Monday, September 29, 2008

The Things Learned

"You don't know how much you could touch a person's life by simply sticking out your hand and saying hello."

This was said by Mark Bingham after one of his friends questioned why he would walk up to complete strangers and introduce himself.

This was one of many echos that was left behind when Mark Bingham passed away on United Flight 93. These echos still ring loud in clear through his friends who celebrate his life.

I had the honor of joining his friends this year as they reflected about their friend while celebrating his life.

This celebration wasn't one of tears and sadness. It was one of laughter, a few drinks and a lot of stories.

I could see his best friend's eyes light up as he talked about the time he spent with Mark. I could hear it in their voices as they spoke. I could hear the love they still hold for him and I could see how much they all care for each other.
This small, tight group of people is a perfect example of what true friendship is all about.

As I walked away from my new found friends I am overwhelmed at how much I've come to learn from a man I never met.

I've learned about the strength inside of me.

I've learned about pride and how to hold my head up high.

I've learned how to be me for the first time in my life.

But I now realize I learned something so important, not from Mark, but from his friends.

I learned about how important it is to show your friends and the ones you love how you feel about them.

I learned how important it is to celebrate your friends while they're still with us.

I also learned from meeting these new friends that sticking your hand out to say hello does indeed touch people's lives and this is something I promise I will continue to do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Journeys, Paths and Bridges

There are events in everyone's life that I believe lead us to places we're supposed to be. Kind of pre destined journeys that maybe were designed by things we don't totally understand. I had one of those incredible journey's this past week.

I started this journey nearly 2 1/2 years ago. It began with a glimpse of a woman on the television news talking about her son Mark Bingham, one of forty people on board United Flight 93 that gave their lives to stop the terrorists that hijacked their plane and planned on crashing it into our nation's capitol on September 11, 2001.

A few days ago that same journey had me standing in front of the Marriott in San Francisco, all the way from my home state of Connecticut.
I was there to meet a few people I made friends with while walking this road. These friends were an important part of my life in how I've gotten to this point. Even though we've talked dozens upon dozens of times in the past couple years and supported me through one of the most liberating yet frightening points in my life, I never had the honor to shake their hands or look into their eyes and say thank you...until now.

As I rode the elevator up to the 39th floor to the View Lounge my heart was pounding out my chest because I was so nervous and excited about meeting these friends face to face for the first time.
The second we saw each other it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was as though I was supposed to be there. The hand shake I planed on giving Todd turned into a huge hug with the feeling of old friends finally finding each other. It was as though I've known him forever. I still don't know if he realizes how his words, even though meant for his best friend, who he lost on September 11, 2001, effected me so positively 2 1/2 years ago. But what I do know is that every step I've taken since our lives crossed paths has been an adventure, from standing in a field on a chilly September morning in Shanksville, PA to letting my friends and family know who I am for the first time in my life.

The second important person I met the following day is someone I see as the heart behind this journey I've been on. His name is Joe. He's the person who I first came to talk to when I came across this man named Mark Bingham. Joe was Mark's friend and the one who first reached out his hand to help guide me in the right direction. Joe was someone I talked so many times and a man I could call a dear friend. Like Todd, I had yet to shake Joe's hand.
I owed Joe a lot, even though he would somehow always turn that statement around and say he wasn't the hero, I was. Joe was the man who put me in contact with Alice, Mark's mother. In turn, she was the one that walked me through the very first steps down a path that was life altering and told me to hold my head up high and to never look back.
Joe and I talked over the phone and internet more times than I could count. Over the past couple years we developed a true friendship.
Even though we never met face to face, he's been with me from the day I told my friends I was gay to the day I met Alice at an international rugby game held in her son's honor. From birthdays to the birth of his baby to understanding who he was and how we all faced prejudices in life. His view on life is so positive that I embraced it and learned from it.

As I walked up to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park to meet Joe and his family I was more excited than anything. From the moment I saw him looking out the front window of the building I recognized him. Although I've seen him in pictures shared over the computer, I was struck at how seeing him face to face for the first time seemed to have been like looking at someone I recognized as though I've been with them as a friend for years.
It was an instant feeling of friendship. There was no awkward moment, no stand off feeling when two people meet for the first time. It was a comfortable feeling as when long time friends come together.
I met Joe's lovely wife Liz and two beautiful children who all seemed to fit with ease into the group of wonderful people I've had the pleasure of meeting on this journey.

As I think this "San Francisco" part of this journey over, I come to realize once again of the incredible people that I've had the honor of crossing lives with since it all began 2 1/2 years ago.
From a man who proved that being gay made no difference when he gave his life to save hundreds if not thousands of people, to his friends and family that loved him unconditionally and shared his courage and love of life with me.
As I looked into the camera while being interviewed for a film about the life of Mark Bingham, I spoke of how a man who I never met. A man who gave his life to save so many people and how this man would save me nearly five years after he died.
This is why this man and these people are so special to me and why I call them my heroes.

It seems fitting that San Francisco is known for it's famous Golden Gate Bridge and how I crossed a major bridge in life by coming to San Francisco and finally met the people that were so important to me.
I know this journey will never end as long as I'm alive but crossing this bridge in life and seeing these people that made me feel so welcome makes every step, stumble and turn worth it.

(Below I've posted my original blog about Mark Bingham and how this journey started.)

Start Of A Journey "Mark Bingham Story Re-Post"

Hi! My name is Rick Clark. The last year my life changed for ever and through this change I decided to start keeping a record of who I am. Now, for me to say "who I am" is kind of important because to this point in my life not many people knew who I was.

I grew up in a large family. 5 brothers and 3 sisters. I was the 3rd youngest of this baseball team we called our family. We nicked name our house "The Clark Ark." I have a very close circle of friends. Now I have a lot of friends but I hold only a very few close to my heart. I have a saying that Family isn't who you are born with, it's who you let in to your life. I say that because I'm not to close to most of my blood family but I hold my best friend at the same level as I would a true brother. As time goes on I'll introduce you to who the people in my life are and how they played a role in me becoming me.

In the spring of 2006 I was depressed. I found myself totally alone again in my apartment in Wallingford, CT. I was alone by choice but at that point in my life I didn't realize that. The TV was on and it was showing a news broadcast. I'm still not sure if it was CNN, FOX... but it was one of those 24 hour news stations. I was half paying attention to it, feeling sorry for myself and not knowing why. Then suddenly a woman's voice caught my ear. Her name was Alice Hoglan and she was being interviewed. I heard her say she didn't want people to forget who her son was and what he did. It was like someone whispered in my ear and told me to pay attention. Her son was Mark Bingham. He was one of the 4 men on United flight 93 that stopped the hijackers from flying their plane into the Capitol on September 11, 2001.

For some reason that I can't explain I went to my computer. For these moments I forgot I was depressed and I typed the name Mark Bingham into search on Google. I already kind of knew who Mark Bingham was. I knew he was a hero and was on flight 93 but that was about it. When the search was complete there was a website listed. It was run by Mark's friend's and family. It was full of pictures and stories about who Mark was to them. I started reading and I was taken back by the love these people showed for him. There was even strangers who posted and thanked him. Then I came across something that would surprise me and change my life for ever. Mark Bingham was a 6'4, 220 pound rugby player, caring friend, devoted son and brother, business man and hero..who happened to be gay.

It was like something clicked in my brain. I read about him for hours that night. I saw so much of me in him. His belief in people and seeing the good side of them. Protecting the ones you love at any risk and when he was younger a fear I shared with him to this day...the fear of people finding out I was gay. The more I read, the more I felt my soul telling me it's time to tell your friends and family who you really are. I was afraid. I admit that dearly. I was afraid of the reaction, the backlash. I then came across a eulogy written by Mark's best friend Todd that was posted on the sight. It was the end of it that sunk deep into my soul and gave me strength. He wrote of fear. This is the end of that eulogy:

Fear can ruin a friendship. Fear can ruin a marriage. Fear can, at the very least, render a life completely and utterly mediocre.

We admire Mark because he had all of these wonderful qualities that I and everyone else here have talked about tonight. What I hope you realize that you love these qualities not just because Mark had them, which he did, but because you do, too. You just may let fear get in the way of how those qualities show up in your life.

Here's my challenge to you, the challenge I am giving myself. I challenge you to not necessarily be fearless, but to recognize your fear and to act anyway. To take action and make the most out of every single day. To not let fear of failure keep you from trying at all. To not let fear of rejection keep you from showing up every day of your life. I love you, Mark. I always, always will. I will make my life great, I swear I'll make you proud.

Todd Sarner

I actually started to cry when I read this. It was a line that spoke to me. The line that read "To not let the fear of rejection keep you from showing up every day of your life." I knew I could tell people now. I knew I needed to tell people who I am. I lived in that fear and I knew if a man could be like Mark, that could be so loved, so fun, so dedicated and so brave and be gay, that it had to be a good thing. Mark lived as Mark and I wanted to start living as Rick. I just didn't know how to start the ball rolling. That's when I emailed Mark's mother Alice.

I explained to Alice how I came across Mark's site and how I wanted to tell people about myself and was afraid. Thank God she emailed me back and that she was a caring, loving lady. She told me how Mark told her. He promised himself that he would tell his mom that he was gay before the sun went down one day. He did just that. Her email gave me strength and I decided to tell my best friend

Joe first. I called him and ask if I could speak to him face to face because I had something I needed to tell him. My heart was pounding just saying that over the phone to him. After I hung up I was almost panicked. I didn't know how I was going to do this. I read the line on fear that Mark's friend wrote and it somehow gave me strength so I printed it up. No sooner did I get to my living room that the phone rang. It was Joe and he said I'll be over in 5 minutes. I didn't expect him to come over seeing it was kind of late and a Sunday night. Now I was panicked. I knew I had to do it though. After he got here he sat down. I looked up out my window and saw the sun fading away. It was just peaking out on the horizon. I was totally lost in what I was going to say. My hands were shaking. I then took the paper I printed from Mark's site and read to myself what Todd wrote about fear. Without a word I looked up at my best friend and handed him the paper. I hardly got out "read this" before my voice cracked. He did and then looked at me kind of confused. I just blurted out "I'm gay."

The few seconds I waited for his reaction seemed like hours. I swear I felt Mark supporting me. I didn't feel alone anymore. Joe's reaction couldn't have been better. He showed me total support and I knew it came from his heart. His positive reaction helped me pave the way in telling my friends, coworkers and family who I was. It also made me realize that some of these people, especially Joe and his wife Cynthia knew me for years but never really knew me. As I told more and more people who I cared about it became easier. I did take out the words of Mark's friend Todd over and over before I did tell people. To this day I carry those words in my wallet. They are strength for me along with the heart of Mark Bingham and who he was and how he changed me forever. I never thought nearly 5 years ago watching the story of United flight 93 on the news that one of those heroes on that plane would be a true hero to me today.

On the weekend May 27th. I had the honor of meeting Mark's mother Alice face to face in NYC. It was at a Rugby tournament held in her son's honor called The Bingham Cup. She was even more incredible and caring then I could hope for. I met so many of Mark's friends and watched them play the game he loved so much. I realized at this point I finally arrived. I'm finally Rick.

Since that day I joined Alice Hoglan and Mark's friends and family in Shanksville, PA on the fifth anniversary of the plane crash and the terrorists attacks. Shanksville was the small country town where United Flight 93 crashed. Seeing the memorial site there was a surreal and moving experience. I will forever be thankful to Mark Bingham for being who he was and for what he did for this country and for me personally. Thank you Mark.

I would also like to thank Mark's Mom Alice for being a beacon in a storm for me and guiding me home. To Mark's friend Todd for words that gave me strength and showed me a new way to live my life. To Mark's friend Joe in San Francisco for the support and friendship he gave to me and to my friends who I love so much, especially best friend. You're a true brother to me!

I'm honored to be part of a documentary about Mark's life. Here is the link to view the trailer and make a donation to the production.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

9-11 In Pictures

It was a promise we made seven years ago. It was made by so many of us. The day was September 11, 2001. The promise was "We Will Never Forget".
To uphold that promise I'm dedicating the month of September to the victims and heroes of 9-11.
I'm posting picture that captured that day and the days to follow.Through out the month I'll keep adding to this collection. Take time to look at these images and remember that day. Remember the ones we lost and the ones we promised never to forget.
If you would like to share any comments or stories on September 11, 2001 please do so in "comments".

(click on the image to see full size)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Top 20 Signs That Summer Is Over

Labor Day is here and as far as I see it, summer is done. The signs are everywhere.

My Top 20 Signs That Summer Is Over:

1. School buses.

2 .The shadows get longer.
3. Chilly nights.
4. Crickets seem to get louder.
5. New fall television shows.
6. Halloween candy slowly showing up in the stores.
7. Back to school sales.
8. The leaves on the trees start to lose that shinny green color.
9. The lifeguards at the beaches are gone.
10. Signs for fairs (The Big E is the New England fair).
11. Election signs on people's front lawns.
12. Summer clothes are nearly missing from the stores.
13. Crappy movies at the theaters.
14. Need a sweatshirt in the morning.
15. Apple cider.
16. Open windows to let the cool breeze in.
17. Red, yellow and orange mums.
18. The corn stalks start to turn brown.
19. The Jerry Lewis Telethon.
20. Apple picking signs.

Let me know if I missed any signs. Drop them in the "comments" if you could think of any.