The Determined Lad

This is the true story of a young man with determination. Since he was three he had had a fascination with all things soccer. He played as many hours a day as he could to the point that I suspect by the time he was 12, he had met his 10,000 hours. The passion carried him right the way into a university soccer program in Europe when he was 18. Within his first year there he was spotted and offered a chance to try out for a professional team. The try out was to take place in 48 hours and getting there involved air travel. Arrangements were made and in the midst of freezing, horizontal winter rain in northern Europe, he set out on the bus to the airport. About 5 miles from the airport all traffic on the freeway suddenly came to a dead halt. There’d been a fatality on the road ahead and no one was going to be able to move for the foreseeable future.
This lad grabbed his bag, asked to be let out of the bus and started running through the now parked cars on the freeway in the direction of the airport. Up ahead was an overpass and as far as he could tell, scaling the nearby muddy berm would position him well enough to climb onto the overpass. Once there, he’d likely be able to flag a cab or reach out to an uber. Up the muddy berm he went only to discover a heretofore out of sight barbed wire barrier. Soccer isn’t dependent on his hands he thought so he tossed his bag over the barbed wire, climbed over it himself and scurried, now wet, muddy and with shredded palms, onto the overpass. From there he spotted a lone taxi just pulling up to a gas station. He flagged it down…when asked by the driver if he was Jared, the young man who is not named Jared, said “Yes” and hopped in with instructions to “Floor it”, to the airport. As they were peeling out of the gas station he saw a man, undoubtedly Jared, flailing his arms in useless pursuit.
He made it to the airport, bolted through security and made it to the gate only to be told that the door had just been closed. He explained that he HAD to get on the plane as he had a try out for a team whose nationality most fortunately was the same as the airline’s. Quick word was had with the pilot, the door re-opened and the athlete was ushered onto the plane. He made it to his destination. Acquitted himself well in the try out and landed a spot on the team. Now that’s determination.
I’ll tell you one more story about this young man. He was visiting his mom in another big city, another freezing rain, winter day. As was his habit, he donned his rainproof winter coat, and set out for his daily training run. An hour later he got back soaked to the bone and shivering. “What happened to your coat?? Where’s your coat??” his Mother said in not particularly dulcet tones. Her son answered, “I gave it to a homeless guy.”
That young man is my son. Today is his 24th birthday and I am one proud Mom. Thanks for indulging me.

Blue Pearl

The Lesson

I had the chance this cold January week to go to a Holocaust Remembrance event at the UN. It was extraordinary. Even with a single digit temperature the cue to get in was robust. In orderly manner we visitors were ushered through security protocol and into the General Assembly Hall, a big light filled room for big thoughts. It is beautiful but not opulent, circles and their resulting metaphors are a repetitive theme in it’s design. Doors are such that the full room can be seated quickly, its functionality is kinetic. Say what you will about the UN but it exists, it has a place that is real, that is devoted to peace and understanding. In today’s world, just that I can write that feels good.
As guests we were given free reign of where to sit, “Just not in the very front rows please as they’re reserved for WWII veterans and holocaust survivors.” I found a seat in the gracefully arced rows, complete with a listening device for simultaneous translations and a tiny flat screen. I imagined myself a delegate from, oh say…France.
After a brief, old school diplomacy introduction given by a right proper British matron the Secretary-General to the UN as the ceremony’s first speaker, welcomed us. He paved the way for the roster of impressive speakers to follow and engaged us as active witnesses to the remembrances we were about to hear. He framed the act of listening as an essential part of the necessary journey to sustained peace. One after another, soldiers of good will gave their testimonies of hatred faced and overcome and of work yet to be done. We were warned against the dangers of indifference, apathy and inaction. Reminded that Hitler methodically attacked the most erudite and sophisticated, clear evidence that those modalities of thought were threatening to the advancement of his heinous vision. As if in direct defiance of that threat the stunning song “Who Am I” written by Madeline Stone was beautifully sung by a chorus of NY youngsters. With a call to “Never forget”, a most profound lesson came from 93 year old Auschwitz survivor, Marion Turski. Three years of savage beatings, frigid cold, acid pangs of hunger, constant lice, had taught him that the worst of it was humiliation. His antidote to arresting current and future hells the likes of which he survived, is the practice of empathy and compassion. Remarkable. I had the chance to meet Mr. Turski. This giant of a man had the presence of an Everyman. A normal guy I think in many ways who had, through cavernous tragedy, had greatness thrust upon him.

I left and didn’t seem to be alone in this, inspired, uplifted. I left awaking to thoughts about how I might reach for my highest self and put that into action in my daily walk as the day’s speakers had. I left vowing to never forget, to never grow numb to evil, to be especially watchful so as to call it out when it creeps, advancing too slowly for normal sight. The message of the day was to hold to the bright, loving and true…to rational thought and high ground as best we can. To live with and afford to others dignity, authenticity, vigor, purpose and gratitude. These elders had. Surely we should too.

Blue Pearl

Facing the Bull

Not sure I can explain why exactly but about 40 years ago it seemed like a very good idea to study bull fighting in Mexico. This was the passage during which I also liked to parachute out of airplanes. It had all to do with proving something to my self, some primal sense of survival. Anyway…off I went to Mexico with my dearest gal pal, a Hollywood stunt woman, who was also up for this folly. As we had but 10 words of Spanish between us most of our instruction was given by our leather faced instructor, Rodrigo, in sweeping gestures, bold illustrative body language and the occasional holler which needed no interpretation when we were in harm’s way. Standing in the middle of our classroom, a dusty arena under the blazing Mexican sun, we two gringas did level best to keep up with the choreography of our nimble, in spite of being arthritis riddled, vaguely tequila scented instructor. Rodrigo broke the steps down, illustrating them with utmost patience and articulation, hour after hour with the grace of a dancer. He was spell binding. The firm yet ready planting of our feet in the direction of the bull, the arms framing the outside of our bodies holding our imaginary cape a precise distance away from our torsos and strictly perpendicular to the imaginary animal. Then ribcage shift to the left, holding (and this was crucial) the cape exactly where it had been whilst stepping to the left vacating the space behind the cape in order that the beast could charge through the now emptied space, foiled again.

Even in practice Rodrigo’s eyes remained laser focused on the beast that would be there. In time we graduated to holding an actual cape. Ours, to my surprise, were a sun bleached dusty rose color. We were made to understand this would not hamper our safety, that the scarlet red cape of my imagination held no secret power. I remained unconvinced. We were now learning how to deal with the sweep of material. On the rare occasions we executed the crucial move with proper momentum, perhaps even grace, Rodrigo would break out into a broad toothless grin that would make our day.

At long last Rodrigo deemed that we had built enough muscle memory thusly earning the right to have a baby bull in the ring. I likened my baby bull to a great dane. An angry one to be sure as he had metal pricks lodged in his neck for the sole purpose of agitating him. Thinking of him as a dog assuaged to some extent, my trepidation. My girlfriend and I seemed to pass the test as class by class our bulls were getting bigger. To this day when I think of facing the biggest one, my heart beat quickens. Even at a distance from my seething bull, our eyes were locked with the intensity of lovers. His were deep black holes that didn’t seem even to blink. My every inhale and exhale were magnetized to his as his juicy nostrils flared. Contrary to every instinct Rodrigo commanded me to approach the beast…to in fact get as close to him as I could. Slowly, ever so slowly with a focus I had never before nor since experienced, with one rooted step at a time I walked toward my enemy and partner in the ring. Thing was the closer I was to him the safer I was as he’d have less time to build up speed, build up power in a charge. In other words the safest place to stand was facing my fears head on. The metaphor was not lost on me. Facing your fears is safest. Doing so fear is not your enemy but rather effortlessly, you become the enemy of fear.

I was reminded of that experience recently. I’ve been dealing with an emotionally painful situation. Not devastating, just painful and a new life circumstance I must learn to live with. Everything in me says to ignore, excuse, build around it but actually I’m finding that the best place to be is square in the middle of the discomfort. If I stand there in thought, breathing with it eyes locked, the beast gives way. I am not impaled. The beast charges by on his own path which has little to nothing to do with me or mine.

Having survived our encounters with our largest bulls our course with Rodrigo drew to a close. That night we took him and some of his stable mates to a nearby bar for margaritas that never tasted so good. Tired, happy and just a wee bit wiser for having been in the ring, facing our fears, dusty rose cape and all.

Blue Pearl

LOSS AND GAIN

I’m lucky. This morning I got to sit on an isolated beach and watch the sunrise. It was the perfect opportunity to take an inward look, to take stock.

A Rabbi friend taught that one way to do this is to hold what he calls a “Convening of the Ministers. “ In your mind’s eye you sit at the head of a long table and invite your Ministers to take a seat…your Ministers of Childhood, Finance, Dreams, Broken Dreams, Aspirations, etc. You never know who is going to turn up at these meetings in your mind with its various selves. (I’m not alone here, right?) Then you ask them for the state of the union. That’s where it gets interesting because like it or not, each of the ministers has something to say be it a complaint, a question or a celebratory hurrah.

This morning and maybe because we’re at the year’s end, my Minister of Loss took the floor. The list he (Yes, “he”. Don’t know why but it’s a he.) sited was long….went back to my first memory of loss: my red tricycle and the resulting copious tears over its rusted carcass at the age of three. Next up was an early childhood little red tray, a favorite sweater. Moving forward, my home town when I moved away, my virginity, my love, six miscarriages, the bulk at the time of my monies, a few dreams, a few more dreams, my parents, three treasured friends to untimely deaths, one to betrayal, another love, the passage of empty nest. How ever they present, we’ve each had them.

“Not in all but in most cases something else has, in time, filled the void created by those losses” the Minister of Love (also at the table) responded. Sitting at the head of the table. I had to agree.

In the place of the miscarriages, the pride and sacred joy in my life, my son. Also my two grown, thriving and soulful stepchildren. In the place of the first lost love, wisdom. (The second lost love is a work in progress.) Filling that impossible void of empty nest has been different and extraordinary joys. The day I left my son at college I literally thought I would die. Suddenly after 19 years of being on the inside track of this being’s life, driving away from his dorm at midnight Sept 1, 2014 that ride was over. To my amazement I didn’t actually die. A kind of phoenix force continues to evolve out of the absence that is made up of the great joys of seeing him negotiate his world. There is his beautiful girlfriend and the qualities she extols of grace, grounded-ness, beauty and love. There is her wonderful family, now, a part of mine. There is his excitement over a new challenge…each of these moments is filled with meaning, the kind borne only of the deepest roots. The work of time. Enough of my losses have evolved into gains that for the most part I believe that those that have yet to evolve into gain, will. Some good is yet to be, yet to come, some branches from a painful pruning season have yet to sprout but sprout they will.

So, I’m lucky. There will be new losses…but new gains too. Here comes the new and the new year. Blessings to you and yours toward all good gains.

Blue Pearl

Dross and Gold

I was coming into town, “Are you free for lunch?” I group texted. Unlikely anyone would be as it’s the season and family obligations would surely be about to overwhelm. I was wrong, they were. So there we were again, the four of us in one space together for the first time in a decade. The restaurant we chose had sparkly Christmas décor and carols playing in the background elevated the mood.

We’d run a company together, a start up and had the lashings to prove it. Each of us had come from different backgrounds, each was hugely qualified for the positions we had helmed and what experience we lacked we’d made up for in moxie. We had worked long hours, scary running on fumes hours when the numbers didn’t work and we were fast approaching the proverbial cliff. We had been buffeted by betrayals, the kinds that happen in any business. We’d come through rip tides of jealousies I suppose from naysayers, of ego flair ups, out and out lies from charlatan, would be partners. As surely as we had gained experience and fortitude, bits of each of us had got chipped away in the exhaustion of our shared ride. We had on rare occasion bumped up against each other, unwittingly bruised one another usually when one person’s will had had to prevail over someone else’s in order to take a necessary step forward. We had however, stayed the course, ridden the rapids and succeeded in our mission.

With the gorgeous advantage of time passed, the rough bits, the dross, even the story of what we accomplished has faded. Nestled in the comfort of our next chapters what remains now is the gold of friendship, gift wrapped and given by our shared past. We have new conversations now in which no translation is needed…conversations about family members, health, finances, new interests and adventures.

We were strangers once. The distance between then and now is unfathomable. Our friendships won’t change the world, they will in fact except to us, go unnoticed. But we treasure them and hold them and each other dear. It’s the season….and for these dear friends and so much more, I am grateful. I hope you too have the good fortune to be reminded of some lovely treasure you have in your life as I was over lunch this week.

Merry Christmas,
Blue Pearl

The Other Voice in My Head…one of them

So there I was standing buck naked and all eight of them were staring up at me. Those eight pounds, clearly displayed in the digital read out, the ones I’ve said hello and goodbye to countless times. How did this happen? I’ve been going to the gym everyday. Well, okay…every other day. I haven’t been buying bread for the larder but when its offered in a restaurant…say, Sardi’s sourdough raisin or an oven fresh baguette, I mean really. Then there’s the butter… Who is this hungry person (AKA voice in my head that I’ll name Boca) who seduces me into consuming those deadly carbs especially from about 8pm on?

Boca is cagey. She presents as “me”, as benign and as the one who will make me happy if only I cave to her will. Lately I’ve been challenging Boca, separating her from the better voices in my head. Go with me here…
Me: What do you want, really want Boca?
Boca: Carbs.
Me: Yes but what’s driving that desire in you?”

The ready answer in the crie de coeur that came forth in Boca’s answer today was astonishing.
Boca: Life! A great moment at the opera, a stunning metaphor in a painting, good sex, a project that satisfies a deeper sense of meaning than just temporal whims, new horizons.

Okay…so if I don’t satisfy Boca with the cookie within reach I’ll have to put in the labor and risk, stress on risk, in seeking out one of those other glorious joys she actually craves.

With Boca temporarily silenced, possibilities awaken. I remember that food as anything more than basic fuel, is a luxury too many are denied. I could write a check for a quarter of my current food budget and send it to any number organizations that help feed the starving populations in our world. I could refocus the time wasted consuming and read an article, take a walk, write a blog. I could dig deep and work toward creating something, anything of beauty. So, off I go.

I won this round with Boca but I know she’ll be back…probably with better seduction tools but I’m onto her now. Hopefully when she resurfaces I’ll be bolstered by having fortified my better voices through action and those naughty eight will one by one take their place once again in the ether. For good.

Blue Pearl

My pal Gregory

I have a pal named Gregory. He’s a cherished work colleague who, over the last decades, has become chosen family. A while back we were given an opportunity to do a dead easy project together that involved promoting posh villas and estates around the globe that were for sale. We were meant to present ourselves as the imagined new owners of said property, delighting at the fun we’d have slipping out of our Swiss mountain chalet to ski, or overlooking the Mediterranean castle to our yacht below. You get the picture. For this sybaritic duty promoting lifestyles of the rich if not famous, we’d be compensated with a pretty penny. Discussions on this upcoming project were boiling along when Gregory called to say he had to bow out. I was stunned. Why on earth would anybody turn down so light hearted and well paying a globe trotting gig? He explained that he was at a legacy point in his life and that everything he did had to align with his core values.
What an imperative. I suppose he would allow himself the occasional piece of chocolate cake but work, friendships, expenditure of time, etc. needed to strike notes that were in concert with the true north of what mattered to him. He continued, saying that he no longer believed in big expensive houses, not their environmental footprint nor their statement that sprawling castles of indulgent glees held any key to happiness. Having sold his family pile and acreage, living now with one potted citrus tree he and his wife had discovered that they fretted over and had just as much joy from that lone tree as they had had from the acres of lemon trees. Simpler, not more, was better.
This meant ofcourse that I could no longer do the project. Oh sure…Gregory could have been replaced but how would I have felt doing the gig knowing I was facing east into the sunrise of greed? I had to pass too and hope that I would grow up to be a better person for Gregory having led the way.
That was awhile ago now and I’m thrilled to say I have no regrets for having turned the job down. What I didn’t know at the time however was how big a tool Gregory’s example would become. His ‘legacy litmus test’ now simplifies my decision making process in most dilemmas. It brilliantly allows you to correct, re-set and not get hung up on past patterns.
I do allow myself the piece or three of chocolate cake but I’d like to think I’m doing a better job of holding to my own true North, a direction more important for all of us now than ever before. Thank you Gregory. Lead on.

Blue Pearl