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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Forty-Eight and Happy the World Isn't Mine...

Was Tony a happy camper?
When I was in my early twenties, I had my life meticulously planned out.

By the age of 25, I was going to be a news reporter on a local television station. By the time I was 30, I was going to be anchoring a local newscast somewhere. At 35, I was going to be a network news correspondent and sometime in my 40’s, I was going to have my name attached to a nightly network newscast, i.e., “The ABC Nightly News with Carlos Espinosa” (Modesty was obviously not my strong suit!).

I was young, ambitious, and was only concerned about myself (not to mention, I weighed almost an entire Backstreet Boy less than I do today and was in great shape, so I was cocky and thought, like Tony Montana, that the world was mine!).

I wanted to be a “star,” to have tables waiting for me at restaurants, crowds parting like the Red Sea whenever I walked by, women throwing themselves at me and people asking for autographs. I wanted a mansion in Key Biscayne, a Porsche 911 Carrera (I didn’t know any better) in my garage and more money than I knew what to do with (in other words, Montana only taller sans the drug dealing). That’s what I thought was success. That's what I thought would make me happy.

Well, so much for the best laid plans of mice and men. Outside of working as a news reporter in my mid-twenties, everything else that I thought would make me successful and happy went up in smoke. And, in all honesty, now, as I look back on my life, after celebrating my forty-eighth birthday on Tuesday, I thank God.

What’s that old joke about God and making plans? Oh, yeah; “Do you want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans!”

Now my wife will tell you that, even though I may not be as young or ambitious any more, I still struggle with self-absorption.  And, considering how upset I got on my birthday, when I found out that the kids and I couldn't go to Port St. Lucie to see the New York Mets (my favorite team) workout because my younger daughter has her first soccer game of the season on Saturday and both girls have to take their ballet photos on Sunday, I can see her point. (C’mon, ballet photos? That’s just another way of extorting money from us!)

Anyway, despite my self-centered tendencies, and at the risk of sounding like a cornball (which of course, I am), I can honestly say, as I reflect on where my life is today, I couldn't be more delighted.

My life is so much richer than I could have ever imagined when all I was thinking about was becoming “somebody,” having lots of cash in my pockets and all the material toys that society told me were important.

No, the ABC Nightly News doesn’t have my name attached to it. But, my wife and three children do. And, at least for me, that is by far, the greater accomplishment.

Moreover, I can say with all sincerity, that I don’t know where my life would be without them. No really, the kids, not only bring exponential joy to my existence, but they are tax deductions.  And my wife, is not only the love of my life and, like Jerry Maguire's Dorothy, completes me, but she pays our bills, takes care of the house, serves as the kids’ taxi driver to soccer and ballet, helps them with their homework, does our laundry, prepares dinner for us and lunch for the kids, and much more. (I want you to know, I throw out the garbage and put the dishes in the dish washer!)

Yet, despite how much I appreciate my family now (although that may be subject to interpretation for my wife), that wasn’t always the case.

I remember up until several short years ago, my wife often telling me, “You’re never happy,” because I was apparently always searching for more.

Although I would argue that I was happy, it was evident to anyone, except myself, that I was never satisfied with all the blessing I had, including my beautiful wife and healthy children.  I was always wanting more and comparing myself to others who had it (and, to play pop-psychologist, possibly, battling the demons in my head for failing to reach all my early ambitions).

There was a void deep within me that I never realized was there until it was filled by the grace of God, during a spiritual retreat about six years ago.  It was a turning point in my life and spun my priorities upside down.

I guess you can say, I found God (but unlike The Fray, it was not on the corner of  First and Amistad).  That more I was always searching for was filled by an inner peace and a sense of fulfillment that I had never felt before. I felt true joy in my heart.   

On Tuesday morning, during my three and a half mile run, which ended up being more like three because I couldn't keep going (I really need to drop at least a third of that Backstreet Boy I'm carrying!), I started thinking about my life and how different it may have been if I had reached the goals I set in my 20’s.

Knowing my own weaknesses and flaws, I can say with confidence that had I become the celebrity I sought out to be, I probably would have been consumed by my own pride, ego, vanity and arrogance (which is enough of a battle for me even in obscurity).

If I had reached the financial wealth I wanted, I may be drowning in my own greed and/or vulnerable to all the traps and temptations that having more money than knowing what to do with often breeds.

And, if I had attained my career aspirations, I may have been lost in a never ending cycle of travel, overwork, stress, petty competition and other demands, at the expense of my personal life and, possibly, my family (if I even had one).

Of course, I'm just being hypothetical, since I’ll never know if God’s grace would have penetrated through my worldly skin. But, excess often leads to more excess and a never ending search for happiness through the physical, material and natural, which, unfortunately, is evident in the lives of many of today’s celebrities and public figures (not to mention, the rich; just see Keeping up With the Kardashians, and Real Housewives of wherever, among others).

I often quote St. Augustine who says our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God but there's a statement at the beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that puts it this way, “The desire for God is written in the human heart… and only in God will we find the peace and happiness we never stop searching for.”

That definitely hits home for me. In other words, I could have searched my entire life for true happiness and never found it, outside of God.

It’s funny, at my age, some men, realizing they have not reached their goals in life and seeking to fill the emptiness, often go through what is commonly known as a mid-life crisis.

Many attempt to fill the void through the material and go out and get a new sports car, motorcycle, or boat.  Others, sadly, seek emotional fulfillment and decide to trade-in their wives for a newer model with all the upgrades. Then there are those who, at my age, try to find themselves (which, in all honesty, if they haven't found themselves yet, they may be lost!) or come to terms with their own eventual demise and try to complete their bucket lists.

Maybe, I’m too tired, too lazy, too poor, or just too joyful, but none of that interests me.

I am happy with my life; with wife and children and the health that we have, with our many close friends, with my job and my wife’s job, which affords us the ability to send our children to Catholic school. I’m content with our small two-bedroom house that we have outgrown and with my leased Honda Accord sedan, that, unlike the Porsche 911, has enough room for my entire family (without having to pack the kids like sardines into the front end trunk!).

Maybe the world isn't mine, like I thought in my twenties.  But, now, I know it belongs to God and I'm happy with that as well. 

As for my bucket list, it only includes things that I want to do with my family; like going back to Paris with my wife someday (we went for our honeymoon), traveling with my family to Spain, France, Italy, the Vatican, passing my faith to them, teaching my son the intricacies of baseball and what it means to be a Christian man, and walking my daughters down the aisle on their wedding day.

I don’t remember praying much when I was making my lifetime plans, outside of desperation, but if I ever prayed for those goals, I am comforted by the words of a Garth Brooks song that says, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you're Talkin' to the man upstairs, that just because He doesn't answer doesn't mean He don't care. Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."

Then again, if I think about it more deeply, I realize that if I did pray for those things, my prayers were indeed answered. The underlined desire of my early goals was to be happy and now, I finally am…

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