A Poignant Covid Memorial

Rituals matter.
Love and empathy matters too.

We’ve lost 400,000 Americans to Covid-19, 100,000 since December.

It’s a staggering and brutal number.  And it will get worse before it gets better.

I was overcome with emotion as I watched our national Covid Memorial yesterday—seeing those beautiful and knowing that they represent the departed souls of our brothers and sisters.

It’s been six months since I was infected during the summer wave which pales next to our current Covid surge. I made it and am grateful for that daily and cognizant that so many have been lost.

We are living through a nightmare; a human nightmare that’s ending lives, upending families and threatening economies worldwide.

As I write this, I have friends with sick parents, friends who have lost relatives and friends who are dealing with long hauler health issues. It has been a nightmare.

While I am feeling so much better, I still wake up and go to sleep with headaches and have arm and leg pain. I looked at the 400 columns of lights and felt immense gratitude for the doctors, nurses and the prayers of friends that somehow for some reason saved me.

Others weren’t as fortunate.

And a nation aches for them. We also feel for those whose health has been compromised perhaps for the rest of their lives.

Much has been written about the politics of Covid, but not as much focus has been placed on the human toll of this virus.
That’s why it was so gratifying to see our beautiful nation’s Capitol illuminated with lights remembering those we’ve lost.

So many people of all ages and from all walks of life no longer with us. So many empty seats at the family table.
It’s important to grieve and to acknowledge the loss we have suffered.

These national rituals are reminders that we are one country—indivisible but only if we choose to be. It’s a choice.

Regardless, there is power in empathy.

Leaders look for opportunities to connect and educate.
They look for teachable moments that can move hearts and minds.

Yesterday’s Covid memorial was pitch perfect.
We needed to mourn, honor and remember—together. The together part is most important. Especially now.

A Trip Around The Sun

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure? Measure a year?

In daylights,

In sunsets,

In midnights,

In cups of coffee,

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure a year in a life?

“Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show Rent.

2020…oh my goodness.

We sure have been through a whole lot together.

Covid.

Social unrest.

Division.

So much division.

Before we say goodbye to a year I think we all yearn to see in the rear view, let’s pause for a few moments and reflect on what we’ve experienced.

This is the deadliest year in US history with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.

Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months but preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year or at least 400,000 more than 2019.

That’s a staggering number.

It’s almost too much to comprehend.

But we need to try because we end the year with so many families in pain, hungry and lost. Friends, our world needs a lot more empathy if we are to create a better world for our children.

U.S. deaths increase most years so some increase in fatalities is to be expected but the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15 percent and could go higher. That would mark the largest single year percentage leap since 1918 when tens of thousands of US soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the flu pandemic.

Yes, this has been a helluva year.

We won’t ever forget 2020 but while we are anxious to turn the page and resume our lives, I’m hoping we don’t blindly rush forward. I’m hoping we drive slow and consciously think about how we can make this world a better place. I know that’s kind of a sappy sentiment, but sometimes the world can use a little sappiness.

We are at a crossroads. Down one path is more fighting, down another is a chance at healing and progress. We can’t have both. It’s one or the other.

I happen to think that we are very weary of fighting each other. So many people I talk to are tired of the callousness, the meanness and the insensitivity of our discourse.

I sense that we long for kindness, community, purpose, meaning, love and empathy.

We need to carve out a space for gentle hearts to thrive in this world.

How do we do that?

By standing up to bullies.

By rewarding kindness.

By extending a hand to those who need a lift up.

By setting the record straight– if we can.

By doing what we can to help others.

Simple things make a big difference.

While 2020 was brutal, it did force us to slow down. That’s a good and valuable thing.

If we were lucky enough to take the time to reflect, we realize that life is both fragile and precious.

Last holiday season, nobody knew the word Covid and yet the virus upended our lives and almost took mine; proof that we are vulnerable and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

While we know that intellectually, it’s easy to lose sight of our mortality and fail to prioritize what’s truly important. In 2020, gliding through life became harder and for many of us impossible.

So as we close in on another trip around the sun for some reason the words to a Jimmy Buffett song are swimming around my head.

“Yes I’ll make a resolution, that I’ll never make another one.

Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun. Just enjoy this ride.”

To my friends, I hope you enjoy the ride. Please stay safe and let’s do what we can to make 2021 a better year for everyone. That’s my prayer for the New Year.

Honoring The Covenant

I don’t like misinformation.

I don’t like bullies.

And I really do not like those who traffic in disrespect; which makes social media a minefield for me.

One of the worst things about platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is the ease by which we can easily step on the mines that are lies, bullying and disrespect.

Sigh….

The lies and negativity run rampant in our news feed, often spread, sadly by those we know. By those who ought to know better.

Last week, I saw a thread that really bothered me. By that I mean get under your skin and make you scream kind of bother.

Oh, I’ve gotten used to the garden variety poop we see these days: the insensitivity, the lack of empathy, the political drivel that for some reason people feel compelled to share.

But my skin crawls when people make sweeping pronouncements that discount, write off and outright lie about our recent  history here in Delray Beach.

I get irked when particular misinformation finds its way into the digital realm because I fear that the old adage is true: a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth puts its pants on.

I used to think that the truth would prevail. I believed that the truth was a stubborn thing and it would refuse to go away.

Not anymore.

We now live in an age where there are no objective facts. That’s a helluva thing. Orwellian, dangerous and deadly.

Have mercy on us, because this kind of magical thinking is not only hurtful its potentially ruinous.

We have enabled this kind of culture. And if left alone, this destructive paradigm will bite us. It will bite us hard. It already has.

From masks to vaccines. From climate change to the integrity of our elections, we are seeing how divisive it can be when each of us is entitled to “alternative facts”—whatever that is.

But what chafed me recently was not the tired debate over something important like whether Covid is deadly but rather an inane argument over whether prior mayors, CRA staff and city staff were committed to helping our neediest neighborhoods and people.

As a former mayor married to a former CRA Director with close friends who were city staffers, mayors, Commissioners  and CRA staff, the assertion that nothing was done until the city commission took over the CRA is not only wrong, it’s insulting.

It’s dismissive and disrespectful to generations of staff, elected leaders and volunteers who devoted years of their lives to public service and rightly take pride in that service.

So I won’t let it pass.

I can’t let it pass.

It is not about claiming credit.

It’s about telling the truth.

And the truth is this.

For a generation, there has been a sincere effort to direct public and private investment to neglected neighborhoods.

Has it been enough?

No.

Nobody ever said it was. More investment is needed. Much more.

We need better schools, more opportunities and more thinking about how we can all work together to lift up everyone who lives in our city.

But to say that nothing has been done is wrong.

It’s a lie.

And it disrespects years of work by scores of community leaders, including a slew of “Elders” who worked closely with elected leaders and dedicated staff—or at least those who were smart enough to listen. And many were.

Truth is, we’ve seen a fraying of these efforts in recent years.

In Delray, we once talked about a “covenant.”

We once asked/hoped and expected that leaders would honor that covenant.

My understanding of the covenant is that when you sought a leadership position in Delray Beach, you were expected to listen, collaborate, learn, respect and do whatever you could to help those in our community who needed it most.

As an elected official, you did not get to claim that you honored the covenant; that was an honor given to you by the people. But only if you earned it. Only if you delivered real results not election year spin.

As a reporter, elected official and citizen I stood in awe of people like Libby Wesley, Vera Farrington, the Pompey’s, David Randolph, the Gholston’s, the Ramirez’s, Zack Straghn, legendary pastors and public employees who devoted their lives to the neighborhood we now call The Set.

Some won’t call the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods  that name.

Why not?

As we approach the holiday season, the end of a brutal year, we ought to take stock.

As we lay one of our community heroes Alfred “Zack” Straghn to rest this weekend we ought to take a deep breath and assess where we are–as people and as a community.

Mr. Zack wasn’t satisfied nor should he have been with the state of our city. That’s not a criticism, but an acknowledgement that when you love and care about a community your work is never done. You are not allowed to rest on your laurels and you are not allowed let problems go unaddressed–they must be met with answers and careful attention. No Zack was not satisfied, nor was Mr. and Mrs. Pompey or the wonderful Miss Libby. But they also would have told you that they were proud of the progress that had been made and appreciative of all those rowing in the right direction.

Why can’t we respect the hard work done in the past, knowing the task is incomplete and that the promise of Delray is unfulfilled?

Why is it so easy to dismiss the work done by people who have devoted their lives and careers to this town?

Successful cities build brick by brick, inch by inch, year after year. Real leaders look forward, they don’t seek to rewrite history they seek to make history.

Try A Little Tenderness

The Delray Chamber gave the community a hug last week. We needed it.

Sometimes a simple act of kindness can make all the difference.
Last week, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce gave the community a big hug and it felt amazing.

The hug was needed.

The hug was appreciated.

The hug showed us the immense power of kindness and community.

I hope it triggers more goodwill because we can all use an explosion of kindness as we end 2020 and look forward to a new year.

Ahh, yes a new year.
2020 has been brutal; we need to turn the page. We need a reason to believe.

2021 sits there–just over the horizon– an oasis after a long slog through a desert of despair.

Hundreds of thousands of families have lost loved ones.
Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to overcome the lingering affects of a virus that has upended our lives and our world.

Businesses are really hurting.

Our social lives have been upended and community life has been interrupted. The best parts of our lives—human contact and interaction– have been put on hold.
There is fear and division throughout the country and right here at home. We sure need something to lift our spirits.

The Chamber of Commerce dove into that breach with a socially distant awards ceremony recognizing hometown heroes.
Teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, business owners and non-profit executives were honored for going above and beyond to get us through this crazy and tragic year. And it felt great.

It was needed. It was appreciated and it reminds us of the possibilities that exist in Delray Beach if we just can find a way to be kind and work together. It’s not rocket science folks, but yet that simple concept of being kind and having empathy seems elusive these days.

The Chamber showed remarkable leadership at a critical time—the tail end of a year in which we have all suffered perhaps more than we can fully comprehend in the moment.

It reminded me and others of the “old days” when we made it a point to celebrate success and to come together during hard times.

But as much as it reminded us of happier times, the Hometown Heroes event showed us a path forward. We can do this again. And again.
There is much to be grateful for in America and in Delray Beach.
The winners and nominees are examples of our strength and resilience. We become a happier place when we stop and think about how much we have to be thankful for.

Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson, Marcus Darrisaw and the EJS Project were honored for the non-profit’s stellar work with young people. They are developing our future leaders while exhibiting grace in these trying times.
The Chamber honored the nursing staffs at Bethesda Hospital and Delray Medical Center who are busy saving lives and giving comfort to those battling a deadly virus. There are 900 nurses at Delray Medical alone, 900 heroes staying strong during the worst medical crisis of our lives.

We saw several educators honored as well: the principal of Village Academy, the founder of Space of Mind and a young teacher at Plumosa Elementary School finding creative ways to connect with students during the pandemic. Bless you La Toya Dixon, Ali Kaufman and Cassidee Boylston.

First responders were honored as well. Can you imagine an already stressful and dangerous job that has gotten even more dangerous? What does it take to suit up every day and risk it all to protect and serve? Thank goodness for our police officers and firefighter/paramedics.

The Chamber honored small business owners all of whom have had to dig deep to try and survive a crisis nobody saw coming or had any experience with.

The immensely talented Amanda Perna of The House of Perna, was recognized for donating thousands of masks to first responders and for giving jobs to seamstresses who were furloughed. They worked days and nights to help protect the community. Isn’t that beautiful?

A plaque doesn’t pay the bills or heal someone infected with Covid, but it’s important nonetheless.
It’s important to recognize, honor and appreciate each other. That simple act is healing.

So the Chamber  performed a very valuable service.

The organization itself has been tested by the pandemic. Largely event driven, the Chamber has had to re-invent itself on the fly.
In the capable hands of President Stephanie Immelman and Chair Noreen Payne– two extraordinarily gifted leaders–the chamber has stayed relevant, visible and has showed us once again why we need a strong chamber.

It’s important for business to have a voice but when the Delray Chamber is hitting on all cylinders it is much more than an advocate for commerce. It is an advocate for the entire community.
Through virtual events, webinars and round tables, the Chamber has made it through a brutal year.

They have reached out to members in need and urged us to stay connected and informed. That’s leadership . And a template for a bright future.

I am excited to see where the Chamber will go as my former commission colleague Dave Schmidt takes the chairman’s role.
Mayor Dave is a proven leader. We are in great hands.

So here’s to 2021.
Thank you Delray Chamber for shining the light of positivity at the end of a dark year.

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.

Thanksgiving…

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

It’s not the turkey—that I can take or leave. It’s the meaning behind the holiday—gratitude and the time you get to spend with family.

This year, of course, will be different for many American families. We are being told not to gather because of coronavirus. We are also mourning the loss of more than 250,000 plus people , more than twice the number of American soldiers who died in World War I. It’s a staggering number and it’s increasing.

Yes, 2020 has been a terrible year, and it’s not over yet.

 

Still, if we look there is usually something we can be thankful for. For me, I’m grateful to be alive after a bruising battle with Covid-19.

I had a close call and peered over the edge before thankfully recovering and rejoining my family, friends and work colleagues.

So this year I am thankful for a lot. I hope by sharing my thoughts I will inspire you to think about what your thankful for in your life.

Here’s a brief list. If I miss anything it’s because the list is long (also something to be thankful for) and maybe I do have a touch of Covid fog.

I’m thankful for, in no particular order:

—Community: This year, I have felt the warm embrace of our community. The outpouring of support during my battle with Covid helped me heal and my family cope. When the call went out for plasma, the community responded. I will be forever thankful.

—Prayer: This year, I  learned about the power of prayer. Prayer has been a part of my life for a long time, but this year the appreciation went deeper. When I learned that prayer groups were praying for me, I was deeply touched. I believe those prayers made a huge difference and for that I am thankful.

—Family: I have always been grateful for my wonderful family. I’ve been blessed. Faced with the prospect of never seeing them again my love for them deepened. I saw their faces in my dreams and I was driven to come home.

—Friends: I am thankful for old friends and new ones too. During this trying year, relationships became more meaningful. I have been given a gift; the magic of friendship. Our ability to laugh, talk, share and show appreciation for each other has enriched my life and saved it too.

—Acts of Kindness: 2020 has been a year where I have been given innumerable acts of kindness. A retired police officer who sends me inspirational texts every single morning, a business colleague who shook the trees for plasma donations, the 9 pm prayers that warmed my heart, the E Street Band legend who personally delivered the new Springsteen album to my home, our chamber of commerce which enabled me to share my story on a webinar and then honored me with a nomination for a nice award, the endless texts from friends that included videos, songs, prayers, jokes and general messages of good cheer, the cooking of friends bringing over delicious dishes, the kindness of my amazing neighbors, Dave Wasserman’s zoom calls, Zoom happy hours arranged by Connor Lynch, Scott Savodnik’s lifelong friendship, Scott Porten’s endless generosity, Sandra Allen’s love, Gina and Mike’s prayers, Perry Don Francisco’s videos and Dave Reeves’ extra special phone calls. And the list goes on.  I’m so thankful. If I didn’t mention you—please, please know I did not and will not ever forget you.

—Work: Millions of Americans are out of work. Businesses of all sizes in a variety of industries are struggling. I’m thankful I have work and benefits to weather the storm.

—Medical Heroes: I can’t say enough about the doctors and nurses at Bethesda Hospital. They saved my life and the lives of many, many others. For them, I am grateful also beyond words. My doctor Paige Morris and my pulmonologist Nevine Carp are beyond talented. We are truly lucky to have this level of medical talent serving our community.

Yes, 2020 has been a handful.

We all know the litany of woes. They are real and they are serious.

But amidst the sadness and division, the illness and the economic despair, there’s beauty. There’s hope. There’s love. There’s life. And there is a future.

It will be a brighter one—if we wish for it and if we work for it.

Meantime, I wish you and yours a Happy and safe Thanksgiving. And I pray for your safety and health.

 

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.

Life Lessons

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is that good and bad can co-exist. When something’s bad, it’s not all bad, and vice versa.

Take for example my recent battle with Covid-19; I don’t have much good to say about the virus but the experience taught me several important lessons. Among them:
 
Nurses are remarkable people. Just remarkable. 
Doctors are incredible too. 
We are blessed to have a hospital as good as Bethesda serving our community. 
I have lots and lots of wonderful friends. 
My family is amazing. 
My wife is next level great. And I love her more than I can ever express. 
Prayer is powerful. Very powerful. 
Those are all good lessons to learn or —in my case— relearn. 
 By now, most of us have written off 2020 as a terrible year. 
The virus has robbed us of so much. We are a dangerously divided nation—angry and distrustful of one another. 
It’s sad and depressing. 
And yet..
Some have used the pandemic to reconnect and reinvent. We are talking about important issues and while painful, it’s good that we are having these conversations. 
We have managed to reorder our lives and in some cases our businesses and careers. 
Yes, small businesses are hurting. And it’s tragic and painful to see people’s dreams disintegrate. Yet, amidst the mess, we are reminded  of the importance of small business; not only to our economy but the very character of our communities…we will deeply mourn those who close their doors. And I hope we will appreciate and support local businesses forevermore.

Yes,  we have lost a staggering amount of people to this virulent virus. It pains me to see their loss minimized as we argue over statistics. Death should not be partisan. We need to figure out how to be a more empathetic nation. It starts on the local level.
Kindness matters.
As a recipient of a huge outpouring of love and prayers, I can personally attest to how important love can be. It saved me. And I often thought of people who suffer alone—without family and friends or community. How lonely that must be…
Yes, our children’s education and social lives have been disrupted but we have also seen many families grow closer. I’m hopeful our children will learn from this experience. They will overcome. 
So yes, life is a mixed bag. 
Good and bad can and do co-exist. 
And yes, it’s true that it is always darkest before the dawn which is why I’m confident better days are on the way. 
 
Update: After 39 days at Bethesda Hospital battling Covid-19, I’m extremely happy to be home. It has been almost three weeks since my homecoming and I’m spending my time in physical and occupational therapy. I have five sessions a week learning to breathe, walk, climb stairs while rebuilding my strength which was completely zapped by the disease and a violent case of double pneumonia. 
I’m still on oxygen but I’ve graduated from a walker and can now walk unassisted around the house. 
My breathing feels labored at times, as if there’s an obstruction somewhere deep. 
I’ve been reading a lot about COVID and the experiences of people who develop conditions such as glaucoma, depression or  lupus after battling the virus. 
To be honest, it’s scary. 
It turns out Covid is a vascular disease and one has to wonder what it does to your system. 
I’m doing my best to focus on the positive and taking it a day at a time. I’m drawing strength and resolve from the many kind people who are in my corner. I remain in awe of them and am deeply grateful for the abundance of love in my life. I’m a lucky man. 

Hello Old Friends

Sorry for the poor pic. Best I can do.

When you get to be my age you find yourself having lived a few lives.

There’s childhood. The teen years. College. Early adulthood. The parenting years and now the (mostly) empty nester years.
It flies by in an instant.
But the blur of years leaves you with perspective, a few scars and several buckets of friends from the various eras and roles we play in life.
I have friends from my years in the newspaper business, and friends from my time spent volunteering in Delray. I have friends at the office, business friends, college friends and friends from my time in Leadership Florida.
I cherish them all and feel extremely fortunate to have had good friends at every step of the journey.
I am so grateful.
This pandemic has made me even more appreciative because I miss seeing my friends and being able to make plans to get together.
I’m sure you do too.
For me, it’s one of the worst things about this miserable, exhausting and scary year.
But every two weeks at 9 pm I pour a drink and pull up a chair and tap into a cross section of friends that span my childhood, teen, college, early adult and now middle age years.
As we log onto Zoom, I see all these old, familiar faces populate my screen and for an hour or so, I’m transported to a better world. It’s a world of jokes and conversation, a world of memories and future plans, a world that’s familiar and not as uncertain.
I’m on the Zoom with guys I’ve known since I was 6 and 8. We know each other’s parents and siblings, we played Little League together, took the Long Island Rail Road to “the city” to explore and fondly remember each other’s first cars.
I knew their teenage crushes and heartbreaks, what teams they root for and which teachers they loved. We can complete each other’s sentences.
Together, we fill gaps in our collective memories but there are some sacred stories that none of us will ever forget.
Over the months we’ve been doing these calls we’ve added some guys who drifted away—never gone—because the bond is too strong —but drifted nonetheless.
As I mentioned, time flies. And our once daily connection slipped as we moved, married, had kids, went into business, changed jobs and lost our hair while also losing  the ability to see each other regularly. But we never let go of the basic friendship we shared. And now that we are comfortably in our 50s, I believe we will be friends for the rest of the ride.
Still, time is an interesting thing we grapple with.
I can still see the young men in the visages of middle age guys who populate my screen.
I can still see their youthful essence.
There’s Dave’s curiosity, Dewey’s kindness, Joe’s enthusiasm, Steve’s quick wit, Scott’s ever present grin and Brian’s ability to frame an issue.  Ben’s still a rascal and Howie has the same laugh he had as a kid. Greg is still the broad shouldered body builder he became as a teenager.
I’m proud of these guys. Every last one has been successful in their careers. They all have nice families and good lives.
We are spread out now—from California and Arizona to North Carolina, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, Wisconsin and New Jersey.
Combined we have seen a lot of the world and covered a whole lot of ground—kids, grandkids, businesses, hobbies, marriage, love, loss and adventure.
Some of the guys have been there every step of the way. Others drifted for periods, but were always there in our memories.
But thanks to the pandemic and the efforts of my friend Dave, we are all together again every other Wednesday on a screen for 90 minutes of laughs and friendship during a hard, hard time.
I’m over this miserable year. But when we get past this—and we will most certainly will—I will remember this as the year that my oldest friends came together to help each other through the storm.
I always knew I could count on these guys—for a lifetime.
I hope this inspires you to reach out to an old friend.

The Last Dance & Leadership

Editor’s Note: In honor of Memorial Day.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” – President Harry S. Truman

Did you see ESPN’s “The Last Dance?”

The 10-hour documentary chronicles the story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls who won six NBA championships during a magical run in the 90s.
It’s must see TV and the 10 hours fly by. I could have watched at least ten more hours; the story was that compelling.
Much has been written about the documentary especially the leadership skills and personality of Jordan whose basketball skills were other worldly but whose personality was… how shall I say it…challenging.
In short, Jordan led through a combination of hard work, dedication and bullying that at least on two occasions led to actual violence. He punched two teammates during practice sessions that got so intense that they …well …led to fisticuffs.

Jordan had impossibly high standards. Winning was the only thing that mattered.
If he sensed you weren’t dedicated, or you were weak, he pounced and wouldn’t let up until he was satisfied you were not going to get in the way of winning.
There’s no arguing that he got results. Six rings. And I was reminded through the documentary that he was the best player I’ve ever seen.
But when asked about their teammate, many of the Bulls who played alongside MJ hedged their feelings. Yes he was great and he made others better. Yes we won. But boy could he be a jerk and yes he crossed the line many times.
At times it was painful too watch. You could see how his teammates are still struggling with Jordan’s style.

There are other examples of great individual talents whose personalities left a lot to be desired.
Steve Jobs led Apple to great heights but was said to be brutal to team members.
In the HBO film “LBJ-All The Way” Bryan Cranston portrays Lyndon Johnson as an expert politician but a man lacking in tact and manners. A theme throughout the film is LBJ’s reluctance to choose Hubert Humphrey as his running mate in 1964 because he openly worries that Humphrey is too nice.
You have to be mean to succeed in a blood sport such as politics, he tells Humphrey.
Which begs the question: do you?
Do you have to be mean and a bully to succeed?
I’m not so sure.
Although it’s hard to argue with the success of Jobs, Jordan and LBJ —who sure passed a lot of landmark legislation before getting swallowed by Vietnam—I’d like to believe that kind, empathetic, servant leadership is a more reliable and sustainable model.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be tough at times. There are instances that call for leaders to be brutally honest and there are times when leaders are called upon to take on bullies. And sometimes  the best way to take on a bully is to give him or her a taste of their own medicine.
Sometimes it’s the only thing a bully understands.
But when it comes to day to day effective leadership I think those who lead with love  get more done.
Maya Angelou said it best: people may forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.
In Michael Jordan’s case they won’t forget the six titles or the soaring dunks but they also won’t forget that they didn’t feel all that great at times ducking his punches and his insults.
Of course, it’s  hard to argue with results, but few of us are Michael Jordan.
For those with modest talents who wish to change the world,  I think the best way to lead is with love and affection.
Now some may feel that love is a strong word. It is.
But it’s essential for success.
Mayors should love their cities. CEOs should love their company’s mission, their employees and their customers.
Love is the killer app.
It enables you to find hidden reserves when trouble comes; and trouble always comes.
Passion for your cause will ensure you succeed. Jordan, Jobs and others had it. But they wouldn’t have been any less dominant if they mixed their passion with an old fashioned dose of kindness.