July 29th, 2017
Dear Jeremy and Ayla,
We are allowed brief time in this world. The best thing we can do with our short time is to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others; to leave the world a better, greater, happier place than we found it. Building communities, friendships, and ultimately families based in respect and love is the meaning of life.
Recently, I had the opportunity to go with Poppy G and Uncle Leigh to a martial arts competition. As you know, the Berman Brothers were well known in their day in the Martial Arts community. They were practicing MMA before there was such a thing. Dinners, holidays, and car trips are well furnished with tales of competition, street fights, and training regimens your grandfather and great uncles experienced. The tournament we attended was hosted by a Master who was inspired by them on his own come up.
For me, I’m out of my element at these competitions–a position I’m glad to be in. I get to observe, absorb, and question…I get to learn. One of the best parts about being an empty vessel, is that you never know what you’ll get filled with. The more we interacted with people, the more attention Poppy G and Uncle Leigh got. I was filled was a great example of the enduring legacy of respect.
“The Berman Brothers were legends in Canarsie,” one of their former training partners told me. This statement also included Great Uncle Corrie. Suddenly I was met with a whirlwind of tales of martial arts daring-do starring just those men. Not a single tale, but epic tales no less numerous than those in Chaucer or Aesop.
While at dinner, we came across a student in the school, who as it turns out I knew (or rather knew her brother) as a kid. The tales of training in the old days broke out, and the student and her friend were in awe as Poppy G and Uncle Leigh wove a tapestry of stories that seemed better placed in 1970’s King Fu movie imports than in the lives of a couple of Jewish boys from Brooklyn. They spoke highly of the students’ sensei…when he was a kid. The students left, clearly feeling that there was an era they missed, but also filled with praise of what good they were doing. Your grandfather and great uncle already knew of them, and their abilities. And they told them so.
When we arrived at the venue to watch the fights, we couldn’t find our seats. The venue was somewhat disorganized and they were placing temporary seating in what is clearly an open admissions venue. When Poppy G asked where our seats could be found, he got to talking with the gentleman, who it turns out is the other sensei of the school.
“Anyone who trained Sifu deserves better seats!” He said. Poppy G said “He made a bigger impression on me than I could have on him.” Then he and Uncle Leigh spoke about what a pure hearted kid he had been. Needless to say, our seats were upgraded, and were not temporary seating.
Your uncle and grandfather walked humbly and gracefully through praise and accepted none of it. Like the skilled artists they are the deflected each blow with praise in turn of another. The exuded respect, they radiated interest, they were intensely human. Your mother said to me “I wish you had known them back then…they were exclusively Sifu”. Sifu, is a term for respected, skilled masters.
A lifetime of respect had harvested a legacy of positive reputation. Humbly and happily, we took the upgraded seats. The treatment they were receiving wasn’t about their ability to fight. It was about their ability to build. The Berman Brothers had been a part of so many come ups, and bettered so many lives that they earned a legacy of respect.
A person’s reputation is their legacy. It is how they are thought of and how they are remembered when they aren’t there. Papa Joe, or “Mr. Ceder” as he is known, is locally famous for a sharp joke and a cup of tea on houses throughout the Rockaways and the Five Towns. He’s known for good work, fair prices, and good humor. In this way, the respect he’s owed brings a smile to people’s faces and light to their eyes. It was the same look on the faces of people who recount the generosity and wit of a Grandpa Matt and the kindness and humor of Papa Santos. It is the same look your grandfather and great uncle receive. It product of a legacy forged in kindness and humanity…it is the legacy of respect and love.
Your mother is a shining example of someone who is building a legacy of respect built on humanity. Our friends and family value her honesty, her judgement, and her character. She is fair, generous, and motivated to do right. She transmits inspiration to excel to others because she doesn’t expect the best of people, she demands it through example. Her leadership and vision drives me to be a better me every day. While it’s a favor I can’t really repay, I’m glad we can compliment each other and furnish you both with the example of self-respect that comes from hard work and self determination.
For myself, I always try to imagine myself in someone else’s position. “What does the situation look like from their perspective?” “What is the outcome with the most winners and the fewest losers?” “What is just?” These are the questions I try to ask myself in all situations. I don’t always succeed in arriving at the right answer to those questions; sometimes I forget myself. I take comfort in knowing I can learn from my mistakes, and do better next time. Part of my self-respect is knowing that perfection is a journey, not a destination.
At work, I know that my school building has a short memory. I teach the oldest kids, they come to me ready to leave. The world I build in my classroom appears and disappears every ten months. I hope that my legacy is more than brick and mortar, that it lives in my students. And, undoubtedly, unwaveringly in you two.
I can teach facts and skills, but I hope more importantly to lead an example of acting with thoughtful respect of self and others. On that cornerstone we can build communities, friendships, and families.
Without it we leave nothing behind. There is no wealth or treasure better than spreading that feeling of goodwill to others and no immortality of merit that doesn’t leave the world greater than we found it. The impact doesn’t have to be huge to be great, nor does it need to be famous to be good. But a life well lived is unquestionably defined as a life well loved and it’s reward is greater than upgraded seats (but those are nice too).
P.S.: Summer is halfway over. We’ve visited Sleepy Hollow, I’ve finished my course work and I’m looking at my Qualifying Exam, and you’re enjoying every moment of sun, fun, and summer camp. It’s my joy to watch you two grow, think, and grapple with the world; and offer you the freedom to trip and hold the honor of helping you to your feet. Your mother and I are so proud of you.