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.