(20) Fight P.A.I.N.

“This is amazing J-Man,” Pras professed from the back seat of the van, “That dude is magic on the grille….the food is literally dancing down my throat.”  

We had just stopped at THAT American Grille in Leominster.  I had promised to buy them lunch on my last day and was making good on my word.  Sitting in the school’s mini-van, I let them eat while I drove.  The bitter cold outside was not discouraging any of us from enjoying this time together. 

Interested by what I was just called, I looked in the rear-view mirror to ask Pras for an explanation, “No one has ever called me that before Pras…am I a super-hero now?” I laughed.

Jumping into the conversation from the seat beside me, Lauryn spoke, “We gave you a nickname…we’ve been using it for a while now.  You started as our teacher.  Then you became our friend.  Now we think of you as family.  So…you’ve earned it.  Shut up and just say thank you alright?”

Understanding that this was her way of being sweet, I obliged, “Thank you,” I said, taking my drink and holding it up to hers for a toast. 

“Where the hell are we?” asked Nel from the back.

He was clearly confused as driving through a residential suburb probably seemed strange to him.  “We are here,” I replied pulling into the driveway of a large brick house sitting upon a hill- better described as a mansion rather than a house.

Amazed, Nel wondered aloud, “Who’s house is this?”

Not wanting them to get excited, I told them, “We are not going inside…we are just parking here.  We are going to have our last class together right here in this van.”

The large house that would serve as our backdrop was recently purchased by a childhood friend of mine.  This friend was the most successful person I knew.  He had life by the balls…and this house served as evidence.  

Interestingly enough, when I last talked to this friend, he told me that he bought this house because it was built on the hill he and I used to go hang out on as kids.  “The best times of my life,” he explained to me.  He was hoping that living here would bring him back to those days; as life was now “all work and no play.”  He bought this house…spent all that money…worked all those hours…all so that he might be able to go back and relieve his youth.

Knowing that time was short, I explained all this rather quickly to my students before saying, “I’ve actually brought you here because I once read that in historical literature many important lessons are taught on top of mountains….  Do you know why that is?”  I asked; marking the beginning of this unorthodox last class of ours.

Not answering, they just waited for me to talk, “It’s symbolical.  It means that great feats in life take hard work and dedication.”  

Telling them this, I transitioned seamlessly into the lesson, “I actually brought you here because I figured that this would be a fitting place to tell you a few secrets.  Are you ready for the first one?”

Seeing nodding heads looking back at me, I wasted no time making my grand declaration to them: “Adults have no clue what the hell they are doing,” I said to them very matter-of-factly.

“That’s why we love you J-Man…you get it!” said Pras victoriously from his seat; offering me a high-five.

Everyone else jumped in on a brief celebration before I took over again, “Either do you however….so deflate those egos kiddos.”

I then explained to them that our civilization has advanced so rapidly that all of us are merely children playing in the dark ages.  “We have discovered fire…but are using it to burn down our own houses with it.  It is going to be your children that learn how to use technology properly.  I hope that you accept this truth and learn to listen to them better than we listen to you…. they will put this world back together.”  This was the first secret I came here to tell them.  

Returning our conversation to something more tangible, I asked them, “Do you know what I consider to be my number one priority as a father?” Not allowing time for a response, I answered my own question, “To make it so my boys are not scared of everything.”

I explained my reasoning, “So many people are making sure that my boys are scared of everything.  It’s not one individual that I blame for this-it is society in general.  It is everyone and everything.  Of course, there are justifiable reasons for a lot of it, but they need someone…me…that goes against the norm to show them that the world is not as scary as what they have been trained to believe.  There is far more good in this world than there is evil. There are more people that they can ask for help, than there are people to be scared of.  There is more reason for them to learn how to love, than there is for them to learn how to hold a gun. …. It is my responsibility to help them see this.”

This was a serious conversation that I wanted to get out of the way so that we could have some fun on our last day together.  I knew that my words were simply ‘noise’ to them right then.  There was no way I could make what I said change their perspective on life.  I merely hoped to plant a seed so that perhaps it would one day grow into something later.  

With that business out of the way, I was itching to share with them another-more exciting-secret.

“I’ve figured out how to make my story work,” I said before telling them the twist, “But…one of you is going to have to die.”

There was a moment of stillness in the car; something I had anticipated.  I was about to explain myself when a hand shot into the air, and an eager voice broke the silence….

“I’ll do it!” said Candace to the group.  Smiling that wonderful smile that the rest of us had wrestled out of her, she volunteered, “Can it be me?”  

Realizing that my explanation was not going to be necessary I simply smiled back, “Alright then…it’s a deal.  Candace-you’re going to die.  I promise you’ll be remembered.”  

Not needing any further justification; instead choosing to simply trust me and my crazy mind, they continued to listen, “So…I have to work on putting the pieces of the story together…but the ending is always the most important part…and I’ve written it already so that I could share it with you now.  But I can only share it with you if you promise to keep the secret that you are going hear at the end.”

“We promise,” they all said together.

After spending a few minutes setting up the story I was writing, I needed them to agree to one last thing, “Promise me this…that when we are done here today…you will laugh at me.”

A look of confusion spread to the four faces in the van.  Knowing what I had in store for them, I smiled as I handed them the last three chapters of my book: 

– Fight P.A.I.N.

– Mind-Blowing….And 

– Show-Stopping

We would read them together….


“The worlds gonna know your name.”  

Hall of Fame by The Script (Feat. Will.i.am)


Week 20- (1.22.21) – “Fight P.A.I.N.”

I had a dream….

In this dream we had figured out a way to change the world.  We had discovered something that was more valuable than all the money you could imagine…. More powerful than any government that ever existed…. More uplifting and inspiring than all religions combined. 

It was an, “IDEA!”

Was it delusional?  Perhaps??  But…WHO CARES???

It was a dream!  So, it did not have to live within the confines of our reality.  (This reality sucks anyway! …. Am I Right?)

Excited, I tried to explain it to my friend Billy the best I could by showing him the hand drawn ‘Octagon of P.A.I.N.’ that I had seen in this dream of mine.  It was this drawing that first got things started in this future world I had imagined.  Billy listened to me explain everything very intently.  He was so good at listening, and I loved him for it.  At the time he did not call me crazy, but I knew what he was thinking when he said one word to me when I was done…. “Patience.”

Unfortunately for me, Billy was right when he warned me to be patient.  I ended up getting myself into a lot of trouble trying to make this dream of mine a reality at first.  My ideas may have been exciting, but my expectations regarding schedule and public reception were unrealistic (perhaps ‘delusional’ is a better word).  I would have to fail first….HARD!  

But…I did not give up.  And now we have finally made it to that ever-extending finish line (or starting line; depending on your perspective).

Everything in life is a lesson, and my failures getting to this point are no exception.  

Failing helped me realize that people are unlikely to push you forward until you have momentum.   This is not applicable to all things, but if you ever find yourself reaching for the stars, attempting the improbable, or dreaming for the impossible, then you are destined to discover that most people you know will not be capable of supporting your endeavor.  Whether this is out of fear, embarrassment, jealousy, or simple dislike is unimportant.  Just know this: the reason why many of the people we call successful are not the nicest people is because being an A-hole is either a pre-requisite to achieving greatness or simply inevitable bi-product of getting there.  

If you do ever make it-someone is going call you an A-hole…you might as well accept it. 

Today I have done exactly that.  Sadly, Billy will not be here with me as I embrace this reality.  He died a year or so after I first had this vision of mine.   I dedicate the following to him; “I love you my friend.”


“You’re broken down and tired.”  

Rise Up by Andra Day

“What goes inside the Octagon?”

Before he passed away, Billy and I spent a lot of time discussing ideas.  When I first showed him the picture of the ‘Octagon of P.A.I.N.’ he asked me this question.

It was a great one, as we knew that whatever we put inside would become the foundation to what we would build.  Over time we had come up with a lot of thoughts on what we could use…but nothing ever really stuck.  

We would find ourselves talking for hours about what we could do once we figured out how to make the whole thing work.   See, we had the message; and we felt like we were the right people to deliver it, but we needed the story to get people to listen to us- to believe us.  Until we had that, it was all merely a dream.  A dream that Billy and I became obsessed with. 

Billy eventually got infected with the virus.  As my hope spread to him, he began asking ‘What-If’ questions himself.  I vividly remember realizing this fact the day he suggested the word we used could one day spark a revolution.  At which time I got to be the one teaching him something for once, “A revolution is run on the premise that breaking a system will fix our problems.  However, this will never work.  The only option is to evolve our current system into something better…something for everyone… something that will take time, but something that will be fun to create…. together.”

He may have thought that this was just a bunch of my B.S. at the time, but he did a fantastic job pretending to listen to me ramble on… “You cannot save the world by destroying it.  You must give it hope and let it heal.” 

These were not all simply ideas that I had come up with on my own.  I was merely channeling all the things I had seen and read over the years.  It was all now making sense to me.  Everything I saw, everything I did, everything that happened…all of it seemed to have happened for a reason.  

At the time I was reading a book called Sapiens that was suggested to me by another friend.  That is where I read something that would help me remember the most important element to this little mission of ours; “The most valuable economic resource at our disposal is trust in the future.”

How could Billy and I use our ideas to build something that would help create this trust? 

It all had to start with the word we’d put inside the Octagon.

In an attempt to figure out the perfect word to use, we asked ourselves what would be important in this future galaxy of ours?  

Faith? …. Love? … Forgiveness? … Family? … Friendship? … Dreams? … Spirituality?  …. There were endless possibilities that we considered.  Too many to try and remember right now. 

At this point of the story I must tell you that religion was super important to Billy.  In fact, he fought very hard to have this word put inside of the Octagon.  I understood, respected, and admired his love for religion-and all the good it offered the world.  However, I believed that religious pride could possibly deter humanity from our greater mission:  Which was to unite anyone and everyone in creating a future brighter than the reality that was currently being lived.  

To Billy there was only one book that a person needed in their life.  A lot of what we were talking about went against this philosophy of his.  I appreciated this internal struggle, and never made fun of it.  Instead we worked through it together…like all good friends do when faith and friendship war against one-another.   

The religion discussion was a conversation we had many times.  Each time it would come up, I’d have to convince him to see the bigger picture, “We must use a word that everyone can relate to.  A new word.  One with new meaning.  One that could unite people by representing a common desire in us all.  A word for the future….Do not think of what we are doing as replacing religion…instead consider what we are doing as adding to the wonder that makes it so important to its believers without deterring non-believers.  We need to have some shared sense of reality to bring people together-religion cannot do this alone.” 

As we drove around, playing with ideas, talking about a better world, dreaming about the future…arguing…Billy would always have the music blasting.  Music would be important to our mission, so we had been working on putting together our ‘soundtrack.’

It was on one of those drives together that it hit me….  

I had it!

Turning the music off completely, I turned to my friend.   

It was in the silence of that moment that I first whispered the word that would change everything…. “dIverge.”

Week 20- Question for Reflection:  

What does dIverge mean to you?

(Click here to continue to next chapter of the journey)


“…lets have a blast.”

And We Danced by Macklemore

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Read our story at: RecoveryHighSchool.com

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