Born to Fly

Lucky me, last born in a family of 6. I was 3 weeks late too, why rush? Albanians are never on time. I’ll write some wrongs right here. Gossip, perception, baseless judgement, deceit, building images instead of fulfilling lives. That’s all in the past, we’re making our own rules now. Forget what they think, and let your heart come into play. Does it ever tell the real story?

I had countless people to take after growing up. I wanted to adopt as many qualities that I viewed as strengths, so I’d be ready for the punches when they fly in. I realized at an early age I wasn’t exactly built like the crowd, so I felt the need to be prepared. No better or worse, I just had a unique background; 100% Albanian, and therefore, wired differently.

Being the youngest and often mocked by elders, I thought I was supposed to speak the language to be a “True Albanian”, and I actually never spoke it well. Resenting the repetitive jabs, I found solace in the free lifestyle, without judgement in “American ways”. Outsider looking in, I realized how blinded I was. I overlooked how deeply rooted the Albanian culture was with me.

Our ancestors endured the struggle, and our parents and grandparents were dropped in this melting pot of New York with no choice, but to start from scratch, and continue our traditions and creed. Family over everything, back then it was the only way. It had to be tough on those who first landed. It wasn’t until high school, that I realized how much our background was a driving force in my character. We couldn’t ask for a more distinct, developmental experience as the true, first generation. We know it’s okay to get knocked down, but like those before us we get up, go to work, and hold the blessings tighter along the way. I’ll meet your face with a smile every day. With all of their sacrifices, they gave us this good life.

It was not uncommon to meet someone in my late-teenage years, divulge the fact I was Albanian, and hear a stigmatized response come my way.

“My boyfriend got beat up by Albanians,” a random girl would say.

Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, what else is knew?

It would be something along those lines, but I despised the negative-tone reaction towards me based on actions of others, and the sweeping generalizations about our people.  It became clear as the conversations went on, the boyfriend probably deserved it.

Only kidding. I later realized the perceptions of our culture never told the whole story.  Never mind them, I don’t think we fully understand the effects of how recently the roots were pulled from the tree. Of course it wasn’t going to be smooth integrating here socially. You have seen the news, and the pictures they painted of us all over TV.  It wasn’t always pretty, nor untrue, but today we see new faces, and they’re painting stories of hope!

Raising positive contributors throughout society, credit goes to the progressive 80’s, 90’s, and turn-of-the-century immigrant parents for raising quality, respectful Albanian-Americans. Maybe the first generations here felt the struggle more deeply, a proud representation of persistence over adversity, and a loud voice creating and molding our assimilating culture today.

We see it on the big screen now, so many in the Albanian community with success across industries. Creative talent in music, art, and movies. Successful business owners, executives, managers, doctors, lawyers, and now even political representation in New York.  They say we like to brag, but our flag should shine bright when the lights are on us.  Put yourself out there and inspire who’s next. Culture focused on family, we’re essentially one of the youngest groups here. Why not?

The majority of “us” touched down on American soil within the last 50 years. The American Dream! That’s what our families immigrated here for right? Lord, it seems that’s what people think, but it had little to do with it. It’s what they flocked here to escape from that fuels the burning fire in our collective motive and attitude. Religious and financial freedom was not gifted to us throughout history in the motherland, and living in poverty was hard enough.  Here we are now, lucky to have the opportunity to build our foundation on grounds that let us walk, speak, play, and pray freely.

With a natural curiosity for other cultures, I enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life, and finding in them a similar piece to me. Everyone has a mountain they’re climbing, I guess, maybe something to hurdle together.  Between the feasts of our saints and plethora of Albanian functions, add in sports and hanging out with the school friends, we could feel the polarizing lifestyle influences in the span of a day or a week. We learn to connect with the energies that level with us. Keep the door open, coming in or going; there’s a lot on our plates, and we’re just trying to eat. Raised to master hospitality, we welcome people with respect, until lost, and wear our heart on our sleeve.

They love us for it. We speak our minds, and if you don’t like it, it actually is your problem. But I think the truth goes missing today. Filled with false connections, it no longer flows fluidly, and so, purity fades.  The less we open up each other’s inner dealings, the less we are obligated to day-to-day. Natural reaction of nature. We take the easy way out, because the reality is, society is pulling at our time, and we just always had it easy.

Not so much, right? I am talking about some of the Albanian females. We know even the simple things growing up weren’t given freely, and maybe it’s still no walk in the park. More comments I have heard from people I have met;

“She was Albanian, not allowed out of the house.”

“They have crazy brothers or cousins.”

“I had to drop her off down the street.”

Personally, I haven’t heard any of this recently, all of this was years back. But hold that thought, I’ll come back to it.

I always noticed there would be reasons for peoples actions, deliberately or in-deliberately. People are products of their surroundings. Empathizing with the mentality of the old-school traditional male, head of families. The ideas that were ingrained into their lives were passed on through generations, and became the rules and standards they instilled at home.  They were just thinking, naturally, “We’re the best, why fix it?”

Being the latest to the party, I grew up in a more neutralized environment.  I witnessed the adoption and transformation towards certain Americanized concepts firsthand.  It took a while, but it’s something we should all be grateful for, no matter how steep of a change parents make. Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and gratitude is an endless repayment. From these slow reconstructions at home, we see that growth doesn’t spring from comfort, but it falls on us with any change.

As new seasons came along, some more of the old school traditions grew on me. For instance, 600 heads at a wedding, 150 deep at Shpresa’s Sweet 16, 100 at the baptism, and 50 for a gender reveal.  It might be “too much” and just know, we will complain about the wedding season too. But we will still be there, celebrating along your side with an envelope in our pocket, and a beer in our hand!

We come together like no other in our greatest moments, and in loving support during our darkest.  Try to make the most out of every single day. We can’t let this lose it’s authenticity, do we have the time? The price of ambition in America.

Even while fully empathizing with the traditional Albanian thought-process, I still don’t understand the principles that propelled it to the extremes.  Some denied a daughter equal love at home, and some lacked discipline in the y-chromosome. It drove a silent wedge between our generations, and to an extent, Albanian males and females today. Another sweeping generalization.

“The fight for freedom at home.”

Isn’t that what forced our populations to immigrate throughout history?

Ironically, with traditions and practices that emphasize marriage and motherhood, to pass down family values and cultural pride as a symbol of strength, girls were neglected equal treatment. Thankfully, strides have been made today, but people are still making family trees with hopes of preserving our lineage, a lineage carried by women. Yet, some dismiss the births of females as an afterthought, only celebrating males who carry a name.  Today, you might hear them claim that we are responsible for a fading breed.

“Strong kid, Kelmend genes!” You might hear an older, proud Albanian praise a teenager descending from 1 of the 6 original family villages of the Northern Albanian Kelmendi region. Given warrior DNA, and absolute freedom essentially, discipline occurred for few at home, some on the streets, and most not until provided by themselves. We all felt like men among boys, some treated like royalty before we ever earned a dollar or respect. Tell me you don’t remember laughing in the face of discipline. But true character was found when nobody was watching and work had to be done. We all want to prove we can excel in anything we do.

We all shared this battle. Balancing the extremes of the Albanian and American cultures we may have been speared between. Shaped by the air we breath around us; it’s never too late to exhale and let any of it go, empathize, and speak positively in embrace of our own. With the strength of our fathers, we take after our Mother, just go home and love our families. This world could use some healing, can you spare any change?

Our culture isn’t going anywhere. Proud to be. We know women are the soul of most homes, and divine links to our unborn, our future, and our continued culture, and family legacy. Men will continue to also provide, protect, honor respect, and together alongside, set the bar for our youth so we’ll always be proud to represent.

The Albanian heritage and extraordinary traditions will always be strong, and revitalized with open minds and full hearts.  We just have to put our heads together. Like the youngest brother in the family, loving and learning from those who came before him, striving for a dream; how will we write Albanians into the history of The United States of America?




My sister in-law, Diana, is working with a friend on a project that discusses what we feel it means to be Albanian, and how cultural integration effected us growing up. What it means to me can be drawn across every culture. Unity, respect, integrity, toughness, while embracing individuality, and an infinite amount of joy and love with family and friends; all while we climb this American mountain, riddled with greed. Yet, endlessly grateful, this is where we have been handed a dream, along with the freedom to follow it all the way home.

In my visit to Montenegro and Albania last year, the major takeaway I felt was for the local youth, and the scarcity in opportunity that lies ahead for them. Never mind dreaming, they don’t have options there, and it’s something to think about reflecting on what we have here. We all have a certain amount of obligation to carry the traditions and values that fulfill us and our families.  Our grandparents, parents, and ancestors risked their lives and livelihood coming here with just the clothes on their back. The least we can do is go forward, maybe not carry their burden, but embrace our relatively simple struggles and continue to strive for all that we wish for. We should be proud of where we came, who we are, and where we’re going. This is our chance to harmonize the best of both worlds.

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Thank you for reading. Diana inspired this topic and has been a big supporter of my writing.  You should check out the foundation of a project her and Alfie Ljuljduraj are working on in the link above. Maybe at their conclusion, and with a collaboration of collective experiences, we can draw out growth and identify commonalities in the traditions we plan to carry with us in tomorrow’s Albanian-American culture.

*For all intents and purposes, I wrote this towards any immigrant, descendant of one, or anyone that ever felt caught between the two crowds or family. I also took into account a dwindling attention span in 2018.  I did not elaborate on the Albanian culture’s effect on multi-cultural relationships, the acceptance of minorities, as well as those in the LGBT community. We have moved in a welcome direction along with society. I think happiness should always be celebrated, and as long as you are happy, those who are truly yours should remain, accept you and those you choose, and let you be. Free!

Lost ones found

That moment you realize death only changes one thing. It signifies the end of a soul’s presence in it’s physical being. That soul’s love and energy continue on in a different form, in and around us all, always. We choose to believe it in order to feel it, it’s called Faith.

For those not so in tune with their spirituality, you might think that idea is farfetched, and death signifies the absolute end. Physics’ 3 Laws of Energy; Conservation of Energy states that “energy cannot be created nor destroyed, rather, it transforms from one form to another.”

Okay, but energy is referred to in those laws scientifically, as in ATP, hydropower, solar, or fuel. I get it, the spiritual energy discussion can never be proven, but unless your religious or personal belief system is fundamentally different, disbelieving is essentially a pessimistic approach. We all have energy, and it needs to go somewhere. Not believing in a higher afterlife existence in a world where there was a 1 in a quintillion chance of your own Earthly existence sounds like negligence.

Why do we dream or feel a lost one’s presence at times? Why have I heard countless people say it “felt like they were still with us”? Their souls, their love and energy have to keep going. As soon as we allow ourselves to welcome this idea and their energy, we can start to heal from the pain of our physical loss, and we can continue to share the love we always have, just in a different way. I’m telling you, there are higher beings at play.

IN GOD WE TRUST

Don’t we?

I was roughly 18 years old when I was first finding a true sense of my spiritual awareness. We had recently lost my grandfather and we decided to also visit the gravesite of my brother at a cemetery in the Bronx. Little known, he was the second-born, but passed away in his infancy. I didn’t recall visiting in my teens so it was a big moment for me as the youngest. I have always been tight with my siblings, and was curious about the role he plays in my life, and in our lives. I thought of times I slipped away from danger or an accident with ease. Is he out there? Does he watch us at all? Could he be my guardian angel?

I’m thinking this as we were all driving back to Pelham Parkway. You may have heard of it. My extended family was all gathering at my grandparents’ apartment. We park the car and I step out of the rear-left door, and on the floor I find a little black ball. Let me remind you, I was a young adult trying to wrap my head around these family losses, and essentially in the dark when it came to faith. I step out of the car and by my foot, I find a black toy ball with on one side, two big eyes painted on, wide open. It was either a coincidence or a sign, brother above was watching me all the way. Let me hold that thought, never could be too sure.

I am sure he’s smiling now as I write this, right there watching down with my Dad, proud for sure. I’m on the couch across the living room from my Mother and she’s sleeping, TV on, “Modern Family”. Go figure.

Flashback again, this time a few years ago, 26 years old.

Now I was about to be the man of the house, there was only a day or two left with my Dad still physically here. Writing was on the wall, yet I wasn’t ready to deal with fate. I needed to quit thinking of ways to miraculously save him, and start on acceptance. Seriously, my Dad was soon to have his last rites read and there I was, delusional, driving all the way to Port Chester, New York trying to find this magic cancer-curing fruit juice from South America. I kid you not, I think it was called “guanabana”; Taste great actually, but it served no purpose. I guess when it comes to these kinds of things it always feels a little too late, we try anything to compensate.

Anyway, it was time to let go, mentally prepare, and let him drift away into the next life if you will. So one mourning morning I head out to my car for a coffee run. I parked at a CVS in Mt. Kisco overnight across the street from the hospital. I open the driver-side door on my Acura and there they were planted on the side mirror. “Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear” from the other side. Stunned, 2 eyes, again. Similar to eyes you’d find on a stuffed animal, these eyes were affixed to my side mirror, large and perfectly centered. In my darkest times on this Earth, another sign of eyes came back to stare right into my soul. Guardian angels are watching all the time, this time I’m sure. The message; this pain is here, yes, but it’s all meant to be. Trust God.

I pray for strength in those who don’t get that extra gift we were blessed with. Extra time with a lost loved one. We were given two extra weeks with my Dad to wish our farewells. In that time I received the most powerful love in family and sympathy, signs that faith prevails, and signs that it is all written. It’s written right here.

Remove ourselves from the equation, our personal desires to see, touch, or hear them one last time, and just feel the love. It is all we need. It stands the test of time and transforms through death. Be sure to carry it with you, in your heart, and through after your last breath. We’re all walking together, yesterday, now, and forever.

Only the good go young. Every time it has happened it has pushed me closer to becoming more of myself, closer to my dreams.  Every time it has happened it has pushed me closer to the people I belong with. Every time it has happened it has made me appreciate life so much more. A smile, a laugh, a child, a cry; Life is so damn full, unfortunately maybe sometimes He has to take one to remind us of it. Remind us to love and appreciate, it’s what brings out our truth.

If I’m talking to you, it’s meant to be. I could see your eyes now, that love is true. Lost and found, Faith.

Dreamers

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Go with the flow they said.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A star, what do you think? Some answer with lawyer, doctor, teacher, and model. Actually more actors, actresses, artists, and athletes. Lot of A’s, so we strive for them until we have it all.

Work hard, follow your dreams, and find your passion. Confronting struggle or failure along the way, some lose hope. Then find it in acceptance and change towards healing and growth. We all have a fire of sorts, or ambitions of greater success, but few have the courage to pursue them. To each their own in this society; unfortunately, most people are suspended in settlement, slowly drifting away every day.

Work, bills, relationships, self-love or lack thereof, we stop living when stress boils over our blessings. Quite frankly, it’s a shame to those that are stripped of any chance at a fair shake.  Grateful for this chance, I cannot look back at life and say I didn’t try. If any part of it isn’t real, I don’t want a part in it. Career, friends, and loved ones, all the things that were never meant for me usually had a similar play. Cloud and consume my energy, I’d pause, assess, and recognize less of me; I save my peace and walk away.

We have a love/hate with the struggle.  It’s real, so it’s here to stay. Trapped in anxiety over the future or mistakes of the past, the mind winds up, too tense to rest or assess what’s best. Embracing changes, we adapt or we don’t, don’t let the dream fade.

Life’s ups and downs will take you out at the knees, cover your eyes, pull you from the darkness, and through to the skies. It brings you clarity and strength, yet down your cheeks, tears weep. In who do you confide?

I have you.

In any moment, you may come across a big decision with uncertainty.  Determining your desires from your needs, choose you. Your values and beliefs will stand tested in time, resonating strongly when you decide. The things you can’t live without prove your love within so follow that until there is you. Souls out, a little more complete, a little more you, following your heart was all true.

So listen close. Dreams change, or stay the same, and so do you. I’m chasing the best version of me, and I hope I see, more of you.

The real you.

Ripple Effect

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“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.“ – Mother Teresa

The other day I went to the supermarket and bought a few things. A long loaf of sliced wonderbread, 2 packages of Boar’s Head ham, quality american cheese, and some prosciutto. Top of the line, smoked, beautiful prosciutto. I can hear you vegans sighing now.  Oh, I picked up a bunch of waterbottles and some ziplock bags too.

I packed 10 ham and cheese sandwiches, plus water bottles into large ziplock meal bags. I knew I would be in the Bronx and Queens that weekend, so I just veered slightly off schedule to give them out to homeless people I came across in the subways. I would avoid the beggars and give to those I saw living reclusively, minding their own business. I hear beggars clean up these days, near 6 figures, untaxed – not bad for hanging out on the E train with a can out all day.

Anyway, I didn’t even think I’d write about this, nevermind sound like a show-off. It’s just a few sandwiches and something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Kind of like hanging with that old friend again, “I never got around to it.”

For real, I wrote this because when I personally handed over those meals to people cotted up in dirty, concrete, NYC, underground crevices, something changed in me. I handed the bags over and I looked into each person’s eyes, and they looked in mine. Because I prepared a bagged meal for them, they were being cared for. It was me slapping the sandwiches together, the moment they were not forgotten. It was that greater hunger I didn’t think about. They would look at me slightly jolted and I could feel the genuine gratitude; It was absolutely incredible.

Except this first guy I came across. Let’s call him Tommie, big boy laid out asleep already at the first stop, corner seat of the subway car. He could have pulled an overtime shift of day-drinking, or maybe they just don’t bother him much on the 4 line. Dressed in dirty army fatigues, a big coat, and some shades, I didn’t get the feeling this was a lifestyle he was used to. My stop was coming up, so I tried to leave a bag for him, but he flinched and started mumbling slurs. “You want a sandwich or no?”, “No!” Attempting to get up off there too, he stumbled over himself getting a little louder “Money!”. “No, sorry, good luck!” Tommie tripped on the gap behind me as I looked back, change falling out of his coat pockets and what looked like a tube cap of a syringe. This was my one concern, people who lost all control of themselves. Substance abuse is ugly, and that clearly became his only hunger.

Dude, I asked every single receptive homeless person if they wanted 2 mealbags. None of them would take the second free meal. Free for the poor, yet no takers. Explain to me how every time we hear the word “Free”, we jump, even round up some friends and family to get in on the deal. Unbelievable.

There was one man though, had to be in his mid-40’s. Corner of Queens Blvd. and Broadway. Chase was his name; he seemed upbeat and completely content. He refused a handout completely because he had colon cancer, said he couldn’t eat meat. I asked if he wanted water or anything else. “I’m good, thank you!” he replied cheerfully as he pulled his blanket up, over his feet, and up tight to stay warm. “Okay, take care man, god bless!”

I walked away confused about Chase’s situation. It’s nighttime, literally chilling on the corner, presumably has cancer, smile on his face, positive energy, and just trying to get covered and warm. He had me thinking about my late Father who lost his battle with cancer. He always used to ask us to cover him with a blanket, but most importantly his feet. “Strict orders”, he’d say jokingly. Man, it’s so easy to forget those little things, and hard not to smile remembering them. Chase, on the corner had nothing, and in that moment gave me everything.

Back to the topic, I was giving out sandwiches, and one older man refused my offer for a second meal 3 times. I’m pretty sure his name was Jerry. He was appreciative, took the first meal and politely refused #2. These people simply did not want to take 2 sandwiches because they knew there was a struggling, homeless, hungry human at the next stop or block starving for a meal. Damn! And does anyone ever consider or wonder, “How much do the poor give?”

Well, in this case, priceless memories, or refusal of a free sandwich and water so the next man can eat. They also fumbled away, lost touch, or downright struggled their entire lives, for us to see what they live like, and what we should avoid becoming in life. They show us why we must love, and show it, work hard, and strive to be well-off, so none of our family or friends would be in that situation. They give us a living example of why we should stay off the hard drugs too, or atleast try not to try them.

What do the poor give? What about us, what do we give? You know what bothers me the most?

When I bought the ham and cheese at the H-Mart, I also bought the prosciutto. I bought it for me because well, I wanted the good stuff.  They get the ham, I get prosciutto.  Like I’m any better, honestly! What a fraud I am.  I only gave away 8 of the 10 f**king sandwiches, told myself I couldn’t find anymore homeless people and got on with my “real plans”. Then tbere I was, inhaling a ham and cheese driving home. Loser move, I even left the one last bag an extra day in the car and the sandwich went bad. Good job bro.

At that point I realized, I realized what I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to have nothing. Something most of our parents grew up with, nothing, nothing but each other. They would do anything to ensure we never knew what it was like, and surrounded us with love in the process.

If I had a dollar for every time I opened the fridge as a kid complaining “There’s nothing to eat!”, I could have put Tommie, Chase, and Jerry up in The Plaza for a week.  I probably should have given that extra meal to Jerry even though he repeatedly said no. It was in better hands with him. He wouldn’t have let it go to waste; maybe he’s a better man than me.

“How much do the Poor give?”
I’m sorry, not enough, but I hope this leads to more.

Lost in Time

AFBED529-71F9-4DE4-BC55-54D48BC23023The epidemic is ravaging through the lost millennial generation. Chief symptom, “happiness unfound”; Carefully careless in relationship and goal standards, dreams work more than we do.

The breakout likely leaked in an AOL chat room in say, 1996. Masses of people streaming directly into your bedroom PC. Contact with the world, without contact, to be you or not to be? No remorse, tech-boomed more distractions and recourse disguised as convenience and “connection” ever since.

Don’t bite the Apple, Eve. Your iPhone is force-feeding you. Over-saturation of content, info, and interaction; it’s easy to depreciate the content in you.

The epidemic doesn’t have a name, but I call it “half-ass shit”. Internally degenerative, externally negative, filling you with emptiness. You get what you give, and I’ve seen, given, and received a ton of half-ass shit.

You’re probably reading this while being sidetracked from another task; bedtime, a project, or maybe silent in a room with someone close. Speak up, maybe get a little closer.

I bet you put a lot of energy into that last relationship. Feeling cold, you decide it’s best to care less. Reciprocation is what it is. Next time less you give. Downward spiral, they return the half-ass shit they were receiving. No refund, open the app, in comes options, and with honest conversation closed, out goes another half-ass relationship. Degenerative catastrophe, cardiac atrophy, resulting in that half-ass heart. Incapable of love from the start.

At work you do what’s asked; sometimes more, sometimes less, and wonder where’s the growth or promo on your desk? Maybe you hustle, but how much downtime is wasted in your phone or bullshit conversation? The game, traffic, the weather, or your professional circle that gets too personal; you know better. Success has to be prepared for, so if we don’t focus on what’s within, and on our plate, don’t we just delay our purposed path and our fate?

More half-ass shit. We feel we should have been born to a past generation, longing to belong. We think we deserve more, and that more deserve less. Incomplete work and relations, yet money, people, and our have-nots cause most of the stress. We turn cold, half-assing passion. Check the snap, DM, and texts. Hang on to words, and not feelings and action. Let’s make it stop, take a shot.

First and foremost, break free of the chains on your phone. It’s an accessory, not your lifeline. Gather around, toss the vices devices in a box in the corner; let the room get a little warmer.

Pause and assess how much of you you’re giving to goals, to family, friends, hobbies, and your anti-social media. “Not enough time in a day.” Half-ass response, be truthful to you and others. Cut out the clouds of doubt and get out of any traps of “unknown”. Pay attention to who gives you their time, and everyone and everything that returns yours with peace of mind. Be real, and if it’s not returned, walk away. It’s not you, it’s them. Give it all again.

Since the last time you gave me yours or even this moment now, know I’m grateful for your time. You find it all in the realization that, everything will be lost, in time. For those we go on without, let the love grow strong within.

Let’s cure the half-ass shit by being the most complete, unapologetic, authentic version of ourselves, with love, all ways.
All of you, all of me.