The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘friends’

THE GREAT KING

During the Middle Ages there was a king in central Europe who wanted to educate the people of his realm. He heard of a renowned scholar and hoped this man would share his wisdom with the king’s subjects. So he sent forth emissaries to find the scholar and invite him to be the tutor for the kingdom.

The scholar came and met with the king who told him of his plan. He accepted the king’s invitation to teach his people all that he knew. The king was delighted that he was fulfilling the mission he had set for himself.

A number of years passed.

One day the scholar sought an audience with the king who granted his request. At the audience the scholar said, “Your majesty. I have been with you and your people for quite a few years. I have taught you all that I know. It is now time for me to leave and share my knowledge with other people.”

The king was sad to see the scholar depart but he understood that the scholar was doing what he believed to be the right thing.

He said to the scholar, “While we are sorry to lose you we respect your decision. But before you depart, we must have a feast in your honor – for all that you have done for me and for my people.”

The scholar agreed to remain until the feast.

The king ordered that a large wooden structure be erected – sufficient in size to accommodate both the nobility as well as the commoners who had been educated by the scholar. It was a very large building – rather barn-like – with no doors on either side in order to allow easy access to the many guests who were invited to attend the festivities.

The king ordered that a large and fine variety of foods be served at the evening banquet. The fare was exceptional. The king seated the scholar at his right hand at the table of honor.

As the meal concluded, a small bird flew in from one end of the open structure, spent a few seconds flying around the candles at the king’s table, and departed through the other end of the building as quickly as she had entered.

The king took this to be a sign of some sort. He asked the scholar to explain it’s meaning.

The scholar responded, “My Lord – this is the story of life. Abruptly we emerge from the darkness, we spend a brief moment in the light and just as rapidly as we entered, we return to the darkness.”

Today my beloved companion – my Golden Retriever, Spenser left the light. Those of you who have loved companion animals and have lost them will understand the grief and my deep sense of loss.

During our years together, Spenser was my “scholar”. He taught me that extending selfless acts of love is the way in which we should live our lives. He never asked for much yet he always offered everything he had to give.

Would that we would only learn those lessons.

Perhaps that’s what the scholar taught the people in the great king’s realm.

This is a reblog of a post published about a year ago.  Gracie and I lost Spenser on 11/29/11 and I wanted to offer him a tribute but it was too difficult for me to do on the anniversary of his passing.

He was a devoted companion and a wonderful friend – and Spenser, Gracie and I love you and still miss you.

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THE FUNERAL HOME

My relationship with my grandmother is one that I wish every child in this world could experience. She was my greatest advocate, my defender and to me she was a saint. Losing her was the deepest knife thrust my heart ever received.

For a number of years my mother and aunt had been estranged. I would tell you the reason for that but as it is many years since, the reason has lost its significance. I loved both mom and my aunt dearly – and I did everything I could to get them re-united. I spoke with my aunt on a regular basis and encouraged her to try for a rapprochement with mom.

Auntie H. was a wonderful woman – and she felt a sense of obligation to immediate family. As a result, although I know she loved me dearly, she felt that I was “betraying” mom in even speaking with her as this divide continued.

But I pursued. (I can be obstinate at times – and I thought that with such a little family to hold onto we all should be as one). And so it happened.

I had returned from college for the Christmas holiday. Grandma, dad, mom, our cocker spaniel, Andy and I were settling in to an evening of good food and family on Christmas Eve. Suddenly, the downstairs doorbell rung. It was Auntie H. and her youngest daughter who had come to surprise us with a visit. (Mom and her sister hadn’t spoken for at least five years).

Suddenly all the grievances (real or imagined) fell away and we were together again as one small – but now slightly expanded – family. Tears flowed freely from everyone’s eyes – and my aunt never gave away the dirty little secret that she and I had talked during this long hiatus. Had it not been for my aunt’s gratuitous visit, she would never again have seen her mother alive.

I returned to Chicago after the New Year and went back to the busy work of studying and trying to learn from people who were far brighter than I could ever hope to be. And only a few days into getting back into the regimen I returned to find a note in my mailbox and another attached to my dorm room. My resident head, Carole wanted to speak to me. I went down to her room.

She told me that there was something urgent going on at home and I needed to call my parents and she offered me her telephone. I dialed home and dad answered, but without the usual upbeat voice that I knew through the many conversations we had over the years.

You have to come home. Grandma’s ‘ill’.”

I remember saying, “How ill is she?” After a little pause, dad said, “She died this morning.”

To this day, I remember the emptiness I felt – as though all the air had been sucked out of my body. I remember feeling a near faintness at the pronouncement of these words. This wonderful woman from whom I had learned so much and to whom I could always turn when I needed help or support was gone.

I remember listening to dad tell me that a ticket was waiting for me at O’Hare Airport to fly me back to New York. I remember getting through that conversation, hanging up the phone and starting to cry uncontrollably. I remember Carole putting her arms around me, putting her head on my shoulder and giving me a hug. In my head I heard the sounds of the old spiritual, “Sometimes I feel Like A Motherless Child.”

Because we were a small family, relatives didn’t die very often – and, for their own reasons – my parents shielded me from the deaths of their friends. I had never before attended a funeral – and grandma’s was my introduction to this part of life’s passage. It was not a part of life that I savored or enjoyed.

The wake went on for two days. Grandma’s casket was closed and, other than on television, I had never seen a dead person. I didn’t want to remember my grandmother that way and so I was happy that my parents had decided to conduct the rituals of death in this manner.

Friend after friend – mostly grandma’s and my parents’ came up to us and expressed what I took to be their sincere sympathy. They said all the “right” things that one can say at these moments.

They told me, “How much my grandmother loved me and that they knew I had reciprocated those feelings towards her.” I heard the same well-intentioned statements for hours on end and I wanted to scream, “You have no idea what this woman meant to me. Be quiet already.” But I behaved appropriately and thanked them for their statements.

But after awhile, I couldn’t handle it any more. I inappropriately left the room and started walking on the floor where grandma’s wake was being held. There were several other rooms on the floor of the funeral home, one of which was occupied by another deceased person. I saw that this coffin was open – and because I had never seen a corpse, I admit to a certain fascination and went in. There was no one else in the room.

There in the casket lay a woman. I approached,  viewing the first corpse I had ever seen in real life. As I looked at her, I guessed this lady was in her nineties. I remember admiring what an excellent job the funeral home had done in making her look as though she were ready to enjoy an evening at the Met. She seemed positively serene and happy.

I started to leave the room in which she lay, having steeled myself to hearing yet more of the comments which had driven me from grandma’s wake. By this time, the funeral home had provided us with a second book where those in attendance had signed in to represent their appreciation for my grandmother’s life.

As I left this elderly lady’s room, I looked at the book which sat on the little dais at the entrance. Nobody had signed their name. So I did.

Over many years, I have often wondered – had this lady simply outlived all those who loved her and whom she loved? Did nobody care about her life and passing? And did whoever received the “Book of Remembrance” ever wonder – who was this stranger who had signed it?

 

ONE LESS FRIEND

Gloria and I worked together during the two years I held employment with the State of Illinois. She was our secretary. I would guess that, when I first met her, she was in her mid-fifties.

If there’s one thing that I miss most about her is the way that she would emphasize a point that she was making by saying, “Doncha know.” It was her trademark. She said it with an “oomph” that belied her generally quiet and reserved demeanor.

After two years of seeing how government “works” I had enough. I was off to make my mark on the world in my own business totally unaware that, in that effort, the world would leave some scars on me. But I never regretted the decision – or having gotten to know Gloria.

It would be an overstatement to say that we were bosom buddies, but we would speak to each other every few weeks. I always took her out to a nice dinner for her birthday as she did me and she always included me in the little annual Holiday party that she would host in her brownstone in Lincoln Park.

The menu and the guest list for these parties was always the same. There were eight of us. The Johnsons, the Whites, the Bartholomews, Gloria and me. Gloria always catered the dinner from Gaper’s and would order a nice fresh green salad, beef stroganoff with noodles and chicken marsala with risotto and lightly sauteed string beans. For desert there was a baba rum torte and lots of good strong coffee to help overcome the effects which we all experienced from the cocktail hour that preceded dinner.

It may sound a little boring to the more adventurous of you, having the same meal year after year (for more than twenty of them), but for me it became another wonderful tradition of the Holidays.

It was much like looking forward to the two to three feet of snow which inevitably fell the day of Gloria’s parties – but a lot warmer and more inviting. I thought of Gloria’s guests as part of an adopted extended family – if for only one night a year.

After desert and coffee, the eight of us would play a game. Whether it was hangman or charades (how untechnological you will say), or we would group into teams and play a board game. One year our after dinner activities were curtailed because the snow which was supposed to have fallen already had not. In fact, Chicago had not seen a snowflake for five days and the streets were unusually passable.

But as we began our after-dinner entertainment, suddenly we could see out the bay window of Gloria’s living room that Mother Nature had gotten back on schedule and a deluge of white was beginning its descent. The other guests decided to take their leave before the roads became difficult to navigate and bid their adieus.

I stayed behind and offered to help Gloria clean up her little apartment, do the dishes and put away the leftovers. She was feeling a little under the weather that year and for the first time she agreed to my help.

We went into the kitchen and I realized suddenly what a mess eight people – even rather genteel people – could make. Gloria turned on the little portable television which sat on the counter facing the kitchen table at which she normally took her meals. As it happened the nightly news was on.

I began organizing the plates and the silverware so that I could start washing them. Gloria said, “Doncha know,” I’m feeling a little faint so I’m just going to rest for a moment. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll help you in a few minutes. But I had things under control and told her to take it easy and that I would keep washing while she rested.

As I was at my task, a story came on the news about a protest outside an abortion clinic. Gloria made a mad dash from her seat and turned off the television. I had never before seen her behave like his and I was startled. But I didn’t say anything. This was a Gloria whom I didn’t know.

At the point of this event, Gloria and I had known each other for about ten years. She was a very private person. I had sensed that about her from the earliest moments we knew each other. And I never pried into her affairs.

I was not about to alter my behavior or make any comments about her turning off the television. So I was very surprised that she felt sufficiently confident to bring up the subject with me.

She said, “Doncha know, about two years before my mother’s death she told me something that really shocked me.”

She said that when my father and she were first married they had to struggle to survive and had decided to put off having a family until they could afford one. But mother got pregnant before that time had come. I was that baby.”

She told me that, even though it was illegal then, she considered having an abortion. And it’s very hard for me to hear anything on the subject. They talk about ‘procedures’ like it’s having a tooth pulled. And I always think, ‘I could have been that tooth that was pulled’.”

I went over to her and hugged her and we both began crying. After we embraced for a few minutes, we went back to clearing up the rest of the dishes and putting away the leftovers. Gloria and I never discussed the subject again.

I’ve replayed that Holiday party night in my mind thousands of times. I know that we have a tendency to look at the question of abortion in a clinical way. To Gloria, it was as personal as it could get.

That evening left me with a lingering, haunting feeling.

Had her mother made a different decision, the world would have been deprived of this caring and loving woman.  And I would have had one less friend.

 

 

I’M DOING WELL – AND YOU?

 When I was in my mid-twenties I heard an acquaintance make this statement:

 “We want our friends to do well – we just don’t want them to do too well.”

 Sadly, I have discovered that many of us look at life and friendship that way. We are happy for our friends to do well – as long as their “doing well” isn’t better than the success that we have personally achieved.

 In a consumer-based society we typically define our achievements not in terms of who we are but by what we have acquired.

 It’s great that our friends have a two car garage – as long as ours will accommodate three.

 Their 60 inch TV has a terrific picture – almost as good as our 72-incher in the family room.

 The list goes on and on. I’ll allow you to fill in the blanks.

 My favorite aunt taught me a valuable lesson. She enjoyed collecting thimbles. Every Christmas I would find a set of twelve to give her. One year the theme was birds, the next year dogs, the following year flowers. This went on for many years. She showcased these thimbles in little shadow box frames. The walls of her small apartment were filled with them.

 When I visited her for the holidays one year she said to me, “Listen dear. I love my thimbles and you’ve given me so many. But it’s enough. I am trying to unburden myself from possessions. Your being here for Christmas is the only present I want.”

 I returned the set I had purchased for her that year.

 If you feel that you need a 20 thousand square foot house to feel important then I wish you all the best. (You have just encumbered yourself with the need to hire a staff to maintain it. I don’t envy you that responsibility).

 If you must acquire expensive jewelry to accent your designer wardrobe I hope you enjoy yourself at the gala. (I have no need to run to the vault to pick out the necklace I am going to wear with my one of a kind dress. I don’t own one).

 If your possessions are the center of your life then God bless you. I hope they make you happy and enrich your life. (For me there is nothing more priceless in this vast universe than being able to snuggle up with a loving puppy and gently fall asleep).

 If you were a friend I would say to you, “I hope you do well. In fact, I hope you achieve your heart’s desires. You have justly earned your reward.”

 

THE GREAT KING

During the Middle Ages there was a king in central Europe who wanted to educate the people of his realm. He heard of a renowned scholar and hoped this man would share his wisdom with the king’s subjects. So he sent forth emissaries to find the scholar and invite him to be the tutor for the kingdom.

 The scholar came and met with the king who told him of his plan. He accepted the king’s invitation to teach his people all that he knew. The king was delighted that he was fulfilling the mission he had set for himself.

 A number of years passed. One day the scholar sought an audience with the king and the king granted his request. At the audience the scholar said, “Your majesty. I have been with you and your people for quite a few years. I have taught you all that I know. It is now time for me to leave and share my knowledge with other people.”

 The king was sad to see the scholar depart but he understood that the scholar was doing what he believed to be the right thing.

 He said to the scholar, “While we are sorry to lose you we respect your decision. But before you depart, we must have a feast in your honor – for all that you have done for me and for my people.”

 The scholar agreed to remain until the feast.

 The king ordered that a large wooden structure be erected – sufficient in size to accommodate both the nobility as well as the commoners who had been educated by the scholar. It was a very large building – rather barn-like – with no doors on either side in order to allow easy access to the many guests who were invited to attend the festivities.

 The king ordered that a large and fine variety of foods be served at the evening banquet. The fare was exceptional. The king seated the scholar at his right hand at the table of honor.

 As the meal concluded, a small bird flew in from one end of the open structure, spent a few seconds flying around the candles at the king’s table, and departed through the other end of the building as quickly as she had entered.

 The king took this to be a sign of some sort. He asked the scholar to explain it’s meaning.

The scholar responded, “My Lord – this is the story of life. Abruptly we emerge from the darkness, we spend a brief moment in the light and just as rapidly as we entered, we return to the darkness.”

 Today my beloved companion – my golden retriever, Spenser left the light. Those of you who have loved companion animals and have lost them will understand the grief and my deep sense of loss.

 During our years together, Spenser was my “scholar”. He taught me that extending selfless acts of love is the way in which we should live our lives. He never asked for much yet he always offered everything he had to give.

 Would that we would only learn those lessons.

 Perhaps that’s what the scholar taught the people in the great king’s realm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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