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President's Message
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March went out like a lion

Awakin' up the water in the bay;

Then April cried and stepped aside,

And along came pretty little May!

May was full of promises

But she didn't keep 'em quickly enough for some

And the crowd of doubtin' Thomases

Was predictin' that the summer'd never come

 

But you can see it in the trees

You can smell it in the breeze

Look around! Look around! Look around!

 

June is bustin' out all over!

— Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”

            Yup, Summer’s almost here.  Time for the beach. Watch the waves. Read. Rest. Relax. Reflect. Re-charge. De-stress. These are necessities if we are to continue to function at our usual high level. The change of seasons affects our mood and our energy.  I know I always seem to get extra energy once spring and summer come.

            It’s just one example of how change in our lives affects us. Change can be as predictable as the seasons, or as sudden as an injury.  Our lives are filled with change, and change often brings decisions to make. Sometimes the decisions are made for us: We’re delayed in traffic and miss our flight. That flight has a mishap; we are spared. Sometimes we have a choice to make: an opportunity arises. Do we take it? ...or not.  Every choice has consequences. Our lives are shaped by our choices and by decisions made by others that affect us. Even a seemingly small change can cause huge differences in our futures (the Butterfly Effect).

            I was born in New York City, and spent my first 6 years in “the projects”, high rise apartments in a sketchy part of the Bronx. On June 7, 1957 our family moved to dad’s Dream House, built on a concrete slab in what had been a cow pasture outside Princeton, NJ.  We were the 7th family to move into the development, a poor man’s Levittown. The streets weren’t even paved yet, but we were welcomed by the milkman with free chocolate milk, and it wasn’t The City, where my dad had grown up. Thanks to Dad’s dreams, I grew up in a rural-ish part of New Jersey. My high school was small: 800 students, grades 7-12. I was one of 157 students in my graduating class. We had a chicken farm across the street, most noticeable in the spring for aromatic reasons. We had bonfires on Friday nights before the big football game, and spelling bees at the farmer’s Grange Hall (where I learned that “flimsy” does not have an “e” in it.) “Vietnam” and “marijuana” were unfamiliar words. As our school’s mascot, a Viking, I cheered on our basketball team to the State Championship my senior year. I went to Boys State and our Proms, acted in the school plays, sang in the choir, was a class officer, and was voted “Most Likely to become Bar President” (not really). 

            How different my life might have been if my family had stayed in the projects.  I may not have even gone to college, let alone law school.  So, are we buffeted by the winds of chance, or is “...the fault, dear Brutus, ...not in our stars, but in ourselves”?

            Change is often the result of chance, the random occurrences surrounding us.  Darwin’s Theory of Evolution takes note of this. Nature is highly complex and unpredictable, which is the basis of Chaos Theory, teaching us that the universe tends to move towards disorder. Forrest Gump’s mom was right: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” Although we try hard to make sense of the world, we often underestimate the role of chance in our lives. It is random and affects all of us. For all of our emphasis on personal control and making rational informed decisions, often our choices and decisions are altered by serendipity. No matter how much we want to control our environment, we are still subject to the vagaries of chance: illness, car crashes, lightning strikes, and the ravages of time.  We have much less control over our destiny than we choose to believe.  Life is not all that predictable, and sometimes disaster hits. "Why me?" we ask.  Not that it helps, but Rabbi Harold Kushner says, “bad things happen to good people”.

            When confronted with bad luck (or good luck for that matter), we ask "What do I do now?"  How long we take to answer is up to us. Although counterintuitive, we can plan for the unexpected. If we are prepared, we’ll be able to deal more effectively with the chance effects of life. Chance events present both unexpected threats and opportunities. If we spend some time developing our awareness, we can be ready to take advantage of all opportunities that chance provides. Developing skills of improvisation and resiliency help us regroup and carry on in the face of unexpected setbacks, and help minimize the risks associated with life’s uncertainty.

            What we do with our lives lays the groundwork for the good opportunities we encounter, and the not-so-pleasant things that happen in our lives. By working each day to become the person we want to be, or as the saying goes, the person our dog thinks we are, we are prepared to recognize the opportunities chance throws in our way, and to take them if we wish. How?  By being mindful, getting rest, doing things that fulfill us, exercising, de-stressing, etc. Staying in the moment. Life’s a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on what we can control, like continuing our education, cultivating habits that energize us and give us good health (and avoiding those that do not), learning, figuring out how the world works, managing our time, knowing what to hold onto and what to give up, strengthening our relationships through time and effort.  These prepare us for the unwanted events we all face.

            We will all face losses in our lives. If we are lucky, there will be some predictability to the process. We will outlive our parents and our children will outlive us. Our bodies and minds will stay sound until near the end. Nothing catastrophic will happen to us or our loved ones before its time. We can hope for these things, but always with the knowledge that we don’t have a lot of control over this. So, prepare for the unexpected. Simply acknowledging the role of chance helps us understand the limits of our power, and helps us deal with the unexpected.    

            The ultimate change is death. Don’t plan to die? Bad news: humans have a 100% mortality rate, yet only 30% of us make end-of-life plans (wills or trusts, advance medical directives, pre-need funeral planning), leaving 70% of us unprepared and devastated, not if, but when, death occurs.  Woody Allen summarized the thoughts of that 70%: “Death doesn’t bother me.  I’m not afraid of it. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  As you plan for your life, plan for your end-of-life: your dying, your death, your funeral.  If you don’t, your loved ones will have to at a time when they are ill-prepared to cope.  As Gail Rubin, a nationally known end-of-life planning expert says “Talking about sex doesn’t make you pregnant, and talking about death doesn’t make you die.”

 “My head is bloody, but unbowed....the menace of the years finds, and shall find, me unafraid....I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

Steve Bienstock