His influence is behind each great review of my books, or every transformational story of an 1-1 immersion I facilitate, or someone inspired when I am on stage.
Papa, was a very dark-skinned, bald Italian man that played the accordion, showed love by showering you with food, and was funny.
Funny even in tough times.
When he had his kidney transplant, from Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), he joked that he was lucky because his donor was 18, so he could pee like an 18-year-old.
I admired him and followed him around.
He would drive me to the mountains to look for deer and goats and even used my head once as a gun rest once when hunting (my ears are still ringing).
We would take long drives in a storm to watch the rain and lightning.
He even pretended his dog was driving (using his knees) and even pretended not to see my hoop earrings (or tell my mom) when visiting me in college.
He was always at my games or functions growing up, but it was the demonstration of unwavering belief, unconditional love, and being present with me that still lives in me today.
It lives on in the words of these pages and in the actions of my life.
So, his value to me and to those impacted by me, illustrates that his value could never be distilled down to something of mere economic circumstance, especially when it comes to my life.
The number of memories, the amount of encouragement, and the example he left for me have a ripple.
Right here, right now (cue Van Halen song) you are experiencing that ripple.
And he wasn’t doing any of this for acknowledgment or accolades; he did it because it is who he was, what he loved, and what he truly enjoyed.
And though my grandfather was one of my heroes, my mom may have shaped me more than anyone in the world.
There is nothing quite like a mother’s love, gentle yet fierce, unconditional yet with consequences.
She encouraged me to do things, try different things, and when I found something I enjoyed, go all in and finish what I started.
She told me I could do anything I put my mind to.
She let me know, no matter what she would be there for me and love me, even when I was being a little asshole!
My mom was dedicated.
She would drive me to early morning basketball practice and make me breakfast long before the sun was up.
Guitar lessons, sports, academics, friends, healthy meals, and church (I was an altar boy). You name it, she found time to support me through it all.
She may have had a job, but her priority was family and raising us kids.
We knew that.
We felt that.
In that, I am truly blessed, wealthy, and hit the lottery of life and family.
My family has a history of Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) and shortly after my grandfather died, my mom’s kidneys started to fail.
The mother that kissed me better when I was hurt, that told my wife and me we weren’t alone with tough news about one of our kids. The one that goes out of her way to make sure I am OK, even working for me and safeguarding my money as my controller.
My mom, the one who has always loved and believed in and been there for me.
When my mom got sick, she and my dad didn’t really let us kids know how life-threatening or severe it was.
They never wanted to worry us, but could only hide it for so long.
It was at my son’s baseball game.
She was having a hard time walking or standing because her cysts were bursting.
She was bent over in agony, yet still trying to walk to the bleachers.
She was trying to hold it together, and be tough, but there was no way to fake being ok with this level of pain. We could see the spasms as cysts would burst.
She had comforted me so many times.
She had told me it was going to be ok, over and over.
She made it ok.
And now, a rock in my life, a representation of acceptance, love, and order in the world, was suffering.
It was suffocating, devastating, and like watching all reality collapse, all else seemed insignificant and everything else faded in the background and ceased to exist.
To watch her struggle, grasp for air, and need assistance to even move is hard to explain.
It was a pit in my stomach. It was like watching it on a screen. How could this be?
I didn’t know what she was dealing with at this level.
Only she, my dad, and I guess her doctors knew.
And yet here she was, she made a commitment, and wanted to keep her word at all costs, showing up at her grandson’s game.
That is how she is, anything for the grandkids, anytime.
The saying on her front door is grandkids welcome anytime, kids by appointment only. She jokes that if she knew how fun grandkids would be, she would have skipped having kids – ha.
Normally, she has an infectious laugh.
She is funny too, I guess it is in the blood.
Part of our family.
Yet there was no room to laugh that day.
There was no smile.
Only twitching and tears, mainly our tears.
We were blindsided and I remember the look of concern on my wife’s face.
She adores my mom. We went home and wept, simply broke down crying in our bed. None of my family knew the severity because my parents didn’t want to worry us.
Worry, what a strange thing.
When we don’t want to worry people, we can create distrust by hiding, faking, and not allowing others in.
Worry prolongs the pain, it amplifies the loneliness and helplessness.
Yet, people eventually and inevitably find out.
What we hide from speaks so loudly and weighs so heavy.
Fake has a scent.
Fear has a vibration.
Both leave a trail… if we pay attention.
I hadn’t been paying attention, but this was my wake-up call.
When we keep to ourselves, people end up feeling worse and we prolong and increase our own pain. Those that love and know us feel bad because they didn’t know and would want to help. They end up feeling like they could have done more, if they only knew.
But society tells us not to complain because others have it worse. We don’t want to seem needy, imperfect, or broken.
I’ve been there.
We learn the wrong lessons – not to be a bother or not to feel emotions and apologize if we do.
Ever seen someone cry?
The first reaction is to usually apologize.
Because we might see the real you?
Don’t apologize, allow for others to connect.
Plus, we think our pain is unique and feel like an outcast, unlucky and remain isolated.
Yet, one of the most common parts of life is pain.
Pain is part of the process.
It is a gift, even if we hate the wrapping.
People universally carry around pain in one form or another and if we share, we can finally see just that.
That pain is there for everyone.
The most successful, the best looking, the young and old alike.
Isolation is born of worry that leads to disconnection, not connection.
Worry is a villain, operating in quiet desperation and silence when the key is within a word.
It is OK to say I don’t know.
It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.
That is why relationships are key, for the connection, for the support, and for the loving.
But beneath it all, we have to recognize our value, know that we are loved, and lovable just as we are; the good, the bad, the ugly. Without this acknowledgement, without this knowing, we will never be vulnerable enough to allow for support, solutions, or love.
Can you see how worry leads us in the wrong direction?
It is great as a tap on the shoulder, but as a constant companion, it is a thief.
It whispers lies of burden at the expense of connection.
Worry, for me, like my cysts, feels generational, inherited.
I still worry, but I’m getting better.
Being vulnerable isn’t easy at times and can even feel dangerous.
I have even discounted being vulnerable as unattractive and weak, thinking I have to always be alpha and a rugged individualist, limiting love.
This doesn’t help, it only hurts.
Love is about giving, but also about receiving.
Are you good at receiving… compliments, support, and comfort?
When you are able to add value, solve problems or serve someone do you feel more or less connected to them?
Become a better receiver.
This has taken time for me, it still takes work.
But instead of silently suffering, I’ve learned to write, communicate, share, ask for others’ support, and hardest of all, to be vulnerable.
We can handle hard together.
In the face of my mom’s dark and stark reality, I got to see the best of humanity.
The very best.
The most inspiring, connected, and wonderful hope that a dire circumstance can call forward.
At that very baseball game my mom attended, I had a client and friend Brad Boeke with me.
When he saw my mom, he immediately offered his kidney.
And this 6’7” Texan was damn serious.
He told her she would be able to piss across any room with a kidney his size.
We weren’t sure if he was a match, but we were floored. It might be a solution, but my mom had been through this before.
Others had offered their kidneys but the process was tedious, my mom’s surgery was rescheduled multiple times (due to technicalities, hospital admin issues, etc) and the first donor had to pull out.
There is a quote I include in my book Killing Sacred Cows – If you torture numbers long enough they will confess to anything. The hospital my mom used has a 99 percent success rate on transplant. 99 percent, but what percentage get the surgery that have a donor? That is the real question and for a different time.
Amazing, on the surface, but this hospital makes sure there is no chance the surgery isn’t risking their 99 percent success rate as people die waiting. Waiting because if there is only an 80 percent chance it will work, they don’t move forward. When people die in the process of waiting, that doesn’t hurt the hospital’s numbers, even though more lives could be saved, it isn’t as good of marketing.
But Brad was willing to do all it could take.
See, with my cysts, I wasn’t a possible donor…but Brad’s generosity and spirit sparked something, something significant.
Sounds calloused and surface to call it that, but it is goodwill, and ultimately stored love.
Brad’s generous offer had me reach out and tap into my Relationship Capital.
I have very knowledgeable, world-renowned doctors that have been clients plus very intelligent and connected friends that had no idea about my mom (I was only finding out myself)
It was time to ask for help, this was something I could do.
Even though the awareness of my mom’s condition was alarming and frightening, that was just part of the story.
She was scheduled to have both kidneys removed and would live on dialysis from home.
No kidneys at all, how does that work?
Again, when we silently suffer, no one can help.
Before the baseball game I was unaware and couldn’t be resourceful or comforting, or anything.
The song “Unspoken” by Daktyl says, “Talk to me when you are down, talk to me when you are broken, I can’t hear words unspoken”.
Yes, it was a message in a song from my business partner and friend to me… and such a powerful message this entire story illustrates.
Now that I knew, I did something that only took moments. It was something so simple. I made a Facebook post:
Still hard to believe.
Still overwhelming and emotional.
Not thirty-three people responding with thoughts and prayers (those are great too though) or thirty-three people interested to know more, but thirty-three people got tested and applied. They went through the process. From me DMing them a link. Or calling.
Thirty-three people were willing to have surgery to save my mom’s life.
The first 1/3 of the people, I didn’t know or didn’t know as well.
These were people that knew my mom but didn’t know she was sick until the post.
They wanted to help.
1/3 were people that knew both of us. Friends and family.
An act of loving and giving and VALUE.
But, here is an even more surprising thing. 1/3 of the people had never met my mom.
They didn’t know her name.
They had likely never seen a picture and at most may have heard a story from me about her.
They wanted to help.
It was a gift and contribution to my relationship because they knew how important she was in my life.
Think about that.
I write books, give speeches, share ideas and philosophies, and host events that connect enough to have someone willing to give part of themselves, literally, to help.
This is what our Soul Purpose is worth.
This is our human life value.
This is the value of connection.
More than any number or bank account.
It is love.
Again, thirty-three of them.
And none of this ever made the news.
I’m sure that night there were 9 stories of turmoil, blaming one political party or another. Other stories are about areas and parts of the world unknown, but designed to scare us. Oh, and one of a puppy being saved to end on a positive note.
But this is newsworthy. People choosing to love and support. Overcoming adversity.
What might have made the news was what the hospital thought had happened.
It was such an outpouring of support, that the administrator thought we had offered some type of bribe, but nope…
… this was something money couldn’t buy – Love.
Cliché I know, but true.
Money buys moments, great, but fleeting moments.
But love creates shared moments, memories, and depth.
They can go hand-in-hand, but money can never replace the other.
This post allowed me to see my mom’s impact beyond our immediate family and the response even gave me a glimpse of my value.
There is another part of the story, my cousin. She wanted to donate, but had too much protein in her kidney. It was because she works out a lot, drinks protein drinks or something of this nature. But Jamille never gave up. She was determined. She got tested again. She prayed. She changed her diet. And she saved my mom’s life.
So many people gave us hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
The outpouring of love.
Of checking in.
Of truly caring was astounding.
On the day she was in surgery, we sat in the waiting room nervously.
I watched my dad squirm and even raise his voice at some kids running around and making noise.
He was stressed.
To see his level of care and concern, yet his feeling anxious, showed me a side I hadn’t really ever seen. But then one of the best ingredients for healing took place.
My dad looked at me and said, “I hope she doesn’t get too much better too quickly and try to take back the laundry, I have a really good routine going.”
Yes, laughter released the tension, but it was acts of love that solved the problem.
And because of this, my mom is still alive.
And investing so much into her grandkids.
Since that day, we have held family retreats together.
These retreats have changed the trajectory of our family and life.
Since her surgery, she gets to play with and connect with Gia, my sister’s first child.
We have had trips to Italy, Croatia and Paris.
We have played family games, have a new cabin, and most of all healed.
We have learned to talk and share.
We talk about things we hid from in the past.
The tough things.
The mistakes. I told my parents my biggest mistakes of my life, that I hadn’t shared before the surgery.
I had held on to some of these things for decades.
They told me they loved me and we all make mistakes, healing.
We discuss the changes in religion and beliefs and past pain and hurt.
And this knowing, this gift of life, this gift of loving, has permanently shown me to live a life of love.
To be present.
To design life in a way there is space for fun, making memories, and that I can have the courage to face my fears and let my family support me.
Since her transplant, there have been so many magic moments.
We celebrate the wins.
My mom laughs so hard it hurts at our family roast (a Christmas tradition of teasing each other).
She was able to be in the audience for my comedy special and has seen my One Man Show Keynote/Performance multiple times.
She has been on camera for my origin story and narrates the video that introduces my play.
I have even seen her eyes light up like a little girl on Christmas, witnessing the magic of staying in a hotel/cave when we were in Matera, Italy.
Or trying truffle on pasta for the first time.
Or sitting with my dad, telling me how much she loves that man.
Or my parents taking my wife away in a cuddle puddle for two hours during a family retreat to let her know how much she is part of our family, how generous she is.
This is the magic.
Nowhere to get to, nothing to do, but everything to feel in the moment.
Thanks to the 33.
To everyone that prayed, asked, and made connections.
Thanks for your love and allowing for this magic to continue.