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Archive for May, 2011

Since the dollar as we know it is no longer worth what it used to be worth, there’s been a lot of press on the value of gold. With the price of gold currently going for $1,500 an ounce, I got to thinking about a 1915 two and a half dollar gold coin I have in my coin collection. It probably weighs about .25 ounces…or a little less, making it worth between $350 and $375. As a coin, however, in fine condition, it would sell for about $285.

The math is simple. My coin is worth more as gold than it is as a coin.

That got me thinking about the concept of value and worth on the YBR. And for the purpose of this “blagh” I’m only using my gold coin as a metaphor for the value and worth of our lives on the YBR.

How much is a person worth? What is the value of a person? Are we like gold coins in that our worth is not the same as our value?

I thought I could answer my own question quickly and easily, but I had…and still am having…a difficult time coming up with an answer.

One relevant dictionary defining value is: to regard highly, prize, esteem. The dictionary defines worth as: the quality within a person that renders him/her deserving of respect.

My trip to the dictionary did help me because I now understand the true meaning of value and worth in human terms. Unlike a coin whose value and worth can be miles apart, when it comes to our humanity, value and worth are like the two sides of a coin. You can’t have one without the other, and one is not better than the other.

Unfortunately, society thinks of humanity in commercial terms. Society, i.e. the workforce, places an arbitrary value on us in how valuable we are to the bottom line and likewise society has established an equally arbitrary scale to determine our worth.

As a result we all use the same scale used by society and unfortunately all too often we come up short because society, i.e. the workforce, rarely knows how valuable we are and how much we are really worth.

Using my gold coin as an analogy let me coin a new term “the human gold scale” to explain what I mean. We are all born solid gold. Inherently we are priceless. However, it is difficult to remain pure gold because we are melted down and minted not only by society but by our own unique experiences. And in the minting process we are given a numerical value…or a value that society imposes on us.

In these difficult economic times I think we all call into question our value and our worth. And that’s wrong because we are all worth much more than what society says we are…and we are also more valuable.

None of us are small change. And we’ve got to believe that. Our worth and value goes much deeper than whatever society claims. Our worth and value can only be truly measured in terms of our heart.

So what can we do about it? It’s simple. Whenever we come in contact with someone else, be they family, friend or stranger, we have to place a high value on them and increase their worth by being as kind as possible because kindness and caring are priceless commodities on the yellow brick road.

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Catherine and Vincent Begley

Twenty-four years ago today (May 16) my mother died in her sleep.  She and my father were up for my son Jeremy’s First Communion. (My birth mother was also with us). It is only fitting that I take this opportunity to remember Margaret Catherine Begley (1915-1987).

Recently I came across a pack of letters my mother had written to me during my freshman year at Marist (1966-1967). My mother was a very simple woman as you’ll see from one of the letters she wrote me.

Monday
April 12
11:30 a.m.

 Dear Vincent,

Well, all quiet on the home front. Dad went to see Grandma. I hope you arrived home on time. It seems the weekend just flies.

I got a spurt of energy this morning and I started spring cleaning. I cleaned out my closet. In doing so I located the missing green pants. I think I’ll start your closet next. There is a lot of things I have to get rid of that are too small for you.

Dad’s excuse for yesterday was Penn Station was so cold that the ticket agents had to drink brandy to keep warm (that’s a new line even for him!).

Mrs. G just called. She is to going into Brooklyn to see her sister who is very sick. They don’t expect her to last too long. She’s been in the hospital for about two weeks.

Well dear boy, I think that about winds it up. There is not much new since last night.

With love,

Mom

note: The new line my mother wrote had to do with the fact that my father was known to…drink a little.

A decade later after my father died, I came across the calendar date book he has the year my mother died. Note the item I circled in red.

 Twenty-four years ago I delivered the following eulogy for my mother:

SHE WAS A SIMPLE WOMAN

DELIVERED AT ST. WILLIAM THE ABBOT CHURCH

SEAFORD, NEW YORK

MAY 20, 1987

 If there’s any truth to the expression, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, you’ll understand why anyone associated with the Begleys will attempt to get the last word in.

That’s why I’d like to say a few words about my mother.

My mother never won the New York Lottery. She never played the Stock Market. Never vacationed at Club Med. Never shopped at Bloomies.

My mother cut coupons, she didn’t cut deals. She felt far more comfortable in a dress off the rack from J.C. Penney, than she ever would have felt in a dress by Halston or Perry Ellis.

My mother was never featured in People Magazine or Cosmo. She never made headlines in the New York Times. In fact, the only time her name appeared with any prominence in any newspaper, was the day before yesterday when her death was announced in Newsday.

In the scheme of world politics and international influence, my mother never rated a footnote because my mother was a simple woman. And in this fast-paced, high-tech world we live in, a simple person is about as rare as finding a Jewish Deli in Libya or Lebanon.

Yes, my mother was a simple person. She didn’t know a floppy disc from a floppy hat. To her a “byte” was something you took out of an apple. And if you couldn’t make a good batch of cookies with micro chips, what good were they anyway.

My mother was leg of lamb dinners with Nancy and Joe Sweeney. My mother was a summer vacation at Sag Harbor with Berna, Bill,  little Berna, Barbara, and little Billy, not to mention the many “rat races” we had with the Hannas at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

My mother was sitting out in the driveway with Mr. and Mrs. G on a hot summer evening. My mother was going over to Audrey’s to have her hair done.

My mother was known as Catherine, Kay, Mrs. B and Mrs. Beggie to Diane and Ginny Renz. She was Nanny to Michael, Danny, Meg, Anna, Jennifer, Jeremy, Nicholas and the little holy terror, Kieran. My mother was St. Catherine and MDMF (Mother dearest mother fairest) to my father.

My mother was playing host to Olga and Dick, Sallie and Bill, and a host of house guests over the years.

My mother commiserated with the other Begley wives, Aunt Mary and Aunt Katheryn, wondering why they were so “lucky” to get stuck with the Begley boys.

My mother was the quiet lady on the block with the Cronemeyers, the Gobbis, the Flocks, the Bishops, the Renzs, the Friels, the Gardalis, the Rohns, the Bensons, and the Cruises.

My mother was pot luck suppers and card games with her new-found friends, Marti, Faith, Goldi, Fay and the other people from the “center”.

My mother was nightly Scrabble games with my father. And even though he did cheat a little by making up words, my mother would make the most of it by adding an “s” to those made-up words.

My mother might not have had the education or the notoriety of an Eleanor Roosevelt or a Mother Thersesa, but that didn’t mean she was without influence or that she didn’t make a difference in other people’s lives.

She did. And not by words of wisdom, but simply by being Catherine.When people sought her out, she didn’t have answers, but she did have an abundance of compassion. And she was always there. She was the anchor in a storm.

She was the best of mothers. She was the perfect Edith for my father, the original Archie Bunker.

My mother was a woman who relished her role as a grandmother. She let her grandchildren comb her hair, paint her nails, and put make-up on her face.

One time, after Jennifer got finished applying  her touch to my mother, my mother’s hair looked like Elsa Manchester as the Bride of Frankenstein. Her nails looked like they belonged on Cyndi Lauper. And she had more make-up on than the clowns from Ringling Brothers Circus.

But, that was my mother. The same woman who would spend hours coloring with her grandchildren. (In fact, I think she had a secret desire to be crowned the Crayola Queen.)

More often than not, when she’d color with the kids, she’d be still coloring away at the kitchen tables long after the kids had departed to other rooms in the house.

I walked in on her once and went over to her as she was coloring in Porky Pig’s new convertible. I said to her, “Nice job, Nanny, you’re even staying inside the lines.”

That was my mother. One of the dearest and sweetest women to ever grace the face of this earth. She was a simple woman who might not have understood the Gospel teachings, but she lived them.

She took the Lord’s words to heart when he reminded us all that “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his immortal soul.”

My mother’s soul was never compromised because she was truly one of God’s children. And as Jesus told us in one of his beatitudes, “Blessed are the children of God, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”.

And most certainly, my mother entered the Kingdom of heaven the moment she left this earth.

At this time, if there’s anything that I might ask you, it’s this: Maybe not today, but perhaps tomorrow, the next day, next week or next month, I’d like you to do one unexpected act of kindness for someone.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It might be holding a door open for a stranger, saying a kind word to a neighbor or friend, or giving a long overdue compliment to a family member.

Whatever it is, keep it simple, but make a conscious effort to do it without expecting anything in return.

And if you can do that unexpected kindness and say to yourself, “I did that for Catherine”, I know that my father will thank you, my sister Patty and her husband Jack will thank you, my wife Patty and I will thank you, and it goes without saying…my mother will thank you.

One year ago today, May 16, 2010…my grandson, Andrew Vincent Begley was born.

May 16. A very important day in my life on the YBR. Happy Birthday, Andrew!  (We’re all thinking of you Nanny)

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Last year at this time the learned Scarecrow, Hon. Ph.D., delivered the first Emerald City University commencement address. This year the administrators at ECU conferred an honorary doctorate of humane letters on the Tin Man. What follows is his address to the Class of 2011:

My heart was filled with pride when the Chancellor of Emerald City University asked me to address the Class of 2011. It is both an honor and a privilege to talk to you today.

Today you are college students. Tomorrow you will enter a place many of your professors, parents and friends kept talking about. The real world.

Unfortunately whenever someone talked about the real world you just knew they weren’t talking about Disney World or Six Flags. Their tone and the look on their face changed drastically each and every time they uttered two words that I believe should never be used as a threat.

Not that there isn’t a difference between the world outside the gates of ECU and the manicured lawns you have crossed day-after-day on campus. There is. But to diminish your world and to mock you because you have no idea what’s in store for you in the “real world” is cruel and in my opinion unnecessary.

Have you been pampered and protected during your four years here? Of course. Have you pulled your weight and paid your dues? Some of you have. But for most of you, your only real world connection has been through an ATM.

As a student you have been blessed. You have had four years to expand your mind and fill it with thoughts that should lift you high above the clouds. Instead of ranking you by GPA, I would love to see how high each of you would float based upon how filed you are with the wonder and curiosity that is the ultimate benefit of a college education.

My fear is that many of you sitting in front of me might not be lifted off your chair. Some of you, however, would rise above the clouds.

Regardless. You still have a lifetime to fill your head with thoughts that will make the world a better place.

And that is what your job is. While you think your job is to enter the “real world” and conquer Wall Street, rival Bill Gates in wealth, be named to one of the many halls of fame or be elected to high political office, you will only be living partly because in your pursuit of the gold medal you run the risk of missing out on so much of what the “real world” really has in store for you.

I will be honest with you. The “real world” you have heard so much about is not a very nice place. We who have been living in it have really made mess of it. And for that I am truly sorry.

There is so little joy in the world as we have made it. But trust me; it doesn’t have to be that way. Each and every one of you has a chance to change all that.

How, you might ask? I’ll tell you. You can make the world a more joyful place by being a source of joy. Instead of investing your whole heart and whole soul in a job that might mean little more than a means to an end, invest your heart and soul in the people you come in contact with. Whenever you have an opportunity to be kind, I say, be kind. Whenever you have an opportunity to do a good deed, I say, do a good deed. Whenever you have an opportunity to love, I say, love. Whenever you have opportunities to lend a shoulder to someone in need, I say lend your shoulder. Whenever you have an opportunity to be less selfish, I say, think of others over yourself.

My advice might not increase your stock portfolio, but I can guarantee as the coals of your life begin to cool, the embers will ignite the hearts of those you leave behind.

If you remain real…and true, the “real world” could become a real nice place. Go forth and tilt with windmills and like Don Quixote, dream the impossible dream.

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While the world has been a-buzz following the killing of Osama bin Laden, Dorothy Gale has been deliberately mum on the topic…and for very good reason. Although not a trained Navy Seal, Dorothy did take out an evil person when she dropped in on the Wicked Witch of the East.

And while Dorothy could chime in with her opinion on the killing, the burial at sea, the photo release controversy, the common man’s reaction to the news of bin Laden’s death, and the more important ethical and legal issues, not to mention the potential for revenge on the part of bin Laden’s supporters…she would rather not.

Dorothy would much rather let the media monitor those debates. Today she would prefer to think about the presence of evil in the world.

Here’s her take.

“The cyclone that transported me and my house over the rainbow to Oz was real. But in life there is a thing I would like to call the forces of nature that make up who we are.  Evil is a force that should never be taken lightly or dismissed as just one of those things we have no control over.

“On the one hand we could talk about the inevitability of evil in the world from a philosophical point of view, but that would not really add anything to the discussion.

“I believe evil, like a cyclone, is the result of forces of nature that come together. I believe that evil is the result of a climate of fear that mixes with a culture of hatred.

“My heart tells me that we are fearful by nature, but we only come to hate because we are taught to hate. And fear and hatred are a deadly combination.

“We fear that which we do not know. We fear that which we do not understand. At this point in our human development, we should be less fearful than our early ancestors were because they did not have access to the knowledge we have at our finger tips.

“Hatred is not innate. It has to be learned. And unfortunately, much of what we come to hate comes to us from religion and politics. (I sometimes think they are actually one and the same.)

“As 21st century Americans we have learned, or at least we think we have learned, to separate our religion from our politics. But I fear that our brand of democracy is as much a religion to us as Islam is to the followers of Mohammed.

“What happened on 9/11 was the result of radical fear and hatred. There is no way that the actions of any of those involved in planning and carrying on the attacks of that dreadful day can be condoned, accepted or rationalized.

“However, the fear and hatred that collided over the blue sky of America nearly a decade ago still exists. Bin Laden might have gotten what he deserved and we might have sent a strong message to his followers, but did we actually do anything to change the “weather” in the world?

“I believe Western people are schizophrenic by tradition. On the one hand we tolerate religious differences, but deep down inside, many people of “faith” still believe that their religion is the one true religion. But because we are also a people of a law that separates church from state, we attempt to hide our religious beliefs in the name of democracy.

“Unfortunately, not all people of the world have evolved the way we have. (And this is not to mean we are better for our political evolution, it simply means we have developed in a particular way.) There are many millions of people around the world whose religion is their politics. And many of these people do not believe that tolerance is acceptable.

“The human race as a single entity has much to be proud of. But we all need to hang our head in shame over the many atrocities we have committed in the name of God and political expedience.

“Making slaves of people, destroying cultures, and making war will not win us any points if there are other forms of intelligent life in the universe.

“I do not consider my house-dropping a shining moment in my life. The deed was done and the deed did set some people free. But I would much rather think about ways I can help overcome my fear and eradicate hatred.

“When I accomplish that I will gladly go out in the street and cheer my ass off.”

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