Stromboli, Baggage, and Faith

Lately, my wife and I had been talking about ordering a stromboli for dinner. This went on for a week or two, and last night, we finally committed. Wild, I know. It was delicious, too. However, it was the ten minute car ride I took to pick up the food at Little Gio’s (Italian restaurant) that served as the unexpected treat of my dinner hour.

As I backed out of the driveway, I switched the receiver over to 610 AM, a station typically subject to the popular ESPN broadcast “The Right Time with Bomani Jones” at that time of day–a podcast that I have come to thoroughly enjoy thanks to Jones’ authentic, controversial, and highly insightful takes. But yesterday did not proceed as scheduled, a notion that I have recently understood better than ever with the birth of our child and his first three months on planet Earth. Yesterday, as I flicked my car’s turn signal to journey forward, I realized that I was definitely not listening to Jones.

Instead of Bomani’s usual rants that tend to cover popular sports figures and events, social phenomenons, and cultural relevancies, I was listening to a man describe the intense anger and self-hatred he felt when playing adult league softball. I was disappointed to miss my dose of Bomani, but I was growing increasingly intrigued by this man’s story that included the flipping of water coolers, tossing of bats, and self deprecation. After all, as a former athlete, I could appreciate and relate to his frustrations regarding failure–baseball, and softball, are rooted in overcoming mental anguish. Both games are designed to glorify those achieving failure approximately 70 percent of the time or slightly less, so it is no wonder that even the best players show signs of distress and anger.

As I continued to drive, I began to realize that this story was taking a turn that I could not have seen coming. As the man went forward and proceeded to further describe the athletic events, I couldn’t help but find his antics a little bit funny and amusing (imagine a grown man tossing a water cooler at a rec league game). Then, and almost out of nowhere, he began to admit his remorse, his embarrassment, and his personal shame for acting in the ways that he did. He described the low point of his adult league career by sharing the story of nearly hitting his coach’s wife with an object that he had tossed out of frustration–and the kicker was that many people, including children, were present at the game, and he knew they would be left with that image of him.

The man’s subsequent set of comments moved me to the point of discomfort, as the subject matter he was next to explore has always challenged me. As I was expecting him to begin talking about how he has become a better man since those days–a more reserved, less angry man–he instead uttered the words that have met me under so many different circumstances and feelings throughout my life, “It was not long after that experience that I accepted Jesus Christ.”

I have to be honest–the moment that these words hit the radio waves and forced their way through my typically secular radio speakers, I quickly reached for and pressed “MODE” on my steering wheel controls to avoid what I thought would soon become this man’s liturgy, a message cleverly veiled by the cloak of popular athletics. Then, a few seconds after I had shifted my ears from his message to one of greater comfort, I felt pretty terrible. I felt narrow. I felt like I had contradicted the message that I have for so long been quick to project to others, and I had violated a thought offered by Aristotle that I share frequently with adolescents, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In light of this, I think most people that know me would probably agree that I am a fairly open-minded individual (or at least I hope), and I strive to be mindful of such practice–but I admittedly struggle with this notion when it comes to faith, the concept of god, and what baggage I carry into the equation.

So after what seemed like an eternity but only proved to be roughly 30 seconds, I switched back to 610 radio and thought, “Let’s give this a chance. Let’s see what he says.” If you’re wondering if I found Jesus yesterday or anything like that, I will save you the suspense and definitively say that I did not re-engage my mind with that purpose to begin with. I was now interested in the name of being mindful, open, and welcoming to discomfort–what would come of that, I didn’t know.

So what developed from the experience if it did not prove revelatory in a storybook way? How was it transformative or different than past occasions? In a very simple way, yesterday was different because for the first time, I saw myself through the words and actions of the man that categorically and unequivocally described himself as Christian, devoted his life to Jesus, and found meaning in scripture. Yesterday, I accepted that he and I aren’t very different–and if divine intervention had set out to in some manner to prove a point or send a clear message, I was overwhelmed to learn at the conclusion of the podcast that the interview with this man had been sponsored by Eastern University–the very place I received my undergraduate degree and endlessly renounced the possibility of Christ, dodged conversations relevant to faith, and avoided examining my own when it became inconvenient.

Today, I still wrestle with the idea of a god, let alone a particular faith and set of corresponding beliefs. But one particular idea from yesterday’s podcast truly resonated with me in a way that I had not previously entertained: the speaker suggested that scripture describes man as the only one capable of inciting his own anger–that no person could actually be responsible for making another angry. Sure, others can do things that anger us, but that is because we choose to become angry. I certainly recognize that this idea expands well beyond anger and into realms of self-control and inner-peace, but we’ll save that for another day. Yes, we choose to exert our actions and behaviors–and so I’ve chosen to be more open to topics that stir discomfort in my loins, for it is not the topic or person that has the ability to make me feel uneasy; instead, I choose to react in that manner. After all, being receptive to only that which strikes cords of comfort is really not that receptive at all. Engage in conversations regarding and including thoughts other than your own–that’s when you’ll truly grow and experience perspective–and whether or not you elect to agree is hardly relevant to the truly enlightened person.

As always, thanks for reading. And if you’ve made it this far, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to entertain my ramblings–I hope you’ve found something of interest or meaning as it may be pertinent to your life and experience.

 

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Some Admittedly Obvious Advice and Self-Reflection

Over the years, one of the most common conversations I’ve had during parent/teacher conferences is centered on the idea of children communicating with their parents. I believe that much of a child’s success often rides on their ability to feel safe, comfortable, vulnerable, and open with others. When children experience these feelings around those responsible for raising and educating them, they have a far greater likelihood of attaining, developing, and maintaining social and emotional success than children who feel they aren’t safe, cannot be vulnerable, and shy from open conversation due to fear of what others will think. I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or doctor of any sort, but from experience, I can offer one very real solution to a parent incessantly begging their child to share their feelings and thoughts.

We all want people close to us to feel like they can say and share anything–that we won’t judge them or react in extreme ways. However, the traditional notion that a child who places trust in their parent will tell that parent what is on their mind is simply not always true–at best, it is only part of the grand equation. In fact, many children (in my experiences) that have asserted genuine and strong trust in their parents still felt disconnected–feeling safe and vulnerable was not always enough for them to open up and share their feelings and thoughts. The basic and primordial sense of security and love provided by parents did little to help many of my students feel like they could tell those parents about things like: their feelings for the opposite sex, what happened at school that day, who was treating them poorly, or if they were failing a class. It has also kept them from sharing some great achievements, and the reason is quite simple: security, safety, and love will provide a net for a child, but understanding, connectedness, and shared experiences can help plug openings in that net and create a more natural flow of communication between children and their parents.

The best example I can provide is two-fold. Take parent A, a loving mother or father that makes sure their child has everything they need in order to make it through their day. They even ask their child probing questions, but they often feel frustrated because they do so much and simply want a better connection–they want their child to feel like they can say and share anything with them, yet a common response from their child is along these lines: “Good,” “It was fine,” “Yes,” or “No.” These types of responses then lead parents to a commonly over-utilized comment, “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” As a teacher, I’ve learned that when I find myself uttering this statement, it is most likely because I’ve already failed to establish a true and meaningful connection. By suggesting that a student can talk to me about anything, I have probably already defined my role among our relationship in a way that communicates to them that they actually cannot or should not tell me certain things. I might truly mean what I say, but if the claims feel hollow to the child or student, then my intentions are unlikely to be realized.

Now take parent B, a loving mother or father that makes sure their child has everything they need…sounds similar, right? In reality, there is a great deal of overlap and consistency between the two types of parents I am referencing–but there is one distinct difference that I have experienced which has driven me to a far greater understanding of what it means to connect with a child. Parent B takes time, let’s say 30 minutes every day, to do absolutely whatever their child wants to do. Think about this for a moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean providing options for a child–this means giving your child complete control for 30 minutes. Do they want to play pirates in the backyard and run around the house 48 times? Do it with them. Do they want to make a fort out of pillows and destroy and rebuild said fort 96 times? Do it with them. Do they want to read a science fiction book together even though you don’t like science fiction books? Do it with them. You get the point. If they understand, even if it is only for a brief period of time, that they have a sense of agency and independence, traits you will want your child to build and exude anyway, and you are part of that dynamic, then you have helped instill character traits while simultaneously demonstrating interest in what they want to do. And who do we share our most intimate thoughts with? Generally, we share those thoughts with the people we bond with–the people that do the things we like doing. If you do this with your child, you loudly and clearly establish that you value them, and you will begin to understand them in ways you never have before–and vice versa. When this begins to happen, you will probably find that you no longer have to state, “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” They will have already begun to share their world with you because you have allowed them to do so, shown interest in their passions and hobbies, and given them room to grow right before your eyes.

Now, this admittedly unoriginal yet critically important idea of spending time with children under their circumstances is not to suggest that we let children jam peanut butter sandwiches down the garbage disposal and scream profanities while doing so just because they want to–far from it. It is an opportunity for them to be creative and to learn how to work with others, and you–the parent or teacher–have the ability to dictate how that relationship will blossom. You have the ability to teach them how to be responsible, how to set and manage boundaries, and how to communicate when these are broken. Will you teach them how and when to lead and follow effectively? Or will they learn simply to take orders? Will they learn compassion and humility in these experiences, or will they drift through childhood and learn these concepts in later stages when the stakes are much higher? That is what it all comes down to: what type of relationship do you have? What are you teaching children? How are you relating to them? Is your existence entrenched in survival and obedience, or is it one of mutual learning, respect, and growth?

Understanding that I have likely already come off as a man standing on a soap box while telling others how to parent their children, teach their students, and live their life, I will refrain from further speculation. After all, I have limited experience as a father–but I should tell you that such experience is deeply rooted in trial, consistent practice, and self-reflection as a teacher of children for the past eight years. My greatest hope is that you might find something of interest or worth among the aforementioned words. Perhaps you will offer some views of your own, even those that run counter to mine–for as Aristotle said best, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” And isn’t our greatest voyage in life to educate ourselves the best we can in hopes that we may evolve in ways that we cannot yet comprehend? I guess I’ll just have to invest the time and energy to find out.

Day 1: Baby Steps

I went to bed last night around 9:30 after declaring sometime earlier this past weekend that I would begin waking up before work and exercising–starting today. Monday–what a splendid day to start anew. Specifically, I told my wife that I was going to begin another round of P90X–approximately six years after the last round I completed! The truth of my fitness and health is one of great flux, a trend I’d like to rectify.

4:45 a.m. Beep. Beep. I slid the red “X” across my Samsung immediately, silencing its alarm, and for a moment, I contemplated sleep. I offered myself the idea that I could exercise after work, which is a dangerous promise that presents obvious pitfalls for any working adult. So as I laid in bed for another 30 seconds or so, I asked, “How many times have you told yourself that you would ‘just exercise after work?'” Then I awoke from my slumber, moved toward the chair adjacent the bed, and proceeded to gear up and lace my shoes. Sensing that I was outside of my comfort zone, our yellow lab followed me from the bedroom–but then again he follows me everywhere. Yet I digress.

Returning to the notion of my fitness, health, and the great fluctuation of both in my 31 years of life, it is essential to say that when motivators and goals have been part of a consistent and intentional regiment, I have prospered in attaining a body and level of health desired. However, when I have questioned my motivations for exercise, justified poor choices, and sought excuses, then I have found predictable results that have left me unhappy and dissatisfied. I am never happier than when I am fit, as consistent exercise and moderate food choices and intake has always generated confidence, self-esteem, and a desire to improve. When my body is out of whack and ill-prepared, it affects my mind in negative ways. And for years, I have searched for what would hopefully reveal itself as the best workout plan, but in this quest I failed to make sacrifices. I failed to schedule the remainder of my day in a manner that would compliment and make possible my athletic endeavors–and maybe this was a product of being fit for years without giving great thought to diet, sleep, rest, and other habits. But now, when I go to bed too late, drink a few too many beers, consume foods high in fat, salt, or sugar, or fail to plan my next day, then I am typically subject to its will when the alarm clock calls. And isn’t that the lesson to be learned? “Woe is me” is often an attitude adopted by those willing to accept circumstances rather than defining them in the first place.

On a heavier note, bringing a child into the world has rocked my own existence, and it has started to bring my wife and I closer than ever before. And yesterday, as he rolled from his belly to his back for the first time, I knew I had to do everything in my power to be present in his life for as long as possible. I knew I could not be severely overweight and expect to play basketball with him. I knew I could not be hypertensive and expect to serve as his role model for positive and healthy food choices. I knew these things almost in an instant–and I also knew that I could change the way I live with deliberate planning and moderation. I knew I could still plan for some weekends of old–weekends of burgers and beer, cigars and golf, and things of the sort. But I knew these could no longer be my consistent habits. These days need now to be the exceptions to more meaningful and investment-based choices.

I’m on the grind, homies–rolling over a new leaf like my boy be rolling over on his play mat. Protein shakes and fish bakes, homies. I’ve found real and true purpose, and I plan to make it my greatest symphony yet.

Craft Beer: Love Those Hops

Lately I’ve written about some heavy topics. Lately I’ve been thinking about some heavy things. And lately I’ve found great solace in a nice IPA after a long day of work. While I gain great perspective from reflection and introspection, I need to reveal a different side of myself from time to time. Today, I indulge in the matter of craft beer, namely IPAs (India Pale Ale).

There is something refreshing and palatable to a nice, hoppy, and sometimes bitter IPA. There is something a great deal more satisfying of a citrus-infused, high-octane, kick-in-the-pants brew than a lager, pilsner, pale ale, or even sour can offer–in my humble opinion. IPAs are certainly not my only beer of choice, but when given that choice, they remain my favorite and go-to brew. Some people like porters or stouts, and to those people, I applaud their love of beer. For as Ben Franklin once suggested, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Isn’t that an interesting take on a highly controversial substance? Either way, I like it. Consumption is a matter of personal responsibility, a basic argument I believe most might agree with.

Regardless of your perspective on responsible consumption, this post would be incomplete without the mention of a few choice IPAs. My recent favorite? An old classic brewed by Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Two Hearted Ale. What stands out most to me about this American style IPA is its timelessness. Bell’s has brewed this IPA for years, and unlike many of its contemporaries, Two Hearted Ale is a beer that I can come back to at any stage of the year. Whether it is snowing and 10 degrees outside or 85 and sunny, this beer sits well with me. It has a fair hop to its taste, though it finishes crisp and offers a mid-range ABV (alcohol by volume) of seven percent. When seeking a balanced IPA, I often look no further.

Well, you’ve probably heard me drone about beer for long enough at this point–so I’ll keep this entry relatively short. In response to Franklin’s notions regarding beer and its purpose, I offer one final bit: beer may not be universally loved, so I’ll have yours if you don’t like it!

Golf and Faith

There was a time in my life when I was pretty bad at golf. I mean, I used to hold an iron like a baseball bat, lift my front foot, and carry the club head through impact like I was trying to punch a line drive to center field. This mostly resulted in severe slices, and while I paid to play from tee to green, I frequently spent a good bit of time in the forest. Still, my ineptitude for the game never bothered me so long as I was playing baseball. But then one day, I stopped playing.

From the time that I was or six or seven years old, I played baseball every spring and summer, and I also played a fair amount of fall ball. I loved the game for a long time, but some serious injuries coupled with introspection drove me from the diamond just one year before finishing my college career. So like many other athletes that defined and measured part of their existence by their contributions to sport, I was left with a void to fill upon graduation. I was left considering my options, and over time, that which became most apparent was the game that had left me so perplexed and confused over the years: golf. Almost overnight, I became determined to rectify my game and post respectable scores.

When trying to improve my baseball skills, I always sought help–a lesson my dad had instilled. So I took a golf lesson. The club pro watched me smack a bucket of balls around the driving range before lending any insight or instruction. I guess he needed to see how hopeless the cause was before devising a plan. Next, he changed the way I held the club, explained how I should approach the ball (foot positioning mostly), and told me to keep my lead arm locked through the entirety of my swing. I played the next day and struck the ball more consistently than ever. It was amazing how a few adjustments made a vast difference–a truth that I had learned of baseball, too. From that point, so much of golf’s great riddle began to explain itself to me (or so I think!). It also helped a great deal that I no longer swung my club like a baseball bat. I began to understand why I hit the ball well; conversely, I began to understand why I struck the ball poorly. Prior to that lesson and continued examination over the course of the last six or seven years, I was left dumbfounded by poor play, frustrated by results, and mentally drained.

And so began the real process of improving my golf game: the mental aspect. I don’t know that I will ever master the game of golf like I truly would like, but I do know that I can master my mind. I can say with great confidence that I approach the game in a vastly different manner than I used to, and because of this revelation, I am able to enjoy the days spent on the course. I am able to make peace with a double or triple bogey, and because I am inclined to learn, I am able to recover from poor play and minimize damage. I am able to make informed decisions, take appropriate risks, and live with the outcomes. The process of learning how to better manage my golf game has taught me much about myself, and it has revealed a level and appreciation for faith that previously claimed dormancy or was altogether missing. Like I must display faith in myself, other people, and circumstances outside of my control, I must also display faith in habit when punching out of the sand, delivering a blind shot from the fairway, or waiting for the break on a challenging putt. I must also know, just like human relationships, my faith will not always produce desired results–if it did, it wouldn’t have the same appeal.

In short, I’ve found much of my soul on the golf course. Where I used to let frustration run rampant and overcome my ability to improve, I now rise to the challenge and accept failure with a caveat that I will do better the next time. Maybe I could have learned these lessons anywhere, but I am convinced that my initial frustrations with the game presented opportunities to establish a relationship with the game that might not have been so rich or revelatory had I experienced them at an earlier point in my life. Then again, maybe I should give my inner-child a little more credit–some of the greatest truths I have ever heard have come from the relatively unaffected minds of youth.

Naps

I really don’t take as many naps as I did before my wife and I had a child, but I am becoming a master of watching my son take naps. He is incredibly gifted at slumbering, and he recently started sleeping in his big boy crib. All things considered, the reason I blog about naps today is because I was thrilled by what Brooks did yesterday.

When he was only a few weeks old, Brooks would sprawl out across my chest a few times each week, eventually settling into a nice nap, and even drooling on my shoulder at times. It was adorable. However, as he underwent some growth between those initial days and his current nine-week old status, he matured. He grew into a bigger body, and I went back to work. Naturally, he became more and more accustomed to naps with mom, as she has a bond with him like no other and remains on maternity leave for a few more weeks. But last night, when I returned home from work, I was reminded that he isn’t all that big quite yet.

Often, if Brooks is going to have a cranky period, it seems to fall during the hours of my return from work. For a little while, I thought that my coming home was sending him into a frenzy–after all, what was I doing interrupting his peaceful day with mommy?!? But yesterday was so different. Not only was I allowed to sooth him, but I was able to hold him on my chest, reclining on the sofa, for an extended period of time. I hadn’t felt him spread over my torso so freely in weeks, and I was so happy that he decided I was again nap worthy. I was again comforting. Below is an image of him basking in glory of being totally at home with me:

Brooks continued

These moments define my day and remind me how much my Brooks needs me. The truth about being a parent, and my truth about being a father, is that sometimes it can feel like your best efforts fall short. And maybe that is the case–but at least one can rest knowing that they gave each opportunity their finest attempt.

Having taught for the last eight years has informed me of the deep impact that one can have upon another, and that such an impact may never be verbalized. You might often hear the phrase “thankless job” in reference to a profession, a volunteer post, a relationship, or anything in between; however, the reality is that what may appear thankless is often something that is simply difficult, for whatever reasons, for people to communicate. I wonder how many years it took my parents to finally look at one another and say, “You know, we’ve done a great job. It’s apparent how much he appreciates us, too.” I’d like to think they felt that way for a long, long time, but having spent a great deal of time with teenagers over the past decade, I can say that it might be unlikely. I can say that they might have gone to bed some nights with great frustration, some nights with great joy, and some nights with bewilderment and confusion.

I guess what I can say with great confidence is that when taking into consideration all of the phases of my own life and that which I have witnessed my son undergo, I now understand why my mom sometimes still looks at me and says, “You’ll always be my baby.” When I look at Brooks, even though he is very much still a baby, I can see the boy that came to us in the delivery room the morning of February 16, and I can see just how much he’s grown in such a short span of time. So I guess I’ll be okay with less naps–I wouldn’t want to miss his.

If I’m Being Honest

If I’m being honest, attending a funeral service affects me most because it forces me to consider my own mortality. Maybe that conclusion is selfish, and maybe my feelings surrounding death are more complicated than I really pretend to know, but as I stand before those that have passed on, I think of them, their family, and then my own being.

As a child, I didn’t take much from a funeral. I processed life differently, and I accepted the world around me with little resistance. Now, I question the human experience, I reflect on the fragile nature of existence, and I try with diligence to appreciate seemingly regular moments. I was especially impacted this past weekend, as I attended the viewing of a peer that I had once went to college with. He unexpectedly passed earlier last week–30 years old and full of promise for the years to come.

Oddly, not many things inspire and ground me like a funeral service. As I drove home from the viewing after paying my respects, I felt overwhelmed. I even called my dad to explain how this particular service caught me most vulnerable. Never had I been at a viewing of a friend my age, and never had I contemplated how that friend was once a child. As I gazed at pictures of his youth while navigating the long line of friends and family, I thought about my childhood, and I considered how my son would grow and evolve. I prayed especially hard for my friend and his family, and I paid extra attention to my son when I came home that morning.

In congruence with these recent events, one of my classes is currently studying the concept of worldviews in hopes of further development. Maybe it is great happenstance that this particular unit has come at a time when I am reviewing how I see the world, my functions within it, and consequent impacts. Regardless, it is interesting to watch teenagers wrestle with humanity, as I recall holding some similar views at such an age. Many of them have agreed that people are inevitably affected by their environments, though they are wise enough to recognize their role in helping shape their environment, too. Though what has caught my eye most is their thoughts of equality, fairness, and privilege–a matter that will tie back to the events of this weekend and my evolving understanding of mortality and life.

An overwhelming majority of my students made clear distinctions between equality, fairness, and privilege. Perhaps the greatest conclusion that students arrived at focused on the notion that while they (most of them) believe all humans deserve a fair shake, that is not the reality we live among. “Life isn’t fair” is a theme that emerged, though it ran much deeper than the standard shoulder shrug associated with the phrase–a shrug often attributed to discontent among tough times. Instead, many suggested that life simply can’t be fair–some people try harder than others, and some are born among circumstances deemed more opportune than others. Interestingly, as these conclusions were born, some students began to shift and contend that perhaps life is actually relatively fair–if those trying harder are reaping greater benefit, then aren’t they entitled to corresponding privileges? Though the idea of fairness isn’t always this simple–sometimes it can be downright confusing and opposed to logic, and I believe that is when we can find ourselves suggesting that life is not terribly fair. And that is how I felt this past weekend as I left the funeral home–it didn’t feel fair that my peer had left the world so young, and it surely didn’t feel right.

Whenever I try to make sense of the world, I discover that I know less than the last time I engaged in the process of inquiry, reflection, and painful contemplation. Though I am not discouraged by such; instead, I am grateful that I am equipped to render intellectual and spiritual thought, I am happy to further my growth, and I am inspired that there is seemingly limitless perspective and experience to these questions I have. I hope that I may only continue to explore among the joy and pain that our existence offers.

 

C.S. Lewis, Pain, and Timelessness

Among many titles and positions held, C.S. Lewis was a famed British essayist, professor, theologian, philosopher, and novelist. Though he passed in 1963, his works, theories, and insights regarding human nature have lived on and will likely find timeless relevance. Some of his most compelling works center on the ideas of man’s purpose, Christian belief, personal challenge, grief, and pain.

As a young man, a friend gave me a copy of Lewis’ novel The Problem of Pain (1940). What I gathered from reading that text, among so many things, is that pain has a degree of inevitability that no man can escape. Yet over time, I believe I have come to understand that one of Lewis’ greatest conclusions, one that I feel he had hoped his audience would eventually arrive at, hinges on man’s faith in goodness. Though evil may present itself, it will always do so in the presence of good and the opportunity for progress, peace, and self-discovery. Even though pain exists, and despite the fact that it can approach us with utter disregard for our circumstances, it cannot replace or reject the notion that joy can also have a great place in our lives–should we allow.

In furthering my understanding of pain and its existence and roles among human lives, I am constantly drawn to a passage from The Problem of Pain that has helped me undergo self-reflection. This particular passage pertains to the differentiation that man must make between various pains:

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’

In some ways, the unpacking of this quote is fairly simple. In others, it is quite complex and requires patience, empathy, and faith. It is not enough for man to understand that his own pain exists and affects his own being; rather, a man seeking true growth needs to recognize that others experience great pain, too. This is not always evident, though. We can very easily recognize a man in great pain due to a broken bone, a woman affected by a hellacious cancer, a child bruised at the hands of an abusive parent–but it is far more difficult to see the pain of the person struggling to piece their life together following a divorce, a young child attempting to reconcile self-worth amid being bullied and harassed by peers, or a grown adult trying to cope with the death of their parents. If you are privy to these less obvious pains, you may be able to lend some help in the process of recovery and growth. But how often have we gazed at others, particularly those we don’t know well, and thought, “They have everything. They have their life so well orchestrated. It must be nice.” We might even become jealous, judgmental, or awe-struck. Still, we rarely know not the mental pain of those we see from a distance until and if such is revealed outwardly.

This is why we need to be patient, empathetic, and faithful with and to one another. We may see a beautiful family photo hanging above a friend’s fireplace and assume that great peace, love, and understanding exist within that home–and that could well be the case. Still, as no man is immune to physical pain, even the most enlightened, compassionate, loving, and understanding of beings is not exempt of mental anguish. We often hear the phrase, “You never know what someone else is going through,” and there may not be a more accurate and true statement pertaining to the human condition. I guess this is all the more reason to treat one another with sincere compassion and love–but I struggle. I struggle to display empathy because I find that my patience for others can wear thin over time, and this in turn affects my faith in the belief that my efforts will prove fruitful. But what if my efforts to understand and help someone else leave me feeling drained? What if I feel like my patience is getting me nowhere?

I have learned that sometimes I will never know how much of an impact I have had on someone. In other cases, my impact–good, bad, or indifferent–has been made very apparent to me. And here is the kicker: I can affect the impact that I have on understanding, helping, and loving others, but I cannot determine how they will internalize, receive, and ultimately feel about my presence and efforts among their life. So I submit that my relationships with others are not really about me, and I submit that others’ relationships with me are not really about them. In some odd way, relationships seem to be for the benefit of both members, but only if both see fit to serve the other first.

Given these thoughts, maybe the problem of pain is best addressed in that we must live to help alleviate the anguish that others feel and pray that they can and will do the same for us. Maybe we can best help ourselves by helping others and being open to receiving the reciprocal value. Then again, maybe pain and all that it brings is far more complex than that. I guess for now I can rest knowing that I am wrestling with a topic and feeling that I believe deserves great attention.

My Boy

The fragile seven pound burrito that we brought home from Paoli Hospital is now more than 12 pounds and measures at 23 inches–that’s almost a two-foot sub with all the fixings. But nearly doubling his birth weight is not what’s made me nostalgic in his first nine weeks of life; instead, his emerging personality has caught me by surprise. He’s growing so quickly now.

Brooks2

Before Brooks was born, many couples told my wife and I that babies pretty much eat, sleep, poop, and cry for the first six months. Knowing that, I was excited that Brooks and I would be able to share so many common interests. However, I have been caught off guard by what our pediatrician described as milestones: his smile, his ability to track us with his eyes like a Jurassic Park velociraptor, his way of communicating his most basic needs, his attempts to reach for us and even latch on with his small yet strong fingers, and so many more developments that seem to unravel every few days. Still, there is no denying that he loves to eat, sleep, poop, and cry–but we’ve been blessed in so far as his demeanor. He doesn’t cry a great deal, though there are times when his mother is the only person to console him.

Yesterday, I was hanging with my homeboy (Brooks) on his play mat. He was kicking Fisher Price piano keys and flailing at objects in the near distance, and when I wasn’t doing the same thing, I found a great deal of joy in watching him take in the world. It’s funny how big your surroundings can feel when you lay on the floor like a baby and simply look around. Our dogs appeared to be mythical creatures of Narnia, and the ceiling fans, which Brooks constantly admires, were intoxicating. No wonder he can’t stop looking at them; they are so different and far more inspiring than the bland ceiling, and when in motion they are spellbinding. Yes, I am 31 years old. Yes, I often present as a toddler.

Bath time is special, too. Lasagna (Brooks–he’s graduated from the size and rank of a burrito to a larger entree of sorts) loves to soak in his tub and watch his mom and dad take care of him. At times, he likes to pee while we clean him, and luckily Tara has received the brunt of this act so far! It’s amazing to watch him grow from week to week, and bath time might display this best. His belly is beginning to take on the pot shape that babies famously flaunt (I am sporting the pot belly too–you know, to support my boy and his self-image…). He is also learning to kick and move around more freely, and soon I’m sure he’ll be splashing and giggling. I can’t help but watch him and think back to the moment he was born, the days following, and the moments leading to each new day.

Nostalgia is like that–it hits you after the fact and allows you to relive moments that you wish you could have back. I will never again be able to hold Brooks just moments after he was born. He will never again have a first bath. Every smile from this point forward will be another, though we will have so many more milestones and firsts. I guess I am just trying to be present and in the moment–even when sleep, free time, personal space, and life as it had previously been defined seems elusive. Because that’s what having a kid is all about–our boy only came into our lives to make them better, more meaningful, and more joyous. He came into our lives so that we could care for him, love him, and guide him to a state of independence, one that will someday drive him to share himself with a larger community and less controlled environment.

Yet despite our efforts to build him in a way that prepares him for the world and a life of his own, I am encouraged to believe that what we teach our boy will ready him to give back to the world, come back home to us frequently, and love us in a way that might compare to the love we have for him. Still, I know that I could not fully appreciate my parents’ love until Brooks was born–an experience that prompted a primitive desire to protect him at all costs. I just don’t know that a child can understand how much they are loved until they become a parent, no matter their upbringing. But until and after the day that Brooks is ready to take on the world with a little less help from his mom and dad, I hope I will regularly reflect on the moments we share, smile when we have them, and learn to replicate the environments and opportunities where bonding and love occur.

My boy has already shown me so much. He’s already given me more purpose, meaning, and drive than I could have imagined. I want to make sure he sees that in me every day that he wakes up and welcomes the next challenge.

Calculating Odds: A Tale of Surface, Exposure, and Outlook

Today, the 2017 Masters Golf Tournament continues to unravel and will ultimately yield a weekend cut later this evening, sending many of its participants packing and thinking about their hopes for next year. Knowing this humbling truth, I am quick to consider the odds that different golfers have of winning the prized event, particularly those teetering the edge of garnering a weekend invitation to continue play versus watching from the clubhouse.

In conjunction with contemplating the incalculable nature of the aforementioned, I found myself viewing Jordan Spieth’s progress this morning, as he has had tremendous success on the PGA Tour over the course of the last few years. In doing so, I noticed a glaring quadruple bogey amid his first round score. Surely this was an error–Spieth, one of the best golfers in the entire world, couldn’t have put forward an amateur effort on one of golf’s greatest stages–what were the odds?

This fluke in play, error in execution–call it what you will–really had me thinking. I began examining how someone so consistent, so talented, and so steeped in the tradition of victory at such a young age, could appear to play a hole like a beer guzzling, club tossing, three-putting weekend warrior. Then it became quite clear: aside from digging a little deeper to identify that Spieth actually has a small string of triple and quadruple bogeys in tournament play that have come back to haunt him, I also realized that the armor protecting any man is only as good and functional as he allows it to be. And even the strongest, most prepared, and dedicated craftsman is subject to elaborate, unforeseeable, frustrating flaws. Moreover, this speaks clearly to the fact that as humans we can do our best to strive for perfection, and we can calculate the odds for success in measurable terms that play in accordance with algorithms and other standards, but we cannot deny that every surface will eventually face exposure.

The surface of an object, person, performance, or any other thinkable entity can be and often is the most beautiful, pristine, and prepared version imaginable–as it nearly always should be. But then what happens when that object or person is exposed, under duress, and forced to confront undesirable circumstances? Hard to say.

While Spieth was exposed on a grand stage, he was able to pick up the pieces and he now has an opportunity to climb back into contention. For some others, the stage is different, and that was the thought that raced through my mind as I considered Spieth’s anomaly on the par five fifteenth, the odds that it would have ever happened in the first place, and the odds that my mother pointed out not long ago.

It’s funny to think about The Masters Tournament, my mother, and my son all at one time–but that is exactly what influenced this entry, and while my arrival at considering a recent exchange with my mom was brought to light by my critical thought of Spieth’s performance and general speculation around the topic of probability, I promise they are connected (at least in my mind!).

You see, when I finally gave credence to the notion that the odds for Spieth performing so poorly on the fifteenth were slim but still very possible, I too thought of a recent moment wherein my mom was holding my son, Brooks, and she stated in a reminiscent manner, “Who would have thought that we’d all be here for this?” At first, I had some trouble understanding exactly who she was talking about. In my mind, it made total sense: kid (me) marries person (Tara), people (Tara and I) have child (Brooks), and grandparents (mom, and other grandparents) spoil grandchild (also Brooks). In my mind, it had been a clear and forgone equation for some time. Though as my wife nodded and acknowledged my mom’s statement, it was obvious that she had meant more.

It was revealed that my mom was observing the highly improbable yet actualized phenomenon that had, at various times in our lives, seemed impossible. In the moment that she was holding Brooks, she was appreciative of being able to do so, knowing that my life had almost been taken as a teenager at the hand of cancer, and her life had recently almost been taken by a brain aneurysm. And had either of those tragic events ended differently, one or two of the people present in that room on that day would not have been there in the first place–in fact, the entire family dynamic would likely be different.

I guess it’s hard for me to think about mortality, including my own. I believe this is likely universal–I don’t hear people willingly talking about life and death at cocktail parties, for it is so often the unforeseen and uninvited life moments that spark reactionary measures and personal reflection. We don’t plan to experience bad times.

Today, I would bet a great deal of money that Spieth stood atop the fifteenth tee box yesterday with intent to have a chance at birdie or par–and why wouldn’t he have? He is one of the world’s greatest golfers. I would also bet a great deal of money that my mom had expected me to pass the physical exam that years ago yielded bad news of the emergence of tumors–and why wouldn’t she have? I was in excellent shape and showed no signs of poor health. I would too bet that our entire family awoke the day of my mom’s aneurysm with no reason to believe that she would be in the hospital later that evening–and why wouldn’t we have? She displayed no sign of weakness or adverse health.

It is the affliction of carrying a positive outlook that can sometimes blind us to the speeding train that may already be difficult to see over the horizon. It is also the challenge of an unpredictable world that can change our lives in a moment that makes for difficulty in assuming accurately what might happen and when. I wouldn’t change it though. I can withstand tough times–we all can.