A Rose in The Winter

I learned a new word today. Apparently the extra day that is added to the Julian calendar every four years is called a bissextus. It sounds kinda sexy, but to me it is just a cool reminder that we are blessed with an extra day this year. But the idea of having just one more day makes me think of something sad, something I am still dealing with but often push out of my mind because it still hurts–the passing of my grandma. It’s been almost two months now. She was old and I’m glad she isn’t suffering anymore. But I miss her. I miss how invested she was in simply asking about my life. I miss the smell of her kitchen, and seeing how happy she was when the whole family was there laughing and eating her food. I miss how she made me feel like my life was supremely important. I have no doubt that I will see her again in the next life, but it still hurts. I hate that she won’t be at my wedding, and I hate that she will never hold my children. But thus is life. We have to accept death and look back on lost life as a gift and a small glimmer of beauty and perfection that we can recall and smile about when life gets even tougher.

About six months ago my grandparents gave my parents their old green van, and I have driven it from time to time while my own car recuperates from its various ailments. A few weeks ago after grabbing a quick sandwich before work I hopped into the van, threw my backpack on the ground and was hit with a gust of wind from the past. The smell of the van entered my nostrils and immediately surged to my brain reminding me of my grandma. It’s weird how smells can transport you back to the most specific places of your childhood in a fleeting instant. I sat there, breathed in and cried a little. I haven’t cried much since the funeral. I guess I have just changed the subject in my mind when it came up. But that smell, that whiff of the past was too much.

Another instance hit me unexpectedly several days ago. I was visiting my tiny four-pound niece in the NICU when a very real moment crept up on me. I was saying goodbye to little Evelyn, kissing her tiny cheeks as she lay supine in her small hospital crib, listening to me as only an infant could. I started to talk to her. It’s funny how adults talk to newborns. We know they can’t understand us in any way, but we still tell them how precious they are to us, and how much we love them. Maybe it is just assuring to hear those words aloud. Or maybe we just feel that some portion of our love will be received or heard.

I said, “Evie, I love you, but I gotta go home now.” I kissed her soft little head one more time then said, “You met grandma up there, didn’t you?” I don’t know where this came from or if she did or didn’t meet my grandma before coming down early, but I started to cry looking at that tiny human and feeling the closeness between her and heaven, and took my slipping emotional state as a cue to excuse myself. I waved goodbye to my sister in a hurry, leaving before she could see my tears. Because like some people vomit upon seeing vomit, my sister cries on sight of tears. I scuttled out into the hallway and rubbed my eyes quickly, not wanting to break down in front of orderlies and nurses as I made my way to the parking lot.

I guess these little moments seem sad, but really it’s a beautiful thing to remember someone you love. James M. Barrie said, “God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December.” And even though sometimes it hurts so bad, I’m thankful to have those roses.

With any death that is close to you you are reminded of the fragility of life. I think about those last days in the hospital with my grandma, and I wish I could have just one more day with her. The truth is we don’t know how many days left we will have with anyone. And though a leap year doesn’t really extend my life any further, it reminds me how much can be done in one day, and how grateful I should be for each sunrise and each sunset. Be it a boring Wednesday in the dead of winter, or a sunny bissextus, let us not take for granted a single day.

 

grandma pic

A cute update of my life and upcoming book release

cute update 2

 

As 2015 passed into the annals of time to become another place only visited through memories and recollections I decided I wanted to write more. I wanted to post articles and blog posts several times a week. Now, it’s 43 days into the annus novus and I am making my first blog post of 2016.

I have been in a tailspin of sorts. My grandma who I kind of assumed would live forever passed away after a long battle in the hospital. Then mere days after, my sister’s water broke at 27 weeks. She didn’t go into labor for a few more weeks, but these were terrifying weeks of waiting and worry. Finally a tiny person was born, not even three pounds of human life. So I have spent my time driving an hour to the hospital and spending time with my little niece that lives in an incubator fighting to grow. All the while I am working full-time, trying to get a girl to hang out with me twice, and trying to finish my second book that has gotten the best of me over the past 6 months.

The other day in the middle of a cold dark night I typed the final sentence of my book, Return Not Desired. Iv’e been working on this piece of personal non-fiction for over a year now. I’ts crazy the things you feel when you finish writing a book. It feels a bit joyous, but also rather sad. Truman Capote said that, “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.” Though I find this to be a bit dramatic, I see what he means. Now what? Now I have to concern myself with the tedium of editing, revising, and of course publishing. I just want to write everyday and leave that literary minutia to others. But I am not that cool or famous yet. Yet.

This was my attempt to update. In summation, I have been busy and finally finished my precious manuscript. The editing process is fully underway thanks to some very talented people I have entrusted. Now as soon as my baby is polished and receives its final coat of proofing varnish the publishing process will proceed. This is where potential delays might occur resulting in my infuriation and subsequent frustration in realizing that infuriation isn’t a word.

The goal is to obtain an agent and publish with a major press as soon as possible. But I will not deprive the world of my book for very long. A self-published version will be released as soon as possible. I plan to have a book release party where copies will be available of my first book and the newly completed Return Not Desired: Thoughts on The Holocaust and Life. Stay tuned for announcements and updates on this blog and my other social media outlets.

Insta- @taylorchurch44     @taylorchurchbooks

Electronic mail- taylorchurchbooks@gmail.com

 

Deuces.

 

 

 

Let Go

There are things that I keep buried in some deep capsule within my soul. These are dark things, things I should release out into the endless atmosphere to fade away and explode, but no, I stubbornly hold on. In my mind and heart are stored unnecessary parts of me that for some reason I feel the need to grasp to. It’s like someone places a tong-held coal into my hands and though it burns and hurts I won’t let go because I want to prove something. But I don’t even know what that something is.

We all have this hidden box of things we want to keep. Some people’s boxes hold intense envy and jealous emotions. Others hold secrets that refuse to be told, some embarrassing vices and sin. And some aren’t even boxes, they are something much deeper and more difficult to open, they are steel vaults full of regret and unmended hearts. For some, deep within their emotional vaults lay the remnants of an old relationship, a wound that won’t fully heal because they refuse to suture the cut.

No matter what it is, be it addictions, hate, or even just a hopeless hope, we all have things we need to let go of to have a better and happier life. It might seem impossible to empty our entire box of issues, or crack open our vault to let a few things out, but we can and we must. Perhaps we will never fully let go of everything, for life throws so much at us, but if we can work toward an existence where we are always trying to empty that injurious capsule that we have buried inside us, surely our load will be lighter, and our life fuller.

Maybe we have an old friend that did something absolutely unconscionable. How could we ever forgive them? What we don’t realize is that we aren’t simply carrying out justice for their wrongdoing, we are harboring poison within our own bodies if we do not let go, if we do not forgive and move on.

Maybe an old lover has left us, years later, with a damaged heart and a complete lack of hope for the future. Maybe the love was too great to be duplicated let alone topped. But this is only true if we cannot let go. If we set free the past, our future regains its limitless potential.

Maybe we have a certain predilection for something that only brings sadness unto ourselves and others. Maybe it’s an addiction to anti-depressants,  maybe it’s a volcanic lack of devotion and loyalty, maybe it’s unbridled selfishness. And as all addictions, habits, and forms of life are, it is hard to change and easy to say, “That’s just how I am.” But a simple decision to let go, as trite as it sounds can boomerang good things back into your life.

So let go. Look deep into the portion of you that you try to forget about, grab your demons by the neck, unchain them, and let them go.

 

“I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how theyr’e experts at letting things go.

~Jeffrey McDaniel

let go

Please in the interest of time, pledge to my Kickstarter to receive a copy of my book. I assume if you have read to this point you are at least not repulsed by my writing.

How to be Perfect

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

~Winston Churchill

 

The word perfect is really kind of unsettling. It’s like an unrealistic goal that we are all racing towards without instructions or any real hopes of attainment. Most of us would kill for perfection even in one little sector of life; to be a perfect spouse, to have perfect skin, a perfect metabolism, a perfect mind, or even just a perfect baseball swing. But at its roots, perfection is not actually this unattainable thing. To be perfect does not actually mean we are without mistakes, bereft of flaws or that we float through life without barriers, faults, or tragedy.

It’s our English definition and assumption of the word that screws everything up. Let’s rewind to the Greek version of the word before Latinization and subsequent bastardization into the English vernacular. The Greek word for perfection is teleios. Now teleios has a completely different connotation, one that makes much more sense for us. Various dictionaries and scholars have defined this word to mean the following: Complete in all its parts; full grown; of full age; maturity; reaching the end (aim); developing into a consummating completion. None of these definitions talk about a flawlessness of things, or a spotless existence, but rather a journey, a goal, an endpoint.

If we can look at perfection as the Greeks did we can actually be perfect. We might not be there tomorrow, and we might not ever really feel like we have ever arrived, but it’s possible. Why else would the Savior himself command us to be perfect?

Let’s look for a minute at the life of a flower. A flower isn’t in and of itself a perfect thing. After all, who could decide which flower is the brightest or most beautiful? But rather, a flower seeks a perfect life, for eventually it’s full grown,  it completes its biological parts and progresses to its most elegant stage, its fullest bloom, and most nectarine state. But yes, many flowers are stomped on, picked too soon, and mowed over. Others are ignored or hidden in unfound meadows and unseen natural gardens. Are these flowers less perfect, less important, less breathtaking? I would posit that they are not, they are all perfect. Some might be without pedals, or buried underfoot, but that does not change their beauty or reality.

We are much like the flowers. We have damaged pedals. We are often not as tall or vibrant as others. But our journey, our existence is not theirs, and we too can be complete in all parts. We too can reach the end, become full grown, and develop into a consummating completion.

So I guess we may never truly be perfect if we adhere to the English version of the word. But I think I will follow the Greeks, and pursue the perfect life.

 

flower foto

 

The Unnoticed Onlooker

I am often subtly impressed and inspired by small acts in the distance, by overheard declarations, and adjacent kindness. I view all people and things as this sort of beautiful raw and unfiltered material for writing, so I observe a lot. I try to notice how people interact, and how strangers connect with other strangers. While looking at the world through this authorial kaleidoscope I come to realize how much people see and hear us without us ever knowing. We aren’t unlike some rare blue bird with a bright colored beak flying in with mysterious beauty, and flying away almost instantly. We might be alone in a café reading all day. And though we are alone and quite, we are being noticed by dozens of unique people. Most may not notice anything besides the space we take up or the fact that we are wearing an attractive scarf or a clean pair of shoes. But others will notice things. They will see the joy we receive in turning a simple page, they might notice a smile come across our face as a thoughtful text appears on our phone. Perhaps they will overhear a brief conversation we have on the phone between chapters, a moment where we are sheltered in the vulnerability of expressing love to a parent, a parent that aches when we aren’t anything but happy.  Maybe what we do all day in relative solitude at a coffee shop will have little consequence over the lives of others. But maybe someone will remember that book they need to read, maybe someone will be touched by a few words whispered to a loved one. Maybe a small smile on our faces will be enough to shed light on the shadows of someone’s dark day.

All of this sounds kind of romantic and unlikely. But let’s consider more realistic scenarios, more interactive moments. Many of us often feel overlooked, underappreciated and frustratingly unnoticed at times. Maybe our family lives in Michigan and our friends aren’t being good friends. Alas, day after day we go to work or school, or the pharmacy and people see us and notice us. So whether we are feeling particularly important or not, we should remember that our acts could still inspire many. Those many may never leave us a thank you note or publicly sing our praises, but good is good even if it is not formally recognized.

So in all things we do let us try to remember there is often an audience. We can say, “who cares, I’m gonna do me,” or we can try to better the world that we occupy. Our lives are made up of the tens of thousands of tiny moments that seem inconsequential, that seem to have no bearing on the progression of mankind, but these moments of kindness, of unbridled laughter, of unnecessary generosity, these are the main pieces of our life’s puzzle. This is how you change the world. So be mindful, and try to live an existence that could inspire a downtrodden onlooker, a person you may never see again in this mortal sphere. And just like the footprint of Neil Armstrong that remains untouched and intact on the floor of the moon, we too can leave an indelible footprint on our own planet.

 

onlooker pic
Three hour lunch.

 

In addition to these words, you might fancy a full-length book. If so, check out my Kickstarter and pledge to receive a signed copy along with other rewards.

Is Chivalry Dead, Or is it Just a New Generation?

All I hear everywhere I go is women complaining about men, and men complaining about women. Guys aren’t being gentlemen. Women are acting crazy. Guys are insensitive players. Girls are cold monsters of pain. Anyone who is single (and let’s not even get into those who are married) has something to complain about. I hear that chivalry is dead from women, and I hear from men that they don’t ever want to get married.

Are men at fault? Have they forgotten the importance of opening a door and purchasing the occasional floral gift? Or are the ladies to blame? Have they become so obsessed with the expectations set by Hollywood and social media? Or are we all just a sad product of our generation?

I often hear people bemoan the decade we are in and the dating trials that seem to come with them. Again, I ask, is chivalry dead? Well the very first definition of chivalry states the following: the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms. Horse riding skills aside, this definition would probably indicate that yes, chivalry has passed away. But is this lack of courtesy and generosity an unavoidable byproduct of our time, or an excuse we have contrived because the age of Instagram, text messaging, and online dating make it infinitely easier to be discourteous and distant? I would opine that the latter is true. The problem isn’t the age we are in, the problem is our attitude. We think it is socially acceptable to completely vanish from a person’s life when we have lost the tiniest bit of interest because it is easier and as some argue, nicer than telling someone the painful truth.  Forget about proper date etiquette and other standards of gallantry for a second, how generous or courteous is it to disappear without notice from someone you once cared about?

Humans change how they communicate and live together. This has been so since Adam and Eve. We no longer marry our relatives, cause duh there are more people on the earth. We no longer call people to ask them on dates, because texting was invented, and people don’t answer their phones any way. It’s okay that things have changed, and we don’t need to fight the times and complain that we aren’t courting in the 1930’s. We just need to change our attitudes and maybe apply certain principles of the golden rule into our courtships. Obviously breakups and unrequited feelings are unavoidable, but before we ignore our incoming messages and head for the hills, maybe we can take a page from the knight handbook and try to practice a little courtesy, a little valor, and heaven forbid a bit of generosity. Chivalry isn’t dead. We don’t need top hats, carriage rides, and perfectly timed roses to be chivalrous. We can send a kind text, or tell someone how we honestly feel. We can respect a person’s timing and be less shallow. Dating will never be a perfect practice, but we can probably start by realizing the things we complain about concerning the opposite sex are usually things that we are at different times also guilty of.

So let’s get back on our proverbial horse, increase our emotional dexterity, and find someone that just maybe we can love.

 

 

chivalry

If you enjoyed this post at all and wish to read more about the dating woes of my own life, get a copy of my book “I’m Trying Here” available on Amazon.

On Halloween

halloween pic

I never loved Halloween. Even as a kid I didn’t have the pumpkin carving acumen of others, and I really wasn’t crazy about knocking on strangers’ doors knowing that a visit from an angry or equally terrifying “playful” dog was a real possibility, all in the name of sweets. As I got older the shift magically changed from a sugary obsession to a fixation with meeting someone of the opposite sex at some sweaty party. Costumes, for me at least, became nothing more than a perfunctory requisite to not seem like a buzzkill at whatever party I attended. For girls it was a whole other concept. It was like the accumulation of years of fantasy and childhood dress up, mixed with their new found curves and independence that culminated in a night of body gyrating and questionable decisions.

This year, a little chagrined that my bachelor status forced me into the annual ritual of seeking out parties in hopes of meeting promising women, in the most unpromising of places, I decided to write about my experience.

This years’ “holiday” landed fortuitously on a Saturday. So, the parties started early in the week. But I didn’t make any effort to attend any of them until Friday when the obligation to be social and search for a cutie in spandex with a painted nose, bejeweled chest, or ironically bespectacled face weighed down on me.

That night around 10:00 P.M. me and my friend that were precariously close to 30 reluctantly chose a party where we felt our odds were high in meeting someone interesting, or at least someone that looked good in a nurse’s outfit and could recite the alphabet without struggle. We put on some makeshift costumes that showed we were fun enough to dress up, but that we were certainly not going to spend money at some ridiculously themed boutique, or heaven forbid wear something that would cover our faces. Because who goes to a party to meet women with their face covered? That might work for a beautiful woman at a masquerade, but unless you have an exaggeratingly chiseled life guard body, a man’s face needs to be at least above grotesque for a girl to be interested.

We arrive, quickly regretting our choice of outfits that reveal much of our chests since it is unseasonably cold walking from the car to the house. Once we get inside the palpable heat and stench of human sweat and polyester assure us that a warmer ensemble would have been a terrible mistake. Both being above 6 feet, we take a lap around the perimeter and implicitly scope out the talent. As always, it’s dark and the kind of loud that would put your grandparents into instant cardiac arrest. I’m surrounded by white girls dressed up as hardened Mexican gangsters, and men with absurd superhero costumes that fit poorly. Many faces are painted piebald and are fading from the forced human contact and unavoidable perspiration. There is no sign of water or chips or candy.

Not being an especially confident or skilled dancer, I am comforted by the lack of space and visibility of the room. So I throw my arms up and bump into attractive girls on purpose and try to smile at the right people. We dance hard and jump when the 19 year old DJ instructs us to. We consider talking to a few groups of girls, then decide there is a real chance they are in high school, so we move on. After 30 minutes or so of white guy dancing we are stopped mid jig by the DJ who announces that the sheetrock is cracking on the first floor and that we need to exit the dance floor before it caves in and lawsuits ensue. I will silently blame this structural malfunction for my lack of romance that night.

On the way out a young girl compliments my man bun and I get her phone number, hoping to take something away from this night.

The next evening, which is actually Halloween, that same friend and I hit the streets one more time. This time we head to a downtown block party of sorts. The type of free party that brings out all the riffraff the city has to offer. But mostly I see the same things I have seen for the past seven years. I see girls desperate to take the right photo that will properly show off the beauty and ingenuity of their costumes. I see large men creeping into packs of prissy girls hoping to form relationships out of thin air. And I see sadness. I see people walking around looking for something, but finding nothing but sweat and regret.

Then I take a look at myself. What am I doing? I am walking around hoping to meet a wonderful girl. I’m essentially trying to make Katy Perry lyrics come true. But in the process I end up avoiding people I don’t want to talk to, and not talking to certain girls because they seem unapproachable.

The dance ends and I didn’t have an awful time. Jumping up and down to certain songs is always fun for a minute, and I ran into plenty of good friends and old lovers that don’t hate me. But as we walk home in the new found cold of the night, a cold that seemed to appear out of nowhere once the crowd dissipated, I am glad this vapid holiday is over. Certain days shouldn’t make us feel obligated to find love, but they kind of do. Well, I miss the days of just asking strangers to give me candy because I’m cute. I go home and await the true joy of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

halloween pic 2

Also, please check out my Kickstarter. We have 23 days left. So pledge now and receive a signed copy of my book, or even a personalized poem for you or a loved one. All in time for the holidays. Cheers.

Why I Wrote a Book About My Failed Relationships

I was twenty-six and though I had dated a lot and experienced more first dates and forgettable kisses than most, I could not seem to get over this one girl. It was no longer massive pain, but it was still there. It was like a sore tooth that you could avoid by purposely chewing on one side of your mouth. But every once and a while a kernel or crunchy bit would come in contact and send a zinging pain down your spinal cord. This specific girl had walked out of my life years ago. But from time to time I found myself feeling that unpleasant zing, that reminder that pain was there waiting for me just beneath the surface. Being a writer, I enrolled myself in the one free and fool proof course of therapy that I knew, writing. I figured I would start at the genesis of my serious dating life at age twenty-one and sort of discover where I went wrong, or what I was missing. Surely in jotting down my past memories and reminders of breakups and crying in bed, some sort of cognitive solution to my problems, or rather a pattern might emerge. So I blazed through chapters recalling good memories and painful conversations I thought I had forgot, all in pursuit of healing and revelatory catharsis. Two months later I had finished the manuscript of what would become my first published book, “I’m Trying Here: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Misadventure.”

Had I arrived at this expectant plateau of renewed understanding? Was I a changed man, now destined to settle down with the love of my life? Not exactly. I was still single. I was still the oldest nephew at family gatherings without a wife and kids. So what good came from all this? Was this just a reminder of my shortcomings and the fact that “the one” had gotten away? The short answer is no. In the process of recording five or so years of my life I realized a few rather essential things. I realized that we all make mistakes in relationships. We all have regrets (even those people who fervently claim that they have no regrets), and we are all trying. I also came to realize that my path no matter how thorny and sinuous was its own unique journey, a journey that would eventually lead me to the girl that I would end up with.

Nearly two years later and I am still single, still not making jokes with J.K Rowling in our weekly cocktail parties about author problems, but I am happy. I am trying. Has the girl that sort of smashed my heart completely vanished from my mind? Not completely. But now instead of an aching tooth that pokes at my nerve endings from time to time, the discomfort I feel is like a fleeting itch I can’t get to until I remove my sock. I hate hearing the phrase “Time heals all wounds.” But it kind of does. And at the end of the day, I am not left with sorrow and ache. I live by the adage of Sir James Mathew Barrie who said, “Let no one who loves be called unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow.”

So I’m not saying everyone should write a memoir of their dating experiences. I am just saying a little reflection can help you realize that it will all be okay, and that we can either remember the fear and destruction of the storm, or glance back and see the beauty of the rainbow that is left in its wake.

Have you ever had a failed relationship? Have you ever felt inadequate? Or have you ever been sick of trying? If so, you should check out my book. Surely we have had different experiences, but in hearing other people’s stories, sometimes we realize how similar our plight is with another. We all yearn to love, we all want to catch a break, and we all hate rejection, and we are all trying here.

There is one month left of my Kickstarter. Please check it out and share with others. You can pledge as little as 1 dollar, and you can pledge 15 and get a signed copy of “I’m Trying Here.”

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2019547710/imtrying-here

 

 

kickstarter photo 3

100 Things to Make You a Little Happier, Part 10

Okay, this is it, I promise. This is the final portion of a ten part series on happiness. I did this as a sort of bloggy/literary experiment. I was also curious as to what I thought felicity was really all about. I thought I would finish this series a lot quicker, but it turns out it was more difficult to come up with 100 things that make you a little happier than one thinks. But I am glad I did it, and am certain that I learned a lot. Who knows if these past 10 posts have helped anyone, but if one suggestion helped one person for one moment somewhere, then it was all worth it. Here is the final piece. As with each passing post, I realized that some items are a bit redundant and others are annoyingly platitudinous, but that’s okay. If you like one, or maybe several, try them out for size, and share them.

91. Don’t look for shortcuts– Life allows us many ways to cheat the system, or cruise by with limited effort and calculated apathy. But the richness of life is not found in taking the easy way out or in climbing the least steep mountain. Search for ways to be efficient and economic with your time. But don’t take shortcuts.

92. 10X your life– I stole this phrase from the best-selling author Grant Cardone. His book changed my life in a few wonderful days. The 10X rule is a transformational way of thinking and living that emphasizes the opportunities we have to multiply our efforts by 10 in every category of our life. It’s not easy, but in increasing our efforts in our relationships, careers, finances, creative endeavors, et al, we will ultimately be happier human beings.

93. Don’t watch pornography– Yep, I said it. Fewer things in this world are more addictive and destructive to our minds and lives. Unfortunately pornography is now a ubiquitous part of our lives.It is around every corner and entices all sorts of people with its appeal to fantasy and escapism. No matter the level of rationalization or secrecy, pornography will eat away at your soul and destroy your ability to correctly and fully love.

94. Don’t be normal– There is no sense in being normal these days. Normal won’t get you to the top, normal won’t sustain happiness or success. You have to be better than the norm, you have to be more creative and weird than the norm.

95. Take massive action in your life– This nugget of wisdom is in direct conjunction with #92. And it’s about success. If you spend your whole life taking little actions here and there, or worse, dreaming of big actions, nothing massive and overwhelmingly great will ever happen. You have to take massive actions to see massive results.

96. Avoid addictions of all kinds– No matter the substance, the pastime, or the misdeed, any addiction can reach a fatal level of toxicity. People think they need their morning caffeine fix, or their videogames to lower stress levels, but all they are really doing is willingly submitting themselves to slavery. We are slaves to the things we are addicted to, whether they are naughty movies, incessant exercising or Zoloft pills. But unlike real slavery, you have the choice to walk away from your masters whenever you please.

97. Read and learn about successful people– Everyone does it different, but there is no better way to be great, than to learn from the greats. Be diverse in your learning. Read about Ghandi, Steve Jobs, Mickey Mantle, Galileo, Thomas Hobbes. A writer doesn’t just need to read about Hemingway and Shakespear. He can learn vital lessons from reading stories about Steffi Graf, Bill Gates, or Gianni Versace.

98. Leave places better than you found them– Maybe this just means picking up a piece of trash in a restaurant, or complimenting some stranger in the subway. But for me it also means leave people happier than when you found them. Go places with the purpose of bettering that place in some small way.

99. Decide to be happy– This doesn’t mean you will be immune to sadness, anger, or depression. But like so much in life, happiness is partially a decision. Or at least decide you will try to be happy today, or this moment. No one will be happy 100% of the time, but try harder to be happy more often than you are.

100. Make the happy life– In grand summation I will leave you with a quote that is fond to me. Given to us by a man who has lived nearly 9 decades of life, Thomas S. Monson speaks eternal truth with the sentence, “Of this be sure: You don’t find the happy life…You make it.”

The Eleventh Day of September

I wanted to write down a few words in conjunction with the 14th anniversary of 9/11. But I had to work, and then drive two hours to visit my family. While in my hometown I was further distracted by nostalgia and the current book I was reading. But being back home reminded me of the feelings I felt that morning, a day that now marks the exact halfway point in my life. So here are a few words a few days late.

I was living with my grandparents in Richfield, UT, having just 4 weeks before moved from my life and friends in Phoenix. I was still emotionally akimbo. I was trying to be content with my new situation, but I longed for familiarity and a more certified belonging.

That morning my sisters and I arose early to get ready for school, and as usual the morning news was being watched by my Grandpa. But there was something different that cool morning, something was terribly wrong. I could tell something awful had happened before I saw the faces of adults in the room, or the contents of the television screen. I remember hushed crying and curious conversations. I saw the thick black smoke and knew that something terrifying had happened. But we had to go to school.

At school time seemed to slow down. We all remained in homeroom for what seemed like hours, glued to the small TV’s affixed in the corners of the rooms. Among my peers, some of whom would become my best friends in the world, we watched reporters frantically announce that a fourth plane had crashed, United Airlines Flight 93 had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

A few hours later I was in class and we were discussing potential political ramifications, and the fearful future of our country. As our bald teacher in his sixties opined on the consequences of the attacks, a girl suddenly and in a fit of tears and yelps realized her uncle worked in downtown Manhattan. Our teacher quickly gave her his cellphone and ushered her out of the room. She couldn’t get through, and that hour-long class stretched on tortuously. She finally got word from her parents that he was fine. It seemed the whole world was in a sort of reverent panic.

Though I was 14 and interested in history and world events, it would take me a couple of years to really understand what happened that day. I recently got out the old journal page from that day. I was trying to make sense of the geopolitical side of things, writing down countries that could be guilty of this terror. One of them was written down as Palestinia. Clearly I was naive and uninformed in many ways, but I knew the world had been disrupted and changed forever.

Half a lifetime later, what can I say about this event? I have read dozens of books on terrorism and conflict in the Middle East, about foreign policy, and radical Islam. But I’m still at a loss, still in a stupor. I can’t imagine what those who were more intimately involved feel. What I do know, is that moment in history brought people together. We realized the fragility of our times, and the repercussions of hate. We saw the devil incarnate that day, and we cannot forget. What I hope is that 14 years later this notion to “never forget” remains in our souls. The answers and solutions for ending worldwide terrorism are not at the door, and they are not simple or delightfully contrived. Some people are impelled to take up arms themselves, to join the forces and combat evil face to face. Others have chosen to get more involved in government. But if nothing else we can and should decide to love more, to work together more and hold on to the things we believe in. We should join hands when we can and embrace whenever possible. We should eliminate words of hate and delete any prejudice that we think is written within us. Of course we won’t forget. But what have we learned?