the lessons of time

It is not only a new year but also a entirely new decade. As I mark the halfway point of my 5th decade on this glorious spinning ball we call earth I have to say that the last ten years have easily been my most tumultuous and unpredictable to date. It is said that it is better to forget the incident and focus on the lesson. I need to do just that. If I was to take anything away from the last ten years, it is that I have learned a lot of lessons.

In 2010 it was determined that I would need a Kidney Transplant. Without it, dialysis would be my only option. One that I absolutely hated. The lesson was that, despite my remarkable skills of denial and putting on a brave face, it was time to take my health seriously.

2010 also saw the culmination of multiple bad financial decisions and living beyond my means in the foreclosure on my house and a bankruptcy. Despite finally landing a great job in 2008 it was too late to stop the inevitable and my family dragged ourselves to our new home, a small 3 bedroom apt where the rent was as much as our previous mortgage and we were actually tripping over each other. The lessons were many. I learned to curb my spending. I learned to downsize. And as we banged around in close quarters I learned that the smaller the space, the closer the family and as a family we achieved some much needed closeness.

In 2011 a co-worker and friend offered to give me a kidney. Her selfless offer caused a chain reaction at my company culminating in a fundraiser for my medical expenses. I felt like the luckiest man alive and I was blessed with a huge support system. I received my transplant in December. I was grateful and empowered. The lessons were many. I learned that a blessing can come from any source and to be open to it and be grateful. I learned that people are good and plentiful. I also learned that there is a catch to everything. My GM, who coordinated the fundraiser for me was going to play that card to manipulate and attempt to compromise me for years to come.

In 2013 I lost my father to Parkinson’s. It hit me hard to say the least. I still wonder if he died knowing how much I appreciated and loved him. The lesson, and there are many, was to tell the people in my life how I feel about them. I have committed to always leave people as if I am never going to see them again. Regrets are not part of my current game plan.

2013 also was the year I joined the wonderful fraternity of Freemasonry. I found a passion to pay forward my recent gift of a Kidney Transplant and Freemasonry allowed me access to great men who do great deeds. My commitment to be a better man each day than I was before has forever changed my life. The lessons are many. Selflessness, charity without expectation of recognition, love of community and the confirmation that there are a lot of good people in the world, you just have to know where to look.

Professionally, it was a wonderful decade. In 2008 I had fallen into the job that would not only introduce me to a lifesaving donor, but I found my niche in my career. The company groomed me for a couple of years and then gave me a department to build and I can say, without hubris that I knocked it out of the park. My background and personality served me well in our business model and I became a crucial “go-to” team player valued by our customer base and a frequent resource and problem-solver. Every day was challenging and different and I found myself in a position to help people. The lessons were many, chief among them was to listen to those around you and help them whenever possible. Also, be the worker and coworker that when you take a sick day, people miss you.

I would say that 2016 was the worst year of the decade. It began when my kidney failed suddenly in February. I was floored. Upon receiving my transplant I was a new man. I began my recovery immediately and I committed myself to keeping the kidney for at least the 15 years I was told it would last. I worked out hard. I did P90X, I biked and hiked. I took care of myself and dropped weight. When it suddenly failed after only five years, I was angry like never before. Where were my 15 years? Why did I have to find out on my own that my disease was the only kidney disease to return and infect the new organ? I would later deduce the lesson. You never know what the future holds so get out there and live now. If the Dr.’s had told me that I may lose it in 5 years would I have achieved all that I had? No, if I had sat around waiting for the shoe to drop I would never have climbed those mountains and savored the view.

In 2017 the bottom really fell out. My company closed, taking my dream job with it. My health deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t keep another job. When the job was gone so was the money and that was when my marriage officially collapsed. It was inevitable, we had been strangers for years but it hurt nonetheless. I suppose you know the rest. I moved in with my mother. I applied for Social Security Disability. I was denied. I went on dialysis and I am to this day. That’s the bad.

But here’s the good. I started this blog and if you are reading right now then I made a good decision. I also focused on creating and maintaining solid relationships with my children. Today, we are strong and their love sustains me. I also committed to getting along with my ex. I have not to this day experienced the closure, the explanation for the rejection many years ago and the giant wall that formed between us but I remained friendly with her for the children, for us and for the sake of tranquility. I would like to think that I am setting a good example for the kids on how to be an adult.

2019 served as a year of tying things together and trying to formulate a plan going forward. It was a year of many setbacks and achievements. After nearly dying in September 2018 I emerged from a medically induced coma with a “bucket list” mentality. I focused more on what I could do and less on what I couldn’t and in the process found that I could do a lot of things my detractors said I couldn’t. One of them was buying a motorcycle. Everyone said no, as had my wife and family for many years. But it was in my blood and as an homage to my father I was on two wheels again. The freedom and love of the open road has changed my life and, second to my children, is a thing that keeps me going on those dark sleepless nights when the pain is so bad that I consider the darkest of thoughts…ending it.

My greatest achievements of the 2019 was the transformation of my entire attitude. I like who I am. Finally.

It is true that a man has to hit rock bottom, with nowhere to look and go but up, before he truly discovers what is truly important. Brutal self-examination led to self-improvement. Physical challenges awakened the fighter in me. Having nothing to lose empowered me to rise from the ashes and shine my light instead of lurking in the shadows. It was then the lessons became clear.

For every high there is a low.
People do not suck.
Life is to be lived not viewed out a window from a recliner.
The words “no” and “can’t” are to be treated as a personal challenge. Sometimes we all need help and that’s when we discover who our friends are. Pain is temporary while regret is forever.
Be charitable to a flaw with your time if not your wallet.
Only look down on a man if you are helping him up.
Be nice. If you can’t do that then be quiet.
Don’t ever let someone tell you what you can’t do.
Make every day count as if it were your last.

In closing, I hope to be around long enough to do another one of these ten years from now.

Happy New Year.

A New Year's Toast for all

Raise a glass…

to the parents struggling to care for their family. May they be able to provide sustenance and love for the children

to the first responder running towards danger when others run from it. May you always stay safe

to the soldier thousands of miles from those that love them. May your mission be righteous and your body unscathed

to the healthcare workers who do more for others than they do for themselves. May their selflessness be recognized and appreciated

to the bullied child. May your struggles be recognized before it’s too late

to the bully. May you see the error of your ways

to the ill. May you experience recovery

to the grieving. May you experience closure and peace

to the hungry. May your plate always be full

to our leaders. May they do what is right, not what is profitable or electable

to the disenfranchised, the angry and the frustrated. May you find an outlet and peace in your heart

to the practitioners of hate and division. May you become part of the solution, not part of the problem

to those that chose the path of honesty and integrity. May you never be caused to second-guess that choice

to those who are hopelessly glued to screens. May you look away and see the beauty all around you

to those fighting a hard battle. May the people you meet treat you with kindness and respect.

Here’s to a better you. A better us. A better world. It’s up to us to make it a good year.

Here’s to you.

the day after Christmas

It was the day after Christmas and my youngest daughter and I were nursing our morning coffee after a late night of junk food and binging Netflix. My phone rang its distinctive Duck call ring tone and I walked over to the counter to see who it was. It was my ex. It was a dick move but I chose to let it go to voice mail. I do that a lot. I’m not proud of it. I don’t hate her but I have been conditioned to feel a sense of foreboding when she calls.

Too many years. Too many bad phone calls. Too many uncomfortable associations.

2 minutes later she texted me. Please call me it’s an emergency!

I called her right away. Her boyfriend Glenn was missing. He had been since Christmas Eve.

Do you remember Glenn? I wrote a blog about him a while back. He is the boyfriend that moved in with my ex and caused a family brouhaha. With a history of drug problems, still married with a shit ton of baggage some of us were less than thrilled that they were shacking up. It blew over, like most things do. I met him on Thanksgiving. He was a nice enough guy and I accepted him, if not the situation. My only problem was that I knew, as did my ex, that it would end badly.

It ended worse than anyone could imagine.

He’s dead.

My ex saw his car at a rest stop several hours later. She found his lifeless body in the back seat curled under a blanket. We’re waiting for the autopsy results but we know it was an overdose. The only unknown was how much of what he took.

She is a hot mess right now and I feel terrible. The memory of finding his lifeless body will be burned in her brain forever. Despite all of my animosity towards her I find myself perplexed and frustrated because I want to help. There’s nothing that I, or anyone can do.

She had told him, and herself as if in an effort to convince herself, that if he used drugs while with her that she would throw him out. Several months later, when he was still there, I assumed that he was clean. I now know that he wasn’t. He relapsed several times, disappeared for a few days at a time on benders and then showed up begging for forgiveness. She caved each time. I guess that’s what you do when you love someone.

I drove two hours yesterday to see her. To comfort her. I put everything aside to give her a hug. It was the first time we had hugged, even touched each other since my father’s funeral in 2013. I told her that I would never in a million years want such a thing to befall her. Then I left and drove another 2 hours.

I checked my FB at a gas station on the way up. She had posted a meme about how her life would never be the same and added her own commentary about how no one had ever made her feel as he did and that her life was changed forever by his love and that she will never feel again about another man. As concerned as I was about her I was stung a bit by her post. I spent half of my life with this woman, nearly killed myself trying to support and love her and this is what I see? Part of me wondered if she ever loved me that much.

I quickly reminded myself that it wasn’t about me.

Still, it stings. I guess I will just pile that onto an already heaping shit pile of things that I will never understand. Again, it’s not about me.

Addiction is a powerful thing. More powerful than many, including my ex, will ever understand. Like suicide, it’s the ones around and left behind that get hurt. I take no satisfaction in the fact that I told her she would end up being hurt. Being right doesn’t matter. The damage is done. The pain is palpable. The struggle continues.

All that is left is the cleanup.

the power of youth

I am a conservative, words hardly uttered on the blogosphere or social media in general. Conservatives have it hard these days, we find our beliefs and values under fire, even under attack in today’s left-leaning society. I’m ok with it, I know that I’m neither a bigot, a Nazi, a Xenophobe or a racist and I really don’t have time or the desire to defend or explain myself. My blog has likely suffered, however, because I stay away from current events for lack of desire to be attacked as all of the labels listed above. Having said that, I am going to say something that may surprise many of my fellow conservatives and say that I don’t entirely believe that climate change is a myth.

Climate science is not an exact science. In fact, the term “alternate facts” comes to mind. About 2 years ago a debate erupted after Kelly Conway defended Donald Trump and used the term “Alternate facts” and a brouhaha ensued along the lines of factuality. “Alternate facts” was touted as a means of promoting falsehoods and I found it entirely disingenuous. Alternate facts actually refers to the existence of different sets of arguments or evidence. And that is where climate science breaks down for me. For every scientist that presents evidence that the earth is warming/cooling/changing there is another with a set of conclusions that says it is not. Especially when you read a story about a Arctic expedition heading to the North Sea to study diminishing ice and have to turn back due to too much ice. As a layperson I don’t know what or who is correct.

But, unlike my fellow conservatives I don’t deny that there is a problem. There certainly is.

Is the earth cooling or warming due to manmade activity? It’s possible. Is the earth going through a natural cyclical adjustment that may or may not involve eventual rising sea levels and massive weather events that may extinguish a large portion of the population? Also possible. It happened before and it was called an Ice Age. Another one is also possible. Whatever you believe, it is difficult to deny that animal methane emissions, fossil fuel consumption and rampant pollution are having a severe impact on our beautiful planet.

We only have one.

Enter Greta Thunberg. Never heard of her? You’re the only one. Greta Thunberg is a 16 year old, angry Swedish teen with Asbergers syndrome who has become the face of climate change through her fiery speeches lashing out in particular at boomers for destroying the planet for her generation. She has become so famous that Time magazine named her “Person of the year” (much to the dismay of Donald) and just today the prominent British Magazine Nature blessed her with her own issue for the awareness she has raised for environmentalism.

I have a lot of problems with Greta. None of which are her own fault. She is a tool of the left, likely backed by notorious leftist George Soros. It wouldn’t be the first time youth and the disenfranchised were exploited by the left, it wasn’t that long ago that caravans of “broke” people crashed our border after traveling thousands of miles in mere weeks and somehow had transportation, iphones and all of their meals and other expenses miraculously paid for. I also feel that she is being exploited by her parents who are undoubtedly making a small fortune off of their angry daughter. She is also woefully uninformed in environmental science as AOC is regarding basic economics and the accolades thrown the way of this angry little waif as a “expert” are misguided and borderline comical as she and the Bloomberg’s of the world lecture us about our “footprint” and tell us to use public transportation as they crisscross the world on private jets and jump their privileged asses into limousines.

But again, it doesn’t mean she is entirely wrong and as much as I dislike her and her angry rants she is energizing her generation and spreading awareness. Maybe boomers will reevaluate their rampant consumerism and millennials will use less plastic Starbuck’s cups full of complicated coffee drinks and be a little nicer to this planet. The miles wide patches of plastic floating in our oceans and killing our sea life will thank them.

There is a problem folks, even this conservative (one who is confused how conservatism somehow became synonymous with climate non-believer) knows it. So if it takes a angry little puppet’s scowling face posted everywhere to make us love our Mother then I will gladly watch it happen.

I can’t stand her, but she may be doing some good. Youth gets our attention. Youth is good. Youth is powerful. Embrace it.

My last shot?

Look no further for the fool. It is me. Shame on this fool. I should have known better.

We met online. At first we followed each others blogs, then we started emailing. I was enamored by her. She was exciting and fun, and lord knows I lacked both. What I didn’t know is that I caught her on a high.

I would soon meet the low.

One day she posted about ending it all. I emailed her right away with my phone number. Not on my watch will a friend do this if I am able to help. She called me. That voice, oh my that voice. She sounded broken, despondent. And so sexy. Her loneliness reached through the phone lines over the many miles and nearly choked me out. Her marriage was in shambles. She felt marginalized, abused and feared that she will be homeless and alone due to a cruel, heartless dick of a husband. I implored her to find the good, to not end it all. After an hour of rambling conversation she said she felt better. She called me a lifesaver.

I was just being kind. That’s what I do. Normally it works out for me.

Daily conversations soon followed by text, email and phone. She was feeling better, she was exciting again and I got caught up in it. It had been so many years since a woman paid any amount of attention to me. It blurred my judgment as much as it stirred my loins. Every fiber of my being told me I was on a steam train plummeting towards destruction but I strapped myself in and hoped to survive the impact.

She said we should be a couple. I saw my exit from the train. I told her long-distance doesn’t work. That I can’t let myself get caught up in that boondoggle.

“What if I was to move there? My marriage is over. I have no ties. A change would be nice.” At that moment I allowed myself to feel for her. It would prove to be a crucial lack in judgment with tremendous implications.

6 months of at least 8 hours of talking a day. I was smitten. She even got me to say the “L”word. It had been so very long since I had said that phrase to anyone other than my children. I allowed myself to get immersed in it. I wrote sappy blogs about what our first meeting would be like, what our lives together would be. It made her happy. And that made me happy.

I fell. Hard. The voices in my head screamed at me to slam the brakes. That it can’t work out. That I would get hurt. But I was feeling things that I hadn’t felt in so long, often feeling them stronger than I can ever remember. It was new, it was exciting, it was a high that I couldn’t explain. One thing I did know is that I was in need of what I was experiencing. I was starved for affection, excitement, romance. She offered all of it.

She stole my heart and I let her keep it.

Then one day she tossed me aside like a cigarette butt out the window of a speeding car. How could I be treated like that? Don’t I deserve better?

I should be over it, but I’m not. To be discarded like a stale pastry is not something I can just “get over”. I don’t miss her…I miss the feelings she gave me.

In a futile attempt at recovering, I signed up for a dating site. The results have been less than spectacular. My honest profile, in the interest of saving the trouble and embarrassment of having the conversation abruptly end when the phrases “I live with my mother” and “I have a chronic illness” are spoken has left me with little to no activit. By trying to avoid it I have apparently scared them all off. No “likes” or conversations started. My page is a ghost town.

I miss how she made me feel. I want to love again. I want to be loved maybe for the first time.

Have I had my last shot at love already?

the Rainbow Bridge

I didn’t really start believing in an actual higher power until I lost a parent. Many others that I know say the same thing. The notion of a magical place in the clouds that houses our loved ones after they shed their mortal shell, where they look as they did in their prime before sickness or age took them away from their pain is a far fetched notion in this day of science and reason. But it sounds like a hell of an idea and if it gives you comfort, then go for it. It did for me. We all grieve differently.

Grief is a powerful thing. When someone suffers a loss we want to say something, we want to do something. The bitch of it is that there is nothing we can say or do, it’s a personal process that really never ends it only gets less difficult over time. If you are lucky. It is a matter of patching the giant hole that the loss of a loved one leaves in us.

Our human vanity challenges the notion that the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as the loss of a human. They’re only animals after all, right?
Wrong.
I won’t go so far as to say that an animal is on the scale of a human but I will tell you that to many, most(?), our furry friends are not just pets. They occupy our hearts and minds and command a level of love and companionship that comes in a photo finish second.

I lost my first dog when I was in High School. We adopted a Brittany Springer Spaniel from a shelter when I was 4. He was a hunting dog that was trained too early and was gun shy, rendering him useless to hunters. He was my absolute best friend in the world. To call him a loyal companion would be the understatement of the century. He was by my side everywhere I went. He saved my life once. I was crossing our street and a school bus was barreling down the hill. He ran across the street and tackled me. The bus missed us by inches. He wasn’t just a pet. When I drove to NH one summer day over Summer Vacation I was met with the dour faces of my parents, who told me that he was put down. I was crushed and remained that way for a long time. There was a hole in my life. It was at that time that I saw the poem “the Rainbow Bridge.”

We have had a series of dogs since then. I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to my first but I loved them so very much and losing them was never easy. Recently we put down our Laso Apso of 14 years. That was a tough one for my mother and I, he was an amazing companion. Smart, loyal and goofy and a constant presence. His loss crushed my mother. This time she said “no more dogs. It’s too hard to lose them.”

I agreed with her on the “hard to lose” them part. But I didn’t agree with the no more dogs thing. The one thing about animals that differs from humans is that, while you can’t replace them, you can fill the hole left by a pet. The mistake we make is that we don’t want to do them a dishonor by “replacing” them and in the process we forget that we have an opportunity to at least fill the empty place in our lives.

Having said that, six months after putting down our beloved Laso, we got another dog. A beautiful Cocker Spaniel named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel).

My mother’s frown turned upside down from the first day that we got him and I have to say that her life is better with him in it. He is loyal, friendly, funny, goofy and absolutely full of love for her. He has chosen her as his favorite and I’m fine with it, it was her hole to fill more than mine.

If you are a person who doesn’t want a dog because you feel that their lives are too short and the pain is too much, please focus on the wonderful times you are missing out on. Having something that is always happy to see you, missed you like you had been lost at sea, adores you unconditionally and can comfort you without having to know what’s bothering you is a treasure in and of itself.

If you are a person who doesn’t want to get another to fill the hole, remember that it is not about replacing, it is about mending the massive void in your life. Once you’ve known the unconditional friendship and admiration of a pet you really can’t go without it. As you sit on a park bench worrying about everything, your dog is sitting next to you thinking that you are their entire world.

How many people can you say that about?

I’m more likely to believe in heaven if I were to have all of the wonderful dogs I have been blessed to know waiting for me to walk by my side once again as I cross over.

The price of war

I was raised by a Vietnam Veteran and a WW2 Veteran. It didn’t take me long to learn that their experiences impacted them profoundly and that most vets didn’t talk about it. I once worked for a guy that would wake some nights finding himself on top of his wife attempting to strangle her. I asked my Dad about it and he said flatly “he saw and did some shit.”

Just take a moment to let the fact that 22 Veteran’s a DAY commit suicide in this country sink in.

Last week I was watching Forrest Gump with my mother’s BF. We were hanging out, drinking a beer and chatting back and forth. All of a sudden we came to the scene where Gump and his platoon came under heavy fire in the Vietnam sequence. Dave suddenly raised his voice and said loudly “turn it off, turn it off! I hate this shit!.” I quickly changed the station and I asked no questions. I knew that the scene had touched a nerve with him. We never spoke of it.

In the current news there is a lot of talk about Syria. There is controversy about pulling out. Many think we should stay, many think like our President, that enough is enough with foreign wars.

I agree. To be honest, we’re not over Vietnam yet. If you don’t believe me, please watch Ken Burns’ documentary.

Then you see kids, good kids from good families, kids that back home would help little old ladies across the street and go to Bible study, do these horrible things. They’re in country for a little bit and it’s like the veneer of civilization peels right off of them

The above quote was from a Vietnam Veteran as interviewed for the 10 part documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. He was talking about “acts of war”. In particular, the acts of savagery committed by some American soldiers while serving in Vietnam.

At an average of 90 minutes per episode, completing the series was challenging. But I did and I have a lot of takeaways. Hours of battle footage, commentary, and interviews with all the players; politicians, soldiers from South and North (the enemy) Vietnam and all of the geopolitics involved in Cold War Southeast Asia. Per usual Burns provides an honest, balanced and unflinching look at one of the darkest chapters in recent history.

The veterans interviewed did the unusual. They talked openly about their experience. They ranged from the reluctant draftee; to the wide-eyed eager recruit seeking the honor and glory his father achieved; to the everyday guy from Anytown, USA that felt the call of Patriotism. They all went to the same place but all came back very different. It wasn’t like the last war, their Dad’s war. And glory was not in the cards.

A lot of men did and saw things that would haunt them. When villages were razed, livestock slaughtered, suspected enemies gunned down and food supplies destroyed were part of “following orders” a lot of soldiers found their moral compass in danger. Some made “deals with the devil” to rationalize their acts. One soldier said “I will never kill another human, but there’s no limit to how many Vietcong I will waste.” His compromise was to not see the VIetcong as people. If they are no longer people then it becomes easier. They are the enemy they do not matter.

Then there were those who stretched the thin red line even further. Rapes, mass killings of civilians and excess brutality sometimes occurred. As it says above, it was if the veneer of civilization had worn off of them.”

At home, the war had changed people as well. The escalating campaign was enormously controversial. Young people broke rank with their parents’ beliefs. Students took to the street and challenged authority figures. Peaceful protest morphed into violence as frustration with a growing conflict grew. Pictures of bombing campaigns and burned children were finding their way into American living rooms and people were outraged. Some activists decided that violence was justified and riots and bombings occurred. It culminated when the National Guard opened fire on a crowd at Kent State and killed four. One veteran lamented “It has gotten so bad we are killing our own at home”. By the time of the Saigon airlift of ’73 this country was divided and forever damaged.

When the soldiers returned, there was no ticker tape parade. The hostility towards the war had been directed towards those who had been charged with fighting it. The brave men and women who fought the unpopular war emerged from planes and boats to be called “baby killers” and were spit upon. These people are still owed the Welcome Home they deserved. But as I have said. Everyone changed.

What are the rules of civilization? Are they inherent? Are we born to act rational and be decent to each other? Is it the job of parents to instill the concept of society in us? Is the veneer of civilization so thin that it can be easily worn down to the point that we are easily capable of barbarism and savagery?

If you don’t know what it was like to see the political climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s it isn’t too late to see it. Just turn on your TV. Riots, Nazi flags, death threats, mass shootings, people just being ugly to each other.

So I have to ask…how thin is your veneer?