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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

A true child of the ’80’s am I, raised on the wisdom of sitcoms and television dramas. I admit especially to being a M*A*S*H-aholic. Back in its heyday, my big brother watched it (he being the older, wiser, and more worldly of the two of us) and I admit now to an obsessive need to view the marathons on TVLand and Hallmark Channel every chance I get. Many an important life lesson was learned from that show (along with The Golden Girls) and even now I find that the TV shows of my childhood are still shaping my values.

The episode I was watching earlier tonight was the pen pal letters episode – Hawkeye’s friend back home gets her elementary school students in Crabapple Cove, Maine to write letters to the personnel of the 4077th. In the midst of writing back to the children and amongst the amusing and mundane anecdotes that the staff chooses to tell the kids about, there are several poignant moments in which the staff is forced to reexamine their role in the war – and in life. One of the students writes a letter that Hawkeye must answer in which the student says he hates the doctors because they fixed up his brother and sent him back into combat in which he was subsequently killed. As Hawkeye is pondering how to answer this child, a child is brought in from a local orphanage who has a severe brain injury – and the priest who runs the orphanage prays “Dear God, I thank you for providing….to have them here in this place at this time is truly a sign of Your providence.”  All of a sudden, Hawkeye knows what to write to the poor young student back home, full of so much anger: “I understand your feelings. Sometimes I hate myself for being here. But once in a while, in the midst of this insanity, a very small event can make my being here seem almost bearable.”

I had seen this episode at least 5 times before and yet this was the first time that this whole exchange made me stop and go hmmmm….

I am a woman of strong faith. I have stated over and over and over again that I am sure God has a plan for me, that the struggles and pain that I have suffered for the last 10 years have not been in vain. I constantly recite the AA mantra “Let go and let God.” Despite my faith, I admit that I have often questioned why God has put me in this situation, given me this kind of pain.

Now, thanks to a television show (geez, welcome to religion in America), I have a whole new way of looking at things. Because of God’s plan, I was put here at this moment in time in this particular geographical location for a purpose. Divine providence has brought me to this moment in my life with my own special brand of emotional baggage for a purpose. And, much like Hawkeye, I don’t quite know yet what that purpose is – but I have a strong faith that my small event is coming, that event which will make it all clear.  I have only to wait and to trust in the Lord and to believe that my time is coming. I will let you know when that time comes. In the meantime, I can only hope that I will become Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan when I grow up. But that’s a topic for another day.

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Last weekend was my once-yearly trek to the EMS conference in the boondocks. Last year I learned to birth a robotic baby, this year’s highlight was watching my good friend Jay, who 6 years ago was battling cancer, stand up strong and confident and present on professionalism in fire and EMS services.

Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Jay. He is my ex-husband’s best friend (they grew up together and have the war stories to prove it) and I met Jay and his family about 10 years ago. He is now a paid firefighter/paramedic in Fort Myers, Florida and teaches at the local fire academy and the high school votech program. He was diagnosed in October 2005 with Burkitt’s type non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a blood disease so rare that only about 100 people are diagnosed each year. Jay, his loving wife Rhonda, and their six wonderful children fought the disease for over a year.  I have learned a lot from Jay – how to deal with the hand that your dealt no matter how unfair it is, how your attitude can effect the way your battle goes, how important it is to be courageous, how good people will receive good support. Quiet dignity and courage are the two best ways I can think of to describe Jay – and I struggle every day to live up to that example.

Jay and Rhonda both have been wonderful to me through the course of our friendship and my divorce. Despite what could be expected in terms of loyalty, they have not walked away from being my friend – like so many others have. They are at the end of the phone line or the Facebook message when I need them. I am grateful for that.

This EMS conference is now one of the most difficult events for me in my post-marriage life. I have to gird my emotional loins [on a side note, what a greatly colorful phrase, just saying] to attend. This conference is one of the few things my ex-husband and I ever did together. The fire service (along with baseball) was one of the few shared interests we had – and so we did things like this as a couple. And this particular conference was and is always filled with our mutual friends and fellow fire/EMS providers. For those of you who aren’t in the fire service, it can tend to be a very tight knit, close community. Which, when the shit hits the fan, is the best thing in the world – you know that it is your friends and pseudo-family members who are going to come to your aid. But, when your life has fallen apart, it also means that they are ALL going to know about it – and when your ex is also a beloved member of that same pseudo-family, it creates an abondanza of awkard moments. None of your mutual friends want to refer to The Breakup, yet they all know (or think they know) what really happened.

The flashbacks are staggering, those moments when you time travel back to happier days, when you can forget that things have changed. When you run into an old friend who doesn’t know you’ve divorced or you come out of a class and want to share your new knowledge with your life partner. When you go through your skills evaluations and want to celebrate your successes with your husband like you used to. I know that I’m not the first to experience this – those moments of forgetfulness are probably pretty common for anyone who has suffered a loss – but they still twist the knife of grief. I am haunted by the ghosts of lost friends, sad memories, and a firm place in the support system of the local EMS community – no longer can I consider myself a full member of the team because I have lost half of who I was. And the ghost of the Ex lurks around every corner, waiting to slam into me – will he be there? Will he come to the conference and will he bring his new woman? Rationally, you ask yourself – why do you worry if he appears or what he does? Yet emotionally you worry at every moment about the ghosts of him will come out to haunt your present.

So this year’s conference, with Jay as one of the keynote speakers, was one of the most difficult yet. I adore Jay – see the above description – but I also can’t ignore the fact that he is one of my ex-husband’s best friends and has been for over 30 years. How to greet a good friend who, understandably, has loyalties to the man who destroyed my life? How to face a friend who has probably heard every bad thing that my ex can construct about me? How to look in that friend’s eyes and not beg for forgiveness for not having been good enough for his buddy?

The good news is that I learned a lot at the conference. Not just the practical skills-based knowledge on pharmacology and airway management or the new technology for battling ‘dirty war’, not just the steps for a good radio consult with the trauma center or about the protocol updates in Maryland EMS. I learned that I am truly a different person now than I was before. I am damaged goods, yes, but I am also able to stand straight and hold my head high. to ignore the whispers of gossip and to make jokes about the bumpy road I’ve travelled. I am not better for the experiences of the last 2 years – but at least I am stronger.

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As I have grown older and witnessed the vast inequities in our world, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a hero of mine, the voice in my subconscious always urging love, tolerance, peace, nonviolence, and diversity. I have written before on the inspiration that Dr. King has given me in my personal life but today I write about the inspiration that I pray every day he will give to all corners of our society.

On the great day in which he delivered the famous “I Have A Dream” speech, he was speaking specifically on the topic of the racial crisis facing this country. But when Dr. King speaks of rights, promisory notes, and dreams of equality, he was not only talking about equality for black and white but also men and women, gay and straight, rich and poor, young and old, Christian and Muslim. His words painted a canvas of freedom and justice – and almost 50 years later, while we have made amazing progress, that painting is still unfinished.

I am always amazed when I hear Dr. King speak of his hope for a world where blacks and whites can eat together at the same table. Considering that I was married to a black man (and I’m so white, I’m neon), the world has come a long way! In Dr. King’s time, in some areas of the country, I would have been arrested (or worse!) for being with a black man – nowadays it’s not so uncommon and certainly not prosecutable. So many of my friends are of different colors, ethnicities, and backgrounds that it makes the violent and disciminatory realities of Dr. King’s world seem unbelievable. Our world is so much more diverse and tolerant than I’m sure anyone of that era could have ever imagined. And yet, even the most idealistic and naive amongst us can see that there is still progress to be made. There are still inequalities in this world to be solved, injustices to be made right, and discrimination to be overcome.

I, too, have a dream that someday this world will be full of people who treat each other with love, kindness, and fairness. I have a dream that someday physical attributes will not be the ruler by which people are measured – that someday, we will consider ‘pretty’ to be in someone’s soul. I have a dream that skin color, economic status, gender, religious belief or sexual orientation will not be factors in how we judge people – that we will love them regardless of these factors and be influenced only by ‘the contents of their characters’. Dr. King has taught me a lot about the kind of person I want to be and I am sure that I will continue to learn from his words and his actions.

So, I invite you all, on today of all days, to take some time out of your life to view the video of this great orator from August 28, 1963 – and maybe say a prayer for peace and equality and love in the world.

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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This time of year, you can’t travel 5 feet in a store or mall without seeing a vision of Santa Claus. He has become the commercial face of a holiday that was originally supposed to be a birthday celebration for our Lord. I don’t, in general, have a problem with Santa – I think he represents all the magic and wonder of believing in the spirit of Christmas.

I, however, would like to remind myself of the “Reason for the Season,” the true meaning behind Christmas – the arrival of our Lord in the form of a small, innocent, human child who would pay dearly for our sins and who was the fulfillment of a prophecy for a Savior. I think that I have always, in forming my religious beliefs, used that small baby as the foundation for what I believe – not a wrathful vengeful God but one who would deliver a loving Messiah in a dirty stable surrounded by animals and wrapped in cloths.

Every time I think of the Christmas story (which, just as an aside, is told in an amazingly touching fashion by Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas), I see in my head the nativity set. Growing up, my church had a set that would start as a simple stable and, each week throughout the advent season, would add a different element to the story until Christmas Eve when the babe would appear in the manger. Those simple statues created the most meaningful memories I have of the nativity story – statues that brought a magical story to life and reminded us WHY we celebrate that night!

We also had a nativity set at the house (which survives to this day) and I now have one for my home. I leave mine up year-round, though, perched serenely on top of my grandmother’s piano, reminding me daily of my duties and my privileges of being a Christian.

I think the nativity set is a dying breed of Christmas decoration. No longer can you find it on the shelves of most stores – you have to look for a specialty store. And, while I am glad that collectible companies are jumping on the spiritual bandwagon , do we really need a Disney Mickey & Minnie nativity set?

But, for me, those figures of wisemen, angels, shepherds, and the holy family (regardless of how they are dressed, what color they are, or how garishly they are decorated) will always represent what Christmas is about – a loving family, a loving God, a loving tradition!

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What movie defines your holiday traditions? What cinematic adventure is a must in your family Christmas season? We all have them, even the Scrooges and Grinches in the group.

Maybe a few tears are shed when George Bailey hears the bell ring in “It’s A Wonderful Life” or Scrooge discovers the Christmas spirit in “A Christmas Carol.” Maybe you can’t help but laugh at Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or at Buddy the Elf’s antics in “Elf.” Maybe the sweet innocence of Cindy Lou Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or Susan in “Miracle on 34th Street” inspires you to just believe for a while. Or perhaps the classic songs of “White Christmas” or the iconic moments of Ralphie’s life in “A Christmas Story” bring back the nostalgia of Christmases past.

Whatever your favorites are, the holiday movies create special times for us. The most important part of these movies is the family time together that they create. Friends and family gathered around a screen laughing, crying, and creating traditions and happy holiday memories!

I’m happy to report that we have introduced my godson, Bryce, to the joys of Christmas movies last year – we had a pizza dinner and watched MY favorite – “A Christmas Story.” What a wonderful memory I will take away from this difficult holiday season – and all because Ralphie was willing to don the pink bunny suit just one more time to make a little boy giggle.

I wish you all a few laughs and a few tears courtesy of Hollywood as we near Christmas Day. May George Bailey inspire you, may Scrooge not be you, may Buddy remind you of the childish joy of the season….

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If you look at the top of almost any Christmas tree, you’ll probably see either a star or an angel. Both are important, integral, and co-mingled elements of the nativity story – both are needed to signal the tremendous miracle that occurred 2,000 years ago. And yet I find the angels are among us every day…

The star atop the tree symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, leading shepherds and kings alike to the Baby Jesus. How wonderful it is that a bright blazing symbol still sits atop our trees, reminding us of the way back to Jesus. My parents’ tree has had the same blue and silver foil star for at least the last 30 years so, when I started my own tree tradition here in Maryland, I selected a star to sit atop the tree.

But, now that I have gotten older, I am going to add an angel to sit prominently near the top. I don’t know why but I have always been fascinated most by the angelic element of the Christmas story.

I’d like to believe that I have angels all around me, guiding me through this tricky world. I know some of you out there must be thinking I’ve lost my mind and will next be talking about ghosts and voodoo priestesses – but I absolutely believe in angels! I think that the people we’ve lost, loved ones and friends, keep an eye on us and help to protect and shield us. And, I am SURE that someone up there is helping me navigate.

One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies is It’s A Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, shows him how valuable he is to the world, to his family, to his friends, and to his town. How amazing is a God that can send an emissary to prove our worth to ourselves!

So many of us have lost someone we truly loved – and I ‘d like to believe that God simply needed them in heaven more than we do. He needs their help as friends for those in heaven and as angels for us on earth.

So, I will add an angel to my Christmas tree, as a tip of the hat to my angels up there who are guiding me!

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It’s a tradition in my family to add a new ornament to the tree every year – vacation souvenirs, tributes to favorite pets, whimsical inside family jokes. For my family, these ornaments are the life stories that give us the moments to remember – to be relived and rejoiced every year as we put the ornaments on our trees.

I am thankful for those ornaments, those happy memories that create a special Christmas tradition every year. And while I have tried (with limited success) to pass this on to my now-ex-husband and other close friends, it remains a special tradition that I will continue to cherish just for me.

Putting up the Christmas tree and putting each of these special ornaments on my tree has always been very special to me – full of memories and reminders of places I’ve been and things I’ve experienced. Maybe it’s the San Francisco trolley ornament we got on the cross-country trip when I was 7; or the etched glass ornament with my BoBo’s picture on it; or the ornaments made at the Sprucelands Christmas Reunion; or the Hartwick College or Jell-O Museum ornaments. All help me track, like a festive road map, the paths that my life has taken.

There are also the reminders of family and loved ones. The granny ornament that my grandmother gave me for Christmas 1988 and that is one of the few things I have left from her; the milk pod ornament that my Aunt Mary made for us so many years ago and now adorn trees in New York and Maryland; the red cardinal ornament that my mom and dad gave us for our home’s tree to continue the tradition that had started with my grandparents; the set of glass ornaments given to us for our first Christmas by my friend Lynne that documented my life as a single girl (cowboy boots, roosters, a fire truck, etc.); the tiny flute ornament given to me by my “sister” Tracy.

Whatever the ornament may be, it’s a reminder of happy memories and special loved ones. So the ornaments on my tree are that road map of where I’ve been (good and bad) and how lucky I’ve been to have such wonderful experiences and loving people in my life. Those tiny trinkets are the joys in my life to be placed on the tree every year with love and remembrance.

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