It’s a Dog’s Life

Dog at the KerbWe mourn each passing stage of our children’s lives because we know that those years are gone forever and with them disappears the beauty of perfect innocence. We console ourselves that the next stage of growing up will bring with it many new discoveries and joys.

That’s why we get our children a dog. If you have ever lived through the life of a dog you know that its lifespan of ten to fifteen years is equivalent to the period of innocence of a child growing up.

Our little puppy was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and she shook with fear just being looked at. But soon enough she began to play and bounce around and attempt a funny little growl.

In no time, she was house-trained and allowed to sleep in the bed with our little girl. They would dream together of running in summer fields, jumping to catch the dandelion clocks in that momentary wind. Breathless in their love for each other.

Then coming home from school to a dog who’s so excited, she’s left a puddle on the floor but no one minds a bit. And someone slipping a piece of chicken under the dining table, claiming that it fell off her plate.

The excitement of Santa Claus, still real for now­—but time is running out. And the dog sleeping guard under the Christmas tree, protecting the presents according to our little girl. But we knew it was the smell of peanut brittle and candy canes, too much for any dog to resist.

As our girl runs faster, the dog runs faster too, even though our dog’s legs are aching and old and now she dreams of puppy days, long ago when her best friend was a toddler who danced for the first time not long after she learned to walk and Mummy cried.

Our little dog doesn’t look much older, even though her fur is greying and her best friend has grown so tall. But she’s still as excited as she always was when our girl comes home, like it’s the first time she has ever seen her.

And then the emptiness begins, like shredding old photographs and we know that soon the time will come when both our girls will be gone. One gone to the world of grown-ups and the age of lost innocence. The other gone back to those fields, running in the sun with our baby daughter, with all the energy in the world. Gone to the endless fields where one day we hope to meet again and run together for all eternity.

Because it’s a dog’s life.

Happiness is in the Detail

Water DropletFor most of my life, people have been telling me that it’s all about the big picture. It was only very recently that I realized that they were all wrong. You see, big pictures are made up of a thousand details and if you ignore them, you ignore life.

Often, we focus on the destination or the outcome and fail to take care of the detail. It’s like spending your time dreaming of that lifetime vacation without ever having a plan of how you are going to get there.

But it’s more profound than that.

It was the other day that I realized I leave our apartment in the morning much happier if I have seen the bright, crazy and beautiful smile of my darling six-year-old girl. But the profound realization was not that sometimes I left too early and missed her smile. No, it was the realization that the space that would have been filled with happiness and joy was now filled with sadness.

This started me on a simple task: to make a list of the things that make me happy and the things that make me sad or anxious. It was on this list that I found my daughter’s smile­—but also bacon sandwiches!

And saying, “I love you forever,” on the phone to my old mum and hear her choke up a little because time is not on her side. Hearing her say back to me that I will always be her little boy and how she remembers putting little toy farm animals in my Christmas stocking when I was four years old.

What else did I find on that list? Recognition, feeling worthy, making progress, loving and being loved. Never having to say sorry. Those are more complex details but nonetheless, they are details in the big picture of happiness.

So far, my list has over thirty things on it that make me happy but the list is still growing. The list of things that make me sad or anxious is shorter because most of them would be the absence of what makes me happy so there’s no point in listing them out.

And my list took me to the next place: to ensure that every single day, I was focused on the detail of happiness, adding those moments in increasing quantity to my life. Then, subtracting the details that make me sad or anxious. And that means never missing the infectious smile on my little girl’s face in the morning­­­­­­—even if I am late for that meeting!

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t step back once in a while to survey the horizon. But when we think about all the things we should be thankful for, we cannot miss the reality that they are all details.

Just as the devil is in the detail, so too is joy and happiness. If you take care of the details, the big picture will take care of itself.

Me, I’m getting on the phone to my old mum to tell her I love her and let her hear the giggling voice of her youngest granddaughter. And I’m eating a bacon sandwich.

Rejecting Paradise

200456192-001Sometimes we just want to feel alone, to feel sad, to feel failure. It’s not that we enjoy self-pity. It’s just that loneliness, sadness and failure are what we think we deserve.

Growing up with poverty and abuse creates a powerful sense of where you belong and what you are worth. In its most destructive form, it gives you an overwhelming belief in your own worthlessness.

As I distanced myself from poverty, I eventually realized that not once did I feel that I deserved what I had achieved. And as I formed loving and caring relationships, I looked for ways in which those relationships would be used to inflict emotional harm on me. The more my life became ideal, the more I seemed to want to reject it.

I was not worthy of love or success in any of its forms.

Sometimes it is a parent who infuses in you a belief that you must, “Never forget your roots,” or, “Don’t get ideas above your station.”

Other times, it is the bullying of a sibling who constantly tells you the world would be a better place if you had never been born.

And so, when life gives you good things, you work hard at pushing them away, at not being happy.

A friend of mine sold his company and overnight he became extremely wealthy. I asked him how it felt and he said, “I’m worried and I’m fearful. I’m afraid that I will lose it all.” As the conversation continued, it became apparent that he had grown up poor and didn’t think he deserved to ever have more than his parents had.

In the end, for me, it took one loving, beautiful person to come into my life and explain to me my destructive behaviors. To show me how powerfully I was rejecting paradise because of a deep-rooted belief that I was not worthy of it.

Some people may think this is utterly ridiculous. But to someone who has experienced the self-destructive behaviors that reject love, happiness and material rewards, it is all too real. For some, rejection is a way of life – so much so, that paradise is always just out of reach and therefore not even available to be rejected.

To Live Forever

FireworksThe joy of sharing is never greater than when we are sharing joy itself. But the irony is that even in a crowd, we can find joy in such a personal way that we feel alone with it.

I was three rows back from the stage in the Royal Albert Hall when the man in the huge black gown opened his mouth and began to sing. And in that precise moment, ten thousand doves were released from his lips and each one landed on the shoulders of strangers and whispered in our ears that now we could hear the sounds that come from the very lips of God.

“Nessun dorma.  Nessun dorma.”

None Shall Sleep Tonight.

I did not sleep that night. I could only remember weeping openly in my seat as Pavarotti’s explosive tenor reached the final sustained note of the spectacular aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot.

“Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!”

Vanish O Night! Fall away Stars! Fall away Stars! At sunrise, I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!

I looked around to see if any other grown man was crying like a baby. But the woman beside me was not weeping. I did not know her but despite that fact, she removed her underwear and threw it onto the stage, along with a long-stem red rose.

“I love you! I love you! Tu sei una stella… la mia stella! I love you Luciano!” she screamed. I knew how she felt.

And then it seemed that every woman was removing her under garments and throwing them onto the stage. I hesitated for a moment. No, I would keep my shorts in place.

I had dinner with Pavarotti after the concert. He sat silently with a bandana around his face, fearful of the germs that might reach him from the trembling mortal who was sitting in front of him, nervously picking at his prawn cocktail. Sadly, Pavarotti did not stay beyond the appetizer. How could he? God had only loaned him to us for a moment so that we would know what it means to, “Have a soul.”

Some said that Pavarotti died. The Italian Air Force flew over his grave. The Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival Hall flew black flags in mourning that day.

They were all wrong. He is not dead. Pavarotti lives inside a million souls. I just close my eyes and listen and his voice is there.

I cannot recreate for you the emotion of that night in the Royal Albert Hall. But I can share with you the joy that I still feel inside.

Vincerò!  Vincerò! At sunrise, I shall win! I shall win!

It is quiet now. But the joy of that sound will live inside my soul forever.

The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts

FrontCover 2Chapter 1

I live in a haunted family, in a haunted house, on a haunted street. One day I will live in a place where there are no ghosts but right now they’re everywhere. Some people don’t believe in ghosts but that’s alright. Those people have orange nightlights glowing in their bedrooms after dark, reflecting little moons and stars on the ceiling, and cups of hot chocolate to make them sleepy before their blankets are tucked in cozily around them by their mums. I don’t think my mum believes in ghosts. If she did, she would not turn out all the lights when she puts me to bed at night.

I am almost five years old and I was born in our front bedroom with my twin sister Emily. It was on the Twelfth Night. That’s the night when the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus with their gifts. It was also my sister Margueretta’s fourth birthday. So we are three gifts for the baby Jesus. If I am a gift, I would like to be a lamb. Animals don’t go to Heaven but I am sure there is a lamb up there. I think there is also a donkey.

Margueretta hates me because I was born on her birthday and now she has to share it with me and Emily, so she locks me in the cellar in the dark. And there’s something scary down there in the corner that goes drip, drip, drip. If I die down there I will go to sit at God’s feet because Dad says God suffers all the little children to come unto him. And Jesus loves dead children the most because they will never grow up to become sinners.

God wears brown sandals and no socks but Jesus doesn’t wear anything on his feet and he washes God’s feet for him because there is a lot of sand in Heaven and it gets between God’s toes. Dad says Heaven is a warm place and you are never hungry in Heaven because you can have as much bread and jam as you want to eat. So you shouldn’t cry if a little boy dies, having been killed by his big sister who locks him in the cellar in the dark.

Nana says we will all go back to God one day so long as we are not sinners. Because if we are sinners, we will go to live with the Devil and we will scream and burn as we catch fire in a lake for all Eternity, which is a very long time. And Nana knows what a long time means because she is very old, which is also why she has hair that comes down to her knees. She ties it in braids on top of her head but I mustn’t see my Nana’s hair when it is down or that will mean I have been in her bedroom and a little boy should never go into his Nana’s bedroom or she will hit him on the back of his head with her hairbrush.

A True Story of Childhood Haunting – Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

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