Saturday, September 30, 2017

You Don't Have to be Jewish to Learn Something from Yom Kippur

First, my thanks to the more than 13,300 folks who read my most recent blog post. I've never had that many readers, even when I've blogged about Rush on other occasions. And I do understand that I get the most readers when I blog about Rush.  But while I love the guys and always will, there are also some other topics that interest me.  Today, I was thinking about the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), perhaps the most serious day in the Jewish religion, and one of the most widely observed.  But this isn't just a post about religion.  It's also a post about spending 24 hours without media.

Yom Kippur is a day when many Jews (even some who aren't particularly observant) refrain from eating for 24 hours; they also go to synagogue, study the sacred texts, and ask God to pardon them for the wrongs they've done in the previous year. And they also turn off their devices.  No smartphones, no tablets, no internet, and of course, no social media. That may sound horribly boring, but in actuality, it can be a very spiritual experience, and one that I recommend.  Instead of having Twitter fights over the latest silly thing that [insert name of politician here] just said; instead of posting a photo of your adorable kid (or your pet, or your new tattoo, or the amazing restaurant you just went to), you get to spend 24 hours being anonymous to the outside world, without any need for an online persona, without any need to find the right meme, or locate some arcane fact on Google.

A day without media (and especially social media) gives you a chance to humble yourself, and to appreciate what's all around you, including the everyday stuff we often take for granted. Weather permitting, you can take a walk and look at the sky or watch the birds. Since you don't have to be anywhere for a while, you can read a book, or just sit and talk with someone-- texting is not allowed, so it's an opportunity for face-to-face communication, which is often a lost art these days.  And speaking of lost arts, you can also take the time to listen--  it's amazing what you can learn just from listening.     

I used some of the time to think about forgiveness-- one of the most difficult things in life (and I admit this affects me) is letting go of being angry at certain people. On Yom Kippur, we ask for God's forgiveness, but we also have to agree to do some forgiving of our own.  We have to apologize to those we spoke harshly to, those to whom we were unkind.  I thought a lot about that: we've all had our share of petty disputes over the past year, both online and in person. Holding onto those negative emotions doesn't really solve anything, and yet so many of us still do it.  Today was a good day to agree to forgive, to agree to start over.  That was a promise I made, and I will do my best to keep it.

It was also a good day to think about gratitude-- in the high-stress, busy life most of us lead, we don't spend much time being grateful. Instead, we're tend to focus on what's going wrong:  we're upset that someone cut us off in traffic or [insert name of politician again] has just said something outrageous, or we hate our boss, or we wish everything wasn't so expensive.  Maybe we find some escape in our favorite music, or our favorite TV show, or the latest YouTube video of a dancing cat, but we don't always take the time to think about what's good in our life, rather than being irritated by what's bad.  So, I spent some time thinking about gratitude, and I probably should do that more often.

One of the things I'm grateful for is being alive. When you're a cancer survivor, as I am, it's no joke to say that every day, and ever year, is a gift.  So, I'm grateful I've made it through another year on the Jewish calendar, and hopefully, I'll still be here when the secular calendar changes to 2018.  I'm also grateful I was able to write these words-- we can all debate what freedom of speech means, but it's nice to live in a country where expressing ourselves doesn't usually result in being thrown in jail. I'm grateful to have a husband who appreciates my good points, while forgiving my faults; and I'm grateful that people, be they Rush fans or not, think my words are worth reading.

So, that's what I learned on Yom Kippur:  24 hours without food isn't as daunting as it sounds (I do it every year, and while it's sometimes a challenge, I keep thinking about people in other parts of the world who have no choice in the matter, and it puts everything in perspective). Similarly, 24 hours without media isn't so bad either-- making the time to turn off all the noise can be very fulfilling, both spiritually and otherwise.  Reading a good book, whether about religion or any other topic, is also very fulfilling.  And making time to forgive, and time be grateful-- that's worth doing on a religious holiday or any other time.  Thank you again to those who read my blog, and whether it's to find out Rush news or to engage in discussions with me about politics or media or whatever, I appreciate the opportunity; and I appreciate all of you.     

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finding Our Way

Yesterday was Neil Peart's birthday.  For those who are not Rush fans, Neil spent more than four decades as their drummer.  He was an amazing and talented musician, and I don't say that as just some fan-- his own peers in the music industry have spoken with great admiration about his skill.  He was also a respected songwriter, who helped Rush to go from being just another bar band in Toronto to becoming a well-known rock band with millions of loyal fans all over the world, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.

Drumming was a large part of Neil's identity, and he took great pride in it; he studied the work of other drummers, past and present, and he always gave 100% every time he performed.  If you ever saw Rush in concert, you know that few bands put on a more dynamic and energetic performance-- no opening act, just Alex, Geddy, and Neil, onstage doing what they loved, entertaining their fans.

And then, one day in late 2015, it all came to an end.  Yes, bands break up, but it's usually due to animosity among the members. That was not the case here-- the guys were friends and they remain so to this day.  But Neil announced he would no longer tour, and in fact he was retiring. One major factor in his decision was health:  he had severe tendonitis, and drumming was just aggravating it over and over again.  Another factor was his desire to spend more time with his wife and their little daughter.  As he told Drumhead magazine, he accepted the fact that it was time to "take [himself] out of the game."

At a certain point in life, many of us have to reinvent ourselves, or see what the next thing is for us.  Sometimes, it's voluntary-- some folks hate their job, even if it pays well, and they're eager to make a change.  But for others, it's a difficult decision-- they love what they have been doing, but they realize they cannot continue on with it.  Athletes often confront this dilemma:  as they get older and their skills begin to diminish, they gradually have to accept that it's time to retire.  Veteran politicians also encounter this same problem:  they may have served for years, but now they must agree to step aside and let the next generation onto the stage.  If you've ever been in the situation of wanting to stay but knowing it's time to go, it's not an easy place to be.  

I know it well.  In my own life, I had to accept the fact that the broadcasting industry had changed and my skill set was no longer in demand; the most difficult decision I ever made was deciding to go back to school and study for my PhD so that I could become a professor.  I miss radio every day, but there were no jobs, and it was time for some other way to make a living.  I'm fine about being a professor, but I can't deny I wish I could have stayed in broadcasting.  I imagine many athletes and politicians know exactly how I feel, since they too wish they didn't have to walk away from what they loved.

But Neil doesn't seem to fit into any of those categories-- he wasn't unhappy playing drums for a living (in fact he was devoted to it); his skills were not diminishing (although he was increasingly in pain each time he played); and he probably could have continued on for a while longer, if that's what he wanted to do.  But he knew it was time, and he wanted to leave on his own terms.  And so he did.  I would be lying if I said I've talked with him recently, but I do know several friends of his, and I am told he is very happy with his decision.  He and Alex and Geddy still keep in touch, but by all accounts, he has no regrets about being a "retired drummer."  Fans desperately want him to return to drumming (and return to Rush) but that is not what he wants, nor what's best for his health.  It's a wise person who understands when it's time for a change.  And whether the change is voluntary or not, it's a wise person who embraces whatever the next phase in their life happens to be.