There was a time when peoples’ politics defined much of who they were—morals, character, virtues, fund of knowledge, their understanding of complicated world events and their personal empathies. Their beliefs weren’t always agreeable but were at least well-defended by deep roots and educated convictions.
Disagreements were conversation points revealing sharp differences, but respect for the other person and a craving for depth and understanding of their opposing view.
Discussions were exited without driving wedges or assaults on character. They were deliberate, genuine attempts at bridge building though neither one might admit it in the moment. To understand another’s fundamental politics was a desire to understand the entirety of the person. Conversations weren’t punctuated by sound bytes, innuendo or irrelevant periphery. They weren’t permitted to end on vague or shallow arguments and were always less about the politics and more about the mind and heart of the person. The end game was to evolve new ideas and solutions for all rather than digression into single issues of personal preference with feet dug in.
They embraced ‘what-ifs’ not as threats but as the creative bridges they were and ‘why-nots’ as opportunities to lay new stones for a unifying path, not for casting at one another across their divide. Indeed, they were dialogues of dream-builders engaged in the pursuit of a better life, a better world and prosperous opportunity for the all versus the one. It was a hot day in August fifty years ago when a man spoke “I have a dream” and unified a sharply divided nation that still had yet to learn. That dream can still come true in this polarized world if people want it bad enough. Meaningful change waits for those who firmly grasp the fact that under the veneer, what we all want has more in common than not, and in many ways, is much the same thing.
When I hear offers of ‘thoughts and prayers’ I wonder about the follow through and if there’s no gesture less cliché or with more substance to take its place? Can’t we make deliberately better offstage promises and bigger differences for those we care about?
Next time, to express concerns or condolences, consider the alternative that if you truly want to think and pray for someone, say nothing, lose the comment and cliché, and just take a knee. The silent prayer of the righteous man accomplishes much more than offering what’s become a less than consoling comment ever will.
When you die what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought but what you built. Not what you got but what you’ve given. What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught others. What will matter is your every act of integrity and compassion, your courage to sacrifice, to enrich and empower others by your example. What will matter is not your confidence but your character. What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a devastating loss at your departure. What will matter is not your memories but those that live on inside those who loved you. What will matter is the why and the how you’ll be remembered, by whom, and for what.
A life is lived significantly not by chance but by the everlasting gift of the choices you made while you were here.
I grew up in a family that tidied up the table before leaving the restaurant, pushed the shopping cart back to its place at the grocery store, returned the change when overpaid, and washed the dish in the sink even when it wasn’t ours. We never knew there were other options and never considered them lessons. Lessons were for learning deliberate choices of conscience between right and wrong, not the simple and obvious courtesies of humankindness. The things that made America great have never changed. The human constitution has.
20 years ago this morning I watched their heroes die, and today I remain determined my children will never watch me die the coward I once was for eight years.
In a puddled pooled of sweat, I awoke on the 10th anniversary morning of 9/11. I’d been a week in seclusion detoxing from eight years of daily drug use. I turned on the news to a dozen or more tearful interviews with the heroes’ children now ten years older and still missing their families.
The regret of how I’d lived all my intoxicated years was no emotional comparison to the pain those kids had endured daily for the past decade. Those scenes were a sobering chance epiphany that I’d been spared from a certain chemical fate and that morning began my journey of 10 consecutive years in sobriety.
The faces and tears of those children, orphaned by tragedy and forever deprived of parents, confirmed I was no hero but that I had been granted a future if I chose it.
It’s not the stuff of heroes and I may never be someone’s, but on 9/11/11 I resumed being a father while those fatherless children still grieved. Some days change an entire nation and some make change possible one day at a time. Some do both.
I’ve been celibate since 2011, and the further I get, the better I see. It was a choice I made when I got off drugs and a choice I make still today, approaching my 10 year anniversary celibation. Not much is written about celibacy. In today’s sexually-slathered world, it’s not a popular subject. It alienates, labels and renders one less than desirable to many who still regard sex as a plaything —an inalienable right to exercise freely, openly and without much regard for its significance or consequence beyond it being a driven, primal, self-indulgent pleasure. To be honest, I’ve had more sexual partners in my lifetime than I care to remember. Many I choose not to, most I can’t, and all in hindsight I regret except for the union of love that produced my three wonderful children. And that was many, many years ago. There is a huge difference between mere resistance to sexual temptation and a conscious choice of celibacy. The first one spends too many hours fending off attacks while the other refuses to wage the war. One is a choice to be in a constant driven turmoil while the other is a constant choice of dignity and self preservation. No engagement. No bloodshed. No preoccupation with momentary pleasures. Most men find it an incomprehensible option to be celibate. Culture has made great strides over the years not only to make open sexuality the “normal” way of life but also to banish or render odd those who believe or choose differently. Imagine, if you can, the amount of sitcom time spent on the subject of sex. Imagine the number of stories and exposes about the sexual foibles of otherwise good men and women. Imagine the volume of time, the countless pages, the vastness of entire industries spent on sexual pursuits and libido-lifting messages, telling us it’s just as healthy a way to stay in shape as aerobic exercise. No, it’s not your imagination. Truth is, sex has become the replacement of an important need by an urgent one. I don’t watch much TV, largely because of its stupidifying effect on the masses. I do watch movies though. Lots of movies. And even there, I see how unentertaining most plot lines would be without the sex factor. The general malaise about, and the lack of creativity within media is largely due to the potency of the sex factor to arouse and stimulate single-minded misled people into applause for an on screen violation of what might otherwise be a potentially creative story. But with sex shoved down the throats of the masses (pun partially intended) as if we were all malnourished hookers, we’ve learned to hunger for it like the rush of a smoking bowl of meth. As a social consolation, those who promote free sexuality have successfully fended off attacks by seasoning their appeals with “love, romance and intimacy” as if to give added value to what they are really selling. Eroticism is now much wider in its appeal, equating being sexual with someone or anyone for that matter, quite the “special” thing. Special with this one, special with that one, and each special encounter so meaningful in its own way. Sex is not the highest form of love. Not by a long shot. Humanity’s lie has been to suggest that sexual union with another is the most intimate expression of love in the world. As a celibate man, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.To obey the greatest commandment to love one another is a far cry from having a passionate roll in the hay with them. Loving acts have staying power while sex quickly goes…well…flaccid. Celibacy creates a vacuum for important things. The years I have spent without losing small pieces of my soul to random sexual partners has opened my eyes to greater forms of love than I might have otherwise never known existed. When I stopped seeking pleasure, a vacuum was created inside of me and I began seeking to fill it with true love. Not a person. Not another. Love. Big difference. Storge, philia, agape. Go ahead. Look them up. Affection, friendship, unconditional love. These alternate kinds of love always get the shaft from sex promoters, yet they are the kinds of love expressions that make you cry at commercials, weep at songs and experience the kind of joy of the spirit of a sports team with an incredibly moving back story. They are the kinds of loves you remember over and over again, long after your meaningful casual fling left your bed for home. Perhaps one day I will rediscover that eros kind of love again and my celibate days will be over. But I have found that my freed mind is now capable of deep thought that births deeper movements of love and compassion and a preoccupation with things that last much longer than an orgasmic minute. And when I do find it, I’ll have learned to respect it with much more dignity than I ever did before. And if I never do, I will nonetheless have learned to love as a celibate man, and by then I should be a pretty good at it, because the further I get from sex, the better I understand love.
I don’t wanna know it when I die. I just wanna come home from a long day at work, open the door, drop my briefcase for the last time and suddenly everyone I ever loved jumps out from behind the sofa and yells “Surprise!” and all my old dogs run up and lick me like it’s been ME who’s been gone so long.
Some people don’t know when to stop.They offer without an ask, buy before a need, don’t give or take no for an answer and expect nothing in return. The world’s not their oyster, but rather their responsibility. Their gifts arrive on more than just holidays, life is their prize and they consider every morning a personal canvas for the fine art of being human. They create masterpieces in secret for needy people they’ve never even met and surprise unsuspecting strangers from the bottoms of benevolent hearts. They neither demand nor expect the same for themselves and live by intuition, conscience, faith and opportunity. Their deeds are often mistaken for angels and tiny pieces of heaven on earth, which of course, they are. They know no different and don’t know when to stop because indeed, this is what they were wonderfully made to do. And someday. when you meet one, they will either change your life forever or inspire you to follow. LifeMeansSoMuch.com
There’s a lot of angry, fed up people in this world. Here at home and across global ponds, everyone wants change; half one way, half the other, half for economic reasons, half for moral reasons, half for certain rights, half to convict wrongdoings. Remarkably all profess a desire for unity, but only when that unification embraces their own cause at the expense of another’s. In this early morning calm, I consider the world landscape and how this ideal of “unity in diversity” unravels a little more each day and it’s more than just a little eerie. The ways of today’s world are far too complex for single issues which arguably do more to divide than unite. No one faction alone can achieve the one ideal all profess as their goal. Our frustrated responses have become searches for simplicities where available, comforts where reliable and escapes where attainable, all within ever tighter communities which increasingly exclude views of others across their fences. Our solutions have become our problems, our chasms widen and our potential for true unity narrows as we dodge the bloody traps laid by the media and the powerful. It’s now simpler to stage and post half-truth memes which underpin the basics of our convictions than to attempt to enfold some of the complex truths of others. “Tell me how to think” has taken a front seat to thinking itself because too much pride is at risk for being wrong on some valid points made by the other side. So we remain angry and fed up for all the wrong reasons and nothing changes, because nothing within any of us changes. Yet without us, nothing will ever change.
I for one don’t have the answer, the we–the one for all–still does if we want it bad enough and we remember that in America—at least on paper—“We, the people” are the leaders still equipped to defeat the divisive anger which polarizes rather than unifies this nation.
So Happy Birthday America. May our many different candles burn bright with passion but not set fire to the entire cake.