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Curiosity

Somewhere on the web I recently saw that children ask somewhere between 288 and 437 questions per day, depending on age. My experience as an educator suggests that the younger children ask more children while older (8+?) ask fewer. This is probably due to a combination of peer pressure and the behavior of older children that suggests having control of all information that is important.

As a parent and an educator, I have always welcomed as many questions as can be answered without impatience or frustration. As a student of humanity, I see that many of our day-to-day difficulties could be resolved with more people asking more questions. The alternatives are nonchalance, indifference or ignorance, all of which are unacceptable.

This is another way of saying that I find apathy a response that builds or repairs absolutely nothing. Beyond that, the failure to ask questions results in a plethora of misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

Two people are walking into a superstore, both in need of a shopping cart. One automatically grabs the first shopping cart, without bothering to ask if the second person wanted or needed that cart. In that same venue, someone approaches an aisle to access a product and a fellow shopper stands frozen, examining a product and ignoring the fact that someone wanted to pass.

Trivial as these may be, they are representative of societal indifference. How many of my local citizens bothered to ask the Veterans Administration why our brand new, gigantic new hospital has no PTSD department? One of our regional politicians has made a great deal of noise about his commitment to end opioid addiction, obviously to attract votes and voters. But none of his commercials or printed materials cite specifics. Has anyone asked what he has really done? Maybe, if he says that he’s committed, we don’t require any clarification. What has been the efficacy of our local stoplight cameras? Before we elect to eliminate them, how many offenders have been ticketed?

When we stop asking questions, we stop learning and growing. More importantly, when we dissuade young people from asking questions, we suggest that this growth or enlightenment is unnecessary. Ask me what you want, and I always have time to respond. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it and we’ll all be enhanced. Shalom.

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A better world

One of the best realizations that I’ve had recently is associated with one of the most unpleasant tasks I’ve had to face. The task is packing, discarding and generally downsizing for a relocation. On the very upside is the fact that by reducing the number of my possessions, I have been able to create significant value to my world. It was not by intention but is still a joyous consequence.

Here’s how it works. By being somewhat organized, I could be methodical and decisive about the disposition of many items. Our local public library (yes, I believe in the indescribable value of libraries) has a program that accepts donations and resells books to the community. The chances of rereading most of my books were miniscule and I happily delivered at least ten boxes of books to those who can read and appreciate them at a low cost.

The same phenomenon occurred with clothing. Because I hope that the climate to which we are moving will be much less severe than that of Colorado, I had bags and bags of clothing. They were too large, too small, too thick or something else that made them obsolete. And so, it was with immense pleasure that we dispatched at least twenty bags of clothing and household goods to Goodwill.

Finally, we had collected at least twenty pairs of glasses or sunglasses over the years and remembered that a number of local opticians had programs to refurbish and distribute discarded eyeglasses to those who couldn’t afford them. After a few unsuccessful delivery attempts, we discovered a company whose representative appeared to be truly appreciative to have the glasses.

None of these are huge or valiant acts. But when I began to think about the total number of items that we recirculated, I realized that we all have the means to touch the lives of hundreds with very few actions. My journey will be punctuated by a trip to the foodbank with items that we can’t or won’t transport. With that, I suggest that you either clean your pantry or buy several extra cans of food on your next shopping trip. There can never be too many acts of kindness in our world. Shalom.

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Dreams

A dream is a prophecy in miniature.  Talmud

Dreams are funny, often nebulous commodities. Because I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, I don’t have the professional training to analyze or interpret dreams, mine or those of others. But what we do with our dreams makes a giant difference in what we can achieve.

Some people don’t remember the dreams that they have while sleeping; the rest of us can rarely translate the ones we remember into anything useful. My guess is that the quotation from Jewish scholars of the Talmud refers to those dreams that we have when we are awake. Perhaps the distinction needs to be made between dreaming and day-dreaming. But for the purposes of my observations, I refer only to dreaming of that which we hope to visualize or accomplish.

One of my newfound realizations is that too many of us dwell in the past rather than imagining a better future. Reliving events already completed equates to revisiting something that is incapable of change. Along those lines, Thomas Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

And so, you might wonder about the subjects of your dreams. There are no limits, no rules and no standards to follow. If you dream of climbing the world’s highest peaks, imagining the view at the top is only the first step. Find out what it takes to get there, jump into your training and set a date for it to take place.

If your dreams are more at sea-level, act upon those in the same manner. If you want to/need to lose weight, don’t be influenced by the number of pounds – simply approach it as one pound at a time. Celebrate each loss as the next step on the journey that you’ve dreamed.

Our world’s greatest endeavors have been completed by those who had the initiative to dream – these include the remarkable successes of people such as Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Owens, Vincent Van Gogh and Carl Jung who said, “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” Grasping your dreams and transforming them into power will enable you to accomplish everything that you can envision. Shalom.

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Strength

When we are strong, we are always much greater than the things that happen to us. Thomas Merton

Whether I think more about strength than most folks or not, I can’t determine. My guess is that the various things that happened in my life resulted in the inability to say, “I can’t” or “There’s no way I can do this.”

Mr. Merton affirms that we are in complete control of those tasks that we can accomplish, regardless of the way that the world evolves around us. This occurs to me whenever I see a young person taking his or her own life. By no means do I intend to simplify this occurrence or suggest that suicides are committed without significant analysis. But I do believe that most of us have the strength or wisdom to overcome virtually everything.

Between all of the political trash on the news, we occasionally see the inspirational stories of those who have overcome unthinkable adversity. Yesterday I observed a man who was clearly handicapped in some way but he was slowly walking, one step at a time, in a run dedicated to a worthwhile cause. Another walker was completing 5k with one good leg and one artificial one.

For the sake of not oversimplifying defeating adversity, I do believe that the human spirit and will enable us to find the strength to survive. From where is this strength derived? My guess is that it depends entirely on the individual experience. Some of us were told from childhood that we were strong enough to manage any circumstances. Others of us derived survival techniques from having to use them numerous times. And some have probably become strong through acts of kindness or generosity toward others. In this case, we receive twice the growth or goodness that we deliver.

In any case, I am always saddened at those who don’t capitalize on their abilities and succumb to the demands of this world. My educating always includes commending students on their abilities to prevail, socially or intellectually. Perhaps we can identify and reinforce strength in others who don’t recognize its presence and power. Shalom.

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Honor

Let the honor of thy fellow be as dear to thee as thine own. Ethics of the Fathers

We live in a fiercely competitive world, no matter which aspect of it we examine. Sports are obviously and inherently competitive. Many of us are extremely vocal about our loyalties and dislikes, very often taken to the extreme. We saw a quote the other day of a man declaring his undying and immutable love. When asked if he would cheer for the University of Michigan instead of his Ohio State University alma mater as evidence of his love, he protested, saying, “Well, I would do almost anything for you.”

No matter what the competition, it occurs to me that there are better ways to express our feelings than to subordinate and humiliate others. We see it as early as grade school – children having better toys, more successful parents and bigger siblings. We can fix this and promote honor within peers, both by explanation and example.

As an educator, my procedure is something similar to this: “Yes Johnny, your toy is terrific. But so is Eddie’s and it makes sense that because you are different people, his toy is as important to him as yours is to you. Maybe you can play with both without one being better or worse.”

Likewise, my car is different from yours, my clothes have been selected according to my tastes and I am okay with whatever music either of us may choose. It annoys me greatly to see all of the reputation bashing, insults and posts of “what’s correct,” whether it be for word pronunciation or how ladies over 60 should wear their hair. And that doesn’t mention the unmatched political trash that we see daily.

Somewhere and somehow, we can be okay without someone else being inferior. Remembering your honor as well as mine may be a simple but effective solution that doesn’t undermine, insult or dishonor. Shalom.

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What we say

One of the things I love most about the English language is its precision. Maybe the fact that I have been working in, around and with English for some time contributes to my awareness of the specificity of my language. But whenever I wander into certain words, I am in awe of the vastness of our vocabulary.

Driving down the highway, I was busily searching for antelope. Two of them appeared, hiding in a recessed patch of ground. They were in a gully, a word I may never have used before. It could have been a ditch, a valley or who knows what. But having gully available was simply a good time.

Think about the word “persnickety.” You may have only heard it used once or twice. If so, I’ll bet you picture a grouchy, temperamental old guy who can also be a curmudgeon. That’s a double winner. Isn’t it glorious that someone, somewhere thought to put the right letters together in order to create a euphonious treasure such as persnickety?

Our language also has words such as mellifluous, cacophony, hyperbole, aristocracy and pusillanimous. These are words that have nothing to do with each other. They are all entertaining to say, have quite explicit meanings and are seldom heard in ordinary conversations. But now and then I admit to the habit of dropping in one of these more obscure words, simply because they are so inherently illuminating.

Have fun with this: We toured a home and discovered the interior to be gawdy and anachronistic. Replace the last word with old-fashioned, outdated, passé, unfashionable or common and you would achieve essentially the same effect. But why not enjoy a four-syllable, delicious word when you have the opportunity? It’s salubrious! And if you’re inclined to suggest that using these terms is being a showoff – I’ll tell you what I often say. Word are like muscles; if you don’t use them, they atrophy. Shalom.

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Words and images

Almost daily, I think about how invigorating it would be to have the ability to draw. Many years ago, after enrolling in an art academy, I walked into a life drawing class. When I observed the nude female model and my drawing that resembled an anorexic whale, I decided that art school was not for me. As a child, I’m sure that I indulged in the usual construction paper or popsicle stick art but (thankfully) none of that remains.

As I envision the ability to draw, I imagine capturing the face of a child mastering multiplication problems. It also makes me visualize magnificent landscapes of my beloved Rocky Mountains. And I dream about creating a diorama of US history creating images and figures of our heroes, victories and highlights.

Regrettably, my talents have never included visual representations. My children’s stories about an extraordinary, talented hippo named Helen will remain unillustrated until I secure an illustrator. Using a camera to capture physical wonders must be my preferred medium.

During times such as these, I remind myself to be grateful for the ability to utilize the splendor and texture of language. Doing so enables me to assist others who may stumble or struggle with self-expression. It allows me to make meager contributions to my world that may illuminate or educate others.

Ultimately, I resign myself to the realization that my clumsy stick figures suggest that I should stick to words rather than water colors. The rest of the world will receive those words that I will select for my own type of canvas. Shalom.

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Happy Birthday, USA!

You may want to call me a purist or a patriot. The second title is certainly true, explaining why I become disrupted at some of the lunacy on social media. Today is our incredible, wonderful country’s birthday and is a day of absolute celebration. Instead of that commemoration, I can see primarily political bantering and grandstanding.

The best answer is to stay away from social media, today and otherwise. But if you are a proud American, you can’t help but find some of today’s bluster quite offensive. So far, I’ve seen people calling Melania Trump names, opinions on the next justice for the SCOTUS, critical commentary on school shootings and a variety of other garbage.

To me, this is a day of gratitude for our many freedoms and accomplishments. It is a day to be proud of our many thousands of veterans, alive and deceased, who have dedicated their lives to make certain that our liberty is preserved. And if you live in Colorado as I do, it is a day of hope for the over fifteen fires blazing in our state that are requiring the work and commitment of thousands of firefighters who have no time for politics or unessential drivel.

For my part, I continue to be grateful for all of these realities and will never stop appreciating all of the advantages that I enjoy as a proud American. If you can’t observe our laws, our traditions and our protocols, go somewhere else. If you join me in realizing that this is the best place in the world to be, dedicate yourself to building instead of destroying our home.

Happy birthday, USA! Shalom.

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Flying

What is it about being at 36,000 or 37,000 or whatever feet that changes all of our perceptions or definitions of normalcy? For one, if we move back several decades, it was customary practice to give up a seat for a lady. My guess is that many of the most current generation representatives have no idea that this is acceptable or preferred behavior.

And so it goes with being on an airplane. If you are assigned a seat, there are no thoughts of offering a better seat to a lady. It’s what you were dealt so accept it and move on. And in those cases where you wait in a line for the best available seat, I have never seen or heard of someone offering a preferred aisle or window seat to the unfortunate souls who are relegated to the center seat.

Unfortunately, the lack of courtesy with respect to personal space is prevalent, especially as delivered to that unfortunate center seat dweller. On three consecutive flights, I found my space usurped by the gentlemen to my right. Two were very tall and substantial men while one was standard height and weight. In all three cases, I felt like a mushroom surrounded by enormous slices of pepperoni on a deep dish pizza. Happily, I secured the aisle seat for my final flight of the trip and enjoyed the new-found freedom.

All of these experiences make me wonder if customs are different at altitude than they are at sea level or whatever ground you have available. While on the ground, I was the recipient of multiple acts of kindness with respect to lifting or relocating my heavy suitcase. Doors were still held open for me and I was customarily asked to order first in a restaurant. But there is something inherently less civilized about altitude.

Is there an obvious opportunity to say something to any of the beasts that had no reluctance to incorporate my space without reluctance? My guess is no, primarily because you don’t want to be that cranky person and you don’t want to create an atmosphere of discomfort for the rest of the flight.

Just imagine some version of, “Can you please keep your arms to yourself?” at the beginning of an eight hour flight to Paris. The resulting tone could be quite unpleasant. And if you are tempted to suggest checking in earlier in order to secure a better seat, sometimes that’s simply not possible. The best option is to hope for the best, suck it up and hope that the invasion becomes obvious to both parties. And then, there’s the obvious reality – any flight from which you can walk away is a good one. Shalom.

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Just write a note

When I began this form of communication, I never anticipated having either the need or motivation to endorse anyone or anything. The web is full of such advertising and promotional material that it’s all that most of us can do to displace or disregard it.

Fortunately, I recently had an opportunity to see a news story about a young man and his father who had begun an online socks venue, out of Melville, New York. It’s called John’s Crazy Socks and John (the son) has Down Syndrome. He and his father decided to begin the company both as a way to engage John and as a means to return profits to Special Olympics, an endeavor in which John long participated.

The story moved me greatly and I immediately ordered two pairs of socks, one for me and one for the two-year-old young man whom I love with every molecule of my heart. Today the socks arrived, six days after I ordered them. Mine looked like a library card (shouldn’t surprise my readers that I am a devout library lover) and the other pair had dancing dolphins.

While the socks are very well constructed and unique, it wasn’t the socks that colored my day, my state of being and my entire outlook on the world. John had included a handwritten note with my order that read, “I hope you love your socks” and as soon as I saw his note, I began to cry.

The frequent communications, timely response and unique socks had powerfully distinguished John’s Crazy Socks from every other sock source I know. But the fact that John was so engaged and enthusiastic about his company and his product that he sent a note powerfully elevated him and his company. He also promised a discount on my next order.

At this point, I plan to order some of John’s socks for everyone I know who wears socks. He is sincere, uncomplicated and understands the power of personalized messages. His cause is noble, and I can only hope that my small contributions will assist in making him successful. If we follow his example to appreciate those who accept and promote us, we can truly and legitimately anticipate spiritual fulfillment. Shalom.