Category Archives: Friendship

Many Happy Returns

Birth, Death and Friendship

“It’s all one big day.  The sun is a maypole and we are winding away.

How many moments, reflected like diamonds, gather around you

to light up your way?” – Time to Go/ The Levins

***

The return journey around the sun is an opportunity for reflection. As the date of my entry point into the world approaches again, I have been thinking a lot about how our lives are intertwined.

I have never officially participated in a birthday maypole dance, which is traditional on May Day for some, but while I was living in California there was one morning that passed for one. My wife Julia decided to orchestrate a sweet celebration for me by secretly inviting two of my closest friends to town.  There is a dream like quality of discovering two familiar faces that inhabit your heart but not your daily space suddenly appearing behind a door. Time excused itself and the spaciousness that surrounds all things momentarily expanded, imbuing the surprise with an elongated sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

This occurred the day before my birthday. There was much rejoicing late into the evening. Music, reveling, creating new memories to laugh about.  Some friendships pick up right where you left off.  I fell into sweet dreams which were shaken up the next morning when my cousin phoned to tell me that my uncle Jeff had passed away during the night.

My mom’s brother Jeff was my holy goof. Sometimes, he would rake his two-day stubble across my face suddenly in an enthusiastic ritual of affection. His natural earthy musk would be mingled with apple cider vinegar, which he would practically bathe in to promote good health. To this day, this act reminds me that love is something that can playfully invade your private space.

Jeff was a beautiful synthesis of Baba Ram Dass and Woody Allen. He had the understanding of how we are more than our bodies while maintaining enough of the episodic-neurotic New Yorker to keep things real. I had just been down to see him in the hospital the week before. He had been singing to the nurses.

His message to us all during his battle with cancer was to be at peace. He had been an actor and a dancer.  Instead of losing a leg and being dismantled piece by piece, he decided it was best to take his curtain call. He managed to be released from the hospital and with his powers of intention, slipped away quietly in the night.

I entered the living room that morning, with my uncle now a part of me. Julia and my friends were there for me but I felt Jeff was with me, as well. Somehow, even closer than before he left. There was an unspoken reassurance that our journey together was not tragically linear.

I put on one of my favorite records, which is Jethro Tull’s Songs from the Wood. All of us began to dance around the living room. I sang along with the lyric, “Join the chorus if you can. It will make of you an honest man.” Again, there was the sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

The doorbell rang. It was my neighbors and their little girl bringing me a gift. The sun streamed in as I knelt down to receive the wreath of Spring flowers she had woven for me.  My neighbor’s daughter had long blonde hair and little red checks. There were flowers in her hair, as well, and in the golden light, she looked like a cherubic faery. We invited them to join our dance, winding around each other, taking up the invisible ribbons, celebrating the life that was ours to share.

This was many years ago. Yet, even though those friends and neighbors are far away, I am still intertwined with them. As for my uncle, I offer up this new lyric to him and for all of us holding the memory of someone dear while we celebrating our entrances and exits on this grand stage.

“I cried because I lost you.

I lived because I loved you.

I laugh because I knew you.

I’m vast because I’m with you.”

Many happy returns!

 

Cup o’ Kindness

Friendship and the joy of generosity

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to min’? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days o’ lang syne? For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.”

–          Robert Burns

 

A fine friendship transcends the most expensive wine.  When you are with someone who is not self-conscious in your company but laughs with the abandon of a lifetime, treasures are imparted within the flow of the exchange.

This week, my friend Oz offered me this gem over dinner:

When he was living in Queens, he couldn’t make his rent.  Not knowing what else to do, he took his trumpet over to a friend’s house and offered to sell it to him. His friend thought he could resell Oz’s trumpet to one of his music students. Another of Oz’s friends was on hand and asked him what he had paid for the trumpet. Oz told him he had paid $800. He was then asked how much he was selling the trumpet for. Oz said he was selling it for $300. This inquiring friend took out his checkbook and wrote Oz a check for $800. He explained that when he was a kid he always wanted to play the trumpet but that his family could not afford to even rent one for him. There was a transcendent joy in his eyes as handed Oz the check because now he could afford to buy a trumpet for himself.  “Here’s the thing,” he said to Oz, “I am so busy now, I won’t be able to play it. Would you do me a favor and play it for me?” With that, he handed Oz his newly acquired trumpet.

Oz is still playing that trumpet and Oz’s daughter plays trumpet professionally, occasionally with Stephen Colbert’s Late Show band.

I have been reading Tony Robbin’s book Money, Master the Game. In it Tony talks about a stranger coming to his family’s house when he was eleven with grocery bags filled for a Thanksgiving feast. Because this one person cared for his impoverished family, Tony became motivated to care about other people. Today Tony feeds 100 million families annually. He makes the point that richness comes from the joy of giving.

tony robbins

“If you want to be rich, start rich.”- Tony Robbins

Julia and I are fortunate enough to be celebrating the end and the start of the year with my loving family. Almost an anomaly, my family has the warmth and compassion of good friends.  Seeing my parents retain their joy of giving and the fullness of the light that they have bestowed on us, and the river of friends embraced along the way, gives me hope for the New Year.

The actress Elaine Stritch said she wasn’t old, she was older, that we are all going that way. Love offers to suppliant fear on this journey we are all taking.  Each New Year’s is a portal that we pass through, quite often with a hangover, but we go though, individually bearing the life that is within us.  Whatever stage we begin to appreciate the value of that particular gem, is when what we have to bestow becomes priceless.

So, “Raise your glass, raise your hope, raise your courage up high.  All that we share will not be forgotten.  We’ll see you again by and by. Time to go. Time to go on our Way.” – The Levins

Raise your glass

May your way be filled with the joy of what you have to give in earnest.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Come Dance with Me

“You’ve got to move to change the state you’re in.”- The Levins

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

~ Rumi

Dance Sweet Hafiz

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”

~ Martha Graham

“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”

~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Calvin and Hobbes

This past Sunday, Julia and I joined some friends at The Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County where Stephanie Miner-Berger of another group called Peace Forest Sanctuary led a guided dance celebration for a multi-generational community with the help of DJ K.  She picked very specific songs that would appeal to the range of folks there.  It was done with such a purity of intention, it engaged people without having them feel self-conscious or instilling a need to demonstrate ego or prowess. It brought me back to all the weekly parties my friends and I would throw during high school and college. We were able to almost fuse our hearts together as a group because our love for one another was able to dance freely.  There is a freedom in dancing that takes you out of your intellectual grasp of reality and opens you up in ways you are not even aware of.

During the cool down yesterday, we were asked to make eye contact and sing “Lean on Me” to various people in the circle. My friend Michelle was next to me and there was such a generous earnestness in her connection with me that even before we got to the line, “no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show,” I was so chocked up that I could no longer sing or look at anyone. I have certainly sung “Lean on Me” hundreds of times but there was something about the intention of this community dance combined with the direct contact with an honest friendship that broke me open.  It made me realize that we hold on to so much. We may not be a stiff-upper lip society but even if we do express ourselves and have people to talk to, we are taking on what is being broadcast all around us as well as our mind’s minute to minute updates.  We are inundated with information and suffering that we have no way of fully processing or understanding. Even with the desire to heal and be healed, there is no way to do that intellectually.  This is of course one of the best reasons to take up meditation but there is also something about dancing that puts you in the seat of Being where the internal meets the external.

Shiva dancing

Someone reminded us after the dance of the Hindu myth where Shiva dances the universe into creation. Buckminster Fuller said that “God is a verb, not a noun.” When we are dancing, even if we were not able to physically move a muscle, we open ourselves to being a part of that same verb.  This of course reminds me of Daniel Ladinsky’s rendition of Hafiz’s poem “The God Who Only Knows Four Words” and The Levins’ lyrical take on it called “Every Child”:

Every Child– Hafiz/Ladinsky/Levin © 2013

Every child has known God. 

That’s quite a claim.

For they don’t know God

as a ‘God of Names’,  

as a ‘God of Don’ts’,  

a ‘God of Shame’,

of stormy moods or any strange behavior. 

Not a king or a queen, a giant, tyrant or savior.

But every child knows God.  Not as someone you can see,

But the God who only knows four words:

Come Dance with me!  Come Dance with me!

Come Dance!  Come Dance!  Come Dance!      

 —with me.  Oh, Come Dance with me!

(Listen here)

Come Dance with Me

May your stillness give way to a peace that cannot help but trip the light fantastic.

The spontaneity of true friendship

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.”
-Jim Morrison

“No book ever ends
When it’s full of your friends.”

– Roald Dahl

“We’ll be friends forever won’t we Pooh?” asked Piglet “Even longer,” Pooh answered.”

– A.A. Milne

Pooh and Christopher

Driving home from a late-night gig, I got a text from a friend in another time zone. I had been meaning to talk to this particular friend for over a month.   Julia and I were almost home and we had to get up early. It would have been ‘virtually’ no trouble at all to wish him well and postpone an actual conversation.  Instead, at ten minutes to 1am, I called him.  We jumped right in as if no time had elapsed between our last conversing. This kind of friendship is not dependent on rehashing our history but delights in splashing around in the moment.  He said that many of his friends get married and he is never able to talk to them without their spouses. However, with Julia and I, not only didn’t he mind, he said it was honestly refreshing to talk to both of us.  I understood what he meant about sometimes wanting to have a connection with a friend without their partner because what friendship offers us is a chance to be fully ourselves without pretense or hesitation.

There are so many restrictions on our being that we navigate through on a daily basis, we are not even aware why we feel so worn out most of the time.  With social media, we can see our friends, we can read texts, we can check our emails on our phones but there is nothing like direct contact.  I get a certain thrill when I see people reading actual books on the subway.  The other day, I saw a man reading a book about meditation and I decided to pull out a book as well in solidarity.  I started to read and the man next to me woke up and we had a wordless friendly exchange.  I am not sure he even spoke English but we smiled with one another and were augmented by our actually taking one another in.

The book I was reading was Lao Tzu’s Hua Hu Ching and he was talking about cultivating a, “natural love and respect for one’s being …one’s own being and everything in one’s environment are seen as divine in and of themselves… one may transcend all transient trivialities… it (this love and respect for one’s being) also reconnects one with the deep and constant nature of the universe.”*

Lao Tzu

That is why I have always reveled in the spontaneity of true friendship, it breaks the restrictive bonds of everything that must be accomplished to survive and instantly “reconnects one with the deep and constant nature of the universe.”

I used to say that a true exchange between friends was a battery charge. My uncle Jeff used to say that no matter how big your battery was, if you were relying only on yourself, your battery would run down but if you plugged into the wall socket…  So, perhaps true friendship isn’t about how much time we spend with one another or any tally of who gave what when but in one another’s presence, we find we are plugged in, the current is flowing, and our cup is overflowing.

BFG

Here’s to true friendship, may it break the bonds of conformity and bring us back fully to all that we are, which cannot be contained!

Love you, Ira

*- From The Complete Works of Lao Tzu, Translation and Elucidation by Hua-Ching Ni

On the walls of friendship

Katie Painting
“They’re here!” our friend Kathy crowed as Julia and I arrived to her house in Waldoboro Maine last Saturday night.  Kathy was my roommate when I first moved to CA. She was a Bio grad student getting her PHD. She lived with me and “Johnny Rad,” a ginger-haired drummer who was not only monstrous on his instrument but had the cartoon characteristics of both Calvin and Hobbes. The three of us became a family even as the house became a revolving door for great musicians that formed 52nd Cousins, The Cousins and finally Comfy Chair.  
Kathy moved to Maine with her family in 2005 and this was our reunion with her.  I was struck by the earnestness of her laughter and tears that punctuated her embrace as she welcomed us into her home.  We were so fortunate to be receiving such a welcome. It made me wonder…just how often do we allow ourselves to demonstrate the fullness of our affection for one another?
There are friendships which are solely dependent on past recollection and those which can draw from the past, savor the present and share and strengthen future hopes.  Everyone we were fortunate enough to stay with over this past week fall into the latter category. 
It is interesting when you visit friends, who are kind enough to let you into their worlds. On the road you have a limited time to ‘catch up’. While it can be tempting to skate on the surface of things, listing accomplishments and milestones, it is a privilege to get to dive right in and take up where you left off.
When we go into a new house, I will usually look at the book shelves and Julia immediately looks at what is hanging on the walls. What makes it onto the walls can be a conscious or subconscious reflection of where or who we are currently.  One of the first things Kathy showed us was her children’s artwork on the walls. The decorum also included historical family photos, Dr. Who, other science fiction and fantasy memorabilia, including a small blue statue of my favorite super hero, The Tick. All of this dovetailed with their many book shelves stuffed with classic literature, science texts, as well as serial capers ranging from The Hardy Boys and Tin Tin to Star Wars and Harry Potter.  All of these looked quite natural in a house that had been built well over a hundred years ago and it all made us quickly feel right at home.  
Corn Aradillo
Our friend, EJ, is a famous interpreter for many deaf communities around the world, especially in Jewish education and musical circles.  Her walls are a colorful monument to a life filled to the brim with a prankster’s commitment to love, communication and expanding the vastness of joy. She also has the world’s largest collection of armadillo tchotchkes. Her first teaching curriculum centered on armadillos and they represent how resilient and resourceful she is in augmenting the lives of those around her.
Last night, we asked our friend Katie about a painting of her house hanging on the wall.  This led to her sharing an amazing history of her house, whose occupants included Susan B. Anthony and the Mary Lyon, who founded Mt. Holyoke, the first women’s college in America. The portrait of the house was painted by a neighboring pastor who married the daughter of the family who lived there…the grandfather of the woman who lived in the house before Katie.
Taking the time to explore what we have chosen to display or not display on our walls is a meditation in itself.  Is it meaningful?  Is it there to make you smile or remember?  Oh, the stories that are ready to be told! Our Facebook “Walls” can represent us in a fleeting manner, but what we choose to surround ourselves with on a daily basis can be powerful.
Before this trip, we have been unpacking and taking time to decorate the walls of our new space. When we get home, we will be mindful of appreciating what is there, what will remain and what may change.
May your décor, whatever it is, bring you peace and reflect the grandeur of your being.

Riding into the new year – time traveling in the present.

In the midst of my family’s ritual laughing feast and gorge, my mom has invited us to her Kundalini yoga classes. The instructor there has reminded us that our mind is like a horse we are riding. Sometimes we have gone without a saddle or reins, letting it take us where it will but with training we recall we are not our mind and can be grateful for our ability to go where we want to.

During this visit, my horse and I have pretended to be time travelers. In moments when my dad has recalled our family history and the double feature matinees of his youth, I pretend that I have come from the future to revel in these moments with him.  I take in his Old Spice cologne and the organized eloquent spaciousness he has surrounded himself with. I think how much I would give to be able to touch and listen to him decades from now.  As I digest this (and the incredible amount of food we have eaten in the past 24 hours.) I rejoice.

As the old year merges into the new, the gratitude I have for life is not that I will get to hold onto my family or all of you forever but that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be with you now.

Tonight many will sing the Robert Burns poem, although past “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind,” most of the words will be a blur.  Here’s a cherished portion for ye:

“And there’s a hand, my trusty friend
And gie’s a hand to thine
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.”

– Robert Burns

That cup stands ready for us. Let us take a sip together now as it overflows. Although we are in seemingly separate spaces, mounted on our trusty steeds we can be together in no time.

Happy New Year!

Love you, Ira

Keep Looking Up

Remain steadfast within the change that reveals the core of your being.  We are clearing away reactions and debris to become more of what we always have been.  Each of us has something vital to bring.  The offerings we make are no longer sacrifices of life but our lives burning away what is erroneous and sharing what is essential.  The love we feel is what makes the world new.  We are shown miracles every day. When we have asked and received what was vital to our being, to acknowledge the connection of reception is to open ourselves to wholeness.
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Julia and I had a meaningful visit to Northern California.  It is certainly the people who make the place, although getting to enjoy the sunset in Carmel certainly helped to substantiate the theme of the trip which was to open up to the good that is available to us.
We are thankful to have deep bonds of friendships with wise and caring folks who weather the daily obstacle course with optimism and a dedication to love.
Looking at the supernal light setting on the beach of Carmel with the waves coming in , it stuck me that, as far as we know, we are the only life-bearing planet within perhaps sixteen light years.  Shifting our focus from the downcast restrictive box that our mind tries to resign itself to as fate, we can look up with appreciation and expand our prospects.
Our prosperity, success and peace be without limit.  They can at least be much grander if we can entertain our notions with generous  hospitality.
We heard a great talk by Jeffery Anderson who recalled a time when he thought  he would be happy when he got a truck, a boat and a hot tub.  After he got them, things were the same.  Then he asked himself what the boat represented for him. Peace, freedom, connection with nature, were among his answers so he decided to manifest those. He realized he could choose to be happy first, regardless.
There is an old Jewish saying that essentially says, you can’t see the mountain with your hand in front of your face.
Our daily chores and laundry reality can be like a hand in our face, blocking us from our greater perspective and good.
May this time be one of renewal for us in which we expand our idea of what we are capable of.

Friends for Life

This weekend Julia and I are fortunate enough to be hosting the illustrious Jordan Anderson, musician, composer, writer, videographer and tremendous friend.  I have known Jordan since he was three and we have never stopped being friends, even through his teens.  This morning I read an interesting article from the New York Times called: What Are Friends For? A Longer Life. The piece talks of studies showing how having a circle of good friends helps your brain activity as well as preventing and treating such ailments as heart attacks, breast cancer and even the common cold.  I

I believe this to be true.  Many a time, especially in California, when I was down, I would think of Jordan Anderson and knew remaining blue just would not do, that I needed to be there for him. He has certainly been there for me, not out of obligation but naturally. My core group of friends from High School and college, which I call the C.C. (there is a range of things the C’s stand for ; ) has been a well of centering strength that I continue to draw from. Even though many of us live in different places and don’t always get to see one another, just thinking of them comforts and vitalizes me.

The dancing balance is recognizing and befriending all the facets of our lives. When we practice our craft, whatever that is, we are befriending our ability to give and share, when we read and study, we are befriending our intellect, when we do things like meditate, or do yoga, we are befriending our Self.

For me, being able to be friends with my family is an amazing gift that I know not many have.  Wayne Dyer has often said that friends are God’s way of apologizing for your family, but earnestly cultivating true friendships increases our family size and the circumference of our hearts.

May our bonds be strong and comradery ripple beyond the borders of our ambition.

Happy MLK Day! Wedging ourselves into the doorway of love

This weekend Julia and I had the pleasure of playing at a Folk Festival.  We were part of a songwriting competition.  We were grateful to be asked and got to play under a huge banyan tree, a living backdrop that made this the most amazing stage we have played on. We really allowed the songs we sang to not be about us exclusively and had a wondeful time. It was a pleasure to connect with so many beautiful songwriters and the people for whom music appreciation is not only a lifestyle but is life manifest.
The three judges announced their favorite three songwriters and we were happy for our friend who was among them.
Now, while I personally went though a sadness of not “winning” and noticed the thoughts that go with that dissappointment, I was keenly aware when one of the winners said to me, “You two (Julia and I) get to play together. Many of us have tried to make that work and weren’t able to. You are the real winners.”
The next day what stuck me was that it is great to win and to be recognized in a certain light, to be able to put things on your resume, but what is most vital is the ability to come back in with your love and delight, to honestly connect to the people around you, to see them, to build them up.  We all seemed to play from a relaxed place the next day and we got to hear some amazing songs from the heart.
All of this seems relavant today as I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the men and women and children who persevered through doubt, sadness, humiliation and death to uphold their love and the belief that we can all be together, free to share the songs of our hearts.
Surely our troubles are very small compared to many who have plunged into the frey for freedom. Still, our struggles can seem insurmountable in the moment.  Here is to the bonds of friendship, family and even strangers who see our light and help us get back to a place of joyful strength.
My friend, the poet Ashby Lankford shared this MLK quote:
 
“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
-MLK
While this is more pertinent today, it holds up and holds us up.
We may see ourselves as winners or loosers but beyond all labels or external acknowledgement, it is about wedging ourselves into the doorway of love, to let the light come through as long as we can.

Eulogy for a bold force of kindness

This week a woman Julia and I knew from a handful of gatherings, through a family that we are very close to, passed away. We were both moved by her passing as if we had known her our whole lives.  This was a woman who embodied the maternal. She did not apologize for being here.  She parted the waves of complacent ignorance.  Her laugh emptied you of fear and filled you with a support that encouraged your being to come forward.  She created an arena around her, a forum for whatever truth was present to be nourished. She was real in every sense of the word.  Her candor was so refreshing, not only did it put you at your ease but lightened you up so that you could laugh at your own pretense.
We went to her service and learned that when her children were being bullied in school she brought the bully to tears of contrition in the principal’s office by asking “What is hurting you so much inside that you have to make my children sad?” She was not only larger than life, she was larger than death.  When she had learned she had cancer, she refused to let it stop her from embracing the things and the people she loved.  She raised money for cancer treatment and continued to be a brash force of kindness.
The couple who introduced us to this wonderful woman, led her service.  They were strong in the way that everyone needed them to be, but not only did they put us at ease, they lifted us up to her level.  We would all be rich beyond compare to have someone lift us up after we have gone, with such good humor and earnest praise.  Certainly, she lifted herself up enough to be remembered in the best way but it takes a true friend to present us to those who didn’t know who we were and expand us to those who did.
It makes me feel very fortunate to have such amazing people in the fabric of my time here.
One of the last people to speak said that if she was there she would have said, “What were you thinking having these people get up at this hour of the morning?”
This was worth getting up early for.  It wasn’t a funeral, it was reminder to love fully, regardless of the rules; to live life on our own terms. To remember that we are all part of one delicious Self and then to be Self-ish and wrap our arms around life and not let go, even when we loose form.
For all of those who have shown us the secret value of being here, no hug is strong or long enough.