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Witnesses

For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing. Simon Wiesenthal

Those who study or have studied the Holocaust are necessarily familiar with the name of Simon Wiesenthal. Born in the Ukraine, Wiesenthal survived four concentration camps, living long enough to be a Nazi hunter and writer. His legacy of focus, strength and determination is a powerful and inspirational one.

This quote is especially significant to me in its timelessness and enduring truth. In our times, many are quick to complain about any subject at all. It may be government, politicians, climate, crime, unemployment – you name it.

The identity of “evil” depends on whom you ask. If you’re a Republican, the Democrats are evil. If you’re a Democrat, the Republicans wear the evil tag. But my view is that the majority of the complainers simply observe evil and take no action to rid the world of its struggles and troubles. My position is not to complain about anything – whether I can solve it or not. And if I can make changes, I would much rather take some type of action to correct than waste the time with complaints.

Imagine this: We establish a barter system; for every 10 minutes of complaining, you are required to complete ten minutes of community service. Imagine all of life’s evils that could be minimized or eradicated.

Of course, we would need to rely on the honor system so as not to establish a tyrannical form of government. Otherwise, complaints that are normally an egregious waste of time and energy can be converted into positive results.

Being a bystander can’t compare to being an upstander – one who goes to battle of some kind for what is right. Watching evil occur is inexcusable. My best guess is that much of the evil we witness can be counteracted or eliminated by intervention. Imagine the world that would emerge. Shalom.

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If I didn’t write

What would I do if I didn’t write? The art or practice of writing assumes two things – one is that the writer has the skills and vocabulary to write. The second assumption is that someone or multiples of people want to read what is written.

And what if, for some or any reason, the writer can or will no longer write. One might reasonably ask about what happens to the thoughts, feelings, ideas and observations that were previously expressed by keyboard. In my case, I’ve been writing this or that for so long, I can’t imagine not doing it.

Maybe painters, potters, sculptors, composers, musicians, landscape artists and architects express all of those commodities within their proprietary art forms. As a non-participant in any of them, I can’t have a reliable opinion. And so, I continue to wonder.

Because I can’t draw, sculpt, landscape or create architecture, none of those are viable for me. There are many more people out there who don’t write than those who do, many of whom appear to lead normal or acceptable lives but that doesn’t provide me with an attractive alternative. At this point, I’m thinking that it’s a bit late in my life to pursue formal training in any of the arts (other than music, in which I am going to perform as long as my vocal cords will allow). That leaves me to find other forms of self-expression if I elect to discontinue writing.

What if I created a combination Lego/Scrabble game where I could attach words to puzzle pieces and create three-dimensional poetry? It sounds good but I would need to create hundreds of pieces or restrict myself to very few words. And I am still writing.

Then there is the option of a pseudonym. In this case, I write the work, create an author name and see how people respond to that person’s name and work. But there is a problem here as well. Whether the literature is loved, hated or ignored, I still retain ownership. And I am still writing.

And so, it seems likely that I’ll stick with what I know. That should include fans, non-fans and those who are absolutely indifferent. But I will have satisfied my muse and use the best outlet available to express what is in my mind and my soul. Shalom.

 

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Mind and heart

A book that I recently completed included a quote from an elderly man to his son. The suggestion was that the father was on his death bed and he was imparting words by which his son should live. To paraphrase, he said that you can be robbed of everything except what you have learned and what is in your heart. Since reading the statement, I have dedicated quite a bit of thought to its current relevance.

During our time that is limited and identified by a deadly virus, many have found themselves quite alone, physically and psychologically. It is tough to have no options to leave home except for essentials and emergencies. For those unfortunate enough to be affected by the virus, isolation, quarantine and hospitalization are all solitary journeys.

What enables us to prevail? My quotation suggests that it is what we possess in our hearts and minds. I am not sufficiently naive to believe that only the strength of conviction will enable survival. Many other factors come into play, including medical procedures, seriousness of the virus, underlying medical issues, etc. But I do believe with all my heart, soul and mind that we cannot and will not survive without wanting very badly to do so.

To those who might be inclined to underestimate themselves, I hope that you derive strength from the power of your mind and intellect over your emotions. Medicine cannot calibrate or compute those entities but they function entirely on your welfare.

No-one can rob you of who you are unless you encourage and permit it. Your knowledge is your private stock of immunity. And your heart, for yourself and for those you cherish, is more powerful than any medical treatment. If you want to maximize your opportunities to prevail, trust your mind and your heart. Shalom.

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Let’s walk

When you think about going for a walk, what image does that conjure for you? Does it seem like something that old folks do? If you were young and agile, you would be running, right? Another alternative is that you walk when you have nothing better to do. Race walkers and those who walk in competitive races might disagree with your interpretation but that is not my point here.

One of the habits that I have come to identify as a special courtesy is to invite someone to go for a walk. The first images that come to my mind are two managers, in different positions, who would invite me to go for a walk, generally without a specific reason to do so. Sometimes we would walk to get coffee, sometimes we would walk to have some privacy about a certain issue and sometimes it was simply to spend some time.

Here we are, some years later, and I know that one of those managers has died. The other fell out of my circle of friends and I haven’t spoken with him in a number of years. But I still have very positive memories of that walking time and the information or observations that we shared.

Today is as good a time as any to invite someone for a walk or take one for yourself. Most of the time, I think about subjects other than walking while I am doing so. If I’m not alone, it is typical to carry on some form of conversation. But neither is obligatory. It is perfectly fine to observe the plants and animals along the way, to see how others garden and simply to breathe air that hasn’t been circulating in your home for days or weeks or months.

It is absolutely irrelevant to me that we are quarantined as far as walks are concerned. If someone with whom you would like to walk is at another part of your city or town, you may or may not be able to enjoy that person’s company. But it’s almost as good to extend the invitation for whenever the quarantine is over.

Take a walk, clear your mind and your lungs and appreciate the fact that you can put one foot in front of the other. That is a pleasure I will always enjoy and hope that there will not be any time when I cannot. Shalom.

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Remembering

As the Coronavirus proceeds with its deadly path through the world, we are often advised of the many thousands of people whom it has taken in the process. It is easy to become accustomed to these numbers but I would suggest that we all spend a moment of our time reflecting about the people that these numbers represent.

Recently, I found a statement often used in Judaism to honor the memories of those who have passed but it’s something I believe to be apropos at this time. The statement is often used to honor the memories of rabbis or other religious leaders and reads as follows: May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

We don’t use the word “righteous” very often but I am thinking that it applies to many of those whom we have lost. The doctors, nurses, caregivers and other health care workers who have died are certainly righteous. The teachers, scientists, parents, retail workers and everyone else who has served others and died in the process can easily be considered righteous.

Let us not trivialize our losses by thinking of large numbers or categories. All those who have succumbed to an illness that no-one anticipated or could prevent are heroes in my opinion. They are often those who were attending to the needs of others, often without concern for their own safety and without the appropriate protection. The families that they have left behind will never forget or be able to replace their presence and it disrespects their memories to think only of the class of people to whom they belong.

A lesson that emerges is that of appreciation. If you haven’t recently appreciated those who have survived the disease or have been so fortunate to have avoided it so far, express your gratitude for the existence and influence of those people. Any day without mourning is a good day and we are blessed not to say goodbye to our loved ones. May the memory of all the righteous be for a blessing. Shalom.

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Enough is enough

Finishing something as formidable as a book, the book that I have described as the defining work of my life, is a process leaving me extremely ambivalent. On the one hand, I am confident that the story is told, the critical points have been made and I have adequately covered the book’s central meaning. The expression that occurs to me is one that I heard frequently as a child, “Enough is enough.” From the competing perspective, how many areas could I expand or improve? It is a certainty that the book will undergo two or three or more edits before it is published and that should sufficient.

Enough is enough is an intriguing concept for me, especially right now. Arguably, there are entities or actions that can reach the state of enough. These would include learning, giving, teaching, traveled, observed and saved. At this moment, however, I could make a good case for the fact that we can have enough of very few things.

Is there such a thing as too much kindness? How about tolerance, generosity, contemplation, worship, gratitude, patience and love? Is it possible to love too much? In other words, I’m of the opinion that the quality of “enoughness” is  very rarely seen and desired less than it is observed.

Some might believe that I have taught enough for one lifetime. To that I say a hearty “no,” primarily because I love the entire process. Almost daily, I get an indescribable opportunity to encourage a child to reach for the moon and accomplish much more than anyone thinks he or she can. Does my health determine when I’ve taught enough? My answer is only when it prevents me from walking around a classroom. On a daily basis I miss being with my students.

Likewise, can we garden to the point of enough? Watching plants of all varieties grow is a joy that should have no limits, other than those dictated by space or budget. We cherish our family members but that process will never be more than enough. The same is true for feeling good, supporting the causes in which we believe and in my case, writing.

As I remember, the occasions for which I heard “enough is enough” probably had to do with spending money, staying up past bedtime or some other mundane context. And so I recommend, don’t let the idea of enough keep you from doing what you love and what makes you happy. There will never be enough tomorrows for you to run out of options. Shalom.

 

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Always do right

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest. Mark Twain

 Wisdom is one of those entities that is uniquely and consistently valuable. Some of us seek wisdom from those whom we love and trust. Others look to politics, medicine or religion for a set of truths that are viable, timely and relevant.

Because I seldom take credit for my own wisdom, I find it available from writers such as Mr. Twain. This is another of those examples, as we are doing our best to handle the constraints and frustrations of quarantine. This quote is so good – it really answers any questions we may have about right and wrong behavior during a global crisis.

If you have any doubts about whether or not to wear a mask, wear it. And if you are wondering if you are six feet away from the nearest human, extend that distance.

Some of doing right consists of giving to others less fortunate. There is also a component that I would call restraint. If you have something negative to say to anyone involved in observing the quarantine, keep it to yourself.

Yes, I realize that some of this is extremely difficult, much more so than feeling sorry for yourself. Like you, I would love to go to my favorite restaurant, sit on the patio and have a glass of wine while looking at the mountains. The best statement I can offer is that the wait will make the event more pleasurable than ever.

Our children are watching how we deal with crisis. Being the best we can be must be the answer. Generosity is a good trait to demonstrate. So is patience as is imagination. Some of the games and activities that I have seen parents develop for their home schooling are extraordinary. And I try my hand at creativity in the kitchen or at my keyboard.

Doing the right thing is always easier than the alternative. The very good news is that outcomes from right actions are generally more enduring than those that are done in anger or haste. Take a breath, realize that our situation is only temporary and give more than you receive. Shalom.

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Not her fault

It’s no secret that the Coronavirus has been difficult for all people who are capable of understanding its power and presence. That includes most of us, if we are old enough and smart enough to realize how insidious it is.

We all have different methods by which we can respond. Denial is one and is probably the most dangerous. Obsessiveness is another, if you are fond of living in a sanitary bubble for the foreseeable future.

From my standpoint, anger is not an acceptable response. Barking at retail employees doesn’t improve the lives of anyone. In fact, it does no good whatsoever. The only byproduct is embarrassing onlookers and hurting the employee’s feelings.

What led me to this observation was sitting in my backyard and having the misfortune of hearing one of my neighbors who was at least 500 feet away. It seemed that her child, probably four or five, had injured herself in some way.

The “mother,” instead of offering love or support, yelled at the child. This was not the first time I had the misfortune of hearing her. On this occasion, at least ten times, I heard her bellow, “Why are you crying?” Not surprisingly, the child continued to cry.

As a mother, grandmother, educator and someone with basic good sense, I couldn’t stand to hear it. The child probably doesn’t know Covid-19 from WD-40 or 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s reasonable to believe that the mother was stressed because most of us are. And of course, I don’t know the nature of her interactions before I heard the child crying out for help. But the child doesn’t understand the stress and she didn’t cause it. By doing what the mother did, the child was compromised and most likely, didn’t feel any less anxious.

We can be kind to each other. Many of us are accustomed to thinking only of our worlds, priorities and pressures. This truly is the time to be part of the earth community and refrain from punishing others for what we are enduring. Shalom.

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Today

Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Don’t put the cart before the horse. If your childhood and early life were anything like mine, you heard warnings like these associated with doing kindnesses to or for yourself. Now that I find myself thinking about the life behind and in front of me, I am beginning to wonder whether or not there was any wisdom in these words of wisdom.

Somewhere and somehow, we have found new and creative ways to deprive ourselves of those events or items that would improve and enhance our lives. It may be that we are saving for the future. Or it may be that we consider this or this or this an unjustifiable extravagance. At this point, I’m over it and I am ready to live each day as the only opportunity I have to maximize my enjoyment.

Here’s a small but representative example. For the past x years, I have been using a particular product as part of my daily hair routine. Recently (6 months?) I have found that the compound makes me sneeze as part of my overall battle with allergies. Up until yesterday, I continued to use this junk because I didn’t want to waste the $8 or $10 that I had spent on it. Pitiful. In a flash of I don’t know what, I poured out the stuff and recycled its container.

My friendly recommendation (notice, I make no attempts toward wisdom) is that you do what makes you happy and relaxed and fulfilled and toss the stuff that is reminiscent of outdated messages. If you’ve written a poem but haven’t entered a poetry writing contest for fear that you might win, submit it. And if you’ve been using the last inch or half inch of something that you really don’t like because you can’t bear the thought of tossing something that you haven’t finished, toss it. If a brand new pair of shoes would make you and your feet happy and you can afford them, buy them.

Today is the only reality that is for certain. We owe it to every day that preceded it and every day that may not follow it to do what is beneficial or fun. It’s time to be whatever you are and want to be, while you still have the chance. Then pat yourself on the back. Shalom.

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A day for Mothers

Today is Mother’s Day and for all those who have a mother, are a mother or celebrate one mother or more, I send my wishes for the happiest of Mother’s Days. This is one of the most powerful and emotional days of the year for me, a day for which I am grateful and humble.

Those who know me understand the two realities about this holiday – one that I did not have nearly enough Mother’s Days with my own wonderful mother; the second is that my motherhood was a struggle to attain and one that was not expected to occur. Neither of those two conditions mitigate the fact that this is an supremely special day.

Each of us has a preferred method by which to celebrate. If it’s baking a cake, supplying an extremely special (and sentimental) gift, going out for brunch or dinner – it doesn’t matter. But I can tell you with no hesitation, that the mother you commemorate and honor will be enhanced by your efforts, no matter what she may choose to articulate.

If you believe that this is merely a greeting card type of event that promotes the sales of chocolates, flowers or greeting cards, enjoy your cynicism and please keep it to yourself in my presence. If you agree with me that being a mother is the loftiest and most sacred of designations, you and I agree.

And so, I say thank you for the two extraordinary, kind and incredibly thoughtful young people who have created my privilege to be called their mother. You are beyond my ability to express how much you represent to me and I will always be grateful for what you have both become and how proud I am of both of you. In my world, you are the ultimate of God’s gifts.

For the rest of the world, I sincerely hope that you take the time and effort to honor your mother. She has done more for you than you can possibly realize and is entitled to every expression of love that you can muster. A happy, healthy and blessed Mother’s Day to all. Shalom.