The epiphany

I am not, nor have I ever been a “man of science”. By that, I mean that I’m not a person that has to have everything quantified and verified. But I am, to a certain degree, a person that needs to see some kind of empirical evidence in order to believe in something. This was a major influence on my failure to embrace religion as a logical pursuit. It wasn’t until I embraced the notion of “faith” would I be a bit more accepting of that which I couldn’t put my fingers on and wrap my mind around. Faith is inherently difficult, hence the reason it is often associated with a “giant leap” of it.

For most of my life my associations with the notion of faith would be in having trust that airplanes wouldn’t fall out of the sky, oncoming traffic wouldn’t cross into my lane and kill me, and those that I love wouldn’t hurt me. These are all tangible things that can and do go wrong. The notion of putting my trust in something that I can neither see nor touch never entered my mind. In addition, I openly rejected the idea of a kindly, benevolent man in a flowing white robe, pulling the strings of mankind from a puffy cloud in the sky whenever I was faced with the unacceptable instances of good people dying young and babies getting cancer.

Three distinct events in my life pushed me incrementally from open detractor to cautiously spiritual.
My Kidney Transplant in 2011.
The death of my father in 2013.
Joining the fraternity of Freemasonry in 2013.

My transplant was an incredibly formidable event in so many aspects. Obviously, it saved my life. I was very sick and on the verge of dialysis. Maybe it’s inaccurate to say I was going to die, it would be more accurate to say that any quality of life was escaping me. Then, a co-worker that I barely knew stepped forward out of nowhere and offered to donate to me. And then finding that she was a perfect match…well, that made me challenge the notions of luck and coincidence.

The death of my father initially reinforced my anger and frustration about bad things happening to good people. But my thinking evolved a little bit when I acknowledged my gratitude that he was no longer in pain. I had (I think, still not entirely sure) some unresolved issues and I talked to his stone a lot. I missed him terribly and suddenly the idea that he may be in a better place, free of pain and waiting for me, his beloved wife, friends, and every dog that ever sat at his feet to join him appealed to me. So I begrudgingly allowed the notion of an afterlife into my zeitgeist. In short, it was a nice idea.

I joined Freemasonry several months before my father passed away. I had always wanted to join it and I finally petitioned a friend for membership. It was a big move for me because I knew that Freemasonry is a faith-based organization. When it came time to interview, I pre-empted the gentleman interviewing me and asked what the parameters for belief are. I was pleased to learn that no statement of denomination or actual designation of a deity other than a higher power/driving force in the universe was required. You simply had to believe that there was something bigger than your own self. It was of short-term comfort because I still hadn’t really gotten even to that point. I was dancing with it, entertaining it even (which was a big step for me in and of itself) but not sure. This was problematic because I am not the type of person who would join a fraternity with the intention of being a better man, father, son, friend, and citizen on a lie. So I told my interviewer my concerns. The problem is that he knew my story and deftly said to me, “You happened to get a job at the one company that would connect you with the person who would one day soon save your life. A perfect match of all things. Since then you have dedicated your life to being a better person and paying forward your gift. Do you honestly think that all of that is a big coincidence or is it possible that all of this happened for a reason?” I really couldn’t argue with that logic.
I began to evolve.
But I was still spiritual at best. It was a Masonic lesson that moved the needle just a bit more. When discussing the structure of Freemasonry the Lodge itself, while it implies a building, is actually the members, the building is just that. Well, isn’t that what a church is?
The building is a building, but the members, followers, parishioners, and believers are the actual body. So according to the tenets of Bill logic (it’s a thing), Church is just a building, religion is a label, and God is everywhere. It may not sound like much, but it was quite an evolution for me, even if I really only evolved to the point of acceptance that I am not an atheist, and the person that I referred to in the first paragraph, the man who wants something tangible to see and touch, opened himself up to the possibility that there was indeed something out there and I was lucky enough to not have to define it.

Here’s what I came up with. It was church, organized religion and all that goes with it that I had a problem with. I wasn’t an Atheist. Atheists are convinced that there is nothing. They are their own church. My problem with Atheism is that I believe it is arrogant to believe that they know that there is nothing out there. This is such a uniquely arrogant human notion. I will never assume to know such a thing. Enter more Bill logic, if you reject the notion of nothing, then you therefore accept that there is something. That, my friends, was enough for me at that point in time.

It is no understatement to say that I have been looking for God everywhere and in every thing ever since. I have looked everywhere except within the walls of a church.

Midnight Mass

I have a lot of down time. I’m still encouraged by my Doctors to take it easy and I do what I’m told because I still have days when the pain is formidable. My abdomen, now stuffed with 2 kidneys, is packed so tightly that any type of digestion issue will cause tremendous pressure on the new kidney and consequently the incision. I’ve cut way back on how much I eat to avoid the discomfort. And I rest quite a bit. I find myself watching quite a bit of Television because my eyes fatigue easily from reading. Fearful of becoming a couch potato, I at least try to watch something educational or at the very least something different.

Netflix hates me. I scroll through hundreds of shows and movies and some days nothing interests me. Netflix eventually prompts me with their new feature “play something”, which is their nice way of saying,”Jesus, asshole just fucking pick something will ya?” It’s not my fault, I’m just sick of the same old crap. Often I come across something and I will save it for later because maybe it’s too heavy for my current mood but I want to come back to it. That is how I discovered such gems as The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and most recently Midnight Mass.

I watch a lot of documentaries but Horror, well that’s my jam. Especially well thought-out and preferably Gothic horror/romances have always been my favorite. I have been reading Ghost stories since I was 7 years old. I read the original Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was 12. Stephen King was a staple, many late night was spent under the covers, too afraid to look around my room. Especially after I read Salem’s Lot. That shit could happen.

As an adult I am a picky horror enthusiast. I don’t mind jump scares but I don’t care for Slasher flicks and “what would you do?” movies. I like a story. Give me a ghost story about tortured souls trapped in a house any day. But every once in a while I indulge in shows about religion. They connect with my ever-cynical approach to religion and spirituality and I almost always take away something from a well crafted story about God, fallen angels, Demons, etc.,.

Enter the Netflix series Midnight Mass. The series description was a little vague for me but I was intrigued enough to put it in my “to be viewed later” list. One day I was in the mood for something different and I gave it a try. I was immediately hooked and 8 episodes later I can honestly say that is one of the best, though-provoking shows that I have ever seen.

The show centers on a small island community. This is a common theme, at least in New England (my home), the isolation and despair of a people largely cut off from the mainland. Comprised of mostly fishermen, the island is dingy and run down, the people are discouraged and beaten down and keenly aware that their island is dying around them. The population is dwindling, the fish are drying up and there is little hope for a better life. There is but one church on the island and the story begins with the knowledge that their longtime Priest, Monsignor Pruitt, was on the mainland at a rehab facility for priests in their dotage. His replacement, Father Paul Hill, played by Hamish Linkletter, arrives to replace him and immediately strange things begin to occur on the island. Linkletter is not my favorite actor, I couldn’t stand his snarky character as the younger brother on that awful show the new adventures of Old Christine. But he was brilliant in Midnight Mass. The other newcomer is Riley Flynn, a young man who returned to the island after a prison stint for killing a woman in a drunk driving accident. With no place to go, he begins life anew on the island.

The catch? Father Hill is actually Monsignor Pruitt, his youth having been restored by an angel (or vampire) that he encountered while on a visit to the Holy Land. As Father Hill (Monsignor Pruitt 40 years younger) integrates himself into the community, he spreads the blood of the Angel through Communion wine and Miracles begin to occur. A handicapped girl suddenly walks. A woman with Dementia suddenly heals and appears decades younger. People with glasses suddenly don’t need them anymore. Desperate for something positive, this causes a religious revival in town and as people often do, shit gets out of hand.

Father Hill’s secret gets out. The town is caught up in a full-blown fervor. The believers in town go all in on the Revival only to find that Father Hill/Monsignor Pruitt will soon push the envelope and he introduces the Angel that changed him. The nude, winged angel is a blood sucker (vampire?) that renders his victims bloodless and dead, only to return to life moments later. Much is made of the transition, people claimed that they could see beauty and detail in the cosmos that they never could before. They entered a whole new realm of existence. The only catch is that they now need human blood to exist. Nobody on the island will be spared once they start hunting. Here is where it shifts from a profound meditation on life, despair, death, religion and faith to genuine horror. I will not ruin the ending for you. You must see it for yourself.

Midnight Mass is a brilliant mix of Horror and Religion. Faith, as well as the crises of faith, are showcased and thoroughly dissected. Despair and hope, or the lack of are consistent themes. Crises of faith and the urge to rationalize bizarre occurrences are spotlighted. The enigma of small town life is carefully detailed in all of its gossipy and provincial aspects. Even Islam is discussed in a fairly sympathetic manner through the eyes of the Island’s new Muslim Sheriff, who moved to the island to get away from his past. And of course, on full display throughout the series is the element of human behavior, in this case the response to miracles and the hysteria that followed that can only be caused by mob rule.

I’ve told you enough. It’s on Netflix, give it a watch. Tell them Billy Mac sent you.

letting go of the past

Perusing my old blogs, I can’t help but notice how much I have dwelled on the past. I’ve had it pointed out to me many times but I never realized how bad it really was. I think the secret to my future happiness depends on my getting a grip on this once and for all.

I think that the real sledgehammer to the forehead came as I was reading a series that I appropriately named “Diary of a FUS (fucked up shithead)”. While unfinished, it paints a pretty clear picture of my obsession with all that I have done that I regret but serves no real purpose other than to remind me of that which I want to forget. Digging deep into the possible psychology behind the posts the best I can come up with is that deep down not only do I regret many episodes and decisions, even entire periods of my life, but also have come to believe that my life would have taken an entirely different trajectory if I had taken a different path.

But I wouldn’t be the person I am today, for better or for worse, if not for those errors in judgment and behavior that haunt me to this day. Every stupid thing I’ve said; every poor decision; every time I failed to listen to the little voice in my head; every time I ignored my better instincts has in some way formed my current self. I am now careful to speak and quick to listen. I now question everything before I make a rash judgment. I now ignore my initial instinct to be trusting and instead ask the hard questions and dig deeper. I am hyper aware of what comes out of my mouth and very sensitive to what my face is saying when I’m listening. Perhaps most important, I always try to be kind to everyone: even those who don’t necessarily deserve it. Every one of these modified behaviors stems from one or more formative incidents that I wish that I could forget. Incidents that I have played out in my head and consequently beaten myself to metaphorical death over.

I have come to a major realization that in committing so many faux pas in behavior that it was always when I was trying to be something or someone that I was. The difference between the old, guilt-ridden me and the new me is that I now know who I am and I feel I know my place in this world. I embrace my smallness when I once chased success and stature. Despite my gruff appearance I am actually OK with being quite gentle. My facial expressions often express consternation but in fact it usually means that I am thinking about something and I am not aware that I look like that and I am in fact most likely thinking happy thoughts. While I often obsessed over my own predicament and weighed my worth in possessions, I now am happy with a modest lifestyle and I am quite generous for a man of my means. While I merely coexisted with my fellow man before, I now care deeply about the welfare of others and genuinely make an effort to alleviate the pain and sadness through simple acts and gestures.

Does it really matter what we were once or is it most relevant what we are now? How important is the past, if amends are made and lessons are learned, if we are now better people? Regardless of the twisted and winding paths we took, the obstacles we climbed over and how many times we had to turn around and start over, dusting ourselves off, isn’t the end result what matters?

I would love to change some things that I have done and said. I have hurt people and I know that I have missed many opportunities that, had I embraced, my life would be very different today. But I can’t. “Redo’s” only happen in the movies. What I do know is that lying awake at night beating the shit out of myself is doing nothing also. It’s time to recognize the past for what it is, it’s over and done with. I have definitely learned my lessons and I almost like who I am today. I can look in the mirror and be ok with the man staring back at me. He forgives me and I should as well. I have acquired many things due to my checkered past, the best of which is wisdom. I may not have known how to do the right thing before. But I do now and that is all that matters.

The rearview mirror is small, the windshield is large. That is because the past is only worth a small view but the present looms large before us and everything that matters is yet to come. If you are in the right place and frame of mind to receive it.

I have been blessed with opportunity after opportunity lately. Life is good. I believe that the positive energy I have tried to put out into the world has come back to me. Karma is not a bitch but instead the great reckoner and equalizer of the universe. Karma is not rewarding the me of the past, but instead the new me. The one that finally realized, no matter how late in life, that the past is just that. But today is a gift, that’s why it is called the Present.

Faith

With eyes closed, slowly swaying with her right hand to the sky, she sings with a passion and conviction that I can only look at with admiration and longing. My eyes close, my skin bristles, a small tear forms in the corner of my eye. The music makes me feel vulnerable, open. She begins to freeform, she breaks into a rambling tearful prayer. I’m mesmerized…

The Holy Spirit is what she’s having. And I think I want it.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a complex and difficult relationship with God. Once “Born again”, or so I thought in my teens it wasn’t long before I lapsed into a state of agnosticism which later devolved into what I can only call Atheism. I rejected all of it. I have no problem telling you why; I saw too many people praying for themselves and their own advancement, and I had a very hard time understanding why a kind and benevolent God would give babies cancer. While tolerant of other’s right to worship and willing to engage in a debate with anyone, and I could argue my side as good as anyone, I didn’t budge for years.

Much ado was made about my atheism when I got married. We got married in a hotel. A Justice of the Peace presided. It was a civil ceremony and I told the J.O.P. quite definitively that I wanted no mention of G.O.D. My wife, a non-practicing Jew and me a Atheistic angry ex-Protestant…well we sure pissed off our families. That, the pissed-off thing reached new heights when we failed to introduce our kids to religion. No baptisms, no Bar or Batmitzvah’s. No church or temple. I do regret teaching my children my views, as impressionable children I may have ruined it for them.

I wouldn’t begin to come around, and I only came around a small bit, until I petitioned for membership in Freemasonry. Freemasonry is a organization known for making good men better. I was by all accounts a good, if not flawed man and I was a good candidate by all standards. But I was required to acknowledge a faith in a higher power. No specifics required as to denomination or name, but no atheists. I had to really evaluate my stance because one thing I did not want to do was enter a faith-based organization characterized by worthy men on a lie.

Hard questions followed and if not for a good friend I wouldn’t have started on the path that I am now discussing.
“A good friend came out of nowhere and gave you a kidney, saving your life?”
“Yes.”
“And that was just a accident or a coincidence?”
“No.”
“You know for certain that there is nothing out there?”
“No. Nobody can honestly say that.”
“Then if you dismiss nothing, then you logically have to ackknowledge something?”
“Yes.”
“Isn’t it possible that you don’t need to know why things happen, that it’s beyond you?”
“Yes.”
That was the conversation that opened the door for me to acknowledge that maybe there’s more to it. My compromise was to call it Spirituality.

Then my father died. My father was a Godly man. He lived by a strong moral code and he loved Jesus. Especially towards the end as Parkinson’s ravaged his once strong body and spirit. When he died I started doing two things I never did before; I talked to a granite gravestone, and I began seeing shadows in my house.
The Paranormal is a great indicator of God. The shadows, hopefully my father, seemed benevolent but I had heard enough stories to know that not all are. You can’t believe in evil without acknowledging its polar opposite and that is something holy.
Still, that one incident aside, I really didn’t move beyond the label of Spiritual.

But I began to open myself up a bit more. I began to find the chirp of the bird, the deer sightings, sunsets, mighty storms and reflections on the water as particularly beautiful and less of a coincidence of nature. I found God outside the walls of a Church. I adopted the “Kayaking” doctrine.

“Kayaking” worked for me. But the selfish praying for a football victory, a winning lottery ticket and the hateful vitriol or outright fucking hypocrisy that I had witnessed in past “Church” phases was still with me. And I still had a hard time with the whole dead baby thing.

Recently I have been talking a lot with a lovely woman who has shown me what I had been missing. She is kind in her actions and her prayers. She prays for others, not for personal gain. She is humble yet strong, she controls what she can and has faith in that which she cannot.
She has shown me what I have been missing and didn’t know I was searching for.
Faith.
People have a hard time with control and I am no exception, letting go of that white knuckle grip is a daunting task. And I’m not quite ready to fall in lockstep with the old “Everything happens for a reason”, or “It’s all predetermined”. But I am coming around to the possibility that I will learn someday, not today the reason for the triumph, or calamity that has just occurred. It’s called FAITH and I’m starting to come around to it.

The people of faith that I have been watching with a keen eye have a special walk. A special smile. They are not acting better than you and I, they just convey a feeling that something has their back. That everything is going to be ok even if they don’t know how, why or when.

I think I’m on a journey that will take me there. I think that my hardships, lessons, and scars have happened for a reason. I may be a vessel, placed on this earth to help one person or many. I may have to hold on to my questions for a while to see if they ever get answered. In the interim, I want to spend more time around people of faith.

I want what they’re having.

Give a little, get a lot

There’s an old adage that states:
“You can’t help those who can’t help themselves.”

While this is largely true there is a caveat. You still need to try.

It all started with a phone call from a friend and Masonic brother after 10 PM on a Saturday night in October. Despite the bond between Masonic brothers being mighty and strong, the late hour, and that this particular brother is long-winded and hard to get off the phone, I chose to let it go to voicemail. He immediately texted me imploring me to call him. I did.

He was in jail.

It turns out my Masonic brother, who is held to a higher standard by our fraternity and by his own commitment to be a better all-around man, was pulled over for speeding and then arrested for outstanding warrants. He was unlicensed, uninsured and in violation of not paying 2 years of child support. He needed my help, in particular he needed money. His car was impounded and he needed 500 dollars.

I offered my ear, the full extent of my advice and any resources I had to offer but I had no money to give. I implored him to reach out to his family. What he then told me made me realize that I actually knew very little about my friend.

I always knew that he was under-employed. When I reconnected with him 7 years ago (we were friends in HS) he was working part time which I thought was odd for a man my age with children. What I didn’t know, and learned that night, was that he hasn’t worked at all in 2 years. His girlfriend he lives with had finally grown tired of supporting him and asked him to move out. His mother refuses to have him stay at her house. His 2 ex wives hate him. He is in a deep depression, and he is blaming his current situation on it.

The temptation to be judgmental was overwhelming. I had serious questions and opinions on how he had let himself get into this situation. In particular how just getting a damn job could have prevented all of this. But it would have been kicking a man while he is down, it’s not my style and it isn’t helpful. I needed to help him then and kick his ass later.

I implored him to reach out to anyone in his family that he can borrow from to get his car out of impound. He called me the next morning, his son had stepped up and helped him.

I have seen him regularly since then. He still has no car or license, he has been sofa-hopping every night, a hearing for his support is pending and he isn’t working. To be fair, without a car or a mailing address he really can’t work. But in my heart of heart I knew that he wasn’t trying. He was doing the one thing I hate the most…feeling bad for himself. Still, I withheld judgement.

Last night he called me. The situation was critical. He is officially completely broke, has nowhere to stay and has noone to turn to. I talked to him for hours, but after hour 3 I realized that he has a fatal character flaw. He doesn’t listen, he merely waits to talk again. I wasn’t getting through to him. I verified that he had a place to sleep that night and ended the conversation for the night. I went to bed but didn’t sleep well. I was very worried about my friend.

This morning he called me early. He was in tears. He had been a closed off rock before, not being able to ask anyone for help and not taking advice, now he had finally lost it. He cried into the receiver about how he wanted to be a better man, how he couldn’t take feeling like this anymore but he didn’t know where to turn. For the first time, he was willing to hear my thoughts. I again resisted the urge to give some tough love, some hard advice. It still wasn’t the time. He needed some stability to get his tears out, not worry about where he would lay his head that night or where his next meal will come from. I told him to hold tight, that I would call him back.

Before I go any further let me say that if I wasn’t 100 miles away I would take him in in a second. But I can’t.

But I had another idea. A mutual friend and Masonic brother of ours had a spare room and had previously offered it to me. He had also mentioned that he would offer it to our friend if it absolutely came to that. I called him and told him that it had indeed come to that and I updated him on the status of our friend. We both agreed that something had to be done. Inaction could result in something tragic and neither of us could live with it having not done something.

He was open to the idea of letting our friend stay with him but he had some genuine, legitimate concerns. He is also struggling financially. He can barely feed himself and is wary of having another mouth to feed. This is a fair assessment, our friend doesn’t have any means to support himself and would need some generosity for a while. We talked about his own situation for a while. We had concluded that it would be a temporary help for our friend and other than financial, it wouldn’t put him out. In fact, he would welcome the company. But still, there was the matter of money.

I told him that I would give him a check for $200.00 to pay for enough groceries for one month. I really don’t have it to spare but I need to do something. He was taken back by my offer but grateful. He thanked me for the offer but he would have to call me back. He recognized the urgency but needed a moment to think. Before he hung up he asked me where our friend was staying. I gave him the address.

I just received a call from my distressed friend. He was picked up an hour ago and he is enroute to his temporary shelter. He tearfully thanked me for my assistance and pledged his undying gratitude. I told him to take the reprieve to assess, recover, relax and game plan his return to being a productive citizen.

I don’t know where he will be in a month. I plan on visiting them on Sunday to get a better feel for where he is going. I want to thank my friend and Masonic brother for putting our brother up. For now, I don’t have to worry about him succumbing to his depression.

I don’t have much in the way of assets, but I am always going to be as generous as my situation allows with what I do have. Empathy, a soft shoulder, a cache of hard-earned wisdom and a meager but consistent bank account can go a long way.

No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.

Superman out.

The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Faith. Many of us have struggled with it our entire lives. Many of us will never truly reconcile the notion of a higher power. Unfortunately, we also fall terribly short in being able to discuss our differences on this complex and polarizing subject.

And then Tom of Tom Being Tom wrote this. Which I will now share for your reading pleasure. Do you follow Tom? If not I only have one question…why wouldn’t you?

I don’t believe in gods. Those of you who know me know that well, and those of you with even a passing sense of who I am probably understand that, too. 38 more words

via The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Song lyric Sunday

Some of you may know this song by heart, some may have never heard it. It is one of those songs that proves the adage that the music you listen to in your formative years will always be sentimental to you, if not remain your favorite music. The latter has proven true for me, and in times when I lack clarity or need a reminder of what drives the blood in my veins I play those songs.

Bob Seger’s Like a Rock is the title track of his ’86 album that cemented my love of Seger’s gritty, honest, relateable songs. This song, before it became a Chevy commercial at least, was a staple in my daily playlist.

Now, as I find myself weakened and looking for strength I love this song more than ever. It reminds me of the days when I was young, strong and carefree. Of the days when I walked with my shoulders back and my chest out. When I swung an axe in the crux of a cold October afternoon in just a T shirt, my brow sweaty and my muscles tight, plowing through the woodpile my dad and I had just created. My friends were all playing football but I committed myself to the task at hand. Like a rock.

I miss that feeling, I want it back. I hope to get it back. When I hear this song I am reminded of better days and given hope that they will return.

Give it a listen will ya?

Stood there boldly
Sweatin’ in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I’d never felt that strong
Like a rock

I was eighteen
Didn’t have a care
Working for peanuts
Not a dime to spare
But I was lean and
Solid everywhere
Like a rock

My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock

Like a rock, I was strong as I could be
Like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me
Like a rock, I was something to see
Like a rock

And I stood arrow straight
Unencumbered by the weight
Of all these hustlers and their schemes
I stood proud, I stood tall
High above it all
I still believed in my dreams

Twenty years now
Where’d they go?
Twenty years
I don’t know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone

And sometimes late at night
When I’m bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin’ a ghostly white
And I recall
I recall

Like a rock, chargin’ from the gate
Like a rock, carryin’ the weight
Like a rock

Like a rock, the sun upon my skin
Like a rock, hard against the wind
Like a rock, I see myself again
Like a rock