Not Quite Kosher


It’s time to confess. There is a slight possibility that I may have sent a woman straight to hell. It wasn’t malice, it was ignorance. But, I worried for years that she was going to hell nonetheless. At the very least, I had blocked the spiritual potential of her soul, according to one article.

As a professional communicator, I know that the most effective writing or training acknowledges the audience’s culture and beliefs.

But I stumbled across the importance of cultural competence long before that.

I was in college, working in a small restaurant near the entrance to Milwaukee’s only mall. A couple of older women came in, taking forever to settle into the small booth and arrange their shopping bags around them. They would be my last customers of the shift and I wanted to get started on their order quickly.

“What’ll you have?” I asked almost before they could study the menus.

The slightly older woman, the one with dark curly hair, said she was interested in our corned beef sandwich.

“Is it kosher?” she asked.

Now, you have to understand, I went to Catholic junior high, Catholic high school, and I was attending a Jesuit University. I didn’t really know any Jewish people; my only experience with them was with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, or the Fiddler on the Roof.

But I had heard the word, “kosher,” of course. When something wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite “on the up and up,” people said it wasn’t quite kosher. So I assumed she was asking whether our kitchen was clean, or whether the corned beef was really corned beef. And, again, I was in a hurry.

“Of course,” I replied. “Do you want cheese with that?”

Looking a bit startled, the woman declined and pursued, “You’re sure it’s kosher?”

Longing to be done with this order, I assured her that indeed it was.

And then I went back into the kitchen and sliced the corned beef on the big stainless steel slicer where we sliced corned beef, ham, turkey, cheese, pretty much anything that needed to be thinly sliced.

Then I brought the woman her sandwich.  And maybe, sent her to hell. Or, at least, spiritual blockage.


I’d Rather Be Weak


I think, all things considered, I’d rather be weak.

 I decided this after talking with my dad today.

 There are studies that show that athletes who repeatedly jolt their bones – like gymnasts who land hard, or martial arts experts who strike boards – build up the density of their bones through the tiny fractures and resulting repairs of the bones. It is the breaking down that is the building up.

 I was talking with my dad today because it has been one year since my mom died of MDS, the same disease that almost got Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts.

 Mom’s death has rocked my world. She was my soft place to fall.

 I have had an extraordinarily lucky life, ducking the larger of life’s tragedies and dodging the worst consequences of stupid choices. But whenever I did land with a thud, my mother, with her boundless love, was the cushion that kept the hurt from being fatal, kept me from breaking down. Her faith in me got me back on my feet.

 So I had not developed the bones to bear great grief that so many of my friends did, because I was never forced to.

 In her last couple of days propped up in her hospital bed, Mom asked me, “Are you going to be okay?”

 At the time, I doubted it. But her question left me no choice, and my last gift to her was to reassure her that yes, she had raised me strong enough.

 In the year since Mom’s death, I have made some big life changes (semi-retiring and moving to Charleston, SC) but mostly, I have simply kept on. I think and I hope Mom would be proud of any strength I have demonstrated.

 I’d choose to give the strength back in a second if I could have her back. But fractures mend, even imperfectly, and, like her question to me, I’m left with no choice.


Won’t You Be My Friend?


It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

                      –Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

I know I am in the minority, but I always thought Mr. Rogers was kind of creepy. I mean, really…what was he thinking, coming right out and asking us to be his friends? Sure, that kind of direct demand is cute in a child, but in an adult, it’s a little off-putting.

It’s like people who attend networking events and quit after a time or two, disappointed that their grip-and-grins didn’t result in hard business leads.

For grownups, it just doesn’t work that way.

It takes shared experiences, commonalities, time to build trust.

Which is why it’s so hard to figure out how to make friends in my adopted city.

I no longer work in an office every day, and writing is a solitary pursuit, so I don’t have the luxury of building up those daily contacts that lead to friendship.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m lonely. I’m an only child, so being by myself suits me just fine. But I have met a couple of people here whom I like. I’ve had coffee with one, gone to a play with another, dinner with a couple.

But after, I find myself like an anxious date. Will they call again? Should I end the evening with plans for the next time? How long before I can call them without seeming pathetic?

I can’t just turn to them like Mr. Rogers and say, “Won’t you be my friend” without seeming like some kind of stalker.

So the question I have is…what are the rules for grownups for making friends?

Friendship when you're older...

Friendship when you’re older…

Resolving to Be Human


There is a long letter, full of photos and cheery news from the past year that I write this time each year to friends and relatives. This is also the time I create my list of resolutions.


But this year, I just haven’t had the energy to write a long letter detailing 2013, which was shadowed with trying to regain my footing after my beloved Mama’s death in January. Every few weeks last year, another friend’s parent seemed to die, sending me back into the black. So, I haven’t written a letter. And there goes one of my resolutions already, the one to do a better job of staying in touch with friends and family.


In searching for resolutions, I found a long story about the best way to make the year matter, most of which involves asking yourself the big questions like, “Why Am I Here?” All good questions, but none of which I think I can consider in the hurly-burly of daily life. Maybe if I scheduled a trip to an ashram… (which probably should be another resolution!).


Another list has some really great suggestions that would certainly make me a better human being.  Unlike the grand questions on the previous list, this one details the person I would like to be, maybe even the person I think I can be. The list seems to boil down to two themes: spend more time being by yourself and spend more time being kind to others. The trick, of course, is how to balance those two. Some mornings, I can do both at once; on those mornings, the kindest thing I can do for others is to be by myself since I am not fit company for anyone. My eye keeps finding #22 on the list: Stop shaming yourself for doing things that are perfectly, normally human, but happen to be deemed imperfect in society.


This actually hews closer to another philosophy I discovered, a parenting philosophy that might be the best resolution of all for me this year. Called the CTFD Parenting Method, it urges parents to just Calm The F**& Down. Here’s something I can get behind. Every time I get anxious that I am underachieving, every time I fall short of my arbitrary measures, every time the harshest judge – myself – sneers and shakes her head at my shortcomings, I need to CTFD.


Come to think of it, maybe this would be a good resolution for our politicians as well. What about you? Any one resolution resonate this year?


Maybe we should resolve to break resolutions…