Someone Forgot to Tell the Kids

The other day I read about racism, war, famine, drought, and depression and that was just the front page of the paper.

Earlier in the year, I had the chance to tour the Loyola Early Learning Center in Baltimore. Walking around the school I noticed student artwork, colorful learning tools, toys and areas to play. The student learning spilled over into the hallways in the best of ways – answers yelled with excitement, students accompanied by warm and caring teachers navigating their way to meet friends.

My mom taught children this age. I vividly remember visiting her classrooms. Thoroughly and thoughtfully decorated and intentionally designed with the student in mind – the space welcomed and encouraged exploration and learning. Being that a hallmark of early childhood education is the importance of play, she always made sure students had opportunities for joy while they learned their foundational skills. These games and activities were based in a pedagogy, but the kids didn’t know any of that – all they did was be themselves, silly, energetic and full of excitement. Each child was known, valued and included. If there was ever a time this wasn’t the case, she would go out of her way to make sure to invite them back in to reunite with their friends. 

The last stop of our tour was the playground. Tucked away in a city alley, was yet another slice of heaven, an oasis, a respite – a place where shouts of joy didn’t need to be hushed, a place where kids played tag, climbed, jumped and learned. Accompanying them were their teachers and parent & guardian volunteers. There were a lot of smiles as we all witnessed our future, hanging out with their friends. 

Reflecting on this time, I found myself seeing the news through a different lens. It’s one thing for me to read about what is happening and think about how I’m affected by racism, war, famine, drought, and depression and decide whether to pay attention to these issues or block them out, but what about the kids? They don’t get a choice to contribute or opt out. All they’re doing is trying their best to pay attention, follow directions and be kind to their friends. 

I think this is a great way to approach world affairs, whether it’s a political power struggle or policy decision – anything that impacts our societal structure. I might be able to stomach these things or explain away why they can be justified, but I’m an adult and my time on this earth is much less than our youth. They have to live with these choices for much longer. They should be the ones who influence and inform my way of proceeding. This realization has certainly challenged me to examine my own behaviors. I can make excuses and justify why I might want to hang on to my time, money or energy and turn my back on our youth by not addressing some of our most threatening issues. I can tell myself a million reasons to justify focusing on just me. One thing I can’t do is explain some of these selfish decisions to our youth. 

So I won’t. 

The only choice is to do my part to ensure a brighter future for our kids. There is so much more in store for them and much of their story is yet to be written. In a world where racism, war, famine, drought, and depression dominate our front pages, it’s important to remember the classrooms full of learners, adventurers, and explorers, playing with blocks, shouting out answers. 

There was a moment on the playground when I found myself thinking about the challenges and evil in our world that the news tells us about, seemingly all the time, painting a world doomed for destruction. My pessimism was then interrupted by a joyful yell – a student recognizing one of their friends. I then thought to myself,

Someone forgot to tell the kids. 

Open Doors Open Arms

I wouldn’t be here without the care, love and concern showed by the LGBTQ+ community.

One fact I omitted from a previous blog about my recovery was that the first AA meeting I went to was specifically for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I had no idea.

All I knew was that I made the decision to get sober and wanted to attend a meeting that evening.

Apprehensive about embarking on a life without alcohol, and not sure if it was even possible, I walked in the room and took a seat in the back.

Immediately, I was greeted by an understanding smile. My uneasiness must have been visible because the leader of the meeting approached me to check-in.

He gave me a copy of The Big Book, even after I told him I didn’t have any money.

He knew I needed it and was there for me.

No judgement.

All understanding.

Soon after, I found my home at a morning meeting close to my apartment, but it was because of the initial open door and open arms and the acceptance of the group that allowed me to begin my recovery.

Through this experience, I was reminded of what it really means to love and respect one another.

The leader of that meeting was there for me simply because it was the right thing to do.

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? – Luke 6:33

I was truly being treated as the people in the group want to be treated.

No judgement.

All understanding.

I learned that often times when I’m in need, and I am honest and open to receiving help, it’s there, like God, waiting for me.

If I’m whispering, I’m speaking too loud

Sticks and stones may break bones but what about whispered words?

They burn bridges.

I’ve written on gossip before and how damaging it is to both parties, but this whispering isn’t the make sure the door is closed whispering, it’s the things I tell myself.

The other day I saw this sign and thought it was eerily poignant.

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I’ve been going through it.

Call it what you want it – you all know what I’m talking about.

Recently, I decided to get rid of social media as an experiment to see if it would help. Lonely at times? Sure. Liberating? Absolutely.

I’m seeing things differently.

Yesterday I watched T.V.

Yeah I know, wow Brendan you got off social media to watch T.V.

I mean I really watched. Not watched five minutes then grab my phone and check Instagram while the episode played in the background.

Yesterday I drove my car.

Really drove. Not get to a red light, check my phone, put it down, keep driving.

Yesterday I took pictures.

Just took them. Didn’t post or share.

Yesterday I walked.

Just walked. Not walked while scrolling or listening to music.

These might seem trivial, even laughable, and that’s okay, but it’s a seemingly small shift that has been seismic.

After a lot of prayer and reflection, I’ve realized the most important commodity, feeling, emotion, state of mind – whatever you want to call it – is freedom.

Before social media, it was having a beer.

Clean up the apartment, and have a beer.

Play video games, and have a beer.

Read a book, and have a beer.

Sobriety has also been freeing. Lonely at times? Sure. But I enjoy not having a substance that has control over my words, emotions or actions.

There doesn’t have to be an and. We can all just do. Just be.

Society tells us we need to multitask. Maximize each hour. Grind.

The catch is that often times, in that pursuit, I forget to look both ways.

Look back to what has brought me to this place – what’s coming down the road.

Look ahead to what could be – what’s next.

We’ve all closed the door and shared something with someone we trust. This is a good thing, privacy and honesty are important. However, I’ve found when I’m looking around to see if anyone is listening or watching – the words or actions that follow can hold more weight than shouts of joy.

Now I know that when I close my door, in the privacy of my own soul, what I choose to tell myself has great power, and if I’m not careful it can lead me astray. But, with awareness, trust, and courage, I can make progress.

I can be free.

Keep me posted

I’ve talked a lot about wanting to write a book.

I remember the reaction when I first posted my plan on Facebook.

It felt great, I was affirmed and my hopes soared.

That summer I wrote almost eighty pages and was hopeful for the future.

Recently, I haven’t made enough time for writing and other things that bring me joy. I love following and seeing what everyone is up to and it lifts my spirits to see all the wonderful things happening in the lives of loved ones and friends.

However, I decided that social media has taken up too much space in my life. I’m just cutting out Facebook for now and will post on Instagram occasionally because I really like taking and seeing photos, but I’m going to back off on that too.

When I do eventually finish this book, I hope that you find out about it and give it a chance.

This isn’t an indictment on social media, just something I’m trying.

At the end of the day, everything is an experiment, so add this to the list.

Thanks for following along for this long, keep me posted.

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brendanpatrick.okane@gmail.com

Long Division

I was never too good at Math.

One aspect that confounded me was long division. Ending up with a remainder and still having the right answer somehow felt like cheating. I didn’t think there should be any unfinished business. A remainder? C’mon.

I know, not sound logic, like I said – not my strong suit.

Round numbers, clean results, no remainders, if it were only that simple right?

When I get in heated situations or when it’s been a day and I let my defenses down, sometimes I’ll say or do something I wish I didn’t.

Hopefully, I’m not alone in this.

Recently I went to a leadership seminar and when we discussed managing conflict, I told my group the most important lesson I’ve learned (through trial and error) was to respond with kindness.

Another group member spoke up and said, their most important thing was to first do nothing.

Don’t respond.

Do nothing.

This allows the space for a proper plan to develop.

It could look like cutting a conversation short, saying you need time to think, whatever it is – it’s better than what was about to happen!

I liked this so much, so I added some steps to it and posted it where I can easily see it.

Here’s how I see this playing out for me:

Refrain – Do nothing. No matter how much I might want to, leave it alone.

Reflect – What just happened? Take a while to go over the details – review the evidence.

Respond – With kindness (I still think this is the way to go) even if it’s a response that contains some harsh truth or maybe an apology.

Remain – Be confident and stick to what I know is right. Don’t second guess. If new information presents itself and I need to alter my course, fine, but I need to be good with my choice.

For me, the toughest part of this process isn’t the first step, it’s the last one.

I need to be okay with unfinished conversations or unresolved issues.

Sometimes there isn’t a tidy conclusion.

At 33 I’m finally embracing this whole concept of remainders.

Still awful at long division.

Club soda with a lime, please.

Last night, I gratefully ordered a club soda with lime for what seems to be the 10,000th time.

Twenty minutes later I watched as a Guinness was purposely poured.  Cascading over the spoon to create a swirling work of art. It was quickly but carefully brought to a patron waiting patiently at the end of the bar.

Walking around the Milwaukee Art Museum last week, I was in awe of the eclectic collection and refreshing architectural design.

Often times I’m drawn to bright colors and vibrant pieces, but linger at simple ones, depressed in tone. They’re the ones that evoke my raw emotions.

At first, this was not one of them.

In fact, I walked past it and when I circled back I noticed something – it was in disguise.

I saw a chalkboard, hastily washed, with a small box and a line under it – etched like someone who was in a hurry.

When I got closer, I read the description and examined the canvas. It was an oil painting.

What a trip.

Immediately, my opinion was transformed. From nothing special to wow – just because I knew the ingredients.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a saving grace of maintaining my sobriety in social situations has been ordering a club soda with a lime.

You might be thinking – what are you doing in a bar anyway? – and I get that. I do consider myself an alcoholic.

I’m also grateful that I’ve been able to be in social situations, sober for over seven years, and I haven’t felt an unmanageable desire to drink. Many of my friends, or people I know in recovery, do not share this level of comfort. It’s something I consider a luxury and work very hard at maintaining.

You might be thinking – didn’t he begin by saying he was in awe of a Guinness being poured, I don’t know how comfortable he really is? – I get that too.

The desire is there, sure.

I mean, I went to Ireland, was in Dublin and people in the bar even thought I was Conor McGregor, and wanted to buy me a drink.

That’s one of the lighter moments where I had to decline, despite wanting to take them up on their offer. There have been some really tough times too.

I’d much rather not have to manage my time at happy hours, depending on how comfortable I’m feeling.

It would be nice to be part of champagne toasts at weddings.

However, if someone told me I could go back – I wouldn’t.

I wouldn’t because before, my life had many moments of chaos, confusion, uneasiness, regret, and despair. Not to belabor a point but, like I’ve said in previous entries – most people would have never known.

Our culture is pretty accepting of alcohol abuse. But I knew.

Deep in my soul. I wanted more out of life.

Maybe that explains my taste in art. I appreciate and am drawn to color but I’m in awe of the simple, the honest and the raw. I’m in awe of interior struggle and I’m committed to maintaining the level of quiet peace that sobriety has given my soul.

The club soda with a lime isn’t flashy and doesn’t grab attention. It could even be seen as deception, but upon further investigation – it shouldn’t be a surprise.

It’s simple and if I give it a chance, it’s exactly the right ingredients.

“He did the three-peat!”

Yelled with elation at mile 17.5 after I drank one cup of water, threw a second on my face and nabbed the final Gatorade from a hopeful outstretched arm – He did the three-peat!

In the midst of physically breaking down, my spirits were lifted and for a brief moment, I forgot about my painful predicament.

I haven’t written in detail about my running, mainly because I didn’t think it would appeal to a wide audience, however, my experience this past weekend at the Baltimore marathon was littered with lessons.

On September 8th during the ninth mile of a twenty-mile run, I knew something was different – and not the good kind of different.

I’ve run thousands of miles. I don’t say this to brag, I share this to give perspective.

I’ve run thousands of miles because I was not quite good enough for soccer and was cut from JV lacrosse. Unfortunately and thankfully, my athletic career moved forward through running, despite not being the direction I hoped it would be.

One summer I ran over 1,000 miles in ten weeks. Let’s just say my body didn’t exactly hold up well the following season.

So when I say the ninth mile on September 8th was different, I know it was because I’ve spent a lot of time hurling my body forward on roads, pathways, up and down hills – when something is off – I feel it.

Stubbornly I finished the run and even rested the following day and backed off a bit, but as the rest of the week unfolded, it became clear – I was in trouble.

Leading up to this run I hadn’t taken a day off in weeks, I convinced myself I’d be “making up for lost time” since I didn’t have a big summer of running.

Because I didn’t give my body a chance to recover during this training cycle, my body hit a wall and said – no more.

Shortly after, I was three miles into a half marathon and felt like I was sprinting even though I was going a pace I should have been able to run comfortably. I finished the race over eight minutes slower than my last half marathon.

After a down week where I didn’t do much running, my legs still felt like bricks. Even running two minutes slower than my normal pace was a taxing endeavor. With the marathon a month away, I made the decision to take some time completely off and most likely not run the race.

Whenever I am injured or unable to run for whatever reason, depression (or at least diminished joy) ensues.

It was a rough few weeks as I anxiously watched my friends log runs on Strava and post running pictures on Instagram.

With only fourteen days until the race, I decided to give easy running a shot and ended up convincing myself to run the race anyway.

Wanting to conserve energy, I only warmed up for five minutes before anxiously walking to the starting line.

Milling around before the start, a number of guys were saying they would be running six-minute pace as long as they could and a few others said they were shooting for 2:50. Realistically three hours was more of a reasonable goal for me but I decided to go 6:25-35 pace and go from there.

After the first few miles, I felt OK and even hopeful as we made our way through the Maryland Zoo.

My friend Nick kindly joined me for some of the middle miles and as we talked, I noticed the pace we were running didn’t feel easy.

As we made our way past the harbor, it hit me, this isn’t going to be pretty.

Around mile 12.5 I saw a couple of my friends and shook my head at them, mainly because my feet were hurting and I felt a lot of lower leg fatigue – fatigue that shouldn’t have been there so early.

With a majority of the hills on the course still ahead of me, I readjusted my goal to three hours, give or take a minute. I knew I had to maintain roughly 7:15 a mile for the second half.

As I made my way up the hills I ran past friends, course volunteers and people on their way to work.

Bolstered by the occasional words of encouragement, I just tried to focus on getting one more mile in around my new goal pace.

Desperately needing some energy, the water stop supported by Morgan State University appeared, and at first, I thought it was a mirage, but thankfully it was real and it rejuvenated me like an oasis.

There wasn’t anyone around me so I knew that I could get the hydration I needed – a lot of times I take one water cup because there are usually many runners around and I don’t want to be greedy.

As I ran through the stop the volunteers cheered loudly –

Water cup #1 – drank it down

Water cup #2 – threw it on my face

Gatorade cup #1 – took it to-go

The penultimate volunteer started yelling as I made my way past the group –

“He’s doing it!!”

…He did the three-peat!”

Immediately, with the folded paper cup to my mouth – I smiled super wide and started laughing.

Long story short, I finished the race in three hours.

My legs cramped terribly from miles 19-26 so I wasn’t able to manage a strong finish, but I did it.

Looking back on events leading up to my race I realized I was stubborn and neglectful – there is no “making up for lost time” when it comes to the marathon. Racing 26.2 miles requires consistent and intentional preparation. This work can’t be rushed.

Thinking I could do just as well with less training is a great lesson for my professional and personal life.

Goals need to be realistic and evidence-based.

Yes, I can surprise myself from time to time, but I need to be honest with where I am and what I’ve done to prepare for whatever challenge I’m facing.

At the same time, this experience taught me the power in making the decision to commit to finishing something, even if I might not be fully prepared or even if things might not go exactly according to plan. There can still be moments of joy – little rewards for not giving up the fight.

I learned a lot about myself in those three hours. I’m very stubborn, competitive and prideful, but I’ve also become a lot more humble and aware of the beauty and gifts around me.

I value these special experiences – the support of friends and loved ones, the playful joy expressed by a gracious volunteer.

Practical humility, a bit of courage, a healthy dose of determination, and expressions of love and generosity are all I need in order to keep going.