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Witnessing Magic: Which Historical Event Would You Experience?

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” –Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides To Die

Hello friend,

I have just had the most uplifting treat! I sat down to watch a documentary merely to learn some history and came away instead with a full heart and a smiling soul. And longing! Oh, how I longed to be swept away and taken back in time–a few years before I was born–to feel what those lucky people felt over the course of three long days on a farm in upstate New York. I longed to be with them at Woodstock.

That whole world of the middle-to-late 1960s is absolutely fascinating to me. I have done a lifelong, off-and-on study of this revolutionary era in American history, when norms and expectations were being questioned, challenged, and sometimes toppled, both by the groups who had so long been oppressed but also by the children of those who had created all of these norms and expectations in the first place.

There was a “counterculture” that did things like grow their hair out, oppose a war (relatively unheard of until then), resist racism and poverty, and yes, even take drugs. Music was a language they could share. Bob Dylan was one of many who sang for them:

Come mothers and fathers 
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Indeed, they were. There was a generation of people that were disillusioned by the America they had been sold and were actively bucking the establishment. And whether they were individually more focused on fighting for the civil rights of African-Americans, women’s rights, ending the war in Vietnam, or merely the conservative dress code and social mores of their parents, they seem to have each been buoyed by the progress on the other fronts. They were doing it together. The rising tide was lifting all of the countercultural voices, emboldening them to believe that real change could be made.

Young people with Freedom, Love, and Peace on their minds will make magic happen.

Riding that wave of idealistic unity and rebellion, and fueled by the music of their new generation, a few guys decided to put together an outdoor festival on a dairy farm in bucolic upstate New York. Billed as “3 DAYS of PEACE & MUSIC,” with the silhouetted image of a dove perched on the neck of a guitar on its advertisements, Woodstock became–and remains–the most epic music festival in our history.

But it was so much more than a big concert. It was a cultural touchstone. It was the subject of the PBS documentary I recently watched on Netflix called “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation.”

Woodstock was something I was vaguely aware of as a kid–it happened in 1969, a few years before I showed up in the world–kind of like Vietnam or the Civil Rights Movement. They were so near to my lifetime but, as a sheltered kid in a small town with parents who weren’t about any of that stuff, 1969 might as well have been in the Stone Age. I had no exposure and thus was left to rely only upon my natural curiosity, which kept vague notes regarding what I should remember to learn about one day in the future.

That note was still left unchecked in my mind when I opened up Netflix last week to see what was new. There on my screen was the key to one of my lifelong curiosities and what is now one of the events I most wish I had attended in all of human history.

Watching the images from the film–both the aerials spanning the sea of humanity in the natural amphitheater of the hilly field as well as the intimate shots of the peaceful, joyous faces–and listening to voiceovers from the festival attendees as they unpacked their memories from the magical weekend that changed their lives, I could not help but envy them and imagine how I would have fit into such a unique scene, not merely as a fly on the wall but as a full participant.

Indulge me, please, a few too many quotes from those lucky souls, expounding upon everything from the sheer size of the crowd to the palpable energy to the depth of the impact the entire experience had on them. To begin, the first impressions:

“As you walked in, it hit you. Suddenly it just all came into view at once: this whole, enormous bowl full of people. It was mind-boggling.” –Michael Lindsey, attendee

“Coming over the hill, the feeling, the energy of that crowd was something I’ll never forget. There was so much power in it.” –Joel Rosenman, producer

“It was indescribable, the feeling that came over me of warmth and ‘Oh my God, there are this many people in the world that think like I think. There are all these people; I never knew there were that many people in the world!” –Laureen Starobin, attendee

“We walked up that hill, and we saw, you know, all these people our age, looked like us, dressed like us. You know: Us. I mean, it was just, it was like meeting your brothers and sisters. It was really beautiful.” –Susan Reynolds, attendee

“We were 400,000 kids on a hillside who were all vehemently against the war and, you know, for me it was like, ‘These are our people! We found our people!’” –Susan Reynolds, attendee

When the producers realized that they could not erect the fence around the farm soon enough to keep out people without tickets, they made the extraordinary move of announcing that they would no longer be charging admission, effectively losing themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process and ensuring the festival would be a huge financial loss. The generosity of that gesture was absorbed by the swelling crowd and seemed to multiply from there. Everyone just seemed to take care of each other, passing around whatever food (and drink and drugs) they had with all of those around them. They sang and danced together, made campfires for all, and slept next to one another under the big night sky.

But it wasn’t just the concert-goers who seemed to find the best of themselves in the experience. The locals, who considered themselves hicks and conservative country folk and many of whom staunchly opposed the festival and the “hippies” from the outset, became swept up in the wave of Love and Good Will that washed over their rural county. When, upon hearing on the second day of the festival that the food had run out and that trucks could not get through because of traffic jams, they made sandwiches and emptied their home pantries, donating everything they could to be helicoptered to the site to feed all the hungry festival-goers. Similarly, when medical supplies ran out, doctors volunteered their time and flew in on Army helicopters full of supplies to treat the people in need. Something magical was happening.

“This was actually kind of a functioning city out in the middle of nowhere, and we realized it was functioning because of people pulling together. It just had this feeling that this was ours. This was the new city; this was the alternative city. And it worked.” —attendee

“I remember sitting in the mud listening to Crosby, Stills, & Nash, looking at the sheer beauty of the night sky and wrapped in a blanket of Music. It was the feeling of oneness with it All.” –Katherine Daye, attendee 

On the third day (Sunday), an older-looking gentleman walked onto the stage. It was Max Yasgur, the conservative owner of the dairy farm that had been taken over by this ocean of young people. He, too, had been moved by the experience and had donated tons of milk and yogurt so that everyone could eat. He humbly stepped to the microphone:

“I’m a farmer. I don’t know how to speak to 20 people at one time, let a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world. Not only to the town of Bethel or Sullivan County or New York state; you’ve proven something to the world. The important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids–and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are–a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have NOTHING BUT fun and music. And I God bless you for it!”

By the next day, Jimi Hendrix had played his iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the sea of people had risen from the mud and returned to the world, forever changed by the experience.

“If 400,000 people could get together and have absolutely no violence, absolutely no conflict, I felt like if we could bring all that love back into society, we could change the world.” —attendee

“The festival became a symbol of intelligence and humanity and cooperation and love and affection. It was the start of a phenomenal change in a lot of people’s lives.” –attendee

“I felt like I had finally gotten to fully experience what I was hoping the counterculture meant. Woodstock was a very powerful confirmation that, yeah, this is what you are looking for and you are headed in the right direction.” —attendee

“Everyone looking after one another, everyone caring for one another. I mean, once I experienced that, I made it the basis for the whole rest of my life.” –attendee 

That is some powerful stuff. It captivates me, I think, because of the “wave of Love” that seems to have taken over the entire production. The vibe. The energy. The feeling that seemed to sweep over all involved. I think it was something transcendent, something bigger than the sum of each person’s contribution. It was bigger than anything.

When I think of other historical events I would like to have been a part of, I think that what draws me is this sort of wave that Woodstock had going for it, this momentum of Love and Good Will that swept up everything in its path. I imagine being a part of the Civil Rights Movement, riding the wave on buses and at lunch counters, at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King. I imagine riding the wave as one of Jesus’s followers in his last few months. I bet the people at the launch of Apollo 11 for America’s “moonshot” felt that unity and excitement. Similarly, I can imagine wanting to be swept up in the frenzy of a hometown’s ride to a Super Bowl or World Series victory, especially being in the stadium for the final win. I remember my Black wife flying our infant daughter across the country and going out in the wee hours of the morning in the bitter cold just to be in the same city as President Obama’s first inauguration, so momentous was that occasion in her life and the life of so many people of color. She had to be there. These feelings–and the memories they stamp on our heart hearts and minds–are irreplaceable.

This is how I picture Woodstock. That wave of love.

It is the only way I can explain to myself why I am so particularly drawn to it. Yes, I love music, and it had that. But music alone doesn’t explain it. Because, really, I: 1) dislike crowds and sharing germs with strangers, much less sleeping in the mud with them and using porta-potties, 2) have never been interested in drugs, and 3) don’t necessarily know well or care for many of the bands performing. It has to be the wave. That feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself. Something beautiful and pure. A unity of spirit.

Maybe this is the reason why the documentary hits me so hard right now. Maybe the profound Unity and Love that defined the festival leave me shuddering and longing to this degree precisely because these are the things so sorely absent from our country today, 50 years after those transformed young people wandered off Max Yasgur’s farm and back into America. I mean, can you imagine putting 400,000 strangers in a field together in our era and come away three days later with no stories of conflict, violence, or animosity? It is absolutely unthinkable. Our wave seems to be sweeping as forcefully but in the opposite direction that theirs was. Give me Woodstock over this nonsense anytime.

It was truly a singular event in human history. I wish I had been there.

How about you? Which event or era in human history would you like to be a part of? Open up your journal and allow your fantasies to run freely. What event comes first to your mind? Did it happen during your lifetime and you were just somewhere else, or is it from a different era altogether? Was it something brief (seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Kennedy’s inauguration, the March on Washington, the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Super Bowl, or even a family reunion during your ancestors’ time) or did it take place over a number of days or months (following Jesus or Dr. King or the Grateful Dead, a sports season, or living in Rome at the height of its glory)? What is it about that event or era that appeals to you? Is it the people involved? The place where it happened? Is it about what it led to? How historically significant is your event? How much of it is personal to you or your family? Was it a part of a wave of feeling or a movement that people were swept up in? Have you studied it in depth or, rather, do you not know much about it but just have a romantic vision of it in your mind? Is it easier for your mind to fantasize about it if you know more or fewer of the specifics? Speaking of your imagination, do you think that if you were actually able to time-travel to your special event, would it be as good as you imagine it, or would it disappoint? Do you think the people there knew it was special? How well do most people do at recognizing the significance of their biggest life moments while they are happening? In your own life, have you fully absorbed your biggest moments in real time and recognized them, or was it only later that it struck you how important and impactful those moments were? Does that even matter? Is there an entirely different era that you would prefer to live your whole life in? What can that era teach you about the kind of life you want to live now? What can you do in your little corner of the world to create more of the kinds of moments that you will want to relive in the years to come? How can you create that wave of Love or that sense of true Unity, that feeling of being part of something special and pure and bigger than yourself? How confident are you that there are magical moments like that in your future? Which past example do you hope it most resembles? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which historical event would you go back and experience?

Make your own wave,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Create a movement together!

P.S.S. If this way of self-examination illuminates you, consider purchasing my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Hanging Out With God: Have You Found Your One Sacred Place?

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” –Joseph Campbell

Hello friend,

Last week, I returned to a spot that has held a mythic place in my mind for the nearly-two decades since my last visit. I was a little nervous in anticipation, I admit. I had waited so many years to be back and wondered if its luster would have somehow worn off in the meantime, or if, perhaps, I had changed so much with age that it would be like one of those movies you thought were so great when you were growing up but come to realize that they were actually awful when you watch them later. Would my magic bubble be burst when I finally reached the mountaintop?

I actually was going up a mountain, too. Not exactly to the top, but up a few miles, to a place accessible only by foot trail. I would follow the trail through the forest and along a narrow gorge where crystal-clear water races down the mountainside out of my mythic lake. Once there, I would see what I have been fantasizing about since my last visit: a tree-lined, crystalline, glassy-smooth lake surrounded by steep mountains reaching to the sky, with long, narrow waterfalls plummeting from the high ridges down the sheer faces and emptying into the lake.

This time, though, it didn’t feel like I was on a visit exactly. No, I was certainly on what would more accurately be referred to as a pilgrimage. I was going to a place that felt holy to me, and I was walking with reverence.

I don’t go to church. It would be easiest to say that the only reasons I stay away are my disconnect with organized religion and all the rituals and rules that go along with that, as well as the hypocrisy of those I see claiming religious justification for their immoral actions. But that explanation doesn’t tell the whole story. Some of it is that I have always felt my deepest connection with God–call it the Universe, Divine Source, All That Is, whatever you like, but I will go with “God” today and trust that you can get what I’m saying–in places that were not a “house of God.” Concert halls. Dinner tables. Classrooms. Libraries. But most of all, out of doors. With Mother Nature.

I feel God’s presence when I walk in the tall trees or along the rushing creek. I feel God coursing through my veins when I dive under the surface of the ocean or the clear mountain lake. I hear God in the songs of the birds. I see God in the stars and in the shimmer of sunlight off the water. I feel God in the breeze upon my cheeks. In all of those instances, my soul is at Peace and yet more fully awake and alive than it is anywhere else in the world. It is deeply grateful. And it is reverent.

I remember those soul-stirrings being at their zenith on a day those decades ago when I climbed up alone to my lake. I fought through the brush on the trackless side of the lake, away from any possible human visitors, to get to the far end, nearest where the waterfall-fed streams joined and emptied themselves into the crystalline lake surrounded my those majestic rock faces. I set down my pack there on the shore, plopped myself down, and soaked in the magnificence of it all. I entered a blissful trance. I lost track of time, so enveloped was I in a state of reverie.

Each of the handful of times I have made that climb up to the lake, I have found myself similarly awed and entranced, even when other people were with me or strangers were there to potentially distract me. My soul just seems to tap into a field of energy it does not otherwise access as I make my way through the world. It is a sacred Bliss, a communion with the All. Quite simply, it feels like I am with God. Joined. Immersed in. Communing. I have noted it in my journal after each of my visits. There was even one time I had the book along, and, as we arrived at the lake, I drifted from my family members, climbed out onto a fallen log in the middle of the water where no one would approach, slipped into that Divine Peace, and opened my journal to expound:

Mecca. The pilgrimage has been made to this eternal holy shrine once again. And again, it is absolutely awe-inspiring. The great falls pour down the steep faces. The great pines rise like Heaven’s soldiers. The jagged peaks signal God’s final perfecting touches on the Earth. The basin itself is nothing but holy water. The term “God’s Country” is often thrown around haphazardly, but to use it in this place might be to finally do it justice. I truly feel like a divine being here, as though I have somehow entered rarified air. Like a special blessing has been made for me to slip into a dimension beyond. It is an energy here. I, from my perch on the dead trees in the middle of the water, look at all of the landlocked hikers and don’t see them picking up on the energy. For me, however, there has never been anything so palpable. It is as obvious as the dead tree I am sitting on or the water at my feet. It concentrates in this bowl created by these mountains, hovering constantly yet all the while in a state of graceful motion. Grace. Somehow the word sounds so right when I use it in the description. This place is pure Grace.

That was 21 years ago. It fascinates me to read that and see how thoroughly “God-y” it is. That is definitely unique amongst my many thousands of journal entries. But, truly, that is how that place was for me. It just touched a totally different place in me. A special place.

And it is why I was a bit nervous as I arrived at the trailhead last week. I still wanted to have a special place, a personal sanctuary in this world, with what certainly used to feel like a direct line to God. Would I still feel it, or was that feeling a function of the open-hearted, soulful approach to life I embodied in those obligation-free years of my twenties? So much of my favorite art–books, movies, etc.–comes from that time, so I wondered if I was just more in tune to divinity and inspiration in that period.

I am so pleased–and greatly relieved–to report that the sacred energy was still there for me. I felt it the moment I emerged from the shade of the forest trail and into the bowl of shimmering quietude that is my lake. And I kept feeling it as I explored the shore and studied the steep rock faces and the waterfalls plunging from them. I was transfixed. Simultaneously, I was transported to another realm, a field of higher energy. I was bathed in Love. My impulses alternated between wanting to howl my sheer delight to the heavens and weeping with humility. I was a raw nerve, swimming in a dizzying Bliss. It was profoundly moving.

And it was still mine! The long years in between visits and the jadedness that those years attached to me had done nothing to break the spell. It was still my sanctuary.

But it is just mine, I assume. Notice how I mentioned the other hikers in my journal entry and how I “don’t see them picking up on the energy;” I felt that way this time, too. That is presumptuous, of course, and I know that it has become an increasingly popular hike over the ensuing years, but I still like to think that that enchanting, Divine energy I tap into at my mountain lake is specific to me. Something aligns with my spirit in a profound way that I don’t quite feel anywhere else in the world–though many places touch and inspire me–and I can’t imagine other people as overtaken by it as I am. It is my sanctuary, not someone else’s.

My guess is that most of the other visitors to my lake feel a sense of awe and wonder at its stunning beauty and its dynamic stillness–probably the way I feel sitting by the ocean or walking in the forest–but I don’t believe they feel that same direct communion with God that I feel. Maybe that is just my ego’s desire to be unique and special; I admit that I want the place for myself. And I am territorial by nature; I like my own space wherever I am. Perhaps that also sways my view. So, when I tend to take the view of, “The world is full of natural beauty; the other visitors can have their own places,” I could just be being selfish. But in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe so. I believe that somehow my soul has found its direct line to its source in God. Perhaps its only line.

I am wildly grateful that I found this sacred place those many years ago and tapped into it. It has been a source of unending Peace and inspiration. I am all the more grateful that I was able to return to it after all this time and find its magical effect on me still in full force. I will remain open to the possibility of finding this unique, Divine connection in other places in the world, but I also will go knowing how rare a gift this special is. I am guessing that not everyone gets one of these. I will not take it for granted. And I will return, hopefully sooner than later. I told my children while we were up there that if they are inclined to make the effort when I die, I would like some of my ashes to go there, to my sacred place, to feel at home. I suppose it doesn’t matter, though, for I think my soul has always been there. There with God, just hanging out.

How about you? Have you discovered your sacred place on Earth? Open up your journal and take a journey in your mind. Think of all the places you have ever been. Have you found a spot where you feel in complete union with the Divine? If the answer is yes, how would you describe your feelings when in that place? When there, are you still able to keep your wits about you, or do you become overwhelmed with emotions and impulses? Describe the place itself. Is it a place in Nature, or is it manmade? Is it indoors or out? Does it have religious significance, i.e. is it a designated holy place, such as a church or shrine? Does it have extraordinary beauty, or is it unimpressive to most people? How public of a place is it? Is it visited by many people? Do they come for the same reasons that you do? Do you have a sense of how many people get that same Divine communion that you do while there? Do you share your extraordinary experience with others while you are there? If so, does that amplify the feeling or detract from it? Do moments this intense belong in the public forum, or are they more special when you feel somehow specially selected to feel them? Should you keep them to yourself? How many times have you been to your sacred place? Was it a special, one-time visit, or is it part of your usual routine? If it is more usual, has the effect worn off over time, or does it remain as profound and moving as the first time? Is there some value to keeping the visits infrequent to maintain the depth and intensity of feeling, or is it a “the more, the better” deal? Do you feel bad for the people who have never found a place that feels truly holy and personal? Okay, for those on the other side of the coin, who have never found that one magical place, how do you feel about that? Is it something you think about? Does it frustrate you? Are you actively searching for that place? How do you envision your special place? Do you trust that you will just know it by the feeling you have when you arrive? How confident are you that you will find it one day? How confident are you that it even exists? Is it enough to have many places that bring you Peace and lightness in your heart, even if there isn’t one that is dizzyingly Divine? Is this concept of one sacred place a short-sighted or unenlightened one altogether? Might every place feel that way to us if only our hearts and minds were in the right frequency? I imagine the most highly evolved among us feel that way wherever they go. Should that be the goal for each of us? What is your goal? Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you discovered your sacred place?

Wander blissfully,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it with your community. Let us help each other to know who we are.

P.P.S. If this type of introspection appeals to you, consider purchasing my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

You’re Too Young!!! When Should We Let Kids Be Adults?

“You simply don’t get to be wise, mature, etc., unless you’ve been a raving cannibal for thirty years or so.” –Doris Lessing

Hello friend,

I used to have a level-headed niece who I trusted to make sound life decisions.

As a 19-year-old college student bursting with potential, she struck me as independent and driven to carve out a unique path that would often–especially in the next decade or so–find her traveling the world alone to explore and share her talents and passions. Though she had had some serious romantic relationships in her past, she swore that it was not in the cards for her to “settle down” with anyone until she had lived out some of her dreams and established who she was as a real adult. I nodded my whole-hearted approval.

Then she turned 20 and got engaged in the space of a month.

What do I have now? And what can I say???

What can we really say to people we love–or anybody, really–when their life choices seem foolish to us?

I suppose part of my personal strategy for this dilemma works its way out in letters to you. I take most every issue that the average person wrestles with–politics, spirituality, family, money, social issues, dreams, relationships, and on and on–and hash them out in my journal, then write out my experiences and conclusions in these letters for anyone to read.

Not that I expect the people in my life to stay up-to-date on Journal of You just so they know how I feel about their life choices. But the actual writing process–both in my own journals and in these letters to you–has helped me to clarify my positions and given me a level of comfort in expressing them. So, when a topic comes up in conversation in the course of the day, I generally feel quite confident sharing my take.

At any rate, the habit of putting my stances out into the public sphere makes any sort of “approval” or “disapproval” I have of anyone’s life choices feel more general, not so personal. Like with marriage, I would hope that if I ever have a conversation with my 20-year-old niece about it, she would not take my position as a personal attack on her. Because let me be perfectly clear: the idea of people–I was tempted to say “kids,” but I caught myself–getting married (to say nothing of having children) in their early twenties seems absolutely foolish to me.

I think of myself at 20–or even 23 or 25 or 28–and I was so far away from knowing who I was and what I valued most. I had morals. I had opinions. I had passions, hopes, and dreams. I might even have been described as level-headed. But evolved enough and prepared to wisely choose my mate for life? Heck no!

My wife tells of the time that she and her college love were on vacation in Las Vegas and momentarily considered getting married before deciding against it. She laughs now at her luck, convinced that she would be miserable (or, more likely, divorced) if they had gone through with it.

But be clear: I am not just basing this on my personal path. I get that just because I wasn’t ready to marry in my early twenties–or late twenties, for that matter–that doesn’t mean no one could be. One of the benefits that comes with living for a while is that you get to witness a much bigger sample size when it comes to testing out your theories. Like most people, I know lots of people who married young. Many are still married. That fact does not sway my opinion at all.

And it is not that I have just come around to this idea in my forties, seeing people two decades younger than me as kids (of course, because I can’t be old!). No, growing up, I could never understand how my parents got married at 20 and 24, or later, how my older brother got married just out of college. I think I felt it most when my buddies started getting married, because I knew just how immature they were (did their spouses?). As with marriages at all ages, some have lasted, others haven’t. Some are probably blissful; others probably miserable, most somewhere in between. And again, just because it has worked out that way, my take on whether it was the right thing to do to marry young does not change.

Why, though? Why shouldn’t the failures of the older, “more mature” crowd dictate my opinion, causing it to skew more favorably to the early twenties cohort? I suppose that, for me, it has more to do with what I see them as missing out on when they “settle down” so young. It is all that personal development/figuring out who you are/building independence/learning by mistakes (and silliness)/understanding what you are getting into kind of stuff.

I think of the twenties as a time for all of that fun, growth, and inner and outer trailblazing. And I know that almost everyone who embraces and passes through that magnificent gauntlet of a decade comes through it quite a different animal. Different interests. Different dreams. Different relationships. I tend to think that that evolution gets stunted in people who marry so young. They evolve, but in a muted way, leaving room for more longing and regret later. It is like how older people with kids tend to think of people without kids: no matter how free and fun the childless people’s lives seem, there is nothing that could convince the parents that their own lives would be richer and better without kids. They almost can’t help but feel a bit (or a lot) bad for the childless. I have that same “You are missing out on something you can’t duplicate with other stuff” sense when it comes to people who marry without getting to experience the bulk of their twenties unmarried and childless.

So what do I do with this strong opinion? Not much, really. As an uncle, I have been known to share my opinions with my nieces and nephews as they mature. I tell the kids to explore themselves and their options in their twenties, and to not marry young. Not that it has had any effect so far: my oldest niece and nephew are 23 and already married or engaged, and my aforementioned 20-year-old niece will wed within the year. (Has any generation ever listened to their elders???) So I settle for a nudge to my own kids–now 8 and 10–when we get the wedding announcements of their cousins. They say in shock, “Cousin X is getting MARRIED???” And I say, “I know–crazy, right? She is very young to make that kind of commitment. Remember that when you are that age.”

It is similar to the way I pass on to them my considered–and journaled-about–opinions about things like how many children people should have and how old they should be when they have them. When they ask why they don’t have more siblings, I say something like, “Americans–including us–use a TON of the world’s energy and natural resources per person. Much more than our fair share. The planet is running out of these things AND being damaged by our overuse. So, for me, it didn’t feel very responsible to have more than two kids. Does that make sense? You can think about that when you are old enough to have kids (probably when you are in your thirties).”

When they ask why their cousins or friends have bigger families, I just say, “Those were the choices their parents made. Everyone sees the world differently, and everyone gets to make their own choices. Your job is to learn as much as you can about the things you have to decide so that you can become wise. Then you have to think about who you are and the kind of person you want to be. Your answer will come to you. Then you let everyone else make their own decisions, and be kind and respectful to them even if they do it differently than you. We are all trying to do our best, even if it doesn’t look that way.”

Because I don’t actually care enough–despite my strong opinions–to “judge” my nieces and nephews, or anyone else. Of all people, given the life I have led, I have no business (or interest) in making people feel bad for their lifestyle choices. I want people to unapologetically make their own decisions and be exactly who their soul calls out for them to be. (I think that highlights a crucial difference between being opinionated and being judgmental. I see the former as good, the latter not so much.)

It is why I have never been an advice-giver. Both personally and professionally, it has always been my habit to try to help the person in front of me to see the situation broadly and clearly and to ask them the type of powerful questions that will lead them to draw their own conclusions and take ownership of their choices. I think that is the best way to engage life’s difficult choices, with children and adults alike. When people–especially the “impressionable” people that we tend to be at until at least our late twenties–feel pressured or judged into making a decision by the opinions of others (such as their parents or their church), they never take full responsibility for the decision. They feel it is out of their hands and thus surrender to that wave of pressure, never fully addressing the most important question: Does this feel right and true FOR ME? If that question is given a full treatment, there is no other opinion worth considering.

In the end, then, I suppose my way with the kids-who-are-nearly-or-new-adults is this: to offer my opinions in advance, to help them to see their situations more clearly in the moment, and to quietly support them once their decisions are made (though, of course, believing my way is the best way!). They’re just kids, right? They need that support. We all do. I will keep doing my thing the best way I know how and hoping they see the light of wisdom and use it to guide them on this fantastic adventure called LIFE.

How about you? How do you handle yourself when other people don’t follow your model of the world? Open up your journal and think about your opinions and judgments. At what age, generally speaking, do you think the average person is mentally, emotionally, and experientially “ready” (a.k.a. mature enough) to get married? What is it about that age that brings you to that conclusion? Do you come to this opinion by your own experience–good or bad–with relationships, by the examples of people you have known, or just your sense of people? What do you think when people who are significantly younger than that age announce their engagement? Do you keep your reaction–shock, dismay, condemnation, whatever–inside, or do you share your thoughts with others? Do you give your opinion directly to the individual offender? What determines your decision to share your opinion or not? Is it a desire to spare their feelings, an obligation to save them from their foolishness, or do you just not care enough about the issue to raise it? How strong is your compulsion to impose your opinion on others? Does it depend on your relationship with the offender? Does it depend on how egregious you deem their error to be? Are there any relationships worth breaking over the person’s willingness to comply with your opinions? Does it make you feel inauthentic to hide your positions? Does this whole thing really come down to a matter of tact? How much older than your ideal marriage age is your suggested age to start parenting? What is the difference in maturity level necessary to parent well? How different are your suggested marriage and parenting ages than the legal ages to drive, drink, vote, or enlist in the military? How does that disparity strike you? No matter your current age, describe how you imagine most people change between 18 and 30. In what ways do they remain the same? Any? How drastically do a person’s standards and preferences change in that time? Drastically enough to hold off on marriage? What aspects of marrying young–and having kids young–are more desirable to you than waiting? Are there any lifestyle choices that others make that truly upset you? What is it about those that somehow get under your skin and push your buttons? What choices cause you to “judge” (i.e. condemn) someone rather than simply have an opinion about their choice? Do you consider yourself opinionated? How about judgmental? What would your family and friends say? If you are more judgmental than you would like, can you change your attitude? Would that lighten your load to let go of all that responsibility of policing people’s lives? How difficult is it to be supportive of someone you believe is making a life mistake? It would be a nice skill, though, right? Leave me a reply and let me know: How well you do let others live the lives of their choosing?

Love without condition,

William

P.S. If this letter helped to draw out some clarity in your own mind about how you operate, please share it on social media. Let’s support each other and celebrate our differences!

P.P.S. If this type of deep dive and questioning appeals to you, check out my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

Jesus & Me: Our Complicated Relationship

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.” –Lenny Bruce

Hello friend,

Merry Christmas!  I don’t usually say that, but I mean it today. Merry Christmas to you.  I hope that in this holiday season, both you and I can pay particular heed to the teachings of this great man, Jesus of Nazareth, whether or not we give a darn about the religion that carries his name. Because I don’t.

Let me be clear: Jesus is one of my great heroes and role models, but I don’t believe he is any more divine than you or me, and I think many of the things done “in Jesus’s name” by his professed followers are abhorrent (and I believe Jesus would agree with me).  Basically, I am a Jesus-lover but not a Christian.

How did I get here???  That, I suppose, is the story of my life.

I grew up in a somewhat-faithful Catholic family in a very homogenous Christian area.  I knew of one Jewish family in my town.  I was not aware of any other non-Christian families. In fact, even though I remember a Baptist church by the baseball fields, everybody in my town, as far as I knew, was either Catholic or Lutheran.  VERY CHRISTIAN.

So, you could definitely say I “believed in” Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.  After all, that was the only option (literally the only game in town) I was aware of.  It was like believing that you have to graduate from high school; I never knew anyone who didn’t, so I never considered dropping out a possibility.  You are a Christian.  You graduate.  It’s how things are.  End of story. 

Still, I can clearly recall some cognitive dissonance in my teen years as I tried to swallow the Church’s doctrine in my Confirmation classes.  I remember the teacher’s exasperation as I gave her more questions and challenges than she wanted: Why should someone have to believe in Jesus to get to Heaven?  What about all the people who don’t?  You know there are BILLIONS of people in the world, right? Most of them are getting left out? Does that seem right to you?

Interestingly, my church remembrances from childhood–and even my early adulthood–don’t contain much about Jesus himself and the specifics of his teachings (except that he died for our sins so that we could get to Heaven).  I mostly remember the rituals–the sitting/kneeling/standing, the prayers, Communion–and being vaguely conscious that it was about Jesus, but I don’t recall that feeling of relationship or that sense of really getting him on a personal level.  And I don’t recall any major awe, like, “Whoa, that guy’s the Son of God!  I totally worship him!”  I guess that part never quite resonated with me. 

When I kept going to church even after I moved away from home, I really only seemed to connect to one part: the sermon.  I liked hearing an inspiring message about how we could do better.  What I hadn’t become fully conscious of–I hadn’t started journaling every day at that point–was that the sermons that I liked and connected with were not particularly Jesusy, if you know what I mean.  They were more social messages interwoven with personal stories from the priest. 

I kept attending Mass, but I grew increasingly disconnected from the foundation of the place.  I wasn’t into the “God’s only begotten son”/”He died for our sins” type of stuff. While I wasn’t consciously searching for an alternative, from the distance of all these years later, it seems obvious that it would not have required much to unleash me from the Christian flock of my upbringing. 

It turned out that–as with so many other awakenings and transitions that I have experienced in the decades that have followed–the key that fit the lock was found in the pages of books.  Not just one book or one author, but many.  I found so many that enlightened me in different ways.  They weren’t books that bashed Jesus or religions, but instead they served to open my mind and my heart to other people’s experiences of the Divine.  I learned wonderful things about Nature, Science, non-Christian religions, spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga, and people.  I read people’s stories and learned about their versions of Truth and how God lived in them (or didn’t). 

Throughout the process of this new learning–and not surprisingly, this coincided with the beginning of my regular journaling practice–I was becoming much more in tune with myself and much more trusting of my intuition.  I took the stories and the information in to a deeper level than I ever had before and I allowed them to play upon my soul.  And then I listened.  I listened for resonance.  I became much more aware of things like tingles in my heart or belly, goosebumps on my skin, the unintentional nodding of my head, or a grin I couldn’t wipe from my face.  I understood them for the first time as messages from my soul, of cues that the thing I was reading or experiencing was right for me or true for me.  They resonatedwith me. 

I had never fully understood that word–resonate–until then.  Some things just produce a deeper, more meaningful vibration inside us.  I learned to honor that.  And as I did, I slowly–without fully realizing it at first but finally being struck by its obviousness–let go of Jesus.  With no angst or acrimony.  It was with joy and gratitude, really.  An amicable break-up.  I still liked him; he just wasn’t the answer for me.  I couldn’t think of him in the same way. 

I tried to go to church with my family on a holiday not long after my realization.  It felt completely wrong for me to be there.  I was almost physically sick, as my body knew that I wasn’t acting in alignment with my Truth.  I had become accustomed to being authentic, and just being in that place seemed fraudulent to me.  I knew then that I would not be back. 

I admit that, for many years, despite theoretically having no problem with Jesus, I definitely kept him at arm’s length.  I didn’t care to hear much about him or participate in anything where Christian prayers might be said.  I cringed when, at some large holiday meal, someone would say, “Shall we say Grace?”  0r at a funeral, when the Jesus moments would inevitably come, I’d have the same reaction.  My mind would naturally escape.  It was one thing to not want to think much about that guy anymore, and quite another to have to pretend I was praying to him along with the Christians surrounding me. That’s too much awkwardness for me.

I’m a little disappointed when I think about how long that arm’s-length phase lasted.  Not that I regret feeling uncomfortable when Jesus is forced on me–I am sure that won’t ever go away–but I think I went too long in denying him entry into my thoughts.  In my fervor to remain authentic and faithful to my Truth–which included my non-Christianity–I worked a little too hard at excluding him as an influence worth considering. 

That denial has changed in recent years.  The older I have gotten, the more passionate I have become about social justice and the more focused I have become on practicing empathy.  I have also become increasingly aware of the degree to which I am being authentic and following my Truth.  With that evolution–along with the recognition that I had worked a little too hard to avoid anything Jesus-related–I have taken some time to look at Jesus with a new set ofeyes. 

With this distance, I am able to see him more clearly as a man of great principle, with a tremendous depth of compassion and kindness toward the most oppressed and least favored members of society.  He called on the people around him to rise above their pettiness and greed and become better.  His actions spoke even louder than his words.  He took care of the poor, the sick, and those cast aside or shamed by society.  He called out corruption.  In word and deed, he was faithful to his Truth (a.k.a. AUTHENTIC).  And he was an absolute warrior for social justice.

When I look at Jesus with these new eyes, I recognize him to be quite like a couple of other guys who have been my heroes for much longer: Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

I revere these men. They serve as an endless source of inspiration to me.  They remind me of my innate greatness and all the good that I can do to help the world. I am so grateful to them for that, and I sing their praises every chance I get……..  But I don’t worship them.  They are not gods to me.  I don’t go through them to get salvation.  I won’t be separated from God if I deny their greatness.  And that’s where I am with Jesus, too.

It is in this newfound reverence and deep respect for his principles, though, that I find one of the most interesting (and kind of amusing) aspects of my journey with Jesus. I find that I have become a great defender of Jesus against his followers. 

It is really odd.  You see, we are in this time when there is so much pain and injustice in the world and in this heavily Christian America.  There are examples everywhere you look.  White supremacists hold large public rallies. Gun violence is rampant.  Migrant families are separated at the border, with children held in cages and tents without their parents.  Members of the LGBTQ community fear for their loss of rights and the increase in hate crimes.  Refugees seeking asylum from war-ravaged countries are tear-gassed.  The environment and natural resources are ravaged. And our President and his party stamp their approval of all of it. 

Meanwhile, I hear of evangelical Christian leaders who speak of that President as Heaven-sent and the true representative of their congregation.  I see the voting numbers to know who supports the man and his party. I see countless other Christians amidst all manner of humanitarian crises whistling and looking the other way, like, “Nothing to see here.”  And I am disgusted.  Beyond disgusted, really.  I am absolutely repulsed.

I only get this way because of who these people profess to follow, who they claim to owe their salvation to.  I look at every one of these issues, and then I look at Jesus, the social justice warrior, and I know that he would stand in direct opposition to these people that claim to be acting in his name.  He would call them out every chance he could get.  And that is what takes me beyond just disappointment or even disgust with these people to the point of being repulsed by them.  It is the hypocrisy!  They are staining my hero’s name!  Misrepresenting him in the worst way.  I can’t tell you how many times, in yet another moment of humanitarian failure, my wife has had to listen to me rail against these hypocrites.  “How dare they call themselves Christian!!!  Do they really not know what Jesus stood for???  It’s completely inauthentic!  It’s fraudulent!!!”  It’s me, the staunch non-Christian, sticking up for Jesus against those who say they worship him, not wanting his name sullied. Go figure!

And that is my journey with this amazing guy: from believer, to questioner, to drifter, to denier, to admirer, to defender.  My guess is I will stick with those last two–admirer and defender–from here on out, but who knows?  I appreciate the journey we have been on, and I like where we are.  Jesus and I are good. 

How about you?  How is your relationship with Jesus?  Open up your journal and tell your story.  How did it begin?  Did you grow up in a house where prayer and talk of Jesus was common?  Were you under the impression that everyone believed in his divinity?  How much was church a part of your upbringing?  Did you assume that they were preaching the absolute truth?  Were you in awe of Jesus?  Did you have a “relationship” with him growing up?  If so, describe it.  In adolescence and young adulthood, as you developed your independence, did you go through periods where your sense of who Jesus was or your connection to him changed?  Did you drift closer or further away?  Have you ever changed your faith in him dramatically, either fully embraced him or severed ties?  What did that feel like?  How much of your stance on Jesus is a reflection of your family’s beliefs?  Is your connection to him stronger or weaker than your parents’ connection to him?  Stronger or weaker than your closest friends’?  Are you okay with going your own way on such a sensitive topic? If you are a “true believer,” have you ever deeply questioned the foundation of your belief?  What do you think of people like me who don’t take Jesus to be the one Son of God and the source of salvation?  Do you feel sorry for us?  Are you open to a friendly dialogue with us?  Do you feel the need to convert non-believers?  Are you fond of the question, “What would Jesus do?” when it comes to providing direction on moral issues?  Do you believe Christians ought to stand up for the issues and the people that Jesus stood up for?  Do you believe that the “evangelical Christians” that seem to be a staple voting block for the Republican Party are acting in a way Jesus would support? What about other atrocities committed by (or supported by) people claiming to be Christian?  If Jesus were alive today, what sorts of issues and practices do you believe he would support?  What would he march for?  If he were not the Son of God but just an activist who stood up for what he stood up for, do you think you would support him?  If not, do you have some soul-searching to do?  Has your relationship with Jesus been, like mine, a winding one?  Leave me a reply and let me know, What is your relationship with Jesus?

Shine a light inside,

William

P.S. If this topic resonated with you today, please share it on social media.  Let’s rise to the standards of our heroes!

P.P.S. If this type of introspection stirs you up, add my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, to your holiday Wish List.  It is available at your favorite online retailer.

How Could You NOT VOTE At This Point???

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” –Larry J. Sabato, Pendulum Swing

Hello friend,

I turned 18 in the Autumn of 1990, exactly three weeks before the mid-term elections. I had no clue. Were mid-terms important back then? If they were, no one ever told me so. I would guess that my parents voted in them, but I don’t recall them ever saying so or encouraging me to get to the polls. It was little old North Dakota, so I don’t know how much of consequence we had on the ballot. We did have our one House of Representatives member, of course. At any rate, that November of my senior year of high school, voting was not on my mind. I don’t know when the first time a mid-term election was on my mind. “Voting,” to me, meant voting for President. And sure, you filled in the ovals for the other races on the ballot. But come on, you were there to vote for President.

Gosh, I hope today’s teens and 20somethings are more awake and civically engaged than I was!

I shake my head now at my blissful ignorance of politics in my young adulthood. As fired-up as I get today about almost every issue and candidate, you would never guess at how thoroughly clueless and unengaged I was back then. Thank Goodness for evolution!

As a straight, White, middle-class male in America, I could pretty much go politically blindfolded through life and be none-the-wiser. Even though the system is set up to primarily benefit the rich, it takes pretty good care of people that fit my description, too, no matter which party is in charge. That is called privilege. I could choose to not think about it and get away with it.

My sisters are that way–claim to not have time for it or not understand the different sides or just don’t care to step into the potential minefield by having an opinion or taking a stand–and of course they are not alone. It is obviously a dicey time in our country to try to have a meaningful political discussion, so I understand the inclination to maintain neutrality through ignorance.

But the more I think of this rationale and the privilege that makes it an option, the more disgusted I get. If you have so much privilege that you can afford to not even educate yourselves on the major issues of our time and the people who are competing to run our country, then I would argue that you are even more obligated to educate yourself and find a way to empathize with the people who are most vulnerable and affected by these policies and elected leaders (i.e., the ones who don’t share your privilege). With great gifts come great responsibility, right? If you don’t feel compelled to raise your awareness and take a stand on issues by casting a vote, you are shirking your responsibility. Shame on you for that.

But I am not writing today simply to appeal to the most apathetic among us, hoping to get their lazy butts out to vote in the upcoming election (or any election in the future; I hope what I am saying applies to the end of time). I am appealing to everyone!

Of course, I had a funny moment of weakness as I initially thought of this plea to make your voice heard at the ballot box. It went sort of like this in my head: “Why do you want to appeal to EVERYONE? What about just to everybody who might vote the same way you vote? Isn’t that the point: to get all the people who think like you to the polls and none of the opposition? You know, so you can actually WIN. Isn’t that really the result you want?”

Ahh, that does sound delicious, doesn’t it? Arouse my fellow liberals and pacify the conservatives, making sure only the invigorated side votes while the other side sleeps smugly through Election Day. I was tempted, I admit.

But as awful as I have felt these last two years under unrestrained conservatism–cringing with my LGBTQ friends and friends of color as rights get restricted and hate crimes rise, cringing for the loss of environmental protections, cringing for the poor and people with pre-existing conditions, cringing for the press corps under attack and the judicial branch losing its independence, cringing every time I hear the word “Tweet” on the news–the insatiably curious side of me has been so looking forward to this mid-term election (as well as the 2020 race for President) just to see how we would react and who we would decide ourselves to be next.

Now I am desperate for every single eligible voter to cast a ballot. I need to know exactly who we are.

The Republicans now control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the judiciary. The conservatives who may have felt squeamish about Donald Trump’s vulgarity and his struggles with the truth during the Republican primary season of 2016 voted for him to be President anyway. Some did so wholeheartedly, others (I want to believe) imagined that the office would temper him and that he would become much more “Presidential” once he became President. He has certainly delivered the conservatives their Supreme Court justices that will shape America for the next half-century, at least; I am sure that is appreciated on many fronts. But there is also a reason that he is the darling of White supremacist groups. To my eye, the man told us all exactly who he was before the last election. But even if you couldn’t believe that then and assumed we would know more later, well, I don’t believe you could have any doubt as to who this man is now

I know, I know, Trump isn’t even on the ballot in this election. It’s a mid-term! But let’s be clear: almost to a person, every Republican Congressperson has toed the Trump line for the last two years, and few have so much as raised an eyebrow (much less a voice) in the face of their leader’s most repulsive acts and words. Everything he has done has required approval–through silence and votes–of the party leaders and members. So, whether you were initially in denial of this or have embraced it all the way, make no mistake: the GOP is the Party of Trump. If you want to keep it that way, get out and vote Republican!

As for the Democrats and other more-liberal-minded folks, these people have had two full years of sheer outrage and dismay. Lots of “THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE!!!” and #NotMyPresident type of stuff. Pick an issue, any issue–health care, the environment, gun control, LGBTQ rights, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and a seemingly daily barrage or racist and/or misogynistic dogwhistles–and the liberals have been kicked in the crotch with it for two straight years. Suffice it to say that if there was ever a time a Democrat or liberal-minded person should want to vote, that time is now!

I also very much want the “independent voters” and third-party voters to show up to the polls in droves. For the third-party folks, this feels like a wonderful time to show the system that there are sufficient numbers of you to make a difference (I actually think this is the perfect time in our nation’s history to dissolve the two-party system and create several, as I wrote to you a few years ago) and that your ideas are good ones. As for the independents, or “swing voters,” as they are often called on Election Night coverage when the pundits tell us that these voters are the ones who decide elections, I cannot imagine a time in recent history when the lines were more clearly drawn between the two major parties and you are not splitting hairs to decide between them. Sides must be taken, even if you are not pledging permanent allegiance. I hope your conscience calls you to the polls to make your vote count.

And finally, to those privileged folks I mentioned earlier who don’t like to get mixed up in politics and choose not to educate themselves about the issues of our time, if you are thinking your chosen ignorance and silence mean that you bear no responsibility for the outcomes (near and far), I offer you this quote by Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel: “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” If you don’t want to speak up in the town square or on Facebook, the least you can do is slip behind a private curtain and cast a considered vote.

Because I really want to know.

I want to know who we are in my city. I want to know who we are in my state. I want to know who we are in my beloved country.

I have already filled out my ballot and sent it in. I know where I stand, and my position will be counted. But the only way I can know for sure where my world stands is if all those who are eligible actually vote.

And I really, really want to know.

How about you? Can you think of any possible reason why you–or anyone–might not want to vote in the upcoming election? Open up your journal and explore the country as it is and how you would like it to be if you could cast the deciding vote on everything? First and foremost, will you be voting in the upcoming election? Which races on your ballot are you most passionate about? Are you more engaged now than you normally would be for a mid-term election? Why? Is it because you see your values being threatened? Would you be more excited about voting if you believed more in the actual politicians? Are there any politicians out there–on your local, state, or national level–that make you think, “If only they all had this person’s character, intelligence, and wisdom, we would be in a much better place as a country?” Do you think that about anyone on your ballot for this election? How do you feel about people who say, “I don’t like either candidate (e.g. Trump or Clinton), so I am not voting at all!” or “Politics disgust me; I’m not voting!”?   Is that simple practicality, folly, cowardice, or something else? Is voting an act of patriotism?  Which issues are the most meaningful to you when it comes to getting you to the polls to vote for measures and for candidates who share your view on the topic? Has that priority list changed over the years? Are the people in your social circle more or less likely to vote than you are? Do you talk to each other about it–not necessarily about the issues but about getting out to vote? If you have not voted in the past, what were your reasons? Why do you think America has, historically speaking, had such a poor voter turnout? Should Election Day be a national holiday so that we all have a greater opportunity to get to the polls? How much truth is there in the “My single vote doesn’t really count anyway” argument? How much value do you place in voting your conscience even when your vote probably won’t sway an election to your side (e.g. in 2000, while living in North Dakota, I voted for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader for President, knowing full well that Republican George W. Bush would win the state’s electoral votes)? Is voting for third parties “wasting your vote?” What advice would you give to someone who supports a third party candidate in a race that is neck-and-neck between the Republican and Democrat in the race? Should they vote the third party, or vote for the one they like better out of the Republican or Democrat? Does it make your blood boil–as it does mine–when you hear stories of people (such as Native Americans in North Dakota or African-Americans in Georgia) being denied or made to jump through hoops just to exercise their right to vote? How does it strike you to hear that women have been allowed to vote in America for less than 100 years? Does it increase your desire to vote? What else would it take to get you to the point that you will absolutely vote every time? Is this crazy moment in American history enough? Leave me a reply and let me know: How could you NOT vote in this election?

Claim yourself,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it on your social media channels (and soon!). Let’s all rock the vote!

P.P.S. If this way of self-reflection captures your attention, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Do You Belong To A Tribe? The Trouble With Going It Alone

“Call it a clan. Call it a network. Call it a tribe. Call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” –Jane Howard

Hello friend,

I don’t have a tribe.

This is a reality that I am only now coming to face. I don’t have a tribe.

I think I have been in at least some degree of denial of this fact for many years. I have either explained it away–“OF COURSE I have a tribe; it is just VERY small and we don’t keep in contact very well,” or, “My family is my tribe.”–or chosen to avoid the topic by focusing on the fact that I am very happy just as I am and have always basked in my periods of solitude. Armed with those two tactics, I have become quite the expert at denying this fact throughout the course of my adult life. I don’t have a tribe.

But as I begin this process of facing the truth and attempting to comprehend the sobering consequences thereof, the first question that comes to my mind is, “Did I EVER have a tribe???” Because that would be a start, right? A first clue as to what my tribe might look like should it appear today. So, have I?

Maybe I should begin by making clear what I mean by a “tribe.” To me, a tribe is a group of people whom you not only love and adore but who also make your soul feel like home. It is people who get you. People with whom you are celebrated when you are at your most authentic, quirks and all. People whose presence makes your energy vibrate a little higher.

I don’t suppose I should include childhood for the purposes of this discussion, though I have to say that I absolutely loved my high school friends and liked nothing better than to spend time with them.

I know that for many people, college is where they find their first true tribe. It may be the people on their floor at the dorm, the classmates in their major, or perhaps their pledge-mates in the fraternity or sorority. Whatever the case, I think that the passions stirring in the hearts and minds of people that age tend to make the different energies more clear to one another and more magnetic. Kindred souls find each other more easily. I didn’t have that experience, though. I had friends, but not a tribe.

I can say the same thing about the next few places I moved to and “settled down” as a young adult. It would seem most likely that I would have found my tribe when I moved to Los Angeles to be an actor. After all, there were other actors and artists all around me. I had the makings of a tribe, too–a couple of actors and writers who got on well–but our various life paths seemed to diverge before we congealed into a true tribe. An opportunity lost.

After a couple years of mostly solitude, you might have thought I would be so starved for companionship that I would have easily merged with a tribe when I returned to the university setting, especially since I was a huge fan of knowledge. Surely there was a crowd for me. Right? Nope! I bonded with a few of my professors on my first stop, but they were mostly separate relationships and never became a unified group. At the second school, where I was pressed into close quarters with people studying and teaching exactly the same thing as I was, I still never found that genuine kinship.

When I moved fully into “career mode” in a unique, small, and tightly knit profession, I might have guessed–again–that I had finally found “my people” and would quickly merge with a handful of them into a tribe who would work and play together and commiserate afterward over refreshments. Again, no such luck.

The other place where I thought there was a decent chance of finding my tribe was in my neighborhood. I moved here when my kids were just babies and planned to stay here for, well, forever. I figured that being surrounded by so many other people with families who shared the same schools and frequented the same stores and libraries and such, I (and possibly my wife, too, as a couple) might fall in with a pack who would gather regularly–often with kids in tow–and grow old together like regular social animals. I’m sure you can guess how that has worked out.

I say all of this not in a “Poor me!” sort of way, but rather to make a careful chronicle of my potential connections and missed opportunities all along the course of my adult life. When I see it laid out like this, with all the different chapters along the way, it is clear that, whether through circumstances or choice, I have never been a part of a tribe. I have never felt that sense of belonging. I have never felt simultaneously challenged and inspired by my nearest companions. Never felt completely understood and thus never valued for who I truly am.

That seems pretty sad when spelled out like that. It sounds like I have missed out on the best Life has to offer.

But I think it is more fair and accurate to say that, more often than not, I have opted out rather than missed out on finding my tribe. Because honestly, it is not as though I have made any special effort to make it happen. I haven’t pushed past my comfort zone to put myself into extra social situations in order to “audition” more people for the potential tribe. I have remained my introverted, solitude-loving self all along the way, even when I knew it was costing me opportunities for new and deeper friendships and love.

So, while I know that sometimes this stuff comes down to simple luck–you randomly end up in a classroom or office full of kindred spirits or on a bus seat next to your soulmate–I certainly believe that much of it comes down to the choices we make. At each stop on my journey, in each high-potential group, I could have said “Yes!” to more invitations or set up gatherings of the people I felt drawn to or simply struck up a few more conversations. I can say categorically that I have been consistently awful at that sort of thing for as long as I can remember. If I were to have a tribe by now, it certainly would have been by one of those random lucky circumstances I mentioned above, because it is painfully obvious that I have not done my part to make it so. I have to own that.

But is it really so bad not having a tribe? I mean, all of this talk of missed opportunities and no sense of belonging is making me depressed, but is that depression justified? Is a tribe all that important? I am very, very happy, after all. My life is filled with blessings. I relish fatherhood. My wife is great. I love writing. Sure, I wish I had more close friends, but only close ones. I don’t care about more acquaintances. And I know who I am: I am an introverted guy who has high standards and very little tolerance for small talk or anything else that feels like shallowness. Given the opportunity for solitude or a group activity, solitude wins almost every time with me. Probably I should just accept that I am a loner at heart and be on my merry way.

And yet, I cannot help but admit to some longing for a true tribe. I have romantic images in my mind of being a part of a group of kindhearted artists and social justice activists who encourage and inspire one another as they work to make the world a better place. Are these people even out there? And if so, can they come to my house somewhat frequently but only when I feel like it? Ha! Herein lies my problem. I want that communion, but I want it on my terms. Judging by the last 25 years, one clearly precludes the other. Welcome to my world: where personal boundaries override social desires.

I think I will just look for a great friend. Just one to start. If that works out, expansion of the circle will be taken under consideration. Who knows? Maybe in our little pair, the seeds for a tiny tribe will be planted. I would like that. I could grow the way the tribe grows: organically. As I have become more conscious of my patterns and tendencies, I see that it will take a focused discipline to become and remain open to the possibilities for belonging. I can do that. Kindred souls, I am ready for you!

How about you? Do you have a tribe? Open up your journal and examine the course of your life and the closely-knit groups that you have been a part of. How many (if any) of those groups would you consider to be a tribe? What do you think elevated that group to Tribe status, rather than just, say, a group of good friends? What united you? How many people were in it? Do you think there is a maximum number beyond which a group would be too large to be a real tribe? Is there an ideal number? Have you been in more than one tribe at once? How many tribes have you left behind? What were the causes? If you have never been in a tribe or once were but are not anymore, do you feel like you are missing out on something important by not having that group of kindred souls in your life? Can you be just as happy and fulfilled in life without a tribe? What do you suggest–for yourself or anyone else–as ways to find a tribe? Has that worked for you in the past? Which areas of a person’s life are most likely to engender a tribe: work, school, family, spiritual community, neighborhood, gym, social cause, bar, hobby, or something else? What percentage of people in the world do you think belong to what they believe is a genuine tribe, with all of the special feelings that go along with it? Are you one of them? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you a member of a tribe?

Thrive today,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, I hope you will share it. Perhaps that share will be the start of a tribe.

P.S.S. If taking a deep dive inside your heart and mind is your thing, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

Do You Let Yourself Be Happy?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

This week, I was at the library with my daughter. After we had found her books, she wandered over to the Wii games, which are next to the movies. As a lifelong movie lover, I couldn’t help but stop and browse. It didn’t take long, of course, to find a few that got me excited and longing to watch. Then I caught myself in my daydream, had a good chuckle, and thought, “Yeah, right! When am I EVER going to find a couple of consecutive hours to watch a movie???”

That clarity about the reality of my life and schedule comes from years of experience being me. I definitely place strict boundaries around the few things that are my highest priorities and don’t allow anything to interfere with them. Because of that, the other things that are only somewhat or fairly important to me tend to get left off the schedule entirely. I don’t like that so many things that I enjoy have fallen by the wayside–and that other things that I am curious to learn have not been explored—but I have never been able to come up with a solution that sits right with me. I am just so protective of my big loves.

Because of my strict adherence to my highest priorities, I am definitely hanging out with my kids as much as possible every day. I am getting in a workout before they wake up every day. And I am sneaking in a little writing time every day. The love, challenge, wellness, and sense of fulfillment I get from this combination of priorities allows me to maintain the very high level of Happiness that has been a part of my identity for the last twenty years. But is it enough?

Are my strict boundaries and elimination of other categories of joys effectively limiting my happiness?

That thought freaks me out. The very last thing I want to do is limit my own happiness.

A few years ago, I read an article that got shared around social media about a palliative care nurse who listed what she came to believe to be the “Five Biggest Regrets of Dying People”. It was great fodder for journal entries, because of course I wanted to check in with myself to be sure I was not going to have those regrets. In one form or another, I have asked you about the regrets in these letters over the years, things like daring to be authentic, not working too much, staying in touch with loved ones, and having the courage to express your feelings. Those were all very clear to me.

But there was one regret on that short list that seemed to elude my grasp: I wish I had let myself be happy.

“Let myself.” There was something just vague enough about this idea when I was processing the others that I decided to leave it alone. I didn’t address it. But somehow, the idea has stuck with me all this time. I haven’t forgotten it. Or, maybe, it hasn’t let me forget it. In any case, it is time to face it.

How does one let oneself be happy? Or, perhaps it is better addressed from the other end: How does one KEEP oneself from being happy? 

I tend to think of Happiness as something you choose. You have to make the decision and keep making the decision. I am sure that sounds oversimplified and perhaps naïve, and maybe I will cop to that. I definitely think it is a choice—that concept is simple—but I think the choice itself is a complicated one.

Happiness has some layers to it. Everyone has a different idea of what goes into it. I once wrote to you that my version of “Happiness Stew” consists of Authenticity (living your Truth), Connectedness (to the Divine and/or loved ones), an atmosphere of Progress and Growth, a pervasive attitude of Gratitude, and lots of “Good For The Soul” activities. A few years later, that recipe still sounds about right to me.

So, given those ingredients, how do I imagine either letting myself be happy or keeping myself from being happy?

In some ways, I think each of these ingredients can play a part. Of course, living authentically—being unapologetic about who you are and what your soul calls you to do despite what others expect from you—can grant you the freedom to do more of the things you love and truly find your tribe in the world, both of which can play a huge role in your happiness. Living a life that does not honor your calling would make true Happiness a challenge. I have certainly tried hard on this one throughout my adult life, and I have reaped the benefits in my heart and soul in proportion to my authenticity. I have concluded that fake is ultimately unhappy.

Having that feeling of being connected to others and to something greater than yourself tends to give our existence a deeper meaning and value, which can lead to, at worst, greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater happiness. Isolating yourself would certainly seem to take away that “meaning” aspect–or at least change the meaning—and potentially diminish your happiness. On this front, I can admit to some successes and some failures, or at least doubts. I have definitely felt connected to the Divine, a feeling very much shaped by my spiritual and scientific worldview. With people, though, I have been more hit-and-miss. Much like my priorities mentioned at the top, I have kept almost all of my attention on a small number of people, mostly my family. Those relationships have been richly rewarding, but I cannot help but feel I have not cast my net wide enough and reached out to all of the people that I could have in an effort to truly find my tribe when it comes to like-minded adults, in or out of my career interests. That is a potential stone unturned when it comes to how certain I feel about letting myself be happy. For the moment, I will just say that my suspicion is that I could be happier if I could find that tribe.

Continually learning and stretching your limits—the atmosphere of Growth—provides that edge that keeps life interesting and engaging, which are, again, crucial.   On this Progress front, I feel like I have done pretty well most of the time. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to expand my mind, expand my knowledge, and expand my empathy. There are still many more books to read, skills to learn, and places to visit, but I have been pretty consistent with my efforts and feel greatly rewarded every time I lean into my growing edge.

The “Good For The Soul” activities—the things that make you feel full of peace and joy and love–is another aspect of the Happiness Stew that I have been keen on trying to maximize. Running through the sprinkler, snuggling up with a good book, tickle fights with my kids, and writing this letter to you are just a few of the many ways I try to sprinkle my life with the good stuff, the stuff that just feels right. I do think Happiness is possible without a full schedule of these activities, but they certainly put the cherry on the sundae of Life. Prioritizing them in my schedule—and being fully engaged in them during their time—is truly a way of letting myself be happy.

Conversely, I can see how consciously choosing to deny yourself these treats and smiles would be regret-worthy later on. I have always fancied the idea of learning the guitar, as I would appreciate the challenge but then, even more so, I would have so many good-for-the-soul moments in playing songs and singing. I smile even as I type these words to you about playing those songs. I can see how I might be legitimately denying myself a greater Happiness by choosing to not begin this learning. That prospect makes me shudder.

Despite the importance of all of these Happiness components—Authenticity, Growth, Connectedness, and Joys–I can’t help but think that in the end, the single most important contributing factor in the degree to which you allow yourself to be happy is the presence and pervasiveness of Gratitude in your life.

After all these years, I find it to be no coincidence that the year I began writing in my journal every day was the year I began my life of uninterrupted happiness. Of course, I would love to make the direct leap from Journaling to Happiness—or even to advertise that all happy people journal—but I think that would be a bit of an oversell. No, the real link I claim is the one between Journaling and Gratitude. I have always said that the beautiful thing about the clarity I gained when I started journaling is that it made obvious the countless gifts in my life. Suddenly I was so much more thankful for it all—truly, the whole thing—and so much more aware of each individual gift that I had not recognized as such before. It was only after spending some quality time really soaking up all of that gratitude and the implications of it that I realized fully for the first time that the deep, enduring Happiness that had enveloped my entire existence was due to this newfound, profound gratitude that I had been feeling.

I also realized that I got to choose that gratitude. I had to keep cultivating it, consciously and intentionally. I recognized that the best way for me to cultivate it was through my daily journaling. I found that it had become my habit to write about my many blessings, and that writing always seemed to put me in a mindset to notice more and more blessings. It snowballed, and suddenly I was seeing gifts in places I had not noticed them before. As my recognition grew, so grew my gratitude. As my gratitude grew, so grew my happiness. Soon both were so entrenched that I could not imagine either ever leaving me.

And they haven’t. In twenty years.

So, have I let myself be happy? In so many ways, I would have to say it is more like I made myself be happy. I chose myself happy. Every day. Every journal entry. Every “Life is beautiful” tagline at the end of each entry as a reminder. For a while, I chose those words, chose to find the blessings, chose Gratitude. After that, though—I think as a reward for my choosing—it was all there was to choose anymore. That, for me, is Happiness.

How about you? Have you let yourself be happy? Open up your journal and write yourself through this rich and rewarding topic. Probably it is easiest to begin with your own recipe for Happiness. What are the core ingredients? Does my recipe ring true to you? If not, what will you add or subtract? Is Happiness a choice? Okay, now that you have defined the main ingredients of a happy life, try to determine if you are getting your fill of each. In what aspects are you doing very well? In what aspects are you falling short? On a scale of one to one hundred—with 100 being Supremely Happy—how happy are you? How does that compare to the other people in your life? Now look at the main issue of the day: How happy have you LET yourself be? Is your rating as it is because you have held yourself back? In what areas of your life have you sabotaged your Happiness potential? Have you let Fear hide your light or keep you from making connections? Have you stayed too much in your comfort zone? Have you followed the pack instead of the beat of your own drummer? Have you denied yourself your good-for-the-soul activities, thinking they were too childish or self-indulgent? In what other ways have you stymied your happiness? Are these things enough that you can envision “I didn’t let myself be happy” as one of your deathbed regrets? Are these things you can change before they get to that point? What step can you take today to allow yourself to be happier? Will you make that move? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: How happy have you let yourself be?

Let go,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Share Happiness!

Other People’s Children (And Other Things I Can’t Stand)

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” –Roald Dahl, Matilda 

Hello friend,

It is VERY easy for me to see why people who don’t have kids look at the other schmucks, like me, parenting and think how unappealing (maybe even awful) it seems.

You know what I mean? Say you don’t have kids, and you get together with these family folks occasionally. The only time you might notice the kids (unless you are really into kids) is when they are getting scolded or needing their diaper changed or spilling on your clothes or breaking your electronics or screaming or crying or swallowing your loose change and trinkets. And you think to yourself, “That looks like CONSTANT WORK! And NOT fun. And these poor suckers are stuck with these kids for like 20 YEARS!” And it all just seems so other-focused. Your “own time” falls away, and you can’t do whatever you want all the time.

I can see how this looks like a bad gig. The truth, however—and this is something you only learn by having them—is that the appearances were almost completely wrong.

Sure, parenting is totally exhausting and often frustrating, but it is also infinitely rewarding, soul-stirring, and heart-filling. And once you have your own kids, you are thinking, “This feels like CONSTANT LOVE! And SO fun. And I get them FOREVER!” 

It actually comes to be seen by the parent as a rather one-sided trade: “All I had to give up was some ‘freedom’ (which I wasn’t actually using very well) for a lifetime of love and connection, of family. That’s a steal!” 

At least that is sort of how it worked for me. Sort of.

I never wanted kids. Though I always liked hanging out with the kids rather than the parents at family gatherings and other social events, I never imagined having any of my own. I think it was because I never imagined myself “settling down” and getting married. If I wasn’t ever getting married, I surely was not ever having kids.

I never really had the “Those poor suckers…” thoughts about parents, though. I guess I never realized how challenging it is, so I never felt bad for them. The parents I knew seemed happy to be doing it, but like I said, I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. The path I imagined for myself was much, much different.

Of course, you know how that turned out! It’s amazing what meeting an amazing woman can do to shake up a world and a plan. Once I finally surrendered to the idea of becoming a husband, it was a given that I was also going to be a father. It was a bargain I understood going in, and once I agreed, I was all-in. I knew my limit for kids was two, and that was not negotiable. But I was going to give those two kids every bit of my love, my time, and my patience.

And I have. It has been rewarding beyond anything I could have imagined and beyond anything I have the words to describe to you.

I know it sounds so condescending to people without kids—and I apologize for that–but I really think it is one of those things you cannot understand unless you go though it. Unless you have waited for that child to come into your life. Unless you have rocked that sick baby to sleep and fed her on your chest. Unless you have encouraged those first steps and held onto that bicycle seat until you knew he was ready for you to let go. Unless you have shared your ice cream cone and held her hand on her first steps into the ocean. Unless you have been the only one who can make him feel better when he gets hurt on the playground or scared by a nightmare. Unless you have heard those joyful squeals and seen those eyes filled with sheer delight as they run to you upon hearing you come through the door.

Without the accumulation of these moments and a million more just like them, I think it is difficult to understand. But that doesn’t matter. My point is the same: in return for making the difficult decision to give up my single and childless life, I got this little window with these few people to make an unfathomably beautiful brand of magic. And though I admit to occasional wistful thoughts about the old days of blissful solitude, I would not trade this beautiful window for anything.

Including more of it.

Earlier this year, I came home one day and my wife asked me if I was willing to adopt an orphaned baby whom she had heard about that day. “Not in a million years!” was my automatic reply. It took no thought, and even when I did think about it, my sentiment was exactly the same. No chance.

Then last week, I got two babies dumped on my doorstep along with all of the paraphernalia to raise them for a few days. I had known it was coming for a while, and “dread” is not too strong of a word to describe my anticipation of the weekend. The kids belonged to my brother-in-law: one was seven months old, the other two-and-a-half years. An infant and a toddler. Oi!

I could not begin to imagine what was inside my wife’s head when she agreed to babysit for multiple nights for such creatures. Whatever it was—saintliness or insanity–I was buried in babies for the duration of their stay. It was exhausting! Even though my kids are only a handful of years past that stage, how quickly I had forgotten how absolutely NONSTOP it is with babies and toddlers. Constant vigilance. Constant play. Constant laundry. Messes everywhere. It is a crazy lifestyle.

And even though I grumbled in my head about being volunteered for this duty, I had vowed to myself that I would not take that out on the children. I would be present and joyful and engaged. I was, too. We all had a good time.

But. (There just had to be a “but”.) But I could only stomach it knowing that it was all going to end in a couple of days. I can’t imagine actually parenting like that, half the time thinking two major thoughts: “I am too old for this!” and “When are they leaving?”

I thought about my brother-in-law, who had two kids when he was in his twenties with his first wife, raised them to teenagehood and certainly figured he was done, then divorced, married a younger woman, and now has a second pair of babies in his mid-forties. Is he not constantly muttering, “I am too old for this stuff!”? He is not the only person I know who has had two distinct rounds of kids, either married to the same spouse or a different one. I have seen some who seem to resent the younger ones—or at least resent the grind of raising them–and are less engaged than they could be because, in their heads, they were done with their duties after the first round of kids. That’s not good for anyone involved.

I guess you have to decide on your limit and your window for having kids, then dive in head-first and enjoy the exhausting-but-wildly-rewarding ride, and then just chill until grandparenthood comes along. Have you noticed how people love grandparenthood? I am quite sure I will be ready by that time to go all-in on my grandkids, if I am so blessed.

But babysitting? Especially multi-day babysitting? At this point, I am just not there. I have no patience for their demands, quirks, and messes, even if they are just a different version of my kids’ issues. Play dates are the same, and now especially that my daughter has begun sleepovers. It is just not in me. Grrr.

Maybe it is because I had to initially grapple with the idea of having my own kids in the first place before finally embracing the plan fully, but it feels like by going completely all-in with them, I have somehow reduced my tolerance for the challenges of other people’s children. I have to smile through my grinding teeth during certain play dates when the other kid is acting up, and I would be quick to pass on any babysitting opportunity. At the same time, I am still completely patient and engaged with my own kids’ development, including when they are acting up.

It’s like my window for all of this stuff was only so big, and I have already squeezed every inch of my kid tolerance into it with my own pair of rugrats. As I wrote into my journal on the final afternoon of babysitting, “Two days is about 1 ½ days too many.”

I hope my brother-in-law is thrilled with his life choice. It is plainly not for me, though. I will gleefully pilot my two kids all the way to adulthood, but there is definitely no Round Two in my future. See you in grandparenthood, friend! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

How about you? How tolerant are you of other people’s children? Open up your journal and take yourself through your recent experiences with kids. How would you categorize your patience level with them? How closely related to you were they? Is your tolerance level directly proportional to how closely related you are to the children (or at least how much you care for their parents)? If you have kids of your own, do you find yourself to be pretty accepting of their quirks and issues? How much different is it with other kids? Are you more or less tolerant with other kids? In your most private moments, do you wish you had fewer kids than you do? More? If you could give your younger self advice on how many children to have in order to achieve the right balance for your personality, what is that number? How much does that number differ from your significant other’s number? Who compromised the most? Do the effects of that compromise ever show themselves –e.g. lack of patience—in interactions with the kids? Do you like babysitting? How open would you be to my situation of taking on an infant and a toddler for a few days? Could a child’s story be told to you that would be compelling enough to adopt a child(ren) or become a foster parent? Are there other things in life that you sign on for, accept all of the frustrations and issues that come with it, but have no tolerance for beyond what you signed up for? Pets? Yard work? I used to deal with tons of financial figures at an old job to the point that I could not so much as open a bill at home. Similarly, I worked for years in service industries and had to not only tolerate but smile through just about every level of human nonsense imaginable, and I think I hit my quota and have lost my lifetime’s allocation of tolerance for pettiness, narrow-mindedness, and superficiality. How is your tolerance for those? I just had a revelation! I think this is the foundation of me as a grumpy old man. In recent years I have come to much greater understanding about what I love and what serves my soul and my greater good. Along with that comes clarity about what doesn’t. I have no time and patience for those things anymore, and I imagine my impatience for them will only grow as I age and refine my tastes. Thus, the grumpy old man. What do you think? Do you tolerate less and less as you age? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the limits of your patience?

Smile at Life,

William

P.S. If something in today’s letter hits home with you, I hope you will share it. Peace to you.

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.

Friendly Warning: Do Not Sleep Through Summer (Again)!

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” –Jean de La Bruyére, Les Caractéres

Hello friend,

I remember last year at Labor Day. I was returning from the lake with my kids. I am always very contemplative when I am driving home from a trip. The kids sit in back and watch a movie, and I am left alone to take stock of my life and re-orient my mind to the real world. On that particular drive, I was feeling the sadness that every Labor Day brings, fully aware that Summer was officially over and that there would be no more weekends at the lake until the next Summer, which felt a million years away.

It wasn’t just my characteristic Labor Day sadness that sticks out from that drive, though. It was the regret. It was the disappointment.

I had not done enough with the Summer. I had not capitalized on all of the opportunities of my season. There were so many more Summery things that I wanted to do, that I had told myself I would do before the season had started.

More beach writings. More trail runs. More bike rides. More campfires. More s’mores. More photos. More nature walks. More kayaking.   More tennis. More driveway basketball. More stargazing. More playgrounds. More hammock time. More roadtrips. More boat rides.

That is the stuff of Summer for me. And in that car on the way home last Labor Day, I knew that I hadn’t done enough of it. I had gotten too busy and too lazy. I had let my little windows of alone time slip by. It was too easy to choose to write on the sofa versus loading my backpack and biking down to the beach to write. The gym was easier than gearing up for a kayak ride or trail run. Weekends away and staying up late by the fire seemed like too much hassle. The hammock and the nature walks didn’t feel productive enough.

I am the first to admit that I am generally (and unhealthily) obsessed with being productive and always having something to show for my time (e.g. so many words written, pages read, or tasks knocked off the To-Do List). But, really, is your ideal Summer supposed to be described as “productive”? To me, that sounds like a good word for the other seasons. You know, the ones that have cold in them.

Maybe all along I should have been aiming for different adjectives to describe how my favorite season would be. How about fun? Adventurous? Soul-stirring? Enriching? Invigorating? Inspiring? Liberating? Enchanting? Yes, these all sound wonderful. But just plain old fun is perfect. “How was your Summer?” you ask. “It was nonstop fun!” That is exactly how I wish my response had been last Labor Day.

So, of course, on that contemplative drive home—and on almost every day after until June rolled around—I vowed that I would redeem myself this Summer. I would engage all of these beautiful, inviting days and live them fully. I would absolutely suck the marrow out of Summer this time!

I even had a list going in my head, the things that I would definitely do to make me feel satisfied when the next Labor Day rolls around. These are just some of the items on my Satisfying Summer Checklist for this year:

  • Take my kayak out at least three times
  • Become a regular outdoor journal writer
  • Find several new spots to try out my portable hammock
  • Take my kids to our local beach regularly
  • Get my ancient mountain bike fixed and ride the area trails
  • Roadtrip to the family lake cabin at least three times
  • Roadtrip to visit my sister and her family
  • Play tennis several times with other adults
  • Teach my kids tennis at least once per week
  • Do several trail runs
  • Use the neighborhood fire pit and roast marshmallows with my kids
  • A few daytrips to regional parks for hiking with my wife and kids
  • Make a habit of taking my daughter to the local lakes on early weekend mornings for father-daughter bonding time
  • Play a lot of driveway basketball with my son
  • Take lots of photos of the whole wild ride

That was a start, anyway. My mind seems to add new To-Do items every day, and the Wish List grows. But that stuff marked the basics for my Satisfying Summer Checklist.

Well, I just looked at the calendar and realized we are almost halfway to Labor Day. Gosh, that sneaks up, doesn’t it?!? So, how am I doing with my list?

Well………

Okay, there are some positives. I am about to take the second roadtrip to the family lake cabin for what has become my and my children’s favorite week of the year (score!), so only one more to go on that one. I did get the mountain bike fixed, but I have only been out in the dirt with it once so far. I have been writing most of my journal entries outdoors, though usually it is just on my deck (but at least it is usually in a hammock!). I have done pretty well getting the kids to the tennis court, not as well getting my own practice in. I have taken my kayak out (once). I have done a couple of trail runs. The driveway basketball is happening. I have not made the roadtrip to my sister’s place, but my intentions are still there. The portable hammock has been used (but not enough). We have not done the fire and s’mores (well, we microwaved them once!). We have only done the local beach once. We have failed completely on the regional parks and hiking. The discovered gem in the lot has been the father-daughter bonding time early Sunday mornings at the local lakes—absolutely priceless. And there have been some good photos of the ride.

If I had to give myself a grade so far, I would say maybe a C-. I have definitely done some small portion of many of my items, which is good. But there is much more than half left to do in this final half of Summer in order to achieve Satisfying Summer status.

I better get busy being NOT BUSY. I must get more ambitious about my leisure, more serious about my fun. I need to buckle down, because now that the Fourth of July is over, you know what the next holiday is, right?

Labor Day.

It won’t be long before I am taking that long, contemplative drive back home from the lake on that final day of Summer. Though I am guaranteed to feel a bit sad that day at the passing of my favorite season, my hope is that I will have done enough in the second half so that I don’t have to mix regret and disappointment with my sadness.

I needed this check-in to get real with myself about my laziness and excuses. It’s half over, friend. We have now been warned! I am planning to heed it this year. Carpe Summer!!!

How about you? Are you making the most of this precious and fleeting gift called Summer? Open up your journal and go through your own checklist? Are you satisfied with how you have been using your time lately? Start with how you want to feel this Summer and how you want to describe your Summer when it ends. What words would you choose? Is “FUN” one of them? Regardless of your adjectives, what activities are on your Satisfying Summer Checklist? Are they things that are quite unique to the season or things that you carry along all year? In either case, how are you doing for the first half of the season? Have you gotten most items on your list started at least? How many items are finished? How many have you not even touched yet? What kind of grade would you give yourself so far? Now, knowing that you still have plenty of time to make necessary changes and do great things, how confident are you that you will improve your grade by the time Labor Day rolls around? Which items will you prioritize? Are there any items that you will get rid of? Any new ones to add? Does making a To-Do List and scoring your progress take some of the fun out of it and kind of defeat the purpose of making it fun and stress-free, or do you appreciate that it keeps your priorities straight? For me, I need the reminder from time to time. Keeping fresh air and fun in the forefront of my mind is crucial for me. How about you? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you need to do to finish this Summer right?

Adventure is out there,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Make the most of your days!