Happy New Year!

We’re in the midst of a winter storm here on the shores of Lake Erie in northern Ohio.  But far from viewing it as a mess, I find it invigorating.  Out with the old and in with the new!  I am hopeful – excited even.  And although all things must end (my almost non-stop presence on MySpace one of them), I believe every end is an opportunity for a new and improved beginning.

2007 had its high points and low points.  I worked for City Buddha for the first six months of the year.  I loved that job and the people I got to interact with as a result.  Of course their store on W. 25th Street is closed now (lease ran out), and their new, cool store in Cleveland Heights is just too far to drive with gas prices as high as they are – not to mention the hour and a half trip each way (more in winter weather).  I also had a volunteer gig at Marion Correctional Institution in support of their Horizon Interfaith program until June – very rewarding, in many ways, but also a two-hour-drive each way.  I also began blogging in earnest in the spring of 2007 – partly as a result of maintaining a MySpace page for City Buddha – but also for my own edification.  In prison through 2004, I had very much learned to appreciate the value of dialogue.  Living in the Interfaith dormitory with a very diverse assortment of men, facilitating conflict resolution and other courses, serving as a literacy tutor, and playing a large role in the prison’s well-known Ministry of Theatre program had helped me, to a large degree, to burst out of the shell of shyness that had enveloped me in my youth.  My prison experiences taught me tolerance, understanding, and respect.  And as a free man I missed the enriching dialogues and discussions (on everything from religion to sports to the justice system to poetry to the meaning of life) that were so much a part of my life and learning in prison.  MySpace filled that void for me.  Thanks to early friends like Spooner and Sir Lancello, I began to see “blogging” as more than just a way of keeping an online diary.  It was a way to engage in (and encourage) dialogue – sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, and often an odd assortment of provocative, inspiring, enlightening, and just plain fun.  Plus it was a way to meet people with similar interests, disappointments, hopes and dreams.  It broke down walls, enhanced my understanding (of issues and people), and made me feel that I belonged in this strange world (that had changed so much in my 11 years away) after all.  It also resuscitated my faith in reason, in using my mind, in engaging in productive dialogue with people from all walks of life, and in my own ability to make a positive difference in the world by working with it and putting myself into it.  Many very cool, interesting, and inspiring friends have followed, including some with whom I didn’t always see eye to eye.  But all of you have enriched my life in different ways.  And I think we’ve all evolved a bit as a result of our paths crossing.  Thank you!

The second half of the year began with travel.  Historic sites in northern Virginia… the famous Skyline Drive across the Blue Ridge Mountains… Yorktown Battlefield, where General Washington essentially won our independence… the best fireworks I’ve ever witnessed (on the 4th of July in Colonial Williamsburg)… the 400th anniversary of the English settlement at Jamestown… touring deliciously enchanting Savannah, Georgia… staying with family I barely knew in sunny Florida… fulfilling my dream of visiting the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg… being pleasantly surprised by marvelous Chattanooga, Tennessee… and the list goes on.  After my wife and I returned home, the vacation ended in more than just a literal sense.  Two promising jobs went down the toilet.  First, an opportunity to teach full-time in a prison – the administration there wanted very much to hire me, but the State of Ohio would not grant me a teaching certificate because of my conviction, and the prison was not permitted to hire me unless I had that certificate.  The second job promising job, handling Medicare inquiries, paid well, offered tuition reimbursement (fantastic for a lifelong student like me) and was close to home.  Plus, I was hired, despite stating quite clearly on my initial application and in more than one interview that I had been convicted of a sex offense.  But then, one day when I showed up for training at the local community college, I was told I wasn’t on their list.  I had to sit there for several hours while they figured out why.  Then a supervisor of a supervisor came to me with the answer.  Because of my “history” (it was my history whether or not I was guilty), their firm could not use me.  And he was shocked that anyone would have hired me despite knowing all about it.  So I continued to work part time in the mold remediation business (cleaning up houses contaminated with black mold), while half-heartedly pursuing my Master of Sacred Theology degree via correspondence and becoming modestly successful as a MySpace blogger.  The end of the year has seemed to bring an endless series of stresses – my mother-in-law has been on the verge of dying from liver failure, my favorite uncle is having surgery to remove a significant portion of his colon, and someone else dear to me is facing imprisonment for being ill and unable to pay his child support.

I could list many more negatives – just as I could list many more positives.  But this blog is getting to be too long already.  It seems strange, though, that despite the preponderance of perceived negatives (2007 seemed to start out wonderfully and end far less pleasantly), I feel extremely hopeful about this new year.  Just like with the cliché about the glass being half-empty or half-full… attitude plays a huge role in how life turns out.  A positive attitude certainly doesn’t make all the bull-shit in life go away.  But there is something to be said for the sentiments of the so-called Serenity Prayer: accepting the things one cannot change, having the courage to change the things one can and should change, and having the wisdom to distinguish between the two.

In The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis wrote that “The doors of heaven and hell are adjacent and identical.” In some ways, I think they’re the very same door.  But our attitudes, choices, hopes and actions go a long way in determining whether we find heaven or hell on the other side of the doors we pass through in life.

So I raise a glass and propose a toast this New Year’s Day.  May you and I and all our loved ones seek, find, and (as necessary) create a whole lot more heaven than hell in the year 2008 – and beyond….

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