A letter to my son on being an ally

Hey, bud. It’s been a week, hasn’t it? My head and heart are still in shambles. I feel broken. The world feels broken. The country I thought I knew feels foreign, like we’ve sacrificed our moral authority.

First, I want to say how proud I am of you. You’re 14. You got interested in this election without my prompting. I didn’t know you were becoming active until I saw a few of your tweets a while back. Yes, your views aligned strongly with mine, but that wasn’t the point. You were becoming active, vocal in your own way. You were becoming a citizen. Continue reading

An Indelible Reminder

tattooI’ve spent much of my life, the last decade in particular, trying on different skins, looking for the one that felt right. I was searching for the man I wanted and needed to be.

I wanted to both feel right and be in the right.

There are times when I’ve craved a blank slate, a new canvas on which to start over. Blank slates, though, are fallacies. Impossibilities. Figments of our imagination. Our history can’t be rewritten or erased. It’s what lies under our skin.

I thought I was looking for the right skin. Continue reading

On the Other Side

I set out to kill my optimist this time last year.

I proclaimed that replacing him with my realist would help me deal more evenly with life’s failures and disappointments. I told myself that my realist would help me accept life as it is, rather than always striving for something better. I tried to run my optimist through the ringer. Life, at times, enthusiastically tried to participate in his demise.

There was one problem.

I’m an optimist. I’m a believer that I can create better versions of myself through intentional choice. If there’s something at my core, it is this belief. Continue reading

Allowing the Present to Arrive

My Monday commute started 300 miles from my office, long before the Eastern horizon even hinted at dawn. I saw flashes of lightning silhouetting clouds in the darkness, soon followed by sheets of rain that provided ample volume for the semis to spray on the windshield. In between the swoosh of wipers, I tried to keep my focus on the newly painted lane markings along the always-under-construction I-70 West — my road most traveled between Ohio and Illinois — but my mind kept wandering to seven words from Friday night’s Shabbat service.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

It was my first Shabbat service ever. As a recovering Catholic who has been non-practicing and essentially agnostic for more than half of my 45 years, the simple act of being inside any religious building is surreal. But I proudly sat next to my girlfriend at the official start to the weekend’s celebration of her daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah, an adult in the eyes of her Jewish community.

Near the end of the service, congregant and community notable Artie Issac was invited to give a guest sermon as the Jewish calendar approaches Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. He rambled delightfully among several philosophical themes but ended with a reminder.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

By the time I reached the halfway point of this morning’s commute, the rain stopped but clouds still covered the sky to the horizon. The weather forecast promised cooler temperatures, but the heavy overcast was a pall over my hope for a beautiful fall day. We were a few days past the equinox, but yet to be blessed with that first really crisp, cool, and crystal sky day.

My mind still tossed around Artie’s words.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I just got divorced two weeks ago. Well, I moved out of the house we shared more than two years ago, but a family court judge — deliberating his last docket before retirement — pronounced my divorce official just two weeks ago. Our marriage was effectively over the day I moved out, but I still feel the weight of its failure — my failure, our failure.

Artie’s words made me think of the relative power of Catholic versus Jewish guilt, and the endless debate over which is more severe.  Regardless of the winner (loser?), nothing is heavier than guilt. It was there when it was clear my marriage of nearly 20 years was ending. It was there the day we told our son. The day I started packing boxes. The day I first turned the key to my new apartment home.

And it was there two weeks ago, when the judge wished us good luck after declaring our divorce final.

I can run in selfish, justifying circles of logic to describe why our marriage failed, but there is no escaping my personal failure. I failed to be the person and husband I promised to be. I failed to work hard. I failed to turn right when I should have turned left. I failed to care enough. It may not have been my failure alone, but it was still my failure.

There is nothing I can do to change my failure. I can learn from it. I can be kind, patient, and understanding as the best co-parent possible for our son. But I can’t change my failure.

As I approached the Illinois border along I-74, blue sky appeared on the horizon. I could see the trailing edge of the storm front, but couldn’t judge its distance from me.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I think I was destined to sit in that chapel to hear Artie’s words about self-atonement. I’ve been waiting for the world to absolve me of my transgressions. Perhaps the world has moved on to more important things, and I’m the one who needs to stop waiting for its forgiveness.

My late friend Laura once told me put down the 2×4. I think she was saying the same thing as Artie.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

 

skyfront

I arrived home and stepped out on my balcony for a moment. The edge of the clouds dissipated directly above me into the clearest blue sky.

What’s done is done. What’s past is past. No amount of self-flagellation will resolve it, and simply allows the past to control the present. Forgiveness from the world, from others, may arrive and we should welcome it if it does.

But I think I know what Artie was saying now. Until we learn to forgive ourselves, we don’t allow the present to arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making a new high tide

1377147_10153923534348203_1886310283199893897_n

If you’ve ever been to Bar Harbor, Maine, you’ve likely heard about Bar Island, the tree-covered sanctuary that sits isolated in the harbor for most of the day. When the tide drops, however, a wide sandbar emerges as a walking path between Mt. Desert Island and Bar Island. For about 90 minutes, twice a day, Bar Island becomes a bustling thoroughfare of tourists, giggling like children at the idea of walking across the harbor on foot, collecting rocks and shells on the way. Continue reading

Nothing less

As a political science and philosophy major in college, I read more commentary on the human condition than anyone probably needs in a lifetime. But one observation, made by Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan, has always stayed with me. In his discourse on humanity and war, he penned a phrase that has been repeated often throughout history: “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Now, nearly 400 years after Hobbes wrote these words and his name is more associated with a cartoon tiger, our world is radically different. We are no longer solitary. The standard of living of most of the world’s citizens is at or near its highest point in history. There are certainly pockets — sometimes large — of  “solitary, poor, nasty and brutish,” but in a global sense, we no longer live in Hobbes’ world.

What about “short” you may ask? Why did I leave that off the list? Short can’t be eliminated from the general list describing life, because that remains the one descriptor over which we have the least control. As much a modern medicine has extended our average life expectancy, our power as individuals over the random events that affect our longevity is minimal at best.

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been consumed in thought about the fragility and potential brevity of our lives. A fellow writer, Katie, who I’ve “met” through Twitter but never in person, was suddenly struck by meningitis, a unrelenting disease that can ravage even a healthy body with little warning. Earlier this week she felt fine. Today, she lies in hospital bed, 28 years old, with doctors aggressively treating her to save her life.

Just seven weeks ago, she wrote in her blog “My new personal maxim is ‘nothing less.’ That is, nothing less than the best for myself, my friends, my relationships, and my life.” Her writings give a window into a person who had finally felt on course and determined to take control over her own pursuit of life — a life now in jeopardy of ending far too soon.

Although I don’t have a truly personal connection with Katie, I have been following the updates on her condition like she was a good friend or family member. I can’t explain why, except for simple reason that it seems cosmically unjust that someone who has so recently found a direction in their life would be interrupted so abruptly. Some might say that there is a reason for everything, but I don’t buy into such easy comfort.

I keep returning to Katie’s words…nothing less than the best for myself, my friends, my relationships, and my life. It is my deepest hope that Katie fights harder than she ever has to beat this illness and she can return to her quest, reinvigorated and more determined to find the best. It is my deepest conviction to never forget the inspiration in Katie’s words.

Nothing less.