When I left the Phoenix area 7 years ago, I left behind family; those of blood and those of love. In the intervening years, I’ve returned several times to see people, but there never seemed to be enough time to see everyone. Having traveled to Arizona by train, car, and plane it is a bit different to travel here by foot.

It is an interesting thing about living a self-centered life; you think you deserve everything, as if you were owed it. As a child, I would hold open a door for an adult, and if they didn’t say thank you, I would tell them, “You’re welcome,” anyway. It was a snotty thing to say to an adult as a 7 year old, as if I were trying to teach them manners. But how often as an adult has someone done something gracious for me, and I barely noticed. Yet they, in their humility didn’t lord it over my head. They were loving, and didn’t chide me for lacking tact, manners, respect, or reciprocity.

Returning now to Phoenix, I realize all the kind things that people have done for me over the years, kindnesses that I didn’t deserve, graciousness I did not merit. Humbled. I wish I could relate to you all the wonderful people here that have blessed my life. I wonder about writing something too personal here. I have tried to stay a bit on “task” as it were on this adventure. I’ve tried to be a bit professional in my “reporting” as I’ve gone around the country. I am sorry, I just can’t help but tell you all about these wonderful people and would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t, despite the personal nature of the interactions.

Mike and Donna are the kind of people with which anyone would want to work. The reason that they are the best gym owners I’ve ever worked for is that they don’t have egos, they are committed to everyone’s development professionally and personally, they don’t belittle their staff nor talk behind their backs, and they are very generous. When I left their company years ago, it was a very difficult decision. They have spent countless hours over beers teaching me about how to handle parents, booster clubs, uniforms, meets, fees, paperwork, program development, and on occasion we even talked about coaching. 🙂

Mike is the kind of guy that would set up meetings for me to study with some of the best men’s coaches in the country just so I could learn from them. When my jeep broke down, he found a gym dad who owned a shop and paid for it to be fixed, and when everyone is hurting around the holidays for cash, he would give all the coaches a cash bonus to be kind. They were never stingy with their time or experience and offered it freely whenever it was needed or asked for, and they appreciated anyone who would go out of their way for the kids. Their gym was a family affair. Jerry and Ellen, along with their daughters, and all the other “adopted family” of coaches. Our get togethers around the fires were some of my best memories of that time together. They are some of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known.

I’ve had the opportunity as well to be with my Kobashi family. JC has been dubbed the “Mayor” of his neighborhood, because he is always organizing block parties like the one he did for me. Using the street as a playground and meeting place, he and his wife Terri invited all their extended family (who are absolutely wonderful as well!), the neighborhood, and former students over to visit. What a gift to be able to reconnect with old friends and have the ability to be reminded how beautiful the people are that I’ve been graced to know. Our friend Jason came over, and apologetically left for a dinner date, only to return later on. How absolutely kind! What can you do with people like this but just say thank you.

The Varty clan showed up in force as well. Rita, Demi, Natalie, and Tiffany owned the sidewalk like the runway. As they approached, those of us welcoming them were floored by the physical beauty possessed in this family’s genes. The wonderful thing about these girls is that their beauty emanates from an internal wealth, unlike a mannequin, they are beautiful both on the outside and the inside.

While with the Kobashi’s I was able to play with my boys, and the stroller for the first time possessed some valuable cargo, Calvin and Logan. Logan and I got to spend some long awaited quality time together as well building legos, riding scooters, and wrestling. I love these boys.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “House guests are like fish, after three days they start to stink!” I have been careful not to spend too much time at any one location, but I could have spent more time just loving on all these wonderful people. I traveled next to Payson, Arizona to visit my father, aunt, and uncle. My Aunt Mina loves to love on me. Every time I’ve ever been around, she always makes my favorite Zereshk Polo (Persian Rice with Barberries) and lavishes kisses and hugs upon me. My uncle has always been a hero; he is a gracious host and extremely intelligent. My favorite thing about him besides our shared interest in athletics and running is that he will always give you an honest answer/appraisal, as such his compliments and loving suggestions carry more weight than most.

Some people believe that we pick our father and mother. I believe that by the way we act, we elicit from our biological progenitors the complement. I couldn’t have picked better parents. In the few days that I was able to spend with my dad, I REALLY got to enjoy him. Whether watching “Lawrence of Arabia” for the 100th time, researching facts on the internet, or discussing artists and techniques of the past we affected a great symbiosis of love for the other and love for the subject.

Returning to Phoenix area, I was able to see my other aunt and a number of my cousins. All of these women are beautiful, intelligent, and kind. Sitting around the table drinking tea and eating cookies, I was struck with how good of a time I was having, and how lucky I was to have such a great family.

Lastly, I’ve been able to hang out with my good buddy, Dave. Dave and I are adventure junkies. We have jumped off cliffs together, camped on the beaches of Mexico and Belize, and found ourselves knee deep in some escapade seeking a thrill, enlightenment, or experience. In the end, we have forged a friendship of sincere honesty and trust similar to that fashioned by soldiers in the trenches. Our furrows and troughs being life itself.

I was somewhat apprehensive coming to the Phoenix area because the people here knew me as who I was before becoming the Peace Artist. I was worried about de-evolving, of re-becoming the selfish person that I was before. What I’ve found is that my family and friends have allowed me to be both the best of the present and the past. Being the Peace Artist does mean a death to the person that I was before, but it doesn’t have to mean a death to the love both for and from those I’ve been blessed to know while becoming something better. Thank god for that.