Thank You For Your Service

veteransBack in the early 1990’s, before I made a mess of my collegiate academic record, I wrote letters. I mean, a lot of letters. Instead of studying, I would be writing and writing and writing to so many people, many of whom I never even met.

This was the time of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

I saw it as my duty to write letters to every address printed in the local newspapers as a show of support. Some I knew from high school, some I did not, and most were about my age.

Regardless of their reasons for serving, I don’t think many of them, if any at all, ever thought combat would result during their service.

But it did.

And I know that each of their lives was changed forever.

I have led a comfortable life, so to speak. Sure, I have skeletons and demons in my closet…who doesn’t?

Mine, though, is no comparison for those I can only image that live in the closets of my friends who chose to serve our country during what turned out to be a very difficult time.

Friends like Joe, Matt, Tom, Jason, Jim, Bobby, Phil, and Rich, who in my eyes are brave and forever heroes. Each rises and perseveres every day, never giving in to the darkness that might be chasing them or to those demons that might live in their proverbial closets.

That’s the true definition of strength and courage. Persevering no matter what.

They served by choice. They became heroes by example.

I am honored to call each my friend, and I am thankful that after all of these years, we are still friends.

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served, especially those close to my heart, with my utmost admiration and gratitude.

 

Seeking Calm In The Biggest City In The World….

I spent Monday with a dear friend wandering around New York City. I’ve always loved spending time in the Big Apple, and this day was no exception. We had no itinerary and no real plans of places to go other than to find the New York Public Library and Library Way. For the most part, our plan was just to wander and be.

You’d think that in a city as large and as loud as New York City it would be difficult to find a place for calm and peace, especially on this day:  the day before this year’s tumultuous Election Day, and one with numerous terror warnings issued as well.

Well, we found not only one but many. And I have been mentally escaping to each amid the post-Election rancor and animosity over the past 36 hours.

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We took an early train and were on the streets exploring before the time our first-period block class would normally end. Ironically enough, fate brought me a chance meeting on 33rd street during rush hour with a very special former student! We talked for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. Within a few minutes, my friend and I were in Bryant Park.

I’ve passed by Bryant Park before but never wandered into it. And I am so glad I did this time.

It was before 9:00 AM as we walked by the boutique shops set up as a part of Bryant Park’s Winter Village, then we soon found ourselves in front of the skating rink. (Sidebar: it’s free admission! And the price to rent skates was very reasonable!)

oc1_20161107_nyc-79There were about 25 or so skaters making their way around the ice rink at that time, some by themselves, some holding the hand of a little one, some couples skating together, some doing advanced spins and jumps in the center of the rink. Jazz music was playing, and each person skating was enjoying their moment on the ice, sans technology and to do list. There was even a man in a suit skating round and round the rink, sometimes passing us by facing forward, sometimes skating backward.

It was a sight to be had, a very peaceful and serene sight so early in the morning. I could have stayed there all day watching this calm and refreshing scene amid the hustle and bustle of the city.

oc1_20161107_nyc-108After a while, we made our way to the next block in hopes of visiting the New York Public Library, but as fate would have it, the main branch was closed for a fund-raiser. At least I got pictures of the front steps where Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz ran down in the first part of the original “Ghostbuster” movie. Yes, you can see what motivates me sometimes!

We instead visited a smaller branch of the NYPL across the street. We found the NYPL Collection of Photographs room and perused the pictures in the folder for John Lennon, which we agreed was a great subject considering his rich history with New York City.

oc1_20161107_nyc-175 About 45 minutes later, we left the library and found Library Way. We then spent the next 45 minutes or so taking pictures of each of the literary and library focused bronze markers along the 2-block stretch of 41st Street between Pershing Square and the NYPL main branch.

I found this peaceful yet energizing as I have been writing a novel of my own and needed some inspiration. These quotes from writers such as William Styron, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, and more lit a fire under me, so to speak, and were a push in the right direction for me to get going with my work.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

At the end of Library Walk, we turned left and took in Grand Central Terminal, another iconic NYC location that I had never visited before. What a beautiful place, so much different than Penn Station. The building was beautiful with marble and brass and good white light everywhere. As I stopped in the main terminal area to take some photographs, it amazed me that with so many people passing by, it wasn’t crazy and chaotic at all. An added bonus was seeing so many people proudly wearing the 2016 New York City Marathon medals, which took place the day before. Here I was surrounded by people from all over the world in one of the busiest locations in the city, yet it was calming, just like what I experienced at Bryant Park’s ice skating rink only two hours earlier.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

Our bellies were calling, so we went to the dining concourse level and….man! So many places to choose from! We decided upon Shake Shack and were both very pleased with our choice. I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff and the cleanliness of the entire concourse, but that didn’t compare in the slightest with how happy I was with my chocolate milkshake and cheeseburger lunch. So good! And they had crinkle cut fries (my favorite) cooked just right. Again, I looked around to take in where I was at that moment, and still couldn’t believe how peaceful it was despite so many people.

Our day would then take us back through Bryant Park, which was now filled with people, to visit the shops and take in more of the Winter Village atmosphere. Each little store that sold food contributed its own aroma to the wonderful smells that teased my nose and my stomach. More people were skating now, or sitting at a little table enjoying lunch or a coffee, or buying a new pair of gloves, or reading a book to their child in the children’s area, or even demonstrating their juggling skills. It was glorious, a true amalgam of human behaviors all rolled up into one giantly awesome oc1_20161107_nyc-278experience. I was only a watcher, but I was present for each and every moment and observed all that made up the human experience at this moment in time.

My friend and I took our time leaving, then also took our time wandering back towards Herald Square. Upon stopping for a minute outside of Macy’s we looked to our left and there it was, the grand and majestic Empire State Building. Despite the numerous photographs of the building from ground level we have both already taken, we shot a few more to add to our collections.

Then we looked at each other…we had almost two hours to spare until the 3:45 train home, so we decided why the hell not? We played tourist and went to the top of the Empire State Building! It was a great day to do so, as the lines were very reasonable. Again, there were a lot of people with marathon medals around their necks. I congratulated one man from the Netherlands who was here in the USA by himself. That got me thinking…so many people pursuing their dream HERE, a place that’s only like 70 miles or so from where I live. It put a lot into perspective….

oc1_20161107_nyc-371Anyway, we stopped first at the 82nd-floor observatory, which was surrounded by glass. I looked down upon Macy’s Herald Square where we literally were only 30 minutes prior. The glare from the sun on the Freedom Tower side did not lead to great photos, but it was still so awesome to see.

Before long, we then went to the open-air 86th floor. Speechless. I was just speechless. Looking out above almost everything else in sight, the sun lighting up buildings I had walked past earlier in the day…just too awesome for words. I found Bryant Park and that weird building next to it that reminded me of “Spook Central” (Ghostbusters reference again), Madison Square Garden, the George Washington Bridge, and so much more. I tried to find Yankee Stadium with my own eye but couldn’t do so; later on, after I uploaded my photos to my computer, I did find it once I zoomed in.

What sticks with me? Here I was at the top of the Empire State Building, looking down upon millions and millions of people going about their day, and it was quiet, almost silent at times save for the breeze. I thought of people traveling from all over the world to stand in the same location I was standing in because it was an item on their bucket list. I remembered looking from the same vantage point 20+ years ago with my California cousins, the only other time I did so. Why did I not enjoy these sights more often?

I realized how much I do take for granted, and that life is pretty damn good.

When it was time to leave, I purchased an Empire State Building pin from the souvenir store to add to my collection and then we descended back to ground level. Once we got to Penn Station, we stopped at Zaro’s Bakery for our traditional NYC trip cookie and were on the 3:45 train headed home. We remarked how the world was going to change “tomorrow” (election day), and we were thankful to enjoy a day in the city to escape and just be before life changes for all of us.

As I write this, I’m listening to Jazz music, thinking of the skating rink, and my soul is happy.

I’m selecting which pictures to ultimately attach to this post and when I look at each one, I recall the exact minute it was taken…the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the aura of each moment frozen in time yet willing to be experienced again and again.

I’m escaping into calm as my NYC day memories, free from protest and violence, trump the hateful animosity rearing its ugly head minute by minute on my social media feeds (no pun intended?).

Most of all, I’m thankful that I have a friend who loves wandering, observing, and experiencing life as I do. Thank you, friend. 🙂

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on November 7, 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.

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Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
From the top of the Empire State Building
From the top of the Empire State Building

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Taking the Long Way this Autumn

There’s a white-throated sparrow proudly singing his song outside my window, with a wren crooning in the distance. The breeze coming in through the window is cool and crisp. The leaves, soon to be exploding with color like fireworks, are beginning to crunch under my feet as the trees have started shedding this year’s attire.

As much as I hate to see summer end, I find this time of year is truly majestic, and it’s even more symbolic for me THIS year.

Nature’s cycle of life can teach us all a lesson. Each day makes its individual mark of beauty amid the subtle changes which culminate in the end of a cycle. When it’s time for a change, which could very well be a massive change similar to autumn, do it the way nature does…with complete enthusiasm and gusto, with as much color and pop as possible. Then, nurture yourself with sleep and comfort as you adjust and prepare to spring ahead with newness when the time is right.

I am experiencing my own autumn, so to speak, and am becoming who I am meant to be. Even though I’ve been quiet here on my blog, my brain, my typing fingers, and my pens have not. The fountain has been tapped and the words, held hostage for so long, are finally finding their way out and gushing onto my notebook pages and type screens.

Not all words will be shared or meant for publication, and not all words have to do with my Mission from the Universe. Some are quite honestly an amalgam of crap, but they are words that have to be set free from the jail cell in my brain.

Others are deep-rooted, symbolic, filled with hope and promise…words I never thought would end up on paper but nonetheless appear.

Those are the words guiding my path right now. They are directing my journey to the backroads of my Mission from the Universe.

I’m taking the long way this time, and every single step along this less-trodden path so far has resulted in insight, joy, and a renewed appreciation of life.

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The Firefly at the Baseball Game – For H

I went to a Yankees game in August with my brother, my sister, my two nephews (5 and 2 years old), and two family friends. It was Star Wars night, and what a night! It was the boys’ first Yankees game, and they got to see the “real” Darth Vadar, Chewbacca, R2D2, Boba Fett (and yes, he was the REAL Boba Fett in my eyes and I was on Cloud Nine), and lots of other characters. We also witnessed a Yankees Grand Slam by Starlin Castro in their victory over the Indians. It was an all around wonderful night, one of the best nights of my life.

We were in our seats early to see the parade of characters on the field, then shortly after, the game began as the sun descended into dusk.

The 5-year-old, H, said to me, “Look at that firefly. He’s going towards the lights.” and he pointed to a buggy that was flying around.

I replied that I bet that firefly had a lot of stories to tell, living here at Yankee Stadium…and that got me thinking.

This is written for you, H., with love.

 

“The Firefly at the Baseball Game” by Jill Ocone (Copyright 2016)

A firefly named Sly lives up in the sky,  

The lights are his stadium home.  

He wakes at sun break then a tour he will take.

He will fly and he’ll spy and he’ll roam.

Over the field, his journey will yield

Green grass and the dugout and more…

The bases, the races, and all sorts of places

Will be full of the players at four.

Sly dives as he flies as the baseballs and guys

Begin to appear in the air…

The cracks of the bats and the blue baseball hats,

The strikes and the fouls and the fairs.

The outs and the bouts and the fans do they shout!

And Sly joins the crowd’s standing wave.

He’s bright as he lights and he loves all these sights…

The legends, the rookies, the brave.

Sly swirls as he twirls as the balls also whirl,

Whizz by and are hit oh so far.

Sly cheers as he steers from the bleachers…he’s clear…

Another home run by the star.

Sly flies as he dives in his own special guise

We won! We did it! Oh, yay!

Sly rests in his nest and watches the guests

And the players go home for the day.

It’s soon by the moon our friend Sly he will swoon,

He’ll dream that he’s one of the guys…

Running the bases, and walking the places,

His own home run up in the sky.

 

 

 

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.

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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,

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