Father-Daughter

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Sunday morning our family woke up to shake the dust off of our sleep.  As I prepared for church, our four-year-old daughter stumbled into my room, wiping the sleep from her eyes.  “Daddy my tummy hurts.” A quick check of the forehead – she seemed to be running a temperature.  Changing plans, my wife gathered the kids in front of the television as I whisked away to a rare occasion of church without children.

Throughout the day, running a fever as high as 102, we knew she’d be staying home from daycare Monday.  As do many of my friends’ households, ours requires a dual income to stay afloat.  We stared at our calendars on Sunday afternoon.  Both of us having Monday morning meetings, we triage’d those.  My wife’s being more critical and unique, she went to work in the morning.  I was tasked with opening my job, setting a few instructions to the various crews, and heading back home in time for my wife to make her meeting.

I pulled back to the house at the appointed time.  My wife had a few instructions for what medicine needed to be taken, what food and drink to be consumed.  After breakfast, my daughter announced her intention to topple me in Candyland, which she promptly did – twice.  Sitting on the floor, no noise beyond the laughter and guffaws prompted by the game, we enjoyed the splendid and ever-vanishing luxury of strengthening bonds through meaningless chatter.  The perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. EdisonProject73Then, after taking in a back-to-back viewing of Daniel Tiger, she colored and then moved on to crafts.  In coloring, she chose to depict our family at church.  I’m not sure what prompted this thought.  However, as a man trying to raise his young family on the bedrock of Christianity, I was happy to see the importance with which she places us in this setting.  I was given this drawing to take to my office.  It’s proudly displayed on the wall in front of me.  It is a reminder of my responsibility to curate not just my faith journey, but now also my children’s.  It is not my destiny, nor a statistical probability that I become the subject of a great artist’s master work on any artful medium.  But I am responsible for creating my own masterful work of art in my children.  God is an active agent in that process.  I’m very fortunate to see it begin to take shape.

There are few things I can remember from being four years old.  Handling scissors is not one of them.  But since she’d done it before in our home, and at school, out came the construction paper.  First, a snowman.  Somewhat of a unique snowman, this gentleman featured a yellow hat, a head, two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two legs where normally the two lower sections of the rounded body would exist.  No feet.  We also made Moana using thin strips of paper for hair, not-to-scale blue eyes and, yes – long, thin strips for legs.  Around the time that all completed, my wife slowed to a stop in front of our home.  The tag-team was nearing its baton exchange.

I drove off to work filled with joy.  I’ve not experienced that phenomenon in some time.  For while we were playing together, I certainly recognized the novelty of the moment.  But it was not until it passed that I was able to properly assess the priceless-ness of the moment.  There are sure to be more moments like this, as long as God continues to bless me with life.  It wasn’t about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  It was about a once-in-a-moment opportunity.  In no time at all she will begin to master formulating shapes with her hand in scissors.  She’ll learn to glue without help.  She’ll become bored with snowmen.  In the blink of an eye my daughter will move ever-closer to reliance upon technology for entertainment.  She’ll experiment with new medium for her artistic creativity.  I should hope I’ll play a part in those events, too.  I’ve had the occasion to look back out the rapid development of my children.  Too often, stages of my children’s lives pass without notice.  My joy had everything to do with the fact that I’d captured one moment in time of this one.

I am eager to experience all aspects of my children’s lives.  I hope to instill in them qualities which I believe will serve them in their own pursuit of happiness and purpose.  Even just by being there, assuring them along the way.  And yet still, sometimes, we get to provide the glue for the snowmen, until they learn to apply it for themselves. There are a few seemingly ordinary events in my life that I’ll treasure forever.  Monday, January 29th, 2018 will be added to them.  For now, I am grateful that I had the chance to be a part of this moment.  That is every bit as intentional as it gets.

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Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Founding Principle

Of no small consequence to this endeavor I’ve dubbed “The Edison Project”, from the outset, was the intentional digging into myself I felt needed in order to expand my voice.  That in order to have something to say, I needed to know the core of myself.  While not near the heart of my core, as of yet, I have devised a first tenant of life: purpose.

That is to say that it is in finding purpose that we find what feeds us towards our goals, our ambitions, our happiness.  No matter how small or large a person’s penchant for competition is, at the heart of each of us lie certain constructs of winning and losing.  We set goals and we measure them.  If we succeed in our task, we measure that out to be a win, and are therefore happy.  If we fail in that task, we measure that out to be a loss, and we either are unhappy, or resolve to create happiness by reinvesting ourselves in accomplishing what was once failed.

In setting goals that satisfy our core, we increase our happiness by building further purpose for our lives.  The best way of doing this is to establish initiative and accountability.  No matter how large or small the aim, establishing accountability to the things we say we are going to do ties us to our words, creates a mission and sense of purpose.  By constantly probing our deepest selves, we begin to take initiative to both reach out to the world and accomplish goals, while simultaneously uncovering more of who we are.  I believe there are central tenants which need to constantly exist while we dig, lest we venture off the path:

 

  1. God (read: Faith) – While I certainly advocate for the adoption of Christianity as the pillar behind our faith, any faith with ambitions to achieve the Golden Rule propels us towards enriching the fabric of ourselves and our immediate communities.  An accredited Faith in this sense cannot be one that is warped into maliciously creating harm towards others in the name of that faith.  To be fair, there are pockets from nearly every faith that seek to abuse the central aspects of their theology.  None can be accepted over others, merely because they fit our understanding of what is beneficial to us.  There are other aspects created by faith that are so large and important, that I will list them later.
  2. Family – Whether through the course of marriage, or the family to which one was born, purpose is derived from family.  Role models are created first in this core component of creating purpose.  Ideologies and pathologies are first communicated here and can also be the source of rebellion in later stages of life.  The role of both a father and a mother are critical, as despite recent beliefs, men and women bring to children different examples of love, authority, acceptance of individuality and permission to be oneself that the other cannot mimic genuinely.  Parents must work through differences and set a tone of compassion, teamwork, and handling of conflict in healthy ways in order for children to see compromise as optimal – in order to see that people don’t need to agree completely to get along properly.  Purpose in this sense, is more of a passive understanding of right and wrong.  A foundation of formulating virtue over vanity; where it can never be questioned that moral and philosophical right and wrong are not relative.  They are fixed.  If one strives towards virtue, they can never proclaim to subscribe to a separate set of virtues.  In part, this is why religion and family are so critical to back each other up.
  3. An understanding of the power of evil against the power of good – And the willingness to acknowledge the evil that exists within ourselves.  Dr. Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, a man to whom I am now becoming acquainted through his work, describes perfectly the virtue of power.  He dismisses out of hand that power is found through manipulation or exertion of force or the threat of it.  He says that is tyranny.  I agree with him.  Power is standing on moral principles and executing them with the authority and discipline given earned as we move along in the world.  Power is when a man uses his strength, or any otherEdisonProject71 masculine trait for good.  Power is when a woman uses her love, or any other feminine trait for good.  Peterson aptly describes that both men and women posses the same virtues; only that they posses different quantities of each virtue, as well as the focus to develop certain traits over others.  Put together, men and women complement one another.  Neither can be removed, or silenced, without creating a vacuum of virtue in one form or another.  Peterson claims that we are first charged with defeating the evil within ourselves before we can expand that fight towards fighting evil in our communities, or society at large.  I believe that is the inability to do so that creates in our leaders and inability to lead by example.  How many times have we seen authority figures brought up on the very charges they espouse to disdain? It is in understanding evil that we defeat pluralism, moral relativism and vanity – in order to harness that evil and employ virtue against.  The presence of this knowledge cannot be overstated.  When one begins a new effort, if he, or she, has not accounted for the malicious existence within themselves, that effort can be easily forced down a path of destruction.  To illuminate my claim further, one has only to watch Star Wars.  As silly as that may sound, the entire epic rests solely on one’s ability to keep the evil that rests within each of us in check.
  4. Social Connection – A friend and mentor of mine, Andrew Bustamante has said it be when he put to me the thought, backed up by several studies that loneliness may become the next great epidemic in mental health.  The fact that so many people now derive a majority of their interaction with friends and family through social media has led to the distilling of group thought, and advice, as crucial.  I am certainly guilty of this fact.  He has his own plans, which can be seen here, but for the purposes of my thoughts on purpose, social interaction and connection to society must be maintained in order to assure that purpose exists within the framework that society gives us.  Without incorporating our purpose into the greater good, it is impossible to determine whether or not one’s goals and purpose establishes a productive element to society.  As an aside, I’d encourage you to visit his website.  Andrew is an excellent motivator, and has proved an even more valuable curator of ideas, as I try to bounce ideas off of him as often as I can.

TheBestArmourFor it was Marcus Tullius Cicero who said ” The best Armour of Old Age is a well spent Life preceding it; a Life employed in the Pursuit of useful Knowledge, in honourable Actions and the Practice of Virtue; in which he who labors to improve himself from his You, will in Age reap the happiest Fruits of them; not only because these never leave a Man, not even in the extremest Old Age, but because a Conscience bearing Witness that our Life was well spent, together with the Remembrance of past good Actions, yields an unspeakable Comfort to the Soul.  This is invaluable advice.  For each day, age eats at us.  Each moment, we pass up a purpose-filled life in exchange for nothing of benefit to us, we are less likely to reward ourselves with a soul full of comfort and gratitude for the moments we have left to spend.

Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Time

Fatherhood in my generation presents an interesting case study for those generations that follow.  I believe fatherhood at any point in time is an interesting topic to explore, but especially now, with the strain most families experience when both parents have to work; fatherhood presents both joys and pitfalls unique to this moment in time.  Daycare is a necessity for most.  This means that a man’s responsibility to earn enough to support his family has to include weekly costs that, when put together for all three children, surpass the value of my rent, car payment and nearly half of my grocery bill.  Included in that responsibility is the time needed by my wife, and really everyone’s wives, to perform her job properly.  This means a split, or near split, in pick-up duty.  This alone puts a strain on life, as I’m sure I could do my job better if I could put in more time at work.  Future goals and opportunities are often put on hold and pass fathers by, as those without this responsibility can more fully devote themselves to their professional passions.  Fatherhood is a complex and layered enigma.  Even when we seem to be able to balance all of the above, there still rests the question of ‘Am I doing this right?’

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My children, 4, 3 and 5 months old, are the life-blood of any and all effort I am able to muster.  They complete the cycle that returns me to work, focused on strengthening my skills and earning increased pay and opportunities.  While they push me out the door in the spirit of improving our quality of life, it is that same desire for quality of life that pulls me home.  As we find ourselves taking on responsibility, we hope the curve of improvement is not far behind.  That we can learn to balance to needs of one infant, and then add to that a year later with one walking shakily about the house, while the other infant sleeps, is a testament to what we are capable of.  That we can find ourselves just a few years later, with two children intent on their nightly dance parties while the other is soothed to sleep further displays that flexibility.  We are perfectly capable of adapting to the requirements of our life.  It is quite often solely the confidence that we lack to possess.

As part of adding our third, one of the daily routines passed solely to me is the bathing, readying of pajamas, teeth, hair and multiple trips to fill a cup with water, and prayers.  My wife established the order of prayers a few years back.  If we veer from that order even slightly, both “big kids” quickly alert us to our sin and urge us back on to the path of the familiar.  As it has become my duty, it has transformed into my pleasure.  I’ve incorporated a few additional items to the end of the night-time routine.  A few times a week, we do “video songs.”  These are merely songs from various Disney movies shuffled through YouTube from which my children each choose one.  Sometimes, the songs are old and familiar: Cinderella, Tangled, Tarzan, Hercules, and on down the line.  My son has a much greater penchant for songs he’s never heard.  He doesn’t even know he hasn’t heard them.  He just likes the image displayed on the screen, and says, “Daddy, that one.”  I shake my head, confused.  I never wanted the unfamiliar as a child.  Give me the tried and true.  Nevertheless, we select the song from Lion King 2, or from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.  Video songs also give me a key negotiating chip, ensuring good behavior during all of bedtime preparations.

As an aside, yesterday I completed Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  While I would have done it differently, the reporting on a year of striving to maintain resolutions each month, picking up new tasks as she went, all while keeping an eye on each one from the past months struck a chord with me.  Similarly, at the end of the book, she describes a process where occasionally, she and her husband enter their children’s rooms and “gaze lovingly” at them while they sleep.  While my wife and I do not do this together, but have each done that at times, there is a part of our routine that took on new meaning for me as a result.  In the last few months, my two children have taken on the custom of laying with me on the floor as we say prayers.  There is a body pillow between their two beds that I rest on as we say prayers, and enough room for each of them to snuggle against me.  Rubin described an exchange she held with her husband during one of these loving gazes.  She commented that one day they would look back on the occurrence of this tradition with fondness.  To which her husband replied, “We will say ‘they were such happy times.”

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Last night, as my children cuddled up against me, the hour later than I’d hoped for, I recalled this passage and spent some time during our prayers thinking about this happy time.  There will come a time when cuddling is no longer accepted.  When they’ll want to spend their last few minutes reading a book, or watching a video, or talking on the phone to a friend.  While I will be granted back some of my individual freedom, I will lose the chance to experience moments of true dependence.  I’ll be glad to have my time back.  I’ll be sad that it is so.

Fatherhood is tricky.  Constantly blending and balancing personal and professional desires and requirements with the requirements of parenting creates a great many opportunities to learn from failure.  The nuances of all of these facets of my life require constant examination.  In my toughest moments, caught between the three largest portions of myself, I struggle to remind myself that when my children are grown, or even just a bit older, my salary, drive to succeed, plans to write and to read will all still exist.  It is the innocence of children that wipes away quickest.  So for the time being, I resolve to let those other things call to me from the back of my brain, in hopes that I’ll continue to be granted one more night to be called to that body pillow, to pray and sing and cuddle – one more time.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Refining Happiness

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth” – William Butler Yeats

Of late, I’ve found myself furiously taking notes while reading through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  For those not acquainted, Rubin determined for herself a few year’s back that while she led a charmed life, she perhaps did not appreciate it enough.  For anyone who may feel that appreciation is something they lack for themselves or their situation (I do), especially in critical moments where things feel tight and we aren’t sure of important outcomes; this venture hits home.  Only part-way through her report on her findings, I am finding her structure to be something I believe I’d really benefit from.  I have augmented some of what she’s done, but plan to mimic several aspects, tweaking along the way.  I also have found the research she has included, as well as the quotes and stories to fill areas of my quest that I had not yet been able to define.

While The Edison Project is simply a continued experiment to determine a path towards many things; authorship, intentionality, documentation of my life for my children – it is also a probe into what makes me happy.  Striving for positivity and remaining focused on these objectives have led me down extremely intriguing paths.  I have set markers for myself at the beginnings of each of these forks, that I might – much like Hansel and Gretel – find my way back to probe each of these deeply as I move through life.  The timeline for this experiment is a long one.  Such a discovery has led to increased patience as I feel the need to understand these undiscovered aspects of my character before determining a singular course for anything as massive an undertaking as a book.  Where this time last year I was aimlessly creating characters and scenarios, I’ve pulled back to uncover the reasons for why this person might exist in my world – or that one might not necessarily need to be involved.  I’m working to understand how these people may behave in such a world – or worlds – as my ideas vary from month to month on where such an effort should most organically take place.

So here I find myself exploring the quote above.  That happiness is characterized as most likened to growth is the truest explanation I’ve ever felt.  When I read that passage, I looked up from the page, set my book down, and began to investigate that posit within my own life.  Indeed I have always been most happy when at the cusp of something new and important.  I’d add only that to Mr. Yeats’ deep and layered thesis.  That growth must be focused in ways true to our character is as important as the fact that growth is even happening.  Fortunately, there are many areas in which this young man can grow.  I intend to continue to believe that for as long as I draw breath.

At work, new building techniques, applications, building uses and challenges may create a large learning curve, but it is determination I already posses.  When arriving at the apex of the challenge, where the curve drops off and the production takes form, I am exhilarated beyond belief.  Such has been the case for the seven years I’ve now undertaken this industry.

At home, witnessing landmark events, exploring my children’s own unexplored territory with them provides a rush and sense of bonding that can’t come from the dinner table, not to dismiss the importance of a family eating dinner.  Working with them to create their own perceptions of what is good, what is worth exploring, I find myself inspired to look inward on my existing perceptions and alter, perhaps, some of them to include lessons they’ve just then taught me.  The adventure can be as simple as watching my infant daughter lay on the floor giggling.  It can be as trivial as observing the ways my son constructs duplo-blocks to portray, even if in a slightly ambiguous form, towers or castles or rocket ships.  It can be as superficial, yet layered, as interacting with my oldest while she’s holding and caring for one of her many baby dolls.  Watching how she loves these inanimate objects alerts me to what she’s learned through witness, and creates in me a heightened sense of my contributions to this formula.

With my wife, watching each other grow as we establish new roles while learning to balance all of our existing responsibilities as we balance our natural desire to grow with the weight that parenthood can sometimes add to focus and energy; I am bolstered by what the future promises.  I am emboldened to act now the way I want to feel later.  It is in these acts where the depth of our relationship is revealed; that although we have known each other for nearly ten years, we have merely skimmed off a fraction of what we are capable of – both individually and together.  Beginning to depart from old habits in order to create space for new goals makes me love her in a light I haven’t before held vantage of.

These are the aspects of my life that create my happiness.  It is not the thought of becoming happy, but the act of fulfilling happiness that compounds on itself.  And each and every day we are granted here on earth we have the opportunity to invest that effort into areas that will generate into something greater.  Refining that happiness towards growth in the foundation of our character reflects areas, yet undiscovered, where light can be found and happiness experienced in full.

What a truth to explore!

Yours in the Pursuit and Growth of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Listen Up, Son

My wife and I were born to parents who were baptized into the Catholic Church as infants.  That I am aware of, all four of my grandparents and all four of my wife’s grandparents were also born into the church.  Tradition is our family’s thing.  Conversion has historically not.

It takes, I think, total submersion into a Catholic Parish in order to come away from church with more than two readings, a series of songs, a clear understanding of when to sit, stand and kneel and a murky sense of which prayers you may be able to one day convert in your brain to the new version they switched over to ten years ago, and which just are hopeless.  Connection on an individual level, during the process of the mass, is not the highest priority.  While I understand the reasons for why, I sometimes look to other friends, who attend other churches filled with a greater mission to praise through prayer, music, etc and feel a twinge of jealousy.  I have to remind myself that the Catholic Church believes its mass not only provides us with the nourishment of the body of Jesus Christ on Sunday, but sets us up to be good Christian people most every other day of the week.

So as my wife and I, throughout the course of an infrequently granted date night, occasionally danced in and out of what we might do to benefit our spiritual journeys, and those of our children one day, we found ourselves simultaneously upset by the failings of the church – and our inability to grasp some of the greater meanings, and the myriad of reasons we have achieved successful faith-filled blessings throughout our time together.

By all appearances, just as God intended we found ourselves that next morning at 11:15, listening to the sacred scripture for the first week in ordinary time.  The first reading was from the Book of Samuel.  Two prophets, Eli – an established church leader and teacher of students like Samuel, a boy who was one day to be another to foretell the coming of Jesus.  In the story, Samuel is woken many times to a voice saying only “Samuel”.  The logical choice being that Eli, his teacher, is calling him – Samuel goes to Eli three straight times before finally Eli arrives at what is happening – Eli is experiencing his own calling from God.  As Samuel answers Eli the 3rd time, Eli says to Samuel “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  Samuel does so.  When the Lord calls the final time, Samuel does as he is bid.  This results in Samuel knowing God, and God blessing Samuel’s words, that he be heard and believed for all of time.

For the rest of the mass, including the homily, I reflected on the church’s position relative to mine.  I sensed that I’d been thinking as those of old with respect to the earth and sun.  The earth, no matter its significance to us, does not hold the orbit of the sun.  Alternatively, the earth orbits the sun.  Just as I may wish the Catholic Church cater to what I believe I need, it is the centerpiece in this relationship.  Its constant in my life is what has allowed me to know God, even if only in a minor way.  Here I am, Lord!, should be my sentiments toward the possibility of a greater relationship with God, and yet I am worried about comparing the lifeblood of the Catholic Church to that of a non-denominational church that opened 5 years ago and probably won’t survive being handed down to another due to faith-based differences that naturally exist between to lives of faith.

My position within the church is one of many callings.  The trick is to call on those vocations at the proper times.  I am called to listen to those who might teach.  I am called to minister to my children and my friends.  I am called to promote the future of the church.  I am called to be a member of a flock.  I am called to be a shepherd in times in which a wolf presides.

It is hard to know which of these is needed at various times.  Right now I get the feeling that God, and Samuel, are trying to remind me that the parts of me that need to connect with my faith in all of the various ways needs me to listen.  Something that does not come easily, or naturally, to me.  For the time being, my happiness, or the expansion of it, seems to be calling me into the realm of “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.” As I am called by my faith, church community, wife and children to fulfill various roles, I am to listen first.

I’m always amazed at the rate at which at least one amongst the readings specifically speaks to me or to an issue I’m having or concern I’m contemplating.  This Sunday’s was no different.  If we are to truly exist in happiness, then we must do so hand-in-hand with God.  Step one starts with listening.  But we can’t listen without truly first believing there is something to be gained by listening.  I think I’ll start there.  I’ll let you know where it leads.

Yours In the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

We Stand Resolute

Greetings and Happy New Year!

2018 Got off to a slow and quiet start for me, as I was swallowed up by the flu bug on Christmas afternoon, taking all of my energy from me up until this past weekend.  Drained from having completed our family Christmas circuit, focusing on properly stowing all of the gifts the kids got from their overly generous grandparents, aunts and uncles and ready to get some much-needed real estate back from our Christmas tree, writing has not been on the forefront of my mind.  Until yesterday.

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Our nearly 5-month-old daughter, being the last to dispel the flu from her system, was not fit to attend church this weekend.  My wife needed some time and my kids had also recently on the mend, meant that I would attend church on my own.  The sixth of January being the feast of the Epiphany, the gospel at church was taken from that this week.  The priest’s homily is what shed light on my post today.  He spoke about the imagery of dawn, and its ties to the gifts the wise men gave to us when they recognized Jesus as the King of all people, for all times.  Their gift to us is illumination.  When they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Christ, they illuminated, much as dawn does for a landscape, the beauty of the gift of Christ in human form.  Both the fact of Christ’s divinity, and his humanity, and the new light of day call for us to be a city on a hill for all.

And this got me to thinking, am I truly a Christian in the sense that my life reflects the Love God has brought to my life? Do I reflect God in meaningful ways to my wife, my children, my community? Decidedly, I do not believe I’ve done a good enough job of that task, that requirement.  Whether worn down from a long day at work, frustrated that my individual desires are bogged down by family responsibilities, or just caught up on worldly thoughts, too often I miss my opportunities to be a Christ-like leader in these environments.  So here I find myself taking the time to reflect and resolve what my 2018 goals will be.  Last year, I think I did a decent job of achieving a myriad of goals.  I intend to use these achievements as stepping-stones to a more fulfilling 2018 goal: namely that I will spend more time internally processing where my conflicts lay, and will rise to meet them, as best I can, in the manner in which my faith commands me.

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Lofty tho this may be, it is what I am called to as a Christian husband, father, son and brother.  It is what I am called to as a member of my company, community and country.  I plan on defining these roles, and the ways I can reflect the light of Christ as those opportunities avail themselves throughout the days, weeks and months ahead – but I also know that being present in my daily vocations and responsibilities will help me to reach these on a consistent level.  I intend to report back in the ways in which I’ve both succeeded and failed – and what lessons I’ve learned along the way.  This will be my theme for both my writing, and my living over the next year.

Good luck in your ventures here in 2018! I hope each and every one of you find the path calling you, and stays within its bounds as regularly as possible.  I hope to do the same.

Yours in the Continued Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Laid to Waste by ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky’

***SPOILER ALERT***

The following are my thoughts in response to having read Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  If you have designs to read this book, while I appreciate you frequenting my blog, please save for a later date.


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Calamity.  Utter and total heartbreak.  Those are my feelings today, as I’ve closed the book on Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  I don’t know how I’ll ever open another book.  In the week since I first opened this beautiful, hopeful, inspiring and yet altogether heart-wrenching novel, I’ve cheered for Mimo and Uncle Albert, scorned General Leyers, revered Father Re and Cardinal Schuster and fallen in love with Pino and Anna. The kind of love where your hope resides in a greater future for the love you posses within yourself and for others.  The kind of love only found in Eden’s paradise, before we cast ourselves into shadow.  I don’t know that I’ve ever cursed at a book out loud before.  I probably only did so because I saw it coming, and was powerless to stop it.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is set in WWII Milan, leading us through the winding trials of Pino Lella.  Pino finds himself in one harrowing predicament after another.  Shortly after the bombing of Milan began, Pino’s parents scuttle him to Casa Alpina, where he’d spent much of his youth skiing and studying under the careful tutelage of Father Re, the remote school’s headmaster and priest.  Pino soon discovers Father Re has other designs for Pino; leading one expedition after the next over a chain of Italian Alpine Mountains with Jews seeking refuge in Switzerland has his repetitious mission.  Pino encounters thieves, doubt and avalanches along the way.  His faith is tested but his outlook on life remains untainted, ever-desirous of finding love.

Prior to turning 18, Pino is jettisoned back to Milan under the bequest of his father, that he might avoid the draft and instead enlist in the German Army under a division that would keep him out of harm’s way.  After a near-death incident shortly into his career, an injury places Pino on leave.  Upon returning home he is yet to even set foot in his home before he encounters General Hans Leyers, the chief engineer in Hitler’s Nazi Regime in Italy.  Having learned to maintain and operate vehicles as a hobby while at Casa Alpina, it is his deft technical skill that earns him the new position as driver for the General.

On Pino’s first day as driver, he knocks on the door of the General’s apartment and is greeted by the maid, a beautiful woman named Anna to whom we are introduced earlier in the story.  The night of the first bombardment, Pino has scheduled a date with Anna to see a movie.  She stands him up, avoiding, unbeknownst to her, a bomb hurtling through the roof of the theater.  Their subsequent near daily interaction quickly leads Anna to reciprocate feelings for Pino, who is now operating as both the General’s driver and a spy for the resistance in Italy.  Pino’s love for music abounds as Sullivan deftly conflates Pino’s passion for Anna, and for music, into one solitary tone.  The two fall in love despite the war-ravaged surroundings and become engaged just before the German retreat.  The love scene depicted in the story was written in such a way that anyone looking for clues as to whether or not their days would entail each other for the rest of their loves quickly becomes aware that Anna will not survive the war.

As much as I knew this to be true, still there was hope.  Perhaps the words would rearrange themselves in the coming pages and the tragedy about to ensue I would be spared of.  Fully invested in their world, their happiness, their continued existence, I trudged forward.  Sure enough, a few calamitous decisions on Pino’s behalf coupled with the ill-timed retreat of the Germans and the vendetta killings required by the Partisans set the stage for Anna’s capture, due to her association with General Leyers’ mistress.  A public gathering’s boisterous atmosphere attracts Pino’s attention.  The strapping young man works his way to the front of the mob as an executioner leads out “collaborators” of the Nazi party.  Anna among them.  Before he can explain the mistake, the executioners try the traitors and kill them by firing squad.  Pino has a front row seat to the barbarous atrocities, his heart breaking mine.

I can think of only one other such case where I felt so abandoned by the death of a literary love interest: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  All of this leads me to feel powerless and forlorn, with a burning resolution to evade Italian-set World War II tragic novels.

I am glad I encountered Pino’s story, it was a world I relished having a window.  Pino is a hero for so many of his actions.  Much like much war literature, Pino’s humanity befalls his passion and love.  Pino’s misfortune reinforces my good fortune.  I am grateful to have never known war.  I am fortunate to have never been separated by my wife.  Blessed to have never feared what might become of me, my wife or my children.  But yet still, here I am, heart-broken over the evil that stole Anna from this world, even if I’d never known her.  To have come all that way in such a perilous time and die at the hands of your misunderstanding countrymen is what makes Beneath a Scarlet Sky so difficult a pill to swallow.

Yours in the Passionate Pursuit of Happiness – Con Smania

Will O’Connor

The O’Connor Family Christmas Letter

December, 2017

Merry Christmas to All!

The Virginia O’Connors, operating with the throttle wide open, have been up to all sorts of mischief this year, but hope to count ourselves alongside you all on the “Nice List”.  Having gained some footing in Richmond, we’ve stretched out a bit, developed some wonderful friendships, put down some roots, established traditions and added to our family!IMG_4014

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Over a mild winter, we announced the coming arrival of a new baby girl, Eve Corrine O’Connor, and welcomed her to the world on August 9th.  But we’ll get to that.  We’ve worked hard to establish meaningful relationships both for ourselves, and for our children.  We’ve been blessed both at work, and at play and have much to look forward to in the coming year!

Will has been extremely busy with work, having nearly completed 3 projects in the calendar year.  His job in Richmond saw him finish his first pre-fabricated steel building, an indoor soccer facility right off 95 South (he points this out to us every time we drive past it).  He then moved to project on campus at the University of Richmond, where we all saw very little of him required to complete the project in the 12 weeks the students were off from school.  EdisonProject22Finally, a historic renovation of an old automotive service building, along a main artery into the city, to become the show-piece of Midas Tire and Auto.  There is tremendous growth opportunity for Will in this company, so we’re all excited to see where that goes.  Additionally, Will has spent most of his down time collecting thoughts and stories to begin writing a book.  Here’s to hoping 2018 allows a bit more time to delve deeper into that passion.

IMG_5178Carolyn has had an amazing year, as well all knew she would.  Balancing work, daycare routes, taking care of two children and one large man-child, while also bringing another child into the world.  Professionally, Carolyn hit all of her annual goals prior to taking maternity leave.  An achievement all of us are extremely proud of, her ability to excel as a top agent for her company while still being the loving and caring momma bear of the house is not something most people can do.  Carolyn has developed some great friendships with some women in the area and enjoys spending time with them at a book club, among other activities, while giving Will the occasional opportunity to wrangle the kids from the bath-tub to bed while hopefully still finding the tooth brush and pajamas.  In all, its been a banner year for her.

 

Quinn saw August 21st turn the page to age 4 this year, but everybody who knows Quinn knows she’s really 17.  Highlights for Quinn include learning how to sound out spelling of words, playing with various friends from pre-school and being the world’s best big sister to both Xavier and Eve.  EdisonProject60She’s immensely attentive to Eve and has been a great helper to Carolyn when she isn’t busy picking out her own outfits, learning to ride a bike or educating all of us about the most recent thing she’s learned at school.  Quinn has stunned us this year in a variety of ways, most notably her development at school.  While there, she has grown by a factor of ten.  She loves her teachers so much that she wants to be one.  She loves what she’s learned so much that she takes great measures to teach each of us.  Her role as big sister suits her perfectly, and the coming of the next school year will see her in Kindegarten.  It is truly amazing how fast time flies.  Will is already mapping out the bus route, to ensure his baby girl gets safely to school for at least the first few months.

 

Xavier (3) is the archetypical image of a boy.  The bin that once held a few balls now overfloweth.  These instruments include a wide array of baseballs, soccer balls, basketballs and swords of all influences.  When he isn’t busy showing us how high he can throw a ball, or challenging Will to ninja fights, he’s enthralled with Thomas, Lightning McQueen and Raphael.  Xavier also is comedian-in-chief of the household, pausing at nothing to find the hilarity in all situations and displaying his knowledge of humor through his vivacious laugh.7FF47B24-DC72-4034-A9DD-87CE9621B990

Eve (4 mos) hasn’t really acquired any skills to this point beyond holding her head up, but we’ll let that slide this year.  Coming into the world at 10:00 PM on August 9th via Caesarean, weighing 8 lbs 9oz and pink as can be, Eve Corrine has been the perfect addition to the O’Connor family.  Will continues to give thanks that the children mostly look like Carolyn.  Carolyn has filled all of Apple’s clouds with pictures, videos and snaps of Eve’s smiles, giggles and various other new discoveries.IMG_5365

This world is tumultuous.  When we are able to sit down and rest from our own challenges and trials, all we have to do is turn on the television and see the world isn’t done with its own set.  And yet here we are, in the happiest of times, prevailing alongside you all nonetheless.  It is our firm belief that the blessings we have, the happiness we’ve created and the prosperity we enjoy is in direct relationship to the graces we’ve received from each and every one of you.  It is our hope we’ve provided a fraction of the same.  As we prepare to enter 2018, we pray your good health and happiness may endure, that you may rise to meet your challenges, down every road you roam, and that God continues to hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Merry Christmas to All,

Will, Carolyn, Quinn, Xavier, Eve (and Finn)

 

Happiness Through Books v 2017: My Recommendations Based Upon What I’ve Read This Year

In addition to pledging to write more this year, I also pledged to read more.  There is a wonderful website out there called GoodReads.  I’m sure many of you who read are also aware of it.  GoodReads has a book tracker on it, where you can take a challenge, and evaluate your goal for reading on a personalized basis.  The general rubric is 12 books; one per month.  I pledged for such a goal.  I am currently reading my 19th book of the year, which I hope to finish by year’s end: by far the most I’ve ever read in a single year.  I have ordered them here, with a very small write-up.  I’d suggest anyone interested in broadening their book list take a look at the various authors and suggestions that branch off of those authors.  GoodReads does a really nice job of suggesting for you what you may enjoy if your enjoyed a specific book.  So here’s what I learned about this year:

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  1. thirteen moons – Charles Frazier – Frazier’s second foray into fictional novels, thirteen moons is a book a read half of when I was in my early 20s.  I’m so glad I waited until now to return to it, for the book is powerfully potent at allowing the reader to examine his own past choices through the choices of Will Cooper, the protagonist.  Not only is the story beautiful, the prose is masterful and the imagery paints a landscape rich with detail on each and every page.  I can’t wait for Frazier’s ‘Varina’ to come out this spring.
  2. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi – one cannot simply read this book and move on.  Written in the same vein as Tuesdays With Morrie or The Last Lecture, Kalanithi’s life was truly one to be memorialized.  Having never met him, I mourn his absence from this earth and wonder what medical advances we may have seen if he’d lived.
  3. Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance – The first book I read this year, Hillbilly Elegy knock’s an arrow and find its true target.  JD Vance, a man born to poverty and family drug addiction, tells his story of rising from the ashes by way of his own mistakes and does a masterful job of detailing reasons for why he, and people like him, get caught up in the quagmire of various societal structures, including the education system, the military and the failings of socio-economic mobility.  A must read.
  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – Of all the books I read this year, I believe none of them have neither the historic nor present-day significance as this book does.  Set in a dystopian future, which has since passed since the writing of this book, Orwell describes a totalitarian regime and the control it exerts and demands of each of its citizens.  I’d read Animal Farm in highschool, but missed this cunning, artful story that very articulately details the risks we run in giving government too much control; in sacrificing freedom for security.
  5. Devil In the White City – Erik Larson – this book is a thriller and at the same time, a wonderful historic work detailing events surrounding the World’s Fair of 1892.  In it, Larson brings together the lives of both the chief architect of the fair, and a serial killer, loose in Chicago at the time of the fairs preparation and commencement.  Great read.
  6. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy – I believe I will make it a law to read at least one McCarthy book a year until I read everything he has ever written.  In reading The Road last year, easily among my all-time favorites, I was turned on to this author.  I told many while reading Blood Meridian that I had seen no evidence McCarthy had used the same adjective twice.  A true test of one’s command of the English language, this book starts off slow and nebulous, but establishes some powerful dialogue and questions of morality and the nature of humanity through war.
  7. Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman – In reality, this book should be nearer the top of the list.  Easily the most piercing book on social economics I’ve ever read, Kahneman details his life’s work in studying how people think, and which parts of the brain command our life’s choices.  While this book is an important read, it is also extremely dense.  The book requires commitment but the reader is rewarded ever-forward with a greater sense of understanding of one’s self and those around him.
  8. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – I had to spend some time to determine which Kurt Vonnegut book to read first.  Slaughterhouse Five being my end-choice, I had no idea I was getting into such a humorous selection while simultaneously dragging me through terrible atrocities witnessed on the European front of World War II.  In 2018 I’ll select another Vonnegut work, and hope it proves to be as spectacular
  9. In A Pit With A Lion on A Snowy Day – Mark Batterson – I read this book at the perfect time, having to make some decisions in my life on risk I was willing to take in order to obtain personal and professional goals.  Batterson is a pastor of a large non-denominational church in Washington, DC.  The book is biblically centered.  He does a great job of illuminating and obscure passage of the bible to detail the ways in which we can be purpose-driven in our lives.  I would highly recommend its read.
  10. Killing Reagan – Bill O’Reilly – having a history background as my field of study, I am ashamed to admit I did not know more about the life of Ronald Reagan.  I recommend this book, as O’Reilly, regardless of one’s thoughts on him, thoroughly captures the life of one of our greatest patriots and Presidents.  I also felt, going in, that O’Reilly would deify Reagan to a large extent.  To my surprise, he handled the decisions and legacy of Reagan with significant balance.  If one wishes to learn more about Ronald Reagan, I’d highly recommend this book.

Other works I read:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  • The Man in the High Castle – Phillip K Dick
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  • About Grace – Anthony Doerr
  • A Light Between Two Oceans – M.L. Stedman
  • A Torch Kept Lit – William F Buckley, Jr.
  • handling the truth: on the writing of memoir – Beth Kephart
  • American Sniper – Chris Kyle

Memoir, Biography, Thrillers and Ficitonal Novels all, this year was a captivating tour through reading.  I hope to continue placing reading as an integral part of who I am.  For in these works, I can learn, evaluate and lose myself.  I can link to thinks both better and worse than my experiences in life, and hope to encourage others to continually do the same.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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