Castle Rock, Colorado
As I stood in the wine stocking room, I tried to convince myself that psychic flashes of intuition weren't real. These were just random pictures being generated by my subconscious and being served my mind's eye. There was no association with reality here. I didn't believe them. I didn't have any reason to. Yet, something about them felt so real.
The image was of a man's silhouette against one of the large windows in my apartment. I couldn't see his face, but he wore a cowboy hat. That was it. Nothing truly remarkable. Yet, somehow, it was deeply disturbing in a way that I couldn't explain.
It was already dark outside when I went on my lunch break. I had already planned to make the short drive home to get food and say check in on my wife, who had been in bed sick that morning when I'd left. Having succeeded in blocking my intuition, I had almost forgotten the earlier images that had flashed across my mind earlier that day. But as I pulled out of the parking lot on to the street, something odd happened: the images and feelings came back.
Once again, I pushed them back down into the recesses of my mind. "My mind was being ridiculous," I told myself. "Relax. Everything is fine."
The first thing I noticed was the large beat up truck parked in the parking lot of my apartment building. I didn't think much of it, other than to think that I didn't recognize it. I passed it and slipped up the three flights of stairs to our top floor apartment.
The next thing I noticed was that the front door was unlocked. This was strange. I stepped into the darkened room, taking an immediate right to the bedroom. As I stepped into the doorway, I froze.
My wife was laying in bed in the dark. Kneeling on the floor next to her, inches away, was a man in a cowboy hat. Startled by my sudden appearance, his stood, his silhouette against the large window. The images came to life.
At a moment like that, every biological imperative to violence rises inside of you. You understand the nature of killing. You feel the precipice of "temporary insanity" appearing beneath your feet. As Oliver Stone wrote in Wall Street "Man looks into the abyss and there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment he finds his character. That's what keeps him out of the abyss."
I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath..
It's Christmas time in Colorado. We've had several significant snowfalls and, while the news and politicians are churning the hamster wheel of the fear business, there seems to be a genuinely loving spirit in the people I encounter. Perhaps because of a recent career shift into teaching music and drama and a Catholic elementary and Jr. High School has connected me more with the childlike spirit and excitement around the holidays. It's definitely the first time that I've had Christmas Break since I was in school.
All around me, whether in person or in social media interactions, people are going crazy for "Star Wars". It is absolutely destroying the box office and adults and children alike are falling back into the wonderful universe that George Lucas created (and later cheapened, according to many). It makes me smile.
It reminds me of when I was something noble. Something innocent and beautiful. You see, as a young boy, I was like Luke Skywalker.
Wait, let me explain that first.
One of my most treasured memories was being read stories by my father before bed. He read Mallory's "King Arthur", "Robin Hood" and every kind of great literature for boys imaginable. As I look back, these stories were deeply formative and instructive to me. I learned about values from tales of heroism, good deeds, honor, chivalry, and compassionate action in the face of great adversity.
Movies were an extension of that. When a character resonated with me, my father had a way of connecting it to the innate internal values of that person, not the external rewards. For me, being a Jedi was about being in touch with the Force and doing what was right. I could care less about the award ceremony at the end. My dad would, if I was in what I perceived to be a challenging situation, would ask me what a Jedi would do. Then, he would allow me to find the answer and take action.
There were many times that, at school or alone while playing in my backyard, I would stop and close my eyes and take a long breath. Then, I would listen. I would hear the breeze in the trees, the voices of the neighbors several backyards over, and perhaps the sound of a bee as it buzzed nearby. Somehow then I knew that I was deeply connected to this world and that I was special. I was born to bring light and goodness to this world.
The world moved alone as it does and I moved along with it. I started growing up and my childhood innocence began to transform. At the time, I was attending a Catholic school where fights were the norm. I fought many, most of them in defense of my friends or for those who couldn't stand up for themselves.
That day on the playground, when I got into a fight with a large bully named Jimmy Arnold, it was in defense of someone less powerful. Jimmy was picking on another smaller boy in my class. I joined the other kid to ward him off. He kept at it and he and I fought. Hard. When the fight was finished, there was blood (all his), but my arm was broken. That day, my life began to change.
Through the miracle of that broken arm, I found that I was in a battle for my life. Bone cancer had made the bone weak enough to break. We went straight into fighting it, because that's what heroes do. Through the blessings of the indescribable passion and work of my doctors and the love and powerful love of my parents, I made it through. With my arm, albeit one strengthened by titanium and stainless steel, without a deltoid and very little in the way of bicep or tricep, but I made it. Years later, I found out the odds: 4% or less chance of survival with amputation of my left arm and intense chemotherapy as a must. I can never thank my parents enough for never telling me the odds.
As I grow older now, I can see the wide and deep scar that experience has left on my life. There were many times that I've run from my past with cancer, with survival, with loss. But it's always there in my scars, both physical and otherwise.
A few years later, as a teenager, I would turn to music and creativity as my method of expression. While I inherently knew that this work was important, I was like a puppy, running every direction, excited by the world in general. I had girlfriends and I had friends. I had good moments and bad ones, as well.
I can say now, if I'm honest, that the stories had been leaving me for awhile at this point. I was being caught in the illusions of the world. I was now trying to be something rather than feeling it the way that I did as a child. I no longer took time to hear the wind in the trees.
My inner voice made another rally in my early twenties. I felt the desire to be a part of something significant and of higher purpose. Naturally, being raised a Catholic, I decided to pursue a vocation as a priest.
Looking online at the various religious orders, I came across a group called The Paulists. This order focused on spreading the message of Catholicism through the creation of media (film, tv, etc). Perfect! I found out that there were several Paulist priests at a church in Boulder, Colorado and made an appointment to meet them.
That night, after a mass, three priests and myself were walking down Boulder's Pearl Street Mall on the way to dinner. Suddenly, just up ahead, we heard the high pitched shrieks and screams of several girls viciously fighting each other. One of the girls had another's hair in her hand, forcing her to kneel while pummeling her in the face.
I was shocked. This was terrible. Right then, one of the priests scoffed, shook his head and started walking faster. I stopped dead in my tracks, watching. When I turned to look back at the priests, only one had stayed behind. His eyes met mine and I could see the message in his eyes. "It's wrong to keep walking, but it's how the world is."
He turned and continued walking up the path. Then, not wanting to ditch my hosts, I followed. For that, I will forever be ashamed. Somewhere deep inside of me, a dark little voice cooed "The Jedi in you was a myth, Michael. You aren't special. You aren't here to make the world better. You are here to survive it. You aren't enough to be a hero."
Over the course of the next few years, I'd begin to believe it.
After a long period of investigation into other religious orders, I'd discovered something: These men didn't have any more answers than the rest of us. In fact, they were quite blocked. When you believe that you already know everything, there isn't any room for the humility required to see the truth. It's easy to act holy when you are alone on a mountain top.
So, I abandoned the idea. I decided to find another way.
Several years later, I was a singer in a western band called "The Flying W Wranglers" in Colorado Springs, where I met my soon to be wife. Performing music every night in a beautiful place, making good money, and being "in love' is a seductive and potent mix. You can even trick yourself into thinking that it will last forever. She and I got engaged quickly.
And the world moved along, and I moved along with it.
A year and a half later, I was still living in Colorado Springs with my wife. We had been married in the summer of that year tragically, only a few months later, her mother had relinquished her body in a long battle with cancer. My wife was grief stricken. Tears were shed, but this was deeper. It was in her eyes. The once calm, peaceful, and slightly mischievous look had been replaced by eyes wide with anxiety and wild internal emotion. I tried to help her, but could never find a way to open her up to allow it.
At work, I had left the Wranglers and was heading up promotions at a country radio station. I was good at the job and trying to keep up with a massive learning curve. It turns out that getting to know everyone in even a small city like Colorado Springs is much harder than you would imagine. When I took the job, I was stepping into a challenging situation. The Program Director of the station had recently been let go, leaving the seasoned on air team without an official leader. When I was brought in, I was in fresh territory and was able to chart the course until someone was hired to head the station officially.
As one of my passion projects, I started meeting and working with the head of fundraising at a local hospital to put on a radio centric fundraiser for their pediatric oncology clinic. We agreed that, when the Denver Children's Hospital had their fundraiser, we would travel up together and watch what they did. I was finally in a position to help further the treatment of a lot of children by making this work.
Around the same time, the station's higher management hired a gentleman named Jim West to be the new Program Director. Jim was a good guy. Soft spoken, funny, and very experienced in all aspects of radio. He and I spent a lot of time together.
On the evening before I was to go to Denver and watch the execution of the fundraiser for Children's Hospital, I reminded Jim that I would be out of the office for the first part of the day, but would be back that afternoon and to handle an event that evening that would last until midnight. Jim said "Nope. I need you here." I pressed and told him why it mattered. He was unwavering. Well, shit.
Since this discussion happened after 6 p.m., I could not reach the man from the hospital. Only his voicemail. I left him a diplomatic message (which means that I lied to make my boss and I look like less of a pair of douchebags), but reiterated that we were still moving forward, just that I couldn't join him that day. The next morning, I left the house early, having a feeling that he might not have gotten the message and might be waiting for me.
Sure enough, he was there. He smiled and waved his hand, his small, beat up car behind him. I got out of the station truck, said good morning, and asked if he'd received my message. He hadn't. When I told him that I couldn't go, his face fell. The look is still locked in my mind as if it was this morning. To me, this wasn't the look of just this man in this situation, but the face of my own heart staring back at me.
As I went on with my day, which held no actual reason that I needed to be there, it dug in more and more deeply. I had just sold out on of my deepest values. That dark little voice was no longer cooing. It was derisively cackling at me. I had never felt so ashamed in my life.
Where had my true north gone? Where was the Jedi? Where was the wind in the trees?
Castle Rock, Colorado
There, in that darkened apartment bedroom, I felt the abyss open up beneath me. The dark side was there for the taking. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My wife and the cowboy starting yelling at me in high pitched voices, spiked with fear upon being caught. In that breath, I remembered the wind in the trees. I remember the stories, and I remembered the young Jedi. I had betrayed him for many years. His voice was so small that I had to strain to hear it. But I knew, that for the next few minutes, I could, as my father used to say, "do what a Jedi would do".
My eyes opened and I saw them there, frightened. I blocked the only exit from the room and could have easily handled him in a fight. I looked into the eyes of wife, wild and frightened. Then, I gazed into the eyes of the man who was in my home, in my bedroom, and sleeping with my wife.
"It is time for you to leave," I said in a calm voice.
The cowboy froze. He was afraid to move. My eyes stayed glued on his. I saw, in him, the manifestation of my frightened lower self.
He ran for the door, brushing past me as he left. I heard the door slam, his feet on the steps, and the tires screech as he peeled out of the parking lot. I turned back to my wife and she burst into tears.
I wish that I could say that it's all been different since then. That, once I found that internal strength again, it stayed. But that would be a lie.
There is a strong part of me that places value on those who are close to me, many times to my own detriment. In the case of my now failed marriage, it was because of multiple things on both sides. Not long after that event, she told me that she was pregnant and, out of care for the child, I decided to take on the role of father, although I knew that there was a very slight chance that he was mine.
She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Then, soon after he returned home from the hospital, she and her father trashed our apartment and moved them out while I was at work. It turns out that, from the tragically depressed emotional place she occupied at the time, she was feeding her family and friends some serious accusations against me. Of course, almost all who knew she and I distrusted the rumors and asked me. They were easily refuted and proven wrong because they weren't remotely true. But some of the damage remained - there are still some people who never asked.
The deep voice growled "You see? What great hero loses his family? Isn't enough man to keep his wife? Let's another man take his wife and then still supports her? You were never good enough."
She remarried the day after the divorce was finalized and is happy to this day, I've heard. The boy, for reasons I won't go into here, was adopted by her new husband at an early age. He has another brother, as well. They have a normal and happy life. (His adoption was one of the hardest "Yeses" I've ever had to give. But it was the right thing to do.)
It would take years of rebuilding. Of meditating and spending time alone to recenter myself. I needed to heal. Not just from my marriage where the two of us somehow combined created a toxic mix, but from my violations of my own innocence and internal voice.
I've lost brothers, both biological and fraternal, in this process. I've given up letting anyone define or give judgement over my behavior. If you focus on judging and condemning others rather than building consensus and moving things forward, then I don't have the energy or time to be with you.
Instead, I spend time closing my eyes, breathing, and listening. That little dark voice has grown so quiet that it's almost inaudible. And I've gone back to the old books and stories. I've gone back to Robin Hood, King Arthur, chivalry, and honor. The Jedi's voice has been growing louder and louder in my heart.
In my search for that path, I've studied many things: Religion, martial arts, business, mind control, and beyond. They never resonated with me, in truth. Religion - was because I wanted answers. Martial Arts - I wanted to be able to protect others and myself, but also, in retrospect, I wanted the gratification of knowing how to bring violence against others. Fear was (and is) a deeply fundamental component of this desire. When my fear left, so did my appetite for violence or it's study. Mind control is the same thing.
But, in this day and age, how does a Jedi wield his weapon?
It must be different for everyone. But for me, the answer is as clear as it can be. My weapon is...me. My heart, my mind, my creativity, my skill set, my honor, my deeds, and my intentions. It's in my focus.
This is why I took a job as a teacher over an already sewn up finance job that payed 200% more. This is why myself and the rest of the crew at World Poetry Open Mic have produced our show nearly every Friday night for over three years: to give poets a voice amidst the noise. It's why I am working to create inspiring and fascinating new works of art and promoting the message that we can make this world better.
My focus is and will continue to be on the mission of love, truth, humanity, innovation, and hope. My enemies are fear, hate, scarcity, and illusion.
Those who know me know that I speak the truth. I own my role in what has transpired in the past and I own the consequences. They have all made me stronger.
But now, I'm back at the sweet beginning. Where I can close my eyes, breathe, and know that I have always been a Jedi, even though I might have forgotten along the way.
It's never too late.