Tag Archives: Nostalgia

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.

The Best Day Of Summer

“This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.” –Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

This week’s Back-To-School photos on Facebook marked the first sign of the end of my favorite season. Though I am always tickled to see all of those smiling faces looking so much older than the same photos last year, mostly I hate the accompanying thought that my precious days of Summer Bliss are almost gone.

But, since my kids don’t start until after Labor Day, I try to remain in denial. There are still a handful of “Summer things” I hope to do with them, and in my mind, there is still time to make it happen. Honestly, though, I can feel the tick-ticking of the Summer clock winding down and, with it, a rise in my panic level.

It is tough to keep the anxious thoughts at bay: Were we at the lake enough? Did we do enough new stuff? Did we see enough family? Have we had enough adventures? Did we get enough exercise? Have we done enough quintessentially Summer things, like swaying in the hammock or roasting marshmallows? Have we connected enough with Mother Nature? Have we connected enough with each other?  

But the question that intrudes most into my consciousness as my season closes is this: Did I often enough feel that combination of true Bliss and Gratitude that comes in those magical moments that cause me to note, with a smile plastered across my face, “THIS is what it’s all about!”?  

Luckily, just as the panic of that question was about to set in, I happened to stumble upon a WHOLE DAY like that last weekend, just in time to improve my grades on Summer’s report card. It is amazing how one day can transform a world!

We had driven to my sister’s family cabin late Thursday, arriving amidst a cold, howling wind in the black of a backwoods night. Hoping for a hot Summer weekend at the lake, prospects were not looking good when Friday remained dark and windy. I used the day to get my bearings, catch up with my sister, and find the most comfortable spots to read and write. It was good company and a treat to be by the water, but I longed to engage with it they way I can only do in warmth and sunshine. I was wanting.

Ah, but then Saturday came around, and I wanted no more.

I opened the bedroom door in the morning and was greeted by the most wonderful light. My sister’s cabin has wall-to-wall windows on the lake side, and that light was an almost overwhelming beauty each morning. Like stepping into a healing bath of Divine Grace. I was instantly happy and full of a Peace that would linger all the day through.

After an amazing breakfast of homemade waffles with vanilla pudding and raspberries on top—trust me, this little family recipe of my brother-in-law’s is a delight—I convinced my wife to go out on the double kayak with me. Not much of an outdoor adventurer or risk-taker by nature, my wife’s acceptance of such an invitation was a treat all by itself. And when we got out on the calm lake with nothing but blue sky above us and the pine trees towering over the little cabins on all horizons, I was blissfully in my element. They only allow motorized wakes on their lake between eleven and three, so the quiet of the morning only amplified the beauty and serenity of the scene. As we paddled around the perimeter of the little lake, I noticed my grin and the sense of abundance and contentment welling up inside me. I was already oozing gratitude.

By the time we returned from our kayak ride, the sun was just warm enough to call for a swim, and my son was waiting for me on the shore so we could go together. He did flips and tricks off my shoulders, alternating turns with his cousins jumping off me into the refreshing water. Soon it was eleven o’clock, and the kids were ready to tube. I watched and took pictures from the boat as they giggled their way around the lake at top speed. I remembered the bonds I made at their age playing with my own cousins at a different lake, and how fondly I still remember those days and those special people. I was so pleased to be passing on that priceless gift to my kids.

After lunch on the balcony overlooking the lake, I got to get back in the water to help my daughter learn how to waterski, which again brought back so many memories of my youth. Some technical difficulties caused us to abandon the job, but since I was already wet, I joined the kids on their next tube ride around the lake. Though I am probably “too old” for that sort of thing, the exhilaration of the speed—and the crash–was an unadulterated joy for my still-young heart.

Following tubing and the noise of all of the ski boats, I was relieved at the quiet of mid-afternoon. I grabbed a floaty from the boathouse and floated lazily as I watched the kids play Whiffle-ball on the beach. Then I hopped on a single kayak and paddled out to watch a little sailboat race in the middle of the lake. On such a small lake, with all of the boats parked in the middle watching the sails gliding smoothly across the water, it felt like a regular small-town gathering. So intimate and quaint. I felt completely at ease. No threats, no worries. Just peace.

Riding the serenity of my solo kayak voyage, I came ashore to find the kids eager to get back in the water. With quiet hours in full swing on the lake, they opted for “slow tubing,” a delightful little cruise around the lake, with the pontoon dragging the tube and a knee board on separate ropes. The kids dove off the tube and board at their whim and hung onto the rope as we chugged along at a snail’s pace. They were having an absolute blast as we chatted on the boat, and soon I was feeling like they were getting the better of the deal. Off came my shirt and sunglasses, and I dove in to join in the kid fun as the boat trolled on. It was fantastic—exhilarating and soothing all at once.

As we pulled into the dock, my kids asked me if I would take them out on the double kayak. Nothing would please me more, I was thinking. Off we went, and soon their cousins joined us in the middle on two kid kayaks. It was that time of day when the sun is sinking and everything is colored in the most beautiful light. There was water, the beauty of Mother Nature, and the magic of children. That is my kind of paradise!

We returned to the cabin for a sunset dinner on the veranda before strolling down to the fire pit by the beach to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. Those marshmallows had been waiting too long on my Summer To-Do List, and they were heavenly!

That was all warm-up, though, for the grand finale: star-gazing! This may seem like nothing to you, but I can’t tell you how long it has been since I sat out under a clear sky at night away from the lights of a city. Years! I was absolutely mesmerized by the clarity and endlessness of it. Even better was seeing my kids get a big thrill at seeing the Big Dipper and North Star. We were thoroughly amazed by the magnificence of it all.

Though it was definitely bedtime for my body, my mind was on fire with wonder and gratitude. I hated to look away from the night sky. But as I said goodnight to the kids and lay my head down on my pillow, the visions left over in my mind from all I had basked in that day were enough to carry me smiling into dreamland.

From the moment I rose in the morning to the moment I drifted off to sleep, that day was one for the ages. There was no one thing that made it so. It definitely wasn’t some blockbuster event or moment. No, it was a million little things. It was all these perfect, can’t-stop-grinning moments in succession set in my kind of place with my kind of people. It was the small size of the lake, its restricted speed boat hours, and the resulting intimacy that made everything feel so quaint and low-key. It was the middle-of-nowhere sense of where we were, and the feeling of endless beautiful forest around us. Reinforcing that feeling was the fact that we had no cellular or Wifi service, so we were totally disconnected from the chaos and foolishness that defines America lately. It was certainly the water, which always woos me. It was the company: my wife and kids and my sister’s family, all who are very dear to me and don’t do much to push my many buttons. It was also clearly the atmosphere that my sister sets at her place, too: no set schedule or expectations for joining activities, easy meals, no obsession with neatness, just be kind and enjoy yourself. It was seeing the world of my wife and kids expand: new place, new activities, a new adventure. I always love being a part of that. It was nostalgia. And finally, it was that priceless and indescribable sense of enchantment I experience amidst certain settings or activities: the glassy water, the night sky, campfire, eating a roasted marshmallow right off the stick. These are things that fill me with the kind of tingles that I can only translate as a big thumbs-up from my soul, letting me know it is being taken care of.

Saturday felt like an entire day of those tingles. I think of it now, and this grin that cannot be wiped from my face tells me that it was surely my best day of the Summer.

How about you? What was your best day of the Summer? Open up your journal and your mind and walk yourself through those special moments. Which day was it? Does the exact date come immediately to mind? What was it about that day that makes it stand out from all the rest? Was it anchored by a big event (e.g. a concert, family reunion, vacation, or party) that defined the day, or was it quite unspectacular on the surface? Which people were involved in your best day? Are those people regulars in your list of favorite days from other seasons and years? Was it the people that made it the best day? Had you looked forward to that specific day for a long time, or did it sneak up on you like mine did? How early in the day did you know that you were a part of something special? How big of a role did the setting play? Was it a regular spot for you (e.g. your home) or somewhere new? Did food play a role? How about activity? Was it more about what you were doing or how you were feeling or being? How do you think the day rated for the other people who were involved in it? Was it fantastic for everyone, or maybe just an ordinary day for some? Did you talk about how contented or joyous you were at the time, or did you keep it to yourself? Could you create that same type of experience again, or was this a one-shot deal for which everything just fell into place perfectly? What is it about that day that you could put more of into your normal days? Does your best day make you smile just thinking about it? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What was your best day of the Summer?

Savor your moments,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s celebrate our lives!

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.

DISASTER STRIKES!! What Would You Take With You?

“If we fear loss enough, in the end the things we possess will come to possess us.” –Rachel Naomi Remen

Hello friend,

True confession: I am a bit of a hoarder. My mother teasingly calls me “Pack Rat” over my unwillingness to throw things away. She ought to know: her basement is still full of my old t-shirts, trophies, and football cards. I wish I could say I have become better about that with age. No, I still find reasons to keep just about everything that comes my way, no matter how useless or out of style it is or becomes.

I am not sure where this comes from.

Some of it is pure nostalgia. I like the Air Jordan shirt I used to wear in college—when Jordan gear still had the Nike swoosh on it—because it makes me smile whenever I go through my stuff. Do I ever wear it? No. I like that smile, though. The same goes for old books I will never read again, expired driver’s licenses, even eyeglasses I used to wear.

Some of it is in anticipation of hard times. I save for a rainy day (and I am cheap). I know that the gurus tell us to anticipate abundance and live accordingly, but I am really bad at that. When I worked in Tennis, I got some free gear every year. Like a squirrel preparing for Winter, I saved everything I could in anticipation of the day, some years away, when I would return to playing, or when my kids would get serious about it. Same for when I worked in Running: I stocked up on free or cheap shoes so that I won’t need to shell out any money for several more years of exercising. It’s all here in my home, stuffed in every nook and cranny.

When we were planning to buy a house several years ago, one of my requirements was that it be large enough to accommodate two of my defining idiosyncratic needs: 1) my boatloads of nostalgia/junk (depending upon who you ask J), and 2) my own space to be alone. I got my wish: we have a house that has lots of space, all of which is filled. My clothes are in the guest room, and my everything else fills the large basement. I have multiple work spaces, where I am surrounded (suffocated?) by things at all times. So many things….

While tooling around Facebook this week, I came across a post by an old friend that upset my psychological apple cart. It said, “Worst thing I lost in the fire: 3 ½ years of journaling. With every entry I wrote a 6 line poem, that rhymed. Kurt Vonnegut wrote in an essay that journaling can be a daily cathartic moment, or some amount of time. But more important was a six line poem that didn’t need much thought, just do it; keeps the mind sharp. I lost somewhere around 1800 six line poems (not one was worth reading twice). So it goes.  

I suddenly felt so sad and empty. I just wanted to give him a hug.

It rattled me, too, though. Shook me up.

Twenty years ago, when I was just getting in the swing of writing often and long in my journal, I left it at a laundromat in Los Angeles. Later that night (after closing time), when I realized it, I had a little panic attack. In my short time with it, my journal had become priceless to me. I simply could not bring myself to imagine the loss. My heart pounded in my chest until the next morning, when I showed up at the door right before the place opened. The old janitor went back into his closet to look for my book as I sweated and prayed, sweated and prayed. When he walked out with it in his hands, I wanted to kiss him. I have been hyper-vigilant with each volume ever since, afraid to relive that trauma for fear it would not turn out so happily the next time.

And now my old journals are a part of my work as one my book projects, which only increases their worth. Though I am aware they hold absolutely zero value to anyone else, they truly are priceless to me.

In the aftermath of my friend’s tragic post—the fire had been several months ago, and he survived, but the news about the lost journals was new—and my bout of minor post-traumatic stress, I got to thinking about just what I would choose to salvage if I knew a natural disaster was coming and I could only choose a few possessions. In my head, I gave myself more leeway than someone running out of a fire, just enough time to get the few things I really wanted, even if they were in the very back of the closet.

Of course, my journals were the very first thing that came to mind. I have a few plastic totes full of them, but every page would have to come. I was so relieved at the very thought of saving them, at first I wondered if there was anything else that would sadden me much to lose (to be clear: in my imaginary scenario, no people or pets are in danger). Was it just the journals?

No, but I didn’t stray very far from that vein. As further evidence that the material possessions that I value most in this world are just my memories and impressions of my time here, the very next thing that I would take is the small box that holds my camera’s filled memory cards. These little coin-sized gems hold thousands and thousands of priceless moments from my life as a parent. They are also another version of the way I capture my world. When I am old and can no longer do much for myself, I will put on some good music and a continuously looping slide show of all of these beautiful images that remind me of my true treasures.

If I get to be greedy and take more than my journals and photo cards, the last things I will grab are my computers that have all of my other writing in them. Again, the representations of my soul and my journey win out.

I guess my theme is consistent. It reminds me of my Mom’s answers when my siblings and I would ask her what we could get her for Mother’s Day. She always just wanted us to make something for her, something from the heart, like homemade cards or art projects. The “things” I really want to hold onto from my house full of stuff are just things that I have made, stuff from my heart. The other stuff is just, well, stuff. I’m okay without it.

How about you? What are your most valued possessions? Open up your journal and think about everything you own. If a natural disaster were on its way to destroy your home and you could choose but a few items, what would you take with you? Do your answers come quickly to mind and strike you as obvious, or do you have to dig around and make some tough decisions? What is it about the obvious ones that make them so easy? Are they things that you have no way of replacing? Are they memory items, like family photos, souvenirs, or heirlooms? Are they very expensive to buy? Are they super-personal or more general? Which of your items are things that probably wouldn’t make it on other people’s lists? Why do those unique things make it onto yours? Do your choices have a consistent theme, like the way mine are all about how I chronicle my life? What do your choices say about what you value? If you lost absolutely everything you own—but weren’t out anything financially—how do you think you would handle it psychologically? I picture myself going catatonic for a while, a lá Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, unable to face the loss of my writing and photos. To what degree do your possessions, as the opening quote suggested, possess you? On a scale of one to ten, how materialistic do you think you are? Leave me a reply and let me know: If you had only one load to run out the door with, what would you take? 

Be your best today,

William

If today’s letter had you questioning, pass it on. And remember: The best things in life aren’t things at all. Cheers!

Dear Past Me: a letter to my 18-year-old self

DSC_0140“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Hello friend,

I have been swimming in a pool of graduation-induced nostalgia lately. For one, I have both a niece and nephew graduating from high school in the next couple of weeks, and I am sympathetic to both the kids and their parents. Second, I just finished a book of collected college commencement speeches, so I have been thinking a lot about what I might say to young people who are making a huge transition into the world. To put a cherry on top, this week, while working on The Journal Project, I came across my entries for the week that my little sister graduated from high school. I was seven years out of school at the time, but her graduation stirred up a lot of emotions in me. Here is a little portion of a journal entry I wrote on May 28, 1998, recalling my own graduation week seven years prior:

“I remember how sentimental I was in my last days there. I wanted so fiercely for it not to end. I knew what a special thing we had going and what an incredible group of guys that were saying “so long.”   I can look back now and see that I wasn’t a fool in that regard. I don’t want to go back to eighteen again, because I live with the wisdom that brings me an amazing level of joy and peace. But I can still see those guys and feel exactly the way I felt about them then. I dearly loved them then, and I dearly love them now. I know that most people’s best friends are the ones they met in college. Mine are the ones I have known since high school and grade school.”  

I still feel that way, actually. I had an incredibly lucky childhood in just about every way imaginable, and as I approached my high school graduation, I knew that just about everything that made my life so free and love-filled was about to change. I was chosen to be the speaker at my graduation. It was kind of ironic that the guy who didn’t want that charmed life to end was the one chosen to tell everyone it was over and to offer some words of wisdom heading into their next lives. I don’t remember the words I said, but it was a lot of schmaltzy quotes read from a page and very little from my heart. I said the types of things they told me I was supposed to say, so I didn’t really think about making an impact.

Looking back now, I wish I had said something profound that day. Heck, I wish I had heard something profound that day. I needed at least as much guidance as everyone else did. I was an 18-year-old kid. What did I know? Instead of me giving out hurrahs and platitudes to my classmates, I wish someone who really cared about me and who had been down the road I was about to go down could have sat me down and given me some real advice.   I am not sure I would have listened—I was 18, remember—but maybe something would have sunk in and helped me in all the 25 years that have followed.

So today, I decided to write my 18-year-old self a letter—sort of a high school commencement speech to myself—and tell him all the things I wish he could carry with him on the journey through the circus that is early and middle adulthood. So, armed with 25 more years of experience, here goes….

Dear 18-year-old William,

When I wrote in your future niece and nephew’s graduation cards last week, I told them that my one piece of advice was “to understand who you are and what makes your heart sing. Then just be unapologetically you, forever and always.” Twenty-five years after I was in the shoes you are in now, that message pretty much sums up what I have learned. I suppose that sounds kind of vague and unhelpful to you right now, but it truly is the essence of what I wish I would have heard when I was sitting in your seat.  

But how do you do it? Well, that’s the tricky part.   There may not be an exact answer—you could start by getting a journal, I suppose–but these are some of the habits that have most helped me to know myself and live my Truth along this beautiful path called Life.  

First, be completely curious. Be open to all new ideas, and learn as much as you can about as many different people as you can. Find out who they are and what makes them tick. Learn about different professions, different hobbies, different lifestyles. The more you know about the way others live, the easier it is to choose wisely for yourself. (Oh, and don’t EVER stop being curious!) 

Trust your intuition. There is a still, small voice inside you, and if you listen closely and courageously to it, it will keep you on your path forever. This one is much more difficult than it sounds, though, because there are other voices trying to shout down the true voice. They are voices of fear and insecurity, of society, of family, of shame. It takes a discerning ear to focus on only the voice of your Truth. And it takes courage to own that.  

Be the one and only you, unapologetically. To deny the world your complete and authentic self—with all of its idiosyncrasies—is to give in to fears that you are not enough as you are. And you ARE enough! You are amazing, mostly in your uniqueness. So give us the gift that only you can give! 

Understand your value. You are a miraculous being, fully part of the Divine, and your presence in this lifetime is a gift to the rest of us. As much as you treasure and respect the people in your life, remember to value yourself at least as much.

Have an opinion about yourself. I know this overlaps with the last one—all of these really are different angles of the same point—but I cannot stress it enough. It is not only important to know your worth, but also to know what serves you and what doesn’t. When you have an opinion about yourself—a strong, positive one, of course—you act like it with the choices you make. You don’t allow the negative people and the drama queens into your inner circle. You don’t take jobs that don’t speak to your values. You don’t let people take advantage of you. You stand up to injustice. You use your time instead of wasting it. You give up being a victim. Basically, you become an active participant in your own life and assume responsibility for what is in it.  

Follow Your Bliss. If you are in the process of being curious, open, and trusting of that inner voice, you will undoubtedly come upon the things that simply light you up inside. These are the jobs, the hobbies, and the people that make your heart sing, the ones that “just feel right” in your gut. They are your dreams, your calling, your Bliss. And that warm, fulfilling feeling that overtakes you when you pursue it, that is your intuition telling you that you are on the right path. Follow it! 

Act like this is a one-shot deal. In other words, “This is not a dress rehearsal!” Even if you think there is some kind of afterlife or reincarnation or something else spectacular waiting for you after this dance, act like this lifetime is your only chance. Love wholly and completely. Dream big and go for it. Give everything your best effort and focus. Forgive. Agree to disagree. Move on. Say what you have to say. Take chances. Follow your fear. Just be sure that in the end, you have lived, not merely existed.  

Never settle. Don’t be lulled to sleep by the life everyone else says is enough for you. Don’t take a job that doesn’t mean anything to you. Don’t keep poisonous relationships just because it is inconvenient to cut ties. Don’t stop learning just because you have a degree. If your dreams are bigger than your current life, do what you must to go get them. Playing small only sucks the passion out of life. Play the bigger game for the stakes that YOU have determined are enough to fulfill you completely. That is living.  

Just make sure that whatever you do, you do it for yourself. Do it because it fascinates YOU, tugs on YOUR heartstrings, and stirs YOUR soul, not because it is what your parents or friends or society expects you to do. It is your life, not theirs. Pleasing them may seem to be the path of least resistance, but it will kill your spirit in the process, and that is not a good trade. Keep your integrity by living the life you were born to live, the one only your soul knows the way through.  

Above all, enjoy the ride! Be grateful for it. Life is a miraculous journey, every single step of it. You have a choice whether to see it that way. I highly encourage you to do so. It makes for a lot more Love and Joy in the process. I wish you all the Love, Joy, and Bliss you can handle. Carpe diem!

 Always, 

43-year-old William

P.S. Don’t lose touch with your best friends. These are the best guys you will ever know.  

P.S.S. About those girls that you are going to have the crushes on but will feel too scared to say so: get over yourself! Fortune favors the bold. Ask them out! 

How about you? What would you say to your 18-year-old self? Open up your journal and organize some thoughts. The easy part—especially compared to last week, when we wrote to our future selves—is that you know exactly who you are writing to. You know how you were at 18 and what types of things Life has thrown at you since. If you could sum up your message in a short sentence or two—like on my graduation cards—what would it be? Is that the kind of message your 18-year-old self would have taken to heart, or would it have gone in one ear and out the other? Now expound on that summary. Do you think your letter would have more general rules, like mine, or more specifics, like my P.S.es? What did you really need someone to tell you at the end of high school? If they had, how do you think your life would be different now? Do you wish it were? Is there one specific decision or time in your life since 18 that you wish you would have been warned about back then? Who was the person in your life back then—friend, relative, teacher–who was most likely to give you the kind of advice you would give yourself in this letter? What role, if any, does that person play in your life now? Is there someone that you can play that role for? Would you write them the same letter you wrote to yourself—is your advice universal—or something very different? Is there something that every 18-year-old would benefit from hearing? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would you say to your 18-year-old self?

Carpe diem,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you feeling nostalgic or reminded you about all the lessons that Life has taught you, please pass it on. Wisdom is meant for sharing. Cheers!

On the Verge of the Purge

DSC_0160“Out of clutter, find simplicity.” –Albert Einstein

Hello friend,

There are many things in this life that I am really terrible at. Home improvement projects. Staying in touch with loved ones. Painting pictures. Keeping my opinion to myself. Stopping when I am full. There are many other things that I simply have no inclination to do and thus fail at. Opening the mail. Bill-paying (and everything else related to finances). Dusting.   Answering the phone. Listening to someone telling me what to do. Between the two, it is a wonder that I stay afloat as an adult member of society (thank goodness for a responsible spouse!).

But there is one thing that I am both awful at and have no inclination to do, and this thing is on the verge of crippling my spirit and any sort of creativity that I fancy myself capable of. What is it? Organization. I am the King of Clutter! Not just right now, but forever. I have defended my crown for years and years on end, and no one can threaten me in this ring. I am—literally and figuratively—a mess!

My mother has been calling me “Pack Rat” since I was a kid, because I seem to be utterly incapable of throwing anything away. Tennis magazine from 1989? “No way! There might be an article that I will want to read someday.” T-shirt from 1994? “Why would I? It still fits!” Post-It note with a lesson plan from 2002? “What if I run out of ideas? I might need that lesson again someday!” Awkward sunglasses from 1997? “Fashion goes in cycles. I need to be ready when this one comes back!” Broken bike from high school? “I’m going to fix it up. What? I AM!” Garbage bag—yes, I said garbage bag—full of unworn t-shirts from a promotional campaign at an old job? “They’re BRAND NEW! I’ll never need to buy a t-shirt again in my life!” On and on it goes. I could probably start my own branch of Goodwill or The Salvation Army. Or, perhaps more wisely, I could bring it all out to the street, light a match, and roast marshmallows for all the neighbors. A win-win!

Sure, some things I keep for genuine sentimental value, as I am nothing if not nostalgic. All of the cards my wife and kids ever made for me give me happy tingles every time I read through them. I still have—conveniently (for me) stored at my parents’ home—every one of the trophies that filled my room as a child. I know it seems silly, but each one holds a crystal clear image of a happy or poignant memory from my childhood. Heck, even that old, beat-up bike in my shed is so saturated with memories–solitary rides on prairie roads to get over a break-up, following my fearless brother down treacherous mountain single-tracks I had no business being on, and exploring the beach towns of Southern California—that I can’t stand to give it up. I am such a sap for this stuff.

But what is really weighing me down is not these mementos and special pieces of my history. No, the piles that surround me on all sides when I sit at my desk are just ordinary, don’t-have-a-spot-for-this-kind-of-stuff junk, such as papers, cords, cases, and media. It is investment and retirement statements, old magazines, work papers, more of those lesson plans, CDs, camera stuff, cords from the portable DVD player that gets used every few years, books that seem like they should be kept within arm’s length instead of three feet away in the bookshelf, the pile of papers I was going to shred a few years ago but didn’t quite get to it, and the nine backpacks I like to rotate to suit my mood for the day.   All of these things surround me when I sit down to work. It is more than “surround,” though. They envelope me. They suffocate me. They seep into my soul and sap my creativity. They drain my energy. And, for all of the reasons I just mentioned, they are really starting to ANNOY me. It is time for a declutter.

Say it isn’t so! It is so much a part of me to keep everything, so I hate to even think about a purge. But maybe, just maybe, it is more a part of me to be free and efficient and energized and creative. Wow, just writing that makes decluttering sound so much more healthy and appealing! To remove the things that drain my energy and thus free up my heart, mind, and creative spirit—this suddenly seems like a most worthwhile project!

But if it is so wonderful to be organized, how did I let myself get buried in these piles? Didn’t I notice it before? Hmmm…..do I just need to own it, or can I make some excuses? Maybe some of each. I fully admit that I am bad at filing. If I had a file cabinet full of very specific folders for any kind of financial statement or keepsake or magazine, I think I could begin to see my carpet. Containers for electronics and CD cases would work so well, but I don’t do that, either. I simply don’t have a system, and I should. On the excuse front, I think I just don’t have the time. I never feel like there is a spare moment—much less a few hours–to address the growing piles, so I just keep adding to them. If a “free” evening appeared out of nowhere—when I didn’t have homework to do or a blog post to write or something else pressing to read or write about—I would like to believe that I would jump on this once and for all.

But I don’t. I haven’t. Something always pushes the decluttering down my To-Do List for the day, something more pressing. I think, however, that I am finally coming to that point where all of this clutter is sapping enough of my energy and diminishing the quality of my other pursuits. I am finally noticing it, becoming more aware of it, both physically and emotionally. It is the dreaded “unhealthy work environment” that should never be an issue when it comes to a home office. What have I done to myself?

Whatever it is, it is time to undo it. It is time to make the time. I need to take the advice I give so freely to everyone else: “SCHEDULE YOUR PRIORITIES!” Now that I am recognizing this suffocating feeling and its source, I am beginning to see a Decluttering Day as something that has earned a chunk of my precious time, something schedule-worthy. I am ready for the freedom that will come from being organized. I long for the extra energy and creativity that will come from reclaiming my personal space. I am due. I can feel that now. I am on the verge of the purge!

How about you? What are the energy drainers that you need to clean up or remove from your life? Open up your journal and examine your mental and physical spaces. If you had to pick one room in your home that you could tackle right now, which one would it be? Is your clutter more the kind that just needs to be organized—like filing papers–or do you need to get rid of some stuff? Would it be a blessing if someone lit a match to your worst room, or are you not that far gone yet? What kinds of things do you keep longer than the average person? What is it about these things? Are they still useful, or is it mostly sentimental? Do you have any people in your life that act as clutter, making you feel confined and draining your energy? Is it time to purge them, too? Do you ever feel guilty that you have so much stuff? I do, but I still can’t bring myself to get rid of any of it. Why is that? I need your help! What thought makes this process easier? What is your motivation? What will it take to get you to tackle your clutter? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you on the verge of the purge?

Start your life over today,

William

A Lifelong Love Letter

DSC_0880 2“Say what you want to say, And let the words fall out honestly.  I want to see you be brave”             –Sara Bareilles, Brave

Hello friend,

There is something so nostalgic and heart-tugging for me about reading a letter. Not a text or an email, but a real letter on actual paper. It is somehow more romantic if written in ink rather than typed, but as long as the signature is hand-written, it has my heart. I love to dig through old piles of random life stuff and come across a letter from long ago. It doesn’t matter who it is from—childhood friend, sibling, lost love–it suddenly takes on enormous emotional power. Maybe it is because I love to write, maybe because I really want to share my Truth with those I love, and maybe just because I often have a tough time saying just what I want to say in person. But whatever the reason, I have always been captivated by letters.

I don’t write them often enough. It always seems like such a great idea in theory, yet I never seem to make the time (I am beginning to think this is the story of my life—ugh!). So the people who have meant so much to me have not always been aware of their impact and my gratitude. I have a lot of regret about that. I have, however, developed one redeeming habit that I hope to never break. Ever since my daughter turned one—she will be six this week—I have written my children a letter on their birthdays. I just spill out what they have been up to and how I feel about them. At some undetermined point in the future—maybe when they turn 20 or 25 or when they get married or have their own child—I will give them the letters. It may sound small and silly, but gosh, what I wouldn’t give to read something like this from my own parents! I am a nostalgic guy and a natural chronicler of events. If my kids are anything like me, maybe they will appreciate what their old man was thinking about them as they moved along their journey through this wonderland called Life. So, here is what I wrote to my son last week on his big day:

30 July 2014

To my Isaiah on his 4th Birthday,

Happy Birthday, Best Man! My Prince is four years old! I suppose I am supposed to say, “Where did the time go?” But it really feels like you have been with me forever, so thinking of my baby as a 4-year-old doesn’t make the old parent in me feel sad or like I am losing time. I think what makes that the case is that you and I squeeze the most out of every day together. And we spend SO MUCH TIME TOGETHER. We are pretty much stuck together like glue—you and I—and that suits me just fine. I cherish every moment with you.

Someone once asked me if I could name the characteristic that really stands out in your personality. I told her, “He is the funniest and most fun-loving person I have ever met.” That is totally true. Once you get past your crusty-crabby state right when you wake up in the morning—you are no fun at that hour—you are the most fun-seeking, fun-having person in the world, always trying to find something to amuse yourself and anyone else who is around. That gets you into just about everything, of course. It is tough to get mad at you even when you are causing trouble, though, as I know your underlying intention is good (just sometimes misdirected!). And when I am giving you the angry Daddy look for being a little rascal, neither one of us can keep a straight face for long, because you shoot me that little glance that says, “Yeah, I am just playing the little menace role right now, but I am really just messing with you, Dad!” Then we both giggle and move on, as neither of us wants to miss the fun stuff in the next moment.

And what fun we have! One of your favorite games is “Shoot the Ball at Somebody!!!” which involves you and I getting out all of our million balls in the playroom and then throwing them at each other over and over(and, of course, laughing all the way). You also love “Dino-Fighting” which is basically just you and I pretending to be dinosaurs and wrestling each other in the yard. I may be bigger than you, but you make up for that by never getting tired. You also love to have bike races up and down the street (and yes, you beat me in that every time, too). Almost every time we go out to ride, you are totally unwilling to go back inside until you have taken at least one ride to the end of the street and back in each of your favorite vehicles: bike, Big Wheel, balance bike, and scooter. The neighbors all know to drive slowly, because you drive amazingly fast but don’t always look where you are going! It is so fun to do all this stuff with you.

You were busy away from the house this year, too. You love playing with your cousins, at Minot for Christmas but especially at Pelican Lake in the Summer. You all play together so well and have the best time in the lake and on the trampoline. Those are my favorite times of the year, when I get to bring you to a place that has always been special to me and see you love it as much as I always did when I was a kid. When you are not terrorizing your sister, you are glued to her and think she is the coolest thing ever. The zoo is another one of your favorite spots, as you are a great explorer. This Winter, you got into your first class ever: Swimming! After spending the entire first class period being held by the teacher while screaming for me—one of my toughest half-hours ever–you were a champion the rest of the way. It is such a treat to watch you enjoy the water. Just last week, you and I were the only ones in the outdoor pool at the gym right when it opened, the only two foolish enough to be out there on a gray, 65-degree morning. We had a blast, though, as always! Just a couple of weeks ago, you also got to start Soccer. And while you haven’t gotten into a Tennis class yet, you and I have spent a lot of time on the court together (most days you don’t want to hit anything but overhead smashes, which is how I know you are my kid!). It is such a treat to be your best buddy for all this.

The one hobby that I wish you did less of—but that totally mesmerizes you—is watching television and movies (your big favorites this year have been “Monsters Inc.,” “Tangled,” “Frozen,” and “The Incredibles, to name just a few). What amazes me always is how perfectly you memorize all of the scenes. And because you are a born actor, you entertain us nonstop with performances of the scenes the rest of the day, or you just throw movie lines into your regular conversation. It is genius and completely hilarious. Since just before your last birthday, you have been into superheroes. You were Superman for Halloween last year and are already trying to decide who to be this year. Superheroes, balls, dinosaurs, cars & trucks, wrestling—yeah, you kind of seem like a stereotypical boy in a lot of ways.

But you are also so unique and extraordinary. You are amazingly intelligent and so sweet, and somehow you manage to balance all of that with your superhuman energy and joy of life. I am in awe of how you can contain all of this in one little four-year-old body. It is a testament to the power of your spirit. You are surely destined for magnificent things. I can’t wait to cheer you on every step of the way. I am so, so proud of you and so wildly grateful that I get to be your Dad. I couldn’t imagine a better son, and I thank you for sharing your magic with me every single day. These are the best of times. Happy 4th Birthday! I love you more than you can possibly imagine.

Always, Dad

What about you? Is there anyone you want to write a letter to? What do you want to say? If you feel a little weird about it–or scared or whatever–sometimes the best place to start is in your journal. Open it up and just start writing to the person from your heart. Don’t judge it; just say what you want to say. If you think they don’t know how you really feel about them—most people don’t, precisely because we don’t tell them—then really lay it out there. Say what you have always wanted to say, what you have always really wished they would know about you and what they mean to you. Who in your life do you need to deliver this letter to? A parent? Sibling? Childhood friend? Teacher? Hero? The one that got away? The one who doesn’t know they are the one? How about someone right under your roof who you have been unable to get on track with for awhile, e.g. a child or spouse? Maybe the letter you need to write is to someone no longer living, someone you never got to say all you wanted to say to. That is a wonderful letter, a healing letter. What about my habit of the annual letter to someone, whether you save it for later or deliver it each year? Is there someone you might get in that habit with?

In the end, it makes me feel better about myself—more honest and more fully who I am—when my Truth is out there and my loved ones know where they stand with me. I can feel how it deepens the relationship. Actually, that is how journaling has made me feel about me. I am authentic because of it. I know myself, warts and all. Telling on yourself—whether to yourself or to others—is the best way to rob shame of its power. Then you can just be you. Authentic, beautiful you. So, write to someone! Expose yourself and experience how liberating that is. And please, write in your journal. Give yourself the gift of a lifelong love letter. 

You are worth it,

William

Remembering America

DSC_0181“Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.” —Brene Brown

Hello friend,

I just returned from my 4th of July holiday weekend at the lake with my whole family: wife, kids, parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. It was awesome! I am a huge lover of family gatherings, and when you add the lake and Summer to the deal, I am ecstatic. So, needless to say, I was feeling very happy and grateful all weekend. I was reminded of so many of the reasons I am glad to be me. Being surrounded by loved ones has a way of doing that.

But, even as I was enjoying each moment of the weekend, I couldn’t help but become a bit nostalgic for bygone days. Some of that nostalgia was the natural result of being on the lake where I spent the blissful, carefree Summers of my childhood. However, there was one event in particular that really sent me reeling back in time—back even before my time—and made me long for those bygone days of America in simpler times. What event could hold such an unexpected power over my heart and my memory? A boat parade, of course!

Like many lakes around the country, every year on the 4th of July, my family’s lake has a boat parade. Usually there is a theme—e.g. cartoons—and folks decorate their boats and passengers accordingly. This year, though, in an effort to get more boats involved, they invited anyone to join, and with any décor. So, at the very last moment, we decided to be a part of the parade. We grabbed a bunch of American flags and jumped on the pontoon. As we headed across the wavy waters on a dark, windy day—getting splashed in the face with each bump—I thought we would end up miserable and regretting our decision to participate. How wrong I turned out to be.

As we pulled our boat into the line that had already passed a quarter of the lake’s shoreline, I instantly took note of all the people who had come out to their decks and docks to watch and wave at us. It was people of all ages, often three generations at a single cabin. My nieces instantly got into it, shouting “U.S.A. Rocks!!!” at each gathered group as we slowly passed. My daughter soon jumped into the act, and my son relished the opportunity to blow the horn at everyone. Even as we fought the wind and waves, there was quite a celebratory spirit alive on the boat. The more people that waved and shouted at us from shore, the more fun it became. I was tickled at the joy that the children got in waving the American flag and greeting the onlookers with shouts and waves. I found myself openly joining them. It was a surprising treat.

That childish joy, however, was not the greatest gem that I discovered on that 4th of July boat parade. No, the real prize that was uncovered in that pontoon and on those docks was a sense of community and patriotism that I thought was long lost, a throwback to yesteryear. The longer the parade went—we were on a very big lake—the more amazed I became at the number of people who had come out to wave and to support both us and their country. It was almost every cabin! But it was not just the numbers that got me; it was the age range. It was little kids getting a great kick out of a parade, and it was their parents happy to share the experience with them. It was senior citizens. It was even teenagers!

It seemed clear to me that these folks had been coming out of these cabins to watch this parade for years and years, generation after generation, to pay a simple but heartfelt tribute to the good old U.S.A. and to the neighbors that had made the effort to make this holiday special. It felt like a real throwback to the time after the World Wars, when people actually were sincerely grateful that America existed and that they got to live here. There was a purity and innocence about it that moved me deeply.

The further we went along the parade route, the more beautiful the experience felt and the more grateful I became, both that we had chosen to participate and that I live in America. I really liked that there were these last vestiges of simpler times here in our increasingly impersonal, jaded, modern world. I so often find myself lamenting the fact that, even in my relatively safe neighborhood in suburbia, I don’t feel comfortable letting the kids out to play alone in the driveway or yard, and that it seems awkward to let them run over to see if the neighbor kids are home before I text the parents to see if it’s okay. I hate that I probably wouldn’t answer my doorbell if it rang right now. It seems that, in spite of all of our amazing technological advances in recent years, our sense of community has been lost. Likewise, it feels like it is open season on our country’s leaders and our nation’s actions around the world.

And yet, there I was in a boat parade on the 4th of July, and an entire community of people stepped out of their doors to wave to their neighbors and cheer on this magnificent place called America. I must say, it made my heart feel really, really good. It restored something inside of me that needed restoring. I remembered not only how great my country was, but also how great it still is.

How about you? How do you think America has changed in your lifetime? Get out your journal and take a trip back in time. How safe did you feel as a child? Did you know and trust your neighbors? How patriotic were you? How much respect did you have for the President and your government’s decisions regarding world affairs? Compare your answers to those questions with how you feel today in your neighborhood and in your country. How much has it changed? In what aspects of your life do you feel a genuine sense of community? How nostalgic are you? Do you look at the past through rose-colored glasses, or do you think you remember things quite accurately and impartially? Was our country better in your youth or now? How about your community? What other events—like the boat parade—feel as though they bridge the gap between today and yesteryear? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you like to remember America?

Take the first step up your mountain today,

William