Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Angel and the Whales

The extent of my holiday decorating for the last several years was to put new batteries in the little pack for the lights on my Charlie Brown Christmas tree, thinking maybe I would turn on the miniature colored lights more often than just when I Skyped with my little Canadians or when my kids stopped by. While the batteries were powerful enough to light up my scrawny little Charlie Brown tree, they weren't powerful enough to eliminate my lack of holiday spirit. Other than the times I mentioned, the tiny tree with the scraggly limbs remained dark for most of the season. My go-to answer when people asked me why I stopped decorating for the holidays made perfect sense to me ... no kids living at home anymore equaled no reason to deck the halls or jingle the bells. That standard answer I gave regarding the question about my lack of decorations was at least partially true ... it seemed like a waste of time to me to decorate when there was no one around except the dogs and me to see it. The more comprehensive truth, however, is that the old wolf of depression who lives outside my window really likes to ramp up his game around the holidays, scratching and clawing and snarling and growling and trying his best to shatter the thin pane of glass that separates us so that he can eat me alive. 

When I moved from my house into an apartment last year, I set a goal for myself that I would do an extensive cleaning of my new little place at least once per month. My loose definition of extensive cleaning is dusting every piece of furniture, Windexing the mirrors and windows, scrubbing the bathrooms, mopping the floors, buffing up all the kitchen appliances, cleaning the air ducts, double-vacuuming the carpet and wiping down the walls, which only takes me a couple of hours to accomplish in my small living area. I haven't been able to find the cord to my CD player since I moved from the house to the apartment, so I've been forced to learn how to use Spotify on my smart TV if I want to listen to music while I'm cleaning. I discovered a long time ago that I can't watch television and clean at the same time ... suffice it to say that when I try to do so, I end up doing far more watching than I do cleaning. I'm trying to establish the habit of not even looking at what's on the screen when I turn on the TV on cleaning days, but sometimes I slip up, steal a glance and hope that whatever's on doesn't reel me in and thwart my cleaning plans.

I've only seen the movie "Big Miracle" two times in my life ... the first time was at Cinemark Theater on Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 11:15 a.m., and the second was at my apartment on Sunday, November 25, 2017 at 9:45 a.m. Before you start thinking I have Sheldon Cooper blood flowing through my veins (though I will readily admit to sharing several similar personality traits with the greatly beloved genius), I assure you that this particular movie is the only one I've ever seen for which I remember those very specific details. I'm certain you're wondering why in the world a not so incredibly great movie about whales has earned such an illustrious place of honor within my mind. Explaining the deep significance of the movie "Big Miracle" is a no-brainer for me ... it's the movie a friend and her family took me to see after they unknowingly interrupted me just a few minutes before I intended to end my life. The film was based on a true story from 1998 ... a story of three gray whales that were trapped under the ice in Barrow, Alaska, and the people who worked together to save them.  

I cried my eyes out sitting in the theater on that Saturday morning five years ago as I watched "Big Miracle." I cried because I was in the same place the whales were ... alone in the dark and cold waters of depression ... trapped under the ice with no way out to the open water ... each breath getting harder and harder to take. I'll never forget what my friend said to me when she dropped me off at my house after the movie. She looked deeply into my eyes and said, "I know you feel like you're drowning and that you can't go on. You need to keep swimming, Terrie ... there are so many people cutting holes in the ice for you. You have to keep swimming, friend ... don't give up ... we'll keep cutting the holes and you have to keep swimming." I cried my eyes out sitting on my couch when I watched the film for the second time a couple of weeks ago, too ... maybe even harder than I cried the first time I saw it. I cried because I know how differently things could have turned out ... I know how easily things could have gone the other way ... I know how cold the waters can be ... I know how thick the ice can become ... I know how very, very, very hard it can be to breathe.


A couple of days ago I read an article about some of the key people who were involved in guiding the whales to safety, and I quickly noticed a common theme that ran through their stories. Each person who was interviewed said that his or her encounter with the trapped whales was a life-changing one for them. That the experience with the whales made them more aware of how fleeting life can be, for both animals and humans alike. That they now take a greater interest in the needs of others. That they are more grateful for those they are blessed to share their lives with. That they know what it is to be part of something bigger than themselves. That something seemingly as small as cutting holes in the ice can be the difference between life and death.


I'm sure by now you're wondering why I titled tonight's post "The Angel and the Whales" since I've yet to write a word about an angel. Or you're wondering why in the heck this post is so flipping long and why I don't just get done already. I'm hoping you'll forgive me for the lengthiness of my composition this evening if for no other reason than I don't write very often anymore. But back to the angel ... my oldest son Matt made a special angel as a school project when he was in kindergarten, which was, oh, 28 or so years ago. The angel is made of different types of uncooked pasta noodles covered with gold spray paint and has a string attached to the top so that it can be hung on a Christmas tree. It didn't take long for the little angel to be dubbed "the macaroni angel" by my children, and believe it or not, the three of them fought every Christmas for years over who got to hang the tiny pasta creation on the tree. It's amazing the little old noodle gal has managed to survive all these years, but she has.


I wish I could end my post tonight by telling you that I've never again felt the way I did on that Saturday five years ago, but I can't. I can tell you this, though ... just like the tiny macaroni angel, I've somehow managed to survive. The truth is that there's still something inside of me that keeps me from throwing in the towel and calling it done even on my darkest of days. Though I can't tell you it's true every day, it's true on this day and on others as well ... I'm glad I'm still here. Here to love my children and grandchildren. Here to offer encouragement and prayers during this tough time in the lives of several of my extended family members. Here to take care of my little wiener pal Ollie. Here to bake cookies and make fudge for my neighbors. Here to help load the elderly woman's groceries into her car at the store today. Here to appreciate people who care, people who keep their promises, people who stay no matter how cold the water or how thick the ice. Here to see my little apartment-sized Christmas tree ... the little macaroni angel sitting front and center, the wrapped packages resting beneath, the lights shining brightly on each branch.

Remember the macaroni angels in your life, and tell them how thankful you are that they've survived and how much they matter to you. See the whales around you who are trapped beneath the ice, and cut holes to help them keep swimming. I've been reminded too many times this year of how life as we know it can change in the blink of an eye and how truly short it can be. Don't take one moment for granted, not one single solitary moment. My prayer for you during this holiday season and beyond is that you be good to each other ... that you be kind ... that you be caring ... that you love without measure. Whether at the end of your day or the end of your journey, that's what makes life worth living, friends ... the love we have for each other ... that's what makes life truly worth living.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Once Upon a Hugger

For all the hugs I've given or received over the years ... and yes, each one special in its own way ... the best ever are the hugs that come from my two adorable little Canadians when I walk through the doors at the airport when I go for a visit. When they come running and shouting, "Ghee! Ghee! Ghee!" and wrap their little arms around me ... geez, Louise, there's just nothing better. I lift them into my arms and in a blink, their four little girl arms are squeezing around my neck as hard as they can possibly squeeze without choking me. They pull back and look into my eyes as if they're making sure I'm really there, and then they press their precious faces up against mine, giggling and squealing with pure, unadulterated delight to be with their Ghee.

Perhaps it's because my 58th birthday is coming up in just a few short weeks, but I've found myself wishing lately that I had kept a better accounting of certain things in my life. Things I wish I would have tallied up as I went and written them down so I could look back and, hopefully, be astounded by such a great number of good things and humbled by such an inconsequential amount of bad ones. Take hugs, for example ... how cool would it be if I had kept a record of every single hug I've given or received over the last almost 58 years? Just think ... had I written them all down, I could open my "Book of Hugs" anytime I needed to feel loved and remember the people and circumstances surrounding each one of those hugs.

A couple of weeks ago, an article popped up in my Facebook feed about how important hugging and/or being hugged are for both our mental and physical well-being. From triggering the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain (chemicals that affect both mood and emotion) to lowering blood pressure and reducing the production of cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine (often referred to as the stress hormones), hugs have been scientifically proven to positively enhance the health of our bodies, minds and souls. Click here to read the article for yourself, and also take a couple of minutes to watch the video that appears near the end about the social experiment regarding real vs. fake hugs. (Note: The article is kind of long, but I think you'll find it's well worth the read time, and the video is most certainly worth taking a few minutes to watch.) Oh, and for the record, I agree that hugs ... hugs that are given from hearts that are pure ... are one of the most powerful ways to show someone you care. 

I read an article yesterday discussing a piece that was published on the Girl Scouts of America website about the dangers of forcing girls (and I'll add in boys as well) to hug friends and family members at gatherings during the holidays. I'm sure a large part of the reasoning behind the decision to publish the information encouraging parents not to push their daughters (or sons) to hug friends and relatives was due to the unprecedented number of reports in the news as of late regarding the sexual misconduct of adults toward children and teens. Before you read one more word, please hear me on this ... I understand that reasoning completely, and I absolutely agree that as parents and grandparents, we must do everything in our power to protect our children and grandchildren from any and all forms of improper advances or sexual abuse. That's a no-brainer to me. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who are coming forward to name their abusers. No matter their age or how long ago the abuse occurred, it takes a very special kind of courage to speak out. It does, however, make me incredibly sad to know that's the kind of world we now live in. The kind of world where something each one of us so desperately needs for our mental, emotional and physical well-being has been turned into something about which we must now question the motive or intent of the giver. The kind of world where a hug has become something sexual ... something we must be on guard about not only for our children and grandchildren, but for ourselves as well.

Every year on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the company I work for holds an event called "Stretch Your Stomach." SHS provides the turkey and the employees contribute all the sides, desserts and drinks, and everyone gathers in the kitchen over the lunch hour to partake in the pre-Thanksgiving feast. I spent yesterday evening making deviled eggs ... not because I'm crazy about making deviled eggs for hours on end, but because apparently, at least according to some of my co-workers, I make darned good deviled eggs and people always ask me to bring them. The "Stretch Your Stomach" pre-Thanksgiving feast is a tradition at SHS ... a tradition that people look forward to every year. Last night, as I was boiling, peeling, slicing, mixing and filling all those eggs, I couldn't help but think about an office tradition of my own that I once had. On the last day in the office before a holiday or before I left to go on vacation, I would go to each of my co-workers' desks, wish them a happy holiday and give them a hug.

My old hugging tradition probably never meant as much to the folks I work with as it did to me, because it meant a great big old heck of a lot to me. I often say that's the worst thing about being an empty-nester ... not having my kids around to hug whenever I want. Don't worry, they would all tell you that when we do get together now, I make sure I get in a super abundance of hugs when they arrive and when they leave. OK, OK ... I may even hug them a few extra times in between the hellos and goodbyes. You may have read the quote from Dr. Virginia Satir in which she famously said, "We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." Man, oh, man ... if the great and wise Dr. Satir is correct in her findings, it's a freaking miracle that I, along with all the other people out there who live alone, are still breathing.

A young man I worked with several years ago stopped by the office a few weeks ago to say hello. When he saw me, the first thing he did was reach out his arms to hug me and as he did, he said, "You're the best hugger ever, Terrie. I always looked forward to your hugs because they made me know, even on my darkest days, there was someone who truly cared about me." I managed to squeak out a response of, "You're too sweet," before he pulled back and stared deeply into my eyes, leaned in to hug me again and whispered something in my ear that went straight to my heart. The tall, super-intelligent, handsome young man said softly, "You're not hugging me back, T. What's up with that? I need a real Terrie hug. Why aren't you hugging me back?" I could offer no answers for the young man's questions ... no answers except to hug him back as tightly as I could and whisper in his ear, "Thank you ... thank you ... thank you."

It's probably not a coincidence that I've been watching "This Is Us" as I was typing this post ... lots of powerful and emotional hugs in this episode, and yep, I cried my eyes out as I do pretty much every time I watch that show. Hug someone tomorrow ... don't let the bad others do keep you from doing the good you can do. Be thankful and kind and compassionate to one another, friends ... and hug. Hug often ... hug with a pure heart ... hug and show someone you care.  




Thursday, November 16, 2017

And That's Why She's Famous

A few days ago, I read the following story and I'd like to ask you to read it, too.

A Walmart cashier's simple act of kindness has shown that slowing down and showing patience can sometimes make all the difference.

In a widely shared Facebook post, Spring Herbison Bowlin said her heart was warmed during a recent shopping trip to a Walmart in Mississippi.


Bowlin had stopped by the store on her lunch break and was waiting in the checkout line when she said she was moved by a cashier's kindness toward one customer.


Bowlin wrote that a man in front of her had just been given his total when he nervously looked back at her and started to apologize as he placed handfuls of change on the counter.


"He miscounts and starts to get flustered," Bowlin wrote.


"His hands and voice are shaking," she said. "This beautiful cashier takes his hands and dumps all the change on the counter and says, 'This is not a problem, honey. We will do this together.'"


After the transaction was handled, Bowlin said she thanked the cashier for being so patient with the customer.


"She shakes her head and replies, 'You shouldn't have to thank me, baby. What's wrong with our world is we've forgotten how to love one another.'"


Now that you've read it, I'd like to ask you to think about the three people in this story ... the nervous man trying to pay with all the change, the cashier who helped him and the woman in line who shared the story. Try for a minute to put yourself into their shoes.

How do you think you would have felt if you were the man trying desperately to count out the right amount of change? Embarrassed? Frustrated? Apologetic? Maybe even ashamed?

What if you were the cashier? Would you have been as kind to the man as she was? Would you have been so gracious in helping him to count out his money? Or would you have adamantly crossed your arms across your chest and glared at the poor guy to make sure he knew in no uncertain terms that he was causing problems not only for you but for the other customers who were waiting in line? 

And last, but certainly not least, the woman who was there on her lunch hour and just happened to be in line behind the man. Would you have noticed the actions of the cashier toward the man? Would you have taken the time to thank her for being so kind? Would you have been so touched by what you saw that you'd share the story with the world? Or would you have been tapping your foot, looking at your watch, sighing loudly or mumbling under your breath that you were going to be late getting back to work?

Think that employee's motive when she took that man's hands, dumped out the change and told him they'd do the counting together was to gain fame on the internet? Think the lady in line who thanked the cashier for her kindness toward the man and subsequently shared the story on her Facebook page was to get some sort of personal glory in doing so? You can think and say what you will, but I think that what happened at that checkout in Walmart that day was simply a pure and unblemished act of human compassion and kindness between strangers.

You know what else I think? I think we should all take to heart the words of the cashier and get busy finding a way to remember what loving one another really and truly means. You bet that's what I think ... you bet I do indeed.

"You shouldn't have to thank me, baby. What's wrong with our world is we've forgotten how to love one another."






Monday, November 13, 2017

Don't Forget to Remember

I'm guessing that I'm not the only person who will stop channel surfing every single time I run across the movie "Pretty Woman" and watch it even though I've seen it like a gazillion times already. I've always loved a good "underdog wins in the end" type of flick, and there's no denying that "Pretty Woman" most definitely falls into that category. I mean come on ... lonely millionaire who sucks at relationships hires a hooker off the street to be his eye candy for a week while he tries to close a big business deal, realizes she's much more than just a hooker, falls head over heels in love with her and ends up climbing up a fire escape to profess said love? It just doesn't get any better than that when it comes to an "underdog wins in the end" movie ... no way, no how does it get any better than that. Add in Julia Roberts as the hooker and Richard Gere as the millionaire, and I say again ... no way, no how does the mysterious land of filmdom get any better than that.

For me, one of the most touching dialogues from the film takes place during an intimate conversation between Vivian (Julia Roberts) and Edward (Richard Gere) when Vivian is telling Edward about the journey that led to her becoming a prostitute.

Vivian: "It's not like anybody plans this, it's not your childhood dream."

Edward: "But you could be so much more."

Vivian: "People put you down enough, you start to believe it."

Edward: "I think you are a very bright, very special woman."

Vivian: "The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?"

Vivian's words struck me deeply the first time I saw the movie, and they still strike me deeply almost 30 years later as I sit on my couch typing this post. Perhaps it's because I've lived more life now or because I've been on the receiving end of more than a little of the bad stuff myself over the years, but I find that the words strike me more acutely, more pervasively, more profoundly now than ever before. It's hard to keep believing in yourself when a chorus of people tell you that you're not good enough or smart enough or rich enough or successful enough or young enough or strong enough or thin enough or happy enough or pretty enough or straight enough or powerful enough or any other of a million other not enoughs. Add in some of the phrases below to those not enoughs, and it's a pretty perfect recipe for bashing the heck out of someone's spirit or, at the very least, doing some significant damage to their quite probably already lowered sense of self-worth.

"Nobody likes you."

"Your feelings don't matter."

"I don't care about you."

"You'll never amount to anything."

"I don't love you anymore."

"You're not worth my time."

"My life is better without you in it."

"No one needs you." 

I often envy people who can simply disregard personal slams or digs against their character or integrity, though some would say that type of self-confidence or self-regarding attitude could border on being pompous, egotistical and, in extreme cases, even narcissistic. I've wondered a great deal why it is that some of us struggle so hard not to succumb to the bad stuff people tell us about ourselves while others are able to brush off those types of comments like they were nothing, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that they can brush them off as if they were never spoken to them. That question troubles me a lot ... why some are swallowed up by the hurtful words tossed their way and others walk away unscathed, and it's a question I'm certain I'll never be able to answer. But the bigger, more distressing and concerning dilemma for me personally, however, is this ... why do I let the people who tell me the bad stuff about myself cause me to forget to remember the people who see the good in me?

People like the older African American woman who came up to me in the Walmart parking lot a few weeks ago when I was loading my groceries into my car. Actually, she didn't really come up to me as much as she came up to Ollie. She, like many people, simply couldn't resist my adorable little wiener dog and asked if she could pet him. As we chatted about the wonderfulness of dogs, the sweet, gray-haired lady suddenly stopped and put her hand on my arm and said in a strong, clear voice, "Girl, I can see you have a good heart. I feel that about you ... I feel that you're a kind and loving person." Why do I so easily forget the kind and encouraging words of that particular stranger but remember the harsh and hateful ones hurled at me from another?

People like my sweet great niece who sent me this text while I was visiting my family in Tennessee. "I wanted to tell you thank you for always being sincere and never making our time together ever feel rushed. You genuinely show love to those you're around and really tune in to make them feel so important and special. You have a special gift and I thank God for that gift from you!" Why do I so quickly forget my great niece's precious, heartfelt words of appreciation and gratitude for the time I spent with her and her sweet family, and instead remember when someone tells me I talk too much or care too much or take up too much of their time?

People like my children who so often remind me of how much they love me and tell me I'm a pretty great mom. People like my little Canadians who say I'm absolutely the best (and the warmest) Ghee ever. People like my nieces and nephews ... and even my greats and great greats, too ... who are all in agreement that I'm the coolest aunt ever. People like the friends who reach out to schedule time to get together with me or the ones who randomly drop me a note or give me a call to say they miss me or they're thinking of me. People like my young neighbors who leave me bouquets of flowers or trust me to take care of their doggies when they go out of town. People like the guys who delivered my firewood a couple of weeks ago and told me I was the nicest customer they'd ever had. People like the co-worker who signed my anniversary card with "I've never met anyone who cares about people as much as you do. I love you." People like you who, for reasons I will never ever understand, continue to send me emails and messages begging me to start writing again. And again I say, why do I let the people who tell me the bad stuff about myself cause me to forget to remember the people who see the good in me?

Don't forget to remember, friends, that the words we speak to each other matter. What we choose to say to others can give them the hope they need to go on or help them believe in themselves, or cause irreparable damage to their spirit or make them question their worth or their reason for living. We need to be careful in what we say to each other ... we need to take care with our words and we need to take care of each other. Be the one who speaks good to another ... be the one who loves without measure ... be the one who refuses to hurt anyone ... be the one who is selfless in caring ... be the one they won't forget to remember.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Grits, Gravy and Gratitude

All true Southerners know that grits and gravy are two staples in a well-balanced diet, and that they should always be accompanied by at least a couple of light and fluffy homemade biscuits. I remember when I was a kid there was an ongoing debate between Mom and Dad regarding who was the better cook when it came to grits and gravy. Daddy would get that mischievous twinkle in his eye when he teased Mom about her cooking skills, and she would reply with a giant huff quickly followed by, "Lord, help, Atticus, you're mean as all get out. Quit your teasin' and eat them derned grits. Here, put some of my gravy on 'em to cover up the taste since you cooked 'em too long." Whenever they would try to rope me into their food feud, I'd always tell them they both cooked the best grits and gravy I'd ever eaten ... I may not have been the brightest kid in the world, but I was smart enough to know that choosing one of them over the other would have had much less than a good outcome for me.

Last week, Ollie and I got on a plane ... yes, I said a plane ... and headed south to visit my family in Tennessee. As the plane taxied down the runway, memories came careening through my mind ... some happy, some sad, some a mixture of both. It had been five years since I'd been back to my hometown ... five years. The last time I traveled there was the day after I came out to the vice president of the company I work for in a conference at our office. Memories of what happened that day and my subsequent trip to Tennessee swirled in my mind, mixing together with memories of countless other trips I've made back home over the years. And just when I thought I couldn't think another thought or feel another emotion, I became keenly aware that this journey back home would end with new memories ... some happy, some sad, some a mixture of both.


It's a perfect fall day here in Kansas ... sunny with temps in the upper 60s ... and I'm sitting outside as I type this post. Ollie the wiener dog is relaxing comfortably at my feet on the sun-warmed boards of the little deck at my apartment, and I'm thinking of how different this weekend has been from the previous one. Last weekend was filled with family and friends and lots of activity, and this weekend has been filled with what most of my weekends are ... laundry and cleaning and a silence that's only broken by the sound of Ollie barking. I'm not at all sure of why it feels like my time with my family was so much longer than only a week ago, but it does. Time is odd that way, isn't it? Sometimes it creeps along slower than a snail climbing a mountain, and sometimes it flies by faster than Superman on his way to save Lois Lane. 

Last weekend, my Friday evening was spent having dinner out on the patio of a lovely restaurant overlooking the Tennessee River. I met a group of friends I went to high school with, most of whom I hadn't seen since we graduated 40 years ago. Wow, 40 years ago ... though we tried our best to convince our server that it was only 15, I don't think she bought it. It was an absolutely perfect evening, one filled with great food, an absolutely gorgeous setting and sweet, sweet fellowship among good friends.




I spent last Saturday morning at the home of my great niece Rachel, her husband Kevin and their two precious children. Most of the time I was there was spent talking with Kevin as he sat on the couch and Ollie and I claimed our spot on the ottoman in front of him. There were several reasons why I decided to travel to Tennessee last week, and spending time with Kevin was definitely one of the most important ones. Some of you may recall from a post I wrote about him earlier in the year that Kevin was diagnosed last fall with ALS, a vicious disease that can often progress quite rapidly causing the affected person to lose the ability to speak, eat, move or breathe independently while their cognitive skills remain fully intact. Though Kevin is experiencing significant progression of the disease, he continues to be able to speak and to hug and to laugh and to smile. To say that Kevin is a great guy is a huge understatement ... he truly is one of the kindest, most loving and compassionate men I've ever known, and the time I spent with him last Saturday morning will forever remain as one of the greatest blessings in my life.


Later that day, I stood with my sister and my nieces and nephews and their families at the graves of my mom and dad, my brother Jerry and his wife Charlotte as we paid our respects to Jerry's oldest son Jerry Jr. who recently passed away. It was the first time many of us had seen one another since my mom's funeral a little more than 12 years ago, and though the reason for our gathering was a sad one, there was the overriding affirmation that we are family and we will always be there for one another. There were a lot of tears last Saturday afternoon as we shared our memories of the young man we all knew as Little Jerry, but there was also an abundance of laughter as we dined together later that evening. I'm reminded of what my nephew Chris, Little Jerry's younger brother, said as we stood in a circle at the cemetery ... "Life is short," he said. "Life really is short."



While I'll spare you the details of the other things I did on my visit back home, I will tell you this ... I came away from those few days filled with more gratitude for the people I love and for those who love me in return than I ever have before. In the spirit of being open, honest, real and transparent, I've experienced some things this year that have really knocked the wind out of me. While those things have made me question my value in every aspect of my life and wreaked havoc on my ability to trust other people, they've also made me more thankful for the people in my life who are real and true and forever.

Thanks to diabetes, there were no grits or gravy on the menu for me on my trip to Tennessee, but trust me, I was filled to the brim with gratitude and love ... I was indeed, friends ... I was indeed. 


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Unanswered Questions

A few nights ago, I sat on my couch watching a press conference about the horrendous tragedy that took place in Las Vegas last Sunday night. A week later, law enforcement officials are still working to try to ascertain how such a senseless act of violence was committed against thousands of innocent people. Though not as frequently, the news is still telling the stories of heroism and sacrifice of the people who were in attendance at the concert when the shots rang out. Stories of people putting their own lives at risk as they tried to help total strangers survive the horror of that night. People placing their fingers and hands into the wounds of people they'd never met in an attempt to stop the bleeding ... people wrapping themselves over others to shield them from the torrent of bullets ... people refusing to leave someone alone as they lay dying ... people who were shot themselves as they tried to help others ... people who on the darkest day of their lives found the strength and the courage to become heroes.

If you've watched even a small portion of the news coverage regarding the violence of last Sunday night, you've probably heard the following statement made repeatedly by law enforcement personnel and members of the FBI ... "There are many unanswered questions." Questions about how a seemingly normal 64-year-old man locked himself into a room on the 32nd floor of a prominent hotel with an arsenal of guns and brutally murdered 58 people and wounded hundreds more. Questions about how he obtained all the weaponry, ammunition and bomb-making materials without raising suspicion. Questions about whether he had an accomplice in the meticulous planning of such a massive attack. Questions about how he fooled everyone in his life and kept his murderous desires so well hidden. And without question, the most pervasive question of all ... for loved ones of the victims, for law enforcement officials, for family and friends of the shooter and for our entire country ... the most devastating question of all is why.

I nodded my head in agreement when the sheriff talked about how much more extreme a traumatic event becomes for people when there's no determination of motive and no explanation as to why it happened. Not knowing why something bad happens or why someone does something to hurt someone else is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things in life to understand. Though knowing a reason behind a person's actions won't erase the pain that was inflicted or lesson the ripple effect that undoubtedly follows, I think we as humans innately want to find answers to the unanswered questions in our lives. Perhaps it's our attempt to restore some sense of dignity to our inner selves. Perhaps it's our quest to be able to trust again. Perhaps it's our hope that if we're told the answer, then the question of why will finally go away.

If ever there was a time when we need to reach out to the people around us, that time is now. If ever there was a time when we need to be kind to each other, that time is now. If ever there was a time when we need to make things right with someone we've wounded, that time is now. If ever there was a time when we need to practice forgiveness, that time is now. If ever there was a time when we need to tell others they matter, that time is now. If ever there was a time when we need to love each other, that time is now. If ever there was a time when we need to care about the lives of other people, that time is now. If ever there was a time when we need to answer the unanswered questions, friends, that time is now ... if ever there was a time, my friends, that time is now.

Monday, September 25, 2017

And Then There Were None

She would have been 98 years old yesterday. Born the second of four children to James and Bessie Mae Waddle in 1919, my mom would have been 98 years old yesterday. I often wonder what Mom was like as a child ... I have a picture of her as a little girl cemented in my mind based on a story from her childhood that she told me over and over again. She was wearing a long cotton dress covered by an apron, and high leather boots that Mom claimed took her a half-hour or longer to lace. As she did most days, Granny sent Mom to the hen house to gather the eggs, one of Mom's least favorite chores because it meant she had to get close to the chickens ... she never was too fond of animals. Mom always threw her head back and laughed when she got to that part of the story as she said, "Them derned chickens flapped their derned wings and tried to kill me every time I went in that derned hen house. Lord, help, I'm surprised they didn't manage to do it one time along the way. Them derned chickens were evil, I tell ya ... just plain old evil birds they was."

I'll spare you the details of the middle part of Mom's story, but on that particular day after gathering what she termed "a whole mess of eggs" into her apron, she carefully made her way back up the dirt path to the house. Not carefully enough, however, because, in her words, "Before I knew it, my derned feet had gone and slipped right out from under me and there I was just a layin' on the dirt with every derned one of them eggs broken all over me and my apron to boot. There was egg yolks just a drippin' everywhere and I just laid right there in that dirt and cried." I have a theory as to why that story stuck with me all these years and why it was the one that provided me with the picture of my mom as a kid that is seared into my brain. You see, most people who knew my mom knew that she was a tough lady ... many even referred to her as "a tough old bird," and I'd have to say that was indeed an accurate assessment. I think the reason why I've hung on to that image of Mom in her little long dress and her prissy white apron sprawled out on the path covered in goo from the broken eggs is because it's one of the rare glimpses I ever had of my mom being vulnerable. Even if that glimpse of her was one conjured up in my mind based on her recounting of the egg story, it's been a lifelong reminder to me that even the strongest, toughest old birds among us have times when they're weak ... times when they lose their footing on the dirty paths of life and suddenly without warning find themselves covered in egg goo.

For many years, most nights on my way home from work I'd call Mom and chat with her during my half-hour or so commute. We'd talk about all sorts of different things, and sometimes she would even tell me a story or two while I sat in rush-hour traffic. I didn't call her out of a sense of duty or because I was trying to be the perfect daughter ... I called Mom all those evenings because I wanted to call her. I wanted to hear that smile in her voice when she answered the phone and said, "Well I just knew that was you a callin'." I called my mom because I wanted her to know I cared about her ... that I loved her ... that I missed her. I called Mom because I wanted to know she cared about me ... that she loved me ... that she missed me. I called my mom because I wanted to call her ... I wanted to call her for her, and I wanted to call her for me.

I was wondering yesterday what Mom would be like if she were still alive ... no doubt she'd still be a tough old bird. She'd probably still be wearing those ugly track suits she loved so much ... she'd still be getting her hair permed ... her eyes would still squeeze shut when she laughed ... she'd still be waving her cane at me when she didn't like something I said ... she'd still be eating ice cream and tomatoes and fried okra and liver and onions. I miss all of those things about Mom but without question what I miss most are the conversations we had. Whether it was in the car on my way home from work or way too early on a Saturday morning ... "Well, Lord help, I done gone and forgot that you're on a different time zone than us here" ... I miss being able to talk to my mom. I had all those precious opportunities to talk to her, and then, in the blink of an eye ... and then there were none. No more chances to tell her how much I cared about her ... no more time to say, "I love you" ... no more moments to tell her how much I missed her.

As I left work this evening, my mind swirled with memories of another evening when I left work after a long day of proofing. An evening when I was already dialing Mom's number as I climbed into my car ... an evening when I told her I loved her and she said, "I do you, too" ... an evening when I had no idea that would be the last conversation I had with my mom. I couldn't help but think as I climbed into my car tonight how much different my life is now than it was on that evening a little more than 12 years ago, and I couldn't help but think of how much fuller my life would be now if Mom were still alive. There's something else I couldn't help but think about as I drove home tonight ... I couldn't help but think about how I would give everything I have to be able to talk to Mom just one more time. One more chance to say all the things I should have said to her before it was too late.

The bitter truth is that I had plenty of opportunities to apologize to Mom for the things I said and did that hurt her ... plenty of chances to be there for her and prove my loyalty ... plenty of times when I could have made sure she knew what a difference she made in my life. Plenty of opportunities ... plenty of chances ... plenty of times. And then ... and then there were none. Look around at the people in your life ... family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. Say the things you need to say while you have the opportunity... while you have the chance ... while you have the time. Don't wait until the then there were none, friends ... don't wait until the then there were none.

  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A New Guestie

There are some things in life we can't fully understand until we experience them ourselves. I can read every word ever published about ALS, but I can't comprehend the battle my great nephew Kevin is fighting every day of his life. I can hold someone's hand who is grieving the death of her child, but I can't grasp the depth of her loss or the extent of her sorrow. I can gaze into the eyes of a person who has Alzheimer's, but I can't fathom the terror that engulfed him when he realized he was losing his mind. I can listen to and cry with and hold a friend who has breast cancer, but I can't feel the dread that washes through her on chemo days. I can't possibly understand the feelings and emotions that accompany those things (and many others) because I haven't, thank God experienced them myself. I do, however, know firsthand what it is to have diabetes and as much as I wish I didn't, I understand to the core of my being the nasty beast of depression and the vicious stigma that is its ever-present companion.

The following words were written by a dear friend of mine whose long-term battle with depression makes the wolf who has taken up residence outside my window in recent years seem more like an adorable wiener dog puppy than the snarling, growling, always ready to devour me creature that it is. There aren't adequate words to convey the respect I have for this strong and courageous woman, nor can I begin to describe the amazing and unfailing love and support she receives from her precious family. Those of us who are blessed to know her caring and giving heart and have witnessed her desire to help others even when she's nose-deep in her own struggle know that this gal is a warrior through and through.

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is drawing to a close, but the need for compassion and understanding is not. I'm not just asking you to read the words written from the soul of my friend ... I'm asking you to let them create within you a desire to learn more, to ask more, to see more, to say more. I'm asking you to care more, to listen more, to reach out more and to love more. I'm asking you to be kind to one another, friends, for that's what matters most of all. Be kind to each other, dear friends, please just be kind.
   

"When a person tells you they have cancer, what's your first response?  When a person tells you they have depression, is your first response the same?  When a person has battled cancer and they tell you it's back, what is your response? What about when a person's depression comes back in full force?

"My experience is that cancer is seen as the enemy and people need outside help to beat it.  Depression is the devil and people need to look deep inside to figure out what they need to do to beat him out; pray more, exercise, eat better - whatever but it's the patient's responsibility to fix it.

"Why is it when the cancer is back and is aggressive, the patient has the option to refuse treatment and live life until the cancer takes them? It is definitely not acceptable to give into depression no matter how many times it returns, no matter how fierce it is, no matter what bad side effects that come from the meds that are prescribed to help.  The "benefit" is always better than the cost.  

"When a cancer patient can't go out or struggles to be social because the chemo is taking its toll, people don't stop trying to reach out. They may bring food or an activity to the patient. When a depressed person goes into hermit mode, people forget about them. No one wants to hear the sad, dark stuff. They just wait for the depressed patient to get over it. It's up to the patient. He or she is only sick as long as they allow it.

"In cancer, healthy cells are attacked by cancerous cells that eventually take over.  Depression is a cancer.  A brain cancer and people need to stop blaming the patient.

"Twenty years of taking meds. Twenty years of weekly therapy sessions, and often more than that. Twenty years of learning coping skills and putting them into practice. Twenty years of Twenty years of battling the beast makes for a weary patient. People wonder why I'm generous or are simply overwhelmed by it. They wonder how I can focus on others when I battle the shit I do. The truth is, if I take a moment to focus on myself, I won't be here much longer. This shit sucks."


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Was it Worth it?

There are times when I struggle to wrap my mind around the truth that a little more than five and a half years ago, I was dangerously close to becoming another statistic in the haunting reality that is suicide. My difficulty lies not in accepting the fact that I reached a point where I believed with every fiber of my being that dying was a better alternative than living. That cold, hard truth is etched deeply into every nook and cranny of my being, and I'm quite certain that it will remain so until the moment I draw my last breath. It's not the recognition or acknowledgement that the wolf of depression had broken through the panes of glass in my window and had already drawn blood that troubles me. What burdens me and causes me to lie awake in the night is the confession that, even all these years later, old Mr. Wolf remains crouched and waiting for the opportunity to come crashing through that window once again.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Sunday was World Suicide Prevention Day. The irony of where I was and the people with whom I spent that day is not lost upon me ... far, far from it. On Sunday, I stood outside of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, listening to two of the adult children of Fred Phelps talk about the abuse they were subjected to in their youth. I listened as they once again recounted the physical beatings, the mental torture and the emotional manipulation they endured within the walls of that building and I wondered, as I have so many times since I've come to know them, how Nate, Mark and Dortha managed to survive.

Sunday was the second time I've stood in the middle of the quiet residential street staring at the building and the hate-filled signs that are hung outside its doors and planted within its yard. Sunday was the second time I've gazed at the American flag hanging lifelessly upside down on a weathered flag pole in the side yard at Westboro. Sunday was the second time I've seen with my own eyes the physical building where the despicable legacy of hate left behind by Fred Phelps lives on. But there was something I saw on Sunday for the first time as I stood in front of the place filled with such hate ... something I didn't expect to see ... something I simply cannot erase from my mind or eradicate from my heart.

During the time we were outside of Westboro filming Nate, Cindi and Dortha, I noticed several cars pull up in front of the church so that the folks inside the cars could take photos. Most of the people stayed inside their cars to take the pictures, but one group of teenagers stealthily ventured out hoping to grab a quick selfie in front of the WBC sign. I offered to take the photo for them and suggested that they move in closer to the sign so that I could better frame the shot. Two of the kids thought my idea was great and quickly moved up next to the sign. There was an instant look of terror in the eyes of the third teen, however, as he said, "No, we can't do that ... I'm afraid of them coming out here." I assured the young man that Nate would gladly protect him should a Westboro member come outside, and he finally moved forward long enough for me to snap a couple of pictures before he ran back to the car and climbed into the back seat to wait for his friends.

As I drove home from Topeka last night, my mind was filled with images of the people who've been damaged by the message of Fred Phelps and Westboro. His own children and grandchildren and the children and grandchildren of other families within the church. The family members of fallen soldiers. People within the LGBT community. Those of other faiths. Those who are divorced. And so many, many others. Seeing the setting sun in the back mirror as I drove down the highway, I found myself wishing I could ask Fred Phelps a question. I found myself wishing I could ask him if it was worth it. I found myself wishing I could go beyond the grave and look him in the eyes and ask him if the hurt he caused others was worth it. I like to believe there is some form of justice that is served after this life, and if that's truly the case, then I would like to ask Fred Phelps if the damage he wreaked and the pain he caused and the hurt he meted out upon the innocent and the marginalized was worth it. 

Here's the thing ... most of us don't abuse our children or preach hate from every corner or carry signs decrying our perceived evilness of those who are different from ourselves. Sometimes I think we might as well, though. With the words we speak or don't speak and the things we do or don't do, we are just as guilty of bringing great harm to the hearts of others and wreaking havoc in the lives of those we encounter every day. Was it worth tearing apart your kid's self-esteem? Was it worth losing a special friendship? Was it worth making someone feel unnecessary? Was it worth irreparably wounding the heart of one who cared about you? Was it worth hurting another person's feelings? Was it worth causing your spouse to doubt their importance? Was it worth betraying someone's trust? Was it worth causing another to doubt the validity of their existence? Was it worth the pain you caused? Was it worth the hurt you induced? Was it worth the damage you left behind? 

Was it worth it, friends? Was it really and truly worth it? 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What's Missing?

Those of you who keep up with me on Facebook know from my posts over the last couple of weeks that I just returned from visiting my oldest son and his precious family in Canada. And those of you who don't keep up with me on the mighty book of faces, I suppose that now you know as well. Spending an extended time with my two young granddaughters served to reinforce a mysterious truth I came to know the moment I held each of them in my arms for the first time. I deem that truth that swept through my heart on those life-altering days mysterious because there is simply no way I can begin to adequately give description to the depth or scope of the instantaneous, overwhelmingly magical love I felt, and continue to feel, for my two amazing and wonderful little Canadians.

Though I always enjoy every minute I get to spend with my grandgals, this trip was extra special to me for reasons I will probably never share. I will say, however, that should my heart one day tell me I can return to blogging, my recent trip most definitely provided me with much fodder for future posts. I mean seriously ... try to imagine the plethora of ideas that raced through my mind when my little Amelie asked with the utmost sincerity that only a 3-year-old can have, "Ghee, why do you have armpits?" One of my favorite things about my yearly excursions to the Great White North is that not one of them is ever the same. Each journey provides me with the opportunity to experience life in a different way than I normally do. Perhaps it's because I'm better able to tune out the noise of daily life when I'm away that helps me to be more open to learning important lessons I've somehow managed to keep at bay or accepting certain truths I've tried desperately to ignore. 

Such was the case last week as I lunched at an outdoor cafe with Matt, Becca, Coraline and Amelie following an outing to a kids' puppet show at the annual Fringe Festival. The girls were growing restless as we waited for our food to arrive, so Becca suggested we play a game called "What's Missing?" Since I'd never played the game before, Coraline quickly schooled me on the rules regarding what I needed to do, and more important, what I needed to never ever do, should I desire to win the game. In a nutshell, one player looks at an arrangement of items on the table and tries to memorize what's there. Said player then closes his or her eyes while another player removes at least one of the items from the table. Points are won or lost based on the player's ability, or lack thereof as the case may be, to accurately determine what was removed from the original arrangement of items. My pride adamantly prohibits me from disclosing how poorly I performed in the game ... let's just leave it at I did not win and call it good.

As I was getting ready for bed that night, I finally admitted to myself that I was unable to convince the name of the game to vacate the spot in my mind which it had apparently decided to establish as its new place of residence. Try though I might that night, and all the subsequent days and nights since, I couldn't understand why trying to erase those words from my mind was proving to be an impossible feat. I spent more than a few hours attempting to uncover a reason for obvious refusal of the words to leave, and the harder I tried to find some sort of meaning or lesson or truth within them, the more they pounded within my brain. What's missing? What's missing? What's missing? It wasn't until last night as I was walking with Ollie that I finally understood ... those words were about today.

For those of you who've been writing to me over the last several weeks asking if there would be a post tonight, what is by now obviously missing is the traditional ... well, traditional for the past four years anyway ... joint post penned by myself and the two women who graciously agreed to help me mark the significance of what happened in a small conference room at my office on this date in 2012. I am truly humbled that so many of you remembered why the importance of today will remain seared into my mind forever, and I am deeply honored by your anticipation of the words that might be posted this evening. I am profoundly sorry for the disappointment you must assuredly be feeling now that you know my feeble words will be the only ones you'll be reading in tonight's post.

With the realization that the "What's missing?" words had lingered in my mind because of their meaning for me today came tears and I was, as I have been countless times before, thankful for the cover of darkness as Ollie and I quickly made our way home. Tonight, those words continue to thrash at my heart and hammer away at my soul, unyielding reminders of what once was. What's missing tonight is so much more than the collaborative words of three women marking the anniversary of the day I broke down and told the truth about my sexuality. What's missing is the feeling that I could somehow make a difference in the world. What's missing is a sense of connection and belonging. What's missing is being able to believe not only in the goodness of the hearts of others, but in the goodness of my own heart as well. What's missing is the security of having a safe place to be. What's missing is the peace of knowing that I'm worth the effort. What's missing is the contentment of equality. What's missing is so very much more than a joint blog post, my friends ... so very, very, very much more than a joint blog post.

I know some of you are thinking that tonight's post should have been one celebrating my momentous 5-year coming out anniversary and some of you are probably downright pissed that it isn't. Honestly, I had long envisioned a completely different kind of 5-year post to mark the day that completely changed the course of my life for all time. And in that regard, I'd like to leave you with a little kernel of truth to hang on to. It's important for me to accept and acknowledge what's missing, but in doing so, I am also keenly aware of what remains ... the love I have for my children and granddaughters and theirs for me in return ... the loyal and caring remnant of folks who, for reasons I will never be able to understand, continue to value and appreciate my presence in their lives ... the support and patient encouragement so freely given by all of you ... the snoring little wiener dog stretched across my lap. 

So ... here's to five years. May you be kind to one another, friends, in all you say and do. May you mark the special days in each other's lives, and may you mark the not so special ones as well. May you love and cherish each and every precious person who joins you in your journey. May you just be you, awesome you.