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.



  1. Marianne Regan says

    Some waves you want to lean into and ride because their beautiful and you want to be transported. (Just a wee typo here: should have been they’re – as in – “they are” beautiful.)

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks for the catch…did you like the message?

      • Marianne Regan says

        I did like the message Jeff and I also noted with intereset that you have been recently studying playwriting. I am the director of the Delray Beach Playhouse Playwrights’ Project. Each year, we solicit new, 10-minute, one-act plays from local playwrights to produce during our Festival in October. I hope you will seriously consider us in the future. Everyone has a story to tell, and your weekly columns enlighten us and always contain, and deliver, a message that we can use in every day life. Keep up the good work!

        • Jeff Perlman says

          Thanks so much, Marianne.
          I would be very interested in your Playwrights Project. Count me in!

  2. Frances Bourque says

    Wow! Again you humble me and I find myself, once again , challenged by your words …
    Today, my dearest friend of over70 years, whose 20 plus grandson is rushed back to Jax Mayo after multiple transplants and 5 years of suffering because ,as a young college Freshman , he Vapped.
    Little was known and he has carried the fight and , in that processed, when he had the strength, spoken to students, the Governor , been on TV and used his voice as a Soldier so
    Many May hear his message.
    You and I speak almost daily to hold each other up and today I am forwarding your message to my friend as her family must fight yet another day..
    We spoke this weekend as we wondered again how to lead and inspire without impatience, criticism and place inspiration in places where our voices may be heard.
    Your message is again my Monday morning challenge… I too had the gift of knowing Father Chip…. The early day when our neighborhood was full of Chips, Spencer’s , Joes, Kerry’s, Tom’s, Bobs and so many more. We are all so
    Much more than we might have been because they were part of our quilt of fairness and loving spirit for everyone.
    Thanks for the memory …May it not just rest in our past, but find its way back to our future.
    Please pray for my friend as I will yours.

  3. Chip Stokes says

    Jeff, I began by reading your powerful reflection on waves and then saw your reflection on me and our relationship. I am overwhelmed by your graciousness. Believe me, the feelings are mutual. Delray Beach was blessed to have you in the Mayor’s seat. I have been deeply blessed by your friendship, as well as Diane’s over the years. Susan and I look forward to catching up with you both in our retirement. Blessings and peace.

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