Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to today’s Grateful Heart Monday, which for today I wanted to share my gratitude for the Mankind Project (MKP) men’s group I remain a part of here in Toledo, The Brothers Of The Black Swamp, a group that continues to both bring positive challenges and great blessings upon my spiritual journey in life.

When I joined MKP well over 20 years ago now after going through the New Warrior Training weekend, I delved into the group work that came afterwards, where a man had the option to continue going deeper into their life’s work by becoming involved in something called an I-Group. Ever since, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting amongst men in a number of these groups in each of the areas I’ve lived in, developing closer bonds to men, breaking through blockages within me, and rising to higher levels of strength, leadership, and loving connection in my life.

Presently, I am an active member of The Brothers Of The Black Swamp I-Group, which presently consists of eight individuals. We began this group almost four years ago now in Toledo because there weren’t any active I-Groups in this area for MKP brothers to be a part of. Our group has evolved quite a bit ever since, having several original members leave and some new ones arrive, having gone on two bonding retreats together, and having spent every other Tuesday utilizing the tools MKP taught us to better ourselves in life.

What I truly treasure the most about my present I-Group is the willingness of each man there to continue showing up, no matter what struggles they are facing within themselves and their lives. Far too often in life, I’ve seen people often make excuses to not show up for the I-groups they were a part of, which only ended up hurting both themselves, for the potential work they could have done on themselves, and the group itself, for any benefit they may have brought the group. While our group may be small compared to some others I’ve been a part of, we sure do have a big strength, like I witnessed in a recent Saturday occurrence of our meeting.

While tensions flared at times during that meeting, all of us worked together on some difficult issues we were facing, including cancelling what would have been our third annual retreat and re-declaring our commitment to the group itself. I’m so grateful to say that by the time the meeting ended, I felt nothing but love for each of the men there, something I haven’t always felt in many of the I-groups I’ve been a part of since I began my journey with MKP.

Indeed, each of the men in The Brothers Of The Black Swamp are uniquely different from each other, with varying belief systems, ideals, and the like. Yet the one thing I am thankful to say we all have in common, that I’ve witnessed time and time again, is our desire to deeper our brotherhood with each other, to work through our differences, and grow in connection as a result.

The fact is, every I-Group I’ve ever been a part of has become a blessings upon my life on some level, usually after working through a number of challenges to my ego in many of those meetings. The Brothers Of The Black Swamp continues to prove that to be true as well and is the very reason why I not only remain a part of this amazing group of men, but also with MKP in general.

Thank you, The Brothers Of The Black Swamp for continuing to work on not only your own journeys of spiritual growth, but help me with mine as well. I love you all for that and dedicate today’s Grateful Heart Monday entry to our amazing group of men! Aho!

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to this week’s Grateful Heart Monday! My gratitude for today is for Peter Ramey, Steve McKee, Sterling Washington, Louie Ratchford, and Lee Lampos, each being old friends who reconnected with me on a recent trip to Northern Virginia, a place I used to live for well over a decade.

Just over a week ago now, I finally got the chance to visit one of my former areas of living, that being Northern Virginia, a place I called home until mid-2007. The last time I had a visit there and reconnected with old friends was in 2010. Considering all the loneliness the pandemic brought on, I decided it was time to take a trip back to a place that holds plenty of fond memories to this day. Sadly, I soon learned that not everyone I once spent time regularly with in Northern Virginia wanted to reconnect, mostly due to ongoing fears surrounding COVID. It was heartbreaking, especially with one individual from my former 12 Step life there, but, I’ve chosen to focus on those who I did see and all the time I got to spend with them.

First was Peter who made this all possible by allowing me to stay in his home in Front Royal. Peter is the kindest of individuals, who would gladly give the shirt off his back to help another. We truly had some wonderful conversations throughout my stay, and I always felt welcomed in his home. Not only did he accommodate me graciously there, but also, he drove us everywhere throughout my stay. We really covered some serious miles given Front Royal is about an hour’s distance from Washington, D.C. where I met several of my old friends. From meals he took me out to, to being a great listener, and having a contagious laugh, Peter is a genuine friend and a keeper.

On my first full day with him, after a tour of Front Royal and a leisurely drive along part of Skyline Drive, a national park in the mountain range nearby, I had the pleasure of seeing my old neighbor and friend Steve, someone who used to live directly across the street from my home many years ago, who now lives in Front Royal himself. I very much enjoyed my coffee with him reminiscing about the 30th Hawaiian birthday party that he and his partner threw for me almost two decades ago, the Sunday evenings we spent watching a series called “Queer As Folk” on Showtime, and the bowling we did weekly on a team together. Later that night Peter treated me to pizza from a local joint called Melting Pot that was awesome while we watched a movie.

The next day, I got to see Sterling, who was so thoughtful because he got up early in the morning and acquired two tickets for Peter and I for the National Museum of African American History, a museum I have wanted to go to since it opened in 2016. After enjoying several hours there and also a drive afterwards around D.C., we met up with Sterling for a wonderful Ethiopian meal at Tsehay. Sterling was the first to turn me onto this amazing cuisine eons ago and it was awesome to try a new Ethiopian restaurant with him. It was just mind boggling that Sterling and I met and began our friendship in a gay men’s support group at a former therapy office back in the late 90’s! Our evening ended with Sterling taking us to a placed called “A Baked Joint”, which had some scrumptious desserts and iced cold brew.

The next morning, my friend Louie came out to Front Royal and treated us to breakfast at “The Apple House”, where we reminisced on our old card nights, jokes we used to tell each other regularly, and plenty of warm times spent together. As I finished my homemade apple donut from that meal, I reflected on how Louie is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known and always seems to find a way to make me laugh, even when I’m down and is also an incredible master gardener who I learn something new from each time we talk. After he departed, we headed to Falls Church where we drove around my old neighborhood. I talked to the new owner of my former home, which had changed so dramatically! The entire backyard was now a massive vegetable and herb garden for the owner’s Vietnamese restaurant! On a sad note, I grieved the loss of two trees I had once planted there that they had removed, one being a Japanese maple and the other a Crape Myrtle. I was grateful though for all the years they blossomed there. Nevertheless, Peter and I met up with Lee afterwards for a coffee in a completely new plaza in Dunn Loring that didn’t exist when I lived there, after which we had dinner in one of my favorite diners, The Silver Diner, a chain that opened in the DC area when I first moved there. The evening ended with Peter and I playing a fun game of miniature golf at The Magic Putting Place.

On my last full day, Peter took me to Winchester, VA where we walked the downtown Old Winchester mall, checked out some local shops, had a wonderful meal outside at the Water Street Kitchen, and drove around the town seeing things that were well over 200 years old! Later that evening, I had the pleasure of finally meeting in person his best friend Sammy Campbell, a delightful man who made me burst out laughing quite a few times over dinner at the 50/50 Taphouse and coffee afterwards.

On a final note, I wanted to also express my gratitude for seeing my favorite barista from Toledo, Mickey, during this trip, who I learned had just changed their name to Astral. They moved recently and now work at the Starbucks in Clifton, VA and it was such a delight to have some time catching up at their new place of employment.

For as much as my pain levels and health issues plagued me greatly during this trip, I’ve found that expressing gratitude like this is crucial to looking at it all in a positive light. So, thank you Peter, Steve, Sterling, Louie, Lee, and Astral, for reconnecting with me on my trip. You all mean the world to me and I’m very much grateful for each of you.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to this week’s Grateful Heart Monday entry, which for today is for two people who’ve offered me kind words in my neighborhood for the ongoing efforts I’ve made to keep the streets and a number of yards clean, especially in light of some harsh criticism I received recently from another neighbor who took her own life’s anger out on me one morning.

As I’ve written about this a few times in my blog prior, I focus much of my angst in life over all my health issues and pains by maintaining a clean and manicured yard that includes both of my neighbors on either side of me. This summer, with nature having been quite strange where it’s been like fall throughout much of it, with many leaves dropping daily, leaving our street littered with debris on most days, I’ve included maintaining much of that as well. It’s become a ritual now of sots with me waking up each morning and going outside to clean it all up, going as far as 200 feet in either direction of my driveway, which is the length of the two electrical cords I use when connected together. I always feel better after completing this task and enjoy the look of a nicely swept street afterwards.

Recently, when a neighbor yelled at me over a pile of debris I had created across the street from her, most of which had emanated from trees around her property and curb, I really got upset, especially because I have kept her curb cleaned the entire summer. At that very moment, my ego almost got the best of me. I was about to give my daily task up over her negativity, but instead, chose to focus on the kindness of two neighborhood gentlemen who approached me separately recently, thanking me for my outdoor work.

The first came one day when I was deep in my work sweeping up a section of the street with a push broom about four houses away from my own. A car pulled up and inside was Scott who told me he really wished he could take some of the taxpayer’s money and send it to me for the great job I do for the city every day on our street. It meant the world to me to hear this at that moment and I felt totally energized afterwards, knowing that someone appreciated my work.

The second came as I was vacuuming up the leaves from a neighbor’s driveway one afternoon. David, the cousin of my neighbor across the street, walked over, put his hand out and shook my own, saying he wished he had a neighbor like me. He said my work never goes unnoticed by him and how much it’s a pleasure to come down our street and see how clean it is, as well as the yards around my home.

What Scott and David didn’t know was how much their words not only helped me to keep doing this task, but also to keep going in life, because lately it seems like there has been a vast shortage of kindness in this world, especially in my own life. I’ve seen so much negativity and criticism over the slightest of things, almost as if people are walking around like ticking time bombs, waiting for someone to lash out at.

That’s why I believe kind words go a long way, and Scott and David’s definitely did that for me. So, thank you Scott and David, for making my day on two separate occasions, for helping to temporarily overcome my own angst in life, especially when an angry neighbor yells at me for no reason. It’s because of both of your kindness, that I have found the energy to keep going for yet another day…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson