Friday, February 19, 2010

Sometimes we cry alone for reasons we will tell no one.
And when we're done crying, we go on.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


He knew I was there, watching him, studying him, but if he cared he didn’t show it. He just sat there. Eventually lighting a cigarette. Eventually putting it out. He said nothing. He didn’t move much. At one point, he smiled. But it gently faded after a few minutes. Every now and again, he would close his eyes.
After about twenty minutes, I walked over to him and asked, “Excuse me, but could I ask you a few questions?”
“You have already asked me one,” he said, as a quirky half smile appeared.
I liked him. “How old are you?” was my first, I mean my second question.
“I am 87,” he said. “Is that important?”
“Not so much important as curious to me,” I said. “I don’t mean to offend you, but you seem both ancient and young at the same time, and I was just curious.”
“Why would that offend me?” he asked. “To the very young I am very old. It is merely an observation. To the very old, youth is a state of mind as much as it is forgivable behavior.”
“You knew I was watching you but it didn’t seem to bother you,” I said.
“You watching me had nothing to do with me and everything to do with you,” he said. “If a thousand people watch the sun rise, will the sun be bothered? Or do anything different merely because it is being watched? To the observed it is nothing. It is the observer that can be changed.”
“Why do you smoke cigarettes?” I asked.
“Because I enjoy it,” he said simply.
“But what about your health? Aren’t you worried about the damage smoking can do to you?”
“I have been smoking one cigarette each day for 76 years,” he said. “I am not worried.”
“Do you have any family?”
“I did. But I am the last.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”, he asked. “Is death not a part of life? To be first or last is not important. To be, that is what matters.”
“Indeed. To be. That is what matters.”
We talked a little more. And it seemed with every answer he gave, I grew a little wiser. There was a part of me that wished I would have met him earlier in life. But as I thought more about it, I realized that neither of us would have had the questions and answers that we had today. Besides, he probably would have said something about wishes not giving meaning to life.
I said my last “Thank you” to him and began to walk away.
I heard, “Remember me.”
I stopped, and slowly turned around to say, “I will.”
But he was gone.

In this age, we too often look for answers in the esoteric or the exotic. We track the latest trends. We gush over the newest guru. We pander to that which we like and slander that which we don’t.
But today I learned five lessons from an ancient young man who had no vested interest in the outcome of our time together. In his honor, I pass them along.
Answer simply.
Enjoy what you do.
Don’t worry.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


“I know this may sound crazy,” Jim said, “but when I was a kid I used to love walking around the big willow tree in our front yard with them, after a freshly fallen snow.”

“You’re right,” Joanne said. “That does sound crazy. I’m just the opposite. I like mine warm. Put ‘em in a warm salt soak and I’m nearer to heaven for a while.”

“Not me,” piped up Barb. “Give me a stroll through some tall grass dripping with the morning dew. I find it thoroughly refreshing and it makes me smile.”

“I say nothing beats warm oil and gentle hands,” Bob declared. “You feel so relaxed.”

Matt sat quietly for a few seconds. Slowly, a smile eased onto his face. An ever so slight chuckle breathed out as the smile spread to his eyes. “I liked waiting for a warm summer rain when the dip in the back yard filled up. Then me and the kids went running out, and on the count of three, we all jumped in the puddle together. It was great. We’d usually empty the puddle after a few good jumps but then we’d just go inside and wait for it to fill back up. And then we’d do it all over again. The kids loved it. I loved it. It was one of those traditions that you remember for a lifetime.”

“Last year,” Matt continued, “my youngest came to visit. She’s almost thirty now, but there we were, sitting on the back deck, when a warm summer rain came up. We just sat under the table umbrella, talking. Suddenly she got up, took me by the hand and said, ‘Come on Dad. It’s full.’

“We walked out to the edge of the puddle, and jumped in together.” Matt stopped to soak in the memory.

No one minded the quietness of the moment.

It all started with an odd question: “What do you like to do in your bare feet?”

Me? I think I’m going to wait for the next warm summer rain.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


She had the kind of giggle that could soften marble, and she played it with as much aplomb as she did abandonment. She couldn’t have been much older than two years and she walked behind her daddy like the princess of the condiments aisle.

She would point to the jars of pickles, announce to all, “pick-o-o-ohs,” and giggle. She would point to the olives and declare, “ah-libs,” and giggle again. With royal command, she pointed to and proclaimed, “catch-em-up, momstard, yell-ish,” as the ketchup, mustard and relish stood in respect, and she giggled. “Yell-ish,” she repeated, this time a little louder, and by this time her giggling was joined by at least half a dozen adults who seemed mesmerized by her.

We parted ways at the end of the aisle as she and her dad headed down the bread aisle and I scurried through the canned goods, a smile still anchored to my cheeks, and one that would return every time I remembered the Condiments Princess.

And I chuckled when I heard, from two aisles over, “Mommy wants holy wheat bread, daddy, not white.”

But the best moment of the morning, was when we were in the produce section. There she was, carrying about seven or eight lemons in her arms. Suddenly, there they were, rolling on the floor (perhaps giggling?). Her little arms went skyward, like a referee signaling a touchdown, as she said, “Uh-oh daddy, I dropped my lemons.”

“That’s okay honey,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.” And her face lit up with a huge smile.

“I dropped my lemons,” she said to a lady passing by, “My daddy’s gonna take care of it.”

And she giggled.

I learned an important lesson that day. Sometimes when life hands you lemons, maybe the best thing you can do is to lift your hands to the heavens, and tell God, “Uh-oh Daddy, I dropped my lemons.” Then trust Him to take care of it.

Oh. And don’t forget to giggle.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Learning to Live Lean, Clean and Green

I counted her shoes strewn onto the floor of her bedroom closet. Twenty-three-and-a-half pairs. That’s right, “and a half”. As in, a half pair of shoes. One unpaired shoe.

“So-o-o-o Terri,” I said, dragging the first word out. “A half pair of shoes?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I keep hanging on to it in case I ever find the other half.”

“And how long have you been looking?”

“I guess about three years,” she said, somewhat sheepishly. “Maybe I should get rid of it?”

And I wondered quietly why that was even a question for her.

She had originally asked for my help in organizing her home office, which looked amazingly like someone had taken her supplies and stuff, stood in the doorway and rather enthusiastically shoveled it in the room. There was her paper recycling waste basket that had overflowed so much I couldn’t tell where the waste ended and her filing system began. Tucked in the corner was her “open space closet”, which doubled as a piece of exercise equipment that hadn’t been used for its original purpose since she discovered she didn’t have to go to her bedroom closet to hang up (read, throw) her clothes.

Of course to reach her office we had to pass through the gauntlet of her kitchen, which she proudly called, “the war zone.” The narrow pathway through what her rental agent called a “cozy kitchenette” was lined with stacked crap on one side, counter-stacked with crap on the other side. And I couldn’t help but wonder if that muffled sound I heard as we passed the sink was last week’s leftover pizza, growing and growling and patiently biding its time waiting to ambush whoever was brave enough to do the dishes.

I’m not saying she lived like a pig, but, … well, actually I guess I am.

Most of us are familiar with the old saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I think her motto was more like, “Something should go somewhere but if it doesn’t fit there then just put it somewhere else.”

Hopefully, you’re not in a similar position. But whether you need a lot or a little help, here are my five favorite tips for de-cluttering your space.

One: Start Empty. This is perhaps the simplest, although not necessarily the easiest way to organize a room. Start with a clean, minimalist space. This of course requires that you have someplace else to temporarily put the stuff, but it’s a lot simpler to put into a room only what you actually need if you can start with empty walls and an empty floor.

Two: Place Deliberately and Slowly. I don’t mean work in slow motion, but don’t hurry to get stuff back in the room. Take your time and be sure that what you put in your space actually belongs in that space.

Three: Divide and Conquer. Now that your stuff is out of the space, look at its pieces not its mass. It’s not one big mess but ten little messes. Or maybe it’s fifteen little messes. Or maybe it’s even twenty-three and a half little messes. The point is to break it down to pieces small enough to feel good about daily progress as you work through to separate the wheat from the chaff. Not everything you have is something you should keep. Be thoughtful as you go through your stuff.

Four: The Smaller the Space the Fewer the Stuff. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people try to stuff a Hummer’s worth of car into a Mini Cooper’s worth of garage. Seriously, you really don’t need so much stuff. If you want a little eye-opener about our attachment to stuff, rent the 1986 movie “Labyrinth” and wait for the scene featuring the Junk Lady. “Oh, what have we got here?” she begins. “Oh, your little bunny rabbit. You like your little bunny rabbit. Don't you? Yes! There's Betsy Bou! You remember Betsy Bou don't you? Yes. Oh, it's a pencil box. Got lots of pencils in it too, and, oh! Here's your panda slippers. You know how much you love your panda slippers. You never wanted them thrown away, did you? Oh, it's little Horsey. You love little Horsey, don't you dear? You got a printing game, you have! Oh, here's a treasure. Here's dear old Flopsy. You'll want her. Charlie Bear. Right. There's Charlie Bear for you…” It should make you think twice about holding on to so many things.

Five: Get Help. I don’t mean you must hire a professional organizer. Get a friend or family member who can help you sort through your stuff with a little detachment. Someone who can ask you questions about why you think you really want to keep things in your space. Someone who can dispassionately (or passionately, if need be) say, “No.” Someone who understands your end goal is to live lean, clean and green.

Think you can’t do it? You can.

Live light.