Posts Tagged ‘Compassion’

Consider this:

Suppose there were 5 people, all the same age and in the same state of health, who were diagnosed with the same terminal illness that had progressed to the same degree. All were expected to die.

Person 1 has a church full of devout Christians praying for them.

Person 2 has a their Synagogue praying the Mi Sheberach healing prayer for them every day.

Person 3 has everyone in their Mosque praying for them.

Person 4 has every Shinto priest in Japan praying that the ancestors heal them.

Person 5 has there most devoted atheist friends visiting and comforting them each day and hoping for healing.

Would there be a difference in the outcome of the illness for each of these 5 people?

I know what I think and it may not be what you expect. But, I’m not going to tell you until you tell me what you think. If you are willing to play then comment on this post and answer this;

1. Would there be a difference in the outcome of the illness for each person?

2. Why?

3. If you answered question 2 by saying that God, Spirit, the universe, the ancestors, whatever, intervenes in what happens then do the people with the illness deserve what happens to them and why would that “higher power” choose to help some but not others?

I’ll tell you what I think in another post. Right now I want to give you a voice.


Not only do I not despair but I’m a very blessed guy. Here are a few examples of why:

  • Cindy and Tom and Laura and Adam let me be wing-man to the true chick magnet, Cooper.
  • My sister’s daughter Jessica has just moved to Oregon and I now have a next-gen family member to hang with.
  • My cousin Cheryl’s kid Rachel and her wife share their awesome sons with me.
  • My friend Traci has allowed me to be part of her son’s lives ever since I’ve known her and, in the wake of the tragic early passing of her husband has opened their lives to me daily.
  • My niece, Denise, allowed me to help her when she was young until now when she has a clan of her own. From the days when I could buy her her high school class ring through her wedding day, and into married life, she is among the brightest lights ever.
  • In fact, Denise’s brothers and parents have been among the coolest family of all time.
  • As president of my Synagogue I was given the great privilege of being allows to feel as a parent to dozens of kids.

These are just a few wonderful things I think of every day. These are people who open their lives to me and give me the joy of participating with their children. These are some of the reasons that I feel no despair. I feel shared love.

So… wanna hear my philosophy of life as a dude without kids? It’s this:

  1. You don’t always get what you want. You get dealt cards and you play the hand you are dealt with as much joy, skill, and competence as you can.
  2. You get chances every day to make decisions. You can like or dislike them in retrospect but you must take responsibility for them without looking back.
  3. People have intrinsic value. Children are people. Therefore, children have value.
  4. Being the best human you can be has the highest value. Children are in a process of emerging as fully developed humans. Therefore, raising great children has the highest value.
  5. Sometimes the universe intends for you do do something you did not expect. I don’t have kids but, had I, I might not have been their for Denise when she wanted her class ring, I might not have been able to drop everything to help Traci with the boys when she was dealing with a loss, I might not have been able to serve the kids of my synagogue. Etc. Etc. Etc. So, perhaps my path in life was to help other kids. How could that be anything but a blessing!
  6. Live in the moment. Take the kindness and generosity of others and embrace it with love.
  7. Don’t feel bad about one thing when you can feel good about the million others that surround you.
  8. Ignore any religious doctrine that makes you feel lesser for not being “fruitful and multiplying”. It’s silliness and it just screws with your mind. Remember how shallow the gene pool would be if everyone followed the ancients.
  9. If you want kid-joy then take responsibility for finding kids who need the joy you want to share. Help other’s children grow and take ever second you have to do that as a sacred gift.
  10. Live not for what isn’t; just live for what is.

What all of that means to me is this:

Some people don’t want kids. I did. Things are different than I’d planned. That’s no reason to go crazy. It’s totally cool to have periods of melancholy; I am, after all, human. But, there is no value in looking backward when, living in the moment, I can find someone whose children need exactly what I can share at every turn.

So, to sum it all up…

Yup. I sometimes feel sad when I see other people who have the kids and grandchildren I’d once envisioned. But, that is a normal thing and there are millions of moments when things are just fine. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few down moments compared to millions of up ones. Every day I look forward and, if my path in life is to help other people’s kids then fine by me, the most important thing is to use the blessings that surround you to keep repairing the sorely damaged world.

Whoever’s kids inhabit that world in the future, if I can make it better for them and make a few of them better for it then I’m a happy guy!


We’ve established that the word “despair” blows me away and that you don’t need to feel sorry for me. So, why should you give a shit about me and my lack of grandkids, at all?

The first answer is easy:

Love is not binary. Feelings are not binary. Emotions are not binary. In fact, love, feelings, and emotions are not even discreet. These elements of our life are continuous functions. So, just because I’m not suicidal does not mean you shouldn’t care. I want your love and support.

The second answer is more complex:

To me, a part of examining one’s life in an open forum is to help others learn by sharing experiences. I share many things here and on Facebook and Twitter that are really no one’s business but my own. I choose to share my shit, not so you will feel sorry for me, but so that we can learn from each other.

  • I guarantee you hate some of my posts.
  • I guarantee you smile at at least a few.
  • I guarantee you don’t know why the hell I share some things I do.
  • I guarantee I piss you off.
  • I guarantee that, at least on occasion, you think about the value of compassion, the need for personal responsibility, and the value of integrity. Those are the 3 pillars that support me and…
  • I guarantee it helps ME to get shit out of my system and to embrace your feedback.

As Socrates reminds us, “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I embrace that in a public way both for me and for anyone who cares. So, it’s good for us all if you care.

The fact is that caring about other people, while holding myself accountable for my own actions, is the foundation of my life.

I used to think I was an Objectivist. Then I found how much joy I got from helping other people succeed. I gave up the Objectivist path because if lacked a notion of benevolence. Then my friend Nathaniel Branden (of blessed memory) started speaking of benevolence at Objectivism conferences. I’ll still never be an Objectivist because it conflicts with some of my Reform Jewish values. But, from it, I learned to take responsibility for myself and to recognize that making one’s self the best one can be DOES help others succeed! it does so because one may stand as a role model and because there is nothing wrong with bringing others along for the ride. So, when I paired that with my Jewish notion of benevolence I came up with a value system that works for me.

That is why you should care about me and my desire for children. Because my hope is that taking you along for the ride will make us all better people. Helping all of us to become better people is why I see those of you who share your children with me as an extraordinary blessing. It provides both the giver and the receiver the opportunity to help others through responsible action.

More on that is coming soon…

I read a post on Facebook the other day that I found nearly too poignant to bear. It was the final post before leaving this world, by someone who I do not know.

It is a post by a woman whose way of communicating with her family and friends, before succumbing to a cancer that lay in remission for nearly 2 decades before metastasizing with a vengeance, demonstrates strength, bravery, and a commitment to loved  ones that I deeply admire.

I will not tell you who the writer is. She passed away this week and it is not for me to say whether she would allow it. Her sister, who is a friend of mine, said it was fine to post the message here. So I’ll share it with minor redaction to preserve privacy. I hope, if I am ever in the position of the woman who posted this, that I will handle my last hours with 1/100 of the dignity with which she did.

What follows are not my words. I share them in the hope that you will find their grace inspiring.

“I don’t know where to start. Normally, these updates would start out with some light humor, as I always try to look on the bright side of a situation. At least, the view from the 14th floor of <…> is fabulous. I get to look out over the city every day, as the fog lifts, and see the breeze swaying through the eucalyptus trees.

As you know, this cancer was under control for so long (18 years), but started to mutate and get out of control in just a matter of a few months. The treatments that I’ve tried since January have all failed. I have decided to go into hospice care now. I’ve received hundreds of well wishes, light, love and energy and that is invaluable to me. I will never be able to thank you all personally, but know that from the bottom of my heart, I do love each and every one of you dearly. There is no predicting when this will happen, and as I require more pain and comfort meds, it will be harder for me to communicate with you all.

The year 2016 has been an utter shit show, and the worst in my memory. Friends’ parents dying, my husband’s father dying, pets dying, violence in the world we know (the violence that is acknowledged and the violence that no one talks about). It saddens me.

I will be sad to miss <…> and bowling (although it is the company more than the activity itself I will miss). I will miss sitting in repose in my beautiful house that <…> and I worked so hard for, or on the back deck taking in the beauty of the backyard, which we transformed into an oasis. I will miss the beautiful evolution that has been happening since <…> and I moved to Vallejo and for which we’ve been a huge part of since moving there.

I feel I have lived my life as fully as possible, with as much joy, and filled with many places visited, and much scenery enjoyed. It is fitting that I am looking out over the city that I love, the city that drew <…> and I to the West Coast.

I am an unabashed feminist, and I must admit that there have been many women in my life who have given me inspiration and courage. I won’t be able to acknowledge them all, but I wanted to give a special acknowledgement to three of them:


The idea of community has always been an integral part of who I am. Communities that have formed me, as much as I hoped I have had an influence on them:

I hope that I have been able to support them as much as they have supported me through good times and bad.

If you want to do something nice for me, please honor me by doing something nice for someone else, or a cause that is important to me. Here are two that I have thought a lot about and are causes I care about: Planned Parenthood and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

If I had any final wishes, or thoughts, it would be this. Seeing the sameness in each other. We need to be easier on ourselves and easier on this world we live in. I feel like we are all just atoms, passing through space and time and we are trading them with each other all the time. So when I leave this body behind, we already share these things, so you will never be without me.”

To you guys, who know who you are, and who are experiencing this time of grief: thanks for letting me share these words. Please know that I do so with love for you and gratitude for our continuing friendship.

“Seeing the sameness in each other. We need to be easier on ourselves and easier on this world we live in.” Damn, I wish I’d said that.

On Christmas Day I had the opportunity to photograph a wonderful Christmas meal at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland Oregon. The event is an annual one but I had never been able to attend. Photos of the event itself may appear in several other media. But, unlike the ones I’ve provided to the participating organizations, the photographs here are not for PR and Marketing purposes. These are something very different.

This is a project that will grow over time. For now, I want to end 2015 by paying tribute to the humanity and dignity of every Oregonian by presenting the first pieces of my new Photo Essay “Faces of Need”. I hope you enjoy these images and that they remind you that every human being is a unique and wonderful creation, worth of love, respect, dignity, shelter, sustenance, and compassion.

Ponder these faces and think.



Faces of Need: A Photo Essay

By: Steven Craig Bilow

Faces of Need - Portland (web)-2Faces of Need - Portland (web)-3Faces of Need - Portland (web)-19Faces of Need - Portland (web)-1Faces of Need - Portland (web)-14Faces of Need - Portland (web)-15Faces of Need - Portland (web)-6Faces of Need - Portland (web)-12Faces of Need - Portland (web)-21Faces of Need - Portland (web)-7Faces of Need - Portland (web)-8Faces of Need - Portland (web)-23Faces of Need - Portland (web)-18Faces of Need - Portland (web)-11Faces of Need - Portland (web)-24Faces of Need - Portland (web)-5Faces of Need - Portland (web)-17Faces of Need - Portland (web)-10Faces of Need - Portland (web)-9Faces of Need - Portland (web)-20Faces of Need - Portland (web)-4Faces of Need - Portland (web)-22Faces of Need - Portland (web)-16Faces of Need - Portland (web)-13

I write this Thanksgiving after several very difficult years in the death department. I’ve been reflecting on the unfairness of the universe and the tragedy of early death. Those thoughts give me no comfort so I think it’s also necessary to reflect upon friendship and the gratitude I feel for those friendships. Specifically, I mourn the 2013 loss of my father-in-law, Harrel Crabb; the greatest percussion teacher in the known universe, John Bergamo; my amazing friend and social justice mentor, Emily Gottfried; a man who seems to have been the guy who turned me on to almost everything that has profoundly influenced me, Dick Williams; and a friend who I wish I’d spent more time with over the last quarter century or so, John McClintic. This post is dedicated to these wonderful friends and others whose love and support I have cherished, including:

  • John Bergamo
  • Thelma Crabb
  • Harrel Crabb
  • Bob Crabb
  • Nick England
  • Pablo Esteve
  • Emily Gottfried
  • Andy Hamon
  • Karen Holmes
  • Art Jarvanin
  • John McClintic
  • Bruce McPherran
  • Rusty Mills
  • Lucky Mosko
  • Pandit Taranath Rao
  • Austin Sergeev
  • Dorothy Stone
  • John Waddell
  • Dick Williams
On Loss

When a 42-year-old man has a massive heart attack and leaves behind a beautiful family, a person who does more for her society than most of her friends combined dies in a hospital room, or a guy everyone loves shoots himself (sadly, the above list includes more than one of those), it is not only possible but inevitable to feel a deep sense of loss. I feel that loss every day and it sucks. But, that sense of loss just proves we have empathy and it reminds us of fragility. When I feel loss I recognize this fragility and I’m grateful to be reminded of just how precious it is.

On Memory

The fact that life is fragile makes it all the more important to keep memory alive. You’d think that after over 30 years people would be tired of hearing my stories of drinking beer in Nick England’s office with Morton Feldman and Mel Powell. Maybe they do, but I loved Mel and Morty so, too bad, I’ll keep those memories alive even if you are tired of hearing them. As will I keep alive the memories of Emily Gottfried and the “Save Darfur” rally, Taranath Rao and the Chevas Regal Tabla lessons, Lucky Mosko and the day he told me my flute piece showed the maturity of my music, Dick Williams and his daily happy hour, Pablo Esteve and our annual purchases of Anchor Steam Christmas Beer, and the golf clubs that John McClintic sold me without the 8 iron (because he’d slammed it against a tree) but with the shaft if I wanted it. We owe it to our friends to keep their memory alive. That’s why we Jews always say “May their memory be a blessing“. Remember.


Is it God’s will that at least 3 or 4 of my old friends have shot themselves? Is it God’s will that Pablo had a heart attack? Is it God’s will that Karen Holmes died in a horrific bicycle accident at Cycle Oregon while her husband looked on? I will not argue with anyone’s belief system. If yours differs from mine, frankly, I hope you are right. As for me, all I can say for myself is “bullshit”.  My God neither condones, nor brings about, nor embraces sorrow. Just my opinion.

Does the Universe Give a Shit?

So the real question to me is this: “Why do horrible people often live to ripe old ages while some of the greatest contributors die far too young and violently?”. This may not give as much comfort to people as to say things are “God’s will” and that we don’t understand “the divine plan”,  but when it comes to deaths like these, I don’t think it’s because of a divine plan, I don’t even believe it’s “karma”. I think that we live in a chaotic universe of ever-increasing entropy. Irrespective of religious beliefs, I basically think the universe doesn’t really give a shit. Horrible things happen but they are not necessarily any more explainable than to say that they are random events in a massively entropic universe. That’s it.

On Being Thankful for Friends

When you realize that life is precious and fragile, that “God” is not the cause of bad things, that the universe has no top-secret plan, and that memory is the most important thing after a life has ended, where does that leave you?

In my mind it leaves you with the ability to have any religious belief you want and any eschatological viewpoint that comforts you in thinking about death. But if you put those differing viewpoints aside, it also leaves you with some very clear common ground.

  1. Be thankful for your friends – respect then, cherish them, cultivate them.
  2. Remember that it is impossible to say “I love you” too much – Fragility and entropy combine in such a way that you never know what will happen or what irrevocable decision you might make. It sounds “campy” but I try my best to make saying “I love you” to my wife the last thing I do before walking out the door; any door . Say it to your family and say it to your friends because any nanosecond could be your last opportunity.
  3. Remember the good times and the bad times. Just remember. Don’t let the mirror of memory become clouded. You owe it to yourself and your friends to remember.
  4. Don’t take anyone for granted. You can’t set the clock back. “I was just thinking about him/her!” is not what you want to say when you find you’ve missed your chance.

I fully realize that this is not my record-setting “most upbeat” post. But it’s important to me to remind my friends, and family, and followers, that you don’t get second chances with life. So when you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, remember the great blessing you have in friendship. From my perspective, the thing I’m most thankful for is that true friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m not in the mood to linger in Sorrow today. But, I need to comment on a very sad, and to me almost inconceivable, loss.

My friend and colleague, Emily Gottfried, passed away yesterday. I’m not sure, but I think she was still in her 50’s. It is tragic for anyone this young to die. But when someone has lived their entire life with an ethical system based on making things better for others, it is especially horrific. I know of no one who has lived for the betterment of the world with greater commitment and dedication than Emily. She is, in the words used to describe Gandhi, a “mahatma” – a “great soul”. The world is less a compassionate, generous, joyful place without her.

Now, as a rationalist wannabe, I struggle deeply at times like these, and I want to share that struggle for a moment.

In Judaism, when someone dies, we say “Baruch dayan ha’emet”. Basically this means “Blessed be the true judge“. I get it. I understand it. Yet, it drives me crazy. You see, to me this phrase is not unlike what my Christian friends say when someone dies: “he’s in a better place”; or “she’s with Jesus now”; or “God needed him for a higher task”. “Baruch dayan ha’emet” really means something like “We have to praise God even for bad things” or “We don’t understand but God’s plan is just“.

We are actually taught in chapter 9, verse 2 of the Mishnah Berachot (where this blessing is first used) that this is a blessing that should be recited when we receive any bad news. Of course, death is the worst news so we most often see it in the case of someone’s passing. But, I have never been able to see things with faith like that. I can’t just accept the death of a pillar of the community who dies in their 50s. If that is what I had to accept to be Jewish, I could not do it.

Fortunately, in Judaism, it’s acceptable to question things; even to be angry with God. This is a good belief system for me. When I realize that I’ll never again stand with Emily Gottfried at an interfaith service; that I’ll never again stand against genocide or in solidarity with the need to remember the names of every single person murdered in the Shoah, with Emily as my partner; that I’ll never again listen to Emily Gottfried sing; I’m not just sad, I’m pissed. I’m angry because if anyone deserves to live to a dignified old age it is one who has devoted her life to the dignity of others. Simply put, it’s just not fair.

Like they say, “life is not fair”.  But not being fair is not the problem. I can deal with unfairness – it surrounds us in every aspect of our lives. One can justify unfairness in any belief system. All you need is randomness to have unfairness. You don’t need a Godhead for that. Unfairness basically fits into my worldview, I just need to live with it. But when you start to say that things are bad because some higher power has a plan that you just don’t get to see, that “God” let’s someone die so that He can use them up in “heaven”, that the “master of the universe” is always right and it’s cool that your friends die because they get to be in “a better place”, I just can’t accept it. Better for me is the belief that no explanation exists aside from the fact that we are fallible beings, with fallible minds, and fallible bodies; and sometimes things just happen. At least then I need not try to convince myself that their is some giant mind in space who is just playing games with us little mortals! Maybe bad things just happen and the story is no more profound than that. That’s my inclination, anyway.

Emily Gottfried was Director of the Oregon Chapter of the American Jewish Committee for 9 years and became Executive Director of the Oregon Area Jewish Committee when we became our own independently affiliated Oregon nonprofit. The OAJC website reminds us that Emily also chaired both the Inter-Religious Action Network and the Human Rights Council of Washington County. She was the Treasurer of the Coalition Against Hate Crimes, a participant in the Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger, a member of the board of the Vision Action Network of Washington County, a member of the City of Portland Human Rights Commission, and a member of the Oregon Food Bank Policy Advisory Committee. In short, if something in Oregon has to do with equality, justice, or insuring the dignity of every single human being, then Emily was not only involved but was a leader. I’m sure the world did a lot for Emily; but I often wonder if she didn’t do more for the world than it ever could do for her.

So right now I’m very sad about losing a friend and a colleague. I’m angry about what seems like a deep injustice in the universe. But life goes on. And, though I wanted to honestly tell you about the questions that go through my mind, I also know this:

The best way to honor the life of a woman who devoted that life to promoting human dignity is to rededicate ourselves to the work. So, in memory of Emily Georges Gottfried, I do just that: I commit to never-ending my quest to maximize liberty, equality, and the dignity of all humanity. I will always question the religious doctrine that says that what happened is “just”. But through that questioning, I hope to grow to be a better actualizer of Emily’s vision.