I was listening to a Marvel Comics podcast the other day and this particular episode featured the singer of a current rock band called Yellowcard. I have heard their name, but couldn't pick a Yellowcard song out of a lineup if I had too. The singer was a pretty interesting guy, and was a fun listen, so I thought I should check out their music. While I was at the Library with my daughter over the weekend, I randomly picked up the 2012 Yellowcard album called Southern Air, a totally arbitrary pick. None of my normal deep research, over thinking and careful selection of music, just a quick grab.
Driving into work yesterday, I popped the album on, and gave it a listen. My first impression is it was squeaky clean, highly produced pop-rock from the 2000's that I really do not care for. I almost turned it off for my normal podcasts or depressing Cleveland sports radio. But this time, I said, no I will listen to the entire album once. I do believe that albums are meant to be listened to in their entirety, not picked apart as singles. As I was nearing the end, gladly in my mind, a song called Ten came on. (The lyrics to the song are included at the end of my post for reference)
This song hit me hard, I was in tears for the entire track. You see Valentine's Day is one of the worst days of the year for me. This is the day my wife gave birth to our first child Joseph, a day he didn't survive. I said hello and goodbye to my boy on Valentine's Day. The song is about the loss of a child, before you ever had the time to become friends, drive to school or watch Star Wars together in your PJ's. The song questions if you would be best friends, the song questions what would have been. Over the last five years since Joe's birth, the intense daily pain has faded away, and the joyous days I have with our two children have definitely taken over. But we still have moments from time to time, when the feelings flood back. It takes only the comment "I had a Joe moment" between my wife and I and we know the day was tough. This was one of those moments. To randomly find my way to this song, just two days before my son's birthday is a blessing. Even though sad, moments like this cause me to truly treasure my family and all the blessings. I would not be who I am today without all the experiences of my life, good and bad. I will never understand the pain parents have to go through losing a child, but talking and writing about it helps me.
Joe is a part of my life, and no Valentine's Day will ever be the same. I miss him and wish I could have built a pillow fort together, made him laugh, read him some comics, watched Star Wars in our PJ's or just be his friend. Luckily, I have two beautiful kids to do all these things with and more. Not everyone gets that chance. And I know Joe looks over their little shoulders like a guardian angel, After all, I pray he does every single day. One day I will get to meet him, and hopefully I lived a life that he's proud to call me his best friend, and maybe tell his friends he thinks I'm cool...OK that might be a stretch.
A couple weeks ago we bought our last gallon of whole milk. This may seem fairly uneventful on the surface, but it was a big moment. Our boy hit his second birthday and he no longer drinks the whole, he will drink what the family drinks now. The cliche that your kids grow up too fast is an absolute truth. I do feel we spent so much less time on the boy, when we had just C$, we focused entirely on her. He has always had a sister to compete with. So far he adores his sister, and always wants to be around her, sometimes to her dismay. "Daddy, he's touching me!" "Daddy, he has my dolly!" "Daddy, he won't get out of my room!"
I know these moments won't stop, and as the kids age, they will grow stronger, but I want to enjoy each and every step along the way. I do not want to let the heat of the moment between these two get in the way. Every age with the kids has been the best age.
Not having to buy two types of milk is great, The kids growing up so fast is not great. The journey along the way is not one I would pass up!
New paint transforms rooms into a new living space, an dwelling and a whole new fresh perspective. I am luck my wife loves to paint. Like Christmas decorations, I do not like putting them up, but love the result. I don't like to paint, but a freshly painted room is great.
Recently, we (she) painted a couple rooms to move the kids up a size in room space. The reaction from the kids was just awesome. My daughter kept screaming "IT'S AWESOME" and started making snow angels on the open space. Watching how much she loved the room simply because it had a new color and her stuff in there made my day. Similarly, when the boy hit his room, he was immediately the owner, he ran around inside, pointed at everything and laid down to enjoy the carpet and took it all in. The whimsy of children is one of the best things to watch.
The turn of a new year is like an opportunity to paint a room. You have an old color, dirty walls, some dents and don't like to even look at the old room. Much like ourselves, we have a couple more pounds, gotten away from eating well and have not been on our normal track for a couple months likely. Then comes the dreaded New Years Resolution! I think you should scrap the resolution, and instead do a new years re-painting. After-all you are the same person, a room is a room. Pick some new colors, and try them out. After a while you may not like the color, just try a new one, find what you like. Do not get stuck in the rut of a resolution, failing the resolution, and giving up. Maybe your new plan will last all year, maybe it won't, but just remember you are not stuck with any healthy choice you make. Maybe you will eat better, stop smoking, call friends more, read a few books, walk in the park, write in a journal this year. Just know if you do not succeed or follow through, you can just re-apply some new "paint" and move on. Who knows, maybe in 2015 you will be running around yelling "IT"S AWESOME" and really surprise yourself.
2014 was a transformational year. I accomplished a lot of things I never though possible just 12 months ago. Most of these were personal challenges, lose weight, run some races, take a hike and a few others. I have covered most of these individual event already in this forum, but today I am reflecting on my wall tracker, seen above. For me, setting written goals is such a strong motivator. Sometime early in the year I decided I would dangle a carrot each month, and set some sort of goal for the month. Some were races, weight goals, individual mileage challenges,etc.
Without a list of these in my face every day in my office, the tendency to straggle off the path would have been strong. None more string than my December goal, running a 10k. two weeks before the race, I fell training and hurt my ribs pretty badly. They may have been broken, maybe still are, but either way the ribs hurt bad. I could not train, could not breath, could not laugh or cough without a good deal of pain. Yes, I probably should have gone to a doctor. The final set piece for my 2014 tracker seemed to be slipping through my hand, and I felt like I had no control. I felt like everything I did all year was wasted, and I felt like quitting. This was upsetting,I have had such a great year, I did not want to end on a down note. This race was supposed to be my strongest run, and best race pace of my year. By the time the race came the personal record time I planned was definitely off the list, I was worried I would even be able to run at all. By race day, I said screw it, I am running, as long and as hard as I physically can run. If I have to walk or crawl, I am finishing this damn race. I ran my race, and did the best I could. The last two miles of the 6.2 mile race were excruciating, I could not breath without sharp pain, but I did not walk, I did not quit. I finished the 10K in 59:32, under one hour. The time is disappointing, but considering my condition it was great to beat an hour. It was nice to have a friend run with me, he could has left me behind early, but he stayed along for the run.
What I need to consider is even in the face of some pain, and a much slower time than I wanted, the distance and time I did run were totally unthinkable just 8 months ago. To run around 9:30 min/mile with an injury is crazy to me. Injured December me, would have dusted April healthy me by several minutes per mile. This isn't to pump my running up, I have friends that would blow by my best pace times, but this helps me put end of my 2014 in perspective.
The point here is all week leading up to the December race, my brain was saying "don't run, you can't run, you're hurt, just quit." But each day I thought that, I came to work and saw the blank next to the December goal on my wall. I rested and tended to my rib injury as much as possible, and by the day before I knew I could do it, but all because I kept my goal visible. I will take a minute to reflect and be happy for 2014, but as the sage Eddie Vedder says "it makes much more sense to live in the present tense." I will wipe the 2014 goal tracker off the wall soon, and move on. My 2015 goals are being formed now, and will be up on the wall before new years eve.
If you want to make a change, start now, find your wall, start challenging yourself, and write your goals down. Your goals can be anything, write more, run more, laugh more, volunteer more. Look at them every day, and accept if you are off course, and celebrate if you exceed. You will surprise yourself what you can accomplish if you just take the leap
There are times in life when you think you know someone, especially those very close to you like family.My Aunt Mary Lee, we call her ML, has been ever present in my life. ML has been one of my biggest supporters in my life, there with words of love an encouragement for my entire life. She is my Godmother and a Catholic Nun in the Ursuline Sisters. Over the years ML has never once forgotten about me on a holiday or special day. I know ML has been a teacher, and administrator and an anchor for the family, spending most of her career working at a church that generations of my family has been baptized, confirmed, married and buried .
Sometimes you can overlook the great work people do when you are not looking. Now, even as much as I have been around and enjoyed time with my aunt, the majority of her life she has spent on her own, with the Ursuline mission in her view. Recently, ML was awarded the Alumna of the year from her High School, Ursuline High School. I was happy to attend the mass and ceremony. During the ceremony the Alumni Association President gave a remarkable introduction for my Aunt. It was amazing to see how much impact ML has had on the community. When they read through her list of work, professional and charity, I was humbled. ML has spent her entire life, all of it, at the service of others. Not here and there charity work, or donations, but a lifetime of devotion and dedication. I cannot fathom more than 50 years of humbly serving God, the poor, the marginalized, students, families, abused women, children and just about any group of overlooked people. Simply stating my Aunt is a Nun is such an understatement. ML's counterpart award winner called my Aunt the "Queen of the East Side." This is a successful Doctor, making a living running a highly successful and profitable medical business, calling my Aunt the Queen. This made me laugh, it was like I was meeting a whole different side of ML.
During her thank you speech ML was entirely humbled. All she could speak to was her thankfulness for what Ursuline had given her and her lifelong service to the Catholic Church. She was taught to be of service. She thanked her parents and siblings for their support. She continues to grow in her faith even after 50 dedicated years. I have never seen my Aunt complain about not having a nice car, a great set of clothes, a house or apartment, jewelry or fancy electronics. She was made to serve.
I look at myself in this light and I am humbled. How many times do I let my self interest cloud things. How many times have I let a little materialism get in the way. How much of my time to I spend serving others? I am blessed with a bounty of love from my family, a family of my own, and a nice career. I have looked inside a bit since ML's celebration day, and looked at how I can serve more. Whether service to my kids, my wife, my workers, the opportunity is there to be more like the Queen of the East Side, and focus on service.
I wear my heart on my sleeve and I am proud of to do so. It does not take much in a movie or a song to get me sentimental. I had one of the most amazing weeks recently when it comes to moments, particularly revolving around my Fraternity. In a week period I buried a Fraternity Brother, traveled to Phoenix for Fraternity board meeting, returned home and conducted my annual Leadership School, culminating the week by Initiating my Father into my brother Matt's & my Fraternity.
At my Leadership school one of the Undergraduates asked an alumni "when you know you have one of those Phi Alpha moments?" I have a list so long I could not expose them all here today in this story. But, I have had so many that week it was clear how much the Fraternity has been a good part of my life.
The week started with the news my friend Josh had passed suddenly at the early age of 33. He leaves a beautiful wife and 5 young children. Being a father myself, this is a crushing blow and reminder that I only rent my mortal coil from God, and have to make the most of each and every day I have on earth. Josh was a good man, a True Gentleman, and lit up every room he was in with smiles and laughter. Leading the Fraternity alumni at Josh's calling hours through the Burial Ritual was the single most difficult thing I have done in my volunteer life.
The morning after the service, I left at the crack of dawn to travel to Phoenix (fitting) and participate with other men to help guide our Fraternity forward. This was a complete recharge to my batteries having just buried a friend. The men at this meeting are examples of leadership, friendship, intelligent planning and true Brothers. I am truly lucky to be exposed to the caliber of man that volunteers currently with my Fraternity. I am confident my son will have SAE there when he gets to college in 2031, and I am proud to talk about my Fraternity with my non-Greek friends and colleagues.
The Phoenix trip was followed immediately by my most busy and hectic Fraternity week leading up to my regions Leadership School. Approximately 100 men from Northern Oho met up to work on being the best versions of ourselves we can be. Again the work the volunteer alumni, staff, and speakers did was inspiring. It was especially nice having my Brother Matt, up from Texas, participate as a breakout facilitator this year. I really think the men of my region are some of the best, and out Fraternity will be in good hands for decades.
The real moment to cap off the week was initiating my father Ralph McDonough. The local Chapter and National leaders approved a special non-student initiation for my Dad. He is the patriarch of a family the sports five SAE's already My brother Matt, me, our cousins Marc & Tom and my brother-in-law Ian. Our Dad is simply the best example of a True Gentleman I have ever known. Over the last 21 years, each time I recite the True Gentleman, all I think of is my Dad. Seeing my brother Matt Initiate our Dad, and getting to swear him in and pin his badge (315135) on him was the best moment.
So in one week, I had both the hardest and best moment of my Fraternity life. Tears of sadness and joy were shed all week. Truly a Phoenix week, a 33 year old friend entered Chapter Eternal, and my 73 year old father entered the Brotherhood. I would prefer just the good moments, but the bad ones also help define a heart. I am a lucky man to be able to have these moments, moments that define me as a man, a friend, a brother, a son, a husband and a father. I commit to working on being better at all these roles.