I turn thirty-nine next month, and still find myself amazed that I can still surprise myself. I’ve only recently figured out something about myself that I hadn’t known before. I’ve been learning and relearning lessons about faith, love, salvation, redemption, trust, forgiveness, wisdom, knowledge and understanding for years. Many of these lessons began for me during my formative Boy At The Window years, my tweener and teenage years. But only in the past few weeks have I figured out that what drives me, what keeps me at my best. It’s inspiration, that evidence and personification of faith and hope, love and forgiveness.

It’s always been there, I guess. I just never paid it but so much mind because I assumed that faith — spiritual, religious, secular or otherwise — was always there and would always help keep me going. I’ve learned something important over all of these years of struggle, suffering and success. Without inspiration — whether in the form of an idea, a person or a vision — all of the other intangibles are merely amorphous gases floating in the atmosphere of my mind’s eye or in my heart, without direction or purpose.

Inspiration is why I still remain confident that Boy At The Window will find a good home, that my near and intermediate future remains bright, that my son will have the growing-up years I never had. I see all of the potentials I had at his age in him, but minus all of the chaos and strife that was my family life twenty or thirty years ago. His ability to tell stories, to act — even whine — without prompting, his curiosity about the world, leaves me hopeful and inspired.

I guess that I’ve always sought or had inspiration for as long as I’ve been aware of the world outside of myself and my five senses. My first and third grade teachers inspired me to become a better student. My mother’s hard work in my younger years inspired me to be a more responsible son. My best friend in elementary school inspired me to look at my spiritual side for the first time. The tough years of being a Hebrew-Israelite in the middle of ultimate familial collapse made it difficult to maintain that kind of normal inspiration.

So I sought inspiration and grabbed for any source of it, sometimes in ways that may have been unhealthy. My first true crush — perhaps even my first true love — in seventh grade was as much as source of inspiration in school and in general as she was a source of imaginative romance. I truly admired her as my classmate, as someone even to emulate in the latter stages of seventh grade. Brains, beauty, ballerina gracefulness, tomboyishness, and that weird laugh of hers. What reason would I have had not to be inspired by her?

Of course, when I became a Christian in ’84, Jesus became my inspiration, and not just in terms of redemption. His life on Earth, especially in the three years before his death, has provided lessons in all of the intangibles that I listed at the beginning of this blog for the better part of the past quarter-century. Inspiring because it’s hard to be anywhere near consistent in forgiveness and faith in the face of hatred and opposition, because it requires a supernatural faith in a vision greater than oneself to maintain the kind of discipline that Jesus did in his final days.

Yet I also had other everyday kinds of things to draw inspiration from. The Mets and the Giants, the Knicks and the Rangers, especially when they pulled off miracles or the year the Mets and Giants won the World Series and Super Bowl. Joe Montana and his amazing game-winning drives, Villanova and its upset of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament in ’85. They all served to inspire, to breathe some hope and faith into the miracle that I hoped to pull off in my own life.

Music, too, had to inspire, and not just entertain. That need for inspiration added to my already ecletic tastes by the mid-80s. It would explain my listening to U2, Mr Mister, Simple Minds and other weird (or not-so-weird) artists, even though I lived around neighbors who thought Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam was wack.

But with sports and music, inspiration eventually turned into escapism, especially in the year I went off to college. The pressures were too great, the emotional stresses too much, from my second crush to my second semester at the University of Pittsburgh. I finally had to find inspiration from within in order to move forward in my life.

Inspiration does require balance with hard work, faith, optimism and realism. Yet it must be there, especially when all of that hard work doesn’t look like it will ever pay off. I’ve had visions of my life and career that catapulted me from a good if not totally focused undergrad to a doctorate in history. I’ve been the recipient of revelations about myself and my family that have inspired me to write and to continue to write about more than just multiculturalism over the past decade. I’ve dug inspiration from within to remind myself on the days when nothing seemed like it was going my way that I’ve been through much worse.

These days, my inspiration comes from the silly and the serious. My son, Kim Possible, the recent election of Obama, Avatar: The Last Airbender, my students. All have served in some way to maintain my inner muse, to remind me that even the most accomplished and successful of us need inspiration in order to feel alive, to live out our hopes and dreams, and not just imagine them.