Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rain Man

While my wife was out for a run yesterday morning, it started to rain. I was concerned that she would return frustrated and dispirited. When she got back to the house, she informed me that I had no reason to worry. She informed me that she had found the rain refreshing. Friends often ask me how I have the will to run in the rain. Truth is, I find it much harder to run in the heat than in the rain. I still recall the first time I ran in the rain and how good it felt afterwards.

This week, however rain has another effect on me. We are in the midst of Succos (or Succot or the Festival of Booths). During this time, Jews leave their homes and dwell in Succas (temporary huts). This helps remind us that this world, with its physicality, is temporary, and thus, should not be the main focus of our existence.That is the goal at least. Although I have slept in a succa in the past, I find it hard to do so these days for various reasons. Practically, it works out that the main activity done in a succa is eating. During the first few days, when the family eats together, it is quite enjoyable. By midweek, the excitement starts to fade, for me at least. I find myself less than enthused about schlepping all my food outside. Which brings me back to the rain. If it is raining, one is exempt from the succa. I would love to be on the level where I would be disappointed to lose out on a chance to fulfill one of G-d's commandments, particularly one give on the holiday that is supposed to generate happiness. I am not. I welcome the chance to eat in my usual surroundings.

The rabbis of the Talmud saw rain at this time as a bad thing, a form of divine rejection. Thus, rain is not mentioned in prayers until the end of the the holiday. Furthermore, they waited two weeks after that to start asking for rain, to give the travellers to Jerusalem time to return to their homes in comfort. The day that prayer begins is the day that my firstborn son was born 14 years ago. Thus, despite my inability to fully appreciate the need for rain, this prayer has a fond association to me.

May this be a year where G-d literally and figuratively rains blessing down upon us in clear and obvious ways.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tree's Company

There is an old tree outside my house which serves as a starting and finishing point when I go running outside. I rarely gave much thought to the tree, although I appreciated its simple beauty and shade. Recently that changed. Starting last year, branches started to fall from the tree. After a while it became clear that part of the tree was dead. As more branches fell, we realized that we would have to cut off many of the branches if we would save the tree. Early this week, the deed was done. When I first saw the tree, I felt sad, although I was unsure why. Then it hit me. It made me think of my mom.

Growing up, I always had cancer on my brain. Not in a pathological sort of way, to the point of being a phobia, but certainly more than the average person. How many teenagers come home from school with a bump on their head and ask their mother to take them to the emergency room, convinced that they have cancer? (Of course, my mom, being who she was, was willing to take me there despite the unlikelihood of my fear). I suppose it was inevitable that I would have somewhat of an obsession with cancer. After all, it claimed my maternal grandmother’s life and struck my mother as well. On top of that, my father was a two pack-a-day smoker. My mother always warned him that he was going to get cancer. (There is some level of irony in the fact that when he died, he had many ailments and illnesses, but his lungs were fine).

As the teacher that she was, my mother taught me more than to be afraid of cancer, a word that she was hesitant to say. She taught me that cancer could temporarily slow you down, be a real pain in the tuches and cause a lot of pain, but it did not have to stop you, even as we knew that ultimately it would do just that. The first day after she got home from a double mastectomy, she took me and my sister to the movies, just to show us she was still the same mom we knew before. She might have had to visit the doctor more than the average person, but that didn’t stop from travelling all over the world and doing innumerable kindnesses for friends, family and complete strangers. Just last week, I ran into one of the guards from the school where she used to teach, who told me that as my entered the building each day, she would ask him if he needed anything. She had cancer, it did not have her.

The tree looks a bit strange, less than complete. Still it stands tall and, at least to mind, proud and unbent. As I aim to get back to running, (an activity that my mom always asked me about, even if she didn’t quite get it), I will try to run outside tomorrow for the first time in almost two months. As I stand under that familiar marker, I will recognize its new type of beauty and remember to keep pushing forward despite obstacles that might stand in the way.

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whatever It Takes?

As crazy as it might sound, despite not having run for over a month and a half, I still hope to run the marathon in just over seven weeks. My approach has been one of "whatever it takes". During the time I was unable to run, I rode a regular and a stationary bike, used the elliptical machine and, having discovered an activity more mind-numbingly boring than running on a treadmill, "ran" in the pool. (Sadly, I was unable to locate a pogo stick).

Out of all of those activities, the most helpful was the pool running, as it gave me a chance to simulate running, keeping me somewhat in running shape. As part of my plan to get to the marathon prepared and in one piece,I plan to combine pool running with the real thing. Whatever it takes.

And yet...

As an observant male Jew, I do not go swimming with women other than my wife and daughters for reasons of modesty. The place where I pool-run has separate hours, but only three slots a week for men. Ideally, I'd like to be using the pool more often.

There is a true story about a rabbi who was about to enter a room, when he saw a man praying by the door. Recalling that it is forbidden to walk in front of a person who is praying, he waited for the man to conclude his prayers. When he was urged by his students to enter the room, he replied "I see a wall".

I wish I saw a wall. Knowing how badly I want to run the marathon, I came up with all sorts of reasons to pool-run during mixed hours. It would be good for my health; both mental and physical. Most of the women would be senior citizens. No one would know. In the end, I recognized them all as excuses.

I still believe I will get here doing everything possible, even if I can't do whatever it takes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Rosh HaShana, often referred to as the Jewish New Year, begins in a little more than 24 hours. I don't know about you, but I can't say that much has changed for me since last year. I am in the same job, same house and have the same flaws I had at this time last year, with possibly a few new ones thrown in for good measure. What reason do I have to believe that this year will be different? How can I stand before G-d and declare that I am willing to change, when the past year screams the exact opposite?

As a running junkie, I often preach with the zeal of the convert. It is not enough for me to be running, I want everyone else joining in. Often when I encourage those who are out of shape to try, I am turned down with a self-mocking comment. Something like "I can't even run a block". They are right you know. When I started, I couldn't either. I had tried to lose weight before with, at best temporary success. I had tried to exercise. Why would this time be different?

I could give all sorts of reasons why I was successful when I was, but I am not sure they would be correct. Bottom line is, I decided to hope against hope. To try when my track record told me that I would fail. To dream that things could be different.
That, I believe is what Rosh HaShana is about. A willingness to believe that I can be the kind of person I want to be. To undo some bad decisions I have made. It will be hard. Everyone, including me, has made peace with the imperfect me. Maybe things can be different. Maybe I can go back. Maybe it's not to late. Maybe this year will be different.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Father's Days

Growing up, I looked forward to getting married and becoming a father. ln particular, I looked forward to having sons. I had no idea how challenging it would be; how rewarding it could be, how frustrating it could be.

The other night, I watched a video about a boy who has become friends with an elderly man, due to each being amputees and running together. It was much more than that, including powerful Divine Providence/serendipity. What has stayed with me the most though, is the father crying, all these years later, as he describes the day when he accidently caused the injury to his son.

I took my oldest sons to Yankee Stadium, the other day, for the first time. It was the first time at the NEW stadium, not the real one. The one where Ruth, Dimaggio and Mantle played. The one where my father took me numerous times when I was a boy. The real one. It was like a Pixar movie. It looked really great, almost like it was real. The worst part was that they built it to look like the old one. A historical stadium knocked down in order to build a neo-classical one nearby. Capitalism run amok.

I felt my dad’s presence as I walked, with my two sons, past the place where the old stadium used to be.

He used to drive us through the neighborhood after games and show us the apartment building where he used to live. It took a lot to picture that, as the building was only a shell, only used by rats and drug dealers.

He was a Yankees fan, so I suppose there was something Freudian about me becoming a Red Sox fan. Of course, continuing the picture, both of my older sons are Yankees fans.

I remember Willie Randolph, the Yankee’s second baseman in the late 70s coming to the plate 0 for 3. My dad said to me “Willie is due for a hit”. Of course, Randolph got a hit. I think I remember that happening more than once, although memory is a tricky thing.

At Monday’s game, Marcus Thames came up against a fastball pitcher. I leaned over to my son and said “If he connects, it is coming right here”. He did and it did. Meir got the ball. I would like to think that he will tell that story to his sons.

I was down in Baltimore yesterday. A former student passed away and I went to visit with his parents and siblings. It was the kind of visit that made me cry, although I waited until after I left before I let the tears fall. I spent most of the time speaking with his mom, a former colleague and his siblings, all of whom I taught. I kept on looking over at his father, one of the kindest, most decent people I know. He wasn’t speaking much, and I found myself wondering what he was thinking, what he was feeling. I hope the family can make it through this with the love, warmth, humor and humanity I saw there yesterday.

I was struck by how much the oldest son, who is engaged, looks like his father. I hope he will be as good as a dad to his children as his dad has been to him.
I got home and gave my sons some cards I had bought for them. After a day like that, hugs weren’t enough.

My oldest son started running with me last week. Sort of. We go to a gym where I rehab my knee and he runs on a treadmill, looking over from time to time, looking for a little advice and a lot of approval. I hope he sticks with it. It will be good for him, both physically and mentally. Of course, it will be good for me. And us. Please G-d, us.

My dad would have been 75 next Thursday, the first day of Rosh HaShana.

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