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

Changing the world

One of the truths associated with living in a large city is the implicit feeling of anonymity. Having spent the first 25 years of my life in Chicago, I became accustomed to being one small piece of a huge community.

Other factors can contribute to this feeling of insignificance. You could be part of a large grade school, high school, college, or university. You might be one employee in a corporation of many thousands. And depending on the circles which you occupy, your life may never be more than one small piece of a huge conglomerate.

What is the lesson to be learned from all this anonymity? The fact is that any one of us has the ability to become an important contributor to the world, within a myriad of contexts. Whether you do it by finding something, creating something, fixing something, developing something, or merely improving on a commodity that already exists, each one of us has the capacity to be important or famous.

Anne Frank was a German-Dutch diarist who was sixteen when she was killed at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her father survived the war and found her diary when he returned to Amsterdam and recovered her memoir. But seventy-five years later, Anne’s writing has been the subject of a widely read book as well as numerous plays and films.

Our current pandemic has been the incentive for numerous everyday people to make their marks by doing remarkable acts of kindness and generosity. We have seen young people packing and delivering lunches to children in their cities of towns who don’t have food or the money to buy it. We have also seen celebrity chefs who have organized huge soup kitchens that welcome impoverished locals to dine.

You could make a case that other individuals were noteworthy for both good and evil. The world always recognizes the names of Mother Teresa, Moses, Abraham Lincoln, Stalin, and Hitler. Regardless of their upbringing, wealth, or education, all of these humans can be said to have made indelible marks on the planet’s history.

If we believe that we are incapable of making a mark on our civilization, we can be quite certain that we will always live down to our expectations. While I don’t fantasize about changing the people around me or further with my writing, I always hope that it occurs. In the classroom, I always tell my students that they can be or achieve anything that they choose, as long as they believe it consistently and strongly.

In these times of uncertainty, upheaval, and instability, we need as much of the “change the world” mentality as we can encourage. Sizes of the action or world are both irrelevant. It is simply the desire to do good works that is crucial. Shalom.

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

The mask

One of the subjects for endless news stories these days is the innocuous face mask. Yes, we are required to wear the mask and while some find it convenient to make the mask wearing a political statement, it’s one of the realities of our time. From everything that we’re seeing, it will continue to be so.

What I don’t understand is why this has become such a controversial item. Many, many manufacturers have gone to great lengths to create masks that are attractive, funny, unique, and comfortable. But the conflicts persist, sometimes ending in fights between retail or restaurant employees and citizens who refuse to comply.

Greater minds than mine and those of many others have determined that the mask is the single most important deterrent to Covid-19, other than locking yourself up in a secure place. If you are not interested in preventing yourself from contracting the disease, that’s your business. But if your not wearing a mask subjects me to whatever contagious critters you’re carrying, no thank you.

Beside all of that, there are some amusing realities associated with wearing a mask. The other day, I left the school where I was teaching all day with my mask. Entering my car, I looked in the mirror and noticed that there was a conspicuous speck of food between my teeth. Then I laughed, realizing that no-one saw it anyway, thanks to the mask.

Masks prevent us from worrying about potentially bad breath. They eliminate the need for lipstick. They allow some to make fashion statements. I hope that they are providing income both for fund-raising and small business owners who have capitalized on their skills and creativity by designing popular masks.

Most importantly, wearing the mask is giving us the opportunity to do the right thing for all concerned. If we are unknowing carriers, we prevent others from catching what we’ve got. And if they have it and are wearing masks, both of us have layers of protection. Let’s be good natured about a situation that no-one wanted or predicted. It will be over eventually and if we are careful, we will live to see the world after the virus is under control. Shalom.

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Mysteries of life

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands unexplained.  Mark Twain

Because I have quite recently needed to examine and understand some of the mysteries and the end of life, this is a quote that was both provocative and inherently true for me. Mr. Twain is speaking of mad as in madness – somewhat out of touch with reality. The acceptance of such a state of being makes it unnecessary to explain some aspects of life.

You might immediately wonder what is good about life remaining unexplained. But the more I think about it, sometimes there simply are no explanations for the many mysteries we find in life.

Why do those who contribute nothing more than anger and insensitivity to life remain on the planet through old age? At the same time, why are the very young stricken with debilitating or devastating health conditions that they have no ability to comprehend? And the answer that Mr. Twain offers is ultimately satisfying if not simplistic. There simply are no answers to many of the questions we pose in our lives.

Does that mean that we stop asking questions because life is ultimately futile? I would say not. If that were the best route, we would have no more scientific research, no more philosophy, and no more space exploration. Consequently, we must strike some form of balance between seeking knowledge and accepting that life sometimes doesn’t make sense.

Remembering that we are all mad is a bit more difficult to explain or justify. Perhaps this is Mark Twain’s suggestion that we all have parts of us that are frivolous. It may also mean that some of our pursuits are either unimportant or impossible to accomplish, causing us to be a bit crazy. No matter what he meant by mad, it is clear that it is not a bad thing. In this case, being so leads to an understanding of the fact that life has mysteries which are no longer important and to which there are no solutions.

It becomes a good idea, then, to accept that our madness results in a happier life. Some questions will never have answers; acceptance of this is then a truth that allows us to continue living. Shalom.

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To be a hero

Following up on the tribute to RBG, it occurred to me, both as a writer and an educator, to imagine what is required to be a hero. What I know about RBG is that she did not set out to be one but achieved that status nonetheless. Her biography tells us that she was committed to working for others, being honest to herself and the rest of the world, and doing what was right.

Let’s assume that you decide at an early age that you want to commit your life to doing good deeds for your world. In order to get there from here, you must first learn as much as you can. Sources of knowledge are family members, religious leaders, educators, and endless books of all types.

We make a mistake when we narrow research to a very small field. No matter the discipline, learn as much as you can about as many subjects as possible. My experience suggests that truly learned people have studied fields ranging from astronomy to zoology.

Defining the scope of your heroism is the next step. If you want to be a national or international icon, you will probably need to distinguish yourself in politics, scientific research, or global humanitarian achievements. If your definition of heroism is more local than global, you may want to focus your time and energy on matters within your immediate space. That may be your block, community, town, religious group, city, or state.

There are numerous ways to make yourself known for good works. Teaching is one choice. If you don’t have the credentials to teach, schools of all sorts always need volunteers. And if education isn’t in your heart, there are as many volunteer organizations as there are diseases, causes, or political inclinations.

And if you choose to be a hero to your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew, that’s a major responsibility in itself. Carefully choose the words you utter. Do everything possible not to insult those around you. The kids are listening and inclined to imitate what you say and do. When you are unpleasant, unpredictable, and unkind; these are the phrases and behaviors they receive.

Most likely, few people wake up and declare, “I am going to be a hero.” RBG certainly did not. That doesn’t mean that we can be reckless or accidental about the messages we transmit. You may never know when a man or woman will one day think of you as a hero. Shalom.

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Goodbye, RBG

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The world has just lost a giant, someone who changed the world forever and who will leave a legacy for all those who take the time to consider who she was and what she did. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has just died, a victim of pancreatic cancer who fought that disease with all of her might and endurance.

This quotation is as much a character statement as any I’ve seen about RBG, my personal hero. She fought prejudice, sexism and social injustice but did it in a way that encouraged others to join her.

Fighting as a sole patriot or trailblazer is clearly less effective than being a changemaker and one who encourages others to participate. Good managers realize that they can be most successful in leading others when they participate in processes. Autocrats and dictators generally don’t succeed, either in the corporate environment or anywhere else. We have notable exceptions throughout history, including Hitler, Stalin, and at least one of our current political figures.

But if we look at those figures in history who were most admired and followed, they were those who involved as much of the constituency as possible. JFK comes to mind, as do Mahatma Gandhi, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. All of these leaders have been venerated throughout history and my guess is that RBG will be as well.

If you’re not a fan of religious equality or elimination of sexism in the workplace, the legacy of RBG won’t be as significant to you as it is to the rest of us. But in addition to leading a life of discipline, foresight, responsibility, and wisdom, she will be remembered as a pioneer in both of those areas.

For my part, I can’t think of too many women who have distinguished themselves as she has. We need leaders of both sexes, those who have paved the way for little girls and boys who seek excellence and integrity. RBG, you will be missed but because of your efforts, those who follow will have clearer paths as well as a brilliant role model. Shalom.

Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

What we waste

One of the frequent conversations in our household is the imperative to finish everything that is on your plate. From my standpoint, one should eat until hunger has been satisfied and the state of satisfaction has been reached. The other approach is that you are obligated to finish everything on your plate.

Is there one correct answer to this debate? The reasoning behind everything that is on your plate is that it is a crime to waste anything, be it food on your plate or leftovers in the refrigerator. My position is that the world isn’t negatively impacted by leaving some food when I have eaten as much as I want or need.

Here is the question that I offer to you. What truly constitutes waste? Is it leaving food on a plate or cooking enough for 45 when there are only two or three who are eating? What is the consequence of cooking too much? We deplete food sources and supplies but is this really harmful? My response is that it’s only harmful when others will not have the food they need as a direct result of our gluttony.

If we extrapolate a bit, how can we reduce waste of many of the resources to which we have access. For one, it seems to be a waste of gasoline to drive to a nearby location when walking is easily accomplished. From there, it seems to be a waste of resources when we use too many plastic bags and fail to recycle them. Likewise, paper bags can also be recycled if we spent the time and a small amount of effort.

Better yet, use the heavy duty bags that are available in large chains and grocery groups, eliminating the brown and skimpy plastic bags. In other words, it’s clear that a large component of waste is pure laziness or lack of concern for protecting and preserving our world. Somehow, it all amounts to doing the right thing for our planet and the smaller parts of it in which we reside. I’ll stick with my belief that the world isn’t harmed when I don’t finish what’s on my plate unless I have purchased and prepared too much food to help those who don’t have enough. Shalom.

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Dictionary.com’s definition of reprisal is the following: (in warfare) retaliation against an enemy for injuries received, by the infliction of equal or greater injuries. It goes on to define, the forcible seizure of property or subjects in retaliation.

The research I have uncovered most recently in preparation for my next book has furnished the word reprisal. While the US is in disputes with various countries, we are not in the midst of a declared war. As a result, we don’t see or hear this word very often.

During World War II, one of the many reasons why Jews and other captives generally did not attempt escape or brutality toward captors was the fear of reprisal. When one captive hurt or killed a soldier, killing in retaliation would take place. One of the authors I’m reading (Martin Gilbert) estimates 1200 deaths of reprisal to one escapee or injured Nazi.

All of this causes me to wonder about what we do to others out of reprisal. Cutting someone off on the road who has tailgated you or done something similar surely constitutes reprisal. Refraining from writing to someone who hasn’t written or emailed you in some time is reprisal. Putting your child on timeout simply because you had a rough day and can’t handle his behavior is reprisal.

Someone hurting you doesn’t give you license to hurt anyone else. Yes, it’s pretty obvious that it is never acceptable to do intentional damage to someone. But the point is to examine our motives in terms of our actions toward others.

One of the countless truths I’ve learned from my husband is the wisdom of giving others the benefit of the doubt. If he hasn’t heard from someone, he speculates that the other person has been busy or ill. In all of our years together, I have never seen him get angry while driving, much less committing acts of reprisal. The example is an excellent one for all of us to follow.

These days, we have few occasions to worry about reprisal in terms of acts of war or violence. But retaliation and reprisal are probably more common than we realize. Once we consider the examples and symbols of reprisal throughout history, it becomes clear that injuring someone because someone injured you is simply unacceptable. Shalom.

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Maybe because it’s been too long since I’ve been in the classroom, I have substantial time to dedicate to thinking. One of the observations that I have made as recently as today is that I have spent too much of my life avoiding changes large and small. When you avoid change simply for the sake of not making changes, it may be to your disadvantage.

Just because you’ve been doing something in a particular way for a certain number of years, it’s going to be an excellent idea to change it up. Yesterday I saw an article about a woman who has been feeding pigeons on her front lawn for the past many years, much to the chagrin of her neighbors who object to the noise and refuse. Maybe she ought to think about feeding hummingbirds (provided that they exist in her area) and do the world another type of contribution.

Imagine that you’ve been doing your grocery shopping at the same store for a long time. They know you there (maybe) and you know that you can usually get the items that you need without worrying about quantity or quality. But there’s a neighborhood co-op down the street that features products from local growers. Stop in there and you may be very pleasantly surprised at what they have to offer. In addition to that, you will be benefiting the local farmers who have had a rough summer due to the restaurant and school closures.

For my part, I’ve changed a few small things and was pleased about two conclusions. One is that the world as we know it continued to function without any disruption whatsoever. The second is that I felt some satisfaction about knowing that I wasn’t inappropriately fastened to a habit that had no merit whatsoever.

Throw some change into your life and see what happens. Depending on what you modify, no-one or everyone will notice. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about it but you. Except for such issues as yielding the right of way or paying bills, most of the modifications that you are able to make will be for the greater or smaller good. Shalom.

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The words we use

If you are at all like me, you have the occasion to visualize someone from your past for no particular reason. From there, you recollect one or more conversations with that person.

Sometimes you may be able to reconstruct those chats, completely or in part. Sometimes you simply can’t remember what was said by you or the other party. But what if somehow you had the ability to recover whatever part of whatever communication you wanted?

I’m not talking about some kind of voodoo or magic. But let’s imagine for just a quick second that you could go back to any time and place you choose. The reason for going back there is to remember precisely what was said.

The first step might be the venue. It could be a graduation or wedding ceremony an interview, a first date, or an accidental encounter. Maybe it was last week or maybe it was nineteen years ago.

Once that is established, the other party may or may not be a given. If I consider my college graduation, for instance, there were at least two or maybe three people there to celebrate the occasion. What I am seeking is the exchange of words between those present and me.

You may choose to delete a particular day or place and simply relive the experience of being with someone in particular. It may be an afternoon or an evening that you spent with someone who has since passed away.

The chances are pretty good that multiple have, do, and will think of you and the words you shared. We can’t control recollections of the past but we can certainly control remembrances of those conversations that we are having or are going to have.

My recommendation to students is never to say anything that they want to retract. While I hope that those who remember me recollect the good words I’ve uttered, I can’t guarantee it. All I know for certain is that since I’ve learned the importance of choosing speech carefully, I hope that I haven’t created an unpleasant recollection for anyone. Shalom.

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

If only

To my knowledge, I have never before wondered how it would feel to imagine how an inanimate object would feel if it were suddenly alive and capable of thought or emotion. It’s pretty ridiculous, after all, to wonder how your car feels when you get into it or how your shoes feel when you insert your feet. On the other hand (or foot), I have allowed myself the literary license to imagine what my new book would be experiencing if it had feelings.

There are good reasons for my wandering down this path. The book is the product of many years of the hardest work that I have ever done, other than teaching. It represents many hours of research, pages and pages of notes, and five edits once the book was completed. No, I haven’t lost track of reality. It’s my author frame of mind that causes me to wonder what the book would say if it were capable of speech other than its printed pages.

One message that has been delivered loudly from this item is, “I am your miracle.” It’s difficult to express how the word miracle became attached to this volume except that I worked on it for so long that at times, it was beyond comprehension that it would become reality. After that, the book is telling me to make it available to those who can benefit most from it. This is a long list and while I would love to have the identity of all those who fit into this category, I can only guess (and hope).

Although we are losing Holocaust survivors every day, some remain. Many who do are determined to tell their story, both to provide hope to those suffering in any way and to make certain that the tragedies of World War II are never repeated. Jews were not the only group of people who were targeted. Approximately two and a half million Russians were killed by the Nazis after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. And so, not only the Jews wish to derive hope from stories such as mine; but also, others share that goal.

If my book had the ability to speak, I suspect that it would also provide encouragement to those who seek to create a book or play or musical composition but do not have the determination or confidence to do so. Twenty years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be an author. Now I have two of my own books in print, one collaboration, and three more in progress. Never give up faith in yourself or your abilities. All you need to believe is to remind yourself that you have the initiative and the talent to proceed.

Finally, my book would be saying that I am entitled to feel the joy and gratification that I do each time I look at it. The majority of that joy is directly I attributed to the fact that I have succeeded in sending my message to those alive and remembered, that their memories are for a blessing. We shall never forget what they endured and for as long as God sees fit to continue my life on this planet, I will do everything I can to honor them. Shalom