Anniversary Edition: The Proposal

Six years ago today, I walked onto my job site a nervous wreck.  Long had I informed my colleagues of my intentions that night.  I had everything set up.  Now it was just a matter of time, literally, until I could set the stage for the first major milestone in my relationship with my girlfriend in a string of permanent promises.  Even with critical deadlines approaching, the rest of my team was eager for me to arrive at my meeting with destiny.  I was jettisoned from my project at lunch-time.  Told to go buy flowers and get some rest in advance of my plans.  I did so.

For Christmas that year, my wife had requested her gift be a date out to see The Lion King, playing at the Hippodrome Theater, Baltimore’s premier house for live-action theater.  She’d also requested dinner somewhere nice.  Unbeknownst to her, the developer of my project, having taken a special interest in me, offered to pay for the dinner.  Anywhere I wanted, he’d said.  Off to Tio Pepe’s we were. EdisonProject59 I had made reservations at the historical landmark restaurant.  Located in the basement of an old brick building, just north of the Inner Harbor, Tio Pepe’s is a famed Italian restaurant.  A label it has earned.  The Paella is a masterpiece.  The ambiance of soft, dimmed lights – crisp, white linen and low, ebbing music allows for each patron to experience intimacy of food and conversation exactly as a five-star feature would define it.

Important to note, prior to leaving our Pig-Town row-home, I’d scripted a letter with the words I’d intended to say that night, on the off-chance I totally botched the delivery.  Its contents included the reasons I’d determined were most important to detail my love for my girlfriend.  I ran back in, last-minute, to the house to set the letter and a vase of red roses on her bed-side table.  Felt box in hand, we resumed our itinerary for the night.  The would be one final surprise destination, to which I hadn’t determined how I’d reveal its inevitability.

We parked in an obscure lot located just across the street from the restaurant.  Walking in, we were seated and the Paella was ordered along with a bottle of wine – one glass.  I’d continue with my water. Although I do not recall the matter of the conversation, I do remember it being a wonderful start to the night.

We moved on to the Hippodrome.  I’d selected mid-level seats for us.  We had a perfect view of an excellent adaptation of The Lion King.  I think my favorite aspect of the show was actually the costumes.  I can’t say I feel that way about costumes frequently, but the deft way they handled retro-fitting humans into Serengeti figures was amazing.  The score, nearly the same as the Disney Movie, was powerful in that small house.  My wife was thrilled.  I had an excellent time but was still mainly concerned with getting to the heart of the nature of the night.

Our last stop: the Washington Monument located in the heart of Mount Vernon on North Charles Street, was strung up beautifully in lights for the Christmas Season every year.  Although I never got to the famed lighting ceremony, I always wanted to spend some time below it.  This was my chance.  And under that pretense, we scuttled north to the monument after the show.  Nearing on 11:00 PM, I had the energy to last days in the future.  This was my moment.  Now was the time. EdisonProject58

As we sat on the bench, small-talk mostly ensued.  Conversation of our take on the play, dinner, the lights of the monument.  A man approached as I was nearing my monologue.  I’ll never forget it.  He was a black gentleman, well-spoken, who bemoaned his bad luck in having sent his wife and child to a shelter north of where we were – that he needed some money to go join them.  It was the Christmas season, and he was stepping on my vibe.  I handed over what small bills were in my wallet, wished him well on his way, and awaited his departure.  In that moment, I spoke of things best left between two people in love.  I told her of my forever plans to keep things this way.  I moved off the bench and got down on one knee.  At the culmination of my speech, which I think I nailed by the way, I asked her to marry me under those lights, in the heart of Baltimore, the hub of our home and the place our life was to take shape.  She said yes.

I’ve written, from time to time, of the value my marriage holds in my life.  I’ve discussed some hills and peaks.  We’ve all lived through them.  My, our, journey is no different from any other, with the exception of little details here and there.  Christmas is often a time for these proposals to occur.  While I shared that sentiment, I wanted our story to be remembered in our own special way.  A great dinner, a powerful show, and an etching of our own into the history of the City of Baltimore were all on my list.  They were successfully covered.  We returned home – called several family members, and took this one and only photo of the night, which I’ll cherish forever.  EdisonProject57Recently I’ve had cause to examine the nature of the choices in my life.  Whether or not I’d do this differently or that the same.  So many landmarks to peruse as the timeline gets longer.  So many I’d do differently.  Such is the nature of humanity.  This one I’d never change for all the gold in Fort Knox.  It was the beginning of our journey in permanence.  Three years and a bit we’d dated at the time of our engagement.  Six years since.  It is becoming hard to reconcile that our life together, nearly doubled that of our time before our engagement, has yielded so many blessings.

As we find ourselves deep in the Christmas season, where shopping, cooking and maintaining timelines from one party to the next can often usurp the real meaning of the season, I wanted to pause and remember this momentous occasion.  Here’s to hoping each Christmas season can convey such happiness; both for me and for each and every one of you.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

In the First Light

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Whether turning points or new starts, I’m beginning to understand that it is more about the perspective we bring to a given moment that allows us to see our lives anew.  For me, this is one of the most redeeming virtues of Christianity; that we are baptized again and again in our faith journey.

My wife and I are constantly searching for ways to convey the power of this season through traditions.  True, they cannot grasp the full message of Christmas.  What they can understand is that each and every year, as a family, we gather around certain occasions to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.  This past weekend, there were two such events which, in tandem, speak powerfully to me and have provided this urge to write.

First, as a reward for their consistent good behavior over the Thanksgiving Holiday Tour we took, we treated our two older children to “The Star”. An animated movie from taken from the perspective of Boaz, or “Bo”, the donkey in the manger scene of the Nativity; “The Star” was a crash course of the events that lead to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem for my children. Startlingly accurate for a meeting of Hollywood and Christianity, “The Star” was an excellent choice to reign in Advent Season.  It featured, among other things, an amazing soundtrack, among its tracks a copious amount of my favorite songs.  As the music played and the video rolled, my mind’s eye was busy envisioning moments around our Christmas tree as a kid, at holiday parties with friends and family, warmed by the assurance God’s birth provided for me.  I can still close my eyes and see myself on a plush lounge chair, enshrouded in a blanket, warmed by hot chocolate in hand, held in the golden light of the Christmas tree as my father’s music collection melodiously filled the air with words and sounds of joy.  I was inspired in that moment to collect some of those songs and play them for my children.

Second, as we strung lights and unwrapped stashed ornaments from last year’s Season, my very own playlist ebbed through the room – this time as father and curator of the soul-filling experiences to which I was so blessed to be a part.  Among my father’s favorites, and by transference and common experience, my own is the Christian A Capella group Glad.  Glad has a series of albums dedicated to Christmas.  Among them include a track called In The First Light.  This song explores the reality of Christ existing before anyone knew, aside from his parents, that He was to give His life for the salvation of man.  It juxtaposes the heavens with the earth.  It talks of a baby, not yet speaking, being the Word of God to man.  They would hate Him, it says, and in anger, they would nail Him to a tree.  The song foretells of our failures.  The song foretells of the futility of those failures in the face of Christ’s Love.  The song is beautiful.

Beyond its soothing words and rhythm, it fills me with a sense that at any moment, we can alert ourselves to Christ’s presence and begin again.  In a world where failing is constant, feared and often chastised, Jesus gives us a new deal.  One where we can attain permanent Joy and Happiness through Him.  If our collective sins were the force that drove the spike into Christ’s wounds, our Advent wonder is the Light that exudes beyond which daylight can provide.  Regardless of the nature of our crimes, Christ offers us salvation through Him.  He offers us the opportunity to begin anew; to be filled by His Love and forever be held in golden light.  What a wonderful time.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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A Week of Thanks: Family.Over.Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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A Week of Thanks: My Last First Thanksgiving

Dawn breaks on my favorite day of they year.  This year, this day was sure to be full of intrigue. As I broke out the board and iron, I thought back to ten years before then; I thought back to the time when my grandmother, obviously not having my stubborn assertion that my mother needed to iron my shirt, took the time out of her Christmas Mass preparation to teach me how to iron.  How to use the stitches at the sides, shoulders, neck and sleeves to pull taught the fabric, drag and press, push and release the steam – so that I could be the master of my own meticulously pressed shirt.  Even now I have a profound sense of gratitude for that moment.  It was a point in which my grandmother shared how to fish, rather than just how to eat a fish.

In the process of falling hard for someone, all possible tools in the toolbox are sought to be implemented.  From the ironing board to the confection kitchen, where my family’s apple-cranberry crisp recipe, a personal favorite, would be utilized to gain the favor of the thirty-something headcount at the feast I was to attend in Manassas, Va.  Of the stories related to me, my girlfriend’s maternal extended family seemed to mirror in many ways my paternal extended family.  I was eager to impress.  On the itinerary was an afternoon dinner at her Aunt’s, to be followed by dessert with my family at our family friend’s back in Maryland.  The woman who would one day be my wife had been as eager as I to introduce me to those she loved the most.  From the first moment, we placed each other at the head of our lives.  I knew nearly immediately that this relationship was meant to be my last.  And so the introductions had to go well.

An uncommonly warm day for Thanksgiving, a football game was played in the backyard amidst frequent breaks for appetizers and alcohol.  I did not know it then, but that was to be the last Thanksgiving in which I would drink.  My wife is seated 2nd in her extended family in her generation. With just one cousin older than she, yet all in close proximity, there were plenty of dynamics into which one could intermingle.  Though an outsider, they all felt normal.  I had, a month previously, met her grandparents.  I had also met all of her four siblings and her parents.  But for that handful, the rest of the group was entirely new.  I vividly recall feeling at ease with her oldest cousin and his fiancee.  Likewise, there was a consortium of male cousins, all within a handful of years of one another, who were avid baseball fans and athletes.  When searching for organic topics of conversation, when one can rely on baseball as a common thread, all is well.

Dinner saw a series of folding tables with all the decor attached to her aunt’s dining room table.  There was a clear pecking order, as all good families should determine for themselves.  I was surprised to find myself and my girlfriend seated near to the 2nd generation.  By the focal points of the conversation, I could tell I was informally being interviewed.  In those moments, it is difficult to determine which are the biggest critics; which are the biggest fans.  As a person priding myself on understanding the woven fabric that makes up interpersonal communication, I worked hard, internally, to understand where the right buttons were located.  I intended to push them.  In all, I left that evening feeling as though I’d just been to a family reunion of my own.  Another box checked.  Both for them, and for me.  Family, I was taught, is vital.  Connections with your in-laws are important.  I was, and continue to be, blessed in that arena.

But for two years; one due to the hospice internment of my grandmother, the other for team tickets we had to the Ravens/49ers Thanksgiving game, we have made every year since.  It has become a custom to which I look forward annually.  Football games have morphed into some serious oyster habits.  We’ve gone from seated in the middle, to seated at the back, as our children need a little more wiggle room than we did that first year.  There have been significant additions.  Marriages.  Great-Grandchildren.  There has been one subtraction.  My wife’s grandfather passed a few months prior to our wedding.  This will be the sixth Thanksgiving he is not present in body.  I am Thankful for the family I consider to be mine.  I am Thankful for my wife’s grandmother.  I am Thankful for my wife’s parents and their siblings.  I am thankful for the boys, who have grown into men, who are my chief support group in all things baseball and politics.  I am Thankful I have had the opportunity to sit next to the same woman nine out of ten years.  I am blessed by these Graces.  I’ve done nothing to earn these traditions.  They have been bestowed upon me.  And perhaps, that is the most valuable lesson in understanding Thanksgiving; that what we have to be most Thankful for can never be of our own doing – for it is the undeserved- the unearned that comes with the greatest portion of humility.

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

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

 

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

The Music of Your Life

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I wrote the below piece about 16 months ago.  Given the expected addition to our family in the coming weeks, I thought I’d pull this from my archives and send it out there to any who’d wish to read it.
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I have a spoiler to share with you all.  I haven’t mentioned this publicly on this blog, or anywhere else really, but when Carolyn and I found out we were having our first child (Quinn, now almost 3), I decided to create an opportunity to speak to her in adult fashion in real-time, using my most creative outlet, writing.  I began to keep a journal for her.  Ideally, she’d be rolling around the floor, or running around a soccer field, pick a scene, and I’d get my writing itch and pull out the journal and tell her whatever it was with which I was so inspired.  I had always watched parents speak to their children like children and wanted to find a way to bestow my parental advice through more sophisticated terms.  At some point, this was to become a gift to her.
Then, when Quinn was just 4 months old, we found out we were expecting another bundle of joy.  Except that with the financial strain of providing for a new child, daycare, formula, diapers, yada-yada-yada it wasn’t quite so joyful.  Don’t get me wrong, we were floored that God had given us another chance to raise a child, but we didn’t feel equipped to handle the material and financial obligations of a second child so quickly.  I resolved to buy another journal.  This one for “baby dos”, but it took me a while to got around actually following through on it.  To be honest, there’s a blank space in my journal to Quinn where a gap of time between entries occurred.  Stress gives me writer’s block.  Its only when I’m in tune with the world around me that the words spring out of my brain, onto the page.  Frequently, my fingers can barely keep up with my mind.  It’s exhilarating to flurry through 2, 3, 4 pages of text, stopping only to un-cramp my hand.
Eventually, however, I recovered from my haze and I began to write.  This year has been really good for my writing.  I try to write to each of them twice a month, and am keeping a separate journal (typed) for myself.  I never thought I’d ever explain this publicly, and am only doing so now because its imperative to the context of the entry I decided to share from yesterday (below).  This one is from Xavier’s notebook, although I’ll probably type it up for Quinn and put it in the back of her journal, where I keep other loose letters, photos, etc.  Selfishly, I dream of this being a prized possession one day.  For both of them.  Who knows.  So to set the stage, this entry’s original is found in Xavier’s journal, in the early portion of what I hope will one day become a multi-volume work.  We’ll see.  I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to share it, but those who’ve instilled music within my soul deserve to know I’m passing it on.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
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5.25.16
Xavier,
I’m writing to you from work today.  There’s asbestos abatement going on in the building, therefore I cannot go in.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m listening to music.  As you may someday find, music is the strongest conduit to our memories of the past.  A song comes on and “Boom!”, there you are, smack-dab in the middle of a moment you’ve already lived, watching old scenes, remembering former exhilaration and heartache.
Such is my inspiration for entering this passage today.  The saddest part of these memories, this musical voyage, is that we cannot fully go back to that time.  Not to change anything, anyway.  Then the thought struck me, “Xavier will live through this same problem.  Maybe I can pass to him the importance of REALLY living.  When he’s 16 and in love with a girl, or at a concert with friends, or playing baseball in the backyard, whatever it is.”  So here I am, telling you, begging you to lay it all out there, to go for it.  You won’t get it back and you can’t take it with you.  The worst possible outcome of this trip down memory lane is you encounter a scenario where you wish you’d done it differently.  Listen to me, Xavier.  So much of this book will be special moments we’ve shared or I’ve witnessed.  They are special.  While you are young, please don’t miss opportunities to be on fire for the things you know you yearn for.  Chasing down your dreams, while prioritizing faith, family and friends is our mission in life.  There will be a time for responsibility and providing for others.  That is a separate phase we can only be truly ready for when we can successfully say we’ve discovered enough of life to know what we need, compared against what we don’t.
In the meantime, keep track of the soundtrack of your life.  Play music often and loudly and in the company of those who help you come alive.  It will sustain your days both in the present, and then later on down the line.  It will revive green grass in winter moments.  It will help you feel the sun on your back, hear pure laughter, recall innocent bliss.  You’ll recall your first kiss, the beginnings of a best friendship, the loss of a loved one; heartache and euphoria.  Live in that music so that, one day, when you are old and tired, and a song comes on from the spring of your life, you’ll look back at how alive you were and smile.  And hopefully, take pride in how much of that flame you’ve kept burning.
I love you with all of my heart, no matter what the season.  Here’s to hopefully being a part of your soundtrack.
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– Dad
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Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,
Will O’Connor

Love Me Now

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John Legend has been one of, if not my favorite artist of my adult life.  From the start of my freshman year, he has featured dozens of songs that capture the essence of love, passion and happiness.  There has been perhaps no one better in this generation, especially given the tendency for most other artists to focus on the more banal needs of life.  At the end of last year, or the beginning of this, I can’t remember; John Legend released Love Me Now.  At first, the song seemed to rub me the wrong way.  Don’t get me wrong, its composition is beautiful, but something in the message seemed off to me.  Recently, I’ve had the occasion to listen to the song under my new perspective of Me.Now.  The title of the song and the mantra of the Me.Now.Movement are directly compatible to one another; and the message is resounding in an alternative fashion.  That’s the beauty of music.  The notes and lyrics don’t change, but in time, as our perspective changes, the message evolves within our own minds.

Here’s what I didn’t like about it when I first heard it:

I was raised Catholic and retain that identity to this day.  Being Catholic, and married myself, the idea that he wasn’t sure if his wife (I’m assuming he wrote this song about Chrissy Teigan, especially since she features in the video) wasn’t assuredly going to be in his life forever.  He talks about not knowing who is going to kiss her when he’s gone.  Why would you question that? Do what you have to do to stay with your wife! It’s clear that you love your wife at the moment, so why would you envision the moment when she might be gone? He then goes on to explain that he doesn’t want to think about it, and that he just wishes for love right now.  Again, the immediate gratification that pervades our culture from all angles infringed upon my perspective.  Why would he be solely focused on right now? You have to plan your life for the long-term, and to do that, the best course of action is conservative growth, or so I thought.

Love isn’t money.  We shouldn’t approach it the same way.  He’s not saying he’s going to leave her or that she’s going to leave him.  He’s saying he doesn’t want to think about it.

Here’s how the message changed for me under the context of the Me.Now.Movement:

If the listener focuses on the “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to love you now,” portion of the chorus; if we admit we don’t know whats in the stars, but that we know what’s in our hearts, we can begin to separate our strategy of long-term financial growth from the urgency and immediacy with which we must live our lives.  John Legend isn’t saying his wife is going to leave him.  He’s not implying I should be thinking about my wife leaving me.  He’s urging me, reminding himself, that what’s important is abandoning the future plan that we might live for Right Now.  What a powerful idea! We mustn’t think about how the years will go down.  It will be alright.  And has he follows, let’s make the most of every moment, tonight!

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If we’re lucky, we’ll find someone who mirrors our hearts.  If we’re attentive to that symmetry, we’ll maintain that love.  The relationship is built on blocks, day by day.  Love is conducted like electricity.  It’s there when we energize ourselves in the moment.  When we cut that circuit, it still has the capacity to conduct energy, but we won’t be able to see it or feel it.  John Legend has the right side of the coin showing here.  I’m hoping I can bare that in mind more frequently.

John Legend, and his work, has long been a source of relaxation, contemplation and happiness for me.  I’m glad I revisited this particular song with the idea of happiness and presence in the now on my heart.  This most recent revelation is just another in a long string of recent thoughts that help me magnify my focus and gain new appreciation for What Happiness Means to Me.

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Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Keeping Myself Young – Shared Experiences of Happiness

I was flipping through some images online today at my lunch break.  Not looking for anything in particular, I came across a few that made me stop in wonder.  In that moment, I felt such a wave of gratitude for the gifts and responsibilities bestowed upon me that I felt compared to share.  The first picture listed below is of my son, Xavier.  Xavier is two years old.  He’s a brilliant, creative, burst of energy and will.  Nearing his third birthday, he’s got an idea for how every moment should go and will tell you when you aren’t acting according to the plan.  Xavier is the boy I needed but never envisioned.  He’s more perfect than I could have ever expected.  In the photo, you can see we are on a boat.  The boat belongs to my parents.  We try to get out on the water as frequently as possible, and some of Xavier’s favorite moments on the boat are when the throttle is slammed against the dash, propelling us as fast as possible to our destination.  There’s something magical about the wind pulling at your cheeks, flailing through your hair as you anticipate swimming at your favorite beach.  All the more magical, for me, is the opportunity to watch him full of excitement as he rests against me.  The sense of security and belonging we have to and for one another is a unique bond I hope to foster forever.

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There’s a growing sentiment among our friends and family that my daughter is my wife’s mini-me.  While it is true that I am glad she doesn’t have her father’s looks, Quinn has always reminded me of myself, without the inhibition surfacing when new to a public scene or a gathering of large people.  I love this photo because it incorporates Quinn’s personality to a “T”.  Pictured below, we sit on the Brown’s Island Bridge above the James River on my birthday this past March.  My daughter has her Elsa jacket on; something she rarely braved public spaces without, shouting her excitement towards the photographer.  From the day Quinn was born she felt like she fit right beside me.  I rarely experienced feelings of doubt or apprehension of what to do with her.  She’s grown into the most amazing 3-year-old.  She’s on the brink of learning to read, has an amazingly giving heart, and loses her s#*! when I leave for work in the morning before she wakes up.  To say my daughter is precocious would be an understatement.  She’s wildly curious about information, and feels several years older than her birth certificate would reveal.  She’s a blessing of the highest order and I can’t wait to watch her be a big sister to a baby girl.  That’s going to be both a wonderful, and tiresome process; as I am sure we’ll have to reinforce the fact that she is not, in fact, the baby’s mommy.

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As I moved though my photographs, I stumbled upon this one.  Richmond saw one measurable snowfall this year.  Quite a departure from the 3-5 we averaged in Baltimore the years prior to this one.  The snowstorm coincided with my plans to put the fire pit I was gifted for Christmas together.  As soon as I busted out that first screwdriver, Xav had to be out there with me.  My wife stepped out in the snow briefly to take some pictures, apparently.  I didn’t notice until after this one, and its candid-ness is brilliant.  You might notice the pink gloves.  Those are his sisters.  He had not a care in the world for the color of the mittens – they were the ones at the door and that was the stipulation for coming out into the snow with me.  My favorite part of this picture is the emotions our eyes transmit to the viewer.  My son, looking adoring at me, so happy to be building something with his Dad.  My eyes reflect the same pride I see in old photos of my dad and myself.  There’s a partnership forming there; a feeling I love sharing with my father.  Whether we are splitting wood, starting a fire, watching a baseball game or prepping for a less frequently occurring activity, I love that my father always included me in his tasks.  It’s absolutely something I want to transfer along as a father to my children.

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I don’t think I have a more favorite photo in my album than the one pictured below.  Taken by my sister at the Baltimore City Train Museum as we waited for our train ride with Santa Claus two winters ago, I was joking with her about something small.  Had to have been because I don’t remember its reason.  I also had no clue that my sister was taking a picture.  The profile shot of my daughter’s smile is the most perfect capture of the life within my daughter, and the life within me when I am with her.  There are so many things I’m not very good at.  But there’s rarely a moment I get to experience something new with my children where I am not as eager to reach that experience than they are.  My children bring out the very best in me.  Being their dad is the most important thing in my life.  I have to opportunity to shape the worldview of two, soon to be three, little people.  That’s a very serious charge.  In the short time I’ll have with them, I’ll need to impress upon them the need for ethic, empathy, integrity, accountability, compassion and love.  I’ll have to expose them to the raw nature of the world at varying lengths of time.  I’ll need to prepare them for the course they are to chart for themselves and I’ll need to do all of this knowing I’ll have to take my hand off the wheel at some point.  I’m always thinking about this line.  The amount of time between here and adulthood; where they’ll stretch out and form their own plans and perspectives.  Just as my parents did, and still do; I’ll have to help them find their purpose, watch from alongside, allowing for their own discoveries while instilling the reminder that my presence will always be there.  In the meantime, I have this picture to remind myself of the beauty of being a parent.

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The O’Connor’s are inside of our one-month count-down to Baby O #3’s expected arrival to this world.  Switching from man-to-man to zone defense will be a new challenge for my wife and myself, but I’m beyond ecstatic to welcome a new timeline of anticipating experiences together to our crazy schedule.  We’ve been blessed with so much, and can only hope to continue praying for God’s assistance in forming the hearts of our beautiful children.  Alongside my wife, my children are the purest form of reminding me of my happiness and helping me clearly recognize What Happiness Means to Me.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor