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If you are anything like me, you have a difficult time putting aside your busy life to relax. Three or four days per week, I spend some time in a classroom,  a pursuit that requires my full attention and concentration. On an average of two to three days per week, I find myself completing some freelance work or maximizing my opportunities to secure new assignments.

On those days when I have no tasks to complete, I discover that I continue to find efforts to occupy my time. Sometimes that consists of cleaning a closet, regardless of the fact that I’ve cleaned said closet at least three times in the last three months. Sometimes it’s reorganizing my office, a space that consists exclusively of my possessions that were already in logical and accessible places.

What all of this means is that some of us find it difficult to do nothing unless it somehow resembles work. Be certain that I earned a semblance of retirement. My first full-time, permanent position happened in 1969 and except for a few months following my final job, I have worked nonstop since that time.

It appears to me that the problem is not a lack of endeavors on which I can spend my time but that I have spent so long doing work that it’s nearly impossible not to do something productive. Is that my version of the Protestant work ethic – work hard, thrift and efficiency? In other words, you will be doing that which you are “supposed to” do. Or is it the voice of my dad saying, “You’re lazy and always will be,” a voice that should have been silenced long ago.

Happily, I think that I’m just a person who derives satisfaction and gratification from building, creating and completing. So far, I don’t see that this has produced any negative consequences. Life is happy and without significant stress. My family brings me unequalled pleasure and I’m not missing anything that I can identify. Most importantly, I agree with a fifth-grade teacher whom I met recently. He said that he had been teaching for four years but had never had a day of “going to work.”

And so, if I am unable to stare at a wall and watch the world go on without me, so be it. When I am no longer part of that world, I hope that others will remember me as someone who always wanted to contribute more. 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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Never, forever and always

As we grow older and theoretically have fewer anxieties, the additional time provides occasion for various analyses. Such is the case with the words “never,” “forever” and “always,”  words that are so burdened with emotion.

We all use these words. Never lie to your parents. Always pay your taxes. This road goes on forever. Most of that is non-toxic and unemotional. But I’m thinking that in relationships of any significance, using these words must be done with greater care and consideration. Here’s how that looks:

You never listen to me.

You always leave your room a mess.

We never talk about anything important.

We are always doing those things that you want, never what I want.

Can it be that the person whom we accuse of never listening is truly guilty of never listening? Most likely, it’s a case of filtering out certain data and sticking with that which is deemed to be important. Maybe it’s hearing loss.

And when we tell our kids that their rooms are always a mess, we’re ignoring clean moments, serious intent and the desire to please mom and dad. When you put yourself in that child’s place, you can see the toxicity of casually delivered accusations.

The word “forever” is similarly loaded. You are forever talking about past relationships. Your debt goes on forever. We are forever fighting about junk. It’s a nice idea to think about forever love and forever faith but most of the time, we’re not so careful about invoking forever.

With regard to our most important relationships, suggesting that no important conversation ever takes place is a poor commentary on the priorities of both parties. It’s quite possible that a discussion about something truly important had taken place the day, week or month before this allegation. Suggesting that “we never talk about anything important” deletes or minimizes that conversation.

For my part, using these words must be done selectively and discriminately. Because I rarely got angry at either of my kids, I don’t think that I liberally accused them of never doing this and always doing that. If I did, I sincerely apologize for the thoughtlessness. As for the present, for as much as I can stay on top of it, I will choose a higher path than telling my loved ones that they are never, forever or always guilty of something. 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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Rabbit, rabbit

Although few people in my life, past or present, are aware of the habit of saying “Rabbit” or “Rabbit, rabbit” as the first words on the first day of a month, I find it a peculiarly satisfying tradition. Maybe I should call it the Rabbit Habit.

If you’re not familiar with the superstition, a check on the Internet will provide numerous references and examples. One of the sites I visited suggested that the trend has become popular with young people and the “Rabbit, rabbit” message appears frequently on social media. My wonderful son and I have used the habit as a friendly competition, and I’m positive that he beats me to issuing the “Rabbit, rabbit” message one the first of every month.

Here’s the data behind the process. It appears that during World War II, British pilots were issuing the words, “Rabbit, rabbit” or “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” in order to wish themselves and their cohorts the best possible outcomes on the day’s flight or bombing missions. Other sources trace the habit to early 20th century Britain, where children were accustomed to issuing the phrase or word as the first word of a new month, also to ensure good luck. There are also indications that the superstition traces much farther back.

If you’re asking yourself, “Why rabbits?” instead of toads or emus, the fact that bunnies reproduce prolifically is cited as the primary reason. And of course, people have been known to carry a rabbit’s foot for luck instead of the appendage of any other creature.

The idea of wishing yourself and those around you a day or month or year of good luck is indisputably a good one. One source indicated that issuing these words should be teamed with walking backward down the stairs – strictly out of concern for safety, I’m not recommending that addition to the custom.

My suggestion is to embrace the usage, wish good luck for as many people as you reach and perpetuate something intrinsically positive. Maybe it will ultimately displace road rage if we issue the words, “Rabbit, rabbit” to dumb drivers instead of our usual expletives. Shalom.

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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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If only

Every now and then, I think about the possibility of life after this one. Because we have no evidence of which I am aware to confirm our next lives, it makes the greatest amount of sense to live each of the days we have to the best of our strengths and wisdom.

That reality doesn’t prevent me from pondering what I would do differently if I had my life to live again. With the understanding that I can’t do so, I offer some observations about what changes I would make.

For one, my career as a writer/author/editor tells me to write everything down. In the past few days, I was surprised to find that I did so, writing poetry and observations many years before I began publishing them. Our thoughts and adventures are worth recording, for ourselves and those who follow.

Talk less, listen more. As I remind my students, there is a very good reason why we have two ears and one mouth. Maybe I spent too much time demonstrating what I knew, with the consequence of not hearing those facts and thoughts that I didn’t know. And as I reflect on the assertion that I take things personally, perhaps it’s true. But if we don’t take bullying, anti-Semitism and racism personally, nothing changes.

Demonstrate patience whenever possible. Many days I wonder if I had as many career positions as I did because I embraced change, I wanted bigger chances to contribute or I simply needed personal growth. In retrospect, I believe that more patience would have been desirable, both for seeing situations work out to my advantage and that of my employer. Advancement may have been imminent if I had waited.

Seek advice and wisdom, not agreement or validation. In my role as advocate, educator or leader, I am careful to provide opinions rather than imperatives and feel strongly that we should lead by education, not mandate.

Finally, while those who overlook or ignore the past are inevitably going to repeat it, dwelling in it is toxic. We must learn from the mistakes and good decisions, being careful not to commemorate them through endless reiteration. Be selective about your memories, lest they serve to hinder you from treasuring the present and future. Shalom.

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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.

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Can I help you?

In an age where motives may be questioned, attitudes may be suspect and actions may be misinterpreted, it seems that the four words, “Can I help you” are probably seldom heard. As I reflect on them, I find that they are probably the most powerful words that anyone can utter to another person.

For the grammarians and detail-obsessed, if you are inclined to wonder if I meant, “May I help you,” I did not. While “may” requests permission, my usage of “can” is another way of asking, “Is there any area where I may be able to assist you?”

Your first reaction to my statement may be that either the words are rarely issued, or they usually have secondary motives. But I’ve spent considerable time thinking about help. When is it the most valuable and to whom are the questions most appropriately asked?

My experience suggests that many people are reluctant to ask for help, whether out of concern for their images or because they simply don’t know how to ask. In response to that trait, I humbly offer an alternative.

If and when you need help on a task or a thought, large or small, ask for help from someone you trust. While many people in your vicinity may be eager to offer opinion, conjecture or suggestion, very often that offer is misguided or self-serving. Instead, be judicious in your choice and ask for assistance.

By doing so, you accomplish two important deeds. Your comrade, friend, confidante is enriched by the effort you have made to enlist their involvement. And clearly, you will be the recipient of information or action that is dedicated specifically to your needs.

If in the future, you can reciprocate, both parties benefit. And if there had been any question about the willingness to put forth effort on behalf of the other person, that potential reluctance is dispelled. You are available to help another while that other is amenable to helping you.

From my standpoint, someone asking me to assist is a compliment and an invitation for me to contribute something positive, to them and to the world around me. You will probably find that others share that feeling – when you ask something of them, you give them something that has meaning. If all that weren’t wonderful enough, a new and fresh insight may be the key to solving something previously insoluble. Shalom.

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When you take the time

If you’ve been in the customer service or sales business for any amount of time, you know that it can be gratifying, frustrating or a host of other adverbs. This has been the majority category of my career and I have always seen customer interaction as a method of delivering best care to benefit everyone involved.

Not so long ago, we received extraordinary care and service from a wait person. The young man who attended to us was kind, attentive, polite and interested in any and all methods of making us comfortable. At the end of the meal, I asked to speak to the manager so that I could compliment him on the hiring decision and extraordinary characteristics of our server.

The manager appeared grateful for the input and appeared to pass the compliments along to our young man who returned to express his thanks. Because this wasn’t the first or last time that I have elected to compliment management on a particular person, I find it surprising to hear how infrequently it happens.

Just as it is our responsibility to report problems with food or wait staff to management, isn’t it as much an imperative to deliver accolades? Chances are pretty good that this young man won’t experience a promotion or additional income because of my appreciation. But who’s to say how it will translate into improving his day, enhancing the care for future diners or generally benefit the atmosphere?

My suggestion is to take any opportunity to celebrate someone else. Leaving a tip is great but tell that person how much they contributed to your enjoyment of a meal. Tell your dental hygienist that he or she made your trip to the dentist much less stressful or painful. Advise your babysitter that her kindness to your kids cheers and improves you. Along the same lines, take a moment to help someone who appears to need that help. Several days ago, I paused to help a lady put her walker into her car and she was quite grateful for the small action.

The results of a few minutes of commendation or consideration are indescribable. Just as you want to hear that your life improves that of another in some way, people around you generally want to know the same. Shalom.