Missed opportunities

 I posted recently about my 35th High School Reunion. It was a honest piece in which I spoke directly to the healing that I have experienced in the years since I graduated.

I spent a lot of years blaming others for my own lack of visibility and satisfaction. Consequently, I developed an aversion to all things HS related, in particular Reunions. Fortunately, I grew up and eventually I went to a couple. What I came up with is that it was as much my fault as anyone else. That realization led to growth. So in my post I was honest to myself and issued a statement to my classmates. It was fairly well received on WP. But WP wasn’t the desired audience. As supportive as the community was, I felt that my former classmates needed to hear it. So I posted the link to the FB page of my HS class. I was nervous. I felt like I was in HS again, so afraid of being judged or ostracized by my classmates. But I knew that it didn’t matter in the big picture what they thought of me. I had put that monkey behind me. And I was further fortified by the possibility that I wouldn’t even be alive for the next one. I hit the “share” button. There was no turning back.

The response was amazing.

People that I thought never even knew my name responded. Friends who I had lost touch with for years told me how proud they were to be my friend. Comment after comment posted about how well I captured the experience of High School. Of how they could relate. Of how they remembered me. One of my classmates went so far as to say that my prose had inspired him to attend the next one.I received multiple FB inbox messages telling me how much my post meant to them. Friend requests followed. My blog received a record 151 views in one day. I was deeply humbled.

 I am a guy who walked out of  The Breakfast Club saying “I call Bullshit”. I never believed that the scars caused by the cliques of HS could be overcome by one 8 hour session of detention. When RUSH released the song Subdivisions,I immediately adopted it as the story of my High School experience.To say that I was jaded is an understatement.  

I carried this resentment for too many years. It was uncomfortable, cumbersome and it went on for too long. Based on the feedback, and in some cases support, of my classmates I now know that I had it all wrong. So many years living in my own head.

Sunday I am driving to MA to have lunch with a guy I went to HS with. He was the most recent of FB inbox messages related to my FB posting. He really wants to get together and get to know each other. Here’s the kicker. I never knew him in HS as a friend. I actually thought he disliked me. Apparently I was wrong. I look forward to making a new friend, even if it’s an old one I wasn’t aware of. 

So many missed opportunities. I wonder how many I can recover before it’s too late.

talking to Granite

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

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of his death. I wasn’t in the mood to write yesterday, it’s a tough day for me. Living in a house that he built doesn’t help. I see his touch everywhere in the woodworking, design, and collectibles. As I write this I’m sitting in his favorite chair with his beloved dog sleeping at my feet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3,2,1…Hope

I have again been invited to participate in a quote challenge. My participation in such challenges is spotty at best but I want to introduce you to Lisa @ All About Life. She has a great blog. She’s very positive in her posts, interesting, a loyal follower, great commenter and a all-around cool chick. If you read her, you will want to follow her. Thank you Lisa for the challenge.

Today’s topic is Hope. A perfect topic for me to discuss. My entire life centers around it. I walk this earth with the belief that things are one way or the other. I have been called “Black and White” many times in my life and it wasn’t a compliment. I never backed down from it. I believe in absolutes, especially in matters of attitude. One thing that has always sustained me, that has drawn the respect and admiration of my peers, is my optimism.

When you are chronically ill you really have only 2 choices in how you approach life. Negative or positive. You either dwell on your situation and ask “why me”? or you deal with it by getting through the hard days, rejoicing in the good days and always, always look forward to the time when you will feel better every day. Even if that day never comes…live life as if it will.

I can think of no better way to discuss hope than to showcase my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption. If you haven’t seen it, the nuts and bolts of it is a innocent man sentenced to life in a brutal prison. Can you imagine being innocent, jailed for life and screaming with all of your being that you don’t belong there? How long must a day be, what motivates you to get up and live with that crushing weight on you?

To start things off, the best quote of the movie is
Quote # 1

Andy Dufesne

Doesn’t this say it all? While it doesn’t explicitly have the word hope in it, it is the true essence of hope itself. This is my philosophy in a nutshell. Negative vs positive, backwards vs forward. Optimism, hope itself is a choice. The choice you make will determine your path and how others perceive you. I choose to get busy living because, even if I was in prison, I would always believe that I would be vindicated eventually. The truth always reveals itself and I would want to be there when it does. I choose to get busy living.

“Red”


This is the flip side of hope. When you look at your situation and determine that it is indeed going to define you and therefore hope is fruitless. In this case Red has resigned himself to being institutionalized for life. The walls he used to challenge had begun to give him security. The idea of a life outside of those walls became a fantasy, one that became dangerous. It challenged his reality. My only challenge to this, and again I have never been faced with such circumstances, is that one never knows the future. If you aren’t open to the possibility that tomorrow may hold a surprise then you reduce the likelihood of it happening. In this case, Red was paroled and he was suddenly faced with a whole new set of “hopes”. Ones that were once impossibilities became his new reality.

“Hope springs eternal” is a popular saying. There is a caveat…you need to be open to it. Choose hope. Don’t complain. Noone needs to hear it, it accomplishes nothing, and at the end of the day that may be how you are remembered. 

You don’t want that.

I’m not going to nominate anyone, but feel free to play along. I’d love to see what you come up with.

A blessing in disguise

A very dear friend, a fellow blogger with a chronic illness (you know who you are) once told me at length how her illness was a blessing.  She spoke of being grateful, of appreciating the small things in life and of not wasting precious time. I wholly agreed with her, but I stopped short of calling it a blessing. 

Now, I’m not so sure.

My illness has made me a better person, there is no doubt about it. I feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life.

My blog has always been a labor of love. I started it as a means to tell my story and to vent my frustrations. I vowed to not dwell on the negatives, there were a ton, but to matter of factly talk about my life. Like my social media account, I made a real effort to be positive. No complaining, no placing blame for my situation and zero anger. Many have said that I have inspired them, that I am a good person. I suppose that I am a ok person now. But to be fair, I wasn’t always.

I would never go so far as to say that I was ever a bad person. Instead I would describe my former self as deeply flawed. I used to be closed off. I was angry. I often resorted to pettiness. I was jealous. I blamed others for my lack of success. I tried to be something I wasn’t and did a lot of things I am not proud of.

When I got married and started a family I genuinely wanted to curb some of my bad habits. I wanted to cut down on my drinking. Eat healthy. Be more loving and open. To lose my anger. But it wasn’t to be. Marital strife, financial issues and career challenges dominated any attempts to be a better man. My illness, particularly the hypertension that often bordered on out of control, combined with a drinking problem resulted in a horrible temper and some outbursts that I would give anything in the world to unwind them. I fought with my wife and said terrible things in front of my children. I would get mad at the kids if they took sides or interjected. My oldest daughter and I had horrible arguments. As tough as she was, I was failing her. I failed to recognize that I needed to be the adult. But my version of an adult was an angry, sick, disappointed and frustrated version of the man I wanted to be. Then one night I had a transformative moment.

After a particularly nasty argument with my oldest daughter I went to bed angry. I hated myself for the things that I said. It was truly unforgivable. Somehow, despite my raging blood pressure and self-loathing I somehow fell asleep. What happened next changed my life.

I dreamt that I was watching my daughter through a pane of one way glass. She was in jail, or a mental institution, I’m not sure. At the time of the argument my daughter was 12. But in my dream she was about 3. She was in a room, alone. I was watching her play with blocks. Her hair was pulled up in a tiny ponytail, she was wearing the cute stretch pants that I loved when she was little. She was intent on the puzzle, silent and sad. I somehow had the knowledge that she would be in that horrible, cold and loveless room forever. I pounded frantically on the unforgiving glass for her to hear me, to see me. For the opportunity to mouth the words, as late and fruitless as they were,
“I love you!”.
“I’m so sorry!”
“Please forgive me!”

She continued to listlessly play with her blocks.

I awoke in a cold sweat. I was crying. I did not fall back asleep that night.  I was haunted by it for weeks. It still bothers me. For weeks and months I hated myself. It was then that I took a long, hard and brutally honest look at myself. I acknowledged my illness and made a real commitment to address my shortcomings. I knew I had to curb my drinking, my anger and mend my relationship with my daughter. By reconciling with my mortality, true healing began. I felt urgency to work harder. Most important, I committed myself to positive change.addressing my shortcomings. 

I am happy to reveal that my commitment to repairing my tumultuous relationship with my daughter paid off. We get along wonderful now. Despite no apparent issues with my other 3, I know I formed a much better relationship with them that wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t been honest with myself. It inspired me to fix the other areas of my life. 

The true catharsis occurred when I received a kidney from a co-worker. Her altruism changed my life. I received a humongous lesson in gratitude. Which resulted in a pay-it-forward attitude that I have yet to lose. I became charitable, if not with money I offered my time which is more valuable than any financial offering. By diving into charity, tapped into a well of empathy and caring I didn’t know I had. It made me a better husband, father, son, co-worker and friend to all. 

I think we all look at our lives and think that we have about 80 years on this planet, more if you are lucky. It allows us the luxury of putting off things until “later”. Chronic illness puts a serious damper on the notion of later. This realization changed how I did everything. Before my transplant failed I had one time frame on my mortality. After, I had a much different, and shorter one. Later may be too late. 

Chronic illness has caused me to be the man I always wanted to be. I owned up to the fact that it’s ok to walk away from a fight. To forgive those that wronged  me. To ask myself if I’m right before I shoot my mouth off. To be nice in place of rushing to judgement. To let things go. To be kind and open to the struggles of other. It led to my life-guiding mantra of knowing that there is no value in self pity. Someone always has it worse.

Today I walk upright, true to myself and others. I try to give as much as I can of myself to others. I think of my funeral, whenever it may be. How I will be remembered matters to me. I want to be remembered by those that matter to me as a good person. This is an attitude that is lost by many in their pursuit of wealth, power and prestige. I have lost all of those things and in the process gained a unique viewpoint.

If i were to live 100 years as the man I was, I would never achieve the clarity of mind and comfort in my own skin that I have now. I thank my illness for this. I know in my heart of hearts that my illness made me a better man. Not perfect, but better. 

That, my friends is indeed a blessing.

My Thanksgiving

When I first got the text from my ex-wife that she wanted to host Thanksgiving at her new apartment I had mixed feelings. I was glad that I would have the opportunity to have all of the kids in one room for a change and was glad that my ex and I get along well enough for such a get-together to be palatable. What troubled me was her history of freaking out on Holidays.

From the beginning of our relationship holidays were a problem for her. I could never put my finger on why they were so difficult. For the first years of our marriage we almost exclusively went to our families houses. Our only stress factors were travel, getting the kids ready and dealing with her mother. Admittedly, that was a big one. Her relationship with her mother was contentious for as long as I had known her. Her mother was always jabbing at her, it sometimes seemed that she was sitting at the table with a voodoo doll, sticking pin after pin and laughing as her daughter imploded. But even when the mother wasn’t there, my wife was still highly stressed and visibly agitated.

Once we owned our first house we took on the task of hosting the holidays. Given the age of our children and the logistics (naps, feedings, etc.,) of taking them out, and the size of our house it made sense to have people come over. Knowing that she would be stressed I took upon myself as much of the work as I could. I did all of the cooking, as much cleaning as possible and tried to control as many of her stressors as I could. I was naïve to think that I could control that which I did not understand. Her stressors were a bigger enigma than I could ever imagine. This would become evident when my mother dropped a tray of cupcakes in the driveway one Christmas morning. My wife freaked on her, yelling that we would now be overrun by ants. When I told her that we don’t get ants in December, she turned her wrath on me for questioning her. The day was ruined before it started.

It never got better. Every Holiday was stressful for all of us. The stress of walking on eggshells was too much for everyone. I just learned to deal with it.

So you can see why the prospect of her hosting gave me pause.

I offered to bring some of the meal. She asked me to make the Turkey. I gladly agreed. She was confident that she could handle the rest of the feast.

Thanksgiving morning I awoke at 5 AM. I crammed the birds ass with stuffing and put it in the oven with a schedule of leaving the house by 10:30 AM. I pulled it off and pulled into her development at 12:30. The turkey was still hot. I went in.

Despite her request that we all be there by 12:30 I was the only one on time. I offered to help her in the kitchen but she insisted that she had it under control. Her goal was to serve the appetizers at 1 and the meal at 1:30. It would not work that way, everyone was late. Amazingly, she held it together. Once my oldest daughter and her boyfriend, my oldest son and her mother (yes, her mother was invited as well) arrived, the meal was ready, getting cold on the table while we had the appetizers but she kept her cool, only to a lesser degree. To lessen her anxiety, I snuck into the kitchen and began putting items in the oven to keep them warm. She protested but I insisted that it was my way of helping. She reluctantly acquiesced. 

The meal went off without a hitch. My bird was a big hit, her culinary creations (she has never claimed to be a cook) were delicious and the chemistry at the table was magical. I was in heaven having my amazing family together. There is nothing in this world that I miss more than seeing my kids every day. I savored every moment of it. We did our family tradition of going around the table and saying what we are thankful for and I was happy to watch my children do theirs. They never liked it when they were younger, they thought it was silly. But now, they get it. They had some great offerings as to what they were thankful for. When it came my turn I simply stated that I was grateful to be there, on the right side of the dirt, surrounded by everything that matters to me in life. Normally loquacious, resulting in groans and eye rolls, mine was short and sweet.

The cleanup went well. We took a bunch of pictures. We drank coffee and ate dessert. We watched football. We played with the dogs. The conversation flowed. It really was a magical day. When it was time to leave, I couldn’t give everyone a big enough hug. I even hugged my ex-wife. I was proud of her. It may sound silly, but after all of the nightmare stories from holidays of the past it was exciting to have a day without incident.

It was bittersweet in a way. My ex looks great, she seems to be making a real effort to get better emotionally and seems almost happy. Part of me wonders why she couldn’t do those things while we were together. I will always wonder if she is better off without me. But at the end of the day I want what I have always wanted, I just want her to be happy.

Happy Bird-Day

My family always had a bit of fun with me at the Thanksgiving table when it came my turn to say what I was thankful for. Maybe I waxed a bit too poetic about deployed soldiers, the homeless and the lonely. I just felt it needed to be said. Eye rolls and sarcastic cracks aside, I still do.
Recent events in my life, while debilitating in some aspects, have had a profound impact on my ability to be grateful. It is almost a superpower. I have so much for a guy with so little. The best part is that it lasts all year, not just the holiday season.
If you live with the knowledge that no matter your situation, someone always has it worse you will achieve a generous spirit that will survive more than one Thursday a year.
This time of year there is an abundance of people who show up at pantries and shelters to volunteer. Sometimes people are even turned away because too many show up. But in August they are begging for volunteers. The need doesn’t go away when the trees are taken down, neither should the spirit. Giving doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture. A simple smile and a good word may be all someone needs to have their faith in humanity restored or energized.
No-one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
I am grateful for my family and my friends. I am thankful for all kindness and generosity, regardless of the scale. My goal is to spread that mentality like a bee spreads pollen.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. If you have a little extra spirit, I’m sure someone would love a slice.
Every day can be Thanksgiving with the right outlook.