Taking Care of Myself…Maybe Not

Old Man on a Bench
© Donny Hornstein

I live alone. I’ve lived alone most of my adult life. I’m 62 years young.

Just a few months ago, I had a cervical discectomy at three levels. In less complicated terms, I had four cervical discs in my spine which through time had degenerated to the point where they needed to be cleaned up and fused. The symptoms I was having was loss of sensation in my hands. I couldn’t type. I could barely tie my shoes. I was dropping things. I had lost a huge amount of feeling in my hands. After many months of struggling with this and trying things such as acupuncture, electromyography, various meds, chiropractic, physical therapy and I can’t remember what else, I saw a neurologist. He did an MRI which finally showed the cause to be the degenerating discs. After a few more months of struggle, I picked a surgeon to ‘make me better.’ I have a great neurosurgeon. The result is about a 95% return of my hand use. I’m astounded almost every day.

For about five weeks after the surgery, I hired a friend of mine to take care of me and my cats. Really, the most important thing was the cats. The doctor had told me I shouldn’t bend below my knees and the cats eat on the floor, so what I needed most of all was someone to feed them twice a day. I also needed some personal care right after the surgery. Changing the dressing on my neck, transportation (I wasn’t supposed to drive) and sundry other things. I wasn’t paying him much but early on, I was expecting more than I had a right to.

About three days after the surgery, I had an incapacitating event related to the surgery. It was something so intense, I called the local fire department for help. I had never, and I mean never, had anything like this happen to me before. There was nothing the EMTs could do short of taking me to the ER. I didn’t want to do that, so I called another friend. He and his wife came to my aid, thank the heavens.

You might ask, “Why didn’t you call your friend you were paying?” And that’s where I’m headed.

He was involved with a local men’s training he and I are a part of. He wasn’t really reachable. And…it was neither his responsibility or fault he was out of pocket. I wasn’t paying him for round-the-clock care. I had retained his services for feeding the cats and doing little things for me when he could. Surprisingly, for me, I wasn’t angry I couldn’t reach him. I was angry with myself for not having thought how I might need him in the days immediately following the surgery. I was angry at myself, for trying to do things, as I have often done, on the cheap. More than that, I was angry & very sad about the choice I’ve made to live alone. Why should I have to pay someone at all to take care of me? And, yet, that, is the consequence of the choice. By choosing to live alone, I also choose to make alternative arrangements to get the care I need when necessary. This, then, became one of the times where I was not happy about living alone. And, there’s yet a third lesson in all this. I’m fortunate enough to have friends, such as the couple who came to my rescue, who will come if asked. The work, is in the asking.

I’m the son of depression era parents. I did not grow up in an affluent family. We by no means struggled, but neither did we live in luxury. What I learned from my parents was to be cautious about money. I will often consider the price of something, even food at the grocery store or at a restaurant, when making a decision. Although recently, I was making a salary where that really didn’t need to be a consideration, I continued to do so. It’s one of the things which cost me my friend’s help when I needed it.

Surprisingly, I will often not be quite so austere when it comes to an impulse buy of one of my toys; typically some electronic item I think I need or want. So the question I have for myself here and now is why? How does it or does it not serve me to continue being frugal over my daily care or food but not so over materialistic items? Why, do I continue to weigh the difference of a dollar here or a dollar there for many necessities? (By the way, while in my opinion I am materialistic, I don’t drive a fancy car or live in a house which says anything about success or money.) I find it an interesting paradox. Trying to love myself more, and yet, staying with old non-blessing habits. The dilemma then is how to love myself more AND do more things which bless me. Not just to simply allow myself the ‘possessions’ which give me a sense of pleasure or well-being, but to allow myself basic needs, such as food or care when I need or want them. For these needs, is it simply the “I’m not good enough” syndrome? Is it the lessons from my parents? Is it a combination of these two? I think so. I think nourishing myself, whether by food or care just seems extravagant. It seems such a silly thing to say, yet it has a ring of truth for me. The question I want to answer then, is this the way I choose to live my life? I really hope it is not. While I don’t want to place myself under an economic hardship, I also don’t want to have missed out on living in a way I will regret. I don’t want to be the guy on my death bed who says, “Gee, I wish I had taken better care and loved myself more.”

So what’s the small step I’m willing to take moving forward? I’m making a commitment to myself to stop penny-pinching on things like food or care. If something is within my means, by George, I deserve to go for it. Whether it’s a meal at Joe’s Stone Crabs (I hardly ever get back to my roots in Miami) or ponying up to have someone take care of me when I might not be able to. It’s the right time to say, “Yes!” instead of “Maybe” or “Someday.” There might not be enough “Somedays” left. While I am young-at-heart and in good health, there’s no way of knowing when the call to go ‘Home’ will come. (I’ve promised myself when that time comes, I won’t try to barter for extra time. I’ll go with the peace of having done what I can in this life as well as I was able. Isn’t that what writing this blog is about?)

Are there things in your life you don’t bless yourself with? Leave a comment if you feel brave; I do believe it takes courage to talk about these things. Courage, is something I am finding I have more of. Ever since, December 2000.

How Am I Changing?: I’m willing to bless myself more when it’s called for. I  want to live a life of fulfilling my desires. And, by asking for help, when I need it. That may in fact be the bigger challenge.

What Is Home?

Playing Solitaire at the Salvation Army
© Donny Hornstein

I’ve known quite a few persons in my life for 50+ years. Some, have only really become what I’d call a friend in the last 10 years or so. I’ve known my friend, Willie since December 2000, almost 14 years. Yet, I would say he is not only one of my closest friends, but someone who knows me almost as well as my birth brother. In some ways, better.

Here’s some history. In December 2000, Willie and I had both signed up to do a New Warrior Training Adventure. We were assigned to carpool together. We emailed a few times before we actually left for our training and I liked him from the get-go. He uses a Mac, so I knew he must be good people. I think he would agree, that weekend was life changing; it was for me, for sure. On that weekend, one of the things I noticed about Willie was how social a person he is. While I was content, maybe not the right word, to stay in my own little world, Willie probably knew every man on the weekend before it was over. There were probably 40 or more men there.

Willie, as long as I’ve known him, is what I call a Golden Child. What I mean by that, he could fall down in a hog trough full of manure and come up smelling like he’d just bathed in rose water. Putting it another way, from one of the two brief stints I’ve had in what’s called network marketing or multi-level marketing, one of my leaders there once said, “If you could build a church, you can be very successful here.” Willie is the kind of person who, if he started a church tomorrow, which right now would be Saturday, would have a full congregation on Sunday.

For several years, Willie’s been working on a project he calls “We Are All Homeless.” At first, this was about his buying the cardboard signs from the folks on the side of the road. He’s since had a few gatherings of friends, holding the signs he’s bought, in fairly prominent places around Dallas. He’s done a TEDx talk on it. He’s had art gallery showings. And now, he’s making a movie. A full length documentary. He’s been interviewed by many newspapers, TV and Radio stations, to include a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered. Like I said, a Golden Child.

Yesterday, at lunch, we talked. About how my job hunt was going. About how I was healing from my surgery. And, about his film. It sounds to be an extraordinary endeavor with all kinds of persons getting involved. Who knows, with Willie, it might win a documentary Academy Award. During the course of lunch and the conversation, Willie hit me with a question I wasn’t prepared for. Would I be willing to be interviewed for the film about what home means to me? I was both flattered and frightened. I don’t do my best thinking spontaneously in person; that’s why I write. I answered him with a partial truth: Having been a former photojournalist, I was much more comfortable behind the camera than I was in front of it. The real, untold story, until now, is I was much more frightened about not being so eloquent on camera. So, this blog piece is my way of taking care of me. I can think out my answer here, before I’m in front of the camera. And, this may just be a start to think about how and what I’ll really say when the time comes.

So, What is Home?

It’s where I feel safe. When I was young, and living in my parents home, I mostly felt safe. On the odd times when my father was raging, no, but most other times, yes. And, I must admit, I was a great trigger for his raging. I knew, in many cases, just how to get him started. His raging and my ability to start it was one of many reasons, beside being married only for three years in my 50s, why I chose not to have children. I told myself, if I had a boy like me, I’d have to kill him. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but it always felt true to how I saw myself as a catalyst for my father’s rage.

Home is where I can hide from the world. I’ve never been much of a social animal, so home is where I can stay to hide away from everyone else. Much of the time, I like my solitude. Some times, I don’t. But, the majority of the time, I do. I can sit, watch TV, read, listen to music or the radio, and not have to worry about someone else not liking what I’m doing.

I’m pretty crummy as a decorator. So, my home looks, well, like a bachelor lives there. I will admit, there are often times I wish I had what most would call a ‘normal’ home. Well decorated, nice furniture, clean. Instead, there’s always stuff piled everywhere. Not as bad as some homes I’ve seen, but nowhere near as nice as others I’ve admired. Yet, there must be a part of me that doesn’t really care what my home looks like. Else, I would do something about it. So home is a place for me which doesn’t need the approval of others; and, sometimes I’m embarrassed to invite someone in.

Home is also a place to be thankful for. I’m grateful everyday I have someplace to call home. I’ve gone through periods of unemployment and slow work where I was deathly afraid I’d wind up under an overpass somewhere – like many of the persons Willie has purchased signs from. I mentioned this to him once. I remember him saying, “That’s not gonna happen.” Somehow, I believed him and that particular fear has not come back a knockin’ for a long time now.

I like to cook. I don’t do much cooking outside of simple things anymore, but when I do, I enjoy it. So, home is a place I can nourish my body with food I prepare.

This is something I’ve only recently discovered about myself. I really like clean sheets at least, usually only, once a week. So, home is a place to crawl under clean sheets to sleep on a Friday night.

Finally, home is my place. Where I live. Where I sleep. Where I spend time. Where I can have a friend over if I want. Where I can call this place, my own. Home, in other words, is where I want home to be. All the time. Anytime.

I’m sure there are other things I’ve not thought of here. Maybe I’ll think of them when Willie and his crew put a camera and microphone in my face. At any rate, stay golden Willie boy. Thanks for the challenge.

How Am I Changing?: I’m willing to take a stretch when a friend asks me if I’d be willing to do so.

Suicide…It Isn’t Painless

Since 2006, maybe even a little before, suicide has shown up in my life. There have been three which have touched me and at least one other where I knew the person who chose to leave this world by their own hand. Two of these were friends. One was someone I knew of, but never met. All three impacted me in some way.

The first happened, as I’ve said, in late 2006. This was a man I’d only recently gotten to know. We had been in the same men’s group together for a while. I’d originally known him from this perspective, but was able to know him much better when he became a part of a regular group of men I met with on a weekly basis. I got to know him even better when he and I carpooled together to a men’s weekend about two-and-one-half hours from where we live; so, I spent five hours alone with this guy just getting to know him and allowing him to know me. I liked and a had a great deal of respect for this man. He was someone from my industry, information technology, and he really knew his stuff. He’d begun an online group for the men from my Warrior community (I’ve written about that before.) For several years before his suicide, he’d had quite a bit of tsuris, as we say in Yiddish, or trouble or distress as Merriam-Webster defines it. He’d gone through a divorce and his ex had custody of their child. He had developed a fairly serious illness where his body was fighting against him – almost all the time. And, he battled some other inner demons. Sitting together with him in our group, I had no idea how serious this all was affecting him. Not until one of my best friends, whom he had been living with, came home and found him dead. Like so many things in his life, this man had carefully thought out how we do it, then, he did. I was shocked, sad and on one level glad for him to have ended his pain. I went to his funeral. I don’t really remember if I shed any tears that day. What I do remember is being sad I would no longer see my friend again. I’m not really aware of much in the way of aftermath to me from his suicide. I do know, the man had made a drum to use in the work we do in Warriors. His roommate’s decision was to place this drum in the room where the staff meets during a Warrior weekend. I thought this was appropriate and fully supported the ceremony we put together to commemorate this man. On a subsequent staffing, I found the drum was gone, not in the place of honor we had left it. That, disturbed me. So on yet another staffing, when I found the drum back, my fear, anger and sadness all came into play such that I removed the drum to give it a place in my home. It sits there today. I asked for and received the blessing of my friend, this man’s roommate, to do so. I often think about this man, this friend, and I miss him. I understand and accept his choice, but there is a hole inside me for him. If I were to use one feeling word about this suicide, it would be sad. I’m sad, Jim, I miss you.

The second time I was impacted by suicide was five years later in late 2011. This, too, was a shock – but not as much as the first as that was totally unexpected. At least a few years before, this second man had called me, either very late at night or early in the morning depending on your perspective, to ask me to come to his house. He said he had been out with a bicycle in traffic and had been suicidal. Of course, I got dressed and went over to his place as quickly as I could. Once there, I found him, his wife and another close friend of his and mine there. We talked. Drank coffee. Decided it would be best for the man if he checked into the hospital psychiatric ward, at least overnight, to get a professional evaluation of his state of mind. We drove him to the hospital. When we left, we were convinced the right decision had been made. Ultimately, the man left without ever having checked in. I was sad, and scared, but I also was able to trust he knew what was best for him. Men who knew him, kept watchful eyes on him, and I have to admit, he seemed OK. Better. Not so troubled. I relaxed. This man was also a Warrior. I staffed a few times with him after this event. During two of those staffings, there is a time on Saturday evening when a ritual elder asks men of the staff to bless another man if he feels so compelled. Twice, this man came to offer a blessing to me, done through the cleansing of the man being blessed with a scented, warm wash cloth. Both times he looked directly at me and said, “I owe you my life. You saved me.” I cried hard, both times. It was difficult for me to accept the blessing of another man. I thought I had done what any reasonable person would do, so why should I be blessed for that? It’s part of that “Not good enough” shadow I carry. Then, in 2011 I received another phone call. My friend had accomplished what he’d set out to do several years before. He took his own life. I was shocked, again. I was sad, again. I was angry. This time, he hadn’t called and asked for help, he just ended his life. I went to a tribute for him, and I spoke about him, his life and what he’d meant to me. So did many others. I don’t remember going to his funeral, or if there was a funeral.

This second man had been responsible for an annual sort of picnic in our community. He was from Louisiana and he was the cook for our annual crawfish boil. He was very good at it. He enjoyed it. And, dare I say, many came because they enjoyed the food – and the man who prepared it. A decision was made to continue the tradition and to name it after him. I’ve been angry about that for the last several years. While I don’t think it’s a sin to end your own life, I didn’t think it was correct to name an event for a man who had committed suicide. As I’ve said, at every new annual occurrence, I became angry, and confused, when I saw his name attached to the event. How dare someone honor a man who had taken his own life by commemorating the event with his name. How dare they!

It wasn’t until the most recent suicide, that of Robin Williams, I allowed myself the gift of looking behind what was driving this anger in me about the second man. I never balked at any of the tributes bestowed upon Mr. Williams. Not once. So what was driving this anger about my friend? It was my old pal/nemesis, sadness. I was sad the second man hadn’t reached out to me a second time. I was sad he had chosen what, in my judgment, was a terrible way to die. I was sad he would never prepare the crawfish at our annual gathering again. I was sad I wouldn’t get a chance to tell him I thought he was a good man. A good father. A man who brought blessing to others. I was sad. And, I had covered it up the way I’ve covered sadness before in my life – I camouflaged it with anger. I felt a big weight lifted from me with that realization. I’m good, no great, with the idea we as a community, have an annual event with this man’s name associated with an event he began. I bless you, Raymond, for the joy you brought to so many others, but mostly, I bless you for the joy and blessings you brought to me. I hope you are at peace. That is my blessing for you, this day, my friend.

The Last Salute
© Donny Hornstein

I think it’s so important for me to remember all the persons who’ve somehow touched my life. As a Jew, I was taught, “We Shall Never Forget” about the Holocaust. While that may well apply to the way in which the Jewish people were annihilated by the Nazis, it also means to not forget the six million who were lost. In my mind, it’s one of the reasons Yom HaShoah, or the Holocaust Remembrance Day came into being. Whether it’s six million or just a handful, the memories will be forever embedded in my soul. I shall not forget.

How Am I Changing?: It’s incredibly important for me to feel the pain of loss and more especially the sadness of loss. To camouflage that pain, serves no one, least of all me.

Looking Inside For The Answers

I’m struggling internally with something.

There’s a man who’s a good friend of one of my best friends. I don’t really know this man very well at all. I’ve maybe had one meal with the guy…ever. I’ve never spent any real social time with him. I couldn’t tell you things he likes or what’s important in life to him. I know him because we belong to the same men’s organization. He has cancer.

Lately, my friend has been including me on an email of about four others because the man  has not been doing well. What I believe is my friend sees me as someone who is compassionate. And, usually I am. And, there’s the struggle.

I just don’t feel compelled to spend any time with this man. I don’t know him. OK, I know who he is, but I don’t really know him. If I found out he had died, I wouldn’t be sad. I wouldn’t go to his funeral. This is someone I would classify as an acquaintance, not a friend, and a distant acquaintance at best. Yet, my friend, the one I would go to any lengths to help if he were in need, has included me on this very short list. My opinion and my fear is by not spending time with this other man, I’m disappointing my friend. While that’s not something I want to do, I also feel I wouldn’t be true to myself by spending time with his other friend. Would I spend time with my friend under other circumstances? Absolutely! It’s purely and simply not wanting to take time out of my day to spend with the other guy. I’ll come right out and say those feelings come from a selfish place. In the last 13 years, I’ve been in the hospital four times. Three of those were when I had heart catheterizations. The last time was when I had my cervical discectomy. I never heard anything from this man. Not a “Hey, how ya doin’?” Not a “Get well soon.” Not a “How are you recuperating?” I don’t feel compelled to reach out to him any more than I believe he felt compelled to reach out to me. Yes, selfish. Yes, resentful. I’m just another traveler on the same road.

I wonder if my friend is in need of my company while his friend is dying. That’s an awareness I’m coming to grips with as I write. I also believe that’s why I’m in this battle with myself. It’s all about how I should or should not be spending time comforting my friend. Can I comfort my friend without providing an appearance at his friend’s bedside? I believe I can. What I want and have wanted to do is to have a conversation with my friend about all this. He’s a very intelligent man. My belief is by being truthful with him, I am also being truthful with myself, and he will understand my position.

What if he did ask me to spend time with the other guy on his behalf? Honestly, I don’t ever seeing him doing this. Yet, in my mind, without his ever having said so, I’ve invented this exact conversation. So what would I do? If he asked for that, I wouldn’t have any hesitation in doing it. Because, he’s my friend. Not the other guy. And, I’ve said that enough times here, to realize there’s a part of me wanting to be a better, more caring human being. That’s really who I am. How I see myself. The struggle isn’t really about my friend; the struggle isn’t about spending or not spending time with this other guy, the struggle is about how I see myself. I don’t want to be this selfish, resentful me. That’s a part of my past that kept me alive at some point. It’s not who I am today.

What, then am I willing to do? For me. Not for anybody else.

I’m willing to own I have a friend who cares enough about me to include me in something special to him. I’m willing to own if he sends me another email, I’ll go. Not for the man with cancer. Not for my friend. For me. Because it’s what I want others to do for me when I’m in that place. It’s the right thing to do, because ultimately the reward is what I give to myself.

There’s a big take-away from this for me. When I wrestle with something, it’s almost always going to be about me. Not my friend. Not his friend. Me. If the battle is internal, that’s where the answer will be as well. There will likely be many more times in my life when I think otherwise. It’s the way I fool myself into believing there are other reasons for my struggles. In the end, if I look hard enough and deep enough, I’ll find the truth. And really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Consolation
Photo Illustration © Donny Hornstein

How Am I Changing? I’m willing to look inside for the answers.

Isn’t It About Time Folks Like Boehner Found Someone Else To Blame?

I am so sick of all the Obama bashing, starting with the second term campaign through today.

During the campaign, I actually lost a friend who would not agree to stop sending me his Obama bashing emails. I pleaded with him several times, simply requesting he stop sending me his propaganda, my word, about Obama. This was his reply: “I’m sorry you don’t have a desire for truth (other than the truth according to Donnie (sic)). If you choose to drown in ignorance, I will not cast you a line. (Actually, I would, because that’s the way I am…” And, even though he declared this would be his last email on the subject he continued. Ultimately, I chose to disallow his email address (yes, that’s possible) from reaching me. I’ve never heard from him again. Not even after the election. I just have a difficult time believing a friend would choose to continue flooding (my word, again) me with his bullshit than accept my request to stop. The Universe always comes around in whatever way is best for the individual. I’m accepting in this case, the best for me was to allow the friendship to dissipate.

I continue to see on Facebook and other social media venues folks I know and otherwise like, bashing the President over many of his decisions. Many times, those decisions have held up on closer scrutiny.

For months and months folks in the media and elsewhere continued their speculations and to insist the Obama Administration was responsible for gross misconduct regarding Benghazi. On August 4, 2014 the House Intelligence committee cleared the Obama administration of any wrong doing. “Just so we’re clear, this is a Repuplican-led committee with GOP members outnumbering Democrats, 12 to 9.” See: http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/yet-another-setback-benghazi-conspiracy-theorists-0

Of course, after the Benghazi situation, there was the Bergdahl affair. All the naysayers were up in arms over the President’s actions of freeing prisoners in return for Bergdahl’s release. One of the better pieces I read in that regard says: “And Bergdahl has neither admitted his guilt nor proclaimed his innocence as yet. There’s been no Article 32 hearing, no trial, no court-martial. The military and the intelligence agencies haven’t even begun his debriefing. All we know for certain is that an American soldier was taken captive by the enemy, held for years, and returned as part of a prisoner exchange. That’s it. That’s what we know. We don’t know what events led to his capture, not all of them, not yet. We don’t know the details of his captivity. We don’t know the particulars of his release beyond the broad details that have been published in the press.”  From the same article: “Last time I checked, the punishment specified for violation of UCMJ Article 85 (or Article 86 depending on Bergdahl’s intentions) isn’t to throw him to our enemies!” See this article: http://aattp.org/negotiating-with-terrorists-bowe-bergdahl/

Need more proof of President Obama’s successes while in office? How about an increase in jobs since he took office? Gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can see it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobs_created_during_U.S._presidential_terms

How about changes in the stock market under our last several Presidents:

  1. President Ronald Regan: “Equities climbed 54 percent during his terms in office.”
  2. President George Herbert Walker Bush: “…equities still managed to climb nearly 30 percent during his term…”
  3. President Bill Clinton: “Equities climbed nearly 150 percent during the Clinton Administration.”
  4. President George W. Bush: “Equities fell 46 percent during the Bush Administration, largely thanks to the financial crisis.”
  5. President Barack Obama: “Through the beginning of August, equities have climbed about 78 percent.”Read more: http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/presidential-stock-market-scorecards-reagan-to-obama.html/?a=viewall#ixzz3AprTEQJN
IMG_0007
© Donny Hornstein

Will someone then please explain to me, like I’m three-years-old, so I can understand, why this irrational behavior by the Republicans and Tea Party continues?

Here’s what I make up about this. Many of the folks who continue bashing Obama, whether it’s someone like John Boehner, Ted Cruz or just someone I know on Facebook, are really closet racists. Read that again. Pay attention to me saying it’s just my opinion. I often wonder if someone Jewish, like Joe Lieberman, or a woman such as Hillary Clinton were to get elected if the bashing would be just as widespread is it is with Mr. Obama. In all honesty, I don’t know; but it is sad to believe it would be.

Have we as a society grown no further than to believe if a minority person enters the White House he or she is open to any and all public ridicule? Have we actually lost all respect for the position of President?

I have to admit, it’s been a cultural shock, not insurmountable, but nonetheless a shock, to see the First Lady reading an award on the Academy Awards. Or see a cameo of the President in a commercial feature film. The times they are a changin’. However, even with that  my judgment is the folks who refuse to give Obama an even break should look in the mirror and ask why they feel so compelled to continue bashing the man. Please.

If you intend to comment on this post, and I encourage you to do so, please, please do your research to back your statements. Post links, not from opinionated blogs, but from real news sources to back your position. If you don’t it’s just more fodder to add to the pile.

How Am I Changing: Sometimes I want to give a voice to my reactions over things which continue to annoy me. This is one of those sometimes.

Tears from I don’t know where

This morning, I had something happen which has happened before. It always catches me off-guard. I started crying seemingly out of nowhere.

It really wasn’t out of nowhere. I’d heard a story on NPR’s StoryCorps. It’s called, “After A Traffic Stop, Teen Was ‘Almost Another Dead Black Male.’ Have a listen (warning, there is some graphic depiction & language):

After hearing this, I teared up, well aware of the sadness I was feeling, but didn’t start crying. My judgment about this is the sadness was not only for the young man assaulted, but that he was discussing it with his mother who happens to be white. She says, “I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn’t matter. I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you.”

What happened next to me, was what caught me unawares.

I walked into a room where my cats have a tendency to puke a lot. Sure enough, one of them had. I have two cats and one of them is very vocal. I’ve had to work hard to remind myself often while living with this guy, “He’s just being a cat.” I have to admit, sometimes when he starts his vocalizing and doesn’t quit, I want to run away and hide. This time, though, as I’m on my hands & knees cleaning up the mess, listening to Moochie being Moochie, I was overwhelmed. It must have been triggered initially by the story, above, but I just started crying – uncontrollably. As I’ve said, this has happened before, and each time it just catches me in a way I hardly expected. It ended almost as quickly as it began.

Now, let’s take into account what’s going on in the world right now. There’s the shooting of an 18-year-old African American male in Ferguson, MO. Honestly, this hadn’t impacted me in any particular way. Not until I heard about the Missouri State Trooper who’s taken over governance of the situation. His walking with the protestors, getting all the militarism out of it, gives me hope for authority in our country. (Yes, yes, I’ve been bucking authority ever since I can remember. So this was a really good thing for me to learn about.) More directly affecting me has been the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. This seems to have taken a huge segment of our society not only by surprise, but where there is a tremendous grieving over this loss of a man. Me, included.

It’s an odd thing, really. I never met the man or saw him live. Yet, there is this profound sense of loss. I wasn’t a fan of the latest show, ‘The Crazy Ones,’ but I have seen and enjoyed many of the movies Williams was in. So, why is it I’m in this funk about his death?

Way back, when I was a photojournalist, I made this photo:

IMG_0003
© Donny Hornstein

 

The woman in the middle had just arrived on a tragic accident. Her son and two other boys were killed by an unseen train. The boys had been waiting for a west bound train to clear and when it did, they darted across the tracks, not knowing an eastbound train was right behind. The medical examiner had just pulled back the sheet for her to identify her son. The photo was made with a fairly long lens, from a decent distance away.

This picture ran front page on the paper I was working for in Iowa. The morning it ran, the newspaper was trashed by other local media and readers calling in about. It created quite a stir. The accusations ranged from ‘will do anything to sell more papers’ to much worse. It was the morning after that which tied everything together. One of the newspaper’s opinion editorial (OpEd) writers did a great piece on the reaction. He essentially said he understood the reactions AND there was nothing like a shared community tragedy to cause the community to come together. If the photo caused one parent to have a talk with one child about the caution necessary when crossing a dangerous place like railroad tracks, it was worth all the bad mouthing the paper received for publishing it. At the time, it was one of the most eloquent pieces I’d ever read in OpEd.

I suppose that’s the situation with the Robin Williams tragedy. There’s nothing like a shared community event, however small or large, to bring so many of us together. I know I’m not alone in my sadness. Several days later, it’s still a high point on the news and in social media. I’m astounded. And not.

I think when I don’t grieve outright, that grief will find another route to come out. It seems like that’s what happened today. Hearing the story from both the young man and his mother on NPR, and then having a crying cat, just triggered the grief in me wanting to come out. So, it did.

Another life lesson for me. Grief, like so many other things in life will find a way. If it’s not addressed head-on, it will find the path of least resistance and just ooze out – like a crying cat while cleaning up puke.

How Am I Changing: Lessons I’ve thought I’ve learned will come around again if the Universe senses otherwise.

Don’t think of all the misery. Be aware of the beauty and joy as well.

The title of this blog is a play on something Anne Frank said. Her quote is, “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

I’m thinking about what I write about. It reminds me of the personal work I’ve done during the last 13 years. I’ve done writing about anger. Writing about fear. Some writing about sadness. So I asked myself, “Where’s the joy?” Certainly there are persons, places, ideas, events and so on bringing joy to my life. Why don’t I write more about that?

It’s kinda funny – as in ironic, actually. As I finished that first paragraph, I started thinking about some of the events which brought sadness into my life. Be gone sadness, anger and fear, today, is about joy, and by gosh, that’s what I’m going to write about.

So, what are some of the things I’m joyful about, anyway? I’m so happy to say I have a wonderful relationship with my older brother, his wife and their kids. I know so many persons who have horrible, even non-existent relationships with their siblings. I cringe each and every time I hear about it. My brother and sister-in-law, (she’s really my sister from another Mother) are examples for me of how two persons can survive and thrive together for many years. This December, they will have been married for 44 years! I have a cousin and a dear friend, both gay, who’ve been in long term relationships as well. It brings me so much joy to see couples who’ve made the commitment and stuck to it.

I’m also joyful about my niece and nephew. My niece, well, she was the first baby I ever held. I was tricked into it. Have you seen the recent commercial where a gal is holding a baby, she has to go do something, so she turns to her brother-in-law and hands the baby off? Later she comes back and says she can take the baby back. He replies, “I got this.” That’s just about what happened with me. Only that wonderful brother and sister I’ve been talking about connived together to make it happen. I got this. I was the only member of the family for quite a while who could rock that little girl to sleep (cold hands, warm heart.) That little girl, by the way, turns 40 this year. Oy!

My nephew, now that’s a whole other story. I know there’s a cruel, mean part of me. My nephew got some of that as a youngster. He would run and hide when I would tease him, so I would tease him more. At some point, the part of me that is loving and caring stepped in. Then, we became really good friends. Today, we talk quite often. He’s a bit of a geek, so we can talk about geeky things such as computers and smartphones. I even, <cough> learn stuff from him sometimes <cough>. I’m so grateful for him and his wife as part of my life. They are just a joy to be around.

Friends.

“I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.”
–Charles R. Swindoll

What Mr. Swindoll says pretty much sums up the happiness I derive from friends. In 2014, I have to say if it weren’t for <cough>Facebook<cough>, my life might be a bit emptier. For instance, I have friends on FB from my high school days (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away). For some of them, I bet we didn’t say a hundred words to each other back then. Now, I can’t imagine how we weren’t closer all those years ago. Then, too, there are the folks I’ve known since grade school who are still my friends (you know who you are.) One friend really comes to mind. This is someone I was really close to my second go round in college. Then there was a 25 year absence. Once we reconnected, it was as if no time had passed. I look forward to talking with her regularly. And, if it weren’t for FB, we might not have.

There are also my friends in my ‘real world.’ Not many, but the few who are there, I know I can count on and they know they can count on me. Although I’m a bit of a recluse, it brings me great joy when I spend time with these folks. Great friends….priceless.

Regardless of what else is or isn’t going on in my life, I go to movies. A lot. I’m joyful I get to go to about 60+ movies a year. I tend to like action, shoot ’em up type films. Films like Taken or most of the Marvel movies. But, I also like movies that touch my heart and my soul. Films like Seabiscuit or Begin Again or The Help. I have no hesitation to tell you I cry a lot in movies. Oddly, I don’t like comedies very much. Those goofy films with Adam Sandler or Will Farrell. However, every once in a while, I’m sure someone in the theater is looking around for the odd guy guffawing out loud. That would be me.

I like to travel. I don’t do it enough. And, even though I’ve got status on American Airlines, I often don’t take the time to see a city I’m traveling to for business. Reminds me of a friend. This guy is very high up the food chain for a certain card game. He’s been all over the world playing the game. He’s played with some awesome celebrities. And, yet, the only thing he’s ever seen in many decades of doing this is the ballroom in the hotel where the game is being sponsored. I don’t want to be that guy for the rest of my life. I want to see things like Mount Rushmore, the Taj Mahal, the holy land. Most of all, I want to re-see all the parts of Scotland I rushed through in my youth. And…..wait for it…..I will.

I’ve always loved books. I’ve bought and held unto many. Many, I never read. Don’t get me wrong, there were many I did read; just many more I didn’t. I don’t know why. I know I’m not the only one like this, but ever since the Kindle, I read lots more. On planes. In restaurants. At home. Everywhere. And you know what I’m reading most? Many of the books I bought earlier in my life which I can now read on my Kindle. I’m sure someone has done a study on this, somewhere. Why is reading on an electronic device easier than holding a book in my hands? Turning each page. Hunting for a character introduced earlier in the book I’ve forgotten when he’s re-introduced (that’s one reason I do like my Kindle, it’s so much easier to search than a ‘real’ book.)

I would really be remiss to not say food brings me joy. You know that old expression, “Some eat to live, others live to eat” ? Well, I’m the latter. I L-O-V-E to eat. I’m lucky. I don’t have the current American obesity disease. Probably because I’m also very OCD or ADD or ADHD (ask my ex, she can tell you which one is the true Donny) But, I’ll freely admit, given my druthers, I’d eat like Michael Phelps in training. Imagine! 12,000 calories a day! Wow! (Of course that assumes one is burning 10,000 calories a day in workouts.)

Lastly, as a tag on to my little rant on eating, let me say I’m joyful for my health. I’m six years older than my Mother was (of course, her death was not natural). And, while I’ve had a couple of big fixes, three angioplasties and a three-level cervical discectomy, I’m really pretty healthy. I work out. I would also agree with one of my teachers: Tai Chi saved my life. Learning to slow down, breathe and take an hour to figure out nothing else but where my hands and feet are has been one of the great joys of my life.

(I’m saying this next thing as much to me, more, than you, the reader.) Take the time to be aware of the joys in your life. Cherish them. Get rid of the stuff which brings you no joy. The effort for both is, for me, clearly the same. Give me more joy.

How Am I Changing: I’m looking at all the emotions in my life. Please remind me when I stay on one too long.

 

What to do when things look tough

This has been a tough year.

Since November of 2012, I’d been suffering with a loss of feeling in my hands. Typing was almost impossible and dictation software, well, I was correcting more mistakes with my hunting & pecking than I was getting right. I was losing strength. I was dropping stuff. It was really making me crazier than I am naturally.

For a year and a half, I saw my internist, who prescribed meds, then sent me to have an electromyleogram done. Lots of black & blue and his conclusion was carpal tunnel syndrome. Following the EMG doc’s advice, I saw a hand surgeon who did carpal tunnel release surgery on my right hand. Of course, $2,500 later, it was worthless. I mean not even 1% improvement. Back to the internist (it’s now December of 2013) who finally sends me to a neurologist. Finally, I get diagnosed (after an MRI) with degenerating cervical discs in my neck. Nice, not!

In between times during this segment of my life I saw an acupuncturist, a chiropractor and a physical therapist. But, it’s the neurologist who leads me to a neurosurgeon. He tells me I’ve got severe degeneration and really need to have surgery to get this fixed.

Now, I’m OK with the surgery, but the last time something like this happened was in 2001. I was working for IBM. I needed an angioplasty. Had it. But, after two months in post-cardio rehab and a second angioplasty, IBM put me in a group of 1,500 and laid me off. So, when the talk of a three-level cervical discectomy came up, I was a little gun-shy about talking to my present employer.

In late March of this year, 2014, I told my boss I was going to need the surgery. A couple of weeks later, he told me to go forward with it. A week or two after that, he calls me one morning, Good Friday to be exact, and tells me my employer is terminating my position. Now, to be fair, I’d been working for this company for about seven months and my utilization (I’m a mobile employee who gets billed out) was nearly almost nothing. Nonetheless, when he told me my job was being eliminated, I went dead silent. Now, anyone who knows me well will tell you that doesn’t happen very often.

Let’s start with some good news. Had the surgery the last week in April and almost immediately things began to improve with my hands. That, was a miracle I am grateful for.

Now, the bad news: After a week of medical leave and two weeks of vacation, my employer stopped paying me. I mean nothing. And that’s how it is now in early August. I’ve watched my bank account dwindle. I’m getting that old fearful, nervous feeling about money again. Hence the title of this writing: “What to do when things look tough”

Well, there’s always when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And, to be honest, I’m trying. But, I’m not hitting 500 balls a day yet. I’m scouring the web for jobs, I’m trying new things I can do from home but so far, not much has been happening.

If you’ve followed this blog for a bit, you’ll know fear is a primary response of mine and I can feel it grabbing for me right now. It’s kind of like being Harry Potter and feeling the dementors circling. (Where’s my patronus when I need it?)

When I first learned of my pending unemployment, I thought, “OK, one door closes, five doors open.” Perhaps that was too grandiose. Perhaps while my mouth was saying that, my brain and everything else was telling the Universe, “Really, how about if one door closes and another one opens…sometime, but maybe not as soon as you’d like.” Now, that seems real to me.

So, what do I do when things start looking grim? I keep my spirits up. I write. I keep searching for something to make all this change. It will.

And, (I would have used but, and realize that effing word negates everything in front of it) why do I keep falling back on the same old responses? Why fear? Why negativity? Because, they’re comfortable; like an old worn blanket. And, (this time I mean and) I believe it’s time to get a new blanket.

When fear becomes my dominant re-action, that’s what I do. Become afraid. Play dead. Curl up in a ball and do nothing. And what does that buy me? Exactly, nothing! It’s time to put the kettle on the stove, boil the water and make some damn fine tea! With honey!

George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I think oftentimes that’s true. I don’t remember how fear leads to a void where nothing happens which is positive, so when faced with a choice, fear often wins out. The result is the same as it has been the last umpteen million times I’ve made that choice before. Nothing positive. It’s comfortable, therefore it’s still a choice available. What has to happen so that choice is no longer the ‘winning’ choice? I believe it’s the same thing which allowed me to put anger in it’s place. For a very long period of my life, I often chose to be angry about something. After many years of looking at that choice, I realized it wasn’t really anger I was choosing, it was avoiding sadness or fear. And believe me when I say it wasn’t a macho thing I’d learned as a little boy. It was anger was OK (my Dad could be a very angry man) and fear and sadness hurt. When I accepted the fear or sadness or both, the number of times I actually became angry diminished considerably.

Now, the time has come to put fear in its place. This is what the tough do when the going gets rough. Not necessarily get going, although that may be the right choice in certain circumstances, but find the courage to move forward. Like a shark. Not attempting to fall back on the comfort zone of fear. So, it’s about recognizing the fear, thanking it for all the times in the past it has helped me, then asking it to move aside to let my new friend courage drive the train. I don’t think it’s about trying to banish fear; just use it when it’s productive, not when it’s comfortable.

How Am I Changing: I’m willing to look at the things keeping me stuck; I’m willing to take small steps to move around them. Hopefully, many of those small steps will move me along on my journey to my final destination. And for me, that looks like being the best me I can be. Today, tomorrow and for the rest of my life.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure

(Ed. note: I finished this more than a year ago. Why I continued to not publish it, I’m not clear on (see the part on “not good enough.”) )

Goal missed. Being kind to myself, priceless.

A little more than a year ago, I said I would write three posts in the next two months. I failed to keep that commitment to myself and to you, the reader. I have a couple of choices. I can beat the snot out of myself for missing my goal, or I can be kind to myself, admit I’m human with all the warts and freckles, and move on. I’m choosing the latter.

A question I’m asking myself right now is what was more important to me than keeping my promise to write? The simple answer is I’m a procrastinator. And, I’m lazy. While I’d rather be busy than sitting around doing nothing, that’s exactly what I chose: Do nothing.

There still is a part of me who thinks, no one will read this. No one really cares. But, taking the elevator down one more level, the answer is still: I’m not good enough. As I examine my life, I know that’s a worn out fable. Not true. Absolute lie. So, what’s the payoff to me to keep holding on to it?

By continuing to draw on that very old excuse, I get to stay small. Invisible. “As I was walking up the stairs, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish that he would go away.” (From the film, Identity) I also remember a quote often attributed to Nelson Mandela, but which really comes from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Who are you not to be?

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking, so that others won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us: it’s in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

My desire here is to liberate myself from the fear. To manifest my greatness in all the glory I was meant to share on this planet. And yet, knowing this, there is still an undercurrent of fear which often shows up in my life. Play small. Stay in the darkness. Why? Because if I let my light truly shine, my arrogance might overwhelm me. I might become a real braggart. I might get to the point where even I don’t like me. What may also be true, is I might become more humble. I might like myself even more. I might banish the “I’m not good enough” to a place where I am able to acknowledge that part of me, but realize it’s an old story which simply isn’t true any longer. I might, I might, I might.

Where do I go from here? That’s such a powerful question. Not only does it apply to my writing, this writing,  but it’s a question I really want to look at daily. Where do I go from here? What’s the next step? Where am I going with the time I have left on planet Earth? Who do I want to travel with? How do I want others to see me? How do I really want to see myself? How do I want to be remembered when I’m gone? So many questions. Alright, I’ll do my best to answer some of them.

I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference. Sometimes, that difference might be about work. More often, it will be about how I made a difference in my own and other’s lives. Will I bless others and will I allow myself to be blessed? Not just on the surface, but deep down in my very core. Imagine, I ask myself, how would life be different when I live a life of purpose? Will those around me see me? More importantly, will I allow me to see myself? I’ve done that to a degree over the last 13 years. Perhaps, now, today, it’s time to ramp that up a little more. Be bigger. Be bolder. Be as magnificent as heaven intended. I want to make a difference.

I want to see myself as a man of integrity. When I make a commitment to do something, I  do it. No excuses for why I didn’t do it. Just get it done as said. I’m usually pretty good at this. I falter. I’m not a saint. Yet, some of the simplest things, like writing three times in two months, sometimes present the biggest stumbling blocks. Why is that? Why is it easier sometimes to do the harder things and the easier things present the greatest challenges? All good questions to struggle with moving forward. Like a shark; move forward, or die.

I want others to see me as a good teacher and a better student. I’ve always been the latter. Only recently began working on the former. I’ve had great role models from which to learn. Persons who lead workshops. Persons who teach kids. Persons who run successful businesses. All these persons I’ve either studied or been allowed to learn from. All great teachers in their own right. Seeing the light turn on for a student is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.

To be seen as someone who cares about others. And to be seen as authentic. No BS. Telling it like it is; with compassion. I had a great lesson in this recently. A man I know and was spending a weekend with, along with more than 40 others, was just triggering the anger in me over and over. He also triggered another friend of mine. I would have been like a gunfighter of old. “Let’s meet in the street at noon and have a gunfight.” What I saw my friend do was to approach the man creating the trigger with compassion. I was in awe. What I hope for myself is to have learned something about the compassionate way the man was approached. If I am able to do this part of my life better, what a more fulfilling life I will have for myself!  (Unfortunately, the guy creating the trigger continued throughout the weekend to behave exactly the same and nothing ultimately was resolved.)

So, in the end, as I publish this, finally, I’m recounting Nelson Mandela’s words: powerful beyond measure. While today has been a sad day, it is the day after Robin Williams’ alleged suicide, I’m choosing, at this moment to think about how powerful his life was and how lucky I was to be witness to some of it. Not his private moments, but his public ones. The moments when seeing him on screen I thought, “What a great talent.” There must have also been great pain there, too. I can only hope his choice was powerful beyond measure for him. For me, it’s just a day to grieve.

How Am I Changing: I can choose to let my imperfections show; the writing doesn’t always have to be perfect, the relationships don’t always have to be the way I want. And, it’s OK to grieve publicly.

What about you? Is there something you want to change? How about finding something small to start? It’s just an idea.

 

Hit Five Hundred Balls Until Your Hands Bleed….

It’s been four months since I wrote anything for this blog. Four months.

When I ask myself “Why?” and am really honest with myself, it’s because I have lofty goals for this blog. I want one million readers. And I haven’t been willing to do the work necessary to make that happen. Hence, the title of this blog.

It comes from a story about Gary Player, the golfer.  “Many years ago the legendary golf pro Gary Player was hitting balls off the practice tee one morning, and the first ball he hit went 280 yards straight as a bullet.  A guy in the gallery just within earshot said, ‘Man, I’d give anything to be able to hit a golf ball like you.’  Gary walked over to the guy and said, ‘No, you wouldn’t.’  The guy said, ‘Yes, I would.  I’d give anything to hit like that,’  Gary said, ‘No, you wouldn’t.  You wouldn’t be willing to do what it takes.  You have to rise early in the morning and hit five hundred balls until your hands bleed.  Then you stop, tape your hands, and hit five hundred more balls.  The next morning you’re out there again with hands so raw you can barely hold your club, but you do it all over again.  If you do that through enough years of pain, then you can hit a ball like that.’  Player won more than 160 professional golf tournaments and is a member of “the big three” — along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer — who dominated golf through the 1960’s and 1970’s” (Bob Merritt, 7 Simple Choices for a Better Tomorrow, p. 136).

I haven’t been willing to hit enough balls to hit like Mr. Player. What I mean is, I haven’t written every day as I originally thought I would. After about five months of writing sporadically, the blog had fewer than a dozen followers. I got discouraged. I gave up. I thought, “This (blog) really isn’t going to go anywhere. No one really cares about what I’m writing.” And, this was pure BS. There were a handful of persons who ARE interested in me and this blog to read each post as it has come out. The problem is, I wasn’t doing enough to grow the village to raise the child.

I made up stories. I saw a friend writing her blog about a personal tragedy in her life. She has more than 500 followers on her blog. What I didn’t think to research, is how much she’s done on other blogs she has. She’s been hitting five hundred balls for some time. So have many others I’ve met in such places as Triberr.

There have been other times in my life where I’ve had lofty expectations, only to let reality teach me otherwise.

I remember when I went back to the University of Missouri to go through the Photojournalism program, I thought I knew it all. Cocky as all get out. Fortunately, I had a wonderful teacher in Angus McDougal. He was one of several professors who showed me what I didn’t know. It was an incredibly humbling experience. When I got to the premier course at Mizzou at that time, called, of all things, Photojournalism, Mr. McDougal taught the art of picture stories. How to tell a story through the use of photos, with the text of the story to elaborate the pictures. I had a pretty difficult time at first grasping this. To the point that one day, I walked into his office and told him I was going to quit the program. I think he was truly astonished.

McDougal sat me down and closed his door. We reminisced a bit about the past. Only a year or two before, I had been that cocky SOB who knew everything. He told me I had talent, I just need to be patient and nurse it. He could have accepted my resignation and laughed. He didn’t. He said with hard work and dedication, I’d make it. He gave me back my dignity and a reason to stick with the program. I did. I went on to have an ‘interesting’ career as a photojournalist. I made some really good picture stories at the papers I worked for. Problem was the cocky SOB was still running the show. I wasn’t a very good employee and got what many with the cockiness get – fired. But, I digress, that’s another story.

I want this blog to be successful. I don’t know if I’m willing to hit five hundred balls until my hands bleed. I want that, but I’m not sure I’m motivated enough to make it happen. As I’m writing this, I want to make a commitment to write a certain number of posts in a given time period. I’m scared to do that. I’m scared about a lot of things in my life. Fear has always played a dominant role in how I live. In some areas, I’m less afraid than I used to be. In other areas, fear still runs the show.

So, to the question at hand: I’m committing to writing three posts in the next two months. That’s not so hard. It felt good to say. Small steps. I see too many around me try to conquer their fear overnight. Including me. It didn’t develop overnight. Why try to battle it to the death overnight? Perhaps after I reach that goal, I’ll have the courage to take on a bigger goal. And then, a bigger goal after that. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get a million readers. And, if I don’t, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means I have to continue hitting more balls until I get the results I want.

What about you? What goals are you telling yourself you can’t/won’t do because……  Are you willing to make a small commitment to yourself to take a baby step. I hope so. I’d like the company.

How Am I Changing: I’m willing to own my fears and take small steps to get past them.