The Karma Police

March 21, 2013

Image

When I was a child, my father and I used to have the same conversation nearly every day. It was short and concise, and would almost always begin and end the same way. It went a little something like this:

Me: (in an angry tone) That’s not fair!

Dad: (in a calm but firm voice) Well son, life isn’t fair.

I would then exit stage left, stomping loudly, as my father kept his place behind the newspaper.

It was usually a very brief exchange, punctuated by a slamming door, or the exclamation of a word or phrase that would most likely result in a sore bottom.

The End.

This went on for years. I would present my case to the jury (in this case the jury being my father) and what I thought was a very logical, well thought out argument, would always get shot down with a very broad and confusing blanket statement like the one I presented above. And with one swift strike of the gavel, my feeble attempt to gain any sort of leverage or understanding was crushed into dust.

I hated the fact that nothing seemed fair. That Jeremiah Hargroves could watch The Simpsons and I couldn’t. That I had to be in bed by 8:30 on a school night. That my sister got her own room, and I had to share a room with my brother…

I often look back on my childhood fondly, and long for those carefree days, but in reality it was often a very frustrating time for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good childhood, and grew up in a very loving family, but I certainly didn’t make things easy for myself. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. I was so preoccupied with everything being fair and balanced, that I cheated myself out of a lot of joy and happiness.

The truth is, of course, my father was right. Not only was life not fair at home, but I would soon learn that life was even more unfair as I grew up and entered the real world. Bad things will happen to good people, and good things will happen to bad people. No matter what anyone tells you, karma is a myth. Sometimes things just don’t add up. But that’s because we live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, with infinite free will.

The trick is to not let it get you down. We have to remind ourselves that the only thing we can control is ourselves. The variables around us are simply that. Variable. We can hope that if we do things the right way, follow the golden rule, and take care of ourselves, that things will ultimately work out in our favor. But that still doesn’t mean that we have any control over things like the weather, job promotions, our health, or relationships.

Things change. People change. And you will change. Add constant change to an imperfect world, and what do you get? Chaos. But there is beauty in the chaos. There is beauty in a fresh start. A new perspective. A lesson learned. There is no growth in standing still, only in movement. And when we move, we make ourselves vulnerable. But that should never stop us from moving.

Life is unfair. And some things just don’t make sense.These truths can be hard to swallow, and they still drive me crazy sometimes. But life is also beautiful. Inspiring. And most of all…worth it.

The Love Of My Life

February 21, 2013

It was somewhere between exiting my mother’s womb and my fourth birthday. I don’t remember the exact date, but that’s not important. The important thing is that it happened. There was a day early in my childhood that I fell, deeply and madly, for what would become the love of my life: Music. I was always aware of music. The sound of my mother’s voice as she sang me to sleep. The radio playing high up on the kitchen counter. My parent’s record collection. The church choir. I was immersed, from a very young age, with these beautiful sounds and melodies.

But there must’ve been a moment where it became more than just an acknowledgement or an awareness. A moment in which this callow fascination transformed into the passion that it has become in my life. And in that moment, everything changed…

I looked at everything from this new found musical scope. In my mind, any equation, weight, or measurement, could just as easily correspond with any song or composition. I found myself listening to the radio as I laid in bed at night, dissecting every song, and soaking in the very shape and flow of each tune. I spent countless hours sitting cross-legged on our living room floor, playing (and occasionally scratching) every record that my parents owned. From Stevie Wonder to Boston, from Dan Fogelberg to Kansas, then Billy Joel and eventually Keith Green. The list goes on and on.

Both of my parents are singers, and my mother plays the piano. So I had the fortune of not only growing up listening to great music, but being surrounded by it as well. I can recall as early as two or three, sitting on the edge of our worn out piano bench, and watching in awe as my mother sang and played. For all I knew, she was the greatest pianist and singer in the world. I would eventually grow old enough to realize that this wasn’t exactly accurate, but it didn’t matter; I had the best seat in the house, and what I heard was beautiful. (And for the record: my mother was and still is a very talented musician, with a beautiful voice, as is my father.)

I soon discovered that this new love of mine was all around me. It was playing on the intercom at the grocery store. In shopping malls. At church. At school. And also, in my head. Around 5 or 6, I started piecing together compositions in my mind. I’m sure some of them were recycled melodies that I had heard throughout the day, but some were truly my own. I would hum them to myself during the day so I wouldn’t lose them, and then I would race home from school, run to the living room, jump up on the piano bench, and starting pounding them out on the keys. This went on for years, until that is…I picked up a guitar for the first time at the age of 15, and everything changed. The piano had been a worthy translator of my musical musings up to that point, but I’ll never forget the feeling that spiked through my core as I strummed my first chord: E minor. I knew right then that this was the new vessel that would help create and convey the songs that were singing within me.

In addition to learning piano, guitar and singing, I’ve also taught myself how to play the bass and the drums. I even fooled around with the harmonica just long enough to realize that I hadn’t quite reached the emotional breadth to fully appreciate such a sad and lonely instrument. I’ve been in countless bands, some of them actually pretty good, including the two that I am currently in.

What started as an infantile fascination, has turned into my livelihood, my passion, and my one true love. It is the blood in my veins, and the air in my lungs. No matter my mood, or my circumstance, I crave music. Just the other day a friend of mine, who is obviously aware of my unrelenting need for music, asked me this question: “If you had to choose between going one day without eating, or one day without music, which would you choose?” I smiled, and without hesitating, gave him my answer. He laughed and said I was crazy. Maybe he’s right. Who knows.

All I know is that from an early age music has been the one constant. My point of reference. And the language for which I speak. If I liked a girl, instead of telling her outright, I’d make her a mixtape. It didn’t always achieve the desired effect, but when it did, I knew I had found a true kindred spirit. For some, music is a nice distraction, much like a sitcom or a board game. But for me, it magnifies life in a way that nothing else can. It brings me closer to God. It makes me feel alive. And it gives me a sense of purpose and belonging.

Victor Hugo once wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”. So true. Where mere words fail, music succeeds. So hit play or drop the needle, whichever you prefer, and let’s get lost in the music.

 

Image

Expectations

January 25, 2013

When I was a kid I had it all figured out. I was going to become an actor, or a lifeguard…or both. And I was going to marry the most beautiful woman in the world. We would have two kids. A boy and a girl. How novel. Once I turned 25, I was going to sell my baseball card collection, which at that point would be worth a small fortune, and put a down payment on our three story mansion. Once I got tired of being a famous movie star, I was going to take my talents behind the camera and become a movie director. I would spend my last days making movies, occasionally acting, and living in a quiet log cabin in the northern woods with my loving, and still very beautiful wife, by my side.

…Or something along those lines.

It’s funny how things never turn out quite as we expect them to…or want them to. I gave up acting, and picked up a guitar instead. My life changed in an instant. I was offered a job as a lifeguard at the local pool, but our family moved before I ever had a chance to save a life, thus ending my very brief career as a lifeguard. My video camera, along with every minute of footage I ever captured over the course of three years, was stolen out of the back of my car, one hot July evening. I never bought another camera. I got married at the age of 24, and was divorced before my 28th birthday. No kids. No mansion. No golden Oscars glistening in the light from the chandeliers, as they stood proudly on the mantle above the fireplace…

And as for that nest egg also known as my baseball card collection? Surprisingly, it didn’t net me a fortune. Instead, I sold it all to a guy from the trunk of my car a couple summers ago for a whopping seventy-five bucks. And I was lucky to get that.

Our dreams and expectations often have a way of colliding with reality. Sometimes it’s a violent collision, and sometimes it’s a slow, gradual one. Either way, it can be a disheartening realization; that there are many things simply beyond our control. But you know what? That’s ok.

If someone had told my ten-year-old self that in 20 years, I would not be a famous movie star, who also directed movies, had a beautiful wife, and saved people from drowning in my spare time, I bet my response wouldn’t have been…”but will I be happy”? Not a chance. It probably would’ve brought about tears, anger, and confusion. But I had not yet had the benefit of living a life of consequence, of making decisions that would affect the course of my life, and the lives of others. The truth is, despite all of the failures, missteps, and disappointments I’ve endured, I honestly wouldn’t change a single thing. Because the person I am today is exactly the person I hoped I would become. I may not have the accolades and my bank account may tell you differently, but I feel like a rich man. Sure, I’m still a work in progress, and I will be until the day I die. But I can tell you this: The sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour, and the light isn’t quite as bright without the darkness. My mental and emotional scars are not marks of defeat, rather signs of battles fought and won.

To be honest, I’m right where I want to be. I’ve taken a few unexpected detours to get here, but I am in a place of endless possibility. For the first time in my life I see the glass as half full. I may not be rich and famous, but the last time I checked, you can’t buy wisdom with golden statuettes…or baseball cards for that matter. I may have taken the long way to finding a life of contentment, but I never gave up along the way. My journey isn’t over. And there will undoubtedly be many dashed hopes and maybe even some more dreams crushed along the way. But that’s life. The sun will once again trade places with the moon and a new day will begin. And the life that lies ahead of me could be far greater than anything I could’ve imagined as a child. And to tell you the truth…it already is.

Image