The time I met the 41st President of the United States

The time I met the 41st President of the United States

I have talked before about growing up in a politically active family. The first rally I remember attending was for Nixon in 1968 at Fort Lee High School. I was only three and a half, but my memory of it is vivid. The future President came close enough to shake my parents’ hands and tug at my wool hat. I was wearing a “Nixon’s The One” button. Yes, back then I was a Republican.

Politics taught me that there are opposing sides and winners and losers. It was kind of like playing team sports, but the consequences much more serious.  I learned about ideology and how one’s beliefs fueled who they supported or with what political party they choose to align themselves. We had friends and relatives from both parties. That led to some heated debates at social gatherings, but it never ended relationships.

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Waiting for Republican Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon. Fort Lee, New Jersey. November 1968.

I recall my parents having very emotional disagreements with elected officials during mayor and council meetings, and then shaking hands in church, lamenting about the weather, or patronizing each other’s businesses.  From where I sat, I saw a world where differences just made people interesting, not hated. And being involved in politics took me to some interesting places where I got to meet lots of interesting people. On the national scene, in addition to Richard Nixon, that included Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, and Ronald Reagan (I had to Google it, but yes, Bob Dole is still alive).

Not long after I graduated from college, my political views began to change, and I also decided to be a little more low-key in my activism. In my 30s I served my community through the non-profit sector as Vice President of Bergen County’s United Way.  In that roll, I continued to meet lots of interesting people. In March 2002, that included Former President George H.W. Bush.

The Northern New Jersey Business Volunteer Council, in which I was involved, was honored as a Point of Light at a luncheon in New York City. President Bush was the keynote speaker. Because I had met all of the earlier Republican presidents in my lifetime, I thought I had to seize this opportunity.  This was just six months after 9-11, so security was heightened. The former president was behind the head table, which sat on a low riser in the front of the Marriott Marque’s ballroom (which, by the way, can hold 2400 people for a sit-down lunch). Secret Service blocked every path to him.

While everyone was taking their seats, before the program was to begin, there was a lot of milling around. I was seated at a table with my boss, who had always said that it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission. With that in mind, I took a deep breath and just walked up to the head table, around the big, burly, scary Secret Service Agents, acting like I was supposed to be there, and found myself standing alongside George H.W. Bush.

There I stood patiently waiting for him to finish his conversation with another man – just like you would for anyone you were trying to network with at a luncheon. Mr. Bush noticed me and said hello. I told him who I was and why I was there and how much I appreciated what he created with the Points of Light Foundation. He was charming and gracious. And tall. That was my immediate reaction to seeing him in person. He was taller than I thought he would be.

He saw my camera and asked the man he had been speaking with to take our picture. He then told me to send him a copy of the photo so he could sign it and send it back. That photo and the letter that accompanied it, is framed and proudly displayed in my home office. I had a copy of the photo printed for my dad too and he had it framed on display in his home office as well.

Of course, I never told President Bush (or my dad) that I only voted for him once.  Because I didn’t support his bid for re-election, didn’t mean I didn’t support all the good he had done since. Politics isn’t what it used to be. There was a time when you felt that even when people didn’t agree on how to solve problems, at the heart of their solutions was the desire to do what they thought was best for America.

Rest in peace Mr. Bush.

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The photo and the letter as seen on my office wall. Chicago, Illinois. December 2018.
What it means to be an Active Community Investor

What it means to be an Active Community Investor

When I was working for United Way at the beginning of my non-profit career 20 years ago, I first heard the term “Active Community Investor.” While anyone can be a potential donor to charity, these Active Community Investors were the people who were deemed to be our best prospects. They were the people who were already donating their time. They were the volunteer little league coaches, scout leaders, volunteer fireman, and PTA members. They were the people who attended town council meetings, ran races or did walks for charity, or were actively involved in their house of worship.

We should all be Active Community Investors, but sadly this group is probably the minority. But it’s never too late to become one. There are opportunities all around us. If we dare to complain about anything, we are part of the problem if we are not actively part of a solution. I’ve put together a list of where you can start with the easiest to those that take a great deal of commitment. (Also read what I wrote last year about volunteering, here).

Vote. This is by far the easiest way to make your voice heard and engage in your community. Here in New Jersey we have a new Governor to elect on November 7 as well as State Legislators. In my town there is a heated race for two council seats. There are a lot of people with something to say, but about 30% of registered voters in town didn’t vote in last year’s presidential election. This year’s turnout is likely to be a lot less.

Donate. You do not have to be rich to make a donation to a charity or political campaign. $25. $10. $5. These amounts when combined with the small contributions of others add up and can be very impactful. Even my teenage daughter with the income of a part-time job made a small recurring monthly donation to a presidential candidate last year. So the next time you get an email from your cousin asking to support her run or walk, click on the donate button. It will make you feel good and make your cousin feel even better about you. If you’re happy your neighbor decided to run for office to do something about all that’s wrong in town, at the very least, make a donation to show your support.

Just Help. You do not need to be a full-blown volunteer who makes a commitment over the course of months or years and spends hours sitting in meetings to make a difference. Some people have constraints on their time that others do not. Figure out what you can do. Can you just pick up a store bought item for the school bake sale? Maybe volunteer to bring the juice boxes to the soccer game? When my daughter was in elementary and middle school I worked full-time, and spent over two hours everyday commuting. But when I saw a break between positions, I quickly committed to taking on the role of Girl Scout Cookie mom. When the call went out for chaperones for Teen Canteen at the Middle School, I sucked it up and gave up my Friday night.

Volunteer. Every non-profit organization, youth sports team, school, municipality, and special event relies on volunteer time. And it’s always the same people. I was at a meeting for my daughter’s high school Graduation Gala committee a few days ago when one of the moms noted that all the people in the room were most of the same people we’ve been seeing since kindergarten. She was my daughter’s soccer coach in 2010. The chair of the committee and the treasurer were my daughter’s Brownie Girl Scout Troop leaders. And looking around the room I saw lots of familiar faces, fellow chaperones from Teen Canteen and a woman with whom I remember working the snack stand at the park. There were about 50 people in the room, from a pool of close to 400 senior parents. If you are one of the parents who think you can continue to sit things out while your child reaps the benefits, or a citizen that wonders why your candidate didn’t get elected when you didn’t do anything, please reconsider. Your community needs you. Please think about what you can do to personally contribute your time (at the very least see #3).

Serve on a Board. Serving on a board (or even chairing a committee) is volunteering at a higher level. All of the organizations that rely on volunteers also need leaders. This is a time commitment and therefore you need to be involved with an organization that is personally fulfilling and honors your values. I have served on two non-profit boards for over the last 5 years, and have served on running club boards. These are meaningful to me, utilize my skills, and require a time commitment that is manageable. You don’t have to say yes to everything. But do strongly consider the things that are a good fit.

Run for Office. This takes an enormous amount of commitment, as well as courage. Our towns, cities, states, and country cannot function without our elected officials. And we need good elected officials, but most people would never think of running for office. It’s a big commitment of time; it’s a lot of responsibility. Plus we hear our neighbors complain and criticize and most people don’t want to be in the line of fire. As I’ve seen the local Council race heat up, I’ve heard about candidates getting harassing messages from citizens, citizens who chose not to run themselves.

The bottom line is, do something! Set a good example for your children and if you don’t like what’s happening, act. Even if your child is a senior and you’ve never volunteered at any school function, the Graduation Gala committee can still use your help. Even if you’ve never been “political” if there’s a candidate that you really like, they can use your time too. Both of my parents were Active Community Investors (I wrote about them here and here). I’m an Active Community Investor because they were. Although my daughter seems to be annoyed by even my attendance at Back-to-School night, I still know she’s watching. Ultimately, being an Active Community Investor is personally fulfilling and as the kids begin to live their own lives and you have more time, being actively invested in one’s community is a the perfect way to honor your values and fulfill your life’s purpose. There is a community investment opportunity for every area of interest.

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Ramsey High School. Ramsey, New Jersey. October 2017

 

Hell hath no fury

Hell hath no fury

The alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. yesterday morning. While I didn’t exactly jump from my bed with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning, I was up and moving quickly, dressing and gathering items carefully laid out the night before. Perhaps more surprisingly, about 15 minutes later, my teenage daughter was moving too. Usually only an early flight – or for me, a big race! – would have us rising so early. But this day there was no flight to an exotic vacation. There was no marathon – not even a  training run. But this day, we were about to make history.

A little after 4 a.m. the dog had been walked and fed and we were out the door and on the road heading south. Two hours later I began to sense what was about to happen…in the dark on the southern tip of the New Jersey Turnpike…a swiftly moving  concentrated glow of tail lights for miles. It was just passed six. Peace and understanding, friendship and solidarity, cooperation and patience…from the long lines for the ladies room at rest stops in Maryland to enormous crowds on the streets of Washington. It was the Women’s March on Washington. Originally, concieved in response to the November election, it ultimately had less to do with the 45th President, and was more about sending a message to all American law makers that women – as we have a history of doing – will not be silent when something needs to be done. The issues aren’t new. They are many of the same issues women have fought for before.

“Hell hath no fury” is an interpreted line based on a quotation from The Mourning Bride, a play by William Congreve, which reads in full “Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d / Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.” (Wikipedia)

Women have demonstrated that we are a force possible of making powerful change.  Real change has occurred because of pissed off women who got fed up and rallied a movement. Women like Bernice Sandler who’s rejection for a professor’s position and being told it was because “you come on too strong for a woman,” led to Title IX prohibiting sex discrimination in education (1972). Women like “Jane Roe,” an unmarried woman who wanted to safely and legally end her pregnancy that led to the Supreme Court ruling recognizing for the first time that the constitutional right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy” (Roe v. Wade, 1973).  Women like Candy Lightner, who after the death of her 13-year-old daughter at the hands of a drunk driver (1980) founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving ultimately cutting drunk driving deaths in half since its founding. Women like Nancy Goodman Brinker who founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in her sister’s memory (1982)  because she felt her outcome might have been better if patients knew more about cancer and its treatment.

It was not only these courageous women, but the 100s of 1000s of women (and men) who supported their efforts after they took that first brave step. Because of these movements girls and young woman have opportunities to learn leadership skills and cooperation from team sports that we now take for granted. Women can manage their healthcare and family planning in a manner they and this physician feel is best (prior to Roe v. Wade, 17% of deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortions). Almost 15,000 fewer Americans are killed each year by drunk drivers than in 1980 and the breast cancer mortality rate has decreased 37%.

Yesterday was about seeing to it that we don’t lose what so many before us have achieved. It was about honoring our values as women and Americans, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves, immigrants, people of all faiths, races, and sexual orientation or gender identity; by protecting rights and protecting our planet. We will be victorious. We always are. Because we are stong. Because we are powerful. Because we are courageous. And because we are not alone.

The most powerful moment yesterday for me came after we returned home. Looking through everyone’s social media posts about the March, I was struck by a link to a New York Times piece showing pictures from all the marches around the world posted with the message, “Scroll through all of them then see if your eyes are dry by the end. Nothing like this since Vietnam or No Nukes.” He was right. I cried. It was like after 9-11. I finally broke down during that emotional week while watching a news broadcast showing the outpouring of support from around the world. We weren’t alone.

I sunk into my bed around 10 p.m. after 5 hours on my feet and logging 8 miles, bookended by a total of 9 hours driving back and forth. I was grateful for the time with my girl and that we shared this moment in history knowing too this was only the beginning. I coach my clients on the importance of honoring our values. I hope I am also setting a good example for my daughter. It’s okay to get pissed off. As long as you turn it into action.

After a good nights sleep, today it was back to training. I ran 12 miles. With a lot on my mind.

img_5720Washington, D.C. January 21, 2017.

Mental Health and Supporting the President-Elect

Mental Health and Supporting the President-Elect

NOTE: This is addressing Hillary Clinton supporters who are feeling really stressed out right now – maybe even depressed. If you voted for someone else or simply don’t care about the results of the election or think we can just “move on”, please stop reading right here. And if you don’t, please refrain from making some insensitive comment about us being sore losers, or the protests against the president-elect being “the result of giving every child a trophy.” If you choose not to follow this blog any longer, so be it. I’ve completely lost respect for you anyway.

I’ve addressed mental health in this blog numerous times. We need to again. According to data released by the American Psychological Association in October, 52 percent of Americans say the election was a significant source of stress in their lives.  Actor Robert De Niro compared his post-election mood to feeling like he did after 9-11.  The number of articles published about the subject of stress, anxiety and depression surrounding this election – dating as far back as March – are astounding (see additional links for a sampling of those at the bottom of this post).

“But 2016 is something else. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, aspires to implement policies far more extreme than the ordinary candidate’s. He talks of launching a trade war with China, deporting millions of immigrants, and enacting a total ban on Muslim immigration. Either through sky-high prices or constrained religious rights, his plans would dramatically alter the lives of far more Americans—in a far more sweeping way—than the proposals of Clinton, Obama, Romney, or McCain.”

How to Preserve Your Mental Health Despite the 2016 Election  – Robinson Meyer, THE ATLANTIC, May 24, 2016. Read the full article here.

 

I let my daughter stay home from school the day after the election. She said she didn’t want to face the kids who supported (that other candidate). Yes, I allowed her to stay home. I made the most appropriate decision for my child. At the extreme, I didn’t want her to have a fight at school. But mostly, I didn’t want to force a kid already dealing with normal teenage anxiety, and some of the other stressors associated with everything we’ve been through, to take on anymore.

“Even before the votes were counted on Tuesday night, phone calls were pouring into suicide hotlines across the US in record numbers. Americans, including those in the LGBTQ community, were looking for help coping with feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and a sense of betrayal.”

Suicide hotlines receive record number of calls after the election – Rachel Becker, THE VERGE, Nov 11, 2016. Read the full article here.

I left work early that day. Even my boss admitted it was hard to focus. My daughter told me about a protest in New York City and asked if we could go. At first I said it was pointless. But as I typed out my reply to her text…you protest policies that need to change or in support of something that will make for the kind of world you want live in…I realized that’s exactly why we needed to go. We needed to voice our concern and show the president-elect that we would not tolerate what we heard and saw from his campaign. This wasn’t about being a sore-loser. I learned how to handle losing in elections and in sporting events 40 years ago.

“This isn’t about party or losing an election. I had respect for George W Bush even though I disagreed with him, and he never scared me as a person. His actions scared me for our planet at times, but never was I vomiting out of personal fear of him. I can’t think of another politician who has evoked such an immediate, visceral reaction so consistently.

“It’s about kicking women in the guts, electing a man we know is a dangerous, unstable predator. This is a man who has nothing but contempt for human life.”

American Women Are Suffering from Trump Traumatic Stress Disorder – Sarah Jones, POLITICUS, Nov 10, 2016. Read the full article here.

We met up with a group at Columbus Circle at the south-west corner of Central Park. There were signs and chants and music. It felt good to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We then began to march down Broadway. We chanted. Donald Trump has got to go; Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay. We were a parade and the spectators cheered. What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like! The police support was amazing. They stopped traffic, closed streets and saw to it that we were safe. Black Lives Matter. A guy next to me expressed hope that the police would be this supportive when the new administration encouraged the increased use of “stop and frisk.” My Body! My Choice! I walked in solidarity with my daughter. For the first time in all her teenage years she wasn’t embarrassed by me. She chanted louder. Not my president! Restaurant workers came out onto the streets to cheer. We got high fives from cab drivers. Our fellow New Yorkers. And I realized that is why we were there. We needed them to know we had their back. There were plenty of Americans that cared about the rights of others.

“Republicans contribute significantly to the breaking of the system, and then they thunder to the country that the system is broken. They refuse to govern, and then they denounce government. They seem to confuse governing with having their way. And more to the point, how does this vast alienation from Washington excuse this vast contempt for whole groups and races and genders?”

Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America. – Leon Wieseltier THE WASHINGTON POST, Nov 11, 2017. Read the full article here.

It felt good. I was glad we went. Even when I got home and saw the FaceBook posts – a friend who was inconvenienced by the gridlock in the city; others who simply thought of protesters as sore losers. My daughter said she felt better – and that she realized it was so much healthier to shout for the sake of shouting than shouting at someone! – an important lesson in anger management.

We did something. Doing something – being something – helps. It helps change perspectives. It helps keep you focused on what’s important to you.

“Continue to take actions that are in line with your values,” says Keenan-Miller. She advises those who are feeling helpless to focus on a couple of issues they’re passionate about. “Ask yourself, can you be a better advocate to that community in your daily actions?” Think about how much you’re doing in your everyday life to promote things you care about. “Can you turn up the volume on that?” she says. Clark agrees: “Turn your anger and fear into productive action.”

5 Ways to Recover From the Post-Election Blues – Elizabeth Varnell, VOGUE, Nov 9, 2016. Read the full article here.

As a coach I talk to my clients about their values and how they can live the most fulfilling life possible by honoring those values. Young people voted overwhelming against what they heard from the Republican candidate, and now they’re angry; not because we gave them trophies, but because we taught them that bigotry and hate are wrong. We taught them about inclusiveness, and to not tolerate bullies. And in this election, we let them down. They feel their values have been trampled.

I see it in my coaching clients, they feel stress when their values and ideology are crushed. This is what we are feeling. At first we needed to mourn the loss, but with the transition and cabinet nominations, we continue to feel our values being torn to shreds…even if we don’t personally fear losing our rights.

We need to continue to honor our values. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. We have to make donations, protest, sign petitions, call our representatives, and stand up when we see discrimination. And while we’re doing all that, we also need to practice self-care. We need to run and meditate and see our therapist or work with a coach; get a massage and enjoy a walk in the woods or along the beach.

What we can’t do is stop caring. So, no, I’m not going to accept the new administration. I am not going to “join together” in support of him. Doing so wouldn’t honor my values and would be way more stressful. I am going to stand and fight. And I’m going to continue to be an advocate for mental health and Stigma Free. We have come a long way in so many areas – including mental heath – and we can’t go backwards.

More Articles on the Election and Mental Health:

Stressed Out By This Crazy Election? Here’s What To Do About It – Lindsay Holmes, THE HUFFINGTON POST, March 4, 2016

Fear, Anxiety, and Depression in the Age of Trump – Michelle Goldberg, SLATE, September 23, 2016

Here’s How To Manage Your Overwhelming Election Stress – Lindsay Holmes, THE HUFFINGTON POST, Oct. 13, 2016

Talking to Your Therapist About Election Anxiety – Lesley Aldermanoct, NEW YORK TIMES, Oct. 20, 2016

What Women Are Telling their Therapists About Election Stress – Alexandra Sifferlin TIME, Nov. 1, 2016

Election anxiety is real. Many Americans report “significant stress” due to 2016 – Brian Resnick, VOX Nov 7, 2016

Post-Election Depression: How to Cope – Charlotte Libov, NEWSMAX, Nov 9, 2016

Election got you feeling down? Good news: It isn’t just you – Maimuna Majumder, WIRED, Nov 11, 2016.

img_5362Collection created by pinning on a race bib at close to 250 road races in the last 20+ years.

A Request

A Request

I have procrastinated writing this blog in what was a busy and emotional week. On Sunday I volunteered at the New York City Marathon with members of my running club. Tuesday I voted. Wednesday I protested (more on that in my next post and please read that before expressing an opinion on why you think anyone should or shouldn’t be protesting). Last night I went to a fundraising gala in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County. Which brings me to today. Veterans Day. So rather than reflecting on the results of the presidential election, the theme that has emerged is SERVICE.

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light…We all have something to give.”

–  President George H. W. Bush, 1989 inaugural address

Giving of ourselves. Making an effort to help others. Advocating – and voting – for the world in which we want to live makes the world a better place and enriches our lives tremendously. My father served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. My late husband served in the Navy during the Beirut Conflict. Some form of service – to our county and to our community – is a necessary aspect of our lives as Americans. Not everyone does it. But everyone should.

People rely on others to be the active community investors. And thankfully there will always be those busy people who are willing to take on one more job, serve on one more non-profit board, coach one more team, and knock on one more door. But each and every one of us has a responsibility to be involved. We all have to stop assuming someone else will do it.

So here is my request…honor a veteran today by signing up to volunteer. And make a commitment to volunteering next week and next month and next year. Find a non-profit organization whose mission is meaningful to you; find a community organization that makes things better for your neighbors in need; run for public office; look to see what’s missing or needs to be fixed and be the answer. Stop waiting for someone else. And stop complaining about the results of other people’s volunteer service if you’re not serving yourself.

img_5323Sunrise on the Mile 21 Water Stop in Harlem. New York City Marathon. November 2016.