Let’s Hurt Tonight

“Oh, I know that this love is pain, but we can’t cut it from out these veins, no.” ~OneRepublic

im-just-trying-to-avoid-being-hurt-again-quote-1I’m in pain. I guess it’s time I admit that to myself after all this time. Because I’ve been in pain for a very long time. Because I channel it differently, though, it wouldn’t have been easy for you to see it. So I don’t blame you for not noticing. I blame me for being that good of an actor. But every actor has to leave the stage at some point, and this is my time. Because I’m in pain, and I need another outlet.

My father had a stroke a few days ago, and the news of it hit me like a sledgehammer, but that is not the pain I spoke of before. That pain came a long time ago, when he disappeared from my life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not exclusively blaming him — far from it. I’m taking responsibility for my own part after the fact. It cut me to the very core when he left, when he took off, first emotionally, and then physically. But I smiled. I said I would see him soon, that I would visit often, and he said the same.

That didn’t happen, for many reasons. Then my life happened. It exploded into many different offshoots, and I was able to bury myself in all of that, to hold my breath while he did whatever he was doing. I don’t think any of it would have mattered, because it was obvious he too had moved on, that the mantle of father was a coat he wore twice a year. It was like the act of moving on physically was the dividing line. There were no longer any excuses to pretend a relationship.

And I hurt. I hurt because I depended on him to make those things right, because to me it was a two-person effort and my mother was straining at the seams doing everything for us, as she had always done. I hurt because it seemed like no matter how many times I called him, how many plans he made for coming up, that nothing mattered. Because there were always the excuses, the other things that materialized that were more important than me, that were more important than us.

All this while I burned inside. Not a white hot anger, but a slow burn, a crackling and withering heat that turned that part of my heart to ashes.

“I know you’re feeling insane. Tell me something that I can explain.”

What hurt the most were all the promises. Perhaps if he had just left it alone, if he had allowed me to stop missing him the wound would have been cauterized, cut off from that part of me that mattered. But he couldn’t bring himself to go that way, to allow me to stop hoping, which was so much worse. And I guess I was always a glutton for punishment because I would put my misplaced faith in him time and again. I opened the door time and again, just to have it closed once more in my face.

So this stroke, the call that told me the news, it hit me just as hard as if I had seen him yesterday. Because even now I can’t close off that part of myself. Even now I see a reunion where he will realize how much he misses me, where he will become that perfect father I always wanted him to be, or at least a reasonable facsimile of such. Even now I have these pie in the sky ideas of what my father should be and could be, those old wounds once scabbed over bleeding again.

992ccde83c279b535e65281153600837Someone asked me how I feel, and the word that keeps coming back to me is confused. I guess I didn’t realize how much I still want those things, how much I felt I had closed myself off but I really hadn’t. When I thought in that moment that he could have died, that he could still die, it hit me hard like concrete. And this pain, I realize it will always be with me. I will always hurt when I think of those wasted years, all those missed opportunities, all the excuses and misplaced trust.

Because I love my father. After all of this, after all this time, I love him. Maybe it’s because I’ve been conditioned by society to love him, or maybe it’s just that’s part of my nature, or maybe it’s even as simple as biology. I don’t know, and I guess in the end it doesn’t even matter. My heart broke when I got the news, which says something more profound than words and contrivance ever could.

So this pain, this hurt that I’ve lived with for three quarters of my life, it’s here to stay. It means that I’m still alive, that I have a lot to be thankful for, but that my life is not securely mine, that it belongs to this heart of mine too, and to the people who fill it, for better or worse. He’s hopefully coming home from the hospital today, and I will be trying to find a flight to get down there, because that’s who I am.

And life is too short. So let’s hurt tonight.

Sam

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40 Candles

xp-worlds_greatest_tall-40_year_old_female-leftIf you had approached 10-year old me and told him where he would be at 40, he probably would have laughed in your face. Because 10-year old me wasn’t remotely interested in the future, for what would pass for life after… well, 10. It was all about the present then, all about the moment, and I was living firmly in it.

Of course, though, as years pass, the focus starts to shift, probably because there isn’t enough wide open future there to ignore anymore. It happens like clockwork (no pun intended), the passing of the years a metronome ticking louder the further we advance into life. But at 10 there’s no way of knowing that things will change, no way to savor the moment because they are fleeting.

When I turned 20 there was an anticipation in the air, a sense that life was just beginning. There were still no bags under my eyes, getting out of bed wasn’t a creak and a groan, and I wasn’t hyper aware of the advancing years. In fact, I was looking forward to 21 with a vengeance, because it would mean I was an adult. My life wasn’t perfect but I could tell it was headed somewhere, which was a first for me.

I was keenly aware of the passage of time even then, though. I wasn’t like 10-year old me, wide eyed and innocent, anymore. Life wasn’t all about getting the physical things I wanted. I was also looking for happiness, for whatever would fulfill the hole that had already begun to widen itself in my life. I’m not sure if I realized back then that it was because I had no concrete relationship with my father. That would come later.

What I do remember feeling the most was that there was an untapped potential, but that I had no way of reaching it. There was possibility at 20 that I had never really explored before, a life that I hadn’t questioned. That was the tipping point with me and religion, with me and my mother, with me and the city of Philadelphia, as it turned out. Significant change was coming. I just didn’t see it yet.

Then change came, and with it a shifting of location, an acceptance of what I could not change, and the courage to change the things I could. I guess you could say it was similar to having an addiction because the more I realized it was bad for me, the more I couldn’t say no to it. And I mean everything. Between 20 and 30 was the time of most change in my life, even as things began to finally stabilize. It was the time for opposites to both be true, and for a little introspection. For the first time in my life.

At 30 I knew the world was changing around me. I was no longer the youngest person in most rooms, and I was keenly aware of that. When I told people I was 21 they laughed at me, and I knew I was supposed to possess a maturity I didn’t feel I truly had at that point. Others looked at me differently, not just as a young man, but the way I looked at my father when I was young. I was married, and I already had a child by then, so my priorities had done a 180. It was a transitional time, in every sense of the term.

And this past decade has been nothing short of a whirlwind, this experiment taking a few twists and turns along the way. I’ve had two huge happenings in my life, a few scatterings of focus shifts, and a whole lot of that earlier introspection, magnified to defcon 10. It’s like my 30s were a battle ground to see who was left standing at the end, and somehow I’m still here, looking at 40 candles on this cheesecake.

The word that comes to mind is blessed, but that’s from 10-year old, clear-eyed, innocent me. I haven’t been that… uncluttered in a very long time. Because life is complicated. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned over these past 40 years, that life is a series of moments strung together that create what we have before us now, for better or for worse. It’s decisions that have consequences, and repercussions, and often unforeseen side effects. But it’s also a beautiful thing.

Creaks, groans, and all.

Sam

Defying Gravity

balloonsWhen I can’t quite describe something I tend to say it’s like trying to define the word the. Everyone uses it, and everyone knows what it means when they use it, but a sterile definition of what makes a specific article important is as useful as a screen door on a submarine. It’s in the usage that it derives its real meaning.

That happens often too, these requests for definitions. We have to define everything these days. Define our relationships. Define our likes and dislikes. Define everything that has to do with everything, and also everything that has to do with nothing. It’s the way of the world, I guess, with no one taking anything at face value anymore. Perhaps face value doesn’t exist because it’s been overwritten so many times in so many ways.

It’s what I call fatigue syndrome. It’s like experiencing gravity. We have seen its effects a million times, but if we’ve never experienced anything but gravity it loses the awesome power that it should always contain. Because gravity is an awesome thing, a dynamic construct that is enormous, but we’re so used to it that we don’t recognize it for what it truly is.

So we¬† can define it. We can talk about the enormous pull. We can do everything to understand the phenomena, but we are just scientists in a lab, not out in the wild getting our hands dirty in zero-gravity. We are simply human beings who are doing our best to give others what they want, what they request from us, but we have never defied gravity. We have never taken control of our situations and transcended them. We don’t get it.

We throw around these words like they’re salt on icy roads, but we never truly analyze them, words like love and hate and depression and want and need. Sure, we often tell people that we love them, but have we ever really broken down our feelings and emotions to uncover what that truly means? We say we hate things, but have we really thought about it in concrete terms, not just abstract concepts?

Because everything has a concrete counterpart. The word the can be clearly defined by its usage, after all. So when we say we want or need another person, or a physical thing, what do we really mean? Do we need it like gravity? Have we just said the words so long that they’ve lost all meaning? I can’t help but think it’s this reality that haunts us every day without us even knowing it. It bleeds into everything that we do and say.

So we should imagine what it would be like to defy gravity, to step out into space and not come back down to earth, to soar like we never have before, because only by doing this can we truly understand how precious what we have is, how special and unique. When we love we can love with our whole hearts instead of just because we are expected to love. When we hate we can do it for solid reasons, not just because everyone else might hate.

Only when the abstract becomes concrete can we truly define and accept it for what it can’t help being.

Sam

The Night Before Hanukkah

6a7bca5666cef1994e746fae893b779aThere’s nothing like the smell of hot apple cider on the stove, warmed up and waiting to go down smooth. The chill in the air contained to the outdoors, while frost coats the glass on the windows, straight from out of a Norman Rockwell painting. My fuzzy pajamas on all day long because there’s nothing else to do, so why not be comfortable? Lazy December days are the absolute best, especially when there’s something to look forward to on the horizon. Or a few somethings.

I am not Jewish, nor have I ever been. I want to put that out there straightaway so you’re not confused while reading this. But tonight I am rustling up my electric menorah, my four dreidels, my imitation chocolate gelt, and my imaginary Mensch On the Bench (why should the Elf have all the fun?) because tomorrow starts the eight crazy nights that constitute the least of the major Jewish holidays — Hanukkah.

While Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah have the fancy traditions, the pomp and circumstance, Hanukkah checks in as the “cool” holiday because it coincides pretty closely most times with the Christian idea of Christmas. It’s the reason so many say Happy Holidays now instead of Merry Christmas this time of year, so it has some cache. And more and more stores are stocking Hanukkah merchandise (good luck trying to find a pair of white pants for Yom Kippur, fellas).

There’s just something about Hanukkah that’s easy, that’s laid back like this time of year is anyway, something that helps it mesh perfectly with the idea of lazy, comfortable winter. The traditions are still there, but unlike Yom Kippur it’s not about giving up things, but instead about embracing miracles and celebrating the supernatural. It’s not often that we get a chance to celebrate the supernatural, to really focus on the Almighty’s gifts to us and to our ancestors.

hanukkahAnd unlike Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah is an ongoing celebration, for eight crazy nights, with so much that happens within its framework that it’s easy to think it will go on forever. Every single year, on the eighth night, I always think about how short it really felt, about how much I want it to keep going. Because, unlike the other high holy holidays, it’s a playful event, a chance to let our hair down and be ourselves while feeling the spirit at the same time.

Lexi likes to light the candles with me, to say the prayer that starts off each night. This year I’m going to teach her the ancient Hebrew words so that she can start to feel just how ancient these traditions are, how deep their roots. That’s what I love the most about Hanukkah — its accessibility. Lex has been following the tradition with me for five years now, and we both look forward to this time of year for more than just Christmas. I love that I have in my child a kindred spirit who has embraced the traditions as I have.

So tomorrow it begins again, the shamash, and the eight nights, and the celebration of the oil, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Sam

Unnamed

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” ~Plato

the-power-of-names

I fear the unknown. That’s my biggest fear. Because anything else I can see coming, even if I can’t necessarily adjust for everything else. But the thing that sneaks up on me, the thing that surprises me, that is the thing that shakes me to the marrow, just thinking about it. I spend so much time trying to anticipate everything that I literally drive myself insane. In that way the anticipation of what cannot be anticipated can sink me before the unknown even shows up. It’s a cyclical fear.

All of the harsh moments in my life have been previous unknowns. There was no build up, no lead in, no time to even catch my breath before they descended swift, sudden, and most times final. I never had enough time to put a name to these unknowns, to pin them to the canvas and start the countdown.

It’s funny about names. The ancient Egyptians believed that for someone to know your real name, your true name, it gave them control over you. Perhaps somewhere far back in my history I come from that same type of heritage because I’ve always felt the exact same way.

When we meet other people usually they see what we look like but we have to introduce ourselves. It’s in that moment before they know our name that we have the greatest singular power in the world, that we are simultaneously everyone and no one at the same time. It is probably one of the biggest unknowns ever, and in that moment before I give my name to another it also sparks that fear. When they know my name, it is like they have a piece of my essence.

But not everything has a name. Not everything can be categorized, can be neatly tucked away in a box, filed away for the future. Too many things are nameless and shapeless, endless reminders that we don’t really have power in this life. These unknowns haunt us like living, breathing specters waiting to expose us to the air where we will shrivel and die, shrieking for an impossible salvation that will not come.

So I fear the unknown. I fear the sudden nature of this life that can take away just as swiftly as it hands out. I fear the power that names have when they come to light, when they are no longer hidden behind artifice. I fear the reality of a life that cannot be scripted, no matter how often I try to put it together piece by piece like a giant puzzle. All of these fears come home to roost. They keep me up at night, waiting, nervous and fractured. They remind me that I am essentially powerless, and that I always will be.

And that’s okay. Life isn’t meant to be scripted. Not every second of every day needs to be planned out, and contingencies set. The best parts of life are lived in the margins, in the unknowns and help shape us for the better, even if we don’t like them at the time. Life is an unnamed masterpiece sitting on a far wall. We just need to move a little closer to make it out.

Sam

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