On Worry

I’m not sure that anyone still reads this anymore. The old blog has suffered from its share of neglect over time, despite major upgrades over the past two years. Truth be told, I actually thought of shutting the whole thing down after a couple of incidents. Suffice it to say, my online writings have caused issues for some over the years – but that’s another story for another time.

Yet, here I am, in an age where free speech seems to be no longer en vogue, pecking away at a keyboard, sharing my unsolicited thoughts with the internet and perhaps even the metaverse before too long. Given society’s penchant for shutting down opposing points of view, it strikes me as more critical than ever that we brave few and soldier on, and share whatever strikes our fancy – no matter whom we may offend.

What caught my attention of late is the subject of worry.

For many years, worry consumed me. I think everyone worries to some extent, but my worry became paralyzing. I think this was especially common during the pandemic given some polls out gauging youth depression rates, and some of the latest estimates that we are actually closer to the beginning of the pandemic, even now, than the end.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Problems

There’s no panacea to the problem of worry. It’s simply a reality of the human condition. In dealing with my own struggles, however, I’ve often found and drawn comfort from my faith, which has its roots in the wisdom of the ancients. The challenge, in this case, is to apply ancient wisdom to modern problems. Fortunately for me, Jesus has a lot to say about worry.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…”

Jesus (Matthew 6.25(a))

Matthew 6.25 came across my radar of late via TikTok. A fact that I think would make Jesus smile. Thirst trap, indeed. At any rate, it certainly found its way on to my desk at an appropriate time when I am very anxious (viz., worried) about a good many things in my life. Given my situation, the imperative quoted above struck me as an especially important thing to reflect on.

To add some background, the quote actually follows from the previous section where Jesus warns against efforts to serve both God and money. The point of the verses is that such a duality of service is simply not possible. Of course, that never keeps us from trying.

The question that follows logically, assuming we choose to serve God rather than money is what then? How do we live? How do we buy clothes, pay bills, buy food, save for retirement, etc. What will my kids do when I’m gone? For that matter, how long do I have left? Nothing sparks the existential dread we harbor inside quite like a pandemic where death seems to be all around. How can we live, let alone choose to serve God, without cash? The questions are unspoken at this point in the section but immediately after, Jesus gives us the lesson above. And it’s a simple lesson, elegant even: “Don’t worry about it.”

Elegant though it may be, the lesson can seem a bit quaint, and at stark odds with modernity. We worry about many things that would be inconceivable to the folks in Jesus’s day. We live lives that are much more complex and complicated than they were in the first century C.E., at least in our own estimation.

Nevertheless, it’s called ancient wisdom for a reason. The lesson is timeless. Or rather, it exists outside of time. A beacon from beyond, challenging our preconceptions of what it means to truly live.

The fact is, worry is an insidious demon. Not in the horns and fire sense, but in its subtle ability to take over our lives and destroy them, dream by dream. By contrast, the message from Jesus is intended to be one of liberation. Freedom. The antidote to worry is to not play its game.

Worry operates by placing tremendous stress upon our souls, mind, and our bodies. The stress that results is ultimately derived from fictions that we choose to believe are facts. We may grieve or regret something that has happened. We worry about what may come. Worry coerces us into believing that our worst fears are inevitabilities and this simply isn’t so.

In the end, we are only responsible for the present. That’s all we can control. This point underlies all of the wisdom and beauty that follows in the remainder of the chapter. I hope to unpack some of this in the posts that follow.

For now, the take home point is a counterintuitive one. Despite our view of life’s complexity, despite every emotion and temptation that besets us when life seems to be going awry – even so, it is still better to be a peace with our lot, rather than worry about what may come.

Jesus seems to be telling us, don’t worry because all is well.

New Year’s Reflections 2019: For Auld Lang Syne

 

I haven’t written much in the past few months. Each time that I’ve tried to sit down to write, I found myself at a loss for words. Mostly, I’ve lacked inspiration. This year easily ranks among the most difficult in my life. It caps off a roller coaster decade filled with ups and downs.

Suffice it to say, when the clock strikes midnight, there will be no love lost for 2019.

In no particular order, here’s a short summary of the past ten years: I’ve welcomed my son into the world and two nephews to boot, completed law school, earned an advanced doctorate in law, moved to and lived in a foreign country, traveled the world multiple times, adopted a dog, moved home, moved to Wyoming, moved to Arizona, got married (8/15/09 but close enough), got divorced, saw my career develop, stopped attending church, saw my physical and mental health decline, gained weight, lost sleep, and saw the decade cap off with my Grandpa’s passing on August 2, 2019.

Along the way, I’ve also met scores of people from all over the world. Some are like family. All of them are good people. Folks that are passionate about their work. Some passionate about their faith. Others passionate about their families. To a person, these people have affected my life in positive ways and have inspired me to try and be a better person even when that didn’t seem possible.

While I cannot say that the decade has been a total bust, I think it’s objectively fair to say that it was a difficult one. Highs and lows. Not just little dips: soaring highs and shattering lows. It’s a small miracle that I’ve made it through. In retrospect, it’s easiest for me to think of the 2010s as a hurricane battering the little ship that I call life. Now, as I come into port for 2020, I’m a threadbare schooner, wood split in places with a broken mast. A new year, a new decade are most welcome for my money.

Still, a friend made me think about today and about the importance that I’m placing on a year that reads 2020 rather than 2019. According to her, “it’s just another night and a new year.” No big deal.

So why is a new year so important? To me? To us? To the majority of the world that’s celebrating as I type? My friend is right on some level. Just another day/night. There’s nothing magical about the date January 1. Nothing substantively will change in my situation from Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan 1, 2020. But I think the importance of a new year is less about the date on the calendar and more about the chance to hit reset.

A new year brings an opportunity to set in motion all of the goals a person can set for the year. It allows us to assess where we are as people over the next 365 days. It’s not the date that matters. What matters is the mindset we carry forward into a new year, and by extension the fact that it matters how we approach life as a new year kicks off. As a bit of caution, it seems pretty obvious to me from the past ten years that negative thoughts begat negative outcomes. Pessimism becomes the enemy of progress because it is self-sabotage from the outset. Nothing guarantees a bad year quite like making up the mind that it’s going to be a bad year.

It’s also unnecessary.

If I’ve learned anything from my tumultuous 2019, it’s that hope is the critical element of being happy in life (aside from God himself). When we lack hope, we lack that piece of us that makes us look forward to tomorrow. Hope is our internal motivation. It’s the reason we endure the troubles of a decade, fall asleep, and awake with the expectation that a new year will be better than the year and decade that has passed. (And while we are on the topic – how in the world did ten years fly by so quickly?)

So, in response to my friend, I think a new year is important because it reminds us to hope. Hope is important because it’s the means by which we wake up and do it all again no matter what life deals our way. And the motivation we have through hope is what keeps us living life rather than merely waiting around to die.

With that, here’s to 2020, friends. May the best of your 2019 be the worst of your 2020.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Courtesy of CNN.com

On Tragedy: Coming to Terms with Terms

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My son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder earlier this week.

While the diagnosis was not a complete surprise, to say that the news was personally devastating would be an understatement. After five years of explaining away the symptoms, after five years of hoping and anticipating that Clark would simply “outgrow” some of his peculiar behaviors, an expert from the University of Indiana’s Riley Children’s Hospital summarily crushed those hopes with the click of a mouse, and the stroke of a pen. 

Naturally, I was crushed. 

I can’t speak to how other, better parents would have responded to such news. For my part, my mind went into a spiral with a massive, neon “NO CURE” sign flashing before my eyes while I tried to sleep. Mostly, though, I thought about the horror stories of autism that I had read: 

  • Incidents of trigger happy cops murdering autistic men of color for simply having a blank stare. (Seems like a double whammy since Clark is both American Indian and autistic).
  • And even the latest news out of Miami-Dade County that would see Clark enlist in a “voluntary registry” with the police as a child ‘suffering’ from mental illness. (No way in hell). 
  • Would he even live to be as old as his mother, and reach the ripe old age of 36?

I didn’t sleep much on Monday night. 

The following day, I spent much of it trying to process the news, and how to sort out my own response going forward. Worrying certainly wasn’t helping.

Rather than worry, I tried to think about the language I would use when describing Clark’s diagnosis in my day-to-day interactions. It seemed wise to use the proper terms – both for my own edification, and given the fact that our society is fraught with offense. These days, people tend to get pissed off by nearly anything that rustles their jimmies. I certainly didn’t (and don’t) want to offend other parents of special needs kids unintentionally. Better to save a good offense for when you mean it.

In coming to terms with the terms of Clark’s diagnosis, the word that wanted glibly to sneak into my vernacular was the word tragedy. The Cambridge University dictionary defines tragedy as follows:

Tragedy Defined

I think the first definition is plainly eliminated. Clark isn’t dying anymore than we are all dying. And if the photo above is any indication, he isn’t really suffering either. His mischievous laugh, and megawatt smile certainly speak to the contrary. The third definition is also eliminated – at least until Clark decides to become an english major during college. 

So really, the only way to classify autism as a tragedy is if one buys the second definition, and the narrative that autism is a situation or result that is ‘bad.’ And I’m not really convinced of this either.

It’s very difficult to talk about the results and outcome of a life and call them bad when Clark hasn’t really begun to live. Sure, as life milestones go he was born. He learned to walk. He has mastered potty-training (thank God). He’s even developing speech and language skills. But the rest of the broad canvass that is his life is wonderfully, beautifully blank. 

Now, it could be that his diagnosis will enable him to make a positive impact on the lives of many. I suppose it could be the opposite. After all, no one wants to think of raising the next dictator, but somewhere in the world there’s a couple or a parent who is doing exactly that. Regardless, it seems misguided to use a term like ‘tragedy’ to define a life that has not yet truly begun. Clark is five years old. His concerns this summer are when he will go swimming, and whether he can have only two Go-Gurts or perhaps sneak a third during breakfast. It’s a bit dramatic to say that his condition is a tragedy.

Having reached that conclusion I calmed down a bit. I did some more investigating. I was intrigued to see that there are scores of parents and autistic folks who agree that tragedy is NOT how they would describe their lives, or their kids. From one parent, I learned that I’ve basically been doing everything wrong since Clark was born. From another, I was inspired to see that maybe I’m actually doing alright, and that perhaps triumph is a better ‘t’ word to describe Clark.

Given the disparate reactions, I was relieved to confirm a lingering suspicion: no one has cornered the market on how to respond to adversity – particularly when it relates to medical conditions affecting loved ones. And especially situations that no one can control. 

In all, I can’t say that I have any more answers than I did almost a week ago Monday evening.

But I can say that I love my son. And that as long as I draw breath, I will strive to given him every advantage that I can, and meet every need that he has. Despite the seriousness of the news, it’s a comfort to see that, in some ways, nothing has changed at all.

Analog Tools in a Digital World

I broke my fountain pen this weekend. The imperial blue ink that I used in my Lamy CP1 had run out, and when I tried to refill the ink, I inadvertently broke the internal fill mechanism inside the pen.
I spent many hours researching a replacement pen, but I couldn’t find a perfect substitute. Instead, I was left to negotiate the next best alternative and hope for the best. 
In the process of deliberating, I found myself forced to consider the utility of using pens at all in our increasingly digital age. In really every respect, pens are bygone specters of an age long past. Their usefulness is almost as passé as the bottles of ink that are sold to fill them. 
And yet, there’s something intangibly satisfying about setting pen to paper – to seeing one’s ideas made manifest in written form; to seeing one’s thoughts scratched on paper as mankind has done for countless centuries since that first ancestor etched stories on the walls of caves.

Writing is primal. 

Despite the fact that I pride myself on my technological prowess, that ancient link between humans, pen, and paper won the day. And it was rather an easy decision to write again. I hope it’s a trend that continues. 
Suppose it should be easier now with my new Lamy Studio fountain pen – in imperial blue, no less. 

On Letting Go

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I drove home from work on Friday. It had been a productive day.

 

I had had meetings with our project team, wrapping up a major initiative that our Institute puts on every year. The feedback was helpful. To a person, we were all very pleased with how the initiative turned out, particularly given the vexing circumstances and truncated timeline that had precipitated its beginning.

 

In the words of the ignoble Charlie Sheen, we were “#winning.” And we were all enjoying the moment of a job well-done. Rightly so. We deserved it.

 

Fast forward to the end of the day.

 

As the desert sun set over Tucson, I drove home, windows down, blaring Sinatra’s Nothing but the Best from my Ford Escape. True I wasn’t nearly as badass as the suped-up Tahoe next to me, which blasted Migos’s Bad and Boujee. But being neither bad nor a member of the bourgeois, I simply didn’t care. It had been a great day, and I was of a mind to head directly over to the store, in true bourgeois fashion, and pick up a few treats for my dog – which I did. #FirstWorldProblems.

 

As Sinatra sang of bull fights in sunny old Spain, a smile graced my lips for the first time in weeks. Damn straight, Frank. The month of January had been hell. Friday was payday. From here on out, Nothing but the Best.

 

 

Understand, however, that my version of ’the best’ may be a bit different than most. Mine started off at the local Walmart off of Wetmore here in Tucson. It’s an unprepossessing place. Its denizens are of the sort that would be ripe for cameo appearances on the “People of Walmart” website. (Note: I would make contributions to the site, the locale is that ripe for humor. But for all I know, I may well end up on the site myself one day, so why tempt the fates?) 

 

Regardless, I joined my betters and wandered through cramped aisles, narrowly avoiding the carts and electric wheel chairs of the Walmart vanguard. Before long, I found all of the essentials for my little dog – a new crate, a new bed, and a box of treats as a reward for just how good he had been all week. 

 

For the record, since my last post, not only did Nigel have zero accidents in the house (and zero incidents of destruction), but he also let me know every time that he needed to go out. Often, this amounted to jumping on the bed and kissing me awake at 6am (ALWAYS 6am – Every. Single. Day.). But I welcomed this outcome, as opposed to the times when he felt that he had no choice, but to soil his doggy bed rather than soiling the apartment. (Apologies if you have a weak stomach. No trigger warnings for you on this slice of the web.) 

 

Ebullient, I drove home. So pleased to reward my little dog. It had been touch and go, but perhaps we had turned a corner. Leaving my wares in the car, I bounded up the steps, unlocked the door, and went in to check on my Nigel. 

 

He had an accident in his crate again. But his eyes were so overjoyed to see me. It looked as if he might burst from happiness. It was a magnificent reunion. While I struggled to unlock his crate, I saw a yellow stream of urine flow from between his legs as his body shook with excitement to see me.

 

And my heart fell. 

 

After taking him down, to do his business, I cleaned up the old crate, before promptly folding it up and throwing it in the trash. I would never leave him crated like that again. It was cruel. All while I did my work, he lay on the floor looking at me. 

 

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It’s a strange thing to realize that one is wholly inadequate. That no matter the best of intentions, it will never be enough to meet the need/s of another. Such was my Friday night realization with Nigel – what he needed, I would never be in a position to give him:

 

  • Nigel needed a place to roam free. Because of his anxiety, I had to leave him crated during the day. 
  • Nigel needed consistent human interaction, lest his anxiety lead to an adverse outcome. I work a typical 9am – 5pm schedule and coming home for a mid-day hello is unrealistic.
  • Nigel needed an owner with energy and time to play. My idea of fun is firing up Call of Duty online.

 

In my rationale, there was simply nothing that I could do to meet his needs, while also maintaining enough scratch to meet my own.

 

Except, that I could find him a new home. And so I did.

 

The internet is remarkably adept at facilitating pet adoptions. Within 14 hours, I had placed Nigel in a home with a large family, where everyone is home at some point during the day. They have two other Cocker Spaniels to keep Nigel company. And Nigel’s new home is much bigger than the two bedroom space I’m renting here in Tucson.

 

It was the right call. But it certainly wasn’t easy. 

 

Sitting here now, in the quiet of my apartment, I’m torn. Rationally, I understand that what I did was in the best interest of everyone involved. And yet, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed Nigel. That I’ve followed the status quo and took the easy way out. On the other hand, I think about Nigel’s shaking after a day in the crate. His joy and relief (literally and figuratively) at being let out – and it somehow, seems cruel to keep him in such dire straits. 

 

At any rate, the transition is done on my end. It’s only beginning for his new family – though they are well acquainted with the breed, and with the quirks of Cocker Spaniels in general. 

 

Here’s wishing them my very best. And here’s hoping that my existential dilemma will have no bearing on their very practical efforts to take good care of my little dog.