February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston ~ A "Collective Awakening"

Something “happened” on February 11, 2012. The world shuddered. An icon passed away. These are the “moments” in life I’ve always lived for, and no, it’s not that someone died. No one celebrates “death.” And yet, in that moment, you could feel the world sitting bolt upright, wherever they were. Whether in their cars, at work, or at home, everyone took notice. It reverberated loudly on the news, the social media, including the biggest of all in Facebook. It was instantaneous energy.
But why do I say “I’ve always lived for” those moments? Let’s put it this way. Think back to those moments in YOUR life when something shook your world to the core. And it doesn’t have to be something tragic. Remember the “Miracle on Ice?” No one thought a ragtag group of American hockey players, kids really, could beat the mighty Russians. But they did. And when Al Michaels, the iconic sportscaster passes away, he’ll be forever known by these words; “Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!!!”

The American women’s soccer team winning gold at the Olympics. The fall of the great wall in Russia. And yes, even 9/11. Remember that? Everyone thought the world was coming to an end. But it didn’t. Think of movies that inspired you so much that, when you left, you had a sense of hope. Your soul was moved. Then there’s Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Hitler. All of those and more, were “moments” when time stood still. The world took notice.

But that’s not the point. Those moments passed. What’s important is how they affected us deeply on an individual level. More importantly, its how those moments caused us to suddenly forget about our bank balance, whether we’d have enough money to make next month’s rent, whether Johnny would get braces, or whether we were “down-sized” at work. None of that mattered. All that mattered is somehow, at that “moment”, we came together. 

Those are what I call moments of “collective awakening.” Our world is suddenly rocked. The routine is gone. We’re suddenly shoved off dead-center with whatever rut we’re in. Tragic or triumphant, it stirred our blood. It brought out the passion in us.

Now let’s take it down even further. Inside our own four walls the next day. The hockey game from last night is a fading memory. Our attention turns from soccer back to Johnny’s braces. Saddam and Osama died. Our world goes on. Back to our little routines, our comfort zones, the places that, IF we allow them, breed stagnation and complacency. And there we are. Our lives suddenly back on track, back in that same old routine, day after day after day.

Are you picking up what I’m laying down yet? One of the things that intrigues me when I speak with clients is the common undercurrent of stagnation and complacency. It’s almost universal, regardless of the situation. Whether its relationships, jobs, health, finances, or what have you, people are feeling “stuck.” Here’s a newsflash. Don’t wait for the world to change to make your world change. Don’t wait for the death of a singer to get your passion stirred or a team of hockey players to inspire you. Inspire yourself. Shake up your routine. Take a different route to work every day. Surprise your family with bacon and eggs for dinner and then, the next morning, serve them last night’s casserole. When you’re going through the drive-up for lunch, specify to the voice you’re talking to outside your car window that you want your order “to go.” Say it with a straight face. Do you get what I’m saying?

Or perhaps you’re one who thinks I’m going a tad over-board? “Seriously, Gus? Tell the guy I want my drive-thru order “to go?” “That will bring me out of the stagnation I’m in?” My reply, “Instead of thinking of ways you can’t, think of ways that will work. Flip the crystal ball around and look at life thru a different lens. You’ve got enough negative energy that your mind creates every day all by itself. Negative energy which is amplified every time you turn on the television, the radio, or read in the news every day about the economy, crime, or the latest political dance going on. There’s beauty, inspiration, and good all around us. We just have to cut through the fog of what our minds create and what the world tosses at us to see it. It’s there. Don’t give up. Miracles happen every day.”

And if you can’t do that, at least do this. Next time you’re feeling down or you’re feeling stuck, just remember that voice from long ago, the one that said loudly…”Do you believe in miracles? YES!!!”


February 11, 2012

LOVE Keeps Us Alive

Most of the time, there’s an attempt to write about things here that will inspire you. People, places, things, or situations you can identify with. Stories you can perhaps get absorbed in, ones that reach into your heart and soul. When I first started this blog in April, 2010, I had no agenda, no concept, no idea really, of where I was going with it. I just simply started writing. I’ve discovered that by NOT having a plan or a goal, is when the messages are “heard.” Such is life; spontaneous moments, spur of the moment ideas, instinctive thoughts, and things that just “happen” are the ones that usually resonate for people. I attribute many, if not most of these events, as sort of divine intervention. Nothing just “happens” in this world by mistake, I believe. Everything and everyone has a purpose, though we may not even know it at the time. It’s only afterwards, and only for those of us “aware” enough, is when we truly understand their meaning.

I must admit, however, much of the first few months were spent focusing on stories that many would perceive, even allege as self-serving, and deservedly so. However, during the past two years, that pattern has gradually shifted away to matters involving others, many involving “pay it forward” concepts, “keeping kindness alive”, and so forth. But recently, something occurred that takes me back, something that takes me back to about a year ago and the year before that. It is my hope then, that you keep an open heart and mind while I proceed with this latest installment of “Ramblings.” And although this topic may be personal in nature, an honest attempt will be made so you might be able to identify with it in your own life, so it might inspire you that, in spite of whatever troubles come your way in life, there’s always something you can hold on to, that will keep you alive. That something is called LOVE. But not in the sense you may think. I’m speaking of what’s in your HEART. The kind of love that says, “I’ll be with you every step of the way. Don’t give up!”
Have you ever found yourself so isolated, so alone, it seems as if no one knows you exist? And I’m not talking about the kind of “place” in your head where life events have gotten you down so much, in spite of all the friends and family you may have right there with you, that you feel this way, though that circumstance could apply here as well. I’m speaking of it in almost the literal sense. A place where you live alone and though you have neighbors and people who know your name, there’s really NO ONE you can call a “friend.” It’s just you and whatever means you can find to exist; transportation, work, food, television, phone, and a computer. That’s where yours truly was exactly two and a half years ago.

But before I start there, I want to take you back, back many years ago to when I was a child and begin there. I’ve loved a handful of women in my life, but it was my first love that will always take center stage in my heart. She was everything. She was there every morning to greet me when I woke, serving me breakfast. She was there in the evening when I returned home from school or when I came in from a hard day toiling in the hot sun on our family’s farm in Western Kansas. She bandaged my cuts, mended my bruises, dried my tears, bathed me, fed me, and tucked me in at night. She was always “there.” She was pure unadulterated LOVE. She was my mother. At 13 though, looking down at her near lifeless 39 year old body lying in a road ditch after it was forcefully and brutally ejected from a truck after a near head-on collision with another vehicle, I knew right then I was about to lose her. My first experience with life hitting ME head-on, an END I didn’t know how profound an impact it would make on my life until many years later, an impact I won’t go into much detail here in this latest chapter. For now, suffice it to say she’s always been with me, ever since she passed away on July 11th, 1972, though I never fully understood just how fully “present” she’s been until the past 3 ½ years. She’s with me right NOW, at this very moment, helping me to type these words coming from my heart and hers to yours. Sounds creepy I know, but I believe it to be true!
My next love was the woman whom I would eventually marry and who bore our children. I’d known her since childhood and she had one of those teenage crushes on me. I fell for her again many years later after I returned to Kansas, having been absent for nearly a decade. That marriage, unfortunately, lasted only 8 years, destroyed by actions on both sides. Here again, that’s another story. We loved each other and we still do, but not in an intimate way anymore. She’s a good woman and she’s done the best she could in life. More importantly, we created love together, manifested by God’s grace in our daughter and son. 

So now I want to fast forward to two and a half years ago and refer you back to the paragraph above where I was speaking of ISOLATION. That’s where I found love for only the second time in my adult life. Or so I thought. She was a former high school classmate living in San Diego County. A Facebook “friend” I’d discovered in early 2009. By the middle of that year we were nearly non-stop on our computers, chatting away on yahoo messenger, me in Kansas, she in California. Sharing our “life stories”, our interests, our triumphs, our failures, the past, the future, everything. We discovered we had a lot in common. We fell in love 1400 miles apart. And then we met again in person for the first time in over 30 years in Arizona during August 2009. I’d been invited to a family gathering there earlier that year. I asked if she wanted to meet me there. She agreed. Four nights and three days of bliss. I returned to Kansas and she to California. I was head over heels and I thought she was, too. Long story short, I ended up being just a passing ship in the night, someone she thought she would travel with for a short while, enjoying the view, and then jumping off when things got choppy. I was devastated. It was shortly before we met when I had thoughts of returning to California to start a new life and search for a new career. Certainly she was in my plans, too. And even though it appeared over, it didn’t change my plans. After all, I’d had the notion of going back to California before we’d gotten to know each other again. And I did.

There’s a song by The Eagles called “Love Will Keep Us Alive”, a beautiful love song beautifully sung by one of the original Eagle members, Timothy B. Schmit. For weeks and months after we broke up, I played the song over and over again, letting the words sink deeply into my soul;

 “I was standing all alone against the world outside…you were searching for a place to hide. Lost and lonely, now you’ve given me the will to survive…when we’re hungry, LOVE will keep us ALIVE. Don’t you worry, sometimes you just got to let it ride. The world is changing, right before your eyes. Now I’ve found you, there’s no more emptiness inside…when we’re hungry, LOVE will keep us ALIVE. I would die for you, climb the highest mountain, baby there’s nothing I wouldn’t do. Now I’ve found you, there’s no more emptiness inside. When we’re hungry LOVE will keep us ALIVE.”

When I arrived back in San Diego in March 2010, I brought that song and it’s lyrics with me. It was embedded deeply into my heart and soul, where it remains forever, and one I’ll never forget. Shortly after arriving, things went from bad to worse with the woman I met in Arizona the previous summer. I discovered she had disclosed some intimate and tragic details of my life, things I had shared with her in confidence, things very few people know outside of my immediate family, and a few close friends I left behind in Kansas. Things got very ugly. Anger got the best of me. So ugly, we never had ANY contact with one another for over a year and a half, until we just “happened” to see one another earlier this month while I was taking a stroll along Moonlight Beach. 

Life’s funny. The things that are the simplest are the most profound and true. They’re timeless. Words and phrases like “time heals all wounds.” And time has done just that with her and I, just like it did with coming to grips with the death of my mother. What ENDED was really just a NEW beginning. We ended up taking a long walk together, talking with one another non-stop, laughing and sharing events of our lives and reminiscing on our moments together. She’s moved on, found love again, and is getting married. I’m happy for her. I realize now she came into my life for a reason, and it was HUGE. It was her who gave me encouragement, advice, love, and support at at a time when I had no one else. As I said, I was living alone in complete isolation. She was the one that kept telling me; “God, I could read what you write forever! You need to get your ass out of Kansas, your star is much too bright there!”

And finally, out of the blue, came a woman that simply blew me away, the most special of all, except of course for my mother. For the sake of privacy, I won’t go into much detail. Suffice it to say I thought she was “the one.” We were a couple for 18 months. She was everything I could dream of in a woman and meant the world to me. She was my LIFE. Unfortunately, I again brought downfall to this relationship, though not with anger like the previous one, but rather with not following through with my words. For not practicing what I preach. A few of my actions, or the lack thereof, ran counter to some of the most treasured core beliefs I hold in the highest regard; beliefs like honor, respect, and integrity. Devastated once again. Another “ending.” Life goes on. I could, and probably should, write much much more about her, but I choose not to for the time being. The wounds are still fresh for both of us and we both need healing. The mind needs cleared of any negative emotions and the heart needs time to put itself back together, so I’ll leave it at that.

What am I left with? The same thing I had a little over two years ago, LOVE in my HEART. It’s still there and always will be. It’s all I have left to keep me ALIVE and I’ll hold on to it until my last breath. And why am I divulging such intimate and private details of my life? Simple. To demonstrate that regardless of what your circumstances are, no matter how many times you’ve been devastated by events in your life, be it personally or professionally, no matter how many times your heart’s been broken, as long as you have LOVE in your heart, the kind of love that says “I will never give up, I’ve got to keep pushing forward, because I’m worthy, because I have value, meaning, and purpose in this world”, then you’ll know. Love will keep you ALIVE.

Finally, I’ve sensed it for some time, which is further confirmed by events in my life over the course of the past few weeks and months. I’ve “heard” it in your messages. I’ve read your words. I feel your pain. I know what you’re going through. It’s the legacy I believe that I’m left with from my mother, a love deeper and vaster then the seas, a love for mankind, a love that wants you to know “I’m here for you, I’m here to help. And I’m not going anywhere. So don’t give up. Because I will never leave your side.”

I Love you “Mom.”

February 8, 2012

A Moment of TRUTH

He walked into my office, shut the door, turned the lock with a firm snap of his wrist, and sat down in front of me, right across my desk. A “moment of TRUTH” was about to unfold. I could tell he was upset, and deservedly so. After all, it had been just the prior weekend, after another one of those binges at home, while I was alone, binges I’d become infamously famous for, that I’d “called in sick” the following Monday. “Can’t make it in today. I’ve got the flu.” By then, the pattern was well-known. Everyone knew it, family, friends, co-workers, community, EVERYONE. “Gus has a problem. Why won’t he get HELP?”

Slowly, he pulled a blank sheet of 8 ½ x 11” paper from his briefcase, set it on the desk, and said, “This isn’t working for me.” “He” was the man I’d worked for and alongside for over 20 years, the one who’d consistently promoted me to higher positions, who’d gone to bat for me time and time again. And then he said, “Do you think you have a problem?” My heart was in my throat. I could barely breathe, let alone talk. But I did. I said, “Yes.”

“Let’s connect the dots then Gus.” He then took a pencil and started placing dots about a quarter inch apart on the paper. By the time he was done, the dots took up almost the entire sheet. I couldn’t tell what he was doing. But then he did something else. Taking the pencil, he began slowly marking and connecting one dot to another……

Before long, I saw the four letters slowly taking shape……H E L P.

That was nearly seven years ago. When he was done, all that was said was left up to me. It was my choice. Get help or not. I didn’t. God had other plans. He made sure I hit rock bottom before He would step in and pluck me from the ashes, ashes of my own self-destruction. Everything I’d worked and dreamed for; my job, my family, my home, and nearly my life, would soon be reduced to pieces.

Today, I look back on that “moment” in time as clear as if it just happened. So much has changed since then. Everything’s changed. I’m still the same person on the outside, just a few more years and a few extra pounds. But everything inside is completely different. I’m not the same man I once was. Where there was once pride, anger, denial, and ego, lies instead humility, acceptance, compassion, and love. Oh, but I’m far from perfect. I still get angry at times. I still have an “ego”, we all do. I say this often, “I may have lost a lot of pride, but what pride I have left for what I’ve done since, and for who I’ve become, I’m damn proud of.”
What am I left with? A sense of purpose. A sense that I’m to give BACK to this world, and to those with whom I interact with, that which I almost lost. LIFE itself and all that’s pure and true about. Values like truth, respect, honor, dignity, courage, integrity, sincerity, sympathy, compassion, and love. He’s given me another chance, another opportunity to do good, to make the right choices, or what I call “NEW ways of living and thinking.”

So whatever YOUR situation is, whatever circumstances you may be under, remember this; everyone gets another chance, everyone deserves the best this life has to offer, everyone has value, meaning, and purpose in this world. And when your “moment of TRUTH” arrives, grab on to it. Clinch it and never let go. I guarantee you, when you make the right choices, good things will happen in your life. It may not happen tomorrow. It may not even happen the next day, next week, or next month. But it WILL happen, it’s a virtual guarantee. So keep going, you’re not finished yet. Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become character, and character becomes destiny. Greatness exists in ALL of us and your future is NOW.


January 31, 2012

What People Talk About Before They Die ~ Kerry Egan

The following article was shared with me via email by a friend of mine. It moved me much as it did for my friend, so I’m sharing it here with all of you. My opinion? If I would have had the opportunity to speak with my Mother before she died, I’m convinced it would have been about “family.” No more. No less. Because those are the ties that bind each of us, the bedrock upon which we build our lives thereafter, and all the relationships we develop, nurture, and enjoy during our time here on this planet. ~ Gusto

Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts and the author of "Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago."

As a divinity school student, I had just started working as a student chaplain at a cancer hospital when my professor asked me about my work.  I was 26 years old and still learning what a chaplain did.

"I talk to the patients," I told him.

"You talk to patients?  And tell me, what do people who are sick and dying talk to the student chaplain about?" he asked.

I had never considered the question before.  “Well,” I responded slowly, “Mostly we talk about their families.”

“Do you talk about God?

“Umm, not usually.”

“Or their religion?”

“Not so much.”

“The meaning of their lives?”


“And prayer?  Do you lead them in prayer?  Or ritual?”

“Well,” I hesitated.  “Sometimes.  But not usually, not really.”

I felt derision creeping into the professor's voice.  “So you just visit people and talk about their families?”

“Well, they talk.  I mostly listen.”

“Huh.”  He leaned back in his chair.

A week later, in the middle of a lecture in this professor's packed class, he started to tell a story about a student he once met who was a chaplain intern at a hospital.

“And I asked her, 'What exactly do you do as a chaplain?'  And she replied, 'Well, I talk to people about their families.'” He paused for effect. “And that was this student's understanding of  faith!  That was as deep as this person's spiritual life went!  Talking about other people's families!”

The students laughed at the shallowness of the silly student.  The professor was on a roll.

“And I thought to myself,” he continued, “that if I was ever sick in the hospital, if I was ever dying, that the last person I would ever want to see is some Harvard Divinity School student chaplain wanting to talk to me about my family.”

My body went numb with shame.  At the time I thought that maybe, if I was a better chaplain, I would know how to talk to people about big spiritual questions.  Maybe if dying people met with a good, experienced chaplain they would talk about God, I thought.

Today, 13 years later, I am a hospice chaplain.  I visit people who are dying in their homes, in hospitals, in nursing homes.   And if you were to ask me the same question - What do people who are sick and dying talk about with the chaplain?  – I, without hesitation or uncertainty, would give you the same answer. Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters.

They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave.  Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not.    And sometimes, when they are actively dying, fluid gurgling in their throats, they reach their hands out to things I cannot see and they call out to their parents:  Mama, Daddy, Mother.

What I did not understand when I was a student then, and what I would explain to that professor now, is that people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is how we talk about God.  That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives.  That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.

We don't live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories.  We live our lives in our families:  the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends.

This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, this is where our purpose becomes clear.

Family is where we first experience love and where we first give it.  It's probably the first place we've been hurt by someone we love, and hopefully the place we learn that love can overcome even the most painful rejection.

This crucible of love is where we start to ask those big spiritual questions, and ultimately where they end.

I have seen such expressions of love:  A husband gently washing his wife's face with a cool washcloth, cupping the back of her bald head in his hand to get to the nape of her neck, because she is too weak to lift it from the pillow. A daughter spooning pudding into the mouth of her mother, a woman who has not recognized her for years.

A wife arranging the pillow under the head of her husband's no-longer-breathing body as she helps the undertaker lift him onto the waiting stretcher.

We don't learn the meaning of our lives by discussing it.  It's not to be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues or mosques.  It's discovered through these actions of love.

If God is love, and we believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.

Sometimes that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely.  Monstrous things can happen in families.  Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person you love beats you or rapes you.  They tell me what it feels like to know that you are utterly unwanted by your parents.  They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone's rage.   They tell me what it feels like to know that you abandoned your children, or that your drinking destroyed your family, or that you failed to care for those who needed you.

Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul.  People who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved.  They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned:  forgiveness.  The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.

We don’t have to use words of theology to talk about God; people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully - just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kerry Egan