Epiphany #1

It was spring of the year 2000. The world had survived the Y2K scare…amazingly using a 2 digit year hadn’t brought the planet to its knees.

We had taken a family vacation to Arizona during the December school break to evaluate AZ as a place to move. There had been some executive level changes at the niche consulting firm where I worked that were going to be tough to live with, i.e. my new boss was not only a roadblock to any career advancement for me. He was also more than a bit forgetful, on top of being a terrible listener, generally clueless and a grade A butt-kisser….not to mention the misguided politics that he regularly spewed.

Paula wasn’t happy with the gray, drizzly winters in Portland. She wanted to live somewhere warmer; we had talked about moving somewhere with more sunshine. I suggested southern Orygun or east of the Cascades, near Bend. She wasn’t interested in staying in OR. After our 10 or 11 days in AZ, checking out Flagstaff, Sedona, Phoenix and Tuscon, we weren’t ready to move there. We weren’t writing the state off either.

Heavy inertia was gonna keep us in Tigard for awhile. How long was unclear. The money and the culture and most of the people at S&A (except doofus) were top notch.
The original “Who wants to be a Millionaire” with Regis Philben had first aired in mid-August, 1999. It, along with Seinfeld, provided conversation fodder in the office. I have always liked games, and I had made several attempts to get on the show. There were a number of hoops to jump through, some involving luck; others involved skill.

I got close to making the final cut a couple of times. Close, but no stogie. A couple of times a week, Joseph and I would sit together and watch Regis and the contestants. It was great fun. I heard “Dad, you should get on this show!!” a lot. It didn’t happen, but not for my lack of trying…

And more than a couple a times a week, his behavior would have me saying to myself, “I gotta get outta here…this 10 year old is gonna kill me or drive me crazy!!” Joseph was a handful at that age.
About 6 or 7 months after the show had been on the air, Joseph and I had a conversation in his room one Saturday afternoon. I have always referred to it as “The Epiphany.”

At breakfast Joseph asked if we could shoot some fireworks off in the cul-de-sac later that evening. The weather prediction was for a nice day for a late February. At that time, I always kept a decent sized supply of fireworks on hand.

My neighbor across the way and his 12 year old were like me and Joseph. The four of us liked to blow things up and make noise. I told Joseph, “if you have a good day today, I’ll see if Jim and Ryan want to meet us out front after dark to light up the sky and get loud.”

I never had to track Jim down.
It was mid Saturday afternoon, and Joseph had been sent upstairs to his room for the third time. Now this piece I’m writing is NOT about him being an oppositional, defiant child. It is not about my parenting skills, or lack thereof. It is not about what Joseph had said or done to warrant another timeout. If I had been keeping a journal back then, I would be able to provide more detail. And probably more accuracy and specificity. But I’m betting that the following dialogue is very close to what transpired when I opened the door to his bedroom, walked in and sat down next to him on the bottom bunk.

Me: At breakfast we talked about shooting off fireworks with Jim and Ryan. What do you think?
Joseph: I don’t think it’s happening.

Me: You’re right. Why do you think it’s not happening?
Joseph: Because you and her keep sending me up here!!

{I repeat: “…this piece I’m writing is NOT about him being an oppositional, defiant child.” So let’s move on to the meat of the pow-wow….}

Me: You want to play a game?
Joseph: Sure. Can we go outside? I’ve been in this room all day…

Me: Let’s play our own version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire”….but we’ll play it right here. How does that sound?
Joseph: Who is gonna ask the questions…you or me?

Me: Me. And just like on the show, the questions will get progressively harder. OK?
Joseph: Sure. Ask me anything.

Me: How many days in a week?
Joseph: (grumbling at my audacity to ask this no brainer!!) Seven…of course. Duh.

Me: Buddy, they’ll get harder…our game is gonna be just like the one that Regis plays. Man-o-man….you gotta lighten up!

Me: How many weeks in a year?
Joseph: (facial contortions at getting another softball…) Well, everybody knows that. Fifty-two.

Me: How many days in a year?
Him: 365, except in a leap year and then it’s 366. (with a smirk…)

Me: How many years do you think you’ll live?
Him: About 75.
Me: Good answer! (I was hoping he’d get close…and I liked that my 10 year-old son did.)

Me: This is the last question. How many days do you think you’ll live?
Him: About a million. (That woulda been the answer if I had scripted it!)

Me: Nope. Do the math.
Him: What do you mean “nope!” And what do you mean “do the math.”

Me: So you told me 365 days in a year. And 75 years is a good answer for how long someone will live. So if you have those two facts, how would you figure out how many days you’re going to live?
Him: I’d multiply them together.
Me: Exactly…do the math. Here’s a pencil and paper.

He banged it out. 27,375 days.

Then I told him the point of the exercise.

“Joseph, that was fun. Think about this: You haven’t lived six-sevenths of your days, so you should have another another 23 or 24 thousand days. I hope most of them are going to be good days. But some of them are going to be bad days….you’ll have plans to do something outside and the weather will be bad; grandma might get sick or die…after all, she’ll be turning 75 at the end of March; maybe you’ll be sick yourself; or it might be a bad day like today. This day hasn’t been much fun for any of us, and one reason is because of the things you did and said. Joseph, you don’t want to be responsible for ruining your own days. I’m going back downstairs now. I’ll come get you when it’s dinner time. Please think about trying to make each day a good one. I wish we were going to be setting off fireworks tonight. Let’s make it happen one day soon.”

Now for MY Epiphany.

The “game” played out like I wanted it to….for Joseph, although it didn’t have the impact on him that I had hoped for. But as I walked downstairs I thought about how the game we had just played applied to me too…and the fact that I’d already lived about 70% of my allotted days. I pushed the numbers around in my head and came to the realization that I only had something like 8,200 days left on the planet.

I didn’t like my boss or my long-term prospects working for him.
My spouse wanted to live somewhere warmer.
I loved Portland (and I still do), but the long winters with the gray and drizzle can be challenging.

I walked into the family room and told Paula: “Joseph and I had a good talk. He’s staying in his room until we have dinner ready. And I’m gonna see what kind of severance package I can negotiate. You need to start looking for a job in a warmer city.”

I had a great relationship with the HR and Finance folks and I knew I could get good, confidential feedback from them before I submitted my resignation. It worked out well for me. She found a job teaching in Tampa.

She and the kids were there when school started in August. I stayed in Tigard to sell the house. After the sale I did a solo cross country drive…without a cell phone. I spent time with some friends that I hadn’t seen in many years. I did my part for the close on the purchase of our house in Tampa (i.e. signed and initialed a stack of papers) while I was staying with a friend in Denver. I took a break during the drive and flew to NJ to interview for a job, which turned out to be the last W-2 position I ever had. There are some stories there…but they’ll have to wait for another day.

A couple of things hadn’t happened at the time of “The Epiphany.”

1. Warren Zevon’s last appearance on Letterman came a couple of years after we had moved back to Floriduh. I saw that entire show in late October of 2002 while sitting in a hotel room in Virginia Beach. Zevon was the only guest that night and he played several songs. One line from the show has stuck with me. When asked how the cancer diagnosis had affected his work and outlook, Zevon said, “You put more value in every minute. … It’s more valuable now. You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.”

That last line, along with Alfred E. Neuman’s “What, me worry?” are my mantras these days. The latter since I was barely a teen-ager, and the former since that night over 13 years ago.

2. Kris Allen didn’t release his cover of The Script’s “Live like we’re dying” until late September of 2009.
“Yeah we gotta start lookin’ at the hands of the time we’ve been given here
This all we got then we gotta start thinkin’ it
Every second counts on a clock that’s tickin’
Gotta live like we’re dying oh
We only got 86,400 seconds in a day…”

What did I learn from Epiphany #1 that day in 2000, from Warren Zevon in 2002, from listening to Kris Allen in 2009, and from subsequent events? I have to keep re-learning it all the time….

Life is precious. Enjoy every minute you have and enjoy every bite of every sandwich. Tell the people who you love that you love them. And be. Be kind. Be nice.

Just Be.


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