Category Archives: In My Life

Sometimes the ordinary person that I am has the honor of being with extraordinary people.

The Lost Art of Being Thankful

I told a friend of mine the other day that I wanted to bring back the lost art of letter writing. I admit, I am guilty of sometimes just sending a thank you text. If truth be told, I probably am also guilty of thinking I have thanked someone when I probably thought about sending them a text, but I was in the car, and then when I got home my children were acting crazy, and then it was too late at night, and then it was too early in the morning, and then I just totally thought I had done it, but I did not really do it; so in essence I had not adequately shown my gratitude. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the one that is so busy with life that I don’t stop to appreciate the people and things that make life worthwhile.

Recently, a man in my hometown, who I used to work with but rarely see, stopped by Southern Charm and brought me a cup of coffee. It was so thoughtful and unexpected. I sent my mom a text, “Billy Houston just brought me a cup of coffee. How about that?” Oh, I thought about texting him and saying thanks, but I wasn’t sure if I had his number, or if he texted, or blah blah blah. A week or so later, he brought me another cup of coffee. And it was on a day that I really needed a lift. Text to mom: “Billy Houston just brought me another cup of coffee. What the hell? How awesome is that?” That night, I decided I must send a written thank you note. When I got home, I decided that I couldn’t send him a note on my Barbie stationary (although I did send a note to a local pastor and his wife on a Barbie card and they found it endearing, or so they indicated), but I vowed to send a note the next day. When I got to work, I pulled a card out of my stash under the counter, wrote him a note, luckily ran into his daughter who told me he had a PO Box and gave me the correct address, put a stamp on the envelope, and managed to even get the envelope into the mailbox at the post office. Boom. Mission accomplished.

Why is this important? Because when people go out of their way to show someone kindness, they do it because they want to; not because they have to. And because the minute we stop doing random acts of kindness or we stop appreciating these moments of humanity, we become empty vessels. The people who show kindness do so to bring others joy. But if they are never thanked, or at least acknowledged, their light begins to dim. It sparks a chain reaction that lessens their desire to do for others. Then before you know it, we are all just a bunch of self-centered asshats who can’t see the needs of others and don’t care to reach out even if we could.

Last week I got a lovely hand written thank you note from Haley Ates. This didn’t really shock me. Her mama is an English teacher and obviously raised her right. (In case her mama sees this, yes, I know you rear children and don’t raise them, but whatever, I think reared sounds weird. Blame it on rap music.) Not to mention she is young and engaged and more than likely trying to use up all of her stationary so she can get some new cards with her new last name printed on them. But this week I got a hand written thank you note from a man. Not only a man, from a football coach. And it arrived within a week of the event for which he was thanking me. I don’t want to act like an athletic man is less likely to hand write a personal thank you note, but in my opinion, and man is less likely to hand write a personal thank you note.

The impression this left on me wasn’t that Haley and Coach Moore are a crazy rare breed of humans who know how to hold a pencil and lick an envelope. It let me know that they are humble people of gratitude. The impact of these notes was a reaffirmation of my need to not only continue showing others, whether friends or strangers, that I care about them through small tangible acts or tokens of kindness, but to also take the time to truly thank those who show kindness to me. I needed this reminder. It’s often easier to anonymously pay for a policeman’s lunch, or (my favorite) buy the blue-collar old man’s single can of beer at the gas station after he has gotten off from an obviously long workday, than it is to thank the people who are closest to us who do so much for us every single day.

By the way, a great random act of kindness is a hand written note. Feel free to help me bring back the lost art of letter writing or to steadfastly show small kindness to others by commenting or messaging me your mailing address, or the mailing address of someone you know who may appreciate the kindness of a stranger. I’m not saying I’m going to mail you a Barbie card before the weekend is over. I mean I’ve got wine to drink and this DVR isn’t going to watch itself. But it will give me a database, if you will, of people to share life with over the course of the year.

I think I’m going start by mailing a card to my mom. She lives next door to me, but I bet she would like to read my words of appreciation instead of hearing me casually calling, “Thanks!” over my shoulder as I walk across the yard carrying a can of Fresca or masking tape or whatever item I’ve borrowed that I will never return. And to whomever is reading this… hey, thanks.


Another Man’s Guitar

With a subtle shrug of his shoulders, responsibility fell to the floor. He gently grasped history and began to strum the tune of his dreams. Timidly at first, soaking in the moment, he picked out the notes of his childhood. Soon the notes became chords and the chords became a strain – a symphony of aspirations suppressed but not forgotten. His awe of the instrument began to blend with his joy of the music and soon the two were so intertwined that he could not make a distinction between the harmony of his wonder and his revelry. Time that seemed to speed up as his body slowed down, suddenly came to a halt, and he was suspended in the moment. He clung to the old guitar just as the great ones before him. They had walked the line and triumphed through fire and fear and miles of hopeless desperation. Every sound – whether from the fingers of the man in black or the hands of the crowds that cheered for him – led up to this singular occasion in time. Every tear, every bead of sweat, every sleepless night or drunken stupor, every confession of love or rush of angry emotion; now lay softly on his lap. The melody swirled around him, awakening the child within, and renewing his passion. But time, cruel as she is, put life back into motion. And as the chorus faded into the air, he found himself back in his office. His profession beckoned; there was much to be done. Deadlines and details waited in tidy stacks for him to handle. Phones chirped and voices echoed through the halls. The guitar case was closed like a vault before he even had time to grasp his surroundings, much less bid the instrument farewell. But the strings of remembrance could still be felt on his fingertips and the contentment of his first love still rang in his ears. As he slowly stood up, dutifully ready to get back to the trappings of adulthood, the lyrics of his anthem  danced once more through his mind, “I’m old enough to have drawn blood, yet still young enough to bleed.”

My old friend, Dutch, had the opportunity to play Luther Perkins' guitar today. It was the guitar used by Johnny Cash to record Walk the Line. For one of the most incredible musicians to never make the big time, I'm sure this was an awesome experience. I wasn't there to witness it, but this is how it went in my mind.

Trucks in the Sand

She ran through the woods, breaking through beams of sunlight as her laughter trailed behind her. In the exuberance of her youth she was never winded. Her feet moved from dirt to water to leaves without thought as she chased her dreams down the slope of the ravine. Miles away, he pushed his truck through the sand. The sounds of squeaking swings and children’s voices filled the air around him. His lips vibrated with the noise of a motor and he maneuvered his vehicle across the sandbox, planning his upcoming attack. They had never met. Their eyes had never locked in a glance. He had never heard her sing to her baby doll and she had never watched as he tried to be brave after falling and skinning his knee. Yet years later as she lay in bed, twisting to find the ultimate position of comfort then drifting off to slumber as gently as a summer breeze through an open window; he stood guard in the heat of the desert, eyes alert and mind racing; as trucks rolled by in the sand. He would protect her with his life, this girl he’d never met; now a woman with children of her own. He would not question her devotion, but persevere in his. He was bound by honor, by duty, by destiny; and giving up his freedom to protect hers was as natural as the blood that coursed through his veins. She would never know him. She would never know why he chose to serve her. Some days went by and she didn’t even think of him. But in her heart of hearts she knew he was there and she took comfort in it. She prayed that a gloved hand would never pause above an officer’s brow as his mother clutched a folded flag. And whenever she saw one of his comrades in an airport or a grocery or on the street, she would thank him; even though she knew her words would never reach them all. Miles away, she was the last thing on his mind, yet he continued to fight for her as if she was in his heart.

Six Years

Six years and I still hear your voice
Booming loud above the noise of the world
Six years and I still hear you humming
Never waiting for the music to start
Six years and I feel your lap beneath me
Stroking my hair and playing with my fingernails
Six years and I still feel the floor vibrate
Rattling the window as you walk down the hall
Six years and you’re still scheming
Another gadget to slip into the house
Six years and it’s time for a jigger
Maybe a finger more
Six years and there’s no one like you
No one to fill your void
Six years and I still miss you
Forever my soul mate, my friend
Six years that feel like a lifetime
Yet only the blink of an eye

The Faded Flag

I rolled over, tucking my hands under my pillow, as the sun began to stream through the crevices around the roman shade. As I nestled into my new spot, my eyes came to rest on the faded American flag as it rose and fell with each breath of slumber. I wondered about the events seen by eyes so young. Excitement was found in a lesser man’s nightmares. Smoldering timber, burning long after the first spark, fell quiet beneath his boot as his smile cracked the mixture of dirt and soot and sweat that formed a mask on his boyish face. Comrades were made and contentment found amid endless sand and heat and waiting, a chance to validate excuses made for being a drifter. There was plenty of time for growing old after dreams had been exhausted. I was lost somewhere between the flag and his golden skin; my thoughts filled with speculation. I swam in the memory of our laughter, refreshed by the way our voices blended until they became one. Our smiles were laced with alcohol and our intentions were anything but pure. But we always lost control before we could act on our whims. We remained a comfort to the other, a place of solace and rest. For now this wandering soul lay still beneath the flag he served. He was mine completely to both lead and follow. But as ever, there was no time to revel, for his eyes fluttered open. He lifted his head and adjusted his focus and smiled to start the day. “Let’s go for a hike.” He said. “Sounds good,” I answered.

An Extra Special Night

One of the best hours of my life took place in a community college cafeteria. I was surrounded by both friends and strangers as I watched a few people that I knew and several more that I had never met bare their soul for the world to see. As the first contestant took the stage, the novice emcee and the makeshift décor took a back seat to an extraordinary gentleman singing Michael Jackson’s Human Nature. As tears started pouring down my cheeks, I repeated to myself over and over, “Don’t think about how special this is. Don’t think about how special this is. Don’t thing about how special this is.”

I was at the first annual Extra Special People Awards pageant, and the ageless black man before me was not only singing one of his favorite singer’s songs, he was baring his soul for all to see. I’ve heard of them called retarded or handicapped or handicapable, but I was there to see Bobby, and he was not any of those things to me; he was simply my friend. I managed to pull it together for a bit, until Kristen took the stage. I knew her story. She went to my father’s church. I remember going to services with my mother right after my oldest child was born and being almost ashamed to carry my perfect, healthy child into the sanctuary in my arms. She had been normal by the world’s standards. She had been everything a parent could want, until just two years into her life; fever had left her soiled by the world’s standards. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if that was my child. She was loving and vulnerable and sweet and all things good. And now I watched her on stage, singing into a microphone, blushing and bashful as ever, but beautiful and proud of all that she is. Any thoughts I had of salvaging my makeup were long gone.

I saw contestants sing and dance and even do comedy before Bobby took the stage to perform a dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I had to admit, the man had skills. He had more soul that I ever would when it came to the dance floor. He even winked at the judges before he finished his routine. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand and they were soaking up every thrust and movement that he made. But unlike any stage performance I had ever witnessed, this one was pure and true. These Extra Special People were not on stage for the applause, or for the glory or for their fifteen minutes of fame. They were there for their time to show the world who they were and what they were made of, and it was beautiful.

The personality and talent and soul that walked across that tiny stage before me was bigger than anything I had ever seen. The local beauty queens and youth that volunteered their time before and during this spectacle didn’t do it for recognition or out of duty. It was oblivious that they had seen the amazing people that stood before me as some of the purest examples of humanity, yet so often overlooked if not scorned by society.

At the end of the night, as each participant was given a sash and flowers and crown along with an award that suited what they had brought to the stage, the crowd stood and applauded and those men and women basked in the glory of it all. It wasn’t a conceited moment that they felt they deserved or a moment that they felt better or normal or good enough. It was a moment when they knew without a doubt, that the people in that cafeteria, the people that had paid money to come see them; those people not only accepted them, but loved them.

I went to a pageant for mentally and physically challenged people tonight. I went because my dear friend has a twenty-nine year old Down Syndrome child and I thought I should go support him. I went because Kristen would be there and she had worked so hard to graduate from high school recently and I knew people that didn’t go to her graduation because she was retarded. I went because I love Bobby and when I walk into his mom’s coffee shop, he stands up, steps away from his cartoon and hugs me.

A group of volunteers put together a pageant for Extra Special People so that for at least one time in their life, they could shine and be normal and have one of the most special hours of their life. Little did they know when they were making the sashes and buying the crowns that they would provide one of the most special hours of mine.

My friend, Bobby.

Two Empty Chairs

When the air begins to get crisp, they meet out at a cabin in the woods. One by one they trickle in, down the dirt road and up to the little lodge. Most of their lives and all of their pretenses are left behind when they travel that bumpy road. Each one has something special to share whether it’s food or drink or possessions or stories. Activities have become habits and habits have become traditions. The first one in will light a fire and pour a drink that will soon become a round as the others arrive. They will be well settled by the time I arrive. As I climb out of my truck I will be enveloped by the smell of smoke and whiskey and the feel of stubble and fleece. Although I was born several decades too late and am of the wrong gender, they have allowed me into their brotherhood. Most have known me since my first days. They have watched me grow from baby to girl to woman and have walked beside me though happiness and heartbreak. They stand beside me without question and when others drift they remain to tell me about how things would be if they were but thirty years younger. Their actions are those of gentlemen even when their words are not. They find me a chair and pour me a glass and we tell dirty jokes and talk about women and morons and each other. The world stands still while we sit in the cold waiting on the evening’s meal. And each night when the time comes, they offer me just one more and I decline and slip off into the night. Their jobs change, their wives change and their lifestyles change, but the bonds that have been forged in the fall night air always remain the same. And now the season approaches. The temperature is dropping and you can almost smell the weather. The tracks are fresh and the rye is green as leaves gently float to the ground. I know my next encounter is just around the corner and I’m getting excited about seeing my motley crew. But now my heart is heavy and I wonder how I will feel. I know we will have laughter. I know we will have stories. I know we will eat and drink and talk about everything and nothing. Yet this time it will be different. There will be cold beer in the cooler and fresh scallops on the stove-top, but this season there will be two empty chairs.

Thinking of Thomas Lee Shannon and Bob McKinnon. May they both rest in peace.