Happy birthday, mom

Today is the birthday that you didn’t make it to.

It’s hard to imagine, still, that your body gave out before you were done with it. Your soul. Your being. Your presence. They never gave up. They continue to wrap us with joy and laughter and learning.

Today is March 17, 2015. You would have been 63.

In the seven months since your body left us, we’ve continued to grow. We now know grief. We now know love and bonding and what strength really means. We’re starting to know what it’s like to not have you laughing in the next room. Or this room. We’re starting to let the gaping void heal. The wet wound is drying.

Nothing is getting easier and it’s best for the people around us to ignore our pain. None of us want them to see it because it’s not their burden. Our emotions range from freedom to happiness to soul-crushing desperation. But there’s acceptance. Acceptance keeps us moving forward and our daily lives are just as simple as they ever were. Family comes first. Then work. Then play.

The kids have grown to the point where you might not recognize them. I’m overwhelmed with pride at each corner. Each turn is better than the next. There’s thoughtfulness and tenderness and a wit that is amazingly disarming. These kids are everything that you would have ever wanted them to be. They’re my kids. They are kids that you would have raised. They are who they are because of you.

I’m proud of you, mom. You built an amazing community, incredible family, and a life worth living. You fill me with hope, daily. You remind me about the important things and allow me to step back from the ones that can wait. You’ve taught me to cherish my moments and the people around me. You’ve taught me to live and to enjoy this life. You’ve done well. Your best was the best. I can only hope to be like you one day.

Happy birthday, mom.

May this day be filled with overflowing martinis, damn-good Chinese food, rowdy dancing, abundant laughter, and a few tears. May this day be filled with your eternal light. May this day be filled with your presence and all of the joy that it brings us.

Today is a celebration. Today is the day that you were born. Today, we celebrate your life.

Happy birthday, mom.

People are amazing

Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending my first day of the season on the slopes. I’m an avid snowboarder, heading up to the hill as often as I can each year. I didn’t waste any time this season and got myself up to Hunter Mountain in New York as soon as I was able.

We decided to get a slope-side condo for the night before so that we could be there as soon as the lifts opened. Hunter is a four hour drive for me, so it made sense.

The trek up I-87 was a tough one. I got caught in the storm that just wouldn’t stop. My windshield kept freezing over and I could only cruise at a steady 45 mph. It took a while, but as I exited the highway, my excitement climbed through the roof. I didn’t care how long it would take, I would get there.

A buddy of mine was meeting me there and was about 30 miles behind me. What I didn’t realize was that in the time it would take to go 30 miles, the storm would make the roads unusable. As much as he tried (and I mean really tried), there was no way that he was going to make it through the gorge the led to the mountain. After a few hours of chasing salting trucks and plows, he gave up, and got a motel somewhere in town, leaving me to my own devices in this slope-side condo.

I woke up as early as I could and headed out on my own. I was standing at the lift when they powered it on, and got up to the top before anyone else had a chance to ride the 14 inches of fresh snow we had received the night before. It was a gift from mother nature.

Instead of heading straight for the Black Diamonds like I usually do, I decided to take a long Blue that wrapped around the side of the mountain. I was the only one on it. Freshly groomed and wide open; it was the best first run that I ever could have asked for.

When I reached the bottom, I decided to take a little break. A bit winded and overly excited, I just wanted to take my time, and take it all in.

That’s when I met Robert.

Robert and I started a conversation about nothing. It was one of those conversations that you have with a total stranger that is polite, but excited about the moment. It stood out as pleasant, and the conversation moved smoothy. He invited me to join him and his lady on their next run. I was there alone, and he was being polite.

On the lift I told him about how my buddy didn’t make it up, and how I was considering spending another night because my car was snowed in, and I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to make the ride home. We talked about work. We talked about kids.

This was when Robert taught me something about humanity. As we approached the top of the mountain, he casually said, “you should stay in my room. I have a room for the week, but I have to leave for the night, and I’ll be back on Tuesday.” Having known Robert for a full 8 minutes, I was already able to tell that he wasn’t kidding. This complete stranger had offered up, out of complete kindness, a free hotel room for the night. For no reason other than he had met a nice guy on the slopes.

Now I don’t know about you, but that’s not something that I would do. Maybe I’ve spent too much time living in the city, or maybe I’m more jaded than I thought I was. But offering a complete stranger your open hotel room for the night is not something that I would ever imagine doing. But he did it. Robert taught me a lesson.

We went our separate ways after two runs, and exchanged phone numbers. Two hours later, I got a text from him that he had left a key for me at the front desk. I didn’t really know how to thank him. So I gave him words:

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After the day was done, I realized that I really couldn’t take him up on his offer. The snow had melted a bit and the roads were clear. I had no reason to not try and make it home:

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I’m still speechless about the  whole thing. I want to be nicer in life. I want to help complete strangers. How do I pay this forward?

Hug yours. Kiss yours.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had some close friends and loved ones who have received horrible news of the worst kind. They have lost members of their families or received devastating diagnoses for either themselves or their children. They are receiving the kind of news that you can’t recover from, fully.

Their stories and their lives are bouncing around in my head, and I feel like the best way that I can empathize is to remain positive.

Hug yours. Kiss yours. Hold them close and enjoy every waking minute of this life. Sometimes we don’t know when it will end, or what turns it will take. It isn’t worth it to be unhappy or ungrateful. It isn’t worth it to cheat or to be lazy.  Climb a hill or ride a bike. Get outside. Push yourself, mentally and physically, and be spontaneous. Don’t get lost in the details, and be honest with yourself. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy those around you. For all we know, we only get one chance at this, so make it count.

My Wife is Amazing

After our second kid was born, Lula decided to take back her body. For the first time in almost 4 years, she was alone with it. She no longer had to sit in the discomfort of being overweight and being unhappy about it. She could take charge and create the body that she always wanted.

She started moving, and moving some more. She started jogging and she started going to the gym. She started paying attention to herself. Eating right. Doing squats, stretches, lifts, and crunches. She dedicated herself, and it became a passion.

“Exercise is like brushing my teeth. I just have to do it everyday or something feels off.” -Lula

946796_10101559233225993_2129360872_nEventually she started competing. She took on a 5K. She kicked ass. She took on a mud run, and she rocked it. The more she ran, the more she wanted to run.

She wakes up a few times a week before 5am, and she takes off. I don’t know where she goes on her runs, but I know that when she comes back, she’s happy. She pushes herself, and she needs that.

Today marks the culmination of many things physical for Lu. Today she takes on the Philly Half Marathon.

13.1 miles of pure dedication. 13.1 miles of a dream that wasn’t possible for her before now. 13.1 miles of training, strength, hard work, and passion.

Lu is a success story. She’s someone that we should all watch with awe. She took something that she was unhappy with and she turned it completely around without anything more than her own will.

I’m more proud of her than I can even put into words. I’m inspired by her in so many ways. We can all learn something from what she’s done, and where she’s going.

My wife. She’s amazing.

4 years ago, today.

We woke up early that morning. Earlier than we needed to. Nerves, wonder, fear, and raw emotion pulled us out of bed. We drank our coffee without tasting it. We pulled our shirts over our tired heads and we got into the car.

Once we got to the hospital, it felt like an eternity rolled into a single minute. Each tick of the second hand echoed loudly in the brightly lit room, and we knew that the pace of the day was set. It wasn’t long before the nurse called her name, and we all jumped to our feet. We jumped to attention.

The surgery could take as long as 9 hours, we were told. They were going to try to get it all, but there were no guarantees. It’s a delicate surgery, and there’s just no telling what complications they may run into.

And then they wheeled her off. She waved goodbye, and none of us tried to choke down our tears. “Mom”, I whispered. “See you on the other side.”

There’s no telling how long we were in there. There’s no way to recount the thoughts that ran through our heads. I can’t tell you how quickly time passed, or how slowly. I can’t tell you if it was hard or trying or a breeze. All that I can tell you is that I don’t remember a single moment from those hours until we were met by the surgeon.

“We did well,” She tells us. “We got most of it, and she is in recovery now.”

For all intents and purposes, the surgery was a success. They were able to remove the band of malignant tumor that spanned her peritoneum. They removed organs and tissue. They removed anxiety and fear.

“She’s going to have quite a long road ahead of her,” she said “I’m expecting chemo to be unpleasant, and it’s not clear how well she’ll react to the treatment. Now that we’ve removed such a large mass, we can expect that she’ll live a few more years.”

A few more years, she told us. Only a few more years.

When we found her in the recovery room, completely stoned, Mom said with all of her might “I knew I’d see you on the other side!” At that point, she still didn’t know if she had survived the surgery. Either way, she was the happiest that she had ever been. In that moment, she was with her family. She was home.

The following weeks were painful. Those painful weeks tuned into painful months. Chemo sucked. There is no break from chemo when it’s running through your body. There’s no break from yourself on chemo. We kept waiting for the low point, but each passing week, each passing treatment, was worse than the one before it.

Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. Those moments were dark ones, but like all dark moments, they’ve now passed.

The following few years, up until now, have been seeded with wins and losses. Cancer leaves and cancer returns. An amazing attitude, a default to optimism, and an incredible support system lead the way through the darkness. Mom has found herself. She has started to do less work and more soul searching. She follows her passions. She marries people. She buries people. She is a thought leader. She has come into her own. She travels. She laughs. She writes. She looks to the future as if the past doesn’t exist. She knows that her moments will create new moments.

She embraces life because life is precious. She excels at living in a way that none of us can comprehend.

4 years ago today she was wheeled away by the nurse. 4 years ago today we were told that she only had a few years. 4 is more than a few, and we are truly lucky.

Each moment that we have together is important. It’s so easy to take life for granted until you are faced with your own mortality. It’s easy to take your family for granted.

I’ve learned a lot from Mom about how to be alive. Moments are precious and if you don’t seize them, they leave you. If you don’t cherish them, they’re lost.

Being positive through the negative is important. If you’re not smiling, no one will know to smile with you. If you’re not bringing all of your passion to what you do, you’re not doing it right.

Mom has taught me that life is a privilege. Mom has taught me to speak my mind. To hug when I want to hug. Drink when I want to drink. Dance when I want to dance.

The world is better because of Mom and we’re all lucky to have her. I continue to learn from her. I continue to learn with her, each and every day.

Here’s to many more years of living the dream. L’chaim!

On Pace

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pace and how it’s an incredibly important concept to master.

We all have the power to set our own pace, but we often let outside influences persuade us to change it. I, for example, tend to walk more quickly in New York than I do in Philadelphia. This isn’t because I choose to do this, it’s because I can’t help but keep pace with the rest of the city. I think this is dangerous.

We often take on more work than we can handle, or rush ourselves through our tasks, sacrificing quality for speed. I feel like once we let outside pressures speed us up or slow us down, that’s when we start down the slippery slope to undue stress, anxiety, and general discontent with our station in life.

It’s important to keep your own pace. Of course, pushing your limits is healthy, but it’s also important to be the master of your cadence. Pay attention to your natural speed with all things and turn that balance into efficiency, creativity, and results.

Pace plays an important role in everything that we do and it’s also important to be aware of the pace of others. In sales, for example, the best way to relate to a customer is to pace the conversation. Listen to their words, the speed of them, their intonations, and match it. The closer that you can get to someone else’s pace, the better they will be able to relate to you. Really, this is just good practice for conversation. If you approach people on their level first, it sets the stage for great communal thinking.

I have to remind myself constantly to balance my pace. I often try to take on more than I should, and it can be a struggle to slow myself down. Paying attention to my natural cadence is the best thing that I can do. I know that. I’m going to do my best to remember it. I’m going to practice it until I no longer have to think about it, and keeping pace simply becomes a way that I interact with the world.