воскресенье, 28 апреля 2013 г.

Al Gore

45th Vice President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize winner; founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project

He has worked to bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, the rich and the poor — addressing issues that may separate us in order to unite us. ~Al Gore

There is a special grace about Billy Graham, a gentleness of spirit, a presence so filled with his love for God that one can almost immediately feel the depths of his devotion. Moreover, he has led while taking himself out of the message — allowing people to feel the power of God through his humility and to be touched not only by his words, but by his actions as well.
I grew up worshiping at a Baptist church, and later studied at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School. I believed then, as I do today, that the greater purpose of life is glorifying God. I deeply respect and admire Billy Graham as someone who has indeed dedicated his entire life to that purpose — glorifying God.

For Billy, glorifying God also means honoring His creation. I once had a private dinner with Billy, where we talked for several hours about the global environment crisis and our shared belief that the earth is a creation of God, and to that end, we must be good stewards to insure that the planet is nurtured and protected. As he has explained, "The very first verse of the Bible says, 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth' (Genesis 1:1). When we see the world as a gift from God, we will do our best to take care of it and use it wisely, instead of poisoning or destroying it. We don't worship the earth; instead, we realize that God gave it to us, and we are accountable to Him for how we use it."

When I was given a tour of the Billy Graham Library, his son Franklin likewise spoke about the environmental concern that he shares with his father. "As a Christian," Franklin said, "I am concerned about the planet that God has given to us. We have a responsibility to live on this earth and respect what He has given to us." Billy's Scripture-based interest in environmental issues was the basis for a workshop that we held here in Nashville, with 200 Christian ministers and lay leaders.

I have met many people of great power and celebrity during the course of my lifetime; yet, there has always been a special quality about Billy Graham. Billy's love for God, which he says must extend to all people — to all of God's creatures, and to the world that He has provided so that we may live in faith, health, and harmony — is a message that he has preached to millions across the planet — regardless of race, culture, nationality, ideology, or religion. He has worked to bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, the rich and the poor — addressing issues that may separate us in order to unite us.

Simply put, Billy Graham is a man of integrity who has answered God's call to preach a message of inclusion and compassion so that we might cherish one another and the world in which we all live.

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The Unforgotten

By Terri Elders

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
~Albert Einstein

I've never been much of a believer in the supernatural, but my late husband, Ken Wilson, definitely was. Though he disdained stories about zombies and mummies, or werewolves and vampires, tales of psychic phenomena thoroughly mesmerized him.

For years he'd collected books on astral projection, parapsychology, telepathy, hauntings and possessions. He subscribed to Fate Magazine, and read it from cover to cover. And aside from Westerns, his favorite movie was Ghost, with The Sixth Sense running a close second. Ken didn't espouse any particular religion, but I've always felt that if there had been a Spiritualist church nearby, he would have been a regular.

A few years ago, Ken was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he took the news with astonishingly good humor.

"I'm ready to visit the other side," he said, and then proceeded to regale me with yarns about how he'd come back to haunt me and both of his beloved dogs.

"There's no good reason not to believe in an afterlife," he explained. "Harry Houdini did, Arthur Conan Doyle did, and I do, too. I'll find a way. I may not communicate directly, but I'm certain I'll be able to let you know I'm still around and thinking of you."

"Just don't do anything too spooky," I pleaded. "I don't want howls and squeaks coming off the walls of the bedroom. You know what a scaredy cat I am. I didn't sleep for a week after we watched The Blair Witch Project."

"I wouldn't want to frighten you, baby, but I do want you to remember me and that I'm not completely gone. My body might not be there, but my spirit will be."

The morning he died, I thought about what he'd promised. I'd heard that recent widows often feel the presence of their departed spouses in the corridors. But all morning our house felt completely empty as I wandered its rooms and hallways, wondering if I'd ever find the time and energy to clear Ken's clothes from the closets.

Then that afternoon, the dogs escaped. The young man who had come to mow our lawn absentmindedly had left a gate open. Ordinarily when the pair broke loose they'd be gone for hours, but this time the dogs dragged themselves home in less than thirty minutes. And though they usually head for the river and a swim, this time their fur remained completely dry. Nonetheless, they both plopped down on the tiled entryway, acting as exhausted as if they'd swum the English Channel. They stared at me with the most sheepish expression that a pair of canine faces can assume. I suddenly believed Ken had tracked them down, scolded them and sent them home. Moreover, the house no longer felt so empty. Ken's spirit had returned.

Not long after, a writer and editor acquaintance launched a new career as a psychic. He knew I'd been recently widowed, and offered me a telephone consultation. He told me that Ken's spirit indeed was present on my property, and that it frequently walked around the backyard with the dogs. I believe that's why Natty, who was particularly attached to Ken, lies out there for hours looking blissfully zoned out. He especially demands to go out at twilight and comes in only reluctantly when I'm ready for bed.

Ken had reminded me of Houdini's avowal to contact people from beyond. I don't think I've ever heard that the magician managed to succeed. But twice in the couple of years since Ken's death, I've found books overturned from the case that's adjacent to my writing desk in the family room.

The first incident, about a month after Ken's death, involved Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter. Ken and I met this Northeast Washington writer when he came to our local Colville library to give a talk. Ken had accompanied me when my book group dined with Walter before his presentation. This was a book Ken had read and an author he had met. I shivered as I set the book back in place.

Then about a year later I spied a second book on the floor, apparently knocked loose from the same bookcase. This time it was Faye Kellerman's The Forgotten. Both of us had been fans of this novelist, and had frequently discussed her mysteries. I couldn't help but reflect on the title of this particular book as I tucked it back into place. Some time had elapsed since my husband's death. Could he be sending me a message from beyond that he worried I'd begun to forget him?

I'm not certain I'm ready yet to declare myself a believer in psychic phenomena, but this is the kind of spooky coincidence that Ken adored. I've always doubted there's any literal heaven populated by angels and filled with harps and fluffy clouds. But Ken was convinced that some aspect of the human personality or mind survives death and continues to exist on a spirit plane. As for me, I've always believed in the power of prayer. So that night I said a special prayer for my very special late husband.

I asked that he be guaranteed that he's not forgotten. Not now. Not ever. I prayed he'd be reassured that his portrait still hangs in our bedroom, and informed that I've also put up the framed maps of ancient Briton that he never got around to displaying.

I added that I'd weed around his Asian lilies the next afternoon and sprinkle them with deer repellent. I vowed that on his birthday I'd haul down his special ceramic cup and pour him a brandy Manhattan and place it by the lilies. I wanted him to know that I'd think of something special to commemorate him on what would have been our tenth anniversary.

Finally, I conveyed that I'd continue to write about him and our life together. Ken Wilson wouldn't be forgotten at all. He'd live on in my stories, just as his spirit continues to inhabit our home. He'd be eternally "The Unforgotten."

Every morning I still cast a hopeful glance at the floor in front of the bookcase. I would be neither surprised nor frightened if I received yet another message from heaven, wherever and whatever it may be.
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Every Little Bit Helps

By Laura Dean

There is hope if people will begin to awaken that spiritual part of themselves, that heartfelt knowledge that we are caretakers of this planet.
~Brooke Medicine Eagle

The holiday season was coming to a close and the new year was approaching quickly. I was so pleased with the resolution my family and I had made at the beginning of this year and especially proud that we were actually able to keep it. For the past year we had made an effort to go green and, looking back, I knew we were pretty successful.
Last year we began recycling all of our glass, paper, plastic, and aluminum cans. We changed all light bulbs throughout our home to those energy saving bulbs; we stopped purchasing bottled water and began using SIG bottles. In addition, we made it a point to use reusable bags when grocery shopping; even taking my reusable bags to the mall.

One of the best things we did was to subscribe to a service called Green Dimes. For a small fee, Green Dimes will stop all that annoying junk mail that arrives in the mailbox and use part of the fee they charge to plant trees in the community. Just think of all of the trees we helped save and all of the trees we helped to plant!

Although I was proud of all the changes we had already made, I felt that we could take it a step further for the new year and do more. I was especially interested in teaching my kids, who could always use a good lesson in giving back, to become more involved in learning how important it is to take care of the environment. I began thinking about ways I could further the connection. It took awhile for it to come to me but when it did I was inspired and excited about it.

I figured that, in our own way, we were already giving back to Mother Earth. But wouldn't it be great if we could give more to organizations that support causes which help the less fortunate around the world? What I decided to do was take the money we earned from recycling our aluminum cans, glass, and plastic and give it to charity. We would give to a different charity each time we collected the cash when we turned in our recyclables.

My seven-year-old son, Brayden, would even be able to join in, as he was responsible for sorting the items and taking them to the recycling center with me. I wanted him to become even more involved, and so I decided that he would help me decide which charity to support. He could help to do the research about the various charities on the Internet. Because we cashed in our recyclable items every month or so, we wouldn't have a large lump sum; but I loved the idea of teaching my son that it doesn't matter how much you give; what matters is that you give. The smallest donation can make a difference.

As this year comes to a close we are all proud of the steps we have taken to make a difference. And next year, although the dollar amount won't be huge, we will be doing our part to help the environment and make this world a better place. All of the changes we make don't have to be huge, but if everyone became involved, just think of the difference we could make.

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The Unforgotten

By Terri Elders

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
~Albert Einstein

I've never been much of a believer in the supernatural, but my late husband, Ken Wilson, definitely was. Though he disdained stories about zombies and mummies, or werewolves and vampires, tales of psychic phenomena thoroughly mesmerized him.
For years he'd collected books on astral projection, parapsychology, telepathy, hauntings and possessions. He subscribed to Fate Magazine, and read it from cover to cover. And aside from Westerns, his favorite movie was Ghost, with The Sixth Sense running a close second. Ken didn't espouse any particular religion, but I've always felt that if there had been a Spiritualist church nearby, he would have been a regular.

A few years ago, Ken was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he took the news with astonishingly good humor.

"I'm ready to visit the other side," he said, and then proceeded to regale me with yarns about how he'd come back to haunt me and both of his beloved dogs.

"There's no good reason not to believe in an afterlife," he explained. "Harry Houdini did, Arthur Conan Doyle did, and I do, too. I'll find a way. I may not communicate directly, but I'm certain I'll be able to let you know I'm still around and thinking of you."

"Just don't do anything too spooky," I pleaded. "I don't want howls and squeaks coming off the walls of the bedroom. You know what a scaredy cat I am. I didn't sleep for a week after we watched The Blair Witch Project."

"I wouldn't want to frighten you, baby, but I do want you to remember me and that I'm not completely gone. My body might not be there, but my spirit will be."

The morning he died, I thought about what he'd promised. I'd heard that recent widows often feel the presence of their departed spouses in the corridors. But all morning our house felt completely empty as I wandered its rooms and hallways, wondering if I'd ever find the time and energy to clear Ken's clothes from the closets.

Then that afternoon, the dogs escaped. The young man who had come to mow our lawn absentmindedly had left a gate open. Ordinarily when the pair broke loose they'd be gone for hours, but this time the dogs dragged themselves home in less than thirty minutes. And though they usually head for the river and a swim, this time their fur remained completely dry. Nonetheless, they both plopped down on the tiled entryway, acting as exhausted as if they'd swum the English Channel. They stared at me with the most sheepish expression that a pair of canine faces can assume. I suddenly believed Ken had tracked them down, scolded them and sent them home. Moreover, the house no longer felt so empty. Ken's spirit had returned.

Not long after, a writer and editor acquaintance launched a new career as a psychic. He knew I'd been recently widowed, and offered me a telephone consultation. He told me that Ken's spirit indeed was present on my property, and that it frequently walked around the backyard with the dogs. I believe that's why Natty, who was particularly attached to Ken, lies out there for hours looking blissfully zoned out. He especially demands to go out at twilight and comes in only reluctantly when I'm ready for bed.

Ken had reminded me of Houdini's avowal to contact people from beyond. I don't think I've ever heard that the magician managed to succeed. But twice in the couple of years since Ken's death, I've found books overturned from the case that's adjacent to my writing desk in the family room.

The first incident, about a month after Ken's death, involved Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter. Ken and I met this Northeast Washington writer when he came to our local Colville library to give a talk. Ken had accompanied me when my book group dined with Walter before his presentation. This was a book Ken had read and an author he had met. I shivered as I set the book back in place.

Then about a year later I spied a second book on the floor, apparently knocked loose from the same bookcase. This time it was Faye Kellerman's The Forgotten. Both of us had been fans of this novelist, and had frequently discussed her mysteries. I couldn't help but reflect on the title of this particular book as I tucked it back into place. Some time had elapsed since my husband's death. Could he be sending me a message from beyond that he worried I'd begun to forget him?

I'm not certain I'm ready yet to declare myself a believer in psychic phenomena, but this is the kind of spooky coincidence that Ken adored. I've always doubted there's any literal heaven populated by angels and filled with harps and fluffy clouds. But Ken was convinced that some aspect of the human personality or mind survives death and continues to exist on a spirit plane. As for me, I've always believed in the power of prayer. So that night I said a special prayer for my very special late husband.

I asked that he be guaranteed that he's not forgotten. Not now. Not ever. I prayed he'd be reassured that his portrait still hangs in our bedroom, and informed that I've also put up the framed maps of ancient Briton that he never got around to displaying.

I added that I'd weed around his Asian lilies the next afternoon and sprinkle them with deer repellent. I vowed that on his birthday I'd haul down his special ceramic cup and pour him a brandy Manhattan and place it by the lilies. I wanted him to know that I'd think of something special to commemorate him on what would have been our tenth anniversary.

Finally, I conveyed that I'd continue to write about him and our life together. Ken Wilson wouldn't be forgotten at all. He'd live on in my stories, just as his spirit continues to inhabit our home. He'd be eternally "The Unforgotten."

Every morning I still cast a hopeful glance at the floor in front of the bookcase. I would be neither surprised nor frightened if I received yet another message from heaven, wherever and whatever it may be.

http://www.chickensoup.com

The Gift of the Penguins

By Kathy Melia Levine

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.
~Anthony Brandt

How do you say goodbye to your mother after she's given you a lifetime of love? I had well over a year to come up with an answer to that question after she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Would my goodbye take the form of a letter? A party to celebrate her life? A simple but profound conversation? Or something more lighthearted, like a scrapbook filled with eighty-three years of stories and photos? Turns out I didn't need to plan a thing. When the heat in her building broke down one cold winter day, I found an opportunity for a mother/daughter event that brought us closer in an unexpected way.
She was frail during that last winter and I knew that even a few hours in an ice-cold apartment wouldn't do her any good. So although she'd been housebound for many months — and preferred sleeping in her own bed — she reluctantly agreed to come to my house and spend the night.

For some families, this might be routine. But in the thirty-five years since I'd left home, my mother had never once slept at my house. Our family was big — and the last time I had a chunk of time alone with her was when I stayed home sick from school. Much as I loved her, I couldn't help but wonder what in the world I would do with her. Would we play cards? Sit around and chat about old times? I decided to rent a movie to keep her entertained. As I walked through the aisles of the rental store, I rejected the off-color comedies, erotic romances, and bloody thrillers. When I came upon the wildlife documentary, March of the Penguins, I had a hunch I'd found the right diversion.

Mom didn't seem particularly delighted with my choice at first. But once I set her up on the couch with pillows and a blanket — in the same way she'd cared for me years earlier — she immersed herself in the story. And what a tale it was! The documentary followed a colony of Emperor penguins during their perilous rites of starting a family. Each year, hundreds of them march in single file through the brutal terrain of Antarctica to the breeding grounds where they conduct their mating rituals. The pairing off is instant, instinctive and destined to last for a lifetime. Soon after the choice is made, the female penguin lays a single egg and passes it on to her partner for safekeeping while she takes on more pressing tasks.

My mother and I watched in awe as one male penguin began the challenge of protecting his precious bundle, balancing the huge egg between his feet and stomach for months, enduring icy winds and frigid temperatures over 100 degrees below zero. Did I mention that the father-to-be couldn't eat throughout this entire period? Hundreds of other male penguins were in the same situation, huddling together and defying the odds to keep each other warm. My mom laughed as she recalled how my dad — though he loved his five daughters — couldn't even change a diaper! As the drama continued, we saw the mother penguin begin her arduous journey to the sea in treacherous conditions to stock up on fish for herself and her family. When she finally returned months later, she instantly spotted her partner from among the hundreds of penguins waiting — and recognized the call of her newly hatched chick.

Once the movie was over, the beauty of the story moved us to talk about the joys, the struggles and the occasional heartbreaks that come with raising a family. Though my parents never faced the menacing conditions of Antarctica, they too had their challenges. Finding the perfect partner, making a lasting commitment to each other, taking on the sometimes harsh responsibilities of raising children weren't always easy. But with family, there were always rewards.

On the first — and last — night my mother slept in my home, we settled in the comfort of those lasting rewards. For a unique tale set in ice-cold Antarctica had reminded us of the soothing warmth of family, as it melted the chilling fears that ruffled our hearts.

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From Seeing Eye to Saying Bye

By Connie Greenshields

Maybe part of loving is learning to let go.
~From the television show The Wonder Years

"I could never give him up" is the most common phrase all puppy raisers hear, and I heard it from friends, family, and total strangers. I responded with the same answer that Puppy Raising Supervisor Donna Luchak gave me two years earlier when she first interviewed us: "We wouldn't want our puppies going to anyone who could easily give them up."
With that in mind, my family and I dove into our first puppy-raising experience with Alberta Guide Dog Services. Dudley was the cutest little Golden Retriever puppy we had ever seen. Over the next seventeen months, we poured our hearts and souls into helping Dudley prepare to become a full-fledged seeing-eye dog.

Dudley was a typical puppy. Despite our constant supervision, he managed to swallow washcloths and socks in a matter of seconds, leading to sleepless nights and many trips outside to "Get Busy," the command that encourages him to go to the bathroom. At our neighborhood block party Dudley took advantage of me talking to everyone about him and snuck a beer bottle cap into his mouth. Of course, I didn't notice until it was too late and watched it glow menacingly at me on an X-ray. While Dudley had emergency surgery that night, I should have capitalized on my first chance to sleep through the night in months. Instead, I lay awake, worrying that I would be the first puppy raiser to ever kill a puppy in training.

As part of his training, Dudley and I were constant companions. He came to the dentist, grocery store, sporting events, dance lessons, and many visits to my kids' school. Everywhere we went people would say "Hi Dudley!" Dudley learned to stop and sit at every door, curb, and stairway — important lessons for a future guide dog. He learned to ignore sudden noises, like a dentist's drill, car horns, or electric guitar riffs, and to stay focused on his "work." Of course, when his training cape came off, Dudley had lots of fun, and especially loved romping at the local off-leash park with our Golden Retriever, Bogey. As Dudley had to come everywhere with us, he sometimes cramped our lifestyle, and parts of me yearned for the freedom I had before committing to this 24/7 volunteer position.

After seventeen months, Dudley was ready for advanced training with a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor in Vancouver, British Columbia. Once I got "the call" that Dudley was leaving my family, I realized that none of us, including me, could be there when he left. Dudley was very attached to me and became upset every time someone tried to take him from me. He never allowed anyone else at puppy class to be his handler. I knew that seeing Dudley try and fight his way back to me would be heartbreaking. So I came up with a plan. I got everyone out of the house while Donna, the trainer, who Dudley knew and trusted the most, came and got him. Dudley was happy to go with her, and we did not have to endure a painful goodbye. We came home to an empty house and newfound freedom.

Everything went according to plan. My job was done and Dudley was settling nicely into his new home. After a few weeks though, something came over us. My children began to miss him, and I had to admit that I did too. Was he going to come back to us? Some puppies don't make the cut and are allowed to return to their puppy raiser as a pet. Would we ever see him again? I knew that if Dudley was successful, I would be given the opportunity to conduct a blindfolded walk with him to see firsthand how well he turned out. So for the next three months, my goal became to see Dudley one last time. I realized that I needed that closure, that chance to say goodbye that I denied both of us.

After four months, I received an e-mail that Dudley was about to graduate as a full-fledged guide dog. Before he went to his new home though, I was invited to do the blindfolded walk. I quickly responded that I would love to come, much to the surprise of the trainers. I was the first puppy raiser in Alberta to have ever done this. Alberta Guide Dog Services' puppy raising program had only started two years earlier, with Dudley being one of their first dogs.

Jaime Arnup, the head trainer at British Columbia Guide Dog Services, met me at the airport. Dudley obediently sat so I could greet him. He didn't realize at first who I was, but once I got down to hug him, he knew me. In fact, when I stood up, he heeled right around beside me as if to say, "Where've you been? Let's go!" Jaime attempted to take over Dudley's leash, but since she wasn't his usual trainer, he wanted me to be the one holding his leash — just like it always had been.

I spent about twenty minutes in a blindfold, with Dudley in his special harness expertly leading me on sidewalks, through crosswalks, up and down curbs, up stairs, through doorways, around parked cars, through a busy mall, and ultimately to a chair at the coffee shop, a place he's apparently quite familiar with. Jaime provided commentary so I knew what Dudley was doing, and thankfully, was able to video this encounter so I could share it back home.

Soon, it was time to go. Even though it had only been a few hours, the past four months had been erased. We were a team again, and I knew that the trip back home would be emotional. As Jaime pulled away at the airport, I could see Dudley jostling for position with the other training dogs in the back of the van so he could see me. The look in his eyes said "Why are you leaving me again?" but I think deep down he knew why I had to go. After all that planning so I could avoid this final goodbye, it happened anyway.

My tears fell fast and furious, to the point where a security officer at the airport asked me if I was okay. "Yes," I replied. I was more than okay. I was beyond proud. I had finally seen what all those months of hard work had led to. I could finally imagine what he was going to mean to his future owner, even though I only experienced twenty minutes of blindness. And I finally had proper closure. Good luck Dudley. We'll miss you.

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A Hug with No Arms

By Carrie Malinowski

Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.
~Jacques Prévert

When our boy was born, he didn't gaze at faces the way I'd seen other babies do with their mommies. He cried for hours. Being held close in a soft blanket did not soothe him. Neither did music, gentle bouncing, a clean diaper, or a bottle. He'd refused to nurse, struggling away from my skin. We were blessed with a baby who seemed not to love us. I had a constant fear that something was wrong.
Family advice didn't help. They insisted we were just nervous first-time parents and the baby was fine, or that he'd outgrow it when he could talk instead of fuss, or that it was my fault for painting the nursery when I was pregnant. I'd stenciled teddy bears around the baseboards to welcome him home.

Our boy had a cherub's face, big blue eyes and soft pudgy cheeks. He pronounced simple words, but my "Say mama..." brought silence. I gave him a dollhouse, hoping to interest him in playing family. The doll's plastic cradle had a battery-operated voice that called out, "Mama." Our boy imitated the high-pitched, strangely automated sound. It was better than nothing but not enough for me.

He caught the flu as a toddler. Small and feverish, he let me hold him on my lap for almost an hour. I breathed his precious smell while his warm weight lay against my heart.

At age four, our boy was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Though I'd suspected a problem, the autism spectrum wasn't the one I wanted to hear. I tried to love it out of him with sweet words and extra snuggling. He'd squirm away, shouting, "That's too much!"

He showed no sadness when our dog died, but wept huge rolling tears when I bought orange Jell-O. He preferred old T-shirts and sweat pants from the thrift store, clothes already worn thin by someone else's child. He chattered endlessly, but only about Legos and the tractors he made. Even after working with doctors and therapists, his heart seemed unreachable.

Instead of anticipating the joy a milestone gift would bring, my husband and I learned to cringe. Our boy threw screaming, red-faced fits at the sight of his new tricycle, the scooter he'd asked for, his birthday skates. Parenthood wasn't supposed to be like this.

Things got a little better in kindergarten. While he still didn't like faces, he looked at the hem of my dress one morning, and declared, "A good mom wears a skirt." It was high praise.

I worried, though, that he wouldn't sit close to me or smile when I smiled. He didn't show love. My deeper fear was that he didn't feel it either. When I'd drop him off at school, I'd hear kids call to their mothers, "Love you, Mom!" Our boy would slam the car door without looking back, no matter how many times I asked him for a quick wave. He didn't seem to have the cuddly kid gene.

Eventually, I resigned myself to his distance and odd preferences, the emptiness of the house.

As a young teenager, he suddenly asked for a "hug with no arms" meaning that we would stand next to each other without touching, without our eyes meeting, and silently agree we were hugging. I was stunned down to my toes. He wanted affection, but a glass prison window stood between us. I cherished anything he had to give.

One evening, after a stress-filled day at work, I sat at the kitchen table wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. My husband listened while I poured out the day. I spotted our boy lurking around the corner. He was an expert eavesdropper.

To unwind, I mixed up a batch of molasses cookies. The smell of cinnamon and the oven's warmth gave me a coziness I needed, but I began to dread our boy's reaction. He despised molasses cookies, the chewiness and the gritty sugar on his fingers. In the past, he'd yelled or stormed out when I made any cookie besides chocolate chip.

Tonight, however, he walked into the kitchen and picked up a stack of five cookies, wiping his sugary fingers on his jeans. He glanced into my eyes and looked away. Then he leaned near me in an armless hug.

"These are my favorite cookies, Mom."

He was lying. He hated molasses cookies. What he did with them, I'll never know. I'm sure he didn't eat them. But he must have planned to comfort me. His words were a hug.

He will likely never throw his arms around me, but I've come to understand what our boy must have known all along. A hug, even without arms, and a few carefully chosen words can fill a hole in the heart.

I leaned close and said, "I love you, too."

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Larry King

Broadcast journalist and interviewer, host of CNN's nightly Larry King Live
for twenty-five years

With Billy, what you see is what you get. He walks the walk. ~Larry King

Not long ago I received a wonderful letter from Billy. He sent me a copy of his newest book and wrote the following:
My Dear Larry:

I have been mulling over for a couple of weeks what to say after hearing news reports that may or may not be true. If I heard it correctly, you were quoted saying that your biggest fear is death because you don't know where you're going, and that you want to be frozen when you die to be brought back later. Of course I don't know exactly what you said but I couldn't let it go by without writing to you at this very special time of the year, when Hanukah begins tomorrow and Christmas this weekend.

Our friendship goes back a very long way. We've enjoyed many interesting conversations and interviews together, so I hope you will take this with the affection with which it is intended. A card I just received quoted Proverbs 30:4.

Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped the waters in his garments? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, or his son's name? Surely you know.

From our conversations together you know my belief in Almighty God and His son Jesus Christ and my commitment to Him. Now that you are retired a little, I would urge you to make it a priority to ponder this important question a little more deeply.

With warmest affection,

Billy

P.S. I'm enclosing my new book, a current bestseller in The New York Times. I tried to inscribe it to you. Please excuse the dreadful handwriting.
The signature, "Love, Billy," is really scratchy!

The letter is typical Billy. He cares about me; he's concerned about me; and he always tried to get me to share his beliefs, which I did not. But that has not affected my friendship with him or my respect for him.

As to what happens after death, and what happens to Jews like me, Billy says he doesn't judge it. He says that the person at death may find Christ, but he doesn't know what happens at death, and while he believes his route is the Route he would not make judgments on other people. This, of course, is contradictory. You're saying it's the Route but you're not making judgments about other people. So I would question him, and always with pleasure since I liked him so much. I'd say, "Billy, are you saying Jews are going to hell?" And he would reply something like, "No, I'm not saying that because I don't know what happens to them at their death."

It's an awfully difficult question for evangelists, "born agains," and true Christians to answer, so he answered it as best he could. In fact, I just don't think he knows. He believes what he believes. I firmly believe he is not afraid of death, and there's no charlatan aspect to Billy. I respect him but I don't share his beliefs.

What I like and respect about Billy are his gentleness and his intelligence and his understanding, his grasp of things. He would have been a success at anything. He could have been a very successful politician, broadcaster, storyteller. He was a great, great presenter. The purpose of a speech is either to entertain or move the audience or take them in your direction, and he certainly did that well. So I think he is an extraordinary guy.

Like some politicians and people in the entertainment world, he has a lot of charisma. He's outgoing, he relates well, he cares. People are attracted to him for those reasons. He changes a room when he walks in. His size, his voice, his warmth, they all have an effect. Some people have that quality. Bill Clinton does, for example. I've interviewed hundreds of world leaders and celebrities during my time as the host of Larry King Live on CNN for over twenty-five years. I've seen how some people change a room simply by being in it. Billy is one of those guys. He's a little stooped over now, not the same person he was physically, but in his prime he was a handsome man. Wonderful voice.

Charisma such as that is unexplainable. I know it when I see it. It is what it is, and you either have it or you don't. You can't give it to someone. You can't teach someone how to be charismatic. It's just one of those things that life presents you. Billy would think that it is God Who gave it to you. I have no idea about that. I just don't know.

Billy told me he thought I was very spiritual, and that while I may not think there is a God, that God really loves me and God put me on this earth to do what I did and be successful at it, and He was an instrument in my life. It makes you think when someone says that to you, even though I don't believe it. Although I was raised in a religious home, I don't believe in God. Jews are taught to question. That's one of the things I loved about Judaism. But the more I questioned, the less I knew. I got no answers. My rabbi didn't tell me he understood why the Holocaust happened. Too many people say, we do not question the ways of the Lord. One of the best things a rabbi said to me was "It doesn't matter if there is a God or not. Just do good in the world." To me, if you're going somewhere you're going somewhere. If you're not, you're not. The only thing I know is that I don't know.

Billy has always been kind to me. He flew here to come to my wedding, not to officiate but just to be at the ceremony. He's been on my show a multitude of times, radio and television. He never turned me down. I've never known a moment of him being ungracious.

The unhappiest and saddest moment for me was when I confronted him over the anti-Semitic conversation he had with President Nixon that was uncovered after the White House tapes were released. Nixon said, "Well, you know, the Jews..." and Billy said, "Yes..." I asked him about that, and he said that the toughest thing, if you were in a room with a president, and a president said something, is to take issue with him. So you either said yes or you nodded your head or suchlike. I didn't agree with Billy on this. For me, you don't say yes. I wouldn't have said yes. That disappointed me.

Having said that, there were many positives in his dealings with Presidents. He helped deepen the faith of George W. Bush when, many years before he became President, George had lost his way. Billy met with him and turned him around. Billy brought Nixon and John F. Kennedy together after the presidential election in 1960. Billy knew both Kennedy and Nixon pretty well. He was cautious about President Kennedy's Catholicism but after a while came round on that. He liked Jimmy Carter's faith, and he liked the Reagans very much, too.

As his recent letter shows, Billy has kept in touch with me over the years. He would always send me little remembrances; every book he wrote he sent me autographed. I would hear from him upon other occasions too — wishing me the best on my birthday or when I got an award, such as going into a hall of fame. Any good thing that happened to me along the road, I usually heard from Billy. He is very sweet, very genuine. With Billy, what you see is what you get. He walks the walk.

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The Heart of Emily

By Stephanie Scharaga Winnick

Optimism is the foundation of courage.
~Nicholas Murray Butler

Emily did not look like other infants when she was born. She had a distinct appearance facially, standing out among the other babies in the hospital. She was born with Apert Syndrome, which affects physical appearance in several ways. I was first introduced to many of the facts of this rare syndrome when Emily's mother came in to speak to me a few days before first grade. I began to feel a bond with Emily before meeting her because of the window her mother had opened, allowing me to get a sense of this remarkable child. I was also absorbing the very essence of Emily's mother's strength and wisdom as we spoke.
Emily had experienced sixteen operations by the age of six. Typically, children with Apert Syndrome are born with webbed fingers and toes. One of the surgeries Emily endured was to separate her fingers so that she could hold pencils, utensils, and other objects, despite not having knuckles with which to bend her appendages. Her face did not grow proportionally because she was born without an opening in her skull. This young child was all too familiar with hospitals, their procedures, and personnel.

Now Emily found herself in a new school, a different classroom, with unfamiliar classmates and adults. This amazing child required an aide to assist her with physical and academic tasks, though our goal was to help her achieve as much independence as possible. She located her name on a desk just as the other children did. The students had to follow my directions to empty their school bags and place supplies where directed. I noticed a little girl's startled expression as she focused on Emily. Emily smiled at the child and the little girl smiled back. Such incidents recurred during the day with Emily repeatedly rewarding a different classmate with a smile, a little wave, or both. Never did a student in my class question me about this kind, sweet, happy child or treat her unkindly. In fact, my classroom was a place in which we were all enriched by Emily's presence.

The first time my teaching aide had to leave the room, a child jumped up and asked if she could help Emily. This girl stood over Emily, dotting words and sentences for her to trace, exactly as her aide did each morning. My classroom was set up in tables, four to five desks making a table. Emily and this classmate did not sit at the same table yet she knew exactly how to help. She even whispered words of encouragement and praise. When the assistant returned, the precious little helper quietly returned to her seat.

Another time, two of the more lively boys in our class jumped up shouting out that they would like to be Emily's helpers. I allowed it and witnessed incredible changes come over the two. Each calmed down, gently helping Emily until the return of the aide. One morning a little girl who often had trouble concentrating on her work because she was very interested in what everyone else was doing was the first to ask to help Emily. As always, I responded, "Of course!" This child assisted Emily by helping her to count and add. Their collaboration met with success. And the other child managed to get all her work done, without looking to see what others had written on their papers. A cute redheaded girl often stared into space rarely completing required tasks. Despite this fact, this smart-as-a-whip, freckle-faced child was usually right on the mark when answering questions. Then one day she volunteered to help Emily. The girls hugged each other at the completion of the task, having remained focused the entire time.

During parent conferences I learned what some of the children shared with their parents. A very advanced first-grader who sat next to Emily spoke of her at home. His dad told me that his son explained that it was difficult for others to understand her but that he could understand everything she said. The parents did not know that Emily was special until they met her at a school function. Another parent told me that her son expressed that Emily was the prettiest girl in the class. A single dad told me his son repeatedly asked to have a play date with her. And he did! Indeed, many of the children had play dates with Emily.

Then came that day in March when Emily's mom told me she was to have facial surgery. Our blond sunshine would be out of school from the end of April through the remainder of the school year. In addition to being extremely apprehensive for Emily, I was deeply concerned about the other students. I had to explain her absence and clarified that Emily needed an operation on her face to help her feel more comfortable when speaking and sleeping. I was asked many logical questions. "Did it hurt?" "Can she speak?" "Will she come back?"

Emily's hospital conduct further illustrated her exceptional bravery. Her parents related how she walked into the hospital wheeling her pink carry-on filled with special photographs, letters, stuffed animals, and toys. She told her father, "I do not want you to carry me into the operating room." She explained to the attending nurse that she did not want any medicine and didn't want to wear the blue operating room cap or change into hospital clothes. She was not made to do any of those things while awake. Emily walked into the operating room for the seventeenth time on her own two feet! Her dad told me how he felt humbled when he saw the severe problems of other children in that hospital.

It was inevitable that some of the children would see Emily after her operation, before she came to school for a visit. I had to explain that she was wearing something that looked like a catcher's mask on her face. We discussed the casts one of the boys had on his legs following surgery during this same school year. They remembered that his legs needed to be protected and realized Emily's face needed protection as well. The mask was purple and Emily's doctors and family referred to it as Purple. Some of the children viewed Emily in her mom's car picking up her brother from school. Some visited her at home. Each child who saw her came to school elated and greeted the class by shouting, "I saw Emily!" My concerns for her classmates were allayed as not one child who had seen her mentioned Purple. And yes, my first-graders had the ability to perceive the heart of Emily and I feel certain that she will continue to use her remarkable strength of character to surmount the struggles she has yet to face.
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A Paltry Price for Personal Peace

By Annmarie B. Tait

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.
~Larry Eisenberg

Working hard comes naturally to me. Even at that, slaving like a hamster on a wheel took some time to perfect. I took the bait though, hook, line, and bonus check.
The medical billing company I work for hired me as a claims researcher and in one year promoted me to head of the Northeast Region Follow-Up Team. It was never my intention to be the best, or the fastest, or even the highest achiever. My ambition thrived on getting through each assignment from start to finish without disappointing one single person in the chain of command. I promised success and by God I would deliver.

In the first twelve months of my employment I proved one thing with absolute certainty. I had no idea how to say "no" when asked to take on a project. This characteristic alone rendered me ripe for the plucking when a management position became available, and I grabbed the ball as soon as it was tossed in my direction.

Every day I rolled up my sleeves and set about the business of leading my team in resolving the issues that prevented emergency room physicians from being paid by insurance companies. I stepped right into the ring and took on the fight while collecting a large salary increase, an annual bonus check, a nice office, and an extra week of vacation every year as my prize. Yep, this was living and I had worked hard earning every perk.

Fast-forward nine years.

"When are you going to finish?" My husband Joe grumbled as he climbed into bed, navigating around a sleeping dog and an ocean of paperwork.

"In a few minutes," I replied.

My track record offered Joe little reason to believe me. Finishing was always just a moment or two away. Then after I knew he was sound asleep, I'd gather my paperwork and move to the kitchen table and work for a few more hours. Later I'd crawl into bed exhausted, knowing that in five or six hours the curtain would rise again on the three-ring circus of stress I called my career.

Somewhere along the way, amid a string of successful insurance appeals, employees that competed for a spot on my team, and a senior management lineup that truly appreciated my efforts, my enthusiasm for living was replaced with grinding drudgery that robbed me of both peace and pleasure. As the company expanded, so did my client base, and with it the chains of responsibility that shackled me to my work grew heavier every day.

One night in particular I remember pulling the covers up to my chin and whispering into the darkness, "Please God, help me find the path back to peace and happiness."

The next morning as I drove to the office, I wondered how long it would take me to gather my courage and resign. Resigning would end the madness and Joe encouraged me to do so daily.

"Just do it Annie. Quit. We'll make do and you'll find another job. You're heading for a breakdown."

Resign, resign, resign! Not now though, I had a client presentation to prepare for and a conference call to attend in about an hour. Later, later, later!

Then an incoming e-mail bubble bounced across my computer screen and the phrase "position available" caught my eye. When I opened it the words "administrative assistant for senior vice president" glowed like a neon sign. Nah, I thought. They'd think I was crazy. Who in their right mind would step back to a secretarial position from a management position?

At home that evening my interest in the job persisted. I had ten years of experience as an executive secretary long before I ever arrived at the company. They didn't know that, but I did, and I knew how much I loved it too.

The next morning I summoned the nerve and told my boss I intended to apply for the job.

"You're in for a huge salary cut, and you'll lose your bonus, not to mention you'll be bored out of your mind," he said. "You're a leader, Annmarie, not a follower. How is it you think this makes any kind of sense?"

"Well," I said. "I imagine it makes no sense at all from your point of view but from where I'm sitting I have a few choices to make. I can choose to give up on this company and resign, or I can look at this secretarial position as an opportunity and try it. If it's not right for me, I'll resign and find something else."

"You're crazy."

"Not yet," I said. "But if I stay in this position much longer, I'm pretty sure I'll end up that way."

Admittedly the manger of human resources was stunned too, but from a budgetary standpoint it's hard to say no to someone who's asking for a salary cut and a decrease in benefits. That's pretty much a novelty you don't run into every day.

I brought to the table a skill set that boasted nine years of in-house experience, which included a working knowledge of every department in the operations area of the company. Though I negotiated to a salary I felt was reasonable for what I was offering, the lost bonus and salary cut brought me to a twenty percent decrease in my income, not including the vacation time I surrendered. Even I was starting to think I had lost my mind.

I closed the door to my office that last day with very few regrets about leaving my management position, but with one whopping load of anxiety about whether I made a mistake taking a job that would look like a demotion. By the end of my first day in the new position I knew I had made the right decision.

No office, staff, salary, or bonus check can ever replace this new feeling of waking up every morning and actually wanting to go to work. I enjoy that pleasure every day. The tasks I perform and the responsibilities I manage aid one vice president in particular and add to the smooth running of the department in which I work. When I leave at the end of the day, I take nothing with me but my desire to come back tomorrow knowing that I am respected and appreciated for the contribution that I make.

My husband always tells me you can't put a price on peace of mind, but divorce attorneys are plenty expensive. It looks likes my path to peace turned up none too soon!

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воскресенье, 21 апреля 2013 г.

Just Breathe

By Connie K. Pombo

"Have you seen the wedding list?" I asked my husband.
"Nope... haven't seen it," Mark answered.

As I shuffled through the stack of papers on the kitchen table, my elbow brushed against the "Have a Nice Day" mug, spilling the creamy mocha concoction onto the newly cleaned carpet. Too paralyzed to breathe, I felt a tear trickle down my cheek, followed by another and another, until they fell beneath my hands onto the pile of bills and receipts.

It was too much! Our son was getting married in three weeks; we had out-of-town guests who needed a place to stay; and we were selling our house, and packing up thirty-five years of marriage in preparation for a move to Cuenca, Ecuador — our retirement destination!

While I sat with my head in my hands, the phone rang beside me. "Yeah, what do you want?" I answered, without thinking.

"It's Kathy — your best friend — remember me?" came the reply. "Are you okay? You sound like you're having a crummy day."

It had been weeks since I heard the voice of my dear friend and I could tell she was genuinely concerned.

Kathy and I hadn't connected in weeks and she was calling to cheer me up.

"I'm sorry, but it's just so overwhelming," I blubbered. "There's so much to do and not enough time!" As I shared my fears about our house not selling, out-of-town guests arriving with no place to stay, and a house littered with boxes for an overseas move, I heard Kathy exhale a sigh.

"Whoa, girl... you need to take a deep breath!" she said. "Would you like to meet for lunch? I have time this week. I can even meet you halfway."

Before I had a chance to respond, Kathy reminded me to practice breathing. "Hee-hee-huu... shallow breaths and blow," she prompted. "I'm a Lamaze instructor — remember?"

"How could I forget?" I blurted into the phone. "But I'm not having a baby!"

"No, but you're losing one," Kathy replied softly.

A lump formed in my throat when I realized that not only were we moving to another continent, but our baby was getting married. As soon as I placed the phone in its cradle, I realized that breathing is how I made it through labor. It helped me focus on something other than the pain. And just maybe it could help with a wedding and a move!

Hee-hee-huu, I practiced. "Breathe in energy... exhale stress," I told myself. "Shallow breaths and blow!"

Over the next couple of days, I practiced breathing while I packed up boxes, prepared for a wedding shower, and "labored" through thirty-five years of memories. Night after night, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m., scanning important documents, family photos, and memorabilia, but I didn't feel stressed. The breathing exercises were working!

I started to feel slightly better on the third day when I could actually breathe in deeply without clutching my chest for more air. The wedding plans were going smoothly and we finally had an offer on our home that we could both live with. It looked like we were going to have a wedding and a move to Ecuador after all. As I started to take in a cleansing breath, the phone rang.

"I have good news and bad news," announced the realtor. "The new owners want to move in and settle over the Memorial Day weekend!"

"They want what?" I protested. "I mean they can't. That's the wedding weekend!" I shouted into the phone. "I have guests coming from California and they need a place to stay. It's simply not going to work out."

Our realtor stood firm. "The new owners need to settle by the end of the month and it's in your best interest to do so," she said.

After the phone call, I knew what to do. Hee-hee-huu, I practiced. "Breathe in energy... exhale stress," I told myself. "Shallow breaths and blow!"

Over the next several weeks, I had more opportunities to practice my Lamaze, including when I found out the box labeled "wedding" accidently got sent to the incinerator instead of the church. But all was forgiven when the bride and groom danced up the aisle for the first time as husband and wife. When it came time for the mother-groom dance — I breathed through that too, making sure I didn't hyperventilate during the four minutes and thirty seconds of our song. The wedding was a success and so was the move.

It's been over a year since the kids said "I do" and we arrived at our retirement destination in Ecuador, the land of "eternal springtime" and siempre mañana (always tomorrow). I rarely have to use my Lamaze breathing anymore, except for the other day when a taxista (taxi driver) slammed on his brakes for a pack of llamas crossing the street. As we slid into the intersection, my husband grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, "Just breathe!"
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The Multitask Queen at Rest

By Sarah Jo Smith

"What can I do?" my husband asked as I dropped a torn romaine leaf into the bowl, my fingers shaking as though I'd had too much caffeine. I'd spent the afternoon creating a perfect chicken cacciatore for our dinner guests, who were due to arrive in twenty minutes, and the kitchen was a mess. I paused to rub a knot at the back of my neck that wouldn't budge.
"Here." I passed Gregg a knife and nodded towards the sourdough slices on a cookie sheet. "Butter the bread and sprinkle it with garlic salt." As I rinsed a pan, my eyes slid first to the oven clock and then to the cookie sheet. Gregg was dotting the slices with clumps of butter, tearing the bread in the process.

"Oh for heaven's sake," I said, drying my hands and taking the knife from his hand. "Let me do it." I scooted him out of the way with my hip and deftly spread thin layers of butter to the crusts' edges while reaching for the garlic salt. My temples throbbed and pain held a vice-like grip at the bottom of my skull.

"You're not Mistress of the Universe, you know," Gregg said, leaning against a kitchen counter with his arms crossed.

"Of course I'm not." I winced at the irritation in my voice.

"Then stop acting like it." Gregg took a deep breath. "Look at you. You're stressing and you won't let me help."

I grabbed a napkin to wipe the dampness from my forehead and turned to him. He stepped close and tipped my chin to his face. "Are we having fun yet?" he whispered, making me laugh for the first time that day.

"Are we having fun yet?" We say this to each other when one of us manages to zap the joy from what should be happy events. His reminder showed me how easy it was to fall back to my old ways, those stress-filled days before my meltdown.

While raising three children, I'd crowned myself the Multitask Queen. I was proud of my ability to manage a home, teach full-time, carpool kids to school and activities, cook nightly, help my children with homework, and grade essays until midnight. Sure, I was living a high-stress life, skipping meals and exercise, but I loved the smug feeling of being indispensable. I didn't see that, like Humpty Dumpty, I was primed for a great fall.

I tumbled from that high wall on a Monday afternoon in late spring. In the days before cell phones, my twins, Nick and Kim, were sixth graders and I was an English teacher in another city. I drove in a carpool and wrote the schedule on my calendar faithfully. This particular day had been hectic and I'd skipped lunch, again. At the last bell, I glanced at the calendar and confirmed that my reliable friend, Cathy, had carpool duty. I jammed in a committee meeting and grocery shopping before pulling into the driveway at 4:30. The house was empty. No messages on the phone. No answer at Cathy's house. Where were my children? The other carpool moms didn't answer their phones. How irresponsible of the usually trustworthy Cathy to take the kids somewhere without even a call! At five o'clock my chest hurt and it was getting harder to breathe when Gregg walked through the door.

"Quick," I said. "Get back in the car and drive their school route. Stop by Cathy's to see if anyone's home. I'll wait here in case they show up." I paced the sidewalk, a cold sweat prickling down my back, listening for sirens, willing my children to appear. Magically, two precious figures rounded the corner with backpacks dragging and frowns creasing their faces.

"Where have you been?" I cried, my knees trembling. "I was about to call 911."

"At school," Nick said. "Waiting for you."

"You had carpool today, Mom," Kim said. "We called your classroom and waited forever before the others decided to walk home. Finally we did, too. You're in big trouble with their parents."

I must have written the wrong names in my calendar! Anyone could make this mistake, but I collapsed in a wave of humiliation and guilt, as did the image I'd so carefully fabricated for myself. I stumbled through the rest of the week, unable to make the simplest of decisions. I slept through the weekend, barely able to raise my arms. A doctor confirmed my blood pressure was sky high and I tested positive for anemia. This was my turning point. I had to delegate. My attitude had been that if I didn't do everything myself, it wouldn't be done right. But this left no time to care for myself, or to enjoy the love, happiness and laughter that I was missing.


Now here I was doing it again while preparing for our dinner party, forgetting that our friends only wanted to have a good time with us tonight, not a flawlessly orchestrated dinner. What I had created instead was a perfect recipe for stress.

Our company would arrive in ten minutes and still there was a dirty pot, the table wasn't set, and I wasn't certain if I'd hung a fresh hand towel in the guest bathroom. I looked at Gregg and groaned.

He grinned and said, "If it isn't fun, why do it?"

My eyes surveyed the kitchen. The dinner was ready but the sink was greasy. Gregg picked up a sponge and went to work. "I can handle this."

"I know you can," I said, and my shoulders relaxed a little as I left the room. I thought of that life-altering day long ago and used the memory as a gentle reminder that when I separate myself from tasks and allow others to help, I'm filled with joy instead of stress. In the bathroom I glossed my lips and fluffed my curls. I rubbed a frown line from my brow and studied my face in the mirror. Let go, I admonished the woman in the glass. Accept the way that people do things, and if they're not done your way, so what?

When I walked into the kitchen, the countertops were clean and the dishwasher was loaded. Gregg had lit a candle and the room smelled of fresh pine. I found him leaning against the deck's railing, his back to me, taking in the evening. How grateful I am to have a husband to remind me what is important. When I share chores, I take a major step in eliminating stress. Do I want perfect garlic toast or an evening spent in harmony with my husband and good friends?

I stepped outside and wrapped an arm around Gregg's waist. We watched the setting sun filter through the trees, causing their leaves to sparkle. The tightness in my neck had lessened and my headache was gone. To embrace the moment without a need to control it had set me free.

"I'm having fun now," I said, and meant it.

Gregg squeezed my hand just as the doorbell rang.
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The Most Popular Girl

By Cynthia J. Patton

Friendship isn't a big thing — it's a million little things.
~Author Unknown

We were late for school again. It happens more than I care to admit. I tell myself that most parents, even single ones like me, don't have to wake an autistic child who is exhausted from a grueling forty-hour-per-week therapy schedule and doesn't want to be touched. They don't have to explain in sign language and pictures why her favorite sundress is inappropriate in winter, wrestle her into velour leggings that won't assault her overtaxed sensory system (again, without touching), pack a nut-, dairy-, preservative-, and gluten-free lunch, and calm her after a meltdown (or two). They don't administer a witch's brew of supplements that make the cod liver oil chaser seem downright delicious. And they definitely don't drive to another school district in hellish rush-hour traffic in a minivan that disgorges cereal, broken toys, and mangled bits of crayon whenever the sliding doors open. But I know this is an excuse.
I should have gotten up earlier, guzzled espresso, and omitted my shower (again).

I'm fairly certain sending Katie to school in her blue cupcake pajamas would be frowned upon, even in a special-needs classroom.

Plus it was raining, which meant more traffic and a guaranteed bad-hair day.

I hustled Katie through the half-empty parking lot, mentally running through the day's schedule: work meetings, deadlines, another lengthy round trip to the school, paperwork, grocery shopping, afternoon therapy. A group of kids straggled to the front of the school just as the sun broke through brooding clouds. They were probably first graders and clearly going on a field trip. Their excited voices mingled with the rainbow-hued drizzle.

Like most parents, I'd taken it for granted that friends and conversation would fill my daughter's life. But friends and conversation don't come easily to an autistic eight-year-old. For Katie, they hadn't come yet, but on that morning, listening to the children's laughter, I had (almost) stopped fearing they would never come at all.

Katie splashed through puddles and commented on her pink leopard-spotted rain boots as if I wasn't there. We approached the covered entry and a child shouted, "Hey, look. That's Katie." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a cluster of children turn. "Hi, Katie," they yelled across the parking lot, waving frantically.

I looked down and met my daughter's stormy blue-grey eyes. "Are you making friends?" A note of surprise colored my voice. She smiled shyly as the kids continued to wave. "What do you say?"

"Hi," she said and waved at them with loose-limbed grace.

Turning away, she fiddled with her raincoat as if it were no big deal — except it was. If those children had continued to talk and ignored Katie as we walked past, no one would have thought twice, least of all me. The school and its teachers promoted tolerance, but still, those children made the effort. It would take that, plus hard work and a miracle, for Katie to make a true friend.

A few weeks later, I picked Katie up from school. The campus swirled with chaos and chatter. Crowds used to push Katie past her limits, but she had learned to tolerate and even enjoy them on days when the mood bubbled over with excitement.

A girl with long silky hair and a brilliant smile ran up.

"Hi, Katie," she said.

Katie grinned and studied the clouds, her caramel curls glinting in the sun.

"Katie," I said. "What do you say?"

She glanced at the girl, flapping her hands like a quail struggling for flight. "Hi, Katie." When she can't recall names — a common occurrence — her name serves as placeholder.

"Try again." I looked at the girl, who beamed up at me, clearly unfazed by Katie's response. "What's your name?"

"I'm London," she said, looking at Katie. "Lon... don."

The name suited her. She oozed big-city sophistication.

I said hi, and Katie echoed my response. Her gaze darted from me to London, then away.

London smiled. "I'm friends with Katie. I sit with her every day at recess." She paused but I was too stunned to speak. "Well, I sit with her in the lunch room. I would sit with her at recess but Katie doesn't sit much."

"No," I managed to laugh. "She doesn't."

How was it possible that this gorgeous, chatty girl was friends with my quirky, quiet daughter? London had "most popular" written all over her. She could play with anyone she wanted at recess. Why Katie? It pained me to think it, but why Katie?

"Katie runs really fast and she climbs the monkey bars with the boys." London's face filled with awe.

"You could climb them too."

"No," she said. "Not with the boys. I just watch Katie. She's really good."

It saddened me that a first grader considered certain activities limited to boys. Did it make me happy or sad that Katie would never understand these subtle, unwritten rules? I wasn't sure.

"I can climb," Katie said. She did a little dance and burst into song: "The itty bitty pider climbed up the water pout...."

London laughed. "She's funny too."

I nodded. It was true. Katie could crack you up if you took the time to listen. The problem is most people view Katie's autism as a deficit rather than a difference. But this extraordinary seven-year-old saw my child for who she was and embraced her.

"Hey London, if Katie talked more, I know she'd say she likes sitting with you at lunch."

She flipped her blond hair and shrugged.

London had never been shunned by her cousins or kids at the park. Her mother had never watched her stand by the swings, silent and ignored. Tears pooled behind my eyes. "It means a lot to me, and I'm sure it does to Katie too. So thank you."

I fought the urge to hug her. I adored this girl, so beautiful for reasons that had nothing to do with appearance.

"I like her," she said, as if that was the only reason that mattered.

My lip trembled. I worried she'd think I was strange — a parent, crying at school. I took a deep breath and told her we needed to go. I didn't tell her I had just enough time to make Katie's afternoon therapy session, assuming I encountered no traffic.

London smiled. "Okay. Bye, Katie."

Katie assembled her response. "Bye, Li... bye, London." She grinned, pleased with herself, and the three of us shared a round of high fives.

I cried on the drive home.

My daughter had a friend.

I never thought I'd view that statement as something close to miraculous, but autism changed me. I no longer take friends — mine or my daughter's — for granted.

I eased off the highway — on time for once — and silently thanked London, as well as her parents, her family, her teacher, her school. Yes, the years of hard work were finally paying off, but the miracle was London.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My smart, stubborn, beautiful, barely verbal, autistic daughter had a friend.
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