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

 

 

 

 

 

 

4:41 p.m.

Elijah Zae Little's Profile Photo, Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, shoes and outdoor

“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

 

 

Adventure Jacket

IMG_1309

Manual labor.

Listen, we can all do it right? The lifting, the dragging, the pushing, the whatever. Hell, I love snowblowing at night, and there isn’t a man in New England who hasn’t watched a plow take out a mailbox and think, “Now that would be a fun job.”

No, the reason we should thank all of the laborers out there, doing the jobs we take for granted, isn’t just their physical strength and toughness, it’s that they do it- Every. Day.

I’ve had my fair share of terrible summer jobs. I’ve mowed lawns for fourteen hours a day, I’ve loaded tractor-trailers full of packages, I’ve wheel-barrowed gravel for tennis courts, and I’ve mopped kitchens. And yes, those jobs were long hours and I would work six out of seven days a week, but then summer would be over and I’d be back at school with a fat wallet and nine months off before finding my next backbreaking endeavor.

But could I do it for years? How many mailboxes would I cover in snow before I’d stop giggling and start yawning? How long before the drone of lawn mowers never stops ringing in my ears? How many times could I slip into cold wet clothes or climb a pole to return power to a neighborhood full of ungratefuls before I said, “Screw these people.”?

It isn’t for everyone.

It reminds me of my oldest son.

The four year old is my worker. We bought him a shovel for his birthday. He runs to it when it snows.

Mike-not so much.

I think about him as I clear the driveway. The precipitation was more sleet than snow, so the snowblower can’t pick it up. It’s just me, three hundred feet of driveway, and the boys and our shovels and… wait-no, it’s just me and my shovel.

The little one forgot his gloves and disappeared into the house an hour ago. I’m ten feet from the end of the driveway when I hear Mike’s footsteps crunch over the ice.

I wipe the sweat from my eyes. I look at his appearance between shovels: boots, ripped wind-pants, tee shirt, a leather aviator’s jacket and a shovel slung jauntily over his shoulder gripped in glove-less hands completes the ensemble.

It isn’t really working-attire which bothers me, and he’s about an hour and twenty minutes too late which would not have gone over well when I was a kid. With a sigh I point to the spot next to me, too tired to lecture him.

“Sorry I’m late Dad, had to get my adventure jacket.”

I nod wearily and show him what to do. I give him a little section to work on behind me so he can be out of my way.  It doesn’t take long before he stops.

I look back. The shovel is over his shoulder again. His eyes are on the horizon. It’s the last straw, and I prepare to unload a lecture. My eyes light up and my body tenses. What kind of a lazy son have I raised? Where have I failed? Didn’t he see me out here for the past hour busting my ass? What will happen to him when he gets a job? He can’t just stop working to daydream. When I was a kid I-

“I didn’t know it snowed in Japan.”

“Huh?” I ask.

“Japan. Does it usually snow here?”

“Are we in Japan?” I ask.

His eyes squint as he locks me with a glare. 

“Yes. The map. We followed the map here, remember? We have to find our way to Shark Bay, and then…the treasure.”

For a second I believe him. Something does seem different. I look at him in his aviator jacket. His nine year old body looks old and wise and tough-as-nails. My fourth grader has morphed into an intrepid adventurer. As he looks off into the distance I think to myself, “I would follow you anywhere.”

I finish the driveway myself. I stand there at the bottom, leaning on my shovel breathing hard.

I smile as I look at my work.

The driveway is clear and black and my son is fighting a horde of invaders over by the playscape.

Yep, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC 

 

 

 

 

41 Years Old

IMG_1278

I love egg rolls.

The crispy edges, the chewy wrap, the bits of salty fillings, all erupt through the tangy sweetness of duck sauce. 

In my other hand is a skewer of teriyaki beef. It is cooked and seasoned to perfection. I grunt my approval as I tear into the hand-held food with reckless abandon. The next bite goes in before the last one is swallowed. Hot black coffee runs down my throat, slaking my thirst. On and on I eat and drink until a smattering of small, empty, white cartons and crinkly aluminum bags litter the table before me. It’s delicious and satisfying. I feel full and content.

It’s been years since we’ve eaten Chinese food.  But tonight, on my forty-first birthday it just seems to make sense.

It’s not a sexy or exciting milepost. It’s the year of strange muscle-pulls and chronic back tightness. It certainly isn’t worth spending a lot of money at an expensive restaurant.

But sexy or not, I was born on this day so what the hell, a little MSG and eating with chop-sticks to break up the monotony sounds pretty good.

I look around the table and see my three favorite people. Not bad.

IMG_1276

I thank them for my dinner and homemade cards as I bring my scraps to the trash-can. That’s when I see the mystery puddle.

“Why is it wet over here?”

It’s a common question in our house, one rarely met with a confession.

Tonight the silence is legitimate. No one has spilled, no one used the faucet like a squirt gun, and it’s been three hundred days since our last potty accident. Nope this mystery puddle is coming from…where?

So, ends my forty-first birthday. Chinese food and a trip to Home Depot. 

I sit there alone in the kitchen, still in wet shambles, as I try to figure out what’s going on. It’s tough not to get frustrated in these situations. I have a problem and I don’t know exactly what it is or how to solve it. 

I’m forty-one, out of shape and I can’t handle the smallest of home improvements.

What do I do? How much will this cost? How will we pay for it? Why am I not better at this? What’s wrong with me? Why-

No.

Stop.

Stop the negativity.

Stop the self doubt.

Stop whining.

Stop sitting.

Start doing.

I smile as I unbox the new faucet that evening. My son is upstairs. I call him down to help me.

We turn on some music. He fits perfectly under the sink. His little fingers are winding their way past pipes and hoses, and a song is on his lips.

What is it about tools and music and working with your hands that can bring us together?

We laugh under there in the tight space. Knuckles are skinned, screws are lost,  and more than a little gas is passed.

In the end he does it all by himself. I simply lie there coaching him and handing him tools. His pride is apparent as he turns on the faucet. 

I tousle his hair and put my arm across his broadening shoulders.

My son.

The leak has stopped, the problem is solved, and a right of passage has occurred. 

Forty-one is starting off pretty damn good.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

87 Flips

IMG_1264

“Dad! Can you smell that?”

This is never a comfortable question coming from a four year old.

“What Benny?”

“It’s Spring!”

I smile. He’s a few months early, but I smell it too. Last week the thermometer in my truck registered -4º F. Yesterday, February 5th, it was 53ºF and sunny.

Winter in Connecticut.

As a life-long New Englander I know I need to take advantage of the warmth, who knows when it will return.

“Okay boys, I am going to workout with the tire, so leave me alone for a little bit. I have to get to a hundred,” I announce.

“Ok!” they lie as they run from the playscape to the trampoline.

The tire was a gift. My dad picked it up from a farm equipment supplier. My wife wrapped it in a bow for Christmas.

My health journey is eclectic. I’ve spent years in the gym, I’ve trained for and run a half marathon, I’ve studied Judo, I’ve had two personal trainers, I’ve participated in mini-triathlons, and I’ve run a Tough Mudder.

I’ve been through a CrossFit phase, a rowing phase, and I am currently on a kettle-bell and functional strength phase. Yesterday, I inquired about competing in the Highland Games.

I know what I need to do, and my knowledge is extensive, I just can’t seem to find the one  workout that sticks.

My current workout is big, heavy and frozen to the ground.

I roll it behind the garden. It splashes down with a muddy thud. I inch my fingers under it and squat down. I pop it up easily. The mud splatters my shirt as it falls. Ten flips to one end of the garden, ten flips back to the beginning.

On and on we turn, the never ending cycle of man vs. exercise. My hands start to ache and my back is on fire. My legs are warming up and sweat stings my eyes. It doesn’t seem too hard at first, but soon enough I’m doing math:

“I’ve done thirty, that means I have seventy to go. No, wait, this length will be thirty. Ok wait, if the first length ends on an odd number and I am headed back to the start that means it will end on an even number…damn, now I lost count…ok so I think this is my third length and I am halfway through so…”

The grunts become louder. The rest at the end of the garden becomes longer. The boys want me to record them doing tricks on my phone, “Ok, but just for a minute,” I say with relief.

Mud from my fingers smudges across the screen. I am breathing heavily. Part of me wants to quit right here. I’m halfway through, that’s pretty good for my first time out, isn’t it?

I can feel the tire behind the garden. It’s mass has a gravity to it, pulling me back.

I go.

At flip number seventy, my mindset changes. It’s gonna feel so good to get there, to get to one hundred. Nothing can stop me. I am a machine. I can feel the mush transforming into iron.

85

There’s just something about an outdoor workout.

86

Yes! this is it, I’ve found what will get me healthy!

87 

This sucks, but in a good way! I am committed to this!

8-

“Dad! I have a bloody nose!”

I sigh as I pull my hand out from under the thick wet rubber. The kid is leaking everywhere. He’s tough but I can see a tinge of fear in his eyes.

“Ok, Bud, no problem, let’s go.”

We fumble our way into the house, shedding muddy clothes and boots as we go. 

I feel guilty as I head into the kitchen. We were out there too long. I have to get dinner made before basketball practice which is thirty minutes from now. I can see the tire  halfway down the garden path. It sits there waiting, wondering where I went. 

I didn’t reach my goal.

I failed.

The ache in my shoulders disagree with me.

I suppose it’s like life. We strive for our goals. They sustain us, they gives us hope, but sometimes we focus so much on finishing, we don’t appreciate the journey.

What if the mud and the sweat and the pain is what we strive for?

Who would we become? What would we value?

It might just make us love ourselves a little more.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

For proper tire-flipping technique check out this link!

 

There’s A Penguin In My Freezer and A Machine Gun on My Stairs

img_1228His eyes burrow into my soul.

We stand there facing each other, neither daring to move a muscle. I admit he has me at a disadvantage, I had no idea he would be there.

But none of that matters right now. What matters is the razor sharp beak standing between me and a frozen steak.

Do I talk him down? Do I inch my hand forward? Do I strike hard and fast, and hope that I am faster?

My stomach gurgles in response.

With a nod I gird my loins.

My right hand is a slingshot. The icy enclosure saps my strength. The glint in his black eyes shakes my resolve. A war cry pierces the air as my left hand knocks my tuxedo clad opponent to the ground. I slam the door closed.

The steak is cold in my shaking hand. A grim smile spreads over my stony countenance.

We are safe, and fed…for now.

I let the steak sizzle to fetch my reading glasses. They are upstairs on my nightstand, a short jaunt up the stairs…take cover!

I dive to the left, rolling to a stop a few feet into the living room.

Is it what I thought it was? But how? The stairs were clear just a few minutes ago.

I chance a look in the mirror at the base of the stairs.

img_1168I stare into the vacant eyes of heavy artillery. It seems unmanned, but is it? Has the trigger-man camouflaged himself in the deep carpet of the hallway? Does he bide his time simply waiting for a better shot?

I can’t be sure, but I need those glasses.

I’ll have to chance it.

For the second time in five minutes I find myself breathing hard, muscles tense, heart slamming in my chest.

A tennis ball waits at my feet. Inspiration!

I slide down the wall, my eyes never leaving the mirror. I feel a familiar fuzzy texture brush against my fingertips.

In one fluid motion I grab the ball, swing around the banister and heave with all my might. It bounces off the wall as I take the steps two by two.

I squeeze my eyes and grit my teeth waiting for the hot lead to tear through my soft flesh.

The shots never come.

All is safe.

Wildlife is in the freezer. Weapons are in the hallway.

At what point did I lose control here?

Who can be behind these traps?

I may never find the answer.

img_1229

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC