I am about to take you to a view from a different time; and as I mention this, it is timely that I write this to you now in the early days of December. . I say this because I am reminded of a time when I was living on a farm at the age of 17. See me? I’m the one over there. I have short hair now. I am cleaned up but still rather thin. I am fresh from the toxic world with only a few months into this idea of what it means to “stay clean” and be out of trouble. I am not sure of my surroundings. And of course, since my surroundings were somewhat of a therapeutic community; I had to go along to get along.
Before going forward, I want to say here and now, To Hell With Doubt! Here’s why: The one thing I know without any mercy or hesitation is that doubt is contagious. This is easy to catch too. It’s easy because doubt is plentiful; it’s everywhere you look and everywhere you turn. It’s on every corner. It’s in the hallways outside the classrooms at school. Doubt is in the boardrooms at work and woven into the social structures with laces of fear and insecurity.
There are so many different versions of me, which took place at different times. Of course, there is the younger version of me. There is the scared version and the anxious version. There is the angry version of me and the unhealthy side too. Not to mention, there is a gentle side and an empathetic side. There is the part of me which has healed and another part of me which has forgiven my trespasses as well as a part that has forgiven those who’ve trespassed against me.
There were days when I was at the top of the crest, riding the waves of luck or good fortune and, of course, there were days when I crushed and tumbled inwards like a wave that crashes into rocks. There were times when life was calm and other times when life was tumultuous like an angry sea in the center of a miserable storm – yet, in the thick of the storm, there was this part of me who was a witness, staring at the aftermath and looking at the life that was right in front of me.
We are going to rewind for the moment. For now, we are going to go back to the importance of school and learning the basic relevance of socialization. What I am about to say is nothing new, nor is this something that I and countless other people have said before.
Same as it is important to learn how to read and write in school, we also learn the different values of socialization in the classes or in the hallways. It is important to note that our learning institutions are more than history and science. Oh, but wait, I think science is a good word to use here. I think school and the science of our pathology is important to note, especially when it comes to learning how to live or interact.
We are going to fast forward for a moment and bring you up to a more current speed. This comes from a time of only a few years back. I am older now, of course. Fully grown as an adult with the same responsivities as anyone else. I pay taxes. I have a job – more than one. I am nervous, however, because I am about to do something I had never really done before – at least, not like this. I am going to take you to the time when I did what I consider to be my first real presentation.
We are moving now, you and me, through a time capsule of sorts. On our way, we are seeing different stations of my life that range from childhood to the teen years. We can stop here for now at the confusing years and the troubled years. As we go, there is special notice of people and how they live or who they choose to live with. There are the questions that young people have about life and love; or is love real. If so, how does this happen? Then of course, there are the challenges of and ideas of intimate curiosities which are not necessarily the focus at this stop, but I am sure we will get there soon.
I am starting to grow now. Can you see me? Perhaps not so much physically. I am still smaller than most people but my hair has grown long. I am facing new things and new ideas. I am young but not so young, which means my age is distant from the times when I believed in faith or hope or things like Santa or the Tooth-fairy. I am a mid-teen now. See me?
I am about to take you on a different trip now with the eventual emphasis on the word “trip’ itself. But or now, let’s ease into the math of the crowd. For now, allow your mind to vision the politics of the crowd and the features of varying popularity. Think of the cool kids – or at least, the so-called cool kids. Think of the absolute faceless or the unremarkable. Now, think about the bad kids. Think about the crazy ones and the subtle initiations we endure to survive in the social surroundings. In a moment, we are going to take a trip “around the world” so-to-speak. Why I say this is because we are going to visit all the different stations of our social constructs
I want to start by saying how much I appreciate you taking these trips with me. If you don’t mind, I hope you’ll follow me a little bit more into the next phase. I hope you don’t mind me bringing you around like this. However, the more that I write to you, the more it makes sense that I bring you into these visions. Besides, how else can I keep you interested? So, in the interest of my story, I want to help you see my view more clearly. I say this as your humble narrator because to me, this is more than a window to my childhood or to my life as it was. No, this is a different approach. At least for me as I see it, this is a view from my window. This is where things began and to me, this is where the world began to build up its momentum.
A time comes when our age comes to mind. We look back with regards to the moments of our youth. Introspectively, we think about the good times and sift through the warm fragments of great nostalgia. We think back to the beginnings of our whereabouts and the times we had or the places we used to go to. We think back to the times when our future was unimportant and tomorrow was simply a given. This is what we call our youth. This is where our drills of importance were far removed from our current status of bills and paying for things like insurance or electric.
There comes a time when an awareness comes in the sense of bitter-sweet emotion. This is pure and beautiful yet there are some laces of pain and the sadness of moments in the past. There are times when these sudden realizations are brought on by the restoration of memory that may come from the smell from a honeysuckle bush which reminds me of a summer in fourth grade – or then again, another trigger could be the randomness of a song which we hadn’t heard since we were kids.
The following requires a bit of vision and imagination; therefore, this can be read and related to at anytime. However, since this is time sensitive, I will keep this in the now and extend this invitation to you, wholeheartedly and wholesomely to be received and welcomed as my family because with all of my heart, this is the most personal item I have to give. So. . . You never think much about the future when you’re young. You never think much about the empty chairs at the family get-togethers. And here it is, Thanksgiving Day. When you’re young, all you know about is the people around you. All you know about is your favorite cousins and your favorite aunts and uncles. All you know about days like today is that by the time afternoon comes around, you’ll get to see everyone again. Maybe the television is on in the family room. Of course, the games are on and all the boys are in the room cheering for their favorite teams. Can you hear them? They’re on the couches and the younger ones are sitting on the floor. We are gathered here today to celebrate a feast. But more, we are gathered here to celebrate another year; another time around the sun, and another moment when we were able to get everyone in the same place at the same time. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take you with me on a journey down memory lane. By the way, you are welcome to be young again. In fact, I think it would be helpful if we were to imagine ourselves as kids for this example.
That’s my house over there. It’s white with an attached garage. My room is the room upstairs with the window that faces the front of the house. Ours is the fifth house, north of Front Street. The name of my street is Merrick Avenue which is somewhat of a main road but it’s not too busy. Then again, it’s not the kind of street that one can play a game of stickball on or anything like that. No, ours was a main road that ran north and south through our town. There was a steady flow of traffic which was never too bad; but again, there was no playing in the street.
They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul. In my moments of early purification, this was my view. This was my family and like you or anyone else in the world, we come across our early visions to people who are the family’s royalty. Like, Grandparents. Like Grandmothers and the touch from a hand with skin, so soft, like the flesh of a velvet rose and so warm like the spirit of unconditional love. There is nothing quite like this and there is no love to match its equal.
So, this is me. I am the young one, right there, on the right side of the dinner table. I was precocious, or so I was told. I am the youngest in this scenario and over to my right is my Mother. There she is, typical in many ways but unique in others. Then again, this is the 1970’s and the world was a different place back then. Mom was not afraid of work nor was she afraid of the corporate world. In fact, Mom held different jobs from stewardess to working at Pepsi. Mom was never intimidated by work. Maybe this is because Mom left her childhood home when she was young.
Tell me something good. Tell me something beautiful about the world like the way the beach looks in the morning. Know what I mean? Tell me what the beach looks like, just about the time when the sun is coming up and all you can hear are the seagulls in the wind and the waves that hit the sands. There’s no one around and there’s nothing to disturb the moment.
Tell me something that comes without anger or hate. Tell me something that would appeal to the ears of anyone who is tired of the norm. Tell me something about anything other than violence or the crime rate in the City. Please, tell me. I really want to hear it.
And then the alarm goes ring . . . It’s time to get up. The sun is about to push into the sky like a bright orange yolk in the palm of the horizon. It’s cold though. There will be no warmth today. At least not from the sun.
It is safe to say that I have met some unkind people. It is safe to say that we see this all the time too. We definitely see this on the 5 o’clock news. We see this at work too. We see people who lead through intimidation or people who speak with sarcasm. We see people who laugh at someone else’s expense and, yes, everyone knows a bully or two – or maybe even three or four. If we’re being honest, it’s safe to say that we see mean people do mean things all the time. Better yet, we’ve somewhat become numb to the fact that mean things happen all the time. It’s just part of life, right?
Daylight switches to dusk and night becomes the morning. I’ve written this before yet it’s as though I’ve never said this out loud. Before we know it, days have gone by (sometimes weeks or even months and then it’s years) and there we are, standing there with our questions and wondering about the things we missed. We find ourselves at an understanding time that’s slipped through our fingers like the finest sand from some distant beach.
I know that we’ve all grown. And hell, it’s been years since we’ve been young or on the prowl. Though we are not so young anymore, there is still a piece of us who has yet to grow. There is a part of our spirit which has yet to fully transition into the person we’re supposed to be. It’s never over – until it’s over. And me? Well, this is me now. I am often at an impasse of sorts, still working and still hoping like I did when I was young. I’m still maneuvering and looking to find my position beneath the sun. I am still youthful yet there is a part of me who is begging to get out. There’s a piece of me that wants to jump from this cocoon or so it seems. Then I can be free and clear to walk and think or to enjoy the rest of the world without a blemish or mark; as in stigma, or as in the trained assumptions and the biases that we so freely distribute to each other –
Just wondering . . . How old were you when you realized how important it is to enjoy your life? It’s a simple question really. So, when was it? When was it that you came to the understanding that your happiness is important? Or even better, has this happened yet?
Has it happened that you realized how often we fight about wasteful ideas? Or, should I ask when was it that your eyes opened up long enough to see your reality, to know that this is life and since this is life or whether we understand this or not, at what point have you come to know that this is you? This is your life. When was it? Or wait, has this happened yet?
I make no mistake when I say there will always be some kind of adversity. There will always be someone who comes along or someone to tell you about what you’ve done wrong or how and where you can improve. There will always be someone resting in the comforts of an armchair or behind a computer screen with a critique and an opinion. And there will always be the one who criticizes your progress. They’ll do this as if this was their job. They will pluck the feathers from the wings of your dreams and they’ll do this so you’ll never take off before them or without them.
The truth is that at the end of the day, there is only one face looking at you in your reflection. This is you; all day, every day. You are the start and finish and as I’ve always said, you are always the square root to your own equation. No one else is and to be clear, I have been on one side or the other of this table.
To be or not to be is certainly the question. To be happy or to be free of “self” or to be rid of the nonsense that swirls in our head is certainly the aim. Or better yet and in the simplest most basic terms, to feel better or to find a sense of inner peace and be balanced is definitely the goal. But how?
I can say that I have known a lot of people in my life. I’ve met different people in all kinds of crazy places from institutions, to corporations, to lock-ups, to homeless shelters, treatment facilities and from random coincidences to a more universally intended purpose. It’s safe to say that I have met the best of the best, even if they came from the worst of the worst. I can say that I have met people who endured unthinkable backgrounds yet somehow they were able to overcome themselves. They were able to overcome their circumstances. They overcame their life and their limitations. I have met those who came from “nothing” and grew into “something” incredible. If I’m being honest, they are incredible to me.
More . . . I like that word. Maybe I like this word because I want more too. I want to see more. I want to do more. I want to feel more and I want to learn more. I would certainly appreciate more meat on my sandwich and, of course, more ways to enjoy life on life’s terms.
I want to understand more about my life and your life. I certainly want to understand more about the world around me and, if at all possible, I want to learn how to get along more and fight less. I want to define more ways that we can overcome instead of overwhelm.
This one comes with a comedic twist. At least it is intended to be funny and with hopes that this clears something up which is important to me. I offer this note to all foodies and friends who love a good meal. To those who can relate, I offer the fact that there are meals which have turned wrong. There are trusted meals too – the “go-to” ones or the special favorites which come from historic moments in our lives, like when you go out to grab some wings with friends. Even these meals can go wrong. It happens . . . I used to hear about food poisoning or about someone eating something that had gone wrong. I’ve heard about the terrible bouts after eating something and the vomit or the awful visits to the bathroom.
Before I go forward, I would like to explain that this comes from a special place where little pictures of crayon drawings exist in a father’s heart. This is where art-class productions on construction paper where little kids trace the outline of their hand and somehow make this drawing into a turkey for Thanksgiving. Through this, little kids bring home these finger-painting ideas to be pinned up on refrigerators around the globe. Or in my case, this is where I keep my memories of a time that can never be retrieved.
In this entry you will find a bit of wholesomeness, a bit of laughter, a dose of honesty – which may seem brutal at times- but either way, honesty is the necessity of truth and the truth is the basis of humility. Therefore and without any further delay, I am asking you to shift gears for a bit and allow this entry to act as a porthole into my life; in which case, I would like to share with you a few precious moments – or as I see them, I want to share a few magic trinkets of memory –
There are so many places that I haven’t seen and things that I haven’t done. Will I do them? Maybe. Who knows? Will I ever see the sunset from the beaches in St Tropez or St Maxima, or further south at Bormes-Les-Mimosas? Will I ever have the chance to sink my feet into the sands in any of these places, which are more like dreams to me. There are fantasies of fancy names of places that are written in travel columns and make the mind go, “hmm, I wonder.”
I’ll say it again. Age is a funny trick. I’ll say that yes, in the days of my youth, I thought that I was funny. I thought that it was funny to remind older people that they weren’t so young anymore. I remember being told by my older friends and relatives, “Just wait and see!” But me, I never thought I would grow old. I never thought I would have certain conversations with doctors about things so humbling like, for example, I never thought it would be me who sat across from a doctor and heard them ask about setting up a colonoscopy. I mean, really?
I would like to preface this with the idea that lunchtime has always been a great way for me to separate the day between morning and evening. And it’s not just what you eat; it’s where and with whom. But all of this changed when the month of March came around in the year 2020. Everything closed and everyone was told to stay home; unless you were essential. Even still, there were warnings and mandates and news about the upticks of infections.
It’s amazing to see the differences between them and now. Then again, it’s amazing to think about the ideas of a life before the pandemic or life as it is now, post-pandemic, or “where we are now,” which of course is an interesting thought.
I do believe in a cosmic sense. I believe in the vastness of the sky and that, in some way, there is a purpose for everything. I do believe in the compilation of our stories and the main events of our lives. From this, we become, we grow and we learn. Whether we move forward or quit, I know that there is an answer. I know there’s something we’ve all been searching for; and more, I know there are times when we passed an opportunity or there are times when we wished we turned right instead of left or left instead of right.
I have been asked about these journals and my reason for why I involve us together or why I personalize this and always include “you” as part of my story. Well, I think that before I answer this, it is important to explain that yes, I am one of those people who talks to themselves. Not only do I talk to myself, but I’ve been known to argue with myself from time to time. If I’m being honest, I’ve lost a few of those arguments as well.
In a short entry, I want to express something special to me. First, I want to be clear that I do not blame anyone for my past or my decisions. However, I do say that had I met with people who care for me (like the way they do now) then perhaps I might have been encouraged to keep going or try a little harder and never give up on myself.
The following entry is written as more of a stream of conscious format. This is me in a sense, emotionally venting but also hoping that, yes, we can pull things together in a way that helps everything make sense. Either way, the sun will go up and down and the moon will find its nightly pocket in the sky. Either way, the day will turn into night and the night will eventually turn into sunrise. Either way, this is life and together, we are no more different than we are the same.
This here is a little thing about life in the view of an introspective moment – November, 2022: Manhattan, New York City
It is a day that’s passed the last of October. Or more accurately, today is the first of a month that draws us closer to the holiday season. I am alone, by myself, and driving fast (to say the least) on a parkway with my mind detached and my body taking over as a form of habit. I am not thinking yet I am reacting in an automatic sense that my body knows which way to go and how to turn.
It was a day like today. The leaves had already changed and the trees were nearly empty. There was a crazy little stir in our bellies which would only happen once in a year. There was something to this day called Halloween. There was something about the scary movies and the long list of candies which were readily available except, of course, when there was the stirring little fears of danger because (and I’m sure this must have happened somewhere but . . .) there were always tales of someone tampering with candies or putting pins in chocolate bars. But I never saw anything like that.
Like anyone else, I am simply another human in this world. As a human, I’m one of those humans whose weight has gone up and down. This means my body has gone through changes. I’ve aged some and my healing process is not what it used to be. Neither is my metabolism for that matter. I am not here to appeal to anyone for sympathy nor judgment. I am fine, in fact I’m improving on a daily basis. However, rather than appeal to anyone for unsolicited advice; instead, I am here to expose myself as a regular person who’s been both up and down on the scale.
I’d rather normalize the concepts of eating, or should I say not eating properly. I’d like to do this without shame or without disguising this as something else. No, this is a simple text from a used-to-be skinny kid who could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. Then one day, age decided to show up.
I have always been a fan of background music. Perhaps you’ve noticed this with some of my previous entries, especially when I describe music as a necessity to set the stage and improve the atmosphere. I use music to help me navigate and move around. I might not be listening to every word or every lyric but somehow, the music can almost put me in a sate of auto-pilot. I might not even notice the song playing at the surface level of my thinking but I can hear everything. I can feel the rhythm and I can feel the change in my chemistry. I can feel the music which, to me, is the exact intention. This is what music does; it helps us invoke a feeling or somehow, music puts rhythm to our thoughts that cannot be explained. I don’t need the volume to be loud so much but in fairness, I do enjoy the loud volumes. I do admit that certain driving music can result in me pedaling faster, so-to-speak. But then again, different music inspires different emotions and different emotions respond with different changes in our chemistry.
I want to know what it means to face the sea from the west coast. I want to be south of the border, maybe in Baja or perhaps somewhere else in Mexico. More to the point, I want to be someplace where time takes a vacation. The world takes on a tropical appeal and all else is simple and easy, like an offshore breeze through the palms along the shoreline. I want to face the blueness of the Pacific and search myself for a moment of calmness. All the while, I could be soaking in the sun – and the waves could tumble into the surf, the world would be behind me and I would be miles away, detached from all the hustling cars and cabbies, and light years from the loud intrusions of a place otherwise known as civilization.
I want to find myself elsewhere and cloaked by the sun and covered with the scent of suntan lotion. I could see me this way, standing in my best tropical pose; a pair of sunglasses pulled up on my head to hold the hair from my eyes, a tan glow to my skin, and maybe there’s a nearby hammock for me to rest upon with a little coconut to drink out of – and of course, this would come with the obligatory chunk of pineapple, a tiny drink umbrella that perches from the top of my coconut drink and ah, that would be nice.
I was somewhere around the age of junior high school crushes at the time. I was living through this so-called thing called teenage life while eagerly looking for experimentation. I was trying to find myself in the sense that me as I was, a young man, smaller than the rest of my class, and puny to some degree; I knew that I needed an edge. After all, everyone has an edge whether its a sense of humor, charm, a new toy or something bright to stand out – everyone has something about them. I wanted to find my way across the bridges of popularity and be at least somewhat cool. I can remember looking at the others in my social surroundings. I looked at those who were seen as popular or the so-called popular. I noticed where they sat and who they sat with and I wondered what was it about them that made them different from me – or better yet, what made them different from anybody or everybody else?
Up until now, I have 50 summers in my pocket. What this means is I’ve spun around the sun at least 50 times. I’ve done this with hopefully more to come. I have seen things and heard things. I have smelled things and tasted things. I have lived. I’ve smiled and laughed. I’ve learned to stand after falling down. I’ve heard the great rainfalls that crashed against the rooftops and I’ve seen the snowstorms that have blanketed my surroundings into a scene of total white. I can say that I have not seen everything but I have seen beauty in its fullest splendor.
The definition of a good marinade is a seasoned liquid with spices and oils to whish we soak meat, fish or poultry. Then again, there are thoughts we have in which we allow our mind to steep in, like a marinade, and one that alters our flavor and the way we taste life on a daily basis. Now to be clear, I don’t say that anyone and everyone can cook. I don’t say that everything is easy. For some people, cooking or baking might not be their strong point. To be blunt and to the point, there are people who overcook or over think their recipients. There are some people who could burn salad, if that’s a thing. But me, I’d rather enter this in a way that provides a basic exchange between people and express the meaning of what it’s like to break bread with people who you love and care for. Or to add color, I’d like to address the elephant in the room and discuss the people who we don’t love or care for and are no longer involved with our life.
There are medicines that help the body heal or ease the pain. Also, there are methods we use to help the heart and soothe the soul. There are homemade remedies and little tricks to help alleviate the symptoms from some of our daily ailments. Then again, there are homemade remedies that are equally as healing. These special offerings are effective, such as a bowl of Grandma’s soup. There are little meals that help the heart and, of course, there are dishes that only Mom could make.
I can tell you about the time I was bullied or about the time when I found out about the Tooth Fairy. I can tell you about the times when I was sad or when my anxiety was high because school was my main stressor. I offer this, yet, no matter what my issue was at the time, there was always something about Mom’s cinnamon toast that made things better. Maybe it was the way Mom spread the butter and mixed a little sugar with the cinnamon. Maybe it was the bread that Mom would buy. Or, maybe this was a case of all the above. Or, maybe this was something that only a Mom can do . Maybe this is a Mom’s intuition or maybe it’s the way Mom served this to me on a plate with an understanding hand and a certain touch. Maybe this is what made all the difference. But who knows?
There was a big room in the rear section of the shelter which, in fairness, and if I want to be true to this entry then I have to say this here; I had never been to a homeless shelter before. I’ve spent time on the streets and needed places to crash in my youth. I have experiences with financial hardships and misfortunes. But to compare my story to others would be an injustice and to say that I understand would do people a disservice because that answer from my story is no; I’ve never had to live in a homeless shelter before.
Perhaps my preconceived ideas and the pictures in my head were intimidating enough. So, it was safe to say that I was nervous. Safe to say that I was intimidated by the invitation and feared that I would be a flop. Not to mention, this was early in my new ideas of a career change and thus, my anxiety was high. My social fears of speaking in large rooms and in front of large groups of people was enough to stir my stomach and leave me nauseous, which by the way – no one ever believes me when I talk about this.
I have panic attacks before I speak. I have breakdowns before my presentations. In my head, there is an old voice that is a remnant of my cognizant past which fears the exploitation and the exposure of me being a fake, a lie, or found out that, in fact, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
However, without digressing any further, I was invited to speak at a Northern New Jersey homeless shelter after speaking in front of a roomful of law enforcement. This was a result of my involvement with a legal initiative that supports recovery instead of the typical arrest and process routines. The operation was created because arresting and processing is something that typically does nothing more than lead to the revolving door and more of the same. However, I only mention this as a means to provide a background. Going forward, I admit that I was new to this process. I was a rookie here with a lot to learn. I was not young by any means; however, i was young to this new concept that I might be able to find my purpose and build a new career. I was about to learn things that showed me how little I knew and how much more I needed to understand. I was about to learn about boundaries and how important boundaries are in a professional setting. In no other ways to explain it, I was afraid yet hopeful and captivated. However, I had so much more to learn. As for the homeless, to me, this was a word that acted like a mark which was no different than the terms junkie or bum.
I suppose that stigma is part of our culture. I suppose that I expected to see people in the shelter who talked to themselves or people with plastic bags on their feet. I mention this in full-disclosure because I want to be honest about this. I also want to be clear about how wrong I was and how, in this case, I endured my first lesson of cultural biases and diversity.
The room was large and clean. In fact, everything was clean. Of course, it would be inaccurate to say that no one in the room had struggles with mental illness. It would be inaccurate to say that everyone was clean or that no one fit the stereotypical or distinguishing marks of street life. But in the same text, I am someone who struggles with mental illness. On either end of the table, whether it be on the side of help or the opposite side and in need of help; I have always been a part of the mental health world. I have my own scars and marks of shame. So therefore and sincerely, perhaps this was a time where I realized my levels of status and pedestals or the way we sensationalize people as “better” or “worse” was in need of revamping,
Would you like to know what I saw? I saw people. I saw people who identify as women and people who identify as men. I saw people who identified as trans and those who refrained from identifying at all. I saw mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. People who you would never know about their situations if you passed them on the street. In fact, you would think nothing other than hey, they’re people.
Everyone there had a story. Then again, everyone has a story which includes you and I, the neighbor next door and the house down the road. We all have a story. We all have a background; however, in the case of someone who has earned the term of homeless, no one ever looks at them and thinks about their story. It is seldom that people recognize them and consider how this person was someone’s child once. This person lived, loved, laughed and learned, not unlike anyone else in this world.
So, in short; the first thing I noticed is that I saw people. I did not see “homeless,” but instead, I saw people who were in need of assistance or support. I was invited to speak in the cafeteria and tell my story and talk about what I was doing at the time. I was invited to tell them about my experiences with deployments to emergency rooms and to discuss the opiate epidemic. I was to tell about my experience as a person in long-term recovery and to show that, in fact, people do recover if they have the capacity to work an understandable program and improve without looking back.
My time was not too long but my discussion was impactful enough to create a large round of applause. But more, this was noticed by the directors and administrators who explained that to that date; no one had ever received a round of applause.
I waited around to speak with the people who lived in the shelter. I sat with a few people and sure, in all honesty, there were people who looked to dodge the system and looked to pull a scam. I say this to paint an honest picture and I mention this because the directors and administrators treated them fairly and equally. Sure, there were people who literally opposed my presence and who quite clearly and forwardly approached to say they wanted nothing to do with life in recovery. But, what they did say afterwards is that they appreciated my story and shook my hand with a means of support.
I was more like a passenger on a trip at this moment. There were people of all kinds who approached me to discuss different ideas and talk about different ways to get ”out” or find housing. If I am thinking correctly, perhaps this was my second public presentation and, at best, I was petrified that I would say something stupid or do something wrong.
A woman sat with me as she ate her pie for dessert. She began to tell me how she was also in recovery and how this was where she lived. We talked for a while about her life. Then she asked me a few questions about mine. Next, she asked if I knew why the guests of the shelter gave me a round of applause. “Do you know why that happened?” I answered, “No.” “It’s because you spoke to us like we were people,” she said. “And not like we’re homeless or poor, like a bunch of diseased freaks.”
There are times when I see myself and my efforts. And, there are times when my game was faulty and that in moments of insecurity or fleeting moments where my internal narcissist rears its head; I can see where I lost myself. I can see my faults and flaws and dare I say this: I am no better or worse than anyone. I am not above or beneath anything. In fact, I am capable of making life-changing mistakes and doing inappropriate things. I can see where there were times when a wrong decision cost me more than I considered. I can see where my mental challenges and emotional hang ups, or my insecure bullshit, or egocentric, or ego-driven needs and manias got in the way of me and my best possible self. I can see what addictive thinking does and where instant gratification comes with irreparable causalities.
I can see where there were times in my life that I had quit without quitting by self-sabotaging and why? The answer is because at the moment, I was not at my best self. I was operating on behalf or responding as a result of something, which in my head was misinterpreted or like a child – I threw a tantrum because I was not getting the right attention. I can see this. I can see where this impacts a person’s behavior, including my own. I can think back to times of personal and financial crisis. In fact, it was only by luck (and a good bankruptcy attorney) that I was able to reframe my financial outlook and maintain my housing situation.
Nevertheless, I had the benefit of standing before this community in a cafeteria and speak with people who were simply this: people who experienced loss, tragedy, family deaths and physical ailments. I met with people who lost their way due to bad healthcare. I met with people who were in a humble surrounding and who were there to seek help, find housing, and get back to a life they’d rather be living.
This was the birth of a group known as Breakfast with Benny, which still goes on and still has an impactful touch on me as well as the people who arrive and talk openly about their lives.
I think about this and had it not been for this opportunity, there are so many things that I wouldn’t have in my life today. Namely this, I have a better understanding about the inaccuracies of stigma, a wealth of friends who have changed my life, and Sunday morning coffee time with an extended family of whom I love nearly and dearly.
I think about the alterations of our fate and how somehow; almost cosmically, our paths change and intertwine with purpose and reason. I think about every moment that has led me up until now which goes back to a time before the moment I sat with a woman as she ate her pie at the shelter.
I think back to the time in 1998 when I put on my apprentice uniform and entered into the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 94, and where this has led me since my apprentice days at 909 3rd Avenue. I think about the ideas I had about my future – or should I say, I think about the wonder I had for my future and the worries I had about what my future would look like. Every twist and turn, downfall and resurgence has helped me to create this moment. As I mention this moment, I have to end this here because it’s Sunday morning and in a few moments, I’ll sit with my family at Breakfast with Benny – because we’re still running strong!
Life is meant to be lived with your eyes open – Not closed and wishing you could see something else.
Before you read this, I would like to offer this entry not as a justification or an explanation of who I am, what I see, or where I stand but instead, I offer this as a humble gesture that in fact, good things happen in this world. There are good people everywhere you turn. Trust me on this one.
Now, with that being mentioned, I know that we’ve spoken before about my ideas of driving out west on an open road. I doubt that I am alone with the idea to head out with no restriction, no obstructions and no distractions. We’ve talked about my ides of visiting small, quiet or unknown towns where little festivals take over the neighborhood for a weekend. I can imagine these places, wholesome and quaint, friendly as ever, and welcoming as ever too, as if even a stranger is welcome like family. I can envision the small roads and the little houses in the towns and I can picture the openness that takes place between people who live by the golden rules and honor their neighbors as they would themselves. I’d like to see this. I’d like to see this for myself and experience a journey that takes place in our modern day and age and find a place where I can sit for a while or enjoy a cold glass of country-style lemonade or maybe find a peach cobbler or a slice of warm apple pie.
There were about 40 to 45 guests at the farm which is where I lived towards the end of my late teenage years. This was not a funny farm of any sort nor was the word fun a choice that I would pick for what went on at the farm. I say this with love and respect as well as in honor of a time where I underwent a lifesaving change. To set the stage, I lived on a farm in a small mountain town, far away from anything that was familiar to me. The scene was pretty and calm. The views from the farm were breathtaking yet I was not there for the food and friends nor was I there for the experience.
I used to find myself in a small coffee house on the corner of 38th and Broadway, facing the street and looking out the window at all of the business people as they passed me by. I was young and new to the working world. I was unsure of how to make the jump from an equivalent stock boy to a highly paid sales executive in the matter of a few months which, of course, I grant that the idea was far from realistic yet there were so many dreams and ideas of me living in the big city. I would envision myself, like Big John Bigshot with a loft or some kind of trendy apartment. Perhaps, this would be somewhere downtown in SoHo where I could offer elegant parties to which, at the age of 19; my best version of elegance was a chicken and rib combination with extra cornbread from BBQ’s on 2nd Avenue.
I write this to you with a full understanding that not everyone enjoys the same things in life. Not everyone likes the same food and while we go around the sun, once more, and as we take another spin on this boulder we know as Project Earth; we live and we grow with an entire life ahead of us. We evolve and we change. As we grow, we have new things happening and to us, life is unfolding on a daily basis.
I offer this because as we grow and as we change, we find ourselves moving into different levels of awareness – and, if we allow ourselves, we can grow with new experiences. In which case, we can try new things. Or, more to the point, we can taste new things and enjoy them. We can use these flavors to detail our memory and color them with wonderful thoughts of times when we sat together as a family, friends or as lovers. Yes, at risk of repeating myself too often, I share this sentiment because this is an extension of me and hence; this is why I say that food is love.
There was a little place on a common street in my old neighborhood that dates back to my days in junior high school. This was when we used to cut class and go for sandwiches. The long name was Figarelly’s but the short and more common name was Fig’s Deli which, to me or to anyone who grew up in the town of East Meadow, Fig’s was home of great sandwiches like “The Big Guy.”
There will be no apologies for this entry. Instead, there is only an extension from me to you about a truthful space in my heart. Therefore, without any further hesitation, I would like you to put your imagination caps on and do your best to visualize the concepts of what I am about to share with you.
I have always loved the autumns in New York. I love the drives along the parkway to see the colors of the leaves in the trees. I love the smell in the air and the subtle hint of nearby fireplaces where smoke comes from chimneys and permeate the air. For the moment, the warmth has stalled at a midway process, like the slack tide between the in and out near the beaches at Point Lookout. The wind is neither too warm or too cold and the air is just right. Ah, there is an exhale and pause from the overheated pressure at the end of our summer months.
I don’t mind the sweaters. I don’t mind the ideas of bundling up or finding a cause to create warmth. In fact, I appreciate the change of seasons for this exact reason: We can find new ways to become connected. While I grant that this is taken from my perspective, if I may, I’d like to offer you a picture in your mind to help transition this journal entry to act like a movie screen in the mind.
Rest assured that there will always be something that comes along to steal your thunder. Trust me on this one. Just know that whether this is a person, place or thing is up to the stars. But either way, no one is above the fringes of disappointment. No one gets away without a scratch and, to be clear, in the case of life against life, no one walks away unscathed. However, in the course of your life, whether you go or stay, quit or stand, there is always the option to improve and endure. Some people look to endure and move on. Some people find that pain is too unbearable; therefore, they never dare to venture to places outside of their safety.