Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great and Holy

“I’m not like you”, a person dear to me told me, “for you belief comes easy”. If only she was right.

The other day I was talking trash to my torn meniscus. I wrote on Twitter “If my torn meniscus wants to beat me, it will have to out to outwork me”. (If someone tweets and no one reads it, does it make any noise?) I wrote those words with a level of confidence and bravado that I did not feel. I often find myself wondering about people who have no doubts. Is it real or is it just a mask?

Of course, false certainty goes both ways. Those who are 100% certain in their non-belief make me wonder as well.

Six times a day, at the very least, I say a prayer asking G-d to make his name great and holy. What am I asking for? Is his name not great and holy already? The answer, it seems to me, is that as with many areas of life there is a vast void between reality and perception. G-d is already great. It’s just that we don’t always feel it.
A boy from a school where I used to teach is dying. His family seems to be handling this with tremendous faith. Me? I am a mess. I just cannot make peace with a boy so young leaving this world. I pray asking G-d to make his name great and holy. For the world, and for me, but especially for me.

I am a rabbi. Shouldn’t I be certain? I have often given answers to students struggling with these issues. Why don’t they work for me at moments like this?
There are those who offer proofs, as if G-d is some mathematical formula that can be proven. It seems to me that G-d can be found in the smile of a child, or in the tender moment when a mother comforts her child. In five step proofs? I have my doubts.

I hope my students will find teachers who struggle less than I do. For now, perhaps I can serve as a role model for how to search.

Please don’t write to that these words scare you. I am not falling apart. Just being real. G-d can be found in struggle at least as much as he can be found in proofs.
When I prayed this morning, it was the most connected I have felt in a long time. Great and Holy. Great and Holy.

Isn’t I possible for this boy, a boy who has lived so little of life to wake up this morning cancer free. Like it was all a bad dream, all of us wiser and more appreciative of life and its gifts? We’ve learned whatever lesson we are supposed to. Show us how great and holy your name is.


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Friday, August 20, 2010

Rushin' Roulette

The young woman, working on her PHD, was at camp using the campers to do research. “If you could have a quarter tomorrow, or a dollar next week, which would you choose?” Without a moment’s thought, I replied “The quarter”. She then asked the same question about a marker tomorrow versus a pack of markers in a week’s time. Impetuous in a way befitting the six year old that I was, I chose the marker. I don’t remember the rest of the questions, only that each time I chose instant gratification. The next day, the doctoral student showed up at my house and gave me the quarter, the marker and the other things I had asked for. I remember standing on my porch, filled with regret over my choices.

I started physical therapy yesterday. When the therapist unwrapped my bandaged knee, the contrast between my two legs could not have been greater. It looked like a before and after commercial. (“Are you sick of having fat legs and swollen knees? Then try running”) I know that with time I will get better and that I will get stronger. It has only been three days since the surgery, but I want to be back running tomorrow. No, not tomorrow, yesterday. The therapist made me promise that I would not do any extra exercises, other than the ones prescribed, before my next appointment.

There is a saying in Hebrew “Peri Hamehirut, Hacharata”, which means, loosely translated, rushing results in regret. The rabbis talk of taking the “long shorter way” instead of the reverse. I understand all of this intellectually, Still, in some ways, I am still the impetuous six year old I was so many years ago.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Let It Be

I had a great dream the other night. I was sitting around the table with the Beatles as John Lennon tried to work out his latest song. He sang “Speaking words of wisdom” and then he paused. I couldn’t help myself and I finished off “Let it be”. He shot me a really nasty look. I don’t know whether he was upset because he didn’t like my lyrics, or whether he was annoyed that I jumped the gun. Perhaps he just didn’t like my voice. Before I could find out why he was upset, I woke up. Either way, I was content, knowing in the end he would choose “my” words.

Of course, in real life, we rarely know how things are going to turn out. Although I plan on running the NYC Marathon in 2 ½ months, I know that today’s surgery and the subsequent physical therapy, will determine a lot. I am nervous. I am fasting. Not as a form of penance, just one of the rules that the doctor gave me. Still, in some sense, it feels like today is a day of judgment. I feel silly as I type those words, knowing people who are struggling with real issues of the most serious nature. Still my ability to run, not just someday, but soon, means a lot to me. I am in the midst of trying to raise $25,000 in memory of my mom for children with cancer, through running. I know I am a different person when I run, a better one I think.

I wonder whether I should write “right knee” on my right knee and “wrong knee” on my left. I wonder whether telling the doctor of my need to run will make him do a better job. I wonder what G-d has in store for me. As I sit here waiting, it is hard to “let it be”.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Detour

I don’t know why I started to give Running Thoughts, at least in the version I e-mail to people, the subtitle “Thoughts on the Road to Boston”. Of course, it is my biggest running goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but I don’t know why I needed a subtitle at all. Still it is there. I hadn’t really thought much about it, until I found out last week that I had a torn meniscus. Suddenly, the road that seemed so straight, only days before, was now anything but.

When I felt the pop in my knee, I knew I was in trouble. I sensed right away that this injury would be a serious one. Oh, I hoped that it wouldn’t be. I accepted the comfort from friends and family, who told me that it would be fine after a few days rest. Still, deep down, I knew it wouldn’t be.

Running, as many of you, has become much more for me than a way of staying fit. It has become a big part of who I am. So when I thought I might be seriously injured, it seemed to me part challenge, part punishment and totally overwhelming. I was alternatively mad, sad and depressed. I found myself wondering why G-d would take away something so important to me. Especially now, with all the challenges I was going through.

I was somewhat relieved to discover that the down time would be six weeks and not six months, but either way, I knew that the road to Boston was taking a big detour.
It had already taken a detour when my mother’s passing compelled me to run the more challenging NYC Marathon this fall, so that I could get a Jewish service beforehand, rather than the easier marathon I had hoped would get me my Boston Qualifying time. Still, I ramped up the miles and figured I’d do my best.

That is still the plan, although in a much different way than I originally intended. I still plan to run the marathon, although I will not be racing it. I will pool swim, bike and elliptical machine my way to continued fitness and then have five weeks to get my running legs back.

Those of you who think I can’t do it should keep their thoughts to themselves. I plan on doing it and will give everything I have to my rehab and training.

This will not be my fastest marathon. Far from it. Still, perhaps it will be my most meaningful, as I take the detour that has appeared on the road, unsure of where exactly it will take me, sure though I am of where, with G-d's help, it will finish.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Getting Carded

There are times when I want to write about something, but struggle to figure out how to tie into running. Lat week, I took my son to the biggest card show in the country. I was trying to figure out how I could write about it, when, boom, instant inspiration struck. What follows are some random thoughts that occurred to me that day on everything from running, to cards, to my dad, to G-d.

My father used to take me to card shows when I was younger. He was not into cards but he took me because I was. I, on the other hand, still enjoy cards, and still have a small collection. I am sure this says a lot about the differences between my dad and me.

During the show, there were times when my son would go ahead and I would look for him. Other times, I would move ahead a bit and he would look for me. It seems to me that this parallels our relationship with G-d. Sometimes we look for him, other times, he looks for us.

As we wandered through the massive show I was looking at some cards from about 100 years ago and found… track and field cards. That’s right, 100 years ago, some executive at a tobacco company decided to put track and field cards in a pack of cigarette cards instead of baseball cards. I suspect he was soon unemployed. It gets better than that. The set had track and field and boxers in one set. What made him think of that combination? It wouldn’t be much of a fight between them unless the track and field guys could use javelins and shot puts in the fight.

My dad and I were once at a show, and off in a small room, sitting by himself signing autographs for a dollar, was Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all times. I could tell, at least I think I could, that my dad thought it was cool meeting him, although of course, my dad would never ask him for his autograph. I, on the other hand did, and treasure that autograph to this day.

In the set, there is a Jewish runner named Abel Kiviat. Kiviat was an excellent runner. Of course, I bought the card. On the back of the card, he is described as a “Hebrew runner”. What exactly does that mean? Did he run from right to left?

Tobacco cards of that time sell for $35 and up, much more for the stars, if you are talking about baseball. The track and field cards were $5 each. I’m sure there is a message in there somewhere.

Just as when you go to the supermarket it is good to bring a list so that you don’t spend more money than you planned, the same is true at a card show. We were both like little kids in a candy shop. I had to have self-control for two.

We live in a consumerist culture, where we are constantly encouraged to buy things we never would have thought we needed. I walked in never having heard of track and field cards, and walked out with four, with the hope of acquiring more.
Eddie Mathews, a hall of famer, once signed autographs for free after a show, for my friend and me. Willie Mays charged $300 for his autograph at this show and it was made clear that he would not personalize anything. If you look at their stats, Mays was better. That’s not the way I will remember them.

My mom once schlepped into Brooklyn on a Sunday morning so that I could get the autograph of my idol, Ted Williams. He didn’t even look up when he signed. Ted was a better hitter, my mom, a better person.

It is good to find a common language with your children, even if it is not the one you would choose on your own.

As a child, my favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski. My friend fit that into a song he sung at our wedding. I bought one of his cards at the show. It made me smile on many levels.

I have tried to figure out what makes some of us collectors and others think that collecting is crazy. I have my theories, but nothing certain yet.

Unlike many moms, mine never through out my baseball cards. Not only that, she took me to Fenway Park for the first time.

When my dad died four years ago, I led prayers during the 7th inning stretch at a game where I took my son. I think my dad would have gotten a kick out of that.

I supposed to go to card show one Sunday morning when I was about 12 with my friend Arie. When we were about to leave, my mom answered the phone and started to cry. That was the day my grandmother died.

When Bob Shepherd, the voice of the New York Yankees, recently died, another person who made me think of my parents left the world.

Cards remind me of a past, when things were simpler, or at least, in retrospect they seem that way, especially for those of us who didn’t live through those times.

I miss my parents.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Go Team!

Warning: I will be using guilt, persuasion and thought to get those of you who do not regularly exercise to start.

I never saw a serious relay race until last week. As I watched the race at various checkpoints, I noticed something incredible. Despite exhaustion brought on by the combination of lots of running, little recovery, extreme heat and no sleep, the runners continued to reach their goal times. I found myself wondering how they were able to do it. It seemed that no one wanted to let down his teammates. It is one thing to slack off when it will cost only you, it is entirely something else when it their others counting on you.

As the year of mourning for my mom has progressed, I have tried to lead prayers as much as possible, something that is considered to help my mom. I have attempted to get to shul early enough to make sure that I would be there first. Sadly, I found myself viewing other mourners as competitors. Yesterday, I walked into shul and saw a good friend, who is also in the year of mourning for his mom. We each encouraged the other one to lead. In the end, I convinced him. For the first time, I genuinely felt comfortable giving over the prayers to someone else. I found that I was not looking at him as a competitor, but as a member of the team.

While the army urges us to view ourselves as a “team of one”, there really is no such thing. Everything we do, both for the good and the bad, affects those to whom we are close. Which brings me back to my warning about exercise. It is easy to reach for another doughnut or to make excuses about exercising when you think it is affecting only you. The truth is, it is affecting many other people as well. You have a team around you made up of friends, family and others, who to one degree or another need you and are counting on you.

Get started.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer: