Friday, August 26, 2011


reflection in lakeReflections

I was really sick this past week – first I got a nasty case of Shingles and then my weakened immune system let in a bout of bronchitis.  The doctor prescribed meds and my mother reminded me to get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids.  But this isn’t about being sick.

This is about getting better.  I was taking all the meds I’d been given, and looked for cool ways to try and get some rest.  So I got out my old hammock and strung it between two trees near the point of our property where there’s water on three sides – a great place to get that rest while staring at and watching the changing reflections in the water.

First – there’s calm water where the reflection of the trees and other scenery on the far shore can be seen in reverse in the water that meets the shore.  Trees that reach both to the sky and then are reflected across the surface of the lake and ferns that fill in around the trunks of the trees also fill in the reflection closest to shore.  And as the sun goes in and out of the clouds these scenes become softer or more intense.  These mirror images allowed me to see things twice, and some of the elements only got noticed in the reflection.  As I stared at the water these two images started to blur and run together….and the separation between them also blurred.  That seemed to be a visual metaphor for life and the things we see and deal with everyday.  More on this later.

Second – in the late afternoon, the sun’s angle creates what look like dancing diamonds on the water’s surface.  These sparkle in the wind and I had to squint to watch these for any length of time.  And the more I watched, the more they danced and formed what looked like formations – pseudo faces and patterns that were mesmerizing and triggered a sort of reverie.  Things that I saw in the water reminded me of things from my current and past life.  Friends from long ago, family, and places I’d been.  Each of these danced in my mind as I swayed in the hammock, and they all ran together.  Were they connected, should they have been connected or could they ultimately get connected???   More on this later too.

And last, there was still water – where the clouds overhead are reflected, and the trails of the water bugs spider across the surface, and birds land on lily pads, and fish jump.  The lakes are alive with life – maybe not the life we deal with everyday, but many of all the other kinds of life that’s constantly going on around us and which we rarely notice.  But when we do it’s fascinating to behold.  And once you start seeing it, you can’t stop seeing it.

So, here’s the later: being weak or sick slows things down, and that’s when the mind plays games and tricks and actually starts to see things more clearly.  Eyes grow heavy and in them are seen connections and patterns that don’t ordinarily get noticed.  And in those we start to see how things and people maybe should fit together.  Fact is we don’t slow down, lie down or hang around enough in general.  But maybe we should.  Maybe we could benefit from a little more time like this, where we take a break from all the stuff we have to do each day and spend time reflecting on the other stuff that’s going on around us.  People who exercise or meditate regularly experience this - I have friends and family who run marathons and they tell me that the times spent training and running take the mind to a different place like this. So why wait until we’re feeling poorly to start looking at and seeing things reflectively?  Why must we try to fill every waking moment with productive things to the point where we can’t or don’t spend time reflecting??  Slowing down to smell the roses is probably something we should do more of -  because that’s the kind of thing that can make us feel better in general.  And in the end, I’m not sure if I started to feel better because I was taking the meds, and drinking and resting, or because I had slowed down enough to reflect on the things around me.

My message this week is about taking ownership and responsibility for your actions:

Arte NathanNever let the fear of striking out get in your way.” -Babe Ruth

When George Herman Ruth Jr. turned 7 years old, his parents realized he needed a stricter environment and sent him to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.  The monks there worked with him to develop his baseball skills and when the Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn signed the 19 year old Ruth, the other players referred to him as “Jack’s newest babe” – and thus the most famous nickname in American sports history was born.

What are you afraid of today?  Surely the fear of failure haunts everyone, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.  And if you try and fail, that shouldn’t stop you from trying again.  Just like when you learned to ride a bicycle, you probably fell several times and your parents encouraged you to get up and try again.  If you’re ever going to be successful at anything, it will be because you take ownership of whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish and commit to doing whatever it takes to get it right.  Everything in life is like that first bicycle ride – you have to keep at it until you succeed.  Even though you may be scared of what might happen you can never shy away from your responsibilities.  And remember to never let the fear of failure get in your way.

Stay well!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Library

Giant SequoiaThe Library

I bet every town has a library. A place where books and tapes and papers are stored and can be seen and used. A place where you need a card to check stuff out if you want to take it with you. Where, because everything has changed, almost nobody goes anymore.

When I was growing up there was a big old building that was our town’s library. Where I live now there are still libraries – big ones and little ones. I remember going to the library as a kid, looking through the Dewey Decimal System catalogue (that’s a neat invention from 1876) that arranged things so you could look books up and find them on the shelves. And the librarians, and the reference rooms, and those big wooden tables, and the signs that said “NO TALKING” – these memories were forged over the years when going there was the only way to do research and get information.

And then along came the salesman selling first the World Book Encyclopedia, and a few years later the Encyclopedia Britannica (I learned to spell ‘encyclopedia’ by listening to Jiminy Cricket sing about it on Sunday night’s Wonderful World of Disney).

 But I digress… these encyclopedias started the long and unstoppable demise of the library. The reason I know this is because I sat next to a teenager on one of my recent train rides and while recalling memories of my teen years talked about my studies at the Library – he just looked at me like I was some old fart from out of the far reaches of the last century.  “What”, I asked, “you don’t go to a library?”  “Nope” he said, “got the Internet.”  And that’s that.

Hell, I look stuff up on the Internet all the time, and I Google or Bing constantly; but I can’t remember the last time I pulled open the drawer of the Dewey Decimal System. And just like that I’m starting to feel old, to feel like the old people I used to think were old when they used to relate stories about how things used to be when they were kids, to feel like the speeding train of time that I’m on is catching up with something I don’t want to acknowledge. Right about now I start thinking that the old people I’m talking about (and who seemed and looked really old back then) were about the same age then as I am now.  Wait a second, I’m getting dizzy here and need to sit down! Oy, where’d the time go?

Funny how something like this just sneaks up and surprises you, how once you start thinking about things like this your whole world gets shrink wrapped in a faded perspective, how you start yearning for the old days.  Stop right there!  The old days were good and they helped us become what we are in the present days.  The old days taught us a lot that we should now remember in the present days.  The old days are good when they serve as the foundation for the present days.  The Library, and that Dewey Decimal System, and today’s Internet are just a few of the things in our tool boxes – things that helped us live good lives then and continue to support us today. Because nothing stands still, progress and time keep marching on - it’s not how old we are but how old we feel.  I guess the trick is to continue to learn about and use all the tools that are available and which help us lead active and complete and fulfilled lives. There’ll always be something new and improved tomorrow, but those shouldn’t diminish the things we had yesterday because all of them together help us to be who and what we are.  No harm in remembering the good old things from days gone by – they served us well and certainly are grist for the mill of today’s stories.  So what I’m saying, in a long and roundabout way is do yourself a favor and visit your local library soon – it’s still pretty good and you never know what you might find there – a book, a memory or maybe even something unexpected.

My message this week is about the grandeur of all of the things, past and present that surround and support us:

Arte Nathan“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  -John Muir

John Muir (1838 – 1914) was a Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. His activism helped to save the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia Nation Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States.

The beauty and grandeur of man made things are nothing compared to what’s found in nature. It’s the natural beauty that inspires us to create more wonderful things and spaces.  Look around your spaces and places today to make sure that they’re just what you need to strengthen your body and soul.  Is there order to the things around you – it’s not so much cleaning up as it is putting just the right things in the right places. Does the space nurture you or hinder your ability to be effective – having too little or too much is equally bad.  Do you bring the right energy and humility to your environment – don’t disrupt the natural flow by trying to force things that may not be right.  ake an effort to carefully create and maintain the spaces that you play in and pray in today.

Stay well!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Empire State Express

Train in mountainsThe Empire State Express

One of the best things about living in Brooklyn this year has been getting to our home in the Adirondack Mountains each weekend.  And the easiest way to get there is to take the Empire State Express train from Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan to Utica.  The 4.5 hour trip is comfortable and allows me to sit back, read, sleep and do some work.  But the best parts are the scenery and the people I meet that make this old-fashioned mode of travel so great.

First off – this beats just about every other travel option.  Compared to the airlines there are none of those long security lines, less than enthusiastic gate agents, downright apathetic flight attendants or clear blue skies out the window.  The station agents and conductors really believe that they’re part of a grand tradition and are thrilled to have people join them for a journey – they know that what you’re seeing out the windows has been seen by countless millions for more than 150 years.  History means something to them and the travelers who are mostly train buffs.  And compared to driving: well, forgetaboutit.

Second – you just never know who’s going to sit down next to you.  Most of the time every seat (there are only two across, so no middle seat) is filled, and unlike on an airplane, everyone is cool with that.  On a recent trip a young woman from Shanghai (as in China) asked politely if she could sit next to me (the politeness was so refreshing).  She came to America four days before as part of a Fulbright exchange program – she and 45 others will be teaching Mandarin to Americans for the next year.  She’d just finished a 4-day orientation in New York City, complete with a full day of sightseeing.  Not only was her English impeccable (she’d been studying/learning it since she was six and had majored in it in college), but her thrill at being here was infectious.  The wide open spaces, cleanliness of cities and air, freedom to talk about anything with anyone, availability of the internet (mail, Google search, Facebook and Twitter), and the chance to experience what we take for granted were some of the things she’d dreamed of for years.  She was on her way to Columbus, Ohio to teach at a college there – and I want to tell you those students are in for a treat.  The four hours we spent talking about just about everything re-inspired me to the wonders of our great country.  When’s the last time you got inspired on an airplane?

And lastly, there are the things you see outside the windows.  This train follows the Hudson River all the way to Albany, then turns west and follows the Mohawk River all the way to Buffalo.  This is the route that was developed shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War by far-sighted settlers who understood that the future of their new country was dependent in large part on establishing a route that connected the coastal states with the vast interior of America.  Over this water route was an easier way to transport goods from Europe and the coastal states to the settlers who pushed west and then back (as the food and trade goods were shipped to and through the growing port in New York City’s harbor).  The Hudson River is big – the tides flow all the way to Albany – so you can see ocean liners and barges plying those waters from the windows of the train.  You can also see the places where George Washington and his army fought the battles and other places that are so much a part of our history:  West Point, Hyde Park (Franklin Roosevelt’s home), and the amazing bridges that connect both sides of this amazing waterway.  And then from Albany the train travels west along the Mohawk – as in Drums Along the Mohawk, The Last of the Mohicans, the Iroquois Nation, the Erie Canal (with its amazing serried of locks), Fort Stanwix; again, through and past so much of our country’s early history.  Did you know the Industrial Revolution began in Bridgeport, Connecticut and followed the waterways and waterpower of these rivers?  I love this route because I’m from around here, but my new found Chinese friend was just as wide-eyed as I was the first time I traveled this route and learned about this history – Google the Erie Canal and learn more about how America began its journey from sea to shining sea.

I’m no historian, but the history buff in all of us can be inspired by a trip like this.  And to chat with someone from around the world (literally) about the things we saw and had generally experienced in our lives was not something that happens every day.  On that return trip there was a young teenager taking the train for the first time, a group of tourists from France, a Bosnian family that had recently emigrated and relocated to Utica, and other regular travelers who take advantage of this easy conveyance through New York State – all of them having fun and watching the wonders of the world go by.  The French group had a dozen travel and history books and chattered endlessly about what they were seeing - when’s the last time you looked at the things and places around you with a fresh set of eyes and expressed wonder and appreciation for them?  Most of us take most of what’s around for granted and so we probably miss some of the importance and beauty of them.  Given the ease with which we can look stuff up on the Internet, there’s no reason not to study up on the things that are around which are too familiar to be fully appreciated, again.  Take time today to close your eyes and then re-open them with a new perspective – the people, places, things and ideas around you may hold more than you thought.  The world around us is a big and wondrous place – all we have to do is look at it anew.

My message this week is about pride and how we feel about ourselves and the world around us:

Arte Nathan“The infinitely little have a pride infinitely great.” –Voltaire

Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and free trade.

Everything is important…to someone; so what’s important to you?  Things you own, things you do, things and people you love, places you visit, books and knowledge you grow by, foods that taste great and nurture you, friends and family and pets that love you unconditionally – all of these (and so many others) can and often do fill your heart with pride.  And you don’t have to be a big shot, or in a needy situation, or in control, to be able to understand the value of these or their importance to you and others, or to feel a sense of ownership and pride for them.  Because it doesn’t matter how big or small they each might be – it’s what they mean to you that make them so important.  And whether they’re tangible or intangible, they are the things that help make you what you are.  Take time today to better understand the things that can and should fill you with pride – and let them make you a better person.  Because no matter how little you are, or they are, you can have pride that is infinitely great.

Stay well!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

That's Life

Man running in fieldThat's Life

My Mom is 90, lives independently with her close friend Jerry, and has more energy than I ever had or could hope to have if I live that long. They’re out every day and most evenings doing things that keep them engaged and focused on tomorrow. Unfortunately she fell coming out of a movie last week and that’s where this story begins.

Like an athlete she jumped right up after her fall and tried to ‘walk it off’.  Of course the movie operators called the paramedics right away – no sense letting any ambiguity or increased liability into what they hoped was a simple slip and fall. When the dust cleared later that night in the emergency room it was confirmed that she’d broken her femur just below the hip – and it was at this point that the story could have gone one way or another.

The hospital’s admissions staff saw a 90 year old woman who was a bit disoriented and confused, and assumed she was an Alzheimer’s patient; that’s what they told the orthopedic team, and from that they preliminarily prescribed 8 weeks of bed rest, which to a 90 year old might be a real problem.  Forget that this might have led to pneumonia, bed sores or worse, Mom wouldn’t have stayed in bed any more than a youngster would, and not only would the break not have healed, it most likely would have gotten worse.  And the consequences of that would have been dire indeed.

I’m told that’s how these things can go – unless, of course, the patient has an advocate.  An advocate can be a friend or family member, or a doctor or nurse who knows the patient and also their way around the medical world.  Somebody who’ll ask and answer questions, take charge and generally pay attention to what’s going on.  Advocates watch out for things like misdiagnoses, late medications or treatments, and other various mistakes (or oversights) – stuff the patient is either unaware of or finds difficult to fully understand.  In this case the advocate was my brother; he’s a doctor, and he let the other attending professionals know that my Mom lives independently, is out gallivanting 5 nights a week, goes to school 4 days a week and is the poster girl for 90 being the new 70.  Hell, my Mom Skypes me – what were they thinking?

So fast forward through that first 24 hours and she’s back in her room after a successful surgery and already starting to ask when she can get out to have her hair done.  My daughter and niece were with her nearly non-stop for these first five days – ostensibly keeping an eye out or ear open, but mostly taking the brunt of Mom’s demands – she was like the kids in the backseat constantly asking “are we there yet”.  Aren’t mothers supposed to be the ones telling us to take it easy, slow down, don’t be so anxious, and everything takes time?  After three days she was transferred to a rehab hospital for physical therapy, and again she complained that it was not going fast enough.  What’s the matter with her – I mean, where’s she gotta go??  But I guess at 90 you don’t want to waste one day lying around, and frankly I’m thrilled she’s still rarin’ to go.

Life is funny – there are role reversals all around us and learning to navigate them is the challenge of our times.  Medical science, when it’s working right, let’s us all live longer, combats ailments better and creates this kind of situation where old children are dealing longer with older parents.  Since we were all children once, child care comes more or less naturally – but we’re seemingly unprepared for all the elder care issues and challenges that arise as everyone lives longer.  Fortunately, we experienced first-hand the value of effective and objective medical patient advocacy – I am so thankful for all that my brother, my daughter and my niece did to help straighten out some of the nasty curves in this road. And just as fortunately, Mom and her friend Jerry are the kinds of people who are constantly looking towards the horizon for what’s next.  I give them credit, and now that the shock of this past week is wearing off I guess that’s a lesson I need to take away from this. Yeah, she’ll slow down some, but not enough to miss any of the life she loves and looks forward to each day.  And maybe that’s part of the lesson too – don’t quit, don’t get bummed out by what life throws at you and don’t stop pushing yourself into all that life has in store today.  Because you just never know what tomorrow may bring.

My message this week is about innovation and the need to continually grow and learn new things:

Arte Nathan“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”  -C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898 – 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a British novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Ireland.

Got any new dreams today? Not just the kind you try to remember and think about when you wake, but the kind that have you excited to try something really new.  Everyone can dream, but not everyone has the curiosity, energy, courage and stamina to try to achieve their dreams. Most want things to be smooth and easy, with no surprises or challenges that can potentially make you look silly.  Fact is, without those challenges or knowing how to recover from looking silly you’ll never get to experience what it is to learn from trying something new.  And you can tell the ones who are into this – the twinkle in their eyes, the bounce in their step, the way they carry themselves.  If that’s you, and you’ll know if it is, then set another goal today, dream another dream today and make a pledge to be creative and innovative today.  Go ahead – you’re never too old!

Stay Well!