The Power of Waves


Sometimes life crashes into you; like a wave.

You can be cooking along on autopilot only to be floored by a bit of news…. or a work of art.

When that happens— when the waves hit—you get snapped out of your rhythm. You’re reminded that you’re human; fragile, vulnerable, at risk.

In some cases, the waves are beautiful. They knock you over in a good way. You shake your head and marvel at all this world has to offer.

But sometimes a wave knocks you over and fills your lungs with dread. You’re left breathless, as if you’ve been punched before having a chance to brace yourself.

I’ve had four such waves hit me in recent weeks.

Two of the waves may seem silly, but they’re not. A great piece of art can reach deep, where it matters most. Art can take many forms—sculpture, a painting, music, or a TV show that touches you in a profound way and leaves you with a new perspective.

And sometimes, a wave can come via a text from a friend who tells you that something awful has happened.

In one text, we learned of the suicide of a friend’s 20-something daughter and in another we learned of the death of another friend’s 38-year-old daughter felled by a stroke. Both waves hit hard.

When you cherish your friend’s, when you open your heart to a kindred spirit, it’s a wonderful thing: an antidote to America’s crisis of loneliness. But you also become vulnerable to heartbreak. Bad things happen to good people and when they do you ache.

When my mother passed away in 1998 at the age I am now, the pain I felt was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. At the time, I sought solace in the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner who passed away earlier this year.

“Pain is the price we pay for being alive,” he wrote. “Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?”

That’s a question worth thinking about.

Globally, 1 in 100 deaths are by suicide. That’s a stunning figure.

There are no words or deeds we can offer my friend or any other person who has lost a loved one to suicide to make up for that loss, but we sure feel the pain.

And there are no words to soothe our hearts when a young talented woman is lost to a devastating stroke at a young age.  We take some solace that her organs will give life to others, but we grieve. The waves leave a permanent scar.

Still, I come back to Rabbi Kushner’s question which I have been wrestling with since I read his words 25 years ago.

“What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?”

I think the answer is we love others, and we aspire to fulfill our dreams and lead a good life.

And that leads me to the two good waves that hit recently.

I’m a fan of good writing and recently two of the best written TV series of all time ended their runs. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Ted Lasso” wrapped up their decorated runs with final episodes that were pitch perfect. Although I will miss both series immensely, I’m grateful for the artistry and the messages these shows provided during a tumultuous period in our world.

I’ve been studying playwriting recently and one of the main takeaways is that the best works contain a message, a point of view that propels the story forward.

For Mrs. Maisel, the message that drove the series was the importance of pursuing your dreams and never giving up even if the odds are stacked against you. So, despite setback after setback, Mrs. Maisel perseveres. She may wobble at times, but she always keeps her eyes on the prize. It’s a good lesson, because life is not easy and it’s sure not a straight shot to the top.

As for Ted Lasso, well….the message of that sweet show is the magic of love.  Ted Lasso is a show about love, made with love about the power of love.

There is no better message.

Some waves you want to lean into and ride because they’re beautiful and you want to be transported. Other waves knock you off your feet. Our world sure has its ups and downs.

“Upon us all, a little rain must fall,” the Led Zeppelin song says.


The Beatles answer with: “when it rains and shines, it’s just a state of mind.”

So true.

Here’s hoping you catch some good waves. And I hope that when you get hit with a bad one, that you find meaning in the pain and a way forward. Always a way forward.



Odds and Ends.

Bishop Stokes

A very special man, with Delray ties, retired last week and I can’t let the moment pass without saying thanks to a dear friend.

Chip Stokes, the former pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on South Swinton Avenue, who left us in 2013 to become the 12th Bishop of New Jersey, retired from his post June 4. His last official visitation was at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, where it all began for my friend and his lovely wife Susan.

Chip and Susan were a blessing to our community and for me, he was an important touchstone. Chip’s door was always open and even though we came from different faiths, I found solace in his advice and inspiration in his passion for community and social justice. He was a trailblazer in race relations, a trusted friend to many and a beloved pastor who is dearly missed.

I often turned to Chip for advice when I was feeling the weight of the world during my tenure as mayor which included the shooting of a young man named Jerrod Miller, numerous hurricanes and my strong desire to bridge the gap between the races in Delray Beach. I could always rely on Chip to listen, give sage advice, and to buoy my spirits. He was more important to me than I think he knew at a time when I really needed someone of his immense sensitivity to care. We shared a desire to improve race relations, a love of baseball, and a belief that the world could be a better place if we could somehow connect with our fellow human beings.

When he was being vetted for the Bishop’s job, a team of church leaders came to Delray Beach to talk to parishioners and community leaders about Chip. I was honored to be among those they interviewed. We met at the historic church on Swinton, a place where I would from time to time, to see my friend and I was asked about his impact on the community.

Something happened to me when I began to answer. It has never happened before and it hasn’t happened since. But as I described my friend and the love he had shown for our town, I found that tears were welling up in my eyes. I was surprised and a little embarrassed at the time, but the interviewers were kind and understanding. I knew in my heart that Chip would get the job; he was too gifted not too and I could tell by the questions that the interviewers were smart people. They would surely see what I saw in Chip, that he was a man with extraordinary leadership qualities. I would miss Chip, Delray would miss Chip, but we wanted him to get the job.

He did and he knocked it out of the park.

Reflecting on his Chip’s influence in Delray last week, I kept coming back to the words love and passion. The best leaders are full of love and passion for people. They have compassion as well.

And as I ache for my divided country and also my divided city, I realize that Chip’s example still teaches me; leadership cannot happen without love, passion and compassion. Fomenting hate and division is not leadership, it is the opposite.

I thank Bishop Stokes for his example. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, but we’ve remained in touch and his impact still resonates around these parts.

We wish Susan, Chip and his New York Mets nothing but health and happiness.


A Village is a Port in a Storm


There was a homicide in Delray Beach a few weekends ago.

A 26-year-old man was shot and killed outside a community market on our Main Street, in our downtown. His name was Jamar Gabbage.

The shooting happened not far from our “gateway” feature, in the 1100 block of West Atlantic Avenue; the entrance to our downtown.

Last week we learned that three people died after overdosing on heroin within 24 hours in Delray.

The same day this story led the local news I saw a young man on a bike heading toward A1A screaming at passersby. I wondered whether he was ill or under the influence of “flakka”, the new scourge that is laying waste to young minds. This week came more news of someone allegedly under the influence and violent requiring several police officers and a K-9 to subdue.

But when I stop by to visit friends at a local restaurant the talk isn’t about murders or what to do about substance abuse. The talk is about “A frame” valet signs and whether a part on the beach pavilion is rusting.

When I browse social media I read about change and how sad it is to see a chain store downtown. Valid concerns, but definitely first world problems, I think to myself.

Then I read about an unattended death at a local rehab and see a slew of insensitive comments.

And I feel sad.

These are people we are talking about.

Someone’s dad. Someone’s child. Someone’s friend. They are not “cancers”, they are people.

I see a lot of lost people in our city. I see them outside the local Walgreens and watch them slowly cross a parking lot in front of my office on Lindell Boulevard.

Some are homeless and worn, like weathered driftwood. Others seem cooked with vacant thousand yard stares as they make their way across streets only to disappear in crevices.

We have it all here.

Mansions on the water.

Craft cocktails.

Fancy cars.

Valet parking.

Big Boats. Expensive private schools. 100 foot Christmas trees.

We also have murders.

Drive by shootings.

Kids whose parents beat them. People suffering from cancer and dementia. Heroin. Homelessness and drug deals done in alleyways.

It’s there for all to see in the village. If we care to look.

When I drive through town I have memories everywhere. That’s what happens when you’re anchored in a place for a long period of time as I have been in Delray—happily.

I remember being able to seeking solace in people whenever the going got rough.

On South Swinton there was Father Stokes. Chip, he would insist you call him.

He became Bishop of New Jersey.

But before he left he was a confidant; a trusted partner.

He cared about the poor people who lived just west of his church. When you talked with him you could see his passion about education, social justice and racism. Before he got his post in New Jersey he was up for another big job in the church.

A team of senior church leaders came to Delray to discuss his work in our city. I was asked about Chip’s work in the community and when I began to answer I noticed that I was choked up describing the care and leadership he provided. I realized that if he left, he would leave a gaping hole. He didn’t get that job but a few years later he got an even bigger one.

And you know what? We miss Chip Stokes’ leadership, courage and ability to focus on what was most important.

On Lake Ida Road, there was Nancy Hurd who spent decades loving the poorest children in our village at the Achievement Center. Nancy was always a port in a storm. On the darkest days, the days when I couldn’t sleep because I saw images of a 15 year old boy in a casket I knew I could visit Nancy and she would hold my hand and together we would visit pre-schoolers with their smiles, hugs and hopes. By the time you left, you had hope in the future. It wasn’t that reality changed, but in that corner of the world you could see goodness and love.

On North Swinton, at Old School Square there was Joe Gillie and Frances Bourque who were always excited about the arts and about serving children by exposing them to culture. Their passion was infectious. You wanted to sign on to their mission immediately and we did.

Years later I would sit on an interview panel and listen to 17-year-old Stephanie Brown talk about her love of photography stoked by a class she took at Old School Square. She would become one of our first set of Dare 2 Be Great Scholars. A year or two later she was named one of the top young photographers in Savannah where she excelled at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for that class…it might not have happened.

Near Pompey Park, lived the Pompey’s, lovely people, educators, community builders whose love of this city made you fall in love too. Their history was painful; fighting for the right to go to the beach, better schools and parks and for local children denied opportunity.

On the southwest side, you could sit with Mrs. Wesley. Libby to some…and she would sing to you or read you a poem that left you a puddle. Libby was beauty personified. She believed in Delray. She believed in young people. She believed in roots. She inspired everyone.

At City Hall, you could pop in and feel the energy of achievement and pride. In the clerk’s office were Barbara Garito and Chevelle Nubin and lots of happy faces, Sue and Jim and others. There was DQ and Lula and a busy planning department with smart people like Ron Hoggard and Jeff Costello who could figure out any problem you threw at them. And we did. We threw a lot their way.

And there was tough Paul Dorling, who could be disarmed with a joke.

Perry held court at Boston’s and Bill at the Chamber. Lori could be found at the market and Nancy was always planning a festival.

Solace; everywhere you looked.

Pame, Jen, Evelyn, Skip, Bob, Cathy B, Susan, Kerry, Rachel and Tom Fleming in the Grove. Mrs Gholston and Miss B.

A village.

There were murders and drugs. Always. There was crime and blight galore. Businesses went bust. People said rude things.

But we were a village.

Always a village.

I’m not sure if those same havens exist these days. I hope they do and I suspect they do. Many of the players mentioned above have moved on in life which is what happens, but I’m sure they were replaced by others who are caring as well.

My wish is that current and future leadership seek advice and solace. You can’t do these jobs on social media, as great as Facebook is. And you can’t do it walled off somewhere in a vacuum. It’s only a village if we talk to each other. And listen—with empathy.