Fishing with Lou

Calm waters, bonding time, thrill of the pull. Yeah, I have no interest in fishing. Seriously.
My Uncle Lou passed away when I was 10. Unfortunately, I only have vague memories of him. My uncle fought in World War II, marched in the Mummers Parade, and was a September call up for the Philadelphia A’s.
Uncle Lou was the type of uncle that would buy you ice cream even though you were about to go home and eat dinner. He was the uncle who would come to your baseball games. He was the uncle who would make every trip seem interesting.
And he was the fisherman of the family. My father could get sea sick during a long bath. So, if my brothers or I were to go fishing, it would be because Uncle Lou took us. However, the majority of the fishing trips were for my two oldest brothers. I was too young or at least that is what I was told.
One day my next older brother, NG (by two years) and I were playing with our new fishing rods that Uncle Lou bought for us. It was a particularly slow summer day. NG and I stood next to each other in front of our house. We were in competition as brothers always are. The goal was to see who could cast their line further. I don’t remember who won, but I do remember it made me want to go fishing.
Eventually, Uncle Lou decided that NG & I were old enough to go fishing. And I caught a fish. Well, sort of. I had a bite on my line and pulled it in under Uncle Lou’s tutelage. I was excited and dreamed of telling my older brothers about my big catch. So after a moment, the fish became visible – barely. The fish was no more than six ounces and three inches and bloodied from the fight with my line. The pathetic thing eventually fell off my line – becoming lunch for some other sea animal.
Shortly, thereafter Uncle Lou called it a day. The fish weren’t biting, and the weather was ominous. We stopped at a diner on the way home. Uncle Lou congratulated me on my near catch and told NG he would do better next time.
Unfortunately, there was no next time with Uncle Lou. He died rather suddenly leaving everyone sad. He was one of the good ones.
Anyway my next and last fishing trip was just an excuse to drink beer with a couple of friends. Oh well.

This was a semi-elaborate way of saying I am taking a break from blogging. You know like they say – I’m gone fishing. I don’t where that term comes from. I’m sure I cold Google it, and I just might eventually. Anyway, I won’t be posting for the next week to 10 days. I need a break. I just might pop on WordPress and make some comments, and I might not. The lack of commitment. I am a guy you know.
Lastly, I want to wish Happy Holidays to all of you who will be celebrating Christmas next week. May it be a wonderful, peaceful, and joyous holiday.

Lump in My Throat

There’s a lump lodged in my throat.

The gymnasium was packed on Friday morning at my son’s elementary school in Fair Lawn, NJ. The large crowd had gathered for the annual holiday show. The show, which began at 9:00 a.m., featured each grade from K-5 performing a song to celebrate Christmas and Channukah. There was dancing and speeches as well.

Children beamed with pride as they performed the numbers that they clearly had spent time preparing. Teachers nodded with satisfaction. Family members smiled, waved, and photographed.

My 6-year-old son’s kindergarten class took the stage last. He sang, did the hand motions, and bopped with the music. He blew a kiss to my wife from the stage and had her heart.

Joy, innocence, cheer. These words summarize the Holiday Performance. Everyone left happy.

The scene, the numbers, the insanity of it all makes the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School seem earth-shattering. Six- and seven-year-olds, shot multiple times. They probably loved cotton candy, Lego, and Spongebob. What did they dream? What did they wish for? What did they hope?

These mass shooting tragedies are getting too high to count. We shake our head and pity those involved. Then, the incidents meld into each other. And the number of victims and families torn asunder add up. What do we as a nation do to deal with our collective survivor’s guilt? Surely every parent has embraced their child a little tighter thankful for the opportunity to do so while wondering about the horror of those parents who no longer have that blessing.

Maybe, we can’t send our children to school anymore. Or the mall. Or the movie theatre. Maybe, we should all lock our doors and go on Facebook. A virtual connection is at least a safe connection.

Of course, living a completely isolated life is practically impossible and undesirable. So, instead, there will be talk.

We’ll get advice and details over the next few days. Pundits will pontificate, police will report, and politicians will bloviate. What can they tell us? This is why it happened, we have it covered, keep living, it’s okay to be scared, etc. Does that make anyone feel better? Does anyone feel safe now?

A mass tragedy can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anyone. That is the lesson learned from this horror. Period.

On Monday morning, I will enter the classroom where I serve as a teacher. Certainly, I will teach a lesson, hope the students learn, encourage them to participate, remind them of homework, and push them to try their best. However, the mark of a successful class will be everyone walking out safely together when the bell rings.

The world has changed.

I have a lump in my throat, and it is not going away.

Do Shirts Count?

Eight presents for eight nights. That’s the way Chanukah works in our house. Each night the drama begins anew. We say some prayers, sing a song, and presents are distributed.

And I hold my breath. Praying that the children will be happy with their gifts.

A friend of mine was holding court recently. The topic was holiday presents.

Specifically, can clothes be given as presents? Now, there are no holy books with great sages’ views on said topic. So, we are left to our own wits.

My initial reaction: “Of course, it counts.”

However, my friend, whose youngest child is in 11th grade, presented his three children’s arguments why clothes don’t count.

  1. They are a necessity.
  2. It is a parent’s obligation to clothe their child.

I think my friend’s children make a point. He might have a lawyer or two in the bunch.

From this Jew’s perspective, Christmas gift giving seems less dramatic. If the children are given a slew of presents or even just a few, you can throw a shirt in or something similarly practical. The child might be disappointed, but with the knowledge that the next present is right there, waiting to be opened – hope remains.

However, with Channukah, the next present is 24 hours away – an eternity to a young child. Each night there is pressure. My wife is the gift buyer in our house. She puts in major hours scanning the internet to find the ‘right’ presents for the boys. I am both impressed with the effort and care and a bit scared. She’s intense. So, if the children aren’t happy, it is my wife who feels more of the sting.

All of this being said, when BR received a shirt the other day, and he freaked out. By the way, it was a Lego Ninjago shirt. He loves Lego.

Anyway, he was not happy and did not feel any need to refrain from showing his displeasure. Through tears, he kept repeating, “I don’t want a shirt. Why would you give me a shirt? I want toys.”

We tried to reason with him, but he was in meltdown mode. Better to back away and let him cool down a bit.

Part of me was pissed off. Doesn’t he know how much his mother works to find the right presents for him and his brother? Doesn’t he know that some people don’t get any presents? Doesn’t he know that one should always express gratitude when given something?

I’m sure he knows all of this – on some level. It is our (my wife and I) job to make sure BR and SJ grow up to be gracious and appreciative – even when they get a shirt.

So, I say yes, shirts count.

What say you?

Get on the Boat

An old joke:
A great storm has taken place and massive flooding has occurred. A pious, holy man stood on his roof to escape the flood. As the water continues to rise ever higher, a boat comes along. The boat comes up to him and the people inside offer the religious man a ride. He declines, “No thank you. G-d will save me.” While those in the boat are surprised at his reaction, they recognize he will not get in, so they drive off. This same happenstance occurs two more times. Each time the end result is the same. The pious man declines by saying, “No thank you. G-d will save me.” Eventually, the holy man drowns.
The holy man gets to heaven, and he has his moment to speak with G-d. He says, “G-d, I don’t understand. I pray to you regularly, give charity, study the bible, and do acts of kindness to the stranger. I am a true believer. How could you let me drown? G-d replies to the religious man, “I sent you a boat three times, but you refused to get on.”

When offered an opportunity, take it. Don’t question. That is the lesson I take from that joke. You don’t know where or when opportunity will present itself. However, that doesn’t matter. Remember that Stevie Winwood song, When you see a chance, you take it.
Too often, I am a double clutcher to use a basketball comparison. The player who double clutches despite an open shot has his shot blocked. He/she can’t believe the opportunity they have, so they pause for a split second. Well, in that split second, the opportunity has come and gone.
I wonder what if, playing out multiple scenarios in my head. I tell myself I am being wise and practical. I tell myself I have:
children depending on me,
food to put on the table,
a mortgage,
private school tuition bills.
I have, have have. Too often, these blessings can double as burdens.

This week is Chanukah. A very brief summary of Chanukah – The Jews overcame the Greeks, the superpower of the day. The Greeks had ransacked the Temple. When the Jews came to the Temple to rededicate it, they found only one day’s worth of pure oil which was needed to light the menorah (or lamps). They lit the menorah, and miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights by which time more purified oil was able to be secured.
One could easily ask why did they even bother lighting the menorah? The oil was not sufficient and ultimately would have disappointed. However, the people took that chance and let G-d determine what would be. They had faith. Another question which is commonly asked is why celebrate the holiday for eight days (of course extra jelly donuts, latkes, and presents is the answer most kids give)? After all, the first day was not a miracle. There was enough oil for one day, so the miracle took place over the final 7 days. One answer that I have heard to this dilemma particularly impresses me. The fact that oil lights at all is a miracle. It is not an acknowledged miracle but an everyday miracle. The lesson I learn from this is to appreciate the every day.
So as my family and I celebrate Chanukah and I contemplate the end of the year, I have lessons to relearn. I need to move forward, and pledge to get on the boat when it shows up at my door.