I’ve written fairly frequently about death and dying. The concept of non-existence for eternity fascinates me. I suppose that might be a taste weird, but I have a feeling I’m not alone in my wondering. One of my first posts on the subject is about my attitude toward my own death. You can read it here, if you’re so inclined.
I’ve also written about one of my closest friends who was killed in Vietnam, long ago. That post is located here. Another came much later, and is about another friend I had known since before I can remember. I hadn’t spoken with him in a long time and heard about his death from one of his brothers. It can be found here.
I also touched on the subject of grief, somewhat generally, in a post where I ended by lamenting the loss of people I never knew but somehow felt I should have upon hearing from those who were close to them. That post is located here.
All this is merely an intro to a thought I encountered recently on Facebook, and I wanted to share. I think it more than adequately expresses what grief truly is, and how it affects us. What follows is that sentiment. I want to remember it well.
Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.
I was just going through some of my PowerPoint files, looking for one very specific file in which I’ve gathered many of the great, useful graphics (like this) Dion Hinchcliffe has created over the years. As I was searching I came across a program I put together for my mother’s funeral, which will have been eleven years ago this coming March 5.
My mother at about 18 years old. This is one of the pics I used for her funeral program
Maybe I’m just an emotional pushover, but the realization she’s been gone over a decade, that my father has been gone for over thirty years, and lots of people my age are dropping had me feeling pretty melancholy right now. I wept, but I’m not sure why. I don’t generally feel sorry for myself, but I think I was lamenting something we all go through; the loss of our childhood, our innocence, our loved ones.
Actually, the feeling is both bothersome and cathartic. I’ve always felt being in touch with one’s emotions — and giving vent to them on occasion — is both healthy and empowering, but I must confess to feeling a bit guilty expressing them in public like this. Nevertheless, it’s one of the reasons I have this blog. I’ll get over it.
I came across a post on Facebook today and I just wanted to share the videos that were in it, along with a few thoughts about the tune and what listening to the two versions did to me. The song is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, recorded and released in 1984. It is one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard and, as you’ll see in the following videos, the words are somewhat irrelevant . . . at least for this post.
I listened to both of these in the order I’m presenting them. Both brought me to tears for a couple of reasons. The sheer beauty of the melody was certainly one of them, but the quality of the performances, as well as the identities of the performers was a factor as well. The first is a performance by a group from the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces; the second is sung by a young Arab boy, accompanied by the Voice in a Million Chorus.
The struggles of Israel and the Arab world, especially the Palestinians, and the tension they caused between my father and me, were probably significant in my response as well. This is no doubt because next month he will have been gone for thirty years and he’s been on my mind more than usual. Somewhere in my head I felt the pathos of these struggles and the frustration that they’re still going on, as well as recalled the countless family arguments and disagreements encountered over meals both mundane and special.
It’s difficult to write about the feelings this particular juxtaposition of artists and performances evoked, so let me just drop the videos below and allow you, should you care to, listen to them both. I don’t expect you’ll feel exactly as I did, but I can’t help but think you will feel something powerful.
Mikhael Mala and the VIAM Choir
I hope you enjoyed and, perhaps, even felt something a little special. As the original poster said: “On the day that Arabs and Israelis can celebrate TOGETHER, peace may be round the corner. Salam and Shalom.”
Based on the amount of traffic I’m seeing about the tragedy in Connecticut yesterday, I’m reasonably certain the fallout from this event is not going to soon subside. In fact I’m wondering if, now that the election is over, all the energy that had gone into finding ways to communicate and share in order to affect the outcome of the November contests isn’t looking for another avenue to express itself. We’ll see.
There’s one particular aspect of this tragedy that struck me recently and I wanted to quickly share my feelings about it. It has nothing to do with guns and violence, but it definitely has to do with death and loss. A Facebook (and real life) friend of mine shared this article from the New York Times and, in a comment later, said the following: “Ordinary people are much more courageous than we give them credit for being.”
This reminded me of something that has long intrigued me. I’m curious to know if others have felt the same. I have been to quite a few funerals or memorial services in my life for people I either didn’t know at all or knew very superficially. These include members of my wife’s family, spouses of co-workers, employees at a favorite venue, etc.
One of the things that stands out in my recollection of those experiences is the feeling I always got that I had missed something; that a special person had slipped through my fingers and now I would be forever barred from appreciating their existence and the particular light they shone out into the world.
Now, I know I can’t possibly get to know everyone, yet listening to friends, family, and co-workers reminisce and reflect on the life of the person for whom we were gathered together in memory of, always seemed to leave me with a feeling of incompleteness, of having missed something wonderful and extraordinary.
I’m of the opinion there’s no such thing as an ordinary person.
“Life doesn’t cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” — G.B. Shaw
I have written previously that I am not a journalist and this post is clear evidence of that. My original intent was to publish this on either the Sunday before, or on the Monday of, Memorial Day. However, the subject was a bit emotional for me and I found it difficult to finish until now. I, therefore, offer it as a remembrance. It need not be tied to any particular holiday.
Memorial Day – much like Veteran’s Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and many other holidays or special days that commemorate the military or significant days in our nation’s history – almost invariably brings me a storm of mixed emotions. I have enormous respect for those who serve our nation. At the same time, I believe they are most often sacrificed not in defense of our freedom, but in the defense of others – who never serve – and in defense of their fortunes and their “right” to make money incessantly.
This Autumn it will have been 45 years since I had the dubious distinction of being a pallbearer at the funeral of one of my best friends, Steven Larry Ostroff, who was killed in the battle of Ong Thanh on October 17, 1967. He was the first of five classmates of mine who would perish in that unjust, stupid conflict and I was highly conflicted about it.
“I want to be an Airborne Ranger. I want to go to Vietnam. I want to live a life of danger. I want to kill the Viet Cong.”
Steve was by no means an innocent, angelic hero. I remember my brother recounting running into him shortly after he finished either Boot Camp or Advanced Infantry Training. What stuck out for him was Steve’s enthusiasm for battle and his desire to kill. I was a bit put off by hearing that at the time, but not entirely surprised. It was, after all, the mindset the Army wanted in their Infantrymen. It was what they trained them for.
I was just beginning to understand what the war in Vietnam was all about; an understanding that would soon blossom into full-blown resistance and activism in an effort to bring it to a halt. Steve, born 15 days before me, was barely twenty years old when he was killed. During the funeral his casket remained closed. As I remember it, we were under the impression his body was not recovered for a couple of days and his family did not want anyone viewing his remains.
I’m not sure at this point that was the reason, though. Based on the accounts of his death I’ve read recently, it seems more likely to me there wasn’t a whole lot of him left to identify and having what was left on display in an open casket would have been too horrific for his family and friends. The web sites I have found with his information state he was killed by “Multiple fragmentation wounds“.
I clearly remember the grief on his parents’ faces as we went through the acts of remembrance, consecration, and burial. I have always been moved most by the loss experienced by those who have been left behind and it’s especially painful to see parents having to endure the loss of a child. In this case, it was made even more difficult because – if memory serves – Steve was an only child.
Twice-Baked Rye Bread
He and his family lived right across the street from John H. Francis Polytechnic High School, where we both attended, and he and I used to hop the fence to eat lunch at his home. His mother, I believe her name was Sarah, always had hard salami in the house and, if I played my cards right, I could count on enjoying one of my favorite sandwiches, served on Jewish Rye . . . with real garlicky kosher pickles on the side.
We belonged to the same temple, Valley Beth Israel, and became Bar Mitzvah at around the same time. We went to the same Jr. High as well and, as crazy kids and adolescents, we had some good times together, the memories of which have receded well into the background after all these years. This is especially so because we never had the opportunity to reinforce our memories by reliving them and, probably, embellishing them.
When I was in Washington, D.C. years ago, I made a trip to the Wall to see Steve’s name and to reflect on his life and death. I did the same in Sacramento, where there is a memorial to the Californians who perished in Vietnam. Both of these trips were some time ago and both were quite emotional.
What Is Really Going On
I have remained dead-set against every engagement we have indulged in since, but I am hardly anti-military – and here is where the conflict, the cognitive dissonance, comes alive and dances crazily in my head. Steve was a friend of mine and the men and women who continue to serve include friends and family. I know and love many of them, yet I don’t believe they are keeping our country safe; at least not for the most part.
For the most part, I believe they are being used as pawns – as “cannon fodder” – in our ongoing efforts to make the world safe for lucrative investments in natural resources and trading opportunities including, and maybe especially including, the sale of arms and ammunition to just about anyone who has the money to pay for it.
I will continue to honor Steve’s memory, despite his apparent thirst for killing and despite my belief he was not fighting for our way of life or to keep us safe, just as I will continue to honor the men and women who serve today. However, I do so only because I also believe most of those who serve honestly believe they are fighting to defend their country. They believe this because they’ve been told it’s true and I’m not going to hold their naivete and ignorance against them.
Some would argue I should condemn them, based on the principles that ignorance is no excuse and the existence of the duty to refuse to obey unlawful commands. However, I think the situation is far more complex than that and I cannot turn my back on people who have been taken advantage of for so long they have no way of knowing how terribly they’ve been duped.
I feel for them – especially for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – and I feel for their families. So much of the suffering that takes place due to war and conflict is completely unnecessary and truly counter-productive for all but a very few . . . and those are the ones who also profit the most handsomely from war. They’re the ones who should be shot.
24 August 2015
In preparation for my High School class’s 50th reunion in about six weeks, a classmate was putting together a Vietnam veteran’s collage. As part of the effort he is also creating a memorial to our fallen classmates. In doing research for this tribute, he came across this post and asked me, since I mentioned we had lost six classmates, who the sixth was. He was familiar with only five. I had long thought there were six members of our class who perished in that conflict, but I believe I was wrong. I have made the correction, above.
Whenever we talk about using social media inside the firewall (Enterprise 2.0) or even talk about people on the Internet using Facebook, making purchases, providing feedback and reviews on products and services, etc., one of the major issues that comes up is that of trust. I think about trust a lot, because it’s absolutely necessary for any virtual team to be able to work together. I’ve discussed this somewhat in other posts regarding the need for face-to-face meetings, etc.
So . . . trust is really important to me because it’s really important to the things I believe need to happen in business for us to move into the next phase shift (paradigm, level, incarnation, whatever you wish to call it). I’m bringing this up because I had the most extraordinary experience over this past weekend that I think is related to trust – at least, it makes me think of trust when I reflect on what happened. Surely, it shouldn’t have been so extraordinary and maybe some of you will disagree that it was out of the ordinary (which, after all, is what extraordinary means, hmmm?). So . . . let me share with you what was an incredible experience for me.
I was in San Francisco for my oldest daughter’s eight annual reunion of the families we traveled to China with to adopt our children. We were staying at the Hilton Union Square; a very nice and very crowded hotel. We were only there for Friday evening through Sunday – a grueling road trip from just North of Los Angeles and Friday night we were attending a dinner at the home of one of the families in our group who live near my old stomping ground of Haight-Ashbury (actually, that was back in 1967 and might be the setting for a few posts in the future).
We had just finished getting something from our car, which was parked on the 8th floor of one of the towers, and I was waiting for my wife with our children in the elevator vestibule. I knew she would be a moment and I had just sat down. My youngest was pretty wired and she started spinning around when she lost her balance, hitting her face right on the edge of the table between the two chairs my oldest and I were sitting in. She started crying immediately. I pulled her up from the floor and saw lots of blood on her teeth, gums, and lips. Just then my wife arrived and I left her holding our daughter while I went downstairs to see if there was a Doctor available in-house. I found a security guard, who came upstairs with us and immediately offered to give us a ride in the hotel limo to the ER at St. Francis Memorial.
When we arrived at the hospital and were almost immediately show into a room where both a Doctor and Nurse attended to my daughter, I suddenly realized I had left my iPad somewhere other than in the waiting room. As it turned out I had left it on the floor in that vestibule. In my haste to get my daughter to the ER, I set down the iPad and never thought about it until she was receiving the medical attention she needed. Now I had to fight the urge to panic, as I had become very attached to that device. As well, I hadn’t really done what I should have to secure my data and private information and all the possible ramifications were swimming through my head. Nevertheless, I concentrated on making sure my girl was OK, though I managed a phone call to hotel security to ensure it wasn’t in the limo or the vestibule where we had been.
Now . . . having said all that, this really isn’t what the story is about; at least it has little to do with the point I wish to make here (other than to set the stage). Another thing I had done was decide to leave my BlackBerry in our hotel room, thinking I really wouldn’t want – or need – to talk to anyone on the phone. After all, I had my iPad and could essentially communicate via email, twitter, facebook, and sms to just about anyone I knew or cared about.
One more thing. As it turned out, our daughter had split her lips a bit and scratched her upper gums, but she didn’t need stitches and her teeth were fine. All we needed was an ice pack and, of course, the assurance of the Doctor that she was not in need of any surgery or other procedures to ameliorate any permanent damage <whew!>
So . . . now we had a ride back to the hotel (generously provided by Hilton Security), but we didn’t have the address to the house we were going to and, at that point, nobody seemed to be answering their phone. My wife had her cell, but she doesn’t have email on it and my BlackBerry had the address in one of the emails I could access with it. I was forced to go up to the room and, when I arrived, I found there was both an email and a voicemail from the person who had found my iPad and was anxious to return it to me. I was floored! Both my wife and I were certain I’d never see it again.
To make a long story longer (just kidding), I was able to hook up with this person and the following morning we met in the lobby and I got my iPad back. This blog post is, ultimately, my way of thanking him in the only way he would allow me. I offered him a reward, but he wouldn’t even let me take my hand out of my pocket. He did let me give him a hug when we parted and I hope we will stay in touch. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems to me there aren’t enough people like him around these days.
Now I need to tell you who he is. His name is Troy Maragos. He is the Director of Compassion Ministry and Local Outreach at the Harvest Bible Chapel Niles. I need to thank him publicly and, even more, because I am not a religious person, I need everyone to know how much I value (and trust) the kind of person this man is. When I was in my first year of law school, one of my professors said something that has stuck with me over the years (decades, actually; over three of them). He said “If I had to choose between a person who had the right politics but no humanity, and a person with the wrong politics but who had humanity, I’d pick the latter every time.”
This experience points out a somewhat analogous situation, I think. Here is a man who’s religion is not only different than the one I was born to (I was raised as a Jew and I am bar mitzvah), but who has religion as his occupation; surely something anathema to my own non-religious life. Nevertheless, he demonstrated the humanity I always seek in people. He was not merely selfless, but relentless in seeing the right thing was done.
I have a huge amount of respect for that and I am deeply thankful our lives crossed at the time they did. I want to wish him the best and hope he finds success in all he does. The world needs more people like him, in my opinion.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.