Saturday, December 8, 2018

What makes Us the Way we Are?

Is it genes or environment, ancestors or teachers, food, Karma, or our place in the family that determines who we become or who we are? Or do all these factors have an impact?

The latest epigenetic research suggests that our genes may be the prime suspect. 

This may be good news or bad, depending on the type of characteristic we are looking at. We have thousands of them, some good, some not so good. 

Suppose we are inherently lazy. Does it mean we can sit back and point at that gene of ours as an excuse? 

Not necessarily, unless we are willing to favor that lazy-gene and strengthen it. Because our genes have epigenetic characteristics—they can be influenced, slowly, over time, and with plenty of effort. 

Practice makes perfect, they say. It’s an encouraging motto. If we practice tennis or playing the piano regularly and long enough, we are bound to get better. However, it will not change our genes, nor will it turn our children into tennis champs, unless they themselves practice, practice, practice.

It’s a pleasing thought that we need not be born with great talents, but that we can achieve greatness with our own effort if we so desire.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Free Will or Predestination

Philosophers have argued the question of Free Will versus Predestination for centuries. Are we free to choose? Or is our destiny written in the stars?

Strong arguments can be made for and against either case. 

We certainly are free to decide whether to eat a second piece of cake or not, but it’s a different matter to choose our career. Opportunity, talent, connections, effort—all play a role.

From early childhood it was my fervent dream to become a prima ballerina. I happily performed for many charitable events while mother played the piano for me. The life-long, all-consuming effort to become a first rate ballerina did not deter me. 

Opportunity, however, was a different matter. When a dance company asked me to join them, my father irrevocably said no. And to disobey my father was out of the question. Predestination? No. Lack of opportunity? Yes.

Yet opportunity and effort do not define predestination, though they do cause definite limitations.

Maybe our first question should be what is the purpose of life? Is it to become a better person? Or is it to atone for our sins in our distant past? Or is it to evolve on the timeless, mysterious ladder of evolution?

We may never know the answer, but it confronts us with the question of reincarnation. Is reincarnation a fact of life? Will we be born again, on this planet or another? Looking about me, life appears to be continuous. Even the weeds reappear every year; why should the human spirit simply perish?

Let us suppose then that our fate is not entirely predestined. Predestination has its limitations—many factors that speak for it; yet many factors speak against it. Could it be influenced by our actions? The thought of karma comes to mind. It is we who sow the seed of what we will reap. The more we practice playing the piano, the better we learn to play it. The more we practice self-discipline, the easier it is to decline that extra piece of cake.

How about free will? 

Are we able to freely exercise our will? I fear free will has many limitations too. Some factors speak for it and some speak against it.  And yet, with enough effort and patience—possibly over many life times—we may eventually achieve what we are striving for.

Perhaps our basic yet most important endeavor should be to become a better, kinder person. Kindness encapsulates what most religions preach.  Treat a person with kindness and they will—in most cases—treat you with kindness too. Or, as we are told, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Of course, we all know from experience that not all people will respond in this fashion—probably because they have never known kindness. But then, kindness is never wasted. Kindness is the most quintessential of all virtues. 

Life may not be easy, but the more we learn to accept it and try to make the best of it, the happier we are bound to be. As Goethe said, "Wer immer strebend such bemueht, den werden wir erloesen." In plain English, Try and try again, and you'll succeed. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Benefits of Age

       It’s true, getting older means getting wrinkles, being less agile, getting tired more easily.

       Yet age also has benefits. People tend to be more courteous to you, more respectful, more solicitous. 

       I must admit though, it does come as a shock when a gook-looking young man walks right by me without even noticing me. And then I remember my age—I could be his ma’, maybe his grandma.

       The other day a six- or seven-year old boy truly warmed my heart. He and his friend were joyfully running out a door. When he saw me, a total stranger, he stopped, thought for a moment, and then hurried back to open the door for me. May his parents be blessed.

       One of the benefits of age is having survived the years of Sturm und Drang, of having found a niche and a direction. We are more certain about our future. We rarely get rattled anymore.

       You may still not like the idea of getting older. Then think of the alternative—no, not of getting younger though it may sound appealing, but of saying farewell to family and friends, to the eternal blue sky and to life itself. It may still be worth living. We’ll never know.

       Until next time,


Saturday, July 28, 2018

What a World!

         It’s Saturday morning; I’m sipping my coffee reading the paper:
Venezuelans facing economic crisis, Russians interfering, flooding in the Northeast, Trump venting about press, Bangladeshis offended by lovers kissing, trade tension, racist comments, pressure mounting, …

         I sadly shake my head: What a world!

         I get up to stretch my legs and walk to the store, Trader Joe’s, my favorite store. 
         It’s sunny in California and our coastal town is pleasingly cool. I patiently wait on the sidewalk to let the traffic pass; but no, cars stop and insist that I cross the street first. It happens often. People are amazingly courteous, so different from what I read in the papers. 

         I went shopping yesterday, and don’t need a thing—well, maybe some cheese and a bit of chocolate. With a contented grin I stand in line.

         “That’s all you have?” the two ladies in front of me ask. 

         “Yep, chocolate and cheese, wouldn’t mind living on it,” I smile.

         “Do go ahead,” they insist. “Do go ahead.”

         “What a wonderful world!” I muse.

Until next Time,


Monday, May 14, 2018


I like birds and secretly wish I could fly too.

But today, my affection for birds was severely shaken. Pigeons had designated my smaller and rarely used balcony as their outhouse. When I went to water my plants on it, there wasn’t a spot where I could safely put my foot—it was covered with you-know-what. 

The floor, the walls, the glass, even my coveted plants were soiled. With a large needle I cleaned the netting of the screen door. Come to think of it, how in the world do they soil a vertical surface?

After two hours of scrubbing and cleaning I was determined that this was not going to happen again. I googled “how to keep pigeons from nesting on your deck” and adapted some of its suggestions. Instead of buying owls, I found five plastic water bottles in my recycling bin. I painted big black eyes on them. 

Then I strung a line across my deck and hung the bottles from it—some higher, some lower. They are gently moving in the breeze now looking downright threatening. For added effect I took off my black plastic gloves and tied them to the line too, hoping that the pigeons will take them for hungry black ravens. Then I sprinkled hot cayenne pepper on the banister and floor.

I straightened my back and looked at my work with satisfaction, wondering what the condo board will have to say. 

In the meantime, one thing is for certain — pigeons won’t visit me anymore.  

Until next time,


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Getting Fit

I just came across this story a friend sent me eleven years ago. I laughed so hard I could barely read the last paragraph. Let me share it with you. I wish I knew its author.

For my sixtieth birthday my daughter gave me a week of personal training at the health club. Actually, I am in great shape having been a cheerleader of our high school’s football team 43 years ago, but I decided to give it a try.  

I called the club and made reservations with a personal trainer named Belinda, a 26-year-old aerobics instructor and model for athletic clothing and swim wear. My daughter seemed pleased with my enthusiasm to get started! The club urged me to keep a diary to chart my progress.

MONDAY: Started my day at 6:00 a.m. Tough to get out of bed, but found it was well worth it. Belinda was waiting for me at the health club. She looks like a Greek goddess—blond hair, dancing eyes and a dazzling white smile! She gave me a tour and showed me the machines. After my workout I watched her conducting her aerobics class. Very inspiring! Belinda encouraged me as I did my sit-ups, although my gut was already aching from holding it in whenever she was around. This is going to be a FANTASTIC week !!

TUESDAY: I drank a whole pot of coffee, but finally made it out the door. Belinda made me lie on my back and push a heavy iron bar into the air. Then she put weights on it! My legs were a bit wobbly on the treadmill, but I made the full mile. Belinda's rewarding smile made it worthwhile. I feel GREAT!! It's a whole new life for me.

WEDNESDAY: The only way I can brush my teeth today is by laying the toothbrush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I think I have a hernia in both pectorals. Driving was OK as long as I didn't try to steer or stop. Belinda was quite impatient with me. She said my screams bothered other club members. Her voice is too perky for early in the morning. My chest hurt when I got on the treadmill, so Belinda put me on the stair 'monster'. Why the h*** would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by elevators? Belinda told me it would get me in great shape to enjoy life more. She said some other s*** too.

THURSDAY: Belinda was waiting for me with her vampire-like teeth exposed as her cruel lips pulled back in a full snarl. I couldn't help being half an hour late, it took me that long to tie my shoes. Belinda took me to work out with dumbbells. When she wasn’t looking, I ran and hid in the restroom. She sent another skinny b**** to find me. Then, as punishment, she put me on the rowing machine. I sank it.

FRIDAY: I hate that b**** Belinda more than any human being has ever hated anyone! A stupid, skinny, anemic, anorexic little cheerleader. If there were a part of my body I could move without unbearable pain, I would hit her. Belinda wanted me to work on my triceps. I don't have any triceps! And if you don't want dents in the floor, don't hand me the D*** barbells or anything that weighs more than a sandwich. Next the treadmill. It flung me off and landed me on a health and nutrition teacher. Why couldn't it have been someone softer, like the drama coach or the choir director? 

SATURDAY: Belinda left a message on my answering machine in her grating, shrill voice wondering why I didn’t show up today. Just hearing her made me want to smash the machine, but I lacked the strength to even use the TV remote and ended up catching eleven straight hours of the Weather Channel. 

SUNDAY: I'm having the Church van pick me up for services today so I can thank God that this week is over. I will also pray that next year my daughter will choose a gift that is more fun—like root canal or a hysterectomy. If God wanted me to bend over today, he would have to sprinkle the floor with very big diamonds.

Until next time,


Monday, June 5, 2017

Enjoy Life

Our Earth is a planet of infinite beauty. Visualize the serenity of a starlit night, the brilliant colors of a maple leaf, the crystals of snow glistening like diamonds in the sun. Think of the expressive eyes of a faithful dog or the inviting smell of dinner.

Do we take the wonders of life for granted? Do we get too engrossed in the paltry concerns of the day?  Are we oblivious to the joys of this world?

It might be a sign of aging, a trend that can be reversed. Why miss the joys of living? Life can be tough enough; we need the lift that Joy can give us.

         To reverse this trend, pretend to be an artist. Look for an intriguing detail worth depicting on the canvas of your mind. Beauty abounds all around us. Being aware of the ever-changing world will keep us young and smiling. For nothing remains the same.  We and the world around us are ever changing.