A Boy’s Will is the Wind’s Will

Alone With a New Grandson

Little Ben and I are having a staring contest. He will win. Nobody in the world can outlast the stare of a two-month old baby. I wonder, for the upteenth time, what is going on in his head. Is he thinking anything at all?

The lines of a poem by Henry Wadsworth poem pop serendipitously into my head.

“A boy’s will is the wind’s will and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Most of us adults assume that the thoughts of a tiny baby are pretty well fixed on survival stuff .
“Will someone please feed me or change my diaper or pick me up?” But maybe we are the ones who are short sighted.

In many ways we are all mysteries to one another. Could it be that this little tot is already sizing us up?

“Hmm! This face sure looks different from Mom. His voice is deeper too. What the hey, he’s making funny faces at me. Now that’s a kick.”

“He’s holding me kind of awkward. Looks like he hasn’t held a baby for a while. But he does smile a lot. He seems to enjoy being with me.”

“I wonder a lot about stuff. Like, how come someone pulled me out of that sweet warm place where I used to be? Well, it was getting a bit cramped in there and I have to admit that I was getting restless.”

Now that I find myself in this new world, I’ve got to figure out where do I go from here. What did that old guy say?” “A boy’s will is the wind’s will and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.?” I gotta think about that one. Not sure what it means but then again I’m not a youth yet.

I’m in no big hurry to grow up. There’s lots of friendly people around me, welcoming me into the world, loving me, taking care of me. I guess I can wait a while before I start thinking those long, long thoughts.

Walk Like a Millionaire

Walk Like a Millionaire

My Jewish grandfather was a short, barrel chested man with the voice of a cantor and the tude of an Olympic athlete at the height of his career. In his mid-eighties, he carried himself like a young man. One day, old Ben caught me with my head down, feet sort of dragging. I had just blown a job interview and was feeling sorry for myself.
“Hank,” he bellowed, “Get those shoulders back. You’re way too smart, way too gifted to walk that way. I want you to promise me that you will always walk like a millionaire and let the world know you’ve got what it takes.”
His words, spoken so many years ago, came back to me yesterday as I found myself slouching along musing disconsolately about the state of Hank. Man! I am OLD. Never mind that bull shit about 80 being the new 60. Eight decades is eight decades. I feel those 80 big ones in my bones (and eyes and ears and the “nether” regions of my anatomy) all the time. So is it time to cash in my chips or at least start acting like an old guy?
Get outta here. Rather it’s time to listen to my Jewish grandpa. And pay heed too, to the words of the poet, Robert Browning.
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”
If my time remaining is short, all the more reason to be up and about. There are kind words to be said; frail older people to be supported; young kids to be listened to. There are old friends to be contacted and people to forgive and others from whom to ask forgiveness. There are smiles to bestow and jokes to tell. There is love to spread around generously. If not now, when?
All of that good stuff is part of life, part of the giving back we all owe for receiving the gift of life. We octogenarians have our assignments and there is no time to waste. A younger generation has a right to expect from us the wisdom we have garnered through our life experience.
My Jewish Grandpa was right on. Now is NOT the time to shuffle through old age as though we have nothing to give. Our riches are within us, wealth that is our privilege to share.
Now is our time to walk like millonaires.

Losing a Brother

Losing a Brother

I lost one of my older brothers a few months back. I thought I was coping pretty well with his loss. You know the drill. Time is a great healer. He’s in a better place. It was a good death. Yea,yea yea.
Then September 20th. dawned, Dan’s birthday. For the first time, I would not be calling him on the phone or dropping him a card in the mail to wish him many happy returns. Sometimes Dan and I would put a single dollar bill in the card, a throwback to when we were kids and a dollar bill was always included as one of our presents.
But now, a birthday without my brother? No! From deep within me came the rumblings of a grief I did not expect, a sucker punch that made me look for a chair to rest in. Dan is gone.
Dan is gone. My big brother, my role model, my confidante. He was the one who told me the facts of life when I was only five-years old, taught me the art of tossing a perfect one hand push shot on the basketball court, and a curve ball on the baseball diamond. Dan was my partner when he and I would play Pa and my brother Dick on our golfing vacations. We played stick ball together. I was proud to caddy for him when, as a fourteen-year-old kid, he won the junior golf championship in Buffalo.
It is said that the greatest loss in life is to lose a parent or a spouse or, God forbid, your own child. I have no quarrel with that thinking but the loss of a sibling deserves honorable mention among the panoply of losses.
A brother or a sister is part of you. You grow up together, sleep in the same room, and wear one another’s clothes. Once you reach a certain age you don’t snitch on one another. You scheme to fool your parents and keep one another’s secrets. There is competition between siblings. That goes without saying. But there is sibling loyalty, too. You honor that. There are certain things mom and dad need not know; things you share that you share with on one else.
My brother and I grew up at a time and place when people, especially brothers, were not physically demonstrative. No hugging for us. You’ve got to be kidding. A hand shake or pat on the back was about as close as we got to showing our affection for one another. No. “I love you man” stuff for us.
But, at the end of Dan’s life, we both realized that saying “I love you” to a brother was not only acceptable, it felt right and good. Because, the truth is we did love one another. The inhibitions finally melted away and we spoke heart to heart, soul to soul.
We still do. On my imaginary birthday card, with the traditional dollar bill tucked inside, I wrote “I love you, Dan. I always did and I always will.”

A Kid With Integrity

A Kid With Integrity

True Story. I’m taking this tall Afro-American teenager out with me to help him look for a job. A friend had helped him with his resume and it looked pretty good except there was little to show for his work experience.

“Alonzo, that one paragraph, that’s all you have?” “Yea, it is what it is,” he replied. “Nothing else?” I inquired. Then Alonzo said, “My mom wanted me to put down that I had worked for her in her cleaning business. That would have made it sound a little better but”….he hesitated. “So why didn’t you?” “Because it wasn’t true.” “In other words, it would have been a lie?” “Yep,”he answered.

We rode in silence for a while. Then, Alonzo glanced at me. “Did I do the right thing?” “Alonzo, what do you think?” “Yes, I feel that I did.” he reflected. “Maybe nobody else would have found out I lied but I would have known.”

Wow! Was I hearing things? Here is a kid who respected his word, a word, I might add, that did not from the mouth of an altar boy from an intact family but from a kid who had been around the block a few times. Alonzo is the progeny of a run away dad and an abusive mom. He was raised in a series of group homes and foster homes. He never even knew who his bio mom was until he was nearly fifteen years of age, only to find out that she is an addict and a drug dealer.

So how do you explain the honesty, the integrity of a kid like Alonzo? We think we know people but we don’t. Somewhere, deep within the soul of this youth was a sense of character that I could not begin to explain. He didn’t cheat, not because he was afraid to be caught but because he would not be true to himself. This young kid discovered something about life that manages to elude so many in our culture. When we lie, when we pretend to be someone we are not, we diminish ourselves.

I felt humbled to be in the presence of a young man like Alonzo. I thought to myself how many privileged kids would have hesitated to tell a little lie to get ahead? When you get down to it, we are all getting pretty dam blasé about telling the truth aren’t we? We may not admit we lie. We say we MISSPOKE, as though that’s any different.

Our heroes betray us, whether John Edwards or Tiger Woods or hundreds like them, but a black teenage kid from a dysfunctional family stood head and shoulders above them all. “If I had lied no one else might have known but I would have known.” Words like these are not the words of a boy but a man, a real man.

Coming Out of the Closet

Coming “Out of the Closet” Not Just for Gays

It’s not only the gays who struggle to come out of the closet. Many of us are in closets of our own making, closets that have nothing to do with sexual orientation but everything to do with owning our real self.

We are afraid to be real, not so much that we have secret faults to hide, but because down deep we know that we are more than the persona we show the world. All too glibly, we mouthed the words we heard in catechism class or Sunday school, the ones that said, “We are created in the image and likeness of God,” but we didn’t take them seriously. That was a leap of faith that was too scary.

We accepted instead an image of ourselves based on our success in a professional career or on the money we made or the model car we drove or on the recognition we received from others. That’s who we are; the way other people see us. Right? Wrong!

We know better. We really do. In the 6o’s a group called “The Seekers” came out with a song called “Georgy Girl.” Remember? The lyrics speak to a girl who is afraid to be herself. In part they say:

“Hey there Georgy girl
There’s another Georgy deep inside
Bring out all the love you hide and oh, what a change there’d be
The world would see a new Georgy girl.”

We’re a piece of work aren’t we? Born to scan the heavens, we muddle through life with our eyes cast down on the ground beneath us, The gifts within us atrophy because we would rather tamp down the fire that burns in our soul lest we accept the greatness to which we are called. Whoa! Quick, turn on the mindless TV sit-com or do something that that takes our minds off this pesky call to be something more. Nobody is better at dumbing us down than the person we see in the mirror every morning.

We let ourselves get overwhelmed by the photos of poor emaciated children in Biafra, or the Sudan, throw up our hands and act as though we are helpless, forgetting that making a difference in even one life has its importance.

What’s the Jewish saying, “By saving one life, you are saving the world. ?” Wow! That’s powerful stuff. I get goose bumps, too, whenever I think of the butterfly effect, the fact that even the tiny butterfly flapping its wings makes its presence felt all over the world.

We are connected, mates. Our smiles count, so does our acts of compassion and our forgiveness. But first we have to get out of our closets of fear and timidity and be the lover, the friend, the parent, the kid we were made to be. Don’t you think?