On Saturday, my wife and I took a drive over to Easton, MD and had lunch at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Scossa. We ate lunch outside, despite it being 48 degrees. Admittedly, it is a bit odd to eat lunch outside in January wearing our winter coats, but it’s as close as we are coming to normal right now.
Yesterday, we met my brother and his wife and son for a walk at Cromwell Valley Park, north of Baltimore. We did a two mile walk and found an old rusted out car chassis. The engine block was an in-line six. The markings on the block suggest that it was a Chevrolet built in 1948 or 1948. Nature is at work reclaiming the natural materials that were used to build that car. It may take hundreds of years but nature always wins.
Today, I’m thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Our own African American pastor spoke about Dr. King eloquently yesterday and shard a recording of Dr. King speaking about his kitchen table experience in 1956, in which he talks about receiving a call around midnight with an ugly death threat, and finding the strength and courage to continue with his mission by calling on his God. My heart aches at the fact that we are still wrestling with white supremacy in this country, but I know that “the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.”
I am grateful for the day-date with my wife on Saturday, it was time together that was much needed. I’m grateful for the time with my brother on our walk yesterday, and nature’s gentle reminder that she always wins. And I’m grateful for the courage and strength of leaders which inspires me to be brave and strong.
I promise, this post will highlight some good things that happened in my life in 2020, but first I have to acknowledge some unavoidable and inconvenient truths about this past year.
There is no doubt that when the history books are written, 2020 will go down as an epic shit show of a year. In early 2020, it was evident that a major epidemic was brewing in China — a virus which would eventually break free of the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the damage and become the COVID-19 Pandemic. We watched in horror as first, Europe and then the United States struggled to control the virus. We watched an epic failure on the part of the Trump administration when they at first ignored the virus, then downplayed it, prematurely declared victory, and finally walked away from it while we suffer death rates in excess of 9/11 on a daily basis in the United States.
Our economy faltered and failed. The most vulnerable among us became victims as the pandemic ripped through communities and people who could not work remotely continued to go to their jobs so that they could put food on their tables, or lost their jobs. We watched as relief packages expired and our Senate Majority Leader blocked meaningful legislative action to assist those who needed it, as the chill of autumn crept in and people couldn’t afford food, let alone heat.
And if a Pandemic wasn’t enough, we watched again and again as police in America killed black men and women. Our cities burned during the summer as years of rage boiled over, but there were far more peaceful protests in the name of Black Lives Matter than there were riots. We watched as President Trump used protests as a politically convenient tool to further his agenda of hate and chaos. He used tear gas on peaceful protesters to clear a street in DC so that he could have a photo op in front of a church while holding a bible as a prop, upside down. He waged an very real press war on a very imaginary radical left that he calls Antifa. Let’s be clear, Antifa is Anti-Fascist. Every American should be anti-fascist — the Greatest Generation fought to destroy fascism in the 30s and 40s.
Yes, 2020 was a shit show. We have all suffered with isolation and fear this past year amidst the pandemic. However, I know that there were also good things that happened in my life this past year and I was reminded of many of them last night when I scrolled through the photos in my phone. Yes, it’s been a year of challenges, but I realized it wasn’t all bad.
Before I begin sharing some of the good things that happened this past year, I need to acknowledge that I am privileged. I work for an information security company that has been wildly successful during the pandemic. Our company has been successful in part because so many other companies were not prepared for a rapid shift to remote work and needed to make significant investments in their infrastructure as digital transformation accelerated as a result of the new realities of the pandemic. My job was 100% remote before the pandemic and the biggest change for me with respect to work was that I began meeting with my customers over Zoom rather than in person. I’m tired of this, to be sure, but I am also fortunate. Our company shifted to 100% remote for all employees early and has not gone back to in person work. We are truly fortunate because we get to work safely from home, day in and day out. This privilege has meant that I have been shielded from the harshest realities of the pandemic and for that I am truly grateful.
The year started off, much like any other year. I was blissfully ignorant of what has happening in China on January 1st 2020, as were most Americans. On New Years Day, we went to Harpers Ferry for a hike and enjoyed views of the Shenandoah. Over the course of the month, I began to hear the name “Wuhan” more and more frequently, but it was distant. It was something that was happening in Asia. It felt a bit like SARS to me. I was mildly afraid but not overly concerned despite the fact that during the SARS and H1N1 epidemics I’d been part of a planning exercise for a pandemic while working at a global media organization.
In February, news of the virus had started to become more urgent. My company typically hosts a technical conference in February for the global systems engineering and professional services organizations in Vegas. There was some talk about whether to cancel the conference, but it went forward. We were advised that our colleagues from APAC would not be in attendance and that if we felt unsafe, we could opt out of the conference. I went to the conference, despite some reticence. I have taken to going to couple of shows when I’m in Vegas now since I don’t drink or gamble. I saw Aerosmith on February 10th. It would be the last live show I’d see in a long time. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry put on an amazing show.
In the middle of March, I had my last in person meeting with a customer. I remember offering my hand for the customary handshake and my customer taking it and then saying, “oh, wait, we aren’t supposed to do this anymore.” Despite knowing that the guidance coming from the Trump administration that masks were unnecessary, I remember thinking that they would be a good idea. But they were hard to find and I felt that health care workers needed them more than I did.
In my town, there is a special place called the Donut Shack. The Donut Shack was a local independent business that was started 30 years ago and had the best donuts ever. In 2019, the owners retired and sold the shop. The first new owners, ruined it. They sold within 3 months. The second new owners, destroyed it. It sat empty for a few months. I was quite sad. Early in 2020, I was alerted to the fact that a third set of new owners was working with the original ownership to learn their craft. March was special because even though we got stuck in lockdown, the Donut Shack reopened and the donuts are as good as they used to be!
My wife loves San Diego Fish Tacos, and along with her quest to find the perfect Caesar Salad, she regularly orders fish tacos when we are out. They are almost always a disappointment. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but cheese does not go on a fish taco. Neither does lettuce. As the lockdown began to stretch on, we started to get antsy and she started talking about the foods that she missed. Fish tacos came up. I scoured the internet and found a few recipes. I tried a few and in April, I perfected Baja Style Fish Tacos! There was much rejoicing and even my picky son loved them!
If you know me, or if you have been following along for a while, you know that is love bicycles. As the lockdown stretched into May, I started looking for additional ways to get outside. I had done a 4 weeks to faster 5K training regimen in April and was getting tired of running. I wanted to get out on my bike, but I have been struggling with tight hamstrings as a result of too much time in the saddle for a few years. When I was younger, I rode mountain bikes but after a few gnarly accidents I’d put my Specialized Rockhopper into retirement. I was dying to get out in the woods and one day, I decided to take my bike to a local trail. After that ride, I came home and said to my wife, “I don’t know why I ever stopped doing that.” Thus began my re-entry into the MTB world and began my quest for a new ride which proved difficult because everyone in the entire United States was buying bikes last spring!
In June, the fact that we’d been stuck in the same 5 square miles was really eating at us. We weighed the pros and cons of going on a vacation heavily. I was initially very much against the idea, but after talking with a few friends I warmed up to the fact that I could quarantine at the beach just as I was here at home. We rented a place and went to the beach. It was lovely. There were very few people at the beach and we had all our meals in the house. Many of the restaurants were closed entirely, but a handful were offering take out. We were very careful and wore our masks and abided by the rules of Delaware at the time. One day, I went out for a paddle in a kayak on the Delaware Bay. As I was paddling I found myself surrounded by a pod of dolphins! They were so close to the boat I could have touched them with my paddle, which of course I did not do. It was a special moment.
I’d long wanted to upgrade to a full suspension mountain bike, but since I hadn’t been riding on the trails, I never felt that I could justify it. As I started riding on the trails more regualrly, it became apparent that my 22 year old bike was in need of an upgrade. I wrestled with whether to upgrade to a 29er or a 650b ride. After a few test rides, it was clear to me that I didn’t want a 29er. My buddy Eugene let me ride his Yeti SB140 and I was instantly in love. I ordered the last one I could find in June. In July, my new bike came after a long process (the original bike shipped with a crack in the head tube). I rode it a few times at my local trail system and in mid July, I went down to Virginia one Saturday for an epic ride at Fountainhead with my buddy Eugene from work. It was great to see Eugene after a few months of talking on the phone and team Zoom calls. We tore up the trails and it was one of the best rides of the summer on my new bike.
August found us feeling cooped up again. We made plans to go to NY to see my wife’s family for the first time since the previous November, but they got thwarted when Governor Cuomo announced quarantine restrictions on visitors from Maryland. After some searching we found that we could get a cabin on the grounds of the Greenbrier in West Virginia. We did not want be in the main hotel because we wanted to be as careful as possible and the cabin presented us with a way to go but maintain social distancing. When we entered the property, the staff took our temperatures. If you had a fever you would be turned away. We enjoyed our trip. Nearly all our activities were outdoors and by ourselves. When we were with others everyone wore masks. While we were there, a good friend with deep roots in the local area pointed us to an amazing little cafe in Lewisburg, WV.
In September, the restrictions in NY were lifted and we went to visit my wife’s family. Because we did not want to put them at risk, we stayed in a hotel rather than at their house and we met outdoors for a walk and lunch at an restaurant with outdoor seating. It was nice to get to see them and also to see some of the first fall colors of the year. And of course, September was also important because September 23rd was my 5th sobriety anniversary! I remember early in the Trump administration saying that it would be a miracle if I got through his presidency sober. Well, not only did I get through four years of ignorance and chaos, but I also got through the pandemic (so far) without taking a drink. Miracles.
In October, the restrictions on in person meetings of more than 10 people in Maryland were briefly lifted. This afforded my son’s scout troop the opportunity to meet outside with masks. We had about six meetings as a troop before it got too cold and the restrictions were put back in place as the virus began to rage again. We managed to get the only scout camping trip of the year in during the month of October. I vividly recall talking with other dads on the trip about how good it felt to be outside and how much we all needed that trip.
In November, we watched as 81,283,485 Americans showed the world that we don’t stand for fascism, white supremacy, and authoritarianism. Sadly, 74,223,744 Americans showed the world that these things are not deal breakers for them. The next 50 days would be filled with disinformation and flagrantly false statements from the president as he and his team of thugs worked to find any possible way to hold on to power. Every lawsuit that was brought was struck down by the courts because they were all baseless. It was a sad time in America. We have a lot to wrestle with as a nation. Somehow we need to find a way to bridge the gaps that exist between so many people. I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people vote more often than not out of fear than they do out of conviction. We’ve weathered a rough few years that nearly tore the country apart. But I have faith. Faith that things will get better. Faith that truth and justice will prevail. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said when he paraphrased the 19th century Unitarian Universalist, Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
December didn’t feel much like December. We lost my uncle Danny to cancer in December. He had been sick for a long time, and while it was sad to see him go, we all knew that he was finally at peace. Still, his death hit me more deeply than I originally thought. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years and many of them have been 65 or younger. As I am now 48, this can be scary and overwhelming. I know that I’m doing the right things to maximize my time on earth, but it’s still scary to see so many people die early in my family.
Between Danny’s death, the general malaise of the pandemic, and the aforementioned disinformation campaign coming from the White House, it was really hard to get into the Christmas spirit. There were no holiday parties to attend, and we didn’t get together for a family meal on Christmas Day. Still, we had a nice Christmas. I built a custom gaming PC with my son for him for his Christmas present and we got got a few more hikes in as well, including one at one of our favorite spots on the Chesapeake Bay.
Yes, 2020 was a shit show. There is no doubt about it. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We did a lot less than we would have in a typical year, but we were also lucky to be able to do a lot more than others. We were cautious about when and where we went and we wore our masks religiously. I’m sure that some may judge us for all the activity that we partook in. That’s fine, we made our choices based on our circumstances. When we were home, we were isolated and so we were reasonably assured that we were not carrying the virus. We were fortunate that we did not come in contact with the virus in our travels. Thankfully, we have our health and there is hope on the horizon in 2021.
We came here knowing that this trip would be different but it was more challenging than we expected. Prior to heading to NY for a week in the Catskills, all three of us had gotten COVID tests in order to conform with the current NY state guidelines. These guidelines stipulated that we could come to the state provided that we’d had a negative COVID test within three days of arrival and we would agreed to quarantine for three days upon arrival. We would be released from quarantine after getting another COVID test with negative results on the fourth day. In theory this sounded feasible. In practice we faced many hurdles.
Since the rates of infection have been rising around the country the strain on the labs is starting to show. Each of us got tested on the Wednesday before our trip. My son had it easiest because we were able to get an appointment for his test. We got his results within 24 hours of his testing. My wife and I were unable to get appointments which meant that we had to go to free testing being offered by the county board of health. This was a minor inconvenience but it was manageable. After waiting outside in the wind for an hour and forty five minutes, I’d been swabbed and was told I’d have my results in three to five days, despite it being a 24 hour rapid test. My wife and I went to different testing locations due to our respective work obligations. She was also told three to five days.
We were really on the fence about whether we should go or not, in part due to the unknown test results and in part because we knew that things were going to be different when we got to NY. I went to bed Friday night believing we were not going to go. Saturday morning though, we had a change of heart and decided to go with the agreement that we could shorten our stay if we decided to or needed to.
New York required us to register online upon arrival and I was relieved that the form did not ask for me to upload documentation confirming my negative test result. I got my results after registering with the state, however my wife did not get hers until today (Tuesday — and nearly 7 days after her test!).
I have been receiving text messages daily (several a day) asking if I have any symptoms and instructing me to get a COVID test if my status changes. Nothing onerous, but mildly inconvenient since it’s hit or miss whether the system seems to get my responses and asks the same question multiple times a day.
We did our part and quarantined as much as we could, only going out to pick up food and to go for walks by ourselves. This was largely what our existence has been at home as well in recent weeks. None of us are leaving the house for work or school at this point. The only contact we make with others is at the grocery store. So, I don’t feel guilty about the few minor contacts we made given that two of us were confirmed negative and we were pretty certain that the third was as well.
Prior to coming to NY, I’d looked online to see about getting the follow up tests once we’d been in the state for the required time. I found a few options, but these options were far from plentiful. I accepted that this would be the case since we were going to the mountains — it made sense that there might not be a COVID test unit on every corner, but it did seem a bit sparse.
What I hadn’t counted on, and in retrospect should have expected, was that getting the follow up test would be a giant pain in the ass. None of the places I’d identified would let you make an appointment until the day of the appointment at 12:01 AM online. They wouldn’t make appointments over the phone and only did same day appointments in person. The slots filled up quickly, we were told. Beyond that, most of the places were prioritizing people with symptoms for the rapid tests and requiring asymptomatic cases take the tests that take longer to get results. And as in Maryland, even the rapid tests were not coming back rapidly.
It quickly became apparent that we might not even get our results back before it was time for us to leave with the Thanksgiving holiday in the mix. So, we decided that we should just make our way home. We were facing as much as a week of not really being able to go out and do anything while in NY.
I had hoped that we would be able to see my wife’s family at least, but they were not too keen on getting together even with the knowledge that we’d all been tested and were negative. I can’t blame them. New York was the epicenter last spring and her mom and dads are in their seventies and eighties. It makes sense to take strong precautions. We did see them for about an hour, outside, with masks.
This is not the way I would have liked things to go on this trip. I would have liked to spend more time in the mountains. I would have liked to have visited the shops of New Paltz and Woodstock. I would have liked to have Thanksgiving dinner with our family. I would have liked to for things to be normal.
But things aren’t normal. We are in the midst of a pandemic, cases are surging in the United States and around the world, and while there is hope on the horizon with promising vaccines and a President Elect who believes in facts, trusts science and takes the pandemic seriously, we aren’t going to see the end of this for some time.
So we are headed down the NY Throughway on our way home, where we won’t be subject to a strict quarantine but we’ll be sticking close to the house anyway. I’ll cook something for Thanksgiving, though it may not be turkey with all the trimmings.
I am reminded of page 417 in the Big Book:
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment…Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
Yesterday, one of my Twitter friends sent a tweet saying that she would be deleting her account because she was drinking wine again. A few weeks ago, another friend on Twitter posted that he’d relapsed and he would be deleting his account because he’d promised himself that he wouldn’t keep half-assing sobriety. Perhaps you have seen these messages. Perhaps you’ve sent a similar message. Perhaps you feel an incredible desire to pickup a drink or a drug. Perhaps, you are struggling.
You are not alone.
We are all struggling right now. Humanity has not witnessed a pandemic like this one in over 100 years when the influenza pandemic of 1918 occurred. That’s three generations of humans who haven’t seen anything like what we’re going through at this moment the time. The human condition is difficult.
We are gifted with self-awareness and cognition. That self awareness and cognition mean that we ponder big questions. Questions like What is the meaning of life? and What is my place in this world? These questions are difficult to answer, and indeed the answer for each of us is unique.
We are also social creatures. Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that our defining characteristic is our ability to form collective groups around a common story — that what makes us human is indeed our social tendencies.
We are inundated with bad news in the 24 hour news cycle. Daily, we witness dysfunctional responses to a global pandemic by our elected officials — not all of them, but many of them. We see the news of mobile morgues and mass graves for bodies that are unclaimed. We grieve for life as it once was, not so long ago. And we are largely isolated. Cut off from our friends and family. Cut off from our coping mechanisms.
I believe, firmly, that alcoholics and addicts are no different from the rest of humanity. We have maladapted coping mechanisms, but every human being struggles with feelings and emotions. What we experience is part of the human condition.
Frankly, people who suffer from addictions are in a very precarious situation at this point in time. Many of our coping mechanisms have been taken away. Our addictions feed on isolation and we’ve been told to self-isolate. So, it is not surprising that some of us have relapsed. What’s probably more surprising is that others have not.
Shame and guilt are two deep emotions that every addict knows intimately. And the sense of shame that accompanies a relapse or a slip can be overwhelming. I am grateful that I have not had this sense of shame in a long time. But I know what it feels like. I felt it every time I went to the liquor store after I’d vowed not to drink again. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself that I hated who I was after getting drunk when I’d told myself I wouldn’t do it again.
Shame and guilt are killers.
And that’s why those of us in recovery have a duty to tell our brothers and sisters who have slipped that we understand. That they are welcome back into the fold. That we don’t judge them.
If you’ve slipped, I want you to know that I don’t judge you. I get it. And I’m here for you along with an army of other people in recovery who are ready, willing, and able to help. Reach out to us.
The mysterious universe seems to be built upon cycles. Stars are born out of gas clouds and cosmic dust. As the dust spins and collides, heat begins to build, and a proto-star is born. These proto-stars grow in size to become stars. Over the lifetime of a star it expands as it burns off fuel. Stars burn for eons until the fuel is consumed, at which point, they collapse upon themselves forming either white dwarves or black holes.
In this vast, infinite universe, 8 planets and one other object (sorry Pluto) orbit around one of these stars. Each circling the sun at its own rate according to it’s distance. Several of these planets are circled by rings and moons. We live on the third stone from the sun, and one revolution around the sun is what we humans call a year. Our moon revolves around the earth every twenty eight days.
Here on earth, we witness cycles as the seasons change from winter, to spring, to summer, to autumn, only to begin again, over and over — year after year. Tides come in and tides go out, about every eight hours or so. What we call day and night are the result of the earth spinning on its axis, gradually exposing the land and oceans to the warmth and light of the sun or the chill and the darkness of the universe.
Life itself ebbs and flows.
Only a fool would deny that we are in a crisis at this point. The Coronavirus was a pandemic long before WHO officially pronounced it so. Hundreds of thousands of cases have been documented, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of cases have gone undocumented. Over 14,000 people have died as of 3/22/2020 according to Johns Hopkins University
The stock market is down significantly. Businesses have been ordered to close. Schools are out. In my state, we have been advised not to gather in groups of more than ten. Our grocery stores are under-stocked, not because of a food shortage, but because people are panic buying. Many of us have never experienced anything like this, and for that we are fortunate.
Worldwide, people are worried, and with good reason. Fear seems to be ruling the day. And some of these fears are justified. We don’t know what we don’t know about this virus.
We do know that it can be deadly. We do know that it has spread around the world devastatingly quickly, despite the fact that we don’t truly know how it spreads (as of this posting). It would be disingenuous for me to tell you not to worry.
And yet, we (Homo Sapiens) are miraculous.
To our best knowledge, our world is the only world that sustains life. Conceivably, other life sustaining worlds exist, but we haven’t found them yet. Science tells us that we are the product of millions of years of evolution. We descended from other living organisms that adapted and changed in response to stressors and stimuli in this world. We share DNA with many other species on this earth including, cats, mice, pigs, and other primates. Ninety-six percent of our DNA is shared with Chimpanzees.
Our best genetic research indicates that Homo Sapiens began life in sub-Saharan Africa and gradually migrated to all corners of the globe. We are highly adaptable, having proven that we can not only survive but thrive in many different environments including the Arctic, the deserts of Africa and Asia, as well as more temperate zones in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. We’ve consistently beaten the odds as a species, and for most of our existence we did this without modern medicine, central air conditioning, heat, electricity, public water, and indoor plumbing.
We are the picture of resilience as a species.
Yes, we are going to go through some very difficult times in the near future. There will be losses, tangible and intangible. People are going to suffer. And while this is happening, it will be difficult to watch. We will feel helpless — because we are. We will feel powerless — because we are. We will feel lost, but we can find our way.
This won’t last forever. Yes, people will die, but most will recover from the illness. As more people recover from the virus, more people will develop immunity to the virus. And we may even develop a vaccine for the virus. Our institutions, our economy, and our way of life will recover. Just as the day turns to night, and the tides come in and go out, this will be prove to be another cycle.
Homo Sapiens is not about to be destroyed by the Coronavirus or the disease it causes, COVID-19. This is part of the cycle.
Knowing that we are in a cycle, we can also know that we will recover. And knowing that provides hope in a time when hope is in short supply.
“People need to hear your story. I think it’s inspirational. I mean you used to be a guy who didn’t do much besides go to bars and get drunk. Now, you do cool things. You love your wife, spend time with your son. You run. You hike. You bike. People need to hear your story.”
“Well, bud, some do. They hear it on my blog. They hear it at meetings. It’s why I have so many followers on Twitter.”
“Dad, you’re semi-viral on Twitter. Anyone with more than 1000 followers is semi-viral.”
“Well, that’s why people follow me on Twitter, bud. Because they get to hear my experience, strength, and hope there. And that’s why they follow me.”
I had this conversation with my son on Saturday as we finished a run that I’d made him go on. Not a long run. Not a fast run. An easy walk/run exercise to try to get him interested in running.
He fought me when I suggested it. He’s 12. He doesn’t want to run with his father. He doesn’t want to run at all. But I know it will be good to help him develop a habit of exercise. No one ever taught me this important life skill. I’m trying to break that cycle in the family.
He’s right. People do need to hear my story. People need to hear all our stories. And telling our stories is important. It’s cathartic. It helps us process the pain that caused us to drink or drug in the first place.
Sharing our stories helps others who may be struggling with similar challenges. As I’ve learned to get vulnerable and share from the heart in meetings, I’ve had many people tell me that my story gives them hope. Hope that they too can get sober. Hope that they can stay sober when the going gets tough.
I have heard enough stories in my recovery community that are like mine to know that I’m not unique. There are thousands, no millions, even hundreds of millions like me, who have given up the drink or the drug and are living extraordinary lives. We are the lucky ones.
But, in the eyes of my son I am extraordinary. That’s all I can ask for. Small recognitions from my son that I’m living up to my Higher Purpose, being a good husband and father. Doing the next right thing.
In the eyes of a 12 year old having thousands of followers is important.
Our world has felt heavy to me for a long time. If I’m honest, it has felt heavy ever since 9/11/2001. That was the day that everything changed. Collectively, we lost our innocence in the United States on that day.
Since then, we’ve been involved in protracted, un-winnable, perhaps unethical, wars in the Middle East. We witnessed our leaders cavalierly abandon our principles, forgoing due process and endorsing torture. We have suffered presidents who have failed to lead the country with honesty and integrity. And we have witnessed a rise in radicalism on both the left and the right, and with this rise, a fracturing of the country along political lines that is more severe than at any time in our history.
And we now face a deadly plague that has expanded around the globe.
These are difficult and challenging times. And it can be hard to find reasons to smile. Hard to find joy and humor in these times. But that’s exactly what we need in times like these.
It’s incumbent upon us all to find humor and joy wherever and whenever possible. We must have faith and hold hope that things will get better, and they will. They always do.
So how does one find hope, humor, and joy, in times like these?
Here are a few suggestions:
Go for a walk, a run, or a bike ride and feel the sun and wind on your face. Getting outside is foundational to my recovery. I have always been one to be outside rather than inside, even as a child. There is something to getting some vitamin D and immersing oneself in the natural world. Don’t wear earbuds.
Cook good food and eat it with your family and friends. Cooking is creativity. For me, it is an outlet. Magic happens as onions sizzle and flavors combine in the pot. Sitting down to a good meal with friends and family resonates deep in the human experience. We have been eating communally for millennia.
Escape. Healthy escape in a good book, a podcast, or a movie can be just what one needs to feel momentarily happy. There’s nothing wrong with an escape once in a while, but escape can become problematic when it’s the only coping mechanism that one knows and practices.
Meditate. Yes, meditation really does make things better in life. Get yourself an app, a pair of earbuds and a cushion and practice. I can personally recommend Calm, Insight Timer, and 10% Happier. I have used them all and have found them to be well worth it. I am not paid or otherwise compensated by any of these companies, I just like them and use their products.
Make art and music. Maybe you don’t fancy yourself an artist. Maybe you don’t believe you can play an instrument. Maybe you’re a Picasso or Santana’s cousin. Drop the judgement and just do something to get creative. You may surprise yourself. You may find that you have a talent that you never knew existed. And if you do these things without judgement, you may just have some fun.
Listen to music. If you really don’t think you can make music, spin some tunes that remind you of a good time in your life. My go-to tunes to feel good include The Rolling Stones, the Stone Roses, Van Halen, New Order, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. And of course that band from college that played the same set every night in all the bars that I frequented, the Dirges.
Watch a child play. Or better yet, play with a child. I guarantee you will find some joy and laugh if you get down on your hands and knees and play with a little one.
We need to have some fun and find joy to make this life meaningful and to get through the hard times. These are hard times. Find and make joy whenever and wherever you can. Even if it’s just a small thing, it will make a difference in your day.
How do you find joy in life? Drop me a comment and let me know.
A mounting sense of dread came over me as the weekend approached and I came to terms with the facts. I’d be driving four hours each way to a scout trip where the main activity would be skiing or snowboarding. I’d be giving up control of my weekend for the sake of my son and that of the troop.
Meals would be planned, and I wasn’t the planner. Sleeping arrangements would be first come, first served. I would not be the only one snoring in the bunkhouse. There would be communal bathrooms. The key to scouting is to keep the kids fully engaged, which meant that there would be very little downtime. And with 21 kids on the trip, it was going to be loud. I knew all of this when I’d signed up, but I had still volunteered to be a chaperone because I knew that if I didn’t, it was unlikely that my son would agree to go on the trip, and I wanted him to go on the trip.
It had been a while since he’d been on a Scout trip and his enthusiasm was waning. Over the weekend, I told another parent and a leader “Scouts teaches many meaningful life lessons to boys, not the least of which is that meetings suck but are required for successful outcomes.” My boy had only been to scout meetings and service hours since September. Not surprisingly, he was beginning to hate Scouts and frequently refused to go to the weekly meetings in January and February.
And then there was the the inherent risk of the main activity. No, not the risk of serious bodily injury. While there is risk associated with snow sports, that was not my main concern. My son wants to be an instant expert at everything that he tries and frequently when he isn’t an instant expert, he grows frustrated, talks negatively about himself, and gives up. I’ve witnessed this many times before and I knew that the probability of the weekend ending this way was statistically high.
Two weeks ago, in an effort to head this off, we’d gone on a snowboarding trip over Presidents’ Day weekend. I knew that the weekend would be busy on the slopes and so I’d done all the right things. I’d booked private lessons and paid for rentals and lift tickets in advance. When we arrived at the resort Friday night we’d picked up our rental equipment the night before our first day so as to avoid the clusterfuck that would certainly be the rental lines in the morning.
I had gone into that weekend with high hopes that we’d both learn enough to enjoy a few runs down an easy trail on the mountain. I’d envisioned myself snapping selfies of the two of us on the chair lift, and gently carving down the hill together. A real 2020 Norman Rockwell father and son kind of weekend. It was a shit show.
When it became clear to the instructor that my son needed more help than me, he directed his attention to my son. I was grateful for that. Hugo worked diligently with Mr. Grey for nearly 90 minutes. And at the end, Mr. Grey still could not get up on the board on his own, let alone slide down the bunny slope. I suggested that we take a break and get some lunch. That’s when I discovered that my wallet was missing. (After much panic on my part, my wife found it at the lost and found, complete with all my credit cards and money.)
After lunch I worked with my son for a while, but when he was getting frustrated enough that he was yelling at me, and I was starting to yell back at him on the side of the slope, we called it quits. I can’t recall if we’d even tried on day two or not. I think we did, but I have blocked it from my memory.
Expectations can be a killer for a guy like me. When my expectations were not met, I found myself wanting to go down to the lodge bar and order a bucket of bourbon. I’ve found that when I give those cravings space to exist, and then voice them, they go away, which is what I did that afternoon.
So, I had been ruminating on the events of Presidents Day going into this past weekend. And I was expecting disaster.
Mr. Grey and I had separate lessons. About mid way through my lesson, he showed up in tears on the side of the hill. There was no doubt about it, my lesson was over. And I was okay with that. I’d already fallen on my tailbone and I was beginning to doubt whether I really wanted to learn to snowboard or not, considering that I knew I could ski.
Over a Cherry Coke and a Kit Kat bar, we discussed whether or not to try more boarding or to get skis. Mr. Grey said he wanted to try skis. So we went back to the rental shop and traded in our boards for skis and went outside just in time for a leader to tell us that it was time to meet as a troop for lunch.
While at lunch, I discussed the situation with the leader who had organized the trip, who was also an avid skier. Brian agreed to try to teach Mr. Grey to ski and spent about 45 minutes with him before Mr. Grey threw in the towel. It was 1:30 on Saturday. We had the rest of the afternoon and the evening to fill and I was worried.
I fully expected my son to say that he wanted to go home, which would have been impossible because we had another scout in our car and there was no other car with space for him to ride home. I also fully expected that my son was going to demand that I stay by his side for the rest of the day. In an instant I saw not one but two ski trips gone south.
Mercifully, before I could get caught up in my own head, some of the scouts my son’s age were also tired of skiing and he synced up with them to go tubing and to play video games for the rest of the afternoon.
I went skiing.
I hadn’t been skiing in 17 years, but it came back like riding a bike. I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the slopes with a few other adults from the troop. We had dinner (taco salad which was surprisingly good) and went back out under the lights. I hadn’t skied at night since grade school, but it was fantastic. I skied until 8:30 when I was tired and cold. I called it a night after the fastest run down one of the steepest slopes and returned to the cabin.
The next morning, after breakfast, we skied for another two hours and then drove the four long hours home. I arrived home around 5:30 and my son told me that he was bummed that the weekend was over. He said he didn’t want to go to school. I told him that I didn’t want to go to work either.
While we were on the first trip, Mr. Grey asked me, “Dad, why did you stop doing all the cool things you do?” I asked him what he meant. “Well, you played guitar and stoped. You skied and stopped. You were an artist, and you stopped drawing.” I looked at him and said, “Well, sometimes when someone starts drinking, they stop doing all the cool things they used to do. But, I’m picking up those old things again now that I’m not drinking.”
There is a part of me that gets a bit regretful about that. But I do not regret my past. I’m just grateful to be able to do these things again. And as I reflect on this past weekend, I’m overwhelmed by my good fortune. We only have a short time on this stone hurling through space and we might as well make the best of that time.
We are fragile creatures. We like to think that we are at the top of the food chain, the apex predator, the all powerful human beings, but in reality we are sensitive little organisms going about our lives as this tiny planet spins around on its axis orbiting one of billions of stars in the expansive universe. And we can be conquered by organisms that we can’t even see with our naked eye.
I have been reminded of this over the past week as I’ve sat in a hospital bed, tethered to an IV drip of a cocktail of antibiotics, saline and non-narcotic pain medications.
About a week ago I did something that millions of people do every day — something that I’ve done hundreds of times before in my life without incident — and it landed me in the hospital.
I plucked a nose hair.
Yes, I plucked a nose hair and set off a series of events that I could not predict nor control. The small trauma inside my nose was invaded by a virulent microorganism that appeared to be resistant to antibiotics. I began to feel pain on Monday last week and thought I had a pimple on my nose, but there was no evidence of one. By evening, my nose was starting to swell and looked a bit pink. Tuesday morning, it was swollen and red and I went to urgent care. That afternoon I found myself leaving the ENTs office with instructions to head straight to the ER for a CT scan. I was admitted to the hospital that night.
After 48 hours of two of the strongest antibiotics we have available, I was still getting sicker and my nose had ballooned up to the size of a golf ball. I had cellulitis (an infection of the soft tissues) and an abscess forming. I had surgery on Thursday evening and felt relief from the pressure within a few hours.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about acceptance while was in the hospital.
We were supposed to leave for a vacation on Thursday. It was abundantly clear on Wednesday that we would not be able to go. In the past I would have felt that it was unfair. That I’d been wronged. That surely someone was responsible. And that I was owed something by the universe.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having a little self-pity party on Wednesday. But it was clear that there was nothing I could do to change my circumstances. It was clear that I’d only create more misery for myself and others if I got angry and frustrated about it. So, I spent some time feeling the disappointment and practicing letting go.
On Friday, after surgery, when I was staring to feel better, I started to have the self pity again. My situation sucked. There was no way around it. I’d been stuck inside for days — hadn’t left the room in days — I felt trapped and annoyed about things. But I knew that I needed to accept the current situation and I needed to not judge it.
I got past my self pity when I found way to get connected to the program of recovery. On Wednesday I reached out to friends in recovery and this agnostic asked for, gasp, prayers. Yes, it’s true. As I mentioned in my post on the eleventh step, my understanding of what constitutes prayer has changed and I’m now comfortable asking for them, and accepting them when I need a little help.
On Thursday the program came to me. I got a lovely text from a gentleman who I’d told my story to a month ago — a friend of a friend whom I’ve never met in real life — with a picture of his 1 month chip and a note of thanks. This little message lifted me up and reminded me that small actions can have big impacts.
Friday afternoon, I worked from my hospital bed to connect a young man who I know in recovery with some resources in the city where he will be attending college. It turns out that one of my connections at my alma mater, Penn State, who is the faculty coordinator for the collegiate Recovery Center on campus knows the coordinator of a similar group at my friend’s school.
By getting out of myself, and finding ways to be of service to others, I was able to pass my time here in the hospital in a productive manner and make a difference for other people.
There have also been some lessens in patience for me here. As I mentioned I was admitted on Tuesday and had surgery on Thursday. I would have liked to have had surgery sooner, but it turned out that the abscess just wasn’t ready and surgical intervention prior to Thursday would have been pointless. And so we waited. And my nose got more swollen, and more painful.
After surgery, I had two full days of sitting in that small room, waiting to be released. Again an exercise in patience. I was physically healthy enough to leave on Friday but wasn’t released because cultures take time to grow. And my doctor wanted to ensure that we had the right treatment in place before sending me home. So I waited. My patience was thin, but I reminded myself that getting out of the hospital only to have the infection come back would be worse.
So I made some calls to friends in and out of the program. I texted with a friend new in recovery. I took laps around the floor. The decision was not mine to make and it would come when it came.
On Sunday morning I woke to the news that my cultures were done and they had a treatment plan. I was sent home at 10:00 AM, with a prescription for a ton of antibiotics over the next ten days.