Sunday, September 18, 2016


Amos Lee - Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NC, 2011
I took this!

"Woke up this morning 
and the sky was colored gray.

I gotta' do a little bit better 
than I did with myself yesterday.

Gotta keep myself from falling so far behind.
Oh, keep getting myself right on down the line."

If I remember correctly, I first encountered the music of Amos Lee when I was completing my National Board Teaching Certification renewal back when I lived in Wilson, North Carolina. I was tirelessly pounding out those reflections on the work I had accomplished that year and needed some music to pace the rhythm of keys on my laptop.

I am sure everyone has some artist who can energize you when you start falling behind in life or when you simply have lost that energy to keep pushing through an arduous task. This same artist who inspires can also be that breeze when a journey is accomplished, that gentle rain to wash away the dirt, that glass of wine to quench your thirst, that mirror to reflect who you are, where you have been, and where you are going.

Years ago Amos Lee performed at the Lincoln Theater, this old tobacco warehouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, that had been converted into a bar/concert hall which held not more than 500 people. I went to see Amos Lee at this theater on a rainy Saturday night with Toni Varrachi, a friend of mine from back in the day in Wilson. I recall arriving REALLY early at the Lincoln just to make sure we knew where the show was. When we saw a tour bus behind that dilapidated old building, Toni and I parked out back as well, hoping to catch a glimpse of Amos.

Toni and I bantered back and forth when we witnessed some guy with a beard exit the bus and enter the back of the warehouse through a propped open door. I told her we should run up to see if it was really him. My gut screamed it was him, but oddly I was still unsure. I have never seen Amos sporting a beard so I tried to assure myself that this figure could not possibly be him. I should have just hopped out of Toni's truck and coolly sauntered up to the door to find out. I hesitated. If I had a beer or two in me, I do not think I would have internally debated this decision. I shrugged my shoulders, reassuring myself it could not have been him, then Toni and I went to a local eatery until the concert.

We were early for the concert in order to secure a nice spot in the pit near the front of the stage. This spot was close enough for us to see that Amos Lee did have a beard. Damn. 

"Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on me.
Lord, have mercy, please, 
Cause we're running out of time."

The song "Running out of Time" on Amos Lee's latest CD Spirit speaks to that hesitancy we all have and its ramifications on how we see our world when we wake up in the every morning. In his opening verse Lee captures the emotions of a morning in which "the sky was colored gray," a self-critical product of his regrets for "falling so far behind" in the past. He needs to use this day as a new beginning, to add color to that gray sky by taking action in his life, thereby living his dreams and overcoming the hesitancy that affects us all at one time or another. Lee understands the finite nature of time itself. He asks "mercy" of the Lord because he realizes that he may not have strength to continue pushing forward.

"Oh, that train come 
Full speed ahead.
It's a rumbling down the track.
Well, I know that train ain't stopped before,
And I know that train don't know how to turn back,
so I gotta do a little bit better than once I did."

Lee's train metaphor reinforces what we all know about the nature of life itself with each individual person as a passenger. Life travels at "full speed" whether we are ready or not. As we grow older, we all learn that this train does not stop, and it certainly does not "turn back" for us. Thus, we arrive at the message Lee is conveying: "(we) gotta do a little better than once (we) did."

That's what life is, doing a little bit better each day we board that train. How do we do that? Regardless of our age, each of us should be more introspective, asking ourselves if we are loving our neighbors, our friends, and our families as we know we should, asking ourselves if we are stoking that inner fire of our passions so that our flame does not turn to embers then ash, asking ourselves if we are waking each morning to a gray sky that is a manifestation of our own regret because, deep down, we know we are running out of time.

Amos Lee - Running Out of Time


Amos Lee - Flower (Another GREAT song!)

Work Cited
Amos Lee. "Running out of Time." Spirit. John Varvatos Records/Republic Records, 2016.

Monday, September 5, 2016


The week leading up to Labor Day. Emotional roller-coaster. 

I am always pretty guarded with my emotions and need to step back from "life' to write a narrative that makes some sense of it all. I grasp at my strands of varying perspectives and attempt to weave them into some kind of a map, a mantra, a vision.

In all of my senior English classes, we take multiple roads toward finding our own voices in writing. It is certainly not easy for most people to find the words to match the thoughts and feelings which run through their minds as they place them on paper. I ask my students as they write in their journals, papers, or blog postings to keep writing and revising until they find themselves evident in the words.

On these roads my students take time to open their journals to each other, allowing others to identify what they find interesting or compelling. This can be traumatic to nearly all young writers. You take a risk to be genuine and real while praying no one ridicules you for what you have written.

So early last week, it came as no surprise that many peers struggled to say something "positive" to a fellow student. I make it even worse for them. No apologies. So often the students believe they only need to interact with me so I ask them to look directly at the person they are recognizing, smile, then send those compliments a-flying. This is both painful and joyous.

As I examined this activity, I recognized that it is not just about the student sharing his or her written word with others. This day, this week, this moment for so many of us, appears to be about how much of an impact we can leave on others through our words or actions. We can choose to be harsh, biting, and critical when the opportunity arises, but we can also choose to show support, encouragement, and unconditional love to those who open their journals to us, to those who wander into our lives. This day, this week, this moment for so many of us. Just making sense of it all.

CCHS Candlelight Vigil 2016

Friday night after the opening football game, the Central Catholic High School community remained in the stands, the weary football players stood on the track around the field, the past and present members of the student body gathered at the track fence, in a hotel parking lot in Huntington, and outside of dorms in Morgantown. We gathered for a candlelight vigil to pray for two people, both of whom have shown support, encouragement, and unconditional love to so many in this community. 

Jamey Conlin, a respected and beloved teacher and coach at Central, has been waging his own personal battle with cancer over the past year. I have only known Jamey for five years now and have to admire his inspirational courage to continue teaching and coaching last year despite undergoing treatment. The real evidence about Jamey's impact is reflected in the pictures people post of him on Facebook, the tributes that people write, and the stories that they tell of his graciousness and friendship. I have so many stories about Jamey, from his "jaggin" me, calling me "Hollywood" for wearing some random sunglasses which were too big for my face, to his patient explanation on more than one occasion of points and percentages to a mathematically-challenged English teacher. Keep up the fight, Jamey.

Saturday morning, I attended the funeral of Greg Sacco, another long-time CCHS alum and staff member. Monsignor Kevin Quirk delivered a beautiful homily about Greg's life and his humble nature as a Christian man. It triggered one of my best memories of Sac. Back when I arrived as the new teacher at CCHS five years ago, he wandered into my corner classroom as I unpacked my boxes and moved around desks, asking me questions about where I had been teaching for twenty years and offering to help with my return to Central in any way he could. It was not so much the assistance Greg gave that meant so much; it was the lasting memory of a man who provided a welcoming comfort and a spiritual presence just by being in his company at a time when I was unsure of my place here at CCHS. Thank you, Greg.

Falling back into my music collection is my way of creating a soundtrack to accompany the good and more difficult times in life. Back in 1992 Steven Curtis Chapman and Bebe Winans shared the vocals on a song called Still Called Today. The song focuses on our challenge of dealing with deep regret for emotionally hurting people that we love as well as the effect on those we have hurt. At its heart, the song is clearly about asking forgiveness from those we have hurt, recognizing that we have a finite amount of time in which to do this. The lyrics in the bridge of the song speak to more than that when taken out of the context of the song:

'Cause there's a time when the sun goes down
And the flowers are laid on the grave
Will the tears that fall to the ground
Be the tears of regret for the words someone didn't say

Moments to make amends, to express love, to show appreciation come and then - go. Do we ever consider how we "leave" things on a daily basis with the people around us? Do we ever wonder how we would feel or how another person would feel if that moment were to be our last together? We do not need to have someone fight a terrible disease to show appreciation for the value he or she has in our lives. We do not need to have someone pass away before we admit how much that person means to us.  Have we said everything we "need to say" to each other right now? Perhaps when people open their lives to us, we can look directly at them, smile, then send those compliments a-flying, doing it now - while it is still called today.

Sunday morning I drove my mother and Aunt Lou out to Ohio to visit my uncle at his nursing home. Uncle Bill has been there for over a year now and is doing well despite a couple falls and some seriously-challenged hearing. The day was a crisp, sunny day in September. We pushed Uncle Bill's wheelchair out onto the porch and around the parking lot. Mom and Aunt Lou "yelled" kind and gentle words into his better ear and shared candy and cookies with him. After two memorable hours on this Sunday morning, the nurse came to take Uncle Bill to lunch. Mom and Aunt Lou kissed him goodbye, said they loved him, and told him we would see him soon.

This is a YouTube video which contains the lyrics to Still Called Today.