Cinco Times Two (Equals Ten)

Ten years ago today, I set out with my friends on what remains one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime. I was still new to motorcycling (I did not start riding until March of 2004) and smack in the middle of a transition period in my life.

As I look back at my written re-cap of this trip, it’s very clear to see how not only my writing has grown, but also how I’ve grown as a person. In 2005, I did not maintain God as the focus of my life. I’ve come a long way since then, and I know I still have a long way to go. I thought about editing the more crude parts of my recap, but I decided not to so they will serve as a reminder of the immaturity and lack of tact that, I hope, the evolution of my writing has shed over the past decade.

Still, one thing from my summary of the trip holds true: Don’t be afraid to live your life. To quote myself, “it’s in learning from the misses that we score our biggest hits!”

I hope you enjoy. <click here to read the recap>

Key West 2005
Three wild and crazy guys.

Like a Ton of Bricks

Walking into work today, I ran into a co-worker I hadn’t seen in years. We greeted each other with respective, “You still work here?” glances. I noticed, however, her demeanor quickly turned to one of distress. She went on to tell me that a co-worker, a mutual acquaintance to us both, had passed away unexpectedly.

I didn’t know Tom Nott well. I knew of him and had been on conference calls with him in the past. At that time, I was managing a team of database administrators in one organization. Tom worked for a DBA team in another organization. Within the confines of our building, we ran in the same circles, but I wouldn’t say we were friends.

53 is too young to be called back home to God, and I find myself somewhat speechless as a result of the whole situation. So in remembrance of Tom, I would like to share the words of Peter Mayhew (no, not the guy who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars films), a mutual friend to Tom and myself who was part of Tom’s team way back when.

I lost a friend today. His name was Tom and he was 53. He was a good husband and father and a very smart man. Our cubes were next to each other for a few years back when I worked for Verizon.

Every Friday I would invite him to lunch, and every Friday he would politely decline. It was somewhat of an ongoing joke between us. It took about a year before he finally broke down and would occasionally join us, and even then it was only on rare occasions.

I’m fuzzy on the details but I’m pretty sure he was there when my little Peyton was born because our daughters shared the same birthday. It’s funny. There are things I do to this day in conference calls that I learned over the wall listening to him. I could still probably do a DB2 interview from hearing him correct the person he was talking to.

He was my office neighbor when Anissa had her first stroke and Peyton was diagnosed with leukemia. We weren’t very close at all, yet we would keep an eye on each other for a few years and stayed in touch after I left Verizon.

With all that said, friends, life is short. None of us are getting out of here alive. Hug those you love daily. Reach out to an old friend. Make a new one. Focus on the stuff that really matters.

Very well said, Peter.

Rest in Peace, Tom. May the Holy Spirit provide your family with guidance and comfort in this time of grief.

Life Is
Image via kundiman.tumblr.com

 

Oh The Irony

Fear is a powerful thing. It can make one hesitate. It can make one doubt. I can be debilitating.

I remember a time in my life when my biggest fear was being wrong. Imagine cashing out your life savings, going to Vegas, and putting it all on a spin of a roulette table. Imagine the surreal, slow-motion experience of watching that little white ball bounce around searching for a place to land. Imagine the angst and anxiety that comes with the waiting and the wanting …. and the praying.

The bouncing stops, the reality is confirmed, the gravity of it sets in.

Shock. Disbelief. Nausea.

WTF?!?!?!?!

I was wrong, by the way. Wrong in so many ways. As I look back at that time and experience in my life – now more than eight years removed from that seminal moment – I see it not as the tragedy I thought it was, but as the moment that my life turned for the better. Yes, for the better.

Of course, when you’re drowning in your own misery and crying yourself to sleep (or, in my case, passing out from the booze), it’s impossible to see the positive. It’s such an incredulous proposition that any good can come from so much pain. But sometimes the answer to what you’re seeking can be found only at the rock-bottom of your soul, and yes, time does heal all wounds.

So if you feel yourself on the precipice of a decision or life choice, or if you’re hoping and praying for a particular outcome you’re terrified may not happen, simply remember ……..

Set Free

Wrong Turns Can Be Good … err, Great

This week’s prompt for Random Writers is to write about the difference between existing and living.  For some reason, the first thing that came to my mind was Bugs Bunny.

We’ve all seen it a million times.  Bugs pops his head up after having tunneled underground, looks around, scratches his head as if lost, and utters, “I knew I should have taken a left turn in Albuquerque.” This week’s prompt is about the difference between just going somewhere and enjoying the trip along the way.

All too often in life, the pace of the day to day can cause the weeks to blur and the years to pass. For some reason, this effect seems to be exponential the older we get. As a kid, summer breaks were an eternity. As an adult, a week’s vacation tends to be over before it starts.

How is it that we go from the delighted consumption of life as children to a “what’s next?” dismissiveness as adults?  At what point does the joy get replaced with the urgency, the little things with the big plan?

To me, existing is easy. You wake up. You go to work. You come home. You have dinner. You go to sleep.  Living is just like existing, except that along the way from step 1 to step 10 in your routine, there are moments of meaning that make those steps more than just items on a to-do list. Sometimes it really can be as simple as stopping to smell the roses.

Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” solution to this question. In fact, nothing in life is “one size fits all.” That’s what makes life life. It’s the uniqueness of our own experiences, and what may be living for me can simply be existing for someone else. That’s the beauty of the question, the fact there is no absolute answer.

I watched a presentation recently during which the orator explained how good is the opposite of great. He said we don’t have enough great schools in our country because we have so many good schools. We don’t have as many great moments in our lives because we have so many good moments. This idea really stuck with me, and it got me to thinking of how content I am with all the good in my life, and how that often prevents me from attempting to find greatness in what I do.

So when you ask yourself what the difference is between existing and living, think about all the good things in life that may keep you from being great. I do believe the answer can be found somewhere in there.

Crashing Back to Earth

This week’s Random Writers prompt is to write about something you learned the hard way.

In all the times I’ve written before about the many blessings in my life, I’ve always included, either directly or implicitly, the fact I’ve never had to battle an addiction. Alcohol, drugs, and other vices; I’ve seen how they can consume a person and destroy a life. My dad was an alcoholic, and I still have the vague memories as a young child of how his actions impacted me and my family.

But not all addictions are so clear cut. Not all vices come packaged in a container with a conspicuous label that declares it is hazardous to your health. Hazardous to your life.

As hopeless romantics go, I am board certified. I love love and the idea of being in love. I love the stories of couples that have been together for over fifty years and still write each other little notes of thank you and appreciation. I love hearing kick-ass stories about wedding proposals, in part because I like to interject and tell the awesome story of how I proposed to my wife. In short, I’m a sucker for Gary Marshall movies.

It was this hopeless romantic gene that lead me down a certain path a decade ago. It was a path that saw me walk away from my wife and two kids in pursuit of what I felt was my soul mate.

Soul mate. The idea of the one person in the entire universe that makes us complete. The one being in all of eternity with whom we are meant …. correction, DESTINED ….. to share our lives. It’s an idea that is born out of fairytales and mythologies of old. It’s the pinnacle of what true love and romance ought to be. It’s the spring from which infatuation is born, and in the end, the concept of soul mates is just that. A concept.

I was infatuated not only with the woman that represented my soul mate here on Earth, but also with the very idea of a love pre-destined and greater than any love the world had ever seen before. At that time in my life, nothing was more important to me than my soul mate. And as it turns out, that was my addiction. That was my vice.

My infatuation guided my heart toward the woman I swore destiny herself had selected for me. My friends would tell you my infatuation blinded me from the rest of reality. My infatuation justified my pursuit of a new life with a new person. After all, she was my soul mate. It was meant to be. Others would say it was a tsunami of ignorance that washed away the relationship I had spent the previous twelve years building. My infatuation made me feel alive every day, with my heart racing and my mind floating in the clouds of happily ever after. Those close to me would tell you I was no different than a junkie needing a fix.

Heroin addicts are revealed by their track marks, but you can’t see the scars infatuation addicts leave on their own hearts, not to mention the hearts of others.

No, I don’t believe in soul mates anymore. It’s not because the relationship I pursued ended in a glorious, mushroom cloud of an ending. But rather, it’s because I believe great love is possible in all of us.  To borrow from what one of my closest friends once told me, I needed that relationship – that infatuation experience – so that I could grow up as a man and a person. So that I could wake up and experience what is true and real in life. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, and it is wholly illogical to think we can find happiness with only one of those 7 billion people.

Math and logic aside – because we all know love can be illogical at times – I believe that at our core, we all long to be loved. When we find someone with whom to not only share that love, but also receive their love without condition, we find those moments of completeness our hearts so desperately need.

I look at my relationship with my wife and ask myself if it’s possible to feel and experience the same feelings with someone else as I do with her. Not only is it possible, I think it’s very probable. However, what binds my heart to hers is the fact I have no desire to find out. I have no interest in wanting to achieve the same level of trust, confidence, and intimacy with any other human being. We fit together. We share together. More importantly, we continue to grow together.

If there’s one thing my relationship with my wife has taught me, you don’t need a soul mate in order to have a fairytale romance.

Reflections

The start of a new year is usually filled with joy and excitement. Plans, goals, resolutions: there’s a lot of looking forward going on this time of year. Conversely, there’s a good amount of time spent looking back.

For me, these past couple of weeks following the holiday period have been a bit like setting the cruise control to the speed limit and driving in the right lane of the highway. No real rush to get anywhere and lots of other cars speeding past me.

That’s not to say my holidays weren’t great. They were. It’s just that relative to others, I feel I’m in more of a “just happy to be here” mode. Actually, it’s more of a “I’m so blessed to be here” mode.

This past Sunday, our pastor asked us to reflect on five things in 2011 that seriously impacted our lives. At first, I couldn’t think of anything. Then, once I wrote down the first item, I couldn’t stop jotting down dates and events that really affected my life – both positively and negatively – in the previous year.

There were issues with work, both getting mapped to a new organization and then finding myself having to go to New York for work stoppage duty. My wife had some work turbulence of her own, but nothing that compared to the emotional instability of dealing with the trial of the man who caused the death of her cousin.

Those difficult and trying times were offset by the wonderful memories of 2011. We shared a beautiful trip to Mexico with my kids. My daughter made the competitive district soccer team, and her practices and games have been a key part of our week-to-week since. Both of my children continue to excel in the classroom, and I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a tutor at an inner-city school here in Tampa.

There have been ups and there have been downs, but for the most part, my life has been pretty even keel for some time now. And that’s the blessing. That is what I am so thankful for.

What prompted me to reflect on this, and consequently write about it, is an email I received from my high school track coach. It was an email telling us how she’s doing in her battle with cancer. Her tone was gracious and surprisingly upbeat. Yet, I could only image the fear and frustration that comes with overcoming one type of cancer only to be diagnosed with another type of cancer.

As my coach, she taught me how to stay focused. She taught me how to not give up. To tell my mind to keep pushing even though the rest of my body just wanted to stop. To this day, whenever I struggle with laziness to get a task done, or I just feel like throwing my arms in the air and saying, “fuck it!”, I can still hear her voice – that same voice that echoed across the track at Tropical Park in Miami as I came around turn four – compelling me to keep going. “C’mon, Gil!” Her voice is forever etched into my memory, and it has helped forge who I am today.

Now I wish I could do the same for her. Encourage her to keep persevering in the same way she encouraged me.

I know it’s not the same. Running a mile versus taking on cancer. They don’t even compare. My challenge was physical. Her challenge is physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. All the yelling and cheering in the world wouldn’t make an impact.

There’s only one thing that can. Prayer.

So as I set my cruise control in the right lane and observe all the other cars as they pass me by, all I can say is, “God, thank you for allowing me to be where I am today, and please watch over those embarking on their journeys toward tomorrow.”

We all know someone who’s going through a tough time right now. Be a cheerleader for them by making sure you keep them in your prayers.