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Posted By Opening the Heart

   It was a tense moment in early August as I picked up the dice, during a rough stretch when I had fallen behind my friend, Ab, 9-3, in the 10th Annual Summer Backgammon Tournament at Baker's Beach in Westport, Massachusetts. There were probably close to 20,000 people, as I remember, gathered around us on the beach, with barely a person even whispering a tense word. Ab stared intently at the board, every bit of attention focused on my next critical throw- double 4's, a tremendous gasp from the crowd as I not only won the game, but went on to take an 11-10 lead by the end of August: a truly amazing comeback!

   During the winter months, Ab would send me a post card with a picture of the Swiss alps, saying that he was taking an advanced seminar with Europe's backgammon master, Wolfgang Steiner. I would send Ab a postcard back with a picture of St. Mark's Square in Venice, saying that I had taken the seminar two years ago and that Steiner's reputation was vastly overrated.

   One day a young man wandered over to us as we played our favorite game and asked if he could "play the winner". Ab and I glanced at each other and he said that we wouldn't know "the winner" until the Fall. The young man watched anyway. After Ab moved a 6-4 dice throw, I said "Ab, that Nimzo-Indian defense you're playing was discredited 6 months ago in an article in the Viennese Backgammon Journal". Ab calmly looked up and asked me if I had read Wallett's brilliant rebuttal of Steiner in the Parisian Backgammon Monthly. The young man looked in awe to be in the presence of such players.

   Ab is my old friend- not like Elliot and I, who go back to 5th grade together. Ab is old (88) and he is my friend. About 65 years ago when he graduated Brown University, he worked for two years and saved every penny while he waited for his beloved Marilyn to also graduate Brown. When she got her diploma, Ab had saved enough for a down payment on a house in Fall River and he carried Marilyn over the threshhold of that house where they have lived ever since. Until next month when they will move to a senior living community in Providence. Ab will also resign as chairman of the board of a major bank in Fall River. He will end his 25 years of service at a soup kitchen and a food distribution center. He will continue playing clarinet and trumpet in a band but will cut back on the number of gigs.

   As we walked along the beach one day this summer, he bent down and picked up a banded rock- a rock with, usually, a white band around it. He cleaned off the sand, looked at it intently and showed it to me. "Jon, this is a beauty. I'll have it assessed professionally, but I would guess it's worth at least $30,000." I said "at least that much, Ab. Your collection must, easily, be worth tens of millions by now".

   He told me he was nervous about the move from his home: "All my friends from Fall River are gone now.... I'll have to make new friends, I guess. And it won't be easy going through all the letting go at once- but it's time." I told him that once they move, we could extend the summer backgammon tournaments into the fall and winter. That cheered him up.

   I thought of all the things he'd done and seen in 88 years. During World War II, he was in an infantry division that supported another unit in liberating Buchenwald concentration camp. I thought of the all the things that he'd been asked to let go of and I felt such admiration and respect for my dear Old Friend. I just thought, "When I grow up, I want to be you". God willing.

   With Love and Respect, JonJon



Posted By Opening the Heart

I find it challenging to move through the depression I often feel as I witness the suffering of humanity; particularly when the pain is brought about by hate and ignorance. Perhaps many of our readers experience a similar feeling. Here is an antidote that I hope might go some way to lifting your spirit and opening your heart.


Posted By Opening the Heart

   In early July I posted a piece for this blog called "30,880,440 Minutes of Disconnection". In it, I shared my experience of having grown up in my family where my mother and her father, my grandfather, didn't speak during all the years that I had grown up in that house. What I did not share was that I have two brothers who grew up in that home with me. It had never occurred to me until I wrote the "Disconnection" piece that my two brothers and I had not really talked at any length with each other about what that unusual environment had been like for us. That is, until I e-mailed the blog to each of them and asked them for their honest feedback, reactions, thoughts or feelings about the piece.

   Both of my brothers were of one mind. They advised me to get over it. One even used that very phrase: "Jon, I understand that you do a lot of work with helping people move through their feelings, but I would suggest that you broaden your horizons and get over it."

   Well, I did ask for honest feedback. I love my brothers. They're both kind men, good fathers and caring husbands. But I was left wondering "How"? How exactly, does one get over something that cuts deeply, whether it happened recently or 50 years ago? One of my brothers asked "Jon, what is there to talk about- It happened so long ago...." I thought of all the people who have come to my office with a secret or a wound that they had never really been able to get over. They had tried forgetting, distracting themselves with work or alcohol, and many had actually convinced themselves that something bad had never really happened. The problem, I felt, was that in burying it, they had tried to bury it alive.

   So, I guess what I've come to believe is that, actually, "getting over it" means moving through it, facing it, talking about it with a dear friend or a therapist. "Getting over it" is a good thing, a necessary and healthy thing.

   I am not obsessed or fixated about the 40 years of disconnection between my mother and grandfather. I am moving through it by journaling in this blog and by talking to my brothers. I'm grateful that I have the skills and loving support to help me put my childhood in perspective.

   I think about the skills and loving support that are used at an Opening the Heart Workshop to help so many people "get over" deep wounds in a healthy and healing way. Needing to "empty the cup before it can be filled" (Kabir) works for me and it really is okay that it may not work for someone else.


With Love and Respect, Jon