By JAN WILLMS
Como resident Paul Kotz (photo right by Jan Willms) wanted to write a book for his daughters. “I was trying to write something that they might know their dad in a different way,” he said. A number of years passed and in 2018 Kotz published “Something Happened Today.”
It is still a book for his daughters, now young adults, but it is also a challenge to other readers to find something positive and unexpected in the simple experiences of everyday living.
His publication is some short excerpts that can be read in one or two sittings or can be read as a message a day to search for the positive elements of life.
Kotz, who initially came from a corporate background, has been an educator for the past 27 years. He currently teaches a doctoral program in leadership at St. Mary’s College in Minneapolis.
“I love to observe what is going on in the world,” Kotz reflected. “So I started writing stories, looking for good and hope in the world. I think a lot of it springs from seeing what people experience each day.”
Kotz said that, especially with his students, over the last 20 years he has seen a myriad of things happen, from the horrific to simple acts of kindness. And it is these acts of kindness that he has showcased in his book.
“There is a sense of humor throughout the book,” he continued, “but you also see ‘Oh, Wow! That happened?’ in its pages, also.”
One example he writes about is a young man named John, who has come from Kenya and needed a host family for a couple of weeks. Kotz and his family took him in, and a neighborhood celebration was being planned to welcome him. The evening before that took place; John learned his father had died.
Kotz writes about the feelings of joy in being welcomed to a new place while at the same time the feelings of sadness at losing a parent thousands of miles away.
“We had to make this into a celebration for John,” he noted. “We tried not to reflect on the loss, but at the same time we recognized it.”
On a different note, Kotz describes coming across a young man in LA Fitness who was screaming and yelling expletives. Kotz said he had his fears and was not sure whether to engage him. “I just told him I hoped it would get better. He swore at me again, but after a little time with this man, he let me know he was struggling; he had lost his job and broken up with his girlfriend, his car was not working, and he was in economic straits. Sometimes you just have to listen, and I wonder, are we doing that enough?” Kotz said. “Are we taking the time to listen and to care about others?
He said that in gathering the information for his book, he kept his ears open and his eyes receptive to people’s experiences.
“In my line of work when I hear a story or observe something, it is a gift just to take it in,” Kotz said. “As an advisor in St. Mary’s leadership program, people will ask me what they should do. They want advice on what their next step should be. In the grand scheme of things, I can’t give them advice, because all our stories are different. I have to stay open and listen.”
He said he listens and stays present and hears what is going on in the world. And this has been his experience in writing “Something Happened Today.”
“I love to write,” Kotz said, “and I will write about the things I see and the people I meet.” He said he might meet someone during the day and write it down that night, or think about an experience he had in the past couple days, and write it down.
He said his goal in teaching is to make his students better decision-makers and help them make better ethical decisions. He said some readers have asked him if his ideas are not too Pollyannaish. “They say you can’t trust people, because they will burn you.”
“My answer is yes, we have all been burned, but every person has some good in them. You don’t always see it, and sometimes you have to dig really deep.”
Looking back on his own life, Kotz said that there were always other people who would look out for him and steer him onto the right path. He was born in New York and came to Minnesota when he was 11. “I am now 55, and I have seen a lot in my life. But when I was young, if I would drift off the path I would have people who would tell me that if I wanted to be in this community, I needed to act a certain way. “
Kotz said there were always people who could see the goodness in him and see his potential. “A lot of kids don’t get that opportunity today,” he explained. “A lot of adults don’t get that opportunity.”
Kotz also mentioned the mentoring of strong women in his life, including his mother. She had a bumper sticker on her car that read “Women are natural-born leaders. You are following one.”
The students Kotz works with now are primarily adults, and he said they go through a lot. “How do you integrate work life with the rest of how you want to live your remaining days?” he asks them. And he tells them there is not a lot of time until they retire to savor the goodness, so why not start now?
“I go to bed, tired, with a lot of responsibilities like everyone else,” Kotz said. “But I wake up and ask God to help me be a better man. I am present to people. I sometimes don’t do the best job, but I try. And I start the day out that way and capture the good moments.”
Kotz said this book is a collection of surprises about what life has to offer. “I think the world is an amazing place, and I look for the good to see hope in society and that everybody has something good to give back. As a nation and as a world, it is imperative to keep this world going in a good way. We can really learn from others, and you can alter your perspective on how you deal with the daily grind of life.”
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