Reflecting beyond the day I found out why.

All Posts by Prescott Paulin
Prescott is a graduate of Babson College, served as an officer in the US Marine Corps, trained police officers at the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, launched POLITICO Pro Defense, and now serves as the International Research Consultant for his family business, 300 Below, Inc. After cardiac arrest, brief death, and subsequent revival, his reflections on an inspired second chance at life are posted here daily. Read the full story here >

An Ode To Friendship

Published September 2, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Today’s takeaway: take away a friend, on an invited adventure even of miniature proportion.

Tonight was mini golf… Is it an American pastime beyond batting cages? Honesty keeps a tight leash on golf scores until you realize that you’re there to have fun. Only a close friend can kick your sphere out-of-bounds, evoking laughter as you both become mutual interactive hazards of the course.

As for life, we all need more friends like that… Humor hoists our spirits whether or not our best shots are falling swiftly into place. Outside celebration with a friend is worth making the effort in the first place.

Fast forward to work life: after hours. Winding down the day as the sun collapses before its morning rounds…

Jesse Elder inspired me tonight, through the track “Be Comfortable, Creature” by the group Explosions In The Sky.

Volume remains as loud as it should be to be heard in an empty office. The Kanban wall beside me shouts visually for more sticky notes to transform jumbled thoughts into coherent microsteps of action.

And while action calls, no amount of sticky notes have yet transformed me back to a full paleo diet. Salmon for dinner did not absolve my cravings of sugar and gluten nearby. Melted Cheese… My resolve must improve, but junk food is everywhere.

Reflecting tonight grows harder. With feet propped up next to my standing desk, hypocrisy has snuck in via a reclining chair. I am still at work, but my mind is not working. I am reflecting, and struggling to associate monetary value with intimate contemplation. Money isn’t the point though.

Or is it? Is anyone compelled to reflect on why our city would spend over two million dollars to build a tiny golf course as schools are failing and jobs are leaving? It’s not polite to criticize that which I did not have a hand in shaping or building, though I hope someone else will, in the interest of public debate.

Tonight’s reflection stays simple. Focus on including a friend and give thanks for their wise words and sense of humor that unlocks your smile.

The Value of Curiosity

Published September 1, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

They don’t know you, so they keep their distance. You look different to them, and they take comfort in maintaining a twenty foot buffer. You’ll never fit into their exclusive group, and there is nothing you can talk about that will bring them closer. In fact, the closer you get, the more they walk away.

Except there is one removed from a cautious flock that pierces this void with curiosity. Watching you, allowing happiness to fill the gap, spreading its wings a little wider to approach and acknowledge your presence. You exist, and you are not ignored. Because while you might be different than them, this one sees you watching patiently, not chasing them like the thousand other children, not yelling or running, just observing.

Why are you different? Is it just today?

Perhaps you are not the only one reflecting at the docks. Confronting the opportunity is yours, to jump and sail however briefly in the air, to feel the rush of water surging over your skin until either your feet meet the earth or your hair is fully submerged, or merely appreciate without action that your feet remain planted on what used to be part of a tree, anchored to the ground. This dock is a point of mutual reflection, casual observation, and even the springboard toward your next encounter with the elements of Earth. But in this moment, your mind may soar as much as the wings stretch out in front of you until your will decides to act. Possibility is rejected only for the restraint of your own imagination.

Children As Teachers

Published August 31, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Sunday’s reflection was seen through the eyes of a child. Three kids to be exact. They were the children of the beautiful parents who invited me running two weeks ago, and all were enjoying our cabin last night.

Their one year old inspires me as she explores her world, she can stand but does not walk, crawling fast like a tiger on the prowl. After making faces that she didn’t like me, by the end of the night she was smiling back at me with curiosity. No words are outbound from her… But you can tell she is absorbing everything sensory nearby.

Their 3 year old twins are equally amusing. Needing constant distraction and stimulation through movies and food, I find it curious that they were less inclined to sit by the fire and make smores until it was nearly time to go home. Then this photo, taken by their grandma, preempted the memories. The stars came out eventually and filled the cloudless sky. That is when I saw wonder as they learned how to roast marshmallows and foster curiosity of worlds beyond our own.

Acts of Kindness

Published August 30, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

He wasn’t a hitchhiker, and there was no thumb or hand out stretched. He just needed a ride, and someone to care. Saturday’s reflection came suddenly as I nearly passed the heavy set man walking towards the bridge, away from our mall. To most, a large guy with tattoos means keep on driving. But observing his stride, I slowed down, rolled down my window, and met Steve.

He said his wife left him after wanting to buy a $500 pair of eyeglasses… Just got in the car and drove away. Sort of like what I felt like as I was driving around looking to clear my mind. Now I felt normal. I could help someone with a normal act of kindness, which for someone else became extraordinary. That’s what the nurses did for me, after all. Saving lives is a normal day’s work.

I was on the way to Springfield to give gifts to the nurses who saved me. But instead I asked Steve where he needed to go. He had his car at his daughter’s house. It was 30 minutes in the other direction.

Ending up in Mt. Zion, he spent our car ride telling me about his prior work as a security guard at the local school district, and about all the fights he broke up. He thought about taking a job now at the mall, or going back to the schools… Which pay better but have the certain subjection to getting pummeled regularly.

I swallowed hard when he told me I was his Guardian Angel for the day. All I did was offer a ride.

As I drove back past Spitler Woods State Park, I decided to take a walk. I didn’t know where I was going or how far the trails would take me, but at the fork between concrete and dirt, I chose dirt. Twenty minutes into my curiosity, I came nearly face to face with a beautiful doe. I reflected that just the day prior, I had thought to go kill a deer to fit in. But now I felt normal in my own way, passing through the woods and appreciating nature, not needing to conform to anyone.

Definition of Emptiness

Published August 29, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Empty is _____.

…What do you think?

I witnessed nothing new or inspiring on Friday, and fear a “normal” existance has returned. I ate at the same restaurant for lunch, worked among the same people, witnessed the same similar conflicts at work. Perhaps I am allowing myself to listen to others more than myself, but that would be selfish, right? Even with positive encouragement over the past ten days, I received one message that lingers in the back of my mind. I don’t even remember who sent it, but it was along the lines of, “Your period of reflection is going to end, and you’ll return to normal.”

Looking around, I struggle to empathize with what normal is. What am I to return to, if I never was? Where do I find normal people in my community? I see a deer hunter sticker on the truck next to me as I contemplate normal on my drive after work. If I kill a deer, will I be normal with this group? What about the rough part of town, where the color of my skin and brand of my clothes makes me stand out as an outlier? How can I possibly be normal there?

I feel empty, but I don’t even know what needs to be refilled to get my reflections back.

Christopher Plummer says, in his upcoming film, “We should concern ourselves not so much with the pursuit of happiness but with the happiness of pursuit.” I’m just not sure what I need to be pursuing, other than getting back to work, keeping tabs on my health, and paying down my debts to others that haven’t gone away… Hmm, that sounds normal. And empty.

A VIP Mindset

Published August 28, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Posting publicly that a bag of luggage was found seems like the most vain comment I could make today, as my belongings are irrelevant to the three primary reflections I’ve endured for Wednesday, which may inspire your own change in the world.

Instead of elaborating on getting old clothes back, which is not life changing, I offer up 3 “VIP” (very important perspective) points of action that will help you be your own VIP once you reflect and confront them.

(1) Vision
(2) Impact
(3) Persistence

VIP awareness helped me get my belongings back, my life in order, our customer service on the right path toward improvement, and several business deals squared away in the right directions.

The confluence of meetings was represented first with VISION: What is the optimal outcome? How may we get there? Then IMPACT: What occurs after this vision is achieved? Then PERSISTENCE: How can we follow through to ensure this vision achieves optimal impact? If optimal impact is not earned, what can we do better next time?

Three examples surfaced. (E1) A consultant’s meeting, (E2) A guilty reflection following a failed investment, and (E3) a deal that was saved last night.

**As for the airline, that’s not really worth discussing in depth. Baggage found. There was a lack of responsibility for the optimal vision: returning the bag. Impact was getting clothes back without requiring shopping, and persistence led to implementation. (phone calls to multiple parties found the bag and got it moving again for delivery to our hotel.)

*E1*: a consultancy sought our technology for their clients. We consistently establish expectations (our vision) up front that we pay only commission as the result of a favorable outcome. Following confirmation, their entire leadership team gathered for an overview of cryogenic processing — our business deals with the ultra low temperature science used to improve metals, making them harder, last longer, and perform better. After our presentation, their CEO stated, “We’re working in the best interest of our clients.” As we soon found out, Words vs. Actions are two very different things.

Though shrouded as a celebration with “A.S. Kiken” wine, we used our final five minutes to probe the discordant reality for the relationships they professed to introduce. This team working in the “best interest of their clients” sought a retainer from us, expecting to get paid from both sides. In essence, expect us to pay upfront to meet their clients with zero expectation of results.

Would a company who contracts with an executive search firm expect the potential new hire to pay to be introduced before they’re even interviewed? That is absurd. Would you hire someone as your agent if they squeeze every contact that might hold inbound value? Such behavior stifles innovation for business prospects, because it removes impartiality. When A.G. Lafley (CEO of Proctor & Gamble) set a goal in Y2K of obtaining 50% of all innovation from outside the organization, the product launch success rates increased from 15% to 60% in 2008; a 400% increase. There were no upfront charges to potential collaborative partners that P&G invested in, and one of the successful products was the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, found by meeting a peddler in a Japanese street market.

All impactful visions require a level of persistence to see them through. For us, we will invest our future percentages, but steer clear of handshake dealers. Hope from a handshake offers no guarantee of performance, whereas all of our business transactions offer a 100% money back guarantee. Being apart on values is often incompatible for a deal to congeal. Similarly, the look on one’s face when they are inconsistent and vision-averse is always fascinating to watch, seeking to justify inconvenient truths that have just revealed themselves.

IMPACT: Time is our most valuable asset, and it appears we just wasted our time.

*E2*: I am guilty of violating an established vision, though it is my own fault following a lack of due diligence, not posturing. This situation also brought to light a personal investment, whereas weeks ago I made an earnest offer to purchase remaining shares of a startup from multiple business partners, yet when I mapped out the decision and fully understood our remaining assets (where all financial details emerged), my vision changed, and my offer to purchase was rescinded before I signed the paperwork. To my other partners, this was most certainly frustrating, as (unbeknownst to me) it killed another acquisition opportunity that one of the other partners was working on.

IMPACT: While we now will divest in this wayward venture with minimal loss, I am confident that this experience has damaged a close friendship in the process. Saying “don’t do business with friends” is a cop-out excuse, as while this experience is indeed a life lesson, the real teaching point here is the importance of accepting responsibility for deeper due diligence and never proffering verbal resolution if it may presuppose the action of a handshake or signature that is unworthy of genuine commitment.

*E3*: We have a new deal that merges our new technology with another team’s technology to improve network security. The initial theories are nearly a decade old, but through collaboration we were able to create new patentable measures to enhance network security with global impact. The original programmer is friendly and easy to deal with, and he and I collaborate well together to come up with new ideas. But as the old partners started to realize that money was coming back around, they got re-involved to the point of killing the deal.

Our vision is to start a new company that we own a percentage of, and the optimal impact is that we can help prevent or stall a large amount of global cyber attacks. Through persistence we have arranged meetings with several top organizations who are interested in this solution. While we came to an agreement about how to structure this organization, and I spent an entire evening writing a Letter of Intent for us to partner together, their appointed partner to handle negotiations started talking in dollar figures owed rather than shared percentages. Since we have no proof of deployment or guarantees of intellectual property, this threatened to kill the deal. As such, we decided to say no, and walk away because of this greed.

What was most interesting is that this particular individual has been removed from negotiating with us, and we have resumed negotiations at a most reasonable level that again allows productive collaboration. This evening (Wednesday) was spent meeting with the programming team one-on-one to understand our vision moving forward, define what immediate impact we wanted to have, and set a date for our persistent engagement so that we could make demonstrations to our prospects.

The VIP points for engagement have allowed this business deal to be saved because we have all agreed to align our values and get on the same page with commitment to an aligned vision, optimal impact, and steadfast persistence.

What opportunities do you see to apply VIP thinking in your own life? What about for work?

Impermanence

Published August 27, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

Stolen… When was the last time something was taken from you? After losing my life, I just lost all my clothes. (well, okay, for this trip) which has provided 3 new reflections for today:

(1) IMPERMANENCE – Nothing tangible may be with us forever. Appreciate it while you have it.
(2) PATIENCE – When errors go against your wishes, cooler heads prevail and allow superior service to emerge from those with the power to change our outlook.
(3) GRATITUDE – When excellent service or care is rendered, honor its provider through recognition, tangible or not.

A loss is often inspired by the obliviousness of our surroundings, or blind faith in our security of possessions through the hands of another. Since I rarely allow my situational awareness to fade, which is a perishable advantage for sheepdogs that must be actively perceptive and retrained, I am frustrated that the alternative outcome from trusting others has resulted in loss. Anger through circumstance is non-existent, whereas acceptance has risen to the occasion.

Tuesday morning was my day of continued loss as I traveled to Washington, DC from New York City. Anyone who has traveled previously in either direction knows it is a far more logical to take a train (3hrs) or a bus (4hrs). After TSA and taxi time, we invested well over 5 hours door-to-door flying from JFK to DCA. Restrictive overhead compartments prompted carry on luggage to be checked at the gate as we boarded, with a little useless red tag and absolutely no means to track the bag because a destination tag was never adhered. The only way to recover my personal belongings is likely USAA insurance, which I am grateful to maintain, though most people are not as fortunate under these circumstances.

Was it theft or did the bag just fall off the cart? I’ve had too many pieces of missing luggage over the years to think there is an underwear gnome equivalent for these sorts of things, especially with all the bag tags clearly displaying ownership, BUT I will never jump to conclusions without proof. In questioning the gate personnel and filing a baggage claim, I was extremely patient and grateful for their help, yet I left the counter without a confirmation number and accepted that they would call or text me with one. That call never came.

I thought before that this experience was somehow different, as following my death I woke up to find myself surrounded by friends and family. But even through this loss, I am seeing that friends and family remain with their own appropriate perspectives, reminding me that my acceptance of impermanence is the right way to approach this situation. My clothes are now relics lost to NYC without a way to know their final destination. Losing a bag for me was beyond embarrassing; going fifty feet from the gate to the butt of the plane seems implausible. Ironically I never checked the bag for an even greater fear of its sure loss through the more complicated inner baggage network of the airlines.

When we checked in at our hotel this morning and spent time getting acquainted, patience and gratitude were there to support our conversations, and they continued through to the drivers and waiters we had this evening. Saying those words makes me reflect on a level of dependence around us. I can cook my own food, open my own door, and get my own room key. But we don’t have those options of self-service easily accessible because they represent a measure of success while offering job security to others who are equally in need of work.

Patience and gratitude were extended to our warriors overseas as we witnessed a recent documentary that cataloged their service, and it was again extended amongst our dinner table for those who joined and those who delivered. As for this hotel, I was patient and grateful for the woman at the end of the night who repressed my shirt for tomorrow. (pun intended)

What would you do if you lost everything? For me, the answer is simple, and I find it enshrined in our community. The root of this experience, for me, is that nothing is permanent: If we give thanks for what we have now, we stand to appreciate the depth of life for when what we have remaining will no longer be around.

On that note, I appreciate you being PATIENT in my delivery of reflection and for your expression of GRATITUDE by encouraging me to continue on the path toward inspiring others.

ARM Thyself

Published August 26, 2014 in Uncategorized - 0 Comments

Since Heaven isn’t ready for me, this seemed like the next best thing for a dinner reservation. I have three new perspectives to ARM you with after dancing in the park. Apply them tomorrow and let me know here: which is the toughest for you? Which one are you applying throughout your day?

I also have a soundtrack to share from last night…

(1) ACCEPTANCE – Remember the high school dance? People still ignore others. There is no longer a trophy for being popular. Get over it and start dancing with others. (That doesn’t mean grinding or groping, which I also saw tonight, but at work this means allowing your colleagues to contribute and encouraging them when they do. )

(2) RECOGNITION – When someone puts themselves down, it’s time to step up with a positive remark that acknowledges how they may feel but shows them a different perspective.

(3) MICRO-MANAGEMENT – *How* you treat people, and the flexibility you give them to act within their means, results in largely favorable outcomes… Or disaster.

I am so proud of my brother today for organizing an entire flash mobbed section of dinner tables in Battery Park. His efforts were noticed as happy smiles converged on tonight’s big event. Dressing up among strangers to form a pop-up community graced in bright attire was a bucket list item that I was pleased to check off with him by my side. This really was surreal to see the sea of white surrounding us after being given a new lease on life.

Diner en Blanc perfectly precedes the nature of Burning Man next week, as a pack-in, pack-out, leave-no-trace event. As we sought to minimize our footprint and not spend all day cooking (right Suegee?) our family bought a picnic along. In the restaurant prior to picking our picnic out, I overheard a girl say “Oh, that isn’t a good pic of me, I look like such a fat beast!” as her much skinnier *friends* laughed and said nothing. I looked at none of the thinner ones and said, “Come here, I’m giving you a hug. Don’t talk about yourself like that. You look great! … and you’ve got a beautiful smile!” She smiled back with gratitude, squeezed me tight on the hug, and appreciated being accepted, recognized and uplifted.

The next guy I met was a tailor who hemmed my new white suit pants within ten minutes of the request. Max is a block away from our hotel, recommended by the staff, and hails from British Guyana. He doesn’t believe in religion, but he does enjoy teaching. He teaches billiards, and made a distinction to say that watching professional pool players is like watching a bunch of cowards who hide balls from the other players by purposely blocking shots, whereas billiards (specifically his style) required bouncing off balls from several sides. While he may be agnostic, he does believe in commitment, endurance, and dedication to teachings. I believe all religions have these qualities, though I now remember Max stating that he is happy in solitude wherever he is and that money is not a concern in his life. His observation of hidden or blocked shots was interesting to contemplate since not all religions are truly open; they make learning their collective knowledge more difficult for outsiders to deeply understand. I learned to appreciate (acceptance) Max’s difference in perspective and respect the knowledge he had found on his own.

Finally the main event… Guests clad in all-white attire but from every race and nationality all sharing in the laurels of a meal they have brought themselves to present and share amongst one another over white table cloths, real metal silverware and flowers or candelabras. There was an opera singer on stage, and it evolved into a violinist that suddenly added an EDM background. For a moment I was hopeful Lindsey Stirling had showed up, and if you listen to her song Zi-Zi’s Journey you’ll have an idea of what it was like to be there with ears perked up after 8:30p.

I accepted new guests around me and recognized their presence, or at least tried to! Jeremy, Parker’s roommate, actually did a better job or recognizing me and asking me about my day… I meant to ask more about his, and left frustrated that I didn’t get to do that. I really wanted to build a better friendship with him since he has been so kind to our family over the years. I could have improved the acceptance of my family by helping them more with dinner setup, as I was running between aisles wanting to help Parker more than I was focused on setting up our own table, chairs, and spread of food. When I finally sat down, I was pleased to enjoy the cold crisp taste of gazpacho and a slice of ham quiche before the bread pudding and rhubarb jam was revealed. Not paleo? Not a problem. For a night in near-heaven, I wasn’t picky with the food.

Acceptance and recognition of kindness around you should also allow a choice as to *how* you want to accept kindness from others into your life. We all have different ways of receiving and processing this stimulus. As new people introduced themselves, I found it interesting how they preferred to seek contact with me.

I would enjoy reflecting more on micro-management down the road, as Parker had some great examples from several aspects of his current life, but I’m getting tired again and want to wrap this post up. The one example that comes to mind is that at the end of the night, I went back to help pick up trash in his area. There was merely string to be found. Compared to the overall environment, the other table areas needed a lot of fixing after the party was over. I think this was a good example of Parker’s leadership expressing WHY something like trash removal was important to the long term success of this event for every person who joined us — rather than just telling them they NEED to do it, precluding their feeling of acceptance as an important part of his team.

Components Of True Significance

Published August 25, 2014 in Daily Reflections - 0 Comments

I started writing last night, but I passed out, so allow me to finish today: (irony)

One week ago, my heart dispensed to an emphatic halt. Join me for a moment in celebrating my one week rebound! If you’re willing, I ask merely for your own internal contemplation as means of merriment.

From several new adventures, here are the topics that inspired my own reflection and hope they may inspire yours (*Sunday):
(1) APATHY: Can impartiality enable equality? Coveting envious tangible wares may preclude the strategic use of impartiality and dispassion for the benefit of others. I’m a Libra; scales of balance require objectivity. But not obsession with objects!
(2) CYCLE: The Aladdin Effect follows three symbolic wishes from a poor orphan to reveal the desire for equality, which leads to the struggle for freedom. As a pure heart uses the final wish to obtain freedom for both the wisher and the wish giver beyond desire, the balance of equality, and hence appreciation, may be earned by all.
(3) SQUINT: Listening isn’t just about the obvious notes and words surrounding you. You might stand closer to appreciate the pleasurable company of others nearby.

New York City NYC captures you with honking taxis in the morning and a constant flurry of people walking feverishly in all directions, mostly towards each other; it makes your heart beat faster as you feel like Simba getting lost in a determined inwardly-focused herd stampeding toward their daily destiny. My heart hastens further after hearing of an earthquake on the opposite coast, prematurely flowing forth caches of wine in celebration of moving faults, though it beats just as passionately to know that so many friends and family are improving their outlook between these two, especially in Central Illinois.

First lesson? Brunch at Norma’s. A perfect crunch forms over the top of cinnamon and oat-flake-coated french toast, with a foam-like reaction from its airy innards in between the first and second slow chew. My brother’s sweet tooth takes over, which reinforced his persuasiveness that soon had me trying this solitary bite of pleasure. Le Chef de Cuisine should be honored for creativity on par with bananas foster, but not on cost control as my giant pan of duck hash with two poached eggs arrives. I am only able to finish two bites as yellow ooze coats its meat, and forgetfully leave the remaining pounds of this new takeout dish in the pew following our morning church service. Norma’s menu dares customers to order the $1,000 lobster caviar frittata and expense it. Food is a topic of passion; apathy does not belong in the kitchen.

Fast forward an hour… I honor my mom’s wish before I died. We are sitting together in church. Church is a construct of irony among social classes at times, because every action carried out by its community is often done in the name of God. However, my duck hash is not divine: it’s now littering the Holy floor upon our departure. Instead of taking responsibility, once realization of my forgetfulness sets in, and prompting a cab ride back to pick up my treasure (their inevitable waste), I’d like to think that my good deed for the day has been concluded because, under the optimal circumstances, I contributed to the meal programs of the congregation; in actuality, my weakness has revealed itself and I have justified a cop-out mirage of a good deed… I am human, I am forgetful. My father jokes that the smell of the duck will give a new meaning to the word “pew” once someone finds it laying around.

Diner en Blanc is tomorrow, and one of our guests is from the Dakotas, which inspires a quote for tonight: “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” – Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th Vice President of the United States

This same moral test ought to measure the effectiveness of a congregation and its leadership. PASSION for extracting moral action from followers, effectively toward ALL three of these categories, is profoundly rare and should be commended, but IMHO (in my humble opinion) must also be balanced by the application of apathy and impartiality toward who is served by these rites and who is not. An outstretched hand knows no specific need other than to be served, and not all disciplines of faith and affirmation are open to accepting anyone at the door. Some groups think Harry Potter is evil, others shun LGBT, and still more will prohibit communion by anyone not converted to their specific ways. (I personally don’t think Christ died with a team of legal advisors who placed asterisks on limiting the consumption of bread and wine in remembrance of His sacrifice.) My fear is that generosity may be extended until you get deeper inside a community and then a certain percentage of your own income is either overtly or covertly expected as a tithe. Leaders must lead with passion in order to win and squeeze hearts forth impartially, allowing supporters to know openly through accounting as to where their non-profit contributions are utilized, and ensure our apathy allows us to not be influenced away from our core values and views, which most openly state as well.

Apathy is typically the bearer of bad things when it leads to “sheepism” — blindly and idly standing by as evil takes hold and holocaust, beheadings, or mass rioting against law and order take hold insidiously among society. Luckily even the crowds in Ferguson Missouri are growing wiser to scheming preachers as they booed “Rev.” Jesse Jackson out of town for using a teenager’s death to grandstand for donations. It’s rewarding to see the power of an intelligent crowd used to reveal an imposter and maintain order in lieu of mob chaos. Crowds grow wiser and more passionate through the digital age as they carefully evaluate their leaders for hidden weakness. However, enhanced apathy toward the personal practice of one’s own religion allows us to honor a fair and functional government that contributes to this balance of equality inside open communities, which further recognizes that all healthy belief systems may co-exist freely. I question curiously whether this occurs optimally under the auspices of patriotism.

One quote is posted in front of the church that, to me, allows reflection of the importance for care in religious clarity when embodying apathy:
“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” – Anne Lamott

As we walked into church, the inevitable fear of boredom towards a long sermon (my God, look at this piece! Haha) gripped me. But instead of long books and hymnals, there was an iPad up front with our teacher for the day. He started talking about the recent beheading by extremist Muslim group ISIS, and that turned my apathy for a sermon into passion about a current topic. I appreciated his candor in learning the key differences between Catholic and Protestant Christians, suggesting that protestants experience God through their internalized faith whereas Catholics experience God through a specific human conduit. I prefer the approach where I may be content with reaching out to God on my own without the need for micromanagement through the perspective of another faulty set of human eyes and ears. I love that he says, “When two or more believers are together, you are among us.” as it makes me think of the two guardian angels that saved my life a week ago.

We stopped by the Ralph Lauren store after church. For the first time I see a $95,000 alligator jacket and feel absolutely no desire to covet such a thing. Nothing else stands out to me either. I am dispassionate about buying anything flashy at the moment, even with a birthday coming up, as I don’t yearn for “physical” objects.

Aladdin, up next, is a musical on broadway that revealed cyclical insights to me. The fable of a beggar becoming the sultan is heavy in and of itself, but this theme was more about the cycle of getting out more than what you put in. The parable is that obtaining equality leads to the desire for freedom, and obtaining freedom leads to equality. It completes a cycle carried out at an interpersonal level with downstream effects for society. Aladdin found a magical lamp which grants him 3 wishes. He wanted to earn equality so he would be relatable to Jasmine. This in turn led to his emprisonment (because he was living excessively in a false outward projection of who he truly was), and the search again for freedom for both himself and his friends, reflected in his 2nd wish. The third wish was to set genie free, which would mean his inevitable return to renouncing his worldly possessions and becoming a pauper, but Jasmine’s love kept him right where he was with equality granted by her father (the Sultan) saying that she could choose who to marry so long as they levied their power equally and together.

Squinting was a realization that took place at the Whitney Art Museum today. The Jeff Koons exhibit was our focus, and walking it revealed a giant scale purple heart hanging from the ceiling and tied with a bow like a gift to its recipient. It was symbolic of how I feel, and the color of purple has its own relevance to me in the state between oxygenation (red) and arrest (blue). I am no longer arrested, and my heart is beating freely again as a gift and second chance to open my eyes and ears to observe the world around me.

That I did, attempting to now witness art through the perspective of others around me. I saw an aluminum sculpture that represented an inflatable, witnessing irony in that we as humans are also inflatable, but shall die, whereas these inflatable objects of art are made of metal and shall remain. As I noticed the mimicked plastic edge of this pool toy, typically pressed and crimped in manufacturing, I crouched down toward the left of the piece. I had made a comment earlier to the family who took our family’s photo in front of the purple heart that their reflection out of a circular kinked mylar-balloon-like sculpture was the perfect Kodak moment as they all stared towards the same piece, reflecting their mutual curiosity into their own inflatable existence. At this moment, the mother, wheelchair-bound, was pushed toward the immortal pool toy to see it straight on. I smiled and looked at her to say, “I really appreciate your perspective. You might bring your view over here and notice the piece from the side here to see how it is connected.” She smiled back and her son pushed her around so that her eye-line matched mine. “It’s beautiful,” she said. Through curiosity we connected and exchanged smiles of kindness.

I squinted further as I walked into the next exhibit floor below, and was reading the explanation of Koons’ work. My eyes went pinpointed and brain cleared for a moment as I heard the subtle humming of the guard near me. I tuned in with my ears. She could have been from the DR, someone’s mother, with latina roots. There she stood, singing under her breath at work so that no one could hear her. Except I could. Her job was to stand still and watch the perspectives of others while preventing them from physically interacting with the beauty present in the room. Yet even under orders to guard the stillness of these immortal sculptures, her mind was racing as an inflatable being, allowing her own creative subconscious to flow forth the rhythm and harmony that were inspired by this very room. I said, “Thank you…” as her eyes changed to confusion and I continued, “for working on Sunday.” A moment passed for processing before she squinted and then mutual smiles appeared between us. She didn’t know what to say, so I broke the momentary silence to tell her, “your music is beautiful,” and continued to pace the exhibit with her rhythm now in my stride.

The next piece of art that resonated with me was three basketballs filled with salt water suspended in a tank of distilled water. I collected basketball cards growing up, but never watched a game, so you could say I was initially disinterested. But the purpose of my visit today was reflection through the perspective of others, and I attempted to see the value in this message. A mother and child walks by, as the kid asks how this magic can happen. Having just read the writing on the wall, I am fortunate to pass on a teaching point: Three spheres loft mid-level, balanced and connected with one another through the optimal weight of electrolytes, symbolic of sport rather than an imprint-free chamber. I encourage the mother to conduct her own experiment at home and show him in a fish tank how it works. They both beam in their own way, and think that is “pretty cool.” Learning retention occurs at the 90% level when you teach others, and I now receive an insight that these balls could be symbolic of my two Guardian Angels and I, for they are just as human as I am, and we have returned to balance our fluids and electrolytes in evolution after full exertion from an otherwise individual-effort sport.

We depart with much more learned than I care now to write here, and head to the southern piers of Manhattan to board a boat hosting an oyster bar. I stop on my way to converse with a Hassidic Jewish family and ask them about their celebrations on their walk through the park today. I want to understand the meaning behind the five prayers they say they do each day, and learn they have a strong community in Chicago, too. I then board the boat with my family to find solace in bounties from the sea: salty oysters, lobster rolls, and fresh ceviche. I order a soda water with Angostura bitters and have a sip of Rose Champagne. The last memory of good ceviche I have is in Miami with my friend Jon May, but a new memory has been imprinted as I squint to see the distant shores in front of me and notice the Statue of Liberty. (I am confused because I thought the Statue was in New York, on an island, but visually it appears to be connected to the shoreline of Jersey City…) A surge of pride enters my heart, as I may have seen this symbol of freedom before as a kid, but I have never truly seen it until this very moment. There is a black man dating an Asian girl next to me, a black woman dating a white man, and all sorts of other endless combinations of religion and race near me here that are showing me just a sliver of equality that walks freely in this city. When equality inspires freedom into your heart, such reflection of freedom around us connects us all to the crowd-sourced patriotism of a truly free nation. This experience alone aids your heart to proudly beat faster. Seeing and carrying the flag of a free nation is just as potent, and there is always one of those to render closer than the nearest Statue or Liberty Bell. I sympathize with the hastening hearts of flag bearers as they have fearlessly carried our flag through past battles. As the sun sets at the bow of the boat, I know that many flags are flying nearby. I reflect that we may end this day grateful to the #community around us all, which brought me back to life and is just as positively inclined to do so for you, as well. Faith and Humanity are alive and well.

This is a good new birthday celebration indeed. We are Americans together, no matter where in the world we reside, and our hearts and hands keep us strong together as one. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.