One year ago today, Grace & I were engaged. Since that seminal moment, this past year has seen its share of ups and downs, the highest of the highs most certainly high and the lowest of the low tragically low. Through it all, my constant has been Grace and our dog Taylor.
After missing opportunities in both 2018 & 2019 after sharing my reflections at the beginning of 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, I wanted to share my reflections upon the previous year and because it was the last year of the twenty teens, the previous decade.
First off — Happy New Year!
Welcome to our twenties!
I will be entering my fifties.
Goodness, I remember when my parents reached fifty, and I thought they were old. Now entering or closing in on their mid-to-late seventies, they seem younger and more vibrant than ever to me. Dad throws himself into the garden every single day remaining physically active and continues to be inquisitive about all things in life remaining mentally active. Mom still cooks the best meals and throws the best parties and travels around the country to be with her grandkids. I admire how they both remain so actively engaged with life which gives me a glimpse into what our future could look like. Though saddled with significantly more responsibilities and the realization that the important things in my life today are significantly more important than they were back then, I personally feel younger and more alive today than I ever did in my twenties. I did a lot more damage to my body in my twenties, so perhaps that could also have something to do with it.
As one would expect, New Years’ celebrations have changed significantly over the years. I had many epic NYE’s in Chicago in the 90s and the new millennia, many of the best ones nights I only remembered slightly, many of them in a bar or a club or a house party, all of them with the closest of friends, friends then and friends to this day. Among the most memorable, I ushered in Y2K in Los Angeles with Tad and Kemper, and decided to relive it a couple years later there too with Tad, Derek, Tony and Shea. This decade started with an NYE wedding in Philadelphia where I was standing in the front with Ryan, spending it with him as he married Kate, as well as with some of my Auburn family including Derek, Garrett and Andrea. In 2011, Chris flew in from Thailand to spend a wonderfully cold NYE in the West Loop with me in Chicago. 2012 was another fun NYE with Paulie & Lynn, Brandon & Rita, Mindy & Dan, and Bridget & Adam celebrating in Bucktown, Chicago and later with Jodie & Matt downtown. As the decade moved along, my NYE started becoming more mellow after moving to the Bay Area in 2103. Taylor and I drove down to Yosemite where Derek and Tucker were waiting for us in a camper and we changed the bars for the great outdoors. In 2014 after visiting my sister Bess & family and Steve & family outside Washington DC and a surprise visit to see Ryan in New York, Derek and I traveled to Thailand to visit Chris. In 2015, Taylor and I drove down to Santa Barbara to be with Tad and his wife Annie. In 2016 after spending the holidays with my parents and Bess & family in Tampa, I came back to Taylor to spend it with him in Sausalito hiking the Headlands. By the end of 2017, Taylor and I had moved back to Chicago, and Derek & I celebrated a quiet NYE with Dru & Kelly at their condo. In 2018, most of the family visited Chicago along with Derek, when Grace & I hosted a nice big fun party with all of our families and we got to see George & Kathleen’s son Jorryn and Bess & Jon’s kids Bea and August play with each other. Grace and I spent NYE itself with a wonderfully delicious and quiet dinner at DaVanti Enoteca in Little Italy.
If one thing changed more than most, my passion for sports waned significantly. As much as I still loved it, I no longer lived and died with the outcomes of my teams’ games. I no longer knew a lot of the players’ names, their season stats, what college they attended and how much they made. None of them were putting food on my table, and I finally came to the realization that they never would. The decade started with the San Francisco 49ers meteoric rise in 2011, 2012, and 2013 ultimately coming within one play of winning the Super Bowl; that team was so much fun to watch. However, they reverted back to their days at the bottom of the division as they were the decade before only to see them rise again this season to becoming one of the preeminent teams in the NFL. While I still loved them and wanted them to win, when I thought of the NINERS, my mind always wandered back to the 80s and 90s when I was just a kid rooting for them. My alma mater, the Purdue Boilermakers basketball team, had an NCAA tournament run for the ages last season as Carson Edwards could not miss a shot and came within seconds of advancing to the Final Four. My Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team had three straight 10+ win seasons (something that had not been accomplished since the legendary — and my favourite — coach Lou Holtz was leading the team), not to mention being in the playoffs twice this decade, but I never felt like they were among the elite college football programs. The Boston Red Sox won two World Series titles and while it was awesome to be a part of that, I was not nearly as invested as I was back in 2003 when they lost to the Yankees in the ALCS and then beat them after a 3-1 deficit the following year to break the Curse of the Bambino, then easily beat the Cardinals in the World Series. If there was one time these past ten years that I relived the passions of my younger years, it was in 2016 during the Chicago Cubs magical run to the World Series title. That same 2003 MLB playoffs that dealt the Red Sox a devastating loss in the ALCS also handed an equally devastating one to the Cubs in the NLCS. With that loss, I went from liking the Cubs to loving them. In 2016, I was still living in Sausalito, but flew to Vancouver to join Derek during the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That moment when the Cubs beat them and being with Derek was simply epic. I had not had that feeling in sports since the 2004 Red Sox. Then when the Cubs beat the Indians after being down 3-1 needing to win the final two games in Cleveland, I just started crying tears of joy. I was a kid all over again. I had been a Cubs season ticket holder for the 2013 season before moving to the Bay Area, then reclaimed my tickets once I moved back for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. While the Cubbies never recaptured the magic of 2016, I just loved going to ballgames. While I was in Sausalito, I went to a ton of games at AT&T Park in San Francisco. I would catch a ballgame wherever and whenever I could, and was lucky enough to have prime seats for playoff games at Lambeau Field in Green Bay to start the decade and Soldier Field in Chicago to near the end of the decade.
While sports took a back seat in my life, many other things took over in its place, most importantly time with myself (which generally meant time with Taylor). For five years in Sausalito, Taylor and I hiked the Marin Headlands — if not there, then somewhere else in Northern California — almost every day. Each day brought us closer and closer to each other and to God appreciating nature with every step. After years away from drawing, I started painting once I moved to California initially with oil paints, then acrylics and watercolours. I was incredibly insecure at first — I still am — but found my heart as it guided my brushes. I immersed myself in writing and what started out during high school with journal entries in spiral-bound notebooks that graduated into rich leather-bound journals years later morphed into this blog. Much of my time was spent in deep reflection, dreaming my life into reality, appreciative of everyone in my life, knowing that each night was just a few nights past the anniversary of the day I lived. That moment demanded reflection. After surviving an accident where I was hit by a car while I was crossing the street, I closed my thirties lucky and so very thankful to be alive, and that no doubt fueled my adventurous spirit the next ten years, which most certainly saw me experience my greatest amount of growth. I wasn’t going to wait for a single moment to come to me, but rather take life and make it my own and in the process, make my moments come true. I was thinking about that as I was reflecting upon not only the past year, but the past decade.
“Talk about a dream
Try to make it real
You wake up in the night
With a fear so real
Spend your life waiting
For a moment that just don’t come
Well don’t waste your time waiting.”
Springsteen, a longtime favourite of mine, himself said in an interview ten years ago discussing his process when he wrote Badlands, “…I kept writing and writing until I had a song that I felt deserved that title. I didn’t have any problem thinking really hard about what I was doing. I didn’t have any problem spending hours and hours in pursuit of what I was after. I honored, I believed, I respected the characters in my songs to the place where I felt they deserve my time, they deserve my greatest effort, and I will do honor by them and by myself if do this right.”
So that’s what I thought as I entered this past decade. Everything I did, I would do intentionally, give my time and my greatest effort to the people, places and experiences that truly mattered. As a result, I lived one adventure after another. I moved from Chicago to the Bay Area then back. I worked for incredible companies that were doing good in this world, including Careerbuilder, Glassdoor, Glint, Upwork and now Trusted Health. I traveled to India (a couple times including an epic 30-day adventure where half of it was the Rickshaw Run), Thailand (where we literally went all over the northern and central parts of the country), London in England, Copenhagen in Denmark, (Cabo San Lucas and Puerta Vallarta in) Mexico, Atlantis in the Caribbean, (Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogata in) Colombia, and (Lima and Cusco in) Peru. Anthony Bourdain once said of travel, “The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Inspired by it, I took a two-year sabbatical that transformed my life. I met one amazing person after another, doubling down on some of the best relationships — family and friends — that I’d ever had and no doubt would have for the rest of my life that fueled my growth. Conversely, I discarded, or at least minimized, toxic relationships that stunted my growth. All the while throughout this entire decade, I had my faithful companion Taylor by my side who saw me through everything, laughing and crying with me each and every day, every step all the way.
I was content being alone with Taylor knowing that being with the wrong person would destroy everything that I had created for myself. I was already blessed with people who loved me, and with them, felt satisfied and fulfilled. With that said, that didn’t stop me from praying for her — this person that I was destined to be with in this life or the next — to be well and to be loved. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I did meet her that I would recognize her immediately. If we were not to meet in this life, I could be content knowing that I was living the best life I could and that made me happy. In the process, I was developing patience by taking control of the things I could control and accepting the things I could not, building trust by being trustworthy and being present, gaining respect by being respectful, building loyalty by being there for those that needed me in whatever way being there meant. I also knew all of my adventures that I had experienced, and all the people that had played a part in my journey, would lead me to that one person I’d been praying for, and one path.
Grace’s first name derives from the Sanskrit stuti which means “praise”, which makes all the sense in the world to me. I praised God when I met her on 4 August 2018, and within moments, I knew she was the one. Taylor met her a week after I did; he would “tell” me later that he knew she was the one even before I did. She became the partner I’d always been searching for in my life, and so began my greatest adventure.
We closed 2018 with a big party with our families and started the last year of the past decade hand-in-hand with each other and Taylor. A clear, colorless, large, exquisite rock had been burning a hole through my pockets the first two weeks of the new year. On 16 January 2019, in Sausalito at Cavallo Point with cloudy skies above us, heavy winds around us, and seagulls encircling us singing to the heavens while the Golden Gate Bridge looked down upon us, I got down on one knee, asked the most important question I’d ever asked in my life. Grace said yes, and that rock traveled from my pocket and my hand to her finger where it belonged. For several months she was my fiancé, then just like that we became husband and wife. Both before and after that moment, we traveled all over the States visiting family and friends in Tampa, Atlanta, Washington DC, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Mackinac Island, and finally to West Lafayette for my 30-year high school reunion. We went on an epic honeymoon throughout southern and central Spain, landing in Barcelona, then driving to Valencia, Granada, Malaga, Gibraltar, Sevilla, and Madrid before driving back to Barcelona. The year ended with tearful and heartfelt goodbyes from Taylor who joined Jackyboy, Kalib, Foster, Lawrence, Tucker and others in Doggy Heaven. He left us knowing his work was done and that we’d be fine. We still have a hard time without his physical presence in our lives, but so very appreciative of the time he spent with us and the love that poured from every inch of this big boy with this big heart and soul to us.
In addition to our own loss, we felt the losses of our dear family and friends. My grandfather passed away four days after Grace & I were engaged. He left behind a family who had all happily settled. His children gave him grandchildren and his grandchildren gave him great-grandchildren. I was blessed to have seen and spent time with him on a number of occasions during my travels to India, and would always be indebted to him for saving my life as an infant when I contracted pneumonia. I was doubly blessed knowing that my mother told him before he passed that I had met Grace, and that we were going to get married. I was so happy to see that my parents were able to attend his funeral and through the wonder of technology was able to watch it with Grace from our living room as it was streamed till the wee hours of the night and morning, tears streaming down our faces. Appachen was in Heaven now with my Ammachi. Grandparents are a treasure and while I never met my father’s father who had passed before I was born, I met the others and was able to see one of them well into his nineties. That was truly an incredible blessing.
No one’s death affected us more than what happened with my dearest high school friend Steve and his family when our world prematurely lost his son Jake. I’m in awe of my friend’s strength as surely God has been speaking to him through his departed son. He immediately forgave the man who was driving the van that hit his son who had fallen off his bike, which just spoke volumes to Steve & Jenn’s character and faith. We also watched the celebration of Jake’s life after his funeral, tears streaming down our faces as we saw the Holy Spirit in Steve while he addressed the crowd. It was so incredible; I could feel so much love from that room with over a thousand people that knew and loved Jake. When I thought of last year, or any year quite frankly, it was a mix of both good things and bad things, and we get to decide what we choose to have represent that year. How we look back truly is a choice. While Jake was taken from us, he embodied everything that was good in this world, and through everyone that knew him, carries his legacy of love to everyone else. We still feel it and no doubt always will.
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and… bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.” — Doctor Who
What have I learned in all this time? It only seems like yesterday I was standing on the terrace of a wonderful cafe as the sun was setting with two of my best friends Derek and DaveRisner in Darjeeling, India midway through the Rickshaw Run celebrating my 46th birthday when I wrote down the 46 things that I had learned. That’s still a good list. I’ve a couple more to add.
First, being thankful for what we have instead of being envious of what we don’t is a powerful predictor of happiness. So I practice intentional gratitude every morning when I wake up. I am thankful for Grace, for Taylor, my family, my friends, the opportunity to spread love in this world, to give and share a piece of myself to anyone and everyone who wants it, not to mention accepting love from anyone and everyone who wants to give it back to me.
Second, I truly do believe that we are not victims to our circumstance but rather creators of our destiny. So I do not dwell on what’s happening around me but rather recognize that I have a hand in and should take responsibility for making things happen for me. And if I don’t like it, I can choose to change and be the change.
Third, and this may be the most important thing of all, it’s not just me (and Taylor—RIP) anymore. Everything I do, I do with Grace. Everything I am, I am because of Grace. It’s quite nice to walk hand-in-hand with the person you love most in this world.
Happy New Year everyone.
May 2020 be your best year yet.
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GO ADVENTURE ◆ GO TRAVEL ◆ GO LIVE
ALWAYS BE EPIC
PS. Interestingly, I wrote less and painted less last year than in previous years. I’m not sure if that’s a byproduct of happiness or just that I’m busy engaging with life. My goal is to post at least one new entry each week.
- 1/08/19 —The Driver, Lyft, Frank, Disney and Barry
- 4/20/19 — The 49ers — Live 49 | Love 49
- 7/29/19 — Heading into the Headlands in March
- 7/30/19 — It Happened Before
- 8/01/19 — Who Are You Dylan?
- 8/03/19 — Jimi, Prince & Dylan
- 8/06/19 — He Fell Asleep
- 9/10/19 — Happy Thirteen
- 9/15/19 — World Cup Beers
- 9/22/19 — Seven Games in September
- 9/23/19 — SIX to GO. Go CUBS Go.
- 11/21/19 — Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
- 11/24/19 — Off to the Golden Gate
- 12/01/19 — A Poignant Sight To See
- 12/05/19 — It’s Time
- 12/16/19 — Winter Wonderland
- 12/22/19 — Eleven Years Later
- 12/24/19 — Eating-time During Christmas-time