Lessons from a Soup Kitchen

12 02 2016

soupkitchen

It’s like chicken soup (kitchen) for the soul.

This week, I took my son and a friend to an area soup kitchen to do some volunteer work after school. It is important to me to expose my kids to not only the “have-nots” but also somehow reinforce the notion of service to others. In doing so, it becomes clear who really are the “have-nots” sometimes – and it’s not always on the side of the serving counter you might expect.

In our custom-tailored world of playlists, Instagram accounts and celebration of all things “unique”, we can easily lose sight of community. It is, after all, easier and quicker to connect with someone 3,000 miles away through the Internet, than a minute walk next door.

Volunteering at the soup kitchen was as much a lesson for me as it was for the kids, probably more.

  1. Don’t pity someone because of their circumstances . So, here we were, with a group of about 10 other volunteers, serving meals to people who came in, sat down at cafeteria style tables and patiently waited for a solid meal. Some were entire families, some were alone and others seemed to be familiar with each other. Like any other meal you might be used to, some tables were infused with laughter, smiles and banter. Others, not so much. I had to challenge my own notions and accept the fact that the tenor of one’s disposition does not lie within their wallet but within their soul.
  2. This generation is not any more selfish than any one before it, and perhaps no more altruistic, either. They are just like any other. If you believed everything you read on Facebook, heard on CNN and worried about with other adults, you may be convinced that the opportunity for our civilization to emerge as one in which we look out for each other, embrace a sense of community with pride and put our short-term goals aside for future generations (at least sometimes) is all but lost. However, in witnessing my son, his friend and the other younger set at the soup kitchen, this simply isn’t true. In fact, I don’t know that their participation – with each other or toward the constituency that was being served – was really any different than it would have been for me during high school or my parents before me. Our struggle is not always borne out of the convention that the past generation screwed it all up and the next must fix it. Let’s be honest – as we age, the real struggles of every day take precedent front and center over more collective based pursuits and goals. It’s just the way it is. It is us, the adults, that have to make a change. If our kids (the collective “our”) witness adults exhibiting the types of behaviors and commitments to those other than within our limited comfort zone, it will catch on. 
  3. People make mistakes. It’s not intentional and it’s always good to have a sense of humor. When it was time to leave the soup kitchen, the kids were cleaning up while I headed to the front of the soup kitchen to wait for them. One of the guys who worked there saw me and directed me to leave through the side door. I obliged, not completely understanding why. As I headed there, where others were leaving, my son and his friend headed over to me. Seeing this, the guy who worked there, looked at me and said “oh…sorry…you can go out the front.” In other words, he thought I was a soup kitchen patron and not a volunteer. Mind you, my hair is longer, I have a beard, my wholly jeans are from like 1996. I get it. It’s pretty funny. We both looked each other and without saying anything, we both knew exactly what happened. It may be the first time my son actually thought I was cool!

Life is a journey for all of us but we have to be willing to open up the entire map (or scroll down the GPS to keep it relevant). If we keep it rolled up (or don’t scroll down) so we can only see one part of the trip, we may stay comfortable but boy, do we ever miss out. Embrace the messiness, the discomfort, the embarrassment, the ugliness and the fear and there is so much more to enjoy.

Until next time,

Marc

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Letting Go

2 09 2015
Maybe if I tatoo my kids' faces on my arm....

Maybe if I tattoo my kids’ faces on my arm….

This morning I sent my son off to Freshman year in high school – at 6:42 in the morning to be exact. Luckily, the haze of my mind that early in the day matched the fog sitting outside my window. I stood at the bottom of the driveway unable to see him at the bus stop only 2 houses away but still able to hear him and his friends to know that this was really happening.

It was perfect actually because had he known that I was standing there watching him as if it was his first day of kindergarten, it would have been a whole different story. A loud, unhappy story.

Like many parents, I take a picture of my kids every year on the first day of school. Today was no different. I posted it on Facebook and upon looking at it, realized what a different body and face I was looking at. This kid is in front of me on a regular basis and I failed to notice, really notice, not only how his body was changing but also how he was morphing into this new version of himself. Admittedly, maybe I have been too busy thinking about my own transition – to single dad – to really take time out and see what is changing with my kids. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m sure there is some truth there.

I forget that my kids are not just physically aging but emotionally aging, as well. I think part of it is because I still go into “director” mode, ensuring all their needs that they still can’t muster the will to address are met. For example, I still had to wake him up twice this morning, try and find him a folder for his first day, that type of thing. Now, however, I have to juxtaposition that with the fact that while he may still need me for those types of things (hopefully not forever), he doesn’t want to need me. That’s a good thing.

I have to remember the person standing in front of me needs my guidance but I have to approach it in a way that doesn’t make him feel like a child. That takes a) wakefulness, b) patience and c) patience. (Did I mention patience?) Man, that is going to be hard for me. 

I am really excited for him. I know he is going to have a great year. He is surrounded by great friends and I am so grateful for that. I think that is probably the single most important factor in life – who you surround yourself with. It can determine your path in so many ways.

I was kidding with him yesterday that I had to drop him off at school for his first day to make sure that all the “bigger boys don’t mess with my son and that he has a handkerchief in case his nose gets runny”. It’s nice to know that even as I let go, I can always pull the “embarrassment card” and exercise some parental leverage. After all, patience is great but humor is way more cathartic.

Until next time,

Marc

Thanks again for reading. I appreciate it. If you haven’t already, please consider enrolling to get my blog posts delivered straight to your inbox through this site, email me at marckaye91@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @marckaye91. (Better yet, how about all 3). Also, through October 15, for every new follower I get, I will be donating $1 to Nechama, a disaster relief agency, in honor of my daughter who is raising money and awareness for this great organization for her Bat Mitzvah project! https://www.razoo.com/story/Robyn-Kerachsky/ Thanks again, Marc





The Truth about Caitlyn, Transitions & Comedy

10 06 2015

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There’s been a ton of press about Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn Jenner. Too much press.

I don’t really care which side of this you might reside on. I can’t understand it the same way I can’t understand what it’s like to be a reality TV star or an Olympian. To me, it’s not part of my experience. For me to make fun of it sort of just reflects back on me the way I see it. Making fun of something and finding humor are two different things.

To go to those lengths that people like Caitlyn must really reflect an internal struggle that could no longer be sustained. To me, that represents severe pain and who am I, or anyone, for that matter to get all self righteous about it? Something tells me though, that even Caitlyn has found some of the humor in it. I only say that after watching his interview with Diane Sawyer, which seems to me a painful exercise in and of itself.

It’s been enlightening, to say the least, to read the very predictable comments that people have to say. What is interesting, however, is the slew of positive support that has been pointed in Caitlyn’s direction. Anyone who has come out – for anything – gay, lesbian, transexual, agnostic, divorced – faces a fear that they will not be accepted and then….miraculously feels freed.

There have been plenty of graduation speeches and essays written about living your true, authentic self. I don’t think most of us really do this. I know I don’t. I am trying more and more each day. This is what has drawn me so much to comedy. There are very few “pretender” comedians. In fact, some comics take upon themselves to be so “authentic” that it can fall in the category of “TMI”.

Getting to a place of no fear and true authenticity – that is the greatest transition of all.

I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner. I don’t have the right to comment on her struggle one way or the other. I do know, though, that if she could kill at an open mic night – that’s all that would really matter to me.

What’s your transition?
Until next time,
Marc

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Fill your Comedy Prescription!

2 03 2015

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“No that’s ok, I’ll just stay in and watch my favorite program “Apathy.”

I was really fortunate to be part of two great shows this past week. One was a new show I produced and the second was a show I was invited to be on. They were both great.

Each had about 30 people in the audience, which depending on your frame of reference, could be either impressive or not. Trust me, it is.

It always amazes me the disconnect between attendance at these shows with just amazing comics – the audience was laughing hysterically at both, for example – and the difficulty in getting people out to shows. You get 4 to 6 comedians for anywhere from the price of a drink to $15 and it feels like pulling teeth.

I have had several discussions about this and the reasons behind it, what happened since the heyday of comedy in the 80s, how the internet may have “killed” live comedy, etc. etc., but none of that really matters. What matters is that there is a pool of talent that is just unreal. I guarantee, that for most of you, you can find a great show within a 30 minute ride, if not closer.

It keeps occurring to me that, in the same way Uber has “disrupted” the traditional way in which taxi services are purchased and managed, there is a business model for comedy that is also waiting to be developed and executed. The only big difference in my mind is with respect to demand. City dwellers will always need a cab ride to somewhere. Comedy as a demand? Unfortunately, not so much.

The demand is ready, though. Here’s the thing that people are missing: seeing a good comedian is one of the healthiest and rejuvenating things you can do because laughter is a drug. Like music, sex and yes, real drugs, laughter actually impacts your brain and the way you feel. If I could somehow reach out to the medical associations around the world and actually help write and implement guidelines for “laughter prescriptions”, I would do it.

This is not self serving. It is a real thing and yet we choose to sit at home and watch YouTube, which is not the same thing! In fact, the social aspects of laughing together, or listening to music or other things you can imagine doing “together”, have benefits far greater than doing them alone.

A little research on the scientific and health benefits of laughter reveals the following:

  • Dr. Lee Berk at Loma Linda University found, in the 1980s, that laughter helps in the regulation of stress hormones and were linked to the production of antibodies and endorphins, natural pain killers in the body.
  • In 2003 in the journal Neuron, it was found that humor can help regulate the brain’s dopamine levels associated with mood, motivation, attention and learning.

This is a real thing and I ask each of you – if there is one blog post that you forward on to the 1,000 people in your email distribution list or Facebook, let it be this one.

Go see a comedian! It costs less than a co-pay, it is incredibly good for you, there is no pain involved (sometimes just for the comics) and we have a chance to be part of a comedy resurgence when the talent pool is ripe for the plucking.

And, it last’s longer than sex (or that’s what I hear).

Until next time,

Marc





The Humorous Side of Martin Luther King, Jr.

19 01 2015

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This may seem like a strange post to blog about on Martin Luther King day but I think it is actually important for a couple reasons – 1. We forget to humanize a lot of our heroes, particularly for the younger set which is important so they realize that very great things come from regular people like us; and 2. it’s a side of MLK we don’t often read or hear about. (Also, this is sort of a comedy blog so there’s that, too.)

I have been reading up on MLK lately, maybe because there has been so much press around the recent release of Selma, maybe because my kids are of the age we they are developing their social conscious or maybe because of a combination of both.

It was very interesting to read older interviews from MLK’s days in college where he was known to have a pretty goofy sense of play and humor and how he developed into one of the greatest orators and leaders of our time. It was as interesting, also, to read about the very private MLK that we don’t know about too much – the man who, behind closed doors, would share jokes with fellow preachers and use humor to deflect some of the gravity of what he saw, felt and lived on a daily basis.

This, by far, was a very inspirational thing for me to learn because just as MLK said he chooses to stick with love over hate because the burden of choosing hate was too great, he chose to use humor over blame or negativity to manage stress and the reality of dealing with deeply dark moments.

It occurred to me that, in my family, this was a similar path. My parents raised my sister and I so that family came first – for everything. Sometimes it was too much, to be honest. That being said, there was a healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) amount of sarcasm and humor to deal with intense situations and this served well in the most dire of times.

One time that sticks in my head was after my grandfather died. He was really a core focal point for our family. His death was a very difficult thing for my entire family, particularly  my mother. After his funeral, we all went back to my grandmother’s house for Shiva, a ceremonial period of mourning in the Jewish faith. Before we knew it, we were laughing about memories and silly things.

After 3 days, I had to leave to go back to where I lived. My car was in my grandparents’ driveway. I stood facing my parents, sister at my side. It occurred to all of us simultaneously that next time we were back there together, time will have changed. It was the end of the era.

My eyes welled up and then the flood gates opened for everyone. It was over almost as soon as it began and then we smiled each other, hugged and laughed – at the craziness of it all; this family who holds nothing in, restraining ourselves from crying at a loss. How funny. Truly, it was hilarious.

On this MLK day, when his “I have a dream” is his most famous speech, let’s celebrate the humility that it takes to be a great leader, to show vulnerability, to wade through difficult waters and to never give up.

Until next time,

Marc








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