Give Peace A Chance

January 13, 2011 by  
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By Bob Holof

On December 8, 2010, about a month earlier, the world memorialized John Lennon on the 30th anniversary of his murder. Lennon was the most famous member of the Beatles, partly because of his composing talent and mostly for his stand against violence. GIVE PEACE A CHANCE was his song and his prayer, and defined his association with the principal that civility was the answer to a great number of the world’s problems. His death at the hands of an armed assassin was horrible and ironic.

At the time of his death, and at the many worldwide memorials held a month ago, I remember how surprised I was by how easily everyone seemed to slip into the comforting illusion that this was the act of one demented individual and how unable or unwilling people were to connect the dots. We were living in a violent world where leaders and prominent supporters incited violent acts. Some demented people would hear these words and see these images and go over the edge and commit these acts.

To me it was clear that with prominence comes responsibility and prominent people should be toning down, not ramping up the violence and they should be separating themselves from those supporters who sprinkle their political, religious, or personal pronouncements with words that could incite violence.

Now a month later, after the mayhem in Arizona, perhaps chastened by the fact that this violence put them in personal danger, many of our leaders spoke of toning down the rhetoric. Others, however, took great care to refer to this as a random act by a single demented individual and made it clear that they did not think incitement to violence had anything to do with this massacre.

I don’t think anything is served by pointing to Sarah Palin’s target map or anything said by Glen Beck as the direct cause of this violence, but neither of them have followed the lead of Don Imus who admitted to having said on more than one occasion when speaking of someone he disrespected, “He should be shot” and his pledge to never say that or anything like that again.

In the 30 years since John Lennon died tens of thousands of people have been murdered in this country by violent people. Oklahoma City, Ft. Hood, the World Trade Center, made the headlines, but still few of those who could exert influence in words and deeds took the time to censor themselves and refrain from saying or doing anything that could ramp up the atmosphere of violence that pervades us. Lennon’s message of love has not been heeded.

There is an art to persuasion without rancor. It is time we learned it. If not, no one is safe.


Learning To Let Go; Magee Lessons

June 12, 2010 by  
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Shai 002Magee was my first dog. He came with my wife. In fact, it is very possible that had he not jumped into my lap and knocked the glass of white wine out of my hand and spilled it on my beige sports jacket, my wife and I would never have gotten together.

I was not a unique child. I wanted a dog as a pet. My mother was desperately afraid of animals. I never knew why. To my knowledge she had never been attacked, and neither my brother nor I had ever an unpleasant moment with a pet. But who is to account for anxieties? They are often untraceable to real events. So, we never had a dog. We visited people who had dogs, but they had to be locked out in a yard or inside in a room or my mother wouldn’t come into the house. Every time we visited my Uncle and Aunt, Bill and Sally, I would go down to the den, close the door behind me, and play with their dog that was confined during our visit.

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Friendship…Or I’m Trapped

April 18, 2010 by  
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I was brought up by generous parents and was taught, the way we usually are, by example and not by lecture, that when you could help, you did.

My father went overboard and when he was living longer than he expected and started to be seriously concerned about running out of money, we had a long conversation over finances. We reviewed his savings, his social security income, his small investment portfolio, and the state of his health which was surprisingly good considering his age (over 90) and his medical history (two small strokes). In a way, he was preparing me for the fact that when he died there wouldn’t be much left for my brother and me to share. But, more important, he was wondering if he had to start to make those frightening choices between buying food or the prescriptions that were keeping his health devils at bay.

We reviewed his checkbook and quickly advised him to stop sending contributions to every charity that solicited him in the mail. These five and ten dollar contributions added up to hundreds of dollars a year and he could no longer afford the luxury of sending money rather than spending the time to investigate how his contributions were being used.

He agreed and I think he was relieved that we insisted he be more prudent.

About two weeks ago I thought about him. A friend of mine who had no storage space left in his house asked me whether I could store a few cartons for him so he wouldn’t have to pay for commercial storage space. Naturally, I agreed. Then the van backed up into my driveway and carton after carton was removed and packed against one wall of my garage.

I’m not one who is anal enough to carpet my garage, but I am proud of the way the tools and seasonal items are carefully stacked and hung on pegboard and generally arranged so I have room to navigate my car into the garage without a problem. Now though, things are different. The “few” cartons make moving in and out of the garage a slow and tedious process.

I feel angry because I believe that my friend took advantage of me. There is no doubt that it has colored my relationship with him. It would be a lot easier for me if my father was still around and could insist that I call my friend up and tell him how his cartons are impacting my life and ask him to remove them…or at least all but the “few” I had expected. But my father died some years ago. I will eventually bring myself to do it…but for now I just hope that he reads this blog.


Politics As A Template For Relationships

March 25, 2010 by  
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This week, John McCain, the senator and the former candidate for the Presidency, who returned to the senate after being defeated by Barack Obama, was so incensed at the Democrats for pushing through a health care reform bill, that he thought it was unwise legislation, that he said he was through working with the Democrats. “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year”, he stated.

Part of McCain’s popularity that brought him the Republican Presidential nomination when it was clear he was not the darling of the Republican leaders, was the feeling by the moderate Republicans who supported him in the primaries that he was a highly principled conciliator. That he could find a way to take his personal positions and by moderating them and finding a voice in the Democratic Party similarly inclined, he could move the country forward. His record in the Senate proved that, he ran on that, he received the nomination and he almost won the election in a year where a broken economy should have insured an easy Democratic victory.

Now, let’s talk about a relationship like a marriage or a friendship or a business partnership. Let’s assume one of the parties in the relationship does something that the other finds completely onerous. Let’s use cheating in a marriage as our topic. I am using it as an example because of the BIG business that is today in the media with Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock, John Edwards moving from page 6 to page 1 in the newspapers. Is marriage doomed? Are years of living together, sharing love, children, major life events simply anecdotes in the relationship to be swept away by a cheating mate?

Maybe. It all depends on where the parties are in their relationship when the information is revealed. It depends on how both parties feel about the structure they built together and whether it’s worth saving.

One thing is sure. If one party in the relationship says the equivalent of “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year” or some other statement or position that shuts the door to talking together, working together, analyzing cause, seeing whether the relationship is salvageable, the relationship is indeed over. But, if the parties take a breath, give it a moment, then see if after the initial shock there is still enough left of the structure to work together and change the dynamics, there is hope. If there is a way to find building blocks to a rejuvenated relationship with the possibility of new happiness and new dividends, then keeping your mouth shut, or at least watching what you say and controlling what you feel may be worthwhile.

How John McCain, who clearly loves his country, can make a statement like the one I quoted is perplexing. Certainly, if, for the good of the country, he can find a way to cooperate, he should. I think he will. How the life of Tiger Woods and his wife unfolds is personally none of my business. But how people in general deal with each other in times of stress is my business. I don’t want to live in a world where people can’t take a breath and suppress their anger enough to try to find a rational solution to their problems. That world is an unpleasant and frankly a dangerous one in which to live.


Winter Olympics

February 17, 2010 by  
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I write from Florida where winter is colder and wetter than usual, but where, compared to my usual Northeast winter, I am very content.

NBC is broadcasting the Winter Olympic Games and will lose hundreds of millions of dollars doing it, but the magic of mergers has shielded it from any consequences, and so the Winter Olympic Games Junkies will happily watch people doing death defying skiing and snowboarding, and sledding and quadruple spins on ice skates. They will hear the bones crack, see the noses run, the spectators applauding more to keep the circulation in their finger than to salute the feats of the competitors.

As you may have gathered, I hate the cold. I was convinced to ski once by someone who thought it addictive and was sure one shot at it and I would be hooked. I was not. My ankles have always bent when I tried ice skating. I tried sledding and never thought the walk up the hill was worth the trip down. I looked ridiculous in bulky clothes. I hate hats. My gloves seem to get wet faster than anyone else’s. I throw the L.L.Bean catalogs out without reading a page because I am still wearing the stuff I bought from them eight years ago.

Once again I am late tying in my writing with the subject of this website, but I promise I’ll have now gotten to the point. The fact is that as much as I hate the cold, there is something about the memories of being with a loved one in front of a fire or under a quilt, or simply peeling off a scarf, gloves and a hat and seeing someone I love curled up in a chair in a warm room that has a magic for me, which can’t be matched on a sandy beach or an air conditioned room. For me, few things are as lovely as staring at a bright clear night sky through snow topped trees with someone I love.

The memory of these moments is a glorious legacy of love, even after having felt the cold pain of loss. I suppose for all of us there is nothing that feels as cold as the loss of a loved one, but the moments when a person feels the warmth of memories of what we once had, make moving on much easier.

Maybe now I should try it again. Perhaps climbing up the hill is worth it after all.


Thinking About Haiti

January 20, 2010 by  
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We heard about and saw the results of an earthquake. Images of massive destruction, of the landscape and the victims flooded the media. The images and the reality were so shocking that it was greeted with a universal outpouring of sympathy, caring and generosity.

Haiti has long been known as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It has a unique history. I recommend a trip into Wikipedia land to get a quick review of the turbulent history of this “should be rich” country, which has been occupied and plundered and the victim of internal and external greed and corruption.

Once you absorb some of this horror, perhaps you will wonder, as I do, why the citizenry of the world that has now rushed to try to help the starving, poor, ill-clothed, sick people of Haiti who are victims of this natural disaster, were so oblivious to the documented day-to-day horrors that the Haitians were suffering before the earthquakes.

As you read a compendium of the events in Haitian history, you will recognize things you had heard before. Aristide, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, the US occupation of Haiti, the first only successful slave revolution in history may well resonate with you. And you may ask, as I do, why the world does not unite, as they do after a natural disaster to work to alleviate the suffering?

For me, Darfur comes immediately to mind. Genocides, past and present, are revisited. What’s wrong with us? How can we be so caring and at the same time be so oblivious? How is it that we can send a contribution to the Red Cross, our Church, the Cancer Fund, and not insist on healthcare legislation the guarantees coverage to everyone including people that have lost their job, have no job, or have previous chronic illnesses. Why are we unable to conceive of supporting a tax or a fee which will not affect our standard of living to pay for humanitarian foreign aid or aid that will help some poor country out of the poverty suffered by the Haitians before the disaster?

And, I wonder how long this interest in the people of Haiti will last? Rebuilding a country and alleviating systemic poverty made more horrible by this disaster will take time and continued support. We have many who question our staying power to continue to keep troops and supplies in Afghanistan and Iraq to nation build. Do we have the staying power to continue to care about Haiti?

Caring should not have to be shaken out of us by a 7.0 earthquake.


The Second Decade

December 31, 2009 by  
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We are beginning the second decade of the 21st century. Those that want to, may argue with me, but we’ve had 10 years that started with 20 and 2010 is the 11th.

I was running through an issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine a couple of weeks ago with short, beautiful written obits about the well-known people we lost during 2009. One of them was Ted Kennedy.

Probably, because of my age, I have been fascinated by the Kennedy family for most of my life, as have many others. When Ted’s memoir was published in 2009, I was quick to buy and read it.

This isn’t a book review and it isn’t a rehash of the tabloid stories that punctuated too much of his life. And, although the primary cause of his legislative life, to secure adequate health care to all Americans, seems to have enough traction to become a reality, this isn’t about his extraordinary effectiveness as a legislator.

What this is about, is the content of the memoir that was devoted to his relationship with his family. I believe that even were he to have been completely revealing about every facet of his personal life, he could not have informed me more about the truth of his life and the lessons it teaches, than the information about his relationship with his family.

Ted had eight siblings and as is well-known, a bushel of nieces, nephews, and children. He also had a father who lived into his 90’s and a mother who lived past 100.

The family base in Hyannis port, Mass was the location of most of the personal family film the public is familiar with. It was there that the family gathered and in time of disaster, as well as joy. For decades, the family came home to Joe and Rose, Ted’s mother and father, whenever there was something to share. It was there they learned to lean upon each other and to share and enjoy each others successes as well as to mourn their common or individual losses.

Ted’s memoirs bring us back time and time again to the family gatherings where decisions were made, where character and morals and ethics were shaped, where no one was ever alone.

I don’t have eight siblings or parents that lived to triple figures. Most of us don’t. Some of us aren’t even lucky enough to have families that share our life histories. But all of us could very well have a chance to spend some time building relationships with people we can rely on for support, if we are willing to reply in kind. Families come in all sizes and shapes and don’t have to be connected by blood.

I’m going to spend the second decade of this century, if I am lucky enough to survive it, building up this extended family. I’m going to make myself open to people I admire and let them know I am here to serve if they need me. I am going to learn to trust some friends so I can unburden myself of some of the things I have kept locked up inside my head and my heart.

I think I’m going to start by making some phone calls.

I just had a mental picture of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “Some Enchanted Evening” from their wonderful show South Pacific, now enjoying a very successful revival in New York. There is the phrase in the song which goes “you will see a stranger, across a crowded room.” How often, in the past few years I have seen an old friend across a crowded room and have waved. I think of how often one of us has stuck a pinkie near the mouth and the thumb near the ear in the now familiar “call me” sign, and how many times one of us has nodded yes and never called.

It’s in this spirit that I wish you all a Happy New Year, by letting you know that if the phone rings, it might just be me.


That Wonderful Word Reform

November 11, 2009 by  
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Remember working with clay? You took a big lump of the stuff and squeezed it and shaped it and molded it. If you were good, and I wasn’t, you ended up with something that looked like a pot, or maybe the head of a person you knew, or a log cabin. I ended up with something that looked a lot like what it started as, a lump. It remained un-formed. I couldn’t re-form it.

However, I was an untalented kid. I wasn’t some respected candidate for the United States legislature who promised to take the lump that was Healthcare in the United States and re-form it.

If I was, I would be expected to take the lump and form it into something that would guarantee that every American, regardless of whether he was sick or well, rich or poor, young or old, working or out of work, living in the north, south, east or west, needing healthcare at home or away from home, could get the best health care result that was available.

No I’m not naïve. I am well aware of the political pulls that motivate legislators and I know that a bill that doesn’t pass Congress is no bill, but I also know that if I promised to do something when I was elected and I didn’t do it, I would grab a cab to Union Station or Reagan International, get a ticket and go home and stay there.

Does it hurt more to be in pain or to watch someone you love suffer pain? I think watching is the greatest pain. The frustration and rage of being victim of a system that offers no help when that help could be available is incomparable.

So here is my message. There are priorities. Maybe the tax laws are unfair and they should be re-formed. Maybe the government of Afghanistan is corrupt and we should use our money and our efforts to re-form it. Maybe our financial structure needs more regulation and we should take the regulators and the regulations themselves and re-form them.

But of all the things that have to be re-formed, the one that affects the most people in the direst way is the health care delivery system.

Unless they go home and never come back, no legislator should go home from Washington for vacation until they take care of this. No one should carve a turkey or open a Christmas present if their job was to re-form the lump that was the American health care system so that it serves us all the way it should.

Come on guys, I know Christmas is still a bit away, but this is one piece of clay you should shape and bake and wrap so we can put it under our tree.  That’s what you promised us, isn’t it?


The Day The Yankees Won

November 5, 2009 by  
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I watched the last half inning of the sixth game of the 2009 World Series, baseball’s

championship. The final moment, when the final ball was caught by the first baseman and the final out was recorded, the New York Yankees became “World Champions”. I watched grown men, professionals who are paid millions of dollars to participate in this sport, jumping up and down in joy as if they were children. I watched as they hugged each other in groups and individually. I watched the men in suits and ties, the owners of the team, as they hugged each other enjoying the moment. I watched tens of thousands of spectators, fans who embraced their friends and wives and perhaps some strangers, that happened to be nearby, and I saw many tears of joy streaming down many cheeks.

I also watched the members of the losing team. I saw their faces, stunned by the reality of their loss. They didn’t touch each other. There was too much shared sadness for them to console each other.

We discuss love and loss here. There are many kinds of love and many kinds of loss. Some may seem trivial and unimportant while others more deep and affecting. What makes the kind of team love and team loss seem trivial, is not the depth of the feeling. It is that the love and the loss are impermanent. The feelings seem to peak and dissipate in a short time and what is left is the memory of the feeling, not the feeling itself. They will do it all over again next season.

Does that make the feelings trivial? Is the rush of love from a victory or the sadness from a loss something we should dismiss because it seems impermanent? Is it in fact as impermanent as we assume it is? Have you met a high school hero who re-lives the improbable touchdown catch he made thirty years before? I have. Have you met a man who has lost his business and destroyed the hopes of his family? I have.

Is there a lesson I have learned from watching the day the Yankees won? No, not one I hadn’t known before. But it is good to have the lesson reinforced. It is for me that with luck I will have moments of great joy and feelings of great love and if I do, I will undoubtedly have feelings of sadness and loss. That has been the nature of my life. Either way, it will start all over again next season for as long as I can wake up in the morning and see the sun.


I Should Have Said

October 28, 2009 by  
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I am declaring war against “should have, would have, and could have”.

Someone just called and in a conversation challenged me by indicating I was not sensitive to African-Americans because I didn’t think the use of the word “colored” in the original lyrics of the song “Ol’ Man River” written almost 100 years ago by Oscar Hammerstein for the wonderful musical Showboat, was a racist lyric.

I pointed out that during that period “colored” was the way polite southerners referred to African Americans. I further pointed out that Showboat had a book by Edna Ferber, taken from her previously written novel, and one of the central themes of the story described the pain that was caused by racial prejudice. I mentioned that Hammerstein was the same man who wrote the lyric in the classic musical South Pacific for the song “You’ve Got To Be Taught” which told how children went through indoctrination to learn “to hate and fear” people of different races. I described the original cast of Showboat which employed more African-American actors than any mainstream musical theater production prior to it’s opening on Broadway. I went on and on. Finally I ran out of steam, said “Goodbye” and hung up the phone.

As soon as I  had finished the conversation,  more and more thoughts popped into my head, I should have said such and such or what if I told him such and such, finally I calmed down enough to realize that these “should have” thoughts were useless. Then I started thinking about how wasted are the thoughts that consider what one should have said or should have done. So now, I’m clear, there is no turning back. There are no second chances to get back what has been done.

I am left with only two options. The first is when I talk to someone, when I interact with someone, when I am with someone, I have to try to remember I can’t turn back the clock.

So I realize I should tell the people I love that I love them. I should take the time to be careful that nothing I do hurts or upsets the people I come in contact with.  I should pay attention when I meet people with needs and help when I can.

The other option is that when I fail to live up to this, I should immediately correct it. I shouldn’t stew over what I should have done or could have done or would have done if I had thought of it then, I should try to find a way to cure the mistake instantly. I should try to go back and find out if there is something I can do for the person in need, if there is something I can do or say to soothe the hurt I have caused unthinkingly, if I can tell someone I love that I love them.

Let’s all look around and see where we have messed up and let’s try to cure it because feeling guilty isn’t a cure for anything.


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