Monday, October 20, 2014

One Little Girl, Bring Me Light From Where I Thought It Was Dark

One of the things I love most about my wife is the fact that she and I don't really need an "occasion" to have a celebration.  Obviously we do all the big ones: anniversaries, birthdays, holidays...The same ones that everyone celebrates.  But, we also celebrate little things on an almost daily basis.  Hitting the trash can on the first try with a damp paper towel.  Killing a fly that had been annoyingly meandering around the house for days, disappearing only when we went looking for it.  Winston standing on the patio for 20 minutes afraid to step in the wet grass, then finally pooping after wandering around the yard in the rain for 20 more.  All of these are celebration-worthy in our household.

But, over the weekend, we got to celebrate a big occasion, and we got to do it in style.  Adrienne turned 25 on Saturday, and we capped her week-long celebration (Birthday Week as she puts it) at the beautiful Louisville Palace Theater with our 10th Avett Brothers show.  Under normal circumstances, an Avett Brothers show by itself would be considered a major occasion, but coupling that with Adrienne's birthday only made it better.  As I said, we had seen them live nine times before (for Adrienne it was number 11), but we both agreed this one topped them all.

Perhaps it was the intimacy and "neatness" of the venue.  The exterior of the building is ordained with intricate stonework, and an elaborate, glowing marquee extends out over the sidewalk...The kind of place you see left to rot in any one of countless downtowns.  Once inside the theater, the walls are lined with enormous stone statues backed by dark blue lighting that makes it feel like you're looking at a night-time skyline of some ancient city.  The capacity is just south of 3,000, and there couldn't possibly be a bad seat in the place.

Maybe it was our seats.  We've been close to the stage plenty of times, but we have never been quite this close.  With a good tailwind, I'm certain I could have spit on Scott and Seth if I had wanted to.  We were barely 20 feet from the stage.  Close enough for me to catch two set lists at the end of the show (more on that later).

The venue aside, maybe what made the show great was the music itself.  While a lot of our favorites were left out, we got to hear a couple of new songs that were both fantastic, and they even dressed up a few of their older tunes to make them seem brand new.  They also interacted with the crowd far more than they usually do, talking in between songs and taking off running down the aisles to high-five a few lucky fans.

At the end of the show, they throw out souvenirs to the crowd, just like any other band: set lists, guitar picks, a drum stick or two...One bold fan even passed up a tambourine from 4 rows back and Scott and Seth autographed it on stage before passing it back.  I had been lucky enough to catch a set list at a show last November in Lexington, and was lucky enough to catch TWO this go-round.  When I came down with the first one, I barely even realized it was being thrown.  I just happened to see something flying through the air and reached up to grab it. Then another came flying right at me a few moments later.  It is obviously exciting to be able to have those, but the look of joy and excitement on Adrienne's face was better than anything.  When I looked at her and saw her reaction, I knew right then it was one of those moments I'll always remember.  I'd much rather have that than some piece of paper with a list of songs on it...But, it's still pretty cool to have both.

And that's why I think the best part of the whole night was being able to celebrate Adrienne.  It wasn't about the concert.  It wasn't about the set list.  It wasn't about just having a fun night out with my wife.  It's about seeing her so happy.  I can always look at that set list hanging on the wall in our house, just like I can with the one from Lexington.  But, from now on, I won't just see a piece of paper in a frame.  I'll see that look, that joy, on Adrienne's face.  You can't frame that.

Happy Birthday, Adrienne!  I love you more than anything, ever, always!

Monday, June 16, 2014

To J-Bird...

For pretty much every young child, there is something they are deathly afraid of.  For some, it's a fear of the dark.  Others might be scared of the "boogie man" or spiders.  Some are inexplicably scared to death of water or reduced to tears at the mere sight of a clown.  I don't really remember ever being scared of the dark.  Spiders or monsters in my closet never bothered me too much.  Lord knows I was never afraid of water, and clowns are creepy in their own right, but I certainly don't fall into the category of a coulrophobe.  When I was a child, I really only harbored two great fears: fireworks and my father.

When it came to fireworks, it wasn't the sight of them that scared me...I actually liked seeing the colors.  But the sounds...The booms...They made me lose my mind.  I needed my ga-ga (my security blanket), and I needed quiet.  I just couldn't handle it.  At what point I outgrew my fear of fireworks, I don't know...But that is the biggest fear I remember having as a young kid.

As for the fear of my father...It has subsided somewhat as I've gotten older, but I can't honestly say I've totally outgrown it.  I don't think there's ever been a person on earth that has intimidated me quite like him, and to be honest, I'm not totally sure why.  He never once did anything to actually scare me.  He raised his voice from time to time, and got on me when I deserved it.  But every kid in the world has the same sort of experience.  There was just a certain "quietness," like a sleeping giant, about his persona that took on an almost mythical existence.  My mom's greatest weapon when I misbehaved?  "If you don't quit, I'm going to tell your dad."  That was all it took.

When I was 9, I had big dreams of growing up to be a big league ballplayer.  During those long summer days, I'd watch games on TBS and WGN, and mimic batting stances in the living room with an old souvenir bat we had gotten at a Reds game.  For 99% of those swings, everything went fine.  But one fateful day, my grip was a little too relaxed and the bat went flying out of my hand, crashing into the wall next to the front door.  For a moment, I was breathless.  I hoped against hope no lasting damage had been done, but alas...As I approached the wall, I saw the red-colored scrape and the two indentions the bat had left behind in the drywall.  My heart sank.  Dad was working nights, so he wouldn't see it until the next day, but Mom was due back any minute.  I sat on the couch, contemplating what to do.  I thought about lowering the mirror that hung above the mark, hoping no one would notice.  But before I could do anything, I heard the garage door opening.  Mom was home.  Instead of punishing me, she simply said, "Well...You'll have to tell Dad.  I'm not doing your dirty work."  Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mom.

So, I decided to leave him a note.  Hopefully he would see it, go to sleep, and the anger would subside a bit.  Quite frankly, I don't remember what he said after I talked to him.  It didn't take long to fix the mess, but I do know I was more afraid of telling him than I was of just about anything else.  And yet...the "punishment" totally slips my mind.  I guess that is what makes it so strange.  Anytime I expected a big outburst, or severe punishment, it didn't come.  That's not to say I didn't learn my lesson, but Dad always seemed to know when a lecture wasn't really needed.

Despite my "fear," I thought my dad was the best man on the planet.  Like most boys that grow up idolizing their father, I wanted nothing more than to be just like him.  I wanted him to be proud of me.  I wanted him to spend time with me.  I remember the butterflies of excitement I got every time he agreed to play catch with me.  Or when he told me we were going fishing.  Or when we'd spend a Saturday afternoon driving somewhere, and pull into a gas station for an IBC Root Beer and a candy bar.  I always loved those rare occasions when Mom and Lensey left us at home by ourselves, and we'd eat frozen pizza for dinner and watch sports.  Or we'd drive down to Bob's Drive-In and eat dinner in the cab of his old pickup.  Dad would tell me the life story of some random drummer in some random band we heard playing on WCBL.  I never really had the slightest clue about who he happened to be talking about, but I listened on the edge of my seat.  It was like I was sitting next to a god, and I got to call him Dad.

As I got older, I came to realize my dad isn't a god.  He's a man.  He has his own faults and short-comings; he has his own weird quirks that I take great joy in poking fun at every opportunity I get.  I realized he possesses certain characteristics I didn't consciously notice as a child, but that truly define him as a person.  And I came to hold a new, and totally different, respect for him.  I began to realize I no longer wanted to be just like him simply because he's my dad...I want to be just like him because he's a great human being.

I remember the exact moment I came to that realization.  I was in college, maybe 19 or 20, I'm not really sure.  I had been home for a weekend, and Dad had been working for most of the trip, so I didn't get to see him much.  But, before I drove back to Lexington, I met him at a Mexican restaurant in Draffenville to have dinner with him, just the two of us.  At some point in our conversation, he started talking about working at General Tire back in the day.  He talked about what it was like to work 12-hour days for two weeks straight.  He talked about what it was like to get to see his kids for 30 minutes after school in the parking lot of a gas station.  He talked about what it was like to work a job he hated for 17 long years.  I hadn't really thought about it before then, but I never once heard him complain or wish out loud he were doing something else, although I'm sure he fought that internal battle on a daily basis.  When I asked why he did it, why he didn't find another job, he said, "I did it because I had to pay the bills.  I had you, Lensey, and your mom to take care of."

I watched him speak, still dressed in his work uniform, noticeably damp from sweating all day at work.  I watched his hands, showing signs of age...Wrinkled and scarred from years of back-breaking work in a tire plant so Lensey and I could have a comfortable life.  I had never heard him speak so honestly and vulnerably.  Without really meaning to, he was exposing a side of him that I had never known existed.  After a while, we parted ways and I hit the road to Lexington.  I spent the entire drive, most of the night, and part of the next day thinking about that conversation.  I'm not sure if I realized how impactful it would end up to be at the time, but it has come to be one of the defining moments in my life.  I had always loved and respected my dad for a variety of reasons, but that hour and a half totally changed my perception of him and made me truly realize what it really means to be a man.

That's not to say he's without fault.  He can be gruff and difficult to talk to at times.  He doesn't display his emotions well.  He will drive around Columbus, Ohio for an hour and a half, totally lost, without even considering stopping and asking for directions, despite my mom's repeated requests to do so.  He's as stubborn as a mule, and won't hesitate to give you his honest opinion if you ask for it.  And he doesn't put up with you changing the channel if he's trying to watch The Andy Griffith Show, no matter how many times he's seen that particular episode.  But, he also grills a mean steak.  He can fix virtually anything, or drive himself to cussing trying to.  He apologizes when he's wrong.  He will do absolutely everything he can to help you if you're in need.  He loves his wife unconditionally.  He loves his kids and grandkids unconditionally.  He calls his mother on a regular basis, just to talk.  He tells great stories, albeit repeatedly.  He lets Chester and Winston sit in his lap, even though they kind of annoy him.  He works harder than anyone I've ever known.  He's taught me countless lessons, whether he was doing it intentionally or had no idea I was even watching.  And he can still shoot 85% from the free throw line.

I might have been scared to death of my dad for years, but now that I'm grown myself, I've come to realize I have nothing to fear.  I just have a great example to emulate in my life.  Thanks, Dad.  I love you.  Happy Father's Day!

Monday, May 12, 2014

To My Mother...

*I'm fully aware that Mother's Day was Sunday, and I had every intention of getting this written and posted to the blog by Sunday night at the latest.  But, sometimes life (i.e. 6-hour drives, medical school graduation parties, amazing naps, and all around exhaustion) gets in the way.  So, for that, I sincerely apologize, Mom.  The delay is in no way an indication of the order of my priorities.

I've often been told by friends and family that I have an impeccable memory.  Perhaps it doesn't apply to minute details of everyday life...Sometimes I forget where I last placed my wallet, or I'll go to the store with a mental list of 5 items and conveniently forget to pick up the most important one.  Sometimes I'll mindlessly throw laundry into the dryer just minutes after specific instructions to not dry a particular pair of Adrienne's jeans because they shrink, then receive a text message hours later chastising me for my oversight because I "don't listen" or something.  But, when it comes to past experiences, my memory is admittedly pretty good.  I not only remember the order of events, or funny stories, but I'll remember exact dates, and even the days surrounding it like a mental timeline.  I'll remember what I was wearing, what I had for lunch, or what the weather was like.  It isn't perfect, but I feel blessed in my ability to hold on to precious memories so vividly.

That likely comes from my mom.  Not so much the ability to remember things, because my mom can be as absent-minded as an individual can be.  But, taking special care to focus on seemingly insignificant details that end up shaping the memories we have years later...That comes from her.

Part of it is the seemingly endless volumes of family photos Mom has compiled over the years.  In my parents' bookcase at their house, there are 10-15 photo albums filled to the brim, and painstakingly organized chronologically, with pictures of every Christmas gift Lensey and I have ever received, school assemblies, baseball and softball games, random afternoons playing in the yard.  Some shots of Lensey and I sleeping, which are admittedly a bit creepy to me now.  Every vacation has been fully documented, every snow, every Halloween...The list goes on and on.  But, as much as I make fun of her for taking 15 pictures of the same thing, I'm really glad she took the time to do that.  Not only does it freeze those moments in time, it helps provide me with reference points for some of those memories I have that might start to fade.  She's had an uncanny ability to not only preserve those memories in that way, but also to recognize their significance as they're happening..."Making memories!" She'll exclaim with her signature laugh as Dad, Lensey, and I all roll our collective eyes.

Many of the memories I have of my childhood revolve around something funny or silly my mom did, either purposely or completely by accident.  But therein lies much of her charm.  As cliche as it may sound, my mom truly possesses the ability to love life, and find joy in virtually any situation.  Even if you're only around her for a short time, that exuberance is contagious and impossible to ignore.  She can do or say something completely ridiculous, but laugh so hard at herself that you almost forget what it was she did in the first place.  If you're in a bad mood when she comes into your presence, it won't last very long.

One of the things I love most about my mom has been the way she has let me grow into the man I have become.  Yes, there have been plenty of times where she has turned into Beverly Goldberg from The Goldbergs (which, if you haven't watched, you need to) where she seems to think I am 4 years old regardless of the circumstances.  But, she has also allowed me to make my own decisions and mistakes, with the hope that I'd make the right choice.  And, when I didn't, she has always been there to support me and pick up the pieces.  It has always seemed like she knew exactly when to be Mom, and when to let off the reins.

I don't know many people that are as thoughtful and selfless as she is.  There have been times where she's practically killed herself to make sure someone else's needs were met, or just to let them know she was thinking about them during a difficult time.  Sometimes I've even asked her, "Mom, why are you doing all this?" And she'll look at me as if I had asked her the most ridiculous question ever conceived and reply, "Because it's the right thing to do."  But, that's just her.

Many of the lessons I've learned from my mom have been in that manner.  I'm sure there have been countless times where she has sat me down and explicitly explained a particular thing to me so I could learn, but I remember most of what she has taught me by watching the way she acts and treats other people, when she likely had no idea I was paying any attention.  Those unspoken lessons have deterred me from taking the wrong path countless times, and made me feel like crap when I chose to take it.

I watched her love her family unconditionally.  I watched her set the table for dinner virtually every single night, no matter how many baseball games or track meets we had that week.  It mattered to her that the family sat down together every night, even if the meal happened to be a bucket of KFC.  I watched her roam the halls of my elementary school for four years, just so she could be available for Lensey and I as we grew through our most formidable years.  I watched her kiss my dad goodbye as he left for work at 3:30 in the afternoon to go to a job he hated, and shuttle Lensey and I back home to an empty house so she could do laundry for a family of four.  I watched her sit in sweltering heat for hours on end as I played in weekend tournament after weekend tournament, when I'm sure she would have rather been floating on the lake.  I watched her close the door to my bedroom after she kissed me and said, "I love you, hon," every night.

Of all the things I've seen my mother do in my 29 years on this earth, perhaps the things I didn't see are even more important.

I never saw her complain.  I never saw her break down and cry just because she was frustrated or lonely, or just down right sad.  I never saw her fight with my dad.  I never saw her worry about where the next mortgage payment would come from when my dad was laid off from work.  I never saw her accept anything but the best from Lensey and me.  I never saw the countless sacrifices she made for us.  I never saw the person she envisioned herself to be and never got to, or the dreams she gave up on, because of us. I never saw her once ask for anything in return when she gave us absolutely everything she could.

I never saw her as anything but the greatest woman I know.  Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  I love you!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Bet G.I. Joe Played Tetris In His Down-Time

While the "old-schoolers" among us might find social media a bit intrusive or down right obnoxious, I actually enjoy it, for the most part.  I've had a Facebook profile since 2004, and while I admit I spend far too much time scrolling my News Feed, I don't waste as much as I did when Facebook was new.  In the decade since, there is an app or website devoted to virtually every type of social media interaction you could conceive.  I don't use Vine.  I've never spent any time on Instagram.  And I couldn't even begin to tell you what the hell a "Flickr" is, unless it's done by a failing light bulb.  Aside from Facebook, though, I do enjoy Twitter, and find myself checking it more often than I do Facebook, in many cases.

Twitter, on the surface, seems sort of ridiculous.  If you're not familiar with it, let me give you a synopsis.  It basically took the idea of Facebook and stripped it down so that your "status" update is limited to 120 characters.  You can still share photos and videos, but there are no albums.  There is no "like" button or the ability to start a hilarious comments section.  Instead, you can "favorite" a Tweet, or Retweet it, if you so desire.  And instead of comments sections, you simply reply to a Tweet, which will undoubtedly get lost in a string of other replies.

I don't actually Tweet all that much.  What I like most about Twitter, is the ability to get nearly up-to-the-second updates in the news and sports world.  That's what I use it for more than any other reason.  Things that appear on Facebook have, in all likelihood, been Tweeted a dozen or so times already.  I can get continuous updates on Cardinals games without listening or watching, or I can find out what Wildcats have declared for the draft as soon as it happens.  I like having that access to information.

But, there are also some gimmicky "Twitter handles" that I follow strictly for entertainment's sake.  One of which is "The 90s Life" which periodically posts things from my childhood that make me chuckle (or sob, because I realize how swiftly time has passed).  The other day, they posted a list of 15 toys from the 1990s that you miss.  While a few of them were too new for me to have ever gotten excited about, there were some that I held a religious admiration for when I was a kid, and I couldn't help but smile.  Then, last night, my sister-in-law posted on Facebook a picture of a few of her old Masters of the Universe figures that spawned an interesting conversation about the true identity of those pictured.  It took me back to my childhood, if only briefly, and made me think about all of the great toys I had growing up.  So, I decided to make a list of the 10 toys I miss most.  In no particular order...

1.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

From the time I was 5 years old to about the age of 9, the Ninja Turtles may as well have been gods.  I LOVED them.  I watched reruns of the cartoon everyday before school.  I watched it on Saturday mornings.  I had a VHS of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie that I wore out.  I collected the action figures to the tune of about 40 of them.  I had vehicles, their sewer base, a Raphael costume, a kid's shave kit.  I could still probably recite the theme song from the cartoon to this day, and I'm sure my mom has a ton of these boxed away somewhere at home.  I spent much of my childhood fighting crime with the "Heroes in a Half-Shell."

2. G.I. Joes

Another of my early childhood favorites were the second generation of G.I. Joes.  They weren't like your father's G.I. Joes...These were only a couple of inches tall, but were fully pose-able, making it possible to play out all sorts of sweet fight scenes and dramatic death sequences. Much like TMNT, the G.I. Joe cartoon was on full syndication in the Edwards household.  If there were a hierarchy of toy gods to me, these guys were right there at the top with Mikey, Leo, Donnie, and Raph.  I had countless "Joes" (like the one pictured above, Snake Eyes), and weapons and vehicles to go with them.  My favorite vehicle was this huge desert aircraft carrier Memaw got me for my birthday when I was 5.  It came with a helicopter that could land on top, had buttons for sound effects, could hold about 20 Joes inside of it, and had a retractable, spring-loaded cannon that fired huge missiles.  It was awesome.  Memaw was pretty good about keeping my G.I. Joe collection healthy, because we rarely made a Wal-Mart trip without her buying me one.  My affinity for G.I. Joes was so great, one Halloween the entire family went as clowns...Except me.  I was Duke.  I was a badass. 

3. X-Men

Are you seeing a theme yet?  I was an action figure nut, what can I say?  I didn't jump on the X-Men bandwagon until a little later, probably around 8 or 9.  But when I jumped, I did with both feet.  Fox had a Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1992-1997 and I loved it.  That's what got me hooked.  When I met DJ, he shared in my affinity for the X-Men, and we had many epic X-Men/G.I. Joe/Jurassic Park dinosaur battles.  Our favorites?  Wolverine, Archangel, and Apocalypse.  It was awesome.

4. Masters of the Universe
I'll admit...I'm a tad too young to really remember this cartoon.  And, technically, Masters of the Universe's run ended in the mid-80s.  But it's my list, and I'll include it if I want to. It was before my time, although I did watch it occasionally in syndication.  But, one of the perks of being the second-youngest cousin in a group of a 11 was all of the hand-me-down toys I got out of it.  I came across a pretty respectable collection of Masters of the Universe figures, including both Castle Gray Skull and Snake Mountain, multiple He-Man and Skeletor figures, and a wide selection of various secondary characters.  Lensey even got in on the action with She-Ra.

5. Ghostbusters Proton Pack

When the first Ghostbusters movie hit theaters in 1984, it spawned a huge merchandising monster that spread into the 90s, after Ghostbusters 2 was released in 1989.  Christmas of 1989, for me, was basically an assortment of Ghostbusters stuff, the beauty you see above included.  I loved this thing.  You could pretend to zap ghosts with it, even though it may have just been a piece of yellow Nerf foam.  I'm not really sure why I was so enthralled with Ghostbusters, but for a year or two, I was all about it.  I haven't seen this gem in ages, and am fairly certain it was either thrown away or sold at a yard sale long ago.  But, I got hours of enjoyment out of it.

6. Nintendo Entertainment System
While this was technically released in the 80s, I didn't get one until 1991, so it's a 90s toy to me.  My sister and I spent HOURS playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. on this grand old machine, but that was just the start.  Hell...Mom and Dad would stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning playing Tetris after Lensey and I went to bed.  For better or worse, the market-saturation of the over-the-top video game systems out there today really started with the NES.  Despite the graphic and gameplay advancements out there now, I'd still take Mike Tyson's Punch Out over virtually any other game to date.  If you never had the enjoyment of feverishly blowing into a cartridge, or doing the "slide and slam," or the "rapid tap" to get a game to work...My friend, you missed out.  One of the joys of spending the night at a friend's house were the epic battles to be had in an R.B.I. Baseball tournament, or trying to beat Contra in under an hour.  Screw online play.

7. Nerf Turbo Screamer

On the playground of Benton Elementary School, this beast of a Nerf football was seen (and heard) every single day.  My friends and I literally beat this thing to death playing an epic, never-ending game that went on for weeks at a time.  We'd always have the same teams.  We kept score, but it was cumulative.  And we all felt like Troy Aikman or John Elway when we let this baby fly.  After a while, the whistle stopped working, and some guys would rip it out to avoid jammed fingers, leaving a gaping hole in the center of the ball.  But, regardless, it was awesome.  With Nerf, any one could throw a perfect spiral.

8. Super Soaker
Water fights were never the same once this AK-47 of a water gun hit the market.  I personally never owned one, but many of my friends did, and I used them plenty.  There were so many different sizes and attachments available, it literally was like an H20 arsenal only limited by your budget and imagination.  Some kids would have the backpack attachment that never seemed to run dry, and they'd basically dominate.  They still make Super Soakers, but they look bulky and "futuristic."  Nothing will replace the original.

9. Gameboy
Much like the NES console, the Gameboy got hours of use, mostly in the backseat of our car as we went on a family vacation.  Despite the need for a light source to play when it was dark, the Gameboy was awesome in its simplicity. The graphics were terrible, the games were mostly stripped-down versions of their console counterparts, and it went through batteries like you wouldn't believe (it took 4 AAs just to turn the damn thing on).  But, it provided hours of entertainment on long road trips, and my mom wore her fingers to the bone playing Tetris.  Finally, ol' Boy gave out after about 15 years.  He had a good run.

10. Micro Machines

Again, Micro Machines were originally introduced in the 1980s, but hit their peak in the early 90s, just in time for a young Zach Edwards to jump on board.  I'm not exactly sure what made Micro Machines so appealing...They were really too small to "play" with.  They were easy to lose.  But, the coolest thing was the environments they could come with.  I had a few different ones, one of which had multiple levels.  I was all about them for a couple of years, but my interest waned just as quickly.

While I'm sure kids today will look back fondly on the toys they have, I refuse to believe their toys are as great as the ones we had in the 90s.  Hell, even the toys from the early 90s were way better than stuff that came along later.  I hold a special place in my heart for all of those listed here, and hope my parents did a better job of preserving them than I did.  But, I was never about keeping my toys safe...They were played with.  They were used.  Several of my G.I. Joes have been forever lost to the creek behind my parents house.  Lensey shattered my original Raphael against the side of the bathtub (some sort of retribution for a Ken doll having his head ripped off...I'm not buying it).  From the fantastic commercials, to the hours of time I spent with my imagination taking me to a different world, I will always remember the toys of my childhood fondly.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This (I Think) I Believe In...

One of the many (and I stress "many") things I love about my wife is how unbelievably bright she is.  Long ago, when I was compiling a checklist of traits I wanted in a potential, life-long mate, intelligence would always fall near the top.  It was apparent from day one she possessed that characteristic in spades, and on an almost daily basis, I learn something new from her.

But, intelligence comes in different forms.  Sure, she's book-smart, and street-smart, which are important, but it's so much more than that.  She has impeccable grammar, and calls me out on my grammatical mistakes on a regular basis.  She also has a great, "smart," sense of humor, can debate virtually any topic (ones in which she's interested, at least), and can articulate ideas so well that I sometimes find myself wondering how complex thoughts can be spoken so simplistically.

Adrienne and I can, and do often, sit and watch Jeopardy! and find ourselves competing against one another.  We can have in-depth conversations about social and political issues, and we can laugh for days about billboards and banners with typos or a misplaced exclamation point.  So, it should come as no surprise that her family possesses many of the same traits.

Recently, Liza posted on her blog about her beliefs and ideas as they relate to some of the more "important" topics people always claim to really believe in, one way or another.  I found it interesting and inspiring to see someone really put themselves out there in a way that leaves them vulnerable to criticism or praise, depending on which side of the fence one may fall.  It made me think about how Adrienne and I can have similar conversations all the time (something that I love), but it also really got me to thinking, too.

"What do I believe or believe in?"

I'm going to italicize Liza's thoughts on these topics, and then respond with my own.

And I want to say up front that I don't think what follows puts me on some intellectual or analytical pedestal. While doubt is sometimes a product of open-mindedness, science, or research, it can also be a sign of weakness, selfishness, or lack of resolve. In fact, I associate some of my own skepticism with these obviously less noble motivations.

I don't necessarily believe that doubt or skepticism is a sign of weakness.  In fact, I think it's a sign of strength.  It is much easier for people to believe in certain things, or at least pretend to, in order to "fit in" with the established order around them than it is to strive for change.  Virtually every person throughout history who has had ideas that veer from the norm has been viewed, in their own time, as crazy, revolutionary (in a negative sense), or a threat to society as a whole.  Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Galileo...All were essentially despised by those in power at the time because their views threatened the status quo.  But, as time has passed, we've come to realize the true greatness those minds possessed, and it would have never happened if they hadn't asked themselves a fundamental question: "Why are things the way they are, and why can't they be different?"  Being able to seek out those answers despite constant ridicule and opposition might be the quintessential definition of strength.

In religion...
I pray, but to whom or what, I don't know. I don't believe that things happen for a reason and I take very little comfort in notions of "divine paths" or "destiny." I would never suggest that I have an understanding of heaven or hell or that I know who might end up in either. I know kind people who are atheists and kind people who are devout Christians; I don't think either kindness trumps the other.  I don't have any real sense of what faith means to me.

This is the big one for many people.  Religion can be a source of immense strength and joy, but it can also be a source of unfathomable hate and violence, as history has shown.  More people have died in the name of God than probably any other cause, and that is something that I have grown to struggle with.  I believe in God, and I consider myself a Christian.  But, I don't know if God is a real, existing being, or more of an idea that helps make life more tolerable.  I realize my view is narrow, because I can't speak for other religions because I don't know much about them.  But Christian origins have so many similarities with other cultures that I wonder if perhaps all we are left with are different interpretations of singular events, or if stories have just been copied and recycled over the years to "fit" with certain criteria.  I guess I can just say that I have more questions than answers, and am left fighting an internal battle between what I've always thought to be true, and what I've come to learn over the years.  Because if I had been writing this same post five or ten years ago, my words would be totally different.

In others...
I have complete trust in only two people.  I know what to expect from them. I think they have a strong grasp of their own core values and feel fairly confident that if I were to ask them questions today, I would get the same answers I would get if I ask them those same questions in ten years. I feel like they know, and appreciate, the me that I like.  This isn't to suggest that I don't respect, or even love, other people in my life; I simply don't find a sense of comfort and stability in those relationships.

I find this to be a bit on the cynical side, or perhaps I'm just being naive.  But I like to believe there is an inherent goodness to most people.  I like to believe that, when push comes to shove, most people show their true, positive selves.  I also know that isn't always the case, but I have all the trust in the world in far more than two people.  Maybe it's better to be guarded, because you can better avoid being let down.  But, on the flip side, I believe if you expect more from people, they are more likely to reach those expectations.  Besides...No matter how much trust you have in someone, human imperfection will show eventually, in some form or fashion.  And I think that's okay.

In myself...
I can come across as confident...and sometimes I actually feel that way.  Speaking my mind about things that matter to me is not a problem.  I consider myself a moral person with good intentions.  Nevertheless, my issues with stability in others are the same issues I have with myself.  I worry I don't have the resolve to stick with/to things for the "long haul;" I'm always dreaming of other possibilities or pondering what I could - or should - be doing.  I have little confidence that the things I want now will be the same things I'll want in 5, 10 or 20 years.  I crave a sense of settledness, and yet fight against it with everything I have.  

I think this is little more than human nature.  Humans have been explorers and seekers for as long as we've existed.  I love the life I have.  I have the greatest wife on earth, a good job, two dogs, an amazing family, and my own little piece of earth.  But I still find myself wondering what else is out there.  I don't necessarily seek it, and even if I did, I'd take Adrienne with me.  But I still wonder.  I just think that's something that is engrained in all of us from the womb.  As for me, I have far more doubt in myself and my abilities than I would ever let on.  Maybe part of it is trying to live up to unrealistic societal expectations.  Maybe part of it is just having a competitive nature and never being satisfied.  In any event, I try to be the best husband, son, brother, friend, and man I can possibly be.  But, I also wonder if my efforts are enough.  I always think I can do better, but I'm not exactly sure how to go about it. 

In love...
While some people do affect us in profound ways, often both indescribable and unexpected, I don't really believe in soul mates.  I think we can love a variety of people in completely different ways and occasionally at overlapping times.  I don't think "love is enough" or that "love conquers all." I think sometimes those who would be best for each other can't be together because of circumstances beyond their control. I don't think things necessarily "work out in the end." I think we can miss and regret and mourn someone for an infinite amount of time.  Does love exist? Of course. And do some people have what most would classify as "true love"? Sure. Will we all have it? No.

I don't think there is a real definition of "true love."  Love takes on different forms, looks differently and feels differently, for every person.  I've found what I consider to be true love, but even as amazing as is the love Adrienne and I share, I know the notion that "love is enough" is completely ridiculous.  I can love Adrienne all I want to, but if I don't do the things necessary to show it to her, it won't conquer a damn thing.  Love is really hard, because we are human.  We screw up.  We make one another angry.  We let one another down.  It takes a lot of work.  But it's a gratifying work.  It's fun work.  I don't know about the notion that things "work out in the end," because we will perceive our reality however we want to.  And, for me, any reality without Adrienne is not one I want any part of.  So, in that regard, things have worked out perfectly for me.  But I also know that people can easily become jaded, especially when it comes to love.  It's one of those strange things that seems to happen when we least expect it, and sometimes when we want it the least.

I believe the most important things in life are family and friends.  I believe in hard work, but I also believe life should be fun and as much time as possible should be spent surrounded by those we cherish.  I'm not even 30 yet, and I already find myself constantly reminiscing about funny moments from years gone by.  I believe in making memories (thanks, Mom).  I believe our problems are only as big as we allow them to be, and we have far more influence on our own happiness than it sometimes may seem.  Although I sometimes fall victim to it, I really try not to worry about things I can't control.  I don't believe we make our own luck...Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people.  I believe life isn't fair.  I try to keep that from discouraging me.  I believe in humor and I believe if you can't laugh at yourself, you will never be truly happy.  Other than that...I've got nothing.