“Close your eyes,” I told my teenage recovery group. “Imagine yourself twenty years from now.” I gave them time to conjure up images. “You bump into somebody from this group, and they ask, ‘So, what do you do?’”
I let the question hang in the air.
“What’s your answer?”
As they opened their eyes, I saw a few glints of hope, but mostly just doubt and anxiety. Some of them had already lost the ability to dream, and that’s tragic. In all of them, however, I recognized a familiar fear—the horror of failure—twisted up with self-loathing for not measuring up to society’s standard of success.
Are you exhausted from worrying about someone? Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?
Okay, friends. Huddle up.
I had a high school history teacher who was a Vietnam vet. He once informed us, “Just so you know, I did tours in ‘Nam. Tick me off and I might pull a gun and kill every one of you. And I’d get away with it, too. Just shrug and say, ‘Sorry. Flashback. I thought they were a bunch of gooks.’” His head bobbed up and down when he spoke as if pounding the words in like nails. A matter-of-fact expression on his face. Left eye pinched into a half-wink. Just like someone taking aim through rifle sights. Continue reading
It’s taken me some time to comment on coach Jeff Walz’s rant about participation trophies because … well, to be honest, I am (as coach says) “a loser.”
I have a “participation trophy” from youth football.
My team had a perfect season, a feat few athletes at any level can celebrate. Even the worst teams screw up and win a game a two. But not my football team. The Enslow Bulldogs. Perfection. Not a single win. Never even close.
I have the trophy to prove it.
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.
(Heads up, friends. Though I’ve tried to be delicate, there’s some adult stuff in this one. Like most of my work, it’s a true story, just a bit more literary in nature. Tread lightly. Sacred territory here. Thanks for the nudge, Marie.)
From my second floor office window I see her waving to the ice cream truck as it rounds the corner. It slows and pulls to the curb. With an excited hop she breaks into a sprint, off to collect her special treat.
Like a comet’s tail, her flaming red hair trails behind, flowing in the wind. Wide eyes. Mouth agape. Both betray a child’s joyous heart. Alabaster skin covered in a constellation of freckles. Tube socks worn from summertime adventures are bunched around her ankles, revealing bruised shins and scabby knees. Telltale trophies of kickball, hopscotch, and double-dutch jump rope.
A buddy and I once had a regrettably awesome idea: “Let’s have the most unforgettable Fourth of July fireworks display EVER!”
We pooled our resources and headed across the river to smuggle boxes of explosives back into West Virginia. Rockets. Missiles. Screamers. Repeaters. Roman Candles. Dozens of exploding mortars (those are the big, professional ones, kids).
As family and friends filled our yard, we anxiously awaited the cover of darkness so we could light up the night sky. It was going to be … glorious!
Unfortunately, communication along the front line suffered a setback, resulting in a “slight weapons malfunction.” To cut to the chase, a random spark ignited some misplaced mortars and … well, to be honest, all hell broke loose.
That didn’t go as planned (photo from Caddyshack)
Within 60 seconds, nearly $500 worth of fireworks came roaring to life and attacked in all directions. The rockets’ red glare. The bombs burst in the air … and on my house … and next to screaming people running for cover. At one point I saw my wife’s cousin, just home from Iraq and still in uniform, running through the yard, tossing children over his shoulder and extracting them from the battlefield. People were diving in the pool as my wife screamed, “Get under the water! Stay down!”
You know that final scene from Caddyshack when Carl blows up the entire golf course? That was child’s play compared to our epic disaster.
Open your contact lists on your phone and computer. Count the entries. Next add your social media friends and followers. Now, estimate how many people you brush up against on any given day (in both the physical and media realms).
Let’s pretend you actually arrived at a final sum (we’ll call it “Z”).
Head out to your local hardware store. Ask the kid behind the counter to make “Z” copies of your house key. Finally, send one to every person included in “Z”. (Make sure you have extra copies to hand out to random folks throughout the week.)
We wouldn’t give many of our family members that much open access to our homes, not to mention the countless others we encounter. But this is exactly what we do—day in and day out—with our hearts.
Little wonder we feel plundered at the end of most days. Life has a way of breaking-and-entering on its own. We don’t help ourselves by handing out keys like Pez dispensers.
(As seen on The Today Show, Good Housekeeping, HerViewFromHome, ScaryMommy, The Huffington Post, Mamamia, MomsEveryday, and numerous social and news media outlets. UPDATED – 3/3/2017)
Friends, as most of you know, I get to spend an hour each week with a group of young people going through addiction recovery. Yes. Young people. I’m talking teenagers who are locked away for at least six months as they learn to overcome their addictions. I’m always humbled and honored to get this time with these beautiful young souls that have been so incredibly assaulted by a world they have yet to understand. This also comes with the bittersweet knowledge that these kids still have a fighting chance while several of my friends have already had to bury their own children.
Recently I asked these kids a simple question: “How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?”
They all raised their hands.
Every single one of them. Continue reading