Wednesday, February 27, 2013
We were part of a select club who didn't call her Mrs. Coggin or Carolyn or the pastor's wife or even mom. We were the lucky few who called her Gran. To us, there was no equal. She was, in our eyes, perfect. And though we couldn't have articulated it at the time, we knew God had given her the spirit of a thousand angels and the light of a million suns, and no one in heaven or on earth could ever compare.
And that patch of grass at the edge of the driveway silently tells the story why.
Lemonade stands are not an uncommon part of childhood. Children the world over hang their figurative shingle in front yards and peddle their goodies in the hopes of earning a few bucks to spend as they please.
And if the lemonade stand were the end of the story, or even the beginning of the story, it wouldn't be much of a story at all. But it's not. The lemonade stand stood for something far more than just the table and chairs, the posters and quarter priced drink. It stood for us.
Everyone should be so lucky as to experience the welcome that each grandchild felt upon entering my grandparent's house. No matter what chaos our lives might have been on the outside, when we walked through their door, every problem slipped away and every anxiety vanished. For a child to feel that incredible amount of love only by walking through the door is rare. And to feel that love every single time we did, rarer still.
Spending the night at Gran and Granddaddy's was a paradox of fantastic predictability. We knew what to expect every time. And yet it never once grew boring or redundant or stale. It was our old familiar full of new possibilities.
We knew that we would feast like princes and princesses. We knew every morning upon waking to look under our pillow for a surprise. We knew that every night, before sleeping, Gran would present each of us with a handwritten menu for us to check off what we wanted for breakfast. We knew that every single thing we checked off would be waiting for us the next morning. We knew that we could check off every single thing.
We knew that we'd be given one of my grandfather's oversized shirts to sleep in. We knew that we'd be read a bedtime story. We knew that she'd stay in the room with us until we fell asleep. We knew that we'd try and pretend to be asleep until she left the room. We knew we rarely succeeded in doing so.
We knew that if we asked and she could do it, it would get done. We knew when we had done something wrong simply by the look in her eyes. We knew that we wanted nothing more than to please her. We knew that there was no greater joy than making her proud.
It wasn't the lemonade stand on that patch of grass. It was the thousands of lemonade stands that were built on the bedtime stories told, the menus for meals, the oversized shirts. It was the trips taken to ride the train at the zoo, or the tram at the airport, or the log ride at Six Flags. It was the hidden Easter eggs and the kites flown and the sausage and cherries drowning in sweet sauce at Christmas. It was the pineapple sandwiches and ambrosia.
She's 91 years old and still building us lemonade stands. Yesterday, as I left my grandmother's home for the airport, she handed us a sack lunch that she and my mom had prepared. It had a sandwich, cookies, a banana, and some trail mix. "You don't need to pay for snacks on the plane" she said.
Perfect strangers still clamor to meet her when she's out in public, hugging her neck, moved to tears simply to have met her. She's still the humble servant, the meek minister, the matriarch, the queen, gran, and yes, still the lemonade stand builder.
It's been a while since the last lemonade stand. But from this day forward, each time I see that patch of grass, and my mind's eye recalls that distant yesteryear, I’ll be reminded how my Gran built us a thousand lemonade stands each day by the things she did for us, and continues to this day to do for us.
And the lemonade stand always - always- stood for us.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Friday, November 30, 2012
Today, the man that four years ago I had turned over to the care of God with the certainty of his imminent demise, laughed. He laughed so hard that he couldn't stop. The kind of gasp-for-your-breath, belly-ache laugh that is so genuine it makes all other laughter seem counterfeit. In this season of great expectation and anticipation, I am grateful beyond all words for the sound of unadulterated, unrestrained, joyful, hopeful, boundless laughter!
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
So let them wax nostalgic about the supposed “good ‘ole days”. Let them speak of protecting an institution that their actions otherwise mock. Let them attempt to take God hostage as means to their own twisted, selfish ends. It simply does not matter.
We’ve already won. We’ve already won because we live and dwell in truth. And truth, no matter how hard they may try, cannot be amended.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
I started running for one reason and one reason only. To save face.
When Ric was at his worst and could not even feed himself, much less prepare even a simple sandwich, I signed him up for God’s Love We Deliver. For those that don’t know, God’s Love, as their mission statement states, prepares and delivers “nutritious, high-quality meals to people who, because of their illness, are unable to provide or prepare meals for themselves.” They do this at no cost to their clients and they have never…I repeat, never turned an eligible person away. In addition to their meals being amazing, they deliver special “feasts” for holidays, a cake for birthdays, “blizzard kits” for storms when they can’t make a delivery and so much more. They literally saved Ric’s -- and by extension my – life during a time when I didn’t know if either of us would survive.
My gratitude for the work of God’s Love cannot be adequately put into words. The ineffable love I have for this organization is such never to be forgotten. And it was because of that love that I signed up for the 2009 annual Race to Deliver, a four mile fundraising race in Central Park for God’s Love.
Shortly after signing up I began raising a significant amount of money. So much so that I was the lead fundraiser for a race that would end up having 4,768 runners cross the finish line. I realized early on in my fundraising that I was going to have to actually run this thing. After all, my thinking went, what if I was still the lead fundraiser by race day, or even 2nd or 3rd, and I couldn’t complete the four miles? That would be slightly embarrassing!
So I started to train. Having quit smoking three months prior I was certain that, after a couple of weeks of training, I would breezily cross the finish line to the applause of the adoring masses. I was wrong.
My first day of training netted less than a quarter mile before I nearly fainted and died. The second day, just over a quarter mile. The third, back to less than a quarter mile. I was, um, out of shape. Come race day, I would cross the finish line in 39:49 at a 9:57 minute/mile. I stopped three times, walked a half mile and wasn’t even in the top five of fundraisers. It was nothing like I’d imagined.
But what it was was so much more. That race sparked something in me that would carry me through some of the darkest hours and days of my life. Running saved me from myself. It carried me above and beyond any and every thing I thought possible.
During those first months of training my friend Charles L. bought me a new pair of running shoes because the pair I had were not only five years old but a size too small. He bought them for me because I couldn’t afford to get them myself. My friend Helen C. invited me to her Saturday morning running group where I was able to socialize with other like-minded people. People from my daily life offered advice and tips.
Those first few months I suffered knee injuries, ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis and so much more. I was homebound weeks at a time incapable of even a walk to the mailbox. But that spark! Oh, that spark! It couldn’t be extinguished!
Now close to two years later, I run almost every day.
I live in the hilliest and highest part of Manhattan. Washington Heights is hills and slopes and stairs and everything else and then more hills and more hills and just when you’re about done, more hills.
The first mile of most of my runs is the most brutal. My first mile of running is almost entirely uphill. The truth is by the time I hit half a mile I want to give up. My body, to this day after hundreds of first miles, tells me to turn around, go home and go back to sleep. It wants nothing to do with 5:45am uphill running. But my mind, my mind usually has different plans.
Go for it, it says. This mile is almost done and then you have a downhill reprieve, it whispers. Don’t give up now, it pleads. And nine times out of ten, my mind wins.
There is nothing like the feeling, when the world seems about ready to break you in two and all your problems are crashing in all around you, when you are running and, at a different point every time, those pressures vanish. They seem to literally melt away. There is nothing but the road before you, the miles behind and the hope within you. Each person on God’s great planet should be blessed to experience that feeling just once in their lifetime. I get to experience it nearly every single day.
There are many miles between the day I signed up for the Race to Deliver and today. There has been much heartache and triumph and everything in between . Ric is thriving in Ric’s own way, God’s Love still comes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I still don’t know how we’re going to make it.
But I do know this. I know that tomorrow morning I will run. I know my body will tell me to turn around and I know my mind will push me forward. I know that at some point during that run all will be right with the world. I know that, probably between miles three and four, I will reach my hands towards the heavens and whisper a prayer of thanks. And ultimately I know that even if I am never able to run again, running will continue to save me from myself.
Friday, March 25, 2011
I've recently noticed a dramatic uptick in traffic on this site. Though I can speculate as to reasons, I do not know for sure.
However I wanted you all to know that I will be returning to this site to post more of my writings, especially many more installments of Angels I Don't See, which have been written but I have yet to publish here.
I will also be writing more about my life and spiritual growth and less about politics and world affairs. At this point in my life I can't focus on anything that might detract from my peace and serenity.
Mad love to all the recent visitors and the ones that have been around for a while. The Rooftop is open again so check back frequently.
Monday, January 17, 2011
"We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory."
Friday, January 7, 2011
Thursday, December 30, 2010
(Click images to enlarge)
The George Washington Bridge from my run this morning, 2010-12-30
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The room seemed larger then. Much larger. Some nine years ago when I walked in, terrified and alone, making one last attempt at saving my life so that I wouldn’t ultimately take it, the room appeared electric, almost as if were I to touch anything the current would kill me.
To be exact, the date was April 2nd, 2001 and I was just 24 years old. I’d not even lived in New York two months and it seemed as if, to turn a phrase, I was not going to make it there or anywhere. After weeks of drinking and tilting at windmills, I did the only thing left to do…I gave up.
Not gave up in the negative sense but gave up as in surrendered. I realized that I was not like the other fortunate people in this world who could drink with impunity. My giving up essentially saved my life. Had I not, I am more than certain I would be dead.
The interesting thing about returning to that room yesterday was the realization at how much my life had changed. If someone had told that scared 24 year old boy from Texas that within the span of 9 years his life would be where it is today, that boy would have turned and run away. I suppose that’s why we don’t get an advance copy of the script prior to the director screaming action. If we each knew the inevitable pain and adversities of life, we might never move forward.
If I could go back in time and talk to that boy from nine years ago I would tell him that, no matter what, everything was going to be ok and turn out just as it should. I would tell him that no matter how many broken hearts and broken promises, no matter how many shattered dreams and shattered confidences, no matter how many countless relapses and counting days, life would always find a way to work itself out.
I would tell him that happiness is not really the goal but instead is the result of a life well loved. I would tell him to live within the now and cling to that still small voice that reassures us all. Keep showing up, I’d say, because it may not get better but it will get easier and the troubles will seem less daunting and the pain will seem less severe.
The room seems so much smaller now. Much smaller. Yeah, that’s what I’d like to tell that young man from years gone by. I’d like to tell him that as you grow up and move on, the rooms will always grow smaller.
And he...well, he will always grow stronger.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I’m not superstitious at all. I don’t put much stock in horoscopes or good luck charms or curses or even prayers. When I pray, I try my best to pray, not for a changed outcome, but instead that I am able to handle and accept whatever the outcome might be. I ask God for a change in perspective instead of a change in events.
Having said (written) that, the Japan Day Run in Central Park on Sunday was the most horrible, terrible, no good, very bad, cursed, hot, dirty, stinky, crowded run that started last Friday afternoon. You see, last Friday afternoon, as I am wont to do, I went to the New York Road Runners (NYRR) offices on the Upper East Side at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street to pick up my race bib and t-shirt. As I bound up the stairs and said hello to the kind volunteers I tripped.
Not in an “oops, that’s sort of embarrassing. Look at me! I tripped and stumbled” type of trip but a “hello stairs, this is my face and, if you don't mind, my face, instead of my arms, is going break my fall”. As I stood up I laughed it off and spouted something to assure the 534 people in the office who saw my 6 foot 6 inch ass fall face first into the stairs that I was ok. “It’s a good thing I fell today instead of race day, hahahahahaha” I said to no one in particular.
I’m nothing if not witty!
After leaving the offices I chalked my fall up to just some random incident and forgot about it. Well, I mean I forgot about it in the sense that I told everyone that would listen how bad I fell and stubbed my right big toe, one of the few toes left where the toenail is not black from running, but that I was a trooper, a runner’s runner, and I would brave the 4 whole long miles of the race on Sunday and prevail.
Fast forward to Sunday. It started perfect. There was no traffic up the West Side Highway and we arrived at Central Park West and West 100th Street 45 minutes early. Then the trouble began. I figured that since the race was at the north end of Central Park, parking would be a breeze. I figured wrong. We drove around for half-an-hour and there was no parking whatsoever. It seems that the residents of the Upper West Side don’t like to move their cars early on Sunday morning. Imagine that! As we circled and circled around I realized I had about 10 minutes before the race began.
“We could just go home. God and Jesus might not want us to go. Yeah, let’s just go home. I prayed and I don’t think God and Jesus want us to go to the race.”
Since Ric has been sick he frequently employs God and Jesus to do his heavy lifting. In this respect he is much like Sarah…oh never mind…back to the story.
With just a few minutes before the race was to start I gave up on finding street parking and parked in a garage.
“Ok, I’m going to run to the corrals. I’ll call you when I am finished. Don’t get run over by runners. Stay off the course! Are you listening?”
“Yes, go! I’ll see you later”The NYRR volunteers were moving us along. “Two minutes to start. Run up that hill and get to your corral”
I ran up the hill, found my group and waited.
As we passed the 1 mile marker I remembered something my friend Charles, also a runner, told me about running the north end of the park. It’s hilly. Like really, really hilly.
As I was running at pace with the 7min/milers and began the ascent up what was the 57th hill of the day I noted to myself to tell Charles he was right. That is, if I made it to the end. Having already sweat half my body weight I was not certain I would ever see a finish line again. The race was beginning to kick my ass.
Just about that time, there she was. She being a pedestrian of no more than 5 feet tall that decided she might attempt to cross through the race about 2 feet in front of me.“HOLY SHIIIIIIIIT!” I screamed as she stopped directly in my path with a look that put deer-in-the-headlights on the map.
If I were not the vision of grace and elegance that I am, I would have probably run into the sorry sack of impatience. But luckily for her, I managed to swerve around and just miss her.
When I later told this to my mother she jokingly told me it was the Lord’s subtle rebuke for choosing to run the race instead of go to church (At least I think she was joking).
Instead of listening to the good Lord I soldiered on and started to walk. I never regained my breath but I did start to run again. When I finally made it to the finish line I fumbled for my phone to call Ric. My phone was soaking wet and I had trouble getting the touch screen to respond to my trembling touch. Finally I dialed.
As I expectorated the last of my lungs, Ric answered.
“Babe, I fell. I’m really cut up and bleeding. I am sitting down on a hill and there are a bunch of people around me”
Calm, Jon-Marc. Stay calm.
“Ok, I need more information than that. Where are you? What do you see? Are you by the course? Are you by the bagel and water station?” I asked in full panic mode.
“I don’t know. I am just around people. On a hill. Bleeding”
“Ok, stay on the phone with me. Just describe to me what you see”
“There is a lady…”
My phone died. My $400.00 piece of phone caca that cannot hold a charge died and I had no idea where Ric was. I only knew that he said he was bleedingon a hill somewhere in Central Park and that I was physically exhausted. This was all too familiar.
After aimlessly wandering around in circles looking for Ric, I heard his voice.
“Babe, over here” he yelled.
And then, like a parent finding their lost child in a department store, my relief turned to relief with a tinge of anger. And by tinge I mean full on white hot
“What the hell happened?”
“I was walking to the race and got caught up in all these people and someone knocked me over and I fell. Then all these people ran over to help and gave me bandages and alcohol swabs and one lady poured water all over my cuts”
That’s the thing I love about the running community (and by community I mean the runners as well as those that come to cheer on the runners). There is a spirit, an unspoken code. Every person at that race, I truly believe, wanted every other person at that race to do their very best. And when someone was hurt – a perfect stranger to everyone there but me – people gathered around him and made sure he was ok. They didn’t know he suffers from dementia and how unbelievably scared he was but I’m certain even if they did it would not have mattered. Their only concern, based on what Ric told me, was making sure Ric was ok.
“Can you go get the car and pick me up?” Ric said, still sitting on the grass.
“No, the park is closed to cars. You are going to have to walk”
With that, he stood up, leaned on me, and we began to walk west towards the garage. What should have taken 5 minutes to walk took 45 but, after stopping many times so Ric could rest, we finally made it.
Hey, I know I don’t usually ask for outcomes to be changed I prayed as I drove us home, but it would really help if you could heal him quickly. Also, I want to tell you how amazed and grateful I am for the human race at times like these. Those people that gathered around Ric and took care of him were incredible Thanks for them. Also, and this is just fair warning, if it is ever that humid again during a race I will immediately cease believing in you. Amen
Oh yeah, the other thing is, I still smell maple syrup. Pancakes anyone?
Sunday, May 30, 2010
The latest chapters of Angels I Don't See have been written and I am excited to announce that they will be posted here soon.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The Friends in Deed Banner. There's Osvaldo and um, Mark, Mark, he's Mark (FID Board Member Anthony Rapp)
Team Friends In Deed waiting to get a move on
(aren't my captions just the cleverest things you ever did see)
That's my cowboy, Ric, having some coffee prior to the walk. He walked an incredible 5 miles at the AIDS Walk New York. Last year at this time he could not walk at all. A miracle, he is!