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

Blogoversary

1 year ago I started my blog. I was at an incredibly low point in my life and I believed that putting it to paper, putting it out to random strangers would assist me in exorcising my demons. It did so much more than that.

230 posts, not including many discarded, later I find myself in a caring, supportive community that has embraced me at best and at the very least allowed me to share my unusual, unique and perhaps inappropriate take on life, love, family, work, relationships and chronic illness.

My blog, and consequently you, have become part of me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement, support, friendship and feedback. And of course, thank you for reading…

Sunshine Blogger award

I was nominated by All about life for the Sunshine blogger award.

And the award goes to…….those who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community and, apparently, that includes me! While not much for awards (I really don’t feel worthy), out of respect for her nominating me and with a desire to draw attention to her blog I want to answer the questions posed in the nomination. Lisa pens a really wonderful blog, written in a very down-to-earth manner and it just reeks of positivity.  She engages her readers and offers sincere, useful feedback. Oh yeah, she’s funny. Check that out here. I personally am thrilled to have found her blog.

  1. What’s the thing that you like most about yourself?
    I would like to think that if nothing else, I am genuine. I can’t and won’t pretend I’m something I’m not. Some people are like playing cards. From the front they look solid, turn them to the side and there’s just nothing there.
  2. Do you have any little oddities?
    I have a lot of little oddities. Let’s see if I can come up with a non-embarrassing one. I have a nervous tick, when I tell a joke that I am uncertain about (due to appropriateness or for fear of offending a snowflake) I slap my leg at the punchline. My son makes fun of me all of the time for it.
  3. A million dollars or a 1000 hours of bliss? Which would you prefer?
    I would take the million dollars and then create some bliss. I would do as many meaningful gestures as possible with the money. Anything from buying new cars for my kids to helping a military family or a family with a terminally ill child. Something that would better someone’s life.
  4. Which animal do you most identify with?
    The dog. I have the potential to love unconditionally. I am loyal. I may have teeth and am capable of doing harm but at the end of the day if you rub my head just right I will be truly happy. 
  5. Do you believe in fate or think we create our own destinies?
    I’ve always struggled with the notion that our destinies are pre-determined. That it’s all a master plan that we have to wait and see how it plays out. So I guess I believe that we, to the best of our abilities create our own destinies. In the end it is a combination of our willingness to take risks, our drive to succeed, the ability to make good decisions and our ability to get up after we get our asses kicked.
  6. Which of your blog posts are you most proud of (feel free to add link)
    I tend to avoid the word “proud”. But I would have to say that I am happy with my few attempts at fiction and poetry but I am most rewarded by the response I have gotten from those posts that I really put my bare ass out there and shared my life. Many who read me find my “brutal honesty” (not my words but a reader’s) refreshing. It helped me also by putting it out there, it is liberating.
  7. It’s your last day on Earth – what will you do?
    I’ve been chronically ill for a long time. I am probably the worst I have ever been as I type this. I tend to treat each day as if it is my last in that I make sure that all of the people in my life know how I feel about them; that I free myself from anger and bitterness; not waste my time with negative people and thoughts; and I make it a point to enjoy every sunset, gust of breeze, conversation, and opportunity to laugh knowing that if I were not to wake tomorrow I left nothing on the table.
  8. What’s your favorite quote and why?
    Pine
    I don’t care how much shit you have, how many instagram followers you have, how much you make or how big your house is. Do you have character? That is how you will be remembered.
  9. If you had to give up one forever would it be reading or writing?
    I’d eat a bullet before I would give up either. Books are an eternal wellspring of knowledge, fantasy and learning. A life without these is no life. Writing is my only therapy, I like to think I do it well and I would also like to think that I have helped or inspired someone by my writing.
  10. What’s your happiest memory?
    I have so many. All of them involved when my kids were young. Footie pajamas, silly movies, shoulder rides, bedtime stories and belly laughs. Wishing they would never grow up. 
  11. Who are you?
    I am Bill. I will never put fruit in my beer. I like what I like and I don’t ask you to change for me, just accept me for what I am. Opinionated as hell but accepting to a fault.  I am a philanthropist with no money, I still want to save the world. I am a guy with no job, no money living with his mother that still believes that life is good and will only get better.

I am not going to nominate anyone. If you feel encouraged to play along, I would love to hear your answers to the same (great) questions.

the Lake Walk…conclusion A Mike Valentine tale

this is the third and final installment in a series. I hope you enjoyed it. To catch up, you can here and here.

As he got closer he could see that it was a boy, maybe 8 years old standing near his car. He must have seen Mike approaching yet he made no move to retreat or even acknowledge his approach for that matter. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing up, something seemed off about this kid.

“Hey kid”, he called out when he was less than 20 feet away, “can I help you?”
The boy was gazing intently at the sky. Without looking down or away he replied, “no Mike, I’m just fine thank you.”

Shocked, Mike Valentine could only respond,” how do you know my name?”

“It’s not important”, the little boy replied, still not moving his gaze from the sky. Mike looked in the direction of the boy’s gaze and all he could see was the setting sun.

“What are you looking at like that, kid. You’re kinda creeping me out.”

The boy, without shifting his gaze, said, “I’m looking at the sky. Do you ever just look up at the sky? It’s quite beautiful actually. The clouds, the birds. The sun, the moon. Did you ever look at the top a tall tree and just wonder what it’s like to be a bird looking down?”

“That’s a lot of questions kid. And yes, I suppose I have. Well, I know that I used to.” Mike was reminded that he was talking to a stranger, an unaccompanied minor at that. “Are you lost? It is getting dark.”

“No, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Stunned and at a loss for his next move, Mike leaned against his car to stretch his legs and assess the situation. It was more than just a little odd. He studied the boy. His clothes looked like they were from another generation. His hair looked like the “bowl cuts” his mom used to give him. It then occurred that the boy must have parents looking for him. But he sure didn’t seem scared or lost, he looked oddly comfortable.

He decided to play the quiet game and see who made the next move. He continued to stretch his tired body. Minutes passed and the boy said nothing. Mike was tempted to leave but his curiosity instincts were piqued and instead walked over and stood next to the boy. ‘Ok”, he said, “I give, what are you looking at?”

“Í told you, I’m looking at the sky. It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?”

“Yes”, Mike replied. “We’ve established that. But you haven’t looked away once. Aren’t you bored looking at the same thing?”

Without hesitation, the boy shot back. “Bored? That’s what kids today are. Always need to be occupied and entertained. Not me.”

Kids today! The statement resonated with Mike. Did he just say that!

“Aren’t you part of ‘kid’s today’?” There was something really strange about this kid. He was tempted to end this and take off. His phone had rung two more times since he got to his car and he knew that every ignored call was throwing logs on the shit bonfire that awaited him at home. In spite of this, he remained glued to his spot.

“Let’s just say that I’m here, but I don’t belong here” the boy deftly replied.

“Then where do you belong?” Mike replied, despite feeling that he was better off not asking.

“A different time”, the boy exclaimed as he lowered his fixed gaze for the first time, turned his head and stared directly at Mike. Mike felt as if he was staring directly through him. Spooked but insanely curious, Mike pressed further.

“OK, what time do you mean?”

“I asked you if you ever looked up at the sky a few minutes ago. I asked because I wonder if you looked up once during your walk. Did you even  notice what a beautiful evening it is?.” He studied Mike’s face.

He then continued, “I asked you if you ever wondered what it was like to look down from a high tree. You had no answer. Why is that?”

“Because I don’t know who you are, where you’re from and how you know my damn name!” Mike Valentine was getting angry. He almost felt bad about raising his voice to the young, albeit creepy kid.

Unfazed, the boy continued. “I asked you about the trees because from the height of the tall tree you must look small. We all do. Minor. Insignificant. Yet all you are focusing on right now is how big your problems are.” He paused.

“See, the world is bigger than the size of the screen of your phone or laptop. If you looked around you would see that. But you need the phone and the computer to make money. To buy stuff, stuff that you will put in your house. The one you don’t want to go home to. That stuff will further take your attention away from a beautiful day. It’s just stuff, but it’s ruining you.”

Mike was beside himself. What the hell is this kid talking about? “How do you know this?!”

The boy sat down in the grass Indian style. “Did you ever sit just like this?  Playing with Matchbox cars in the dirt until your mother called you? You hated to go home, right? Just like now. But then it was because you were having fun. That’s not why you don’t want to go home now, is it Mike?” His tone was less inquisitive and slightly sarcastic.

The matter-of-fact look on this kids friggin’ face was killing Mike. He was looking right through him again. Yet he had no reply.

The boy continued. He was on his back now. “Did you ever lie on your back like this for hours looking at the sky? Wondering about the clouds, the stars at night. The possibility of a Heaven. About God. Do you think about God Mike?”

“Not as much as I should.” Mike was powerless to question the utterly bizarre nature of this conversation.

The boy was standing now. “You used to be a happy kid, right? Lots of friends. You knew where they were without Facebook. You would look for the yard with all the bikes in the yard. Your mom knew where you were because you called from a phone in that house, a phone mounted to a wall, right? A phone that you didn’t feel the need to have in your hand all the time. The streetlight was your curfew, or maybe you were close enough to home to hear your mother call you.” He paused and looked at his feet.

“It’s not too late, Mike”, He continued. “There’s still time to be that happy kid again. Look up, look around. Chase butterflies, smell the flowers. Find happiness like you used to. Remember the view of the bird, to him you are small. Look down on your problems as the bird looks down at you. Small, insignificant. It will work out.” With that the boy turned and began to walk away.

Mike Valentine, who had been at a complete loss for words for what seemed like forever, finally blurted out what he had wanted to ask all along.

“Kid, How do you know this? I mean me. I mean, this is impossible! How can you possibly know all of these things about my childhood? Is this mere speculation or a theory of yours? Do you think or do you know all of this!”

The boy, turning as he walked, said, “I know it. Think about where we’ve met before”. He then winked at Mike and continued walking. For the first time, Mike Valentine noticed that the boy had an old-fashioned Slingshot in his back pocket.

He used to have one just like it!

He looked down at the ground, he then gazed to the night sky. It really was a beautiful evening. I’m going to get into a brawl when I get home. I may be out of a job tomorrow. I’d have to get two promotions just to be a broke asshole. But I do have this beautiful evening.

The kid was right about that much.

He got in his car and turned the engine on. He bathed in the AC and observed that he felt a little better. Despite the Episode of the Twilight Zone he just starred in. The conversation played out over and over in his head. The kid was weird, but in a non-threatening way. And he looked vaguely familiar. Shaking his head in disbelief, or to make sure he was indeed awake and conscious, he put the car in gear.

It suddenly occurred to him that he had some old school pictures to go home and look at.

He pulled out of the parking lot and headed home.

My favorite place

FB memories, the well-intentioned feature that shows you posts from years ago “on this day”, has been my Lex Luthor of late. They have been a source of great anxiety and annoyance as they remind me of the dreaded “used-to’s“. All of the memories that pop up are of better, healthier days. Days that I miss so badly.  Today, one popped up that I wrote in 2015 about my beloved hobby of Mountain Biking.

Post-Transplant in 2011, I needed a means to get my body healthy and I chose biking. Initially, I bought a street bike. I was a newbie so I rode mostly alone. Once I was able to ride 20 miles or more I began to ride with organized groups. I became strong enough to ride 55 miles in one day, while never the fastest, I took great pride in just being part of it. It was my recovery. But it created a new problem, immunosuppressant medications increase your odds of skin cancer and after 2 years of riding, I had 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s removed from my face. I was told to stay out of the sun.

So I explored Mountain Biking. I bought a bike, researched trails and hit the woods. I was immediately hooked. It was challenging, the rough terrain and obstacles required skill and technique, yet I was compelled to rise to the challenge. The atmosphere was amazing, miles into the woods you weren’t observing nature, you were immersed in it. I began to take my camera to photograph the Deer, Bears and even Fisher Cats that I would encounter (from a safe distance of course). I would head out early in the AM in the hopes of seeing my favorite sights, crashing through a clearing to see a pond, the mist coming off it in the early morning heat; the owls that would buzz me as it headed to its tree to sleep the day off after a busy night of hunting; and of course the wonderful sight of nothing but me and trees. It was my Nirvana. And I was out of direct sunlight so no skin cancer.

Through FB I found a group to ride with and I made an instant group of wonderful friends. Riding with them made me happier than I had been in years. They weren’t just riding buddies, they were real friends. By 2015, I was a regular part of the group. Crazy Bill they called me. I took risks, I fell a lot, but I gave it hell and went home every day feeling accomplished and euphoric. Then I got sick in the spring of 2016 and I suppose you know the rest.

Why am I telling you this? Because despite how much today’s FB “Reminder” saddened me, I was reminded of my Buddy Tom of Tom Being Tom Fame had written a post about his favorite place and challenged his readers to write of theirs. So I turned a negative into a positive because I’m sick of being down.

Here is the FB post from 2015 that started all of this if you would care to read it:
This past fall I made a decision that I was only about 80% sure of. My new activity for the last few years is biking. It was my chosen rehab tool after my surgery to get into some semblance of shape. I got 2 bikes, a street, and a mountain bike. I upgraded once on both but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. But last fall I traded in both bikes on a new, nicer full suspension Mtn bike. I picked one and went with it. Well, I am now 100% sure that I made the right decision. Many of my family and friends have questioned both the commitment and the hazards I have put upon myself and to be fair I have hurt myself badly a couple of times. People have questioned the wisdom of a person my age with my medical history taking such risks. They don’t understand it, and a lot of the risks I can avoid but I want to push myself, to experience adrenaline and accomplishment and I don’t give a shit about pain..it goes away a lot faster than regret over doing nothing. I love the trails, the woods, mother nature and the comradery of the new friends I have made. But it is even more than that now. Mtn biking has become a metaphor for my life. Let me explain.
When we first start the ride it is easy, you are fresh like when you wake in the morning. But you know the hills and the obstacles are coming, you either prepare for them or let them blindside you. 
When the trails are smooth and flowing it is the equivalent of your life going smoothly. Enjoy it but be in the right gear when you round that corner and see the hill.
The hill is adversity and the obstacles; exposed roots, jagged rocks, and logs are the people telling you that you can’t do it. 
When you make the decision to try that hill, to power over that rock, to push yourself you have made the decision to at least try to prove them wrong. And make it or not, at least you tried. 
Then you come to a downhill. But it’s not a smooth path it’s a steep, rocky and rooty obstacle that can send you over the handlebars if you are not careful. This is the downward spiral that we can fall into. We can plummet and crash, we can stand there and look at it, or you can carefully navigate it to safely reach the bottom with as little damage as possible. 
And if you are able to climb the next hill, stand upon it and look down at all of the obstacles that didn’t stop you. And if you do it once, you can do it again. And sometimes it is the climb that you never made, until today.
Nothing pleases me more than getting up a hill that I never thought I could; to make it through a rock garden that sent me flying a week before; to race through an opening to find the parking lot waiting for you. Knowing that the end of the ride is like the end of the day. I got through this one and I am not afraid of the next one.

I wish I still had that attitude…but at least I took a shot at retrieving it today.

 

Song lyric Sunday

Religious or not, we all sometimes want to just put something out to the universe in the way of a prayer, a cry for help or just relief.

If you ever feel that way, just play this song on high and sing along. When I first heard it I can honestly say it changed my life.

Half Dylan, half Hillsong, Christian-Stoner group Mondo Cozmo moved me to tears the first time I heard Shine. The vocals, the haunting background vocals and the lyrics are so incredibly powerful and unique. Maybe it’s because I received an organ transplant from a woman, but I get emotional when I hear it. It makes me think of a crowd of anxious, stressed out, and spiritually lost people standing in a field singing a non-denominational plea to the heavens for permission to just live, to love and to exist. Knowing that at the end of the day…

it will be alright.

I love this group, and I hope you do as well. You’re welcome.

Stick with me Jesus through the comin’ storm
I’ve come to you in search of something I have lost
Shine down a light on me and show a path
I promise you I will return if you take me back
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
My friends are so alone and it breaks my heart
My friends don’t understand we all are lost
Shine down a light on them and show a path
I promise you they will return if you take ’em back
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let it go
Oh, yeah
Come with me Mary through these modern lines
Stick with me Jesus til’ the end of time
Shine down a light on me and let me know
And take me in your arms and never let me go
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let ’em get high
Let ’em get stoned
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let ’em get high (get high)
Let ’em get stoned (let ’em get stoned)
Everything will be alright if you let it go
Let ’em get high (let ’em get high)
Let ’em get stoned (let ’em get stoned)
Everything will be alright if you let it go
thanks to all about life for the inspiration.

Let’s talk about mortality

I woke this morning in the mood for a bit of spiritual refreshment. Yesterday, I spent most of the drive back from MA listening to Christian-Stoner music, an interesting genre, and I went to bed a little emotional. I decided to go to Church.

The day started off with Mom telling me in the car that I need to sing along with the hymns and read along with the “Responsive Readings.” Oy, I thought to myself, If she only knew how many times I had gone to church just to make her happy and she won’t stop pushing me. This is why I don’t often go. I had to remind her of my stance on the church. I hate the songs and I hate the responsive readings but I enjoy the sermon and the calming presence of many people in one room exhaling pure positivity into the otherwise tainted air. I stand but don’t sing or recite, and during prayers, I choose to have a moment of silence and contemplate an issue that is plaguing my heart. It’s still a positive experience. I’m just not into traditional religion. I call it the Kayak theory.  It goes as follows: Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking, Spirituality is sitting in a Kayak thinking about God. She doesn’t get it.

The Unitarian Church in town in a nice place to be, for 186 years it has accommodated many faiths and served as a wonderful nucleus of the community. As can be expected, everyone knows everyone. What is not expected is the extraordinary generosity of spirit and resources for such a poor NH town. So even though I don’t necessarily enjoy church, I get to see the people in town that I have grown fond of. They pray for me, are always asking about me so I show up once in a while.

We were early. While the early arrivers mingled I picked out a nice inconspicuous place to sit. I often get judgmental looks when I don’t sing or read along so I choose my seat carefully. Mom and Dave can sit together as a couple, I’ll just hide over here. As I waited for things to start I scanned the room for my buddy John. He was a regular and I fully expected and hoped to see him. He is one of my few friends up here. Despite the fact that he is 86 years old.

I felt a surprise tap on my shoulder, I turned and it was John. He had sat down behind me. He looked terrible. Gaunt was the first word that came to mind. Worse than the last time I saw him. We made small talk, I asked him rhetorically how he was feeling and before we knew it the service was starting. He leaned in and said, “I have to talk to you after.” I nodded him an assurance and we settled in. I had a bad feeling.

The service began with a prayer. I said one of my trademark Billy Mac prayers. Something along the lines of:

Dear higher power, whatever or whoever you are. Give me the strength to deal with ignorance and the patience to not strangle the idiots in my life. While you’re at it, let me know why I’m here and what you want from me. Please take care of the good people and back the Karma bus over the jagoffs. And if it’s not too much would you mind getting that little cutie in the next row to notice me, yeah the one wearing what appears to be a very poor choice of undergarment to church (thank you for that btw). Oh yeah, no one ever asks you how you are…hope you’re doing great. Peace brother…

After several agonizing hymns and a lot of sitting and standing, I sat through a very enjoyable sermon. It put me into the state of mind that I came in hoping to achieve. Before I knew it we were heading to the back room for some badly needed coffee. I found John sitting in a chair near the door, I marveled at how fast he got there. I grabbed a hot cup and sat down next to him. I asked him what he wanted to talk about.

“My funeral”, he said matter-of-factly. I was taken back a bit and it probably showed on my face.

“You mean the one that’s hopefully many years from now?” I inquired despite knowing that it wasn’t the case.

“Billy, I’m on the way out. I know it. I’m not wasting valuable time. I’m planning my funeral and I want you to promise that you’ll be there as a brother.” You see, John and I are fellow Freemasons, we refer to each other in our fraternity as “Brothers”. It is a bond that runs strong and deep.

He then began to list the other arrangements he was working on. He calmly recited the list, as one would a list of what was needed at the market. A full Military funeral was in the works. There would be a Navy contingency and a Marine contingency because he served in both. As he continued to list the details it became achingly apparent to me the life this man has lived. He knows what he has done in his life, and despite his humble nature, he wants it to be recognized. He has been guaranteed participation by all involved except by the Masons. And that’s where I come in. To relieve his anxiety over not receiving the service most valuable to him, the Masonic Funeral.

I assured him that I would make it happen. He patted me on the leg and said “I’ve known you for a year and from day one I knew you were a man of integrity. I know you won’t let me down.”

I was at a loss for words but I managed to say,“no more Billy Nason’s.”

He nodded in agreement, I had hit the nail on the head. Billy Nason was a police officer from my hometown that moved up here to retire. He was a good friend of my Father’s. He was a Mason for 62 years. Despite the fact that he was ill for a long time and his death was expected, the local chapter of Masons failed to galvanize enough support to give him a proper Masonic sendoff. I, and a few local brothers were seriously pissed off. A true Mason knows that there is nothing more important to a Mason than our ancient ceremony to send a brother to the Celestial Lodge above. I’m not sure anyone feels stronger than I about it and John knows it.

Freemasonry operates in obscurity. For hundreds of years, men of good character have gathered in privacy and operated with anonymity. It is the most charitable organization in the world. We don’t talk about it or advertise it, we just do it. For the wives and families of a Mason, it is not uncommon for them to not know what it is that the Mason in their home actually does when he is away from home. Yet they faithfully supported the brother in his endeavors. The Masonic funeral is the one service performed publicly, for the benefit of the family, to show them a bit of what he was involved in and how much his labors were valued. I have participated in at least a dozen, many times for a brother that I never met. I didn’t have to know him, I knew what type of man he was. Every time, the family was absolutely grateful for us doing it. It’s an enormous show of respect for a good man. Yet, some Masons fail to see the importance and the turnout can be small. It’s a sad display when a fraternity of millions worldwide draws 3 or 4 guys because they simply don’t get it.
Pike

Not me, I get it. My new but dear friend has entrusted me with ensuring a very important part in the send-off of a wonderful man. I won’t let him down.

It was a morbid yet transcendent moment. It was disconcerting to have a dying man, one that you respect deeply, talk about his own mortality but I was deeply honored that he tasked me with such an important role.

It was an eye-opener for sure. I went to church on a whim, feeling somewhat aimless. I left with a direction and a purpose. That’s what I went in for. Mission accomplished I suppose.