So long 32, hello palindromic 33.

Palindrome: a word, line, verse, number, sentence, etc., reading the same backward as forward.

Eleven years ago was my last palindrome age so this post will be a reflection piece of where I was at 22, and the palindromic eleven-years in between.

It was 1999 (pre-iTunes, so Prince’s 1999 album had a good year) and by the end of it I was 22.  Wow, I’m smiling now as I think back to myself back then.  Not because it was an exceptional age, but rather it truly was the very last year of my life in which a full-bellied laugh was simple; depth was seen in every single particle; chasing ideas of love that had not yet materialized were immortalized through music and writing; passion held the key between you and me.  Life was different for me then, but I was hell-bent on living this notion that happiness didn’t write books and being lonely was better than being miserable with disposable relationships.  In fact, most everything was disposable then.

2000 and 23 came, I spent an exorbitant amount of time by myself.  It’s pretty intense where the mind can take you if you let it, but fascinatingly enough (and once you get through usual symptoms like Agoraphobia) there’s a level of serene brilliance achieved.  I wrote directly from the Holy Ghost that year.  Learning was my drug, and theories like Astral Projection were my heroin.  There was no better time than to discover my mind, but the soul would come later.  At this time in that year I was unaware it would be my very last birthday where I had the freedom to allow my mind to go into those crevices completely unaware of heart and soul.  I could push to the edge of the mind, expand it until it exploded, and float freely above cerebral debris.  Then it happened, Law and Order was on one minute in my dark TV-illuminated apartment and the next minute my brother was a missing person.  There’s just no way to experience the mind that freely when you’ve discovered  heart through mortality.  It’s too powerful and once you get to the edge in this state the infinite lure of immortality could push you over entirely.

I won’t make this a tear-jerker post about my brother, but I can’t help but think of him when I think back to this incredible 32nd year.  So let me skip from 23-32 (you like that little palindromic trick I just did there?).  I had made a resolution to shed skin, so I put away that novel I had been writing for the past ten or so years because it wasn’t going to, likely, ever be finished.  I started an entirely new novel, unlike anything I had ever written (take that for what you want) and I finished it in seven months.  In March of this past year, I had finished a novel – my first one.  The Great American Novel, except it’s actually about a Canadian and probably not ‘great’ in terms of literature but it’s certainly a viable commercial fiction novel.

In a long-shot effort to get into a prestigious MBA program I applied to a university I had dreamed of attending but the barrier of entry was the GMAT  and it’s just not in my DNA to score well on standardized tests.  By the time I get comfortable with the space, set up, lighting, etc., the test time usually dwindled significantly and I spent the remainder of time frantically clock watching.  I don’t do those types of tests, but I found a loophole and applied to get it waved.  Somehow I convinced NYU that they needed me in their program sans GMAT scores.  It worked, I applied and got accepted.  The prosperity of my 32nd year didn’t end there.  After years of being under-appreciated at work, I went out and got a better job. A better job that afforded me some material possessions (and finally a savings account to which I no longer live paycheck-to-paycheck) that I never had before, and while it doesn’t mean as much it means much more when you don’t have it.

For the first time in my life there wasn’t a struggle.  I always knew there would be a season like this, hoped, but without all the struggle I know I wouldn’t be as grateful as I am for it.  I wouldn’t be able to say I’m proud of myself.  I wouldn’t be able to look around and see these wonderful people who regardless of where they’ve seen me in life feel I’m deserving of their love and I am.  I’m not sure I knew that before.  More importantly, I see them. There is an extreme joy in listening to someone speak their truth (even if your truths are different), understanding without judgment who someone is, and not giving up on people.  32 was a successful year for me, but in a few short hours I’ll be 33 and it’s going to be full of meaning. Less ‘me’ and more ‘you’ because I want more than anything to reach a level of connection that brings an incredible lightness of being that I can only get from others.

After all it was age that Jesus was crucified and Krishna died to repurchase the Karma of Humanity. In his Divine Comedy, Dante attributed 33 songs to the Purgatory and 33 songs to the Sky. It’s the number of days of the “intellectual” cycle in the biorhythm. 1933 was the year prohibition ended. Virginia Woolf didn’t publish her first novel “The Voyage Out” until she was 33.   In Numerology, 33 is the highest of the “Master Numbers” as it symbolizes the ultimate attainment of consciousness.

So goodbye 32, you were good to me.  Let’s do this, 33.

Happy 28th Birthday my beautiful brother…

Today you would have been 28.  I’m awake and beginning my first class toward my MBA.  I’d call you after breakfast and wish you a good day had life worked out differently.  Instead, Jeffrey, this day and all it’s about it reserved for those (like myself) whose life you immensely touched.  I’m so very grateful to have had the eighteen years of this life with you and I feel you in the simplest of breezes, the massaging of the summer sun to my skin, the breath between every thought, the comfort of the night sky, and the love within myself.  If love could have kept you here…you would have lived are so very loved by many people whose lives you’ve changed in even subtle ways and that is what life is about.  So despite your short eighteen years, bubba, you have lived a full life.

Today is reserved for you.  Happy Birthday (you’re in everything every day for me, but today maybe others will be inspired to love hard).

Dear Jeffrey, tomorrow you will be 28…

As I sit here typing this – from Westchester, NY, for my week-long NYU MBA Residency, it occurs to me that a substantial part of this is due to your presence in my life.  Prior to your death, I was a lost soul swimming upstream in a murky fish bowl.  There was little interest in discipline, compassion, or spiritual growth.  While you were still here, in fact, I was more into collecting that which was instantly gratifying, easily disposable, and egocentric.  Maybe I haven’t completely rid myself of the latter, but I do work hard to achieve a heightened level of communication with my sacred self.

Without Alexander Graham Bell there wouldn’t be a telephone (sorry Lady Gaga you didn’t have first dibs), and without you – Jeffrey Lee Ben – I wouldn’t have had any ‘telephone’ to pick up and get in touch with what is at the very core of existence; love and compassion.  Without these two very crucial life tools, I would not be as successful in all my endeavors in life.  Let’s face it the one component that ties the two (love and compassion) together is understanding, and you may climb the ladder of success without it but you will more than likely be alone.

This one is for you my brother.


Sorrow celebrates joy…

We celebrate lots of things in a year if you think about it, and I hope you do, celebrate.  Celebrations change, or at least they have for me.  Christmas, the very essence of opening a present and getting the tingles from deep inside the gut as you rip and tear through it, changes with age.  The crock pot isn’t as exciting as say an easy-bake oven, now is it?  Birthdays, every year counting down to another year older and another year closer to getting on with it – whatever ‘it’ was then, become just another day.  Thirty two isn’t as exciting as say sixteen, now is it?  No excitement of driving legally for the first time and potentially…wait for it…a new car.  Nope, but you still have to pay the bank for the loan on your birthday and the Happy Birthday balloons aren’t even allowed at work.

The older you get, and trust me I’m not claiming thirty two is ‘old’ per se, the more dates you add to the calendar; anniversaries, in-laws birthdays, new birthdays, and death days.  The longer your life becomes the more boxes on that calendar that you, in some form, celebrate.

Death days are unusual days because they don’t, necessarily, have to be marked in a box on a calendar to depress everyone.  No, death days you never forget and the internal clock (the same one that powers the biological clock you hear about or may feel or felt but with less pressure…more like an iCalendar inside your soul) reminds you the closer one gets.  Historically, around Thanksgiving is when a down cycle starts for me and eases back up around February.  I know what you’re thinking and no it’s not seasonal depression.  It’s a hole looking to be filled, but the person to fill it has passed on so it’s an emptiness in my soul around holidays – loss.  The holidays begin the stretch into the moment in time, January 29th, that his life ended.  The constellation of death holidays all at once is the reason for the down cycle.  The death of Thanksgiving with my brother, the death of shopping for him at Christmas, and as a New Year approaches…ultimately the death of him.  In more ways than one every year, like grief, it gets less so a death occurs…the longevity of death pushing me further away from the actual moment.  Maybe this is why death vacillates in my writing and speech in the fourth quarter of the year.

I think back to the precious moments (no not the collectible figurines) when life resonates causing me to smile, deeply, and the urge to dance strikes.  That moment when the full moon takes your breath away, or when you can feel the sun hit your nose and radiate your soul.  Moments when you skip across the street, music hits your nervous system causing your head to move to the beat, a bright idea that shines down from the heavens right through you to the paper, those innocent moments.  Laughing until you cry, remember that?  Somewhere in the space between death and day I found a reason to celebrate, and that reason is life.

My brother couldn’t stop smiling, it’s true.  The very fiber of his being was happiness, and his life was a delight.

“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.”
(Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

Birthday Wishes from a Birthday Girl

Today is my birthday, I’m 32.  I’ve had all sorts of birthdays, extravagant, family, romantic, forgotten, adventure, simple, drunken, and creative.  Today I’m snowed in and watching Christmas Movies.  It reminds me of being a kid when my birthdays were white ones.  The only difference is I don’t have a gingerbread cake.  Since it’s my day, I wanted to thank 32 people for being in my life….so here goes (also, might be worth mentioning the list is in no particular order other than however you popped into my head after a glass or two of wine).

1. Jeffrey: Your indelible grace has given me a life I never thought possible.

2. Melinda:  I hold you in the highest regard, and I am so thankful to grow with you.

3. Mom: Your strength in life has given me enough to draw upon for the remainder of mine.

4. Blake:  You were the first kid to melt my scarred heart.

5. Mark Bradley:  Your innocence, inspiring, your smile warms my soul.

6. Aunt Lulu:  My godmother, my angel, you embody that which we all strive to become.

7. Granny Erwin:  Your independence, contagious, and because of it I have experienced more than a lifetime’s worth of stories.

8.  Crystal: When we were kids you convinced me that broken glass was diamonds, and without that tool I would be miserable.

9. Moe Moe: When I think of childhood, your face comes up with an endearing smile.

10. Karrie (Baze) Hampton:  Tied together all these years, my dear friend, our lockers, our birthdays, our youth.

11. Joe and Betty Williams:  Thanks for giving me my first job.  It took a lot for a fourteen-year old to call and ask and although I’m not filthy rich and still have to work, you gave me my first independent dollar.

12. Stormi: You’ll one day be a character in my book, that’s how unforgettable you are.

13.  Granny Montano:  92 years is a lot of life, and that summer in 2001 meant more to me than you’ll ever know.  I bet you’re pulling out your personal salt & pepper shakers eating with Jeffrey right now.

14. Uncle Joe:  I still may not have more checks coming in than out, but you gave me a wealth of knowledge.

15. Red:  You inadvertenly got me into the music business, so thank you.  Had you not had a keyboard and Beastie Boys album, I might not be cool 😉

16. Rika: The mistakes we knew we were making…thanks for being there when the world disappeared.

17. Buddha:  You’re an amazing person, and a truly nice guy my dear friend.

18. Lance:  My writing brother, I admire you greatly and I hope you know how much your advice means to me.

19. Amber (Blan) Duncan:  For teaching me to not care what people think.

20. Murray Forward: My collection of postcards started from you, my dear buddy,you helped me coming and going.

21. Dad:  Your dissapointing me so much has taught me how to deal with it in life, thank you.

22. The All-American Rejects: Though you’ll never recognize your roots, I recognize that without your ungratefulness I would live solely on expectations.  Glad I learned the lesson.

23. Rebecca Mastroberto:  You’re a friend, the real kind.  I appreciate you and you inspire me to think positively.

24. Alanis Morissette:  One liners, two liners, and the 90s, thanks.

25.  Jenny Labow: Thank you for being a friend….singing in the key of The Golden Girls.

26. Jason Woodland: I know your last name, and I appreciate your friendship.

27. Justin Morris:  You introduced me to the Cure and allowed me to listen to music from the depths of my soul, thinking in a deeper way to accomplish writing.  Merci.

28. Ferris O’Brien:  Without you I wouldn’t desire a british accent or understand brit rock’s place in music.  Who knew the world wasn’t flat?!

29. Lyndi & KJ:  My brother and sister from another mother and father…thanks for making me feel like your sister even when I wasn’t in the picture.

30. Aunt Debbie & Uncle Danny:  Aunt Deb, You’re a brick house!  Uncle Dan, I am pretty certain you’ve been the most stable man in my life…says a lot doesn’t it 😉 Love you.

31.  Brin, Kevin and T:  My bestest and my bestest family, blood doesn’t always make family…you have become part of mine.  Lots of love.

32. Uncle Thed & Uncle Puff:  Two of the orneriest guys I know with hearts of gold.  I cannot thank you enough for being in my life and for being there for my mom when she needed you the most.

and one to grow on….

33. To all my family, friends, social networks, passerby’ers, and colleagues of today and tomorrow…thank you.

Happy Birthday Mom

I hope your day is amazing! You’re the best person I’ve ever known, and I love you with all of my soul. Happy 47th 😉

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