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

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

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

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: 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

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