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.

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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.