Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Crease of Dawn Redux: a Vermont Christmas Morning

It has now been almost eight years and more than 150 essays since I started writing this blog.  One of the earliest essays was
also titled “The Crease of Dawn”, commenting on an amazing sunrise on a Florida beach.
 (See more at:  Today I share a story and a wonderful picture from another dawn, in a much chillier setting, from the snowy mountains of Vermont.

I have had the pleasure to come up to Vermont with my dear wife Jennie and her family since we first started dating in the early 80’s.  My father-in-law went to grad school and began his teaching career at Yale, and many years ago bought property in a small village in northeastern Vermont.  Over the years our extended family has built a home on the land and we have enjoyed it across all seasons.  While summer and fall visits are uniquely delightful, our tradition of gathering here to celebrate Christmas is one that I cherish.

This holiday, after a year of particular discord domestically combined with war, terrorism and tragedy across the globe, this Vermont Christmas visit seems uniquely peaceful and lovely.  My holiday wish is that we can all use this time of year to connect or re-connect with family and friends and find ways to remind us of the things that actually bind us all together.  Last night’s Christmas eve service at the village church was one such example.  My father-in-law lead the music at the service that included numerous traditional carols, a magnificent rendition of “Oh Holy Night” by Jennie’s sister Elizabeth, and a touching performance of “Peace Child” that brought tears to my eyes.  It was a poignant experience for me, remembering family and friends now passed, and literally cherishing the moment of sitting in a little pew with my two beautiful children, my wonderful wife, her family and our entire village church “community.” 

Rather than focusing on the ideas or ideologies that divide one group from another, I hope that we can stay centered on the fact that families and communities matter. That as parents we care for our children and work to make the world a better place for them, as children we care for our parents as they age, respectful and thankful for their roles in our upbringing, as neighbors that we are available for those who live close by, ready to be helpful in moments of their need regardless of race, background, or nationality, and the list goes on!

I wish you, your families and friends a very merry Christmas and I am reminded as I see this amazing “Crease of Dawn,” of the angels’ song from a Christmas night thousands of years ago…

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace goodwill toward mankind”  (Luke 2:14)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bubbie's "Mensch"

As we get a little closer to the holiday season, after a year filled with elections, dissonance, work and travel, I have found myself thinking about memories of family and friends from years gone by.  This sweet story is from a wonderful and memorable holiday dinner with the most charming of women, “Bubbie” Stone.

I got to know “Bubbie” a few years ago when she was living with her granddaughter Andrea.  Pete and Andrea, along with their kids, are close friends with our family and our kids have gone to school together for years.  “Bubbie” at that time was a great grandmother who was in her late 90’s, less than five feet tall, and filled with a wonderful outgoing spirit.  We had the pleasure of being invited over for dinner a few times when “Bubbie” was still alive, each time it was an evening of love, laughter, great food and wonderful stories.  It was on one of those evenings that I received “Bubbie’s” ultimate compliment.

Somehow that evening we got on the topic of work/careers and “Bubbie” asked me a number of questions about what I did for a living.  After fumbling through a clumsy description of a 20+ year corporate career in marketing and sales and how I had recently gone to work for a private equity owned produce company in California, she turned her questions and attention to another person at the table and the flow of conversation continued on.  I did not think much about that part of the night until we were getting ready to leave and I was bending down to give “Bubbie” a hug good night.  Without hesitation she looked straight up at me (remember that I am 6’ 2’’ and she was about 4’10’’) and said, you know what you are young man, you are a “Mensch!”

Having grown up in a Lutheran family from a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I didn't have any “cultural competency” to know if “Bubbie’s” pronouncement was positive or negative.  I paused and asked if that was a good thing or bad, and quickly “Bubbie” said that it was a very good thing!  She asked me three questions to solidify her point of view:

1) Do you work?
2) Do you make money?
3) Do you take car of your family?

That was it, “Bubbie’s” three requirements to being a “mensch.”  Well I answered each question with a solid “yes”, this time skipping any of the 20+ year corporate/private equity details.  It was a simple set of questions, my answers were true, and in the wise eyes of this tiny, charming woman I had passed an important test.  I was a “mensch!”  What an unexpected compliment, a holiday gift, from such an unexpected source; but here I am years later literally cherishing that moment and that memory. 

I share this sweet story from a holiday now years in the past to be a reminder of the touching memories that come from surprising places. Additionally I share it as a point of reference of what does success “look like” from a voice of wisdom near the end of her life. We live in a society that seems to value so many fleeting ego-driven, money centric examples of notoriety and success that “Bubbie’s” three questions seem cute or maybe old fashioned.  I for one am proud to have been called a “mensch” by “Bubbie,” maybe now more than ever!

 I hope that you can find some time this holiday season, away from the work demands/pressures, for family and friends.  Take the time to enjoy a meal with others and you never know, you might just meet your own “Bubbie” and receive a holiday gift/blessing that will warm you heart for years to come!