Lying in bed with the three boys sprawled all over me, I pushed them off so that I could answer my phone. Seeing who it was, I told them I’d be right back as I left the room….
This call was unexpected and unannounced-normally I’d get an email before. Trying to sound excited, but secretly nervous, I answered, “Mr. Bernard! How are you?”
“Jose-my boy…you have to start calling me Bernie,” he said lightly. He didn’t do Facetime, so I could not see him, but his voice sounded like he had that goofy smile on his face. Which hopefully meant I was not in trouble; making me feel a little better about this surprise phone call.
I never referred to him as Bernie. Everyone knew him by this name, and if people knew he was the one that got me the grant for my program then people would “assume things.” It was easier to call him Mr. Bernard. It was not a lie…just something I did to prevent awkward questions.
Four years ago, this Senator saw a video I had made on YouTube and contacted me. Ironically, we met when I was in the hospital (A long story). I knew who he was, just like the rest of the world at the time, but really was not a fan. Which is probably why I’m still slightly ashamed to call him my friend today (people kinda suck…and they’d call me names if they now knew how much I loved and respected this person).
Hearing his voice on the phone, all I felt at this moment was admiration and appreciation for what he has done for me in my life.
“So…” he said, “In front of me I have some letters a few of your students wrote about you and your class…it looks like you are really making a difference over there.”
Someone must have given him the letters the students had written.
I assumed it was Principal Sam as she was the only person in direct contact with him; as far as I knew. I responded, “Thank you sir, I’m trying…it’s been a crazy year.”
Soon as I said this, I felt kind of dumb. Yesterday, I, along with the rest of the world, watched the news in horror and embarrassment as riots broke out at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. by supporters of the soon to be past president. They were disputing the election results. Fueled by outrageous claims and poor leadership, the scenes witnessed on television were scary and…well…sad.
Knowing that Mr. Bernard must have been right in the middle of all of this, my comment felt selfish.
“No kidding…I’m sorry I have not been in touch with you. With the election, and this virus, I fear I’m feeling my age…” Pausing before continuing he started to tell me why he’d really called, “Listen, I’ve heard the program didn’t get added funding. I’m calling to make sure that you don’t give up. You have something special there Jose… Are you almost done your book?”
This was a question I did not want to answer. Between being a dad, focusing on my students, and simply surviving, it was easy for me to put the book on hold. Writing it always had me questioning my sanity anyways; not to mention I had no idea how to finish it…so I simply had stopped working on it all together.
Not wanting to admit to all of this, I said, “I’m working on it…not really sure when I’ll be done though.”
“Listen…I think the world needs it. I really do. I want to read something to you….
‘They will use what is happening today to improve future life on this planet. Because of this, I suggest a full out assault on society using every weapon of entertainment at our fingertips. We need to entertain to transform. We need to accept that this is our responsibility. We need to take pride in how we effect the human psychology. We need to get people dreaming again. We need to give people hope. We need to create a spark. It will take a lot of work, but it will have two major advantages: It will be fun….and…it will save the world.’
“Do you remember writing this?” he asked me.
Throwing up in my mouth slightly, but maintaining my poker face, I responded, “Honestly…not really.”
I was being truthful-not modest. Writing this got me in a lot of trouble. I had blocked a lot of away. Hearing it simply embarrassed me.
“I appreciate your desire to be in the classroom Jose, I really do, but I don’t think you can accomplish what this world needs you to by being a teacher. Perhaps the lack of funding for your program is a sign that you should be doing something different to get your message out there…. Have you considered politics?”
We talked for a while after that.
He had called to simply check on me. Unfortunately, he had no magic solution to the problem of funding. Just like the rest of the world…everything was on hold until this storm blew over. I was not anyone special.
Bernie was a dreamer, asking me if I’d ever considered politics validated this fact. But I respected him, so any word that escaped his mouth I took time to consider. How would a life in politics fit in my life? What would I be?? How would it even begin???
Laying back in bed with my boys I considered these questions as the movie played in the background. I could feel my mind escaping into the realm of impossibility. This was a dangerous area for it to go and I had learned how to identify and avoid it whenever possible. Literally shaking my head to bring me back into the real world, I watched the movie that was playing in front of me…a Disney movie named Big Hero 6:
“Shake things up! Use that big brain of yours to think your way out!” The big brother on screen was talking to his younger brother. Holding him upside down by his feet, he told this young mind to, “Look for a new angle!”
That is when my mind woke up.
I had it!
I knew how to end my story!
Lying there, I wondered…would it work?
Week 18- (1.8.21) – “P.A.I.N. through Fear”
This could not be real. After everything that happened, was I right to believe?
Sitting in my chair, the bright lights shining back at me were blinding. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. When I could finally see clearly the site before me was nothing short of a miracle.
There was no way I could guess how many people were in the crowd. Trying to identify those I recognized was difficult at first. So many faces I had never seen before looked back at me. As I looked more closely, I saw family and friends of mine were scattered everywhere.
Slowly my attention was brought to the people sitting in front; only a small distance separated us. It was then that I realized everyone who had helped me get to this point in my journey were there to support me.
I had to smile to myself as each and every person I saw had our trademark red hat on.
For what seemed like an eternity the music that made this a reality played for all to hear; they chose a Macklemore song…interesting choice, I thought. As it played, the crowd dance; with the host right alongside them. I on the other hand could not move; I was glued to my comfy seat on stage.
The ironic thing about all of this was I was not anyone special. If anything, you could call me a modern-day pirate. I did not have money. Nor was I famous. I stole people’s attention by lying and cheating. I definitely was no genius-anyone could do it. I was simply your average Joe.
As the song came to a close the crowd stayed standing. I had never seen so many people smiling at once.
The host made her way on stage with a glowing face that was filled with excitement. Sitting down next to me, folding her legs beneath her, she grabbed a sip of her water and calmly waited for her enthusiastic crowd to go silent. The environment that this show created was electric. Never did I dream that I would experience it like this.
Our eyes met, and we both smiled. This was really happening. Ellen was about to ask me a question on live television…
“So, Jose, the question everyone wants to know the answer to…. Have you gotten the girl?”
The crowd laughed and my host smiled her signature mischievous smile. I turned red but did not mutter a word. Instead I let her continue.
“Of course I’m joking. Everyone knows that story,” waving her hand like she was dismissing the question she added, “We won’t make you take valuable time discussing it any more than it has already….can we talk about this YouTube video?”
Nervously, I shook my head in an attempt to say, “Please No” without having to actually use my words.
At that moment, an assistant appeared from backstage.
Wearing a black butler suit and bow-tie, this handsome man walked past Ellen and placed a large silver serving tray on the table before us. Using his crisp white gloves, he took the lid off of the tray to reveal a ham sandwich, “In case you get hungry,” Ellen giggled; looking back and forth between me and the audience with wide eyes.
The crowd howled for what seemed like an eternity. As the joke receded, Ellen spoke, “Well then, let’s get right to it shall we….What is the secret???”
This question was a planned part of our interview. I sat hoping that I could deliver the show-stopper I had promised. My stomach jumped to my throat as I tried to remain calm.
Were they ready though?
In a moment I would be telling the audience to reach below their seats. There they would find my secret written on a small, smooth, white rock in black magic marker.
In order to give the moment a climactic feel, I did not say a word.
Stretching the moment out, I stayed silent and went to reach down to take a sip of water…in just a few seconds they would forever laugh at me….
As I leaned over, I realized that my hands would not do as I wanted.
I looked down to see what was going on. A ‘straight jacket’ was holding my limbs in place. I could not move.
When I looked up in horror, all the faces in the crowd started to laugh.
This was always my greatest fear.
How could I be so dumb? How did I let this happen again?? Why didn’t I just give up???
The audience went silent, as the room went dark. Looking up, frozen in fear, a single person was left in the crowd. From this distance all I could tell was that this person glowed orange; perhaps it was a clown?
Moving at super-human speed the character rushed me on stage. Recognizing who it was by his cotton-candy hair, I watched him smile as he lifted his right hand and pointed it at my head like he was holding a gun….calmly, he spoke, pulling the imaginary trigger in his hand he said, “You’re Fired.”
I QUICKLY WOKE UP FROM THIS NIGHTMARE OF MINE….
Sitting in my bed-soaked in sweat- fear again forced me to face the question that had haunted me ever since I came up with the idea… “Do I really believe I can do this?”
Despite this dream-this sign from the universe warning me to stop-my curiosity trumped my fear I was going to have to find out….
The truth is, things rarely happen the way we imagine them happening in our minds (or in our dreams). Most of the time, how things unfold in real life is completely unpredictable. Unfortunately, because we spend so much time worrying about what has happened in the past, or what could happen in the future, we get stuck living in fear; where nothing productive ever takes place.
As I leave you this year, and prepare for what lies ahead, I need you to know that you have all helped me realize that I have been living in fear for far too long myself.
It is because of you that I now confidently prepare to take on the unknown. You are my super-heroes. The faces of the future. The blood in my veins….
“In the vacuum of time. All possessions are merely things. Ideas and dreams are the only investments you need consider.”
You have all made me a believer.
Thank you! – Mr. J
Week 18- Question for Reflection:
What are you scared of?