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  • Writer's pictureJoe Colaizzo

Someone asked me last night if I was going to do any writing today. The weather was going to lend itself to a day inside with a coffee and a computer.

“I’m not sure,” I responded. “I’m looking for an inspiration.”

I had been spoiled lately. The past few weeks were kind of easy with a jolt coming from the passing of certain celebrities. Nothing like a major event of those types to make someone pause and reflect a little.

But no such “punch-in-the-face” events this week, so I felt stuck. And I was beginning to feel that my self-imposed schedule of a biweekly posting was in serious jeopardy.

So, with no writing topics to debate, we talked about the upcoming weekend. She was spending hers with her kids. The genuine joy in her voice of watching their soccer and wrestling matches was obvious. Back and forth from the field to the gym with not much time in-between to breathe, let alone eat and it all sounded like the best weekend possible. She would be working extra hard today so she could focus on the weekend activities. I couldn’t help thinking of the “my kids come first” mantra that we hear proclaimed from the mountaintop. Her kids come first.

I woke up in the middle of the night not only to the sound of some pretty harsh wind-driven rain but also to the blaring sirens of the local volunteer EMTs racing from their garage down the street. I groaned as I peered out the window, watching them race down the street, knowing that it would take me a while to fall asleep again. Lying down again I couldn’t help but think of these volunteers, racing in the cold rain at three o’clock in the morning, to help someone they didn’t know. I bet they would much rather be in bed in their own home. I

wondered if I would lose that bet.

Getting to the gym in the morning is hard enough but with interrupted sleep, it was bordering on unbearable. I forced myself as the guilt of not going would surely be worse. My usual spot on the cable pulley machine was open so I claimed it and set the weight. On the other side of the machine was this disabled kid who I’ve seen from time to time. He fastens this hook contraption to his right arm so he can grip the bar above and pull. Asking for help when he needs it, he never really seems to stay very long, but at least he goes is what I always conclude. Whenever I see him, I notice the hook and get back to my workout. This morning I noticed something else. A smile. Happiness and accomplishment at conquering twenty pounds. I don’t think he saw me staring as he pulled the hooked bar down to his chest. At least I hope he didn’t. I raised the weight on my end, took a deep breath, and pulled.

Today is Michael’s birthday. My middle son turns twenty and that alone still amazes me. He’s a quiet kid who never asks for anything which makes things like birthdays and Christmas a bit of a challenge. Another unique quality is his unwavering commitment to his younger brother. Making sure John brings his headphones to the mall, Michael’s on it. Ensuring the iPad is charged, taken care of. Verifying his brother brushed his teeth since dad went to bed before them, no problem. He was never asked to take on any of these responsibilities, it just came naturally. The impact he is making in the life of his brother is unlike anyone else’s. And I mean anyone! Just watch the look in John’s eyes when Michael is around, and you know.

The rain let up, so I decided to come to my favorite spot in Barnes and Noble. A venti coffee and my computer on the table in front of me. I will be doing some writing today.

I was looking for an inspiration.

I have to stop looking so hard.

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  • Writer's pictureJoe Colaizzo

I’ve been on one helicopter.

It was a chilly mid-winter night in 2007 and, as part of a program to get to know my new hometown better, I had the opportunity to accompany the Philadelphia Police Aviation Unit on one of their helicopter patrols. With hundreds of airplane flights under my belt, I was well prepared. I greeted my female classmate and boarded the aircraft for the 90-minute tour.

We took off at dusk and the setting sun complimented the emerging lights of the Philly skyline. Cruising at such a low altitude provided a unique vantage point of the city. Close up fly-bys of the art museum and city hall contrasted perfectly with the up and coming Comcast Center. A beautiful night for such a relaxing trip.

About thirty minutes in, a call came over the radio of a police pursuit in need of air support. As we made the jump to light speed back towards Northeast Philadelphia, I realized that I was not prepared for the relaxing trip embracing its true purpose of a police patrol.

In no time we were over a dark section of the city, far removed from the sparkling lights of downtown. Communicating with the ground the pilot turned on the spotlight, quickly locating the active pursuit. To provide optimal lighting we tightly spun over the streets and back-alleys. And we spun. And we spun.

“Are you ok?”my classmate woke me from my blank stare out the window. She was having a grand old time and my feeling of embarrassment was only surpassed by my feeling of nausea. From the front, the second in command reached back to me with a smile and a plastic bag. I looked away from my classmate and tried not to think of how pitiful I looked with my head buried in the bag.

The pursuit ended and we went back to base where I was directed where to dispose of my self-made souvenir. We laughed at the limits of my masculinity, took some pictures and said goodbye.

It was the only time I’ve been on a helicopter and I may never go on one again. Reflecting on that experience is a great memory for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I have one daughter.

It was a warm late-spring night in 1998 when, as part of growing the family in accordance with the plan, I first met Catherine. With three years of fatherhood under my belt, I was well prepared. With two more brothers to follow, my routine of paternal process was well instilled and operating effectively.

We regularly ventured out to the usual family destinations. The mall, the restaurants, and the occasional vacation. Her energetic, confident and talkative personality contrasted perfectly with the more reserved style of her brothers. A mini version of me that was easy for me to relate to.

About fifteen years in, the door to her room closed more regularly. As she made the jump to light speed, I realized that I was not prepared for my daughter embracing her true purpose of becoming a woman.

In no time we were far removed from the fun little trips to the mall. I learned that communicating with someone who was so much like me was not always easy, and we often fought over the rules and responsibilities. And we fought. And we fought.

“Ok”, my daughter responded when I asked if she wanted to share a cheesesteak. I was driving her home from a party and it was the only courageous way I could break the silence. We sat on the hood of my car and she reached to me with a smile and half a cheesesteak. I learned how pitiful I was to bury time with those fights.

The father-daughter date ended and we went back to base where I was less insulted now when she closed the door to her room. We talked and laughed that night for the first time in a long time, shared things about our lives and said goodnight.

Catherine is my only daughter and I will not have one again. She has given me so many great memories and I can only imagine the wonderful memories she will give me in the years ahead.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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  • Writer's pictureJoe Colaizzo

I spent this past weekend with someone who, I believe, is arguably the only truly authentic person I know.

You see, this person is not afraid of what others might think of what he does or what he says. Not afraid of showing his vulnerabilities when he needs to ask for help. Not afraid to approach life differently than you or me without fear of judgment.

Complementing this approach to life is an acceptance of the approach of others. Accepting of what they think and say. Accepting of how and what they do. Without judgment.

This person is one of the happiest people I know. Happy with himself. Happy with life.

This person is my youngest son John. John, as you know by now, has autism.

Putting aside for a moment the multitude of challenges and difficulties that autism presents individuals and their families, I’d like to focus on an extremely critical attribute I continue to learn from him. Authenticity.

What does it mean to be authentic? Good old Merriam-Webster defines it as being Real, True, Genuine, Not False, Not Phony. Of course, we know what authenticity means. We are all authentic. Right?

Well then why are there truckloads of books, articles and blogs on the power of authenticity and how to be more authentic? Is there something that we are missing? Is it hard to be truly authentic?

You’re damn right it is. In this world where we celebrate uniqueness but also demand conformity, being truly authentic is a tightrope that all of the “normal” people get to walk on every day.

I personally like another definition.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown defines authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are” and “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen”.

A daily practice? Daily choices? Damn, no wonder we keep talking about authenticity as if it’s some holy grail of being that so few of us attain.

But why is it so hard to let our true selves be seen?

If you haven’t yet watched The Power of Vulnerability, I highly recommend it. Sticking with my preferred expert on authenticity, Brené Brown discusses how vulnerability is the core of shame and the fear of being disconnected or not accepted. The authentic person acknowledges and embraces their vulnerabilities.

Ah ha! That’s why! Who wants to embrace vulnerabilities?

This is where John continues to teach me. He is open and at peace with his vulnerabilities. If he has trouble with reading a word, he asks for help. If he needs to put on his noise-reducing headphones because the mall is too loud, he will. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not just because of what others might think or say. He is not constricted by perceptions. He is free from the negative power of the judgment of others. He is free from negative judgments of himself. Every day, he is simply his authentic self.

Now, being authentic doesn’t mean you need to bare every little detail about your private life. It’s more about finding a balance between what you share and what you don’t. And let’s face it, there is probably a little room for all of us to share a bit more of who we are, and what makes us tick, so as to develop a deeper connection with others.

Here’s a challenge for all of you. The next time you are with your significant other, your boss, your colleague, whoever, see if you can weave in a sharing of vulnerabilities as a way to get to know each other better. Yes, I know that there will be nothing but resistance and avoidance, so make it a fun one. An inconsequential part of your life that you have felt a bit weird sharing with others but at the end of the day it’s a fun part of who you are, and it really doesn’t matter.

Consider it a baby step towards that deeper connection. A baby step towards greater authenticity.

A baby step towards freedom.

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