Tag Archives: musings

The moments I’m not prepared for

Mount Everest, Photo credit: The Tribune, India

Caregiving for a person who is losing themselves is the Mount Everest of experiences. One puts one foot in front of the other for some sort of forward momentum, but without really looking too far ahead. To do so is to risk one’s own break down and that plaintive, wistful, despairing question, “how can I do this?”.

As I ponder it all, I’m realizing the moments I’m not prepared for seems to be a growing list. This morning, Jed asked, “Who are you?” and I really didn’t know where to go from there.

I smiled.

Sweetly.

In the moment.

Said, “I am Malissa,” paused and added “we are married.”

Jed said, “I don’t remember things.”

He then smiled and said, “well Sheila, how are you!”

Now that was typical Jed. A moment of clarity in his fog of a mind, covering his sense of embarrassment at not being on top of things and making a joke of it all. We carried on with the Sheila joke for a bit before focusing on breakfast: a toasted slice of leftover cranberry walnut bread, our Christmas morning family tradition for years. He said, “hmmm, this tastes good, where did you get it?”

I explained, the Christmas morning stuff and he looked at me with wide eyes and a big smile and said, “you made this? It’s delicious.”

And so it went. Through breakfast. Through discussions about haircuts. Showering. the scabs on his arms and upper body from his newly acquired OCD habit of scratching and picking.

And no, none of it is ever something I thought of. I mean, really, who does? At our age, one thinks of the bad luck of cancers or heart aliments, diabetes or COPD from all the smoking we did as kids, but something that slowly erodes one’s ability to think or even recognize or put words to the people they know and love? No. Believe me. You don’t think of it. Not even if it is all around you, never for your own spouse or loved one.

As I write this, we’ve conquered the confusion of waking up and not being able to understand the most basic of things. Slowly though, I am watching as cognition returns. Yes. Morning meds and vitamins. A shower (no fight about it either), shaving using his electric razor, putting on spanking new duds from his Christmas haul. A pet to our kitty Mimi who is on her last legs from chronic liver failure. Sweet words to me about how much he loves me. Appreciates me. More talk about getting a haircut. And then an actual walk, our first in almost two weeks since he accompanied me to the Post Office to pick up stamps.

All went well, but the haircut didn’t happen. We lost the window, too soon when he turned from our apartment house entry way and too late when we passed it on the way home.

Walks are in fact, really tiring both physically and mentally, even our very short ones. He becomes overstimulated by the sights and sounds. People on the street. Noise. Shops. And today from wandering around the first floor of Barnes and Noble, the colors of the fruit stand, the plants and trees lining the brownstones on Clinton Street. And needing to stop as well. The sweat beading on his forehead, needing to catch his breath, this from the man who has circumnavigated Manhattan at night in a kayak by himself and written about it for a Weekend Warrior column in the NY Times.

Once upstairs, he remembered about the haircut. “Maybe tomorrow,” he said. He had to go to bed, to drift for a while in the darkened room with drawn curtains and to eventually asleep.

Meanwhile my day. Yay to getting my delivery of Covid home tests after a pre-Christmas frantic search of medical supply companies on the internet. Yes to laundry, churning its way through rinse cycles and the dryer. Yes to a quick text touchpoint with my daughter. Yes to realizing just how overwhelmed I feel — and to the bits of tears in my eyes as I blink my way through a minute or two of silent meditation to keep myself together for the next steps of the day.

If yesterday morning was self-care at Gleason’s Gym, today, through chores (garbage out, laundry, vacuuming), I’m giving myself the sense of order externally. Sure, not spanking clean, but at least with some of the holiday disorder at bay.

And then I locate myself again. Clear my mind, breathe, inhale, exhale, and start it again. This is the way.

****

For more information about dementia and caregiving resources here are some helpful links in NYC as well as two of the main national organizations. And of course, always feel free to contact me.

CaringKind is a caregiver organization in NYC with remarkable resources, courses, caregiver groups, and other information. Link here: Caring Kind.

NYU Family Support Center has programs for caregivers to include a fully array of “zoom” meetings that range from looking at art with museum curators to music and caregiver “KaffeeKlastch” meetings. Link here:  NYU Family Support Center.

Alzheimer’s Association, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: Alzheimer’s Association.

The Association for Frontotemperal Degeneration, website for information and resources for this disease. Link here: AFTD

Getting it wrong to get it right

December Roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

December roses, Juneteenth Walk, Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn

I’ve been having that sort of week.

Really from last week till now. Forgetting to put stamps on letters. Referring to the wrong person in an email. Fretting as Izzi waits for another round of Covid tests because more of her co-workers have tested positive.

And sleep has been an on again, off again thing too. Drifting into a nap in front of the TV for 40 minutes during the boring parts of a boxing undercard and then not falling asleep till 4:30 in the morning.

Last night was so ridiculous.

I just gave up at about 3:00 AM, showered, and began making the dough for the cream cheese rugelach with apricot jam and walnuts I’m baking as part of my holiday array of goodies. Dough made and put into the refrigerator to rest, I didn’t fall sleep again till around 5:30 AM. I’m just chocking last night up to the winter solstice, with the notion that my body just wanted to get a jump start on the the longer days to come.

But I also know something else is going on. That the working from up in my chest rather than the sense of being rooted onto the earth is the sure knowledge that things are off kilter in my sense of being.

Scratching it further I’m having to ask myself what underlies it all.

Holidays?

The Omicron-variant doubling the cases of Covid in NYC everyday?

Line for Covid testing, Astoria, December 22, 2021 (Photo Credit: Izzi Stevenson)

Jed’s forgetting who Izzi was last week?

Cheng Man-ching

Not putting in the time to take care of the things I’ve committed to? I mean really, I have to ask myself, why is it I haven’t actually performed the Cheng Man-ching 37-move Tai Chi form since my last zoom class ended a few weeks ago?

It may remain a mystery of sorts and not having a particular insight into things can be something we just shrug our shoulders about and let go from time to time.

But I tried the exercise on Monday without even realizing it. Somewhere into my tenth round at Gleason’s Gym I let the flow of things unfold as I threw jabs and straight rights at the double-end bag. Somewhere around the 14th round I realized I did not feel constricted by striving for perfection. I was in the moment. Up on my toes. Flicking punches as I moved from side to side.

Just doing that reminded me that not every action has to be a home run. After all, a baseball player with a 350 batting average is considered at the top of the game. If a 1,000 is perfect … well, you get what I mean.

So that’s been my message to myself. I don’t always have to swing for the fences. And if I get it wrong, well, make up for it. Have the sense to sink down a little lower next time. Feel the power of the moment not as that huge mountain to climb, but as part of the flow.

Sometimes just getting a few hours of something, however fleeting, can be enough. And yeah, smell the roses.

Boxing Saturdays

Double end bag, Gleason's GymI admit to a certain inconsistency when it comes to my boxing training at Gleason’s Gym. Most weeks I am there two days a week, trying for Monday and Thursday mornings, but this week, as with several other weeks this Fall, days slipped away from me. And so … I found myself at the gym on a Saturday morning for the first time in months.

For many years, Saturdays were my mainstay of boxing. I’d drop my daughter off at her Aikido dojo for her three hour class and then make the quick dash to Gleason’s to train before turning back around to make the pickup.

Sparring at Gleason's GymThose were sacrosanct hours. Gleason’s was on Front Street then, the space encrusted with decades of sweat, grime, and hard work, and yet still cavernous.

Getting there by 9:30, my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore and I had our standing date to spar. We’d grab the little ring which remained pretty much unused at that time of the morning, and became so much “our” space, folks who thought to use it would immediately vacate when they saw us gear up.

It was a lot of fun.

Fun in learning the intricacies of the game. How to feint. How to double jab over the guard followed by an overhand right. How to throw a quick jab to the body when Lennox tried to trick me by switching to a south paw stance. Oh, and how to take a punch, which was way too often because I never could get the hang of slipping well or knowing when to put on my ear muffs.

Saturdays also had a lot of camaraderie. Sure there were pro fighters, but there were a lot of folks like me. In love with the sport and with the sense of boxing as a family. And so we would nod and acknowledge each other with waves, and “hi ya’ doing champ,” fist bumps, and mostly a lot of acknowledgements of the work being done. Of progress being made. Of dedication. Of the process of perfecting the lexicon of the sport as both science and art.

Next month will mark twenty-five years since I first started boxing at Gleason’s Gym. I trained with Johnny Grinage then–about as old school a trainer as one could get. We bonded over our mutual love of bebop, and I didn’t even mind when he’d tell me the same Miles Davis or Wynton Kelly story for the umpteenth time. When it came to boxing training, however, it wore out pretty quickly, so after about 8 years of on and off training, I switched to Lennox.

Lennox Blackmoore, Trainer, Gleason's GymI feel kind of proud of the fact that Lennox and I are still at it.  We haven’t sparred since before Covid, but have talked about restarting. After the switch to Water Street, Lennox even got up at the unthinkable hour of 5:00 in the morning (or frankly, never went to sleep), to train me at 6:30, before I went to work. Now that I’m retired, we tend to meet up some time between 9:30 and 10:00 and have not yet gotten back to our pre-covid three day a week schedule.

Neither of us is young, or as spry, but the fun never stops, and there’s always Don Saxby, another mainstay cheer leader of my old Saturday mornings to keep me sharp on my skills when I need a different view of the game,.

Telling the truth

I’ve spent a lifetime as the world’s best mask.

My old analyst Ralph figures I took one look at my very young, eager parents and said, “Whoa, keep you own counsel, sweetie,” and so it went.

There was the time I was 15 or so playing the trust game on a sidewalk near school when I fell back and suffice to say, my pals didn’t catch me, which meant a hard crack on the back of my head and lots of stars, but at least no blood.

And so things continued to go. Trust just a five letter work that spelled n-e-v-e-r.

Well, fast forward a life time, say 50+ years, and I am still wrestling with the concept. With what it means to put things out there. To unravel. To have tears glisten. To yell out, “help.” To not falter.

Sparring with Lennox Blackmoore, Gleason's GymNow, I don’t like getting punched in the face either, but at least I can see it coming, with the exception, perhaps, of a left hook coming at me from the right side. The point being, there is a truth about being in a ring. Yes, skills should be in evidence. A deep familiarity with the vernacular of jabs, and straight rights or lefts, of uppercuts and hooks, and all of the defensive strategies. Of balancing offense and defense. Of knowing enough to hook off a double jab. Of deftly moving laterally and back again. Of making one’s opponent miss and pay. Then at least one is prepared for those moments of truth. For how a doubled up jab goes over the guard. And how that pop to the forehead stuns, and before one knows it, there is a crushing hook to the jaw.

Then truth works.

Makes sense.

Just like my squeaky right jaw from a hook I didn’t defend five years ago or more. I knew it could come, but didn’t defend. Got so stymied by the double jab over the top, I lost touch. Let my right hand come down around my waist with nary a thought to the left hook coming my way. The perfectly timed one that snapped me to the side, and even as I leaped laterally, could still feel my head turning from it.

Truths of the soul kind though. The one’s that leave squeaks to the heart. How much harder are those to face? To come through? To ever let go? To even speak about in any coherent sort of way? I mean it’s all those years later. One would figure it’s time.

Reflecting the positive

Gleason’s Gym, September 23, 2021


I admit it. Not every day is stellar.

I’d walked to the gym at my usual clip, feeling as if I’d work through my 16 rounds or so with reasonable ease, already planning out the things I wanted to work on: Moving with the jab, followed by a sidestep for a quick right to the body, left hook, straight right combination, before moving on to the next jab. As I shadow boxed, that worked for about a minute of the first round before I started to slow down.

“One of those mornings,” I thought, as I took the pace down a notch.

And yes, Gleason’s Gym was still fairly summer-hot and very, very humid, but today, the stickiness in the air seemed to be getting to me more than usual.

By the fourth round I found I needed to slow it down even more. Still feeling that I could make it work I boxed four progressively slower rounds on the heavy bag and one last attempt at a fifth, making my total nine for the day.  And yep, that was it. I knew I had to call it quits. This was not my morning.

In trying to analyze it, I realized I was still a bit unnerved by news I’d received the night before. Someone I am close to suffered a TIA* – a mini-stroke that left her unable to speak in the middle of a zoom call. She was pretty much back to her self within 30 minutes, but on the advise of her doctor, went to the Emergency Room and was admitted overnight for monitoring and further tests. I had just seen her the week before our first true outing since before the pandemic, so it all came as a surprise. At 76, she is robust, but the reality is at a certain point, things just happen.

As I walked back home, still slow, slow enough that my walk wasn’t even registering as “exercise” on my iWatch, I reflected on it all. I realized that knowing when to pull out was just as important as pushing forward. That there is a moment when the positive of exercise or any of our actions gives way to something that may be less than brilliant. That knowing one’s limits is another aspect of self-care.

So … yes, reflecting the positive sometimes means listening to your body when it says, you are done working out for the day. Time to go home.

There’s always tomorrow.

 

*TIA: A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary period of symptoms similar to those of a stroke. A TIA usually lasts only a few minutes and doesn’t cause permanent damage. Often called a ministroke, a transient ischemic attack may be a warning of a future stroke and an opportunity to prevent it. (Mayo Clinic)

forgiveness ….

Tonight is Kol Nidre, so named as it is the old Aramaic prayer Jews around the world will sing annulling all oaths and vows made before G-d at the start of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.

If that felt like a lot, believe me, it is a lot. And hearing it sung feels as heart wrenching as it implies as it signifies the beginning of 25+ hours of prayer, self-reflection and fasting–along with entreaties to G-d and oneself to be written into the “good” book of life for the coming year.

This morning, like an ersatz acolyte in training, I figured I would use my time boxing at Gleason’s Gym to clear out my mind for the mental and emotional gymnastics that Yom Kippur would bring.

Meanwhile it was hot, hot, hot and humid, and as I went through my first four rounds of shadow boxing, I became bathed not only in my exertions, but a less than charitable feeling as I angled for the portion of the ring underneath the overhead fan against all comers.

“Oy,” I realized, “Yet another thing to seek forgiveness for.”

Still, by the time I was on the focus pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, I was indeed more in the moment, less concerned with the fan, and working on the exact angle of my head as I dipped under to bob and weave among the other technical corrections I was seeking to make as we trained. I even felt like I could go for a fifth round of pads, and although I gulped sips of water between rounds, and I was just short of panting, whatever it was I was aiming for in the “clear one’s mind department” was starting to kick in.

But that doesn’t mean I was really any closer to getting the whole forgiveness thing.

Sure, I can forgive another their “trespasses” and mostly do. I work hard at that and do bear it in mind not to attach to the behavior of others even when it violates me to a degree. But I do bump up against things. The “big” violations that become harder to deal with. Frankly, the closer they are to my core being, the harder those, “I forgive you,” words become. And then I also have to wonder where the line is between not attaching to the behavior of others and the psychological state of disassociation I have entered into from time to time over the course of my lifetime from the deep pains and in some cases emotional trauma those acts have caused.

All of that is difficult and can set-up a spiral of clarity to defensive posturing as a tornado of the soul. But that is not my understanding of what the day is about per se. Rather the purpose is here and now–and has less to do with forgiving others than calling out oneself for the crap we’ve pulled all year, such as how not forgiving another may have set up behavior we need to ask forgiveness for. Subtle. Yes. But that’s the point. It’s all about one’s own behavior.

I hogged the fan in the ring… I was snippy to my husband… I didn’t take my friend’s mother’s call… I removed someone’s laundry from the dryer… I said I was going to make dinner, but binge-watched The Bad Batch instead.

We are talking countless acts that I will have to pound my chest about.

But it will be the deeper reflections that I have to really sort out:  Can I forgive myself for being me? For being less that perfect? For thinking a thing, but not always doing it? For my humanity? And frankly, to my mind, for those acts where I cheated myself?

I am grateful for the chance to renew myself. For taking a day to cleanse as I go forth into whatever the next space will be. Will I be perfect at atoning? No. I can’t even say for certain that I will fast for the full 25+ hours or stay online for all of the prayers. But I do forgive myself that. It’s my intentions that truly matter. My intentions for a good and full year doing all that I can to live my best life.

I will close with this:

To those I have wronged, I ask for forgiveness.

To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.

To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.

To those who helped me, I sincerely thank you …

Gmar chatima tova – May you be inscribed in the book of life for good.

Cantor Josef Rosenblatt singing Kol Nidre from a 1930 recording.

My 9/11 …

World Trade Center, view from New Jersey

Twenty years has passed in the blink of an eye since the events of September 11, 2001, and yet we also have all of the extraordinary moments that we have lived through year in and year out since then.

I have raised a child, completed my BA and MA, published a book, started and retired from a 15 year successful career with the City of New York, nine plus years of which were spent with the special people of the NYC Fire Department in the post-9/11 culture of camaraderie and pain that is unique to the FDNY.

In that latter realm, I have had the honor of christening the fireboat Three Forty Three, a 120 foot vessel that graces New York Harbor having been named to honor the men and women of the Department who lost their lives in the horrific events of 9/11.

Each of us who survived the events of that day has our own stories of what has happened to us over these past twenty years.

We also never forget where we were and what we were doing on that beautiful Tuesday morning.

Yet we move forward, feeling the holes in the sky as deep scars on our collective psyche, and for many of us when looking at the reconfigured landscape of towering buildings, no longer seeing it as a symbol of home.

For New Yorkers, in my case a multi-generational denizen of the City, 9/11 carries special resonance and pain. Most of us knew someone who perished or in playing the six degrees of separation game someone who knew someone and so one. For some of us the loss remains unbearable and still we persevere.

I remember Peter “Pete” Mardikian.

He was 29.

He had been married for just six weeks–a wedding I’d been invited to but couldn’t attend in his wife, Corine’s hometown in Ohio.

Pete worked for me for a while at Imagine Software before a promotion that saw him working for one of the partners, Scott Sherman. We’d spent a great time in London together, all of us ensuring our software product didn’t crash and burn at the turn of the New Year on January 1, 1999.

Le Meridien Hotel Bar, Piccadilly, London

Along with others of our colleagues, Stephen Klein, Karen Rose, and Mark Lipsits among them, we’d meet up at the end of our long work days and sit up talking about the meaning of life until well past midnight at the bar of the Le Meridien Hotel off Piccadilly Square. As this was long before the days of smart phones and Instagram feeds, there are no photos to smile at documenting our moments together nor memes captured from Scott’s brilliant stories that had us reeling with laughter nor our wonderment at Stephen’s instance that we enter “drift time.”

So those remembrances have to live inside. In our collective hearts. In how we laugh about that time at the bar on the infrequent moments we meet up or pound out notes on Facebook.

But it’s without Pete.

Without his special brand of magic and sweetness. Without him as a 49 year old, perhaps a father a couple of times over, regaling us with the firsts of those kinds of experiences: first birthday, first day of kindergarten, first white belt ceremony … and so on.

At the 9:05 am moment in the 9/11 Timeline records, it is noted that Peter Mardikian called his wife on one of the few working phones. He was on the 106th Floor of the North Tower attending the Risk Waters Group Conference at Windows on the World. One other of our colleagues, Andrew Fisher, 42, also perished, and a third colleague in attendance left mere moments before the first plane hit the towers to go back to the office to pick up something.

Pete’s funeral at the St. Vartan Cathedral an Armenian Church on 34th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan created levels of pain I did not think were possible.

All of us, his family, his colleagues, his friends were crushed beyond measure. We saw in Cori a figure of strength and fortitude we did not think possible and in our own grief looked to her to model how to endure his loss.

I spent most of my time with Scott. Both of us were 47 years of age. We were bereft at the notion that someone with so much left of his life could be lost. We felt like helpless parents with inconsolable grief at the notion that our bright, brilliant boy with a limitless future had perished so horribly.

He was our Petey. Our pal. And in those moments of pain we had to reconcile what life meant. How we could go forward. How we could separate our anger and the sense that life was not worth living in the presence of such horror. How to navigate those moments to get to the pivotal point where we were choosing to live. To experience grief as it is and then go on to live life as best we could.

Any loss is grievous. The loss of 2,977 in one day was incalculable for New Yorkers and incalculable still as we viscerally reconsider how it unfolded and the many permutations that have affected our world in the aftermath of 9/11. Those memories form indelible pictures that hit the senses in waves that strip us bare again. Causing that gulping feeling of a gut punch one never fully recovers from.

All we can do is continue to live our best lives if not for ourselves then for the those we lost.

May the memory of those who perished be for a blessing.

Last rounds of the year …

I had a good boxing workout this morning at Gleason’s Gym, aided by the fact that I had a decent sleep for a change.  My work out was my favorite, four rounds of shadow boxing, four on the focus pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, four rounds of the double-end bag, and finally four rounds on the speed bag.

There was something comforting about being back to “normal.” Yes, I tried to keep to my “wear a mask at all times” mantra, even in a gym where everyone is vaccinated, but it was still pretty hot and humid, and eventually took it off in the midst of my rounds with Len because it was getting too hard to breathe.

If that is the worst I ever have to deal with — all I can say is wow, what a great life.

And really, as I am at the start of the rounds of examination I will go through over the next ten days starting with tonight’s first night of the Jewish New Year’s process and ending up with breaking the Yom Kippur fast, the workout I had today was just a light flurry of facing up to moments of truth.

Because that’s really what it is all about anyway.

Avoiding the easy path of cheating at solitaire.

You know … pulling from the deck when you’ve already lost … as if no one will notice!  Kind of like that. And it’s the same thing in the ring. You can throw the jab with authority and energy, mindful of your stance, of how you move forward, of how you hold your opposite hand to protect your head. Or not. One gets you to the truth of your capabilities and of what you need to do to improve, and the other cheats it.  Doesn’t get you forward at all. Says, I’m pulling from the deck.

We all do it … all the time, whether knowingly or not. The trick is pushing forward anyway. Owning up. Facing those demons of crap you pull, mostly on yourself, but to others as well, and understanding what the motivations were, how you got there in the first place, and what you can do to make it better. To manage the process of moving forward with your life.

Jewish New Year, Tashlich, or the throwing off of sins symbolically by tossing pieces of bread. Williamsburg Bridge, Brooklyn, 1909, Photo Credit: The Bowery Boys

I do have it in mind that in Jewish tradition, this next ten days is a process of unburdening and in so doing, sealing our collective fates for the next year. Will you live? Will you not? Will it go easy or hard?

I’m not certain that I buy into all of that, but I do believe that our actions foretell our futures. That cheating at solitaire doesn’t mean we have “won” our games, only that in so doing, we have denied ourselves the satisfaction of the real wins when they finally come, whether that is throwing a jab worthy of it’s name or facing up to the myriad of truths that life throws at us and coming through it a more enlivened human being.

I wish everyone sweetness, peace, and an easy passage to the enlightenment that living in truth can offer.

Happy New Year – Shanah Tovah!

Being in it…

Having just lived through the effects of the post-tropical Hurricane Ida from the safety of my 4th floor apartment in Brooklyn, I can say that while life can be a wild ride, our reference point will always be the determinant for our perspective unless we fight to see it otherwise.

Sure, torrential rain, high winds, flying debris, but hey, I was nicely tucked in with my husband Jed. We were glued to Hulu binge-watching the first three episodes of Only Murders in the Building, so what did we care until we started to feel a few drips on our head and realized we had quite the leak coming through the brickwork by the window.

And isn’t that the way? We go blissfully about our daily lives even through downpours that seem biblical in nature, while passing a pithy quip or two, but otherwise remaining unaffected, well that is until we are right in the middle of whatever that drama is.

A drip from the ceiling. A flooded basement. Subway stairs that look like class 5 rapids. Downed trees and power. And on and on.

And in the aftermath, in the sunrise that is clear with air as fresh as it can be, even as we assess, perhaps in tears for our losses, or annoyed that we no longer have the convenience of say the nearest subway stop on the corner, but of having to hoof it, is it then that we know we are in it?

Part of the larger story?

Have “skin in the game” so to speak?

Whether it’s understanding that our climate change future is now or masking up to protect someone from a raging virus or helping out a stranger who is struggling to cross the street, our participation, our understanding that we are in it is what makes us part of the human chain.

I am as my brother and sisters in the literal sense of having siblings — but I am also as all my brothers and sisters, those who suffer and those who have joy.

Planet Earth

Perhaps I am in this mode because we are so close to the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and all of the incumbent self-reflection of the season. Whatever the reason, I am struck by my connectedness to the people around me and beyond. Knowing that whether we want to be or not, we are all in it.

Our connections to each other are real and important.

How we treat those relationships and how we strive for the betterment of other human beings is, at the end, the testament of who we are. What our passage on our beautiful blue marble of a planet will come to mean.

 

19 Years ago today

19 years on …

The World Trade Center was my point of reference from the first time I spied the towers in the fog looking south on Sullivan at the corner of Bleecker in Greenwich Village.  I was with my father, with whom I used to roam the City on our occasional Sunday’s together. The towers had been on our radar all through its construction. We’d pass by the towers first as a hole in the ground and then as partially constructed buildings as we peered up from under the old West Side Highway on one of our jaunts through the docks on our way to Battery Park.

That night, with the windows illuminated in shrouded light felt magical and has been a point in time I have always treasured.

When I gaze on the City now, I feel the holes in the sky as a huge ache in my heart.

It happens whether I am looking across from the vantage point of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade or most recently from the vantage point of the Rockaway Ferry looking across towards Manhattan just past the Marine Park Bridge.

Our nation, our citizenry, our sense of who we are as a people have undergone many, many transformations since the ill-fated morning of September 11, 2001. Some have been for the good, but much, as now, has been fraught with conflict, fear, dislocation, and the kind of damage that can take generations, if ever, to heal.

I can only offer my fervent hope that we will persevere to better days.

What does it all mean?

What does it all mean?

I guess you could say I’m in a mode.

My personal world is rife with complexities and when I look around me to the world at large I feel roiled by the political landscape, our deeply troubled future as citizens of a rapidly changing environment on a planetary scale, not to mention, the myriad of problems associated with poverty, sexism, racism—and in fact all of the –isms.

Yet I am still here as we all are.

Here and facing choices as simple as what to wear to work or how to fit in the gym time—to the bigger questions we tackle related to the health and well-being of our families, our neighbors, and those extensions of ourselves that we count as having the same importance of those near and dear to us.

Perhaps I am thoughtful because on the Jewish calendar of my heritage it is the eve of another New Year.

This one, 5780, feels big.

Perhaps it’s because it ends on a round number – or perhaps it’s because this year is particularly big in my own cycle of new years having turned 65 this past June.

So yes, it’s loaded.

Loaded with my personal turmoil as I contemplate what my future looks like and the meaning of getting older—while tinged with that ever hopeful patina of faith that the future will bring about a better world no matter the challenges.

The sages of Jewish lore deemed the period of the New Year as a time to set the past aside to move forward to what is fated for the coming year. The High Holidays are thus an interregnum of sorts: a liminal world of becoming bounded by the foibles of one’s life on the one hand and a future state of more perfected beingness on the other.

That perfecting process, that transition to being one’s best self can take many forms. It can be as simple as casting aside one’s sins in the water as so many crumbs of bread—or the challenges one encounters on a deeper dive into one’s psyche where in a determined fashion, one truly examines one’s crimes and misdemeanors and devises a plan of action to face the meaning of those truths in order to move forward.

Both are easier said than done as we are all very, very good at cheating at solitaire. And it is that instinct to cheat. To not work through the necessary stages that is the most hurtful of all to ourselves.

In my late 30s I went through a time of deep spiritual crisis.

In those years I could not fathom what it meant to be.

In my search for meaning I clung to many things as a symbiote: my job, my relationships, my feelings of despair, even my own suicidal ideations as some sort of badge of singularity in the world.

I was able to work through that period of my life with a mixture of luck, a very deeply buried survival instinct, excellent psychotherapy, and an awareness that all the cheating, all the time I’d spent burying my demons were what was causing my crisis in the first place.

As I dive into the liminality of another New Year process, I carry with me a remembrance of that period in my life. And while it is distant and remote to the person I became afterwards, I know that in shedding that skin, it still remains a part of who I am. The difference is that in facing the truth, no matter how raw and awful it is, one has the chance for redemption and a forward momentum into the next part of one’s life.

So even though I have my doubts for the future, the work itself is one’s purpose, what I like to call the daily something. And while getting it right is a moment to moment thing, playing out one’s hand without cheating makes it all worth while in the end, even if it seems you never can “win” the game.

 

18 Years On

18 Years on …

 

I find that extraordinary.

My daughter went from having her first week of Pre-school to being a junior in College.

 

And our world

So much meaner

With boots on the ground and lives shattered and destroyed

For what?

I can’t remember why

Just the pain of the hole in the sky.

 

The hole in the sky

Seventeen years today…

I chose to remember joy, even though my heart aches for the losses.

For the hole in the sky.

For the people I mourn.

For an America that was less fractured by revenge, less intent on unraveling progress, less mean in its pursuit of something tangible that has seemingly been lost.

Stamina

I’ve noticed it all summer long—small minute observations of not being on my game. Whether it’s slowing down in the ring as the rounds add up or the feeling that I’m going to run out of breath when I walk from home to my writing room or from my office at work towards the subway.

These are things I take for granted: having the pep and vigor to work hard through my 16 rounds of training at Gleason’s or walking at my fast pace wherever I go, in fact hating when I amble as some sort of flaw in the process of how I move through space

And yep, it’s been hot and humid, even at 6:15 in the morning. And as for Gleason’s – well it’s a boxing gym! Air conditioning is for the winter when cold air barrels through because there’s very little heat—and summer, well, the heat and mugginess is just part of the “allure,” not to mention a sure fired way to loosen up tight muscles.

In contemplating why my stamina is off, and why there have been times this summer when I’ve had to stop in the middle of running pads with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, sit for a while under one of the overhead fans with a wet towel on my head before picking it up again on the double-end bag or the speed bag, I’ve wondered if it’s just the heat, or something else.

Is it turning 64? Is it the process of the body inevitably slowing down even when one does the same thing repetitively? Is it mental? A sense of not being in the moment, my thoughts wandering off somewhere, stealing glances at CNN’s early morning news show as I shadow box around the ring—feeling my guts tighten and cringe at whatever the latest outrage is about children being separated from their parents or yet more cuts to things like food stamps and healthcare?

In thinking about stamina—that ability to work at something long and hard whether it’s something physical or mental or both for that matter—I’ve been thinking through the processes that gives one the feeling of invincibility as one works through the problem, whether it’s running five miles in a set amount of time, boxing a set number of rounds, or putting in the hours to write a book; efforts that require focus, attention, and a sense of being present with what one is trying to accomplish.

I’m hoping that my being “off” in the gym—is some combination of heat and mental focus, and in thinking it through even further I do have to own up to the fact that I’ve not been resting as I should and have been letting the day-to-day stuff we all live with “get” to me.

And so in trying to tease out stamina—I can see it as a “trifecta” of sorts: one part being in shape, one part being focused, and one part being present enough to let it all happen. And sure, it can be physical too—but the truth is, I just don’t buy, at least not yet, and so off I’ll go on Monday to work it out on the bag again.

If not now, when

I set my alarm to wake up at 5:15 AM today.

Now up and making my way through our quiet apartment, I am aware that it is dark again. A quick check shows the sunrise today will be at 6:07 AM, a sign, even in mid-August, that the sun is well into its descent from the northern latitudes towards its winter digs. If I measure life as a cycle of comings and goings from sunrise to sunset and sunset to sunrise, it’s also a reminder that it all keeps moving whether we are conscious of it or not.

Where did the brightness of the morning go at 5:15 AM? Wasn’t it just there when I woke up ahead of the alarm to make my way to the gym?

Writing this, I am aware that it’s the very consciousness of things that is beginning to concern me.

Where does the time “go”?

I ask having spent a lovely couple of hours yesterday evening with my daughter wandering through the Ikea in Red Hook as we grabbed stuff for her college dorm room. Could it really be that she goes back to college in a week and a half? Or that it is her second year?

That collapse of time, accompanied by the sense of its moving on without being aware of it is why I set my alarm for 5:15 AM today. Yes, it’s a weekday, so I have to go to work, but no, it’s not a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, so my day will not start with my hour’s workout at Gleason’s Gym. This hour will have another purpose—it marks a beginning of sorts; a reminder that each day should bring its daily something; some moment where I take the time to remind myself to smell the roses.

Today’s moment is this: It is the act of waking up early and becoming conscious that the sun hasn’t risen yet—and then contemplating why I didn’t notice it yesterday or the day before or the day before that.

It’s when I ask myself if not now, when in a life that is otherwise fast-paced and so punctuated by a constant bombardment of information that it’s no wonder I haven’t looked out the window to be conscious of the darkness of the sky—or of how as I have written these words the pre-dawn light has begun to glow with a grayish blue tinged by pink and little bits of yellow.