The Herald, July 2014

        It was a blah type of day. Nothing in particular was wrong. No one said anything or did anything to put me in a mood. I guess I just woke up this way. In a blah mood. The girls at work are in a cheery mood and it is not one of those crazy, hectic days. I slept pretty well and I am not tired. I’m just in a blah mood. The girls are going out to eat today, but I think I am just going to grab a burger at the snack shop. Don’t feel much like gossiping today. It must be my blah mood.

        Ten to twelve. Well, I might as well go eat. I got to my car and all of a sudden it went into autopilot! Instead of the snack shop, I found myself heading to the strip mall. For some reason I couldn’t turn the wheel away from the entrance. As I pulled up in front of the Ladies Apparel III store, my eyes were fixated on the huge red sale sign. What a beautiful sign. It beckoned me to go inside.

        I opened one of the large double doors and stepped inside. My eyes darted left, then right. Which way should I go? I headed toward the ‘end of season’ area but quickly turned at the purple sweater. Ahh, the new fall line. So soft. So deeply rich in color. Transformation. My blah mood was lifting. I caressed the soft knit imaging it against my body. I just had to have it. My mind scanned the balances on my credit cards like a super computer. Click, there was one with room to spend.

        I found my size and clenched the hanger in my hand. I could feel the compelling draw from the shoe department. Hypnotized by the smell of nubuck leather I entered. Soft suede booties in the same deep purple of my treasured sweater. Is this a dream? What a perfect match! It was like e-harmony in a shoebox. I was in love.

        As I drifted toward the cashier, my mind paired my finds with a lovely pair of cream pants I had at home. I nodded and smiled as my coworkers cast admiring glances at me as I strolled the office runway. Yes the blahs have left. I left them in the parking lot of the mall. Burger? I am not even hungry any longer.

        My inner soul is full on my purchases. Truly satisfied I am. I sign my slip and stuff it in my wallet.

        With a skip in my step I head back to my car. Back to work. Oh, the miracle of shopping!


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Skate Keys and Other Childhood Memories

The Herald, December 2014

I was four when I got my first pair of roller skates. They were hard black plastic with a rubber strap to hold my tiny foot in. They weren’t perfect, as most of our Christmas toys weren’t, but they were under the tree and they were mine. With a part time, evening job in the toy section of a local department store, our father was allowed to purchase the toys damaged by other children cheaply. My older sister, Carol, and I didn’t care. We thought Santa was fabulous!

My mom helped me put them on over my slippers and tighten them around my ankles. Carol ran and got her skates and quickly slipped them on so she could show me ‘how to do it’ in our basement. Hers were silver metal with bright red leather straps. She wore the shiny metal skate key around her neck like an Olympic medal. I stopped, grabbed the box that my precious skates came in, and searched feverishly for my key. I shook the box and turned it upside down. Nothing. My sister must have seen the tears well up in my big green eyes and my lips begin to quiver. Hating to see her baby sister cry, she took the cord where her skate key dangled from around her neck, bent down and pretended to tighten my skate wheels, and then draped the cord over my head and let it fall around my neck. It hung down to my waist but I beamed with excitement. She took my hand and slowly towed me across the tiled basement floor like a pull toy, telling me to shuffle my feet.

“Come on, you can do it,” she said over and over until I was shambling along all by myself.

The room was silent except for the rhythm of her breath and the soft beep of the machine behind her hospital bed. As she lay there asleep, I prayed. For healing, for peace, for our future. Cancer is never something you plan for, or hope for under the tree. But you open it and deal with it with your strength, hope, and family. You learn to accept the face looking back at you in the mirror. You smile and try not to show your fears as you go on from one treatment to the next waiting for the perfect cocktail that will cure that satanic condition.

After the doctor left we stood in the doorway. We just finished a lap around the 8th floor of North Shore Hospital in New York. I looked down at her and smiled.

“Come on,” I beckoned, “let’s go around again.  You can do it.” She smiled back at me and nodded yes. We shuffled around the floor again. Past the nurses station and around the bend. She’s really quite strong. Though she is four years older, she is two inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter than me. She may be a whopping 90 lbs. when wet, but she’s strong and a fighter. Carol is a personal trainer and was in great physical health before the throat cancer hit a year and a half ago. The doctors agreed that her physical condition prior is a huge factor in her ability to undergo such rigorous and harsh treatment. It makes me want to join the gym and get rid of my extra weight and get in shape. She has always been an inspiration.

We do yet another lap before retreating back to her room and her bed. We giggle like school girls as we reminisce over our childhood, teenage years and life in general. She falls back asleep and I sit quietly. I breathe in rhythm with her and smile. I extend my right hand out and over her and pray for God’s grace and Jesus’ healing. I plan our future and look forward to her recovery and visit to my southern farm.

Now on flight 826 I look out the window. Slowly and smoothly ascending I leave JFK and New York. The soft clouds begin to obscure my view of the landscape dotted with homes, trees and surrounded by water.

I remember the shiny, silver skate keys. They are now on the red strap that once secured the silver skates around my sister’s foot. The leather is old- fifty years old- and brittle, but still red. They hang on a peg in my kitchen.  As I stare out over the clouds I smile at the vision of the two of us, so long ago in our basement. I think I’ll send those keys up to her when I get home.


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My 10 year class reunion

The Herald, July 2015

Ten years. It was ten years since I graduated from high school. I was not planning on attending the reunion. Why spend money to sit around with kids I never hung around with anyway? Then I got the phone call.

“So, are you coming? It’ll be great! No – you have to come!”

“Oh, alright,” I caved. “I’ll dig up the $25 for the dinner and go. See you there.” Last minute decisions. I hate them. Looking through my closet I can’t seem to find the right outfit. It’s not formal, so that leaves the door open for everything from a cocktail dress to jeans. Okay, this LBD will have to do. Not too short, not too tight. Shower, makeup, hair, all done – let’s go.

Only on the other side of the county I get there in a half hour. I park, walk in, and was greeted by a few girls at the reception table. I am handed my name badge. We exchange the usual ‘great to see you again.’ Honestly, I don’t remember them. I was an excellent student, but I hung around with the wild crowd. Always wanting to belong, I had that ‘I have arrived feeling’ the night I was invited to the Friday night gathering at the bleachers. This was the wild crowd. I was a nerd. I had arrived. In the 70’s you had the nerds, the discos and the wild crowd. I happily crossed over from the nerds to the wild ones.

I found a couple girls I knew and joined their table. The music was fairly loud and the booze was already flowing. I ordered a Jack Daniels and ginger ale and tool a big gulp. Ahh, relief, I started to unwind. A couple more of these and I might actually enjoy the night. I gab a little: great to see you, you look fabulous, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Amazingly, I started to pick people out. There’s Thomas. I am surprised he was still alive. He was very wild and now he is a lawyer. Boy, he cleaned up well. There’s Debbie, I can’t believe my eyes! She was as quiet as a mouse in school and now she resembles the jewelry box ballerina in that frou-frou dress. Drinking like a fish, too. Time for me to make a bathroom run and get a refill myself.

I was just coming out of the ladies room when I heard someone call my name. Again, and then a third time. I recognized the voice, but none of the faces that were near me. Finally a man came up to me and asked if I remembered him. I guess he could tell I was stumped.

“It’s me, Richie,” he said. Well, knock me down! This semi-bald, semi-round, dumpy man was the hunk I dated through high school and a few years after. Wow, did I luck out! When we dated he was a ringer for Al Pacino in Scarface. A real dream. Now he was more like Dom Deluise from Fatso! I smiled, exuberantly, as not to show my shock.

“How great to see you, Richie, you look great,” I responded. “What have you been up to?”

“You are the one who looks great, I shouldn’t have let you get away,” he replied as he tried to hold himself in. He fumbled as he told me he was married and had two boys. When I asked who his bride was, a rather portly woman approached.

“Come on, Richie, they’re waiting,” She demanded. She paused a second and then, realizing who I was, mustered an embarrassed hello, how are you. Slyly, I smiled as she hooked her arm in his. He just rolled his eyes. Sandy was her name. She was my high school rival and back then, was quite beautiful. She had the money, the clothes and hung out with the disco crowd. In class I was never ‘enough’ to be seen with them, and she always wanted to compete with me. She would flirt with Richie and now she smugly clung to him like a tick on a dog. Richie managed to mutter good night as she dragged him away like a bad, little boy.

“Oh, I will,” I exclaimed. Watching the two of them leave I smiled. Yep, she finally won, and thank God she did. I chuckled. I could have ended up with him. I grabbed another drink and sauntered my slim self back into the reunion. Yes, this was definitely worth 25 bucks.

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It’s what happens in the tunnel that matters

The Herald, March 2015

When I lived in New York I used to drive through the Queens Midtown Tunnel.  I lived on Long Island but worked in New York City, and it was the best route to get me there. Twenty minutes to a half hour and it was usually a clear shot. I would hop on the Long Island Expressway, and head westbound toward the tunnel. The tunnel let me out between East 34th and East 42nd Streets, Midtown Manhattan area. Then I could chose to head Uptown, Downtown or proceed Midtown. Much easier and quicker than the 59th Street Bridge, but the Midtown Tunnel goes UNDER the water of the East River instead of over it.

Serving the area for 75 years, the tunnel is 6,414 feet long with a 12’1” clearance. Yep, it wasn’t made for big trucks to go through. It was built in the late 1930’s during FDR’s reign and was part of the “New Deal.” President Roosevelt was the first to travel through on November 15, 1940. Since then, it has become a major link between the Queens and Manhattan boroughs and currently serves over 80,000 travelers per day. Consisting of 2 tubes with four traffic lanes, it is really quite magnificent the way it was constructed, without the modern technology we have today. Aside from upkeep, and a renovation to the interior in the 1980’s, it has remained unchanged and is as strong as ever. But it is scary.

Every year since 1981, a week before the Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey Circus opens, the tunnel is closed to traffic entering Manhattan for the annual Animal Walk. The elephants are paraded through the tunnel and down 34th Street to Madison Square Garden. Though it is late at night, 34th Street is filled with onlookers – young and old alike. To see and hear the elephants as they traversed their way toward the Garden in a trunk to tail line, escorted by handlers and the famous Gunther Gebel-Williams, all amidst the cheers from the crowd. Safe in their area below the stage floor, visiting the animals was always my favorite part of the circus. They didn’t mind going through the tunnel.

I was ten when Gunther Geber-Williams made his American debut with the RB&BB Circus in 1969. I still have the large and colorful program, along with every one since then until his final performance in 1990. He was spectacular- both with the animals and in his appearance. He was a tall, blonde, muscular man born in WWII Germany who knew from an early age that the circus would be his home. Spending most of his career in the center stage of the greatest show on earth, he was awesome. He was touted as the greatest animal trainer and became a legend in his own time.  I loved the circus: the animals, clowns, acrobats, high wire acts and the finale of the man being shot out of the cannon. The tunnel was the part I didn’t like – and still don’t; but I went through it in order to get to my destination-the circus.

The thing with travelling in the Midtown Tunnel is that you are in this tube. Sure, there is electricity and lights, but you don’t see the “light at the end of the tunnel” until you are about fifty feet from the exit. That leaves 6,364 feet of inability to see the end. There is only one way in and one way out, and that 1.3 miles of tunnel can be pretty scary and loud. I’ve been stuck in the tunnel when a car had broken down. It isn’t easy to maneuver around them and that feeling of being closed in and helpless gets stronger.

It is similar to life in that way. One way in-birth, and one way out-death. Sometimes the road in between the two is pretty darn scary and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, you keep going. What else can you do? I just arrived home after attending the funeral of a girlfriend. She was my age. She was a happy and pretty healthy woman one day, and gone the next. The funeral parlor was packed with loving family and friends who will probably be in shock for quite a while, I know I will. I can close my eyes and see her smile; hear her laugh or whisper crazy things to me. I’m grateful she didn’t have to suffer as she crossed through to the other side of the tunnel, yet I will miss her dearly.

A baby being born leaves the womb to travel down a tunnel towards a light, and what waits for it in the light is usually parents with a great deal of love and warmth. Then there is the long stretch of life; another passageway. At the point of death we travel down the final tunnel toward the light, but we only surmise what awaits us on the other side.  We each have our own assumptions, our own conclusions. For me I choose to believe that the loving arms of God await me.

I close my eyes and focus on God. The more I draw my attention upon him the softer my mind becomes. Far in the distance I can see a small spec of light. I take ahold of God’s hand and we slowly move through the warren toward the light. The way is smooth and comfortable with Father. I recognize the faces of those we pass. My mother, my father, aunts and uncles, and friends. Faces of those who have passed and those still alive. I see areas where there are great boulders and very uneven roads alit by the lightning from life’s storms. As the Greatest Ringmaster departs from me, He looks over His shoulder and smiles.

My heart hears His voice tell me, “It is not the light at the end of the tunnel that is important. Do not make the light your only motivation, your sole destination. Focus instead on the journey. The expanse between the tunnel of birth and death. It is what you do IN the tunnel that is of importance, who you meet and how you treat and care for them. Though you may not always see the light at the end of the tunnel, though you may not understand the storms of your life or its’ darkness, trust and follow Me, as I will guide and comfort you. I will always be there until you cross through and are forever with Me.”

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Chasing the Rainbows

The Herald, June 2015

All too soon the sun came out, pushing the dark clouds and the rain away. In the storms wake was a beautiful rainbow. Its colors were vibrant and dark. It started in the cloud itself and spanned across the sky and landed right past the woods. So it seemed.

Always trying to see what was at the end of the rainbow, I knew I had to chase this one, too. I proceeded onto the highway toward the woods. I got off at exit 56, right past them and took a hard left. Now behind the forest I could see that the rainbow indeed melted its gorgeous kaleidoscope on the grasses of the meadow. I parked on the roadside, got out, and made my way over. As I approached the spot where the rainbow faded into the grass, I could see the hues getting deeper in pigment.

I stopped and stood at the end of the rainbow. I looked up into its smoky haze and into the prism of vibrant color that streamed down to the ground. The tones of each blended into the other at their edges, creating purples and greens and oranges. They were so beautiful and effervescent. I could feel the colors pouring down over me. I realized that I had indeed reached the end of the rainbow. I looked down expecting, maybe, to see a pot of gold. Yet, all I saw were puddles of color around my feet. I was standing in a pool of dye, and that was it. No pot of gold. No miraculous visions. Not even a little leprechaun.

Slowly the spectral arc faded away. Color by color, it disappeared back into the heavens. I was left there standing on dry grass. I looked around to see if anyone was watching me and realized I was totally alone in the meadow. A songbird fluttered by singing its’ song, or was it just laughing at me? I was always chasing the rainbows. Both real and in life. The warmth of the sun felt good and I sat on the grass and pondered my existence. Laying back on the soft green carpet I gazed up at the billowy clouds as they floated through the sky.

As I reflected back on my life, I could see all the times when I had ‘chased the rainbow’ or sought out ‘where the grass was greener’. Usually, the end result was not what I expected. Not the pot of gold. There was never anything wrong with my life or my circumstances. Always having good jobs, homes and friends I don’t know why I had that insatiable urge to chase after appearances. The unknown. And, usually when I arrived there, it was not what I expected. Not bad, but just not the ‘take my breath away’ result. I wonder if everyone else seeks the fantasy of the rainbows end- or just settles for the humdrum of everyday life.

Though I’ve never stumbled across a cauldron of gold doubloons, my quests have presented me with wonderful adventures filled with interesting people, to say the least. Places I never would have traveled to and experiences I would have definitely missed if I were not in chase mode. I chuckled as I thought about Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home! She may now be content with life at home, but if she hadn’t chased the rainbow she never would have followed the yellow brick road to the emerald castle with such an eclectic group of vagabonds!

Yes, maybe I am a bit of a dreamer chasing rainbows. Maybe I have never found the pot of gold at the end, but what magnificent adventures I would have missed if I stayed in my own back yard. So I think I best be going as I feel another rainbow coming on.

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Acceptance is the Answer-

The Herald Enquirer, February 2015

As we taxied toward the runway, I gazed out across the frozen water. My heart welled up with emotion. Was this the last time that I would see my sister, or will she be here for my next scheduled trip, the end of March? If so, what condition will she be in? My heart aches to protect her, to heal her, to remove her pain. Even just for one day; where she could smile, be awake and aware, and be pain free.

I hear it often said that you need acceptance when faced with the death of a loved one. I find that I need more than acceptance to deal with the suffering they face when alive. Cancer. Evil’s tool. It destroys the body, the mind and so frequently, the will. Even if the will remains, it is often weakened by the battle in the body, as it is with my sister.

Hovering over the clouds I am struck by the brightness and peace. This is God’s beauty. Then I ponder: if God is in control how can He allow such suffering? I am then reminded that it is not for me to question, but to just accept. Yet acceptance can be so hard. So difficult without understanding. I can accept the planes ability to fly because I understand the dynamics of aeronautics. I can accept the way a ship can float without sinking because I understand that ships are designed to displace the amount of water equivalent to their own mass keeping them buoyant. But to accept the suffering and pain of a loved one even when I don’t understand why they are being attacked this way? To accept why some are so blessed with remission or have their conditions cured, while others are tortured until the final end? I find it hard, but of course I try. I try… I pray… I cry.

While I was struggling with this concept, I realized that accepting God’s will is just that. Accepting doesn’t mean the pain and hurt I feel will go away in an instant. I thought when my pain and hurt over a situation was gone, that was when I was in the realm of acceptance. No. I was disillusioning myself. I was living in a false sense of timing. This revelation made me look back on my life and examine the times when I was aching and hurt.

What I found was that it was quite the opposite. When a situation – the death of my parents or my divorce – first happened, it wounded me and the discomfort was tremendous. It felt unsurmountable, as would be expected. Yet, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, the effects of the trauma began to subside. It started to ease. This was due to my beginning to accept the situation for what it was: Life. The more I accepted; the more the agony subsided. So, I now come to the conclusion that the healing did not bring acceptance but quite contraire, my acceptance brought healing. Please don’t get me wrong, when I finally accepted death and divorce, the pain didn’t miraculously disappear. Through my acceptance I found peace with God, who was then able to open my heart and mend me. Heal me. Hold my soul till it stopped crying.

I cried a lot this past visit. For my sister I mourned the life she is not living, only existing. I cried for her devoted husband who is taking superb care of her and has been so strong over the past year and a half. I also cried tears of forgiveness for myself for the guilt I have been carrying. Guilt over living so far away from her. Guilt over the fact that I am healthy and have a gratifying life. Guilt over the many second and third chances God has provided me with during my past 55 years.  Next week I turn 56. I have a beautiful home and farm. I enjoy my career and have been able to meet and work with so many great people. I have a host of friends who love me and support all my endeavors. I am in fine fettle and active. I am intelligent and able. There are times I actually feel guilty for all these blessings as I reflect on her condition and the possible outcome.

This past visit I realized guilt was robbing me of peace and freedom. As we shared time together, me talking and her hand writing since she lost the ability to talk, she was not sad or envious over the path’s our lives have taken. Though she asked why this was happening to her, she was accepting of it. She didn’t want me to feel guilty. She wants me to live. For me, and for her. I started to find my own acceptance.  Yes, I am finally beginning to accept her cancer and my health. Where I have been feeling like I was in the bottom of a pit, I now see there is a staircase going up. The hand railing is an extension of God’s loving arm. Rather than shutting myself off to others in fear of more pain, I will work hard to keep my heart open. Even just ever so slightly. All that is needed is a drop of willingness for God to work. No, I don’t expect instant healing. I actually anticipate more hurt and discomfort, but I also know there will be healing.

There is a Light – as bright as the winter sun above the clouds. And one day she will feel the Healing Light. Her pain and suffering will be gone, and once again her baby blue eyes will smile.

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It is time to strip down to the marrow of my soul…..She said

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