Week of Thanks: A Daily Installment

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The O’Connor Clan is a marriage of a Long Island man to a Western Michigan woman.  At the point in which my father was in college, his family relocated from the New York City suburb to Richland, Michigan – my mother’s hometown.  They met and the rest, as they say, is history.  After my father finished his masters, they relocated just north of Washington, DC.  They brought no family with them.  As a toddler, my family made the regular trek back north and west to western Michigan, and then to Neenah, Wisconsin – then the home of my paternal grandparents for the holidays.  At the point in which we could no longer fly on our parents laps, and the unknown fortune of snow-littered roads became a reality, the holidays began to be observed in Maryland.  Enter yet another critical role of the church; as my parents became more involved in various ministries, we befriended several other transplant families.  The holidays turned into gatherings amongst these wonderful people.  Thanksgiving, specifically, was a rotating holiday between our house and two others.

Perhaps the greatest privilege in my life came from my exposure to the Casey family and the Bode family.  Both with a pair of children years ahead of myself and my siblings, the Casey and Bode children were all involved in babysitting, coaching, mentoring and leading me at various points.  Their parents still remain models for me when consulting proper parenting technique, professional development and spiritual formation.  At the Thanksgiving feasts we convened, there was a perfect balance of southern, mid-western and  New England foods and traditions.  We played football, watched parades and games, discussed wide arrays of philosophical and political topics.  The gatherings featured a lawyer, a teacher, a catechist,  an insurance broker, a banker and a sales executive.  Backgrounds ranged from Mississippi to Wisconsin, New York to Baltimore.  The children, 7 among us, featured athletes, scholars and actors.  I could not have been more blessed to have such a well-rounded second family during these times.  The tradition of a Thanksgiving gathering continued until my parents left Maryland for Northern Virginia.  I miss it dearly.

I am forever thankful for the beautiful traditions that arose from those years.  Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday.  There is no doubt in my mind that having shared that time with the Casey and Bode families fostered that love of this holiday.  These people fed my soul in every way a person can be nourished.  Even in the midst of some very difficult stages of my life; when I wasn’t making choices with a clear idea for the goals I wanted to achieve, perhaps even in spite of having goals – these people still embraced me, counseled me and offered their open hearts as a map to how one creates a meaningful life through the constant pursuit of a faith-filled life and a ceaseless desire for knowledge, kindness and compassion.  They remain my heroes; those models whom I will eternally chase.  No matter what Thanksgiving traditions evolve, no matter which ones slip off the table as we make way for new ones, I will always carry those Thanksgiving days in my heart.  For those memories, I am thankful.

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Yours in The Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

My Faith Journey: A Series of New Goals

Countless times in my life, I’ve chosen to leave my faith behind when confronted with a conflict between it and my lifestyle.  As a teen, as I’m sure most of us can testify to, the difficulty in fitting in balanced with preserving the integrity of my faith, I often wavered on the latter, choosing the former to be the projection of myself.  I always felt a departure from my true self whenever this would happen.  I lacked the moral fiber to intervene on my own behalf.  I posses a vivid memory – prior to meeting the woman who would one day become my wife, I was driving home from spending time with a person I very much cared for, but could not in any way convince to reciprocate those feelings.  I remember feeling as though the source of my unhappiness and my inability to court this young woman was the fact that parts of me had to be someone other than who my soul knew I was, in order to just be “around”.  I remember praying, while in my car, for God to bring to light the person with whom I could develop my true self.  That was the prayer that got me back on the road, in hindsight.  It certainly would not be the last prayer I would ask, nor that He would answer.  However, it did serve, and does still, as the perfect example of how the right prayer, when asked, is delivered.  God’s Love does not waver or diminish by our misdeeds.  It is a river ever-flowing.  All we need do is help ourselves remain along its banks.

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For each person in my life, there come with those relationships various beliefs in God and commitments to His Graces.  I was raised to focus on my own journey; to not determine the value of my relationship by the synchronization of our separate faith journeys.  For the most part, this has remained true.  I have never, nor do I still feel called as an evangelist by words.  My hope is that my life would indicate the value of allowing God into my heart, but it is by no means a pressing point for me to verbalize this towards others.  If directly asked, I bear no hesitation in offering my thoughts, but rarely, if ever, have I taken it upon myself to be the instigator of that conversation.

And so it goes that on the day of my third child’s baptism, one loved one made joking remarks to another about the consequences he might incur while in a church and still filled with sin.  It was, no doubt, intended to be a joke.  It also, no doubt, created discomfort in the man who is less frequently in a place of worship.  When I heard of the exchange, I felt pain.  Pain for the discomfort caused.  Pain for the un-Christian act of discouraging another’s faith journey.  Pain that I am in no place to evangelize either of the two.  For I am also Peter, on the night before the Crucifixion.  I have equally, and possibly far more frequently, negatively impacted the Kingdom of God.  And therein lies the rub.

In my introspection, I realized that we have all equally sinned in the eyes of God.  By turning our back on God, there is no one among us more worthy of claiming spiritual goodness.  All we can do is make every effort to turn back around; to face God with our eyes open, beg of forgiveness for our wayward missteps, and we shall have it.  It is a source of great happiness for me, this completely undeserved acceptance back into the flock.  The fact that there is nothing we can do that would deplete the reserve of Love God has for us is the most powerful internal force within me.  Over the course of my life, there will be countless times when I will not be the one to properly stand up and portray the Love of God to another.  I do not want that to happen.  It is written into our humanity.  What I can do about it, however, is to put myself in the daily frame of mind to review my actions, make it right with God, and mend the errors with that person, or those persons.

Our faith journey is an imperfect one.  None among us can claim otherwise.  Perhaps together, we can recommit ourselves to what is good.  Help each other along the way.  Do so with a less judgmental air of self-righteousness.  Preserve the integrity of the culture we ought to be seeking.  There will be much faltering.  Along the way, may there also be much happiness in the striving for a Love we can never rightfully earn, nor ever fully deplete.

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

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