Guest Blogger, Ab Kastl: Mind the Queue

 

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Several days ago, I asked a few friends to write guest blogs about this divisive, explosive election.  One of the people I asked was my good friend Ab Kastl, who, like me, grew up in the same part of the country, went to Ozark Christian College and has lived in Southern California for over 20 years.  So, we share many of the same influences if not the same perspectives.  We often disagree politically.  But he was glad to offer his reflection on the election, why it went the way it did, and also what his hopes for this country are.  If you are led to comment, whether on here or on Facebook, in agreement or disagreement, I do ask that your comments be respectful.  And if you are inspired to write your own guest blog about this election, by all means, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Mind the Queue

“What has happened to the USA?” asked my good friend from England…the same England that voted for the Brexit. What made them vote for the Brexit? What made the USA vote for Trump? Being from Oklahoma, I hear the grumblings of so many out there in the Mid-west. Oh, stewardess! I speak redneck. There is a sense by so many in the fly over states of things being out of control (borders, spending, security, etc.….out of control). Allow me share what I passed to my friend who lives across the pond in the country where they love showing off their politeness by excessive queueing.

Let me queue up some observations on maybe why Trump got elected ……
1. Bernie Sanders really got screwed. The emails showed the Democratic Party cheated him to push Hillary through. Debbie Wassermann Shultz got the boot because it was clear they sabotaged Bernie. So many are frustrated that he got screwed it was too late to change anything so they had to go with Hillary. So many who were disenfranchised with the system being out of control probably did not go vote for Hillary.

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2. Hillary has more baggage than (name your 3 favorite airlines here). The Midwest folks are military loving diehards. The Benghazi attack on 9-11 was four fresh year ago. That it happened on the anniversary of 9-11 and Hillary Clinton did not respond properly and then blamed a YouTube video puts a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouth. Then she went the extra mile to erase anything related to it while she was under subpoena doesn’t look good. Destroyed computers and phones equals shady biz. One of the silliest lies she told a while back was sharing a false story in a speech about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire (remember how people were turned off when Brian Williams said such things?). She went into specific details and they were all lies. I know it seems like it is no big deal but it does show the extent she is willing to go to lie on something that is not even controversial This is not good when you are trying to get some good ole boy famer out in Iowa to show up and vote for you.
3. The Obama family wins in the “Classiest Looking Family” category. President Obama was not as strategically successful as we hoped. Obama’s health care plan was forced on the American public with zero support from the other side. The numbers did not add up but he did not care…he forced it through. We were told to pass 20,000 pages of confusion and then we will see what is in it. His cabinet begged him to go golfing with people from the opposing side in order to find some common ground. He refused. Instead of doing the necessary leg work all presidents have to do to find compromise, President Obama said “Elections have consequences. I won.” He told the other side they had to “sit in the back of the bus.” Recently, health care rates are starting to double and many, including Democrats are upset and concerned. This probably motivated a lot of the middle of the road voters to go another way.

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4. Immigration feels out of control here. Immigration is the backbone and pillar of America. There has to be limits, rules and lines. Way back, Ellis Island was the first stop for so many. Everyone understood that is part of the process. Not anymore. In a land of many laws, breaking the law as your first action here does not sit well with many. When so many show up, who’s jobs get taken away? Remember that 70’s movie Car Wash? African Americans dominated that works force in the 70’s….not anymore. So many jobs African Americans filled are now filled by our neighbors from the South. More black people voted Republican (Trump) than ever before. 30% of Hispanics voted for Trump. Why would they? Maybe because they have seen what it is like to live in countries that are out of control. Trump definitely tapped into Americans feeling out of control.

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5. The media here does slant a certain way. This upsets the people named Jim Bob and Genevieve. That is why they are so loyal to Fox News….They like Fox because they get a sense of balance and control in a topsy-turvy feeling world. Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Michigan strongly voted for President Obama last time but went for Trump this time (Some say this shows the statement “Everyone who voted for Trump is a racist.” is false?). Those are hardworking blue collar states. So, Trump yelping about creating jobs sounds appealing to these states. Americans don’t want to feel so out of control.
I try not to cuss at or around my two kids. I am no goodie-goodie. I just remember as a kid the adults who never cussed and then all the sudden they wanted emphasis would slipped in a cuss word and BOOM, they have my attention. I knew they meant business. I knew I better sit up, pay attention and focus on what they wanted done. But the coaches, old bosses or relatives who cussed at me all the time and everyday…Yawn….same old same old. Who cares what they say? No one really. The same could be said of people who are so quick to call other people who they do not agree with “racists”. The broken record gets ignored. I know Trump said some bold things that have been interpreted as racist. Calling someone a racist no longer has any power or effect. Every Republican has been accused of being a racist. George W Bush was called a racist for not helping Katrina victims fast enough. McCain was called a racist because he questioned President Obama’s black pastor Jeremiah Wright and he referred to Barak Obama as “that one”. Romney was called racist because he used “dog-whistle” language like “free stuff”, “welfare” and “Chicago”. Now, anyone who voted for Trump is being called a racist. It is so overly used it has no effect. It pushed people to vote against the accusers even if the person they are voting for is a mess.
Not everyone who wants a controlled borders hates Mexicans. Not everyone who questions climate change is anti-science. Not everyone who did not get excited about President Obama is a racist. To be accused of these things creates that feeling of a society out of control. If you accused others of such things….maybe you helped Trump get elected?

I told myself before the election “Whichever way it goes, the USA will be just fine.” We have a system that has checks and balances. If Trump or Hillary wins and is a mess, we will give them the boot in four years.
Like it or not, we have some of that deep English heritage intertwined in the DNA of the USA. Deep down, we crave those organized queues. We know we have a good thing going here and to have that sense of chaos is unsettling. Things were feeling out of control. Maybe 2016 was just a sloppy shake up to try to get us back in queue.

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Guest Blogger, Matt Miller: Sharing Blessings! Why Do I Volunteer?

 

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I received an email from my cousin Matt this morning.  He had written a thoughtful piece about volunteering and asked if I might like to share it here.  I told him I would be more than happy to post it.  While we should always be cognizant of what we do in our daily lives to help others, sometimes we need reminders.  Thanks Matt for sharing your story of what volunteering means to you.

 

Sharing Blessings!  Why Do I Volunteer?

I have been blessed to be in a position to be able to volunteer in most of my son’s activities. Additionally my wife has also to volunteer as well. I say blessed because I know in today’s world that not everyone’s situation allows for the level of volunteering that we are able to. Both my wife and I have a calling to work with youth, having earned music education degrees but both being in vocations where we do not have direct youth interaction we have chosen to focus our “free” time in our son’s activities. This is not to say that we are perfect parents, I assure you that we will always have room for improvement. Nor are we alone in this endeavor, we have made friends with other outstanding volunteers in the organizations. We have discussed why we do this many times and the main theme that we bring up is to make a difference in a child’s life, our child and others.

With this goal in mind we have tackled Boy Scouts and competitive marching band parent organizations. We have looked at what skills and experiences that we have to offer and have been able to plug into positions for each group. I could not be more satisfied and proud of the impact that we have been able to make. I say this not to boast, but to share the gem situations that I have experienced.

In Scouts I have served as a committee member, but my focus has been on sitting and preparing the boys for Boards of Review that they have at the completion of each rank including Eagle rank, Scouting’s highest youth achievement. I have been able to sit on countless Tenderfoot, 1st Class, 2nd Class, and Life rank boards with our Troop of 60 or so boys. It is a privilege to see each boy develop though each rank in maturity and experience. As well I have sat as a troop representative on over 15 Eagle Board of Reviews, many of which I was able to provide some coaching and sample questions for each boy to prepare. The boys have done outstanding and have represented our Troop well. The Council representatives recognize that we run a well rounded program for our youth. The involvement has also allowed the boys to participate in many adventure actives such are canoeing, hiking, repelling, practicing firearms and archery, as well as skills through merit badges. A wonderful program!

Concurrently my son’s competitive marching band, the Renegade Regiment of the Union High School marching band program, is our other main activity. While Angela and I’s musical gifts were not in concert or marching band, we are both very familiar with the music aspect. There are as many as 30 main volunteers in leadership roles as well as countless other parents, grand parents or guardians that help the logistics, fundraising, dressing and feeding of the band students allowing the schools music directors and staff the ability to focus almost solely on the teaching of music and marching of the students. We have been chaperones on multiple trips as well as serving on the Union Band Parents Club board of directors, Angela as a Uniform Director (or Uniform Queen as we call her) and myself as Concessions Director and Treasurer. Angela and another Scout mom are co Uniform Directors for the last two marching seasons. Both myself and other director’s husband (the Scout Master from our Troop) make up the main uniform crew with our wives. We fit the over 300 band students in marching bibs, jackets and hats called shakos for marching and then Tuxes and dress blouses / pants for concerts. We travel with the students for each competition: fixing damaged items, replacing what can not be fixed, and having borrow items for lost of missing pieces. As part of the Concessions team, I serve as one of the running directors of our football stadium concessions stands and as the bookkeeper for our team. We staff our stands with parents and students as a fundraising element to pay for and directly apply to the individual student’s marching fees. The overall stand net profits go toward the general fund to help reduce the costs for all the band students.

Through our interactions we have met other like minded parents who have been able to prioritize volunteering as an important aspect of giving as a part of the Union Band Parents Club. This has not been lost on the students. They are very grateful, polite and for the most part well behaved. As the band competes at an elite level of competition, we have recently returned from the National competition in Indianapolis, IN (placed 16th in the nation!!!). We stayed at a boutique hotel in downtown Indianapolis, the Alexander. Our band students carried themselves with class. We received a complementary email from the marketing director of the hotel after our visit, advising that they have rarely had adult visiting groups be as polite and courteous as out students and that they would be happy to host our group in the future.

The students are very thankful for all that our parent group is able to provide for them. The reward is to hear the stories from the students. A parent of one student with a knee injury that happened during the season complimented on of the student leaders for his willingness to go out of his way to carry the injured students bags and some times the student herself to get from place to place. Another of our students was able to speak at a local Rotary Club in a Four Way Speech contest speaking to the power of words. These are the high points. We have the opportunity of seeing our students with adversity make the best of their situation. One student works and pays her own marching fee which is usually well over $2000 yearly. That student maturely describes the hardships she faces at home with a single parent who is disabled, an elderly grandparent and a younger sibling that she cares for all while going to school and participating in school activities. The does not complain about her circumstances, but is thankful for the opportunity to work her own way to pay for her involvement in the program. Another student had a out of state grand parent come to the nationals competition, the grand parent also brought the student’s birth parent who had not seen the student in over 10 years. The student was at odds on how to process seeing the absent parent, but communicated the blessing of being a part a group that had caring and willing volunteers to be role models. These are the moments that glisten the eyes and melt the heart.

Upon our return home from the nationals competition we learned as a band family that a member of another competing band lost a band member, parent and grand parent in a traffic accident while in route home after the finals of the competition. As parents and spectators we had shared the stands with the parents and volunteers of the other band though out the competition’s extended weekend. Our band students had been social and had interacted with many bands including this band. The Castle Marching band had made it to finals competition for the first time and one of the soloists was the young lady who’s life was tragically cut short on the ride home from a mountain top experience. Our band family’s hearts were broken with the news: directors, students and parents alike; our Band Family was feeling the loss of another Band Family. Many of our students were touched and responded by posting pictures of themselves wearing the colors of the mourning band to show support. Posting these pictures and support to #WeAreCastle and #SingForSophie in social media. They seemed to understand the idea of community that exists outside of his or her direct family and school. These are the moments that make my heart and soul sing. The title of the marching show this year was Shadow Land, in reference to our show I commented on how you have to be the light in order to create the shadows. This inspired one of band parent leaders to create the hastag #BeTheLightThatCastsABeatifulShadow.

This is the reason that I volunteer, not for personal gain or recognition. The empowerment of our future leaders, the young people of today through example and opportunity to use the skills and talents they have. Instilling compassion and a dedication to the support they received and the recognition of other’s hard work that comprised that support. Lastly for them to show the same levels of compassion and support to others.

As we face times of change and uncertainty in the future, I know that by volunteering I am positively contributing to today’s youth with results in better prepared future leaders with hearts for compassion and dedication to work for self and others. Again I say that I am blessed for my situation and recognize how grateful I am to be able to spend my time as I am able. The benefits and rewards while intangible are the greatest that one can receive. While you spend time being thankful during this season, be thankful for those who volunteered for you. Be the Light that casts a beautiful shadow.

Thanks and Blessings!

Matt Miller

Guest Blogger, Hilary Hattenbach: One L or 2?

I want to thank each person who has written and shared their “bullying” story. (And please keep them coming.) It’s been an interesting endeavor because everyone’s story is different and yet, of course, there are common themes.  I think feeling like an outsider and seeing others as being more included are both just part of the human condition. Even now, I think of my bullies and marvel, did they ever feel like outsiders too? At some point, they must have.

9 year old meMy friend Hilary, a cookbook author and blogger too, shared a childhood story and sent it with the qualification, “it’s wasn’t exactly bullying per se.” And well, I can kind of seeing how it might not be bullying PER SE, but it does seem to be needlessly cruel. And not to give away the ending, but a little mysterious too.

I asked Hilary if she had a picture of herself from around that time and of course, that is the picture that accompanies this story. Just a sweet little girl, trying to figure it out, trying to make new friends in a new situation.

One L or 2?

When I was nine-years-old, Ma married a nuclear physicist. Shortly after that, we abandoned our beloved, long-in-tooth West Hollywood rental for a boxy, personality-free apartment in Beverly Hills. I’d been attending Rosewood Elementary, a public school where I loved all the teachers, had a diverse mix of friends, and often stayed after school as a teacher’s helper. Up until that point, I was a relatively happy-go-lucky kid. We were broke, my parents were divorced, and my dad was barely in the picture. But I was a big “bright-sider,” often telling jokes, drawing, and trying to cheer up Ma who struggled to raise two kids without child support. Despite how difficult things were, they never seemed that bad. That is, until we moved to Beverly Hills. 


Right around this same time, my ten-year-old brother, Chris, realized that his lengthy campaign to get our parents back together had gone down the crapper. “I’m moving in with Dad!” he announced. 


“Fine. Go live with your father. You two deserve each other!” Ma said.


And thus began our wildly divergent Prince and The Pauper-type journeys. I was enrolled in Beverly Vista, a foreboding, brick structure of a school where every kid got dropped off in a shiny, foreign car. Chris went to live at Pop’s studio bachelor pad in West Hollywood and stayed at Rosewood. I got stuck with a bunch of spoiled, rich, nine-year-old a-holes while Chris palled around with juvenile delinquents and only went to school when he felt like it. At the time, it seemed like he got the better end of the deal. In retrospect, not so much. 


On my first day at Beverly Vista, I met another girl in my homeroom named Hilary. It was a bit like meeting a unicorn. Back then, the name was pretty rare, akin to “Apple,” “North,” or “Latte” now. And this Hilary was fancy. She rolled up to me in a white rabbit fur coat, brown hair cascading down to her shoulders like a mini Charlie’s Angel. A couple of her friends stood behind her for backup. “One L or Two?” she asked.


“One,” I said, hoping that she had two because everyone knew that two L’s was the pedestrian spelling of the name, Hilary. My mom told me that. Even if I was wearing plaid hand-me-down knickers with Snoopy knee socks, the superior spelling of my name surely trumped her flawlessness. 


“Me too.” She flipped her hair and flashed a knowing smile at her friends. 


Since it ended up being a draw in the L battle, I thought we had bonded. Two Hilarys with one L in the same class! What were the odds? We’d be the best of the pals.

Maybe she’d let me borrow her fur jacket and show me how to get the frizzes out of my hair. I imagined the hilarious hijinks that would ensue any time the teacher called on “Hilary”


“Which one??” we’d say in unison and break down in hysterical laughter. But alas, that initial confrontation was the last time I ever exchanged words with Fancy Hilary. She continued her reign as the only true “Hilary,” ignoring my very existence as did most of the other kids at the school. And when I think back, ignoring someone is probably one of the cruelest types of bullying that exists because it renders one completely invisible. 


For the first time in my life, I felt utterly alone. At Rosewood, my quirky, artistic persona fit right in with my classmates. Most of us were being raised by a single parent and money was scarce. At Beverly Vista, a school that reeked of privilege, I felt like I’d crash-landed my broke-ass spaceship on a hostile planet. 


Then one day, in my giant and immaculate homeroom with large windows spraying LA sunshine on the backs of our heads, the teacher led the class in a calligraphy lesson. Yes, part of the fourth grade curriculum was to learn the very useful fine art of Japanese lettering. I noticed a quiet Japanese girl in front of me essentially crushing the assignment. She flicked her wrist with ease, creating beautiful black brush strokes on the parchment. I craned my neck to look at her paper and commented on how amazing it was. Her name was Yuko. 

Yuko, a perfectionist who never had a rumple on her pressed cotton pants, became my first friend at Beverly Vista and quickly introduced me to her bestie, Kanae (pronounced Can I – emphasis on “can”.) Kanae was heavier-set and more of a gabber like me. In a sea of white faces, Yuko and Kanae, were the oddballs, the outcasts. We quickly bonded over our similar plights and became inseparable. The three of us all freaking loved Sanrio. We traded stickers and admired each other’s collections. We went sticker shopping, ate lunch together, and gossiped about other kids at school. Having a couple of friends made life in Beverly Hills finally bearable. But then something changed.


I came to school one morning and Yuko wouldn’t talk to me. Later, when I saw Kanae on the playground, she marched ahead as if she couldn’t see me. In class, I tapped Yuko on the shoulder. I called her name. But she just sat staring forward, her perfect posture rigid in her wooden chair. I stared at her short ponytail, waiting for it to turn but it never budged. It was like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As if somehow I’d never been born and life as I knew it had completely vanished. At recess, I approached them, I asked them what happened, and I was sorry if I had done something wrong. But like Jimmy Stewart desperately shouting at the people who can’t hear him or see him, the two friends acted like I wasn’t there. They just talked to each other until I walked away. I tried for days to get them to forgive me for something I didn’t even know I had done but they never came around. And so after a few days, I gave up. 

At home I sat in the closet in my room and cried. For hours I sobbed and tried to replay everything I had done and said to Yuko and Kanae to make them suddenly hate me. Ma called me for dinner and when I didn’t answer, she sent the physicist to look for me. He opened the closet door, saw me sitting there in the dark and shouted, “She’s in the closet.” Not knowing what to do, he awkwardly shuffled off, leaving me there to sulk. 


I remember this time as my first foray into total inconsolable sadness. It seemed that Yuko and Kanae had broken my heart though it was probably intensified by the veritable trifecta of Ma getting remarried, my brother moving away, and starting at a new school where everyone hated me. I never made another friend at that school. When the year mercifully ended, we moved to a new house in the valley and my brother came back to live with us. I made friends easily at the new school and normalcy returned. 


Unfortunately, my stepdad got transferred a year later and I had to once again start at a new school. It was something I did over and over again as kid and I can only say that after Beverly Vista, I honed my ability to recognize “my people.” I never had another Yuko and Kanae experience. I did have some thuggish guys push me in the school cafeteria but it was nothing compared to the psychological warfare waged on me by a couple of nine-year-olds. Their unflappable ability to completely freeze me out still haunts me to this day. It’s something I’d never wish on anyone.

Guest Blogger, Linda Bailey Walsh: There are Many Ways to Save a Life

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This is a picture of my friend Linda when she was in grade school. Cute kid, huh? I asked her to write a guest blog, to expound on something she said on Facebook last week about the Caitlyn Jenner controversy. She wrote this blog and as you will read, she shares some childhood experiences, things that you don’t like to think about your friends having to experience. And yet, Linda survived. Survived and thrived. She is the beautiful adult in the other picture, but it’s the kid pic that I can’t stop thinking about. She tugs at my heart strings. I think we might all have a lot more empathy for folks we disagreed with if we found a picture of them at 6 and looked at that for a few minutes. Just an idea. Anyway, here is Linda’s guest blog, I hope it will touch your heart the way to touched mine.

There are Many Ways to Save a Life

I had the amusing realization this week that if you haven’t spoken with me in a while or if we only know each other from social media most likely you would assume I am gay. The reason why is because I often post about LGBT issues as well as women’s issues. I am unapologetic about this. I am passionate about them. I try not to take the bait and post about straight up politics but when it comes to equality and civil rights. I can’t keep quiet. After all, not speaking up is usually the number one reason that prejudice and discrimination are able to thrive.

For the record, I am not gay so, I’ll never truly know what it feels like to be gay or transgender but, I do know what it’s like to feel an “otherness”. I was a weird kid. Passionate about the arts and performing pretty much from birth. I read Edgar Allen Poe for fun in 3rd grade and stayed in one of 3 characters all day everyday when I was 4 (Barbie, Miss Flowers & Gypsy. I would tell you who I was that day and only answer to that name. ) Later there would be liquid eyeliner drawn in vines around my eyes to compliment my Mohawk. I was lucky enough to be born into an awesome family but still I know that often they didn’t know what to make of me. We are children of longshoreman who play sports and cheer. We do not practice Iambic Pentameter for fun.

I experienced my share of being bullied or just plain ostracized which for me, was worse. Before the punk rock phase I looked like an average kid but what was inside of me always shone through and kids can sniff out someone who’s different like canaries in a coalmine.

Luckily as I got older I found my tribe. The Artists, the Activists, the Fun and the Fierce. There is nothing in the world like realizing you are not alone.

In time the things that made me different became the things I grew to love most about myself. As corny as it may sound I know now that those are the things that make me special.
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I also remember everyone that ever stood up for me when I was down. Christine Angelucci protected me in Elementary school when I had to constantly find a new route home to avoid getting beaten up. Holly Arnold standing up to a cheerleading coach who was bullying me, my future brother in law Sean Smith having a talk with a boy who told me just how ugly he thought I was in front of an entire class. My parents, my sisters, the list goes on and on.

And as an adult I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly loving and inspiring people. This includes the family I was born into and the one that I made out in the world. People (often LGBT) who made me dinner while I nursed a heart that felt irreparably shattered. Those who inspired me to be better in my work and my life. People have saved me on many days and in many ways just by being there, loving me and saying “I understand. I’ve been there. You are not alone.”

So this last week we met Caitlyn Jenner. I’m proud that most of the response I bore witness to was very positive. Of course it wasn’t all positive. I can understand confusion and even fear so long as it is balanced with kindness. After all this is an extraordinarily new situation for most people. What truly puzzled me is the people who felt somehow attacked, that to support Caitlyn in her journey somehow was an insult to others. Most specifically I am speaking of the word Hero. Many revered Caitlyn for sharing her story and immediately there was backlash, a wave of photos of Soldiers, Firefighters & Police with statements proclaiming them the real heroes. I would not for one second assert that they are not heroes. Of course, of course, of course they are heroes. I truly can’t imagine the bravery in their hearts and I am sincerely grateful for it. My question is this: Why can’t two good things exist simultaneously? There are different ways to be heroic. Why does something have to be bad for something else to be good? One does not diminish the other. There are many ways to save a life. There is no limited admission to the “Good”.

I know that Jenner is a very wealthy, privileged person. Trust me, if I am defending anyone who has anything to do with the Kardashian’s I must feel very strongly! However like Ellen DeGeneres who struggled for almost a decade after coming out, she is still putting herself and her livelihood at great personal risk but, these are the people that need to come forward. I can promise you that for every Jenner there are multitudes that do not have the resources or the support that she does. For those people, often living in fear and isolation it can literally mean life or death to know that someone else exists that is like them and better yet, is thriving.

People say Caitlyn’s story is personal. It is but she has chosen to share it and I truly believe in my soul that there is someone out there who will find hope, possibly lifesaving hope in that story and I find that to be heroic.

Again for me, all it took to make this life worth living was finding my people and the ones who stood up for me and stood with me saying…”I understand. I have been there. You are not alone.” True heroes to me.

Indeed, there are many ways to save a life.

Guest Blogger, Vanessa Brook: Felt Like the Missing Link

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A couple of days ago, after my friend Paul graciously allowed me to share his “open letter to the 1990 graduating class of Ashland Middle School”, it occurred to me that there are a lot of bullying stories out there.  I reasoned, if I have friends who would be willing to share them, others might find connection or resonance or maybe even healing in reading them.  I cast my net and one of the first to respond was my long time friend Vanessa.  An actress and writer, she is one of the many riches that came to me in my time at Barney Greengrass.  You can really bond with a co-worker over being told repeatedly by the well heeled elderly that the matzo ball soup isn’t hot enough and “these aren’t REAL potato latkes!”  Work conditions like that often yield itself to a lifetime of mandatory happy hours.  I appreciate Vanessa sharing her story with honesty, vulnerability, humor and strength.  She is a special woman,  a perceptive writer and loyal friend.  Thank you Vanessa for sharing your story!

Felt Like the Missing Link

Grade school wasn’t my finest hour. I was the absolute bottom of the chain unpopular. Lower than the kid with snot constantly running out of his noise. Lower than Olivia, the heavyset girl with acne prone skin, coke bottle glasses and a lisp. Lower still than my close friend, Andrea who had such a deep voice the rest of the kids took to calling her “Sir”. Which was better then my name, “dog”. Maybe that’s why I grew up to love dogs so much. Who knows?

The mastermind who came up with this name who was also the master ringleader of the popular kids was Jimmy Scoottle. He was a jokester. He was a class clown, who was considered handsome, although I didn’t think so. He was so obnoxious and his comedy too broad for my taste. Everyone else, including the teachers, found him charming. Even if they didn’t, they pretended to because his parents were uber rich, and his dad was a local celebrity psychiatrist with his own TV call in show.

Jimmy had the kind of parents that would come in and demand better grades for him. He was untouchable. In the hallways he would bark when I passed and howl in class when I entered. Most of the time I just ignored him, but that became impossible by fifth grade.

So I was a hefty girl, and a financially challenged girl (my parents rented a small apartment in a nice neighborhood for the schools) and always wore my sisters hand me downs. All the other kids shopped at Bloomingdales in fancy Chestnut Hill (to give you an idea). Also, my parents where in the middle of a divorce. which was bad enough, but instead of the man moving out and the mother caring for the children, my mom moved out. It was a complete shock to my dad, because he was clueless at doing household things. So some days I wore pink clothing that was once white, but got mixed up in the laundry. Honestly, I might have made fun of me too on the outside looking in.

But Jimmy was a special kind of mean. He was my Iliad. Even then I could turn a blind eye to being bullied, but that just seemed to make Jimmy even more vicious.

In fifth grade I not only had all these problems, but I was beginning to develop. My breasts were bursting. With my older sisters at college, and only my dad at home, bra shopping wasn’t in the cards. I wore extra baggy clothes to hide the girls. I skipped gym class. I never ran down the hallway even if I was late for class. But whatever I did, it wasn’t enough. One day in the cafeteria. I was sitting (most likely alone) when he came up behind me and felt up my back. Loudly he yelled to everyone (every grade was eating lunch, and all the teachers were there) “No, She’s not wearing a bra, but she needs too” Seriously, it was the worst day of my grade school life. That moment seemed to last a lifetime. The girls in my grade were giggling. The kids in the lower grades were asking teachers what bras were. The boys let out cackling laughter and for the first time I think I let them see me cry. My horribly tenuous childhood was now gone and this jackass was the one to out me. Honestly I don’t remember what I did. I think I got up and skipped the rest of the day and went home and made a bazillion peanut butter and fluff sandwiches.

Later, things changed. I went to drama school and found a place to belong. Most of the other snobby kids at school had parents that were divorcing so they became a little more compassionate. Most importantly, I developed into a pretty teenager. Who was artsy and cool. I don’t know if Jimmy went to my high school. There were over 2,000 students and he was lost among the crowd. I guess.

Years later I ran into him on the subway when I was on break from college. At first he didn’t recognize me, but once he did his eyes went wide. He tried to talk to me, but stuttered and couldn’t get the words out. It was an awkward moment to say the least.

I wish I could hate him, but I don’t. All those people who treated me badly in grade school tried to be my friend in high school. I turned my back on all of them. Not to be cruel or seek revenge, but if you weren’t my friend then- you’re not my friend now. That was my thinking at least.

The few friends I made in high school were my tribe. Today, 20 years later, I’m still close with them. Being the bullies target made me realize who cared and who didn’t. That’s a lesson worth far more then anything else I’ve learned in life.

Guest Blogger, Gretchen Meinhardt

10268534_10152910983861554_5398660021533019161_nI don’t wade into political topics all that often. I’ll just say it’s not my particular area of expertise and leave it at that. But I do want to share the story of a family. I’ve known Gretchen Meinhardt since we were in college. A few months ago, I shared a piece she wrote for CNN. Today, I am sharing a copy of the letters she has sent to her legislators chronicling her experience with the Affordable Care Act for her family. Primarily, I share this so that a solution might be found where all children, and adults for that matter, receive the best healthcare possible, regardless of where they fall on an income scale. I don’t really know who might read this, but maybe Gretchen might also connect with other parents who are in a similar situation. I have included her email, for this purpose. If you have a similar story, please feel free to share it.

Guest Blogger: Gretchen Meinhardt

Perhaps the Affordable Care Act has helped some people, but it has been devastating for families like mine who struggle to care for a child with disabilities. When we adopted our newborn son Raef in 2001, we had no idea what we were in for, not only as new parents, but also as caregivers for a baby with significant, lifelong healthcare needs. Our joy as new parents soon turned to fear as he began having seizures – 200 to 300 a day – that were impossible to control. At only 8 months old, he had radical brain surgery (a right hemispherectomy), which was scary, but such a blessing because he has been seizure-free for 13 years now. The seizures and surgery left him partially blind and with limited use of the left side of his body (cerebral palsy), but he is an active eighth grader, with a delightful sense of humor and zest for life. The seizures and subsequent disabilities are not Raef’s only challenge, however. He also has Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), a genetic condition which causes tumors to grow on the nerves. At just 2 years old, he endured 14 months of chemotherapy to treat a tumor on his optic nerve. That tumor has remained stable, but Raef faces ongoing NF-related challenges, including learning disabilities, ADHD, sleep issues, and fine motor difficulties. In spite of all of these challenges, we wouldn’t trade Raef – or his younger sister Gwyn, his biological sibling whom we also adopted – for the world. We love them with all our hearts and delight in being their parents. The thing that breaks my heart and keeps me awake at night is that now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we may not be able to afford the medical care our son needs. For many years before the ACA, we were blessed to have excellent health insurance through my husband’s work as a safety manager with a large international company. However, when the country was preparing for the implementation of the ACA, that company chose to reorganize in order to afford the increased health care costs and requirements resulting from the ACA. My husband was among the “middle management” that was laid off to pay for these increased costs. And there went our health insurance, right along with his job, because we could not even afford the COBRA premiums. Since he was laid off more than a year ago, he has been actively searching and interviewing for jobs. But like many in his position, he has struggled. Although he is working temporary contract jobs in safety management, he has been unable to find a full-time position, with benefits, in his field. In addition, I work as an adjunct college instructor, and while it is relatively easy to find part-time positions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find full-time college teaching positions that offer benefits. So far we have managed to piece together health coverage for our family, but only because my husband is a veteran and can get VA healthcare, and because we reluctantly put our children on state health insurance (Medicaid) until we could find employment with benefits. However, it was next to impossible to get state coverage for the children, even though we qualified based on income after my husband lost his job. Now we live under the constant threat that we will lose the children’s Medicaid coverage before we are able to find permanent, affordable health coverage. During Medicaid’s latest notice they would be dropping coverage (which we are appealing), I once again priced health coverage through the ACA marketplace. If we go through the marketplace for health insurance, the medical costs in 2015 for my children and me will be between $16,000 and $30,000. This includes premiums, prescriptions, and out-of-pocket medical costs. (We always meet the out-of-pocket maximum with our son by about Valentine’s Day.) It’s hardly “affordable,” but with a child like Raef, health coverage is hardly optional. As the New Year and a new session of Congress approach, I ask that you take a serious look at the ACA and consider whether it is truly ensuring “affordable” health care for Americans. If you would like to know more about my family’s experience, please feel free to contact me. I am happy to help in any way, even if it takes meeting with legislators or testifying before Congress. Thank you for your careful consideration of this important issue.

Best regards,
Gretchen Meinhardt
Kansas City, Missouri
cliffmein@hotmail.com

Guest Blogger, Michael Patrick Gaffney: I Hadn’t Had a Bath in 20 Years!

Ringling-Circus-clown-Emmett-Kelly-in-a-bubble-bath-1955-photo-by-Joseph-Janney-Steinmetz

My friend and frequent guest blogger Michael had a medical emergency this week. I’ll let him tell you. But even before the situation passed, so to speak, I asked him if he might want to write about it. Tonight he sent me this. I do believe that when we are processing life’s challenges, it can help to sit down and write about it. And if we decide to share what we’ve written, who knows, it might help the people who read it too. I’m glad you are feeling better, my friend. You are loved!

“I Hadn’t Had a Bath In 20 Years!”

Like most people in the world today, I’m often stressed out and always carrying around a certain amount of anxiety. I’ve tried yoga and meditation but I just don’t have the patience, I guess. But I do find my peaceful place in walking. I love to walk! I just love it! I am a self-proclaimed Power Walker. I love to walk my dog, I love to walk to the store, but most of all I love to take long walks up into the canyon where I live. I call it my church. I love to power walk up to the top of the hill, with my arms swinging back and forth like Oprah as Sophia in “The Color Purple”, and look out and watch the hawks glide past me. Tuesday was a typical day on my power walk and just as I was about start my way down I felt a slight pain in my right testicle. Hmmm…Weird. 10 minutes down the hill I started to feel a shooting pain in the middle of my back. Ouch! Really weird…By the time I arrived home I was moaning and groaning, deciding if this warranted calling 911. Instead I called a neighbor and asked her if she would take me to the E.R. A drive that should have taken us 20 minutes took over an hour in rush hour traffic. I screamed and cried and prayed out load. I took my seatbelt off at one point and got on all fours in the front seat. I couldn’t stop moving. I was like a terrified Pekingese heading to the vet. Then the nausea started, “I think I’m going to be sick”, I screamed! We were at a dead stop so I opened the car door, but it was a false alarm. But now all the people in the cars around us knew there was drama going on and kept staring, waiting for me to blow!

When we finally pulled into the Emergency Room drop off point my neighbor stopped the car and I jumped out and power walked through the front doors. There were about 20 other people sitting in the waiting area waiting to be seen. I knew enough about how these places worked, that I knew I had to act fast and not hold anything back. “Um…Hello. I’m here. What do I do?! I’m in a lot of pain. Please help me, HELP MEEEEEEE!!!” I was spinning around in circles swinging my murse around me. I think somebody must have called a code: CRAZY, because the next thing I knew I was in a wheelchair sitting at a desk with a woman asking for my I.D. Just as I pulled it out, I announced to the entire ER, “I’m going to be sick!!!” Magically, a pink bucket appeared from under her desk and onto my lap. In between retching and heaving, I apologized to the entire room, “I’m sorry everybody, I’m so sorry!” I heard giggling from the peanut gallery but I didn’t have the strength nor the quick wit to deal with a heckler in the crowd, so I let it go. Next thing I know I’m in triage and I hear one of the nurses say, “We can smell a kidney stone a mile away.” A very handsome, blue-eyed nurse named Gary tells me he is giving me a drug called Dilaudid. I feel it hit me in the back of my neck and then BAM! “That’s a Lindsay Lohan cocktail”, I mumble. “Mikey likey!”

I am wheeled to another room, given an MRI, where they confirm that I have two kidney stones, one of which is trying to make its way through my ureter to my bladder. The other is a much larger stone waiting in the wings of my kidney. I am wheeled to yet another room and as the nurse leans over me checking my I.V. I notice her name tag, which reads, Stella. Given the fact I am an actor and that I am flying high on a powerful pain-killer seven times stronger than morphine I give her my best Marlon Brando, “STELLAAAAAAAAAA!!!!” She just gives me a knowing smile and goes about her business.

An hour or so later the pain has subsided dramatically and I am discharged with a couple of prescriptions and a strainer to pee through and sent on my way.

The next couple of days were filled with intermittent bouts of pain, nausea, constipation and vomiting from the pain meds. Being in that kind of pain was very lonely and isolating. It made me think about people who deal with chronic pain, people who suffer in silence on a daily basis and how lonely they most feel.

On Thursday night, a friend suggested I try a hot bath before bed. I hadn’t had a bath in 20 years! I’m a shower only kind of guy, but thought it was worth a shot. I filled the tub and put on my New Age Essentials channel on Pandora. I laid there in that hot water and thought about the last few days and what I had gone through. I felt like a little boy again, minus the Mr. Bubble. I felt so aware of my body and my breath. I was comforted by the warm water and my breathing. I had found my peaceful place again. I dried off and went straight to bed. The next thing I knew it was 6:03am and I went to use the bathroom, and without any bells and whistles or drumroll or pain even, out popped my kidney stone. It was about the size of a small black pepper kernel. That tiny little thing had caused so much pain and suffering and brought me to my knees.

Looking back on it all, I think that that hot bath was a turning point. It was such a moment of self-preservation and being totally aware of my body and what was happening and accepting the pain and truly surrendering.

I do feel a little like a ticking time bomb now with that other stone waiting for the perfect inopportune moment to escape my kidney and send me back to the emergency room. But until then I will continue to take my power walks and my new nightly hot baths to find my peaceful place. I might even pick up a box of Mr. Bubble.