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A time of tears

As we contemplate the recent events in Las Vegas, we can only shake our heads and shed tears for the indescribable tragedy suffered by so many. Can we learn any life lessons from this devastation? The teacher, mother, grandmother and American components of me will respond with a definite yes.

One lesson emerges:  Because we don’t ever know the number minutes we have to love, learn, nurture, teach or complete any other actions we treasure, each moment must be sacred. None of those who were shot, trampled or hospitalized could have anticipated the Mandalay Bay events. We can only hope that they used abruptly shortened times on earth to live as their hearts directed them.

For those left behind, there are only memories and images remaining to preserve and cherish. As always, senseless acts leave us in wonder and profound sadness.

Our country and our world mourn your loss and work to find ways to assist. This is not the time for politics, bandwagons or harsh warnings to those of us who have been witnesses. Know that we share your pain and join in the prayer that brings you comfort. Shalom.

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American beauty

Driving through the mountains and discovering the fall colors, I am humbled by nature’s spectacles. It occurred to me for the first time that nature’s gifts are as unique in their splendor as those who witness them.

It was captivating to give each tree, bush and leaf cluster an identity and a voice. Imagine the chorus of creatures, each singing “God Bless America.” And like those whose world they populate, they emerge, blossom and perish as time passes.

Every curve, county road and cliff was different, with all leafy inhabitants proudly displaying infinite shades of yellow, orange and red. It was as if they were working cooperatively for the most breathtaking vista that they could create.

What a powerful metaphor for our magnificent country! Beauty in diversity, nature’s best, standing resolutely as they leaned toward the sun.

The land of treedom provides refuge for many co-inhabitants of all sizes and varieties. While survival of the fittest prevails, keen observers can witness the travels of creatures throughout their living spaces.

If we fail to appreciate the vastness of nature’s gifts, no matter the season, we lose an opportunity to understand the many phenomena for which we should be grateful. Taking any part of American beauty for granted is never an option, no matter the inhabitants or landscape. With practice, we can become more adept at living respectfully with each other, in kindness and peace. Shalom.

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Forgiveness

Beginning at sundown tonight and continuing until sundown tomorrow, Jewish people throughout the world will observe the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While I have a collection of transgressions for which I atone, this concept appeals to me on a non-religious and logical basis.

Most of the people we’ve wronged throughout the year will never know that we regret our actions. These are the drivers at whom we yell on the road and the golfers at whom we snarled when they rushed our putts. They are the shoppers who pushed their carts into our backs at checkout and the creditors who were late posting our payments. In one way or another, we have voiced our displeasure with these people who are all nameless and faceless.

It seems to me that the world would be happier and less fraught with retaliation if we spent more time as a society on atonement. If the people I have wronged in any way were aware of my apologies, maybe their lives would be somehow enhanced. Likewise, if we all spent less time offending and more time repairing, I suspect that we would all benefit.

We don’t need to wait for this holiday to apologize or seek to right the regrettable acts that we have committed. In my case, I am sorry to anyone whom I have hurt or offended in any way. My goal is to deposit good into the universe at all opportunities. If my work motivates and inspires you in any way, I achieve a goal that approaches forgiveness. Shalom.

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Too old

This morning I was waiting for my car repairs to be completed when I inadvertently overheard a young man reporting on the status of a new hire. He advised that this employee was an “older man” and they were worried about his capacity to learn. The young man indicated that they were pleased that he did grasp the concepts, that they were surprised at his abilities.

Had I started laughing, I would have disclosed that I was intentionally or unintentionally listening to his discourse. Of course, I didn’t do anything. But I was amused, not only because of the insult to seniors but also because I had been thinking about this subject earlier in the day.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a chart or clipboard that designates actions as age-appropriate or not. There must be one for teachers because I often hear students indicate that someone is “too old to teach.” If that’s true, we must have other measurements that are available to those keeping track.

When does someone get too old to run or walk races? Someone had better alert the remarkable lady in her 90s who has run many marathons. When does someone get too old to learn another language? And when do we get too old to learn to be chefs, volunteer in the community, sing in choirs, experience cosmetic surgery or open an exciting new business? The world is full of stories about men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s who do all of these things and more.

As we age, we have two options. One is to consider age merely as reality and the other is to consider it as a reason to do whatever we choose. You won’t hear any platitudes from me about taking chances, living life to the fullest or any garbage. What you will hear is my express encouragement to do what you can and want to do. Take all the chances that you can.

This is the same as my urging children not to limit their dreams. If you can’t see the age-appropriate clipboard, so much the better. Pushing limits always inspires those around you. Shalom.

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Are we hollow or full?

This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot – The Hollow Men

No specific actions, statements or conditions prompted me to think of this quote yesterday. While we are all cognizant of turmoil, uncertainty and anxiety in our lives, I am certain that it wasn’t a specific fear of war that prompted me to think about this most powerful of 20th century poems.

The critical reviews of this poem are as considerable as its significance. For these purposes, however, it seems that we must pay attention to the less audible sounds of discontent rather than the explosive finality of warfare.

Under no circumstances will I use this site for political pronouncements. All I am suggesting is that as a nation, we must be paying attention to the small but critical aspects of society. In addition to having no ability to impact foreign policy, most of us have no power to effect change except in our daily lives.

We have the ability to contribute to the research for diseases for which we have the greatest connection or passion. We also have the opportunity to contribute to food banks and shelters that are in desperate need. And on a daily basis, many of us have the occasions to deposit some small act of kindness into the universe in which we live.

The fact that this poem mimics a childhood song with its repetition and simplicity is no accident. With some consciousness of our fundamental needs and convictions, we should have the absolute clarity of youth. Instead of Eliot’s impending doom without our intervention, we have the ability to impact our destinies, one small sound at a time. Shalom.

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Live for what you want

Sitting at a baseball game for middle school boys today, I was aware of many realities around me. There were the inevitable obnoxious parents or grandparents who questioned every strike, yelled “Good eye!” with every pitch and scowled at the opposing team whenever they scored. Most of this is easy to overlook. It’s part of the territory and after having attended more of these games than I can count, there are rarely surprises.

The most intriguing aspect of the game was the numerous people who were huddled as if in the middle of a blizzard. Colorado has the reputation for abrupt changes in weather and this drop of 20 degrees was predicted and much less severe than many weather phenomena of the Rocky Mountains. However, the reactions of approximately 50 people at this game were remarkable.

It’s going to snow. The weather is expected to continue being in the tank for the next 6 days. I don’t think we’ll see the sun today or tomorrow. It will never make it to 60 degrees today.

By no means did I choose to listen to this negativity. In addition to it being unpleasant, these statements are entirely opposite to my view of the world. As I mentioned to one passerby, it’s only weather. There’s no rain, no snow, no earthquakes, no hurricanes and no tornadoes. We’ve just lost 20 degrees and our lifestyle is only minimally impaired.

Almost daily, I remind those around me who are peddling negativity that they should live for what they want, not for what could be. While we have no ability to change the weather, we can change how we react to it. It’s 48°, not our recent 72°. But life is good, the roads are easily traveled and by 2:00, the sun was shining.

We have the will to generate our personal atmospheres, regardless of weather. All it takes is the desire to look past the clouds, expect the best and appreciate the simple pleasure of breathing the air around us. Shalom.

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Breaking ceilings

The way for a young man to rise, is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that any body wishes to hinder him.  Abraham Lincoln

Mr. Lincoln made these comments many years ago, before we experienced such phenomena as global warming, sushi bars, satellites, HOV lanes and juvenile delinquency. Yet, in twenty-five words, he succeeds at identifying two critical paths, for young and not-so-young.

One of my favorite exercises in the classroom is asking students what they want to be when they grow up. Happily, I rarely hear such qualifiers as, “If I have the money,” or “If I am smart enough to get into college” or “If I can.” Whenever I hear these qualifiers, I automatically remind my students that the only ceilings they have over their heads are the ones that they put there. Self-improvement is self-fulfilling and can never end.

The other concept to which Abe refers is the omission of suspicion that someone wants to prevent successes. While I don’t believe that anyone ever attempted to deter me from achieving academic goals, I see the potential for that happening with many of my students.

This situation is slightly more difficult to address and correct. Mom says that homework isn’t important. No-one at home can help me with my spelling. I left my homework folder at home. Dad says they’re too busy to go to Parent Night. No-one in my family has ever gone to college. As subtle as this attitude may be, our job as educators and role models is to increase the intrinsic value of knowledge and education.

We can’t disrespect family members but we can remind students that our world has room for everybody to do what they want and excel at it, no matter what it takes. If we believe that the world is conscientiously working to prevent our successes, perhaps we have other problems to address. Mr. Lincoln and I, however, believe that the world is neither hostile nor prohibitive. Ultimately, we have the power and initiative to be what we will be. Shalom.

 

 

 

 

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Perspectives

Yesterday I had the occasion to observe a long series of images that were displayed on our very large television. Before I proceed, I am reflecting on the awareness that it is a device of substantial size. When you grew up with black and white, often very small TVs, the givens of today’s boxes are always worthy of mention.

In any case, I had reason to witness numerous pictures of myself and (unfortunately) formed an opinion on each one of them as they were displayed. At the end of the sequence, I voiced a very strong reaction to the shots of me, to which my husband responded, “They are all about memories, not what you look like.”

He was right and I realized this after virtually no time reflecting on his statement. We have a common problem of disliking images of ourselves – we’re too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too old, too young, etc. But it occurs to me that we preempt the observations and feelings of others by vocalizing those judgments. It’s almost as offensive and intrusive as talking out loud in a movie theater.

While we are certainly entitled to form opinions about ourselves and others, perhaps we violate the rights that others should be able to preserve without contradiction. In other words, you may remember that day as a happy, emotional, enjoyable or image-filled experience. By voicing a clearly biased reaction to a sight or picture, I am interrupting or ruining that memory.

The next time I see similar scenes, I will withhold vocalizing negative comments. In addition to their being unnecessary, by doing so I can support the positive perspectives of someone else. Shalom.

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Social conscience

As we drove by a vacant lot this morning, we noticed a corner of that lot that was filled with trash, including a discarded mattress. The last time we had passed that lot it was filled with cars waiting to be sold but the cars had been removed and some unthinking and socially irresponsible idiot decided to use the lot as a landfill.

It always disturbs me when I see my fellow citizens behaving stupidly or without any concern for the rest of us. These are the unconscious who flick their cigarette butts out of their windows, especially when we are in the middle of a drought. They are the dog walkers who pay no attention to collecting their dogs’ waste. And they are the shoppers who push shopping carts all the way home, leaving them in an alley or nearby park.

For fear of sounding sanctimonious, I continue to wonder how and where these folks were educated relative to good sense and social conscience. It also makes me wonder how these citizens would react to the shopping carts being left on their front lawns or dogs making deposits where their children play.

The golden rule continues to be one of the most important lessons we can practice and promote. Because it is a rule that I teach and observe, I challenge anyone to question its relevance or timeliness.

The most pertinent version is that we are not alone in our world and it’s mandatory to behave in ways that we want for ourselves. When you are in a hurry to check out at your superstore, imagine how it feels to have the person behind you shoving their cart into your back. If you understand that, you might want to refrain from jostling the person ahead of you, no matter where you are. Shalom.

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A kind word to the wise

Having spent numerous years advocating for the senior population, I have become especially sensitive to issues that pertain to senior abuse, nursing home violations and a variety of issues that concern this population sector. The exact age at which one becomes a senior varies according to context, but the majority of arenas consider 65 to be the coming of aged.

While increasing awareness of the potential for wrongdoing, I inadvertently omitted one of the worst injustices we can commit. It’s an admirable idea to identify harmful actions perpetrated against our senior population. But when you stop delivering respect to seniors while protecting their rights, you damage them almost as seriously as stealing their identities.

Several years ago, I experienced what most would consider senior discrimination in employment. This week I was told that I looked like an “old lady grandma.” And I am always amused when students ask my age and I respond, “135.” Their reactions are those of shock, wondering for a moment if I am serious. The best one was a third grader who asked if my grandma was alive when Jesus was born. Children have few filters and I elect to use the observation as a life lesson in careful selection of words.

You are well advised to exercise some caution about the method by which you choose to interact with seniors. Many have the advantages of experience, wisdom, diverse life experiences and the self-satisfaction that results from years on the planet.  Very few of us are oblivious to insult. While a helping hand will likely be appreciated, you may want to honor before you disparage.  Shalom.