Thursday, May 24, 2012

John M. Kahl, Sr. Remembered

Today I had the solemn honor to speak a few words of tribute at the memorial of my mentor and friend John M. Kahl, Sr. The fact that this comes on the eve of my father's centennial adds another degree of poignancy. I believe it was Robert Bly who said that every young man needs to be admired by an older man other than his father. John seemed to fill that role for me at a critical time in my professional life. These were my remarks....

Fortunate are those who can name a few people who have made a major positive impact on their lives. Even to name one or two would be a blessing. John Kahl was such a person in my life. John Kahl was a blessing.

John was my manager at Raychem Corporation from 1990 to 1996. Early on he said something to me that I thought was quite strange coming from a manager—something surely no prior boss had ever suggested. He told me that he expected us to have a lifetime friendship. Indeed his expectations were met, for I know that our friendship not only extended throughout his too short lifetime, but more than that, his love, his wise counsel, his joy will abide with me—as I am sure is true for all of us here—throughout my remaining days as well.

If I had to pick one trait of John’s that stands out, it would be his ability to see the best in each person, and more importantly to help others see the best in themselves. John was without question the greatest teacher, mentor, coach I have had in my entire professional life. I truly owe my career to him. His gentle guidance, his wisdom, compassion, and insight helped me grow beyond all expectations and set a standard that I continually strive for in my relationships at work and elsewhere.

John was a man of vision. I don’t know any person who had a clearer notion of what the future might hold. He always had a plan. The following story may be familiar to some, but it bears telling not only as an example of John’s foresight and project management acumen, but also how John fully dedicated himself to the benefit of others, and above all to his family.

When Margarett became pregnant the two of them were living on a boat in the Redwood City harbor—clearly not the best situation. It was hard enough to get on and off that boat without being pregnant. As a developing project manager, I watched with awe as John used our project management software to map out a detailed step-by-step plan that included searching the Bay Area for the best multiple-birth doctor at the best multiple-birth hospital, in order to relocate himself and Margarett to a land based residence as close as possible to best resources available. (John believed in surrounding himself with experts.) He calculated every factor imaginable to insure a long and healthy gestation of the triplets!

After the children were born he continued to manage their well-being with the same meticulous care. One room in their apartment was a command center with all the supplies three newborns would ever require carefully stacked and stored. Looming above this array was a large white board with detailed logs of the inputs and outputs of each baby. John loved to manage projects, but that was nothing compared to his love of his children. He held nothing back in considering their welfare, and took immense pride in the accomplishments of each of them which he enthusiastically reported every time we spoke.

Only slightly less was his love and pride in the employees he managed. John once assigned me to build a world class factory—in Tijuana, Mexico! I had no prior experience with a project of that magnitude or complexity. Any fears I might have had were erased by John’s confidence and support. Ultimately we met and surpassed our goals as together John and I accepted an industry award for the outstanding project of the year.  
Quatros Amigos: Roland Lazzarotto, Wally Hong, John M. Kahl, Sr., Doug Ballon, and a mud splattered rental car after a wild ride through Tijuana, 1994.

It was in these days that he often uttered a 5-word phrase that I have come to adopt. He would say, “Your success is my success.” That phrase can be taken in different ways. From a narrow perspective—one could say that since a manager would be rated poorly if his staff failed to perform, John’s success was indeed based on my success. But I believe John had a higher vision, far removed from a mere performance review. John was passionate about nurturing success in as many ways as he could in the lives of all. John drew an intrinsic sense of satisfaction in contributing to the success of others.

John Kahl was a teacher. The world was his classroom. We all were his students, and many of us in many ways can attribute much in our lives to John’s teachings. Indeed, our success is John’s success.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shehecheyanu Moments--the 2012 Hazon CA Ride

After a day of riding it is customary at a Hazon event for everyone to stand in a circle and play the game, “Jump Into the Circle if You....” It goes something like this: “Jump into the circle if you rode further today than you have ever ridden before.” That usually gets a lot of people in the middle to a chorus of cheers. “Jump into the circle if you got lost.” There’s usually two or three who get to celebrate their earlier fear and humiliation. Or “Jump into the circle if you were deeply moved by nature today.” You’d have to be insensate not to jump into the circle on that one, or in my case simply unable to move.
Photos by Eli Zaturanski Photography ©
Friday was a glorious day of riding in many respects. The weather was very cooperative. Chilly as expected at the start. Toastier, but not unbearable later on. Often a hint of a cool breeze. The winds never too gusty. The scenery majestic—broad sweeping valleys dotted with cattle or sheep. Bucolic byways. Gray worn barns. An occasional vulture of some sort circling above the road kill, and giving me pause to think any time my cycling came to a standstill. Glorious as the day was, especially in retrospect, it didn’t start well for me. I spent much of the day preoccupied by my own physical condition with a very low expectation regarding the outcome.
Admittedly I have trained with greater diligence for previous rides. Last year I was seeing a personal trainer—not just for the sake of the ride, mind you—who had me incessantly work on my “core,” had me doing exhausting cycle sprints up hills at different paces (commonly referred to as interval training). I may have been about as heavy last year as I am now, but I was toned up a lot more for sure. I only mention that because I suspect the core strength exercises in particular, or rather the lack of them this year, may have contributed to my waking on ride day with an unforgiving lower back pain. What triggered it I can’t say for sure. Perhaps unloading much of the baggage from the bus that took us up to Santa Rosa. Though I was in complete denial, there just may have been a little twinge in my back earlier in the week.

I had already registered my doubts about achieving my usual distance on day one, ostensibly based on the medically supervised weight management program I am engaged in. That is, since the Kaiser doc said I should not increase my food replacements for the ride (he said I had plenty in reserve) nor should I drink or eat the usual electrolyte supplements (he said to just stay hydrated) I had my doubts as to whether I would be capable of performing the 66-mile ride versus the 33-mile ride alternative. The other issue that contributed to my doubts was the fact that I had not stretched out any of my training rides this year—thirty-two miles was the longest I had gone.

After consulting the medical staff on the ride we settled on my starting out on the longer ride and feeling free to exercise my option of getting picked up whenever and wherever I felt I had reached my limit. (Those doing the 33-mile option were simply bussed to the midway point of the ride and pedaled to our destination from there.) This seemed reasonable, especially after I awoke in the grips of the back spasm.

The throng of brightly clad cyclists gathered at the campground gate. We listened to the Traveler’s Prayer recited in English and Hebrew. As has been the case on each of my four Hazon rides I had the honor of sounding the shofar, akin to the call to colors at Churchill Downs, and off we went down the sinuous road in the brightness of the Spring morning.

My back may have actually felt better while on the cycle than at other times. As the ride progressed that seemed not to be the limiting factor. Of greater concern were the fears that had generated my original question to the doc—just how is one supposed to attempt 6+ hours of cycling, burning approximately 5000 calories, without altering a 960-calorie per day diet? The response I had received at Kaiser seemed not to be based on any true understanding of the physiology of a long distance cyclist. Out here on the road it was becoming evident that this advise was ill-conceived.

The earliest evidence was tightening of my right hamstring. Nonetheless, at the first rest stop (mile 12) I eschewed the usual snacks and drinks in favor of a food replacement bar. Given how much time had elapsed from my breakfast shake to the rest stop, I was actually due for a bar anyway. What I had not anticipated was how soon thereafter I would feel the need to at least nibble another bar that I theoretically would not eat for another three hours. Now even making it to the midpoint seemed to be a distant goal. Going further than that seemed way out of reach.

By the time I got to our lunch stop at mile 33, however, any remaining notions of adhering to the weight loss program had evaporated in the afternoon sun. I didn’t grab the sandwiches, but I did make a beeline for the bananas—their potassium is supposed to be the thing for cramping. And I munched on some salty snacks. And I accepted some electrolyte chewable supplements from the ride doctor, as well as his advice to throw down some Oreos. I finally recognized that the choice was clearly one between maintaining the restricted food regimen or continuing the ride—the two being mutually exclusive. I chose to ride.

By now my back was worse. The cramps were being held somewhat in abeyance. Visions of going the distance were floating in my head, but so were rationalizations about just going maybe another ten miles to gain some minimal sense of accomplishment.

Permeating my little drama, and of far greater significance was the awareness of my having dedicated the ride to the strength and healing of my friend David Eisenberg. I was inspired to do this partly because David and I and other riders had done similar dedications on our Israel Ride in 2008. I was also inspired by the blog that David has been writing, sharing the challenges of his ongoing cancer treatment. I also simply wanted to create a vehicle for myself and others on the ride to send love and energy to David, a real champion of Hazon.

I had pinned to my chest, and tied to the back of my bike a photo of David from the 2011 California Ride with the words of healing “Refuah shleimah David Eisenberg!” When the going got tough, I thought of David. With each grind of the pedals I would recite his name or words like “healing,” “courage,” “strength,” “peace.” It didn’t take long for me to chastise myself for my petty preoccupation with lower back pain and leg cramps. Some of the rolling hills made me think of the ups and down David has described during the course of his treatments. I felt certain, however, that David would trade, in a heartbeat, his current situation for a bike ride on the steepest roads. Mile after mile I had to challenge myself to persevere, but only a fraction of what it must take a person facing the discomfort and anxiety of a serious disease.

I think I put it succinctly (yeah, yeah, unlike this posting) when we all stood in the circle at the day’s end. After riders and crew jumped in or not for various reasons we then paired off to talk about things we had discovered during the day. When we reconvened I shared with the group that I had put together a pretty convincing set of excuses for why I wasn’t likely to do the 66-mile journey, but that having dedicated the ride to David meant all the difference in my success. What I had not anticipated was that more than doing something for David, his accompaniment on the ride did something for me.

The rest of the weekend followed in similar fashion. There were times, such as dancing around the campfire after Havdallah, when my back pain prevented me from participating. As the condition seemed to grow worse—and by Sunday morning it was quite painful—I came very close to scrubbing the second day of riding. I posited that persisting would have one meaning, but that facing the limitations imposed by ill health was another reality worth paying attention to as well. As a partial concession to the pain, I decided to take the shorter of the second riding day’s two routes. Just before the ride, however, one friend insisted that the damage I could do by riding at all was too risky versus the downside of missing one ride. She had me ninety-nine per cent convinced to sit the ride out, but the one per cent that was itching to get back on the bike asked the doctor for another opinion, which was far less alarming. I decided to try riding, knowing I could always bail at any time.

I also still had David riding along with me. When we got to the Sausalito climb, just before the Golden Gate Bridge I actually started talking to him. I said, “Hey, buddy, how about putting in some effort here and helping me!” He just grinned and laughed at me! I had to laugh, myself, at this play unfolding in my imagination—all the way up the hill.

Crossing the bridge is still a relatively rare occurrence for me and still filled with delight. Mothers Day. Sunday. The bike lane closed. It was a challenge making it across with lots of tourists on foot as well as on rented bikes, plus serious cyclists going in both directions almost head on. I loved the intensity of the crossing and the distant beauty of the San Francisco skyline muted by the midday mist. Halfway across, I spontaneously found myself singing Rabbi David Zeller’s chant, I Am Alive. I had a full appreciation of the richness of the moment and its source.

When all the riders finally gathered at the Jewish Community High School for a closing circle, in addition to one more game of  “Jump Into the Circle if You....” we also sang the Shehecheyanu, our prayer signifying our appreciation of the miracle of this present moment, grateful that other than a few bumps and bruises we had all made it through the ride: We bless God who gave us Life, sustained us and brought us to this very moment.

Amen to that.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Seventh Day

Some wonder at the blogging phenomenon. Why would anyone think that the world wants to read about his or her boring life? That’s the wrong question. I’ll just speak for myself. I have journalled most of my adult life. I have stacks of journals sitting on a shelf in my office. I have no illusion that the world will ever read anything I’ve written therein, other than a few lines that I have actually extracted from the heap and, yes, had the audacity to publish. So the real question is, if not for mass communication, why journal at all? I journal for myself, to reflect on my life (“The life which is unexamined is not worth living.”) The really nice thing about blogging is that if not the world, at least the two or three people who for whatever reason take interest in my ramblings indeed have the opportunity to look over my shoulder and occasionally comment.

I’m not sure whether I look back on past blog entries with any more interest or regularity than past hard copy journals. Its certainly is easier to find a particular entry on-line than up in that shelf. I got into this whole line of thought looking back at a recent blog wherein I mused about the notion of worshipping food. Then I scrolled up to a photo of eight pieces of a chocolate food replacement bar meticulously arrayed like Stonehenge and had to laugh!

Birds are noisily chirping, darkness is slowly being lifted from the silhouette of my neighbor’s house, the cat stirred when I awoke minutes ago. I let her out praying the night-prowling skunk isn't lurking behind the redwoods. I had awoken from an explicit food dream. It was a joyous family gathering. I had arrived a bit late and started noshing on a few items from the dinner table even as I was still filling my plate. Mid-bite it suddenly flashed through my mind that oh no, I  had just eaten real food instead of my food replacements! Only six days through this strict regimen and I had such a mental lapse. I knew the program leaders would be very forgiving and supportive, but I was just flabbergasted that I could have made such a slip. Pretty explicit. Probably the third explicit food dream this week.

In reality I have indeed completed six days of the regimen and it hasn’t been too bad. One day I actually had a surprising insight recognizing a new experience of eating to live versus living to eat. I’m not convinced one is better than the other—no judgment, just different. This new mode brings a sense of liberation at times. If I am not hungry, just bored, I haven’t had to wage a battle between what I want to do and what I ought to do. It is now a given that I don’t look for entertainment in the refrigerator. One day I would like to explore more deeply the meaning and causes of boredom per se. It would be worth understanding a bit more one of the root causes of my historic overeating. What is this ill ease, this dissatisfaction with what life is presenting at a certain moment that cries for a food fix antidote? Put that in a file next to anger, joy, sadness and an assortment of other food stuffing stimuli. No doubt we’ll talk about this in the program.

This week has been fine. Not so hard to get through—even enjoyable at times.  Debbie and I have spent more time walking together than dining. That’s nice in its own way. Whether food abstinence will get easier or more challenging only time will tell. I know it certainly is working as they said it would—especially in the first weeks where we shed water as much as fat. I have lost a few pounds no doubt. I look forward to the weigh-in tonight and the reunion with my program comrades. I’m curious to see if there will be more rejoicing over the weight loss or grousing over the process that caused it. I will report back.
Weigh-in was joyous. The meeting pleasant enough—no great shakes (pardon the pun). More significant was a stop I made en route. I felt the need to share what I am doing with the rabbi, especially in light of the whole food-as-idolatry/sh’mirat ha-guf thing (viz. Farewell, Farewell Tour blog entry 4/23/12). We had a great chat. The rabbi helped me get over the hurdle of having trouble seeing food replacements in a spiritual light. It was an easy one for him, although I can’t match his eloquence, to see each bite as a blessing and a gift of sustenance. He showed me the proper prayers to say before and after such a “meal,” and he pointed out how the traditional morning blessings fit right into increased consciousness about one’s wellbeing. He agreed that this physical, intellectual, and emotional journey Kaiser Permanente is leading me on will dovetail nicely with the spiritual journey I am beginning in July in Shefa Gold’s Kol Zimra: Chant Leader's Professional Development program. Both are eighteen months in duration. Both are energy work in many ways. I’m stoked!

Oh, and if you’re scoring at home, in the first two weeks of the program I’m down ten pounds. (Disclaimer: before you get too excited, that’s offset more than a tad by the weight I gained on the “Farewell Tour.”)

Thursday, May 3, 2012


4 down, 766 to go. That’s the way I’m looking at my food replacements. If anyone is tired of hearing about this big transformational program I have embarked upon, you are not nearly as tired of it as I am after less than one day of actual deployment. Last night was the second of eighty-some-odd weekly meetings. I was underwhelmed by that experience, but the regular instructor was unable to attend so I will withhold judgment for a while. The meeting ended by our receiving our first weekly allotment of shakes and bars and soup—none of which Kaiser even regards as food. Indeed they are deemed “food replacements” and they barely qualify as that.

This morning marked the first ingestion of a food replacement unit. 160 calories packed into an 8-ounce cardboard container of a creamy chocolate-like substance. Yummy. One down, 769 to go. I sat opposite Debbie at the breakfast table as she ate her usual hot beverage and toast. I was actually not entirely grossed out by the stuff and sipped it slowly as to have a more substantial breakfast experience than chugging it would allow.

We are asked to log each such ingestion. I eschewed the hard copy matrix they provided in favor of creating my own Excel spreadsheet. This allowed me to track in greater detail the food replacement selection, flavor, form (dry packet or pre-mixed), time of day, interval between “feedings,” and most important—gustatory satisfaction. Just becoming acquainted with this stuff, and having to order a week’s supply at a time, I want to record which choices are less un-yummy.

In addition to the 6 feedings, we are urged to drink a gallon of water a day. That’s a lot of water. It does help keep the belly full, and I’m getting more exercise by walking down the hall with great frequency.

For lunch I decided to have a peanut something bar. That was actually not terrible had I been, let’s say, in the middle of a long bike ride, as opposed to calling it lunch. I also learned that preparing and eating an energy bar takes about one-tenth the time than, say, building and eating the kind of robust salad or sandwich that I am accustomed to.

But time flies and before I knew it I was late for my mid-afternoon feeding. It was time to try out the powdered version of a chocolate shake. Contrary to rumors at our introductory session, it was considerably more un-yummy than the pre-mixed version. I chugged it, washed it down with water, and header back to my desk. I do seem to be getting more work done today.

On it went. Before I knew it, it was time for a late afternoon vanilla powdered shake. Chugged that one too. I hear it may taste better with a dash of sugar-free Italian root beer syrup.

By golly, my stomach just growled. It’s 6:45 and time for dinner. I may sneak half a chicken soup and half a tomato soup just to put them to the test. I feel just like Tom Colicchio!
Just went with not-your-mother’s chicken soup. Passable.
5 down, 765 to go.