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Friends by Debra H. Goldstein

February 2, 2015 12 comments

Debra HeadshotFriends by Debra H. Goldstein

Friends? Girl Scouts and Brownies sing of making new friends but keeping the old. The TV show Friends highlighted friendship. Even the premise of the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, annually reminds us that “…no man is a failure who has friends.” Friends are lifelines, support systems, memory and laughter sharers, business door openers, and most importantly, folks who accept me for who I am. I wouldn’t trade you for anything.

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Debra H. Goldstein’s debut novel Maze in Blue received a 2012 IPPY Award and was reissued by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in May 2014. Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Player Murder Mystery will be released by Five Star Publications/Cengage in 2016. Debra also is an award winning short story and non-fiction writer. When it comes to her friends, enough said.

The Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Debra HeadshotThe Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the meaning of life and its other alternative. This isn’t a new topic for me to explore. I first started thinking about it shortly after my fiftieth birthday when I woke one morning to find my arms had turned to flab and I had become my mother. The thoughts were generated by a discussion with a friend who was in the last stages of cancer. She was questioning what purpose living in her debilitated state had and whether after we die, we are remembered or the life we lived fades away.

I couldn’t answer her questions. I was too focused on reaching outside my comfort zone to find ways to ease her journey. When she died, I decided her purpose was the seed of herself planted in others through charitable doing, mentoring, and touching people at the right time. Her nourishment of others left ideas, feelings, and values to reseed the next generation.

Time went on and I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the meaning of life. I was too busy enjoying the life cycle events that constantly were occurring in the lives of my friends and my own family. Trips to visit and cuddle new babies, writing events, the coming of age Bar Mitzvah ceremony of a nephew, graduations from pre-school through professional school, and the joy of watching my daughter walk down the aisle to be with the man she has chosen to spend the rest of her life with consumed my waking hours. Why dwell on life and death when so many things were going on?

I was attending a writer’s conference being held on a property in Disneyworld when I glanced down at my smartphone and noticed an email entitled “OMG.” Above “OMG” was an endless string of responding e-mails. A friend who was a wife, mother, respected professional, devoted kayaker, and person who was taking me out for a birthday lunch the next week had had a cerebral bleed and died within minutes the night before. Everyone, including me, was in shock that this young and healthy vibrant woman was gone. No “why” made sense.

My other friends and I went on living. At one of the other planned lunch celebrations for my birthday, one of our lunch bunch mentioned she was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. Knowing she had married a much older man and that part of his proposal had been he would be hers for at least twenty-five years, we asked what he had given her for their special anniversary. The answer: the promise of trying for another twenty-five years as wonderful as the first. Last week, our lunch bunch held our breath when this man who never gets sick was hospitalized with pneumonia and a low blood count. We all feared he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise. Happily, his positive response to medical treatment has given them the opportunity to share many more years together.

In Jewish tradition, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is decided who shall live and who shall die. At the time of Yom Kippur, one’s fate hopefully is inscribed in the book of life. I don’t know how or why the final decision is made. I cannot venture a guess as to our true purpose in living or if there is an existential meaning of life, but I do know I value every moment of it that I share with my family, friends, and those individuals I will meet in the future.

It’s Not Where You Start (It’s Where You Finish) by Debra H. Goldstein

It’s Not Where You Start (It’s Where You Finish) by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently, I listened to Barbara Cook’s rendition of the Cy Coleman and Dorthy Field’s signature song “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish” from 1973’s Broadway show, Seesaw. Forty years after the song debuted, the words remain true.

Whether one is writing a novel, short story, or poem, the process is the same. “It’s not how you go, it’s how you land.” Writing requires coming up with an idea, getting it down on paper, rewriting, possibly tossing out one’s original thoughts, and writing the piece again and again until the words flow. It often is a solitary process, but the sisterhood of writers have the ability to inspire and help each other.

The reality is “If you’re going to last, you can’t make it fast,…Nobody starts a winner, give me a slow beginner.” At Malice Domestic, I had the privilege of riding an elevator with Carolyn Hart. I’m a pretty confident person, but as the elevator went up, I stumbled over my words telling “Ms. Hart” how much I enjoy her books. During the conference, where she was honored with the Amelia Award, I heard how her writing career didn’t take off. Her first few books either were not published or failed to sell well, but she kept writing. When she became an overnight success, it had been a long night. Our paths crossed a number of times during the conference and at the Sisters in Crime breakfast. Ironically, we were in the elevator together again leaving the conference. This time, I congratulated “Carolyn” on her award and we actually laughed about spending the conference in the elevator.

Thinking back on the difference in my behavior during our elevator rides, I realize that the change in my attitude came from being impressed with her writing abilities and with her persistence and willingness to help other writers. Even during the hour interview tied to her award at Malice, she took the time to give a new writer a shout-out. She was the only one to do so. It takes a big person to share one’s limelight with others. Her work ethic and her generosity illustrate the premise that “Your final return will not diminish/And you can be the cream of the crop/It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish/And you’re gonna finish on top.”

FRAGILE ANGLES by Debra H. Goldstein

March 31, 2013 16 comments

dhg-photo.jpgFragile Angles by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently, I had a birthday, but I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on being a year older because my calendar was so full of “special” birthday events. Besides attaining another year of age, I’m sure I gained five pounds during the celebrations! What was important to me during what became my birthday month, were the friends and family members who wanted to share it with me. Each lunch, dinner, cupcake with a candle, was delightful, but three things put it all in perspective for me: receiving the Mildred Bell Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama, an engagement party for my youngest daughter, and the unexpected death of a friend the day after he was part of a small, but joyful, birthday dinner party for me.

Three days before my birthday, I spoke the following words before almost four hundred people as I accepted the Mildred Bell Johnson award:

When Mildred Bell Johnson founded the first Girl Scout troop for African – American girls in Alabama and then worked diligently as a civil right activist, educator, Girl Scout district director, and assistant moderator of the United Church of Christ, she never dreamed that there would be an award named for her. She was doing what she believed was right for her community and for young women.

Today, I am humbled receiving the award named for Mildred Bell Johnson not only because of its namesake, but because of my admiration for the women who have received this award before me. They are a class of women whom I deeply respect for their integrity and their willingness to often forsake recognition while bringing others together to make a difference – or as Girl Scouts say – to leave a place better than we found it.

As a brownie, Girl Scout, and leader, I was taught and taught others to believe that we have a responsibility to be involved in any way we can contribute. I also learned that none of us do it alone – no matter how hard we work.

To digress for a moment, when my son, Stephen, was just beginning to learn how to print, he did something wrong and apologized by leaving a note on my pillow that he signed your little angle as he couldn’t spell angel.

I am honored and grateful today to accept this award, but it really is a reflection of the accomplishments and efforts for our community and its members by most of you in this room.

I thank the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama for singling me out today; I thank my friends who listen and help me connect the dots whenever I get a hairbrained idea, and I thank my family – especially my husband, Joel, who for thirty years has supported me in anything I try to do and our four wonderful children, three of whom are here today. They, and all of you, are the angles that combine to make me whole. Thank you again.

At that moment, I was a little worried that receiving a lifetime achievement award at this age was premature, but I was excited to be joining a class of women I deeply respect. It was a perfect day.

A few days after my birthday, five couples got together for a “special” birthday dinner. We laughed as we shared good food, friendship, and an evening where work and pressures were forgotten as we enjoyed each other’s company. It was a weekday work night, but we ignored that fact and stayed longer than any of us meant to. As we compared notes the next day, everyone who had been there agreed, it was a time good memories were made.

We flew to Houston two days after the dinner to attend a shower for my daughter and her future husband given by friends of his parents. When we landed in Houston and I turned on my phone, I saw I had voicemails, texts, and e-mails asking me to immediately call two people. We all know that when messages say urgent, but don’t say why, it isn’t good. It wasn’t. One of our dear friends who had been at the birthday dinner had had a stroke and died. He hadn’t been ill. He wasn’t old. My husband and I stood in the airport shocked remembering humorous exchanges with him during the birthday dinner, plans he had made to go to a basketball game next season with my husband, and realizing that in a matter of hours the love of his life was now a widow. We walked to the car waiting for us in disbelief. As my husband made small talk with the father of my daughter’s fiancé, I called our friend’s wife and other friends and shared a moment of shock, sorrow, and “what can we do to help” with them. Then, my husband and I had to put on our game faces to enjoy the weekend with our daughter.

I have blogged before about my reaction to my daughter being in love (My Daughter is in Love – 9/23/12) and once again, I felt excitement and joy seeing how happy she is. Her happiness brought me flashbacks of when I fell in love and got engaged. As the weekend progressed, I couldn’t help but think about our friends who also had a perfect love that now had ended as I watched this young couple just beginning their lives together. Aloud, I wished them joy and happiness, but in my heart I prayed for them. It was a prayer that comes from knowing how important the angles are that make us whole and how fragile keeping them together is.