Sean - A True Friend

One of the great things about true friendship is the diversity of experiences……those you can learn from - those that are pure fun - those you can laugh about - the ones that surprise you and those you gain inspiration from.

I’ve learned from my friend Sean in a variety of ways although one moment was poignant for me:

It occurred at a drying cleaning place on one of our business travels. I was impatient and rude with an employee because my shirt collar was not done to my satisfaction. Sean immediately confronted me on the disrespect I was displaying to this woman. He wasn’t done. After we left the shop, he got in my face and told me how lousy my attitude was and that I should not have treated her that way.

He was right. It was a moment I still cringe at when I think about it as it was less about the woman and more about my lack of PATIENCE. No friend has ever been in my face to that degree although I am glad he did. From that day, I vowed to become a more patient man and it might not have happened if Sean wasn’t bold enough to tell me exactly what I needed to hear. Today, I’m proud of my patience.

The pure fun we’ve had is extensive and some of the best moments of my life. I’ll touch on one—our times in the Big Apple. I lived in NYC for 10 years and Sean often visited for business and pleasure. I was able to introduce him to a great connection for his sales job and he closed the business quickly. The big sale required him to be in NYC from time to time and that was when our NYC time together blossomed!

Our times were sizzling and always interesting, including time spent watching the exciting NY Knicks basketball team, Bill Clinton fundraisers, attending glamorous events along with meeting some of the USA’s most dynamic business people. The beauty of NYC is that unless you have lived there, you won’t ever have an idea about the pulse, energy and day to day life of what I call the “best city in the world”. For never living in NYC, Sean came about as close as one can to knowing what it would be like to be a resident.

Now, what is friendship without a good laugh?

Since we both share a passion for golf, this moment has to be mentioned. We can laugh at it now but it wasn’t so funny for Sean at the time.

Sean is a good golfer although there was a time when he lost his “mojo”. His simply couldn’t hit the ball. Let me clarify. If Sean was standing on the beach and his only goal was to hit the ball into the open water, it would have been a tough task. I’ve never seen anything like it but being the competitive person I am, I knew I had to take advantage of it and him.

I’m a competent golfer although I had never beaten Sean in all our years of golfing prior to his downfall. So when his “golfing gone wild” moment occurred, I pounced on the opportunity and beat him six times in a row…….and I was having a ball! I had to laugh occasionally as the inability for such a good golfer to turn briefly into an aimless beginner was frankly laughable. I did feel for him sometimes yet I knew this tough moment wouldn’t last long.

He eventually got that fine golf swing back and I’ve never beaten him since but those six times were pure fun. Just as enjoyable were the hundreds of times we’ve played golf as a twosome or foursome, often meeting at 6am to tee off! Few things are better than playing a round of golf with true friends.

I’ve learned to embrace surprises over the years, particularly the unexpected ones. Those that have occurred less frequently for me are the gentle surprises – ones that touch the heart. One of those occurred at my wedding in Sweden.

At a typical Swedish wedding, there are many toasts to the bride and groom, sometimes 15-20 speeches. When Sean stood up to give his toast, I expected one about our time together yet I was gently surprised at what came out of his mouth.

Now keep in mind that Swedes are not religious people. Sean knew this about Sweden but as a man of faith, he stayed true to his self and asked all the guests to bow their heads and then proceeded to bless us with a prayer – a prayer that moved me immensely. Even though there weren’t many religious people in the room, I know they felt his eloquence and the power that is prayer.

In my opinion, a necessity of true friendship is inspiration. One of those times for me was at the funeral of Sean’s father. He talked about his father in such a loving and eloquent manner - capturing the essence of the man. I didn’t know his father but was blown away and inspired by the speech he delivered that day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would need that inspiration only 4 shorts years later when my father died.

Preparing my speech for my dad’s funeral, I drew strength from Sean’s words. I don’t know if I would have been as effective in honoring my dad that day if I didn’t hear his speech 4 years earlier.

Sean is one of my closest and dearest friends. He’s one of a handful of friends that I trust implicitly and know that I can rely on him for whatever my needs may be. I’m a better man because of his friendship.

Even though I live thousands of miles away, the bond we share will never be broken.

The psychologist and philosopher William James said it best with this quote:

“Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world”

Sean, I am glad and grateful that you are a part of my world.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Sean and his two sons

A Thing of Beauty or Nothingness?

The beginning of a John Keats poem (Endymion) is one of my favorites:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing

Most probably aspire to have elements of life that are “A Thing of Beauty” – I know I do. When a person passes away, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for someone to say that his/her life was “A Thing of Beauty”.

The word “Nothingness” is powerful in the poem as well and something that most people probably would like to avoid.

In my opinion, a life with elements of Nothingness comes in many forms including but not limited to:

 A life lived for others
 A life with little or no “Me Time”
 A HIGH stress life
 A life with little or no risk/boldness
 A life where irresponsible mistakes are made over and over again
 A life without love
 A life with a pattern of chaos and/or drama in relationship after relationship
 A life ruled by emotions
 A life of worrying
 A life ruled by food
 A life of negativity
 A life of arrogance
 A life of not helping others
 A life spent complaining

Living a full and well-rounded life is not easy although if you are just sitting around waiting for life to happen to you, you will probably be waiting for a very long time. If you can relate to any of the aforementioned points above, I implore you to do something positive about it and don’t let your life simmer in Nothingness.

Grab life as hard as you can while there is still life to grab! Don’t be afraid to be laser-like in going after your dreams or goals. Time waits for no one.

A final question to ponder:

Does your life resemble “A Thing of Beauty” or are you more closely aligned with elements of Nothingness?

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Snow is always "A Thing of Beauty" - November 2010 on the coast of Southern Sweden (Picture by Fredrik)

Being Black on Amtrack

Although John Edgar Wideman is a celebrated author, I've only read a few of his novels. I've actually read more about his personal life as it is compelling. He was a Rhodes scholar and won the PEN/Faulkner Award, has a daughter who played professional basketball and has the double tragedy of a brother and a son in jail for life. 

A snapshot of his life:

John Edgar Wideman is one of the leading chroniclers of life in urban black America. An author who intertwines ghetto experiences with experimental fiction techniques, personal history with social events, Wideman is the only artist who has won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for literature twice.
For Wideman, an Oxford-trained scholar, that process of absorbing a community and relating its history artistically has provided grist for complex revelations on family relationships, isolation, and the search for self.
The novel Hiding Place deals with a young boy on the run from a petty robbery that turned deadly. The situation is very similar to the circumstances surrounding the incarceration of Robby Wideman. Robby, the author's younger brother, was sentenced in 1976 to life in prison for his part in a larceny/murder case. Wideman sought to understand his brother's plight, publishing Brothers and Keepers, in 1984. The book, Wideman's only major nonfiction piece to date, attempts to address the difficult questions of "success" and "failure" on white society's terms as well as the sense of guilt Wideman felt about his brother's fate.
Tragedy struck again in 1986. Wideman's second son, Jacob, fatally stabbed a fellow camper during an outing in Arizona. Both boys were sixteen. Facing the death penalty, Jacob Wideman agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. John Wideman has steadfastly refused to comment on the case in interviews. "I don't like to talk about it," he said.
In 1965 he married Judith Ann Goldman, an attorney, with whom he has three children: Daniel, Jacob, and Jamila. That marriage ended in divorce in 2000. In 2004 he married a former French journalist, with whom he resides on the lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City.

In early October, he wrote an insightful op-ed for the New York Times called, "Seat Not Taken". 

I’m a man of color, one of the few on the train and often the only one in the quiet car, and I’ve concluded that color explains a lot about my experience. Unless the car is nearly full, color will determine, even if it doesn’t exactly clarify, why 9 times out of 10 people will shun a free seat if it means sitting beside me.

I implore you to read it as it clearly presents how race still matters in the USA despite the progress made - progress that has given America our first black President.

As a man of color, I could easily identify to the "casual experiment" the author describes. Throughout my life, I've noticed similar instances although never thought to formalize my observations.

The article is printed in its entirety below. I feel it's important for everyone to read especially those who have little or no knowledge about this aspect of race in the USA.

Happy Gswede Sunday!
October 6, 2010

The Seat Not Taken


AT least twice a week I ride Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train from my home in New York City to my teaching job in Providence, R.I. The route passes through a region of the country populated by, statistics tell us, a significant segment of its most educated, affluent, sophisticated and enlightened citizens.

Over the last four years, excluding summers, I have conducted a casual sociological experiment in which I am both participant and observer. It’s a survey I began not because I had some specific point to prove by gathering data to support it, but because I couldn’t avoid becoming aware of an obvious, disquieting truth.

Almost invariably, after I have hustled aboard early and occupied one half of a vacant double seat in the usually crowded quiet car, the empty place next to me will remain empty for the entire trip.

I’m a man of color, one of the few on the train and often the only one in the quiet car, and I’ve concluded that color explains a lot about my experience. Unless the car is nearly full, color will determine, even if it doesn’t exactly clarify, why 9 times out of 10 people will shun a free seat if it means sitting beside me.

Giving them and myself the benefit of the doubt, I can rule out excessive body odor or bad breath; a hateful, intimidating scowl; hip-hop clothing; or a hideous deformity as possible objections to my person. Considering also the cost of an Acela ticket, the fact that I display no visible indications of religious preference and, finally, the numerous external signs of middle-class membership I share with the majority of the passengers, color appears to be a sufficient reason for the behavior I have recorded.

Of course, I’m not registering a complaint about the privilege, conferred upon me by color, to enjoy the luxury of an extra seat to myself. I relish the opportunity to spread out, savor the privacy and quiet and work or gaze at the scenic New England woods and coast. It’s a particularly appealing perk if I compare the train to air travel or any other mode of transportation, besides walking or bicycling, for negotiating the mercilessly congested Northeast Corridor. Still, in the year 2010, with an African-descended, brown president in the White House and a nation confidently asserting its passage into a postracial era, it strikes me as odd to ride beside a vacant seat, just about every time I embark on a three-hour journey each way, from home to work and back.

I admit I look forward to the moment when other passengers, searching for a good seat, or any seat at all on the busiest days, stop anxiously prowling the quiet-car aisle, the moment when they have all settled elsewhere, including the ones who willfully blinded themselves to the open seat beside me or were unconvinced of its availability when they passed by. I savor that precise moment when the train sighs and begins to glide away from Penn or Providence Station, and I’m able to say to myself, with relative assurance, that the vacant place beside me is free, free at last, or at least free until the next station. I can relax, prop open my briefcase or rest papers, snacks or my arm in the unoccupied seat.

But the very pleasing moment of anticipation casts a shadow, because I can’t accept the bounty of an extra seat without remembering why it’s empty, without wondering if its emptiness isn’t something quite sad. And quite dangerous, also, if left unexamined. Posters in the train, the station, the subway warn: if you see something, say something.

Would the space between them be just as wide on Amtrack?

An Article a Friend Might Enjoy? - Send it!

Something I do on a regular basis is sending articles I've read to people I know.  In our busy world, it's refreshing to get an article via email or regular mail not to mention the thought behind it. I try to make sure it's enjoyable or interesting for the person.

Recently, a good friend sent me a newspaper clipping of a building in my former Brooklyn neighborhood. This friend and I lived directly across from the dwelling for many years. It was abandoned during much of my time there although I did witness the transformation to condominiums.

A few paragraphs from the New York Times article are below:

The 4.5-story building, known more popularly as the Graham Home for Old Ladies, was the creation of John B. Graham, an apparently generous 19th-century lawyer who financed the living quarters “in consequence of his sympathy with the indigent gentlewomen who had, by previous culture and refinement, been unfitted to accept willingly the public asylum provided by the state,” according to the Clinton Hill Historic District Designation Report of 1981.

Back in the 1800s, to be accepted as a resident, “a lady had to be over 60 and bring satisfactory testimonials of the propriety of her conduct and the respectability of her character,” according to an article in The Fort Greene Association Newsletter, published in 2001, the year the building was converted into 25 condos, “and come provided with a good bed and furniture for her room.”

Next time you come across an interesting article, take a few moments to email it to someone or drop it in the mail. I don't receive many in the aforementioned manner although when I do, it always brings a smile to my face.

I encourage you to read this historical piece particularly if you have lived in Brooklyn.   Thanks for sending it T!

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Condominiums today, this is how it appeared in the 19th century.