5 ways Mr. Rogers helped us become better people and parents

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Fred Rogers, around age 11, at home with his sister Elaine. (Photo courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company)

I’m a sucker for Mr. Rogers — always have been and always will be. In honor of his birthday this month (3/20/28), I wanted to share a few of the many ways he spoke to our highest aspirations as parents and as human beings.

 1. Fred Rogers cut us some slack, acknowledging how hard parenting can be.

“Parents don’t come full bloom at the birth of the first baby. In fact, parenting is about growing. It’s about our own growing as much as it is about our children’s growing and that kind of growing happens little by little.”

2. He reminded us that listening is the most important day-to-day skill we can develop.

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

3. He wouldn’t let us turn our back on those in need.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

4. He redefined success.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.”

5. He spoke of the primacy of everyday moments in our lives.

“In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of — moments when we human beings can say ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m proud of you,’ ‘I forgive you,’ ‘I’m grateful for you.’ That’s what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff.”

And as a special bonus for vegetarians out there…

6. Mr. Rogers put his actions where his mouth was.  A vegetarian, he weighed in at 143-pounds.

“I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother.”

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A personal farewell to Shep Nuland, the man who taught us “How We Die”

Image by Sean McCabe in AARP

Image by Sean McCabe in AARP

Papers across the world this morning are announcing the death of 83-year-old surgeon Sherwin B. Nuland, perhaps most well-known for his National Book Award-winning “How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter.”

On a personal note, Sherwin Nuland was known affectionately as Shep by my family.  He and my father were young roommates – physicians-in-training in London in the late 1950s.

Last spring, my father and I had the chance to see Shep in New Haven, CT, where he was still very active at the Yale School of Medicine.   He was everything that all of the obituaries say about him today – thoughtful, intellectual, capable, dignified, humble, a mensch.  Time passed quickly, and a few days later, we exchanged messages by email.

Having learned of my “Year to Live” project, he wrote that, in thinking about mortality, “I seem always to get back to the same thing, which is that the prime elements in happiness are to have found one’s work and to have loved.”

Noting that my email signature is a quote by Grace Paley, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action,” he offered me words that spoke to him by Leon Wieseltier, an editor of The New Republic:

“Epiphanies, our secular mysticism, are barren freaks of experience unless they are made to serve as beginnings, and raptures are succeeded by chores.”

Shep lived by that sentiment, whether it was in caring for his patients, demythologizing the process of dying, being honest about his struggles with severe depression, or simply letting those he met feel that they were his traveling companions on an epic journey to uncover the true meaning of Hope.

I leave you today with a passage on that very hope from “How We Die”…

“When my time comes, I will seek hope in the knowledge that insofar as possible I will not be allowed to suffer or be subjected to needless attempts to maintain life;

I will seek it in the certainty that I will not be abandoned to die alone;

I am seeking it now, in the way I try to live my life, so that those who value what I am will have profited by my time on earth and be left with comforting recollections of what we have meant to one another.”

All of my family’s very best wishes to Shep’s loved ones, and as the Jewish blessing he cherished goes, “May his memory be for a blessing.”

 

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Helping our teens (and ourselves) thrive

My latest piece is a book review of Brainstorm:  The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.  I met the author Dr. Dan Siegel a few weeks back and have been putting his “inside-out” tips for helping teens thrive into practice in our home.9EB27756516D4AD79676F012B039BFC1.ashx

Dr. Siegel is an expert in the correlation between mindfulness practices and benefits for the developing brain. He scientifically proves the importance of activities like sleep, physical activity, focus, meditation and other “time-in” practices, downtime, and time for play and connection with others.

Best of all, it turns out that what’s good for teens is also good for us adults.

You can read my article on BeliefNet here.

Because compassion can change the world (in time for Valentine’s Day)

Photo credit: Bhumika Bhatia via Creative Commons

Photo credit: Bhumika Bhatia via Creative Commons

In my work with social justice advocates across the world, I’ve noticed that those who are most passionate and committed approach challenges with a heart of compassion.  Which is why I loved writing about Maggie Doyne for Huffington Post this week.

Maggie is a 27-year-old woman from NJ who first set off to see the world after graduating from high school.  She arrived in Nepal just as the country’s civil war was ending.

After trekking for three days into a remote Himalayan village, Maggie came face to face with an orphaned child who was working as a porter, carrying over 150 pounds of weight on her back.

Here’s what she said about the moment she knew she had to take a stand: Continue reading

Beating a bad case of the birthday blahs

My son turned fourteen last week, and his birthday promised to be one enormous letdown.

The year before we had celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, marking this 13th birthday, in grand style.  He surprised the congregation with a hilarious yet meaningful speech about the commandment “Though shalt not covet,” complete with him riffing off the Bruno Mars lyrics, “I wanna be a billionaire so freaking bad, buy all of the things I never had!”  At his party that night, his uncles lifted him high in a chair and danced him into teenagehood, surrounded by all of his clapping friends.  And the presents – oh, the presents!

But turning fourteen was different.  His birthday fell on a Monday this year.  In kid terms, it doesn’t get any worse. After school he had a mandatory rehearsal for a play and a ton of homework to do when he got home.

Seeing this doldrums of a birthday coming, it was my 10-year-old who suggested we celebrate by making an ungodly mess.  We were in Manhattan’s Chinatown for the annual Chinese New Year’s parade, watching the crowd set off gigantic red and gold cylinders filled with colorful confetti.  My older son was at another rehearsal, missing it all.

“We need to get some of those,” my little one said with zeal as he pointed to the confetti launchers.  “We’ll fire them at him when he gets off the elevator on his birthday.  It will be epic.  He’ll love it!”

We quickly shelled out a few dollars for the confetti cannons and set to work.  Over the next 24 hours, we secretly invited our neighbors on the floor to join in the hallway for the celebration the following day.  My younger son made a continuous loop of his brother’s favorite song to play off the iPad.

On the appointed evening, seven of us gathered in the hallway for the big moment.  We watched as the elevator lights rose.  L, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… the door opened, my son stepped out and we all yelled “Surprise!” as specks of gold, silver, pink, blue and green came raining down on him.  The neighbor’s children came running to give him a hug, presenting him with their handmade cards.  He bent down and opened his arms to them all, smiling a smile that rivaled that of his Bar Mitzvah night.

And I – well, I’ve spent the past week with a DustBuster in hand, trying to suction up all of the tiny flecks on the hallway floor.  It’s given me plenty of time to reflect on the things that make a day special.  How a little brother’s love and a simple idea can transform a routine into a party, and how some of life’s best memories are made up of seemingly tiny moments.  Just like those sparkly spots of gold and silver I’m still finding everywhere I look.

Don’t believe a word I say

Fourteen years ago, just weeks after becoming a new mother, I wandered into a “Meditation 101” class at a Buddhist center in New York City.

I was a wreck.  My body was buzzing from sleep deprivation, and my mind was headed straight into an existential crisis over what was becoming of my life as I had known (and loved) it.

I sat down on a stiff red cushion in the back row and shifted uncomfortably.  I thought about leaving.  We already had two major religions in our household – my own Christian upbringing and my husband’s Judaism.  Surely I could find what I was looking for in one of them.

A teacher sat on a raised platform in the front.  He looked quietly over the room, then tapped the microphone and said:

 “Don’t believe a word I say.”

These words, as it turns out, were similar to what the Buddha told his own followers (in the Kalama Sutra, if you like to know these things): Don’t believe what I say because I’m saying it to you.  Or some other authority tells you it’s true.  Or you take it as blind faith because it is found in some doctrine or tradition.  Instead, test my words against your direct experience in life and see if they hold true for you.  Do they stand up to your own life as a real way to reduce stress and misery?  Only then, take them in.

I sat up straighter.  I was being coached to trust my own wisdom.  This didn’t feel so much a religion as a teaching.  I don’t remember anything else the instructor said that night, but I felt like I had been handed an invitation to not shy away from my own life, and to examine what actually makes me happier.

I’ve been practicing meditation since that day.  Sometimes my practice feels sharp and on the mark.  Many other times, there are long gaps where I feel like I’ve tumbled head-first off the mindfulness wagon.  To be perfectly honest, some of those gaps have lasted months, and once over a year.  But I keep picking myself up and coming back because at best it feels like the Truth (with a capital T) and at worst I just don’t know what else I would do.

These days, I take a lot of classes on mindfulness and Buddhism.  I spend time on whatever cushion or chair feels right for my aching neck or knee.  Then I try to remember to keep it up when I’m in work meetings or at home with my kids doing school work and making dinner.   I’m curious about what helps other people make it through the day, too, and have been known to step inside churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples all over the world.

I’m really honored to have you with me on this journey.  Just one word of caution:  Don’t believe a word I say.