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Nineteen years ago today, I was in college when the tragic events of Columbine High School unfolded with the eyes of the world watching. I know it wasn’t the first horrific act of terrorism in the world – but it was among the first that my generation had ever witnessed. I remember watching in horror the footage of high school kids, themselves columbine_window_escapejust a few years younger than me, jumping out of windows and running from their school covered in blood and mute in terror. Our tears flowed as security footage showed teachers throwing themselves in front of students to shield them from bullets. Shocked, we watched news footage of law enforcement teams struggling to respond to what was then unplanned-for and unheard-of attacks against children. We organized vigils on campus to raise awareness of the violence that had befallen our generation. We sold ribbons [one of which to this day adorns my work bag], to raise money to send to the fund organized to pay for funerals for the fallen students and teacher. We tried in vain to wrap our young minds around the senseless violence, the hate, the anger, the bloodshed.

Almost twenty years later, we now sit in the aftermath of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And the same feelings pour out – fear for our children, sadness that our world has devolved even further. I shudder to think of what kids must feel when they go to school now, wondering if one day one of their classmates is going to go off the deep end and bring an assault rifle in his tuba case. These children are now organizing walkouts of the classroom to raise awareness for their fear and their desire to be safe – further, and to my mind much more aggressive, steps down the pathway that I started down all those years ago on my college campus. From candlelight vigils to protest walkouts, young people are the ones who are begging adults to take note of their fear, their sadness, their desire for a better world. I just hope that those same kids that are walking out are now also making pledges to be kinder, more giving, more loving human beings. I hope cyber-bullying and “Mean Girls” will become distant memories. Just as we should have done after Columbine, we have to teach our children how to be loving, functioning adults who don’t need guns to solve their problems.

Unfortunately, from Columbine to Parkland, there have been hundreds of mass shootings in between. All perpetrated by people who are seriously mentally ill, monumentally angry, and completely lacking in conscience and moral guidance. We, as a society, now see these shootings on such a regular basis that I’m afraid we are becoming complacent to them. I fear they no longer strike the fear and horror in our hearts like Columbine did. How can we accept these acts of hate as everyday events?

I recently went through a training with our town police representatives on active shooter responses. In our world today, after September 11th and all of these domestic terrorist attacks, I no longer train just for everyday house fires or car accidents – now we have to drill on active assailants and mass acts of terror. Hearing some of the unedited 9-1-1 calls and radio transmissions from Columbine, I was physically ill with the sounds of the abject terror and bewildered shock in those kids’ voices. And those same scenes are just replaying and rerunning at every one of those mass shooting incidents. And now to think that teachers are having to be trained in defense techniques and combat skills to protect kindergarteners from lunatics with rifles! What is wrong with our world? How can we fix this? The same questions that ran through our minds 19 years ago after Columbine are still begging for answers now.

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When the cracks first began appearing in my marriage, a male friend of mine tried to help me understand the male psyche in a way that would sink into my confused mind. His advice to me was that Male Brains are Like Waffles, Female Brains are Like Spaghetti.** 

At the time I didn’t fully grasp what the hell he was talking about. Yes, men like to eat. Yes, men can eat endless amounts of carbs and sweets and never gain an ounce. What the hell, Rob, how is that going to help my marriage? 

13658370_1177496062280931_1439568095_nWhat he meant is this: men think of things in tidy little squares. They are able to compartmentalize not only their feelings but also their experiences, their reactions, their entire life. They can keep everything in tidy little boxes and only tackle the sections that they need to at any given time. They can even keep the syrup contained in the areas where they need to.

Women, on the other hand, are a jumbled bowl of pasta, with each strand tangled up in another one and covered 1408069256188totally in sauce. Emotions, experiences, daily moments, they all jumble together and make one massive meal. We aren’t able to separate things out as easily and so can often get confused on what part of life is what.

And yes, males and females are of the same species (follow the metaphor here, we’re both carbs) but are very different. Each are individual creations that can display dizzying arrays of variations (chocolate chip, coconut, plain with butter, pesto sauce, marinara, blond, brunette, thin, fluffy, tall, short, etc). Yet we have to remember that each is undeniably and fundamentally different from one another – which needs to be respected and handled. We need learn to communicate with the other type of food as best we can and to understand that we may never fully comprehend them. A big syrupy strawberry waffle may never be able to understand the bowl of spaghetti ala vodka sauce. But together they’d make a damn good (albeit high calorie) meal. A happy mating of carbs – and humans.

**[I know now that he actually read this theory in a book called “Men Are Like Waffles–Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences” by Pam and Bill Farrel but at that time I was giving him credit for total brilliance. Definitely read the book, its extremely enlightening and very helpful in opening lines of communication.] 

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I was a teenager in the 1990s, an experience that I cannot describe to you – you have to have lived it to truly understand it – but that’s a subject for another day. Where I was going with this thought is that as a teenager, you’re looking for guidance, for a way to frame and structure your world that makes sense to you. Thank God that I was a country kid and that my generation had a poet, a sage, a wise soul named Garth Brooks to give us that much-needed guidance. As one of those terribly awkward, nerdy, bookish teenagers, Garth-Brooks1I needed to figure out how to keep an open heart and a strong soul in the face of shallow high school concerns. Enter Mr. Brooks and his three chords and the truth. Words of wisdom indeed….

♦ The Change – As long long as one heart still holds on / Then hope is never really gone” and “But it’s not the world that I am changing / I do this so, this world will know that it will not change me.”

♦ Unanswered Prayers – Just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care / Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

♦ We Shall Be Free – When the last thing we notice is the color of skin /And the first thing we look for is the beauty within” and “When we’re free to love anyone we choose / When this world’s big enough for all different views / When we all can worship from our own kind of pew / Then we shall be free.”

♦ If Tomorrow Never Comes –Tell that someone that you love / Just what you’re thinking of/ If tomorrow never comes.”

♦ Do What You Gotta Do – There ain’t nobody in this world / That’s gonna do it for you / Do what you gotta do.”

♦ To Make You Feel My Love – The storms are raging on the rollin’ sea / Down on the highway of regret / The winds of change are blowing wild and free / But you ain’t seen nothing like me yet.”

♦ The River – oh hell, just the entire song…listen here

 

And now that I am an adult and have actually lived and experienced some of the difficult situations that Mr. Brooks was crooning about, his words still guide me and reassure me that I’m not the only one who has suffered a heartbreak and a rebuilding….

♦ Every Now and Then – “I love my life and I’ve never trade / Between what you and me had and the life I’ve made” 

♦ I Don’t Have to Wonder Anymore – “And I still don’t know / Why things happened like they did / But I parked that old pickup / On that lonesome river bridge / I took your ring from my pocket / And I held it one last time / Watched that diamond sparkle /I drew back and I let her fly / And in less time than it takes to tear to fall / Oh that old ring went under / Lord, and now it’s gone for sure / And I don’t have to wonder anymore.”

♦ She’s Gonna Make It – “And you know it’s not like she’s forgot about him / She’s just dealing with the pain.”

♦ Beaches of Cheyenne – “He promised her he’d turn out / Well it turned out that he lied /And their dreams that they’d been livin’ / In the California sand / Died right there beside him in Cheyenne.”

♦ Cowboy Song – “He’s just chasin’ what he really loves / And what’s burnin’ in his soul / Wishin’ to God that he’d been born a hundred years ago.”

♦ In Another’s Eyes – “Oh in another’s eyes / Staring back at me / I see a sinking soul, trying desperately/ To turn the tide, before it dies.”

♦ Ask Me How I Know – You make all the rules, you’re set in your ways / You gotta have your freedom, you gotta have your space.”

♦ Learning to Live Again – I’m gonna smile my best smile and I’m gonna laugh like it’s going out of style.”

♦ How You Ever Gonna Know – “You know failure isn’t failure / If a lesson from it’s learned / I guess love would not be love / Without a risk of being burned.”

♦ The Dance – Our lives are better left to chance / I could have missed the pain / But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

 

So no matter your age or what stage of life you’re in, if you’re feeling lost or in need of some guidance, find the Garth Brooks station on Amazon or (for a truly 90s hair entertaining experience), search him on YouTube and watch the old videos. Let some good old country music wisdom guide you…

 

[on a random side note, the exception to his brilliant writing rule is “Cowboy Cadillac” – it’s a catchy tune but damn those lyrics are dumb, is he writing about his woman or his truck?]

[a second random side note, I admit that I have had to overcome some disillusion and disappointment about Mr. Brooks as a human being and a husband as his first marriage ended and his relationship with Trisha Yearwood has unfolded.  It’s always hard to watch your icons reveal their flawed humanity – and in light of my own personal feelings about infidelity – it was a difficult pill to swallow.]

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Have you ever had a profound, life-changing event over a cup of coffee? I have – which I know must seem very odd to those of you out there who do not have that special place in your hearts for caffeine. Of course, anyone that knows my mother would not at all be surprised that her little daughter apple did not fall far from the coffee-flavored tree – my mom is as loyal to her coffeepot as she is to my dad, maybe even a little more to the coffee since Dad’s only been her husband since 1966. We used to joke with waitresses at restaurants that they could just run a central IV line to my mom to save them time and energy in refilling her cup. So, with that caffeine addiction running true in my genes, no one should be surprised that I am finding philosophy in coffee.

Ok, so anyway, back to my profound, life-changing moment. During one of my regular runs to Dunkin’ Donuts to grab an iced coffee (one of the few edible/potable vestiges of 1xRun_Denial_Restoration-Sale_Limited-Time-Only_24x24_Web01.jpgmy former pre-surgery life that I still desperately cling to), I was hemming and hawing over the new “limited time only” flavor selections. I just HAD to try that flavor because it was going away, what if I missed something important, what if there was some goodness that expired because I was too afraid to try something new….what if…what if?

So here’s my epiphany: Life in general should be lived like it’s Limited Time Only. Try those new flavors or that new type of ethnic food, check those items off the bucket list, embark on a new adventure, sign up for that tap dance class, travel to Scotland, learn how to sky dive. Do all those things that you want to do – because there is no guarantee of tomorrow. We, as humans, do have an expiration date so we need to enjoy our one trip on the planet. Live your life to its fullest because it is Limited Time Only!

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If you’d have asked my college-aged self where I thought I’d be in 15 years, never in a million years would I have imagined my current answers – divorced, ‘living in sin’ with a man, working far out of my trained field of study, and working down my bucket list as the years of my life pass by.

But, interestingly, the answer that most would have shocked my 20-year old self-righteous, intellectually snobbish self would have been this – a fan of the WWE franchise. That’s right, I said I’m a WWE fan. Wrestling. Fake, real, predetermined, scripted – it doesn’t matter. It’s just so dang entertaining and for Roman-Reigns-Spears-Sheamus-HD-Wallpaper-624x351those hours on 2 nights a week, I can set aside adult responsibilities and serious thinking and just lose myself in the often soap operatic quality to the plotlines. The actual matches aren’t really why I watch – I know very little about traditional Greco-Roman wrestling, MMA, UFC or boxing – but I do admire the skill and athleticism that it must take to do some of those stunts and not die. Watch one of them fly off the top turnbuckle sometime and tell me you’re not impressed.

But it’s the silly stories and the constantly changing characters that keep me entertained.  There’s romance, action, friendship, breakups, betrayals – the WWE is sports entertainment as a microcosm of the American experience. I don’t have to invest serious thought into what is happening. I don’t have to question motives when a character turns heel or a tag team splits up. I don’t have to study or take notes or please anybody or answer the damn phone during those hours – I can unplug my brain and guilt and sense of service and just be.

“Oh, It’s True. It’s Damn True!” 

 

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Girls, I don’t care how intelligent we are or how much time we spend around men – our brains just don’t work the way theirs do. Our emotions do not play on the same field as theirs do. And the compartments for our feelings and our experiences don’t always mesh.

One of my best guy friends offered me some very sage advice as I began the tedious and challenging process of getting back into dating several years ago. He told me that guys will treat a girl like a convenience store if she’ll let them – hitting them up when its convenient for their needs, stopping in for what they want, and then leaving quick. Cheap, easy, no niceties, and no luxuries. (Ironically, at the phase in my life when this advice was being offered to me by that friend, HE was one of the customers that frequently stopped in to my convenience store but that’s another saga…). At any rate, this advice was actually an eye opener for me and made me realize that was an incredibly wise piece of life wisdom. It made me realize that I want more out of my life than to be a 7-11 – I want to at least be an Applebees, applebees_0dammit! I don’t have any false pretensions to being a 5-star restaurant or a high-end department store – but I do have enough self worth to not let someone just treat me casually and carelessly and then move on down the line. I want more, I need more and I definitely deserve more!

So girls of all ages and experience levels, I can only pass on this bit of wisdom from the guy brain – don’t be a convenience store for any man! Don’t accept that someone just wants to pop in on his schedule and use you to meet his needs – you are worth more than that!

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At the annual banquet for my volunteer fire department last week, I was both honored and amazed to receive my 15-year service stripe. 2017 marked 15 years of volunteerism and endless learning about fire, rescue and EMS operations for me – but those years have also taught me lessons in brotherhood, loss, service, upheaval, fear, bravery, disenchantment, persistence, change, frustration, giving, and surviving.

Here is what I *thought* fire service would be: 9474973637_cb6f92dcc0_b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what I *hoped* fire service would be:  firefighters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what the fire service really *is*: moe-larry-curly-fire-pole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. But, seriously, to the men and women that I have had the honor of serving with for the last 15 years, thank you for all that you do. And thank you for letting me serve beside you.

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