Category Archives: Life Decisions

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.

Dad Will Fix It

When I’d have a problem that I couldn’t fix, just before giving up entirely, I’d ask my dad for guidance. When I expected that he’d encourage me to surrender (and call in a professional), he would instead listen to the entire problem and even suppose the various outcomes. And finally, when I expected that he’d offer advice, he would offer to come over and show me precisely how to tackle the problem.

Now it must be said that my dad was no superhero. He wasn’t smarter than everyone else either. In fact, he wasn’t even that dedicated to a solution. Anyone who knew him would tell you that his loyalty wavered (usually in the direction of a green-bottled brew). But what made my dad unique (to me) was his desire to serve.

He knew his own limitations, but didn’t let them prevent him from trying. The mark he left on a problem would always be evidence that an interruption certainly took place. The unresolved problem was a problem that would have been much worse had it gone unaddressed.

My dad enjoyed stillness. But he could never sit idly watching anyone struggle. He was so eager to be helpful that he would help out as a simple courtesy.

In his final months, he spent his remaining fortune at yard sales and flea markets. He would often offer more than the asking price for any trinket that caught his eyes. He defended, “that there is worth twice as much…I’d be taking advantage if I haggled the price.” He was helping without being asked for help. I suppose it was a low-cost way to claim a victory.

It’s been 21 years since my dad died. Even his last day was poetic and not without purpose. He believed that he was resolving a problem that wouldn’t fix itself. For those he left behind, we’ve varied in the ways we processed our grief. Having answers to one question rarely resolved the grief. It merely provided permission to ask other questions. And the unanswered questions become the most important.

I stopped asking questions like “How did he die?” “Why did he leave us?” and “What were the circumstances that led up to his death?” I’ve grown past these questions, mostly because the answers were too uncomfortable. And the only time I could get a little comfort is to write something in his honor on the anniversary of his death.

Over the past 21 years, I’ve encountered a number of problems and wondered how my dad would have approached each one. I’d like to think that his energy in the moments might have impacted the outcome. No doubt, his input would have changed the trajectory. But for 21 years I’d led myself to believe that the outcome would have been better with his hands-on approaches.

Perhaps I should rely on the notion that the lessons that he’d taught me would provide the wisdom needed to approach any situation. After 21 years of wishing he’d been there to consult, to intervene, or to force a solution that may not have been the best outcome, I pause. It is now that I realize that no one, including my dad, has the perfect solution to every problem. It is now that I realize the fact that we often decide for ourselves how committed we are to any given problem. Finally, I must concede that how we’ve approached our problems in the past plays a large role in determining how we will handle current and future problems.

Although I miss my dad a great deal, 21 years is more than enough time to stop asking “what would he have done in this situation?”

Twenty one years is enough time to have bore another human being, watch them grow into an adult, and model for them the tools to manage a world of problems on their own. It’s enough time to ascend and descend a dozen times. Its enough time to be loved and hated. It’s enough time to be at the top and the bottom simultaneously. What would he have done in these situations? What could he have done to assist? Would he have listened, advised, or assisted, or intervened, or ignored situations entirely? It doesn’t even matter because 21 years have passed any way. It’s ALL in the past now.

I can’t be certain of anything. I know I miss him. But I also know that he’s left enough behind for me to contend with. I know that if I handled situations the same way he did, my outcomes may have mimicked his, and that’s not ok either.

Missing someone doesn’t mean that having them beside you still would be better. It just means that you wouldn’t be alone. And I never felt alone. I just felt overwhelmed.

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.

Movement Heals

Just yesterday, I shared an appetizer with a colleague who is going through a personal trial. My friend doesn’t offer many details at first, but once asked, the emotions flowed. I can’t be sure how to measure the disappointment, but also can not determine the amount of trauma my friend is enduring. Either way, it’s not for me to judge. All I know is how I process what I’m told. All I can do is try to empathize (and maybe draw from my own experiences). I wasn’t asked for input, so I reserved my opinions. And when we had consumed the entire appetizer, we washed it down with a bottle of beer.

We moved on…

We listened to our other coworkers. We laughed. We drew some conclusions. We walked away.

We moved…

When we think about our interactions with one another, we can not overlook the fact that whatever we are going through right now is but a sand in an hourglass of time. It rarely feels that way in the moment, but when we look back we can be glad that we came through it.

I suggest chronicling your experience while you’re going through it. Talking through it is helpful too, but when the conversations subside, what’s most important is how we process and progress. Movement…

Yesterday, I chronicled nothing. There is no record of what happened. I barely recall how I made it to today, and yet…today came. So today, I will reflect on how I felt, my obstacles, and how I overcame them. Today, I move…

As I move, I decide to change it up a little. I left my car keys behind. I overlooked the bicycle with the flat tire, and took a stroll. With a fuzzy destination and a foggy mind, I began to walk. I walked…

I walked and walked. There was so much on my mind at first. I wanted to write it all down, but I had no pen. I wanted to talk it out, but I was all alone. And so I let it all just dissolve. Like grains of sand between my fingers, it all just faded away.

My problems are not resolved. My trauma is not gone, but my steps are counted. It was the movement that was setting me free. And suddenly I realized that even without chronically my fears and victories, nothing matters more than right now. I am here. I am moving. I moved on. I kept walking…

Keep Moving

Delicious Sleep

Things that keep me awake at night…

Names in the news that don’t match faces I know.

Holidays that celebrate death and darkness

Irony

Satire

Alternate perspectives

The need to jot down a thought, whiticism, or revelation, knowing that few will see it or even fewer will understand; or worse—that someone will understand but not think it’s clever.

Contrasting messages that warn my child that living in the moment can be dangerous; meanwhile reminiscing brings joy into my own live.

Looking in the mirror and seeing the same person that was there yesterday, while recognizing an old friend from years ago.

Noticing the gray hair is no longer confined to my scalp, and being frustrated that it has probably been that way for much longer than I’d like to admit.

Finally speaking up for myself after months (or years) of silence.

Resilience looks different now.

Discomfort feels different now.

The need to assimilate fluctuates.

The word ”asynchronous” fades from my vocabulary even though I am called to do it again and again.

Witnessing the leaves on the trees turn and fall

Knowing this is a played-out metaphor for my own life

Playing on my phone (like a child), addicted to the blue light.

In the middle of the night is when my mind wanders. Sometimes after midnight, but always before 3am

Cryptic cynicism

Master of my own domain, jacks of all trades die alone

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.

Oil and Water (TikTok Challenge)

In light of the recent bomb threats in one of the biggest small towns in New Jersey, the new superintendent left messages for the parents of each student enrolled in the district. Every building in the school district will reopen after an emergency closure resulted from a threat that went viral on social media. This was not the first threat the district has endured. But this time, the adversity has directed the energy where it may be best felt—a conversation between parents and students.

As I listened to the plea for help, I prepared my mind as both an educator of ten year olds and a parent of a seventeen year old. I considered my students who confide in me how messy the bathroom has become (as a result of TikTok inspired vandalism). Their little hearts conflicted as they exchange their thrill of the chaos for their need to be exonerated. They don’t want to get in trouble for something that another student did.

I considered my son who is on the cusp of getting his driver’s license and applying for jobs and preparing for graduation. I also think about how smart he is, his potential, and his likeliness to stay out of trouble. It’s his affiliations that bring me pause.

The superintendent’s message was a call to action for parents to have a meaningful conversation with their children. There’s a need not only to prevent future occurrences, but to discuss the implications of this kind of behavior.

We must be cautious to label these acts frivolous or thoughtless! There could be nothing more contrary. A LOT of effort went into concocting these challenges. The social media mileage that it’s been getting is not accidental. Somewhere there is a proud troll. The impact ripples throughout communities across the nation. How long have we been telling our youngsters to think globally? We had no idea how that might manifest.

When I picked my son up today, I greeted him with the love that comes from missing him for a few days. I asked him his thoughts of the “day off from school” as a result of the recent threat. He was appreciative that it wasn’t a “remote instruction” day. Beyond that, it all seemed to be outside of his purview.

I replayed the superintendent’s message for my son. I cautiously approached the need to have this conversation in a way that he could “buy” into the the resolve. I watched my son’s expression fade from disinterest into something that resembled “are we done here?”

I began by reminding him of the various occasions that he thought he had things under control only to realize that situations can be cumbersome or overwhelming. I then affirmed how smart he was and how much trust I have in his decisions.

THEN…

I reminded him of my role to guide him rather than restrict him or hover over him. What happened next surprised even me. My son picked up a fruit and began to toss it into the air rhythmically. Up and down, over and over. Seemingly not paying attention, it wasn’t until I hit upon a nerve that he missed his mark and dropped the fruit.

He couldn’t focus on his toss and grasp the points at the same time. He offered little as a rebuttal as the conversation morphed more so into a lecture. Sure enough, each time I hit upon a valid point, he dropped the fruit.

Despite the easy analogy that could be made between regretful decisions and this pummeled fruit, I narrowed the talk to three points.

1) Students have some knowledge of what is happening here and may not have fully considered the consequences. Nonetheless, it does not require hard evidence to charge another student with vandalism. It merely requires a witness or mitigating circumstances to transform an investigation into formal charges.

2) Someone will speak up to either put an end to the destructive behavior or they will direct that negative energy from themselves (to ensure that they are not blamed).

3) If even half the parents had this “meaningful” talk with their child, the kids would likely steer clear of the kids that they KNOW are engaging in this activity.

I call this “oil and water.” Both are powerful, but neither wants anything to do with the other. Students who desire to be on the path to success want nothing to do with behavior that will create obstacles. For other students, misdirection will continue until they experience a consequence for themselves or until they witness someone else get caught.

I’ve asked my son to consider “oil and water” as he witnesses these TikTok challenges unfurl. From this point on, he can no longer claim that he doesn’t know any better. And as his parent, I can no longer say that I didn’t at least start the conversation.

Defining Wealth

Wealth is not exclusive to an accumulation of resources. It can be a state of mind. To be rich in health or opportunity; to have strong relationships; or to have rich dreams.

How can wealth be a goal and an asset? We can aspire to have materials or piece of mind, but ultimately what we attain is a manifestation of our efforts. It’s our ownership that inspires appreciation.

No one can give us peace. Nor can peace be earned. This state of mind is ethereal. It is the result of accepting circumstances that are beyond our control. Those who claim to have found some semblance of peace may be wealthier than others.

Much like strength, our physical and emotional health both attribute to our overall wealth. Health is heavily reliant on exercising our bodies and minds. We endure obstacles and overcome challenges. We celebrate those accomplishments. We achieve a wealthier lifestyle through our achievements. It’s not the announcements, however, of our growth. It’s the actual improvement of and/or our resilience to our circumstances that signifies our wealth.

When asked what they’d do if they gained a million dollars, a group of ten year olds revealed some interesting desires. Several students confirmed that they’d spend it on fancy cars, bigger homes, or luxurious accessories. Another group of students collaborated and conveyed that they’d give some of their new-found wealth away to charity or save it for college. But one proclaimed he’d go to his fathers job and complicate things for him so that his father would no longer work there.

This last revelation spoke volumes and warranted a deeper understanding. This student confided that this new wealth would change circumstances. With wealth, he could control the world around him. He wanted his father home. He wanted his father’s troubles at work to disappear. He wanted to contribute to his father’s happiness. Our children exude charity and noble traits. Their paths towards adulthood offer them the tools needed to attain their goals. Will this one day evolve into a healthier or wealthier life?

Wealth is ambiguous. Desire’s subjectivity is fluid and changeable. Regardless of how we attain it, how we transmit it to our loved ones in life (and in death) speaks to its inherent value. We decide what wealth is. We decide how to build it. We decide how to apply it. One might conclude that wealth is not a thing at all, but a state of mind.