First Comes Love…

“I thought I knew what love was. What did I know?” ~Don Henley

01_Robert-Indiana_LoveI first told a girl I loved her in 4th grade, when she stabbed me with a pencil and decided to go out with my enemy. These three things were unrelated. Or at least I think they were. I never really asked her to explain. I was too busy drowning in my tears, in the relative safety of my room, trying to forget her. Trying to forget love.

Love means many different things to many different people, but to me it means being always appreciative. That girl who I said I loved, she didn’t appreciate my love. To her I might as well have told her I was an albino for all she cared, but it was 4th grade, and I gave her a mulligan for it. She never came back to take me up on the idea of a second chance, which was just as well.

To me, when you love someone you show it. Not by flowers and candy, because anyone can get flowers and candy, but by being there, by letting them know you’re there, whether they admit to needing you there. Love means coming through for someone else even if they don’t realize that’s what they needed. It’s doing the little things because there really are no little things when it comes to love.

I’ve learned that love needs to be patient…

I realize now that I didn’t really love that girl in 4th grade. It was never really love because I had no idea what love was back then. What I felt for her was sheer infatuation, that kind of Romeo and Juliet feeling that would have petered out had they not been in a volatile situation that pushed them toward each other… and toward the abyss. That girl was lucky she didn’t reciprocate my infatuation because I’ve always been prone to exaggeration of emotion. Thank god she looked the other way.

But I’ve learned a lot over the years, because of heartache and a plethora of other issues and mistakes, on both sides. I’ve learned that love needs to be patient, that it isn’t about the physical, that the physical comes along for the ride when it is indeed requited, that it’s better to have loved and lost than… well, not quite. It’s better to love and keep loving, because love can shift. It can change, not precisely with the wind but sometimes it is buffeted. I’ve learned that love is complicit, if just because it makes you more vulnerable than anything else ever could.

Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs…

I’ve been sparing with the word itself. Even with my closest of friends it took a while before I felt comfortable enough telling them how I felt. Even with my closest of relationships I haven’t been the first one to say it, not usually, not because I’ve been afraid but because I’ve been resistant. I’ve been resistant to the way saying those words changes things. It doesn’t change things for me. I already know how I feel long before those words escape my lips. But it changes the relationship in subtle ways that only I can tell.

Or maybe they can tell too. Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs, no matter how many people know the feeling. It acts. It doesn’t react. But love is worth it, even when it’s not returned, because without that feeling life is just not as good. And I don’t mean the romantic love. I mean all the many forms of love that can shift and change, that can undulate around you like a snake, but that can keep you safe and warm, secure in its comfort.

But what do I know?

Sam

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I Am Sam. Sam I Am.

51N595qwKOL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_Until I was 13 years old I would often get Green Eggs and Ham for a birthday present. It stopped being funny around age 2. I can only imagine the little chuckle that would escape the giver’s lips when he/she would see the book in the book store, thinking it would be so tongue in cheek, such a… perfect gift. But when everyone thinks the same thing, imagine me opening up six copies of the same book (a children’s book) on my 12th birthday.

It’s a valid point, though. I mean, what would I have gotten myself for my birthday any of those years when originality kind of went out the window? I honestly don’t know. I was Sam, and I had absolutely no clue what I was really into, no idea what would have made me happy if you had handed it over while I was blowing out candles. Let me recall the elementary me. I liked:

  • playing games of Hangman
  • taking apart alarm clocks
  • reading (a lot)
  • trains, and train conductor hats
  • sketching little caricatures of me that resembled stick figures
  • playing with Legos every so often
  • eating food (not cardboard. Real food. I swear)
  • imagining the world as a different place

Oh, and I had no friends. The adults in my life were often fawning over what they called my “adult tendencies,” which to me meant I wasn’t a proper kid. No wonder I had no friends. But as much as the adults claimed to know me, they didn’t realize any of the above, because I was pretty much a shadow of my current self. I was often seen but not heard. I was Sam, but in name only.

I finally let anyone who would listen know shortly before the 13th anniversary of my birth that I would no longer accept copies of Dr. Seuss’s epic book, that I had actual interests, that the joke just wasn’t funny anymore. It hadn’t been funny for years, even when I was laughing all the while. I was apparently good at being fake, at making others think their joke was worthwhile, when they were really just wasting their money, AND I was always disappointed on what should have been my special day.

“Why didn’t you say something before?” my mother asked me, and I honestly had no answer for her. I guess I felt like eventually they would realize it wasn’t funny anymore, or they would get to know me better so they didn’t have to rely on the old standby. I guess I thought that after a while they would start trying to be serious, because that was my always my problem, being deadly serious. My idea of a smile back then was easing up the left side of my mouth, then letting it fall back into a straight line. Eyebrow to follow.

The book-as-gift was funny in a way they never intended, though. One positive of having so many copies of Green Eggs and Ham was that I knew it backwards and forwards. I found it hilarious when they would watch me open it and they would say “You do not like them, Sam I Am.” You know, because Sam was the little guy speaking, not the big dude who didn’t like the green eggs and the ham. So Sam DID like them, and me… not so much. I was more like the large dude who just won’t be convinced despite the rhyming bonanza going on in the background.

Of course the book was also a catalyst for me to break out of my shell. It was the push to avoid getting any more of those books that allowed me to first tell how I felt, after all that time, that helped me become the vocal person I am today. It also led to many more interesting birthdays in the interim between then and now. Up until my 13th birthday I didn’t truly know what I wanted or liked in life. That book forced me to think about it, to ruminate upon it, and to let others know.

On my 13th birthday I received a bicycle and a train set.

Sam

What We Want to Hear

“Don’t waste your time with explanations. People only hear what they want to hear.” ~Paulo Coelho

i-hear-you-quote-1As a father, this rings true to me because my children often think I said something I never said. As a human being, this rings true because too often those who have a wealth more experience in listening than my children do the same thing. I don’t think it has anything to do with faulty hearing either. It’s so obviously because we do hear what we want to hear, or more precisely we hear what we want the other person to say.

“I love you,” my first girlfriend told me, but she didn’t really say that. What she said was that she enjoyed spending time with me, that she valued our relationship. But I had spent so much time and energy on having her love me that I didn’t get the hint, that I couldn’t reconcile what she actually said with what I thought she should say.

“You’re doing a great job,” my father said once when I was working on writing my first sermon. As a preacher himself, he was uniquely positioned to say whether or not I was really doing a good job. But I misheard him. He really said I was doing as good as I could, which didn’t remotely mean the same thing. I wanted him to be proud of me so much that I re-imagined his words.

And it hurts every time, even though I always set myself up, when I find out it’s not the way I wished it would be. But until then, while I’m in the honeymoon glow of the brilliance of my own deception, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the silver lining in a cloud I didn’t realize would rip open when I least expect it. It’s also a ton of bricks landing on my head, forcing me to deal with my own inadequacies, with my own co-dependency and need for love and acceptance from others.

“I feel good when you’re around,” a friend told me a few days ago, and she honestly meant it. Of course I ran it through my mind every which way I could, searching for the hidden indelicacies that had to be there, and I came up empty. I’ve learned to listen without expectation, but only because of all the time my hopes were dashed by my inability to do just that. When she said she felt good when I was around, I knew it didn’t mean she wanted me around all the time. I knew it was a “Thank you” for being there when she needed a shoulder.

I realize now that my first girlfriend probably never loved me, that my father was probably never proud of me, that so often people don’t say what I wish they would say. But that’s okay. Because I’d rather they said what they truly meant instead of being fake, instead of leading me to think something that’s not true. And I’d rather be clear right from the start, because do I really want to hear things that aren’t true?

Does anyone?

Sam

Fanatical

We are all fanatics about something: from our families, to our friends, to our sports teams, to the movies we love, to pretty much anything. That’s the glory of being fanatical, that it can encompass just about anything. Sometimes our fanaticism is pure and unadulterated, while other times it’s all tied up and twisted in the 12-step ethos. “Hi. My name is Sam, and I’m a Back to the Future addict.”

Is it better to be an addict for sugary sweets than an addict for the rush of catfishing? Is it too much to be fanatical over gambling? How about the Olympics? The definition of a fanatic is someone who “is filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.” It presupposes commitment to one thing to the exclusion of all else. To that end maybe it’s never a good thing, the idea that too much of a good thing cannot possibly still be a good thing. And too much of a bad thing is worse.

I am a fanatic about my schedule. I have a singular purpose, to make sure my calendar is evenly balanced, that I get to where I need to be on time, and that I don’t forget my appointed times to see and be seen by others. That’s what a schedule is, after all, a series of times when I have committed to being out and about, like a politician on an election tour. There’s an adrenaline rush I feel when I’ve made it to where I’m supposed to be, on time, a rhetorical fist bump that validates my entire being. Every once in a while I wonder if that’s too much emotion for maintaining a schedule.

I’ve known people who are fanatical about a variety of things, of people, and of situations. I knew a guy once who couldn’t sleep if he didn’t kiss the picture of his dog who died when he was 12 years old. There was a girl I dated a long time ago who had every ABBA album ever produced… on vinyl. Being a fanatic about things like that lead others to ridicule and harass them for it, which is ironic since the things we hold so dear we would fight to keep from being ridiculed. This is what they hold dear.

As a fan of the Eagles, I have followed them since I was a little kid, going to games, praying for the players, and fighting hard to gift them enough good luck to win the Super Bowl. I’ve collected team cards, copied every game I could see on TV, and watched those games so often I wore out the tapes. I’ve ranted and raved at the screen, at the team, at the refs, and at anyone else who would listen about the Eagles. I’ve cried when they lost games, and exhaled when they won, screaming my lungs out as if I had just caught that final ball, or called the final positive play. I say “WE” when talking about what the Eagles did.

But I would never hurt someone else as a result of an Eagles win, or loss. I would never run down the street and hurl a rock through a store window because I was amped up on the glory of an Eagles Super Bowl win. I would never boo Santa Claus just because I could, or punch another fan in the face because he happens to root for the Giants. I would never do any of those things because even though I’m fanatical about the Eagles, even though I spend some sleepless nights anxious over the possible outcome of the next day’s game, I understand that it IS just a game. I get that. Some people don’t.

So I’m ashamed when I read posts from people who say they have no respect for Eagles fans, when they lump us all in together because of what a few lunatics have decided is appropriate behavior for a fanatic. They judge all of us based on the actions of some rogues who refused to draw the line, who couldn’t separate the team from their own individual pride. But most of all, I’m ashamed when I see those posts because it doesn’t have to be that way. Tell that to the gambler who goes for broke just to actually go broke. Explain that to the Kevin Spacey fans who now have to come to grips with the actions of their hero.

Perhaps we can agree to disagree. Maybe you feel somehow superior by lumping all of us Eagles fans into some kind of “basket of deplorables,” but it doesn’t have to be this way. In the immortal words of Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?” Well, can’t we? What’s stopping us from all treating each other as individuals instead of as caricatures of ourselves based on those of us who choose to be caricatures? I feel like some people wouldn’t know what to do if they couldn’t just generalize when it comes to everyone who isn’t quite like themselves, instead of digging deep and making informed choices based on actual solid information.

My fanaticism doesn’t preclude me from understanding and supporting yours, even if I don’t happen to share it. My fanaticism doesn’t stop me from treating you like a human being. And I hope it doesn’t stop you from doing the same.

Sam

Flight Plan

“The mechanics of flight are as such: study the planned trajectory, map out a flight plan, lift off from the ground… and hope you don’t fall.” ~Anonymous

Time just moves on, but we are the same people we’ve always been, even if sometimes we surprise people and/or surprise ourselves. I know that’s true for me. I have tendencies, and for better or for worse, these tendencies are my default setting. So when I branch out, when I really stretch my wings, I realize I can fly, but I know I should take a snapshot, a mental picture, because odds are I won’t fly again.

Sometimes life is like that, when things work out perfectly, or as perfectly as they possibly can, given the factors that impinge upon our best performance. There are times in my life when I’ve felt like I was more than the sum of my parts, but those times are hazy, like I’m seeing them through a film. I recognize that it was me then, that I did those things, but they were so beyond what I’m normally capable of that my brain decided to shade them in sepia tones.

Flight actually scares me, to be honest. There’s something about being so far above solid ground that makes me as nervous as a sheep about to be shorn. The size of the airplane itself creates the disbelief that I’m not safe hurtling miles above the ground in something so heavy. While my sentient brain understands the properties that make this possible, my lizard brain fights against the notion to the bitter end. Every time I’ve flown I’ve been desperately afraid of plummeting to my death…

But the idea of flying, well, that’s incredible. The Superman kind of flying — just one person, high above it all, utterly in control — that moves me. Of course I’ve never considered myself brave like Superman, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound (of course, being able to fly, is pretty obvious). I’ve never thought I was capable of more than I’ve done before. That’s why when amazing things happen in my life I’m always shocked, flummoxed, blown away by it all. Because I’m no Superman, but once in a while I’ve been able to fly.

I’m convinced, just like Shakespeare, that the world is really one big stage, that I’m one of the actors who occasionally gets a line that ultimately defines me in the eyes of the audience for the entirety of the play. Everyone around me is also waiting for their lines, hopeful that theirs will be as definitive as mine just happened to be. Then the next play goes on, and I have no lines. Life is cyclical like that, and I try to hang on to the lines I manage to claim as my own. If I believe I am, then I actually am. Sometimes I stand in the wings with my arms outstretched because I am a tree. It is what it is.

Of course on stage there are wires that hoist actors up when it’s their time to ascend, that allow us to simulate flight, but we know they’re there. We know we’re not really doing it on our own, yet it doesn’t matter when we’re in the air. It’s how I feel when things go right for me, because I’m not the only one responsible for it, because I’m never flying all alone. I think that’s how it is for pretty much everyone, but I can only speak for myself. The wind beneath my wings, and all that. I appreciate everyone who supports me, who helps me to realize my potential, and I hope I’m able to do that for them as well.

I got a new job. I still can’t believe it. It’s been far too long, I’ve been stuck in neutral, and I hadn’t even dared to hope, not after so much time. But I never gave up. I never went through the motions. I guess I just felt like it wasn’t going to happen for me no matter how hard I tried. Yet I kept trying. I kept trying my hardest because I can’t ever just stand still. I’ve never been able to settle when I felt like there was more for me out there.

So I’m up in the air. I’m shocked. I’m flummoxed. I’m blown away by it all. When I got the call that said the job was mine, if I was still interested, and I held my breath because I’ve always been interested. Then I said “Yes!” and it was what I thought it must have felt like if I had been proposed to by the love of my life. “Yes!” I said, yet I still didn’t dare to hope. I studied my planned trajectory. I mapped out a flight plan. I lifted off from the ground…

and I hoped I wouldn’t fall. I’m still hoping.

Sam

A Patently Incomplete Manual For Living

“I wanted the world, but you knew better. And that all we have is immortality.” ~U2

be_nice_spread_the_word_postcard-r049d89a720a84595b7ad70470c712e18_vgbaq_8byvr_324It’s tough, this thing called living, this invitation to a dance where sometimes we have partners and sometimes we go it alone. I see it every day, from the Facebook posts of those souls who feel that no one loves them, to the people around me who hunch their shoulders down as if preparing for a long, harsh winter. A real part of it is that there is really no manual for living. There are no hard and fast guidelines that everyone can follow to guarantee a quality existence, to guarantee friends, to guarantee the kind of life we all want but few of us ever seem to attain.

If I had carte blanche to write a manual for living, a firm guideline would be:

(1) Be nice to people.

It should honestly go without saying, but some of the harshest critics of others are the ones most vocal about having no friends, about having no life, about pretty much everything that’s going wrong in their own lives. When we judge others we seem to forget that we also have issues.

Of course, sometimes even when we are the nicest human beings to others there is no positive correlation for us. Sure, we can get the good feelings from being a good person, but that’s often not enough to sustain us. It’s a good start, though.

(2) Think twice before acting.

I can’t tell you the number of times (because I honestly can’t recall) when I’ve done something that I look back on with jaw agape, with no clue how I could have been so godawful stupid. By going with first instincts we can often lose the focus we need to make solid decisions. Most times a simple “time out” to think about whether or not we really want to take certain actions can be a godsend.

(3) Don’t let your self-worth be determined by others.

stop-letting-other-people-define-you-be-yourself-and-be-proud-of-it-quote-1You know those people who need to be loved by everyone, who derive their own value from what others think. Maybe you’re one of those people. It’s hard to shut down that part of ourselves that needs validation. That’s only more true now that we have social media where people can “like” what we say and how we look. But we are more than just the number of “likes” we generate. If you can’t be happy with yourself without the validation of others then it’s easy to lose your way.

(4) Do what you love.

Wow, if someone had told me this a long time ago the sinuous pattern of my life might have changed exponentially, but no one did. Instead, they told me that it’s okay to love things, but that I needed to be practical. Well, guess what? We can do both. Being practical can take care of monetary issues, but taking time out to also do what we love can take care of that space in our souls that needs to be filled. People often ask me how I write as often as I do, and I always defer to the quote that “We make time for the things that are important to us.” If you want to stand in the middle of a train station and sing, then do it. Life is too short.

(5) Draw solid lines.

This means simply that even though you’re nice to everyone, don’t let anyone else compromise your sense of who you are, or what your values are. It’s so important to find ourselves, and not to lose sight of who we are and what we stand for, as human beings, and as individuals. Too often people who masquerade as friends ask us to betray our values for them, who try to guilt us into doing what they want. Draw those lines, and don’t let yourself get dragged over them. If they don’t stay on your side of the lines, then they aren’t good for you. Move on, no matter how hard it might be for you.

(6) Make and maintain goals.

Too many people live from moment to moment, never planning for any kind of future because they don’t want to think that far. The problem is that the future comes when we aren’t looking, and we can influence that. So why not influence that? Goals range from minor ones to major ones, and often attaining those minor goals helps us achieve the major ones in time. It’s fascinating how that works. It means that ten years down the line, instead of being the same, and doing the same things, we’ve done more and are more personally fulfilled for the journey.

(7) Do things that stretch you as a person.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” It’s so easy to let life take us along for a ride, but that’s not living. That’s passive acceptance of the passage of time and consequence. Being comfortable is a beautiful thing, but when it lulls us into a sense of passivity there’s something not quite right about it. Think about why so many rich people aren’t satisfied. It’s not about the acquiring of stuff. It’s about getting out there and doing things that scare us sometimes. We never know how far those things can take us. A friend of mine is exactly this way. She goes for what she wants, even if she’s not quite there yet, because it helps her figure out how far she needs to get to make it happen in the end.

(8) Keep an open mind.

Too often we close ourselves off to alternative positions to our own, even if we’ve held those positions for so long that we don’t even remember why we follow them anymore. Just because someone else does something different from you it doesn’t mean they’re wrong and you’re right. It is our own individual experience that makes us who we are, as individuals, and being around other people can help expand that experience. By closing ourselves off to other ways of seeing things we shut down our chances to grow and become more complete versions of ourselves.

(9) Don’t be fake with others.

You know we all are to an extent, when we’re at our jobs that we’d like to keep, when we’re around family friends who don’t inspire us, when we’re somewhere around a majority of people who aren’t like us in some way, shape, or form. It’s easy to be fake, to put on those Cheshire Cat grins and pretend everything is fine, or that we are just like the others around us. It might seem like a good thing to do, to keep the boat from rocking, but it takes a toll on us, this practice of being fake. I know, for me personally, the switch between being fake and letting everything out is so ingrained I don’t know who I am at any given point of time. It shouldn’t be like that.

(10) Be honest with yourself.

It’s easy to not just be fake with others, but to also fool ourselves into believing what we will about ourselves. We may not be the kind of people we hoped we would be growing up, but we are who we are. Covering that up doesn’t change anything except that it hampers our growth. We have to know where we’ve been, to accept all the parts that have gotten us to this point, in order to advance, to get somewhere, both mentally and emotionally.

What would be in your manual for living?

Sam

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