Monday, March 27, 2017

What Are the Odds?

You'd think I would have learned by now that the posts I worry the most about posting are the very posts that I most need to post. I spent some time this morning before I went to work reading through some of the emails I've received in response to last night's post, and I can't begin to express how deeply moved I am by your words or how truly humbled I am that you would entrust your stories to me. Some of you have suffered such great loss ... some of you are fighting to stay alive ... some of you are doing everything you can to keep someone you love from taking his or her life. Please know that even though I can't read all of your messages, my heart is with you all. You aren't alone in the fight, friends ... you are never alone in the fight.

When I got home from work this evening, I took Ollie for a long walk ... one of those long, meandering, I have much to mull over walks. When we got home, I built a fire and flipped on the television thinking I'd watch for a few minutes while I ate my dinner. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me when "Ordinary People" just so happened to be the movie that was playing ... an older movie about a family whose oldest son died in a boating accident and whose youngest son tried to commit suicide following his brother's death. 

What are the odds that movie would be on television tonight? The night after I posted Mark's letter about losing his friend Olivia to suicide. A movie I haven't seen in over a decade and yet it appears randomly on television tonight. I think maybe Someone wants to make sure I get the message.

What are the odds, friends? What are the odds indeed?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fade to Black

Before you read tonight's post, there are a couple of things you should know. Other than this opening paragraph, I didn't write the words you'll read. I found them one night while I was browsing through emails, and I've wrestled with whether I should post them. You should know they're not easy words to read and that they're even less easy to get them out of your brain once you do. I wish I could believe that it was only by chance or coincidence that I just happened to open that particular email, but I don't. I believe I was meant to read this young man's words, and I believe I am meant to carry his words with me forever. It was no accident that I opened his email, and it's no accident that I now have the peace I needed to have before I could share them with you. I would ask that you read the young man's words with a spirit of compassion and grace ... I would ask that you be kind to one another always ... I would ask that you never take even one moment for granted.

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

I'm Mark and I'm writing to you because I know if you read this you'll help me get other people to read it to. I don't read your blogs much but my friend does and she told me to read the one you wrote back a while about it being easier to die and some others you wrote about being depressed. And when I did she told me I should write to you and you maybe would read it and get other people to read it and here's why. My friend Olivia died 8 days ago on her birthday after she hung herself in her room and she text me right before she did and said "fade to black". I thought she was joking and didn't mean it because she used to say that a lot. Like she would say when she was way down that she wanted to fade to black like the last scene in a movie. Olivia liked movies better than most things except for her little brother Hal. I thought she loved him enough that she would be ok and be able to keep coming out of the depression but not even that was more than her sadness was. 

I can't sleep much since Olivia died because I think I should have done something to help her or been a better friend and kept in touch with her more than I did after I got a new job at the mall. I cared so much about her but it wasn't easy sometimes to be her friend because of the depression she had. When she was in a good place she was the best and so much fun to be around. But it was like I knew even in those times that the sadness was still there and just waiting to get her down again. And when that happened so many times that the depression made her hate herself so much it was hard to keep watching it and I guess I got tired and stopped talking to her as much and told myself she'd be ok in the long run. And now she's dead and I can't sleep because she trusted me and I wasn't there. And I keep reading the text she sent me all the time when she said fade to black.

Why I'm sending you this letter Mrs. Johnson is because my friend says you're a real good person that wants to help lots of people and maybe my letter can help keep someone else from killing themselves. My friend Olivia was 17 years old the day she hung herself and it was Hal her little brother that found her and he is only 11 years old. I hope by a miracle you read my letter and put it in your blog if you want to and I hope it helps other people. Thank you.


Monday, March 20, 2017

And Just One More Thing

I have a confession to make ... it's been a while, a pretty long while, actually, since I've started a post with those words, and I'm sure you're on the edge of your seats wondering just what my confession might be. Though I would like nothing better than to share with you the plethora of thoughts I have regarding confession being good for the soul and how important it is to be open, honest, real and transparent in all things, I'll restrain myself and get right to my confession ... I seriously envy people who can think quickly on their feet and say everything they need to say in every conversation they have. Yep, I surely do envy those people a lot ... those people who are in touch with themselves and their thoughts well enough that they rarely, if ever, have to say, "And just one more thing." Whew ... I feel so much better now, like a giant weight has been lifted off of me. It's true ... confession really is good for the soul.

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, this evening's post is my "And just one more thing" addendum to my previous post, Soul Staring. After reading a bunch of emails I received following that post, I realized I had left something out ... an important something that happens when my little hound goes with me when I venture out to public places. People are so taken with Ollie the wiener dog that they're far less likely to judge me because of my short, spiky hair or my suspenders and bow ties or my tattoos. It's crazy, I know, but it's definitely true. People who might otherwise stare me down with "the look" (and if you're gay, you know exactly what "the look" is and what it feels like when it's sent your way) ... well ... they don't do it when Ollie's with me. I think he's giving off some mighty strong anti-hate vibes or he's my own personal cloak of invisibility. People are so focused on his cuteness and how well-behaved he is that they don't even notice that I'm different than them ... they don't see gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, old or young. People see a woman who loves her dog and a dog who loves his human. And that, my friends, is pure awesomeness times a billion.

I know some people think I'm a few fries short of a Happy Meal when it comes to my canine pals I've had down through the years, and they may well be correct in that deduction. All I know is that there are few better ways to learn about unconditional love or loyalty or forgiveness or trust than from a dog. Imagine how much better the world would be if we humans could do for one another what my Ollie does for me. Just imagine if we didn't see race or nationality ... just imagine if we didn't see economic status ... just imagine if we didn't see gender or sexuality ... just imagine if we didn't see age. Just imagine how much better your world would be if you could do for others what my Ollie does for me. Just imagine, friends ... just imagine indeed.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Soul Staring

My life-saving head doctor and I first discussed the possibility of getting my wiener dog Ollie officially certified as an emotional support animal after the first time he traveled to Canada with me. I paid for Ollie to go with me on that trip, and it was worth every single penny I spent. The difference in my anxiety level about flying was like the difference between climbing Mt. Everest and walking up a tiny little hill. It was unbelievable how much more relaxed I was on those flights ... having my faithful little wiener dog curled up in my lap on the planes calmed my nerves better than any amount of Xanax ever had. It was obviously clear after our first journey together that the best thing for me, and Ollie, too, for that matter, was to ensure that he be allowed to travel with me from then on by doing whatever was necessary to get my furry friend his official emotional support animal credentials.

While my initial reason for getting Ollie certified was so that he could keep me from having a full-blown panic attack every time I got on an airplane, I soon began taking him with me on the weekends when I ran errands, too. I'm one of those dog parents who feels horribly guilty when I have to leave my pooch at home alone on the weekend after he's been at home alone all week while I'm at work. And besides that, those of you who've been reading along with me for a while know that shopping runs riding on an airplane a darn close second when it comes to anxiety-producing activities for me. It only took a few weekend errand-running excursions for me to recognize how much less anxious or stressed I feel when I take Ollie along with me. Just as I have no idea why I suddenly began having anxiety over things I never used to feel anxious about, I also have no idea nor can I offer any explanation as to how or why my little wiener dog helps me the way he does. All I know is that anxiety and panic attacks suck big time and Ollie is a Jedi master of calming me down.   

I'll readily admit that in the beginning my desire to have Ollie become a certified emotional support animal was completely and totally selfish. Yep, that's right ... in the beginning, it was absolutely all about him helping me. I don't know why I didn't see it before, but I've recently come to realize that my little pal helps far more people than just me. The photos I post and the stories I share on Facebook of his wiener dog adventures bring chuckles to lots and lots of people. Tired and weary travelers go from frowning to smiling the minute they see Ollie prancing through an airport. Starbucks drive-thru workers giggle like little kids as he happily gobbles up the whipped cream in his puppuccino. Shoppers and workers alike grin from ear to ear as they exclaim, "Oh, my gosh, he's so adorable!" when they see him sitting atop his blanket in the kid seat of the shopping cart. Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart ask if they can give him one. People ask if they can pet him. People ask if they can hold him. People ask if he can come and sit with them in their wheelchairs. The plain and simple truth is that Ollie helps far more people than me, friends ... the plain and simple truth is that there's something about Ollie that just makes people happy.

For all the wonderful scenarios about people and Ollie that I just mentioned, however, a couple of weeks ago, something happened on a Saturday that completely eliminated any teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy lingering shred of doubt I might have had about my little hound's capacity for helping others. I had some extra time in between a couple of appointments, so I decided to stop by Half Price Books and pick up the book I needed for book club. It was just after opening time, so there were more employees than shoppers in the store. It seemed like only seconds after I asked where I could find the particular book I was looking for that Ollie and I were surrounded by every single employee in the building. They were all oohing and aahing over my adorable furry companion when suddenly one of the girls who looked to be a little older than the others in the group stepped closer to me, leaned over and gazed deeply into Ollie's eyes. When I told her she could pet him if she'd like, she looked up at me and I immediately noticed that she had tears in her eyes.

"I love your dog," she said in a soft voice that cracked as she spoke. "He's staring into my soul. Do you see him?"

I have to admit that I was taken aback by her words ... in all of the encounters Ollie and I have had with other people, no one has ever said my dog was staring into their soul. I didn't have a clue what to say to the girl, so I just nodded my head and smiled. She wiped at the tears that were by then running down her cheeks as she turned and spoke to the co-worker who was standing to her right.

"Look at his eyes, Sarah ... do you see his eyes? They're soulful ... he has eyes that see what people don't see. This dog is staring into my soul, Sarah ... do you see him?"

I'm one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason, and I think there was a reason that my first appointment ended early on that cold and snowy Saturday morning. I don't believe it was mere coincidence that I decided to spend my unexpected extra time in the bookstore ... not even a little bit do I believe that was simply happenstance. Though I don't know what was going on with the young woman and I'm sure I never will, I do know that my sweet Ollie boy helped her somehow ... somehow, my little wiener dog stared into that gal's soul and helped her.  

Needless to say, I've thought a great deal about the young woman and her reaction to Ollie that day, and in doing so I've come to realize that there's a huge lesson to be gleaned from what took place in those few minutes that morning ... a lesson that's not just for me, but for all of us. Some of you will think it's stupidly simple, and some of you will think it's impossibly difficult. What do I think? I think it could easily be life-changing.

We can't help each other until we stare into each other's souls.

I think I'll leave you to ponder on that one for a while ... roll it around in your mind and let it settle into your heart. Be careful, though ... it may well change the way you look at those around you ... it very may well indeed.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Special Kind of Love

Some would argue that I haven't learned much in my 57 years of life, and there are days when I'd have to agree with them. I'd like to believe, however, that at least of couple of those life lessons not only managed to get through my bull-headed, stubborn-as-a-mule mind but that they also managed to take up permanent residence in my heart. For all the things I should have learned along the way but didn't, there's one I learned a few years ago that will be with me forever ... unexpected friendships are often the best ones of all. Take my friend Yosef, for example ... he's without question one of the greatest friends I've ever had. His was truly an unexpected friendship ... one that I could have never anticipated ... one that I now cannot imagine ever living without.

I met Yosef when he first came to interview for a job at the company where I work. I happened to be at the front desk when he came in and me being me and him being him, it only took a few short minutes for us to become engaged in conversation. When he finished his interviews, he came to find me at my desk and we chatted some more, exchanged email addresses and agreed that we would keep in touch even if he didn't get the job. I'll never forget the day Yosef texted me to say that he got the job and would soon be moving to Kansas City from New York. I'm not sure which one of us was more excited ... him for his new job or me for my new friend. 

There's not much that Yosef and I haven't talked about over the last couple of years ... not much at all. From dating to depression to cooking to rock climbing to wiener dogs to airplane rides to hippie parents to grandchildren to marriage to politics to religion to wanting to make a difference in the world ... you name it and Yosef and I have talked about it. And if by chance there's a subject we haven't discussed, I am certain that we will at some point. He's chopped firewood for me, checked on me when he knew I was afraid (like tonight), found a fantastic deal on a new TV for me when I moved and then spent a ton of time hanging it on the wall above my fireplace, wiped away my tears more times than I can count, laughed at my stupid jokes, and perhaps my favorite of all ... he came to my desk every single day to give me a great big hug. I'll tell you something about Yosef's hugs that I never told him ... there were weeks, months even, when his hugs were the only human touch I received.

A week ago, I learned that Yosef would be leaving our company ... my sweet friend is off on his next great adventure, and there's not a doubt in my mind that there are big things ahead for him. There's also not a doubt in my mind that we will stay close and that our friendship will always remain one of the best of my life. Yosef teaches me every single day what it really means to be a true and loyal friend ... through good times or bad, sadness or joy, health or sickness, abundance or need ... Yosef teaches me every single day what it really means to be a true and loyal friend.

There's a special kind of love between Yosef and I ... an unexpected friendship kind of love. Thank you for being my friend, Yosi ... I count you as one of my life's greatest blessings, and I thank you for being my friend.

Monday, February 27, 2017

It's Their Loss

Saturday night, I did something I never ever thought I would do, and I did it because I love my daughter. Now before I tell you what that something was and have you go thinking I'm the most awesome mom ever, I must tell you that my quick and initial first response to her request was a solid and firm, "No, I won't do that." So, you see, I'm really not the most awesome mom ever ... not by a long shot, friends ... but I do love my kids with all my heart, and Saturday night proves that I'll do just about anything for them. Even if that "anything" means returning to a place I swore I would never go back to ... a place that once felt like home and the people there like family ... a place where I once felt loved and accepted ... a place that was once my refuge ... a place where I once thought I mattered ... a place where I once felt like I belonged. Last night, I went back to my former church for an event my daughter asked me to attend with her and my son-in-law ... I went back because I love my daughter.

I've come to the conclusion that there are certain types of hurt ... deep down to the pit of your soul hurt ... that may not ever go away no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. Some hurts are like wounds that just won't ever fully heal, you know? You can do all the right things ... you can put medicine on them, keep them covered with a bandage, follow all of the doctor's instructions to the letter ... and yet the wound is still there. It may look from the outside as though it's healed, but down deep inside ... way down deep inside where no one else can see ... the wound remains. That's why what I did Saturday night was such a big deal for me ... that's why I first said no to my sweet daughter's request ... because there's a wound down deep inside of me that still hurts ... that's why, friends ... because that wound still hurts.

I could hear the disappointment in my daughter's voice on the phone when I told her I wouldn't go. She didn't complain or judge me or tell me I needed to get over it, quite the opposite, in fact. She said she understood ... she said it was okay ... she said she loved me. My mind sped down memory lane as our call ended ... memories of my kids growing up in that church ... memories of people whom I loved so dearly ... memories of characters I played in VBS skits ... memories of teaching Sunday school ... memories of how quickly it all changed ... memories of leaving, ashamed and wounded and broken. I can't explain it, but as those memories washed through me, I knew what I had to do. When I convinced myself that I could actually do so without bawling my eyes out, I called my daughter back and told her I had changed my mind ... I told her I would go to the church that evening with her and my son-in-law.

Amazingly, lightning didn't strike me down when I stepped inside the walls of my old church, nor did I have a heart attack and die right there on the spot as I had feared I might. My heart was beating faster than a race horse runs, and I did think for a brief moment that the wonderful dinner I had just eaten might choose to escape the confines of my stomach. I won't lie ... I was happy that there weren't many people there for the event and that the ones who knew me were kind. They hugged me and seemed genuinely happy to see me. The whole experience was quite surreal for sure and I definitely don't want to do it again anytime soon. But the smile on my daughter's face ... the smile on her face and the light in her eyes made me know with complete certainty that going with her and my son-in-law to the church Saturday evening was most definitely the right thing to do.

As I drove home later that night after a spontaneous ice cream outing with my daughter, son-in-law and a young couple and their two daughters, an all too familiar sadness began to make its way into my heart ... the sadness of loss. When people whom I thought were among my closest friends suddenly disappeared from my life when I came crawling out of the closet I had spent my entire life hiding in, other people would say to me, "It's their loss, Terrie. You're a wonderful person and they didn't deserve you. It's their loss, Terrie ... really ... it's their loss." I wanted to believe those words back then but I couldn't. I want to believe those words now but I can't. I couldn't believe them then and I can't believe them now because actions speak far louder than words.

When people who were a huge part of my life ... people who once called or emailed or texted or dropped by to say hi almost every day for years suddenly stopped doing those things ... people I trusted ... people I believed in ... people I thought really and truly cared about me ... when those people could so easily walk away, when they cared one day (or at least I thought they did anyway) and the next day they didn't ... well, that makes it pretty difficult, if not impossible, to believe "it's their loss." That's one of those kinds of hurt ... down deep to the pit of my soul hurt ... that may not ever go away no matter how hard I try to get rid of it ... the hurt of knowing that it isn't their loss at all.

I know I've said it lots of times before, but tonight my heart is heavy and tonight it bears repeating ... be kind to one another, friends. People are so much more precious than riches or power or fame or any of the other things we so often spend our lives chasing after or trying to obtain. What greater wealth is there on earth than the wealth of being in relationship with one another? What greater power is there on earth than the power of a listening and caring heart? What greater fame is there on earth than the fame of making a difference in one another's lives? If we must chase after or try to obtain anything in life, may it be kindness ... may it be respect ... may it be compassion ... may it be putting the needs of others before our own ... may it be forgiveness ... may it be love.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?

My oldest niece and I are only a few days shy of being 27 months apart in age. I've often wondered who was more freaked out back then ... my mom who had a toddler when her teenage daughter had a baby or my sister who had a baby when her youngest sibling was a toddler. Something tells me there were more than a few times of total weirdness when my mom, my sister, my niece Sharon and I were out in public together. I mean, think about it ... people thinking mom was my grandmother ... people thinking my sister was my mom ... people trying to figure out why my niece and I looked as different as day and night. Even though I'm sure there was much awkwardness in the beginning, it all turned out well ... at least for my niece and I ... we grew up more like sisters than cousins and we were the best of buds. 

I can't remember how close in time it was when my niece and I each got married, but I think it may have been within a year or so of each other. She beat me to the punch in the having kids department, though, with her son Jeremy being born a year before my Mattie and her second child Rachel. Yep, you read that correctly ... my niece and I were both pregnant at the same time ... her with her second child and me with my first. Talk about a fun time ... we went baby clothes shopping together ... we downed gallons of fruit juice together ... we even had a baby shower together. She beat me to the punch again when her precious little girl Rachel was born a couple of months prior to Matt's arrival into the world.

Maybe it's because we were pregnant at the same time or maybe it's because Rachel and Matt were born so close together or maybe it's because my niece and I babysat for each other quite a bit or maybe it's because she's always been such a sweet kid, but I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Rachel and I'd do just about anything for her. Heck, I even drove all the way from Kansas to Tennessee in a car with three smelly teenagers to be at her wedding ... if that doesn't say best great aunt EVER, then I don't know what does. Rachel and Kevin's wedding ... that's the day two of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate and loving young people I've ever known stood before God and their family and friends and made a promise to love and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. No matter what ... that's the day they said that no matter what life brought their way, they were committed to loving and caring for each other ... no matter what.

Before I go on, I want you to know that I asked Kevin and Rachel if it was okay with them if I wrote this post about them, saying I wouldn't mention their names and would only refer to them as members of my family. Big fat tears rolled down my cheeks when I read Rachel's text telling me not only that I could write about them, but that I could use their names as well. If I didn't already know that they're incredibly wonderful, brave, honest and courageous young people before, I certainly knew it the minute I read my sweet great niece's words on my phone. And now I've come to the hard part of my post this evening, the part I wish with all my heart I never had to write.

Several months ago, Kevin started having some muscle weakness that he thought was probably caused from overdoing it a little when he was working out. Then he began to experience a little difficulty in swallowing and he noticed that he seemed to be losing his balance and stumbling more than he had before. It became apparent to Kevin that there was something more going on than just working out too hard or that his throat was just sore or that his inner ear might be out of whack, he went to the doctor to find out what was wrong. The doctor ordered a battery of tests ... tests in which the results indicated Kevin might have ALS, a diagnosis which has since been confirmed by other physicians at two of the top research hospitals in the country.

Please know this ... I'm not writing this post tonight because I want you to feel sorry for Kevin and Rachel or their two young children, and that's not what they want either. I'm not writing tonight to ask you to send a big fat check to the ALS Association or to encourage you to start round two of the ice bucket challenge to raise funds to help find a cure. Don't get me wrong ... if you feel led to donate a big chunk of change to fund research toward finding a cure for this terrible disease, I'll be the first in line to encourage you to do so but please know that's not what my post this evening is about. I'm writing this post tonight about Kevin and Rachel for one reason only, and that reason is indeed something I want to ask you to do. I'm writing this post tonight because I know many of you believe, as I do, in the power of prayer and I'm asking you to pray. 

I'm asking you to pray that God will choose to reach down and heal Kevin, yes, but I'm also asking you to pray that if He chooses not to do so that he will continue to give both he and Rachel the strength, the faith, the courage and the love to face what's ahead of them. I'm asking you to pray for their two precious children ... their little boy is five years old and their little girl is eight months. I'm asking you to pray for understanding and patience and strength for their family ... that's why I'm writing this post tonight ... to ask you to pray for Kevin and Rachel and their precious children. I've lost faith and confidence in many things over the last year or so, but there's one thing I continue to believe in with every fiber in my being ... miracles happen every single day, friends ... I believe that God still works miracles every single day. 

To you, Rachel and Kevin ... thank you for trusting me to share your story ... thank you for teaching me daily what real courage and faith look like ... thank you for loving me and for letting me love you right back. I may not be there with you in body, but know that I am forever and always with you in heart. Love you both so very, very much.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your Savior." --- Isaiah 43:2-3


Friday, February 17, 2017

Invitado Especial de Esta Noche

The summer following my junior year of college, I spent three months taking extensive Spanish language classes in Guadalajara, Mexico. My place of residence for those three months was in the home of the Lopez family ... Guillermo and Carmen, and their son Miguel. From the moment I arrived, they treated me as if I were one of their own. They were kind, compassionate, loving and giving people, and they welcomed me ... a total stranger to them ... and they welcomed me into their home and treated me like family. That summer I learned something far more important than Spanish, friends. That summer I learned that it's not age or gender or language or skin color or sexuality or faith that divides us ... that summer I learned that the only thing that separates us is our hearts.

Unless you live under a rock on another planet, you know that there's a great division in our country ... a greater division than I think I've seen in my lifetime. It's easy to lose hope and to spend our time living in fear of what tomorrow may bring or focusing on what we can't do rather than what we can. But ... but ... but ... we mustn't give up ... we must stand with the young men and women who are the future not only of our country, but of the entire world. They are the ones who bring me and countless others the hope of a brighter tomorrow ... they are the ones who are stepping up to fight against injustice ... to say no to discrimination and racism ... to speak out for the victims of sexual abuse. They are the ones who won't give up until real and lasting change comes ... they are the ones who aren't afraid to say enough is enough ... they are the ones who make me proud to be an American.

Tonight's post was written by a young man who is a copywriter for the company where I work. He told me I could print his name ... because he's not afraid to say enough is enough ... because he will not give up until real and lasting change comes ... because he's one of the ones who make me and so many others proud to call ourselves Americans. Thank you, Matt, for speaking from your heart ... thank you so very much, my friend ... so very much.

     by Matt Stacks
You’ll start learning the Spanish alphabet in 7th grade.

ah. bay. say. chay. day. ay. f-ay. hota. ka. l-ay. m-ay. n-ay. n-yay. oh. pay. cuh. air-ay. airrrrrrrrr-ay. ess-ay. tay. oooooh. vay. dough-blah-vay. eh-keys. e-gree-ay-gah. say-ta.

Then you move onto colors.
ah-zool. ver-day. ah-ma-ree-o. a-na-ran-ha-do.

And vocabulary words.
guy-yee-nahs lay way-vos.
I pack my muh-lay-tahs and arrive at the air-o-pwer-toe.

So you learn a list of words. And then another list. And one more. Then conjugations of words. All of this standard info. But when you’re armed with these words, they open up new worlds.

You’re now in high school, and you think you’re pretty cool because you can politely ask for extra cheese at Chipotle. Yo quisiera un poco más queso, por favor. You like the empowerment.

But you’re white. Really white. Like can’t-shower-after-a-sunburn-for-three-whole-days white. And you have no one to talk to in Spanish.

So you look for opportunities to speak to any native speakers you can find. You start listening more. You learn about struggles your Cuban-American Spanish teacher had to endure to come to America. He moved here when he was little. Too little. He’s a weathered man now. How he longs to go back to his país natal.

You’ll spend two weeks as a senior teaching two brothers from Durango, Mexico, how to speak English at Sacred Heart Elementary. You’ll see their carefree smiles. You’ll see them full of life. And, at recess, they’ll give you an education in fútbol.

Then you’ll go to college. And you’ll study more Spanish. You’ll read novellas and you’ll watch películas. You’ll learn about women’s literature of Spain in the sixteenth century. You’ll discuss the sacred pilgrimage route, El Camino de Santiago, that passes through the heart of Spain.

Then you’ll volunteer at a place called El Centro. You’ll see people in KCK come for help. You’ll interact with illegal immigrants. You’ll discover that these people have many of the same hopes and dreams as you. You’ll learn that the road to becoming a citizen of the United States is arduous. You’ll be surprised to find out that these illegal immigrants pay their taxes by April 18, just like the majority of us. You’ll look them in their ojos. And you’ll see another human standing in front of you.

They’ll have come from all over—Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Colombia. They’ll tell you they have family back home. That they want to all be together. That it’s just too difficult to come here legally. So you’ll ask yourself why you got so lucky. Why random, pure luck birthed you as a white American male, and them not. You’ll wonder what separates you. The answer? Nada mucho.

You’ll donate to El Centro to help these people help themselves. You know you can do more. You can always do more.

And then a president will take power. He will assume all Latinos are Mexican. He’s going to build un gran muralla to separate the United States and Mexico, he tells us. He’ll say they are bad hombres. His Spanish is not better than yours. He will call them all rapists and murderers.

He is wrong.

The Latinos you know are twin brothers from Durango, dancing wildly because they learned that zapatos are also called “choos.” A Mexican-American professor whose daughter graduates from Harvard. A Cuban-American high school teacher who laughs at ill-conceived jokes by 17-year-olds. A Guatemalan who lives across the hall in your freshman dorm and who crushes you every time you play Ping-Pong.

So you’ll fight for those who come here to make a better life. Who are as human as you. Who live out the virtues of America more than many Americans. And you’ll wonder if it’ll get better. It will. You’ll close your eyes and see how your life has been changed and enriched because of that extra alphabet you learned. And you’ll wonder, “Can we all overcome this bigot in the White House?”

Si se puede. En juntos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Island Never Cries

When my son Brad informed me a couple of weeks before my last trip to Maine that he had made arrangements for us to spend two days on an island, I was both excited and nervous at the same time. Listening to Brad's description of the peacefulness of the island and the rustic nature of the accommodations sounded like something straight out of Swiss Family Robinson, one of my all-time favorite movies when I was a kid. I'll admit that I wasn't completely thrilled about the outdoor shower and the composting toilets part of my son's explanation of what awaited me on the island, but I was excited about the adventure of it all. I was a nervous wreck about surviving the hour-long boat ride ... the hour-long boat ride in the middle of the ocean with waves and sea creatures and memories of puking my guts out in cars and airplanes because of motion sickness ... oh, yeah, you bet your butt I was nervous about the boat ride.

The more my Brad talked about the mother and son excursion he had planned for the two of us, the bigger the lump in my throat swelled ... my 28-year-old son was actually excited about taking his old gray-haired mom to a secluded island. When we ended our chat that evening, there wasn't a doubt in my mind I would do whatever it took to get myself on that boat and go to that island with my boy. And, believe it or not, my steadfast determination to overcome my fear didn't falter even a little bit. When the day arrived for us to embark on our island journey, I popped a couple of Dramamine, tried really hard not to think about the boat sinking and all the creatures that would eat me if it did, and I climbed on that lobster boat and spent two of the most remarkable days of my life on Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine with my son.

Now Brad had told me before I departed on this particular trip to Maine that he and Shelby intended to make me see and experience all kinds of new things and that some of those things would push me far outside of my comfort zone. I'm fairly certain, however, that me taking two hard falls in a matter of two days wasn't part of their plan. Now that I think about it, though, the result of those falls was that I was far, far away from being comfortable for several days ... hmmm ... maybe they did plan them after all ... hmmm. My first tumble occurred when we were almost back to the car after climbing a massive beast of a mountain. Okay, okay ... maybe it wasn't a Rocky Mountains kind of mountain, but it was a mountain nonetheless. I made the mistake of briefly looking up at Shelby instead of continuing to watch my feet as I walked down the steep trail, and before I knew what was happening, I came crashing down onto a good-sized rock at the edge of the path. Even though the sound my arm made when it hit the rock made me think I must surely have broken a bone, my injuries were confined to scrapes, abrasions, bruises that were topped off with a sizable wallop of embarrassment. Little did I know that in less than 24 hours, I would think that particular rocky encounter was more like a stroll in the park than a fall.

Brad's description of the island didn't disappoint ... I have never seen such beauty, my friends, and that's saying a lot from a gal who's always been a bigger fan of the mountains thaI have the ocean ... well, at least I was until I crashed and burned on one anyway. From the massive boulders that lined its shoreline to the ancient trees that towered at its highest point, the island beckoned me to leave my fast-paced life behind and to rest in its quiet and simple existence. I instantly envied the dozen or so residents of the island as Brad introduced me to them ... they live on the island six months out of the year teaching various student groups about marine life and sustainable living. To live in that beauty and be doing such amazing work? Oh yes, I was both amazed and jealous ... wow ... just wow. 

Following the introductions, Brad and I stowed our gear in the small boat house next to the dock and hopped ... actually, I gingerly stepped ... into a small motorboat which took us to the other side of the island and dropped us off. Brad had agreed to do some additional filming for the foundation that manages the island in exchange for them allowing him to bring me to the island, and he was anxious to get his drone in the air. That's my boy, alright ... he always finds a way to make the impossible possible. I watched Brad scamper across the big boulders ... leaping from one to the other like a gazelle ... as I took my time along a less challenging route, picking up various rocks along the way to add to my collection back at home. I eventually arrived at the spot where Brad was filming, and I sat on a boulder and watched him as he maneuvered the drone in the sky. I ate a protein bar and drank some water ... heck, I even caught the drone a few times when Brad brought it in for a landing. The sun was shining brightly ... the wind was blowing gently ... the waves were rolling easily ... it was as close to a perfect day as I've ever experienced.

I'm not sure how long we lingered on the boulder, but after a while Brad said he needed to change locations. He once again scampered across the giant, rounded pillars of rock, and I once again walked slowly, stopping now and then to rub my much more sore than I would admit arm, shoulder and thighs. In order for me to get to where Brad was standing, I had no choice but to make my way across some of the not as big but still big boulders ... slowly and carefully, no gazelle jumping for me. When I was within a few feet of Brad, I said, "Look, Buddy, the whole front pocket of my hoodie is full of a bunch of cool rocks I found." I then stepped off of the rock where I was standing to the one just below it ... at least I intended to step from one rock to another, but instead my overtired thigh muscle decided not to go along with my plan. Remember how I said the other fall turned out to be a walk in the park? I wasn't quite as fortunate in the injury department the second fall around ... my island crash left me with a bloody chin and knee, and the top of my right hand was ... well, let's just suffice it to say that the top of my right hand was so chewed up that once I convinced my freaked-out son that I was okay, I went in the woods, took off the t-shirt I was wearing under my hoodie and wrapped up my by then dripping blood hand.

By now, I bet you're wondering why you're still reading this forever long and seemingly meaningless tale of when I fell down ... twice ... and got all banged up on my last trip to Maine. I'm sharing the stories of me falling down ... twice ... because I think there are some lessons I'm supposed to learn from those embarrassing and painful falls. Lessons about being careful ... lessons about misplaced trust ... lessons about paying attention ... lessons about keeping my guard up ... lessons about watching where I'm going ... lessons about strength and weakness. And perhaps the greatest lesson came to me through the words of my sweet son as we walked to our bunkhouse on the island ... in the dark ... him holding my arm so that I didn't fall a third time. The lesson to remember what matters most ... it's not how many times you fall that matters, it's how many times you get up and try again.

"This almost makes me wish I had kids, Mom."

"So that you could bring them to the island, buddy?"

"No. So that I could tell them what a bad-ass Ghee they have, Mom."

It's the getting up and trying again that matters, friends ... it is indeed.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Maybe I Shouldn't. But Then Again, Maybe I Should.

Last week I was sicker than I've been in years. I had a nasty sore throat, a massive headache and a queasy stomach. But those symptoms were nothing compared to the miserable aches and pains that came with the 103 degree fever I had for almost four full days. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that my eyelids even hurt when I opened them ... I literally hurt from the top of my head to the ends of my toes and everywhere else in between as well. God surely was looking out for me this last week because I didn't get dehydrated even with such a high temp, and my blood sugar stayed pretty level even though I definitely didn't eat as much or as often as I should have. I really and truly can't remember when I've been that sick, and I certainly hope and pray that I never get that sick again ... never, never ever do I want to be that sick again.

Over the last several years, I've done more reading about the workings of the human brain than I ever would have imagined I would do. Maybe had I been more scientifically inclined when I was younger I would have spent more time gaining more understanding in regard to just how important that gray blob of matter that resides within my skull really is. It wasn't until I found myself drowning in the black sea of depression that I began consuming every bit of information I could in my attempt to understand what was happening to me. Words like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid went from being things I'd never heard of before to being things in my brain that weren't working correctly. And once I discovered that all those little critters were malfunctioning inside my head, then words such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, central nervous system stimulants and dopamine reuptake blockers went from being nonsensical pharmaceutical jargon to me to being medications that quite literally saved my life.

Though I can't remember when I've been as physically ill as I was last week, I remember all too well how violently ill my brain was on this day five years ago. It was on this day ... three short days after the birth of my first grandchild ... that I sat at my kitchen table staring at the stark white envelopes that held what I fully intended to be my last words to those I loved. I had the pills in my right hand and the glass of tea in my left, convinced that dying was my only way out ... my only way out of the searing pain of depression ... my only way out of the heartbreaking misery of spending a lifetime hiding the truth about who I was. I was planning to die on this day five years ago ... but yet here I sit on my couch this evening with my sweet little wiener dog buddy's head nestled on my leg as I pen this post. I'd say God surely was looking out for me on that day five years ago when He sent along a friend to interrupt my plan.

Sometimes I think maybe I shouldn't remember where I was on this day five years ago. Maybe I shouldn't remember the goodbye texts I sent to my children that morning ... maybe I shouldn't remember the oppressive darkness that enveloped me ... maybe I shouldn't remember the letters I wrote to my loved ones or the videos I made for my newborn granddaughter ... maybe I shouldn't remember the fear or the pain or the loneliness or the desperation that made me believe with every fiber in my being that death would be better than life. Sometimes I think maybe I shouldn't allow the significance of this day to continue to reside within my mind.

But then again, maybe I should ... maybe I should always remember where I was on this day five years ago. Maybe I should remember the interruption ... maybe I should remember flushing the pills down the toilet ... maybe I should remember that on this day five years ago, I was given a second chance at life. Maybe I should forever remember the wonderfully courageous people who've walked with me over the last five years ... my incredible children (all six of them) and my precious grandgals ... my family back home in Tennessee ... my friends like Pat and Debbie and Joe and Donna and Leonora and Hilary and Ann and Rob and Yosef and Jeanne and Lynell and Aimee and Karen and Rand and Tonya and Ali and Verlin and Jim and Ele and so many, many more. People who believe in me when I don't believe in myself ... people who continue to believe even five years later that I'm still worth saving ... people who make me want to stay alive. 

Maybe I shouldn't mark this day each year. But then again, maybe I should, friends ... maybe I should indeed.