I And You

This week I  have been witness to far too much “I”.  In this case “I” are all of the people putting their needs first and act as if either there is no one else in the universe or even if there is, it does not matter.  the desires, not even needs, of I trumps you.

From the ridiculous to the rude.

On the ridiculous side, this has been my week for public teeth cleaning.  In an earlier post I described the woman flossing while behind the wheel of her car. Midweek, as I was rushing through the airport I saw a 20 something male standing in the main aisle with this contorted facial expression. As I passed him I realized he too was flossing for all the world to see.  Four steps away was a bathroom. Then last night just before the curtain went up I noticed a man actively using a toothpick. This went on for a couple of minutes. I wanted to yell down, “I bet your mother did not raise you this way”.  But in a crowded theater that would have been rude.

Other I tunes included the driver of a Prius who was weaving through traffic on the highway at high speeds. On a couple of occasions the car barely made it through the tiny space between cars. An accident just about to happen.

The best of all traveling to an appointment an appointment in a city far, far away only to have the person I was there to see decide she was too busy for me.  At least her assistant was apologetic.

And yet in this same week there were too incidents of you before me that really touched me. In the first one, a work colleague spent much of two days working on a proposal that early in the process we decided he was not the right person to be working on the project should we get it. He had tons of other work obligations  and yet sacrificed his time for the greater good. As he said to me, ” Isn’t this just what we do? ”  meaning do the right thing, the mensch thing.  I knew that too often WE (everyone on our team) did not act that way but a few of us did anyway.

Then at the end of a long and brutal workweek, after 5 pm before a holiday weekend another non-I gesture. One of the administrative assistance in the group I manage, but not someone who works directly with me stopped by. My body language must have been reflecting the frustration and exhaustion I was feeling. Normally, as a “leader” I try to hide it better.

Instead of rushing for the door to begin her holiday weekend she came by to see how I was doing. She asked if I was OK. I told her it had just been a tough week but that everything would be good next week. She told me to let her know if there was anything she could do to help. She was sincere, not sucking up to the boss. Just as sincerely I thanked her and told her to go be with her family and enjoy the long weekend.

I must be doing something right to have a few “YOU”s and not all “I”s in my life.

Oh BTW I Have A Brain Tumor

No, no, no, not me.

I was speaking a month ago to a client that I have become friendly with. He is a quietly engaging guy. Bright, good at what he does and one of those people you would describe as “one of the nicest people you ever met”. 

We were discussing the latest work related assignment.  I then asked him about his recent trip to the emergency room. I had heard that he had gotten dizzy and concerned colleagues insisted that he go. That turned out to be an inner ear issue that quickly cleared up.

“Great”, I said as I heard the news. Then in a voice which I will always remember for its calmness touched with a bit of satisfaction– as bizarre as that may sound. He was happy that it was discovered early since it was growing and that it was not malignant. His view was that if he had not had the ear thing and if it had not happened at work and if he had not gone to this emergency room, then the tumor would not have been discovered. I found the calm way he approached this moment in his life to be beyond my comprehension.

If I received this news I would be a basket case. I would be angry and sad and depressed. Not him. I continue to find this beyond amazing.

I am thrilled to say that he has had the surgery, is doing well and resting at home.  I hope to learn from his approach to life. A long and happy one we all hope.

Saving Another’s Life

What does saving a life do to the life of the one who saves it? It seems clear that the one saved feels gratitude and has their life extended. Maybe that person lives the remaining years differently because they are “free” years that they would not have had– but maybe not.

But what about the person who does something heroic to save another? What do they get? Does their life change?

This is what ran through my mind as I read this story in the Chicago Tribune. The facts are that a Chicago police officer went to extraordinary lengths, risking his own life, to save a man trapped in a burning apartment building. The Officer, Timothy Gould age 54 and an 18 year veteran, heard cries for help. He tried to reach the apartment where the voice was coming from but was turned back by flames, kept his head and went around the back, breaking the window climbed in calling to the man and shining his flashlight. By now thick smoke filled the room but he never gave up eventually reaching 68 year old James Wesley and then carrying him out of the building.

A life saved.

So an article in the paper, a mention in a few blogs and maybe a day of fame.  I can not envision myself going into a burning building to try to save a stranger. I hope I would but I have strong doubts.

So what about Timothy Gould?

I can only hope that this man has a sense of pride that enhances the rest of his life. If I were king, people like him would receive a more tangible reward. Something that would be life changing. Why not.

It is not that the deed should not be its own reward, it should. But so many people make tons of money for becoming celebrities with no real talents, making no real sacrifices and adding little to our world. Why not share some with people who make a difference.

What more can one do than to save a life?


I do not make New Years resolutions. I never keep them and if I need to do something better or stop doing something I am not the type that needs an artificial start date.

However, before the holidays the word Generosity popped into my head. I resolved to consider this as a resolution. I decided to try it out without announcing it to anyone but myself and see how well I do. I am failing so far. Thankfully there are 49 weeks left in this year and, hopefully, many years left in my life to get this right.

So, what do I mean by generosity? Certainly the monetary definition holds. I will try to contribute to charities at least at the same level I have in the past despite the damage done to my retirement portfolio.

There is also generosity of time. Especially as it relates to my son who will leave for college in the fall I want to give as much time as he will take. I will also for the rest of my life need to make time for my autistic sister who is not dealing well with the death of our mother and needs as much family time as possible. I need to find more time with my wife. It will be just the two of us in the house starting next year and we should start finding more things to do together now. The other time issue will be others who may need a moment or an afternoon or even a day of my time that will make their lives better. Figuring out where this time will come from given a fairly packed schedule will be challenging.

However important money and time are I believe they pale in comparison to generosity of spirit. By this I mean being more aware of what and how I say things to people as well as how I interpret their words and actions. It also means sharing emotions which I often keep bottled up. This facet of generosity will be the most difficult for me. I find that I am programmed to respond to certain people and circumstances based on years of history. I am short or condescending to people including people I care about–especially people I care about. A scientific 6 week study of ME has revealed that even though I am aware of the desire to be generous of spirit I often fell into familiar traps. I liken it to having one of those out-of -body experiences in which I hover over my self and watch myself speak in ways I know are wrong. Good thing that I am perfect in all other ways!

So I have decided to go public with this Generosity thing so others can hold me accountable as part of my plot to be successful with this endeavor.

I am also offering it up to the rest of the world.  Generosity of spirit, time and money could go a long way to making this a better place to live.

An Inspiration: Gary Hall Jr.

It is easy to let obstacles slow you down or even stop you. Hell, there are phenomenal amounts of worldly and personal negative forces impacting each of us every day. The economy and the stock market are down, people are out of work and/or losing their homes, there are more places in the world than we can count where neighbors are killing neighbors in record numbers and the hopes for peace are slim. We each face our own declining physical conditions, injuries or illnesses or maybe the decline of someone we love.

That is why when famous people can inspire through there actions against personal adversity I believe the word should be spread.

I was aware  of but did not know much about Gary Hall Jr. He is a swimmer. Was an Olympic quality swimmer with 5 golds and 10 total medals. Maybe not at the Michael Phelps other worldliness level but pretty terrific. I also remember that he was often outspoken and a bit of a maverick (a real one, not the Sarah P made for TV kind).

After his first Olympics he developed Type 1 diabetes. It could have finished his career. Several doctors told him so. It certainly would change his life forever. He could have let the labels determine his life. From Olympic Hero to Diabetic. He chose not to.

He found a way to continue to follow his desired path while dealing with his disease. He did not let the disease define him. It was not easy. Testing his blood sugar at least 8 times a day going to every hour on race days. Five or six glucose injections daily. Diabetes is a disease that never lets you forget that it is with you.

A lesser person would have not gone on to compete and win medals in two more Olympics. A lesser person would not devote time not only to fund raising and making inspirational speeches but also to touch kids every day on a personal basis to help them see that as hard as their condition is there is a life to be had.

Gary Hall Jr. makes the 48 Facets Mensch hall of fame.

Read more about him at SI.Com

The Process Of Death

In the modern world too few processes are uncomplicated. For the living, not even dying comes easy.

I refer to all the things that need to be done for the dying/dead by the living.  The details seem endless and the prep should begin early, perhaps shortly after birth.

First get a grip on the finances. Make sure you know where the paperwork and accounts are and that someone trusted can sign besides the one that no longer can.

Know what is in the will and do not try to make last minute changes–especially if the lawyer plans to go for an extended vacation just when he is needed.

Hope that burial plots have been bought because this is close to impossible to do at the last minute.

Find a funeral home to work with. Is there a prepaid burial set up? Can you find the paperwork? If not how do you choose? Nothing like trying to price compare when you are grieving even though the difference can be many thousands of dollars. We found Irwin through a cousin. He came to us, made everything easy and was price competitive. My family found him to be “genuine”. I liked him well enough and everything went smoothly but I still saw a bit of the salesman come out when we met with him. Realistically I may be hypersensitive at the moment. Oh by the way, unless you absolutely cannot afford it, hire the limo to take the family around for the day of the funeral. You need it and deserve it.

Find a place for the service and appropriate clergy. We belong to a wonderful congregation. We were able to use our temple for free and our rabbi and cantor made the services there, at the grave site and later that night at our home beautiful and meaningful. All this even though they had just prepared for the Rosh Hashannah holiday the two days before. I wrote about the JRC before and cannot say enough about the place now.

Figure out the unwritten, unspoken “rules” of the official mourning process. First is who do you call to let know? Family, extended family, friends and co-workers want the opportunity to pay their respects and help in any way they can. If you are lucky the first set of people you call will volunteer to call others. But there are no rules. As you are grieving this is not the time to have to worry about someone being hurt if they did not find out. It should be all about you.

For me the most surreal aspect was telling my business associates.  I keep my work life and home life fairly separate. I am not close to anyone at the company I work for but I have opened up to a few of my clients. In the type of consulting I do, I am involved with very senior executives about very sensitive matters. What is the etiquette for telling clients? I had an out or town meeting the week we thought Mom might die, a phone conference two days after and a meeting with a potential client the day of the funeral. It is not that people are not understanding, they are. But it was a question of what words to use. Do you give detail? Do you give warning that your mother might die soon so contingency plans can be made? In the end I did what was easiest for me and I hope for no long run repercussions.

Someone needs to give a eulogy. The problem is that the people who know the dead person best are the ones most drowning in sorrow. Telling about the life of a loved one who just died without sobbing while in front of all the people who remind you of that person is not easy. OK, not easy is a gross understatement. In our case our rabbi, who did not know Mom, came to our house to meet with the family and get background. In his words, he was the back-up. It helped to know that one was in place. The other members of my family were too emotional to speak. And that’s OK, it is really all about what each of the Grieving need and it is more than OK just to mourn. I was able to speak for them and managed to say a few words without completely breaking down at that moment. I saved my complete breakdowns for before and after.

Jews do what is known as a Shiva. I am told by some friends that it is like a wake but with a focus on food rather than drink. It is supposed to be for seven days but many do it for 2-3. In our area this means the family picks a house at which to gather as friends and relatives come to pay their condolences. But there are processes to work out. Who takes care of providing food, plates, drinks, utensils, etc.? In our tradition, the grieving family is not supposed to deal or worry about that stuff. If you are lucky like we are, friends volunteer and magically all of these things happen. Even then, most people will ask if there is anything they can do. Unfortunately, even though they mean well, and I have done the same thing, there is a reality. The Grieving do not want to impose or ask for something beyond your means or time. These amorphous offers are not particularly helpful but again there is no handbook– that I know of. According to Rick’s Book of Manners, one should say, “I will bring _____”, is that OK or would you prefer that I _____?” (BTW, Rick’s Book of Manners is the shortest book of its kind. I am pretty easy going about most stuff and I HATE little rules on how to or not behave. Originally it was going to have just one line—Be a mench!— but I realized that a bit more direction is needed.)

There will be estate issues to resolve, thank you notes to write and getting on with life without someone you love. That last one is the most difficult process of all.