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Six Degrees of Sadness

September 11, 2014 10 comments

Six Degrees of Separation

They say there are six degrees of separation.

 “Everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth,..” ~ Wikipedia

I believe this to be true. One way or another, we’re all connected; especially when it comes to what happened on 9/11. Looking back, I’m certain that so many of us, knew somebody or knows somebody who knew somebody.

I knew somebody.

So many years later I still can’t talk about that day without becoming overwhelmed with emotion. I know I’m not alone.

Writing about it is almost as difficult.

I tried to think of something else to write about this week but the memories of that day are at the forefront of my mind and heart right now. I wouldn’t attempt to try to write about the profound loss of our sons and daughters, fathers and husbands, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, colleagues and friends.

I couldn’t.

All week long there’s been articles, photos, video, reports and documentaries reliving those events. I didn’t watch them.

I still can’t.

The point of contact between the planes and all three buildings is indelibly embedded in my mind.

I don’t want to see it again — ever.

There were however, a few poignant moments when I was alone that day that will linger in my mind’s eye forever; moments that caused me to pause and take notice; moments that changed my life.

I was at home with my two children; my daughter who was 6-months and my son who was 2 ½ years-old. I had the TV on, although I don’t remember what I was watching. It was interrupted by “live coverage” of the first Tower, just after it was hit by the first plane.

It seemed unlikely, odd. I couldn’t fathom the possibility of it. I was trying to make sense of what I was hearing when something surreal and horrific happened.

I watched the second plane hit the second Tower.

I remember being very confused and thinking…

“What are they doing? How are they showing something that just happened a few minutes ago?

How could somebody get this video?”

And as quickly as the thoughts passed through my mind, it hit me.

This couldn’t be video tape from the first plane because I could still see the black smoke coming from first Tower. This was live coverage. This plane was hitting the second Tower. It was a second plane crashing into the second tower and it was happening, right now!

My eyes could see the events unfolding but my mind couldn’t comprehend their reality. I could hear the reporter in the background saying with disbelief, that this was happening right now but I didn’t understand.

There were so many surreal moments that day.

Later, as I sat on our porch smoking a cigarette trying to process what I had just seen on television, I had the realization that my life, our lives as we knew them would never be the same. An overwhelming feeling of sadness slowly began to overtake the initial feelings of horror and fear that I had. Understanding of what I saw, found its way to my brain. Now, when I recall that slow, creeping feeling of sadness, I think about how Ron Weasley described the presence of the Dementors on the Hogwarts Train;

“I felt weird, like I’d never be cheerful again”.

That’s what it was like for me.  I couldn’t imagine being cheerful again.

While I sobbed uncontrollably for what happened, for what I saw and for what I felt, the deafening sound of silence surrounded itself around me. The quiet in the skies was unsettling. The more I noticed it, the louder it became. You don’t notice or really pay attention to the activity in the skies until it ceases. It gave me a sense of isolation which created a fear in me, I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that haunting, echoing sound of nothing when no plane was allowed to fly in our otherwise free, blue skies.

On the porch that day, while my babies napped peacefully, I smoked a cigarette and mourned for the feeling of security I didn’t realize I had until I lost it, a feeling I knew my children would never know.

For weeks afterward, the winds carried the smell of death up the Hudson River. It was a smoldering, horrific stench that sat, heavy in the air. Unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before, or since, it was a foul and constant reminder of the devastation and loss our nation suffered.

Everyone I know, knows somebody or knows somebody who knows somebody.

There are six degrees of separation, they say. Six people between you and I, as strangers before an introduction. The world we live in is a small one. One way or another, we’re all connected.

I knew Somebody.

We all knew somebody.

Photo Credit #1: Six Degrees of Separation

Photo Credit #2: World Trade Center

Photo Credit #3: Connected

To Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Or Not!

August 18, 2014 2 comments
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©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

All this hype about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is it a good thing or not?

Well, if nothing else, it’s spreading ALS awareness across the country faster than the speed of light and, if nothing else, THAT’S A GOOD THING! But thankfully, that’s not the only thing it’s doing. Americans are a giving people. They always have been a giving people and as of today, Americans participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon have inspired unprecedented “giving” to the ALS cause. ALS: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease is an attack of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Most people diagnosed with ALS usually die within three to five years from the onset of symptoms.

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©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

So, what exactly is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? The challenge is this: people make a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, post it on social media and then challenge three or four friends to do the same within 24-hours or donate $100 to ALS. Here’s the rub:  MOST PEOPLE DO BOTH! Or at least they donate some amount. Both of my teenagers took the challenge AND donated $25 each to the ALS Association. Think about that. Think about all these awesome teenagers who are just waiting to be “challenged” on social media by friends and, who might donate about $25 each, to boot!

Give them the opportunity to do good and they will. Add the likes of Jimmy Fallon, LeBron James, Bill Gates, Taylor Swift, NFL players from the NY Giants and over 300,000 NEW DONORS to the ice bucket mix, you end up with millions of dollars, well over $15 million dollars in fact, being donated to the ALS Association as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge in less than two months! That’s about 14 million dollars more than was raised during the same time period last year.

That, is a good thing!

As a parent, this is the kind of social media craze I WANT my kids to take part in.

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©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

In effect, the concept is brilliant. Thanks to 29-year old Pete Frates and his friend Pat Quinn, both of whom have ALS and both of whom are largely responsible for turning the trend viral and into what is now, a mega fund-raiser for this disease.

That’s a good thing.

So go ahead, take the challenge! In fact, I nominate YOU! I double, triple DARE you!

Just want to donate?  You can donate on the ALS Association website:  HERE

Completely unrelated to the “Challenge” but related in a serendipitous way to this post, I mentioned Lou Gehrig’s Disease in my last post Full Circle. Goodness is perpetuated again.

America

April 21, 2013 Leave a comment

 

Home-of-the-Brave-de

 

 

Art ~ Norman Rockwell

Categories: Art, Culture, Family, Gratitude, Life Tags:

George

April 14, 2013 9 comments

Barbershop

In the new storefront a man stood in front of the huge glass window watching people, including us, walk by his establishment. My eyes met his as we passed and then I couldn’t help but notice the two, large, empty chairs that sat in front of mirrors behind him. There was a quiet look of discontent on his face. I felt bad for him. This poor man I thought, wondering how he could have chosen this location.

Doesn’t he know?

We had an appointment two doors down from the empty store where there was a bustle of activity. It was busy here and even though we had called in advance, there were three people ahead of us, waiting patiently, for his time. He glanced up stopping what he was doing, only for a moment as we entered and offered a substitute, as he usually does.

As usual, we thanked him and respectfully declined.

It will be a while, he said.

It’s Okay. We’ll wait. 

You can’t be in a rush when you come to see this man. You don’t want to be in a rush.

Finally, he beckoned us over. I took my place, off to the side. Shortly after, the discussions began. I listened intently, chiming in occasionally as they spoke of worldly things like the flu epidemic and how dangerous it can be for sick people to be in the hospital. Margaret Thatcher’s passing was brought up and he talked about her great personal achievements and the contributions she made to the advancement of women and our political world.

Then his thoughts turned to North Korea. 

What do you think of this guy, Kim Jong Un? Do you think he’s being influenced by the men that used to rule with his father? How do you think the US will respond if he fires a nuclear missile?

He was genuinely interested in my son’s response and in the 30-minutes that the job took, there was a lively exchange of meaningful topics. Solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems were flirted. It’s always interesting to hear his views but fascinating to watch this man’s skill, as all the while, he continues laboring, never missing a beat, meticulously working his craft like the artist that he is, coming back several times to the same spot until it looks or feels just right. He’s consistent and a constant. He’s reliable; a friend and the only person we’ve ever trusted with this task. And despite the seriousness of his work and the broadness of the topics he covers, it always begins with the same question, prompting the same response.

April 2013

April 2013

What number will it be today, Noah?…

…is the question.

Number two….

…is the answer.

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April 2013

At least it has been, for the last 14 years.

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Noah’s first haircut with George ~ December 1999

Photo Credit #1 Google Images

Photo Credit #2 -#3 Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Phil Said So

February 3, 2013 8 comments

woodchuck

Have you heard? Spring is coming.

Phil said so.

I love mankind. We’re obsessed with advancing. We’ve figured out how to send folks to the moon. We can see our friends and family in other states and countries while we speak to them through our computers. We can send instant messages across the world by email and clean our floors with a small round mechanical orb without ever getting our fingers dirty. Yet, when it comes to identifying the natural progression of one season to the next (on the East Coast anyway) we regress to ancient German folklore and the belief that groundhogs have the ability to prognosticate the upcoming weather. That’s right, instead of using the latest in weather-related technology, we gather en mass and in celebration, since 1886 in fact, to rely on the prediction of an over-grown, over-weight, hairy rodent who’s been pulled out of his hole every February 2nd at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the last 127 years. Did I mention this animal doesn’t hiss, purr, bark, snort, speak or text? Indeed, whether we hang on to our woolies or break out our shorts all depends on what he, Punxsutawney Phil does. It’s six more weeks of winter if he sees his shadow, Spring if he doesn’t! And, it’s all done rather cryptically, in the blink of an eye, in front of 20,000 live spectators and a few million television viewers.

Mysterious looking men, members of the Inner Circle, wearing black top hats and long coats gather before a swelling crowd. It’s said that Phil talks to the president of the Inner Circle through Groundhogese. A Leader in the Circle then translates to the crowd. I watched it unfold myself, the whole 4-minutes of it. One minute no groundhog. The next, he was being pulled out of Gobbler’s Knob. A minute later an old scroll was unfurled, the Leader began to read and voila:

“There is no shadow to see. An early spring for you and me!”

Winter is over.

It’s true. He said so. Phil, the groundhog. In Punxsutawney. I didn’t hear him say it but they said he did. Even though the thermometer read 19° while he was not seeing his shadow and the forecast for tonight is snow, Spring is coming.

Phil said so.  🙂

Confessions of a Catholic School Survivor

March 4, 2012 19 comments

Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world they have no voice
They have no choice

Bless the beasts and the children
For the world can never be
The world they see

She was tucking the light-yellow and blue plastic container of Vaseline Intensive Care back into a drawer of her desk and we had barely returned to the hardwood chair that uncomfortably attached itself to our desks, when over the PA system came the voice of doom. The announcement demanded that all the girls who’d been to the third floor bathroom in the last ten-minutes come to the school’s auditorium, immediately!

The pock-marked, red-faced teacher who’d just finished slathering cream all over her angry face and whose first words to me after reading my name on the roster for the first time in her 7th grade math class were,Oh, no! Not another one. You’d better not be like your sister!” eyed us suspiciously. Without a word she nodded toward the classroom door and myself and the girl I’d just been excused with immediately rose.

I will never understand why teachers who don’t like children teach. They seem to enjoy being mean or hurtful. It’s sadistic and kids can always tell who they are.

This girl and I were quite different and while I wouldn’t say we were the best of friends, we were, friendly. Confusion and fear ran through my 12-year-old body as we came upon the two fifth-graders whose entry into the girl’s room only minutes ago, prompted us to quickly discard the evidence. My heart was racing and my brain was in overdrive. Did they say something? They couldn’t have. They wouldn’t be called here with us if they did. Besides, like two little kittens cornered by a pit bull, they were clearly shaking with fear. It was all I could do to keep my fear from being as transparent as theirs.

The auditorium was dark and empty of people although we stood at the back of what seemed like endless rows of gray, metal folding chairs that stopped right in front of the big black piano that rested itself off to the side of the stage. In the distance came the echoing of footsteps clapping steadily over the hard, cold, stone floors. The door swung open and she walked in. With an ever present “gotcha” attitude and a permanently stern look on her face, she glanced us over in one terse swoop as we stood nervously in a row, all wearing the same white collared blouses beneath regulation sweaters and plaid skirts that varied in length, above and below the knee.

I think you know why you are here, she said, confidently. Can anyone tell me what was going on in the third floor bathroom? Does anyone have anything to say?

No one spoke.

Okay, maybe this will help, she said and she pulled from her pocket as only a vice principal in charge of being the heavy can, a white tissue, neatly folded into a rectangle. Do you know what this is? She asked.

Of course we didn’t know! How could we know? We were scared, witless to her antics and worried about our fates for crying-out-loud! We stood there gaping at her treasure as she slowly and quite dramatically unfolded the tissue. In her Perry Mason moment she revealed the evidence we had discarded only minutes ago.

Full props for her unexpected display of shock and awe. Her quick reaction and immediate response brought the perpetrators directly to her lair.

We had immediately discarded the evidence. Actually, my friend threw it out the window in a panic when we heard the bathroom door opening and the two fifth graders came in. Now, here it was before us, stained with the glaring, red markings that obviously pointed to at least one of us. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up to school and the fifth graders were too young, but there she stood, my friendly schoolmate, smiling her deep, red, shiny smile, as we viewed the incredible, half-smoked cigarette butt that held the imprint of my friend’s lipstick-laden, lips.

Unbelievable! How was this possible? What are the chances of throwing a half-smoked cigarette butt out of a third floor bathroom window only to have it land on the concrete ledge of the vice principal’s open window, while she was sitting in her office?

A gazillion to one, maybe?

Evidently pleased with herself, she carefully re-folded her prize and in another dramatic moment, told us she was going to leave us alone for a few minutes and let us talk it over.

Slaughter to the altar.

I can’t speak to Catholic School these days but the one I went to thirty-years ago reveled in discipline and there was without doubt, a constant, underlying movement to instill the fear to behave in otherwise good kids. As a child functioning under those conditions, you tend to find yourself in a perpetual state of “survival-mode” knowing that anything you do or say could be deemed bad. When it’s evident that the truth will not set you free but possibly get you expelled or left with a permanent mark on your record or worse, a tarnished reputation, you make another choice.

For right or for wrong and without a single word being uttered between us, in her two-minute absence, collectively, we made a decision on how this was going to go. When she returned, it was apparent that she fully expected the culprit(s) to have cracked and step forward or be offered up by the others so that she could swoop down and usher the fallen-soul to the next level of punishment.

Instead however, we presented her with a force she was clearly unprepared for.

There was no crying or finger-pointing. On the contrary, she was met with silence.

Well?  She said, impatiently

Nothing.

We said nothing. We were silent, the four of us and the vice principal who sometimes wore two different shoes to school and whose forehead was now growing red with frustration, didn’t know what to do. Clearly the evidence pointed to at least one of us but there were in fact four of us in that bathroom and no one was giving the other up.

After several minutes of agonizing silence, she reluctantly dismissed us and never a word was spoken about it again, by anyone.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t step up and take responsibility for your actions but I don’t regret the decision we made that day not to speak up. We were all pretty good kids who were often treated in a not-so-good way by some of the adults in our lives.This was after all, the same school that called my parents in to convey their concern for my then six-year old brother after he drew a black Jesus Christ. Aside from the fact that because of the climate we know Jesus lived in there’s no doubt he was a brown-skinned man, when asked by my parents why he drew Jesus black, he said it was the only crayon he could find.

Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storm
Keep them safe
Keep them warm

~ Richard Carpenter & John Bettis

Photo Credits #1-4 Google Images

All About Football

February 5, 2012 10 comments

This week, it’s all about football. As it should be.

Super Bowl Sunday after all, boasts more than 100-million viewers. And that’s not including those who will for the first time, be able to get the game streamed-live through their computers or on their androids through Verizon’s NFL Mobile app this year. Many viewers will tune in simply to catch the commercials that are selling for upwards of $3.5 million dollars for a 30-second spot. Others will gather in front of their screens or phones, to watch Madonna during half-time, in hopes of witnessing something spectacular. Super Bowl Sunday has something for everyone.

Like baseball and apple-pie, football is a staple of Americana.

My 13-year-old son played on his first football team this past fall and admittedly, I entered the season with a fair amount of trepidation and skepticism. I had my doubts to say the least and even cried foul! on parental interference after witnessing arguments amongst parents and overhearing less-than-encouraging remarks spewed from a dad’s lips to his son’s ears from the stands during a scrimmage. And of course, there were those few pre-game injuries that left “worry” all over me. But it wasn’t about me. It was about letting go and supporting my boy’s passion. Thankfully, the drama was quickly squelched when his three coaches gathered parents and players together and put forth a team “code-of-conduct” that had the distinct air of –if you don’t like it, you can leave– attached to it. This, for the most part, put the ka-bash on future parental outbursts. These men meant business and would stand for nothing less than 100% from everyone. Parents included.

I’m okay with accountability.

As a parent you try to teach your child to take responsibility, be fair, honest and work hard to achieve their goals. For the first two weeks of practice, my boy came home bruised and swollen, dirty and tired. He endured grueling 3-hour practices everyday during the month of August and three days a week from September until the end of November. He was expected to maintain a passing grade average and had to submit school reports to his coaches for review. The integrity of his coaches gave me a new-found appreciation for the game, overall. Along with game-play-strategies, life lessons were taught and there was an in-your-face demand on each player, to show up ready to give it their all, every time.

I am also okay with placing high expectations on kids who are capable.

Knights @ Marist College against White Plains. My boy is center #22.

The emphasis was on the team and while they absolutely protected their quarterback, they also hailed the guys that ran, blocked and threw for him. Maybe this isn’t news to you all but it sure was for me. The best part is that while I had my suspicions that I was liking what this sport was doing for my son’s overall character, the real evidence surfaced in December, when the football league gave him an award for maintaining a 92% or above, average during the season and later that month at his parent/teacher conference. Students participate in their conferences at his school and after his adviser acknowledged his ability to keep-up his schoolwork while playing soccer for the school and the town, as well as Pop Warner football, simultaneously, he asked my son what he felt football did for him this season. I was pretty blown away, not to mention proud when he came out with something that closely resembled this:

When I started to play football I wanted to be the one to get the touchdown but I realized that even if my part in a play is small, if I don’t do my best to execute it, it could effect the whole team and whether or not we win. If we all do our part, we all will benefit from it because we’re a team.

Coming from the boy who proclaimed he would be playing for the NFL long before he every wore his first pair of shoulder pads, I was impressed that the importance of being a team-player was one of the values he came away with. He got it.

He’s since changed his mind and no longer wants to be an NFL player but he will always be a superstar to me.

This year I’ll watch the game with a slightly different eye, one that sees beyond the price of a 30-second commercial spot or the half-time glitz and glamor. I will actually watch the game and the players and hope to see some of the determination and heart that I saw these young boys display week after week last fall, to where their efforts propelled them into the NFC Pop Warner Conference Championship. This year, I’ll look for strategy behind the play and know that it wasn’t achieved without hard work and pain, camaraderie and trust. There’s more to it, I’ve learned, than just running a ball from one end of the field to the other.

Whether you’re a Patriots or a Giants fan, sit back and relax!

Enjoy the game and may the best team win! Whomever that may be…..

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