The Neon Cross

 

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The kids are in bed, my wife is drifting off to sleep, the garbage is taken care of and the doors are locked.

It’s time to go for a ride.

My 2011 Chevy Silverado 1500 5.3 liter V8 with crew cab is my chariot. Seven thousand pounds of steel and black leather interior wait for me to climb into the cab. 

True, the tailgate has a few dings, and the back tail light is cracked (side note, secure your trampoline during a high wind advisory), but I let those things stay. It’s a truck after all. 

I slide behind the wheel and turn the key. She starts unceremoniously, but the subtle vibration of the engine in the seat, and the glow of the dashboard on my face connects us, man and machine. 

Deep down I long for the rumble of dual exhaust, but I can’t deny that Chevy trucks make for a quiet comfortable ride. 

She’s perfect.

We swing in reverse, I cut the wheel to the right and we head down the dark turns of my long winding driveway. The low hanging branches that my wife is dying to cut down, scrape across my roof. I know this screeching caress is not great for the paint, but truth be told, it makes me feel like I’m exiting the Bat Cave.

In seconds I’m on the road, her headlights cut through the darkness. 

I’m not gone long, I keep the cruise control a few miles below the speed limit, but something about driving through the night creates a sense of mystery and adventure that fills my soul. 

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They are the same roads I travel by day, to get groceries or drop my kids off at school, but under the starlight, they transform into  uncharted mystical pathways. I instantly wonder, what will I see tonight?

I start talking to myself. I replay conversations I’ve had and say the things I wish I had said. I imagine myself standing before a huge mass of people, each hanging on my every word as I pontificate about the way things should be done, if I were in charge.

I think about my family and my friends. I remember my youth and think about my future. But really all of this stuff is just a way for me to decompress. I talk more during that thirty or sixty minutes of driving than I do all day. I need that release or I feel my mind will explode. 

Ultimately, without fail, I start to talk to God. I ask him if I’m on the right path. I argue with him about his lack of clarity. “I want what you want, God, just show me what I am supposed to be doing!”

Then, like a good Catholic, I am stricken with guilt. I disgust myself with my lack of gratitude for all of the blessings in my life. I chastise myself for my moments of doubt, but the question remains, “Are you real? Where are you?”

I turn the corner and he’s there in bright glowing neon blue and a streak of sodium light.

It’s the cross on the back of my little church in my little town. It seems strange and out of place in a community of five thousand.

Neon is for The Strip in Las Vegas and the bustle of Times Square. Neon is hip and cool, electrified gas in round twisty tubes, it’s not for the stoic mystery of religion or a testament to Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Or is it?

That illuminated cross burns all night. By its very nature, it exists solely for the night-time traveler, the one who searches in the dark for some sign of other-worldly presence or an answer to the question: “Are you there, God?”

I smile as I snap a shot in the dark. On a rainy night, miles from home, I need only roll down my window and look to my left. I pull away feeling comforted. Maybe I’m not alone in the dark.

Maybe Jesus has been riding shotgun all along.

-Mike Sposito

Owner, Spowerks LLC

Warriors Wanted

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I stand on the pitch, looking downfield. Fifteen grizzled men look back at me, squinting into the sun and slapping their chests rhythmically. Their captain calls to them. They respond with a war cry, thrusting their fists skyward.

We charge in response. The sound of our feet is like the rumble of a thousand cavalrymen.

Blood-thirsty screams and whoops pierce the rising dust-cloud of our wake. My legs churn like pistons, despite the stink of fear that clings to my sweat-soaked body. My emotions mean nothing; I am but a cog in a violent war machine intent on destruction. We are a rolling wave, gathering momentum and power with every stride; they are the jagged rocks of the shoreline.

Finally, we crash.
***
“Game today?”
“Yep.”
“Didja win?”
“Yeah, we did actually.”
“Well then, looks like you deserve a beer.”

I was too young to be in a bar, especially in the middle of the day, but there I was. Dirt and blood mingled together from dozens of minor cuts and bruises. My leg throbbed and sitting on that barstool sent my back into a dull steady spasm.

The beer presented to me was a bottle of Budweiser, and to this day, I can still see the bits of ice slide down the sides of the brown glass, and the mist swirling out from under the bottle cap. The label wrinkled with moisture.

There had been a broken leg, a fractured clavicle, and a dislodged tooth that afternoon against the Merchant Marine Academy, but I had survived. I took a long swig from that bottle, and it was the coldest, most delicious thing I had ever tasted.

It was my first rugby match.

I considered myself a warrior after that game, and why not? I had gone into battle with my band of brothers, looked fear in the eye and come out on top. What more is there?

Twenty-four years later, I think deeply about that question: What makes a warrior?
This first week of “quarantine,” has certainly tested my mettle. An avalanche of news and information assaults me. The statistics are discouraging.

Every square of toilet paper brings renewed terror.

“Will we have enough?”

Everyone is guessing and judging each other’s decisions. I hate how quickly and vehemently we point fingers at each other. It’s sad because we all know we are in uncharted waters. There aren’t any answers out there because, well, there aren’t any answers yet.

Whatever, go ahead and shout. In the end, our businesses are closed, our jobs are tenable, and the soul-shattering phrase “social distancing,” has forced us back into our homes.

But here, amongst the dwindling paper towels and anti-bacterial wipes, we find our heroes.

The seriousness of this pandemic is not lost on my family. My wife, a special-education teacher, is in knots about her students and co-workers. My youngest misses school and wonders why we can’t go into McDonald’s. My fifth grader told me, “I feel like this is the end of the world, I really miss my friends.”

 

IMG_3572It’s hard for me to hear these things. I want to protect my people, shield them from evil, take the brunt of their pain, but there is nothing I can do, no solution emerges.

The walls close in, and my wife takes charge. Twenty minutes later and we are hiking.

My sons leap from rock to rock. They skip stones and trap crawfish near the banks of a swift river.

I snap picture after picture, struck by the beauty of nature. I am inspired by my sons’ vigor and vibrancy. Before long, I am climbing right next to them, balancing on logs and scrambling up mossy boulders. I feel my youth returning.

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The next night we’re in the garage. A thin mat serves as our makeshift jiu-jitsu school. My son and I don our gis and shrimp and bear-crawl our way around its perimeter.

We hate the mat. We want our real school, the Bushido Academy. We yearn for the sounds of 80’s “hair-metal,” as we warm-up, or Coach Jay’s loud voice telling us how good he looks in wick-away. But what can you do? We train as best we can. We hone our skills. We make do.

(I miss jiu-jitsu, I wasn’t prepared for how much I would miss it. I didn’t expect it would become a part of me so quickly. It’s strange, it creeps up on you, sucks you in. I can’t wait to go back.)

IMG_3573Filled with fresh air, Ben wants to build a fire in the fireplace. We make it together, side by side. He laughs as he blows on the coals to catch the kindling. I watch his beautiful face glow from the flames’ orange light.

The joys of this past week fade quickly. The worries of our world are palpable, and our future is no less uncertain, but something hums beneath the sickness.

I notice it in my family. I see it in the stories of the healthcare workers and the service providers battling it out on the front lines.

That hum is what gives us hope, helps us find a way to give when so many things are taken, and provides us with the power to endure.

I heard that hum on the rugby pitch twenty-four years ago, and while sitting on the subway on September 12th, 2001, the day we went back to work.

That hum is the spirit of the warrior.

That spirit is in all of us.

-Mike Sposito
Owner Spowerks LLC
“Let your imagination set you free.”

Jiu-Jitsu is Saving My Life

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 “Can you breathe?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Then, don’t panic.”

***

 I pushed through the door to my kitchen this evening, holding a sweat-soaked gi. I could barely move my shoulder, and my hand was trembling.

 The kids were doing homework, and my wife was sweeping the floor. 

 “Your head is bleeding,” she said.

 I was too fatigued to be surprised or respond, so I looked in the bathroom mirror. I stared at my reflection and smiled. 

 My eyes were red from sweat, a mat burn streaked across my forehead, and twenty minutes after my session was over, I was still breathing hard.

 But behind all of the baggage, something radiated. The puffiness in my face was starting to melt away, and my skin looked hearty. I felt warmth in my muscles.

 It was only my fifth class.

 For the past few months, I have watched my ten-year-old son learn jiu-jitsu. It’s impressive to watch him develop. He’s the smallest kid in his class, but you wouldn’t know that seeing him on the mat. He attacks fearlessly, never seeming out of control. He’s had his share of losses and emotional breakdowns, but those episodes are becoming fewer. He can always find something he has done well, something to learn, some opponent he wants to beat, next time. 

 He loves his coaches; he talks about them all the time. I’m so grateful for them. Coach Jay, Coach Matt, and Mr. Magao can push Mike in a way I cannot. It’s invaluable to have mentors such as these. 

 They teach respect for himself, his opponents, and the study of martial arts. IMG_3283

Because really, what do we hold sacred anymore? What ritual or right of passage exists in our society? What do kids earn these days? The tip of Mike’s belt has three stripes of athletic tape on it now. They call his name, he bows to his coaches, the class claps for him, and he beams at me through the window. He’s earned those stripes. 

 The ceremony takes seconds. It’s simple and moving, and in the end, a thin piece of athletic tape transcends its purpose.IMG_3493 (1)

 My son’s first love is basketball, Fortnite and Star Wars are never far from his mind, and he still calls for me when he’s scared at night, but undoubtedly something inside of him has changed. He makes better decisions and speaks with confidence. I believe jiu-jitsu has a great deal to do with his metamorphosis.

***

 Rob, the owner of Bushido Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Manchester and Hebron, CT, stood next to me at one of Mike’s classes. We watched both of our sons on the mat. 

 “When are we gonna get you out there?” he asked.

 A short discussion later, I agreed to try it. 

 My first day was weird. I stood there in sweatpants and a tee-shirt surrounded by men and women of all ages in gis and belts of various colors. 

 I had that feeling I get whenever I start something new. I’m too old, too out of shape, and too fat to be here. I’m going to make an ass of myself. 

 The three-minute warm-up had me gasping for breath. We started to get into the technical stuff, and a large man immediately approached me. 

 All my fears were about to be realized. 

 Without hesitation, he took me under his wing. The next ninety minutes flew by. I left there more tired and more full of energy than I had felt in twenty years. I was encouraged and coached with every step.

 The people there are always laughing and busting on each other. It made me feel part of something, like a team or a family.

 A week later, I had my gi. The jacket doesn’t quite close, and the pants are desperate to untie, but I don’t care. 

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 An initiation has occurred. 

 It’s tough, it’s painful, at times it’s uncomfortable, but I leave there feeling purified. It’s impossible to think about work or money or stress when someone is trying to make you tap. 

 So, I wear those burns and bruises as a badge of honor. The pain is a sacrifice I make to my soul. The shoulder will heal; my breath will return; my health will improve; my mind will quiet.

 That guy was right.

 “Can you breathe?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Then, don’t panic.”

 How many hours have I wasted living in fear on the brink of panic? Am I in the right career? Am I fulfilling my true purpose in life? Who am I?

 Jiu-jitsu has taught me to embrace my fear. Wait, think, slow your mind, and an opening may appear. If you can make it for ninety minutes on the mat, you’ve proven something to yourself. 

 You can endure.

***

 After Monday’s class, I leaned against the arm of my couch with an ice pack on my shoulder. My son walked over to me. 

 “So, dad, you think you’re gonna keep going to jiu-jitsu?”

 “Yeah, Mike, I think I am.”

 “Good, that makes me happy.”

 “Oh yeah? How come?” 

 “‘Cause now, we can do this together.”

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

“Let your imagination set you free.”

The Swamp of My Subconscious

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I sprawl out over the sun-baked earth as if shoved. My hands burn from the scrape, and my face lands flat on its side.

I get to my knees and blow dirt from my mouth. All around me is a barren wasteland. No vegetation or shade exists except for the thin dark clouds that block the sun’s warmth. The ground is a jigsaw of bleached mud, and there is no wind.

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Behind me is the thick iron gate of my consciousness. I don’t bother turning back; there’s nothing for me there.

I stand with shoulders slumped, alone in the familiar unknown. I shut my eyes tightly until my eyeballs throb. A muffled scream of frustration shudders through my body, and I pull my hair with my fists.

Even here, I can’t fully express myself. My pain and madness dwell too deep, like a volcano erupting at the bottom of the ocean. It passes quickly, and the tears evaporate before they can stream down my cheeks.

I look up to the sky and see nothing but endless grey. I sigh deeply and start the journey again.

I’m tired of this trek. It’s aimless and exhausting and repetitive. The same visions run through my mind as I put one foot in front of the other. I look ahead and see a shadow in the distance.

Instinctively I point myself in that direction, I know it’s probably pointless, but I can’t think of anything better to do.

A thought comes to me as the shadow grows bigger.

“Is this it?” I ask myself.

Something like hope flares in my chest, and my stout legs propel me a little faster.

I smell humidity, and my tongue begs for moisture.

The shadow comes into view. It’s a swamp. I stand on its edge, letting the moist air caress my face. It smells dank and mysterious, but it’s a welcome relief to the dry nothingness at my back.

Trees twist and tangle with each other; the space between the massive mossy trunks is black as pitch. The buzzing of mosquitoes, the long croaks of bullfrogs, and the strangled screech of some unknown animal bring sweat to my brow. Still, I yearn to explore, to make some final stand at the last secret of my scoured unconscious.

I have to see what lies within.

I push aside a giant spiderweb and step onto the spongey muck of the swamp’s floor. Mud sucks at my feet with each stride. My shirt clings to my body with sweat.

It’s surprisingly still in here, and close. I push through until the trees start to spread, and I stand at the edge of an inky black bayou. In the middle is a small island.boat-2-1553001-639x852

I’m not surprised to see a battered aluminum Jon boat leaning against the arthritic trunk of a Cypress tree. I wrestle it onto the water sending ripples across the surface. I grab the paddle hidden beneath the roots and climb in.

It’s like paddling through molasses. My shoulders ache with each stroke. It doesn’t take long before the hot sting of sweat streams into my eyes.

I run aground on the island. For some reason, I hurry onto land and look back to see what’s following me. I see nothing. The shore has disappeared, shrouded in mist.

The island rises behind me, so I turn and begin to climb. I crest the little hill and stop in my tracks. Four Frogmen stand there as if expecting me. They are seven feet tall with long muscular legs and arms wrapped in multi-colored skin. Small tunics cover their waists, and each holds a long spear with feathers hanging below the tips. Huge mouths frown at me, and their bulbous eyes stare unblinking.

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The one in front has green skin mottled with black and gold spots. He points a long amphibian finger at my forehead. Electricity shoots from the tip, hitting me on my forehead above my nose. It knocks me to the ground.

I get to my feet quickly, and we stare at each other again. They look at each other as if passing some unseen communication. I pull a knife from my waistband and crouch.

“A fight? Is that why I’m here? Come on then!”

The bullfrog in front steps forward on his webbed feet. Two golden balls sit at the hinge of his jaw, reflecting the dull sunlight. He drops his spear as the others spread out in a straight line behind him. They begin to croak rhythmically and pound the butts of their spears into the ground.

He raises his arms to the sky and springs forward. He covers the thirty feet between us in one leap. I look up as he descends, thrusting my knife into the air. His hand whips my arm to the side. He lands on my chest, pinning me to the soft earth.

His strong hands hold mine over my shoulders, and he opens his gigantic mouth as if to swallow my head. I twist one arm free and slice the soft white flesh of his belly. He croaks and rolls backward. I do the same.

I rush him headlong, letting out a primal war cry. He uses his gigantic frog legs to shoot forward, his eyes squinting in focused determination. We collide, his bulk knocks me to my back. I plunge the knife into his ribs. He opens his mouth in my face, and his tongue flashes out, wrapping around the blade. He swallows it down in one quick movement. His hands surround my face like a vise.

“Why?!” I scream.

His eyes soften a little somehow, then his tongue lashes out again. It wraps around my head and across my eyes. A burning sensation erupts behind my eyelids, and I scream.

He lets me up. I thrash around blindly, swinging my arms and spinning in circles. I claw at my eyes, trying to wipe the reptilian spit away. It doesn’t work, and the pain brings me to my knees. I lay defeated writhing in pain.

“See,” says the bullfrog, “Open.”

“It hurts!”

“Open. See.”

The pain has scrambled my brain. All I can hear is the croaks of his brethren. It drowns my senses; I have no choice but to obey. I force my eyes to open, and the pain disappears.

I rise and look out across the swamp. The mist is gone. Everywhere I look, I see life. The trees glow with energy, and my ears burst with the sounds of insects and animals. The black waters teem with life.

I sob uncontrollably as tears stream down my cheeks. I look to my guide. An aura of red and gold light surrounds him. I run into his embrace and feel the warmth of his body healing me.

He pushes me away, kindly, and removes a golden ball from his jaw. He presents it to me, and I accept it. I swallow it down in one gulp. My body transforms.

“You,” he says as he sweeps his arm, presenting the swamp.

I nod. I understand.

He returns to the three Frogmen. They thrust their spears into the sky. As one, they leap high and dive; I see their light streak below the surface of the water in opposite directions.

I gather my new legs beneath me and jump into the bayou. My slimy skin lets me slip through the water with ease. I plunge quickly and push off from the bottom with a mighty extension.

I break the surface of the water like a missile. The clouds part as I ascend. The sun shines on my face, and the air cools my skin. I hang for a second before dropping. I see the swamp is a mystery of hidden living things and its power throbs below me. I hurtle downward at incredible speed. The bayou rushes towards me, and I hit the surface of the water like a nuclear bomb.

I’m the epicenter of a massive shockwave. The swamp explodes outward, and a tsunami of water and living things rolls over the barren wasteland of my subconscious returning life to all that was dead.

I paddle the boat back to that great iron gate and open it. My frog skin sloughs off my body.

I return as a man.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

The Unwritten Page

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Tonight I say good-bye to an old friend.

I’m not sure why I feel so sad about its passing, besides the fact that’s just the kind of guy I am. And yes, I find it strange that I personify inanimate objects the way I do. I don’t deny I’m a romantic.

I say it’s strange because I’m not a keeper. I curse the clutter that surrounds me. I’m always looking to minimalize and reduce whenever possible, yet I mourn the loss of a rusty old car or a plastic popcorn bowl. I know those things meant something to me. They were there for me when I needed them to be just what they were.

Some things have a way of elevating their importance in my life.

The leather-bound journal I received from my wife two Christmases ago is one of these objects. Blank pages make my imagination soar; they give me the power to create from nothing. Once written, they safeguard the words and images my mind concocts. It’s an old friend always willing to listen to the darkest of thoughts and provides the most honest reflections.

There were days last year I did nothing but write in those pages. I unlocked desires and rid myself of guilt. I began to transform my life in that messy mad-scientist way new beginnings always manifest themselves.

The book itself is beautiful. A thick leather cover surrounds weighty blank sheets that absorb the ink like a sponge. An embossed tree and Celtic looking designs remind me of the sacred relationship between man and page and pen.

I cherish this journal.

This Christmas, I was given a new journal. It’s just as inspiring as the last, but it’s different. No designs adorn its exterior, and the pages burst with compacted lines. A place to put the date sits atop the header, and a thicker leather thong wraps around it.
The significance of these details engages me. Why has this particular journal been gifted to me now?

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Structure; it’s the next stage of my development. The blank page allows me to wander, but the lines give me discipline. Dates remind me of the shortness of life that now is the time to get started. A plan is in order, and the tools are there for me.

The road to living the life I desire might be on these pages; to make them real, I have to write it down.

Where it takes me next will be an adventure.

Write. Discover. Unlock.

-Mike Sposito Owner of Spowerks LLC

Isn’t There More to Life Than This?

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Coffee, decades of pot-lucks, and just a hint of mildew permeate the cold white-washed concrete walls. A slow moving line plops spoonfuls of  hot food from an endless line of casseroles. Arthritic hands wrap around steaming cups of decaf and elbows come to rest on heavy folding tables covered in cheap plastic table-cloths.

Ah, the “coffee-and” gathering of the Catholic church lyceum.

I sit on a brown metal folding chair making small-talk about chicken salad and cupcake frosting. After ten minutes I start to squirm. I hate small talk. It’s forced and uncomfortable to me. I look out the window at a blue skied day that I could be enjoying, but no, social conventions force me to the church basement.

“Isn’t there more to life than this?” 

How many times have I asked myself this question? How many times have I felt trapped in a situation I didn’t want to be in? How many times has boredom and conventional existence made me feel like I was wasting my life? I should be exploring, adventuring, traveling, tasting life.

We head outside. It’s Palm Sunday and a local farm has brought two donkeys in honor of Christ’s arrival to Jerusalem.

I check my watch wondering how long this will take. My youngest is whiney and clingy, but my oldest wants to ride.

I watch him mount Jesse James, the smaller of the two donkeys, as he goes on a slow walk around the side yard of the church.

When he’s out of earshot he throws an arm into the air and waves it around in a circle like a cowboy about to lasso a stampeding bull.

I snap a picture of him and suddenly I’m struck at how beautiful a day it is. It’s Spring at its best. The sky is blue with just a few puffy white clouds. It’s warm enough for short-sleeves but the steady wind keeps it from getting uncomfortable. The grass has turned from winter-brown to a verdant green, and the smell of emerging life hangs in the wind.

I smile and wave at my son, once again amazed at the lessons he teaches me. Mike has the ability to make a two minute donkey-ride into an adventure. He shares his gifts of enthusiasm and imagination without shame or apology.

It’s infectious.

How much has my yearning for “something better” blinded me to the incredible beauty that surrounds me? When have I truly shared my gifts for the benefit of others? When was the last time I sought to inspire instead of waiting for inspiration? 

“Isn’t there more to life than this?”

God, forgive me for asking that question.

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-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

The Carpenter’s Son

We were in Lowe’s for two hours today.

Cedar or pressure treated? 

One raised garden bed or two? 

1x6x12 or 1x6x8?

At one point, around forty-five minutes in, an employee came over to check on me as I stood there frowning slightly and staring up into the rafters, “Need any help?”

“Hm? Oh, no man I’m just converting cubic feet to cubic inches in my head. You know…topsoil.”

We drive home with a pick-up full of wooden planks. My wife is chatting away next to me about work but I’m barely listening. The 4×4 post is staring at me in the rear-view mirror.

A hot uncomfortable feeling creeps up my neck and a knot twists in my stomach. I’m gonna have to cut that post seven times.

Seven. Straight. Cuts.

I can’t cut straight.

Table saw? No. Bandsaw? No. Hand saw? Hell no.

I don’t know what my block is. My measurements are ok, my pencil lines are straight, I’m comfortable around machinery, I even have a little table that clamps the wood down for me. 

My youngest sees a DIY project afoot and his excitement is palpable. He helps me carry the wood into the garage, hands me screws, and asks me questions. He’s amazed at the speed-square and spends most of the time making X’s on the wood and tracing straight lines.

I muddle my way through the cuts, (I tried the reciprocating saw this time. Honestly, what did I have to lose?) and in an hour of work the garden beds are complete.

It feels good to make stuff.

It feels really good to make stuff with your son for your wife so she can enjoy her hobby.

I wonder if this is why God chose a carpenter to be Jesus’s step-father. 

There isn’t a ton about Joseph in the Bible, but you get the sense he was a good dude. He takes care of his pregnant wife with a child that is not his own. He escape’s a king’s persecution and trots across the hot desert via mule. Not a great honeymoon, but he doesn’t complain. 

I thought of him today when I was with my son dodging splinters in the garage.

I like to think of Joseph in a shed or workshop with his son. He sands for hours. He measures and re-measures. Hammers pound nails and saws drone on in the summer heat. Did he curse when he got a splinter? Did he offer his son a swig from the wine jug after finishing a table and chairs when Mary wasn’t looking? Did they let out long sighs together as the cool water of the river washed off their sweat and sawdust?

Yes.

Joseph gave his son something even God could not. He gave him the experience of a working man. It isn’t easy to get up early every day. There are deadlines to meet, materials to buy, tools to sharpen and unhappy clients. It’s tough to find the joy in your work, but carpenters are true artisans. They have vision and patience. They push through the sore muscles and bloody knuckles.  Their reward is to look at that table or cabinet or chair with the tired happy feeling of a job well done, or a slap on the back and a heart-filled “Attaboy!” They are the few that can look at a rough piece of lumber and know the beauty and usefulness within it’s knot filled flesh.

Maybe this metaphor is a stretch, I don’t know. What I do know, is that the simple boxes I made today will have dirt and seeds in them tomorrow.

And from there, life.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

3 Gifts

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  1. The Sun

A close relative of mine is hospitalized. It’s one of those horrid encounters where something small becomes more and more serious. It’s a tough week of ICU and “let’s watch and see,” comments from the doctors. Things  improve then his blood pressure dips. Blood pressure improves then his fever spikes.

He’s middle aged, a father, a successful man, but here he lays on a bed of ice, hooked to machines and gazed upon by the stern countenance of wary doctors.

He turns the corner and a wash of relief floods the family. As quickly as it starts, it finishes and his wife sends us a pic of him snowblowing the sidewalk the next day as if to say, everything is back to normal!

But a change occurs.

I see him at a family function. I’m on the couch and he stands in front of me. 

“I went outside today and just stood in the sun and let it warm me. I’ve never done that before in my whole life.”

He looks a bit nostalgic as he says it, maybe for the years lost not enjoying the simple embrace of our life giving star, maybe just a longing for the feeling it gave him that day.

But when he looks at me I see happiness.

 

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2. Compassion

The start of March Madness brings with it a slew of bloody noses in my house. Not a day  goes by without one of my sons standing in the kitchen, hands out wide, leaning over the floor saying, “Uh, dad, I have a bloody nose.”

My days on the rugby pitch and the wrestling mat have made me adept at nostril-plugging and the crisis is usually averted within a minute or two.

One night, my youngest goes to bed, but I let the oldest stay up to watch the Sweet 16. We sit in the tv room yelling at the screen and oohing at long three pointers. Amidst the clamor of the game the baby steps down off the stairs. He’s crying with a bloody nose. We rush to him and clean him up but he is inconsolable. He says he’s knees hurt between sobs. Maybe it’s a growth spurt or he’s over tired, or maybe he just feels left out of the excitement.

I kiss his head and say, “Why don’t you watch with us for a little bit?” He nods and sniffles. 

“I want Michael.”

His brother perks up and lifts up the blanket next to him. Benny scrambles underneath and cuddles with him. Mike wraps an arm around him and tells him how he hates bloody noses. He pats his head and just sits with him.

He’s asleep in minutes. Safe and comforted.

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  3. Direction

I buy a suit. I’m dreading the process. The sales people are high pressure and the tailor gives a few too many “hhhm”s for my liking, but thirty minutes later I’m swiping my card.

I feel good when I leave.

Why?

I’m not sure it’s a real epiphany. There are so many decisions I feel I have to make, I often feel paralyzed. “What if…” dominates my mind and makes me second guess everything.

I have reached the point where I say, “Enough.”

Apply for the job. Do the workout. Start the diet. Read the book. Buy the suit. Do something.

As I renew my faith I’m struck by this idea of direction. Forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, helping others, accepting help, letting go of fear, loving more freely and openly,…all of these simple yet life changing actions require direction. A step away from what we hold onto so tightly.

God’s path is winding and long.

But the direction is forward.

 

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

Faith, Fear and One Mother of a Tornado

Image result for tornado

“It’s the tornado siren take cover!”

The huge crowd surges forward. They scatter over the wide flat land as I run for the line of trees ahead. There’s a small house or shed sitting there. I know it will offer little  protection, but what choice do I have?

I get inside with three other people. I look at my surroundings. The shoddily built structure sags to the right and the walls are nothing more than a series of decaying wooden slats. I look through the rectangular hole that was once a window.

It is the largest, most awesome, most terrifying thing I have ever seen.

It stretches from ground to cloud. It is the dark angry grey of a savage sea. It swirls and churns, eating the ground before it. I see it and I know there is no escape. It is moving too fast, directly towards us, and it is too wide to run from. 

I’m frozen with fear. The only thing I can do is stand there and face the terror, somehow this calms me and steels my nerve.

My mind clears. I stand up straight and watch it come.

It’s twenty feet away when it’s cut in half. The anger and darkness of that horrible funnel disappear. I look out the window to the right to see if it’s changed course. No, it’s gone, but a final updraft grabs a teenage girl. She’s sucked two hundred feet into the air like a particle of dust in God’s vacuum.

The wind loses energy and she’s dropped, I know the impact will kill her. In the two seconds this happens I feel I owe it to her somehow to watch this transpire. I can’t save her but maybe I can be with her somehow. Maybe I can connect to her by the sheer will of my emotion and a quick prayer. Maybe my heart and mind can cross the space between us to give her some form of companionship before she feels the cruelty of unmitigated violence.

She is a foot from the ground, and something stops her. It’s an invisible caress of power. It catches her gently and lifts her a few inches before laying her on the grass. It looks like when my wife would put our sons down in the crib; soft and gentle and loving.

I’m amazed and my heart feels warm. Sunlight fills the air. I watch a few others lifted and placed on the ground, and suddenly I know, deep in my soul, inexplicably, everyone survived, everyone is saved.

Deus ex machina.

Then I wake up.

So begins this morning.

I lay back on my pillow still a little out of breath, trying to piece it all together. 

The swirling destruction of a tornado is an apt metaphor for my mind. Goals, desires, worries, fears, safety, legacy, and the millions of thoughts that swirl through my consciousness often send me running for cover. I seek any protection I can find, no matter how shoddily it’s built.

How many times in life have I felt this way? That things have become so big, the inevitability of my destruction is imminent, that there is nowhere left to run?

Is the dream a premonition? Is my mind screaming at me to watch out!

No, the answer comes to me unceremoniously: 

I was saved when I let go of fear.

Others were saved when I was with them in spirit.

God is with me, always inside me, always around me, and that is what brings me serenity. I don’t have to solve every problem and most of the time I can’t help those around me to my satisfaction. I watch them get swept up, and I can only pray and send them love.

In this Lenten season as I meditate on Christ’s sacrifice I can’t help but feel that is the lesson of the Passion. By dying for our sins, he says to us:

I love you. Let go of fear. Pray. Send love.

Amen.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

 

 

God on the Uptown 1

Image result for 59th street subway

The subway station at Columbus Circle is massive. It’s three levels deep, and spreads beneath 59th street like a giant ant colony. The 1, the A, the B, the C, and the D converge here, the halfway point between Brooklyn and the Bronx via Manhattan. Uptown, downtown, even crosstown commuters flood the station running for connecting trains.

In the summer of 1999, I was one of those runners. I had a little job in midtown working for Fordham’s Public Affairs Office, and I lived in the Bronx with my brother.

New York is brutal in the summer, especially underground. There is no air conditioning in the stations, and the only relief from the oppressive heat is a warm rush of foul smelling air pushed ahead of speeding trains. 

The heat and the stench is not the only inconvenience. At Columbus Circle there is a staircase so long and wide and steep, I’ve seen tourists stand at its base just looking up, mouth agape. 

It’s on these stairs I hear an angel.

The voice cuts through the screech and rattle of dozens of underground trains. It rises above the din of thousands of hustling commuters. It stops me in my tracks.

Though my train is ahead and not below, my curiosity gets the better of me.

I descend.

There on the landing stands a large Asian man. He is singing an aria in a language I suppose is Italian.

It is beautiful.

A small circle has formed around him. Strangely, there is no open guitar case asking for donations, no sign asking for help. He is just there, singing and playing a keyboard.

I watch the people around him, as I often do, running for their trains. More than a few pause and listen and smile before continuing on, others stay to watch. The performer has no idea. His eyes are closed. He is dedicated completely to his work.

Sometimes performers from the Metropolitan Opera House do this. They find a public space and perform free of charge just to practice, just to share their gifts. 

Below this impromptu opera, at the bottom of the stairs is a woman and a stroller. 

I see her hair matted to her sweaty forehead and the slumped shoulders of an exhausted parent. I go to her, but I’m too late.

A man in an expensive business suit grabs the front of the stroller and together they make it to the top. Without a word he sets the stroller down gently and continues on to his train.

I’m struck.

I’ve seen this scenario, at this station, a hundred times before. Silk bloused business women in high heels, sweaty men in tee shirts, college students wearing back packs, all grab the stroller, all make the ascent together. She never asks for help but someone always does.

She yells out a “Thank you,” and they wave, or say “No problem”, never looking back.

It is beautiful.

I think of that staircase as I get reacquainted with my faith.

The little church in our town, Saint Columba, is small and simple. I went there this morning. 

 

There is no mass and the door is always unlocked, so I go in. I take some pictures of the stained glass and the altar. I say a few prayers and listen to the quiet.

When I open my eyes I see a statue of Mary. Next to her is the Corporal Works of Mercy. On the other side is Joseph and the Spiritual Works of Mercy.

 

It is an interesting moment for me. Here I am alone in a dark quiet church, praying and enjoying the silence, yet before me are two lists urging me to get out and start interacting with our world and people in need.

In the midst of scandal and atrocious evil it’s been hard for me to go to church, to even say I’m a Catholic. I’ve become the “I’m more spiritual than religious,” person, filled with mistrust and disgust. In the church’s ongoing struggles I find myself feeling righteous. I feel validated that I question the Vatican to the point of disbelief. Who are they to tell me what to do, what to think, what to believe?

Questions swirl through my mind every day, but I don’t think sitting in a dark church is getting me any closer to a solution. I need to start living Christ’s example; by finding the good that does exist in the Church’s teachings and take action. 

I’m nervous that by taking this stance and renewing my faith, I am somehow distancing myself from some people. I hope that isn’t the case. I want you and I need and I love you.

If you stay with me I can offer you companionship.

Whatever our identity, whatever our belief, whatever our burden, it’ll be easier to climb that staircase if we lift together. We each have gifts to share and a song to sing.

If we’re lucky, and we push through the noise and the heat and the foul stench, we may just hear an angel.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

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