Posts Tagged ‘Life Lessons’

I’ve been thinking about a movie I saw recently: Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenthaal. This science fiction cum action thriller (with a dash of romance) had a fair amount going for it: stellar cast, great special effects, tight plot; even the requisite happy ending.

I liked it. A lot. But then again, I’m a sucker for films that posit such an optimistic view of the brain’s power to transcend any and all physical limitations.

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I’ve been thinking alot about my parents lately – maybe it’s the holidays. In any event, it made sense for my sister and I to take a ride down to Philadelphia today, where a painting that once belonged to my parents now graces the corner of one wall in the Philadelphia Museum of Art‘s American Art Collection. The painting is “Doorway in Tangier” by the artist Henry O. Tanner, an internationally acclaimed African American painter active in the late 19th century and into the early part of the twentieth. While in Paris, Tanner apparently befriended my grandfather’s cousin Philip Miller, a talented but less well-known painter who later became a newspaper cartoonist. Tanner gifted the painting to Philip, who in turn presented it to my parents as a wedding present. My father took delight in its historical provenance; my mother, an aspiring artist, in Tanner’s evocative use of light and color. It held a cherished place in our living room and when my parents passed on, we called around to see which museum might appreciate its significance and similarly honor it. The folks at PMA were and continue to be most gracious, welcoming us during our now annual pilgrimage. No question that the very best legacy is one in which certain values and attributes are passed down from generation to generation. Still, it’s a bit of a thrill to know that a work by such a culturally important artist lives on through a remarkable “regifting” process and at the same time to see a familiar fixture of our childhood hanging so importantly next to a plaque bearing my folks’ names.

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I approach most holidays with an anthropologist’s mindset. I like to know the history of the holiday, I’m interested in the customs and rituals and I enjoy watching other people celebrate. Sometimes I even participate; yet most holidays don’t engage me.  For starters, there are too many of them; worse, they have mostly fallen prey to our relentless need to “retail-ize” our holidays, so that every celebration, however solemn or sacred, seems to come with its own sales and marketing plan.

However, I confess to having a weakness when it comes to Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is about food – or rather, about the preparing and partaking of a meal together, which is the penultimate social experience. Then there’s the Macy’s parade, which, yes,  I watch every Thanksgiving morning. Most significantly, I like sitting down and giving thanks.

Cynics may point out that family gatherings can bring out the worst in people; that the Macy’s parade doesn’t always benefit from the kind of perfect weather we had this morning; and that selecting one day a year to be thankful is ridiculous,  especially when gratitude competes with turkey, cranberry sauce and Aunt Deb’s stuffing.

But taking stock of one’s good fortune is a useful exercise and we need to start somewhere. So I say, go ahead and give thanks for friends, family, health, your spouse, kids or pet, or even the kindness of strangers during difficult times. Tip your hat to silly things that make you smile, like cheesy TV shows, take-out food, unexpectedly balmy skies or even a pair of comfortatble shoes. And spend a moment thanking others who are working on your behalf around the world. Wish them well and safe journey home in time for Thanksgiving next year. 

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I was mugged last week. I never saw it coming.

My attacker, I should point out, was not human or animal but rather viral in nature. It delivered a one-two punch to the lower abdoman while I sat in a coffee shop working, on this very blog and sipping a large cup of decaf. “Ah-ha,” I thought, “this coffee’s too strong.” That was my last clear memory before doubling over as the blows from the unseen assailant kept coming. Staggering out of cafe, I made it to my car and drove home, where I washed down a Zantac with some of that stuff that’s supposed to coat your stomach. I managed to get a leash on the dog and get out, wherupon I doubled over again, causing my neighbor, also out walking her dog, to ask if she could help. “Gas,” I gasped and stumbled back to the house with the puzzled pooch.

The next 24 hours were a blur but I know they involved a couch, a bed, a blanket, an anxious dog, the kind ministrations of a family member and frequent visits to the bathroom.  What they did not involve were food or rest. My stomach, a sensitive sort on the best of occasions, took the worst of it. My throat didn’t do so well and I actually bruised a rib, thanks to…oh, I think you can figure it out. Clearly, this had been a particularly viscious assault.

There are lots of tips about surviving flu season although apparently none of them include warnings about when the damn thing starts. While it’s true I procrastinate every year, I generally end up getting a flu shot sometime in mid-November. The shots do not prevent flu but they soften the blow. At least they have in years past, where I remember mild discomfort if anything at all but nothing like this.

The flu is going around, my friends have told me. Why so many incidents so early is probably the subject of a separate debate. Was the unusually warm autumn – a breeding ground for viruses and how does global warming factor in? Are there new drug-resistant strains out there entering the US along with all sorts of tainted products and people that make it past porous ports, bungling bureacracies and bantamweight border patrols? Could this all be part of a plot to weaken us, foisted upon a complacent populace by this or that organization or cell or nepharious group bent on world domination? See, lots to think about it, once you get past the nausea and pain. But since it’s impossible to think when you feel like utter crap, my advice is to turn off the news, turn down the light and go with the flow because, for a brief period of time, you are at the mercy of a tiny terror.

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Seasonal Disorder

Today was the first day of autumn, also known in astronomy as the autumnal equinox, when the sun crosses the celestial equator from north to south and day and night are virtually equal in length. Autumn, or fall, as it applies to the northern hemisphere, conjures up all sorts of images, most of them based on the topography and climate of Canada and the northeastern and central parts of the United States, which is to say vibrantly colored leaves, warm days and cool nights, several major holidays, back to school activities and a swirl of social events. Even in more temperate climates, the quality as well as the quantity of the light changes incrementally. The angle of the sun shifts and the days are indeed shorter. In truth, we are shielded for a time from the depressing experience of leaving work in total darkness; daylight savings time, which continues into November this year, allows us a glimpse at the sun’s dying embers as we board the train. Conversely, we wake to darkness, as do our kids, which is a tough way to begin the day. But on this day, the equinox, the light and the dark are in balance. That does not mean that the Earth’s gravitational pull is, however. One of the enduring science myths is that you can stand an egg on its end on the vernal equinox, which has led many people to believe you can do the same during the autumnal equinox. The fact is, that standing an egg on end doesn’t depend on any equinox or solstice; it can be done by those relatively few who have patience and nothing else to do on any day of the year. This sad truth, which I am embarrassed to say I learned only recently, didn’t stop me from trying to continue the tradition that was begun by my husband, who might have known better but was so good at balancing his eggs and his life that no one would have suspected. I, alas, am not nearly so talented and after my egg fell over for a third time this afternoon, I used it to make cookies instead.

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Pay It Forward

I was going to write about the value of friendship but instead want to talk about the kindness of strangers. See, I got up early this morning, went into Manhattan, had two meetings, ran for the train, grabbed some soup which I was sipping in the waiting room when I put down my purse and voila, within minutes it was gone.

I’m always so careful and this never happens to me, of course, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know I was safe and unharmed but still: my wallet, my cell phone, my car keys (and house and mailbox keys), my checkbook, several items I’d just bought, some papers I needed, some things of sentimental value and who knows what else (it was a large purse). A normally resourceful person, I couldn’t figure out how I’d get back, how I’d prevent the wholesale looting of all my accounts, how I’d get home from the train station, how I’d get my car out of the parking lot, etc. I was a basket case.

Enter the lovely customer service folks at New Jersey Transit who were as helpful as they could be. Bad things sometimes happen to good people, the chief rep advised me. How she determined I was a good person I don’t know, but she gave me a hug and promptly set about trying to make things better. She lent me a cell phone to call my credit card companies (one woman even looked up the telephone numbers!) and a free ticket to get back to Princeton. I rode home with another transit worker who lent me her phone to complete my calls and reach my friend, who came to pick me up, brought me to the house and back to the lot to get my car. When I returned, I had a call from someone who said my driver’s license had been left in his store and offered to mail it back to me. So yeah, there was one bad apple in the Big Apple but then a slew of people went above and beyond to help me out.

PS – When I finally got home, I kicked back with a glass of wine and caught up on the news, where I learned that OJ Simpson may actually spend many years in jail for a recent bit of stupid thugishness. Hmm, so if bad things happen to good people, maybe the opposite is also true?

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An Integrated Life

I was going to write something about the outed and ousted Senator Larry Craig but a quick Google search revealed there were already some 23 million references to the incident (if you don’t know about the incident in question, try a Google or Yahoo or MSN search; you’ll catch up). One blogger even preempted my clever (but alas, not very original) post title – “His Own Private Idaho.” Nothing left to say, which is just as well. While most of the public and all of the media outlets speculate on Craig’s double life, I want to reflect on the singularly well-lived life of my friend Ed, which ended tragically a week ago when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Ed was a doer. He sold construction equipment, traveled the world, ran marathons and raced dirt bikes. He was a family man, by all accounts a friend and mentor to his kids, someone who remained deeply in love with his wife of 23 years. He was funny and generous and open to trying new things and new ideas. His energy and enthusiasm were addictive. Ed had a deeply spiritual side as well. He studied yoga, decided to become an instructor and had recently completed certification. He dreamed of living on what he told a friend would be his own personal Walden’s Pond. His was to have been a truly integrated life. Ed was on the road to a higher level of awareness as a means of achieving a degree of physical, mental and spiritual well-being that would make someone we all thought of as a good guy an even better one.

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Having a Bad Here Day

I’m trying to enjoy the moment I’m in, which, according to “The Power of Now” is how to be happy (I haven’t read the book, which may be part of the problem). Yet I find myself unaccountably irritated today, which irritates me because it’s self-indulgent. I’ve got no excuses; it’s a beautiful day, got a roof over my head and the dog at my side. Maybe it’s the news: people forced to leave their homes because of sectarian violence; a single mother so at the edge of despair that she killed herself and her children. Maybe it’s because I can’t understand why Rosie O’Donnell had to spend her remaining minutes on”The View” bringing up old conspiracy theories about the collapse of Building Seven on 9/11. It’s coming up on six years since my husband was killed but damn if other people don’t have the power to haul me back to that day, another cloudless blue moment just like this one.

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An Englishman I was talking with at a barbecue yesterday asked me to explain the difference between Memorial and Veterans Days. I gave my best, albeit incomplete answer – that Memorial Day remembers those who have died in combat and that Veterans Day is more about honoring the living veterans. I managed to recall that Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day to mark the end of WWI but had forgotten (until I checked the Department of Veteran Affairs website) that Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the Civil War, as a time to decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate fallen soldiers. Each observance was established in response to a specific conflict but has expanded to encompass so many more conflicts. How very sad that is and how challenging it continues to be to properly remember and honor both the dead and living warriors while lamenting the wars they are called upon to fight.

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Everything Must Go

I’m doing some spring cleaning and have decided to sell my stuff on Craig’s list. I know the drill: take pictures, put everything in the garage, lock the door to the house, be willing to bargain. Couldn’t be easier, especially since everyone says Craig’s list is the fastest way to get rid of almost anything. For example, I just read about an ad posted not too long ago that invited folks near Tacoma, Washington to help themselves to the complete contents of a home in the area. Eager bargain hunters stripped the place of everything, including the water heater. Only problem was, it came as a complete shock to the woman who owned the house. Seems her niece was ticked off because Auntie evicted her mom so she placed the ad for purposes of, um, revenge. Gads, I wouldn’t refund that security deposit.

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