суббота, 24 июля 2010 г.

NASCAR's Closest Finish

Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR

BY: Kurt Busch

It was on a hot Sunday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, where you get to go and dance with the old "Lady in Black."

Darlington is a place where you don't race the competition. You race the race track. Your ultimate job is to protect your race car and manage to not slide up into the wall, because you have to run inches from the wall for the fastest line around that particular track.

We blew two motors during practice, so I didn't have much practice time. My crew chief and I put a car together using the setups of my teammates at the time, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. Both of those guys ran great at Darlington.

It turned out to be a great race for us, even without a lot of practice time. We raced hard all afternoon and worked our way toward the front. The car wasn't perfect, but I just told myself to drive it like Mark Martin would, or like Jeff Burton would. What did that mean? I really didn't know. But I told myself to drive the race track and not be aggressive with the car, to drive it conservatively and not wear out any of the tires. Darlington takes patience.

Near the end of the day, I was actually able to make a three-wide pass for the lead, which doesn't really happen at Darlington. You're always racing the race track and just trying to squeak by another competitor when you can. On one of the final restarts, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler were battling side by side out of Turn 2, and I saw that the two of them broke their momentum. They didn't have the speed off the corner, and I was flying through there.

I thought, "Do I check up and pass them one at a time?" Of course, my right foot said, "No. We're going to pass them both at the same time." We went three-wide down the back straightaway, and I cleared them. I was in front of them by the time we got to Turn 3, and held the lead from that point.

Now it was going through my mind, "Do I need to conserve my tires? Or do I need to stretch out my lead and then try to preserve it once the tires wear off, to find out who's going to catch me?" I felt like I just needed to run a fairly steady pace, and run pretty quick, because I didn't think my car could hold off the competitors at the end.

With only 20 laps to go, I had a pretty good lead, and it wasn't Jeff Gordon or Elliott Sadler who was running second or third behind me.

It was Ricky Craven. He was clawing away at my lead. He was only gaining little bits at a time, but I knew in the back of my mind he was going to catch me by the end.

With about 15 laps to go, I felt my power steering give up in the car. I was really wrestling the wheel. I couldn't run the lap times I had been running earlier.

Still, I felt like with 15 laps to go, this was my race. This is what a driver lives for, to have the race on the line, a few laps to go, and you're leading. You've got to bring it home for the team.

It felt like the wind went out of my sails when the power steering went away, and then I was just wrestling the car as hard as I could, and lap after lap Craven was chewing away at the lead. I knew he was going to catch me before the end of it.

But with every lap that went by, I was more determined not to make it any easier for him to pass me.

There were two laps to go when he finally caught me. I was determined not to let him pass me. I was going to do all that I could to stay in front of him for two laps. Just two more laps.

We raced down the front straightaway side by side, because he got a good run coming off of Turn 4. At Darlington, you can't race into Turn 1 side by side. There's just not enough room. I felt like it was my job to hold the lead, and if he wanted it that bad he was going to have to come and get it.

He wanted it that bad. He came and got it.

We both went into Turn and I slid up into the fence. I pounded the fence pretty hard. I realized as I was going down the front straightaway that this wasn't such a great idea, but I couldn't give up the position, because if I did, he would just walk away and win this race uncontested.

We bumped and we banged. It was intense. He slipped ahead for an instant, but he couldn't quite get his car stable underneath him. My car bounced off the fence and was ready to go. I was ready to hammer the throttle because my car would do better in Turns 1 and 2, which are wider; the Darlington track is tighter in Turns 3 and 4 and you have to have the power steering to help you through there. But my power steering was gone, and we were running out of time.

I got back to him pretty quick and thought, "Well, if you were that mean to me going into Turn 1, I'm giving some of that back to you going into Turn 2." So I bumped him out of the way to get the lead. It was a perfect bump. I just moved him up to the high side and slid by him, so I had a pretty good run coming off Turn 2 to stay ahead of him.

We raced through Turns 3 and 4, and that big lead that I had was gone again. I saw how good he was in those two turns, and I knew it was going to come down to the final corner of the last lap to see who was going to get that checkered flag.

White flag; one lap to go.

He was right on my back bumper as we raced through 1 and 2, and I stretched him about three car lengths or so and came off Turn 2 with a good run. And then, he was on me. He was the closest he'd been, right on top of our rear bumper going into Turn 3.

I thought for an instant I would just put it on the outside wall and hold the throttle all the way to the pedal. But I knew that what I needed to do was hold the car low to take away some of his momentum in the low groove, where he had been running so well. I tried as hard as I could, but without the power steering I couldn't wrestle the wheel hard enough to hold it down in Turns 3 and 4.

And then, I had one little wiggle, and that allowed him to close up and get door-to-door with us. I kept my foot in it after that wiggle and came off Turn 4, but the car was so bound up with me holding the steering wheel as far left as I could at full throttle that it kind of shot off the wall and bumped into his right-side door.

Now my left side was locked with his right side, and we were both full throttle. He had to turn back to the right to hold his car stable on the straightaway because I was fully locked to the left. I was trying not to run into him but I couldn't get the steering back soon enough.

So there we were, door-to-door. This was it. I'm looking at him like he's looking at me, through the window, and I could just tell that his nose was an inch ahead of mine. I knew it all the way from Turn 4 to the start/finish line, but our cars were literally locked together. There was nothing I could do.

I was just hoping, praying, that maybe they would say we were ahead of him, but Ricky Craven beat me to the line by two one-thousandths of a second, after a full-fledged war we waged that day at Darlington.

The best part about the war was we didn't wreck each other. We completely exhausted every idea that we had -- for me to protect the lead, and for him to take it. To put that battle on created a lifelong friendship between two guys who thought the same way about how to win a race.

Still, every time I tell the story, I swear I'm going to win it one day.


Board Game Revival

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

BY: Christina Dymock

Games lubricate the body and the mind.
~Benjamin Franklin

I'm pretty sure I haven't played Clue since I was nine years old. I don't think I ever had as much fun playing it as I did last night. There's a group of us that used to go out to dinner on the weekends, but since most of us are out of work, we stay in and have game night on the weekends. When my neighbor showed up with Clue under her arm, I thought it was for the kids. She informed me that Clue was her game of choice for the night.

I was a little skeptical that it would keep us entertained, but I was so wrong. We had a great time as we all reverted to our nine-year-old selves. Adam was holding back information and Erica was throwing a fit about it. I was sneaking peeks at others' game cards and my husband was trash-talking all of us. I wasn't aware that you could trash-talk during a game of Clue, but he was a master!

We laughed our way through four games, a bag of chips and a bowl of dip before the kids got ornery. Then I remembered an old Clue movie we had in the basement and while I popped the popcorn, Erica got the kids settled in the living room, Craig searched for the movie, and Adam hooked up a VCR. We laughed right out loud through the movie. It was funny without being over the top like so many movies are today.

After we'd said good night to everyone, Craig commented on how much fun we had just doing "dumb stuff." I thought about the times we were so grown up and went out to dinner at nice restaurants. Who wants to be a grown up? I want to be a kid again, where my biggest worry is what game to play when my friends come over.

Next week it's our turn to bring the game. I'm sure we have a Sorry game somewhere in the house, and they'd all better watch out because I was Sorry champion in the fourth grade!


Mistaken Identity

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins & More

BY: Elaine A. Lederman

She glances at the photo, and the pilot light of memory flickers in her eyes.
~Frank Deford

As a mom of identical twin girls, I am always on the lookout for those amazing twin moments -- times when the special connection between the girls becomes apparent to the outside world.

I was sorting through a box of photos recently when four-year-old Naomi joined me. We enjoyed looking at the numerous baby photos of my oldest daughter, Sophia, and the twins. However, in many of the photos of the twins, I was unable to tell who was who, as I had not labeled them. But, much to my surprise, Naomi was able to point things out to me.

"That's Naomi, and that's Jillian," she said confidently as we looked at one that had me stumped. So I picked out another one in which the girls looked (to me) exactly the same. Again, Naomi pointed out herself and her sister without any hesitation.

We then sorted through the whole box this way, as I quickly scribbled an "N" or a "J" on each photo. "Wow!" I thought to myself. "She really knows the difference between herself and her sister. That must be part of the twin connection." Not only was I thrilled to witness this display of "twinness," but I was excited that I was able to finally label the photos. (Clearly, I was delirious in thinking I would ever get around to putting them into albums.) And Naomi seemed very proud of herself for being such a smart girl and helping Mommy.

As we continued to dig through the pile, we came upon a photo of a friend with her two dogs. Without missing a beat, Naomi pointed at the dogs and announced with great authority, "That's Naomi, and that's Jillian." She then methodically went through every other photo in the box, naming anyone and everyone Naomi and Jillian. Oh, well....


понедельник, 19 июля 2010 г.

Lilacs and the Waiting List

Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.
~Matthew 7:7-8

I could feel my face wilt into a disappointed grimace. The letter from Holy Cross, the one school I really wanted to attend, had come in a dreaded small envelope. By April of my senior year, I could clearly recognized what the envelope size conveyed about its contents -- large manila envelopes, full and ripe with promise, were the heralds of glorious acceptances, while the thin, white business envelopes were forerunners to the dismissing lines, "We regret to inform you..."

I sighed as I began to slowly ease open the flap, trying to delay the inevitable as long as possible. True, my college counselor had told me that Holy Cross was a "reach" school, and based on my high school grades I would sit in the bottom 25% of my class all four years if I managed to get in. "But Holy Cross is my school," I had argued. "That is where I want to be." He had smiled skeptically and turned to schools that were more in my "range."

Holy Cross had been the only school I really wanted to attend since the moment I set foot onto the tree-lined main drive for the first time. I can't explain the sense of belonging and rightness I felt as I wandered the old corridors and manicured grounds on my tour. I had visited lots of schools, been wowed by meal plans, dorm set ups, curriculum options, and diverse extra-curricular activities. But any interest I had in them disappeared as I toured Kimball, the main dining hall, and Dinand, the grand library. This was where I was meant to go to school -- I could feel it, and I eagerly mailed my application with butterflies in my stomach and a quick kiss on the envelope.

Yet the months of waiting, checking the mail everyday, had lead to this disheartening moment, standing in my kitchen with my coat still on, slipping the thin, uncaring paper out of the cold white envelope. I scanned the page, looking for some sign of either acceptance or rejection. Blah, blah, blah, "we had a great applicant pool this year," yada yada yada, "we can't offer spaces to everyone," something-something-something, "placing you on our waitlist," -- huh?

"What does it say, honey?" my dad askd, his voice full of anxiety for me.

"I didn't get in, but I'm on the waitlist." I said, rereading the letter. Being relegated to the waiting list seemed a strangely anticlimactic end to my passionate desire to be accepted.

"Well, at least it isn't rejection," he said brightly.
"Yea, but still," I said, a small tear sneaking out of the corner of my eye. "I don't want to be on the waiting list; I want to be accepted. Holy Cross was the one school I cared about. It doesn't matter where I go now, because it is all ruined. No one gets in off the waiting list, it is a consolation prize. It's a way of saying ‘thanks for trying; we liked you enough not to flat out reject you,' but everyone knows it's the same thing." My lip quivered; I was on the edge of dissolving into childish crying.

"So then let's go out there and tell them so."


"I'm serious. Let's drive out there so you can tell them how you feel. What have you got to lose?"

"That sounds lame, dad," I pouted. "Stuff like that doesn't work."

"OK, do what you want. But, if I were you, I would make the effort to show them how much I want it."

Frustrated and annoyed, I went upstairs and busied myself in my room, my father's advice swirling around in my head. It was a silly idea. They wouldn't care if I showed up, begging to be let in. It would be a waste of everyone's time, not to mention very embarrassing for me.

However, I mulled the situation over for a few days, finally coming to the conclusion he was right. I had nothing to lose. I might as well try, or else I would never know. On Wednesday morning I asked him if he would drive me out there Friday. He smiled and said, "Of course."

The butterflies in my stomach felt as if they were threatening to leap out of my mouth as we pulled up in front of the vast and daunting admissions building. We walked in and took a left down an echoing and empty hallway. My dad stopped part way down the hall and said with a smile, "Good luck, sweetheart."

At the end of the hallway, I turned right and presented myself to the admissions secretary. I asked if the officer who conducted my interview would have a minute or two to chat. Fifteen minutes later, I was ushered into the same bright meeting room where I had my first interview and found myself seated across from Mr. Luis Soto, my admissions officer. He smiled as he held my fate in his hands.

"What can I do for you, Nacie?" he asked pleasantly.

"Well, sir, I am here to tell you that I love this school and would love an opportunity to be here. I was put on the waiting list, and just wanted to come out here to tell you how much going here would mean to me -- it is my only dream for college, sir -- and that I would use my time here to the best advantage. I am seriously dedicated to doing my best here, and wanted to let you know that if you gave me a chance and reconsidered my application that you wouldn't regret it." I took a deep breath; the words had tumbled imploringly from my mouth before I could stop them or check their desperate tone.

Mr. Soto was a young man with a calming presence and a sweet manner. He looked me over for a minute before he smiled broadly.

"OK, well that is the kind of thing we love to hear. Congratulations, you're in."

My voice caught in my throat and I choked, "I'm sorry?"

"We want people in the class who want to be here, who will make the best of this education. I'm glad you came to talk to me. I'm happy to offer you a position in the Class of 2007."

"Thank you," I said, my voice small with disbelief. "Thank you. Thank you!"

I was still saying thank you as I shook his hand and walked, dazed and elated, out of his office and back down the hall. I couldn't believe it. I started to cry from happiness and sheer mental overload. My father was sitting on a bench, his hands clasp anxiously on his knees. When he saw my tears he assumed the worst, and began to console me with an "Oh, honey..." before I was able to tell him the good news. Then his face lit up and he wrapped on arm around me as we walked out of the building.

As we left the campus that day, new Holy Cross T-shirt and hat in hand, we walked down a set of stairs that had lilacs growing on either side. My dad stopped, took a deep breath, and said, "I hope you will always remember the day you got into Holy Cross you were here with your father and everything smelled like lilacs." I smiled at him as we pulled out the phone to call my mom.

The four years at Holy Cross were even more wonderful than I thought they could be, and I never lost that feeling of belonging. I had an opportunity to learn about everything from archaeology to organic chemistry to Freudian psychology to English poetry and graduated magna cum laude with an honors degree in history. So much for the prediction I would be in the bottom 25% of my class. It's true that I haven't - and will never - forget the day I got into Holy Cross. The whole experience taught me two of the best lessons I learned during my college years: don't listen to other's predictions for you, and if you truly want something, never, ever give up.



You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.
~Desmond Tutu

I had just finished college and, like the multitudes of new grads out there, I was going on a two-month backpacking trip to Europe. The itinerary included England, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, and Germany. I spent the first three weeks with a friend and the rest of the time I was on my own. I swam in the Mediterranean Sea off the beaches of Nice and Positano. I explored the Roman Coliseum and the Vatican with friends I made at the hostel. Then it happened. After gazing at an awe-inspiring sunset in Santorini, I went to an Internet café and opened an e-mail from my mom.

The e-mail read, "Your dad and I haven't been on a holiday in a while and we want to come meet you in Europe."

"Oh no!" -- that was my first thought. This was my trip, my independent adventure, my solo dance.

But there was no stopping my parents. My self-discovery trip of eating bread with peanut butter and meeting random strangers at the hostel was over. The one saving grace was that traveling with my parents meant I was no longer on a measly budget.

We decided to meet in Venice. I found my dad waiting for me by a flower stand in the small square near their hotel. I gave him a hug, and he pointed to the window where my mom was watching and waving anxiously. This was going to be interesting, to say the least. I couldn't remember the last time I traveled with both my parents. I spent the last four years at school more than 5,000 miles from home.

My original plan was to head to the hills from The Sound of Music, better known as Salzburg, after being in Venice. However, Mom and Dad wanted to visit Italy and France. I would have to backtrack. Places that I thought I wouldn't revisit for at least five years, I was going back to only three weeks after I had left. My parents' idea of planning included printing off itineraries from guidebooks and following them. I had thrown out my guidebooks after visiting France and Italy to lighten my backpack. I was traveling without any plans or real guides. Adventure was my tour guide. But now that I was traveling with Mom and Dad, adventure had moved on.

One of my favorite places in Italy is Cinque Terre (the English translation is Five Lands, or Five Fishing Villages.) So just ten days after my first visit to Cinque Terre, I returned to the five coastal towns with my parents. We rented a villa with a kitchen where my dad could cook. On our first day, we spent two hours looking for the fish market. No fish was found, and at 3 P.M., the gelateria owner told us the fish market was already closed. We were too late. "Fish market abierto in the morning." he said. The next day, my dad went to buy fish at dawn -- I've never seen him so excited. We ate fish for brunch at 11 A.M.

On the beaches of Monteresso, I watched my father walk barefoot in the sand, the waves brushing over his feet. At that moment, he was more than just the guy who chauffeured me around, the guy who taught me to ride a bike, and the guy who told me to do my homework; he was a real person. I lay on the beach and talked "life" with my father. He told me not to be too cheap with my money. "Sometimes in an effort to be frugal, you may cost yourself more money in the end," he said. My previous economical traveling diet of bread and cheese had left me with sunken cheeks. After a week with my dad eating gelato and pizza in Italy, any weight I had lost was easily (and deliciously) regained.

When I was young, my dad told me an old folktale about a man who lost his horse. The moral of the story is that what you perceive to be something bad may turn out be a blessing in disguise.

Initially, I thought my parents intruding on my Euro-trip would be a disaster. I was wrong, and my parents coming to join me was actually a precious gift. Three weeks after we returned from Europe, my dad passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. I cherish that time we had on the beach together, and the image of him walking along the waves in sheer delight will forever live in my memories.


The Kindness of Runners

Winning has always meant much to me, but winning friends has meant the most.
~Babe Zaharias

Every so often, something happens that reminds you just how great our sport is. One of those somethings happened for me on a quiet summer morning in upstate New York.

My wife and I were away for a long weekend, celebrating our first wedding anniversary at an old, sprawling Shawangunk Mountain resort. It was a beautiful place -- a very oak-paneled-lobby, open-lake-swim, Sunday-lobster-bake, porches-and-rocking-chairs sort of hideaway.

Think The Shining, but with less blood in the halls and more croquet.

Thing was, I was training for a fall marathon at the time. So, beauty aside, I was a little anxious about the 14-miler I had planned for Sunday. Not about being able to run 14 miles, but about being able to do so on such unfamiliar turf. We were surrounded by "2,200 acres of scenic wilderness," according to the booklet in our room, including 85 miles of trails. But I'd been having trouble keeping my bearings on them. (Hey, 85 miles of trails was about 71 miles more than I needed.) Doing an easy 4-mile loop was no problem, even for someone as navigationally challenged as me. Four miles, I could handle. But I was fairly certain I'd get lost and die trying to navigate a 14-mile run out there. The phrase "skeletal remains" leapt to mind.

But you've gotta do what you've gotta do, so I set out early Sunday morning with my wristband I.D. and a bottle of orange Gatorade from the gift shop. The sun was shining, which was nice. If I was going to get lost and die, at least it would happen in agreeable weather.

The first few miles rolled by reasonably well, despite a dead end and some backtracking. 
Then I saw them: A group of six or eight fellow runners, on the same trail, headed right for me.

As we neared each other, we exchanged the usual nods and greetings. Then I stopped. 
Feeling a little sheepish, I asked, "Umm... How far are you guys going?"

"20," one of them said. "We just started."

Even more sheepish: "You mind if I... uh... join you for part of it?"


So I did. Off we went. And what followed were 10 of the nicest miles I think I've ever run.

Time flew by, and my newfound friends -- all locals -- knew the trails backward and front. The scenery, all ponds and pine and postcard vistas, was breathtaking. Even the pace was just right. We chatted here and there, as they told me a bit about the trails and the local running scene and themselves. They asked about me and my wife, my work and my running, so we talked about those things too.

Four of them were training for that fall's New York City Marathon. A couple had run the Richmond Marathon, the race I was training for. (They gave me some pointers about the course.) One guy had run sub-3 hours at Boston a few months prior. A woman had started with the elites another year, also at Boston, which is pretty hard-core. They were active members of a local running club. Several of them were teachers. All of them were funny and thoughtful.

Just like that, my morning run had gone from "solo wander" to "group run." And it was so seamless, happening so quickly, without question or fanfare. It all unfolded so... naturally. It almost didn't occur to me to stop and appreciate how very cool it was.

But I did appreciate it, both during the run and afterward. That's the thought that's really stuck with me, to this very day: How great is our sport, where you can stumble across a group of strangers running in the middle of nowhere, and join them as if it's the most natural thing in the world?

In a society more and more splintered, and drawn more and more to virtual, online "community," it's such a privilege to be part of a warm, far-reaching, real-life community. It's just one of many, many things to love about running. But it's one of the most satisfying things.

I know from talking with other runners that mine isn't an isolated story. When you're a runner in an unfamiliar place, very rarely are you ever truly alone, unless you want to be. Head out the door of your hotel in just about any city or town, and it's fairly likely you'll encounter a fellow runner or three at some point. (To paraphrase Yogi Berra: Wherever runners go, there you are.) And they'll probably welcome a bit of company, if you ask. You're a runner, after all. You must be a decent person. C'mon. Let's run.

It's a phenomenon I call "The Kindness of Runners," and it cuts across social, racial, economic, and geographic lines. It's a pretty marvelous thing.

* * *

Just shy of 2 hours into my own run, our group came to a fork in the trail. The locals told me they were going left, to finish their 20-miler; I should turn right, which would get me back to the resort at just around 14 miles.

I thanked them. They replied, "you bet" and "no problem" and "have a good one." As I ran off, one of them turned to call out, "Happy anniversary!"

Then they rounded a bend, and vanished from sight.

* * *

Later that same year, I would bump into two of my Shawangunk trail buddies at the New York City Marathon expo. I was there selling and signing copies of my new book. They were there because they were running the race. I'll admit, when they first approached me in my booth, I didn't recognize them -- they were wearing jeans and jackets, after all, not shorts and technical tees. And it had been months since our run together in the mountains. Besides which, the New York City Marathon expo is a dizzying place, teeming with foot traffic; you're lucky to recognize your own mother in a crowd like that.

Still, as they shook my hand and reintroduced themselves, it all came back in a flash. Shawangunk! My best 14-miler ever! Yes! Hey, how are you?

We chatted for a minute or so, then more hand-shaking and well-wishing. Then they rejoined the swarm and I got back to hawking books.

The memories lingered, though. I couldn't stop thinking back to that trail run in August, to the brilliant sunshine and the stunning views. More than anything, I recalled the companionship and camaraderie, and the warmth I felt -- not from the sun, but simply from being out there, running. With some new friends.


Silence Is Golden

The older I grow the more I listen to people who don't talk much.
~Germain G. Glien

My dad sat in his rocking chair. The chair bucked, agitated just like he was as he plucked peanuts from their shells and popped them into his mouth. He glanced at me every so often, grimacing. It seemed from his furrowed brow that he was the one who was slogging hour upon hour in a swimming pool, counting tiles and laps, with arms like lead, heaving for breath and somehow, getting slower!

"Just a plateau, Kath," my dad said. Plateau my you-know-what. I was actually getting worse.

"How am I supposed to keep this up?" I sat on the couch across from my father, my arms hugging my legs to my chest. Each breath tripped over the sob before it. "I'm not getting any faster!"

My dad rose from his chair. My heart seized a little bit. He'd had enough of my weeping and was making an exit. But then I felt his strong hand grab the back of my neck and squeeze, giving me a little shake on the scruff. He'd done this a million times throughout my life. It was his answer to other dads' bear hugs.

"Are you working as hard as you can?" he said.


He stopped squeezing. No more words. That couldn't be it. I looked up at him from my curled position on the couch, waiting for magic words, the sentiments or advice that would immediately reveal my next steps toward becoming a faster swimmer. He was my father after all, and pep talks were his specialty. It had always seemed as though he'd had a crystal ball that doled out advice that actually worked. But this time, silence.

"Well," he started squeezing again. "You wake up tomorrow and you go back and work even harder. Oh, and trust God. A little faith helps."

I shrugged out of his grip and gaped at him. "That's it? I'm working as hard as I can. So that's it? This is the best I'll ever be?"

A tiny hint of a smile did not cancel out the warmth in his eyes. He had told me my entire life I could be anything I wanted if I set my mind to it and there I was doing just that and still somehow drowning in my own mediocrity. Could he have been completely wrong?
"Dad, I mean it. Is this the best I'll ever be?"

"I don't know," he said. "Is this as good as you can be?" And then he was gone, to help my mother with a clogged toilet.

I woke up the next morning and was back in the pool working as though I had a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Working hard had already been forged into the creases of my brain. Even if I wanted to quit, I couldn't. And there in the pool surrendering to the very thing that frustrated me so much, I found my answer.

* * *

Seventeen years, a Ph.D., husband, two children, and a multiple sclerosis diagnosis later...

I was back on my parent's couch for a visit. This time my two toddlers crawled over me, around me, on me, squalling for attention. I wrapped them in my numb arms and felt grateful they were too young to notice my silent tears or realize that I couldn't feel their soft skin with my prickly fingertips. As long as my warm body was near, all was right for them. They had no idea what multiple sclerosis was or what it meant to me.

My dad sat across the room in his rocking chair, narrating the TV news as though I couldn't hear it myself. "Damn politicians!" the rocking chair moved with his mood.

My dad glimpsed me every so often and caught my gaze with a forced smile. I waited for his encouraging words, his worldview that's tethered to his heart by the belief that anything is possible with a little faith and hard work.

Sitting there, I floundered in my self-pity, wondering where those sentiments were. He'd offered them through my swimming life, as I scratched through full-time work and Ph.D. studies, premature births of two children, and while I waited to see my writing published. But this time, with my immune system attacking the coating on the nerves of my brain, he had nothing to offer?

I closed my eyes and laid my cheek on the top of my daughter's head, sniffed the baby shampoo and listened to her coo and sigh at the pleasure of merely being alive.

Then I felt it. My dad's hand on the back of my neck, squeezing. And I waited for the words. But none came. A few more squeezes and he was gone to the kitchen, foraging for his favorite shelled nuts. I remembered all the times he'd offered his advice.

And I realized that as I got older he said less and less about how to handle things. He passed me on the way back to his chair, and there it was, the squeeze on the back of the neck. The one that said everything he couldn't.


Baby's Breath

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Genesis 2:7

Nineteen years ago, I was a new mother. I'd always wanted to have a child, but, like most new parents, I was somewhat surprised at how overwhelming it was to keep my baby happy twenty-four hours a day.

One particular evening, my little son had been overly fussy, and both of us were worn out from his crying. Finally, exhausted, I lay down on the couch with the baby stretched across my chest. Both baby and I fell fast asleep.

A while later, I awoke to the bright glow of the moon shining through the window. I opened my eyes to find this tiny body still sprawled across me, his little hands tightly clenching the sides of my shirt. His bow-shaped mouth was slightly open, and his sweet baby breath caressed my face with each rise and fall of his chest. His skin was translucent, and his dear face was the picture of innocence bathed in the moonlight.

Tears came to my eyes as I realized that this delicate child, nestled close, had truly stolen my heart. I felt wondrously blessed to have this precious son.

From that moment on, whenever I grew frustrated with my attempts to keep my child satisfied -- and, believe me, over the next nineteen years, there were many of those times -- I'd transport myself back to that perfect night, to feel again the soft weight of his warm body on mine and his light breath blowing across my face.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for those moments in our lives that we can cherish forever when our spirits are low. When you breathed the power of the Holy Spirit upon us, you enabled us to see things through your wondrous eyes. May we always remember to cherish those moments that take our breath away and restore our souls. Amen.


понедельник, 12 июля 2010 г.

The Shopping Trip

Every action in our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.
~Edwin Hubbel Chapin

"Jane, hurry and get your coat. We're going to the store."

I ran to do as my father instructed. A shopping trip with Dad was a rare treat. He traveled a great deal of the time, and I cherished the unexpected opportunity to be alone with him.

Once in the car, I asked, "Where are we going?"

Dad only smiled. "You'll see."

To my surprise, we didn't take the usual turn to the area's one department store. (This was in the pre-mall era.) Instead, we turned down an alley where small row houses lined the road. Dad parked the car, got out, and walked to the front door of the first house on the street.

Within a few minutes, he returned with Connor, a boy from our church.

I tried to hide my disappointment. I had wanted my father to myself. Now it looked as though I would have to share him with someone else.

"Hi, Connor," I mumbled, barely able to keep the resentment from my voice.

"Hi," he mumbled back. He looked as uncomfortable as I felt.

Dad drove to the store. Once inside, he steered us to the boys' clothing section. My indignation bubbled over. Not only did I have to share my dad, I had to endure looking at boring clothes for boys.

"Connor is going to receive his confirmation tomorrow," Dad said. "He'll need a suit to wear for the occasion."

Connor looked with wonder at the row of clothes.

Dad must have noticed my stiff posture for he drew me aside.

"We have an opportunity to help someone in need," he said in a quiet voice.
Finally, I understood and was ashamed at my lack of compassion. Connor came from a family of modest means where his single mother worked to provide for her four children. I guessed that Sunday clothes had no place in the budget.

With Dad's help, Connor chose a dark suit. I watched as Dad gently encouraged Connor to add a white shirt, tie, dress shoes, and socks. Connor's eyes grew wide as the purchases mounted.

"Th... thank you," he stuttered when we returned him home.

Dad smiled broadly. "You're welcome. And remember, this is our secret. Only your mother knows."

"Yes, sir."

"Thanks for coming with me," Dad said once Connor had gathered up his bags and run to the front door. "What if we stop and get a chocolate milkshake?"

I nodded, but without my customary eagerness for my favorite treat. I had a lot to think about. Other things began to make sense. I recalled holiday dinners where the table was filled with widows and others who were likely to be alone.

"Why," I had asked Dad at one time, "do we always have to invite those ladies to dinner? They never invite us to their houses."

Dad's answer has remained with me. "It's easy to invite those who can return the favor. Taking care of those who can't do something for us in return is the hallmark of love."

I didn't realize it at the time, but in those few words my father had given me the greatest definition of charity I would ever hear.


How I Found My Running Partner

Beware of the chair!
~Author Unknown

One morning I started to sweat. Profusely. Just sitting down. I would have attributed it to hot flashes, but I knew those were years away. The accompanying pain in my left arm was what made me ask a neighbor for a ride to the emergency room.

The heart attack was minor in nature, but a major scare. Who knew that a size 2 forty-year-old who ate plenty of veggies, hated junk food, and only ate lean meats would be a candidate for heart problems? After one night of observation in the emergency room I headed home.

My doctor blamed my sedentary lifestyle for my new health problems and told me I needed to get some daily exercise. He said that because I worked at home, I lacked the need to go out, walk around an office building, walk at lunch, run for trains, and all that. I simply walked from my bedroom each morning, headed to the kitchen for coffee, and walked about 35 feet to my office. Sometimes still in my jammies.

He told me to start running. Slowly at first, maybe 50 feet, stop, walk, rest, run another 50 feet. He told me perhaps I could run each day with my husband, an accomplished headstrong runner who could do five miles a day without even breathing hard. I knew for a fact that my husband would never allow me to accompany him and slow him down, but I was ready to promise my doctor anything in order to stop the lecture.

The following day, Karen, the neighbor who had driven me to the hospital, came over to check on me. I told her I had my marching orders, or rather, my walking orders. Karen knew how much I detested exercising and laughed at my predicament.

Then she said, "I have an idea! Roxy loves to go to the park!" Roxy was her nine-year-old Lab, and we were crazy about each other. I frequently took her for her afternoon walks when Karen was away on business. "With my travel schedule, I can't take her as often as I'd like. Why don't you take her?"

Before I could answer, we heard some barking. Our yards were connected by a two-way gate that Roxy had mastered. As we watched her padding across the lawn and up my back stairs, we were astonished to see that Roxy had somehow managed to find her leash and bring it with her! As she pranced through the kitchen door, she proudly wagged her tail as she dropped the leash at my feet, and extended her paw in a "high five."

"How did you get her to do this?" I asked Karen. The entire episode smelled of conspiracy! Karen, however, couldn't stop laughing and swore up and down she had nothing to do with this!
I picked up the leash and headed out the front door with Roxy in tow. She led me down the block to the park where she promptly took off like a wild bronco! Up, down, around bushes and trees, other dogs, other owners, hills, dales and doggy hydrants. I couldn't even get her to slow down enough so I could take her leash off! And she seemed to know exactly what she was doing. She had this all planned! I finally begged for mercy as I sweated, gulped for air, and headed to the bubbler.

As I walked her home, Roxy was calm and kept glancing over at me with what looked like concern. She would slow down, look up, and when I nodded to say, "I'm fine, girl," she'd pick up the pace a bit.

The following day I had a deadline I was certain I wouldn't meet. Being a freelance writer, this was my life. As I worked diligently, I heard Roxy barking out back. This was nothing unusual -- Roxy loved to bark at the neighborhood squirrels and kids coming home from school. But something made me get up this time and go look.

Sure enough -- here came Roxy, leash in her mouth, heading up my kitchen stairs! Same time as the day before! I was sure Karen had put her up to it this time, so figuring Karen was hiding in the bushes outside, I called her cell phone, knowing she'd pick up.

"Okay, lady, how on Earth did you train Roxy to do this?"

Karen seemed befuddled. "Huh?"

"The leash thing! She looks so cute sitting here with the leash in her mouth!" I explained.

"She's at your house? Good grief! She must have gone out the doggy door in the basement. I am at the grocery store and she was sleeping when I left!"

I just looked down at Roxy, and I knew. This was her idea. She knew how to help me. And she was doing it.

This routine went on for almost three years. Every day, rain or shine, Roxy showed up with her leash and barked at my kitchen door. I could set my clock by her: 3:00 on the dot, every day.

My doctor was thrilled and I was feeling wonderful. I actually toned up with all this running and chasing and doggy babysitting. I loved spending time with Roxy. It gave me something to look forward to each day.

Even though I wasn't officially "jogging," I was certainly doing my share of running! Maybe without form, but certainly with lots of purpose. Roxy would never let me take off her leash! She seemed to instinctively know I needed to be attached to her in order to get better! Many of our doggy dates ended up with a healthy frozen yogurt at the park, which I lovingly shared with her.

Then one morning my phone rang very early. Caller ID told me it was Karen, and my heart skipped a beat. No one calls at 6:00 with good news.

I picked up the phone and simply said, "What's wrong?"

She was crying. "Can you come over?"

I ran through the backyard in my robe and slippers, not knowing what I'd find. Karen opened her kitchen door for me.

"She's gone. I can't believe it. I tried to wake her for breakfast and she was cold. At least she died in her sleep; she didn't suffer like I thought she might. I didn't want to tell you, but she had a bad heart. It was a matter of time."

I looked at our beloved Roxy, all curled up in her warm cozy bed, peaceful and quiet -- with her leash next to her, ready for our afternoon outing. I couldn't help but think that maybe we managed to keep each other alive a little longer than was meant to be.

That was almost ten years ago. I still run, but this time I have my own Lab, Sally, a gift from my husband.

It's now Sally's job to put me through my paces at the doggy park, and she does a marvelous job. Each day as we walk out the front door, Sally barks once, and wags her tail, looking at the large white urn on the bookshelf. This is where Roxy's ashes are, in loving memory. As I see Sally bark at the urn each day, I can't help but wonder, "Does she know?"


A Father's Love

Nearly fifty years ago, during one of my summer college vacations, my father drove me to my favorite fishing spot at Candlewood Lake in western Connecticut. The winding country road paralleled a beautiful little stream, about thirty feet wide, which flowed into the lake. As I soaked up the passing scenery, I decided to tell him about an idea I had been visualizing for several weeks, even if he thought it was outrageous.

We had taken this route many times before and had established a now-familiar routine. My father would bring me to the lake, carry my wheelchair to an easy location at the water's edge and then carry me to my wheelchair. He'd make one more trip from the car to bring me my fishing rod, spinning reel and tackle box, which also contained my snack. My mother was sure I'd get hungry.

Despite my cerebral palsy, I had found unique ways to cast my lure between fifty and one hundred feet. The biggest trick was how to hang onto the line after releasing the bail, and then let go of it at the right moment while casting. Believe me, there was a lot of trial and error in the backyard before I finally got the technique just right.

Truthfully, I never cared whether I caught any fish or not. I wanted to be out in nature by myself for awhile, just like other people. My father, another nature lover, understood perfectly well and, by mutual agreement, he would leave me at the lake for three or four hours before returning to pick me up. Only once did he have to return earlier than planned because of a sudden downpour; I was pretty wet by the time he arrived, but it really didn't matter. In fact, it was fun.

But on this particular day I asked him to pull over to the side of the road where we could easily see the gently moving stream.

"See that big rock out there in the middle?" I asked him.

"That flat one?" my father asked.

I had a hunch he knew what I was going to ask next. "Yes. Do you think you could carry me out there?"

He laughed at first, then said, "Let me take a look." I watched him walk to the edge of the stream, scouting for a way to step from rock to rock without getting wet. Then he began stepping carefully across the water until he was on my desired location. Though getting there did not look easy, he didn't get wet and it was obvious, as he looked all around, that he enjoyed the short journey. When he came back to the car, he said, "So you really want to fish out there?"

"Yes, I'd love to. I've always envied guys who fish standing in the water up to their knees or higher in the middle of a fast-moving stream. Several weeks ago, when we drove by here, I noticed that rock and thought it looked perfect for me, if you can just get me out there."

"Well, I'm game if you are," he said. So we began our routine, but in a different location this time. I watched him set up my wheelchair in the middle of the rock, making sure to put the brakes on, a very necessary precaution, especially in this case. Then he came back for me. Truly, I was a little scared as we went from one small rock to another because he could not use his arms for balancing as needed, but we somehow made it across the water. We were both relieved when I was sitting safely in my chair. After bringing me my usual equipment, he said he would return in a couple of hours.

And then I was alone.

The sounds of the rushing water got louder and it seemed to flow faster, as if saying, "What are you doing out here?" But I knew it was only my imagination and some of my fear of being there all by myself. "What ifs" began popping into my consciousness: What if Moby Dick grabs my lure and pulls me off this rock? What if the water rises? What if someone sees me out here and calls the fire or police department to rescue me? I quickly told myself how silly I was being and started appreciating how awesome the site truly was.

I began fishing and noticed that I could let the water's current carry my lure away instead of me casting it. I liked that. Fishermen really don't want to work too hard. Reeling it back to me was easy, despite the tug of the current, and I soon felt wonderfully calm as my lure went out and back, out and back. It was a beautiful day, and time flew by.

My father came back for me a little early that afternoon, but it didn't matter. I hadn't caught a thing, except great personal satisfaction from fulfilling a small dream. I also gained an awareness of how much my father loved me. He demonstrated it many times throughout my life, willingly taking risks for me, so that I too might experience what everyone else does.


пятница, 2 июля 2010 г.

The Path of a College Entrepreneur

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

BY: Arthur Woods

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.
~Arthur Ashe

8:05 A.M. March 5, 2007: Washington, DC

Jumping down from the top bunk in my freshman dorm room, I feel a rush of excitement. Immediately I remember how early it is and that I should avoid waking my roommate. But there is so much to do! I need to call members of the team to confirm plans for today. I need to contact the farm and make sure all is organized for the truck to navigate through the narrow streets of Georgetown. Mark Toigo is personally driving the Toigo Orchards products down to supply our first delivery.

We have over eighty orders... not bad for the first day. Our group of eight should be able to handle those, right? But wait, Georgetown's off-campus deliveries might be harder. I'll call two friends to stand by as backups.

I need to brainstorm a solid marketing pitch for our service. When people see us carrying bags of fruit and ask, "What is Mission Three?" I need to be ready with the perfect explanation: "Mission Three is a fresh farm delivery service... and it's called Mission Three because our three values are Health, Environment, and Community." A month and a half ago, on the back of my pre-calculus notebook, I had drawn out ideas to create a partnership with local farmers and deliver their products to students. Now the concept is becoming reality.

10:07 A.M. August 3, 2007: Taipei, Taiwan

What on earth am I doing in Taiwan? It's so crazy to think that after six hours of work in the library, we wrote and submitted a fifty-page business plan to an international entrepreneurial contest. We are now presenting the company in our second foreign country this summer -- the only American team here, and one of the youngest.

With a slight glance back, I think to myself that the Mission Three booth looks so much better after the improvements we made. In Panama it was decent, but nothing like this... custom banners showing our values, a quality image backdrop of Toigo Orchards, M3 canvas bags, the three of us in M3 shirts and even some Taiwanese fruit to show our efforts to always "keep it local."

I'm nervous about presenting the company to a panel of Taiwanese judges. I was told that our holistic approach might not jive with Asian sentiments. Nevertheless, I'll be content regardless of the outcome. I'm so glad that Julia, our head of philanthropy, is here to do the presentation with me. We can't go wrong when speaking from the heart about helping local farmers and offering affordable, healthy products to students.

9:56 P.M. November 16, 2007: Washington, DC

Running up the red brick staircase near the center of campus, I feel overwhelmed. The thought of finishing my business stats homework for my 8 A.M. class doesn't faze me. Mission Three is what's really on my mind; especially the daunting thought of the meeting that I just left. I think about how well the Georgetown team has done since we moved to restructure the company, but how stressful the whole thing has been. We have maintained well over one hundred weekly subscribers to our service, but each team member has had a difficult time balancing challenging classes with coordinating a delivery service.

I think about how significant tonight's meeting was, for the simple reason that it adjourned with all of the team leaders' resignations. I had loaded them with too much work and too much responsibility. I had failed to spread out the workload down the chain.

I am concerned about next semester. What will we do? We have a great website. We have another location starting at Loyola. But this is our home base. We can't lose it. We can't throw in the towel. We have to make it work. I have to make it work.

I think back to a little over a month ago when a good friend from home passed away. I had to coordinate many people to fill the gap I left when I departed for the week. I remember how much I believe that a good leader should never ask of his workers what he would not do himself, but also that good leader should know how to delegate and teach others. I now realize the extent to which I have not done enough of the latter.

10:30 P.M. May 6, 2008: Washington, DC

Opening the grand doors of the McDonough School of Business boardroom, where Mission Three is now able to meet, optimism fills my mind as I see our team members gather around the table. I initiate a discussion about the new website for our newly branded delivery service. I think about the future of the service: our new Georgetown team, the one in Loyola, and my hopes to position the service so it can serve more students with more products.

Finally, I move to the last item on our agenda, the discussion of a new concept. After a few nights of passionate, philosophical conversations followed up by copious diagrams and charts to explain the idea, I try to present it simply: an ethical consulting service focused on the areas of Health, Environment, and Community. Looking around the room, I see mixed expressions -- excitement, confusion, and apathy. I decide to explain a bit more: it's an ethical auditing service, whereby students are trained as consultants to analyze businesses and work with the business owners to set goals for improvements and create transparency for consumers. The expressions around the room are now a bit more relaxed and pleasant. I take that as a sign that perhaps it could work.

5:14 P.M. October 2, 2008: Viña Del Mar, Chile

Sipping a cup of coffee with my Chilean host family, I think about the multiple Skype calls I need to make tonight. I'm eager to get started on work now, yet I haven't been able to spend a lot of quality time with the family. Also, I could use more practice speaking Spanish, so I'll stick around at the table a little longer.

My excitement stems from the three services now under Mission Three, each at different stages, everything strongly moving forward. M3E Consulting now has fifteen team members and after receiving an award grant, it recently finished consulting its fifth client. We're launching a new college bike rental program called BorrowBike, and I am now at the drawing board with a new long-term concept: the establishment of a DC-based entrepreneurial incubation program that will offer an incredible learning experience to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Yeah sure, with these three endeavors I'm logging in more hours to Gmail and less to sleep, but that is to be expected. As far as studying in Chile for the semester, I have no regrets. The rich experience of being abroad is proving to be cultural and engaging. In fact, being out of the country, I'm finally learning the thing I never did quite well enough before: how to delegate. Our three services have depended on it and this truly has become the team endeavor that I always hoped for.

I feel a sense of accomplishment and joy, having had this experience at such an early age. However, at times it has been hard to backtrack and just be a student when I feel as though the entrepreneurial world is calling. Purely from a time management perspective, I have been challenged and stressed. At times, I have sacrificed my studies for my business interests. At times, this has left me desperate to find a way out and wishing that I had created a less complicated college life.

When I started Mission Three, I knew that this endeavor would provide me a remarkable hands-on learning experience; it definitely has. I have learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined. There were times along the way when my passion, commitment, and endurance were tested. Times when things looked bleak and when I considered giving up. I'm glad that I didn't.

I have come to realize that a college entrepreneur follows a path with many twists and turns. The most valuable results are not what lie at the end of that path; they lie in the journey it takes to get there.


четверг, 1 июля 2010 г.

Stumbling on the Path

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women

BY: Gerri Kinley

He will not let your foot slip -- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
Psalm 121:3-4

Early one morning, I was driving my daughter, Abigail, to ballet class. As usual, her younger siblings had come along. During the entire drive, the back seat of my minivan became a literal war zone. My three "angels" screamed and bickered as if their lives depended upon how high the volume could get! To make matters worse, my yelling from the driver's seat to make them stop only added to the pandemonium. My mind began to slowly drift off into a dark cloud of misery and guilt.

"I'm such a failure," I thought. "What kind of mother am I? What did I do wrong to produce this atmosphere with my children?"

In my mind, I wanted to be someplace far away. Turning on the radio was the quickest means of escape.

"Are you a mother of three, ages six and under?" said a voice from the radio. I perked up! "Do you feel angry and frustrated trying to deal with the incessant whining and fighting of toddlers? Well, you're not alone, and my guest today has something to say to you."

The guest happened to be a Christian psychiatrist eager to relate his experiences as a father.

"Every Saturday morning," the doctor began, "I give my wife a break from our kids. She leaves early in the morning and returns about midday. During this time, I feed and play with my children and attempt to get them to do their chores. My whole morning is so saturated with sibling rivalry that I find myself yearning for my wife's return. You know, I would actually rather listen to suicidal patients for the rest of the afternoon than have to remain in my wife's shoes!"

I can't remember what words of wisdom transpired beyond that candid admission. The only thing that mattered was that another person was stumbling on the parenthood path like me -- and a professional, no less, whom I assumed had all the answers!

I realized that this was no coincidental chance meeting via the air waves. God graciously showered me with encouragement and affirmation through the honest words of a struggling dad. In a desperate moment, my hand turned on the radio, but it was God, in His infinite wisdom, who orchestrated the timing.


Courage in a Small and Furry Package

Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Cat

BY: Joanne Vukman

Fall seven times, stand up eight.
~Japanese Proverb

I got the call one day after school. My father had seen a little black and white kitten at the animal hospital where he used to work as a veterinarian before he started his own practice. It turned out the kitten and her mother were being fostered for the county animal shelter by a veterinarian technician. The mother cat had received a modified live virus distemper vaccine while pregnant. The vaccine infected the developing kittens. Only three were born live: one died later, one was suffering and had to be euthanized, and one was Penelope.

Penelope was about six weeks old when we took her, over my mother's protests that five cats were plenty. She couldn't be returned to the animal shelter, or she would be euthanized, and the woman fostering her couldn't have another cat. You see, Penelope was born with neurological damage that rendered her nearly unable to walk, or even to stand. Her hindquarters would randomly flip over her head, and she fell repeatedly. But she managed. She could always get where she wanted, even if it took her much longer than it would have taken a normal feline. She even had difficulty using the litter box, as she struggled to control her body long enough to do her business. Listening to her cry as she fought to hold still was heartbreaking, and more than once I steadied her. As she grew older, she learned to control her body. She was able to stand, and even to walk a dozen steps or more before falling.

Penelope was a comical cat. Watching her move, weaving from side to side, and seeing her jump up on beds and couches was always a surprise, since no one (including Penelope) knew where she would end up. It was not at all uncommon to see her smash into a wall or corner, or to miss her jump and land on the other side of a bed, rather than on top of it. We winced for her between our chuckles. The other cats didn't accept her, and never did. Only one tolerated her; the rest hissed and made it clear she was not welcome.

One would think that, in the face of all her adversity, Penelope would just give up and become a sullen, miserable cat. After all, she struggled to walk and jump, was almost always bruised from her crashes, and she was hated by her fellow felines. But she kept on going. She was a spunky, feisty, determined little cat. And she was little -- she matured at about six pounds, by far the smallest of our six cats. She held her own with the other cats and pushed around the dogs, all of whom were in the hundred pound range; she lived her life to the fullest. We soon gave up trying to keep her inside when it became clear she wanted nothing more than to enjoy the outdoors at will. Penelope lived her life to the fullest.

One day, a little less than a year and a half after that telephone call from my dad, we realized Penelope was not acting like herself. However, her lethargy was not terribly serious, and she did seem to have improved over the few hours we were watching her, so we didn't worry too much. Two days later, I called home from college to check on her. My mom answered my question "How's Nellie doing?" with the words "I was hoping you wouldn't call."

Penelope had died a little earlier. I listened to the details while holding back sobs. She had a bruised lung, bleeding in her chest, and other injuries, which we suppose were the result of being hit by a car. Those six pounds of black and white fur spoke volumes about courage in the face of adversity. She never cried about the pain she surely suffered every day as a result of her frequent falls. She never stopped trying to do what she wanted. She was a once-in-a-lifetime cat, the kind who can teach you more about life and bravery in a short year or two than the average person learns in a lifetime. Penelope was proof that a willing soul can do anything if it
just tries hard enough.