Giving Thanks to My Students
This is the time of year for reflecting on the things for which we are thankful. I am fortunate to have much to be grateful for, especially my loving family and good friends. This Thanksgiving, I’d like to express my gratitude to a group of people who are very special to me for their unwavering dedication to improving the world of healthcare. These are the wonderful students in the MBA in Healthcare Leadership, the program I oversee at SUNY Empire State University.
Impressions From My Summer in Israel
Our group was traveling on a narrow two-lane highway through a remote wooded area in the south-central part of Israel. I was sitting toward the front of our chartered bus. Up ahead, two soldiers stood on the side of the road. As we neared them, the driver slowed, stopped the bus, and opened the door. The soldiers boarded in a way that seemed as routine as passengers hopping on a city bus anywhere in the United States. They nodded politely as they took seats in the front, just behind the driver. They were dressed in camouflage khakis, and draped across their chests were powerful looking submachine guns, which I soon learned were called Uzis. I had never before seen a soldier with a gun up close and it was mesmerizing. That was the summer of 1967.
My Mentor, Jim
My last email exchange with Jim Chesebro was in June 2019. He had sent me a note of congratulations about an article I had written. In that note he mentioned that he had recently retired. No way! This couldn’t be. Not Jim. Not with his relentless energy, his infectious joie de vivre, his passion to find meaning in the ordinary and demystify the momentous.
She's Not a Number. She Counts.
It wasn’t until she said the word sister that she got my full attention. But it was more than just the word; it was what her sister was going through. The encounter occurred just a few years ago. A woman was seated on a small couch next to the chair I was heading toward. She sat quietly, staring straight ahead, blankly it seemed. She glanced up with an expectant look as I neared and gave me a small smile of acknowledgement as she realized I was not the person she was waiting for. I returned the smile. Then she turned away, her face resuming its vacant stare.
A Ham Steak and a Hot Mic
For the first time in a couple of years, my friend Norm and I were finally arranging to meet for lunch. He lives a couple of hours south of me. A google search for a restaurant in between us turned up Mastori’s, a large restaurant-diner. When I clicked on their website, I discovered it had closed, a casualty of the pandemic. This was sad news since Mastori’s had been family-owned and operated for 90 years and was a New Jersey fixture. Known for their savory cheese and cinnamon breads that were placed on each table, Mastori’s was a favorite for families, local politicians, and patrons who came from far and wide. Even President Gerald Ford dined there. I hadn’t been to Mastori’s in many years. But reading the notice of its closing brought me back to a terribly embarrassing experience on my first visit there, many years ago.
“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and freedom.” Sharon Ralls Lemon
Eight years ago, when he was just five years old, our horse Flash became the newest member of our family. Little is more peaceful for me than spending time with him. I do love riding, but it’s also a joy just being with him, grooming, brushing, taking a leisurely walk side by side.
Coming to a Crossroad
It all began with a small spot, a bit of missing paint barely an inch wide. I’m not sure how or when it happened, but a quarter-sized circle of paint had been scraped off the frame of my bicycle. I have been bike riding regularly for many years. I love it. And while this blemish didn’t interfere with anything mechanical, I thought I would get it touched up, just for aesthetic sake. I assumed a $5 tube of paint and 5 minutes of work was all it would take to have it looking like new. Well close to new, anyway.
Building Better Lifeboats
The harsh odor hit us like a ton of bricks just as the elevator door opened. I had never experienced anything like it before – an intense hyper-chlorinated sanitizing agent that was intended to neutralize the rankness of the hospital air, but instead the effect was compounded, burning my throat and eyes. I was there with Kevin, a fellow student whose eyes were also tearing up. Our escort, a facility manager, said quite straightforwardly, “You get used to it.”
The Optics of Etiquette
Nestled on the bank of the Delaware River, Lambertville, NJ is such a charmingly scenic town. Local artists display their farm-scapes in art cooperatives. Antique shops overflow with history ranging from early American spindles to 1950s art deco pastel geometrics that appear simultaneously retro and futuristic. Topping off the allure are the wonderful restaurants, from D'Floret with their locally sourced vegetables to the Under the Moon Café and their scrumptious Argentinian meatloaf. One recent Sunday, Amy and I thought that a visit to Lambertville would be an ideal way to spend the afternoon. It was a mild winter day, perfect for brunch and a stroll. The Lambertville Inn is a real treat. The ground level terrace sits beside a serene canal and towpath, a peacefully picturesque setting shared amicably by bicyclists, hikers, and ducks. On this day we sat upstairs in the oak-adorned small dining room. But this story is not about the ambiance. Nor is it about the tantalizing fluffy three-cheese omelets or the heavenly seafood crepes. Or the attentive and friendly waitstaff.
Remembering My Mother
In the late 1970s, I moved out of the apartment where I had lived with my parents for the previous 10 years. Amy and I had just returned from a month-long cross-country camping trip and were moving to Philadelphia together where I was to begin graduate school. At the same time, and finally empty nesters, my parents decided to leave Queens, NY as the sunshine and beaches of Florida beckoned. Soon after their move, during winter break, I flew down for a quick weekend visit. I took a late flight out of Philadelphia and arrived at around eleven p.m.
Shoes of Despair, Shoes of Hope
The three students, around twelve or thirteen years-old, stood awestruck, silently staring at the shoes, hundreds of shoes, haphazardly heaped together. This was no ordinary collection of shoes. All were about 80 years-old and deeply weathered, their cracked brown leather preserved in their uncleaned and fraying state, their rigidity diminished from the passage of time and the weight of the mound. Some were low-top boots, some women’s pumps, but most were nondescript and undistinguishable as belonging to one gender or another. After a moment, one of the students expressed precisely what the viscerally charged moment called for, saying as much to himself as to the others, “I can’t believe actual people wore those, walked in them.”
"It's Not My Job"
This past summer, I flew to Atlanta for a consulting project at a hospital. I hopped in a cab at the airport and headed directly to the hospital. As the driver entered the hospital’s long circular driveway, I gathered the documents I had been reviewing and put them back in my briefcase. The hospital, a tall, gleaming building, had recently gone through a makeover. I admired the flower beds adorning the walkway with a vibrant display of lavender and pink, bringing life to a building associated with illness. As I got out of the cab, I noticed that the woman exiting the cab in front of mine seemed to be struggling. A second later, I saw why – she was pulling crutches from the back seat. I walked over as she was regaining her stability and offered to help. What happened next is, well, you can’t make this stuff up.
A Drink of Water
I had just finished giving a presentation to students at the SUNY College of Optometry in New York City and I went to say hello to a colleague who is a member of the faculty and service chief of one of the college’s clinics. As I got into the elevator, a family entered just behind me – a husband and wife and their two young boys, who looked to be about six and nine years old. I noticed that the boys were wearing identical heavy, black-framed glasses with lenses that had a deep tint and prism-like appearance. The whole family had such a pleasant vibe about them, and the parents and I exchanged a friendly smile.
Steering Toward a Future We May Not Be Ready For
Imagine you are driving on a narrow, unlit, one-lane rural highway. It’s late at night and you are the only one on the road. It’s so dark that you’re not comfortable driving at the 50-mph speed limit, opting to cruise between 40-45-mph. As you approach a bend to the left, a four-foot-high brick median appears, separating your lane from that of the oncoming traffic. Just as the road straightens, an on-ramp appears on the right. You glimpse a single headlight emerging from the darkness on the on-ramp. A motorcycle. Judging from your respective speeds, you are sure that you can pass it ahead of the merge point. Just to play it safe and create a cushion, you speed up. But much to your surprise, the motorcycle abruptly speeds up as well. Maybe the driver didn’t see you? Maybe he was accelerating to get ahead of you? The motorcycle enters the roadway a mere twenty feet ahead of you. You are going too fast and he’s not accelerating enough to prevent a catastrophe. Panic sets in. Your foot jams on the brake. Your heart races. You’re faced with a horrific choice, a potentially deadly choice – either veer into the brick wall or slam into the motorcycle from behind. You have a split second to decide, less actually. What would you do if you were in that situation?
A Rose by Any Other Name is… Max?
As I was tossing a package of frozen peas into my shopping cart in a supermarket last week, I heard a familiar voice from the other end of the aisle, “Hi Barry.” I looked up and immediately recognized the person, the mom of one of my children’s friends from when the kids were young. We talked for a few minutes, catching up on our families. She knew the names of everyone in my family, and even asked about the pets… by name! But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name or the name of anyone in her family. I’ve always struggled to remember names – a seemingly incurable affliction!
In Today’s Performance, the Role of …
In 1954, Shirley MacLaine, then 20 years old, was hired as a member of the chorus of the Broadway show “The Pajama Game.” She was also an understudy for Carol Haney, the star. A couple of months in, Ms. MacLaine was about to resign so she could audition for another show, Cole Porter’s “Can-Can,” where she thought she had a better chance of breaking out of the chorus: “I had my notice in my pocket, ready to turn it in. The subway got stuck in Times Square, so I was twenty minutes late for my own half-hour call … and when I got to the theatre it was ten minutes before the curtain was going up! … So I stuffed my notice back in real quick.” Then this happened: “When I arrived at the St James, across the stage door stood Jerry Robbins, Bob Fosse, Hal Prince, etc. ‘Haney is out,’ they said. ‘You’re on.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing … the producers gave me the understudy job, but I never had a rehearsal. I had thought Carol would go on with a broken neck. But Carol had sprained her ankle, so …” And the rest, as they say, is history. Last month, I was at a Broadway show featuring someone whose story may prove similar, so you might want to remember her name: Audrey Cardwell.
Recently, I was searching online for a birthday gift for a friend, something involving his two main interests, music and cooking. I entered those words in the search and up popped loads of images of salt and pepper shakers, many in the shape of musical instruments. One pair, white porcelain and adorned with musical notes, brought me back to an unforgettable moment from my childhood. I had accompanied my parents to a Saturday afternoon lunch at the home of Keith and Jane, their longtime friends. I must have been about ten years old and can’t recall why I was included in this outing, though I suppose we were heading somewhere directly from their house. A few minutes into lunch, a terribly awkward incident occurred. Ever since, whenever I see a white porcelain saltshaker I think of that day.
In Good Hands
Two months ago, I closed the door behind me as I exited my home office. I had been holed up in there with our dogs as work was happening in the kitchen. Walking the few feet toward the stairs, I was suddenly startled as our hound-mix, Dolan, brushed past me. Apparently, I hadn’t been as careful as I thought when closing the door. In an effort to catch him, I pivoted, losing my balance. I twisted around trying to right myself by awkwardly – and futilely – grabbing for the cat tree in the hallway (we have a cat and two dogs, and yes, they all get along). I fell backwards, luckily landing just before the top step. A sharp, shooting pain in my shoulder overtook any surprise I felt. I spent a few seconds trying to convince myself it was nothing serious, but the impulse to deny was no match for the pain.
A Simple Word That Made Sparks Fly
“You have just insulted everything I have done for the past twenty years,” a member of the audience shouted.
“… it’s that kind of narrow thinking that created the mess,” the speaker retorted.
Those words were hurled between a speaker and an attendee at hospital conference I recently attended. It all started with the use of one word. A single word. Not any of the words that imply hate or racism or misogyny or violence or political innuendo. Not even close. It was as seemingly benign and uncontroversial as any word could be. This incident gave me insight into a way that words matter that I hadn’t fully considered.
Happy Birthday, Roberta
At the time, I thought it was hands-down the most boring thing I ever had to sit through. I was nine, and my sister, Roberta, took me to a Bunraku play, a Japanese stage artform in which dolls act out a dramatic story. We were sitting way in the back of a dark theater on Canal Street in Manhattan, and it was difficult to see the action on the stage. Plus, I couldn’t follow the story. I tried not to fidget since I could tell Roberta was enjoying the play and I didn’t want her to think I didn’t appreciate her taking me. When I was young, Roberta took me to many events. Baseball games were the most fun, the circus a close second. She was nine years older than I, and in her presence, I somehow felt older than I actually was. Looking back, I think it was probably because she didn’t treat me like a child. She respected my opinions and seemed to value everything I had to say. I learned so much from Roberta, possibly more from her than from just about anyone else.