I Am Here

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. It was also for me, my half birthday. When we would say happy birthday to my dad, I would declare that it was also the day I was, say, 5 and a half.

My father died in 1978 from a massive coronary at 57 years old. He had basically overdosed himself on his prescription of nitrous oxide pills and had endured a two week long heart attack as a result. That morning, a memorial candle dedicated to my grandfather, burst open on the kitchen counter. My father called to me from the bedroom. He wanted me to take him to the hospital. He had finally given in. I was the last family member to see him alive. I drove him to the Veterans Hospital in Northport, L.I., where he would meet his fate the next morning at 5 am. I was 22 years old.

Max Zeines in front of his business, Central Beverages.

My relationship with my dad was not an easy one. I was never made to feel sure of myself, and the verbal abuse from him, the derogatory insults about my existence, was not exactly the grounds for raising a confident, easy to live with individual. But early yesterday morning, as I lay in bed, in that moment just before waking up, there was a sense of deep forgiveness of who and how he was. This process of forgiveness has been going on for a long time. Some 30 years now. But yesterday, as I remembered him, there was a deep sense of letting something go. Kind of a deep sigh of how we are bonded in spirit. He could not help who he was. He was made, just like I am, by circumstances. As you might imagine, I ponder things like this a lot. But I have only begun to write about it recently.

My blog is about education. And sometimes I like to take ordinary things that I think about, bring an extra spiritual dimension to them and then link it back to my main topic. I maintain as the core of this blog, that education is way more than we ever have come to think about it. It is something that has taken place within us the moment we took our first breath and opened our eyes onto this world.

So it is not out of topic for me to be sharing my contemplations on the relationship I had with my father. It does give me the opportunity to reflect, and to wax poetic.

This has come to me at a time where there is a great shift in direction in my life. I am now very close to the age my father was when he passed from this world. As he did so, there was a great lifting of pressure for me. It was not that I was relieved he had left us. But it was as if a great shadow had moved from above me, and now the life before me, was a brand new adventure. But who am I? This was the question posed by Hillel, the great scholar who was born 100 years before Christ, and whom many feel, Jesus took many of his cues for his teaching. It was Hillel  who first said “do unto others…” But here is his most famous aphorism that has always been a source of inspiration for me:

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
If I am for myself alone, then who am I?
And if not now, when?

Also yesterday,  was one of the many parent meetings we have at the Brooklyn Free School. I chaired the meeting. It was attended by a small group, mostly women, and one teenage student came with his mom out of curiosity. A boy of 15 years old, sitting among a group of adults, curious to see how another facet of decision making happens at the school. The truth is, the parent meeting is in sharp contrast to the school’s democratic meetings. Robert’s Rules of Order do not apply here. My style of conducting a meeting tends to be laid back. The gathering was quite lively. Occasionally we had to direct a question to our resident teen to get a different perspective on a problem we were discussing. Toward the end of the meeting, the discussion became very cacophonous. We were discussing the idea of banning sugar from the school. People began talking out of order. I was sitting quietly just listening to the many conversations going on at once, all around me. I did not act against the chaos. But suddenly a booming voice from the left side of the room declared “YOU ARE  ALL ACTING LIKE A GROUP OF FIVE YEAR OLDS!” That was the signal to declare “order.” The voice was that of our teenage guest. He was shocked that the parent meeting was way less orderly than the weekly meetings he attends. And he took control. And truthfully, I did not react. I felt proud that he did this. And I looked at his mother and I said, ” and you are worried that he is not learning anything here?” He had just corralled a group of adults into submission.

In bringing these two subjects together, that of my fathers birthday and the parent meeting and mixing them together with Hillel’s invocation, it brings me to the true question of my existence. Who am I for? What am I for? Why am I here?

Gurdjieff once said that the aim of his teaching was to realize one’s own nothingness. This is also at the heart of the Buddhist teaching and can be found at the core of the teaching of Jesus as well. And here I am, close to the age of my father’s departure from this world, pondering the purpose of my existence, but in a whole new and deeper way. In a way where the outside layers of all my intentions are slowly being stripped away, in sync with what our current civilization is going though. And opening up to a completely unknown future. One in which I find myself doing things, becoming interested in things I never would have thought possible when I was 22 years old.

That day, the day my father died, I took my dog for a walk. We went, as we always did to the baseball fields at the edge of Cunningham Park in Queens. It was there that one could stand under a wide open sky. I stood at the center of that ball field. I was not sure of what I felt. Sadness. Loss. Hope. Uncertainty. But I just stood under that dawn sky, and questioned my existence. What was I going to do? What now? It has not been an easy road from there to here. But in a sense, I feel a bit of that sense of awe at a time where I feel the world around me is falling apart. A time where money is completely evasive. The weather has been relentless. Politics is ridiculous. And here I am sitting on the edge of a renaissance. Life is strange. But as Joni Mitchell sang in her song Woodstock, “Life is for learning.”

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2 Comments on “I Am Here”

  1. Barry Joseph says:

    Bruce, I was searching online to find the location of Central Beverages in Flushing, L.I. and came across your post. Did your dad’s business bottle and deliver seltzer? Both the beuatiful blue bottle and the siphon have the etched name (the siphon head says Central Beverages 55). I am a writing of an upcoming book on seltzer, and I have the bottle on my desk – so I am loathe to part with it – but when I read your post I thought it might have more personal meaning for you than it does for me. If so, please let me know.


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