Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Power of One

On Monday morning, November 16, 2015, my daughter Julianna was dismayed by the fact that her high school did not observe a moment of silence for the people who lost their lives in Paris, France during the terrorist attacks there the previous Friday, 11/13.

That afternoon, she visited the school office to ask why not and was met with a perfunctory “There was something wrong with the PA system” though announcements were broadcast to the entire school that morning and “We’re not supposed to talk about ISIS” (a term I despise using in reference to terrorists. *Isis* is an Egyptian Goddess of nature and magic who has been around for thousands of years. But I digress…).

The point is, neither of these explanations had any substance. The conversation concluded with Julianna being told, “You can leave a note for the principal if you want.”

So, she did.

On Tuesday morning, November 17, 2015, West Islip High School observed a moment of silence for the people killed in Paris.

This simple sequence of events tells us quite a lot.

The first thing it tells us is that I have a remarkable daughter. She has a sensitivity, awareness, and compassion regarding certain things that is, to put it lightly, uncharacteristic for a girl of fourteen. I am both proud of and humbled by her integrity and character.

My wife Nancy and I take the job of being parents very, very seriously. We view the responsibility of raising a kind, loving, and decent human being not only as our moral obligation as citizens of this planet but as a truly holy endeavor. As part of that process, since toddler-hood, we have consistently encouraged and empowered Jules to respectfully ask questions and speak her mind. However, it’s ultimately up to her to pick up that torch and run with it.

Clearly, she has.

This leads us to the next thing this story tells us, which is that I may well have to bail my daughter out of jail one day for engaging in an act of civil disobedience.

Moving on…

Another thing it tells us is that the principal of West Islip High School, Dr. Anthony Bridgeman, possesses impressive leadership skills. This matter was the very definition of a teachable moment. He could have politely dismissed Julianna’s concern with a “Thank you for contacting me” platitude. Instead, he gave the matter the consideration it deserved and capitalized on his potential to positively impact the lives of his students.

On an individual level, Dr. Bridgeman provided Julianna with enormous validation. She raised her voice and that voice was heard. She may well carry this experience with her for the rest of her life.

On a broader level, he provided the students of West Islip High School with an opportunity to perceive the world from a global perspective and demonstrate compassion and empathy for others. Paris may be 3600 miles from Long Island but we’re all part of the same team: The Human Race Team. Senseless tragedies there are senseless tragedies here.

Lastly, the story of ‘Julianna & the Moment of Silence’ provides us with a cautionary lesson. In these troubled times, public discourse is often leeched of substance by the ideological parasite known as ‘Political Correctness’ which can be defined as the science of attempting to please everyone and thereby saying nothing. It has become so engrained in our society that we often instinctively employ the spirit of the concept to diffuse potential conflict (or even discussion) rather than address and resolve it. When Julianna voiced her concern, the initial reaction was to deflect it harmlessly off into the trees without any actual engagement or resolution.

But there’s more to life than smoothing the bed sheets.

Let us all work harder to defy this destructive inclination to diffuse rather than resolve. Let us face our ideological challenges head-on with a robust combination of courage, tenacity, emotional intelligence, and compassion. As human beings, we have been blessed with the gift of sentience, the capacity to reason, to see the big picture, to work together, to envision an ideal and construct a plan to achieve it. Ultimately, we all benefit from such efforts.

And that, my friends, is something to be thankful for.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The King of Anything

As some of you are aware, my uncle, Leonard Hochman passed away on Wednesday, 11/4/15 after a long, hard fight against cancer (a fight that included overcoming pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal types). As in many such circumstances, at the last, cancer ended up being almost incidental to other tangential medical issues creating a cascade effect that proved impossible to overcome, even for him.

I was given the privilege of saying a few words at his memorial service and I thought I’d share them here. I modified the original somewhat to reflect this written version.

Given that Lenny was an incredibly vivacious, larger-than-life character with a great sense of humor and an equally great capacity to see the humor in himself, I began by taking a show-of-hands poll of those in attendance to determine how many of them have personally voiced or thought the following sentiment during an interaction with him:

“Lenny! For God’s sake!”

Naturally, a large percentage of the attendees raised their hands.

That, my friends, is the mark of a life lived out loud.

Alternately hilarious, loving, generous, insightful, helpful, and at times, thoroughly exasperating, Lenny was absolutely impossible to ignore. He was formidably tough, physically and mentally, a perpetual and charismatic showman, and a one-man family history encyclopedia. In short, he lived life ferociously. He was the King of Anything with an opinion on everything.

This latter quality often made for some entertaining… well, let’s call them “discussions” between him and his sister, my mom Carol. Both are fiercely intelligent and passionate about their beliefs, and though their routinely disparate opinions were usually well-considered and well-informed, Lenny was not entirely innocent of periodically employing information that can only be described as “factualish” when the actual facts did not fully suit his opinion. Regardless, these discussions often concluded as they went to their separate corners with my mom rolling her eyes and muttering (not unkindly) one of two things:

1) “Uh! He’s impossible!” (which brings to mind a snatch of dialogue from “The Big Bang Theory” in which Penny declares to Sheldon, “You’re impossible!” As she heads for the door in exasperation, Sheldon responds, “I can’t be impossible. I exist. I’m improbable.”).

2) After a particularly heated “discussion,” Mom would use a variant: “Uh! He’s such an idiot.”

I remember one occasion where they were haggling over some issue and after a few minutes, I heard Lenny say, “Wait, we actually agree?” and my mom replied, “Yes. We actually agree,” resulting in a momentary phenomena akin to the appearance of Hailey’s Comet, which comes around every 75 years or so: They were both speechless.

Perhaps Lenny’s greatest magic was that his impossibility never quite precluded him from being eminently endearing and lovable. If I had to pick two especially fond moments to remember him by, I would pick these:

At some point in recent years, Lenny was at my mom’s house. He seemed to have a special fondness for my daughter Julianna and would always take time to speak to her and make her laugh. On this particular occasion, Lenny somehow came upon the topic of egg creams. Jules had never had one, of course, and within moments, he was briskly preparing one for her. His grin of proud satisfaction as her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “Wow! This is really good!” on tasting it was heartwarming. Though you can be sure that at some point in the near future, my family and I will be drinking egg creams in his honor, I’m quite confident they will not be anywhere near as good as his.

The second moment I’d like to share took place at Lenny & Tina’s apartment in Queens. We had gone over there for dinner to celebrate his birthday. We did not generally exchange actual gifts on such occasions but I happened to come across a quote that I thought he’d appreciate so I formatted it for presentation and printed it out for him. I can still hear that big, booming voice announce, “Oh, Stevie, this… this is perfect,” as he tacked it onto the wall.

The quote, by the writer Gore Vidal, could quite easily serve as Lenny’s epitaph (or at least a PS). It reads:

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
          -    Gore Vidal

The world was a far more interesting and entertaining place with him in it and it will certainly be less interesting and entertaining without him. If the phrase “one-of-a-kind” could be applied to anyone, I think we can all agree that someone would be Lenny Hochman.

He will be sorely missed. We will not see his like again.

Thanks for reading.