#30 Days Trying to Find Joy Challenge – Day 7 and Day 6 Missed

March 11th, 2020 Wednesday 7:33pm – Michael, Hershey Bars & Quality

Yesterday, my “Day 6” of this late night journaling thing — I got a call from my dear friend Alice.  She lives in Boston.  I’ve known her since I was just 11 years old.  When Alice calls, I stop what I’m doing and pick up the phone. It’s rare to get a call from her – usually we exchange texts and emails around special holidays and such and when we’re in each other’s “town”, we visit with each other if and when we can. It’s a solid friendship. An old friendship. It’s one of those friendships that needs no explanation or excuses. We just pick up from where we left off. Easy. Doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It always feels like just yesterday we last spoke…

I picked up the phone, excited to have seen her number and name show up on my cell so I answered happily.  Sadly, she was calling to talk about Michael having died the Friday before and thought, because I was on social media, I might have already known through his brother’s post or something. But I hadn’t.

I wasn’t shocked that he had passed away. But it hurt my soul nonetheless. It bothered me the rest of the day.  Michael had recently gone through a liver transplant about 8 months ago.  He’d had this pretty interesting and incredible life…so many ups and downs, and yet, he always found a way through them all. In so many ways he was a pillar of strength.  It really seemed like he had 9 lives or was just indestructible. He’d been through so much, I just never thought he’d pass away.  Alice mentioned something that made me feel so much better – she reminded me that after all Michael had been through in his life, the idea that he would end up passing away, on the couch,  after talking to his mother, might really be the blessing none of us would have guessed would happen. She’s right. He had a quiet and simple passing. At least compared to what might have been many times before…it really was the blessing.     

I’ve been thinking about his family and friends all day. I hung out with Michael when he visited Los Angeles on New Year’s in 2009. I picked him up from the airport and then we drove to Simi Valley or somewhere like that to spend the weekend with another friend, Donnie.  I told Alice about that time and reminisced for a bit and I think she heard me get pretty sad, because she then reminded me to eat some chocolate in his honor – Michael loved Hershey bars and I could honor him by doing that. Eating chocolate! It made me laugh a bit… 

What I thought about today though was how easily one life could change another’s. I keep having these thoughts in my head that I’m not doing enough in my life, that I’m wasting away somehow because I feel that my reach is not big enough and that I should be helping more people. I should be doing more.  I’m honestly not sure what it is I think I can do to help the world, but does anyone else out there ever feel like you could be doing so much more, if only if…? I find myself feeling inadequate most days, like I’m wasting too much time and just not doing enough…

But I realized today that Michael, just like my mother, changed and molded my life just by being simply who they were. My mom’s influence is pretty obvious.  But I met Michael when I was just a kid and even though he was going through his own private hell, he made sure to walk me through, by paying attention to an annoying teenager and by offering a tough-kindness and words of wisdom that I still hold onto today.  Michael is one of the people I wrote about in my book.  And this is in no way a push of my book on anyone, but to actually demonstrate how important Michael was to me. His presence in my life mattered and there’s no doubt it helped make me the woman I am today.   

I guess what I’m saying is simply this:  It’s not the amount of people you know that matters – what matters is the quality of the moments you have with every person you do get to meet. And whether Michael was talking to high profile folk (he knew quite a few) or just a kid like me back in the day, Michael was authentically Michael!  There was nothing fake about him.  Michael changed me and made me a better person, just by being himself.  Our moments together in the big scheme of things were few, but they were quality times and life changing for me.  I’m so grateful to have spent the time I did with him and I’ll always cherish the letter he wrote to me (that I still have! I found it today) and that crazy fun New Year’s Eve weekend we spent hanging out in Donnie’s living room laughing and reminiscing about life in Jamaica Plain (Boston).  

I’m gonna run out and grab a couple of Hershey Bars before I call it a night.

I love you Michael, forever and a day. Godspeed my friend. Godspeed.

The Only Guarantee

The only thing we are guaranteed the day we are born is that inevitably we will die. We don’t know how or why or when, but eventually we all do stop having “TIME” to do, to be, to live.  It is an undeniable truth we all have in common.

I’m not going to say what you think next – I’m not going to encourage you or try to inspire or motivate you to live your best life.  I’m not.  I have faith that you try to do that every day. We all do the best we can with what we have in front of us. And yeah, I’m tired of the constant cheering on, the pushing and the loud screaming about all the ways for you to succeed.  As if you’re not already doing your best to be better every day…

No, today, on this day of remembrance, this day that reminds me of how precious life is – how we can lose a college friend like Cesar Murillo, in a moment, for no reason at all except that he was in the twin towers going to work – on this day when I reflect on time, on birth, on death – on this thing we call life, the only thing I’m going to encourage you to do, is to take a deep breath.  Exhale.  Take a moment to be grateful for all of it. For the process, for whatever all of THIS is. Existence, possibility, life. 

If you’re reading this be grateful for the good, the bad, the mundane, the joyful, the sad. Reflect on this moment as a powerful one. As a quiet one.  Acknowledge that you are here, you are worthy, lovely, and perfect just as you are.

Appreciate this moment in a time of grace.  And never forget…

How precious life truly is.

College. Friends. Life.

My Slice Of Pie

My Slice of Pie

As many people know, I recently traveled to Vermont and Boston to visit friends – it was an amazing trip.  And even though it was just to the East Coast and a place very familiar to me, it was one of the best “vacations” I’ve had in long while. I’m so glad I went.

Along my travels, I had dinner with Patty (well, Alden and Andy were there as well – but this is a story about my friend “Pie”, aka Patty).  She’s retired from working at the University of Vermont.  It’s where we first met.  She shared with me all the gifts she received at her retirement party.  They presented her with a book that included letters from students talking about why Patty Corcoran was special to them.  I had no idea and hadn’t been contacted to write anything – in all fairness to UVM, I took my name off their mailing and calling lists years ago… but still.  I should have written something for her book.  I was one of her students.

In her usual understanding and lovingly-filled way, as she flipped through the book casually, she asked me to write a little something and send it to her so she could “include it in the book” after-all.

Well, following is that little something — a note of thanks for Pie:

 

Why is Patty Corcoran special to me?  Well, that could easily fill an entire book.

I was never supposed to go to college. It wasn’t that no one mentioned the word “college” growing up, it just wasn’t tangible or realistic for most in my neighborhood.  So, imagine my surprise when I found myself signing in for orientation at the University of Vermont.

Now, I can’t find the right words to describe the amount of fear I had in going to college in the first place, but once I was there it was palpable.  Everything and anything was a reason for me to quit.  From my point of view, I wasn’t supposed to be there anyways.  Patty clearly had a different vision about my college career and from day one her support and commitment to me as a student was…remarkable.

My first experience in dorm life was a horrible one.  I was an older “non-traditional” student who had been assigned to live in Davis Hall with a roommate who was fresh out of high school and ready to explore her new-found freedom in college life. We clashed. We clashed on so many levels.  After many attempts to resolve the problem myself, I was ready to pack my bags and make my way back to Boston.  I was intimidated by my surroundings and not being able to get along with my roommate seemed to be my cue.  But Patty Corcoran intervened with the Director of Residential Life and got me moved immediately. That was the first time we met – officially anyways. She made it clear then and she would reiterate over the next four years, that any problem, any issue I needed help with, I was to contact her first before boarding a bus back to Boston.  That was my saving Grace.

The ability to comprehend someone’s fear and dissolve its power instantaneously is one of Patty’s notable qualities.  There was never an issue too difficult that she wouldn’t tackle and find some way to walk you through.  If there was a problem, she’d fix it. Period.

A better example of Patty’s importance to me came in another moment at UVM that was devastating for me personally.  I struggled with my grades. I couldn’t understand why exactly – I studied and studied and studied and I still failed tests or barely got a passing grade.  I was generally a “B” student in high school, most days without even trying – so again, I reasoned that college just wasn’t for the likes of me. True to form, Patty didn’t buy into that at all. She was convinced that I had what it took to get my bachelor’s degree and proposed that I get tested to see if I had a learning disability that we could work around.

Well, I wasn’t diagnosed with a learning disability, but it was determined that I didn’t have the necessary basic skills that most college students have when entering their first year.  I had been a stutterer as a kid, so this was yet another hurdle I didn’t think I could bare. The tests revealed other information: that I was a visual learner and did best verbally explaining things instead of writing them out on timed exams or taking lengthy multiple choice kind of tests.  Clearly, again, in my mind, this was more evidence that I wasn’t fit to be in this place.  That’s what I understood from the “diagnosis”. Combined with being Black, Latina, older, growing up poor…I was sure THIS was it, I’d be heading home soon enough.

But that’s not what Patty heard. 

What Patty heard was I needed to be able to take tests that were un-timed. That I needed to be able to verbally prove I knew the material.  That I needed to be able to write out answers to any questions without the pressure of a clock.  Patty made all that happen.  We sat and looked at my class schedule, she spoke to the professors who would allow for this adjustment and we changed my classes for those who would not.  Patty empowered me and taught me to work around any “disability” – and she reminded me, never to let anything deter me from my goals. But here’s the true brilliance of these moment if you haven’t figured it out yet:  Patty believing in me, having faith in me, is what made all of my studies and test taking after that so much easier.  Professors accommodating my needs was helpful, but Patty having the certainty that I was worthy…that was everything. When someone believes in you?  That’s a game-changer.

I could go on and on. As I’ve mentioned, I could write a book about Patty Corcoran’s importance to me during my days at UVM. Her ability to nonchalantly take any problem you have and turn it into a learning moment is priceless.  Her casual skill of reminding you how important you are to the world and how much you matter to her is remarkable.  And Patty does it all with a sense of joy and positivity —  and it’s always personal.  You are the most important person in the room when Patty is talking to you.  You are all that matters.  For the longest time I thought I was the only student she cared this much about – I was special.  When I realized Patty did this for many students at UVM, I can’t lie, I was a little jealous.  Okay, maybe a lot jealous!

But I understood in my senior year that Patty Corcoran was not just a gift to me, but a gift to UVM. A gift to anyone who had the privilege of knowing this wonderful woman.  She was a light, an inspiration, even during the tumultuous times of my four years at UVM. She was always positive and uplifting.  And like so many people I admire and aspire to be like, Patty makes you feel like a better person just by being her authentically cool self. She makes it all seem so easy.

When you’re with Pie, you will smile. You will feel joy.  And you will feel loved.  There’s a power in that and a strength in who Patty Corcoran is, that makes her the kind of woman I aspire to be every single day.

So yes, Patty Corcoran, is still very special to me.  My Pie.  I would have never made it through college without her.  Of this I have no doubt.  I am a better person for knowing her and grateful to still be able to call her my friend.

Thank you, Patty…for everything and congratulations on your retirement!

With love and gratitude always,

Carmen Suarez, Class of 1994

 

 

 

 

 

 

For The Love of Alden

I was out running.

I had forgotten to silence my cell.  The music and mind are not to be interrupted for that one workout hour. Every. Day. That’s the goal.

The text chimed loudly amidst Prince’s “Purple Rain”.  I stopped cold, annoyed at the interruption.  I checked the phone, attempting to just turn off all sound, I saw the alert message anyways.  It was from the East Coast.  Alden was in the hospital. He’d had a bike accident.

I skipped the rest of the text.

My heart sank.  This has happened to me before.  A text message and then, dread.  I felt my eyes well up. And I reminded myself to read the whole text first…stay calm and read the entire text.

Alden & Jame Startt, lead guitarist for the Parisian funk band, Urban Groove Unit; incomparable vlogger (Tour Talk); and the best photographer of cyling alive today (see Peloton Magazine).

Alden is this beautiful man who is a cross between Robert Redford, Anthony Bourdain and the best friend you could ever have – even if you’d just met him a minute ago, you’d feel it.  He’s intellectually brilliant, his voice is sexy and his energy perfection. I honestly think he’s maybe the hottest guy I’ve ever known – definitely the most beautiful man I’ve ever laughed with –  and I know if he were reading this right now, he’d be blushing, giggling.  He’d try real hard to be mad at me all at the same time humbled by my awe of him. His genuine humility, his authenticity, is probably the sexiest thing about him. And yeah, he’s easy on the eyes for sure.

Alden is a cyclist.  He travels the world and adventures for most of the year meeting the most amazing people, taking the most incredible pictures and just personifies to me – “enjoying life”.  He calls Vermont home, but I think Alden brings a sense of home to wherever he is and to whomever you are. He connects with everyone, from any background, anywhere.  You can’t help but be comfortable in his space – he just has that kind of energy. It’s a gift.  I honestly don’t know one person who has ever said a bad thing about him. But then again, no one would dare say a word to me – I’d kick their butt if they did.

I read the entire text.

Alden was reading my book while “recovering” — he broke his femur. “Call him, he would love to talk to you.”  I felt comforted by that line in the text.  Part of me laughed at the thought of him reading my book for any kind of recovery – but yes, my heart settled a bit. Tears had already rolled down one cheek, as I dialed.

The first words out of his mouth were “CARRRRRRRRRRMEN!” — and then, “Do NOT get on a plane to see me. Don’t do it!”  He was being sarcastic and yet, he wanted me to come – he knows that’s exactly what was about to happen.  I’d done it before when a mutual friend of ours was in the hospital. That time, there was no conversation about it, I just got on a plane and was there as soon as possible.

We talked for a while.  It was nice.  I had forgotten how much I loved talking to this beautiful soul.

In India hanging out with High Schoolers

He’s funny and endearing without even trying.  And whenever we chat it’s both a giggle fest and a learning moment.  Mostly for me, but I think for him too.  We shared our love of Anthony Bourdain and how much we missed him.  I kicked myself for not calling him when “Tony” died – but you know, I thought of Alden so much.  He truly is the most realistic version of a REAL Anthony Bourdain I know – minus the food and tats, add in the avid cyclist and skier.  But Alden is a story-teller, a lover of people, a traveler – an adventurous soul.  His natural good looks are nothing compared to his naturally pure gorgeous heart.  I am so lucky to have him in my life and so grateful that although his injuries are fierce and yes, he’ll be out of commission for a while, that it was nothing worse.   He’ll make a full recovery.  And that’s the thing about Alden – even while I’m tearing as he explains how bad the break was and how devastated he is knowing he’ll be in rehab for bit, he then expressed how in the big scheme of things, he was fine. He’s never a victim. And he’s always more concerned about others and their stories – he wanted to know more about my book and how it was going.  And he reassured me that even though he was still suffering from a concussion that he was excited to read it.  Hilarious!  But that’s who he is. It’s never about him, even when it completely should be.  He’s always curious about others – lovely, charming and so damn smart. I’m honored he’s my brother, my friend. And I’m so glad he’s okay.

Alden riding in West Marin County, CA in the spring.

So, I’m not jumping on a plane today to visit Alden. Though I did look at flights and I will be out in August for sure.  In the meantime, I put together a care package for him – I took a pic of a recent mural of Anthony Bourdain by Jonas Never at the Gramercy here in Los Angeles. I added in some other little funny-isms and sent that out yesterday after our talk.

Today, I thought about writing this blog post knowing that he’d hate me sharing his pictures from his private facebook page – knowing that he’d hate all the accolades and love I send his way.  I gush too much I’m sure.  But then I thought – I don’t care.  If I had LOST him, if my boy had died in that bike accident, I’d be writing this and sharing about him because I waited too long.  It would be a miserable thing.  And sad.  And you know what?  I don’t want to make that mistake.  I want to praise him while he’s here.  I never want to take for granted ever again the people I love the most.  Priorities.  He can be mad all he wants. I welcome his wrath.  I’ll be grateful for it actually.

Reach out to your loved ones today.  Seriously. Take this as a sign.

With love, Carmen