Happiness as a Pensieve

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My wife and I decided a few months back to re-watch the Harry Potter series.  Aside from the fact that kids and a job make watching 7 movies a massively long undertaking, there have been various discussions that have arisen as a result of watching the movies again.  Everything from the plot and characters to the over-arching themes.

Last night we watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Aside from this sixth installment being my favorite, there’s a few scenes in this movie where Harry and Professor Dumbledore are standing over Dumbledore’s Pensieve.  The Pensieve, for those who’ve “magically” never seen the Harry Potter movies or read the books, is a vessel by which one can insert a captured memory, and by placing their face in the solution, revisit said captured memory.  I love the visual aspect of revisiting memories.  I often do so in my own life.  Music happens to be my vessel for such an adventure.  I pop on a song, and my mind’s eye is back in whatever moment most strongly shared with the associated song.  It’s actually my favorite thing about music.  It takes me back, as I’m sure it does for so many.

During the first scene featuring the Pensieve, my wife turned to me and said, “I feel like that is something you’d really like the ability to do.” To which I answered in the affirmative.  She then asked me “If you could go back and revisit your memories in this way, which memory would you visit first?” Both an excellent and an awesome question to ponder.  I didn’t provide an answer.  She pushed me for what my gut said and I again deferred.  Nearly the entire remainder of the movie, I was thinking about what movie I’d go back and revisit.  I want to answer that question now.  There are two answers.  The first is what my gut told me, and the second is what I would revisit since I’ve really thought about it.

My gut answer is to be back in the room when I first convinced my wife to kiss me.  It was July 5th, 2008.  To set the scene, my wife had been babysitting for a family out in Pikesville that day and was texting me about being very good at playing hide and seek.  We’d been working together for about two months and had a friendly relationship, but there wasn’t anything specifically “there” prior to this string of texts.  I playfully responded, while sitting on my couch, hanging out with my parents for their 28th Wedding Anniversary, with how good I was at hide and seek and that I’d beat her in a game (as though such a thing could be measured).  Needless to say, the text string led to questions of plans later.  I had plans to meet some friends later at a bar.  One of these friends had an apartment that was located directly above the bar.  It was a nice setup.  this bar also had a rather expansive deck bar that spread out behind the building.  It was a really cool spot to hang out in the summer.  I was able to convince her to head to me after her babysitting gig was up, even though I honestly had no designs on anything beyond hanging out.  That night was filled with general debauchery.  I consumed way too much alcohol and at last call the four of us headed back to my friend’s place, just a few dozen steps from the cash register.  There, in a combination of my drunkest and most eloquent forms, began to explain to my wife about how I’d really like to take her out to dinner some time.  I really have no idea what I said, but I recall her laughing at me with a greater intensity than the intensity with which she said she would say yes to such an invitation.

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Later that night, somehow I was able to parlay that date request into a kiss, which turned into several.  The rest, as they say, is history.  It was the single-most important moment in getting me from then to now.  My life, without my wife, would like starkly different from the one I have.  Certainly my world isn’t perfect.  I am probably more flawed than the average person.  But I have a life far more blessed than I’d imagined hours before that fateful July 5th night.  My gut pulls me back to that place when I think of her asking “Which Memory Would You Visit First?”

Second, and no less important, takes place about 30 days later.  My wife and I had established that we were serious about pursuing a relationship together, and were spending a lot of time together.  That August, we had an O’Connor family vacation down to the Outer Banks.  I had just taken a new job as a manager of a restaurant, and felt uneasy about taking that vacation with my new responsibilities, so I declined the vacation.  Seeing the fun they were having via social media and phone calls, etc, I decided to talk to my boss.  He graciously granted my leave and out the door I went, sans girlfriend, but very much wishing she was coming.  I made it down to North Carolina without incident, and the next day was able to convince my wife to drive down the next day, and come meet my whole family.  During the period of time when she was preparing to leave, and the time in which she arrived, I had an opportunity to speak to my grandfather alone.  He asked me about my new girlfriend, and relationship, and further pressed me about how long it would be until he had a great-grandchild with the last name of O’Connor.  To which I responded “Five Years.”  His response, “I can hold on that long.”  My wife arrived and met my family.  We had a great couple of days celebrating our love for one another, and it was a seamless introduction into our family.  We left and went home at the end of the weekend.  It was the last time I’d ever see my grandfather.  Eerily enough, my daughter was born five years and just a few days after that conversation took place.  Quinn Teresa O’Connor, while his fifth great-grandchild, was the first to bear the last name he was so intensely proud of.

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I say I’d go back to that memory, not because it all turned out to be true, but because we both failed to recognize that it was the last time we’d ever speak to one another on earth.  Just less than a month ago, we arrived at the 8th Anniversary of his death.  A week or so ago, I was driving home, praying for my grandfather to intercede on behalf on my prayers, thinking about how much I missed him and wanted to see him, when I arrived at the startling reality that I will always miss him this much.  That for the rest of my life, I’ll miss my grandfather.  9 years after our last conversation, I don’t regret not knowing.  Knowing that it’d be the last time we would speak may have prevented the question about great-grandchildren and a different conversation may have taken place.  I’m proud of my response and blessed I was able to see it come to fruition.  I just wish I could have supplemented my response with reassurance to my grandfather that, on countless times already, and probably even more going forward, I’d be faced with a difficult scenario and have the presence of mind to ask myself “What would my grandpa do here?”  Whether its raising kids, pushing to a difficult deadline, placing family above all else or simply challenging myself to grow as a person, I often find myself in a position where I reflect on what my grandfather would do.  This is not to say that he’d actually do what I chose to do.  Sometimes I react in ways that maybe my grandfather would not have thought to do.  But the mere question of what a titan in my life would do pushes me to fight though my obstacle and learn from my mistakes or accomplishments.  I’d go back to that memory to be able to tell him that for however long I live, I won’t just keep his memory on my heart, but his legacy.  That I’m going to work my entire life to use his example to exceed the expectations I once held for myself.

Those two memories share that common bond; they force me to remind myself that what I once thought was impossible now needs to be reflected on what I now think is impossible.  That I can set my sights higher as I gain sure footing on the place I once thought unattainable.  That makes me feel awesome! I makes me feel motivated, strong, capable and blessed to have had such a great family to be borne into, and to have such an amazing family from which I now can draw support and strength.

These and many more memories would I gladly place in my own personal Pensieve.  I cannot wait to collect more, and hope to continue to place importance on memories as a way to continue to grow.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on a former blog of mine, but as the anniversary of my first “date” with my wife just passed two days ago, I felt it appropriate to share.

The Power of “Why Not”

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Time and time again I battle the question of why I’m writing, or taking pictures, or pushing my thoughts on happiness, hoping to start a discussion – wanting to see where it leads.  “Why start something if you don’t know where you want to go with it?” “Why do you think that what you have to say is so special?” “Why not just stick to construction?” “Why aren’t you focused on dreams or goals that are actually achievable?”  I don’t even need to be asked these questions by others, although I have recently begun receiving them.  The inertia within me asks them every day.  And yet every day, here I am, pecking away.  Each day there’s a different reason to take on Newton’s First Law of Motion.  I’m doing this to realize my childhood dream of being published.  I’m doing this to show my children that I took it upon myself to find happiness and positivity, every day, in the world.  I’m doing this to expand my understanding of happiness, and on the list will, and can, go.  Today, I’m doing this because, “Why Not?”

Why can’t I be a happier version of me? What happiness, energy or grand plan am I stealing from others by pursuing my own? Why can’t I realize my dream of publishing the next great American novel? And why can’t that path to there start right here, every day, day-by-day forming habits that will lead to the my highest calling – no matter what that ultimately ends up being?

When I made the decision to attend trade school – before I ever knew where it would lead me – I expressed my concern over my long-standing pattern of abandoning my studies to the enrollment advisor at the school to which I ended attending.  His response was that my fear of failing may have finally become a push towards success, if I could define my problem.  During the first eight week section of courses at North American Trade School, we started every day with a one hour video-guided, called PX2, lead by the Pacific Institute, focusing on positive self-talk.  I think I may have set the record for getting more out of that than anyone else ever had.  I began to speak to myself in a manner that encouraged perseverance, positivity and persistence.  The results, over the past seven years, have been the most consistently positive of any such period of time in my life.

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Something broke free in me when I began to give myself permission to ask “Why Not?” As an assistant, I asked myself the same question in pursuit of establishing myself as a professional capable of managing a large-scale construction project on my own.  Three-and-a-half years later, I have laid down a track-record of success and quality in my work.  I have gained the experience I badly wanted to achieve, and here I am now, asking the same question again.  I have so far to go to establish myself in the way I desire with regard to my stated dreams.  I still notice myself caring more about the reception of my message than I know I ought to.  I still need to refine that approach.  In order to do my best work it needs to come from the most authentic place within me – and that place does not have room for external forces.  It is locked up tightly enough without weighting those factors, and I’m not disciplined enough to unlock that space amidst competing reasons.

As I look back at the content I have created over the past few weeks, I am reminded that asking “Why Not” is an expression of happiness and self-love. It promotes my creative juices, provides me with a clearer sense of my goals, and pushes me to attain them.  I am made more happy by recognizing this pattern of thought and self-motivation.  I hope it continues to spur my courage and inspires growth exponentially along my journey. Here’s to hoping it creates the same drive and purpose within you, and hopefully bolsters the courage to reclaim your dreams and pursue them again.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor