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" 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Because You Deserve Better

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." 
--- William Wordsworth

First, how could a guy with the last name of Wordsworth not be a writer? I mean seriously, right? And yes, Wordsworth really was his last name and he, together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication "Lyrical Ballads" way back in 1798. As you may have gathered from the title of his first writing venture with Mr. Coleridge, Wordsworth was a poet; in fact, he was Britain's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850. I'm betting the significance of his surname wasn't lost on Mr. Wordsworth, and I'm guessing I'm not the only person who upon hearing his name immediately thought, "What are words truly worth? What are they worth to other people? What are they worth to me?" Pretty deep, I know, but I think it's definitely worthy of some pondering and mulling over.

I first read the quote at the beginning of my post this evening many, many years ago when I was a student in college, and the words of Mr. Wordsworth obviously made a lasting impression on me. So much so that I once wrote them out on a note card and taped the card on the ceiling of my bedroom to serve as a constant reminder to me of the importance of writing from my heart. If I haven't learned one other thing about writing in all the years I've been putting pen to paper, I've learned this ... Mr. Wordsworth was absolutely correct in his instruction. But I would add something else to the indisputably wise words he penned so many years ago ... if you can't fill your paper with the breathings of your heart, you need to stop filling your paper until you can.

Have you ever fallen so hard that you got the wind knocked out of you? So hard that you wondered if you'd ever be able to breathe again ... so hard that you were sure you were going to die right then and there? I know I certainly have, and it's such a scary feeling when it happens ... it's almost like you can feel the life being sucked right out of you. It's one of those feelings that stays with you, one that you hope you never have to feel again. It's terrifying ... completely and utterly terrifying ... to wonder if you'll ever be able to suck the air back in again. You struggle to breathe ... you want to breathe ... you need to breathe. But you can't, at least not for a while anyway ... you just can't breathe.

Many of you have written asking where I've been and why I haven't been writing, and you deserve better than me offering up no explanation as to my missing in action status. And that's what this post is ... it's my feeble attempt to explain as best I can why I'm not writing much right now. You deserve to know that I'm not writing because I can't write the breathings of my heart, and until I can do that once again ... well ... my heart and I need to take a breather for a while. Thank you for your notes and your kind words, friends ... I appreciate each one of you so much more than you'll ever know.

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." 
--- William Wordsworth

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.