Day 11…a letter to the leader of my faith

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Dear Grand Architect of the Universe:

It took most of my life and it wasn’t until I stopped looking that I found you.

When I was younger I watched my fellow humans hail you, bow to you, raise hands high in the air and shed tears to you. I tried to feel that zeal but whatever wiring those people had, I didn’t. Frustrated, I walked away thinking that you weren’t there.

I denied you for years. I never reached out to you even when under life’s heaviest bombardment. I decided you didn’t exist and I was not going to be a hypocrite.

I couldn’t believe that you could allow so many bad people to thrive, so many good people to suffer and let a baby get Cancer. At least not the kindly Gentleman with the flowing robe and white beard I was taught to visualize.

I lashed out at your believers. I felt that they were selfish, only asking things for themselves, for their own advancement. What do you care who wins a baseball game after all? I decided that it was fine for people to believe in you if it makes them feel better but you weren’t for me.

Eventually, I came to realize that I believed in evil. To believe in one you must believe in the other. I further recognized that things are just a little too perfect to just be the result of a random cosmic explosion. Finally, I decided that if I cannot prove you are not there then it is very possible that you are. I closed my eyes, opened my ears and sought evidence of your existence.

I became a member of the world’s oldest fraternity 6 years ago. Freemasonry requires that a man has a belief in a higher power. They do not require a particular deity or denomination. Freemasons refer to you as the GAOTU, Grand Architect of the Universe. I joined Freemasonry as a step in building meaning in my life, it naturally followed that such a desire would incorporate Spirituality. I was looking not only for the meaning of life but for meaning in my life.

I started slow. When others prayed, I meditated. I took that time to think positive thoughts about others and reflect on what I have lost and changes I need to make. I spent time with men of faith and found that these good men used their belief in you to help others, not themselves. I found their positive approach to life as a portal to allow you into my life. Now I am completely open to what you have in store for me.

As my personal life has deteriorated, my family life has collapsed and my health has declined, you have become more apparent to me. Not because my need for you has, but because of my awareness of how much I appreciate what I still have. I do not question you for what is happening to me, I hope that you will help guide those that I love in my absence and that you will guide me in my goal of becoming a humble, grateful and kind person.

I find myself outdoors a lot now. I am able to stare at the woods for hours on end taking in the beauty of nature. I see you in the industrious squirrel foraging desperately before winter. I see you in the bluebird flitting from branch to branch. I see you in the ripple of water on the lake as I paddle my Kayak. I see you in the mountain ranges on a sunny fall day, in the smile of a child and in the affection of a dog.

Yesterday morning I left the house early, dreading the doctor’s appointment I was heading to. I looked at the end of my driveway and saw a baby doe with its mother standing looking at me.

There you were.

Honesty or Hypocrisy…does it matter at this point?

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“I’m sorry Dad, I must have a bad connection. Did you say that you are at Church?” I could visualize my daughter’s confused face as she was driving. She was on her way to see us.

“Yes, you heard me correctly. Your grandmother and I are at Church but we’ll be back before you get here” I said. This is going to be discussed at some point I thought to myself. She has never heard me say that before.

I can’t put a finger on the date but for some time now I’ve become increasingly Spiritual. It has been a gradual process. I once considered myself an atheist but I opened myself up to the fact that I was actually opposed to organized religion.

I am a very cut and dry fellow, it has taken me a long time to recognize and overcome this trait. It used to be easy to say that things are either this way or that, nothing in between. I rejected the Church at a young age. I rejected all of it. I had some bad experiences at my church and I saw some brutal hypocrisy that turned me off to all of it. The Alpha-male in me took over. If I’m rejecting religion then I must be an atheist. Regrettably, I tried to be a good one.

I was committed to it. I even went so far as to hire a Justice of the Peace for my wedding. We were to be married in a Hotel and the JOP was instructed not to use the word GOD once. It actually worked out well on some fronts because my wife is non-practicing Jewish and the families were pushing for their own traditions.

As the kids grew we allowed them to make their own decisions. They were not baptized, bar mitzvah’d or bat mitzvah’d but we didn’t discourage them from believing. We celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah. I offered to take them to church if they wanted. They tried it and were not into it. We often talked about God and Religion and they marveled at my lack of belief. I was perfectly fine with the notion that once you die, you are gone. What remains is your legacy. I’ve always tried to be a good person so that was fine for me.

What my children didn’t know is that I was coming around a bit to Spirituality. I recognized that it was organized religion that I was rejecting. There had to be some driving force in the universe. I opened myself up to it but I never told my kids. It is pretty sad but I was embarrassed that I had changed my mind about something I had been so sure about. Of course, it is even sadder that I was even worried about coming clean. I felt like a presidential candidate who had flip-flopped on raising taxes.

We were enjoying a nice meal that night when my daughter says “Sooooo Dad, Church, huh?” I caught my mother smirking out of the corner of my right eye.

“Here we go,” I said. “Yes, kiddo I go to Church sometimes now.” The conversation I had been dreading for a long time was upon me. Having my mother in the room made it more interesting because she has always the one telling me that it was religion, not God that I had a problem with. I hate it when other people are right.

I explained to my daughter that I had to re-evaluate. That I had rejected religion but was seeking meaning in the world, in my life. I told her I started seeing God in nature, meaning in small things, that chronic illness and personal struggles had opened my eyes a bit. That I was not a bible thumper yet, that in fact, I was a bit of an oddity at church. I don’t sing, I don’t recite and I don’t engage in rituals like communion. I’m just not wired like that. I explained that when closing my eyes for prayer, I don’t necessarily feel what I think I’m supposed to but I take the opportunity to think good thoughts and wish good things for other people. I explained that I enjoyed the positivity of this particular church and that it can’t be a bad thing to take a few hours a week to think about others.

She listened patiently, I don’t know if she was thinking I was a hypocrite, if she was bored but putting on an interested face or if I was actually making sense. My mother certainly enjoyed it. I guess it doesn’t matter what she got out of it. Telling her was as much about me as it was about her. I needed to come clean. I feel like a small weight has been lifted. Being honest with my family outweighs being right at this point in my life.

Day 9…A letter to my parents

A letter to my parents

This is a difficult letter to write. Mom, you are here to read it. Dad, you don’t get to hear this but I sure wish you could. If what I have been raised to believe is true, that spirits live on, then maybe you are aware of the things I have said to your stone. You know, the things I wish I had said when you were alive.

I have no complaints. Dad, you would laugh at that and say “oh good” but hear me out. A lot of people my age complain about their parents. They say they wish they had gotten more of this, less of that, etc. This comes in many forms; they wish they had more money, more TV’s, more vacations. They wish they had less curfews, rules, siblings, after-school activities. The list goes on. And this gives a foundation for blame. Did you know that I grew up lower -middle class? Well I did. And I didn’t know it and I didn’t care. It wasn’t until I had another friend’s house, dinner, Television or car to compare it to that I even gave it a thought. Those are just things. All I know is that I never needed anything. If I was to compare it to what my children had you would think that I was poor growing up. In reality I was just fine.

Things don’t validate the childhood, the “adult you” validates the childhood.

Dad, you came from a hard scrabble background. You were poor. Plastic on the windows and dirt floors poor. You learned early on, unlike your siblings, that hard work was the means to self-improvement and your only way out. Everything you had you worked hard for and you cared for those things and made them last. From you I learned so many things that I carry with pride; to work hard and ask no one for anything, to always remember where you came from, be yourself if people don’t like you it’s their problem, that things always work out. You were a dedicated father and you did everything you could to give me a better childhood than yours.

Mom, you survived a near-fatal childhood disease. Your life was saved by an experimental medication regimen. Your mother was a very proper woman with a too-high regard for appearances and a fleeting sense of humor. Your father a properly grounded hard-working but fun-loving WW2 veteran with a huge heart. Your little brother tragically died at the age of 4. Your mother had a tragic series of miscarriages. You became their whole worldYour mother was overbearing. You feared to do the same to me. I always thought you had high expectations of me to pick myself and dust myself off when I was hurt, I now know that you didn’t want to smother and shelter me like your mother did. Your light-hearted approach to life always kept me grounded. I could talk to you about anything and you were the perfect comic sidekick to Dad’s straight man. Your laugh is still infectious, you are sometimes silly. But you are tough, your ability to bounce back from anything has inspired me.

You were a great team. Your loyalty to each other was unlike any I had seen. I saw the way you looked at each other and I wish that I had experienced a relationship as loving. It still breaks my heart how disappointed Dad was on your 49th anniversary, he was very sick and predicted (correctly) that he would not get to dance with her on the 50th. He cried that day.

I learned so much from both of you and I credit you for giving me something that I see lacking in today’s world. Values. Thank you for being everything that I value in life; honest, caring, and genuine. Let there be no doubt, you did a fine job.

Your loving son

Crossroads…

cropped-cropped-lonely-man-by-the-bed1.jpgThe reason I named this blog as I did is that through my life I have been known to push through obstacles, illness and otherwise, and trudge on. My friends and family nicknamed me Superman because I seemed invincible despite everything that was thrown at me. It wasn’t always a compliment, in fact, it was sometimes a snarky shot meaning that I didn’t listen to common sense advice and other earthly notions. That I felt bulletproof. To be fair, they weren’t wrong. But that’s how I deal with things. It runs in my family. It is a good and a bad thing.

Putting on a good face presents well. I may have been sad and sick on the inside but I’m always going to tell you that I’m fine. My doctors gave me hell, told me that I wasn’t taking my illness seriously. I told them to leave me alone, I’m taking my meds and following your orders. You’re just asking me to act sick and I won’t do that. Right up to my transplant I pushed my luck, fought through the symptoms and feigned good health. I like to think that I spared my children from worry. Youth is hard enough without a sick father to worry about.

The downside of putting on a good face is that when the hammer falls it is more of a surprise to those close to you. Something that has been at the back of my mind all along is suddenly at the forefront of theirs. Word spread and the unthinkable happened, people starting feeling bad for me. The exact reason I didn’t make a big deal out of my illness. I hated how the first question people always asked is “how are you feeling?”

I suppose that I always thought there would be a cure. I woke each day hoping that something good was happening in some lab somewhere that was going to keep me off of dialysis. This strategy, regardless of how well it worked for me, was classic denial. I called it thinking positive.

What is so bad about positive thinking? It worked wonders for me. When I visited my Dr’s office I saw a lot of sick people. They didn’t see that when they saw me. I was working out, I was strong, my weight was under control and I walked with my characteristic “rooster strut” (courtesy of my wife, once again not a compliment). I refused to act like a sick person. I was actually told that I was an “inspiration” by a fellow patient. This mentality sustained me until the big day.

Post-transplant I thrived. I virtually ran out of that hospital determined to get my strength back and to make the most of the 15-20 years of good health my new kidney would give me if I took care of it. I bought a mountain bike, I went hiking, I hit the gym and I spent a lot of time outside with the kids to make up for the times that I sat on the sofa watching them play because I was too fatigued to join them. I had proved them all wrong, it was possible to positively think your way to good health. Even my doctors agreed that my way of dealing with it kept me strong enough to breeze through a difficult surgery and complex recovery like a warm knife through butter. I had vanquished the haters.

Then I rejected 4 1/2 years later. Almost overnight I went from feeling like Atlas to a 95-pound weakling. My bubble had burst. What I hadn’t been told is that the disease that had destroyed my original kidneys had could come back. And it did. I was mad as hell, how could they have not told me of this possibility?

Last week I went to see my nephrologist. My overall function is now 30%. In 2 years I have lost about 75% of my kidney function. I had absolutely no idea it was progressing that fast. I’m pissed, concerned and full of doubts right now of what my future holds, in particular, how long will I have what I consider “quality of life”?

I need to find that positivity again. Fast. Maybe even a little of that Superman. I liked it much better when everyone but me knew that I was sick.

Day 4 of the 30 day challenge. A letter to the person who influenced me the most

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To my biggest influence:

It is difficult to limit to one page how profoundly you have influenced me in so many ways.

You were hard on me. You expected me to always present my best. You told me that how I look, act, dress, smell you name it mattered. That I had no second chance for a first impression.

You were the guy who defined work ethic. I felt guilty not helping you out. But I didn’t know how hard it was for you to work all day and slam down a quick dinner and then go work on the house until late at night. I would someday. When I had a family of my own and I wanted things for them.

To say that you came from humble beginnings is an understatement. Dirt floors and plastic on the windows is more than humble, it’s poor. Most of your family still live like that, but not you. You wanted better and you worked for it. It didn’t require a job on Wall Street, you drove a truck and never said no to overtime. They called you the “rich guy” because you accomplished something they never could by doing what they weren’t willing. You taught me not to dislike them for their contempt, but forgive them for they don’t know better. They were family and you can’t choose family.

You defined optimism. I always heard you say “things will always work out”. You never knew that I laughed you off inside as I nodded in agreement with you. When a co-worker stepped up and donated me a kidney, saving my life, I had to wonder how you knew. What, after the hardscrabble life that you had endured gave you such optimism and faith in people? When I came around to this mindset my life improved, or I just became more open to positive thought and making the most of it.

You were a great friend. Everyone could count on you, some even took advantage. It didn’t matter, if helping someone was the right thing to do then you did it. I take friendship very seriously thanks to you.

You invested in people and advertised for them. If you used a company, especially a local guy, then you advertised them. You told everyone you knew to go there. Of course, if they pissed you off then you could do some serious damage. I find myself doing this as well when I like someone I want to help them. I promote them.

You were a real nice guy. That was good enough for you. And that was the highest compliment you could give someone, to call them a nice or a good guy. They may not have appreciated that distinction but to me, if I die and someone remembers me as a “good guy” I will smile down.

You left me before I could tell you how many times you were right. How many times the situation played out exactly as you said it would if I didn’t take your advice. It was your job to be right, it was mine to listen to you. It would have been nice to sit down when you were old and grey and tell you to your face.

I didn’t think you would die before I could.

That sense of optimism about life, that you taught me, didn’t allow for the possibility that the retirement you worked so hard for and deserved so badly, would be snatched from you.

So I am telling this to your stone. You were the best. Part of me died with you. You are my father and I miss you more than you could ever imagine.

Your son

Day 2 of the 30 day challenge. A letter to myself as a child

Open letter to my younger self

Dear younger me:

Your life will probably not turn out as you expect. Nothing ever does. I am not saying it will be better or worse, just different. Don’t force it. A lot will depend on the decisions you make. Please spend time on your decision making, it will pay dividends.

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.  You can only get experience by living your own life so I can’t make it easy for you. You are going to make mistakes. You will learn from all of them. Cuts and bruises are going to happen if you live your life. A good scar is the beginning of a great story. Try to keep your mistakes to a minimum. Know a bad idea when you see it. Bad judgment comes from your gut, so listen to it. If your gut tells you something is a bad idea it probably is. You have it, I know you do. When you were a Junior in High School Billy and Rick tried to make you get in the car after we had been drinking all night. You said no, they called you a pussy. But two mothers had to identify headless bodies at the morgue that night, not three. Please remember that night it will serve you well.

Listen to your father. He knows. There are going to be times that you think he has no idea what you are going through, you will be wrong. When you are impulsive, he will want to slow you down. Hear him out. Ask him about his childhood, it will make you understand why he is like he is. He doesn’t always show it, but you’re the best thing that ever happened to him. Don’t wait until all you have is a gravestone to tell him how much you loved him. Tell him now.

Don’t be ashamed of where you came from. There are some uncles and cousins that are white trash embarrassment’s but they are family and a reminder of what you could have been if your father didn’t work so hard to escape it. They are where you started, not where you will end up. When they call you the rich kid because your father worked hard, joined a union and bought a house it’s their journey. Not yours.

Don’t pick your friends. Just be yourself and it will happen. The best people in high school are the ones that talked to everybody. Don’t wait until after high school to learn this. There will be a time when Nerds are cool.

Don’t shy away from hard work. Someday someone will ask you where you learned to work like you do. You will thank your Dad. And you will know that they are impressed by you. You will have friends whose Daddy’s will buy them shiny new cars. You will work for yours, and because of that, it will be nicer than theirs. Hard work will give you something you will always savor and desire, the feeling of accomplishing something. Hopefully, you will never lose that feeling.

You will love the ladies. When looking for “the one” look for cute and nice. You will find that Hot often means bitch. The hot ones always look for the next, better deal. The cute and nice one, if you treat her properly will be looking at you and she will be yours to lose. After the looks are gone, you will still love her for the nice. And you will suffer a broken heart, maybe more than once, I can’t tell you how many. It’s ok to marry the 2nd runner-up.

  • Be a good friend. It’s a rare and valuable commodity.
  • Be kind to others. It’s free.
  • Talk to old people. You will love them and they will love you.
  • Listen more than you talk. It will serve you well and people will wonder what you are thinking about and it will piss them off.
  • Don’t argue with stupid people. You lose IQ Points and they don’t absorb them.
  • Wherever you are, that’s the place to be. Don’t look around when you’re with someone. They hate that.
  • Always tell people how you feel about them. They need to know. It might make someone’s day.  It might save their life. And it might be someone’s last day. You don’t know and that’s the bitch of it.

The rest you are going to have to figure out for yourself. Be a good person and life will be good. Your legacy is how you are remembered by others. Work towards building that legacy starting…now.

Oh yeah, don’t let bitterness drag you down. It’s like an anchor and it will sink you. Let some things go, you’ll thank me for it.

Fondly,

Your future self

Open letter to my significant other …day 1 of the 30 day challenge

Day one…an open letter to my significant other

 

To my wife:

I hate to bring this up but I have to ask you a question.

Do you see us as a couple? We are married, legally, but that seems to be where it ends. We are far apart, figuratively and literally. I now live 100 miles away so we are actually apart, and when we are together we are not really together.

When we separated 10 months ago it was a “financial separation”. We couldn’t afford to live together anymore. It was a horrible moment in my life. The family got along pretty good in that house. Which is good because the bank took the other one.

We had always struggled financially but for 6 years we had kept the waterline just below our noses. Our home, while only a rental, was warm and accommodating. For the first time all of our children had their own rooms. We had a table to eat dinner as a family, 3 times a year. I had my own room because we haven’t shared a bed in 15 years. I slept on a sofa of course but it was still in my own room. We kept the fighting to a minimum. My favorite part was that every night I would listen for the front door and I would know that all of my kids, whether I got the opportunity to talk to them before they went to bed or not, were home safe. I loved that feeling and I miss it more than anything.

You had it all planned out, almost too well. When I lost my job and my income went from just enough to nothing you knew just what to do, as if you had thought about it for a while. The oldest 2 would go to your mother’s while still in college (not a bad deal for them) and you would move in with your best friend in NH with our 2 youngest. The same best friend that you basically admitted that you had chosen over me about 10 years ago. As far as where I would live, I really appreciate how you unceremoniously told me to “find someplace to live”. But I did. I sucked it up and moved in with my friend and his family. I fucking hated how you handled it but hey that’s life.

After my last hospital stay my anger subsided a little. You were very diligent in visiting me, pestering the doctors for information and I felt supported. But when I was released, moved in with my mother 100 miles away and applied for SSDI we were reduced to a schedule of seeing each other twice a month and speaking once a week, if at all.

When I visit, I drive 2 hours to see you and our youngest two. I usually catch you as you’re heading out the door to work. That’s not a coincidence. I try to see our youngest boy, the popular and hard-working high-school senior who is busy with his life and almost never available when I am. He and I used to talk for hours at home about music, food, and anything that came up. Now I never see him. I get a couple of hours with our youngest, the beautiful 15-year-old who has not adjusted to life in her new “home” and sits in her room alone for hours playing on her phone when you’re not home. I spent so many hours hanging with her, we miss each other like crazy. She tells me all the time. I can only spend a couple of hours there because I have to drive another 45 minutes south to see our oldest 2. I can usually coordinate a dinner or a coffee with our wonderful oldest daughter who I have the most complex relationship with. I am proud that I salvaged our relationship, for a while I thought I had lost her. And I have to find a way to meet with our oldest son who I so lovingly refer to as “mini-me”. He’s like my best friend. But between school and work, he’s never around so getting time with him can also be a long shot. Then I have a 2-hour drive home. It’s a long day and it is very unfulfilling.

I recall my now defunct career as a series of really hard jobs, some that I hated, some not so much. I worked really hard and I put in a lot of hours. I put up with a tremendous amount of shit and held back a lot of punches and urges to walk out because my family needed me. I always believed that someday I would break through and make some real money. And you, for your part raised our 4 children and did a very good job. I will always respect you for it. We both spent too much money, you needed to eat at restaurants with your friend (you can only have one person in your life at a time and it was always her not me) 5 days a week for your “mental health”. And I suppose I hit the pub a few times too many as a reward for my thankless work at companies that never gave a fuck about me despite the blood and guts that I gave them. But your best use of our money was when you went to college. And did nothing with it. You spent a buttload of money on a degree that you never intended to use because you wanted to spend more time with your little friend. Don’t you think that medical coding degree could have come in handy as our family’s finances collapsed? To your credit, you did give me the satisfaction of admitting this last week on the phone but a lot of good it is doing us now. I hope all of those fun days in class were worth it.

You always accused me of having affairs. You couldn’t imagine how a man could go so long without sex. Yet you were the one who shut it off. Do you realize that it has been over 7 years since we touched each other? And I have never cheated on you, despite multiple opportunities. Is there a man alive that would go that long without straying? But I didn’t because I’m honest. A man doesn’t cheat. And I know what would have happened if I did, I would lose the only thing I have left, the respect of my children.

Do you remember about 6 years ago when I told you I wanted to move in with my friend because I was tired of the fighting? We had just had a terrible argument in front of our kids and I decided that I couldn’t continue like this. Your first reaction was to tell me “good luck seeing the kids.” I knew then that you were the despicable type that would play the kids against me. And I then knew if I ever cheated on you, justified or not, you would tear me apart to my kids. And for that, I will never forgive you. But I stayed.

Yet I feel sorry for you. I worry about you. I might stop short at saying I love you but I don’t hate you. You did a lot for me when we were younger and I am truly grateful. But we are two different people now. We grew in very different directions.

If we were to come into some money tomorrow would you want to move back in with me? Do I want to go back to sleeping on the sofa? Would the fighting start, would the kids again be forced to take your side and gang up on me in any argument for fear of your retribution? Yes, that’s right, they know that I’m the one that they can shit on knowing that I’ll forgive them. Yes, you’re that parent.

You once told me that your worst fear is to be alone. As your husband and a man of his word, I feel obligated to care for you regardless of how well we get along. And I will. But I have to ask, at what point does my happiness matter? I have spent very little time on my own happiness and I may not bring it up again. But what are we doing here? I don’t have any plans that hang on your answer, I just wonder if you think about this like I do.

Are we a couple?

Your husband