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.

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.

House on fire

Reorganizing my bookshelves today, I rediscovered a treasured book that offers hundreds of suggestions on subjects for writing efforts. It’s my blessing that I seldom have trouble identifying subjects that are worthy of pursuing in this blog but the book is provocative and extremely interesting.

The one that I seized for this moment has to do with a fire starting in your home and the need to select one item that you could take with you. Thankfully, I have never had to survive a fire so I cannot speak from experience on this subject. And while I would like to believe that I would have an opportunity to grab more than one thing as I left a burning house, that would defeat the purpose of this exercise.

It’s not an easy endeavor. My first thoughts were the pictures of my family. More than anything else in the home, these pictures can never be duplicated. Second was my purse. It has my wallet and critical pieces of identification. The cash isn’t a consideration – while I never have much cash, the banks and other companies would ultimately provide access to whatever finances I need or would need after leaving the house.

My next thought was my jewelry box. It contains treasures that I could never replace, either legacies or gifts. The bedroom (and jewelry box) are closer to the front door but the unknown becomes, where is the fire most serious and requiring the greatest amount of avoidance? The advantage of taking one item from the bedroom is that there is a door to the back yard, seldom used but certainly available in a fire.

After I examined these three choices, the last is the most obvious to anyone who has known me for more than ten minutes. That which has the greatest and most incalculable value is my laptop. My published book and its successor are there, as well as another book in progress to which I have probably dedicated several hundred hours.

We can hope that I will never need to make such a decision and that a house fire is nowhere in my future. But as I submit the idea to you, it’s an inquiry that I believe is absolutely worthwhile. What do you need to preserve more than anything else. Needless to say, spouses and children are excluded from the exercise because their safety is paramount.

But after that, what do you want to save? What can’t you replace? It becomes a commentary on that which is part of your bank account versus part of your heart. Shalom.


As an observer of the world around me and the people in it, I am frequently intrigued by the seriousness of the word “promise.” My students are taught from an early age that promising is never to be done casually or without complete intent to fulfill that promise.

I haven’t identified the origins of the “pinkie promise,” but if you and someone else lock pinkies, you are both solemnly committed to completing your end of the commitment. Having been asked to participate in this type of oath, I am happy that we are successful at teaching our young people about the importance of keeping their words.

Are we Americans faithful about being true to our pledges? Marriage vows generally include statements about fidelity and respect, yet we see frequent spousal abuse, infidelity, and abandonment. Every time I see someone burning a US flag, I shudder. For all my life, I have promised and will continue to promise to defend that flag and have nothing but disdain for those who do harm to it.

And on it goes. We are going to build a wall. No we’re not. We are going to send money to those who are without income and resources to feed their families. No, we need a month’s recess. The adults who should be demonstrating the urgency of being true to their words are failing to do so.

When I tell my students that they will have the opportunities to do craft projects, I must make certain that those projects materialize. Likewise, if I promise a treat, that must also come to pass. Our actions must verify that our words are to be believed or nothing is ever going to be believable.

Someone named Rodd Thunderheart once said, “A man’s only as good as his word.” Sadly, I don’t know who Rodd Thunderheart is or what drove him to the observation. But a more reliable and familiar source also tell us, “A man is only as good as his word,” and this is Proverbs 20:6, Hebrews 13:8.

Beyond that, I prefer this quote from someone named Marie Forleo. She says, “To be responsible, keep your promises to others. To be successful, keep your promises to yourself.”  As I contemplate the subject of promises, I must agree that we begin by making and keeping promises to ourselves. Once we are adept at that, keeping promises to others is likely to be our standard practice. Shalom.

Growing forward

How old were you when people stopped asking what you wanted to be when you grew up? The question changes as you add years to your life but the older we become, the more prevalent the belief that we no longer need to wonder about our dreams.

Now I am thinking that we need to ask ourselves frequently, regardless of our ages, what we want from life that we don’t have. The reasons why our goals are unrealized can be simple or complex. But I suggest that aspiring to something (anything) is healthy, productive and quite rewarding.

Let’s back up a bit. When we entered college, many of us were quite focused about our career aspirations. In my case, I was determined to become a high school literature teacher. Some of that came to pass although I admit to having flirted with anthropology, journalism and law school.

While we may not need to make similar decisions later in life, not having to make a choice of careers doesn’t mean the same as mentally retiring. If your job doesn’t make you happy, what kind of activity would? Maybe you have always wanted to raise cocker spaniels. Maybe you wanted to grow orchids. Or maybe you’ve wanted to run a marathon.

All or any of those are aspects of growing forward (self-actualization, if you prefer). It often has nothing to do with money. In other words, you might not need a multi-acre estate to have a kennel. Most likely, you can do it on a smaller scale. Raising orchids would probably require less capital. And as far as running a marathon, it may be advisable to begin with a 5K or 10K before you tackle 26 miles.

What do you want to do or be when you grow up, whether it’s 20 years or 20 days from now? It is a better time to think of growing forward rather than growing up. This may be the best chance you will have to fill your life with puppies instead of regrets. Shalom.


During one of my recent sojourns of solitude, I had the time and motivation to think about life now and in the future. It’s true that I have multiple memories in which to immerse myself but at this point, I am more concerned about those events to come than those that have already come to pass.

A word that recurred in my thoughts was patience. This is an attribute to which I always and continuously aspire, personally and professionally. The danger, it seems, is to confuse patience with postponement. As it concerns the publication of my book, I must remain conscientious about being patient rather than inactive.

And so it occurred to me to wonder if I have the right to ask others close to me to have patience, both in their dealings with me and with others. The best example of this is my recent observation that when you marry for the second (or third) time, having been married before gives you no expertise whatsoever in being married to the current spouse. And so, if I was married for x number of years to someone else, that has nothing whatsoever to do with my current marriage during which I continuously seek patience.

At no time have I wondered about the virtue or lack of virtue in the practice of patience. My best guess is that it’s a given, in the same realm as kindness, loyalty, fidelity and generosity, among others. And so, I continue to practice at being patient, very often with myself. When you have sent query letters to literary agents or publishers as I have, the warning that you may not hear anything for three or four months makes patience mandatory.

Try as I may, I can’t think of any way to become more patient than to practice it by being silent when I am feeling impatient with someone else. And when it has to do with me, I remind myself that good things rarely happen quickly or spontaneously. The good news is that if we don’t work on patience and other goals, we have no ways to benefit ourselves or those whom we influence. Shalom.

With gratitude

My birthday was approaching and I spent as little time as possible thinking about it. Yes, it was the beginning of a new decade in my life. But long ago I became adept at cherishing every day I have without worrying about how many of them are left.

There was no way that I could have anticipated the outpouring of love and kindness that I received. It began with my sweet husband who found endless excuses for gift-giving, including remarkable and exquisite turquoise jewelry, a new iPad Air and a gift card.

My children, however, were ready and skilled to make their own spectacular contributions to my day. First was my daughter who prompted my two phenomenal grandchildren, both toddlers, to sing the birthday song that she could capture on video. And my son, ever the thoughtful and insightful gift giver, lived up to his history of truly amazing, meaningful presents.

His card immediately brought tears to my eyes. Add to that an expression of love on social media and with phone calls, texts and surprise packages. If all this weren’t enough to brighten, illuminate and fulfill my day, the doorbell rang and a magnificent plant, courtesy of my children and grandchildren, was delivered to my door.

How can I explain all of this kindness except to say that I have lived my life honestly and with integrity? As far as raising children who honor me and fill my heart with joy and pride – I can only make one statement. I must have been privileged beyond explanation to have given birth to them or I did something right along the way. Maybe both. Shalom.


Sitting in the sun recently, I spied a bird of a variety I couldn’t recognize sitting on the patio. He was very still and it was only by getting close that I could verify that he was alive. The beak was opening and closing and you could observe the rise and fall of a chest that indicated breathing. By virtue of the location and failure to move when I approached, I was certain that something was wrong.

Soon I realized that my response was exactly that of a parent or educator and this bird was a metaphor for my roles. For a very long time, the bird did not change position. I wanted to feed it, help it fly or somehow assist in its recovery. My best guess is that he flew into one of our windows (it happens frequently) and essentially knocked himself into a frenzy.

Those of my experience and background want to help in some way. Because I am not a trained bird doctor or expert, I had no idea what to do other than observe. But that did not prevent me from wanting to do something or anything.

As educators and parents, sometimes we are forced to watch our charges flounder, stumble and work on their own survival methods. That is exactly what this bird did. Eventually, he began to walk and do several flips before landing on his side. Educators want to provide information, coaching or encouragement in this type of situation but sometimes it’s usually better to do nothing until called on to help. Bird never did that, of course, but I wanted to help him in any way that I could.

We left the bird alone, in spite of my desire to do something or anything. Checking back on him later, we saw that he had stopped breathing. Thankfully, our children and students seldom reach this type of resolution to their frustration. But in both cases, our best wishes and intentions occasionally must be stifled. In the case of offspring and students, children will seek our attention when appropriate. When that does not take place, we must simply watch. Shalom.


In previous blogs, I’ve mentioned the value of a small investment in stickers or construction paper that has paid huge dividends. Because I will never buy a child a tablet or cell phone or laptop, the educational rewards for items that don’t need a charge are boundless.

The most recent example of this was the purchase of an inflatable beach ball and sprinkler device. Whether it was a good idea or not, I notified the grandkids that I had purchased said items for their fun.

After at least twenty reminders that they were ready to play with them, we rolled out the treasures. Had they been multi-story ferris wheels or high tech video games, they could not have been more enthusiastically received. Getting wet has always and will always be entertaining for little people. It allows them to run back and forth, scream and simply enjoy the outdoors.

No, I’m no hero. It just makes so much sense to invest a small amount of money in a low-tech, inflatable rubber and plastic toy than trendy or techy toys. If I had been able to predict that they would burn out in twenty minutes and have new fun with the bicycle pump I would still have purchased what I did. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Give kids simple toys and they will be just as satisfied as with complicated, cutting edge gadgets.

We grownups have volumes to learn from this exercise. While I’ve done my share of cruises and long, exotic journeys, a recent trip to a local cabin in the mountains was equally fulfilling. The occasional hamburger and fries can be just as satisfying as an umpteen course gourmet meal. And the present of a simple, funny cactus can be just as joyously received as a Rolex.

It appears that we may be approaching another quarantine/lockdown, a reality that I don’t fear. With enough food and drink, books to read and write and a vast world with which to remain in contact, we have nothing to cause us to be afraid. Shalom.


The older I become, the more I realize how much a waste of time it becomes to find substitutes for those people or things that we cherish or have cherished for some time. Today was a day when that became altogether clear to me, on a subject I will address later.

We often tell ourselves that something we have easily and completely replaces something that we truly love. On a very mundane level, no hamburger that I have encountered can take the place of a White Castle slider. My best guess is that my recollection is colored by the family events associated with those burgers in a time long past.

The same phenomenon occurs with other locations or businesses. No deli that I experienced before or since can replace the one at which I received my traditional pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon (lox). Never will I ever have ice cream as that which I shared with my sweet sister-in-law, now a prisoner of the dementia disease. And finally, no shopping adventure will ever emulate the experience of going to downtown Chicago with mom, riding on the Illinois Central and having lunch at Marshall Field’s.

With all that in mind, I wonder why I should bother with the process of trying to improve upon or duplicate treasured memories for the sake of fully experiencing a food, location or event. Today, as I visit the optical shop for new eyeglasses, I know that no-one will ever be able to go with me and contribute the kind of input and love as my daughter did in the past or would if she were here. And as many times and I shop in as many venues as I have frequented, none will ever emulate the beautiful trips that I loved.

The point of all this is to recommend that you savor and cherish the events or tastes or companionship that you value as they occur. We will never be able to reverse the clock and relive those occurrences that are defined by time. And so, as we move ahead, we can create new memories with their own values to our existences. We can also treasure what we have already lived, smelling the smell of a particular burger or remembering the hat, gloves and purse that were part of shopping adventures with Mommy. Shalom.