Without preparation there is sure to be failure. –Confucius

A healthcare system I am familiar with is designing ‘Wellness Initiatives’ for its providers.  The ‘system’ is committed to helping the providers prepare so they can nurture more than deplete themselves.  These providers have become, in effect, ‘students.’

I am remembering the different ‘students’ I have been entrusted with these past 53 years  – the first were in 1967, I am not sure when the last will be.  I remember their anxiety as they were entrusted with preparing – for class, for a report, for a project, for a paper and to work cooperatively with a small group.  I remember my own anxiety as I prepared to meet them – the most challenging preparation was preparing without knowing what I was preparing for – I remember not being prepared for the unexpected and the pain that resulted because I was not prepared.  I also remember my commitment to prepare for the unknown. Anyone who has been entrusted with the well being of another knows this type of anxiety well – it permeates all four dimensions of one’s being.  It permeates the Physical, the Intellectual, the Emotional and the Spirit(ual) dimensions.  We also know the more intense anxiety that comes with our lack of preparation.  Parents know this.  Educators know this. Students know this. Leaders know this.

It seems simple enough.  Prepare and the rest will take care of itself.  Yet, this simple directive is experienced by many as a daunting challenge.  Why do we choose not to prepare?  One might say, “I will trust on luck!’  But as the great Roman play write, Seneca reminded us “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.”  Or as the great hall-of-fame golfer, Gary Player noted, “The more I practice the luckier I get!” 

It is challenging enough to discipline one’s self to prepare for the ‘known’ – the test, the project, the interview, tomorrow’s task, the blizzard.  What is more challenging is preparing without knowing what I am preparing for – again, parents, educators, customer service folks and leaders know this all too well.  This type of preparation calls for me to rely upon my life’s experience, my coping skills, my talents, my abilities, my imagination, and specific disciplines: listening, intently and receptively, inquiry, dialogue, prayer (for some), reflection, imaging and trust (in one’s self and in the other).

Charles Handy reminds us that “Experience plus reflection is the learning that lasts.”  Engaging via experience opens me up to failure and failure provides me the opportunity to learn.  In order to help one prepare it seems to me that experience + reflection + learning becomes important, stumbling and getting back up becomes important, understanding and developing one’s talents, abilities and current skills becomes important, developing skills and how to use certain tools becomes important, developing one’s capacities for certain disciplines – like reflection, deep listening, inquiry, advocacy, imaging and dialogue – become important.

As I close this morning I find myself holding two questions: What do I need to do today in order to be more prepared – for the known and for the unknown?  What discipline do I need to pay more attention to today? 

Big dreams drive us to do things we’d never do for lesser dreams. –Vic Johnson

The great French philosopher, Montesquieu noted that “In most things success depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed.”  During my lifetime I have been seduced by the promise of the ‘quick-fix’ and ‘instant success;’ I have tried weight-loss gimmicks and I have purchased the single golf club that would immediately shave several strokes off of my score.  I love books and many years ago I had a dear friend who would laugh when I purchased a certain type of book – “Now you will have all the answers” she gleefully remarked (I still love books but I think I have given up finding the book with all the answers – long pause….well, perhaps not).

At times I forget that truly successful people, for the most part, invested a great deal of time – years for many – and energy (the Quaker John Woolman literally ‘spent’ his life influencing the Quaker slave owners to give up slavery; after thirty years he succeeded and then he died).  Another common factor seems to be that each had a great dream often embedded in a small symbol – for Walt Disney it was a mouse….A MOUSE!  For Viktor Frankl it was holding onto his search for meaning while he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.  For William Golding it was imagining his book being published – even though it was rejected twenty-one times before it was accepted.  His book: The Lord of the Flies.

As we well know, not all powerful dreams come to fruition.  I met a scientist in 1990 who had spent more than 25 years working on developing a new drug – two years later he found that his dream would not become reality.  He reinvented himself and became a physical therapist.

There is, of course, a great difference between a ‘great dream’ and a ‘fantasy.’  Sometimes, however, it is a challenge to actually know the difference; like the challenge it is to know the true prophet from the false prophet.  Sometimes only by looking back or by looking at the fruits of one’s labor can one really learn the difference between the two.

Twenty-three years ago I had a mentor who had been the first Dean of Disney University.  Not only did I learn much from this man, but I also spent many hours listening to his stories about Walt Disney.  Walt’s brother, Roy, was the holder of the purse strings.  One day he burst into Walt’s office and asked what had gotten into him – ‘You want to purchase swamp land in Florida!   Walt told him that he had a big dream and not only would it require this land purchase it would require that other theme parks would have to become as successful as Disney Land.  In fact, Walt said, I have committed my best team to work with the Marriott brothers so that they can build successful parks.  Which he did and which they did (note ‘Six Flags Over America’).  Walt told Roy that he needed them to be successful for then he could then move his great dream from potential to real and that it was such a big dream that it required other theme parks to be successful for they would be the ‘feeder system’ for this new park (which they were and are).  I wish, gentle reader, that I had the space to tell you how Walt raised the money to move his big dream from potential to real; but alas I don’t today.

Walt Disney reminded us that “If you can dream it, you can do it.  Always remember this whole thing started with a mouse.”

I will not die an unlived life.  I will not live in fear… –Dawna Markova

From the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic to Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers and beyond, we humans have sought to discern the meaning of life.  All wisdom figures, mystics, and prophets admonished the people to seek the answers to life’s essential questions in order to find, experience and embrace inner peace; the peace of the heart and soul.  These wise guides have also taught us that even with all of this searching and seeking that one cruel experience is played out on too many deathbeds.  It is spoken with a haunting longing, for some a sorrow-full recognition: I wish I could have. . .

 It seems to me that leaving a life-legacy begins with engaging certain questions that reveal the deepest meaning of existence.  If we take even a brief moment or two for deep reflection we come to realize that our being, our purpose, our call is rooted in who we choose to become and in how we live our life, day-to-day.  In our culture, many people still wait to retirement to consider what they should be doing with their life, expertise, and/or time – why is this so?  It seems that many of us spend 40+ years dreaming about the life we want to live.  As they wait, they live quiet lives of desperation.

There are others who live a life choosing to spend each day more wisely, knowing that what they plant they might well not see come to fruition.  The Quaker theologian, Elton Trueblood, captured this when he wrote: We have made at least a start in discovering the meaning of human life when we plant shade trees under which we know full well we will never sit.  Such sowing and planting is an acknowledgment and commitment that we will use our lives to the fullest.  Using our gifts and talents to sow and plant knowing that we will not see the full fruit of our life is, nevertheless, a profound tribute to our life and our humanity.

Consider that when we come to the end of our life, we should be thoroughly used up.  George Bernard Shaw captured this quite powerfully when he wrote:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

As I paused and re-read what I had written this morning some questions emerged into my consciousness:

–For what am I saving my energies, my talents, my abilities – my life?  What do I gain by waiting?

 –What have I given my life to knowing that I will not see the fullness of it during my lifetime? 

–What am I willing to give my life to knowing that I will not see the fullness of it during my lifetime? 

As I re-read these questions Antonio Machado’s haunting question emerged into my consciousness:

What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?

The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for. –Dostoyevsky

Gentle reader, when was the last time you paused – or took more than a pause – and considered the reason for your existence.  I awoke this morning with this thought.  My mind was whelmed-over when I contemplated all that had to occur for hundreds of hundreds of generations in order for me to be here at this time.  I have also spent years seeking and searching to understand my ‘purpose’ and my ‘call.’

This morning I wondered if there is an undertaking that is meant just for me.  Another question emerged: Is there a seed that is laying dormant in my heart that I am called to nurture into life, into fruition?  I remember that one of my two life-defining moments came when I realized my call; the other occurred many years after that when I realized my purpose.  These are my ‘north stars;’ they guide my life.  When I forget about them or when I choose to deny them then my life begins to run amok.  I realized this morning that I have not been consciously holding these; I have become distracted.

I decided this morning to discipline myself and consciously reflect each morning on my ‘call’ and my ‘purpose.’  However, the other question is niggling at me even as I sit here typing these words.  Is there an undertaking that is meant for me – a specific reason for my being here at this time in history? 

In Jerusalem there is the Garden of Remembrance.  In this garden are trees planted for any person who helped save a Jew during WWII.  I am told that it is a peaceful and humbling place where hundreds of names appear on small, black plaques next to the trees.  Oskar Schindler is buried there as a tribute to his courage in saving just one human life at a time.

My mother was Polish.  Her grandfather had come to America from Poland in 1887; he was not even 12 years old (his brother and two first cousins – all under the age of 12 – were put on a boat and sent to America so they could have a better life; which they did).  In the late 1980s my mother’s side of the family held a reunion in St. Paul, MN – where the four youngsters settled and grew up and married and had large families.  As part of the preparation a delegation was sent to Poland to ‘find our family.’  They found them.

A number of years ago I told my then spiritual director about this and I wondered out loud if any of my family members in Poland tried to save a Jew or did they ignore ‘the Jewish problem’ or worse, did they turn Jews over to the Nazis?  I can still see my spiritual director’s face.  After a pause, she asked: Did you ever consider that perhaps you are here for changing whatever happened in the past?  I do know of things that happened in the past on both my mother’s side of the family and on my father’s side of the family.  Until that question was put to me, however, I had never thought that part of my life’s purpose was to ‘change something that happened in the past.’

I have come to believe that I-You-We are here in order to live into and out of our life’s purpose and call and that in addition we do have a ‘reason’ to be here – perhaps we will never know the reason.  Perhaps we will only live it out and never make the connection.  However, to live as if I do have a particular ‘reason’ for. . .Well, it seems like a wise approach to take.  Perhaps there are some questions that might help – let’s try these out:

What is it that deeply stirs you emotionally when you encounter it in your world?

 What is in your heart so that when you verbalize it you can feel the passion of it, or for it?

 What do you long to do in your life when all of the noise and busyness subsides and you are truly alone with your own being? 

 Are you the person you were called to be?

Repentant tears wash out the stain of guilt. –Saint Augustine

Guilt = remorseful awareness of having done something wrong.

In a caring relationship I commit myself to the other [I make a distinction between being loyal to. . . and being committed to. . .]; I present myself as someone who can be depended on, as someone who is trustworthy, as someone who is consistent [‘constancy’ is a virtue I strive to live into and out of].  I am not perfect and so within the life of my caring relationships I say or do something that leads to an acute break.  This break is at times rooted in my indifference (at worst in my apathy) or neglect or in a ‘wound delivered.’  When I become aware of this – at times I am blissfully asleep when I choose to act in ways that lead to an acute break – I experience and feel remorse; I feel guilt.

My guilt results from my sense of having betrayed the other and at having betrayed myself and my conscience calls me back.  For me, the more committed the relationship the more pronounced is my remorse (guilt).  I physically feel the pain of my remorse and like other physical pains my guilt-pain lets me know that something is wrong.  When I feel it deeply, when I come to understand and accept it, it provides me with the opportunity [it is only an opportunity for I do have choice] to return to my response-ability – my commitment – to the other and to our relationship.

I had to learn – no easy lesson for me – that forgiveness and healing does not restore the relationship as it was; there are scars that remain after wounds have been healed.  However, frequently the relationship becomes stronger for I take my caring and commitment more seriously.  Here is an analogy (it is a bit weak, but it might suffice at this time): It is like the time I misplace something because I am not awake and aware; I am running on automatic pilot.  Then I realize what I have done and the ‘something’ takes on greater importance – often with a pledge that I will be more attentive in the future.  In a caring relationship I remind myself of how precious the other is and how important our relationship is.

During this Season we Christians call ‘Lent,’ I am reminded of Peter and Judas.  Both were invited into a caring relationship with Jesus.  Both accepted the invitation.  Both literally betrayed Jesus and their relationship with him.  Both wept bitter tears.  In his betrayal, Peter sought forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.  Judas took a step toward healing by throwing the 30 pieces of silver back at those who paid him and admitted that he had turned over to them an innocent man – but he could not be moved to reconciliation and healing; his remorse and guilt drove him to take his own life.

Judas’ guilt morphed into despair – “I am not worthy” and arrogance – “I am not forgivable.”  I feel deep sadness when I think about both of these men for I am reminded of my own betrayals. I identify with both.  Like Peter I have betrayed and I have wept bitter tears and I have sought forgiveness, reconciliation and healing and I have accepted them when offered by the one who then cared for me; and I grew from the experience.  AND, like Judas I have betrayed and I have wept bitter tears and I have despaired at ever being forgiven and I have become arrogant holding a belief that I was not forgivable (thus far I have not taken my own life but I have ‘taken the life’ of the relationship).

This morning I renew my commitment to the caring relationships that nurture me, sustain me and enable me to grow in many ways.  I sit here in deep gratitude for each of them.  I invite you, gentle reader, to pause and image and offer gratitude for the caring relationships that nurture you, that sustain you and that enable you to grow in many ways.

True guilt is guilt at the obligation one owes to oneself to be oneself. –R. D. Laing

We are what we repeatedly do. –Aristotle

If you, gentle reader, have been following my blog these past 8 years you know that I love stories.  And like you, I write and live into and out of my own life-story; I am the ‘author’ and the ‘book’ – an interesting paradox. Like you, I have written things into my life-story that helped me survive so that I could live another day.  Here is a parable [i.e. a teaching story] that the Buddha told his disciples.

A man is on a journey.  He comes to a vast stretch of water.  On this side the shore is dangerous, but on the other side it is safe and without danger.  No boat goes to the other shore which is safe and without danger, nor is there any bridge for crossing over.  The man said to himself: “It would be good therefore if I would gather grass, wood, branches and leaves to make a raft, and with the help of that raft cross safely to the other side.”

 Then that man gathers grass, wood, branches and leaves and makes a raft, and with the help of that raft crosses over safely to the other side, exerting himself with his hands and feet.  Having crossed over and got to the other side, he thinks: “This raft was of great help to me.  With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side.  It would be good if I carry this raft on my head or on my back wherever I go.”

The Buddha then asked his disciples what this man should do with the raft.  After some time, the Buddha then wondered if it would not be wise for the man to say: “The raft has been a great help to me.  Now I can beach it on the shore or let it float away, so I can be on my way.”  Buddha paused again.  Then he smiled that Buddha smile and explained that his own teachings are to be used for crossing over and are not to be carried.  While the lessons are practical and useful and may even seem beautiful, they are to be let go of when the lesson has been learned.

I have carried – and continue to carry – ‘stuff’ with me that at one time I needed in order to survive.  In my life-story, I carry them over from paragraph to paragraph or chapter to chapter even though some of them are now hindrances if not harmful to my growth and development.  It is difficult for me to let go of these – to celebrate them and to mourn their passing – and to move on.  I am reminded of TimO’Brien’s powerful book, The Things They Carried.

What are the ‘rafts’ that I am carrying that no longer serve me?  What are the ‘rafts’ that I am carrying that have morphed from helping me survive to now hindering my growth and development?  What are the ‘rafts’ that I am carrying that have morphed from being life-supporting to life-depleting?

A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike. –John Steinbeck

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. –Edmund Burke

These past few months I have been reflecting upon the Book of Job.  This powerful book is a tap root that challenges Jews, Christians and Muslims (and, I believe ‘others’).  I have also been reflecting upon the ‘Holocaust.’  As I read and reflect I often find connections between the two – Job & the Holocaust.  Recently a name appeared in a piece I was reading about Job and in another piece I was reading about the Holocaust.  The name: Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam.

Rabbi Halberstam writes: The biggest miracle of all is the one that we, the survivors of the Holocaust, after all that we witnessed and lived through, still believe and have faith in the Almighty God, may His name be blessed. This, my friends, is the miracle of miracles, the greatest miracle ever to have taken place.

Once or twice a day for the past two weeks I have taken the time to sit and reflect while I gaze upon a photograph of Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam.  I am looking at his photograph now [see this photo below].

I perceive a hassidic saint, one of those mystical leaders that Judaism has gifted us with.  The Rabbi has a long white beard and is wearing a frock coat.  A gentle smile calls to me.  His smile beckons me to something beyond the here-and-now; to something transcendent.  There is also in his smile something profoundly affirming.  It is as if I were to meet him that he would embrace me both with his smile and his arms and, like all mystics, assure me that ‘All is good!’  AND, that I am an integral part of the ‘All.’

His was no ‘ordinary’ life.  During the Holocaust he was imprisoned and his wife and eleven children were murdered in the concentration camps.  The face I am looking at is, indeed, the face of Job – one who has suffered beyond suffering.

I would have loved to have met this man, this Rabbi, this mystic.  I would have loved to have been able to ask him where that smile and warmth came from given all that he saw and endured during the Holocaust and after.  Surviving the Holocaust he did not despair.  He vowed that he would dedicate his life to saving lives.  He moved to the new State of Israel and founded one of the finest hospitals in Israel.  He held the vision for years and finally his vision became reality.

All that he cared for is embodied in the principles that are the tap roots that feed and sustain this hospital.  It is a religious institution, run according to Jewish law and imbued with a Jewish spirit.  The hospital is also committed to treating all persons – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Palestinians…ALL, literally.

All employees are chosen for their skill and for their love of all human beings.  There is a commitment to relieve human, psychological and spiritual suffering, distress and dis-ease.  The Rabbi’s legacy is an institution and a staff animated by a spirit of compassion, kindness, empathy, healing and love.  It is a place where God is invited to be present to each person and each person is honored as a child of God.

The ‘Song of Songs’ reminds us that ‘Love is as strong as death.’  Here, in this photograph and in the Rabbi’s legacy it was and it is.     

Love one another as I have loved you. –God

Here is the photograph I have been holding these past weeks: Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam

Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam