I will turn 60 years old this week. It is impossible to reach such an iconic age without some reflection. As I look into the mirror, I see a man who has been humbled, embarrassed, chastened and separated from family and friends. All of these consequences I have to take responsibility for causing.
60 years old seems ancient to me. I came of age at a time when we were told not to trust anyone over 30. As I turned 50, I went into a depression realizing most of my life was over. Now I turn 60, as a guest of the federal government, missing a wife and children who I haven’t seen in almost 3 years, wondering if there is any future left and knowing this is all my fault and resulted from my failure of character and judgment. To say one couldn't fall much lower would be an understatement. To say this is a complete disaster and crushing defeat would not be entirely true.
In the last few years, I have experienced acts of kindness and generosity, which defy explanation. The friends who help me keep this site going...who take the time out of their crazy, busy schedule to post what I write, maintain the site, write to me and boost my morale and send me information...are two gracious souls I have never met in person. In fact, this is a pattern over the last couple of years. I have received letters, books, cards, articles and financial help from total strangers whose only knowledge of me came thru the nightly ether I occupied Monday thru Friday and on Sunday mornings. The couple who post this blog for me, whom you know as Girl Friday and ED the IT guy wrote to me to express their support and asked if they could help me. This blog is their gift. I have lost count of all the letters and cards. (I have also failed to write back frequently enough and hope to rectify this flaw if you will keep writing)
Inside this system, a place where you would expect charity and generosity to be in short supply, just the opposite is true. I have met some extraordinary people. In Texas, when I was most scared and fearful, in tears and holding on by my finger nails, colleagues gave me clothing to stay warm...food to supplant the meager amounts provided by the system...lessons on how to stay safe and hours and hours of time spent listening to me and creating a sense of hope and community where none should exist. Here in California, once again total strangers exhibit kindness and caring in quantities that seem limitless. There is a sense of taking each other where we are. Judging each other is suspended for the most part, and evaluations are based on the quality of your character. Who'd a thunk it? In the "real" world, we judge and are judged constantly, and not with kind intensions, and yet in here it is quite different.
For a short time longer, Fr. Louis Vitale OFM is here with me. He is such a gift and a source of inspiration. He joins me in two scripture groups made up of people seeking answers and succor the same as me. It is quite powerful. I am a grateful person now. I wasn't out amongst you. I thought I had "earned" every success and achievement in my life. I "deserved" all the good luck and I was jealous and petty and resentful there wasn’t more and hated to see others get what I thought was rightfully mine. I am a 60 year old man who has had to admit how badly flawed his views on life were and how disrespectful I was of all the blessings I had been given. This is when it is hardest to look into that mirror. I have to face my failures of character and my failing to care enough about my family and friends to protect them and not disappoint and let them down.
My wife and children have never waivered in their love for me. They were, and probably still are, angry with me for being stupid and irresponsible. My actions turned their lives upside down and created fear and anxiety and terror they didn’t deserve. Nothing is the same. They had every reason to throw me under the bus and walk away. Instead, the first letter I received from my oldest daughter, Cait (while in solitary confinement), quoted a Psalm in which God promises never to forsake us and she added, "...and neither will we dad." Their love is a total gift, which only now I appreciate in all its grandeur.
My siblings, also embarrassed, disappointed, hurt, angry and amazed at my lack of any sense, have also stayed the course with me. They have counseled and helped my children in my absence, supported me, and 4 came to visit me earlier this year. It was the first visit I have had since surrendering two plus years ago and until that day, I didn’t fully grasp the love and power of family and the willingness to overlook even shortcoming of my Olympian level.
My friends, and I had no idea there were so many, have been rocks of support and I now have hundreds of new friends, most of whom I have not met, (I look forward to the day when that is possible) with whom I correspond and whose mail I look forward to and delight in its arrival. These people, you people, have been unwilling to let one mistake define me in your eyes and have been forgiving and caring in reaching out to me. None of you had to do it, and yet you did. Why? How do I explain all of these actions? Where does this reservoir of kindness originate?
I'm a 60-year-old convicted felon and everything of value, according to society, has been taken from me. I am sad a lot and wonder if there will be life beyond these fences some day. I ache. I miss my family so much, and worry about the damage I have done to them. However, as this anniversary of my birth comes and goes, I realize I am also lucky and blessed. I have family and friends who love me, a mind which still works, a spirit seeking my God and hoping to draw closer. I have experienced random, selfless acts of kindness. My health is improved, and I will return to my wife and children a better man than I left. (I hope) I once wrote on this site, I now understand the key to life is not avoiding adversity, but rather the key is whether you can get back up after being knocked down, and continue forward. Thanks to all of you...thanks to my family and friends...thanks to a loving God and thanks to so many prayers, maybe I will be able to get back up and lead the rest of my life in a way you can all be proud of and my family can point to as an example of a husband and father who learned from his mistakes... lost a great deal... but regained a heart and soul open to the grandeur of God.