Monday, May 12, 2014

My friends, my mentors, my loves

As April was about to make its exit, my very close friend Cheryl Baraty, a woman of enormous charm and wit and a brilliant attorney, also made her exit from this earthly plane. Almost as if to not bring attention to herself, Cheryl's departure was quiet and as dignified as possible. She had made peace with the inevitable some time ago, even as relatives, friends, clients and associates hoped a miracle might be found to save her.

The last week of Cheryl's life was hardly anything that could be remotely considered as quality. From reports I received, she was so heavily medicated that the best she could do was sleep and feebly attempt to communicate through those still sparkling eyes.

While I was not there at the end, I had seen her several months ago in December, just as the ravages of the inoperable and terminal cancer began to take its toll on her frail frame. I talked to her over the phone in smidgens and jots of time. She was brave. She was courageous. She was never bitter, but kept a stiff upper lip as she began to deal with excruciating pain. The medication brought her relief, but the cost was to descend into a cloudy existence that dulled her and deadened her mind.

She stopped eating several days before her final passage. She had dropped a tremendous amount of weight and had no strength left in her. I had seen the same thing happen only a few months before in October when my other close Scouting friend, Gene von Rosenberg, went from being mobile and using a walker to having so little strength in his emaciated body that he was confined to a bed for the remainder of his few days. Gene, like Cheryl, was only 57.

Cheryl was old enough to have been a mother and raised a son, yet never would enjoy the plaintive sound of her grandchildren's laughter.

Gene never heard the sound of his own children, but reveled in hearing the sound of others' children, including my own son David. Like his father Dale, Gene was both an Eagle Scout and a Scoutmaster, a position he held for 30 years. All the Von Rosenberg men: Dale, Gene and his two other brothers, were Eagle Scouts.

Because she was a woman, Cheryl never had a youth spent in Boy Scouting, but enjoyed a long period as an established Cubmaster in Milwaukee and later became the local chair of the Jewish Committee on Scouting and the Central Region chair of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. She considered being a Cubmaster as among the most satisfying of her pursuits. In her own way, she thought that connecting the local Jewish Scouts to their own religion might stem the tide of those who saw no relevance to their faith and practice and were tempted towards intermarriage and, possibly, divorce. Through her clients, Cheryl had seen what becomes of divorce and she wanted to alleviate their distress.

As a family lawyer, it was ironic to her that she and her husband had one of the most acrimonious of divorces and that she was unable to prevent years of abusive behavior and disrespect. Even while dealing with her own recalcitrant son, Cheryl reached out to others to push the Jewish Scouting program and help others.

She was a tireless fighter and possessed an indomitable spirit. As she sunk deeper and deeper into a drug-induced fog, she began to lose her most precious of gifts: her ability to communicate. She found she couldn't speak well and eventually used her eyes to indicate her approval or disapproval. Her ability to even hold small objects became a challenge. Yet, there she was hanging tough and persevering, holding on with every ounce of strength within her.

Her colleagues in the northern region at Market America and Shop.com, a firm for which she had been working for the past four years in her spare time, presented her with a special award they established in her honor last April. They named it the Cheryl Baraty Perseverance Award and have made it an annual honor.

Perseverance was a trait both Cheryl and Gene shared. They both fought as best they could before they gave themselves over to God. As always after death, we remember not how they died, but how they lived. The world is a little less interesting without Cheryl and Gene in it. Scouting has lost two of its best illustrations of selfless leaders. While they are gone now, the reasons they became involved with Scouting remain as true today as they were when they first began their associations.

I honor their name by continuing my work to the advancement of Scouting and to improve its image as best I can. They showed me the way to do it correctly and proudly and I salute them and thank the Great Scoutmaster that I had the opportunity to learn from them and work side by side with them. They were among my truest friends, my greatest of mentors and my deepest of pure loves.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Under the "C"


 ©Fox News Corporation

So, perhaps there is justice in this world, after all. Perhaps a monster, who captures, chains, deprecates, enslaves, impregnates and, eventually, murders will face a higher judge than many of us had hoped and clearly at a closer date than we could ever have imagined.

For the four victims in Cleveland, one of whom never survived his or her pregnancy, there probably will be a hollow sense of victory. The thought of knowing their captor would never be freed and would be submitted to solitary confinement for most of the rest of what would have been expected to be a lengthy prison stay, may have strengthened them. Now that sense that he would pay with his freedom and would have time to consider his past actions has been stripped from them by his last cowardly act.

I will never mourn his death, because he doesn't deserve anyone to recall his name in any manner. His crime of making women disappear should be his ultimate fate. The memory of his walking this earth, breathing the same air as his victims and inflicting horrible acts behind closed doors and shuttered windows should be as vacuous as the empty lot where his house once stood.

And so for his victims and their families, their is only one thing to remember and that is to forget. Forget his face, his gait, his smell, his touch, his voice and anything that would ever remind you of his terrible visage. Forget the years of imprisonment and torture as best can be expected. It is only when his memory is wiped away fully from their collective conscience,  they will know the true meaning of justice and a measure of true freedom. Only time and their own sense of resolve will heal their wounds.

So, while news crews today and in the ensuing days will recall his suicide seeking responsible parties to blame, I will try to avoid hearing or watching their reports. I don't want to forget what he did. His crimes were heinous. I just want to forget him, blotting out his memory with the same viciousness that he perpetrated his unspeakable crimes against humanity, not just women. 

In the end I wish that those who survived their ordeal can free themselves from the bonds of years of hopelessness and despair by knowing that today it is truly over. Today they have something to live for: freedom and self-determination...and life, something their tormentor will never have. Like the Romans who sewed salt into the fields of defeated Carthage, leaving their fields barren, let us strive to make his name and image just as barren in the recesses of our mind. Let us never forget what he did. In the name of his victims, let us make him the non-entity he so richly deserves. It is by these deliberate actions that we will forget and he will disappear forever.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Whatever became of...?

WYES-TV'S "Steppin' Out" weekly arts and entertainment show with that cad on the right.

These days my old constant companion, the Kosher Computing blog (yes, the very one you're espying now), has been feeling pretty abandoned. It's not the blog's fault. Nay, this once proud blog stood as a testament to my dedication to the writing craft that would permit me to pour out onto the cypher universe my thoughts and musings of the world. I truly loved my blog!

Then, slowly and almost imperceptibly, the number of blog posts began to diminish. The first year I had well over 200 posts. The next year about half that. The third year even less until this year - 2013 - when I have had a grand total of one post and that brought about over the discovery in a drawer of an early piece I had written at least three decades previously. The previous post was my decrying the tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut last December.

What has consumed me is my online work for the Crescent City Jewish News and on Examiner.com as well as my work as a theatre critic/reviewer over the past two seasons on "Steppin' Out," the WYES-TV weekly arts and entertainment program. There has simply been no time to engage my old friend and I am sure this blog wants little to do with me as well now. I'm not saying the blog is jealous of my time spent away, but I can't believe that any entity - no matter how large or small - would feel good about a close friend spending so much time away.

I want to make it up to my blog, but the only way I can do so is to spend time here, reassuring it in any way I can that I'm here now and that I know I'll be back soon.

The truth is I know in my heart (and I think the blog knows deep down too) that I'm lying. Shhhh...let's keep it a secret just between us.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Youth

 "YOUTH"

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind, a product of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity - an appetite for adventure.

Nobody grows old by living a number of years. People grow old when they desert their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

Worry. Self-doubt. Fear and anxiety. These are the culprits that bow the head and break the spirit.

Whether 16 or 70, there exists in the heart of every person who loves life the thrill of a new challenge, the insatiable appetite for what is coming next. You are as young as your faith and as old as your doubts.

So long as your heart receives from your head messages that reflect beauty, courage, joy and excitement, you are young. When your thinking becomes clouded with pessimism that prevents you from taking risks, then you are old. And may God have mercy on your soul.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The horror and the horrible

It seems more and more that I am compelled to write when I am confronting death in some way. In November it was dealing with the sudden and unexpected passing of my good friend and former college mate. Today it has been in dealing with the horrific shooting deaths of 28 souls in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of them children.

There are no words of consolation for a parent who sends a child to school in the morning and who receives a chilling call hours later that something has happened. Even if that parent was lucky to find that his or her child survived the ordeal, the fallout - the loss of innocence and trust of that youngster - can never be recovered. Worst than that would be to deal with knowing your precious little one was taken from you, never to be seen again. Those little eyes that peered into your soul, those little hands that reached for you, that little voice that made you sigh - all gone in a flash of the muzzle from a gun!

Anyone who knows me knows full well how much I love children and how I can never countenance their being taken advantage of or abused in any way. This reprehensible action on the part of a loathsome coward can never be justified. I don't care if he brandished his weapons to give himself a better self-image or to improve his low self-esteem, if he was mentally ill or if he felt taking the lives of these young victims would somehow make the killing of his mother even more grim. He was a little man whose life will now be linked with that of a madman and I will not darken the words I have posted here with his own name. He shall remain nameless and as anonymous as the slugs being removed from the bodies of his victims. Their memory shall be exalted and his shall fall on the scrap heap of history, never to be acknowledged, lest it serve as an example to other idiots that his is a way to achieve lasting fame.

I have the most sympathy for the classmates of the victims and the parents and grandparents who now have to deal with the unfathomable. My words ring hollow as the depths of their despair shall know no bounds for some time to come. The actions of this callow fellow shall forever impact the lives of brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles too. How can anyone do such a thing to innocents? Only an unthinking, unfeeling and self-centered sociopath could ever do such an act, let alone scores of others.

The next few days shall be full of remorse and grief as the media retells the stories of the brave teachers who paid the ultimate price protecting their young charges and the heartrending tales of the littlest victims of this monster. It will be hard to bear for any of us and I am certain the tears we shed shall not diminish for some time to come.

In America we elevate the memories of these kinds of events, ostensibly so that they will never be repeated. We have memorials in places where a federal building once stood, where a McDonald's restaurant was once opened and where twin towers fell. It will be difficult for the relatives of the victims of this tragedy to not call for the closure of Sandy Hook Elementary School and a memorial to be erected on site.  This will, no doubt, be so they can have closure. The sad reality for this woeful day is they will never have closure. For that I am truly sorry.

How ironic this all takes place during the season when mankind expects the very best from one another. This should be a season of peace and good will, not a time of mourning and lamentations. This too has been stolen from us all by the actions of a craven and malevolent fiend. May the evil deeds of one depraved and dastardly lout be erased from our memories and may the souls he has taken from us and those affected by this horrible day be comforted and soothed one day. Unfortunately, this will take time and may never be achieved in my lifetime.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dr. George Dalton Long (1956-2012)


Over 30 years ago the movie The Big Chill was filmed in a sleepy town in South Carolina, It told the story of a fictional weekend where the former classmates of a well-loved, but troubled friend gathered for his funeral in order to say goodbye to him with all their heartfelt best wishes and to console each other over their common loss.

Many film buffs will note that Alex, the unseen character whose life was being memorialized was slated to be portrayed by none other than future big screen legend Kevin Costner. Yet Costner’s Hollywood screen debut ended up on Lawrence Kasdan’s cutting room floor, the victim of the director’s final vision for the film.

Like Alex, we all knew George as the very best of our generation, a man whose dedication to medicine, his friends and his family was unquestioned. But unlike the film character, George’s real-life role was not a brooding genius unable to cope with the vicissitudes of life. George took on the task of confronting life with exuberance and his enthusiastic nature carried him in whatever he did. 

Back when the film premiered in 1983, it was almost inconceivable that our group of Tulane friends or George’s friends from Westminster High School would be gathering to bid adieu to one of our own number.  George had just graduated from Tulane Medical School and was preparing to follow his dad and fellow alumnus, Dr. Crawford Long II, as a well-respected and dedicated obstetrician-gynecologist. 

There was little chance we would be similarly affected like those characters in the film. It would be safe to say we all knew this concept of loss was something that would more likely affect our parents. We were ready to begin our lives. We were ready to embark on our chosen career paths. In many cases we were searching for spouses and, possibly, considering having offspring. The job of burying one of our own, we reckoned, would not be something we would have to face for many years down the road.

So, the story contained within The Big Chill of love and life lost and friendships renewed after that loss never really materialized for most of us in real life.

When my wife Sally and I married, we had no way of knowing that our marriage would be the exception rather than the rule. Our ten years together were punctuated by a battle with Hodgkin’s Disease, the birth of our son, and a final battle with MDS that took her and all she ever loved at the age of 43. But during the time we were married, we enjoyed the company of George and his wife Debbie on several occasions, mostly Rolling Stones concerts or NFL games in New Orleans. Sally was a wonderful spirit who loved George’s unshakable persona and her sudden passing was especially devastating to David and me.

When George and fellow Tulane alumnus Charles Driebe heard of my loss, they spared no quarter in making sure they came in from Atlanta and were with my son and me at the hour of our collective distress. That selfless act of compassion on their part has never been forgotten. Yesterday in Atlanta I paid back that debt in some small measure as I attended the memorial service for Dr. George Dalton Long at the church he attended every Sunday.

It is the plain truth that time has marched on and, sadly, it would seem that we have reached the beginning of that epoch in our generation's lives where we will be seeing our company diminish in ever-increasing numbers. We have now raised our families and sent them off to college. In some cases we have married, divorced and remarried. Now, with the release of our friend George, also known affectionately as Corgus, we say goodbye to the first notable of our number who makes the journey we all are slated to take one day in the (hopefully distant) future.

The remembrances at Trinity Presbyterian yesterday were all fine. George’s friends Thomas Calk, a fellow physician, and longtime friend Steve Massell had their turn recalling his irrepressible spirit. Another friend, Dan McGrew had the unpleasant duty of following the first two, who had pretty much hit it out of the ballpark. Yet even McGrew captured much of what we all remembered about George: his idolization of his dad (whose funeral had been held in the same sanctary less than two weeks previous), his love of fast cars (most especially Porsches), his commitment to his church, his unswavering commitment to conservatism, his dedication to medicine and (along with his deep compassion for his friends) his love for his wife and two sons.

Both the two female ministers, one of whom was a nurse and fellow worker at his office, expressed joy as having known George Long. George’s family had made arrangements to cremate his body and so there was no coffin or similar object to take the focus off an examination of his life rather than a depiction of his death. The inside of the church was clean and bright. The mood inside was upbeat and not at all woeful. It was a glorious sendoff for a man who had done so much in his short time span.

While the organ played the “Toccata” from the Widor “Symphony No. 5” at the conclusion of the service, I couldn’t but help wonder once again about The Big Chill. I thought to myself what it would have meant to scores of Rolling Stones fans like myself had the organist at Trinity Presbyterian launched into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” just as the organist in the film did. I think George would have liked that. I know I would have. Perhaps that was why we enjoyed each other's company so much; we thought a lot alike.

But as the hymns were sung and the eulogies delivered, there was another revelation. I realized that very much as an element of a film, these testaments were, in fact, George's final credits, his end titles as it were. It was time to let him go and to cherish his memory. 

So, I say, rest in peace, my good friend. By comparison to others, your life was way too short, but it was a life well-lived and meaningful. I’ll forever treasure our time together and always remember you.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We vs. The Power of One

Three years ago at the National Order of the Arrow Conference, I was impressed with the concept of "The Power of One." The "power of one" advocated that one person could make a difference. Images of famous people who took a stand or were caught up in the maelstrom of historic events still come to mind. The moral was for all of us to consider how we could all make a difference. We were advised to not diminish just how important one purposed person could be. One person dedicated to change or preventing change from occurring could be a remarkable thing. There were numerous examples including those unsung heroes who by their  helped shape our Declaration of Independence and kept President Andrew Johnson from being convicted at his impeachment trial. The theme for today's Blog Action Day is the Power of We. Many might consider this is very different than the "power of one," But the two terms are actually quite close. In the Power of We, there are instances of action taken by a group, which have positive consequences for society or mankind. There have been reactions to organized threats, the most horrific being war. World War II was a great example of two opposing forces fueled by the Power of We with destruction raining down on the earth as a result. The outpouring of generosity by Americans after seeing tragedy following destruction from Nature's wrath is a sterling example of the Power of We. My own hometown of New Orleans was saved by the intervention of thousands who sent millions of dollars and who came to the city to aid in the recovery effort, some of whom still live here. But the Power of We is really more than just charity. It is the capacity for men to live in harmony and respect one another. Without the Power of We there is no chance for peace or advancement. The Power of We is truly The Power of One amplified and repeated in the hearts of men and women who care. How we live as people and how we treat one another is truly the Power of We.