I write about my life and life itself seen through my eyes for who can write through the experiences of others if not their own?

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The Struggle of a Local Event for Media Coverage

Around this time Luke 4:24 24 Then He added, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown." is read in church.   

It’s only fitting as I often feel that way when I organize the Celebrate Life Half Marathon which benefits cancer patients in Sullivan and Orange Counties, NY.

While the local paper covers pancake breakfast, benefit lunches, and student projects, all of which are deserving of the coverage, one of the largest races in the Hudson Valley struggles to get coverage.

The same goes for the local TV station and radio station which I’ve seen covering small events, but neither respond to the request for coverage of this event that happens to be in their neighborhood. I assume the pancake breakfasts keep them very busy.

As I plan this year's event, I remember four years ago when a band donated their time in a restaurant and all that was needed was for people to attend and buy tickets to benefit the race. In the county were most of the money the event raises stays, five people attended. On the other hand, I went online and raised $2,000 from people who were not from the area and were not going to be at the restaurant. It makes you wonder…

Is a prophet really not accepted in his own town?
When I did the newsletter for my running club each edition took 35 to 40 hours plus folding, labeling, and mailing. While no one thanked me, many reprimanded me for not posting their article or featuring their photo. Conversely, every time anyone from another club got their hands on the paper, they complimented me on the work I had done. Go figure!

I wonder what makes out of the area events more appealing or better yet, what makes us not appreciate the ones we have nearby? Is it a sense of entitlement that makes us think a local person is less deserving and their contribution less meritorious?

I am flabbergasted when I realize how arduous it is to get any coverage for the race by the local media. How difficult it is to get a donation, how laborious it is to get help.

While thoughts and prayers and good wishes are appreciated, they don’t do much for the cancer patients who are waiting for a grant from this organization. Unless you take it upon yourself to make that phone call to help, unless you dig in your pocket to make a donation, unless you get out of bed and volunteer, your thoughts and prayers won’t do much for those in need.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Gladiator's Arena

When I reminisce about the office etiquette or lack thereof I exhibited two decades ago at my job, I still giggle.  The mischief, the pranks we played on our coworkers, and the jokes that entertained us still make us laugh when we get together.  I also remember it melancholically knowing those days will never be again in more ways than one.
I must admit the jokes back then were far from being politically correct. But they were meant as jokes and as such they were taken even if we landed in the manager’s office once…or twice.
There was also the occasional discussion about the running candidate in the upcoming elections. The die- hard Republicans and the strong Democrats usually engaged in conversations during coffee breaks. Not being politically savvy and not really having a strong political affiliation to either party, didn’t stop me from offering my opinion. I always.have.an.opinion.
Even when my opinion lacked enough knowledge or was contradictory to the beliefs of the person with whom I was talking, I was never belittled and my apparent approval of one candidate did not evoke anger in my counterpart.
No one ridiculed one another, and there was no name calling. Same as it is today, no one changed another’s mind, and that was okay. It seemed we respected each other no matter what side of the fence we chose to stand on.
Fast forward to 2016, I find expressing a dissenting opinion the equivalent of going to war.
Daring to disagree is exposing oneself to being called an idiot, stupid, and to a woman the “C” word is used with no hesitation. The insults are in abundance and the name calling and ridicule is astonishing.
When a post expresses information that is easily fact checked and debunked, the owner refuses to take it down even when it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt because “that’s what she would have said anyway” or “I don’t like him anyway” “He is an #@&% anyway” So what if it’s fake news?  It’s expressing an opinion and at the same time spreading wrong information.
Facebook, the vehicle of social media that years ago we found so appealing and allowed us to reconnect with old friends, and stay in touch with others, is now a gladiator’s arena. 
This is not a child’s playground where a kid screams “I’ll never talk to you again!!!” and the next day they are best friends again. This is a place where, behind the screen of an electronic device, a person disregards offending others. Facebook is no longer fun and exciting, it has become dreadful.
While I applaud the courage to express an opinion as dissenting as it may be, I am against inflammatory posts that set one race against the other, one party against the other. We have become a partisan nation and that is a scary place to be. Some will not support a good cause if the person who’s heading it does not share the same political views. What a sad place we have become!
I have used the “unfollow” feature that spares me from seeing what friends who lean towards the extreme will post without unfriending them, and in that way, it allows me to remember them the way I knew them: some fun guy I met in college or a runner with whom I enjoyed runs and not the racist, xenophobic, homophobic person their social media posts reveal.
I wonder how good that is. If picking and choosing from a person’s character what I like best and blocking that which is offensive so I can remain friends, is such a good technique. Am I cheating myself in the process?
Two decades ago my lack of etiquette in the office let everyone know who I was. Maybe Facebook is not that bad after all. Maybe we are really exposing who we really are.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Axis of Time

Time tracking balances on the axis of your departure.
It all precedes that day or comes after. That’s how I know how long anything dates.
“It happened before that breakup, two years before so yes, it has been ---- these many years.”
“It hasn’t been that long. We were still together so it must be -- years.”
That’s how I date everything. The clock stopped to some extent that day you left.
Nothing has been the same. Not necessarily always bad, just different. I stopped hurting a long time ago. I stopped waiting for a call. I got over the anger, but I remained missing you. I always have. I guess because our relationship was so unique, the void you filled will always be empty.
I think of you. There are times when you enter my mind. More often than I choose to admit. I, at times, allow myself to indulge in memories of our times together. No matter how I have tried to remember bad times to help me forget you, it seems to be impossible. It’s funny how others who were in my life in the past have left no trace and if any, it’s only bad memories I wish not to remember, but with you, only our separation is a bad memory I wish I could forget.
Sometimes, immersed in the cloud of what once was, I want to reach out and tell you what I’m smiling about. Sometimes I want to engage in a conversation with you. Remind you of a place we visited. Tell you about a song, tell you about my day. Tell you about me. Tell you what I don’t tell anyone.
And there are those days when I want to ask you why you left. Those days when I am angry, and I want to ask you if your life is any better without me, if you were able to fulfill that void I once filled. If the decision to leave helped you in any way. If throwing away all that we were to each other was worth it. Sometimes I want to ask you if you wish you could go back before that axis of time.
Sometimes I just want to ask you that.
Time seems to stand still and I think of you.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Favors and Payment

Back in my naïve days when I saw the world through rose colored glasses, I used to think people did favors for others for no other reason than to help them. I still feel that way and I have seen that happen many times. I am one of those people who do favors for others without much expectation than a thank you and sometimes I’ve been okay without it. Truth be told, I do expect a reciprocation if I’m ever in need and that person can help me. But that is not the reason for offering my assistance. There is no projected reward in mind.
I remember a friend years ago questioning my innocent beliefs and telling me “Do you think a man is going to help you without expecting a sexual favor in return?” Well, yes. I do! If I can help someone without expecting reciprocation, why shouldn’t a man?
Because…maybe because that is the nature of a man?
Exceptions excluded, that seems to be the way the world rolls. Favors have a price and since a favor seldom carries a monetary exchange, a different form of payment is expected.
We see it every day in the news. A candidate endorses someone in exchange for a job in office. A producer offers a young actress a promising role in exchange for some favors in the bedroom. And in our daily interaction it happens frequently and if you, like me, wear the rose-colored glasses, you won’t notice it until the man helping you attempts to kiss you and when his advances are not welcome, his interest in the task he offered to do suddenly ends.
I didn’t bargain for sex in this deal, did I? I accepted an offer to help me. Paying with sex for a job – no longer a favor since I’m paying, would make me a prostitute, wouldn’t it? I mean, it’s the exchange of money for sex. Same deal. I’m okay with whoever makes that arrangement ahead of time, but I haven’t. My plan has only been to accept the help of someone who offered it.
I struggle now with that concept in my 50s as I did in my 20s. Not as naïve as then but still as hopeful, I still expect humanity to be good for the pure reason of doing good. And I expect honesty. I expect to be told the price of a job before it’s performed. If it’s not a favor, I want to know the price charged and I expect that price to be in US Dollars.
I usually carry that type of currency.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Sun Set on You

Some departures are harder than others. Some, when due to death, are even more difficult and if unexpected, incomprehensible. When youth is added to that departure it is even more irreconcilable in our minds.
There was light in that smile. There was hope in those eyes. There was wisdom in that young person and there was a determination that yelled “I’ll be something big!” There was confidence in the way you carried yourself, at least in photos which is where I mostly saw you, that said you would make a difference and if any dysfunction was around when you grew up, you had set yourself free.
The day was just beginning for you. The sun was at dawn. And so were you. A whole bright day was beginning for you and you had set the stage to make it a good day.
Was it maybe too much on those shoulders to carry on the expectations of a few failed generations? Maybe the sun needed to set earlier to give you a way out of what we all silently expected of you. But there was no need to expect more from you, because you delivered so much just being you. You needed no more than that smile and dancing feet on the dance floor of a party you were not expected to attend, but you made history in it as the one kid who enjoyed the party the most.
There is that phone call that comes unexpectedly and one thinks it’s about someone else because it can’t be about who it is, because there is no reason for it to be about…you when…when everything looks so perfect, especially that make-up and that perennial smile, always so perfect. But then it is, and reasons don’t answer the why and don’t fill the void you have left behind because…
It shouldn’t be you.
And what should not be, can never be explained.
Once again, we are all left wondering if “everything happens for a reason” means anything other than a desperate attempt at explaining the unexplainable.
The sun has set on your horizon. Much earlier than the stars wanted it to set. Much earlier than the universe you created around you in your short life was ready to accept.
Shine on wherever you are because your light will never die. Somewhere in that place you reside now you are needed even if we feel cheated that you were taken away so soon. Your dawn was just beginning and somehow

the sun set on you.



Thursday, December 06, 2018

I Won't Close the Door

One night, in the midst of my despair, I promised myself that I would never allow the man who had broken my heart and for whom I cried, to enter my life again. That night, many years ago, I closed the door to my heart on him.
Months and many tears after, he came back to regain that love we once shared, but my decision had been made and I stood by it. Even when so much love existed in me for him, I needed that survival key. I needed a way to regain my pride, and I needed to move on from that immense pain I felt. Life went on and although he remained in my memory, I never regretted the decision that put a wall between us, or better yet, I never allowed myself to explore what it could have been had I not made that decision on that night of profound sadness.
Different time, and different feelings, but just as intense, I realize I’ve known you for so long, and despite the many disappointments and hurt I’ve experienced, I’ve been afraid to make the same decision on you that separated me permanently from the love of my life.
Our time as intermittent as it has been is never part of the past. Your memory is always alive in the present.
I am afraid to lose you forever.
I’m afraid to close the door.
I am afraid to give up on the hope that one day in another life we might reunite again.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Injuries - What else is there to talk about?

Runners love to talk about running. Endlessly. From posting selfies about their solo runs, their race results and medals to striking up conversations about running every chance they get: “How many miles are you running a week?” “Did you run that local 5K last weekend?” Or they make plans to meet up for a run at some ungodly hour of the morning. Runners love to talk to runners because, frankly, the only audience that remains captivated or doesn’t run away after hours of stories about races, training runs, terrain, pace, shoes, orthotics and everything that relates to running is one made up of other runners.  

To be honest, in the absence of that common denominator, the conversations would be short and boring (to us runners), and many of those people we call friends would have remained strangers.

In addition to races and paces, there is something else runners love to talk about:  aches and pains. It hurts here, and it hurts there, and everywhere. Does it hurt there too? Yes, and over there, but I’m running that half marathon next week anyway. You should too.

Runners are resilient, stubborn, gut driven, and not always able to make the best decisions. We can figure out the most complicated registration forms, find the most obscure sites, but don’t tell us not to run. We have a hard time with that. Following the advice of a doctor if it requires taking time off is not what we do best.

Maybe that’s why we don’t talk about running to anybody other than one of our own. Why risk the chance of a person saying:

WHAT??? You shouldn’t run. Running is bad for you. How you tried swimming? Why don’t you bike! It’s  easier on your knees.

The answer is simple, my sensible nonrunner friend. It’s because I love running, and if you must ask, you would never understand.

It’s simple and it’s complicated. We run with passion, or we don’t run at all. The foot that strikes the ground doesn’t always feel the same way. Sometimes there is elation, and sometimes there is pain. Sometimes we are competing against someone, sometimes we are fighting to win our own internal battles. Sometimes we want to get somewhere, sometimes we want to get away. Passion keeps us going.

Talking to a friend about running is like being home. It’s where we hang our hat, kick off our sneakers, stretch that hamstring and say, “Damn, I could have run faster.”


If You Can't Write, I Can't Read - Timing

It takes doing something to appreciate it, and frankly, to respect it.

As a rookie runner years ago, my concern was to get my t-shirt, make it to my finish line and have my name listed in the results. Accurately and spelled correctly, of course.

Just because my penmanship was always deemed awful by my teachers didn’t mean the timer couldn’t make out my name on the entry form I had scribbled in a hurry minutes before the race.

The words of the late Cathy Sutcliffe, co-owner of the Fast Finishes Timing still resonate with me: “If you can’t write, I can’t read”

And then catching my breath at the finish line, husband Al Sutcliffe would plead “stay in place” So what if I let a few people who finished behind me pass me at the chute? What was the big deal?

I’ll tell you what the big deal was.

20 years ago, timing was a manual process where your bib tag was collected at the finish line and your time recorded by hand. Your placement in the chute was imperative to the proper scoring of the results. Failing to keep your place and allowing the ones behind to pass and thus their bib tag collected before yours literally messed up the order. But, did I really care?  Well, I did, when my time was not correct.

Al Sutcliffe had created a timing system on low budget and with incredible accuracy. Still I was unaware of the process and basically, I lacked the respect for the efforts involved that delivered race results.

Now, years later, as a timer and owner of the Catskills Timing, I have nothing but admiration for the Fast Finishes Sutcliffe team and the accurate results at low financial cost they provided back then.

Today, with electronic scoring equipment, timing remains a lot of work. I struggle just the same with the spelling of names, and guessing the gender left unmarked on unisex names can mean the difference between an overall female finisher who is indeed a male. Running with somebody else’s bib without notifying the registration table turns Jane Smith 24, walker, into Mark Jones 48, runner, and when people signed up for one wave or distance decide to run another one because…well, what’s the big deal? It can turn an easy race into a difficult one to score.

It took years of running, years of race directing and now years of timing to fully understand all the pieces of a puzzle that form the organization of a successful race. So, help by writing your name neatly, because if you can’t write, I can’t read.

Beauty Through the Eyes of a Runner

There is a beauty seen through the eyes of a runner. 
It is a beauty not seen from the sidelines, a beauty unique with every run. 
Sometimes that beauty comes from deep inside. Other times there are elements in the surroundings that bring the glow to the surface and with every step, every stride, we absorb those smells and sights and sounds that are absent from any of our daily chores. 
As a runner, I’ve covered many roads that have brought beauty in many forms. Much of it has been the tranquility of those moments alone in my thoughts and at least temporarily distant from my hectic life. 
As a race organizer, I have found that beauty standing at the finish line watching runners finish with a smile on their faces or with signs of having left every ounce of energy on the course. Sometimes there are tears of joy for the job accomplished, whether it be the distance covered or soothing memory of someone you hold dear in your heart. Those tears and that exhaustion are just as beautiful as the smiles. 
I have seen that beauty while timing races and interacting with race directors. The work involved and hours spent organizing a safe event are far greater than what participants realize or maybe even understand. Many of these events bring awareness to a cause that is ignored or forgotten, or to a place that we might not know exists right in our neighborhood. 
One such event is the Meadows and Trails 5K on October 20 in Cornwall. What is fascinating about this race is that it’s not only a different event run entirely off roads and through meadows and wetlands, but the proceeds benefit ​Education Programs & Events at the
​ Hudson Highlands Nature Museum​.
​ The museum is unique in its own right. It is dedicated to building responsibility for the environment and respect for the ecology in young adults with many programs offered in the education center. This is a place where kids and adults can interact with nature. Beside showcasing the national beauty of the Hudson Highlands, the race allows families to participate in a somewhat challenging and unique race. 
There are a thousand reasons to run, and maybe another thousand reasons not to run. I will never be able to fully explain why I do it. It certainly brings me a sense of peace and satisfaction and an awareness of my surroundings -- a beauty that can be seen and felt all at once.

Country Style Running

I shared with her that a friend had come from the next county and had driven an hour to come to the race. “Distance is a factor,” I said, looking to find an answer to the low turnout.

“We drive an hour to their races,” the mother replied.

We drive an hour to their races resonated with me as I drove home.

It is true. I often drive to races in Orange and Ulster counties, as do many of my Sullivan County running peers. Many don’t blink twice at the steep entry fees of NYRR races, plus the inevitable tolls and parking fees. We do it with enthusiasm because we want to participate in that event, and distance and cost is not a determent to our goal.

Our determination to travel and participate in events farther away does not receive the same reciprocation from other counties’ runners. Even our locals don’t go to events in their own Sullivan County. Why are we so willing to support races out of the area, but neglect to support our own?

With our county calendar robust with races, many go unnoticed by our local people who might choose to simply stay home. Some of the races are forced to cancel due to low participation.

I agree that sleeping in on a cloudy, misty Saturday morning is enticing, but participating in an event where the race directors have worked hard can be very rewarding. In addition to the health benefits of exercise and the camaraderie found in road races, many of these events benefit a charity, so we can feel good about supporting a worthy cause - and the entry fee is tax deductible.

Sullivan County is the home of some spectacular races:  the seldom-found 10Ks like the Turtle Trot; half marathons like The Celebrate Life Half Marathon, The Bald Eagle, The Vintage Runs, and The Livingston Manor; and a plenitude of 5Ks. Courses range from flat to challenging. All in all, great runs. Plus, the county offers the rare treat of country scenery, so the drive to races gets you away from the noise of major cities and is stimulating in itself.

You can be an integral part in making a race succeed. In fact, it’s really all about you. Races are organized with you in mind, hoping you will participate. Make a day of it. Get up, enjoy the scenery as you drive to the race, and choose to help that event thrive. Let the race planners know their hard work for you was appreciated. I can assure you, it will be a good experience. Maybe next time, drive to Sullivan County--we are friendly here!

Summer Lessons

New to Sullivan County, I was surprised when the steady population of 77,000 reached 250,000 inhabitants in the summer. That increase came from people from different cities and diverse cultures and ethnicities.

I was critical of the interlopers. The traffic became overwhelming. Stores were bursting with new shoppers. Men in long black coats and hats and women in long-sleeved blouses and dark skirts often walked in large groups, taking over not only the entire sidewalk but also the road. With a disapproving look, I wondered who these people were and how they could walk around dressed like that in the scalding sun? Why would they go for walks in such harsh conditions? Didn’t they know better?

Shortly after I started running, and with all the impetus of a newly found passion I ran the roads of my town in the scorching days of summer. My running group took over the street and sidewalks. As I ran in the heat of July, people shook their heads. Drivers looked at me in disbelief when torrential rains soaked me. I ran as the leaves changed and fell, and I left footprints in the snows of winter. How could I be out there running in such harsh conditions? Didn’t I know better?

I did. I was doing what I loved. Running was my religion and I was following it.

One day at the end of my run, tired and sweaty, I came face to face with a couple from one of the summer bungalows. The man nodded and smiled. The woman praised my dedication to running in the heat. Then it dawned on me. These people encouraged me and respected what I did even if they didn’t understand it. In that smile, in those words of encouragement, they had given me the gift of acceptance while I had questioned their rituals and their culture.

Running is the vehicle that has introduced me to other cultures and traditions and many wonderful people. One of them is the Orthodox woman I befriended in the summer of 2009. She wore a skirt and covered her hair, while I wore shorts and t-shirts. Together we covered many miles in our runs, had amazing conversations, and laughed a great deal. I was astonished to find that our similarities were much greater than any disparities.

I look forward now to the summers in the Catskills. Each morning while I run I wave at a Hasidic woman as she goes for her three-mile walk and sometimes we chat a few minutes. She tells me some of the elderly can’t make the trip anymore, and the younger generation have different plans for the summer. “We are getting old, you know?” she tells me in her noticeable accent, moving her hands in a way reminiscent of my Latin roots.

In a world so divided by the presumption that our own beliefs encompass the Universe, it’s good to be reminded that there is more to life than the narrow view from our window. Different people, different cultures have so much to offer and give. I thank running for broadening my horizons, and I thank the summer visitors for teaching me acceptance.

She, My Friend

We were little. I  still remember her face and her smile. I remember the night when we dressed in our mother’s nightgown and sat in the living room and pretended we were grown ups having coffee (no, no wine in my mind back then.) That evening, so many decades ago, is still clear in my mind. We talked about “our imaginary husbands”, handsome and rich. I asked Laura, “Do you kiss?” I can still see her smile!

She and her mother came for dinner every Sunday. I’d save $.50 cents to buy her an ice pop. My 50 cent coin was hidden under the mattress and she knew it. My cousin would tell me as we headed to the store “make sure you share with her” duh, didn’t I save all week for her???

Later she would move to a better school. Her mother always wanted her to be part of a higher economical status society and she worked hard to make it happen. One of the last times I saw Laura was at her house. We climbed a hill by her house. We carried a stick so we could let my mother know where we were. Just like that evening in my living room in the grown up nightgowns, I remember that day holding the sticks up the mountain.

I don’t remember how many times I saw her after that. I moved abroad and we didn’t keep in touch.

Years later, then in my 20s, I heard Laura was in Florida in an oncology hospital. I had not seen her in over a decade but I felt the impact of her condition as if I were still her childhood friend. I contacted many hospitals until I found her. When my call went through Laura had entered a coma she would never come out of.

I wrote her a letter reminding her of all the things we had done as children. One of the last things I mentioned was that hill we climbed holding the sticks. I asked her to call me.

That letter was read to her in her ear before she passed. She never knew I wrote her.

I visited her mother a few years later and saw pictures of Laura. I heard of her struggle with a disease that took the best of her years away from her. I heard of her courage, I heard of her strength.

Laura and I probably would not have been in touch if she were alive. But her departure marked, nevertheless, the departure of the only childhood friend I had.

I have spent my life looking for that childhood friend that was taken away from me by social status and later by death. But childhood can not be recreated, nor friends forced.

An emotional part of me remains the age we were when we were friends. An emotional part of me has never grown.

There is a part of me that still wants to ask Laura…”did you kiss?”