Sunday, November 23, 2014
When I Have a 50th Birthday in July, God Willing, I Might Host a Celebration
When I turned 35, I hosted a party in our backyard and haven't hosted a birthday party since then, as my wife Pat never wanted one for any of her big birthdays. It seems appropriate to celebrate this upcoming milestone, which I hope, God willing, to be healthy for.
Right now, I'm having some scary health challenges, where I might have nothing wrong, or I might, God forbid, have cancer in my cervix, my endometrium and my breasts, and I won't know more until mid-December, so I keep trying to distract myself with work and Pat and cultural things like plays, the Rockettes and TV. Note added on December 29th: Am mostly out of the woods, that is, the polyps in my cervix and endometrium are no longer there and they are benign. Just getting a breast aspirated in mid-January and that's likely Ok, too, thank God.
Yesterday morning, I thought, if I'm healthy, I must host a party for my 50th this summer, and if so, I want it to feature music that would keep me dancing practically the entire time. And I hope that most of the people I'd invite would be willing to do a lot of dancing, too.
If I do host a party, I want to blast these tunes from our back deck and have family and friends spill out beyond the deck into the yard for dancing:
A few songs from my earliest years:
The rest are faves from my older sisters' records and then what I loved from the radio:
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Escaping, Through Music, But Not Really
Starting at 1:40, which is probably where it always began when DJs played it on WBLS-FM, the song almost makes me forget my grief. Almost:
It's a great time when songs like this are playing on the radio -- my dad's employed again and I'm learning Disco and Ballroom dancing from David Jones in my hometown, Stamford, Connecticut, so that I feel like I belong at the 11 Bar Mitzvahs and six Bat Mitzvahs I attend between 1977 and '78.
This song comes a year later, but it's the sort we Hustled to at all of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah receptions, and I miss it today. Who knew then that five years later, my dad (z"l) would be dead of common bile-duct cancer?
This next song...
...also gets good about 30 seconds in and almost makes me pound away the blues of my pastoral session from earlier today. A Rabbinical Intern at our shul, wants to know what God would say to me after I ask, "When can I just fall apart?"
"Never," God says, I tell her. He says, "Keep going. It won't serve you to fall apart."
At ~1:20 in, God might as well say:
Or He could be as Kind as a number of the Psalms and pledge:
The Rabbinical Intern tells me, "Let's look at Psalm Chaf Zayin. Keep reading."
I read aloud, "For my father and my mother [in that order] have left me; but the Lord will take me up."
"Do you believe that you can let God into your life to help you?" The Rabbinical Intern asks me and I'm almost embarrassed at her revival-style inquiry.
"I *can*, yes, but will I?" I say, barely aloud.
Last night on Twitter, a former Modern Orthodox Jewish day schoolmate and I had an exchange of tweets around an article that compared and contrasted coming out as Atheist to coming out as lesbian, gay, bi or trans. He's an Atheist and one of only three friends of mine who identifies as Atheist...that I know of. He's definitely not:
Didn't God give me this great music for dancing, escaping, wanting to live, for hope and joy, even in the midst of my sadness and fury?
Can't I shut my eyes right now, even as I'm typing and be transported through the furniture from *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe*? Dancing the whole way! God, for a moment, I've become even younger than Bat Mitzvah age.
Now, back to the present, where I feel very alone. Indeed, Pat is not home right now, but even with Phoebe, the kitty, here in her plush bucket-bed next to me on the floor, I'm just by myself, except for my Disco and Funk friends:
What if I could time-travel and heed the eventual call of this video to go to Barbados for a weekend in 2010, for three days and nights of "Pure Rare Grooves"? There's no such thing as a geographic cure, they say, but it doesn't stop me from wanting to escape my mourning. I am parentless. I am childless. Who will mourn for me? Ok, that was melodramatic.
Ever since I went to a '70's dance party at my friends' Stephanie and Laura, I'm craving dancing in public, and there seem to be fewer opportunities for public dancing than when I was younger. "Don't stop me and I won't stop you," as this song commands:
"Are you angry at God?" asks the Rabbinical Intern.
Later, I think of an answer: Not when I'm dancing, or rollerblading:
Or "Funkin' for Jamaica" and getting to see the beautiful, female singer for the first time by watching the video, which I usually don't like to do; what they produce is always less appealing to me than what I see in my head. Not this time, though. And the mens' spirit is uplifting. They love making the music maybe more than any musicians I've ever seen.
The Psalm book I was reading from today had been a gift to my mom (z"l) from me. I inscribed it 15 years ago, in 5760 of the Hebrew calendar:
May these Psalms comfort you whenever and wherever you need comforting.
When the Rabbinical Intern and I were talking earlier, why didn't I notice that my mom (z"l) had underlined part of the last sentence of the very Psalm that the Intern asked me to read aloud, "...be strong, and let thy heart be of good courage...."
Saturday, October 4, 2014
The Right Way to Mourn
What's the right way to mourn? Is it OK to be checking out a row of two appealing couples of women sitting behind us during Shacharit services at Yom Kippur? Is it all right to be resenting every older person I see among the congregation for being alive while my mother (z"l) is not?
How about leaving Yom Kippur services right after Yizkor, the service where we honor dead family, and skipping the rest? Can I blame that on my grief? Last year, my mother (z"l) was with us for Yizkor, so there was no question that we'd be leaving right afterwards, since she was older and said she could not sit for that long.
Feeding My Demons vs. Myself
One of our two rabbinical interns, Ruhi Sophia Rubenstein, delivered a drash (sermon) this morning that talked of feeding, rather than trying to starve, our demons. She recounted the story of Plimo and Satan from Ein Yaakov: The Ethical and Inspirational Teachings of the Talmud.
She gave an example of the danger of trying, say, to thwart the urge to gossip. Instead, she suggested, those who love to gossip can look at what it is about themselves that loves information and stories.
I'm not sure I can have an I-Thou relationship with any of my demons, or how I'd prioritize their presence. One of my demons, as I've come to see it, is sugar. I've not eaten any refined sugar, honey, fructose, barley malt, molasses, rice syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, jaggery, brown sugar or sugar substitutes like saccharin or Splenda... for more than 20 years, ever since I realized that I felt allergic to it and it made me feel super-unhealthy. Same with alcohol, which turns right into sugar. And then 10 years ago, an ENT specialist, Dr. Kenneth Brookler, suggested that in my particular case, I could not tolerate most stuff that turns into sugar, including flour, potatoes, rice, corn, and sweeter nuts and fruits, like pecans, macadamias, figs, dates, pineapple, grapefruit, mango, melon...so I stopped eating those foods, too.
How ironic would it be if dafke (for precise spite) on Yom Kippur, I went ahead and fed my demon itself? How have I not done that on Yom Kippur, since 1990? I've not eaten sugar on Yom Kippur by not fasting. I've eaten three meals a day with nothing in between, just like I do every day because I don't ever want to be so ravenous that I grab whatever's closest, which could be something sugary.
Grief Is a Gift
Ruhi made another suggestion that moved me earlier today, asking that instead of "beating" our hearts with our fist, as the liturgy suggests we do during the "Al Chet", we simply knock on them gently, each knock, hoping that our heart will open a bit more.
This suggestion, to knock on our hearts, struck me additionally as a way to wake up my heart. During my physical recently, I learned that I have Right Bundle Branch Block (RBBB), which means that sometimes, my heart beats a bit too slowly. Today, I felt like each knock was an attempt to pep up my heart to full wakefulness.
If my heart were not just fully open, but also fully awake, I think I would feel -- all the time -- like I did when the miraculous Sally Wilfert sang one of our congregant, William Finn's, "Anytime (I Am There)" from his "Elegies". You can hear it for yourself from her by going to ~5:30 of this beautiful video. My wife Pat & I were fortunate to run into Sally Wilfert as she headed toward a bathroom after her performance and I didn't detain her long -- just long enough to squeeze her hand and say, "Thank you for making it possible for me to cry." She smiled luminously and with kindness.
While Rabbi Kleinbaum encouraged us just prior to Yizkor that numbness is also a feeling, nothing's as cleansing as a good cry when I feel sad (and nothing like a good laugh when I'm happy, and also, sometimes when I'm sad, too). Of course, such strong feelings are enervating, so I'm beat now and most of me just wants to lie down and fall asleep...but I recall Ruhi's encouragement to wake up my heart, so I need the rest of me to stay awake, too.
"Sarah Must Have Smiled"
I've been writing about feeling sad here, yet the sun has come out while I've been blogging. Whenever the weather turned from gloomy to sunny, my mother (z"l) always used to say, "Sarah must have smiled." Maybe I smiled for a moment a bit ago, recalling one of the lyrics from "Anytime (I Am There)", "Anytime you wash your hands/ I'll be around." I'm 49 and to this day, any time my mom (z"l) saw me emerge from a bathroom, reflexively, she asked, "Did you wash your hands?" I guess now, she won't need to, since she is there "anytime [I] wash [my] hands".
Sunday, August 24, 2014
The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
The outdoor rink affiliated with my nursery school, the New Canaan Country School on Frogtown Road: where I learned to ice skate at four. Skating forward, 'round and 'round till my cheeks were wind-burned was simple. Skating backwards like classmates Jane, Alicia and Laura, never was. Disliked having to stop for the Zamboni. It seemed to take forever. I think instrumental music was pumped out of PA speakers around the rink, but the hit then was "Leaving on a Jet Plane".
Why go to the rink when I could skate on the pond of our neighbors, DiDi and Helene? It was tiny and full of lumps that made me trip -- not smooth like the rink. Still, how fun to be in our own neighborhood with skates on! I recall trying it only once and it was still so special, like a secret garden. This song, I think, was playing in the Charlie Brown Christmas special when the Peanuts characters were skating on the pond.
After transferring to the Modern Orthodox Jewish Bi-Cultural Day School from New Canaan Country School at six, ice skating was something I did a couple of times with former classmates -- an excuse to see them. Could there have been a rink under where the State Theater is now in Springdale, in Stamford? I didn't aspire to be Peggy Fleming like the other girls, and didn't dress like an ice ballerina. One of that year's hits, The Carpenters' "For All We Know" could easily have been among the songs pumped in, if the rink featured music...can't recall. Gave up ice skating.
At seven and 12, my parents dropped off my older, middle sister Kathy and me at the Jewish Community Center in Stamford, when it was still on Strawberry Hill Avenue for a Sunday morning of rollerskating around the giant wood-floored auditorium. I don't remember music, just the sound of the loaned, clip-on, rattle-ridden metal roller skates. The JCC had skates for everyone, but the skates hobbled me, rather than inspired me. Still, it was a foretaste of better times on skates.
At the height of the Disco craze, the toy company my dad worked for asked him to design a bag for kids' roller skates. For "research", he bought me a pair of sneaker-skates at Caldor, which I still have. Anita Ward & Co. inspired my boogieing up and down Hickory Road, across from the house where I grew up, practically daily -- weather permitting -- from 13-17. This, among so many others, was such a magical, moving tune.
Our Jewish Community Center took a field trip to a roller rink and my dad (z"l) agreed to go with me. He had always talked of how as a kid, he had rollerskated from his house on 10th and G SW to the Library of Congress and back routinely and I couldn't imagine it. The version of him I knew was like an ad for a Big & Tall shop. And I doubted the rink would have rental skates in his size, 13EEE. Still, I looked forward to his watching me skate at a minimum. Fifteen minutes after we arrived at the rink, the two of us, along with many other JCC families, were out on the floor -- Disco skating stars for the afternoon, if not exactly looking the part. I was scared to see my dad (z"l) on skates at first, expecting him to fall, but lap after lap, he was confidently upright and moving fast, with a big smile on his face. The only pop song the quality of which we agreed on during any of this era was "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder.
Brought my roller skates with me to Israel when I stayed with my cousins in Moshav Beit Herut for the summer at 15. George Benson's 1980 hit blasted from the speakers that my same-age cousin Nitza pointed at the street for me. I skate-danced on the village street between their house and my sabta's (grandmother's) across from them. Nitza humored me and watched. I don't think my sabta and Aunt Tovah were home.
At 16, I told my mom I was going to NYC to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and took a public bus to the train station, wearing my roller skates in my backpack. When I got to the Met, I kept walking behind it, into Central Park. I had heard on WBLS-FM that there was an outdoor area there where everyone roller skated. I saw a policeman on a motorcycle and waived to him. He stopped and I asked for directions to the rink. He said, "Get on," and took me there. It was the best music I could have wished for, including Evelyn Champagne King's "I'm in Love" and I felt like I was the youngest one there, skating along with adults who seemed as though they'd either gotten off the night shift or were unemployed. Everyone, especially me, was joyous. I didn't tell my mom (z"l) about my adventure till several years ago.
None of my high school friends roller skated and few of them liked Disco. As Class Treasurer, it was my choice where to go on our class trip, which was also a fund raiser. When I chose a disco roller rink, everyone I knew said, That's not going to make *any* money. They were wrong. We had to get more buses than we had planned and we made a healthy profit. Skip to My Lou...
At 23, a handsome woman reminiscent of George Michael in the '90s -- without the five-o'clock shadow -- and I dated in Chicago for a short time and she did me a giant favor: We were at the Lakefront on the North Side when she suggested I borrow her Rollerblades to see how easy they were to use, and they were! Maybe it was because I had ice skated on single blades, maybe it was because the boots were rigid plastic, maybe it was because the wheels were so tall and I felt majestic. Bought my own immediately and from then on, skated along the Lakefront for seven years while living in Metro-Chicago to songs ranging from Soul II Soul's "Keep on Movin'" to Nirvana's "Come As You Are" to Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason".
Before joining IBM, I worked for a joint venture of IBM and Sears and while our CEO worked in the same building as I in Schaumburg, Illinois, my manager Rusty and the rest of the team were based in Tampa, Florida in a corporate park across from the Buccaneers' football stadium. When I visited Rusty & the team in Tampa in the early-mid-'90s, I'd take along my Rollerblades and after hours drive to University of South Florida and dodge cars in its vast parking lots. Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" was always on the rental car radio and I wasn't bold enough to join Tuesday skate-nights in Ybor City, though I'd watch the hordes from a restaurant I loved, where people could bring their dogs.
When my wife Pat & I moved to Montclair, New Jersey in mid-May of 1996, for her job as the VP of Business & Finance at Montclair State University, we lived in an on-campus, high-rise apartment for several weeks until we could get into our house. The parking lot at the base of the building became my private rollerblading rink, since I went out there in the early mornings. Favorite tunes then came from Maxwell, especially "Sumthin' Sumthin'". It was a mysterious, hopeful time; we were in a new place, yet back on the East coast near my family, then in Stamford, Queens and Brooklyn.
It was the first house that Pat & I bought together, and we still live here 18 years later. The day we moved in, I shoved my feet into my Rollerblade boots and took a spin on the deck attached to the back of the house. Before we put deck furniture on it, it was big enough to rollerblade around! If I had been listening to music then, I'd have liked to hear Black Street's "No Diggity".
First, the town re-paved Grove Street and I'd sweep down it from the corner of Alexander all the way past Walnut and back on early Saturday mornings when the traffic was light. Wore my bike helmet and listened to CDs from stars, including Aaliyah of blessed memory. My fave: "Hot Like Fire".
Then Montclair paved Park Street. That was more challenging, as I'd skate up and down Alexander to Park, and we live in the foothills of the Watchung Mountains; it was much steeper than any hill I'd encountered in the Midwest -- other than the times I'd been skiing and mountain biking in the Kettle Morain area of Wisconsin. Most likely, I was bobbing to Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It".
At IBM's world marketing headquarters in Somers, New York, my officemate at the time Jennifer and our ibm.com/software colleagues Todd and Bob decided to bring our rollerblades to work one day. We agreed we'd skate around the 730-acre I.M. Pei-architected campus. That early-summer evening, there was no music, just the sound of the wind in our ears as we sped down a part the steepness of which I'd never really noticed while in my car. Back then, we were the jean-clad youth of the Software Group in Building 1.
At seven, our niece Zoe opted to have her birthday party at the ice rink nearest her home in Jamaica Estates, New York. She and her friends were unlike the mini-Peggy Flemings with whom I had skated at their age. With falls galore and still an inexplicable attraction to the ice, Zoe and one of her especially flailing friends were making wall-hugging circuits till I laced up and joined them. I was the giant my dad (z"l) had been to so many at the '70s roller rink, and I held both their hands till they took turns individually, being spotted by me -- holding them up -- and propelled forward in parallel as I skated directly behind them. If music was playing, it wasn't The Carpenters, but rather something along the lines of Janet Jackson's "All For You".
...in the sense of possibility and also in the sense of mightiness! Finding well-fitting Salomon inline skates in a skate store in a London suburb during a business trip made me feel like anything was possible, and then it was. I didn't put on my iPod till I navigated away from the cobblestone-surrounded shop to the Thames; it was treacherous, trying to get through the stone-paved streets and I did it without falling, and then it was a gorgeous ride. I passed a pond filled with sculptures of nymphs and it was a luscious, relatively sunny jaunt back to my colleague and friends' Liz & Kate's home. By then, I had all of my faves uploaded to my iPod, so I could listen to oldies like the British group Imagination's "Illusion".
The best pre-after-hours part of my mid-2000's business trip to Las Vegas was not the rollerblading I did on the Sunset Strip that Sunday afternoon -- it was like trying to skate through Times Square and the cross-walks were super-awkward -- but rather my discovery of another, freer spot; when I learned that the gym at the MGM Grand, where we were staying, cost US$25/day to use, I opted to rollerblade up and down the vast halls on the floor where I was staying. The carpet was thin enough that it didn't really slow me down and fortunately, no one called Security to make me stop. More iPod oldies accompanied me, including Phyllis Hyman's "You Know How to Love Me".
When I was nearly 16, my dad (z"l) taught me to drive at High Ridge Office Park. Nearly a quarter of a century later, long after my dad's death from cancer in 1982, I parked the car in the corporate park and my mom (z"l) agreed to sit in it and watch as I sailed around the pavement of one of the properties on my 'blades. For part of it, I asked her to let me play the radio and I skated nearby, so that she could hear the tunes and see my interpretation of them. Because I didn't want to blast her ears for a solid 30 minutes, I also used my iPod. The treat was the skating, but of course, also my mom (z"l) -- by then in her eighties -- watching me do something I loved. Once I put on my iPod, I skated further away and she lowered the car-seat and took a nap. Songs might have included Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World".
In "Excuse" above, I mentioned that as a seven-year-old, I did not feel at home amongst my female peers, did not feel that I fit in -- both skating-skill-wise and in terms of my on-ice appearance. How delicious then to go 'blading with my colleague and friend, Esther, once on the Lake in Toronto while visiting her and her girlfriend with Pat and once while she and Lynn were visiting us in Montclair. No music either time and instead, just compatible -- and by now cool-looking -- women, making their way with fun authority.
By 40-something, I was fully self-possesed as my friend Stacy and I skated around Felice's & her neighborhood in Maplewood. The two of us, I felt -- whether it was true or just a feeling -- looked powerful and even pretty. What a difference from my seven-year-old insecurities. If a song had been playing from that time, it could have been "Life Is a Highway".
Brought my skates with me on a business trip to Milan. Necessarily, was staying out near the airport and the consolation was that the hotel sat right next to a giant park with a well-paved path. The final night, I was changing into skating clothes and the clouds burst open. The rain stopped half an hour later, but it wasn't safe to skate on the wet surface of the pavement. Instead, I grabbed my cameraphone and took a cab into the city and ate dinner along the river at a restaurant I had read about in "The New York Times", then stopped at a Middle Eastern place for cherries as dessert.
On our way back from an Alaskan cruise for Pat's 60th birthday, we stopped in Vancouver for a few days. My biggest goal while there was to rollerblade by the ocean in Stanley Park. We stayed at the old Fairmont and the concierge gave me a pocket-sized street-map and good directions that involved an elevator down to the pedestrian path along the water. I had to use the bike-lane to get over to the water and it was a weekday. I went at 8 am and there was a decent amount of traffic, but I felt safe and brave at once. The best part, besides the gorgeous views and music, including Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", was the bottle of water the concierge handed me upon my return.
This past spring, I brought my skates with me to Columbia University Teachers College's Academic Festival. Figured that during lunch I could find a place to go 'blading. Ended up at the war memorial off of 120th under a bright sun with just enough students and tourists to show off in front of. Esther, Toronto, Stacy, Maplewood and the Thames -- it was as lovely as that. Around and around, skating to T.S. Monk's "Bon Bon Vie" and more, and then back to the seminars at TC, feeling like my mind and body were at their peak.
It has been more than the time amassed by a jubilee that I've been roller skating and 'blading, and in the past several years, I've found a new skating place: Jubilee Park in Clifton, New Jersey, a couple of miles from our house. It's quiet, nearly private and offers two, huge, paved rings for my skating pleasure. Recently, I told my mom (z"l) that it's so safe, I don't even need to wear a helmet when I skate there and she was upset. "Don't tell me that. What if you fall?" Since her death on June 4th, I've gone once and worn a helmet, and always will, I guess. "Problem" is a 2014 song I never tire of; it makes me hopeful that not all of the good skating songs are in the past.
The Lakefront with Irishfest music in the background was picturesque, but the real soothing time was a solitary ride I took on the Beverly Hill Trail in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Starting at the end of Nassau Lane and past Brookfield Academy to the area arts center, I listened to "Tears Fall Down", "Breakout", "Relax" and more. During none of the time did I wonder, Why did my mom (z"l) have to die? How can it be that I can never again call her? Never again take her for a birthday meal? Never again tell her about our cute cats or a trip Pat and I are taking? Never again tell her about a happy event at work? Never again read her something I've blogged?
Sunday, August 3, 2014
The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
These Songs Help Me Feel My Sadness Around the Loss of My Mom (z"l)
Not all of the lyrics are sad, but all of the melodies make me feel sad, and not all of the melodies are entirely sad, but sometimes the lyrics are. And sometimes, they're neither, but they remind me of sad times. And sometimes, they're just moving to me in a sort of sad way.
It Never Entered My Mind by Rodgers & Hart, sung by Ella Fitzgerald - This was the song that made my mom (z"l) sad after my dad (z"l) died.
Yo Ya by Poogy - reminds me of dancing to the record in the living room where I grew up, the living room that we'll be listing along with the rest of the house tomorrow, to be sold.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
Putting a Brave Face On It
This is the first day I've put on makeup since my mom (z"l) died on June 4th:
Pat said, "You look like your mother. At first, I thought that was a younger picture of your mother."
It has been 13 weeks since my last haircut. At first, I was honoring Shloshim, but now, I have three reasons for not cutting my hair:
- When it's longer, it's wavier and my mom's (z"l) hair was wavy; it's a way of hanging onto her.
- I feel young in my grief, not youthful, but like a teen again, like I was when my dad (z"l) died and my hair was longer then, too.
- The longer my hair is, the more vulnerable I feel for whatever gender-stereotype reasons and it makes sense to me that my outside should match the way I feel inside these days.
This picture is not flattering, I know, but it's really how things are right now and I felt like documenting this time.
Friday, June 27, 2014
Pat & I were going to go to shul, so I could say The Mourner's Kaddish publicly, but the service tonight honors LGBT Pride, so as I posted in a Facebook status update earlier, I opted out, thinking it would feel more festive than I felt. Instead, we finished binge-watching Derek, a superbly poignant series about an autistic man who works in a home for the aged.
Here are the last books my mom ever read or considered reading with her book group:
- The Fallen Angel
- A Lucky Child
- A Walker in the City
- The Canterbury Tales
- Jews Without Money
- I Married a Communist
Here are the books I've taken out of the library since her death:
- The Orphaned Adult
- Matters of Honor
- Rose of No Man's Land
- How Animals Grieve
- The Other Side of Sadness
- Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas - Simple tips for understanding and expressing your grief
- Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve
The two best book recommendations my mom ever made to me were The Crock of Gold and Cutting for Stone. The first novel was about magic and love and the second, about yearning and grief, and living through both.
That's where I am now -- grateful for the magical parts of my life and for all of the love I experience and express, but living through yearning for, and grief around, my mother (z"l).
I wish I could check out of real-life till I finish reading all seven of the books I listed above, if not also the ones from my mother's book group list (though I don't want to re-read *The Canterbury Tales*).
Suddenly, I was jealous of my age when my dad died -- 17 -- as I thought about how many fewer responsibilities I had then, but that's not really true. I had to continue showing up to high school and had to do well enough to get to go to college. I also forgot to consider how love-lorn I was as well; I had a secret girlfriend then, who was already a freshman at a too-far-away college, and I knew my attachment wasn't requited, not really.
So compared to when my dad died in November of '82, I didn't have love or meaningful work then, but I also didn't have to settle my parent's estate, like my sisters and I do now, now that we're the only adults left in the upper-part of the chain. My other responsibilities, to Pat and our kitties Phoebe and Toonces, and to my management and the team I manage at work, and are more welcome than not at this time. I can always renew the library books....
Sunday, June 8, 2014
My Two Sisters and Three of Their Children Delivered Eulogies, Too, and This Is Mine:
When my mom of blessed memory stopped driving several years ago, she started hitchhiking. With her walker. She’d take a bus, cab or senior shuttle to a destination and then when she was ready to go home, if she didn’t spot someone she recognized from her 50+ years in Stamford, she would look for kind people and she’d simply ask if they were going her way. Practically every time, they said they were, and then they put her walker in their trunk and off they went.
Just last week, something unprecedented happened, my mom reported -– something even lovelier than a ride home; a man at Trader Joe’s on High Ridge Road insisted on paying my mother’s $14 grocery bill because he said, she reminded him of his grandmother. The man made my mom’s day!
In Twitter, as my wife Pat drove us back from the funeral home, I tweeted that my mom (z”l), gave me a sense of adventure and my Yiddishkeit. I’m not yet quite as adventurous as my mom – I don’t routinely hitchhike, for example, but I’m confident that I’m as experimental at work as I am because of my mom’s adventuresome example. When I was a kid, my mom invited me to try all sorts of museums and music lessons, swimming, tennis, golf, and ski lessons, and all sorts of art and nature classes.
Sometimes, she pushed me a bit too far with her adventure-sense, like when we were in the most ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem when I was eight and she had me wearing pants because it was February and relatively cold, and suddenly an older man grabbed my arm and urged, “Minchah, Minchah, Minyan!” I was tall and short-haired, just like now, and he mistook me for a boy that had already had his bar mitzvah and who could help complete the needed quorum of men for afternoon services.
I was terrified, but at my mother’s urging, I followed the man and donned one of the yarmulkes they provided in a box at the doorway of the sanctuary and then imitated the way the boys in my Modern Orthodox Jewish day school prayed. We never talked about that experience until I was an adult and when I asked why she had urged me on, she said, “I wanted you to have the experience and besides, why should you be excluded?” To my mom, it was an adventure not to be missed.
My mom, as I mentioned in my tweet, also gave me my sense of Yiddishkeit. When my sisters and I sat in the all-night Bull’s Head Diner with our spouses a couple nights ago, writing a draft of our mom’s obituary, it contained the word, Jew, Jewish or Judaica no fewer than nine times... in less than a page! My mother transmitted the best of what being Jewish could mean. By her example, she taught us always to advocate for social justice.
For example, in 1993, when Pat and I still lived in Illinois, my mom decided that she wanted to join the March on Washington for human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. So she went with the bus that Congregation Beth Simchat Torah chartered. The synagogue is dedicated to LGBT congregants and our supporters. Since moving to Montclair, New Jersey 18 years ago, Pat & I have belonged to the congregation. But in 1993, we didn't yet live in Montclair, didn't yet belong to the shul and my mom went without us. A woman close to my mom’s age began talking with my mom some minutes into the ride to D.C. Thinking the woman was flirting with her, my mother told me she said, “I’m here for my *daughter*.”
And then my mom said that a younger woman popped up from the seat next to the woman and said, “Well, I’m here for my *mother*.” The three of them had a great march. I’m grateful that God gave me my particular mother and I pray that I can remain grateful for the time I had with her and not drown in my sense of loss. She would not want me to drown.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
"Joy and pain are like sunshine and rain" -- Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
I'm not sure which photo moves me more. Last night, I photographed the nearly in-bloom peonies in the rain and this afternoon, they were sunbathing in full bloom. I witnessed their sun bath when I returned from rollerblading. I lay down on the lawn and photographed them.
Music Joint-filled Jaunt
I have a semi-secret place I go to rollerblade, where I don't need to wear a helmet and where I can sing along to my iPod with no fear of cars. I'm not a fancy figure-skating type, but I'm highly-proficient, with 45 years of skating experience. After swimming, ice-skating was the first sport I learned -- both at four years old. Today's jaunt featured 30 minutes worth of the "B"'s of my iPod:
- Baghdad Cafe (Callin' U), A:Xus - At 22, the lyrics, "...a desert road from Vegas to nowhere, someplace better than where you've been" helped me end the first full-fledged relationship I had with another woman, as I figured that a road to nowhere would still be better than where I had been.
- Be Near Me, ABC - In high school, my friend and her family were new immigrants and lived in a condo, rather than a house, but they had MTV and we didn't. Roxy Music and ABC were featured on it at the time.
- Beautiful, Bombay Rockers - I cannot relate to the girl to whom they're referring in this song, as they say she's in 7th Grade and everyone's mean to her because they are jealous of her. In 7th Grade, I was just willing myself to develop and be noticed by anyone for something other than being tall.
- Beautiful, Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Her music is among my favorite for rollerblading; it transports me beyond where the rollerblades can because her voice is lush and she's usually telling a story I relate to, or imagine I could. I can't recall when I first heard Me'Shell Ndegeocello's music -- probably when I lived in Chicago -- but I've loved it ever since.
- Beautiful Girl, Bombay Rockers - When Pat & I lived in Bangalore for six months in 2007, a helpful Planet M employee recommended the Bombay Rockers when I asked him to suggest an Indian pop group whose music was cheerful with a beat.
- Beautiful Stranger, Madonna - This album reminds me of being with a couple of IBM colleagues in Madrid, Kris and Miguel. They took me dancing at a lesbian club and Madonna's latest music played then. This song was older, but it still conjured that time for me as I was rollerblading today. "Hung Up", I think, was one of the current hits then, in 2006.
- Before I Let Go, Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly - The melody was so cheerful, but it belied the singer's reluctance to let go of his beloved, and so when it first came out in '81 and now, I ignored the lyrics and focused on the good mood its melody inspired in me.
As I pulled off my wrist-guards and 'blades, "The Best Is Yet to Come" was playing and I couldn't wait to get home to work on this blog-post. As it has turned out, I could detail only memories triggered by my iPod playlist and then needed to leave the rest of it overnight. It was too challenging to write this next part. But today, a day later, I'm moved to do so:
It's Facebook's Fault
The other night, in my Facebook stream, I saw a picture of my first and former best friend's mom from when she was probably in her early-20s. My former best friend's older brother and only sibling had posted it on Mother's Day as a memorial tribute. She was a beautiful woman whose features were so different from any of the women's in my family; she was blond with a bit of an upturned nose and seemed exotic to me. She died several years ago, but I found out only recently. Even after my friend and I were no longer friends, our mothers remained friends for 35 years, until my former friend's mom moved away. My mother wondered aloud with me recently, "I wonder if she is still alive. I'm afraid she isn't."
"I'll go on Facebook and see if I can find out." And I searched for the brother's name and found him. Yes, their beloved mother had died several years ago. And she was sort of another, early mother to me, too. What was an appropriate amount of grief for someone I had known for only four years, 40 years ago?
A Hot Dog with Every Visit
My former best friend and I met when we were four, in nursery school. I'd get off the bus with her from school nearly daily and then I was there on weekends, too. I took it for granted. It was automatic. My sisters were more than half a decade and nearly a decade older than I, and at my friend's house, the kids -- my former friend and her brother -- were my age or just a few years older. My former friend's brother became as close as I'd ever get to having a brother and their curly, sweet Airedale became a quasi-pet for me. Relatively, their dad wasn't around as often as their mom, and their mom became another mother to me. She fed us, asking what we'd like for lunch and I always asked for a hot dog. At home, my mother made salami and eggs sometimes, but hot dogs were only for dinner and not very commonly.
At school, we learned to ice-skate and my former friend was a better skater than I, learning to skate backwards sooner and she took figure-skating lessons. By contrast, I was steady and confident minus any tricks; that steadiness served me for rollerskating and rollerblading, starting in my early teens. During my jaunt yesterday, I thought of the little rink by our school, where we'd go throughout the winters from ages four to eight. Probably, she kept going there, but I don't know, as our friendship was over by the time her father died, when we were eight.
My former friend's dad was many years older than her mother and still, his death was premature, from a disease. He took us kite-flying once, at the Stamford branch of UCONN. I was impatient and then it was fun when he helped me, so that my kite finally became airborne. Our dads liked each other, too, and at one point, I think they were working on a pie-slicing invention together, but it didn't happen. They hatched a number of ideas that they didn't commercialize. I think they just liked using their imaginations together -- like my former friend and I did, for four years.
My former friend was better at everything than I and I loved going over to her house and doing whatever she initiated. Make Spin Art? Sure. Help put a pair of her flowered, cotton underpants on the dog? Yes. Play with her Barbie camper, and always agree to be Skipper while she was Barbie? Indeed. Sit in their guest cottage at a small table, where she held a glass paperweight and told my fortune? Definitely. Look for arrowheads under an overhanging boulder on their property that my former friend said was an Indian shelter? Yes! Help collect eggs from the chicken-coop? Of course. Hang upside-down off the back of the couch, singing along to the lyrics of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree"? Why not?
Were Differing Degrees of Literacy a Harbinger for the Inevitable End of the Friendship?
My former friend was reading The Wind in the Willows when we were five and I would not learn to read for another year. That same winter, she sent me a postcard from her family's vacation in Barbados. It was in her block-print handwriting and not only couldn't I write yet myself, I had to ask my mother to read it to me.
Maybe my former friend was tired of our differing aptitudes. Maybe she was sick of initiating what we'd do when we played together. Maybe she related to what she read in *The Wind in the Willows*, "Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing!" I never did read the book. I simply cheated just now and found a quote and imagined her latching onto that sentiment. I didn't need new horizons. I never needed to be anywhere but shuttled back and forth between my family's house and hers. I could have done that for years longer. I wondered why it ended. She stopped calling and I never asked.
Nine Years Later, a Shivah Call
When my father died of cancer at 56, my friendship with my former best friend had been finished for nearly a decade. I was a senior in high school, 17. My former friend's mother paid a shivah call, since she was friends with my mother, but when I saw her, I felt as though she had come to see me even though she had probably come to comfort my mother as much or more than she had come to be kind to me. Her visit was a relief. She offered to take a walk with me and I don't recall our conversation during the walk. I had written her a note, in case she came, and gave it to her at the end of our walk. In the note, I told my former friend's mom that I was less grief-stricken than I might have been, since I felt like I still had two parents, since she had been so motherly to me in my early years.
No One is Perfect
Nearly 20 years ago, I saw my former friend's mother one more time. My eventual wife Pat & I were visiting my mom -- from St. Charles, Illinois, where we lived at the time. I don't recall the context, but my mom suggested we drop by my former friend's mother's home. My memory is that Pat was with me, but she doesn't recall the visit, so perhaps not. My former friend's mother was as beautiful as she had ever been, and seemed the same, just visibly older, and so did I...except that I had also publicly chosen a woman as my future spouse (whenever it would be legal to marry her), whereas when I was a kid and an adolescent, my former friend's mother did not need to acknowledge a romantic relationship I would have with anyone of my own gender.
Some years later, my mother told me that my former friend's mother told my mom that she couldn't accept my lesbianism. My hot-dog-providing-loving-beautiful-kind-other mother was telling my actual mother that she could not reconcile it. Fortunately, she never told me her feelings. She must have loved me too much to want to hurt me by telling me.
Finding Some Peace, and Again, It Was Facebook's Fault
While I had seen my former friend's mom once as an adult, I never saw my former friend again, after her brother's bar mitzvah, when we were nine or 10. And we were practically strangers by then, or at least that's how it felt. Over the years, I've thought, what would my former friend say if I asked her why she ended our friendship? She got bored? Or worse, what if she didn't even recall why? And why did this rejection still hurt me 40 years later? And what would we have had in common if we had remained friends anyhow? Once we no longer went to the same school, what was left? Is that what occurred to her then -- that we had too little in common to stay friends?
Historically, whenever I've thought of this former friend, I've time-traveled back to being eight and sitting across the aisle and behind her at her father's funeral and feeling sad not only about her dad's death, but also at the death of our friendship. The other night, though, something sort of soothing happened: After seeing the memorial photo on my former friend's brother's Facebook wall, I commented on it, describing how lovely their mother had been to me. Later the same night, my former friend's college-aged daughter clicked, "Like" on my comment.
What the heck, I thought: I'm curious if I'll be able to see any photos of the daughter and maybe of my former friend. Why not click on the daughter's profile? I did so. And I got to see both of my former friend's kids -- a teenage boy and college-aged young woman. And then my former friend! I clicked on photo after photo, finding the facial features I recalled from our childhood and was amazed to see them on this grown woman. Being able to at least see what she looked like as an adult was a bit of comfort.
Americans in Paris
Just as I was beginning to feel stalker-ish, a beautiful photo emerged: My former friend and her daughter were standing on a sidewalk in France apparently and my former friend was holding a poster that urged, in French, equality for her daughter, and the daughter was holding a rainbow flag and French poster that declared, I love my mother who accepts me. I don't know the sexual orientation of my former friend's daughter, except that currently, she does not identify as heterosexual.
Maybe my former friend and I had more in common after all, or maybe she had more in common with my mother, and I with her daughter. It reminded me that all of us are more connected than we realize, even as there are vast differences among people. And I thought of the 1995 Pride Parade in Paris; I was in France on business and Pat had to work, so my mom came with me and during the weekend, we marched with the Beth Haverim Juif Homo (Beth Haverim Jewish congregation's gay) delegation.
There we were, nearly two decades apart: two American mothers and two American daughters from three generations, demonstrating ultimate loyalty to each other on the streets of Paris. And if that's the peace I can take from our having been friends, it's enough. I think I feel closer to my former friend now that I've seen that photo than I did when we were friends. Here are some snapshots of my mom's and my experience at the 1995 Paris Pride Parade:
Sunday, April 27, 2014
When Did My Desire to Leave a Legacy Trump More Conventional Desire?
Six years ago over dinner, I told a friend, Desire is the engine that fuels my creativity. He said he understood and that it was basically what Theologian Paul Tillich said. (Just found the original blog post about our evening and am reminded that I was moved to my confession by a stunning woman sitting near us in the restaurant, whom I didn't notice till my friend went to the men's room and my view of her was no longer obscured.)
Yesterday, as Pat & I met with a male couple of friends, much of our discussion centered on the meaning we felt from the work we were doing. With the product that one of the men is going to launch in June, I said, "You could become ultra-rich while doing a lot of good," since the invention will help health care providers. And the work I'm doing also feels right, including my current project around helping IBMers understand all that IBM Watson can do for the world. And certainly Pat's work with building a bee sanctuary should contribute to saving our planet, and ultimately, the literature that one of the couple writes enriches our understanding of humanity.
When did that happen? When did my attention to my life's work trump my alertness to female beauty around me? Maybe it hasn't trumped it, but now, it's actively paralleling it. Recently, I was speaking with a younger colleague at work whose current dilemma is whether or not to aspire to a more senior role or to focus on family. "Each of us," I said, "has such a personal story around why we do what we do at work. In my case, I aspire to a more senior role because I feel like I want to leave a legacy of helping a huge group of people learn, since I don't have kids through whom I can leave a legacy."
A Sense of History Mashed Up with Survivor's Guilt -- Powerfully Motivating
Perhaps I'm feeling especially reflective because the longer I'm alive, the more time has passed during which I can notice my own and history's progress. Earlier in the week, a former colleague sent me an invitation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ibm.com. Twenty years! And I've been around for 19 of them. We launched ibm.com/globalservices in 1995 (which IBM since sold to AT&T) and I worked on ibm.com/software and associated microsites, and then ibm.com/shop -- when we sold ThinkPads -- through May of 2001. I remember being much younger, and being spoken of around IBM as the GenXers, the way some talk about Millennials now.
Twenty years ago, we were also in earlier days of corporate activism around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. And they were heady times because there was so much progress to make. These days, we channel our energy into helping our peers in less LGBT-friendly countries around the world to have positive experiences ultimately. Still, in my self-absorbed experience, it's not the same to help others as it is to feel the benefits directly. Yesterday during our diner-meal, one of our friends said, "Who would have predicted the sea change in our favor over just the past couple of years?"
"Yeah, 19 years ago, during my work on ibm.com," I said," Everyone knew about Pat, but who would have imagined we'd ever be legally married?"
In this morning's NYT, I read Frank Bruni's tribute to Larry Kramer and felt a bit chagrined that I haven't been as dogged as Larry Kramer has been all these years about working for our equality. After all, I did not die of AIDS or breast cancer (k'ayn ayin harah) like too many in our community. And then it's also Yom HaShoah Eve today, which commemorates the loss of ~6,000,000 Jews in the Holocaust. The coincidence of the holiday occurring during this period of self-reflection on desire and purpose only accentuates my drive to channel my desire into leaving a meaningful legacy.
Yesterday, a close relative told me, "You're the best person I know." I hope she turns out to be right. Probably, at this stage, at least as much as being alert to beauty around me, that's my most ardent desire -- to be and do good, the effect of which lasts beyond my life.
After stepping away for a moment, I was reminded of what would make this blog post as honest as it can be: It is true that the longer I'm alive, the more urgency I feel to do lastingly, meaningful work in the world *and* it's also true that part of my decreasing alertness to the female beauty around me is that the longer I'm alive, the less visible I feel as anyone's object of desire in return. With meaningful work, where others are involved, there's at least the potential for healthy, mutual appreciation. By contrast, being intentionally monogamous with Pat for all of our nearly 23 years together, even with the more and more remote chance that someone would appreciate me aesthetically in return, such appreciation wouldn't necessarily be productive.
Why write aloud about this last bit? Why? Because it's honest. Spring is in the air, which is when my mind is most inclined to turn to conventional desire more so than at less bloom-filled times of year. What's surprising about this spring, I think, is that it's the first one where my desire to do good work so powerfully parallels my usual desires.
I'm reminded of getting the newspapers from the driveway this morning. One of our female neighbors is openly lesbian and also in her mid-late 70s. When I walked out of our house in my purple terry-cloth bathrobe to get the papers, she was sitting in her driveway, apparently waiting for her Dial-a-Ride service for Seniors to pick her up for church. I've never walked out at that time before, never before bumped into her in my bathrobe. I waved to her and we called out Good morning to each other. I walked back in the house, flattering myself that she might have been alert to my relative youth. I suppose this is hopeful, as maybe when I'm her age and noticing younger lesbians, they'll give me the benefit of the doubt about still being observant and fully alive.