Chester

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Chester turned 13 in March. A few days later I took him to the doctor for a check up on his heart issues. He’d been coughing so I figured the heart failure was progressing. Turns out his heart was fine, but there was a mass in his right lung. The prognosis was 4-6 months. This past Friday, May 25, his breathing changed dramatically. Saturday I took him in. After updated blood tests and x-rays it was determined that the mass had spread to incorporate both lungs nearly completely and a new mass had appeared in the liver. It was time.

They brought him to me in a blanket. I held him and rocked and talked to him. I told him I loved him. I told him there would be no more pain. And then I held him until he went to sleep.

He wasn’t easy. But for the last 12 years he was my baby. My routine and our home are slow and weirdly quiet. My heart hurts. Nothing feels real. But he is free and that’s what matters.

Anyway. I wrote the following about 6 years ago on Chester’s 7th birthday. It’s our story.

In November, 2005 a few days before my 34th birthday, I received a call from my dad saying he needed me to run an errand with him the next morning. He needed my help making a decision. Now, it was a month before Christmas and his and my mom’s wedding anniversary, a few days before my birthday, and slightly more than a month before my brother’s wedding – so this decision could have been about anything. The next morning, shortly after 8 a.m. my dad picked me up and we set off. I had no idea where we were going. Before I knew it we pulled up at the local animal shelter. We walked inside and dad announced “I’m here to see Chester”. 

I figured Chester was someone who worked there. We walked to the back thru the kennels and cages and out of one of the large dog runs crawls this little scrawny brown dog, looking skinny and pitiful. He walked tentatively to my dad, who scooped him up and cradled him in his arms. My father looked at me and said, “now, the decision I need you to help me make is this: is this the dog you’re taking home today or do we need to pick out another one?”. By this point, Chester was already licking me all over my face. The decision was made. 

Chester spent the first day at the vets office just until I got off work, and then he came to his forever home. 

And then I learned the rest of the story. My parents had been in kahoots with our vet and my apartment’s office manager for a while it seems. The pet deposit was being paid. Our vet was on the look out for a small, apartment sized dog. Sneaky bunch. 

Chester was found in the Dauphin Street area by an employee of the animal shelter. It was just weeks after Hurricane Katrina. It is believed that Chester was either left behind, dropped off, or somehow became separated from his family. He is a dachsund-chihuahua mix, and was about 8 months old when found. He had probably been on his own since the storm. He was tiny, hungry, dirty, and as most strays are, probably not treated very nicely by people or bigger dogs. 

And now he was home. Safe and warm and loved. He and my parent’s dog, Bela, became fast friends. When Bela died about a year later one of the most heartbreaking moments was the first time Chester went to my parent’s house, and spent the entire night looking for his big, black friend. When Max became a part of the family, it didn’t take long for them to start their own adventures. 

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Baby Chester

About two years later, while at the beach, he had a seizure. It was terrifying. To see that little body twisted and stiff, with eyes begging to know what was happening. I learned quickly that epilepsy, if it is going to be an issue, shows itself by the time they are 3 years old. The doctors can find no reason for the seizures, and I’ve learned how to treat him while they are happening and while he’s recovering from them. But they are never, ever fun to watch, and always scary. Luckily, they are still sporadic enough that he doesn’t need medication. I hope it stays that way. 

Chester suffers from a bit of PTSD, a few allergies, and a severe case of ‘little dog syndrome”. He thinks he Cujo. He’s decided on about 5 people that he likes, and will settle for new people only after a lot of coaxing and even then it’s on his terms or not at all. He’s very protective of me. If there’s a strange noise or anything unsettling, he’ll come sit in front of me staring in the direction of the noise with this “don’t worry, Mom. I got this” attitude. He always looks concerned. He is stubborn and willful. He loves to burrough under the covers or a blanket to sleep, and spends whatever time he can sitting in the sun gazing out the window making sure everything is ok. And like all dogs, he’s glad to see me whether I’m gone 5 minutes or 5 days.

I wanted a lab. Or a springer spaniel. Or a basset hound. He’s not a social, go anywhere dog like Max or Saint or Lucy. My nephews know him only thru pictures and by name, but they haven’t met him yet because of Chester’s anxiety issues – and maybe because of mine.

But I think God knew we needed each other. Sometimes we all feel like we’ve been left behind after the storm passes. We all feel like a bit of a misfit. I certainly have. And I’m sure that on the streets after a hurricane this little life felt fear, hunger, cold, loneliness, and possibly abuse. All our dogs want in life is to please us and be loved and protected. Isn’t that really what we all want?

Chester turned 7 today. Now, we don’t know exactly when his birthday is but the shelter and the vets believed he would be a year old in March after I got him. One day I started asking Chester what day he wanted to be his birthday. I just started saying numbers and he just started at me. When I said “the 22nd?” he literally started licking my face. I said a few more numbers and then the 22nd again and the same thing happened. After the third time I said, “well – March 22nd it is”. He chose his birthday. 
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As I write this he’s curled up in a ball on the bed  next to me, sound asleep. I can’t imagine coming home without that face waiting on me. When I have to kennel him for trips, and occasionally spend a night at home without him, this place feels quiet and lonely.

No – he isn’t what I thought I wanted. But he’s exactly what I needed. Forever home. 

Happy Birthday, my sweet Chester. I love you.

And I always will.

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“The loss is immeasurable, but so is the love left behind”

 

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The storm after the storm

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As I write this more of Harvey’s rain is coming down outside my window. It’s now a Tropical Depression after three landfalls and a wake of destruction that is still unfolding. Millions of people will be displaced for weeks or months, and rebuilding their lives for years. Eventually the cameras will leave and the recovery will continue in terms of property and clean up. But, for some, the fear and the scars will last much longer.

I had a moment today that I didn’t see coming, although I probably should have. I had my earphones in and was listening to a press conference from Houston as I worked at my desk. The official at the podium was giving residents information on shelters and phone numbers and the progression of power companies. At some point in his list he began giving the information that would be needed to register with FEMA for assistance and when that process may begin.

In a blink I was back there. Sitting in a make shift FEMA command center with dozens of other people filling out forms and trying to wrap my head around what I’d lost and how much could be saved and what needed to be tossed and how much money did I make and what was my debt load already and would an SBA loan be better and would I even qualify for that and…and…and.  All the while a giant pine tree rested where it had fallen – in the middle of my living room having shaved off the front wall of my duplex landing on the couch I had been sitting on while watching the storm out the window.

I felt a chill go from head to toe and my skin bristled like I’d been poked with something hot. My stomach flipped over. I closed my eyes and quickly shut off the press conference. Took a deep breath. Drank some water. And, shifted my focus back to the work I was doing.

It happened that fast. Just a few minutes ago my dad copied me in an email in which he told my story and as I read it my eyes filled with tears. It happens that fast.

Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of Katrina. My sister got out of New Orleans just in time to ride out the storm in Mobile. She then spent days watching her city fill up with water when the levees broke. Two days ago she was faced with making the decision to stay or go with fears that the waters would rise again the way they did 12 years ago and the way they did 3 weeks ago. The tone in her voice – the tone in her text – was at its limit. Thankfully, the pumps worked this time. Jess and her family are dry and safe.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and it effects millions of people in this country in many different ways. Some have the resources to get the help we need and learn how to deal with it when it decides to rear it’s ugly head. Others are not that lucky – and that’s an entirely different conversation. But, it’s one that needs to be had and it needs to be recognized that it’s not just our military men and women that suffer from it. It comes from trauma. And, it can manifest itself in many ways and at any time.

It’s easy to not think about it if you don’t watch the news or if you concentrate on the opening of football season or just can’t watch it cause it’s so sad. Well, I’m asking you to pay attention. Not just now, but for every day to come from this and any other national trauma or personal one. There are events in our lives that we don’t just ‘get over.’ There are events in our lives that make indelible marks and are with us for the rest of our days.

I’m ok tonight. My home is dry and I’m getting my Saints and Alabama gear together for the last couple of days of “tailgating week” at work. My mind is calm again, and hopefully I sleep without issue. I know how blessed I am. And, I know how scared and overwhelmed and traumatized and worried millions of people are tonight.

Pray for Texas. Pray for those coming from near and far to help Texas. And, pray for all those who will continue to battle the storm long after Harvey – or Ivan – or Katrina – is a memory.

 

 

 

 

 

The second star to the right…

 

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I adore the story of Peter Pan in any form. A Disney animated classic. A stage play. The different perspective of Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman in “Hook”. Or, “Finding Neverland” – the beautiful story of J.M. Berrie, Pan’s creator. I just finished watching “Finding Neverland” with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet for the hundredth time and was thinking that it was be a good movie to watch with the boys while they were here. (Then, as I buried my face in my hands in sobs at the end I decided we may need to wait on that.)

We all know the story. The boy that didn’t want to grow up so he flew off to a magical land of misfits – pirates and Indians and lost boys. But every night, he’d fly to the nursery window to listen to Wendy tell bedtime stories to her little brothers, John and Michael. As the story goes, Wendy’s father thought the stories were foolish and that Wendy was too old to be in the nursery. Peter is horrified at the thought of Wendy growing up and so he whisks the three children off to Neverland on a grand adventure. At the end of the story, Peter guides the children back to their nursery window on a magical pirate ship. Wendy’s father suddenly remembers seeing the ship when he was a child and the magic and the stories are allowed to continue.

When Grayton and Henry were in Fairhope and very small I loved nights when I’d get to do bedtime. We read stories and turn on the stars on their ceiling. I’d lay in one of their beds and we’d watch the stars dance or whisper to each other until their eyes were too heavy to fight the sleep that was coming, and they drifted off to wherever their dreams would take them.

Do you remember magic? Do you remember looking out your bedroom window at the stars and dreaming big dreams? I think right now we could all use a nursery window and a good story teller.

Last weekend I had the amazing experience of swimming with my two year old nephew, Luc. He was very timid at first and clung tight to his mom. The day was overcast so the water was pretty chilly late in the afternoon and that added to his hesitation. Little by little, Jess loosened her hold on him and eventually he would come to me. Once he saw her relax I think he began to as well.  He was wearing a little floaty and holding onto it with all his might. Then it happened. Jess let him go and told him to kick his feet. He did. And, he realized he could not only stay up but he could move around the pool. I’ve never seen such bliss on a child’s face in my life. He was elated. Kicking his little feet and moving back and forth between Jess and myself and then off on his own with us close by. He just kept saying “I svimming Mommy! I svimming, Cebe!”. It was so beautiful, and I realized that I had a huge grin on my face and was just as joy-filled as he was simply by experiencing the moment with him.

Where are you finding your joy these days? Everything is so loud and fast and everyone is so angry. The political climate is – well – I don’t even think I need to say anymore. We work to much and play too little and most of us don’t slow down to see joy and wouldn’t know it if it bit us. There’s a scene in “Finding Neverland” where one of the boys is talking with Mr. Berrie concerning his mother’s illness. The boy is maybe 12 years old. Mr. Berrie watches him and says: “Magnificent. The boy is gone. In the last 30 seconds…you became a grown up.”

In the blink of an eye – childhood can end.

It is not necessary to grow up. I just isn’t. Be responsible? Of course. Take care of our families and jobs and bills? absolutely. Enjoy adult time with friends? No question. But I bet – I just bet – if you looked up a the stars on a clear night you could see your Neverland.

Embrace the children in your lives and look at the world thru their eyes – like you’re seeing it for the first time. It’s wondrous. But, even more than that – let the child inside you live and thrive, however that manifests itself for you. Or, in the words of another dreamer…

Close your eyes. Make a wish. Count to 3.

Now…go to your window and look up. What do you see?

The second star to the right shines in the night for you
To tell you that the dreams you plan
Really can come true
The second star to the right shines with a light that’s rare
And if it’s Never Land you need it’s light will lead you there.
Twinkle, twinkle little star so we’ll know where you are
Gleaming in the skies above lead us to the land we dream of
And when our journey is through – each time we say “Goodnight”
We’ll thank the little star that shines
The second from the right.

 

 

 

 

Making the choice to…

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“I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end.  I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.”   – William Blake

Last year during Lent I wrote a piece about betrayal. In that piece I wrote of times in my own life in which I’d felt betrayed. Since then I could add another to that list. Betrayal is the worst kind of pain, in my opinion. I see betrayal as wrong inflicted when the person(s) doing the wrong are aware of the pain they are about to cause and they do it anyway. It is different from having a tiff or hurting something without meaning to. It cuts deeply. Bleeds freely. And, is more difficult to forgive. But, what are the consequences of holding onto that anger?

In the poem “A Poison Tree” by William Blake that I’ve quote above, the poet offers two scenarios. The first is the first line of the poem. He’s angry with his friend – they talk about it – and the anger ends. The second scenario is the rest of the poem. He’s angry with a foe and that anger festers and deepens until his foe is dead. The point is that holding onto anger is not healthy – for anyone involved.

Not only is not healthy, it is not productive and it leaves us stuck in the past. We may be walking forward with one foot but other one is glued to whatever hurt us and will not move until we let it go. That’s where forgiveness comes in. We have to let it go – for our sake.

See, forgiveness is not something we do for the other person. We are not condoning the action nor are we letting them off the hook. In some cases, the other person may not be feeling a thing. We may be walking around with this weight once inflicted by someone else but now we’re just dragging it along so we can hold over them when in the long run we are just hurting ourselves. Getting to the point of forgiveness is our chance to drop that weight.

What we do with the relationship after forgiveness is up to us. We may be better off without them. We may need to take things slowly. And, the truth is, we may never really trust them again – at least not until they prove themselves trustworthy. But the important thing is that the other foot – the one was that still glued to the pain – is finally unstuck and we can face forward and begin to walk faster and perhaps even break into a skip or a jog.

In the last couple of days I’ve finally gotten my other foot unstuck. It was not an easy journey. I also have a memory like a steel trap, so I don’t forget. But, the burden is lifted and I’m ready to run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Break!

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And, it arrives. That season of spring fever, the first hints of warm weather, the smell of the salt, and the sound of the waves. The age old ritual of hitting the road from near and far and heading to the closest beach and, in some cases the closest bar, to shake of winter and relax before the homestretch to summer. For the next couple of months teachers and students alike will be counting the days until it’s their turn.

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Well. If you’re in the service industry along the coast it means you are about to be busier than you have been in months and you’re probably not ready. You think you are – but you’re not. I’ve said for years that anyone in the vacation industry needs a conditioning regiment in the months leading up to spring break just to be physically prepared for the onslaught that’s coming.

Tonight, Friday, March 10, 2017 – for the first time in 10 YEARS – I’m not dreading the first Saturday morning in March. I don’t have a headache. I’m not going to be up working late. I’m not going to have to hit the ground running in the morning wondering if I’m going to be able to drink an entire cup of coffee before the first grumpy guest calls the office. I don’t have to fight traffic. I don’t have to wait to pay for gas so someone from Wisconsin can purchase a lottery ticket. And, I don’t have to listen to the screams from the rides at the water park just outside my door. In fact, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.

I get to sleep in tomorrow. I get to have a weekend.

I’m 3 days into a new job in a new industry leading to a new career, God willing, and from everything I can see so far I’m in good place with happy people with an organization that knows how to treat people and take care of their employees. This is a new experience and I’m looking forward to taking it one day at a time.

To my friends still in the industry – God bless you and hold tight. To friends that are heading to the beaches of anywhere – be kind to the people working hard to make it a happy week for you. Be safe. Have fun.

Happy Spring Break, everyone. I’m blissfully grateful you are going on without me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A familiar pain

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In 2004, just days after Hurricane Ivan dropped a tree thru my front wall, my parents decided that it was time they left Meridian and went back to Mobile to check on the house and begin post-storm life and whatever that might entail. I was out of danger and they knew that the community I was a part of was going to take care of me until they could come back. They packed the truck and got my Grandmother and their lab, Bela, all tucked in and back out of the driveway. I stood in the street and watched the tail lights fade into the distance. I was 32. I felt more like 7. I was terrified, had no idea what was next, and everything that felt safe and comforting was driving away.

Recognize the feeling? Of course you do. We’ve all been there. The first day of a new school. The day your parents drop you off at your dorm freshman year of college. A move to a new town. The first day of a new job. That moment when your stomach turns over and everything inside you wants to run back to last place you felt safe and hold on for dear life.

For the last month or so I have been working part time at a local assisted living facility. Tonight was my last evening before a new full time job begins next week. During my shift a new resident was scheduled to move into her apartment. Her family had come several times during the week to move in furniture and set things up so it was ready for her. The community had done their job, making sure that her name was on her door, her keys ready, emergency information given, meal times, beauty shop, activity schedule, and even a little welcome gift were all ready for her arrival. Her daughter signed in and let us know that she would staying with her mother for the weekend to get her settled and acclimated. The little lady sat quietly in her wheelchair, dressed like she would going to bed pretty soon. Her daughter began to push her chair and said “here we go” in a bright, optimistic tone. The reply, tentative and unsure, was simply a quiet “okay”. And, it broke my heart.

In that moment all I could think was “oh my gosh – I know that feeling.” This little lady is in a place that is strange and new and different. She’ll have her things around her and opportunities to make new friends and participate in the life of the community as she is able. But, at some point in the couple of days, her family will get in their car and they will leave her there. It’s a lovely place with good people – but right now – it’s scary and unsettling.

The universal truth in all of this is our human need to feel safe and secure and loved. This can come from family or co-workers or church or whatever group of family and friends we create. We need to feel that the next time we find ourselves watching the tail lights fade that there is going to be a hand to take or a friend to call or a smile that says “you’re not alone.” For some making those connections comes easily. But, for some of us, it’s more difficult. Think about that the next time you see a new face in the crowd – one that looks a little lost or scared.

I mentioned a new job that begins next week. It’s not only a new job, it’s a completely new direction from where I’ve been the last 10 years. A welcome change for sure, but scary. That will be followed by a new apartment community. I’m already venturing into a new church. All good things in the place I wanted to be. I’m hopeful for new connections even as I struggle to make them happen, while ever grateful for the safety of home and family and the strength they give me to keep moving past the fear into whatever comes next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So keep on dreamin’…

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The movie Pretty Woman ends with this quote:

“Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'”.

Tonight my New York family is in another land of dreams. They spent their first day in Disney World today and will be there for the rest of the week. From first reports and pictures Grayton and Henry’s eyes are wide and all their senses are turned up to 11. Sometime tomorrow Henry Kennington will come face to face with The Mouse and he may actually levitate with excitement. That kid loves Mickey. I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing the excitement of the next few days even thru pictures on an iPhone. Fantasy and mystery and whimsy are all part of our dreams and they are right there in the middle of that world.

I’ve long been described as a dreamer. Unfortunately, as we grow older we tend to be slapped with so much reality that dreams begin to die. It hurts when that happens. Sometimes it happens with enough of a heavy blow that we stop dreaming altogether. Fortunately I have enough of the child in me that still alive that I still believe in dreams. And, folks, I have every reason for that not to be the case. I’ve had my share of dreams die long, terrible deaths that have hurt deeply. The dream job that didn’t turn out the way I’d always hoped. The dream of creating a lasting legacy in a place I love that never really came to fruition. Mostly, the dream of husband and children and creating traditions and raising my family with a best friend. Now, at 45, I’m beginning to come to terms with that not happening. I have my beautifully dysfunctional, crazy family. My parents are my rocks. My siblings are my best friends. My nephews are the biggest parts of my heart. And, of course, there’s my 4-legged funny face that is happy to see me if I’ve been gone for a week or 3 seconds. But, there’s still pain. Still loneliness. Still grief.

The one I’m still holding to is pretty simple. But it holds enormous importance for me.

I just want a house.

I want a house with a big living space with comfy furniture where everyone is welcome and feels at home.

I want a back door that friends enter without knocking and know where the wine glasses are or that there’s cold beer in the fridge.

I want a space that my sweet nephews know is theirs with sleeping space and games and toys and movies and whatever they are into at the time. Space that we can recreate as they get older and is always there when and if they want or need to be there.

I want a kitchen that I can cook in and bake in and where my family and I can visit and be together with food and drink and comfort and warmth.

I want a dining table big enough for all of us and more.

I want holidays at my house.

I want a fireplace that little boys can fall asleep in front of or where siblings can stay up talking.

I want yard for dogs. And, a porch for rocking chairs and a swing.

Pretty simple. Nothing fancy. Just warm. Comfortable. Just a house. That I can turn into a home.

Right now that seems extremely far away. I have to get a job first. Then finish yet another degree that might, this time, give me a career that is secure and fulfilling and a salary that will allow such dreams to come true.

But, I’m holding onto this one. Not letting it die. Stoking that fire with every step I take. Pretty simple. Just a house.

Worthy of a dream.

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