Category Archives: Faith

Saturday Mornings

I was a kid in the 70s. We lived on the two narrow blocks between the north beach and the inlet at Gardner’s Basin. Friday nights were bustling with the various events hosted just a few blocks away. But Saturdays? That was a whole other animal.

Our house was the tallest on the block—not for stature, but for function. The street level was our basement (because of frequent flooding) and it eluded to the majestic goings-on inside. Whatever happened outside our house was separate from our rituals. The music, the food, and the way the children were raised.

Saturday mornings began with mom playing one of her favorite albums. No radio, no auto reverse cassettes. Record player LPs—the kind she had to gently place the needle on to hear the crackle of every single song. It would play about 4 songs before she’d have to return the needle to the beginning “track”. No wonder some of those songs are ingrained in my spirit!

I don’t recall the aroma of coffee though. Probably because caffeine was banned in our house. My mom subscribed to some old “wives tale” that caffeine would stunt my growth. I dunno.

Instead, the fragrance of buttermilk pancakes and sizzling bacon filled the house. My brothers had already started their chores. As the youngest, sleeping in translated to maximizing tasks before breakfast was ready. It was a team effort. Much like when my brothers delivered the Atlantic City Press. I stayed coddled in the back seat of our Volkswagen Beetle until my brothers would summon me to maximize their tips. My brothers were the worker bees and my mom was the queen bee. I was the cute bee.

The moment my feet hit the floor, my mission was to eat, pray, and love. Not necessarily in that order, the comforts of my home came from family. Chuck Mangione merely provided the musical score. Herb Albert, often sampled by PDiddy and Bad Boy Entertainment, resounded over and over as we cleared the table and swept the floors.

While the neighborhood kids began to spill out onto the streets, Adriatic Avenue was our block. Mr Arthur next door brought his moped from the back ally. Ms. Florence across the street began hanging her linens on her back porch. But in our home we found respite. In our home, we were together. Love looks differently in every home. In our home, there was no comparison. Everything we had, everything we knew came from mom. If it was bizarre, we didn’t know.

Cows milk mixed with powdered milk. Warm Alga syrup for the pancakes and biscuits. FayGo Soda hidden away for mom’s consumption only. The slight hint of incense (or some other natural herb) and the thump of 70s R & B—all with the spiritual objective of moving us from one end of our kingdom to the other.

By noon, many of our tasks had been completed. Each of us began to focus on our own projects. My brothers meeting up with their crew of peers down the street. My dad stopping by after a week with his other family. My mom prettying herself for a weekend of reprieve. None of it made sense when I was a kid, but some of it has more meaning now.

Forty years later, my feet hit the floor differently. My toes aimed at the ceiling for hours prior to getting out of bed. My fingers scroll the multitude of apps until I arrive at my YouTube playlist. Chuck Mangione’s timeless classic Feels So Good fills my en-suite. No fragrances. No one else in my home, kids all grown, and left to my own resources for breakfast. Good morning. Happy Saturday.

Coughing Up Salt

I told Joe that the most important thing I learned at the Fire Academy was to never be too proud to call a MayDay. He looked at me and smiled. “Yeah, always accept help…”he said. Joe said he held the record as the oldest guy to join the Atlantic City Beach Patrol (at age 46) and he was eager to see if I would beat his record. He asked me if I was a confident swimmer. I replied, “Sure!”

Today I did a strange thing. I can’t call it courageous. I can’t call it reckless either. At 47.8 years old, I tried out to be a lifeguard. It was spur of the moment. But my excursion to the New Jersey shore was more of a research project. A colleague of mine posted the ad for lifeguards on her social media two days ago. I saw it and thought “hmmm?” It was time for a new adventure. When I saw the the minimum age requirement was 16, I should have used my God-given wisdom to consider nothing more.

But I’m not built like that normally. So unless there was a VERY good reason not to, I figured it was prudent to take a closer look.

The drive to Atlantic City (at 6am) was spiritual in itself. No one on the road, the sun peering through the overcast sky, and a YouTube sermon that a friend sent me a month ago were all guiding me. Not for one moment did I think that today might be my last.

But as I reflect on those moments that I have been truly at rest with my entire being, I’ve always reached out to my brother to show him that I love him and admire him. The last time something like this occurred was nearly 20 years ago when I passed out while riding my brand new motorcycle. For the record, I went into anaphylactic shock from a bee sting. Alas, that is a story for another day.

Troy and Me

I arrived in the city early. The outlets had not yet opened. The boardwalk still had morning wellness jockeys jogging and cycling. Roll call was 9am sharp! I had time. So I scooted over to my brothers condo which is a few blocks off of the beach. We rapped about current events and the daily grind. But no talk of mom. We wanted to keep the conversation light.

I told him that I was coming down to watch the candidates try out. I assured him that it was a young man’s game. I needed to hear myself say it. I learned today that even I don’t believe the words coming out of my mouth sometimes. But after a hug, I was out the door. Couldn’t be late.

I put money in the meter to allow me a good hour. That would be time enough to witness, ask a few questions, and be on my way. My tenacity changed when I reached the beach patrol headquarters.

“Is this where candidates sign up?” I asked. I was greeted cordially and offered an application which merely asked for my vital information. I noticed that there was no question about an emergency contact. That should have been my second clue not to do this.

They tattooed a 16 on my right shoulder with a red sharpie. This for sure would be how they would identify my body. I was committed now (or I should say I should have been committed)!

A bunch of teenagers, mostly boys, were chatting it up. Some were sporting ripped T-shirt’s from their high school crew team. They weren’t muscular. Mostly streamlined. I figured that my extra mass would either help me stay afloat or contribute to my self-inflicted demise.

There was only one other adult trying out. His name was Mike too and he couldn’t stop pacing. He was bald and had grey stubbles protruding from his chin.

As we walked toward the beach I trailed all of the others. I toted my duffel bag so that I could stow my phone, my keys, and my glasses. The other fellows were stretching and bouncing. A few ran out to the surf to condition their bodies for the cold water. I didn’t need to do ANY of those things. I figured that in a real emergency, there will be no time for warmups.

The lead evaluator briefly explained what will be expected for round one. Everyone will run from the starting line to the water, swim through the waves out to a red flag nearly 175 meters away. Then we would swim another 175 meters north against the current to arrive at a green flag. Crews will be in the surf to direct us and guide us back to the beach. We then needed to sprint to a finish line that was a makeshift goalpost. Candidates will be placed according to their achievement, with consideration given to efficiency and speed.

THIS is when I should have stopped. Instead I paused. I set my bag down at the starting line. I bent down to place my shirt, bandanna, and glasses in the bag. Without my glasses, I couldn’t even see the first red flag. Read that again. I ignored all of the red flags.

He blew the whistle. All of the cadets (because we were more than candidates at this point) jolted towards the surf. I would simply follow them. If I could keep up with a few of them, I wouldn’t come in last. At this point it was just about doing someTHING.

My confidence wavered as I tripped in the shallow water 30 paces in. The others were diving into the cresting waves. Some waded over the surf. The achievers were already into a full on breaststroke. And I was choking on the salt water.

As I write this, my feet are buried in the sand. I’m watching from beneath the beach patrol porch as the cadets continue their quest. Round two is rowing. I was looking forward to that part too. I’ll watch for now.

I had a chance to grab my bag and walk back to my car without being noticed. Instead I’m grinning from ear to ear. I think the veteran staff was either embarrassed for me or disgusted with me. They were certain that this old man would wash out. I didn’t disappoint.

I’m enjoying the breeze though. I’ll stop up at the surf shop in a few minutes to get myself an “official ACBP” tank top. I’ve got time. There’s still 45 minutes left on the meter.

The Other Side of Hope

As the new year begins to reveal the playbook for the coming months, I’m pondering my lesson plans. The possibility of another stint of virtual instruction looms as the actual storm clouds cloak us with snow.

We are never more than a few hours away from tomorrow. With holidays come a time of reflection and redemption. But more importantly we develop hopes that the future will be brighter. Brighter than…what?

To anticipate something greater than something else is to have at least an experience or exposure to something less great, right?

Whether you’ve thought about it or not, hope is an acknowledgment that we’ve already come through something unpleasant. Life is the acknowledgment that death has not occurred yet. Good is the proof that evil has not prevailed.

Therefore, we can suppose that on the other side of demise, there is hope. Hope is what keeps us going. In the presence of despair, hope looms in the darkness. Hope is the cousin of faith. But with faith comes denominational choice. With faith comes organized religion or the opinion to shun spirituality. You have a choice.

These are constructs that can be debated, embraced, or debunked. So in the spirit of either, let’s consider, for a moment, that hope is a drug. In the eyes of a pessimist or someone who lives amongst habitual chaos, hope is an intangible that is just beyond their reach. Hope is both a noun and a verb, where as faith is just a noun. Hope is cheap and accessible to anyone. Faith requires effort, and it’s expensive and exclusive. Hope is pedaled by politicians and producers. It’s offered to excite and motivate, manipulate and mutilate pessimism and hopelessness.

So in the next few (days) of the new year, my resolution shall be to mix and match. For every two negative situations, I will mix in one serving of hope. It will spice it up! It will taste great. It will reduce the acidity (sort of like mixing sugar in with the spaghetti sauce). I will match the energy I’m presented with with a force equal to (or completely opposite of) whatever I am faced. I will challenge adversity with possibility. I will look evil square in the eye; and offer it a hit of hope.

Death…Comes In Cycles.

Nothing seemingly thwarts death more than pure determination. “Seemingly” is the key word. Death comes regardless. But the attitude by which we accept it’s terms vary.

Death sets the tone for rebirth. Generations of storytelling elude to the fertility that awaits death’s spawn. Our ancestors have tirelessly formed opinions to explain why we die and how we should strengthen our legacies. Religion and spirituality aside, the idea that our lives have meaning beyond the present moment necessitates purpose. In other words, work hard and live right so that you’ll be rewarded in death.

Death is real. But it is also a metaphor. It is also an idea. It is also a tool, a threat, a punishment.

Death comes in cycles, as does life. Everything dies. Eminent death is inescapable. But impending death warrants a challenge. And proposed death, well that may be mere propaganda. We don’t know until it is all behind us. Do you know who doesn’t get to ponder the truth? The dead. The rest of us bathe in anxiety.

Death is a punctuation, but not necessarily a period. In the cycle of life, it’s a semicolon. It’s a pause—a comma. A question mark?

Death is necessary.

Opportunity, relationships, and health all know nothing more true. Something must end before something new can prosper. Whether it be the end of a job, or a departing of lovers, or the annihilation of a cancer cell, the end is just the beginning of something new.

Ask the trees. Consult the squirrels and the birds. Watch the rivers rejoice after a drought.

The dried grape that yields it’s worth is but the forming of a raisin, whose content explodes flavor in the mouths of babes too young to imbibe wine. All things yield to another cause, whether it be worthy or fashionable. The values of almost everything flow in correlation to demand or disinterest. Even death has value.

“One can not truly die unless one truly lives.” It’s been said, but this hasn’t taken into account those of us who are living our best lives (which are likely incomparable to those living better lives). Either way, death requires us to pick up the remnants and piece together a new life. The losses, the wakes, and the mournings subside. Memories lift up our best efforts.

Octavian Mielu

Death is not a condemnation of life. But life wants to condemn death. We make the rules in life, but not in the afterlife.

In the northern hemisphere, the leaves flaunt hues that remind us of life’s cycle. Death’s finality triggers life’s infinity. Nature does not yield to mankind’s mechanical or intellectual creations. And yet short of a celestial event, our galaxy (and every universe beyond our own understanding) will continue to spin and evolve and revolve around a nature that we still don’t understand. Life will go on…even beyond our own death.

Thinking Out Loud

I’m watching a Jack Ryan episode. I pay close attention, not to my misunderstandings of the directors portrayal of Middle-Eastern conflict, but to the civilian equipment used by the military forces. I think back to a proposed boycott of FordMoCo because they manufactured American Police Cruisers that are relied upon by cops who sometimes miscarry justice. I wonder if the miscarriages would still occur if equipment was not available.

Then I think about a meme my friend posted on social media this morning. It warned that we are all portrayed as evil in someone else’s story. I think about narratives. I think about my perspective. I think about how I may never know the perspective of my adversaries (and how I may never know the true perspective of my allies).

I think about how I sat in church while still reflecting on the unfulfilled fantasies from the night before. The unkept promises made in good-faith, the promises that I want to make that won’t see the light of day, and the promises I can’t make because I know better…they consume me.

Living without regret. Staving off guilt. Guilty of regretting. Regretting not feeling guilty (and not meeting someone else’s expectations). I am thinking out loud. But no one hears me.

Writing it down or recording it for others to hear is meaningless when no one reads it; when no one hears it. Hence, it’s my own voice that reverberates. The vibrations are numbing my senses. The numbness hurts. Lack of feeling is not always a good thing. Crashing into things just to feel is what we do sometimes.

I think about what is said, what is meant, and what is implied. I think about the actions that don’t match words—the disappointment pawned as deception, projected upon us by others who don’t share our per-view.

I think about the larger pictures now. I think about nations so full of themselves that they have no room for anyone else. I think about gluttony, self-righteousness, and arrogance. I think about the subtle differences between ignorance and arrogance. I think about the variations between the Latin roots and the true meaning of words —the connotations and the denotations; derivations and the deliberate disregard for the decisive decisions that divide us.

I think about our option to defer our wants. The things that we “need” first that too often prolong ever meeting the goals; the goals too often reshaped and then became intangible, and the irrational excuses that never materialized…all of the excuses that we develop that merely explain (not excuse) why our dreams are deferred.

Redefining our why? Dissolving our fears! Realizing what truly brings joy into our lives.

Watching my son play an outdated gaming system, I discover that the algorithm responds to his actual motion rather than intended outcome. The algorithm never accounted for his fear, his anxiety, his hopes or his dreams. Being the better player was never about skill or drive. It was about finding the sweet spot that the programmers engineered. I begin to wonder how I overlooked this all along. I wonder how many other systems are powered by emotion. I think about how popular these systems are. I ponder how the intent and the actual responses are not calculated into the equation.

I’m hyper sensitive. I watch the minivan in front of me. I see the boat stuffed into the cargo area. Seats removed, hatch wide open, driver intent on making his recreation a reality whether or not he has the trailer, the safety equipment, or anything else to qualify his desire to set sail. No limits. No excuses. No regrets. Doing means something!

Thinking out loud…

Fixers, Closers, Watchers

I’m starting to believe that we are expected to be the fixers, the closers, and the watchers. We fix what was broken. We close the deals that someone made without our input, and we watch those deals manifest until the next problem occurs. We are called educators to mask the lie.

My opinion is based my observations and the world as I see it. When the circumstances change, I’ll adjust my opinion.

To be a cynic while I continue to hold the title for which I’m paid allows me to wade through the hypocrisy with integrity. I’m intelligent enough to know when things aren’t they way they’re supposed to be, but I’m wise enough to know that there are opportunities to change the trajectory. It’s important that I exercise my faith often enough to keep hope alive.

Every trial offers me the wisdom to make a better decision next time. The problem is: “how many more times will I encounter the same problem before I realize that there isn’t a viable solution?” What I can’t do is repeat procedures hoping for a different outcome. What I don’t have is the energy to reinvent myself every time a new problem occurs. All I’m able to do is apply yesterday’s lessons to today’s challenge and hope that tomorrow is smoother.

Without the intelligence, I’d have no content to teach. I’d have no discernment. I’d have no skill set to adjust my instruction.

But tomorrow is rarely smoother. I’d love to not sweat the small stuff, but there’s enough big “stuff” to make that distinction. I long for a day with “small” stuff.

There aren’t enough copays to tell my therapist how I feel—or what I do to get through the day. My colleagues will listen as long as I listen to their woes too. This can be a daunting task not too different from spicing a wound with salt AND pepper. My family hugs me in disbelief and prays that I can make it just a little bit longer. I’d tell my pastor, but he already knows because he teaches me weekly to seek the source.

The source knows. And weather you believe in an external God or connect with a god within, to recognize that there are an infinite number of things outside of our control is merely the beginning of a path to self-healing. There’s a faith that develops when we can no longer rely on intelligence and wisdom. It’s that disbelief that propels us into a world of unpredictable outcomes. And although some are inspired by this, others stumble blindly and recognizing that their fate will be determined by someone else.

Will my fate be determined by my students, my supervisor, or a society that has demanded that we fix, close, and watch?

In The Moment

I was here for it

I wish I hadn’t been.

The decisions I make

Are the moments that I live in

The regrets are the decisions

That I won’t get the chance to

Make again

For the truth is

I will make new decisions

And new mistakes

And learn over and over again

To appreciate the moment

Now

To look back less

And to look forward

To the moment that I’ll

Have new regrets

Happy Change-giving

Thankful for the feelings,

Because the feelings drive us

Thankful for the disappointment

For the idea: “circumstances are better than they were”

For the conception that things could be different.

For evolution

That things don’t stay a way

For too long.

Thankful for voice

And the opportunity to be silent

Thankful to be wrong

About SO many decisions

Because the knowledge of wrong

Spotlights what could be right

Thankful for my own hunger

And my own thirst

For the failures that precipitated pain

And the treatment that prescribed

Healing

Thankful for the lies

The disappointment

And the loss

For the lies cloaked a truth for which I wasn’t prepared

For the disappointment strengthened me for a victory I could not enjoy

For the loss of relationships that I was too weak to endure

Thankful for the perception

To steer clear of those vehicles

Aimed at my demise

Thankful I can’t do everything I want to do

In this moment

Whenever I want

Because I’m still learning

Not to live in excess

Even when I have the opportunity

Because full bellies can’t run as fast

And sleepy eyes don’t make dreams come true

One Thing For Certain (Two Things For Sure)

Wisdom comes in many forms. We recognize the irony when we learn something in a scenario we’d least expect wisdom.

A rich man whose money can not buy him what he needs most;

A blind man who can see things others can not.

The parents who warn of the foolishness that they once partook.

The cat that has only one life left.

The widow who has lost two husbands to cholesterol and one to the tramp in the next town.

The high school dropout who doesn’t believe in minimum wage or welfare.

The child who can reach the cookie jar, but can’t take out the trash.

The wisdom is not in the irony. The irony is in The wisdom…

That comes from surrender

That comes from recognition

That comes from humility

That comes from knowing that you can’t know everything.

Celebrate the Failures

We dream, set goals, and employ plans to meet the goals–to make those dreams come true. We draw from our resources, build networks, and develop our skill set to progress towards our goal. Our agendas become clearer as our dreams become a reality. And at that moment we least expect it, we encounter a setback.

Not a tragedy. Not a roadblock. A setback! It’s only a tragedy if we fail to go onward. It’s only a roadblock if we can not make our way around the obstacle. It’s a setback because it requires more. So much more! Because life is supposed to be unpredictable, we can not plan for the setbacks. We can only build our strength and endurance to be prepared just in case…

The failures that naturally occur help us build a tolerance. They force us to pause. They force us to rethink, reflect, and refocus.

In our mind, anything is possible. In reality, things are possible only when we don’t give up.

Ask the runner who falls, or the non-smoker who relapses, or the believer who backslides. It’s our perception that determines how we proceed.

We celebrate our victories. But we must celebrate our failures too. That’s not to suggest that the celebrations are anything alike. A failure is only a failure when we refuse to continue onward. We celebrate the failure by embracing the need to try again. The celebration is in the breathe that escapes our lips. The sigh, the gasp, the yell–they fuel that sequel. Part two is within our reach.

We don’t quit. We don’t give up. Instead we regroup. We reevaluate our path. We may even reestablish what drives us.

Be vivacious in your quest. The celebration is life. The victory is in living another day. Tell the story in knowing that there are many chapters. Celebrate life. Celebrate that you have more chances! Celebrate the failure because you know that you can try again.

For every victory, celebrate hard. But for every failure, celebrate too. With every failure comes knowledge (and a humility that is not always private). Celebrate that too! For with humiliation comes accountability. Get back up!

It doesn’t feel good to fall short of our goals. Let this drive you harder. True failure is loss. Do not mourn the losses for long. They’ll be time enough true failure. True failure comes at the very end. For life is a temporary circumstance. Death is forever.