The Lesson from The Jimmy

Today’s post title is, indeed, a reference to a Seinfeld episode, and this is a story from my journey through the streets of Dublin.

One day was particularly rainy as my friend and I explored various James Joyce spots then the Temple Bar region. When it was time to head back to the hotel, we made our way to the Luas light rail system for quicker transportation back to Connelly Station in the rain, which at that time was coming down pretty good.

We walked up to the ticket vending machine at the Jervis stop, purchased our tickets, then looked for a dry place to stand.

A man wearing a black garbage bag over his clothes as a makeshift raincoat stood along the wall under the closest overhang. He was drinking a beer in a small, round, green bottle.

The only spot to stand where we might be shielded from the rain was next to him.

I’m ashamed to admit that the idea of standing next to him made me nervous, a result of my predisposed prejudices that I wasn’t even aware of.

Nevertheless, we stood in the available spot, and he immediately started talking with us.

He said he got the garbage bag from the homeless shelter.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that. What he said next, though, completely caught me by surprise.

He shared that he wasn’t at the shelter because he was homeless or needed assistance. Rather, he was a volunteer. I got the distinct impression he was homeless as some point in his life and was paying back the help he had received.

He was on his way home to his wife, who had some sort of medical issue if I recall correctly. He wanted to squeeze in a quick beer for enjoyment before having to face reality again.

He asked us where we were from, and we said New Jersey. He shared that he lived in Florida for a short time, but Ireland was home.

As the Luas train approached, he said, “You know, we all have the same story, no matter where we are from.”

We said goodbye and got onto the train.

I never thought to ask his name, but he looked like his name should be Jimmy, so that’s what I call him.

All of my assumptions I had about Jimmy when I first saw him were shot to hell and completely wrong.

I haven’t forgotten Jimmy or his simple yet profound message.

Underneath it all, we all do, indeed, have the same story: the elements of heartache, triumph, wishing, wanting, doing, suffering, pain, losing, judgment, fear, acceptance, wonder, success, sadness, anger, love, loss, fulfillment, satisfaction, emptiness, strength, peace, weakness, joy, stereotypes, strife, bliss, disappointment, and more…all rolled up into one core of a story with our own circumstances and attributes creating the mask we each wear.

oc1_16ire_0817_0681a
Taken Inside the James Joyce Center

It’s that core under the mask that matters, a story so uniquely similar to yours.

And to mine.

And to Jimmy’s.

 

 

 

The Wave Is Here

I am happy to say that my pain and fatigue seem to be check, which makes each day better than the last. Here’s hoping that the “good day” streak continues…it will, because like I wrote in a previous post, my purpose is stronger than my pain, and I must believe that.

I’d like to share something else with you, something pretty extraordinary that I’ve alluded to in previous posts, but now it is most certain…

Imagine that you’ve lost something very special to you. It doesn’t matter if has sentimental or monetary value. When you realize you cannot find it, that it’s truly gone…that sick feeling in the pit of your gut begins to churn. It starts out small but gets worse by the second.  It feeds a frenzy of worry as you search for it, lifting up cushions, throwing clothes all over the place, making a colossal mess. As you retrace your steps, that sick feeling almost becomes unbearable. Part of you wants to vomit, while part of you wants to curl up in a ball and cry. You pray to Saint Anthony, hoping that it is returned to you, or to a higher power as you ask for help. Through the tears, you drop to the floor and admit defeat.

“It’s gone,” you say, crestfallen. “I’ll never have it again.”

If you imagine the above scenario with losing something physical, like a piece of jewelry or a $100 bill, you might consider posting a picture of your lost item on social media. Whether or not you find it again, life will almost certainly return to normal as you go about your days.

If it is a person you lose, it will undoubtedly be a longer grieving period. You might never recover from that absence in your life.

In my case, the thing I lost is very personal to me.

It’s my soul. Or at least, part of it.

There’s been a huge hole there for so long, a missing piece of the puzzle per se. My whole purpose in starting this blog was a way to “sea”k my soul so I could maybe find my focus, find my purpose, to fill that soul hole with what’s been eluding me for so long.

I’m sure you have sensed the longing in my posts over the past year and a half.

The best way I can sum up that feeling is to describe how I feel when I listen to the song “Encore” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Anthony Kiedis sings some very poignant lyrics, each line with a very personal meaning, almost like it was written just for me. The music is an escape, while simultaneously, a trap. It makes me look around curiously at what physically surrounds me on the external, and also go introspective and look at what is internal, what surrounds my soul.

When I listen to “Encore,” I think of times past for a fleeting second. I’m reassured I’m in the right place even though I am adrift and incomplete…”Hey, you’re fine…hold my hand…results are gonna vary now…”

At the end of the song, I feel a longing so large, but no idea what I am longing for. I am empty, yet content. I am safe and secure, while simultaneously uncertain and vulnerable.

One big, giant, bewildered, unfulfilling yet satisfying sigh…the best way to describe that feeling of longing.

Don’t get me wrong…there have been many extraordinary times in my life filled with adventures and laughter, accomplishment and happiness and wonder.

All the while, that hole is there just under the surface, surrounded by pieces from every single experience thus far on my life journey that fit together as one.

I prayed to St. Anthony in a feeble attempt to find what’s missing. He usually helps me when I’ve lost something, even though I’m not Catholic or overly religious, and when he does I am very quick to thank him. But when I asked him to come around so I could find the missing piece that would make my soul complete, his answer was an emphatic NOPE. “You are on your own,” he said.

I stare at a blank page when I have so much to get out, so many words and stories to share, so many lessons to teach, so many laughs to enjoy, all on top of the urgency to live this crazy and wonderful life…

Words.

Stories.

Lessons.

Laughter and Life.

I think I see something here.

I know I’ve improved over the past year on finding the right words, and more importantly, in getting those words out of my head and onto a screen or paper. And I know I have a few stories currently living rent free in my mind that need to be told…it’s time they start earning their keep.

my-soulJust like that, I finally know my purpose.

  • Writing
  • Teaching
  • Living

Instead of feeling bewildered, I am wrapped in a blanket of assurance and certainty.

Why did it take this long to figure it out? It’s so simple and obvious. Again, I am the chump who fought seeing the truth, when all along, it was right here on the surface.

The wave is here, and today, I rise.

Instead of “I think” and “I wish,” it’s now “I know” and “I will.”

I will write a book (or two or three). I will write for my blog. I will write for my assignments from my magazine publisher. I will teach my lessons, both in the classroom and through my writing. I will laugh while living every single moment of every day.

I will use my time more wisely as I pursue my purpose and calling while completing my mission from the universe.

Being OPEN actually brought me clarity. I waited so long for it, and here it is, unwavering and true. As I was determined to be OPEN, now I am resolute to be FOCUSED.

I am already transformed.

And SHE says, “It’s about time.”

Time to write, with a focus on my stories.

Time to teach, with a focus on my lessons.

Time to laugh.

And time to LIVE.

It’s finally time for my “Encore.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unlikely Role Model

One of the first assignments I give my students each year is to write about a role model. It’s two-fold, as it provides a sample of each student’s writing strengths and weaknesses, plus it is an introduction to the Heroes unit which begins with my very good friend, Mr. Beowulf. You know, the guy who eats lunch with Bill Shakespeare and Smitty MacBeth every fall.

As I was reading and assessing the responses turned in this school year, I noticed that a few of my students penned their assignment about someone that I, too, think is pretty fantastic.

I’d like to share my response for this assignment…

When I think about what a role model should be, my first thought is, usually, that it has to be someone older. That’s not the case here…mine is about 17 years my junior. But she is wise beyond her years.

I am more positive this year partly because I am trying to emulate her passion for literature and her dedication to the profession. I admire her carefree demeanor, how she champions fairness and ethics, and how she is REAL.

She used to sit at a desk in my classroom, and here she is, years later, with her own desks and her own students.

She is joyful, always smiling when surrounded by her many friends and her family.

She doesn’t hide her emotions. Instead, she is honest whether she’s happy or sad or angry or worried. In my eyes, wearing her heart on her sleeve is what makes her REAL, which is not a flaw, but a sign of strength.

As I embrace my calling of writing, I look to her for inspiration and guidance. I used to be her teacher, and now, the teacher is truly learning from the student.

We have always connected since the day we met back in the early 2000s. She’s an old soul, and even though she was just a baby and then a toddler, the 1980’s left a lasting impression on her interests and likes. Her two true loves are Bruce and Elvis, and even though she thinks she knows more about Seinfeld than I do, I am the master of the Seinfeld domain. Yeah, that’s right!

There’s nothing more satisfying as an educator than reading about a former student (who once completed this same assignment) who was chosen as a role model by current students.

With one book already published, she received word recently that her second one will be published in the coming year. And if I know anything about her at all, she’s not stopping there. She sets the example I want to follow.

Mandi Bean, the world is a much better place because you are in it, my friend.

808ebed71bbe4a4f3c0dbbfc37fefe4dI wish you a very Happy Birthday.

May today be the first day of the most WONDERFUL year of your life, for you certainly deserve it.

With my utmost admiration and gratitude,

OC1

 

 

 

The Changes, The Challenges, and The Chump in Control

Indeed, it is back to reality now on all fronts, but this time, reality is wrought with change.

Please do not interpret this post as one large complaint, as that is not my intention. Rather, it’s my attempt at authenticity as I share a sliver of what it is like living with Lupus and Fibromyalgia.

Last week was a sea filled with many changes as I returned for my 16th year of teaching, including (but not limited to) adjusting to a completely new schedule and a substantial increase in daily physical activity (in part a byproduct of said new schedule).

I began each day with a short meditation and a smile. I put my best foot forward with my heart in the right place and a positive “Let’s do this!” attitude.

Each day proved to be a challenge, and at the end of the day, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of “Nope. I. Can’t. Do. This.

The summer months off benefits my health greatly. I obviously get a lot more sleep, but I am also able to rest after any sort of activity. Whether it’s after mowing the lawn, exploring our world, or racing after my niece and nephews, I have the time to recuperate and re-energize. If I’m still tired, I take it slow. Even while in Dublin, the schedule I made for myself each day included time to sit and rest. I walked, then I sat, and repeated during the entire trip.

When September arrives, reality drops like a sack of cement bricks from the top of a 10-story building.

On the first day of school, the green flag furiously waves to start the race, and every day from then on through June, it’s go-go-go-go-go from the time I wake at 4:45 AM until well after the end of my work day.

The result?

I am depleted of energy yet “energized” with pain well before my work day is done. I chose the word “energized” because the pain throughout my muscles and joints is like an electric current, radiating and moving up and down while simultaneously throbbing in singular locations such as my inner hip bones and knees. Sitting only stiffens me up, but because I’m so fatigued, I have no choice but to sit when I can, and that’s not often.

My brain is also shot, full of fog and clouds and headache and other barriers to intelligent thought, creativity, and concentration.

It has been nearly impossible to complete any sort of professional responsibilities after my last class at school or after I get home. Likewise, I cannot do laundry, clean, write, or even take a short walk around the block. My eyelids begin closing well before dusk, all the while pain circulates throughout my body and pulsates in my head.

My symptoms are again in control already, and I hate it. So disappointing.

I honestly give everything I have, day in and day out, to my profession, but my diseases end up rendering me physically and mentally useless.

I really don’t think I’m asking too much by wanting to have a life after my work day ends, but with the pain and fatigue, how is that even possible?

After just one week, I already feel like I’m being pulled under and there’s no…

Wait a minute….

What’s that?

I notice a hand with manicured black fingernails reaching for mine.

The lifeguard who is trying to save me is my spirit guide, full of assertiveness, comfort, and hope.

SHE pulls me up and says, “Your purpose is stronger than your pain.

I can hear her voice, in my head, saying those words, like she is standing right next to me.

And I want so hard believe her.

She also says, “Hey you…work on your book already, dammit. You can find time to write at least 200 words each day, you chump.

In her unique and sassy way, SHE has already led me to the revelation of my purpose: teaching, writing, and living.

And now SHE is reassuring me, guiding me towards what’s ahead, what I should be doing, with emphatic certainty.

I can see it, a small glimmer of a speck of light, the light that’s shining ahead.

It’s going to take a while to reach, but it’s there.

Mind over matter, she says, mind over matter, and minute by minute. The light that shines ahead is nothing to be afraid of.

I breathe out my uncertainties. They are now dispelled from my being.

I inhale nothing but possibility and positivity.

My passions and purpose MUST be stronger than my pain.

Last week was nothing more than an anomaly, a road block, a mere short detour on my journey.

I sternly tell the pain it is NOT necessary or wanted, that it needs to vacate the premises immediately and to take the fatigue with it. It’s time for both to get the heave-ho.

My body will listen and adjust to my new “normal” for the next 10 months, as it doesn’t have a choice.

The kinks in my daily schedule will be worked out, and each day will be easier than it’s yesterday.

I will prioritize what is most important each day, balancing my teaching responsibilities with time to write and time to live. The three will live in harmony so I can live in joy.

My symptoms are no longer in the driver’s seat, rather, I am the chump who is in charge and in control.

I’ve GOT to believe…

I am stronger than my pain. My soul is stronger than my pain. My purpose is stronger than my pain.

Well, would you look at that?

Instead of feeling like I’m drowning, I am standing firmly on the shore with my focus on that tiny glimmer of light that shines ahead strong and steadfast.

Postscript: Just to reiterate so I am not misinterpreted, I am the CHUMP referenced in the title.🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always Remember…

Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas Franklin
Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas Franklin

It’s been 15 years since my 4th day of teaching, which was September 11, 2001.

Looking back at the timeline of events on that horrendous day, I can picture exactly where my feet were when each happened.

My first real Journalism lesson of this year was my 9/11 Lesson (last week). The lesson and presentation include video clips of events that transpired on September 11, 2001. It’s an important lesson for many reasons, but mostly, it gives students an idea of exactly how much life changed that day both in the world of journalism and for us all.

I begin by explaining that cell phones didn’t have cameras, bags were not searched at public events, a digital camera with .75 megapixel camera was considered “state of the art,” political correctness hadn’t yet run rampant to the point of being utterly ridiculous, social media did not exist (and wouldn’t for four or so more years) and posts on the Internet by news outlets were updated only once a day.

Even with evidence, it’s hard for them to truly grasp what life was like as we woke up that day, and how quickly things changed. Before I show each clip, I speak about the background and have them watch with an observant eye for details with a chance to respond through both discussion and writing.

One part of the lesson is a documentary titled “Witness to History,” created by photographer Thomas Franklin in 2011. He’s the photographer who took the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo (above) of the firefighters raising the American flag at Ground Zero for the Bergen Record; I’ve had the privilege of hearing him speak twice at Garden State Scholastic Press Association’s Fall Press Day. “Witness to History” includes Franklin’s account of 9/11, as well as those of other news photographers’ and how each got the “shots” amid sheer chaos and destruction.

One might assume the young eyes watching this year’s presentation were desensitized to violence and pain because of what they see on social media every day in 2016.

They weren’t.

They shared what will stick with them, long after the lesson’s objectives are forgotten.

I’ll remember the priest who was carried out by the men who were helping,” wrote one student. The priest was Father Mychal Judge. As a part of this year’s presentation, I included a picture I took in June of his name on the Reflecting Pool Memorial.

Another wrote that while she doesn’t want to ever see something like 9/11 happen again, she wished our country was still unified, together, as one with flags all over. She explained that she hates seeing everyone judge others so fast on social media. “People didn’t hate each other back then over what they posted. They maybe didn’t agree but everyone was together.”

One wrote that he’ll remember the tears in the players’ eyes and the emotions during the Mets/Braves game clip from September 21, 2001, and the Yankees/Diamondbacks World Series Game 3 and Game 4 clips he watched (including Tino’s and Jeter’s-Mr. November’s home runs in the 9th). For him, that show of emotion by pro ball players as well as by fans from all over demonstrated the immensity of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Another wrote that as he watched President Bush throw out the first pitch at Game 3, he’ll remember the chant of USA and that Americans did not let party lines divide them. It didn’t matter that Bush was a Republican. What mattered is that moment brought the country together. While I summed up his response, a lot of the words here were directly from the student.

A student reacted that she was surprised it was baseball that got us back to normal, even for a little while. She said she didn’t like baseball, but if she lived during 9/11, she’d probably like it more because of how important the games were to our country.

After writing that he will remember strangers hugging each other and the looks on everyone’s faces as they watched the towers fall, one of my students wondered if people would be as willing to hug strangers or be as shocked if something like this happened today. “But I would hug and be shocked,” he admitted.

Someone remarked that he’d remember me saying the smoke could actually be seen from the Inlet in Point Pleasant Beach that afternoon. “That’s crazy but shows how close it was.”

One of the reactions that hit me hard was, “Wow. It really did happen.”

As I do each year, I ask my students to put aside their personal opinions and keep an open mind; to see the bigger picture; to see the important role of first responders/police/firefighters and the military not only on 9/11 but in every day life; to see the connection each of them has to this ugly day in history by looking down at their desk and realizing that Nick Ott or Ron Kubik might have sat right there, in the same seat (both were killed in action in Afghanistan, a conflict that was a direct result of 9/11).

I also ask them to visualize a teacher running out of the school in uncontrollable tears because someone she loved worked in one of the towers, or another teacher crying because her husband’s brother worked there too and she didn’t know he missed his train that morning and wasn’t there.

I hope they realize a lot of people surrounding them every day have a personal connection to 9/11 in one way or another. I end by telling them I wish I could take them all back to September 10, 2001, for even just 60 seconds so they can get a small glimpse of the way things used to be.

Every photo and video clip in my lesson still gives me chills. It seems like a yesterday but so long ago…my emotions are still raw, still new, and still filled with denial that something like this could actually happen here.

But the truth is, it did happen.

15 years later, and I still remember how much life changed on that day.

I’m sure you remember too.

It’s our duty to make sure that WE, AS A COLLECTIVE, NEVER FORGET, so the next generation also remembers the selfless sacrifices of so many and the legacies of those who were lost.

Thank you to all police, firefighters, first responders, military, and everyone who put our safety before theirs, no matter what.

God Bless America.

To learn more about Thomas Franklin’s photo, please click here.

 

Looking Back: Day 8 in Photos – Goodbye, Ireland, and Thank You!

Monday, August 22, 2016: The time has come to say goodbye to Dublin. I didn’t take many photos, but here are a few to sum up our final day. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

What did Ireland give to me? A whole hell of a lot…

I returned with over 2,000 images and even more memories.

I returned with an overwhelming sense of calm and a joyful soul.

I returned with a deeper understanding of human behavior, of James Joyce and his literature, and of what it would be like to live in Dublin.

I returned with a sense of accomplishment and awe. I still can’t believe I actually did this.

I returned filled with gratitude for every single moment I enjoyed. I am immensely thankful for not only this experience, but also for my traveling companion who joined me (by choice!) on this awesome journey.

I returned with my spirit guide still at my side. SHE has given me clarity and assurance, and continues to guide me towards my focus, which is finally clearer than ever.

Part 1 of my mission from the universe has now ended, but part 2 has already begun: writing a novel.

OC1_16IRE_0820_1758

I believed I could, so I did.

How about that?

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 22, 2016 and are copyrighted. However, since there’s nothing all that Earth shattering here, you have my permission to steal these images and claim them as your own!

Looking Back: Day 7 in Pictures: Bray

On Sunday, August 21, 2016, we packed up and left Tara Towers Hotel and headed south to Bray. Tara Towers was booked when I made the reservations, plus it was neat to venture out to a new area. Our hotel for the night was The Martello Hotel, right across from the Irish Sea. Bray was a fun and festive place. If you are familiar with the Jersey Shore, it was part Belmar, part Manasquan, and part Point Pleasant Beach. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

Bray was the vacation from the vacation and I really enjoyed it. The only thing I would change would be to build an elevator at The Martello Hotel. We had to climb a lot of stairs to get to our room with our bags, which was a little difficult. Otherwise, everything was splendid. If you would like to learn more about any of the places from today’s post, please visit these links:

Bray, Ireland

The Martello Hotel

The Harbour Bar

Katie Taylor

Coming tomorrow: Day 8: Goodbye, Ireland!

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 21, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance

Looking Back: Dublin Day 6 (Part 2) in Pictures: Dalkey

After leaving the James Joyce Tower and Museum on Saturday, August 20, 2016, we walked to Dalkey. The water was so beautiful and blue. Dalkey began as a Viking settlement and was an important port. These days, it is a very cute little village. It also was part of Ulysses’s plot. If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

The rainbow was definitely a sign. If you would like to learn more about the places from today, please visit these links:

Bulloch Castle

Dalkey Castle and Heritage Center

Discover Dalkey: An Illustrated Guide

Dalkey Village

The Corner Note Cafe

The Gutter Bookshop

Coming tomorrow: Day 7: Bray

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 20, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance.