Aha moment


When Mutual of Omaha sent me an email inviting me to participate in their Aha Moment, I knew exactly which moment I wanted to share.
But sharing that moment in a thirty-second commercial? Holy smoke, you all know me. I have no problem exposing my emotional vulnerabilities but it takes longer than thirty seconds for me to say good morning, let alone draw back the curtain verbally to reveal an epiphany.
Still, I put on my makeup, combed my hair and trotted down to Mutual of Omaha’s cute little Airstream trailer set up on the Fayetteville town square. Now, I do a bit of speaking in front of large groups and I’ve long ago gotten over any stage fright in front of crowds. But this was a whole new experience.
The technicians, a friendly young woman and man recorded my information and brought me inside the Airstream. Told to take a seat in a tiny, curtained alcove surrounded by equipment, I perched my butt on a narrow stool and wished I’d lost those twenty pounds I keep promising myself to lose.
“Just relax,” the lovely young woman said.
Two giant lights came on, and the temperature instantly leaped twenty degrees. My carefully applied makeup began to run in little flesh-toned rivulets. I blinked my eyes. Swallowed. Reminded myself that squinting would intensify those two gigantic vertical wrinkles between my eyes.
“Tell me your story.” A gentle voice said from between the two blinding lights.
Well, here’s the thing.
When I do public speaking, I count on, feed upon, desperately need eye contact from individuals in the audience. Inside this tiny trailer, I was looking into blinding lights. It felt a bit like talking to God. I took a deep breath and remembered the power of the experience I wanted to share. Sank into the strength of the individual man, and the incredible men in general, who gifted me with that moment.
And then I started to talk.
Jack and I were at the VA for one of his appointments. Married to a Vietnam vet, a Marine who stepped on a landmine just outside Danang in ’65, I spend a good bit of time at one VA facility or another. My Life with a Wounded Warrior, my latest book at that time, had just been released and was being used by the local VetCenter to help combat vets in our area of the world.
I was tired and hungry and at that point in a day of VA doctor’s appointments when I felt as though I’d been there forever and there was no hope of ever leaving. Seriously, there comes a point at the VA when I can actually hear Rod Serling’s voice in my head.
A very large man made eye contact with me from down the hall and his eyes immediately crinkled at the corners. Long, salt-and-pepper beard, hair tied in a leather thong at the back of his thick neck, black leather jacket with a small skull on one side and a 1st CAV patch on the other – this grinning man strode directly to me. It was crowded in that VA hallway, but folks got the hell out of his way. He never slowed, came directly to me and wrapped me in a hug.
“You wrote that book.” His breath warmed my neck.
“I did.”
“Thank you. Thank you for writing it and thank you for accepting and understanding us.”
He gave me one more breath-stealing squeeze and then turned and walked away.
I’ve written a lot of books. God willing, I’ll tell more stories and entertain more people as the years go by. But that day, standing in that crowded VA corridor, I understood that in writing that particular book, in exposing my own vulnerability– the pain and joy and challenges and rewards of living with a combat veteran with PTSD – I helped to heal both myself and others.
That was my Aha Moment.
Please click here and watch the video. I’m the one with the purple streak in her hair. Vote, of course vote every day from now until October 10th so that this thirty seconds can air on national TV and people will pause for just that brief moment and think about how we might all do a better job as individuals to welcome our warriors back home, to accept and love and understand them for the remarkable men and women they are.
Think too about how we all spend so much of our lives trying to look good to others, when really, it’s sharing our flaws, our imperfections and struggles that help best to heal ourselves and others.
I think that friendly young man and woman from Mutual of Omaha did a fine job of squeezing all that into thirty seconds, don’t you?

The Great Buttermilk War


DSCN4939Jack is in the hospital and he and I are fighting over buttermilk. I kid you not.

Here’s a little background for you.

Over the last few months, it has become increasingly difficult for Jack to breathe until even walking across the room left him struggling for breath, then even just standing up got him gasping.

We returned from a visit to the VA with the knowledge that his heart rate was irregular and slow. We also obtained a promise of an echo cardiogram in a month’s time. That night Jack had pain that ran across the back of his neck, down both arms, across his chest and into his abdomen.

He went to the ER by ambulance. He was taken to the local hospital because the VA did not have a bed for him. Within hours of his being admitted to the heart ward, an echo cardiogram had been done as well as a catheter heart procedure which revealed that an upper chamber of his heart was not able to pump blood out like it should. I am still fuzzy as to how, but apparently this defect causes fluid to build up around the lungs which is what is causing his shortness of breath.

For the first time in twenty-five years of hospital visits and emergencies with his health, we have a diagnosis that is less about an acute problem that can be solved and more of a long-term, chronic condition that may well end up killing him.

Both Jack and I are scared.

We deal with fear in polar opposite ways.

Fear makes Jack desperate to be the center of my universe, as though my acknowledgement of his central importance will convince the gods that they cannot take him. I, on the other hand, am desperate to know that my life will, in fact, go on if I lose him.

You see the issue.

This inconsistency in our methods has started The Great Buttermilk War.

He called from the hospital. “Bring me a quart of buttermilk when you come up.”

“What?” I pulled myself out of the lovely world I was building on my computer screen, a scene with its own problem, none of which involved a husband, the love of my life, in the hospital. “Buttermilk?”
I’m slow to catch on when jerked from one world into another.

“Yeah. The nurses don’t have any and I need some.”

“No, I’m not sneaking you buttermilk. They’re feeding you what they want you to have.”
Jack is well over a hundred pounds too heavy. This extra weight contributes directly to his high blood pressure, his diabetes and now it seems to this damn heart condition which may rob me of him. I went, not only from one world into another, but from calm and reasonable to fighting mad in less than ten seconds.

“I asked the nurses and they said it was okay.”

“You don’t need buttermilk. Besides, how are you going to refrigerate it?” Yes, I know, here is where I messed up.  Never negotiate with a Marine.

“The nurses will keep it in their refrigerator for me.”

So, I closed out my computer and swung by the local neighborhood Walmart. No buttermilk. I asked the friendly clerk. Nope, they usually carry it but there was evidently a run on the disgusting crap. Sorry, no offense meant to those lovers of buttermilk, but yuck.

At the hospital Jack was sitting up in bed.
“You bring my buttermilk?”
His first words. I swear to you. His very first words to me.

I told him why I didn’t have any buttermilk for him. We talked about what his doctor had said. For about thirty seconds. He picked up his cell phone, called two of his buddies, Marty and Jim, both it goes without even saying, Vietnam combat vets.
Three guesses what he asked them to do. The first two guesses don’t count.

Before my head exploded or I said something I couldn’t take back, I left to walk with a friend.

When I came back to the hospital, I ran into Marty who was trying to talk a young Vietnamese nurse into marrying him at 4:00 that afternoon. Two quarts of buttermilk rested in a bed of ice in a bedpan.

Combat vets. You gotta love em.