It’s Not At All Random

I don’t believe in random. I mean I do, but I don’t.

Lotto balls are random. The way a snowflake falls from the sky is random. The things that come out of my nine year-old’s mouth are random. But life and our interactions with others are never random. That being said, I met Cate Colgan through the most random of circumstances.

At the time, I had no idea what a Tweetup was. Nevertheless, Lee and I trekked down to the Performing Arts Center in downtown Tampa for a Tampa Bloggers Tweetup. I blogged and I lived in Tampa, but I hardly considered myself a ‘Tampa Blogger’. Lee and I were both still relative novices in the whole arena of social media, but it was something to do so off we went.

Near the end of the event, we met Cate. We chatted with her a bit and exchanged information. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was just another business card to add to the pile I had collected that evening. We had met a good amount of people at the event and I spent the better part of the drive home trying to mentally sort all the names and faces to which we’d been introduced.

Some time passed and Lee forwarded me information about a Social Media class. Again, given we were both eager to learn more, we registered for the class. It turned out Cate Calgon was part of the group that put together and organized the class. In fact, Lee came across the information for the class as a result of following Cate on Twitter and keeping tabs on her information.

This second meeting with Cate led to her inviting Lee, and by extension me, to join the Epic Thanks Tampa Bay planning organization. I was at first reluctant to commit to the planning and execution of such an event, but I am really glad I got involved, and it turned out to be quite a successful project. In addition to the networking opportunities that were created as a result of being a part of that organization, Epic Thanks also introduced me to a world of new people that are still a part of my daily life. I’ve made new and dear friends, and I would not have met all these people if not for Cate.

Cate has also been a role model for me in that she leads through example, is incredibly giving and selfless, and carries no ego with her. Given all she’s done and all she’s donated, both in time and money, Cate makes it all seem like it’s no big deal. She doesn’t walk around with a sense of superiority. Quite the contrary. Cate is always looking to deflect attention away from her and provide praise and cheer to someone else.

No, there was nothing random about what brought Cate Calgon into my life. I truly believe God allowed our paths to cross so I could:

  • Be an active part of a wonderful, non-profit organization and event
  • Be introduced to breathtakingly inspiring people who make giving of themselves their life’s work
  • Expand my knowledge, understanding and skill sets regarding social media, event planning, and event marketing
  • Create new opportunities, both personally and professionally, through the many people with whom Cate has connected me

I could easily add twenty more bullet points, but I am sure you get the idea.

To say Cate Calgon has made an impact on my life is an understatement. I’ve written before how thankful I am to her and for having her come into my life the way she did. I will say it again, however, because there are not enough words for me to properly describe how much of a ray of sunshine Cate has been.

Thanks again, Cate, for turning on the ‘giving’ switch inside of me, and for showing me how rewarding life can be when you make it about others.

The Chasm of Friendship Drift

This blog post is a day late. The Day 17 topic of our 30 Day Writing Challenge is ‘Someone with whom you shared a friendship/relationship that simply drifted out of your life.’ As you’ll soon see, there is a reason I was not able to get this posted on Monday night.

The person that fits the subject of this post, let’s call her Mirabelle, is someone I met back in 2004. She was one of the first new people I met after my first marriage ended, and we quickly hit it off. I maintained a relationship with her through about the end of 2005 until, as the subject of this post suggests, we both just drifted away in separate directions. No rhyme or reason, just the final extinguishing of an ember that was once a flame.

It’s funny how that happens. Relationships that were once rock solid reduced, over time, to afterthoughts. It’s understandable when there’s an evident reason. I’ve been a part of a bromance that ended up in a dudevorce resulting from a misunderstanding and the subsequent battle of stubborn wills. I’ve dumped women and have also been dumped by them. With those, there was always a tangible cause and effect that makes clear why the relationship is no more. With Mirabelle, however, our friendship just faded.

It’s quite sad, too, when you think about it. We had the type of friendship where we’d call each other daily. She’d tell me about her issues at work and guys she was seeing. She’d lend me her ear as I continuously harped about my situation and the problems I was facing. We’d go out to dinner, sometimes with my kids, sometimes just the two of us. She once let me use her car to drive my kids down to Miami as it was much safer than taking them down in the little, one bench-seat Ford Ranger I had at the time. I introduced her to Sister Hazel. She introduced me to the TV show Firefly. We were, one might say, a good fit for each other.

When Mirabelle was faced with a big decision that impacted her career, I was the person she called to talk about it. We weighed the pros and cons of the decision, and with that she made her choice. She chose option A which meant leaving her current employer but staying in the Tampa area. Option B would have meant staying with her employer but moving back to the Midwest.

I like to think my life intersected Mirabelle’s for a reason, and vice versa. Last I heard from Mirabelle, she had met someone new and was about to get married. Perhaps it was my role in her life to advise her in her career choice, the one that kept her in the area and subsequently allowed her to meet her husband. Perhaps it was something else; a purpose I’ll never realize but one I believe was served.

I also like to think, mostly based on past experiences, not all new friendships are meant to last a lifetime. We meet, we interact, we impact (or get impacted upon), and we move on. It’s like the lyric from the Billy Joel song ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood’: “So many faces in and out of my life, some will last, some will just be now and then. Life is a series of hello’s and goodbye’s, I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”

This gets me to why I was not able to post this entry Monday night.

On Monday night, I was out meeting with a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen in quite some time. We don’t really live all that far from each other, but as with all things, she’s got her life and things going on and I have mine. We keep in touch via Facebook and the occasional text message, but for the most part it’s been a series of “we’ve got to get together” conversations. Well, Monday night we did just that. We set aside some time and made the effort to see each other. I am really glad we did because it was really wonderful seeing her. And if there was one thing my get-together with my friend provided, it was the opportunity to close the gap of ‘friendship drift’ between us.

There are some people in our lives that are just too special to allow them to aimlessly drift away, and sometimes all it takes is a tiny bit of resolve to say, “Let’s get together on this date at this time, period!” It’s funny how a little bit of forethought can help keep a relationship from becoming an afterthought.

Finding Peace in the Pages

On September 3, 2004, following a two-year battle, my father, John Robert Gonzalez, succumbed to cancer.

The man that lay in that hospice bed those final days was, physically, just a shell of the man I grew up admiring. He would drift in and out of consciousness, unable to speak, until he finally laid his head back and took his last breath. With that he was gone.

With that, I was devastated.

I’d been to funerals before. I’d had close friends lose their parents. I’d lost very close friends myself at such an early age. Still, there is something surreal about having a parent pass away. It was a ton of bricks falling on me. It was having to face the reality this man, a man who was a constant in my life, would never again be there for me. Whenever I couldn’t figure out how to do something around the house, I’d give him a call. Whenever there was a big play in the Dolphins’ game, I’d give him a call. Every Sunday afternoon, I’d give him a call. Now there was no one for me to call ever again. Sad and surreal and so hard for me to come to terms with.

There was one aspect of my father’s passing, however, that did bring me peace.

In the final weeks of August 2004, I read Mitch Albom’s book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” It changed my life. I say that because it changed my ideas and perceptions about the afterlife and what happens in heaven. The book allowed me to think of a place we visit once we die, a place that summarizes and makes complete the life we lived on earth. It opened my eyes to the idea that dying is something we can look forward to because of the wonderful experience that follows our passing.

The story, and the manner in which it is so beautifully told, allowed me to more quickly find acceptance of the fact my father was dead. Rather than consume my thoughts with things I’d never be able to do with him again, I thought instead of who his five people are and what interactions he was having with them in the great beyond. It was almost a joyous feeling to think he was reunited with his mother, a spectacular woman whom he loved so very much, and the conversations they would share. It was fascinating in a sad but beautiful way. It was, for me, a source of strength at a time of loss.

Writing is a powerful medium, and the art of storytelling can be a very influential vehicle. It’s still amazing to me, as well as inspiring, that someone can put words to paper and, as a result, positively impact the lives of millions of strangers. That is what Mitch Albom has done with his books. He is a role model for me as an author, as a sports writer, and as a person; and I aspire so much to model my craft after his.

I hope and pray that I will one day write something that will be a positive influence on someone else’s life. I do this not for any sense of fame, gratitude, or acknowledgement, but rather because of my belief that doing so would make my father proud. After all, it will give us something to talk about when it’s our time to reunite in heaven.

To read the eulogy I wrote for my father, please click here.

Worth Living For

I remember how I felt that night back in late 2004. It was sheer and utter despair. Actually, it was several exits past despair. I felt depleted. I felt alone. I felt beyond lost. In my eyes, there was nothing left except the final bit of tequila that sat at the bottom of the bottle I held in my hand. I couldn’t cry anymore. All of my tears had already been shed. I couldn’t feel anymore, both physically and emotionally. It was my rock bottom and I had emptied out.

I remember picking up the phone, my hand trembling, not knowing what the right thing to do was. I didn’t care to know either. I dialed and left the following message. “Hey. In the event I don’t wake up tomorrow, please tell the kids I am really, really sorry.” With that, I plopped a handful of sleeping pills in my mouth and finished off what was left of the tequila.

I am embarrassed and ashamed of that moment in my life. It’s the one moment in my life I gave up complete hope in anything, and it’s the furthest away from God I’d ever been.

I look back at that night and thank God He spared me during my moment of insanity. I believe He did so as a reminder that life is a struggle, and that when it appears everyone else has abandoned you, He is always there.

I look back at that night with disgust for myself because I was blind to the one gift He gave me that serves as a reminder of His love for me; my kids. How could I have possibly thought it was okay to check out on them, the only two human beings in the world that have ever displayed true, unconditional love to me? It’s shameful that I even considered it.

I have a great job, a beautiful house, good health, a nice truck and so much more. I have a circle of friends that makes my life so amazingly awesome and helps me create wonderful memories. And I have a wife that is my best friend, my biggest fan, and my north, always helping me find my way when I think I can’t. Still, given all that, the one thing I truly live for is my kids.

I’d trade it all in for them. No hesitation, no questions asked. I’d be fine living as a homeless person if it meant my kids had food and shelter for themselves. I’d lie in a hospital bed the rest of my days if that were the only way to ensure my kids were healthy. I’d live alone and broken-hearted if it meant that was the only way my kids would find someone to love for the rest of their lives.

Now, before you go freaking out on me, please know I’ve had this conversation before with my wife and she knows how I feel. She supports how I feel. And I am pretty sure she loves me more because of the father I strive to be to my children.

My children have made my life worth living for. I am reminded of that every time I look in their eyes, and I am so thankful God allowed me the chance to remember that.