So much happens in the tiny pockets of our memory. Trees grow here with roots that bury deep within and sprout in the fields of our dreams. And dreams? Yes, I have them. As a matter of fact, I am thankful for each and every dream I have.
Today is Thanksgiving, November 25, 2021. The temperature outside is 31 degrees. The dawn is just about to break and the early light is changing the color of the sky. It is still dark and quiet and from what I hear, the weather is supposed to be partly cloudy, which is fine with me. You can call me crazy, but I appreciate a day with gray clouds in the late autumn scene. It’s not sad nor tragic. It’s just a reminder from the great Mother Earth who says “Relax.” And I plan to.
Relax, I mean.
Perhaps we would say more to each other if we knew the actual merit of an occasion. Maybe we would act differently or think of something more meaningful to say, other than, “Could you pass the potatoes.” Then we say “Thank you,” with that holiday smile, which both approves and supports gluttony on days like today.
I suppose we would notice things differently if we knew this time was the last or the first time. Ah, but memory. As I mentioned above, I view this as tiny pockets in my mind where trees grow and roots bury deep within. I allow this to take shape and I give this depth with the idea of sound, like the sound of families gathered together at a table for a holiday meal. Or, the sound of my Father’s voice, which I have not heard since his final farewell on December 29, 1989.
My last sit-down meal with my Old Man was on a farm in Hancock, New York. The day was spent getting ready for a family visit and all of us on the farm cleaned, prepared and set up tables. It was Thanksgiving in 1989.
I would like you to understand the total weight and gravity of this occasion. See, most of us on the farm (if not all of us) were lost in some way. We all had scars of our own. Some worse than others; however, my scars were apparent to me. They were apparent to my family as well.
I had legal issues that remanded me to treatment; otherwise, my time would be spent elsewhere in a less comfortable place with bars and cells and concrete nightmares that do not belong in this post.
I was challenged with the residual effects of my lifestyle, which was still apparent. My speech was affected. I could hardly read and my motor skills were burned out from mind-altering substances. But alas, I had gained some weight back. For the record, I only weighed 80lbs at the start of my treatment. I was thin and sickly. Then again, eating was less important to me than my habits, which overran and dominated my life.
I was not sick anymore. I was clean in every sense of the word. The burn marks on my lips from a glass pipe were a thing of the past. I was neither rambling or nodding nor fading nor incoherent or struggling to walk. Again, I say that I was clean. I was out of trouble. I was alive, which first and foremost; this was a fear that was all too real for my family. There were no more trips out to the spots where street poison was the dominant market.
I was “Away” and living on a farm that represented a long-term option to both appease the court system as well as help me recreate my life. I was here to learn how to live and to be both clean and sober. I was here to learn about myself, about my value, about the conditions of life on life’s terms, and how to dig, work, clean and how to be accountable for my life to go forward. With all its faults, the farm was a good place. I know there are others who disagree. I know there were things that I disagreed with too.
As a specialist and mental health professional, there are things that were said and done that I would never say or do with one of my clients. However, regardless of its faults, the farm is the last place I sat with my Mother and Father to have Thanksgiving dinner.
The view from the dining room was exceptional to me. To be clear, I was always more of a city kid. But this place was different. I was far away from my hometown and far from where the old acquaintances could reach me.
There was a clearing where the pasture took a downhill slope. This is where the cows mingled. The barn was big and of course, it was red with white trim. There was something to the view for me, which I depended on when times were tough. I can recall standing next to The Old Man, viewing this together. “It’s pretty,” he said. And it was pretty.
In fact, this was beautiful.
The distance was a scene of mountains that seemed to weave together like two hands, clutched and clasped as if to be the hands of Father Time, folding together in humble prayer and the knuckles were peaks or rounded mountaintops — and the mountains were covered with winterized trees, leafless and crystalized by the frost of a light snowfall. It was cold outside; but, as cold as it was — the view was warm to me. So warm in fact that this vision is something that I depended on when times were hard and my heart was heavy.
“You look good,” The Old Man told me.
“Whatever you’re doing here, just keep doing it” he said.
No one is born with the knowledge of what to do or say in times like this. It is certainly easy to gain an outside perspective or hear opinions and the judgments from the masses. Everyone has something to say about family crisis — until it hits them.
Mental health and I go back a long time. In fact, I call this me. I call out my truth and who I am and who I was is not a deficiency but more, this is only part of my story.
I have so much to celebrate.
Had I known, I would have looked through that window with my Old Man for a little longer. If I understood the value of that moment, if I knew the true merit of the occasion, or without the need to flower my words — if I knew this was going to be the last meal with The Old Man, I would have said something different to him.
Today, in our current presence, we gather and we eat.
For some, we pray. For others, we skip the prayers and move straight into consumption. We fill our bellies with family favorites and recipes that are built with the best of care. For all, the intention of this day is to share a meal and be grateful. Though emotions are full, I am grateful.
If this was going to be my last Thanksgiving with The Old Man then I am thankful that before he left, he had the chance to see me this way. He was able to see me standing straight. I was able to speak without any contempt on my tongue. There was nothing toxic flowing through my bloodstream and I was neither slurring or rambling.
I am thankful for the farm. I am thankful that I was shown a path.
And Tony. And Betty.
And John. And Kevin.
And Mike the Rocket.
And D.J. and Quinn.
And Brian. And Timmy.
And Robin. And Father Anthony.
And the barn.
And the hill behind the main house.
And the mountains.
And the fields and the little pond.
And the view, which I have kept with me throughout the years.
I keep this like a holy place to represent a moment of true endearment.
I am thankful.
I didn’t know this would be the last time I saw my Father standing on his own two feet. Had I known, I would have held him longer and told him that I wished more for us. Maybe we could have taken a walk. Walks always made sense to us.
I could have told him what was in my heart, that I wished I was better. I wished I was someone who he could be proud of.
Ah, but shame is a bitch. So is regret. So is blame. So are the remnants of my past which at the time seemed too insurmountable to overcome. I did not learn to heal until I learned to relieve myself of this. I did not learn to be proud until I learned to celebrate my scars and my truths.
I am heartily thankful for this because this is what my journals are about. This is my intention, to make you feel and think and to realize that this moment we live in is far more precious than we could possibly imagine.
The impact of nature and time and the interaction we share with people, friends and family; this is where my tiny seed was planted. I learned to adjust later in my life; to become my purpose; to become my direction, my passion and to evolve as my intention that I will someday build and create a farm where people can gather and heal and improve and above all, share a meal together.
When is the best time to plant a tree:
First answer: 20 years ago (but that time is gone).
Second answer: Right now (because this moment is all we have).
There was a presentation that I did. This was a few years back. I brought a photo of The Old Man with me. Admittedly, my lectures and presentations can be intense (depending upon the topic of course). To be honest, I’ve had to learn to change dials when I’m in different rooms, especially in corporate settings. It’s a strange thing for the executives to cry.
(But I love it when they do. It means I got ’em!)
However, on this occasion, I was there to present what I do and what I deliver in school settings. I told my story, briefly but impactfully enough that most of the school administrators and executives were moved to tears. I frightened them, showed them a glimpse of reality to break them down and then I replenished them with hope. I showed them that students can improve and recovery is possible. I told them, “My Old Man never had the chance to see me like this.” Then I put my hands behind my back, as if my wrists were connected by handcuffs. “He only got to see this.” I said.
Then I placed a picture of my Father on the podium. I looked at the photograph and pointed to the people in the audience and said, “This is who I am now, Pop.”
I wanted him to see what I have done with myself.
I want my Father to see what I created, not from the lofty sense of The Old Man looking down on me or because someone else tells me so — but more; this was me sharing what I do with my Father who passed at my entryway to recovery. This was me showing him that I kept my promise to the best of my ability.
This is me saying, “I did it, Pop.”
I did just what you said.
Hard to believe our last Thanksgiving was 32 years ago. I am proud to say that I have remained as a person in recovery for more than 30 years. I have grown and aged and matured. I have learned and lived and seen and felt. I have hurt and gone through different phases and levels of understanding.
And I am thankful.
I have seen what it means to be loved. I have seen what happens when people are lost. I have seen what happens when people remain in their own concepts that perhaps something about them is wrong. But that’s not true. This is only a series of thinking errors.
I have seen what shame can do to a soul and I know what shame has done to me. I have seen the eyes of people close who will never again return in the flesh. I have lost. I have won. I have succeeded and I have failed. And equally, I have built and I have destroyed.
I am me.
It took a lot of growth and work and time to say this,
but I am thankful.
I need you to come with me someplace this coming Wednesday. I have a presentation Downtown. I’d sure like it if you were there. The view from the windows at One Liberty isn’t the same as it was in the mountains. But it’s still beautiful. Overlooking the Hudson from the upper floors in the sky is not a bad place to be. And the office is beautiful too.
I did something, Pop. I need to share this with you.
I had a special kind of help; but still, I did something.
I’d like to show you if you have the time.
I have things to be thankful for today.
I know this.
I don’t know if my path would be what it is if my life wasn’t what it was. I don’t know much about fate or how it works. I don’t know much about signs. I don’t know much about the reasons or why things happen.
I know they say everything happens for a reason.
Maybe I am the reason. Maybe we all are.
Either way, thanks Pop.
Thanks for being my Father.
Thanks for being The Old Man, my hero and part of my spirit.
I’m glad I have your blood running through me.
Somewhere out there is a father and son who need to know our story. I say this because somewhere out there is a feud between them that needs to be settled before it’s too late.
We don’t want them to miss out like we did. Right?
Like I said, this moment is more valuable than people think.
Oh, did I ever tell you the name I picked out for it?
I’m going to call my farm The Second Family.
It has a nice ring to it. You think?