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.

“Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

As a youth, Jesus went missing for three days, causing his parents to go out and search for him. Eventually, they find him in the temple, at the age of twelve, teaching.

His response to the concern is pretty much: Chill out, where’d you think I’d be?

Or

Based on everything I’ve shown you about what captivates me, why wouldn’t I be in the temple? This is where I feel at home. 

Despite his prowess, prophesy being fulfilled through his actions, and people saying he was the guy, there was still so much doubt as to his identity – even from his closest friends.

Later on in the Gospel of Luke, he reads from the scroll of Isaiah, sits down and all eyes are on him. He adds, “Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people are described as being grateful, but then an important, and cutting (I suggest) question is asked:

Isn’t this the son of Joseph?

Can this be interpreted in a positive light? Sure. People could have been psyched because they knew Joseph and their response is – WHAT?? I KNOW HIM!

The way I read it, at least for this sake of argument, is that he was being cut down. Trying to remind him of his place in society.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, our past stays with us.

“A Zebra never changes its stripes!”

Often times I’ve heard this when it comes to interacting with someone who has proven to be unreliable or not trustworthy.

It’s sound advice and makes sense – but it can be problematic when applied as a blanket statement. Similar to when they criticized Jesus’ background – Can anything good come from Nazareth?

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I’ve heard this said about Baltimore and many other cities.

Maybe you’ve heard it said about where you’re from or about your family.

It’s unfair and demeaning.

In an article on Discernment by John Whitney S.J. he stresses that to effectively assess and make decisions – truthful, accurate, and non-biased experiences need to be shared.

When reflecting back on my own life – something I’ve been asking recently is,

“Did it really happen like that?”

“Is this level of frustration warranted?” 

This isn’t because I’m a liar, but it’s because at my worst I forget my humility.

I forget where I came from.

And the further I get from humility, the closer I get to despair.

Despair distorts my vision of the truth.

If the people in the temple took a moment to pause, look at the promise Jesus had shown and not measured his worth simply on his family or position in society, they would have been able to see the gift right in front of them.

When I’m able to get to the truth of the matter, unedited, proper actions can be taken.

However, this doesn’t erase the past! The issues I’ve faced or rights I’ve attempted to wrong still might leave their marks (or stripes!) but with this, I need to follow the advice of Fr. Gregory Boyle in his book Barking to the Choir:

Humility returns the center of gravity to the center. It addresses the ego clinging, which supplies oxygen to our suffering. It calls for a light grasp. For the opposite of clinging is not letting go but cherishing. This is the goal of the practice of humility. That having a “light grasp” on life prepares the way for cherishing what is right in front of us.

We can’t edit the past or go back.

Reflection is the closest we’ll ever get to a time machine.

It invites us to look back, with humility, and see things as they are.

Some of the best surprises come when we’re honest, give people a chance, and approach situations with open arms.

So you’re telling me that carpenter’s son is my savior? 

Yeah, why not?

A picture says a thousand words, but what happens after it’s taken?

The past 48 hours have been filled with memories.

Many have been documented.

I have no shame in admitting that much of my life lives on social media. I post almost every week about this blog and sometimes as many as two or three other times throughout the week. I’ve already written and admitted to curating things or, at the very least, not posting the disappointments or depressing events that have occurred.

What I’m writing about this time is what I noticed after taking the pictures.

In Rome this summer, at the Trevi fountain, I saw a couple take at least eight different posed pictures. Not eight of the same, like a photo burst, but eight separate one with slightly different facial expressions or body positions. I remember saying something criticizing them. They would smile joyfully, take a picture, then the expression would disappear in a flash.

Often the times I am most judgemental seem to manifest in my own life experience. This weekend I was definitely guilty of the Trevi fountain couple behavior, but luckily I mentioned it to Anita, and amidst all the pictures we made sure to remember the reason the pictures were being taken – so we can reminisce, smile and laugh.

What’s the moral here?

I need to pay attention to what and who is in the picture and what happens after the moment is captured. Without attention and intentionality, all my photos are Ghost Towns – there, but vacant. Empty frames.

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When I asked Anita what she thought about this, her response focused on how back when we had to wait to develop pictures, all we had was the moment. So we’d take the picture, savor the moment and then wait in anticipation for a reminder of the memory to be developed.

I’m not saying I won’t be reviewing the pictures I take, but in the moment I’m going to take some time and think about why I want to capture that memory.

Sign Here

“It’s a sign.”

I’ve said and heard this a lot when a coincidence is just too good to be true.

Recently I’ve been praying and asking for a lot of guidance from God and those around me. I’m coming off of a long period without running and this has been a period of my life when I’ve really needed it. I felt burned out and then when I attempted to get back to exercise after a week off, I got sick and had to take even more time off.

Two weeks without something that has anchored me and provided with an opportunity for community and joy.

Now, in the grand scheme of things – it’s not a big deal, at all. I’m grateful to be able to run, even a day. This post isn’t about me missing training, it’s about how I dealt with it.

When I wasn’t running, I had a lot more time for other things and unfortunately, I spent a lot of my hours staring at a cell phone screen.

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if someone wants to make this look good and sell it online just make sure I get 5% of the profits (for coffee and ice cream)

Over the past couple weeks, instead of getting up, and getting ready to run, I’d get up and get on my phone.

At night, after reading or doing whatever else I needed to do, I’d be feeling a little down and then reach my phone and scroll social media.

When I put down my phone after doing this, I almost never feel better.

Now, I’m not talking about joking with friends or calling my loved ones. I’m talking just scrolling.

Today I was able to go running for the first time in a while. I took some time to think about my current state. There’s a lot of good stuff going on, but I’m still looking for guidance and direction.

When I sat down to write this, I reflected on how much I’ve been on my phone and how nice it was to run – to temporarily detox and be without it to do some real thinking.

Part of my problem is that while I’ve been looking for signs and guidance, my eyes have been fixed on a screen.

On my deathbed, I doubt I’ll say, “I wish I spent more time on my phone.”

Recently I was in New York for work and ate dinner on Arthur Avenue which is down the road from Fordham. Walking back to the car, I trailed behind the group and looked up at the different street signs (I’ve always been a fan of street signs, not sure why) and I took a picture of this one:

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I am struck by this picture for many reasons. First of all, my father and many good friends went to Fordham and I know they were all big fans of Arthur Ave. Also, this street sign also celebrates the life of an NYPD officer who passed away in 2017. According to an article in the Bronx Times,

DiGiovanna joined the force in 1993. Eight years later, he would be one of hundreds racing toward the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, fighting a fever that initially kept him home. “I begged him not to go,” said Joanna. “He said if anything ever happened to his partner or co-workers, he couldn’t live with himself.”

This sign is a reminder. Get out there and live.

So this week, checking my phone isn’t going to be the first and last part of my day.

I’m going to let myself be bored – if waiting in line or if I have a long walk to get somewhere, keep the phone in the pocket and enjoy the stroll. I know this time will help provide clarity.

Officer DiGiovanna has a street named after him because of the life he lived. His neighborhood loved him and wanted to honor him. In an area where most people spoke Italian, he knew their language and took time to get to know who they were. The direction he followed led him to help others and serve his community.

The signs are all around me. They are here. In people, books, prayer, nature – they’re everywhere.

They might not all be too good to be true but they’re there, waiting for me to look up and follow.

In awe of Medusa

“What is wrong with some people?”

I hear that question often. It’s one I’ve also asked.

If it goes unchecked, it’s a problem.

In all my writing I’ve been committed to using “I” or at least “We” statements. Partially because I don’t want you to think I’m lecturing you and also because it’s the only way to spark legitimate change.

Sure, sometimes the issue at hand is not of our doing, however, for me, I like to make sure I’m not part of the problem before proceeding.

I can only reflect on my experience. I’m not pretending to be an expert on Sociology or Anthropology.

With all that being said, I pay attention to what is going on in the world and in my world.

Currently I’ve been reflecting on my treatment of women.

Despite the loving and honest communication with my parents and educational opportunities in my schooling, for a large portion of my life, I didn’t understand the complexity of my relationship with the opposite sex.

I was raised to respect women, did and still do, however, looking at women as objects was something I didn’t totally confront until I stopped drinking.

AA set the challenge, “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.”

Looking back on my life, it has been important for me to come to terms with my failings and their impact.

Sober or not.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, one of the gifts of sobriety is being able to look back over my day and know that even if I tried, I can’t escape responsibility. Nothing to blame but myself.

On this topic, I keep coming back to power and opportunity.

I know that being a white man in this world has afforded me advantages – power and opportunity – that I can’t fully comprehend.

How can I quantify continually getting the benefit of the doubt in various situations?

Acknowledging this undeserved place of power and presence of opportunity, I also know that in order for this to exist, it means many do not receive this same priority.

All these thoughts danced around inside my head as I gazed at Medusa.

Medusa by Mark Bradford

Growing up I only heard (or paid attention to) one narrative about Medusa. Her gaze turned people to stone and Perseus beheaded her and used this gaze as a weapon.

In his installation, currently at the BMA, Mark Bradford repurposes materials such as paper, paint and rope to send a message that redefines the Medusa narrative.

He invites us to focus on the life before her gaze was weaponized.

He challenges us to expand our minds when comprehending women and their experience. Particularly in this installation he focuses on African American women and their resilience.

For me, reexamining the Medusa narrative allowed me the space to reflect on my intentional and unintentional contributions to perpetuating a message of degradation.

A few weeks ago, I was in an elevator and a woman in hospital scrubs was in the back corner. Recently I’ve been trying to avoid just being on my cell phone during situations like this, so I decided to start some small talk.

After going back and forth about how we were doing, I asked,

“Are you a nurse?”

Graciously, she responded,

“Doctor, actually.”

Embarrassed, I apologized and it was time to leave.

She went on her way, I went on mine.

Did I turn her to stone? Maybe not fully, but damage was done.

If she was man, would I have led with, “Are you a doctor?”

Probably.

Why do I share this story?

Because Medusa was considered positive and beautiful before being cursed.

Power and opportunity – taken away from her.

This is not the only time I’ve perpetuated the perceived hierarchy.

Minor or major, my actions contribute to hearts being turned to stone.

I need to always remember that no person needs to do or change or be anything in order to earn dignity.

It is the purpose and the joy of my life to ensure and protect this dignity.

As stated in The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz,

All of humanity is searching for truth, justice, and beauty. We are on an eternal search for the truth because we only believe in the lies we have stored in our mind. We are searching for justice because in the belief system we have, there is no justice. We search for beauty because it doesn’t matter how beautiful a person is, we don’t believe that person has beauty. We keep searching and searching, when everything is already within us. There is no truth to find.

So what’s the takeaway?

It’s not about looking away.

It’s about looking back and looking inside, learning and listening.

When it comes to the gaze of Medusa, my focus is on awe, not avoidance.

Washed away

I build my sand castles way too close to the water.

Last year on a service trip to Jamaica we had a day off to go to the beach and I did exactly that.

No bucket. No shovel. Just elbow grease and way too much time in the sun without re-applying sunscreen.

I constructed two towers, four walls, a big door, and a moat.

After an hour or so of work, ten minutes later it was gone.

The moat was overrun and I was left with only the memory of what once was. Now, when I say it was close to the water, I mean it was dangerously close.

It’s almost as if building it away from the water, although much more sustainable, would be too safe.

I live my life the same way.

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If you know me well, chances are you’ve seen me cry. Or at least get a little misty.

Why do my eyes sweat easily? Not sure. Embarrassing? 100% But I like to think it’s how God communicates with me.

Years ago when reading about St. Ignatius of Loyola I learned he was often moved to tears at the times he felt closest to God. When I was in Spain and Italy this summer visiting places that were significant to his development, at times, I was full-on waterworks. Thinking about what he experienced and how important his spirituality has been to my life caused me to be overwhelmed, not with sadness but tears of joy. The type of crying that happens when a good friend hugs you in a time of need.

A feeling of relief or refuge from the storm.

Some might hear this and think, “That’s not God, that’s just being overly emotional.”

They wouldn’t be wrong.

We’re all entitled to our own opinions and we all choose how we want to navigate life. Some are better at keeping themselves together and prefer to be emotional in private or in other ways.

Some of us like to build our sand castles far away from harm, with more stability, in places that allow space and time for detailing and picture-taking. This can lead to beautiful and important creations.

Maybe one day I will get to that point. For now, I’m going to stick with the thrill of the occasional wave flooding the moat and overrunning the northwest wall. Partly because I like the challenge, but also because I need a resilient spirit if I want to continue to grow.

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I’ve learned there’s no shame in growing and rebuilding.

One of the biggest traps I fall into is the belief that I can control the outcome of every situation. When planning for an event, my to-do lists have to-do lists. But, even with foresight and attention to detail, inevitably something goes awry. Because I’m often very close to situations and personally invest my attention – this can weigh heavily on me.

I’ll never forget being in my classroom during my first year of teaching, crying because a lesson I spent hours planning turned out to be a total miss.

Or when I fell to my knees when I realized I could no longer drink like my friends, which in my case, meant quitting altogether.

Looking back, even if I was upset at the time, I see them now as tears of joy.

Lessons learned.

New life embraced.

In the end, like my sand castles, life is temporary.

Happiness, stability, and comfort can be washed away at any point.

I’m not fazed. In vain or not, I’m still down by the water, building the bridge over the moat and thinking about adding a lookout tower in the southeast corner.