Faces

Having dinner on Friday, we were seated near a table of what appeared to be a husband, wife, and three kids. The youngest was probably around thirteen or fourteen but I didn’t recognize him as one of my former students. Father was one of those people who had a familiar face. While we’ve been in New Mexico almost three years, we don’t have this person as one of our contacts.

The point I’m making is that he had a face that struck me as kind, friendly, and someone whom I could have known during my lifetime. It also occurs to me that having completed quite a few decades, I’ve stored enough faces in my experience data base that they have created numerous positive memories.

When we consider this to be something wholly positive, it enhances life and the day-to-day events that it contains. I don’t know this man but he reminded me of someone who was a person I liked. Maybe we all have the opportunity to view others the same way, whether it is in school, at work, in the grocery store, or on the road. In other words, I don’t know you but you look enough like someone I did for me to extend some kindness toward you.

It doesn’t take much work to see how this could impact our lives in all sorts of situations. It requires a little bit of work but it looks like this: I walk into a crowded dental office and one or two or three people in the room look like people I have known some time in my life. After considering that, I have no trouble smiling at these people or extending some form of courtesy. One by one, we all have the occasion to improve the lives of others, simply by recalling someone from the past and associating this face with that one.

It may be that the people you see don’t remind you of anyone at all and I understand that as well. In those cases, imagine that the person you are encountering is someone’s wife or husband, sister or brother, mother or father, or aunt and uncle. Life generally gets easier and more comfortable when we stop seeing everyone as strangers and begin seeing them as individuals with lives as important as ours. Shalom.

Keep it simple, sir

More often than seems appropriate, I see writing from those who are attempting to be scholarly or knowledgeable and wind up looking foolish. To these folks, I implore – keep it simple.

Here are a few examples. If you are referring to the aspect of medicine dedicated to keep illness or injury from happening, this is referred to as preventive. Too often I see the word “preventative” which is correct, I suppose, but adds a syllable that is not necessary. The same concept is true of the words among and amongst. I’ve noticed that amongst is more commonly used in the UK, but among is preferred and to me, sounds much better.

In this case, I’m not referring to incorrect usage such as irregardless or supposably, both of which are often used. I’m talking about trying to be right while failing at it. Supposably is in fact a word that means imagined or supposed but most of the time that it is used, the word supposedly is intended. Irregardless is a non-word.

Ultimately, it comes down to how important it is for you to be right. As a writer, it is crucial that I am correct in my spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Not only am I evaluated for future work according to these standards, but also it is a matter of professional integrity.

It always baffles me when I see major errors on television banners. It’s hard to list all of them but I’m worried because when we see “sight” that is intended to be “site” and other words that are blatantly wrong, I remember that children are seeing these and believing that if it’s on television, it must be correct.

So if you are using scholarly words or those with frequent misspellings, do yourself a favor and double check them. If you want to tell me that it’s unimportant or to mind my own business, I understand that too. Just don’t expect anyone to rely on you for accurate language. Shalom.

Wishing

How often, in the course of a day or week or month, do you hear someone (including yourself) begin a sentence with “I wish?” Sadly, many of us have spent far too long wishing for things that are either unimportant or impossible to achieve. By no means am I suggesting that we should stop dreaming – as long as we make some effort to have our dreams materialize.

Here are some examples: When I tell someone that I am writing a book, I often hear, “I wish that I could write.” You can visit an art gallery and hear one of the visitors utter, “I wish that I could paint.” It gets to be more common in conversations about travel, occupations, or living spaces.

If you’re spending most or much of your time wishing instead of doing, you are wasting that time. Do one of two things. Either take action to make your wishes come true or spend your time working on those situations or conditions that you can control.

Not everyone is suited to be someone who can sit in front of a canvas and create something that is acceptable or wonderful. The chances are reasonably good that if you’re an adult and haven’t yet identified a talent for art, most likely you don’t have it. Or if you think you do, take an art class and find out for sure.

The same can be said for writing, sculpting, architecture, or music. Why waste your time thinking about a musician? Decide what instrument you want to play and take lessons. Or if you are a vocal performer, find a local chorus or choir and see if you feel comfortable and confident there. If you want to be a writer, take a writing class, then begin to write. And if you want to be a distance runner, confirm that you are in physical shape to undertake the effort, then go out and run. Start with small distances and add to them as you feel that you are able.

Every time you wish for something that you don’t make happen, you are sending yourself a negative message of inadequacy or incompletion. No-one needs that. Although I would like to be able to draw, I am fine with wearing the hat of a writer and all of the other hats I wear. Shalom.

Know you can

On Sunday, I will keep a promise to myself by accomplishing a task. Any way I approach it, the task will be a difficult one, the details of which are less significant than my decision to complete it. Because I have time to prepare, I think about those actions that we take that require more of “I can” than “I think I can.”

When I think about all of those people whom I consider my heroes, they are such because of their unwillingness to be defeated. By no means am I comparing myself to those who are my heroes – there is little chance that I will ever be able to change the world in a significant way. But I derive strength from those who did not say, “I think I can” instead of “I will.”

On a regular basis, I tell my students not to try to do something. Trying suggests the opportunity to fail. Instead, I tell them to complete or fix or accomplish something. Don’t try to do your math. Complete your math and just think about how good you’ll feel when you do.

The attitude with which we approach a challenge determines our ability to accomplish it. This is true in every aspect of life, whether it be a college degree, having a child, or learning complex materials. When I began my first book, I never told myself that I thought I could write a book. Instead, I decided that I would do so, regardless of the road blocks that I might encounter along the way.

And so, when it gets difficult to add words and pages to my next book, I remind myself that I am the only one who can do it. I also remember that I am the only one whom I want to do it, due to my commitment to the subject and my preparation to cover it.

Don’t try to do something. Approach it with the express decision to complete it. My best guess is that it will make the entire process easier and infinitely more enjoyable. Shalom.

Have fun!

One of my husband’s habits that is a source of curiosity to me is also quite provocative. Whenever I leave to teach or run an errand, he always suggests that I have fun. It doesn’t matter where I’m going – he wants me to have fun.

Is this a message that it is important to him that I enjoy myself? Or is it a suggestion that what’s most important for us as living beings is to treasure whatever it is that we’re doing? I’m thinking that it’s a little bit of both.

Maybe he’s right in believing that some or all of us spend too much time and energy on those tasks that are less than enjoyable. As hard as I try, I can’t think of anyone who gets up and out of bed in the morning with the intention of having a fun day. My next thought is, why is this the case?

We resolve to complete multiple activities such as cleaning the house, doing the grocery shopping, or pulling weeds. Although those need to be done, they are not the only tasks to which we should be assigning ourselves. What if we were determined to posit more fun in our lives?

There are endless options. Trying a new food or recipe can be fun if cooking is your passion. Visit an antique shop and find something that speaks to you and your history. Volunteer at a school, retirement community, or food bank. Paint a wall in your home that is crying for attention. Get a pedicure. Go to a paint-your-own pottery studio and enjoy that form of creativity.

If we set out to increase the joy and gratification in our lives, we can truly benefit. Depending on what constitutes fun for you, do that. Watching a television program where a lady and her mother enjoy visiting cemeteries, it occurs to me that I would not find it fun. Another lady likes finding and exploring lighthouses, something I would prefer to cemeteries. I guess that you don’t need to be near a coast to find one, but if you enjoy it, do it.

Our time on earth is uncertain at best. When we stuff it with must-dos and urgent tasks, we stop enjoying the journey while we take one more step toward the destination. Whatever you are doing, wherever you are going, have some fun. Shalom.

Greatness

Having just watched a special about Linda Ronstadt, I am inspired and saddened by her story. She spent a long career following her dreams, creating powerful music, and leaving a major impact on the music industry. Now she is retired, unable to sing because of a debilitating illness. Regardless of how you may feel about her politics, singing voice, or music, she created a huge library of musical masterpieces.

As I continue working on my next book, her story is close to my heart as one who wants to create something that is exceptional. If I think of the greatest books that have been written, there is a very long list to consider. It’s likely that none of the authors responsible for these books set out to write epic literature but that doesn’t change my intention.

Is it right to aspire to greatness? Does anyone aspire to mediocrity? My subject matter is of tremendous importance – it is the Holocaust, with its devastation and immense loss. But I continue to aspire to writing a work that is consistent with the significance of the subject. With that as a starting point, how does the desire for a great book impact its writing?

This is not a question easily answered. One answer is to write it as I ordinarily do, with the hope that it becomes a truly wonderful work. Another is to invest all of my heart and talent into its creation. Another, seriously dismal response is to do my best and hope that it flies, with the realization that the percentage of books that achieve the status of landmarks is extremely low.

Ultimately, it all amounts to writing what I do and publishing, with the conviction that I have done my best and have achieved my objective of honoring the subject matter. My hope is that my readers are informed and enhanced by the work that I have done. More importantly, my goal has always been to provide a history that is a learning tool, to delineate what was done with the reminder that we must never forget the tragedies of the Holocaust so as to make it possible for them to be repeated.

Beyond that, I suppose that I have lived up to my expectations by teaching and memorializing. The satisfaction of that goal must constitute greatness – that I have spent the time and heart in listening to my heart while telling a vitally crucial story. Shalom.

Okay, Sis

My recent medical diagnostic test resulted in some very enlightening encounters. The gastroenterologist was amicable and conversational about his profession and his past. The anesthesiologist was also chatty and thorough.

But one of the nurses was extraordinary in her explanations and confidence-establishing rapport. On five or six occasions, she said, “Okay, Sis,” a term I haven’t heard in a very long time.

I guess that calling me “Sis” was for the sake of being friendly. It’s better than calling me “Patient” and I’m guessing that using my first name was a bit too familiar. Interestingly enough, when I said, “Thank you, nurse,” she quickly responded by furnishing her given name.

Maybe she calls all female patients “Sis.” Or maybe it’s a habit of hers since childhood. In any case, it was an illustration of doing what she could to make me feel comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable situation.

We all have the ability and imperative to do the same in our everyday lives. When visiting a bank, I think it’s a good practice to notice the teller’s name and use it when thanking him or her for courtesy extended. The same can be said for grocery cashiers, service station personnel, and any other people who are committed to delivering excellent customer experiences.

When I enter a new classroom, I always introduce myself, promise an educational and fun time, and work diligently to remember student names. Students prefer to be addressed by name and as a substitute teacher whom they may never see again, I like for them to believe that I will remember them. Very often, I do.

It takes very little time and effort to acknowledge kindness, concern, and genuine attention to the needs of others. Saying thank you doesn’t cost anything or take much work. Advising someone that they have done a terrific job is that much better. You don’t need to call people “Sis” to achieve this. You simply need to mean it. Shalom.

Save one life

Waiting for results on some important medical diagnostic tests, I can’t help but consider the subject of mortality. We all have only one shot at life on this planet, making it mandatory that we make the best of the one life that we are afforded.

On what seems like a daily basis, we see new stories of mass shootings or an incident resulting in death in multiple cities around the world. It feels as though we have almost become immune to this news, a fact that makes me very sad.

For those who are unfamiliar with sacred Jewish writings, the Mishnah is part of the Talmud, rabbinic discussions on Jewish law, ethics, legends, etc. A famous Mishnah tells us, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Each time that I hear of a parent killing a child, a husband killing a wife, or a gang member killing another in retaliation, I think of this quote. By no means do I want to launch a diatribe about gun control. But I do have great fears that we have lost an understanding of the sacredness of life.

It doesn’t take much effort to compile a list of the people who have changed the world in some way. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are on this list. So are Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Jonas Salk, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Where would we be if these lives had been ended in infancy? And how many of today’s children would grow up to be just as influential if a mother hadn’t drowned him or her in a swimming pool?

At no time, in no place, under any circumstances, do I have the ability to take the life of another unless one of my children or grandchildren is in danger. Realizing that and the frequency and apparent nonchalance of those who do, I continue to worry. This realization causes me to wonder if other educators are teaching the importance of every life to every student. If so, are we making certain that they are listening?

It’s difficult to de-glamorize the violence that children are seeing on television, movies, and video games. But I staunchly believe that we need to spend at least as much energy on acts of kindness, benevolence, and ingenuity. Shalom.

Dear old Dad

For the past few weeks, I have been thinking quite often about my dad. He died in 1980, so by definition, all of my memories are in the distant past.

Most of these thoughts have been about the expressions he frequently used, cliche or otherwise. As ridiculous as some of them may have seemed at the time, either I heard them so many times or they left a lasting impression, or both. Here are some examples:

The highest compliment that Dad could ever pay was that someone “had a good head on his shoulders.” Having been a smart mouth for many years, I’m certain that I wanted to say in response, “As opposed to his spleen? Or his elbow?” Dad didn’t do well with sarcasm so I’m thinking that I would have kept such comments to myself.

I also liked the expression, “nuttier than a fruitcake.” How nutty is a fruitcake? Do people still eat fruitcakes, except maybe during Christmas season?

Another good one was “A good swift kick in the butt wouldn’t hurt you a bit.” Seriously? At 5’11” and close to 300 lbs., any of his kicks would have been life-changing. My recollection is that he said this more to my brothers than to me. But still….

The last one went something like this: “He (or she) has a lot of book smarts but doesn’t have the good sense to come in out of the rain.” I’m sure he used this one quite a bit. As the youngest child and only girl, I decided early on that I would make my mark on the world by being scholarly. And that was the path that I took, always reading or doing homework. Guess I just didn’t want to be short in both categories.

What were the examples of lacking good sense? It could have been not boiling potatoes long enough for them to be mashable. Or it could have been leaving my bike outside all night instead of bringing it inside to the porch. Right now, I can’t remember.

As always, there is a moral of the story. My dad had no intention to demoralize, demonize, or destroy my self-esteem. Because I recollect these warnings and others, I have to believe that he was intending to teach me what he could. Our kids and students remember what we say to them. It means that we need to be judicious about what we say because our words will last longer than we do. Shalom.

Say something

As many of my readers know, my most recent book, Two papas – a tale of impossible Holocaust survival, was published almost a year ago. That book was completed as the first segment of my Holocaust trilogy and I am half-finished with book two.

This would not be the first time I mention that writing books is both the most challenging and difficult undertaking of my life. But having books in print affords me the luxury of considerable contemplation.

After publication, I delivered or mailed at least thirty copies to my family members, friends, and associates who expressed a desire to read it. Having offered quite a few more, I was usually told that my contacts preferred the e-book version. I have no way to determine who did and who didn’t buy it because all I see is the total number of books sold.

What amuses or intrigues me is the shortage of reviews and feedback I’ve received from virtually everyone. Aside from three or four close friends and family members who gushed about how much they loved the book, the rest of the recipients have said nothing.

And so, I choose to reach a collection of conclusions because there are probably that many different reasons for this silence. Some either do not have or take time to read. Some intend to do so but haven’t yet. A few may find the subject matter difficult or of no interest whatsoever. And I suppose that there are some who simply didn’t like the book and don’t want to tell me so. Finally, there are going to be readers who either don’t know how to write a review or are reticent to do so.

I offer a suggestion to those who write and appreciate feedback of any type. As you publish, tell everyone you know and everyone you don’t know that receiving input is meaningful to you, for whatever reason it is.  Additionally, their enthusiasm will encourage those who will cherish your work enough to secure it. For me, commentary is useful and vital to the creation of more work.

The amount of feedback I receive will not affect my intention to continue writing. All of my work emanates from the heart and the importance I attach to its messages. But I admit that I do love hearing that someone values what I have done, in the hopes that it enhanced or enlightened the reader. Shalom.