Friday, March 27, 2009


Today is the first death anniversary of a friend of mine. Before becoming my friend, CMG was a student of mine back in 2004-2005. I still remember him sitting right in front of me, or more accurately stated, being moved to sit right in front of me. There was never a malicious bone in his body. Although he often disrupted class one couldn't help but laugh-C was just funny. C was always very inappropriate in his manner of joking/humor and I loved almost every moment of it. I was able to laugh at his humor and appreciate it, since he said what was usually on most of our minds. That academic year I probably took his cell phone away from him on a weekly basis since it would often go off in class. I never suspected that C would actually visit me regularly after school his junior and senior years of high school. As C matured I was pleased to see that we could actually talk seriously every now and again, trust me, C was not a serious guy, but the few moments were cherished moments because it only affirmed to me that he actually had plans and cared so very deeply about his family and friends.

Death has always been a part of my life since I was very young. It astounds me that I have contemporaries who still have both sets of grandparents! My mother's mother passed when I was 4, maybe 5 years old. I remember my uncle coming over one day in October, seeing my Uncle was NOT a good sign, since he rarely came over, much less by himself. All I was told was that Grandma had a heart-attack and went to sleep forever. My mother did not allow me to attend any services, neither wake nor funeral. So one day my grandmother was here, the next day gone. Not long after that, my father's father died. Since he died from cancer, I remember him struggling with oxygen and just a steady decline. Again, my parents thought it wasn't proper for me to attend any services. I guess they believed me to be too young to be able to handle it?

Death sucks, period. We never want to see friends and loved ones leave us. It is a bit more palatable when the person who dies is "older." It makes sense to us that the older we get, the closer to death we get. Death NEVER makes sense when it comes to a child, a teenager, a person in their 20s or 30s. We are left with an aching heart, an empty spirit and each others' embraces to get us through these times. No words, flowers, momentos can really ease the pain, it is just something we have to endure. Enduring it, honoring it, celebrating it is critical for healing and allowing that person to go. How do I mean this? My views are a bit strange to the average person since I feel that the dead are still here, they are a part of us. They have changed and moved on to the spiritual world now, it is us who are stuck here, in the physical world not allowing ourselves to ascend to higher things, to pay them visits, to recall them, to honor them, to celebrate them. Our deceased loved ones are a part of us now more than ever, for it is their love that lives on in us. Of course I want C here with me now, I want my grandmothers' sauce, my grandfather's meatballs, my aunt's pickled eggplant, and so on, but how selfish is that of me? They are potentially enjoying the absolute presence of God in all His Beauty and Splendor-they have reached their home, taking their place in his mansion. If I love them, then I ought to be rejoicing too knowing that they are in God's most holy presence and hopefully praying for me. Only in faith can I accept this, only in faith can I celebrate this, after all isn't this the very reason why Jesus came to us? To suffer, die and rise body and soul? Death outside the context of faith means nothing. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Since CMG and all my family and friends who have moved on are now part of the communion of saints I can confidently say, CMG, pray for us! We love and miss you!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Title

Since I'm on Spring Break, I seized the opportunity to go home to Connecticut for a few days. I never thought I'd reach this point in my life where I actually enjoy visiting my family, it isn't that I don't love my family, it has been a real struggle to get where we are today and believe me, we have a long way to go still! As some of you may know, addictions of any sort are not fun to have around, in fact it can make life unbearable and very unhappy. It has taken me many, many years to figure this out, but it wasn't until last fall that I just accepted the fact that I can not change the situation, I can only change me and how I respond to it. This has been a very liberating experience for me and in my opinion has helped my relationships, especially with my family. By no means am I encouraging enabling the addict-for I have always refused to do that.
In my family everyone carries a title; Uncle R, Auntie N, Cousin M, Nonni, Grandma D, etc...and in some cases we use these familial titles with some whom we are not even related, which signifies our special bond and closeness. I'm blessed with two very beautiful and smart nieces and so far, I thank God for them seemingly being able to be well-adjusted. They are not full of themselves, nor do they do the status-quo, they are individuals-they think! Once of my nieces is a freshman in hs and the other is in the 6th grade. My first night in CT, I took both of them to Barnes and Noble for a Frapp, some conversation and to check out some books. We had a great time, I love to hear their stories and see them interact. I'm often reminded of how my older brother and I often fought, but at the end of the day I knew he had my back and I his. I asked by brother if he'd cook a nice dish of macaroni and have my mom, aunt and me over for Sunday dinner since I can't remember the last time we did this. The older I get, the more nostalgic I get. While at dinner a family friend stopped by, Uncle R. He is not biologically related to us, and although I've known my nieces refer to him as Uncle R, it bothered me when in my presence they'd call him "uncle," since I'm the only one they call uncle, at least when I'm around. I adjusted and abdicated said title and in my selfish way knew that "uncle" is much more profound when meant for me. In comparison to my aunts and uncles I'm a terrible uncle to my nieces. If it weren't for my father's sister I may not even be where I am today. She was my everything-my mother, my advocated in some crazy times. My mother's sister also is and was of great influence to me and was more emotionally there for me than perhaps my own mother.
On the way back to DC, I FINALLY stopped in NYC to visit my cousin M. She has been inviting me for years to come and spend the weekend and even trying to get me to move there. I met M at Grand Central Station and her first words were, " handsome cousin." A greeting with my title "cousin." For us, it is not a formality, but a recognition of love. You are not just anybody, you are MY cousin, MY brother, MY uncle, MY niece, the titles concretize what we all know and make real our relationships-these relationships are unchangeable not matter what. I will forever be cousin, uncle, brother, son; I will forever be called "love."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Entitlement the PS way

Since I'm currently working for an inner-city public high school I'm often asked about my thoughts on the current state of schools and what may fix the major problem of education. I can tell you what will not fix the problem is money. Yes, I said it, money will not fix any problem, in fact, money will only make things appear nice, when in reality we are in a very sad state. I'm not denying that we as educators don't deserve much more, but paying us $100,000 is not going to force little johnny, timmy, or susie to wake up and take education seriously. Just because you throw some brand new computers in each classroom doesn't automatically mean that students are all of a sudden going to join the National Honor Society and attend Yale, Harvard, or Princeton. The computers look nice and now we can use the fancy term "technology in the classroom," but how do computers, new textbooks, or anything given on a silver platter really serve our students? The answer is, they don't. In my short 5 months in public education, I can now say with certainty why public education just doesn't work. Let me illustrate one example.
I was hired the very first day of the 2nd quarter and one of my students misled me to think that he was going to be moving to another state soon. I saw this student one time and never saw him again until the very end of the 2nd quarter, actually it may have been the beginning of the 3rd quarter. It just so happened that a teacher was running late and I was asked to cover a class for 10 minutes. The class I was covering was an English class. I entered the class, turned on the lights and greeted the students. Ms. R showed up shortly thereafter. Just before she arrived however, there was a boy in the front row who looked vaguely familiar to me. I wondered from where might I know him, then it clicked, this was the student whom I met nearly 8 weeks ago and led me to believe that he was moving away. To confirm the student's name, I asked Ms. R the boys name and sure enough it was he! Naturally I called home and wrote the child up for having skipped an entire quarter of my class. When the student decides to come to class he is disruptive since he has no clue of classroom procedures and knows even less of the subject matter. I asked the attendance officer if there was anything more beneficial for him instead of my class, to which she retorted, "he is entitled to a free public education." To me his entitlement was forfeited when he chose and still chooses to skip my class since in my opinion he is taking away from the free public education of those around him by being such a disruption. Some may criticize me by saying that as a teacher I should be able to control him or support him. This is a child who does not care about his success even after the many attempts to help him and the many chances I've provided him for success. This is the system that has failed him. We've established laws/rules that enable instead of holding individuals accountable. Public education is in a sad state and needs the help of God, not the help of legislators. Education starts in the home, period. The only way schools will become successful is when entire cultures begin to accept its responsibility and change the mindset of that culture. Perhaps we need legislation on family? Perhaps before getting married we require couples to attend parenting class (of course this presupposes the couple getting married), more accurately stated, before having children we require parents to attend parenting/family class? I don't know how to fix the bleeding, I don't know if anyone does, but the huge bandages that we keep trying seem to do little. I don't see education separate from the other issues we are facing in our nation. To me they are all interconnected. How do I teach a child discipline, accountability and respect if these values are not reflected by mom/dad and the society around them? How do I teach a child that when as a nation we have little respect for life, family, discipline? To me these are serious questions and those making the rules and those with the power ought to realize the immense responsibility they have with "the entitlement" they teach.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Starting to like class

In life there are so many distractions and things to occupy our time and energy. I often wonder how many of us consider what we allow to fill us or occupy us throughout the day. By no means do the daily distractions not affect me, they do. Although I own an ipod I made a conscience decision to not use it during my morning or evening commute which seems illogical since that's when everyone else in the city seems to use theirs. I find that most people live in their own worlds while listening to their Ipods and have little regard for anyone around them. All of us with the best intentions can easily fall into this pit of having no clue of what is going on around them if one has music pumping into his/her ears. Not only can this come across as little regard for others, but it can leave the Ipod listener falling short of a fuller experience.
The school for which I work has a no cell phone/no ipod policy. It looks great in print, in reality it is a joke. On a daily and even period basis I have to tell students to stop texting and even put the Ipod away a few times! Of course I can just confiscate their phones and ipods, but that is something I wish not to do, since I would be responsible if I lost the item. The discipline (or lack thereof) is another blog entry when I have an excess of time. Today, however, I decided to take a cell phone from S. S is a good-hearted kid and when he is paying attention and tries, he does well-imagine!? I moved his seat months ago, closer to me, closer to the board. That move proved positive since I can have easier access to what he is doing or not doing. Today he started off on a great note since he was wearing a NY Yankees hat (he often wears a crappy Boston hat or a Washington Nationals hat) and every day he takes off his hat before class too. Sure enough within the first 5 minutes I hear him fiddling with a bag of candy in his pocket. I go over to him and tell him to save the candy for later. Candy is not bad, just a distraction. As I'm continuing with the lesson I notice S not writing down notes and sure enough he is texting. Today was a different day, I take his phone and continue with the lesson. Today's lesson for my Spanish 1 class was learning how to say the time and how to use the verb Ir (to go). As an exit ticket, I had students do a textbook exercise that dealt directly with what they just learned. S finished the assignment and joyfully stated, "hey mr. s (he used my full name, I don't allow students to make abbreviations) I'm starting to like Spanish class." Being an educator for 9 years now, it is no secret that when a student feels successful and knows he/she is successful they enjoy the subject. Of course it helps to have a lively, engaging, handsome teacher (smirk, smirk).
I think this experience just reinforces that when we actually pay attention to what we are doing we may have a fuller experience. So how is riding on a bus in silence/without distraction going to make my experience a fuller experience? I don't know, perhaps greet others around you and by doing so become familiar enough to have kind dialogue? I wonder what humanity did pre cell phones and ipods? I'd venture to say we lived a fuller experienced life.

Please note: If any of my blog entries offends you, or seem close-minded, please let me know and I could explain or clarify.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Iced Coffee

It is funny how regimented I am regarding my weekly routines and even rituals. Not like you care, but M-F I drink tea while doing my morning devotions, getting ready and such. Like most, I'm addicted to some sort of caffeine. However, I "treat" myself to coffee on Saturdays and Sundays from either Dunkin' Donuts or Java House (a local place that roasts its own coffee) both places have great coffee. I will drink Starbucks, but not a huge fan. Behind me in line this morning a woman orders and I quote, "can I get an iced coffee, but not iced, more like cool, ya know, cuz it is not that hot out[side] yet." My human instinct was to turn around and ask her if she thought the barista could perhaps even change the coffee into wine, "ya know later in the evening," just for her convenience. Oh and there were at least 6 people behind her in line. Of course, I would never say what I wanted to, but it did lead me to some thoughts, many thoughts actually.
It seems we expect so much since we can do so much these days, especially here in the USA where whatever we may want we can get NOW, although who knows this may be changing as I type due to our failing economy, which in the long run might prove to be a blessing to our country. The ability for us to do the extraordinary, to do the miraculous even is a question all of us should ponder more often. What I mean by this, is just because we "can" do it, should we really? Of course I'm not speaking about making an iced coffee or even a "cool" coffee; however, I'm speaking about much more serious matters. Matters I'm not sure any of us really care about and if we did, why do we sit back and not do anything about it. I ask forgiveness what may seem like negativity or what may come across as harsh from this point on.
As a practicing Catholic I have such a hard time trying to grasp the concept of abortion. What's even more difficult for me to understand is how do we, a Christian nation, allow such crimes against humanity (and against God) to persist? The argument of when the cells are actually considered human is to me an absolute absurdity-why? Well, no matter what, those cells will ALWAYS produce the same outcome-a child, a gift. So how is it that a Christian nation allows the taking of innocent life? I'd venture to say the majority of our nation believes that killing an innocent criminal is wrong. It is in our nature, as humans, to know that killing is wrong. This is not a Christian principle, this is a universal human truth. What is even more profound and frankly, disheartening is to see such public "practicing" Catholics flat out deny the Church's fundamental teaching that abortion is a morally wrong and yes, folks, evil. Another term we don't use nor hear much, "evil." I wonder if the mothers of Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Kathleen Selibus (all "practicing" Catholics) ever considered aborting them, even if it were lawful then. Could it be that we as a nation and a people have moved so far away from God that we can no longer distinguish between what is right and wrong? Or is it that we are guilty of the first sin, wanting to become God and therefore we name what is good and what is bad. Perhaps it is a bit of both, we seem to know what is better and right for us and the hell to any Divine Revelation-that's stuff third world countries believe in. If you can't show it to me, if I can't touch it, then it isn't real-it doesn't exist. If only we truly understood the immense power that a husband and wife had, to create something out of nothing, then maybe we would think differently. We would then understand how much we ARE in fact made in the image and likeness of God, not gods, but made/created in His image, with His attributes. To me this is mind-blowing.
I have two women in my life (I will not reveal their relationships to me for their protection) who have both confessed to me that in total they have each had three abortions at one point in their lives. One is Catholic, the other is of a Protestant denomination. The abortions happened as late as 25 years ago to up to as early as 10 years ago. The pain and immense loss is so evident by the way these women lead their lives. Also, the Protestant one brings it up at least 3-4 times a year and tries to brush it off, but in truth, she can't and she can't grasp yet that it has caused her so much pain. She needs healing, she needs God's forgiveness in a very real way. Abortion is destruction, period. There is nothing good about it. It kills a child, it emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually leaves the mother wounded for life and even effects the core of society in a very negative way. Abortion goes not only against the Law of God, but on a very human level, it goes against Natural Law. It defies human logic, but yet it persists and in a very real way is going to soon be available in almost every clinic and hospital if Obama gets his way. We as Catholics, as Christians, as Jews, as Muslims, as agnostics, and even atheists need to wake up, stand up, and see that we are hurting and enslaving ourselves all in the name of freedom and choice.
Can I get an iced/cool coffee NOW!?! Please...

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Although it is only day 2 of blogging, I spent a good deal of the day pondering what might be the topic for today. Taking the city bus or metro provides me with plenty of opportunity for prayer and thought. I was unsure of what I'd be inspired to write about until about an hour ago. The most recent Catholic High School I worked for was amazing at encouraging both teachers and students to build personal enduring relationships. Within a few months of me working there back in 2004 it seemed like a perfect fit, especially this relationship building. The reason why I say this is because to this day I still keep in good contact with a number of my former students whom I like to call friends now. Since I live in DC, it is easy for me to visit them at their local universities or for them to visit me. It is nice to catch up on what's going on in their classes, lives, and such and share stories of times shared in high school and of the goings on now. It is a good inexpensive distraction (so far I haven't had to buy a meal while there) for me and allows our connections to stay more real. Our conversations vary from fun banter to even serious discussions, ones you wish you had more time to discuss and not have to leave to catch metro home. Tonight was one of those nights and I wish I had more time to talk to A since we were discussing some fundamental questions of God, faith and truth. But it wasn't any of these specific topics that lead me to today's thoughts. I don't remember the context, but within the discussion sort of as an initial good-bye, you know the kind of good-bye that lasts another 15 minutes before leaving, that kind of initial goodbye, I said to A, "I love you." A's response was, "yeah, I like you too." Being the kind of person I am, I retorted, "that's nice, you like me." A chuckled and said, "well people use that too easily." WOW, was he right! In fact, that's exactly how I feel too, is what I told him.

I grew up my whole life being told by my mom and dad of how much they love me, usually accompanied by beautiful expressions of that love, such as a hug or a kiss or both. See, for me the issue was that although my parents did and said this I often doubted their sincerity since, for the most part their actions said something else. Firstly, I have little to no recollection of my parents prior to age 8. So although my mom my have said and showed her love, why would she clearly choose things contrary to love. Things that would hurt me more than help me. The words did not match the other actions. My dad was the same way. Being of Italian decent, or at least Italian-American, or maybe just my family, expressions of love between father and son such as a kiss or hug were very common and certainly expected and not limited to just father-son relationships, but extended to grandfather-grandson, uncle-nephew and so on. But again, my father's actions and choices for him and for me seemed to contradict what he would often tell me. This is probably why I have such a hard time at expressing my love, as some of my friends would say. I seem the hardest on those to whom I am closest to and I'm much less expressive to them as well. There is a cliche that "Love is fickle." That's garbage, love is not fickle, lust is. We often confuse love for lust, and when people say "I love you," what they really mean is either, "I lust you, or I like you alot for right now." Love is not a mere feeling. Love is action, love is sacrifice. Love is a person. Love is truth. Love tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Love hurts, for it is often painful to do what is best and what is right, than to do what is common. Love is not hallmark cards, teddy bears, and candy. Yes, these are nice expressions, but this is not real, it is not authentic. It certainly is not "what can you do for me" mentality. A true measure of love is if there are appropriate actions along with appropriate words at the right time. I can't stand when people say they love you, yet never show it. Say what you mean and mean what you say, btw, coined by Jesus Christ, "Let your no mean no and your yes mean yes." Being a child of addicts one learns not to use the words flippantly, being a son of God, one learns that love is forgiveness, understanding, sacrifice, grace, joy and so on. I've learned to say and mean those three words to my family, friends, and yes, even students. For when I utter these words I also understand what's really behind them. For when I say it, I mean it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Hello blog world!
Those of you who know me may be wondering what's this all about? Well....good question. I've had a few friends suggest that I should blog since they find it interesting and thought that perhaps I would as well. I tried this before, but that was more out of a job requirement actually. I'm a high school Spanish teacher and we were encouraged to create blogs so students can apply/use technology that they already use, but for educational purposes. I actually enjoyed the process, who knows if they did or even learned anything from it (hope so!).

So....why am I doing this and what's up with the title of this blog? First things first-I'm doing this because there is a certain element lacking in my life right now and perhaps this may fill that void. You see, for the 9 years that I've been an educator I've been blessed to teach in Catholic High Schools, thus the topics of God and Religion were permitted to be spoken about and in fact, encouraged. I'm currently teaching public school where no such thing is permitted or tolerated (obviously). Oh yeah,, God and religion are all of utmost importance to me and thus the ability to express and share this in my work environment which I've been so accustomed to is no longer the case. The transition has been a difficult one and how I got here is an even longer story. So, go ahead and give me the 2-3 minutes it takes you to read this and just maybe it may aide me in filling a certain gap.

Now-what's with the title? Anybody who really knows me, knows that one of my absolute favorite saints is none other than the most recent Doctor of the Church, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. I've always had a strong attraction and devotion to her and to this day, still do. Her autobiography which she wrote only out of obedience is entitled "Story of a Soul." I LOVE this book and read it 2 or 3 times a year easily. Saint Therese may seem pious with her flowery language, but she is the real deal for those who grasp the spiritual life (I don't profess to grasp it perfectly, just struggle along). For me, I don't mind the flowery language, in fact, I adore it. I think we are too harsh in our language today and perhaps could approach each other more reverently. So why is she my "fave?" Well, it is what we have in common that draws me to her (insert jokes here-not!) She lost her mother at an early age, clung to her father and sisters and defied all "rules" and entered a Carmelite Monastery. Although my parents have not died in the physical sense, I've lost them both at an early age and my childhood memories of them a far and few. I clung to my grandmother, aunt, brother and family much like she did. (It wasn't until the 8th grade or so that I began to look to God and my faith for guidance.) I didn't defy rules, but I did enter a Franciscan Order at the age of 18, which is nearly unheard of today, and most communities don't accept anyone at that age. So in some way I thought our lives had some similarities and as a young religious often identified with her and her life.

I'm sure I'm boring you (if you've made it this far), look for more rants, raves, trials, experiences, laughs, joys, sorrows and so on in the future.
Feel free to comment, question, wonder, but please be respectful of each other.