You Know that it’s Love When…

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The dream began with my wife, Beth and me arriving at a rental cabin in a canyon next to a pristine river. As I parked our van, I noticed that the bicycles left near the cabin by the rental office were apparently for children. I carried our suitcases into the rustic, musty-smelling cabin and then turned my attention to the bicycles.

“Those bikes are too small for us. I’ll call the rental office and see if they have some bigger ones.”

“Why don’t we just walk them there? I’ll push one and you can push the other. The office is just down the road.”

I could not argue with that—it stood in clear view a quarter-mile away. “Sounds like a plan.” We each grabbed a bicycle by its handlebars and then pushed it toward the office. About halfway there, I felt raindrops and glanced up at the sky. A torrential downpour was heading our way from further up the canyon.

“Why don’t you go back to the cabin and stay dry. I’ll finish pushing these to the office and head back myself. We can get replacements when the weather clears.”

“Okay. Hurry back.” Beth replied with a smile, then turned and walked briskly toward to the cabin.

As I continued along steering each bike with one hand, the rain fell harder and harder. Suddenly, an intense gurgling sound caught my attention. I turned to see a wall of water and debris consume a gentle tributary dissecting the opposite bank and burst into the river, instantly turning the clear water a rusty-brown. A moment later, a similar sound erupted farther away as another tributary abruptly flooded. Eventually, I arrived at the rental office. I leaned the bikes on their kickstands and approached the small building, which appeared deserted. I knocked on the door anyway, but no one responded.

“We’re up here. You had better come up, too. It’s going to be a big one.”

Shielding my eyes from the rain with my right hand, I could barely make out a man and woman standing under an umbrella atop a bluff several hundred feet above me. More out of curiosity than anything else, I hurried up the trail toward them. I had no sooner reached the top when the woman pointed up the canyon.

“Here it comes now and is it ever a monster.”

My eyes widened and my jaw dropped at the sight of the mammoth swell of seething, muddy water advancing in our direction and demolishing everything in its path. It was at least a hundred feet tall. I was thankful that the man had warned me in time and that I was on safe ground.

That’s when I remembered Beth waiting for me in the cabin. I was safe, but she was doomed. For a split second, my mind accepted that logical fact—I could do nothing to save her at this point. Nevertheless, my heart felt differently. A life without Beth was not an option. I scampered down the hill with the man and woman yelling behind me.

“Where are you going?”

“Come back! You’ll be killed down there.”

Ignoring their pleas, I continued my mad dash toward the cabin too rain-soaked to notice the tears streaming non-stop from my eyes. With precious little time to spare, I burst through the cabin door, raced to Beth and embraced her with all of my might.

“What are you doing? You’re soaking wet.”

“I just wanted to tell you that I love you.”

“Well, I love you too, but…”

I pressed my lips against hers and kissed her, ignoring a roar that grew more frightening with every heartbeat.

The Little Man and the Crowd of Miseries

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Once upon a time, a little man lived in a ramshackle cottage on a weed-choked lot not far from a castle. Every day, the little man opened his door to find a huge crowd waiting. As the door swung open, they all shouted “Huzzah!” Then, one by one, they shared their miseries with him.

The little man was very popular because he was a good listener. He also possessed a great talent for transforming suffering into anger and riling the crowd. Fueling their rage filled him with a sense of power and purpose, which he greatly enjoyed.

The crowd spent the day together roaming the countryside, complaining, swearing, and shouting, always with the little man at the lead. At the end of the day, however, the little man returned home exhausted.

When he looked back upon each day, he realized that they were all the same: nothing accomplished, nothing changed. Many days he felt too tired to fix himself dinner, or he drank himself to sleep and forgot about dinner entirely. His life depressed him, and surprisingly, he felt lonely. After many years of the same routine, his health began to fail leading to frequent headaches, illness, and fatigue.

One morning, the little man awoke with a realization: No one is holding a crossbow to my head or a broadsword to my throat forcing me to do this.

Rather than continue his downward spiral, he instead decided not to open the door. Every so often, he peered through wooden shutters at the crowd gathered outside. They gazed at the door expectantly, talked among themselves, and shrugged their shoulders in confusion.

“Where is he? Why won’t he come out?” After a time, they began to leave, and by noon, everyone was gone. The little man breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I’m alone.

Slowly, he opened the door to the most beautiful day he could remember. He left his home and strolled through the nearby wood. Bumblebees droned and Peacock butterflies circled lazily in courtship over his head. Celandine, Primrose and Bluebells painted the earth in shades of gold, yellow, and blue at his feet and the repetitive ballad of a Song Thrush whispered in his ears.

He followed a meandering path until it ended near a breathtaking waterfall. A beautiful little woman sat at water’s edge admiring the splendor. The snap of a twig underfoot caused her to turn in his direction. Upon seeing him, she smiled invitingly. Immediately smitten by her charm and good looks, he joined her in reverie.

The little man married the little woman, and they moved into the cottage together. Lush grass and pristine gardens replaced weeds and perfectly groomed thatch sealed the leaking roof. The cottage became one of the loveliest in the kingdom. People came from all around to see it, but most days, the little man and woman were not there—they were busy exploring all the wonders that the world had to offer.

*** We are victims of life not by design, but by choice ***

Image by Ron Adams, Flikr Commons

LFISGR8

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LFISGR8. That is what the license plate says on my father’s gold Lexus. I used to think it was vain and egotistical, but I think differently now.

I visited my father a short time ago. Days earlier, his doctor informed him that he was in the “end-game” of his life. There were no more treatments for his cancer and his condition was terminal.

Now eighty, my father took exceptional care of himself his entire life. He did not drink, smoke, or do drugs, and he exercised religiously every day: weight lifting, swimming, running, hiking—he always did something. He maintained a healthy weight, ate the right foods, and loved my mother, his wife of over 60 years, dearly.

During his battle with cancer, he maintained an upbeat attitude despite the heavy odds against him. Cancer medications kept the cancer in check, but took a toll on his weight: it plummeted from 155 to 110 pounds over a few months. Ultimately, he would die by starvation, so the doctor stopped his treatment.

That would have been fine by me, but the doctor did a disservice to my father. I can’t be upset with him—someone had to break the news, but I wish my Dad hadn’t heard the words he spoke because he accepted the doctor’s prognosis and gave up: and that’s not who my father is.

Those of us who do not die by accident, while unconscious, or in our sleep will all be faced with this choice, but I wish there was a way to choose to live every day to its fullest, no matter how many days we have left to live. I wish there was a purpose to every day and a joy associated with each breath, each spoonful of food, each ray of sunshine, and each kiss goodnight. I cannot imagine resigning myself to death because I love this life so much, but my father is the strongest man I have ever known and I have seen him make that choice.

More than anything, I wish his doctor had told him to live every day he has left to the fullest, share love with everyone special to him, and go to bed exhausted because he filled it with so much. That is the kind of medicine I want for this world, that is the kind of doctor I hope to have when I am in my last days. We all will die, but we do not need reminding of that, we need reminding to live.

LFISGR8 means something different to me now because of how my father lived his life: it means never giving up on your dreams and following your passions. It means taking care of the vessel you live your life in so that you can better appreciate every day. It means being kind and generous to others so that they may see life as you do. Even though you see things differently because of a doctor’s words, Dad, life is still great. I wish you the best for the rest of your life, whether it be measured in hours, days, or weeks. Thank you for being a shining example. I love you.

Image courtesy of Ja Puron, Flikr Commons

Sashi and Alisha Come to Life

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A few years ago, I dreamed of a small disabled child rescued from certain death by an elephant. In the dream, the child and elephant become best friends and share many adventures. When I awoke, I rushed to my computer and recorded the dream. Months passed. In early spring of 2013, my youngest daughter, Hailey, announced that she wished to volunteer for a month in Nepal. Not being ones to stand in the way of our fearless adventurer, we scraped money together for the trip and allowed her to sign up. In June of 2013, our 16-year-old daughter flew unaccompanied around the world to Nepal.

For two weeks in a small town not far from the Chitwan Jungle, Hailey stood beside surgeons in a teaching hospital, asking questions as they operated. The conditions there appalled her. With no air conditioning, the operating room was sweltering. Sanitizing instruments between surgeries involved a few squirts of Windex, time permitting, otherwise, they rinsed them with cold running water. Hailey’s next assignment involved teaching English to young children near Kathmandu, but first, she and other volunteers seized an opportunity to explore the Chitwan Jungle.

During her adventures, Hailey posted Facebook updates religiously. Imagine my surprise one day when a photo of her riding an elephant bareback arrived on my timeline. The synchronicity was clear. I dusted off the story and approached it with new zeal. Characters broadened and took on names: Sashi, a real elephant in Nepal, and Alisha, meaning “protected by God.”

Public speaking always frightened me. A character in my newest novel wanted to improve his speaking skills. Perhaps sharing that journey would benefit me. In mid 2013, I joined Toastmasters. I survived the first few speeches, but the requirements for the next speech stumped me. That speech involved vocal range and variety. Wondering what I might present, I thought of Sashi and Alisha. I dusted off the story once more to fulfill the speech requirements. When the time came to present, I stomped like an elephant, hissed like a snake, and blew like the wind. I spoke feebly as a sickly Alisha and thunderously as powerful Sashi. As I delivered that speech, I realized that Sashi and Alisha had come to life. At that moment, I decided to publish Sashi and Alisha.

In mid-October 2014, my editor informed me of an opportunity to pitch a children’s book to a publisher for ten minutes on November 15th. Having been through several rounds of editing by then, the manuscript of “Sashi and Alisha” was ready. I knew nothing about pitching children’s books, but was up for the challenge. To my dismay, I learned that the pitch required a full mock-up of the book–with artwork! I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m an engineer: I create mechanical drawings with Autocad, and electronic schematics with Altium. In a pinch, I can draw something crude with Microsoft Paint.

As I wondered what to do, I realized that Nepal was a beautiful place. I searched the internet and found a treasure trove of photos of Nepal, many from the Chitwan jungle. The solution was obvious. I just needed a mock-up. This wasn’t a book to sell. I needed something convincing enough to get me to the next level. For the last two weeks, I worked long and hard downloading images, cutting, pasting, and manipulating. I’m happy to say that it resulted in an unexpected work of art that I’m very proud of. Today, I’d like to announce that I finished the mock-up! This image is one of my favorites from the mock-up. Wish me luck with my pitch on 11/15!

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Survivor

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Imagine being swallowed alive by a python—the darkness, the smell, the inability to move as you are tortuously crushed, and asphyxiated. That’s exactly what happened to the pet in this story. Her name was, well, she had no name. Her life as a pet was short-lived, as she was never intended to be a pet at all. Purchased from a pet store under that guise, her real fate was to be dinner for that Python.

One Saturday a few weeks ago, our pet rat, Emmy, lost a long, difficult battle against illness. Our family used to raise guide dogs, and we learned from parting with a beloved dog every year that the grieving process is greatly shortened if you get a new pup when you send the older dog back to guide dog school for final training. We weren’t embarrassed at all to end the grieving process quickly. So, right after giving Emmy her last rites, and burying her in the small rat cemetery under the Ficus tree in our back yard, we piled into our van, and headed to a local pet store to find a new rat to love.

At first, we looked at a fresh batch of medium female rats, all in the same large aquarium, but they had not yet been handled, and were extremely skittish. It was difficult to discern their personalities, and dangerous to hold them because they could easily be dropped. The young male employee assisting us asked if we’d be interested in a rescue rat. We agreed to look at the one they had, a female isolated from the others in a small aquarium.

“We call her Leftovers,” The young man said. “She was purchased by a customer, and fed to their pet Python. She must not have sat well with the snake because it regurgitated her. The irate customer returned her to our store, still dripping in snake saliva, and demanded a refund. She spent two weeks at the vet after that battling a severe respiratory infection that she’d gotten from breathing in snake, uh, whatever a snake has inside.”

I don’t know how my wife and daughter felt, but I have incredible respect for survivors, and I felt a connection to that rat right away. I convinced them that she was the rat for us. We shelled out a whopping $3 for the rat that was formerly snake food, took her home with us, and renamed her Mireille (pronounced me-RAY), a French name that means miracle. Nowadays, Mireille can be found almost every evening running around on the family room sofa, grooming herself next to my wife, Beth, or snuggled next to Beth’s leg asleep, as Beth lovingly pets her head, ears, and neck with a finger.

Many pet owners lose a pet, and are so grief-stricken that they vow to never own another. As we learned, grief lasts only as long as you let it, and is greatly shortened by love. There are many rescue animals in this world, some as small as a rat, who desperately need your help. If you are grieving over a lost pet, consider ending that grief by rescuing one of these animals, and giving it a second chance. Without your help, it will be euthanized, or even worse, fed to a snake. Your life will be forever changed by the love of your new companion, and your grief will be forgotten in no time. As a bonus, you’ll be surprised to find that instead of dwelling on grief, you will remember all the wonderful times you had with your former pet.