The mornings were different when I was younger. The night was over and still, the smells of the places and the bars and the late night venues was still on our clothes. I was different then. So was the way I lived and so was the group of my friends.
I can remember beating the night until the sunrise came and then spilling on the street with an idea that sounded like, “Wow, the sun’s coming up.” We were young and we didn’t care. We didn’t know what we were going to do with ourselves. We had no ideas about a pension or a 401K. There was no talking about our future or future plans because let’s be honest, the future was for old people—and the term old is certainly relative. I mean, hell, back when I was turning the age and taking in the scenes, I can remember people at the night spots who were clearly out of their 20’s and deep in their 30’s and thinking, “Who let the old people in?”
Just to be clear, it is important to me that you understand the world is a better place with you in it. I would like you to understand the options you’ve been considering are options that will permanently solve a temporary problem.
And dig it —
I know that you’ve heard this before. I know that nothing I write (or say) can change the way you think or feel. But still, I’d like you to know a few things before you go back to some of your contemplations.
There is this thing we talk about, which is evasive to so many but yet, this is real. There is this life; there is this feeling, based on emotion and based on a connection, which of course is undeniable—and yet, there is this fear that becomes a nightmare because what if our dream comes true? What is life without love? Then what?
Are we loveless? Are we alone? Or does this mean we are forever to seek an evasive dream; hoping and wondering, and each time we think we feel something, we find ourselves asking, “Is this it?” And maybe it is. Or maybe it isn’t? But we have to taste it to know. We have to feel it. We have to try it to understand. We have to otherwise, we’d never know, right?
I go back to a perfect day amidst the craziness. I was alone. I was fine for the moment but there was nothing on my walls and nothing in my drawers. I was alone for the first time in my life. There was no one to report to and no one to speak with. My answering machine was empty. I could tell by the red double-zeroes which reminded me that no one called and no one cared.
I suppose this is what it means to be on your own. The rest of the world was tending to their business and me, I was moving in a different direction. I was back in my old town in Long Island. I returned like a son who grew and returned home to their Mother—hoping for some warmth or if nothing else, at least a good bowl of soup or something comforting. But in my case, Mom was gone. My Mother had passed. My Father had passed. My family was scattered in different locations. Some of my family were caught in the snags of family brawls and arguments and me, I was far from neutral at the time.
At this point, we’ve all been to school. We’ve all gone to class or had a classroom experience. By now, we’ve all learned about reading, writing and arithmetic. And most of us have gone through some kind of secondary schooling, whether this is in college, on-the-job training programs, or a class in basket weaving or we’ve all had or share of both teaching and learning experiences.
We have been taught how to find a job and how to build a resume. Or, in my case, I have been trained as an operating engineer. I have undergone safety training and learned about electrical circuitry. I’ve attended training schools for building and maintenance systems. I’ve taken CPR classes and scaffolding safety courses. But more recently, I began learning about mental health and mental health safety. I’ve taken different courses that range from life coaching to hypnosis, from mental health first aid to peer advocacy and peer specialist work, which require study as well as clinical hours for training purposes.
However, of all the classes I’ve taken and as interesting as some of my learning experiences have been; I’ve never found a class that teaches people how to be happy. I have never seen a class or found a syllabus that teaches how to be happy at work or how to be happy with life when life is not happy with us.
And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was that kid. I was that boy. I was the one in the classroom hoping I could disappear because “Please God, don’t let the teacher call on me.” Yet, there was a piece of me that only wished I felt comfortable enough to be part of the room.
I was the one who stuttered when I read out loud. I was the one who counted the heads before me when taking turns to read paragraphs in the classroom. I’d count the number of students before me. Then I would look at the chapter and count the paragraphs. First, I hoped that I was lucky and my paragraph would be brief. But it never was. And then I would try and practice. I would try and read it to myself; this way, I wouldn’t stutter or lose my place. This way, no one would look at me in the classroom or think I was an idiot. But this never worked.
There will always be someone out there who loves to put people down. I have met them. I have seen them in action. I have heard them turn the machines and work the gossip mills and the rumor factories. I have been put through the ringer more times than I can count. I have encountered bullies. I’ve had times when I stood up for myself and there were times when I simply walked away. However, the one attachment I recognize most is my level of importance and my association of value with bullies and what they say.
I was heading towards the City around sunset yesterday. My old hometown and past life was behind me. Ahead of me was the life I have now and the island of Manhattan. I have always had a connection with my City. And she has allowed this bond—the City, I mean.
The traffic was more than mild but not too bad. There she was, my City. I could see her from the distance. And there they were; the buildings and the tall spires that poke the clouds like needles in the sky. The backdrop behind my City was the colors of sunset, which to me; this is a representation of the autumn months that are about to come.
I will write softly today, which is like the morning as it is, quiet and gentle, and yet solemn in memory. I am someone whose memory of this day is one that dates back to an uptown address and a rooftop. I was there. I was within clear view of the sky on this morning, twenty years ago today. And I think to myself, “How could this be?”
How does time move so quickly and yet so slowly? Sometimes, time can be so painful that it doesn’t move at all. Instead, we just just sit there. We hover in the moment to witness life’s unthinkable terms, totally powerless and with no control.
It is 8:16 now. It will be 8:46 in a short while. That’s when the first plane hit. And I want to send this out before the time strikes. I want to hold this moment like I wish I had during the quiet before the storm, but hey, time is time, and like you told me, “No one knows the hour or the day.” Am I right?
If I want to go back to the good times from the past then I suppose all I’d have to do is go back to the music. I could do this because at one point, everything was about the music. Everything was about the times and the late nights or the long walks in the City, downtown. Or even uptown through Central Park. I have memories from everywhere and a soundtrack that fits this perfectly.
If I want to go back, all it would take is a random song to come on out of nowhere. Know what I mean? And almost instantly, I can remember the summer nights, down by the bars on water in Island Park. I can remember the outfits and the fashions, the feelings and the emotions.
All it takes is an old song from our youth and I can remember who I was. I can remember where I was and what I was thinking. I remember the different phases in my life, the different episodes of love (or the attempts at love) and the different stages of my growing youth — and even if the times were neither optimal nor perfect, somehow, the music made sense to me.
If I could tell you anything, I suppose I would tell you that the sky is yours. If I could, I would tell you to look around and say, “This is all yours!” I would say this because here you are, swinging at the world for the very first time. There’s so much to see. There is so much to do. This is your life. It’s not your Father’s or your Mother’s. This has nothing to do with me or anyone else in the world. Not your aunts or uncles, not your cousins, or your brothers or sisters or friends and extended family. This is for you.
There is a saying, I think, therefore I am.
Think about this for a second. I think, therefore I am. So, if I think I am lost, then I must be lost. If I think I am a victim then I must be the victim and, if I think that I am destined to fail, then lo and behold, I suppose I will fail.
This makes sense.
In honor of awareness week, I thought I would spend a little time to write my thoughts about prevention and personal maintenance. To be clear, I don’t know if awareness week is only an American thing. Maybe it is. But I do know that worldwide, someone dies from suicide every 40 seconds. And by the way, I get it. Nobody wants to read about this. Nobody wants to think about this, let alone talk about this or be open about the subject. So, I’ll understand why this thought goes unread. However, as someone who lived with depression throughout my entire life, it is important to me that I go forward.
There are black and white pictures of construction sites that were taken before the times of the great depression. These are pictures of workers, of men, filthy from labor, and standing on steel beams that would later become the support of a tall building that makes up the City’s skyline. I have seen pictures of men, eating lunch from their lunch boxes or working with their hands. I see this and I think about the labor that makes up our great city.
I think about the men I grew up with as an apprentice at my Father’s shop. I saw how they lived. I saw what they did to earn their living and how they worked to survive and keep a roof above their heads and clothes upon their backs.
I remember signs that said, “Will work for food.” And nowadays, we see people who refuse to work for money, food or even shelter.
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly, you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assisi ~
Part of the challenge I see is how we start out from the gate. We set our goals. We set our standards; then we make our plans, and there we are, at the starting line—and then “BANG!” the starter’s pistol fires and we’re off and running as fast as we can.
There was an interview with a famous performer who explained how they gave up their worldly possessions so they could find themselves. As I heard this, I thought to myself, “Man, — that’s rich.”
It is somewhere past 5:00am in this part of purgatory. The previous storm has left its mark on the residents around town. There are cars stranded after the floods. There are homes that are wrecked from the winds and some that were torn apart from the tornado, which is rare in these parts. There is tension in the air, and all the while; in reality, this is just another day in the life on Project Earth.
There are a million things that we want to do right now, and yet, maybe there’s nothing. Maybe there’s nothing else to do but sit and do nothing. Either way, there are also a million thoughts and ideas in our head. There are thoughts and feelings and emotions. We all have this. Believe me, this is all true. It is simple, and yet, the way we think and the way we feel can be complicated sometimes. We consciously try to consider the options. We figure the math and we do the numbers but we miscalculate the unknown figures to be bigger than they are. We add too much. Yet, there is this entire world around us. And it doesn’t look the same to anyone else. All we know is all we see. I know what I see.
I know what the sunrise looks like. I know what the sky looks like when the dawn takes shape. I’ve watched as the sky shows its first light. I know what it feels like to have a cool breeze hit my face when I walk outside in the morning. I know what it’s like to see things and be fooled by comparisons.
All of us are moving through life and as we do, we find ourselves lost on different fixations of judgment. Yet, we all have our own purpose and we all have our own fates and destiny. We have our own drives and passions. We are all unique, and yet, we are all similarly impacted by the climate around us.
So, what is it?
What is it that makes you get out of bed in the morning? What gives you the drive to keep going and what helps you get up even when you think that you can’t stand?
What is it?
See, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been thinking about this thing we call drive and the way it somehow pushes me, even when I want to quit. I might scream and I might complain or bellyache but in the end, I get up and I go. I do this everyday.
There was a large room filled with officials and town executives. At the front of this room was a platform where speakers sat to describe who they are and what they do. The audience was all professionals in their field. All of the people in attendance were people with high titles and degrees on their walls. Some were people in law enforcement and they all sat in their seats, professionally, and at attention. I was here for this. In fact, at the end of the platform of speakers was me; at the time, I was a basic specialist and person in recovery.
There was a theory I was told about animals whose quarters are too small for them. I was told that an animal cannot outgrow their surroundings. For example, a fish will not outgrow the size of its tank. But then I was told this is not true. I was told the size of our confinement does not change our DNA and that growth is inevitable.
I write this to you, not because I had a little fish that grew too big for my fish tank, which I did, by the way—the fish started off much smaller than the others. And the fish was bullied for a while. Until the fish grew larger. This is when the other fish took notice. The other fish tried to bully the smaller fish but its growth could not be stopped. Eventually, the other fish that were once aggressive had no choice but to submit. Even the smaller fish who never bullied at all—even they had to pay for this.
I admit to my life openly and I do this to rid myself from the weight of my past. I do this because once I own myself, the weight of my judgment can dissolve and the ideas of shame, blame, guilt or regret can be wiped from my daily programs.
Rather than allow my past or my past results to be flagged or drawn in front of me as a mark of humiliation; I have chosen to embrace my old results. I embrace them as a process of learning—and therefore, no one can hold this against me. No one can ever charge me for mistakes that I am not brave enough to mention on my own.
It is interesting to me that by pointing out my truths, there are those who seem to see this as a call outward. But no, my call is not for help or support but instead, my call is my allowance for me to speak out for myself.
I have been enlightened to a new idea about bullying. I am sure this is nothing so new or extraordinary. Instead, this is more accurately an easier way to simplify the reasons behind bullying. Rather than allow the mental warfare and the internal dialogue; I came to an understanding about why people say what they say or do what they do.
I see this answer as simple.
In the course to show importance or express dominance, which is different from the bullying adventures that happened on the playground when we were kids.
Bullying is an attempt of ownership. This is more than a theft of services. Bullying is an attempt to own you, to claim you, to try and keep you and push you down so this way, you will always be beneath or subordinate.
And sometimes, just like that, the page is over. The chapter ends and our pages turn from one to the next, leaving us reeling because that past is still so new and yet, tomorrow seems so far away. There are motions in the world, which are more like revolutions, or like the times we spin around the sun. There are seasons when the hemispheres lean towards the warmth of the sun and there are winters when we move further away.
There was a person who told me the only thing that stops me in life is me. I was told that my complications are only illusions that are exaggerated by my fears and my connection to old concerns and biases.
“But it’s okay,” they said.
“You can come out now.”
I suppose somewhere on the road to acceptance, we learn that rejection is part of the game. The same goes for the road to success. I say this because somewhere along the road to success, we understand that failure is part of the plan. Otherwise, how else do we learn? The rest of the plan is resilience, endurance and our ability to continue even when we’ve lost or fallen down. Along the way to wherever it is our destination says; we rise and we fall. We live and we learn. We love and we lose but above all, we find out that hardships are also part of the trip.
I remember a saying that dates back from my childhood about Carnegie Hall. The saying is more like a question.
“How do you get to Carnegie hall?”
The answer is, “Practice.”
Practice makes perfect, right?
I have been part of a system in my life where I have been practicing almost everything. I practice new ways to eat or sleep. I have practiced new ways to exercise and new ways to change or improve. I have practiced my sales pitch and new methods at work. I have been at the hardest places in life, which is at the wall that we need to push through in order to get to the other side.
They call this a race. Maybe some people call this a rat race. Maybe others call this the human race but of course, there are people around who say, “Nice guys finish last,” which I suppose maybe this might be true. Or maybe this is because nice guys aren’t trying to win. But who knows?
Maybe nobody knows the answer, which is why we look to act as if we know. We try to act as if we have the answer but me, I know I don’t have the answers. I don’t know too much about a race. As a matter of fact, if this is a race; I’m not even sure what we are racing towards. Last I checked; most races run in specific directions. There is a start and a finish. And to me, I’m not sure that I’m in a rush to finish or face the finality of “The End.”
By the end of the binge, there was nothing left. There was nothing left of me or my money. My pockets were as empty as my stomach, which had been making sounds for quite some time. I was strung out and pale. My jaw was clenched and my nerves were frayed like the tattered end of a rope. This of course was the chemical reaction to the substances in my bloodstream, yet, there was nothing left of me but the absence of the substance. Everything was gone. I was surrounded by tiny empty vials and little tinfoil packages. I was hidden away from the world and still hearing the paranoid phantoms that whispered to me.
“Try this,” they told me.
“This’ll help you.”
I am awaiting a storm and the sky looks angry as ever. The heavens are layered with a cloak of heavy gray clouds; the air is so humid that the heat is mad and only to grow madder. Meanwhile, all we can do is wait for the rain to come. But I don’t mind. I don’t mid storms the way other people do. I don’t even mind the temporary interruptions of service and I laugh about people’s last minute dash to the grocery store. They run crazy; as if the world is about to end but goddamnit; at least there’ll be toilet paper in the bathroom and butter and milk in the fridge. Otherwise, all there is to do is remain hopeful the storm will pass without too much of a hassle. But I’m not hassled.
If asked then I’d have to be honest about myself. And, It’s true. I find myself getting frustrated. I find myself angry over nonsense. I’ve been known to curse at the television before. I’ve certainly been known to curse while I’m stuck in traffic or while some random car drives in front of me, to cut me off, only to go slower—and I swear this must be personal. I curse and complain, and on some occasions, I’ve been known to have entire arguments with people; meanwhile, I’m in a room, all by myself.
I’ve yelled at the sky a few times. As a matter of fact, I yelled at my leaf-blower and my lawnmower and my neighbor who was nowhere near me for most of the afternoon. If I’m being honest, I am as real as they come. I see myself as a person who is like anyone else.
After you lose weight, there’s always someone who comes up to ask, “How’d you do it?” and to be honest, there’s always someone out there with an opinion about this. There’s always someone out there with a better way, which for them, maybe theirs was the only way. And I don’t doubt that it was. I don’t doubt the different pathways to recovery.
However, I have noticed that in the midst of any transformational changes, there is always someone out there with an idea or an opinion. There is always someone with some kind of advice—and that’s fine, but wait . . .
why must there only be one way?
I would like to preface this by explaining that my ideas are nothing more than a series of honest thoughts. I am not putting anyone down, including myself, nor am I coming from a place or resentment or hostility. Instead, I am simply pointing out an observation. This is something I see. And I’m open to the ideas of different perceptions. However, in my search to find personal understanding, I found that honest assessments and observations are helpful if for no other reason than to teach me how not to be. But nevertheless, here I go . . .
It’s okay to tell on yourself. It’s okay to make the choice to switch or change directions. In fact, at any given moment, you can change your mind. You can improve. You can choose to refrain or choose to advance. At any point; the choice is yours. By the way, I say this for a reason.
There are places I would like to be, like somewhere off the coast of Italy or maybe Fiji. I think I’d like Fiji or wait, maybe there’s a place I’d like to be off the Gulf of Mexico. That would be nice too. There are places from my past that I would like to see again, such as a little town right outside of El Paso. The air was dry and the sky was blue. The desert was like something out of a picture book. Time moved slow. My Mother was there, my Father was there and my brother too.
I have been following this idea of physiological safety. I have been listening to different speakers and learning as well as unlearning and exchanging my ideas. I have decided to do this to build a better environment for myself. And what does that mean? What is psychological safety?
It’s a climate. It’s a mindset. It’s the allowance for a safe dialogue between us to help us with our interpersonal fears and create a sense of competency between one another. More closely, this is the ability to communicate freely without the fears of backlash, punishment or pushback.
I began a search. This started a long time ago when I was very small. I was young but I grew along the way. Then again, anything which happened before now is something that happened when I was younger. Either way, I learned and I matured. I started this life in my tiny vessel called a body. And this too has grown and I too have matured. Along the way, I found things. I’ve collected ideas and memories.
Along the way, I’ve looked around to incorporate the flashy substances in life. I looked for things that sets us apart or allows us to glow for one another — or beam, like an unmistakable light or beacon that allows us to stand out and be beautiful. I have learned about light and the absence of life. I have learned about the fears of the dark and the absence of understanding, which in turn is what leads us to the age old question; are we afraid of the dark or the unknown of what’s in it?
The fact is it’s easy to go crazy. If you think about it, we’ve been going crazy for years and yet, where have we gone? I can say this wholeheartedly. I can say that I have run and hid and I’ve jumped and I’ve dodged my share of landmines. I can say that I’ve hit a few landmines as well. I’ve hit roadblocks. I’ve encountered obstacles that I had to overcome.
At the same time, I’ve encountered problems that became opportunities in which case, had I never been tested; I might not have known what I was capable of. But still, it’s easy to go crazy.
Somewhere within us all is a reservoir. This is an untapped resource and we search for this. We look to find this source of energy in other people, places or things. We look to each other; as if someone else can give us this wellspring and somehow quench our thirst or fix the broken features of our lives. And the truth is we all want to be whole. We want to be satisfied. We want to be good and more than anything, we want to be justified in the eyes of the world and of ourselves.
There was a hike that took place on the side of a mountain a few years back. I was away from most of the world. The trail was in the woods and the air was hot. The sun was in its early stages and the sunlight was filtering through the leaves in the tall trees. My backpack was packed too heavy. My body was out of shape to say the least. All I kept thinking was “How much farther do we have to go?” on a walk that seemed endlessly uphill.
They say you catch more bees with honey—or is it more flies?
Or does the point have nothing to do with flies or bees at all?
Be nice, they say. Be you, they tell us. But does anyone offer this?
There is this word, which I am about to discuss, and yet, this is a word that no one likes to talk about. Then again, who would?
Who wants to talk about words like disappointment or worse, who wants to talk about discouragement? Even though we all feel it; we have moments of disappointment; we have moments when our attachments are emotionally mis-assigned, nobody wants to address it. Discouragement . . .
It’s just a word.
As I sit with my dog, I am thinking about a line taken from Mark Twain that reads:
“Man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to.”
I am thinking about the wholesomeness of his love, my dog, and the way he looks at me. He is an old dog. He does not run or jump the way he used to. In most cases, he has special needs, which means we have to help him.
Like humans, my dog has good days and bad—and there are times when I look at him and see the expression of love in his eyes. All he wants is attention. He has no ulterior motive. It doesn’t matter if I look good or bad. It doesn’t matter if I earned a promotion at work or if I find myself on the unemployment line. I could even smell bad or have bad breath and yet, to my dog, there is literally nothing undesirable or unsightly about me.
There they are. See them?
These are the kids today and someday, they will inherit the earth. By the way, you are part of this and so am I. We are all a part of this. But either way, I see them.They are at the starting line of a new life. They are young and hopeful. They are only old enough to be hopeful because their life has yet to be molested by experience. This means they are still pure.
They are the youth and the future. They are the young hopefuls, entering into a new chapter of life with enough energy to take on the world.
What I am about to reveal is designed to be helpful to those who have faced a certain uncertainty in which, they had no vision nor could they conceive their life in any other way. Therefore, this is written to those who have faced in their own way or in their own right, the idea of a permanent means to solve a temporary problem.
It is of no consequence for me or you to live as we live or do as we do. To us, this is life. This is our everyday version of normal—or at minimum; this is what we assume our “Normal” should be. We see what we see; therefore, we think what we think and believe what we believe.
It is nothing to me to see what I see on the street or to the mailman on a Saturday afternoon. It is nothing to excuse my feet on the subway while an old homeless man shuffles down the car with a cup in hand and asks for change. This is nothing for the normal everyday riders on a New York City subway system. This is more of the same and par for the course. Meanwhile, a man nods off into the depths of a drug called heroin. There is a slight aroma of urine on the train and yet, this is only an early morning ride which heads uptown.
Nobody remarks or says anything. Instead, we see this as another morning on the train. This is not different from any other day—so, why would be astonished or moved by the lonely man who is sleeping in the seat as if this were the only place for him to rest.
I am not too sure when this happens. I don’t know when it is or if this is something that happens and one day, we open our eyes and there it is, the first gray hair. I don’t know when age happens — at least, not really. When do we cross the line from youth to adulthood? Is there such a thing? Is there an imaginary line that we step over and that’s it? It’s too late. I know people who have been adults since childhood. At the same time, I know people who look to relive their old high school glories because they never grew up.
“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”
This is something my Mother would type when testing a new typewriter. I was too young to know much about a book called The Early History of The Typewriter. I was certainly too young to know anything about Charles E. Weller. He’s the one who wrote this first. There were other things that Mom could have typed. For example, Mom could have typed “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” and this would have incorporated each letter of the alphabet. But no. Mom chose to write, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of our country.”
I always liked this. . .
We sat together in a room on Christmas morning. We talked about our favorite meals and our favorite memories from back when we were young. And we laughed for a while.
We laughed about our childhood memories and the way it was to be a kid on Christmas morning. We talked about the presents and the way things change from action figures to a new bike (or something like that).
We spoke to one another the way regular people speak. There was no hierarchy, no pecking order, just a roomful of men who wished to be elsewhere. But due to the circumstance, for the moment, this was all that we had.
There was a time before machines and applications. There was a time when I was much younger with the entire world on my mind. I was armed with nothing else but a deck of playing cards and a game of solitaire. I learned this game from when I was sick and hospitalized. I have no real memories from this time. I was very young and the name of whatever sickness I had was more of an adult word than something an 8 year-old would understand.
I have pictures or perhaps flashes of me in a hospital room. I sickly and tired and wondering if this was my fault or if “God” was mad at me for something.
As a matter of fact, I tried to make a few deals with God. I tried bargaining but the needles kept coming. And man, did they hurt!
Anyway, this is when I learned how to play solitaire. I was able to distract myself—or better yet, I was able to lose myself in the different color codes of red and black and how to organize the cards.
I think now is a good time that we have a little talk. I wasn’t going to do this here because I’m never too sure if we are ever alone—or at least, really alone. But at risk of exposure, I thought twice about this and yes, this is the right place.
I think the only approach is the humble one, which in my case; this is me, here and now. What I am about to expose or explain is something that comes from the heart—and while I admit this is raw and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable or perhaps it is too much for some people to expose one’s self honestly, it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or strange. This doesn’t have to be uncomfortable at all, but yet, I get it. Bright light exposes darkness. And sometimes, it’s bright . . .