The Greatest Moment of My Life

I’M NOT THE SAME PERSON I USED TO BE, OR EVEN THE PERSON I ALWAYS HOPED TO BE.

I’M NOT AS STRONG, OR AGILE, OR QUICK WITTED; NOR ACCOMPLISHED AS I HOPED TO BE.

AND I DON’T HAVE THE SAME PHYSICAL PRESENCE THAT I ONCE HAD.

BUT YOU’LL HEAR NO COMPLAINTS FROM ME.

AND THAT’S BECAUSE I LIVE IN THE MOMENT.

AND I’VE NEVER HAD A MOMENT AS WONDERFUL AS THIS ONE.

I HAVE NO FEAR.  NO UNREALIZED GOALS.  I’VE BEEN MORE THAN FORTUNATE.

I MIGHT NOT BE AS SHARP AS I USED TO BE.  MY MEMORY NOT AS CLEAR AS IT USED TO BE.

BUT MY UNDERSTANDING IS SO FAR GREATER THAN IT EVER WAS OR I EVER HOPED IT WOULD BE.

CLOUDY OR SUNNY, THE LIGHT SHINES BRIGHTER EVER DAY.

THERE’S NOTHING I NEED.  NOTHING I WANT.

THIS MOMENT, AS THE ONE BEFORE IT AND THE NEXT ONE FOLLOWING IS THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE.

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Serenity

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Strength to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

 

The Serenity Prayer was written by an American theologist, Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and then made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, and other self-help groups many years ago.  The poignancy of its simple message makes it a mantra for many of those in recovery and helps when things feel tough and out of control.  It’s the strength to draw upon when strength is needed.  It’s the understanding they receive when they don’t know why things are so difficult.  It’s a great perspective to use when change is needed but so difficult to achieve.

The discovery of this simple prayer has changed my life.

Serenity is defined as the state of being calm or serene.  It’s the state of being that I ascribe to as often as possible.  For me, happiness lives in that state of being.  It is in the moment that you feel that way.  If you are calm or just plain happy, it can only be NOW that you feel that way.  The future hasn’t come yet and the past is behind us.  So, if I can feel serenity and I am living in the moment, then for me that is the clearest perspective I can have.

So why do I find these simple words so powerful?

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”  I say this to myself, repeatedly, when I am full of anxiety, and suffering emotionally over something that is beyond my control.  Too often I get an automatic negative emotional response to something happening to me.  I never decided to let it bother me.  It just comes over me like a wave, and for that moment encompasses me.  I find this line, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, is a prayer unto itself.  We all need to accept the things we cannot change.  These are the things that by their nature have nothing to do with us.  They come from outside ourselves. I don’t use God as the focus, but solely myself.  I ask myself to accept the things I cannot change.  However, if praying to God works then that’s great.  I get relief from most negative emotional states by just saying these words.

The rest of the Serenity Prayer leads me on a path to make the changes in my life which I desire.  Unless you are living a perfect life, a person needs change to make improvements.  It takes courage to make changes.  Courage to change the things I can, reminds me to look within myself for the courage, and gives me the understanding that it might not be easy but it is doable.  It is easy to leave things as they are.  Working towards change gives me the hope that one day I will get to where I want to be.

I know that if I can develop the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change then I will be happy.

Toast to Alan on his 65th Birthday

By Pat DePalo Jablon

Here is a simple toast, for a very simple man.
Who lives his life daily, following a very simple plan.
He lives his life in the moment, For today is all he sees,
Never dwelling on what was, never worrying what might be.

He is simply always happy, Always calm, an inner peace like zen,
And if something goes wrong, it won’t be long, before it’s a good day once again.
This simple man truly enjoys, the simple pleasures that life brings,
Kicking back with a beer, riding his bike, the simple strumming of guitar strings.

This simple man is always grateful, says he has everything he needs and more,
Good friends-good health-good fortune, and a family that he adores.
This simple man is my husband, and for that I am very glad.
And if I can quote this man it would go like this,
“Today, this day, is the best day I have ever had.”

A Deeper Meaning to Eric’s Graduation

My son Eric just finished graduate school. After more than seven years of college, and after starting at the ripe old age of 22, he achieved his lofty goal and received his master’s degree in special education. His accomplishment is huge being that he was never a student who found it easy to study, and in his previous educational endeavors he was not very successful. He changed the paradigm within which he lived and went on to success. He proved that change is possible if you want it bad enough. My joy and pride for his accomplishments well up from within me whenever I think of it. But this essay is only partially about Eric. It’s also about people and the basic commonality we all share.

I found myself outside Queens College in a crowd of people, waiting for Eric to arrive, (some things never change) and while feeling the excitement of the approaching event I noticed something even more profound. I noticed the incredible diversity of the hundreds of graduates and family members surrounding me. They all spoke so many languages, were of so many skin colors, and yet they all had something in common. Something that was so pervasive, throughout this environment. They all just glowed. Where else can you be and find so many people together in one place who are all just so happy, proud, and excited, celebrating an accomplishment for themselves or someone close to them. It was a universal feeling of joy. I didn’t see any negativity anywhere. And then at that moment a truth became evident to me.

What I was witnessing was not just a happy time for those involved, but a universal sharing of joy, between people whose origins are as diverse as a bed of many different beautiful flowers, and who for that moment in time forgot their daily trials and tribulations, and just basked in their happiness. Within the diversity of people from all over the world I was witnessing America at its best. This was not what I see on TV most nights. There was no anger or fear between races and populations of strangers like we see on CNN. No talk of philosophical political differences being stressed more than the similarities we all share. It was just a sharing of happiness. “Can I take a picture of you all together?” “What was your major?” “That’s an interesting dress you are wearing.” Everyone was interacting, smiling, and making eye contact.

There is a dichotomy within all people. Our daily routines are stressful, and this stress translates into anxiety, fear, feeling of separation and general negativity which sometimes make us unhappy. We fear the future, and lament the past. It’s not who we are, but it is how we think. The other side of our minds is our TRUE selves. It’s the understanding of human universality, and not division. It’s the interaction between people through love, and not fear. Our true selves filter out all the bullshit which tells us we are different from each other.

I was witnessing hundreds of people being their TRUE SELVES all at once, and all together. It reminded me not of the dichotomy of what we are, but the reality of what we can be. It was a hopeful and invigorating experience. Thank you Eric and congratulations on your wonderful achievement.

 

Ed Paymer’s Funeral

This morning I went to Joel Paymer’s dad’s funeral.  I’m friends with Joel for a long time and yet I never met his dad.  I really enjoyed the funeral because I got a glimpse of who this man was and I was impressed.  The son of a rabbi, he was a true giver, in a time when our culture is so self-centered.  There were over a hundred comments on Facebook about Ed, from a business perspective as well as personal, how he positively affected people’s lives.  Gratitude was a theme for many comments.  What a legacy!  People were grateful for having known Ed Paymer.  I pride myself on being able to read between the lines.  There were fewer basic “sorry for your loss” comments, and many more comments about how he changed someone’s life, or was a pleasure to know, or how important he was to someone.  His niece spoke at the funeral about how for many years while she was a child he would take her and her brother to shows and events, and how important he was to her.  I was moved by that.  It’s pretty special for an uncle to make such an impression on a niece like Ed did with his niece.  Ed Paymer must have been a wonderful father to have grown up with.  I can see why Joel and his family has such positive attitudes.  As they were wheeling out the casket, I noticed Joel and Doug talking and they had smiles on their face.  I could see that while they will miss him, because a man of this quality is always missed, they will probably celebrate his life for the remainder of theirs.

I can’t help but think that Ed left so much to so many people.  While it seemed easy for him, for so many of us it is not so easy.  Someone said during the eulogy that he treated everyone he met like a best friend.  In contemplation of myself, I can honestly say that I can use some improvement in that area.  I think many people can.

The impact that Ed Paymer had on everyone who he came in contact with was pretty amazing.  While I never got to know him, Ed Paymer, even in death had a profound effect on me.  It’s extraordinary how goodness, positivity, and love can truly affect the world.

I was moved this morning, and I feel better for having been to my friend’s dads funeral.

Weight Loss

 

I’m always amazed when I notice things in our culture that are marketed well, but in reality just don’t work so well.  It seems to me that people don’t care so much that they might not get what they are paying for, or more importantly they might not get what they are looking for.  This happens with so many things in life, but it occurs to me that there is nothing more disappointing than weight loss products, and their ability to give lasting effects.   Now the industry would say that it’s the fault of the consumer, and part of this is true.  However, they know the statistics and they know most people might lose weight at first, following their regimen, but they also know that most people will not keep it off.    Billions of dollars are spent every year on weight loss magic, and so often the results are short lived or not seen at all.  Pills, potions, diets, and all types of experts claim to have the answer, but I have found the results are rarely long lasting.

In my opinion there are two parts to understanding how to achieve successful weight loss, physiological and psychological, and yet most of the world just looks at the first part and doesn’t much address the second.

Physiologically we need a certain number of calories to live, and if we eat more calories than we need to live it is stored as fat.  (weight gain) If we eat less calories than we need to live our bodies turn to our fat storage for calories and starts to use some of the fat. (weight loss)

For the most part, that is it.  Pretty simple.  Eat too much and you gain weight.

So people take pills to cut their appetite, eat “fake foods” to fool themselves into eating the same amount but reduced caloric totals, speak to dietitians about how foods work together to make you gain weight, etc. etc. etc.

While there are instances where things such as metabolism, and individual health might make it more difficult to lose weight, for the most part it’s a matter of how much you eat.

So how do we eat the amount of calories our bodies need and no more?  If we could easily eat less or healthier we certainly would.  I believe that success lies in the understanding of why some people have no trouble eating less and some find it so difficult.

I always used to look at the skinny guy who seems to be able to eat anything he wants and still maintain his weight.  I figured he had my enormous love of food and appetite but just never gained weight.  I thought he was given a gift, and I was always jealous.  However, research shows us that they don’t eat more, they just eat better.  The reason why they eat better is because they were raised to eat healthier. They are not immune to the physiological rules of caloric need. They don’t eat huge portions, tons of cake and ice cream, or snack when they are upset.  I believe that they just don’t medicate or sooth themselves with food.  They are not psychologically more fit, but just deal with their psychological needs in a different way.  One study showed that thinner people walk more, stand around instead of sit and just fidget more.  Is fidgeting their way of soothing themselves?  I mean that somewhat sarcastically, but studies have shown that thin people are less sedentary that heavier people.  So often babies are given extra bottles when they cry and at that early age they get soothed with food.  Isn’t it a fair conclusion that eating when you are upset or anxious is a learned behavior?  How many young children are rewarded or worse yet controlled with sugary foods?  Candy, ice cream, cupcakes etc.  Our parents have linked good feelings to unhealthy food and for us the link usually lasts forever.    I don’t mean to put the blame on our parents.  I am also to blame, having followed my parents lead.  Yet this link of soothing with food is rarely explored or addressed when attempting weight loss. So what do we do?

As with so much of our lives, living with awareness opens our eyes and makes living a happy life more possible.  I compare overeating to drug addiction.  Some people can control their intake of drugs and alcohol and some cannot.  I believe it’s the same with food addiction, and this is the reason why so many people cannot control their eating.  As the drug addict often soothes with drugs, the food addict soothes with food.  Instead of facing this as what it is, a form of a self-medicating psychological soothing technique/compulsion, we look to easier answers such as dieticians who say they have figured out “the answer”.  They have food supplements, their own expensive portion controlled meals, and drinking your meals.  It is all a substitute for a lack of control of a food compulsion (addiction).  Truly being aware of this can give people the strength to control themselves.  In an aware state recently I noticed that whenever I am anxious I go to look for a snack.  Now if I just took a few cashews that would be fine.  But I am not hungry.  I am upset, or anxious, or nervous, so since I am not looking to satiate my hunger but fill an emotional void, I eat and eat and eat.  Sometimes after I eat I feel better emotionally, but cannot remember what or why I ate. Of course, in reality food has nothing to do with being emotionally upset.  Now, when I get the urge to eat, and I know I am not hungry, I become aware of this being an emotional reaction, and I think of it as such.  If it’s not meal time, then before I put something in my mouth I think of what’s behind my urge to eat.  It helps me control the desire for food.

So I am in the middle of having changed my eating habits.  I’ve almost completely stopped eating red meat because I believe that it is not natural for humans to eat meat.  Our digestive system is not built for meat digestion as are that of carnivores.  Since I stopped I feel much better.  Also, since I stopped overeating and recognized my food compulsion (addiction) I feel so much better.   It’s not cool in our culture to admit to an addiction.  We try to hide from seeing it for what it is.  If, however, I am correct about overeating being an addiction, then all the comfortable answers and remedies that people use to lose weight would not work.

THEY DON’T.

How many people know someone who lost a lot of weight and then gained it back.  (relapse) The cycle that people get into, of losing and gaining weight is what happens almost all the time.  This is similar to the cycle of drug addiction.  Drug addicts might go to rehab many, many times before having long lasting benefits. Our societies approach is all wrong.  When someone loses a sizable amount of weight and keeps it off they are more than just following a diet, or listening to some nutritionist tell them what to eat.  These fortunate people have changed their general eating habits as well as themselves emotionally.  They have found the reason to change and the benefits from change greater than their satisfaction of soothing themselves with food.  This process, as you can imagine is far more difficult than “going on a diet.” They have become better eaters of course, and learned to eat like thin people eat, and fortunately for them they got past the emotional ditch they kept falling into in relation to food.

Our culture has monetized everything.  Instead of getting to the core reason for overeating we have figured ways of making money on weight loss.  This profit incentive keeps us from doing the very hard work which is what is necessary to understand what we need to do to lose weight.  We want the quick fix.  A more intelligent idea is to consider the reason for eating more than your body needs.  Become aware of what’s happening to you.   I eat well now because I want to stay healthy, do what comes naturally to myself and my body, by eating well.  When I get the urge to overindulge I think of how if I indulge myself in that moment I will be hurting myself.  So I don’t.  We all need incentive to stop bad habits.  Overeating is a bad habit.  Understanding why we do it is the beginning of any desired change.

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day!

Our nation is founded on the most amazing principles of human rights and democracy.  The law of the land is that every person is created equal, endowed with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  What perfect ideals.  However, throughout the ages we are discovering that while people are created equal they are not equal in our society.  The rich get richer, the pool of poor get larger, and the middle class is shrinking.  Politicians do so very little to make us a greater nation.

Instead of getting better as a nation we have stalled into partisan politics and as a nation we reflect the day’s psychology of selfishness and self-centered thought.  Instead of being a nation of people, we are individuals living in the same nation.  Instead of being part of a whole, made up of all different folks from all over the world, we are individuals who strive for ourselves first, our personal beliefs first and think of the country as one entity only when necessary, like when we are attacked.  It’s not the way it should be.

The natural course of events is for us to see ourselves not as individuals but as small parts of the bigger whole.  To see all people as our equal and to respect everyone in the world.  I do believe that radical Islamic thought is the reason for so much terrorism in the world, but does anyone think it would be so easy to recruit suicide bombers if we showed respect to everyone in the world? To not be so glib about collateral damage?   I am so grateful to live in this great country, and I celebrate this today, but I also think of how we can do a better job for ourselves, and how that will make the whole world a better place.

Our Italy Trip

I am sitting in my opulent seat, on the flight home from Rome. Our travels are almost over and if I had to describe this trip in just a word it would be wonderful. Or maybe amazing. Or otherwise perfect.

Besides those few words I have had many enlightening thoughts about many interesting topics. Religion, which was a huge part of this trip gave me great insights, and added to my growth in my personal spirituality. My gratitude quotient has grown dramatically. My understanding of the difference between people throughout the world and within our country has also grown. Some of it makes me sad with how I react to the difference between how people live. I want to explain all this and it will take time. But all in all it’s been an amazing time for Pat and I. We toured Italy, saw so many fascinating places, and met wonderful people along the way. Our tour group was a mixture of people from all over the country, with nothing in common other than affluence and a positive attitude.  We all got along so well, that after the week was over there was nothing but good words spoken, hugs for everyone, and even some tears along the way. We talked during the week with almost anyone who wanted to, and we shared so much personal stuff. I love people who share with others and really enjoyed that part of it. Funny how I find it so difficult in my regular life to meet people like this and yet on this trip so many people were open. Perhaps it was because we will probably never see each other again, or perhaps it was because so many of them were older, smarter and more mature. Everyone on the trip had already arrived in their lives, and maybe all of them had nothing to feel badly about.

We met Michael and Mellanie for lunch one day in Rome. That was so important to me to meet them and we really only met them because they canceled something they had planned to but were unable to do. Our time together was great. We had lunch and talked for a long time. We got an emotional jolt on the first day in Venice, our first day of the trip when I got a message to call Jon. While we were away Jimmy died of a massive heart attack. While we were enjoying the week at home part of our family was suffering. The funeral, the wake, and all that goes with tragedy was being lived. Dave told me that Jonny stepped up and I would have been proud of him. I’m sure he did and I surely am. I was very uncomfortable being so far away during this family tragedy. In one way it was good we were out of town. I am sure that Jon grew during this past week. The harshness of life does that to people. His family will get the benefit of that growth as he learns to help support them through life. As we go home now I am excited for the future and all we have. After speaking to so many of my contemporaries on this trip I find that so many people at my stage of life are missing so many of the things I usually take for granted. Children and grandchildren living far away, lack of a spouse or partner, poor relationships, people losing their faculties.   Pat and I shared a wonderful time together, and that sharing builds an excitement that is almost not containable.  We will have the opportunity to share so much more.  My soulmate and partner and I do life nicely together, and once again if I learned anything important it’s that I am a fortunate man to share my life with Pat.

The Dress Rehearsal

The Dress Rehearsal

I was very excited to see the dress rehearsal for Emma’s ballet recital.  When I first heard that Pat and I would be in Italy during the actual recital I was nothing short of seriously disappointed.  Then, as always, my daughter-in-law Lauren comes to the rescue and tells us about the dress rehearsal.  That was a few months ago and from that moment on I could not wait to see Emma dance.  Having sons, and not having Caitlin in my life when she was young, I never went to a recital.  I was very nervous for Emma, and when she first entered the huge Northport HS auditorium and said with slight terror in her voice, “This is not my dance class”, I became worried.  She certainly looked the part, with her tutu, butterfly wings, ballet slippers and face completely made up.  I was nervous for her and kept telling myself, and anyone who would listen that it doesn’t matter how she does but only matters that she is participating and, yes of course she gets a pass because she is only 3 years old!

Finally, the time comes and they call her age group to go backstage and get ready to do their three-minute number.  The music starts and the girls come out in a line and she is the last one on the right.  I immediately get uncontrollably emotional.  Even before she starts dancing the tears are flowing, and I am telling myself that I must get under control.   “Alan, you will be so embarrassed if anyone sees you cry”, I am thinking.  I try to fight back the tears but realize that it’s impossible, and default to just keep myself from whimpering.  That in itself was an effort.  I was really worried that I would be embarrassed.  The dance was soon over, I am wiping the tears from my eyes, hoping no one would notice when I looked up and to my relief and amazement Pat, Lauren, Jonny, and Sunny were all crying as well.

Remarkable what a little girl can do to a bunch of grownups who love her so much.

Rhona and Pop- An Unlikely Parallel

When I was a little boy my grandfather, who we called Pop, (I suppose because my dad called him Pop), used to talk about the “society.”  I had no idea what a society was, but he would refer to it as a group of people to which he belonged.  He was a proud member, and that was obvious because when he spoke of them either his eyes would shine with great pride from being a member, or they would well up when speaking of a member who had just past on.  All I could gather from him at my young age was that his association with these people of the “society” was way more than being part of a group.  It was part of who he was.

As time went on I came to understand that this was a group of people from the small village in Russia where he was born and where he grew up, and who immigrated to the United States.   There was no question that they would stay in contact, even though some of them went to different cities in the US.  They felt a kinship that spanned the world, their differences, and the eventuality of the rest of their lives.  A poignant story about Pop that I always think of was when one day he looked sad and I asked him what was wrong?  He told me that the society bought a part of Beth David cemetery in Elmont many years ago for the members to use when they died.  He was in charge of giving the plots to the families when it was needed.  Some of the members felt that he should give that job to a younger person.  Pop was 85 and it was a request that made him acknowledge his mortality.  Up to that time he, being such an upbeat guy, never thought of himself as getting older, and it was always the others who would need the plots and he would always be there to give it to them.  He never saw the need to pass on this responsibility.  That was the reason for his sadness.

Today because life deals tough blows I felt what Pop felt so many years ago.  I too belong to a society.  While I don’t know the name of Pop’s society (shame on me) I do know that mine is called Burnett Street.  It’s not a village in another country, but a street in what others might consider a strange land.  In Brooklyn, one block of four coop buildings, I grew up with so many people.  I shared my childhood with friends that I am still close with for 60 years.  Others grew up there of different generations and they too stayed in touch all these years.   Burnett Street was a special place.  We shared the most prized time of our lives. That of our childhood.  In this current age of people harping on the differences between each other we all felt that we were the same.  That’s how come we all feel as family today.  And today the first member of our generation has passed on.  (other than decades ago) Rhona was there for all of my life.  She was my age, and my memories of her go back so far.  Rhona was a pure golden soul.  Goodness was all she knew.  She only brought light to our world, and every time I saw her she brought light to me.  She was one of many threads that created the fabric of Burnett Street.  Now that Rhona is gone we will all feel that something is missing, and she will be missed.  But her part of the fabric of our Street will always remain.  I feel my mortality today more than ever.  Just like Pop did, I realize that it won’t be everyone else that has to pass on, but me as well.  I feel the sadness that Pop felt that day when he realized his mortality, and yet today more than I have in a long time, I feel the joy and pride of being a member of Burnett Street.  Rhona, with just a smile would give you a good feeling when you saw her, and now that she is gone I get that same feeling when I think of her.  I pray, that through all their wonderful memories, her family who knew her best can carry on this same way.