Savor life's simple pleasures

Jamie Sorge Landon School blog

The following blog post is taken from the ethics speech that teacher-coach-mentor Jamie Sorge (above right) delivered to Middle School students and faculty. He shares why it is important to find the beauty in each day, whether it comes in the form of a fresh doughnut, a trip to a new place, or an embrace from a loved one.

I believe in savoring life's simple pleasures.

How many of you have ever had a Krispy Kreme doughnut fresh off the line? Well, let me paint a picture for you. My first experience with Krispy Kreme was more than ideal; it was euphoric.

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, one of those days when the humidity seeps into the car and you're constantly wiping the moisture off the inside of the windshield. I was about 13 years old, stuck in my Uncle Ed's Saab with my brother and our two younger cousins. We were drowning in a sea of traffic on the Milford Post Road, an eight-lane monstrosity lined with furniture stores, automobile dealerships, movie theaters and strip malls. Leaning against the headrest, my eyes glazed by the afternoon's uneventful trajectory, I lazily scrawled my signature on the damp passenger window. I felt myself on the verge of sleep as a slick line of drool snuck its way out the corner of my mouth when, all of a sudden, the car jerked left and accelerated dramatically.

"There it is, it's on, the light's on!" my Uncle Ed cried with glee, slapping my leg with excitement. Startled by this palpable change in mood, the children, asleep in the back, rustled back to the world of the living.

"What? What is it?" I asked, a tone of nervousness in my voice.

"Krispy Kreme! It's Krispy Kreme! That doughnut place I was telling you guys about." Like an 8-year-old boy on Christmas morning, Uncle Ed sang these words with real joy.

Immediately, I was drawn toward the hot-pink beacon of sizzling sweetness: a curvaceous neon siren that singed the drizzling fog, calling man, woman and child toward this temple of glazed, gooey happiness.

Uncle Ed's Swedish car uncharacteristically screeched into the nearest parking space. His eyes, wild with delight, twinkled as he drove us from our seats, sticky with sweat.

We huddled into the doughnut shop, practically blinded by the gleaming chrome counters, the pearly white uniforms of the workers, and had to hold on to each other for balance because the smell was like we all died and went to Candy Land. It was sensory overload.

The warm, sultry scent of translucent glaze sputtered effortlessly onto perfectly fried doughnuts. As they exited their bath of bubbling oil, these yeasty treats climbed a tiny hill attached to a nifty conveyor belt, only to bask in a shower of cloudy, liquid sugar that immediately hardened on impact. (As to what, exactly, these confectioned cakes were made out of, I could not guess, nor will I ever try to crack their code to this day. Krispy Kreme knows what they're doing. Let's keep it that way.)

My eyes, swollen with tears of joy, fixated on a particularly plump little fella, and I was shocked when a man-made object broke the vision. A simple toothpick, more like a wooden coffee stirrer, impaled the hole of my doughnut, my friend, and whisked "Mr. Doughnut" (we were very good friends at this point) up into the air. Incensed by this blasphemous action, I nearly shouted, but was stunned to find that Mr. Doughnut was moving closer to me. That's right, a human worker with a funny paper hat was actually gesturing Mr. Doughnut right at me.

"This is for you," she said, not unlike Mother Theresa. And I, the grateful, feeble, humble waif, graciously accepted Mr. Doughnut into my outstretched hands. His skin was soft and sticky, his body light, yet firm. I held him in my shaking hands for a few seconds, perhaps a hundred seconds, until the demon inside my stomach reached into the human world and pulled Mr. Doughnut into my mouth in one enormous bite. Like a pelican.

I swooned. My knees shook; I really needed to sit down. Luckily, I crashed into my little brother, nudging me in the ribs with his elbow, because a second Krispy Kreme doughnut was being offered our way. Blinking, delirious, and overcome with rapture for this man-made Manna, I reached for Mr. Doughnut's closest relative... and I ate him, too.

Now, so far, you're probably thinking, "Mr. Sorge, why are you telling us this? What's the point?" Well, remember what the first line of my speech was: I believe in life's simple pleasures.

Do you guys realize how good we have it? No, of course not. If I walked around regarding EVERYTHING with the same level of clarity as I did the day I experienced my first Krispy Kreme, well, they'd have to put me away. Clearly, I have — I think we all have — become accustomed to taking many aspects of our lives for granted. So, let me tell you another story.

About two-and-a-half years ago, I went to Israel with my family. My wife's father had been buried at a beautiful cemetery outside of Jerusalem a year earlier, and this trip was to recognize his "azkarah," a ceremony that would officially end the year of mourning. My father-in-law, Avi, was a great man. He was a clinical pharmacologist for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and had worked there for more than 30 years. He raised six amazing children with his wife, Nancy, of over 40 years, and after a 15-year hard-fought battle with a rare form of cancer called myelofibrosis, Avi's body gave in under the weight of what would be his final journey.

Like the words [Headmaster Jim] Neill has shared with you, my father-in-law's greatness was magnified by the genuine nature of his goodness. Similar to the hospitable nature of his namesake from the Old Testament, Abraham, Avi's tent was open on all sides. He always invited people over for meals during Shabbat, especially individuals who were new to the community. He helped many men and women find work, some who were even struggling to get back on their feet. But the greatest part about my wife's dad is that he loved children. Known to the kids in the neighborhood as "Dr. Avi," families came to my wife's house because her dad was also a pediatrician. Despite his busy job at the FDA, he never stopped practicing medicine, another degree he earned earlier in life. Dr. Avi could do the best Donald Duck impression, and he had this way of shaking hands with little kids so that he'd grab your hand just above the wrist and miraculously, your entire arm, right up to the shoulder, would shake uncontrollably. Dr. Avi had a way with all children, and he especially loved his own very much. In fact, he may have even loved his grandchildren more.

My son, Shai, was only 8 months old when Avi died. There was so much promise in their relationship, so many things I hoped for them to do together. But, sadly, Avi's cancer took a turn for the worse in the last year of his life, so Shai and his older cousins were robbed of his presence far too soon. Avi never got to meet our daughter, Areli Maya, who happens to share the same initials as her "zeyde" ["grandfather" in Yiddish].

Areli means "my light," and Maya is a derivation of "water." To paraphrase my wife, Malki's explanation of this lyrical and unique name: Despite her father's ailing health for over 15 years, what kept Avi — what kept his whole family — afloat was his love for his children, his grandchildren; for the sick kids in the neighborhood who came for a checkup; for the children in synagogue who ran up and down the aisles in the middle of the service. Avi Karkowsky's goodness was rooted in his capacity to love all children, young and old. And that is what made him great. That is what buoyed him and his family, during his illness, the way that light reflects and seems to float on water.

So that year my family visited Israel, our first time since my father-in-law's burial, we ventured to have a true vacation. We began in Tel Aviv and strolled near the Mediterranean Sea, then headed to the rocky north toward the Kineret, the Sea of Galilee, where we stayed with relatives on a Moshav, which is like a "kibbutz" or commune. The last leg of our journey took us south again to Jerusalem, where we intended to stay for nearly a week, capping the trip with Avi's azkarah ceremony at the cemetery just outside the city.

Our first full day in Jerusalem was amazing. We walked through Machne Yehuda, a large, open-air market that reminded me of Agrabah from Aladdin. I tasted caramelized dates and roasted pine nuts tossed in exotic spices. I went to Marzipan Bakery, which isn't Krispy Kreme, but it's close. Their signature pastry is chocolate rugalach, a buttery, crispy ribbon of pastry dough that coils around a thick layer of inky, rich dark chocolate. You have to eat at least three of them. The first one goes down so quickly; you barely have time to savor it. It touches your hands and then, poof, it's like it's gone. So you grab another rugalach because your first one disappeared somewhere. The second one is consumed slightly more slowly, only to find that you barely held it and weren't even able to lick your fingers. So you grab a third rugalach, and this is the one you are able to savor. Strangely, you can only remember the third one.

That very night, everything changed. We just put Shai down to sleep in our rented apartment when, all of a sudden, we heard this ominous siren, like an air horn. I practically swallowed my heart as it leapt into my throat, and grabbed Shai from his Pack-n-Play.

The entire family huddled into my mother-in-law's room. Malki, her mom, Nancy, her sister, Shuli, pregnant with twins, and Shuli's husband also named Avi (it's a fairly common name), squeezed in tight and shut the reinforced steel door. This was no ordinary bedroom, this was called a "mamad," essentially a bomb shelter. In Israel, because of the constant threat of attacks, every built structure and residence must have a bomb-resistant room. My heart was racing. The siren wouldn't stop. I began to cry.

I was completely unprepared for this type of experience. I knew some parts of Israel were occasionally dangerous, but did not expect anything like this to happen. Shuli, my sister-in-law, six months pregnant, was also very upset, and naturally so!

Surprisingly, my wife, her mom and Shuli's husband Avi were fairly calm. Apparently, a series of rockets were being volleyed in retaliation from the Gaza strip, a Palestinian territory about 50 miles away, because of a terrible, violent kidnapping that happened just the day before. I had not been reading the news, I was completely uninformed on this matter, and was simply scared out of my mind. Nowhere in my family's political discussion could I find any peace of mind or something to hold on to.

In my ignorance, I did not think to bring myself up to speed on the sociopolitical landscape before venturing to little Israel, a tiny sliver of a country, and America's only democratic ally [in the region], bordered by Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Sure, I had gone to Hebrew school as a kid, I read the news as an adult, but I still could not get over my fear. Here I was, clutching my 2-year-old son, while eerie sirens rang through the city of Jerusalem, thinking I was going to die.

But then the sirens stopped. A cellphone rang; Aunt Pearl had called to check that we were OK. She had gotten sirens in her city, Rehovot, earlier that day and heard about ours on the news. Pearl sounded relieved and was sending good vibes our way, said something about an Iron Dome, and then hung up the phone.

Iron Dome is the Israeli missile-defense system used to take down hostile projectiles fired onto her soil. The technology is so advanced that it can detect a rocket in an instant and, because rockets are fast and every second counts, Iron Dome calculates the projectile's trajectory and blasts it to smithereens before it reaches its target.

So whatever was headed for Jerusalem that night was taken care of by the great Iron Dome. After this was explained to me, Malki told Shai to walk around the mamad and give everybody hugs. Dutifully, my son did his best and gave mushy kisses to accompany his meaningful embrace.

Though I wanted to stay longer, we eventually left the mamad and returned to our respective rooms to get some much needed, if not fitful, sleep.

The next day, I was reluctant to walk around the city, but once again was coaxed out the door by my Malki and her family. I was shocked to see so many people out and about; children were playing in the street, people were walking to work, even the crazy traffic stayed the same. Though I did not live in Israel, I was amazed by her resilient citizens.

I had never been so close to a terrorist attack. Yes, I recall 9/11 with a surreal-like lucidness, but I was far enough away from New York City that I only learned about the news from TV. When you're in the middle of a city and the building is falling, or the rocket sirens are blaring, THAT is the eye of the storm. That is an experience that builds character and changes you forever.

So how does this all connect?

There is joy in a fine, fried Krispy Kreme doughnut. There is serenity in a child's unabashed laughter. There is a peacefulness that is achieved when you sink your teeth into a rugalach from Marzipan Bakery. There is comfort in a parent's touch, in a friend's voice. There is pain, too, out there in the world, guys. There is a lot of scary stuff, and it's all real, and most of it you can't control.

But there is one thing I know you can control: your choices. My favorite wizard, Gandalf the Gray [from The Lord of the Rings], said, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Life is too short! Spend your time enjoying the simple pleasures that surround you. From a loved one's embrace to a Krispy Kreme doughnut hot off the line, there is beauty to be found in each day.

This I believe.