The Miracle Man

Sixty years ago today, a dark-haired baby boy was born—typical, I’m sure, in the way he screamed shrilly upon entering the world.

But within a few short years, this tiny human’s life became anything but typical. By age three, his very survival was deemed a miracle, and he would later grow up to father two daughters, one of them me.

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If it seems a little ridiculous to portray one’s parent as a walking miracle, I get it. After all, the word “miracle” is a descriptor often reserved for children—the “miracle” of childbirth, the “miracle” of life, etc.

But I know one thing: if bringing life into this world is nothing short of a miracle, then so too is the act of sustaining it.

After all, having an active father figure, a dad willing to participate in his child’s upbringing, is somewhat of a rarity. And fathers who love their daughters unconditionally? Fathers who can’t be disappointed, despite their children’s biggest screw-ups?

That seems to be quite the miracle, if you ask me.

I’m pondering all this due to the timing of the recent holiday: people all over the world again celebrated their fathers on the third Sunday of June this year. While the day may be over and people’s thoughts have shifted to workweek monotonies and familial responsibilities, I’m still thinking about my Dad—and a few words he said to me (on Father’s Day, no less):

“You’ve never done anything that’s made me not be proud of you.”

Here Sunday, June 21st was supposed to be all about the “world’s best dad(s)”, but to a young woman whose self-worth has always been as ephemeral as the shedding of cottonwood seeds—my father’s words were a gift I will take with me to my grave.

Some might view his statement as blind acceptance. But I think it’s something everyone deserves to hear from a parent at least once in one’s lifetime. The sad truth is, however, this kind of unconditional love isn’t common. In fact, it’s nothing short of a miracle—at least it is in my world.

In the same conversation, we reminisced. We talked of his childhood and of mine, and I couldn’t help but think of the tiny miracles that had shaped his life and impacted my own.

We talked of his mother (my grandmother). We talked of when she suffered a debilitating stroke that should’ve killed her—but instead left her partially paralyzed.

She recovered, and lived her last few years happier, kinder, and more affectionate than ever.

Miracle.

When my stepmom was diagnosed with cancer not once, not twice, but three times, my dad was there by her side to offer his support, even when the disease that ravaged her body and almost killed her—nearly broke him, too.

But she fought and survived, and she is stronger and more beautiful than ever.

Miracle.

And perhaps most significantly, my dad’s life is, in and of itself, miraculous. I learned only a week ago that he almost didn’t live past the age of three. While a relative was babysitting, a certain oblivious but curious toddler reached up and pulled a pan from the stove—a pan filled with boiling hot oil that immediately burned 95 percent of his body.

The doctors said my father likely wouldn’t survive his severe second- and third-degree burns. And even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to grow hair anywhere on his body and he would be covered in scars for the rest of his life.

But despite days—followed by weeks—of horror for his family and what must have been excruciating pain, he did survive. In fact, the story goes that the mouths of doctors and family dropped when they entered his hospital room one random day several weeks later, only to see a little boy covered in head-to-toe bandages—literally running in circles inside his crib.

In the months and years to come, he made a full recovery and there was little to no permanent scarring. It was no surprise to me to learn that his community referred to him as “the miracle baby” from that point forward.

I’m sure there are many more miraculous moments that have characterized my father’s life. But the one that has affected me most significantly is how my dad has helped me see my life as the beautiful miracle it is—just by being the person he is.

In recent years, my father and I have gotten closer than ever.

Today, when we get together, we talk about everything from business and technology to mountain biking and his days of motorcycle racing. And I see him for what he really is: an incredible person with a love for so many things—fast cars and bikes, affectionate animals, and, most importantly, the ladies in his life: his wife, his mother, and his daughters. Sure, he’s made mistakes (which he admits humbly), but he has one of the kindest hearts a man could have.

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I realize that Moms may literally bring their children into this world, but any capable dad plays just as big a role in helping them navigate it. And I realize how lucky I am to have the presence of such an incredible person in my life to help me find my way when I feel lost. I also realize how silly I was to not spend more time with him when I was younger (even though divorce, shared custody, and blended families make these bonds all the more complex).

Because I despise the exclusivity of “best Dad in the world” claims, I could never make that assertion. But I will say that having this human in my life is nothing short of a miracle.

I love you, Dad—60 looks great on you.

 

 

Just Another 2015 Manifesto

As much as I try to avoid resolution hype around January 1st, something didn’t feel right about kicking off the new year without some introspection. (After all, here I am typing away at 1:14 a.m. the morning of January 2nd.)

autumn leafFortunately for my tired brain, I recently participated in a writer’s workshop facilitated by Elizabeth Sharp McKetta, an incredibly brilliant writer (among other things) who was as gracious and warm as she was inspiring.

During the event, she provided several prompts from her new book, one of which was to write a manifesto. Apparently, that was all I needed to clarify what I want in my life, both in 2015 and beyond, because in ten short minutes, I had myself a manifesto—and something (hopefully) worth sharing.

I highly recommend you write your own, but here is mine, in case you find anything juicy enough to steal.

Be present.

Speaking of presents (presence), give the gift of your time, attention, and love to those who will appreciate and reciprocate.

Daydream. But don’t just dream away your days. Put some plans in motion.

Travel somewhere new once a year (at least), experiencing time and place as an innocent, wide-eyed, and curious child.

Ask for help when you need it.

Same goes for hugs (and you need them even more regularly).

Forgive others liberally—not for their benefit, but for your own.

Spoil yourself with simple but sensory pleasures—strong tea, a riveting novel, a hike during sunrise.

Eat food straight from the source whenever possible.

Smell flowers that grow abundantly in gardens.

Gather leaves from trees.

Make snow angels.

Let people love you.

Love many, trust few.

Understand that your footprint in this world may be small, but it can make a huge impact.

Breathe fresh air, walk barefoot in the grass, put your hands in the dirt (when seasonally appropriate).

Observe children and how they experience the world. And don’t be ashamed to live like them.

Be kind to yourself.

Move your body, feed it regularly, give it rest. Listen when it tells you what it needs.

Tell yourself kind things.

Write love letters, most importantly, ones addressed to yourself.

Make things.

Use your hands.

Use your heart.

Be love.

Fall in love—even when it’s scary.

Learn to heal your broken heart when it doesn’t work out.

Put as much effort into being beautiful on the inside as you try to be on the outside.

Do not judge others; bad behavior is simply an indication of pain or ignorance.

Be compassionate.

Call your mom.

Say I love you.

Cuddle with the cat.

Use your words. They are your power.

Be honest with others, but most importantly with yourself.

Bake cookies.

Give gifts.

Send thank you cards.

Live a life that inspires others.

Try new things.

Ride your bike.

Discover new trails.

Don’t allow small people to make you feel small.

Be confident, be bold. You are more capable than you think you are.

Don’t allow others’ opinions to define you.

Be your own soft place to fall. Be that for others, too.

Make music.

Love yourself more than you love anyone else.

Be true to your deepest desires.

Discover something you love to do—and do it forever.

Infinite Jest and the Beauty of Unfinished Business

November 12th, 2014: DAY OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT.

Or, more directly put: With all due respect, Mr. David Foster Wallace, your 1,079-page-long “philosophical quest” is complete and utter shite.

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When my dear literary-minded friend suggested Infinite Jest as our next book club read, I should’ve realized that the title itself portends a comical, meandering foray into the creative mind of Mr. Wallace.

While many others in my circle of well-read women and men have extolled the virtues of the author, and myself having fallen under the spell of his iconic Water speech and several of his essays, I thought this would be an easy read. Hell (pun intended), I’ve read the bible from beginning to end several times in my young life, how hard could it be to complete this particular work of modern fiction?

My self-confidence couldn’t have been more misplaced.

In terms of its scriptural equivalent, I made it about as far as Jacob’s quarrel with Laban of Syria—or, to be exact, page 55—before I realized that, dammit, this book is just not working for me.

Worse: I loathe it.

I’m pretty sure it didn’t help that I awoke at 4 a.m. this morning to the sound of the kitty barfing up her not-so-cheap cat food on my freshly laundered comforter, only to immediately thereafter see this monstrosity of a book, so far from completion, mere inches from my face—all only seconds after being jarred from a peaceful sleep.

Now, I realize that, as a writer, I may come under intense scrutiny for my intense hatred for this “encyclopedic novel” (as the work is now categorized). In all fairness, however, after learning a bit more about the history of Infinite Jest and how it came to be, I was not at all surprised to learn that the writer himself struggled to bring it to life: he began writing several beginnings of the manuscript between the years of 1986 and 1989, after which he abandoned the work until 1991-1992, when he finally completed it.

That said, my intent is not to decry its literary value or even to insult this fine author’s skill or impact upon the reading world. After all, I do indeed own a collection of World Book Encyclopedias, in their glorious, tangible form. I appreciate the educational and cultural role they play in my life and in the world at large. But will I sit down to read A through C? Nope.

I will admit that I probably spend too much time online to have patience for a book that weighs more than my laptop. Maybe Elephant Journal articles and Elizabeth Gilbert books are more my style. Maybe that makes me a lazy millennial, maybe it makes me a child of the revolution, or maybe it just means I’m not in a place in my life where tackling one of Wallace’s greater works is among my most burning desires. In my defense, I have read thousands of books (many of them wonderful, some of them mediocre, and a few of them downright terrible), and I have, almost obsessively, insisted upon seeing each one of them through to completion, even when I don’t always enjoy the process of consumption. Having read works of similar depth and caliber, I have nothing to prove.

So, being the over-thinker that I am, I couldn’t help but wonder about the bigger reason as to why I suddenly decided to remove my bookmark, list the thing on half.com, and say “to hell with this!” After all, there is usually an epiphany on the heels of most 4 a.m. wake-up calls, and since the idea of quitting a book midway to completion is so foreign to me, I knew there was something significant I had to consider.

And here it is.

If a person’s life is one great big library, then the books on its shelves are relationships and all the infinite pages therein are our precious days. Further, what we choose to read implies whom we choose to spend our time with, and how we choose to spend it. And, in retrospect, while I don’t ever regret the books I read, I certainly wonder if I would’ve expanded my literary vocabulary or cultural contribution to this planet if I might’ve just been a little more selective.

Who knows? Maybe people are a bit like books, too. Maybe a page is torn out, maybe the subject matter is over one’s head, or maybe this character of David Wallace’s is, up to page 55, drowning in his dysfunction and crippled by his addiction and, hmm, sounds heartbreakingly familiar to someone I know in the flesh, and I’m not sure if I can do this anymore.

Sometimes you only get to someone’s page 55 before discovering that, dammit, this is just not working for me.

For me, there is never a good stopping point. I don’t quit books. I don’t quit people. But when there is no respectable reason to continue sacrificing time and mental energy in a heavy, depressing saga that, for one, doesn’t resonate with you; two, often makes you cry; and three, you know is going to leave you feeling depleted when you turn the last page, it’s time to close the book.

I may love many of the other writings of David Foster Wallace, but in this particular context, his Infinite Jest represents the 1079-pages of drama that I’ve been lugging around with me for far too long. It’s the book I’ve been fighting to finish; all because of my pride and because of my loyalty—a loyalty both to books and to their authors, but most of all to the belief that we are all just torn, ink-splashed pages of humanness; the ugliest of which only need a little understanding in order to be loved.

You, my friends, might be fans of this big beautiful book, but it is, at last, time for me to let it go for now. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later, but at this point, it only signifies dead weight, the difficult story to which I already know the painful ending. And, frankly, it belongs in someone else’s library.

19 and Holding

19 and Holding

Someone very special in my life turned 19 yesterday, a young woman whom I’ve viewed as a little sister since the day she was born. She’s been through a lot in the last year, losing both her mother and her aunt to death within a few short months of one another. But she is strong, she is beautiful, and she is tenacious, so she will be alright—better than alright, if I have anything to say about it.

Amber and Sadie campingMy lovely cousin and I are a full ten years apart in age, and, while I have no children of my own, I want a daughter just like her one day. In fact, so deeply does her life impact my own, it was her birthday that made me think deeply about the last ten years of my life, and my own follies have prompted a letter of advice both to my her and to my 19-year-old self.

If I could say a few things to each one of these precious girls, I would tell her to wait, just wait. Stop trying to move too fast. Grow up when you are ready, not when society tells you you must.

Related, don’t say yes to anything unless you are absolutely sure you’ve answered your own calling first.

I would tell this beautiful 19 year old to be brave. To not be afraid to be alone or to have her heart broken. To embrace independence over premature commitment. I would want her to know that her personal growth would occur in direct proportion to her commitment to herself, and that by doing so, she would avoid a mistaken commitment to someone unworthy of her love. I would tell her to trust herself enough to see the world through her own eyes rather than looking from behind someone else’s lenses.

I would also say this:

Your life will not progress in a manner consistent with your best-laid plans. Even the most finely tuned itinerary is subject to interruption. But try to go with the flow. Embrace spontaneity. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people and have a lot of great experiences that way.

Play an instrument. If you start now, you’ll have ten years of practice under your belt by the time you’re my age.

GET YO’SELF TO SCHOOL. You may have a high school diploma in your possession, but I promise you: Your college education will be the one thing you will never regret attaining, and one of the few things that no one can take away from you. Forget the hype that obtaining a degree will land you in a mountain of debt. It may, but so will the alternative. So choose your own adventure. Would you rather be temporarily indebted to an education that will serve you for a lifetime or owe a slew of corrupt creditors for a bunch of crap you don’t need?

Practice self-improvement rather than selfies. In ten years, you’ll have created a self worth living with, rather than simply a self worth looking at.

Sometimes it takes discovering whom you can’t be without before you know whom you want to be with.

Fight less, love more. And don’t argue with people or insult them via social media. It only makes you look the fool.

Understand the meaning of the word “toxic” not just in the literal sense, but as it relates to your habits, your relationships, and your social life. Then banish those things and people that are.

Remember: No one’s going to do it for you. Any of it.

If you have to drink it or smoke it to find energy, peace, or enlightenment, it’s not worth your money or your time.

Read a book, not just your Facebook news feed.

Life is too short to worry about someone else’s grammar, someone else’s lapse in judgment, or a difference of opinion. Let it go, you’ll live longer and be happier (since I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re shooting for).

When you hear that you, as a millennial, are lazy, entitled, and generally doomed to failure, ignore that, too. This lousy commentary comes from the pitiful sad sacks who are just bitter that they didn’t change the world. But there are plenty of people out there just like me who believe you hold a tremendous amount of promise. Believe us when we say you are our beautiful future.

Above all, sweep yourself off your own feet. Fall in love with you. Once you do, you’ll be able to spot the impostors.

Sex, Religion, Politics—And the Cure

“They” say that there are three topics one should never discuss at a dinner party: sex, religion, and politics. Well, why not? Today marks day two of a government shutdown, so who’s going to censor me?

I say we chat.

First things first: Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

two ladybugs mating

But seriously, isn’t it both a beautiful and an ugly thing? At its best, sex is an act in which two people connect in one of the most spiritual means possible. It can also be fun, restorative, and, if appropriate, potentially life-giving. But at its worst, it’s destructive, especially when a person doesn’t grasp the meaning and the importance of sex. So when porn replaces people, or the sparkle fades and another partner seems more interesting, people get hurt. It’s painful, absolutely. But the reality is that people—yes, all of us—are inherently selfish. Right or wrong, we choose mates and sexual partners based on their inherent value to us.

And what about religion? I can’t read or watch the news without hearing about yet another Christian-backed brand publicly stating that homosexuals deserve to die. (However, last time I checked my pasta boxes, the Christian credo to “love thy neighbor” didn’t come with the footnote *except for gays.)

And politics, ohhhh politics. Today marks day two of a government shutdown, and many of my friends and acquaintances are angry about the current state of affairs, taking to social media to comment about the absurdity and injustice of it all. And rightly so. Political leaders are acting like spoiled, selfish children who are throwing a billion-dollar tantrum because they aren’t getting their way.

I know I’m not alone when I feel like there is a heck of a lot of hostility in the world (and in sex, religion, and politics) right about now.

So, in light of recent events, I have a little favor to ask. In our romantic relationships, when stating our religious stand or voicing our political opinion, before opening our mouth to speak, before posting a rant to our social media platform of choice, before yelling at another driver because they cut us off in traffic and BECAUSE WE’RE JUST SO INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATED BY LIFE RIGHT NOW… Let’s try something a little different today.

I want you to take a deep breath. Now watch this. Seriously, watch it.

 

Know what happened less than 24 hours after recording that performance? Mr. Redding and many members of his backing band were killed in a plane crash.

Sobering, no?

Admittedly, our society’s views of intimacy are ridiculously juvenile. Religions are rife with greed, hatred, and hypocrisy. Our government is broken. But if you knew you had less than 24 hours to live, I guarantee you none of that bollocks would matter.

Call it a social experiment, call it a tribute to a musical great and an appreciation for his gift to us—let’s simply take one day off from our sadness, our frustration, and our rage.

Because this damaged planet can always use a little more tenderness.

Mean Girls, Blurred Lines, and Hard Times

It seems that the online world is abuzz with a certain performance that took place at a certain awards show, where a certain pop star displayed no shortage of lewd behavior (including a poor display of twerking), making a fool of herself both in front of her peers and on national television.

I, like many others, am over it.

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But one issue I’m most certainly not “over” is how much undeserved attention we give to those that violate our trust, both in our personal lives and in the media.

Now, I’m not a parent, so I can’t relate to the frightening prospect of losing control of what my child might read, see, or watch, thanks to the perverse entertainment industry. However, I do have nieces and nephews. And I am so utterly disgusted by much of pop culture these days that I can’t stop thinking about its implications for them and the rest of their generation.

Most often on my mind is my 16-year-old niece. I’m particularly fearful for the loss of her innocence, because her physical appearance is as lovely as her personality. Now, I’ve watched her grow from a toddling child to a beautiful young woman, and I have to say: She is getting it right. She’s intelligent, talented, passionate, and kind to others. She is surrounded by friends who are drawn to her outstanding qualities. And, despite an understandable amount of teen-related drama, she is usually able to rise above it.

I am proud as hell of this girl. I’d like to think we have a lot in common.

But one similarity saddens me. While she is still in high school, so, it seems, am I. And this creates a dilemma. How on earth do I prepare this sweet, kind-hearted niece for the inevitable heartbreak that is sure to continue even after she has walked the line, even after a diploma hangs on her wall? How do I tell her that high school never really ends, that it just morphs into a bigger, badder wolf that is continually fed by social media at the fingertips of supposed well-educated adults with too much time on their hands?

How in the hell do I tell her that bullying doesn’t… ever… stop?

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I’ve been having a bit of a rough go of things lately, dealing with some personal challenges that only a handful of people know about. And the sad/crazy part of that is this: There are sure to be a few that read this post and immediately react with an eye-roll or a passive aggressive post to their social media channel of choice. They might take a screenshot and share it and their snarky comments with their friends.

As ridiculous as it sounds, this behavior is very real. And juvenile as it may be, it certainly doesn’t end after high school. Because, as our young performer illustrated, the loudest, most inappropriate behavior gets noticed. Our society gratifies the pop star who displays the most shocking behavior—and the mean girl who uses her voice not for good, but to insult and humiliate others. Bad twerking, bad tweeting; It’s all in bad taste. But in the end, the intention is the same: a desperate plea for attention.

The truth of the matter is, mean girls travel in packs. They will encircle another human being that is writhing in pain, unaffected by pity or feeling. They will come in for the kill when they know their prey is weak and vulnerable, and they will eat it alive. They are ruthless.

Dear god, they are ruthless.

So, as my dear niecey makes her way out into the big scary world, I can only hope she will travel safely (far away from the entertainment industry). I wish I could protect her—from mean girls and mean words—but immunity is not reality. So, I hope that, when confronted with predators, she holds tightly the hands of those who love her most. I hope our support is enough to overcome the challenges she’s sure to encounter. I hope that, in the face of unkindness, she maintains her grace, her compassion, and her beauty.

Most of all, I sincerely hope she will never know the meaning of twerking.

All Tied Up

If counted, my regrets would number in the thousands. In fact, if my life were a football game, it would be a crushing defeat caused by a flurry of bad calls and missed catches. But these errors are mostly related to the words I haven’t said, embraces I haven’t given, phone calls I haven’t made, and letters I haven’t sent.

knot

We all do it–we hold back–because we’re tied up. We’re tongue tied when the time is right to speak. We figuratively tie our hands behind our backs when it’s really appropriate to grab the hand of another. We tie ropes around our necks and wait to hang on the noose of the past when simply living in the present can free us. We’re tied to jobs, love lives, social lives, and personal lives that keep us so preoccupied that we don’t have the time/energy/desire to do one thing, the most important thing: express our love.

And you never know when it might be too late to do so.

Today I’ll be attending the funeral of someone I loved dearly. And by”dearly,” I mean she was, at one time, like a second mother, an older sister, and a best friend to me. She had a daughter whose presence in my life is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. And as generous as she was, there is a prevailing sentiment among those that loved her most: Maybe we didn’t pick up the phone often enough to tell her how much we loved her. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough. Maybe we didn’t write enough GODDAMNED LETTERS TELLING HER SHE WAS GOOD ENOUGH.

But regret in the wake of someone’s death is all relative. Her reality was likely very different; she very well knew how much she was loved. But I will always have a nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, she didn’t know, and that I may have missed the opportunity to tell her.

Now I’m going to ask a favor. I won’t insist on holding your own personal gratitude campaign (don’t worry, you can still inform your friends what you’re thankful for every day of the month via Facebook, if that’s more your style). But if you’re reading this, I beg you: Untie yourself. For just a little while, break free from housework, homework, yardwork (or whatever other mundane activity you’re engaged in right now), and make a phone call. If that’s too difficult, compose a letter. Hell, write it in the sand if you have to–just tell someone “I love you”. Because even if they know how you feel, it never hurts to hear those words. You never know when my loss might become your own.

I love you

I’ve made my share of mistakes. But I’ll tell you one thing I’ll never regret: saying “I love you.” Even when the sentiment was not returned. Even when the timing wasn’t right. Even when the ensuing heartbreak was so devastating it felt like my words were daggers that turned inward and punished me with pain in return for my honesty.

But I won’t regret them. Because once the words become so real that you feel you can reach inside your chest and grab them, tying up “I love you” is simply not an option. The only proper thing to do is to make it known. Because love, when expressed, is never lost, even though we might be.