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And the pursuit of

May 19, 2017

YMCA ANNUAL MEETING SPEECH > MAY 18, 2017

For those of you who know me, you may have expected my pursuit to be some epic adventure, some ridiculous run, some insane endurance challenge…

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

My pursuit is, and has been for as long as I can remember –  the pursuit of me.

Now, before you write this off as some narcissistic, selfish endeavor, wait. I guarantee you, this is the toughest pursuit of all, the toughest I’ve ever faced, anyway.

You see, the pursuit of me means finding and living and being the very best, most authentic version of myself I can be every single day.

And wrapped up in this pursuit of me is the pursuit of being the best father I can be to my kids, the best husband I can be to my wife, the best leader I can be to my team, the best friend I can be to my friends, the best son I can be to my parents, the best brother I can be to my sisters, the best example I can be to my community – it goes on and on and on – and as I said, it is the toughest challenge I’ve ever taken on.

The pursuit of me all started with a pair of basketball shoes.

A pair of white high-top nike basketball shoes that my wife, Steph, bought me 19 years ago when the weight of a stressful job and being a new dad and paying our first mortgage and trying to find my way in a new community w as taking its toll on me. Steph could see on my face that I was losing something – me.

And so she bought me that pair of basketball shoes.

And that led to a membership at the Y

And that led to lunchtime basketball a few days a week with a bunch of guys who also had kids and stressful jobs and mortgages, and who made me feel less alone and more like – me.

And that led to signing our oldest son Jacob up for youth basketball and my becoming the coach for a bunch of 5-year-olds who didn’t care so much about winning (or even basketball for that matter), and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me meeting a couple of dads who, like me, were interested in triathlon and who convinced me that it was possible to fulfill my dream of running an Ironman (which we did, me and my Ironbros!), and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me working with a bunch of other moms and dads who, in addition to being moms and dads, were also triathletes like me, and together we started the YMCA Minimaniacs triathlon, which gave 250 kids a chance to experience the sport that I had grown to love, and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to Steph and me getting Jacob and our other two kids, Sophie and Joseph, involved in swimming and basketball and soccer and volleyball at the Y, where I learned that some kids like having their dad as coach and some don’t (and that’s okay), and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led me to keep on training and ultimately finishing two more Ironman races, a bunch of ultramarathons, a humbling run across the grand canyon, an epic run in the blue ridge mountains and a glorious run across the state of Florida this past December that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me getting more involved as a volunteer and a partner to the Y and introducing other people to the cause and mission of the Y and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me knowing exactly where I needed to go last year when my uncle suffered a stroke, and my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and I felt frustrated and powerless and needed to work off those feelings in a place that gave me a sense of hope and peace and that made me feel (a little) more like – me.

And that led to us sending our oldest son to college last year (Go Noles!), a little scared and a little nervous but mostly confident because we raised him the best we could and made sure he was surrounded by good role models and grounded in good values, and that made me feel more more like – me.

And that led me to this place and this night and for the first time thanking Steph for buying me those basketball shoes … and for the very first time writing on a piece of paper that others can see that my name is Mark Freid, and I am in pursuit of – me.

They Say Life Is A Roller Coaster

April 27, 2017

(Transcript of speech delivered at Holocaust Center Dinner of Tribute on April 19, 2017)

 

They say life is a roller coaster.

It’s not.

A roller coaster implies that sometimes we’re up here, and everything is wonderful. We’re happy. Successful. Feeling fulfilled. Our family and friends are doing well.

And then, according to this roller coaster analogy, sometimes we’re down here. Things are hard.

Maybe we’re depressed. Struggling. Perhaps there’s been a tragedy in our lives. A health or financial problem. A problem at work. A family problem.

But life is not a roller coaster. Life is not up or down.But up and down. The good and not so good…at the same time.

2016 was a monumental year for Steph and me. Our oldest son, Jacob, graduated from high school and started college. Our daughter, Sophie, got her driver’s license. And a job! Our youngest, Joseph, became a bar mitzvah. By any measure, that’s a pretty good year.

But despite all the simchas, all the awesomeness, we had some friends who were struggling, some people we were close to who passed away, some family members who had serious health problems, and these things weighed on us every day.

But life is not a roller coaster. Life is not up or down.But up and down. The good and not so good…at the same time.

Over the last year, I have met some of the most incredible people. Young leaders who are passionate and dedicated, using their boundless energy and enviable talents to create a better world. These young people are amazingly, tirelessly committed to the environment, to women’s rights, to the fight for equality. They’re confronting and making progress on tough issues like gun control and homelessness. It’s in their marrow to stand up and speak out, to wake up every single day and fight…for what’s right.

At the same time, over this past year, I have woken up nearly every day to the other reality.

Stories of despicable acts, many terrifyingly close to home – Pulse, the Plaza, bomb threats at the Jewish Community Center, racist propaganda plastered on the walls of UCF, the desecration of cemeteries and sacred buildings,swastikas placed on the door steps of dear friends and drawn on the hands of school children right here in Central Florida.

But life is not a roller coaster. Life is not up or down.But up and down. The good and not so good…at the same time.

When we think of the Holocaust, we think of the six million, the pogroms, the forced marches, families torn apart and forced to face the most unimaginable horrors. We think of the implementation of laws that made it legal, LEGAL to marginalize and persecute Jews,

homosexuals, Romas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the handicapped…all in an effort to purify the Aryan race and crystallize the authority of the party in power.

But at the Holocaust Center, we remind people of the heroes, the UpStanders, the righteous gentiles, the Albanian Muslims, the Danish diplomats, the Franciscan priest who hid thousands of Jewish refugees, the ordinary mothers and fathers who risked their own lives and the lives of their families because they knew the right thing to do … and did it.

It was over three decades ago that Orlando’s Holocaust Center was founded. And over those years, we have made great progress and done incredible things. We have changed minds and lives. We have welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to our Center. Our survivor programs are standing room only. We see 20,000 middle and high school students each year. We take groups to Poland and the Czech Republic to see first hand and with their own eyes what unbridled hate leads to so that they will stand up, speak out and ensure that such cruelty never, ever happens again.

Which makes me wonder why, after all these years and all this effort, are we’re still fighting these same battles, teaching these same lessons and defending these same ideas.

I wonder why today, every day, we still read about almost the same acts of hate, of intolerance, of disrespect.

So what can we do? We keep working and keep believing that if we stand up and speak out, eventually, perhaps more slowly than we’d like, the world will change, the world will be more good than bad, more respect than disrespect, more love than hate.

Mayor Dyer knows this. That’s why we’re honoring him tonight. Our mayor is a role model who has proven that when we stand up and speak out, we all benefit, and we all thrive.

But the trick is … the trick is we can’t just be outraged when we are the ones who are threatened. We can’t just rally when the injustices are levied against our people. We can’t just take action when the threats are against our group. We can’t just stand up and speak out when it’s the people who look like us or pray like us or love like us that are under attack.

We must stand up and speak out for each other even when it’s hard, even when it’s scary, even when it seems like we are the only ones standing up or speaking out.

This sentiment was expressed by Martin Niemuller in 1946 when he wrote the following words:

 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out  — Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

These may seem like hard times. The voices of the intolerant and the hateful seem very loud.

But there are other voices – voices of reason, of conscience, of love – voices like those of many in this room, like that of our Mayor…

And they will be heard.

And they will prevail.

Our Best Take A Different Path To Change

July 5, 2016

Monday is the Fourth of July, time to eat hot dogs, sing “God Bless America” and shout hateful epithets at the other party’s presidential candidate, or wonder aloud (very loudly) why none is qualified to lead this great nation. “In the old days,” we scream between bites of apple pie, “our best aspired to the Oval Office!” Perhaps. But the best I know, while committed to making a profound impact, rarely consider the meat grinder of politics. Ben Hoyer is a charismatic leader shaping our community through coffee shops and social activism. Julie Columbino is tackling Third-World poverty by making and selling sandals. Our presidential candidates? They’re courting special interests in order to … have their vision thwarted by a partisan Congress. Um, thanks but no thanks.

Fear Creeps In

July 5, 2016

Last week’s bombings at the Istanbul Airport are easy to gloss over. Here in Orlando, we’re still reeling from our own home-town tragedy, after all. And Istanbul is, geographically and culturally, a world away. But not for me. I spent 10 mind-blowing days on a business/cultural excursion to Turkey in 2013, flying in and out of that very airport multiple times. During my trip, and upon my return home, I remarked to friends how safe I felt. Everywhere. But for how long? When I look at “that” list, I’m now struck by how many cities I’m connected to — Paris, Boston, Charleston, New York, Lafayette, Istanbul and, of course Orlando. We can’t cower to terrorists. But I do wonder, how long before the fear starts to creep in.

Be A Warrior. A Joyful Warrior.

April 24, 2016

Earlier this year, before we knew that the Golden State Warriors were going to set the NBA record for most wins in a season, they just seemed different than the other teams in the league. And not just because no other team could beat them. Unlike most teams that spend the first few weeks and months of the season stumbling along, figuring out their chemistry, experimenting with line-ups and strategies, the Warriors came out of the gate playing at an entirely different level than everyone else. They were smooth, relaxed, confident, and in each game, whether they had a big lead or small, they simply never seemed worried. Moreover, unlike most teams, they looked like they were having fun. Yes, fun. You could see it on their faces. Not only of the players, but the coaches, too. And the fans, also. There was something different in the air during a Warriors game. No screaming coaches, no panicked players, no drama. This team was actually enjoying playing the game.

On the day when the Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, won a record-setting 16th straight game, coach Steve Kerr, who, at the time, was actually taking time off due to recent surgery, addressed his team and reminded them of their “four core principles.” What were those principles? Shooting, passing, rebounding and defense? Nope. At the beginning of the season in which the pressure was on for the Warriors to defend their championship and prove to the world that it was no fluke that this undersized team was the best in the league, Kerr defined their core principles as joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition.

Let those four words sink in: Joy. Mindfulness. Compassion. Competition.

Now, think about the core principles of your organization. Think about what your bosses harp on or what typical business leaders preach to their teams – things like profitability, productivity, prospect pipelines…you get the picture. Perhaps we should take a lesson from the best basketball team in the world. Maybe we should elevate the conversation with our teams, too. What would happen in your organization if you asked them to focus this week on compassion? Or mindfulness? Or joy? At the very least, you will get their attention and get them thinking. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll become the best team in your league.

The Hope

April 9, 2016

(This was a speech delivered at the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center Dinner of Tribute on April 7, 2016)

 

Just a few minutes ago, Dana Kaplan sang a beautiful rendition of the song HaTikvah, the national anthem of Israel. Hatikvah, as many of you know, is the Hebrew word for “The Hope,” and the words to this song come from a poem written by the Jewish-Ukranian poet, Naftali Herz Imber,

And you should know that this song, Ha TikVah, The Hope – long before it became the Israeli National anthem, before Israel became the Jewish state – this very song was sung by Czech Jews in 1944 as they were being marched into the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber. And while singing this song, HaTikvah, they were beaten by SS guards.

Think about that for a moment. HaTikvah. The Hope.

I bring this up because I want to talk briefly about the future, not just the future of the Holocaust Center, but the future of our community, and if I may be so bold, the future of our world.

And it is impossible, for me anyway, to talk about the future that I envision, without having the word “hope” planted firmly in our minds.

When I talk about the future, I can’t help but think about my kids – Jacob and Sophie and Joseph – who are right at that point in their lives where they are about to step out into the world, and Steph and I are going to find out whether the things we have been teaching them, the things they have learned from their grandparents and teachers and rabbi, whether what we’ve instilled in them is enough to prepare them to be successful, and safe, and secure out there in the world.

And this is a valid concern because, while I think we’ve done a pretty good job, the world, our world, is not always a kind place. And so we worry. What are they going to find out there? Is it going to be a world of hope? Is it going to be a world of love and respect? A world that accepts them fully for who they are, reinforces their values, and supports the idea that everyone, every single person, deserves to be treated fairly and with respect regardless of whether they look and think and believe exactly the way someone says they should?

Are they stepping out into a world where they not only feel comfortable being exactly who they are but also feel comfortable standing up for others, recognizing when people are being wronged, and confident enough to speak out when they know power is being misused and people are being mistreated?

But I do feel hopeful. I have hope because I see the sense of goodness and righteousness that my children and their friends have not only in their hearts, but also in their actions.

But I worry, too.

I worry that my children, and yours, are the exception and not the norm. Because I am not so naive to be blind to the hate and the fear and the cowardice that are also so prevalent in our world today.

One of the reasons I am hopeful is because of the impact that the Holocaust Center has every day – this 30-year old institution that was started by Tess Wise to use the lessons of the Holocaust to end the world of anti-Semitism, of prejudice, of bigotry, of hate.

That’s the third time tonight that I have referenced Tess’ mission for the Holocaust Center, and I have done so purposely, because I believe this is something people perhaps misunderstand about us.

While we are an organization rooted in the historic and horrific events of more than 70 years ago, our focus is not on the past. Yes, we are committed to remembering and honoring the lives of the victims, survivors and heroes of the Holocaust, but our focus is squarely on today. And tomorrow.

You know, I wish you all could come to our board meetings and take part in the conversations we have there. Of course, in our current building,

we couldn’t quite hold all of you. But if we could, if you could be there, what you would hear are some of our community’s most insightful, thoughtful, passionate and compassionate leaders asking one another, “What have we learned?” “How have we changed?”

And most importantly, “What can we do?”

What can we do to improve our community and our world?

Or perhaps more urgently, what must we do?

What must we do to make sure that the hate, the prejudice, the bigotry and the fear that was allowed to fester during the 1930s and 1940s is not allowed to happen again. Not today. Not ever.

What must we do to ensure that our children and our children’s children live in a different world? A safer and more accepting world. A world where we don’t have to hide who we are, where we feel safe in our skin and feel completely, completely safe sitting in an outdoor cafe or attending a concert in Prague or Paris or Brussels or Poland. Or right here in Orlando.

What must we do?

This is not a rhetorical question. This is not a passive question. I am asking you today, as I ask myself every day, seeking an answer.

What must we do?

Well, let me tell you what I’ve come up with. We must start talking with one another at not at one another. We must focus more on the big things we share, like our love for our children, rather than the  superficial things that make us different.

We must stop making excuses, making allowances, or offering hollow explanations for the rhetoric that spews from our politicians’ mouths as they encourage us to be afraid of each other, or convince us that some of us are better than others, or imply that some of us deserve less than others. Or say that some are welcome. And others are not.

We must speak out and speak up. We must not tell our children, “Just ignore it, no one will listen to him.”

We must not say, “That’s just the way the world is.”

We must not say it is okay on any level or at any time or for any reason. Fear and hate, prejudice and bigotry are not okay,

Marginalizing and belittling human beings for where they come from, what they look like, who they pray to, or who they love is never okay.

What must we do?

At the Holocaust Center, we face this same question as an organization. We have done so much good. We have had such a huge impact. For 30 years, we have worked to fulfill Tess’ remarkable vision and mission.

We have taught and educated and honored and remembered and reflected. And I know that our community is so much better because of the work that we have done.

30 years, hundreds of teachers who have a deep understanding of the Holocaust because they have heard Helen Greenspun tell her heart-wrenching story of being carted off to five different camps – and at each one believing that it was the end.

Tens of thousands of visitors who know the story of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when every Jewish business was destroyed, and every Jewish dream was crushed – in one single night.

30 years and an infinite number of programs and partnerships and people changed – and It could be enough. Perhaps you think it is enough. But I don’t. I don’t because I can’t. I don’t have that luxury as long as I am concerned about the kind of world Steph and I are sending our kids out into.

I cannot live my life thinking that the status quo is okay, or we’re too small, or that we’ve done enough and why try, why take the chance. Why risk what we already have.

And so, when you hear us talk about our vision to build a new Holocaust Center in the heart of downtown Orlando, this is why. Because even though we’ve achieved so incredibly much, we cannot in good conscience rest on our laurels.

When we talk about building an architecturally significant building in a place that is visible and accessible to infinitely more people, this is why. Because even though we now educate 20,000 students a year, we cannot be content.

And when we talk about building a Center that makes a bold and powerful statement about Orlando being a community of respect and acceptance, this is why. Because we cannot say the world is what it is and why waste our time trying to change it.

The community needs us to do what we’re doing, and in fact, needs us to do more.

The community needs us to build a Center that allows us to expand our programming, to share our story and our values with more students, more tourists and more local residents, to expand our reach and our impact and fulfill our potential –  all the while staying committed 100% to the mission that our visionary founder, Tess Wise, articulated so clearly more than three decades ago.

It is up to us to ensure that the world my children, Jacob and Sophie and Joseph, and your children and grandchildren encounter, is one that we can all be proud of. Because that is The Hope.

HaTikvah.

WE ARE OUR STORIES

October 28, 2015

A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Burlington, Vermont. It was one of those perfect long weekends. We were there in November, and winter was running late, so the weather was ideal. It was cold and clear, but not unbearable, and we would watch the sun set over Lake Champlain, bundled in our scarves and sipping hot chocolate.

We went to a market where we met a woman who made hand-knit wool caps from yarn that came from sheep that grazed in a pasture just three and a half miles from the market itself, and in fact, she was the third generation of women in her family to make these caps.

At that same market, we met a guy who made honey that came from a local breed of bees that harvested pollen from some native flower that I now forget the name of, but this honey was the color of amber and tasted like butterscotch.

We had dinner at this tiny little restaurant in an old farmhouse where we ate the best salad ever. Yes, salad! The lettuce was crisp and fresh and tasted like it had been picked that very day.

And every single person we met was so … incredibly … kind. I remember how much they smiled and how much they asked us questions. They were curious about us and excited to share stories about themselves and their town, and they made us feel so welcome.

We came back from that trip and told everyone about Burlington … people got bored hearing our incessant stories about “perfect Burlington.”

But that trip was so special that here I am still sharing my stories five years later.

Our stories – that’s what we brought back from our trip to Burlington. Not wool caps and honey, but stories.

When we hear stories and create stories and tell stories, we are crafting and sharing the brand of a place, spreading awareness and interest far and wide.

There was nothing we experienced in Burlington that we don’t have right here in Winter Park. Literally. Incredible farmers market? Check. Spectacular weather? Check. Local history? Check. Sunset over the lake? Oh yeah!

But something happens when we travel away from home … we open our eyes and turn off the cynicism that normally shades our view, and we welcome into our brains and our souls all those things that make a place special.

And maybe that’s the point of my being here tonight … because I want to invite you to change the way you see and talk about this incredible town that we all have the great fortune of living in.

And perhaps to think differently, too.

To get us started, I want to ask you to do something. Over the next few minutes, I want you to turn to someone near you who you didn’t come with and I want you to tell that person your origin story, in other words, the story of how you came to Winter Park. That should take about 90 seconds … And then, let your partner tell his or her story

Now, tell me, who thinks their partner told a great story? And, did anyone have the exact same story as the person you shared with?

As I ask people to share these stories, what I find is that almost all of them are both personal and positive. We all wound up here for vastly different reasons. Many of the people I know in Winter Park go back multiple generations … and many others chose this place and are the first to make a home here, but almost everyone feels a deep emotional connection to this place.

What’s interesting, though, unless I prompt you to tell me a story about why you came here or why you love it here, what I hear mostly are … well … complaints.

We complain about traffic. We complain about parking. We complain about our brick streets…and we LOVE our brick streets. We complain about the restaurants that are here and those that aren’t. We complain about how the Christmas parade isn’t what it used to be. We complain about the weather. We complain about how crowded the park is. We complain about how expensive the frozen lemonade at the art festival is… now that I think is worth complaining about … is there someone here who can do something about that? But frozen lemonade notwithstanding, there is a very real reason that we complain even about things we love … we’re actually hard wired to do so.

We are genetically predisposed to find and focus on danger and threats … which today translates into noticing and complaining about just about everything. But we also complain because we know that negativity makes for better storytelling. Come on, 5 more minutes of me telling you how wonderful Burlington, Vermont is would feel like an eternity … but let me engage you in a debate about how annoying it is that I can’t turn left out of the Einstein’s parking lot, and we will trade stories for an hour at least.

But, I want to invite you today to think differently about what we see and what we say when we talk about Winter Park.

And the reasons I want you to talk differently about this great city is because people are listening.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, I don’t work for the mayor or the city council or the chamber of commerce, and I think it is absolutely critical that we continue to work together to evaluate the problems, address the important issues and plan for the future of our great city.

But I want to make sure that we don’t spend so much time focusing on what’s wrong … that we fail to spread stories about what’s right. For one, I want people who visit here or are thinking about visiting here to know that we don’t take this place for granted.

And two, because my children are paying attention … and I want them to hear more than just the negative. Because despite what they see around them, if all they hear is the complaining and bickering and negativity, they will soon believe that that is what Winter Park is all about. And I want them to grow up thinking and believing that they live in one of the most special cities in the country … because after they have gone away to college and done some exploring of their own, Steph and I desperately want them to come back here … to take care of us in our old age.

Now, to get us thinking differently about the stories we tell about Winter Park, let’s start thinking about how we want people to feel when they’re here … and, in fact, how WE want to feel living here.

Using what they call a Positive Experience Index, the Gallup organization seeks to find the happiest places to live in the world. This Positive Experience Index distills it down to just a few extraordinarily simple questions … and maybe these are the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves, as we seek to attract people to live here, to start and grow businesses here and to develop the kind of place that we love living in today and want our children to return to when they become adults.

So, here they are.

  1. Did you smile or laugh today?
  2. Were you treated with respect today?
  3. Did you feel well-rested today?
  4. Did you do or learn something interesting today?

That’s it. Those are the main questions in Gallup’s Positive Experience Index.

And these are a lot different than the questions we normally ask….like, how in the world did the mayor give “them” permission to build “that” house on “that” street?

Or, do you know how long it took me to find a parking space in front of Palmanos this morning?

You see, maybe the questions we should be asking when it comes to the quality of LIFE that we’re cultivating … or the kind of town we want to build a LIFE in should actually be about … our LIFE.

So…

Did you laugh today?

Were you treated with respect today?

Did you feel well-rested today?

Did you do or learn something interesting today?

And just so you know, America ranks 24th in the world in this poll, tied with Taiwan, the Dominican Republic and Iceland … and to put it into perspective, we are three points behind Venezuela, el Salvador and the Philippines.

So, any guesses what country had the highest positive experience index the last time Gallup took this poll?

The answer – Paraguay!. Not what you would have thought, right?

What this tells us is simply that it’s more about the relationships we form, the way we treat one another and the way we approach life that makes a great community. By no means am I saying that our beautiful oak trees and lakes and historic homes and the walkability of Winter Park and our brick streets are unimportant. I’m simply saying that we need to pay equal attention to the way we interact … and, we need to spend more time appreciating what we have.

I’ll leave you with a simple story.

Many years ago, a young boy was seeking the secret of life and was told to visit a wise emperor.

For days and weeks, the boy hiked across scorching hot desserts and tall treacherous mountains and at last arrived at the emperor’s palace. The boy was greeted at the doors by the emperor who welcomed him to the palace and explained that he had some business to finish up and would be ready to see him shortly. In the meantime, he asked the boy to fetch a teaspoon full of oil from the kitchen and bring it to him.

The boy did as he was told, found the kitchen nearby and the cook gave the boy a gold spoon filled with the richest olive oil the boy had ever seen.

Anxious to make a good impression on the emperor, the boy took the spoon full of oil and hurriedly, but with the utmost care, carried it to the emperor’s quarters, walking through the long hallways, up the steep steps, as carefully as possible so as to not spill even a single drop of that precious oil. In fact, as he walked, the boy said to himself over and over again, “I mustn’t spill the oil. I mustn’t spill the oil.”

At last, the boy arrived at the emperor’s quarters, proud and excited, he handed the emperor the spoon, all of its contents in tact.

The emperor took the spoon and looked at the boy. “So,” he said, “What did you think?”

“Think of what, your majesty?” the boy asked nervously.

“What did you think of the palace?” the emperor asked.

The boy looked at the emperor dumbfounded.

“Surely you noticed the great tapestries that lined the walls … they are made of the purest silk and were woven by hand, each one took over a decade to complete.”

The boy stared blankly.

“And surely you noticed the oil paintings, created by the greatest masters of the last century? And the frescoes? And the rugs? And the alabaster sconces?”

The emperor continued to describe the beauty of his palace, the beauty that the boy failed completely to see because he was so focused on not spilling what he had in his hand at that particular moment.

That was the secret of life that the boy had traveled so far to learn.

Let’s not fail to see the beauty that surrounds us because we’re so focused on trying to hold on to what we have or so focused on not losing what we had.

We live in a place that is as close to perfect as just about any place I have ever been. Let’s appreciate it … and love it … and share lots and lots of stories about it.

Thank you.