I was minding my own business, trying to enjoy my coffee and a few moments of peace before starting my day.
And then it happened.
I was watching the Today Show—a bit about Drew Brees’s donation to help fight the devastation of Covid-19—when Hoda Kotb crashed through the television screen and shoved a rusty knife against my neck. Her accomplice, Savannah Guthrie, stood off to the side—glassy-eyed, but watchful—making sure I didn’t make a run for it.
They had me cornered and I—a well-planned, cautious, control freak—never saw it coming.
Hoda pressed her face against mine, violating our new social distancing ethos. “Don’t move,” she whispered. “Give me all your feelings.”
I had no choice. So I cried.
Savoring my morning coffee and a few quiet moments before facing whatever awaits me on this day, I find myself staring at our back door. I’d left it open after letting the dogs out to run.
(Yes, it was me. I let the dogs out.)
We live in my wife’s grandparents’ old house. They built this place in the 1950’s. One of them—Laura’s grandfather—even died here, slipping peacefully into that next life after another busy day at the hospital. He was a doctor. A healer. In more ways than one.
*(Adapted from X-Plan Parenting, published by Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books)
Little League All-Stars. District championship game.
Bottom of the sixth. Tie game. Winning run on third. My son emerges from the dugout.
Standing with friends on a hillside above center field, I sigh heavily. I turn away from the field and drop my head onto a buddy’s shoulder. Anxiety and prayer come together in a moment of desperate hope.
Please, God. Let him have this one.
I am frozen in fear.
What if I make a mistake? What if this turns out awful and I’ve wasted all of this time and effort?
What if I fail?
Nearly fifty-years-old, I’m still haunted by ‘what-ifs’—the crippling terror of being wrong—and I’m sick of it. This is not the adventure I once dreamed of living.
Just four months before the release of my book, X-Plan Parenting, my wife and I awoke to a living nightmare on a beautiful February morning.
Our teenage son was gone.
Not left early for school (as he sometimes did). Not asleep on the couch instead of his bed (another norm).
Left behind was a note, telling us not to worry, that he would be okay, but he just couldn’t take this life anymore.
Anxiety and depression haunt most families. We try to exorcise the demons with therapy, prayer, prescription drugs, physical activity … you name it. However, the numbers don’t lie. Things are getting worse, and our kids are suffering the fallout.
Anxiety is now the most common form of mental illness in the US, affecting 10% of young teens. That number swells to 30% by the age of eighteen, until we find upwards of 40% of adults suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety and depression often hang out together, and our technologically advanced, postmodern lifestyles (including our warped online realities and social media melodrama) only seem to be dragging our kids deeper into this mental/emotional hurricane.
Are you exhausted from worrying about someone? Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?
Okay, friends. Huddle up.
My friends, I owe you an apology.
I am deeply sorry for my reaction to this most recent shooting. Even more, I need to offer something else: not an excuse (I, too, am sick of excuses) but an explanation … if you’re willing to listen.
I am broken.
After looking for about ten minutes, Laura whispers my name.
“Bert, over here.”
She is standing next to a bronze parapet that surrounds one of the 9/11 Memorial pools. Her fingers are tracing the inscription of his name: Paul W. Ambrose
We hadn’t known him personally, but Paul was a hometown kid, and in Huntington, WV, our social ties are rather enmeshed. We’re all linked by only one or two degrees of separation, and we celebrate people like Paul (there aren’t many like him) because they make us proud. From Marshall University to Dartmouth to Harvard, Paul had pole vaulted over the hillbilly stereotype. Engaging, intelligent, and relentless, Paul planted himself among elite company as a congressional advisor, a champion for public health, and senior advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General. Many expected him to become the nation’s youngest surgeon general.
David is dead.
If I could write that with more poetic flair, I would, but it would be no less piercing to his mother.
His obituary celebrates a theatrical whirling dervish who “loved all he met, cheered on the underdog,” and brightened the world with “an incredible smile, an infectious laugh,” and “the best bear hugs of anyone.”
On the scorecard, however, David is just another tally mark in the Overdose column. We say that addiction killed him, but that’s not true. The drugs, like most addictions, were just self-medication for deeper wounds. They always are. I heard someone say that we live in a world at war, and nobody gets out of here unscathed.
Anyway, David is dead. As Dickens proclaims, that must be acknowledged should anything wonderful come of this tale.