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social_connection-300x300I am outgoing, the first one into the party and the last one to leave. At least I used to be, back when I went to parties. I make acquaintances early and often, even now. Maybe it’s my self-deprecating grin, or my willingness to go with the flow, or even just my ability to talk to total strangers as if I’ve known them my whole life. If I’m in a room there’s no doubt you’ll know it sooner rather than later.

But I’m not up for networking. I do it, just by nature of being outgoing. That is, I often make connections with other people who could help me or who I could help career wise, and I have an extensive Rolodex of names and numbers. But generally that’s a side effect, not what I’ve ever truly spent time and energy on. Which also means that I don’t actively cultivate these relationships, and generally my acquaintances stay just that — acquaintances.

My wife, on the other hand, is a natural networker. I think she would do well as a political fundraiser because she’s passionate about what she believes in, and she makes connections as easily as I’ve ever seen anyone else do it. While she isn’t outgoing — she’ll never be the loud, gregarious one in the room — she makes the most of her time around others who fit in her wheelhouse of connections she can utilize later.

I admire that about her, and sometimes I think it would be worthwhile to be more like that instead of just outgoing. Like tonight, for example. We were at a Down syndrome celebration dinner (World Down Syndrome Day is 3/21) and she was working the room like a… political fundraiser, but she wasn’t doing it for money. She was connecting with her network, and creating more contacts along the way. It is mesmerizing to see.

There’s just something to be said about making connections. We do it differently, but in our own ways we do it just as well.

Sam

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easyloveLove is easy… when it’s reciprocated. When it’s neither tied down nor coerced. When it’s head and heart entwined together. When it’s not long distance. When it’s two-way street. When… well, when a whole lot comes together in perfect alignment… then it’s easy.

I’ve had two loves, and neither one was easy, not when things counted anyway. Both were easy at the beginning, when everything was shiny and new, because we didn’t know any better. We basked in the warmth of an emergent love, secure in our notion that love was all we needed.

Which is the major issue, isn’t it? Love is never all we need. It’s never the salve for everything that ails us. It can never do the heavy lifting because love wasn’t built for that. It is the emotional component to our relationships. Necessary? Yes. Independent? No. Love can be a foundation, but it can’t be the only support for a relationship.

So yes, love can be easy when everything else is in place. When a relationship also has honesty, cooperation, trust, and a host of other supports firmly in place. Obviously, bracing your relationship with all of those supports takes time and effort, takes trial and error, takes hard work on both sides.

Unfortunately, that’s why so many relationships these days fail, because we live in a world where not many people are willing to work through the struggles, to talk out the issues, to be completely honest with each other, not just about their feelings, but also about what they need from their partner. So it’s not easy, and instead of working harder on it, they let it go. They let it drift away when they should be diagnosing the problems so they can get to the next step.

11743693133_c154198945So yes, real love is easy, because it’s surrounded by a scaffold of everything necessary to keep it alive and to help it flourish successfully. My first love was young love, which thought itself self-sustaining, but all the love in the world wouldn’t have saved it. Because we weren’t on the same page, both of us thinking that love would be enough, that we would be together forever because we wanted to be together forever. When the end came we were still scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong.

The second time around, though, from the start it was difficult because we were both older, and we both knew that love wasn’t enough. We both knew that it would be challenging, but it was a challenge we were ready to take. Because we knew that if we got through the tough times, the challenging decisions, the difficult confessions, we would emerge together at the end.

So yes, love is easy. When you know that it’s not enough.

Sam

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Whiteout

Shoop, shoop, shoop. This guy jogged past me at a steady clip, breathing steady, smooth on his feet. I trudged like a turtle. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. I waved to him as he passed me heading south on a two way road devoid of traffic. It was just me and him, and the contrasts really couldn’t have been any clearer. He waved back and continued on his way. Approximately 10 minutes later he passed me again, going the opposite direction. This time I threw a few words his way. “I wish I had your stamina,” I said, and then he was gone again.

I continued trudging through the knee deep snow, head down, intent on my destination. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop.

wp-1489532906540.jpgHonestly, I should have been driving, but I abandoned my car back in the village. It couldn’t make it up the mini-hill, despite the snow tires, despite the 4-wheel drive. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I left it in the village because I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t run off the road if I continued, even if I did manage to make it up the mini-hill. So I began to walk. In my bright orange coat I knew I made a big enough target for possible approaching motorists, so I wasn’t too worried about getting run over. I began to walk.

Truth be told, the trip from the village to the house here is only about 2/3rds of a mile, but through knee deep snow, with constant snow still falling steadily from above, it might as well have been 10 miles. That jogger who passed me twice — I have no idea why he was out there, or how crazy he really is, but that man is my hero. Perhaps he was training for some kind of marathon, but in this weather, with these blizzard-like conditions, I wouldn’t have left the house if I didn’t have to work.

But yeah, back to the driving portion of the journey. I left work early after my wife called, upset that I was still there when the snow was coming down like this, while the Snowpocalypse was reaching epic heights without a plow in sight. So many businesses were closed, so many schools shuttered for the day, but at Target we soldier on. I didn’t want to be a soldier, but I got there before the storm began. Boots on the ground. Literal boots.

As the day wore on, though, the snow didn’t stop, the emergency vehicles were loud outside the doors, and the anxiety level of loved ones at home reached a fever pitch. So I left early, even though I almost never leave early, knowing that the journey would be a treacherous one, and wanting to start it before it turned the corner into impossible. I left nearly two hours early, and just in time. When I reached my car in the parking lot it was piled high with thick snow, not the fluffy, pretty kind, but the heavy wet stuff that causes accidents. I brushed it off and said a prayer that I would make it back here safely.

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I’m not a fan of snow adventures. On my drive back there was no lack of adventure. I saw no fewer than 10 cars in various ditches along the way, often paired with tow trucks and police vehicles, but just as often on their own, having just gone down. Hazard lights were everywhere, but it was hard to see the lines beneath all the snow. Plows were nowhere to be seen — odd, but not too shocking. But with the sheer volume of snow I would have expected more of a presence from the large vehicles. Without them around I kept it under 20 miles an hour.

About a 3rd of the way back here my windshield wipers inexplicably stopped working, something that has never happened before. With the amount of snow from Snowmageddon coming down it quickly became difficult to see out of the front glass, so I improvised. I grabbed my snow brush from the passenger side footwell, slipped on one glove (Michael Jackson-style), opened my window, and began brushing the snow off while driving even more slowly. Cars passed me in waves, some of which ended up in the various ditches, but I soldiered on.

A trip that normally takes me 1/2 an hour stretched on to over 2 as one by one issues came up to impede my progress, but I never stopped for long. I toughed it out, freezing my arm off holding out that snow brush, my hazard lights on, waving others past like a traffic attendant, until I could go no further. Then I started walking. Because I was close enough to sense the finish line. Even if I couldn’t see it through the rapidly falling snow. That’s still coming down in layers.

Sam

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“So I just kept breathing, my friends. Waiting for the man to choose, saying this ain’t the day that it ends. There’s no white light, and I’m not through.” ~George Michael

Why do we mourn people we don’t know? Perhaps there’s something about celebrity that makes us feel closer, like we’re friends with people we’ve never met. I sometimes liken it to a cousin who lives far away. You know you’re cousins, that somewhere out there is someone who is related to you, and you might have an idea of them, but you don’t truly know them.

As one by one my favorite celebrities die I’m left wondering how much I really knew about any of them, and how reliable any of my information ever really was. Hell, I don’t even really know my own father. Why should I feel devastated by the death of George Michael?

It comes down to hope, in my opinion. These celebrities inspire a kind of hope in me that could never be matched by any sort of reality. Because they are larger than life they embody what my brain mistakenly construes as a better life, as a lofty ideal that is just as reachable as the theoretical American dream.

It’s the whole “grass is greener” mentality that, while I know it’s bogus, continues to give me dewy eyes like a schoolboy with his first crush. I don’t see it for what it is, instead watching it through rose coloured glasses.

I loved the idea of George Michael, the dynamic voice and larger than life personality that characterized both his music and what I knew of his personal life. I followed the articles and headlines about him, from his first solo album, through the gay rumors, and then the gay pronouncement, to the rest stop, to even tumbling from a car speeding down the motorway.

And through it all was the music, his chronicling of life as he saw it, a connection that kept me tethered, safely secure in the knowledge that, somewhere out there, he was alive, constructing something new, being my erstwhile touchstone.

So my ideas of him were who he became in my mind’s eye, a troubled soul with tender leanings, a lyrical wordsmith who didn’t mind laughing at himself. It was good enough to know that at some point he could release another album or another song, and it would be like one more reunion, but better than family because my preconceived notions of him couldn’t be proven incorrect in the face of personal contact. Because the odds always were that I would never meet him. And now I never will.

Odds were that he would have disappointed me in person, though. Most celebrities I’ve met weren’t very gracious, and seemed quite full of themselves. Maybe that’s a byproduct of celebrity, or perhaps it is just my viewpoint in the brief moments I’ve spent in their presence.

In that way, I feel like the death of George Michael will forever insulate me from that particular brand of disappointment. He can live on in my memory the way I have always seen him, and I can continue to enjoy his divine voice long after he’s departed this earth.

But don’t get me wrong. I still mourn, and I still don’t really know why. It’s easy to say that a kind of hope and childhood nostalgia died with him, and yet it seems like so much more than that, like he was the friend I always wanted to impress but who kept impressing me instead. Now all I’m left with is the shadows I tried so hard to clutch when he was alive, and now just sit idly, stock still, on the stone wall of my soul.

Sam

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“For the love of money is the root of all evil.” ~1 Timothy 6:10

e12614b36f3cf0e2bc82d636af260050Love is a broad term. Some use it quite liberally, to encompass everything from tacos to their grandmother, while others quite specifically only say love when they mean the romantic kind. I guess when I see the word love I immediately think of family, but I can truly say that there are other things I love. Money just isn’t one of them.

Let me back up. I appreciate money. I covet it. I want more of it. But not because of the money itself — instead, it’s the power that money represents. I love power, and there’s a thin line between money and the power that can come along with it.

I’ve spent the majority of my life without so much as two nickels to rub together at any one point in time, living paycheck to paycheck and hoping a job is just around the corner when the previous one comes to an end. On the rare occasion that I’ve had more than a small amount of money at one time it hasn’t been about stockpiling it. It’s always been about supporting my family.

That’s what I think is the real difference between money, and the love of money. I would never roll around in a bed full of hundred dollar bills for fear that I would inadvertently lose on in the frolicking. That hundred dollar bill could be a year’s worth of milk for my family. Yes, that’s the difference. I don’t love money. If I could get those necessities and support my family without it, I would be just as happy.

il_570xn-485309020_tecvMoney is as money does, to loosely quote Forrest Gump. It’s a means to an end. That’s one reason I would worry if I hit the mega jackpot or received an 8 figure bequeathing from a long lost relative. Because I could with that kind of money easily take care of my family and still have a king’s ransom left over. With that kind of money I could fall in love, quite easily. I have an addictive personality, so I know I would develop an unhealthy attachment to having and maintaining it.

So I guess I agree that the love of money can be the root of some evil, but all evil? Too many horrible things happen in this world that have absolutely nothing to do with money, but everything to do with the depravity of human nature. Too much goes on that speaks to deeper levels of evil that money cannot touch. While I get the overall issues that can be associated with having “too much” money, the “mo money mo problems” scenarios that have cropped up all too often, I can’t make that blanket statement.

It’s not money, but how we deal with it, the true value we place on it, that really matters. Evil is as complicated as love, with many entrances and many hidden hallways to it. The love of money can be one of those conduits, but it is certainly not the root.

Sam

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fatecoincidencecoincidence: a remarkable concurrence of events which have no apparent causal connection with each other.

fate: the development of events, beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.

Everything happens for a reason, doesn’t it? Growing up with a strict religious background it was something that was just understood. It was God who brought about everything, and we were just the paeans who had “free will” but who were just endlessly spinning our wheels, lost in sinful pursuits. I’m not going to say that we called it fate, but it was a close cousin, at the least. Manifest destiny maybe?

So I grew up, and I discarded my religious upbringing — well, discarded the vast majority of what I considered flawed thinking. But did I jettison this idea of predestination as well? I didn’t really give it much thought, but I did know that I believed we as individuals had some say with the way things turned out in our lives. I knew that sometimes when things happened that I hadn’t anticipated, or that in retrospect turned out to be advantageous, I couldn’t always pin it on coincidence.

Case in point: in February of 2003, my special lady and I decided that we would get married on May 20th of that same year. The date was set in stone because on the 18th I was to graduate from college, on the 19th we were to bring my mother back to the train station, so we knew well ahead of time what the schedule would bring. We also knew at the time that our favorite band, the band that was responsible for bringing us together, was going to release an album that year as well, but it wasn’t until late March that they settled on a release date. Guess when? May 20th.

It doesn’t end there, though. That same band broke up in 2009 and went their separate ways, but late last year they decided to reunite after nearly 8 years apart, to release a new album and embark on a tour. I swore we would go see them if they came anywhere near Philly, but we had to wait a couple weeks before they released a list of tour dates. Tour dates just came out, and guess when they’re coming to a venue just a quick ferry ride from Philly? You got that right. May 20th.

Coincidence? I think not. If it is, then it’s one hell of a big coincidence, that they would be playing the perfectly placed venue on our anniversary, so many years later. I think it was meant to be — kismet — fate — destiny — whatever means the same thing in this case. I love it that these parts of our relationship dovetail so neatly with the band that brought us together in the first place, time and again. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, so secure in some kind of plan for my life, be it divine or whatnot.

It’s funny how those things happen, and I guess it doesn’t even really matter if it’s coincidence, if it’s fate, or if it’s some weird amalgamation of the two. What matters is that my wife and I are heading to Camden on May 20th, and we’re going to see an amazing show as our anniversary present to ourselves. And that’s something special.

Sam

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breadsticks2We ate at the Olive Garden tonight, the one that used to be a specter, the one that would show up on search engines but that we could never find. Until they finally built it… and people came.

Of course it took us nearly six years after they arrived to make our way to the faux Italian ambience and cookie cutter nature of the restaurant that shares its name with one of my most hated foods.

The woman at the front told me we would have to wait “about 20 minutes,” but the time between getting our fancy pager and actually being seated was more like five minutes when all was said and done. I think I spent more time getting situated on the bench out front than I did waiting.

Kelly was our server, but it wasn’t about her, not really. It hardly ever is when we go to restaurants. It’s really about the people sitting around us, about the inevitable conversation that floods our ears as we wait for our own food to arrive.

…a kid was crawling between the legs of his family members as his adults tried to corral him back into their booth, threatening him with having to sit in the high chair if he didn’t shape up.

Tonight there was a birthday party in the small semi-private room to our right, and I got the feeling this was a regular Friday night occurrence, as another group with balloons took up residence when the ones who were there when we arrived left the building. Luckily we escaped the awkward moment when the cake is about to be cut, and the serving staff all gather ’round to sing off key to the birthday boy/girl. Apparently they’re too evolved to do that at the Olive Garden.

On the other side of the little divide between the booths a kid was crawling between the legs of his family members as his adults tried to corral him back into their booth, threatening him with having to sit in the high chair if he didn’t shape up. They used a couple of choice phrases under their breath, and I hoped my own children didn’t hear them. I needn’t have worried as my two were desperately trying to win at Tic-Tac-Toe at our own table. They had no time for shenanigans, or to learn new swear words.

5ee240bbb237e2e736a6d27bf72da23dOther servers swarmed in the background, always there but somehow only shadows of themselves, melting into walls, blending in with their surroundings like stage hands dressed in all black. Until they arrived at their tables, when they suddenly had everything in hand and smiles on their faces. Kelly showed up when we needed her, but she didn’t hover. She really couldn’t anyway. There were lines up front the entire time we were there, and they probably continued long after we left.

The food was good too, just like we had it at the Olive Garden in Philly, at the Olive Garden in New Jersey, at the Olive Garden in Missouri, pretty much at every Olive Garden that has ever existed, because that’s their shtick, isn’t it?

They’re classic Italian, but they’re not classic Italian, if you get my point. They’re big on the breadsticks, which are first to the table and first scarfed up. Then the appetizer, which was more bread, but this time with cheese. Then the kids’ meals, the main course, and the desperate attempt to get us to order dessert. I don’t blame Kelly. It’s her job. All the while the music played on level one overhead. What else? Italian jazz.

At some point during the evening a glass broke, the sound of shattering reverberating in my ears long after it was reduced to shards and cleaned up — erased from existence. I don’t get these newfangled devices that sit on the tables, the ones that allow us to order desserts and appetizers, to call our server over, and to pay our bills. Eventually, if I stare at the screen long enough it will do what I want on its own. I know it will.

Tucked inside its warm bosom were four mints, carefully wrapped in Olive Garden finery…

But it didn’t, and I had to learn how to use my fingers to press options on the screen, to slide my card through the reader, and to sign as well. It’s strange, not putting my card in the padded envelope, not handing it back to the server and hoping there’s enough money in my account so she doesn’t come back and tell me it was declined. It’s a brave new world out there.

The padded envelope was there, though, almost a ceremonial homage to all things restaurants used to be. Tucked inside its warm bosom were four mints, carefully wrapped in Olive Garden finery, the perfect end to a transaction that passes for a traditional Italian meal anymore. Just ask those people we passed on the way out, seated on the bench with pagers in hand.

Sam

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