Oh my, now he is dead …

What if you knew a particular person was going to die today? It could be a loved one. A work colleague. A fellow you see at church only a few Sunday’s a year. An old girlfriend or boyfriend – your ex? A mortal enemy you have hated for years. A disenfranchised relative. Or even that celebrity you have never met. Would anything change if you knew? Might you have said or done something differently that you had been meaning to do?

Of course, there are times when many of us have experienced this. I have experienced this with the passing of my long estranged father just over a year ago. We figured things out just months before he took ill – that is another story. Watching a loved one – family or dear friend deteriorate and die before our eyes and in our arms is painful but it’s also a gift isn’t it? In that heartbreaking scenario when we know the end is very near and if we want to say last loving words or provide a final human touch before it is too late – we have that ultimate opportunity. It is a blessing to not have heard about their demise from a phone call or heaven forbid a text message.

More often than not we receive this possibly shocking news seemingly out of nowhere. At other times it may have been expected, “but not so soon” and we missed our opportunity. These examples above denote the loving and caring relationships in our life.

But what if we only allowed ourselves to reflect positively of an individual AFTER they pass on yet during their life we felt nothing but animosity towards this person? The real question is not “what if” but why? Why in some cases do we reserve kind words ONLY when the individual is dead? And here in Toronto this was most tangible with the passing a few days ago of our former and infamous mayor Rob Ford. A few months earlier I was walking along the historic “Gingerbread House” lined streets of Rothenburg Germany visiting with my sister and her family when I spotted another family walking towards me. The gentleman was wearing an authentic jersey of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. As he neared me I called out to him, “Are you from Toronto? So am I.” In his substantial German laden accent he replied to me in English, “No, but you have that crazy Bürgermeister don’t you?”

Over the tumultuous three years of Rob Ford’s mayoralty we heard and saw it all. Countless “judges” were collectively shocked, appalled, embarrassed and many directed hideous personal attacks against our mayor. Yet within hours if not minutes upon hearing of his death, some of those same people, in particular his colleagues on council or the reporters and commentators covering his time in office were speaking and writing in glowing terms of Rob Ford the man, the overwhelmingly and distinctively dedicated civic politician with nary a word of the insulting broadsides he received in life. And we know all too well how people don’t like to “speak ill of the dead” but I wonder why is that the case? Are we afraid that in the afterlife the dead can come after us and in some manner cause retribution? Are we infused by guilt for our previous actions towards them? Why do we hold back the civility and humanity while they were alive that despite the opposition or even revulsion we once felt, since the ability and compassion to see the positive in that very same person is clearly evident?

As I often write in this space, our actions are our choice and the responsibility for them is exclusively ours. We are not forced to say this or do that. And if we try hard enough we can find it within us to shed light and not darkness on almost any person – even an adversary. Perhaps the lesson is that by doing so we are actually allowing light into ourselves. Why wait for their last day – or ours?

Internecine hatred

“Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone.” Sophie Scholl


I have been blogging for eight months now. Initially I wrote to help build a following for my book that I hope to soon publish. But my writing has become so much more than that. I am rediscovering who I am, what I believe in and a truth – my truth and my voice. Throughout this epiphany, intriguing situations and instrumental people in my life are finding me and teaching me valuable lessons.

This blog expands further on my earlier piece entitled “Does This Make You Uncomfortable” http://lettersandwalls.com/?p=74

Have you ever felt different from others in particular from those within your own “group” or affiliation or even family? Typically it is through airing our opinions especially when we feel ours is right and another’s wrong and can’t quite grasp why “they” don’t get it. Who is to say after all that one opinion is right and the other is wrong? Well in a free country you have that right – and so do I. I am okay with that but I am not sure everyone is. Yet as the disagreements get personal, vindictive or cruel, that has taught me the abuse says more about the attacker than the intended victim. One needs look no further than the 2016 American Republican primaries to see this in spades.

Still, it leaves me at times feeling self-isolated.

Receiving my first hate mail was in hindsight remarkably edifying and I am actually quite grateful for having been on the receiving end of it. In a private message I was informed that based on my opinion regarding my empathy for WWII civilian German casualties during the mammoth Allied bombardment of Dresden, written in a blog after having visited Dresden late last year, that I was no longer a part of the Jewish people – I had been banished. Imagine my euphoria that all on account of a singular proclamation by a former friend I had joined the ranks of Baruch Spinoza! Had I known in advance that she was the gatekeeper to the Jewish afterworld I would certainly have been more mindful of my P’s and Q’s. Surely I jest.

More recently I challenged an individual (and friend) on Facebook who wrote something there that was in my opinion categorically anti-Muslim and mocked the entire religion. In his opinion he did not agree. I went on to say that if a similarly provocative anti-Jewish message were posted – he and rightfully many others would have been enraged by it. From that came the ensuing rebuttals from his friends: “Your friend [me] is a Jewish libtard”. “He is a cancer to the Jewish people”. “You [me} surely support ISIS”. I am trying to understand why this internecine hostility is so rampant and how we find ourselves myopically confronted by it.

I am learning more and more about narrow-mindedness and insincere or imperfect ritual/scriptural based interpretation and rigidity.   I am also gaining increased insight into intra-religious intolerance than I previously held myself. One has suggested that I now have intolerance of intolerance. Possibly. Also suggesting I am smug and self-righteous. Perhaps. I take to heart a phrase written by Mark Azoulay.

“If you believe in something believe it firmly”.

I am sure that many of you also realize that when people are so afraid of a core belief being challenged that they attack with unsubstantiated or irrational defenses. It is a phenomenon of a knee-jerk reaction without the thought process of intellectual honesty or responsibility and in my opinion is thoroughly disingenuous. Is it possible that their truth is being challenged and subconsciously they see in themselves an indefensible weakness or insecurity that they do not wish to confront? Or at least not yet. This can hold true for any irrational disagreement amongst peoples or even within a family. Often the battle lies within the individual themselves and not between individuals. If we cannot get along with “Us” how then can we ever hope of getting along with “Them”? It is always a battle of Us versus Us. I suggest a dose of empathy and compassion is the foundation to seeing an end to internecine hatred.

I am not trying to compare my humble and somewhat insignificant musings to a heroine like Sophie Scholl who paid with her life for her individuality. Until very recently I had never heard of her.   Sophie was a young German woman who joined the White Rose movement in peaceful opposition to Hitler’s Germany. She was criminally charged and found guilty of treason and while the verdict was still warm – faced the guillotine at the age of 21.

So at times I do feel as if I am standing alone. But also strong in my convictions and to be someone other than who I now am would be dishonest. And while there has been sporadic yet strong opposition to a sub-set of my written words I have been many more times overwhelmed by abundant support and encouragement both private and public – and from sources that took my breath away. I am thankful to my supporters and detractors for they have each solidified my beliefs, my conviction – and yes my voice.

Life is all about how we see things

“You gotta look for the good in the bad, the happy in your sad, the gain in your pain, and what makes you grateful not hateful”. Karen Salmonsohn

How many people in your life are Debbie Downers? And no offense to the many other Debbie’s out there – I am sure there are countless wonderful, inspiring and effervescent Debbie’s. However social media is a petri dish for Debbie Downers. Once in a while we just have to realize that the life in life is beautiful. Really depends on how one sees life doesn’t it? Regardless of the circumstances, a tragedy, a sickness, a broken relationship it doesn’t matter – surely if we try hard enough we can find cause to rejoice and relish the beauty of life. And we all know that is no easy task at times, as a dear friend understands only too well whose soul was very recently scorched by the suicide of her dear friend. Even within that calamity – she is rediscovering the magic for her and her life.

I watched a superlative video the other day – perhaps some of you have seen it as well. It was of a lovely older woman, speaking in French and thankfully it was accompanied by English subtitles. She was recounting an episode she experienced as a young child in the Bergen-Belsen Nazi Concentration camp. The video begins with her displaying a large yellow patch with the word Juif that was emblazoned on a Jew’s outer garment during the Holocaust, hers in this example. She describes the circumstances that permitted her mother to bring into the camp two small pieces of chocolate only to be consumed “if you are about to collapse”, her mother carefully articulated to her. Where one piece of chocolate ended up and rest of that story I will leave up to you to search if you are not already aware of this captivating episode. Suffice to say, the events are uplifting and beautiful. Yes beautiful – a Holocaust story that is beautiful and there are many more examples. Yet still a Holocaust story, describing the depravity of her forced captivity, a childhood stolen away from her, surrounded by the death of countless friends and relatives – and she manages to give over a lovely lesson for us all.

So back to social media for a moment. We all get the point. We are against conservatives. We are aghast at the liberals. We are pro-Trump or repulsed by him. We need to demonstrate the righteousness of our position and the idiocy of our opponents’. We are compelled to post images of violent terrorist acts over and over again as if that will actually do anything more than exacerbate more hatred. We reinforce racial stereotypes and purport that “they” are all like that. Is it possible to see things a bit differently? I guess the question is the following: Is this serving you well? That is only for us individually to answer. I know my answer was no.

I have started reading The Astonishing Power of Emotions by Esther and Jerry Hicks, best selling authors of The Law of Attraction.   They write, “Now, what if someone told you that you do have a purpose in this life, and that your purpose is that of allowing more joy?” We have a choice of not only allowing more joy into our life but spreading more joy as well.

So perhaps, there are other ways to promote our cause on social media. Maybe there is a lesson in the Holocaust story with that precious piece of chocolate. Debbie Downers also have a choice – as do we all.