The current stop-the-world era prompts a lot of big feelings. Anxiety. Generosity. Even creativity. This is a time I do not wish to look back upon and regret spending too much time freaking out (a… More
Well, hello, it’s been a while. How’s by you?
Helluva month it’s been. And by “month” I mean two days. Over the weekend, little by little, the dawning realization struck me — “social distancing” is a polite but ineffective way of saying “STAY THE F- AWAY.” It’s simple math, right? The chance of passing or catching a virus is zero if you have zero contact with other people. The more contacts, the higher the chance of contagion. Forget limiting gatherings to 250, or 50, or 10. “Approaching zero” finally has real life meaning.
Like many of us, I’ve been slow to catch on. We sent the kids to school last week, now they’re home; we allowed a couple friends to come over during the weekend, now we’re locked down, as these conversations from this morning illustrate:
“Can I go to Chick-Fil-A?” “No.”
“Can I go to Sammy’s house?” “No.”
“Can he come here?” “No.”
“Can I—?” “Can you vacuum? Why, yes you can!”
We have silver linings: Our pantry has never been more full! We have ice cream in the freezer! Two kinds! We read more, watch movies more, talk more, and cook more (all that food I bought before it goes bad). Chicken soup and turkey chili and teriyaki bowls, and other meals combining chicken and broth and rice and leftover chili (put it on chips, throw some cheese on it and it’s nachos!). Maybe, just maybe, if this lasts long enough, there will be arts and crafts.
We are lucky. For Christopher and me, who already work from home, little has changed, other than more time with our kids and a lot more hand washing. We walk the dogs, walk to the bluffs and look out at the ocean, and wave to neighbors (who now cross the street to avoid us). I work on writing projects and he learns code.
But. This is weird. And. It will not last forever (though some hours it may feel like it.) It can be lonely, especially if you do not have a house full of young adults. If the hermetic life does not suit you, or if you are going crazy being locked up with too many near and dear ones, reach out. Phone a friend. Connect over group chats, and WhatsApp, and Zoom. Try a yoga video (or see if your local yoga studio is livestreaming classes so they can pay their teachers) like these livestreamed dance classes. If you have K-6 kids, Scholastic offers this homeschool help for you.
And let’s aim to keep our patience, our kindness, and our sense of humor. To that end, here are two jokes from Laughfactory.com/jokes, one G-rated and one a little spicier:
“My friend thinks he is so smart. He told me an onion is the only food that makes you cry. So I threw a coconut at his face.” [that slays me!]
PG-rated (for language, or perhaps violence, if you are a member of PETA):
“A man kills a deer and takes it home to cook for dinner. Both he and his wife decide that they won’t tell the kids what kind of meat it is, but will give them a clue and let them guess. The dad said, ‘Well it’s what Mommy calls me sometimes.’ The little girl screamed to her brother, ‘Don’t eat it. Its an asshole!'”
Stay safe out there, people.
On the last day of the year, I sit to think about the gifts of the previous 365 days. Late December always lulls me into a sense of slowing toward closure, but then January appears with the same speedy progression as every other day, and I feel like I’m behind before things even get started.
This year I’m trying to be ready for January’s pace: I’ve got goals – finish a book by February (at least a solid second draft). Toggle back to law. You know, small things. I’m also reminding myself that it’s okay for plans not to work out on schedule.
And now, to the recap.
2019 held major milestones for our family.
- Two graduations – middle and high school. Two freshman – Pali High (Go Dolphins!) and U of Oregon (‘Sko Ducks!). Both boys are taller than us. They make me laugh, and they make me proud – in the way they encounter new people with kindness, and new ideas with curiosity. They love to watch and play and talk a lot about basketball and football. They sometimes play Sunday morning football with my dad, and have recruited friends to the game. Emmett started Junior Lifeguards this summer, and continues Jiu Jitsu. Aaron coached kids’ basketball teams at the park, coached basketball all summer at sleepaway camp, and coaches at the Eugene, Oregon YMCA. I still can not pay either of them enough to go to a museum.
- In a week we will mark five years since Maria moved in with our family. This year she completed her first year as a pre-school teacher, and began her second. She is beloved by every child who has had the pleasure of being in her class, and has fielded at least one marriage proposal from a four-year-old. She is a modern Mary Poppins. After teaching all day, she goes to college to work toward her degree.
- Christopher, in addition to brilliantly steering his educational software company into its second decade, is both the light and the rock of our whole family. He is the person called upon to fix all technical and mechanical issues (equally handy with a hard drive and a plunger), and who keeps everyone laughing and moving. In 2019, he hiked the Grand Canyon from north rim to south, with my cousin Mitch. This year they’re going to do it again, doubled.
- As for my 2019 highlights: I signed with my first literary agent, who sold the audiobook for my novel Shelter Us, which was the inaugural “Palisades Reads” selection. Wearing my lawyer hat, I represented young immigrants in their path to legal status in the U.S. and worked on a team enforcing a consent decree protecting detained immigrant youth. In the early morning of the day my son graduated from high school, I secured the release of a grieving mom from immigrant detention. That was a very good day. In September, I left my job to concentrate on completing a book, and to spend more time with my boys as they transitioned to new stages. I’m considering how to make the world better in 2020. Voting rights, immigrant rights…ideas welcome.
Our family started the year with a beautiful trip to Costa Rica with the Heisens, and in summer had an awesome vacation in Wyoming with the Diamonds (where we took the photos below). We close the year with the Heisens in Washington Crossing (where we do not discuss politics, no matter how our boys try to goad us).
Tomorrow, on the first day of 2020, we will watch the sun rise in the East, through the plexiglass window of a NJ Transit train bound for Newark Airport. We will fly ahead of the sun, arriving in time to watch the Oregon Ducks play in the Rose Bowl, and will watch the day melt into the Pacific from the bluffs where I have been watching sunsets all my life. An auspicious start to any year.
For 2020 I resolve:
To take a few deep breaths every morning, giving thanks for the day to come.
To give thanks every night, as I close my eyes, for everything I can possibly think of to be thankful for.
To remember that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Wishing peace and abundance of love to all of you.
I’m no wiser than the next person, but maybe this how the healing happens: town by town, in library community rooms, chairs filled by neighbors, caring people who gather to listen to each other, to inspire each other to bold acts of kindness, to step up and participate.
This week, as part of Palisades Reads, five people who have stepped up boldly, shared their thoughts on a fundamental question asked in the novel Shelter Us:
- The depth of the need
- An internal moral compass pointing at compassion
- The relatability of the suffering, whether from experience (“I have been there, too”) or imagination (“there but for the grace of God go I”)
- The urgent desire to make something beautiful from tragedy
- The Golden Rule
But how do we overcome a sense of helplessness, or not knowing where to start, to activate these ideals?
One common answer united our disparate group of panelists:
Fearless people run headlong into challenges that make others cower. They are willing to try something they’ve never done before. They do not need a recipe, a checklist, or a role model. Fearless people give themselves permission to try something new.
- Fearlessness allowed husband and wife volunteers to welcome homeless youth to live in their home, get to know them as real people, and treat them like family.
- Fearlessness allowed a grieving mother to create a comprehensive resource with worldwide reach for people grieving loss of a loved one.
- Fearlessness allowed a community member to join with his neighbors to take concrete steps to help over 100 homeless individuals actually become housed.
- Fearlessness allowed a woman who was shocked the first time she saw so many homeless kids on Venice Beach, to start taking care of them, doing what was needed — first handing out hygiene kits, now running a vibrant non-profit with massive community support that is helping these kids create their futures.
Where does fearlessness come from?
Some people are born with it, though I think they are the exceptions.
Sometimes fearlessness comes from circumstance. Take Susan Whitmore, founder of griefHaven.org. Before the death of her only child, she was a spreadsheet-driven, meticulous, thriving-on-order law firm administrator. After tragedy knocked her to her knees, a middle-of-the-night epiphany that others were suffering like she was, transformed her. The urgent determination to create griefHaven had no room for fear.
Fearlessness finds us when we become passionately committed to any goal. When we get excited about something — usually bigger than ourselves — we make things happen. We get others involved. We live bigger and change the world.
Working with such vulnerable people, I imagine that you may sometimes feel despair. How do you deal with the heaviness of what you do?
Rachel Stich, Deputy Director of Safe Place for Youth, challenged the premise of my question, flipping it on its head. For her, being involved with an organization like Safe Place for Youth, where so many people united to help kids, was uplifting and filled her with hope.
But what about when the situation feels hopeless? Volunteer Marlene Rapkin described her mindset as a CASA volunteer for kids in foster care. “I don’t focus on the outcome. I focus on being with them in that moment, letting them know that someone really cares about them.”
Sometimes all you can offer is companionship. To someone who feels alone, that can feel like the whole world.
The closing question came as an eloquent lamentation about the times in which we live: How does anything get better in the midst of complacency?
Who am I to say? I have had this same lament. I feel helpless and hopeless at times. And we are no different than our ancestors. So I turned back to the theme of the night, borrowed from Talmud and other traditions: when you save one life, it is as if you have saved the whole world.
We are each just one person. We do not need to set out to solve all the world’s problems. We can do what is in right front of us.
But first we must see what is right in front of us.
We cannot succumb to the temptation to close off, to retreat to the safety of our creature comforts, to let the scope of problems callous the surface of our hearts, though it hurts to be open to the pain in the world. Only with an open heart will we see what — or who — is right in front of us, will we see the person on the sidewalk as someone’s child, not something to step over or hurry past, averting our eyes.
It is enough to save one life.
And…you never know which act of kindness might be the one that sparks a conflagration. Just ask Rosa Parks, or young Greta Thunberg.
#saveonelifesavetheworld #everydayheroes #kindness #kindnessmatters
Too many kids go to bed hungry. Too many moms reluctantly pour half a glass of milk at dinner to make sure there is some left for breakfast, and too many dads apologetically ask their kids to hang on until breakfast at school.
So today I give thanks for the everyday heroes who fill our food banks. One shining example is my friend Bruce Rosen, a Board member of the Westside Food Bank, who not only works tirelessly to alleviate hunger, but has created an incredible opportunity for the community to participate.
Take the innovative “fruit for a cause” program he spearheaded at the food bank, which invites you to replace floral displays and table centerpieces with beautiful and meaningful displays of fruit that are later donated to the food bank. Not only does this program offer a chance to do something essential, but Bruce does all the legwork — buys the fruit, sets it up, and whisks it to the food bank to be distributed that week. (That clinched it for our kids’ B’Nei Mitzvah!)
Although it has grown to include dozens of congregations, the idea started with one, at our synagogue Kehillat Israel. Over twenty years, Bruce estimates that the program (averaging 100 displays a year, with 150 pounds of fruit in each display) has yielded about 300,000 pounds of fruit since its inception. That’s 300,000 pounds of healthy nourishment that would not have happened.
Maybe you want to try fruit instead of flowers at your celebration. Maybe you want to start building your area’s own “fruit for a cause,” one celebration at a time. Bruce said he would love to talk to you. His contact info is here.
#everydayheroes #kindnessmatters #kindness #saveonelifesavetheworld
Since the death of her newborn baby, lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mom Sarah Shaw has been struggling to keep it together for her law professor husband and two young sons. With her husband burying himself in his career and her friendships all having withered, she is lost in a private world of grief. Then one day, walking in LA, Sarah s heart catches at the sight of a young homeless woman pushing a baby in a stroller and saving them becomes her mission. An unlikely bond grows between Sarah and the mother, Josie, whose pride and strained relationship with her own mother prevent her from going home to Oakland. Through her friendship with Josie, Sarah slowly learns that those we love are never far, even in death and that sometimes it is the people we set out to save who save us.
Thank you for your support, recommendations, and shares. And for all of your acts of kindness that make the world better.
Today I want to lift up the everyday heroism of foster parents and foster-adoptive parents.
What better way to do so than in the words of one of them. Best-selling, award-winning author Rene Denfeld described the experience of becoming a foster-adoptive mother of three in her illuminating New York Times Modern Love essay — “Four Castaways Make a Family.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Rene last week at Diesel Bookstore, where she read from her new novel, The Butterfly Girl, a sequel to The Child Finder. The novels feature a private detective whose own traumatic history draws her to find lost children. (It is an Indie Next Pick for October, Amazon Best Book of the Month, and has received effusive praise from Margaret Atwood and Cheryl Strayed.)
Rene’s lyrical, compelling depictions of characters who, like her, survived trauma-filled childhoods to make lives of beauty and value make her even more of a hero. The New York Times agreed, including her in a list of everday heroes in 2017.
Thank you to all of the foster parents and foster-adoptive parents who day-by-day, through patience and love, are saving the world one life at a time.
#everydayhereoes #kindness #kindnessmatters #saveonelifesavetheworld
Here are a few of the “everyday heroes” you told me about in response to the Shelter Us audiobook giveaway:
– The family and friends of a man with spinabifida who relies on them for care.
– A friend who faces daunting health challenges, including lupus and blindness, but who ends each conversation with laughter and an ‘I love you.’
– A husband who supports his family and makes them all feel loved, special, and cared for.
– Teachers. Teachers. Teachers.
Thank you for these beautiful tributes, reminders that heroes are all around us, quietly going about their lives, showing up for us and each other, asking for no recognition while making our world a better place.
#everydayheroes #kindness #kindnessmatters #saveonelifesavetheworld