Behold the Perfect Moment / Perfect Family / Perfect Life*
In this recent photo, a gorgeous family camps on a faraway beach in paradise, savoring the sunset in front of their beloved yellow VW bus. Aaron’s the only man Adrienne ever had, and she loves him at this sun-kissed instant just as she did when they met as teens 25 years ago. He tattooed their vast life adventures across his lithe body and muscular arms with which he pulls his flaxen-haired squad in close. Together, they read, surf, cook, laugh and explore magical places: Thailand, Rome, Yellowstone. The world is theirs to conquer.
Now, let’s take a closer look. Just hours before this pic was taken, Aaron spent the morning at the hospital in excruciating pain, prodded and poked in his belly, where cancer raged. Thinking he might expire that very day, he told his wife, “I’d rather die camping than bubble-wrapped in a hospital bed.” So they geared up and drove. This photo does not show Adrienne’s panic attack en route to this beach. Nor the Fentanyl patches on Aaron’s back. And how, just minutes before, she got the VW miserably stuck in the sand, nearly sabotaging the excursion. As that glorious sun set behind them, their universe was totally unraveling.
The truth is rarely evident to our naked eye.
Jodi and I came to Cost Rica for an ex-pat “Bucket List Year” with our children. This wildly successful experience showed us a simpler way to be, to raise kids, to spend our days. It shifted our priorities so deeply that we remain for a second year and have started construction on a home. While our future remains a beautiful mystery, we are in for the wild ride … and invite you to join us.
Our life looks pretty peachy in pics and on social media these days: sunsets, fitness, waterfalls and giggling kids. But, let’s be clear … bounteous as our circumstances are, I often wake feeling lost and untethered lately … unsure and unclear on my next move … as a dad, as a creative, as an American. Thing is … self doubt does not photograph as well as me surfing with my kids.
Parenting two complex, ever-clashing kids is rough and getting rougher, particularly negotiating the ADHD minefields of our youngest. Are my intuitive fathering choices in this complicated moment wrong, too angry and judgmental … even psychologically damaging to the kids and their longterm view of me? Are we misguided to invest in a dream sanctuary immersed in natural splendor far from the bustle … just to fill it with two kids who fight viciously and constantly? Hardly pura vida. Thank god for Jodi’s level head and constant reassurance.
And then there’s the massive question of purpose.
Being north of fifty and far removed, literally and figuratively, from all our lifelong reference points, Jodi and I constantly reflect on whether we are doing enough for the world (we are not). And what crisis to focus our energies on (there are so many). I recently presented an Artist Talk and For Freedoms Town Hall to a diverse packed house at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Fellow artist, Zoe Buckman, and I explored How Success is Measured in Activist Art vis-à-vis our practices. The evening then pivoted to a Town Hall discussion that quickly became very emotionally charged and highlighted painful racial fissures in the local community. Afterward, I received very conflicting messages: general praise from the white audience and disappointment from the black audience. To me, this dichotomy exemplifies the racial disconnect between well-meaning liberal citizens. And it reveals a blind spot in my attempt to be of greater service as a connector and champion of societal fairness. I am grateful for this wakeup call, because one of my priorities, as I enter this next phase of life, is discovering how a middle-aged, middle-class, white guy can best add value to these critical conversations.
In today’s Insta-world, we often work overtime to make our lives appear golden … viewed with a tad of envy, even. The tricky part is that much of what we see is, in fact, exactly as it appears. In the photos above, what you actually see is an extraordinary 25 year fairy tale starring four people who cherish and love their lives and lean into one another to savor and suffer all that life has to offer. You see a seasoned couple whose flame still burns hot and who prefer to stay home, drink wine and crack each other up instead of going out on the town. And you see two wonderful boys, raised to be adventurous gentlemen by fearless parents who understand that time is precious and the cameras are rolling.
Thank you, Adrienne, for allowing me to share your story of devotion and loss. Your journey with Aaron illustrates the power of life’s deepest connections and complex illusions. I cannot for a minute understand your current pain, but I will tell you that your radical courage and fierce honesty are what Jodi and I hope to infuse into our new home on a hilltop overlooking the Costa Rican sea where Aaron’s ashes roll with the waves. We aim to create a place where all can be vulnerable and safe. Where children and friends, old and new, explore ideas and nature. And work together to fix what’s broken in ourselves and our world. No illusions. No masks. Just room to exhale, contemplate, cry, laugh and escape.
In his book, In Love With The World, Buddhist monk, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, writes, “We are all transformed through love and loss, through relationships, work, kindness, and tragedy. But we get scared of change, because when we identify with a pattern of behavior, giving it up can feel like death itself.” For Jodi and me, as our patterns of behavior continue to change radically, I welcome this ego “death” and the annihilation of the labels that construct my identity: artist, activist, entrepreneur. Though I imagine this “death” is part of what is making me feel lost. Still, I embrace it, because I am not those labels. Nor are you your labels. We are just people doing our best to find light in a dark world.
Finally, check out this insightful piece in Cultured Magazine, where Zoe Buckman and I interview one another about the evolution of our practices and life goals. This article is honest and unadorned, and I’m proud of it, for that is what I aspire to be.
*No such thing