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Posted by on Mar 14, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 1 comment

Stephen Hawking (1942 — 2018)

 

 

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

— Stephen Hawking

 

Death gives us an opportunity to reflect and put things in perspective.

While he was alive for 76 earth years, astrophysicist-cosmologist-mathematician-author-teacher-husband-father Stephen Hawking gave everyone a much broader perspective.  More important, his thoughts and theories will usher in a greater understanding of the universe long after his death and we are long gone.

I’ve never been good at science.  Or, math.  Those subjects were always difficult for me in school.  That’s why I admire those gifted individuals who excel in the sciences and in math.  People who work in those fields sometimes come up with amazing ideas that I could never imagine, let alone understand.  Science and math may claim its findings are based solely on fact.  However, the greatest discoveries begin with a combination of curiosity and rebelliousness.

I wish there was sufficient time and opportunity to devote to a better understanding of science.  Like most ordinary people, I don’t have what it takes to be someone like Hawking — or Einstein or Newton.  Thankfully, Hawking understood this lapse better than most and did his part to bridge the abyss.  That’s one reason he wrote his landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which was the first widely-popular book on science I ever read.  Hawking expressed his complex ideas about the universe, astronomy, and physics in non-technical, easy-to-understand language.  Well, easier to understand, for some.  Translated into more than 40 languages, his vast concepts and emerging rock star status inspired a whole new generation of young people all over the world to begin asking their own questions about the origins of the universe and the nature of our modern world.

Hawking didn’t just teach us about science.  He taught us things about humanity and being human, too.  It’s easy to forget Hawking was a man.  He was a man with flaws and failings and frailties — much like everyone else.  He had kids.  He had affairs.  He went through divorces.  He could be tempestuous.  He was an imperfect man, which was no big surprise because all men — indeed all people — are imperfect.

There was such a defiant incongruity to Hawking, with the mind of a giant encased in the feeble frame of a fragile body scarcely able to carry the burden of his weight, nor the greater calling of innate responsibility that goes with such a rare gift of insight.  It was as though the secret key to understanding the mysteries of the universe were sewn inside his jacket pocket and no one could reach it.

The contradiction between mind and body was a cruel irony.  Contemplating fully the human struggle of making it through a day, interminably uncomfortable, often distracted by aches and pains, unable to communicate without the assistance of electronics, the constant reliance on others for sustenance, is almost too much to contemplate.  Complete paralysis from ALS since the mid-1960’s during most of his adult life made his tireless work ethic and ultimate discoveries all the more astounding.

Even his personal tastes were paradoxical.  He loved and often listened to the classics of Richard Wagner while he worked, presumably absorbed in the imaginative role of a operatic superhero vanquishing the forces of calamity.  In both fantasy and reality, he sought to create order out of chaos.

Indeed, death does allow for reflection gives greater perspective.  While the world continues to spin and species will evolve, we should freeze a brief moment in time in our lives to honor Hawking and think about how amazing he truly was.  When we look for heroes, we shouldn’t be thinking about sports stars and celebrities.  Instead, we should be revere the late Stephen Hawking who told us adapting to change was the highest virtue.

His story and struggle showed, Hawking didn’t just say those words.  He lived them.

 

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Posted by on Feb 6, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

A Reason to Smile

 

 

“Better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn’t smile back.”

 

I turn 56 today.  The September of my years.

At this point in my life, I don’t really need anything.  Sure, it would be nice to have more money or drive a new car.  But if the best metric of happiness is good health and loyal friends, then I’m a millionaire several times over.  I can’t ask for anything more.

About a week ago, I was greeted by one of those annoying Facebook pop up ads.  In anticipation of my upcoming special day, the prompt asked if I wanted to set up something called a “birthday fundraiser.”

I almost deleted the post on the spot.  But then, I got to thinking more about the uniqueness of this opportunity.  Birthdays don’t excite me anymore.  I normally don’t send out birthday greetings to others and I don’t expect anything in return.  Mind you, I’m not sour on birthdays.  It’s just another day to me.

However, every February 6th — I receive many birthday wishes from friends, family, and associates who all mean well.  I do appreciate the kind thoughts.  Truly, I do.

So, I accepted this year’s Facebook prompt.  I decided to set up my first “birthday fundraiser.”  I presumed that in lieu of the usual images of birthday balloons which kinda’ scream — “hey, look at me!” — instead most of the attention would go to my chosen charity.

I selected St. Jude Children’s Hospital as my charity of choice because I know they are a highly responsible and honest charity that does many wonderful things for children and their families.

Everything at St. Jude is free.  The children who are diagnosed with many life-threatening ailments are given every available treatment.  Their families are housed free of charge.  Meals are provided.  St. Jude was founded by the late great entertainer Danny Thomas.  It’s now chaired by his daughter, Marlo Thomas (best known as late 1960’s TV’s “That Girl!”).  I don’t believe in the supernatural.  I don’t believe in saints.  But I know St. Jude does saintly work and helps a lot of people who could sure use a miracle.

So, that’s why I picked St. Jude.

The fundraising bar was set modestly low.  Not wanting to make a major deal out of this, I figured a couple of hundred dollars would be a nice little donation — each and every penny going straight to St. Jude.  Well, more than a week has passed, and I’m beyond moved.  So far 27 nice people have made a donation.  As of today, $1,450 has been raised.  I don’t know how much of a difference $1,450 will make, but someone’s life will be made a little easier because of the random kindness of strangers.  Every little bit counts.

Please allow me to share with you the names of people who were kind and generous and brought a smile to my face on this day.  Here’s the very thoughtful people who sent in a donation to St. Jude:

Earl Burton

Ken Kubey

Marissa Chien

Larry Greenfield

Michael Hunter

Matthew Moring

John W.L. Berry

John Butremovic

Bruce Frank

Dave Tuley

Jennifer Winter

Brad Willis

Ross Poppel

Dan Goldman

Mike Exinger

Linda Johnson

Bob Ogus

Jan Fisher

Dave Tuley

Ed Martin-from-Houston

Mike Stone

Maureen Feduniak

Herbie Montalbano

Paul Berkowitz

Todd Bechtold

Randy Cowdery

Barry Thomson

 

Thank you.

Today truly is a wonderful day.  What a terrific way to celebrate a birthday.

Thank you for the smile.

 

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Posted by on Jan 26, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 0 comments

My Accidental Moment of Happiness

 

 

Much of my life has been dedicated to selfish pursuits.

Gambling.  Making money.  Pursuing opportunity.  Drinking fine wine.  Enjoying leisure.

I don’t like to admit this, but it’s true.

Age and wisdom aren’t necessarily linked.  There are no guarantees that as one gets further from the beginning and closer to the end some great enlightenment awaits us with open arms.  But I do believe compassion is an evolutionary by-product of getting older.

I was lucky to marry someone better than myself 26 years ago.  She made me do things I initially didn’t want to do and didn’t like to do.  Over time, I came to not only appreciate these forced distractions.  I began to value them as an absolute necessity.

Charity isn’t something I’ve written much about.  I don’t believe giving of either one’s time or money should be publicized by those who do good deeds.  Calling attention to oneself for volunteering or making a donation strikes me as a tainted benevolence.  Yes, it’s a good thing.  But the motives are suspect.  I realize not everyone will agree with me and that spotlighting acts of kindness can promote even more giving.  I totally get that.

With that disclaimer, I’ll share two deeds with you now — one big and one small.

The bigger act of charity was entirely Marieta’s idea.  It was an accident, really.  I can’t elaborate too much on the particulars because there are some risks.  If too many details were divulged on social media, I could kill the golden goose of charity.  So, I will be intentionally vague for reasons hopefully understood.

Last week, Marieta and I delivered our 150th shipment of produce (fruits and vegetables) to those less fortunate here in Las Vegas.  Sometime in 2012, Marieta established a connection with a supplier who was about to throw out boxes filled with “old” food — like carrots, corn, potatoes, celery, etc. — which were about to expire.  By law, they had to trash the stuff before its expiration dates.  Rather than toss away perfectly healthy food, Marieta went out of her way to establish a network of contacts which got the fruits and vegetables to a countless number of needy families, including a local shelter.  About once a week, we deliver 6-10 boxes to various people who do good work for hungry people.  Sometimes, the people come to our house and pick the boxes up after Marieta has gathered them.  This isn’t a sacrifice for me.  Marieta does all the work.

Before anyone accuses me of false modesty, let me make it clear my generosity has its limitations.  A few years ago, I wrote about my dear friends Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher and the sacrifices they make during the holidays.  Every Christmas morning, going back many consecutive years, Linda and Jan drive downtown and set up a table where they give away boxes of clothing to homeless people.  They arrive at 6 am.  This past Christmas, it was 34 degrees outside at that hour.  My reaction is — I love Linda  and Jan and love what they do.  But I’d rather be at home in a warm bed.  Call me a dog.

I tell this story about giving away the boxes of food because it happened entirely by accident.  We didn’t wake up one day and decide to start helping people.  It kinda’ just happened.

Here’s a picture of the back of the car I took some time ago which shows the typical “shipment.”

 

 

The smaller act of charity was also an accident.  Here’s what happened.

I woke up yesterday morning and was greeted by one of those annoying pop ups on Facebook which asked me if I wanted to set up something called a “birthday fundraiser.”

I almost deleted this on the spot but then got to thinking.  Birthdays don’t thrill me (not with #56 approaching).  I don’t send birthday greetings to anyone.  It’s just another day to me.  I don’t care.

However, every February 6th — I receive hundreds of birthday wishes, all by friends and family and associates who mean well.  I do appreciate these kind thoughts.  I really do.  I just don’t fancy the ritual and routine of it all.  If I could delete this invasion of privacy, I probably would.

So, I decided to use the Facebook prompt and set up a “fundraiser.”  I presumed that in lieu of the usual birthday balloons which kinda’ scream — “hey, look at me!” — instead all that attention would go to the charity I picked.

I’m a cynic.  I’ve bashed countless “charities.”  I am suspicious by nature.  But another accident happened to me about 15 years ago while I was working a major poker event in Tunica, near Memphis.  I got to visit the local St. Jude Children’s Hospital.  That was a life changing experience that brings a tear to my eye as I write this sentence constructed upon that faint memory of a cold January 2001 day.  I learned that everything at St. Jude is free.  The children are given every available treatment.  The families are even housed free of charge.  Meals are provided.  This was the charity founded by the great entertainer Danny Thomas, now chaired by his daughter, Marlo Thomas (best known as “That Girl!”).  I don’t believe in god.  I don’t believe in saints.  But I believe St. Jude does god-like miracles for people who could sure use a miracle.

That’s why I picked St. Jude.  [Note:  Contrary to its name and the late Danny Thomas’ strong Catholic faith, St. Jude is not affiliated with any religious organization.]

So, I hit the “approve” button and expected the post to appear on February 6th.

Well, of course it hit the page instantly.

Annoyed by this, I tried to go back and delete it.  How ridiculous this all seemed.  Me posting a request for money nearly two weeks before my birthday.  I was mad, actually.

Then, before I could delete the page, I noticed someone had already hit the link and sent in $20.  John W. L. Berry might not know it, but his quick reflexes was another “accident” of good fortune.  Oh well, cat’s out of the bag.  They are already donating.  What have I done?

Shit.

I set the fundraising bar modestly low.  Not wanting to making some major campaign out of this, I figured a couple of hundred dollars would be a nice nest egg of a donation — each and every penny going straight to St. Jude.  Well, it’s been 24 hours now, and so far 14 nice people have made a donation.  Here’s the very thoughtful people who sent a donation in to St. Jude:

Earl Burton, Ken Kubey, Marissa Chien, Larry Greenfield, Tom Booker, Michael Hunter, Matthew Moring, John W.L. Berry, John Butremovic, Bruce Frank, Dave Tuley, Jennifer Winter, Brad Willis, and Ross Poppel

Thank you.

The $200 fundraising goal was obliterated within the first hour.  Now, another 11 days remain to raise a few extra dollars.  Every little bit counts.  See the link to the “accidental” Facebook page below.

This all got me to thinking about what the sum of $200 raised means to just one family at St. Jude.  It likely means housing and feeding them for a day, with a little left over to spare.  Just a day.  It’s small.  But’s it big.

Sure, we need more big acts of charity.  But we also need small acts of charity, which are easier and can be done with little or no sacrifice.  A parting thought — if there are enough small acts, it can even become a big act.

Here’s a link to the the accidental Facebook page I created should you wish to give a small donation to this wonderful charity that helps so many children and their families.  CLICK HERE

 

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Posted by on Dec 13, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal | 3 comments

All Minds Are Not Created Equal

 

 

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” 

— Pablo Picasso

 

I visited my local library yesterday.

Libraries aren’t as popular as they used to be.  That’s because the Internet has domineered the ways we get information.  Smartphones provide instant access to more knowledge than any collection of books.  Now, some people are saying there’s no need for libraries anymore.

I disagree.

Libraries are so much more than just a place to read.  This past week, my local library, the West Sahara branch in Las Vegas, offered classes for guitar instruction, yoga, meditation, language lessons, dance, acting, writing, moviemaking, winter gardening, and even how to buy your first house.  That’s just for starters.  My local library also hosted multiple music recitals, emotional support groups, travel narratives, book and movie discussion clubs, exercise for seniors, and several other interesting activities that enrich people’s lives.  The possibilities of discovery remain endless.  If something’s not on your interest list, anyone in the community is welcome to come in and start their club or host an event.

I’m a big believer in libraries.  They’re a lifeline.  They reflect the best of us.  They educate us.  They inspire us.  In a smothering checkerboard of banks, fast-food joints, and shopping malls, which is pretty much what all cities have become, libraries remain an oasis where curiosities can be explored.  I think we need more safe places where people can meet and talk and learn and get to know each other.  We need more bonds between us and fewer isolation chambers.

That’s what libraries are for.  That’s what libraries do.  Libraries bring people together.

__________

 

Something I saw yesterday reinforced this strong belief in libraries.  It gave me pause to recognize the vital role libraries play in the lives of so many people.  I’d like to share this story with you.

Inside most branch libraries here in Las Vegas are small art galleries.  They’re nothing fancy.  The displays change about once a month.  In the past, I’ve seen galleries with paintings, sculptures, photography, and other works of art.  Most of the displays were created by local artists.  Just about all of them are amateurs.

I nearly passed the display by without even noticing it.  But something caught my attention and enticed my curiosity to step inside and explore.  Paintings were displayed upon the walls.  There were close to 100 paintings in all.  No one was there.  The room was empty, except for the paintings, and me.

One by one, I gazed at the artworks.  Some made more of an impression than others.  But all were interesting and worth thinking about for at least a few moments.  Each painting represented someone’s time and effort.  Each painting also revealed something within the artist’s emotions that was important enough it needed to be shared.  Artists must not only feel what they create.  They must create what they feel.

After looking at a dozen or so paintings, something struck me.  I hadn’t given much thought to the artists nor read about them in the small placards affixed to each painting because they were all local people.  They weren’t famous.  But then and there I learned they shared something more in common than just being residents of Las Vegas and being amateur artists.

Here’s where you get to take a short test.  Let’s see if you can figure out what exactly each of these artists and artworks has in common.  I’ve posted five images (one at the top of this article, and four more below).  Take a guess and see if you recognize common bond of these talented artists who created these pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

I doubt many of you will get the correct answer.  So, let me fill you in:

Each of these paintings was created by someone with a mental disability and/or a learning disorder.

Now, please go back and look at them again.

For those burdened with mental challenges, daily activities must be difficult, if not impossible.  I can’t even imagine.  Yet, while some disabilities are plainly obvious, when given an opportunity to express oneself artistically, I doubt anyone can tell any difference between someone who’s “normal” versus artists who are intellectually challenged.  We all have emotions.  We all have feelings.  We all have needs to share.  Fortunately, there’s a place where these small gifts can be seen and enjoyed.

Each of the paintings on display at my local library was created by someone with a special need.  Many were painted by teens, some even by children.  Looking at them, we are reminded art has no minimums nor maximums, no boundaries, and no limitations — other than what the mind can conceive.

I’m lucky to have had this accidental experience.  Thanks to a local library, I was able to let my curiosity lead me to a new discovery.

We need libraries.  We need art.  We need each other.

 

 

To learn more about what’s happening at local Las Vegas libraries, please visit:  LVCCLD

To learn more about the wonderful work done by Opportunity Village and the many volunteers, please visit:  OPPORTUNITY VILLAGE

 

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Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Uncategorized | 1 comment

True Heroism

 

 

Today, I woke up in a cozy bed.  I drank a fresh cup of coffee.  I took a hot shower.  Then, I turned on the television set and devoured a hearty breakfast.

Right then and there, as the ghastly images of an unprecedented natural catastrophe in Houston flashed before my eyes, it occurred to me that several million people living in Texas and Louisiana weren’t able to enjoy the simplest of pleasures most of us take for granted.

Deep down, I do think most people are good people.  I believe most people want to help others when they can.  Despite our differences, I’m convinced that most people want to help their neighbors and fellow citizens in times of crisis — even those they do not know.  And, I’m just as certain that most people don’t care about the color of someone else’s skin, or how he or she votes in an election, or what lifestyle is chosen — good people will usually do the right thing when acts of human compassion are needed the most.

The relief effort now underway in Houston shows the better side of all of us.  Yes, we are petty.  Yes, we are spiteful.  Yes, we are flawed.  Yes, we make mistakes.  But we also care.  We want to reach out and help people in their time of need.  Many have already done so.

Yet, some people do go the extra mile.  Some people make the added sacrifice.  Some people risk their own lives to try and save others.  These are the true heroes.

In the past few days, I’ve seen and read amazing stories of some remarkable people.  They have opened up their homes to total strangers.  They have driven hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, towing ramshackle boats to rescue those who are stranded in their flooded homes, who are waiting for a hero to arrive.  They have donated money, and food, and emergency supplies.  They have taken in pets and moved them into foster homes.  They have worked tirelessly around the clock — all while I slept, while I drank a fresh cup of coffee, while I took a hot shower, while I watched television, while I devoured a hearty breakfast.

A Houston police officer even gave his life.  His name was Steve Perez.  Wait a minute….his name *IS* Steve Perez.  Say that name.  Say it aloud.  He deserves to be known and remembered, not as a “was” but an “is.”  Steve Perez is a hero.

I’ve written before that I’m far more impressed by casual acts of kindness and random good deeds than the supposed marvels and talents of those who are rich and famous.  We sure have a peculiar way of defining our “heroes,” all too often associating personal valor with the talent to throw a ball or look beautiful in a movie.  Too frequently we misconstrue heroism with money, fame, and power.  Willfully accepting these shiny objects of superfluous celebrity stands as the very antithesis of being heroic, since doing so calls attention to oneself instead of one’s character and deeds, and letting genuine acts of human compassion speak for themselves.

Alas, the true heroes among us are not famous.  More often than not, true heroism is anonymous.  Heroes work in nursing homes, often for appallingly low pay and for little recognition.  They serve as caretakers, sometimes without the reciprocity of simple gratitude.  They willingly volunteer to help the less fortunate.  They fight to defend wildlife and protect the environment.  They commit their lives to justice.  They go out on nightly patrol, trying to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe.  I will admit, these heroes are much stronger than me.  They perform admirable deeds that in some cases I do not think I could do.  I think that’s what makes them heroes.

Right now, Houston has a serious problem.  It’s a problem of unfathomable size and scope.  Dealing with these problems will not be easy.  But solving the very worst of Houston’s immediate problems will be an absolute given, a certainty, all thanks to the many heroes out there working and volunteering as I type and you read, heroes with names we do not know.

 

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