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Posts Tagged ‘bravery’

Those two words have never applied to me, EVER. Hi, my name is Becky, and I am hopelessly out of touch with the way my body is supposed to work in any coordinated movement.

When you are the fat kid growing up, the choices for showcasing whatever god-given body skills you have are slim. My mother enrolled me in the requisite “little girl” dance classes – and even I have to admit how ridiculous that was! The ballet tights and tutu must have made me look like the hippos in Fantasia – those fashions were not invented for chubby little girls. And yet I actually truly loved dancing. From the graceful and ordered movements of ballet to the all-out noisemaking in tap class, I really liked dancing. But, when you reach those dreaded pre-teenage years and realize that you don’t look good in that spandex, you give up the love of the activity in some twisted sense of self-preservation and damaged ego. When all the little girls around you are tiny and petite and graceful – and you are everything BUT – you decide that maybe you should find a new hobby, maybe knitting or reading or underwater basketweaving. Anything that didn’t require spandex and coordination…

I was never athletic either. I tried softball for a few years when I was 11 or 12 but I never tore up the field with any outstanding skill. Despite a lifetime love of baseball (instilled in me by my dad, the walking baseball encyclopedia, and my brother, the consummate Yankee fan) and the wish that I could play, I was often stuck in right field for the safety of all parties involved. I was too self-conscious to hit, I was too fat to run, I was too scared to field a ball. Yep, Derek Jeter I wasn’t!

So, now having a brief background into my non-athletic past, I hope you will now allow me a moment of utter pride in the smallest of victories- I actually am trying a team sport again! After 20+ years of being too self-conscious about my weight, my body style and my general lack of coordination, I am actually leaping into a new game – vintage baseball. More to follow on this great sport (!) but I just had to share my joy right now! I actually got out on a field with a bunch of very athletic and very coordinated guys and tried something *gasp* athletic with them! What am I thinking?!

I am so grateful to those guys – this is just my small way of saying thank you to them – for putting up with me. The first practice I sucked big time – and the second week was only marginally better. The guys are being very tolerant of my general lack of skill and are being very understanding as I learn the body mechanics needed to play. Sadly, I am paying the price for hiding my body and not developing any athletic grace for the first 30 years of my life. Or, rather, I should say that my poor teammates are paying the price. But I am working hard to improve – I even now have my own private batting/throwing coach (bless my wonderful coworker and friend Jen) – and practice every day to try to improve. For love of the game, I am trying, dammit!!

But, meanwhile, I am just tickled to death that I have tried something new, something that required almost every ounce of courage I own.  This was a HUGE step for me and, without the confidence I have pieced back together as I have shed some of these pounds, I would never have been able in the past to be brave enough for this. While I lack (and probably always will) a natural sense of grace or athleticism, I have something even better – HEART!

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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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Why should a woman who is healthy and strong
Blubber like a baby if her man’s goes away?
A weepin’ an’ a wailin’ that he’s done her wrong
That’s one thing you’ll never hear me say!
Never gonna think that the man I lose is the only man among men!
I’ll snap my fingers to show I don’t care
I’ll buy me a brand new dress to wear
I’ll scrub my neck and I’ll brush my hair
And start all over again!

Many a new face will please my eye
Many a new love will find me
Never have I once looked back to sigh
Over the romance behind me
Many a new day will dawn before I do!

Many a like lad may kiss and fly
A kiss gone by is bygone.
Never have I asked an August sky
“Where has last July gone?”
Never have I wandered through the rye
Wondering “where has some guy gone?”
Many a new day will dawn before I do.

Never have I chased the honeybee
Who carelessly cajoled me
Somebody jist as sweet as he
Cheered me and consoled me.
Never have I wept into my tea
Over the deal someone doled me

Many a red sun will set
Many a blue moon will shine
Before I do!

I know that I frequently highlight songs and lyrics – I can’t help it, I live in a musical universe. My dad is a professional musician now that he has retired from teaching and I was raised in a very music-inclined household. At one point, I enjoyed a life on the stage, just a’singin’ my heart out or tootling my flute. Music speaks to me in ways that only true musicians will understand. So, while I apologize for boring you with my songs, I also make no apologies that the cosmos speak to me through country ballads, rock anthems, and Broadway ditties.

Anyway, this song popped up on my iPod today while I was out walking the dog. Per my surgeon’s instructions, I have to walk daily for the next several months until all my incisions have healed – at which point I can graduate to running, aerobics, dancing or whatever else my heart desires. So the dog and I have a daily dose of iPod shuffling. This song came on and even the dog was cheering…

Any of you out there who have had your hearts broken or who have been wronged, who’ve been abandoned or treated like garbage? Am I the only one to feel that she does NOT need a man to complete her? Is there anyone else out there who is struggling to put on her big girl panties and get on with her life? I’m guessing I’m not alone….

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When I was a kid, my older brother went off to college in Washington, DC, a far cry from the small town where we had grown up in upstate New York. My parents, being the educational types that they were, insisted that while we were down visiting him on Parents’ Weekend, Easter, etc. that we tour the city and discover the history of our nation’s capital. But this was a big, scary, urban environment for my sheltered 12-year old self! Once, when trying to cross busy Connecticut Avenue, my brother (now the experienced urban dweller) gave me this sage piece of wisdom about crossing the street: “Don’t make eye contact, they won’t hurt you.” I’m not sure WHY this psychology works like it does – but he was most assuredly right. Not once did my sorry teenage self get splattered by a cab in DC and, in the years since and with the travelling I have done at home and abroad, the eye contact avoidance has prevented me from ever getting hit in the street.

Sadly, I came to a startling realization this week – I think I took my brother’s advice a little too much to heart. I rarely make eye contact with anyone anymore – at all, in any situation, PERIOD. Somewhere along the line, apparently I twisted my brother’s words to avoid all eye contact in order to prevent getting hurt. In a painful flash of self-awareness (when questioned on what color a friend’s eyes are), I realized that I just don’t look people in the eye ever. I never intended to transfer the street-crossing wisdom into my relations with all human beings – I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

I’m not sure if I have always had this problem… I would like to think that, at some point in my past, I was bold and confident enough to look people in the eye and share myself with them. I would hate to think that I have always been this much of a milquetoast. But, in all reality, I am guessing that I have always been like this – afraid to establish a connection, subconsciously putting myself in the submissive role. In the world of dogs, eye contact is how they establish dominance in a pack – the ones that stand straight and can face down enemies are the top of the pecking order, the ones that bow down and look down are low in the pack. I have been, without realizing it, announcing my submissiveness to the world with every conversation. No wonder I was easily tagged by a self-confident, aggressive, bully of a husband – he knew, by my eyes, that I would never be able to stand up to him.

So now that I have realized that I have been keeping myself aloof from others by denying that eye contact – and meekly placing myself in the submissive position – I vow that I will change that. I don’t want to keep myself distant from other human beings any more; I am no longer the weak, fearful person I used to be! I want to create those human connections, those important relationships, by looking people in the eye, sharing who I am with them. Yes, I do understand that this will also allow them to see my vulnerabilities, opening myself up to getting hit by those proverbial cars in the street, but I think it will also help me to develop a stronger connection to others and to myself…

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Thanksgiving is one of those great holidays in the American calendar – all you can eat, togetherness with family and friends, the Macy’s parade, and an excuse to eat a bazillion starch-filled calories. Anyone who knows me knows that the holidays are my absolute favorite time of year! And, this year, I wanted to take a moment to overlook some of the less-appealing aspects of the last few years and remind myself of ALL of the wonderful things that the Lord has given to me and to share that gratitude and thanksgiving with my friends.

So, here are 20 things I am thankful for this year:

1) my parents and brother, who support me, love me, and protect me – they are the 3 people that I admire most in this world and without them I wouldn’t be who I am today

2) four wonderful “babies” who keep me company, snuggle with me, and make me laugh – God doesn’t care that my children are four-legged and furry, right?

2) amazing “sisters”  and friends who are behind me and support me and listen to me whenever I need them, who make me laugh and cry with me, who adopt me into their families, who accept my quirky ways, and without whom I couldn’t survive

3) my guy friends who teach me new things and remind me not to take myself (or life) too seriously

4) a backbone (recently refound after a long absence) that has given me the strength to survive and hold my head up

5) new friends and new hobbies that provide a sense of adventure, a spirit of renewal and rebuilding, and the thrill of life going on

6) my health – it’s been an interesting last 2 months but I am healed, strong, and hopefully on the road to a whole new healthy me

7) a wonderful nirvana called Sprucelands, that saved my life, taught me about the person I wanted to be, and gave me some wonderful lifelong memories and friends – you know it’s a truly special place when, even after almost 20 years, I still include it on my list of God-given gifts!

8 ) a job that I truly love with people that are not only co-workers but good friends – every day is a new adventure in which I am surrounded by caring professionals and fantastic patients and clients
9) a love of travelling that has taken me all over the world and taught me to be accepting and tolerant of a variety of different cultures, ethnicities, and ideologies

10) self-respect  – underappreciated though it may be, I am FINALLY proud to be a good, decent person who has resisted the easy temptations of petty revenge, angry bitterness, and hateful attitudes

11) an open mind, eager to learn and experience new things

12) a sense of unique individuality – when you’re a teenager and a young adult, you don’t appreciate how valuable it is to be your own person but now I realize the gift I’ve been given in being my own special person

13) the beauty of nature around me – green grass, sunny days, snowstorms, sunsets, thunder, hurricane rains, and the bloonms on shrubs, trees, and flowers – we are truly blessed by the world around us

14) the faith to know that God and his army of angels (including some very special grandparents, a wonderful lady named Liz, and the dearly-missed “Curly”) are watching over me and my loved ones

15) a brain in my head – I look around and see so many women who think that their only value and worth is being pretty and dumb – and I am SO glad that I can be an intelligent, strong, independently-minded female in a world that still tries to teach us to be silent and subservient!

16) that I have been brave enough get out of bed every morning and face some tough times and some hard decisions

17) food on my table – there are so many people in the world who can’t have 3 regular meals a day, so I am thankful for easy, affordable, available food supplies (what can I say, fat girl likes to eat!)

18) the brotherhood of the fire department – although they make me want to drink heavily sometimes, I know those guys would be there in a heartbeat to help me if I called

19) a heart full of love – no matter what has happened to me in the past and may happen to me in the future, I have a lot of love to share

20) laughter and tears – two of the most important things a human needs to survive this crazy journey called life

So now that I’ve shared mine, what are the things that YOU are thankful for this Thanksgiving?

My dear friends and faithful readers, I say a prayer of Thanksgiving for all of you on this most important day. Without all of you, the world would be a grayer place. Thank you for the sunshine you bring!

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To whoever says my job isn’t difficult: have you ever tried to tactfully schedule an office visit for a squirrel with a self-inflicted scrotal injury? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

This is a true story. One of our clients called and needed to see one of our small animal vets because his squirrel had, for some unknown reason, done harm to himself. What ran through my mind was a mixture of disgust (ew!), horror (why that area of his body?), pity (that poor baby), and curiosity (what’s mentally wrong with this animal?). I have been around animals all of my life and have seen some pretty grotesque sights – but this one even made me cringe. And I’m not even a guy so I lack that sensitivity on the subject of ManLand!

But, this got me thinking – what kind of harm do we humans inflict on ourselves? We may not all be as….er…obvious about our self-inflicted scars as the squirrel was, but like it or not we all do this sort of stuff to ourselves. Sometimes its physical mutilation (cutting, eating disorders, piercing/tattoo addictions, plastic surgery addictions, etc.) but I think mostly its mental and emotional. I think we all beat ourselves up, inflicting a variety of short- and long-term injuries, over a plethora of topics – work, relationships, children, marriage, friends, holidays, schools, etc.

Think about it – what scars are you carrying with you that you inflicted on yourself? What internal stress have you allowed to cause pain and suffering? What have you mentally sliced yourself up about?

Take it from an expert – on both squirrels AND emotional mutilation – nothing is worth harming yourself over! No person or subject on the planet is worth any extensive harm you might do to yourself! Forgive, forget, and look for something wonderful on the horizon! Have faith that the Lord has a plan and has something amazing in store for you! How’s that for a Pollyanna moment?

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In looking up some statistics and photos for my September 11th musings, I stumbled upon the biographies of a man that I have come to develop a very strong admiration for. I don’t know how, in the massive media coverage following the attacks, I managed to miss hearing the buzz about this now-iconic figure: Father Mychal Judge, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. I

Father Mychal Judge

want to share with you a little more about what I have discovered of this man in the last few weeks; I think this extraordinary human being needs a small extra bit of eulogizing.

Father Judge, ordained as a Catholic priest and Franciscan monk in 1961, grew up in Brooklyn the son of two Irish immigrants. Serving in various parishes around the northeast, Father Judge took special interested in the plight of the homeless in the larger cities. Having become an alcoholic in the 1970s and admitting his addiction in

1978, Father Judge knew the struggles that the homeless and addicted faced every day. He also spent quite a bit of time ministering to the gay/lesbian population and those suffering from AIDS; following his death a few of his friends and associates revealed that he identified himself as gay, as a matter of orientation and identity and not as a matter of practice since he was a celibate priest. Very wisely (in my opinion), he asked of Rome’s anti-gay teachings, ” “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?!”.  Ever the champion of the underdog, Father Judge specifically reached out to those that most needed his love and kindness!

In 1992, Father Judge was appointed chaplain of the FDNY. As chaplain, he offered encouragement, prayers, and spiritual interventions at fires, rescues, and hospitals. He counseled firemen and their families, performed weddings, funerals, baptisms, and hospital visits for ‘his’ firefighters. He truly was accepted as one of the FDNY’s own; his Irish roots (and work to bring peace to Ireland) and his loving, jovial charisma made him a natural fit in the firehouses around the city. As biographer Mychal McNichols noted, “His whole ministry was about love. Mychal loved the fire department and they loved him.” To say that the most stalwart and macho group of firemen in the world loved him and accepted him, with all of his liberal social teachings, is surely a remarkable testament to the kind soul that he was! As Father Judge once said, “The firefighters ask me to bless them. But the truth is I feel blessed by them.”

Father Judge was a dyed-in-the-wool first responder. In his eulogy of Father Judge, Father Michael Duffy, OFM remembered that  “…he loved to be where the action was. If he heard a fire engine or a police car, any  news, he’d be off. He loved to be where there was a crisis, so he could insert  God in what was going on. That was his way of doing things.”  At his last official mass at FDNY Engine 73/ Ladder 42 (Bronx) on September 10, 2001, Father Judge gave the following homily:

You do what God has called you to do. You get on that rig, you go out and do the job. No
matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea of what God is
calling you to, but God needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.
God needs us to keep supporting each other, to be kind to each other, to love each other…

We love this job, we all do. What a blessing it is! It’s a difficult, difficult job, but God calls you to do
it
, and indeed, He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done.

In an interview in 1992, Father Judge rhetorically asked “I wonder what my last hour will be. Will it be trying to help someone, trying to save a life?” Little did he know the thousands of lives he would touch in the final moments of his life. Early on that bright morning of September 11, 2001, he rushed from the friary at Saint Francis of Assisi Church to the scene of the World Trade Center attacks. He was among many pastors, priests, and rabbis that had run to the aid of the people pouring into the streets – but he knew that his first priorities were his firefighters. Video of some his last moments (purpotedly shot by documentary filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet) show him praying fervently before he headed inside the building to minister to injured firemen and administering the Sacrament of the Sick and Last  Rites.

As Father Judge rushed into the North Tower with firefighters, Mayor Rudy Giuliani has stated that he called out, “Father Mike, pray for us!” and that Father Mychal responded, “I always do! I always pray for you!” Because of his official status with the fire department, he was the only clergy allowed inside the building and was surrounded by people needing help as death rained down around them. According to biographers Ford & Daly, when commanders gave orders to evacuate the building, he refused to abandon the hundreds of firefighters still trapped inside saying, “My work here is not finished.” Between 9:50 and 9:55 am, Father Judge climbed up to the mezzanine attempting to reach some injured firefighters. Seeing dozens of jumpers crashing onto the plaza outside, he is reported to have cried out fervently and repeatedly, Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”

Father Mychal Judge was struck and killed at 9:59 AM when the South Tower collapsed and sent concrete flying through the North Tower lobby at speeds of over 100mph. He is officially listed as Victim 0001 of the September 11th attacks – #1 only because his was the first body recovered and autopsied (the first victims, in reality, were the passengers and crews of the airplanes and the occupants of the buildings).

What happened next was truly an amazing human moment on that day of horror. A NYPD lieutenant, digging himself out of the rubble, found Judge’s body and assisted by two firemen and two civilian bystanders carried it out of the North Tower lobby to nearby St. Peter’s Church. This remarkable and touching event was captured in the documentary film 9/11 (author’s note: truly one of the best documentaries ever made, everyone should see it in order to truly grasp that historic day)  and on film by Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton. This photo is one of the most disturbing and iconic images to come out of the tragedies of 9/11. Father Judge’s ashen lifeless face stands in stark contrast to the lieutenant, firefighters, and bystanders who are steadfast in their mission to carry his body to safety.

As Father Duffy said in his eulogy, “The firemen took his body and because they respected and loved him so much, they  didn’t want to leave it in the street. They quickly carried it into a church and  not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the center aisle. They put the  body in front of the altar. They covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they  placed his stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they thanked  God. And then they rushed back to continue their work.”

Father Judge’s funeral was held on September 15, 2001 and was attended by over 3,000 mourners. Former President Clinton, in attendance at the funeral, said that Judge’s death was “a special loss. We should lift his life up as an example of what has to prevail … We have to be more like Father Mike than the people who killed him.”

This amazing human being is now being considered for sainthood and I must say that, even though I’m not Catholic, I would support this wholeheartedly.  And while he may never pass the various tests to enter the Catholic canon of saints, I believe that wonderful man is looking down from Heaven to continue protecting his firefighters and his congregants. He has, in my Protestant mind, already fulfilled his obligations. I cannot think of more saintly acts than to spend your life in servitude to the human race and to lay down your life in order to help them find spiritual peace in the last moments. Rest in peace, Father Judge, and thank you for teaching us about true love and absolute service for others!

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