Archive | January, 2014

Stop The Race: The Great Danger In Creating Artificial Deadlines

27 Jan

Two years later, I’m a graduate of Georgetown University living with my parents and occupying a bedroom with a dinosaur blanket and the remains of my middle school Beanie Baby collection.

I am back to the routine I felt I had outgrown in high school, in a room I had outgrown even earlier…

I should feel stuck — that I’m regressing, or that I’m missing out on the experience of living in a big city on my own — but much to my surprise, I don’t. Indeed, there’s something comforting in my situation. I can experience the frustrations of young adulthood and the infancy of my professional life, and still come back to my dog’s unwavering affection and a home-cooked meal. So during the most jarring transition of my life — from student to graduate — it’s not bad having the stability my childhood home offers…

I know this situation is not and should not be permanent, but for now, it helps. I believe I will look back at this time fondly. I am sure that living at home will give me a greater opportunity for success in the future. At nighttime, after I turn out the lights and climb into bed, I have no problem sleeping soundly under my dinosaur blanket.”

 –Aodhan Beirne, “I Moved Back Home, and I’m Glad I Did”, The New York Times, November 6, 2012

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On November 2nd, 2010, I stopped by our local high school on my way home from work to vote in the midterm elections.  Linda Williams, the mother of one of Jeff’s good friends, Ryan, was working as a volunteer at the sign-in table.  We chatted as I waited, and she informed me that Ryan would be moving out of their house and into an apartment in Manhattan with several of his friends from Duke.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Ryan and wished him nothing but  the best, but the overwhelming feeling that came over me when I heard this, in light of Jeff’s fragile state was, “Oh no.  Not now.”

The issue was not that Jeff wasn’t part of the group moving into the city, as he was not in a position to make such a move at that time anyway.  Rather, the thing that scared me on the day that turned out to be exactly one week before his death was that I knew exactly how Jeff would interpret this news.  He had repeatedly made it clear during that fall, as the meds staked their claim on his mind, that he felt that all of his friends were moving on with their lives, on defined paths, and he was not.  In his view, he was being left behind. The thought of moving away from home was not feasible and it scared him too.

Jeff had fallen into what I believe is the most dangerous trap a young person can become prey to—he had created artificial deadlines in his mind for achieving certain milestones on the road to happiness, fulfillment and success.  And he further allowed himself to become a victim of self-imposed pressure to keep up with his friends.

Two of Jeff’s other friends, Elon Rubin and Jack Rossman, were in law school, and now Ryan was moving into the city.  Jeff took this to mean that he was not only being left behind but that he could never possibly catch up.  I was baffled that a 23 year old with his intellect could actually believe such nonsense, and I spent all my time that fall trying to disavow him of those ridiculous notions.

Music has a powerful impact on me, and I remember that the song that came on the radio as I made the short drive home after voting that night was Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.”

“I’d love to stick around, but I’m running behind…you know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find (running blind)…running into the sun, but I’m running behind.”

I know that, deep down, Jeff wanted to stick around and stay with us, but under the influence of anti-depressants, he had become convinced that that was not an option given that he was running behind.  But Jackson Browne had moved me to get out a sheet of paper, as soon as I got home on that November 2nd night, and to start drawing again.

I had tried this a few weeks earlier with “The Napkin”, and now it was time to try again with “The Road Map”.  I tried to illustrate for Jeff the fact that everyone has the achievement of happiness, stability and success as their goal for the future.  Figuring that a sports analogy would be the most effective way to reach him, I told him that that state of being was the end zone.  The crucial point, though, is that the path to get there is different for everyone and there is no right timeframe within which one must achieve these things.  It is different for each person. Furthermore, there is no universally accepted definition of success—that is also different for each of us.  On The Road Map, I tried in my own way to show how three different people might take very different routes to the same goal line.

The Road Map

The Road Map

Person A is a member of that minority group, representing maybe 5 to 10% of college kids, who know from the start of college exactly what they want to do and exactly the steps they will take to get there. Their paths are a straight shot to the end zone.  Good for them, but I would argue that the pressure they place upon themselves to walk that precise path under a specifically defined timeline is immense.  As we all know, some of the best laid plans go astray, and if these kids experience a misstep along the way, and if they don’t get that internship they were shooting for, or get into that ideal graduate school, or don’t get that perfect first job, then Person A is often left without a Plan B.  They are thrown off their perfect track and don’t necessarily know how to call an audible.

Person B is part of the much larger group of people who take a more circuitous path, but who ultimately find their way to the end zone.  Maybe their first jobs weren’t as interesting as they had hoped, and they decided to take a detour and explore another career alternative.  Or maybe they decided to go back to graduate school to see what they really like best and to give themselves an advantage in the job market over the longer term.  It may take Person B longer to get settled into a long-term job or career, but so what?  Once a person in this group gets there, he or she will have benefited from the exploration process and, as a result, might feel even more comfortable with his/her ultimate decisions.

Jeff, had he stayed with us, would have been Person C, part of another large group of people who endure significant setbacks either at the outset of their journey or somewhere down the road, and who are forced to regroup and find a completely different road to travel in order to put the ball over the goal line.

As depicted on The Road Map that I showed to Jeff, he had taken a step back by walking out on his job.  His next move should have been to hold his ground and weather the storm while he figured out what to do next.  Once he decided on his next step, he would have begun to push forward again.  There can be many more twists and turns along the way before Person C finds his or her happy place, but once he or she does, it is likely that this person will feel the greatest gratification and self-satisfaction of any member of either of the other two groups.  Person C will have endured and fought through life’s obstacles, and victory–as defined simply by contentment– tastes so sweet.

Jeff had options he could have explored, and he knew it.  He flirted with applying to law school, as he thought that going back to an academic world in which he had always excelled would potentially be a good way to regroup and regain his confidence.  And sure enough, he took the LSATs in October 2010 with a clouded mind under the grip of anti-depressants, and he still did really well.

 He could have gone back to journalism school and pursued his passion for writing.  Or he could have moved down to D.C. and pursued his passion for politics.

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But those meds robbed him of any drive or motivation to resume his fight.  Instead of gearing up for his next battle, he saw himself as being behind and not knowing how to catch up, and therein lies the grave danger in young people creating artificial deadlines for themselves.

Life has more than enough financial and societal pressures that are real, so we don’t need to create artificial ones.  As an example,  the issue of whether a college kid moves back home after graduation for two months, six months, two years or longer is irrelevant in the grand scheme of life, as long as that person realizes, as Aodhan Beirne—the author of the New York Times article—clearly does, that such a situation should not be permanent.

Jeff’s deep concern that– 18 months after graduating college– Ryan, Elon and Jack were no longer living at home, while he still was, was misguided.  Many of his other friends were in fact still living at home and continued to do so long after Jeff left us.  The Pew Research Center estimates that the average length of time that kids move home after college is well over two years and that the percentage of young people 18-31 living with their parents (36%) is the highest percentage in four decades.  And as Ronni Berke wrote in her October 1, 2013 article on cnn.com called “Brace yourself, Mom: We’re Back” (http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/01/living/parents-moving-home-millennials/):

“The Pew Center’s Kim Parker, who documented this phenomenon in her 2012 report “The Boomerang Generation,” said “there can’t be a stigma attached to something that’s become almost a norm with a certain age group.”

In short, there is no rush.  We and our kids should take whatever time is necessary to prepare together for their eventual independence.  As parents, we can use this time productively to teach them, help them save money, enjoy them, and do things with them while we still have so much time together.  And more than anything, we need to box out peer pressure the way Shaq used to box out the rest of the NBA’s big men.  We must lessen the pressure on our kids, not add to it.  Situational anxiety is rampant within the younger age groups, and our family has learned the hard way what that can lead to.  The beauty of youth is that you’ve got time to figure it all out.  Jeff should have understood that.  The pressure he felt was completely self-imposed.

The intense pressure that these kids are putting on themselves to “succeed” quickly, lest they fall behind their peers, is debilitating.  The consequences can range from suicide in Jeff’s extreme example, to living with severe anxiety and depression.  The enormous amount of student loan debt that many are saddled with makes the situation that much worse.  Many cases of depression have no apparent cause, but just as many are caused by specific events and situations, and they can be cured without medication by learning how to eliminate self-imposed pressure.  That is precisely what Daniel Zwillenberg, the behavioral therapist whose office Jeff tried to drive to on November 9th, 2010, would have tried to teach Jeff.

As parents and adult mentors, we can help by doing everything possible both to guide these young men and women but also to spread the mantra that they need to relax and remove artificial deadlines from their lives.  We must tell them to take the time to think about what pursuits will make them feel fulfilled, to follow those dreams, but most of all, to enjoy the journey and accept that there will be setbacks.

Heather Long wrote in her May 27, 2013 article entitled “When life doesn’t measure up” on theguardian.com (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/27/when-life-does-not-measure-up):

There’s one conversation topic that comes up almost daily in my life lately. I hear it from friends, acquaintances, random people on the subway. It goes something like this: “I feel like I haven’t achieved enough. I look around at my peers and feel so behind.”…

It’s harder to know what success looks like, but, as one friend put it bluntly recently:

‘I don’t just feel the pressure to succeed, I feel the pressure to be young and successful.’ “

This way of thinking needs to be eradicated.  Again, there is no universally correct deadline for success.  I’m all for having goals and planning for the future.  But way too many people actually live in the future, and by doing so, they sacrifice the present and the thrill of today’s journey.  As a consequence, before they know it, life will have passed them by without leaving any memories behind to savor.  They have no moments to look back on and cherish, because they didn’t really experience them at the time—they were only looking ahead.

Why did people start obsessing over whether Hilary would run for President in 2016 just days after Obama was re-elected in 2012, rather than focusing on what the current President needed to do right then to make our nation better?  Why did reporters immediately ask Lebron James after winning a championship in 2013 whether he will opt out of his contract after the 2014 season ends, instead of asking him to reflect on the great moment that had just occurred?

I believe that this way of thinking and behaving is a broad societal problem that, if not corrected, will continue to make peoples’ lives less fulfilling.  Life is a beautiful, painful, unpredictable journey that should be experienced every step of the way. As the band Survivor once sung, “It’s the thrill of the fight.”

I know that many of my peers vehemently disagree with my views and especially my opinion that we need to take pressure off of our college graduates and allow them to live at home for as long as is necessary and practical.  I hear many friends at work say that college kids should be “off the payroll” once they graduate and that allowing them to stay at home for any length of time fosters complacency and weakens their work ethic.  Many also believe that their kids should be leveraging their degrees to seek the highest paying careers, regardless of what their true passions might be.

I disagree.  Not only is it not feasible in most cases to take kids off the payroll right away given that the effects of the financial crisis persist, it is also potentially deleterious to their mental health to do so.  Jobs are still scarce, and a large percentage of recent college graduates remain unemployed or underemployed, as well as laden with debt.  And advising kids that wealth accumulation should be their highest priority at the expense of pursuing careers that they can be passionate about is not wise, in my view.  I think the chances of achieving happiness and financial success are greater when we do something we truly enjoy.

But of course I disagree with the people noted above.  After all, I am a man who has a son who jumped off a bridge because he believed that he had fallen behind his friends and peers and would never catch up.  He panicked over this thought and became frightened that he was actually regressing.  What a terrible, terrible tragedy this was.  I only wish Jeff had met or known Aodhan Beirne, the grounded and secure young graduate of Georgetown, who continues to sleep soundly in his childhood bedroom in Yonkers, New York.  Aodhan might have been able to talk some sense into him.

Today, eight months after Drew moved back home with us, I am reveling in this time with him.  I am watching him tirelessly follow his passions by working for three of the largest health and sports training facilities in our area.  Living at home has not made him complacent—in fact, his work ethic is stronger than that of almost anyone I know.

He is using this time to save money, and in Aodhan Beirne’s words, he can experience the infancy of his professional life and can still come home to the unwavering affection of our greyhound Dobi and to a home cooked meal made with love by Carey.  I am so incredibly proud of Drew, and my greatest enjoyment comes from kicking back on a weeknight with him and watching sports together.

Plenty of Drew’s friends are living in Chappaqua too, and seeing them together again has been wonderful.  I hope that Drew, like Beirne, looks back on this time fondly, because I sure will.  In fact, I will miss it dearly some day. His complete independence will come when the time is right, but there will be no rush.  There will be no artificial deadline.  And when Brett graduates in 2016, I’ll look forward to enjoying a similar time with him.  I remain a blessed man.

 Heather Long’s article, referenced earlier, was published on Memorial Day last year, and the way she closed it puts all of this in the clearest perspective.  Reflecting on Memorial Day, she wrote:

“War is real, even if we too easily forget it. Casualties are real. Missing limbs are real. Broken marriages and depression from battle are real.

It’s a sobering reminder to us all that a lot of families would give just about anything for one more day or one more week or one more year with a loved one. It makes these silly thoughts about not being at the “right place” in life by a certain age sound ridiculous.

It’s a reminder that sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning and walking out the door is an achievement in itself, one that we should be a lot more thankful for.”

She is right.  I would give anything for one more day or even one more hour with Jeff.  But I can’t have that because Jeff couldn’t handle the overwhelming pressure of his first job and then felt he wasn’t at the right place in life by a certain age.  In the context of Long’s wise words, such silly thoughts about running behind do seem pretty damn ridiculous.

And so I beseech our youth to stop the race.  Try to experience your journey, savor the human connections that you make en route, and live in the moment as you figure out how to make your way.  Whether you are Person A forging straight ahead, or Person B who takes a more winding road, or Person C who may take two steps forward and one step back, you all have a great shot at reaching your personal end zone eventually.  When you get there someday, remember to spike the ball hard, savor that moment, look back fondly on the trip, and work hard to maintain that state of being.

For now, though, the best thing you can do is just curl up under your own version of a dinosaur blanket at night and sleep soundly.

–Rich Klein

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Saturday In The Park

12 Jan

“Listen children, all is not lost.

All is not lost.

Oh, No, No…”

     -Chicago, “Saturday In The Park”, 1972

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Each week, I spend an hour or so of my Saturday morning walking our greyhound Dobi at Gedney Park.  Gedney is particularly beautiful during the winter when it is snow covered, and on the Saturday before Christmas, it was not only that but it was also sun-drenched on a rare 55 degree December day.   It was one of those gorgeous  mornings on which Gedney could be fully appreciated for everything it is and has represented to us since we moved to Northern Westchester 26 years ago—beauty, peace and tranquility, combined with children’s sports games during the fall and spring that create lasting memories for kids and their parents.

BEAUTIFUL GEDNEY PARK

BEAUTIFUL GEDNEY PARK

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DOBI PLAYING IN THE SNOW AT GEDNEY

DOBI PLAYING IN THE SNOW AT GEDNEY

I LOOK FORWARD TO MY WEEKLY WALKS WITH OUR GIRL

I LOOK FORWARD TO MY WEEKLY WALKS WITH OUR GIRL

It is a place where I feel I can really smell the roses, both literally and figuratively, even in the aftermath of unthinkable tragedy.  While walking in the wooded sections of the park, I think about what I have and what I’ve lost, as well as how much promise the future holds.  And I think to myself that if I had a dollar for every soccer and baseball game I’ve watched Jeff, Drew or Brett play in at Gedney, I could probably retire right now.

JEFF BEFORE A BIG SOCCER GAME AT GEDNEY

JEFF BEFORE A BIG SOCCER GAME AT GEDNEY

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As I look around the landascape here,  I think about how much Jeff loved growing up in Westchester.  While he certainly enjoyed going out in Manhattan over his last several years,  he always appreciated the atmoshere and beauty of the northern suburbs.

Jeff’s love of the country was paramount in his thinking about which colleges he wanted to pursue.  He had a clear vision of himself at a rural New England or upstate New York school with a beautiful campus, colorful scenery in the fall and tons of snow in the winter.  Not only was Jeff a great skier, but he also never lost that joyous childhood feeling of anticipating a big snow storm and a possible snow day off from school.

carey snow text

Jeff snow response to carey

From the beginning of his college search, Jeff set his sights on Colgate, the school at which Carey and I met as next door neighbors in our sophomore dorm.  If Jeff wanted a great academic institution with a drop-dead gorgeous campus and never-ending snow from October through April, Colgate was the place.

After visiting Georgetown, though, Jeff  began to think twice.  It was strong academically, it was in vibrant Washington D.C., and it had a close-knit alumni network that was known for taking care of its graduates when it came to job opportunities.  Carey and I also thought Georgetown would be a great choice for Jeff.  While he wrestled with the fact that the school just didn’t fit his vision of where he saw himself spending his college years,  he still decided to apply.

When the results came in and Jeff had been accepted at Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Colgate and others, while being wait-listed at Middlebury, the real decision-making process began.   Jeff was so torn between Colgate, where his heart was, and Georgetown, which he thought might be the more practical choice for his future, that he was still undecided just days before the May 1st non-refundable deposit was due at the chosen school.

On Friday April 29th, 2005, the day before the envelope containing our deposit check needed to be postmarked to reserve Jeff’s spot (there was not an online payment option back then), he came to us and said there was only one way to make this decision.  I have written about the uniqueness of Jeff many times, and this might be the clearest example of what I mean.

Jeff informed us that he was going to roll the dice.  Literally.  He had gone into our collection of board games, taken out a pair of dice, and his decision about which college to attend would be based on one roll of the dice.  Rolling an odd number would send him down to D.C. and an even number would send him skiing up to snow-covered Hamilton, New York.  Carey and I were incredulous, but it was clear that the kid was serious.  This, in a nutshell, was our Jeff.  Unique.  Outrageous. Impulsive.

Jeff agreed to let me watch this dice-rolling ceremony in his room.  Carey, absolutely bewildered that this was even happening, chose to pass.  I watched as Jeff took a deep breath, did his cross, and rolled the dice hard toward his clothes dresser.  After crashing against the dresser, the dice lay there with the answer, but I couldn’t look.  Jeff did.

“I’m going to Georgetown, Dad,” Jeff said in a voice that made my heart sink, as I knew instantly that he simply should have gone with his heart.  I told him that this was a silly way to choose a college, but Jeff insisted that he had done his cross before rolling, and this must be meant to be.  He asked me to get the $900 check ready to send to Georgetown the next morning.  I was heartsick now, yet after several more minutes of unsuccessfully trying to persuade him that this was the wrong way to make this decision, I did what he asked, and the check was sent.

I had to leave for a business trip to Dallas on Monday May 2nd, but within minutes after landing there, Jeff called me and bellowed, “HEY!  I just got a call from Middlebury!  I was at the top of the wait list, and I got in!”  He went on to tell me that Midd was the perfect compromise between Georgetown and Colgate and he was certain that’s where he wanted to go.  This was now clearly the one that was meant to be- we all remembered the gorgeous views of the Vermont Green Mountains, and there would certainly be snow galore.  They had their own ski hill, the Snow Bowl, within minutes of the campus, and lest I forgot, Jeff pointed out that the school was academically impeccable.

SnowBowlSign

LE CHATEAU- MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE

LE CHATEAU- MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE

MEAD MEMORIAL CHAPEL ON MIDD'S CAMPUS

MEAD MEMORIAL CHAPEL ON MIDD’S CAMPUS

As Jeff rambled on, I was distracted by visions of my $900 non-refundable check floating through the postal system toward D.C.  But Midd was the snowy New England school Jeff had always dreamed of.  His decision had been made, and I simply congratulated Jeff on becoming a Middlebury Panther.  Yes, I said to myself, this was meant to be.  After he took a few days to cement the decision in his mind, another check went out, this time to Middlebury.  I never saw Georgetown’s $900 again.  I called and asked their Admissions office for my money back, but they refused.  When they said non-refundable, they meant it.

The rest is history—a highly successful academic career culminating in Magna Cum Laude status;  reporter, columnist and sports editor for The Middlebury Campus newspaper;  great friends and KDR brothers;  plenty of skiing;  Wednesday night Beirut;  intramural basketball, softball and tennis; a raucous celebration on campus the night his candidate Barack Obama made history in a landslide; mentoring a young boy from a troubled home in Vergennes for four years; and a semester abroad at UCL in London where he would make incredible friends who would one day shave their heads and raise thousands of dollars for a crucial cause in his memory.

Jeff playing beer pong

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Jeff snow day text 3

Jeff Election Night with champagne

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And I remember parents’ weekend each fall, sitting in their football stadium overlooking the spectacularly beautiful scenery in and around Middlebury, including those legendary Green Mountains, and thinking that he had made such the right decision after all.

MIDDLEBURY'S YOUNGMAN FIELD

MIDDLEBURY’S YOUNGMAN FIELD

But in retrospect, was it really the right decision?  As painful as it is to write, with 20/20 hindsight, it probably wasn’t.  After graduating from Middlebury with a concentration in history and a minor in economics, Jeff either didn’t or couldn’t envision a clear path on which to travel to pursue any of his passions.  He became a job seeker rather than a passion follower, and that is how he ended up as a paralegal in a ruthless New York City law firm.

Had he spent four years at Georgetown surrounded by government and politics at every turn, and with the full force of Georgetown’s alumni network at his disposal, all kinds of outlets for Jeff’s passion for politics would have been staring him in the face.  The path would have been obvious.  In time, he easily would have found a government-related position that he could have gotten really fired up about, and who knows, maybe he would have found a way, through local connections he could have made, to land a position as part of Obama’s re-election campaign.

Staying in D.C. as a passion follower would have kept Jeff far away from what turned out to be the worst type of environment for him- the poisonous atmosphere of a cut-throat international law firm. It couldn’t have been more wrong for him than that place was.  If he had gone to Georgetown, he never would have ended up there, and I’m quite certain he’d be alive today.

I understand that it is a complete waste of my time and energy to ruminate over matters like this that are over and done with and are not subject to change.  But unfortunately, that is what bereaved parents do, and it is unavoidable.  I fight the urge to explore the “what ifs” but I usually lose the fight.

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The message of Chicago’s Saturday In The Park resonates loudly with me when I think of Jeff.  To me, the song is about people seeking balance, peace and beautiful moments, a break from life’s struggles, in a sanctuary where every day truly is like the Fourth of July.  In the song, people are living in the moment, smelling the roses, and enjoying life’s simple day-to-day joys.

“People talking, really smiling,
A man playing guitar,
Singing for us all.
Will you help him change the world?
Can you dig it (yes, I can),
And I’ve been waiting such a long time,
For today”

I sometimes think of the world as just a big park filled with people trying to find these small moments and these human connections that are the source of so much happiness and energy.  When you go to your own park, your own sanctuary, your gym, your church or temple, I think you tend to find that things aren’t as bad in your life as you may have thought, after all.  And while every day can’t, as the song claims, be the Fourth of July, we can at least try to approach each day with a passion that makes it feel that way.

“Funny days in the park,
And every day’s the fourth of July…

People reaching, people touching,
A real celebration,
Waiting for us all,
If we want it, really want it
Can you dig it? Yes, I can
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For the day”

For 8 months, Jeff endured the paralegal job by surrounding those grueling weekdays with weekends spent in Manhattan and elsewhere up and down the east coast with his best friends.  Those weekends were his Fourth of July days, as were the weeknights at home watching and blogging about the NBA and the MLB.  But in his ninth month on the job, the hours became too many and the pressure too great, and Jeff quit.  Ironically, it all went down a few weeks after what would be his last and greatest July 4th, spent with many of his closest friends in Newport, Rhode Island.

jeff lobster dinner 2

Had he just accepted that life was tough and that the way to handle that reality was to go to his personal park and continue seeking out and mixing in those amazing moments with friends, life would have been just fine for Jeff. And the real tragedy is that, before the meds decimated his mind, he fully understood the therapeutic effect of achieving a work/life balance.  In his Notes From The Desk column in The Middlebury Campus from April 30th, 2009, the full text of which I previously published on July 31, 2011 ( https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/jeffs-parting-words-to-the-middlebury-community/, Jeff wrote,

While I can completely understand the argument that furthering our education is a central reason as to why we are all here, I also know that so many other factors exist that contribute to a healthy, successful lifestyle that stretch beyond academia. Believe it or not, relaxing can be extremely productive, in so far as it reduces stress and gets you into a positive state of mind. Yes, it is definitely important to get that 15-page political philosophy paper done, but don’t discount the benefit of kicking back and watching a ballgame with a few friends.

So what exactly am I trying to say?… I guess if I were to identify the central idea that I’m trying to impart, it’s to keep everything in perspective and recognize that life is multidimensional.”

Jeff notes from the desk full

Jeff notes from the desk ending

Clearly, on April 30th, 2009, Jeff had the healthiest outlook on life that I could ever have wished my son to possess.  A little over 14 months later, misprescribed medication took it all away from him, and he lost sight of the park. He never found it again.

The song’s most important message, though, is that all is not lost.  It’s never all lost.  Sadly, increasing numbers of people in the U.S. are not absorbing that message.   This country’s suicide rate increased 16% from 2000 to 2010, and this plague has hit all age groups.  We have got to do everything we can to stop it–by building barriers on bridges to prevent people from jumping, by making guns harder to get, by raising awareness through talking about this issue openly with our friends and family, and by educating people about the extreme risks associated with taking anti-depressants.  There is always hope.  All is not lost, no matter how bad things may seem.

Next Saturday, I’ll be driving back to Gedney Park with Dobi while listening to “Let It Be” on the way.  Once there, I’ll watch her play and prance with the other dogs while she alternately smells the grass and the trees, and having been mistreated on the racetracks of Florida before we rescued her, she probably really smells the roses too.  I will follow her lead and take my weekly opportunity to smell the roses in my life, and there are many.  But even now, over three years from when we lost Jeff, I still can’t believe or accept that he is not here to smell them with us.  This park, like Middlebury’s campus, was the environment that he loved and cherished.  And if not for toxic cocktails of medication, he’d still be here– visiting us periodically on weekends, joining me on walks with Dobi, and reminiscing about all the glory days he had on the fields of the park that, in the cruelest irony, has become a healing ground for me in the aftermath of his death.

–Rich Klein