YOU DID IT!!!!! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
This is a video announcing the fundraising campaign to cover my airfare to LA to be a part of The Fourth Estate Leadership Summit this upcoming August http://invisiblechildren.com/fourth-estate-summit/ I am also offering a fun opportunity for those of you amazing people that choose to give…You get to vote if I keep my beard or not! Which ever faction raises the most money the fate of my beard rests in their hands. You can donate at http://www.gofundme.com/2wi6tg
Love Will Not Be Defeated
Most days I live a sentence; because of this, most days I can’t write more than a sentence. I am locked away, not just in my apartment; I am locked away in my mind, deep in my mind, where I can’t feel or see. I figure it makes loneliness more manageable, like a prisoner folding origami to pass the time. So I spend my days trying to stave off boredom and ease a pain that I can’t sincerely tell whether it is more physical or emotional in nature. Sleep is an escape artist in this cell. Instead of spending time with it I bide my time between the seams of night and day folding my thoughts over and over. I’ve been told writing is my way out of this. So I do so. I work on blog posts, poems, and a book to seek a pardon for my crimes of living in poverty and having a disability. However, mostly I fail at this task for my creativity is divorced from my person amidst this solitary confinement. I have seen that my long lost love—my passion—still walks outside of the walls of this prison I reside in.
I do experience reprieve on designated days. These days of sabbatical remind me of my humanity. The sun kisses my cheeks and the crest of my head. Its rays activate something deep within my cells that lets life back into the marrow within my bones. I am put on work release. Two days out of the week I am given the opportunity to volunteer as an assistant class facilitator at my local rescue mission. I as well am bestowed the honor of being a personal mentor to two men in the drug and alcohol recovery program.
Inside the moments of this freedom, the will, the quiet desperation that lies within, waiting inside every man that Thoreau wrote of, is awakened. The desire to create has become a romance rekindled. Instead of building a cabin with my bare hands, I set to the work of building up men seeking asylum from a former life. As I play a part in their reclamation I experience my own as well. I reclaim the clarity of my mind and spirit. I make a silent proclamation that I have not been institutionalized.
A couple of weeks ago I receive a call from a staff member at the mission. I have been informed that I have nominated for special recognition for my work as a volunteer. I have been invited to a special banquet honoring other volunteers who serve other organizations in the area. I am not comfortable with the idea, for these things seem to only give birth to pride which is a prison of another kind that I have been known to willingly incarcerate myself in. I begrudgingly accept the invitation out of the fear that declining it may be taken as rude or ungrateful.
The morning of the banquet I didn’t see much point in the coming attraction of a meal because my stomach was already filled with tightness and unease. I know I didn’t belong in a place of honor. The truth of the matter is that it wasn’t a large sacrifice on my part to volunteer. I neither have a job nor a family to take care. I have a surplus of time to do whatever I wish. Volunteering just takes the choice to do and not so much the choice of what to sacrifice.
I am asked to meet up at the lobby of the mission with no other details regarding the banquet. Upon arrival I am told that the banquet will be held at one of the city’s prestigious country clubs. Upon hearing this my stomach made more space for its tightness and unease. Not only do I not own any suitable attire for this event but I could not afford to get my hair cut which drapes long and over my eyes and is accompanied by eight months of beard growth. I pick up on perceived disapproval of my appearance and attire from those I was introduced to at the banquet. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I stick out among the crowd.
It seems so strange that I am being honored for the work I do with a homeless shelter in a building that exudes an aura that denotes a higher socio-economic status. I long to be among my brethren of reclamation. I feel lost and out of my element such as a prisoner who is overwhelmed by liberation.
The event coordinator starts into a short bio about me and I realize that I have been mislead. The bio spoke nothing of the actual work I did at the mission. It spoke of my disability, my walk to Chicago last year, and was riddled with a word I find to be almost derogatory when made in reference to my personhood. I was called an “inspiration.” I was not invited because of the work I have done but the perception that others held of my identity. I was only valuable as a commodity of feel-good sentiments and easy comfort, the masturbatory flagellations of others. I had become inspiration porn. I have been objectified and raped of my identity of wholeness of body and person with acceptance of worth outside of a context of Cerebral Palsy.
In reflection, I realize that many of those who dwell in the world that I perceived of as free are incarcerated as well. They are imprisoned by bias and have become institutionalized by the walls built up around them. I must remind myself that my value is not merely defined by the work of my “hands” but the passion that my heart puts behind my craft. This what sustains me to scratch another tally mark on the wall of the cell that is my mind. I may have been sentenced indefinitely to this confinement but this does not mean I have to be a prisoner nor a porn star.
I have been asked to be a part of a special summit on social justice this August @ UCLA if you would like to donate or would just like to see how amazing my beard is you can do so here
I am in the midst of dealing with a breakup and it sure does resonate hard within me. For those of you that read this blog on a regular basis, you will know that when it comes to my heart and the nature of love it is something I struggle with deeply. I take matters of love very seriously and I am just not built to gloss over heartbreak. So, in light of this, I am finding myself in the throes of a deep and passionate sorrow. I have sobbed and lost my appetite for food because it seems that the only thing I can stomach is the saddest of songs and poems.
In Western culture, especially within Western Christian culture, we seem to have an aversion to expressing sorrow. I’ve never really quite understood it myself but I feel the sentiment in the discomfort of others when I express feelings of sorrow. I often get replies like:
“Where is the joy of the Lord within you?”
“G-d would want you to be a good witness. You shouldn’t be so sad.”
I find this aversion to sorrow to be tragically flawed and unhealthy. There is this idea that to show sorrow is to not seek G-d. However, I have found G-d both in the depths of joy and sorrow. G-d can be found profoundly in both of these emotions. The idea of the joy of the Lord was never intended to be used as a means to disregard heartbreak and sorrow; it is meant as a reminder to not allow our sorrow and heartbreak to lead us into despair.
There is a tendency to not recognize the expression of sorrow within the Bible, but if one pays attention you can see the Bible paints beautiful shades of healthy expressions of sorrow as part of the human experience. There is even an entire book called Lamentations which is centered on the concept of mourning. I believe G-d wishes us to express our sorrows in healthy ways. In the book of Romans it is recorded, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” I know that more than likely there are those of you who are reading this and are thinking to yourselves:
“Yeah C.J., but there are much more important things to grieve over.”
Yes, there is poverty, war, and famine going on throughout this world and these most certainly should be causes for lamenting, but as for me—I need to mourn this loss. For we sorrow over the things we value. I need to take time to properly reflect on the loss of this relationship for a multitude of reasons. For one, because the woman I share feelings for matters to me. The love I felt mattered. I need to show recognition that investing my heart is worthwhile and costly. By having sorrow, and expressing it, I honor the heart that G-d has crafted for me and I say to those I love that when I give them my heart it is something that is precious to me and I deem them worthy to have it. I am a man who knows his value and that his heart is something that is valuable and when he gives you his heart it is because he understands the cost of it and treasures you. I do not fear love, I only fear not valuing it. In light of this when love is lost or deferred I wrap myself in a blanket of healthy sorrow. I also want to give all those who read this the freedom to explore their sorrows.
“Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.” And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.” – an excerpt from the Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
I have been having a recurring nightmare for the last five years. I have had this dream since I was 20; and it always plays out the same. It starts out with me having to go back and do over my senior year of high school for a reason that is unclear. At first everything seems to be normal and familiar. I get picked up by the same school bus; driven by the same kind-hearted bus driver. The same route is taken and I am dropped off at the back of the building. Upon entering is when the easy-going feeling flees and anxiousness takes its predestined throne somewhere in my subconscious. I realize that I have forgotten my class schedule. I have no idea where to go. I try to find the guidance office but it has seemed to disappear from the layout of the building. I am rushing around trying to find my way but the environment has changed and I don’t know where to go. The other students that fill the hallways all seem to know where to go, but I don’t. I usually wake up from this dream choking on tears. I have had this dream for years now and I am not quite sure what it all means but I think it has something to do with my father.
For my younger brother and I, our father left our lives when I was 13 and he was 9. My dad hadn’t shown up for a couple of months to take us for his regular bi-weekend visitations. So one weekend my mom became fed up either with having us every weekend or seeing her sons disappointed every two weeks, I am not sure. The sad part was that this wasn’t a fluke thing. My father would often disappear for months like this. He would always come back and give us an excuse and takes us to the video store and order a pizza. We would always forgive him; I am not quite sure why but in my mind I just thought that he wouldn’t do it again if he knew how much pain it caused my brother and I.
When we arrived at our dad’s apartment we saw that no one was there. He had moved, we peeked inside the windows and saw nothing but vacancy. The only sign that my father had ever lived there was a mailbox full of unopened mail. We climbed back into my mom’s car and I didn’t speak for the rest of the car ride. I struggled to not let my tears liberate themselves from my ducts. I wasn’t going to allow myself the freedom to cry over this, not anymore anyway. This was the commencing of my collapsing into myself.
A couple months later the phone rang on Father’s Day. My dad’s voice snuck into my eardrum via the receiver. He began to explain that he had left the state and moved to Florida to avoid jail time due to past due child support. He mentioned how deep my voice had gotten and soon said he had to go. It would be another five years before I would hear his voice. He called me called regularly for a couple weeks during my first year of college and then he disappeared again.
Every time I need to trim my beard I am reminded of what I lost because of the absence of my father. It’s another thing that my dad never helped me through on my journey into becoming a man. When I was 15, I was taught how to shave by an older kid in my youth group who dressed as a cowboy, while we were on a mission trip in Nashville, inside a bathroom of an abandoned church that was once a synagogue. Over the next few years I would experience blunder after embarrassing blunder due to my lack of the masculine knowledge of shaving and beard trimming. When I returned back from Nashville I told my mom I need to start shaving, so she bought me a cheap electric razor. I told her I wanted a manual one but she thought that an electric one would be easier. I only ended up using it for 2 weeks. The first time I used it I accidentally shaved off an entire sideburn without noticing and went out into to public. The second time, I didn’t know you were supposed to clean electric razors and ended up with greasy black marks on my face. After that, the electric razor went into the trash.
To this day, trimming my beard is still such a mystery. I have tried my best to teach myself by reading the directions of each and every beard-trimmer I have purchased. I have even gone to the lows of watching how-to videos on Youtube. I feel so lost and as I blindly try to feel out the proper way in which to guide the buzzing contraption around the contours of my face I, for the life of me, cannot figure out a way to make a straight line to bring an edge to my sideburns. Whenever I look in the mirror I see bits of my father. I see it mostly in the way my facial hair grows. When I have to look in the mirror to begin trimming I first have to forgive my father. I have to choose to let go of the wrongs I feel I’ve experienced in order to move forward, even within the simplest of tasks like trimming my beard.
One of the biggest struggles in my life has been, having at times, to be a parent to myself. The times that I encounter loss and lack of direction I have a choice before me. I can either wither in pity, allow myself to be excused from the problems I face, or seek out help and face responsibility. I understand the hardship of walking with physical struggle. In my life I have come to realize that hearts full of excuses are a much heavier burden to carry than weak legs. So that is why some months ago when I received a phone call from my stepsister asking if I’d be willing to meet her and my father in a few days when they were coming into town I had no choice but to say yes. I thought about the potential of me being a father one day and one of my children asking about the grandfather that I didn’t want to tell them that I had a chance to talk with him when I was in my 20s but I didn’t take it because of my own emotional baggage. I don’t want my potential future children or anyone for that matter to say that they learned that emotional pain is something they can find comfort to hide in by watching my life.
The day that I saw my father, for the first time in 13 years, I was already emotionally drained before our reunion even started. It happened to land on the same day of my great uncle’s wake. On top of that, a few weeks prior, I found out my beloved dog Katie Sue had terminal bone cancer and when I went to go visit her, after the wake, I saw her slow descent had picked up pace. I knew she would be leaving me soon. It didn’t seem fair that on a day where I had to say goodbye and greet new heartache, I also had to reacquaint myself with old heartache. Our stepsister picked up my little brother and I and took us to see our father. It seemed a little too much like déjà vu on the way. The two of us sitting in the backseat not really sure who would be at the end of our car ride; Not unlike the car ride that we shared nearly 13 years earlier.
At the end of our car ride the one who we share common genes greeted us at the door. Although his hair turned silver, it seemed he had been locked away in some sort of time capsule but I still recognized those follicles on his face, the same ones I see when I look in the mirror. I hugged him, and buried my face in his denim shirt that had the familiar smell of Marlboro Reds. There was a part of me deep inside that had been shut away for quite some time, where that embrace felt so good. As uncomfortable as it was, that part of me, that abandoned son, needed that hug.
It would’ve been wise to not have expectations coming in to this awkward reunion. I couldn’t help but have them. There were things I felt needed to happen during this meeting to have closure in my life. I wanted a heart-to-heart, I wanted an apology, I wanted remorse and honesty from my father. I didn’t get any of those things. What I got was small talk, the same cheap beer, in the same tobacco smoke that I got before. My dad got what he wanted, he spoke of the fact that now he could die happy. My brother and I saw him again the next day and then said goodbye before he headed back to Florida. My father has called me once or twice since then. I don’t really have much to say and I don’t know if I ever will. There are things I am sure of however. I am sure that I am capable in the manhood I know. I am sure that fear and insecurity do not dictate my direction. Most of all, the two things I’m most sure of are: One is that I am at peace with forgiving my father and myself for our inadequacies as men. And two, that there will never be any thing, or any battle, my children will ever have to face without their father. For being a father is to know how to artfully and fearlessly live forgiveness