I woke this morning to a mix of unrelated images and seemingly disparate thoughts.
On one side, the somber and desultory scenes from the Australian classic movie Walkabout wafting through my head, counterpointed against a myriad of New Year well wishes for the beginning of the year 5777 on the Jewish Calendar.
All this while on a few weeks of wandering around Europe, partially focused on work but mostly searching to find some moments of realization and reflection in the busyness of my daily life.
Some people choose the beach for this, I choose places rich in culture not my own for the same purpose. Haphazard experiences on the streets of Paris work better for me than sinking into the reflections of sun and surf.
Before first light today, I felt compelled to ask for the traditional apples and honey along with my double expresso and croissant in the all night café around the corner from the hotel in the 9th in Paris where I’m staying.
I’m very cognizant that for this totally secular Jew, the ceremonial embrace of a bit a sweetness on a tart apple as something to trigger thoughts of the year gone bye is a bit of a stretch.
But today, waking to have the New Year already past at home, I do feel an ache of loneliness for family, hopefulness for a good year and in need of emblems to lift my spirits and channel my energies.
I’m hardly comparing my jaunt through Europe at luxury hotels and the welcome of friends to the painful and eerily somber coming of age saga from Nicolas Roe. But somehow, my need for finding the moments in my life this year is triggering this confluence of seeming disconnected images.
And if I can use the amalgam of these thoughts as the kickoff to the year, I’ll take this reset in October rather than rethink and reevaluate what has occurred since January 1st.
It’s been a year of difficulty for many.
For me personally with my mother passing, with the viciousness of the political debate in the states and the rising unease of hate crimes that for the first time in my life since the single day of September 11th, I’m aware that indeed none of us are truly safe from the crazies out there.
All this in contrast to a world in many ways better, more ripe for change than every before.
Where technology has wired people together on a global basis giving rise to layers of community for every interest and place.
Where there is a growing popular understanding, I think, of caring for our bodies, our planet and even the recognition that we should be generally be more civil.
The contrast is palpable though.
So many avenues for communications and community. So little real conversations about the state of the world.
So much possibility as we look at the changes that an entrepreneurial approach towards work can offer, yet the fundamental anger that the election in the states is surfacing about the overt inequities of the distribution of wealth.
It didn’t just occur at this moment obviously, but I’m letting this reflective tradition of the Jewish new year take me for a bit of a ride. And without an iota of religiousness in me, the image of it all seems to be holding true.
If I’m really truthful about this moment, it is as much about me, as the world. My addressing what I need at this point in my life pushed to the surface by the events external to me throughout the year.
And I think that is what makes the tradition of the New Year and the after effect of great art and a haunting story have value.
The only way to impact change beyond ourselves is to make those changes in how we ourselves think and act.
We all need to stop doing shit that doesn’t matter. Stop rationalizing. Stop looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing how we were rather than what we should be.
There’s an old saying that I often repeat—that the way to make each day better is to always look at yourself as being in the middle of life.
Think it is time to change that as it becomes less true daily.
Time to take more hold of the moments of our days. Lean more heavily on the strengths that we have learned from our experiences and use them better to be more open to the present, to create a new future.
Be smarter. Embrace nuances. Act with more intent. And generally be less content without being unhappy.
Time is certainly not on anyone’s side and that should excite and incent us, not slow us down.
Maybe I’ll change and start each year in October and embrace the variability of the lunar calendar and the emblematic nature of the Jewish new year as my new point of reset each year.
If I can actually have a second chance to make the year better and me along with it for every one moving forward, I’ll take it.
Maybe it’s a gift we should all latch onto.
As a note, Paris is simply touching me at a new found place. I should find a way to revisit more often.
Pic below is me every morning before dawn, doing my morning words to capture something anew.
I’ve been traveling through Europe working with clients, visiting friends and exploring new wine regions.
Invariably after work is over and the exultation of the beauty of these places winds down, talk turns to the state of the world.
To Trump as emblematic of a view of the US that neither they—nor I—knew existed. To refugee situations everywhere and to the rising tide of racism and hate crimes that is threatening our world.
It always starts with discussions of Trump.
Disbelief that this sociopath, misogynist, lying, bigoted scum could possible become next president of the US. Realization that all of us, 90 or so days ago, thought the voting population of the country was well, like us–aware, somewhat informed, and rational.
And a bit reeling over the fact that indeed, we are in a bubble of education and affluence. Oblivious to the realities of a population segment that is front and center, represented so unfortunately by this monstrous caricature of a leader.
But while this is unimaginable, the refugee and immigration debate in Europe (and the US) boggles the imagination as well.
And equally as heated, especially here in Europe, Brexit of course.
These conversations invariably end with me painfully wide awake, cross the table or bar top from smart, concerned, intelligent human beings from multiple countries and backgrounds, thinking on the schism of logic, the rising tide of anger and the somewhat tenuous state of the moral and logical fabric of our global society.
Sitting in my friend’s chalet in the Alps the other evening, after one of these conversations, we both realized that we were both seriously angry at our governments, frustrated at the strata of democracy that obviously has failed and is no longer structured to manage the changes of the world.
And unnerved that while ostensibly we live in a democratic framework with elected officials, in some way we, like those who feel disenfranchised by the state of the economy in the US, were a bit helpless to truly change things with intent.
Certainly we are the fortunate. Through hard work, luck and in some cases birth, are doing just fine.
To a person, each of us, whatever we do for a living, are more informed this year of the politics of our countries, more studious of global economics and more stymied to put words on the growing anti-Semitism that is growing without harking back to thoughts of Hitler. That while he was a hero to a truly disenfranchised German population, was at his core—well we all know what.
Here’s the huge rub.
To a person, we all feel frustrated with lack of ability to truly impact change on a large enough stage.
We can donate to the limits of our political contributions.
I can speak for myself that I am more informed this year politically than ever before.
But am I really doing anything to drive change?
Not simply to insure that Trump, truly a modern Golem of stupidity and backwards values, doesn’t get a seat in the White House.
But to raise the discussion about WTF we can really do in the face of these untenable realities of the human catastrophe of refuge camps and a population without places to live or create lives for themselves?
How we address the reality that racism and bigotry are on the rise? That hate, the most blinding of all emotions, is becoming more and more prevalent everywhere.
That the schism of political discussion even amongst my peers and friends has in many ways stopped.
That in the most open forums and blogs, the smartest and most successful people I interact with immediately fall into rancor and the discourse turns from intelligence to hyperbole and viciousness when we address the growing shooting of civilians and its connection to gun laws in the country.
Why I, who have all the advantage, am starting to feel angry, not at the disadvantage of my situation certainly but at the very structures that have supported my life that are seemingly unalterable. Not open to a new way to address these issues and create discussions that can possibly—hopefully—lead to some change.
As much I am the beneficiary of the social nets personally and professionally, they seem honestly inappropriate for this conversation.
Facebook and Twitter, our strongest platforms for connectivity are unaccepting of these discussions by nature. They simply repel these conversations.
The trends towards removing comments from news sources are indicative that even what we held as the highest form of information, our news sources, are unable to host this discussion. Nor honestly are they able to remain impartial in the heat of the situation.
So this is my little part.
On my own blog to not open the political discussion, but see if there is amongst my community a similarity in frustration as maybe in the bond, there is a direction to find a way for change.
Or maybe it is just around some corner of my experience and someone will show me.
I’ve always believed that expression is an action. I still believe it now but it seems in the face of it all, somewhat less than enough.
On my way uptown yesterday, I stopped and thanked three NYPD officers in the subway station at City Hall.
I shook their hands, looked them in the eyes and told them that I—and many other New Yorkers—felt a lot better knowing that they have their shit together and have our backs.
I truly believe this.
I believe that our city’s first responders are what keeps the fabric of our society rolling forward in the face of hate attacks on all of us. Like the bombing in Chelsea this weekend.
This was a first for me.
It felt like the right thing to do. And trust me, I could see it in their eyes that it was really a surprise and appreciated by them.
We learn to ignore the ugly edges of reality.
Be it the self-centered glossiness of media reporting. The busyness of life. Behavioral and cultural self preservation.
Personally, ever since 9/11, I’ve internalized the increasing hatred of our secular and diversified culture by the crazies. I have, as we all have, had an ongoing series of painful, empathetic aha’s as these horrors struck home with attacks and explosions cross the world.
One after another.
As a downtown New Yorker, I felt individually affronted in my neighborhood when the towers fell. But over the years with other incidents around the globe, I felt it was over there, not here. Happening to someone else, not to me.
Till this weekend with the Chelsea bombing.
Maybe it was the randomness of this particular act of terror.
Not the emblematic falling of icons of our civilizations like the towers, but a seemingly disconnected and amateur act of violence against New York as a collection of people.
Against just people, like myself. Living life and walking home from dinner or to work. Strolling to get a glass of wine at the bar with a friend. Or walking their dogs.
We learn to look at places like Israel where violence, random hateful acts is always a possibility, as far away.
I look at the resilience of their culture in the face of it, as something to be studied and admired but something, not our own.
With this act and spew of other acts of violence it’s touched home for me that it is not over there.
But here. But me that is hated. Being attacked. Me and mine that is in danger.
My friend Hue Rhodes, film maker and entrepreneur, posted this link on his Facebook page from a friend who lived in the immediate vicinity of the explosion.
It speaks to the reality of this particular occurrence. The horror of it. The violence that is part of our lives, not just in NY, but everywhere.
And as importance, a first-hand testimony to the poverty of the news media in reporting it. And the organization and heroism of the NYPD, NYFD and Homeland Security team that were on the scene in literally a minute, taking control.
There is truth in the fact that the very worse acts of sick, crazy hate-driven people drive community and collectivism in the cultures in the cross hairs of these attacks.
I choose to believe this after this weekend.
Self preservation certainly but I believe it is the very core of what makes my town special, and yours.
I’m not driven by fear. I didn’t prior, and not sure I will now, become more obviously anxious or cognizant to this threat even though I’m the epitome of the enemy to the haters of secularism, freedom and tolerance.
But something has turned a corner a bit.
I’m not going to dwell on this. I don’t want to move to a mountain top or buy a gun but I’m not content to ignore it.
I’m getting on a plane tonight and in my trip through Europe I’ll be in places, like here where attacks have happened. In other places where unfortunately it is likely that it will.
I’m not hesitant. But I’m aware.
I’m not unnerved, but not oblivious to the stereotypes of terrorism that I’ll register out of the corner of my eye when I see people in the subways or situations on the streets.
I won’t necessarily feel safer when I cue up on TSA lines but I’ll be less annoyed with the delay.
But mostly, I’m simply realizing that this is reality. My reality as well.
That me for simply living my life, is the enemy. That these people, are not people at all but a scourge to be eliminated.
My response will be who I vote for this year in the elections, and my heightened empathy and connectedness to these occurrences as they continue to happen.
Fear is not a good response.
Awareness though is and that is my take away.
And maybe that in itself is a step towards being a bit safer.
And with a more honest sense of being grateful and protective of what I have.
Every year I republish this post on the anniversary of September 11th.
All day yesterday working on my schedule, whenever I noticed the date, my concentration ground to a halt.
I kept thinking back to that Tuesday, 12 years ago, being stranded in San Francisco on business with the country’s air space shut down. Sitting in bars, watching the news with strangers and having the reality of what happened burned into memory by the incessant replaying of the events on network news.
Talking on the cell to friends in New York, every one of them, shell-shocked. Many of them seeing the plane hit the second tower. Watching the buildings crumble and a very different world appear as the dust settled.
I came back on the first flight out, the Saturday night redeye, circling into JFK over the smoking debris. I remember walking to the intersection of West Broadway and Canal, staring at the barricades on the South side of Canal Street. The surrealistic image of a Schwarzenegger movie billboard that was coming out with him fighting terrorists somewhere. In smug contrast with the real grim reality on the streets.
I’m not going to recap. We all have our memories and have dealt with them. Many moved out of town. Many took years to come to grips. Everyone moved on.
This was a pre iPhone camera world. A pre Facebook and Twitter reality where real-time sharing and connections were absent. Rather than post, you walked around seeing scores of make shift memorials with flowers and pictures of people. Telephone numbers scrawled on papers to call if you saw or heard of someone.
In retrospect, it feels like a black and white photograph of a different time. Frozen yet wrapped in very real memories. My memories as I was there.
People need memorials of horrible events to place them. I light a candle for the passing of my father and grandfather and it helps ground my thoughts. The fiasco of building the new Freedom Tower and the passage of time has squandered the memory of this event somewhat. Even today, more than a decade later, the memorial is not really complete, surrounded by a fence and a construction site.
The reality of 9/11 was that we felt attacked where we lived. As you went further from the physical event, even uptown, it became less real, less yours and less somehow immediate.
In the years following, when I worked in LA, I tried mostly in vain at my companies to make the day mean something. Invariably it always fizzled. It meant as little to many on the west coast as to many people I work with today in their 20’s. They aren’t insensitive, but, to them, it’s a historical event, not an experience that shaped any part of who they are. That distance is the difference.
I’m not a romantic about this. And I didn’t lose any friends or family. And while sensitive and a downtowner, I don’t gush over this often or have loose emotional ends.
But it’s important, because if I don’t make it so, it will indeed go away. If the only reminder is of the skyline view in pre-9/11 movies or photos with the towers in them, this is indeed a waste.
When I posted something about this on Facebook yesterday, a friend responded that the 9/11 light sculpture that they erect every year is her favorite.
The light sculpture is indeed amazing but it’s more art than memorial to most unless we personalize it.
The connection between the fact that crazies who truly hated us navigated hijacked planes using Broadway as their map to the towers, is somehow below the surface. The family from New Jersey who I met in Union Square that brought their then young children into town to experience the community side of this nightmare, is absent somehow in those beams of light till I talk about them.
This post is my nudge to myself to spend a few moments thinking about it. Connecting the dots so that they stay real.
I’m all about moving on. I’m a hardass generally. For this particular memory, making my own little memorial of it on my blog seems like the right thing to do.
We buried my mother this past week.
Next to my father in the tiny Ozorkova Cemetery in Paramus, NJ.
Thirty-four years almost to the day that I stared down at my father’s coffin and listened to the dull thud of dirt against a pine box as I shoveled the traditional three spades of soil to honor his passing.
Ninety-seven years and 21 days from her birth in 1919.
This cemetery where we laid her to rest is a place out of time.
A diorama of 18th century Poland created by the original immigrants from the village of Ozorkova who came to Paterson in the early days of the last century to work in the silk mills. Cheap labor to work industrial looms powered by the Passaic River.
My father’s family was part of that group.
My mom and dad, his mother and father and his grandmother are all there amongst the weeds and tilting grave stones. Yiddish phrases chiseled in stone.
My mom’s resting place next to my dad is like a chapter closing in her large book of life.
She outlived almost everyone she touched in life except for the 18 people gathered to honor and bury her.
Her passing has been very tough for me.
A palimpsest of sorts, peeling back memory after memory of her life, mine along with it.
Waking dreams distracting my days. Sleeping dreams that have been waking me up.
My mom was in the corners of my memories when I was growing up.
Very much in the shadow of my father at one end of the kitchen table, his pipe constantly in hand, a physicist who dedicated his life to teaching in the high school he attended as a way of giving back.
And of Pop, my mom’s father, at the other end of the table, cigar perpetually smoking, who came from Russia in 1905 at 13, and worked in the garment district his entire life. Without a day of education, he was a rock of strength to us.
In retrospect, beyond these dominant and wonderful patriarchal role models, beyond the barking of the family dog, the perpetual horsing around of my two brothers and I, there was always my mother.
Working as a secretary during the day till 3, then in the kitchen making home made soups, kasha varnishkas, tongue and brisket. Chopped liver and food made to please her husband and father, and to keep all of us healthy and strong.
She made the Jewish home we lived in.
It was after my dad passed away that we grew closer. After my divorce and her friendship with my son Asa deepened that we started to talk.
It was then that I began to truly understand the formative part she played earlier in my life. It was then that we became friends.
It was also then that I started to put together the strings of our family history as part of who I am.
Pop’s family from Russia and the migration from Rivington Street to the East Bronx. The sacrifices of my mother and Uncle Herb to not pursue college but to work and help move the family to the West Bronx on the Grand Concourse where I was born.
The stories of three families with children and my grandfather living in one apartment waiting for the men to come back from the war. And the deep bonds of sisterhood amongst those women that was the center of all extended family activities throughout my youth.
It was then that I started to internalize the importance of my immigrant roots and the dedication of my parents to family, to extended friendships, to community and I think also to the country.
And in the face of everything, I began then to look back to my childhood as being really happy and unsoiled. And to my personal connection to my mom over the last 30 years as a rare gift.
To me she was a role model to my son Asa above what I could provide on my own.
To me, someone who basically her whole life had sacrificed anything and everything for the family with never a complaint.
To me, someone who would support me no matter what. In trouble for smoking pot and endless stupid things I did that required the family to fix.
Someone who truly loved people and celebrated life with endless gatherings and parties. Food and laughter, yelling and crying. She was at one and somehow in control of both the supreme joy and eternal messiness of life, and made it seem right and normal.
I’m going to miss her terribly but I’m not sad she is gone.
She was so proud. So spunky. So stylish that when I had to help her the weekend before she died with mundane physical tasks, she told me this was not a life she wanted to live any longer.
Rest in Peace Mom.
It is a very long and worthy life that ends with laying you down next to your husband.
A great story that should be akin to the oral tradition of our family. And passed down and retold.
From Osorkova Poland to Paterson. From the shtetls of eastern Russia to New York’s Lower East Side and the West Bronx.
To here today.
I’m a tough character by nature but this is tearing me at my very core of my soul.
I keep reaching for my phone to call her and say hello.
That will pass but the pain of this, the joy of her–this is something to hold onto forever.
It’s a large part of who I am and I simply won’t let it fade away.
Snapshots of my mother
Picture at the top of the post
My mom standing in front of their trailer in Hondo, Texas on the Army base. They knew my father was shipping out the next day. They did not know that she was pregnant and that my brother Jay would be 2 years old before he saw his father for the first time.
The day my parents met in Oakland, N.J in 1930.
My dad and mom.
Mom in the West Bronx with her mother at 18.
My Uncle Harry at his place upstate with my mother and Aunt Molly, my mom’s closest friend.
Pop and my mom on her wedding day.
Probably ten years ago at MoMa, one of our favorite spots.