Faith in Others

Putting faith in people we don’t know, or for that matter, placing faith in anyone at all, can be extremely difficult. Such an act requires trust, humility, vulnerability, and a myriad of other traits dependent upon each situation wherein faith is called upon. And often, the pressures we feel related to trust are rooted in our own complicated personalities, experiences, and issues with the world. Still, faith is incredibly powerful and scary.

I am not describing nor do I intend to explore the type of faith noted in traditional religion, though parallels are undeniable and logical, too. I am speaking to the idea of simple, day-to-day interactions that force us to make decisions often without any predictability or guarantees of outcome–sort of the crux of faith if you ask me. Aside from believing, hoping, or praying that a situation will resolve in a favorable manner, faith can require that its subjects try to imagine and understand all sides of a scenario while simultaneously having no clue–a painful paradox. Last night proved to provide one of these experiences for me, and while portions of the eve’s events are still unwinding, some of its details have already played out in ways that have inspired this entry.

I took our nine year-old Chocolate Labrador, Bo,  to Metropolitan Veterinary Associates (Metro-Vet) in Oaks to see his dermatologist–take a minute to digest that statement. Yes, our dog regularly sees a dermatologist. No, he does not have a spa pass. Yesterday’s appointment was typical: Bo was itchy. Bo had been licking his paws. Bo needed an exam, a discussion regarding treatments, and a nice mani/pedi. His somewhat routine exam was going as expected, and then, I asked if they (nurse and dermatologist) would take a look at Bo’s emerging bumps. He had displayed a lump a few years back, and it proved to be a fatty tumor that posed no threat to his health or longevity, but this time, the masses had multiplied. I was able to find three, and the dermatologist found another five. I wasn’t overly concerned as these lumps emerged over the past few months and felt much like that fatty deposit from once before. But Bo is now nine, less active than before, showing his age a bit, and is probably predisposed to a higher likelihood of illness and disease–it is simply a fact of life.

At this stage in the game, we had already scheduled an appointment, placed Bo in the family SUV, and brought him to the professionals that had done right by us on many occasions. In doing so, we displayed a great faith in their abilities, decision making, and care for our dog. But I believe in varying levels of faith, as some are far more trying than others. So when the nurse came to the waiting room and proposed that the dermatologist wanted to aspirate (draw fluid from) the masses to run pathology reports that would indicate the nature of the cells, I agreed to the idea. At this point, the real faith was not in the decision to aspirate (though that required its own dose of faith), but to do so without knowing the monetary expense, what the results might yield, and how we would cope with any and all outcomes. And to the credit of Metro-Vet, they addressed as many of these concerns as they could prior to actually performing the test–as they have always done in our experiences.

Bo’s nurse had indicated that each lump aspirated would cost $78. I asked, “How many does she want to do?” The nurse suggested, “Five, maybe more.” I was taken back a bit–I had brought Bo for a maintenance call and now things were getting a bit more complicated. I thought for a moment about the decision at hand, and then I contemplated our previous interactions with Metro-Vet and our overall level of trust, the love my wife and I have for our dogs, and the sheer gut feeling that overcame my being. With only a slight reservation of how this would hit the wallet, I then said to the nurse, “Do what Dr. Farver thinks is right. If that means five, do five. If it’s more, it’s more” Admittedly, I scurried to my smartphone after our discussion to review the status of our checking account. I didn’t know if I had just made a $400 decision or one that could have paid the mortgage.

Nearly an hour passed as I waited, and when Dr. Farver greeted me, we exchanged pleasantries, discussed Bo’s treatment and history, and then arrived at the matter of his lumps. “I had to aspirate eight.” I gasped internally…eight times seventy-eight…carry the two…well, you get the idea. Before I could respond, she then said, “But we are only charging you for three.” I thanked her and we dove deeper into the conversation regarding a long-term plan for Bo, but as I drove home that night, I couldn’t help but feel touched by the gesture. Maybe she, and the practice, extended this to us because we have always paid our bills promptly. Maybe she felt compelled to help, understanding that we had probably just anticipated a routine trip. Whatever the case, I was impressed, and my faith in Dr. Farver and Metro-Vet reached an all-time high. Yes, it is an expensive practice, but we have never received anything less than extraordinary. And this leads me to believe that we are probably not the first or last to receive a break on a rather large, maybe unexpected bill.

Last night I did everything in my power to think about what was right for Bo, and I was able to do so with relative ease thanks to the confidence that my wife and I have in the doctors and staff at Metro-Vet. It was difficult to blindly say, “Do what Dr. Farver thinks is right,” for it momentarily took control out of my hands. Luckily, those whose hands received such faith did so responsibly, compassionately, and with great care. Not only did I leave inspired by the professional capacities of those at Metro-Vet, but I left with admiration for their understanding of the human experience.

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Church’s Words

I started writing this blog post nearly a week ago, and I did so with the intent of publishing the piece and sharing it on social media platforms in order to maintain a consistent presence–something critical for any blogger desiring viewership. Yet, as parenthood has proven in its short five weeks, a little free time here and there can be hard to come by and even more challenging to capitalize on when temptations of relaxation press upon the soul. Regardless, I have found that the best way to clear the mind is to address what lies within, and Eric Church’s “Kill a Word” is a song weighing heavily on my mind lately (Eric Church, “Kill a Word”). Every time that I hear the lyrics grace my dashboard, I am instantaneously motivated, inspired, and forced to reflect, look forward, and consider all of life’s gifts and challenges. So when this song again streamed through my radio speakers this morning on my way to work, I knew I had to finish what I had started.

Church opens his billboard hit with the following wish:

If I could kill a word and watch it die
I’d poison never, shoot goodbye
And beat regret when I felt I had the nerve
Yeah, I’d pound fear to a pile of sand
Choke lonely out with my bare hands
And I’d hang hate so that it can’t be heard
If I could only kill a word

The chilling truth is much more complicated than Church’s words suggest. While we’ve all felt the pangs of pain leave stinging and irreversible marks on our hearts, many of us have probably also wished that we could travel back in time and change the circumstances under which we experienced the darkness that life can usher without notice. Still, changing what once happened is not Church’s only focus–if at all. I am convinced that his song envisions an entirely different type of existence–a type of living that calls on man’s best self. A type of living that extinguishes the very flames that make possible words we’d rather leave behind in exchange for those more desirable.

Words like “never,” “goodbye,” “regret,” “fear,” “lonely,” and “hate” exist not only due to the rise of complex human emotions that have inevitably helped dictate how we coexist, but also because we have given those words the power, momentum, and ability to affect how we treat each other. We like to blame the advents of technology and modern living for our transgressions and shortcomings, but in doing so we often overlook that we are responsible for creating such an environment.

When we strip down the world to examine its most basic and primitive traits, it is quite obvious that few, if any, of its qualities have traction without the forces that propel them. So it seems rudimentary that we should try our best to live with aims of being productive, positive, and inclusive members of the places we inhabit. Still, even our best efforts are subject to necessary temptations–those very desires that make worthy the achievements we celebrate. Church’s song addresses these attractions, too. He says of temptation, evil, and other unfavorable traits:

I’d knock out temptation’s teeth
I’d sever evil, let it bleed
Then light up wicked, stand and watch it burn
I’d take vice and I’d take vile
And tie ’em up there with hostile
Hang ’em high and leave ’em for the birds
If I could only kill a word

Such wanting to knock out undesirable words that represent suffering and pain showcases Church’s longing for a better world, better people, and less discomfort and misfortune. And knowing that his song will always remain a wish is exactly what makes it bittersweet. His vision is one that I can relate to, and I believe his advocacy for a stronger tomorrow is one that resonates with most everyone. Yet the tragic opportunity remains: we cannot kill words–but we can work to live and thrive among their presence and have a say among their impact.

Controversy: A Beautiful Thing

via Daily Prompt: Controversy

When I saw that today’s daily prompt challenge focused on the word “controversy,” I was compelled to write, but I did not immediately know why. As I contemplated the word, I began to think that it was and is much more than what meets the eye. Controversy is the painstaking element that forces us to grow.

Controversy drives decisions, pits people and ideas against one another, and demands that we support what we do and say. But the most humbling and challenging part of any controversy is not its most obvious roles that allow us to explore and expand our own beliefs, wants, and needs. Rather, controversy becomes most sobering, real, and authentic when we find ourselves completely and utterly in the wrong. Then what will we do? How will we respond when we have, regardless of intentions, defended our positions and ideas with vigor and fervor only to learn of a new perspective? How might we display the characteristics of humility and understanding when we have been forced to re-examine our conclusions in light of what others have offered and brought to the discussion?

Controversy so often exists when there is no obvious correct or “right’ answer. For example, what does one do when it is right to defend multiple sides of the same conflict? What does one do when they witness the proverbial Jean Valjean steal a loaf of bread? Is it right to both expose a man or woman that has broken a common and agreed upon law or ordinance, or is it right to show compassion and mercy and attempt to understand what circumstances drove such action?

According to The Institute for Global Ethics’ former CEO and author of How Good People Make Tough Decisions, Rushworth M. Kidder defines these dilemmas and controversies as “right versus right.” In his ethics-based novel, Kidder notes, “Tough choices, typically, are those that pit one ‘right’ value against another. That’s true in every walk of life—corporate, professional, personal, civic, international, educational, religious, and the rest” (4). It then makes sense to seek both mercy and justice–to provide what is fair for all parties. Yet we know that this is not entirely possible in most cases, and that is what makes controversy both appealing and troublesome.

Controversy will not often yield results perceived as fair or just for all parties. Controversy will not often lend itself to easy or simple discussions. Controversy will not often appear in defined manners that allow for its subjects to emerge unscathed or unharmed, but it will provide a platform worth standing upon in the first place. It will provide the necessary ingredients for us, as human beings, to challenge one another and grow throughout the process. Controversy will always leave us battered and exhausted, but it is by that peril that it will also leave us better than it found us–should we allow.

All Too Real

Yesterday I witnessed one of my lifelong friends eulogize his 59 year-old father that passed at the hands of ALS. Yesterday I remembered many of the great times that I had experienced with his dad, and at a certain point, I inevitably imagined what my life would be like without my father.

Wrestling with mortality is daunting at any age, and while the focus of yesterday’s proceedings were appropriately and passionately centered on a man that made so many others better, I couldn’t help but think deeply about his family–namely his son. My focus on his son, my friend, aims not to exclude or discount anyone else relative to the immediate family; instead, I see him as that person that I can relate to most. Maybe this is because of our past, but I think it runs deeper than that. I think it has everything to do with the fact that I see our relationships with our fathers as somewhat similar–and for that reason, yesterday, a day that many described as unreal, was all too real.

While any funeral service seeks to memorialize, I believe it should also implore its attendees to think and consider how they live their lives. Yesterday did just that for me–and isn’t that what our departed would want? How can we live our lives to honor theirs, embolden our own, and stop from time to time to recognize the undeniable connections? In thinking of my own life and the hopes that I have for what I will be able to one day leave behind for those I love, I pray that what I will have taught and given them will leave them with the feelings that so many people displayed yesterday when remembering a great man.

To respond to the aforementioned questions and ideas is a challenging task, though I believe my friend has already begun. He suggested that just days before his father’s service, he felt a ray of light strike his shoulder in a way that he knew it was his father guiding, calming, strengthening, and reminding him of his love. When hearing this, and viewing his emotion under duress, I was moved in a multitude of ways. This is when I thought about my father. This is when I knew that my friend has and will continue to feel great pain. Yet this is also when I knew that in some ways, this pain was made possible only by the love that physically, not spiritually, left his life.

The inevitability of losing a loved one struck him, and his entire family, far too soon. The passing of my friend’s father has made me contemplate my relationships, the status of my family members, and how I wish to live. It has made me look deep into my son’s eyes and promise him that I will teach him and love him. And many of those lessons and feelings of love will stem from interactions not just from great days spent with my father, but from indescribable moments and time spent with his father, too.

 

The Genesis and Importance of My Blog

I have taught a college writing course every fall for the last few years, and in teaching this class, I see it as my responsibility to expose students to a variety of forms, genres, and styles of prose. Some of these are more formal than others, and some delve into the realm of professional writing, personal promotion, or even etiquette. Still, one of the best projects to date was a blog experiment. I asked students to select a topic, any topic, and maintain a blog for two weeks. The only other requirement was that they post a minimum of five entries/week, each consisting of at least 250 words, or approximately one page by academic standards. Some students chose to review and critique their favorite foods, others focused on hobbies such as skateboarding, and some dabbled in a variety of topics and ideas. I too jumped in, creating my own blog and focusing on my love for animals, particularly dogs. And then the funniest thing happened: my passion for writing returned for the first time in years.

That last statement may seem ironic, but I would ask a banker if they would like to discuss finances upon returning home from a long day of loan negotiations, a bartender if they would care to make drinks for others at a family gathering, or a stay-at-home parent if they would like to babysit this upcoming weekend. You get my point, right? As someone that has taught English writing courses for the past eight years, I had lost my desire to create my own work. When I had finished teaching writing workshops, created lessons meant to draw understanding from students, and completed grading a variety of essays from a multitude of classes, I could not often find the motivation, energy, or focus to write for my own enjoyment. That was a rough time for me. Writing has long been a staple in my life–a way of expressing what I feel, what is important to me, and even what I believe I can offer to the world.

Flashing forward, and in weeks subsequent to the blog project, I spent a great deal of time working on a multitude of blog drafts, finding stories and subjects worthy of examination, and even establishing the first draft a book that I hope to one day publish–very much a work in progress and one that I have put on the back burner for now. Still, I have written intermittently since that project, but with great love and intent to inspire. See, for a duration of my collegiate years and those following, I thought I wanted to be a professional writer. Since then, and particularly in the last year, I have learned that I want to be a writer that shares his work–I want others to be able to access and read my prose, and if circumstances permit and unfold in a manner that yield me opportunities for publication and recognition, then that is terrific, but it is not my greatest desire. Right now, I am writing frequently and without any incentive but to satisfy my urge to create, share, and repeat. Right now, I am writing freely and it feels incredible. And this personal revelation is no surprise when I actually give thought to the nature of how I came to first enjoy writing.

When I became sick as a teenager, coping with cancer and the psychological warfare it waged, someone–and I can’t remember who–gave me a journal and suggested I write about “it.” The details of my illness are not pertinent to this story in particular, but they were fuel for my yearning to learn how to better communicate. They were days and moments that inspired me to learn more about myself, others, and how to operate in a world that had just presented itself in a way I had not previously known was even possible. At first, writing provided an outlet, an escape of sorts. Though as time passed and my soul started to heal and became privy to the sharpness of the world, writing provided a platform for further self-discovery and relationship-building–the latter being perhaps most important. See, when I share my stories, perspectives, and feelings, I seek to establish and find common ground. I seek to build community and understanding.

If writing has taught me anything in the past year, it is that I have to follow my passions. I no longer feel uneasy when someone compliments my work. I believe I’m a damn good writer, and I’m going to keep moving in that direction. I’m a communicator at heart, so I’m going to communicate, and I’m going to acknowledge that this is a skill that I work on frequently and value highly. And the best part? The feedback.

When I log onto my blog account and see that people have visited, commented, and liked my work, it is a highlight of my day. I am deeply touched and honored that others take time to read my work, and I am inspired when I receive word from others that my prose has motivated them, taught them something, or provided them something to ponder. It was not until lately that I learned what importance this blog, and writing in general, has impressed upon me–a cause for great reflection.

Maybe the genesis of my blog dates back 15 years to a rather unpleasant period of my life, but its current significance to me, and hopefully others, trumps any negative vibes that I can imagine. More importantly, writing offers me strong vibes–not just those of enjoyment and pleasure, but those of empowerment, fulfillment, and meaning. Can ya dig?

 

 

For Women, And In Ways, Everyone

I wrote a letter to my wife a few months before our child was born, and I described the ways in which I loved her, how much I was looking forward to the growth of our family, and the aspirations I had for our child–boy or girl. Yet as I thought about the complex task of raising a strong child, I too thought of the inherent challenges of raising a girl amongst a media-influenced landscape that has established shameful norms that have for decades helped shape the way girls, young women, and grown women see and think about themselves. This is not to discount the influences that boys, young men, and grown men experience, too; however, my aim in writing this post is to better understand and articulate how women experience a world and media long dictated by norms established by men and how I will raise my son accordingly.

Maybe this post was best prompted by a recent viewing of the 2011 film “Miss Representation,” a documentary of sorts that explored, while offering astounding statistics, graphics, and testimonials, the complex and often confidence-shattering world that girls live among–one that I will never fully understand. Yet as I held my wife’s hand through the early morning hours of February 16, I contemplated (that if we had a daughter) what would drive her self-worth and self-image, what role we would play, and how she would come to think of herself. And it struck me even more deeply this morning, as I spoke with some colleagues about this very topic, that even though I am a father to a little boy, my role as advocate for women, and people in general, is no less.

For years, I felt my responsibility to women, and all people for that matter, was to demonstrate respect, compassion, love, and understanding. Yet as I think more deeply about what our world needs, and specifically what I can offer and influence as a highly educated, white, middle class, married man, I have come to recognize that my role has to be so much more than simply demonstrating respect in my relationships. My role has to be one of engaging in uncomfortable and difficult discussion, seeking comprehension of the struggles of those less fortunate, and teaching my son, as well as others in need of guidance, that it is critically important that they learn to value the uniqueness and vulnerability of all people.

It is critical that I teach my son how girls and women are portrayed in our culture–both negatively and positively. He needs to understand that to provide the same values and platforms to women that we provide to men is to build a world together, not to take what has been traditionally and historically seen as exclusive to one gender. He needs to understand that a woman’s body is not indicative of her worth as a human being, nor is it an object to be lust after. He must learn this lesson for men, too. And one of the most challenging parts in teaching him these lessons will also be the greatest: time spent together.

Today, possibly more than ever before, time spent together as a family, without the distractions of technology (which we dictate), can be hard to come by. If statistics floor you as much as they impact me, then you might be surprised to discover that according to a 2015 study performed by Common Sense Media, average daily media use for tweens (8-12 years old) hovered around 6 hours/day. By the time they reach their teenage years (13-18) this figure jumped by 33%, catapulting them to 9 hours of average daily media use, or more than a third of their day. As if this was not alarming enough, the study also suggests that these figures do not include time spent using media for school work or homework (link to study findings: Common Sense Media Infographic).

So if our children are exposed to media during 25%-33% of their day, what messages are we sending them in the time we have when our phones, iPads, televisions, and other devices are shut off and tucked away? Are we finding moments throughout the week to ask them about a provocative ad campaign and their thoughts? Do we challenge their perspectives of what it means when a film depicts women as completely helpless and totally dependent on men? Will I confront my son when he tries to act macho and suppresses his emotions because that is what he has learned from the world around him? Hopefully I will have presence enough in his life that he admires me and trusts that he can talk with me about what he sees in the world–and I’ll use this time to let him know of everything I understand, the mistakes I’ve made, and how I believe we should treat one another, ourselves, and what that might mean for him and his future.

So in revisiting the original idea of writing this post with women in mind, I will do my best to raise my son in a way that he might be wholly conscious of the influences around him and how he can be strong of character, compassionate, vulnerable, and trustworthy–and he will likely learn a great deal of these aspirations I hold by the way I treat his mother, the woman I love more than anything.

“Bro”

I should have suspected that my outreach to Facebook friends regarding material for my blog might evolve into less serious matters. I just didn’t know how quickly.

Insert Josh Wolf–a bro if ever there were. I met him a few years ago, and for all intents and purposes, I consider Josh a long lost brother. I see him but a few times a year, but I revel in those days and nights, as he has a spirit about him that is akin to that found in men and women that have logged more years of life experience. Yet, at the drop of a hat, he, perhaps better than anyone I know, can make a statement so outrageous, uplifting, hilarious, and jovial that you can get lost in the moment and forget anything bothersome. He is simultaneously contagious and deep in character, and so it brought a grin to my face when I noticed that he commented on my Facebook thread, as he suggested that I write today’s post about “words that you can seamlessly fit ‘bro’ into.” Challenge accepted.

Ironically, this request is perfect for me. I am forever childish when it comes to matters of language, including puns, rhyme schemes, and figurative bro-se. So when the word “bro” became popularized, I was probably one of the first in line to overuse it and cause others much headache. From calling friends and awaiting their response so that I could yell “Bro-tato salad!” into the phone, to asking my students if they’ve been studying their bro-cabulary with regularity, I can say with confidence that I bro-tally abuse the noun. I admit, it might not be the most bro-fessional use of my time, but it makes for good fun.

Still, and even with the aim of satisfying Josh’s request to seamlessly fit “bro” into a variety of words, I find that moderation is key in getting a rise out of people. And yet, balancing moderation with the urge to maintain a strong pun game is challenging, unless you’re supplementing with bro-tein shakes and weekly tae-kwon-bro lessons. Then, and only then, will you be as funny as a bro-deo clown and as clever as Sherlock Bro-lmes. But I digress–not even the fun-loving Bro Montana would approve of my current bro-verindulgence–he would probably be more excited to listen to Herman Melville’s Bro-by Dick on tape than listen to me ramble.

I could go on, but I think I smell my pizza beginning to burn in the bro-aster oven. I’ll leave you with this: remember to be true to yourself, for the honest man is the peaceful man–at least that’s what A-bro-ham Lincoln would say.

Sleep? Yes, Please!

Since its first season on AMC, I’ve been a big fan of The Walking Dead (TWD), and until two weeks ago, I could find plenty of time on Sunday evening to watch the latest episode before turning in for the night. Now, with a newborn champ to support, I am less likely to view the show, but I am probably fit to be cast as a zombie or “walking dead” member during certain hours of any given day.

I first thought about this last week, as I worked late into the evening this past Wednesday and Friday, and then I woke up early Saturday morning and took to the road to pick up five of my students to help facilitate a community service project in Coatesville. We moved cabinets from 8:30-2 p.m., carried insulation from one garage to another, demolished less than desirable and damaged goods to then be thrown in a dumpster, and finally helped cut two by fours to serve as jacks for a sinking floor–a measure only meant to buy some time. We wrapped up our business around 3:30 p.m., and I made my way home to cook dinner. This was my first week back to work since Brooks entered the world, and I knew it would be challenging to establish a new routine, but the weekend duty (we are responsible for six weekends/year) added a degree of difficulty that inevitably launched me onto the radar of those responsible for selecting actors appropriate to play zombies on this season of TWD. I’m still awaiting my agent’s phone call. 

It’s really not a big deal, though–the lack of sleep that is. Sure, there are moments every once in a while where I look around, throw my arms to my side, and think desperately, “When shall I find the elusive pillow and comforter?!?” Then, as I realize that my sleep deprivation is at least offset by some decent chunks of overnight rest, I remember that my wife is our child’s 24-hour fast food drive-through window for the foreseeable future. Yes, on occasion I still wake up during the late night feedings, but on evenings preceding work, I channel more sleep than anything. And Tara is a saint for not only understanding but encouraging me to get rest at these times.

As my brother-in-law recently told me–an insight that someone too shared with him–it is very much worth the lack of sleep to see your child grow and to be there with them to show them the world. Until the day comes when Brooks is able to navigate a bit more independently, I’ll wear sunglasses in public to hide the bags under my eyes and daydream about the afternoon naps of yesteryear!

Proceed Consciously

Mark Twain once suggested, “Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” Dude was right.

Maybe Twain held this belief in part because of his humble childhood, but I wouldn’t overlook or underestimate his intellectual prowess as a means for reaching this conclusion. It seems the more we advance our lives, the more goods we take on and deem vital to our existence and status.

But what if we were honest with ourselves? What if we asked our inner person what we needed to live? Yes, the Internet, imported rugs, reclining sofas, iPads, separate sets of dish ware for unique events, cuff links, bagel slicers, 50 piece tool sets, diaper pails, jewelry boxes, and other imaginable items from various periods of modern industrialization are quite nice and make life more convenient. But haven’t you ever stepped full-force into a new stage of life only to look back a few months, years, or even decades later and think, “I really miss the simplicity of an earlier time.” To reminisce is fun, and by no means does it suggest a lack of appreciation for the current moment, yet it can bring to light the extent to which we have developed our lives and how we live in accordance to the material we have accumulated.

Example: My wife and I utilize DirecTV as our cable provider, and one of their most popular add-ons is the NFL Sunday Ticket–a seasonal package that provides a fairly unhealthy dose of football for those with seemingly insatiable appetites for the game–particularly since the rise in popularity of fantasy football. Well, naturally I had to have this package as soon as Tara and I were comfortable enough with our disposable income that it became feasible. And just like that I couldn’t get enough. It was intoxicating–and when games went to commercial, I could flip to the addicting Red Zone channel that would keep me posted on all scoring drives and mega-highlights. I was hooked.

Fast forwarding a few years from the day that I stumbled across the glorious football package, I recently took a step back to consider how we could save money and spend more quality time together. Not so ironically, the first thing that popped into my head was, “Well shit, we have a pretty robust cable package.” When I ventured online and actually viewed our deal, I realized how far down the rabbit hole I had fallen. Not only did we have NFL Sunday Ticket, but we had HBO, Cinemax, and the second highest cable package offered. We also have Netflix and Amazon Prime. We were basically prepared to provide television for toddlers, teenagers, young adults, full-blown adults, the elderly, and whomever else wanted to pop in for a show or two. We could have never viewed everything, and we were paying out the nose for it, too. We had fallen victim, and mostly by my doing, to Twain’s admonishment regarding the lure of civilization.

My point? Keep developing the world. It’s awesome. I love advancement. I desire change. I welcome a good binge-watching of Parenthood or Breaking Bad from time to time, but I am learning much more of what balance looks like and how rewarding it can feel. I am beginning to understand that because I can have something does not mean I need to or should have something. I am furthering my discipline as a man–I am, as Immanuel Kant suggested, seeking enlightenment. I am chasing personal responsibility. And perhaps with the utmost of timing, a college professor that taught me much on life and writing, Dr. John Nordlof, shared an excerpt from Kant’s “What Is Enlightment?” (1784) through his Facebook page today. He referenced Kant’s words that I have turned over in my mind many times:

It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.

While this passage touches more on the notion of personal responsibility outlined above than it does the emergence of civilization and necessity, it poignantly demands the individual be his own advocate–a concession likely resonant with Twain’s call for awareness and mindfulness of what we own and being careful that it does not eventually own us. For isn’t that the fear? Don’t we all catch ourselves staring at our phones far too long? Don’t we all watch one too many episodes of our favorite show? Maybe not–I’d hate to generalize, but I do feel that the temptations of the modern world naturally present themselves with greater intensity for each new generation, and that is simultaneously a gift and challenge.

Advancements can be brutally intoxicating, life-enhancing, empowering, and destructive all at once. The beautiful and frightening component of that truth is that we are at the helm and responsible to navigate wisely and proceed consciously.

Finally Found It

After years of contemplating, I finally found it. I finally unearthed what seemed like a great mystery. I drove home late last night after a long day of work, and like Zeus’ bolt it struck me. I was awe-inspired, I was elated, and I finally felt healed.

Nearly 15 years ago, I was declared in remission of cancer, but anyone afflicted by its pain understands that to heal is an entirely different process. Why had I been stricken with such disease? Why had my life changed radically in what seemed like only a moment? Since my teenage years, I have given speeches, written essays, and engaged tirelessly in conversations with loved ones, strangers, and anyone in between in an effort to soothe my soul, spread infectious encouragement, and understand why this happened to me. I even majored in English studies as a college undergraduate because I thought doing so would provide me a platform to write about my challenges, delve deeply into humanities courses and subsequent discussions, and study literature in a way that might help me communicate my pains. And shortly after 11 p.m. on March 1, 2017, the answer, whether gifted by a god-like figure or dropped from the sky with a veil of anonymity, pierced my heart and gave me solace. I had experienced cancer to marry my wife and father my son. It sounds ridiculous–even conspiracy-laden, I know. But I promise you, my life would have likely taken a far different trajectory had I not been beaten down by what seemed like a devastating blow. And without such a force, I may have never learned lessons of strength, vulnerability, compassionate, love, and kindness. My family had certainly done their part to impress these characteristics upon me, and they still do, but a person ultimately needs to see their own way to the values they will hold near to their heart. Had I never been able to learn these lessons in the manner that I did, I may have never seen these very same qualities in my wife, and we may have never dated, split up, rediscovered one another, become engaged, gotten married, and conceived our beautiful boy.

Only two weeks after his birth, I cannot imagine life any differently. I used to dread the 45 minute drive home from work on Wednesday night after a 15-16 hour day, but last night’s ride was different. Last night I was excited when thinking that I would arrive home to see Tara rocking with him in the nursery, and instead of unwinding with a beer, I was happy to kiss her and hold him and smile. I wouldn’t be this type of man if I hadn’t been given a glimpse of how awful life could feel, because once I knew the depths of the human experience, I understood that I wanted to rid pain from my life and the lives of others as much as possible. Yet while protecting others can only go so far, love is endless. And with the birth of our child, my wife and I have discovered a love for each other and our son that I did not know existed, and this is why I suggest that I finally found the answer to the question that has plagued me for so long. Why had I been at the doorstep of death on multiple occasions as a young man when I wanted nothing more than a summer with my friends? Why me? Why then?

It took far longer than I had hoped to recognize what I now perceive to be the answer to my greatest question, and what I’ve learn is that just because life ain’t fair doesn’t mean it ain’t tryin’ to tell you something. Sometimes you need to have your ass handed to you in order to realize that you were meant to stand tall. Sometimes you need to momentarily submit to the will of the world and survive its wrath before unleashing your own. Just don’t let an ass-whooping keep you down–find out why it happened and what it means.