Saturday, May 31, 2014

One month down, eleven more to go!

May 31, 2014 ... Day 31/365

Hello?  Anyone still out there?  Echo--echo--echo.  Well, I hope you are, and I hope you're enjoying this experience along with me!

As I was just telling my friend Laura though, writing every day, with no guarantee of readers?  It's quite the freeing experience!  When you know there aren't a lot of people out there reading your daily blog, you can stop worrying about pleasing people, or entertaining them, and just really focus on the work at hand.

Today is the 31st day of my 365-day journey from age 39 to age 40.  I turned 39 years old on May 1st, also known as Day 1, and on May 1st next year, I will turn 40 years old.  The journey is titled Finishing Forty, because when you turn a certain age, you've actually completed that year of your life.  When you turn 1, you have finished 1 year of life on Earth.  So by the time I turn 40, I will have completed 40 years of life on Planet Earth.

The concept of turning 40 makes my head spin, and my ego doesn't like it much either, but I decided I had to embrace it fully, and really, really analyze what it means for me, and hopefully at the same time, what it means for you

I realized quickly that turning 40 truly is a major turning point in any person's life.  It's a chance to look backward, look forward, and look at where I am right here and right now.  So far in this journey, I've shared stories of my past and my present.  I've thought back to fond memories, because by remembering them, I have seen them as teachable moments or even teachable years in my life.  By remembering certain people or moments, I have honored their place in my life, in who I was at that time, and who I am today.

So as I finish this first month of writing every day about my life in past, present, and future tenses, I thank you for joining me on this journey.  Maybe you're reading along as I post these online, or maybe you're reading them many years later.  Wherever you are now, this is where I was today!  Thank you for caring, and thank you for joining me on this little stroll.  I don't know where my path will lead me 11 months from now, but I appreciate your interest and care very, very much! 

I do hope to entertain you a bit, but I also hope you'll learn from my experiences, good and bad, and maybe even --gasp!-- turn 40 one day too.  (Over 40?  Stop smiling!  Under 40?  Stop cringing!) 

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 30, 2014

The time I worked at A&P

*Please forgive the horrible Photoshop work here,
but I couldn't find a photo of A&P's old
Rockville Centre store, so I just improvised!

May 30, 2014.

From 1990 to 1993, or somewhere around that time, I worked at the A&P store in Rockville Centre, New York.  On any given day, you might have found me in Dairy, Frozen Foods, Produce, Fish, Front End, or "on the floor", stocking the shelves everywhere else.

I absolutely loved the work, and loved my many jobs.  Before working at A&P, I was a Newsday delivery boy (which is its own story), but once I got my job in the supermarket business, I felt like I was finally a part of the workforce...whatever that was.  I was an adult, or at least someone slightly resembling an adult, or impersonating an adult, and it made me feel like a productive member of society.

It was there that I first learned how to clock in, mop floors, stock shelves, run a cash register, meet a delivery truck, clean and prep a fish department, and identify produce by name...although it took me a while to learn the correct pronunciation of shiitake mushrooms at first!  It was also there at the A&P where I learned the value of helping people.  Whether it was just directing them to the correct aisle or area of the produce section, or moving super fast at the cash register to ease a crazy backup, I just loved the ways I could make things easier for people.

Sure, there were difficult people very often, people who'd yell and complain no matter how nice their experience seemed to be, and there was even that one time someone tried holding up the store, putting us in lockdown mode until the police arrived.  But for the most part, life at the A&P was fun! 

The work was manageable and easy, and the money was decent enough for a high schooler to be getting.  I enjoyed being a kid in the otherwise adult environment, and it helped that I was a very reliable worker.  Overall, the experience was great, and if I ever had to choose a career outside of my field, working in a supermarket would be the first job on my list.  "It's been over 20 years," I imagine I'd tell the store manager, "But just give me an apron and point me in the right direction, and I'll be the best damn worker you ever what was the code for bananas?"

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Science vs. Religion: We Have A Winner!

May 29, 2014.

If there's one topic that drives me nuts more than any other, it's this one.  On my left side are atheist-minded people who refuse to believe me when I say I've received enough absolute proof in my life to confirm the existence of an afterlife and a higher power.  And on my right side are religious-minded people who refuse to believe that science is telling us all the truth about the age of the Earth and the facts of the known universe.  On both sides of the conversation, there are people who just refuse to listen to the other side.

You are not thinking clearly when you refuse to listen to scientific fact.  You are likewise not thinking clearly when you refuse to open your mind to the many people worldwide who have had absolute spiritual experiences that cannot be explained away by science.   

The wisest words any of us can ever say are, "I don't know."  We can shake a bible or even a whole library filled with scientific books (that's a lot of shaking!) in people's faces, but if we cannot also admit there is so much more we still do not know, we're accepting a forever-cloudy view of existence.

It annoys me to no end when comedians like Bill Maher and Seth MacFarlane mock religious people incessantly and rudely.  I totally understand when they are doing it to call out hypocrisy and hatred, but when they do so with hate and judgment themselves, they have completely fumbled the ball that is civilized conversation.  When they reduce their argument to mean mockery, they are failing.

Likewise, it annoys me to no end when people care about a religious text more than another human being.  When you choose doctrines over souls, you're doing it wrong.  You're failing at being spiritual in every way, shape, and form.  You may in fact be succeeding at being religious, but you may as well be worshiping a golden calf in the desert, such is your misguided love of the written word.

So who's the winner in the age-old battle between science and religion?  The free thinker!  The agnostic!  The truth seeker who knows she does not know all the truth!  The only possible winner is the soul, who may or may not call himself a soul, who stands in the middle of this age-old battlefield, and listens to both sides.  The person who listens and learns, pursues all he does not know with humility, who survives without flinging mud at either side: he is the one who always wins.

The pursuit of Truth with a capital T is one best undertaken while wearing a t-shirt that says, "I'm with stupid" as the arrow points inward.  I don't know, you don't know, none of us know even 1% of 1% of the answers to our questions. 

We do know some things, and for those, we should listen to one another.  In most matters though, we must always remind ourselves of the old Irish adage: we have two ears but only one mouth for a reason!  An agnostic is someone who does not know what the answers are, and in that sense, we are all agnostics.  We are, all of us, not on the left or the right of this or any debate, but all of us actually in the middle, together, forgetting all the time to use our two ears.

Am I right, though?  I don't know.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Angel Maya

Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

May 28, 2014.

I had planned a different reflection for today, but I just heard the sad news that Maya Angelou has passed away, and I must pause now to honor her.

For me, Maya is an absolute goddess, and has inspired me time and time again with her soulful words, both written and spoken.  She is that rarest of rare soul: someone who is poet, philosopher, and spiritual guru all in one.  In a time when the world has been spinning faster and faster, and change has been coming quicker than we can even track, Maya spoke with a purpose, and she lived for a reason.

Her most lauded poem, Caged Bird, spoke to us all in a hundred thousand myriad ways.  It spoke of our fears and our hopes, our dreams and our sorrows:

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

Be sure to read the whole poem here if you haven't:

A force has left our planet today, at least in physical form.  The cage she loved here is no more, and now she flaps her wings to freedom.  Our world is a sadder place today, but our lives are forever enriched by the richness she gave us.  She gave us her words forever, and her words will continue to inspire us always, but today, we cry.

We cry for our loss, but we sing an alleluia for her freedom.  We thank God for the gifts she gave us.  Not just the gift of her writing, or the gift of her words, but the gift of her soul as well.  She could have done anything with her life once she gained her fame, but all she kept doing was giving, loving, praising, singing, and then giving again some more.

Every day from here on in, we are forever blessed to have had the Angel Maya walk among us for a while.  And every day from here on in, we are forever dressed with the smile she helped us find.  Maya, we love you.  We love your words, yes, of course, but more than any constructs of your mouth or pen, we love the soul you were here, and the soul you will always be!  May all the angels praise you for sharing your soul so lovingly with this planet through some very difficult times.  And may God now hold your hand through the green pastures of forever love, forever peace, and forever freedom!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The unofficial start of summer

May 27, 2014

Well, it's finally back!  Summer!  It technically doesn't begin until June 21st, but it always feels very summery by this point in late May.

And as summer is unofficially beginning, I can't help but begin unofficially planning my summer vacations now too, which always, always, always include a trip to Ludlow, Vermont.  My family's been going to Ludlow for over 25 years now, and it's just one of my favorite places to be on Planet Earth.  We always stay on Lake Pauline, just outside of town, and it's become a truly sacred place for me. 

I even put Lake Pauline and Ludlow, Vermont in my second book, The Papal Visitor.  I just had to give the place a permanent spot in published literature, if for no other reason than pure selfish motives.  By having part of my story take place there, I can revisit the place anytime I pick up my book!

It's funny how so many of my reflections in this ongoing year-long series are just flashbacks, but it's really a testament to how much you can appreciate behind you in the rear-view mirror as you come up to a major milestone in the road.  By reflecting on years past, vacations past, I choose to honor their special place in my life history, and pause with gratitude for the special place in my heart they will always have for me.

Summer is often a time of year when we force ourselves to slow down a bit, when we take days off from work, or have time off from school, and just appreciate life and all its beauty.  And I'm all about that!  I try to do it year-round of course, but the warm weather certainly allows us to walk away from the computer more often, turn our backs on the desk at work and at home, and just really look around at the world around us.

I'll post more on Lake Pauline and Ludlow, Vermont in other reflections this summer, but as it's now unofficially summertime, I just had to unofficially bask in the awesome just ahead of me now!  We only get so many years in life, and only so many summers within those years.  So may the appreciation of summer now unofficially commence!

Monday, May 26, 2014

God, Bless America?

May 26, 2014.

It isn't a command, right?  We're not ordering the creator of the universe to bless us.

And it isn't a statement of fact in the sense that we believe God blesses America more than any other country or people.

When we say, "God bless America," we are in fact asking God to bless America.  We're requesting assistance from God and Heaven for all the pursuits of truth and freedom we believe in.  We're praying for God's help and protection.  We're asking God to bless our troops who defend this country we love, and we're asking God to keep them and our country safe from harm. 

I can't help but philosophize about the phrase, because I hear it so often.  I don't hear, "God, bless my enemies," even though Jesus specifically told us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us.  Instead, I just hear people asking the creator of the universe to bless this one country. 

And guess what?  I want God to bless this country, and her people too!  I want God's blessings and protection whenever I can get them!  I love God more than my country, but I love my country too!  I love the troops who protect my country, and I want God to protect them always.  I genuinely believe we have an amazing country here, and whenever I come back to this land after venturing off to any of the other countries I've been lucky enough to visit, I always thank my blessings for this land I love.

But I cannot stop reminding people of the truths I began this reflection with: God is not our slave, waiting for a command from us like, "Bless!" and God is not blessing any country or religious group more than another.  When we put our focus on the love of God, the one who speaks through his children of forgiveness and prayer, kindness and peace, we cannot help but already feel the blessings God gives us. 

So God, please bless America?  Please bless our troops just the way I pray you bless all troops in all countries on Earth.  I know you do not bless all ideologies of those whose aim is to bring about pain and death, judgment and slavery, but I pray you bless us all with the knowledge and spirit we need to make this a better planet.  I pray you bless America with the wisdom and insight necessary to make it an even greater country than it already is.  I pray you bless our leaders, of all political parties, with that same wisdom and insight.  And I pray my "God, bless America" prayer with all humility and gratitude for all the blessings I have received as a citizen of this great, great, great nation.  Amen, and thank you!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

My radio station would be W.H.A.T.

May 25, 2014.

Last night, I found myself in one of those time portals only guys like me in their first of many mid-life crises goes through.  We were listening to older music (like from way back in the 80s), and I began fearing judgment from my younger guests.  "Quick," I whispered, "Put something new on!"  We quickly moved onto some Miley and Macklemore, so I breathed a little easier.

It's just one of those rites of passage all humans seem to go through, so I don't hate it too much, but at some point, you crave "your" music more than "their" music, the music of today.  And yet, that isn't my real problem.  I like all kinds of music...even though I'm admittedly trapped in the 80s for the rest of my life.

My real problem, though, is that I don't even know who's singing half the time, and can't sing along!  I will immediately start moving with the music when it's a familiar tune, and I have many, many favorite songs like this, but I can't recite the lyrics like everyone else.  I can't even tell you if it's Pink, Blondie, or K, E, dollar sign ha.  "What year did this song come out?"  "I don't know, sometime between 1980 and today.  Hope that helps?"

In school, especially high school, I felt like such an idiot for not knowing the kinds of facts all my friends seemed to pull from a part of their brain I didn't seem to have.  If someone asked what year a song was released, I'd stare at them perplexed, like I was working on it, thinking, remembering, and then when they guessed some random year, I'd start agreeing quickly, "Yeah, I think that's right."  Of course there was no chance I could remember the lyric, the singer, or the year, because that information never, ever went into my brain in the first place!

So most of my adult life, including last night, I've just been resigned to admit I am a complete idiot when it comes to these things.  I hope, when my true moron nature is revealed in moments like that, my friends will remember I do have some talents in other fields.  I pray they see me not just for the gigantic mass of brainless human I am, but instead remember that somewhere inside my head, other brain cells have just focused on other things.

I do love 80s music, and I'm not afraid or ashamed to admit it, especially so-called Alternative 80s music like The Smiths and The Cure.  So judge me all you like, and call me an irrelevant old guy, but I'll stay happily trapped in the euphoria of a bygone age probably forever.  It's just where I feel most at peace, and most at home.

Sing to me, Morrissey.  Wish me an unhappy birthday, because I'm evil and I lie.  Yeah, man.  Nice.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Things which matter least

May 24, 2014.

There's a quote I came across at some point in the past two years, which I keep now above my desk at work:

"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least." --Goethe

It's just become one of those life mantras I absolutely adore, and it reminds me how unbelievably silly we all can be.  We throw away friendships and relationships for the stupidest possible things, misconceptions and mistaken understandings more often than any other.  We quit jobs, we leave programs, and we otherwise make reckless decisions based on one bad day, experience, or interaction.

So much of life's good gets thrown away with the bad.  The baby is thrown out with the bath water, and the nose is cut off to spite the face. 

The older I get, the sillier I realize we all are.  And it's in the midst of this silliness-recognition process that you really begin to see the absolute beauty of life, instead of the other way around.  You break two eggs into the pan to cook up some breakfast, before you realize a little piece of shell fell in.  The egg is bubbling away, and it's too difficult to get just that little piece of shell out on its own.  So you dig out a piece of the egg too, just to be sure you got the shell out.  The breakfast isn't ruined, and the majority of the eggs will still be fine. 

When we let the things which matter least mess up the things which matter most, we've totally relinquished common sense.  We've allowed our melting heartstrings to bubble up in the pan, instead of just taking a wide-angled view of the situation, and fixing the small issue calmly. 

The photo I'm attaching here is a shot Andy took of me on Ka'anapali Beach in Maui in May, 2012.  At the moment this photo was taken, I was looking around for a safe place to move into the water, as there was a lot of underwater coral in the area.  We were leaving Hawaii the next day to head back to New York after 10 full days there, and though most of my amateur snorkeling time I was in a more secluded area, on this day we were in a crowded (for Maui) stretch of beach.  We came over to this area because I was hoping I'd see my first sea turtle, but the search wasn't looking good. 

When I look at this photo now though, I see two things.  I see all the frustration, disappointment, and anxiety I was feeling, but I also see the people further out, and I remember they were the ones I swam with minutes later.  They were the ones who called out, "Turtle!"  They were the ones who followed a giant sea turtle (several feet long) as it swam into shore right out in front of me.  And they were the ones who, after we all saw the turtle under the water, shared a moment of purest bliss with me.  We were strangers, but as our heads came up from under the water, our faces all mirrored the same amazing emotion, huge smiles from ear to ear as we looked at each other completely speechless, in awe of nature, in love with life.

It's all about perspective, and taking a moment to look back from any given situation from a better view.  And how about that view! 

There are so many ridiculously silly things that happen throughout our lives, and so many miniscule events and interactions that shape way too many of our life experiences.  Eggshells have no right spoiling our breakfasts, and things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.  Life's too fucking short!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Choose Your Speed

May 23, 2014.

Each afternoon during my lunch break, I like to drive over to the park near my job, and eat my salad right there in my car.  That way, it's easy to just jump out afterward and begin walking.

All around the park on the nicest days, people of all ages and speeds are out walking.

I walk quickly past an older couple in their 70s, and feel a pang of guilt, as if I'm showing off or something.  I often send out a telepathic message to them that says, "I'm on my lunch break, so I have to keep moving quickly!  Otherwise I'd walk slowly like you...not that you're walking slowly or anything!"

Very often I'll pass people who are right around the speed I prefer to go, so I have to speed up to get past them, then time it just right to start slowing back down to regular speed once I'm far enough in front.  It's like a game, or a science.  An art form really...the kind of art I hate.

The runners, though?  They make me feel like an old slowpoke as they whir past me.  "Oh, I used to walk," I imagine them telling me, "I used to just meander around like you, as slow as can be, but now I can do this."  How rude!  I admire them anyway though, and hope to some day join them!

No matter what speed we're all going though, fast or slow, we're all enjoying the trip.  We all chose to go to this park and move around a bit.  None of the people I see there live in the park, as far as I can tell, but whether it's from our homes or our jobs, we've all decided to take some time to be with nature.  We've all made the time to move around this beautiful park, smell the freshness of late spring, and bask in the sunlight bursting through the treetops.

The speed with which we all move is irrelevant, and the time it takes me to get around the large path is neither better nor worse than the time it takes others.  We're all just appreciating the park, and appreciating the blessings of time itself. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Happy Birthday, Andy!

May 22, 2014.

Andy and I have been together over 12 years now, and I've become a happier and happier person because of him.

Today's his birthday, so I want to spend today's reflection telling you a little bit about him.  Maybe you already know some of this, or maybe it'll all come as a surprise.  Either way, I hope you enjoy reading about this incredible man I'm blessed to have in my life.  [The picture I'm attaching here is from our 2012 trip to Maui.  You should be able to click on the photo for a larger size too.  And then click the X in the top right to go back here if you do.]

Born in Trinidad, Andy is the son of a Trini dad with European roots, and a Chinese mom, who actually left Communist China with her mother when she was just a little girl.  When Andy was only eight years old, his parents took his brother and him out of school, and they all moved up to Long Island, New York, where he's been living ever since.  His tastes in food and really in life reflect his background and parents.  Perhaps it's yet another reason we get along so well too.  As a monk, I learned to see the world as an outsider would, and as an immigrant from Trinidad (just like my dad was from Ireland too), Andy learned right away how different America was from his roots back home in the islands.

He doesn't like being in the spotlight, but that's one of the most lovable things about him (among many, many more of course).  He's just a sweet, gentle, loving soul, who gives so much more of himself than he gets in return.  Andy loves watching the news, the latest reality police or criminal-chasing show, and especially Anthony Bourdain.  If you walked into our living room on any given evening, you'd probably find Andy laying back on the couch with his legs crossed, one flip flop hanging off his foot, as his mouth is curved into a smile at whatever cool or silly thing he just saw on TV.  He'd tell you about what just happened on the show if you walked in late, and encourage you to see what's going on for yourself. 

The thing most people don't know about Andy is that he's a silent sponge, hearing everything you say even if he doesn't comment in the moment, but who will happily toss back a memory or phrase a week or even a month later when you least expect it.  He's actually really, really hysterical when he does this, especially because it often comes from left field.  One moment he seems very serious, and the next you're just howling with laughter at the verbal jab he's just thrown back at you. 

Of course he's made fun of my love of Broadway a hundred different ways, but never with animosity, always just in a playful way.  He might suggest without a smile that I could go to yet another Broadway show, or, if I'd like, I could pay the bills instead.  The smile comes a beat later, and lets me know that as serious as he was being about the need to pay the bills and save money, he still doesn't hate me for enjoying Broadway so much.

And that's his style in all things really.  He's this source of love, the sunshine in my life, who's happy to keep pouring out his love, even when I'm not appreciating him or the needs of our household as much as I should be. 

He's a happy, loving man who wishes the world and her people were nicer, and he gets genuinely angry when people are bigoted, racist, homophobic, or otherwise just hateful to other human beings.  He aches to be a high schooler again now, only because he sees how much better the world has gotten since we were in school.  And through it all, he's just a passionate, wonderful, sweet, gentle-natured soul who everyone enjoys talking with.

And so today, May 22nd, is his birthday. 

When I ask him what he'd like, he most often replies, "You don't have to get me anything."  And he means it!  He'll love your gift, whatever it is, and he'll thank you and appreciate it, but he's genuinely fine without the attention and love shown to him. (Yet another reason why he should get oodles of love and attention today!)

Andy is a sweet, beautiful guy, and my love for him has no bounds.  He is the sunshine in my life, the joy in my smile, and just the greatest love I've ever known.  Happy Birthday, Andy!  May your joy of life only double in the year ahead, and may everything wonderful always come your way!!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Commencement Address to the Class of 2014

May 21, 2014.

No one's asked me to speak at their high school or college graduation this year, which is probably best, as I'd faint two minutes into my speech.  (I always forget to breathe.)

And from what I understand, you need to have a large resume filled with extraordinary accomplishments and successes before you get that kind of invite anyway.  Makes sense.  So what follows here is just what I would say were I to have the opportunity to address the class of 2014.  It's short, but I hope it's no less profoundishlike...

Dear graduates,

First of all, congratulations.  You have now completed what was probably an often rigorous path filled with many, many obstacles and distractions along the way.  All along this path, there were possibilities to make you go astray, to totally sabotage all your hard work and diligence.  You didn't let these things stop you.  You acknowledged them, you saw them for what they were, and you carefully moved past them.  Whether these obstacles were people or events, experiences or tribulations, you knew your end goal was somewhere past them.  You knew the future was waiting patiently for you up ahead, and none of the troubles of today would stop you from getting there.

And now, as you turn this corner and peek around the bend, you're already seeing new roads worth traveling.  You're literally at a crossroads in your life, one of several important ones you'll come to along the way.  It's a time of decision, but before even that, it's a time for contemplation.

Do not let this time of contemplation pass you by!  It's upon you for only a few moments of your life, and it's important to honor this time for what it is, not just for what it will soon morph into.   When you come to a bend like this in the road, feel free to look back, and feel free to look forward, but also take the time to look at the here and now. 

Appreciate the magic of this moment.  Appreciate the perfection of this pause.  Appreciate the truth to be found in this time right here.

For your whole life long, you will always look back at this time with fondness and joy.  Some of you will do so because you had such a great time the last four years, while others will smile because you're just so glad it's frickin' over.  No matter what the recent past has brought you, I pray the sacred air of these days right here will fill you with the promises you hope to fulfill tomorrow.

But here's the thing about the road you hope to travel in the not-so-distant future.  It's not the only road open to you, and more importantly, it's always connected to other roads, other possibilities.  You might feel all the confidence in the world right now about the road up ahead, but that doesn't mean you're not always able to switch course.  Don't let anyone ever tell you there's no way out, because you just found your way out already!  You already learned from this school you're graduating from that what once was, no longer is.  You already learned that the promises of four years ago about this moment right here have already come true. 

So live for tomorrow in each day you walk through, but know that the course can always be changed.  Don't ever, ever, ever feel stuck in your destination!  It may have all seemed wonderful as you were getting there, but if you get to a place on the road ahead and feel stuck, you can always come back to this feeling you have right now.  This feeling of possibility is not expiring today or anytime soon.  It has no expiration date as long as you believe. 

Believe in your possibilities.  Believe in your chances.  Believe in yourself.

Graduates, I congratulate you.  From the bottom of my heart, I honor what you have accomplished, and I congratulate you for all you've overcome to get to this moment in time.  I encourage you to honor your recent past filled with challenges, and honor your future filled with more challenges, by honoring these days right now. 

Think on them and dwell on them.  Honor these days with all your heart and all your soul.  Appreciate what this turn in the road has to teach you.  And know that whatever troubles might arise on the road and roads up ahead, you can always come back to this moment, this everlasting moment of possibility.  It's not stuck in time like our past, but always floats along with us through life.  It's always there to help us change course when we need to, and always ready to help us find new roads on which to travel.

So, dear Class of 2014, the past is done now.  Learn from it.  The future is a door opened wide.  March through it confidently.  And the present is always right now, a gift, a sacred space of reflection.  Be mindful of it always.  May all your pasts, all your futures, and all your present moments always, always, always be at your service.  Congratulations, good luck, and may you all have greater lives than you can possibly imagine! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My first Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol experience

May 20, 2014.

It's been six years now since my first of seven experiences surprising people with money from Publishers Clearing House.  Yes, it's real!

On two different trips in 2008 and 2009, I traveled to Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan, and Indiana, in a collection of adventures like no other kind on Earth.  Surprising winners with big checks for $1,000 and $10,000 may not sound as huge as the millions some others get, but I promise you the excitement we brought into each small town we visited was no less spectacular!

On Tuesday, May 13th, 2008, my fellow Prize Patrol Deputy and I arrived at the Moose Lake Florists in Moose Lake, Minnesota to pick up the flowers we'd ordered in advance of the trip.  It's also where we planned to have our Publishers Clearing House balloons blown up.  My colleague Jack told the owner we were coming from Publishers Clearing House in New York to pick up the flowers on that exact day, but he had a feeling she didn’t believe him.  When we pulled up in the Prize Patrol van and walked into her shop with our Prize Patrol jackets on, and smiles happily in place, she was shocked!  She had prepared the flowers just in case, but said she still didn’t believe it "until she saw the whites of our eyes". 

The florist shops we used doubled as media rendezvous points as well, an easy place we could inform the local media to meet us, before heading to the still-unannounced winner’s home nearby.  None of the Duluth-area media we'd contacted were able to make it, possibly because we weren’t awarding millions of dollars, or maybe just because they had bigger stories to cover somewhere else.  The small town of Moose Lake knew we had arrived in town though, and word spread very fast!  Besides just the local coffee shop patrons and other passers-by ogling at us, wondering if we were some elaborate hoax or the real deal, two local newspaper publishers quickly showed up to cover the story.  We may not have made CBS News that night, but we were happy to have the Moose Lake Star Gazette run the story on their front page for a few weeks!

Of course everyone wanted to know who the winner was, but we kept that top secret, as we'd been trained to do.  Especially in a small town like this one, the chances of someone knowing and alerting the winner were much greater.  So we finally get going, my colleague Jack at the steering wheel with the big check near his seat, ready to grab it in a hurry, and me in the back of the caravan with a dozen red roses and a bunch of inflated balloons, ready to jump out the side door once we pulled up to the winner’s home (still known only to us). 

The newspaper publishers were following us in their pickup trucks, and the adrenaline was officially flowing big time!  We turned down this road and that, over that hill and down this road, finally arriving on an unpaved dirt road 15 minutes outside of town.  We see our winner’s house, and we pull up quickly between his house and the neighbor’s.  Immediately, one of the newspaper publishers jumps out of his truck and runs up to our car window. 

“I gotta know right now!  Who’s the winner??!!

Jack showed him the check with the winner’s name. 

  That’s my next door neighbor!  I live right there!” 

It turns out, the newspaper publisher in Moose Lake lived right next door to our first winner!  He'd followed us all the way from town, watching us turn on this road and that, down all these back roads along the way, and as we finally turned on his street, his heart was pounding away furiously, wondering if it was him who had won! 

As it turned out, the winner wasn't home, and though we tried to find him at his job (we always spent hours looking, asking people where the winner worked if they weren't home), we never did locate him--the only time that happened to us.  But we left the big check, the balloons, the flowers, and the champagne with the newspaper guy, the winner's next-door neighbor, and just mailed the real check once we got back to the office that week.

So the moral of the story is, surprises are fun, and big surprises are bigger fun!  Don't risk telling anyone just in case!  And even if you're not a winner, whether from Publishers Clearing House or in any way in life, be happy for your neighbor, and for the experience of their big win.  Moose Lake certainly had a fun experience that day, and so did I!  More stories from other trips to come in future daily reflections.  Thanks for reading this one!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Impatience is not a virtue

May 19, 2014.

When I was little, someone taught me this phrase, which has stuck with me my whole life:

"Patience is a virtue.  Possess it if you can.  Seldom found in women.  Never found in man."

I've always had an innate tendency toward impatience.  It may have come from growing up in a house of 10-13 people and fighting over bathroom or TV rights, I'm not sure.  I just know I've always struggled to remain patient, and the older I get, the more I work against its pull.  Turning 39 though has also reminded me that slowing things down a bit is a very good thing, and maybe rushing around so much is counter-intuitive to enjoying a long, happy life.

I guess we all like the idea of remaining patient, because somewhere in our head, we imagine good things coming to those who wait....another phrase we all picked up along the way!

But patience isn't easy when you're stuck behind a wall of traffic on the parkway, already running late to work.  It isn't easy when you're looking down at the scale to see how your diet and exercise regimen is going, when you know you can't change any of the numbers on that scale for the moment. 

And patience isn't easy when you're at a live concert like the one I went to this weekend, and a lady two rows in front of you has decided to very, VERY slowly type a text to a friend.  The lights have gone out and the band is playing, but this woman has decided her cellphone's light is a better attraction for the audience to look at.  She's made the command decision to entertain us all as she slowly searches for the keys one at a time, as if she's never typed before in her frickin' life.  "I-'-M...A-T...A...C-O-N-C-E-R-T.  W-H-A-T...A-R-E...Y-O-U...D-O-I-N-G?" I imagine she writes.  My patience is nonexistent in moments like this.  Instead, my desire to rip out my soul for a minute for safe keeping, as I leap over the seats and begin smashing the cellphone over her skull takes over.

[Deep breaths, Sean, deep breaths.  Ohmmmmm.  Namaste.  Love.  Allhappythoughts.  Ohmmmm.]

What have I learned from patience so far?  I've learned that patience is considered a virtue because it's so hard!  Unlike breathing, eating, talking, and living, which are realities we all live with, patience is called a virtue because we have to aspire to it.  In other words, it's not innate in everyone!  How cool is that?! 

So the next time you feel impatient, you should allow yourself to feel, well, normal!  And if you're feeling particularly virtuous, then you can go ahead and be patient.  It may not be the stuff of sainthood, but it's a healthy step above ripping that woman's cellphone from her selfish little fingers and destroying it in a million tiny little pieces on the floor, as you cackle right in front of her indignant, shock-filled face!

Ohmmm.  Ohmmm.  Ohmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Brother Sean, the electrician?

May 18, 2014.

When I joined the religious life and took vows, I quickly became more than just Brother Sean.  I soon became a young man proficient in painting, electrical, cooking, cleaning, and even cement work and landscaping!  I got moved around to various work crews, but electrical is where I ended up more often than not.

Each alternate Saturday morning during the school year, and each weekday morning in the summer especially, I'd be told where I was needed that day.  If it was house or kitchen work, I'd just go straight there, but if it was electrical stuff as I did most often, I'd report to a classroom over in the school.  It was there that all the Brothers and student workers on duty that day would report, to check in for attendance and a brief summary of what we'd be doing.  The painters might be repainting the track outside, the woodworking crew might be helping to build a new wall in the auditorium, and the electricians might be needed to rewire the newest computer lab.  Whatever the jobs were, we knew what had to be done, and then went off in our separate groups to do it.

I personally loved working on the electricians' team, as we were a smaller group of just one or two other Brothers and me, plus one, two, or three student workers.  I was only 18 to 21 in those years, so the students I supervised were not that much younger than me.  We were our own unit, and had our own jobs to get done in the same small area.  So because of all this, we had lots of really great conversations.  Do I remember any of them?  No, I guess I don't.  But I do remember enjoying it all very much!

The best part about it, besides learning a new trade and basically not having any extra heavy work to do, were the challenges we faced on each job.  You knew by the end of each project, large or small, we'd have a classroom wired up, or all new outlets installed, or a new light fixture hung in the chapel, or new hand dryers installed in the school bathrooms.  But before we could get to that end goal, we had to first think out what we'd need.  We'd head over to our electrical supplies area, search for the right wires, cables, nuts, screws, and other tools, and then head to the job site. 

Once we were there, we'd have to figure out what prep work had to be done before we could tackle the issue.  In many cases, we had to find out where the wires were coming from before we could start, or maybe even run new wires through the ceiling or crawl space.  Sometimes this was as easy as tossing a wire across a drop down ceiling to someone waiting 10 feet away, but other times, you had to snake a new wire down a tight passageway and hope to God it reached the correct destination without too much sweat.  In each situation, we always started with an end goal in mind before we began the often complicated process of reaching that goal.

And really, isn't that just like this life we're living right now?  Whether the goal is one day away, or two months, or even years, we start with a goal in mind.  Then we collect the tools and parts necessary, and we set about journeying from place A to place B.  Being an electrician taught me that whenever the goal is within reach, it will be done.  The process of arriving there, though often fraught with challenges, is set up to ultimately succeed.  You just know it can be done.  And the joy of the work, of the journey along the way, is knowing that by the time you're all finished, new lights will shine.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My past 15 years of psychotherapy

May 17, 2014.

When I was 21 years old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, an illness I'd probably suffered with for several months before I knew what it was.  I spent seven months seeing a psychologist weekly, and by the time I stopped (and I was no longer a monk), I was feeling much, much better.

Here's a letter I wrote to my psychologist about a year and a half after the last time we met.  I'm including only the parts that don't get into personal information.

March 29, 1999.
             Thank you very much for your letter.  A friend of mine just asked me a couple of days ago if I’ve fully adjusted yet to “the world” and without hesitation I told him that I hadn’t.  And I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all—rather a good thing—that part of me is still able to look at the world from such a strangely objective view.  I’m very different from my friends sometimes in my naivete towards the “ways of the world,” but I have to think I’m better off for thinking the better of people rather than the worse. 

            ...I haven’t found a boyfriend yet but I’m sure I’m closer now than ever before, so I guess that’s a good thing.  I haven’t tried to rush my life at all, just take things one day at a time, and that plan has worked out just fine so far.  

           ...Well, that’s some of what’s going on in my life.  I have a lot of good friends who I’m very lucky to have. 
          ...That’s the part about being a brother I knew I would have trouble with: counseling others while putting my own problems away.  Anyway, I will be forever grateful for all your help, advice and good counsel...

And that's it.  I didn't write him again.  I wanted to, many times, not because I needed to, but just because he had helped me through so much.  I just never did.  So what you see above is the totality of my past 15 years of psychotherapy.

Or is it?

I fully support psychology and psychiatry.  I think seeing a doctor like this and discussing your life can be one of the greatest choices you ever make in life!  My doctor was incredible, and he helped me work through so, so much!  But I also believe we can work things out with friends and family when we open ourselves up.  When we are as honest as we can safely be with those closest to us, we open up much more than our minds; we open up new avenues of communication that we can travel with our loved ones for the entirety of our relationship.  There's absolutely no replacing professional psychotherapy, especially when you absolutely need medicine and professional counseling to help you, but short of this, or even in conjunction with it, I've always found it very helpful to talk openly and honestly with others. 

My seven months of weekly professional psychoanalysis were invaluable, and helped me forevermore.  My doctor was there for me in a time when I couldn't talk to anyone else in the world about what I was going through.  And the 15 years since then have been filled with hundreds of heart-to-heart talks with many, many dear people in my life.  They listened, and they loved.  And I have likewise been changed forever because of them.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Our Disposable Culture

May 16, 2014.

Last time I heard, the Earth was still spinning at the same rate, and time was taking the normal amounts of itself to pass us by.  I think if you really stopped to look, though, you'd see we're moving faster and faster as a human race now than ever before.  And we're missing a hell of a lot in the process.

We collect and collect all the time: clothes, friends, movies, books, experiences, and destinations.  But then, very quickly, we need more.  We need more shoes, more books, more pictures and experiences from more trips.  And they're all just stacking up everywhere we look. 

Our disposable culture isn't just in stuff we can hold in our hands, or things to do, but in our online self-sharing too.  We post to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more all the time.  We literally "throw ourselves out" there for others to collect.  We want to be loved, to be accepted, to be laughed at because of what we said, to be celebrated for our most recent quip or story.

All of life has become disposable.  We retain memories and post throwback pictures of times gone by, but the seconds, minutes, months, and years are flying past us, and all we're doing is throwing more and more out into the wind.

And yet none of that is an innately evil fact.  Putting ourselves "out there" is not an immoral truth about ourselves, nor is the speed with which we're doing it.  But it's worth pausing, for at least the few moments it's taking you to read this, to examine what exactly we're accomplishing with all of this disposing.  How are we growing ourselves or our lives because of it?  How are we helping our minds and souls to learn from life?

The truth is, we're all just like kids standing in front of a fan.  We toss a feather, a plastic bag, or a tissue in front of the fan to see what happens.  It's a game of cause and effect on a larger scale, that gets more and more complicated the more people we're reaching through our words and actions. 

A throwaway comment about a celebrity becomes a lot more powerful when it's done on a public forum where the celebrity--a human being--happens to frequent.  A simple comment on a friend's post gets chopped up and reread in a way we never even intended.  We throw out words and actions constantly, sometimes for fun, and sometimes to see what will happen.  Sometimes the plastic bag flies up in the wind, and sometimes it gets caught in the fan blades and is destroyed.

Our disposable culture is everywhere, and the only way to stop becoming such emotional litterbugs is to really focus on what we choose to put out there.  Your garbage is your business, and it shouldn't be thrown all around the emotional and digital highways of the world.  Likewise, your talents, your love, and your best self is always welcome to spread itself around.  Offer goodness and kindness to the world, and goodness and kindness will, more often than not, come wafting your way in return.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


May 15, 2014.

Perspective is everything. 

When I reached my 18th birthday, I had already decided to dedicate my life to the service of others as a Roman Catholic monk.  I received a very clear calling from God to do this, and so I listened and happily obeyed.

When I reached my 21st birthday, I was feeling great about my school work and my grades, and I'd begun writing more and more in my private journals.  Living as a monk was difficult a lot of the time, but with each passing year, I felt like I was finally getting the hang of it all, and life was great.

When I reached my 22nd birthday, I was suffering with clinical depression.  My religious superiors wouldn't allow me to get the medicine my doctor told me I needed, and they wouldn't let me tell anyone what I was going through either.  Instead of letting others know I was seeing a psychologist every week for an often debilitating illness, I was instructed to instead just lie, and say I was going to speak with a priest in the other community.  I was sure now that I was gay, and felt more trapped and lonely than ever before.

When I reached my 25th birthday, I was already out of the religious order for almost three years, living with friends in a house share down by the beach.  My father had died the summer before, and my spirituality was just beginning to blossom in new ways.  Reaching my 25th birthday was like finally coming alive, even though I still hadn't really begun dating much.

When I reached my 30th birthday, I was already with my partner Andy for three and a half years.  My mother had just died the autumn before, and Andy and I had now moved out of our family homes, and gotten an apartment together. 

When I reached my 35th birthday, I was now a homeowner for almost a year, having purchased a house with my partner Andy.  I had a great job as a proofreader with Publishers Clearing House, and even got to surprise people with money a few times.  Though life had dealt me some very difficult times too, things were generally good, and I was happy.

By the time I reach my 40th birthday, I will have already been out of college and the monastic life for 18 years.  It will have already been 15 years since I lived with friends down by the beach.  It will be over 10 years since my mom died, and over 15 years since my dad died.  I'll have been with my partner Andy for over 13 years, we'll have been in our home for over six years, and I'll have been at my current wonderful job for four years.  I'll have also published my first three books by then, and already preparing the fourth for publication as well.

I can't say I would have seen any of the above happening just a year before each of them did.  But life does that.  It surprises you.  You can plan things out, and keep moving forward, but things just happen.  People just die.  Love finally arrives.  Jobs end and new ones begin.  Sadness and joy just show up, in unequal measures, at different times.  The list of things I can't tell you goes on forever.  The only thing I can tell you for certain is, perspective is everything. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Creature of Habit

May 14, 2014.

I don't know if it was the four years of living in a monastery that did it to me, but for my entire adult life at least, I've come to really enjoy my various routines.  Schedules and sameness are comforting, and though I'm game for whatever come the weekend, I really enjoy keeping to the same routines Monday to Friday.

In my years as a monk, my schedule looked something like this:

5:15 Wake up, shave, and shower
6:00 Morning Prayer and Mass in the chapel
7:00 Breakfast with the community
7:30 Clean up breakfast for the community
8:00 Leave for Manhattan College
9:05 First class
6:00 Get home from Manhattan College
6:20 Meditation in the chapel
6:40 Evening Prayer in the chapel
7:00 Dinner with the community
8:30 House class (class at home in the monastery with the other Young Brothers, various topics relating to monastic life)
9:30 Night Prayer in the chapel
10:00 Great Silence (supposed to be quiet and in bed, or at least in our rooms).  This is when we'd start doing the bulk of our schoolwork and reading for classes at Manhattan.

It wasn't easy, but on Saturdays we'd get to sleep in.  Mass wasn't until 8:00 AM!  Woo-hoo! 

In my home life now, my schedule looks something like this:

7:00 Alarm goes off for the first time
7:10 Alarm goes off for the second time
7:20 Alarm goes off for the third and final time
7:30 I finally get up, make the coffee, and prepare breakfast
7:40 I shave
7:50 I eat breakfast
8:00 I brush my teeth and shower
8:20 I leave for work
8:45 I arrive to work
1:00 Salad, always the same, then a walk around the park
5:00 I head to the gym at my job (a 1-minute walk)
5:50 I finish at the gym and head home
6:15 Home, do situps and lift weights, have a bowl of Cheerios
7:45 Dinner (most often a grilled chicken sandwich)
10:30 Brush my teeth, get in bed to read
11:00 Lights out and sleep

It'll vary a little here and there, but that's my schedule for the most part, and I like it!  Certainly more sleep and an easier life than when I was commuting to the Bronx for college, and trying to manage a tight monastic schedule too!

Maybe schedules aren't so bad.  If nothing else, they keep us moving forward.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Some words I live by

May 13, 2014.

Today I thought I'd just share a few of my favorite phrases, quotations, and words that inspire or otherwise excite me.  Some may resonate with you more than others, but I hope you'll learn something by my sharing these with you here.  I pray those who have seen me in my weakest times will understand I always pursue these truths and more even when I do not always succeed.

Life's too short. 
I say this one all the time, along with some version of this: "I heard a breaking news story this morning that apparently we only live once."  I'm a firm believer in the afterlife, and an eternal life in Heaven, but I believe we get tons of time here to work things out for ourselves, and we should be constantly honing our emotional and spiritual intelligence.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. --Goethe
So true!  Way too often, we put our focus on our own temporary happiness rather than the good of all people.  And in conjunction with this quotation, there's this one (widely attributed, but I heard it from Dr. Wayne Dyer): "It's better to be nice than to be right."  You can still be right, but be nice first.

Be still and know that I am God.
I meditate to this phrase almost every day of my life.  I've written about it a lot in my second book, and I'll no doubt write more about it in the future.  It's my favorite mantra, and one I pray all the time.

I spent my thirties fixing all the things I broke in my twenties. --Eddie Murphy
This is one I've used to inspire me throughout the past decade.  I didn't break a whole lot in my twenties, but the quotation has helped me put things in perspective big time.

It's funny how the people who tell you you're too sensitive are always the same ones who are the most insensitive to you.
Not much else to say except I fully endorse this truth.  You cannot scold someone for being too sensitive while you yourself are being insensitive

We only do well what we do with joy. -Saint Thomas Aquinas
Amen!  My greatest accomplishments have always begun with joy!

All things, taken one by one, are good, and all things, taken together, are very good.  For our God has made all things very good. --Saint Augustine
When I first read this quotation in college, I stood up immediately and walked outside.  I repeated it several times to fully grasp what he was saying.  And then I literally jumped for joy!  It was one of the greatest ah-ha moments I've ever experienced.

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking. --Alfred Korzybski
Talk about a mantra for my life!  I've always found myself in this huge no-man's land between hyper-religious folk and hyper-unreligious folk.  Neither group seems to like me very much, because I believe in a balanced understanding of all things.  I believe in God, but I don't believe in forcing God on people.  I believe in the right to life, but I also believe in a woman's right to choose. 

I believe most people are trying to do the right thing, and most people mean well.  Hate isn't a virtue I espouse, but giving people time to nicely express the struggles of their soul on a given topic is always something I'm open to.  We get nowhere with yelling.  We can get always somewhere with calm, open, loving dialogue.

What the hell's wrong with expressing yourself, for wanting to be me? --Billy Elliot The Musical, lyrics by Lee Hall

Be yourself!  Be you! 

I have discovered that all of man's misfortunes come from a single source; mainly that he is incapable of staying still in his room. --Blaise Pascal
I can't say Pascal could be proven right in every circumstance every time, but I believe he was onto something here.  The Buddhists have it right.  I need to start building a temple in my backyard.  In the mean time, giving myself some quiet alone time every day is a great start!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fictional Truth

May 12, 2014.

I'm sure anyone who writes fiction would agree, we take our best ideas from real-life experiences.  We may twist them around a bit, reshape them, color them with different names and places, even reverse their logic completely, but so much of what we write is based in fact.  I once shook Michael Jordan's hand, so I'll find a way to add that to one of my future books.

When I start writing a new book, as I'm in the process of doing now for my third book, I don't think about some fictional philosophy or concept.  I think about what my readers could grab hold of, and really believe.  Obviously the creative process is about creating, so I do enjoy manifesting new realities, people, and places as I write, but I find I'm always doing this from a place I already know.  My human experience has already been filled with a million different scenarios and realities, and my writing only adds more on top of that.

There's a blessing in this, as well as a curse.  You want your reader to understand what you're laying out for them, to feel comfortable with the sentences they're reading, but you also want to lift them up, far away from reality.  You want to play with their sense of true and false, to tinker with their remembrance of their real life, to help them forget about their problems for a while.  A great author needs to bring her readers deep into the book, so once they're thoroughly involved in the fictional world, they've forgotten they even have a life of their own.

The premise can certainly vary if you're not writing pure fiction, or if you want your subjects and stories to pull from real events.  For instance, I could write a story about the great blackout of 2003, about two young people who met in a stuck subway car.  I could tell you how after being trapped for seven hours, they escaped into the subway tunnel, hiked through Central Park, and washed themselves off in Bethesda Fountain.  We'd learn how they walked all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge, and over to Brooklyn just as the sun was coming up.  I'd weave their story forward this way and that through the blackout and beyond, but because it's based in a real historical event, you might keep thinking the people are real, and their story really happened.

Fictional Truth can work this way, or a hundred ways like it.  And it can layer an author's real world too, whether or not he knows it.  In my life since I've been writing books about angels and demons, I can't help but see the very real possibility of some of my fictional events actually happening.  Maybe not some involving angels and demons, but certainly others which talk about real historical figures and places. 

My life has been filled with some pretty amazing events and stories, and I hope I can continue to share them with you more and more.  Some are reflected in my second book, The Papal Visitor, and plenty were in my first book too.  My fiction writing is colored by this life I've led.  It can't help but be affected by it constantly.  And in the same way, my fictional writing is affecting my real life!  It's coloring who I am and how I think.  Fact and fiction are allowed to dance together a bit at times, as long as we always know what is fiction and what is fact, and not believe everything someone tells us.  I never shook Michael Jordan's hand, for instance. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My mother, the angel

May 11, 2014.

Today is Mother's Day, and in the world we live in, that means most of my friends and family are posting on Facebook about their mothers, whether living or deceased.  It's not the only time all year we do this, but it has become a wonderful custom.

Overwhelmingly, people talk about how their mom is the greatest, and though they don't do this to compete with everyone else, it's certainly a testament to the kind of power all moms have.  Without seeking honor or attention, mothers everywhere have an innate ability to do so much more than we can even imagine.  They build us from day one, and they are constantly shaping us with every hug, kiss, scolding finger-wag, and tear-filled speech they impart.

I can't tell you everything my mom did to earn my esteem, but her unconditional love for me was just so huge, it taught me about what love was.  Beyond her love for me, it was her love for so many others that taught me about her capabilities for giving love, and in turn my capabilities for giving love.  Through her pain and tears when someone showed her only rudeness or anger, she showed me what it was like to be treated badly, and taught me how not to respond.  You see, whenever someone was awful to my mother, she got very upset, and didn't understand how this person or these people could be so mean.  She didn't tell me they were evil people, or do something awful in retribution.  She just cried.  And she felt the sadness of the moment.  She could have said hurtful words, or done horrible deeds, but instead, she poured her heart out in sadness.

My mother's love was beyond measure.  It was forever honorable and true, and constantly open for all.  She doubted herself often, but only in her efforts to get closer with people.  And as a teen in the 1950s, my mom grew up in a world where who she was allowed to be was constantly changing and improving.  She gave birth to seven children, and helped raise four more beyond that.  She lost her first husband when she was just 29 years old.  Nine months' pregnant with her fifth child at the funeral, my mother's oldest was only 5 years old.  I can't even imagine what that must have been like, can you?

Then she married a drunk, my dad, even though he swore he had his alcohol under control.  A widow with four young children himself, his life was very rough too (...but that's another story).  So with her own five kids, and now four more, and a husband who got drunk constantly and would sometimes yell at her kids, my mom had her hands full.  They soon had me and then my sister, making 11 in all.  And my dad kept drinking daily, and my mom kept taking care of us all as best she could. 

None of this completely defines who she was, or how she was, or helps me know how exactly my mother ticked.  It does, however, provide perspective on her life based on how sweet and loving she was.  She could have become a cold, hard woman.  She could have become an alcoholic herself, or beat us, or been awful in many other ways.  Instead, her emotions pooled and puddled.  She cried when she reflected on lost relationships, and she cried and showed profound sadness and confusion whenever anyone treated her badly. 

It's a truth in my own life I recognize all too well.  People sometimes come at me as if I've purposely tried to hurt them in some way, instead of trusting my intent as good.  I intend goodness and love, so when I mess up, which we all do, I apologize, and pray people see I'm someone who's always trying his best.  This I absolutely got from my mom.  She always meant well, and always loved and loved as much as she could.

She's an angel now, purified in the light, and I hope she's happy with how I'm doing.  I look forward to exchanging notes with her one day about the life I lived.  I'm confident she'll have plenty of constructive criticism, along with the motherly love!  Who I am today is a great result of all my mother taught me...through her words, through her deeds, and even through her tears.  Her pains and her joys were all like a major motion picture playing out before me, a training video for the life I was building for myself.  And I'm forever grateful to her for the many, many lessons she taught me.  Happy Mother's Day in Heaven, Mom.  Thank you for everything you gave me and taught me, and thank you for being the angel I know you still are!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Les Misewhat?

May 10, 2014.

I guess I was in high school when my Aunt Jane took me to see Les Mis on Broadway.  It was my very first Broadway show, and I was very excited to see it.  We had great seats near the front too, as I recall.

Then the show began, and continued, and went on some more, and lots of people sang, and yelled, and cried.  And the show went on for a lot longer after that.  Then it kept going.  And then, when I thought it was over, it really wasn't.  There was like a whole 'nother part they decided to throw in there.  And I was confused, and tired, and bored.  Then the show went on a bit more, and continued, and went on some more, and lots of people sang again, and yelled, and cried.  A few days later, it finally ended.

Of course I thanked my aunt afterward, but the show just didn't register with me the way it seemed to register with everyone else around me.  I figured I must have just had a bad night or something, or maybe musical comedy was more my style.

Years went by, and I never had much to offer when the discussion of Les Mis ever came up, except to say it didn't appeal to me.  "What???!!!" they'd ask, "How could you not like it???!!!"  People would gasp, and act shocked and outraged, maybe even pretend to slap me, as if I'd just brought blasphemy on theatre geeks and Frenchmen everywhere.  "Sorry," I'd say, "I guess I just didn't like it very much."

Then the movie came out a couple of years ago. 

As I started watching it, I was immediately transfixed.  What was playing out before me was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before.  The film had not just captured the story perfectly, it was more.  This was the first time I was really, really seeing Les Mis.  I couldn't stop the emotion from overwhelming me throughout the film, and when it finally ended and my friends asked me what I thought, I couldn't speak.  I was in tears, and I was just completely blown away, completely changed, completely transformed.

Seeing Les Mis as a teenager and seeing it in my 30s was like night and day.  It was as if the story was never meant to be understood by a mere child, but only by an adult who had truly experienced life.  It was as if each of my many life experiences between high school and now had unlocked a new appreciation for life, and for Les Mis, so that when I saw it again, my eyes were opened.

I can't explain it, but something about the show is just other-worldly, and cannot be understood or truly appreciated without first living your life for a certain number of years, experiencing love and loss, life and death.  Once you have done that, you can go back to the musical, or the movie, and you can see the story with new eyes.  You can see how beautiful and awful, how gut-wrenching and wonderful, how sweet, how important, and how dear every moment in life truly is.

Les Mis is for people who have truly experienced life, and life is truer and richer for those who have truly experienced Les Mis.

Friday, May 9, 2014

So much has changed

May 9, 2014.

My partner Andy and I often talk about how much has changed since we were little, and he'll often say he's annoyed he wasn't born now, because kids today are spoiled with technology, not to mention a more progressive world.  And my response is always the same: I'm so happy I was born when I was, so as to really appreciate all these changes!

When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was no Internet, at least that we knew of.  There were rumors that the modem we saw in the movie War Games was slowly becoming available, that we'd eventually all have phones that could connect us with other people's computers.  But it was a far off dream, and I was just happy to have a Commodore 64 computer.  I didn't realize at the time that really just a few years later, I'd have a computer the size of my wallet, one I could take pictures with and make phonecalls on, and its memory would be so much bigger than my entire computer. 

Nor did I realize when I got my Nintendo that not only would tons of much better gaming systems come out eventually, but I'd never love any as much as that Nintendo! ;)

In the 80s and 90s, I didn't think I'd ever be able to tell anyone I was gay, let alone find the guy of my dreams in my mid-twenties, and be with him for over 12 years already.  I didn't know that technology would advance so much so quickly, or that we'd have a black president, or equal marriage rights spreading all over. 

So much has changed!

I didn't know I'd lose my dad when I was 24 years old, or my mom when I was 29, or my sister when I was 37.  I didn't know the twin towers would be knocked down by terrorists when I was 26, or that I'd lose a friend to suicide when I was 33.

So much has changed.

I didn't know I'd publish books, or write articles that would be read by people around the world.  I didn't know Anne Rice would write to tell me she enjoyed one of my articles, and then share it with her hundreds of thousands of fans.  I didn't know pastors from churches would share my words from their pulpits, and leaders from organizations would enjoy my writing enough to share my reflections with their communities.

There are a million different good and bad events in my life, and they have all changed me so much.  So much has changed in the world around me, in my family, and in my personal life.  So much has changed everywhere.  And so much of it has changed me forever too.  So much of it has changed the way I look at things, the way I interact with people, the way I aspire, the way I work, and the way I enjoy my life.

So much has changed. 

Approaching any "big" birthday is really just like reaching a small bend in the path, and you can't help but look back at where you've come from.  It helps you put things in perspective, to truly understand where this new moment was born from, and how far you've already walked.  I'm grateful for every step in the journey so far, and I know everything now behind me has helped me to understand the part of the path I walk on today.

So much has forever changed.  And so much has forever changed me

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Demographically Challenged

May 8, 2014.

It's pretty much impossible to go to a mall and not find people of virtually all ages there, whether they're walking past you down a thoroughfare, annoying you on line by standing too close, or just flopped across a bench, taking up three seats too many.  Even when race and nationality are consistently the same in a given mall, you'll still see babies, senior citizens, and everyone in between.  The mall is open for business, which means they'll happily take your money no matter how young or old you are.

That said, there's a distinct change that happens somewhere in your 30s.  You start going to the mall, and you suddenly feel...different.  It's not forced on you, and no one's stopping you from shopping, but you start to feel like this is a younger person's world, and you're just being permitted to walk through it.  I'm sure the older you get, the stronger this feeling gets, and probably the easier it is to accept, but in your 30s, this is still a very new feeling, and one you can't help but notice.

When I turned 30, I didn't feel any different, and I didn't consider it anything horrible, just as I don't think 40 is either.  When I was 30, I could say I was still in my twenties just weeks or months earlier, depending on when you asked me.  But then I turned 31.

When you're 31, you're officially in the midst of your 30s.  There's no looking back anymore.  That's it, mister or miss 30-something.  You may as well get used to it, because there is absolutely no going back.  And this feeling pretty much stays the same for 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, and even 38.  By 39 though, you start obsessing about turning 40, to the point of writing about it every damn day. 

Okay, so that might just be me!

But yeah, whether I'm meant to have had this feeling or not, it's definitely come my way.  I am an older guy, a parent-aged person in this world, not one of the cool young kids I see at the mall.  Sure, the store-owners are less suspicious of me, and they know I've supposedly got more money than the teenagers do (I don't), but overall, the mall culture is built around the teens and 20-somethings. 

And beyond the mall culture, I am literally in a different demographic now.  Forget 18-35.  That's gone bye-bye now.  Now I'm in the 36-50 or at least 36-45 age range.  It's not morally inferior, but ask most young people and they'll confirm: I'm officially old.  I don't look old, I don't feel old, and I'm not really old, but for the purposes of what youth is and what it isn't, I no longer qualify. 

Thankfully, my demographic is the one that is now moving the world.  The youth of today are as inspired and inspiring as ever, and no one doubts the power and busyness of so many senior citizens, but it's the bulk of us in our adult lives who have the power and influence to get things done, to change the world, and lead our younger sisters and brothers forward.  Our demographic may not be the Disney or Divergent demographic, but we are the ones who make the movies and the TV shows, who write the stories, who are charged with the age-old responsibility of bridging the gap, of teaching the new world what we know of the older world, and showing the older world how great the future can and should be.

Being demographically challenged doesn't really mean anything.  It's not even a real challenge!  It just means facing facts, accepting reality, and honoring the person we are now.  We're not kids anymore, and that's...okay!  Feeling older can be a good thing, especially when it helps us take ownership of the responsibilities of our generation.  We have our calling too, and we have our mission.  This is our world, and age has nothing whatsoever to do with substance and drive. 

Move over, kid.  I get to sit on this bench too.