Monday, September 29, 2014

L’shana Tova 2014

Rosh Hashanah – the beginning of the Jewish New Year; I know that when we first start the holiday and head towards services, the summer is REALLY over, this is a time for introspection and a time to catch up with people that we have not seen during the summer.  Being an optimist, I enjoy the fact that everyone spends the time to wish each other a Happy and Healthy New Year or a Sweet Year.  We do this, knowing that a week later, we spend a full day fasting and asking forgiveness for the sins committed during the past year.

I walked up to someone that I have not seen since last year, and asked him how he is doing.  “It is Rosh Hashanah and I am in shul, so do you want to hear the truth.”  While the appropriate answer is yes (even while thinking no), I answered with the first response that came to mind.  I leaned in conspiratorially,   “You know, I always look at it this way; this is the beginning of a New Year, where we can start over and have all of the hopes, expectation and dreams of the New Year ahead of us.”  He looked at me; my answer had caught him off guard.  After a moment, he responded, “That is a great way to look at it, I did not think of that.”  Sometimes, it is merely the perspective through which we look at something that can determine our opinions and outlook on our condition and futures.

Recently, at a Toastmasters event, there was a portion of the night set aside for what we call table topics.  During this time, one person asks short questions to the people participating that evening and then picks someone out at random to answer the question.  The purpose of this exercise is to learn the skill of “thinking on one’s feet.”  The question was asked, “What was the most exciting thing that happened in your life,” and she called upon a friend of mine.  “The most exciting time in my life is right now.”   He went on to say that he HAD exciting points in his life, like when he married, the birth of his children, and all of these events make up happy memories.  But, he went on to say, right now, his future is wide open with all of his dreams and goals ahead of him, not behind.  That was what made “this moment” the most exciting for him. 

It is interesting how we ascribe certain times of the year to beginning points – New Years (potential multiple New Years), springtime (awakening of nature), or our birthdays.  We even set artificial dates to start working on goals – I will start on this after I finish that; or, when this event occurs I can start working on that.  We have built our lives on dates that mean little and that lead us to become proficient procrastinator practitioners.  And believe me, I am no different.  So, here is to a New Year, one filled with all of our hopes and expectations, new goals to strive for and old goals to keep reaching to accomplish.  Most importantly, a year where we learn to leave our yesterdays in the past, not wait for tomorrow to begin, and to take action today.

Monday, September 22, 2014


“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

“Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you.” ~ Paul Simon

Bookends, Left Side – My week had a reverse sequence of life cycle events.  Monday morning began with attending the funeral of one of our closest friend’s mother.  Saying goodbye to a loved one is always difficult, and like the song above, photographs and memories (also a Jim Croce song) are all that we have left.  While it does not matter if our loved one is sick for a long time, or the end comes quickly, we are never fully “ready” when the moment comes.  When my Mom died, she was diagnosed with cancer 8 months before she left us.  At that one single moment, there would be no more calls, no more visits, no more time spent together. 

Bookends – Monday starts the week, Friday ends the week; those two days provide a bookend to our workweek.  Most people that I know dread the start of the week, but are much more excited and happier at the end of the workweek, a mindset built around, as the Loverboy song proclaims, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.”  While I tend to look forward towards the weekend, I am usually happy when Monday comes, as in my mind I have already begun to think about the things that I will accomplish during the week, so that when the weekend comes, I can have a clear mind for the time spent with family and friends.

Bookends – This is a term, where sometime in the near future, youngsters will be perplexed as to how this came about.  Many years ago, I remember receiving in a grab bag, the gift of Batman light-up bookends.  It was cool, and I used it for a short time.  They would have been great to hold up books on a dresser, or a partially filled bookshelf.  In the age of eBooks, Kindle and Nooks, the age of bookends is going the way of the adding machine – you can still occasionally find them, but relegated under the title of novelty item, or even antiques.

Bookends, Right Side – Friday night, we attended the marriage of a friend and fellow band member’s daughter.  It was a wonderful ceremony, held outside, on the edge of a rolling hill and the Hudson River as the backdrop.  For the newlywed, this is “a time of innocence”, with all the promises and dreams of a long, wonderful life together.  For the two of them, upon completing their vows, they have begun an exciting journey, filled with the expectations of building a family and of their spending a lifetime together.  The reverse life cycle this week, for me, helped to reinforce that there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow (optimistic future). 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Standing Naked

Have you ever stood in front of a mirror naked?  Yes, I said naked and mirror in the same sentence, and I do mean looking at yourself.  I do not necessarily mean standing naked physically, but mentally or spiritually.  While I have your attention, let us talk about physically first.  If you have never done this, today might be your lucky day!  When you are standing in front of a mirror, you are probably the most honest with yourself in terms of your physical attributes.  As you look in the mirror, you have the opportunity (whether you want to or not) to see every part that is smooth, or not so smooth (as we age, this ratio changes), we see our shape, notice the size and proportions of our body parts, and see any blemishes on our body (for health reasons, this one is important).  When we start our day and get dressed, we prepare ourselves for how we wish other people to see us.  When I had gained weight a few years ago, I wore slightly baggy shirts to de-emphasize my belly.  When people complimented me on looking like I lost weight, I politely thanked them, yet knew better and was bothered by the deceit.

Walking naked up to a mirror is simple, provided you have a full-length mirror.  What about viewing the naked you mentally and spiritually?  Where can you find a mirror that will expose our inner selves?  And, would we potentially scare ourselves by what we see?  I have met people in my life (as I am sure you have), that when you meet them, you notice that there might be some possibility of physical beauty until they open their mouth.  They talk negatively, or are not nice people, and then you notice, that their appearance has lost the possibility of physical beauty and matches their personality.  If you meet those same people years later, their visage may appear more scowling. On the other hand, I have met older people that have a younger, friendlier face and actually have the personality to match.  But that is judging, or observing, other people.

Last year, during the summer, I went to my brother’s house to use his pool.  I was feeling kind of down, as my father had just had a stroke.  With doctor and hospital visits, I was drained emotionally, spiritually and physically.  No one was at his house.  I ended up floating in the water looking up at the sky.  It provided me with a chance to look at myself, what I was doing and where I was going.  I realized that I had been short with some people and found ways not to face situations beyond my dad.  During this “me time” I was able to reflect and mentally stand naked in front of myself.  How often do we take the time mentally to review ourselves?  I found it was rare that I did this.  This was for me to evaluate me, to evaluate myself, not how other people see me nor compare me to anyone else.  For other people, I could act anyway I wish, but at the end of the day, only I stand by myself when I am naked in front of the mirror.

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Baby Is A Senior!

OMG!  When did this happen?  Bec is now a High School senior!  A friend of ours in Florida recently commented on her kids going back to school and next year having two children in college.  This morning, I find myself in the same shoes and it is a weird feeling.  My usual morning starts at 5:30, and over the past few years I would wake up Bec at 6:30.  Due to working on a project with a team in Hong Kong and Australia late at night, my wake up time has shifted.  Last night, I did ask if she wanted me to wake her up, to which she answered no.  At 6:20, I was staring at the ceiling wondering if Bec’s alarm would go off.  I was going to be strong – she is a senior!  In my mind, I had my old alarm clock next to me, the kind before there were digital displays and the numbers were more like the tabs on a rolodex…for every minute that passed, you would hear the click of the number being release to update the time.  I laid there waiting for that sound, which, of course, never came. 

6:25…My mind started to wander back through time, about 34 years ago, to my senior year in High School.  Time and distance meant that I remembered only bits and pieces.  At 19, I was old enough to go into a liquor store and buy beer, except I really did not start drinking until college.  We used to go out every weekend to parties or just to hang out.  It was an exciting year as we all had a taste of some form of freedom and really began to take the college selection seriously.  I know we had classes, but do not really remember that part at all…

6:28…Oh, great, that killed time…Three days ago, we were all up early as it was time to take Gab back to college.  The summer was definitely over when it is time to head out to school.  We picked up bagels for the car ride and off the four of us went.  Two hours later, we were at her school waiting for our turn to move in.  It was over 90 degrees and Gab and her roommates were moving into an on-campus suite with no air conditioning.  We all smiled and joked through the dripping sweat, setting up fans to cool the room down, loft the bed and setup her room.  It was nice that after moving in, all four of the families went out together for lunch.  Afterwards, we did some shopping, and then left her for the night.  That was one child ready for school.

6:31…I better get out of bed and check on Bec.  I knock on her door and open it.  Her head pops up off the pillow, and I casually say “It’s 6:30.”  “OK” was the response.  2 minutes later I go back to make sure she is out of bed, which she is.  I go back to bed.  Why am I anxious? At a little after 7:00, I head downstairs to the kitchen, where I started to type these thoughts; I do not really want Bec to think I got up just to see her off.  At 7:20, Bec says good-bye and I wish her a great day.  Today is her first day of school.  Today is her first day of her senior year.  Today is her first day of new classes.  For Bec, today is a first day.  Then it hits me…today is the last day, after 15 years, that I will see a child off on their first day of school.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I Dare You to Step Over That Line

There is a great routine in one of the Bugs Bunny cartoons where Yosemite Sam is harassing Bugs, as usual.  Bugs draws a line in the sand and dares Sam to step over it.  Sam takes the dare, so Bugs draws another line.  Again, Sam steps over the line…this bit continues until Bugs draws the last line and Sam steps over it, falling over the side of a cliff.  No matter how many times I see this, I laugh!  Unlike, in the cartoon, how many times have we come to a line drawn in the sand and are afraid to step over it?  It is almost as if the line is a boundary we are afraid to cross, or a fear of leaving our comfort zone.

I had the experience where I was traveling during the anniversary of my mother’s death.  It is customary in the Jewish religion to attend a service on the anniversary of a parent, sibling or child’s passing.  Usually, I meet up with my father and my brothers to attend the service, but this time, I was away on business in a foreign country.  I did a little research, sent out an email and found a place for me to go near the office I was working out of in Hong Kong.  My personal comfort zone would be to do nothing and avoid going to an unfamiliar place, even if I knew that I would regret not going.  I went in the evening at the given time.  I stepped out of my comfort zone into a room of what must have served as a comfort zone for the people there.  They barely acknowledged that there was a Wayne in the room.  I asked for a book.  I am in a foreign speaking country, and now in a room of Hebrew speaking people and I am the only English-speaking person. I received no pleasantries, not even a minimal inquiry such as where are you from, what brings you to our temple – AWKWARD!  

I left a bit downtrodden after that.  I knew that I had to go again in the morning, but not there.  When I called home, I was ready to throw in the towel.  Debbie reminded me why I went in the first place, and that going to the service was something I wanted to do.  She was right (again…).  The next morning, I went to a different place and had a different experience.  I was greeted by the Rabbi and he asked questions such as where are you from, what brings you to our temple.  He even asked across the room if I would be in town Friday night.  He paid attention to me, made me feel welcome, comfortable.  Afterward, they invited me to join them for breakfast.  I stuffed some extra money in their donation box.

I realize that I had some difficulty stepping outside my comfort zone, but I also lost focus as to what I wanted to do.  I almost let someone make me feel uncomfortable enough not to pursue my goal.  Yosemite Sam did not pause before crossing the line.  I not only paused, but almost chose not to cross it.  In the end, I am glad I did.