My end-of-the-year report on Tommy:
Fr. Tom Hartman, my pal and former partner in all the God Squad stuff, including this column, is still suffering with Parkinson's disease. He lives in a nursing home, where the people love him and care for him. Both his hands are stiff and he's in a wheelchair. He has trouble remembering things and even greater difficulty communicating, but I know what he means just by looking in his eyes.
I always barge into Tommy's room or his floor yelling, "I am Rabbi Marc Gellman, and I am Father Tom Hartman and we are...the God Squad." This was our closing line for each of our TV shows. For over a year, Tommy would just look up and smile and say nothing because he couldn't speak. During my last visit, I came barging in with some of Tommy's friends and launched into my God Squad closer, as usual.
Then, for some reason, after I said our names, I stopped and looked at Tommy, who looked at me and said in a voice that was soft but clearly audible, "...and we are the God Squad!" It was my best present ever.
Even if Tommy loses his voice again, I'll know he hasn't lost his heart and his soul and his smile, which is all you need. Pray for him that this will not be his last Christmas and his last New Year's Day.
About those resolutions...
I make my New Year's resolutions on the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in September, which has always seemed like the best time of the year to take stock of my moral life. Then, when the universal New Year comes around, I check up on how I'm doing keeping the resolutions I made in the fall.
If you want to do this for your spiritual and moral health, run through your list of New Year's resolutions around Easter (or in May for those with secular preferences). Send me not just your New Year's resolutions, but how you're doing with them when you know. Meanwhile, I hope you had a Merry Christmas and I wish to you and yours a Happy New Year!
This year, I resolved to:
1. Pray one more thank-you prayer every day. You know my fondness for the Meister Eckhart quote: "If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, it will be enough." I am saying more thank-you prayers, but I don't know if it will be enough.
It's very hard to remember only what you've been given and not gripe about what has been taken away. I know that gratitude is the key to happiness. Happiness is not the key to gratitude. We only become happy when we are first grateful. It's the only way. I know this, but sometimes it's a struggle to live it.
2. Say "thank you" to people who are not expecting it. The limit of thank you prayers is the address. They're directed to God, which is good because they help us to see life in all its forms as a gift, not a curse, but they don't reach the people who actually help us and who deserve our thanks.
I've been working hard on trying to be especially sensitive to thanking people who are helping me deeply but may think they're just doing their job. Thanking them helps me to remember and I hope it helps them to realize that it is in doing our regular, ordinary work that we define our life. The big things we do don't mean nearly as much.
I want to send special thanks to Stacy Deibler, my editor at Tribune Content Agency, and her crew for helping get my column out every week. Her notes of appreciation about certain columns make me feel redeemed as a writer. When she says nothing, I'm glum for a week.
I want to say a special thank you to Marjorie Robbins, my editor at Newsday, my local paper here on Long Island. She is terrific. With all these editors, it sometimes amazes me that anything I write is good enough. To be a great editor is to be able to mold a writer without changing a writer. Seen that way, I guess that makes most all of us editors.
Finally, I want to thank you, my dear readers. Your kind comments, as well as your cogent critiques, have not only helped me, but they have also taught me, and so to you my teacher/readers: Thank you and God bless you in the year ahead.
(Send QUESTIONS ONLY to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)