Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanks-grieving



 
The other week when my children found out that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was going to be a “Daddy Day,” they erupted in cheers, giggles and lots of dancing.

No school, no day camps – just Daddy time. 

Over the past few years during their Thanksgiving, Christmas or Summer Break from school, we’ve been lucky enough to share a few days like these together.

There’s nothing magical that I do during these “Daddy Days” but perhaps that’s part of the charm.  I find plans and schedules a bit tedious; rather, I prefer to just let the day “speak to us.”

Whatever strikes in the moment is usually the inspiration for the day.  Sometimes, it’s been a day-long adventure to new locations and other times it’s just a casual day at home, playing cards or various board games.

To be clear, I’m a parent of two young kiddos – so some planning is involved.  But I’d prefer to call it research.  I’ll read about a new town, museum or attraction and make mental notes about possible ideas or destinations.  I’ll consider the weather, my health, energy level and/or any other logistical considerations.

And then when the morning of “Daddy Day” arrives, I just go with what feels right.

My children’s moment of jubilation was what originally inspired me to write this story.  I wanted to talk about how blessed I am – yes, having MS sucks – but it has also opened doors to magical moments in my life that probably wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

It seemed easy enough to write.  I’ve had similar “Silver Linings of Having MS” themes in others stories I’ve written, too.

The only problem is, something just didn’t feel right.  And, much like my “Daddy Days,” I’m going to let the day – or in this case, my story – “speak to me.”

It’s hard for me to write about what I’m thankful for this holiday season when all I really want is to see my Mom again. 

The final few years of her life was filled with chemo treatments, surgeries and trips to the emergency room.  It was hard watching all that she endured so when she died last September – as heartbroken as I was – I was also relieved that she was no longer in pain.

But her passing also created an emptiness that’s impossible to fill.  I miss my Mom.

Last November, the world lost another angel, when my good friend Adam Wight died suddenly at the age of 38.

Like me, he married way up to his beautiful bride, Jill, and also like me was blessed to be raising two young kiddos.

It’s hard for me to write about what I’m thankful for this holiday season when I’m still struggling to understand how somebody like Adam could be taken so suddenly from us, his wife and his two young children.

This past year, it’s been difficult for me to write.  My struggles with MS just seem so miniscule compared to the emptiness created by my Mom’s passing and the heartbreak of Adam’s sudden death.

Something feels off writing about my struggles with blurred vision or vertigo when I won’t have my Mom to read or comment on my story.  Or explaining the daily pain associated with MS seems trite when I think about the kind of pain that Adam’s wife, children, family and friends have endured since last November.

This holiday season I’m thankful to have been the son of Frances Mary Basile Wentink and good friend of Adam James Wight.

I’m thankful for every moment I shared with them.  I just wish I had more.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Backing In - Part II

As a result of my uninspired performance in high school, I had very few exemplary academic achievements.  In my sophomore year, I did take a standardized Accounting test and scored among the highest in our school district.  It was as much a surprise to my teacher as it was to me!

Performing so well on that test was a pivotal moment in my life because it is what prompted me to study Accounting at Virginia Tech.   

My undergraduate degree led me into the world of Corporate Tax at Capital One – where, after meeting my wife - the next chapter of my life began. 

However, not long ago, a memory of my senior year of high school popped into my head.  No, not of sleeping in class or frantically finishing a book report the night before it was due; but rather, I recalled another surprising moment from Government class.

It was during one of our first writing assignments:  “What Does Government Mean to You?”  Can’t say I remember what I wrote – although I do recall having a great time doing it – but it was the reaction of my teacher that shocked me.

He asked to speak with me as class was ending…I still remember the snickers from my classmates who thought I had gotten into trouble (I figured I was, too!)  Instead, my teacher told me he thought my paper was one of the best things he’s read in a really long time and that I should be in his Advanced Placement (AP) class – all just based on what I had written.

Although I was surprised and grateful, I was also just 16 years old – so it mostly went in one ear and out the other….and nothing more came of this moment.

During this past summer, a good high school friend of mine asked if he could share my writing with his students.  He was inspired by my work and wanted to incorporate some of my stories into his lesson plans on how to write with meaning and passion.

Flattered, I agreed.  We communicated through text but eventually this graduated to the lost art of talking on the phone.  It was wonderful to hear from my friend and catch-up about both of our lives. 

During our conversation he referenced our high school days and told me that he was always in awe of my writing.  This was back before cell phones and social media, when writing was a more significant part of our communication.  Whether it was just silly notes between friends or working on a class project together, there were frequent written interactions between us.

My friend, who teaches children every day, including a job at the Kahn Academy, and has also spent time on stage as a comedian, is an extremely talented communicator himself.  So I was stunned to learn that my writing motivated him to become a better writer.

We all have our dream jobs and not many of us get to actually live them.  The examples are numerous:  An aspiring musician who works an office job because he has a young family and bills to pay or the lawyer who’d rather own a bakery but doesn’t want to risk trading a stable job for a failed business.

Working in an office or arguing before a judge isn’t who they are, but for whatever reason, it is the road they’ve found themselves on.  Choices made when they are barely 18 – the college they study at or what field they major in – sends them in a direction that’s opposite of their passion.  But if a genie came along tomorrow and granted them the opportunity to change paths, they would instantly take it.

Everyone understands these types of scenarios, and perhaps a few of you are currently living one. 

But what if I told you there might be something out there for you – a passion or talent - and you don’t even know what it is, yet?

For me, the reality is I wouldn’t have become a writer if I wasn’t diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  I would have never discovered this other part of me that prior teachers had alluded to or friends had admired me for.   It would still be hidden away, lost in the perpetual motion of everyday life.

Living with MS isn’t easy – there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t encounter blurred vision, shooting pains, tingling sensations, numbness, fatigue, etc.  How can something so devastating to my health and personal life also be the inspiration behind who I’ve become today?

To be clear, my writing hasn’t won any Pulitzer’s and I don’t have any books on the New York Times best-seller list.  And I’m my own worst critic so the last thing you’d ever see me doing is overstating the impact or reach of the words that I type.

But I still wonder – is my situation unique?  Or are many of us living our daily lives unaware that we are only scratching the surface of our potential, an undeveloped talent or unknown passion?  

I don’t have the answer to these questions but I think it’s worth it to take a few moments to pause and reflect on it.  While you are taking a moment to smell the proverbial roses, close your eyes and remember who you were…while dreaming about who you can become. 

Let your internal compass lead the way.


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