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Mind and heart

A book that I recently completed included a quote from an elderly man to his son. The suggestion was that the father was on his death bed and he was imparting words by which his son should live. To paraphrase, he said that you can be robbed of everything except what you have learned and what is in your heart. Since reading the statement, I have dedicated quite a bit of thought to its current relevance.

During our time that is limited and identified by a deadly virus, many have found themselves quite alone, physically and psychologically. It is tough to have no options to leave home except for essentials and emergencies. For those unfortunate enough to be affected by the virus, isolation, quarantine and hospitalization are all solitary journeys.

What enables us to prevail? My quotation suggests that it is what we possess in our hearts and minds. I am not sufficiently naive to believe that only the strength of conviction will enable survival. Many other factors come into play, including medical procedures, seriousness of the virus, underlying medical issues, etc. But I do believe with all my heart, soul and mind that we cannot and will not survive without wanting very badly to do so.

To those who might be inclined to underestimate themselves, I hope that you derive strength from the power of your mind and intellect over your emotions. Medicine cannot calibrate or compute those entities but they function entirely on your welfare.

No-one can rob you of who you are unless you encourage and permit it. Your knowledge is your private stock of immunity. And your heart, for yourself and for those you cherish, is more powerful than any medical treatment. If you want to maximize your opportunities to prevail, trust your mind and your heart. Shalom.

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A tribute

My best guess is that most of the cities and towns in our great country have taken important and formidable steps toward helping those less fortunate during this pandemic. It is customary for the organizations such as Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way to step up and provide valuable commodities such as food, clothing and funds.

Beyond that, I am touched and amazed at the grass roots efforts of my neighbors and fellow New Mexicans. The news and the streets are filled with remarkable acts of charity and generosity.

On any given day in local news, we see examples of people doing extraordinary actions. We’ve seen a young boy who used the money from his tooth fairy visit and solicited additional funds to bring meals for health workers. We see volunteers assembling and delivering meals to those who are standing all day doing virus testing. And all the news stations show Americans paying tribute to health care workers with parades, flyovers and pallets of gifts.

These are gratifying to see as are the employers who sell, sacrifice and supplement their employees rather than laying them off. Our local television station does weekly donation campaigns; one lady called in to donate $20, apologizing that it wasn’t more but she had lost her job during the economic crisis.

My hat goes off to my fellow Americans, with and without large bank accounts, who have stepped up in a time of need that is beyond description. For my part, I choose to make my actions or contributions private. But to watch others suffer without doing what I can to help is simply unacceptable.

We must all support those who support others. Your thoughtfulness and phenomenal efforts will get us through this crisis standing tall, not lying down. Like this toxic virus, you show no signs of slowing down; the fact that you are selfless and relentless makes our country undefeatable. We never stop or falter at being monumental. Shalom.

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It doesn’t require a great deal of work to list those forms of measurement that are completely subjective. How fat is too fat? How tall is too tall? How much money do you need to have to be wealthy? How many meals must you miss to be truly hungry?

And so it goes with success, especially as it pertains to this deadly Covid-19. If you’re in New York City and have fewer than 1000 deaths or hospital admissions in a day or (one can hope) a week, you have success.

This is all for the sake of celebrating each success we experience at this point in the pandemic, regardless of size. When you see an 87-year old woman beating the virus and leaving the hospital, I call that a victory.

Other victories are easy to spot and, I believe, must be celebrated. Seeing stores such as Target, Walmart and Costco establish protocols, plexiglass shields and masks for all staff is a huge positive. They are spending time and considerable money to protect themselves and me. And I prefer to think that much of it is self-initiated rather than mandated.

As I often report, my glass is always half full. If we reduce new cases and deaths, it’s a victory. If I can leave some toilet paper at the aid station established by one or more of my neighbors, it’s terrific. We each have the opportunity and subsequent good feelings to turn this pandemic into something characterized by kindness and giving. Surely our healthcare workers display this compassion on an ongoing basis.

Create a bunch of successes and you can see them reproduce into a better life and the greater good. We will prevail if we continue to help one another. Shalom.

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What do you imagine when you see the word magic? Is it a David Copperfield type of event or is it more like events that take place in our lives that take on an air of something special or unique?

My thought is that the world can use a little bit of magic right now. Here’s what I mean. After a hard freeze last night and the night before, our newly planted garden is a disaster. Peppers and tomatoes are limp and/or brown; the grapevines have all gone from green to yuck and there are no more leaves capable of photosynthesis.

The best response that I can muster is that we need a dose of magic. It may be tomorrow or the next day but I fully expect to walk outside in the next few days and see some new growth. It can be new leaves, new peppers or some of the grapevines changing their minds about the colors they want to display.

When I relax and don’t push for thoughts to be added to my book, magic always occurs. It takes the form of new events or characters or the process of joining some disassociated information in a new way. Magic happens when a long-lost client appears and asks me to write a complicated or lengthy project. Yesterday, for example, I had a long-standing client ask me to write thirteen business letters. I’m having some trouble billing him because his business is failing and he’s seeking some assistance for business loans.

What I’m suggesting is that you join me in seeking and identifying magic, simply for the purposes of illuminating our lives defined by disease and quarantine. It’s been the magical idea of neighborhood children to draw smiling faces on rocks and leave them everywhere. Relief stands offer a big of toilet paper magic to those in need. And I define magic as the selfless dedication of the many thousands of healthcare workers who put themselves in harms’ way in order to protect us.

In the best possible situation, a vaccine can magically appear or we can find a magic treatment for those stricken with the virus. Believing in magic isn’t silly to me – it’s vastly better than predicting disaster. Shalom.

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Most of the people whom I’ve seen or with whom I’ve corresponded report that they are seriously tired of quarantine. If you’re at all like me, you’ve seen all the toilet paper cartoons and photos that you can stand and the puns associated with Corona and Covid are plentiful. Make no mistake – I’m not about to join the ranks of the complainers.

Why not take a different approach altogether? Complaining doesn’t do anyone any good and it simply exacerbates our frustration. We’re not going to be finished with this quarantine any time soon, it appears, so we need to live with it. My preference is to look at all of the good that has come from our global pandemic.

Walking through the neighborhood yesterday, I spied an assortment of goods left on the sidewalk for anyone who needs books, Frosted Flakes, toilet paper and paper towels. What a terrific act of generosity! Our neighborhood also includes several people who are dedicating themselves to creating hundreds of face masks.

Similar stories around the United States abound and are easily discovered. One young man petitioned an unlikely source for face masks, gloves and gowns and was generously awarded for his creativity. The number of healthcare professionals who have come out of retirement or have simply made the journey to New York to assist is staggering. And my town is full of restaurant owners who are delivering sandwiches, pizzas and non-perishable foods to those who need them.

It’s a time to celebrate heroes, not whine about not being able to hit our local brewery. By the way, the copious New Mexico breweries are also contributing to the public good through curbside pickups, deliveries and charitable activities.

I salute those who continue to do whatever possible to ease the strain and frustration of our times. For my part, I’ll wear my gloves and face mask, restrict my activities to those that are essential and do whatever my country finds necessary to end our crisis. My suggestion is that if we all did at least what was asked of us we would be well on our way to a solution that benefits everyone. Shalom.

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That’s just the way it is

Most of us who have been subject to the recent quarantine have spent considerable time watching the news, both local and national. One reality that keeps appearing to me is the whining of so many Americans who are agonizing over the quarantine. While none of us like to be restricted to our homes except for grocery shopping, it’s really not necessary to complain about it.

On the upside, I am convinced that a huge team of people are working on vaccines and effective virus treatments. If we were in a variety of other countries, that conviction would not be nearly as strong. We are all struggling with a plethora of unknowns, but that is simply the way that the world looks right now.

Is it really so important that you get your regular haircut or manicure? One of my neighbors recently asked if someone in this community does manicures from home. Groan. Is it life and death to get a haircut before your hair covers your ears? Probably not. It has become quite clear that social distancing is making a difference.

And as far as restaurants, we are making it a point to support a number of our local food joints with carryout meals. Not only does it exempt me from cooking every meal; but also, I’m hoping that it will help keep them in business.

We need to pull together as a country. If you feel that your health is in danger because your employer isn’t providing sufficient PPE, I get that. But be grateful that you have employment when many millions of us have been deprived of that opportunity. And be very grateful for the many thousands of public servants and healthcare workers who face danger every minute of every hour to perform their jobs.

The situation we face as a country and a world will eventually be resolved. In the interim, I will continue to check with people nearby (at six feet distance, of course) to see if they need groceries and I will continue to deliver a cinnamon bread to a kind neighbor. It doesn’t take much to change the world. Shalom.

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To be brave

On previous occasions, I have referenced a powerful and brilliant book that I have just finished. This is The Librarian of Auschwitz, and it has taught me more than I can possibly summarize in a short blog.

One of the most provocative and inspirational concepts I have derived concerns bravery, a strength that many of us seek to acquire during these challenging and frightening times. The idea, paraphrased, is that those people who are truly brave are the ones who are most afraid. For clarification, if we are not afraid of our various outcomes, the decisions we make are unimportant because any one of them is acceptable. This is tantamount to apathy, a disease worse than the one we fight.

Today, for the sake of those closest to us and ourselves, we must have sufficient fear of contagion to take all of the right steps to prevent it. If washing our hands two or three times a day is a good idea, five or six is a better one. On a recent trip to the supermarket, I saw an older lady wearing both surgical gloves and a mask. Given her increased risks due to age, I’m thinking that it was an intelligent decision.

We all have occasions to convert our healthy dose of fear into responsible action. When six feet is the required distancing space, it must delete hair styling, manicures and other activities that include close proximity. An excellent alternative to protect that professional’s income is to purchase a gift card or certificate.

More can be done with regard to the employment crises that surround us. A significant number of local restaurants are offering curbside or delivery service of selections from their menus. In addition to paying that restaurant’s bills, many have chosen to pay their servers with some of the proceeds, taking some of the sting out of their lost gratuities. If you are at all like me, cooking every meal is tedious and by electing to go meals, we are doing good for everyone involved.

And some of my favorite news stories are those of small groups of residents joining together to provide meals or groceries to those within that group who are in need of support. Today, I surveyed my neighborhood to see if any around me needed groceries that I could collect for them on my trip. The next time I leave to shop, I will make it a point to see if others have needs.

It’s easy to convert fear into action. From my standpoint, not to act is to invite a horrible disease to appear and end life – a conclusion that is absolutely undesirable. Shalom.

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For old times

As we look around us, we can easily identify many of our social conventions that are vanishing or completely gone. It’s been quite some time since I saw milk delivered. Rail traffic for humans has diminished considerably. And as I’ve previously lamented, much of our learning is on a screen rather than a printed page.

The good news is that the neighborhood watering hole (bar and grill, bar, saloon – pick one) is still alive and well in New Mexico. Its existence came as a total surprise. We read reviews for this venue before visiting for dinner but what we found far exceeded expectations.

Our welcoming moments were warm and genuine. The server was both kind and efficient. Beyond all of that, sitting in the bar vicinity afforded a glimpse of seven good ole boys who were loud, gregarious and seemed to be the type of regulars who were known by everyone in the establishment. We could catch pieces of their conversation but the only one that was loud and clear was the reference to a “certified lesbian.” Hmmmm.

One brave woman attempted to join them at the far end of the bar. She spoke briefly to the man adjacent to her but the encounter was short-lived. He was wearing the obligatory Kobe Bryant jersey but didn’t have a baseball cap that was sported by five other guys. Don’t know why that conversation ended but it didn’t seem to matter.

Since my growing up and college days in Chicago where such venues are plentiful, I haven’t experienced a neighborhood joint such as this. Most likely, it’s my tendencies toward nostalgia that caused me to appreciate it. The food was great, the beer was cold and I was treated as if I had been there every night for the last twenty years – God forbid.

If the regulars and the food weren’t sufficient, our server’s final remarks were the coup de grace. She said, “I’m so glad that you were here. Assuming I’ll see you soon, yes?” My answer was a resounding yes and I’m grateful for the chance to perpetuate what I deem an American institution. Here’s looking at ya! Shalom.

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How about a cup?

In spite of the ubiquitous coffee houses and chains in 2020 United States of America, I have concluded that the coffee drinking habit that I enjoyed for many years has all but vanished from our social scenes. On a weekly (often daily) basis, I had one or more of my contacts – business, social, personal, family or otherwise – contact me to join them for a cup of coffee. At this point, I can remember only one occasion in October when that took place.

Some of that phenomenon may be associated with my relocation from Denver where I lived for thirty years. With that base, I had many more people who were likely to get in touch and ask to share a cup of caffeine and conversation. One of my most cherished friends and I have spent countless hours sharing some coffee and indescribable moments. Except for him, however, the coffee social engagement is seriously absent.

Think about all the jobs you’ve held in the past ten, twenty, thirty or more years. If you’re at all like me, many of those jobs and their hiring moments were heavily associated with coffee drinking. One of them quickly comes to mind. In this case, my insurance consultant position linked me with a manager who would invite me to go to the local coffee joint at least two or three times a week for the years we shared a workplace.

While I have no need or desire to contribute to the Starbuck, Caribou or other coffee chain incomes, I do miss the unique camaraderie associated with, “Let’s go grab a cup of coffee.” Yes, I acknowledge that I am a serious coffee drinker who has gone to the trouble and expense of grinding my beans every day. But this is way beyond that status.

Maybe I don’t have the right folks in my life right now. If I were still in Denver, I can immediately conjure ten people whom I could call to join me for a coffee connection. Seems to me that I need to get busy at re-establishing the network of those who appreciate my hobby and favorite habit. It’s well worth perpetuating. Shalom.

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Looking around in a restaurant, I recently speculated on the eternal and ubiquitous presence of jeans. While we can call them a number of ways, they are the one fashion item that is always visible, regardless of the social context or demographic.

What is it about jeans that make them the acceptable or preferred clothing for everyone? We see them in restaurants, theatres, movies, schools, workplaces and everything in between. They are in cities and farms, small towns and large cities and on the bodies of the whole range of incomes, from rich to poor.

It was reported recently that jeans have been replaced in elementary schools by leisure or active wear. While I see these, especially where jeans are prohibited every day except Friday, they never seem to achieve the popularity of their predecessors.

In terms of history, jeans have been around since 1873 and were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. The name was derived from the city of Genoa, Italy, where jean was first produced. But what is it about our jeans (blue jeans, dungarees, overalls, jeggings, etc.) that makes them so universally accepted?

They are less expensive than most pant products, unless you opt for the high-end very glitzy versions. Jeans are comfortable, durable, versatile and can be worn in virtually any setting by dressing them up and down. We see them being worn by seniors, Baby Boomers, millennials, children, toddlers and babies. Other than underclothing (sometimes optional????), this is the only item of clothing that has been consistently popular.

My feeling is that we all feel comfortable and acceptable in our favorite pair of jeans. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was not allowed to have jeans while living at home and the first thing I did when arriving at my college venue was journey to the local Army/Navy surplus store. In those days, it was imperative that jeans were tight-fitting and I remember lying on the store floor in order to zip the chosen item. That process has since been deleted.

We’ve progressed quite a bit since those days but I still pick my well-worn jeans for weekends and after school. There is no need to question that tradition, especially because I think it’s a venerable one. Shalom.