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People priorities

As a non-federal employee who is observing the consequences of the federal shutdown, I am outraged by the obvious inability to see the tragedies of those impacted. While I understand the political positions on both sides of the dispute, it becomes clear that those who are suffering from a lack of income are always those who have everything to lose and nothing to gain in the arguments that apply.

Our news networks are filled with stories about people who are standing in food lines or have to choose between insulin and eating. They have nothing to do with the border wall and whether it is established or not. But until all of our blustering politicians finish with the dialogue and diatribe, they will not be paid for their work.

Unfortunately, most of us have absolutely no ability to impact any of this. While I can contribute to a food bank or shelter, I can’t reach the lady in Maryland who is physically challenged and can’t pay for her meds. Do we have the power to effect change? It appears that we don’t and yet we are collectively disheartened to see all of the people who serve us and are compromised by the inability of a few to reach some form of compromise.

Is the world as black and white as this political debate would lead us to believe? The balance of life is rarely that distinct. Those who are dedicated to serving the greater good fail to do what is necessary to feed and shelter those who elected them.

My most sincere hope is that border wall or not, the federal employees are paid, working and free of the current political tension that immobilizes them. We support you, work to assist you and hope with all of our hearts that your economic hardships are soon remedied. Come on, politicians! Let’s take care of our citizens and work out our immigration issues without causing so many to go hungry. Shalom.

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Staring out my office window, watching a leisurely snowfall in an environment usually devoid of snow, I am wondering what defines great thoughts and where they are deemed as such. In all my years of pursuing career positions, I have never seen a job title of “Great Thought Provider” or “Director in Charge of Memorable Thoughts.” While some of this reflection is in jest, I continue to wonder where extraordinary thoughts originate.

If you reference a book of quotes (I have one that is a trusted resource, easily available in my library), you can predict the identities of quotation purveyors. Some of them are Greek philosophers, some are politicians, some are educators and the balance are those who have elevated themselves in a field of distinction.

Although I am privileged to receive numerous examples of word wisdom, I am at a loss as to how they can become widely dispersed. Can it be that profession or location determine eligibility for a quotation treasury? If we’re not Bill Gates, Aristotle or Benjamin Franklin, do any of us have the potential for recognition or being determined a creator of quotable observations?

Following that path, I can conclude that only two answers are reasonable. One is somewhat gloomy – if we’re not famous or infamous, no-one will ever remember what we’ve said.  The second path makes more sense. Being an observer of the world, like many other job descriptions, is reward into and of itself.

If you were to ask those closest to me for my two most common expressions, you would hear the following: Trust your gut. You never have to apologize for doing the right thing. While the first expression is relatively common and the second has variations all over everywhere, I’ve never heard anyone else use it as is. Ultimately, my conclusion is that it doesn’t matter at all.

My most fervent hope is that when I am gone from this earth, those whom I have left behind will associate some form of learning with my words. But to me, fame is irrelevant and superfluous. We all have the capacity to create powerful words, regardless of the number of ears or screens on which they will materialize. Shalom.

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Watching a movie recently, I saw one of the actors using a green army blanket and remembered always having one in our home. The only person who had spent time in the army was my uncle, who had been a pilot during World War II. From where did this blanket originate?

Not surprisingly, I had other questions that occurred to which there will probably never be answers. Where did we get the huge blue roasting pans with the white speckles? Were they wedding presents to my parents and had survived all those years of constant use?

As I wandered through the recollections of my past, I thought about the raccoon coat for which I yearned. It was in a store at Maurice Rothschild in downtown Chicago and as clearly as I can remember, I never owned it. But I do remember that I gnashed my teeth at the boys’ coats that I acquired, primarily because my mom’s family owned a men and boys store. If I did have a girl’s coat, it was probably a hand-me-down from my cousin Susan. No matter the reason, I never went to school cold.

We were never told that money was a concern or problem. Somehow, we always managed to have what was needed and seldom more than that. One of my most amusing memories is that I wasn’t allowed to have blue jeans. They were just beginning to be popular in the late sixties, but my dad was resolute that I wouldn’t have any. From this vantage point, I don’t think I ever asked why.

And so, it made sense that as soon as I arrived in Champaign-Urbana for college, I consulted the phone book and found bus transportation to an Army-Navy surplus store. My jeans were magically affordable – I had $10 per week allowance and absolutely no credit. But the prerequisite was that they had to be snug enough that I had to zip them while stretched out on my back.

How much are we by-products of our past? All of my subsequent jean purchases were made standing up but I’ve never forgotten being respectful, thrifty and grateful. Objects no longer mysteriously appear in my life as they once did. But I am determined not to take any of them for granted. Shalom.

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A musical tale

Once upon a common time, there was a baby cello whose name was Bella. Bella grew up as any other cello would, going to the best schools of music, improvisational summer camps and fine tuning seminars.

Bella worked harder than the other cellos at her music studies because she believed that she wasn’t as attractive as her peers. Her body was a bit too wide, her wood wasn’t properly burled and shiny, and she went out of tune a bit too quickly than she considered normal.

Bella also avoided mirrors, made excuses for not going out to play with other cellos and kept to herself. Her life was solemn, classical and wholly dedicated to the process of creating memorable music.

As she grew older, Bella’s music steadily improved and she became the prized instrument of Giacomo, a well-recognized concert cellist. Giacomo treasured and cherished Bella, polishing her, gently tuning her and providing comfortable resting places.

One day, Giacomo came home to find Bella crying quietly in her corner of the music studio.

“Bella, why are you crying?” Giacomo asked. “Are you unhappy? Have I not been taking proper care of you? Is there something you’re lacking?”

“No,” Bella replied. “You have always been so kind and caring. But I’ve always wanted to be beautiful. As a result, I’ve always envied the more graceful, colorful cellos.”

“Oh, Bella,” said Giacomo. “That’s my fault, I’m afraid. I’ve told you about your magnificent music, but I’ve never complimented your appearance. Who you are and what you create are far more than lovely than I have words to describe.”

“You are very beautiful,” Giacomo added. “Your wood is unique and elegant and the rest of you is as well. But more importantly, the sound you create is consistent with your angelic charm, not separate from it.”

“So, I really am beautiful?” Bella asked.

“More than you will ever know,” Giacomo replied “Sadly, you didn’t understand that those who experience you the entire spectrum of your delicacy.”

With that, Bella stopped crying and peacefully returned to the safety of her case. You could hear her humming softly, happily satisfied that the beauty she sought for herself had always been in the notes that erupted from her soul. Shalom.

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Of course

It seems that almost daily I am encountering a new and troubling aberration to my treasured English language. Yesterday I discovered that we are liberally using the word “bots” to replace the word “robots.” The first question is why? Is it to save keystrokes or spaces? Is it simply for the sake of brevity?

We’ve done essentially the same atrocity by converting “your” to “ur,” “pictures” to “pics,” and all of the unfortunate acronyms that pervade our text messages such as “lmao,” “lol” “tbt” and probably others that I haven’t yet encountered.

Yes, I understand that there are limits to time and characters for many types of messages. Thankfully, the expression, “My bad” has become less popular as it made me cringe every time I heard it. At the same time, I am watching the language that I love being compromised in an assortment of ways.

It goes on from abbreviations and acronyms. Somehow, the expression “of course” has replaced thank you and you’re welcome. As someone who lavishly uses “thank you” in many contexts, I am old enough and traditional to expect a “you’re welcome” instead of “of course.” In my life, that expression was often found in conjunction with sarcasm: “Of course, you’re not ready to finish math and begin English, right?”

There’s little purpose in fighting a war that I can’t possibly win. It’s probably similar to preventing glaciers from collapsing into the sea (yes, global warming) or oceans being devastated by thousands of tons of plastic waste material. But for as long as I can and will set examples, I will say you’re welcome to a thank you.

Before you file me away into the antique category, understanding and perpetuating our language in its purest form does have value. Those who read our work, in business and academics, are paying attention to the faithful adherence to standard English practices. Thankfully, I don’t see that changing. And entrance exams, job applications and legal documents are all predicated on reasonably correct language and grammar.

Do what you like with your language for I am responsible only for my words.  But don’t be surprised if I’m not the only one paying attention and you are really going to know that “your” means belonging to you and “you’re” means you are. Shalom.

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Be there

Last night I was delighted and revitalized by listening to a piece from Carl Orff that I had sung during my high school participation in mixed chorus. At this point, I don’t remember how many years I participated. It may have been one or two but at this point, it’s insignificant. What I did remember last night was that for as many concert performances as I completed, either in college, high school or thereafter, for many years no-one was ever in attendance to cheer for me.

Because my life story includes many years of my mother’s illness, I bear no grudges or animosity. But I believe that the experience of being without a fan base taught me volumes, as an educator and as a mother. My son liberally reminds me that I was in attendance for all his pursuits, ranging from tee-ball to trumpet lessons to auditions to opening theatre performances. My daughter also had a mom present for her recitals, sports or concerts, no matter what.

When I am fortunate enough to participate in plays or parties in the elementary schools, I always identify the pride displayed by those students who have parents in attendance. On the other side of things, I am also told such sad stories as, “Mom is in jail,” “Dad works two jobs,” “Both of my parents are gone” or other reasons why students have no-one there to celebrate them.

To me, it’s not a question of, “Should I be there” as much as it is, “What time should I be there?” There will only be one kindergarten graduation per child. There will never be another time for a child to participate in a sixth grade Halloween party. And as a careful observer, I can assure you that it makes a substantial, lasting difference on the children who have parents (or siblings or caring others) who take the time and effort to attend.

Be there for those who will be improved by having someone in the audience who is proud of them. No gift will ever endure as well, mean as much or provide an equivalent small flicker or sparkle to a song or baseball game. Shalom.

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It occurred to me today that it would be wise to update our address with our attorney, not because of any immediate plans to die but because it would generally be a good idea to have the records current. With that thought, I proceeded to write a letter, use a stamp and envelope and notify the attorney.

Halfway through the process, I realized that we were in 2019, not 1965, and that all I had to do was send an email to the firm and the address could be corrected. It seemed that many of the things that we do daily are a result of old conditioning and that it’s judicious to look at old methods rather than mindlessly perpetuating them.

Some dated methodologies are valuable but unavailable. For example, I remember driving into a gas station, having the attendant fill my gas tank and upon request, check the air in my tires. That procedure is unavailable in any place I’ve lived within the last three cities, but there is a better, more useful alternative. While I still need to pump my own gas and pay to check the air in my tires, if there is a problem, I have a choice of tire stores to see why my tire pressure light is on by checking the air in my tires.

When my iPad begins to manifest strange behavior, I have a variety of options available on the internet before I drag it down to the Apple store in order to pay a high price for not much at all. And so it goes with wondering how much postage I’ll need to pay for 13.66 ounces, trying to find a map for a journey from here to there and a host of other habits.

Under no circumstances am I attempting to live in the past or venerate old processes. It may be a combination of the fact that they are easier than learning new ones and forgetting that alternatives are more convenient.

It’s a lesson for all of us. With a bit of work, a dose of imagination and a quantity of open-mindedness, newer and better ways of doing things are pervasive. All that’s necessary is learning – a process that cannot and should never cease. Shalom.

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Anyone who is a regular reader of my work knows that I always avoid clichés, both in speech and writing. But as I watched the throngs at the New Year’s Eve party in New York, I couldn’t help but notice the thousands of young people who were present. Regrettably, the expression “youth is wasted on the young” crossed my mind.

To begin, there was no evidence of waste anywhere. Young people were completely enjoying the event, regardless of the jammed spaces and rain. Although I only watched for thirty minutes, their exuberance never diminished.

What is it about youth that we envy? Is it their energy, spontaneity, willingness to take risks or simply their embracing all moments? Maybe it’s their lack of problems that occur later in life – aches and pains, worries of many kinds, liabilities, responsibilities or simply a greater understanding of the sadness found in the world.

If all this regret sounds negative, it truly is. My best guess is that instead of wasting time and effort on envying youth, we should learn from it. While there are numerous physically demanding activities that I don’t need or want to attempt, I refuse to timestamp myself as an excuse not to engage in strenuous pursuits. It’s true that people half my age (or younger) won’t experience many of the muscle or joint pangs or twinges that I do. But we all have the unlimited potential for recovery and in a few days, discomfort will be gone.

One of the truths that I know about aging is that I don’t allow it to prevent me from attempting what I earnestly want to accomplish. This determination is predicated on the fact that excuses are non-productive and self-defeating. Although I’ve frequently suggested that I’m too old or too steeped in non-fiction to attempt fiction, further consideration suggests that this position is foolish. Do our brains become too stiff or infirm to attempt a new endeavor? Absolutely not.

And so, I will continue to walk my 5K races, workout on my stationary bicycle, experiment with new foods and indulge in some flash fiction. Age is an invitation to focus, not a reason to underachieve. Shalom.

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Ending and beginning

As this year comes to an end, many of us contemplate what has taken place and what we hope for the upcoming calendar year. The fact that none of us can accurately predict the events that will take place, this lack of impact doesn’t prevent anyone (including me) from wishing the best for 2019.

Listing the realities that I hope to take place next year, I can only wonder how many of them I can in fact influence. The easy answer is that most of it is out of my hands. While I can suggest to others that they purchase and read my autobiography, ultimately, I can’t cause anyone to do so. The same is true for reading my blogs, soliciting professional services or asking me to teach. And as I hope for continued good health for my family and me, how much of that health is out of my direct control?

With all of that inability, what are our options for 2019? Sitting in my recliner in preparation for the next year seems neither attractive nor productive. My intention is to return to the classroom, for the opportunity to touch young lives every day. Along with that, I hope to join a local choral ensemble so as not to allow my vocal chords to rust. And in a community that actively seeks volunteers in a wide collection of venues, I will seek out the one where my energy and experience may be best put to work.

While I am aware that none of those intentions will insulate me from negative occurrences, I also believe that all of them will maximize my opportunities for a happy and fulfilled life. And the bonus is that by engaging in my planned activities, I have the ability to make the lives of others better in some way, large or small.

Thank you in advance for your wishes for a happy new year; they are enthusiastically reciprocated. But I leave you with the recommendation that you can be a contributor to a good year, primarily by engaging in giving more to the world than you take. Shalom.

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Good books, good friends and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

Mark Twain

Whenever I fail to find inspiration in my immediate world, Mark Twain always seems to offer reasons for reflection. This quote is no exception. Whether my inability to remember words, names, situations or facts is due to my age or simply too much information to categorize, it remains a source of frustration. Perhaps the true problem is the frustration, not the inability to remember.

Most of us have experienced the situation. What was the name of the guy with whom we worked at the such-and-such office, in 1980-something? You can remember a variety of small facts such as his penchant for cold coffee, numerous children shown in his desk photograph and his quirky ties. But try as you may, you just can’t remember his name. Ultimately, does it matter? Will you be improved in any way other than the tiny victory of overcoming forgetfulness?

The idea of “sleepy conscience” is worthwhile. Don’t we all have events or actions that we would do differently if the opportunity became available? Somehow, the inability to remember details about these regrettable moments is a blessing rather than the proverbial curse.

Compared to good friends and good books, any flavor of regret pales by comparison. It pleases me to describe my conscience (and my memory) as sleepy rather than a product of senility. Sooner or later, I am likely to remember those things that are worth remembering – names, adverbs, authors, evenings or breathtaking sights. And if not, what’s the harm or foul?

And so, I pass on Mark Twain’s perennial wisdom, for the sake of reinforcing what is good and immortal. If we treasure our friends and the words of our beloved volumes, they will produce the good life. Instead of considering our sleepy powers of recollection a deficiency, perhaps they are incentives for cherishing our gifts. Shalom.