Living Now That Which We Seek

I wrote my first blog in this space in December of 2012. Since that time I have not written as much as I would have liked. Recently, I stumbled on the Holiday Letter letter I wrote in December of 2011, and it struck me that those two pages contained more guidance and inspiration than most of the things I had written over the years. The value was not so much in what I had said, but in the work of others (including my daughter) whom I quoted and shared in that missive. I am posting it here, with the hope that some of you might still find inspiration and comfort in these words.

I always admired the late Reverend Peter Gomes, whose messages from the pulpit in Harvard’s Memorial Church stirred a lot of souls – especially the memorial services he offered at each of the reunions we attended. Years ago I got to introduce Peter at a church fundraising dinner.  (When he referred to me as “Brother Durham” during his remarks, this mid-western hayseed felt like he had made it to the big time!) Recently, we received a flyer announcing an auction of the contents of Peter’s home. This flyer did what death usually does – reminded me of the value of life.

On page 283 of his book, The Good Life, Reverend Gomes wrote: “The good life is not to be found wrapped up and waiting for us like the Dead Sea Scrolls or some ancient artifacts from a culture that once flourished but is now long gone. Not at all. The good life, whose object, like that of hope, is a future good….enables us to live now that which we seek.” Living now that which we seek makes so much sense. Why do we think that real joy is the goal, rather than a daily choice? I am sure Peter left behind some wonderful items for auction, but the beauty of those antiques can’t compete with the messages of love and good-heartedness he left behind.

Peter also wrote and spoke about gratitude – which has been mentioned in numerous blogs and Holiday Letters over the years. Those of us who write these annual missives predictably express gratitude for our family and friends, and for the many blessings we have been given. For some reason, though, I have resisted practicing gratitude formally by following recommended rituals. That may seem a little odd in the face of overwhelming evidence that keeping a so-called ‘Gratitude Journal’ makes us happier. Yet, I have not been able to discipline myself to do that, or anything else that is recommended by those who have studied the phenomenon.

One writer suggested that we should cultivate gratitude by taking a moment during each meal to tell those gathered what we are thankful for – not just during the Thanksgiving meal, but always. (It could lead to surprises, as I remember one Thanksgiving dinner at which a young Reid said he was thankful for Oprah and Wheel of Fortune.)  Maybe we will try this one in ’12.

Specifically, this year we are grateful that Paige is actually a fabulous teenager–the kind you can only hope for. (Can you believe she is driving?) We are thankful that Craig continues to pursue his passion of broadcasting baseball, and that he is enjoying all that Florida has to offer. We are grateful that Reid has continued to advance in his development; and we are grateful for the way Karen and I still have fun in all that we do together. We are thankful for a wonderful vacation at the O’Brien’s house on Lake Gaston, NC, where Captain Pat turned over the helm to Reid, and Paige mastered the Jet Ski. We loved the celebration in San Francisco with Gary and Barbara, Sarah, Paul, Roxie and Jarrett Tolman (who mixed in a half marathon!). We are grateful for Adam Tolman, and all who give service to this country. We are grateful for Denise, who keeps Karen running, and for Tom who shares his wonderful wit and wines with us. I am grateful that lawyers keep buying The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering (recently published in Malaysia, of all places). And I am grateful to have a job I genuinely enjoy. We are all especially grateful that Karen has rediscovered yoga, as it opens her loving heart even wider.

As some of you know from years of reading about Reid, he lives ‘in the moment’ with great joy. “Live now that which we seek…”  So, I thought I would share with you a poem I wrote about Reid several years ago. (Read the right column first…)

There is something about Reid

that makes us smile

when he finds joy in the simplest things.

There is something about Reid

that makes him giggle,

seeing a moon, a sun, or a mouse.


There is something about Reid

that makes us happy

in the way his sweet heart sings.


There is something about Reid

that is so sincere when he invites

strangers for “supper me house?”


There is something about Reid

that gives us joy

as he asks for his favorite shows.


There is something about Reid

that touches souls

with the merriment our lives don’t allow.


There is something about Reid

that impresses us all

when we discover what he really knows.


There is something about Reid

that changes our hearts

when he says “me happy now.”


After Craig wrote such a terrific holiday letter last year, many of you are probably a little disappointed to see me back in the game. And I had truly thought I was retired. But when your brother comes through major brain surgery safely and successfully, you feel compelled to write a little bit more about gratitude — and miracles.

Those of you who have read The Secret know that there is great power in our thoughts. When it was discovered that Rick had a tumor, hundreds of people openly offered “thoughts and prayers.” Relatives, friends, contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn, co-workers at my firm, everyone at Grandville Printing, and the parishioners at our church all offered “thoughts and prayers.” (Even a stranger I chatted with in Denver added Rick to his prayer list…) Don’t ever doubt the power of thoughts and prayers. There is no doubt in my mind that the team of surgeons had an extra pair of divine hands in the operating room. The joy we feel knowing that Rick will be fine is indescribable. I look forward to playing lots of golf with him in the years to come.

Amidst all of this, I continue to be moved by remarks made by the Headmaster of Dedham Country Day School at a Thanksgiving assembly over a year ago.  Loosely interpreted, he reminded us that we should be thankful for sadness, because it magnifies our happiness. We should be thankful for loneliness, as it gives us a greater appreciation for connection. And we can celebrate failure, for without it we would know less success. Reverend Gomes said we can only know true joy, if we know suffering. Indeed, life is rich in joy and sorrow, in achievement and disappointment, in gain and loss. We are so very thankful to be on this journey with such supportive friends and family, as well as those unnamed Angels that move in and out of our lives. May each of us be an Angel for someone every day.

I would like to share a quote from The Power (sequel to The Secret): “So how do you fall in love with life? The same way you fall in love with another person — you adore everything about them! You fall in love with another person by seeing only love, hearing only love, speaking only love, and by feeling love with all your heart! And that is exactly how you use the ultimate power of love in love with life.”  Now, combine this thinking with a quote from Albert Einstein: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” We have unlimited potential. Turn your imagination loose. Decide what you want….believe you can have it, believe you deserve it, believe it’s possible for you, and have an extraordinary holiday season.

Even though Dad is “out of retirement” from writing the holiday letter, he asked me (Paige) to add some thoughts this year. Dad has asked me several times to write the holiday letter, saying it would be a great opportunity, but I never took him up on the offer. I was always a little nervous about jumping into something that he has done for so many years, and for a piece of writing about which a lot of people openly express joy upon reading. I certainly didn’t feel prepared to step into those shoes. My other issue was that I never felt like I had anything truly inspiring to share. This is probably the first year that I have actually been able to somewhat connect myself to the things Dad has to say in the letter.

After reading The Secret, Dad did not want to keep the things he had learned to himself. Mom and I listened to him describe the messages and different ways he thought it could really change a person’s life. However, keep in mind that I live under the same roof as him, so our whole family is subject to these eye-opening things Dad has to say throughout the year–not just in this letter. And I do admit that I didn’t give it much thought the first time Dad talked about it. Then one day during wellness week, which is my school’s version of drug and alcohol awareness and prevention, the guest speaker suddenly asked if we had ever learned about the power of thought. Many in the room were clueless to the idea, but I knew what he was talking about. He went on to describe a time when he was very nervous about a public speaking event, so he envisioned himself doing the presentation and having it be a huge success; by the time he got up on stage, he wasn’t a bit nervous and did a great job.

So maybe this crazy idea that Dad had shared with us was something bigger then I realized; maybe it was actually possible. All I know is if a 16-year-old daughter can be inspired by an idea so grand and unimaginable, it could truly be life changing after all.

With Gratitude

Another Holiday Message

Holiday Letter ‘16

It is December 9th, the 26th anniversary of our son Corey’s death.  Karen, Reid, and I visited the Memorial Garden at St. Paul’s Church today to place a Christmas tree in the garden where his ashes are buried and his name is carved into the centuries-old stone wall.  We hugged and shed some tears — reflecting on a life that lasted just over three months.

This might not be the kind of message we want to reflect on at this time of year, but Corey will forever be linked to the Christmas season in our hearts.  But, as I said at Corey’s memorial service, even his brief life had a profound positive impact on the world.


Our experience with Corey taught us humility and perseverance; his short life evoked generosity, connection, gratitude, and unconditional love among our family and friends (so imagine what we might be able to do with our considerably longer lives…).  Another impact of Corey’s life was that thousands of dollars were donated to the Globe Santa Fund in Corey’s name.  So, even though we had to wake up on Christmas Day without Corey, because of him dozens of children woke up to find presents under the tree.

We worry sometimes that Corey has been forgotten — and that makes us sad.  To convert that sadness to joy, we want to ask those of you who are able and so inclined to make a modest donation to a children’s charity this season or in the coming year in memory of Corey James Durham.  And please let us know about it via Facebook or email (, so we can celebrate his memory together.

Reflecting on the more recent past, I feel that our family is very blessed in so many ways.  Craig and Laura’s wedding was an amazingly joyful event.  The road keeps getting paved in front of their journey together, and Craig’s refusal to give up on his dream of professional broadcasting inspired me to follow my own passion and join GrowthPlay. There, I am working with a team of amazing people, and can once again do the speaking, training, and consulting that I love.

Paige has become the person a Dad dreams about when a daughter is born.  My little girl really has become a terrific young lady – and a great writer, as some of you may recall from the ’12 Holiday Letter.  The recent weekend Karen and I spent in Virginia at a tournament with Paige’s Ultimate Frisbee team was one of our favorite two days of the year!  As the president and tri-captain of the team, she is a natural leader.

And Reid continues to be Reid – never knowing a bad mood, and finding joy in everything.  He is always amused when people ask for one of his “Me Happy Now” bumper stickers. (If anyone wants some, just ask and we will send them.)

And then there is Karen.  She is the rock, the glue, and one of the shiniest lights on this planet – not just to me and the kids, but to everyone who knows her.  Karen knows only kindness and giving, but she is also my best friend and a fun drinking buddy!  It doesn’t matter what I am praying for — the health of my children, a safe journey, or world peace, I always end by asking God to give me the joy of growing old with her.

Karen and I want to say “thank you” to our extended families and friends from our hometowns, our high schools, and our colleges, and to those whom we have met along the way.  You are our foundation, and a vibrant, important part of our lives.  You keep us young, laughing, and vital. We love you all.

Speaking of people we love, thank you to Laura’s family (Heather, Pat and Scott) for sharing your fabulous daughter with us!  You have been so gracious and welcoming to our family. It is great to have you (as well as Grammy, Grampa and Cali) in our lives.

I wrote the poem below one dark night when I was standing in the Memorial Garden thinking about Corey.  It truly appeared that there was light shooting up from the ground around me. These words came to me all at once.  The poem can remind us, I think, that there is a spirit in the Universe that embraces, cares for, and calls for us all to live the best life we possibly can.

A Prayer with Corey in Mind

 I look up to the sky, as I stand near your name

in the Garden where we shared your ashes with the earth.

You are larger than life, larger than all of us;

a child in a boundless spirit from birth.


You know the peace to which we all aspire,

and you know the joy we can only imagine.

You know the love that we all desire,

and you know the heaven we continually seek.


You know the Angels we dream to embrace,

and the thoughts of a genius unknown;

you know the secrets of this human race,

and the splendor of God on a throne.


Be now in our midst as a constant reminder

of the hope and serenity of life everlasting;

and help us to be mindful of the love we can find here

in a world that follows Heart’s teaching.


Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah


Another Heartwarming Story of Kindness

There is a video being shared around social media about a young boy’s obsession with UPS trucks, and a driver’s warm response. We can totally relate, as our son has a similar obsession, and was the subject of a story on the UPS internal portal. It needs no further explanation — it speaks for itself. Here it is:

Nobody Loves UPS More than Reid Durham

The biggest believer in UPS offers lessons for us all

UPS makes a lot of people happy.

The law partner on the 70th floor smiles when UPS walks in with signed documents that seal a deal. The warehouse manager nods his head when UPS backs to a loading dock with just-in-time inventory. The young lady awaiting her stylish new boots loves seeing a brown package car roll up to her suburban home.

Still, it’s safe to say UPS makes nobody – nobody – any happier than Reid Durham.

Jim Durham, his dad, explains.

“Twenty-three years ago, my son, Reid, was born with birth defects. He came to us with lots of issues, but also this sparkling personality.

“UPS has been an important part of our lives. At an early age, Reid for some reason got very excited whenever a UPS truck came to the house. It was outside the routine of life, not an everyday thing … even though I was a self-employed consultant, and package cars came frequently.

“Every driver who saw Reid running out to the truck engaged him with genuine warmth. And they still do so today, even though Reid is 23 years old.

“I want to thank UPS for running a company with such a great heart.”

Community involvement made personal Reid’s own little heart is something special. He arrived in this world with a twin, Corey, who passed away at three months. Heart defects took Corey’s life and also endangered Reid’s.

When Reid reached seven months, doctors “rebuilt his heart,” says his dad. The surgery took place at Children’s Hospital of Boston, not far from the Durham family residence. Reid came through the risky operation “home free … at least for his heart.”

Other developmental problems remained. Reid’s brain never grew properly, leaving him with multiple issues.

“He doesn’t speak well,” says his dad. “He can’t navigate difficult steps or terrain. He’s almost toddler-like in some ways.”

A toddler-like Reid proved irresistible to the Durhams.

His big brother, Craig, and little sister, Paige, embraced him. Paige is now 18 and towers over Reid, but he still calls his sister “Baby,” the name he gave her when she was born.

Reid’s mother, Karen, did what every great mother does – she poured her love and talents into raising Reid to have the best possible chance for a happy life. So did Jim, supporting the family as a legal industry consultant – he’s a pioneering figure in the marketing of law firms, and a 2010 inductee into the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame.

Reid’s special gifts made it easier for the family to deal with his afflictions.

“We’ve all come to accept how he is physically and mentally,” Jim says. “But we never get tired of how joyful Reid is. When he goes to a store, he knows everybody there. He doesn’t know what it is to be in a bad mood. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

The big heart of UPS What explains Reid’s fascination with UPS?

Give credit where credit is due, to the big hearts of our UPS drivers.

Jim says drivers who showed up when Reid was age three or so made a point to “chat and engage” with the youngster. “As he got a little older and bigger, when a package car stopped by, the driver would walk Reid out to touch it.”

No driver ever seemed too busy to show kindness to the star-struck kid with so much brown in his ice blue eyes.

“Reid once made me walk across a large empty parking lot to a parked UPS truck,” Jim recalls. “I hesitated, because I could see the driver was enjoying a peaceful lunch.

“When that guy got out, he showed not one hint of annoyance. He not only made us feel like we were not bothering him … he took the time to open the back of his truck to let Reid look in.

“My son,” Jim remembers, “squealed with joy.”

Jim once gave important UPS executives a presentation on behalf of a company he represented. At the end of the pitch, he went off script.  He told the story of his boy, and he told of Reid’s unconditional love of all things UPS.

“I just wanted to thank UPS,” Jim says. “I got all choked up.”

Jim wasn’t the only one with tears in his eyes. His heartfelt remarks moved the UPS team so much that they sent Reid “two boxes of fabulous UPS paraphernalia, little cars and pens and clothes and all kinds of things,” Jim says.

“Reid still plays with that stuff.”

That UPS bric-a-brac might have been good fun for Reid … but the best was yet to come.

A costume for October When Reid was nine, a UPS employee the family knew retired from the company. He passed along his vest and hat to you-know-who.

“Reid was so excited,” Jim says. “So every year since then to this very day, he has dressed up as the UPS man for Halloween. He even collects his Halloween candy in a UPS express envelope.

“I think that says it all.”

Imagine the little trick-or-treater on your October door step, dressed like a UPS driver and grinning up with the happiest smile a human can give … while holding out a UPS envelope for sweets.

It brings to mind one of the things Jim says about life with his special child: “Every day my heart is warmed and my heart is broken.”

Reid went through Massachusetts public schools, in the special needs curriculum. Today, he attends a special needs adult center that helps him prepare for the best possible life.

Jim Durham watches over his boy and the rest of his family. He puts his Harvard undergrad and Emory University School of Law education to good use with legal marketing, and he writes instructional books on marketing. He also writes motivational books. (See My Father’s Writings)

Wherever he travels, Jim Durham finds he’s never far from a familiar sight that reminds him of his precious son.

“I might be in London,” he says, “and I’ll see a UPS package car.

“I immediately snap a picture to email or text back home. I know how much Reid will love it.”

Thank you for “Lib Strong”

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day, and at least one mother spent the day preparing a memorial service for her daughter. A full of life 3-year old who had battled cancer for over a year left this world last week. But let me be clear, Libby Jones left this world having made a genuine difference. Paraphrasing something I said in the homily for my infant son 23 years ago, Libby did more good in her too short life, than most of us do in many decades on earth.

In a sad, but triumphant service yesterday, the tributes to Libby painted a picture of a little girl filled with joy and talent. She was a mischievous sweetheart with an infectious personality that drew people irresistibly into her circle of love. The City of Charlotte has “Lib Strong” signs, shirts and bumper stickers everywhere. Thousands followed Libby’s story on the Caring Bridge website.

During the service one family friend described how Libby used to deal with life’s little challenges using the phrase: “That’s why God made _______.” Spill some milk? “That’s why God made paper towels.” A toy needs to be fixed? “That’s why God made Daddies.” There is a stain on your shirt? “That is why God made washing machines.”

What struck me profoundly, however, and will stay with me forever, was hearing all of the reasons why God made Libby. I do not have a transcript of the remarks from the service, and the words were so beautiful that I don’t want to try to recreate them from memory. But the essence of the message is something for all of us to contemplate.

Many of the things I have written over the years have been focused on finding ones life’s purpose and fulfilling our intended role on this planet. The Universe works. As imperfect as it may be, the earth moves around the sun like clockwork. The air provides oxygen that allows us to breathe. A complex mass of cells form to create bodies and brains….people are born and people die.

I believe that this Universe has a spiritual thread running through it that ties us all together. No, we are not here by accident. We all have a purpose. As an observer of people, it seems clear to me that the purpose for most, perhaps, all of us, is to care for those who need care, to educate and inspire those who wish to learn and grow, to create jobs, to create art. To generally lift people up, however they may need it at a particular moment, may be our greatest purpose.

As I listened to the many beautiful reasons why God made Libby, I couldn’t help thinking about why God made me…..Stephen Covey says we should begin with the end in mind. And while I pray that my work isn’t done yet, someday it will be. I can only hope that when that time comes someone will be able to find examples of where I cared for those who needed care, educated and inspired those who wished to learn and grow, created jobs, created art and generally lifted people up.

Libby’s father, Josh, reminded us that our priorities should be family, friends and faith. That is a beautiful perspective that I will always carry with me. Thanks to Libby, I am forever changed and will always be grateful for the reboot that she inspired in my life. I guess that is just one more reason why God made Libby.

’tis the season

I wrote another Holiday Letter this year. For the past two years my son and daughter composed the missive. Ever since I put a collection of Holiday Letters in my book, My Father’s Writings, I felt less compelled to write a new one. But this year was different. I had written down a couple of quotes that I ran across during the year, with the idea of writing a Holiday Letter around them. Then I realized that what I have always done at Christmas time, and what I was setting out to do again this year, was really to write a blog, not a Holiday Letter. In looking back over almost 20 years of letters, it is clear now that I was essentially writing an annual print blog before the word “blog” was a part of our vocabulary.

Writing holiday commentary around Karlfried Graf Durckheim’s words isn’t too much of a stretch for a Holiday Letter: “Thus, the first and most vital practice in everyday life is to learn effectively to value those moments in which we are touched by something hitherto undreamt of.” Indeed, one could argue that Gift of the Magi, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, the candles of Chanukah and the magic of Santa Claus all fit within the context of this quote. But rather than expand on that theme for a Holiday Letter, I went with a brief family update, and one simple message for this season. I hope you find some meaning in it.
Holiday Letter ‘13

This year we have learned that life is what happens while we make other plans. Just a year ago it was all so different; Craig was broadcasting baseball in Mobile, Alabama, Paige was enjoying the creativity and love of The Cambridge School of Weston, and I was commuting to Richmond, Virginia every week. Now, Craig is broadcasting and writing for in Melbourne, Australia, Paige is in the middle of her freshman year at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and I have started a new job at a great firm with a Boston office.

Many of you have children off on their own unexpected adventures, so you know that we can only prepare them, we can’t control them! Just heard last night that Craig is trying his hand at broadcasting for the Melbourne Ice of the Australian Woman’s Ice Hockey League. Paige is playing Ultimate Frisbee, and had tournaments this fall in Virginia and Georgia. Reid, well he is just being Reid, now a 23-year old young man who still exhibits the innocence of a child. Karen has made it her newest project to find a great group home for him that will allow him to live as independently as possible in future years. One of this year’s highlights was celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday with family and friends – it’s wonderful to see him so happy and healthy.

One of my favorite times each week is when a young man arrives at the Sunday morning church service pushing an older man in a wheelchair. The connection between the two is palpable; one is the caretaker, the other, the-cared-for. The man in the wheelchair has special needs – not unlike Reid, so I am sure we have a soft spot for the situation. I was scribbling some notes for this letter in church last Sunday when they arrived. Moments later the caretaker ascended the steps to the pulpit and, for the first time in my experience, did a reading. As someone who believes that there is no such thing as coincidence, it did not surprise me that the subject of his reading was just what I needed for inspiration.

He read a passage in which John told a crowd to “bear fruits worthy of repentance,” and the people asked him “what then should we do?” In reply John said: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” That really makes it all sound so simple. And it is.

I can think of just three times in my life when I actually felt the physical experience of being weightless – like I was actually floating a bit. One was when I handed out $50 bills at a store a few days before Christmas, another was when Craig and I delivered Christmas presents to children whose parents were incarcerated, and the third was when Karen and I joined a group from our church to serve dinner to 75 homeless men at a shelter in Boston. In each case my heart was racing, my smile was uncontrollable and I found myself a little short of breath. The exhilaration was scary good…..all of these experiences had one thing in common – giving without any expectation of return.

We have all heard the phrase “higher than a kite,” which is typically used to describe someone who has taken drugs or had too much to drink. Yet, I cannot imagine anything approaching the ‘high’ that comes from selfless acts of giving. Let us all be lifted above soaring kites this holiday season, and fill the coming year with random acts of kindness and exhibitions of unconditional love.

Giving and Paying Back

I am sad today.

Everything in my little world is pretty much as it should be — my son was the broadcaster for a no-hitter by the Mobile Baybears last night, my daughter is going off to college tomorrow, I am about to go for a run with my wife, and my other son, Reid, continues to live a life of inspiration.

I am sad today because a plane with two UPS employees has crashed, and two wonderful people lost their lives.

The loss of any life is tragic, so why does this accident move me — and how do I know that these pilots were ‘wonderful people’?

UPS has been in my family’s life for many years. Whenever one of the trucks came to our house, Reid would get all excited. Never did any driver seem annoyed or turn away from this child with special needs. No, they always engaged him and often let him look in the back of the truck to see the packages. (Yes, that was a thrill for him.) Some brought him UPS paraphernalia, much of which he still has today, as a 23-year old young man. He dressed up as the “UPS man” for Halloween for about 15 years.

UPS costume with Damon

When you experience the warm hearts of these drivers over two decades you cannot help but draw the conclusion that the company itself has a heart. I have come to see it in the people at the UPS package stores, and even in the few executives I have met. We should never forget that every act of kindness we extend ripples throughout the human pond. I am reminded of what Matthew wrote in the New Testament.  Jesus said:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

I am sad today because a company with a great heart — a company that touches thousands of lives in a positive way daily — has lost two members of its family. They feel like a part of my family, and I will pray for them and their loved ones. We should all be thankful for those who care about “the least” among us. I have witnessed firsthand the divinity of unconditional love.

Passion and Compassion…

I have spent many Sunday mornings wondering what I would say if the minister pulled me aside just before the service was about to start to tell me she was unable to do the sermon. With only the benefit of a few minutes to read the assigned readings for the week, would I be able to deliver as a substitute preacher? What would I say and how would it play?

Oddly, perhaps, this is a challenge I would welcome, and my wish sort of came true one weekend. Our minister called me on a Saturday afternoon to ask me if I could step in the next day, as there was an illness in her family, and she needed to be at the hospital. Forgetting that I had to prepare for a major presentation at work on Monday, and somehow forgetting that we were hosting a group of teenage girls for dinner and a sleepover, I said “yes.”

016I found myself sitting in the back row of the church when the service started. I was not participating in the music and prayers; I was scribbling notes on a pad of paper on which I had started writing an outline earlier that morning. I don’t remember much about what I said that morning, and since I seldom stick to my notes, it isn’t even recorded anywhere. But I do recall that the sermon started with these words: “one mile, 14 minutes.” That may seem unremarkable if you are a runner. But I was quoting a text message from someone who used to run half marathons at a much faster pace, so it must have had some special meaning…Yes, it was a text from my brother who had recently been through his second surgery for a brain tumor that he was not going to give in to.

So, who had the greater challenge – me, just talking about life and Spirit to a bunch of captive subjects, or my brother who was battling his way back to full health?

I guess “challenges” are relative. Every time my 22-year old son has to put on a coat or buckle a seat belt or go to the bathroom it is a struggle. Every time he has to form a sentence to communicate what he is thinking, it is a challenge. Thinking about how challenging life is for a person with special needs, makes my little challenge of preparing a last-minute-sermon seem pretty manageable. But why am I writing about challenges?

I had this sudden flash of the obvious – there are good challenges and bad challenges. The real issue is how we respond to a challenge, whether we are facing it or observing it. And that is where it gets interesting. It is almost always best to respond to a challenge we are facing with passion (one of my favorite words). And the best response when we observe someone facing a challenge is compassion. Two really beautiful words – passion and compassion….two very powerful tools in a world that is filled with challenges. Two words that could change the world if we could all just hold them in our consciousness, live them and encourage others to hold them dear.

These amazing words — Passion and Compassion — can be said differently as: Create and Appreciate. Battle and Support. Try and Help. Seek and Encourage. Love and Love Even More.

I am passionate about helping people through my speaking and writing. I feel very blessed. “For those to whom much is given, much is expected.” We all have been given gifts that are uniquely ours. How can we best use them? With passion, I hope.

Thank Heaven For Little Girls

My daughter came home from college this past Sunday. No, not a college she is attending, but a college she visited for a couple of days to hang around with one of her friends. This is the third time she has spent a weekend at the school, and I am convinced that it is Nature’s way of preparing me for the inevitable – for the reality – that my little girl will actually be going to college this year. Of course, she is not my “little girl” any more, but the dads out there who have teenage daughters know exactly what I mean.

Having grown up in a family with all brothers, I could only imagine what it might be like to have a sister. And after being the father of only boys for many years, I didn’t think I would ever get to know the joy (or challenges) of having a daughter. But, as is always the case, a higher power moved the pieces around the game board, and I found myself holding a precious baby girl in my arms about 17 years ago.

090The most unexpected part of the having-a-daughter experience is witnessing the amazing bond between a mother and a daughter. Frankly, as a father you feel pretty much superfluous from the time your daughter is 13 until she is 17. But it is probably worth it just to see how connected and supportive a mother and daughter are to each other. While my mere existence seemed annoying to my suddenly-not-so little girl, she and her mom really seemed to understand each other during those formative years. This worked in part, I am sure, because my wife is a terrific mom. Partly, though, I also want to attribute their great connection to genes, and natural selection, and other things outside of my control – that way I am less inclined to feel like a failure as a father…..

But as my daughter really grows up, it warms my heart to think of all of the joy she has brought to my life; and it makes me wonder if I have told her that enough. Maybe there should be guidelines for dads who raise girls. Truisms like this come to mind:

• You can’t tell your daughter enough how proud you are to be her father

• You can’t thank her enough for the compassion she shows for the people around her

• You can’t thank her enough for appreciating her mother

• You can’t thank her enough for letting you hang around with her now and then

• You can’t thank your daughter enough for being born in to your world

A few weeks ago I mentioned that if we do the same things that lawyers should do to have better relationships with their clients, we will have better relationships, generally. Similarly, we can apply many of these same expressions of gratitude to other people in our lives — not just our daughters. (Thanks for the reminder, Brad.)

We were thrilled this week to learn that our daughter got admitted to her college of first choice. It is not nearby, and there aren’t even direct flights to the city in which it is located; but it is a great school and I think it is a great fit for her. I guess it is starting to hit me. When we leave her at school for the first time the outpouring of emotion will be overwhelming. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done when I left my oldest son at college. This next one is unfathomable to me!

In the Homily at my other son’s memorial service I talked about how risky it is to love children so much because of the potential to be hurt. I wondered aloud whether the unbelievable joy that children brought to us was worth the potential pain that we could suffer as parents.
I was thinking of how devastated I would be if one of my children so much as broke a toe; I was thinking of friends who had experienced the loss of a child or faced some frightening childhood ailments – and, of course, I was thinking that my new twin boys, at the time, were not completely out of danger.

When I expressed those concerns to my wife she looked at me in her ever-perfect way and said: “The only way to avoid the pain you fear is to never really love anyone absolutely and unconditionally.” Then it all seemed so simple to me. The greater our love for someone, the greater the pain we feel when we miss them or if something unfortunate happens. But pain born of Great Love is not the kind of pain we should seek to avoid. ‘Having a girl’ has been a universally more amazing and loving experience than I ever could have imagined, and I need to welcome the pain of watching her grow up.

My little girl came home from college this past Sunday, but the real journey is just beginning.

I Find Pennies

I suppose I had heard the phrase “pennies from Heaven” from time-to-time, but I never really thought much about. Then, about 20 years ago, I was participating in a support group for parents of children who had died. One of the parents, whose teenage son had died unexpectedly, shared a story that has forever changed my life. She said that despite having cleaned her son’s room carefully, she kept finding pennies months after he had died. She talked fondly about how he liked to “flip” pennies, and it made all of us smile.

A week later, on what would have been my son Corey’s 10th birthday, I was in my office in NY when I received an email from a college friend whose young son had beat the odds and recovered miraculously from a near drowning. After sharing my support and loving thoughts in an exchange of emails, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but think that Corey didn’t even make it to his 3-month birthday.

pennyI was getting upset in my office, so I decided to take a walk outside to get my composure. Now you must understand that I was working in a part of New York that looked like the opening credits of the TV show NYPD Blue. It was not the glamorous midtown location people often identify with New York. So I went out the back door of the building into the somewhat desolate streets, where I knew I would not see anyone I knew. I could just be with my sadness. I was missing Corey, feeling his loss and experiencing emotions I had not felt in years. As I walked and cried I found myself next to a construction site. There were no workers around, and no one else in sight. Alone in this alley of debris, I saw a penny lying on the ground in the loose dirt. I literally began to laugh out loud. I smiled like I had not smiled in a long time. I knew right then and there that this was a message; I believed that Corey was just fine. “… though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me….” It was so real and so powerful. I was renewed. “He restoreth my soul.”

I have found hundreds of pennies in the strangest places in the decade since that first penny appeared in my life. They have appeared in seriously improbably places. I always pick them up and put them in a container. My friend Meg said her father called found coins “specials.” These pennies are indeed my specials.

This past year I reconnected with one of my most enlightened friends, and what do I find on her blog? The words: “I find pennies.” ( She went on to say, “I’ve been reluctant to share this because it seems sometimes pedantic, and I haven’t quite figured out why I find them.” She talked to a friend about it who said, “I never find pennies except when I am with you. You find them all the time. I never do.” Soon after raising the issue, Anne and her friend were walking out of Anne’s office and there was a penny. “Where did that come from?” her friend asked. “I just walked through here and there was no penny.” Anne just picked it up and smiled. In her blog Anne said, “I’m not quite sure what they mean, but I think they are a sign of some sort. I interpret them to be signs, telling me to continue on with things I am not always comfortable with. I find pennies and they encourage me though I’m not sure why.” Without ever having discussed it with Anne, the message in finding pennies is pretty much the same for me. When I see them – in the aisles of airplanes, on beaches, or under railings on porches, balconies and docks….I always smile. To me, it means I am right where I am supposed to be. It’s just a reminder that everything is alright, no matter how challenging life feels at the time. I will ask you what Anne asked her readers: Do you find pennies? Do you find anything? What do they mean to you?

Common Sense Isn’t Always Common

I wrote a book for lawyers several years ago called The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering. The point of the book is that clients do not judge lawyers based on how smart they are, but on how the lawyers treat them. Is the lawyer a good listener who tries to understand what keeps the client awake at night? Does the lawyer solve problems and care as much about the client’s success as her own?  Does the lawyer have empathy and compassion for the client?  These sound a lot like attitudes we should be bringing to all of our relationships—with our family members, business colleagues and friends.  I have been told that my book is really just a book of common sense; but so much of what matters in the world probably falls into the category of common sense. As my friend Peter likes to say, “it may be common sense, but it’s not common.”

To regularly be reminded of these priorities, I fill my iPod with lots of stuff that makes my wife and children roll their eyes…Martina McBride (“In My Daughter’s Eyes”); Elton John (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”); Barbara Streisand (“At the Same Time”); John Lennon (“Beautiful Boy”); and even The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (“I’m Not Afraid”). There are some breathing exercises mixed in with the songs on playlists, and even some poetry by David Whyte,  which always seems to speak to me. It all just works together to remind me of what is important. But in the end I am moved most by a wonderful old hymn that says: “Let There Be Peace On Earth and Let it Begin with Me.”

JIM profile picI am reminded of a passage from a life-changing book that many of you may have read, Embraced By the Light.  Upon returning from a near-death experience, the author’s message from the other side of life was that unequivocal love brings incredible peace and happiness.

“I saw a loving Being …[who] has invested us with God-like qualities, such as the power of imagination and creation, free will, intelligence, and most of all, the power to love.  I understood that he actually wants us to draw on the powers of heaven, and that by believing that we are capable of doing so, we can.”  Regardless of your religious views, it’s hard not to say “amen” right there.