Trust and Love or Fear and Loathing

You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.”

– Russian author Anton Chekhov –

The single most daunting thing about becoming an adult is knowing that people suck 90-percent of the time and realizing that you still have to rely on them and/or want them in your life.

Of course, that 90-percent includes me, and most of you, too. If you’re one of the 10-percent who doesn’t suck, go ahead and stop reading.  You’re probably doing something awesome like volunteering in a homeless shelter or donating some “Toys for Tots” or some other philanthropic venture anyway. After all, that’s what you do: non-sucky things.

Me? I try, I really do. I want to be a better person. I want to give more of my time and energy to others. I want to bang the drums for social justice and I want to trumpet from the highest mountaintops my obvious and undeniable love for all people, places, and things. Want to. Don’t.

Why? Because I suck and I am not worth most people’s time. I know it, I accept it and even though I hate it, I fear I’m past a point of no-return for most people. It will take a certain and very special character to keep up with me.

To put up with me might be a more appropriate statement. I’m obnoxious. I’m selfish. I’m self-centered and more often than not I’m lazier than the average person. I don’t like to do things for other people; I like to do things for myself. I hate not getting what I want, even if I know that what I want isn’t right for me, or good for me, or whatever.

But when I do care about someone? Watch out. It’s overbearing. It’s emphatic. It’s 100mph and if you’re not ready for it, it can be devastating to watch me spin out of control. To me, not you. You’re sitting back, laughing betwixt head shakes asking yourself “Is this dude serious?”

(You do that because you suck, just to be clear.)

I give of myself wholly from the first minute I recognize that someone is worth any of my time. One of the most accurate and almost “whoa” things I’ve ever heard about love is from the movie Wedding Crashers, which is, as most of you knowwidely regarded as one of our generation’s greatest love stories.

“True love is your soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another.”

If, even for a moment, you recognize that counterpoint, are we not almost obligated to pursue it? I recognize the recklessness in that thought, I’d have to be a pretty big idiot not to, but at some point we – the feckless – have to throw caution to the wind, do we not? So what if it fails and fades? What if, just once, it doesn’t? Isn’t it worth it?

I’ve never had a problem getting to know people superficially. I am quick to pick up on what matters to people in conversation and can generally avoid the things they’d rather avoid. I give enough of myself to appear welcoming and in doing so can typically get people to open up to me, too. It’s a “gift” I guess. However, as I’ve gotten older and realize more about how much I suck, one of my greatest fears is that if I truly let someone beyond the superficial aspects of me (which are absolutely awesome, by the way) they will discover the truth about how much I suck. What a vicious and ugly circle.

I want affection, I want love, I want to give it, I give it. Then,  I ruin it because I don’t want to give too much, or I want to give too much, and then I retreat, or they do.

Good job, Jeremy, you’ve failed a fundamental human experience in a completely breathtaking fashion.

I understand that the biggest reason I don’t trust people is because I’ve been untrustworthy myself, and that’s crippled me time after time in my past relationships. That will cripple me in my future relationships if I let it, and that’s absolutely my natural inclination. Fear, push away, lie, hide, create secrets and live in my bubble where the way I’ve been treated or treated others can’t make me feel things. Feelings are icky!

Yes, Jeremy, they sure are. Unfortunately, in this life, I’ve got two choices: feel (icky!) and risk being made a mockery of or prepare myself for a life of meaningless relationships that never edify me, that never challenge me or say to me “Get better! Suck less!”

I have to trust because that’s what makes life worth living. I have to trust not only to the point where someone lets me down, but past that. Forgiving a violation of trust means nothing – nothing – without absolution. To continue to hold on to each and every hurt that anyone has done to me, and to use it as justification for further reclusiveness is hurting me, not them. Especially because most of the people who have affected me are never going to be in my life again.

Love me or hate me. Break my heart or discard it before it becomes a concern of yours, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to give myself to the idea of trust, to the idea of love.

That starts with trusting myself and with loving myself enough to stand up for what I want, and more importantly, what I deserve.

It may not always make sense to everyone else, hell, most of the time it doesn’t make sense to me, but that doesn’t diminish it. There’s no timeline for happiness. When you see it, grab it and if it matters to you, fight for it.

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Syrupy Sweet, But Necessary Nonetheless

This past Tuesday, to my chagrin, was “National Beer Day,” a day I didn’t know existed and subsequently failed to celebrate accordingly. I am sure you can imagine my disappointment as a free-thinking – and usually – free-drinking, adult.

I digress.

The point of this post is to take a moment to ensure that I don’t let today’s “National Day of Something or Other” pass me by in a similarly embarrassing fashion. As an avid social media peruser and user, I was told by the collective that today is, in fact, “National Sibling Day,” a day where people pretend to give a crap about their family just a bit more than they usually do. In some cases that means an embarrassing photo from your childhood, in others it means a text message to say “You’re not the giant loser I think you are the other 364 days (365 in a leap year!) of the year, in fact, today you’re A-Ok in my eyes.”

Birmingham Clan

Siblings are often as overlooked as a breath of air. For most of us, they’ve just kind of been there. They’re not often appreciated, and in some cases we don’t really think about them until they’re suddenly taken from us.

I know that I personally don’t always take the time to appreciate each breath I’ve been given, and I certainly don’t take the time to appreciate my abnormally large group of abnormal siblings. I hope that this, in some way, will shed some light on how I feel about you all.

JOHN

I believe that you are one of the single most intelligent people I’ve ever met. You’ve got more insight and knowledge into more topics than even the most diligent and hardcore academics. Your commitment to being an active and involved father, despite the heavy toll that it takes on your personal life and – I’m assuming – your self-esteem from time-to-time. You have always been a supportive and understanding big brother who has often times put the needs of the family and the responsibility that comes with the family name ahead your best interest.

Don’t sell yourself short, find your happiness and live your life.

MICHAEL

In a family like ours, there’s bound to be a “black sheep” and it’s a badge you’ve always worn with pride, and rightfully so. Sure, there’s differences like your insistence of rooting for Notre Dame just to be different from the rest of us, but that’s hardly where the things that make you unique start, or finish. You’ve worked tirelessly over the last 20-plus years to become your own man, to do the things that you want to do and to never owe an apology to anyone for it. You’re dedicated to your future, your business and your daughter’s well-being and have a focus and follow-through that is rare in our society and rarer still in our family.

Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

JOEY

In the last few years, you and I have gotten much closer and have allowed the difficulties that we’ve faced to, in some ways, strengthen our bond as brothers. That is not taken for granted. I know that life is as often frustrating for you as it is rewarding, but I’m proud of the steps you’ve taken – often with intense physical pain – trying to improve the lives of your family. You’ve been selfless when your family needed it and put your needs, and occasionally your pride, on the back-burner for your kids and your wife.

I hope that your family continues to grow in happiness and peace of mind knowing that the sacrifices you’ve made will provide a lasting, positive outcome.

JOSH 

I am exceedingly proud to call you my brother, even though in the last two decades or so I’ve probably seen you the least of anyone in our family. The reasons we don’t get to spend as much time with you as we’d all like, however, need no explaining, no excuses. Your commitment to your wife, your kids, your job and your faith – while still allowing yourself to be the same affable, fun person you’ve always been is an absolute model to be emulated by each and every person you meet.

Remember that where you came from doesn’t have to impact who you are today, or where you’re going, but that as brothers and sisters we are always here for one another.

JAMEY

The work and energy you’ve put into becoming the man you are, being a model husband and father to seven kids, your relentless pursuit of knowledge, both spiritually and in your secular work, is remarkable. Combining those factors with your new – and certainly not asked for role as our family’s de facto leader – is even more impressive. You possess a patience and kindness that is unrecognizable in a world gone mad and you’ve earned each and every blessing that God has given you to this point and those you’ll receive in the future.

I hope that at some point you are able to sit down, take a deep breath and know that it was all worth it: in this life and the next.

TRISH

I realize that things have been harder for you these last few years than people know. You’ve displayed incredible strength against tough circumstances physically throughout your entire life (I mean, you’ve had what, 45 brain surgeries?) and yet you’re still beating the odds and doing things that no one ever would have assumed you’d do. You’ve sacrificed repeatedly for your family and have worked hard to change the direction of your and to do something that you and your children can be proud of.

I’m proud of the person you are and I hope that the efforts you’re making to better yourself result in a more complete, happier family because ultimately that is how you’ll measure your success; but I know you can’t consider that until you’re happier with yourself. Get there.

JUDI

You may be the single most brave person in our entire, messed up family. Your life has never been easy, and lesser people would have let the challenges and disappointments break them down to an inescapable sadness, and you refused to. Every time I see you now I marvel at the inner-strength you possess and the way you’ve grown capable of always having a smile on your face; a stunning departure from the girl who “hated this whole family” for years. You’re a remarkable woman and a great sister.

I hope that you never stop searching for the things that make you happy.

JACKIE

You are a true super-woman. Your path to this point has been as difficult and as heartbreaking as anyone, anytime, anywhere, yet you persist. You fight against the odds and you win and you’re only just getting started. There’s absolutely nothing that you’re unable to do when you allow yourself to, and you’ve never allowed yourself to because the single greatest thing you’ve ever done is be a rock star mom to six kids who would not have made it through a week without you. You stand up for yourself and your beliefs and you make tough decisions that most others would never make, and I’m never not impressed.

Do not settle. Ever. That is the only way you’ll ever fail.

JULI

Just because you’re the baby, doesn’t – and has never meant – that you were the least of anything. You’re diligent and hard-working, smart and savvy and as talented as anyone in this entire family could ever hope to be. You’ve defied your self-applied odds and become an absolutely incredible mother to a child that is as special as you are. You’ve seen the darkness in the hearts of people and chosen the light and that is a testament to a type of strength that can’t be learned. You’ve become a measured, well-reasoned adult that still believes in wonder and fairy tales and the power of song and that’s so rare anymore.

Continue to love fully, and with your whole heart, and the world is your oyster.

I love you all.

No Time To Kill

You’ll never know unless you try it.

How innocuous. How simple a concept.

Yet, how tragically difficult an idea to consume when you’re so afraid of everything. Afraid of your thoughts, afraid of your actions, afraid of your dreams, your nightmares and your waking moments. Afraid of failing, afraid of succeeding, afraid of hating something and a fear of loving something even more.

This is how we as people continue to turn our greatest asset – our desire to learn, to wish and to hope, to grow and to engage – into our biggest weakness; the desire to never – ever – let ourselves be viewed as simple, acquiescing or worse: complicit in our undoing in the event that we fall short of our dreams. It’s maddening and it’s heartbreaking and terrible. Stop it, all of you.

I’m guilty of it, and I know it. I spend my time in bed awake, thinking about the shoulda, coulda and woulda, and I spend my days needling myself to stay awake because the world torments me with its endless possibilities and its desire to see me do something. Yes, do anything at all. Just stop standing still and put one foot in front of the other (I think that’s a song, somewhere, in fact I am sure of it,I just can’t fish out the proper words, chorus or melody from inside of my currently hibernating left-brain’s deepest gray matter,) and get off your ass and do something.

I don’t want you, the reader, to consider that my melancholy, “woe is me” nature is a permanent condition. It’s not, I swear. It’s just the introspective, take a good hard look at myself state of mind I’ve found myself in so often in recent years. Ironically, and perhaps unbelievably (even to myself, honestly) this state is a departure from a jovial, unassuming, almost positive person. I am usually the guy who believes that all things will work out “as they are supposed to.”

Which is another one of my least favorite cliches, for what it’s worth.

Things never, ever work out the way they’re “supposed to,” because there is no “supposed to,” there is only what is, and what isn’t. Sure, we could debate for days, months and years on what is and what is not, the ability to discern tangible from imaginary, but that’s not why we’re here. This isn’t a theological debate, this isn’t some metaphysical garbage about life lived “half-full.” This is the story of what we do, and what we don’t do. There is nothing else. There is no ability to predict the future or change the past. There is us; you and me, the world and all of us in it, living (are we?) and hoping (we are) for sunshine in a world gone crazy, a world that’s lost its bearing and has thrown us all for a big, fat, horrible, loop.

We are the lost generation, but we’re not the first. We’re the beginning of a new place, and a new time, and each and every day provides us with the chance to grab the proverbial bull by the proverbial horns (because surely grabbing a real bull, by the real horns, would result in a real gorging that none of us are interested in attaining.)

We are the only ones capable of changing what we think, what we feel and what we yield. We’re on stage, each and every day, but somehow, we’ve also become the listless audience waiting for something – anything – to happen.

Today is the day I have dreamed about. Today is the day I was born for. Today is absolutely the best day it can be, and that is solely – and simply – within my power to control.

I have gone back and forth with myself almost daily in the past few years, contemplating what’s right and what’s wrong for my life, and somehow all that bewilderment has just left mired in ambiguity, sitting in neutral. I imagine a life where I had said “Screw it, just do it,” all too often, realizing that only my decisions have kept me standing still. I’ve long been a believer that in life, we’re going forward or we’re dying – yes, we’re dying anyway – but at least moving forward we’re not constantly battling ourselves about what to do or not to do, we’d just do. Where would end up if we all got into our cars, right now, and drove 80 miles per hour down the freeway of life, only to spend the entire time watching the rearview mirror? I reckon we’d up in a ditch, overturned and likely on fire. That doesn’t sound like how I want to live my life.

Move forward, look forward, you can do that and pay homage to the past, to respect and learn from the decisions we’ve made but stop letting it control you, right? It should just be that easy, but we all know it’s not. We’re bound to things, people, and places and those ties that bind prevent most of us from just up and doing what “we” want, often to our never-ending frustration, but also to our betterment a lot of the time, whether we want to believe it or not.

Few of us want to, or choose to, acknowledge the most damning and simple fact of all: the mistakes we’ve made, the decisions that have put us where we are – where ever you are – are yours. They belong to no one else. No matter how many other people, circumstances or things we want to assign the blame to, each and every part of your life, as it is currently constituted, is because of your conscious choices.

“But Jeremy, you know that some people aren’t born with all the same opportunities, the same chances for a happy life. Why are you being so cold? So callous?”

Yes, there are plenty of people in unfortunate situations right out of the womb, but this blog isn’t directed at them. I know the world is unfair to many, but even those people are not unable to change their situations. Plenty of good has come from bad, plenty of rich have come from poor, and plenty of happy has come from despair so profound most of us in “comfortable” lives could never imagine it.

I’m done standing still, and I hope that the people in my life who read this, who need to kick their own selves into gear, who are fighting against themselves and deciding that life is best lived just “ok,” will wake up a bit, as well. We are not meant for mediocrity. We are not meant for unhappiness. We choose it, we cling to it and we use it to our own detriment. We sit idly by, preferring to say we’re unhappy rather than putting in the work to change it, hoping someone, anyone, will feel bad for us.

I’d rather be someone that inspires. Someone that others see and say “Yes, I could do that, too. I am not defined by my circumstances. I am not forced to be unhappy,” that’s the person I will be. I can only hope that as they have my whole life, my family and friends realize wholly that what I do, I do for all of us, not just myself, and know that no matter where I go, what I do, I’m choosing happiness.  I am choosing to give my life a chance to be what it was meant to be, where ever it’s meant to be. I don’t even know where that is right now, but I know, regrettably, it can’t be in Toledo. I’m meant for something else, and I will find it. I refuse to let gray skies, sadness and most importantly, my own mistakes, prevent me from making my life into something meaningful. I will not be satisfied with life not lived fully.

After all, I can’t let my audience be disappointed.

The grays…

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and while I think that is likely a positive thing for any of you that regularly read my ramblings – because as you know most of the time what I write possesses little to no actual value – I’ve decided to give it a go anyhow. My selfishness truly knows no limits, and you’re all the hapless victims.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about all sorts of things that are way too heavy for an intellectual lightweight like myself to spend so much time considering, yet I’ve been unable to shut the valve and go back to thinking about beer, tacos and sports.

Rather, I’ve had day after day thinking about life, love, trust, faith, commitment, etc. It’s unsettling and it’s awkward because none of those things are comforting to me right now, despite the fact that each of them would be considered  “good” things independently. When all of them are being bantered about in my brain simultaneously it gets a bit frightening in there.

Honestly, I am not sure what I am pursuing on any of those areas, because each pursuit seems at once daunting and yet irrelevant. I sway between my need for the approval and goodwill of others and my inherently self-interested human tendencies. I, on any given day, care about nothing but others or nothing about others, there is no in-between and I don’t think I care to find one. There are people in my life I do nothing but take from; and there are people in my life I do nothing but give to. I make no effort to correct the balance, despite the occasional loathing I feel about the indignation others perpetrate on me, or the self-loathing I struggle with when I recognize my selfishness.

Do I deserve love? Do I deserve trust from others? Do I deserve the faith and support of those close to me? Do I have the capability to commit myself to a cause, or a relationship, fully? That is the question that has haunted me most of all recently, because I’ve come to realize that years of excuses, years of finding other people to conveniently blame for my shortcomings have done nothing but short-circuit my ability to truly develop into what I should be. At the risk of sounding incredibly arrogant, I know that I have been blessed with more natural talents than most people around me, and yet I’ve sat back and watched as others pass me by. I’ve sat on the side of the road, flashers on, waiting for a tow-truck that I don’t need. When roadside assistance arrives, I turn on my car and say “I’ll call you if I get stuck again.”

Why?

I was oddly – and profoundly – struck by a number of things that I saw and heard in this past week, and it’s left me reeling, wondering and struggling to find a place for myself. I’ve noticed that I’ve been sort of  “melting” into whatever situation I am in lately, rather than standing above it and making sure that it’s where I truly am best suited for being. The hardest part of this understanding is that I’ve done nothing out of the ordinary, I’ve spent the time that I normally spend with the people who are important in my life, and yet I feel in the wrong place. Is the place wrong? Or am I wrong? Where the hell is the right place for me?

I’ve lost my ability to trust people that have done nothing to earn my distrust, and I’ve placed copious amounts of faith in people who’ve never shown one fragment of interest in protecting it. I’ve become turned upside down, inside out and yet – yet – I feel calm and at peace with it. Have I just given up or have I have come to accept the chaos that is life and realize – as Heath Ledger’s Joker lamented – I am just “a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one! I just…do things”?

I can’t figure out why it is, however, that I do…things.

I was thinking a bit about my childhood the other afternoon, and I realized that I couldn’t pinpoint a single, solitary moment that “defined” it. There was no moment that stood out; no dead bodies by a railroad track, no emotion scarring accident and no soul-stirring epiphany of light and love and laughter – just a gray canvas full of gray moments. Did I miss out? Is it the lack of those “doing things” that leads me to just “doing things?” I consider where I am now versus where I’ve been, and neither time nor place nor “happy” or “sad” ever felt better or worse.

It. Has. Always. Been. Gray.

The truth is, I want solace. I want quiet comfort and I want love and faith and commitment and understanding. I want pure, brilliant flashes of light; and occasionally – just to make sure I am alive – I’d settle for terrifying blackness.

“The scars remind us, that the past is real,” or “yeah we bleed just to know we’re alive” and all that hokey musical jibber-jab that means yes – the highs and the lows might be a better way to live than the grays. The grays don’t bleed into the conscience. The grays don’t force change. The grays don’t tempt fate.

I am by no means a melodramatic, unhappy person who feels overwhelmed by the dreariness of life and therefore is searching for an escape. On the contrary, I want nothing more than to dive more fully into life, and I am unable to settle my brain until I do. The question, the rub, the issue then becomes more and more simple to grasp: do I live my life for me, for others, or do I actually search out that middle ground that I’ve up to this point avoided at all costs?

There’s change coming, and I intend to be the deliverer of it rather than the reactor to it. What it means for me, my friends, family and more I don’t know, but the grays are not where life is lived, that’s where life is survived. If you’re in my life, and you’re living in the gray, I hope that you find whatever moves you back to color.

Get happy with yourself. No one else is going to make you happy until you do.

What’s Your Excuse?

Painful admission time: I’ve only lived one life. Yes, I know that may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you who consider me as all knowing, omnipotent and eternal, but it’s just not true.

Sorry to disappoint.

I’m just a regular guy with a regular life who lives as much as I can in the moment while trying to learn from the past while keeping one eye on the future.

Simple, yes?

The country is – once again – being torn apart by politicians wrestling for public opinion in light of horrific tragedy. One side blames guns, one side says it’s because there’s not enough; others insist it’s not a gun issue at all but rather a refusal to give heed to the needs of the mentally ill.

I say they are all right. It’s all of those things. But does it really surprise you any more or does it really matter? When we come to terms with the fact that we can only change ourselves – and not others – we’ll likely all end up much happier.

As I lamented a time or two before – and will try to reiterate quickly before I fall into a full-fledged diatribe on the atrociousness of the human condition – the world is basically falling apart. We’re subjected daily to the most awful things we can imagine and the next day see it bested by the next tragedy more awful than we can imagine.

Is it any wonder that so many people are anxiously – almost hopefully – talking about the dumb Mayans and their inability to find additional rocks for the next part of their calendar? Why on earth are so many people so anticipating their end, knowing that their lives are – up to this point – unfulfilled?

I truly believe that there are a good number of people who hope that we’re rocked by some giant asteroid as a fitting conclusion to the failed experiment that humanity has become solely so that they will not be held accountable for their own shortcomings in whatever post-life they prescribe to.

It is far easier to shrug your shoulders and kick the dirt and walk away exclaiming “Yes! I would have done it tomorrow, and then this big stupid meteor got in the way of all my grandiose plans! Darn you planetary excrement!” than it is to strap on the weight of your expectations today.

Snooze button

How many times are you putting off what you want or need?

How do you justify procrastinating day in and day out, putting off the things that you need and want to be truly happy in your life? What are the excuses that you allow to hold you back?

Do you work too much to find happiness in your personal life? Do you work too little to find happiness in your professional life? Why? Why do you keep letting things that don’t matter prevent you from handling the things that do?

I think that most people, if they are truly honest with themselves, can identify the single biggest reason that they are unhappy; and 90-percent of the time the biggest culprit is staring back at them in the mirror. You decide each and every day when you wake up whether or not you’re going to let your circumstances get the best of you, or if you’re going to step outside of yourself and demand to be happy. Does that mean you get a little less sleep in order to see someone who matters to you? Does it mean you cut back on your nights out partying with friends in order to pay your bills on time? What are you not willing to do in order to make your life, and by proxy the lives of those whom you share your time, better?

If the world did end tomorrow – which of course it won’t, at least not for everyone – what did you do today that made a difference in the lives of others? Have you taken the time to tell those who matter to you that they do, damning the consequences if they don’t requite it? Why not? What do you have to lose? A little pride, a little dent to your self-esteem?

It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that the world in general, and this country in particular, can easily be broken down into two categories. No, not the “haves” and “have nots”, or the “republicans” and “democrats,” but rather those who wish to be happy and put themselves on the line to do so, and those who live so in fear of seeing themselves hurt or let down that they shut down and close the world off.

There’s nothing easy about living your life as a person who takes responsibility for your own success and happiness. It’s a risk every single day to open your heart, your mind and your soul to other people, knowing what we all do – that people generally suck – yet choosing to do it anyway. It’s challenging to accept blame and hard to be let down when you know that you are the reason it’s happened. It’s tough to find out that the person you love, the career you’ve chosen, the family you’ve tried to build, etc. isn’t working out because you’ve not done enough or are simply not good enough at what you do to make it work.  When your best isn’t good enough, when you’re too much or not enough and there’s no one to blame but you. That is not an easy position to voluntarily submit your self to, yet every day many, many people do it.

But guess what?

When it works, it’s truly rewarding. To see that your love was enough, your passion was a fuel for success. It’s invigorating to find out that your hard work and commitment to a job, a friendship, a loved one or your family was the driving force behind it thriving. It’s thrilling to wake up next to someone that you love entirely and without question, knowing that they will never doubt how you feel about them. It’s satisfying to punch the time clock at day’s end saying “I did my best, I gave my best today.” That is why we live!

Don’t get me wrong now friends, because I see the value in being the latter,  and I’m not afraid to admit that it’s a path I’ve chosen from time to time. It’s much easier to live your life when you won’t let others impact your day-to-day life. It’s much easier to be “in control” of yourself when others don’t matter to you. It’s much less messy to keep people at arm’s length so that you’re not making yourself vulnerable should someone end up not being all that they seem to be. It’s easier to contend that the world has let you down rather than acknowledging that you failed to do what was needed to succeed. It’s convenient to have a scapegoat that doesn’t look just like you.

But guess what? You’re the one who is losing. You’re the one who will find yourself wondering “what if” when you wake up on your last day lonely, unfulfilled and wondering how it could have been different if only you had spoken the unspeakable, acted on the impossible and tried to accomplish what you thought was too hard.

I realize that most of the time when I write these little blogs, I end up ranting incessantly and it’s entirely possible that the big picture for which I am striving gets lost in the details and verbosity of my prose, but that’s just the way I am, so take it or leave it. The point of this is to implore you – as a friend who reads what I am saying – to stop waiting. Act today. Grab the person you love and tell them you do. Don’t settle for a job that you are not passionate about. Don’t wait for tomorrow to do what you want to do today. Nothing is guaranteed past what you’re willing to exert, and certainly nothing is promised even when you’ve put it all on the table, but at least you’ll look back and live without regrets.

The world is ending tomorrow anyway, right? Let it loose.  Make today count.

Believe What You Will

In my usual fashion, this blog is likely to be one that begins talking about one thing, and ends up talking about something completely different. So, to preface, my reason for this post is simple: I am tired of what I see all around me. I am tired of the world falling apart and disaster after disaster, both natural and those human-caused.

Despite that fatigue, I am also still occasionally guilty of being something that I find even more agitating: hopeless, floundering, romantics.Yes, my natural inclination towards cynicism and bitterness (which is something that I generally keep hidden from public view), is still periodically overwhelmed by longstanding belief that love conquers all.

How freaking romantic and sweet, right?

Not quite.

The thing is, I want to believe in love. I want to believe in romanticism and the power of the heart. I want to believe that the way you treat those whom you love is commensurate with how you’ll be treated in return. I want to trust that people will make decisions that don’t ever hurt those who they care for, and that love will never falter in the face of selfishness, bigotry, greed and hatred. I want to believe in the golden rule-esque concept that you get what you give and that the reward is in the giving and all that other feel good nonsense.

But those things are simply not true of the world we live in.

The world is ugly.

We live in a world of “If it bleeds, it leads” on the local news. We are constantly inundated with the gruesome, the grotesque and the bizarre. We are swallowed up daily by the dregs of society and sadness that emanates from one corner of the earth to the other. Drug-addled face eating zombies, bisexual cannibal wannabe serial killers with a taste for human flesh and the bright lights of Hollywood, or just your standard, heartbreaking tale of child who wandered away from his supervision: the world is full of sadness. Pure, unmitigated sadness and rotten-awfulness that sucks the ever-loving life out most people until they fall over as an empty shell of what used to be a living, breathing, feeling, person.

The inherent failure with believing the world isn’t as it seems, and that there’s still hope for the hopeless is this: the proof ain’t exactly in the pudding. Those who give, are taken advantage of. Those who trust, see their hearts broken and their trust destroyed. Those who work tirelessly to save their families and friends with unquestioned and unstoppable love routinely see themselves played the fool by people who will do nothing but leech on their kindness.

Love is kind, and unselfish and doesn’t happen because you expect something back, but at some point, things have to level off and some equilibrium has to be found. You can’t keep taking on emotional water without realizing that eventually your ship will sink. That poses an interesting problem for those who traditionally travel on the boat of love: when you sink, do you sink alone? Do you ask all those who have been on board to kindly remove themselves as you prepare for submersion or do you just take them down with the ship?

I don’t think that people enjoy hurting others. On the contrary, I think  it happens as a result of laziness of thought or deeds or ignorance as to how our actions affect others.  It happens as we look out for own interests and let the needs of others get lost in the fray. It happens because we believe that without taking care of ourselves first, we can’t effectively give to anyone else. It’s an approach and mentality that is destined to hurt others and eventually, yourself.

I am at a point in my life where things don’t make a lot of sense, as much as it pains me to admit that. I touched a bit on that in my last blog and don’t feel the need to rehash everything I wrote there.

Truth is, I am not sure why I am writing this because I don’t know that I have any answer as to how to fix the world. I guess what I think is that you pretty much have two choices: be happy, or don’t. I know full well that no matter how my life ends up, anyone who I allow to become a part of it is going to have to deal with the fact that I want to be happy. I want to give all of me and pay no regard to the past. No regard for the errors made out of ignorance. I willfully submit myself to ridicule and exposing the inner-workings of my thoughts and fears to those who I will know in the future because I can’t, under any circumstance, settle for less than 100% from myself and from whomever that may be. I am sure that’s a terrifying proposition to some, but as I approach my 34th birthday, I just can’t consider the games and dances of youth.

I see my errors and I see the ugliness in the world. I see what is valuable in me and I see what is still worth fighting for around me. I know the difference between sadness and dispair, joy and contentment. I have spent a good percentage of my life with joy in my heart and I have had my momentary, yet harrowing, drops into misery. I have always been able to pull myself out with the help of my friends and family and I have not always deserved their kindness. I have, at times, taken advantage of the kindness of others. I will not anymore. I will put myself out there, and if it means I get cut and I bleed for being nothing but hopeful, then so be it.

At some point, someone is going to get the best from me, and they are going to be glad they did.

I want to believe, and so I will.

You can’t stop me, world.

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Learning To Live Again

In silence I wait for a chance to be awakened

A moment for risks dreamt but not taken

A fear of falling so leaps forsaken

A foundationless monster that screams to be shaken

There comes a point in every persons life where the things they knew, the person they were, the dreams they had; change. Sometimes, that moment is a matter of personal choice, other times it’s a matter of being persuaded by things outside of their control, like getting hit by a bus, for example.

This is the story of my bus. This is the story of my death.

Life was pretty darn good, for the most part. I had a beautiful wife who loved me, a wonderful home in a great neighborhood in southwest Phoenix. I was one “parent” to the world’s coolest dog and two pretty evil, yet equally sweet, cats. I was fortunate to be working, and although it was not challenging or life-altering; it was enough to pay the bills and keep my life with my wife comfortable.

Kelcie and I had been married for about 3 and a half years, and although we had a lot of ups and downs, we had come through most things pretty well and were beginning to settle into what seemed to be the routine of marriage. She was really the consummate wife, constantly going above and beyond to make sure that I was taken care of on a day-to-day basis, probably more than she should have. I was never as good of a husband as she was a wife, but I did try to get better when opportunity presented itself, and especially when I knew I had dropped the ball.

Unfortunately for her, my self-awareness in regards to ball dropping was beneath the Mendoza line.

I could sit here and write for days about how many things she did right, and how many things I did wrong. I won’t because it doesn’t matter, and because it’s my story so I get to choose what I write. But, believe me when I admit she was definitely the better half. She was the better half from the moment we said I do to the moment that she said she couldn’t any longer.

Fast-forward through all the good times, the moments of sporadic bliss that were intertwined with the normal blemishes of a young marriage and find me on the night of Friday, March 25th, 2011.

I had rolled into the house about midnight, as I was want to do when I closed the restaurant on a Friday night. I had a pretty standard way of going about things when I got home if Kelcie was in bed before I got home.

On a normal night – when my life was normal – I would follow these steps, almost to the letter: enter house, take off shoes, ruffle Titus’ ears and let him outside. Then I would quietly slip into the bedroom, change clothes, kiss Kelcie’s cheek to say good night, then on to “me” time. Normally I would choose to make some turkey tacos, open a beer and see what I missed in the world of Ohio State sports that day.

That evening had the mood altered a touch, since I was already aware of what had transpired in the land of the poisonous nut that day. The Jim Tressel scandal was in its infancy and his character was besmirched all day, and the Buckeye basketball team lost in heartbreaking fashion to Kentucky, thus ending their season in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament.

So, as I prepped my tacos, I had a brief text message conversation with my brother, Bobby, who was on his way home from watching the game with my brother Joe and a few of our friends. It was their regular routine – watch the Buckeyes, laugh and have a great time with friends and family. It was one of those nights that I missed more than anything in the time that I had been living out west. Our conversation was short and sweet; we lamented not the loss of the game, but the knowledge that a team we’d grown to love watching play, would be gone. Our last messages were exchanged about 12:30am Phoenix time, and Bobby ended our conversation with a dubious last message.

“What a demoralizing loss.”

My proverbial bus came six hours later.

I never kept my phone’s ringer on when I went to bed. I never wanted to risk getting an irritating phone call from a bill collector or a wrong number that may have compromised my ability to get sleep, sweet delicious sleep. I ended up slinking into bed about 2am, and had to be back at work at ten the next morning. That knowledge, combined with Titus’ propensity for seven o’clock stretch and cuddle sessions were all I needed to know when I made the decision that I would do nothing different that night. The phone ringer would stay off.

When Kelcie started frantically shaking me at 7:30, I was groggy and confused. I vaguely heard her mumble “What??” to the person on the other end of the line. That confusion quickly turned to clarity as she handed me her phone which had been ringing multiple times that morning and told me my brother Michael needed to talk to me.

To my recollection, Michael had never called Kelcie or myself in the three and a half years of our marriage, nor had he called us during the time we dated, nor had he ever called me, I think, ever.

“Bobby’s dead.”

“What? What??”

“He didn’t wake up. He went to sleep and died.”

Shocked and silent, I hurried off the bed. I ran into the garage with tears building up in my eyes but without any ability to cry or talk; just the ability to start packing.  After a moment, the reality hit me and I fell to my knees on our bedroom floor and erupted into uncontrollable tears. My cry was a guttural wail more than a “regular” cry, but it was all I could muster as Kelcie tried to hold me, to offer any comfort she could provide. Titus, unsure of what to do, sat down next to us as we cried, trying to offer his version of a hug. I asked Kelcie to help me pack while I called the airlines to get a flight as quickly as possible.

An hour later, we were on our way to the airport and less than three hours after receiving the call, I was on a plane to Ohio to be with my family. Kelcie dropped me off and scheduled a trip for herself four days later.

I spent almost three weeks in Ohio, helping to provide as much emotional support for my family as I could.  For the most part I was able to suppress my devastation so that others could grieve, which in retrospect was probably unhealthy.

Bobby was the second child in my family, and I am the 9th, but he was more than just my big brother. He was my best friend, my role model, and a father figure. He was, as simply as I can put it, everything to me.  We had 12 years separating us, but everything that I am and wanted to be was impacted heavily by who he was.

After he passed away (it’s been officially ruled as a congenital heart defect, something no one in my family was aware of), I tried my best to maintain a stable emotional state, and despite the occasional whiskey-fueled, late night breakdown, I continued to deny how greatly his loss was affecting me. Most of the time I was able to use his loss as a way to motivate me to do “things” I never had the inner-strength to do previously.

I quit the restaurant business for good (so I thought), and decided it was time to stop sitting around on my butt and went back to school after a near 14-year hiatus.  This blog, which I began two weeks before Bobby died, became a refuge and I decided to start writing for no reason other than how much I enjoyed it. It was always something that I had liked, but never felt qualified to do. His death made me stop caring about what I qualified for, focusing instead on what I loved to do – and I loved nothing more than Buckeye sports. Ohio State was one of the unbreakable bonds that Bobby and I shared, and in tandem with his affinity for words I figured it was a great way to keep building a bond with him after he was gone. There was no one I’d ever met who had more of a way with words and their application to page than Bobby, and so writing became a simple way for me to honor him.

This blog opened up doors for me, and quickly. After a handful of posts I was blessed with an opportunity to begin writing for elevenwarriors.com and saw a glimpse of what could happen if I ever fully applied myself to anything, something that I had stopped myself from doing on any number of other occasions in my life.

Fast forward again, to today, and I am once again unsure how I will respond to challenges facing me. But, I have learned in this past year a few lessons so valuable that I know I am capable of besting anything that confronts me.

I have new opportunities before me, and I have old demons haunting me. I have worries about failing and dreams of success that I’ve never imagined. I have learned that sometimes the best thing to do is cry when I want to cry, and scream when I want to scream. I have learned that through death we can regain life and that sometimes the living are really dead.

I am going have days when I feel like I am not worth fighting for, and days when I feel it’s in the best interest of those who care about me to give up and let me drift away into oblivion. I know I am also going to have days when I feel I am a world-beater capable of everything I can conceive.

If you’re reading this, it’s because in some way you want to know what makes me tick – what I think and how I feel. If you’ve known me for some time, you’re likely used to me burying the serious under a mountain of sarcasm, but not this time. If you’ve just recently met me, and are trying to form your opinion of me and determining my value in your own life, this is me, exposed. This is me telling you I am worth it, but that every so often, I might need a little help in remembering it.

No more covering up insecurity and doubt. It’s time to be me, no apologies necessary. This learning to live again may end up killing me, but I am not going to let that bus hit me without making sure I leave a dent.