For Alan

Were we old friends?  In the very broadest sense of the word, I think.  We traveled in the same pack of prepubescent kids, falling over each other and ourselves like puppies, but far too gawky and awkward to ever be considered really cute.  In retrospect I see us all as adorable and goofy, hypersensitive and phenomenally clueless, not fully prepared to be accountable for our words or deeds, yet quick to pass notes and judgment on the unforgivable behavior of someone else.

So after forty-some-odd years, I drove into DC looking forward to seeing Alan and wondering if I’d recognize him in a crowded lobby.  We are friends on Facebook, so there are some elements of his life that I have seen.  His magnificent wife and daughters – pictures posted which require no artificial light for they seem to glow with the richness of love.  There is no contrivance or pretense; they look like people I would like to know and more importantly, like people who are genuinely enriched by each other.  He has built a successful greeting card company (greatarrow.com – their graphics are really lovely and unique) and is also an extraordinarily gifted photographer.  His photos capture the magnificent moodiness of the sky, the sun in fits of pique.  He has an impressive collection of Stetson hats and wears them well.  All of this is well and good – but how do you find someone in a hotel lobby?  I told him to look for a short, blond woman in her renaissance.

Fortunately, the lobby wasn’t crowded – but I would have known Alan regardless.  Something about his walk (though the Stetson helped).  Bobby used to walk a bit on his toes, Jo’s heels would scuff the cement, Bruce kind of pulled the sidewalk along with each step and Gary had a sort of walk/run.  Alan’s shoulders were a little rounded, his eyes looked directly ahead despite the suggestion of the angle of his head and his feet always seemed to touch the ground gently.  Our pack traveled in relative quiet – our shoes reinforced with layers of rubber. The cooler kids had metal taps on their shoes – stepping in a perpetual dance with sound and rhythm.  Perhaps our development was more muted.  It seemed loud to us, though I think for the most part it reflected sounds only we could hear.

Where do you pick up after lifetimes have passed?  You can’t really say nothing is new, for to the listener everything is new.  I didn’t know he thought I had a great voice, he didn’t know that I thought he had an artistic and thoughtful aspect I always liked.  He designed sets for theatrical productions; I performed in them.  He went to Stuyvesant (a high school for the seriously smart); I went to private school.  We all dispersed for college.  So it goes.

And yet after two and a half hours, we still had stories to tell.  More than the memories of who we once were, we shared an understanding of those invisible threads – the ones that constitute the preliminary stitches which outlined the design of who we became.  He became a warm, loving, devoted, creative man.  I chose a career that required decades of performance and appealing to wide audiences.

Alan will return to DC next year for another annual meeting.  I hope we meet again same time, next year.  Were we old friends?  We are older, and yes, I believe we are friends.  We share seminal moments in our respective histories, and the comfort to quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of “a sheltering tree”.

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Just Another Musing

I came across this little sentence this morning (though there was no attribution, so forgive me) – “An ugly personality destroys a pretty face.” Sounds like something my maternal grandmother might have brought with her from the ‘old country’,  packed in the suitcase with the two silver candlesticks.  (There were some great Yiddishisms that don’t necessarily translate too well, but they’re so evocative – “may every tooth in your mouth rot except one, and may that one ache for the rest of your life”.  Who came up with this?)  Sorry – off on a tangent.  Anyway, I never met her, though I was blessed with her name.  I still think I’m too young for the heft of “Miriam”, though it’s a name I have grown to love.  True, in the Bible she saved her brother (which one really can’t dismiss, for it was reflective of love and bravery and selflessness and there wouldn’t be a whole lot to write about if Moses hadn’t made it), but she died from leprosy – not exactly a happifying ending for a really nice girl.

Our family’s Miriam – my grandmother – appears in photos as this beautiful, serious grown-up with incredibly wise eyes and lips that remain fixed in a straight line.  She betrays nothing in those few pictures – not what she has seen, endured, celebrated or lost.  And arguably there wasn’t a lot for her to smile about until my sister was born and I believe that her arrival was her greatest joy, the most affirming, gorgeous, delicious experience she would ever know.  I wish there were pictures of her holding Deb, for I think she would have been breathtaking, revealing far more than a stoic image with beautiful features.

And that really is just it – what distinguishes one lovely structured visage from another?  What echoes in your soul when your memory constructs its image of a person?   The initial description is often cosmetic – the color of a person’s hair and eyes, relative height and overall appearance.  Laws of attraction come into play, I realize, which brings me to another one of my grandmother’s great lines – “an owl to one, is a nightingale to another”.  I realize that some people are physically more attractive than others, and I am definitely vain enough to want to qualify for the more positive adjectives that can be applied to short women (though I really feel that ‘perky’ and ‘cute’ can’t compete with ‘gorgeous’ and ‘stunning’, but whatever).

So with those caveats, life has also been lived long enough for me to see that with a second look, there is nothing that diminishes or enhances a person more than their core.  Some of the most good-looking people I have met are also the least appealing.  Smiles that at best are disingenuous and at worst don’t reach the eyes, callous comments and narcissistic perspectives.  Too much lipstick and too little warmth; six pack abs and an empty ‘can o’ care’ inside.  Eyes that search for the next-thing-that-isn’t-good-enough and never settle upon a magical moment.  Hands that are ridiculously smooth because they haven’t held onto anything for dear life.  The most beautiful people I know are not indifferent to their appearance at all.  They also don’t define beauty too narrowly.   I gravitate to the magnificence of an open heart, the delicate touch of kindness, the warmth of an expansive smile.  I think most of us do.  At a certain point you realize that the reflections of a person’s heart redefine the parameters of attractiveness.

Or as my grandmother used to say “pretty is as pretty does”.  Have a great Sunday everybody.

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When There Are No Answers

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all” — Emily Dickinson

Some days need to be subdued.  In the silence you can hear your thoughts – jumbled though they may be, scatological and spontaneous, making sense maybe, perhaps not.  Maybe it’s the mind’s way of trying to integrate contradictory stimuli.

Is it the phases of the moon or just the stages of life that bring four of my cherished friends to the ragged edge of loss this weekend?  Remarkable people who have never met, marking anniversaries of loss, experiencing the passing of a beloved family member, and/or finding themselves staring straight into the sea of frightening inevitability which we deny for as long as we can?  And why does life’s corollary have to be so untenable?  I have no idea.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven; I have a hard time conceiving of hell.  I think I’m very faithful, for I believe in many things that I can’t see – and for me, it is the simplest way to embrace something as indescribably huge as faith.  And love.  And hope.  I know that when we have to let go, we never really do.  One of my friends was relating the conversation she and her brother had with their dad, telling him that they were okay, that they would be okay…My sister and I had similar discussions with our parents when they were arguably between two worlds.  And yesterday I thought to myself that sometimes the idea of leaving is untenable because we don’t want to leave our children with no barrier against mortality.  The thought that they have to assume a different and arguably scarier position when we are no longer physically here.  The mere thought is anathema to me.  Life – that is all that we want our loved ones to embrace.  How dissonant to suggest that our abdication requires their assumption of a new place in line?  Perhaps one of the greatest acts of love is hanging in there if one can, with the invisible, powerful hope that we are still protecting those we love beyond measure.

I believe that some souls come into our life for a brief time, and leave indelible imprints on our hearts, our approach to each day, etc.  Some remind us that we are loved, when we doubt it; others nurture us when we have forgotten how to do this for ourselves; defiantly protect us when we are emotionally over-exposed.  Are they angels?  Their miraculous arrival and elusive departure suggest they could be.  Is there a better way to define a lifeline when it is provided and holds you together with unshakeable confidence and purpose?

I know the canned answer is that the experience of sorrow somehow makes the moments of joy all the lovelier.  Loss underscores our appreciation of that which we have.  It sounds good enough to become a cliché, though like most trite comments, it doesn’t necessarily resonate in the heart.  Hope however, has wings.  Hope that forever is a place, that love remembered is a blessing and love extended is a gift.  I wish it didn’t have to hurt so damn much.  I wish that tears weren’t necessary.  The daffodil shoots are stubbornly insisting on breaking through the frozen ground – indifferent to the reality that greets them when they appear.  They persist – with faith.  They will flourish in the spring – with hope.

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I’m Listening – What Do I Hear?

Russ Towne (russtowne.com) who pens the glorious “A Grateful Man” was prompted by a friend to respond to a question that grabbed my attention.  “What do you know for sure?”  His responses were pure Russ, written with candor and beauty, simplicity and reflection.  And I began asking myself the same question – and would submit that it’s a reasonable query to pose to ourselves from time to time.  I will admit that my answers didn’t arrive with the same eloquence or confidence; nor do I know if this represents an all-inclusive list.  Nonetheless here goes..

– I know for sure that I still love loving my husband.  I also know for sure that he drives me crazy sometimes, while I on the other hand, I never affect him in that way.  I know for sure that he is the anchor to my kite and were it not for him I’d probably be getting stuck in the trees like a wayward balloon.

– I know for sure that my adoration of my children knows no bounds and I know for sure that they know it and probably don’t fully get it.  I know for sure that parents screw up all the time, and children grow up in spite of us and not because of us.  To reflect tremendous self-congratulatory aggrandizement for their successes as fantastic people is folly and a little narcissistic.  This is their time.  And I am grateful to be along for the ride.  Let’s remember that I’m the sap who cries when we say good-bye to each other despite living ten minutes apart.

– I know for sure that at different times in my life I have let disappointment and anger have more power over me than I realized at the time.  And the only person who suffered from its toxicity was me.

– I know for sure that my life continues to be enhanced by the people who enter my world  – and also those who exit.  Some people need to stay for a little while, and that’s ok.  Some people will be here forever and that’s a gift.  Last I looked, one can’t suffer from having too much love in their life – for however long.

– I know for sure that I’m at a point in my life where I’m wondering what my next contribution will be.  I need to listen harder to my heart, for it’s definitely speaking.  We don’t spend enough time paying attention to its messages.

– I know for sure that if there hadn’t been a black-out at the Super Bowl last night I wouldn’t have fallen asleep and missed the best part of the game.

– I know for sure that the silence that announces the arrival of snow always makes my eyes fill.  It is one of the most peaceful calming sounds in the world.

– I know for sure that I want another puppy (honey are you reading this?).

– I know each day offers me the chance to say ‘Thank You’ – for the ridiculous number of gifts that are in my life.  And I also know I don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

– I know for sure that for all the articles about leadership, for all the seminars I’ve led on management, motivation, employee engagement, etc – none of it means a damn thing if a person loses his/her character.  Save the HBR studies for another day – as you shimmy up the food chain, hold tight to your sense of integrity and honor.  You will be remembered for little else.

– I know for sure that I can out-happy dance anyone I know.  Not because I’m such a good dancer, but because I have lost enough, found enough and love enough to know how to celebrate all of it.

And finally, I know for sure that there is nothing I can be sure of – except this moment in time.  And this moment in time – in the quiet soft rhythmic beating of its longing – is perfect.

 

Karma Gets It Right Again

This morning, I’m raising a mimosa to Karma – acknowledging that once again, the truck rolled up the right driveway and gave back to two people what they have so generously put out into the world.  Salut!  L’chaim! Cheers!  Down In One! (oh..never mind the last one – I was having a throwback moment to my freshman year in college.  Note to David – this is not what Eric is doing – he is studying assiduously.

You see, yesterday an incredibly wonderful, warm, beautiful, generous, fantastic friend of mine got married.  My own personal experience tells me that the act of marriage is not always the great big hug from the universe you think you’re receiving.  Sometimes it is a painful, difficult and hurtful lesson that you have got to learn, intentionally masked by flowers, good food and music.  But this is different.  Yesterday the karma truck rolled up my friend’s driveway to celebrate the kind of love that the universe offers as its finest gift to those who are richly deserving.  Their lessons have been hard and emotionally painful, requiring that identities get rebuilt later in life than one might prefer.  Teardowns and subsequent reconstruction is hard work – projects ideally not taken on during one’s renaissance (so much nicer than ‘middle age’). Ironically, the effort that was required resulted in the emergence of two remarkable people with a dawning understanding that this was who they were before they kept adding to their exteriors (which was done to protect what was inside).

And they are amazing people.  I can ‘feel’ her essence from hundreds of miles away.  She knows what I am thinking though she has never met me.  Our emails are prescient and eerie, as if we are connected by some invisible cord that tugs when the other may be in need.  But this isn’t about how special she is to me.  Rather she brings her heart – open and huge – to the world around her.  In her writing, her spirited commitment to others, the magnificent love that just emanates from her whether she wants it to or not.  She is not perfect – that’s not what good karma is all about.  She brings her best self into the kitchen each morning and makes sure that it is reflected onto the day’s canvas.  And if her best self isn’t feeling all the great, she puts on a sweater to limit what others may see until she is ready and treats it gently, tiptoeing into the day, lowering the risk that she could do any harm (she couldn’t).

What she and her husband (she has to practice saying that I think) have is a bond that is so strong and unbreakable that it still surprises them after many years together.  He is her grounding when she flies too close to the sun; she is his ardent fan and passionate supporter should the crowds not fill the stands.  They understand that the magnificence of love is in the giving – and they give to each other without hesitation, caveat or limitation.  They have received what they so richly deserve, for I don’t know anyone other than my friend who begins the day thinking first about others, with almost too little regard for herself.

So I’m lovin’ the karma truck today.  And I couldn’t let a momentous occasion go without my own little wedding reception.  When it’s time for the toast, I hope everyone raises their glass and asks that Love smile on them and be good to them from now until forever.  May laughter and light fill their home.  Enjoy good health, great wine and best friendship.  And know always how much you are loved – by many.  We are  honored to be your friends.