Archives for February 2007

Life, well done

Why is it that some people “do” life so badly? It seems to me that people given even the most rudimentry education, a modicum of love, and exposure to societal norms should be able to figure out how to have a good life. I am not talking about making money. Money is what puts the food on the table and clothes on one’s back. It is necessary, but not sufficient for a good life.

So what is a good life? Well, I think it starts with feeling OK. I mean truly OK, not “well, no matter what I do to others, if I am happy, it’s OK.” I mean having the sense that you are spending your time and energy on things that are good and worthwhile and enjoyable and helpful. I mean having the sense that life is an opportunity for happiness and kindness and connection with others. A person who wakes up in the morning with a natural curiosity, a measure of optimism, and plans for the future is doing life well. A person who is able to listen to others, learn from them, use his/her experiences to grow, and who is able to change– is doing life well. A person who can give without worrying about when they will receive, is doing life well.

I am constantly amazed at how many people either can’t get it right or for some reason mess it up. They get themselves into impossible situations. They overspend, drink too much, find romantic attractions outside of their marriage. They become addicted to drugs and gambling. They end up lying to their spouses and families, having no energy for family life. They cheat, they swindle, they shoplift, they shortchange. As much as they hurt others, they hurt themselves. Others will go on to have better days. Others can avoid them, but they must live with themselves.

The first step in rebuilding a life is to take responsibility for where one is at the moment. People who blame parents, spouses, society, and fate are doomed to remain where they are. Those who take responsibility for their situation then are empowered to change it. And change is possible. Debts can be repaid. Relationships can heal. Sometimes it takes some outside help, and skilled, qualified therapists can be a godsend. People can choose to change and to do life well.

Panta Rei

In college, I was a philosophy major. I remember well reading Heraclitus who said, “panta rei,” everything changes. How clever he was even before this era of galloping technology! He certainly could have been speaking of modes of communication.

The year before my husband and I married, we were living far away from each other, he at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and I in Philadelphia. We kept in touch by mail. We wrote letters to each other, folded them into envelopes, addressed the envelopes and put a stamp on them, and then dropped them into the mailbox. A letter would take between 3 and 5 days to arrive and so minimum response time was about a week. But telephone calls were expensive, so it was our only way of communicating on an ongoing basis.

Once we married, my parents kept in touch with us by telephone. At first the calls were only a couple of times a week and for a couple of minutes each, but as prices fell, the conversations became longer and more frequent.

By the time our oldest son reached college, I was able to email him through my account at university in Philadelphia to his in Jerusalem on a big mainframe computer. As I pushed the button to send his letter into cyberspace, the white letters on the black screen traced the path of the letter from our internal system to somewhere in New York to Paris, to Tel Aviv, and then on to the Hebrew University. The mail wouldn’t always take the same route. Sometimes it would get somewhere in Europe and remain there for seconds or even minutes. Chatting involved a “tell” command that would require the address of the other person and then a quoted message that could run until the end of one line of text. Each line started with “tell” and the address, and even with a macro key, communicating was difficult. Messages would take seconds to minutes to be transmitted.

By the time I moved to Israel in 1995, it was possible to download email and read it off line. After all, at that time there was only dial-up and we were paying by the minute for the telephone line. Rates were lower after 11 p.m. and before 8 a.m., and that was when I usually sent my emails to my husband who still resided in the States. However, with the possibility of offline reading and composing, I was able to send him brief letters several times a day. Meanwhile, as my friends one by one discovered email and we found each other, they began writing letters– long, interesting letters about their life. I think that was the golden age of email. It lasted just a short time until….

People began to send jokes to each other. One could receive the same joke several times in a day. Children’s letters to G-d came around several times a year and still are recycled to this day. It was good to know that my friends were still alive, but the jokes were like a wave across a crowded room.

With the introduction of ICQ and then AIM and other programs, chatting became easier and more satisfying. Once again, there was a method of real communication. There was even the possibility of repartee, but it requires the confluence of free time on both sides.

And then the picture era arrived. Suddenly people began communicating by 1. sending pictures, 2. sending URLs for collections of pictures, and 3. sending PowerPoint presentations. The pictures of family and friends are really special. Many of the PowerPoint presentations are amazing– especially the ones with pictures of nature. But they lack that personal greeting that lets me know what the other person is thinking and feeling.

And now, we are into the YouTube age. Instead of sending pictures, we are sending each other movies– of favorite songs, of comedy routines, of miraculous natural phenomena. But where are the people behind these messages? Sometimes it seems to me that the easier it is to communicate, the less we do it. Friends sharing their lives together over miles and seas? Panta rei.

China on my mind

Years ago I lived in Georgia– Fort Benning, to be exact– Sigerfoos Road, to be more exact. It was a very beautiful place with tall, lush trees and green green grass. The summers were hot and moist. Thunderstorms were frequent and heavy with the roads populated by puddles the size of swimming pools. One Friday night on the way home from the chapel, I got so wet, I was afraid I would be arrested for indecent exposure.

But all that rain made Georgia beautiful, green, full of flowers and trees. But despite that, it didn’t really “keep Georgia on my mind.” When we moved away, it became a very lovely memory.

What was on my mind then, on my mind from the time I was about 12, was Israel and my longing to live here. At 12, it was only a vague dream. It was like wanting to go to the moon long before there were moon landings. The possibility was remote, unattainable.

When I married and my husband’s plans were to retire in Israel, it still seemed remote. When you are 20, twenty years in the future might as well be eternity. But Israel “was always on my mind.”

Wel, the dream came true and I have been living here for the last 11 years and every day I am grateful to be here. We may not get the rain we got in Georgia, but the land is green and fruitful and blossoming. What’s more, here, even rain is a blessing. I am where I need to be. I am content.

However, there is another place that has a special place in my heart. We have traveled a bit in the last few years and enjoyed every trip, but for me, China is the most magnificent place to visit. It probably has to do with the beauty of the countryside, the temples and gardens, the karst mountains and rock formations, the picuresque rice fields, the little villages on the water, and the haunting music and dance. I think that what captivates me the most is the Chinese people. They are friendly, happy people. They are warm and helpful, whether they are service personnel or whether they are people on the street. They smile and seem to enjoy life. They are beautiful. I suppose, in a way, I have fallen in love.

Shai Bar Ilan Trip to China




                                                                                      Here is the most up to date itinerary of our next tour to China, leaving Israel on May 7, 2012.

We will be doing a similar tour in October.  Contact me if you are interested