Saturday, April 25, 2015

Next to Diamonds

A favorite refrain of mine says with a hint of melancholy, "I'm no good next to diamonds." I think we all feel like that sometimes. We feel like unpolished pebbles rubbing shoulders with the fine diamonds of the world. A dirty stone lined up next to a perfect gem can be terribly intimidating, even disheartening. How can a dusty little rock shine and make a name for itself when compared to a glistening diamond?

All of us have talents and unique abilities, idiosyncratic nuances about ourselves that distinguish us from any other human on earth. Alas, it is still difficult to feel proud of your individuality if you are constantly surrounded by people that you only see as taller, prettier, skinnier, smarter, and inexplicably cooler. Truth is, many people will have more natural gifts than us, this is the nature of genetics and the universal law of unfairness. So what is our solution? Remained bummed over our inadequacy? Seek out friends that are shorter, uglier, dumber, and less talented than us? No. The solution is twofold. First we must embrace the diamonds around us. We must realize that being next to something beautiful or skilled takes nothing away from what we offer the world. If anything it is a built-in teacher, a built-in mentor, and a built-in motivator. The second part that we are already arriving at is attitude. If we are easily discouraged in seeing others succeed there is little hope for us. Seeing others succeed and win in life should imbue us with our own source of energy to likewise dominate life. But if we do nothing but compare our lives to those around us, we will end up with the chronic thought, "I'm no good next to diamonds."

I have not been immune to this thought process myself. I have been blessed with a litany of friends that have talents and traits that I will never acquire. I have friends that are more attractive than me, and friends that are better athletes than me. I have friends exceeding expectations at every corner, and sometimes my life seems like something forgotten and left behind. I envy their skill sets and their God given talents. They are diamonds. But I don't consider myself a worthless rock of no value. I too am a diamond. I did not arrive at this conclusion years ago, rather it has been an evolution of understanding. Sure, I will never be as muscular, as well spoken, or as charismatic as some people I know, but that matters not. What I don't possess should only motivate me to create and have more of something else.

Every day I stand next to diamonds because they inspire me, they edify me, and they remind me that I too am a diamond, just of a different cut. Every diamond is different, every one found in a different corner of the earth, mined and refined in different manners.

Maybe you still don't feel like a diamond. Maybe you feel like a cheap version found in 25 cent machines. If this is the case, don't run away from the giants of society. Seek out leaders, heroes, and champions. They will not subtract from your light, but if you let them, they will only add to your glory. Do not let the goodness encircling you to detract from your own happiness. Find diamonds, and be diamonds.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Yom HaShoah- Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

As usual I am a day late and a buck short, but the sentiment remains the same. Yom HaShoa, or the Holocaust Remembrance Day is celebrated annually from the evening of April 15 to the evening of April 16. Maybe it is a celebration that tax season is over, but in reality it is a solemn holiday of reflection and mourning. I am not Jewish, but having studied and written much pertaining to the Holocaust, and having visited Auschwitz in Poland, I feel like I too can and should take a day and remember. It just so happens that I am almost done with my second book that centers on the Holocaust. It is a not a history book, but rather a personal look into history. Many people ask me why I study the Holocaust, or rather how I could possibly be so intrigued by such an abhorrent event. Well, here is a partial answer and an excerpt from my new book. Stay tuned for release dates, and please take a moment after reading to reflect, even if for just a few seconds. 

I often get asked the following questions when I tell people I love studying the Holocaust: Doesn’t that depress you? Isn’t that sad to read about all the time? That’s kind of morbid isn’t it? The truth is there are long answers to these simplistic questions, they are answers that are heavy laden with philosophy and existentialism. Unfortunately I am not always in the mood to philosophize every time someone asks me about my hobbies.

But I can understand where these people are coming from. The majority of people, even educated people do not read historical texts as much as I do, and most people I come in contact with do not consider and ponder on the implications of certain historical contexts like I do. So I shouldn’t be offended when they ask such ignorant questions. But I am, just a little bit. To me, telling me it doesn’t make sense to study the Holocaust because it elicits depression is like saying, “why do you read your late mother’s journals, isn’t that deeply saddening?” Of course it is sad, of course it depresses the mind and soul. But is that such a terrible thing to feel sadness? One would argue that reading a journal of a loved one who had passed away was cathartic and in a way connected them with their past, and though it brought about feelings of remorse and melancholy, it was worth the experience. This is what I believe about the Holocaust. No matter the amount of sentences that break my heart and make me weep, it is worth the experience. Though it is not family history, I am not reading about perished members of my own family, every person or group I read about is part of the human family. And from this family, from this aggregate of humanity we can find the same connections, the same catharsis and the same sense of joy.

The same could be uttered about watching the news. Why view a program that just reiterates the evil of mankind, a show that shows us the depressing state of the world? Because it informs us, it teaches us, and it reminds us that there is another side to every story. For every act of hate and oppression there are stories of heroism and compassion to be found. The news is nothing but a present form of history. People are so bored with the facts of yesterday, but so enamored and intrigued by the headlines of today, and what will come tomorrow.

So we are brought back to the query. Why do I study the Holocaust? I have never been put behind bars. I have never gone days without food. I have never been bludgeoned or beaten in public. I have never been covered in lice and blood. I have never had loved ones killed. I have never felt a true hopelessness. So how can I relate? How can I look at the suffering of millions and apply it to my life? How can I learn from an experience I will never endure? The answer is quite simple. All I do to make the Holocaust relevant in my life is alter the scope, and adjust the scale. Sure I have never lain in bed at night aching from hunger and disease. But who hasn’t been hungry before? Who hasn’t felt physical, debilitating pain? Who hasn’t known someone that has suffered through, or been victim of a crippling disease?

Of course I have never been held captive behind barbed wire unable to escape. But I have felt similarly trapped. I have felt like the metaphorical escape into the woods nearby was nothing but a dangerous dream. I have felt like no matter my actions, I would remain in one tragic locale. It is not the same thing. And I am not attempting to compare my plight with those of Holocaust survivors. But when I read about someone’s mother being taken away from them in a split second, and the very next moment the father is executed, I relate. I relate because I have a mother, I have a father, and though I haven’t experienced such ineffable pain, I can imagine, I can empathize. And the second those words jump from the page to my head an immense feeling of gratitude hits me. I think about my mother’s smell, and my father’s embrace. I’m immediately thankful for the safety net they’ve provided for me my whole life, and I wonder how I would react if they were ruthlessly taken from me. As a sentence like that is punctuated I say a silent prayer of thanks that I will not ever have to lose my parents like that.

I am well aware that I have not been forced into feeling the extreme hopelessness that the Jewish people felt during the Nazi reign. But I have felt true hopelessness in fleeting moments, moments I don’t quickly admit to, in moments when I thought the darkness would never subside. Just because my lack of hope at times is so much smaller and so less intense than that of Holocaust victims does not and should not minimize my experience. In fact it only enhances that education process for me. Having been through what I only know as hard times, and what to me has felt catastrophic, I feel like I can relate to those who have suffered through unspeakable acts. Everyone has been through things that at the time seemed insurmountable, and unequivocally painful. And reading or learning about others who have been through much more doesn’t subtract from our pain, and it does not mitigate our memory. What it does do is connect us. It reminds us that everyone suffers at different times and at much different degrees, but at the end of the day, we all need a little hope, and we could all use a little more compassion. 

"Tragedy is more important than love. Out of all human events, it is tragedy alone that
brings people out of their own petty desires and into awareness of other humans'
suffering. Tragedy occurs in human lives so that we will learn to reach out and comfort
~C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Father

I can count on half a hand the number of people who have known me since I entered this world with a whimper and an unexpected breath; my mother, and my father. I guess I knew my mother a little longer since I lived in her warm womb for nine months. But that was more of an amphibious existence than anything else, a forgettable if essential part of my evolution. So from day one, and the conceiving days preceding that first day, there were two personages that loved me and knew me. I cannot tell you if my first memory was of my mother, my father, or both of them. But what I do know is that I am unaware of a world without them. But today I want to talk about my Father. 

The relationship between father and son is an odd and beautiful phenomenon. They don't really have the same background because when the journey of father and son commences only one has a past, a life to draw from. And from that starting point the son can only draw life from what he is taught and what he sees, until his background and past start to form.

I can't remember a time past or present where I didn't associate my own father with the likes of heroes. I'm sure most fathers at some point or many points feel inadequate, unprepared and ill-equipped to raise a son in this ever changing sphere of chaos and whimsy we call life. But regardless of error or folly, I saw my Dad as an undisputed hero. I look back at my early years and see nothing but joy and learning. My Dad managed to teach me things without me feeling like I was being lectured to or harangued for misconduct. 

Memories are fresh flowers on gloomy winter days. And I have been blessed with what seems like an endless aqueduct of awesome memories between father and son. I remember when I was ten years old and we both thought shaving our heads was fashionable and cool. I didn't care if kids made fun of me at school. I thought they were the idiots that weren't as fresh as me and my dad. I remember playing toss for hours in freshly cut grass, laughing at things girls would never understand. For some reason I have vivid memories of my dad removing large and painful splinters from my fingers. And it isn't the pain I remember, but the intimacy, the care. I remember unknowingly mimicking my father's mannerisms to the amusement of my mother. I remember conversations that were too hard to have, but we had them anyway. I remember crying in front of him and not feeling like any less of a man, cause he cried with me. I remember him teaching me what words meant that I used incorrectly. I remember sparks of competition between us as we played Pickle Ball or cards. 

The memories don't stop, but more importantly neither does the friendship. As you grow up I guess most people need their parents less and less. I know that is painful for parents, but the truth is it is painful for me too. But there is a necessary estrangement. You move out to college, you take yourself to the doctor's, and you make your own mistakes. But you yearn for the days when your burdens were their burdens. It was a simpler time. But thus is the process of growing up, an inevitable portion of life. But for the lucky, the relationship only grows with time. New experiences are shared, the harsh realities of adulthood are better understood, and finally the son has a substantial past to work with. Having this background, this chunk of life lived puts the father/son relationship on a whole new plateau. Maybe we don't live together anymore, and maybe we don't even talk everyday anymore, but knowing someone for 27 years is so much better than knowing someone for 10 or 15 years. You think you know everything about someone, but everyone is constantly evolving in opinions, personalities, and capacities. 

I can't wait till the day my Dad meets the girl I will marry, and I tear up at the thought of him holding my first son. Sometimes guys suck at the whole feelings thing. But I love you Dad. You are the reason I am the person I am, and I am grateful for you everyday. And I appreciate the ridiculous good looks that you gave me. Happy birthday Pop, you old bag of bones.

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”  ~Umberto Eco

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tiny Tiny Poetry Post

In celebration of 22,000 pageviews (cause 22 is my second favorite number) I felt like I needed to post. I am busy working on my second book Return Not Desired and waiting tables. I am on the hunt for a literary agent and wife (not necessarily in that order). But in the meantime I have to write other things to placate my creative juices and wandering mind; short stories, character sketches and poetry. The other day I had an hour to kill before work so I perched myself onto a grassy hill by the mall, took off my shirt and started writing. Out came a tiny poem, almost a haiku, but a little longer and less structured in its stanzas. I love writing small poems because they are like dreams put to words, they are combinations of my thoughts, desires, and insecurities all blended up in a medley of subconscious regurgitation. Dreams often don't make much sense, but also aren't totally disjointed. If you look close enough, and dig deep into the soil you can find meaning, and such is so with poetry.

The symmetry of two flying birds
Intersecting unknowingly
Snow capped mountains cry in the background
The earth is still as the music plays
I sit and wonder in God's solemn rays