Fall: mastering the possibilities

Fall is my favorite time of year.  It always has been.  Spring is beautiful and exciting — for nature.  As a spectator, it’s one of the finest shows our world has to offer.  But it’s fall that is the season of possibilities for people.

Fall is when the harvest is in and people start focusing on themselves, rather than the land’s demands.  We see this in the fact that, all over the Western world, school starts in the fall.  I know that I was always excited when the new school year started.  Summer’s pleasures had long since waned, with my delight in its freedoms having been overtaken by the stresses of dealing with a completely unstructured life.  We children were bored and overwrought.

The school year meant new clothes, thanks to the back-to-school sales.  It meant spanking new school supplies, including fresh new Pee Chee folders.  My delight in the new school year wasn’t solely mercenary, though.  I always felt as if I was opening a gift box.  I knew what would be in it — students and teachers — but I didn’t know the specifics.  Every year I was certain that this year would be the perfect social year.  This year would be the year I got a boyfriend.  This year would be the year I’d finally understand math.  This year would be the year when my teachers would dazzle me and I would dazzle them right back.  Showing that hope springs eternal, even though each school year was a disappointment (not a terrible disappointment, but still a disappointment), each fall I’d be back to feeling that same old thrill as I stood on the cusp of a new school year.

The American political scene also reflects this time of fall renewal.  Because America was a rural country, our federal election cycle really gets running when the harvest is in.  The agrarian calendar said that this is the time when people can read and think about the issues that are most important to them.   Certainly for me, a lifelong bookworm, fall is a wonderful time for contemplation.  The days draw in early, the air is chilly and, if you’re lucky, a fire crackles in your fireplace.  All that’s needed is a book, newspaper, or magazine, and perhaps a warm dog and a cup of hot chocolate. Then, you’re ready to take on the heavy intellectual tasks you avoided during the long, summer days, with their endless enticements for outdoor activities.

I am not sufficiently conversant with Jewish history to know why the Jews placed their new year in the fall, right around the time of the fall equinox.  All I know is that, for 5,773 years, Jews have seen this season as a time, not of endings, but of beginnings.  To me, it certainly seems like a more natural time for a new year than a day buried halfway through the dead of winter.

Tonight is Erev Yom Kippur, the evening before the Jewish day of atonement (which follows swiftly on the heels of Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year).  Yom Kippur is the holiest of holy days in the Jewish calendar.  On this day, Jews the world over take an honest look at themselves, judging their behavior against the standards G*d has set for them.  It’s a solemn day, but it too is part of fall’s renewal.  We cannot move forward into the new year if our souls are weighed down by our sins and our minds darkened by our inability to repent and change.

I am not in school any more, and I am not a religious Jew.  Nevertheless, I still carry within me the optimism and hope that I feel every fall.  This feeling buoys me as I look at the world situation, which is scary, and I look at our American president, who is scary.  I feel as if we are reaching a crisis, and that’s scary too.  But crises can be cathartic, and the timing on this one is peculiarly good because Americans in this wonderful fall season are being given the chance to examine their past decisions, repent of them, and beginning something fresh and new.

Let’s take a break and think of lovely things

I want to talk about Kate Middleton.  She is, in my humble opinion, an exceptionally lovely young woman.  Her father-in-law may have chosen his wife badly, but her husband did a fine job.  To begin with, she and Prince William genuinely seem to like each other, which is a rarity in royal relationships.  She’s also take to her professional responsibilities like a duck takes to water, showing a lot more class than many of those born to the purple.  And, as I said, she’s lovely:

To add to her undoubted physical beauty, Kate has a lovely air about her. She looks wholesome and, whenever she’s fulfilling her royal duties, she seems honored to have the opportunity to see the things she sees and meet the people she meets.  There’s always a look of wonderment about her, which is very attractive.

So, contrary to my usual feeling when celebrities get caught with their pants down or, in Kate’s case, with their shirts off, I am not experience any schadenfreude at her humiliation (something that she’s also handling with grace).  With most celebrities, one feels that, since they spend their entire lives courting the camera, they can scarcely complain when it doesn’t always work out. Also, one often gets the feeling that the celebrity pictures are like the pictures of Dorian Gray, with the real image hiding away in the closet. When the real image shows up, one isn’t surprised.

With Kate having been spied upon at a private retreat in France, though, I do feel as if something lovely is being unfairly sullied. I’m showing my solidarity with her by boycotting the images (which I assume are on the internet somewhere). Kate is gorgeous when she’s clothed, and I have no desire to invade her privacy and increase her humiliation by checking her out unclothed.

While I’m talking about lovely things (which serve as a much-needed antidote to the news these days), someone sent me a link to a site called the Folio Society. I am, as the name of my blog suggests, a bibliophile. Lately, because it’s convenient, I’ve been doing most of my reading on a Kindle — it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s quick, and it’s compact. Truly, though, there is nothing like a beautiful book.

When I was in college, I worked at the Bancroft Library, at UC Berkeley, which houses a collection of rare books and incunabula.  When work was slow, my friends and I used to go down into the vault and look at the illuminated medieval manuscripts.  And when I say “look at,” I really mean it.  We’d grab some tissues to protect the vellum from the oils on our fingers, and carefully flip through the pages, pouring over the brilliant images.  The books were amazing.  The colors (often including gold leaf) looked as if they had been applied minutes before.  This is one of the reasons that, when I read about the Middle Ages, I am always able to imagine that time in vivid, living color.

The Folio Society does not offer illuminated manuscripts, which is just as well, because they’re very hard to take care of.  Instead, the create special editions of famous books, including copies of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.  My fingers actually tingled when I saw the pictures.  The books are beautifully bound, with exquisite illustrations, either by the original artists or by well-known illustrators.  The Alice in Wonderland books, for example, look as if they were just taken off the shelves of a Victorian bookstore.  As with those medieval manuscripts at the Bancroft, there’s a wonderful sense of immediacy with these books.  The Beatrix Potter collection is also exquisite.

The books are very expensive, but I suspect that, for some, the rewards are great.  My introduction to Victorian literature came about because my father had found at an estate sale a special edition of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  It was a large book (probably 8″ x 11″) and had these gorgeous, gloomy, full-page engravings.  I was mesmerized by the engravings as a little girl, and kept taking the book down to look at them.  Eventually, of course, I had to read the book, which started my love affair with all things Victorian.  A Kindle book can never offer this kind of enticement to an inquisitive child.

Do you have something lovely to offer as a sop to today’s news?  Pictures, videos, anecdotes, etc., would all be welcome.

Writings and sayings that have changed the way I live my life

There are a few things I’ve read or heard that have completely changed the way I live my life.  The first and most important was Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People. His light, accessible prose completely changed my life. I started looking at the people around me, not as adversaries whom I had to fight for resources (including such intangibles as friendship and popularity), but as collaborators in a giant project that sees all of us wanting to get ahead.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I became a nicer, kinder person overnight, and, moreover, one who truly believes that the majority of people I meet are interesting and have something good to offer me if I’m willing to be generous in return.  By the way, being generous doesn’t necessarily mean money.  It can mean interest, respect, friendship, friendliness, or myriad non-monetary ways to let people know you value them.

The next important thing I read was Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice, a book that helped me gain a bit of perspective about the (to me) overwhelming life choices I was making in my 20s.  My copy has disintegrated, and I have not bought another one, so pardon any errors I make as working from my memory here.  The book’s structure is a little unusual, as the narrator, Noel, is the lawyer for a young woman named Jean Paget.  He meets her after the war because he is the executor of a will that leaves her a legacy.

The first part of the book has Jean describe to Noel her experiences as a prisoner of war held by the Japanese in Malaya, a time of great hardship and personal tragedy.  The second part of the book is about Jean’s life after the war, and the way in which her wartime experiences end up profoundly influencing not only her life, but many other people’s lives as well.

At the end of the first half of the book, when Jean sees herself facing a bleak and lonely future, she concludes her narrative to Noel by saying “four years of my life wasted.”  Noel responds to the effect that we can never tell which of our life experiences truly matter.  The second half of the book, of course, shows the truth in Noel’s observation.

For me, Noel’s simple statement was a stunning truth:  I cannot control the future.  My responsibility is to make the best decisions I can now, and then to make the best of whatever effects those decisions have upon my life.  And that’s all I can do.  It was a simultaneously freeing and empowering revelation.

The last important thing I learned actually came by word of mouth, when a friend told me, with regard to my children “catch them being good.”  Wow!  Viewing my children as great human beings who occasionally fell off the path of goodness was better than viewing them as horrible little monsters who were good only rarely.  We now have what I can only describe as a great parent-child relationship, and I do believe they are genuinely good people.  How lucky I am.

I’ve read other things that have changed profoundly the way I approach my life, but I cannot summon them to mind as easily as I can the three I describe above.  Just yesterday, though, I read something that I might add to my canon of life-changing thoughts.  It came from John Hawkins who wrote a post at PJ Media entitled 5 Simple Hacks That Changed My Life.

What John describes are intellectual approaches to changing the way you view ordinary life experiences such as receiving criticism, making decisions, facing up to mistakes, etc.  Each of his suggestions helps your mind overcome its baser instincts (those being, for example, dealing with criticism through attack or collapse; dealing with difficult decisions by avoiding them entirely; or refusing to address mistakes because it’s too emotionally painful to do so).  Everything John writes is simple to understand and easy to undertake, but all five of his approaches enable us to bypass the barriers we erect in our own lives.  I urge you to read it.

Also, I would love it if you would share with me any simple, yet profound, insights that enabled you to deal with problems, turn your life around, achieve greater happiness, etc.  I am a big believer in reprogramming my brain so that I use new ideas to overcome old problems that arise from my personality issues.

Thoughts on death and immortality

I’ve been thinking about death lately.  Not in a morbid, depressed way, but in a more philosophical way.  Someone fairly close to me, someone I have liked a great deal and respected even more over the years, died recently.  The death was neither unexpected nor was it tragic.  Her loved ones are handling things with equanimity.  They knew what was coming and were able to tell her how loved and valued she was.

As you all know, my religious beliefs live in the vast space between shaky and inchoate.  I now question the casual atheism that once characterized my thinking.  There are too many unanswered questions about the world to allow me to negate God.  Science may clarify the details but it leaves the biggest questions more boldly exposed and completely unanswered.  Yes, there was a Big Bang — but what preceded that cataclysmic event?  Reason and humility demand that we accept that science most definitely does not have all the answers.

For example, contrary to the hard-line scientists who would consign us to the dust after we die, I believe in immortality.  But as with all my religious beliefs, I do not believe in any specific form of immortality, whether a heavenly paradise, reincarnation, or some sort of earthly resurrection at the end of days.  I just know that, because humans are truly greater than the sum of their chemical parts, there is some divine spark in us that transcends, and survives beyond, corporeal death.

There is one aspect of immortality, though, that is provable, never mind the fact that it lives in the realm of the intangible: Memory.  My father died almost twenty years ago, but there is a part of my brain that is entirely dedicated to him.  I see him vividly in my mind’s eye and I hear his voice.  When I act upon the lessons he taught me, I am completely aware of his presence.  English was his passion, and every word I write is the living, immortal embodiment of that part of him.

The woman who died recently left behind a great many loved ones.  She always felt triumphant about the fact, because each descendant (and there are many) is a great big, fat raspberry blown in Hitler’s direction.  Hitler is dead and gone, and was incapable of immortalizing himself through his DNA, but this lady, despite losing her parents to the Holocaust and being herself at risk, founded a dynasty.  A vast, vibrant, live-loving dynasty.

That same dynasty that keeps her immortal through shared DNA will also keep her immortal in memory.  Every person carries in his or her memory a little piece of her.  At first, this little piece can be painful.  Every memory is a burning reminder of the recent loss.  With time, though, these same memories become very comforting.  As I know from my Dad, these memories mean you are never alone.  The person is an integral part of you and your relationship to the world around you. More than that, if you have children, you pass down those memories through the stories you tell and the lessons you teach.  They may not know the man, but they know his memory.

Whether through genes or our acts alone, those of us who venture out into the world, gathering around us friends and family, are fortunate enough to be assured of immortality.

Click on the image to see the miracle of endless galaxies

 

A sense of gratitude and wonderment

My mother is a testament to the wonders of modern medicine.  But for the drugs, surgery, and implanted equipment upon which she relies, she would have been dead a long time ago.  Perhaps even more importantly, to the extent that she’s not dead, she has a fairly good quality of life.  Thanks to cataract surgery and high tech glasses (trifocals, anti-glare coating, etc.), she has twenty-twenty vision.  Thanks to teeny little hearing aids that are practically invisible, she’s not deaf.  Thanks to state-of-the-art pain medicines, delivered via state-of-the-art technology, she tends to forget that she once suffered from chronic pain.  She also takes medicines that control the pain and nausea associated with all the other medicines she takes just to stay alive.  She is a walking wonder.

What’s truly amazing about my mother is that she takes all of this for granted.  She is peculiarly unimpressed that modern medicine has her alive and functioning, even though she’s basically held together by glue and spit.  She’ll periodically complain about past or present sufferings, but I never hear from her an awed exclamation about the absence of pain in her life, or about the joy of twenty-twenty vision, or about the pleasure of hearing her grandchildren’s voices, or about the fact that she’s alive at all.

I’m quite different from my mother in this regard.  I’m am constantly overwhelmed by the wonders and miracles that see me alive and kicking (and doing some pretty damn fine kicking on my good days, if I do say so myself).

Modern medicine means that, a long time ago, when I needed emergency surgery, I got that surgery rather than hemorrhaging to death.

Modern medicine means that I didn’t die of hyperemesis gravidarum during either of my pregnancies.  Charlotte Bronte wasn’t so lucky.

Modern medicine means that I didn’t die when I was delivering one of my children, despite the fact that things went wrong.  And thanks to the epidural I had, not only did I not die, but I didn’t even realize that something had gone wrong.  (The kid was all right too!)

Modern medicine means that, although nature intended me to be practically blind, I not only see thanks to my glasses but, when I put my contacts in, I look gorgeous and I kick butt at martial arts.

Modern medicine means that, thanks to over-the-counter products, I have ridiculously young looking skin for someone my age.  (And yes, I’m boasting.)

And that’s just medicine!  I have iPhones and iPads welded to my hands; telephones in every room of my house; cars that talk to me; machines that wash my clothes and my dishes, and then dry them too; a computer system that has me actively connected to most of the world, 24/7; and that’s just the beginning.  The wonders of technology permeate every aspect of my life, including the allergy free pillow on which I rest my head at night.

Despite the fact that I grew up in this modern world, something that distinguishes me from my mother, who is old enough to remember little European villages that had no cars, I’ve never become blase about the wonders of science and technology.  I am endlessly grateful for the manifest benefits these things have brought to my life.

This sense of gratitude is, I think, part of why I am so proud to be an American, specifically, and part of the western tradition, generally.  All human beings have the capacity to create, but it is the West that had the curiosity and America that had the driving competitive energy, to take theory and make it fact.  Put another way, man has long dreamed of flying, but it was Orville and Wilbur, two American hobbyists, who made flight a practical reality.

Happy news!

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, because I didn’t want to ill-wish a positive trend, but I’m happy to report that my Mom is doing extremely well.  She was in the hospital last week and came out a new woman.  For the first time in years (perhaps decades) she’s . . . oh, I don’t know how to say it, but alive.  She hasn’t had her youth restored, but she’s had some of her personality and vitality brought back.  For so many years I’ve been dealing with a depressed, anxious, angry, paranoid, neurotic, hypochondriacal sick person, that it’s just amazing to walk into the room and see a fairly alert, rather sweet little old lady.  I’m not sure what alchemy happened at the hospital during her last stay there; I just know it made her, and therefore me, happy.  No matter how much longer this lasts, even if only a few more days, I’m celebrating each moment.

Counting your blessings

As I’ve mentioned at this post, one of the negatives in my life is the fact that my mother is a deeply unhappy person.  Conversing with her subjects me to a never-ending stream of complaints about her life:  her physical surroundings, the food she hates, the people who are mean or boring, her failing health, her chronic worries, etc.  Everything is bad, a disappointment, mean, scary, or any word out of the thesaurus that spells negativity.

The net result is that, despite the fact that she’s nearing the end of her life (nothing specific, just the nibbling away of very old age) and despite the fact that I do love her very much, I cannot manage to be in my Mom’s company for more than an hour at a time.  It’s just too demoralizing.  Mom throws at me the entire weight of her unhappiness in the expectation that I can lighten her load.  I can’t, though.  She’s like the hydra.  For every facet of unhappiness she passes on to me, she quickly develops three more anxieties and two complaints.

What troubles me is that my son seems to be going down the same path.  Although I know he has many friends, several good teachers, and a generally good school environment, when he comes home, he speaks only about his boredom and troubles.  Although he loves sports, when he comes back from an activity, he tells me only about the people who cheated or injured him.  Although he loves to go and play with his friends, when he comes running back into the house from a four-hour playing spree, I hear only about the physical and psychic injuries his friends visited upon him.  I see a happy life, but I hear an unhappy life.  When I call him upon it, he assures me that he is happy — and certainly, he shows no signs of depression.  He’s just negative, which is different from depressed.

My tendencies are also towards the negative.  Growing up with an unhappy mother and a chronically clinically depressed father, I didn’t get many life lessons in happiness.  In my life, it’s easy for me to point out all the bad things, but I won’t — and that’s the point.  I will not enumerate the bad things.  My rule to myself is that, if I want to complain, I must be funny.  That is, I’m allowed to articulate things that make me unhappy only if I can be assured that I won’t drag my audience down.  Those who know me will state truthfully that I break this rule periodically but, if I realize I’m breaking it, I catch myself, so that’s something.

The single most important thing I do is that, every single day, without fail, I count my blessings.  It is a reminder to myself that no matter the situation in the greater world or the minor injuries in my life, things are pretty darn good.  I have beautiful, nice, decent children; my dog is perfect; I live in a comfortable house on a beautiful lot; I have the best neighborhood in the world; I live in a delightful town; America, my country, is still the best place in the world; I find tremendous joy in martial arts; I have many very good friends, both in the corporeal and the cyber world; and on and on.  If I think about it, the list of my blessings is pretty endless.  It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that irritate me or make me unhappy, but it does mean that, on balance, I have a good life and I know it.

That’s all.

Even in defeat, Tim Tebow is an exemplary young man

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this here before, but my dog is perfect.  Her perfection isn’t always obvious to the uninitiated.  Those who don’t know what’s really important might think that, because she’s a mutt, she’s a little goofy looking.  They may feel that her habit of slipping on the kitchen floor and crashing into kitchen cabinets bespeaks a lack of that grace and elegance that the best dogs should have.  And maybe, just maybe, there are some who think that, because she doesn’t do tricks (no rolling, no shaking hands) she’s not too bright.  As I’ve said, the people who see only those traits — traits I find endearing — are missing her essence.

My dog is perfect because she is quite possibly the nicest dog in the world, which is exactly what one wants in a family pet.  She adores people, but in a diffident way that precludes aggressive friendliness.  She stands there, face smiling, tail wagging gently, signalling to people that she would be very happy to engage with them, but allowing them to make the first move.  No wonder the little girls in the neighborhood are her biggest fans.  She’s tidy, obedient, cuddly, playful, etc., etc.  Where it matters, she’s the best.

What does this have to do with Tim Tebow?

(Image by Craig ONeal)

Well, Tim Tebow didn’t win his last football game.  It was a biggie, and his team had a fairly ignominious defeat.  That allowed the usual crowd to talk about the fact that, as a quarterback, he’s still immature (which, given his age and short career falls into the “well, duh” category), that he’s got a bizarre playing technique, that he’s too slow to react, etc.  He is imperfect and, the naysayers imply, unworthy of the attention lavished upon him.

These naysayers, of course, are missing the point.  Well, I agree that Tim Tebow is not perfect, because no human being is, he is an exemplary young man in all the areas that matter.  He is deeply kind, humble, generous and, as we learned today, truly stalwart.  Despite sustaining very painful injuries after this weekend’s game was already good and lost, Tebow did not give up and, instead, played through the pain:

“I just wanted to show character. You just continue to fight and it doesn’t change who you are, how you play, how you go out there, you should be the same at all times,” Tebow said. “That’s what I wanted to show, it didn’t matter if it was the first play or the last play or you were down by 42. I was going to be the same player and I was still going to give everything I have. Because that’s all I have to give.”

There is a fundamental decency in that statement that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with whether Tebow ever wins another football game.  It is enough that this season placed Tebow in the public eye so that as many people as possible can hear his message.  Certainly, his message his about his faith, and I don’t want to belittle that core component of his personality.  To limit what he offers to faith, however, is to do him disservice.  His approach to his faith means that, in his conduct, he sends a larger message about the human spirit, and this is a message that should reach all young people, whether they share his faith or not.

Certainly, I want my children to know that you can be famous, good-looking, talented . . . and courageous, kind, generous, moral, chaste, and all the other good stuff he is.  In a world saturated with Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Gansta Rappers, and all the other foul people polluting pop culture, what a tremendous gift Tebow is to our young people.  He uses his bully pulpit, not to tell people to use one sheet of toilet paper, buy $100,000 electric cars, or have sex, but, instead, to lead by example in the purest sense.  His is a doctrine of love, not just for God, but for human-kind.

It is this last point that makes a mockery of those anti-Tebowists who claim that they fear criticizing him lest his fans become violent.  No, I’m not kidding.  Max Lindenman, who feels as I do that Tebow has become an important symbol in the culture wars, caught a liberal columnist make precisely this point:

Yesterday in the Atlantic, I read a blog post that really turned my head. Robert Wright warns non-religious people, especially those he calls “liberals,” that “dissing” Tebow is a bad idea…because it might make the other guys really mad. Extreme “religious conservatives,” who “consider themselves to be at war with the prevailing culture,” will take cracks against Tebow as cues to “reject the entire liberal agenda, ranging from gay rights to uncensored science education in the public schools.” Liberals, he advises, should be as discreet regarding the Broncos QB as the Jyllands-Posten wasn’t regarding Muhammad, prophet of Islam.

Unlike the Islamists, Tebow is the Abou ben Adam of faith, one who manifestly loves his fellow man as part of his faith in God.  No one who respects Tebow is going to use violence as a means of expressing that support.

There are others like Tebow — Marine Lance Corporal Donald Hogan, for example, who earned was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross — who have this abiding love for mankind.  What they lack, however, is Tebow’s prominence.  There are too many heroes whose work is done in the quiet and the dark.  Tebow brings their ethos into the light.

LCPL Donald Hogan

I don’t care that Tebow is a somewhat ungainly quarterback.  As a parent, and as someone who has watched our pop culture decay for too many years, I care deeply that Tebow is almost perfect in the areas that matter.  He is a gift to our culture, and I hope that as many people as possible appreciate this gift.

A genius idea

I just have to pat myself on the back here, because I came up with a genius idea.  We bought our Christmas tree (er, pardon, Hanukkah bush) today.  Prices this year have been surprisingly low, so I ended up purchasing a 7′ tall tree for all of $40.00.  It’s a gorgeous tree.

Getting a 7′ tree in the house, in the stand, upright, and watered is a daunting task.  Here’s where my genius idea comes in:  I took an old king size sheet with me to the tree lot, one that I bought years ago for the kids to make play houses with.  I put the sheet on the ground, rolled the tree onto it, and then tied the sheet together at both the bottom and the top of the tree.  The tree slid in and out of my minivan effortlessly, and left no needles.

When we arrived home, and while the tree was still wrapped up and lying down, I put the tree stand on.  The kids and I then carried tree (with stand) into the house.  All of the needles remained neatly in the sheet.  We got the tree upright, adjusted the stand, added water to the base — which was easily accessible — and only then let the branches down.  A hail of needles followed.  Since the tree is in excellent shape, I assume it was the one at the bottom of the truck, and that the needles came from every other tree in the truck.

I shudder to think what the mess would have been like if it hadn’t been for my excellent idea.  As it was, I vacuumed around the base of the tree, and everything was perfect.  I’m really quite pleased, both with myself and with my tree.

You guys have probably already thought of this idea (and I’ve heard of Christmas tree bags, although I’m sure that only excessively well-organized people think to buy those), but I’m still pretty pleased with myself.  The fact that no one at this busy, busy lot had either sheet or bag tells me that this wrapping technique isn’t common.  Indeed, the Christmas tree salesman was very impressed and said that, henceforth, he’ll bring a big sheet for his own tree.

Sorry for being the boastful rooster, crowing on my own dunghill, but it’s so rare for me to have these light bulb moments that I get ridiculously excited.

Is this the best half time show ever?

There’s a distinct possibility that this is the best half time show ever, combining heartfelt patriotism, pitch perfect music, and marching the likes of which most of us haven’t seen outside of a Busby Berkeley movie.  Even better — no wardrobe malfunctions.

(If the video doesn’t show, go here to watch it.)

Help a very special couple have a very nice wedding

I got the following in an email from a good friend:

Meghan Kinney’s achievement-packed life took a bit of a turn recently, offering a up a tough, new challenge, which she’s faced with her typical determination. A member of the 2008 US Olympic Synchronized Swim Team, and the captain of the current team in training for the 2012 London Olympics, Meghan was diagnosed last summer with a rare form of bone cancer.

Shortly after her treatment of chemotherapy ended in July this year, her boyfriend John, an US Air Force Lieutenant, asked her to marry him.

Without telling Meghan, John, a recent Air Force Academy graduate, entered the two into a contest sponsored by Operation Homefront called, “Salute to Love,” which is for young members of the military in which the contest winners have their wedding paid for.  It’s a pretty cool idea.

Anyway, if you have the time, would you please vote for them?

You can do it here, in the video John put together.

But first, read their story, told by John in his submission for the contest.

Also, here is the message Meghan’s mom Ann sent out today to family and friends.

Looking  at the other submissions from engaged couples, I wish all of them could win — but that’s not how life works.  One of them will win, and I think Meghan and Johns’ story is compelling enough to deserve our votes.

A righteous person

During WWII, too few in Nazi occupied areas extended help to beleaguered Jews. In the aftermath of the war, the State of Israel recognized those righteous people. The criteria for those who achieve the honor of “Righteous among the Nations” are few and demanding:

Since 1963, a commission, headed by an Israeli Supreme Court justice has been charged with the duty of awarding the title “Righteous among the Nations.”

The commission is guided in its work by certain criteria and meticulously studies all pertinent documentation, including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses.

In order to arrive at a fair evaluation of the rescuer’s deeds and motivations, the commission takes into consideration all the circumstances relevant to the rescue story, including the following:

  • How the original contact was made between the rescuer and the rescued.
  • A description of the aid extended.
  • Whether any material compensation was paid in return for the aid, and, if so, in what amount.
  • The dangers and risks faced by the rescuer at the time.
  • The rescuer’s motivations, in so far as this is ascertainable; e.g., friendship, altruism, religious belief, humanitarian considerations, or others.
  • The availability of evidence from the rescued persons (an almost indispensable precondition for the purpose of this program).
  • Other relevant data and pertinent documentation that might shed light on the authenticity and uniqueness of the story.

In general, when the data on hand clearly demonstrates that a non-Jewish person risked his (or her) life, freedom, and safety in order to rescue one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps without exacting in advance monetary compensation, this qualifies the rescuer for serious consideration to be awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” title. This applies equally to rescuers who have since passed away.

I think when you read this story, you will conclude that Darwish Darwish passed the righteousness test.

Must see TV

Some in the town of Grand Rapids took umbrage at being tagged as a “dying” American city in some magazine or another.  One man, who has a reputation for showmanship, raised $40,000, and got 5,000 people to participate in this amazing ONE SHOT video: