Tag Archives: memories

The Happy Place: Where are your fondest memories?

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” –John Banville, The Sea

Hello friend,

Have you ever had that day when your whole system is simply flooded with memories? You know the day: when every turn of your head reveals yet another precious ghost from a golden time in your life. Have you had that day? I had it just last week.   I think I am still floating there.

My Dad’s birthday was coming, and it just happened to coincide with my kids having a couple of days off of school. So, my siblings and I decided to make the most and venture back to our hometown and the house where we all grew up to celebrate my old man and bask in that rare and precious gift that is time together.

After school on Wednesday, my kids and I loaded up the car and headed across the endless prairie, finally turning into the old cul-de-sac in the midnight hour. We awoke in the morning to the sun shining and the sound of my nieces and nephew playing. It was going to be that kind of a day.

Amidst the morning hum of excitement of all the little ones being together, my sister was the one who instigated the nostalgia-filled day by plopping down on the floor in the middle of the great room with several boxes of old pictures from our own childhood days, when we were the age that our kids are now. Of course, I was sucked in immediately.

The first thing that jumped out at me from the photos was all of the physical things—the changes to my house, my neighborhood, and the people in the photos.

I marveled at the vegetation! When we built the house when I was three, the neighborhood was new and bordered farmland. We had a big yard with a wide parkland behind it between us and the next “addition” of our neighborhood, with a series of ponds connected by a stream splitting the grassy expanse. We had so much space to play! One year we turned the parkland into a multi-hole golf course. The photos showed me why: it was so bare and treeless when I was a kid, both my yard and the park. The pond directly behind my backyard was wide open for us to swim or skate, depending upon the season. Now it is socked in with cattails and lined with trees on one side. Our long, flat yard was the home of most neighborhood games, and the football endzones were between two trees on one end (a bird bath and a tree at the other). Now those trees span the entire width, leaving no room to throw the ball through. Those photos brought it all back, though: the golf, the swimming, the skating, the daily games of football or Capture the Flag or Kick the Can, and the view across the park to my buddy Red’s house, just a quick run across the old red bridge that no longer exists. So many vivid images, so many smiles.

I had a good laugh at how my house—I still call it my house—has changed through the years of photos, too. The linoleum floor made to look like bricks in the kitchen. The spectacular red carpets and wallpaper (so much wallpaper!). The gold sofa that lived for generations in different rooms. The original microwave (which we saved and actually had to use on this trip when the modern one broke!).

Of course, all of the changes in the people and the blasts from the past kept a grin plastered across my face the entire time. There was “the ugly phase” that we all took a turn at, usually in early adolescence. There were the mullets, the wonky glasses, the splendidly awful fashion choices. We did it all!   And there were all of the old friends and cousins, most of whom I have not seen in decades but all whose photos made me smile and laugh. You know, like the shots of my birthday parties, where we would always have the challenge to eat all of our cake—angel food with raspberry sauce–and ice cream without hands.

I messaged a couple of the photos to a few of the old friends, but mostly I lamented that I have lost touch with almost everyone. Still, I was reminded of what a glorious childhood I had, filled with amazing friends and so much family. There in the house that I grew up in—the center of the Universe, it seemed as a kid—those photos had nostalgia coursing through my veins by mid-morning.

I got up from the photos to venture out to the yard to enjoy the children. They had already hooked up with the kids next door—nieces to the very kids I grew up with—and were playing kickball in the yard where I played so many neighborhood baseball games when I was their age. I grabbed my daughter and walked her over to show her the dry stream bed that I crossed every Summer day to get to the tennis courts that were always my happy place. I was a little emotional sharing the memory with her. How do you adequately convey to someone that they are walking right in the footprints of your happiness?

After lunch, we all walked on the road over to those tennis courts. On the way, my sister and I marveled at “the big hill” of our neighborhood, the one that was so big and daunting that we dreaded the thought of climbing it and usually ended up pushing our bikes up. It reminded me of the time when a neighbor kid and I sat sideways on our skateboards with our feet on the other guy’s board and rode down that hill in what I was sure would be the most dangerous feat of my lifetime. My sister and I laughed at how tame that little rise looks now. Perspective.

We arrived at the tennis courts, the site of so many memories and countless hours. Each Summer day, my brothers, neighbor boys, and I would cross the stream and play for hours and hours. I remember nights playing until it was so dark that we couldn’t see the ball until it almost hit us in the face. I thought of all the battles we had. I thought of old Mrs. Wade, who lived across from the courts, hanging out in her garden just in case anyone swore. I laughed at the thought of the Ovind boys, a couple of older, hockey-playing brothers from the other side of the neighborhood who would show up once in a while with their racquets and shout swear words and insults at each other all the way through their grudge match, drawing the ire of old Mrs. Wade. Ha!

I remember meeting another little kid from the other side of the neighborhood there one day. He had called me to arrange a match, and when he showed up, he had the fanciest racquets I had ever seen. I was in awe, as I had just graduated from my wooden racquet to my Mom’s metal one, and his were “boron” (the equivalent of gold, as far as I knew). He talked like he was a pro, too, since he played in real tournaments already. I was completely intimidated by his wealth and experience. Still, I kicked his butt, and he acted like a spoiled brat the whole time, throwing his racquets and screaming enough to get Mrs. Wade outside for a warning glare. I would never have believed that that same punk, about a dozen years later, would become my best friend for life. Life is so weird! Beautiful, but so very weird.

That tennis court is grown over with weeds now, and the neighborhood has built a playground on half of it. Still, the fences are there, and as I sat there on the bench looking out across the old court (and on to Mrs. Wade’s house—she is still there!), I was nearly overwhelmed by all that was flooding my heart and mind. How does a kid from frigid, windswept North Dakota find his home on a tennis court? Sitting there last week, I was so wildly grateful that I did. I was on the verge of tears, but for some reason I laughed instead. Happy tears.

Though it was late in Autumn, the day was unusually warm, giving me the rare gift of a flood of Summertime memories. I don’t get back to my hometown in the Summer anymore—usually just Christmas—so perhaps the avalanche of memories was due to a backlog of Summer images just waiting to be released. Whatever the case, I loved it.

We picked some apples at an old family friend’s house by the tennis courts, then walked home and played basketball in the cul-de-sac where I learned to ride a bike (and later broke my arm falling off a bike while trying a foolish trick).

It was still a balmy, glorious late afternoon when I escaped the crowd and set up my portable hammock in the corner of the backyard, hitched to the tree that marked a corner of the old endzone, the spot of my very first career dreams: the future John Stallworth or Lynn Swann for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I lay there and tried to write in my journal, I kept being distracted by my surroundings. Literally everywhere I turned, a new wellspring of memories flooded my system. I could name who once lived in every house across the park, all the games I had played in the backyard, all the times I had thud-thudded across that old red bridge with my sleeping bag under my arm on the way to Red’s house for a sleepover.

Everything. I remembered it all.

“I have so many emotions swimming around inside of me,” I wrote that afternoon. “It feels that way, too, like my stomach is being used as a pool and the memories and emotions are literally swimming around in there. It is all a lot to process. It knocks me off-center a bit.”

I suppose it is good to be shaken in that way from time to time. As often as I dispense advice about being present and living in the moment, I realize that some of best present moments involve looking back at past moments and having a good belly laugh or a contented grin. Maybe even a good cry.

So I let myself swim. I admit: I am hopelessly nostalgic when the moment sneaks up on me. Often, the memories come to me unbidden, usually when something in a journal entry sparks a happy thought. What I learned last week, though, was that to get the full effect, to be truly flooded with the memory, I need to go to the source. I am just grateful I still have a room there!

How about you? Which places in your world spark the fondest memories? Open up your journal and wander through the settings of your life story. Which spots hold the most memories for you? Your childhood home? A grandparent’s house? Your school? A Summer camp or lake cabin? A park or sports field or theatre where you spent lots of time? A workplace? A vacation spot? A whole town? What about those places draws out so many memories? Is it just that you spent a lot of time there, or was it something special that you did there or the special people attached to the memories? Do your best memories come from the place you spent the most time? Who are the people in your favorite memories? Are they still in your life or just in your memory? How about the place itself? Is the place of your favorite memories a place that you can still return to? When was the last time you were there? When you are there, do the memories come flooding back to you in an overwhelming way? Do you try to take it all in and let it affect you? How nostalgic are you? How much effort do you make to visit places that hold good memories for you? Is there one place in particular that you have never been back to that you would most like to visit again simply for the rekindling of memories? Are you good at going places in your mind and feeling the full effect, or do you need to really be there to relive your best memories well? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where is the place of your favorite memories?

Light up the place where you are,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. And share your memories. Tell your story. It is the best way I know to build bridges across difference.

Growing Pains: Saying Goodbye to the Place You Grew Up

“There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” –Shannon L. Alder

Hello friend,

Last week, my kids and I had our annual “Favorite Week of the Year” trip to the lake to hang out with my wonderful family. It was fantastic, as always, but this time I definitely felt traces of sadness and loss coloring my usual lake-week serenity and happiness. These uninvited feelings came from a prospect that I have been denying for years and years: that we may have finally reached the end of our days at the family cabin.

When I was a kid, two of my great-uncles and aunts had cabins on the clearest, most magnificent lake I knew. It was a lake big enough to get lost on, but small enough to be found again. I would visit them every Summer and have a blast: swimming, waterskiing, fishing for “sunnies,” tubing, and riding a little motorbike in the forest land across the road. It was heavenly. Then, one year in elementary school, in a move that would come to shape my family’s history in so many happy ways, my Grandma and Grandpa bought an empty lot on the same lake, uniting my sweet Grandma with her two sisters.

My Grandpa, a carpenter by trade, did the most amazing thing that Summer: he had all of his grandkids help him build the little garage/cabin that would forever be the home base of the place, remaining an essential structure even as a bigger “real house” was added some years later. We all had hammers and nails and followed my Grandpa’s designs, building walls and rafters where there had been nothing. We slept in tents and campers until we got the roof done, and we used the neighbor’s outhouse until we got plumbing. When it got too hot, we dove off the little dock and had a swim, then got back to work.

What made this such a cool thing that my Grandpa did was not his ingenious use of child labor at the mere cost of a few cans of Mello Yello, but rather that we all grew up to believe that we had a stake in the place. It was ours. We built it.

There is no better way to build a sense of ownership in a place than to build it yourself. I feel it these days with my vegetable garden: I till the soil, plant the seeds, water, and weed, so that when it is time to harvest, I feel a genuine pride in it. It’s my space.

I remember the first place I ever felt belonged to me: it was my house that I grew up in.

We moved to town the Summer before I turned four and rented a place while ours was being built. I didn’t get to hammer any nails in the original building, but I remember being in it before the carpet and paint and fixtures were installed, when it was just bare wood and concrete. I remember riding on the back of our three-wheeler dragging a grate all around the property to remove the rocks from the dirt so we could plant grass. I remember planting the gardens, mowing the grass when it came up, and building a fort under the tree-house my Dad made for us. Inside, I remember owning every nook and cranny of that place when it was finished. That sense of HOME has never left me there, even after 41 years. Every visit rekindles it.

So it is with the family lake cabin, the second place that felt like home to me. Those nails and boards that I pounded made it so, and each Summer affirms it. Home is where the heart is, and mine is certainly there. Looking back at my journal entries there—both from this past week and from all of the other weeks I have spent there over the years—it is plain how much peace and contentment I feel there. How truly home I feel.

This is exactly why it was so unusual to have my normal flow of serene gratitude tinged with a sense of sadness and loss during last week’s visit.

As I was unpacking my bags from the car and loading up the refrigerator for the week, my Mom started talking about how her brother and his wife were interested in selling their share of the cabin (my Grandpa died a few years ago, moving ownership down a generation to my Mom and her brother). She mentioned how none of the “kids” in my generation—my siblings and cousins—were likely to ever be able or willing to own the cabin outright and that now might be the best time to sell it and buy a place of her own with my Dad.

As if my mind wasn’t reeling enough from this news, she even floated the idea that my Dad could even consider selling my childhood home and moving out of my hometown. Nothing definitive, but just the possibility of these developments suddenly loosed the ideas out into the world and sent them rampaging through my heart and mind. It was A LOT to process.

I have told you before that I am deeply nostalgic. While my mind normally is present-focused and also tends to be get quite excited about all of the wonderful things that are upcoming for me, there is also something I just love about memories. Looking at old photos, reading old journals, chatting with friends or siblings about the old days—these things are truly delightful to me. I have never been hung up in the past and or one to hold onto a lot of regret, but I dearly love to reminisce.

My past means a lot to me. That is why I love the old photos and journals. It is also why I so cherish my visits to the lake cabin and the home that I grew up in. So, while I was basking in the peaceful beauty and family fun of the lake last week, in my quiet moments, I couldn’t help but mull the prospect of it being the last time. Maybe I wouldn’t be back to the cabin next Summer. Maybe I wouldn’t be going back to my childhood home at Christmas. Or ever.

It is hard to imagine, actually. These places have always been with me, always been a part of me. They are central characters in my life story. It is hard to see how the story goes without them in it. It makes me sad to try.

What I realize, though, is that this is simply How Life Goes. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t always seem fair. It’s messier than you want it to be. It breaks your heart sometimes. That is all part of the deal. The longer I live, the more I understand that. I am still working on accepting it, but I am at least starting to understand it. It’s called “growing up”, I suppose.

And though the kid in me wants these safe havens to remain frozen in time and available to me for visits forever and ever—just like it wants my parents to be around and healthy forever and ever—the grown-up in me knows that it cannot be so. He even knows that it should not be so. The grown-up knows that it is time for my parents to get a cabin that suits them—not one that suited my Grandpa—if they want a cabin, and to sell my childhood home when they decide they don’t want to be there anymore, regardless of how many memories they (or I) have there. The grown-up knows how to do what is necessary, even when it isn’t easy.

I suppose what I am learning in this little attempt to be an adult is that the better your life has been and the fonder the memories, the tougher it is going to be to let it all go as the years require. The people, the places, the hobbies, the adventures, the passions. The best that I can hope is that whenever I am forced to say goodbye to one, there is a good alternative waiting for me.

It makes me cry a little bit now, though, thinking of all those difficult decisions and moments of surrender ahead of me. Growing up is hard! Necessary, I suppose, but hard. I think the way to go, though, is to live a rich, love-filled life so that every last one of these necessary goodbyes is a tough one, even when you are moving onto something that will in time become amazing.   That is how I plan to do my growing up.

How about you? What things have been most difficult for you to let go of as you have aged? Open up your journal and take a mental walk through your transitions away from things that have always been there for you. How do you handle letting go and moving on? Which things have you definitely said goodbye to so far, whether by force or by choice? Who are the people you have intentionally moved on from? How difficult was that? Who are the people who have been taken from you along the way? How accepting have you been with that? Do you still hold onto bitterness about the unfairness of any of those losses? Do you have passions or enjoyments that you have had to let go of? How about the places that always felt like home to you? Do you have some, like my cabin and childhood home, that you have counted on since you were a kid? Which homes have you had to let go of? Did you get to choose, or was it forced upon you by circumstance? How have you handled it? Did you ever go back to see it, even though it wasn’t “yours” anymore? If my parents ever sell their house—my childhood home—I don’t foresee a reason that I would ever return to my hometown, even though I would miss the house terribly. Would you? What is the one place in your life right now that you will most struggle with letting go of when the time comes? What is so special about it? What are your favorite memories from that place? Are you good at holding them in your heart? Is that enough? I hope you will tell me that it is, because I know I will struggle with the losses that are in my future. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which losses make growing up the hardest?

Maximize the Love,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please take the time to share it. I think more people need to be reminded to cherish their little corners of the world.

I Love SUMMER!!!

DSC_1060“Summer….and sun….and all things hot….” –Olaf, Frozen 

Hello friend,

Today is the day that excites me more than all the others on the calendar. Honestly, the only thing that could make it better would be presents. I am giddy with anticipation! For what, you ask? Well, today was the last day of school. And while that is cool on its own—pride, relief, accomplishment, and that sort of thing—its primary appeal to me is something totally different. What the last day of school means to me is that I can finally enter my element. My comfort zone. My season. My beloved SUMMER.

I love Summer! I could shout it from the rooftops and the hilltops. Love LOVE love it! It fills my heart with such Joy and my mind with such Peace. It truly settles into my soul and creates a different person for these few precious months each year. I am a new man. It grounds me, even as it reinvigorates me like a magic elixir. I am completely enchanted by it. It is my home.

It has always been this way for me. I remember the giddiness of the last day of school every year, so excited for freedom. When I look back on the long history of my time on this Earth, it seems that nearly every single memory comes from Summer. As a kid, I think of all of those classic, cross-country roadtrips we took in the family van, all of us packed in there for every meal and every night of sleep. I think of spending weekends at my cousins’ old lake cabin, swinging from the rafters and listening to REO Speedwagon on the record player (“Take it on the run, baby….”) as we stayed up way too late on the sugar rush of Tangy Taffy and Ring Pops. I think of my carefree neighborhood that seemed to center around my yard, where all the kids gathered daily to play Capture The Flag (“Flag Game” to us) by day and Kick The Can by night. I think of walking over to the tennis courts in the morning with my brothers and neighbors, playing until lunch, then returning for more in the afternoon and evening. I think of making a bike track—replete with water jumps and berms–around the empty lot next door to my house, where we were BMX champions, if only in our minds. I think of building the family cabin and wild death rides on the tube behind the boat at my beloved Pelican Lake, where my kids now make their favorite memories every Summer. I think of every tennis tournament I ever played. My entire childhood lives in my mind as one hot, gorgeous Summer day.

Even my adult memories, though, seem to share the same setting. I remember in my college years, every night of Summer was about hanging with my buddies, asking each other endlessly, “What should we do?” as we laughed away the hours making fun of each other (because there was nothing else to do). I remember rollerblading along Lake Michigan at sunset in my Chicago Summer, and all over Washington, DC and Los Angeles other years. I remember my indescribable joy while surfing the Pacific Ocean, so sure was I that nothing could ever top that feeling. I remember my many camping trips to Glacier National Park and the Bliss that I found there. I remember all of my other solo voyages across the land, pitching my tent on a dry lake bed in the desert, on a cliff above the ocean, and along countless streams and forests in between. I remember golfing The Grove on quiet Friday nights with my Mom, enchanted by the complete serenity of the walk in that amazing light. I think of the many nights I spent writing my journals in my hammock in the screen porch of my parents’ house—my favorite room in any house I have ever been in—my heart and mind exploding in self-discovery and complete happiness. I remember teaching Summer Camp in New York and then roadtripping with my Mom when camp was over. I remember my amazing wedding weekend. I remember the births of my kids. I remember running through the sprinkler, Slip-n-Slides, and all of their birthday parties. I love those memories. They are the highlights of my life. Every last one of them occurred in Summer. It is completely my Season. 

If every day of my life could occur in Summer, I would surely make it so. And while I can understand why some people claim Autumn or Spring as their favorite seasons—let’s be clear: you will never get me to understand the appeal of Winter—I would still take Summer a hundred days out of a hundred. Why can’t it last all year? I can honestly say that I have always felt displaced as a Northerner, as though I somehow landed in the wrong part of the world at birth and have been compelled to remain here. Every year I have a few days when I seriously contemplate moving away from this land of four seasons, most of which feel like Winter to me. I try to make a list of possible destinations with the right combination of warmth, size, safety, and proximity to the ocean or the mountains. No matter how tantalizing the choices seem in the moment, my efforts are futile. The exercise is a pointless one. I am not going anywhere.

There is one and only one reason that I remain in this land of pond-hockey and ice fishing. That reason is called FAMILY. My parents and siblings—and most of my wife’s—are spread across this four-state-wide frozen belt between Montana and Wisconsin, roughly centered around the Western Minnesota lake country where we gather every year (in Summer, of course) to do all the things that make families the most unique and magical human groupings ever assembled.  There is just no substitute. I cannot bring myself to leave them and the possibility of drive-there-in-a-day proximity. I love it when my sisters or my parents pass through town on their way somewhere, giving my kids a chance to see their cousins or grandparents. It truly is the case that all of the highlights of their year are the times with family gathered. I cannot surrender that simply because I want to wear shorts all year.

So, I suppose I have to admit it. I always thought that what defined me best was my bond with Summer, unwavering and unconditional. As it turns out, even Summer loses out to my love of family. What can I say? Alright, but I do have a bone to pick as long as we are talking about family (for the record, I have never had a bone to pick with Summer—well, other than its length). Here is my beef: What the heck were my ancestors thinking when they settled in this frozen tundra, where we get only three months of Summer per year???? Seriously, they could have made my life so much less conflicted if only they had dropped their bags and their tired, poor, huddled (m)asses somewhere much warmer and less topographically-challenged than this. What could possibly have possessed them to put down roots here as opposed to, say, San Diego? But family forgives anything, right? So, I am going to give my ancestors my most forgiving take on this so I don’t have to go on cursing them and the land to which I call home. The only possible explanation for such madness: they arrived in Summer!

How about you? Which season belongs to you? Open up your journal and your memory bank. Make a list of your memories from each season of the year. Does one list stand out to you? Is it the sheer number of memories from that season, or is it the quality of those memories, your fondness for them? What are your favorite memories of Summer? For me, my Summer memories from childhood all seem to be draped in a feeling of freedom, which I suppose comes mostly from the absence of school, but also likely from the warm weather and the liberation from shelter or excess clothing that comes with it. Are your Summer memories that way, draped with an entirely different air about them? Even relationships—namely, a different eagerness to get a “Summer girlfriend”—were different for me in Summer. Was it that way for you? When I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, parents seemed to give kids very long leashes compared to parents of today. How do you think your Summers would be different if you were growing up with your family today? How has climate affected your lifestyle and where you have chosen to settle? Has it trumped family? Where do you wish your family had settled? Rank your favorite seasons in order. If you could have all of the characteristics of your favorite season all year long—e.g. endless Summer—would you do it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which season captures your heart and soul the way Summer does mine? 

Be happy,

William

A Mother’s Son: My Favorite Memories of Mom

 

DSC_0184

“But behind all your stories is your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”  –Mitch Albom

Hello friend,

I am a Momma’s boy. I admit it. Totally and completely. Guilty as charged.

My older brothers were always great at being my Dad’s boys.   They had the same interests, and their personalities fit together just right to make that manly-man relationship dynamic work. Even today, they are always on—or planning—some hunting or fishing expedition together, or telling stories about the last one. It is neat to watch them together and feel that kinship, that bond. I love how it works, even if I am relegated to watching it. Some circles, it seems, are not meant to expand. Our affinities cannot be forced. A square peg doesn’t fit into a round hole. Momma’s boys don’t make it onto the crew at Deer Camp.

But, Momma’s boys do get to share an indescribable, unbreakable bond with their mothers that is unlike any other. And, in addition to that special connection, they get to share a journey. They do LIFE together. They follow each other in spirit, because that is their destiny; it’s how they are wired. But the luckiest pairs get to actually ride along with each other in person, making beautiful memories as they go. I have had that lucky ride with my Mom.

I actually have a difficult time thinking of many specific moments with my mother, because she just seemed to always be there. She was at the helm on so many family roadtrips that were jam-packed with one happy memory after another. She was with me at every tennis match in every little town tournament I ever played in, all of which I remember. She has helped me pack and move my stuff all over the country on my long and winding path through this life, always supporting me. She has traversed the highways and byways of America with me as an adult—from Gettysburg to Glacier–always in search of new ways to educate me about our history and this great land. In these years when my mind and my life have seemed to be all over the map, my sweet and tireless Mom has been my faithful companion. My rock. The memories of my beautiful life begin and end with her.

What do I remember? Well, beyond my childhood days of uninterrupted love and wonder in her care, there are a few days and moments that stand out for me in our adult relationship. [Writer’s Note: It is really, really cool to get to be best friends with your Mom when you grow up, even while feeling that you will always, always be her little boy.] These are a few of my favorites:

When I decided it was time for me to leave Los Angeles in favor of wandering around Europe and figuring out what was next in life, my Mom, of course, got in the car and drove down from North Dakota to help me lug my stuff home (did I forget to mention that she is a saint, too?). On our way back, we stopped in Montana to see my brother for the night. We scooped him up in town and headed out to find a campsite in the wilds of that majestic land. He led us to a quiet, solitary spot along the river in a place that was aptly named Paradise Valley. I remember sitting on the river’s edge writing in my journal as my brother artfully casted his fly over the water, my mother looking on proudly. It was beautiful in every way. Later in the evening, we cooked dinner and told stories over a campfire, which invariably gives a conversation an air of simple Truth and authenticity. It was me and two of my most favorite people on Earth. It comforted me to know how much my Mom enjoyed spending that time with us. I felt pure there in Paradise with her.

A few years later, after wandering a bit but mostly secluding myself in my parents’ house to read and write, I decided to move (again) to Ohio to get my doctoral degree. I had also fallen in love and was going to be living in the same place as my girlfriend rather than across the country from one another. It was an enormous psychological leap for me to leave the friendly confines of my childhood home after a few years of holing up there in complete Bliss. It was probably comparable to my first day of kindergarten. Thankfully, in both cases, my Mom was there. She, of course, trailed me in my stuffed car as I rocked the UHaul cross-country for the umpteenth time. I remember standing there with her in the parking lot of my new apartment as she was about to head back home and leave me there to start my new life. We had just had the gift of a magical window of a few years to hang out and know each other as adults—a gift that very few parents and children receive–and now it was all ending, likely never to return. The gravity of that life-door closing was palpable. It had been an amazing ride. Through my tears, I said to her, “I feel like I am saying goodbye to my best friend.” I was.

Several years later, I found myself in a hospital room on a warm August night, dialing the phone with tears (again) rolling down my face. Following years of effort and heartbreak, I finally had a baby of my own. My angel, India. Since having the reins turned over to her by my Mom that day in Ohio, my wife had grown to understand the special nature of my relationship with my mother. I didn’t have to fight too hard to be allowed to give my first-born child the middle name of Jacqueline, after her grandmother, my Mom. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. So there I was on the phone that night, a tidal wave of emotions on an exposed nerve as I prepared to tell her the news. When I told her we had just had a baby girl, of course she asked what her name was. I could barely choke out the words, knowing how much the namesake meant to me and how much it would mean to her. There was a short silence on the line after I told her, as it seemed she had momentarily lost her breath. That moment was pure LOVE. It was every bit of my timeless, perfect connection to my Mom, only now it was cloaked in an all-new layer. This was the legacy, the next generation of a special relationship full of a lifetime of special memories.

I can only hope to be half the parent to India Jacqueline and her brother that my mother has been to me. I dream about the trips I want to take them on, to places I only know about because my Mom took me. I pray that I can be the friend to them that she is to me, the one they want to traverse the roads of Life with and share their proudest moments with. I hope that one day in the distant future—maybe when they have kids of their own—that they will look back fondly on the memories they made with their old man along the way, wishing they could pass on those same kind of memories and feel that same kind of special closeness. That would do my heart good. I will teach them well about the one who started this magical chain. My Mom. Thanks for the memories…..

How about you? What special memories do you have of your mother? Open up your journal and your heart, and write about the moments with her that have shaped you and stayed with you. What are your favorite moments? Are they big things, like trips or major events, or tiny, simple moments when everything is right just because Mom was there? What are the best adventures you have been on with your mother? What are your favorite intimate moments with your Mom, when it was just the two of you? Which memories that you have with her would you like to pass on to the next generation? What do you appreciate most about what your mother has brought to your life? Does she know how grateful you are? Maybe today is the day to let her know. Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your favorite memory of your mother?

Thank a Mom today,

William

This is NOT a Dress Rehearsal!!!

DSC_1094“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” –William G.T. Shedd

Hello friend,

At my Grandpa Mel’s funeral a few years ago, my siblings and I each took a turn at the microphone to talk about the wonderful memories we had of a wonderful man. There were tales of picking berries in his garden or building ships out of wood in his workshop. When my brother got up to speak, though, he told us about an occasion that was not from our idyllic childhood, but, rather, something that had just happened a month before. My brother had volunteered to drive Grandpa Mel into town from the lake cabin where we were all gathered for the weekend. Grandpa was in an assisted living facility at the time, and his mind was beginning to lose its grip on this world. Still, he had lucid moments, and the two of these admirable men shared one in the car that Summer day. They had gone to visit Grandma Jeanne’s grave at the cemetery where Grandpa Mel would soon join her. In a thoughtful moment, my brother asked him what, as he looked back on his long life, he would have done differently if he could do it all again. Grandpa said, “I wish I had taken more risks. I wish I would have branched out on my own in business sooner. I just wish I would have taken more chances.”

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been weeping through the entire evening, but now there was a whole new depth and message to the occasion. It wasn’t just about grieving and appreciating my Grandpa; there was a lesson, too. Don’t squander your days following the herd and playing it safe. Find what makes your heart sing and go after it! Take a risk and follow your dream. Take a chance on yourself!

Of course I had heard this lesson before. It is abound in books and movies. There is that emotional scene where the parent or grandparent teaches the lesson to the protagonist—either directly with their words or by dying and thereby making it clear that life is too short not to go after what you love—who is then spurred to glorious action. We’ve all seen it before. But this was different. This was no book. This was no movie, no fairy tale. This was Grandpa Mel. The guy who taught me how to hammer a nail as soon as I could walk and let me build a house with him before I was out of elementary school. The guy who took me golfing and played catch with me in the yard. My Grandpa.

He had always seemed like the perfectly contented family man. He managed a lumber yard until he retired, and then went on to take charge of building homes for Habitat for Humanity, building his local church, and leading his grandkids in the building of the lake house that continues to be the hub of our family gatherings. He loved these projects, and he was in his element leading the crews. He found something in retirement—after tending to the needs of my Mom and my uncle and then securing a comfortable nest-egg for he and my Grandma to retire with—that he had not dared to search for while in the workforce. He found his passion. He never talked about it. Never complained about his lot. Never was bitter toward his family that ensuring a comfortable life for them had kept him from opening up his own business. He was a good father, a good husband, a good man. It was a good life.

Still, there it was. At the end of his days—in his ninth decade on Earth—he was clear about one thing: “I just wish I had taken more chances.”

I have so many fond memories of my Grandpa, and I know that he has rubbed off on me in ways both clear and subtle. From his life, the lesson I learned was the supreme importance of family. I am so glad that he modeled that every day; it never needed to be spoken about. But it was the lesson I learned in his death that was more poignant than anything I ever learned in books or movies. Don’t wait until you are retired to do what you love. Take a risk in order to live your dreams. 

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” –Helen Keller, The Open Door

Over the last few years since his death, I have distilled this lesson learned at my Grandpa’s funeral into a phrase that really resonates with me: This is NOT a dress rehearsal!!! You don’t get a “do-over” for all of this stuff. You don’t get to have that moment with the potential love of your life again, that chance to say what is in your heart. You don’t get a chance to raise your kids again: to go to their games and push them on the swings and kiss them goodnight. And you don’t get the chance at the end to find your passion and your purpose, and to live accordingly. This is not a dress rehearsal. This IS the show! You have to do it now!!!

I feel like that concept has been chasing me pretty hard the last couple of years. Perhaps “chasing” doesn’t adequately describe it; maybe “stalking” is better. “Haunting” is accurate. It permeates my every day: This is NOT a dress rehearsal!!! I have watched my mindset and my entire way of life change since this thought took hold of me. I had been of the attitude that, with my kids so young and me so busy, there was no way I could find the time or energy to pursue my other passions. I was sliding by, skating. I was certainly happy, but there was also something missing. That is when, a few years ago, the haunting started. My first move was to get going on The Journal Project, which was an enormous undertaking. As I worked into the wee hours of each night after the kids went to bed, I realized how important it was to me to get my voice out there. I didn’t want to wait years to get my book published. So, “Journal of You” was born. It has been a true labor of love to write to you every week. But even that was not enough to quell the inner chorus chanting “This is not a dress rehearsal!” So, I went back to school for Life Coaching to pursue another passion. And on and on it has gone: writing, school, coaching, consulting–constantly trying to tap into ways that I can be of service in the spirit of my Life Purpose.

I hear my Grandpa’s message trailing me every day, guiding me and motivating me to stay on the task of living a life filled with passion and fulfillment. I know that requires me to take some risks, to get out of my comfort zone, to stop sliding through life. It pushes me to my own greatness, though. It moves me to measure myself by the standard I want my future 90-year-old self to be proud of, to have no regrets about. I am pretty sure that no matter how bold and authentic that I choose to be from here on out, I will probably wish, at the end of my days, that I had done better. That is just how I am. Still, even though I am today nowhere near to having set up the lifestyle and schedule of my dreams, I take heart in the fact that I am working toward it every day. It is on the front burner. I am trying to become the very best version of me that I can be. I hear the voice of Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” reminding me: “Carpe diem. Make your lives extraordinary.” And I feel Grandpa Mel, too, his spirit reminding me that today is my day to claim myself and my dreams, once and for all. No day but today.

How about you? Have you taken enough risk to live the life of your dreams? Open up your journal and be honest with yourself. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you feel about the way you have lived your life? Do you have regrets about how safely you have played it? How closely have you followed the herd rather than your own inner voice? How willing have you been to step out on that limb and have that uncomfortable conversation? How often have you struck out on your own against the expectations of the people around you, simply because you were hearing a different drummer? How many times have you risked “failure” in the service of your dreams or of happiness? What are your excuses? Financial security? Family obligations? Fear of failure or rejection? I like the quote by Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Do you think that by playing it safe now and not taking risks to pursue your passions, that you are actually risking a lot of regret and unhappiness later in life? Which risk is greater to you: the risk to follow your bliss now or the risk of regret later? Leave me a reply and let me know: What force is driving your life? 

Make your life extraordinarily yours,

William

So Long, Farewell

DSC_0819“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh 

Hello friend,

Whenever I think of goodbyes, I think of my parents. My Mom is all-in when it comes time to part ways. I think so fondly of the mornings at her house—the home of my childhood–after a long holiday stay, when I am packing the car with a million pieces of luggage. She makes sure to get up early to make a big breakfast. She finds a way to engage in a good conversation one last time, gently reminding me that I still feel so very much at home there. She comes by with lots of motherly love and rubs on the back. She tells me how glad she is that we came. She hugs. She kisses. There are lots of “I love you’s,” and even more heartfelt tears. She puts it all out there. It feels good to have a goodbye morning with her. I always drive away full of love and gratitude—and yes, a few heartfelt tears of my own. My Mom is the world champion of goodbyes.

And then there is my Dad. The man who occupies the same house on those sweet, sentimental goodbye mornings is nowhere to be found. Perhaps the dog needed to go out for an extra-long walk, or that darn post office box was in desperate need of a checking, or maybe something was left at the office. In any case, he will not be sharing in the farewell breakfast, the “I love you’s,” or the teary-eyed hugs. My Dad is the world champion of avoiding sentimental moments, especially goodbyes.

As the child of this wonderful good-cop/bad-cop duo, you might suspect that I am some kooky hybrid of the two. I suppose that is true. When it comes to that kind of goodbye with those nearest and dearest to me, I love the lingering, sentimental goodbye like my mother. I am hopelessly nostalgic, so I like to soak in those last moments of a visit like they are a warm bath, thoroughly enjoying both the moment and the grateful afterglow of the wonderful time we have shared (which makes leaving so difficult). I love the peaceful gratitude that comes from spending time with the right people. When it comes to anyone else, though, I would rather take my old man’s route and avoid it altogether. Just get me out of there!

I have been full of goodbyes lately. A few days ago, I left a job and career of many years, in the process bidding farewell to many people who hold all sorts of different places in (and out of) my heart. In the week leading up to the final departure, as I saw folks for possibly the final time, I noticed my heart and mind run through the full extremes of responses, both in the goodbye itself and even in the mere anticipation of the goodbye.

On the one hand, I really appreciated the opportunity to say farewell to some of the players, mostly because I wanted to thank them for all of the their time and effort and commitment over the years. We had been through a lot together, and a player-coach relationship can go pretty deep. I definitely felt that in my inclination to touch base with my long-time players. The more I had invested in them—and vice versa—the more I wanted to connect with them one last time and thank them for the ride. It is a great gift to get the chance to coach someone who is invested in their own improvement, and I wanted to linger in that gratitude a bit in my final moments with those special people.

Otherwise, though, I mostly wanted to avoid people all week. If I wasn’t close with someone personally, didn’t care for them, or never made that great connection that comes when someone really lets you join in their fight for their own advancement and self-confidence, I absolutely did not want a farewell. I was actually even a bit repulsed by the idea. It was the complete opposite of my reaction with the other players.

I seem to fall on the “Give me the genuine and heartfelt, or let’s not waste our time” when it comes to goodbyes. But as I write that, I see that that is exactly how I am at my core and why I mostly keep to myself. If I am going to interact, I prefer it to be deep and meaningful. I don’t suffer the shallow stuff very well. So, I don’t avoid most goodbyes the way my old man does—to hide from the emotions that might come up—but rather because they won’t bring any emotions up. That is why I had no inclination to say goodbye to coworkers; I was not close to any of them. If no one knew I was leaving, I could have easily walked out the door just like any other day and never looked back. I suppose that sounds cold or simply weird, but that is a pretty normal feeling for me. I have had enough big transitions—moves or job changes—to know my patterns. I tend toward the deep and lasting OR a complete severing of ties (mostly the latter). I am not sure if that is a good or a bad trait, but it is certainly me.

Next week I will say goodbye to one of the best friends I have ever had. He is moving far away, and who ever knows what happens then? For the most part, I just want to have one of my Mom’s goodbye mornings with him and linger in the gratitude and fond memories. In some ways, though, I want to be my Dad and make his goodbye a little easier for him—it is already tough enough to move away from a life you have built, no doubt—by disappearing until he gets out of town and avoiding all the sentimental stuff. But this is a guy who tends to go dark, so what if this is the end? What if I don’t get the chance again to tell him that he’s the best and that I love him and that I thank him so, so much for all that he has been to me and my family?

This is when I know how much I am my mother’s son. The Truth in my soul demands a proper farewell, no matter how many tears must be shed or hugs must be hugged. It would be false to my Truth to go out to walk the dog for this one. I will stay. After all that we have been through, I must say my goodbye.

How about you? How do you do with goodbyes? Open up your journal and your heart, and share your Truth. Do you have a typical pattern for your big goodbyes? Are you the world champion of them, or are you the one who avoids them like the plague? Does your response change wildly, like mine, depending on the bond you have made? How have you handled your biggest goodbyes (e.g., moving away, leaving a job, even the death of a loved one)? I love the Dr. Seuss quote that goes “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Do you tend to be the one smiling or crying, or both? It can be a complicated matter, so dig deep on this one. Maybe allow the feelings to come out that you didn’t when you said (or avoided) some important goodbyes. It is a good release. In any case, tell your Truth. That is always the most important thing. Tell your Truth. Leave me a reply and let me know, How do you do goodbye? 

The real you is amazing,

William