суббота, 28 сентября 2013 г.

Treat the Rectangle Carefully

By Suzan Moyer

Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered — either by themselves or by others.
~Mark Twain
I stood at the front of my classroom and drew a stick figure on the whiteboard. Next to it I drew a rectangle.
I turned around to my sixth-grade students and announced, "This little stick man is you. This rectangle is what you write for me. When I talk to you about how to fix this," I said, pointing to the rectangle, "I am not talking about what is wrong with this." I moved my finger to point to the stick figure.
Just to be clear, I pointed back to the rectangle again. "This is not the same as," I moved my finger to the stick figure, "this."
Every September, I start my first writing lesson with this conversation. Many writers have trouble separating comments about their work from comments about them, and I think this is especially true for young writers.
But now it was May, and the kids were finishing up their last big writing assignment. They were told to describe a time when something funny happened at a serious event. It had to be first-person narrative, and they were to write about one thing. This is always challenging for sixth-graders because most of the time they want to write a laundry list of events, call it a story, and say they're done.
Naomi's first story for me in September consisted of six sentences: This summer, I got to sleep in every day. I helped my mom take care of the garden. I learned to make pancakes. We went to Worlds of Fun. It was fun. The End.
Over the school year, things started to click for Naomi, and her writing skills began to blossom. When I introduced this final assignment, Naomi was excited to tell about a wedding her family attended during Spring Break. I looked over her story chart that Tuesday and saw that she correctly completed the character and setting boxes. She also filled in several notes for "rising action," and correctly labeled her dad running down the aisle as her "climax."
Naomi laid her completed draft on my desk Friday morning. I told her we would go over it during class that afternoon, so she could complete her final draft over the weekend. I read her draft during lunch, and her story was fantastic:
My cousin, Becca, was getting married, and she wanted her dog, Aspen, to be in her wedding.
I found myself smiling as I read because Naomi was using every tool we had covered in our lessons.
"Make sure your brother walks Aspen before the ceremony," Aunt Kathy told Becca. "You know what Aspen does if she gets too excited."
I was laughing out loud as I finished Naomi's story. It was wonderful. All we needed to go over Friday afternoon was some spelling and punctuation errors. It was the best thing I'd ever read of Naomi's.
I sat with her at a round table that afternoon and had her read her story out loud. As she read, I marveled at how much of her own personality was coming through in her writing. Additionally, Naomi found some spelling errors and a run-on sentence without any prompting from me.
The pitch of her voice got higher, and her pace quickened.
"After the minister prayed, Aunt Jennifer stood up to sing 'The Lord's Prayer,' Aspen never liked hearing Aunt Jennifer sing..."
"Right there, Naomi," I interrupted. "The sentence ends right there. You need to put a period after 'Prayer' instead of the comma."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers
Naomi stopped reading. She stared at her paper for several seconds.
"Right here," I said again. "Here's where you need to put a period."
Naomi erased the comma and replaced it with a period. Instead of continuing reading, however, she just stared at her paper.
"Go on," I said. "Finish your story."
Naomi started reading again, but now her voice sounded tight, like someone was choking her. I thought she might have just swallowed some air until I noticed giant tears running down her cheeks.
"What's wrong?" I asked, suddenly shocked. What in the world had just happened?
Naomi's breathing quickened, tears were streaming down her cheeks, and she began hiccupping and sobbing.
"Naomi, what's wrong?"
She gulped, panted, and finally choked out, "This is the best part of my story, and all you could say was that I needed a period here."
The floor dropped out below me, and my stomach knotted. We had been rushed after lunch, and I never told Naomi that I thought her story was wonderful. I just sat down with her and started telling her what needed fixing.
Suddenly, my "stick figure" was holding her "rectangle," and there were big tears running down her cheeks.
How could I have been so thoughtless?
The best lesson in the world can fall flat if I forget how fragile people really are. Maybe I can show on a whiteboard that we are separate stick figures from our rectangles of work, but sometimes we wrap those rectangles around our heart, and it hurts when someone points out what needs to be fixed. We are not the rectangles we produce each day, but our rectangles are precious to us. Naomi reminded me again to treat the rectangle carefully because some days those rectangles are the only thing that makes us feel good about ourselves.

Running Home

By Kim Ozment-Gold

I would not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.
~Frances Willard
Shortly after my son turned ten, we moved to a new school district. Weeks passed and it seemed as though everyone in the family had made the transition well. After school, my son's only goal was to play outside with the neighbor kids. They all seemed to get along and have fun together. I found some comfort in knowing that he felt that he belonged. His new friends helped him blossom in a way that I had never noticed before. I told him one day that I thought his calling was to be a comedian. His eyes brightened and he beamed.
A few months after our move, my son walked in the door after school looking upset. I asked what was going on and he replied, "Nothing." I noticed as he passed that his brow was sweaty and his face looked a little flushed. With the cool weather outside, it seemed strange that he would build up a sweat walking from the bus stop to the house. I followed him into his room and asked him again if everything was all right. He seemed a little aggravated and said that he was fine, just tired. For a moment he seemed so mature for a ten-year-old. Still something seemed odd, but I decided to let it go.
The next afternoon I noticed the neighbor kids got home fifteen minutes before my son. I was beginning to get worried when he came in the door. He avoided my eyes as he passed and again I could see the sweat on his brow. I followed him into his room and tried to help him lift his backpack from his shoulder. He quickly pulled away. "What's going on?" I asked. I didn't know if he was fighting tears or trying to think up a story to tell me but he paused a few moments before answering.
Suddenly he stood up as tall as he could, looked me straight in the eye and said, "It's nothing, Mom. I can handle it." His maturity caught me by surprise, although my mother's intuition made me hesitate. I decided to back off and let him handle it for the time being.
The following afternoon I confronted the neighbor kids. Corralling the girl who professed to be his best friend, I asked if she knew where he was. She looked at her feet and managed to mumble something to the effect that I better ask him. I ran to the house to get my car keys and look for him. As I raced back to the car, keys in hand, I nearly stumbled over the neighbor girl. She was ready to confess and told me that my son had been getting off at the first bus stop eight blocks away. He would run home. She added that he wasn't doing anything wrong.
Then I saw my son walking slowly towards me. His head hung low and his shoulders where hunched. As he approached I could see tears on his cheeks. As soon as he saw me, he reached up quickly and wiped his eyes. I tried to act as though nothing were wrong. "Hey, did you decide to walk home?" I asked. He brushed past me and headed towards the house.
"What's going on?" I asked, when we were inside. He turned to me and dropped his backpack to the floor in a gesture of defiance.
"I didn't want to move here," he said quietly.
"Is there a problem at school?" I asked. "Is there something I need to know about?"
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood

He let out a sigh of frustration, looked me straight in the eye and blurted out, "There's nothing you can do about this, Mom!"
"I could try," I offered.
"What could you do?" he cried. "This kid wants to beat me up and waits for me at the bus stop. If you call the school or anyone else he will just get even madder."
"Someone has to do something about a bully like that," I said. "I could talk to his parents."
"Mom, his parents don't care what he does. They cheer him on when he hits someone."
I was exasperated. I was devastated. I had taught my son never to hit anyone, to always try to talk things out, to resolve things peacefully. I felt completely useless as a parent. I sat down beside him. With a sigh of surrender, I said, "We can call the police."
Suddenly he sat up, turned to me and said, "Mom, I can take care of this. I'm not going to fight him. I can get off at the first bus stop and walk from there. It's no problem."
I was so angry at this bully and even more so at his parents. I wondered what kind of people would incite their son to bully other kids. I wanted to go to them and threaten them and give them a little of their own medicine. I just wanted to inflict the same fear and pain on them that their bullying son had inflicted on mine. But when I looked at my son, he actually looked sort of relaxed. His mouth turned up in his old familiar grin and he said, "Mom, it's going to be okay."
A few days later, my son was back to riding the bus home to the stop near our house. The bully had realized that my son was a comedian and had the ability to make even a bully laugh. Or maybe the kid realized that he needed fewer enemies; whatever the case, my son had reconciled their differences and resolved the problem peacefully.
It is amazing to me, as a parent, that my son was able to find a solution to such a big problem. He brings peace to situations where I would only create more chaos. Being a parent doesn't give us all the answers. Sometime the answers come in a simple form that only a kid can understand.

Baby Wants Steak

By Courtney Conover

The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.
~Julia Child
The craving was intense, undeniable, and unyielding. There was no doubt about it: Baby wanted steak. "What do you feel like for dinner?" my husband Scott had asked as he opened the fridge. Rubbing my five-and-a-half months pregnant belly, I stood on my tiptoes and peered around Scott's arm to take a look.
There wasn't much to work with. Granted, Scott is a certified chef, but not even MacGyver and Rachel Ray could join forces to make do with a half-full carton of almond milk, a sack of black seedless grapes, a few sticks of unsalted butter, and a pack of "meatless" hot dogs. A trip to the market was definitely in order, and for Scott that was anything but a chore.
And I was about to place the proverbial cherry on top.
"I want — no, need — a steak," I replied, albeit bashfully, raising a hand to my mouth to ensure that I wasn't salivating at the mere thought of a succulent piece of red meat.
Scott turned around so fast that I thought for a second he might have suffered whiplash. His expression seemed to say, "Finally! Please tell me you're serious!"
Much to his delight, I repeated, "I. Want. Steak."
You see, for nearly five years I had been a vegetarian, and while my eating habits made me feel amazing, being married to a granola-munching wife was, quite understandably, a less than ideal living situation for a meat-loving chef. Being the dutiful husband he is, however, he has whipped up a myriad of delectable meat-free creations during the course of our four years of marriage — vegetable lasagna, homemade French fries with a hint of sea salt, and ratatouille, to name a few. I was most appreciative — this was coming from a man who would much prefer to make chicken cordon bleu for two, after all.
But now that I was pregnant, my vegetarianism was on hiatus. Roasted chicken, turkey with gravy, and the occasional cheeseburger were back on the menu.
At last, Scott was in his glory. Especially tonight.
"I'm making Steak Oscar," Scott announced.
"Steak what?"
"You'll like it," he said. "You'll see."
Forty-five minutes later, Scott returned from the market, threw on his chef coat, and went to work. Motivated by equal parts curiosity and hunger, I held court at the island in our kitchen as Scott organized his mise en place: an assortment of pots and pans, a whisk, a pair of stainless steel tongs, and his knife kit. (No measuring cups were in sight. "Chefs don't need them, we go by appearance and taste," Scott always says.) And then there were the raw ingredients: three eight-ounce beef tenderloin steaks, a bunch of fresh asparagus spears and lemons, and a container of lump crabmeat.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love
"You're in the way," Scott quipped. "Call Mom and invite her over for dinner, then have a seat in the living room. Put your feet up."
He didn't have to tell me twice.
Nearly an hour later, there was no need for Scott to beckon my mother and me to the table; the mouthwatering aroma wafting through the house had already done the trick. We settled in at the table and what Scott placed before us nearly knocked us out of our chairs. In the center of my stark white plate sat a pyramid comprised of — from the bottom — a cloud of garlic-mashed potatoes, a perfectly cut round piece of steak, a hearty scoop of crabmeat, crisscrossed asparagus spears, and a stream of hollandaise sauce (sans raw egg, of course).
When Scott joined us at the table with his plate, I said grace and paused before I dug in. I had to remind myself to eat slowly and actually taste this masterpiece because it would have been all too easy to inhale it in three bites. What ensued for the next few minutes was a series of "Oooohs" and "Mmmmms" followed by bouts of chewing in silence. My craving had been sated.
With our plates clean and our stomachs pleasantly packed, we eased back from the table and exchanged looks of glee.
"Have you had enough?" Scott asked.
"Yes," my mom answered. "I'm stuffed."
"Me too," Scott added.
Then all eyes fell on me.
"Tangerines," I said. "Baby wants citrus."
And back to the market Scott went.

My New Job

By Margaret Luebs

Oh my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left.
~Hubert Humphrey
"I'm calling to tell you that you've been selected for the position of Technical Editor," the human resources specialist said. "The salary is $26,000, or would be if this were a full-time position. Of course, since this job is part-time, the salary will be half that."
I couldn't believe my ears. The salary range for the job was $26,000 to $60,000. With my PhD, I had assumed that my salary would be at the high end.
"Why is the salary so low?" I asked. Not the most effective bargaining move, but I was stunned.
"Management is not willing to negotiate on salary," she said, in a formal tone, which told me she was serious.
"But I'm earning more than that as a temp!" I protested. I had moved to Boulder, Colorado after earning my PhD in Linguistics, because I had decided to quit academia. I didn't want to be a professor — I wanted to live in a beautiful, exciting town and work as an editor. Editing jobs don't come along every day, so I had been doing temporary secretarial work for the past year, waiting for my break. "I won't be able to pay my bills."
"The job does include benefits," the HR woman reminded me.
And my temp job didn't. This job was with a research institute, exactly what I wanted. If they'd offered me a salary at the high end, I could have made it work. But this! The rent on my tiny apartment was $500 a month. I had student loans to pay, utilities, car insurance. I had to eat! "I'll have to think about it," I told the HR woman. She gave me three days.
There ensued a series of frantic phone calls to friends and family, asking for advice. "Could you do temp work the other half of the time?" my sister asked.
I didn't want to. I was so tired of secretarial work. But it seemed I had no choice. I went to my temp job supervisor and explained the situation. "Could you possibly keep me on part-time?"
"Of course! We don't want to lose you," Diana said. She was being kind. They had recently hired a permanent secretary and really didn't need me anymore. I often ended up doing impossibly low-level work, such as shredding documents. But, as mentioned before, I had to eat.
I called the HR woman back and told her I'd take the job, but I showed up for my first day of work in a bad mood. My new manager, Val, was friendly, but I kept thinking: this man thinks I am only worth $26,000 — no, $13,000! — a year.
The first thing we had to do was set my schedule. Val wanted me there during the middle of the day, maybe ten to three.
"That's not going to work," I said, humiliated. "I've still got my temp job, so I'll have to be here either mornings or afternoons, not both."
"Oh! I didn't realize you were going to continue working elsewhere," Val said.
"I have to," I said. "I can't afford to pay my bills otherwise."
"Ah yes, well..." his voice trailed off.
I liked my new office, with its view of the mountains, but I noticed that the sign on my door had just my name, no title. I also noticed that some of the engineers in the lab did have "Dr." on their nameplates. I asked the secretary about it.
"Some of the technical staff that don't have doctorates are offended when others refer to themselves as Doctor," she told me. "We thought it would be better if you didn't use your title."
I was thunderstruck. My advanced degree had gotten me the job, but now I had to pretend I didn't have one? In the academic world, I was always called Doctor, but of course I'd wanted to get out of academia. In the "real world," apparently the rules were different.
Even without the offending title, I found that many of the engineers were hostile to me. One of my first jobs was to assemble the (very overdue) annual report. I couldn't believe how rudely the project leaders responded to my requests for information.
So, my salary was low, my degree was a dirty little secret, everyone hated me, and I still had to do temp work in the afternoons. Why exactly had I taken this job? Vacation time, I reminded myself. Health insurance. And maybe if I stuck it out, things would get better. I knew the job had potential, if I could just fix everything that was wrong with it.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: From Lemons to Lemonade
A month after I started working, the director of the institute retired. Afterwards, one of my co-workers called me into her office to talk. Julie explained that it had been the director, not Val, who set my salary. "There were other well-qualified applicants, so he low-balled you. Don't blame Val. His hands were tied." I took her words to heart and started being nicer to my boss.
Through the grapevine I learned that the previous technical editor had not had a good relationship with the engineers. So I set out to repair the damage by demonstrating that I valued and respected their work. Gradually they began to warm up to me.
I remember once asking an engineer named Roger if I could read a paper he'd written. "Sure, I'll make you a copy," he said, getting up.
"I'll do it," I said quickly. "I don't want to waste your time."
Roger gave me a look, and walked down the hall to the copier. "They pay me the same, whatever I do," he said, feeding the pages into the machine.
I thought about his words later that day, as I stood in front of the shredder at my temp job. Roger and I both had doctorates, and undoubtedly our talents could be put to better use than photocopying and shredding. But someone had to do those jobs, and there's never enough support staff. It's like the dishes. Someone has to do them, and it won't kill you.
Within the year, Julie announced her retirement, and Val distributed her responsibilities among the remaining front office staff. My new extra duties were pretty strange: I would now be managing the institute's property, vehicles, and field site. But I didn't think twice about accepting them. I was willing to do almost anything to go full-time.
Over the years, this willingness paid off. Gradually I was given more interesting and appropriate assignments, as well as a promotion, and I even got my title back. When I left the job to move to California, many of the engineers told me how much they'd enjoyed working with me.
I'm job-hunting now, after staying home with my kids for a few years. I know I may have to do something menial in the beginning, and my starting salary may be low. But I also know that, given the chance, I can prove myself worthy of more.

A Healthy New Mantra

By Faith Paulsen

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
~Winston Churchill
His spare leg slung over his shoulder, Denny saunters into the gym. He flashes his 100-watt smile at my husband Bart and me, as we chat idly beside an exercise bike — just a couple of 50-somethings hoping to work off the effects of desk jobs, stress, and our love for food, wine and beer.
I'm no athlete but I like to stay fit. A number of wonderful instructors have inspired me over the years, in my varied program of yoga, Pilates, kettle bells, and cardio.
But for my husband, there has been only one influential trainer: Dennis Chipollini. Before he started working out with Denny a few years ago, my husband was discouraged. Embarrassed about his weak upper body and concerned about his lack of energy, he wanted to tone up and lose weight. As his wife, I agreed, and worried that "I'm tired" was becoming his mantra.
His usual workout regimen, mostly cardiovascular exercises like spinning and walking, wasn't working. He knew he needed more, so he decided to add weight training with a personal trainer.
But sticking to his commitment was hard. Some mornings I heard Bart groan, "I don't feel like working out." But he went anyway. After a while, I noticed the muscles in his shoulders, the way his jeans fit. I liked the changes I saw. Bart explained, "When you exercise with Denny, you can't get away with excuses, because Denny can do more with one leg than most people can with two."
So when my husband suggested I join him and Denny for a Saturday morning workout a few months ago, I eagerly agreed. I wanted to meet the man who inspires my husband to keep on exercising.
Denny adjusts the weight on the squat-lift machine, towering over me, his tank top showing off his strong biceps, his gym shorts revealing his prosthetic left leg. This leg, the one with the picture of Betty Boop, is named Betty. "I name all my legs," Denny says. "I've got about nine of them."
Amid the clanking of weights and whirring of treadmills, Denny puts us through our paces. Twenty squat-lifts, three laps, 20 squat-lifts, three laps. As I circle the track, one foot in front of the other, I think of Denny's remarkable story, how on a rainy morning in 1989, his car hydroplaned and slammed into a guardrail. "BAM!" Denny supplies the sound effects. "Wow! That was close," he remembered thinking with relief. Then he looked down. Both of his legs had been severed.
Pain overtook him, but Denny wasn't ready for death. He was just beginning his life — his wife Sue was expecting their first child. He knew he had to stop the bleeding. "I was pinned under the steering wheel. I couldn't move — but I could use my mind. I visualized myself in a hospital, doctors working to save me. I willed myself to be calm, and the bleeding slowed down. At that moment I learned the incredible power of the human mind."
He endured months in the hospital and 15 surgeries to save his legs. In the midst of one operation, in the same hospital, Sue gave birth to their son, Nicholas.
Physicians saved his right foot, but not the left leg. "You're never going to walk again," one doctor told him.
"You wanna bet?" Denny said.
The day of his accident, Denny learned the power of the mind. He used that knowledge to create his own rehab. While Sue worked to support them, he dragged himself upstairs to lift weights. Ten months after that doctor's prediction, Denny was walking with a cane. Three years after that, he ran his first 5K race. "They said I wouldn't walk again." That 100-watt grin flashes again. "They didn't say anything about running."
With Denny's coaching, my "new improved" husband lifts weights he thought he'd never even budge. Twenty squat-lifts, three laps, 20 squat-lifts, three laps. My quads burn, but if Denny can run a 5K with a smile on his face, how can I complain?
After that first race, Denny remembers, a young boy told him, "Mister, you're my hero." Denny recognized that an amputee who runs marathons gets attention, and that attention could be harnessed. He just didn't know yet what he was meant to harness it for.
At the gym, my husband and I flail our arms and legs in a clumsy attempt at abdominal exercises on the mat. Denny calls out, "C'mon! What are you guys doing?"
Bart laughs but we try harder.
People call Denny a hero, but Denny's hero is his son Nicholas, now a fine young man in his 20s, who has neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors on nerve endings, as well as autism and Tourette's syndrome. When Denny and Sue learned the kids were excluding Nicholas at school, Denny discovered his true calling — to use the attention he attracts to inspire and educate. This part of the story resonates with Bart and me, because we have a son and nephew who also face challenges.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You
So Denny founded Generation Hope, an organization that raises understanding about disabilities. To publicize his cause, Denny speaks to rapt audiences of all ages, telling his story, repeating his message of acceptance, and his mantra, "No excuses, no limits." He has competed in triathlons, as well as full and half marathons. He bicycled across Pennsylvania. He became the first person to carry both the Olympic and Paralympic torches. "My amputation is my gift," I've heard Denny say. "I wear it like a badge of courage."
"Okay," Denny commands, setting the timer on his watch. "Three-minute plank!" Bart and I drop to a push-up position. "No saggy butts." Denny falls to the mat and pikes up into a perfect plank.
Denny advocates Positive Psychology, nutrition, chia seed, good wine and Dogfish Head beer. He projects a positive attitude, but admits there have been dark, private moments when the support of his wife and kids got him through, including his ordeal with Hepatitis C, which he contracted from a blood transfusion. "I don't know how they put up with me!" he laughs, shaking his head. "When you're down, it's the little gesture — the 'human touch' — that gets you back."
Right about now, my abs burn and my elbows are sweating. I don't think I can hold the plank one nanosecond longer. But there's Denny, right beside us, smiling. And maybe that's what keeps Bart — and now, me — coming back. A positive attitude, the high of overcoming personal obstacles — and the human touch.
"Next time I set the timer!" Bart laughs.
"Whatsa matter? Tired?"
Suddenly I realize — I haven't heard Bart say, "I'm tired" in months. Now that he's got more energy, he's swapped that old mantra for a healthy new one: "No excuses, no limits." Still in my plank position, I beam with pride.
The timer beeps. Whew! I flop onto the mat. "That's it, you guys!" Denny sings out, "Go have breakfast!"

God Appears in Our Stillness

By Marijo Herndon

He says, "Be still, and know that I am God..."
~Psalm 46:10
Patience hasn't always been one of my virtues. I do most things quickly, and I expect others to do so, too. "Are you done yet?" "Are we there yet?" and "How long will it take?" are on my list of favorite things to say. Enjoying the journey has never been something I was good at. My eyes are always on the next thing to do, or the next place to go, or the next person to meet.
However, I married a man who has the patience of a saint. My husband is the type of person who can savor the moment. When we're vacationing at the ocean, I can look at the waves for a few minutes and then say, "Okay, let's do something else," while my husband can sit and enjoy the magnitude of the vast water for hours.
One day, while in Maine, we were sitting in our car, looking out at the ocean and watching the seagulls swoop up and down over the beach. One of them landed on the hood of our car and stared at me. We could see people in neighboring cars throwing bread to the other birds, but we didn't have any food. I couldn't understand why that seagull would have chosen to land on our car. And I certainly didn't know why he would look at me the way he did. He sat there for forty-five minutes, never taking his eyes off of me or moving a feather. I was so entertained by him.
Later that day, my husband told me that he had prayed something would keep me there, peacefully, in that car. He asked God to show me something that would make me slow down and just enjoy the day.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives
After years of marriage, I finally get him. I understand why he loves to linger on something for a long time. There is peace in each moment. There is God in that quietness. In those ordinary, simple pleasures, there is an extraordinary pay-off. I can hear my own thoughts, enjoy the presence of my husband in that stillness, and feel God's presence between us.
I've noticed that I don't experience God's best when I'm on the run. I don't feel His peace like I do when I'm just sitting with the man I gave my life to twenty-five years ago. I've learned to slow down, relish every moment, and be more like my husband, who taught me what God had in store all along.

Faith in the Fog

By Trish Castro

And whatever things you ask in prayer believing, you will receive.
~Matthew 21:22
My job delivering newspapers seven days a week was tiresome and I relished the idea of a mini-vacation. A relative of mine who lived in Nashville, Tennessee invited me to her house for the Thanksgiving holiday, and wanted me to arrive the week before so that we could spend some extra time together. The day I planned to leave I took the usual four-hour nap that I took every evening before delivering my papers. But instead of going to the paper station when I got up, I headed to the freeway. It was around 2 a.m. I decided I would drive as far as I could, and when I got tired I would stop somewhere in Georgia for the night.
he ten hours from Boca Raton to Atlanta were fairly uneventful, but heavier traffic slowed me down on my way to Chattanooga. After about fourteen hours of driving I knew it would be prudent to stop for the night. But I had reached Chattanooga, and I had only three more hours to go. Since I wasn't tired, I continued.
What I didn't know about was the fog on I-24, in the area of Monteagle, where the highway crosses the Cumberland Plateau. There hadn't been any fog at the lower elevations.
I had gone a few miles before the fog set in thick, and it was getting worse by the minute. Before long, I could barely see in front of me. It felt like I was coasting down a hill but unable to reach the bottom, where I hoped it would level off. I had shifted into second gear to keep my speed down, and my old Plymouth was fighting to maintain a safe speed around curves and what seemed to be a never-ending slope. My hands had begun to perspire as I gripped the wheel and worked the brakes.
I wanted desperately to find a place to pull over and rest, but all I could see out the window was guardrail after guardrail. I prayed aloud. "Oh, dear God, please let this nightmare end!" Almost immediately, and out of nowhere, there were taillights in front of me. Hallelujah, I wasn't alone! Luckily, the car was going the same speed as I was and I could easily keep up with his taillights leading the way. I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the Lord for allowing me to catch up with what appeared to be the only other car on the road. Curve after treacherous curve we drove, down, down, mile after mile and then finally we came to a level stretch. It was still very foggy but the car in front of me continued to be my beacon and my savior. I decided that as soon as we got off this mountain, I was going to roll my window down and thank that person from the bottom of my heart. Maybe I could toot my horn to get his attention as I passed in front of him. Whatever it took, I would do it.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels Among Us
As we neared the bottom of the pass and with the fog lifting, I could see the mountain in my rearview mirror. And to think I wanted to pull over to the side of the road when there were no sides to pull over on! I shuddered to think I might have gone over a guardrail if it hadn't been for the car in front of me. But now I began to wonder where my fearless leader had gone. The car had been there a second before and there were no exits, just the road in front of us that would take me to Nashville. I sped up a bit and although I could see cars in the oncoming lanes, I was the only car in my lane. No one was behind me and no one was in front of me for as far as I could see.
It took me a few minutes to take it all in. When I finally did, I pulled over to the side of the road to gather my wits. My eyes filled with tears when I realized what had just happened. If I never believed in guardian angels before that day, I certainly did from then on! A car had suddenly appeared in front of me when I needed it the most, and when danger had passed, it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. I strongly believe that God sent someone to the mountain that night to calm my nerves and take away my fear so that I could keep my car under control around those curves. I have never once doubted it! Praise the Lord for safely guiding me through that dangerous foggy mountain pass!

Jet's Gift

By Gail MacMillan

Dogs are miracles with paws.
~Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy
It happened in the early autumn of Jet's first year. Our twelve-year-old daughter Joan had just been diagnosed with a rare and potentially life-threatening blood disease. In the hospital, bruised and weak from transfusions, she'd begged for a day's reprieve to go to the country with her parents and her black Lab pup, eleven-month-old Jet of Acamac the Third. After much deliberation, the doctor had agreed.
It was a gray September Sunday. We were packing to go home late in the afternoon when Jet, galloping joyfully after a squirrel, dashed into the path of an oncoming car. We heard tires squeal and the simultaneous screams from girl and dog.
When we reached the road, we found a deathly pale girl kneeling in the ditch, an immobile pup clutched in her arms. A distressed motorist stood over them muttering, "I'm sorry. He ran right out in front of me. I couldn't stop in time. Is he alive? Will he be okay?"
Jet was breathing, but just barely. We gently wrapped him in quilts and loaded him into the back of our station wagon. Joan crouched in the hatchback, holding the dog's head, whispering words of love and encouragement.
My husband kept glancing into the rearview mirror as we drove toward the city. Each time our eyes met, I knew we were both wondering what would happen to our fragile daughter if she lost her friend. The doctor had warned us against exposing her to emotional stress.
Sunday has to be the worst day of the week to find your vet. Ours was no exception. He was out of town, his answering service informed us. If it was an emergency, we were to call his retired predecessor.
That veterinarian was a kindly old gentleman. He took one look at our pup and declared there was no hope.
"Have Tom put him down when he gets back tomorrow morning," he said sadly. "It'll be best. He's paralyzed."
Joan expressed no emotion at his words, but her blue eyes turned sapphire hard. My husband and I both knew that look. She wasn't about to accept the diagnosis, not without a fight.
We drove home in silence.
"Put him on my bed," Joan said when we arrived. Her tone allowed for no argument or refusal.
When the pup was laid as comfortably as possible in the center of her bed, I turned to her.
"Honey, it's only for tonight. Tomorrow..."
"I don't want to hear it!" she cried, throwing up her hands to cover her ears. Her arm hit her bedside lamp and sent it crashing to the floor.
In an instant, Jet was on his feet, staggering, falling over the edge of the bed onto the floor. Leaning against the wall, his eyes glazed with shock, pain, and confusion, tongue lolling out of his mouth, the big pup stared up at us.
"He's not paralyzed!" Joan was on her knees beside him, kissing him, tears rolling down her cheeks. "He's going to be all right, I know it!"
An hour later, she was still cradling Jet in her arms when I gently broached the subject of her return to the hospital.
"Let me talk to Dr. Henry," she said. "He'll understand. He'll know I have to stay with Jet tonight."
Ten minutes later, she handed the phone to me.
"He wants to talk to you," she said, then hurried back to be with her pup.
"I've decided to let her stay home tonight," the doctor informed me. "She'd never rest away from him. But bring her in tomorrow for a blood test. I'm concerned about how all this stress is affecting her condition. And let's keep our fingers crossed for the pup. She can't afford to lose him at this point."
That night, girl and dog slept in a tangle of quilts and pillows on the living room floor. Early in the morning, we eased the big pup out of her arms and carried him out to the car. If he had to be put down, better to have it done before she was awake, before she had to say goodbye.
But our vet gave us wonderful news. After examining Jet, he told us he believed that with hospitalization and a lot of TLC, the pup could recover. How fully, Dr. Larsen couldn't be sure, but he believed the Lab deserved the chance.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive
Over the following months and years, the girl and her dog required much specialized care. There were lengthy periods of hospitalization for both. Jet lost part of one paw to infection and Joan needed multiple blood transfusions. Both had to take life much slower and more cautiously than the average girl and dog. But each time they beat their illnesses, life became just a little more precious to them. Struggling back to health, they were drawn inextricably closer in their quiet celebration of joie de vivre.
They even discovered there were plusses to their disabilities. At this reduced pace, they both had time to savor the hamburgers, to study the birds and flowers and bullfrogs along the way. Together they enjoyed summer showers, autumn sunsets, Christmas snowfall, and the first pussy willows of spring.
And what if one was a little too pale and the other walked with a limp? Their days were filled with the joy of lives full of precious moments, moments they might never have been granted.
Jet even managed to give Dr. Larsen a kind of partial payment for saving his life. As a result of his constant and compassionate care of the chronically lame Lab, our vet was given an award byPets Magazine for outstanding service to a patient.
But that wasn't Jet's only gift to the humans in his life. His courage and cheerfulness served as a daily lesson on how to celebrate life to the fullest, no matter what its hardships. He and Joan linked their spirits in a desire to survive and celebrate life. And while we were busy pretending he was no different than other dogs, Jet was just as busy forever etching his memory into our hearts.
When he died at age sixteen, Joan, a young teacher by then with her disease in remission, was heartbroken. For days, tears and a crippling sense of lose overwhelmed her. Then a sympathy card arrived from a friend.
"That which you have cherished with your heart you can never lose," it read.
Joan recognized the truth in those words. Stoically she placed Jet's picture on her bedside table and found the strength to get on with her life.
She'd realized, like Ron and me, that although Jet was gone he'd never be forgotten. He'd been a joy and an inspiration all the days of his life. And he had helped Joan find an inner strength and positive attitude that I am sure not only led to his recovery, but also to hers.

Heart Surgery

By Ken Freebairn

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.
~Jane Austen
"There is something wrong with your heart," the surgeon said. "Your arteries are clogged, and if we don't get blood to your heart you will die." The whole thing seemed surreal, as if they were talking about someone else.
Those words regarding my heart sounded all too familiar, only in the past they had not come from a surgeon but rather from someplace deep within my soul. I had felt for years that there was something wrong with my heart, but I never thought it was cholesterol. I sensed it was something more, something within the depths of my being that had been lost and was screaming out for life.
While lying there in the hospital bed and listening to the conversation, I asked God if there was something more that I could learn from this. Millions of people had gone through what I was now going through, but was there a deeper lesson to all of this? Was there something else?
My thoughts drifted back to my youth, when my heart was filled with awe and joy for life. Back then, each day was a new adventure; but over the years, disappointments, failures and relationships seemed to have sucked the life right out of me. I used to believe, I used to trust, I used to care, but now it was enough just to get up every morning and face a new day. Something was missing and I did not know what it was. Maybe I could use this challenge as a way to examine some deeper issues.
Just as no one ever knew the condition of my physical heart by looking at me from the outside, it was also true with my inner heart, as I had hid my malaise pretty well. If someone got too close I would simply move away to a safer distance and hide behind a mask of jokes and business. At times when I was alone and my mind would quiet down, a small voice would gently give me a nudge and ask me if I wanted to talk about it. "Not tonight," I would answer. "Maybe another time when I am not so tired." Unfortunately, the other time never came. So now here I was, hooked up to an EKG with an entire room full of strangers looking at the very heart that I had tried to hide for so long.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: From Lemons to Lemonade
They were talking about my physical heart but I was thinking about my spiritual one. "So what caused this in the first place?" I asked. "Probably from your lifestyle and diet," the surgeon replied. "Whatever you put into your body as well as the stress you experience will sooner or later affect your heart."
Was that a true statement! If I allow anger, bitterness, fear and worry into my life, it will in turn cause internal distress that will sooner or later affect my physical heart as well as my spiritual heart.
As I lay there before the operation began, I released all the things that had stolen my very life from me. I set them free. I made peace with God and myself and let go of all the things that over the years had clogged my heart. That day, to my amazement, I had not one, but two, major heart surgeries.
It has taken me a lot longer than I thought to recover from the surgery, and at times I can still feel a slight pain as I go through this process of healing. At those times, when I grow discouraged and concerned, I sit quietly, clear my mind and trust the surgeon who said that everything would be fine.
Come to think of it, I have learned to do the same thing when I feel a slight pain deep within my soul. I relax and let those old thoughts pass. Then, I focus on those things that make me grateful for my new heart and this precious gift called life, and trust my divine surgeon with the rest.

среда, 18 сентября 2013 г.

My Supermom

By Mary Laufer
The phrase "working mother" is redundant.
~Jane Sellman
One night when I was a teenager, I walked by my parents' bedroom and saw my mother soaking her feet in a pan of water. Although it was only 7:30, she had already changed into her pajamas and bathrobe. Why was she always so tired at the end of the day? After all, my father went to work every morning, while Mom stayed home and did whatever she wanted.
I leaned against the doorframe, ignoring the box of Epsom salt on the dresser, not even bothering to ask my mother if her feet were sore. I was thinking about my best friend's mother, who worked as a secretary for a construction company. That afternoon I'd watched her answering telephones and typing contracts, and her job seemed so important. My mother had been a secretary before she married Dad, and I didn't see why having eight kids in the meantime kept her from working now.
I blurted out, "Why don't you get a job, Mom?"
In a matter-of-fact tone, she replied, "Because I have one."
I frowned. Then I realized she meant that her job was being a mother. "No," I said with a little sigh. "I mean a real job."
Mom's blue-gray eyes sparkled. "Wait until you have children of your own," she said with the hint of a smile. "You'll see!"
Just as she predicted, motherhood looked very different to me at twenty-one, when I brought my first baby home from the hospital. My days and nights turned into an endless cycle of feedings and diaper changes. I couldn't rely on my husband for much help because he was in an intensive military program and was gone fifteen hours a day. We'd just moved across the country to Idaho, over two thousand miles from our parents in New York, so I was on my own.
Late one morning when my son, Brian, was napping, I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I was still in my nightgown, and my long hair wasn't combed. My eyes had dark circles under them. Now that Brian was sleeping, I had to quickly pick up the breakfast dishes and put a load of clothes in the washer. He'd woken me up four times during the night, and all I really wanted to do was climb back into bed and take a nap myself.
I multiplied my tribulations by eight and wailed, "How did Mom survive?" She'd had it even harder than I, because women of her time weren't encouraged to breastfeed. That meant bottles to wash and formula to mix. Some years she'd had three in diapers at once, and disposables didn't yet exist. The diaper pail was a permanent fixture in the bathroom, and it filled up daily.
As my son grew, so did my appreciation for my mother. There certainly was more to this motherhood business than I'd given her credit for! When Brian started crawling, he put everything in his mouth, and I had to be incredibly vigilant so he didn't choke on a dropped paperclip or chew on a dirty sneaker. Before long, he was yanking on electrical cords and almost toppling over lamps. Most of my time was spent following him around and keeping him out of trouble. In the evenings, I rocked him to sleep, kissed him on his forehead and whispered, "We got through another day."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

I made friends with a few other mothers in our neighborhood who had babies the same age as my son, but for the most part I lived in isolation. Only a year before, I'd worked full-time at a public library and actually seen people every day! The hours seemed long then, but I had breaks and lunch hours, as well as evenings and weekends, to spend however I pleased. That library job looked easy now, compared to being on call twenty-four/seven.
At ten months, Brian learned to pull himself up to the edge of the couch and inch along. I knelt behind him with my hands out, ready to catch him should he fall. Sometimes when he looked at me with his blue-gray eyes, my mother's eyes looked back at me. The conversation I'd had with her that night long ago, the one about her work not being a "real" job, haunted me. She must have worked so hard, with no paycheck at the end of the week. And when she went on "vacation," we children went along, the potty chair tied to the top of the car.
How did Mom manage to keep the household running with so many kids? Every morning, she laid out our school clothes on her bed so that getting dressed was a snap. To make lunches, she lined up two rows of bread on the kitchen table like an assembly line. She remembered who liked mustard and who liked mayonnaise on their sandwiches. In the afternoons, when my sisters and I got off the bus, she had glasses of juice and homemade cookies waiting for us.
I found myself overwhelmed with the responsibility of feeding one child who was hungry every few hours. Yet night after night, Mom had cooked enough to feed an army. She always served two vegetables with every meal in case someone didn't care for one of them. After dinner, we kids took turns washing dishes, but she helped. She'd look at the mountains of dirty plates piled on the kitchen counters, roll up her sleeves and say cheerfully, "There's really not many here." This, after twelve hours of vacuuming, scrubbing floors and trying to reach the bottom of the laundry basket. No wonder Mom was always so worn out at the end of the day! How did she even find time to soak her feet?
Every day that passed, I understood her a little more, how she put us kids before herself and went above and beyond fulfilling our basic needs. She kept a box for each child, filled with a baby book, vaccination records, school papers, report cards and photographs of milestones of our lives. She searched for Christmas presents that took into account our individuality, and even though my birthday was two days after my sister's, Mom always made another cake for me.
Because of the distance between us, I didn't see my mother for an entire year. Finally, my husband was transferred to a duty station on the east coast, and before reporting, he took leave so we could visit our families.
Returning to my childhood home was like arriving in heaven. I could smell roast beef as I walked in carrying Brian. Mom was peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink, and when she heard us, she looked over her shoulder, her blue-gray eyes smiling. She wrapped her arms around both Brian and me, and hugged us tightly. Then she said, "I have a room ready for you, beds with clean sheets and fresh towels in the bathroom." Here she was, my supermom, still mothering me!

I'm in My Element

By Michael T. Smith
It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.
~Albert Einstein
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she decided that she would stay home and write instead of going back to work. "I want to write. I've always wanted to write."
"If you think that's what you want to do, I'll support you all the way."
Seven months later, I sat with our growing daughter, Vanessa, snuggled in my arms, looked at Georgia and asked, "Did you write anything today?"
"No! Do you have to ask that every other day? Stop nagging me!"
I struggled to remain calm. "But you said that's what you wanted to do."
"I do! It just doesn't happen, you know. I need to be in the right frame of mind. A person just doesn't sit down and start to write. I need to get an idea and then plan the outline. What do you know?" She stormed from the room.
Vanessa cried in my arms. I rocked her and wondered what I'd said to upset my wife. "I was only trying to help," I said to my daughter. She stared back at me, blinked and blew a spit bubble. I took that as agreement. "I guess writers are touchy." Another spit bubble proved me right.
A few months later, Georgia joined a local writing group. They met once a week. The members took turns hosting the group in their homes. I was proud of Georgia for finally getting into her writing.
On the nights she hosted the group at our home, I served coffee, tea and snacks to the ladies. While not serving, I sat and listened to the members critique each other's work. Many of them wrote children's stories.
By that time, I'd read so many children's stories, it seemed easy enough to write one. The man who hated English class in school and writing began to write. I started with children's stories and failed. I switched to humor and had a little success. A local monthly free paper started using one of my humor stories in each edition. Sadly, that came to an end when I wrote a piece that made fun of fireplaces. A major advertiser in the paper supplied firewood in the area.
Georgia's group fell apart. She lost interest in writing.
Me? I had the writing bug. I couldn't stop. I plunged forward. The rejection letters poured in. The mailbox was my worst enemy. No one used e-mail in the early 1990s.
In 1996, I moved to another city for a new job, discovered the Internet and an online group called BBS Writers.
My writing life changed. Members of the group included both established and hopeful writers. Two women helped me. One lady, Deb, became my best friend. She told me, "Michael, I know you like to write humor, but in every piece you write, your ending always has a touching side. You should write romance."
Romance? Not for me.
The other lady taught creative writing in a community college. She said, "Mike, you have great ideas, but I'm afraid to tell you, your grammar sucks. Before you write anything else, buy yourself a few grammar books, study them and learn."
Her words stung. Critiques are hard to accept.
I sulked for a week. My friends told me they liked my stories. Who was this person on the other end of a dial-up Internet connection to say my friends were wrong?
I got the grammar books. They landed in the bathroom, where most of my reading was done. I removed all other reading material. It was me, the grammar books, and a hard, cold seat.
I read them over and over.
In 1998, I wrote a story about the antics I did in the window at the office I worked, sent it to a local paper, and made my first sale. I followed it up with three sales to the Ottawa Citizen.
Two more moves came and went. For five years, my writing was put on hold as I adjusted to new places and jobs.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers
In October 2003, I stood at the front of a chapel in a funeral home in New Jersey. The urn with Georgia's ashes shined brightly under the lights of the chapel as I spoke about our life together and failed to hold back my tears.
That evening, I sat in the silence of my house. My son mourned alone in his room. I turned on my computer and searched for widow and widower support groups. I found my new home. I wasn't alone. Others suffered the loss of loved ones.
I poured my heart out to them. They reciprocated. It was healing to write down my thoughts and feelings. The more I wrote, the better I felt. It was back. Writing soothed me.
I stopped writing about my grief and began to view the world in a different way. In everything there is a message to be told. I looked for those hidden gems that most people fail to see. I started a new sletter to showcase my work and promised my readers at least one story a week.
I never fail to do this. It's my motivation. All week long, I think about what I will write next.
My friends steered me in the right direction: I needed to write from my heart. The first story I sold has since sold twelve more times and made me close to one thousand dollars. It has appeared in several major newsletters. Their subscribers joined my newsletter — more than four thousand at the time of this writing. I've sold three stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Several more have sold to other publications. An actor/producer/director contacted me. He wants to make a few short films based on my essays.
I read the work of others. When I come across a good one, I make a point to compliment them. They reply, "Thank you, Mike. Coming from a writer with your skill, this means a lot to me."
Me? Skill? Maybe I'm modest, but I thought they were better than me.
I work in telecommunications as a project manager. My writing is a release. One day, I hope it will be my living. At night, I look at the television and get bored. I itch to write. The television goes blank with the touch of a button. Blues music plays on the stereo. My fingers move to the music. They dance over the keyboard. A story unfolds.
It took me more than twenty years to make it this far with my writing; I'm not stopping now. One day, it will be all I dreamed it to be.
When I write, I'm in my element.

A Cherished Book

By Linda Kaullen Perkins
Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes.
~Author Unknown

A few days before Christmas in 2000, a friend and fellow teacher stood before me waving a gift bag. "I've listened to you talk about developing stories and finding the right words and I admire your ceaseless persistence even in the face of rejection. I hope this gift helps in some way." She patted my back and handed me the bag.
"Thank you," I said, wondering how a small, red and white striped bag could contain enough magic to empower my writing career. White tissue paper rustled as I plunged a hand inside and wrapped my fingers around a book. "You can never go wrong with a book," I said, smiling at her while pulling it from the bag. "Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul," I read aloud. It even sounded inspirational. In awe, I ran my hand over the names of the authors listed on the cover as if I could feel their hearts beating. "I know almost every author listed," I said, hugging the book to my chest. "I can't wait to get home and read this."
The school day flew by and, when the last student walked out the door, I tucked the new book inside my briefcase along with the papers I needed to grade.
At home, I put chicken and potatoes in the oven to bake. Then I walked and fed the dogs, graded papers, and ate dinner with my husband. At last, I turned on the dishwasher and settled down with my new Chicken Soup for the Soul book. The encouraging stories by famous authors made me laugh and cry. I felt surrounded by kindred spirits who gave me hope. Halfway through the book I forced myself to shut off the bedside lamp. Snippets of stories flooded my mind before I drifted off to sleep.
The next night I finished the book and dreamed of being a successful writer.
I kept the book near my computer and often reread stories when I needed a lift. The day finally arrived when I could write full-time. But like all new circumstances, it brought with it a different problem — time management. Phone calls, TV shows, and radio programs interrupted my writing time. I cleaned, I baked, I gardened, I canned, I sewed, but I wrote less than when I worked full-time.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition
One evening, after an exhausting day of mowing the lawn, I picked up Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, and found "The Flop Artist Writer" by Patricia Lorenz. I didn't know Patricia Lorenz, but after reading her story I knew she understood the pitfalls of poor time management and definitely had something to teach me. I made notes from her story and modified her schedule to fit my own needs.
I started writing and submitting stories to various publications and I began selling stories. My story, "Chocolate Bunnies," was published in Chicken Soup for the Chocolate Lover's Soul, in 2007. When the book arrived, I noticed that Patricia Lorenz was the editor. But, by now, enough time had passed that I didn't make the connection that she was the author of "The Flop Artist Writer."
In 2011, I went to a Missouri writing conference and attended a workshop presented by Patricia Lorenz. I mentioned to her that she had edited my "Chocolate Bunnies" story. We spent a good bit of the two-day conference getting acquainted. I knew she was a talented writer and found her to be an excellent instructor and humorous speaker. Before we left the conference, we agreed to keep in touch. She even offered to critique some of my work — an invaluable gift to any writer.
Two weeks after the writing conference, I sat before my computer, composing a short story. The last paragraph was giving me trouble, so I stopped and fixed a cup of tea. I reached for my copy of Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, and read the subtitle on the cover: Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit of Writers. I needed some "rekindling" right then. I turned to the contents and ran my finger down the list of story titles. I nearly choked on my tea when I discovered Patricia Lorenz was the author of "The Flop Artist Writer."
Because of Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, Patricia Lorenz mentored me from afar years before I had the pleasure of meeting her in person. No other book has given me that kind of personal connection. It holds a place of honor by my computer and its dog-eared pages are a testament to how much I value and cherish Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul.

воскресенье, 15 сентября 2013 г.

We Talked Good

By Gunter David

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
~Victor Frankl
It was the last day of Philadelphia's Evening Bulletin. Once, nearly everybody read the Bulletin, according to a cartoon that ran for years in The New Yorker. On a grim day in February 1982, we milled around in the newsroom, saying goodbye to our fellow reporters and editors, telling each other we'd keep in touch, yet knowing it wouldn't be the same.
For twenty-five years my identity had been tied to my career. I was Gunter David of the Newark Evening NewsThe Baltimore SunThe New York Times, for which I covered Newark and vicinity on weekends, and finally theBulletin.
I had seen this day coming as circulation figures dropped. People were no longer reading two papers a day. They read the morning papers and got the evening news on television.
A year earlier I had begun looking for another job. But no newspaper wanted to hire a fifty-one-year-old man. Now here I was, with nowhere to go, nothing to do. The morning after the paper folded I woke up on time to get to the newsroom. My wife, Dalia, was leaving for work. Our daughter, Ronni, was heading for the school bus. I stayed in bed for a week.
Thereafter I got a job as a reporter on a new weekly paper. My former contacts in City Hall no longer returned my calls. The new editor had not been on a newspaper before. I had difficulty concentrating on my work. A story that once would take me an hour or two to write now occupied me all day.
I soon realized I was suffering from depression. I sought help from a psychotherapist about whom I had written an article some months earlier. She specialized in helping people with difficulties at work.
Once her interviewer, I became her patient. Matilde Salganicoff helped me cope with the enormous changes in my life, deal with what I considered a humiliating comedown. I had covered the Yom Kippur War of 1973, interviewed David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, wrote stories that sent Newark's chief magistrate to jail, testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
With Matilde's help I saw the positives in my life — my wonderful wife of thirty years, my children, our friends, our home, and the years of joy that had been mine as an award-winning newsman. "Most men live lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau had written. I learned that despite what had happened to me, I was not one of them.
After several months in treatment, I had an epiphany while driving to my session. I burst into Matilde's office and said, "I want to do what you do!"
"You'd have to go to graduate school," she replied. "Then, if you get a job, you'll have to start at the bottom." Dalia and I talked it over. She agreed to support my decision. We would invest my severance pay from the Bulletin in my new career.
Matilde helped me get into Hahnemann University and Medical School in Philadelphia, where I was accepted even though I had never taken a psychology course. I enrolled in the family therapy program and would be awarded a master's degree at the end of two years.
On the first day, I attended an orientation in the school auditorium packed with new students. They were young, with fresh, shining faces. I had just turned fifty-three, yet I was one of them.
In addition to attending classes I was assigned to a clinic to obtain practical experience. For the first few weeks I "sat in," observing Steve, my supervisor, at work. Abused women. Violent men. Major depression. Suicide attempts. Schizophrenia. Manic depression. Day after day I asked myself if I could ever help these people. Had I taken on more than I could handle? Would I ever graduate and get my degree?
So it was until Steve assigned to me the case of a woman, Millie — not her real name — who had been in treatment with him for a couple of years. He felt she had progressed enough that it was safe to transfer her case to me.
The chart said she was thirty-nine years old, although she looked considerably older. "You're new here," she said solemnly.
"I am new in the field," I replied. The words had slipped out of my mouth, even though Steve had told me to keep my background confidential.
Millie's face lit up. "What did you used to do?" she asked.
I told her.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive
Over the following months she told me all about her life — her alcoholic father who beat her mother, her alcoholic boyfriend from who she had run away more than once, her suicide attempts. Sometimes she cried, and I would feel tears in my own eyes.
We worked on straightening out her life. But there were some setbacks. A few times Millie was a no show. No appearance, no phone call. Under clinic rules I was not permitted to contact her. I sat soberly in my office and waited, wondering if I had failed her.
After a while the absences declined. Eventually it was time for us to part. I was completing my year at the clinic. Millie was making great progress, had broken up with her boyfriend, and had gotten a job for the first time in years. She no longer needed to be in treatment.
At the end of the final session she handed me a small, knitted white dog atop a crocheted blue pillow. "I made it for you," she said, smiling. "You and me, we talked good."
After graduation, the head of the program, Dr. Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, took me into his private practice. A few months later I was hired by Johnson & Johnson for the corporation's Employee Assistance program. I saw employees and their families, and at times, their supervisors. I served four different J&J companies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I also continued to work in Dr. Nagy's practice.
At times, in my sleep, I dreamt about the newsroom. When I woke up, it would take me a moment or two to reorient myself. At a Bulletin reunion one of my former colleagues asked how I was doing. "It's not easy, but I'm getting there," I said.
The years went by. I was fortunate in being able to help many people. Among them was an employee about to be laid off because of his poor work performance in recent months. After a few sessions I referred him to a physician, who discovered he had a brain tumor.
Now it was time to retire. Toward the end of my tenure, this man, tumor-free and newly promoted, arrived at my doorstep with a goodbye present.
Two golden pens and a small, round clock were attached to a base on which the following words were carved, "Thank you for being there. Nick."
They greet me daily when I rise.