It has been said that religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell, and that spirituality is for those who have been there.
Sometimes, our path in life leads us to one or the other. In other cases, both. In any case, the convergence of these two celestial concepts is one that many frequently contemplate and adjust their daily decisions and actions either out of a fear of heading to Hades or a commitment to spiritual values. Others are sure of nothing more than the uncertainty of ever knowing the absolute. Confirmed agnostic and famed orator Clarence Darrow, notable lawyer in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, simply noted that, “I am an agnostic; I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of.”
Paul Rifkin used to be sure of that same conviction that he simply didn’t know what others did. As a confirmed agnostic for most of his adult life, though, he still wants to go to heaven. Born Jewish in heritage but without any formal religion, a decree of his decidedly Socialist but loving and virtuous father, Paul has spent his life searching for something he finally found recently right here in Falmouth. This Septuagenarian businessman, successful proprietor of Waquoit’s celebrated Moonakis Café and a frequent subject of musings in this space for both his civil disobedience and civic commitment, has a new cause and a new purpose. He has hung up his protest sandwich board and instead holds a music hymnal in his hands. He has traded handcuffs for handshakes. In his own words, he is “bending away” from activism, and bending toward spirituality. As we sat together on Main Street and enjoyed a succulent sandwich at Bean & Cod last weekend, this former hippie and hedonist demonstrated a transcendent transformation. Always committed to communal experiences, whether they were at a Buddhist Monastery in California in the 1970’s, or breaking bread (and pumpkin pancakes) with friends at the Moonakis, Paul now understands and equates this lifelong commitment to the betterment of his fellows to the influence of something – or some being – in his life and the lives of the others he has touched with his activism.
The word communal has its roots in Paul’s life pursuits. A search of synonyms for this term commonly used to describe gatherings dedicated to the greater good reveals a treasure trove of bon mots that describe Paul’s life of purpose. Collaborative, combined, common, collective, concerted, conjoint, conjunct, cooperative, joint, multiple, mutual, pooled, public, shared, and united are what I found when I checked Merriam-Webster’s online definition of synonyms for communal. Those terms are all what I found when I had the gift of watching a spiritual experience unfold before my own eyes on Main Street. The man who got has gained notoriety in events as varied as being arrested protesting the Iraq War and helping found the “Falmouth Eats” series of community dinners, has now embarked on a new voyage – a spiritual journey that is leading him to leave behind hostility and embrace tranquility.
Long considered a leading citizen in our town’s eastern-most village, Paul was recently crowned “Citizen of the Year” at the Waquoit Day Celebration at that village’s Congregational Church at the end of the appropriately named Parson’s Lane. Along with the church’s pastor Rev. Nell Fields and other local notables, Paul helped celebrate the day by offering a stint in a dunk tank, raising both funds and awareness for the church and the village. Shortly thereafter, the Waquoit Congregation and Rev. Nell hosted the latest verision of Falmouth Eats at their parish hall, where dozens of Falmouthites, with backgrounds from Yale to jail met, ate, chatted, and shared their common experiences.
As many times as Paul has organized or attended such a shared and common gathering, this one was different. A parishioner who was in attendance to help serve came up to the former hippie hedonist and simply noted, “You’re Paul from the dunk tank.” Like John Belushi in the iconic scene from the Blues Brothers when Jake Blues sees the light and is transformed and catapulted into his “mission from God,” Paul at that moment had a perspective change. Always grateful and sometimes faithful, Paul now understood why. Rev. Nell now affectionately notes that his time in the dunk tank was Paul’s baptism.
Ever the organizer, though, Paul’s new found faith in a higher power has led to yet another community benefit. He has organized “Higher Grounds,” a coffee house at the Waquoit Church built on the same premise as Falmouth Eats – that people from all corners of the community will come together and enjoy the human experience – with one another.
The inaugural version of this community event, featuring the music of singer/songwriter Brenda Evans, will be held this Sunday at the church from 4-6 PM. The event is not a religious one. It is just another opportunity for people to meet, eat, greet, and share. Together. That’s the way the hippie hedonist has always wanted it. The venue has just changed from the halls of justice to a house of worship.
This column is not a religious one. I am not an evangelist and don’t intend to preach in this space. I am, however, a man of faith. I always have been. To witness the transformation of a man, right here in Falmouth, who sat before me a couple of years ago and eagerly professed his agnosticism and now professes a strong and abiding faith is worth noting. In today’s society filled with hatred, decline and decay, it’s worth repeating.
The Falmouth Chamber of Commerce is much more than a business development and promotional organization. Their members and employees represent the heart of our community. From civic volunteers and non-profit advocates, to Town Meeting Members and local government pillars, the people who make the chamber run so well and our business community so fruitful and diverse are the same colorful individuals who make Falmouth a community.
I had the good fortune last week to laugh, chat, eat, reminisce, joke, plan, and visit with dozens of members and supporters of the Chamber at their annual $10,000 raffle and fundraiser. I didn’t win, but did earn precious and priceless memories of one of the more enjoyable evenings I’ve spent a long time.
I was greeted warmly by Chamber stalwarts Maura Aldrich and Susan Zavala, both of whom radiated a welcoming presence and offered a genuine smile. As I entered the ballroom at Bill Zammer’s Coonamessett Inn, I was again greeted with a grin, this one from Bill’s go-to-guy at the Coony, David Schneider. As always, the room was full of enticing culinary aromas wafting through the sociable throngs. It was great to catch up with dapperly dressed barrister Dick Piazza and hear about his grandchildren. I guffawed while sharing a story of some hijinks during our old Town Meeting days with former Finance Committee Chairman Bill Smith. Speaking of the FinCom, no public event where the Falmouth community is celebrated would be complete without a hello from Falmouth’s favorite gregarious gadfly, Andy Dufresne. I was grateful to share a hug and a hello with old friend and skilled photo maven Amy Rader, while hearing the latest good news from tireless volunteer Jim Vieira.
As Donna joined me and began to share her own radiance with some of her new-found Falmouth friends, I offered a salutation to local legend Rich Sherman. As I smiled broadly at some reminisces with trusted financier Ron Garcia, I noted to Rich that we would join him at his table in a few minutes, as soon as I waded through the room. I finally sat down and caught up on the latest great news about the Carousel of Light with Rich an hour later, as each step through the room brought an opportunity to catch another brightly shining tile of Falmouth’s colorful mosaic. The unforgettable laugh and wide smile of Selectman Kevin Murphy is always a welcome sight in any venue, and was indeed during this twilight fete that celebrated Falmouth. I enjoyed a sip of my club soda while toasting the evening with Main Street mainstays Naimesh and Akku Patel, and heard tales of golfing prowess from Rotarians John Vidal and Don Hoffer. Dave “Wave” Costa always adds an effusive and humorous accent to any evening, and lived up to his dazzling reputation, lighting up the room. As I checked in with Police Chief Ed Dunne and soaked in the enthusiasm and admiration he has for his new post as Falmouth’s top cop, I enjoyed a brief chat with the always-smiling duo of Christine and Jay Fortin. A tap on my shoulder was followed by a welcome embrace from Palanza family matriarch Susie, while simultaneously exchanging a warm wink with Police veteran Bill MacManimin.
Town Manager Julian Suso attended as an apt ambassador of Town Hall, and locally renowned teacher Jim Kalperis showed why he is still beloved, working the room like a pro. Enterprise lynchpins Chuck Borge and Don Parkinson surveyed the good news and shared a table with everyone’s favorite DJ, Cheryl Atherton. I concluded that youthful and respected restaurateur Dave Jarvis does not age as we exchanged greetings, and reached a similar conclusion regarding our local crustacean magnate, Clam Man Matt Rocheleau.
I clutched my raffle receipt, feeling like Charlie Bucket, convinced that insurance expert Davidson Calfee had sold me a golden ticket. Alas, I did not, but nothing could dampen the spirit of this evening. As the winner was announced, a loud roar emerged in the room. Laura Lorusso Peterson is ably following in the footsteps of her legendary parents when it comes to commitment to the Falmouth community. After Laura’s raffle victory, I noticed that despite not winning, old neighbor Kevin Griffin was delivering smiles everywhere. Consummate caterer Sean Dailey followed suit, demonstrating a grateful gleam in his eye. The Falmouth good feelings were palpable at this celebration of people who define our local flavor, including flavor favorites Marc and Cindy Cilfone.
Donna and I eventually made our way into Eli’s for a long-overdue dinner with lifelong friend and North Falmouth School chief Karen Karson. As Karen and I recounted, embellished and narrated memories with Donna, I sat back in my chair, closed my eyes, and let out a sigh of gratitude, followed by a robust and lasting smile. This was a fantastic Falmouth evening, celebrating a fantastic Falmouth community.
Every kid needs a role model.
In today’s information-soaked society, some, perhaps many, come from less than stellar sources. When our kids know more about Miley Cyrus than they do about Millard Fillmore, it’s clear that more positive influences are both welcome and important.
I was very fortunate to have many positive influences in my young life. Having lost my father at 13, a bevy of men stepped forth and helped mold a shattered young life into a cheerful, motivated, and engaged young man. From my loving and continuously supportive brother K.C., to my ever-present Uncle Craig, to my Boy Scout leader Bob Sylvia, several men, without fanfare, made it part of their regular routines to check in and make sure that I was doing OK. A few years later, my mom met a prince of a man who would later become my stepdad. Phil remains one of my best friends and a positive influence in my life. My building blocks for success in life were placed in front of me by loving and caring men who taught me core values, showed me the importance of hard work, and demonstrated how to live a life of purpose.
My story is one of joy and success. My story is one where people took time from their own lives and challenges to help improve the life of another. My story could have easily been written very differently.
For more than 150 young men in Falmouth and on Cape Cod, that story is recurring on a regular basis through the support and generosity of men similar to K.C., Uncle Craig, Phil, and Bob. Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Cape Cod have matched dozens of young men with mentors and friends who spend just a few hours every month with their “little brother,” providing support, friendship, guidance, and yes, a positive role model.
The moniker of role model can be intimidating. According to Mikaela Toni of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Cape Cod, it simply means being a positive presence in the life of a young man. With a shortage of male volunteers in Falmouth, many boys – our fellow citizens – are waiting for that presence. The unrelenting issues of peer pressure, bullying, substance abuse, and the challenge of just building a future a day at a time, when meet with the opportunity to have someone to make dinner with, to see a movie, to ride a bike with, or to visit a museum, can make a priceless difference in a young life and help place building blocks that lead to a brighter future – just by being present and available. “You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be you,” noted Mikaela when we chatted recently about the multitude of Falmouth boys, ages 7-12, who just need someone to hang out with and share a day or two. Volunteers are needed from all backgrounds and life experiences. The requested commitment to the future of a young Falmouthite is just twice a month for a couple of hours each time. The true pledge is just the commitment to be a consistent presence in the life of a young man who needs just that. Big Brothers and Big Sisters offer guidance, support, ideas, and even discounted tickets to museums and other venues. They ask for a one year commitment. Volunteers get a lifetime of memories. Mikaela is standing by at [email protected] to match tomorrow’s successes and memories.
During those formative years, when my role models were making such a positive impact on my life, a neighbor came by the house a few times, just to say hello and spend some time. We went to lunch, took a few walks, and just chatted about life. I thought he was just another kind and generous man helping out in our time of need. Actually, he was. Leo was kind and generous. He was also a Big Brother volunteer. More than 30 years later, I remember his benevolence and simple but powerful efforts to make a difference.
Falmouth is in need of more men like Leo. Are you present and available?
The music wove itself through us, entwining a patriotic tapestry.
Hundreds of us swayed together, clinging to every magnificent note like a proud mother clutching her child returning from a deployment. For a few glorious and melodious moments at the Highfield Theater last Saturday night, there were no showdowns or shutdowns, no Democrats or Republicans, just a few hundred friends remembering what it truly means to be an American.
Thank you, Tierney Sutton and your exceptionally talented band, for providing us that gift. The venue was the Falmouth Jazzfest, and the Grammy-nominated headliner was the Tierney Sutton Band. The band’s namesake blessed the audience for more than two hours with her humor, talent, and pleasantly effusive personality. The chef d’oeuvre of the evening was the brilliant chanteuse’s smooth, honeyed voice sharing her version our own Katherine Lee Bates’ masterpiece “America the Beautiful”, which comforted our ears like a silk scarf on a cool evening and soothed our patriotic psyche like hot apple cider on a snowy New England afternoon.
My kids often poke fun of my emotional reaction to things, and gleefully remind me that I cried when the victorious chicken flew the coop at the end of “Chicken Run,” but the pride, affection and emotion I felt during this stirring rendition of one of our great American musical icons was tangible and caused me to shed a tear and a crack a wide smile all at once.
Isn’t that at the core of what it means to be an American? The deep-seated, raw emotion and pride that conjures up simultaneous admiration and gratitude for those who came before us to create and sustain this great democratic experiment manifests itself in reactions like mine to moments like the one many of us shared at Highfield – as Falmouthites and as Americans.
Why don’t the architects of the current shutdown get that?
This isn’t about Democrats. It’s about preserving the basic principles of our democracy. This isn’t about Republicans; it’s about the founding philosophy of our republic that our elected representatives are chosen - among us - to do the peoples’ business on our collective behalf.
Whether you support or oppose the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known to most Americans as Obamacare, it is the law of the land, duly vetted and debated in a public venue, passed by both houses of our Congress, and signed into law by the President. I learned in both civics class and on “Schoolhouse Rock” that a bill gets considered and voted in both the House and Senate, then goes to the White House for final approval. According to those rules, the proper process was followed and the bill became a law. It really is that simple. If those who oppose the ACA now want to repeal it, the way to affect that change is through writing, sponsoring, and supporting legislation, so that the same citizen legislators who enacted it before can weigh in again. That is the very nature of the democratic process. That is the very nature of a republic. That is the process in a republican (small “R”) form of government.
The problem here is that the issues have become more about partisanship than process. Those who would be king (or so they likely think) care more about politics than people. Our government has been hijacked by a vocal and un-democratic (small “D”) group of ideologues who think their opinion is more important than our government.
For six straight elections in Falmouth in the 1990’s, the people of our community elected the same Board of Selectmen. Six years in a row, the people endorsed the makeup of their chief elected officials. By doing so, they also endorsed the respect and relationship between those five local leaders, whose opinions, philosophies, and backgrounds could not be more diverse.
I was fortunate enough to be one of those five. Along with Virginia Valiela, Pat Flynn, Eddie Marks and Matt Patrick, I was able to help lead and shape our community with consistency and stability. We didn’t always agree. We didn’t always like what our colleagues had to say. In fact, we didn’t always like each other a whole lot. However, when it was time to govern, we did. And we did it with respect and decorum. We did it with reverence to the office we held and the community we served. It was that simple.
Take a hint, Tea Party.
I think I’ll suggest to the old gang that we take a road trip. Maybe Virginia, Pat, Matt, and Eddie will go with me to Washington to break the gridlock by showing how people who don’t agree can still get it done. Maybe we’ll take Tierney Sutton with us to sing for emotional and dramatic effect. It just might work - I bet John Boehner cried at Chicken Run, too.
All roads lead to Falmouth.
That’s a familiar refrain that I often share with colleagues and friends who don’t live in our community and thus have not had the opportunity to experience firsthand the wide-reaching network of Falmouthites across the globe. In the spirit of the popular concept of “six degrees of separation” made popular by Hungarian author and playwright Frigyes Karinthy, it’s my experience that it usually takes only two or three associations to connect someone or some event back to Falmouth. In my family, we’ve even made our own game of it. When Donna and I travel with our nephews Jack and William Perkins, we lay down a friendly wager on how many people we’ll encounter with a direct connection to Falmouth or me, never mind six degrees of separation. I’ve enjoyed many free lunches based on this wager. At some point, Jack, William, and Donna all became believers in the primacy of Falmouth as a global center of culture, intellectual exchange, and political thought. They thusly relented and now count themselves as Falmouthites. The final epiphany for Donna came last winter when we were on a brief sojourn to St. Maarten. The morning after we arrived, as we headed down the hill in the blazing sunlight to enjoy a morning on the beach, a fellow vacationer jogged up toward us. He slowed, smiled, and pointed in knowing attentiveness. “Hey, you’re the guy who writes for the paper,” he exclaimed with jubilance. We said hello. Donna bought lunch. We don’t play the game anymore. Falmouth and the Enterprise have gone global.
Given that swag and omnipresence of all things Falmouth across this third rock from the sun, it comes as no surprise that an accomplished journalist and man of faith with a direct connection to Falmouth was at the center of one of the most significant papal interviews in a generation.
When his eminence Pope Francis granted an interview with Rev. Matt Malone, a Jesuit priest who grew up in Mashpee and graduated from Falmouth High School, his words signaled a long-awaited (and perhaps overdue) message of tolerance from the centuries old ecclesiastical juggernaut that some would say has promoted rigidity, uncompromising dogma, and man-made intolerance rather than spiritual openness. The leader of the world’s one billion Catholics, when asked about his views on homosexuality, simply noted, “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.” With that one statement, the pontiff has noted to the entirety of the Catholic faithful that, in his infallible opinion, the church should be a bastion of inclusion, a house of worship open to endorsing with love, not a closed and gloomy edifice of anger, condemning with scorn. No matter your religious views, the transformation that this statement represents is an historic move toward a global culture of acceptance. Lord knows we need more of that.
I’m sure I am not the only observer who took note of the strange and ironic juxtaposition of the Pope’s message of love and tolerance against the backdrop of pasta magnate Guido Barilla making decidedly intolerant comments just a few hundred miles away within days of the Pope’s historic offering. “"We won’t include gays in our ads, because we like the traditional family. If gays don’t like it, they can always eat another brand of pasta. Everyone is free to do what they want, provided it doesn’t bother anyone else."
If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Guido was channeling his inner Elmer Fudd, telling himself that, “Fwankwy, ignowance is the best policy.” By blathering his message of rejection and excoriating an entire population, Guido Barilla has created a worldwide foofaraw focusing on the modern family and has loudly demonstrated that the words and work of the Pontiff are not enough to declare victory in the war on ignorance and intolerance. His eminence was correct. “We must always consider the person.” Success in relationships and success in the world may very well be that simple. Consider others before you consider yourself. I like that. Maybe there is a lesson in the words of both Pope Francis and Guido Barilla.
The six (or fewer) degrees of separation hold in Italy as well as Falmouth. I’m sure we can find some Falmouthite with a connection to Guido Barilla. We’ll embark on a pilgrimage of peace to pasta land. While we’re at it, let’s send Rev. Matt Malone to Parma to see if he can draw some love and tolerance out of Guido.
The mood in Boston was high. The euphoria of imminent victory in the World War I, then seen as the war to end all wars, was flourishing in Beantown. Just weeks before the armistice was signed in Germany on the the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, celebration, patriotism, and elation were met with a new found affluence heretofore not seen in the still somewhat nascent United States. Leisure time, baseball, dancing, saloons, and public merriment began to creep into our consciousness – and our societal psyche.
Then it hit. Legend is that “the Grippe,” or the great influenza outbreak of 1918, began with some sailors returning from war in late August on Commonwealth Pier. This particularly virulent and lethal strain of the disease then spread throughout the Boston area swiftly and violently. Within two weeks, more than two thousand military men were infected, many of whom perished, never fully enjoying the spoils of a post-war America. By October, more than 1,000 deaths were reported by the MA Public Health Service.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a physician at Camp Devens noted in late September, "This epidemic started about four weeks ago, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed....These men start with what appears to be an ordinary attack of La Grippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new mixed infection here, but what I don't know....”
In time, the Grippe passed, and Boston returned to post-war normalcy, but the culture and soul of Boston was ever-changed by that public health pandemic.
Today, our community faces a similarly sinister and virulent plague. Although the abuse of drugs and alcohol has been an unfortunate but ubiquitous part of global society for thousands of years, the overabundance and relative inexpensiveness of opiates, both in its pure form as heroin, and in synthetic form as prescription drugs, is today’s Grippe. Family members, neighbors, and friends are dying, right here in Falmouth, from the unyielding cruelty and malevolence of this modern-day pandemic. While obituaries offer a pedestrian explanation that someone “died suddenly,” or “died unexpectedly,” the reality is that Falmouthites, many of them young, are dying tragically every week.
The American Medical Association classified addiction as a disease in 1956. Treatment models, research, and slow and steady progress to improve the lives of those with the disease, have evolved since then and continue to this day. Studies on addiction treatment and the amazing work of substance abuse professionals continue to work in all corners of the Commonwealth. Here in Falmouth, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership, through the tireless work of many volunteers and some dedicated professional staff, has worked to educate and engage Falmouth’s youth on the scourge and menace of the disease of addiction. The Partnership, and its community-based Steering Committee, has held numerous focus groups, provided educational material, and sponsored events that have raised awareness and increased community involvement, guiding our youth toward healthy decisions. They are working against our local Grippe and its tragic impact on our town – and our kids. This summer, the Partnership joined with the Falmouth Commodores, the Falmouth Police and Fire Departments, and Sheriff Jim Cummings to sponsor “Above the Influence,” a wonderful interactive event where Commodores players demonstrated the benefits of healthy choices. The Partnership is truly a community partner.
The Partnership has operated through a federal grant, with the Town of Falmouth as its fiscal agent, since 2008. The grant, which operates on a five year cycle, has not been renewed. The work of the Partnership, and their dedication to Falmouth’s youth, though, continues. Recently, Steering Committee Chair Dr. Michael Bihari, pledged to continue the Partnership’s important work. The Town of Falmouth, as the fiscal agent who managed the grant funding, is not just a vessel for the dollars pledged by Uncle Sam. By accepting the grant funds, they accepted the solemn responsibility of addressing this issue. Like the MA Public Health Service was to the Grippe of 1918, the Town of Falmouth is the responsible agency for addressing the public health issues of the Grippe of 2013.
The Town must continue to fund the Partnership. Period. No other public health issue in our community is more urgent. No other disease is killing more of our youth. While the recent news that the town may have $3 million certified free cash does not mean that the town should waiver from its fiscally conservative policies, it certainly means that budgetary funds can be dedicated to picking up where Uncle Sam left off and providing a line item in the Human Services budget to continue the imperative and essential work – the public health work – of preventing the Grippe from gripping more of our youth.
Thinker, teacher and renowned Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh was in Boston last week. As the 86 year-old teacher of peace and quiet was introduced before a thoughtful crowd of more than 2,000 who came to Copley Square for the event billed as “seated meditation,” he sat quietly and said nothing. He remained still and silent for 25 minutes. The crowd joined him in knowing solitude, alone with their thoughts and yet connected to one another by their shared reflection. The fact that more than two thousand people sat together in silence in the midst of the bustle of Beantown was noteworthy, so much so that the mass mediation made regional and national news.
After than long, serene, and silent interlude, this champion of kindness and mindfulness simply said, “We breathe in and breathe out, and in that way we can stop the thinking, because the thinking can take us away from the here and now.”
No lesson, no words, no message is more important in today’s overloaded, frenetic, and info-frenzied society than the simple yet powerful example of a silent and humble teacher, instructing through silence. There were no ringtones blaring, no text signals buzzing, no twitter feeds blinking during Boston’s collective quiet.
We are bombarded by the cacophony of information that is thrust upon us every second. Whether we want it or not, this information age of ours barrages us with non-stop bits, bytes and blips, making the sort of stop-the-madness pause to reflect witnessed in Boston a difficult and lofty – but attainable – goal.
We can start right here. We can have a local – and perhaps a regional and national – day of quiet. We can – and should – have a day without tweets, texts, and posts. We can – and should – have a day where we dedicate some time to silence – together. That could and should be followed with the remainder of a day dedicated to conversation with others, face to face, person to person. We are losing the art of conversation. It is dying a slow and almost unnoticed death, falling victim to the overabundance of up to the minute information that overloads our senses and sensibility.
A typical walk down the street today will likely include encounters with people young and old, heads down, thumbs and fingers feverishly tapping, unaware of the sights, sounds, beauty, and people around them. When we put down the devices and actually soak in the beauty of the mosaic of humanity before our eyes, our lives and our days get richer and more fulfilling. As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, we become mindful of the moment. We stop thinking and start seeing.
Last week, Donna and I spent the afternoon in Boston with her near-lifelong friend Donna Loughran and her husband Jim, who were visiting from Virginia Beach. We didn’t watch TV. We didn’t see a movie. We hopped on a bus and enjoyed – relished really – the masterful painting of a late summer afternoon in one of the world’s great cities unfolding before our eyes. As a sun shower pelted the bus with a soothing rhythm of raindrops and the tour guide left his letter Rs in his pocket and shared his version of local history, we sat in silence and just enjoyed the company of one another and the intermittent sun peeking through the greyness above. Afterward, we had dinner outside on the sidewalk at Legal’s, and watched as hurried commuters rushed in to get their takeout, likely scurrying home to their beloved televisions and laptops, ready to be immersed and then ironically lulled to sleep by more noise, news, and information, only to wake the next day and do it all again.
For an evening at least, we resisted that temptation. We sat for a couple of hours, laughing, sharing, talking, and making new memories. Instead of offering a terse and impersonal order to our waiter, we asked him to join the conversation. He did. Joel just finished his studies in International Relations and Northeastern and is looking for work. We told him a joke. He shared that he wasn’t going straight home to his girlfriend, but instead was joining a buddy in Somerville for a beer. Actual human contact can be contagious. Another employee overheard our conversation with references to Falmouth sprinkled in, and came over to share a hello. Elysia King, the daughter of Marilyn and Wayne Hatt, Falmouthites who have operated the Woodsmiths, joined and shared the story of her family-owned business, which has provided exceptional custom-made appurtenances to homes on the Cape for a generation. By simply being immersed in the moment and not the madness around us, we made friends and lasting memories.
There was no CNN breaking news during our Boston visit. There were no twitter feeds. The world and the cacophony continued to swirl around us, but we – for a brief blip in time – were mindful of the gift of the moments and memories unfolding one at a time before and between us.
Yes. We can look at the world by looking away from our phones. Whether the mindfulness of the moment includes silence or simply freedom from the onslaught of electronic info, taking time to quiet the madness allows us to see.
Let’s take a look around us – together. Let’s have a local day of quiet.
“When you're weary, feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes , I will dry them all.
I'm on your side , oh, when times get rough,
And friends just can't be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.”
We’ve heard those words, made famous by Simon and Garfunkel and covered by Elvis, Aretha Franklin, and many others since they were first sung in 1970, countless times. This moving American musical anthem is a symbol for many for the rare and exceptional value of those who not only touch our lives, but give of themselves when we have troubles or are troubled and try to make our world and theirs a better place, one solution – one bridge over troubled water - at a time. Paul Simon’s meaningful musical gift created many lasting memories of those who are and were angels among us.
As I read the newspaper account of the passing of Bob Murray, Falmouth’s legendary champion of housing for all citizens, the peaceful, almost poetic piano introduction of that melodic psalm began playing on my Pandora station. I wept in admiration and gratitude – not in sorrow. I wept and simultaneously smiled, an acknowledgement of the extraordinary gift to this community of the life, passion, and legacy of Bob Murray. Then I smiled solely - in recognition of Bob’s role – as a bridge over troubled water – for so many Falmouthites seeking the basic necessity of a safe and affordable place to live.
Falmouth is rich in diversity. Our cultural influences, from our strong Portuguese and Azorean roots, to our significant Cape Verdean heritage, permeate our community, from Buzzards Bay to Vineyard Sound. Our intellectual diversity, from a rich artistic and creative component, to the hub of research, creativity and life-changing ideas in Woods Hole, is a lynchpin in our local identity. It is our economic diversity – and disparity - though, that Bob Murray saw and worked tirelessly to address. We have heirs of steel barons from the industrial revolution in our midst. We have super-successful dot-com entrepreneurs on our voter lists. We are one of a dwindling number of communities that has a thriving, active, and successful middle class. We also have a not-so-widely known population of hardworking, honest and diligent Falmouthites whose hard work and income just doesn’t mesh with Falmouth’s cost of living and housing market. Some shrug and pretend that dynamic doesn’t exist. Some help as much as they can. Some devote their lives to reversing that trend. Bob Murray was one of those “some” who gave all they had – physically, mentally, and spiritually - so that others could have just a little bit more.
When Bob Murray stood in front of the former Associates of Cape Cod headquarters and thought of its former heyday as the old Surrey Room, later coined “The Steakery” on Main Street, he had his Falmouth housing Kairos moment. As he gazed at the site across from the old Falmouth Theater, now the Carpet Barn, he didn’t see an abandoned former research facility. He saw a solution. He didn’t see a tired industrial site. He saw a way to address that economic disparity that was keeping many locals from piecing together a stable and steady existence. Then, holy shmoly, he made that vision happen.
That was the magic of Bob Murray. He understood – he knew intuitively – that government is not the solution, but it can be the pathway to the solution. He accessed a nominal amount of public funds, then leveraged, flipped and expertly parlayed that seed money into a multi-million dollar labor of love. 704 Main now provides a home for dozens of Falmouthites who work hard supporting our service economy but just don’t earn enough to secure permanent housing. The ripples from his work will continue to spread through our community for generations. Schoolhouse Green was next. In that project, our seniors got the same chance to have a place to call home in their home town.
When asked in an interview a couple of years ago about the role of housing in a community, this successful businessman, who put the daily grind of moneymaking aside for the daily gift of helping others, simply said, ““Housing is a piece of the total puzzle. You can’t solve everything with housing but it’s an anchor in any community.”
Yes, indeed, Bob. And by being a bridge over troubled water for so many of our friends and neighbors, you provided the lifeline to that anchor. From now on, when I hear that piano interlude to begin that wonderful song, I’ll shed another tear of gratitude and utter a silent thank you to the life and legacy of Bob Murray.
I readily admit that I had some knuckleheaded tendencies in my Falmouth youth.
I remember one time, my best buddy Ron “Ronnie D” DeSouza and I were cruising around town in his old Ford Grand Tornio station wagon that his dad Manny had hand-painted in bright fluorescent green. That car was unmistakable and announced our presence like an oversized unripe banana motoring around town. We cruised for hours, buzzing by the Elizabeth Theater and Ten Acres, blaring the “Blues Brothers” soundtrack on the 8-track machine that Manny had rigged under the dashboard.
One night, we had the bright idea to drive backwards through the drive-through at McDonalds. As we sat in the parking lot after completing our wrong way transaction, giggling and gurgling as our vanilla shakes poured out of our nostrils, the manager tapped intently on the driver’s side window of the unripe banana. “You’re not welcome here anymore in that car. Show up again and I’ll call the cops,” was his terse and resolute admonition. Back then, the managers wore those sailboat-shaped hats with the mesh tops. Rather than taking him seriously as he stormed away, our giggling progressed to an all-out frenzied guffaw. The front interior of the Grand Torino looked like a vanilla milkshake massacre had occurred.
Fortunately, as my life progressed and I matured (some would say), I had influences in my life that helped guide me down a more responsible and productive path. My brother, whose ever-protective influence and loving yet stern guidance is still a source of strength in my life today. My college roommate Jim Tierney, whose not-so-gentle prodding surely prevented some skipped final exams at BC, was a stable and tempering influence when McDonald’s-like ideas sprouted in Chestnut Hill. Teachers like Rick Grunin and John Carroll, whose guidance and wisdom taught me lessons I use in my work and life today, revealed and validated the power of thoughts and words that enabled me to learn, write, and dream.
I am forever grateful for these and other influences in my life – those who were not afraid to tell me when my path was leading to an unhappy – and unproductive – place.
Well, I think that our dedicated but perhaps injudicious and ill-advised Chairman of the Board of Selectmen may be in need of similar guidance to veer him away from his current unproductive path and unmistakable knuckleheaded tendencies.
I’ve opined before about Chairman Brent Putnam’s proposal to re-install parking meters on Main Street, calling them “gloomy stanchions of enforcement.” I thought perhaps that subtle rebuke of a real stinker of an idea put it to bed, but it has once again reared its counterproductive and disconsolate head, requiring the application of the same loving yet stern guidance that led me to ultimate clarity and productivity.
The Board of Selectmen will have hearings soon on Brent’s bad brainstorm to re-install parking meters in Falmouth Village. During the collaboration and community-based planning that led to Falmouth’s $3 million renovation and revival of our downtown, the meters were removed. Economic development experts lauded Falmouth’s free access to more than 400 individual welcome mats that sent a clear message to our visitors that their presence was saluted and cheered by their host community.
Brent aims to change all that.
The notion that we can raise revenue to improve our community by charging an entry fee to those who we encourage to visit, stay, and spend money makes about as much sense as driving backwards through the drive-through at McDonalds.
The simple, short-sighted answer is that meters bring in money. That oversimplification does not calculate the true and undeniable costs that led us to remove them in the first place. Meters beget parking attendants. Parking attendants beget parking tickets. Parking tickets beget bad feelings and resentments. Resentments beget fewer visitors. Fewer visitors beget less revenue.
The short term pulse of revenue that would result from the return of the meters (and be a flag waved by Brent and others to prove their flawed circular logic) is no reason to fundamentally change the character of a vibrant downtown that took millions of dollars, hundreds of events, and dozens of volunteers to build.
So, like my friends and mentors did with me, so too shall I do.
Brent, you are heading down an unhappy and unproductive path. Stop before it’s too late. Putting meters back on Main Street is a knucklehead move. Don’t be a knucklehead.
Is it over for Rover?
That may be the subject of the next ‘Great Debate.’
In June of 2008, super-citizen and local activist Paul Rifkin organized the first Great Debate, a democratic donnybrook that invited citizens to listen to varied opinions on the Iraq War. Before a packed house in the Hermann Meeting Room at the Falmouth Public Library, debaters Ross Bluestein, a Falmouth attorney and frequent contributor of letters to the editor on the subject, and the scribe of this column, took positions and answered questions from an engaged citizenry on the efficacy and public policy issues behind that conflict.
As the debate kicked off, Paul, whose commitment to peaceful discourse is nearly legendary and is bolstered by his recent recognition as the newly minted Citizen of the Year in Waquoit, introduced the panelists and noted that his objective was to ‘create a dialogue.’ His mission was most assuredly accomplished. No matter your thoughts on the Iraq War, the ability for citizens to convene and peacefully debate a matter of pressing public import was recognized by all in attendance as the victory of the evening.
Well, Ross, the time has come to convene and debate another issue of pressing public import. I’ve reached out to Paul and he’s ready to moderate and produce another public example of democracy in action. This time, however, the subject is far more local. Paul has already coined a catchy phrase to lure people back to the Library to further stimulate their noggins: “The Great Debate Part II – Is it Over for Rover?”
Rover, of course, is the amazingly life-like, ceramic black lab that has welcomed walkers and bikers on the Shining Sea Bikeway for some time now. Rover’s owner is none other than the inimitable great debater, Ross. In a report in last week’s Enterprise, Ross lamented recent the recent theft of Rover and vandalism that left him injured, perhaps beyond repair. “Alas, he is no longer,” the grieving barrister noted. In true Ross Bluestein fashion, though, he may have been a touch of dramatic intent in his expertly crafted message. Later in the report, Ross noted that a fix may exist. His family’s other dog, who is actually a living and breathing canine, could act as a surrogate, offering his legs to be molded out of plaster and fitted on Rover. The quick-thinking if not excitable Ross seems to contradict himself a bit. In the iconic words of the Six Million Dollar Man, “We have the technology. We can rebuild him.”
We’ve put a man on the moon. We can send messages across the planet in seconds. We live adjacent to one of the world’s hubs of scientific research. Some of society’s greatest scientific and creative minds are within our midst. Surely, we can collectively come up with a solution for Rover.
Donna and I walked the bike path along the Cape Cod Canal last weekend. With its sweeping views and vistas, it is most certainly a jewel of Cape Cod. People come from all around to enjoy the invigorating experience of refreshing exercise while watching the boats and tides grapple with one another. On our journey to far away Bourne, we shared a hello with many locals, including State Rep. Dave Vieira, and even took a detour and walked over the Sagamore Bridge, just to say we had done it. We did. It was a great day. However, the environs of our bikepath’s cousin to the north feature the concrete behemoth of the Canal Electric plant, the bustle of nearby traffic, and several industrial sights and sites. Even the beauty of the Cape Cod Canal can’t compete with the breathtaking panorama of the Great Sippewissett Marsh, the tranquility of Bourne’s Farm, the visual treat of Vineyard Sound, and the consummate beauty of the terminus in Woods Hole. The Shining Sea Bikeway has an unparalleled character, charm and splendor. Rover was part of that. The experience of enjoying an important tile in the mosaic of our community is now just a little less stupendous without him.
So, Ross, here’s the deal: We’ll debate whether or not we should undertake the effort and expense to rebuild Rover with the same vim and vigor of our previous pithy verbal skirmish. If I prevail, Paul has offered to help organize a fundraiser to help defray the costs of a bionic bikepath doggie.
It’s not over for Rover. Ross, what say you?