Thursday, April 11, 2013

Love and Family

The earliest definition of the word “family” means “members of a household.” Further definition states that they are related by blood or other “like qualities.”

If that's the case, and I believe it is, then my family numbers into the millions.

I understand that we have our family of origin and our family that is grown through being a spouse and a parent. The love that we receive growing up, and the love that we share with our brothers, sisters, parents, husbands, wives and children support a sense of belonging and identity. I get all that.

But that “like qualities” thing is something that gives me a sense of family much larger than I have ever imagined.

I have friends that I love. I treat them as I would my brother's and sisters. I have friends that, as they are somewhat younger, I treat as my kids.

I have met friends of my family members that have loved me since I was a child. I have met friends of my children that I have loved since they were kids. I have fond memories of friends in grammar school, high school and college the mere thought of them puts a smile on my face and warms a place in my heart like nothing I feel for anyone else. Their memory is so reachable, so close, that a mere thought of them brings them into the vision of my spirit. Their effect on me is permanent and indelible.

I have, in my adult life, become close with people that I will keep close until I'm very old and then some. They have been in my life, and I in theirs, understanding their triumphs and victories, sadness and pain. I live knowing in my heart that they will be with me always.

For it is the “like qualities” that bring us together as a family, and these qualities are adhered by one prevailing energy, the absence of which removes the sense of family from any group or relationship. And that energy is Love.

Where love exists, so lives my family. Through love, I reach into the heart of all men and women and share with them the spirit that brings us together. Through love, we become closer as one. Through love, we are able to share ourselves, and accept the sharing of others, with openness, kindness and acceptance.

We see our differences and understand them. We observe our difficulties and support them. We focus on our spirits and embrace them. Through love, we see the similarities that knit us together, acknowledging the differences with respect.

Through love, we recognize that no matter the distance, disagreements, or division by space, time, or culture, what brings us together far outnumber what pull us apart. Through love, we see the smiles in our faces, the warmth in our eyes, and the love in our hearts.

Where there is love, there is family. We are brothers and sisters in the family of Mankind. May the seeds of love be planted in your heart, and may this love expand from your spirit to the hearts of everyone, everywhere.

Love is family. And we are all One.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Love and The Decision

Someday, at some point in our lives, we have to make a decision about how we continue with the time we
have left. We have reached a point that things need to change . We have to leave the past behind. We begin in new directions.

Pain, on some level, brings us to this place. Pain brings dissatisfaction and discomfort. We look at our life, even little parts of it, and we need to truly decide that we will make this change. From losing weight to changing careers, our discomfort in any part of our lives moves us into the decision to make our lives different.

For the record, I have never liked the tone of this concept. I always felt that if you had to “make a decision” about something you had to do something unpleasant. “Make a decision” sounds a little too much like “stand up straight” “take out the garbage” and “do your homework.” When somebody tells me that you have to “make a decision” in order to get your life on track, I feel I'd really rather not. I'd much prefer a decision come to me instead of me coming to it. I am more of a “wait for circumstances to change” kind of a guy. I want things to effect me. I'm not the guy that effects things.

And yet: I know that there is a force within us that leads us to activate change. And it truly exists in the heart of the decision. We decide about this thing or that since about the age of two. Usually, at that time, our decision making prowess comes out of us in toddler sized fits of rage over how you hate peas or don't want to go to bed. These are decisions. Impulsive as they may be and not really helped by a developed process of thought, these really are decisions.

I mention this because you're used to making them about everything, every day, from the mundane to the pretty important. They come automatically and, in many cases, reflexively. They tend to bypass the thought process. You don't have to decide to brush your teeth, drink your coffee and go to the bathroom. Many of these decisions are just part of our routine, about who we are.

So when we reach a point where we need to put the past behind us and begin something new, the decision we make is not equivalent to whether I should wear a blue shirt or eat chicken for dinner . There is more considered risk. You are basing your decision on moving away from the old. You are deciding to move against the things you've been doing and moreover, deciding to move away from the person you've been.

You are, then, deciding on becoming the person you wish to be. You are deciding on honoring the essence of what you see as important, as vital, and as good. You are beginning a new life, charting this new path and, as the brilliant author and teacher Joseph Campbell once said, following your bliss.

Go fearlessly into the future. Now is truly the time. Set your shoulders, take a deep breath and begin. Make every day a day that you do one more thing to follow your new path. This is such a short trip. Decide today to be let go of the person you've been and become the person you've always wanted to be.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Love and April Fool's
I have never been a big fan of April Fool's Day. I never thought I was that big of a jerk. You know the kind I mean: the ones that will put the thumbtack on your seat, the bucket over the door, or the glue on the toilet paper. The ones that will stand back and wait for you to scream out in pain or freeze in catatonic shock, then drop into fits of uncontrolled laughter at your expense.

And I did use the word “jerk” in describing those who pull of these kinds of stunts. Maybe I'm overstating their character just a little, so let me put it in this context. The behavior that results in putting somebody else through even a little pain so that you benefit is at least shortsighted and, if you just call it as it is, it's a little cold. You may not go through your life being a jerk but, if you really get into that kind of humor, you might be sliding toward the dark end of the “jerk” scale. You might want to look at that.

I just don't get it. I never have. I was never able to see the humor in somebody else's pain. I never really got slapstick humor and when I was a kid. I don't like to watch people being hit, scared, tripped, or pushed. Seeing somebody get hurt always made me wince. It didn't register with me why others would get pleasure out of that. And I absolutely never understood why somebody would laugh at someone else's pain.

I don't want to sound overly serious. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. I generally look at life with a smile on my face, or at least I try. But when I see somebody hurt, my first impulse is to ask them if they need help. I have never felt the urge to laugh.

So when I see April Fool's Day coming around the corner, I'm bothered. I don't look forward to witnessing the pranks pulled on others. I don't like to see the anxiety associated with the manufactured fear then the relief that come when the fear has passed. There is very little good that comes from this when you're the one being made to look the fool. When it's you that's receiving the pain, April Fool's isn't funny.

So I would ask that, this time around, be mindful of the feelings of others. I know it sounds a little bland, and I don't mean to. I actually do laugh, a lot, and sometimes frequently. I just don't laugh when pain is deliberately inflicted to someone else. That whole “do unto others” thing cuts down on that.

Enjoy the day as it is any other. It's the start of a new month. Maybe this might be a good idea to make a monthly resolution. For April, resolve to cause no one any pain. And see what kind of smiles that brings to your face.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Love and St. Patrick’s Day St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner and it is a holiday that was encrypted into my DNA. I was born and raised on the North Side of Chicago, a city with one of the largest Irish American populations in the country. So when you are given the last name of McShane in Chicago, your cultural comrades in arms number into the hundreds of thousands. Consider green your favorite color. On St. Patrick’s Day, it is the color of the Chicago river, the color of your clothes and the color of beer, the beverage of choice on this Irish day of celebration. So it humbles me to tell my listeners that, last St. Patrick’s Day, I was arrested and charged with a DWI. Driving While Intoxicated. I was jailed for the evening, picked up, and spent about five thousand dollars in legal and court fees over the next six months. As a result of this incredible lapse in judgement, I lost my job. My day job, outside of my writing and counseling, was working with a Hospice. I enjoyed that job as much as any I’ve had in the last thirty years. And because I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t see the clients from the Hospice. I was let go. Throughout the following summer, I have been looking for employment. But because I had a DWI, any job involving driving has been exempt. And, when prospective employers do a background check on my qualifications, the DWI always shows up. I understand how people, when seeing that on my driving record, think “this guy’s got a problem. He’s not worth hiring.” The courses that I participated in as part of my sentencing involved chilling statistics on the deaths, injuries and accidents that occur through drunk driving. Stories from parents that have lost their children to drunk drivers numbered in the thousands. In one class, I met three parents who suffered this unspeakable loss. Their words brought not only tears but perspective that resonated in the hollow of my heart. One day of binging in celebration could’ve cost me my life and the life of another. Instead of you listening to these words on a Sunday morning, I could’ve have easily been writing them from prison. It cost me my job, my savings, a great deal of my personal reputation, and my future. I know that you hear these messages from everywhere. I know that, like me, many of these stories seem removed from your reality. But right now, my friends, you are hearing the voice of one that dodged the bullet, that for the grace of god would be another statistic of death and tragedy on the California highways. One more guy that drank too much, got in his car, and died. I know that this space is supposed to be one of motivation and insight. Those of you who have listened or read my stuff over the years have come to expect something a little less morose. But if I any of you can pause before you take a drink and drive a car, consider your self motivated to save the life of another, including yours. Consider yourself holding the insight of consideration for the safety of yourself and thousands of others with whom you share the road. If you drive, stay sober. If you drink, stay home.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Love and Shorthand, 143 Last week, I was sitting in a coffee shop next to a young man and woman. Youngish, in their early twenties, they sat down with a game of trivia challenges, each asking the other questions about assorted events in popular culture. They were sitting right next to me, I mean right next to me, close enough that I could smell their coffee, hear their questions and see the expression of sheer bewilderment on their faces in trying to come up with answers. Some of the questions were tough. Anything with history, science, literature, mathematics and geography stumped them completely. However, they nailed the stuff on popular culture which, in the case of this game, was about every other question. The first couple of popular culture questions were trivia from music and television. Since about 1980, I’ve been busy. I got a little distracted from paying attention to any of that stuff. I was going to school, raising children, and keeping my job. I am not particularly nostalgic nor do I feel that I’m out of touch, per se; popular culture just seems like a waste of time. But when one of them picked up a card and began reading, it caught my ear. I heard the question “who said his band was more popular than Jesus?”, I remember my teacher’s at St. Gertrude’s Elementary warning us that even though the Beatles were very popular, that young man John Lennon “should have been ashamed of himself.” I looked over at the young man holding the card with the question. The woman, looking toward me, was struggling for an answer. So I mouthed the words “John Lennon” to her, and she repeated them to her friend. She was pleased. He looked over his shoulder at me with a smile, saying “I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to get that one.” The next question had to do with texting. The man asked, “What does your friend mean when you’re texted the numbers “143.” I knew it immediately. It was from an article I read about Mr. Rogers a few years before he died. Mr. Rogers was six feet tall, but he only weighed 143 pounds. It was his intent, as he told the interviewer, that he keep this weight steady because the numbers “143” meant a great deal to him. He said that, when he weighs himself in the morning, that weight sent him a message. “Those numbers mean I love you. And you can see: “I” is one letter, “love” is four, and “you” is three. So every time I stand on the scale, I see “I love you. The woman immediately answered, “I love you.” I was stunned. I had no idea that these numbers had been translated into popular culture. I asked both of them how they knew of this meaning. The woman said “oh, girls have been texting that to people all the time.” I told them the nature of the saying, and they loved it. They both watched Mr. Rogers when they were kids. “But”, they said “you’ll see this all the time nowadays. This is a really popular text.” I finished my coffee and left. And I came away from this encounter with a renewed set of faith in the verities of popular culture. And as I was walking to my car, I texted my daughter the numbers “143.” When I sat down and the key, I got a text back “I love you too, Dad. It’s a little weird that you would text that, though.” I shot her back a text: “I know sweetheart. I love you, anyway. Just trying to widen my reach. So I made a mental note: “Even though 143 means “I Love You, stick with the words, “I Love You, particularly when texting your daughter.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

Love and Christmas, 2012

On December 14th, 2012 twenty children were shot and killed in their classrooms in a Connecticut elementary school. Prayers have been said, children have been reassured, and the families of the children, staff, and teachers that were killed are experiencing pain on an unprecedented and unexplainable level. There are presents under their Christmas tree that will never be opened, stockings by the fireplace and ornaments on the low hanging branches that little hands will never reach. Clothes in closets that will never be worn again, a chair at the dinner table that will always remain empty. The sound of their familiar voices are silenced, and in the next two weeks, funerals and memorials will take place in the season of what should be a time of celebration with family and remembrance of Christmas’ past with hope toward a happy New Year. But for the families of the slain in Connecticut, Christmas will never be the same. We will hear the perfunctory sentiment about how we should hold our children especially tight, making sure we tell them we love them. We will be told to be mindful throughout the holiday season and offer extended overtures of gratitude in an exponential form. And in the context of this horror, we will follow this prevailing wisdom and bring forth action that speaks from our heart. We will pay a bit more attention to those we love this year, we truly will. And we will be more expressive and forthcoming with our thanks to those that have been so good, so dear, and so important. In light of the emotions that are associated with such sudden and distinct loss, we must come to this Christmas with an open and forgiving heart. It is in this time of the year more than any other that we must put our angers aside and offer up our best selves. In the spirit of Christmas, which is underscored by the profound sentiment of giving and generosity, we must share in our understanding and patience with one another. So much of Christmas is wrapped in stress. In a flurry of activity between work and some free time, for three weeks we shop, wrap, decorate, shop some more, send cards, stuff stockings, send cards, cook a meal…and it’s all over. The feelings of the season leave us, and we have little to show for it than a great deal of time spent standing in line. And really, what does it matter? Do you really remember what you got last Christmas? What about the year before? Do you remember who you gave what to, or who gave to you? Was their meaning in the giving? Was their memory in the receiving? I am going to ask of you that, in consideration of the season and the events in Connecticut, you do something differently this Christmas. I get that you’re supposed to hug your children and be grateful for the day, that’s fine and I encourage that, especially now. But I want you to take one more step that will change this Christmas into something forever memorable and meaningful. I want you to write a letter to each one of your family members and let them know how much they mean to you. Then I want you to do the same to each of your friends. Then, after that, I want you to do the exact same things to people that have crossed your path this year that you’ve had words with or continue to hold feelings of anger and resentment. Thank each of them for their kindness and patience, thank each of them for making a difference in your life and, especially to those whom you harbor ill will, ask them for forgiveness and let them know that you forgive them, too. Next year at this time, some of these people may no longer be with you. Some of them may be gone forever, some just may take a different path in your life and may never return. To each of these people, now is the time to let them know the importance of their place in your life. Your letter will be an offering of love. It will resonate in their hearts. You will, with the stroke of your pen, make permanent the season of Christmas. And wherever they go, for however long they’re gone, they will always take your love with them. Merry Christmas.

Love and Getting Old

I have just begun to wrap my head around the idea that we have entered another year. And with this realization, I also understand that as another year has passed, so has another birthday. At this time of the new year we are all one year older than this time last year. We are getting older. I have always had a deep loathing for the word “older” and I don’t assign much importance to it. But it’s not always a particularly pleasant thought. Most of us don’t want to get old. But we don’t want to do the things we need to do that delay the process, like exercise or eating the right things. We want to live our life in a happy fashion, free from worry and with a reasonable amount of mobility. We want to be able to breath, see, hear, sing, and to get from here to there without much pain.. We want our legs to work. We want to be able to drive a car. We hold on to what gives us a sense of freedom but also connects us with our world. And we want to be able to remember. We want to know what we’ve done, where we’ve been, what’s been said and why. My memory doesn’t seem to have the same capacity as it once did. It’s a byproduct of getting old, but it’s also a result of routine. I don’t pay enough attention, or at least not as much as I used to. Maybe there isn’t that much to pay attention to. Things fall into a day to day habit of living. It’s Monday, then it’s Friday again, and another week goes by. Christmas just passed and you can’t believe the year passed so quickly and we’re that about to start another. We want a do-over. We want another chance. We want to get a little younger. Time is passing. So if we feel that we are getting old, our direction needs to change and our attitude tweaked a little. The state of age is not a chronological measure; it is truly manifest in our attitude. So here’s the deal… This is a one way trip. Know it in your bones. You are in it maybe, what, 70, 80 years if you’re lucky? And that’s barring an accident or some bad luck that hammers you with heart disease, cancer or a stroke. If you live with an ongoing stress, subtract a few years more from that life total. You are going to leave this planet and it may be soon. It’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s a reality you have to familiarize yourself with pretty quickly. So if you’re sacrificing today for “someday down the road” you’re going to be that person in the last years of their life wondering how life passed them by. Please step forward. One step today. Make the call, see the movie, book the flight, drop the resentment, visit the friend, eat the ice cream, watch cartoons, read that book, and smile the whole day through. Dance in the store. Laugh for no reason. Abandon all thought of what others think of you. Be whatever you are. Souls never wrinkle. Spirits never age. Reclaim the energy of life within you. Live. This. Life. Now.