Hello seems like such a simple word…

“The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye…until we meet again” ~ Jimi Hendrix

Natural Born Talker

As a natural born talker, hello is a word that comes easily to me and I’ve seldom regretted extending a smile and a greeting to a person in line at the grocery store, at a restaurant (if they’re sitting next to me), at volunteer picnics, you name it if it’s a setting with people I’m likely to engage with at least one person.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve moved so many times in my life, and as the new kid on the block the only way I could make friends during whatever short time a particular relocation lasted, was to make the first step. It could also just be that it’s part of my DNA and personality make up.

The simple word hello has led to having friends throughout the world and a way to learn about people, their experiences and in some cases their culture and ethnic origin. It’s also led to opportunities to experience people and places I never thought I would.

It’s also my belief that one never knows the impact, positive or negative, we might have on a person in even the briefest of encounters.

airplanes and talking with strangers don’t mix…

Believe it or not, (most people who know me don’t believe it), but I don’t usually make it a habit to strike up conversations with people when I’m traveling. Recently there have been a few exceptions including a long conversation with a 16-year-old young man who was clearly on the first flight of his life and was terrified to fly. During the course of the flight, I learned much about what it’s been like for young people that have had to attend school remotely during the height of COVID.

Most recently, on a flight from Nashville to Chicago, I sat between a grandmother and granddaughter returning to the city from a funeral. The seating arrangement was a bit squishy, but it was a short flight, and we all dozed in comfortable silence.

Toward the end of the flight, the granddaughter and I struck up a conversation – it’s hard to say what prompted it, but it was so interesting. She’s a psychology major working toward a degree to be a therapist in her community. She very poignantly described the shame and reluctance of black people in her neighborhood to seek therapy.

I had never thought about it, but once she told me about how many young men and women suffer from PTSD because they’d witnessed the violent deaths of friends and family members, I was a little embarrassed to have never considered that.

As we were descending into Midway airport her grandmother woke up. I turned to her and said, “You have a beautiful granddaughter with a heart of gold.”

She at me with her eyes, because of course we were wearing masks, and replied, “She is and I’m very proud of her.”

I returned the smile and replied, you have a lot to be proud of, not that you need me to tell you that,”

“That’s very true, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it from other people as well.”

It was a very sweet exchange.

Then while waiting for the luggage, I sat next to a man who was reading a book entitled, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone.” We had a rather brief but deep conversation about the book and how if we all come together to end racism for all people of different ethnic origins and experiences the world will become a better place for all.

It’s been added to my reading list.

Last, but not least, my Uber driver is from Nigeria, a lovely, lovely man with a very gentle spirit.

For whatever reason, I chose to tell him about the conversation I had in the baggage claim area and he took it from there. His stories about growing up in Nigeria were captivating.

In particular, the way he described Christians and Muslims lived side by side and with the exception of radical outliers in both religions lived in harmony and even chose to celebrate each other’s sacred holidays.

I told him about ‘my kids’ in Syracuse and our ‘mini UN art parties in my driveway. He lit up from within, and he already has a light that shines within him.

By the time I got to the office and then the hotel, I was talked out and kept to myself, but I was awfully glad for the insights and conversations.

As one of my good friends would say, you never know what will happen when you take the time to say hello, often-times it’s brilliant.

Out With THe Old, In With the New – a failed Philosphy

We Have a problem in Corporate America

As a person who’s been a part of corporate America for well more than two decades, I have some observations.

Back when I first entered this world, it was clear to me that the glass ceiling was very real and the people who were invited to have a voice at the table had been around for a long, long time. It created an imbalance between tried and true experience and new ideas.

Fast forward thirty years (which amazingly isn’t as difficult as it sounds), disparity still exists, it’s just been turned on it’s head. Somewhere between 10 and 15 years ago, a new generation entered the work force. A plethora of young people who had grown up with technology and never experienced what life was like before the internet, cell phones and microwaves.

From my perspective, too many people from previous generations let themselves be intimidated by technology and the tides of corporate America turned significantly. Suddenly, experience became secondary to computers and other high tech business solutions.

The faces around the ‘leadership’ tables were no longer those with experience etched between their eyebrows and around their mouths. Instead, the seats at the table were filled with individuals whose ticket into the inner circle was the ability to baffle the older generations with the ease in which they traversed through technology solutions.

If I had a nickel for every time, I’ve heard one of my colleagues who is a ‘person of a certain age’ bow out of a conversation or worse publicly deprecated the value of their experience, I’d be a wealthy woman. It makes me cringe every time I hear someone my age say anything to the effect of, “I’m too old to learn how to use technology.” Or worse yet, “I know I’ll be out of a job soon because I can’t learn how to use high tech solutions.

The way the world was when I entered the workforce, experience was far and away considered to be more valuable than fresh ideas and a knowledge of new solutions to help businesses grow. Now, the tables have turned, and years of experience play second fiddle to those who are technology savvy.

In my mind, there’s no reason ‘people of a certain age’ should let themselves be intimidated by technology, they’re only serving to widen the gap between generations. Instead, we have an opportunity to learn from our younger colleagues, and well, to have some fun learning new things on our own as well. The ability to recommend solutions, based on years of experience coupled with the latest technology is priceless.

I also see no reason for much younger generations to disregard the value their colleagues with decades of experience bring to the table.

There are days that I wonder about the future of business in the U.S. and perhaps other countries if we don’t all make efforts to fully acknowledge the value of new faces and ideas as well as the wisdom possessed by those who have been around for more than a few years. For me, there’s a mutual responsibility and opportunity to learn from generations that are not our own.

Out with the old and in with the new is a flawed approach. Disregarding new ideas and young fresh perspectives is equally as flawed.

I can’t help but think that we’d all be more successful in business if we could figure out how to strike the right balance between generations.

Happy Celebration!

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” ~ Marianne Williamson

My life has included many different cities and states and each move has taught me a little bit more about the importance of community and why we should try and build it wherever we are.

In some ways, the actual definition of the word community is a bit contrary to modern-day realities. Depending on your situation, it can be challenging to find a group of people with whom you share common interests, attitudes and goals or have a common characteristic.

As the world becomes both more divided and diverse, we have to find ways to look past the obvious and seek to find the commonalities. While we come from different ethnic origins, have varying political beliefs and refer to God by the name associated with our religious beliefs. At our core, we have more in common than we don’t. I believe that finding this common ground is key to all of us coming together in a way that allows us to have different points of view and to share them with the intention of both teaching and listening.

I thought I understood this, but my neighbor’s daughters have unknowingly taught me many lessons in this area.

My neighbor’s homeland is Saudi Arabia and they have lived in the U.S. for I’m guessing about six years, Texas before Syracuse. Yesterday, during our sidewalk chalk art afternoon, I learned that three of the four kids were born in Saudi, the oldest daughter was born in Pakistan.

What I learned was amazingly simple. Kids are kids, no matter where they were born or raised. They have favorite subjects in school, and there are subjects that they dread. Siblings fight, but they also love each other fiercely. Kids pull pranks on each other and do their best to get out of doing chores.

It got me to thinking if kids are kids no matter what – doesn’t that mean that people are just people? At least when you strip away all of the baggage, we seem to accumulate as we grow up.

My neighbors recently confirmed this notion through a recent act of kindness and generosity.

They are celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in the Islamic faith. This year it begins on 7/30 and ends on 8/3.

Friday afternoon, the girls (my sidewalk art buddies) rang my doorbell and offered a basket of sweets for me to choose some from. The oldest girl said, “We are celebrating a holy holiday and want to say thank you.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Happy Celebration!”

A bit later in the evening, my doorbell rang again, and this time, it was all of the girls in the family, including the mother.

She offered me something tucked between two paper plates, and said, “I am sorry you weren’t able to come and share doughnuts with us earlier, but we wanted to bring you one.”

I explained that I had been working and would have loved to be there with them to share, and of course, I accepted it graciously.

I asked her the name of the celebration, she responded, “Eid al-Adha” and was kind enough to spell it for me so I could look it up later.

I asked her about the celebration, and she explained the history. I will need to do more research to share it, but, the crux of it is, that kindness is everything, something that is common to all religions.

At the heart of the celebration is to recognize and acknowledge sacrifices and to share with others. Sharing gifts of food is one of the traditions.

It was a simple but meaningful conversation.

My last question to her was, “What is the proper way for me to thank you and show my honor for your holiday.”

She simply said, “You told my girls, Happy Celebration, you did it just right.”

Community is all around us, sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find and build it. It’s incredibly rewarding when it happens.

Being Mugged at Gunpoint, not an Everyday Experience…

Philadelphia Magic Garden outside wall

In May of 2019, I visited my youngest son and one of my best friends in what has become one of my favorite cities, Philadelphia.

Friday night we had a grand reunion gathering with many friends I had grown to love during my time in Pennsylvania. Good food, lots of laughter, and reminiscing. They all enjoyed meeting my son.

On Saturday the two of us drove to Bethlehem, PA to spend time with his girlfriend. We had a very enjoyable day. It was filled with a wonderful Greek food festival, followed by a horrible wine tasting event and ear screeching music – the stuff memories are made of – lol.

When we returned to Philly, we called my friend and arranged to meet behind his condo so I could buy him at least one glass of wine to thank him for his generosity over the weekend.

Unfortunately, things went south pretty quickly.

The three of us were walking nonchalantly down the cobblestone path that connects my friend’s condo residence with the wine bar we were walking toward. We were laughing and talking about the events of the day and looking forward to catching up further over a glass of wine.

Out of the blue, three men stepped out of the shadows and pulled a gun on us. We all froze in unexpected surprise and bewilderment.

The guy that was in charge demanded that we get down on our knees, we did. Before that, they frisked us all and pulled out my friend’s wallet as well as my son’s and ripped the backpack off of his shoulders.

In the end, they stole all of our phones, $200 in cash from my friend – also his car keys, driver’s license, and credit cards, as well as my son’s ID.

After kneeling against a stair stoop with a gun held to my head (Words I never imagined myself saying), we waited for them to leave and in a harried moment, I convinced a woman to let us use her phone to call the police.

She looked scared at first, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that we were for real. The police showed up in seconds. This was far from the first time they’ve had a similar incident. I’m just going to say that going to Police Headquarters to make a statement is far from a pleasant experience, in oh so many ways.

The material losses were small ones in the grand scheme of things. We all made it through the ordeal safely, and while more than a bit rattled, it could have been so much worse. It’s simply one of those things that you never expect will happen to you.

I’ve honestly had a really hard time letting go of the experience. I still find myself jumping at unexpected noises.

Perhaps this will change over time.

Words are how I process.

 

 

Building Community During COVID19

My move to Update NY has been a tough one for a variety of reasons, one of them being, it’s been challenging to build community and make friends. Something I’ve prided myself on finally learning how to do when moving someplace new.

I intentionally moved into a townhouse community over an apartment because I hoped that because we would all be living side by side with mini-yards and driveways, it would be easier to form connections than in an apartment building. Turns out I was wrong.

December was not the optimal month to move to one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. and expect to make friends. My new job and moving in kept me more than busy during the first several months after arriving here. Finally, summer came, and the pool opened. I thought, here is my chance to meet some people to invite for brunch.

Wow, what a rude awakening I experienced.

After several conversations with a couple (in my age range), I said to the wife, “I really like to build community when I move somewhere new, and brunch is always a fun meal to share. Would you and your husband like to join me some Sunday?”

She looked me straight in the eye and responded, “No, we have enough friends.”

End of conversation.

It’s a good thing I’m persistent because I’ve met some wonderful friends as an extension of meeting a gal while volunteering at a local state park. The friendship has grown, and I’m now part of a group that I refer to as the “Bunco girls.” We meet once a month and play bunco, which is a perfect game for me. The rules are easy to understand, and it’s mostly about catching up with each other, laughter, wine and snacks.

My network has continued to slowly expand within the city, but I still had not managed to make any connections where I live. I was on the verge of hosting brunch for my new next-door neighbors, and then COVID hit, needless to say, they haven’t been over for brunch.

Finally, the sun came out, the skies turned from grey to blue, and the temperatures invited people to spend time outside. A welcome change that also led to an unexpected event.

Saturday, I had the first neighborhood/community experience that I’ve had since moving to Syracuse.

I spotted a little turtle crawling out of the natural grass in the middle of the common area behind my townhouse.

Naturally, I quickly pulled out my phone to try and capture the moment.

Lazurus the turtle

Before I knew it, Gavin (10) and Kenna (5) were beside me watching the little guy’s movements.

They live two doors down from me.

I didn’t know for sure if the turtle was a male, so I asked Gavin how we could figure that out. He said, “Well, we’d have to pick it up and look underneath. But I’m pretty sure it’s a boy.” I nearly fell over laughing.

After we watched the little turtle crawl back into the grassy space that he emerged from, we went and shared the experience with their mom. We all agreed that the turtle needs a name.

I told them about the turtle that hangs out on my mom’s patio – he always looks like he is about dead, disappears, and then he comes back. She’s named him Lazarus, which is very fitting. They all got a kick out of it.

The kids are going to come up with a name for the turtle and let me know what it is. We will have some fun watching it throughout the summer.

Sunday was even more special.

It got off to a bit of a rough start, but in the end, it was a beautiful day. Not only was the weather picture-perfect, but we also had a fun family zoom call, and I finally had the opportunity to visit with my next-door neighbors – Ben and Jen.

The best part of the day, though, was creating some artwork on my driveway with sidewalk chalk.

After drawing in a few leaves, I realized that I had drawn an enormous tree and was starting to wonder how in the world I would ever finish it. Just then, my neighbor’s wife came out – followed by her youngest daughter.

We chatted a bit, and I asked Amira if she wanted to help me finish the tree. She shyly nodded yes, and then skipped over to my driveway.

I picked out three colors of green chalk and handed them to her, showed her how to draw a leaf, and then we went to work in companionable silence.

Tree Driveway Art Close Up

I was explaining the need to create some grass at the bottom of the tree to anchor the tree. I said, “We can’t leave the roots hanging out all alone, they need someplace to live.”

She nodded with understanding.

We finished the grass and were just getting ready to start the wildflowers when her older sister joined us. I said, “Pick out colors that you want to use for flowers, and I’ll show you how we’ll make them.”

They both listened intently as I demonstrated my technique. The three of us did a fantastic job.

Tree Driveway Art Flowers.2

Afterward, we stood back and admired our beautiful work of art.

Tree_Driveway Art

A bit later, as I was finishing my domestic chores, the doorbell rang, and on my step stood four neighborhood kids, including the two sisters from next door.

With sweet politeness, they asked, “We were wondering if we could use your sidewalk chalk to draw.”

I responded, “Of course you can, thank you so much for asking so nicely.”

The older sister, with some hesitation, asked, “How much may we use?”

I said, “You may use all three boxes. All I ask is that you put the chalk back in the boxes and back in front of my door. Have fun and create beautiful art!”

The boxes of chalk were indeed returned to my front door, and the neighborhood is blessed with new sidewalk chalk art.

Sidewalk Chalk Art.kids

It turns out it’s possible to connect with neighbors, even during a pandemic. It just takes patience, and in some cases, a bit of sidewalk chalk.

I thought I understood…but I didn’t

The climate in the U.S. is in such an unbelievable state of turmoil, hatred and discord. Racial tensions are higher than ever, and I remember watching riots in the ’60s on the news. I didn’t think it could get worse than that.

I’ve always considered myself to be an inclusive person, someone who understood and empathized with people in situations and from backgrounds different than mine. I was blessed to be raised by parents who strive to understand the world outside of their own.

My first introduction to real-life violence and injustice was shortly after graduating from college. It involved a heart-breaking visit to the hospital, a friend of mine had been beaten within an inch of his life simply because he was gay.

I thought I understood. But now, I’m reasonably sure I didn’t.

One of the very odd things that has happened as a part of my move to Syracuse, NY – one of the least diverse places I’ve ever lived, is that I’ve become very close friends with a wonderful young black man.

He’s become not only a valued colleague at work, he’s also become one of my best friends.

Recent events have, rightfully so, ignited anger within him.

Throughout our friendship, he’s shared stories with me. Like the time he was pulled over by the police in his parent’s neighborhood while driving their car. The assumption was, he had stolen it.

So wrong.

We can’t put ourselves in another person’s shoes if we haven’t lived their reality. But, we can speak out about injustice and stand up for what’s right.

At Last, a Break from the Clouds and Monotony

It’s April 26, 2020, and today marks the 38th day of self-isolation and the shut-down of nonessential businesses in New York State. I was shocked when I did the math and realized that millions of Americans have been at home for just over 10% of the current year, no wonder we’re going a bit stir crazy.

I was forewarned before moving to Upstate, NY, about the overcast nature of the weather. Although I thought I was mentally prepared for it, the reality is that the cloudy, rainy, dreary days far outnumber the sunny ones. This year has been compounded by the need to stay at home, below-average temperatures, and snowfall as recently as a few days ago.

Yesterday there was finally a break in the weather pattern, and it was a gloriously sunny and mild day. I met up with my friend Rodney, and we went for what I thought was going to be a leisurely stroll around one of the state parks. It turned out to be so much better than that.

Green Lakes is a magnificent park. Even the entrance is strikingly scenic, with its evergreen lined paths to the hiking trails.

Evergreen lined entrance_Green Lakes

The paved path leading into the park met my initial expectation about the nature of the walk, it was a bit hillier than I imagined but still reasonably easy.

As we reached the top of the hill and the first glimpse of the interior of the park and the area my friend wanted to give me a walking tour of, my impressions began to change a little. Instead of a paved path, the first walking path he showed me was covered in a blanket of emerald green grass.

Grassy Path at Green Lakes

The path was flanked by Reed grass (I think that’s what it is) and trees that are still waiting for weather warm enough to coax them into spring.

We didn’t take this path, but seeing it did alter my expectations a bit – the trails wouldn’t be paved, but I anticipated the walk would be a little more challenging, but very manageable.

Fast forward through the rest of our six-mile ‘walk.’ There were steep hills and gentle inclines, smooth grassy paths, and dirt paths spotted with tree roots emerging through the earth as well as a few rocks scattered here and there.

Our final descent involved a steep hill with a very narrow dirt path that contained more than one spot peppered with small loose rocks. Steep Trail at Green Lakes

We stood at the top of the hill, and Rodney said, “Beth, I’m so sorry! I forgot about this hill.”

I responded, “It’s ok, I’m up for the challenge – let’s do it!”

Rodney and Mo (short for Geronimo), his trusted Chocolate Lab, were sure-footed as they began the downward climb. As for me, not so much – I was hesitant at best, but determined to make it.

I could tell I was making Rodney nervous, and he was concerned for my safety because he kept stopping, turning around, and coaching me. “Place your feet a little wider apart on this next part of the trail, oh, and walk to the left. It’s wider, and there are fewer loose rocks.” Through his coaching and a virtual helping hand, I made it safely to the bottom of the hill.

All I can say is I felt accomplished after doing so!

It was a far different walk from my usual stroll around the flat and uninteresting streets of my neighborhood. Instead of listening to my book, I listened to nature and engaged in conversations filled with good-natured banter.

It was also nice to see people outside of the grocery store, albeit in masks and from at least six feet away. It somehow still felt a bit more normal than the past few weeks have seemed.

The walk, or the hike, was life-affirming and a reminder that as we go through our days on this earth, we will experience both easy and challenging times. But when it’s all said and done, if we face those challenging times head-on and accept help along the way, life is truly joyous and rewarding.

The little lake at Green Lakes

Rooftop Parking at the Airport – Here’s to being prepared!

Well, I can’t say that I’d intentionally plan my travel experiences over Thanksgiving, but as always, one can turn it into a good story.

My flights were actually on time, other than a really long layover in Chicago, the flying part was uneventful.

Fast forward to the rooftop of the Syracuse airport parking garage, and things took a not unexpected turn for the worse. While I was in St. Louis, many, many inches of snow fell.

My poor little car was not entirely buried in snow, but let’s just say that the snow came up to my knees and it wasn’t all that easy to get my suitcase in the car or to retrieve my snow brush/scraper.

As I examined my situation, it became clear that a shovel was needed. As it just so happened, I had one in my trunk.

Almost a year ago to the day, in preparation for my move, I equipped my car with a winter emergency kit. A compact shovel was one of the long shots, I had no idea if it would hold up to the task if the situation arose.

Tonight it came in more than handy.

I opened my trunk and at the same time, noticed a young couple a few spots down the lot – their car wasn’t going anywhere.

He got out of the car and started pacing. I shouted, “Do you need a shovel? I have one.”

He walked over and looked at me. “You have a shovel?”

“I do, it’s never been used. It might be horrible, but here it is.”

He took the plastic shrink wrap off and unfolded the handle and locked it into place.

“This is sweet! I’m in the army, and right now, you’re more prepared than me. But then again, it’s hard for a newbie to know what to expect in Syracuse.”

He shoveled out his car while I brushed the snow off of mine. Then he shoveled out my car.

Snowtop roof parking

There was another man across from us who was going through the same struggles, at first he turned down my offer to use the little but apparently sturdy shovel. I’m not sure why he thought it would be better to continue trying to scoop the snow with his hands instead of using my shovel.

In the end, he asked if he could use it, of course, I handed it to him. He then stood near my car to make sure I could get out ok.

Two life lessons were validated that night. There really are good people in the world, and it’s a good idea to be prepared.

I will Uber for my Christmas travels.

We’ve Reached a Fork in the Road, or have we?

My parents and I were talking tonight about things related to business dealings, politics and life in general.

The phrase, “we’ve reached a fork in the road” came up, it was followed by “it’s time to make a decision.” This doesn’t just imply it’s time to make a choice, it explicitly states there is only one next step. There is one way or another, nothing in between. I honestly don’t think that’s what either person means. But, it’s how it can be and probably is most often interpreted.

As we were talking, I had two images flash through my brain. One was of an actual fork – one we use to eat with. The other was of a fork in a road. The difference between them struck me immediately. I know this is strange, but it’s how my brain works.

As we picture a fork in the road – there are only two choices, you go left, or you go right. Those are the only options. Perhaps we limit ourselves.

Oddly enough, the fork we use in everyday life, as a utensil to consume food, has three prongs. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up a piece of meat or a potato wedge with a physical fork that only had two prongs? Especially if they were pointing in opposite directions…

It made me think – perhaps, the third prong, the middle road so to speak, represents the opportunity for a “win, win” approach to life.

We seem to be faced with so many it has to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ choices these days.

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the “fork in the road” in a new way and find common ground. It’s time to carve a new path – it’s in between the “fork in the road.”