Bookends: The Healing Power Of Old Friends

A little scruffier, a little balder, but the bond endures.

The most treasured gifts in the world are kind words spontaneously tendered. (Thanks Dewey)

— Jim Collins

It’s December.

Thank goodness.
We find ourselves in the home stretch of a brutal year and at last there is hope that 2021 will treat us better.
Like miners stuck below the surface of the Earth trapped in a dark cocoon of gloomy news— anger, divisiveness, disease and death —those of us still fortunate to be here can find solace that next year will be brighter. It has to be, right?
With any luck, we can resurface and reclaim our lives.
I, for one, can’t wait.
In the years to come, if I am given years to come because I realize that’s not a given, I will look back on 2020 with a mixture of awe, gratitude and dread. I know that’s an odd combination of emotions. But this has been a very odd year.
But despite wave after wave of brutal news, many of us still found some light.
I found my light in the usual place: family and friends.
Close readers of this blog have heard me mention my twice a month Zoom calls with childhood friends.
I write about those calls because they have been a lifeline to me in an extraordinarily challenging year.
It’s been hard to be quarantined.
It was hard to work remotely—because I like the interaction and the kibitzing you get in an office with people you can see right in front of you.
I miss being able to gather with my friends.
I miss happy hours and dinners with a bunch of people.
I miss the movies.
I miss the meetings in coffee shops (and I’ve never even had a cup of coffee).
But the next best thing to being there is Zoom.
To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with the technology but when I think about it, Zoom has been a life raft that has kept me from drowning. Zoom made it possible to see my oldest and dearest friends—if only on a screen.  Those boxes, that contain those familiar faces, have meant the world to me this year.
I hope you have had a similar story of connection during this year of Covid.
Here’s mine.
I grew up in the 70s and early 80s in Stony Brook, located on the north shore of  Eastern Long Island.
From the age of six (not a typo) I was fortunate enough to build a small cadre of friends that have remained in my life for 50 years.
The bond we share is both special and rare.
We’re spread out these days—California, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Arizona, Vermont and Florida.
We went all through school together and stayed close through high school and college.
In our early 30s, we had some reunion weekends and then life took over.
But the pandemic has somehow brought us back together again over Zoom and I couldn’t be happier about it.
While we never drifted apart totally (well a few of us maybe) our communication became spotty and we were never all together anymore. These Zoom meet-ups have changed all that.
Our calls—which usually last about 90 minutes—cover a range of subjects and I always come away energized by the interaction.
When I was asked recently by my dad what it’s been like to “hang out” again with all these guys I told him the one feeling that comes up is pride.
I’m proud that our friendships have lasted.
I’m proud of the men they have become.
I’m blown away by their intelligence, humor, life experience, professional success and by who they are.
They are all interesting. And they are all interested in the world.
So I’m proud of them.
Someday, maybe soon, we will be able to get together in person.
That would be great.
Over the summer, I learned that life can be very fragile. I think we are all learning that lesson these days.
It’s the rapport, the kindness, the playful ribbing and the fact that we serve as the gaps in each other’s fading memories that make for lasting and special friendships.
One of the crazy things about this year is that it has forced us to  take stock of what really matters.
We no longer can take the simple joys of our lives  for granted.
Whether it’s the joy of meeting a friend for dinner, taking a weekend trip or having family over for the holidays—Covid has made sure we will appreciate moments large and small.
For me, when I look back on 2020 I will be forever grateful that every other Wednesday I can find my buddies on a screen if not in person. That’s more than good enough–for now anyway.
I’m just glad to still be around to laugh and share with them.
 Here’s to what comes next guys.

200,000 lives: A Grim Milestone

This park in Detroit honors those lost to Covid-19.

 

“Breath is life. When the stakes are high and the challenge is hard, I come to my foundation for answers — breath.” Circus Performer LadyBeast. 
 
I stumbled on this quote while reading a blog about Creative Mornings and it hit me. 
Breath is our foundation.  We stop breathing and we cease to exist. 
I’ve been conscious of breathing for most of my life because I have asthma. So sometimes  breathing can be difficult. 
Every now and then, especially when I’m nervous, I have found myself short of breath. But I have never felt endangered. My asthma was mild. I knew I would feel better quickly. 
But my recent bout with Coronavirus changed my relationship with breathing.

At the height of my illness, I struggled with every breath. My lungs hurt and they weren’t working very well. 
Laying on my back, attached to leads to monitor my heart, a port in my arm and a mask strapped tight over my face I felt like I was drowning. 
I was working hard to get air and it felt as if the virus was suffocating me. Every breath was accompanied  by a painful sharpness. It’s hard to explain but when I inhaled I felt a cutting type pain. 
While I was frightened and afraid to sleep because I didn’t think I’d wake up, I was also keenly aware that I had to fight. 
I couldn’t really speak, but I wanted to yell out and say “no, I’m not letting go.”  
My mind raced from thought to thought. 
“No, I won’t let this be the end” and then “I can’t believe this is the end. I’m only 55. I have a wife and kids and a career and friends. I never said goodbye and I have so much more I want to do.”
I thought of my late mother and my beloved grandparents. I asked them for help. I prayed for G-d’s mercy and I wondered if I was in some sort of dream. 
My mind kept coming back to my mother. She passed at age 59 and missed so much. Now here I was four years younger. I would miss seeing my kids get married, I would miss having grandkids and I would lose all the things I wanted to do once I retired. While tempted to give in and let go, I just refused. 
Breathe. Just breathe. Keep breathing. 
And I did. 
 
 

I’m a little over two months into my Covid odyssey and here’s where I stand (or mostly sit).

 I am still on three liters of oxygen. I can go off for short periods of time, but when I dip below 92 on my pulse oximeter (always by my side) I have to go back to the O2 hose—you don’t want to starve your brain of oxygen.
For the most part my breathing is ok. But sometimes I feel like there’s something stuck deep in my chest. And  I still lack my wind.
My body is sore from what I guess is the therapy I’m doing after 39 days in a hospital bed.
But I also have a stabbing pain in my left thigh. I’ve been applying heat to the leg which also feels numb at times.
The stabbing wakes me some nights.
My neck is also stiff and my tailbone is sore which means that I need to sit on a lot of cushions. My friend Scott bought me a “donut” and I literally can’t live without it.
Best. Gift. Ever.
I’m not really sure if some of my soreness is the residual impact of the virus or the result of being in that hospital bed.
My sleep has been inconsistent, but I am not fatigued like so many Covid patients report.
I am, however, experiencing a fair amount of anxiety. There are some mornings when I feel very jittery. It fades as the day moves forward but I also experience pangs of fear and just overall dread that seems to come at me in waves.
When I get hit with the wave, I try to shift my mind to a positive thought. I’m so lucky that I can call friends or read messages and cards to lift my spirits.
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love I have received from family and friends. I jokingly told my wife that I feel that I attended my funeral without having to pass.
But boy did I come close and that experience is both real and surreal.
To be honest, I’m still kind of processing the whole experience.
As a news junkie, I’ve always paid attention to what’s happening in the world. But these days, stories about Covid truly affect me on a different level.
The 200,000 plus deaths in America is not just a grim statistic to me; it’s a shockingly real kick in the teeth because I’ve now seen the enormous toll this virus has enacted on our country and on the families left to grieve.
I was one of the lucky ones.
So I wonder: why I was spared?  And I  wonder what I should be doing now that I’ve been given a a second chance. I realize how fragile life is; how easy it could have been to simply stop breathing.
The last few months feels like a dream to me.
I went to get a test at Bethesda Hospital and came home 39 days later.
In between, I wore masks to breathe, had morphine to dull the pain (it barely took the edge off) and struggled to even sit up. I had odd dreams, painful spasms and felt dizzy and disoriented at times. For a few weeks, my eyes burned and there were times when I woke up and wasn’t quite sure where I was. Sometimes things seemed to move in the room. I would see the TV on the ceiling but then realized it hadn’t moved. I was just confused.
I heard screams from a nearby room and thought to myself someone has it worse than me and I prayed they would find relief.
Since coming home I’ve had extensive therapy and it’s helping.
I am slowly getting my strength and stamina back. I came home with a walker and a hospital bed.  Both are gone.
I can climb a flight of stairs but I lose my breath and need a few minutes to recover. But it’s progress.
I am so grateful.
When I wake up I am reminded how fortunate I am to be alive.
I’m more appreciative of my friends, love my wife even more (she’s been my rock), cherish my kids and family and can’t wait to get back to what life has to offer.
I write these words to raise awareness and to urge people to be vigilant and safe.
Last week, we attended a virtual fundraiser to raise money for Bethesda Hospital’s Covid efforts. I was happy to see a brief video of my departure from the hospital as part of the event. The health care heroes that were highlighted that night saved my life and the life of many others. When I left Bethesda, I promised them I would try and spread the word.
And that’s what I plan to do.
I am grateful I have the opportunity to do so.
I’m here because of prayers and the talents of amazing medical professionals. We are blessed to have these people in our community.
Thanks for reading.

The Company You Keep

Seth Godin delivers daily wisdom, not sure how he does it.

You are the company you keep.
It’s an old saying, but there’s wisdom in that old saw.

Here’s another similar thought:

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

That’s a quote attributed most often to motivational speaker Jim Rohn.
Those concepts led to a lively discussion recently with a few friends.

I’d like to add that what you read also plays a large part in how you think. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s long time partner, says that he has never met a smart person who doesn’t read—incessantly. Charlie is 95 and has met a lot of people, so I trust his insights.

So in the spirit of Charlie Munger and Jim Rohn, I thought I’d share  a few of my regular “sources.”

Seth Godin—a hugely popular author and blogger, Seth is an influential marketing and business mind. He blogs daily and he usually nails it. His books are outstanding too. I once applied to work with Seth. His rejection letter was crushing but was so well written that I realized on the spot that there was no way could I hang with him. He’s just another level. Like asking to play hoops with LeBron James when you can’t jump or shoot.

Fred Wilson—a well-known New York City based venture capitalist, Wilson also blogs daily and reading his thoughts is akin to taking a daily MBA course. Very insightful.

Bob Lefsetz—The Lefsetz letter is a provocative blog that talks about music, tech, politics and culture. Lefsetz is a great writer and while I sometimes disagree with him, his writing is so vivid and interesting his work becomes a must read. He regularly angers his audience is incredibly brave and transparent.

Bernadette Jiwa—an Australian marketing guru who reminds me of Seth Godin.

Peggy Noonan—Wall Street Journal columnist who always seems to nail it. She writes with perspective and historical insight. Just terrific.

Frank Bruni—New York Times columnist, has very different politics than Noonan, but also seems to see past the noise to get to the root of issues.

Tom Friedman—-in a word, brilliant. He’s the guy I’d want at any dream dinner party. We saw speak in Fort Lauderdale last year and he was just wonderful.

David Brooks—a conservative voice that I enjoy reading because he’s smart, reasonable and open minded, three traits sorely lacking today.

Tim Ferris—-he’s endlessly fascinating and his podcast is always amazing. Ferris is all about peak human performance and his interviews are in depth and fascinating.  He has some great books too.

Terry Gross—I think she may be the best interviewer alive. Just a master class in getting her subjects to open up and share.

Peter Coy—Bloomberg Business Week writer. Always terrific essays on world events and trends.

Shane Parrish—His blog is aptly called brain food.

Polina Marinova:  Polina scans the web so we don’t have to and points us to the most interesting stories. Her blog is called The Profile.

Kevin Siskar: cool stuff on the start up life.

Joseph Lichterman—writes beautifully about innovative approaches to journalism. And journalism needs innovation.

Lawrence Tribe—really entertaining Twitter feed. A law school professor who explains the world we are in through the lens of a constitutional expert.

Modern Love—a Sunday Times staple. The best ones are amazing. The worst ones are still worth a read.

Steve Van Zant—his Twitter feed is funny, combative and always interesting. Plus, he plays guitar for the E Street Band and starred in The Sopranos. What a life!

Axios: great way to start the day and feel smart. Bite size nuggets about politics, business, culture and the world.

Simon Sinek—daily sayings that remind me of my “why.”

Reid Hoffman—his master of scale podcast tells the stories of entrepreneurs who have successfully scaled their businesses. I’m reading his new book “Blitzscaling” and it’s full of insights on business model innovation.

Otis White–Otis is a friend who has written extensively about Delray Beach. His blog on local government is simply the best on the subject anywhere.

Kevin Klineberg–An urbanist and champion of walkability, Klineberg writes about the “Messy City” with flair and intelligence.

Nancy Koehn–The Harvard leadership expert and author of “Forged in Crisis” has a lively and always interesting presence on social media.

There are more..I just love to read. Hopefully this list gets you thinking about your reading list. Or spurs you to start hanging out with your sharper friends. And please send me some suggestions.

 

Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar
It’s Thanksgiving week and we are grateful.
Yes, the news can be depressing.
Mass shootings—307 in 311 days, fractured politics, wildfires, hurricanes and starving people in Yemen are very real and searingly painful and yet…
And yet, there’s so much beauty in our world if only we would slow down just a tad, look up from our devices and soak it all in.
There’s great music, beautiful skies, a wondrous ocean and incredible art all around us.
There’s good people too.
Lot of really good people.
Right here in good old Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
I’m thankful for them all.
The volunteers, the dedicated teachers, the amazing men and women who serve in our police departments and fire service, the dedicated health care workers who are there for us when we need them most. And the list goes on and on.
On this Thanksgiving I want to say thanks to friends who are always there, family that gives me a reason for being, work that excites me, pets that fill my heart and a wife that patiently listens to my stories, feeble attempts at humor and occasional tales of woe.
So yes the news affects us all.
Important stuff is happening on so many levels.
So stay engaged, speak out, vote, protest if you feel like it and advocate for what you believe in. Never let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter or even worse: that you should keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself. Share. Engage. Try and help others—there are so many needy in our world and right here at home.
But give thanks too—if you can. It makes a huge difference.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me. See you next week in this space.