The O’Connor Family Christmas Letter

December, 2017

Merry Christmas to All!

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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Merry Christmas to All,

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

 

Anniversary Edition: The Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

In the First Light

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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A Week of Thanks: 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

A Week of Thanks: My Last First Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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