Yesterday, I had the honor of providing a ride to an incredible woman named Mary. Mary is 92 years old and by her own words “feels great!” She only has a flip phone so she utilizes a service called Go Go Grandparent to order her Lyft rides. I have attached a link in the comments. The service provides her all the info about her ride including the name of the driver, type and color of the vehicle, plate number, how far away, and the cost. The service will also send a text to Mary’s daughter to let her know Mary is on a Lyft ride. Pretty cool service. I didn’t know it existed until yesterday.
Mary and I only had about 15 minutes together but I can tell you that was the best 15 minutes of my day! Mary told me she moved here from South Carolina not long after her husband passed away to be closer to her family. She has 5 children, grandkids, and I believe at least 1 great grandchild. She lives with family in Fort Worth. Now, I must apologize because as I tell the next part of the story, I was unable to get some basic info. Mary actually told me her husband’s name but because we were limited in time and I didn’t want her to be late for her dentist appointment, I didn’t confirm his name and failed to write it down. I can tell you if Mary ever reads this, I hope she will reach out to me. I would love the opportunity to speak with her again. I believe her life story is one worth sharing.
Mary’s husband graduated from Harvard. He then moved on to the Naval Academy and became a Naval Aviator. This man flew jets off carriers! He flew combat missions in Korea and even took flak, forcing his plane down. Meanwhile, Mary would look to the skies, wondering if her husband was alright. She didn’t want to see Naval Officers dressed in formal whites approach her door. As she spoke of her husband, it was easy to see how much she loved him, and that they must have had an extraordinary bond. She would wrench her hands in anxiety every time she got any news. While her husband was streaking the sky, Mary was doing the hard work of raising their 5 children, basically on her own. She wasn’t complaining about this. She was proud of her husband and I believe she was happy with the job she did raising her family too.
Mary had such a delightful positive disposition. When we first greeted one another, her response was, “Christopher, I am above ground and breathing air, so I am happy to be here.” Mary seemed so appreciative for her family and just for being alive. I asked her if she was religious because I believe God brought us together. She laughed and said, “Well, I suppose you could call me a failed Episcopalian.” But Mary had a deep spiritual connection to God, clearly. She told me once, when she felt extremely depressed and desperate, she went into the church and prayed to God for help. And, He did. Just praying for help gave her enough peace and strength to carry on. When she was talking about feeling pretty good for her age, she told me how medicine and health is all about the acronyms now. She had a friend who was diagnosed with IBD. When her friend told this to Mary, Mary responded saying, “I also have an acronym health issue, AGE. It causes all kinds of issues including a loss of hearing, sight, and stability. And, my teeth no longer fit right either.”
When Mary’s husband retired from the Navy, He went back to school and became a therapist. He treated patients for several years in South Carolina. It must have been a nice time for him and Mary, and for their family. He was no longer away. One day he came home and told Mary that he couldn’t remember previous sessions with his patients. Even when he checked his notes, he was having a hard time remembering. That was the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
From diagnosis to death was 12 years. Mary told me she took care of him as his disease slowly took more and more of him. As he became less self-sufficient, Mary fed him, dressed him, and bathed him. She didn’t complain. Mary told me she was so happy she was able to do that for him. Her speech trembled a bit when she spoke about him so lovingly. Mary and I talked a little about depression. She has battled it, still does. But she is a warrior. Her husband served this nation heroically and then went on to help many more lives through therapy. If you ask me, Mary is also a hero that should be celebrated. She raised 5 children virtually alone. Her dedication and love for her husband is truly heroic as well. Now, here she is in Texas, near her family, and “feeling great!”
Mary, it was a true pleasure and honor to meet you. By the way, you should write a book too. Your story is amazing and I thank you for sharing a little bit of it with me yesterday.
As I thought about Mary and her husband, about how tough it must have been for both of them, while he was away flying dangerous missions and she at home raising their kids, this song came to mind.
The sun came up today, as it did yesterday and will again tomorrow. We have faith in that. It is a reliable constant that has never failed us. It’s Sunday in DFW. It is getting hot. As I sit here in my car, I notice the life around me. Lots of cars on the road. A nearly full city bus just drove by. There are several cars in the drive thru at Jack in the Box and Panda Express. Bees are circling the trash can in the parking lot where I am waiting. I am enjoying the bright sun, the blue sky and the scattered clouds, always a beautiful palette. There is something captivating about the sky and clouds. I bet I have taken a thousand pictures or more of the sky. The sky is both a constant and ever changing at the same time.
With the exception of a select few talented and dare I say lucky space travelers, we can always count on the sky over us, along with the sun and moon and the stars.
As I sit here appreciating the clouds and the bees and all these other little details around me that seem normal, peaceful, and ordinary, I see a man on the bridge that crosses the highway. He seems ancient, just skin and bone. His skin is darkened by all the sun his face has seen. His back is bowed and he moves ever so slowly but seemingly so deliberate, as if he had a mission that has taken his whole life and he was nearing the end. This man, the man on the bridge, the bridge man is wearing a paper surgical mask and holding a sign that says Peace and God Bless You on a torn piece of cardboard.
I wonder what Bridge Man sees when he looks around. I wonder if he appreciates the sky and the bees and the seemingly normal things around both of us. I wonder how different his perspective is from my own about the same surroundings. I wonder what he thinks about the troubled times we live in. He obviously knows about the pandemic. Does he know about the civil unrest? Does he care? He appears homeless and destitute. I think if I was in his shoes the world wouldn’t matter so much as what I would do for my next meal and where I might sleep tonight.
Does Bridge Man have any family or friends? How did he get here? Does he have a mental health issue? Is he struggling with alcohol or drug abuse? I watched as bridge man slowly disappeared beyond the apex of the bridge.
The man I was waiting for finally made it out to the car. His name is John. I met John recently at a new job and got to know him a bit. It turns out, John is a two-time felon who has only been out of his 2nd prison term for a few months. He lives in a sort of halfway house for men. I have been there and it is really quite nice. It is a two-story house with lots of shade and a pool in the back. So, John has a place to stay as he tries to get his life together. But he doesn’t have a car and he has a limited education. John is taking courses to become a HVAC technician. A few weeks after I met him, the new company I work for let him go because he didn’t clear the background check. He is now working at Jack in the Box. John is a little rough around the edges. He has had a hard life. He has even been shot twice in the face so he has a few mangled teeth. I give John a ride to class on Mondays and occasionally a ride home from work. It seemed like the least I could do. Once you are down, it’s very hard to get back up. John is trying.
With all the protests, I was reminded of an interaction with one of my riders last fall. I think it was shortly after Atatiana Jefferson was killed. It was raining, late on a Saturday night and I was picking up someone named Henry. All of the sudden the back door of my car opened and in flew someone from the rain with his hoody tightly pulled around his head. The second he got the door closed he ripped the hoody back, threw his hands up, and with a big disarming smile said “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” There was nothing remarkable enough about the trip for me to write about Henry at the time. At least I didn’t think so then. But I remembered him because of the way he made his entrance to the car and we did have a short conversation about race, white privilege, and both wondered if it would ever get better. I remember asking him that question. His answer was, “Only if we keep the conversation going and not the bullets.”
I miss those little interactions with my passengers. No matter how terrible the world seemed on the news, I could always get in my car, flip on the Uber/Lyft apps and meet new people who never failed to restore my faith in humanity.
What do these stories say about our society? How many homeless before we change the way we provide for our citizenry? How can someone truly get a second chance in a society that is already almost impossible for poor people who haven’t committed any crimes? How many black lives must be lost before we truly address police brutality and systemic racism? Could we finally be ALL in to address the racial injustices of our beloved America
I certainly don’t have the answers. In my life journey, I have learned this much:
There is Grace in everything.
Each of those men reminded me about what matters in life and how I wish to live it. We are all connected in this world. Many of us fall through the cracks of society, become invisible. But those lost to the shadows have needs, feel love and sorrow.
We turn away from them daily, often without even thinking about it. Those of us who make mistakes and pay for those mistakes according to our justice system never stop paying for them in our society.
Maybe now, with this perfect storm of a pandemic, a racist and corrupt president exacerbating societal fault lines, and finally knowing just how many black lives needed to end through police brutality, maybe now we can truly change. Maybe now is the time we have all been waiting for. I am not foolish enough to think we will achieve world peace and equality tomorrow but maybe we can finally move our country toward a more perfect union.
As dark and frightening as the world may seem, it is easy to lose sight of God’s loving hands. We see less clearly with so much darkness in the world. I see way too many fellow Christians supporting and defending, vehemently defending rhetoric and actions that are anything but Christlike. When in truth, we should be setting a higher example and lighting the path to peace and justice and belonging; like Streetlights on a Saturday night guiding us home. This battle for what many are calling the soul of our nation often pushes my anger in the direction of hate. Thinking of those 3 stories of men, how could I be so vain and self-righteous?
And that is what reminded me once again, that there is grace in everything, everywhere. And through God’s grace we shall prevail.
Grace is all around us. It becomes harder to see and feel, to witness, when we carry hate and anger and fear in our hearts. But, nevertheless, it is there, Grace. When you open your heart and your eyes to see it, to feel it, to witness it you will know God’s love.
This is a daily gift from God. Imagine a set of rose colored eye glasses that have a unique power to see beautiful surroundings that are otherwise invisible. The surroundings are always there but without those glasses you cannot see how incredibly beautiful your surroundings truly are. Faith, love, and kindness are the filters through which we can truly see, feel, and witness the beauty of God’s Grace.
I see it all the time now. Although, it took me more than forty years to find my rose-colored glasses and I still misplace them from time to time. Lately, I seem to forget them more often. We are in challenging times that can leave us all in a state of anger, hopelessness, fear, and despair. Lately I seem to get sidetracked and off message.
There are definitely things to be angry about. There is nothing wrong with anger. There are many wrongs that need to be righted. With all that this nation and the world is dealing with, it is easy to become the very thing we are fighting against, hate.
I have been listening to songs from the sixties and early seventies. I have been listening to the lyrics of songs like Blowin’ In The Wind, For What It’s Worth, and Change Is Gonna Come; songs written 50 and 60 years ago but seem like they could have been written yesterday. One of my favorite songwriters is Neil Young. I have always loved his song Heart Of Gold. I read the lyrics again, like one might read the Bible, searching for a deeper meaning, a lesson. I found one. It is this,
On this often difficult and sometimes painful journey of life, we all find ourselves searching for a heart of gold. I think what those lyrics mean for me is an internal quest. Perhaps that is what Young meant. Of my attempts and my own failings, I am constantly looking for that heart of gold within me. Life continues to challenge that quest. Life can make me cynical and angry, sad and hopeless. But If I keep searching for goodness and purpose within my own heart, God will take care of the rest.
I wonder if Bridge Man, John, and Henry are looking for their heart of gold. How about you?
As I made my way back up I35 from Waco, I received a request in Midlothian. The pickup location was 30 minutes from my current position, just north of Czech Stop. I accepted the trip. If not, I wasn’t going to overcome the urge to turn around and head back to Czech Stop for some of their delicious kolaches or jalapeno bread.
Jake and Josh.
I headed for Midlothian. GPS put me on some dark country roads. Somehow I managed to avoid a small army of rabbits crossing the road. No gas station anywhere along my route, and I was running low on gas by the time I reached Jake’s house. Then we headed to Cedar Hill to pickup his friend Josh.
They hadn’t seen each other in 5 years. They grew up in the same neighborhood. So this little reunion of sorts was now on the way to Dallas, with one more stop for me to get gas and for Jake and Josh to get some energy drinks. Jake hopped out and immediately paid at the pump, instructing me to fill it up. Jake used his credit card to pay for my gas! When he got back to the car we took off for Dallas. Before we got to our destination, Jake had a plan. He paid me to stay near the club so I could give them a ride back home. Wow. That was great!
During the ride to Dallas, they talked about their youth, about some of their childhood adventures. It reminded me of my own younger days, playing streetball from dawn to dusk. Mrs. White’s mail box was the goal line for our football games. The streetlight by my house was the north goal line. We used tennis balls for baseball to cut down on the broken windows. Or, that was our theory, anyway. My friend Tony (we called him that) ripped one once, so hard that even being a tennis ball still punched a hole right through my next door neighbor’s window.
Tony’s actual name is Xavier. So he was called by several nicknames including Tony, T, Xavier, and X. He was standing over the manhole cover we used for home plate when he blasted that ball. We all turned to watch it go right through the window if my next door neighbor’s house. I looked back at X and all I saw was the bat on the ground still rolling across home plate. X was gone! A few minutes later he came out of his house with a surprised look on his face, asking us what happened because he heard what sounded like glass breaking.
Yep, he was a funny guy. Xavier passed away in 2014 from a heart attack. He is dearly missed. Baseball with my neighborhood pals is one of my favorite memories growing up on those long hot summer days in Texas. X has been on my mind lately. I guess it’s because of my little heart scare.
Both rides/conversations, first with Steve and Susan, and then with Jake and Josh took me on a journey down memory lane, revisiting my youth. Both trips were with very kind people.
Hey I think this kindness thing might be catching on!
I kept thinking about the past. I have also been struggling in the present. So, the past seemed like a good place to dwell for awhile. It is way too easy to get caught up in the daily stress and anxiety of life. Sometimes it takes a look back to realize how far you have come and to appreciate the journey.
Slowly, I have been moving forward. But still without a certain feeling. I was still looking for a sign, looking for a reason for my struggles and my family’s struggles. I have prayed, I have my faith. I am not feeling optimistic. Just tired. Just low.
The lights came on!
It took me awhile to focus and find it, but God’s grace has been there the whole time. Helping me. Guiding me.
I have been watching a movie on Netflix called An Interview With God. I will watch a few minutes here and there when I am waiting for a request at the airport or maybe on a lunch break. I finally finished it. It had a profound impact on me in my current funk.
In part of the film, Paul, the protagonist, is narrating, and says “Having faith isn’t worth much if you don’t truly believe. I kept praying, sure. But I stopped looking or even listening. So yeah. I see it now. Definitely a sign!” Referring to God’s presence in his life.
I realized I had not been paying attention. God took me down memory lane. He was trying to connect to me. Flying was a time when I really felt close to God without any background noise or distractions.
He brought me back to my neighborhood to remind me to live in the present. Make the most of each day, like in my youth, playing baseball in the street. Focus on the joy, not what has gone wrong.
He showed me that even when bad things happen, like the death of a friend, God is with us and good things are happening too. People come together. A friend brings you a meal. You share stories and celebrate life. I don’t know about you, but while I am sad and hurt when I lose a friend, I am also reminded that I am still alive and kicking. So kick!
More importantly, I am reminded that my life has continually been blessed. I am reminded of friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I am reminded of the joy in life. I am also reminded that flying a Beechcraft Bonanza is seriously kick ass!
My focus and balance have returned. I feel connected again. I feel God’s grace. I see the many many miracles that occur every day. Yeah, I am still tired, but incredibly thankful to be alive.
Bad things still happen. Life is still about running against the wind. But it is joyous.
Again, from the film,
“God hears our prayers. If you wonder where he is, his response is to start by looking to each other. And, that’s where he will be.”
I wrote this post below on March 4, 2019, not long after I had a heart attack and received 2 stents. I got a third a few months later. Now, as I write this update to the story, my father is in the hospital in Carson City. He and his wife live in Reno, but they chose the Carson hospital because they thought they would receive greater care for his heart issue. My dad is currently in his procedure now; Angiogram to see what is happening. I found it remarkable when Debby (my father’s wife) told me the Doc who is performing the procedure used to actually play backup guitar for Bob Seger. Well, there you have it. God’s grace through healing hands and, well, Rock-n-Roll! This will make more sense toward the end.
I am praying for good news. In the mean time, I am sharing this post again for Pop. He too, is tired and worn, but still running against the wind...
The Longest Trip.
Lord, I’m tired. I wonder, Lord, if you might give me shelter from the storm. The wind is blowing and I’m getting older. The wind is blowing and I am still running against it, as I have always done. But I’m tired and worn. I need some help. I need some hope. I just can’t shake this and I have lost a step or two…
Lately, I have been struggling. I have been questioning. I have been confused. There are days, more lately, where I find myself trying to reconcile God’s will with my own. I feel like I can’t find that balance. There is this nagging fear that I am failing, going nowhere, no matter how hard I try. There have been too many days where I forgot what it feels like, to feel good. Sometimes it feels like pushing on the ocean. Buts its just running against the wind, and I am not failing. And, I am not forsaken.
I haven’t written much lately. I haven’t found my voice again. At least until now. But this has taken me weeks to write. I have been in a bit of a fog, feeling weak, feeling like I have been knocked down and I am still coming to my senses. I feel incredibly mortal, fragile. And, that will pass. But nothing comes easy. There is a cost to everything.
We all struggle. If you look around and think about it, every person you know has struggles. That’s life. We all get knocked down. We all deal with difficult times. We are all still running against the wind. At least now that we’re older, we know we are stronger together. And, we are stronger through God’s grace.
Still, I am struggling.
Sunday, March 4th, 2019
Last night I picked up Steve and Susan from DFW airport. We hit it off before we got out of the terminal area. I am very glad too, because it was a 2 hour trip down just southwest of Waco. They live in McGregor, TX. I actually took them to the municipal airport where they have a hangar that keeps their 1961 Beechcraft Bonanza. Their car happened to be there as well.
Steve and I swapped flying stories. I have a little flight time in the same make and model as his Bonzana. Stock photo below.
They haven’t lived in Texas very long; less than a year. I asked Steve what brought him to Texas and he answered, Chip and Joanna Gaines. Seriously? I asked. Apparently, they watched the show Fixer Upper and decided Waco seemed like a nice place to live. It definitely has a lower cost of living than their previous home of 30 years, in Seattle.
Originally, they planned a retirement in the Caribbean, spending all their time on a catamaran. But their son was diagnosed with cancer. He is good now. But they say the next 5 years are the greatest risk of it returning. Steve and Susan decided to stay landside in case their son needed help. He lives in Houston.
So they came down and met the Gaineses. Joanna helped them find a house in McGregor. Their house in a Seattle suburb sold for $450 per square foot. Their new home in Texas cost $97 per sq. foot. They doubled the size for less money. Susan said they love being here and wish they had come to Texas 20 years ago.
As we continued to talk about aviation we started getting into the history of both our families. It turns out, Steve’s dad flew F4U-4 Corsairs in WWII. He was based in Guadalcanal, Henderson Field for a bit as well as the carriers, Lexington and Enterprise. While it was a completely different ship and in the 1970’s my father was an air traffic controller on the nuclear version of the Enterprise, CVN65. Besides the F4U-4 Corsair, Steve’s father also flew Wildcats and Bearcats off the deck of a carrier. My favorite aircraft of all time is the F4U corsair and it just happens to be Steve’s dad’s favorite as well. Especially since he flew them in combat, dogfighting Japanese Zeroes.
Dropping Steve and Susan off at McGregor airport was a real treat. It has been a while since I have been on an airfield. I enjoyed following the taxi lane to his hanger. It definitely brought back some memories.
Dropping them off completed the longest trip thus far in my 2 and a 1/2 years of driving Uber and Lyft. I think it was 123 miles. We had such a great time talking along the way, they offered to take me to dinner in Waco at their favorite burger place called Freddy’s. I had to gracefully decline and get back up to DFW. But it sure was a nice gesture. Steve and Susan, you guys are true kindness Warriors. Correction, Kindness Aviators!
Talking about our experience flying brought back so many memories. Thinking back on those days, I was so confident, so ambitious. I didn’t play by anyone elses rules. I thought I could do anything. But I was always running. I was running to or from something. Heartache, depression, loneliness, who knows exactly. But when I flew, I was at peace. Up there with the deep blue sky and the lofty clouds, I had no fears. My demons were left on the ground below. Up there it was just me and God.
Now, here I am, ragged and worn, still trying to re-engage. Still trying to find that place of grace that seems lost. I am running on fumes with no end in sight. But, I am still running.
Bob Seger was in town Saturday at the Ford Center in Frisco. I think his song, Against the Wind represents it best.
I know I am not alone. We are all struggling. We all keep running against the wind. It’s what we do. Sometimes, it’s all we can do.
Hi welcome to Chic-fil-A. Can I have a name for the order?
The sun is setting here in Arlington, TX. A sunny but chilly day has melted away most of the ice and snow from our biggest winter event of the season. That’s just another weekday for northerners. Our landscape has lost the bright white in favor of our usual pale yellows, greys and dull January landscapes. Texas weather changes so much, many of the live oaks only lose about half their leaves trying to figure out if its winter or summer. The Pin Oaks seem to know what time of year it is. But the Live Oaks each have their own fall schedule, it seems.
Welcome to Taco Bueno, one moment please.
Not much light left now. Just the yellow and orange Western horizon. There is a feeling of peace and, perhaps a little introspective melancholia in the car as the three of us listen to the music and wait for food orders in the drive thru. Katie is at a retreat. Ben home. Mindy, Leia, and I are collecting the food. It’s Saturday night. Everyone gets what they want.
What is it about Saturday night that always brings out the 80s?
Our trip to Taco Bueno was for Ben, my son. He always orders the same thing, a cheese quesadilla and a bean burrito, with plenty of hot sauce. We recognized the voice of the man who took our order because he never gets our order right. Seriously, never. Tonight was no different. I guess you could say it worked out. This time we ended up with 2 extra tacos. Bonus for me.
My wife, Mindy, and I have been feeling an enormous amount of stress and mental fatigue lately. Neither of us have slept well. We have both been anxious all day. Somehow, taking a little drive with our daughter, Leia, to get food helped us. Just being together in the car, going to a few familiar places and listening to music as the sun went down helped take some of the stress away. Nothing grand. But simple and peaceful, together.
After the food run, we settled in to watch the latest Ghostbusters movie. It was wonderful. There were some brilliant lines and nods to the original from the 80s. The music, effects, and general feel of the movie were like the original as well. I felt transported away from 2022. We laughed, alot. We shared a few hours together. It was good.
The upside of dealing with a shitty world is it makes you truly appreciate some of the most basic but definitely blessed parts of life. It reminds me how very important it is to really be in the now. It reminds me that no matter how much people can be hurtful and cruel, there are always others who are kind and loving. Spend less time with the former and more time with the latter.
There are many battles ahead. There are people who continue to do harm. And we will fight those battles. But tonight, tonight we have let it all go, even if just for a little while. That little drive took us to a better place. It allowed us to travel on a safer, kinder, more peaceful path. There was a light, several really, that shined down on us to say, we are together and so much better for it.
Don’t let the darkness take over. Remember you are not alone. Open your heart to the grace we receive each day and the loving reminders all along your path that life is beautiful. Keep going, even when you are weary, and you will find little bits of hope and joy along your journey. Just as, one by one, you pass under streetlights on a Saturday night.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Life is better with a soundtrack. And, Saturday night that soundtrack is all about the 80s!.
Thinking about those important little moments, I am reminded of a woman I met from my Uber experiences that showed me the importance of now. Here is a #peopleprofiles edition of StreetLights On A Saturday Night from August 26th, 2019.
StreetLights On A Saturday Night
And, with her permission…
Janet was 22 when she met Chris. She was a senior at UCLA; While Chris was a first year law student at Loyola. Janet described it as love at first site. She said Chris swept her off her feet. They moved in together just 3 months after they met. They were officially engaged a month later. The engagement last a couple of years because they wanted to wait until Chris was finished with law school. Janet is a California native who grew up in San Diego. Chris is from the Houston, Texas area. They both felt like they were in one of those happily ever after stories, Janet described with a smile. “He was this tall Texan, quick witted, and very charming.” She said.
Chris was welcomed into Janet’s family immediately and he found an attorney position in San Diego. Janet had been working as a waitress while in school back in L.A. But by the time they moved to San Diego, She was pregnant with their first of two daughters, Hannah. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of their other daughter. There is only so much I can learn about someone in a 30 minute car ride!
Janet elected not to work but to spend as much time as she could as a full time mom. Chris was making a good salary, and they were fortunate because Chris’s parents paid off his student loans (contingent upon his finishing law school ). “We were living perfect lives.” Janet stated in a melancholy tone. Chris began working long hours. He also began to drink alcohol more frequently and spent many nights out with some of his colleagues. Things really started to change when Chris got a DUI. His attitude and temperament began to change. He was under more stress at work and became distant to Janet. When she tried to address it with him, he became defensive and hostile, insisting he was working very hard to support their family, so he was entitled to blow off steam. Things get really bad when Janet discovered Chris had also been using cocaine. Ultimately, she had reached her limit and upon confronting Chris, He again became angry. This time with abuse language directed at Janet, and the kids. Janet described the scene as heartbreaking and horrific. Both the girls were crying and Janet was overwhelmed. She immediately told Chris to leave that night, to move out. And, so he did. He first moved to a hotel, then to a friend’s from work, and finally into a small apartment. Chris continued to spiral down. His work declined and he was unable to reliably do anything. Janet made the decision to file for divorce six months after he left. He had only spent a limited time with the girls during that period; and when he showed up one day to pick them up, Janet could easily tell he had been drinking and refused to let them go.
Janet was heartbroken and confused. She just couldn’t understand how he would be willing to throw it all away, their marriage, their children, a great career. Janet made a phone call to Chris’s mother in Houston telling them she was concerned Chris might end up dead. She said she made one more call that night, to Chris. She had to leave a voicemail saying she was begging him to go back to Texas, go back to his parents, and get help. In the meantime, Janet had to start working. Fortunately, Janet had the support of her family. “My family saved us.” She said graciously. Chris was able to somehow avoid being fired and managed to take an unpaid leave of absence on the condition that he seek help with his addictions and get clean. He did as Janet asked and moved back in with his parents in Texas.
Janet continued to move forward with the divorce but she would occasionally call Chris to check on him. If nothing else, He was still the father of her two daughters and she hoped he would eventually take a more active role in their lives once he got clean. Chris did get the help he needed. He slowly began to face his demons. At some point, Janet was talking with him and began to hear a familiar voice, the voice of the man she fell in love with. This changed nothing. She was still firm on divorce. One day, few months ago, Chris called her. This call was an apology. This call was Chris realizing their relationship was over and he knows it was his fault. Janet said he accepted her request and would be staying in Houston for awhile longer. He then, according to Janet, began joking around on the phone, making fun of himself. He ended the call with talking to both of his daughters. He told them he would be back in San Diego to visit them but would be living Houston near Mammaw and Papaw (guessing on the spelling)
Janet said that phone called put a crack, “a very small crack” in her current expectations of what the future looked like for she and her daughters. So, she started talking with Chris more on the phone. She had not discussed with him the anger and disappointment she had. She did not ask him why he did what he did. But, she began feeling the smallest amount of hope. She began to think that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance this could have a happy ending. Still, when she started thinking of all the painful things he said, his behavior, his addictions, she knew if there ever was a chance they would get back together, it would take a long time. Last month, Chris was killed in a car accident. He was sober. The girl who crashed into him was not.
When I picked Janet up from Terminal C at the airport, she was standing alone and at the end of the curb. She had texted me through the Uber app to let me know she was in a blue coat. When I pulled up and got out to greet her; to put her bag in the back of my car, she had this melancholy look about her. Janet has long flowing dark red hair and very fair skin. She is about the same height as me, 5 foot 8”. I mention this only because she did not appear to want a picture for this story and I didn’t ask. As I introduced myself, she said Christopher is her husband’s name too. I told her he must be an awesome guy to have a name like that. She just gave me a tiny smile with surprising sadness. Once I confirmed our destination, we began talking as if we knew each other; as if we were longtime friends.
Upon hearing this heartbreaking story, I was surprised to hear Janet speak of hope. Well, maybe not that surprised. She spoke of being at peace. She spoke of letting go. She spoke of the incredible resilience both of her daughters have expressed. She was meeting her sister-in-law in Dallas to drive down to Houston together for the final service for Chris. The girls were already down there at their grandparent’s house. She told me that she believed in God and she believed he has plans for her, and her daughters, but He had called Chris home.
We sat for a few moments outside her sister-in-law’s house as we finished our conversation. When I told her I write about some of the people I meet in my travels as an Uber/Lyft driver, and that I would like to share her story, she seemed surprised. “I don’t know. This doesn’t seem like a happy story. I think your readers will be disappointed.” She quipped. I told her that her story offers hope. It offers a small bit of light in a very dark place. She told me she would let me write about her, with one condition; she wanted to pass along some wisdom.
“Live for today. Make each day count. We are not promised there is a tomorrow.”
Very wise words, indeed.
Be kind to all you know. Be kind to all you see. Be loving. Be accepting. Be joyful. Be hopeful. Be at peace, my friends.
Thank you Janet
This next song, while not from the 80s, was the selection for the original post.
For Janet and Chris
Here is more 80s on the StreetLights On A Saturday Night Spotify playlist.
I pulled into the terminal A parking lot, the designated staging/waiting area for Uber and Lyft drivers. Both apps running. The queues for Uber and Lyft were 253 cars and 151 cars respectively. But it was Thursday night, the heaviest night of the week for business travelers coming home and between 9 pm and midnight, the highest number of arrivals. Nevertheless, I had some time to kill. So, I started walking the perimeter of the parking lot, left foot stepping on the faded red fire lane stripe.
Uber 240 cars ahead of me, Lyft 141.
So many people, so many cars. Up ahead I see Jeremy. He is always on his phone, alway very busy. At what, I’m not really sure. But, if I went over to say hello, I might be there awhile. Best keep walking. Jeremy usually has lots of drama to share. One night I watched him roam the parking lot on the phone with his ex-wife for almost an hour, arguing. He drives all the time but likes the flexibility of the work so he can spend time with his kids, the subject of the long call with his ex that night.
Uber 189 Lyft 127
There is Amir by his Lexus. He can’t seem to get his cigarette lit. Amir is from Qatar, I think. I know he works 3 jobs. Besides driving, he works at his uncle’s convenience store and also at a restuarant in Irving. He is saving up money to bring his family over. He says driving is really helping him learn the area and learn english better too.
Uber 137 Lyft 104
I see Sherry standing outside her Dodge Avenger. She loves her car. I ordered a Lyft ride for myself not too long ago when my car was being repaired. Sherry was the one who picked me up. She didn’t have a holder for her phone so she held it in her hand the whole trip and kept looking down. She is fairly new to driving and kind of a mess. I offered her a little advice and told her where she could get a phone stand. Hope she got one. Sherry drives as a second job too. She is using the extra money to pay down her credit card debt so she can qualify to buy a house to raise her two boys.
Uber 74 Lyft 68
Still walking the circuit. Cars keep buzzing in and out of the lot. Oh, there’s Willie. Willie is pretty cool. He drives an extended cab F150. Willie always has funny stories to tell about his riders. He constantly draws an audience in the parking lot. Willie is retired but needs the extra income to help support his grandson. He is talking with Brad, from Denver. Brad is retired Army. Brad sold everything he couldn’t fit into his Mitsubishi Endeavor and moved to Dallas to be closer to his adult daughter. He has zero debt and low living expenses so he lives off his military retirement and what he earns driving. Brad can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about army helicopters. After twenty minutes with him, you could practically repair one yourself. Brad has lots of strong opinions, some of them contradictory. But he always seems to respect others. Brad says while he doesn’t like it much, it’s every American’s right to be stupid and uninformed. For the record, I don’t agree with that sentiment.
Uber 31 Lyft 47
It’s time to get back into my car. About to get a request. Lots of cars, lots of drivers. Lots of dreams. Lots of hope. This parking lot is the perfect place to see the American dream in action. It ain’t easy. But it is still alive. Everyone here is here to better their lives or to better the lives of their loved ones.
Next time you hop into an Uber or Lyft, ask your driver why they do it. I bet you get an interesting and maybe even an inspiring story.
We are all connected. We each have our own unique story but we are all on this journey together. Be kind to each other. I wish you all a very happy Independence Day.
From his Daily Meditation, April 4, 2021, Easter Sunday…
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which allows faithful Christians to trust that, indeed, all will be well. I like to think of the resurrection as God’s way of telling us that God can take the worst thing in the world—the killing of the God-Human Jesus—and change it into the best thing: the redemption of the world.
To believe that Jesus was raised from the dead is actually not a leap of faith. Resurrection and renewal are, in fact, the universal and observable pattern of everything. We might just as well use non-religious terms like “springtime,” “regeneration,” “healing,” “forgiveness,” “life cycles,” “darkness,” and “light.” If incarnation is real, if material creation is inspirited, then resurrection in multitudinous forms is to be fully expected. Or to paraphrase a statement attributed to Albert Einstein, it is not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle!
If divine incarnation has any truth to it, then resurrection is a foregone conclusion, not a one-time anomaly in the body of Jesus, as our Western understanding of the resurrection felt it needed to prove—and then it couldn’t. The Risen Christ is not a one-time miracle but the revelation of a universal pattern that is hard to see in the short run.
– Fr. Richard Rohr
Facebook Memories is a great feature. I am constantly reminded of the many wonderful people I have met and posted about, through Uber and Lyft. Yesterday, that reminder was about a man I met 3 years ago, named Winston.
As I drove Winston to his destination, a church in South Dallas, he told me an extraordinary story.
In 2005, Winston Norton suffered a burst aneurysm of the brain. He was taken to the hospital but was expected to die within 24 hours. The aneurysm caused a severe stroke. When the doctors went in to try and fix the aneurysm, they found over 40 more.
The chance Winston would live was becoming smaller and smaller. In fact, he coded (heart stopped) more than once. In other words, he died 3 times that night and once again, the next.
Winston had lost much of his bodily function and control. He couldn’t move half his body. He spent 9 months at Baylor University Medical Center. 9 months!
Winston is a man of faith and determination. You can see the trauma he suffered in his walk, but you couldn’t tell from his outlook on life. He lives to serve now, thanking God for every precious beautiful day.
He knows God still has a purpose for him so he works everyday to fulfill that purpose. His recovery/survival is nothing short of a miracle.
He believes it is important to tell his story. He and I both agreed we didn’t cross paths by chance. Winston reminded me how important it is to live in the present, to be humble, and to be thankful for every day.
There are days when we feel lost in life and wonder what our purpose is. Here is the answer. You wouldn’t exist if God didn’t have a purpose for you. You may feel your calling in life very clearly. That purpose can and will change. The important part is to get up and live each day in service and thanks, with love and kindness in your heart and every action. One way or another, God will reveal his purpose for you.
Winston, rise again my friend. Keep inspiring people through your story and your dedicaton to spreading kindness and love.
Winston’s story got me thinking about the mythical bird, Phoenix. Like the Phoenix, Winston rose from the ashes. That led me to a Dan Fogelberg song of the same name that I listened to often in my youth. When I listened to it again today I found a particularly powerful line in the lyrics, “Like a Phoenix, I have risen from the flames Like a Phoenix, I have risen from the flames No more living Someone else’s dreams.”
Someone else’s dreams…
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz describes our lives as dreams. “What you are seeing and hearing right now is nothing but a dream. You are dreaming right now in this moment. You are dreaming with the brain awake.”
We make many agreements with life, with God, with ourselves. In doing so, we submit to the dreams, or the influence of others, in the way we think, we perceive, we act. We live someone else’s dreams.
Agreement 1: Be Impeccable With Your Word
Agreement 2: Don’t Take Anything Personally
Agreement 3: Don’t Make Assumptions
Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best
His book, The Four Agreements, teaches us how to break old agreements and make four agreements with ourselves to create our own dream, free of influence from others. In doing so, we are filled with love and peace.
Our lives are like the life of the Phoenix. There are periods throughout our lives when we die and are reborn. As Christians, we attach this life experience to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each day is a renewal. Each day is an opportunity to become a better person, to give and receive love, to enjoy God’s creation and grace. Each day we rise like the Phoenix.
So RISE! Get up, get out, and feel God’s love. Share that love, so that others may find their way out of the dark, out of someone else’s dream.
Thanks again for the book recommendation Mindy Lee Carlson.
In reposting Winston’s story this year, I am grateful to have met him on the day before Easter. The timing, then and now, is not lost on me. He is risen! Be safe in this extraordinary moment in time. Be love. Be kind. We are all connected.
For the full meditation from last week or more of Fr. Richard Rohr’s writing click the link below.
StreetLights On A Saturday Night: Rerun from 2019. The Uber Machine is still garaged due to Covid19.
When Oscar was 11 years old, he suffered a traumatic accident. Oscar was leaning on a shotgun when it suddenly went off, destroying his left arm below the elbow. He lost his left hand and part of his forearm.
Oscar grew up in South Texas. He lives in Fort Worth now, but Harlingen was his childhood home. He laughed a little and said the two major pastimes where he grew up were drinking beer and working on cars. He and his friends also spent a considerable amount of time shooting beer cans, junk cars, and occasionally a pesky bird or two.
When I picked Oscar up, he had one of his 4 prosthetic arms on, with a metal pincher on the end. Oscar said he also has one with controllable fingers and thumb. He wasn’t shy about telling me all about his experience missing one hand.
I told him about a friend of mine named Allen, who had the same thing happen to him when he was nine. That didn’t slow Allen down either. In fact, Allen became a pilot; a pretty good pilot. I flew with him once. He was more proficient than most of my other flying buddies. Oscar thought that was “outstanding!”
We talked about when bad things happen, like his shotgun accident. Oscar was quick to tell me when things happen, “you adapt and overcome! Ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for you a week later, so you better figure it out.” Oscar said most days he actually is glad it happened. I was caught off guard with that one. But, He said he gained an appreciation for many things two handed people take for granted. And, that humble sense of gratitude has dominated his extremely positive outlook on life.
I wondered how many of us, including myself, spend way too much time focused on what we don’t have, rather than celebrating what we do. Oscar also told me he always uses the pinchers, rather than the full prosthetic hand when he coaches boys soccer, because he can flip off the ref and get away with it after a bad call.😉.
As he was telling me about his team, a song called Easy As It Seems, by The Mavericks played from my Spotify playlist. Oscar stopped talking for a second and just listened. “Dude! You like The Mavericks? I love these guys.” He said with a big smile on his face. He saw the band in Austin once.
Oscar had such a positive outlook and attitude toward life. It was infectious. I am always amazed by how influential positive people can be. And, Oscar reminded me how important it is to find joy in the moment. Bad things happen. But grace is always there too. Don’t spend too much time worrying about stuff you can’t control. Take a deep breathe. Look around. Find the joy of life around and within you. And there you will find grace.
Keep the faith. Be kind. Be loving. Be in the present.
A few years ago, my next-door neighbor, Mark, decided to buy another house and rent the one by us. After a few months of living next to an empty house, Mark finally found a renter, Tom. From day one, Tom was a great neighbor and we became friends. We would watch his two little dogs when he was out of town. He would drop stuff off for the kids from time to time. We had some great talks in one garage or another. The only thing my wife and I worried about was when Tom would someday move, since he was just renting. That day came 3 weeks ago and now the house next door is empty again except for the visits from Mark’s handy man Lonnie, who can’t fix a fence to save his life. Just sayin’.
Tom moved over to Fort Worth near 7th and University. He loves that part of town so even though he had a falling out with Mark (because Mark is a tightwad, but that is a story for another time) he was ecstatic about making the move to his favorite area. We will still keep in touch and maybe grab a meal or a drink from time to time but I will miss him as a neighbor.
Tom used to live in Houston many years ago. He led successful but very busy life. He was married and had 3 kids; 2 boys and a girl. All his kids are adults now and Tom is single. He is really enjoying his single life. But 20 years ago, Tom was a regional manager for a national athletic store. He also spent an enormous time as an umpire for AAA baseball. When he wasn’t umpiring, he helped develop and run competitive youth baseball leagues. Tom knew everyone in the baseball world in Houston and he loved what he did. He went to church Sundays with his family and had a great life, almost. You see, Tom was over-committed. He didn’t have enough time for all the components of his life. He was out of balance. Tom started to develop anxiety and depression which slowed him down in an already taxing life schedule. He started to drink alcohol more and offset that with energy drinks and coffee. As things started to get tense at home, Tom started unravel even more from the mounting pressure. One night, he was out for drinks and a friend (drinking friend) offered to let Tom try meth. Tom was feeling desperate and suffering depression so he thought, how could it hurt?
In an extremely short period of time, Tom became addicted and as he put it, “I lived for meth and nothing else.” He lost his job, his standing in baseball, and he lost his marriage. After that, he became homeless and wound up in prison on drug related felonies. His life was over. Tom attempted suicide 3 times in prison. Once he got out, he was still homeless and he returned to drugs. He ate from a dumpster behind the Four Seasons hotel in Houston. Conveniently, that is also where he slept. Tom had no future, no present, and the past was nothing but shame. Meth had taken everything away. He remembers many days just walking around thinking of ways to end his life. He said he was arrested again and from there, he somehow managed to get into a drug rehab center.
Tom finally got clean and started learning how to stay clean. He lived in a halfway house for awhile until he could find work. Slowly, he started building his life back from the ruins and learned how to maintain balance. Tom is now self-employed for the last 10 years. He remains clean, keeps himself healthy and minimized any activity that would put him at risk. If he goes out, he is always home before dark. His business is thriving and so he can afford to do some getaways. He likes going to Vegas and Miami. I was surprised thinking he might have extra temptations in both of those cities. He told me that he does still like to have a drink or two but never never anything else. Tom has managed to repair his damaged relationships with both his adult sons. He reaches out to his daughter on a regular basis but she still won’t return emails or calls. Nevertheless, Tom keeps sending her updates and greetings. Tom is somewhat selective about who he shares his story with. He does have a kind and giving heart. He has helped many people who have dealt with setbacks in their lives, including addiction. But he is cautious about who and where he shares his story because he now has contractors and employees to think about and would never allow his personal story to compromise the company. Not all customers will see his story as one of redemption but rather they would just see a felon. That is not the kind of thing that looks good on a Google review. This is also why I am not giving to many details.
I can tell you that once every month or two, Tom goes to the Four Seasons in Houston and always books a room that looks down on the alley where he ate and slept by that dumpster. It helps remind him of all that he lost when meth took over his life. He said it also reminds him how far he has come and to remember that there were people along his path that helped get him back. Looking down at that dumpster reminds Tom that his success now isn’t of any real value in life unless he can help others. Tom is a Kindness Warrior now. He has a mindset that keeps him looking for ways to help anyone and everyone. He jokingly said that this approach hasn’t always worked well in his dating life. He has met a few women that really took advantage of his generosity and willingness to help. He is trying not to use “fix you” as dating criteria moving forward. He says he doesn’t want to remarry and that he does really enjoy his bachelor life. He also knows that he blew a marriage to a woman he truly loved and cared for, and he never wants to be in that situation again. She remarried a few years after she and Tom were divorced, while Tom was in prison, I think.
I met John at Lowe’s, where I currently work. He had just been hired on as a part-time stocker. John is about 6 ft 2, and has a kind of rough look about him. But when he talks, he can be pretty friendly. John and I hit it off pretty well and he was well liked as a hard worker by his supervisor. Unfortunately, after only 2 and a half weeks, John was terminated because he failed the background check. See, John is a felon. He has been in prison twice. And he had only been out about 2 months when he started working at Lowe’s. Before that he was working at Jack-n-the-Box making minimum wage.
John had started going to school to become an HVAC technician. He lived in a two-story house off Brentwood Stair and Sandy lane in Fort Worth. This was a halfway house for men. He didn’t have a car when I met him, so he walked, caught the bus, and occasionally got a ride from a coworker. My shift ended the same time his did so I took him home a few times. I continued to be friends with him after Lowe’s let him go and would give him rides to school as well. I figured this guy was really trying to better himself, so who am I to say no to a ride request.
First, let me say that John didn’t lie on his application. He filled out everything properly and as he was told to do. He was given the idea that he could be hired with his record. Apparently, there are some specific stipulations that disqualified him. He went back to work at Jack-in-the-Box. John was disappointed but undeterred. He knew he had an uphill battle. But he felt like he was doing quite well compared to his previous life. And so, for a couple of months he went to school and worked at JITB.
John is 41. As I said earlier, he has a kind of rough look about him. Sometimes when he is animated, he gets this kinda crazy eye look. We laugh about it but if you didn’t know him, yeah, it could be kinda scary. He has some teeth missing on the right side of his mouth because he got shot. He still has some bullet fragments in his head. John keeps the x-ray images on his phone like a war wound. He doesn’t have an education beyond high school and his home life was kinda rough. His parents fought all the time and both liked to drink. So, he spent a lot of time outside with other kids who had similar homes. John had a temper, no real foundation, and became influenced by the wrong people (my words, not his). John assumes responsibility for all aspects of his life. But back then, he didn’t and he became a criminal. He was a thief and a robber. In his words, “I didn’t care who you were. I would hold a gun to your head and take your money. And if you looked at me the wrong way, I might beat you. I didn’t give a fuck. And I was usually drunk or high when I did it.”
John was in his mid-twenties when he finally got caught on something bad enough to put him away for years. He continued to have an angry heart in prison and got into many fights. Before he was arrested, John had amassed a number of misdemeanors and fathered 2 girls who he had no real relationship with. It was in prison where he started learning how to control his anger and start taking responsibility for his actions. He began to communicate with his baby’s momma and his daughters. When he got out of prison, he visited his daughters but didn’t quite step into the dad role. There were still some wicked turns coming that John didn’t see.
After getting out of prison, John was surprised when his father asked him to come live with him. His parents got divorced while John was away. So, John took him up on it. He said he thought maybe his father was different now that his parents had split up. John laughed when he was telling me about his parent splitting up because they were living just down the street from each other. But he hadn’t really changed and he and John began arguing all the time. John was working at a place in Marshall, TX close enough to his Dad’s place, he could walk home at night. He developed a little routine so he could delay getting back to his dad’s place and minimize any interaction. After work he would stop by a nearby convenience store and buy some beer and cigarettes. He said he would enjoy walking down the dark road by himself, drinking his beer and smoking his cigarettes. It was the only time in his day he didn’t feel hassled by someone else.
John’s mother would often drop by his dad’s place to check on him (dad) but they always bickered about something. One night, right after john got home and had argued with his father, his mother dropped by like she does and she got into a really bad fight with Dad. John decided to intervene and his father immediately threw John out telling him he wasn’t welcome there anymore. His mother let John come stay with her. Now about this time, John lost his job. So, while he was with his mom, he spent some time looking for work and occasionally did some things on the side to make some cash, which he promptly spent on beer and cigarettes. He was growing desperate and hopeless. John didn’t have any real plans or ideas for the future and he had little to no resources. One night, a guy he used to work with but now would drink with, offered a very drunk and depressed John some meth. John had never tried it before but knew that it was a dangerous drug. But the state he was in, he just wanted to escape, even for a little bit. John said it was like nothing he had ever experienced. He said his mom found him on the back porch surrounded by empty beer cans and cigarette butts. She threw John out. It was a short trip to addiction to meth after that for John. Which meant, he needed money for drugs. He didn’t really get a chance to steal any because he failed his drug screening at his parole officer check in. And guess what, he went back to prison.
Once again, John got clean and prepared to have another go at life. This time when he got out, He chose to go to the halfway house and not depend on his parents or anyone else. John had turned the corner and began to feel like things were finally going his way. He even got engaged! John made a few visits out to Marshall to see his daughters. One of those times was to see his oldest daughter graduate high school. Things seemed to be getting better.
John didn’t much care for working at JITB. He worked with a bunch of kids who would goof off, call in sick all the time, quit with no notice, etc. John had developed a work ethic of getting the job done and being reliable, which he was while he worked there. He also worked several day-labor gigs through various agencies. That paid better than Jack but it wasn’t as reliable.
When he finally got some grant money for school, he was able to finally get a car. I remember how proud he was of that accomplishment. But his joy was short-lived. John was getting more work through day labor and made the decision to leave Jack-in-the-Box. Shortly thereafter, he got kicked out of his halfway house due to a miscommunication about days away from the house. They have rules set that all living there must abide by and if there is an issue, you can be voted out of the house by the members. John was voted out.
His fiancé lives in Red Oak and he would go there on weekends. Upon hearing that John needed a place, she allowed him to come live with her. She was reluctant as first but realized she wanted him to stay. John was careful not to push her. He had respect for her comfort and didn’t want to make things uncomfortable. Well, the “honeymoon period” ended rather quickly. John had stopped getting day labor work. His fiancé almost immediately when he moved in began to complain and belittle John. He was getting pretty stressed. John and I met the day he got kicked out of the halfway house. He was surprisingly optimistic. He told me not to feel sorry for him. He pointed to his car and said, “Chris man, I got a car! I even have insurance on the mother fucker. I got a fiancé; I got my girls! ME! I got this stuff. Man, I ain’t never had a car, that I didn’t steal. Most people take that shit for granted. Not me man. This is a big goal I have accomplished! Nobody knows how that feels. Ain’t nobody walked in my shoes. I’m gonna be just fine!
About 3 weeks after John moved in with his fiancé in Red Oak, I got a call from him. He said he got a job working for a cabinet maker and would be working 6 days a week. He said he was really happy about it because his fiancé was getting kind of abusive because he wasn’t bringing any money in. He asked if he could borrow some money until he got his first paycheck the next week. I didn’t have much to lend but I met him last Friday and gave him $40. He was in sad shape when I saw him. He also told me that he and his girl had been fighting. Then he proceeded to tell me he lost the job with the cabinet maker and he had fallen behind on his insurance. John explained that the cabinet maker position promised 6 full days but he was hired as a temp and temps get cut every day first, before the permanent employees, so he wasn’t getting nearly the hours he was promised. He also missed one day because he ended up in the ER. This cost him 2 points with the temp company. They only give 3. He lost the 3rd point for being 10 minutes late the day I met up with him. His positive attitude was gone. He seemed rattled and beat down.
Two days later, John was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge after he and his fiancé got into a heated argument. She hit him and he pushed her down causing her to hit her head. I didn’t know about it but I started getting collect calls from the Desoto jail, and then from Dallas County Jail. I finally realized it had to be John so I took the call. John cried when he told me about the story. He said the worst part was he started using again. He said he was on meth when they got into the fight. John began to say how bad he fucked everything up. “I was weak, Chris. Things got tough and I messed it all up!” John said as he chocked back tears. “Are you disappointed in me, Chris?” he asked. I told him I was. I told him he broke his trust with me and he did the one thing that truly hurt himself by using meth again. The assault charge was of the lowest kind. John’s mother bailed him out and has allowed him to stay with her for a few days. But his fiancé now has a restraining order. John said the one bit of good news is that he got a job at a car wash in Waxahachie.
Tom and John have both gone through some troubles in life. So many factors play into how an individual does after they get out of a prison term. One thing I know to be true, it ain’t easy. The other thing, Methamphetamines WILL absolutely ruin or end your life. These two men both attested to that fact saying meth was the only thing they had experienced that had them needing it more than they need food and water.
Prison is tough, life after prison for many is tougher. Ask John. He tried to work hard, go to school, and be good. He also began to question his faith. He knew he would have a tough time getting out of prison and felt that now that he was clean and living his life according to Christ, he would make it. He still might. But the odds are clearly against him. He paid his debt to society with his prison time. But you never really stop paying. Everything in his life is harder than someone who hasn’t been to prison. Has must check that felon box every time he applies for a job, a bank loan, a rental agreement. One big difference between Tom and John, Tom knew what it was like to be successful. John has never had that and so he has never had a chance to really develop the life skills needed to succeed.
God bless Tom and John. And God bless all the kindness warriors out there who make life just the tiniest bit easier for others. There are certainly many people out there who could use even the smallest break.
Next Saturday, August 22 will be one year to the day since I met a woman who changed my outlook on life. Her name was Holly, from Colorado. Her name came up earlier today in a conversation with my mother-in-law about some of the most interesting stories from my experiences driving Uber/Lyft.
Driving over the last 3 and a half years has given me so much inspiration and purpose. For those new to StreetLights, my name is Christopher Carlson. I have clinical/chronic depression. This is something I have dealt with all or most of my life but didn’t realize or understand it until a very dark rock bottom moment in December of 2017 that almost took my life. God intervened.
Since that moment of clarity I have chosen to share my experiences and my story because I know it helps others who suffer this lonely internal battle. My decision to be open and share my struggle has been validated more times than I can remember in the last few years. As a part of my own therapy but also as a sort of safe space for others, I have interacted with many incredible people through my 6,000 plus Uber/Lyft rides given. The other objective behind this blog and the stories I share is to promote kindness.
I haven’t driven Uber/Lyft since March 17th, due to Covid19. I am in the high risk pool and just can’t risk that much exposure. I have begun working full time in a position at Lowe’s which limits my exposure to the public and I really enjoy my work. But I truly miss driving and hope to someday feel safe enough to resume that inspiring activity, part-time.
As for now, like many of you, I have been anxious and angry. There are dark forces working in this world and the voices of fear and hate are very loud. Driving would often help me when I felt like I often do because it always helped restore my faith in humanity. Just a few riders is all it would take; sometimes just 1.
I don’t have that connection right now, so I thought I would look back to get some comfort and perspective. Holly’s story is a reminder that we can’t let the anger and fear of today overwhelm us and dictate our lives. I needed to regain that perspective. Holly has a simple life mantra. “Life is love. Anything else is a waste of time.” Here is her story…
StreetLights On a Saturday Night
People Profiles, Driving Away Depression
Holly From Green Mountain
I got the request in Grand Prairie. Uber XL. Thinking it would be a group of people and at 245am, most likely drunk and rowdy, I prepared myself for the worst. Shortly after I started working my way to the pickup address, I received a text from”H,” my rider. “Please come to the front office. I am in a wheelchair.” I was relieved it wasn’t a group of late night drinkers.
When I arrived at the semi-circle drive in front of the retirement home, two women were waving at me, smiling. Holly was my rider. She was in the wheelchair. Her 92 year old mother was standing with a walker. Holly had several bags and a small dog. I began to load the car as she said goodbye to her mother. There was some laughter mixed in with some emotion as I helped Holly into the front seat and loaded her wheel chair. As they made their final goodbyes I began to realize this was more than just, until the next time. Once the door was shut, Holly began fumbling for the window button. I hit mine as we slowly started to move. She waved to her mother again calling out to her. I stopped. But Holly said no, let’s go, and she burst into tears.
Holly regained her composure and apologized saying “It’s just tough. I am saying goodbye to my mother for the last time. She has congestive heart failure. In the morning she will be moved into a full care facility.”
Holly comes from a big family. She has 13 brothers. Not one of them have visited their mother in these final days. Here was Holly, with serious health issues herself, bound to a wheelchair, traveled from Colorado to see her mom.
Holly returned to what seemed to be her normal disposition, cheerful and positive. She was warm and friendly, even when she spoke of tough, even tragic experiences in her life. When you look into her eyes you can see this almost childlike joy.
Holly’s mother was given something called DES when she was pregnant with Holly.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen. It was prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, premature labor, and related complications of pregnancy, incuding nausea. It was determined to cause cancer in the mother, the child and could even reach as far as a grandchild genetically. Holly is known as a DES daughter because she, like many women born from exposure, developed cancer or other significant health issues.
Holly fought cancer twice. The first time she was only 9. And then again, in her late 20s. She beat it both times. But the genetic abnormality remained.
Holly and Bill married young. Bill is a disabled Vietnam War Veteran. They had a baby boy. He had a rocky start and passed away at 15 months old.
Eventually they tried again and she gave birth to a little girl. Her daughter was healthy. She grew up, got married and began having kids of her own. That’s when the cancer finally showed up. Holly’s daughter had inoperable, terminal brain cancer. Holly said after the news, her daughter freaked out, dropped everything and left. She left her 3 children and her husband. Holly never heard from her again.
Now another predicament. By this time, Holly and Bill had significant health issues and couldn’t take on the kids. Her daughter’s husband was in a car accident and suffered traumatic brain damage. So he couldn’t be a father anymore. They were forced to turn to the state. All 3 children were put into different foster homes.
In 1985 Holly and Bill, along with their daughter were living in Houston. There was a severe storm one day that had Holly concerned about the lightning. She called Bill on the phone and while expressing her concerns to him lightning struck the tree just outside the kitchen window. The strike went into the ground, splitting the tree, and found its way up the ground cable for the phone. And then, as Holly described it, the lights went out. She was cooked!
It took her over a year to learn to speak and walk again. That strike left her with a damaged nervous system, constant headaches, epileptic seizures, and a bone disorder that prevents calcium from being absorbed, making her bones weak and brittle. Calcium builds up on the outside of the bone. Apparently she has numerous surgeries to go in and essentially scrape it off. Holly jokes about a few other side effects, including a slightly tighter right side of her face that makes her look a bit like a pirate smiling. She said she can scratch her left shouldet and feel it in her right leg.
She underwent leg surgery not long ago where they used a cadaver bone for her right leg. It didn’t work, which is why she is curently in the wheelchair. Upon returning to Colorado, they will remove her leg below the knee. She joked about being mad at the doctors because she wanted to keep the leg, only to bury it. But they said no. I told her she should then at least ask for a core charge refund.
Holly’s little Terrier is named Christine. She is actually a service dog and lets Holly know when she is about to have a seizure.
Holly continued with her story. ” I am so grateful for little Christine, here. But I haven’t had a seizure in almost 2 years since we moved to Lakewood, Colorado and my doctor started me on CBD. My overall pain is lower. Apparently they fixed my voice too well, according to Bill because I won’t stop talking now.”
She had this childlike, innocent joy about her. All that pain. And her eyes are lit with joy and appreciation for life. She paused in her story long enough for me to ask how she copes. She smiled and said there are good days and bad days but everyday I am alive is a blessing.”
She commented on my music choice. Louis Armstrong and Elle Fitzgerald were singing a duet on my Spotify. What are some of your favorite music artists? I asked. She said she really liked John Denver.
Ohhhhh, like Rocky Mountain High?
She laughed a little and said ‘Well I like that song but it isn’t my favorite.”
“Annie’s song.” She said peacefully.
Her three grandchildren were found separate permanent homes. All three were adopted by wonderful families. Holly gets to communicate with all of them and occasionally gets to see them. They are all in Utah.
We got to Love field at 330 am. Nobody was there. But she insisted she would be fine to be dropped off. So, I unloaded her stuff onto a cart, got her situated in the wheel chair and we made our way into the terminal.
Holly you seem like such a happy person, I said. You have had a tough life.
Holly replied, “I have had a blessed life. I have been happily married for 39 years, traveled. I Live in a beautiful place by Green Mountain. Life has been good to me.”
I told her how much I appreciated her telling me her life journey. I told her I really admired her strength and resilience.
“You should visit Green Mountain. You should visit Colorado. You seem tired. It will rejuvenate you.” Holly said.
I told her now everytime I think of Colorado I will think of her….
With that pirate smile, hoppin’ around Green Mountain on one leg…
We both burst out laughing.
We hugged and said goodbye. I felt like I was saying goodbye to a dear friend. It was a strange moment as I walked away, while she sat with Christine and her luggage next to the check-in kiosk, smiling and waving me bye. She was happy. She was returning home to her steadfast companion of 39 years.
Oh Holly. You smile for me. I cry for you.
I played that song on the way home. I cried the whole way. I cried for Holly’s loss. I cried for the desperation I have felt. And, I cried for joy, because Holly reminded me that I am alive, still. She told me something else I am sure to never forget.
Life is love.
That’s it. Everything else is a waste of time.
Once again, God has given it. He sent a most interesting woman to deliver it. And, I have received it.