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Whatever rings Mel's bells

Posts Tagged ‘mistakes’

Putting out fires at work

Usually when I use that phrase, I’m referring to urgent problems that I have to solve quickly.  Yesterday… not so much.

Yup!  Real fire!

Not a big one, mind you, but still, fire.  Open flame in a place where no open flame belongs.

Brent and I were pulling string into conduits in the north grade level, and Dave was up on a scaffold with Kim, showing her how to cad weld.  He decides to shield everything below from sparks – but he chooses to use a piece of cardboard.  I’d say that was his first mistake, but actually it was his second.  See, Kim was supposed to be his fire watch.  Which means she should have been down below him where the sparks would fall – and (incidentally) where the fire extinguisher was.

So the flammable-object-as-fire-protection was actually his second mistake.  It lit, of course, so he put it out.  Sort of…

Yup!  Third mistake was not making sure it was completely extinguished, which he compounded by then dropping the cardboard off the scaffold.  Needless to say, it flared back up and next thing you know, there’s flaming cardboard landing a foot away from me.

It was easily fixed, of course.  Grab cardboard (by non-burning end), stomp on cardboard, double check that it’s really out.  Problem solved.

But still, it was the talk of the crew for the rest of the day.  And probably will be when I get in today, as well!

WOWI

No really, I’m thinking wowie that really sucked!

The WOWI aka World of Work Inventory is one of the hoops I have to jump through to get into the apprenticeship program I’m pursuing.  I took it at 3 in the morning because that’s when I remembered that I had to get it done.  I don’t think taking it in the middle of the night made a difference, it was going to be silly and frustrating whenever I did it.  And I’m a night owl.

Generally I do pretty well on these things; my interests are broad so I kind of come out all over, but that’s how I am in life so I guess if nothing else at least it’s accurate.  But there’s always one section that hangs me up, and I forgot about it until I got most of the way through the WOWI and this section slapped me in the face.

Abstractions.  That section where they give you four frames, or three numbers, or a few words, and you’re supposed to guess which one comes next in the pattern.  Some are easy – if they give you the letters  B   F   J  and the options are K, N, Q, or Z, it’s pretty easy.  Each of those letters are evenly spaced, so N is the next one in the pattern.  But what happens when they give you three words that start with the letter g, with four, five, and eight letters respectively?  Or what if they show four boxes with a clear pattern emerging, but the next step in the pattern isn’t reflected in any of the possible answer?

I can find all kinds of patterns in the string, I just can’t ever seem to find the one they want!  Well, that isn’t true.  I generally get about half of them right.  But when I get them wrong, MAN do I get them wrong!  As in, totally clueless, unable to even orient myself in the right direction, can’t-reason-my-way-out-of-a-paper-bag lost.

These things make me feel really stupid.  I get that feeling that the answer is staring me right in the face, and I’m too dumb to get it.  *grr*  I don’t like that feeling.

RIP Gumby

Gumby was my little puppy cat.  He played fetch with me, followed me from room to room, and came when I called him.  He slept every night curled up in my arms, but he never wanted to be picked up, or for that matter even held on a lap.  I can’t tell you how many times I snuggled my face into his furry little back at night…

He had prominent teeth that looked like fangs and long claws that, even when I trimmed them back, would click on the kitchen floor like a velociraptor.  Oh, he looked vicious.  And to some people, he was!  (Sorry, Aubrey…)  But then when he opened his mouth, out would come the tiniest, high-pitched little baby kitty meow.  So unexpected!  So endearing!  So frikkin hilarious!  LOL

We brought him home almost exactly nine years ago – it was the second Friday in October and he was eight weeks old.  Eric and I had decided (even though we weren’t allowed to have pets in the school’s apartments) that we were going to go adopt a cat from the shelter.  But we had no idea how much that was going to cost us!  So we headed to the pet store to price all the accouterments needed, and lo and behold, they had a litter of kitties there.  I actually wanted to get one of Gumby’s sisters; she was a tuxedo kitty and I gotta tell you, I’ve always loved them.  But Eric thought Gumby had more personality, and that a male would be more loving in the long run.  Loving he was, for sure – at least to me!  He was the only thing I asked for in the divorce, in fact.  I even gave that man the kitchen table and couch that I adored, without one word of protest.  But I got the cat.

I learned about Gumby’s heart problems early; at his one-year checkup the vet told me that he had a “significant heart murmur.”  That scared the tar out of me!  But then she explained that cats and dogs often do have heart murmurs, and they don’t necessarily denote any actual health problem.  *sigh of relief*

The relief lasted till last fall, when he had what I thought were a couple of seizures.  Turns out they were the result of a heart problem – he would overexert and then he wasn’t getting enough oxygen.  Scary as hell, I gotta tell you (especially since we’re talking about the closest thing I’m ever going to have to a son!) but they got him on some meds that helped.  Yup, the little brat got to have pills stuffed down his throat three times a day.  And you know?  He was actually pretty good about it.  He never ran away from me, and in fact often came running to me when I rattled his pill container.  How many animals do you know will do that when it’s pill time?

So things went well for several months.  Bratty cat got pills, and I wondered when the other shoe was going to drop.  Because, after all, he’s only going to last so long, right?  It could be several years, or it could only be a couple months.  I had no idea.  But after a while it became old hat.  A new normal.

Then in the spring we had a couple scares.  The first time, I noticed he was getting round.  And we’re talking about a cat that I fondly described as crackhead-cat-thin.  At first I just thought he was eating more.  I was giving him treats with his pills and I’d just changed to larger ones.  So I figured that three large treats a day (for a little bugger like him) could very well make a difference.  I started cutting the treats in half, but he still got thicker.  Then one day (a couple weeks in) I felt his not-so-little belly.  He felt like a balloon!  I palpated his pudgy-for-real “sister” Princess and felt standard pudge under her fur.  So I rushed my little boy off to the vet and (lo and behold) they had to take 650mL of fluid out that had accumulated in his belly.

That is WELL OVER HALF A LITER!!  Holy crapola, people!  No wonder he felt like a little balloon!  We upped his meds to get the fluid out more efficiently, which worked for a while.  But then a month or so later I saw that he was walking stiffly, like his back legs weren’t working right.  I felt him and they were cold!  Back to the vet, where they rushed him into the kitty ICU, which is an incubator.  (Who knew?)

Dr. Little (the owner) was working that day, and he got the immense joy of getting bitten by my little darling…  Yeah, they’re going to be on my Christmas goodie list this year, they more than deserve it!  At any rate, Dr. Little had just been to a seminar where they were discussing the use of a new drug in cats with heart disease, and he wanted to try it with Gumby.  It was spendy, but DAMN it worked!  Totally worth it.  I’m out of work, pinching pennies, living off my credit cards, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t spend the money on those pills every month, without hesitation.

At that second emergency visit Dr. Little said Gumby probably only had 2 or 3 months to live.  He said maybe six, but certainly not a year.  Well, he made it the six all right.  But I came home from class this Wednesday and found that he wasn’t moving much.  His breathing was a bit more labored than usual (it’d gotten more so over the past year since his diagnosis) but I decided not to take him in, since it was steady and regular.  But I canceled my plans and stayed home that night.

The next couple of days I watched as his condition stayed the same – or at least it seemed that way.  I got home Thursday night late after work and found him stretched out on the bed.  Looking back I think he was having trouble breathing and that was a more comfortable position for him.  I lay crosswise on the bed so I could snuggle with him, not knowing what to do but feeling that he wanted the comfort.  I certainly did.  At about 5am I roused up and he seemed stable, so I got into bed the normal way so I could get some sleep.  When I woke up he was in the living room, which I thought was a good sign – hey look, he’s getting up and moving!  He must be feeling better, right?  Not so much.

I was in the kitchen doing the dishes when I heard him cry out.  Have you ever heard a cat crying?  It’s awful.  Cuts right to the bone, you know?  Especially when it’s one you raised from a tiny little fluffball, one you taught to play games and you held at night, one you nursed through a couple of awful scares already.  Even when you know you’re living on borrowed time, and that the clock is about to stop ticking , it’s still awful to see the train coming at you.

That’s how I felt at that moment.  I knew he was about to go, and I knew the best thing at that point was to let him.  He was so scared when he went to the vet’s office, I didn’t want to take him to a strange, cold, scary place to die.  I wanted his last moments to be in his home, where at least he was comfortable and felt secure.  But you know, that’s easier said than done.

Have you ever actually watched a living thing die?  It’s horrible.  He was scared and he was in pain and he didn’t know what was wrong; he just kept crying like he wanted it to stop.  And I told him it would, and I petted him and told him (and myself) that it was all going to be over soon.  But it didn’t happen soon enough, and I was weak.  I couldn’t just watch it happen, watch the pain get worse and us not able to actually communicate with each other beyond emotion and physical sensation.  You know, you can’t explain anything to a cat (obviously); you can’t talk to him about passing, you can’t work through his feelings so he understands his own mortality and can be ready to leave.  You can’t tell him that the pain is only going to be here for a little while, and it’ll all be over soon.  You can only try to ease his physical pain, which I had no way to do.  So I wrapped him in a towel and put him in the carrier and took him to the vet’s office.

They rushed him into that damned ICU that scared him so badly before, but within half an hour he was gone.  I don’t know if taking him in eased his passing.  I really don’t.  I know it eased my feelings of helplessness at the moment, but it hasn’t done a thing for my feelings of guilt since then.  Should I have taken him in sooner?  At what point do you admit defeat, stop forcing the medication on the animal, and have him put down?  At what point does the pain suffered override the value of life?

All I know at this point is that we had six months together – six months for me to love him and for him to love me back; six months to give him the best life I could; six months in which he slowly faded from the playful devil I raised to a grumpy, tired little man-cat.  He still played a little at the end, but not much and not often, and not for very long.  He didn’t have the stamina.  And the last few weeks, he didn’t come to me when I called him, either.  He stayed under the bed, coming out when he felt like it and otherwise hiding.

I look back and I feel pretty sure that I did the best I could at the time.  I can see things that hindsight makes me wish I’d done differently, but that’s the way it always is.  I guess overall I’m just happy I had nine years (to the day, almost) with my little shadow cat.  There’s not much else I can do at this point, is there?

Healing, perhaps

I guess it’s more than perhaps, it’s more like “apparently.”

Five years, seven months, three days, one hour, and forty-nine minutes ago, the first man I truly adored was killed.  He’d come into my lonely, desperate, incomplete life, and he filled all the empty spaces that bothered me.

Then suddenly he was gone.

Being the type of person I am, I of course pulled myself up by the bootstraps and went on with life.  *sigh*  I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really know how to grieve.  I don’t know how to lose.  I don’t know how to be hurt.  I just have no idea how to do any of that.  My default reaction is to take a deep breath, consider all the good things that still exist in my life, and move the hell on.

End of story.

After all, no matter what happens in my life, no matter how awful things seem, at least I’m still breathing, right?  At least I still have my health, and my sanity (or as much of it as I ever had!), and my ability to support myself, and my loving and wonderful family and friends.  So why should I dwell on what I’ve lost?  Why should I live in the past?  Why should I cling to something or someone that’s gone?

Unfortunately, my analytic mental processes don’t actually control everything that goes on inside.  So of course, recovering from The Loss Of My Entire Life was not (shall we say) a quick or easy process.  In fact, it’s still not finished.  Not even close.

But a few weeks ago I turned a corner, and tonight I turned another one.  (Does that mean I’m headed back the way I came?  *shudder*)

I spent 28 years wishing for someone who would make me feel wanted, and loved, and worthy, and wonderful.   I didn’t have him for very long, but he was instrumental in building me up to the (apparently) confident person I am today.

I’ve spent the past 5 years knowing that I’ll never find another person like him, and I’ve been not only grieving his loss, but the loss of that love and the loss of the way the love made me feel and the hope that I’d ever feel that loved again.

Oooh, there it is.  There’s the first epiphany.  I finally came to see that what I miss most about Mike Lucas is the way I felt when we were together.  Maya Angelou said it best, you know.  I will always remember the way he made me feel.  And I know I’m not the only one – anytime he walked into a room, the whole place would light up.  Everybody knew him, everybody loved him, everybody wanted to be around him.  He was just that kind of person.  Can you blame me for wanting to feel that again?

So a few weeks ago I realized that, and I realized that – wait for it – there might be someone, somewhere out there, who someday might make me feel that good again.  Who might make me feel that wanted again.  Who might make me feel like I belong again.

It could happen.  I believe it could.

So voila, there’s some hope.  And for me, hope is like air, in that I cannot live without it.  (I almost didn’t, in fact, but that’s another story.)  I now have hope that the thirteen months and thirteen days I spent with my First Mate don’t have to be the sum total of my belonging.

Huge.

Tonight I came to another confusion, as we like to say in my family.  You see, this Saturday would have been Mike’s 44th birthday, and we were talking about how to celebrate it.  I’m thinking a family dinner and maybe a toast…  Mom suggested releasing paper lanterns with messages written on them, which I really like.

But that got me thinking about how to remember him.  And how I can keep him in my life, even though he isn’t exactly in my life any more.  I acted the ass so thoroughly when I lost him (grief makes us do stupid things) that none of his friends or family talk to me any more.  His murderer is also his widow, so she gets to keep his name till she dies, she even got a frikkin’ television show.  Yeah, what do I get?  I get to feel like I’m nothing and nobody.  Which I am not, not by a long shot!  But it does feel that way.

Tonight I realized that I can, and should, find a constructive way to remember Mike.  Maybe find a cause to help in his name, maybe create something, maybe make a new tradition.  I don’t know what, I’m still working that out.  But I realized tonight that I’ve been looking for a place to put him in my life.  And because I haven’t had a place for him, he’s been floating all over and getting in the way, so to speak.

I think I’m finally getting started with this “moving on” and “healing” stuff that people have been talking about.  Sure has taken a while…  But I guess I’m a pretty tough nut to crack on some things.

Five years, seven months, three days, two hours, and twenty-one minutes.  And counting.

I killed a bunny last night

No, really.  I was heading out to BFE Middle of Nowhere to watch the meteors, and I saw something small run across the road in front of me.  Slowed down for safety’s sake, ID’d it by the upright ears, and smiled as it continued all the way across the road.  Then I stopped smiling as the dumb critter RAN BACK ONTO THE ROAD AND RIGHT UNDER THE TIRES OF MY JEEP.

*sigh*

There was the tiniest bump as I went over it, so I stopped and turned around to see if I had really hit it, and if so if it was dead.  Not sure how I’d have put it out of its misery if it was still suffering…  But I was at least going to find out one way or the other.

Sure enough, there’s a very flat, unmoving, lump of light grey fur on the road.  It was gone by morning, of course, so perhaps I provided a coyote his dinner.

I just can’t fathom why the poor little dumb thing would run BACK onto the road, directly AT the large and noisy machine of death that it could so easily have avoided!

Great weekend

This weekend was really quite lovely.  Not what I expected in many ways, but lovely nonetheless.

Friday Shawn and I were planning on playing the Life Care Center in Port Orchard, but it was moved to next week.  So we got together and worked on some originals instead – finding harmonies and working out the arrangements, that sort of thing.  Then we put together a full 3-hour set list so we’ll be ready for gigs.  I was once again struck by how much I value these musical friendships that I’ve made recently.  There’s something so special in having at least a few people around you who share the same feelings and joys, and with whom you can share the crazy excited thoughts that run through your brain when you get random song ideas!

Well, after a couple of hours we headed for the Alderbrook, which was fabulous as always.  The crowd was good, the drinks were great, the scenery was incredible.  We played about a set and a half, then Robert Poole and Robert the flutist jammed for a bit.  The band actually went outside and sat down near the water while the guys did their thing!  😉  Then we headed back in to take over again and, lo and behold, Mike Pratt was in the house.  So when we got back up I dragged Mike on stage for a few songs, including a Travis Tritt duet and a group jam on Mustang Sally that had so many people we didn’t all fit on stage!  Before we knew it, it was time to shut down, but the party didn’t stop there.

Since several other musically inclined folks had showed up by then, we all ended up out on the patio around a fire pit, passing around a guitar and making up harmonies to all kinds of wonderful songs.  It wasn’t heaven, but it was pretty damn close, being outside with the music and the dancing and the people and the fire and the water and the stars…  Unfortunately, as the night wore on a very well-lubricated individual showed up and began making too much noise.  This of course Cannot Happen at a respectable establishment like the Alderbrook, so we were promptly removed from the scene.  That’s right, the BAND got bounced!  Priceless, eh?  It’s okay tho, I really had to get home to give Gumby his meds.

By the by, I got refills for him yesterday and I’m really happy!  See, I have to cut one of his three meds in half, and the pill is large and round, hence it tends to crush rather than break clean.  So every 4th pill or so ends up wasted.  (It’s still cheaper than getting the next smaller size and giving him 2 morning and 2 night!)  Well, to make a short story long, the pills are shaped differently now, so they cut easily and cleanly.  *happy dance*

Okay, back to the weekend…  Once again I missed my swim lesson, but this time it was because I had a class to teach at the same time, not because I’d been up too late the night before.  So I did my class, which went very well indeed.  Hopefully I will see my students back for project classes!  I’m really on the fence about teaching up there.  It’s hard to schedule, since my calendar changes around so often.  And the classes are set around 3 months in advance!  So it’s difficult.  And when I end up canceling other plans to drive 17 miles and teach a single student…  Well, let’s just say that the cost-benefit equation isn’t favorable.  But lately I’ve been having lots of multi-student classes, which makes things more palatable.  As you can see, I have reasons for wanting to quit before the next session starts.

But my class did go well, and after that I had a good chat with Jon about Navy issues while we moved more of Albert’s things out.  I’m going to sit down with Jeff the recruiter (Should I go all Mr. Rogers and capitalize that?) about the officer programs.  Jon suggested I go in as a yeoman, spend the first year getting my Bachelor’s, then go for a commission and the big money.  Not a bad plan!  And worth considering, since the band thing doesn’t seem to be happening.  }:-(

Saturday night we were at the Man-Pub, which was not nearly as busy as it usually is.  Perhaps everyone was nursing sunburns, what with the beautiful weather!  Honestly, it felt like we were a little off…  Not sure what the deal was, but to me it felt like we were trying too hard and it just wasn’t working.  I know Shawn was – he pretty much lost his voice by the end of the night!  We were both struggling to get some of those songs at the end.  But we (once again) overfilled the stage area – Tim and Kim Silke came out, so of course we had to drag Tim up front to join us.  We ended the night with Southern Cross and Seven Bridges Road, which was absolutely fabulous.  I love singing with these guys – the harmonies make me sooooooo happy!

Today I had anticipated playing at the Downtown Market, but as it turned out they had entertainment lined up already.  So…  I slept in.  😀  Can’t argue with that, huh?  Got down to Evergreen in time for my set at Kitsap Pride, but unfortunately that didn’t go as well as I anticipated.  First of all, the audience disappeared just as I started.  (The drag queens performed, then Michael spoke, then Derek Kilmer spoke, during which many people departed.  *phooey*)  So I stood up to a greatly depleted audience – and promptly started playing in a different key than I was singing.  *facepalm*  And more people left.

The rest of my set went well, and in fact they kept me for a couple of encores, which was sweet.  But the best part (aside from having friends come out specifically to see me play, which always gives me warm-and-fuzzies) was that I met some gals who live right down the hill from me!  So I made some new friends, and we’re gonna get together and jam some time.  How cool is that?!?

Went home, stopping on the way to drop booth stuff in storage for daMama and to hit the grocery store for a few things, and commenced with the domesticity.  In particular, the making of chili and the baking of various breads.  I was planning on white bread, wheat bread, corn bread, and banana bread.  Unfortunately, I did not realize that my milk was nasty – so much for the wheat bread!  And I took too much time on the other things, so the white bread wouldn’t have time to rise before I went to bed.  So that was out.  And then I ran out of cumin, so knowing that my chili wouldn’t be ready tonight I said “to hell with it” and put the cornbread off till tomorrow.  So…  Um…  I has banana bread muffins.

All in all, the weekend was lovely and fun and filled with many wonderful memories.  Not at all what I expected…  But isn’t that just how life works?  Tomorrow morning I’ll be meeting a couple of the other vixens at the garden, and we will break our fast with banana muffins and coffee, and then work our ass ends off to feed ourselves and our families.  So I guess it’s time that I put the last nail in this weekend’s coffin and hit the hay.  Good night all, and let’s all enjoy another week filled with unexpected surprises!

Depression

K, so if admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, then I shall do so.

I’m dealing with some depression right now.  I’m at a crossroads in my life, and I’m feeling ready for a change.  But the change is taking so long in coming, it’s getting frustrating.  I was just saying last night, I’ve gone through the part where I let go of my plans and embrace the new paradigm.  So I’ve turned the mental corner and I’m ready for the new thing now.  But it isn’t coming!  So I’m still stuck here in my old life, the one that won’t work and isn’t working and that I’ve already given up.  But I can’t go on to my new life yet.

So I’m feeling really out of sorts and it’s really messing with my head.  I guess the only thing to do is soldier through and deal with it, huh?  At least I have friends who I can turn to and get it off my chest, which I really need to employ more often because it’s a much better coping mechanism than my usual ones.

Know what?  I think I’ll go clean the affirmations off my mirror and write a new one.  Something along the lines of, “You will succeed if you apply yourself.”  With the IF really big.

And then tonight I’m going to go see my wonderful family and celebrate my nephew’s birthday and bask in the love and appreciation and togetherness and understanding and BELONGING that makes me so happy to have been born into this bunch of people.

Take that, depression.

Opposite Day

Imagine for a moment that you are known for, almost defined by, your positive demeanor.  Imagine that you have put on a positive attitude like a coat you wear year-round.  Imagine that you fight any negative thought, that you self-talk your way out of any low point or discouraging event or setback or moment of doubt.  Imagine that you consider a positive outlook to be a basic part of who you are.

Now imagine that you look back on the last five years of your life and can see that every damned thing you’ve done is crumbling around you.  Imagine that everything you’ve set your mind to has failed.  Imagine that your very best efforts, your blood and sweat and tears and stress has gone to feed the insatiable, gaping mouth of a black hole.

Doesn’t it make sense that you’d want to run away from it all?  Doesn’t it make sense that your greatest desire would be to pack a bag and run away to join the circus?  Or maybe the Navy?  Especially if you know that the end result will be to get you into a better place, a place where you can have back the life you really wanted all along?  Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to give up all these things (that are falling apart anyways) for a few years, in return for getting them back in spades later?

Now imagine that you’ve made the decision to take that step.  And you’ve even started to feel good about it – feel excited about it.  And you’ve accepted that you’re a failure and your best efforts aren’t good enough and you might as well throw in the towel because why would anybody want you to stay anyways?  I mean hell, nobody even reads your damned blog, so who really gives a crap?

Nobody, that’s who.

(Not completely true; my family – who I once promised I would never leave again – gives a great deal more than a crap.  But this is hyperbole, there’s not much room for the nuanced tones of reality in this post.)

Anyways (sorry about the rabbit track there), now imagine that after you’ve accepted your own worthlessness, after you’ve realized that you’re a failure and it’s time to start over, after you’ve worked yourself around to a place where you can give up the life you love and you’ve been clinging to so desperately (even though it really isn’t working), and after you’ve come to terms with the nature of the new reality you’re looking toward, then and only then do you get a hint of hope that you might actually be able to make this work.  Then and only then do people reach out with a form of help that actually meets your needs.  Then and only then do you get a sense that you’re appreciated and wanted and maybe you shouldn’t assume that leaving is actually the best option.

So what do you do now?  What do you do once you’ve turned the boat and taken the first steps in a new direction and mentally re-written your life?

How hard to you try to keep the life you really want?  How far do you pursue it, when you know that the option to leave depends on a pretty narrow window of opportunity – a window that shrinks every day – a window that you can’t even get the involved parties to define clearly for you?

How far do I push this?

Refinement

There’s a bit of religious imagery that has stuck with me since childhood.  In I Corinthians 3 Paul talks about all of our works being tried by fire, and the unworthy things are burned away and the worthy things are refined.  He says if we build with lasting materials our works will survive the fire and we’ll be rewarded, but if we build with “straw and wood” it will be burned away and we’ll be left with no reward.

I’m not religious any more, and I don’t believe that this will ever literally happen.  But I can tell you for sure that it happens to me all the time right now.  Troubles come along, and they set my life on fire.  And let me tell you, having your life set on fire is not fun!  It burns, it hurts, and it’s really scary to see everything you’ve built start to melt down around you.  But I’ve found that when I face my fears, and come to terms with reality, and accept what is really happening, I can use the situation to become a better person.  But it’s not automatic, in fact it takes quite a bit of effort.

First, you have to ask yourself how you got into this situation.  Think of what you could have done differently.  Imagine a similar situation happening again, and see yourself doing it differently next time.  Recognize the flaw, the mistake, the error, the blindness, whatever it was in yourself that either caused or allowed the bad thing to happen.  If nothing you did contributed to or exacerbated the problem, then think of what you can learn from what you’re going through.

The important part is to look.  Look at what you’ve done.  Look at who you are.  See yourself, see the great parts and the icky ones both.  See the things you love about yourself.  (If you can’t see them, ask a loved one to tell you one thing that they like about you.  Then remind yourself of that wonderful characteristic EVERY DAY.  Tell your mirror three times a day how awesome you are because of ________.  Repeat till you believe it.  Then repeat some more.)  See the things you don’t like about yourself, and then figure out what you can do about them.  (If you can’t figure out what to do about it, ask a loved one for advice.  If you don’t have any loved ones that you can trust with either of these tasks, that’s what professional counselors are for.)  Look at yourself honestly, seeing both good and bad.  Know thyself, as it has been wisely said for millenia.

When the trouble-dragon comes around and starts burning your whole world down, it’s natural to fight it.  It’s natural to want to stay wherever we are, and to look at the destruction as a bad thing.  But pay attention.  The things in your life that are worth saving – genuine relationships, healthy behaviors, a positive attitude, a strong moral code – will survive the fire.  They may be melted a little, they may need to be polished and get a little TLC after all that stress.  But they’ll survive.  And the things that aren’t worth saving – fair-weather friends, unhealthy habits, negative attitudes, loose personal ethics – will be fueling the fire, and they’ll be consumed by it.  After the fire dies down, you’ll find yourself with more room to breathe and to rebuild.

So I’m not afraid of the fire.  I don’t particularly enjoy going through it, I’ll tell ya that much!  But I know that whatever it takes away, even if it’s something I desperately wanted and depended on, I can survive on what’s left from it.  And I know that whatever is broken down in the fire can be rebuilt afterward.

Arron’s Retirement

I had the immense honor of being asked to sing at my friend Arron Sterling’s navy retirement yesterday.  Not only did he hire Tuck and I to sing for his reception, but he asked me to sing the national anthem for the actual ceremony!

Now, I always love to sing the national anthem.  Every time I do, I feel like I’m part of something much bigger than myself.  It’s kind of like my own little form of national service.  Silly, I know, but there you have it.

And it was so flattering that he asked me!  The man’s a Lieutenant Commander, for heaven’s sake, he probably knows a dozen people who could do it.  He asked me.  Damn!  Did that make me blush?  Oh yes, it made me blush.  Right down to the tips of my toes.

So I cleared my calendar for the day, got all gussied up in something appropriate to the occasion, even shaved my legs, and took a nice leisurely drive up to Indian Island.  And it was a fantastic day for a drive.  Took one wrong turn because I didn’t read the directions carefully enough, but I recognized my mistake right away, flipped Rizzo back around, and got headed the right direction.  Got there with plenty of time to spare.

I do love military retirements.  I’ve attended several, and I gotta tell you, I cry every time at two points.  First, there’s a ceremony called “Old Glory.”  Several servicemembers stand in a line, representing the ranks previously held by the retiree.  The lowest ranking person holds an American flag, and they pass the flag from one person to the next, all along the line.  Each person moves slowly and deliberately, saluting before receiving the flag, then saluting again after passing the flag to the next person; it’s a very regimented and precise sequence.  The retiree him or herself is the last person in line, and when he or she takes the flag, he or she can then present it to a parent or spouse, or someone else very special to them.  The entire time the flag is being passed, the following poem is read:

I am the flag of the United States of America
My name is Old Glory.

I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings.
I stand watch in America’s halls of justice.
I fly majestically over great institutes of learning.
I stand guard with the greatest military power in the world.
Look up! And see me!

I stand for peace, honor, truth, and justice.
I stand for freedom.
I am confident . . . I am arrogant.
I am proud.

When I am flown with my fellow banners,
my head is a little higher,
my colors a little truer.

I bow to no one.
I am recognized all over the world.
I am worshipped.
I am saluted.
I am respected.
I am revered. I am loved.
And I am feared.

I have fought every battle of every war for more than 200 years…
Gettysburg, Shilo, Appomatox, San Juan Hill, the trenches of France,
the Argonne Forest, Anzio, Rome, the beaches of Normandy,
the deserts of Africa, the cane fields of the Philippines,
the rice paddies and jungles of Guam, Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Vietnam,
and a score of places long forgotten by all but those who were with me.

I was there!

I led my soldiers.
I followed them.
I watched over them…
They loved me.

I was on a small hill in Iwo Jima.
I was dirty, battle-worn and tired,
but my soldiers cheered me,
and I was proud.

I have been soiled, burned, torn and trampled on the streets of countries
I have helped set free.
It does not hurt . . . for I am invincible.
I have been soiled, burned, torn and trampled on the streets of my country,
and when it is by those with whom I have served in battle . . . it hurts.
But I shall overcome . . . for I am strong.

I have slipped the bonds of Earth
and stand watch over the uncharted new frontiers of space
from my vantage point on the moon.

I have been a silent witness to all of America’s finest hours.
But my finest hour comes
when I am torn into strips to be used for bandages
for my wounded comrades on the field of battle.
when I fly at half mast to honor my soldiers…
and when I lie in the trembling arms
of a grieving mother at the graveside of her fallen son.

I am proud.
My name is Old Glory.

Dear God . . . Long may I wave!

I read recently that this was written in 1983, which I found surprising because I always thought it was a much older tradition.  All I know is that I cry every time I hear it.  (Well, I cry when it’s done well.  I’ve heard MCs who didn’t know what they were doing, and a butchered reading doesn’t always bring up tears.)  The other part that always gets me is when they read “The Watch.”  Again, visualize me weeping like a baby.  A sad, angry baby.  (For those of you who aren’t Firefly fans, that’s a quote.)

Aye mates,
For many years, this Sailor stood the watch …
While some of us lay about our bunks at night,
This Sailor stood the watch.

While others of us were attending schools,
This Sailor stood the watch.

And yes, even before many of us were born,
This Sailor stood the watch.

As our families watched the storm clouds of war,
brewing on the horizons of history,
He stood the watch.

This Sailor looked ashore and saw his family …
Often needing his guidance but he knew he must stay,
Because he had the watch.

For many years he has stood the watch,
So that we and our countrymen could sleep soundly, in safety,
knowing that a Sailor would stand the watch.

Today, we are here to say “Shipmate, the watch stands relieved.
Relieved by those you have led, trained and guided.
Shipmate, you now stand relieved, We have the watch.”

Again, with the right person reading it, this is a huge tearjerker for me.  Yes, I get sappy when I think of everything that is given by those who serve.  It’s not just the lives they lay down, it’s not just the ones who died on our behalf.  (Though how the word “just” could ever be applied to that kind of sacrifice, I don’t know.)  Like anything else one does, the willingness to give over a long period of time is just as significant a sacrifice – holding fast, day in and day out, while all the little costs add up.

A life given in service to the military is just that – a life given in service.  I’m too selfish to do that.  I freely admit it.  I want to do my own thing with my life.  I don’t even want to work for a corporation, or anybody else for that matter, because I’d rather be accountable to myself.  I enjoy self-employment, because I can make all the decisions myself.  I am amazed and wonderstruck and incredulous at the many men and women I know, and the many more I’ll never know, who have given five or ten or twenty – or in Arron’s case, 28 – years of their lives to defend us.

And then, after all that, they don’t even get the national anthem at their ceremony.  Yep, that’s right folks, the sad, sorry truth is that when the time came yesterday for the MC to announce me, he skipped a line and went right past.  Poor Arron, I felt so bad for him.  I felt pissed for myself too, you understand, but really, for me it was an opportunity to be there for a friend, and to honor the nation that is my home and those who ensure its (and my) safety.  For Arron, it was the culmination of his entire career, the ending point of his life as it’s been and the beginning of his life as it will be.  He deserved fewer glitches, IMHO.

But of course, at the end of the day, he was still retired, and we had an awesome party later on.  At which, of course, he let me sing the anthem.

It wasn’t fairy-tale quality, but it was still a happy ending.