Tag Archive: why bad things happen


   

This is a rather long article and I am posting it without my usual insertion of photos and illustrations.  I am reposting it exactly the way it was originally done.  It is well worth the investment of time it takes to read it.  This article is a real eye-opener and I hope you feel that way too.

I was honored to be asked to deliver a sermon (really a speech) with a theme of bullying during services at my place of worship recently. I thought I would share the speech that I gave with you. It’s a bit lengthy, but I thought the subject matter appropriate to share… (~Alan Eisenberg)


The bible reading this week is AHAREI MOT, which in Hebrew means AFTER THE DEATH. This is because it takes place right after the Death of Moses’s brother Aaron’s two sons. The reading is also maybe even more significant, because it is also the origin of the YOM KIPPUR ritual.

Interestingly and possibly even intentionally, this reading takes place about 6 months after and equally six months prior to our YOM KIPPUR. It’s as if to say that we should remember that making atonement is not just a once a year event. It has always been a challenge for me to understand the idea of the once a year atonement. I know that some of us believe we have the other 364 days to build up our mistakes so that once a year we can ask for forgiveness, and then even then, we only ask it of god. While in other religions, they go weekly to confess their sins and ask for atonement, but again, only to god. Why to god, as if he is going to tell the people who most need to hear it.

Why do we struggle to say the words ANI MITZTA’ER … Hebrew for I’m sorry! Why is this so hard for us to do? And what does it mean to others when you say it to them, sincerely, and meaningfully.

David Brin, an American science fiction author, has one of my favorite quotes on the subject. He said: Why must conversions always come so late? Why do people always apologize to corpses?” The author Harriet Beech Stowe said it as well when she said “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone.”

 How often I have seen this as the truth. How many of us regret the moments we didn’t say I’m sorry. I was 21 when my grandmother died. She had lived within driving distance of us my whole life. I had spent summers with her and shared many special moments during my childhood. When I was 21, I was in college and she and I had drifted apart.  For many reasons not spoken here, we had argued recently and I didn’t apologize. And then she was gone and I could no longer tell her what I wanted to.

ZAY MOYKHL! That’s Yiddish for I’m sorry and a language she spoke often to me. Unfortunately it was typically to tell me that I was MESHUGEH (crazy). Being a fan of movies, I often quote them sometimes to the pleasure or dismay of others. I find comfort in the lines from movies, because they help me to understand that others go through what we all do. When it comes to this idea of waiting to say you are sorry, I drift to an unlikely movie, “The Sixth Sense”, which is mistaken as a scary movie, when it is really about discovering a power to help others and do good. And no, it’s not that the guy is dead at the end. And if I just ruined that for you, you should have seen the movie 10 years ago anyway. At the end of the movie; the boy who has the power to talk to the dead tells his mother that his grandmother, his mother’s mother who had passed away years ago, has been talking to him. The boy’s mother and his grandmother had a falling out years before and the mother was suffering with guilt from it. He tells his mother that the grandmother wanted to tell her something. It was an answer to a question the mother asked every time she visited her grave that went unanswered. The answer from the grandmother was“EVERY DAY”. The boy asks his mother what question she asked when she visited the grandma’s grave. His mother says the question is “DO I MAKE HER PROUD?” At that moment in the movie, the mother is able to release the pain she had carried with her all those years.

But in life, we don’t get to talk to the dead and they don’t get to answer us. It is ironic that this is the week I have been invited to deliver this D’Vor Torah, because I contemplate this question often when I speak to groups about bullying. Since 2007 I have chosen to take on the cause of helping others cope with the pain and suffering they feel from being bullied. I speak to groups and have a website of stories and information to try to help others. I started this to help myself, because I too had been a victim of bullying as a child and knew the long-term suffering this was bringing to others. I realized that the theme I would share when I spoke was one of trying to teach and promote empathy and find forgiveness. Because it is in heart and head that we carry the burden of the pain of cruelty and also the guilt of what we did. I had no idea in 2007 how this decision would change my life.

I decided my first action would be to write down all of the stories I remembered from those years of bullying. I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts in the 1970s and this is where it all took place. This is important later. I wrote my stories onto a website. I did it just for me to release these things from me and put them to rest. But it would not be so easy. A few years later, I was invited to speak about my stories. This was also very difficult and the pain of those memories would come back to me. You see, I believe we never really forget the wrongs done to us, we just store them in the back of our minds and put them in a deep place. But they build over time and without the apology, without someone making amends, I believe they make us a harder person. But over the last five years, it seems many have found my site and find hope in the words posted there. What I never expected was that those people I knew in Lexington would find my stories as well and that I would have to confront these words. . .I’m sorry.

The first person to find his story was actually my best friend from those years. I knew he had found them, because he started replying to other posts with his memory. But he hadn’t found his story. You see he had hurt me as well. One Halloween, he and my other friends had taunted me from the woods and ran off, leaving me to walk home alone, no candy in my bag. Looking back as an adult, it doesn’t seem that bad. But our memories are from the age that things happen. He read his story and then I received his note directly to me…30 years later.

He wrote: “For what it’s worth, and what I recall of that night, it was just kids being kids… I think we were all just being goofy with the mischief of the night, being Halloween and all…and I will say I am sorry if your feelings were hurt.”For those young people in the audience, can you imagine getting a note from your friend 30 years later apologizing? I couldn’t and was embarrassed I had put him in that position. But you know what, I felt a little better. I called him and we talked for hours after that. We still do today. A little repair.  Pra-stEE-te…That’s Russian for I’m Sorry.

I had hoped that would be the last. I never really expected anyone to read my site anyway. Who am I? Just someone trying to work his way through life. I then was looking through my old Bar Mitzvah book one day and saw that there was a boy in it from Lexington who I couldn’t recall our times together. I knew his name, but not the times we spent together. He found me through Facebook one day and wrote to me recounting all the good times we had. He particularly reminded me of the time we blew up our toys with firecrackers. Don’t tell anyone I did that though. He wrote: I must say that you moving away was one of the saddest events to me. We became such good buddies so fast. I have an unbelievable amount of memories hanging out together, doing sleepovers, and just being generally mischievous…

It bothered me not to remember him, his memories were so vivid of me. Then I discovered why. In his second note his explanation told me when he wrote:

I remember being incredibly sad when you moved away. I got over it of course, but there’s always been something about it in the back of my mind that’s bothered me. Specifically, what happened at the end of 7th grade when we had a fist fight at school. As far as fistfights went, it wasn’t unusual. Even for friends, because usually they can move on and endure that kind of stuff. But what’s bothered me since then (and I was just thinking about it only a couple of weeks ago before you contacted me) was how that injured our friendship, and then you moved away before we could really set it completely right. That was a mean day for me, and one which I really wish I could have back.

And since a window of opportunity doesn’t always open for long, I have to use our reconnection to tell you now how incredibly sorry I still am for what I did to make that fight happen, for every blow struck against you, and for whatever mean (and I mean in the low-class, uncaring, dirty, and despicable sense) action or words that were used by me, before or after. ut I’ve always known that my part in that event was a sin, and one which I still hold onto. I have never forgotten about it.

32 years later. That guilt was still with him every day. And I had blocked him from my memory, because the pain of losing one more friend during those years was too much for me. We talked and shared our feelings. He was able to say sorry in person and I did too. Even though I didn’t remember, I was sorry. But to me I thought “what if I hadn’t made my site and found him?” Would that still haunt him to the end? Do we all have that inside us. But for me, a little more repair.

Finally, I want to share this more recent story that took place in December. By far, it was the hardest story for me. You see there was a moment in time when I was the bully and the guilt was in me. During Hebrew school class one day we put tacks on one of the kids chairs, not a few, like ten. We thought it would be funny. When he sat down it wasn’t. I felt bad about doing it. See he was the one who got picked on then and I was the one participating in it. I shared that as well on my site. Well, it seemed in the five years since I started it, my site and stories had been read by many and at what would have been the 25th reunion of the high school in Lexington, Massachusetts, it seems they were talking about me, the bully expert who writes about the bullying that happened there. It seems to some, I was a local hero to write about what happened to not just me, but I would find out to many. It seems that the boy, now a man, who we did the tack attack to heard as well and found his story on my site. I knew he did, because I heard from his friends, who wrote not too kindly to me. It was my turn to have to reach out and say I was sorry. I was racked with guilt…31 years later. I called him. I said the words…I’m Sorry…I expected anger. What I got was a wonderful conversation with an old friend who was happy for my call and for sharing our stories. He had it far worse, but he used it for strength. He repaired a bit. I repaired a bit. We talk often now…it is behind us.

I feel lucky to have had these three experiences for saying I’m Sorry. Many of the negative feelings that I started with five years ago have left me. I think in some way, I have helped others do the same. This weekend, I saw the documentary called BULLY that just came out. I wish I could tell you much has changed, but it seems not. In it, an awkward 14-year-old named Alex is beaten daily on the bus and ignored by all. His mother asks him “doesn’t it bother you, doesn’t it hurt you?” He just says in calm anger, “I really don’t think I feel anything at all anymore”. So what happens next to him, to others. There are many stories of children, young children, that commit suicide from bullying. It is too late to say I’m sorry after that and many are left with the guilt. I think it interesting that this weekend’s reading deals with Aaron and this loss of his children. Is this where the origin of Yom Kippur starts? What does that do to an individual…to society? These are rhetorical questions I ask often as I contemplate the issue of bullying.

What difference would it make if we just said “I’m Sorry” more often and meant it when we said it. As I and some of my elementary school friends have learned, it’s never too late to say you are sorry. It changes lives. And I can tell you it feels good just to say it and move on…

Jammer!…Oprostite!…Tevechi…Anteeksi…Desole…Gomen Nasai…Przepraszam!… Samahani…Xin loi… ANI MITZTA’ER…I’m Sorry.

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The blog site for this post contains a host of useful information on bullies and bullying, including hotline numbers.
To view the blog where this post originated, please follow the link below:
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god (Photo credit: the|G|™)

There is a knot in my gut that never seems to go away anymore.  The stress and fear never go away either.   I walk quickly between classes, keeping my head down, eyes averted, hoping against hope that just this once they won’t notice me.  hey won’T be waiting.  Lurking.  I still limp from when they broke my legs.  Both of them at the same time.  It still hurts so much.  An accident.  And those bullies just stared dead at me with smirks on their faces because they knew I would be too much of a coward to say otherwise.  I try really hard not to use the bathroom all day, not drinking at all because going into the restrooms holds its own particular kind of hell if they catch me there.  I can’t concentrate.  My grades are slipping.  I am slipping.  In my mind I still hear all the kids laughing at me as they call me names, trip me, hit me, and whatever else they can think to do to me.  They call me “homo,” and “moron,” and “loser” and worse.  They pushed my face into a toilet at school right after one of them had used it.  They pushed my face right into their mess and then high-fived each other and laughed as I cried and puked my guts out.  I awaken each morning from my nightmares which are still kinder than my daily reality.  I slide from nightmare to waking daymare to nightmare to waking daymare in an endless circuitous prison.  Whoever coined, “TGIF,” had no idea what it is really like when Friday marks the only respite in my life from constant terror and humiliation.  I live for weekends and vacations, but a dark cloud always looms larger and larger the closer the day  comes when I must return to school.  My mom complains about me spending more and more time alone in my room.  It has become my haven that guards my secret torment.  It harbors my secret tears of rage and shame.  I weep in a silent scream into my pillow as my mind turns constantly over the same tracks of self-dialogue relentlessly beating and crashing against my soul.

Emo Boy

“I can’t take it anymore!  I hate them!  Why do they have to keep picking on me?  Why can’t they leave me alone?  Because I am a big loser!  I’m a loser just like they say.  I am a fat, ugly, stupid loser!”  I rock with the pain moving to some ancient,  wailing rhythm from a siren of destruction only I can hear.  I am slipping further and further inside myself, retreating from this world into a place of lost reality and agony from which one day I will not be able to return.  “I hate myself! I hate myself!  I am such a waste of space!  I wish I was dead!  I can’t do this anymore!  I can’t go back!  God, don’t let my mom find out!  Oh, I am so ashamed!  I am such a wimp; I can’t make them stop!  I just want to die!  Just let me die, God!  Please.  I want to die.”My world grows darker each day as I struggle to hang on until one day, I just can’t take it anymore.  I take all their hate and turn it in on myself with all the rage I have slowly, silently, lethally felt building deep below the surface.

Then everyone will ask, “How could we not have known how bad it was?  We missed all the signs.  Everything seemed okay. I looked like I was handling things ok.  How could I do it?  Why didn’t we help?  Why didn’t we realize?”

grave stone

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ഇടനാടൻ ചെങ്കൽക്കുന്നുകളിൽ കാണപ്പെടുന്ന ശലഭം.

ഇടനാടൻ ചെങ്കൽക്കുന്നുകളിൽ കാണപ്പെടുന്ന ശലഭം. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been so frustrated and angry with myself.  I have fallen back into my coccoon.  That grey, foggy state of stagnancy that shrouds me in my boxed-in rut.  Today as I was lamenting in my brain this holding pattern in which I seem to find myself once again, I made my mental list of maladies.  I seem to be stuck at my current weight.  For about a month now I have hardly moved.  The needle on the scale just sits there on that same number that gave me glee last month but now makes me want to take an axe to my scale.  I have not written since moving.  Well, some half-finished stuff in my notebooks and journals, but nothing online, nothing submitted, nothing to give me a sense of accomplishment.  I have not finished unpacking–yes, the catalyst of my entire current catatonic state of limbo was when, upon moving here together, my brother and I mutually agreed we would be better off if we each had our own residence.  And since you cannot divorce a sibling, at least not in this country, it is better to get homes as close as possible to each other.   So, once more, as I have for the last four years, I live in a cardboard universe.  To say that I have come to despise cardboard boxes does not do justice to the intensity of my emotions.  I want a home!  My home, where all of my favorite things adorn it and have their honored places.  Dreams of a magnificent abode or a unique living arrangement like my life-long fantasy of living on a boat, have given way to a desperate desire to have just about any type of shack, as long as it is mine for the next several years and I don’t have to move.  So, my wheels have ground to a halt; paralysis has set in.  And I want to kick myself in the pants for allowing myself to crawl into this space of pergatory.

But I am making my escape plans even while I sit and knit myself into my own web.  I plot to borrow a computer or use the library’s equipment just to get my writing out there where I need it to be.  And I know that my weight will begin its downward decent again when I am able to increase my activity.  I need some nerves burned in my back again due to an old injury that has deteriorated my lower spine and now affected part of my spine near my neck also.  I have made my appointments but must wait for the insurance bureaucracy to churn its red tape.  Which brings me back to my land of cardboard.  Maybe I can make myself do one or two boxes a day.  It is a start, any way.  I just need to start pecking away at it like a chick pecking its way out of its shell.  I can do this.  I know I can.  It is not like before where it took me forever to find the way out of my rut, to get all my spokes balanced so my wheel rolls forward evenly.  I know what I am doing this time and I know what is on the outside of my chrysallis.  Suddenly, it dawns on me that I have been too hard on myself.  It is ok to be where I am.  Sometimes I will need to go into stasis until I regain my balance.  When changes come so quickly that I cannot steady myself it is best to crawl into a safe place until my rapid growth abates.  I finally recognize that it is during these periods of emotional vertigo that I have the opportunity for the greatest personal growth.

And that is what I am going through once again.  Just like my personal symbol, the butterfly, that I identify with so very much, I must create a safe space for my transitions.  Time and again I will probably need to retreat to my grey, foggy crystal for protection while I find my way.  It is natural.  I do not need to fret over it.  I have seen the outcome before.  I will emerge yet more beautiful, more skilled than ever before.  An amazing butterfly, complex and balanced as I wing my way from flower to flower, drinking my fill of the sweetest life can offer.

When Pigs Fly (album)

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   What was the attraction?  Was it the sound?  The jolting, shrieking, squeals or the snorting, snuffling, shameless grunts of contentment and joy?  Perhaps it was the imbalance of  those little eyes, big wet snout, pointing ears on a small head; the short, stubby legs and the huge, rotund body all set off with the incongruity of that festive, curling-ribbon of a tail?  What was God thinking anyway, to adorn an animal that wallows in the mud with such a flourish as that tail, like each was a gift to be opened.   A very stinky present indeed!

     Or maybe it was the “p” sound my brother always found so funny.  “Pig”, “pork”, “pee-yew”!   Was it some divine joy in an animal that was so unabashedly, unashamedly just what God had created it to be?  A filthy animal no longer “unclean”?  Just like us:  born-again and new?

     I believe my brother, Scottie, often had a better grasp of God than I will ever be capable of getting.    “Come as a little child” . . . “a little child”  . . . “a little child”.  He was God’s perennial child:  his mental retardation and damaged heart, blessing and cross.  God’s gift to show me I need to stop trying to make life more complicated than it is.  A cross he bore as he suffered in pain so bravely.

     Whatever the attraction, Scottie loved pigs!  LOVED THEM!  He bubbled over and laughed out loud at the thought of them.  Joyous laughter I can still hear even though it has been 10 years ago today since my brother went to be with his Jesus.

     Maybe Scott knew that our life on earth is like the prodigal son eating pig‘s scraps–and we are only passing through this life on our way to an eternal party with our Father.  Nobody loved a party more than Scott.  Nobody kept a holiday better than him.  Maybe he knew they were just preludes to heaven.

     What possessed him that day in K-mart in Cranberry, Pennslyvania, when he grabbed that pig cookie jar off the shelf?  Walking him back to my mom from the restroom.  I had never seen him take off like that:  his stiff leg swinging out as fast as he could move; laughing, running, looking over his shoulder with an ear-to-ear grin as I raced to catch up with him.  Then his satisfied smile as he reached our mother first and deposited his prize in her buggy, both of us panting; my mom looking at us like we were crazy.   It was the only thing Scott had ever picked out in a store.  Little did we know we were witinessing the beginning of a life-long love affair!   For  all we knew Scottie was hungry and wanted cookies!  But his pleasure in pigs never died as his personal pig collection grew over the years.  My brother even chose to leave us in the Chinese year of–you guessed it–the boar!

     If you ever wondered why my family is crazy about pigs, now you know.  We werer taught to appreciate their finer points by our best teacher.  Not even 28 years on this earth, yet–like the short life of another great man Scottie adored, his Jesus–they both left behind eternal truths I am still pondering, even years now since they’ve been gone.

     I need to measure Scott’s life, not by how many years, but by how much he gave and taught to everyone.  I thank God for him as I remember him today.  What a priceless, precious treasure he still is to me!  Ever time I see a pig I am filled with bittersweet joy.  And some day I’ll know just why he loved pigs so much.  Up there in heaven:  me and Jesus and Scottie . . . and the pigs.  You don’t think there’ll be pigs in heaven?  Better think again!  Remember, with God, all things are possible.  Maybe my brother, Scottie, was really laughing at a private joke with God:  maybe he knew the joke would be on the rest of us when we see pigs fly! 

I wrote the above article 7 years ago.  A lot has changed since then.  Many of my family, friends, loved ones, even two of my babies, have joined my brother. I am raising my two daughters by myself, something I never would have expected.  My lighthouse, my mother, has gone to spend her days with her beloved son. My touchstone, my best friend, Ed, has crossed over too.  So many lives have gone beyond the reach of my earthly arms.  And yet, they are more present with me today than ever.  I carry their memories, their spirits, their life-lessons with me at all times.  In their passing, they etched themselves indelibly on my soul and heart and have become a part of me.  Part of this realization is maturing spiritually enough to grasp that all creation is one:   one breathing, living celebration of the creative genius of God.  If you don’t believe as I do, that is fine.  But watch out.  I am not just talking spirituality anymore.  Quantum physics has begun to prove ancient spiritual laws.  The next few decades of science should be quite an adventurous trip!

So, what does it change to believe we all are one?  I am, at long last, able to stop grieving and start celebrating.  The joy and love that was given to me is not gone.  I touch it, feel it every day now.  The joy of each life is multiplied in my present; no longer lost in my past.  Whether someone is in this life or the next, in God I can still reach them.  And with the passage of time, I see the completeness of their life-cycle, the perfectness of God’s timing.  Their lives which seemed to end too soon are still living in me.  Their full life still is teaching me, guiding me, giving me wisdom.  I just have to open myself to it.  Each life has become a book  of scripture to me.  A living, breathing, evolving volume of eternal wisdom and treasure to be mined bit by bit.  I pick away at the rock day by day, never knowing what jewel will turn up.  I sense their presence when I am feeling alone.  I see their faces, hear their voices, feel their touch, their energy, revel in both the laughter and the tears.  Through them, I touch God.  And life is not a path of despair.  Life is sweeter.  Precious.  Expanding into unlimited possibilities.   Death is no longer the enemy, the thief, the finality.  It is a doorway to change and choices and new beginnings.  It is just another step in eternal existence.  Our chance to see the unknown.  To solve all the mysteries.   To know all the great secrets.  Now I am not saying I want to rush forward to embrace it.  I am just starting to “get it”  where I am.  But I am no longer afraid.  I am no longer afraid.  Consider that statement to have been shouted from the rooftops of my soul.

And special thanks to Scottie, who dropped the article, “When Pigs Fly“, from its frame today, where it has been hanging for the past seven years.  Just a coincidence?  Seven years to the day?  Sure it was.  When pigs fly.

Golden Crystals

The Master as an eight-year-old (William Hughe...

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“Life is exchange between you and God.  You name what is exchanged and how much is exchanged.  Give your limited good for His unlimited good.  Give your foolishness for His wisdom.  Give your weakness for His strength.  The fictions that you offer Him will cease in His realities, to trouble you and the universe no more.”  –Imelda Octavia Shanklin in her book, What Are You?

The sweetness of this universal law is like the most fragrant flower in the garden.  The scent enfolds you, drawing you.  But it is only the beginning as, day after day, your pursuit of the flower yields the enchanting experience of an ever blooming, ever opening blossom.  And so it is with this law of God.  When the seeking and knowing God in all His magnificent universe is your focus, there is no longer “bad” in life.  Every situation, every experience, every person reveals the Master to you more fully.  Nothing that reveals God can be bad.  I have been thinking a lot about my father lately.  His relationships have been ones of great hurt and ugliness to me and others I love.  Recently I was asked what I was going to do with the memories, the trauma, the pain of my childhood.
I believe I need to pursue God and give Him these memories.  This trauma.  This pain.  I am meditating on finding the divine in my dad.  Universal law tells me he, too, has divinity within him.  Despite my other remembrances, there was a charisma, a charm, a geniality in my father.  He always gave generously to those in the community.  I am giving God the other memories which are too painful to keep any longer.   I am appreciating that human beings at their worst and most abased can and are still used of God to do good in His world.
English: A young White-backed Vulture in Mikum...

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I, too, have gifts I received from God through my father.  My great love and affinity for animals of every kind, my appreciation of nature and science, the thrill of watching a plant sprout from a seed I planted, the evocative beauty I find in opera and classical music–these are gifts I was given through my father.  The ability to do what needs done no matter what, to never take no for an answer, to pursue unceasingly until I achieve–although this was born in me through fear of retribution–it is what has allowed me to still be alive, to be walking again after seven years in a wheelchair, to be thriving.  I have triumphed in the end and found enlightenment because in the cauldron of my childhood, I had to learn a survival skill that made me so strong.  And now, I can rest that fear and pain and empty it out of my spirit into God’s hand, making room to fill my heart with gratitude for all gifts which are good.  When we  burn the dross of this world through meditation, prayer and connection with God, we are left with pure gold.  And isn’t that gold the substance with which the streets of paradise are said to be paved?  Heaven and paradise are found in our enlightenment and our connection with God.
Love, Peace, and Joy to you!
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