Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I Am Pedaling As Hard As I Can


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I find it harder and harder these days to drive into the gym in the morning. It isn’t that I don’t want to get up or go out into the cold, although that is true, it is because my eyesight these days is particularly bad in the dark and driving to the gym in the mornings, this time of year, is just downright dangerous.

So instead, I got a Peloton bike for the house. I enjoy cycling, and spinning is a great exercise. The whole Peloton experience is pretty fun. You can choose from thousands of pre-recorded or live rides with some of the most energetic and supportive coaches. I love that you can pick the type of ride, endurance, HIIT, climbs, low impact. And I love that you can also choose the music, classic rock, 80’s, 90’s, EDM/Dance, hip hop, country. The music is great and adds a lot to the experience. In many ways, a Peloton is a better experience then what you can get in any spinning studio or gym.

The bike itself is pretty basic. There is one knob that controls the resistance on the wheel making it easier or harder to pedal. The big difference with this bike is that there is a 21-inch screen mounted to the front of the bike where you see the instructor as well as all the relevant metrics on your performance during the ride. Combine the resistance with how fast you pedal and that produces a power rating and the power rating defines where you are on the leaderboard that is scrolling on the right side of the screen.

The other morning, I took a live Hip Hop ride; it’s about the only time I get to put that music on around this house. As we were getting started, I looked at the leaderboard and there were well over 1,500 riders all riding in the same class at the same time! Imagine going into any fitness class with 1,500 other people.

I usually start out slower than most, it takes me a while to get warmed up. A few more creaks and cracks these days then I remember. About five minutes into the warmup I glanced at the leaderboard and was shocked to see how close to the bottom I was. With 1,500 riders, many in their twenties and thirties, with hundreds and in some cases thousands of rides under their belts, I had no misconception of being number one but, this close to the bottom? No, that is not acceptable. So, I added a little more resistance and picked up the pace just a bit.

After another ten minutes, I checked the leaderboard and to my surprise, there were now about 500 people behind me. Okay, that feels better, but still, the bottom third? Is that who you are Chris?

More resistance. A little more speed.
As we get into the meat of the class, I am pushing myself pretty hard and, low and behold, I am almost at the mid-point of the class. Not bad for a sixty-year-old guy. I just passed three dudes in their forties. Hey that guy right in front of me is in his thirties. He isn’t that far ahead. I can easily pass him, so a push harder. I fly past him, and the next guy, and the next guy, and the guy after that. When the class finally ends, and we cross the virtual finish line, I look at the leaderboard for the last time; I am solidly in the top half.

But all I can see is the long list of names in front of me; lost in a sea of mediocrity.
I knew when I started that ride, that there were some amazing athletes there so reaching the top of the list at my age was all but impossible, but if only I pushed harder, I could have passed a few more.

Yet where on the list is good enough? Well, certainly the top half is better than the bottom half but that doesn’t sound very impressive. How about the top 25%, would I be satisfied there? That means there would still be nearly 400 people in front of me. Top 10%? One hundred and fifty bikes in front of me? Nope.

Not only is the Peloton a great home exercise experience, but it is also the perfect metaphor for so much of my life.

My father passed away just about thirteen years ago and I wonder if he found peace then because I don’t believe he ever found it while he was alive. Sure, he had peaceful moments, but I don’t believe he was ever really “at peace.” Peace, that feeling of sitting in the mountains or on the beach or in a quiet forest feeling the warmth of the sun just wash over you without a care in the world. Nothing you need to do and nowhere you need to be.

If I look at his life, I can understand how hard it would have been for him. He came into this world during the Great Depression. Times were tough. His family was poor and estranged from the rest of their family for some unknown reason. He went to war and he lost his only brother; killed by a freak collision at sea. For most of his life he worked hard to escape that background. To provide a better life for his children. Knowing my father, the pressure would have been tremendous. It would have been hard to feel peaceful. Perhaps even a little decadent or undeserved.

I know he didn’t find peace near the end of his life when his wife of nearly 60 years died. When he saw my marriage fall apart. When he was faced with his own mortality and frailty. Hopefully, he finally found it at the end, because he deserved to find peace. He was a wonderful man and father.

That was the gift my father gave to my brother and me. He sacrificed his peace so that we could find it. So, we could have the life that he wanted us to have; that he wished he had but couldn’t.
He taught us to work hard. To keep pushing to be better. He believed in us both and he pushed us to be all that he knew we could be.

And it worked.

My brother and I both have enjoyed many of the finer things in life that our father never had. If you look at it objectively, counting the things, the worldly possessions, the experiences we have enjoyed, we have benefited well beyond what he was able to experience in his 84 years.
With that gift he passed on something else; something unintended. I have been pedaling hard my whole life. Scared of being mediocre. Trying hard to get to the top of the leader board. But it turns, out that you can’t actually get there. There is always someone younger, faster, smarter, more capable. Many of the mistakes in my life have been as a result of chasing that leaderboard and forgetting to enjoy the ride.

There is certainly nothing wrong with working hard. Striving to be better. But all too often I have forgotten to take time and listen to the music on the ride, or to feel the sun on my face.
That is where true peace is. I hope I can find that sooner than my father did.

I think that would make him very proud of me and of all the sacrifices he made in his life.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

What's the real goal?


I try to unravel the ball of twine that is my life, it is nearly impossible to see what or who is at the core but perhaps the real question is does that even matter anymore? Isn’t the authentic Chris today, the guy that has been shaped and molded over the last 60 years by those around him and the decisions he has made along the way?

I have a good friend who is going through a lot of changes in her life right now. When I asked her the other day how she was doing with everything she said, “I think I am supposed to learn something from all this, so I am just paying attention and trying to figure out what that is.” So simple and yet so profound. What a great reminder for me as I look toward my future that is sure to have it’s own challenges, not the least of which will be low vision.

I am finding that writing a memoir is a surprisingly eye-opening activity. Something I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn a little bit about his or herself. Over the last several months I have spent a lot of time looking back and asking myself “Why in the world did that happen? Is that who I really am?”


Is the goal in life to reconnect with the guy at the center of that ball of twine or is it to simply understand all the layers? Where they came from and why they are there. There are so many things that I have learned over the years that have made me a better person. I certainly would not want to lose those. And there are other things in my past that I am ashamed of and that I would like to be able to do over.

Perhaps the only lesson to learn in all of this is not who I WAS, but that whoever I AM is worthy, not perfect, but worthy, exactly as I am even with all my imperfections. Perhaps, even in some way, because of all my imperfections.

Hmm. I wonder if I can learn to believe that?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Vision and Confidence




As I grew up I would look at a disabled person, a handicapped person, crippled, as weird, ugly.  

That was possibly the hardest thing I have ever written. It makes me cry to say that today but it is true. I don’t know why. I don’t think I was a bad kid. 

I certainly was not the class bully. Just the opposite. I was a wimp. 

I might have always been one of the tallest kids, but other kids saw me as a wimp. Worst of all, I knew they were right. 

Perhaps when I would see someone disabled I saw a reflection of myself in them. I wasn’t whole and I was weird and I was ugly too. 

I am not completely sure where that lack of self-confidence came from. How did I lose touch with my self-worth? I had two parents who loved me and cared for me. They gave me a great life and they afforded me the opportunity to achieve a pretty comfortable life for myself and my family as well. 

A friend of mine, a psychologist, says “If you have had a parent or a teacher in your life, you are messed up.” It’s true. Parents teach us what they know, and what they know isn’t always perfect. It’s just life. I know that today.  It has taken me a long time to realize that. 

My parents were great. They loved me. The gave me a good life, but they had their problems too. And just like their good qualities gave me a wonderful life. It was their bad qualities that most like taught me not to love myself. 

My brother and father had a great relationship. He was far more connected to him than he was to me. He didn’t love me less. We were just not as connected. 

Is that it? Is that all he is guilty of? Did that really lead me to feel so unconfident my whole life? 

If not him then who else? My mother? Mom? How could that possibly be the case? She loved me so much. She adored me. I knew that. I always knew that. There was never a doubt in the world. To be loved so completely and unconditionally is perhaps the most amazing thing a person can feel. 

But I did cling to her? And she let me. She never pushed me to be strong, to be independent. Or did she? I honestly don’t know. How could anyone want a kid clinging on to you constantly? She must have.

So why the lack of confidence? What was so bad?

I know there is an answer to that question but sitting here today I really don’t know what it is. I hope to find it on this journey, as I write this book. I have learned a few things already but there is so much more to learn. 

When I was young, and perhaps my entire life, one particular disability had the biggest impact on me. The blind. I think I was scared of blind. 

I can not remember where this was or who the person was but I have a clear image of a man. Perhaps he was 60 years old. My age today. He was clearly blind. He eye sockets looked as if something traumatic had happened to them. I am not sure if his eyes were there but if they were you couldn’t see them. He didn’t wear sunglasses to hide his eyes. 

I remember thinking, “What’s wrong with this guy? How can he not wear glasses? Dear God that is horrible.”

I was horrified. But today I know it really wasn’t his face. It was the thought of what that must be like. To go through life like that. For a kid with no self-confidence, no sense of his true worth as an individual, the thought was perhaps one of the worst things that I could imagine. It would have been a clear outward manifestation of just how weird I was. I could never survive that. 

What is interesting, as I picture his face today, I don’t see it as being particularly sad. In fact, as I sit here and really focus, it is possible there was a slight smile on his face. 

He likely had no idea I was looking at him and grimacing. Perhaps he knew that happened a lot, I am not completely naive, but likely he wasn’t aware it was happening at that moment. 

There perhaps is a small blessing in losing your eyesight, in there somewhere. You cannot SEE the prejudice around you. I am sure you feel. You hear it. You know it’s there but you don’t see it. I wonder if that is true. 

If I am lucky, I will find out. That’s how I try to approach things these days. It’s not easy. Every day, every hour somedays, a new challenge to living life presents itself to me.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The lessons we learn in life

My father came to me in a dream last night.

He had apparently helped me get a job I think it was in a bank. At the end of the first day of work, I walked over to where he was sitting with a colleague. In my dream, their images were both somewhat vague and unfocused. I am not sure who she was but it was definitely my Dad that sat across from her. He was sitting up straight and he wore a suit and a hat; a fedora.

I remember thinking, it’s been eight hours since I started work that day, time to go home. I walked over near them to retrieve some unknown personal item that was on a shelf in the table that sat between them I told them I was leaving. Then, as I tend to do, I made a joke. “Are we really supposed to work this long every day?”

My father leaned into me and suddenly he was there. He was no longer vague or unfocused. He was real. It was the face I knew so well even though I have not seen it in a dozen years. And it was no longer a dream. He was alive and he was right there. His facial features were crisp and clear. I could see the small capillaries in the skin on his face. I saw his teeth which had been discolored with age. I could smell his breath. I recognized the smell. It wasn’t a bad smell. It wasn’t a fresh smell. There was the intensity on his face that I also know so well. He was angry. He was embarrassed. He was disappointed.

He said “Damn it Chris! There are people working here!” I could literally feel a mixture of anger and embarrassment in his voice. “You need to sell something!” Then his features softened a bit and in his eyes, I could see compassion and love. “I love you and I am worried about you.”

And then he was gone.

Again.

His message to me was so clear. Get off your ass and stop whining about things you cannot control. Be thankful for what you have. You are lucky to have it. Things could be a lot worse.

I could feel his love and concern for me. I could feel how important it was to him for me to always do the right thing.

And I could feel his disappointment in me.

Again.


Dad’s older brother, Herbert, enlisted in the US Navy in March of 1941. He lied about his age. He would not turn 18 until October of that year but for some unknown reason, he couldn’t wait. We were at war and I imagine he felt compelled to join the fight.

In late July or early August of the following year, Herbert came home to Toledo to visit his family. His younger brother, Bud, my Dad would have been there to greet him. I imagine how proud he was of his older brother, Seaman First Class Monnett. They were still using the unique spelling of our family name, without the “e” on the end as the result of some unknown fallout between my grandfather and his siblings.

Herbert was out defending the country, fighting Nazis. I don’t know if the purpose of Herbert’s visit was a send-off for my father, who had just enlisted in the Navy as well,  or if the visit was the catalyst for my father’s decision to enlist. Either way, like his older brother, Dad lied about his age and enlisted in the US Navy on August 18th, 1941, seven months before his 18th birthday.

Dad was a patriotic man and I always knew him to have a strong sense of duty. The Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor in December and the pull to join his brother in the fight must have been tremendous.

Shortly after Herbert’s visit, Dad was shipped off to boot camp at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes Illinois. He could not have been there more than a few days when;[ his father received the following telegram:

“WASHINGTON DC AUG 25 1046P
ALFRED ALEXANDER MONNETT

1105 MIAMI ST (TOLEDO OHIO)

THE NAVY DEPARTMENT DEEPLY REGRETS TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON HERBERT ROLLAND MONNETT SEAMAN FIRST CLASS US NAVY IS MISSING IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS DUTY AND IN THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY THE DEPARTMENT APPRECIATES YOUR  GREAT ANXIETY BUT DETAILS NOT NOW AVAILABLE AND DELAY IN RECEIPT THEREOF MUST NECESSARILY BE EXPECTED TO PREVENT POSSIBLE AID TO OUR ENEMIES PLEASE DO NOT DIVULGE THE NAME OF HIS SHIP OR STATION
REAR ADMIRAL RANDALL JACOBS CHIEF OF NAVAL PERSONNEL

Herbert’s ship, the Destroyer USS Ingram, had been operating in the North Atlantic off the coast of Canada. They were chasing a German submarine that was believed to be in the area. It was foggy and they collided with an oil tanker, almost five times the size. The collision set off the depth charges on the back of the ship. It sank in 25 seconds. Only 11 of the crew of 175 survived. Herbert was not one of them.

I don’t know how my father felt when he heard the news. I can only imagine. Over the years he recounted the story about received news of his brother’s death while he was in boot camp many times but in all the times he told that story, I don’t recall him once talking about how he felt. About how Herbert’s death impacted his family. Whether he was suddenly scared to go to war or did it strengthen his resolve. Herbert had been killed in a freak accident. He had not died at the hands of our enemies.

We never discussed any of that. Worst of all I don’t have a single recollection of me asking him.

We didn’t talk about feelings; at least not with Dad.

On the 20th of August 1971 my grandfather, Alfred Alexander Monnette died suddenly. My dad went to Michigan for the funeral I don’t think my mother joined him nor did my brother or I. The stated reason was probably that we had school or it was too expensive for us all to go. In hindsight, my guess is that it would be an emotional event and we don’t talk about emotions. At least not with Dad.

Following his death, my grandmother, Edith Perkins, came to live with us in Yorktown, Virginia. She was 76 years old and was apparently suffering from some form of dementia. I barely remember her. She was there for such a short period of time. As I recall the story, she started saying to my father things such as “Bud, who is this strange woman in the house?” referring to my mother. Before I knew it she as gone. Moved to a nursing home somewhere in Newport News.  If we visited her, I have not a single memory of it. I was 12.

Years passed without a single memory or mention of my grandmother. My parents didn’t talk about her around me and I never asked. I am my father's son after all

More than a decade passed, maybe two before I finally asked my mother, I couldn’t ask Dad, “What happened to grandma?” “She passed away several years ago.” “What happened?” I asked. “Oh dear, she was old.”

In fact, she was 88.  She died on August 1, 1983.  I was 24. In all that time there was never a mention of it or if there was I have not a single memory. I know I did not attend a memorial of any kind. As with her husband, my grandfather, I do not know if she is buried or if she was cremated. I imagine they were both cremated. The cost of a burial isn’t something that Dad would have wanted to spend. I have no idea what became of their ashes.

Emotions are not something that my father was comfortable with and especially not painful ones. A lesson I learned well from him.

But as with anything, you can change, and as I would learn the hard way much later in life, nothing provides more leverage for change than pain.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Through A Different Lens

I recently found an old photo album of my parents. As I went through it I found so many great images of them in their early years. I even found a photo of my grandfather as a young boy that had to have been taken in the late 1800s. I know it is him because my father had written on the photo “father” with an arrow pointing to the boy.

I love this image of my mother on her wedding day. I know it’s their wedding day because I saw other images of her in that dress at what was clearly their wedding. In this shot she appears to be standing in their new home. Again I am able to piece that together from other images in the collection. In one, they are standing outside next to a very modest home. They are holding hands. Mom looks beautiful in her white dress, still perfect from the wedding. Dad has his tie loosened and his sleeves rolled up. They almost certainly have just come from the church or the wedding reception to see their new home. They are 22 years old and they are beginning a brand new chapter in their life.

This picture makes me smile every time I look at it. I can see how happy she is. I imagine how excited they both must be. I wish she was here to tell me more about that day. How she felt standing in her new home with her new husband.

Knowing my father, and seeing him in the other photo, I can’t help but wonder if he is worried about things? How will he provide for his new family? Can he afford the mortgage payments? Will the Navy send him off to war? There is no one who was there that day to tell me the story.

Over the years since my children were born we have captured literally thousands of pictures, Countless pictures of happy times. All the wonderful memories captured in photographs. Our lives have been good, although when I look back there have been dark and difficult times as well. Those are not captured anywhere in the photos. Those are the memories that live between the photos of Christmas’ together, birthday celebrations, and weddings. Those are the times we try to forget. Like a deep cut, the wounds eventually heal. The scar that is left is a constant reminder of the pain. Those are also the times that have had some of the biggest impacts on our lives but I have talked so little about them with my children. Probably because I actually know so little about the real reasons myself.

This has led me to new project. One that has pulled me away from this blog and even my photography a bit. I started writing a memoir. My story about some of the more impactful things that have happened in my life. It is a rather overwhelming challenge for a guy like me. I have never been a writer, although the fact that I am writing this I guess suggest that I am a now. Far more challenging is the fact I spent most of my life avoiding any discussions of feelings. So to try a tackle such an ambitious project is a bit scary for me.

I wish I knew more about what my father was thinking when I was a boy. Why he could never share his feelings. I wish I had asked him to tell me more about his childhood when I saw him break down in tears recounting the punishment he would frequently get from his father when he misbehaved. I wish I knew my Uncle Herbert who died in the war when he was 19. What was he like and how did his death at such a young age change my father?  I wish I knew if the stories about my grandfather, my mother's father, and my “Aunt” Clem were true.

And I wish I knew what happened between my parents so many years ago when I was a baby, or perhaps before, that nearly tore them apart.

There are so many things that have shaped, in some way, who I am today that I will never know.

So I decided to write a memoir for my children. To tell them the things that I never told them. So perhaps they can understand just a little bit more about the events that have happened in our lives. That has shaped who they are. So maybe, together, we can learn something.

And perhaps I am writing my memoir to be understood and to do that I must first understand myself.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Leaning down the mountain


Last weekend I went skiing for the first time this season. It was February. That is the latest first day on the slopes for me in the last ten years or more. I normally start thinking about skiing sometime in the fall and can’t wait for the snow to start falling. This year was different. I wasn’t excited. There was no sense of urgency. In fact, for my birthday last month, my buddy Jeff and I spent the weekend in the mountains with the plan of skiing. We never did.

I met Jeff 15 years ago and skiing was one of the passions we connected on almost immediately. He is a fluid, graceful, confident skier who grew up racing as a young boy. I had only been skiing for a few years when we met. He was always patient, willing to stay with me on the green runs while at the same time encouraging me to try the easier blue runs. He would watch me snowplow down the mountain with my skis in a giant pizza shape and encourage me to bring my skis together, point my chest down the mountain, and lean forward. “You are fighting it,” he would tell me. “Just relax, and lean into it a bit. A little speed will make it easier.” That is easier said than done. Trying to convince your frightened brain that it should relax and lean into it is counterintuitive; at times physically impossible.

For the last 15 years, we were on the slopes together every chance we got and my skiing has improved significantly. I will never ski with his confidence or grace but I am a reasonably confident skier. So when Jeff and I woke up in Silverthorne, 30 minutes from several great ski resorts and opted for breakfast and a Bloody Mary at the Arapahoe Cafe in Dillon instead of skiing we both knew that something was up.

On a typical ski day, all I can think about as I get ready is standing at the top of the mountain, with amazing views of the snow cover Rocky Mountains set on the beautiful blue background of the Colorado sky. I think about the sound of my skis on the snow. I think about pushing myself to go harder and faster. I love the feel of my legs working hard to hang on to an edge in a turn, ignoring how ugly my skiing really is, all the while envisioning myself skiing like Bode Miller.

Last weekend I could easily have opted for the Arapahoe Cafe again. In fact, I am pretty sure I suggested as much. All I could think about was the hassle of getting there. Traffic. Parking. Fighting to put on my boots and then clopping along awkwardly with my skis over my shoulder on icy sidewalks, certain that any minute I would slip and fall. Then waiting in line with countless others for a chairlift to the top. The Bloody Mary seemed so much more sensible.

Marilyn encouraged me. “Let’s just give it a try. We don’t have to stay all day,” So perhaps a bit begrudgingly, I put on my skis for the first time in almost a year. And for the first time, I was afraid.

I wasn’t afraid of being injured. No, I was afraid that I couldn’t ski. Not because of my physical conditioning or my abilities as a skier. Those are both fine. I was afraid that I might learn, that as my field of vision has continued to narrow over the years, this might be the season when I finally knew it was time to hang up my skis for good.

My visual acuity is actually as good or better than many people but that doesn’t tell the real story. My problem isn’t one of focus. When I look at an eye chart in the doctor’s office I can see the characters I am looking at with reasonable clarity; the characters I am looking directly at. Surrounding characters are less clear and if you move too far from the center they are completely gone.

Macular degeneration is a slow, progressive disease. It happens so gradually you are hardly aware of the changes. My vision is no different today then it was yesterday. And it was no different yesterday then it was the month before. Yet, it is unquestionably different today then it was last year. I find myself frustrated because I can’t find a utensil I am looking for in the kitchen drawer. It’s not that I can’t see it. It’s that Marilyn moved it. At least that is what I tell myself. It’s unfair to her, I know, but I used to be able to find things more easily.

Two weeks ago I sold my motorcycle. The last one I will ever own. A decision that I had been putting off for some time. I hadn't ridden the bike in probably a year but I couldn’t bring myself to let it go. I had it listed for sale but I wasn’t very aggressive. I didn’t ride it, but I didn’t want to sell it. On a motorcycle, things happen a lot faster than a car. There is so much more to watch for and you can frequently be nearly invisible to other cars and trucks on the road. I knew it was time to stop riding and I didn’t want to wait until the day that I found out the hard way. So I sold it. 

As I put on my skis for the first time in the season, that thought was on my mind. Is this the year I sell my skis too?

As we approached the top of the mountain on the chairlift that morning I suddenly realized that the lift was about to abruptly dump me off with two skis strapped to my feet, something that I have down countless times. But for just a moment I thought “what if I fall just getting off the lift?” I didn’t notice the beautiful mountains around me. Images of Bode Miller were replaced with the Three Stooges or the Keystone Cops on skis.

We started out slow, on the green slopes, with all the beginners. I felt so awkward as I started down that first run. If Marilyn had asked me if I wanted to quit and get that Bloody Mary I would have jumped at the thought. As I approach each little dip on that first run I forced myself to lean down the mountain, to trust my muscle memory. To let my legs and my body worry about skiing and focus my mind and more importantly my eyes on the terrain and the other skiers around me. I carefully manage my speed for the first few runs, pushing myself a little hard each time, making sure that I wasn’t skiing faster than my eyes could capture all the information I needed to be safe. I did what my buddy Jeff encouraged me to do. I relaxed, leaned into it, and skied.

By the end of the day, I was comfortably skiing at 35 mph, well below my best speeds in excess of 50 mph, but I was skiing. That’s when I began to notice for the first time that day just how beautiful the Rocky Mountains can be.

No this isn’t the year. That day is coming but not this year.

When the day finally comes and it is time to hang up my skis for good, I hope I can do the same thing. Relax and just lean into it. I know that will make it easier.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How to live forever



I have no memory of this day. The shot was probably taken somewhere in Italy, when I was between Kindergarten and the second grade. I have no memory, yet I know it was a good time in my life. I know it because you can see it on my face. And I know it because my parents provided a good life for my brother and me. We were not rich. Far from it. Our father was a Navy man. Mom a legal secretary, I think, but that was probably much later in life. We never had the big house on the corner or the fanciest car in the driveway.

We had so much more.

We had a mother who loved us more than any person could. And a father who wanted nothing more than to provide a better life for his children than he had known as a child. It’s a time when I was probably as close as I could be to my true authentic self. I am sure I felt loved, safe, and secure.

I have no memory of this day and very few real memories of even that part of my life although I can feel them inside me. Deep inside. Just out of sight. I can see the shapes and colors. I can feel the memories but there are no details. Maybe a little like my vision today in a dimly lit room.

For so much of my life I lost touch with the young boy in that picture. Life has a way of changing you. Without notice it seems, gone are the days when you feel so safe and secure. Not a care in the world. A complete sense that everything will be fine. They are replaced with a desire, a need, to prove something to your parents, to your friends, to yourself. You change maybe for the better. Maybe for the worse. Who knows, but by the time you are an adult you’ve changed. I think that happens to us all, doesn’t it? Hopefully that’s not just my paranoia speaking.

I think of my children. They had a good childhood. Their mother and I were not perfect parents, but we loved them with all our hearts. I tried to be there for them when I could and to provide a good life for them. Hopefully just a little better than I did as a child. Their mother adored them. They were the center of her life.

I imagine they felt safe. Secure. Like the little boy in the picture.

When they were 14 and 11, it ended abruptly. I will remember for the rest of my life the day we told them we were getting a divorce. My daughter literally laughed. She thought it was a joke. After all, her father was always saying crazy things. No way their world could be coming apart so suddenly. To this day, the memory of her laugh brings a flood of tears to my eyes.

I look at the picture of me as a young boy. I see how safe and how happy that little boy feels. I remember that look in my own children’s eyes right up until that day. Then I think, maybe I wasn’t able to do what my parents did for me after all; provide a better life than they had known. I have worried about how I may have screwed up their lives, sent them on a tangent that would completely derail their future.

What I can see today, is that try as I might, I wasn’t able to. Oh, I am sure they have ghosts in their closet just like all of us. They will have their own self-discovery time in their lives when they will look to reconnect with that young boy or girl buried deep down inside them. Perhaps it won’t be as deep, and they will get there much faster than their father even started looking.

I am so proud of Jonathan and Jen. Their father threw a serious monkey wrench in their lives, yet they are such remarkable young adults. I love them with all my heart.

I hope the day comes when I will be able to meet their children. To see at least a little bit of what their lives will be like. How their parents have provided a life, maybe just a little bit better, than theirs; probably a lot better.

I can’t help but reflect on how hard my father’s life was as a child. I can’t imagine. And all he wanted to do was provide a better life for his children.

Perhaps, in some way, that is what immortality is.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Maybe I am just not a skier, anymore

My wonderful friend Jeff and I were talking about age last night. He is 3 months younger than me yet we have a very different view on our milestone this year. He started referring to himself as 60, six months ago. I am still shocked that I am not 45.

I want to get up and go to work. I want to do what I do. My job isn’t a glamorous one. Certainly not one I dreamed of when I was in college, or ever for that matter. I doubt there are many, if any, that say “boy that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” The job isn’t always the greatest experience but many times, maybe more than most, I find myself challenged, learning something new, being stretched in some small capacity. It’s exciting, invigorating, How could I be 60? I must still be 45.

Every now and then I have to tell someone my birth date and it just catches my breath to say 1959. How is that possible? That’s old. I am not. Maybe all that has changed is my perception of what 60 is. When I was young, 60 was old, far from your prime physically, maybe a little out of touch with current trends or technology. Today I see 60 as experienced, comfortable, confident, less afraid about the small stuff, and maybe more aware of the big stuff.

To celebrate our birthdays, Jeff and I are planning to go skiing today. I like to ski. No, I love to ski. I didn’t learn to ski until I was 40 but when I did I was hooked. I skied every chance I could and every year my skiing got better and I became more comfortable and confident on steeper and steeper terrain. I am a solid intermediate skier. Not the best or the fastest but I am ok.

For the first time, I am not that excited about skiing. What if I can’t see well. I know I will have to ski slower than before. I think I know why I am not excited. It isn’t my fear of being hurt. It’s because I am suddenly aware, that my skiing will only get worse. Right now, I am the best skier I will ever be for the rest of my life, and I am just ok. What’s the point. Better to do something else today maybe.

I have a Harley Davidson Ultra Limited parked in my garage. An amazing bike that I love to ride. Marilyn and I have had some amazing times to together on that bike. It’s for sale. I don’t ride. I can’t or at least I shouldn’t.

Add to the list that I will never again fly an airplane, a passion that I was so fortunate to explore for a number of years.

Jeff asked me the last night, “Have you ever tried dictation when you write? It might help you.” It can be frustrating for me at times trying to find the cursor on the screen or, if I look down at the keyboard for a moment, I am an average typist at best, and then look back at the screen I occasionally get lost. Dictation is an intriguing idea that would help with the physical act of writing.

I can’t do it. Not yet. I have only two rules that I try to stick to when I write. The first is, I write about me. My thoughts, emotions, my experiences. I try hard not to write about others. What can I really know about someone else and besides, my goal is to learn about me.

The second is the hard part. What I write has to be as authentic and as truthful as I know how to be. What I write may not be the truth, but it is what I believe with all my heart. And sometimes, the truth about me isn’t comfortable. So no, I can’t dictate. Not yet. The thought of hearing my words, or worse, someone else hearing them is just too scary. I need to write them quietly, privately, safely if I have any hope of authenticity.

It sounds so silly to write that. I am not going very deep at all in what I write. This is mostly surface stuff. Without question, there is more there. Like an iceberg, you can only see so much. I want to go there and learn more about the iceberg but the thought of it scares me and keeps me from going too deep. What if I don’t like what I see?  It is safer to stay on the surface.

But there is so much to learn below.

Maybe I need to learn how to use dictation so I never get to the point where I say I used to wonder what is below the surface.

And maybe it is time to accept that I used to be a pretty decent skier. I used to be very comfortable handling a fully loaded 1,000-pound motorcycle on some treacherous back roads. And I used to be able to fly a plane.

I don’t think that means the best is behind me. Perhaps it is just below.

Let me take a look.

I Am Pedaling As Hard As I Can

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