An Unwritten Diary

Its title is All His Life. The book’s cover illustrates a beautiful baby boy with garlands hung above the newborn’s crib, topped with a ribbon sewed into and above the fabric.

The 9″ x 12″ object has a satin-like covering, perhaps rayon. For the time, the volume probably wasn’t cheap. A gift, I suspect.

The first printed page offered the following:

All his life
is written here.
In pictured prose
And records clear —
From Infant small
To manly state,
Are told events
Both small and great.

The hardcover was published in 1944, but I came along later.

This particular copy of All His Life was about me.

The pages are yellow now, despite the old plastic bag in which the volume has been housed. I’m not pristine myself.

After naming the doctors who delivered me, the date, and the time, Jeanette Stein wrote her first question to my dad:

Is he cute??

Dad’s answer:

Don’t expect too much at first!!

I guess Milton Stein never got trained as a cheerleader!

The remainder of the 60-page volume is filled with more babies and boys, in colorfully lithographed paintings by Edna Mason Kaula, and space for answers to more printed questions. My mother’s elegant handwriting is featured in each response.

For example, the 11th page lists early visitors to the hospital or our apartment in the Logan Square neighborhood. Many spaces instruct the writer to “paste snapshot here.” Two blank spots are shaped like feet, two others like hands, all awaiting a bit of ink on those body parts for an imprint of my tiny appendages.

Gerald M. Stein’s weight at birth remains readable, written with a fountain pen in the same deep blue used for all the other entries. The mass-market ballpoint variety was new and uncommon.

Then?

Nothing? The last entry listed my height.

No first words, date of an initial carriage ride, or timing of the first smile. No record of when I discovered my hands. Nor can one find evidence of when Gerry began to walk or photos of anyone else, though I have an album including many early childhood pictures.

The publisher’s plan anticipated the growing young man would take over entering information after a while. I didn’t even know my parents received such a present until they died in their 80s, over 20 years ago.

Empty room for entries included friends’ names, hobbies, teachers, favorite subjects, ambitions, and space for “my philosophy,” which makes me laugh. Not the kind of thoughtfulness I possessed as an infant or a young man.

Funny about that in another way, as well. I only began dedicated reading of philosophy at age 65.

There is a blank spot for adult fingerprints. Perhaps someone imagined I’d take up a life of crime! Ah, but the times were more innocent, as evidenced by a place for my social security number, making identity theft easier. That common form of illegality took more years to emerge.

I’m sure my birth overjoyed my parents. Moreover, I quelled my mom’s fears by turning into a good-looking, curly-haired little boy. Well-behaved, too, by all reports.

Why then no additional attention to the book? I imagine my folks had plenty to do, buying the required necessities, doctor’s appointments, teaching me language, and learning how to handle a vulnerable creature. Everything was the first time for them and for me.

Mom told my wife she didn’t understand how to put me into the crib and just dropped me in at first. I hope she bent over a bit. Guidance from her mother couldn’t have been helpful, given grandma’s tendency to criticize.

Still, I would like to know more about my first few years. My children might, too. The time and its history fled like a sandcastle’s erasure by the incoming tide. So are the names of my parents’ youthful friends and distant relatives in the surviving photos stored in the bedroom closet.

Some people look familiar, but not even nicknames or occupations remain, except perhaps in the memory of a few of their descendants. As Goethe expected, names vanish “like sound and smoke.”

Most of us hope to make a mark on the world, something to outlast our lifetime. Children and grandchildren are the only posterity I care much about. That and the continuation of a habitable planet, a republican form of democracy (also called a democratic republic), along with the presence of enough enlightened and committed people to make it so.

As I got older, having achieved more in my life than I imagined (though nothing of grand, historical importance), my ambition slipped away. No major loss. I never persuaded myself of the meaningful value of what the Western World was selling. I didn’t even try.

Beyond what I’ve said, I will add a couple of things you’ll find contradictory and add one more thought as a bonus:

  • I don’t find most well-educated people as rational as they think. And, yes, I include Dr. Stein in this group on occasion.
  • Despite humanity’s irrational pursuits, life can be delightful. I find myself smiling and laughing more than ever.
  • I take myself less seriously, too,

No advice today, just the above observations. Make of these statements as much or as little as you wish. And I should add, try not to carry grudges, but give as much love as you can muster. You will never run out.

Any other way will reduce your well-being and the happiness of those you care about — and those you will care about if you know them.

I guess there was some advice after all.

When Emotions Get the Best of Reason

Part of what makes life challenging has to do with overestimating our self-knowledge. I have many friends with prodigious intellectual qualities, but few whose behavior suggests they understand themselves as well as they think.

Indeed, I’ve been known to fall into the same confusion they do.

People find it far easier to identify the flaws in others than in themselves.

We raise a critical finger at those who vote for the “wrong” candidates, date ill-suited members of their preferred gender, and behave in a mind-boggling fashion.

Less time is spent pointing at the person in the mirror.

Why might that be? The question is complex, but I’ll offer you a simplified answer of significant, if incomplete, merit. It comes from a 17th-century Dutch philosopher who might have passed as a therapist if such a profession existed.

Can you guess his name? Of course not. Baruch Spinoza: 1632 – 1677.

Spinoza attempted a logical proof of our weakness in the face of external events and the disorganizing, confusing moods and temperaments they produced inside of us. Further, he thought our minds are easily fooled by misleading images of the nature of a universe full of things, plants, animals, and people.

Take man’s long-held opinion about the earth’s shape. Look outside, and remember everyone once trusted the absolute flatness of the planet. If you thought otherwise, no one believed you.

We now know better, I hope.

The philosopher points to several causes of our limited ability to think clearly. He considered men undercut by emotions impairing their capacity to reason. Furthermore, the ideas we form by reliance on our senses are inadequately thought out. Most of us become “slaves” to our feelings in Spinoza’s chosen word.

If we think of the world of today, examples come to mind. Many of us favor politicians who excite us to a state of blind trust. When those leaders deny the evidence of well-crafted science, their followers fall in line.

These demagogues make some “feel better” about themselves. They offer someone else to blame for their problems and, like Pied Pipers, take their “believers” toward a cliff they are unaware of.

Intellectual arguments alone don’t carry much power to alter fixed, erroneous thoughts underpinned by strong emotions. In Spinoza’s judgment, no feeling can be countered by “true knowledge” beneficial to well-being unless it carries emotional weight consistent with that truth.

I’m sure you’ve attempted to persuade acquaintances through well-organized reasoning and impressive evidence without success.

Ah, but the situation is not hopeless, indicated our friend Baruch. He believed “the more an emotion is known to us, the more it is within our control.” This argument came from Freud over 300 years later. The same ancient Greek maxim of “know thyself” arrived centuries before.

As Freud also knew, “true knowledge” or insight had to be attached to emotions to change thought and behavior. Once this combination finds its place within an individual, Spinoza tells us the person will no longer be enslaved by his feelings but become a “free man.”

In our own century, psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research confirms Spinoza’s recognition of our tendency to overvalue our intellectual gifts and discount the role of emotions in our lives.

Another point is worth underlining. The philosopher knew perfect understanding was available to no one. Perfection resided in God, according to the Dutchman, a God of marked differences from the usual definitions. Regardless, Spinoza conceived women and men as capable of improving their realistic awareness of the world as it is instead of being abducted into the bondage he described.

To end this oversimplified essay on a philosophy of significant difficulty, Baruch shows you and me the starting place from which we can improve our knack for steering clear of harmful temptations and desires: from overeating to choosing friends and mates ill-suited to our best interests.

Moreover, he predicted his recommended approach to life would enhance our contentment and reduce the number of misguided goals we seek. He meant those whose pursuit impairs us.

This long-departed man’s writings claim we cannot find fulfillment while dragged by emotions like wild horses off the path of self-empowerment.

First, however, we must accept our limited rationality and imperfect thought instead of assuming we routinely display excellent self-awareness and wisdom about what is to our advantage.

Ready to start?

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The painting of Spinoza is the work of Alexander Roitburd. It is sourced from Wikiart.org.

Outgrowing Our Problems

At our best, we don’t so much solve our problems as outgrow them. We add capacities and experiences that eventually make us triumphant over many of them.

An example: the luckiest of us sustain few losses early in life. With time the balance begins to shift, often with the departure of friends, but most of us can discover and recover the ability to flourish.

We persist. Moreover, according to Spinoza, the drive to persist appears to be built into us — part of our essence.

Those who understand the conditions of human existence realize tests of our competencies don’t end. These require the development of self-assertion, controlling our emotions, discovering how to persuade others, making and sustaining friendships, and giving up the dependence on defenders because we believe ourselves incapable of self-defense.

The unhappiness following disappointment and loss can stop us if we allow it to become a permanent limitation.

Life gives us many challenges and chances to learn from such situations. Backing off as a strategy invites severe consequences. The problem dominates us, and the impediment grows. The failure and trepidation wait for us to find the bravery inside. They are supremely patient.

If we reach the point of taking on that which defeats us, the dilemma recedes. The Goliath-like stumbling block shrinks, and our strengths increase.

We have grown out of the trouble, taken confidence from victory over the internal issue, and moved on to greater assurance in the capacity to master what comes next. Life may begin to appear less threatening.

Our scope has widened. We are no longer children competing with older kids or adults or humans confronting imaginary giants. Thanks to self-enlargement, our vision might even recognize happiness in the distance or present.

People have no choice but to make peace with life’s demands. Acceptance, gratitude, and the necessity of action are fundamental. Knowing when each of these fits the moment is essential.

The demons within exist side by side with the knowledge to surpass them, awaiting our discovery.

Success needn’t be defined as the acclaim of a crowd. Owning shortcomings and facing what we must do to overcome them achieves self-generated wealth in human, not financial terms: a gift we earn ourselves.

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The photo called Happiness is Wellness is the work of GiftedLydia and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The Difference Between Winning and Losing

Much of the Western World preoccupies itself with winning and losing. Think of sports, getting the highest grade at school, job promotions, and making more money than your neighbor (though you’d never say so).

The woman featured in this essay wished to instruct us of an essential, uplifting difference between winning and losing as we tend to define these two easy words.

Gerda Weissmann Klein understood the importance of things on a scale we cannot imagine unless we endured her late teens and early 20s beside her. Born in 1924, the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 led to the loss of her family and a series of slave labor work camps, detestable treatment, and a starvation diet.

Forward-looking advice helped save her. Her father insisted she wear ski boots if the new authorities took her away from home.

The ever dutiful teen complied with her dad’s wishes despite the approaching summer. The youthful Ms. Weissmann otherwise might not have survived repeated below-freezing winters. Such circumstances predicted near-certain death for those without adequate footwear.

An imaginative, dissociative skill enabled her tenuous existence, too. Some days, she occupied her head with frivolous, trivial things like a party she’d host after the liberation.

Holocaust survivors speak of whether each prisoner fully faced the otherworldly horror show of their lives. It helped if one intuitively blocked a part of one’s psychological vision rather than reckoning with the frank catastrophe enveloping them without letup. These responses were a matter of natural tendencies, not a thoughtful choice.

Those who dissociated (as Gerda did when she planned her party) had some slight chance of survival if enormous luck was also on their side.

The depth of the abyss then lost some of its downward pull.

—–

This woman’s father also required another promise of her: never to commit suicide, no matter what.

That, too, would be tested.

Sometimes we stay alive for others, for promises made to them, and for lives cut down.

It would have been easy for a person robbed of the early years of her life, family, and friends never to forgive those responsible for the crime, including the country from which they came.

Not so for this lady. Shortly after her experience of slave labor began, she arrived at a factory producing fabric for the German Army. There she faced a 40-year-old female guard wearing black: Frau Kugler.

I never (before) heard a human voice that barked.

She had a face like a bulldog. But her looks completely belied what was underneath it all.

She turned out to be the hope, the inspiration, perhaps the knowledge that all Germans weren’t cruel. She was a warm, caring human being who’d been given the job obviously because of her looks and because she had worked at the factory before the war.

She put a lie to the lips of all those who said they had no choice.

On one occasion in the same installation, Gerda and three other young women awoke in their barracks almost too ill to move. Kugler came to them and tied Weissman’s shoes.

“Girls, get yourself together. It is life or death today,” dragging them to their work positions and propping them up at the machines they needed to operate.

The sick, weakened girl noticed a man behind her later.

He dispatched those unable to perform to Auschwitz, a place of even greater jeopardy — an extermination camp. The lady guard was not kidding when she urged and helped them get back to work.

—–

The group to which Ms. Weissmann belonged moved from place to place, subjected to the whims of their overseers. The killing could be arbitrary, disfiguring brutality just as random. When not laboring on textiles, they laid bricks and emptied coal cars.

Yet friendship was also part of her strange existence, and unexpected kindness could be a balm.

My friend Ilse Kleinzahler, who died a week before we were liberated, once found a raspberry in the gutter on the way to the factory. It was in Grunberg, one of the most miserable camps, and she saved it all day long.

Ilse carried it in her pocket. The temptation must have been incredible, (but) she gave it to me that night on a leaf. She had plucked a leaf through the barbed wire, washed it, and presented me with one slightly bruised raspberry.

Most people think of (the Holocaust) as unrelieved horror. I like to remember some of the things in camp, how people helped each other. I want to tell young people about that, that there was friendship and love and caring.

Still in those ski boots, a three-month, 350-mile forced winter death march represented this survivor’s final trial during the war. Those who tried to escape or were unable to keep up were shot.

That strange road of winter woe began for about 2000 young Jewish women, all of the camp’s occupants. Fewer than 150 survived.

As the conflict wound down, the enemy army recognized their own lives were in peril and fled the approaching Allied Armies. This was the day before Ms. Weissmann’s 21st birthday.

Gerda and the human remnants of the experience remained in an abandoned Czech bicycle factory after the soldiers took off.

Much luck is involved in all such stories as if some sadist throws dice to determine people’s destiny. A demolition device set by the Nazis to destroy the female population within the building failed to detonate.

Gerda was standing in the doorway of the factory when a U.S Army jeep could be seen in the distance.

The driver saw her and stopped. One of the men inside walked up to her.

I remember the aura of him, the awe of disbelief … to really see someone who fought for our freedom. He looked like a God to me.

The Lieutenant asked if she spoke German or English. Ms. Weissman nodded, then added, We are Jewish, you know.

The soldier stood silent for what seemed a very long time, his eyes hidden behind the sunglasses he wore.

So am I,” he said.

Kurt Klein, the man she talked with, later became her husband.

He continued, using a formal manner of address unused by the Nazis because they believed the incarcerated “not worthy of life” (Untermenschen): Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others, including their own mentally ill.

Instead of disrespect, Lt. Klein asked if she might take him to visit the other “ladies.Then, as they entered the factory together, he opened the door for her. His words and actions opened something more.

This was the moment of restoration of humanity, humanness,” she said in her post-war descriptions of returning to civilization.

The officer was overwhelmed by the sight inside. Women wasted away, near death, staring with vacant eyes.

With a sweeping motion of her hand toward the emaciated crowd, his white-haired, 68-pound, 21-year-old “guide” uttered a quotation she learned in school during the “before” times.

Noble be man, merciful and good,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet. They both shared in the grim irony of words they knew from a poem called “On the Divine.”

Gerda Weissman Klein became a public face in the United States for the survivors of the genocide and those less fortunate. Living in Buffalo, NY, and later in Phoenix, AZ, the couple had three children, eight grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Klein’s story is conveyed in her own spoken words and those of her husband in the 39-minute 1995 movie, “One Survivor Remembers.The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject and was based on her book, “All but My Life.

At the 1996 Academy Award ceremony, she was on stage beside the film’s director Kary Antholis as he spoke. Her turn came, but a musical cue to depart began just as it did, along with the gentle prodding of an usher.

Mrs. Klein remained silent at the microphone.

The applause and the orchestra stopped. She then offered words to an audience of people who had been thinking and talking all night about winning and losing:

I have been in a place for six incredible years where winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day.

Since the blessed day of my liberation, I have asked the question, ‘Why am I here?I am no better.

In my mind’s eye, I see those years and days and those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.

On their behalf, I wish to thank you for honoring their memory, and you cannot do it in any better way than when you return to your homes tonight, to realize that each of you who know the joy of freedom are winners.

Gerda Weissmann Klein passed away on April 3, 2022, aged 97.

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The top image is the early teen Gerda Weissmann during peacetime. It is followed by A Helping Hand, the work of Safiyyah Scoggins and Laura Hedien’s Alaska Road Sign, 2021. 

Finally, the U.S. Lieutenant Kurt Klein, who became Gerda’s husband, and her speech at the Academy Awards Ceremony in 1996. A Helping Hand was sourced from Wikimedia.org/

How a Family Changes When a Parent Dies

About 20 years after our last meeting, I shared brunch with a girlfriend of my college years. We were then in our early 40s.

Her Chicago mom died a year before, and I offered some memories I had of her late parent. Janet’s eyes moistened, and she said, “No one knows mum anymore.

She told me that after her move to the East Coast in her early 20s, she’d lost touch with the friends of her youth who were familiar with her family. Now, no one but Jan’s husband and her sister shared the recall of her folks, and the spouse was no fan.

As a result, something was missing beyond the woman’s presence. Once someone departs, they still occupy a living memory space that continues so long as any “rememberers” live. The unreality, loneliness, and despair attached to the misfortune are magnified when few witnesses remain.

That nonphysical library of recollection houses stories, funny and sad, and knowledge of the good and bad — a repository of the essential players and their experiences in the place and time they were all alive.

While sharing memory space with sisters and brothers may mitigate the hardship, it tends not to erase it. The demise causes an unpredictable number of potential changes. Few adult children see this coming.

They’ve known mortality was inevitable, but the suddenly silenced voice creates new realities unless a prolonged illness happens first.

Here are a few possible transformations involving relationships among the offspring.

1. We do not all respond identically to the death of a loved one. Some are stoic, some overwhelmed, others relieved. For example, adult children who did not resolve differences with the deceased may wish they had spoken earlier or made one last effort.

2. Differing reactions to the passing can cause siblings to think a brother or sister is making too much of the event. Or exposes less pain than is proper.

3. Sibs can also become closer in their mutual sadness and the process of offering and receiving comfort. In the most benign of circumstances, they show kindness and convey the sense that death demands the best of them because life and their loving attachments are all they have.

Recognition of the shortness of life and the significance of setting aside grudges can bond these witnesses to the life just gone by.


4. Some offspring recognize the importance of sustaining the memory of the departed one. Shared recollections and family jokes form a portion of their inheritance, an automatic bequest to survivors. Efforts to preserve that legacy might gain energy.

5. For those who share the extremity of the loss, reliance on the other for support presents a challenge. Imagine two swimmers beside each other, both sinking. Moreover, dealing with the details of funerals, memorials, unpaid bills, and managing the estate and the division of property tends to take precedence.

Attention to such practical and legalistic considerations holds the potential to disappoint those who interpret a sibling’s soldier-like necessity as a disrespectful lack of emotion. Alternatively, those who feel at sea can experience gratitude toward an individual who relieves them of a piece of the dark weight pulling them down.

Siblings process their internal complexities at different speeds. Anger and denial present themselves dramatically. Devastation creates slowed motion — the sense of walking as if in a fog, out of touch and forgotten by the rest of the world

All this carries surprise. Some who were weak might discover strength. Sibs who lived a life of authority may be bowled over by the tragedy.

6. There is still more to the family’s cleanup, reassembly, and repair than tasks uncompleted by a late parent. Caretaking if the senior was already in decline should be included in any accounting.

The challenge is more formidable if animosity between siblings exists concerning “who didn’t do his part” in taking on oversight of the failing sire.

No less is the resentment carried if they consider themselves a child disfavored by either a parent or a sib.

Feelings emerge about an unpaid indebtedness owed by those who did little or nothing for the folks, including phone calls or visits. Of course, whether and how much gratitude is due resides in “the eye of the beholder.

The extent of those unfairnesses and the need for acknowledgment, thanks, and compensation depend on one’s perspective. If one of the folks survives, this further complicates what must be done to sustain the widow or widower.

7. Inequity of a different kind occurs if one of the parties removes heirlooms or other material things such as jewelry, paintings, and objects of unique meaning. Conflicts arise when verbal promises or understandings of “who gets what” haven’t been put in writing, were changed or ignored after wills were written.

8. A respected and respectful family head, often by his presence alone, enables civility in his children’s actions and reactions toward each other during his lifetime. Once departed, old differences between his offspring may erupt, and more recent ones emerge. In a sense, the authority figure kept everyone in line.

9. Multiple possibilities exist for the “afterlife” of the brood.

For example, if the parent set one child against another, his absence as an instigator of bitterness gives the siblings room to reduce or repair past difficulties.

Another possibility includes drifting apart from the family of origin. When the elder functioned like glue holding his descendants together, it is common for the sticky substance to disappear along with his life.

The physical distance between the adult children creates little chance for complete involvement of everyone in all the details of putting an earthly life to rest. Moreover, shared mourning must surmount one more hurdle when family members soon need to return to faraway locations and their lives and responsibilities elsewhere.

Similarly, focusing on the next generation and living in-laws can loosen the bonds between brother and sister. Sibs now have one less reason to get together on holidays.


10. Imagine a group with leaders and followers, funny and serious members, optimists and pessimists. Include whatever other characteristics you have noted within family groups. The removal of one such person might provide an open space, a type of vacuum in the form of an empty slot to be filled.

Think of what follows as an attempted corporate takeover, either a happy enhancement of the family’s togetherness or a ruthless change of ownership. Relationships and alliances shift and reshape themselves while adjusting to the recent vacancy.

If not well managed, a kind of game of musical chairs can make one or another feel left out or disadvantaged by the loss of status and influence.

11. Finally, the departure of a parent marks an end, not only of his literal availability but of a continued sense of him as a guiding, almost eternal protector and comforter.

When soldiers sustain severe wounds on the battlefield, it is common to hear them calling for “mother.This unconscious notion of one’s progenitor as a stabilizing life force takes on godlike qualities beginning in childhood — the ability to assuage injuries and heal them with a kiss or a hug.

Obviously, if mom or dad died at a point after aging rendered them unable to occupy such a role, the disappearance of this security needn’t be so disturbing. Yet our perception of those we have depended on from the start doesn’t always agree with their aged capacities.

We carry the psychological desire for a devoted and unconditionally loving caretaker who supports us throughout our lives. Ideally, the parent figure has our back, cheers us on, and will “be there” when the chips are down.

Instead, the new reality tells us we must bolster our own confidence and take on the world with less help, a lonelier task now than before. It also informs us of our place next in line, moving toward the end of things.


If the upbringing we received is adequate and our will strong enough, we will grow into the job mom and dad held, providing reliance and a model for our own children.

Meanwhile, the connections among siblings can be thrown into the air like a deck of cards. The rearrangement can be painful, disorienting, or beneficial.

Much depends on what they do with it.

How do I know? Apart from my experience working with families, I also came from one that needed some work, as most do. I have two stalwart brothers, and we try hard to show respect and affection, sharing memories along the way. Our parents continue to “live” in the hearts they left behind.

I consider my fellowship and love for Ed and Jack a responsibility, a necessity, and one of the most important things I’ve ever participated in, not simply for them but for myself.

The Stein family of my generation is not finished yet.

Of that, I think Milton and Jeanette Stein would be pleased.

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The top photo is The Gribith Brothers and Sisters by Misterbowls. It is followed by Cold Sunset in Wyoming, 2022 by Laura Hedien. Next comes Brother and Sister, 1974, the work of Phongpaseuth.

The oldest photograph is a portrait by Berget of Andrew Winberg with Brothers and Sisters in Warren, Minnesota, around 1903, now housed at the University of Washington. Finally, a late 1959 picture of my family of origin. Jack, myself, and Eddie from left to right. Behind us, Dad and Mom — Milton and Jeanette Stein.

All of these were sourced from Wikimedia Commons with the exception of the Stein family and Laura Hedien’s wonderful shot: Laura Hedien Official Website.

Thank you, Laura, for your art and your permission to feature it here.

What is Your Legacy? The Simple Answer is Within Your Reach

The future is like a taxi driver awaiting our direction. “Where to?”

What we leave behind at the end of our trip — our legacy — attempts to answer the question, “When I pass the baton, what will the next runner receive?”

Does emphasizing personal success, outsized ambition, and individual prosperity leave something worth a lifetime?

Will a career of stature make the best life and legacy?

Here are two alternatives routes worth considering. The first is the path one woman pursued searching for “the good life.” The second adds you to the picture.

Really.

To begin, please read this eloquent description of the female I mentioned:

Legacies are hard things. As a teacher, you have no idea, usually, what’s going on on the other side of the table, and you won’t know for 20 years, 30 years, 50 years — you probably will never know what the lasting effects are, so I wouldn’t claim much. But I’ll say that Amy was an absolutely masterful teacher.

I was pretty good, but she was fabulous. And she was fabulous because if a student asked her a question, she turned it back on them. She didn’t feel obliged to give answers. She was there to make them think and think harder.

A student would say something, and if it was halfway good, she would say, “Another sentence …,” and it was flattering to the student to think they had another sentence in them, besides the best that they’d give you.

They searched for it, and they found it.

The other thing to say about her is that the women students, especially, saw and treasured in Amy the fact that she integrated naturally and easily a beloved life of teaching and learning, and a beloved life of marriage and family.

She wasn’t proving a point. She just did it. The students were invited into our home. They saw all aspects of her, and a lot of the students gravitated to her for this reason.

I am sure you realize the last sentence identifies the speaker as the husband of this remarkable educator. Amy Kass died in 2015, and the quotation comes from her mate, Leon Kass. If I listed all their combined achievements, you would be humbled, but they include books, civil rights activism, medicine, and much more. Concerning what her husband highlights, she was an instructor in the humanities at the University of Chicago.

What else do the words from the man tell us about his wife, the direction of her life, and the possibility of one’s own legacy?

He underlines a grace in her interactions with the young people who wished to learn from her. She lifted them by evoking their best — thoughts unexpressed but for her attempt to provoke their self-questioning, careful reading, and rejection of easy answers.

Amy Kass must have been the type of instructor you encounter once or twice in a lifetime — if you are lucky.

The kind you never forget.

Her partner mentions more than her professional attainments. He highlights how she lived, emphasizing her love for him and their family. She opened herself to other relationships out of her love of people.

As a professor of classics, she not only talked with her students about how thinkers in antiquity valued nobility of character, but she provided an effortless illustration in her everyday actions by being generous, eager, honorable, devoted, strong, and considerate in the classroom and beyond.

Now, the second answer I promised follows from the first. To leave a fine legacy, you needn’t become famous, make tons of money, or raise heroic children.

Attempt to match the guidance Marcus Aurelius, the ancient Roman emperor, gave himself:

No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, ‘No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.’

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.15

This much — to be good — we all control. There is no need to listen to all the bullying or tempting voices which diminish or entice you.

The word legacy might sound too grand for such a modest approach to each day, but it is also brave. You will touch many lives and leave behind invisible traces of yourself by taking the advice of this statesman and Stoic philosopher.

Virtue is possible now, this instant, and all the time ahead of you. It is yours if you make it so. I’ll bet Amy Kass would have agreed.

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The painting is called School Teacher by Jan Steen. It is followed by Holger Ellgaard’s photo of the Carl Milles sculpture, Guds Hand (The Hand of God). They are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

What Psychologists Know: Two Resources for Self-Improvement

Therapists are flooded with information, challenging them to “keep up” with recent developments in their profession. It should be no surprise, then, if clients often come unprepared to aid themselves or a loved one in a pressured moment.

Here are some free and helpful resources. The National Register of Health Service Psychologists offers podcasts on various treatment issues. The programs run for about 15 — 40 minutes.

Among the topics available thus far are:

  • reducing chronic pain
  • the impact of stress about climate change
  • racism in therapy
  • treating gambling disorder
  • anorexia
  • male clients in counseling
  • psychological services for firefighters
  • transitioning from in-person to telepsychology
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • weight management

You can find links to these and more topics here:

Podcasts

While the programs are intended for professionals in the field, my sampling of the recordings suggests they have something to offer to intelligent listeners outside of it.

One such example is Dr. Beth Darnall’s podcast on “The Role of Psychology in Treating Chronic Pain.” The Professor includes a discussion of a new treatment not requiring medication.

Empowered Relief” is a brief approach for the approximately 50 million Americans with this condition.

A second series of podcasts features the work of famous Yale Professor Laurie Santos and The Happiness Lab/

Consider this more like an informal, practical talk with your favorite teacher and guests.

Dr. Santos takes “you through the latest scientific research and shares some surprising and inspiring stories that will forever alter the way you think about happiness,” according to the website.

Podcast topics include:

  • improving your relationship to anger
  • forgiveness
  • avoiding burnout
  • embracing sadness in the pursuit of happiness
  • guilt
  • reducing anxiety
  • grieving
  • feed yourself like you’d feed a loved one
  • working your way to happiness
  • a happier Christmas

I hope you find these helpful.

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The top image is A Helping Hand (Sunset Along the California Coast) by Damian Gadal. It is sourced from Wikimedia.org/

Recapturing the Joy of Childhood

Do you remember back when you were nine years old? How the prospect of turning 10 stood like a skyscraper, a monumental achievement, a towering number in two digits? You — yes, you — transformed into something larger, more important, closer to grown-upness?

For small children, imagination and reality exist on the same level. When you play a soldier, you turn into one. When you put on your Superman outfit, the fake muscles become real, and your thoughts take flight. A princess costume creates enchantment and elegance.

The magic mirror confirms, “You are the fairest of them all.

Playing these parts is unselfconscious, the pleasure joyous, the movements spontaneous. Summers seem endless, and the friends of every day never imagine a future without you.

Mom and dad demonstrate how to do things, read stories leading you to master the skill yourself, and are lovelier, brighter, and stronger than others who use the same pronouns.

The idea of illness never enters. The body housing you heals minor injuries in the time it takes for mom to give you a hug. Chicken soup and kisses serve as unfailing elixirs.

Limitless destiny carries the belief everything is achievable. Life (with the help of parents) offers gifts, birthday celebrations, prepared meals, and treats you like royalty. The guarantee of your guardians’ immortality and your own is never in doubt.


Gradually something happens. Imagination loses some of its footing while reality claims more of the ground. Spontaneity and uninhibited joy no longer arrive with the sunshine. Yet, the far side of childhood needn’t be as challenging as this sounds.

Yes, the magical healing power of mom’s touch has passed into yesterday, but other affections offer compensation.

Once middle-aged, long-standing friends don’t expect you to prove yourself. If you’ve done moderately well in pursuing your goals, achievements don’t insist on so much attention. Aches and pains may not be fun but are just the cost of living, companions reminding you to relish each instant.

Without childrearing responsibilities, more time exists to admire the sky and salute the moonlight. Meanwhile, experience has taught you the value of nature’s poetry and human kindness, evoking your gratitude. If you’ve largely escaped harm’s way, you recognize the life-enhancing necessity of giving something back, as well.

The delight of early life grows out of parental love, the dazzle of “first times,” and mastering the new world. In a sense, it also depends on the ignorance of life’s demanding adult future.

For those on the far side of youth, reclaiming joy requires something different. It asks for knowledge, not naivete: awareness of the inevitable end of things.

Recognizing that truth, all our remaining abilities and opportunities can grow in importance. We have the chance to learn and laugh, treasure precious friends and those we love even more, and savor nature’s beauty anew. They enlarge gratitude in what remains, so much of which was taken for granted before.

Life will never be perfect, but its imperfections provide perspective on what is essential at the day’s end. Chicagoans who remember Studs Terkel’s name will recall his gift of eliciting the best from the thousands he interviewed, the qualities we must seek for ourselves with age.

And, as if to remind us how to live, Studs always signed off his radio program with the words, “Take it easy, but take it.

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I am sure many of you have been moved by the human tragedies unfolding in Ukraine. Read more on how you can help Ukraine here.

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The sculpture is called Joy by Bruce Garner, located in Ottawa, Canada, as photographed by Jeangagnon. Beneath it is The Joy of Playing Together by Rasheedhrasheed. Both were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Trust: The High Hurdle of Therapy

The issue of trust of a therapist has rarely had more resonance. I wrote this blog seven years ago.

Dr. Gerald Stein

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All relationships are either therapeutic or non-therapeutic. Or perhaps I should say, sometimes therapeutic and sometimes not. A relationship with a counselor is not exempt from this complication. Bloggers in treatment suggest that no other topic so unsettles the soul.

The heart is easily torn. A therapist tries to get inside a patient in a way more intimate than most sexual encounters. The client is expected to strip down before the healer in a metaphorical sense. Remember, our custom of shaking hands derives from the need of two souls to prove they are unarmed — that to be near is not to risk injury. Even without weapons, however, danger is there.

Partners in friendship, love, and therapy make assumptions. Sometimes these unstated beliefs undermine the possibility of understanding and trust. Trust is like a garment made out of words and expressions; actions and expectations. In the space of less than…

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Have You Been Morally Lucky?

In the year my wife and I returned to Chicago from my stint as an East Coast college professor, we encountered a surprising November snowfall. I remember heading for work on the morning after the Thursday evening whitening of the autumn world.

We lived in an apartment building located in the city’s Northwest corner. My work-a-day routine was always the same. I drove the half-block west from Summerdale toward a dependable stop sign. It never failed to be on the job.

The speed limit on the perpendicular road ahead was 35 miles an hour. I needed to take care and look for a break in the traffic before making a 90 degree right turn.

The snow said otherwise.

My sedan skidded as I approached the stopping place and knifed forward. No stop, no checking for other cars, just a horrifying bolt into no-man’s land.

Nothing happened, no other vehicles. I reached the opposite side of the thoroughfare feeling hugely lucky. Not only in the conventional sense but “morally lucky.”

What does that mean?

Though I didn’t exceed the required pace as I neared the STOP, the law argues I was going too fast “for conditions.”

Yes, I could have been injured, perhaps killed. Yes, I could have done the same to someone else.

What is less obvious is a hypothetical responsibility. A typical reaction to my story lacks the unfortunate ending to call the thought to mind. No harm, no moral implications. This is as much or as little as we think about it.

But what if my misguided missile shot into the intersection and killed someone? Then, I guarantee you, blame enters the theater. Then, part of the human race says I was irresponsible or careless. “He should have known better.”

I’d not disparage those who judged me in the lethal version of the incident. Indeed, I can’t find any unfairness in finger-wagging at a less than 100% irresponsibility or carelessness on my part. I drove the car, and the license allowing me the privilege demanded I do better.

Please understand, I’m sure no one would think of my behavior in moral terms, good or bad, but for bodily injury to another. Without an accident, the label “lucky” alone applies.

I offer this meditation on an everyday occurrence to reveal two things:

  • Human well-being, positive or negative, turns on incidents like this.
  • The judgment rendered by that same humanity rests on many such accidents or their absence.

But it is even more complicated.

Are you inclined to fault a person born under different conditions than your own who becomes a drug addict, a criminal, or a vagrant? Does the place you and the other land on the first day of life alter your chances of being a “good” person?

Is this not another version of the slippery street and the happenstance of a late-night snowfall? Is this not akin to my ramming someone or entering an empty boulevard?

Most of us applaud the hard work, resilience, or wisdom we possess, pointing to such qualities when explaining our relative “success.”

I encourage everyone to reflect with gratitude on the genetic lottery’s part in predetermined advantageous physical, emotional, and intellectual gifts. Thank God if you choose.

You and I are among the morally lucky some of the time. Who might any of us have become in another setting? With other parents or in a different country?

For myself, on another day, or a minute earlier or later, I might have caused another’s death driving along as I did.

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The images are the work of Laura Hedien with her permission: Laura Hedien Official Website. The first is called Metra Train Platform, 8/20. The second is an Alaska Road Sign, 2021.