Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Presents and Presence

There are times in life when its focus is not so clear. Even in what is, in comparison and by every measure, a well-ordered life, sometimes it isn’t as “hands-on,” as proactive or profound as it is automatic. Indeed, even when all seems right in the world - or at least in my world - the real essence of life almost becomes a dubious luxury. And then in the midst of it, when all is both fine and dandy, when everything is going just swimmingly, it hits me.

There is so much more.

I don’t want to sit here and devalue “the good life;” if anyone has reason to be grateful, it is I. The lack of chaos, the elimination of drama and the general peace in my life are all very much, and often, appreciated. It hasn’t been that long - I didn’t forget what it used to be like. But there are moments that make it clear that as good as everything is, there is way more and in my zest to acknowledge and appreciate all that has changed, there are the little things that make it all so much better.

Recently, I have been a solid presence in not one, not two, but all three of my boys’ lives. And as I have recently written here, at 23, 20 and 18, they are all legal adults now. I guess that it is true that I am always there and equally true that I have always tried to do my best by them, but right now - all at once - I feel as though my aid is being sought out, appreciated and needed. A small part is financial, but it’s not the money but what it is doing - and money is a very small piece of the picture. My kids are starting to become self-realized and it is my strength they are drawing from.

And in these past several days, in what is really only a series of moments, I have made a profound difference in their lives simply by being their father. It isn’t really about what I know, or some “Father Knows Best” wisdom, or that I might be able to get them over a financial hump… it’s about my being present in their lives. I am there no matter what and they know it. More importantly, I know it. And that is a very good feeling. It’s better than all the external validation in the world. There are only three men whose respect means so much to me - and they all call me Dad.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Days Will Come

Monday is typically the busiest day of my week. All four of my classes this semester meet on Monday and some things are coming due… the semester is already half-over! Some grades have been trickling in and although by now it shouldn’t surprise me anymore, I am still amazed by how well I am doing. There is an exception, however, to an otherwise uninterrupted string of very good grades - my score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). I can’t say I am surprised by my dismal showing - I got pretty much what I put into it - but it is a bit of a disappointment all the same.

What it means is still unclear. I have been having second, third and fourth thoughts about whether I want to commit to three years of law school at all, and although I will probably still apply to the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, there is no guarantee that I’ll be accepted. And even if I am, the likelihood that I will in turn accept an invitation is in a great deal of doubt. There are other avenues that I view as more favorable on a number of levels.

In the meantime, it’s back to the grind, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like the informal and non-routine routine that my life is. No longer flying by the seat of my pants, that was the norm not so many years ago, there is still an element of uncertainty - I am not a nine to five guy and this is no nine to five gig. Yet, there is far more predictability and stability than there ever was, and that is comforting. In December one chapter comes to a close and in January a new one begins. It has yet to be written.

It is a beautiful autumn day on the campus of Sac State. The sun is shining, the squirrels are scurrying about and there are students everywhere, probably enjoying the mid-semester lull. It’s a balmy 74 degrees with only the slightest hint of a breeze. But the storm is coming; finals, term papers and the usual madness that comes with the changing of the season is on the way. Days will come and days will go - I am ready.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Seven Years

October 17th has become an anniversary that is as important to me as my birthday. Indeed, as the years pass, it has become even more so. October 17, 2000 was the day my life nearly ended and, in many respects, it was the day it began. Seven years ago today, I had no idea that just 24 hours away my purgatory awaited. It turned out to be a place between life and death that I have heard about, but until then, never experienced.

While it is true that I have had many “brushes” with death, they always remained what can only be described as “close calls.” Some years ago, I became aware that I have a deadly allergic reaction to a common over-the-counter medication. The first indication was the rapid onset of anaphylactic shock - if I did not have the wits to seek medical aid in time… well, they said the end would was only about 15 minutes away. Close enough? Not really. It was a fleeting moment and recovery was almost immediate. Many of us have experienced at least one close call at some point in our lives. Perhaps it was on the road, while engaged in some recreational activity or just from the things that come at us - and just miss - through the course of our lives.

October 17, 2000 was not a close call. It was a direct hit. Circumstances in my life had me perpetually off-balance. Exasperated by a lifestyle that can only be described as reactive, I was always “catching up” and as a result often found myself sleep-deprived. The morning of October 17th was not particularly unusual - I was tired and running late. I had to get my younger two boys to school and myself to work. In fact, it was a good day for my sons to be “sick,” a condition I not so subtly suggested to them. At 11 and 13, they were old enough to stay home while I was at work.

My 11 year-old readily took the bait - any day home from school is a good day. My 13 year-old, however, was still smarting from a tongue-lashing I delivered some days before. Although he acknowledged that maybe he was not feeling well, he didn’t want to get even more behind at school. He didn't want to disappoint me. Then he turned the tables on me by saying what I would often say to him when he claimed to be sick, “I’m not too sick to go to school.” Of course, I had no choice but to get him there, better late than not at all.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t think I could make it, I had made the trip from our home in Truckee to Squaw Valley more times than I can remember. I just didn’t want to. Hell, I didn’t even want to go to work, I was tired. But I had to do both and I didn’t give it a second thought. Running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, I finally hit the road. I guess with the stress of finally getting under way relieved, I felt somewhat relaxed. Driving through Truckee and turning onto Highway 89 towards Tahoe City was my last clear memory for about five weeks.

Just about a mile before Squaw Valley, my vehicle crossed over into the opposite lane and directly into the path of a fully loaded logging truck. According to all accounts, I was sound asleep at the wheel. The truck driver said he sounded his horn several times, but my vehicle just kept coming. He moved as far to the right as he could, but it wasn’t enough - the front left corner of my car struck the front left corner of the big-rig at a combined impact speed estimated at more than 100 miles per hour. My Jeep Cherokee (a rental, but that’s another story) was predictably totaled and unrecognizable. The Peterbuilt tractor pulling the logs was also totaled; logs and debris were strewn across both lanes of Highway 89 over several hundred yards.

And I was totaled. My son escaped with minor physical injuries and the logging truck driver did as well. All of us were wearing our seatbelts and the Jeep, at least, was equipped with airbags. My injuries included: A compound left femur fracture; a compound, open pelvis fracture; a lacerated liver; a lacerated kidney; and a lacerated femoral artery. I was taken by ambulance to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee where they stabilized me for the helicopter flight to Washoe Medical Center in Reno. I remember none of it until I was taken off the helicopter in Reno.

By that time, I had already taken something like 16 units of blood. To put that into perspective, the average body only holds about eight. I was losing it as fast as they could put it in. The first fuzzy memory I have is of the trauma surgeon on duty asking me to wiggle my toes and squeeze his finger. At the time I was oblivious and the lights quickly went out again. I had more foggy memories that I can today link up with the reality that spawned them. It is absolutely amazing what trauma, shock and opiates can do to one’s perception of reality. But there were other recollections as well. As weird as the “reality” based memories were, the “other” ones were out of this world.

And I might mean that quite literally, I really can’t say. I believe this was a near-death experience, as in I experienced what happens at the time of death - but came back. Before we go on, I must make some things absolutely clear. I am not some follower of psychic mumbo-jumbo. I don’t believe in horoscopes, tarot cards, palm readers or any of that other stuff. It is still true today. Although I can’t say with certainty, I do believe there is more to existence than just the physical world we are in. It cannot, however, be proven to my satisfaction by myself or anyone else. It is only a belief, and I am ok with it. I think there is more to this whole life thing than meets the eye.

I used to proclaim myself to be an atheist. Indeed, I was an evangelical atheist - it wasn’t enough that I didn’t believe, I had to convince you that you did not either. I wasn’t exactly on a mission, but I never passed up the opportunity to engage anyone regarding his or her beliefs. Today, I am not so sure what I believe and I certainly don’t have room to tell you. That makes me agnostic, if a label is even necessary. The experiences I had that cannot be linked to reality in anyway were the catalyst.

There was no bright white light, no angels playing harps and no pearly gates. There was neither an ethereal being drawing me near nor leading me away, but I was never alone. Time had no context; there was no day or night; no years; no nothing. Although there was the presence of others, there were no voices, no faces and no names. It was more like an energy that permeated everything - an energy that I was part of. I was wandering aimlessly but never lost, confused but not scared, always comfortable despite being thrust into the unfamiliar.

I don’t know if this journey lasted a second, hours or days. I do know that when I was weaned off the medication that kept me semi-conscious and immobile, five weeks had passed and hell for me was about to begin. My family was living with the gravity of the situation the entire time, and at the beginning, they did not know whether I would even live through it. Indeed, even if I did, there was no telling how much of my former self would remain. What would I remember? Would I ever walk again? How long will the rehabilitation take? I was blissfully unaware. My memory gradually got clearer until just before Thanksgiving when I re-entered the real world. They untied my restraints and removed the tracheotomy. I could move (a little) and talk.

But I had a long way to go. In time and with a lot of help, I have been able to make an almost complete recovery. I still have a steel rod and some screws in my left leg and a host of very large scars, but all things considered I was extremely lucky. Or was I? Perhaps luck had little to do with it. Again, I really don’t know, but I do have a different perspective that at the very least has made me far less arrogant, not nearly so combative and much less condescending. Furthermore, I am far more appreciative of the little things in life. It did not all happen at once, it took a lot more than a three-month hospitalization to get here.

And here is a very good place. Although the pain was monumental and the struggle to get back was the hardest thing I ever had to do, it was all worth it. I have today things I never knew I wanted and didn’t even believe really existed. No longer stumbling around in the dark, I now have a direction; a purpose in life and it isn’t necessary that I know what it is. It is an intangible but oh-so necessary part of life that I could never quite grasp before it was nearly all taken away. It isn’t about stuff or status or prestige or recognition - it’s about what’s on the inside and when the inside is at peace, the rest follows.

Life is good.

Don't believe it? Click here for the story.

Friday, October 12, 2007


It’s official. I am dragging my ass. I have a bunch of writing to do and this isn’t it. There is a story, two columns, a PR bio and an essay all due by next Tuesday or sooner. I know that in total it will only take several hours to do the work. My problem, however, is that I have more than enough time to do it. In other words… it’s not the last minute yet, what’s the rush?

This time, there is no particular harm in procrastinating. I’ll get to it, none of it is too difficult and I have an idea of where each piece will go. Some are better crystallized than others, but all in all there is nothing holding me back other than time. I like it that way. The down side is, and I’ve written about it before, the unexpected. If a surprise rears its unwelcome head, do I have the flexibility to deal with it? So far I have been able to roll with the punches and this time at least, I am sure the time is available.

Life for me is about moments. Not the planned events, the coming milestones or my view of what the future holds, but the moments. Those future events will come and in time provide moments of their own, but they are not what life is all about. It is about now. Not every now - honestly, most moments are entirely forgettable… and promptly forgotten. Some are indelibly etched into my mind for eternity, some predictably so (weddings, births, deaths, etc.) and some not some much. The point of all this is not what this perspective is, but what it means.

Today and for a little while now, I am present for those moments; those slices of time that could be as fleeting as a shooting star, as temporary as a spectacular sunset or as poignant as a tender kiss on the cheek. I never know when one will come and if I am so preoccupied by what is coming, it has been my experience that I will miss what’s there. I have put off things that have caused me discomfort (I have a load of laundry going right now) and I have waited until the discomfort was the ultimate motivating factor. But even then, the moments can materialize out of nowhere.

I received a phone call from my 23 year-old son yesterday evening. He had some stuff on his mind that he didn’t necessarily need answers to, just someone to listen. I was able to suspend what I was doing for that moment and be there for him. Will I remember it for the rest of my life? I might. Will he? Maybe. Regardless of the permanence of the memory, the moment was alive and the latent effects of being present for it will live on forever even if the specific memory fades.

In my rush to achieve the ends and my inability to stay in the present, I missed many of these moments in years gone by. Not all, that would be nearly impossible, but some of the richness granted from life was overlooked in a quest to reach the end - and win. Life is not a game and for me to live it that way only allows one outcome - I lose. It’s a loss of the moments and the memories that I carry with me. Life today is a series of one moment after another. Some are huge but all are unique and will never occur again.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

End of an Era

My youngest child, Matthew, turned 18 today. My boys are no longer children, at least in the eyes of the law. For Matthew, it means there are some major and permanent paradigmatic changes, but for the foreseeable future, his day-to-day life remains unchanged. For the next several months at least, he is still very much dependent upon me - and I am quite all right with that. But it does cause one to be reflective and in my case that means some redundancy.

I have been a single parent for most of his and his brothers’ lives. Not a single father, but a single parent. There is nothing special about my gender and this role. True, there are more women than men who have been thrust into this position, but being unusual doesn’t make me special. It’s hard no matter who you are. Although the term “dysfunctional” has become ubiquitous, our home-life has never even remotely resembled the classic picture of a “normal” family. But the love was (and is) there. In that respect at least, our family is very functional.

I don’t know how I feel about this milestone. I’m not sure what it represents. It has no immediate or even short-term repercussions, true, but it is an advanced warning of sorts. It’s almost a wake-up call that is announcing the next phase in his life - as well as mine. Again, there is precious little “typical” about where we are as a family, but it is also true that regardless of the adversity - and there has been significant adversity - we are still cohesive. No matter the missteps, the bad luck or misfortune… and the blessings, for there have been plenty of those as well, we are still important in one another’s lives.

Yes, important. As in life would be decidedly different if any of us were not in it. As in my life would be lacking something necessary. In other words, a major part of what makes us who we are is each other. And that is important. Next spring, Matt will be graduating high school and he will begin the next major chapter in his life. This December I will graduate from college, starting a new chapter in mine. Matt’s brothers are also at major junctures in their lives. Whatever direction our lives take, there will be a constant that cannot be erased.

We are a family. Unorthodox, unusual, even dysfunctional, but a family all the same. We have proven that nothing is stronger than the ties that bind us together - nothing. It does not look like the family of my childhood and it doesn’t matter. Like the family of my youth, there is only one thing that is important - us. And we have that.

Monday, October 01, 2007


It feels like it should be a rainy, windy autumn night. I almost wish it were; it would give me something to be distracted by, something to listen to rather than the words rattling around in my head. But, alas, it is nothing more than a cool October early morning, the first such of the month - and a Monday no less - and it is perhaps fitting that the weather is as pleasant, albeit cool, as it is. And the words will not go away.

It has been a trying weekend. Perhaps not trying so much as busy, but in only in a semi-predictable way. I knew I would be waking before dawn Saturday morning to make the drive from Sacramento to the University of California at San Francisco’s Hastings School of the Law to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). I was to be there by 8:30 a.m. sharp and I left with plenty of time to get there and find parking. I did not expect to meet a Honda Accord in the intersection of 7th and Market streets… I expected to cross the intersection unimpeded, protected by a green light.

Although no one was hurt and the damage to each of our cars was relatively minor, it still took some time clear the intersection and exchange information. I still did not have a parking place. With about 20 minutes left before I had to be at Hastings, I was back on my quest in search of parking, the nose of my still new car bearing the scars of the incident. I made it and took a test that was probably the most challenging I have ever encountered - I have no idea how well I did.

But it’s done. The LSAT has been weighing heavily on me for about three or four weeks. No matter what I was doing, it was always at the back of my mind. Now it’s over and I can concentrate on my more immediate priorities, one of which is writing for this blog. The results from the LSAT will be available in a couple of weeks and depending on what my score is, I will make decisions regarding which direction I’ll go in the coming year(s). Right now, I really don’t care whether it’s law school or not… in fact, it’s completely out of my hands at this point. Indeed, there are precious few “wrong” turns from here.

The last few posts here have either referenced postings on my new blog, Home of the Free, or they have actually been copied from there. Although I thoroughly enjoy the writing I have done there, it was not created for the free form meandering I often write here. It is a blog created to meet a requirement for my column writing class and as such, it is subject to certain rules regarding both content and form. It is not unlike a job. The 25 Year Plan has never been about anything at all - until the words are written, it is free to go wherever it may.

Tonight (or, to be precise, this morning) it is about nothing. It is just a reflection. It’s value is personal - both to the reader and perhaps more so, to the writer. It is what it is and nothing more. As far as I’m concerned, it’s most redeeming feature is that it is exclusive to the 25 Year Plan. It has not been cross-posted anywhere.