The Optimum Goal of Parenting: Benign Irrelevance

We have just returned from visiting our daughter, Rya, and her family. As we sat over dinner with Rya, her husband and their two teenagers, I sat quietly just let the conversation flow. I could feel the positive energy of the family and simply enjoy watching. I didn't feel responsible for the conversation or the dinner or, for that matter, the way their family functions. Our time for being responsible for our daughters has ended gradually over many years. And now we get … [Read more...]

The Pussyhat: Knitting a Grass Roots Political Action Movement

Washington DC, January 21, 2017 Did you notice all the pink "pussyhats" in the photos of the Womens Marches this past weekend? They were hard to miss. The Pussyhat Project inspired thousands of women.  Me included. I dusted off my rusty knitting skills that had been dormant for at least 20 years and I made two pussyhats, one for me and one for my friend Karen.  My knitting inspired my daughters. Rya made pussy hats for four friends.  And Carla made one for her 7 year … [Read more...]

One Word Makes a World of Difference

When I was growing up, I knew I was expected to go to college.  Everyone I knew went to college. I understood early that going to college would be likely to shape my life.  I would meet new people, learn new things, and when I got out, people would think of me differently. Here's the same paragraph with only one word changed: When I was growing up, I knew I was expected to go to prison.  Everyone I knew went to prison. I understood early that going to prison would be likely … [Read more...]

Building a Bridge to End Racism with a Simple ‘Hello’

Racism is top-of-mind for many people lately. The ‘mattering’ of lives, whether black or blue or brown or beige, heightens the awareness of external, outer distinctions between us and the undertow of history that makes them full of meaning. Living here in the South Bronx where I see and rub shoulders with more people who do not look like me than people do, I’m aware of a shift in how I think. A Shift in Thinking that Grew from a Simple 'Hello' Most mornings, for … [Read more...]

Be Kind to Those Close to You and Reap the Benefits

In 1943, the French philosopher Simone Weil (pronounced Vey), starved herself to death. With her family and friends in close proximity and plentiful food at hand, she decided to stop eating. And at the age of 34, she died -- not in a Nazi camp and not because there was no food. But because she had decided to to stop eating in solidarity with the millions of people being persecuted by the Nazis. Last week at the Ojai Music Festival, I heard a haunting and beautiful piece … [Read more...]

You are Not Free from Consequences and Perception

A big demonstration is planned in New York City this weekend to protest police brutality and murders.  And someone has put a large poster in our elevator that asks boldly, "Which side are you on?" I've thought about taking it down because the very idea of villainizing the police makes me uncomfortable. While some police officers are bad apples, many -- perhaps most -- do good work in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Even my friend Clemetin, who is regularly … [Read more...]

How to Say Hello to Strangers and Why it Feels So Good

I had dinner with my friend, Carey, the other night.  We live in the same building here in the South Bronx.  I was telling Carey about my morning walks to St. Mary's Park and how I say hello to pretty much everyone I walk by, and that they say hello back. "Oh," said Carey in response, "I'm too shy to say hello to strangers." Her response took me aback. Carey, like me, is a white woman who grew up with many unearned privileges. She is educated and successful. And I … [Read more...]

Paid Back in Full Without Receiving a Dime

I took the afternoon off work and headed up to meet my friend Clemetin at the Social Security office some miles from where I live. Clemetin had received a notice from Social Security stating that his monthly benefits were being cut and giving him 30 days to appeal. But having spent many years in prison, Clemetin has an aversion to people in government offices. He's quick to anger when they seem to disrespect him. And he's quite sure that's what they'll do. So I offered to … [Read more...]

My Doctor Doesn’t Touch Me Any More

Hi Jonathan, Do I need to schedule an appointment with you this fall or have annual check ups become a thing of the past? I've scheduled a mammo for this month. What else do I need to do? That's the email I wrote to my doctor this week. He responded a few minutes later saying that I should come in for some blood work to check medication levels, but no need for much else. This correspondence got me thinking about how the doctor/patient relationship (at least mine) has … [Read more...]

Finding Common Threads Among our Differences

Most every morning, I visit St. Mary's Park in the South Bronx where I walk and run and work out. It's a lovely park with big trees arching over a wide path and big natural rock outcroppings on the hills. A running track tucks into the back of the park with slant boards and pull up bars in its center. The park is beautifully laid out, but it's not well-maintained. Litter isn't picked up regularly. The grass is poorly cut. Weeds grow through the pavement here and there. And … [Read more...]