Ego, Omelette’s and getting along

I had the pleasure of doing a charity breakfast Saturday morning. It is one of the commitments I always make sure to keep each year. It is a combined effort between a local church and my Masonic lodge. It is a Santa Breakfast where families come for a nice breakfast and a picture with Santa Clause. I have worked the Omelette station for the last 3 years.

I have fun cooking, joking with the kids, messing with the parents and I meet new people every year. I really enjoy it, and I was asked back after the first year due to my entertainment value. Omelette stations are like fireworks. For some reason, people can’t get enough of watching someone make one. People “ooooh” and “aaaaahhh” as it develops. They want to talk about it with you, tell you how they “could never do it” and “would end up with scrambled eggs.” Some even ask if they can watch, as if I would send them away until it’s ready. It is so incredibly easy for me, I have over 20 years of cooking experience. A saute’ pan is like an extension of my right arm. Which enables me to “bring it” on the big finale…the flip. It is so easy to do but people love it.

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This year my usual partner in eggs didn’t make it. I was asked to work with the Minister’s son. Eli is a tall, smart, good-looking kid who claimed to know how to make an omelette. He made the first one for a lovely old woman and she was delighted. He was very pleased with himself. I thought it was awful. Not in a mean way but he could do so much better. Then came my turn to make one. When I was done, flip and all, I realized that I was being watched by a whole bunch of people. Eli looked at me and said: “I want mine to look like that”. I showed him by walking him through the next 2 that he made. They were better but not good. Finally, he said, “I like making them my way.” I assured him that it was fine. It’s a church breakfast, who cares. Then I saw a chance for a teachable moment.

“Eli, at 21 have you learned everything you are going to learn? Or are you going to be open to new ideas? Because every day that you are not learning something from someone is a wasted day.” He smiled and silently acknowledged that I was right.

The next few were a collaboration and he picked it up fast. We also had fun doing it. By the end of the breakfast he was putting out some nice looking and tasty food, and he was smiling. He even pulled off “the flip” a few times. At the end of the breakfast, his Dad Kevin came over and told Eli how well he did. Eli punched me in the arm and said: “I owe it to the master here”. After Kevin left I said: “you had a little ego at first didn’t you?”

“Yup.”

“But when you put it aside you learned something right?”

“I sure did, and I’m glad that I met you today.”

“Eli, the pleasure was all mine.”

Ego is in all of us. I maintain that it is as ugly and destructive, and green, as envy. Most of us keep it largely in check, only allowing it to rear its ugly head when our fragility is truly challenged. It comes out at small moments and places as well, like an omelette station. My ego wanted me to make every omelette, to not share the job, to have all of the accolades to myself. But I didn’t, I told the ugly side of me to stay inside and let me handle it.

Ego is not the same as pride. Flashback twenty years. I was driving around town in my convertible mustang with some friends and some jerk I didn’t know pulled up next to me and started making fun of my car. Not me personally, just my car. My friends started jawing with his friends and at the next light, we pulled into the parking lot of a local watering hole.

The way that the kid got out of his car suggested that a fight was pending. He took off his shirt and removed all doubt. Then, comically, he took off his shoes. The door to the bar opened and the people spilled out into the parking lot. I removed my shirt, to his apparent shock I was in a hell of a lot better shape than he was and a lot bigger. I left my shoes on. I saw the look on his face and he quickly caught himself and put his tough guy face on again. My friends were ready but didn’t engage and I became aware that I was to be the one to fight this kid. I didn’t want to but there was a lot of pressure and a lot of eyes on me. I knew that if it got bad I would have back up so I walked, shirtless and determined, towards my nameless foe.

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We squared off. He was talking some kind of smack, I still didn’t even know why he wanted to fight me, but here we were. I circled in a defensive posture, sizing him up for how many skills he might possess. He looked scared and a little drunk. Finally, he made the mistake of telling me in a loud voice, for the crowd’s benefit, that he was going to “kick my ass.”

Again, I didn’t want to fight this kid. I hated fighting. But my ego, or my pride, sure wanted a piece of this kid. Then I heard my dad’s voice in my ear, his familiar saying resonating if you punch an asshole in the mouth he’s still an asshole. I dropped my fists and said “I have a better idea. Why don’t you put your fists down, your shoes on and let’s have a beer instead.”

“You don’t want to fight?” he asked. Looking around for a reaction from the crowd.

“I can, but do I have to?” He shook his head. I watched him put his clothes back on, I buttoned my shirt and nodded towards the door of the pub. We, and our thankful friends parted a sea of disappointed bar patrons and drank for 2 hours. I didn’t make a friend that night but I avoided making an enemy.

I went home that night with my ego in check, and my pride intact.

Dreams and the Easter kiss

I am a very fitful sleeper. I rarely sleep for more than three hours, I never wake up in the position that I fell asleep in and I have very vivid and realistic dreams. I truly wish that I could remember them and write them down because there are some very telling things going on. I dream of people I actually know, sometimes interacting with people I don’t, celebrities and people I barely know from a long time ago. I retain certain details but not enough. Too bad because there is some great blogging material there.

With all of the changes going on in my life of late, it’s no surprise that my mind is racing. Health issues, financial problems and now a pending divorce are always at the forefront of my mind.

Last night was a particularly memorable one on the dream front. I know that I had several bad ones, details escape me, but I woke up with a headache at 2 AM so I know I was squinting and tossing and turning a lot. I drank some water, popped a tylenol and went back to sleep. I then dreamt of the “Easter kiss”.

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Most of the details of the dream escape me but I vividly remember that at the end I found myself in a car with my wife, driving somewhere unimportant, and we began discussing the pending divorce. I asked her why she initiated the process, jokingly asking her if she had been cheating on me. Her answer was a nonchalant “I have.” She began to list all of the men that she had affairs with and how she met them. One of the liaisons occurred at a place I do remember, a gym that I used to go to about 20 years ago. She then told me that I shouldn’t be surprised after the “Easter Kiss.” I asked her if I was supposed to remember this incident and she said: “I’m sure I told you.” I remember being beside myself with anger and frustration. And then I was woken by a text alert on my phone. It was my wife telling me when our first hearing for the divorce was.

It took me a while to collect my thoughts before I responded to her. That dream was real close to home. In reality, I have wondered why she suddenly decided to divorce after letting things stay the way they were for so long. I wondered if she had met someone. I would actually welcome it, I would like her to be happy. But I have never, ever suspected her of infidelity. She is a very honest person and despite all of our differences I always trusted her. I was rattled.

I told her about it this morning. She laughed it off. She told me that she’s not like that. To her credit, she’s not. But I can’t get it out of my head, where did I get the “Easter Kiss” from.

Strange days indeed

great idea…someone else can do it

Leopards have spots, Zebras have stripes, people will always be a disappointment. Some things never change.

I am not usually one to promote such fatalistic, gloomy stuff but I’m entitled. I am a big believer in people. I believe in their basic goodness, that most people are decent and charitable beings and are worth investing in. Some people are a bit more difficult but I try to assume is good until proven otherwise. I was raised that way.

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Some are held to a higher standard. When I joined Freemasonry, the oldest fraternity in the world, I joined in hopes of being around men of the character of its most famous members, founding fathers, presidents and civic leaders. The appeal of Freemasonry was to follow in the footsteps and surround myself with good men. Men of character, with a strong moral compass who dedicate their time and resources to improving their family, their community and themselves. Freemasonry was a natural draw for me, they are low-key in their labors for the community and seek no accolades or praise. The best giving is anonymous giving.

I joined and immediately became an enthusiastic, active member. I volunteered at charity events like blood drives, medical equipment loaner programs, and other such activities. I spent time with some great men, many much older than me, and I learned a lot from them.

Our lodge, or meeting place is a special place. Within our walls, there is a strong sense of fraternity and friendship. Participation is encouraged, selflessness is required. Members are asked to step forward, not wait to be asked, to offer ways to improve our fraternity and our lodge. I eagerly stepped forward. Dare I say I jumped into the pool. I joined committees and local organizations as an envoy or ambassador. I enjoyed it immensely, it was good for my character. Unfortunately, I noticed too late that I was one of the only ones. Everyone else was stepping back and letting me do all the work.

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I tried not to get annoyed, but after 3 years of it, I noticed that if I didn’t step up things weren’t happening. I began to feel taken advantage of. So I slowly weaned myself off. I was still active in meetings but I started asking for help, for others to step up and join me, or actually do it without me. I talked of good things; coat drives for veterans, food drives for the local food bank, money for the school kids that needed things outside of traditional programs. Crickets in the room.

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Freemasons take upon themselves an obligation. Part of that is to be selfless, support our brethren and be charitable within your means. I began to realize that my brothers weren’t living up to their obligations.

This year I ran into some life-changing events. I told my brothers that I would not be available for much this year, that my usual assignments would have to be delegated. I am very sorry, but not surprised to report that as of today they have not replaced me, that activity is at an all-time low, that our charities are suffering and our attendance is a joke. I should feel bad. But I don’t.

I learned something. Even though an organization has a long history of above-average people, “better men” to their credit they are, at the end of the day regular people. And regular people can be a disappointment. Some things will never change.

The Scorpion and the Frog

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The first time I heard the story of the Scorpion and the Frog it stuck like glue. After all, isn’t one of the eternal questions “can man really change?” I wanted to believe that people are capable of change but as I get older I am less confident. I do believe that people can improve, but our demons, our bad habits, are still there.

I used to be an unforgiving prick. I once told an old high school classmate, who had tracked me down (before the age of FB when it was a lot harder) in my early twenties. He had sought me out to apologize for wronging me in HS. He was in step 9, making amends. Despite his great effort and sincerity, my answer was to tell him to go Fuck himself. Not a proud moment. I’m not a hateful guy, in fact, I am generally known as a nice guy. I just have a problem with forgiveness.

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As I got older, and my blood pressure was increasing, I taught myself to let some things go. Part of that was to forgive. It required me to control, not change my nature. Anger, stress, and bitterness are a burden to carry around. It is a weight that affects your body as much as carrying actual weight. I committed to it. Since then I have forgiven people that deserve it, and some that don’t. I have given second chances to people that I normally wouldn’t. It’s the right thing to do. I’m better, and lighter, for it.

A self-aware man is a walking dichotomy. He is two men; the one he is and the one he wants to be. The only way to achieve the second is to improve and refine the first. He needs to recognize his flaws, move past his own ego and change it. This is a great way to ensure a great future. It does not, however, do anything about his past.

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Past behavior is a great descriptor of a man’s nature. Your “nature” is usually defined as your most visible, known attribute. It is what people reflect on at your funeral. “Ahhhh, he was a real genuine guy”, “he was a generous guy”, “she was a kind soul”. My father measured a man’s nature by whether or not someone would or would not “give you the shirt off of his/her back”.  It’s your legacy.

I have become very concerned about my legacy lately. Even though I have twenty +- years left I have had enough reality checks to know that it is not too soon to work on my legacy. It isn’t a tremendous undertaking, I have rectified most of my past mistakes in which I think I may have hurt someone. But I have a few left.

Today, on my way up from a doctor’s appointment I decided to do a pop-in on an old friend who had just bought a business near me. He and I go way back but haven’t spoken in many years because I offended him at his wedding. I brought to his wedding a guest that he warned me would upset his new bride. He was correct on that one. It wasn’t pretty and I took a lot of heat about it. We really haven’t spoken since.

I found his place and I gathered myself in the car before I went in. I found him under the hood of a ’79 Lincoln doing what he does best. I got his attention by cracking a weak joke about a car that I used to bring to him. He recognized me right away and we began to talk. It really never reached friendly, I could tell he wasn’t any happier to see me than a guy selling him a new socket wrench. I didn’t offer the apology today, it wasn’t the right time. I just asked if we can get together sometime for a beer and talk. He gave me a non-committal “sure that sounds great” and excused himself to go back to work. I left.

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He’s still pissed and that’s ok. I’m the first person to tell you that just because someone is willing to be forgiven doesn’t mean someone is ready to forgive him. He probably thinks that I haven’t changed. That my nature is still the hard-charging, screw the consequences type that I was twenty years ago.

There is still time for him to decide if he would let me get on his back for a ride across the river.

Facebook and real friends

“Hi, I’m Bill and I’m addicted to Facebook.” Sorry, wrong meeting.

I have the same love/hate relationship with FB that I have with alcohol. I use both frequently but monitor myself carefully for addiction.

FB has served my generation well because I didn’t have it when I was young so I remember life before it. It allows me to recognize the difference between FB life and real life. There are FB friends and then there are real friends. You can have both on social media.

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Here are my thoughts on different types of FB users.

It is very useful and enjoyable to keep up with the lives of people I went to school with or formerly worked with. I like knowing what they are up to, it’s like following their lives.

I hate the vague posts begging for attention. People who put up shit like “grrrr so aggravated!” without explaining why are clearly begging for someone to say “awww what’s the matter honey?” or “I love you sweetie let me know if I can help you.”. Those compliment-baiters drive me crazy.

People don’t need to check in everywhere they go. First of all, nothing says “break into my house I’ll be gone for awhile” like detailing every step of your Tuesday afternoon shopping trip. And I don’t need to see a pic of every meal you eat.

Too much politics and hate. We all have an opinion, it comes down to how we express it. Getting political on FB is asking for trouble because of Facebook Balls, the phenomena in which complete strangers get real tough and mean with you from the safety of their keyboards.  

It causes more divorces than can be measured. The tendency to flirt through messenger or reach out drunkenly to the “one that got away” leads to bad things. I know of what I speak. Moral of the story, if you can’t stop, learn how to use the delete button.

I use Facebook to keep up with people. I follow a lot of (credible) news sites. I belong to several pages dedicated to my chronic illness on which I have made some good friends, gotten and given valuable support. I only post positive things that I would want my own mother to see. I keep my content clean and positive and I eliminate those who piss on my threads. Every once in a while, however, Facebook shows you something special.

Sunday I shared a sentimental blog post that I wrote about the anniversary of the passing of my father

https://goodtobealivetoday.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/talking-to-granite/

to Facebook (almost no one on this site read it but I digress). It was emotional and I think it was well-written. It generated a ton of response. Some real love flowed onto my page. It occurred to me too late that such a post can be construed as an attempt to elicit sympathy. NOT what I was going for. I was simply imploring people to tell those in their lives that they are loved…before it is too late to tell them. But I found that there are people on my friends’ list that I thought were only FB friends but were instead actual friends. One response was particularly moving.

As soon as the post appeared on my wall I got an inbox message from James, my former assistant.

“Hey bro, I was just thinking of you and your post popped up. I wanted to tell you how much I miss working with you, you’re one of my favorite people in the world. How are you?”

We went back and forth for a while. I was truly moved by some of the things he said. James was my assistant for 5 years. He was a great, and frustrating co-worker. Intelligent but cocky; resistant to being taught anything but a quick learner when he did; a classic underachiever yet thorough and reliable. I sometimes wondered if he ever absorbed any of the things I tried so hard to teach him. It turns out he did. I am grateful for him as well, he balanced me out. He isn’t just a co-worker or a FB friend. He is an actual friend.

Talking to granite

I never thought I would be the guy to sit in a cemetery and talk to a piece of granite. I have lost many, too many, friends and family and I always make my visits to their places of rest. But I don’t sit and talk. That changed when I lost my Dad.

Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of his death. I wasn’t in the mood to write yesterday, it’s a tough day for me. Living in a house that he built doesn’t help. I see his touch everywhere in the woodworking, design, and collectibles. As I write this I’m sitting in his favorite chair with his beloved dog sleeping at my feet.

4 years later I still tear up when I think of him and when I attempt to talk about him I invariably choke up. I have been fortunate to have been asked to speak at some events I am a part of and have foolishly attempted to speak of my father and consequently blubbered in front of packed rooms. Historically, I am not a crier. But when it comes to Dad I can’t control it.

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As a guy with a long family tradition of “sucking it up and moving on” I am puzzled why it is not getting easier as the years pass. Time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t fill all voids. His loss occurred at a time in my life I probably needed him the most. I was finally coming around to understanding the things he said. Things that I rejected in my youth that I later learned he was dead on about. I had just started to appreciate his simplistic approach to life; be nice to people, tell the truth and work hard and the rest will come. I had just started to recognize that people with his value system and work ethic were slowly vanishing and his presence was a treasure. I was at a point when I needed his eternal optimism to fuel me as I entered the worst chapter of my life. He was minimalism at its finest…less is more. Less showboating, less ego, less drama, and aggravation.

I miss him. The world was a better place with him in it. He deserved better. He worked so hard for so many years to provide for his family and build a retirement. He retired early because his co-workers were all dying young. He enjoyed about 3 years before Parkinson’s reared its ugly head. It reduced a strong, proud man to a mere shell in a long 8 years. Those years took more than his mobility, they took his pride and his independence. Death was a relief for him, I saw his face when he took his last breath.

My life has been especially challenging lately. I am trying to maintain the family optimism and positivity. It’s getting harder. I wish I still had him telling me that everything is going to work out. I suppose while I’m wishing for things I wish that he could have enjoyed his retirement. I wish that he could have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. I wish I could tell him how many things he was right about.

I wish that I didn’t have to tell a granite slab things that I wanted to tell him to his face.

Tell the people in your life how you feel about them today, don’t wait. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. You may find yourself sitting in a cemetery talking to granite also. If you’re reading this it’s because I chose to share it with you. Because I care about you and I won’t wait until it’s too late to tell you. Regret is as eternal as granite.

Light at the end of the tunnel

So relaxed, like never before

My arms nailed to the bed

My legs won’t move

Too numb to speak

No desire to try

Peace hijacks my body

the pain has fled

Is that a light I see?

Am I moving toward it?

I don’t care

I’ve longed for this

Free at last, done with it all

I surrender

Take me now

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Bright lights. Screaming. Calling my name

Come back to us they say

Yelling and prodding at my mortal shell

Are you in there…What is your name?

He’s back! someone says. The questions ensue

I’m back from where? 

It felt so good…

One of my late Grandfather’s favorite jokes was “I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a train.” He was a funny bastard. But I beg to differ, and here is why.

 

“Cellulitis. Isn’t that the stuff that you suck out of the Real Housewive’s fat asses?” My doctor was not amused. I assured her that I was joking, that I was already intimately aware of what cellulitis is. I had it once before and my nervous joking didn’t cover how alarmed I was at this diagnosis. I was prescribed an aggressive antibiotic and given a phone number to call if the infection’s redness crept past the outlines she drew on my wrist and leg. I was on my own for the weekend. Football and bed rest.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the last time I had it. I remember it like yesterday.

I woke at 5:30 AM one morning in July feeling awful. Nauseous, raging fever and confused. My children were small, I knew that they couldn’t be left if my wife drove me to the hospital so I called my father. He rushed over and took me to the hospital. As we pulled into the dropoff area I opened the truck door, fell out and vomited all over the parking lot. Emergency techs got me into the ER. I had a fever of 104. An hour later they still didn’t know why.

I was admitted. In order to get me to relax they gave me morphine. The nurse working with me joked that I, and all men in general, were “big babies.” I wasn’t in the mood to justify myself, I let the morphine do its thing. What happened next will stay with me forever, I will need that long to explain it.

I felt such peace. I felt more relaxed than I had ever felt. My arms and legs felt as if they weighed hundreds of pounds each, I couldn’t move them. And I didn’t want to. All pain left my body. I saw blinding white light and I’m pretty sure I felt as if I was moving towards a tunnel. It was amazing. Until I came back. See, everything I just detailed I recalled later. What actually happened was the morphine attacked my weakened kidneys and I went down. Unresponsive for at least 3 minutes. My heart never stopped but I know that I was dead or awful near it. My nurse had come back in and seen that I was slipping away.

I woke to at least 5 doctors and nurses yelling at me, bright lights and beeping machines, repeated inquiries of “can you hear me?”, and “come back to us”. After what seemed like hours I was able to tell them my name and date of birth. I could see my mother and father’s concerned faces in the sea of people surrounding me. I was back.

After everything quieted down my nurse came in and tearfully apologized for calling me a baby. I didn’t care. As she leaned over my bed she leaned on my right leg and I screamed in pain. She pulled the sheet up and exposed my leg; it was twice as thick around as my other. I was immediately transferred to the ER. Cellulitis.

I spent 8 days in the ER. I almost didn’t make it. They couldn’t stabilize the infection. One hazy memory is of my wife walking in with my then 8-year-old daughter as I vomited all over myself. A bad moment indeed. I spent most of my time in a haze, frantically trying to figure out what I had experienced. I asked my mother about it. She said that I was down for the count. As if I had been dead for hours. She was terrified. As I put the pieces together I realized that I had seen the other side. And I am not afraid of it. I know that I will feel relaxation and peace, 2 things I have never had enough of.

Of course, I recovered, I would not be writing this otherwise. But today I was jolted to think that I could go through that again. I just hope that this new antibiotic works by Monday. Otherwise, I’m getting admitted again.

Oh well, worst case scenario is that I compare notes with my funny grandfather about the whole tunnel/light thing.