wish to raise up some while denigrating others, we can use that intellect to select a few specific descriptors to caricature others, as well characterize them. I believe that this is what Hen refers to when he talks about labeling. It’s the root of what some would call profiling – or its sibling by a different parent: cancel culture. Both only need one or two pieces of data to make major assumptions. Tag – you’re it!

Yet each of us has many facets: in any given situation, we could be the goat or the G.O.A.T.; the hero or the jerk; the thief or the benefactor; the lover or hater. Already a lot of labels!  

In my last post, I tried to make a topographical analogy about people: we’re more asymmetric than spherical. We grow unevenly: we feature breath taking mountain views and hide dark crevasses, contain placid lakes and strong ocean riptides. When we make connections with others, we first look for common ground. From that initial vantage, it is easy to assume we know the entire territory – but that would be a mistake. (Now cue in background music from Sting: Nothing ‘Bout Me). The view from 50,000 feet is different than the view from 100 feet. Labelling is the act of retaining the view from 50,000 feet without ever feeling the desire to explore with boots on the ground. The trouble is that the exploration is where all the fun lies.

Label Here, Label There, Label Everywhere

When I was a kid, a teenager, someone got me one of those hand held machines that you could make labels with.  Being a wiseass even back then I went around labeling everything in my house to the chagrin of my parents.  When they lifted the lid there was a label that said, “toilet.”  I labeled our seats at the dinner table.  I even labeled my brother’s Ford (Found on Road Dead) Falcon on the steering wheel.  From childhood we are taught to label things and we are taught that we ourselves have been labeled.  My smart friends in Junior High School in the NYC public schools were selected for SP or special progress completing 3 years in 2.  They were labeled as the smart kids.  My IQ didn’t qualify me for that distinction!  In high school we were labeled “Regents” or “Commercial.” That meant college bound or not.  And our social groups were even labeled.  There were the jocks, the hoods, the beatniks (hippies hadn’t evolved yet) and the clean cut/penny loafer set.  Everyone fit neatly into one of these groups.

All labeling depends on making judgments, placing people into categories that define them. First impressions often categorize people even if it seems too judgmental or spur of the moment.  As a result I grew up being a judgmental adult who feels comfortable compartmentalizing people until they prove me wrong.  It is definitely one of my shortcomings, and I know it.  I chose my friends that way, even courses of study, even the school I was employed by.  All of these decisions depended on my judgment. With judging people, I question myself more than with other decisions.  It is so ingrained in my fiber that it happens automatically and only afterwards do I question if the labeling was accurate or not. 
I have been the subject of much labeling over the years, scaredy cat, momma’s boy, queer, liberal, ad nauseum…  Some labels I wear proudly, some make my skin crawl but all too often I fall back into the old patterns of judging and categorizing before taking the time to evaluate more fully. That’s why I wish I could be more like Henry when it comes to this because most of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it!

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Amicus Brief

I’ve been thinking about friendship, particularly since Jack and Gregg commented about the desire to call a group of friends together after this COVID isolation. Friendship — The ancient Greeks had a name for it: Philia – and they held it separate from affection of other sorts: Storge: nurturing love given to children and those dependent upon you; Eros: erotic, sensual love; and Agape: transcendent, spiritual love.

Taken to a deeper dive, Aristotle declared there were three types of friendship: a) utilitarian friendship based on mutual help, b) friendships that involve activity around mutual pleasure or interests – Birds of a Feather friends, and c) friendships built on mutual respect and admiration: shared principles and goals. I wonder if such strict separation is necessary – doesn’t friendship include some or all of those aspects at different times? Maybe Aristotle was off the mark — he also believed that women had less teeth than men. So who is a reliable authority on friendship?

Well, it may be anthropologist Robin Dunbar. His research indicates that the average human has an upper limit on the number of friends that can be maintained. This number tends to be around 150 individuals – and only includes those folks who you know, and in return, know you. This number is widely known as the Dunbar Number. For the purposes of his research, ‘friends’ are defined as “… people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” I suppose that would corral everyone in Aristotle’s a, b, and c – and for some individuals it could substantially increase that upper limit.

Now Dunbar went a bit further. He hypothesized that the energy needed to maintain a friend network of 150 must necessarily cause a person to do some ‘social layering’, that is, to group certain players according to the level of intimacy. The research generally supported the conclusion that one individual usually has an inner circle of five buddies, followed by a grouping of ten mates, then thirty-five old faithful’s, and lastly, the centurion pack of 100 friendly relationships.

Hmm… how many friends were in the Rat Pack? I recall it was Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. There are other notable quintets: the Jackson Five, the Dave Clark Five, the Spice Girls, the Scooby doo gang, and the Cincinnati Gang of Five. Maybe Dunbar is right? But wait, I guess that if you have five people in your BFF chain, then it is really a sextet, counting yourself. Then Dunbar has to be right, because the cast of Friends included Rachel, Monica, Ross, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey. Now this is all very difficult to square with the Four Musketeers and Ocean’s Eleven (or twelve, or eight). And what is Rocky VII all about? Very confusing.

Now, I’ve maintained that friends are like asteroids (as opposed to hemorrhoids). There might be 150 of us that kinda fly in the same orbit, tumbling through space/time; sometimes together; sometimes at distance. But more importantly, friends are asymmetric. Each has striking features, majestic promontories and smooth plains. But there are parts of an asteroid that are generally not observed, aspects that are inhospitable, perhaps icy or rough terrain. However, we find some mutually attractive gravity which helps pulls us closer; we celebrate the beauty and help each other maintain stable flight. After all, we are only small entities flying around in a large cosmos. Together we have greater mass … and there is shared laughter in the universe.

And of course, laughter is the key – at our foibles and misadventures; at enjoyment of successes; and mutual discovery of hope after disconsolation. C. S. Lewis wrote this about the joy of friendship and it still rings true:

 “He is lucky… to be in such company [of friends]. Especially, when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us [or six?] after a hard day’s walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens up itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life – natural life – has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”

Friendship, Friendship, Just the Perfect Blendship…

Friend-  the Miriam Webster Abridged dictionary defines friend as “a person one likes.” I don’t buy it, well I did cause it is on my shelf, but what if that person doesn’t like you back? Is that person your friend because you like him/her even if it isn’t reciprocal?   I think the definition of friend is flexible and evolutionary and varies as one ages (or should I say matures?)

As little kids your friends were whoever was out in the street playing ball, especially the kid who owned the ball! Now he was your friend… there were always kids playing in the street when I was growing up.  Our block had probably 20 or so kids of all ages.  You knew them all as well as their parents because you would go ring the doorbell and ask Mrs. Jones politely and respectively if  Johnny could come out and play.  Occasionally there was a kid from the next block who ambled in to join us which was good cause it evened up the sides. 

Then came junior high and we stopped playing in the streets and started listening to music and going to dances and  instead of friends you were part of a clique, and playing in the street was replaced by going to parties in people’s basement on the weekends and hanging out on the phone.  High school brought changes too.  You were part of a group now-  there were the preppies and the hippies and the hoods.  But it was the first time I had a friend who I would confide in and tell serious stuff to. Things were maturing as we were! You’d tell these people about your secrets, girls you liked, things you were mad at your parents about—and relationships were becoming more precisely defined and specific.  You had friends who shared your interests, and friends who you shared your fears with. 

College was when deep friendships developed for me. Feeling things I never felt before toward people developed. Long talks, and confidential sharing  of who we were, cemented these connections.  And then graduation and a whole new world comes at you.  Previous relationships became a little distant as we geographically separated and the focus changed to professional pursuits knowing that if the connections were strong enough those relationships would last through the expansion of locations and interests and ideas.

All the while you never took the time to appreciate  what these relationships provided you. But as the years pile up you begin to value the connections you made and continue to make in a way you never appreciated before. Through your professional lives you accumulate people into your circle, and then they start to retire and once again you are re evaluating, encircling those people who have contributed to your life.  You re-connect with people who were important to you, kids from the street all grown up, teenagers from junior and senior high school, who are in the same boat as you and also reaching out. And as a senior citizen, all of a sudden you finally realize what you have been working toward your whole life. The people who you still call friends know so much about you, share your secrets and your desires and are willing to be there for you!

I am a lucky man. My high school friend is still my dear friend.  She knows a lot about me  and my family that no one else knows. The painful secrets we shared are still confidential but the burden is gone cause it was shared.  The college friends who reconnect at a reunion 50 years later and decide to write a blog reconnect with ease and grow more connected than before. The new friends you met after retirement with common interests brought you together add to your wealth.  Finally you realize the real value of friendship.  The importance knowing there are people out there who care and have your back if needed, is the currency that friends trade in.  It means so much more than anything measured in dollars!  A wise old man once said that a friend is someone who will listen when you need to talk! That wise old man was not Aristotle, nor Galileo nor Zorba the Greek—— it was me!

On Being a Friend

Wal returns to the subject of friendship.  And while we have written about it before, it is indeed, a topic with multiple facets and ever-changing impacts.  I agree with Wal that even though Aristotle categorizes several types of friends, when we’re in a relationship with them, it’s not clear-cut and, I might add, the overlap often enhances the original interest in the friendship.

George challenges the notion that friendship can be a one-way street and talks about the benefits gained by both parties.  This concept is grounded in most of my experiences and makes perfect sense.  Yet, I was in a very close friendship with someone for over thirty years and even though he ended the relationship, I still refer to him as friend.  He was and always will be my friend, even though I am no longer his.  Semantics, perhaps, but friendship often elicits strong emotions and, for me, emotions often determine the status of a relationship.  George also ends with his definition of a friend that reminds me of both sides of friendship.

While we often give much thought to what we look for, desire, and expect in a friend I suspect it’s not as much as we give to being a friend.  I’m reminded of a book written by Dr. Gary Chapman  (author, speaker, counselor, and pastor) entitled, The Five Love Languages – (Quality time, Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Acts of service.)  The notion he puts forth is that of the five ways people often show their love for another, (I will substitute the word caring for the purpose of this post) we typically have one or two that we consider primary. In my case, I know which are most meaningful to me and I tend to give the same ones to those who I care about.

Of course that behavior makes the assumption that what matters to me, must matter to you.  What if, I really like someone and consider us to be friends.  Of course, I’ll want to be there for that person and to let them know that they matter to me.  And what if gifts and words of affirmation are what I need to know someone really cares about me and I give those selfless offerings to my friend who really wants quality time with me more than gifts or kind words?  Over my lifetime I can remember being confused by the lack of response and connection I was feeling from someone to whom I was being extremely caring.  And, the less they were moved by my generosity, the more I increased my efforts.  Duh!  Of course matters only got worse. All of this is to say, that being a good friend means understanding what the other person wants, not what I would want or even what I think they want, or worse, what I think they should want!  Sometimes, I even think to ask what they need from me during times of need or stress.  This is easy to write about but difficult for me to regularly remember when I’m with my friends.  I intuitively offer what I think is helpful, important, or supportive without stopping to think about what they need.  George talks about the importance of listening in a friendship.  I agree completely.  And, even though I might enter into a zoom meeting or a personal interaction with the intention of deeply listening and understanding before I speak, I find it hard not to jump in and even interrupt when I’m reminded of a related story or anecdote.  It’s easy to blame the reduced contact I’ve had with others throughout this pandemic but it still begs the question of how well am I listening and am I being a good friend?

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Evolution of a Recluse

I have always loved to be around people.  Coming from a loud, touchy Italian family I rarely was alone.  Actually I disliked being alone and still do. My careers lent themselves to enabling me to be around people most of the time.  A class full of children or an innful of guests was what was comfortable for me.

After retiring from both I found myself for the first time in my adult life living alone.  But I filled my days and evenings meeting colleagues for lunch or dinner, and going out with friends in the evenings.  Shaking hands, hugging, a slap on the back helped me feel connected.  In my family, a regular conversation included touching at various points for emphasis or emotion. That was part of learning to speak.  All of this helps explain why I have had such difficulty with Covid 19 self distancing and the subsequent isolation it required.  At first it was just uncomfortable.  The touching, hugging, shaking hands was adjusted to a fist bump or elbow tap when accidentally I ran into someone. Awkward, it still provided human personal contact.  As the year progressed we all seemed to withdraw more and more into ourselves.  Loneliness crept in especially at night. From a social being I had become a recluse. From a social society we became a society of hermits. 

As the months of masking and isolating passed, I fell into a routine.  My house became my world.  One day just bled into the next and routine became inertia for me and loneliness slipped into depression.  All I wanted was to be with people again and it is still what I want!  What I need.

Then, last week, my daughter and I were going to pick up food and go to her house and watch a movie which we had been doing once a week for several months.  I looked forward to our movie nights.  But then something came over me.  All that day I was resisting the idea of going out. I didn’t even want to get dressed, the effort to get ready to go out seemed overwhelming.  Suddenly, I didn’t want to make the effort to go.  I just wanted to stay in my chair and watch TV. This was not like me.  The other contradiction I realized was that my house was a mess.  The dust was pretty thick, the newspapers were piled by the door to be recycled but never got into the bin in spite of all the time I had on my hands.    I have become the exact opposite of who I always thought I was. 

I’m smart enough to know depression can do this kind of stuff and believe once this pandemic has eased enough to go back to where we were last February, my Italian traditions and inclinations will return.  I like myself much better as a social insect rather than the spider who sits alone in its web waiting for its next solitary meal!  This too shall pass……..

Now, in an attempt to make this pass sooner, last week I was rummaging around in my basement trying to better organize it.  I stumbled upon (not really stumbled upon but forced myself to climb up on the cement shelf) boxes and boxes of my model railroad stuff.  I think I have mentioned before that that particular hobby was the only thing my brother, dad and I ever did together.  Every Christmas Dad would drag out the platform, claim half the living room floor and set up our Lionel Christmas village. The three of us would be crawling around on our knees arguing over whether the Plasticville church should go near the overhead trestle bridge or near the firehouse.  In an effort to feel a little close to them and as a definite distraction from inertia, I started opening up boxes and smiling at what was inside.  Later in my life I actually had a layout in my house in Woodstock, NY at which time I built structures from models and  from scratch. I built a model of every house I had ever lived in up to that point.  Though I have more exploration to do in those boxes I pulled out some very nice structure kits that got me excited and brought many of them upstairs to the dining room table- a perfect work space since I wasn’t doing any formal dinners at the moment.  Naturally, I had to go and buy some supplies as most of the paint and glue I had used some 25 years ago had pretty much dried up.  I now own a brand new Xacto knife set, multiple use brushes, glues of various varieties  and a plethora of acrylic paint bottles and am in the process of setting up my work space. 

Right now the resistance is… which kit to start first.  I remind myself that inertia is a strong force to be dealt with that requires fortitude to overcome and encouragement, mostly from the dog, to get at it.  That is my primary objective for this week…….to get at it!  I have promised myself that I will beat this inertia!  Could someone give me a little push please?  More to follow!

Nil Desperandum

Don’t despair, George – we’re here to nudge! I recognize the feelings you expressed. When you are under duress, the world gets smaller. A body at rest stays at rest… bits of your repertoire tend to disappear; motivation lags. It’s sort of a confinement syndrome.

The lovely aspect of people is that we are so adaptive. We can even get used to our Covid gulag. It’s easy to lose ambition in the process. 

I appreciate Hen’s point of engaging in a new project and taking satisfaction from projects undertaken. When I’m stuck, I break large problems into small packages. Even if it seems to take forever to overcome some of those issues, focusing on limited “wins” keeps me on the right road and helps me avoid becoming disoriented or overwhelmed. 

It’s important to keep on moving, physically and mentally, particularly at our stage of life. Lately, I’ve been more aware that there is limited time remaining for me to engage in activities that have been taken for granted up to now. That is what is so telling about our constrained period of social interaction during the time of COVID: it has stolen a precious year (and more) from our remaining time.

Even if the task is not something I prefer to do, I encourage myself by saying a prayer of thanks that I’m still able to do it. Small wins. Look for areas of enjoyment and set goals that support some measurable achievement.

And, of course, share your victories with your buddies! 

The Big Test

George captures the feelings of many as we sludge along this unknown path of living.  I expect, at times, we’ve all know what it feels like to be uncertain about our future or the outcome of a path chosen.  In my experience, this occurs infrequently and even more rarely when one or two of my network of supporting friends and family were also in the same boat.  However, as we move into year 2 of the pandemic, it feels like everyone is significantly impacted and in need and, to make matters worse, the timeline for managing it to a point of renewed stability keeps being pushed just beyond our reach.  Truly, we are, together, in uncharted waters.

I also have encountered evidence that I might not be as together and happy as I might think.  The other morning I found myself calmly pouring orange juice into my cereal bowl and, as I watched from what seemed to be another being, realized how long it took for my brain to realize I was in control of my hand and could stop at any point.  Yikes!  And then there was the time I texted a friend to wish her good luck on her upcoming workshop, knowing full well it wasn’t for three more days but simply responded to an incorrect reminder from my iPhone.  Duh!  Last, but certainly not least, is how quickly I can turn from a calm, easy-going mood into anger and upset over meaningless, even laughable triggers.  Yup, George, something is definitely out of whack!

To the rescue comes George’s project.  More than just a distraction from daily sameness, it stimulates old and new brain functions and brings back a purpose that results in joy and satisfaction.  Then, the next time we connect with friends via phone, Zoom, email, or in person at the supermarket, we can replace the distancing conversation of politics or COVID with something that is “new” and that brings an energy to our voice.  

I’ve found the time I’m spending with my GoPro camera learning everything from scratch and the continued culling of stuff I no longer need or want in my house, to offer the same effect.  I look forward to the progress I make each day as well as the related (yet unexpected) activities that spiral outward from this work.  It also lends credence to looking beyond to even bigger “new beginnings.”

As with all experiences, if I am able to step back and look at what I’m going through from afar, I get a more comprehensive perspective.  In this case, when I’m not caught up in the negative emotionality that isolation, sacrifice, and limited choice can bring, I recognize that this is just another test that life presents.  A query of how I can continue to appreciate what I have rather than what I’ve lost, to remember it’s temporary, no matter how long that may be, and to learn from these events so that I will emerge even better prepared for the next test.  So far, perhaps a “B” but hoping for, at least, a “B+.”

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Putting Down Roots – Pulling Up Stakes

Extending the question of self-reflection from our last post, I wonder aloud if I’m still in the right place.

Putting down roots has been fairly clear and straightforward for me.  It took two years of weekends to find the place I now call home.  As soon as I stepped out of the car I was drawn to a nearby deer path that led down to the stream.  Before I set foot in the house, I knew this was where I wanted to live.  This was the place where I would grow old with my wife.  It was to be the place where family and friends visited often and stayed long.  It was the place to joyfully integrate with nature until my dying day.  And, despite an unexpected divorce, it remains a sanctuary for me as well as a retreat for friends and family and pets.

For nearly twenty-one years I have enjoyed this space.  It has healed me when I needed healing, provided joyful celebration when I wanted to celebrate, and has given me nurturance each and every day.  But with every choice for the many things that matter, comes an acceptance of not having all that matters.  And, it seems to me, as I move into this last season of my life that it may be time to exchange this space for one that gives me more access to those other things/people that matter – my children.  

As I seriously consider whether I still want to live out my days here or consider pulling up stakes and moving closer to my family I am both energized and anxious.  Do I leave what I know so well and what has given me so much, in search of being a more integral part of my children and grandchildren’s lives?  Leaving the comfort of what I know and starting over with a new home, new friends, and all the people and services associated with daily living is scary.  Being able to regularly spend time with family, meeting new people, and blazing new trails, is exciting!  

I’m a firm believer that given careful thought and ample time, whichever decision one makes, will work.  How well and for how long it works depends on keeping an open mind and trusting that we have the power to find happiness and fulfillment in all choices.  So, for now, I’ll explore my options by looking at the proverbial pros and cons, consult with family and close friends, and then decide.  I love where I live and I would love to be closer to my family.  Whichever I decide will be good.  

Leaps of Faith

Often major life changes are accompanied by tremendous leaps of faith.  As we go through life sometimes such changes are brought on through careful deliberation with the hope of improving our lives and sometimes they are thrust upon us.  Significant life changes like marriage, divorce, death in the family, moving, retirement and many other things- seen and unseen, can be very traumatic or wonderful and we strive to make the best of them.  In my life, perhaps the biggest life change occurred at the crossroads of several altering events.  I was in a new relationship, my kids had moved out and I was living alone in the big house, I was retiring at the end of the school year after 35 years in the classroom.  Retirement hung heavily around my neck as I pondered what I would do with the rest of my life.  Anyone of these events was stressful enough and combined it was overwhelming.  One day my partner asked if I would like to join him in following one of his dreams.  Since I had none of my own, I took that leap of faith and agreed to take on his dream as my own.  He had always wanted to own an inn!  I listed pros and cons, read up on innkeeping,  It would give us freedom to travel, visit our families, and be productive professionals.  After 35 years of teaching I defined myself as “teacher.”  It was as much a part of me as my name was.  After much deliberation and conversations I jumped in.  I put my house on the market, we contacted realtors who specialized in hospitality and for a year before my retirement we visited 30 or 40 properties all over the East Coast.

I had purchased 4 houses throughout my life and each time I knew the minute I walked into a place whether that was my new home.  Just a feeling I got, a sense of comfort and safety, and yes – style.  Every weekend during my last year of teaching we went looking at real estate.  My house sold quickly and I moved temporarily into an apartment.  One weekend we went to New Hampshire, the next to upstate, NY, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and in the first week of January we spent the weekend in Vermont.  We were pretty discouraged because the places we looked at were lacking mostly a nice place for the innkeepers to live.  We didn’t want to just live in a spare room that wasn’t rented out.  This particular Saturday, we had almost decided that we would give ourselves a break until spring if nothing materialized.  Our realtor took us to the beautiful community of Woodstock, Vermont and brought us to an old farmhouses, built in 1820.  It had been a 300 acre dairy farm but over the years the land was sold off and a small development off the main road was made into a nice neighborhood for about 10 families. The farm house sat right on the main road across from a babbling brook they called a river.  We met the innkeepers who were selling the place and they toured us through the building.  Great place, they had build an addition in 1985 for themselves, finally a place with owners’ quarters and each bedroom had a private bath   This was definitely a possibility.  As they were walking us up the stairs to the guest rooms I was struck by a familiar smell.  I didn’t recognize it at first but then I was thrust back in time to my grandfather’s house in Pennsylvania.  It was a sweet, country air kind of smell and that was it!  I knew this place was to be our inn.  We made an offer, it was accepted only after we stayed for dinner and met the entire family because they wanted to be sure we were the right buyers for their baby!  We all hit it off, they loved us, we loved them and sometime that night it sunk in… What the (expletive deleted)….am I doing?  And  here is where the biggest leap of faith I ever had to take kicked in.  What the hell did I know about running an inn?  I depended on my partner for knowing about the business end of it.  Are there reasons for people to stay here?  what kind of rates would we charge?  how do we handle unhappy guests……. that was his jurisdiction.  SO the remaining months of the school year dragged slowly by until closing over Memorial Day weekend.

Things were hectic for my last month of school ever.  I raced to Vermont every weekend, back to NY every Sunday.  We were learning the trade from the previous innkeepers.  She taught us her recipes, how to clean a bathroom, haw to take a reservation.  It was  un while she was still in charge..  The next leap of faith came after the closing and we were doing stuff to freshen up the place and put our touches on it.  We worked all day and well into the night painting the living room and hallway and staircase one Saturday.  It was a long day, and as it got dark we turned all the lights on in all the rooms so we could see what we were doing.  Just before midnight we were done.  We sighed with relief and went from room to room shutting off the lights and turning down the heat.  We collapsed into bed as I had to return to NY the next day for the last 2 weeks of school.  The next morning we got up and decided to go upstairs to see what the paint looked like in the daylight.  In Room 3, every light was on in the room and the heat was blasting.  I asked my partner if he had gone up during the night..  He hadn’t and I hadn’t.  Odd, yes but these things happen.  I returned home, finished the school year, had my retirement party and moved into the inn full time the next day.  We had a few guests and were learning the ropes.  David did the cooking, I did the cleaning, we both greeted and schmoozed with the guests.  I was cleaning Room 3 one day after a lovely couple left.  I Vacuumed, changed the linens and cleaned the bathroom.  I placed a nice wrapped bar of soap on the sink and a fragrant boxed soap in the shower, finished up and moved onto Room 4..  I had to go back to Room 3 to get the vacuum and noticed that the nice boxed soap was on the sink and the wrapped soap was in the shower.  Was it me?  Was I crazy?  The previous owner was also our Fed EX guy and he dropped off a package that afternoon.  I asked him if anything strange like that had ever happened to them.  He  said, “OH, you mean the presence?”  The presence?  And you are just telling us now?  He assured me the guy was friendly and mischievous.  By this point I was playing leap frog with my leap of faith.  To make a very long story short I grew to like Mr Kole (it had been the Kole Farm) as we were able to identify who he was.  Everyday when I cleaned his room I would talk to him.  He continued to switch soap bars for 15 years, Occasionally gave the guests foot massages in the middle of the night which led to great breakfast conversation, and became a part of the lure of our inn.  People came requesting that particular room.  The point is we took several leaps of faith and became very successful and had a wonderful span of 15 years.  I discovered that being an elementary school teacher and an innkeeper  used pretty much the same skill set. We were selected innkeepers of the Year in 2010 for the State of Vermont and I loved my life there.  Leaps of faith can be wonderful things if you believe in them.  Changes can be exciting life experiences.

Fast forward to Covid 19 and a major life change would be an exciting adventure.  Henry has some exciting times ahead. Right now the most exciting thing to happen to me is when the dog and I run to the window to see who is passing the house!

A Grand Adventure

Hen is not alone in contemplating a move and starting a new chapter in life. What a grand adventure! If you believe that ‘where you sit determines what you see’, then it’s a good practice to change your seat from time-to-time, if only to gain a new perspective. 

In practice, it’s not easy to walk away from an environment that you’ve worked hard to create – and all the memories that are linked to the bricks and mortar you touch every day. In my case, we’ve spent almost fifty years in our home – it was a starter home we never left. In truth, I have a love-hate relationship with my abode. I know we should have shifted gears long ago and left it behind. I guess grad school and work left me distracted… and even a five year stretch of commuting 200 miles a day should have been enough impetus to address a decision to move. But we didn’t and now the starter house fits us again, even as it ages along with us.

The house has a story which is only partially ours. We bought this place from Mr. K. who was 92 at that time. Quite a character. Mr. K. built the house while he was in his sixties for Caroline, whom he then married. A bit of a scoundrel, folklore has it that Mr. K. went afoul of the law for some type of fraud. I know that Mr. K. blackmailed his neighbors into buying some of his property – basically a drainage ditch – by telling them that he was allowing the fire company to install a siren there. People talk about him with a scowl which gradually turns into grudging admiration for his scheming ways. A character you love to hate.

He made his living as an itinerant carpenter and his houses were simple, but overbuilt. If you needed 10 nails to attach a board, Mr. K. used 20. Of course, if you didn’t have a board the right size, well any two pieces might work, even if one had been used as a cement form. He milled his own walnut wood to use as door trim, but left it plain and poorly joined. Not one with an eye for detail, Mr. K.

However, the main point is that I believe that Caroline saved Mr. K. She had long passed by the time we bought the house. He still grieved. Mr. K. cried when he showed us the bedroom where his wife died. Her touches around the house were evident by the old fashioned plantings around the property: bleeding heart, mock orange, honey suckle and lilacs were well established. I think her spirit still imbues the place. He picked up her deep faith and joined a fundamentalist church (many “Jesus Saves” reminders were pinned throughout the house and workshop). Of course, Mr. K. also enjoyed the attention from the church ladies who knew Caroline. 

Caroline’s bedroom is now the kitchen. Walls have been removed to provide a sense of more space in this small building. The structure is a one-and-a half storey cape: balloon construction. The downstairs is plaster over lath, but the second floor was done quickly with knotty pine and beaver board. And yes, Mr. K. actually rented the second floor as an apartment: a unit with kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bath accessible by a separate entrance. A very strange floor plan for a cape cod design.

I’ve spent years reworking the house: every window has changed, siding, decking, enlarged entry porch – all the services. You name it. Woodshed, chicken coops and dog house have bit the dust. The fieldstone barbeque Mr. K. built in the front yard is demolished – he’d be very unhappy about that, since he gathered all the river stone from the trout streams he fished. 

Unfortunately, all of those changes now need a version 3 renewal. Yikes, there are times when I feel like I’m yoked to Mr. K. toiling fruitlessly to further the project he started – and probably with the same limited skill set. Those are the times when I’d like to join Hen and look for a totally new experience! But Hen is a man of action – he will act on the decision that makes most sense. Me, I just like to dream!

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Reflecting on a Lifetime

I have reflected back on my life at several different times.  Taking an honest look at yourself is scary and sometimes dangerous.  As a young kid I often wanted to be anybody else but me.  I saw my friends on the block and was envious for all kinds of reasons.  Stephen and Brian across the street had wealthy parents, Bruce up the block had cool parents, much younger than mine, Adele’s dad was a doctor and I could find a million reasons to be envious.  As I matured that envy morphed from wishing I were them into wishing I could be more like them. This one was 6 feet tall and athletic, this friend was kind and thoughtful.  I wanted to be more like them, a more realistic and mature approach than wishing I were them.

High school and college went by and I was comfortable for a long while pretending I was like everybody else but that pretense had a price attached to it.  I knew I was different  and thought I was the only one.  I pretended way up til my 40’s.  The toll it took was enormous and as the marriage fell apart once again I had to reflect, consider and accept the truth.  I came out at 46 after months of considering and  reflecting.  Knowing full well that if I came out it would have to be all the way out-  to friends, fellow workers, my school district, my kids and they would have to find out from me personally.  It was a tough time, consequences were difficult but surprisingly not overwhelming. Most people said they were wondering when I was going to tell them.  My best friend, over a drink at the Woodstock Pub, asked me when I was going to tell him about my alternative life style. So I did!

Reflecting has always been significant for me!  Just as an aside, to those people who think being gay is a life choice please let me assure you no one would CHOOSE a life style of pretense and denial if there was a choice! Honest!  People of my generation didn’t have a choice!

In spite of all this I have been fortunate.  I had two wonderful careers that I loved, a family to love, I traveled all over Europe, I have had a good life.  I always gave everything I had to my jobs and was rewarded for it.  For that I am truly grateful.  Fast forward 15 or so years and along comes Covid 19.  With so much time on my hands, another opportunity to reflect on my life has arisen. This time it is coming toward the end of my span and with new appreciation for what I have experienced and what I have become as well as with a realistic recognition of how this could be my very last reflection period.  

At this reflection point reality has imposed its heavy hand on an unedited evaluation of a life lived. No more self deception, no more rationalization, just pure and simple honesty.  And surprisingly I have learned some things about myself that surprised me.  As Wally and Henry will tell you, as can just about anyone who is close to me, I am a glass half empty kind of a guy.  That was self defense as a kid and served me well for years to cope with life. Breaking a life habit that was a shield for years is difficult.  But I don’t need that anymore.  I have to stop now before I react to anything and consider how I want to perceive things.  I indeed have a choice!   Yell at me if you catch me falling back.  Life is generally good and before Covid my life was comfortable and fun. I have also been quick to judge and not very forgiving but I have noticed in roads in these categories as well-  unless you hurt an animal or a child  and then you are dead meat to me. But probably the most unrecognizable feature I have noticed in me is patience.  I miss being with people in person.  I miss shaking hands, hugging, patting on the back, kissing on the cheek.  No Zoom meeting can replace that.  I miss sharing meals with friends, and I miss laughter.  LAUGHTER! Living alone I realize that sharing something amusing or comical with another person makes it funnier, and I guess that is true of a lot of things, like seeing a beautiful sunset, or a parade passing by with another person makes it more beautiful or more patriotic.  But what I realize now, is that I can wait for a better time when I once again can shake a hand, share a secret, giggle over some silly thing and the joy that it will bring me will be intensified because of the void we have been forced to experience.  I will be a better person for it….I will feel more compassion, more empathy, more alive because these things have been denied me for almost a year now. Reflecting is hard work!  It makes us accept our shortcomings and file away our accomplishments. Life will be so much richer when this is over!  Patience……

Could sure use a hug now!

2020 Hindsight

George challenged us to write about what we learned about ourselves in 2020 – and here I’ll include  the horrific events of Dec 37th.  Each of us wrote without seeing the others’ responses. It will be interesting to see if our thoughts intersect.

I worked at my son’s restaurant most of the year – thirty hours a week washing dishes and scouring pots and another six doing accounts payable/bookkeeping operations. Last year, via a dozen webinars, I learned to talk PPP, EIDL, and PPE grant language. From this experience, I determined that I have a strong aversion to filling out government forms – but that’s neither original nor meaningful.

Instead, I’d like to share three conclusions about myself that became clear during the time of COVID:

1. My color is now gray. Once, my color might have been wide-open blue or deep green the shade of the holly leaf. Gradually it had morphed into a warm chestnut brown – at times even a burnt orange. But now it’s gray. Johannes Itten, the Bauhouse color theorist, said that in equilibrium, our brains resolve the sum of all colors to gray. Gray is peaceful and soothing. 

This has been a tough year. While trying to keep a heartbeat going in our business, my wife Linda almost relinquished hers. We’ve lost more friends this year (although not to COVID) than would have been imagined. It’s almost as if this past year offered incentives to give up the ghost.

Now, entering a new year, I don’t feel isolated, lonely, or depressed; just beat-up. I need healing and the soothing power of gray.

2. I have stopped taking things for granted. This year banged hard on the reset button. COVID pressure per square inch has squirted excess emotion in unpredictable directions. Imagine people being murdered for requesting facemask usage; police stations burned; swarming the capital of the US. We’ve witnessed a storm surge of acting out. Not to mention that it was a bad year to be a statue.

It’s doubtful the social environment will simply revert to what it had been pre-COVID. Competing ideas always result in a new thought profile. Can’t un-ring the bell. That’s dialectic, baby! We synthesize and move on. Now is not a time to take anything for granted.

In a way, this is healthy. We have the freedom to rethink… which leads to my last conclusion.

3. I need to empty and refill my cup: The question is not whether the cup is half empty or half full – or even whether the cup is overflowing. The question is what is in the cup. I have come to appreciate that I have spent a lifetime both fashioning my cup and refining my drink. It’s time to analyze how I take nourishment.

My cup often contained a measure of anger and judgment when life didn’t offer me what I wanted. A dose of entitlement, preconditions, and control confused a clean aftertaste. While I won’t completely eliminate those ingredients, I intend to add a bit more acceptance, humor, love, and gratitude in the mix. I’m also looking for that small bottle of wonder that used to provide the high notes.

 In order to do this, I need to empty my cup, so that it may be filled once again.

Reflections During COVID-19 Restrictions

Many of us are living in the great “Pause.”  For me this means an interruption in the everyday, automatic, often, unconscious way of going about our daily lives.  George encouraged us to take advantage of this shift and to consider what we’ve learned about ourselves.

In some cases it is more of an affirmation of what I thought I knew about myself rather than a wide-eyed epiphany.  I’ve always loved spending time in nature, especially in the woods.  Given that I spent more time there this year than in my last ten years, I can verify that, yes indeed, I love the serenity, exercise, and fresh air it provides for me.  Encore!

I also reaffirmed how important family and good friends are to me.  It has given me the impetus to make time to be even closer to them.

I learned that I could do without much of what I thought was necessary and still be in a positive and often happy state of mind.  As I continue to discard items from my closets, basement, and garage, I realize that I no longer need what I felt was important.  Lightening the load helps me feel freer.

I’ve learned that more time at home provides me with opportunities for developing new habits.  I have gone from occasional grilling to preparing relatively sophisticated meals in ten months.  I went from finding any meal preparation a burden to looking forward to cooking dinner.  I’m surprised but happy to realize that I still have the capacity to make significant changes in my outlook on things I believed would never change.

I’ve also learned to develop a more critical eye when listening to the news.  The inherent bias of most major television news networks rings loud and clear. Having time to really listen and think about what was reported has given me some pause to consider whether I am as open as I thought I was.  Now that I can more easily separate out judgmental comments and derogatory remarks made by newscasters who promote my viewpoint, I can better monitor my own dialogue.

Finally, I can say that I’ve discovered my capacity for greater patience.  Now, I’m not saying I’m a patient man.  However, I am more patient than I was last year.  The question remains, will I maintain this more desired state, or will I relapse when the more rapid and busy pace of life returns? 

Overall I’ve learned that I can have a smile on my face and in my heart whether I’m out and about or in isolation.  So far, I’ve been able to accept what is and still be content.  Knowing that this is temporary helps.  I prefer to look at this year of pandemic restrictions as a test that I’ve been studying for my whole life.  Luckily, I’m the only one who decides how I did.  And then I can begin preparing for whatever next test comes along.