Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Nobility

One of the many lessons I’ve learned in the classroom is the power of helpers. Every day that I teach, I have one or two or more students who immediately present themselves for designation as my assistants.

This doesn’t include having them teach or enforce discipline. In some cases, I have the rules of enforcement squad who will work toward establishing order. The jobs they complete include such tasks as line leader, attendance sheet runners and IT helpers who are adept at in-class technology.

What’s magical, however, is what happens to kids once they are able to help. The rowdiest of children become docile and pleasant when they are instructed to be role models. This translates to words such as “leaders” or “captains” or “assistants.”

And those students who are always helpers will remind me whenever I see them of their elevated status. In some ways, this dynamic is no different than the rest of life. Some of seek to be better, smarter, more successful, wealthier, happier or some other advanced position. Some don’t, I realize, and unless I am instructing them and they are in my space, I have no jurisdiction. It’s very rare, inside or outside the classroom, that we encounter those who aspire to mediocrity.

Often I wonder what part of our brains is responsible for distinction. Is there a genetic, still small voice that urges us to do more and improve? If that’s the case, where is that voice in the case of under-achievers and criminals?

My best guess is that there will always be that student who wants to occupy a noble distinction. As an educator, my job is to remind students that they all have the potential to do or be whatever they choose. If enabling them as helpers contributes to that growth, I have succeeded at establishing the first step.

Friday was popcorn day and my sweetest, most devoted pupil rushes to advise that he left his popcorn money in class when he left for recess. After I confirmed that he didn’t need any popcorn money, I escorted him to the classroom. He thanked me profusely and ran to secure his treasure. Ten minutes later, he returned from the popcorn vendor, walked up to me and wordlessly handed me one of his two bags of popcorn. Somehow, I think I must have done something right. Shalom.

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Gathering rosebuds

If gathering rosebuds doesn’t sound familiar, I invoked the first line in a poem by 17th century poet Robert Herrick. He suggests, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” in addition to other important wisdom.

Several times per week, I spend some time wondering how much time I spend doing things that are entirely frugal or sensible. These activities are the result of many years of needing to save money, simply because there was no choice.

It now occurs to me that I do many of these out of habit rather than necessity. This process takes many forms. When I get close to the end of any of the cosmetic or cleaning items that I use, I always transfer the last few inches or ounces to another bottle of the same product, rather than lose a few days of use. In the kitchen, I will perform the same type of miserliness, using the last stalk of celery or last mushroom when those items may have been more properly discarded.

This is a lesson in the fragility of life and the imperative to live each day as it is made available. There is no secret to the reality that I have already spent more years on earth than I likely have in my future. And so, it seems to be time to enjoy my life with greater freedom rather than by maintaining unnecessary habits.

Translated into everyday life, if I want to buy a pair of shoes that are not within my normal guidelines for work or weekends, I buy them. If I want to add a few blue streaks into my hair, I do so. and if I feel like buying a brand new flavor of coffee to try, I buy it.

Make no mistake. By no means am I suggesting that you abandon everything that resembles care and conscience, spending money recklessly. My bills are paid and my responsibilities are all satisfied. But I firmly believe that without sounding morbid, I must do what makes me happy while I still have a clear mind and the resources to do so. Tomorrows are guaranteed to no-one and I am living life as if today is the last one, just in case that may be true.

Or in the words of Mr. Herrick,  And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying. Shalom.

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$5 magic

Those of us who spend all of our time in adulthood sometimes forget how much fun magic can be. Mine came totally without warning and now that I have experienced it, I can begin orchestrating the next event.

The setting was fourth grade. While I normally avoid grades beyond third, it occurred to me that it was a good way to begin spring break. At this point I have no doubt about revisiting fourth.

Not surprisingly, my new school district presented me with a collection of twenty-seven courteous, sweet, intelligent young people. They offered help, direction and a gratifying amount of appreciation.

Here’s where the magic began. As usual, I brought my Magic Substitute Bag that is filled with candy, stickers and pencils. The first student who saw me remove a bag of pencils timidly requested one. It was all over.

One by one, they presented themselves at my desk. How could I give one pencil to a child and say no to twenty-six others? Fortunately, I had enough reserves. Giving out pencils and a few pens was not the magic. It was the behavior that followed.

You’re the greatest teacher I’ve ever had.

You’re the greatest substitute I’ve ever had.

Can you be our regular teacher?

Can you always be our substitute?

Why did you do this for us?

For the rest of the day, I observed twenty-seven writers closely guarding the pens and pencils that had just appeared out of nowhere. We are so accustomed to having to earn something or beg for something or trade for something. Is it so strange to be given a gift simply because I could give it?

It was a $5 investment for fifty mechanical pencils. There’s no doubt that I’ve spent a great deal more on quite a bit less, in terms of creating happiness for anyone including me. In this case, the good feelings were all throughout the room, with punctuation marks in lead and ink. Shalom.

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Words and words

The other day, I was exhilarated to find a book in my mailbox that my son had sent. He and his sister have unusual talents for finding gifts that are perfect in their taste and subject matter. This was no exception and the book was written by the former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. From the first page, it was captivating and full of information that inspired me.

Within those first pages, I was surprised to find that the author used at least two words that I have deleted from my vocabulary – amongst and towards. While I understand that the British vocabulary frequently includes towards instead of toward, I find it to be a word that I prefer not to use. The same is true for amongst – I much prefer among and believed it to be the preferred version.

The dictionary that I use most often confirms that my choices are preferred and that in both cases, British English opts for the words that I don’t. But as I read and look forward to reading more, I had a flash of illumination that the English language isn’t one of right and wrong.

Those who know me also know that I am the one who reacts to “him and me went to the store” as if I were dealt 110 volts to the spine. In this one case and probably many others, we can legitimately posit correct and incorrect. Along those lines, I also believe that there is importance to good spelling, diction and tense. But beyond that, I realized through this editor that pronunciation and word selection aren’t subject to analysis and evaluation, mine or anyone else’s. If you want to pronounce “coyote” as ky-oh-tee while I pronounce it as ky-oat, neither of us should be subject to correction.

Nowhere have I been designated as the ultimate authority or ruling body as far as most issues concerning the English language. This exercise in amongst, towards and coyote have sufficiently driven that point home to me. If you ask me to correct your writing for whatever reason, that’s another story. But for now, help yourself to the words you want to use. Shalom.

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Pursuing and promoting

One of my common responses to students who ask the names of my books is that I don’t want to be accused of trying to sell said books in the school environment. Although it’s never happened and I don’t believe the likelihood is substantial, it’s an example of my reluctance to inappropriately self-promote.

With that in mind, I often ponder how much publication of my work is judicious and how much is excessive. There are no rules, no barometers, no panel of wise judges to issue directives. Very often I see people on social media or local publications who frequently display their services or products, often with the qualification that they are passionate about what they do. With that prevalent practice, why do I refrain from what I call shameless self-propagandizing?

Of course, it’s never a competition. Who’s published the most books, who has the most followers and who has the most clients? To me and every other writer I know, measuring success is quite individual and personal. As for how much publicity of my craft is enough and how much is too much, there are no lightning bolts of wisdom that are available.

Maybe its origins are from my childhood. From an early age, I was taught that it’s not “nice” to blow your own horn. That directive has never left me. But the other side of that is what may be insufficient clients or accolades for my writing. And who has the responsibility for that? My view of life prevents me from blaming the outside world. But if we don’t enjoy success, popularity or financial security, is it our fault for insufficient promotion?

Somewhere I read that there were well over one million books published in the year that I released mine. Looking at the statistics, very few make the New York Times bestseller list. Is anything short of that acceptable? It must be. When I ponder the reasons for which I wrote the book, none of them were financial or critical popularity.

Someone much wiser than I once said, “You get what you give” and I was content that I told my story as a collection of suggestions for life. Having accomplished that, it may simply be unfair to ask for more. Shalom.

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What we see

When I was a tiny baby, my right arm produced a tumor and my parents elected to treat it with radiation. As a child, this disfiguration was difficult for me, causing me to explain its origin and take innumerable measures to conceal it. For many years, I worried about my potential for marriage, believing that an ugly arm would rule me out from any consideration. And if someone did want to marry me, it would require my cloaking myself in layers.

Many years later, I find myself being grateful that the radiation deleted the tumor, leaving me with the ability to use the arm as needed. More importantly, I received a lesson that most of our imperfections are invisible and unimportant to those who truly love us.

Now and then I see couples with partners who are handicapped, severely obese or disfigured in some way. But to observe them, they are oblivious to any of their partners’ conditions that render them less than perfect by any definition. By no means do I want to invoke the expression, “Love is blind,” because none of these lovers are blind to the appearance of their mates.

In some cases, companions retitle those conditions. One of my dear friends complained about having gained weight. Her husband, obvious in his devotion to her, dismissed the complaint, suggesting that, “There is more of her to love.” Yes, it appears to be true that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

As an educator, the appearance of any particular child is of no concern to me. In fact, those kids who are slower, disfigured, challenged or inhibited in some way are often more thoroughly beautiful than those who are active and typical. Happily, these special kids generally don’t limit or label themselves and I am a conspirator in making them feel that they are vital parts of the classroom community.

We have a powerful responsibility to delete any negativity from being different. Instead, this difference can be a distinction or designation of excellence as it removes the special person from mediocrity. Ultimately, I wore the wedding dress that I wanted and have never seen another adult repelled by my unusual arm. Finding opportunities to deal with the character and soul on the inside must be the best alternative. Shalom.

 

 

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Giving

Being in a new city after living elsewhere for thirty years has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it’s fun to find new restaurants, hiking trails and local shopping meccas. But on the minus part of the equation, it’s a bit strange to be somewhere where it’s extremely unlikely to encounter someone familiar.

That will change over time, I suppose. In the interim, I joined a local choral ensemble and was elated and surprised to discover that the process of becoming part of a venture was unusually satisfying. Seeking a common outcome and working toward that reality became enjoyable, both in the belonging and the active participation.

Last week, I experienced a similar gratification as I joined the local school system. Retirement is enjoyable and relaxing, but it was missing something that I wasn’t quite able to identify until last week. When I belong to an organization in which I believe, I am able to do what I call depositing positive energy into the universe.

Reading the news or watching it on television, we all become aware of the volunteers who champion one cause or another and dedicate hours, dollars and heart to that cause. Thanks to my recent commitments, I fully understand that being part of something honorable makes for a sense of community that is incomparable.

Some of the unhappiest people I’ve known were entirely self-absorbed and disassociated with everything. If I were a (full-time) counselor, my first recommendation to this profile is to get out and do something for someone or something else.

While I am compensated for my educating, that sum is entirely disproportionate to my passion. In my past, I committed the same enthusiasm on a purely volunteer basis. But as I grow into my new community, I hope to find valuable, lasting methods by which I can grow that environment.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great theologian and philosopher, once stated, “Knowledge – like the sky – is never private property. No teacher has a right to withhold it from anyone who asks for it. Teaching is the art of sharing.”

As we share with others, in the food bank, the shelter or the classroom, we give much more to ourselves. Shalom.

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Of course

It seems that almost daily I am encountering a new and troubling aberration to my treasured English language. Yesterday I discovered that we are liberally using the word “bots” to replace the word “robots.” The first question is why? Is it to save keystrokes or spaces? Is it simply for the sake of brevity?

We’ve done essentially the same atrocity by converting “your” to “ur,” “pictures” to “pics,” and all of the unfortunate acronyms that pervade our text messages such as “lmao,” “lol” “tbt” and probably others that I haven’t yet encountered.

Yes, I understand that there are limits to time and characters for many types of messages. Thankfully, the expression, “My bad” has become less popular as it made me cringe every time I heard it. At the same time, I am watching the language that I love being compromised in an assortment of ways.

It goes on from abbreviations and acronyms. Somehow, the expression “of course” has replaced thank you and you’re welcome. As someone who lavishly uses “thank you” in many contexts, I am old enough and traditional to expect a “you’re welcome” instead of “of course.” In my life, that expression was often found in conjunction with sarcasm: “Of course, you’re not ready to finish math and begin English, right?”

There’s little purpose in fighting a war that I can’t possibly win. It’s probably similar to preventing glaciers from collapsing into the sea (yes, global warming) or oceans being devastated by thousands of tons of plastic waste material. But for as long as I can and will set examples, I will say you’re welcome to a thank you.

Before you file me away into the antique category, understanding and perpetuating our language in its purest form does have value. Those who read our work, in business and academics, are paying attention to the faithful adherence to standard English practices. Thankfully, I don’t see that changing. And entrance exams, job applications and legal documents are all predicated on reasonably correct language and grammar.

Do what you like with your language for I am responsible only for my words.  But don’t be surprised if I’m not the only one paying attention and you are really going to know that “your” means belonging to you and “you’re” means you are. Shalom.

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Memory

Good books, good friends and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

Mark Twain

Whenever I fail to find inspiration in my immediate world, Mark Twain always seems to offer reasons for reflection. This quote is no exception. Whether my inability to remember words, names, situations or facts is due to my age or simply too much information to categorize, it remains a source of frustration. Perhaps the true problem is the frustration, not the inability to remember.

Most of us have experienced the situation. What was the name of the guy with whom we worked at the such-and-such office, in 1980-something? You can remember a variety of small facts such as his penchant for cold coffee, numerous children shown in his desk photograph and his quirky ties. But try as you may, you just can’t remember his name. Ultimately, does it matter? Will you be improved in any way other than the tiny victory of overcoming forgetfulness?

The idea of “sleepy conscience” is worthwhile. Don’t we all have events or actions that we would do differently if the opportunity became available? Somehow, the inability to remember details about these regrettable moments is a blessing rather than the proverbial curse.

Compared to good friends and good books, any flavor of regret pales by comparison. It pleases me to describe my conscience (and my memory) as sleepy rather than a product of senility. Sooner or later, I am likely to remember those things that are worth remembering – names, adverbs, authors, evenings or breathtaking sights. And if not, what’s the harm or foul?

And so, I pass on Mark Twain’s perennial wisdom, for the sake of reinforcing what is good and immortal. If we treasure our friends and the words of our beloved volumes, they will produce the good life. Instead of considering our sleepy powers of recollection a deficiency, perhaps they are incentives for cherishing our gifts. Shalom.

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Veneer

Scanning my library, I discovered a book that I purchased long ago and have treasured each time I’ve opened it. It’s an anthology of Jewish folklore that has a vast collection of anecdotes, parables, riddles, songs and countless other gems. As I remembered some of the wisdom gained while perusing it, I thought it might be a good resource for this medium.

One story I savor is that of the rich but stingy man and the rabbi. The man approached his rabbi to ask for a blessing, at which moment the rabbi rose, took the man by the hand and led him to a window. Looking out the window, the rabbi asked the stingy man what he saw, to which he replied, “People.”

The rabbi then took the man to a mirror and asked the same question. This time, the man said, “I see myself.” Now the rabbi proceeded to explain the meaning of his two questions.

“When you see only through the glass, you see the rest of the world around you. Looking at the mirror, although it is also made of glass, there is a silver veneer to it. And so it is with your life. As soon as you cover your images of life with silver, you see only you.”

There is no date or source attributed to this charming story and I cherish it for its simplicity and timelessness. When we measure others or ourselves in terms of wealth, possessions or other attributes, we ensure superficiality and a lack of wisdom.

When, however, we are able to see images without the facades or window dressings, we are best equipped to encounter such attributes as character or moral value. Our stingy rich man typified measuring others on the basis of their wealth rather than an unembellished and innate goodness.

The moral is joyously uncomplicated and whether the tale is factual or not, we can only wonder if the rabbi’s point is received and internalized, then and now. Shalom.