Friday, October 21, 2011


Leaf by Kathleen Nathan Memories

My dad died 20 years ago this week.  The leaves all fell off the trees in the wind and rain this week. Somehow these are connected.

My dad died in front of me twenty years ago this week – that was a real shock.  Even more of a shock: for 40 years he always told me how his father had passed away in front of him, and how it remained fresh in his mind every day.  And he always said: “that’s how I want to go”. Hey, a child never wants to hear that; a child never wants to think about losing a parent. But it happens; it’s one of the few things we can know will happen.  We just never want it to happen.  The good news (if there is any) is that he was healthy, he never suffered, he never lost any of the quality of life that we all hold dear, and he lived his life to the fullest and happiest right up until that moment. He lasted long enough after his attack that we got to say our goodbyes, but that wasn’t enough time to say and do all that I wanted.  And then he was gone from this earthly plane. And it's still like it was yesterday.

And then there are the leaves - they progressively fill the trees and the forests every spring until right about now each year. We watch them grow, we love how the trees look, and we never really stop to enjoy it because we take it for granted.  We think it happens every year so it’s no big thing. But Mother Nature is clever: she does this every year in hopes that we’ll learn to slow down and take another look, to stop and really see all the beauty in this yearly display, to better understand how to appreciate all that we have. ut we don’t. What happens is that when the wind and rain blow the leaves to the ground, we again see the barren forest for what’s really there: those bare trees silhouetted against the grey horizon brings into clear perspective again the shape and strength of the trees and the depth of the forest. Those empty vistas are not really empty, they’re giving us another glimpse of all that’s really there, of all that we should see and know every day but somehow overlook because we’re again taking all of that for granted. Those views are supposed to make us stop and realize that this amazing and natural scene is fleeting and should be appreciated every day, through every season, through all the sunshine and rain and wind and snow.  Just like the friends and loved ones we know. But we don’t.

So, now the leaves are off the trees – but they’re not really gone. There’s a vibrant carpet on the ground that’s a reminder of what was and will forever be. There’s a memory that never fades because there are so many reminders to remember. There’s a view of things as they are now that serves to remind us that they never really go away. There’s a realization in the stark vistas that remain against the backdrops of the sky, and of life, that the underlying things that remain – the feelings of love, the memories of a lifetime, the things we learned and which affected us - are the things that will remain with us forever and always make us strong. I often would like to turn back the hands of time – but that’s just not going to happen. I’d like to forever keep and have the things that I love, but that also rarely happens. So here’s the deal: know and enjoy and cherish and admit every day that you do love these kinds of things; tell the ones you love that you love them, before it’s too late and can’t; share the things you love with the ones you love, before it’s too late and you can’t; show how we feel – really show and express it – before it’s too late and you can’t; live life to the fullest with the ones you love, before they’re gone and you can’t.

I miss my Dad every day; and it’s just like he said: it seems like it was just yesterday. But, he’s still here in my heart, and in my memories, and in my mind everyday as I do things and think about things. And he’s there in that barren forest where, because the leaves are gone, I can see all that’s really there so much more clearly.

My message this week is about creativity and innovation – about how you have to make the most of what you see and get.

Arte Nathan
"Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found." 

-James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891) was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets who rivaled the popularity of British poets.

What do you think you’ll find today?  Hopefully it will be something that will make you happy, wise, content and wealthy.  All of those things could surely happen, but more likely you’ll have to take what you find and make something more out of it in order for those things to ultimately occur.  Sure – you can buy a new suit of clothes and try, or a good book and learn, or a lottery ticket and hope; but chances are you’re also going to have to work hard to make the regular things in life pay off today.  You’ll have to take whatever comes your way, think long and hard on how to improve it, be creative in making the most of it, and then do all you can to make it all it can be.  So take what you find today and then use your creativity to make something out of it.

Stay well!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rock On!

Street performerEntertainment Tonight

This is not a story about that popular television show that’s a tell-all about Hollywood celebrities. It’s about the resilient street entertainers who spend their days and nights plying their talents on the streets and in the subways of New York. It’s about the real deal.

There are all kinds of people who work on the street trying to entertain or attract attention for money:

  • Sometimes it’s just a guy reciting what might be verses from the Bible as if the words will inspire and save us – unfortunately most of these people have the wild-eyed look of someone who’s insincere or not all there.
  • Or there’s the guy with the boom box playing his own brand of CD golden oldies that you might find on late night TV – unfortunately his selection of songs has a very narrow (read that: non-existent) market.
  • Or the parent who pushes their children to perform to the embarrassment of all.

But then there are some really gifted and dedicated performers who do this because they really do love what they’re doing AND need the money.

  • The guys with the bongo drums who together make a syncopation that quickens the soul.  
  • Or the one guy with the pipes who’s able to play music from Equator as well as Con Te Partiro  by Andrea Bocelli.   
  • Or a group doing a great rendition of the Four Tops whose harmonies and moves bring back memories of the Motown sound.  
  • Or the Amish choir who’ve obviously travelled a great distance to give us a glimpse of their faith and culture.
  • Or the two guys with beat up old guitars who play and sing like they’ve been on a big stage somewhere.
  • Or the old guys whose music is right out of the French Quarter.

Each of these, and so many more, hang around subway station entrances, down on the platforms where the trains come and go, or even on the trains themselves.  They hop on with the rest of us and have their routine perfectly timed from one station to the next – that’s a pretty nifty trick that even a road crew would have trouble doing – and when the train stops, they’re off to the next car, hats and cases in hand looking for the next group of possible paying customers.

Sounds like a tough life, doesn’t it? Sure does, but maybe it’s not unlike life in general.  As in: the better someone is and the harder they work, the more they make.  While the audience can’t contribute to all of the performers, we almost gladly give to those who are truly unique or exceptionally talented.  And it really is about how they perform. Just like sales people, lawyers, doctors, cooks, food servers and bartenders, auto repair mechanics, insurance salespeople, housekeepers and so many others who work hard every day? In just about everything, excellence and quality shine through and stick out because in this world of the mundane we just don’t expect anything more. But because we’re so used to average, the exceptional catches our attention.  nd because the newspapers and airwaves are so filled with numbingly meaningless stuff, we nearly overlook and miss the real deal.  And when it is the real deal, there’s no need for fancy ads, talking heads or endless commentary to tell us what it is – we just know it.

But back to these street entertainers: maybe they’re a bit more real than many other things in life. Let’s face it – most people work for small businesses – maybe these are the ultimate small business. Many people aspire to work for themselves – maybe these performers are the new entrepreneurs since it’s mostly them without any supporting organizations. Many have dreams and hopes that are realized through their work – maybe this is what hopes and dreams look like in this recession-affected economy of ours. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge; like the song says: there but for fortune go you or I. Maybe it’s a wakeup call for us to stop and realize that in this life we should look for big things in small places.  That’s how Cirque du Soleil got started – stilt walkers and sword swallowers on the streets of Montreal. Maybe we have to realize its okay when we or others do what has to be done to get by, as long as it’s honest and ethical and well-intended. Maybe this is the spirit of America shining through.

These performers, much like the vendors on the street who sell everything from jewelry to food to clothing to umbrellas, are just trying to get by. And isn’t that part of the American Dream – to do what you have to do to get by? And maybe even get ahead.  And once you get a little ahead, to begin to build and plan for the future? Sure is. So the next time you see one of these street entrepreneurs, remember how hard they’re trying to just get by. And who knows – just like those Cirque guys, one of them might start something and just be the next big thing.

My message this week is about professionalism, and how to develop the character to be really successful:

Arte Nathan“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”  -Phillips Brooks

Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893) was an American clergyman and author, who briefly served as Bishop of Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church during the early 1890s.

How and when does your character appear to others?  Whether we like to admit it or not, others are always watching to see what we’re made of.  In quiet times we have the time and opportunity to appear to be anyone we want, and we have the chance to work on it and figure it out because there’s no pressure. But we revert t who and what we truly are in moments of stress and pressure (and there are lots of choices available): collaborative or authoritative; kind or mean; communicative or frozen; open or closed; thoughtful or thoughtless; giving or selfish; warm or cold; focused or distracted; creative or robotic; flexible or rigid; happy or sad, good or bad.  The choice is yours. Use the quiet times to learn who you really are, what you really believe in, what you’re really made of, and how you want to appear to others.  It’s in the small moments that we become who we are. Take the time today to study, learn and prepare for all the moments in your life. That’s how true professionals develop their character.

Stay well!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Menorah & TallitAspirations

Yom Kippur begins at sundown today.  Also known as the Day of Atonement, this is the holiest and most solemn day of the year in the Jewish religion. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. It’s a day when we’re asked to reflect upon and make amends for our actions during the past year. These themes are an important part of being a good and righteous person. And isn’t that what we should aspire to?

Here’s some background on Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur marks the end of a 10-day period of reflection and repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During these days, Jews seek forgiveness from friends, family and colleagues, a process that begins with the symbolic casting off of sins that is traditionally observed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah by throwing bread into a body of water. And then on Yom Kippur, Jews attempt to mend their relationship with God. This is done, in part, by reciting a public confession of sins.

The vast majority of the sins enumerated in this confession involve mistreatment of other people, mostly by speech (offensive speech, saying nasty things, slander, and telling false tales, to name a few). These all come into the category of sin known as "the evil tongue”, which is considered a very serious sin in Judaism.  This day is essentially a last appeal, a last chance to change the judgment of one’s behavior during the past year, to demonstrate repentance and to make amends. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend services on this day.  It reminds me of that children’s game of musical chairs, where none wants to be left standing when the music stops – or in this case, when judgment comes.

And here are some thoughts and questions:

Like most religions, Judaism is steeped in rituals that have been passed down from one generation to the next.  And like all religions, one’s faith is based in part on the observance of these rituals. But in this secular life we lead, these and other rituals have become marginalized because of all the other things that are going on in our lives. And also in life, we all are perceived by others on many levels – and whether we like or not, our principles and values make up the bases of those perceptions. While many adopt the rituals of religious life, it is even more important to adhere to the values from these religious rituals in the broader context of our daily behavior.  That’s an important lesson to learn.

In Judaism, this period of reflection occurs around these ten days.  But I’ve often wondered why we wait - isn’t this something we should do every day?

•  If you speak or act or think unkindly about someone, shouldn’t you stop and make amends immediately?  
•  Aren’t these the kinds of things that, if left unresolved, create bad feelings and ill will?  
•  Don’t these hurt others, and if so, don’t those hurt feelings get worse over time?  
•  And isn’t it harder after a period of time to go back and try to reverse or make amends for these kinds of things?  
•  How often have you not dealt with something like this, and then how often do these feelings become, or seem to become, too much to overcome?   
•  And how does it feel if you’re on the receiving end of these kinds of things?  
•  Worse yet, how does this look to others who are not directly involved but see these kinds of things going on?

Maybe these are not the kinds of things you should leave until the end of the year – maybe you should deal with them directly and immediately just like you’d want others to deal with them with you. Fact is, the way we treat others, act towards others and think and speak about others says a lot about who we really are.  It’s about the way we want to be treated and the way we should treat others.  It’s that Golden Rule thing again.

Every religion has some form of ritual like this that deals with confessing and resolving the things we’ve done that are wrong. Again: if we know we’ve done and should resolve things that are wrong, why do we wait for some formal or organized or public way to address them? Why do we put off dealing with this kind of stuff until it gets so that we almost can’t deal with it? And how much confusion and hurt do we create by waiting?

While we don’t make resolutions on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur like we do on the January 1st New Year holiday, maybe we should. Maybe we should resolve to stop and make amends, and ask forgiveness and try to mend relationships in real time. As I am reciting my own public confession of sins today, maybe my resolution will be to now start practicing this ritual of reflection, repentance and forgiveness in real time. Better yet, maybe I’ll also resolve that the things I say and do in the coming year will be good enough that I don’t have to go back and ask forgiveness or make amends. I know: that’s a tall order – but in this New Year I really do aspire to become a better person.  That’s what Yom Kippur means to me.
My message this week is about integrity – and what it means to do good and be good:

Arte Nathan“A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.” -Baltasar Gracián

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, SJ (1601 – 1658) was a Spanish Jesuit and baroque prose writer. He is the most representative writer of the Spanish Baroque literary style known as Conceptismo (Conceptism).

There’s almost nothing more important in life than integrity. This means you always try to do the right thing, even when nobody’s looking. It means you should always tell the truth, even when it might hurt you or others.  It means you protect others and their reputations, even if it risks your own.  Integrity, like trust, takes forever to build and only a moment to destroy – and everything affects it. When’s the last time someone didn’t tell you the truth – not that he or she just didn’t tell you something – but that they told you something that was clearly not true. How did you feel? You probably couldn’t trust that person after that - right? Once that happens, you’ll have a hard time believing lots of other things they may tell you, or their intentions when they do something… and then the trust is gone. That’s not good. So remember: always tell the truth. Your reputation depends on it.

Stay well!