100 Months In

On June 6, 2009, I walked into the office of Virginia Suaro, LCSW for my last, first counseling appointment in a string of first counseling appointments.  My parents had tried everything.  I was listless.  I cared about my journey verbally, but not enough on any level to do anything about it.  Not enough to get out of my own way.

Virginia was a lovely woman with a reassuring voice.  She gave me permission, from the outset, to be honest without judgement.  Rather than correct my actions, she’d probe.  As a surgeon under drastic illumination, slicing through layers of outer shell, carefully displacing tissue and organs to reveal the heart of the matter, Virginia had a knack for cataloging surficial issues while grazing cautiously past them on the way to where my soul had fermented.

In late April of 2009 my grandfather had passed away.  He was, and is, my north star.  More than eight years removed, some of it has become lore more than fact, but the light shines just as bright no matter the integrity of the backstory.  I had expressed disappointment in myself to my parents.  That I had never reached a point during my grandfather’s life where I could point to winning battles the way he did.  That I’d let myself become overwhelmed with the work required to climb the mountain.  That in some way I was leaning away from him, even when I said I was leaning in.

It may not have been the first or the second session; it was probably the third or the fourth when, during the course of conversation, Virginia used a slightly different inflection in her voice and whittled down from her normally descriptive language to the bare, “You know, Will, it might be a good idea for you to consider quitting drinking.”  I can still hear the words echo in my mind.  I left that meeting pursuing those words in my soul.

Probably about a month later, on August 6th, I met up with my friend, Juan, at work and waited for him to get off of work.  I had a few drinks and we were set to go out for a brief period.  My parents were out of town and my girlfriend was coming over.  I told her to hang out and I’d be there by 10:30.  That quote turned to midnight, and then before I knew it, I was driven home at 2:30 by a friend, with a series of others’ in tow.  It had been a festive evening.  I spent way too much at the bar and was in a great mood.  I went upstairs to my room to wake my girlfriend.  It was time to keep the party going.

I turned the dimmer up slightly and WHAM! in a flash I felt my grandfather, the love I had for the woman who I desperately wanted to one day be my wife, and the words of Virginia echo through the house.  Not my mind – these words were real.  My epiphany showed me the times and ways I would push away everyone I ever loved because of my inability to curtail my use of alcohol.  It showed me the life I’d lead if I were to continue to aimlessly meander from goal to goal, never sticking with anything for long enough to have anything to show for it.  It showed me the inability I’d have, forever, to make up for having missed the chance to show my grandfather that I was made of the same stuff he was.  I walked out the door and told my friends they had to leave.

In tears, I moved back into my room and toward the bed.  I shook my girlfriend awake slowly.  Sobbing, I told her I was sorry for pushing her away, that I did not want her to leave; I wanted to stop drinking.  I was going to stop.  I’d had my last drink.  August 7th we woke up and she asked me if I’d remembered what I’d said.  I’ll never forget what I said.

And so here I am, 100 months to the day, not another grain of hops or barley, set for fermentation, ingested.  I first realized when 100 months would occur on my 8th Anniversary of sobriety.  I did the tabulation in months, in days.  I realized the next round number in days, 3,000, closely coincided with the next round number in months, 100.  I don’t know where 3,000 days is on the calendar for me.  I stopped counting days around the time I hit six months.  I mostly just count years now.  100 months just sounds good to me.  Daily, I am reminded of the miracle by which my epiphany blessed me.  I have the love of my girlfriend, now my wife.  Together, we’ve partaken in God’s creation together, ushering in three beautiful lives.  We guide them daily.  And we guide them so that they can get to a point where they can, too, realize that they are made of the same iron that William Cody O’Connor, Sr. was – that his legacy will become theirs.  I am reminded of my miracle by the measurement I take of myself.  Though it be a fraction of where I want to be, I am on the path.

I still set goals.  I don’t always hit them.  None of us do.  Goals aren’t meant to be a measurement of perfection.  They’re meant to be a knot in the line in the measurement of happiness.  Those goals I fail to hit are usually casualties of other, more basic requirements expanding in the short-term.  I can be honest with myself about that now.  Alcohol used to be my cloak from honesty.  Honesty hurt in the face of failure.  Now I realized that failure is most permanent when we refuse to allow ourselves the room for failure.  Sobriety has given me that strength.  I have had to exercise that muscle, and I still fail in that.  I resume my heading as fast as I am able, adjusting goals to reflect what I know to be the newly revealed obstacles in my path.

My support network has been critical along my journey through sobriety.  It is not always easy to discard the “Why can’t I do that,” questions that swirl through my head at holiday gatherings or trips with the boys.

And yet here I am, 100 months in, buoyed by the fiber of my forefathers, the love of my wife, and the gentle, yet firm words of a tactical surgeon of the mind and heart.  God grant me the serenity to continue.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

A Week of Thanks: A Look Back

If you’re like me, four days of Thanksgiving is never quite enough.  That is why I made it a point to blog about a few specific topics prior to the Grand Day; I always end up so wrapped up in getting my family from here to there, soaking up every last moment that I sometimes forget to take stock in what I am so blessed by.  And since I did not find myself near my computer, or have any great length of time to even consider it, I thought I’d share a few highlights of what is always the shortest long weekend of the year:

IMG_5424Thursday: We set out from Midlothian, Virginia to Manassas, Virginia just after lunch.  A two-hour jaunt north and west, we settled on the urban setting of my wife’s aunt’s house.  Having described that here before, this year’s iteration can only be described as meeting its billing.  There were 40 people in attendance for the first time since I’ve been going (my 10th year).  Of these 40, 10 were 7 years of age or younger.  In the society we live in, where having children is often put on hold to achieve more individual accomplishments, it is a feat in-and-of-itself to be a part of a family so devoted to its proliferation.  My two toddlers were enraptured by their older cousins.  They played “lava and forest”, blocks, trains, zoo and countless other games I didn’t even come into contact with for the fact that they were so seemingly independent.  My wife and I got the distinct pleasure, which before this year was but a memory, of having conversations last more than three minutes at a time.  We had oysters and appetizers of all shapes and sizes.  Gathered with some cousins we hadn’t seen in years.  We got a chance to take a picture together! Of all the holiday photos we have of family, we never seem to be on the same side of the room.  In all, an amazing day where we were blessed to be around some of those for whom we have so much love.

IMG_5486Friday: Having driven up to Maryland to my in-laws’ after the featured Thanksgiving festivities, we ventured down to Old Ellicott City, a place both my wife and myself have so many fond memories.  Our first kiss, first admission of love, wedding photos and time spent with great friends all reside here.  We took our children, along with my mother and father-in-law, two sisters-in-law and one of their boyfriend’s to the B&O Railroad Museum.  After spending time immersed in model train gardens, former B&O rail cars and cabooses and several sightings of Thomas, we did a bit of browsing in the many stores along Main Street.  My son, having been a model citizen in a very difficult place: an antique shop, earned himself an old fire engine.  The lights and sirens even work (when I allow the batteries to be engaged)! We had lunch together before the men took the children back home, so the ladies could shop.  After putting the kids down for a nap, we treated ourselves to football and basketball on television.  I’m the only husband to my father-in-law’s three daughters, so having Theresa’s boyfriend, Mark, there was fun to expand the group with.  Friday night featured the boys’ bonfire.  My two brothers-in-law, two of their cousins, myself and a few other friends make up a group of guys who I fondly share many of my life’s accomplishments.  Theirs is the brotherhood I am most invested in.  It was a fantastic night.  We lit stuff on fire, kept ourselves warm, caught up and told lies about all manner of topics for the better part of four hours.  It was everything I had hoped for.

IMG_5488Saturday: On the road again, we found ourselves bound for Lake Anna, Virginia.  My parent’s place and the location of our second Thanksgiving Feast.  This year, my brother and sister held their own feast in Charlotte, North Carolina.  They were sorely missed, but we did not let it alter our dedication to fun and being together.  My children love to fish.  Their version of fishing is rigging a worm to a hook, dropping the line straight down and waiting for the small bass and rainbow trout to engorge themselves.  We have a small aquarium we fill with water, and by the end of each venture, the aquarium is to capacity.  They all go back in, with sore mouths and the inability to resist the worm the next day.  I often wonder how many times each of them has been caught.  My children are in their element, delighting in each catch, demanding by the urgency of their voice that each fish be carefully examined by however many adults happen to be down on the dock in supervision.  It is an amazing time.

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Sunday: More of the same as we wake up and desperately hold on to what remains of the holiday weekend.  Fishing brings similar success.  The kids wake to a letter from the North Pole.  All the while my infant daughter has done nothing but coo and smile and accept whatever busy fate befalls her.  She has the roundest, cutest face, and opens her mouth as wide as her lips allow her in expression of a smile.  She’ll often talk back in short bursts of sounds – most frequently when her older sister is at the other end of the exchange.  We have our challenges, like any other family.  But we determine to set out to defeat them every day, as best we can, through reliance upon one another and a willful eye towards the magic our children provide.  We lean upon one another to overcome the bad days, the individual shortcomings and the speed-bumps that lie ahead.  And we face our future knowing how Great God must Be if He’s already given us this much for which to be thankful.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

A Week of Thanks: Family.Over.Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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A Week Of Thanks: The Blanket Under Which We Sleep

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Week of Thanks: A Daily Installment

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

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

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

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Yours in The Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

My Faith Journey: A Series of New Goals

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

God’s Lake: An Event Remembered

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

Asked And Answered: My Memoir Journey Part I

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

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

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Assignment 1

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

 

Will O’Connor

The Value of Difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

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Will O’Connor

 

 

Anniversary Edition: We’ve Decided on Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor