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Look up

Attempting to answer the question “How do we shape the future?” in the book’s final chapter, the scientist writes: “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”

Anyone who has followed the life and works of Stephen Hawking is probably as much in awe of his accomplishments as I am. Today I saw this quote from Hawking’s final book that was published subsequent to his death by his daughter.

In addition to this reminder being symbolic of Hawking’s life and formidable disability, it’s also a message to keep looking toward the vastness of the future rather than where your feet have already taken you. When you combine this statement with an earlier observation made by Hawking, the future becomes more interesting and potentially more confusing.

The headline for this article included a statement that to Hawking, there was no God. Some of us may want to assume that Hawking’s conclusion about the lack of God had to do with his potentially debilitating motor neuron condition diagnosed when he was 21 and his eventual death from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hawking disallowed this theory, indicating that his condition was purely based in science. In spite of or perhaps because of his physical limitations, Hawking went on to be one of the most widely read and highly respected scientists of our time.

Perhaps it suffices to say that Hawking’s dedication to his science and its teachings prevented their origins from a divine, all-encompassing source. We can leave the existence or non-existence of God to theologians or those who are less certain of God’s presence in their lives.

Rather than attempt to summarize or comment on his vast body of work, it makes more sense to derive some meaning from this one statement. Looking down, the scenery is predictable and essentially uninspiring. We see our feet, the steps we’ve taken and with limits, the destination immediately ahead of us.

Looking up, the view is infinitely better. We see blue skies and ephemeral but magnificent cloud formations. We can also appreciate the landscape, anticipate the geography that is ahead and generally look beyond views of the present. Thank you, Mr. Hawking. You continue to inspire and transform us. Shalom.

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Champagne in a coffee mug

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from this recent relocation process is to approach realities with a sense of humor and an understanding of the Big Picture. While attempting to celebrate the end of a torturous move with a toast of champagne, we discovered that the only drinking apparatus available was a coffee mug. Neither the champagne nor the mug would care so it was absolutely okay to join the beverage and the cup.

Similar responses resulted from a recent snow storm and cold front. All of the warm clothes and boots were packed and ready to be collected by movers. Buying more boots and jackets was out of the question, if only out of logic and good sense. In Colorado, if you don’t like the weather, wait twenty-four hours and you’ll have a brand new climate.

Paper plates, a lack of seasoning and a long list of inconveniences characterized this last week before the move. Beneath all of those minor situations was the realization that they were temporary and preceded our new life in a new venue.

More than ever before, I am persuaded that we humans have enormous powers of resilience and flexibility. Shortages of cotton balls or freshly ground black pepper are not reasons for despair. They are reminders of how satisfying life usually is and how we will appreciate the resumption of that life within a few days.

The champagne wouldn’t be more festive or tasty in a crystal glass. On the contrary, I’m thinking that roughing it a bit is fun or festive or simply a nice change from the routine. We will prevail because we are equipped to do so. The future is more clearly defined by the revelations of today and our fortunate ability to appreciate the wisdom we possess. Shalom.

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The current abundant social commentary and controversies cause me to think nostalgically about the concerns we had when I was a child. Anyone who has been around for fifty years or more can’t help but think about how much more complicated life has become. While we enjoy many of the current conveniences and social improvements, it’s also understandable that we cherish simpler times.

As I think about the arguments for and against vaccinations, I remember when the threat of polio was serious and there was never any question about being vaccinated. It baffles me to observe that this has become a freedom of choice issue rather than appreciating a medical community that wants to protect our children from diphtheria, pertussis, etc.

We worried about how long it would take until the pond at the park froze so we could get into our hand-me-down skates and attack the ice. Now we worry about our kids walking to and from the park without being kidnapped.

Going on a trip always resulted in challenges to find a radio station that would offer acceptable music. If you were very lucky, you had AM and FM, although the FM stations were much more difficult to find.  If you were luckier than that, you had a working antenna. Now most of us have satellite radio or a vast array of options that are either installed in our vehicles or available on a device of some type.

Shopping was more fun. As a child, I eagerly anticipated going downtown Chicago with Mom, traveling on the Illinois Central and having a special lunch at Marshall Field’s. Now we visit shopping malls on Black Friday (if we have the courage and patience to do so) or if we’re in the neighborhood. Shopping is generally online, impersonal and dependent upon deliveries by UPS, FedEx or USPS.

Yes, of course, we can’t go backwards. Life had its own scary realities such as fear of nuclear attack and conflicts in Southeast Asia. But it really seems regrettable that we can’t inject some of that earlier pleasure into twenty-first century techno-wizardry. Shalom.

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And in the end

You’ve done all the work. You’ve packed all the boxes, made preparation for the arrival of your belongings at the new location. And you’ve said all the difficult goodbyes to the colleagues, friends and relatives whom you are leaving.

The balance has to do with integrity – doing the right thing. The house we have sold will be immaculate, with the lawn trimmed, the carpets cleaned and a top-to-bottom scrubbing. We blew out the sprinklers, forwarded our mail, thoroughly disposed of trash and left the house the way we would want to occupy it.

Was there an alternative? You might easily wonder if all sellers notify buyers that the dishwasher died one week before closing. At the same time, you can wonder if all sellers leave the refrigerator and stove cleaner, extra toilet paper and pertinent home operation brochures. It probably doesn’t matter. There was never a doubt about what constituted doing what was necessary.

Some of the trendy or kitschy banners or plaques entreat us to, “Do the right thing.” This was my exercise in a large dose of doing the right thing, a process with which I am quite familiar.

The new owner may or may not notice the small efforts that were made. And I won’t be keeping score on the similar touches that the sellers of our new home will or will not complete for us.

Ultimately, it always amounts to listening to our hearts and consciences. This is no different from teaching kids that cheating on math is incorrect and that taking two lunches is wrong unless there are leftovers. Living the truths we speak is as important as distributing those lessons. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

Someone cares

Almost on a daily basis, I encounter a typographical error somewhere on some device or medium. Today, I was reading a wine bottle label that referenced “currents.” While we have a legitimate word with that spelling, this should have been “currants” as one of a list of fruits included in the winemaking.

Yesterday’s occurrence was worse, primarily because it was a television banner. The news story referenced the horrible conditions associated with Hurricane Michael and alluded to “abismal” losses and devastation. The attempt was to describe losses as “abysmal” but as is often the case, the copy eluded the almost careful editing process.

While you might want to accuse me of being overzealous in my editing, I maintain that it’s more than being correct that’s at stake here. (Of course, you would have noticed if I had said “at steak.”) As an educator and editor, I firmly believe that there is value in accuracy. If we intend to perpetuate and utilize our English language, it’s worthwhile to pursue perfection.

While our kids are young, other learning challenges are arguably more important than precision . We want our kids to write their thoughts and conclusions, irrespective of the spelling. But past elementary school levels, I feel strongly that we are legitimate in requiring good spelling and grammar.

In addition to contributing words correctly because we want messages to be interpreted as intended, we are setting what I believe to be the right example for those who emulate us. Several people have commented that they are reticent about writing messages to me because they are concerned that their spelling and grammar are incorrect. To know me at all is to realize that while I can’t claim not to notice, I would never correct anyone unless specifically asked to do so.

And so the conclusion is that I will adamantly defend my right to expect proper usage. Refraining from doing so will not result in total chaos within the English language. But I continue to believe that most people want and need the right means with which to express themselves. For now, that remains my job. Shalom

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Somehow, I thought it would be easy or uncomplicated to say goodbye to my teaching career. These past fifteen years consist of school buildings full of kids, teachers, administrators and ancillary staff. Most of the time, I spend a day or two at each venue, returning for another day or two sometime later.

But I should have known much better. This has been the most gratifying and educational segment of my career. It’s punctuated by children who say they’ve missed me, children who deliver presents and love letters, children who grabbed my heart and gently squeezed it.

It’s years of joy, tears, dedicated and passionate teachers and boundless appreciation for my contributions. It’s sand in my shoes, ink on my fingers and the messages conveyed in hugs.

When I reflect on all that I’ve been given, I fervently hope that I’ve given back half as much. If I’m very blessed, two or ten or one hundred of my kids along this path will grow up knowing that one teacher in one class on one day wholly and sincerely believed in them.

Down the road, I will identify a new medium for giving my time and attention to the world. But teaching has fully exhausted my body and soul and it’s time to move forward.

Thank you to all those who have enriched and illustrated my teaching life. The world of education is richer for your gifts and I am forever grateful that you shared that world with me. Shalom.

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One of the school’s most difficult students blasted through the classroom door and announced his presence as loudly as possible. He bounced around the room at will until I silenced him by suggesting that no-one enjoys listening to someone yelling.

We spent the morning together and by the end of that time, he repeatedly sought my approval, calmed down considerably and stayed on task after booting his Chromebook. Giving kids computers is an enticement to do wrong but more importantly, the chance to do right.

Over and over, I reminded this child and his classmates that I trusted them and believed that they were doing the right work. My conviction is that assuring them of my trust resulted in absolute compliance.

Ultimately, students competed to show me that they were working. In some cases, they appeared insulted that I would ask what they were doing.

Saying, “I trust you” and “I believe you” constitutes my investment in integrity. It caused rowdy kids to seek my affirmation. It encouraged kids to monitor each other toward correctness. And it decreased the decibel level by at least half.

Returning to rowdy kid’s classroom at the end of the day, his teacher proudly informed me that he had one of his best days. While I would never take credit for his exemplary behavior, he joyfully greeted me on my return. Today, tomorrow and for who knows how long, he will remember how it feels to be trusted. Shalom.


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Most of the time, we are fully cognizant of our actions, the people who are associated with those actions and the consequences that ensue. Life seems to be a pattern of A, B, C, D and E.

What I’ve discovered, however, is that we can’t always measure the size or type of impact that we have had on others. While this reality is often positive, the possibility always exists that something casually or randomly said or done can have residual negative effects.

Every so often, I hear from my students about other teachers whom they have experienced. They make comments such as, “She said I was stupid” or “She grabbed me by the neck and hurt me.” Will this child recall acts or statements of cruelty when he or she is 30 or 50? It really doesn’t matter because the recollections are present now.

On the plus side, I frequently receive emails from people for whom I’ve written in the recent or distant past. They say that I did a terrific job, they will never forget my timeliness and empathy or something along those lines. Every time I receive one of these compliments, I am enriched. While I have defined my life with compassion and consideration for the priorities of others, it’s always gratifying to be remembered for those traits.

As always, I offer a lesson to be learned. We don’t need to measure every statement to all those we encounter but we must be responsible for everything that we say. Likewise, committing actions that appear to be minor or forgettable may not be so to the others who are affected.

My best guess is that we have all made hundreds of impressions on others that we will never realize. Because I believe that to be true, it’s advisable to be judicious about those messages, with the hope that they are beneficial and not hurtful. Shalom.

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Your time is up. It’s time to go. The time has come. Time for dinner. We have all been listening to warnings and instructions regarding our spaces within a day since we were very young. Before the advent of revolutionary technology, it was relatively simple to track and manage our time. But in the last twenty or so years, we have redefined the 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year and so on.

For the sake of nostalgia, we who preceded cyber-time can remember how we measured our minutes and hours. We would call people, usually from a landline, when we had time on nights and weekends. In the case that we received a gift, we always sent thank you notes, on a timely basis. We set aside segments of the day or week for cleaning, correspondence, letter-writing, shopping and if there was time left, spending parts of our lives with family and friends.

As much fun as it may be to remember those habits, we have essentially made many of them obsolete. If we want or need to contact family or friend, we send texts or emails to them. If the need is more immediate, most of us have cell phones that enable instant contact.

Continuing along that path, we can electronically sign documents, seek employment, set appointments, etc. Remembering the days when I secured the Sunday newspaper for the help wanted columns, I have no fondness for having mailed resumes and cover letters. The process necessitated the printing, envelopes, postage and effort required to dispatch them. Now we can apply for many jobs per day.

The same was true for paying bills, sending birthday or anniversary wishes and checking on the weather for upcoming destinations. All these required time and/or expense, all of which have been replaced by our sites and apps.

We looked forward to the day’s mail as well as anticipating the voice mails on our home phones. Yes, the shortcuts and time-savers that we enjoy are generally positive. But I am part of the remaining generation who will always miss receiving a letter from remote family or friends because letter-writing is obsolete. This is the price we pay for the redefinition of time. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy


Sometimes, those of us on the receiving end of service are extremely impatient with those who deliver that service. We can consider numerous examples without any trouble. These are the people at cash registers, service stations, nail salons, customer service lines and every other place where we get something tangible or intangible from someone else.

It’s easy to become dissatisfied with these folks. We’ve had to wait in line, on hold or whatever time-killer applies to the situation. But the important issue is that these delays are seldom the responsibility of the person with whom we are in contact. If we’re on hold for thirty-seven minutes, the lady or man whom we reach is not to blame. If it’s a store crowded with holiday or other shoppers and we need to wait for them to check out, the person at the register is not to blame.

Perhaps this is a lesson for life in general. Whenever we see life events only through our lenses, we tend to be myopic. Just as we have places to visit, family issues to address and financial concerns of one type or another, so do the people whom we encounter. Our pressures are no more or less serious than theirs, but we still owe them the consideration of patience and understanding.

Although this practice is often difficult, I always try to thank the people who have assisted me in any way. When they wish me a good day, I always reciprocate. And when they thank me for my business or writing efforts, I will inevitably express my appreciation.

What’s even more difficult is practicing this habit with those who are closest to us. We are very clear about the problems that wake us up and prevent sleep. Most likely, those who are in our vicinities are also troubled with the same or different thoughts. They are also entitled to our kindness and arguably greater thoughtfulness. Shalom.