Broken Wings and Regrets

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

I opened the door to my apartment building and was greeted by a beautiful day. The morning sun peeking through the leaves, a gentle breeze washing over my skin. I had spent the morning doing what I enjoy. Meditating, writing, exercising.  I felt at ease, I felt as though anything was possible. I was present, there was no past or future. Just this moment.

I turned the corner on seventh and crossed the street to follow the shade.  In front of me on the sidewalk was sparrow. Just sitting there. Cute as could be. I said hello to her. She immediately reacted with fear and began in vain to get away from me. Her wings flapping furiously against the ground. A valiant effort against what I realized was a broken wing.

A death sentence.

I must have appeared as a predator bearing down for the kill. Taking advantage of Darwin’s laws of survival. Her broken wing trying so valiantly but going nowhere. Moving in circles, its small heart beating faster with every revolution. Her fear and helplessness mirroring my own. Through its desperate attempts she ended up in a pile of sand and garbage. A small cloud of dust emerging from her struggle.

She didn’t understand what was happening to her and the futility of her efforts. But she did not give up.

My heart broke. I wanted so badly to pick her up, to heal her. To comfort her. To make the pain and the fear go away. I spoke to her. I tried calming her. She didn’t understand. I didn’t understand.

With every attempt to get closer I drove her away and caused fear to grow. She hopped into the street, oncoming traffic not seeing or not caring about her. I used her fear to my advantage and guided her back to the curb, under a car. This poor little creature didn’t know my intentions. It didn’t understand the words coming out of my mouth. I was trying to calm her, to soothe her and let her know everything was going to be alright. Maybe I was trying to soothe myself.

I ended up leaving her.  My helplessness consuming me. The need to be on time for work a perfect excuse.  Nature will take its course and she will die.

This scene was played out in front of Greenwood cemetery, a haunting backdrop reinforcing the inevitability of death.  The impermanence of life.

I saw in this bird myself. I saw the connection of all living creatures. A broken animal just trying to fly. It being held to the ground by a broken bone, I being held to the ground by fear and self-doubt. Both of us trying to fly. Both of us trying to survive.

I woke up today thinking of her.  My eyes opened to the shadow of regret. I should have done more. I should have tried harder to save this creature. This creature that is made up of the same pieces of the stars and universe that I am.

But I didn’t.

The past became present and I was flooded with regrets of old. Should haves. I should have loved myself more, I should have known that I was enough. I should have known that spending money on things was nothing more than a short-lived high. That there would never, could never be enough. I was pouring all my possessions into a bottomless glass. With every purchase I was locking myself into my own prison. I did not own my things, they owned me.

I should have….

The birth of life was the birth of death. One does not exist without the other. They are two sides of the same coin. Death gives purpose to life. To live a life of “I did” instead of “I should have…”.

With death comes regret. At the end of our life what will we do? Look back at all that we experienced and smile? Or look back at all that we missed?  I do not want my last breath to be one of regret.

The power to live whatever life I want is within my grasp. There is not one external thing that can prevent me from achieving anything I want. Not my past, not my criminal record. Not a damn thing.

Notice I said externally. My one barrier, and it is one that we all share, is myself. I am the roadblock. My fears, my self-doubt, the stories I make up in my head.

I know how, or I will figure out how to navigate any external roadblock I experience. But when it comes to myself, that is another story.

And I suppose that is part of the journey. A frustrating part, but an integral part. How badly do I want the life I want? What comforts am I willing to give up in the short-term to experience true unadulterated joy in the future?

What am I willing to do and what needs to be done to ensure I do not utter these words as life leaves my body?

“I wish….”




Finding my Voice

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” ― Shannon L. Alder

Just a couple of months ago I found my voice.  One of the most common means in which we communicate was gone. I thought of putting up “Lost” signs, but I don’t have a picture of my voice and I don’t know how to draw it.

When I was arrested, incarcerated, subsequently released my voice was lost.  A substitute voice taking its place. The register in which I spoke was altered.  My voice became soft and empty.  Sometimes it would vanish completely.  Hiding behind my lips, the words perched on my tongue like a child on the high dive.  Too afraid to jump.

 My voice had become a prisoner of the past. Locked in a cell, the bars made of guilt, shame, sadness and embarrassment.

Part of this was on purpose, a conscious change to separate myself from my actions. I was attempting to be a different person.  Speaking more softly, fading into the background. The words I spoke were spoken with genuine feeling, but they felt hollow.  The words came from the top of my throat, not from within.  I did not have the confidence to deliver them in the proper way.

My opinion no longer mattered. I was a criminal, I had no say.  I had to convey a feeling, a sense of being contrite. I owed, among other things, this debt to society.

I thought, and I still struggle with this idea:

That forgiving myself does not make me a bad person.

It is through time and moving forward that change occurs.  Within this time my voice has returned.  I don’t know how long its been back, nor does it matter. I wonder if those that know me even noticed a difference.

What matters is that I know it, that I feel it, that I can hear it. And it is good to hear and feel. The reverberations through my chest, my words coming from deep inside.  Sometimes I am caught off guard by it. I have my hiccups, my voice faltering at times.  When the ghosts of the past permeate my thoughts the bars of the prison grow and push my voice back into the cell.

There are so many facets to dealing with adversity and growth through pain.  But finding my voice has been an important step.  For two reasons:

1. Not having my voice taught me to listen. To truly listen. To be present in the moment and listen to what is being said. Not how will I sound intelligent or funny the second the other persons lips stop moving.  Pay attention to the next time you are speaking with someone. You will look at their lips and hear the sound of their voice. You speak the split second there is pause in the movement of the lips. This isn’t listening. This is thinking. I am in no way great at this, but it has pointed me in the right direction.

Also, if you’re talking to me and you see me take a deep breath I am not sighing out of boredom. I am focusing on my breath to bring me back to the present moment and what is being said. Probably doesn’t look great from the outside though.

2.  Your words matter. What you think matters. Through listening you learn to speak deliberately with thought and meaning.  Speak your mind, be honest and authentic.  Once words are spoken they exist in the universe for eternity.  They cannot be taken back, the sound waves travel to the furthest reaches of the universe and beyond.

It’s so important in the healing process to find your voice. To not hide behind a voice of guilt, sadness or shame or whatever imprisons you.

I will share a couple of ways I got my voice back.

First, writing this blog. The act of writing, for me at least, is a silent task. My mouth closed tightly as I type, my lips pursed. But these are my words and they are being spoken through my fingers.  There is great power in that.  Whether you write free hand or type, your words are being expressed.  And I have written this before, but this is key: hit the publish button. Share your work. Be heard.

Second, and this may seem silly, but I don’t care.

“Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of my favorite songs. Top five at least.  The words carry so much meaning to me and have accompanied me as I walk this path.  I want to be able to sing this song and sing it well.  Most likely my only venue for performing would be karaoke.  I have a tremendous fear of performing karaoke. It combines two elements I have a fear of; public speaking and performing.

Which means I have to do it.

So I practice.  I sing along as I read the lyrics on YouTube. I sing in the shower.  Original I know.

Through this practice my voice grew.  The voice I wanted to speak with and sing with slowly started to emerge.  Chipping away at the bars that held it back.  I could hear my voice under all of the layers of emotion it was trapped behind.  It wanted to be heard.

Practicing and continuing I was able to find that voice.  Spoken now more genuinely than before the arrest.  I walk taller and with purpose.

“Boy, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself

Follow your heart and nothing else” – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Your voice does not have to be the sound that comes from your mouth. Your voice is you, and however you communicate who you really are. Writing, dancing, painting, playing an instrument.  Whatever is inside of you that needs to come out and be shared.

That is your voice.

So, sing your songs, dance your dance, write as if you will die tomorrow, throw paint on the canvas of life.  Don’t worry what others will think.

Find your voice, it’s in you.


I am not a Number

Having completed my twenty-four month sentence in Federal prison I am at the beginning stages of supervised release. Essentially probation. My supervised release will run for a period of three years.  During this time I will report to a probation officer.  As part of this process I am required to complete financial disclosure documents.  I understand why I have to do this and accept the responsibilities of my actions.

I received the documents during my initial visit to the probation office.  I didn’t really look at them at the time.  When I got home I decided to start working on them. Grabbing my pen I turned the page and found myself staring into the past.

These were the same forms I was required to fill out before I was sentenced to prison.

Instantly I was transported back in time. Fear and uncertainty shadowing my every step.   The dark cloud of prison looming over me. Moments of joy snuffed out like a candle in the wind.  Unaware of where I would be going, my safety a perpetual concern.  I feared that I had permanently destroyed my life and I would never recover.  As I filled out the documents I was consumed by the same exact feelings I had two years ago.

Shame. Guilt. Sadness. Embarrassment. Self-loathing. Worthlessness

My heart rate increased and my breathing became labored. A panic attack only a few pen strokes away.  I would put the form down, the pressure too much. The memories so strong and powerful. The emotions as clear as the day I first felt them.  The gigantic hole that I have worked so diligently to fill returned. I felt empty inside.  My confidence shattered.

After a week of torment I finished the documents. Only to find out that I did not have to.  The week of anxiety didn’t need to happen. I was relieved and pissed.

I have been asked to complete the forms again.  My heart skipped a beat, my breath became shallow. My initial reaction a carbon copy of the first time.

The forms are very detailed.  How much to the penny do you make, how much do you spend and what do you spend it on?  Individual lines for each and every expense, groceries, phone, clothing, transportation, everything.  A financial dissection of ones life.

I have an acquaintance who is buying a home. She is filling out similar paperwork, but obviously for much different reasons.  Every expense under a microscope, your every purchase analyzed.  We commiserated about the process. About how we feel that we are letting somebody see us in a way most people don’t.

She said how she had put her entire life on those pages.   I agreed with her. I think so many of us who have filled out similar forms have felt this way.

Exposed and vulnerable.  Pulling back the curtain.

How quickly a life can be distilled from all that is into nothing more than a number.

This is how I am being viewed and this how I have viewed myself. I have been complicit in this myopic viewpoint.

So many of us have. So many of us have filled out similar paperwork for whatever reason. We feel exposed as though we are showing our true selves to whomever is on the receiving end of the form.  All because of a number, we fall prey to the judgments of ourselves and the judgments of others. A competitive measuring stick, in a competition that can never be won.

In prison I was a number, 22052-014. I didn’t like it.  Now as a free man I once again find myself being perceived as a number.  So many of us fall into this trap.  It might not be a number written on paper, but the car in our garage, the watch on our wrist or the clothes we wear.

When did we take such a wrong turn in associating our identity and self-worth with how much we make? And in turn how we spend that money?  When did a number and things become who we are?

I have been working diligently to change this perception of myself. To fill myself from the inside and not seek external things to fill the holes inside of me.  It’s a long road, but one worth walking.

I cannot change the perception of others, nor do I want to try. Whoever wants to view me this way can view me this way. Who ever wants to judge my current self against my past self can.

This train of thought has led me to the eternal question:

Who are we and why are we here?

I don’t know the answer to this question. How many people do?

But what I know is this:

These numbers are not me. What I wear, what I drive, where I live are not me. They are not a snapshot of who I am.  They are merely things.

Providing details of what I make and how I spend it may feel personal, but it shouldn’t. This is not being exposed. This is not what matters in life. This is not who I am.  Being authentic, being honest, sharing your fears, your loves, your ideas, your passions.  Writing, painting, singing, doing work you love, opening your soul and showing your true self, warts and all. Experiencing life, not purchasing life. This is being exposed. And through this exposure comes courage.  This is what is important in life.

I am a guy who is trying to keep his head above water. I am a guy who is scared of plenty of thing.  I try everyday to do something I enjoy. To add whatever value, big or small to this world that I can.  Trying everyday to help somebody. Stranger, friend or loved one.  Some days I succeed and other days I fail. But I will approach each new day and try again.

I am not my past.

I am not a number.

I am a free man.


Mind and Body

“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Buddha

I leave my house. Running shoes tied tight. Final stretches complete.  One foot in front of the other. My pace is slow, my muscles tight.  My Achilles heel reminding me of its presence with every step.

I start down 7th as I always do. I decide to take a right, up the hill towards 8th. I cross over 8th and decide to head towards 9th. A spur of the moment decision. Arriving at 9th I see there is no 9th. It is Prospect Park West.

I’m not sure where I am and decide to go left. My sense of direction notoriously bad. In a few short blocks I find myself at the entrance of Prospect Park. Surprised that I live this close to the park.  Excited that this world just opened up to me.  Another reminder of my freedom. A reminder to not take for granted the choice to go left or to go right.

I love parks. Always have. I love being out in nature. I enjoy the city but miss the suburbs for their open spaces, wooded preserves. Being alone with nature. So grounding. A reminder of how beautiful the world is. A reminder of how small we are. A reminder that we are all connected.

I run into the park, almost unsure of what to do with my new-found discovery.  My mind still trapped within the confines of routine. Trying to process the possibilities of my expanded boundaries.  Even with freedom I find myself occasionally trapped.  The mind a powerful prison. Its bars imaginary, yet so strong.

Fears, insecurities, the shadow of the past, the glare of the future.

I see a pine tree branch, it runs parallel to the ground. Ideal for pull-ups. My workout begins. Pull-ups, push-ups, dips on the park benches, jump squats on a box by the softball field, bear crawls between light posts. Focusing on each pull, each push, each step and jump. Each contraction of muscle. My heart pumping, my lungs breathing deeply. Sweat forming on my forehead and chest.  My shirt becoming heavy.

There are no prison walls. There are no bills to pay, no anxiety, no divorces, no money troubles.  The past and the future cease to exist.

It is only me. My mind and body a unified entity with a single goal. The completion of another rep. Pushing myself. Feeling the blood flow to the muscles as they work. Each rep a victory. Each rep a mantra keeping me focused on the task at hand. I feel no pressure. I feel no regret for the past or worry for the future. Only this present moment and each contraction of muscles.

I am within a bustling city and yet alone in the woods. Not afraid of being by myself. Quite the opposite. Embracing myself, feeling at ease through the pain. The pain that only exercise can bring and the pain that those that exercise crave.

The last rep complete, my breath returning to normal, my veins popping from my arms. I leave the park.


I walk home, enjoying the new neighborhood. Realizing it is on my checklist of places I wanted to see.  There is a brownstone, covered by trees, a small fish pond in the front. The sound of the water trickling down makes me smile. I like this home. I like that I can stop in front of it and admire it.


Not just physically, but from my mind. Different pathways opened, old ones closed.

Exercise and freedom. So powerful together. I will do this again. But not the same way. A different path, a different routine. Ruts are so easy to get into and follow. Even more difficult to get out of.

Best not to get in them in the first place.

This is the path back to who I am. This is the path forward to who I want to become. This is part of the journey that will set me free.

Move the body. Expand the mind.