Monthly Archives: December 2013

If You Had a Year to Live…

When I was younger, I made New Year resolutions only to have them evaporate after a few weeks. Using a matrix of goals, timetable, action plan and reward system, I would track my progress. I don’t do that anymore.

Realizing that life is too short for everything, I struggled with how to maintain a balance between what I like to do and what I felt I ought to do. I came up with a formula that works better for me. Ask yourself this question:

If I had a year to live, would I spend 15 minutes doing this? 

It works for me in situations where I have a choice. For example, how do I want to spend my time? Do I really want to be on that committee, attend that lecture or class, learn to play bridge, spend time with that sourpuss? If I’m not actively enthusiastic about something or someone, I don’t do it. No shoulds, no guilt, not even one more thought. One year, 15 minutes – A no brainer.

Try the formula. You can do it all year round without keeping track of anything. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to resolutions.  If you knew you had only one year left to live , would you spend 15 minutes making New Year resolutions?

Happy 2014. May whatever you wish for be yours.

Christmas in Space

As I write this, two astronauts of the six man crew on the International Space Station are outside the safety of their spacecraft, replacing a malfunctioning pump that’s part of the station’s cooling system. This is the real thing, in real time, not a Hollywood movie. The space station is traveling 17,227 miles per hour, completing over 15 orbits around the earth daily.

While they work to repair their craft at 250 miles above the earth, down below, millions of shoppers are orbiting parking lots at malls, racing against the clock to have gifts ready by Christmas. The pressure and frenzy that surrounds the holiday is a marketing marvel, perpetuated generation after generation, by retailers whose annual profits depend on those minions believing that gift wrapped stuff, delivered on time, is an act of love.

No matter what their spiritual beliefs were before they launched into space, the astronauts experience a transformation upon seeing Earth from that vantage point. They use words like awe, wonder, vastness, spirit, humility, infinity to describe their recognition that we are a tiny, fragile blue dot in a vast sea of black.

I can’t imagine anyone who relates to their experience feeling pressure to beat the Christmas deadline.

What the astronauts saw: Share their awe and share it with your children. What an awesome gift that would be.

No Such Thing as Financial Romance

During a radio interview, the host asked me why I didn’t think it was a good idea to get engaged at Christmas. “Christmas is for exchanging gifts” I said. “An engagement ring is definitely not a gift. It’s a precursor to a contract, a marriage contract.” Not exactly the same category as perfume ,a cashmere sweater or Kate Spade handbag.

“Are you trying to take the romance out of marriage?” he asked combatively. I reassured him that I’m a big fan of romance in context, but the decision to marry should not be based on romance. Let’s face it – romance isn’t much use when it comes to dealing with the day-to-day realities of joining one’s life with another person.

Here’s how the dictionary defines romantic – dreamy, quixotic, impractical. Tending toward make believe, illusion. Characterized by or arising from idealistic or impractical attitudes and expectations.

Contrast that with words that mean intimacy – familiarity, closeness, understanding, confidence, relationship, transparency.

Intimacy gives us a better shot at not being disappointed with the person we marry. Our eyes are open wider going into marriage. We’re still going to learn a lot about this person  before we married, but at least we’ll be realistic about the fact that there will be surprises. The real person was always there. We just didn’t see it because it was obscured by romance.

So to that ‘romantic’ radio talk show host, I’m trying to strengthen marriage by encouraging financial intimacy, not financial romance. There’s no such thing – financial romance exists only in bridal magazines which devote very little space to the subject of money. Their focus is your wedding, not your marriage.

You probably noticed that a perfect wedding doesn’t foretell a happy marriage, especially if marriage begins with mountains of wedding debt you’re still paying off when the first baby arrives. Nothing romantic about that, is there?


The Tyranny of Money

It happened again, but you won’t find it online or in the newspaper. The wealthy banker saw to that. The police knew the couple. A number of domestic violence calls, two trips to the emergency room for broken ribs. No news coverage, all hush hush.

This time, the police found her in her gray Lexus in a no parking zone at sunrise. Slumped inside a mink coat, her head tipped against the window, jaw slack, mouth open. Her diamond necklace and rings sparkled in the morning light.

One of the officers knocked on the window; she didn’t respond. They pried the door open on the passenger side. The car smelled from alcohol. They recognized her as one of the top fundraisers for the annual community event benefiting the police and fire departments.

An ambulance raced her to hospital emergency where doctors tried to wake her. A blood sample determined that she taken sleeping pills with vodka. They pumped her stomach and checked her in for further tests. It didn’t look like an accident.

When they reached her husband, in Paris for a banking conference, he was furious. “No, he couldn’t return that day, he had an important meeting. He’d call the kids. They’d handle it.” Thousands of dollars on a shrink, he thought,  and she was still pulling this kind of stunt.

“No, nothing was any different now,” he said in response to their question. Oh, one thing – he’d filed for divorce earlier in the week.

Could the police keep the car incident out of the papers?” he asked. “Maybe they could, but the divorce filing is public information,” they answered. “We can’t do anything about that.”

He slammed the phone down. “Bitch – the damn woman was always messing things up for him.”



Sharing the Final Journey with his Mom

Whether you think tweeting from a hospital bed is an invasion of privacy or not, this journey of a son holding his mother’s hand during her final journey is heartfelt and moving.

NPR’s Scott Simon Tweets From His Mother’s Hospital Bedside

ByDavid Wessel

Will O’Leary
NPR’s Scott Simon

Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, is tweeting from the hospital bedside of his mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman Gilband, as she approaches death — and has drawn 1.2 million followers to a moving, occasionally funny and very 21st century chronicle of one of life’s universal experiences, the death of a parent.

One Tweet posted on his feed reads “I am getting a life’s lesson about grace from my mother in the ICU. We never stop learning from our mothers, do we?”

I just realized: she once had to let me go into the big wide world. Now I have to let her go the same way.

— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 28, 2013

ICU seems to be staffed by good, smart young docs who think they know everything, and wise RN’s who really do.
— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 28, 2013

When my mother woke briefly I sang her My Best Girl. She replied w/ You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Broadway in the ICU.

— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 28, 2013

If we only truly realized how little time we have..,
— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 28, 2013

Mother asks, “Will this go on forever?” She means pain, dread. “No.” She says, “But we’ll go on forever. You & me.” Yes.

— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 28, 2013

Tried to buy coffee for family w/ a mother in ICU too. Barista overheard, refused my card. “Your money’s no good here.”
— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 27, 2013

What is the idea behind deep fried onion rings in a hospital cafeteria?

— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 26, 2013

I am getting a life’s lesson about grace from my mother in the ICU. We never stop learning from our mothers, do we?

— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) July 25, 2013


Life in a Random Universe

Two stories caught my eye this morning on the Huffington Post. A train wreck north of New York City that killed four people and injured 70. The train was scheduled to arrive at Grand Central Station an hour after it left Poughkeepsie. The crash is under investigation.

The second story concerned Paul Walker, the star of the “Fast & Furious” movie series, who died Saturday in a car crash outside Los Angeles. Walker, 40 years old, was a passenger in a friend’s car. A preliminary sheriff’s report cited speed as a factor in the crash.

Opposite sides of the country, different mode of travel, different reasons for the accidents, but something in common. We place our safety, often our life, in the hands of others. We assume they know what they’re doing; that they take their responsibility for our life seriously. We hope they are not distracted by their phone or compromised by alcohol or drugs. We take for granted that they know the rules of the road, and have the reflexes to respond to unexpected situations.

This is the stuff of everyday, ordinary life, not the hazards of being in a battle zone or a besieged territory in a third world country. It’s not the danger of being trampled to death at a Walmart on Black Friday, nor the randomness of being shot at or having the roof collapse at a mall.

We must believe that it’s safe to be a passenger instead of the driver. But when you get right down to it, even when we’re the driver, we have only the illusion of control. Irony,  coincidence and luck are always in the driver’s seat. That’s why gratitude is the antidote to life in a random universe.