Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Not lonely here

Did you ever feel lonely?  (Sounds like a country and western song.)  Did you ever sit by yourself, maybe watching the rain splatter against the window, or all alone in a near empty airport late at night with nothing to do but feel the heavy press of loneliness engulf your soul?  Have you said good by to all the family and friends after a joyous occasion at your home and as the last person shuts the door; you stand alone and a sudden pang of loneliness clutches at your heart?  Have you?  How about when you're alone taking the Christmas tree down, storing all the lights and accessories then you look at the emptiness?  Does a melancholic loneliness grab at you?  Does it?  Sometimes I hear people talk about being lonely in a crowd, in a bed sleeping beside a partner, in the forest, or on a beach.  There are so many instances loneliness can capture your very being...but not mine. 

Loneliness has chased me around the world, nipping, swiping, but it never caught me and never will.  How have I successfully avoided this dreaded emotion?  The answer is simple -  great memories.  I retain countless memories of love, joy, family and friends.  Even bad memories allow you to elude loneliness and thank God, I don't have many of those..  I'm not pretending I didn't do some bad things, even real stupid things, but I usually had a tremendous amount of fun doing them.  Those memories sometimes make me laugh out loud.  (Yes, I've received some questioning stares.)  I have been blessed with a life filled with love ranging from tenderly warm to passionately intense.  I've experienced more joy than any one person deserves.

My reminiscences aren't always about the highs in my life, a few relate to the lows.  One thing the lows make me mindful of is why I nurture my faith.  When I had hit my nadir, the Lord has always sent someone to see me through, lift me up.  That's why I accept my faith, not question it.  Great stuff, huh?  And that is the reason loneliness is just a word to me, not a feeling.

Have a wonderful 2012...I know I will because I'm setting my goals on making great new memories. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Shopping

Ah, Christmas!  What emotions the word brings to all Christians.  One of the two most significant days in the Christian faith.  No one can escape it, the Hallelujahs, spiritual decorations, the joy.  The spirit of Christianity abounds during this season.  Through the years, how many Noels have you sung?  How many special events have you attended at church?  The birth of Jesus Christ...WOW...quite the celebration... as it should be.

Then there's the secondary phase for Christmas, the giving of presents derived from the Magi.  Remember the story in Matthew about the Three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem?  The Eastern Christian Church celebrates Epiphany on January 6 and sets the number of Magi at twelve, but Western tradition sets their number at three, probably based on the three gifts of “gold and frankincense and myrrh.

When you were a kid, do you remember what a big deal Christmas was?  (Good for you; some of us can't.)  Most youngsters relate to the event by thinking about presents.  We instill this in children's minds with letters to Santa, sitting on Santa's knee at the local mall telling him what they want, making out lists, etc.  It's not a bad thing, but I wish parents would emphasize the real meaning of Christmas a little more.  As an example, my daughters have a special birthday celebration for baby Jesus, including a cake.  I realize churches do their utmost with Christmas pageants and services, but I believe parents should communicate the true meaning of Christmas at home.

Speaking of presents brings up the subject of shopping for them.  Normally I'm a traditionalist; I love old customs that help family units and friendships bond.  However there is one old practice I'm ready to cease, abate, quit, stop, give up, never do again--Christmas shopping, at least in the traditional form.

I once had a business agent in South Africa say,  "I don't know how you Americans can make a decision.  You have so many choices."  He hit the nail on the proverbial head, but he should have continued with "and so many stores to buy them in."  One would conclude that you could go to a single place to purchase all your gifts.  But not at Christmas time.

As she's putting me to bed, placing my head, shoulders and feet in the correct position so I don't wake up looking like a saltless pretzel, Gal Friday mentions,  "We're doing a little shopping tomorrow."  Sounds innocuous enough, right?  So I give her the ole,  "Sure, Honey."  (Bite your tongue, Edward.)  In the morning she helps me get out of bed, into my chair and into the bathroom.  Then the fun begins.  She undresses me, helps me into the shower chair and bathes moi.  After the towel dance and application of various lotions, of which I'm afraid to inquire about, she dresses me, gets me back in my chariot and we're ready to go.  Oops, I forgot breakfast.  I'm already exhausted and ready for a nap.  I figure she has to be too.  But there's something amazing about women; no matter how tired or sick or depressed they may be, they can always muster up strength for shopping.  God gave them a special organ called the shopping reserve.

We are lucky, depending on your point of view, to live just a short twenty miles from an outlet shopping complex.  This fact, along with the absence of state and local sales taxes, initiates a warm glow in the hearts of all area women.  At this time of year the warm glow heats up to a white hot flame.  Is it the shopping or spending that evokes such rapture? I'll never understand, but then again, I don't think we guys are supposed to.

Gal Friday is ready; she has made out her list. List-making is a favorite sport of hers. She has elevated making lists to an art form. The problem sometimes arises when she forgets where she last placed her lists. Regardless, she has her list, which is long enough to challenge a roll of toilet paper. I've learned not to have her secure my chair to the van floor because of the numerous times we'll be shopping in different stores. It takes time and effort on her part to continually tie me in and let me out of the floor four-buckle system and this alone would wear out a healthy teenager.

The outlet center is not like going to a mall where all the stores are under one roof. The center is spread out over approximately the same distance as from L.A. to Bangor, Maine. If you have twenty items on your list, you will have to visit about thirty stores. Many shops will be out of the item and they'll direct you to another. What fun to find thirty different parking spaces. What a joy to find thirty spaces that allow the van's ramp to deploy. Handicap parking spots are always taken and we have to park so far away the lights from the emporiums are dim. Why is it that there may be a row of stores a mile long, but only one of two places for a wheelchair to get up the curb to store level? Why don't these palaces of pleasure or pain, depending on one's outlook, install automatic doors, not just for handicapped people, but for anyone inhibited by opening doors? By the time I roll down the ramp in East of Eden until I get inside a store, I'm tired and frozen. Gal Friday sneaks me into the ladies room and uses the hand drier to defrost me. We love the family bathrooms.

OK, we're in the store, I'm back to a near normal temperature and Gal Friday's ready with list in hand. She tells me to follow and don't get lost. She starts down a main aisle but then darts into an alley about one foot narrower than my chair. As commanded, I follow. The slim path reminds me of a Lionel train track. Have you ever shopped from a sitting position? I have a great chair that goes forward, backward, up, down, but not in and out. You can't shrink the size of my ride. When in these narrow aisles, usually my chair extends about six inches into the items hanging on both sides. I'm a fairly adept pilot, but nobody can navigate through a maze of tiny pathways bordered by racked clothing without a single mishap.

Invariably, my trusted leader winds me through the women's undergarment department. Sometimes I exit with a bra, usually A cup, hanging off one ear and a pair of thongs that could encircle a pregnant elephant. Does Gal Friday do this on purpose...nah, she's too nice for that...isn't she? Speaking about bras, brings to mind a grievance of mine. My chair height places my eyes at the same level as most women's breasts. I'm so sick of looking at lady's endowments. Er, I lost my train of thought. Oh yes, the wonderment of Christmas shopping.

After plowing through hundreds of these slim pathways, we come to the department claiming one item on her list. At the third garment of the same item, with a jeweler's loop, she examines it for flaws and finding none, decides to make the purchase. She asks my opinion. I didn't care if the item was slashed on Elm Street, extra large for a petite niece, or made on Mars, I tell her it's perfect. I am so ready to go. We depart for checkout. Whoa, all but one checkout counters are closed. This one is manned by a feeble old woman who reminded me of Whistler's mother. I checked her pulse to confirm life. Her speed...reverse. A line that could circle the globe waited to ring up their purchases. Sometimes a wheelchair comes in handy. Some people simply wore out waiting. The store manager thoughtfully furnished oxygen and in extreme cases, cots. I was ecstatic; only twenty-nine more stores to go.

Next year, instead of Christmas presents for adults, I'm making donations in their names to charities. The kids--well there's shopping on line.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Penn State and Syracuse

As many of you know I was a co-founder and first board chairman of the Tennessee 9th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in 1999.  It now is named "Kids First."  We treat ages 3-17.  Our mission is to intervene in cases of child abuse.  Nothing less than a herculean effort by many gifted and determined people was needed to bring this project to success.  Our dedicated board members worked with state, county and city governments to assure we met all criteria and, of course, to beg for money.  I wore out the knees in a dozen pair of slacks from begging, pleading and grovelling.  Then again, I shouldn't complain, it was excellent practice for marriage.

Raising money in Appalachia was like cleaning I-95 with a toothbrush.  After constantly hitting the bricks days and nights with our message, people began to listen and understand the child abuse issue and the epidemic proportions it had reached in our district.  We presented in every conceivable place we could.  We talked to audiences ranging from a lone individual to gatherings of hundreds. After a year and a half of exhausting efforts, we started receiving donations from various sources including families, businesses, churches, civic organizations and governments.  We also applied for grants from every foundation with a mission even remotely close to ours.  Believe me, it was no picnic filling out those requests for proposals.  As I look back, I'm amazed we pulled it off, but somehow we did.  My hat goes off to this stellar group of volunteer board members who worked so diligently, giving so much time and effort to our cause.  God bless you all. 

Before we established the CAC, an abused child would submit to an investigative process almost as traumatic as the actual event.  An example would go like this:

Little Shirley, a six-year old, acts out in class and the teacher observes this behavior and decides it's suspicious.  She calls Child Services.  By law, this department has to respond within two days.  The next day they send a case worker to the family home to interview little Shirley to determine if something is wrong.  Can you imagine little Shirley having to tell an adult stranger about the worst thing that's happened to her in her whole life and possibly in front of the perpetrator?  To the best of her ability, the case worker will determine who the non-offending individual is so they can deal with him or her.  In an extreme case they remove the child from the home, but not usually.  If the case worker feels there is enough evidence to proceed, the local police are informed.

Unknown to most not living in Appalachia, local police stations often are also jails and to describe them as throwbacks to medieval times is more than complimentary.  Appalachia is a poverty-ridden area and can't afford modern jails.  Most of the time they are pretty old, beat up, dingy, dirty edifices  Many times the inmates are lounging around out of the cells chatting with the police personnel.  Can you imagine little Shirley carted to an environment like this to once again tell her traumatic story to another total stranger and this one in a uniform of authority?  During my research, I visited some of these jails and always was happier than hell to get away...scary places.

Weeks later Shirley has to go to the District Attorney's office and disclose her awful story again.  By now her story may change a little because of so many retellings and time gone by.  The prosecution rate is low, which means these molesters are still lurking out there waiting for their next victim.

Next our six-year old girl has to be examined by a doctor trained in child forensics.  This is a specialty and sometimes it takes months to get an appointment because the case load is so heavy.  Some kids handle this waiting period well while others don't.  Their anxiety level builds with each passing day.  The exam itself requires special equipment and is invasive.  No child should have to go through it.

Finally, though not always finally, comes therapy for Shirley.

Not a very pleasant story is it and I haven't included all the details.  Do you know a little six-year old girl?  Can you imagine her going through all this?  Do you understand why I say the process is as traumatic as the actual act?

The CAC changed things.  We at first rented but eventually built a child-friendly place to bring the kids to.  (See picture below)  All the land, furniture, toys, handmade blankets, equipment and many services were donated.  All the wall paintings were done by volunteers from a local art guild.

The kids initially come with fear and anxiety, so we have a playroom to relax in and wonderful volunteers to play with.  The room is decorated in fanciful colors and themes.  Then, when it's time, we have a professionally-trained forensic interviewer on staff who conducts the ONE-TIME interview in a specially designed room with a one-way mirror.  In an adjacent room, unbeknown to the child, the interview is observed by a team including the CAC director, a member of the police from the city or county where the child lives, a member of the district attorney's office and a doctor or nurse .  During the interview,  if any of the team members needs a question answered, they can communicate with the interviewer by way of headsets.  The CAC even keeps the rape kits and chain of evidence.  Shirley has to tell her story ONE TIME and in a warm, child- friendly environment where kids get validation and support.

We also have on staff a specially trained volunteer doctor and nurse who do the forensic exam.  The medical room is also finished in a children's decor.  Each child is given a soft handmade blanket before the exam to take home.  After the exam they go to our toy closet to choose a toy to take home too.  We strive to do everything possible to comfort the kids.

Please notice our sign in the picture below.  The logo was designed and donated by my daughter, Kris, who is a graphic designer and marketing professional.  Some of our staff is pictured.  We use the car for our outreach program to schools, churches and other groups.  Teaching young people about awareness is important and helps to break the abuse cycle.

We have two certified therapists to engage, not just the abused child, but also the remaining non-abuser family members, in our counseling program.  Therapy is extended until needed no more.

Our staff also includes a person to help the family through the court process.  Like all of our services, it's free of charge.

In 2010 we had 342 cases and that just covers an area of four small counties.  Those are reported cases only.  The national statistics claim one in every five children are abused in some form.  Because of our efforts, kids and families heal and go on to brighter futures.  Since we opened ten years ago the prosecution rate has risen dramatically. 

So, what do I think of Sandusky at Penn State and Fine at Syracuse?  If they're found guilty, I don't think there is an adequate punishment to mete out.  I think the same is true of authorities that allow this behavior and cover it up.  I've seen way too many little Shirleys.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Home

Well, here it is...the new shack about two weeks ago. That's me sitting on what will be the partially covered patio. That is if the money holds out. The project is moving along rapidly, more quickly than we ever expected. The sun room, to the immediate left of me, is yet to be framed and roofed. We're waiting for the therapy pool to arrive before we can enclose the room. The turret roof on the tower (extreme left) was finished since this picture was taken. This shot is the rear of the house taken from the water's edge.

The three windows in the topless tower are in my new office. Gal Friday's office is above mine, but no windows. When she's in her office, I want her working, not sitting idly by looking at the beautiful sight of the Albemarle Sound. Bah humbug!

Please notice the "Carolina Blue" sky. All University of North Carolina fans insist their school must be the best, otherwise, they ask, why did God make the sky "Carolina Blue." Duke fans have tried all kinds of skulduggery to transform the sky to a darker shade, but it just ain't happenin'.
The view below shows the water from the kitchen and the missing glassed-in sun room. I forgot to take a photo of the front of the house. Truthfully, I'm not positive there is a front to the house. I gallantly tried my best to direct the design/builder's focus on the back where I'll be spending all my time.

Our regulation size (10' wide by 60' long) bocce ball court will be constructed at the rear of our shack. We hope to get a neighborhood league going and the only fee charged will be beer. Gal Friday is contesting this arrangement, but I'm stubbornly holding out. It's like a labor vs. management dispute with Gal Friday obviously representing management. They usually win, don't they? Hell, we'll probably end up supplying and serving wine, if not more stimulating libations.

Despite my initial objections, we are installing an elevator which enables me access to the second floor. I had no reason to go to the second floor. The second floor is where Gal Friday's office sits and I knew going to her office would somehow transform into work for moi. Besides, the cost of the elevator wiped out Ed's playroom over the garage. She changed my "no" vote into a "yes" by explaining this contraption would allow me to get to the guest bedrooms and read to my grandkids at bedtime. I retaliated with, "I can read to them downstairs before bedtime." I thought this a lucid retort. Then she delivered the clincher. "But, Sweetheart, this will let you say prayers with your grandchildren when they're in bed." How can you fight that? That's why she's management.

Speaking of grandchildren, mine are, of course, above average. Every grandparent feels the same. We had the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving with them. Oh yeah, I think their parents were around too. Those two boys and two girls light up any room including that special room in my heart. Part of the reason for building the new house is to be closer to all the kids- including my two girls and their husbands, who are still kids at heart. Next Thanksgiving we hope to have them all celebrating at the new homestead.

When we bought this property, I had envisioned building a fishing shack suitable for my wheelchair. This image has been torpedoed. The reality reminds me of a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly and while the butterfly is definitely prettier, like most beautiful objects, much more expensive. I'll be mailing out donation requests soon.