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

The Value of Difficulty

Yesterday, my wife shared a post with her personal network about the challenges that she identifies with as a young mother and working professional.  In it, the article delves into the many aspects by which a mother, which I will expand here to be any parent, experiences guilt over the many economical choices one must make with their time.

As parents we’ve made a clear decision to accept responsibility for the sustenance, formation, education and guidance of one, two, three or more children.  There’s an incredible burden there.  No one else is going to do it for you.  Not without a lot of paperwork and the loss of custody, anyway.  They won’t get to where you want them to be by intuition.  Every guiding principle requires hours of reinforcement to stick.  I’m not even talking about right vs wrong.  I’m talking about how to hold a spoon so the peas don’t go sliding off before it can make the 2′ trek from plate to mouth.  I’m talking about valuing the discipline required to put the toy down outside and willingly use the toilet.

Even at the ages of 4, 3 and 2 mos old, many of their skills have yet to level up even once.  Don’t get me wrong, scores of those skills have exceeded expectations, but the ones that have yet to stick in their minds certainly stick in ours whenever we think about that burden.  Whenever we think about that guilt.

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The article then discusses what a mother needs, in order to survive this stage.  This is the portion of the article I read through with a fine-tooth comb.  I want to know what advice my wife receives from strangers.  I want to know what time of positive reinforcement she receives from the world; or whether I need to combat what I perceive to be misinformation.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the list include topics like personal time, practicing contentment, prayer, open dialogue with one’s mother.  But the last piece was by far and away I was hoping I was going to see:

“….this stage of life is beautiful, too. Like, really really beautiful. This is the stage of life where every single older person you ever meet tells you, “you’re going to miss this”. And you already know it’s true. It’s the stage where your kids love you more than they are EVER going to love you again, for the whole rest of your life. It’s the stage where they can fit their entire selves into your lap to snuggle…and they want to. It’s the stage where their biggest problems ARE ear infections and teething and stomach viruses, and you’re not having to deal yet with things like broken hearts or addiction or bullying. It’s the stage where you are learning to love your spouse in an entirely different….harder…..better…. way. The stage where you are learning together, being stretched together, shedding your selfishness together, and TRULY being made into “one”. It’s the stage where you get to see Christmas, Halloween and the Fourth of July through your kids eyes, and it’s so much more fun and magical than it would be just through your own eyes. It’s the stage where you get to watch your parents be grandparents…and they’re really good at it. It’s the stage of life filled with field trips, class parties, costumes, swim lessons, bubble baths, dance parties, loose teeth, and first steps. And those things are so fun. It’s the stage where you are young enough to have fun, and old enough to have obtained at least SOME wisdom. It’s SUCH a great stage.” – http://austin.citymomsblog.com/2016/04/20/stage-life-hard/

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Perspective on difficulty is the most critical ingredient in prevailing against it.  Because what we are talking about here is growth.  To a person, there is not a parent I know, dedicated to the daily betterment of their family, that doesn’t consider themselves exponentially better for having children.  Moments of weakness exist for all of us, there is no getting around that.  But possessing guilt over that fact speaks more to the nature of our fallen humanity than to our individual shortcomings.  Eclipsing the pain of growth and understanding its full effect on our ability to navigate more precisely our future sets our compass by the stars.  On cloudy days we’ll lose site of our heading against our compass, but that too shall pass.  Charting our course by the successes, and pitfalls, of our parents, friends and loved ones allows for the compass to reveal itself in proper time.  Building our foundation on the bedrock of balance; between work and home, marriage and children, work and play assures us we will not go too far astray between the moments of clarity – when we can see the night sky and be reminded there is always the next day to correct for any variance.  Sharing articles, feelings, dreams and goals between lovers, friends and family provides the support to others when they might not be able to chart their course by the stars at the moment.  In time, they too will provide us our own corrections.

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Because there is not a thing I have that I value that I did not gain through trial.  Some things I gained I lost because I did not value them properly at the time.  It only made it the sweeter to get back in touch with those elusive goals.  Harmony is found in balance, through difficulty – because of trials successfully endured.  Especially if it comes at the cost of great energy.  Between that perspective, our family and loved ones – if we keep it all as close to our clutches as we possibly can – we’ll have all we’ll ever need to find happiness – one difficult stage of life at a time.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

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Will O’Connor

 

 

Anniversary Edition: We’ve Decided on Forever

Waking in a king-size bed, alone for the last time in my life, I stretched beneath the sheets and cautiously opened my eyes to the morning light.  The previous four years had led me to this moment; a moment I knew then, and certainly know now, I did not grasp the full weight of.  By now the bridal party would have been gathered for hours preparing under hairspray and powdery makeup to greet the photographers’ constant shutter-flash.  It was 9:30.

There’d be breakfast for me and my family down in the hotel lobby.  I’d grown up in this town, and the thought of staying in a hotel was humorous to me.  Such are the the requests of the mother-of-the-groom.  On a day where very little is about the parents of the groom, I figured I’d grant that one request to be in close proximity to one another.  Continental with aunts and uncles, cousins, a brother, a sister, friends from out of town.  In all the excitement, I spent some time with my godmother and her husband, a few cousins and kept the conversation light.  I ate a bowl of cereal on the morning of my wedding.  Golden Grahams.  Breakfast of husband-champions.

First to polish off my vows, which I came to understand were woefully less complex and touching than my bride’s would be.  Then to gather with my groomsmen; a collection of two of my closest friends, my brother, and the two brothers I’d be gaining during the day.  College football was in week 3; probably the worst of all the weeks.  Most teams schedule cupcake games in week 3.  They’ve impressed  the national media with their first 2 out of conference games and are taking it easy the week prior to starting conference play.

When you’re getting dressed for your wedding, there’s this lingering question of whether or not you’re doing it right.  Is the shirt supposed to be bloused? Double-Windsor for the special occasion? Should I lean back against the couch as we’re ribbing each other about football match-ups, the good old days and what the future holds? Am I supposed to be overcome with emotion, or is the steady approach that got me to this moment sufficient? What is going to rock me about our big day? In all our history as a couple, is this truly the biggest day? Or were the scores of encounters between us, that could have gone this way or that, but ended up going positively, more significant in leading us to this moment?

My brother, the best man, drove me to the church in my car.  I’ll always remember he played for me Alicia Keys’ This Girl is on Fire.  It had just come out.  The first time I heard it.  He offered it up as homage to Carolyn’s soon-to-be presence that day.   A quick ten minute ride, and we were there.  On time.  Dressed to the nines.  Is this really how all grooms feel?

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As the groomsmen, the priest, a few friends, my father and I gathered in the sacristy to await our guests, this beauty was stepping out of her carriage into her fairy-tale destination.  I like to think that when I go to heaven, this moment will be what greets me.  As I waited in that sacristy, I had no idea I was about to watch this beautiful woman, who’d transformed my heart and my life walk toward me in such a meaningful ceremony.  I’d thought forever about what getting married would look and feel like, but I’d never envisioned her in such exquisite detail.

We chose the church we did in part because of our ties to it.  We both grew up attending this particular church, had family as parishioners there since the beginning of its existence.  What was most beautiful about the church were the faces filled within it.  As I looked down the aisle, on both sides were memories of happiness and love, of support and constant presence.  I would not describe myself as a traveler.  I do not have wanderlust.  I do not want it.  What I want are those people to remain in my life as readily and constantly as possible.  What I wanted in that moment, and want every day is to come home to my wife, my family, and create a home filled with that same happiness and love.  That same readiness and dependability.

The reception venue was as perfect on that day as it had ever been.  A labor of love, Union Mill was not just where we had our reception, it was where I had shaped my professional identity.  A historic renovation undertaken by my former company, Union Mill was, at its time, the largest sail cloth fabricator in the world.  It went on to house LifeLike products, a company that hit it big when they realized they could take their train garden product and create low-cost Styrofoam coolers.  The Mill was then redeveloped to be a mixed-use facility housing 56 one and two bedroom apartments and 11 tenant spaces for Maryland-based non-profit agencies.  The entire project was dedicated to education.  Teachers got a rent reduction for living there and the NPOs were all in some way affiliated with education.  Its beauty and value resonated with me on every level.  It is one of those buildings in Baltimore I will treasure from a myriad of perspectives.  We built a 4-tiered courtyard within the space the building enveloped.  Our reception was held there.

As the sun set, the lights of the interior courtyard illuminated beautifully and set an ambiance of intimacy and liveliness. It was the perfect combination.  Music, food and drinks abounded.  It was the perfect celebration to begin the formal marriage my wife and I had casually adopted essentially since the beginning of our relationship.

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Five years later and I’m more in love with my beautiful wife.  I thought it would be hard to envision, but on nearly every level, I love her more deeply.  We’ve added so many layers to our marriage for me to love about her.  Children, careers, relocation.  We try and talk more about substance and have fought through the traps that lay for so many newly-wedded couples.  I am by no means a perfect person.  I post about the best of my experiences in hopes to replicate them in my life, and to see them reflected in others.  My most recent post generated a conversation after a disagreement my wife and I had.  We talked about authenticity.  About whether or not I was challenging myself to more constantly live the values I describe in my blog.  This conversation, while hard, is exactly why God gave me my wife.  I am reminded by my wife, that in my efforts to write about and achieve momentary and lasting happiness, I have to approach all of my roles through that filter.  I’ll be working on that until I die.  Its probably God’s actual, ntended purpose for the  Edison Project in my life; to be authentic, focused and driven towards happiness, even in the most stressful of circumstances.  Even with all of my faults, I am an infinitely better person because of her presence in my life.

My wife was the first person I dated who made me feel like I was home around her.  She made me feel like I was home within myself.  Without ever having to verbalize it, she inspired me to make changes in my life that have benefited me the world over.  She has pushed me to stay reflective of myself, has blessed me with three beautiful children, has challenged herself to fulfill a myriad of roles in life, regardless of the lifestyle changes they’d require.  After dating my wife for nine years, I am an entirely different person.  She’s saved me in every way you could save someone.  She’s given me strength and confidence to carry our family when she couldn’t and has picked us up when I grow weary.  There’s not another person alive who could do all of those things for me.  We’ve grown in our faith and understanding of where God has called us together.  We’ll continue to build our lives, a home and fulfill dreams together.  After five years, I’ve come to realize that all of those momentary questions I had of myself, of my wedding day, and of my wife have been answered by the Grace of God, and by the loving partnership I’ve developed with my wife.

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Here’s to another five years of realizing together all of the wonderful joys of life God has in store for us.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Igniting the Fire: Creation of Joy Through My Son’s Eyes

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On Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014, my son Xavier Slade O’Connor was born into this world.  Weighing all of 10 lbs 8 oz, forcing his mother through three hours of intense pushing, my son has been willful since his arrival.  In that, he is like his father.  Now three years old and having witnessed his mother, father and sister exert themselves, he is undoubtedly a little boy filled with passion.  More than anything, Xavier loves to laugh.  He loves to make his sister laugh.  He loves to make his parents laugh.  He’s overwhelmingly successful.  What Xavier doesn’t know, can’t know, won’t know until he is a father himself is the powerful effect his boyish devil-may-care approach has on his father.

September Uploads 034I’ve captioned this photo on this page before, but there is no better photographic evidence of the fire Xavier ignites within my heart.  During the moments under his captivating exuberance, I am reminded of my own boyishness, and I feel alive in ways manhood does not create on its own.  Windblown hair on open water on a sunny day with your son is how I wish for every day to be.  On top of all of that, having to constantly check my teaching style in order to creatively administer a lesson to a willing pupil has made me sharper, more patient and more reflective on my psychology, and my son’s.  His beauty is in his joy.  Also, in the indelible marks he’s left on my heart.  I have not the words to adequately express the unique happiness that arises from the bonding of father and son.  I’ve been a beneficiary of it my whole life, with my father.  I only hope that my efforts will meet with similar joy and success.

Over the weekend, we spent our time with family, back in Maryland.  It was our first opportunity since Christmas to see all of my wife’s family and we had so many joyous achievements and special days to celebrate.  Since last we all gathered, my wife’s youngest sibling had taken another step in realizing his dream; as he was drafted in the 5th round of the amateur professional baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves.  Both of my sisters-in-law have successfully created niches in careers up in New York City, my brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their second child right before Christmas and my wife and I have welcomed our third child into the world.  My son and his Godmother share a birthday, so we celebrated all of that together in a gathering on Saturday.  We played games, ate excessively and caught up on the details we often don’t have time to delve into during the busy course of life and long-distance communicating.  On Sunday we went back to the church where my wife and I were married nearly five years ago.  While there we saw friends and even more family.  We returned back to my in-laws’ to open presents for my son and to get in a game of baseball my son desperately wanted to play with his uncle.  When my brother-in-law makes it to the big show, that will be a memory he’ll be proud to have.  Hopefully it happens frequently.  We wrapped it all up with a crab feast at my wife’s Uncle’s place.  It was a perfect afternoon filled with people who love each other, and the best cuisine God ever created.

I’m so grateful I had the chance to celebrate in the way.  So often we are in a rush to jam events in between items that have to happen, and happen successfully, in order for our growing family to have what we need to get by.  Work is pressing for both of us and there’s always the opportunity to seek the excuse in favor of less labor-intensive events.  Driving 3 hours in the remnants of a hurricane, then having that same system follow you up to Baltimore for one of the two days could have been reason enough to stay home.  My wife being 3 weeks postpartum via a C-Section could have been reason enough to stay home.  Several members of our family encouraged us to take it easy, that there’d be no harm done in remaining at home.  Probably true.  What we would have missed would have cost us more than we were willing to part with.  So glad we didn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate my son’s 3rd birthday with a great portion of the people who matter most to us.

And if he wasn’t already willful, he’s now 3, so we’ll have the blessing of experiencing that wonderful phase while praying the trips to the doctor’s is minimal.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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The Travel Down the Mountain

EdisonProject35More frequently than I write, I think about writing.  I suppose that is the same with any passion, but more and more I think about writing my book.  Behind story delivery, plot, character development, scenery, poetry/prose refinement, I am constantly searching for the answer to one looming question; What is it about my voice that is unique? My fantasy is that I’d be read like Salinger or Fitzgerald or Thoreau.  That I’d make an impact like Vance or Kalanithi or Albom.  Those are huge aspirations and provide attitude and a horizon line along my attempt at flight; but those are not my goals.

I have three baseline goals:

To publish a book

To carefully unearth and convey my message

To utilize my voice in a way that only I possibly am able

The rest of the shopping lists are only wants for me.  These three are needs.  If I can accomplish this, I hope the rest will follow in succession.

I had the opportunity to speak with an old mentor of mine yesterday.  The intent of the body of the conversation was entirely unrelated to writing.  But the advice I received and the path forward I saw as we were speaking carries over quite nicely to my goals in the world of pen and keyboard. As my brain often wants to do, I began today to review my Rolodex of analogies.  The more I thought about it, the more I envisioned myself as a drop of water; those around me as drops themselves.  What we have most in common is that we fell from the same system at the same time in history.  We’ve all fallen at the peak of the mountain.  We have no idea what journeys lie ahead.  Some of us will freeze at points, only to melt and resume our trek down the mountainside.  Some of us will filter through plants or trees, others may pass through the gills of a fresh-water brook trout or latch on to the fur of a grizzly bear.  EdisonProject41We’ll start and stop, turn and tumble, ebb and flow down the mountain, part of the greater river, dash against the rapid, cascade down the waterfall.  At the top of the mountain, there’s no telling when we’ll surge and when we’ll get swallowed up.  Even if we knew the path we could never predict the effect the water level would have on us as a drop; never be able to envision which organism, desperate for our nourishment, would require our vitality along their own separate journey within the shadow of the mountain.  All the while, those other drops we started with may reach the gorge for sooner or later than we.  Some may never make it.  Some may toil ceaselessly while others, buffered by more exposed droplets, seem to endlessly emerge as victims of unforeseen obstacles.

EdisonProject42So too, is it with us.  We all journey down the same path.  We all were born within a time-frame of history that allows us to experience the same, or similar, events.  What creates a message, what builds the unrepeatable cadence of our voice is the manner by which we rebound from those unforeseen obstacles.  There’s never a way to know what’s around the bend.  That’s not our role.  Our role is to filter our experience through our passions and create something worth leaving behind for those who might also find themselves searching for a map, or at least a few tools to manage the overwhelming landscape through which we are about to, or are in the midst of careening.  The daunting concept that eludes me more frequently than not is that the system; the world, the mountain, history, the river, your family — those affected by your footprint, need your journey, your droplet, your cover, your protection — in order to be in the physical place they need to be at the time they need to be in order to fill the role they were created for.

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That thought, errant or not, has been vital to the most recent fever-pitch igniting my passion, fueling my search for my voice, pushing me down the line along my way towards publication, and to help me carefully uncover and deliver my message, utilizing the tools and the maps I’ve managed to acquire for myself.

Yours In the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

With Whom We Walk The Path

I woke to a cacophony of beeps, compressions and shuffled steps.  Peppered among them were the short, frightful breathes of a woman desperate for the end of this particular journey; freely ready to trade it for the next.  The room was dimly lit; a light over my wife, while all others had been snuffed out.  I found myself under a sheet and what only the most disadvantaged would refer to as a blanket.  Underneath of barely anything, but on top of even less – a twin mattress, unhindered, may have been all of two inches thick.  With my frame, I could easily feel it’s.  There’d be a sterile procedure in a few minutes, I had overheard one of the nurses say to my wife.  Best get your husband up.  He’s not permitted in the room during the administration.  Leave it to me to be the one sleeping through the beginning stages of labor…

I unraveled myself from the linen and put on my shoes; a quick kiss on the head to my wife prior to heading for the door.  It was just past 4:00 AM and there was nothing open.  A jaunt around the perimeter of the hospital took just ten minutes.  I’d have to improvise.  In my rush to leave, I’d separated myself from my phone.  I’d have to go it alone, sans social media for the remainder of the time.  Fortunately, I’d brought my book.  On three hours of sleep, in the wee hours of the morning, its impossibly difficult to read.  The time passed, slowly.  Eventually, I re-entered our labor and delivery room.  Not quite sure of what I’d find, or if I’d be permitted to sleep by the woman who, minutes before, had kindly explained to me that my sleep, or lack thereof, wasn’t really an issue worthy of making the list at that moment.  My brain objected.  My tongue held steady in the moment.  I’d passed that small test.  Upon re-entry, I found a subdued, if not relaxed spouse.  Our doctor was due back around 7:00 AM.  Hopefully with answers, maybe insight is the better word.

As time wants to do in moments of anticipation, the big hand seemed to slow to a crawl at times, leap to a sprint at others.  All the while the little hand was curiously disconnected from its usual concerted efforts with its longer, less important comrade.  Yes, under such a watchful eye I was convinced both of the lazy lot were Bolsheviks.  Lunchtime came.  Nothing.  No pushing.  No sustenance.  No baby.

Finally, as we made the lap around 2:00 PM the word came out of the doctor’s mouth like manna from heaven; it was time to push.  Again, not having any real responsibility, and knowing even less what to do, I was assigned the left side of the bed as part of the delivery team.  30 seconds.  Push for ten.  Breathe for 20.  Do it again.  And again. And again. Between frequent ice chip retrievals and leg support sessions, my wife began to complain of the heat of the room.  After adjusting a few times, the nurse began to realize that the temperature readings they’d been taking orally were compromised by the ice chip habit, or addiction, that had been forming.  A test under the arm revealed an elevated temperature, that coincided with the baby’s elevated heart rate.

Chorioamnionitis also known as intra-amniotic infection, resulting from a burst amniotic sack for too long, had developed as a delivery complication.  As we could see the baby’s head, the doctor quickly assessed that potentially a vacuum (terribly misnamed instrument by the way, its more like a plunger head with a string attached) could be implemented to avoid a C-Section.  Immediately at least 3 more people entered the room.  The bed manipulated in such a way as to rival the brigade of Transformers – lights turned way up from places I didn’t know existed. Still more people entered. The din got louder.  There was an explanation from the labor and delivery person for each new inhabitant. My focus both broad and narrow.  I began to forget the reasons for each persons presence. I had not the time to wonder, either.  The doctor totally overwhelming me in the best sense of the world with  efficient word choice, movement and action.

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What seemed like only a moment, but must have been several minutes, resulted in the successful delivery of Quinn Teresa O’Connor to the world at 3:42 PM, tipping the scales at 8 lbs 9oz, and 21 1/2″ long.  At the very first sight of my daughter, my world expanded.  There was never a thought of “I can’t do this” or, “What do I do here?”  I felt totally prepared for being a father.  What never occurred to me was the total change of perspective, as if I’d just zoomed out on my life twenty-fold and was now staring at a much bigger expanse of area, now filled with a beautiful girl that I had played a part in breathing life into.  What a mental exercise that was, and still is!

In the days, months, and now four years that have followed, there’s not been a day I was paying attention where I haven’t been totally sideways at the thought that this little girl is my little girl.  That this little girl has gone from that moment, which I’ll never forget, to this one.  That I just spent the last few hours of daylight teaching her how to ride a bike! How did we arrive at this moment? How am I going to deal with first dances, graduations, engagements, and on down the line when no gap of time permits that first moment may ever recede from my memory?

While I’ll never fully grasp that concept, I am eternally grateful to God, my wife, and the host of angels, living and en memoriam that have provided the wisdom, grace and providence to bless me with such a captivating little spirit.  I’m completely biased, but there’s not another soul on this earth I’d choose to be the one to make me a daddy.  Four years later and my course through time has altered dramatically.  I’m also told that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  That thought is as unfathomable as any I had, prior to my daughter’s arrival, about the impact fatherhood, my children, my daughter would have on me.  I’m strapped in for the ride, not quite sure what I will encounter, praying it all remains just as magical.

Happy Birthday, Quinn.  We love you so.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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An August Whirlwind

Welcome back! To both you and me.  I’ve been absent from my blog, among many other things, this month, due to a confluence of things.  A windfall of blessings has come my way over the course of the past few weeks.  Several I thought I would share; intended on sharing at the time(s) but the extra effort necessary to install them here properly required my attention might be diverted elsewhere.  So here I am, back now, with the time, energy and perspective to share:

Personally: August is filled with incredible moments for me.  Landmark events that are keystones to the perception I have of myself.  August 7th marked the 8th Anniversary of my sobriety and abstinence from alcohol.  Those who know me know that for the years usually earmarked for social drinking, my habits ranged from average among my peer group: recreational yet qualifying in the binge-drinking category, to excessive with respect to the dream and goals I said I had for myself.  From 16 to 24 years of age, I put more energy into fulfilling my weekend (or even weeknight) plans than I do into fulfilling my long-term plans.  I was upside-down on life.  I was mortgaging my future with a present I didn’t have the planning funds to defer.  When I finally realized it, I found myself standing in the middle of my childhood bedroom, a 24-year-old man, knowing with ever fiber of my being that I’d undoubtedly push away everyone I ever loved, or that ever loved me, should I continue down the path I was on.  Under the only epiphany I’ve ever experienced, I vowed then and there to my girlfriend, now wife, that I was done with alcohol.  I did this under a considerably high level of intoxication, unprovoked, while certainly not unwarranted, and my wife tells me often of the skepticism with which she approached the topic the following day – uncertain of the level of commitment, or even the level of memory, I had to my statement.  The result has been the single most stable era of my life.  While there have been considerable valleys, they are attributable to other, more common deficiencies among humans.  The peaks have been exponentially more resounding within my soul than the lows.  This fact serves to propel me further; to ask myself what more I can tackle – where else is there room on my plate?  I’m far from efficient in carrying these items to their fruition, but the my sobriety has brought me to closer relationships and a greater level of achievement in my endeavors.

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Since the first week of December of last year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the birth of my third child.  On August 9th, Eve Corinne O’Connor entered the world a very pink and healthy baby.  We’re in love with Eve and eager to get to know her.  We believe Eve will settle in perfectly with our young family and her big brother and sister have already fallen for her.  Eve was also born via C-Section, a first for our family.  We had to make that decision rather quickly, as it was discovered that my wife had contracted Chorioamnionitis during labor, the same infection that forced my first daughter to be born with the aid of a vacuum.  My wife was not as far along with Eve as she was with Quinn by the time the infection was noted, which reduced our options to either waiting an hour and having no choice but to have a C-Section, or to schedule one immediately.  We chose the latter, and at 10:00 PM sharp, we became parents for a third time.  I’ve never had the experience of incorporating a new family member while also nursing my wife back to health.  Both of our previous babies left my wife sore, but surgery had never been a requirement.  While my daughter is essentially exclusively dependent on my wife, my wife and my older two kids are essentially exclusively dependent upon me.  My blessings and my requirements multiply.  In the end, I’m in love with another beautiful, healthy girl and I’ve now tacked the 9th onto a growing list of circled dates in the month of August.

Professionally: The past 12 weeks have been a blur, without the added content above.  I was assigned to a project at the University of Richmond, starting May 15th.  While not a complicated job, having only 12 weeks to renovate 14 apartments is challenging.  When the permitting process takes two weeks longer than you anticipated, it really becomes more like 10.  What results is the necessity to open the job for all possible hours of the week.  Twelve hour days become the norm and seven days a week become the only way you are going to steal back that time; because the University has students coming and they’ve hired your firm to deal with the speed-bumps along the way.  Typically, from the time drywall is first hung in a unit, there is 45-60 days before it can be turned over.  We did it in 28.  It was grueling, especially given my wife’s pregnancy and the attention two toddlers need at home.  How my wife was able to stick out her end of this deal is as impressive as the feat we pulled off.  On August 8th, the day prior to my wife’s scheduled induction, we obtained our Certificate of Occupancy and met our goal.  It wasn’t an epic trail because it wasn’t long enough to be, but those six weeks where I spent half of the time existing in a week at my project was a test I was proud to measure up to.

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Culturally:  I made the decision to spend what free time I did have not stuck in front of a TV, but inside of a book.  Over the past two weeks I’ve read two books, together completely opposite on the spectrum from one another, increasing their yield ten-fold: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  1984 hardly needs an interlude.  I read this book this year, for the first time, in part because of the political allusions many on the left made to this book with the incoming Presidency of Donald Trump.  While I can’t personally draw any parallels to this presidency that don’t uniquely reside within his administration, there are countless specific pieces of information that certainly create internal dialogue about our awareness of ourselves as it relates to what we can verify along international comparisons, roles of various agencies within our government, etc.  I found it to be excellently written and Orwell is doubtless prophetic in his analysis of how powerful people retain their power.  Kalanithi and When Breath Becomes Air is perhaps the most moving, powerful memoir I’ve ever read.  Granted I’m on maternity leave, but I devoured this book in two days and am currently grieving a loss I never knew I experienced until I picked up the book.  I haven’t determined an exact means of expanding his legacy in my own right, but the phrase he borrowed from Samuel Beckett “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” is sure to be at the heart of my effort.

Taken as a whole, the first half of August has been an excellent few weeks.  I’ve been afforded the opportunity, in countless avenues of my life to stop and reflect on What Happiness Means to Me.  I’ve been able to add to my understanding of what makes a life worth living, and how to live those values in the moment. Moreover, I’ve gained more clarity as to how my values can vary from those dearest to me without their values being in direct conflict with mine.  As I’ve known, but strengthened my knowledge in, one’s values creates their identity and provides them with a guide as how to best live their life going forward in the most beneficial way to the world possible.  While there are, and will always be, those who act counter to the best interests of the world, it is our charge to filter those actions through our values and respond in the most effective way possible.  Not just to shout down hatred and violence and bigotry and regression.  But to reinforce the hopefully expanding trend of creating as much freedom and opportunity for the most amount of people possible; so that happiness can be found and meaning explored by all who wish to pursue it.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Current Events: A Break from My Standard

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I created this blog not to comment on social or political matters, but rather to share experiences which, I hope, can be shared by others and lead to a more positive overall approach to this world.  Occasionally I will break from that stride to address matters I believe to be of great importance.  Some of these will be conservative stances, others more moderate.  I do not subscribe to a particular party line.  I believe each person ought to formulate for themselves the most logical set of beliefs and incorporate how these beliefs affect the world as a whole, prior to solidifying them.

The President, and the military, are front and center this week.  After decades of specifically banning trans-gendered people from serving in the military, President Obama passed into law a bill that provided protection for, and even medical treatment to, people in the military who believe themselves to be trans-gendered.  Just yesterday, President Trump reinstated the ban on the trans-gendered entering, or continuing to serve in the military.

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The American Psychological Association holds that gender dysphoria is a mental illness.  This is an important distinction, because the same Association is held as the standard-bearer for other ailments, diseases and illnesses that would disqualify an applicant from serving in the military.  Given the vast amount of research the individuals belonging to this Association have put into the work that they publish, it raises a very fair question about how we are to approach the trans-gendered in the military; Should a person affected with an illness be allowed to bypass the application process on the grounds that it is discriminatory to do so?  The follow-up questions are:

  • Does the nature of the physical, mental and emotional requirements of the military provide a need for the military to restrict admission to the military based on affliction of diseases, ailments and illnesses?
  • Does the military, as a government entity, have the right to be discriminatory if they believe that such afflictions negatively impact performance in such a high-stress field?

I believe that both questions need to be properly answered before we, as a populous, bring forth a suit against the government, and the President specifically.  I’ve seen people in droves, on both sides of the aisle, publish their feelings on this most recent ban.  I believe all of these defenses and outcries are premature.  My general feeling is complicated, because there are multiple layers of privilege and benefits that are bestowed upon our military, and multiple layers of privilege and benefits that are heretofore to be revoked from a specific demographic of the United States population.  Namely, the distinction of having served in the defense of our great nation, being chiefly among them.  Secondly, items such as the GI Bill, bestowed upon all, and sex-change operations, bestowed upon the trans-gendered, are privileges set to be revoked from a certain group of people.  These people have done nothing specifically to deserve this revocation, but stand in possession of a form of disorder, no matter which way you slice it, that is akin to color blindness, AIDS, amputation and a myriad of other disabilities or illnesses that preclude one from serving.

Initially, I believe the assessment to bar those possessing gender dysphoria from the military to be a wise one.  I’ve searched my feelings on this since the announcement was made.  Am I making this determination based upon hatred of a group that I seek, even subconsciously, to marginalize? Am I uninformed on the challenges that a trans-gendered person might face in the wake of a sex-change operation with regards to their capacity to discharge their duties? Am I making this decision based upon pre-formed opinions? I’m still grappling with those questions.  I don’t have a solidified set of answers.  But I do believe that until we address the first three questions I posed at the top of this blog, that we have a duty as citizens to uphold and support this ban.  Should there be data to prove the ability of a trans-gendered person capable of discharging said duties on a level consistent with those not trans-gendered, then I believe that there ought to be some capacity in which this group of people ought to be included.

This would then raise the question about whether or not medical benefits bestowed upon armed service members or veterans should include sex-change operations.  On this topic I am decidedly more conservative.  I do not believe that the taxpayers of the United States ought to foot the bill for such a procedure.  On this, I don’t believe data ought to be the prevailing factor.  Sure, a total value should be presented to the legislature so that a quantitative value can be placed when making the decision, but I think that the government paying for sex-change operations, hormonal replacement procedures, and all other associated forms of medical services is not a wise decision.

I am trying to fathom a medical procedure that is provided for armed services members or veterans at the cost of the public treasury, but to date cannot find one.  If a combat veteran is wounded in the line of fire, skin graphs, plastic surgery, prosthesis, general surgery etc. may be required in order to provide that serviceman or woman a semblance of their former selves, but this is caused by combat, not by a mental illness.  There are no other mental illnesses which are treated by the government, at cost to the tax-payer, without being inflicted during battle, to my knowledge.  Unless that basis of knowledge is amended by proof of pre-existing mental illnesses being treated by the government, at cost to the tax-payer, I believe we have precedent to uphold this ban and continue forward searching for the best and most capable citizens to serve our great nation.  I continue to believe we have the freedoms and privileges we do as a direct result of the courage, bravery and sacrifices bestowed upon us by our incomparable military.

I look forward to getting back to topics of observed and experienced happiness, and hope we all do the same as often as humanly possible.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Legacy of a Builder: My Sean Scott Story

Certain topics I wish I could kiss with fire.  I wish my passion and my wholehearted-ness could jump off the page and lick the reader in the face with the fire that burns in my heart.  Such is the case for the following.

I first met Sean Scott on February 26th, 2011.  I know that because I memorialized it in a note on Facebook.  Here’s what I had to say:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/will-oconnor/february-26-day-1/10150402317065144/

I’ve told Sean several times, but I’ll probably tell him several more if I’m lucky enough, but that day, and the subsequent nine months following was probably the single most important encounter of my professional career.  If I ever have a more important one, I’ll have risen to heights I’ve only envisioned in the fantasy world of being a mogul billionaire developer.  That is not the point.  I came to Sean as a “clerk,” having just finished trade school.  I knew less than I thought I knew, and I didn’t think I knew very much.  Sean was the Superintendent at Union Mill, a place I’ll always consider a part of my soul’s home, for many reasons, of which I hope to one day detail.  The specifics are of little importance here, but suffice it to say that Union Mill was a “monument” job for any Superintendent, and had neither the support from the office, nor from the field subcontractors to adequately run itself.  It survived purely on Sean’s will, and his leadership ability to get others to buy into his vision, work ethic and refusal to fail.  In that, Sean instilled in me core principles that I’ll never be able to undo.  Sean is a teacher, a mentor, a motivational speaker and a very valued friend.  I don’t talk to him often enough, but that is something I intend on fixing here and now.

EdisonProject33Pictured to the left is Sean at my wedding.  I married my wife 18 months after I met Sean, and in that time, he left such an indelible mark on my heart and my mind that there could be no better a selection for a groomsman.  Seen here with his trademark smile, Sean reminded me of the man I wanted to be from the onset.  He’s an onion in the best way a man can be.  Layered with sophistication, you can talk to Sean about construction, God, sports, wives, and on down the line.  He’ll pull you out of the depths of your frustration or stress with the right words, followed by a joke, a slab on the shoulder and the smile in a way that made me view him as a boss, friend, brother and father figure in whatever way was most helpful at the time.  I owe my mental approach and determination to Sean.  Yes, I believe I’ve always possessed it, but Sean empowered it.  The memory of those days at Union Mill still empowers it.  In all, we completed two difficult projects together.  The last one wrapped about four-and-a-half years ago.  His drive and mentor-ship propel me to this day, and are responsible for taking me out of my shadows, including my most recent grapple professionally.

Being a young father, with one on the way, and being at the helm of a twelve week schedule where deadlines cannot be extended, even with the most legitimate of reasons, of which we have many, I became sultry over my plight as a one-man-band out here for my company.  Justifiably, the job does not merit more than one team member on-site, but the prospect of twelve-hour days, seven days a week with a nearly full-term pregnant wife at home and two little ones I would do anything to be around will test the mettle of any man.  For stumbling through that I am not ashamed.  I am only ashamed of the fact it took me so long to revisit the challenge we went through together; well him mostly with me trying to provide whatever assistance I was capable of at the time.  Upon revisiting the test of endurance and will that was Union Mill and my job with Sean, I awoke this morning with a new outlook on my charge.  Suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel; even if that light was only the example set by my mentor.  If I am to exhibit the qualities of leadership, perseverance, strength and capability, what better place than here? What better time than now?

I’m writing this blog today as much as a “Thank-You” to Sean as a reminder to myself.  I intend to re-read this when I grow weary, for it is bound to happen again.  I’ll strap in some Eric Thomas (that guy is an amazing motivator, by the way), refill my coffee cup, and remember the time I watched the most impossible deadlines get hit; the most challenging tasks get achieved.  I’ll remember going to work until I had to go to sleep, waking up, no matter the time of day, and getting dressed to do it again.  I’ll remember when our office walked in and told us it was in our best interest not to hit the date.  I’ll remember Sean telling me “Fuck what they say.  This is our baby.”  I’ll remember the elation of that certificate of occupancy and I’ll remember the fantastic feeling of holding my wedding reception in its courtyard.

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Regardless of what credit he may give me, regardless of what I may build or what level of happiness I may reach to sustain myself against the forces of the outside world, Sean is an integral member of my Pantheon of parents, teachers, mentors and role models that have provided the type of foundation required for anyone seeking to reach their goals.  He’s a great friend and an awesome man and I’m proud to have been through the gauntlet with him and even more inspired by the continual reminder he serves in my life that I can do anything I determine worthy of my efforts.  Through channeling that dedication and resolve, I am reminded and bolstered by his spirit.  We should all be so lucky.

Thank you, Sean.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor