Carpe Diem

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As an English teacher, I think it’s law that I enjoy Dead Poets Society. And I do, especially Robin William’s character whispering to his students, as if from the other side, “Carpe diem.” Yes, it’s a bit morbid, but in reality, it’s a stark reminder that this life is often impossibly short.

Recently, a man I grew up with passed away suddenly. He was my age with two daughters the same ages as my own. Attending his wake was one of the most difficult things I’ve done recently.  It cut too close to the bone and I was rattled for days by images of the funeral home. 

However, it also shifted my thinking. Today marks the first anniversary of my father-in-law’s death, which was the apex to one of the worst years of my life. Today, my wife is much better than she was a year ago. As are her siblings and her mother and her relatives. As are my own children. I’m all right, too, but with this most recent tragedy, I have again been reminded how fragile life is.

I felt hollow reading comments online about how sad it was for someone so young to be lost. While true, the deeper pain resonated with me. That which his parents will carry, as will his wife, his daughters, and anyone else whose life he touched. And the vastness of what he will miss in life is simply astounding. It is almost too much to consider.

Yet, that’s what I do. Maybe it’s my sensibility as an author, to think of life in terms of stories. But I’m not alone. Viola Davis’s Oscar speech struck a very deep cord with me:

“People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories, the stories of the people who dreamed.”

She continued, “I became an artist, and thank god I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

This is exactly it. To live a life. To seize the day–carpe diem. 

Recently, though, it’s been difficult to feel connected, to feel plugged in, to feel as if there is this great hope of a life lived. Our society is in shambles. I can barely go on any social media site without feeling the pit in my stomach deepen. So I’ve disconnected, pulled back and have only lurked and at times posted on Instagram. Not because I want to ignore, but because I feel myself falling into the precipice of despair.

I don’t want to live hyper-focused on the negative. Trust me, I don’t want to be a hypocrite and ignore it either. Truly, I want to be active in the resistance, but I also want to live a life. Because they get cut short every day, and I still have so much that I want to do and to prove and to understand and to change.

It’s a difficult balance, and I’m not sure I’m succeeding. I am trying. I am still writing. I am waiting to see if and when I will have another book out. I have just begun another project that I feel will be a solid story.  I am thrilled that Moonlight won. I adored that movie. I believe that stories are worth telling, those about change, about fighting for what you love, about being the light in the darkness, about living a life, about seizing the day. Often, in spite of it all. Because so often this world feels hell bent on crushing the spirit.

That simply cannot be. Because it is in remembrance to my father-in-law, Christoper Connelly, and my recently departed friend, Rich Gilooly, and all those who Viola suggests we exhume, that I will continue to push forward, and to share stories that I know will inspire us to be a little braver, a bit more sensitive, and always aware that there are whispers from the other side, to which we should be listening.

Pump Up The Volume

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Last night, I was in my car, and happened to catch one of the local DJs talking about his approach to Facebook amid our new political era. He has turned off political posts in his feed. I don’t know he did that, because, I really don’t use FB that much, but even if I did know, I wouldn’t follow his lead. Yes, like many of you, I have unfriended or stopped being able to see those people who post nothing but political posts, because they are always overly partisan, and not typically grounded in anything that seeks to educate or is based on facts.

However, I use Twitter devoutly. I follow people from all walks of life, who tweet or retweet articles and information that reinforces and challenges my opinions. I think this is good and necessary. Because the advice the DJ was offering is garbage. You must stay informed. Sticking your head in the sand is always a problem, regardless of how your politics lean.

Being blissfully uninformed is not the kind of civic responsibility I want emulated. I’m sure this DJ stays in the loop in other ways, aside from social media, which is VERY smart, but to say that you don’t care what your friends and neighbors and community think, and that you’ll just ignore the world until everything settles down is one hell of an entitled position to hold. Don’t stare at another cat video. Read something.

This entitled thinking is useless for those who cannot escape the realities of the here and now. Some people have been deeply and immediately affected, and others will soon be. To ignore this because it’s “not my problem” is a disservice to the American people. When members of the armed forces show up at airports, stating, “This is not what I put my life on the line for,” I don’t think you can tell people to ignore the issues.

I recently had a conversation with my daughter about disability. In case you are just tuning in, both my youngest daughter and I have type 1 diabetes. We can’t just blissfully ignore our disability, because there is no way to put it on pause, to take a day off, to not be immersed in its issues daily. I’m not thrilled about this, and would love a break, but I’m also a realist, and I believe this is a profound analogy for today. I have to look. I have to read. It is my responsibility as a citizen of this country, as it is my responsibility as a patient. Do the work.

Therefore, if you are on social media, don’t hide from the rhetoric. Pump up the volume. Read. Listen. Engage. Consider both sides and then make your decision. Because if you’re not, if you’re like that DJ just waiting for the storm to pass, shame on you. We are clearly at a turning point in our country, and you should want to be so involved that when it turns, you can say, “I’m glad I had a hand in that.”

And if you’re looking for reputable sources, consider these:

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