A Week of Thanks: Family.Over.Everything

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Growing up Catholic, there were certain dates that were emphasized on a yearly basis.  If we have the same background, and you’ve been paying attention, then you know December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception; that famed day during which the Angel Gabriel approached Mary, told her that she’d been chosen to bear the Son of God, and all she had to do was accept this great and terrifying offer.  Without hesitation, Mary replied “Yes.”  Before, as they say, the rest is history, there are two other important aspects to the story of Mary and her infant Savior.  First among them is that at some point she had to break the news to Joseph, her husband.  We are told in the bible, and on the 2nd Sunday in Lent during the gospel reading, that Joseph, having never consummated his marriage with his wife, intended to divorce Mary quietly, to salvage her reputation as best as possible.  This was his intention until God sent and Angel to Joseph in his dream, describing everything.  Joseph also humbly replied “Yes” to God’s plan.  Finally, January 6th is the feast of the epiphany, where among many blessings, Joseph is told in a dream of King Herod’s plan to eradicate all males born during the time of Jesus.  By fleeing to Egypt the both avoid the impending death of Jesus, but also take the same route taken by Moses, a great prophet for the coming of Jesus.

So it is that on December 7th of 2012, having been married to my wife for less than 3 months, we learn of our first pregnancy.  Sitting in our upstairs hallway in our Pig-Town rental – well past the moment at which our butts went numb – I alternated thoughts of “Holy Shit” and Thanks to Mary, given that I now could eagerly anticipate both her Immaculate Conception and my wife’s first conception.  Finally able to string a few thoughts together, we called my mother-in-law.  Fittingly, she was on her way to choir practice to prepare for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception the following day.  We all held that frame of reference in our minds.  We all cried.  So many firsts abounded out of that phone call.  A new generation on a tree.  New Grandparents.  New Parents.  New feelings of understanding the power of the word “Yes.”

So also we find ourselves, on the 2nd of January of 2014, a four-month-old wedged between us as the next round of pregnancy test indeed shows that we’ll be sprinting down the line to determine whether or not we’ll have Irish Twins.  As it turns out, we miss that label by 14 days.  Nonetheless, we have our own brand-new set of thoughts to sort out as we enter the event of the Epiphany.  My coming son’s birth was difficult to prepare for.  Both my wife and I were ecstatic to have another opportunity to bring life into the world, but financially and emotionally we were woefully unprepared for the strain it would bring, and to tack it on we knew what everyone was going to say.  Emerging out the other end of the tunnel, there could be no better brother for Quinn than Xavier; no better sister for Xavier than Quinn.  There could be no better pairing for Carolyn and myself than Quinn and Xavier.  As 4, we took a little break.

So it is that on December 1, 2016 we learn we’ll be adding another car seat to that mini-van we just bought sometime over the next summer.  It is also fitting that as we enter the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, both our baby and our concept of her still a seedling, we are destined to hear the comforting words of the tale of Joseph and his willingness to parent Jesus regardless of his knowledge that he is not his boy’s father.  That Joseph is willing to put aside his anxieties and beliefs for the Will of God is supremely comforting to me in that moment.  While I’ve always intended on having three children, and I’m beyond excited to realize that dream, I have my eyes wide open about its challenges.  In that moment, I am willing to embrace both the blessing and the challenge.  I am confident that my faith in God, my work ethic and my passion for my family will pave the way for whatever challenges we may meet to allow for God’s plan.

Over the course of the past year, that has certainly happened.  Personally, professionally, within my marriage – my faith in God has put me in the places I’m needed in order to be the best father, husband, employee.  The combination has resulted in a perfected vision of the Glory of God; that our faith is rewarded – that nothing we can do or have done can provoke God to rescind His Love for us.  Knowing that frees me from allowing previous guilt to prevent me from future successes.  In the past, I created failure in these arenas for myself based on guilt over previous failures.

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My children have been the very best daily dose of that medicine.  At the current moment, the five of us try as hard as we can every day to be the best support we can be for one another.  Each of us falls short.  Each of us forgives the others.  We don’t always succeed at that immediately, either.  We keep that in mind whenever we can.  None of us get it all right the first time.  We’re granted second chances by God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness we grant one another, and ourselves.  Teaching forgiveness to small children allows me a simplified understanding of it myself.  I need that perspective.  I need the biblical anniversaries and observations.  They remind me of the purpose and what I’m supposed to learn.  This year, on Thanksgiving, I’ve expressed gratitude for many things.  My gratitude for my children, and the person they’ve challenged me to be, just by existing, is life-changing.

So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  May we all be reminded daily of the things for which we are most thankful, for the things that make us happiest, and for the things which propel us towards a better and brighter future.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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A Week Of Thanks: The Blanket Under Which We Sleep

There is a home in Neenah, Wisconsin, on a street like any other across this nation, with rough wooden treads, leading in succession down to a dark, unfinished basement, in a home like any other across this nation.  As I lay here, dreaming in my mind’s eye of that wooden door with a brass knob, honey-combed and discolored from its years of resolute function – the turning back and forth, the latching of its strike, I remember its most indisputable treasure.  Deep within its containment sits a soft-green suit, adorned with ribbons and insignia distinguishing itself as proof its owner was once, and will always be among the few and the proud.  Wrapped in protective plastic, it has not been worn in decades.  Its presence, however, permanently impacted the culture of a family.  One descendant of its owner has gone on to be so persuaded of its honor and virtue, as well as the honor and virtue of the dress-whites of his father as to have earned his own place among those same ranks.  All of the descendants of its owner have a profound respect for the sacrifice made by those now entombed, cloaked in their Class A’s.  As much as any other day, Thanksgiving is about them.  More than for any other reason, Thanksgiving is a product of their iron will.

For the entirety of my consciousness, I have spent this day in eager anticipation of the events that lay ahead.  As a child, it was a football, slick from the rainfall that preceded, too cold to have dried out, that was the star of the show.  Unashamedly soaking the knees, elbows and shoulders of whatever outfit my mother had picked out for me, I was blessed then.  As a teen, a plush leather couch enveloping me as the games flashed in the living room, sweet smell of the Turkey brine, cooked brown sugar and pumpkin pie running in their own various trade winds throughout the house, circuitously taking turns presenting themselves before my awaiting senses; I was blessed then.  As a young man, desperately clinging to the thread of hope that this woman would be eternally mine to have and to hold, as we weaved each other into old traditions, old comforts; combining with it new horizons as we shared our hopes and dreams – those goals yet un-attained for which we were most thankful, for the hope that lay within them rested the source of our future gratitude.  For it is in the promise of a new day that I am most thankful; that I may this day be closer to the man I’ve always dreamed I could.  I was blessed then.  This year, the undeserving husband of a fantastically beautiful woman, the father humbled by the daily miracle that are his three gorgeous children, the son of two tireless parents; I am blessed.  For none of this is possible without those not here to share in the bounty they’ve created – preserved.

Not just on Thanksgiving, indeed every day, we stand in debt to many we’ll never meet, and to whom we’ll never rightfully repay.  Of those whom we are blessed enough to know – those brave men and women who selflessly advance the causes of freedom and liberty, of devotion to the constitution, both at home and abroad, and all it demands in its preservation, only the dedication to living in the light of our protection can we properly thank them.  Only by chasing our dreams, living intentionally and pausing to reflect on our blessings along the time we have can we come to understand the good fortune they have handed to us.  This year, as I give thanks, not just tomorrow, but every day for the life I have, I intend to keep within my heart those who have dutifully removed themselves from their homes to defend our great nation.  That much we owe.  For all of the uniforms in our lives; those worn to keep our streets safe and our towns secure, those donned to ensure those in need of emergency response get it swiftly, those crisp and slightly melted after exiting a home saved from flames, and especially those hung by the rafters, in nondescript basements in little homes scattered throughout our land.  May we be ever thankful for those beautiful garments, and the heroic men and women who wear them with full hearts for moments to come, in which they’ll be reunited with those whom they love.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

God’s Lake: An Event Remembered

 

EdisonProject51Opening the door at 6:00 in the morning, I could smell it instantly – the sensation of a hard day on the water foretold by the soggy smell of wet, stony soil and moss, barraged incessantly by a fresh whipping wind and heavy, sideways rain drops.  The lodge was situated quite perfectly near the center of the lake, but the ripest fishing grounds were to the extremities of the amoeba-shaped basin.  Having endured the first day, with much success, I knew that the catch awaiting us would be worth the cold, the rain, the bone-shaking combination of the two as the skiff cut through the water for the next 45 minutes.  I adorned my warmest jacket atop my thickest hoodie.  For good measure, I donned a winter hood, the kind with the round cut-out in it just large enough for your eyes and nose.  My feet were wrapped in two layers of wool socks and water-proof boots.  Despite the added weight to my attire, my soul lifted considerably beyond any height or breadth it had ever encountered.

A fifteen-year-old existence is one of extravagant uncertainty and misconception.  Not a week ago I grimaced, clicking through the television stations half-heartedly, as the phone seemed to refuse in stubborn defiance against ringing.  Plans made with friends for a day of summer open-endedness; forgotten in place of a better development that seemed, endlessly, to develop without me.  But now, out in the great open wilderness, a different stubborn defiance began to take root, stabilize, grow, split and double on itself.  A forgotten rhythm coursed through me, cracking and cragging former habits and idle preferences in favor of experience and adventure just in the same manner as the stone trodden upon on the path to the dock forced me to consider each next step.  Alongside my father and grandfather, I wanted nothing more than to prove my worthiness against the forces rippling and dousing my clothes and face.

Our potentially eternal trek ended with the quelling of the outboard motor; our wake catching us, rose to meet the stern of the skiff, lifting us back against the familiar rise and fall of the plane and crest of the boat in the inverse direction.  There’s a jolt that occurs when that aquatic rhythm is cut.  Time to gear down and tackle on.  July in Manitoba sees nearly no end to sunlight.  Still, the cover of heavy clouds masked the location, and warmth, of the sun as we prepared to try our luck.  When the jagged and violent snag hits the line, signifying the start of the battle, and snaps, taking with it not just the prize, but also the lure, I learned to set the reel’s drag a bit more on the forgiving end.  The monster on the other end at times needs room to run, to be identified, to be gauged before we can understand how to battle back.  I also learned the art of showing my opposition the boat.  As a beastly Northern Pike surfaces and sees what he’s gotten himself into, the innate desire to engage back against the line runs deeper than ever.  If not done with care, a loss of a hard-fought battle too close to the end of the line to properly stomach, threatens.

In the boat with my grandfather and our guide, wedded to bliss, permanently affixed to the fleeting nature of the moment, insubordinately disregarding the impermanence of the moment, I see now that I was given the most precious gift a man or boy can have with his grandfather and father; I was given the gift of time and memory.  There are but two photos that survived that morning, to my knowledge. They took place at our shorelunch.  The morning waned as the sun crept higher into a cloud-marred sky.  Hunger in the belly crept up, settling just under the surface much as our game did to us.  With a half-dozen or so freshly caught Northern Pike strung up off the port side of the boat, we set down our instruments of men, zippered back up and felt the outboard motor lurch to life.  An island not far off in the horizon pegged as our lunch destination.  Entirely saturated with the vitality of the morning surging through my nerves, coursing through my veins, we brought the skiff to shore, disembarked and greeted the rest of our party.  Five boats there were in total.  All with similar success.  A bounty of food as reward for our enterprising morning! While the guides battered and fried the freshly fileted fish deep in butter and with the perfect dash of flour, I grabbed my rod and began to cast off the shore.  I brought no added fish to the bounty, although I drew several remarks from the group regarding the unbridled happiness that occurs when an older man watches a younger man unable to set aside his rod in favor of the fork.  We ate like kings.  Only rarely throughout the course of my life have I experienced its equal.  Filled with fish, freedom and love, lunch finally came to an end.  As the group gathered to set back out for the afternoon; the time of the day for catching, packing on ice and shipping of fish commenced.  Just prior to renewing our adventure, one among us grabbed my father’s camera and beckoned me, my father and my grandfather to huddle together.

Pictured in the center of the shot, wet and only recently removed from the cold, braces exposed, hair matted and windblown, I stand beaming.  My father’s left arm wrapped around my shoulder, fingers curled just over-top, we stand eye to eye.  The same height for the first time in my life.  My grandfather, to my left, holding the remnants of his soda, lips cracked in his self-styled smile, decked out in camouflage and a hat from his award-winning hunting labs’ kennel.  Our eyes all miraculously looking through the camera, beyond it; a permanent reminder of the love that existed in that moment; has always existed and will always exist.  Evergreens poised behind us – descendants of the first trees that ever took root on that rocky island; have always persisted in their greenness, despite the ice and snow, despite the wind and rain, will always persist in their greenness.  Countless birds, fish, former fires around us – among us; home to all the life and livelihood any man will ever or has ever needed.  Kings in that moment, or at least the king with his princes.

In all the coming years that I hope to be blessed in fatherhood, my search for intentionality, happiness, fulfillment will always compare its findings to that moment.  The last vestiges of evidence copied into the back fold of each of my children’s journal.  Perfectly alive in that moment, I realized my contentment.  As I look back, its meaning to me has expanded as the carryover embers of that fire have themselves lit other fires, other passions – those I’ve held in my heart, stoked carefully, unknowingly awaiting the moment I would incorporate the generation brought about by my own doing into the pursuit of maintaining those fires; of preserving the tradition, legacy and love captured between us.  I will that it be passed down.  It is my purpose.  It was the moment created for me to remember the strength, pride and passion of my father and grandfather.  It is the cavern of my soul reserved for the men of my heart.  May it ever survive.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

Asked And Answered: My Memoir Journey Part I

As I put myself through the exercise of developing a Memoir, I have found a few books and a system for progressing through that endeavor.  One of the books, entitled handling the truth by Beth Kephart, has created a set of assignments for writers to follow through on, as a means for creating a structure by which they can fall back on during times of doubt, writers block, fatigue, etc.

I thought it may be beneficial to post some of those exercises here.  The first of which I encountered last night.  Without Further Ado:

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Assignment 1

What Do I Expect of Those I Read? What Do I Expect of What I Write?

For as long as I can remember, books have been on equal ground to near anything else that could lift me off my feet.  Not always driven to selecting my next book from the same list of qualifications, I believe the breadth of what I’ve read has led me to a common purpose in what moves me about writing: that each man, or woman, laboring behind the pages had a secret they so desperately had to share.  Any inexpediency to so express this desperation could lead only to total failure and estrangement from one’s purpose in life.

I often wonder what the lesson of the parables of the lives of Thoreau, Hemingway, Salinger amounted to; of the thesis of the meaning behind the clarity divulged by Hawthorne, Tolkien, and Lewis.  I’ve obsessed over the fledgling thoughts of J.D. Vance, Paul Kalinithi, Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Kerouac as they set out on their road to create their life’s works and passions.  I felt, and still feel, as though the greatest writers in history, whether in a single work or over the course of their lives, had an individual statement inscribed on their souls.  Something so unique, fragile, and uncommon that it could only be that statement on their soul that screamed for their work to come pouring out of them.  No matter the intention of the author, I look for the statement behind the work – the generation defining questions.  The intensely unique vehicles they take to arrive at their solutions.  The characters they developed, captured or conjured as a means to deliver their age-defining work.  All of these things matter.  Their use, but not overly so, of imagery.  The willingness they have to stop at the cusp of the flowery language – without descending back into beleaguerie.  As for those of whom I am currently discovering, or will soon delve, I expect to understand their voice and their mission.  I then expect to leave their work with questions that make me search my soul for how I might volley.  I expect the destination to be a place where my heart can accept the imperfections of our fallen world.

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Of myself I expect to deliver myself, as completely as I can, to those who might never come within earshot of my spoken voice.  I expect to consistently produce the weights with which I struggle.  To slam them down on the page, wriggling and insubordinate.  To grapple with those issues, demons and insecurities, exposed and unadulterated.  To expose momentary triumphs and setbacks.  To communicate how what I learned in early stages set the tenor for my approach to embracing risks and opportunities.  I expect to speak honestly of myself and those with whom the work encounters.  I expect to have to try this more than once.  I expect to toil, and loathe, and love and triumph.  I expect to use every word, but not one more than is necessary, to delivery my voice, my message, my thesis.  I expect to leave the reader with questions weighing on their soul, as to how they might volley – that the literary world turns on itself, and that I may be a cog in that visionary wheel.

Here’s to starting that process, to whatever end it may lead.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

 

Will O’Connor