Sunday, March 01, 2009

Getting direction

“Head down this road until you come to street with a large metal sculpture on the corner,” she said with a comforting sense of certainty in her voice. “Don’t turn there but keep going about two more blocks and you’ll see it on the right,” she finished with a smile. I repeated the directions to her and began driving down the road looking for what turned out to be a three-foot bronze piece obscured by a newspaper box—truly a marker for where not to turn. We’ve all received or even given directions like this at one point or another: clear and simple directions based on what not to do. It got me wondering about all the other types of journeys we convolute in a similar fashion. How does one find their way physically, emotionally and even spiritually in a world where tangents are easier to follow than the road itself?

I was headed home from the printer (Colorstep) after approving poster designs for Madcap Theater. The air was crisp with Fall and the sun was beginning another glorious dance across the late afternoon sky. I had the windows down just soaking up the last moments of the sunset with Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” playing in the background. Everything was perfect the day I banged up my car.

To this day, I’m not sure what I hit but I will never forget my ability to slow time in order to memorize everything at the moment of impact: posters suspended above the passenger seat, the view out my windshield being nothing but sky and the look of fascination from the driver next to me at my car’s newfound ability to hover in mid-air. It was in this bubble of suspended time that I reviewed all of the alternate paths I could have taken to avoid the current situation. The moment ended when my car slammed back down to earth and dared me to wrestle control back from gravity’s whim.

Much later, with my car repaired and my adrenaline normalized, I revisited events in the “time bubble” to further explore this introspective flash. The posters were still floating above the passenger seat as the sounds of bending metal played out in slow motion. Staring at myself in that moment, I saw more time spent worrying about the choices not made instead of focusing on the situation at hand. I began to wonder how often I’ve wasted valuable time and effort preparing for the unseen or focusing on things only tangentially related to the task at hand.

Perhaps I’ve asked the wrong people for directions or advice. Maybe I ask the right sources for guidance and only pay casual attention to the important details. Either way, I’ve often found myself so caught up in tracking a landmark that I fail to look ahead far enough to see where I’m actually trying to go.

As I write this, my life is once again at a crossroads. Before me are several creative and career directions to choose from. My social life is healthy, my family life keeps me happily coming back for more and I want for nothing when it comes to entertaining diversions—perfect conditions for banging up the status quo. I’m ready to head down a different road but the directions I’ve written myself are becoming distracting. I’ve told myself to watch out for so many different things that my end goal is getting harder to see.  I’m now running the risk of mistaking an intermediate ‘landmark’ for my final destination.

Perhaps I need to spend less time looking for indications that I’m headed the right way and simply keep my eyes on the road.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

If not now. . .

Christmas is often described with many extremes—the happiest time of the year, one of the most emotionally difficult days for many who suffer depression, a controversial affront to the politically correct and even a giant commercial ploy to extract cash from all of the aforementioned. My Christmas day is finally coming to a close and I’m sitting here thinking to myself, “If today isn’t the reason for being…what is?” Perhaps I should elaborate the origins of that last statement before rambling forth with incoherent drivel about The Season, Holiday cheer and other such clich├ęs…

As evidenced by my lack of activity here [on this blog], my life has been filled with many competing demands for my time. During the past few months, I’ve become very involved with an Improv comedy club called Madcap Theater, helped my wife design and establish and enjoyed watching my children grow up into precocious little challenges. It has also been a time of soul-searching. I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about my personal beliefs, spirituality and the example I’m leaving for my children. The month of December has also been host to a minor bout with depression as I’m reminded again how I will not be spending this festive season with my Mother who passed almost three years ago. In all my introspection, however, one thing seems to be ringing true:

“There is a reason we’re all here and defining that reason isn’t it.”

I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to pin down the purpose for my existence and have, quite frankly, managed to assign greater meaning to simple things with little or no feeling of satisfaction. I have credited God with guiding me toward some higher purpose, blamed the fates for many misfortunes and even claimed foresight and planning as the reasons for my successes. The plain truth of it is that whatever plan, divine power or fate got me to this moment will only matter if I play my part in the grand scheme of things.

During this past month, I have slowly become more conscious of my place in the Universe—insignificant but infinitely influential. In the master plan for everything, the decisions I make each day mean very little. The choices I make, however, influence the choices of those around me and, in turn, those around them—my decision to lighten another’s load empowers them to lighten someone else’s. Like ripples in a pond, our choices ultimately return after having changed the Universe around us.

Throughout this Holiday season, I found myself thinking, “If today isn’t the reason for being... compassionate, thoughtful and filled with goodwill...what is?” Thinking about it further, I suppose the real question is, “What isn’t?”

Monday, April 30, 2007

A net for flutterbys

“Life’s too short” is a phrase often used to begin arguments for seizing some opportunity or another. I know, I’ve used this well-worn phrase myself on numerous occasions. The most curious thing to me is how often opportunities flutter past me un-seized. It isn’t until the moment is well beyond my grasp that I notice how beautiful it would have been in my collection of life experiences. Each time this happens, I promise myself that I’ll catch the next one as I set my gaze firmly on all the things that could have been—this myopic perspective setting me up to miss another dozen or so opportunities most efficiently.

Recently, I rustled the neat and stagnant rhythm of my life only to be surrounded by many new choices. At the end of each choice I could see exciting and frightening new directions for my life. Some of the opportunities, while beautiful and enticing were impractical for my current role as a husband and father. Others, however, danced ahead of me in tempting circles of reason. There were so many choices, so many directions to explore that I ran the risk of losing them all in the paralysis of indecision.

So I prayed.

Yeah, I side-stepped the casual ‘Fiddler on the Roof’-style conversations I prefer to have with God and chose, instead, to engage in the formal act of prayer. I suppose the desire to pray came from a need for some sort of ‘scrapbook’ marker in time—that moment I would point to from the future and say, “this was when my life changed.”

I learned something interesting about the ‘flutterbys’ known as opportunities: they’re not nearly as rare as you might think. In fact, the only reason they seem to be isolated moments is a result of how intently we focus on the few we notice. I was so wrapped up in studying all the options on the horizon that I wasn’t paying any attention to the choice which landed softly on my shoulder. It was during my formal and fervent prayer for guidance that a gentle voice spoke to me . . .

Startled by the simplicity of the suggestion, I reevaluated my situation. I had been squinting to focus on the distant future so intensely that it was difficult to see at first. There before me was the very thing I’d been chasing in various projects, locations and other distractions—a sense of purpose. I’ve since grabbed onto this new direction for my life with both hands. It is still uncertain whether or not I’m holding this new flutterby too tightly but that’s a subject for another time.

For now, I’m trying to keep my mind open to all possibilities. Near and far, it seems the world around me is wholly composed of opportunities simply waiting to be noticed. What did that gentle voice whisper to me during my formal and fervent prayer for guidance?

“Open your eyes.”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Piecing it all together

Life, especially for me, is full of surprises. I’d like to say I was one of those amazing people who have it all figured out. I’d love to say that my life has turned out exactly the way I planned but I can’t. The honest truth is that the closest thing to a plan for my life was the vague and arrogant thought that I was meant for something more than whatever I was currently doing. Looking at it now, I suppose you could simply call it restlessness. While the reasons for my current situation span the gamut from “dumb luck” to “divine providence,” I can only testify to the results—two beautiful children, a wonderful wife and the luxury of being able to spend as much time with them as they’ll tolerate.

Most of my life, I’ve managed to just ‘get by’ on the bare minimum of effort. As a result, I also mysteriously managed to reap the bare minimum of success. All my life I have been told by friends, teachers, pastors and parents that I wasn’t living up to my true potential. Somewhere in the midst of all this encouragement, I bought into the hype. I began to believe that I was destined for something great. I bought into the idea that one day I would leave a legacy behind which didn’t simply mark the world but somehow change it for the better.

With this new life goal in mind, I set about taking inventory of the talents, knowledge and tools at my disposal. I had to first organize my strengths and weaknesses into tidy rows so that I could better utilize them for success in the grand design that would be my life—I think I was about 12 years old when I began the project. I quickly identified my skills and talents and the list was populated with some good earth-changing abilities. Unfortunately, for every powerful gift, each had an equal and nearly greater harbinger of failure. I was young, discouraged and tired of the game. I would simply hand it over to God and let it get sorted out that way.

Before you are mislead, let me clarify something. This ‘handing it over to God’ business was anything but a leap of faith. Unlike Samuel of the Old Testament, there was no, “Speak Lord for thy servant heareth.” There was no coming to Jesus in search of reason and purpose—no road to Damascus for me. Instead, it was simply a throwing up my hands in the air saying, “God definitely can’t do any worse with me than I’ve already done.” Oddly enough, however, it was around that same time that the many seemingly disparate pieces of my life at that time began to make some sense.

I found myself getting lost and frustrated but talking to people who found the answers they were seeking while helping me find direction. I began to bumble and stumble my way into situations I normally would have avoided only to find comfort when I needed it most. For almost 20 years, I ‘Forest Gumped’ my way through life. When I needed a job, one found me that taught me things I never knew about myself. When I needed friends, I would discover chemistry with people I might never have given a second look. Like so many scraps of construction paper and snippets of pipe cleaners, my life had been a random series of occurrences. I never found rhyme or reason for the pinball machine I was being bumped about but I never felt the urge to ask for it either.

Even after marriage, settling down in our home and feeling the contentment borne of a good home life, I felt challenged to claim my life so far was due to any overarching plan on my part. It wasn’t until my son arrived and my daughter two years later that the pieces began to reveal their pattern. Like a diorama, I couldn’t see the pattern because I was focused too heavily on the pieces. Looking through the lens provided by my children, I now see myself as they see me—the complete persona known as “Daddy.” In their eyes, I have all the answers worked out. Through their eyes, I am the one to teach them how to plan their lives. This, of course, leads to mild panic as I realize I’ll never be able to explain all my actions and choices as deliberate acts lifted from the 'master plan.'

Then I remember that late night when I gave up trying to figure out the rest of my life and simply decided to blame God for how it turned out when it was over. Looking at the diorama of my life today, I hope and pray my children will be able to one day blame God for the way their lives turn out they way I thankfully lay blame today.

While they aren’t set out the way I would, I think God is pretty good at making the pieces fit together the way they should.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Still here . . .

My son and I were playing yesterday and, as often as I can, I had music playing in the background. We have a wonderful device called a Sonos which allows me to select and play my MP3s anywhere in the house. I remember that, as a child, there always seemed to be music playing somewhere in our house. I also remember the house not feeling like home unless there was something playing: Calypso, Classical, Air Supply, Hall & Oats, Neil Diamond, Barbera Mandrell, Earl Klugh or Chet Atkins. Of course there were many other artists, many other musical genres and no matter how little we had, I distinctly remember feeling 'richer' for it somehow. Music is a gift I can't give to my children enough.

Yesterday, we were listening to a playlist I created featuring Jazz piano performances from various artists. At one point in the playlist, an arrangement of the Beatle's song, "Blackbird" began to play. My son stopped in the middle of our little game, looked at me and said, "I think this song is 'Blackbird' Dad."

"Yes it is," I responded. "Do you know who really loved this song?"

He thought about it for a minute and then furrowed his brow and said, "Who?"

"My Mom, your Grandma," I said.

He seemed satisfied with this bit of trivia and returned to his game. Looking at him playing I began to think about all the things my Mother would never see in my children. I began to well up inside at the thought of my kids never having the chance to know her. I felt deep regret that my Mother never got the chance to meet the granddaughter who seems to have inherited her sense of humor, curiosity and will power. All of these things washed over me yesterday as I watched my child play, oblivious to his loss.

Two years ago on this day, my Mother passed away. After several years struggling with Multiple Myeloma, my Mom was gone. Part of me still hasn’t forgiven God. Part of me feels guilty for not being there when she died. Part of me is beginning to move on as if it’s no big deal. Part of me wants to sleep—a lot.

As I write this, however, I’m reminded of her smile and the way she enjoyed getting into trouble. I look at my daughter who, even though she’s barely a year and a half old, has the same devilish look of mischief in her eyes my Mom would have. My child can’t speak yet but communicates worlds of trouble by simply flashing my Mother’s trademark smirk.

As I do various things with my family, even on this day, I can’t help but imagine what my Mother would be doing, how she would be reacting to the scene in front of me. As I prepare to cook some of the dishes she used to cook, I see her smiling at me with pride and it hits me. . .

She’s still here.

In my son’s laughter, she’s still here. In my daughter’s eyes, she still looks at me. In the food I eat, in the games I play with my family, in the projects I’m trying to complete . . .

She’s still here.

For those of you who knew her, you know what I’m talking about. Those of you that haven’t had the pleasure stop by and I’ll introduce you to her. . .

She always enjoyed company.