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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Remember Those Feathers?

If I had a dollar for every email I've received over the last four months about my lack of writing, I'd have more than enough money to fund the documentary my son and I have been working on for the past three years and retire to some gorgeous horse ranch in Montana and live out my golden years in style. Speaking of the documentary, "Not My Father's Child," if you haven't checked out the new trailer and the character vignettes of Mark, Nate and Dortha on our Kickstarter page, you really should. After seeing the news of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday ... the hate has to stop, friends, and I believe down to the very core of my soul that Nate, Mark and Dortha's journey from hate to hope will change lives.

I want you to know that I truly do appreciate all of your messages encouraging me to grab myself a cheese and mayo sandwich (minus the bread, of course) and climb back on up into the tree house and begin writing again. A special thanks to those of you who've been sending me suggestions on topics you think will rekindle my desire to write ... some of them have been, ummm, quite interesting to say the least. Suffice it to say that I'm almost 100 percent sure that, should I ever return to my more prolific days of writing, I will not be writing a post about toenail clippers.

For all the odd, somewhat frightening and perhaps even borderline insane ideas regarding possible topics I should write about, there has been one particular theme that has sparked my interest somewhat. Many of you have suggested that I should re-post the entries in various categories that stood out for some reason ... post with the most views; post I received the most messages about (two posts, one for most positive messages and one for most negative); post with the least views; post that received the most comments on the blog itself; post that generated the most Facebook interaction; and so on. The following note has had me pondering this idea for several weeks ... a note I received permission to share with you.

"Dear Terrie,

We've never met but I feel like I know you because of your beautifully written words in your blog. You are one of the rare writers who possesses both the courage and the ability to write honestly from your heart. I have soared with you, laughed with you, cried with you and sorrowed with you and I am honored to have been allowed to vicariously join you upon your path.

My heart is deeply saddened by your withdrawal from writing as your words have over the years been such a meaningful part of my days. I lost my husband to suicide seven years ago, thus I know the depths of darkness that depression can lead one into. My Benjamin had battled the disease since the days of his youth and was faithful to remain in counseling and follow his prescribed medication regimen. But, as you so artfully describe it, the wolf at the window finally broke through and devoured my Benjamin.

I know not of what despair or hurt has seemingly stolen your hardly fought after rise above the darkness, but I beg of you to return to those of us who so need your wisdom, your humor, your honesty and even your pain. Perhaps re-posting some of the posts that were dearest to your heart would be of help in restoring your heart. Perhaps once read again, your words will allow those of us who believe in you to respond in kind by sharing our words with you.

May God bless you, Terrie, as you are worthy of His blessing and His love. As you are the love of so many who stand at the ready to help you in any way we can.

Cynthia"

Perhaps it's quite telling that many of the posts which fall into the categories mentioned above are ones I wrote with guest bloggers ... more than a bit ironic for sure. So for you, dear Cynthia, and all of you who've mentioned the re-posting idea as perhaps being the ladder that will lead me back to the tree house, click the link below to see the post which received the most comments of any post since the beginning of this blog. I do feel, however, that I should tell you that I'm quite skeptical that this re-posting endeavor will be the means to the outcome you desire. But I guess it might be worth a shot. Why not, right?

December 31, 2014 --- "A Room Without Feathers"



Thursday, August 3, 2017

You Can't Build a Tree House if You Don't Have a Tree

People often ask me just what it was about the tree house my brother Jerry built for me when I was a young child that has caused it to remain so deeply embedded in my heart. My answer to that question is always the same, of course, and that answer is love. I can close my eyes even now and picture the marvelous little structure that was my tree house in all its glory ... built out of scrap wood that Jerry scavenged from who knows where. I can see the cream-colored, flour-sack curtain that hung loosely across the slightly crooked window ... the silver metal roof that provided shelter from the rain ... the handmade bookshelf that held some of the greatest literary works of all time such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and The Swiss Family Robinson.

It wasn't, however, the grandeur of the small wooden palace nestled in the arms of the tree that stood in the front yard of my brother's house or the carefully crafted items that resided within it that keeps my tree house securely fixed in such a lofty space within my heart. What gives that quaint little shack its permanent residence and secures its place of honor within my heart is love. If ever a big brother loved a little sister, my big brother Jerry surely loved me. My sister-in-law used to tell me that the only reason she wanted to date him was because I was so flipping adorable sitting in his lap high up in the lifeguard chair at the pool where he worked during the summers. Well, my adorableness and the fact that she thought he looked like a Greek god.

Though I'm sure there were times when Jerry must have grown weary of me following around behind him like a puppy dog, he certainly never let me know. No matter how many questions I asked or how many meltdowns I had or how often I was just a general pain in the butt, Jerry was consistently patient, kind and loving toward me. I don't remember him ever getting angry with me, or anyone else for that matter. My brother had a way about him ... he had a spirit of compassion and love that permeated every relationship in his life. From his wife and young sons to parents and siblings to his students and fellow teachers, Jerry genuinely loved and cared about people, and he wasn't afraid to show it. My brother poured his heart into the lives of others and into everything he did ... even a little wooden tree house that once rested in the limbs of a strong and majestic old oak tree in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

We had a heck of a storm here in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, one that packed winds strong enough to snap trees and down power lines all over town. At the height of the storm, there were more than 100,000 folks without power, myself included. Almost two weeks later, evidence of the ferocious attack upon the trees of the city still sits stacked on many of the sidewalks and streets around town waiting to be removed ... tenacious reminders that even the strongest of trees can be broken or destroyed by the treacherous winds of a powerful storm.

I took a different route home from work last night than the one I normally take because traffic was at a standstill on the interstate and the last thing I wanted was for my 10-minute drive to my apartment to take an hour. The different drive took me through an older, well-established neighborhood that you'd expect would be filled with tall, towering trees ... and it obviously had been, until the storm came. As I drove past stack after stack of brush, limbs and sawed-up tree trunks, tears filled my eyes ... a small drizzle of liquid that quickly became a torrential, snot-dripping, shirt-drenching downpour insisting that I stop my car and pull myself together.

Lest you assume that me sitting in my car last night crying my eyes out over a bunch of ripped-up trees means that I've finally cracked up completely, I assure you that I haven't gone completely off the deep end just yet ... at least I don't think I have anyway. In fact, I probably would have made it home last night with only a few sniffles and a couple of slightly red eyes had I not seen what looked to be the remnants of a tree house piled up next to what had once been a large and majestic oak tree. As I sat in my car bawling, I wondered how old the tree was ... I wondered how many storms it had withstood over the years ... I wondered how many families had been sheltered by its limbs ... I wondered why this particular storm was the one that brought it crashing to its death ... I wondered who built the tree house ... I wondered just how much love and how many hearts the old tree and the little wooden structure once held. 

Depending on your perspective, I suppose, possibly one upside to my not writing very much over the last several months is that it's afforded me extra time to read through a ton of the unread emails that have been accumulating in my inbox. And, as is always the case when I read your words, I am humbled by your overwhelming kindness and honored that so many of you entrust your own stories to me. I'm inspired by your collective strength and courage, and I'm blessed by your wisdom and your willingness to help others. Please know that I do not take lightly the encouragement you're sending for me to begin writing again. I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear that there are at least a few of you out there who miss me and my crazy ramblings, and one or two of you who even think I'm a halfway decent writer. Now that I think about it, the couple of you who think of me as being a good writer might want to seriously consider seeing a head doctor. Seriously.

So here's the thing, friends ... you can't build a tree house if you don't have a tree. Just like Mother Nature's fierce winds ripped so many of the old, majestic trees in Kansas City from their places of belonging and safety, the winds of life can do the same thing to the trees of our hearts and souls, threatening even the deepest of roots and the strongest of branches. And just like the storm here in KC a couple of weeks ago took everyone by surprise, so often do the storms of life ... storms you think will never come to you ... storms that cause you to question all that you once held dear ... storms that make you question whether you can survive.

I regret never building a tree house for my three children when they were young, but the places where we lived had only young and immature trees. There were no trees that were strong, stable or deeply rooted enough to hold such an important refuge and retreat. I couldn't build my children a tree house all those years ago because I didn't have a tree, and I think the same may be true of this blog. You can't build a tree house if you don't have a tree, friends ... or can you?






Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can't Make it Eat an Apple

A couple of weeks ago, my 5 1/2-year-old granddaughter attended her first pony camp, which, by the way, I knew was definitely misnamed after viewing the photos my sweet daughter-in-law sent me of my teeny-tiny, little-bitty, she's still my baby girl Coradoodle sitting in the saddle atop a huge horse. Pony camp? Seriously? That camp should obviously be called "If You Let That Monster Horse Hurt My Precious Granddaughter, You Will Face the Wrath of Ghee" camp. But, my little grandgal had absolutely no fear of the giant misnamed "ponies," and she was super excited to tell me on Skype all about everything she learned at "pony" camp.

I don't think any of us really know what sparked Coraline's infatuation with horses, but I've come to the conclusion after more than a year of her being obsessed with all things horses that it's not just a passing phase for her. She genuinely loves horses and wants to learn everything she can about them. In fact, she already knows the correct names for most parts of a horse's body, how to bathe a horse, what all the pieces of the saddle are called, how to get a horse to go or stop, how to get it to turn right or left, and even what a horse likes to eat. I know you're already thinking it, so I'll just go ahead and say it for you ... both of my granddaughters are undoubtedly geniuses. 

Fortunately for Matt and Becca's bank account, one of Matt's colleagues has an inside connection at a local stable so Coraline's been able to do a fair amount of horseback riding free of charge. As fate would have it, I suppose, the stable horse that Coraline has developed an extra-special bond with is an even more gigantic beast than the ones at pony camp. His name is Kota, and he seriously has to be the biggest horse ever born into the horse kingdom. The thought of climbing up on Mr. Kota's back would have most adults shaking in their cowboy boots, but not my little Boo. Debunking the myths that animals don't have feelings or that they don't possess the mental capacity to remember certain people, Kota lowers his head for Coraline to pat him the minute he sees her, and he's a perfect gentleman every time they go for a ride. And if he happens to take too large a bite of the carrot that Coraline feeds him post riding session, Mr. Kota gently puts his mouth down onto Coraline's hand and graciously and gently returns the surplus carrot. Gross and sweet all at the same time if you ask me.

During one of our Kota conversations on Skype, I asked Coraline if she ever fed Kota apples because I'd always heard that horses like apples. Her eyes were as big as saucers as she quickly said, "No, no, no, Ghee! I do not feed Kota apples because he absolutely does not like apples." She shook her head back and forth as she added with great emphasis (probably to be sure that I got it), "Ghee, no apples for Kota. No matter what you do, Ghee, do not try to feed apples to Kota because he does not like apples and will spit them on the ground if you try to feed them to him. No, no, no, Ghee ... I do not feed apples to Kota." And of course, me being the type of Ghee I am, I immediately replied, "So Coraline, do you ever feed Kota an apple?" Suffice it to say, my little grandgal was more than a bit exasperated with me as she went through the entire Kota doesn't eat apples story again.

As much as I wish I could tell you that my writing tonight means that my blogging exile is over, I'm afraid I can't. I was thinking last night as I drove home after babysitting one of my co-worker's two kiddos that in the past I could and probably would have easily written a couple of blog posts in the three or so hours after the kids went to bed. Last night, however, instead of writing, I finished up some projects for work and then I watched episodes of Law and Order that I've seen so many times I could almost quote the dialogue word for word. Many of you have written to ask me why I'm not writing or if there's anything you can do or say to get me back to the keyboard, and I honestly appreciate both your concern and your encouragement. The simple answer to your question of whether I will ever get back to being the prolific writer I once was is I don't know. I hope so, but I just don't know if or when that might happen.

One of the trademarks of my posts in the past has been my ability to find the lesson or truth or deeper meaning in the everyday things of life, and though it doesn't happen often these days, I think I may have discovered one in the story of the special connection between Coraline and Kota, and I'll leave it to you to decide if you see it, too. That sweet little girl and that gigantic beast of a horse are as different as any human and animal could ever be, and it doesn't matter at all. There exists a connection between those two that isn't based on size or color or status or wealth or age or power or intelligence or species or physical appearance or whether their favorite snack is apples or carrots. I'm sure there will be many other horses that come into Coraline's life over the years, but I'm willing to bet that she will never ever forget Kota and the special place he held in her heart. I'd also like to believe that Kota, that gigantic beast of a horse, will never forget the little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who brushed his mane and put clean hay in his stable and fed him carrots. Not apples ... just carrots.

I'll give you one hint on the lesson, friends ... it has nothing to do with horses and everything to do with humans.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Why it Matters

Remember all those posts I wrote that I felt needed a disclaimer? Well, my post tonight can be added to that list. Some of you won't like what I have to say this evening ... heck, it very well could be that many of you won't agree with I'm going to say. And so you know, I'm completely okay with that ... you have a right to your opinion just as I have a right to mine. I don't believe, however, that having differing opinions about something gives anyone, myself included, the right to judge or hate or mistreat another person. Now that you know my post this evening may not sit too well with some of you, let's get on with it.

Over the course of the last week or so, I've received a large number of emails asking me what I think about the guilty verdict that was handed down in what the media has dubbed "the suicide texter" case. If you're not familiar with the case, here's a very condensed recounting of what happened. A teenage girl sent her boyfriend, who had been struggling with depression and had made suicide attempts in the past, a barrage of text messages encouraging him to go ahead and kill himself. Even when the young man exited his carbon monoxide-filled vehicle and told the young woman he was scared, her reply via text message was, "Get back in." The 17-year-old girl told her 18-year-old boyfriend to get back in his truck and die ... and that's exactly what he did.

The young woman was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter a little more than a week ago and could receive up to 20 years in prison for her role in the young man's death. There has been and continues to be a great deal of controversy surrounding the case, and there are many who believe that the guilty verdict is in direct violation of a person's right to freedom of speech. The young woman waived her right to a jury trial, therefore allowing the one solitary judge to decide whether she was innocent or guilty ... I can't help but wonder if she's regretting that decision considering the outcome of her trial. I'm sure her attorneys are already working to file an appeal to have the verdict overturned, but for now she's out on bail until she goes back to court in August for sentencing.

Now, here's where I'm guessing some of you won't like what I have to say about this terrible tragedy. It should go without saying that I think the young woman's actions were deplorable and that she must be held accountable for the messages she sent and the words she spoke to the young man in the days leading up to death. And I think it is equally necessary that she be held accountable for what she didn't say or text to him or someone who could have helped him in the final moments of his life. As to whether I think she should receive the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison ... I'll just say I'm sure glad I'm not the judge who has to make that decision. I do hope that part of her sentence includes some type of mental health treatment, because there's not a doubt in my mind that she desperately needs it.

For those who are upset about her being found guilty because of what the decision could mean in regard to freedom of speech, there's a part of me that understands where you're coming from and why you're so concerned. But there's a bigger part of me that thinks you're forgetting what's really important in this tragedy ... a young man is dead and a young woman's life is ruined forever. Many of the articles I've read about this case have asked the question, "Can words kill?" In this particular case, I would have to say yes, words can and did play a role in the young man taking his own life. Had that young woman written or spoken different words to that young man ... a young man whom she knew was depressed and in such a fragile state ... had she encouraged him to live instead of die, I think he very well might still be alive today.

I don't think the discussions about freedom of speech or what kind of precedent the verdict in this case may have set for future cases are what should matter most to us. I'm not saying being concerned about those things and discussing them aren't important, because they most certainly are. I believe, however, that what's most important about this case is that we recognize why it matters. Though they may not be as extreme or blatant as the young woman's texts to the young man, we're just as guilty of sending the same message to others. Believe me, I know this is true because I've been there ... times when words spoken to me, or not spoken to me as the case may be, felt very much like I was handed a loaded gun and goaded, even begged at times, to pull the trigger.

Every time we make someone feel worthless ... every time we exclude someone from a conversation ... every time we dismiss someone's pain or discount someone's illness ... every time someone is hopeless and we stand by and do nothing ... every time we judge or look down on or ridicule another person ... every time we don't apologize to those we've wronged ... every time we know that our words are wounding another person's soul and we speak them anyway ... every single time ... every single time, we're committing the same crime ... we're committing exactly the same crime.

At what point do we accept that we aren't put on this earth to care only about ourselves? How many deaths will it take for us to understand that it is our responsibility to look out for each other? At what point? At what cost? That's why it matters, friends ... that's why it matters.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

No One to Tell

Unless you count the mini ones in the little pots at Home Depot, I had never seen a live cactus until last weekend. I've seen plenty of photos of the unusual desert plants, but those photos paled in comparison to seeing the real thing with my own eyes. Seeing all the different varieties of cacti last weekend in Phoenix reminded me of how I felt when I went to Maine for the first time and saw the lighthouses. There are some things in life you have to experience firsthand ... things you have to see and feel for yourself ... things you can never comprehend until you see them with your own eyes and feel them with your own heart. Things like majestic lighthouses that stand regally above the rocky Maine coastline. Things like prickly cacti that grow strong and tall in the burning sun of the Arizona desert.

The reason for my visit to Phoenix last weekend wasn't because I was on a quest to check seeing cacti in their native habitat off my bucket list ... not hardly. I traveled there with my son Brad and our sound man Jason for a very special filming session for the documentary I talked about in my previous post. Our time with Nate, Mark, Dortha and Mark's beautiful family was incredible, made even more special for me personally because Mark's daughter graciously allowed me to hold her precious 3-week old baby and give him his bottle. To experience firsthand ... to see with my own eyes and feel with my own heart the abiding love that exists within this family despite the horrible circumstances they came from ... it was truly incredible.

Their visit last weekend was the first time that Nate, Mark and Dortha have all been together in many, many years, and we were beyond honored and humbled that they chose to include us (and allow us to film) their reunion. There were plenty of tears as they talked about what it was like to have Fred Phelps, Sr. for a father ... his tyrannical demands and irrational rantings ... the severe and devastating beatings he levied against his wife and children ... the doctrine of contemptible hatred he preached from the pulpit. There was laughter as they talked about the ways they would try to avoid their father's wrath and of the few fleeting moments of joy they had as children. I have no idea how many hours of footage we left with when we headed back to Kansas, but I do know that the stories we captured on film ... the stories of three of the strongest, most courageous people I've ever known ... their stories are ones that absolutely must be told.

You'd think after all the time I've spent interviewing Nate, Mark and Dortha over the last few years that I would have come to know everything there is to know about them and their stories by now, but something struck me last weekend as I listened to them discussing their childhoods once again. I've always wondered why they never told anyone about their lives at home ... why they never shared with someone what was going on in their world. And then last weekend, it hit me like a ton of bricks ... they had no one to tell. They had no one to tell about the horrible beatings they were receiving ... no one to tell about the denigrating, demoralizing, despicable verbal assaults perpetuated on them by their father. They had no one to tell. Nor did they have anyone to tell about the good things in their lives either. They were isolated from other people. They were trapped. They were on the outside looking in. They had no one to tell about the bad things, and they had no one to tell about the good things.

I know some of you know firsthand that having no one to tell about the stuff of life, both bad and good alike, is tough, perhaps even one of the toughest things we as humans can experience. We are created to be social creatures and to be in relationship with one another. The desire to be connected to other humans is woven into our DNA from the moment we are conceived. We are meant to do life together ... we need to do life together. We all need someone to tell ... someone we can trust with our deepest, darkest secrets and our most incredible joys and successes and know that those parts of us are safe with that person. I know what it feels like to have someone like that, and I know what it feels like not to. We all need someone to tell, friends ... not a single, solitary person should ever have to feel that they have no one to tell ... about the bad ... about the good ... and about everything in between. We all need someone to tell ... every single one of us needs to have someone to tell. That we do ... that we do indeed.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Not My Father's Child

"Mom, wake up! Get out of bed and wake up and listen to me. I need to talk to you right now!"

Those are the words every parent fears hearing when their phone rings in the middle of the night and startles them awake from their deep and theretofore peaceful sleep. My dad used to say that no phone call after midnight when you have teenage or young adult children is ever a good phone call. I would agree with my dad's statement for the most part, I suppose, with the exception being when you're the mother of a particular young filmmaker who has quite the track record for having some of his most brilliant ideas during the hours when other folks (like his dear old mom) are sound asleep. Such was the case a couple or so years ago when the ring of my phone jolted me from slumber and I answered to hear my movie-making son say, "Mom, wake up! Get out of bed and wake up and listen to me. I need to talk to you right now!"

I had no way of knowing that night as I sleepily tried my best to focus as my middle kiddo rattled off his most recent brilliant idea that the conversation we were having would end up changing both of our lives forever. That wee hours chat we had that night was the beginning of an incredible journey for us ... a journey that continues to test us in ways we never imagined possible ... a journey that has introduced us to some of the most courageous, compassionate, caring people we've ever known ... a journey that will be a forever reminder to me of how tremendously blessed I am to have such close relationships with each of my children.

Brad's couldn't wait until morning idea that night was that he and I should work together to tell the story of Nate Phelps, son of the late Fred Phelps, founder and leader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Some of you may have read the posts I've written over the past couple of years regarding our film-making pilgrimage, and I would imagine that more than a few of you have been thinking we had failed in our endeavor or had simply given up on our quest since we've been relatively silent about the film for a while. Not true in either case ... in fact, we're currently ramping up big time and, providing we secure the funding we need, we hope to have a rough cut of the film done by the end of the year.

Part of that ramping-up process for me is writing copy for grant submissions and the film's soon to be launched website. I've been doing a lot of research over the last few weeks, wading through mountains of statistics and scientific studies. Before I embarked on my recent research endeavor, I thought I was well-versed on what Nate, his brother Mark and sister Dortha went through when they chose to leave Westboro. I thought I had good insight into the range of emotions they must have experienced in the days, weeks and months following their departures. I was wrong.

Last weekend, I discovered something when I was reading about various forms of psychological trauma that can occur when a person is rejected or shunned by others. I was surprised by what quickly became a common theme in what I was reading ... the devastating consequences of being ostracized. For all the conversations I've had with Nate, Mark and Dortha over the last two years, I failed to recognize or acknowledge one of the deepest wounds inflicted upon them by their father ... his decree that they be ostracized from both the church and their family.

Medical professionals have come to the conclusion in recent years that ostracism is among the most devastating experiences we can endure because it is deeply connected to our most fundamental human need to be accepted and to belong. In fact, it's been scientifically proven that ostracism can adversely affect a person's cognitive ability and in extreme cases even reshape the brain's neural pathways. The need to belong, to matter, to be included is so strong that when someone is ostracized, he or she experiences psychological and physical effects immediately. Neuroscientists have found that social or personal rejection is experienced much like physical pain ... they are both connected to the same neural circuitry in the brain. One of the reasons that ostracism wounds so deeply is because it isn't confined only to the period when it happens ... just remembering a past episode of ostracism can produce the same level of agony as the original experience. The bottom line? Ostracizing someone is one of the most hurtful and cruel things a person can possibly do to another human being.

I'm sure we can all recall times in our lives when we felt excluded or rejected or even intentionally ostracized by others, and I know that some of you are in the midst of such a situation right now. And I'm equally as sure that we can all agree that ostracism creates a deep and lasting pain like no other. It's dehumanizing ... it robs you of your self-esteem ... it screams that you don't matter ... it shouts that you aren't worth being included ... it crushes your feelings of belonging ... it destroys your ability to trust ... it buries your willingness to be vulnerable ... it crushes your spirit and shames your soul ... it tears apart your heart ... it wreaks havoc on your mind ... it shouts that those who ostracize you have a better life without you in it. I say again, ostracizing someone is one of the most hurtful and cruel things a person can possibly do to another human being.

To you Nate, Mark and Dortha ... I'm so very sorry I didn't get it ... I'm so very sorry I unintentionally minimized that part of your pain ... I'm so very sorry for what you each endured and continue to endure even today. I'm so very thankful for each one of you and so very, very, very honored to be on this journey with you guys. Love you beyond words and respect you beyond measure. 

To everyone who happens to read my post tonight ... please think long and hard before you send someone who trusts you into exile. Remember that none of us are perfect ... remember that life is so very short and that not one of us is guaranteed another tomorrow. Take care of one another, friends ... take care of one another.

"If exposure to ostracism continues over an extended period of time, the individual's resources for coping are depleted. He or she will feel alienated even from those whom they feel close to, thus increasing feelings of depression, helplessness and unworthiness. Nothing threatens our core being and social nature more than being ignored or excluded." --- K.D. Williams and S.A. Nida


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Not Enough Glue

Being born 15 years later than the youngest of my three siblings meant that I wasn't part of all the great adventures they had together when they were kids. And yes, I'm quite certain that my brothers and sister did indeed partake in more than a few great and glorious adventures prior to my existence because they told me in great detail about said adventures many times over the years. Sometimes I wonder if them telling and retelling me about all the things they did together in their youth was their way of trying to make me feel better about missing out on all the fun ... or maybe they did it because they knew I always felt like I was the odd duck of the family, the one on the outside looking in.

While I don't know what their reasons were for doing so, I do know that by sharing their stories with me, my siblings allowed me to know them in a way I couldn't have had they decided to keep their childhood adventures to themselves. There's something else I know about the stories my siblings shared with me all those years ago ... I know there are truths and lessons contained within them that need to be seared into my brain and melded into my heart far more now than I did when I was a kid. Take the story of the time my brothers were roughhousing and broke my grandmother's favorite vase, for example ... if I ever needed a story to wash through my soul ... if I ever needed to believe in the goodness of people ... I need it now.  

I'll spare you the lengthy details of the unedited version as told to me by my sister and brothers, and just relate the basic gist of the story. Each summer, my brothers and sister hopped on a train and traveled from Tennessee to Kentucky to spend a few weeks at my grandparents' house. On one of those extended summer visits, my brothers were goofing around in the living room and my brother Jerry stumbled into a table that held Granny's favorite vase and sent it plummeting to the wooden floor. In a panic, Jerry quickly scooped up the pieces of the broken vase, tried to glue it back together as best he could and put it back on the table, hoping that Granny wouldn't notice his crude and childish attempt to fix what he had broken. It turned out that Jerry didn't have to worry long about getting punished for breaking the vase ... his guilty conscience got the better of him and he confessed later that same day what he had done.

My brothers didn't get punished for their careless wrestling and roughhousing that day, nor was Jerry punished for breaking Granny's favorite vase ... no lectures, no grounding, no scrubbing floors or having their favorite cereal taken away for a month. Instead of attempting to teach her grandsons what very well might have been a temporary lesson by punishing them, Granny chose to show them what true unconditional love and forgiveness really look like. If the story I was told down through the years is true and I believe it is, Granny's focus that day was on Jerry's attempt to fix what he had broken and him owning up to what he had done. In Granny's eyes, what mattered most of all was my brother's effort to repair the damage he had caused ... it was the glue that meant so much to her, friends ... it was the glue.  

So why am I breaking my blog silence to write about something my brothers did more than 65 years ago? Why am I telling you how much I need the truths of this story to fill every part of my being? Because I personally know seven people who have lost someone they cared about to suicide in just the last few weeks. I'm writing because the seven people who ended their lives decided there wasn't enough glue to put them back together. They decided they were too broken ... that their souls were too shattered ... that their hearts were too crushed ... that their minds were too fragmented ... that the betrayal was too deep ... that the pain was too intense. I know what that feels like ... I know what it feels like when every fiber of your being is screaming that you don't have enough glue and that you never will.

There are so many who live every single day of their lives praying that someone will see how broken they are ... praying that someone will help them glue the pieces of their lives back together ... praying that someone will tell them they matter ... praying that someone will care whether they live or die. We need to be kinder to each another ... we need to remember that words can wound far worse than any sword ever could. We need to not give up on each other, and we need to own up to it when we break each other's spirits. We need to focus on the glue, friends ... we need to make sure our families and friends and neighbors and co-workers know that we want to be their extra glue when they don't have enough. We need to leave absolutely no doubt in their minds that we see them ... that we hear them ... that we need them. We need to care more ... we need to love harder ... we need to listen longer ... we need to understand that even our next breath is never guaranteed.

By the way, my brother Jerry saved every penny of his allowance and bought Granny an ugly, bright blue, violin-shaped vase to replace the one he had broken. Both the broken vase and the ugly violin vase held a place of honor in Granny's home until the day she died. I remember asking her why she didn't throw the broken vase away, and she said, "Because your brother cared enough about me and how sad I would be over my broken vase that he used every drop of glue in the bottle to try his best to fix it."

May that be our legacy, friends ... that we care enough about one another to use every drop of glue in the bottle to fix things.





Monday, April 17, 2017

13 Reasons Why Not

In my previous post a couple of weeks or so ago, I said that my heart and I needed to take a breather from writing for a while, and though I wish I could tell you that's changed, I can't. As much as I wish I could tell you that I woke up this morning feeling like I could suddenly write the breathings of my heart again, I can't. But for tonight, there's something else I can't do ... for tonight, I can't not write. No matter what may come ... for tonight, I can't not write.

One of the young gals I work with stopped by my desk a few weeks ago to ask me if I had seen the new Netflix original series "13 Reasons Why." I told her that I had heard about it but that I hadn't watched it, and she told me I absolutely must go home that night and watch at least the first episode. I watched way more than the first episode that night, and it only took me a few days to watch the entire series. Had I not been so overcome with emotion several times that I had to hit the pause button until I could compose myself, I would have most definitely binged-watched all 13 episodes in one sitting.

The series has already garnered millions of views since its release on March 31 despite the tough issues it deals with ... bullying, rape, homosexuality and suicide. It's not surprising at all to me that "13 Reasons Why" has become such a hot topic of conversation among both teens and adults alike. It's also not surprising at all to me that there's a great deal of controversy surrounding the series, and though I do have an opinion regarding some of the questions that are being raised, what I think about those things isn't the reason for my post tonight.

I'm writing tonight because there are families and friends who are grieving the death of a loved one who committed suicide. I'm writing tonight because there are people at this very moment who feel that death is the only way to end their pain. I'm writing tonight because there are so very many, myself included, who fight every single day to keep the wolf on the other side of the window. I'm writing tonight because there are people of all ages who see themselves in one of the characters portrayed in "13 Reasons Why."

I'm writing tonight because one person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes. I'm writing tonight because in the U.S., suicide rates are highest in the spring. I'm writing tonight because every suicide intimately affects at least six other people. I'm writing tonight because depression isn't about being sad or looking for attention. I'm writing tonight because I know firsthand that depression is a nasty, nasty beast that cannot be fully understood by those who've never experienced it. I'm writing tonight because I know all too well that depression robs people of their will to live, forces them to believe others would be better off without them, shatters their relationships with family and friends, and shreds every ounce of hope they once had. I'm writing tonight because staying silent makes things so much worse.

I know I've said it many times over, but be kind to each other, friends. Make it your mission to care. Make it your mission to listen. Make it your mission to see when someone is hurting. Make it your mission not to give up on those who need to know they matter. Make it your mission to be one of someone's 13 reasons why not, instead of one of their 13 reasons why. Be someone's reason why not, dear ones ... be someone's reason why not.

"It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other ... it has to get better somehow." --- Clay Jensen, "13 Reasons Why"