Sunday, June 15, 2014

Remembering Dad: A lesson in what matters most

Me and my Dad in the early 1950s. 
Blogger's note: This is a column I wrote for the AJC back in 1996. My daughter Lauren has been hocking me for months to post it on my blog. This, then, is for Lauren -- and my Dad.

There's a beautiful story I stumbled across recently that captures something truthful and transcendent about the human condition.

A little girl comes home and tells her mother she's confused.

It seems her Sunday school teacher has told her that God is bigger than we are but manages to live within each of us.

The little girl wonders how this can be. "Wouldn't God break through us?" she asks her mother. Of course, God does "break through" each of us when we're doing Godly things.

Ever notice the joyful look of people working really hard to help other people? Every notice how some people who seemed lost in their own lives find meaning and hope when they reach out to support a friend or stranger?

Helping ourselves by helping others isn't a new belief. It's a concept that is detailed and embraced by most religions around the world and by people of faith who intuitively understand the importance of charity and good deeds. It's a lesson I've been taught since childhood.

That it's taken me years to comprehend says much about my inability to learn things quickly and little about my teacher.

There was a man in my life who attempted to teach me the lessons of giving by example. His life was a constant reaching out. There were big things. Money to charity. Time devoted to civic and religious organizations. Taking care of his wife and children.

But it was the small things that  I remember most, the day-to-day efforts to reach out, to do good, to let God "break through" his life.

An example: It was one of those sultry summer days, hot and humid and threatening to rain. We had stopped at a small market, a mom and pop operation that sold milk, bread and cold drinks. While we talked to the owner, a neighborhood boy -- shirtless and shoeless, wearing only shorts -- came in to buy a drink, reached into one of those slush-filled boxes that were popular in the '50s and pulled out an icy "Co-Cola".

Just as he turned to leave, the bottle slipped and crashed on the floor. The boy froze. He stared at the mess and seemed dazed.

It wasn't till years later that I realized that the dime he had spent that afternoon was probably all the money he had in the world, that there was a good chance he had saved his pennies for a week or more, eagerly anticipating this treat.

My mentor reached over to the drink box, pulled out another bottle of Coke, popped off the cap and handed it to the boy. The youngster held onto the bottle like it was worth its weight in gold.

It was a tiny gesture, certainly devoid of any cosmic import in the overall scheme of things. And yet it speaks to the heart of what we humans are all about when at our best.

My friend and teacher is now 82. He does volunteer work in Columbus, both for the Police Department and for a local hospital.

He stays busy and reaches out to others.

It's a lesson I'm just starting to appreciate.

It's a lesson my father -- William Feinberg, called Bill by family, friends and strangers -- continues to explore in his journey through life.

A footnote: My Dad died in 1997, a year after this column was published. Hundreds of people attended his funeral, many of them there to pay their respects to a man who had touched their lives through his good works. Honorary pallbearers included representatives of the city's police department, where he worked as a volunteer, and Saint Francis hospital where he had logged over 2,000 hours as a volunteer.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Life with Bailey: Short visit turns into grand adventure

Rule No. 1: If Bailey is happy, everyone is happy!
It was a cold and blustery day last January when Bailey, her mom, dad and doggie sisters dropped by for a short visit. Their home had been hit hard by the "arctic vortex" that blew its way across the region, dropping temperatures into the single digits and causing all sorts of weather-related problems.

My daughter and son-in-law's house was temporarily afloat, one little leak spilling gallons of water across much of the main floor. At first glance it seemed a minor, if troubling issue that might take a few days, perhaps a week or so, to fix.

Absolutely no problem, both I and the lovely Miss Wendy figured. Here was a perfect opportunity for all of us to hunker down and weather the storm; spend some quality time with the kids and really get to know Bailey, our precious little granddaughter, up close and personal.

I did mention this all happened last January, right? If you look at a calendar and crunch the numbers, that means we've been together for five months now. The good news is we're all still talking to one another and, even better, this little adventure is nearing its end!

In just a few days, Bailey, her parents and doggie companions will be schlepping back home and Wendy and I will once again become empty nesters! Despite the challenges that come with four adults, a baby and two dogs living in close quarters, I'm thinking it will be a bitter-sweet moment when the gang moves out and the house goes quiet.

The silence will be especially heavy in Bailey's room, filled with a crib and changing table, toys, diapers and the heady, soft scent of a baby. Her yips and yaps, cooing, crying and laughter have become part of the space, hanging lightly in the air and my memory.

It's not often that grandparents get to experience the first steps a newborn takes into the world -- eyes focusing, rolling about, sitting up and reaching out for sounds and colors. But Wendy and I have watched with expectant glee as Bailey mastered all these little things, her babyish ways ever so slowly morphing into what has become her unique personality.

What lingers around heavily at the moment is the soliloquy she offers up some mornings, a quiet cooing that spills lightly into joyous squeals, signaling the start of a new day. I've lain awake in my bed, watching the early-morning shadows march across the ceiling and, filled with contentment, listened to her soaring song.

A moment later, standing at her crib, I've watched Bailey glance about and, spotting me and whoever else has the morning watch, break into a smile that never fails to warm my heart. Find a way to package such innocence and spread it about, and the curse of cynicism would be vanquished from the world.

And so it's on this cosmic note that I choose to remember this bit of life, an adventure that I'm thinking we'll be sharing for years to come. The story will most always begin on a melancholy note, "do you remember back in 2014 ..." And at least for a moment we'll recall the donuts and fleas, web connections and Sesame Street, stacks of laundry, shared meals and walks around the neighborhood.

But mostly I'll recall Bailey's soaring song and the morning smile that filled my world.