Fathers’ Day — A Mixed Bag of Emotions


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

 

 

Fathers’ Day is a challenging holiday, and I’m relieved it has come and gone. The event is idealized in our culture, presented as a day of barbeques, family time, and lots of smiles about idyllic childhoods and loving, kindly fathers who have inspired us, who have taught us all about love, family, and healthy parenting. It comes across as cuddly and warm, yet for many, the message is one of conflict and contradiction.

 

On Sunday, I had good communications with many of the men I am proud to call “son”, and good friends, guys I can talk with, heart to heart. I’m relieved that they are doing well in their emotional lives, and able to freely express their feelings with me about fathering and growing up.  We’re at a stage, finally, where “I love you” is more easily spoken or written.

 

Yet, I have others I’ve mentored and parented who choke on saying the word “love”. I know they are struggling, challenged by how to find themselves and make sense of the confusion and chaos in their lives. Depression, addiction, broken relationships, and even jail time challenge them, as they keep searching for the tools and the paths to heal themselves and be able to move on in their lives. Guys don’t easily pick up the phone or text that they’re suicidal, high, or behind bars.  There aren’t any texting emojis that say that they aren’t good enough, that they’re failures and can’t get their lives together.

 

I love them anyway, and try to communicate that, but often it is a one way street. Some of my letters addressed to a prison don’t get a reply, but I write anyway. I’m a gardener and planting seeds and adding water and fertilizer on what appears to be infertile ground is part of that work of faith.

 

Like other holidays, what we are supposed to be honoring and acknowledging conflicts with our own reality and our emotional journeys through life. None of us have lived the idyllic life, being parented with the ideal, perfect father, and living our own life free from emotional baggage left over from our childhood. We experience our own roles as men, fathers, and the complex task of helping to raise kids and navigate our own turbulent emotional waters of adulthood. The road is often bumpy.

 

It is a day of conflicting emotions and fake messages, including this Instagram posted on this Fathers’ Day from Bill Cosby, once television’s ideal dad, and now an imprisoned, convicted sexual predator:

 

“Hey, Hey, Hey…It’s America’s Dad… I know it’s late, but to all of the Dads… It’s an honor to be called a Father, so let’s make today a renewed oath to fulfilling our purpose – strengthening our families and communities.”

 

Emotional predators, especially those who have projected a wholesome image through the media, and hold themselves out as a role model of virtue and integrity, have no credibility coming across as the ideal dad. No, Mr. Cosby, you are not “America’s Dad” anymore, and I reject what you are trying to project upon us.  Your social media posting is a mockery of what Fathers’ Day needs to be.

 

I’m not alone in thinking about the challenges of being both the child and the father, and dealing with sons and daughters who are conflicted about dealing with the idealization of parenting, how to emerge whole, or at least not emotionally ravaged from childhood.

 

I Googled “father anger” and saw there were 185 million hits. It is a rich topic for writers, and all of us who are trying to make sense of masculine anger.

 

“It’s not being a man that makes men prone to anger, but being socialized to be “masculine,” which studies suggest is hard to separate from a propensity for angry emotions. Societal expectations about how to be a boy are evolving, but many men are still taught that anger is one of few acceptable emotions for them to express. When toughness and independence are highly valued in men, this inevitably leads to outbursts.”

–Virginia Pelley

https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/relationships/good-dads-anger-problems/

 

The greeting card section at the grocery store doesn’t have Fathers’ Day cards about anger, about emotional abuse, and the challenges of having a real deep conversation with dad about growing up, and how to navigate those troubled waters.

 

Talking about emotions and childhood trauma are still taboo topics for many men at social gatherings, as well as one on one.  I’ve also seen adult children who are called at a funeral to eulogize their parent struggle to put into words stories about their parents’ lives, trying to balance truth telling with unresolved emotions about the tough times with mom or dad.  A funeral isn’t expected to be very healing for anger and rage.

 

However, the subtleties in the stories that have been edited to be spoken at a funeral can convey a willingness to be real, to connect with family on what has often been stuffed away in the family closet of secrets. There remains the deep need to tell the truth, and to heal.

 

Being open and honest about such experiences has been seeing the light of day in recent years.  Popular figures have been telling their stories, and numerous books dig into the challenges of familial rage and dysfunction.  The “Me Too” movement and other acts of cultural courage over the past few decades have modeled the benefits of being open and having the courage to start to heal.

 

In the last few years, work on addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACEs) has been a breath of fresh air and provided opportunities for understanding and healing, much to the benefit of our society. Educators are now becoming informed and are implementing innovative approaches to helping kids.

 

Many of the men I’ve mentored have had the benefit of good counselors and therapists, friends, and lovers who have helped in removing the thorns of abuse, self-debasement, and emotional sabotage.  For many people, the vicious cycle of generational emotional paralysis and impotent rage has been exposed to the light of understanding, and been broken, or at least interrupted.  For all that work, I am heartened, and I can see society moving and changing, Bill Cosby’s recent comment notwithstanding.

 

I try to convey to my sons and the other men in my life that we are all entitled to our anger and our rage, that the wounds we have experienced should be acknowledged, and that healing is possible.  Dealing with the mixed emotions of Fathers’ Day is part of that work. It is a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we need to go in our journeys.

 

6/17/2019

One Person Making A Difference


 

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

The daily news can be overwhelming, and often paralyzes me into a state of inaction, frustration, and disappointment on how I fit in. I wonder if my life really has meaning. Nothing I can do will make a difference, part of my brain rationalizes, pushing me into idleness and despondency.

I have to work hard to countermand that kind of thinking, which is ineffective and against all of my values and spirituality.  I bring value to the world. Everyone does. Creating change and spreading love is the essence of my purpose on this planet.  Yet, the negativity and depressive energy seems to be persistent and ever-present.

Others, with great wisdom, take on this feeling, this social attitude that often seems pervasive.  They turn it around and urge us to be proactive, to initiate change by engaging with others.  And, often that work is not a shout out to the entire world, but quiet, thoughtful work, one on one, giving an individual some attention and direction.

Oprah’s new book, The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose, is a delightful and inspiring collection of quotes and short essays on empowering yourself to change your attitude and the world.

“When you know, teach. When you get, give.” – Maya Angelou.

We are all teachers and givers. That is what we are here for, the purpose of life. As a child, I found great joy in life in simply being with others.  The greatest satisfactions came with experiences with others.  Sharing, giving, teaching, it is all the same, moving us towards our purpose, our life force of one’s love to others. I often get side-tracked, and forget that profound lesson I learned as a child.

When we give, when we teach, when we share of ourselves to others, that spreads out into the world, like a pebble tossed into a pond.  The good from that rebounds back to us, often in ways we may not recognize or even be aware.  And, often that echoing is seen many years later, our initial altruistic act nearly forgotten.

The time frame for that fits no pre-conceived schedule or expectation. Often, I sense that “return on investment” as a surprise, a new, unexpected gift back to me.

At other times, my investment seems like a poor choice. The recipient of my attention, my nurturance and loving, acts out with meanness, anger, and multiple acts of self and social destruction and violence. I see numerous acts of narcissistic rage and self-harm, a desire to “win at all cost”.

The addictions of this world, be it drugs, violence, selfishness, or other toxins, often can seem to be the winners on the battlefields people create to try to make it through our lives.  I can’t change the world by having bigger, more deadly weapons in my arsenal.  Such escalation only increases the casualty lists and leaves the world poorer, more broken. Hatred is a no-win answer for any problem. And, it turns me into a nasty, vitriolic shell of my true self.

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” – Eldridge Cleaver.

If I am patient, and understanding, and willing to step to the side and let the storms of rage and loathing pass by, the inherent goodness can still be found in the ashes of the outcomes of frustration and acting out.  In those moments, there is often a “sweet moment” of opportunity.

I try to turn it around, and rather than fling my own spears and shoot my own arrows of hostility and rage, I get in touch with my own gentle side, and respond with compassion, patience, and reaching out to them.

Such an approach is not without its challenges. But, I’m stubborn and persistent in my own path of being an instrument of change.

A few words of kindness, a smile, a warm and welcoming handshake can be disarming.  If the recipient of my outreach responds with a look of need or even acknowledgement of my message, then the communication has begun, and the path of their day of anger and rage has been changed.

Just listening, with compassion, is a revolutionary act.

People do change. It is often a small change, but it IS a change, an alteration, a glimpse of an alternative on how one should feel, how the day can be navigated in a different way, even in developing a vision on living an intentional, purposeful life based upon love.

Perhaps in those small acts, I am a rebel, a revolutionary, going in a direction that isn’t what is expected of me, or the place in this world other people perceive I should occupy.

“You reap what you sow.”

I can be the good farmer, the good steward of my own heart and its bounty.  If I take care of my own little corner of the world, and let my garden grow, then I can later share my harvest with the world.

When I reach out to someone and suspend judgement and bias, if I give of myself and my life force, then I’m being genuine, real, and open.  That person I’m in touch with gets the real me, a person striving to be an honest, straight-forward bit of love and care, with all of my own imperfections and challenges.

Like all of us, I’m a work in progress.

That gift of me can help fill an empty spot, ease a pain, help heal a wound, even start a conversation.

“Someone cares” can also be a very powerful, world-changing message, a key ingredient in letting another person move closer to their true potential, and find an easier path to their own peacefulness and gentleness.

We all need to heal.  There are more than enough wounds in life that need to heal, to ease the pain in our hearts, to feel that we truly belong to our community, that our own life matters and has purpose.

I can make a difference.  I am valued for what I do, who I am, and what I can contribute to others.

“Give to this world what you want to receive from the world, because that is what you will receive.”  –Gary Zukov

 

4/23/2019

 

 

Celebrating Fathers’ Day


 

 

Tomorrow is Fathers’ Day, and I know we are all expected to celebrate it. Fathers are special and should be honored on their special day.  It is supposed to be a day of wholesomeness, warm feelings, sentimentality, and unbounded familial love. That’s what all the Fathers’ Day cards say, anyway.

But, there’s a lot of mixed emotions, and turmoil under the surface of having the barbeque, giving a card, and a nice present.  Or, to be on the receiving end, and be thanked as a father in someone’s life.

There are so many strings attached, so many thoughts and memories that come to the surface, so many conflicting and unsettling experiences to sort through and try to make sense of. All the sentimentality and idealism can be a trap for the emotionally wounded, those of us who have other emotions and memories about fathers, the ones you can’t find in a Hallmark card.

And if Dad has passed away, or is otherwise absent in one’s life, there’s grief and the psychological jungle of things left unsaid, words that we regret, or words that we are desperate to hear or speak.  Those children have no place and no role to play in a day of a sentimental card, a barbeque, or a gift of golf balls.

We don’t talk about that emptiness, that pain, but we should.

What is a good father?  Even our cultural heroes and role models aren’t really what we had imagined, or thought of as solid, stable figures in our lives.  When my wife and I were raising my stepson, we watched Bill Cosby’s show, and I thought he was the good dad — sensitive, kind, compassionate, the kind of dad I wanted my son to emulate in his life.  Yet, that image of wholesomeness and stability has been dashed on the rocks of reality, and a conviction for predatory abuse and exploitation.

In my own life, I have seen stories and accepted history and experiences being altered by unsettling revelations, confessions, and recovered memories.  The charming and comfortable portrayals of healthy and good parents have shifted, from the fall of Dr. Huxtable as the all wise and kind father figure to the realization that real life isn’t always the story of Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best.

 

 

One thing that is absent in our society’s Fathers’ Day celebrations is a conversation about what is good fathering, and how we can strive to be better fathers, and better sons and daughters.  We need to look at new gifts to give on dad’s special day, other than a new tie, tools for the barbeque, or golf balls.

Good parenting is a skill, and we need a day to ponder that, and have a real conversation about being the great dad, and how we can build healthier families.

In reality, living in the world of truth really is better for me than fiction, the fantasized and idealized “perfect world” created by Hollywood and our society’s desire to sugarcoat our historical reality.

Though, part of me longs for the dream world of the idealized childhood, and the warm and fuzzy images of the ideal Fathers’ Day experience. Part of me wants the nice sweetness of Dr. Huxtable, Ward Cleaver, and Sheriff Andy Griffith to be part of my Fathers’ Day party.  But, those icons of healthy fathering aren’t in my reality, and I’ve hopefully learned how to separate the television fantasies from truth.

If fatherhood had a god, it would probably be Janus, looking both forward and back, showing us how those two perspectives can often be contradictory.  Life is messy.

My experiences as a father always involves looking back as my experience as the son, and realizing that much of my fathering work is shaped by how I saw my father parented me. I’ve had other men who parented me, too, sometimes in momentary blips of insight, compassion, and correction.  And, I’ve become increasingly grateful for those fathers who took it upon themselves to get my attention and offer some kindly, and often needed, direction and counsel.

Like Janus, I’ve looked back on that work and hopefully used that wisdom in my own work as a father.

I’ve mentored a number of young men who have needed some fathering and attention to the tough business of growing up in this world.  I’ve drawn upon my own experiences as a son, and as a father, and helped guide them through their own storms and battles.

The reward in that is to hopefully give them a better experience that I’ve had as a son, giving direction and guidance, without a lot of the harsh judgment and anger that can easily derail a young man in his journey.

I’m not the perfect father.  And, I certainly wasn’t the perfect son.  I’m content with that, but I also know that this work of fathering is really never completed, that there are always going to be opportunities to be fatherly, and to give to others what I have needed in my past.

If we are mindful of that work, and those challenges, perhaps that is what we should be thinking about on Fathers’ Day.

6/20/2018

Letter to a Graduate


May 22, 2018

 

It is almost that time, so Congratulations on Graduation!!!!

 

Earning a bachelor’s degree is a very big deal and a huge accomplishment.  There is a great deal of work involved, and persistence and determination.

 

I believe that you have truly applied yourself and gained much from this experience.  I hope that you have learned how to learn, and how to think analytically, and that you have been exposed to a great amount of ideas, viewpoints, and opinions, and have had to develop your own thinking and analysis to issues and situations.

 

I also hope that you are an avid “lifelong learner” and this is only a step in your continuing education and development.

 

In my experience, college and being devoted to learning and education and development of the mind is one of the most worthwhile activities in one’s life.

 

Which leads me to the topic of “patience”, and change making.  I have had a lifetime of struggle with being patient.  My mentors continually counseled me about being patient.  My grandmother and mother taught me a lot about gardening, with the ever present message of being patient.  Time can be on my side and can be an asset, very useful tool.

 

And, over time, one can observe and see patterns and trends that otherwise would not be observable or discernable.

 

I see the benefit of patience in my art and music, too.  Time is actually a very good teacher, and it takes the passage of time for the body and brain to fully learn and develop.  And, probably why I am attracted to Zen Buddhism, as a spiritual practice and source of wisdom, letting time move and being in the moment.

 

Yet, the tension for me is that I know I am often ready to move on, that I have learned my life lessons in a place and the experience, and enough is enough.  Let’s get it on! I’m really a “get it done, now, already” kind of guy.  I don’t suffer fools well, and when the lessons are learned, why wait around?

 

Yet, when I have to wait, I observe more, and I think more, and I probably learn the lessons of the experience better, and then able to teach those lessons better to others. And, to remember and “do” something with the experience in a better way.  My “product” is better because it has more time to ripen, to come into its true form.  And, I guess, to confirm my hypotheses and conclusions.  A period of testing, refining, perfecting.

 

Intellectually, I have come to peace about that waiting process.  I’m not sure if I have come to peace about that spiritually, though.  I’ve concluded that karma is real and comes about over time, sometimes a really long time.  But, if I can wait it out, then karma is sweet and is to be savored.  I try not to be a revengeful person, but there is a proverb that says that revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

Perhaps the better, more Zenlike approach, is to be the actor for positive action and change, going around the roadblock and the evil, and building a better road for others.  And, if good actions are stymied, then being satisfied with being the example, the exception that proves the rule, and thereby the force for change and new thinking.

 

There’s another saying about good people doing what others are saying can’t be done. I’ll look that up, because that is probably a good motto for my life.  Over time, I’ve noticed that what I thought has been revolutionary is seen by others new to the scene as an existing, functioning phenomenon that is accepted as “always being there”.  Truly a successful revolution.

 

Often, what I’ve found, is that real change occurs in seemingly random, spontaneous conversations. The grocery store, at a gathering, maybe lunch with a friend.  Those little conversations are really the gems, the gold to be mined, to engage and enliven people and give them permission to have the good, the deep conversations and searches.  Other tools, other works, such as writing and music and art, are more the examples, the stimulators of those conversations and experiences.  They provide the metaphors, so one can talk about scary things in a safe way.

 

Can I suggest that this time is gold for you?  You have climbed the mountaintop, and you see things now for what they really are.  And, in not too long of a time, you will leave the undergraduate world and not have the current struggle, the current experience. That impending end can be liberating in its own way.  You see the truth and know it.  Others may find the truth to be too scary, too real, and thus avoid it.

 

Thus, a teaching moment for you, space and time to plant some seeds of thought and ideas, and of encouragement to others in their work.

 

The revolution for you has already begun, and you are planting those seeds of change right now, where you are at.  Not flashy or noisy.   Education takes many forms. Others find that scary, something that needs to be limited, constrained, and yes, imprisoned.

 

It will be exciting to see how your journey unfolds.  I hope you are open to what will come your way, and that you will take risks, and opportunities, and plunge into the unknown and uncertain.  And, anything you attempt in good faith will not be a dead end or a “wasted” opportunity.  Gold is where you find it.

 

Respectfully,

 

 

Neal C. Lemery

 

Resilience


 

 

I live in resilient times.  Examples of being tough, flexible, and determined to move on with one’s life are all around me, and I am heartened by their courage, their stubbornness, and their ability to realize their dreams.

I’ve only known one man through a mutual friend, and we’ve exchanged letters for several years now, talking about books and sharing our writing, and our lives.  He’s been in prison for 21 years in another state, so we’ve never met face to face. Yet, we’ve connected and I’ve been a cheerleader for him, as he’s been preparing himself for a challenging parole hearing.

It was an uphill battle for him, and he’s had to work through feelings of worthlessness and lack of confidence in his talents and how he’s grown in prison, that he’s not the enraged, frustrated teenager living on city streets, acting out, in a drug induced haze.  Others have supported him, too, yet the real work was his to do.  Meeting the parole board, it came down to what he had to say for himself. It was about how he presented the work that he’s done to change his thinking and to demonstrate that he’s ready for life on the “outside”, ready to make some contributions to society.

And, at the end of the day, he was found “worthy of parole”.  After all that time, he can now move on, into a first-class drug rehab facility, where he will also learn the skills to be a drug and alcohol counselor.  He’s overcome his fears, or at least has been able to use that energy to fuel his rehabilitation and self-actualization of who he really is, inside. He’s open to learn more about himself and the demons that have shaped his life, and to build himself into an even healthier, balanced man.

He’s changed, and it’s not because of those who have supported him, but because of his own work, and his own determination and self-esteem.

Another friend gets out of prison this summer, nearly finishing his graduate degree on line.  He’s done his undergrad and grad school work on line from a cubicle in prison, diligently studying, writing, and even doing group projects with other students. Prison isn’t the ideal college campus, yet he has persisted. Already, the college has employed him to improve the program and help other students.

Even more astonishing, he has grown and matured into a well-adjusted socially delightful young man, who knows the importance of a well-rounded and balanced life with others.  His attitude and his intentions are the total opposite of his childhood life, and he has made the transition with a great deal of grit and determination.

Yet another man has navigated a tough childhood and several years of incarceration, to getting off parole and moving into the work force.  No job was beneath him, and he worked hard, always moving ahead, improving his skills and not being afraid of hard work, long hours, and changing himself into a healthy, cheerful young man with solid values and meaningful dreams.

Today, he’s transitioning into yet another job, with more responsibility, better pay, and stability.  He knows where he is going and knows who he is and wants to be.

Some of what I’ve gained in these friendships is to experience their honesty and forthrightness.  They are open to who they are, where they’ve come from, what they’ve experienced, and the mistakes they’ve made.  They freely share their lessons and their wisdom.  They have taught me that one’s intentions and one’s determination makes all the difference in the world.  And, with that drive in their gut, there is no stopping them in what they want to accomplish.

They’ve made mistakes, but then, haven’t we all? Regrets, even shame and guilt are there, but when one decides to learn from that experience, and to change what needs to be changed, and focus on where one needs to go, the past becomes a teacher, and not a label.

They remind me to examine my own life, the experiences I have had, the choices I’ve made, and the directions I have taken in my life.  They have taught me to accept the lessons to be taught, and to move forward, gathering my skills and my ambition, and to move ahead.  It is hard work, and challenging.  Yet, if one wants to change and to realize one’s dreams, you have to step forward and do the hard work.

In that process, you have to also love yourself, and to respect yourself for who you are, and who you are becoming.  Labels don’t really matter, and one’s past is simply that.  It doesn’t compel you to repeat poor choices, or to accept the situation you are in, and simply feel that you are doomed to a certain direction or destiny.

What others may think of you doesn’t really matter, unless you think it does.

These men are speakers of Truth, an increasingly scarce commodity in our society.  They don’t dance around the facts, the reality of life.  Instead, they focus themselves, grab onto their dreams and the direction they have decided to take, and then put their heart and soul into working towards their goals and dreams. They are honest, and don’t pull any punches when it comes to being real and direct.

They get real, and they keep me real, and focused on doing something meaningful and productive in my life.

Our conversations are deep and purposeful. And, I wish I had more friends like them, and more conversations with substance and depth.

Game playing, lying, manipulating others, and not dealing with the elephant in the living room aren’t who they are about.  They know what they want and they know how to get there.  They are brutally honest with themselves, and can spot the old “stinking thinking” a mile away.

They don’t suffer fools easily, and steer away from the naysayers and the idlers they come across in their lives.  Their BS meters are finely tuned and always powered up.  Their respect is not easily earned, yet they are fiercely loyal to their own dreams, and to those in their lives who have become their close friends and family.

Others in our lives can easily dance around the truth, and are prone to manipulate us with propaganda, half-truths, fake news, and false thinking. They waste my time and clutter up my thinking with their blather.  I find myself repulsed by their disrespect for the truth and for their own warped values. I resent how they waste my time, and detract all of us from improving our world and enriching lives.

The better society is being built by the likes of these men who are self-actualized truth seekers. They are constructing decent, purposeful lives, and are worthy role models for the rest of us.

I’d rather hang out with the likes of these men, who are straightforward and focused. I have much to learn from them, the resilient ones.

 

–Neal Lemery 5/9/2018

Just Listen


 

 

I almost didn’t pick up the phone. We’ve had a lot of robo-calls lately, and I’ve gotten into the habit of just letting the phone ring. If it is important, or someone I know, they’ll leave a message and I’ll call them back.

The number was familiar. It was the number that called several times in the last few days, the voice familiar, from the past when I volunteered as a mentor in a nearby youth prison. Two days ago, the voice left a distraught, heartfelt message, wanting to connect with me, and alluding that he was thinking of ending his life.

No name, no return phone number. But, my phone remembered the number and I called back, getting the receptionist at another youth prison.

I explained that the voice sounded desperate, sad, alluding to self harm.

“We have 250 youth here, and I can’t track down who may have called you,” the receptionist said. “But, I’ll transfer you to the treatment manager in our mental health cottage.”

But, without a name, I was stuck, hoping he’d call back.

This time, we connected. The voice at the other end was a staff person, telling me that “Joe” wanted to talk to me. He put me on hold, and it was a long wait.

I was hesitant to take the call. Maybe “Joe” was having second thoughts, too, now that I was on the line.

My brain was trying to remember who “Joe” was. The mists of time parted and I began to remember “Joe”. I saw him every week for about a year, until he moved on, getting released to a half way house.

The staff had asked me to see him, as he was falling behind in his school work, and didn’t seem to care. He’d act indifferent and pushed me away, not letting me get close to him. But, I stuck with it, trying to tutor him in the math class that he was failing.

It wasn’t the work, and it wasn’t the level of math. I soon realized he was brilliant, and had taken the road of not doing the work, and blowing the homework and the tests, because it was too simple, too easy. And, if he passed his math class, then he’d graduate from high school. The next step was college.

But, he was a failure, a no good, not worthy of success. I soon learned that his family had abandoned him, never visiting him in prison, or even writing a letter or talking with him on the phone.

“Worthless,” “scum”, those were the words he’d last heard from his family, the day he was arrested, probably a whole childhood of that kind of talk.

I walked around the math conundrum, trying to engage with him on a different level. I learned he loved music, playing and composing songs and rhythms. He’d taken over the keyboard in the rec room and the computer that was set up to record and put together different tracks of music the kids had recorded.

I kept asking me to show me what he’d done with the recording devices, but he kept putting me off.

“It’s not very good,” or “I’m not quite ready for you to hear what I’ve done.”

One day, he let me into that world, playing a very complex rhythm track, and a long electronic music piece that was beyond words in its complexity and beauty.

“It’s nothing,” he said, when I raved about his talent and ingenuity.

“Oh, and you tell me you’re not very good at math, when you can compose this elaborate rhythm and multi-track composition?” I said.

“Well,” he said. And just shrugged.

“It’s not a big deal.”

I wanted to get up on the table and dance!

As I was leaving, I told a staff member how talented Joe was, and so gifted in music.

“I know. He’s amazing,” the staff member said. “But he thinks it’s no big deal.”

At our next visit, he actually smiled.

“I passed my math class,” he said. “I actually got an A.”

 

Yeah, that “Joe”. How could I forget him?

What’s he doing back in prison, after all this time, I wondered.

The phone line clicked, and a soft, deep voice said hello.

“Is this Neal?” the voice asked. The hesitancy in his voice tugged at my heart.

He said he was amazed I remembered him, that I was willing to talk with him, that I was even listening to him, that he was worthy of my time.

“Joe” had taught me an important lesson. Sometimes, good things happen when you just wait, just enjoy the silence in a conversation, and let that quiet connectedness be the conversation. Just showing up, caring, and listening, can affect fundamental change in someone’s life.

Now, years later, I listened again. His story came tumbling out. There were successes, achievements. And there were disappointments, fears, times of perceived failures and disasters. There came a time when it was all too much, too much goodness going on, and so he pulled the plug, sabotaging himself, and choosing to run away.

The old family voices of being worthless and a scum echoed around his mind. There were prophecies to fulfill, and expectations to satisfy.

There was loneliness, too. He’d had no visitors, no one to call, no one to care.

“Except you,” he said. “Thanks for talking to me.”

I didn’t say much at first, just listened a lot to this sad story, feeling him open up on the phone and share his feelings.

I responded, offering words of encouragement, hope, and concern.

I told him he was smart, creative, a nice guy. I told him I cared about him, that he was like a son to me, that he was important to me, a good part of my life.

He got quiet, and I could detect a sniffle or two, and a few sobs.

I’d come to see him, if that’s what he wanted. Oh, he did. He’d talk to his counselor and see if we could set that up.

“I don’t know if they let people here have visitors,” he said. “It’s the mental ward, you see, and I don’t know if they’d let you come.”

I told him I thought they would, if it would help him out, help him move through this rough patch in his life, help him transition to a better place, and get on with his life.

We exchanged addresses, and I gave him my cell phone number.

I promised to write to him the next day, and he said he’d write to me. We’d get together, and work on a plan for him to move on. We’d stay in touch.”

“Three years was too long, you know,” he said.

I laughed. “Yeah, I know.”

He laughed too, then, and I heard him smile finally.

I remembered his smile, the one he gave me when he played his music for me, that one special afternoon years ago, just before he aced his math class.

“Well, I’ve got to go,” he said quietly. “My phone time is up.”

“OK,” I said. It was great to talk to you. I hope you feel better. I hope you want to live.”

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I really do. Thanks for talking to me.”

“Call again soon.”

“I will.”

I looked at the clock. Twenty minutes had passed since I’d decided to answer the call. Twenty minutes of sad stories, and sniffling, and some words of encouragement. Twenty minutes of showing up in each other’s life again, and both of us finding the good in that, each filling our hearts with that connection once again.

We all have twenty minutes a day to give to someone, to listen, to hear their story, to make a connection. We all can care about someone for twenty minutes.

That might make a big difference. It might save a life.

 

–Neal Lemery 10/17/2017

Grieving


 

 

 

They come into my life and then, too early, they are gone. And I mourn and grieve, cry and moan. I am angry at my loss, my pain, the void in my life as their sudden absence is a bleeding, infected wound that never quite seems to heal.

Grief dances its macabre and bittersweet retinue of every emotion, taking fiendish joy in ambushing me when I least expect it, when I am least able to cope with the pain.

Yet, deep down, I still carry their light and their love, and sense their their soul, still resounding with me, still an integral part of my life.

Why? What was so special about that person that I am so profoundly affected by their passing? What was it about them that reached me, touched my heart, and brought them so close to me, such an essential part of my life, my own story? What is the lesson to be learned?

I just read that plants emit light frequencies in a part of the light spectrum that is invisible to our eyes, yet photography is now able to record those images, those vibrations, and reveal another dimension of the profound beauty and intricacies of these living beings.

Is it that much of a stretch in thinking that people also emit vibrations and frequencies of light that is invisible to our eyes, yet sensed in a much deeper level by us, on a different, yet intuitive, level.

“You are special. You bring something into my life that is beautiful, meaningful for me.”

Attraction.

The law of attraction teaches us that we attract to ourselves the emotions, the feelings, the vibrations that we need. And when we open ourselves to those feelings, the presence of what we crave, then we become more complete, and more able to live the life that we deeply desire. We come closer to fulfilling our true purpose in this life.

And when a special person leaves us, there is a void, an emptiness, a loss. Yet there is also the knowing, deep down, of what they have brought to us in our all too brief time together. That memory serves us well, teaching us what we had needed and desired, to be a better, more complete person.

In that loss, that death, there are lessons to be learned, lessons on what we have needed and taken in, and grown from. When the class is over, only then do we fully appreciate the lessons learned, the experience gained, the real benefit of being present for the lesson, the experience.

At the end of a particular journey, the end of that special time when a special friend has come into my life and walked with me, only then do I first realize what I have experienced, what we had set out to learn, and how I needed to grow. I look back, and only then see from where I have come, how far I have traveled, and the name of the road I am on.

These dear ones who have passed on, the ones whose light I have needed along my own journey, have taught me great lessons, and deeply impacted my life. I find that when they are gone, only then do I start to fully realize the gifts they have given me, the lessons they have taught me, and the special places they have held in my life. Only then do I fully appreciate them, and find some sense of completeness and understanding of their presence in my life.

Somehow, their teaching to me is not complete until they are gone. Only then do I learn all the lessons they have been teaching me.

Only then is the full spectrum of the light they have shared revealed to me.

Only then can grief lead me to the understanding I have been led to eventually discover.

 

 

–Neal Lemery 6/16/2017