Sunday, August 30, 2009

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

Did your parents ever say that to you? Usually it was mentioned just before giving out a punishment or a spanking (Something we don’t do any more!) Geez! What a bunch of malarkey…..or so I used to think. Living with multiple sclerosis has taught me otherwise.

Not for all, but for some, pain is a chronic, recurring and sometimes constant condition for many people who live with MS. I know this because my MS causes me to have a variety of pains most every day. Sometimes the pains are great and cause me to use expletives!

Some of the pains can best be described as something out of an old horror flick.

Imagine that a mad scientist has strapped you to a table and attached electric cables to your body. The cables are then attached to a machine with a large knob on it. Then, as our mad scientist turns the knob a jolt of electricity is sent to and through your body. Sometimes the mad scientist turns the knob just a little. Sometimes he turns it a lot, sending a giant bolt of electricity to the body. OW! I think that best describes some of the pains I feel. (If you are interested, my friend, Vicki Bridges has written a series of articles about MS and Pain that can be found on Health Central by clicking here: )

But there is another pain that many of us with MS don’t get and that is the heartfelt pain experienced by those closest to us, those who love and care for us most. That is the pain they feel when they see us struggling with our pains and whatever challenges we face with our MS. Living with MS is not easy for me, but it seems to be even more difficult for those closest to me who often can do nothing more than watch it happen.

This is probably true for anyone who cares for someone who is ill and/or living with a disability or chronic condition. It seems that many of us who live with a condition may have accepted our pains more readily than those who love and care for us have. Our remembering that may help us to help those also affected by our condition.

I never spanked my children (although there were times when I wanted to throw them through a plate glass window), although I am sure that I earned my share of “potchkes on my tucchus” while growing up. But somehow today, living with a disability, I seem to understand how my condition “hurts them more than it hurts me.”

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reality Check

My big brother, Howard, has always been one of my teachers and role models. He taught me how to tie my shoes and to tie a necktie. Years later, he went into real estate sales. Then I went into real estate sales. He went into the mortgage business. I went into the mortgage business. The list goes on and on. He was and is a great big brother.

He also taught me that there is a great distinction between the events that occur in our life and our experience of them. For instance, my stories come from my personal experiences. Are they actually what happened? Yes and no. What they are is what I actually experienced. There is a huge difference between the events that occurred and what I experienced. Both are valid. Both are true….but not necessarily the same.

I will never forget when this truth about experience vs. what happened first hit home for me. It was back in the early 80’s and I was very involved with an organization called Quantum Management Systems. The group did several things including a weekend seminar. The seminar was the kind of transformational experience that was very popular at the time, much like EST, Life Spring, etc.

Sometime around 1982 my brother took that weekend seminar. As a repeat attendee, I could attend as a guest without paying and sit in the back of the room and I did. At one point, my brother got up to speak and he talked about his childhood, our mother and what it was like for him to grow up in our house. It was a very compelling story and everyone, including me, felt very sorry for him and the challenges he faced growing up. However, as I listened to him, there were two things that I kept forgetting. One is that I was listening to my own brother and two was that we grew up in the same home!

If you had heard both of us describing our childhoods, you would not even know that we were related. Why is that? We were both raised in the same house at the same time, with the same events and the same parents. But we experienced all of it very differently. Who was right? Both of us.

What caused this disparity in experience? Was it our age difference? That he was the older sibling? Did I get more attention because I was a sick kid? Whatever the reason, what is clear is that our history is based on our experiences and not the events themselves.

This may be one of the most important lessons that I have learned from my brother. Our feelings about what happens define our experience and feelings are always valid. They are, after all, how we feel. We cannot change our history or change the events that have already taken place. What we can change is our experience. How we feel is within or control.

That is exactly what my brother has done. He has chosen to have a different experience of his childhood. As he puts it “The events are still the same but I was allowed to perceive those events and, ultimately, my experience differently. It was a simple matter of changing my mind.” It may be more difficult than he makes it sound. After all, we often have a lot invested in stories about our history.

Knowing and being able to make this distinction between events and experiences helps me. It helps me to understand others and better understand myself.

I know that I am right about this. After all, that is my experience.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ball and Chain

August 15th is a very special day for me and my family because Christina is getting married on that day. Who is Christina? She is an extraordinary and beautiful young woman who has taught me more about attitude, gratitude and perspective than anyone I know.

We met Christina when she was eleven years old. She and our daughter Jenica went to middle school together and quickly became best friends. Always a welcome guest in our house, we included her in our family activities whenever possible. She was, and still is one of my 'favorites'.

Christina's mother died when she was only five years old. Less than two years later, her younger sister died. Then, before turning fifteen, her father died. They all died of AIDS. In other words, Christina had no one to call family.

We knew Steven, her father, well and everyone, including Christina, knew how much he loved her. Before passing he made arrangements for her to have a guardian, Ronna, who watched over and guided her as she continued to grow and blossom and that she did.

From a young age she had to make choices of and on her own. What choices did she make? Life affirming choices. She chose to wake up and be happy every day of her life. She chose to be grateful and express gratitude for every little thing. She chose to make a difference in this world and she does.

How easy and understandable it would have been for Christina to have made different choices. But she didn't. Not having two parents for most of her life and having only one parent to see her reach her teens, could easily have been her handicap in life. But it isn't. Instead, it has been a positive, driving force for her.

After her father's death, she chose to join the "Fight Against AIDS." At seventeen, as soon as she was old enough, she joined and completed the AIDS Bike Ride, a seven day, 500 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Her father, like several others, had joined the ride, but was too sick to make it to the finish line. Later she finished it for him. The ride triggered the making of a documentary, "No Distance Too Far" featuring our very own Christina.

After doing the AIDS Ride, Christina began speaking at middle and high schools and colleges, too. She talked about her own life and AIDS prevention. Later she volunteered and spent several months providing AIDS education to workers in small towns throughout Ghana. Christina continues her fight against AIDS today and works as a Marketing & Prevention Associate for the Colorado AIDS Project.

Today, on her wedding day, Christina, her husband to be and several friends are doing the AIDS Walk in Denver. Their team is called “Ball and Chain.” ( )

Christina makes a difference in the world. I know because of the difference she has made in my life. She is marrying Sean today, a great young man. What I like most about him is that he "gets" all of what is so special about her. He is a lucky man. She is lucky to have someone who values her so.

Christina and Sean,

May you blessed throughout your years together. May you both continue to make a difference in the world and to each other. May your hearts always remain as filled with the love and gratitude you feel for one another as they are today.

Love you both,


Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Can I Sing The Bass Line?

Puberty came early to me. I actually started shaving at ten years old. By the next year I had the deepest voice of any student in my junior high school. (They call them middle schools today.)

Two years later, the Temptations had a number one hit with “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and I knew then that when I grew up, I wanted to be the bass singer in a black soul group. A heck of a dream for a short, white Jewish kid from East LA.

Move the clock ahead 20 years to 1993 and I am a mucky-muck in the mortgage business, attending a private party in Washington DC for about 900 people. The host had hired entertainment for the evening which included the Four Tops and you guessed it, the Temptations.

Since I was a mucky-muck, I had front row center seats. As was their custom at the time, the Temptations would invite, or drag if necessary, one man and one woman from the audience to join them in singing a song on stage. They picked me and did not have to drag me on stage.
Being the professionals that they are, the lead singer would help the “guest artist” by matching pitch. Immediately I knew what to do and asked “Can I sing the bass line?” They graciously agreed and the bass singer stepped back while gesturing “it’s all yours.”

So there I am, on stage performing with the Temptations. Me, the short, white Jewish kid from East LA realizing his childhood dream of being the bass singer in a black soul group. Together we sang “My Girl.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

The point and the lesson is this: DARE TO DREAM. Sometimes our dreams and wishes do come true.

Today I live with a disability that keeps me from working. What it does not do is keep me from dreaming. I learned from the Temptations that anything is possible.

What is my wildest fantasy today? I want to play Tevye in “A Fiddler On The Roof.” Will it happen? I don’t know. What I do know is that f I don’t have the dream, it will never happen.

What is your dream?

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Twenty-nine years ago today.

It was exactly twenty-nine years ago today that I was married and my life was forever changed for the better. I was going to write a blog about it, just like I did last year. Then, after reading what I wrote then, decided that last year’s entry said it all. So if you missed it last year, here it is again.

Please read and enjoy. It’s about the love of my life.

It was exactly 28 years ago today (Now 29 years) that my wife Gail and I went to the best wedding celebration ever – OURS. If you could ask any of the 325+ people in attendance, they would all say the same thing – Best wedding ever.

What started out as something great,. has grown into something greater, more important and more meaningful than I ever could have imagined. After 28 years of marriage, we are now in the best place we have ever been. I can honestly say that I am more “in love” with my wife today than I have ever been before. She is, without a doubt, the sweetest, kindest, most caring and considerate, selfless and loving person I have ever known. I am a lucky man and feel truly grateful to be able to spend every day with her.

When you have been married as long as we have, we can look back and recognize the tough patches we made it through. We certainly have had our share of them. We were even separated for 14 months many years ago, from June ’86 to August ’87. During that time an expert on marriage (he’s been married four times!) told me that “staying married is its own reward.” I believe that until you have been married for 15 or 20 years, you can’t really begin to understand how true this statement is. There is an intimacy and level of comfort that comes from knowing someone so well and for so long, that can’t be explained. It is to be experienced.

Ask people who have been married a long time what the key to success is and you will get a lot of different answers. “Respect.” “Friendship.” “Patience.” Those are all good. But I have a different answer and that is “GRATITUDE.”

Maybe it is easy for me to say because I am married to Gail. Or maybe t is easier for me to say because of my disability and my needing so much help that she so readily provides, which makes me feel particularly grateful. Whatever the reason is, I never let a day go by without really letting her know how much I love her and how grateful I am. I believe that if one is truly grateful, expresses it and shows it, than the other stuff (respect, friendship, patience, etc.) will take care of itself. It certainly seems to work for us.

There is a side benefit too. When you really love someone, and feel truly in love, even after all these years, the beauty remains in the eye of the beholder…..and I am truly beholden to my beautiful wife.

Happy anniversary, Gail.

I will love you always,