A Candle In The Darkness

The true measure of the soul can best be seen when it is alone in the Darkness, without a candle, and no one is looking.

In November 2005, I was in the throws of what had been eleven months of drunken depression.  Just over 4 years had passed since September 11th, and I was in the full throws of alcoholism; my job had been eliminated the previous year and my severance was about to run out; and the acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bi-polar disorder were on full display.  I was falling into the Dark Abyss with no way out, nor (quite frankly) did I care.  As much as I tried to get assistance through therapy, and having friends and family support me, it just wasn’t doing the trick.  There was absolutely no connection with anyone, because quite simply, they did not understand what it was to survive that catastrophic event.  The only Survivors I knew were my former co-workers, but even though you may think you know your co-workers well or be very close with a few; the shared experience is somehow dissipated because for the most part, you shared most of the same one.  I needed to talk with other Survivors, others who had been there on that day and whose lives were forever changed…complete strangers would not be a problem.

Voices of September 11th was an organization I found by chance on the Internet.  One of the founders of the organization was Beverly Eckert, whose husband was killed in the South Tower.  It was dedicated to helping the public understand exactly what happened on that day to the victims and their families; the first responders; the crews who worked over the course of the weeks that followed; and the survivors who were just going to work that day.  There were various outreach programs, and a few of them were separate teleconferences for these groups; and the minute I saw that one was available for survivors, I called the organization.  Someone called me back a few hours later and interviewed me, and told me they had one more spot available in the upcoming teleconference later that afternoon.  Would I like to participate?  Undoubtedly, my answer was an unequivocal “yes”.

At 4 PM, I dialed in to a number, where there were several other survivors who had been in the group for the few months that it was in existence.  I had a large bottle of wine in front of me (as was my usual custom at that time of the afternoon)  and I began to tell my story; and I began to feel something I hadn’t felt through all the therapy and the booze and the haze: an understanding that came from complete strangers.  Similar experiences shared about that day, reactions that still haunted us, and the small little fears of such things as low flying jets that most of the rest of the world wouldn’t even dream of understanding.  From that day onward, I became a member of that group and for a few years (while our funding lasted) had a regular weekly teleconference.  We began to get to know each other and open up more about our lives.  Through the others’ stories, we were better able to understand our own.  We were able to express our fear, doubts, hopes, and dreams without anyone thinking we were nuts when we spoke of them.  I got sober a few months after I joined the group, and they provided an invaluable support system for me as I started my long and (still) difficult journey in combating my alcoholism.  I cannot even begin to express how much this group has helped get me through the darkest period of my life.

Voices of September 11th was only a part of the work Beverly Eckert did after September 11th “for him”, as she would often say about her husband.  She was instrumental in being a voice and a forceful figure in getting Congress to establish the 9/11 Commission which looked into Government failure leading up to the attacks.  She also worked for more transparency in government, imploring Congress to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and improvement of building safety and fire codes that might have perhaps saved more on that awful day, and ensure that perhaps someone else in a disastrous situation would be able to return home safely to their loved ones.  She worked tirelessly for the other spouses and families of survivors, most recently meeting President Obama and other families to discuss changes in handling terror suspects after his decision to close Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility.  She worked for ALL who were involved on that day, not just one particular group of people.  She did the most remarkable work of her life after the most devastating day of her life.

On Thursday, Februray 12th 2009; the aircraft she was flying in crashed into a home just outside her native Buffalo, New York.  She passed from this Earth along with 48 others on that cold winter evening.  When I saw the crash on the news, I reacted the same way as I always do since September 11th: extreme sorrow and grief and empathy for the loved ones.  It was hours later when I found out Ms. Eckert was on the plane, and the tragic irony of it struck me like the proverbial freight train.  While her passing is a great loss, the work she accomplished in just over seven years cannot even begin to be described.

While I never knew nor met Ms. Eckert, I am living proof of her kindness and humanity.  The Survivor’s Group I belong to was instrumental in getting me from that dark place on a desolate November day to a place where I am now; not a perfect one mind you (what is?), but a period of my life which I am starting to have new beginnings.  On March 27th (with some help from The Universe) I will be sober 3 years.  I’ve started to work on the novel about the past seven years of my life, and I write this blog several times a week.  I’m working on repairing relationships with my wife and kids, and other family and friends.  I am still trying to make some sort of sense as to just why I survived and turn the rest of my life into a meaningful one.  I am meeting other Survivors, and I am finding out that we may have different stories of just where we were on that awful day, but we have the same feelings and a connection to other Survivors that is only now starting to come to the surface.  Much of that was all made possible by Beverly Eckert’s work on our behalf.  No, I did not know Beverly Eckert…but she passed on to me something that I desperately needed…

A candle for the darkness.

“What does the candle represent?”
“Life.”
“Whose life?”
“All life, every life. We’re all born as molecules in the hearts of a billion stars, molecules that do not understand politics, policies and differences. In a billion years we, foolish molecules forget who we are and where we came from. Desperate acts of ego. We give ourselves names, fight over lines on maps. And pretend our light is better than everyone else’s. The flame reminds us of the piece of those stars that live inside us. A spark that tells us: you should know better. The flame also reminds us that life is precious, as each flame is unique. When it goes out, it’s gone forever. And there will never be another quite like it.”

–  J. Michael Straczynski (taken from the Babylon 5 Episode, “And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder”)

A Quiet, Romantic Night Alone…With The Gas Company

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday (you may all sing after you read this, OK?).  Our original plan was to go out to dinner, and then go to a bar where her friend (who she grew up with, hasn’t seen in 20 years,  and recently got in touch with via Facebook) and her husband would be watching his brother’s band.  OK, recovering alcoholic in a bar is not necessarily a good thing, but I’ve done it before in restaurants or hotel bars or small pubs where there aren’t a lot of people and I can just sip an O’Doul’s or whatever non-alcoholic beer they have in peace.  Keep this in mind as we go forward…

Another part of the grand master plan was to have my youngest daughter stay with her aunt and Grandparents at their house, roughly 50 miles from our place.  My wife would leave early, drop my daughter off and stay for breakfast, and come back home, beating the rush hour by a few hours.  My oldest daughter was supposed to stay over her friends’ house for a sleepover with a few other girls.  Seems good on the surface, right?  I mean, my wife and I RARELY get out alone so this was going to be a very cool thing.  And as Robert Burns once said about mice and men, the grand master plan began to unravel.  My sister-in-law forgot she was committed to being the class mom for a trip, which meant she wouldn’t be home until 3PM.  That now meant my mother and father-in-law would watch my daughter for a bit until my sister-in-law got home (they live next door to each other).  Then my oldest daughter’s friend canceled their plans; so I just said, to hell with it.  I thought it might be nice if we all just went out for dinner, and we meet up with my wife’s friend and her hubby out for dinner a couple of weeks down the road.  Makes sense, right?

I was outvoted.  My oldest decided she wanted to go along with her sister, and my wife wanted to continue with our original plans.  We had told my mother in law an hour prior that we were reviewing our plans, and we’d get back to her.  Well, it seems like she took that as an opening in her vast social calendar and decided to fill it without hearing back from us; so by the time the morning rolled around for the start of a 4 day weekend, it was just my father-in-law solo who would be minding my two girls.  Look, he’s a great guy but he has a heart condition and the last thing he needs is to deal with my two kids running around without any assistance.  That now meant my wife had to stay until 3PM and would drive home in rush hour traffic.  I was not pleased.  When days start to go like this, you just know the fuse has been lit on the powder keg; well, strike up the match folks, because here comes the fuse…

I kissed my wife and daughters goodbye, and started to look for just exactly where this bar is in Belmar.  All I was doing was looking for a map, when I came across the fact that it had a website.  Oh, brother.  Bars only have a website if they are old and respectable establishments (the kind I am comfortable in), or loud caverns full of drunken revelers.  Click…cue up the thumping music from the speakers on my Mac and the scantily clad dancers at the top of the screen.  This place has “Danger, Will Robinson” written all over it; based on the photo gallery on the site, I was older than 90% of the crowd and could easily have been their dad.  The bartenders were a bit unconventional (but absolutely gorgeous women in very tight tops…I’m sure there were men bar tending for the women on the other side of the bar).  The place was packed with people, and given my PTSD would absolutely not have been a place to go to.  I would have completely freaked out within an hour and had a Sex On The Beach in my hand within 15 minutes.  This was NOT a place to go.  I even called two friends to see what they thought, and all they did was get as far as the splash page on the site and the immediate reaction in both instances was, “You ARE NOT going here!”  This was also the kind of place I was not going to feel comfortable allowing my wife to go in by herself, even if she were meeting people.  I trust her…it’s everyone else I don’t!  Of course, my wife was completely unaware of this as she was on the road; and I gave it some time before we spoke on the phone.

I kind of lay it out for her how I feel about things, tell her to think about it and we’ll talk later.  In the meantime, I’m getting crazy…absolutely crazy projecting negativity and thinking negative thoughts…the mind is running 10 million miles an hour.  This is what it is like to have PTSD and bi-polar disorder, folks.  Couple that with an aching back and it’s not making for a very nice scene.  I’m wound up tighter than I’ve been in a long time, and I’m popping Xanax like M&Ms just to calm down and keep the never ending panic attacks at bay.  I’m a mess.  (My life has now been reduced to running from my own shadow (and everyone else’s); keeping 10,000 thoughts into one single coherent one; maintain control over an extremely volatile temper; trying not to jump out of my skin because of a loud noise, and all of this…all of this while not trying to have a drink in the process.  This is what I am faced with every day.  It ain’t easy.)

My wife calls me just before she’s leaving to come home to say that we’ll just go out to dinner and a movie instead.  A nice, small, and VERY quiet (and now possibly romantic without the kids present, plus we can order more exotic food) Chinese Restaurant with amazing cuisine very close to us; and a movie we can both agree on: “Underworld: Revenge Of The Lycans”.  (NOTE: About the movie choice, my wife loves horror movies, and I liked the first two of these flicks in the series.  Besides, I had to watch the damned trailer every week for 12 weeks before I watched the webisodes of “Battlestar Galactica” on the Sci-Fi website; I figured I might as well go).  I’m getting ready: showered, beard trimmed, cats fed, cleaning up the kitchen a bit.  I thought I noticed a cool breeze for a moment, but we have an older home with an addition on it, so that happens every once in a while (or it’s our resident poltergeist; yes, we have one…and that’s another post in itself) and I think nothing of it.  Tess gets home, gets in the shower, and I’m noticing it feeling cooler in the house.  Uh-oh.  I go over to home of the heat registers, and it’s blowing cool air.  I check the thermostat: it’s on “Heat”, and there wasn’t an accidental switch somehow to “Air Conditioning”.  At this point, after everything that’s happened so far…I am starting to loose it.  OK, pop another Xanax and call the Gas Company.  The fuse is getting very short…

One of the smartest things you can do is get the Service Contract your Gas Company offers you every year; if there’s something wrong with the water heater or furnace, they’ll fix it and pretty much do anything but replace the equipment itself.  Parts and labor all included.  So, I called the gas company and the soonest appointment was the following afternoon.  I turned on my Irish charm, and explained the whole situation and they managed to get someone to come out and look at things by 8:00 PM.  OK, we could at least have dinner OR the movie (which started at 10 PM) at this point.  The Repair Guy gets here, starts up the furnace…and the heat is suddenly working.  Great…as usual, the damed equipment has a mind of its own, one designed to embarrass it’s owners.  The guy leaves, my wife continues to get ready and I pass one of the heat registers and notice that it’s warm air now, not hot.  Oh no…not again?  Again!  Within 5 minutes, it was blowing cold air.  I shut the damned thing off, call the Gas Company again and they can only send someone out the following morning.  At this point, my wife had thrown in the towel and started to make something for herself to eat, and I went to my basement den to brood.  The fuse was finished, reached the powder keg…BOOM!

Despite the fact that I was loaded up with a lovely cocktail of Xanax and other medications that would probably knock most people into next week…I lost it.  Totally lost it.  Anger and Depression and Confusion all coming through the head with great alacrity and nothing is stopping them.  It’s been a long time sense I had a meltdown like this, and not only was my wife avoiding me…so were the cats.  Pop another Xanax (I’m now at 2 mg. intake at this point) and finally start to settle down.  I actually decided at that point that I might as well go to bed, where I proceeded to rant for another hour (annoying and frightening my wife simultaneously) until all the meds kicked in at once and I was mercifully knocked unconscious for the evening.

It was a three cat night.  All of our felines were cozied up with us this morning when our alarm clocks went off an hour before the Repair Guy was supposed to get here.  The air was a chilly 60 degrees; and my wife was even more frigid.  My rants went a little too far last night, and I said some things that were downright crazy and hurtful and absolutely uncalled for…and I don’t even remember it at all.  Arriving on time at 8 AM, the gentleman proceeded to tell me it was the air filter and particles that accumulated in the furnace that caused the problem.  He got things up and running, and just after he finished,  I’m told him of all the craziness of yesterday when he just looks at me with this face of disbelief, and he simply said with a smile,  “It was Friday the 13th”.

I’ll try and somehow make things up to my wife, although I don’t know how long that is going to take.  We’re going through a rough patch right now, and seemed to pull ourselves out of it, and I screwed it up.  (It always works this way with us lately; we just can’t seem to get he train on the rails again.)  All I know is one thing: next Friday the 13th, I am making no plans nor am I driving anywhere.  Despite the fact that this little disaster happened at home, I plan to do nothing except lock myself in a room with nothing but a supply of Coke, cigarettes, and DVDs.  I never used to give this day any credence…but after yesterday, I have second thoughts.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” – William Hutchinson Murray

The Coming Of A Pastime And The Passing Of An Age

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, from “The Green Fields Of The Mind”

My wife doesn’t get baseball.

No, really…it’s not that she doesn’t understand it; it’s just that she cannot see what I see in the game.  She cannot see the subtle strategy, whether it is a double switch or a slight shift of the outfield to the left while bringing the infield slightly over to the right when a switch hitter is up against a southpaw.  She cannot get as excited as I do when I see the subtleties of the game unfold before me, a stealth war on green grass on a hot summer day.  She’ll sit and watch my beloved New York Yankees with me occasionally and I’ll try and show her what I’m seeing and why a manager is moving his players around the field in a certain fashion.  Why statistics in baseball are LITERALLY the game plan, because that’s all you really have to go by.  Baseball is the only job in the world where you are considered successful if you succeed three out of ten tries; if that ever happened to me when I was working, I’d be out of a job and have no problem watching day games at the Stadium.  Then again, I’m not a guy with a piece of wood in my hand trying to hit a small sphere traveling at close to 100 miles an hour.

Baseball is all about the statistics and the subtlety.  In football, you draw up a game plan based on what you seen in film of the opponents’ game plans from previous weeks; likewise basketball and hockey.  Football is in your face; hockey operates at a relentless pace; and basketball occasionally plods along, but for the most part keeps the ball moving.  Baseball is slow, deliberate, nuanced, and demanding.  The only game plan IS the statistics, how well a hitter has performed in the past against a particular pitcher and visa versa; the on-base percentage of the batter and how a batter is performing in that particular game (if he’s 0 for 3 is he due for a hit or will he go 0for 4?); how often has your middle reviever pitched in the past few days…all things to be considered in one game of a 162 game season that lasts from the spring to the fall.

My running joke with my daughter for the past few years after we’ve finished watching the Super Bowl has always been to say, “3 weeks till pitchers and catchers”; this year she said that to me for the first time.  She’s starting to enjoy the game, and is slowly beginning to see the subtleties of the game.  Her favorite sport is football (as is mine), but baseball is a close second these days as I’ll be able to sit with her on pretty much any night (especially when the Yanks and Red Sox play) and point out little things.  It’s how I learned how to appreciate the game from my dad when I was young, and I think that’s a big part of it: getting the kids involved and knowledgeable at an early age.  Get them involved with a team and have them stick with it so they don’t become a band wagon jumper when one day down the road they unexpectedly win a World Series.  Just ask Phillies fans.

I grew up in a baseball era of transition, and coming from Brooklyn, this was an understatement.  The Dodgers left for LA in 1957 along with the Giants, which pretty much left the Yankees the only game in town.  Many Dodger fans simply gave up on baseball until the Mets came along in 1962; others continued to follow their teams and root for them in LA or San Fransisco.  My Uncle was a huge Giants fan, and every time the Giants and Mets would play, there would be a war in their household.  My dad sat out one season of baseball (proper mourning time) and caught the Dodgers playing in Philly a few times, but he became a NY Yankees fan officially with the 1959 season.  He just loved the game too much; he still does, watching all 162 of the Yankee games every season never missing a single one.  At the time, his hatred of the NY Giants as a Dodger fan outweighed his hatred of the Yankees; besides, he admired a lot of players on the Yanks, particularly Mickey Mantle.  By the time I went to my first game at Yankee Stadium in 1966, he was a fire-breathing Yankee fan…and that was what I eventually became.  I suffered through some many lean years; guys like Celarino Sanchez, Horace Clarke, Fritz Peterson, Lindy MacDaniel, Joe Peppitone, and others still cloud my memories with their awful play.  I didn’t know my first winning season and World Series Championship until 1976.

I had some more lean years as a fan in the 80’s and early 90’s, but the one bright spot was a first baseman named Donald Arthur Mattingly, a/a/a Donnie Baseball.  He was one of the greatest hitters of the game, with the immortal Ted Williams even saying he was the best hitter he has ever seen.  His fielding was stellar; the plays that Donnie would make at First Base were simply incredible.  He won 9 Gold Gloves, and except for 1990 ALL of them were consecutive.  That’s a tough number to get, but to do them consecutively (5 then 4) is practically unheard of.  They just don’t give away Gold Glove Awards.  His swing was a thing of beauty: he could pull the ball and put it in play wherever you needed him to.  He took advantage of fielders’ weaknesses.  He has a lifetime batting average of .307, and was a six-time All Star and a one time MVP.  He tied a record of hitting a home run in ten consecutive games.  His highest salary was his last contract from 1991-94 where he earned 3.4 million per.  That’s a bargain…and that’s just for those statistics.  Sadly, his only playoff appearance was in the first Wild Card Playoffs between the NY Yankees and the Seattle Mariners in 1995 (the best 5 games of baseball I have ever seen played) where he batted .407 with a slugging percentage of .708.  He retired after that season, way too young and his body battered with injury which robbed the game of someone who could have been as great a hitter as Ted Williams was if he had stayed healthy.  There was another intangible to Don Mattingly that everyone in the game recognizes: he was a fantastic teammate, and an all around good sportsman.  This was an ambassador of baseball, who has sadly failed to make it into the Hall of Fame yet.

As Mattlingly retired, Derek Jeter came up through the Yankee farm system.  He played with the Mattingly in the latter part of his last year, but in the Spring of 1996, he became the starting shortstop of the Yankees.  A superb hitter, a stellar fielder (who managed to perform the most phenomenal play I had ever seen in a playoff series against the Oakland A’s in 2001), and a quiet but effective leader in the clubhouse.  Like Don Mattingly, a Captain of the team (only Lou Gherig, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Ron Guidry held the title previously).  Like Mattingly an example of everything that is right about the game.  It was indeed the passing of an age, and my beloved Yankees went on a massive run to win numerous American League and World Championships over the next 13 years.  The patience of my youth was rewarded ten fold in my middle age.

At the exact same time of Derek Jeter’s arrival in New York, Alex Rodriguez became the starting shortstop of the Seattle Mariners in 1996.  It soon became aparant over his first 4 seasons, that this was a most special individual; a gifted five tool player who comes along once in a generation.  He was considered the best shortstop in baseball in addition to being a magnificent hitter.  His contract as a Free Agent signing with the Texas Rangers was the largest in baseball history.  When it became aparant after winning the first of his AL MVPs in 2003 that they would not be able to afford him any longer (and since the team was hemmoraging money), he was traded to the New York Yankees.  He agreed to the trade despite having agreed to play Third Base (as Jeter was firmly enconsed at Short) and he excelled at the position.  He won another two MVPs while with the Yankees over the next several years.  He is on pace to break almost every cherished record in the Baseball Record Book, including that of most lifetime Home Runs.  On paper and on the field this is a guy you want on your team.  Unlike Mattingly or Jeter, A-Rod can be aloof with his teammates and elusive with the media…nonetheless, it was always believed that he was never a user of Performance Enhancing Drugs.

The other day a report surfaced that he used PEDs after failing a drug test in 2003.  It was a “trial run” of testing that the Players Union carried out in an agreement with the owners that if 5% or more Major Leaguers tested positive for any banned substances, mandatory testing would begin the following year.  The results were supposed to be destroyed, but for some unknown reason it never was.  The only one of the 104 players on that list that was “leaked” to the press was Alex Rodriguez.  The man who so many thought was the last best hope of baseball, went the route of other players who had to use drugs to achieve the greatness that only he could achieve on his own without drugs.  The inevitable media storm followed and sports talk radio in the Tri-State Area was buzzing.  Everybody had something to say, including the President who said he “tarnished an era” .  Ouch…not good, especially from the first baseball fan coming on the same day in which you owned up, explained what happened, and apologized to baseball and baseball fans.  His teammates support him.

I am not going to condone what he did, nor will I second-guess if there’s more behind the story that has already published.  The man owned up to a mistake yesterday, and will have to deal with the repercussions of having made a poor choice (well, it’s complete stupidity if you ask me) almost a decade ago.  There has been no infractions since that test as random testing has been inplace since 2004.  The man has had arguably some of the best seasons of his career since 2003, all without the aid of any PEDs.  He is still an amazing player to watch day in and day out.  Perhaps this incident might even make him less aloof and more of a teammate, and also a better human being in the process.  He can set things right again by being involved with kids in making sure they don’t do any kind of drugs at all, let alone PEDs.  He can play at a level that is worthy of every cent the Yankees gave him in a 10 year contract and take baseball into the next age, a new era of the sport.  A new age untarnished by Performance Enhancing Drugs, and back to the basics of playing a game that is for the ages; a game of subtlety and nuance; a game whose torch is passed from generation to generation.

All I know is this: if Derek Jeter’s name is on that list of 104 names, I’ll take a torch and personally burn the new Yankee Stadium myself.

“Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, from “The Green Fields Of The Mind”

Pieces Of My Past

Blame my wife…it’s all her fault.

A few weeks ago, she joined Facebook: the web application that lets you connect with friends on the Net and make new ones.  I kept noticing how (more than she normally was) she was laughing, crying out “Oh My God!  I haven’t seen her in years!”, and starting up a new city called Polyannaville on a game called Metropolis (where you run a city, control its economy and infrastructure…name it).  She was being more obsessive on the Mac than normal, and one day just before Christmas she convinced me to join as well.  Oh boy, bad mistake Mrs Walsh…your husband with the addictive personality (remember?) is now declaring himself addicted hook, line, and sinker to Facebook.

In the past month, I have managed to reconnect with five guys who I went to High School with, all of whom except one I haven’t seen since the day we graduated.  A guy I grew up with in Staten Island who shared the other side of our duplex got in touch we me about a month ago; that was the first time we had been in touch since 1978 when he moved to Pennsylvania.  I’ve also just gotten in touch with one of three brothers who were my best friends growing up before they moved to Switzerland back in 1970.  I’ve added current friends and relatives…including my wife, who constantly sends me virtual pieces of “flair”.  (Flair is pretty much funny of slogans and/or illustrations on virtual buttons.)  I get virtual kisses and hugs from her (more than I do in real life, I think), asked to join groups, clubs, and also receive virtual gifts (Brooklyn Egg Creams, Super Hero Villains, and Baseball paraphernalia for example).  All this even has me using Skype again for the first time in many years, just so not only can I chat with old friends; they can see that I’ve aged gracefully.  (Aw, who am I kidding? At least I still have a full head of hair!)

Last night, I got in touch with an old friend who is kind of in the same place as I am right now in my life.  She just became a single mom; her kids are the roughly the same age as my youngest daughter; and there’s a lot going on in her life and we were both commiserating of how unexpected this place is we now find ourselves in.  While the circumstances surrounding our mid-life shifting pathways are different, this much is certain: I think we both helped each other out today during our two hour and change conversation; I sure as hell know that she said a few things that I appreciated hearing about my own situation.  It’s funny how when you reconnect with someone with whom you were very close friends with but for one reason or another got separated by time or distance, there’s always a tentative awkwardness when you first start out the conversation.  You may have known someone for almost 30 years, but you search for words and tiptoe around others.  Then the familiarity comes back, the words flow easily and without any barriers, and the next thing you know you’re talking like it’s Christmas Break 1980 and you’re hanging out at a basement party again.  Then reality hits, and you both have to pick up your kids from school.  (So much for the bong hits and “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, huh?)

Before I joined Facebook, I was starting to wonder about many of my old friends I haven’t kept up with anyway.  Why I felt a sudden urge to reconnect with pieces of my past I cannot say; perhaps it’s because I’m turning 48 next month, or maybe I just feel a little more settled in now in my role as a stay at home dad and pursuing my calling of being a writer.  Perhaps the Universe says it’s time, and for that I am eternally grateful.  When my 3 friends moved to Switzerland when I was 10, I was completely shattered.  The block on Staten Island where I grew up didn’t have many denizens of intellectual capability; even more so when you are young and intellectually gifted as we all were.  When they left, I honestly did not have a friendship with anyone of like mind until I went to High School (I attended an all-boys Catholic High School run by Irish Christian Brothers).  In the interim while I was in intellectually gifted classes in grammar school, I honed up my sense of humor…mostly as a defense mechanism…so by the time I got to High School and then College I was not only smart, but a smart ass as well.  The unresolved nature of this friendship with these three brothers had bothered me for years; I would always talk about them with other friends I made through the years, but most especially with my wife who knows me best and could see why this meant a lot to me.  We’re all trying to make plans to get our families together along with our parents who were also very close.

Likewise, catching up with a lot of my old High School buddies was a great thing.  One of my friends (who I also worked busing tables in a restaurant) as it turns out is also a 9/11 Survivor.  He is a broker and had his offices in Lower Manhattan at the time.  We wound up chatting via Instant Message one night, when we started talking about that day and I just got to the point after about 5 minutes where I said, “Call me” and the phone rang 10 seconds later.  We were on the line for well over two hours; although much of the subject matter was not a happy one.  It was a connection made not only with an old friend, but with a fellow survivor…and I cannot possibly explain to you what means on an emotional level unless you are one yourself.  There is a commonality among 9/11 Survivors ; a sense of pain and loss and grief; and although our stories are all unique, we share in the horror of that day.  It is a terrible transcendence of being; and yet, you long to share and bond with other survivors.  You compare notes, little details about what you saw and how you reacted, and most importantly how you dealt with if afterward.  The latter point is where the true genesis of understanding is, because every single one of us dealt with the horror differently.  It’s one of the reasons why I am working on the book about what happened to me on 9/11 and afterward; because not all of us can connect with each other and simply say to another survivor these words:  “You are not alone.”

In a way, perhaps that is the real reason I feel a need for searching out and picking up the scattered fragments of my life; the need for some company, and old friend to say that I am not alone, and perhaps for me to return the favor as well.  In the end, it really is about human beings having a need not to be alone, to form a connection on some level with another; be it friend, lover, or acquaintance.  Many times it’s those old bonds that need to be reconnected and perhaps strengthened, because as one of the guys I just got back in touch with said to me, they actually became the foundation of the rest of your life.  My friend with whom I spoke today was a very important part of my life in my early 20s; we had a lot in common then, and we sure as hell have a lot in common now particularly since we are both at a crossroads.  We have both gotten to points in our lives where we never expected to be; never could have conceived what is happening now 25 years ago.  But there we were today, talking on an extraordinarily warm and beautiful Northeast Winter Day pretty much saying 4 words…

You are not alone.

“When others cloud your vision, you have to take control.  Accept a higher mission, live it heart and soul.  Can’t exist on former glories, reputations fade so fast.  Time to tell a different story, make it good and make it last.” – Martin Orford,  from The Time And The Season

Milepost 100

Believe it or not, this is the 100th post I have done on this blog…100 posts that have covered everything from my kitchen reconstruction to the election; the state of humanity and my beliefs in a sentient universe; my life as a father and how I managed to survive 9/11, depression, alcoholism, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Pretty much everything under the sun.  So, I’m going to pick out a few pieces pieces that I think you should read (or perhaps re-read) since we started this blog back on September 10th 2008.  (Feel free to read each post by clicking on its title and you’ll be directed straight there.  Then hit the back button to return to this post.):

If you want to understand your humble author, the guy who writes the stuff that you keep coming back to for enjoyment or punishment, you need to read a few relevant posts: Memories Of Two Towers Struck Down is what happened to me on September 11, 2001.  Outside of my own birth, marriage, and birth of my children; it is the single most important and life changing even in my life (for better or for worse).  A Silent Awakening, Day 2558, and The Unheralded Paragons, are follow up pieces that highlight where my thinking was headed in the days and years following the attack.  Redemption deals with my battle with alcoholism and my last bender before I got sober; Grace and Redemption relates somewhat to the former post, but it essentially ties up what exactly happened to me this past September that got me to start writing again and the founding this Blog, all within the context of Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency.

I’ve been extremely controversial during this campaign.  I made absolutely no bones about the fact that I was a supporter of Barack Obama, despite the fact that I am an Independent.  I could run off a list of posts that dealt with just about every aspect of the campaign, but I have a few that I am really proud of; not so much because they went out and attacked McCain and/or Palin, but because I thought they pretty much encapsulated what both campaigns were all about.  A Danger To The Republic Part I, Part II and Part III; and Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been A Member Of The Republican Party? all got a lot of hits from all over the web and pretty much summed up my feelings about the McCain campaign, and the fear I was feeling as I watched some of my fellow citizens slowly lose their self-control (as did I in some of the writing contained in the pieces; but that’s how I felt at the time and I offer no apologies).  After President Obama’s Election, two posts (A Moment To Remember and The Closed Circle [Prologue])were forever enshrined here as soon as I knew the results of the election.  Needless to say, I was a happy man.  As for the rest of the election material; there’s a wealth of stuff in the Blog, but you’re just going to have to have a look around.

Not everything was serious, though…I had my moments of humor as well.  Like during the seven weeks it took to reconstruct my kitchen, which provided a plethora of entertaining moments for many of you (and in retrospect, some of it WAS pretty funny, but not quite so at the time).  So with tongue firmly in cheek and rapier wit unsheathed, I unleashed The Kitchen Chronicles, The Never Ending Kitchen Chronicles, The Return Of The Son Of The Kitchen Chronicles, and it’s coda Our Long Domestic Nightmare Is Over (Sort Of) on an unsuspecting world.  Finally, two posts that really got a lot of traffic were I Just Need A Small Bailout: A Letter To My Favorite Uncle and Dumb People.

Those are the “elite eighteen” of the posts I have written since September that pretty much tell you where I’m coming from as far as my personal life, politics, and crazy situations go.  There is one piece that I am probably most proud of, about the closing of the old Yankee Stadium when the last game was played in it.  It was a very tough piece for me to write emotionally, because my dad and I are kind of estranged at the moment, so there were a lot of tears shed when I wrote it, and I still get a lump in my throat when I read it: For Absent Friends, In Memories Burning Brightly. You’ll see why when you read it.

It’s very rare a writer is satisfied with their work, but every once in a while, The Universe gives you a perfect moment of inspiration and you seize it and do something with it; that’s why I think that particular post is one of my all time favorite pieces of writing.  It just captures something in me that is the essence of why I write in the first place.  Why I sit here at ungodly hours typing away when I should be in bed.  It’s also why writing is such a lonely thing as well.  It’s just you and the computer, paper, or Underwood…just your thoughts and a means to somehow get them all together into coherency so that someone will HOPEFULLY read it.  As I mentioned on another post, a fellow blogger once told me that a writer needs an audience to make their art complete unlike a musician or sculptor.  They do not necessarily need that participation of another human being to complete their art…writers do.  It is essential for us; moreover, we just love to hear what you have to say (good or bad) about what we’ve done.

I never thought I’d get to 100 posts…but this time I did (after trying to start blogs over the years, but I was an active alcoholic back then) and I think outside of the election it was encouragement from many of you that kept me going onward, and making me very happy that I was achieving a goal I set out to do when this blog went on line in September 2008: if I can get you to laugh, or cry, or think about something…then I’ve done my job.  That’s what I wanted to do; and what I’ll continue to do.  You see, this is essential to my soul now, more than it ever has been before.  Somewhere along the way, the spark that got this blog started to ignite that which I am inside so that I may be able to become what I know is my calling in life.  I have been many places and done many things; but nothing gives me the joy like this blog and writing my book does; outside of my family of course, for they too are the other part of my soul that is slowly putting itself back together after many years as an uncertain phoenix, arisen from the ashes with no idea where to fly to.

Now I know how to spread my wings and soar upon the currents.  Thank you for providing me with the compass, and let’s continue to journey together.

Peace…Arkangel

Act III

The noted historian Ken Burns was on “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” last night, and despite their love of the game, they were most assuredly not talking baseball.  It was after most of the Inauguration Day festivities had wound down and folks were putting on their tuxedos and getting ready for the Inaugural Balls later that evening, when Burns made a profound statement that sent me back in my chair reeling.  That’s what all good historians do, well at least for me having History as a minor at college; I had enough amazing professors that could keep me enraptured for hours with their lectures…but the point Burns made was one that we felt throughout the day yesterday that could not adequately be put into words.  If Jefferson was Act I having to compromise on slavery in order to get the Declaration of Independence ratified; Lincoln was Act II with the Emancipation Proclamation; then President Obama was Act III, the validation and redemption of all that came before.  It was just a brilliant observation, and one that got me thinking more about what happened yesterday.

Around 11:45 am, my Mail Carrier came by bringing the day’s usual supply of bills and junk mail, plus a CD I ordered.  Doug’s been our mail guy for the past four years, and he’s been in the post longer than anyone has for the ten years that we’ve been in the house.  With the amount of CDs and DVDs we order around here, Doug is kept pretty busy and always makes sure we know when we get a package or will keep a look out at the Post Office if I tell him something is running REALLY late (usually something from overseas); he always takes good care of our stuff.  We take care of him nicely at Christmastime, plus he’s an incredibly great guy, who my kids absolutely love.  When he came by yesterday as it was getting close to noon, I asked him if he wanted to watch the swearing in and the speech.  He was grateful for the invite, most especially since he had forgotten the time and said that since he was running ahead of schedule on his route, he’d stop by as soon as finished my block.  Thanks to Dick “I Have No Staffers To Carrry My Boxes” Cheney and his strained back and wheelchair, the ceremony was running late; so it was fortuitous that by the time Doug got back, the President didn’t even take the oath yet.

So we sat there each with a cup of coffee, watching history unfold…just two American men in whose company (to paraphrase the President and steal a line) 60 years ago it would have been thought unacceptable to be in each other’s company.  Doug’s African-American and from the South, and I’m a skinny white Irish Italian Guy from Brooklyn and Staten Island…and we are together watching the first African-American President being sworn in.  We were high-fiving through the speech and welling up at other points.  But there came a moment when I just stole a glance on my right and I saw something in his eyes that could not be described; a pride and an almost disbelief that this was actually happening.  The look that pretty much told me all I had to know, and all I had to see…that this is America.  This is who we are now, at this moment in this time…not one white man or one black man in a room; but two men, two Americans who took pride in what they witnessed yesterday.  That is what America is all about; it’s who we are now as one people, one nation, moving forward together with common purpose toward hopefully a better tomorrow…indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

“The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” – Abraham Lincoln

The Closed Circle

I was born in 1961.

That may not seem like such a big deal on the surface, but that was a very important year for this tiny little world we’re on.  It was the very start of my life and many of the events that began or happened in 1961 world forever shaped my outlook on life, what I believe in, and how I conduct myself as a human being till this day.  Being an infant in that year, I could not have possibly known or understood some of the ramifications of what happened throughout that year.

1961- January: US relations cut off between USA and Cuba; Eisenhower warns of the “vast military industrial complex”; John F Kennedy becomes the 35th President of the United States; Bob Dylan arrives in New York City after bumming a ride from Minnesota; NASA sends Ham, a chimpanzee into sub-orbital flight in the first test of a Mercury capsule.  February: The first US Minuteman ICBM is launched; The Beatles have their first gig at The Cavern Club.  March: The Peace Corps is established by JFK; US Polaris submarines arrive at Holy Loch; I am born on March 14 in Brooklyn, NY at 8 pounds, 6 ounces at 6:00 PM; South Africa withdraws from the Commonwealth of Nations; The 23rd Amendment is ratified giving the residents of Washington DC the right to vote in Presidential Elections.  April: Vostok 1 carrying Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin begins Mankind’s quest for the stars; The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba is launched and fails.  May: Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr becomes the first American in space aboard Freedom 7; The Freedom Riders begin their Interstate bus trip to test the Supreme Court’s decision on integration; The beginning of modern genetics occurs as the first experiments on understanding the human genetic code succeed; Race riots break out in Alabama, and the state’s governor declares martial law; the Freedom Riders are arrested in Jackson, Mississippi; JFK launches Apollo program and sets forth the challenge to put a man on the moon and bring them safely to Earth by the end of the decade; Amnesty International is founded.  June: JFK and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev meet in Vienna where they discuss nuclear tests, disarmament, and Germany.  July: Soviet submarine K-19 accident occurs; first Israeli rocket is launched; Gus Grissom becomes America’s second astronaut.  August: Gherman Titov becomes the first human being to stay in space for a full day; Barack Hussein Obama, the first African-American President of the United States is born in Hawaii; the Berlin Wall is built.  September: The first and then current UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in a car crash; The first Grey Alien is reportedly spotted.  October: Roger Maris breaks the single season home run record previously held by Babe Ruth by hitting 61 home runs; Digital Photography is invented; US and Soviet tanks stand off on both sides of the border between East and West Berlin heightening the Cold War tensions to a new high; the Soviets detonate the still largest ever nuclear explosion of 58 megatons via a hydrogen bomb; Stalin’s body is removed from the Lenin mausoleum.  November: Fantastic Four #1 is released starting what will eventually become the Marvel Universe; “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller is published; JFK sends 18,000 Military Advisers to Vietnam, thus beginning America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  December: Fidel Castro officially declares Cuba a Communist nation; the Marshall Plan expires after sending over $12 billion to rebuild Europe after World War Two.  Another interesting fact: 1961 is the first “upside-down year” since 1881, where the numbers are exactly the same upside down as they are right side up.  The next such year will not happen until 6009.

That’s one HELL of a year.

Time is very much a fluid construct where we are constantly generating the past, present and future simultaneously.  What happens at this moment is the past created in the now, and the events of the current moment also shape the future.  It is very much like casting a stone upon the water, where ripples spread from the impact; throw in another stone close to the first, and ripples will interact and overlap or not depending upon the size of the stone or the impact upon the water.  We as individuals are very much like the stones cast upon the waters of time, and it is not the impact we make upon the water but the ripples that spring forth from us that not only define who we are, but what effect we have on each other.  We each have our own destiny and our own part to play in this life, no matter how small or insignificant you may feel it is, you are important to the overall picture.

Some of us are destined for greatness or infamy or both.  The men who started this Republic two centuries ago were just humble servants of mankind.  They were lawyers, farmers, doctors, clergy, inventors, writers, statesman, and soldiers.  They were just as much the everyman as we are; they had no expectations of greatness, nor did they want it.  They cared for one thing, something that they were more than willing to sacrifice their lives for; something that they wanted for their children and their children’s children.  A bold concept birthed from tyranny and oppression; a commonality of purpose; an understanding that we were very much a different people than our cousins across an ocean were.  A concept that has echoed across the corridors of time, a rallying cry for the oppressed and the wanting.  A place of hope and refuge, the last best hope of Mankind…

THIS Republic, these United States Of America.

Tomorrow, we begin a new journey; a different chapter in our nation’s history, a point at which the circle has closed, and we are returning to the end of the beginning.  The wounds from our Great Civil War will have finally been healed, and the promise in which those men in those halls in Philadelphia will have truly come to fruition.  The promise that was compromised in order to begin The Republic which eventually led to the greatest loss of American life in any war.  The promise that was compromised which led to our division in 1861, and even though that war which cost more lives of Americans than any other war had ended still was being waged.  The promise that no amount of legislation could fulfill…until tomorrow.

I have been witness to many things in history, and have been a part of some.  I remember having to tell my mother that both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot (and if you wonder how a 7 year old boy would know what was going on, it was because these two men were such giants it was impossible NOT to).  I remember growing up with body counts on the news and seeing scenes of war and protests.  I watched my mother weep as she saw the front page of the NY Daily News with a picture of the My Lai Massacre on it.  I have seen a man land on the moon, and cheered and smiled in wonder.  I have seen Challenger and Columbia destroyed, and cried tears of sorrow.  I have seen the Berlin Wall fall, and cried tears of joy.  I have seen my countrymen held hostage for 444 days and then granted freedom; a freedom negotiated by a President who gave us hope and optimism; a President I have never fully understood nor appreciated until I have gotten older, and admire much of his leadership and his life as a result.  I have worked on Presidential campaigns, marched in protests, helped to organize unions, and sold my soul out to Corporate America for a big buck.

I have seen the birth of my two daughters, wonderful moments that I cannot adequately put into words.  I have a bond with three human beings that I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I could have.  I have swam many oceans, traveled across this country by train, and climbed mountains where I felt as though I could touch the sky and looked down in amazement at just how far I had climbed.  I have nearly died several times, only to be spared for some reason:  I have walked out of car wrecks where there was nothing but a tangled mass of metal that used to be a car; missed a collision of several cars on the NJ Turnpike by inches; fallen off a mountain and walked down it; and survived a terrorist attack on September 11th 2001 where I saw 3,000 souls annihilated in front of me and descended into madness and alcoholism as a result.  I was somehow given permission to forgive myself for surviving, and an understanding of the point in my life at which I now reside.  I have suddenly been granted a wonderful and amazing gift that I always took for granted for the past (almost) 48 years: LIFE.  I have come to believe that there is indeed order to the Universe, and there is a reason for all things and all events that have happened and will happen.

Tomorrow is a day which I shall always remember as one which I never thought would occur in my lifetime; a day which gives us all hope for the future no matter our political persuasion.  It is a day where our nation and the world will change forever.  It is a day of new beginnings, of hands grasped and hearts open; a day of freedom and justice for ALL, not just a few.  It is a day that says to all of us that ANYTHING is indeed possible, and NOTHING will ever be the same again.  It is a day of celebration and healing, a day of greatness for this country that I love with all my heart.  A day of promise and hope not only for us, but for all of Mankind.  It is a day of victory for those who have died on the battlefield protecting this wonderful concept, this bastion of Democracy, this paragon of human aspiration.  It is a day of remembrance for those who perished in the attacks of 9/11, because in some way their deaths may have made tomorrow a reality; that their lives were not given in vain; that their families’ suffering and the guilt of those of us who have survived carry with us every single day can finally be released (if we allow it to) at one shining moment.

At 12:01 PM on January 20 2008, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of The United States Of America, the first African-American to hold that august position.  A man who, like me, was born in that pivotal year of 1961; who has seen the world through similar eyes as I have; a man that will need the grace and understanding that no man in his position has ever needed before.  A man who will squarely have the weight of this nation, his beloved America, on his shoulders as well as the weight of the world.  Let us give him our thoughts, well wishes, and prayers, because he certainly will need that in the coming days.  He is now the keeper of the flame of America, the caretaker of that Shining City On The Hill.

He is the closed circle…and the beginning of the next great story that is this country, this Republic, these United States of America.

“I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.” – John Adams, reflecting upon language allowing slavery to continue as an institution in The Declaration of Independence

All

There is no God.

There I said it.  I’m not an atheist though; actually it is quite the opposite.  I do believe that there is a superior sentience that runs through everything.  A sentience that seeks to understand itself, and chooses to do so through many things. Perhaps it uses human beings, perhaps it looks at a nebula in the farthest reaches of a galaxy and seeks understanding from it…but there is indeed something at work.

It is not a Supreme Being in the way that we as Human Beings conceive He or She or It to be.  It does not require a Church, or a Temple, or a Mosque, or an Ashram.  It does not require us to worship it.  It won’t answer your prayers, because quite frankly, it has better things to do than to worry about your sorry life.  It has one goal, one defining purpose of its existence: understanding.  Understanding of itself so that it may move onward to a better and higher form of being.  It is non-corporeal.  It is not called God, nor Allah or any other name that we choose to give it in order for us to understand that which is (or must?) be greater than ourselves. It is quite simply…The Universe.

The Universe is seeking to understand itself, and make itself whole.  We are part of that Universe and have the same energy and the same power that it does.  In a manner that one man or woman can understand his or herself, it has a question (perhaps) answered.  All of us on this world are parts of the greater whole, and as we seek to understand ourselves, The Universe works through us as agents of understanding and enlightenment in a total and complete symbiotic relationship.

Every one of us has asked the question, “Who am I?” at some point in our lives.  It is impossible NOT to ask that question, for it is in our very nature to seek an understanding of that which we do not understand.  Many times, we are not yet ready for the answer to that question, and many times we do not like the answer we receive.  Some may never get an answer, in any form; others may get an ever changing array of answers throughout their lives.  Fundamentally, and for all practicality, we are the very reason for the existence and the purpose of The Universe.  Without us, there is nothing.  Without us, there is no God…there just IS.

We struggle daily to live, and all of us lead very different lives.  We are as unique as every single star in the heavens, because we ARE The Universe made manifest, trying desperately to understand itself…and we need to allow that to happen.  We need to reach deep within and change the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to each other.  We as Human Beings need to change the way we do business on the planet and WITH the planet.  Our world is ALIVE, for it too is part of The Universe; it too seeks an understanding through the oceans and the air that provide us life.  It asks that we become better stewards of the planet.

The time has come for a Great Awakening…a movement of self, yet collectivity that will allow The Universe to understand itself…and for us to understand ourselves.  The sooner we realize that we can work together, take care of this planet, and take care of ourselves…the better the chance we have for greatness…to achieve what Mankind is destined to achieve: oneness and completeness with The Universe, and the evolution of the species to the next level of being.  In this manner The Universe too will achieve a new level of being…and this is only through the species known as Human Beings.  Fragile creatures that inhabit a small planet orbiting a yellow sun on the edge of a spiral arm of its galaxy.  Fragile and beautiful beings who are but one part of All.

Who knows if there are other species out there.  Our world is literally an accident of creation; a tiny island amidst the chaos and ever growing understanding of The Universe and everything in it.  There runs through all things…on every world…through every single species…a commonality that is a power that I cannot explain.  I just know it’s there, waiting to be tapped…waiting for us to realize that we are NOT alone.

We have each other.

Our time is now.  Our time is finally here.  It is the cosmic brass ring waiting to be taken.  All we have to do is reach out and grab it, and finally come together in peace and understanding.  To unify ourselves as one people with no boundaries drawn on a map nor those drawn metaphysically.  To move toward the next level of being…

In order to do that, we must be able to leave behind the trappings and the restrictions that we have placed upon ourselves.  We must come to terms that being human is more than what we perceive.  Human Beings are a wonderful dichotomy of that which has yet to be achieved and that which has been; an compact version of The Universe in every single one of us.  We must seek knowledge from the ultimate source; understanding from the most unlikely of places; perfection from an imperfect collective…

Ourselves.

The Parallels Of Madness

For a people that were persecuted for centuries and almost exterminated in the 20th Century, it is clear that the Israelis have learned from their former Fascist Masters.  What is going on right now in Gaza is nothing short of an attempt to extinguish at best the hope of the Palestinian people, or at worst their complete annihilation.  Non-Jews and Non-Zionists are WORTHLESS to these inhuman bastards that are shelling the civilian population of Gaza relentlessly.  It is what their brand of racists preach; their fanatical brand of politics known as Zionism.  Make no mistake about it, Zionism as espoused by the Israeli state attempts to purify and justify the existence of those who live within its borders.  Indeed, they have learned from their Fascist Masters…for what they are doing now, and will continue to do unless the United States stops them, is to create chaos and destruction all across the Middle East.  The true enemy of freedom is Israel.  The true enemy of peace is Israel.  The true enemy of mankind is Israel.

I say this as a disgusted human being, and a man who bears no ill will or feelings toward the Jewish people…ONLY the State of Israel, constituted in the form of its current government and leading coalition in the Knesset.  I also say this as a man whose life was saved by a concentration camp survivor; for how can I possibly bear ill will against any man let alone a man who was tortured?  How can I bear ill will against a people because of the mistakes of a few; a few who consider themselves so chosen as to exclude any other racial or religious group from full citizenship in the Jewish State?  How can I bear ill will against an entire people for those among them who choose to perpetrate the biggest military expansion and systematic extermination of a people since the Nazis?  Indeed, the Zionists have learned all too well from their Masters.  I bear no ill will, feelings, or prejudice against the Jewish people.  I certainly bear ill will against the Zionists within the Jewish State, and their supporters here in the United States.

Can someone please explain to me that as I experienced the worst day of my life on September 11, 2001 why three Israeli members of the Mosaad were celebrating victoriously across the Hudson River in Jersey City?  Will someone please explain the connection between the state of Israel and 9/11, because based on everything I’m reading on the Net they sure as hell had a hand in it?  Will someone please explain to me that the politics of an election taking place in February in Israel, and gaining traction in the polls is more important than people’s lives?  More importantly, why is the Bush Administration allowing this to continue while more innocents are slaughtered by the hour?

Of course, there is blame to be placed squarely on Hamas and some Palestinians.  Of course, they too should be condemned for firing rockets off into civilian areas and inflicting death and destruction as well.  Isn’t the current response by the Israel disproportionate to what Hamas could possibly inflict on them?  Doesn’t anyone see the need for both sides to cease and desist NOW, with the US taking an active role in the process to ensure neither side beaks the peace?  Needless to say, that would make way too much sense for this Administration in its waning days.  They recently blocked a UN Resolution calling for a cease fire.  They have called on Hamas to stop…imagine that, stop lobbing rockets back at someone who is now using tanks to crush your civilians.  While I certainly agree with President Elects Barack Obama’s assertion that if someone were raining rockets down on my two daughters, I would fight back.  This is also to be expected of Hamas’ response, and ever increasing show of force as the Israeli War Machine moves across the Gaza Strip.

While Hamas is certainly not the most preferable partner to negotiate a peace agreement with, they constitute the duly elected government of the people of Gaza.  You know, democracy?  That little concept that the Bush Administration has been trying to force down the throats of people who clearly do not want or understand that concept?  That little concept that governs Israel?  Because the results of the Gaza election were not to the liking of Israel or the United States, are we now to destabilize that region by gradually, over the course of several months as the Israelis have done, built up enough military strength to support an invasion at the slightest provocation?  It certainly appears that way, and if anything, the Israelis have now become the second country after the United States to use The Bush Doctrine’s assertion of preemptive war.  The United States of America, under the Bush Administration has COMPLETELY changed not only the rules of the game, but the game board and the game itself.  We have set this planet potentially down the course of annihilation if we are not careful, and begin to pull back from the positions of this abysmal Administration so that we may regain our credibility and moral standing with the rest of the world.

Our way of dealing with Israel must change.  No more carte blanche approach and kid gloves when it comes to those madmen of the Middle East.  Pull back any or all aid and assistance from Israel until they comply with a policy that brings them to the peace table with the Palestinians, the Jordanians, and the Syrians.  While we’re at it, bring in the sovereign government of Iraq.  The United States must also begin to establish diplomatic ties with Iran.  These are the only ways that peace can be established in the region.  Maintaining the peace, is another thing.  NATO or the United Nations could create a special task force for the Middle East, working with the armed forces of all nations involved.  It is important that the United States be the one major player who pushes for all of this, and if necessary, partner with the Russians to do so.  Yes, the Russians.  It’s time we reestablished our good graces with them as well, and they have a stake in a peaceful Middle East as well; especially since many of their natural gas pipelines or proposed pipelines run through one or more of the nations involved.  Besides, the Russians need a bit of ego stroking these days; they need to be involved in major affairs of this nature.  It’s time we trusted the Russians again; they were formidable allies during World War Two and can be so again.  We will need them as a buffer against the Chinese when the time comes (more on that in another post).

As for now, this madness in Gaza must stop; hopefully the incoming Obama Administration will be able to have a more active and productive role in getting a peace process going than the clowns who have been running the show for the past eight years have been; but we have another 18 days left until they take office.

Let’s just hope the current Administration doesn’t do something incredibly stupid like…oh…blow us all to Kingdom Come in the meantime.

“Ah…arrogance and stupidity, all in one package.  How convenient!” – Ambassador Londo Molari (Babylon 5/jms)

Our Long, Domestic Nightmare Is Over…Sort Of

At 6:08 PM Eastern Standard Time (-5 GMT), after a seven-week reconstruction…our kitchen was finally completed by the ceremonial first ignition of the stove power burner.  It’s over!

There still is some minor work that needs to be addressed as a result of this though: my office…the place from where this is being composed.  You see, in order to install the oven, a gas pipe in the house needed to be rerouted.  Since our basement is finished (and it was that way when we first bought the house ten years ago), all the pipes and traps and drains are hidden behind sheet rock.  Well, I’ll give you three guesses as to where the gas pipe needed to be accessed, this morning (along with a sewage drain/trap a few weeks ago, which wasn’t a big deal).  If you guessed the kitchen, you’d be wrong, but given the sorry state of affairs of the past several week I’d say a pretty good guess.  Yup, my office.

My sanctuary…in fact, the ONLY room in this ENTIRE house that is relatively clean and free of clutter and well organized…now has several slices of its wall cut away to reveal the lovely infrastructure of my home.  Not only that, but my desk has been shunted to one side of the room and I’m typing from a tiny little corner whereas I used to type from a nice expanse.  My synthesizers are immediately behind me; I feel like a claustrophobic version of Rick Wakeman stuck in a fun house.  Yes, the Universe does indeed have a sense of humor, and right now I am part of the punch-line and lovely sense of irony.

Understandably, you’ll have to forgive the rather pithy post this evening (and lack of one yesterday).  Things should be normal tomorrow after new sheet rock is installed and a quick coat of paint applied, so I’ll leave more lengthy comments until then.  Right now, I’m looking forward to home cooked meals and a stocked pantry instead of frozen dinners and plastic utensils.  As for this evening’s dinner…I’ll eat light: I’ll make a package of Mrs Grass’ Chicken Noodle Soup…on the stove!!

“Irony is a disciplinarian feared only by those who do not know it, but cherished by those who do” – Soren Kierkegaard

There’s Never An Alcoholic Around When You Need One

Last night, for the first time in I don’t know how many months…I had the urge to have a drink.  Maybe it’s the time of year, maybe it’s all the craziness going on around here with the kitchen reconstruction…but the bottom line is, I wanted one.  And NO, I DIDN’T HAVE ONE.  It’s how I got to the point where the urge passed and I didn’t partake of old nasty habits that’s the story behind this post.  It’s also given me pause on ever trusting Alcoholics Anonymous again.

I attended my kids Christmas Concert at their school last night, and as always the band didn’t sound like Tommy Dorsey; the chorus wasn’t the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I had the usual annoying kid that should have been kept on a leash by his inattentive parental units constantly moving in and out of the aisle and stepping on my new sneakers.  It was a nice evening though, filled with very cute kids doing their darnedest to put on a show and happy parents and neighbors.  Four years ago, this annual event was the scene of one of my more memorable benders (not memorable for me as I was in a blackout at the time, but unfortunately a memorable evening for my wife) after having been at a few Corporate parties and lunches earlier in the day.  Let’s just say I wasn’t at my finest.  There I was completely sober last evening, enjoying myself  when somewhere in between the “Blitzen Boogie” and “Carol of The Bells”, I wanted a nice stiff scotch.  I kind of thought my way through the urge (just like you’re supposed to do), and it passed until I had it later on again in the evening.  This was NOT a very good thing at all.

You have to understand that there is absolutely no alcohol in my house at all, not even the God-awful cooking wine with more salt in it than the Mediterranean.  It was 1 AM, the local liquor stores had all closed and since I never drank and drove even during my darkest days, I wasn’t about to start now.  What I did need to do was talk to a fellow alcoholic who might be able to offer some perspective on things, talk me down off the ledge and clam me down, and make sure I didn’t have second thoughts of picking up a cocktail.  It’s been about 6 months since I was at an AA meeting (I have some philosophical differences with AA, which I will go into later on in this post), and I have a list of names of fellow alcoholics from my time in AA that I could have called; I chose not to for one simple reason: I didn’t know if they were still sober or not.  It doesn’t matter how much time you have (and a few of those guys have many years of sobriety), you could still fall off the wagon.  So I did the next logical thing: I called the AA Hotline; at least I knew that the person on the other end of the conversation would DEFINITELY be sober.  What I didn’t know was that they would be of absolutely no help at all.

After calling, identifying myself by my first name and the fact I was an alcoholic; I also let them know I was sober, I had no alcohol in the house, and exactly what I was looking for : someone to talk to.  I also made the mistake of telling them that I hadn’t been to a meeting in a long time and that I had some philosophical differences with AA, but I REALLY needed to speak to someone.  You know that old joke about the guy who’s ready to kill himself, he decides to try life for just a few more minutes, and he calls Suicide Prevention and hears “Suicide Hotline…please hold”?  Well, this was kind of like that.  After a minute or two of small talk, this was followed by a minute or so of a muffled conversation (she was talking to someone else and had her hand over the microphone) in the background.  The charming young lady took my name and number and said that someone would call me shortly.

I’m still waiting.

One of the so-called hallmarks of Alcoholics Anonymous is “always there with a helping hand”; what they don’t tell you is that occasionally the hand slaps you in the face.  The organization is supposed to be non-denominational, yet meetings close with the Lord’s Prayer.  I’m sorry, but if I’m an atheist or a Jew I’d have a problem with that (I don’t think you have too many Islamic Alcoholics in the world, but you never know).  I’m a Deist, which basically means I believe the Universe is sentient or is God itself; or if there is a God or Supreme Being, they pretty much created everything and left it alone.  In other words, God is pretty much an absent parent.  She doesn’t give a damn what you do in your life and really has much better things to do than listen to your whining about how miserable everything is in your life and for her to intercede.  I was brought up a Catholic, so the prayer itself doesn’t bother me (and they use the King James Version of the prayer, no less…so if you’re a hard-core Catholic, that might antagonize you anyway), it’s the philosophy espoused by Alcoholics Anonymous that I had a hard time reconciling.  Their entire belief is that the only thing that can save your sorry drunken ass is God.  That’s right, that which cannot be proved and has many different ways of looking at it will save you and keep you from picking up that next drink..  You are supposed to completely submit and turn yourself over to God…a Christian God, if you look at the two prayers that they use: The Lord’s Prayer and The Serenity Prayer which was written by Saint Francis of Assisi.  Pretty non-denominational, huh?

Now I’m not going to deny that AA has helped millions of alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety, and that they haven’t done good things for people…surely they have.  It just wasn’t working for me any more.  Deists use reason to understand The Universe, and most Deists don’t pray.  We acknowledge great men and women who have come before us and have given us worthy philosophies of life to live by, but not a savior.  Outside of Unitarian Universalists, Deists aren’t organized…we’re rogues who seek to understand the Universe through logic and reason rather than doctrine and theology.  AA had become doctrine and theology for me…so I left; just as I had left the Roman Catholic Church thirty odd years ago for the same reasons (only at that time, I was agnostic bordering on atheist; my views evolved over the course of the years and through some very personal experiences).  What I expected last night was to hear from a fellow alcoholic use logic and reason with me to help me to work through my urge and perhaps understand what caused it.  What I received instead was deafening silence; you see, I made the mistake of TELLING the person on the phone that I had a little problem with the God thing.  This was never an issue in any meeting I went to previously, but they must have issued a new edict because I can only conclude that I was now considered “outcast unclean” and that’s why I didn’t get a call back.  I can only conclude that my earlier suspicions were indeed correct: that AA believes it is the ONLY way and there is no way it will help you unless you see it THEIR WAY.

Oh yeah…the reason I didn’t drink was because I was writing a very long post on a web site I belong to.  By the time I got done with the post, the urge had passed and I could move on to other things.  It looks like writing works best for me (as I always thought it would when the time came) to get over the hump.  If you need a cop really fast, check the local Dunkin’ Donuts.  If you need a paramedic, call 911.  If you need an alcoholic, you can go to a bar for a really ripe one if you so desire.  I needed a sober one, and the only one I found was the one I could trust implicitly…myself.

“First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; then the drink takes the man.” – Japanese Proverb

Rememberance

I received a link to this tonight from a friend (and fellow 9/11 Survivor) in an e-mail.  I cannot even begin to express myself after seeing this, because there are no words…it is a simple truth told in pictures.  It was created by a 15 year old girl.  It is a brilliant display of Humanity, and a brilliant extension of the good soul of its creator.

“Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.” – Harlan Ellison

Oh Boy…I Might Be Getting Old…

This evening will be the final time that both my kids will be in the same Christmas Concert at their school.  Come to think of it, this will be the last time this will EVER happen.  My oldest daughter is 4 years older than her sister, and the local grammar school ranges from grades K-6.  Middle School is 7-8; High School is 9-12.  This is kind of an interesting time for me, because I’m coming to the realization that my kids are getting older, and after this year they won’t be in the same school building.  It’s making me feel a bit old, I guess.  It’s also starting to make me realize that I have something looming on the horizon in just a few short years…

Eight consecutive years of college!

Another post later this evening or tomorrow…

Pingbacks, Trackbacks, and Aching Backs (Oh, My!)

I’m still a rookie at this Blogging thing; and while I consider myself to be quite well versed in various Operating Systems, Computers, and Peripherals…I must confess that I really have NO IDEA what the Blogisphere (just where is that anyway…below or above the Ionisphere?) requires of its participants.  I just thought it was reader and writer and you happened across a blog somewhere in your travels, bookmarked it or RSS subscribed to it and moved on…repeat process.  That works fine, but if you’re a writer you need readers.

The lovely Swineprincess (one of the regular readers and commenters on this site) once said to me that writers are the most unique of artists, because unlike any other musician or sculptor or artist who can simply create and does not need an audience…a writer NEEDS an audience in order for their art to be complete.  A truer statement has never been written.  After all, if I wanted NOT to be read, I would have started off an entry with the words “Dear Diary…” and put it in a little book under lock and key (or triple encrypted and on a word processing program in the Modern Age).  The point is, writers are BEGGING to be heard, read, loved, and hugged.  We also don’t mind getting our lights punched out from time to time.  All we want is one lone person at the corner of the planet somewhere to say, “You know…that was cool” and complete the artistic circle.  It’s even better when they tell you about it, because you now KNOW there is actually someone is Bulgaria who likes what you wrote about your kitchen (or in my case, lack of it…to be continued).  One of the way Bloggers (and I am forced to admit, I have definitely become one even though I detest labels…I’m a Blogger, for sure and no doubt about it) see what’s happening on their site and who is visiting and who is referring is the statistics page.  I actually wrote a post a few months ago about some of my stats and what surprised me.

One thing I noticed one day last week, I had 70 hits above and beyond my normal readership (which is a trade secret…so don’t ask).  I thought what I wrote for that particular day was a good read, but certainly not worth an extra 70 hits.  Was it something in my own writing I wasn’t seeing that someone else was?  Was it a mistake?  Did 70 people suddenly stumble on to my blog out of thin air?  Actually, in a manner of speaking…they did, thanks to a very cool Blogging tool called Alpha Inventions.  It’s not a program that will take over your computer and steal your first born child, and it won’t automatically find out what porno you’ve been looking at that you don’t want your spouse to know about.  It also won’t raid your bank account and you suddenly discover later on in the day you now own 1,000 futures on pork bellies.  It is a website, and something that is absolutely brilliant in its concept.  After doing a little poking around the site, I discovered that its creator had written an algorithm that tracked various blogs across the Internet as they were published IN REAL TIME (see…it just goes to show you that NOTHING is coincidental in the Universe!).  Folks could go here and see the latest and greatest from the Blogisphere and go to sites that they never would have otherwise.  There are sites from all over the world, including that guy in Bulgaria who loved reading about your kitchen; and now you can read about his bathroom renovation.

Last night because of Alpha Inventions, I came across a very cool blog called A Different Kind Of Blog; different in the fact that they have a VERY diverse bunch of writers over there (good ones too!) with VERY different personal points of view on pretty much every topic you can think of.  Politics and the Human Condition are a staple there (as they are here) and unlike the folks I wrote about last night’s post, these good people are very Smart People who put a lot of thought into their writing and there’s always something to be learned from everyone there no matter the point of view.  Oh, and you can actually have an intelligent and considerate debate over there too if you disagree with a point of view…something that is very rare in these days of soundbites and one way news channels.  I just love coming across sites with intelligent and thoughtful posts and insight, and these guys kept me up until the wee hours enjoying their varying posts on just about everything.  Great stuff…by all means, go on over and check out their work.

In some way, I’ve just completed a circle for a bunch of writers (myself included) who now may have an audience to read their work and thus complete the artistic cycle so necessary for a writer.  Hopefully, from this small seed, many trees will grow from a few sites to many…perhaps even to yours as a result.  Just continue to pingback and trackback with each other if you like what someone has to say, and sooner or later by your “paying it forward”, it will come back to you.  As more sites become known to me and I if I think they’re pretty cool, I’ll certainly post those sites as well and eventually add them to my Blog Roll or Sites I Frequent links.

And speaking of “backs”…it feels like snow or rain today, because the little weather guy I have between L4 and L5 is telling me there’s a very good chance of precipitation.  Needless to say, I’m in a bit of pain (well…quite a bit) and because I have nowhere to take the kids today, I can at least take a painkiller.  Trust me, the last thing you want to do is get in a car after taking some of this stuff…and if you are taking anything like this, don’t even think of doing it.  While you absolutely positively KNOW when you are impaired because of alcohol (or other illegal and sundry substances), this stuff is VERY deceiving.  You think you’re fine, but you’re not…so just consider yourself impaired and give the car keys to the spouse.  Don’t drug (legally) and drive!  This has been a public service announcement.

I’ll be back later on this evening with more commentary on something.  In the meantime, check those links out (and the other ones I have posted on my site too).

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust