Dear Riley

Riley and Papa.jpg

A love letter (of sorts) to my granddaughter, Riley Jean Williams…

Dearest Riley,

I admit, this isn’t the best way to start a love letter, but the truth is always the truth, so…

Your Papa hasn’t been very happy lately.

Like many people (sadly, millions more feel the same way), the world around me has weighed heavy on my spirit for a long time.

Not that I care much about those who would (will) criticize me for saying so, but just to address them directly and make clear, right up front:

It’s not so much that a breathtakingly shallow, disturbingly nepotistic, shockingly selfish and astoundingly unqualified person now leads the country I love. I have learned in my 52 years that no individual, no matter how charismatic, can change anything – much less everything – alone. They leech their power from others with similar beliefs who enable their bad behavior.

That’s the real problem — that this person seems to reflect and is now speaking for many others who share his particular mindset of “I, me, mine!” at the cost of all human decency and systemic order.

That greed, that utter disregard for “other” in the name of self-preservation and enrichment is at the blackened eye of the hurricane that had consumed my spirit lately. It was absolutely confounding.

And then…

On March 23, 2018, you arrived.

You brightened our lives and brought a joy and peace and giddy excitement that I’ve known only three other times: when your Nana said, “I do,” and when I first held your mom and your Aunt Livie.

Now, as then, the clouds created by all the world’s problems and challenges and pains parted to reveal what was, is and always will be most important – not the world outside our eyes, but rather the one inside our hearts.

Unfortunately, Papa can’t do much about the world outside.

I can explain it just as I did with your mom and aunt. We can debate it, dissect it, try to understand it together, laugh about it whenever possible and cry about it when everything else fails.

But I can definitely help with the world inside.

To be very clear: your Papa doesn’t have a lot of talents. You will undoubtedly learn more practical and fun stuff from your Nana, and (probably) more about “real life” from your Aunt than your mom, dad, Nana or I need or want to know about. (And that’s ok. Those special secrets are the truest magic of aunts and uncles…)

My words are my gift, such as it is. The stories I can tell. The perspective I can share. The advice I can give.

That may not seem like much to you. Heck, I admit that most of the time, it doesn’t feel like much to me.

Yet, the power of words, when filtered through joy and sorrow and love and loss and success and failure, can be life-saving. Or, at least, life-altering.

Anyway, here goes:

First and foremost, pay attention to the world outside, but understand that it isn’t the most important part of your life. Issues, debates, politics, policies (and even presidents) will come and go, often with little true impact on who you are, who you will be and what you leave behind.

More important are the people directly around you. Choose wisely, with your heart and head both, people who:

  • Love you, certainly, but also love others, unfailingly, unquestioningly, sincerely and empathetically – people who love for love’s sake.
  • Neither see nor create walls, and fight to help others scale them.
  • Are willing to help for nothing more than the intrinsic value of friendship and gratitude.
  • Have the wit of poetry in their hearts, the chiming of music in their voices and the sparkle of adventure in their eyes.

Surround yourself with good books. Stories that carry you to fantasy lands and to the reality of the shared soul.

Appreciate the wisdom found buried deep in silence. Learn and practice listening, then thinking, then speaking only when your words will add, not subtract.

Listen to all kinds of music, whether of your generation, culture or taste. When the language of our heads fails us, truth often speaks through the music of our hearts. You may not always like what you hear, but who knows? You just may hear something that changes your entire perspective.

Be brave enough to cry. Little good comes from hiding your sorrow. No one can help you feel better if they don’t know you’re hurting.

Learn the healing power of laughter. Laugh at yourself, laugh with others, enjoy the humor and irony and the vexation and the silliness of life. We take ourselves entirely too seriously and cause so much anxiety and pain that could just as easily be washed away by a wave of laughter.

Find God.

It doesn’t much matter what you call God, or how you call God. What’s important is that we remember how small we all are. God, given His/Her/Its immensity is a pretty good measuring stick. (And don’t worry about the many people who will say that your name for God or your way for calling God are somehow wrong. Ironically, they truly do not know God themselves.)

Do your best to connect with other people. Try to understand their lives. Celebrate their victories and support them in their defeats. All experience is universal. What you give, comes back to you.

Most of all, learn to forgive. Not just others, but also yourself.

No one and nothing – no ideology, no viewpoint, no belief system, no political party, no family member, no coworker, no friend – is perfect.

We all fail. In our hearts, minds and deeds. Failure is as human as the skin that clothes our souls. We cannot stop it. All we can do is understand and forgive.

Forgiveness is grace in action. Grace is God’s love in your hands. Be grace-filled, and graceful, and the world will be a better place.

My darling granddaughter, I don’t know what value there is in any of this babbling. Certainly not much now, at only a month old.

But if it does any good later in your precious life — if it helps ease a broken heart; or gives you strength to lift up someone in need; or convinces you to try something new despite uncertainty; or generates the will to persevere against the greatest odds; or shows you the logic of something as illogical as love itself — then it will have been worth a cold, rainy April Sunday evening.

Papa loves you, today and always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And The Door Shall Be Opened

i-am-e1480292532425-1024x353I started this blog in March 2016 with an Easter poem, so this is something of a tradition now…

This one, written years ago (available in my second book, “Abundance — a collection”) for me boils Easter down to its essence.

Happy Easter!

AND THE DOOR SHALL BE OPENED

I am knocking

On your heart

Your mind

Your soul

Do you hear me?

Do you feel me?

Do you know me?

I am knocking

Do you know

the sound of love?

Listen closely

I am knocking

Love is knocking

Love is…

I Am…

This Single Act

Riley 032318

I wrote this years ago for the birth of a friend’s first child. I’ve shared it with several new moms over the years.

Now, I share it with my daughter and son-in-law, Emma and Jake Williams, on the occasion of the birth of their first child, Riley Jean, on March 23, 2018.

Words are truly too small to capture or convey my joy, pride and hope in this moment. 

Riley, my lovely girl, Papa loves you…

THIS SINGLE ACT

God touches us in many ways.

But perhaps He is most with us in our child’s first breath.

For, in this single act, which, for too many, has lost much of its

awesome mystery to the

cynicism of time and science, the Lord of All confirms His

presence in us, continues

His love for us and confers His powers on us.

In this single Act, God brings together all the majesty of nature,

the love of humanity,

the joy and hope that He controls.

In this single act, there is magic enough to bring reverence for

the power of Heaven.

In this single act, the hand of the Spirit – that part of Himself that

God grants every person – opens the door of our heart to show us the

Way to Truth.

For in this single act, God gives us another chance to redeem ourselves

by teaching this new creation

to find happiness, foster peace and rejoice in

His glory.

Humanity cannot ask for nor expect a greater gift, for

In this single act, God proves His existence and grace,

His image mirrored in the eyes

of our own.

In this single act, we find our way back to God, whose love

brings us to the world and shields us

from its pain

In this single act we can truly justify God’s unending faith

in the ultimate goodness of the

human spirit.

 

We March

march

This month, my writers group challenged itself to create something about the word “March” — the definition, the month, an experience, the weather, anything…

WE MARCH

To be honest, I was not sure why it came to mind.

I hadn’t thought about Prince’s song, “We March” in forever. Then, suddenly, a few weeks ago, as the country’s teens started to talk about walking out of school on March 14, 2018 to protest gun violence, I couldn’t get the militaristic melody out of my head.

To be emphatically clear, I am a major Prince fan. I listen often to just about everything he recorded (and I do mean just about everything. Save a couple of extremely expensive or hard-to-come-by imports, I have every album that Prince put out.) But I had not heard this song, nor listened to its parent, “The Gold Experience” recently enough to explain it suddenly singing itself to me.

As for the song itself, it is magnificent. Shimmering. Powerful. Rocking, but jazzy, with a Prince-ly touch of funk. Beautifully produced. Like most of Prince’s published work, it is better than about 98 percent of the pre-processed, computer-concocted crap that passes for popular music today.

Yet, in the scheme of his vast canon, it is fairly obscure, dating from 1995. The early/mid 1990s is the period when “The Artist Formerly Known As” was putting out more material than either his record company or many of his fans (except me, of course) cared to consume.

Then it hit me: the lyrics!

As I started singing the song I registered the words behind the music and realized that “We March,” written 23 years ago, was speaking to me today, in 2018.

A Dylan-esque poet of funky seduction, a master of shocking/funny/naughty – even sometimes raunchy – wordplay, a paragon of the weird-bordering-on-inscrutable verse, Prince was also a keen, eagle-eyed political observer and social critic.

Going back to his first near-masterpiece, “Controversy,” which addressed the Reagan-era 1980s (nuclear war, Russia, homophobia, AIDS, gender and racial identity, burgeoning sexuality in the media, etc.) Prince often wrote and sang about what was happening in the real world.

However, his political oeuvre was often buried under the more scandalous and risqué material that shimmied from his home/studio Paisley Park — an adolescent-male fantasy land of OMG beautiful women.

Still, when the man had something to say, he said it, loud and clear – although even his most ardent fans may have had to struggle to stop dancing long enough to hear the message through the melody.

His words from 1995 expressed his frustration that the world of the 1990s wasn’t much different than the world of the 1950s.

Whites still oppressed blacks. Men still disrespected and abused women. Politicians still lied to people of all genders, races and ages.

As students and young people nationwide stood up, locked arms, raised their voices and righteously declared that they’d finally had enough of gun violence in schools; of politicians whoring themselves to fear profiteers; of living in a world destabilized more each day by piggish leaders who lie as fast as their thumbs can tweet; I realized that the world of the 2010s still wasn’t much different from the world of the 1950s.

Seventy years later, so many still suffocate under the weight of systemic discrimination. Systemic corruption. Systemic oppression. And, most of all, systemic greed.

Hearing that song play and replay in my head, I realized that it might be time once again, literally and symbolically, to march.

Many people, blinded by their own naïve optimism, irritated by the idea that there’s still more to do, unconcerned about the ripples in someone else’s pond, and selfishly protecting their ill-gotten gains, will argue this contention.

They will say:

“Things are better.”

And the young – for it is always the young who dream of changing the world — will answer, No, they’re not.

“What do they want now (insert your favorite oppressed group here: minorities/women/Muslims/immigrants/transgenders/gays…)?

Everything that the politically, socially and financially dominant group – that is, white Christian males – has always had.

“Can’t things be the way they used to be?”

No, they cannot. Ever again.

And if that means we must march, then we march.

Now’s the time, 2 find a rhyme

That’s got a reason and frees the mind

From angry thoughts, the racist kind

If we all wanna change then come on, get in line

Next time we march

We’re kickin’ down the door

Next time we march

All is what we’re marching 4

We march for gender and racial and sexual equality.

We march for safety.

We march for financial stability.

We march for political integrity.

We march for justice, truly blind.

We march for peace, truly universal.

We march for love, truly encompassing.

It is brain-numbing and heartbreaking that we even have to contemplate, in 2018 putting boots to the ground to achieve such basic human essentials as these. But if we do, then so be it.

We ain’t got no time 4 excuses, the promised land belongs 2 all

Yes, it does — regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race or any of the million other walls purposely and politically built to divide and separate and isolate us.

And so, they march.

I march.

We march.

 

 

 

 

 

Family

familyOn March 10, 2018, I had the pleasure and honor to serve as keynote speaker for a fundraising event for a college scholarship program created by my good friends, Bishop Nolan and Gloria McCants. The requested theme was, “On Your Own, But Not Alone.” 

From that came this rumination on the definition and importance of “family” in the context of college — and, really, in all of life.

“ON YOUR OWN, BUT NOT ALONE”

Good afternoon! My name is Tom Hernandez and I am honored to deliver the keynote address today.

I promise, I won’t take but a few minutes of your time. I know you have other things to do today besides listening to me, blather on and on, like I’m delivering some kind of sermon or something…

But before I share a few thoughts on the topic du jour, I want to salute and congratulate my very good friend, Bishop Nolan McCants and his lovely, talented, much better half, Gloria, for creating the Nolan and Gloria McCants Scholarship last year to help a young person.

All scholarships are welcome and appreciated, because they help young people take an important “Next Step” in their lives, to attend college.

But not all scholarships are equal.

Many are based on academic achievement, some on athletic prowess, others on special activities or life goals.

But a very few rare ones, like the Nolan and Gloria McCants Scholarship, recognize and support young people for their values. For who they are as human beings. For what is meaningful to them and the Greater Good of the community.

This year’s scholarship, for example, requires a 500-word essay on the applicant’s “position on the importance of integrity.”

“Integrity!” Can you believe it? It’s been about two years now since I’ve heard the word even mentioned by a leader at any level — and here are two people willing to put their money where their mouths and minds and spirits are, to support the idea of integrity!

Now that takes some courage and conviction in 2018. And that’s why it is all the more important that all of us support this Scholarship with our words and hearts, certainly, but also with our wallets and checkbooks.

So, thank you, Nolan and Gloria for doing what you are doing today, and doing what you do every day. This world would be a whole lot nicer, and smarter, and more thoughtful, and kinder, and compassionate and sharper dressed, if more people followed your example. I am proud to call both of you friends!

Now, to the point – the winner of this scholarship will be headed to college. How many of you plan to attend college next year?

This is an exciting time in their lives. They’re experiencing so much change right now, so many big transitions, and for many of our young people, college will be a part of their future.

To all of you, congratulations and good luck. I know you’re looking forward to all that college will bring – new friends, new experiences, new social opportunities, perhaps the occasional class or two…

But most of all, many of you are thinking one thing: “FREEDOM!”

Well, I have news for you – many of your parents are thinking the same thing!

I mean, of course, they will miss you, but…

Now, seriously, please always remember that your main reason for going to college is not the football or basketball games or the new girlfriends or boyfriends or the dances or even to prepare you to get a job.

It is to enrich and expand your brain and your spirit and to become a more enlightened, and enlightening human being! So, on behalf of everyone who will help foot the bill for you, I say, please go to class and study!

Anyway, the point is, college is going to be a whole new world for you, in every sense.

It will change your life.

It will be thought-provoking.

It will be exciting.

It will be inspiring.

And amid all of that, it will also be hard.

And frustrating.

And, sometimes, lonely.

There are many differences between high school and college. But the main one, in my experience through both of my daughters, is that in high school, people are paid to care about you and your success.

That is NOT the case in college. And frankly, that is less the case the bigger the school you go to. As long as your check clears for this semester’s tuition, many professors do not care about you. They don’t have to. They get paid whether you show up to class or not. Whether you do well, or not.

Now, I am not being cynical or critical, just stating a fact that many of our young people never think about, until they have to think about it, which is this: in the adult world, you are responsible for your happiness. You are responsible for your success.

And for many of you, college is your first step into the adult world.

And, sometimes, the adult world of college can be a little sad and dark.

Trust me when I say this, because I know it, I have lived it, and I have survived it:

You are going to find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the work.

Confused and anxious by the illogic of a large institutional system. “I am majoring in pre-law. Why do I have to take biology?!”

Physically and mentally and spiritually exhausted, as you study for your sixth final exam in two days, putting the finishing touches on a blue book essay, while squeezing in two part-time jobs and an internship (that was me my senior year at Lewis University!)

You’re going to see so many questions, that you cannot even contemplate the answer.

Yet, the answer is right in front of you.

And behind you.

And around you.

In this and all things, the answer is, family.

Yes, college is about many things – classrooms and football games, making new friends, finding a good-paying job so you can pay your parents back for 18 years of rent and utilities and food! – but it’s mainly about one thing: figuring out who you are, and who you want to be. Family is always an important part of both.

Now, you’re thinking, “But what good can my family do if I am hundreds of miles and several hours away from home?”

One of the greatest things about the world we live in, is that “family” can and does mean many different things.

“Family” obviously means those folks who raised us and with whom we were raised – our parents, grandparents, guardians, and yes, even our siblings, as awful as brothers and sisters can be!

But today, “family” can – and often does – mean more than those folks who share our blood and our name.

Family can be:

  • Extended relatives.
  • Old friends and new friends.
  • Church members.
  • People of like-minded interests.
  • People who look like you and look nothing like you.
  • People who speak your language, and whose language you can’t understand.
  • People who hold your hand and your heart, who provide a shoulder and an ear, who profess to understand because they’ve been there, and pretend to understand even though they’ve never been there, but they love you enough to give you some of their time.

You see, “family” isn’t so much a blood relationship anymore.

Rather, it’s a collective connection, an intuitive investment in each other’s well-being.

Now, I don’t want to get all “Churchy” on you – Lord knows, no one likes that! – but, “family” is God’s grace in the form of communion and community.

So, as you move toward college – this first step into what can be a mean, indifferent, uncaring world – know that your family – however you define it – will care for you, and keep you, and raise you up.

Your family – whoever they may be – will help you to get back, and move ahead. To believe, and to revive and refresh, and to succeed.

Always know – in your brain and in your heart and in your soul, that you may be far from home, but you’re never alone. Because you are surrounded by your family.

We support you. We believe in you. We empower you. We trust you. We are proud of you.

And we love you.

Congratulations to all of you, and good luck!

 

A Truer Love Story Was Never Told

love story

Thirty-three years ago, sporting leather pants and cowboy boots, I picked up a special young woman for our first date. 

Thankfully, the boots and pants died a quick fashion death.

But that first date turned into many more, 29 years of marriage, two wonderful daughters, a granddaughter (coming soon!), four goofy dogs, more ups than downs, and a love that endures. 

Here is our (mostly) absolutely true love story…

A TRUER LOVE STORY WAS NEVER TOLD

(Originally published in “Chocolate Cows and Purple Cheese, and other tales from the homefront”, available on Amazon) 

Before my last name supplanted hers, my wife hated my guts.

Believe it or not, this is a story of true love, though it is both “Post” and “Anti” Valentine’s Day. Because just after Valentine’s Day in 1985, my life changed.

On February 21, 1985, Kellie became my future. We have spent more than half of our lives together.

That two teens fell in love is neither particularly unique nor especially interesting, until one considers our relationship prior to that first date.

She absolutely despised me.

Kellie and I met our senior year in high school. We were both new to the school, and so didn’t know each other.

As she described me, I was a pompous egomaniac bent on controlling the school, if not the world. In hindsight, she was more right than wrong. Kellie has smoothed my rough edges considerably. But, fully unfurled, I can still be a tough flag to salute.

I certainly had an air of confidence thanks to my involvement in numerous student activities. And I was rightly proud of my several positions of student leadership. But all Kellie saw was overbearing hubris.

We didn’t “meet cute.”

In fact, our first encounters only strengthened her perception of me. I was editor of the student newspaper; she typed copy on the then-new computer system. (Yes, though my children refuse to believe it, we are old enough to remember when there were no computers…)

Kellie also had the added pleasure of watching me fawn daily over my girlfriend du jour.

As most teenagers do at some point in most of their young relationships, I seriously thought I would spend the rest of my life with this young woman.

“The rest of my life” lasted about five months.

Fast forward to the December of my freshman year in college. My faith in women had only recently been restored, but was still fragile, after the aforementioned girlfriend had ripped my heart from its moorings, stomped on and handed back to me the prior spring.

But the lovelorn and common sense are often strangers.

The ex-girlfriend asked me for a ride to a holiday party at a mutual friend’s house. I obliged, thinking that this was her way of re-stoking our past embers. The only fire was in my heart. The only smoke, in my eyes.

The ex-girlfriend merely needed a ride and, to make matters worse, she met another guy at the party.

Luckily for me, Kellie also came to the shindig. Trying to make my ex jealous, I sidled up to Kellie in the ex’s line of sight and planted a holiday smooch on her cheek.

To this day, my wife says that kiss turned everything around. I didn’t think it was particularly innovative or memorable, as kisses go. But, what do I know? I’ve never kissed myself.

Ever the dense man (I understand from many women that that phrase is redundant) I missed her flashing-neon signals of interest for two months.

But we finally went on our first date, a college dance, on February 20, 1985. The next day, I called the three other girls I was haphazardly dating and wished them all a happy life.

Many years later, I am still cynical, sarcastic and doubting. My tongue is only partly in cheek when I say that people are like stray cats. If you keep feeding them, they’ll keep coming around. I don’t like cats, and I tend not to trust most people, at least at first.

But, among countless life lessons my wife has taught me, I have learned from Kellie that most people are very nice if only given a chance. (Cats still irritate me, though.)

Kellie has an amazing vision of the heart, a quality I lack, admire and covet. She saw through my flinty veneer.

But, more than merely being able to see through me, she wanted to see through me. And when I fought her peeking into my soul, she smiled and laughed until I let my guard down.

All these years later, she still laughs at me. Most of the time it is with love in her heart. The other times? Well, let’s just say I often reap what I sow. But I am glad to have her by my side as we plow through life together.

Just don’t tell anyone I said so. I don’t want people to think I’m a nice guy.

 

 

Disappointment

disappointment

In January, my daughter, Olivia and I visited the Holocaust Museum in Skokie. We are both history and World War II buffs. The tickets were her very thoughtful Christmas gift to me.

Seeing my Facebook post as we waited for the museum to open, a friend directed, “Give me your thoughts.”

Here they are:

The God of the Judeo-Christian tradition created humanity in His/Her/Its image. I believe in that God, whose faith in us has traditionally and theologically far outstripped our faith in Him/Her/It.

However, as I walked through the Holocaust museum, struggling to hold back tears over example after horrific example of the worst kind of inhumanity (thankfully, darkness enshrouds many of the displays), the thought occurred:

Having made such a life-giving, loving, humble gesture, God must be terribly disappointed in us.

To be clear: the historical “Holocaust” — Nazi Germany’s systemic extermination of millions of Jews, Poles, Gypsies and others who did not fit their social/cultural/genetic/political ideal — inspired this poem.

However, it is written in the present tense because the same impulses that fueled the Holocaust of the 20th century are not new and, worse, seem to continue today.

***PLEASE NOTE: I wrote this several weeks before last week’s school shooting in Parklands, Florida. But, if the poem fits…

HOLOCAUST

Am I angry?

How can you even ask when

I see walls painted black with hatred

Brick upon brick built to separate

Cemented with ignorance

Turned out by factories of arrogance

Chimneys that once belched ashen souls

Again spewing red death, choking

Everyone who would try to breathe free

I hear profiteers selling prosperity

At all cost (as long as it isn’t theirs)

Preaching false fantasies of glittering gold

Willing to ransom their souls for much less

Than thirty pieces of silver

I gave everyone a spark of the Divine

A sliver of the holy Soul

Yet you willingly, gladly

Bind yourself to the anchor of rotting flesh

Happily trading Eternity

For a second of passing pleasure

You choose to allow this to be

None of this –

Fear

Suspicion

Bigotry

Genocide

Despair

Division

Self-interest

Greed

Would happen otherwise

You all say Yes!

Or, at least, you don’t say No

You pretend like it will never happen again

Then stand by and look away when it happens again

You are all guilty — if not by decree

Then by complicity

You do all of it in my name

The gall! The hubris!

How dare you claim

To know anything about me

When you ignore

My heart

My tears

My blood

My love

You have monetized and weaponized

Pain and darkness and shame and guilt

Using each to draw apprehensive lines

Creating “Them”

Where only “We”

Existed before

I made it so easy

All you had to do was

Just accept

Just welcome

Just protect

Just care for

Each other

Instead you inflate your ego

Writing my words – then rejecting anyone who doesn’t speak like you

Building my house – then locking out anyone with a different key

Clothing me – then stripping anyone with newer threads

Claiming me – then silencing anyone who dares try to share

Yes! I am angry

How can I not be when

My heart is broken over and over

By the reality of a dream

smashed among the stars

You are not what I hoped for

When I sighed into the heavens

You are not me, nor do you even try to be

Rather, you sing phony Hosannas and

Wave insipid credentials in my face

Too cowardly to look me in the eye

And wipe the tear from my cheek