Real Men Use Electric Razors

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By Mark E. Smith

I know a lot about strength. No, it’s not because I’ve long worked out with weights, toned and trim for a man my age. Rather, I know a lot about strength because I know that’s what it takes to expose my every vulnerability to those around me.

It’s natural that all of us feel a need to “present” ourselves in the best light, not wanting others to see our vulnerabilities, possibly perceived as weaknesses, at least in our own minds. After all, our biggest fear as social creatures is rejection. And, while there are certain environments where putting only our best face forward is appropriate, such as a job interview, there are other circumstances where if we’re going to demonstrate our ultimate strength, it means exposing our ultimate vulnerabilities.

I was recently at an event where I was fortunate to be a known figure, fitting the cultural norm of “strength.” I was a bit of a celebrity or politician, you might say. I was well-dressed, poised, blessed with the graciousness of many recognizing me. And, I had the privilege of having my partner with me, where she witnessed me move through the event as a “man of strength.” And, isn’t that how we want our romantic partners to see us: successful, poised and recognized as someone of merit?

Yet, for me, there was ultimately nothing proud or strong about any of that. Sure, I was authentic in truly caring about the people around us, and humbled by the recognition. But, breezing through a crowd with my hair combed just right and people recognizing me didn’t make me strong. What made me strong was what happened hours earlier, that only one other person knew about – my partner.

See, having cerebral palsy often makes me the opposite of poised, far outside the cultural framework of masculinity, the archetypical male model we see shaving shirtless in the mirror of Gillette commercials. Rather, I have vulnerabilities. But, that in itself gets to my definition of the epitome of masculine strength – that is, having the courage to share with others your deepest vulnerabilities, where you don’t hide any part of you, allowing others to see all of you. That takes the truest form of strength.

And, although I’d strolled through the event poised, of strength, hours earlier my partner and I shared a much different reality: my vulnerabilities. I wasn’t a recognized figure in a tie and jacket, but a man with severe cerebral palsy struggling to go through my morning routine in a hotel room not set-up for my needs. And, my partner both witnessed and assisted with my struggles. And, with the truest of strength, I shared with her my utmost vulnerabilities. Yes, it was emotionally scary. And, yes, it was embarrassing at moments. However, most of all, it was ultimately liberating. Just being you, in your most vulnerable ways, and letting another see and accept you as-is, supporting you as-is, is a life-changing experience.

What I’ve learned is that the minute that we have the strength to drop all pretenses, and share our utmost vulnerabilities with someone we trust, it removes all between us, and our relationships become deeper and totally authentic. Masks create barriers to intimacy, whereas having the courage, the strength to remove them allows us to be us, and others to love us for us.

In this way, if you want to live with ultimate strength, there’s only one way to do it: have the courage to share your ultimate vulnerabilities. And, I don’t worry about being the guy in the Gillette commercial – I have an electric razor.

Unlike Romeo and Juliet

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By Mark E. Smith

I remember reading Romeo and Juliet in the 11th grade, thinking, This isn’t going to turn out well for these two young, star-crossed lovers! After all, nothing aligned for them, where even their families despised each other. And, I was right (insert 400-year-old spoiler alert here), as both end up dead.

Interestingly, Romeo and Juliet serves as a great metaphor toward how all of us should properly make life-changing decisions – albeit relationships, careers, health, and finances. Romeo and Juliet unquestionably loved each other, and many romantics for hundreds of years have wanted to believe that such love is enough. But, solely following such a single-minded view rarely turns out well. After all, Romeo demonstrated such impulsiveness that it resulted in Mercutio’s death and the ultimate double suicide. Lots of people want lots of things – including true love with the one who he or she is drawn toward – but wanting doesn’t make for good decision making. So, whether we’re in a relationship, handling finances, or making career moves, how do we know we’re truly making the right decision instead of simply following impulses?

In my life, I’ve evolved a very simple formula for making decisions, and I apply that formula especially toward the major decisions in my life. It’s a single question that must have a yes answer, or I won’t move forward: Is this healthy and will it prove successful? If the answers can be demonstrated as yes-yes, it’s a petty safe bet. If the answers are no-no, yes-no or no-yes, then it’s a poor decision. The literal answer must be, This decision will prove both healthy and successful.

Think back to Romeo and Juliet. If they’d simply asked, Is this relationship proving both healthy and successful, no one would have died, as the insanity of the situation would have been seen! Asking ourselves that simple question – is this decision both healthy and successful – will virtually always steer us in the right direction.

Now, I haven’t always been the best at doing what’s both healthy and successful – that is, I’ve learned this tool through the School of Hard Knocks. If you think you’ve done dumb, I’ve done dumber. Yet, every time I’ve applied the question of, Is this both healthy and successful, to my life, it’s proved exactly that – healthy and successful! In 2009, when the “mortgage crisis” hit, devastating countless hard-working, well-meaning Americans, I wasn’t one of them. However, I could have been. See, when I built my home – the most modest in my development – every so-called financial expert advised me that I should have assumed a very large mortgage and built a much larger home. After all, your home is your best investment, right?

Wrong. The best investment is one that’s both healthy and successful – and there’s only one right answer. If I had taken the suggested mortgage, it would have added stress to my life and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. There’s nothing healthy or successful about that! To the contrary, I stayed debt-free, where when the mortgage crisis hit, I had no mortgage, and rather than putting money in a bank’s pocket, it stayed in mine. No stress and preserved income – that’s both healthy and successful.

I likewise have been applying this vital tool toward decisions of the heart. Unlike Romeo, I’ve not followed impulses lately, but have been striving to better recognize what creates a life-changing relationship, and the answer is, it has to be both healthy and successful on every level. Love between two people isn’t a vacuum. Rather, it not only directly effects their emotions, but also their children, extended families, careers and finances, to name a few. In this way, I’ve felt increasing satisfaction in my life by ensuring that my romantic life builds health and success on all levels. It’s not hard to feel happy in love, but by ensuring that all is healthy and successful – especially in building a future together – is a great way to gain perspective and get it right.

Every day we face decisions, and making the right decision is often the difference between health and success or misery and failure. Simplify the process by resisting impulses and avoiding sketchy thinking by living to the rule of making decisions based on, Is it both healthy and successful? If so, that’s a winner!

Where Divorce Leads

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By Mark E. Smith

I’m at that age, in my 40s, where many I know are either divorced or in the midst of divorce. And, it’s hard for me to watch because I understand the tragedy of divorce, but not for the reasons you might presume. And, I know the ultimate goal of divorce, but, again, it’s likely not what you presume. Divorce is different for each couple – and, even more unfortunate for each “family” – yet there’s a common thread of humanity that too many overlook. It’s by understanding that common thread that takes divorce from the court room and places it back into the heart, which is really where it resides.

Interestingly, while I am a generational divorce statistic – my parents divorced, and I subsequently divorced as an adult – I’ve never been through a “typical” divorce in the legal sense. My father simply left when I was very young, then my mother and stepfather had a very simple divorce. Then, in my divorce, it likewise was a very simple legal process, no custody issues, gracefully splitting of assets amongst ourselves, never even a foot in court. My marriage was deeply dysfunctional, but we still treated each other with dignity and respect in the divorce process – there was no excuse not to. None of these divorces in my life were by any fathom ideals – divorce never is – and emotions ran deep; but, they weren’t legal battles and drawn-out War of the Roses, either.

However, I’ve helped friends emotionally get through some tough divorces. And, it’s struck me that so many divorces are a seemingly surreal process. Think about how divorce transpires. Two people have gone from loving each other, vowing to spend a lifetime together, and even having children, to needing a court to decide who gets the kids on Sundays, utterly despising each other, paying attorneys thousands of dollars to literally fight over items like who gets the $50 DVD player. And, the process takes on a life of its own, where individuals abandon all rationale and systematically their lives are devastated by one or both of their actions – home lost, bank account drained, kids made a pawn, and everything so lovingly built is destroyed, including those once-priceless wedding photos. When two people’s lives – and worse, their kids – are sanctioned entirely by court order, life has jumped the tracks in among the most tragic of ways.

Yet, as horrible as the legalities of divorce can be, it’s the impact on our humanity that’s the real toll – and this is what few realize or wish to admit. Alcoholics and addicts aside (a leading cause for divorce, where such individuals by nature of altered brain chemistry cannot process rational thoughts or feelings), it’s the emotional impact of divorce that’s more life-shaking than any other aspect. The monetary can be rebuilt, and the court appearances eventually come to an end. However, the realization that the person and union that you so believed in turned out to be completely unfulfilled in the end, rattles you to your core. What you thought was, wasn’t. What you trusted in as a forever, came to a soul-numbing hault. The person who you married isn’t recognizable anymore. And, whether you do it consciously or subconsciously, you’re bound to feel the scariest, most helpless emotion of your life: After witnessing the implosion of my beliefs, hopes and dreams, how do I believe in anything ever again? See, that’s what divorce truly is for most. While couples duke it out in court over meaningless materialism, fueled by spite and bitterness, thinking that’s the nature of divorce, they’re overlooking the real consequence and battle: How do I restore my faith in humanity, to trust again? It’s not just a dissolution of a marriage, but the dissolution of all that one believed – and that’s soul-shattering for many.

In this way, the ultimate goal of surviving divorce can’t be preservation of capital or righteousness or bitterness. Rather, the ultimate goal in surviving divorce is a preservation of faith, the ability to trust and love again. While you may lose a lot in divorce, as long as you don’t lose faith in humanity, you not only have the opportunity to recover, but to go on and live the life of your dreams.

And, to me, that’s the ultimate goal of divorce. It’s not about distribution of property, who’s right or wrong, or being bitter with your ex. Rather, the ultimate goal of divorce is among the most consequential processes of your life: Preserving your faith in trusting and loving again toward ultimate happiness wherever it awaits you – and sincerely wishing your ex the same.

Evenings in the Kitchen

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By Mark E. Smith

In fairy tales and films, they end happily ever after, but in our lives, they always don’t. However, just because they haven’t till now, doesn’t mean that they won’t.

Life proves more potential than even fiction, where heart break and sorrow can lead to Etta James, John Coltrane, slow dancing and kissing to jazz as together you cook dinner, dim lights and sips of wine in the kitchen.

Jazz, rhythm and blues, life isn’t what happens to you, it’s truly about what you choose. And, as you be you and me be me, life doesn’t imitate art, but it is the only reality. Bukowski and Basquiat were not philosophers or saints, but they knew our futures are written with our own hands, a great painting is what a painter paints.

And, so we write our own lives, paint who we are, where we can reach our potentials, hearts dangling from a star. No scripts needed, just an understanding of who we are – poets and painters and jazz players in a sentimental mood. It’s all what we choose.

Life isn’t about accepting just what we’re given. It’s a novel written, a painting painted, a jazz song played, a slow kiss in the dim lights of the kitchen.

And, a life isn’t truly lived when we hesitate – great novels and paintings and jazz compositions, see, they never deliberate. They follow the flow of the heart and soul, and if you want to live great, live to your dreams and potentials – liberate. Life is an art, not a role.

The Equation of Self

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By Mark E. Smith

Here are five facts about me: I have severe cerebral palsy. I’m a middle-aged, full-time single father. I come from a deeply troubled background. I’m among the least successful people I know. And, many see me as a despicable character.

Every aspect above is literally true. If you were a woman, would you date me? Not a chance, as I’m a rolling wreck.

However, here’s the flaw in my rolling wreck of a self-description: it doesn’t reflect anywhere near the entirety of who I am. Rather, it leaves out the amazing parts of who I am, and fabricates a negative self-image from an inappropriately critical perspective. It’s like taking a beautiful diamond, and placing it under a microscope, finding the flaws, then discarding the entirety of its stunning brilliance. How many of us do that to ourselves every day? While the rest of the world sees our beauty and brilliance – like a two carat diamond – we find flaws that no one else sees. How is it that when we’re each so amazingly unique – one in four-hundred trillion, genetically, according to science – some of us can place a microscope on ourselves and only see flaws?

I recently heard a top collegiate soccer coach explain what he looks for when recruiting players. He doesn’t seek great runners or kickers – they’re easy to find, he said. In fact, he overlooks soccer skills altogether since everyone has them who applies to his program. What he looks for is the most empowering trait that an individual can have: self-confidence.

See, self-confidence isn’t about ego or narcissism, but about recognizing our own value, viewing ourselves as the rest of the world views us. And, when we have it, we don’t just perform better, we feel better. So, why don’t more of us have self-confidence, why don’t we see the beauty in who we are that others see, so unique that we’re one in 400 trillion?

The answer, as I’ve concluded, is that we’re really really bad at math. Allow me to explain….

When others view us, they add up the sum of our parts to create the whole value of who we are. We can look at someone and say, “Wow, what an amazing person, from the inside out,” and we’re able to do that because all of his or her traits add up to extraordinary. Yet, we’re often not skilled at doing math on ourselves – that is, except negative numbers. While the rest of the world looks at us as 2 + 4 + 4 = 10, we look at ourselves and add a negative to every positive -2 + -4 + -4 = -10.

Therefore, we need to do a much better job at understanding all of the variables that comprise us, and add the positives back in. Getting back to my five examples of why no woman should ever date me, let’s see what happens – mathematically – when I complete the missing variables to my equation:

I have severe cerebral palsy, and it’s fueled a life of independence, where I’ve seen first-hand that most limitations that we project are false, that the power of the human spirit runs deeper than any ocean, where few obstacles are insurmountable.

I’m a middle-aged, full-time single father who is in fantastic shape, and my daughter is a young woman of tremendous grace, wisdom, and empathy, whose hard work applied to education and the arts has her on an Ivy-League track.

I come from a deeply troubled background, and I’m the only one in generations of my family to be formally educated, to not live in poverty, to not be an addict.

I’m among the least successful people I know because I learned that if we wish to rise, surround ourselves with those who foster our growth, so I strive to associate with those of tremendous moral compasses, exceptional work ethics, and accomplished personal and professional lives.

And, many see me as a despicable character because I’m among the most read, public figures with a disability, where my success brings out some who resent it.

The result, then, is that I’m not a loser, but a remarkably successful individual with a lot to offer in my uniqueness.

And, the same goes for each one of us. None of us are perfect, but even our so-called flaws add up to remarkable when placed in the full context of who we are. The next time you look in the mirror, see yourself as everyone else sees you – and you’ll see an amazing person looking back.

Garages

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By Mark E. Smith

When I was seven, my mom moved my brother and me into a friend’s garage. It was no mirage. For those few days, I felt homeless and helpless, useless and restless. It’s what happens when the rent’s not paid.

It was scary. Scars that I buried. And, now the chicks wonder why I focus on career and my daughter? Priorities straight, bills never late, and as for a date, they come and go like an occasional snow – storms in the night. It works, but is it right?

In business, I’m bustling. As a writer, I’m hustling. And, as a father I just try to do what’s right. I get done what needs to get done by day, but forever toss and turn at night. See, when we think all heals, again spin the wheels, reminding us of our original plight. Have you known such inner fight?

Work may seem an addiction, but paranoia is the affliction, getting as far from that garage as I can.

But, now I own my own, attached to a house. Dinner on the table, life turned into a fable, and my daughter sleeps soundly at night. I’ve penned books that tell stories, take stages in the glory, and look forward more than back. That’s right.

With a garage as home in your past, it’s always going to linger and always last. But, at some point I realize my past is so far. And, a garage is a garage, just some place for my daughter to park – her car.

Open-Ended

LOVE

By Mark E. Smith

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way…. -Pablo Neruda

As we sat talking – strangers seated next to each other on an airplane – I told him what I know about love as I glanced out the window, clouds beneath us drifting by, uncertainties ahead, the unknowns of travel and life….

Love isn’t about chances, I told him. It’s about trust. When you see a woman walking toward you – maybe the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen – and you smile warmly, looking into her eyes, you trust that she’ll smile back. Maybe it’s a stranger, and the electricity of her eyes says it all. Or, maybe she’s someone you know, and the squeeze of her hug says it all. However it occurs, it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When you ask a woman out on a date – maybe you put it casually, Do you want to go grab something to eat? – it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When you’re the first to initiate any milestones – …Can I see you again? …Do you want to come in? …How about meeting my friends? …What would you think about us going away this weekend? …I’m falling in love with you… – it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When there’s a petty argument, a disagreement, moodiness, and you’re the first to say, I’m sorry, it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When either one of you is confused or scared by it all, don’t run away from the relationship, run toward it. And, if she says that she needs time and space – maybe she’s even told you, It’s over – you step back as a gentleman, as a guy who cares and understands, and you give her that time and space because love isn’t about chances, it’s about trust.

And, when you have her picture still on your dresser, looking at it with fond memories – her head tilted back, smiling – but she’s not calling you on the phone anymore, your heart isn’t aching but warmed. Because, love isn’t about chances, it’s about trust.

Now, I can’t tell you whether it’s over or not in such cases – sometimes love has a vagueness and timing of its own. The cadence of the heart can’t be explained. But, I can tell you this: Love isn’t about chances. It’s about trust. …And, if you’re going to love – truly, madly, deeply – you have to trust more than you ever thought possible.

And, the clouds – the clouds, looking like I could float on them – just kept drifting by….

The Real American Dream

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By Mark E. Smith

We often hear of the American Dream, but what does that really mean? In my home, it means a lot – because we’re living it.

This past week, I was in Atlanta, working with the Georgia Association of Medical Equipment Services, advocating at the Capitol and its Legislature for sustained mobility funding and disability-related services.

Before I left, my daughter and I sat at our kitchen table, and laid out our 2013 schedules, finances, and priorities. As a family – even though it’s just the two of us – we must be on the same page, as a team, pursuing my goals, her goals, and most importantly, our goals as a family building a legacy.

At just turning 16, my daughter is on her high school’s honor role, and on an Ivy-League track toward college, leaning heavily toward an ultimate doctorate in psychology. She plays and holds a seat not just in the school band, but regional orchestra, too, and is next auditioning for the state level in March. She’s a member of the National Thespian Society, where she acts, as well as serves as Secretary for her troop, and she’s a gallery-shown photographer. This summer, she’s attending George Mason University, where she was nominated as among the top 250 youth leaders in the country, and she’s also volunteering as a counselor at a muscular dystrophy summer camp. Yes, the kid is freakin’ awesome, nailing life at 16!

My career continues in full swing, where I have more corporate, advocacy, writing, and speaking projects lined up than in the history of my career, and what I’ve accomplished in just the first month of the year makes my head spin. Again, I was in Atlanta last week – recently back from Detroit! – now I have a radio interview, magazine columns (both in print and in process), a MDA Muscle Walk fundraiser, which I’m helping coordinate, an on-going book project, engagements in Nashville, and Los Angeles, and a full-time corporate job, message board, and weekly blog. And, that only gets me to mid March! (Then it’s Capitol Hill time, Abilities Expos… you get the idea….)

Yet, as a family, my daughter and I not only have to annually budget time, but also finances. We take money management very seriously in our home, where it’s not just about wealth-building and security, but “stewardship.” We believe that what we’re blesses with isn’t truly ours, but that we manage it for a greater good. We live totally debt free, put necessity before want, share with others, and give as much as we can to charity. We don’t live with a scarcity mindset, where we hoard for ourselves; rather, we live an abundant mindset, where there’s enough for us to really enjoy life and not worry, but we have the ability to give generously, as we believe giving to others is the absolute most fun that one can have with money (and, it’s the reason why we’re “stewards” of income – that is, to ultimately do good with it for others, as opposed to seeing it as ours to keep).

But, here’s what struck me about our 2013 family schedules, finances, and priorities meeting: We’re living the American Dream. In two generations – mine, now my daughter’s – we’ve changed our family tree beyond what many would deem possible. The number of firsts for us is astounding. Although a non-traditional family of just the two of us – there’s no mother figure in our family photos – we personify the American Dream.

See, it’s easy to look at me in a suit and tie traveling the country, speaking to audiences, or read my magazine columns, or know of my corporate career, or see me sunning on my boat or jetting off to Vegas, and say, Sure, Mark, life is easy for you when you and your daughter have money and opportunity….

However, the fact is, I was born into less than nothing, with the four generations before me living in abject poverty, all addicts, most serving prison time, none with an education, most just to steal and harm whoever they could. As I open some of my speaking engagements, On the day I was born, my grandfather was in prison, a lifelong criminal; my grandmother was a heroin-addicted prostitute; my father was an alcoholic, drinking in a bar at noon; and, as I was born on that day, I wasn’t breathing….

And, my family tree got worse from there. My grandmother called my mother on the phone and shot herself in the head, committing suicide. My grandfather died of a heroin overdose after endless years of prison time. Both my parents were Skid Row alcoholics, dead by the time I was 40. And, it all made sense, going back for generations on both sides of my family.

So, how did my daughter and I end up here today? Well, there’s been a lot of hurt, pain, struggle, and success in-between; but for me, it all started with getting myself in and out of a bathtub at age 11, where I simply learned that with unyielding tenacity and vision, my potentials could extend as far as I wished. I couldn’t just change the direction of my family tree, I could grow my own. …And, I did.

I was the first one ever to graduate high school in four generations. I was the first to go through college. I was the first to never serve jail time. I was the first to have a career. I was the first to own and invest. I was the first to not be an addict of any sort. I was the first to not do what those before me and around me had done, but to live by a radically different moral and ethical compass. I was the first to live the American Dream.

Yet, the climb has never been linear. Many of the ghosts of my heritage have chased me at times. At 17, I awoke in intensive care after my own failed suicide attempt. I got myself horribly in debt in my 20s. And, I have yet to sustain a life-long romantic relationship. Yet, every time I’ve fallen down, I’ve used second chances, which we all have, to make things right. I immediately got into counseling at 17; I worked my way out of debt in my early 30s; and, at this writing, I’m currently in counseling, striving to take accountability for a string of ended relationships, and get this whole love life thing right. Indeed, the beauty of the American Dream is it gives each of us the chance to change the directions of our lives at any time and redefine who we are. Again, we can get knocked down and fall down, but we have the chance and the choice to get up stronger every time. And, I’ve never passed on that opportunity.

And, while my daughter’s life hasn’t been a piece of cake, either – her mother ultimately unable to break free of her past and demons, to the point where she hasn’t been in my daughter’s life – my daughter has taken the torch of the American Dream, and ran with it. What we’ve both learned is that life isn’t what you’ve been born into; rather, it’s what you make of it, and despite hardships and hurt, you can move through it all, day by day, hurdle by hurdle, to success that you’ve earned by simply striving to do right – that’s living the American Dream.

Teeing Off At Love

By Mark E. Smith

Yes, my swing is still off by a millimeter – but, of course, I’m working on it with more determination than ever, as we all should if we’re serious about getting it right. See, I learned that the only difference between the best golfers in the world and the worst golfers in the world is a one millimeter positioning of the head of the club at the point of impact on the ball. That one millimeter at the point of impact dictates whether the ball soars down the fairway, onto the green, or veers off by dozens of yards, into the rough. It all comes down to trajectory, where a slight nuance at the beginning dictates a vastly different outcome.

And, so, in my romantic life, there are days when I’m still one millimeter off, still trying to make right and do right. However, through all sorts of practice – from counseling, to reading, to just taking good ol’ accountability – I keep working on my swing, trying to get that last millimeter right, my love life soaring consistently down the fairway, being both a worthy partner and worthy of a partner. As is the case for a lot of people, loving is easy for me, but feeling fully worthy of love has been the hard part – the last millimeter.

Why is it that truly feeling worthy of love – like hitting a silly, white ball in a straight line – can be so challenging? I mean, for me, I’ve learned at least some of the answers. I know that I started the whole romance thing at four millimeters off, having my parents as the worst coaches – read that, examples – in the world. I actually started in my late teens hitting the ball in the entirely wrong direction, dating emotional vacuums. But, after a few relationships and just wanting to do right by others and just be happy myself, I got better at it all, healthier at it all. But, never perfect. You might say I could keep the ball straighter, but the trajectory always landed me in the rough at the end. Was it my dysfunctions creeping in at the last minute, or just bad luck, a gust of wind that I couldn’t recover from?

And, that’s the baffling part of romantic relationships, isn’t it? When we think we’ve finally hit our best shot – where we strive to love with sincerity and vulnerability, and find love in return – we too often ultimately watch it inexplicably veer off course, saying to ourselves and those around us, Wait! I swear I’ve been working on myself, and gave it my best shot! This isn’t the direction it’s supposed to go! We sometimes want to throw our club in the air, and scream, OK, Lord, I give up – I’m moving into my studio condo in Vegas, getting a cat, and look forward to being the best single grandparent ever!

Yet, we can’t do that. See, the only time we lose in any aspect of life, including love, is when we give up. No, we shouldn’t throw our club in despair, and stomp off of the course. Rather, if we’re patient, someone, somewhere, at the right time, who’s truly compatible, will fall in love with us, accepting us for who we are – with our fully reciprocating – and together with her or him we’ll celebrate the victory of finding the literal sweet spot of life.

But, indeed, it’s the waiting for love that so many of us have struggled with at times in our lives, the right one to enter our lives, wholly, completely. I was recently discussing the topic of love with a spiritual force in my life, a woman wiser and more angelic than anyone I’ve ever known, and she spoke profound words: When the time is right, the right person will come into your life. Life is a waiting game. If we try to rush things, we often short change ourselves.

Similarly, musician and sage soul, Bob Marley, delivered among the most profound takes on love, one that resonates with the emotional availability and valuation that we should all have when we meet the one for us:

Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colours seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there’s no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon. You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.”
― Bob Marley

And, so we should each just keep practicing at it all – learning and growing and loving, in a relationship or single or somewhere in-between – knowing that one day, at the right tee time, we’ll finally shave off that one millimeter blocking our well-formed swings, and all will soar in the direction we and our partners desire – a hole-in-one in life, love, and fulfillment.

Palm Tree in the Wind

By Mark E. Smith

Indeed, my friend, I continue working on this thing called life – physically, emotionally, mentally. I’ve concluded that it’s all a bit like exercise. From the physical to the emotional, if we do nothing, life is effortless. However, such a no-effort approach is also the worst thing for us – we don’t grow, nothing changes, nothing gets easier, things just stay the same or degrade. Yet, like physical exercise, when we put in the effort to change ourselves for the better, we grow and become healthier – and life gets better. It’s the nature of personal growth: It takes effort, but the more we do it, the easier it gets – more intuitive, more natural – and the healthier we get.

I just spoke at the University of Scranton, and a student asked where I got my resiliency as a child? I couldn’t give an absolute answer other than there was something intrinsic in me toward facing adversity. I know that in changing our lives for the better as adults, we need a conscious desire to improve ourselves, as well as an innate inner capacity to accomplish it. There’s often a catalyst for conscious change – and I’ll get to that more in a moment – but the innate part is more complex.

I recently learned about the resilience of palm trees. While all other trees topple in hurricane force winds, the palm bows for hours in horrendous storms, then simply uprights to normal. Oaks, pines, maples, you name it, all topple – but not the palm. I think all of us are born as palms – that is, having utmost resilience – but for some, the roots are eroded by others, where hellish upbringings can kill our capacities to grow beyond the scars that were left. But, fortunately, I wasn’t one of those people whose spirit was ever lost or destroyed. I’ve weathered my storms, but my roots – my capacities to learn, grow, and change – stayed intact.

For a lot of years, I relied on my innate capacities to change and grow, but it wasn’t until the passing of both my parents due to their troubled lives that I truly understood the power of combining innate strength with the conscious desire to change, to move beyond their negative examples and live a better life for myself. It’s one thing to survive and get by; but, it’s another to thrive and do well. I guess with my parents’ deaths, I was able to shake away a lot of shadows, and truly work on moving beyond the pain of my past. It may be a shame that their passing liberated me in ways – that’s not how parent-child relationships should work – but it did put so much of the dysfunction to rest. I guess those who aren’t there anymore can’t hurt us – but the memories still can – and moving beyond both has been my goal for several years now.

And, the newly-made memories are better these days, all of them. I added a fireplace to my master bedroom. No, it’s not a real one, but what they call “vent-free.” But it’s a beautiful mantel, with a realistic flame and logs, and heats the room with a toasty warmth and glow. I also picked out a thick, shag area rug that nicely frames my bed. It all cozies up my space, a tranquil one, where my daughter and I have nightly conversations about her life, my life, our life – life overall. She’s in driver’s education now, with her first formal gallery showing of her photography coming up, and a boyfriend who’s an Eagle Scout. So, there’s a lot to talk about around the fake fireplace and shag rug – warmth abound.

We recently went and saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s the movie adaptation from the 1990s novel by the same name. A central theme of the movie is, We accept the love we think we deserve, meaning that if we think we deserve little, then that’s what we’ll get, that we should all raise our expectations – in life and love. And, the movie was not lost on who we’re each striving to become, the wounds we’re each healing, the ever-rewarding effort that we’re each putting into loving, learning, and growing.

It’s said that if we don’t address the trauma of our pasts and heal, we statistically will relive it, making ourselves forever either a victim or a perpetrator – or both. If you were raised by an alcoholic, chances are that unless you make a conscious change, along with possessing the innate capacity to do so, you will marry an alcoholic, be an alcoholic, or, forbid, do both. This holds true for any trauma in our lives, where, again, if we don’t address it, we relive it – the only creature on Earth known by science that revictimizes itself. And, I’ve done it, now taking absolute accountability for choosing relationships where I simply found those who fit the mold of those I knew in my insanely dysfunctional upbringing – emotionally unavailable for any number of dysfunctional reasons. However, with my own value at stake – raising the bar on the health and love that I deserve, and breaking the cycle of dysfunction for the sake of my daughter – I continue working on myself, changing my own flawed programming, moving out of the shadows of my past and into the glow of my potential. And, like exercise, it’s been painful getting into shape, and it’s all just scary and confusing at times. But, I just keep working at it – the strength of a lone man just trying to do right.

And, so it’s around the fake fireplace and shag rug that I continue building an ever-inspired life of laughter, love, learning, and growth. Sure, it was once just my daughter and me in a house left both literally and figuratively empty by my ended marriage, repeated dysfunctional patterns from my childhood on. But, now there are new pictures on the walls, a fake fireplace, and shag rug that are just quirky enough to feel so right. Palm trees, my friend, do always find ways to right themselves – it just takes time.