Thursday, May 19, 2016

Snail Mail your "Stuff" to Friends

A very unusual envelope landed at my house recently. It was from my seventh grade teacher, Nathan Sloan, whose 90th birthday I attended -- and wrote about --  a couple years ago.
Inside was a sheaf of papers about an inch thick:  his collection of newspaper clippings and Xeroxed articles, mostly political, that resonated with him.
The stuff you cut out to think about later, but mostly never do.
With the batch, came this admission, "I know! I know! This is an enormous amount of 'stuff'...Hope you enjoy the 'library' I've sent. "
At first I was stunned. What was Nat doing? Sending me the stuff that most people who are downsizing would just toss?
Yet, this wasn't as if he was handing off an old lamp or a pile of textbooks. This was personal, and I couldn't help but open up his brain-dump, curious about this man whom I've rarely seen since high school but who tenaciously kept touch with so many of his students over the many decades.
In the collection  were such titles as "How Socialists Built America" and "Government by the People Campaign Builds Momentum."
Also included was a letter (undated) he presumably had sent to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, recommending a tougher stance against the Republicans. "Why haven't we learned that honey and civil discourse doesn't work with the likes of McConnell, Boehner, Cantor...We should be shouting that the 'trickle down theory' doesn't work."
In the pile, too, was a copy of the "Tillman Act of 1907" which, in case you never read it, prohibits monetary contributions to national political campaigns by corporations. What happened to that?
On a piece of lined notebook paper, in his careful capital letters, he wrote the names of 22 "Feminist Freethinkers," from Sarah Bernhardt to Alice Walker, to Marlene Dietrich and Clara Barton.
On 3 other sheets were the names of 133 atheists, agnostics, deists and secular humanists, which included, at the bottom of one column, right after Carl Sagan, his own name, Nat Sloan.
In 1999, he wrote a 'letter to the editor,' arguing that presidential campaigns should be limited to four months and contributors should immediately be revealed.
(I am sure I know who he's supporting for President).
Well, I took a lesson from Nat Sloan. Since I had been going through old newspaper stories I had written, debating whether to toss them or not, I decided to send a few on to my three daughters. One article in particular, I thought would resonate with them, since they are all working mothers. It was about one of my maternity leaves, which I spent working to save my local elementary school. The district was thinking of closing it just days before the echo Baby Boom revealed itself (my newborn included). The essay expressed my gratitude to the women who stayed home (at the time, it was mostly women), and fought the community battles that us working women did not have time for.
So, Nat, thanks for sharing with me your views and beliefs. It was a thoughtful gift that I am now having difficulty de-accessioning, as it were.
I'll close with a poem he included:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Method to His Mentoring

Chet Ross and myself share a show 
What to do with all the experience and wisdom we've accumulated? Listen to Chet Ross,  of Scottsdale, Arizona, and you'll hear the joy in his voice talking about his 15 years of mentoring those much younger than himself, trying to launch businesses.

I "met" Ross recently on Boomer Generation Radio, where I shared an hour's show. (You can listen to it here:  He was interviewed during the first half of the show on the phone from Scottsdale, Arizona; I was on the second half, sitting in the studio, talking about this blog.)

Ross got into mentoring after he retired because, he quipped, "I was lousy at golf.'"
As someone who spent his career in the manufacturing end of the water treatment business, he turned to a national group called SCORE, under the U.S. Small Business Administration, to find mentees.
He quickly discovered that his particular business background didn't matter. "The problems faced by the companies," he said, "were really all the same."

Asked what characteristics make for a successful mentor, Ross was quick to reply: not being judgmental.

Even if you think that your mentee has a bad idea, they need to come to that conclusion themselves, he explained. "Rather than saying that's a dumb idea, you pose questions like: 'Have you thought about... ?' and cite an example where something might not work well. Don't be judgmental, try to lead them to come to that decision. But at the end of the day, who knows what's going to be a commercial success or not," he said, referring the the "chia pet" phenomenon.

Beyond being non-judgmental, "You have to be a good listener, organized. And from the mentor's perspective, it has to be satisfying. I've gotten more out of it than I've given," he said. "It keeps you involved with other folks, perhaps younger, and helps you stay relevant." And there's the satisfaction of knowing you've been helpful. "People have told me that they were picked up and dusted off after a disappointment."

While most of the mentors still tend to be men, more and  more of the mentees are women -- about 60 percent female compared with a bout 40 percent men, Ross estimated.

Another example of how the workplace is changing.  And how, if you reach out to groups like SCORE, you can help change it for the better.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Can a Film (and you) Change the Nation's Gun Laws?

Here's a cause that could use the untiring efforts of the unretired, who still want to make a difference in this very violent country. Because otherwise change will never happen. Namely, spread the truth -- the emotional and physical toll and the terrible statistics aided and abetted by the easy availability of guns.
That's what filmmaker Robert Greenwald is doing with his powerful documentary,  Making a Killing, which he is distributing free around the country. To find a screening near you or learn how to host your own house party or group screening, go to bravenewfilms 
The LA Times has also written about it here : 

I saw the film yesterday, and you can't walk away without feeling in your heart the devastation of a parent whose child goes to play at a friend's house, only to have one child accidentally kill another after discovering a weapon thought to be unloaded.
(More than 40 percent of gun owning families with children keep their guns unlocked.)

Or the horror of learning the many times, over a period of two months, that the Aurora, Colorado movie-theater gunman blithely ordered thousands of rounds of ammunition  and weaponry on the internet before executing his mass murder. Besides the bullets, he bought 2 tear gas grenades, 2 Glocks, a Remington shotgun, a Smith & Wesson rifle, handcuffs, a laser sight, incendiary explosive material, and more.
(A limit on ammunition purchases would have stopped the shooter from buying 6,000 rounds of ammunition.)

Or the despair of parents and a young soon-to-be-bride over the impulsive suicide of her fiancé, who might have reconsidered his rash decision had there been a waiting period before buying his gun.
(Every day 55 Americans kill themselves with a gun. And one of every four suicide attempts is decided in five minutes or less.)

Or the stories of children killed walking the streets or going to church in cities like Chicago, whose gun laws are routinely circumvented by gun shops on its periphery, gun trafficking  from other states, and by straw buyers.
(Between 2001 and 2010, more Americans died from Chicago gun violence than from the war in Afghanistan.)

Here's where you can stream the film. Give it the time it deserves (nearly two hours)
Or you can also pick a shorter segment most pertinent to your interest group (suicide, for instance, or domestic violence, or child gun safety.)

And here's where you can read more statistics, all sourced.
For instance, did you know that in the United States:
*Up to 40 percent of gun owners did not go through a background check;
* Every 16 hours, a woman is shot and killed by her boyfriend or husband;
* In states which require background checks, 46% fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.
And let's talk about the children.
*7 children are killed every day by gunfire.

Why is Robert Greenwald doing this? He thinks the nation may be at a tipping point when it comes to guns. Remember when no one wore seatbelts? When smoking was allowed everywhere?
And then finally after a long battle, everything quickly changed.
He's taking a grassroots, bottom-up  approach, giving the people his film to help them grasp the calamity of easy access to guns and rise up and have their voices make a difference, at last.

He makes it really easy. Just click here, type in your zip code and up pops your Congressmen and choices on how you want to reach them.  At the very least, tell them to support waiting periods, universal background checks, and mandated gun safety mechanisms.  Then invite your friends over for a showing of the movie and tell them to do the same.
(According to a national poll of gun owners and NRA members, 74 percent support universal background checks)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Prayers for Events of a Longer Life

So you've just signed an "advanced directive," maybe at your lawyer's office. You know, that's the  legal statement that spells out under what conditions you simply want to be allowed to die.
You head home and realize that this is not an ordinary moment that has just taken place. It's a powerful moment, one in which you have truly confronted the understanding that you are mortal and that your life will end.
Should there be a ritual for such a passage? A prayer or some kind of marking of this event?
Well there is, and it is just one example of an effort to bring spirituality and meaning to new transitions emerging as we live longer lives.
That's the mission of Rabbi Richard Address of Jewish Sacred Aging, whom I heard speak recently.
Here's one prayer for the signing of an advanced directive, among several others found here.
Rabbi Address on weekly radio show  

Blessed is ...God who has given me the power of choice and who has brought me to strength to make these decisions today.
Thank you for granting me the wisdom to think ahead and to understand the great range of possibilities that could come in the future.
When my time comes that I am no longer able to make decisons on my own behalf, may my wishes be carried out by those who are close to me.
I have been blessed with so much. May my family be at peace with my decisions. May we support one another through good times and bad. May we love one
another and cherish our time together. 
What about a prayer for the decision to enter hospice?
How about a blessing that a  widow or widower might say when they finally decide to take off their wedding ring and seek companionship again? 
Or what about a blessing that a married man or woman might want to receive to lift the feeling of guilt for seeking a relationship outside their marriage because their own spouse, long afflicted with Alzheimers, no longer recognizes them? Very controversial from the point of view of organized religion, but that doesn't mean that clergy aren't hearing such requests from their aging flock.
Rabbi Address attributes this change to the Boomer generation, who are essentially saying, "I'm undergoing life stages that I never thought I'd go through.  I want my Judaism to speak to me about this to give it some sense of foundation."
Imagine, what the new ritual for taking off a wedding ring is like,  Rabbi Address said.
The widow or widower enters the synagogue and quietly stands at the alter where he or she was married and where their spouse's funeral began.  Maybe a few friends are there to witness the moment, maybe adult children. Or he or she might be alone with the Rabbi.

This precious ring you slipped  on my finger as we stood under our chuppah, I took to my heart as a continuAous circle of love. 
It remained a symbol of our unity as we held our babies, celebrated our milestones, and soothed our hurts. 
A witness to all of our married days, it was once new and shining. With the passing of years, the color deepened and warmed as did the exquisiteness of our life together. 
Now I am without you and I must move to another way of living. I must begin a new life. As I remove this circle of love, I know it is not easy to let go and surrender into memory what once was and can no longer be. 
As I heal and go forward, I will always be strengthened by a life we cherished and that part of my heart that is forever yours.

Are other religions facing the same issues and seeking ways to  recognize these moments in a spiritual way?
Are there other events for which you'd like to see a ceremony or have a prayer?
I'd be curious to hear.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Retirement: Deja vu All Over Again

I know, I know. It's been months since I've written on this blog, and even now I feel as if I'm climbing a mountain coming back to it. It's as if I were leaving my job all over again and trying to figure out where to direct my energy.
Backing up: when I left the Philadelphia Inquirer, I began interviewing people for this blog about the transition from work to whatever dream they might have. Then suddenly, something I never dreamed of happened to me. I was asked to write a book on a topic I never thought I'd care about. It was a bit like an arranged marriage. As I got used to the idea, I fell in love with it. (Book comes out in the fall -- will tell you about it as we get closer.)
A couple weeks ago, I turned it in to my publisher – the culmination of two years of research and writing and wrestling down photos. And while there will be work to do as we go through the editing process, I'm in limbo right now. Betwixt and between. At loose ends.
As I confronted my last deadline (having blown several), I was getting up at 5 a.m. and getting off the computer late at night to finish. My mind was racing 24-7; the adrenalin was surging. My mind would not even rest at night as I dreamed of facts I had gotten wrong, people I should have interviewed, ways that I might fail.
Now,  with the manuscript turned in, it feels as if, once again, I've just walked out of  a pressure cooker job and into this unstructured world where I'm free to do what I want with my time.  There's plenty on my list of what I think I want to do. It's just that I'm not ready to motivate myself to tackle them.  Instead, I meander around the supermarket, imagining complicated meals I will cook for my  spouse, long neglected. Or browse online websites like Amazon, Zulilly, and RueLaLa for clothes I haven't bought myself in ages or gifts for the grandkids. But at the end of the day have little to show for any of my time.
When I worked on long projects during my newspaper career, whether as a reporter or an editor, I felt this same inertia when the Sisyphean effort finally made print. Let down. Lethargy. So I know this is normal.
Bear with me. I'll be back to my old unretiring self soon, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

100,000!! (but who's counting)

Happily tunneling through

Today, "Unretiring" passed the 100,000 hits mark. Wish I could say it was for one day, but it's more like several years, though frankly, I got my flu shot so I don't expect a virus to attack.
I have immersed myself lately in a subject I never planned to know anything about. But my path to discovery has been exciting and invigorating. Within a few days, I'll be turning in my book, having tunneled through records of the last century and a half. If anyone had  told me that I'd become perhaps the foremost expert on the history of Boathouse Row in Philadelphia when I left newspapering, I would have cracked up laughing. But a couple years later, ask me anything!! Which goes to show that there's life after newspapers for those many who have sadly lost their jobs and those likely to follow.

I'll be picking my blog up again soon. But thanks to search engines, people keep finding old posts which accounts for the  record today.

Thanks, everyone!  May you have a happy new year with a little risk taking to explore outside your comfort zone. Never know what excitement you may find.

Friday, December 11, 2015

What I learned from a Young Buddhist Nun in Vietnam

A young Buddhist nun in Hanoi shares her ideas

What wisdom can a 20-year-old Buddhist nun impart to a group of people more than three times her age? This young Vietnamese woman, who at the age of 15 joined a nunnery  in the Imperial city of Hue, had us almost in tears by the end of an hour-long conversation.  First we asked her all kinds of questions:
Why did she decide to become a Buddhist nun? (She was inspired by the way an older brother who had become a monk had changed.)
What is her day like? (She gets up at 3:30 AM, brushes her teeth, chants for 45 minutes, does some cleaning,  has breakfast at 6, goes  to school, returns, more cleaning, more chanting and bed by 9:30 PM.)
 What does she find most rewarding and most difficult? (Finding inner peace is the most rewarding--and also the most difficult.)
And then she asked us a question: What was the greatest difficulty we had experienced  in our lives? Some answered "raising children." Others said "balancing work and family." But most said "losing a loved one."
To which she responded that "Yes, that is the most difficult. You are sad but we meet people and then they leave, just as we are meeting today. And we must let them go though they stay in our hearts. That is Buddhism. We believe the one who has left us also feels our pain and we must find peace so that they may find peace. (And maybe be reincarnated.)
Except for the reincarnated part, her words touched home.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

In Absentia (Wondering What I'm up to?)

Almost every day,  recently, I've wished I had the time to get back to my blog.
But others have been speaking up on issues about which I am passionate:
--The front page editorial in the New York Times that lambasted our national policies and politicians for their support of guns, as we so easily arm our own terrorists at home.
--Stories about Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin who can sit smugly in his black robes with his hammer of justice while emailing buddies and male co-workers material some describe as pornographic, misogynistic, and racist.
Even the governor of Pennsylvania has called for his resignation. I second that.
On a more upbeat note, I was interested in an article about how companies are getting smarter about keeping older workers, even using technology to help them get the job done easier.
Here's one on companies doing i right.
And another on new technologies.
I really liked this one about an exoskeleton you can wear with sensors that helps older folks continue to do jobs that require heavy lifting.

My excuse? I'm finishing a book ... my unretirement project.
Happy holidays. Don't let the grinches get to you.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope in My Back Yard: The News Scoop

The pope at St. Joe's U.  --Gia Avallone

In a surprise detour, Pope Francis and his good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka dropped by the new Jewish-Catholic sculpture at St. Joseph's University. Fortunately, I had been to the dedication of the sculpture two days earlier and  had just  interviewed Rabbi Skorka, in from Buenos Aires for the dedication. With the adrenalin racing from my old reporting days, I turned around this story for The Forward in a couple of hours. Because of my access, it's one you won't read elsewhere. You can read  the story in The Forward here.

With the words of Pope Francis 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope in My Back Yard: Sightings

Philadelphia at its best
With our street facing the Pope's sleeping quarters and totally blocked off, we did an end run and came up a side street this morning just before he arrived. I got to see his arm waving out his Fiat. But later in the day, came the fun. Riding through empty streets on our bikes to go into Philadelphia, past smiling, friendly uniformed police, National Guard, Border Patrol, Secret Service.
Friends with a high view had invited us and while you could see the Pope better on TV and hear his impassioned ex temp speech on love better there, too, we had spectacular views of Philadelphia.

Looking towards the Philadelphia Art Museum