Easter and My Faith in Post Malone

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“Alexa, play Sunflower, by Post Malone.”

As my son ages, I find myself holding my face in my hands and sighing more and more regularly. Sometimes it’s the strange comments he makes, or the strange dances he does or the strange questions he asks me. i.e. “Dad, why do I have to read if I can just listen to stuff?”

It’s exhausting.

Not last on this list of heavy sighs and eye rubs comes from his choice in music. It’s not that I don’t like the songs or the artists he listens to, but when he finds one he likes he listens to it over and over and over again. And as any parent will tell you, this means we all listen to it over and over and over again .

I’m not so old that I don’t remember the secret places my favorite songs would take me in my imagination. I’d save the world listening to the Best of John Williams. I’d take Paula Abdul  on dates as she’d laugh at my jokes and hold my hand listening to Forever Your Girl. The greatest dream of my life came while falling asleep to Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly, and more than one World Series game winning catch was set to the voice of John Fogerty’s, Centerfield.

Mike and I are similar. We are imaginative and love watching movies and talking about superheroes. I think this results in picturing our lives as one long action sequence with one long soundtrack.

Music is powerful.

At Easter mass I listened to Father Mike talk to us about the joy of Christ’s love for us. How he died for our sins. It’s a strange concept isn’t it? Years ago I didn’t believe it. These stories are metaphors and myths passed down to us like the Greeks and Romans right? They’re powerful stories but they aren’t real. They’re just fables to teach us how to live appropriate lives.

But, as I reacquaint myself with my faith, I ask myself the question: What if the stories are true?

As I meditate on that question, I know deep down that this is what I believe. I look past my inner voice of logic, and there, lower, at the root of my soul, that place between my heart and my gut, is a more ancient voice. It is the one that has always been with me. It is the voice that doesn’t question, but knows, the one that doesn’t hate, but loves.

It became clear to me that faith is not about finding explanations to Earthly questions, it’s about seeking answers to spiritual questions. So, yes, I believe. I believe he died and rose again. I believe Thomas put his hands in his wounds, and I think he suffered a horrific death so that our sins would be forgiven so we could enter the kingdom of heaven.

Turning that corner, believing,  has made all the difference for me. I see beauty where I didn’t before, but the struggle still exists. I still question and I select what I believe instead of giving myself over to pure faith. I yearn for more instead of showing gratitude for what I have. I pursue something else, something new instead of seeking God’s truth within my present circumstances. I speak when I should listen. It’s this spiritual warfare that now shapes my being. 

I think about this as I listen to those lyrics I’ve heard so many times before.

I hear them differently now. 

Every sin, every mistake is an opportunity for God to welcome me back. He is real, and he loves me no matter how many times I walk out on  him:

Every time I’m walkin’ out

I can hear you tellin’ me to turn around

Fightin’ for my trust and you won’t back down

Even if we gotta risk it all right now, oh

I know you’re scared of the unknown (known)

You don’t wanna be alone (alone)

I know I always come and go (and go)

But it’s out of my control

And He says to me:

And you’ll be left in the dust

Unless I stuck by ya

You’re a sunflower

I think your love would be too much

Or you’ll be left in the dust

Unless I stuck by ya

You’re the sunflower

You’re the sunflower

Yeah

He’s there. He’s always calling me to return to him, to turn my face to him like a sunflower yearning for warmth and light to grow tall and strong.
All he wants in return is my trust, and my love.
-Mike Sposito
Owner 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

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“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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

4:41 p.m.

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“Ok, love you Sposito.”

That’s how he’d leave my office everyday.

Some days he was there because he’d been in a fight. Some days he was there because a teacher had sent him out of their room. Most days he was there to sit in the quiet of my dark office and just…be.

I’d type away on my computer sending out emails and he would splay out in a chair, legs straight, feet pointing up, staring at the ceiling with his hands folded on his chest.

We’d talk about class, or working out, or cooking. He’d lie to me about the girls he was “talking to” and he’d school me on the definitions of phrases I’d hear in the hallways. Home seemed hard and the streets he lived on took their toll on him from time to time, and while I could feel his anger and frustration, I can’t recall him ever complaining to me.

I’d catch him in the halls out of class and I’d give him a look.  He’d run over to me and wrap an arm around my neck, pull me in tight and say,

“listen-to-me-listen-to-me-listen-to-me…”

“Ok, I’m all ears. Just remember when I saw you ten minutes ago in my office, you promised me, promised me, you were going right to class.”

“…”

“Hello?”

“You’re right, I did you dirty.”

Elijah-“

“Sposito.”

“No.”

“Sposito!!”

“What?”

“Just write me a pass.”

“Sigh.”

His “bro-hugs” knocked the wind from my chest and his smiles, though not abundant, were contagious.

We both left by the end of the school year. He went back to his home district and I moved on to start my own business. We had one final hang-out in my office, a hug by the buses at the end of the day, and that was that.

They said the 911 call came yesterday at 4:41 pm.

The house fire moved quickly and aggressively. A firefighter was injured and the house was completely destroyed. It’s unconfirmed but they think Elijah ran upstairs to try and wake-up and save his older brother before the smoke and flames overtook them.

Selfless and brave.

I tried to remember what I was doing  yesterday at 4:41. I couldn’t remember exactly, but I think that’s when it started getting really windy outside. My house shook and my windows rattled and branches broke from trees.

Was it him? Was he calling out to me? Was his spirit yelling in rage and fear while I was comfortable on my couch playing with my sons and scrolling through Netflix?

I cried in my room when I got the news. I sobbed and focused my mind and my heart, trying to reach out to him across the void.

“Be at peace,” I said.

I’ve built many relationships with kids over the years as an educator. It’s hard not to love them all. They annoy you and push you and make you angry. You come from different cultures and different backgrounds, or from the same cultures and the same backgrounds-but your story is always different. Then one day they come into your office and the facade falls away. They look exhausted. Minutes pass in silence before you feel something shift. They talk to you. You listen. 

You get to know them.

I look at my news feed and I am on edge. So much hatred exists. It worries me. We don’t listen to each other. We just respond, immediately, and blindly, fueled by our own mission and emboldened by the Tweets and Snaps we rely on, too heavily.

What are we afraid of?

What would happen if we turned it all off, sat together in a room, stared at the ceiling and just talked? What if we actually got to know each other? Shared our fears, respected our loyalties? Loved each other for our differences? Learned from our differences? Understood the world a little better through our differences?

I’m not picking a side, I’m just passing on what I learned from Elijah. Do with it what you will, but I urge you to use it positively; you never know what selfless hero is staring at you from behind a false bravado. Listen to them. Let them be. Your world will be better for the relationship you had, no matter how tragically short it may be. Believe me.

So, no more shootin’ the shit and no more hugs. I’m left with a short movie of him in my mind:

He leaves my office, swinging his arms, looking right while moving left. He disappears past my line of sight going the exact opposite way I told him to. I can’t see him, but I know he’s still in earshot.

“Be good! Go to class!”

“Ok, love you Sposito,”

I love you too Elijah.

 

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC