Simple wisdom; mighty voice

“But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.”

With these carefully crafted words in an address to the U.S. Congress, Pope Francis identified the central flaw in our political climate: the need to be right which demonizes all dissident opinions as wrong, evil, hateful.

Today’s politics deny compromise, creativity, civility, freedom of thought, and even friendship. Once a mind clamps down on one side of an argument, all intelligent conversation stops. “I’m right, therefore you are wrong” is not the beginning of a dialogue.

I have lost one long-time friend and mentor who has gone this way. His whole world is now painted black and white. There are no greys in his life. His feet are firmly planted in cement to the extent that he now uses his wit and withered wisdom to flay those who disagree with him. So surprised was I to find this man, whom I credit with teaching me how to reason, now a strident champion for faulty cause and effect. Over the course of the past year, this nearly broke my heart, and then I just stopped talking to him.

He is a Catholic, so I can only hope he listened to his Pope, and saw himself as he was when I treasured his teaching. I wept for this loss in my life.

I am not a Catholic, and I wept as the Pope, in describing how the world should be cared for and used, vividly illustrated the destructive thinking we see all around us by contrast.

Pope Francis issued a humble call to action with such simple truths, I found it hard to think about some of today’s political aspirants in the same room with him. I hope they too heard him…and listened.


Avoidance behavior

How many excuses can you find to:

• go off a diet;
• not go to the gym;
• spend time with someone;
• wash the windows;
• heck, wash the damn dishes?

If I have mastered anything, it is the ability to, first, develop a good habit I feel I can continue forever; and then just drop it for almost any stupid reason. I have found that I’m not alone in this, and may be actually quite a normal human. We are all, it seems, able to start things with a great head of steam, only to fizzle to a cold mist of ennui.

It’s almost as though there is some evil outside force acting against self-improvement or accomplishment. I used to think that our dreams came from some place we can’t control. And then I realized they come from our own brain, addled, rattled, scattered, but ours.

There are no excuses except those we make up; there is no one to blame (or forgive) but ourselves.

I am publically berating myself today because, after writing what seems to be a fairly good novel, I have let it sit all summer. The key word here is “I.” I could offer a list of excuses, and talk about not being too hard on myself, but the fact remains if I want to get published only I can do something about it.

OK, enough of that!

I’m going to get on my own band wagon and get the word out that I have words of my own worth reading. While I begin the arduous process of seeking commercial “approval,” I will offer excerpts here from my book. I would really, really appreciate feedback of all kinds. Today, I get a thicker skin. So, here is the introduction to “Bread for my Father.”

Bread for my Father


Life was not as much full of promise as it was absent of denial. A generation of children of mostly poor and bewildered immigrants was growing up in New York City’s outer edges with no clear understanding of their limits. Some of these children would soon confront their inevitable barriers and sink under the weight. Others would use having little as an indication that everything could be theirs. One such child saw life as his adventure, the Bronx as a series of gateways to a mysterious and endlessly exciting world.

And yet, his limitations would prove crushing to many kids he grew up around. He was Jewish, the middle child of a Russian immigrant whose husband walked out one day to take up with a dance hall girl. It was 1926 and he was 11. Soon, even the richest inhabitants of the “big city” across the bridges would realize ruin.

Curiosity and an unwillingness to tell himself “no” when facing a challenge marked his progress through childhood. He learned early how to “grow” money, how to navigate the hostile world around him. He learned survival from his mother, who went to work to support her three children.

As he grew he found many ways to escape the Bronx. Insatiable for learning, his imagination carried him away. Once on a path to something he wanted, it never occurred to him that success might not be possible. Unable to believe in or depend upon his father, he had a stunning quantity of faith in himself. He gorged himself on knowledge. Always questioning, he soon discovered how to find the answers.

His prescription for life was exquisitely simple: play it straight; save always for the future; anything is possible; don’t quit; have fun; put all you have into any venture; be happy. Of course, this amount of confidence and optimism needed to be shored up. This child learned to be stubborn, circumspect and creative in ways he used to his benefit. This will all develop as you follow young Ben Peretz through an exciting, and sometimes perilous, life.