Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

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To mark Presidents Day, here are some bits of information about our favorite president, Abe Lincoln, as culled from the internet, with thanks to Jeff Crilley at The Rundown daily email newsletter:

• First, our 16th president hated to be called Abe. He preferred being called by his last name.

• Lincoln practiced law without a degree.

He had only 18 months of formal schooling.

• He wanted women to have the vote in 1836.

• Lincoln read the Bible every day but never belonged to an organized church.

• He was an enthusiastic wrestler and took part in bouts.

• He defended the son of his most famous wrestling opponent against murder charge.

• Lincoln was known to battle depression most of his life.

• He was the first president:

— born outside the original 13 states, on Feb. 12, 1809;

— to use the telegraph and
communicated with his generals as if it were the internet;

— to have a beard;

— to be assassinated.

• Lincoln was the only president to have a patent. It was for a device that freed steamboats run aground.

• He had no middle name.

• He loved eating oysters.

• He didn’t drink, smoke or chew tobacco.

• Lincoln was a big animal lover. He wouldn’t hunt or fish.

• His favorite food was fruit. He was also fond of chicken casserole.

• His cat, named Tabby, supposedly ate with him at the White House dinner table.

• His dog was named Fido.

• Lincoln didn’t play any musical instrument.

• He almost fought a duel that was canceled at the last second.

• Lincoln was a circuit court judge in Illinois.

• He served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran for the U.S. Senate and lost both times, although once he won the popular vote but lost the election to Sen. Stephen Douglas.

• Lincoln lost his bid for vice president at the GOP convention in 1856.

• He argued a case before the Supreme Court in 1849 and lost.

• His first business failed.

• His shoe size was 12-14.

His coffin was opened five times, although grave robbers failed in 1876.

• Lincoln’s life was saved twice when he was young.

• Lincoln has no direct living descendants.

• Lincoln was estranged from his father and didn’t attend his father’s funeral.

• His animals died in a White House stable fire.

• Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

• Lincoln was photographed with his assassin John Wilkes Booth at his second inauguration.

• Booth’s brother saved the life of Lincoln’s son on a New Jersey train platform.

• Lincoln was shot at in 1864, and the bullet put a hole in his stovepipe hat.

• Lincoln kept his important papers inside his hat.

• Lincoln’s guest at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., was Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who canceled at the last moment.

• Fido was killed by a drunken assailant a year after Lincoln died.

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Here are some sentiments about that undefinable emotion: Love.

Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colors seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there is no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon. You open your heart knowing there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.

            — Bob Marley

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

            Lao Tzu

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our full potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.

         — John Lennon                                         

I heard what you said. I’m not the silly romantic that you think. I don’t want the heavens or the shooting stars. I don’t want gemstones or gold. I have those things already. I want … a steady hand. A kind soul. I want to fall asleep, and wake, knowing my heart is safe. I want to love and be loved.

              — Shana Abé

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As I write this column, Tuesday, I am thinking of the State of the Union address that President Trump is scheduled to give to Congress and the nation in the evening. What does each of us think about the state of the union at this time? Do we know enough about what’s happening in the country to offer a credible picture in this first month of the year 2018?

We know we have problems. Big problems, if you follow the newscasts. We have a Congress that people seem to agree is “broken,” and a president without precedent. We have an economy that is the largest in the world, yet our citizens are divided into those enjoying its fruits and the rest who have been left behind. We have a remarkable health care system that is not accessible for everyone. Our schools are uneven in their teaching, especially in subjects like math and science. We have to deal with racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism and lots of other “isms,” as well as gun violence, drugs, gangs, North Korea, Russia, the Taliban, you name them. It’s enough to addle the mind.

Then I think of the other side of the story, the story of what America means to me. When my grandchildren have their children, they will be sixth generation Americans. We are deeply rooted here in our country but not so much that we have forgotten how we got here and especially why we came. My father’s family arrived in the second half of the 19th century from Riga, the capital city of Latvia set on the Baltic Sea. We don’t know much about them except they were dairy farmers, and they managed to buy property and continue with that life after they landed and settled in Connecticut and upstate New York. My dad, the middle child of nine, left the farm for the big city when he was 14, got a job at the bottom of the ladder in a hardware store, lived in a boarding house in Brooklyn near his older brother, worked hard and for long hours, saved his pennies and ultimately started several hardware stores on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was about then that I came along, the middle child of three.

We know more about my mother’s side of the family. Her uncle, her mother’s brother, left the army in the Ukraine after a perilous stint at the beginning of the 20th century. He joined his uncle in Corona, Queens, who taught him how to use a sewing machine in a clothing factory. He realized he could earn more if he owned a machine and could hire himself out to the highest bidder, then understood he could do better still if he owned the factory. His four children all graduated from college, his daughters became teachers and his son served as a judge in the District and Criminal Courts of Suffolk County.

My mother’s grandparents and parents, alarmed at the unrest in their homeland in the first decade of the 20th century, followed the family chain, established themselves financially in New York City, and saw to it that their offspring were educated so that they might further contribute to society and share in its benefits.

This is the American Dream. This is the route that countless individuals and families followed for 400 years to reach their goals amid the freedom and security of the United States, Has that dream been achieved by everyone here in America? Certainly not, and the situations where people are chained to the past or even the present are heartbreaking. The national goal is to bring the American Dream to all living within our borders.

Except for Native Americans, we all started out as immigrants, foreigners in a foreign land, and those who came voluntarily — along with those who didn’t — aspired for more. Some came with more skills and resources, some with less. Some had supportive family networks, some arrived alone.

The American siren song still exists. The formula does work. I see it realized by people locally every day. For all the cynicism and the partisanship, whatever the shortcomings and injustices, this is still America.

On the day of the State of the Union, this is what America means to me.

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Dear Grandson Adam,

Thank you for lending me your book last weekend. While you were off skiing with the rest of the family, I was totally absorbed reading your high school homework assignment, “A Raisin in the Sun,” in front of a crackling fire in the lodge. Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play, you know, in 1958, which was the year I graduated from high school, so I can tell you how remarkable her characters and themes are for that time.

The story takes place in Chicago, on the city’s gritty South Side, and tells of a poor black family living in a three-room flat with a bathroom in the hall that is shared with others. The grandmother, Lena, whose apartment it is, sleeps in one bedroom with her daughter, Beneatha, who is in college. Walter, Lena’s 35-year-old son, is a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman, and he shares another room with his wife, Ruth, who works as a cleaning woman in different homes. Travis, 10, is their son and he sleeps in the living room/kitchen on a sofa that is made up for him each night, which means that he doesn’t get to sleep until any visitor leaves.

When we meet them, the family is excited about the imminent arrival of a “big check,” that turns out to be the proceeds from an insurance policy on the life of Big Walter, Lena’s late husband. The value is $10,000, which in today’s money would be about $160,000. The introduction of this money into the plot is the fulcrum around which the characters, their roles in the family dynamic and their situation in society are defined.

Walter desperately wants to start his own business with the funds, viewing entrepreneurship as a way to rise above a humiliating life stretching out before him as a chauffeur. There are tense exchanges between him and Lena, as he passionately explains to his mother that he can go into partnership in a liquor store with a shrewd friend who has figured out the financing, but they need startup capital.

Lena, for her part, thinking back to their not-so-distant ancestors of slaves, values freedom more than financial success, and certainly doesn’t appreciate the prospect of selling liquor to their neighbors. However she wants to see her son as the prideful head of the family and recognizes his despair at the life in which he feels trapped in mid-century America.

Ruth, who is pregnant, loves her husband and understands that his grind, as they enter middle age, is eroding their marriage. She is the life-giving mother of the next generation and it is she who ultimately urges optimism after Lena makes her pivotal decision. I hesitate to tell you what that decision is because I don’t want to ruin the plot for you. This is a play well worth reading if you have the chance, if only for the messages that continue to be so relevant today.

Beneatha is a most interesting character, attracted by the romantic allure of the distant continent from which her people originally came, albeit unwillingly, yet determined to make her own way through education, the upward mobility ladder presumably offered by the American Dream. She eschews the idea of advancing herself through the traditional female strategy of marrying rich, much touted for her by Walter. At a time when most medical schools were admitting only one or perhaps two women in each freshman class, she is planning to become a doctor. She will need money to pay for that education, and Lena recognizes that fact.

The play is about poverty, masculinity, femininity, opportunity, integration, honor, tradition and especially racism in American, and looks into the future with remarkable prescience. Has much changed in our country over the ensuing 60 years? In 1959, the play received standing ovations and critical acclaim. It was, after all, the first play offered there by an African-American woman, only 28, that purported to tell the truth about black lives. Hansberry came from a wealthy family and could present her initially optimistic message of a different life.

In answer to the question, it could be said she at least started the conversation on Broadway. Racism discussed is, however slowly, racism destroyed. It is up to your generation, Adam, to continue the fight. 

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The recent frigid weather was good training to harden us for our trip north this past weekend. We went high up in the Green Mountains of Vermont to ski. Now before you wonder at my sanity, I hasten to repeat what my clever neighbor told me when he heard we were going. “Skiing? Just hang out at the bar for a couple of days, then come back and tell us you went skiing. We’ll never know.”

So with proper full disclosure, I confess that I did not ski. I stretched out before a roaring fire in the lodge with a good book that was interrupted only occasionally for some good food and a good nap here and there. But my children and grandchildren skied and dutifully reported back at the end of each day in such vivid detail that I felt like I had swooshed down from the summit but without the cold and the half-hour wait on the lift lines to get there. Now don’t get me wrong. I always loved to ski. Why else would I have put up with the long drives, the absurd boots, the itchy hats and the running nose except for those few exhilarating moments when the view of the valley below from above the snow line is spectacular, the air is sharp and clear, the snow sparkles with sunlight in an unbroken trail before me and the deep silence assures me that the splendor is mine alone.

That said, age has its advantages, and I stayed warm and dry, letting subsequent generations enjoy the marvel of skiing.

We were there to celebrate my middle son’s 50th birthday. It became a tradition in our family, when my oldest son turned 50, that we would gather at the location of his choosing to properly mark the occasion together. This trip was not without its dangers but not from skiing. It was the drive up to the slopes on Friday that kept us on the edge of our seats in the car, peering into the darkness. If you remember, the day began uncharacteristically warm, but as the hours went by, a deep freeze descended from the north and pushed into the warmer air, creating dense fog.

We crossed the Sound on the ferry, unable to see the shores, and actually missed the turnoff to the Merritt Parkway and thence Interstate 91 from Route 8 on the Connecticut side because the fog shrouded the signs above our heads on the roadway. That wasn’t of any great consequence as we continued on Route 8 to Interstate 84 East, a slightly longer stretch, but it did serve to warn us of what lay ahead.

We drove for the next couple of hours and the fog only seemed to intensify, but we were in good spirits anticipating the coming weekend’s festivities. We even stopped for a nice German dinner in Springfield, Massachusetts. What difference would a couple of extra hours make, we rationalized, since it was going to be dark anyway by the time we left the highway?

Initially driving wasn’t so difficult on Route 103, the first of the back-country roads, because there were other cars snaking along, marking the contours of the road with the glow of red taillights. At one point a bus joined the parade in front of us, and that was dandy. The real problems started when we turned onto Route 100 and left the bus behind. So dense was the fog that we missed the turn and had to circle back for a second try. 

We were all alone from that point on, sometimes inching our way forward, straining to follow the yellow midline. Snowbanks lined the road, with only an occasional reflective marker to indicate a precipice off to the side. In that fashion, our hazard lights blinking noisily in the car to avoid anyone colliding with us, we traveled the next 24 miles. We knew we were climbing because our ears popped periodically, but we could see nothing of the mountains. We finally arrived at our lodging, a couple of hours later, in a glazed-eye stupor.

After that, simply skiing was a piece of cake. Birthday cake, that is.      

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Here are a couple of things to think about in this new year. First, it is the Chinese Year of the Dog. Each year is related to a zodiac animal within a 12-year cycle, and the Dog is in the 11th position, after the Rooster and before the Pig. Other Dog years include births in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and so on. You get the pattern. If you are a Dog, you are undoubtedly loyal, honest, kind, amiable and sincere, although you’re probably not all that good at communications. As a result, sometimes you are perceived as stubborn. However, you make up for that by always being ready to help others.

Enough of that and on to the latest law for Suffolk County. As you have probably experienced by now, wherever you might be shopping and inclined to make a purchase, you will have to add 5 cents to the total if you want a bag. Two bags: 10 cents. Again, you get the pattern. That means if you are shopping in a supermarket or a hardware store or Macy’s, you will need to pay for each bag. We have, however, been trained for such a situation by Costco. For years, those who shop in their warehouse-like stores have carried purchases out to their cars in shopping carts and then loaded the contents into their trunks, one item at a time. Costco has never provided bags, although it has been known to offer boxes when available. The smart ones among us carry cloth bags into the store in advance so we can load cars more efficiently at the end, and I suppose that is what the rest of us will learn to do if we don’t buy the bags. Although the charge is only a nickel, it is irksome because the nickels don’t go toward funding an environmental cause but revert to the store.

So expect to see people crossing parking lots with the items they have just purchased in their hands. While the perennially curious among us will be fascinated to check out what people buy, the instinct to bag a purchase to prove it was paid for rather than whipped off the shelf and out the door will make some of us uneasy. Best to invest in some large and solid cloth bags, which are what they bring to stores in Europe and elsewhere. And by the way, this should be a great help for our local waterways and wildlife since so many plastic bags have caused harm. So BYOB, or “bring your own bag,” and know that you are helping a fish.

On to another topic to consider in 2018. Private schools and universities are going to take a beating from the loss of international students. Total tuition from those students, who generally pay more, will decline as a result of more restrictive immigration policies for those wishing to come to study here. Visa applications are being more carefully scrutinized and foreign students are finding it harder to stay in the United States after graduation. There had been a huge increase in foreign students here, supplying $39 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy last year, but now schools in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries are attracting some of those dollars. The decline in new students nationwide was some 7 percent just this past fall.

That means colleges will have to cut offerings and American-educated grad students who may want to settle here will be lost to the nation. It also means colleges will not be able to help low-income students as much with tuition aid. Diversity is also affected. Enrollment is already falling from China and India, the two biggest sources of students from abroad. Of course this is not only a national issue but also a local one: Stony Brook University is here. Long Island has numerous schools, and with fewer students less money will be spent locally.

Meanwhile enjoy the weather. Let’s celebrate the thaw.

Feels odd to write 2018, doesn’t it? No more Christmas celebrations, no more vacation days, no more New Year’s parties, we’re back to the real world. And what a real world it is. The North Koreans have a button. We have a bigger button that works. Meanwhile both leaders have strange haircuts. Primarily young people are rioting throughout Iran as the rulers threaten a violent crackdown. The Palestinians don’t want to hear from the president of the United States as a result of his stand on Jerusalem, yet even as they protest they are willing to continue receiving U.S. aid dollars. The war in Afghanistan, our longest war, slogs on, with no end in sight. Brutality, death, starvation and proxy wars rage throughout the Middle East and northern Africa.

By contrast, here in America, more people line up to sue Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment or worse each day. Icons fall, Democrats and Republicans squabble, Republicans and Republicans squabble, governors and accountants strategize how to navigate the new tax laws, and we in Suffolk County are warned to hunker down in the face of a fierce and imminent nor’easter bringing tons of snow.

Enough already! Here’s what I say to all of that. Let’s focus on the things we have some hope of controlling and stand by to help with the rest. What do we actually control? We can start with ourselves.

On the threshold of this new year, we can pay more attention to our health. Everyone quite rightly wishes friends and family “a healthy and happy New Year.” Good things start with good health. Wishing won’t make it happen. Action will.

Most important, to me, along with lots of health professionals, is enough sleep of good quality. This strengthens the immune system, cognitive function and minimizes wrinkles — well, the first two anyway. Yet despite the research and repeated urgings in the media, data reveals that most Americans are sleep deprived. With so much to do each day, it is too easy to cut down sleep time. That might work for a day or two, but research shows that it is not possible to make up for lost hours in the long term. So don’t use your computer just before you go to bed, don’t even watch TV. Something about the light from those home essentials interferes with the urge to sleep.

Try to go to bed more or less the same time each night and wake up the same time each morning. Habit is a great helper. And if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night with the many chores you have for the next day ping-ponging around inside your head, put the bedside light on, make a to-do list with a pencil on a pad you have ready next to your bed, then turn off the light, and having discharged your memory, you can fall back to sleep until morning.

Another good thing to do is to eat foods with lots of fiber. “A diet of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, reduces the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Indeed, the evidence for fiber’s benefits extends beyond any particular ailment,” according to a recent science article by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times. 

People who eat more fiber simply have lower odds of dying. Somehow fiber is able to reduce inflammation in the body. Long-term inflammation can cause harm, although short-term inflammation does fight infection. How fiber works is a bit of a mystery because it is not directly digestible. There is a connection between fiber and the billions of bacteria that live in our guts. In essence, we feed our microbes fiber to enable them to strengthen our immune systems. Take it on faith and don’t ask me more.

One issue that is, of course, most distressing to me is that of fake news. Be assured, please, that whatever you might read in out hometown papers and on our well-read website, is fact and as true as we know it to be. If we err, we will correct.

Let’s keep in mind the old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. It may be a negative for some, but for journalists, it provides jobs.

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As 2017 comes to a close, it is not an overstatement to say that this year we have lived through a revolution. And it is a revolution that is just beginning. Millions of women, drawn by the hashtag #MeToo, have come forth to put their experiences with sexual harassment, assault and rape on the record. Some men also have revealed similar heartbreaking stories of sexual predators that altered their lives. It is as if an enormous dam has broken with the gut-wrenching descriptions pouring out unendingly, toppling icons of power like bowling pins. Just as Betty Friedan started the revolution we call the women’s liberation movement, so this avalanche of sordid encounters that began with revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has touched off a revolution but of a much faster pace than the one 50 years or so ago. Social media has helped connect these victims and carry the torch of outrage.

I suppose from the earliest times when men and women have walked the earth, there have been sexual predators. Mostly the predators have been men who were able to exact what they wanted from vulnerable women who needed their protection and support, perhaps for such basics as food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their children. Once women entered the workplace in large numbers, they were often assigned to male supervisors who could advance or block their careers or even take away their jobs.

Those jobs could be in Hollywood, in TV journalism, in large and small offices, in hotels, in politics, in academia, in short anywhere that there might be an imbalance of power leaving one employee vulnerable. What’s different now? The whisper network that warned has become a social network that shames.

Time magazine named the Silence Breakers as 2017 Person of the Year. The hashtag, #MeToo, will go down in history although the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, was not featured on the cover. Instead the group photo comprised actress Ashley Judd, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, Visa lobbyist Adama Iwu, songstress Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual, a Mexican strawberry picker who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her family, according to Time. They might have been anyone on the cover, although the famous attract more attention, from the doctoral candidate at a prestigious university who refused her professor’s advances and consequently was denied her degree, to the housekeeper in a hotel who goes about cleaning the bathtubs but never knows when she might be cornered by a guest or supervisor demanding sexual favors.

The first time I personally knew anyone who had been a sexual victim was in college. A close friend was talking about her affair with a professor and was overheard by another student who was having the same experience. The unlikely encounter and some quick conversation revealed the same professor was bedding both women. In a rage, my friend confronted her lover with the words, “You are sick!”

But was he sick? Or was he just acting out the culture in which he had been raised? As Time magazine wrote, “It wasn’t so long ago that the boss chasing his secretary around the desk was a comic trope, a staple from vaudeville to prime-time sitcoms.” Cultures are all pervasive, and where they are not confronted by conscience or mob outrage, they continue.

On the eve of the holidays, let’s focus on a short but delightful segment from the “PBS News Hour” Tuesday night. Women confide to sometimes feeling taken advantage of financially when bringing cars to be repaired, knowing so little about the way cars work. One woman felt tired of feeling a victim, quit her job as an engineer, went to auto-mechanic school and opened up what appears to be the nation’s first all-female auto-repair shop in California. It seems to be a great success. Best of all, she no longer feels a victim. There is a moral here.

Happy and healthy holidays to you and yours!

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Strange as it may seem amid the frenetic shopping, the seasonal music and the rounds of holiday parties, there are some who are deeply lonely. They may or may not seem so, they may be among the elderly or adolescents, they may appear depressed or not, but they are indeed lonely. And lonely can be bad for one’s health.

Loneliness has lots of causes. For a widow or widower, the approach of the holidays makes more grievous the loss of a spouse. Holidays are typically family time, and one member is gone. Or perhaps a close friend has died and is sorely missed. For those who have outlived their contemporaries, the gaiety and excitement of the holidays are a sad contrast with their lives. Or with children and grandchildren scattered over three continents, it may not be possible to be together for the celebrations. Perhaps worst of all are those in unsatisfying relationships who are perceived to be coupled but are in reality painfully lonely.

Loneliness, health studies have shown, can cause increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, depression, accelerated cognitive decline and even trigger suicide. And in this world of electronic devices operating on the internet, even a phone call with the sound of a warm voice is now often replaced by a tidy and sanitized email or text message.

How are we to respond to such feelings of loneliness?

First is to be aware that those around us may not be so caught up in the spirit of the season. For those who have plenty, whether in worldly goods or in simple joy, this is the time for sharing. Sometimes it is not so obvious when others are hurting. If a neighbor is a shut-in, it is easy to guess that the person would like a visit, even a short one, or an errand run on their behalf. These are immediate solutions. But social isolation and loneliness are not necessarily the same. That neighbor may have few social connections but enjoy an existence rich with books, music or hobbies. On the other hand, loneliness is a subjective condition in which a person feels isolated, even if surrounded by people most of the time. That person is just as needy, or more so, for human interaction but that need may be harder to discern. Research at the University of California, San Francisco, reveals that “most lonely people are married, live with others and are not clinically depressed,” according to a recent article by Jane Brody in The New York Times.

Some more obvious remedies for those who are lonely or socially isolated to help themselves might be volunteering at a hospital or assisted living center, a soup kitchen or a nursery school. Giving to others in need brings its own rewards. Joining a group with shared interests — anything from quilting to trivial pursuit — can help. A book club or a class is a way to keep the mind engaged while perhaps finding others with whom to socialize. And the fail-safe solution for those who desire interaction with others is to get a dog. It is not possible to take a dog for its walk three times a day, day after day, and not get into conversation with someone along the way unless the walk is in the woods.

But back to how we can help others who cannot help themselves. It seems to me that one of the greatest compliments one human can give to another is the willingness to listen. This may sound easier than it really is. Many people practice mindfulness, being in the moment, meditation and so forth for their own enrichment. In order to listen to another person, to really hear them, one has to practice that skill too, until it becomes almost an art. We who live in our small villages, where people have more opportunity to connect with neighbors in the supermarket or at concerts or school baseball games, we are lucky enough, if we are so interested, to be available to listen to each other.

We can learn when we listen. And for the lonely, genuinely being heard is a balm.

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Here is an interesting bit of research about our friendly computers, one which some of us had already intuited. I will quote from an article in the Nov. 26 edition of The New York Times Sunday Business section: “[A] growing body of evidence shows that overall, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.”

Wow! That means a victory for pen and paper. That means classrooms filled with students busily typing notes as the lecturer speaks are doing themselves a disservice. Ditto for those paying big bucks to attend seminars, workshops and the like, who are shortchanging themselves.

“In a series of experiments at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture,” The Times reported. “Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.” Also those students who routinely used laptops in class did significantly less well at the end of the semester.

Because the notes taken on laptops more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries, the theory goes that the lecturer’s words go straight to the students fingers, which are typing faster than they can write, without going through their brains first for processing. To take notes by hand, the listener has to abridge the lecturer’s words in order to keep up and so must consider the essence of what is being said. Enter the brain.

Honestly, I am not a Luddite, looking to smash modern inventions and disavow progress. On the contrary, I marvel many times at what the computer and the internet can do. For example, it is so much easier for me to write my column, rearranging words and whole paragraphs with just the click of the mouse and a couple of keys. Before computers, I practically drank whiteout. And as I am writing, if there is something to check or research, I can engage the internet, get the facts and continue the column with only that brief interruption. So much for the encyclopedias of my youth.

But I still believe there will always be a place for pen and paper. There are instances where jotting something down quickly is easier and time saving compared to pulling out the computer, turning it on, finding the right file and typing in the info.

And then there is my real problem with computers and the internet: addiction. Most people, especially parents with teens, would agree that electronic devices are addicting. It is difficult to get kids to put down their cellphones in favor of conversation. Researchers in Utah are even studying a spike in teen suicides there in the last five years to see if there is a connection. Some 14 percent of the teens had recently lost privileges to use their electronics. Further there has been an increase in teen suicides from 2010 to 2015 across the nation, at the same time as social media use has surged. Teen suicides had declined in the two previous decades, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much more research is required before deciding cause and affect here, but anonymous bullying, made possible by Facebook or Twitter and other social networking services, in addition to relationship problems thought to result from diminishing face-to-face interaction, need to be evaluated.

It is not just kids who are so attached to their electronics. I chuckle when I see couples or whole families in restaurants, awaiting their food orders, completely absorbed in their cellphones. Then I feel sad for them. Conversation with people I enjoy is such a major part of life’s pleasures for me, and these phone addicts are missing that opportunity. I can only hope they are texting each other.

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