Friday, January 15, 2010


Yesterday I found my life in pieces. Betrayal and loss of trust puts us in a fragile place. People intent on hurting us with their own pain and agenda is ultimately destructive and, in this case, final.  Decisions were made that were painful and seemed to rip through me like fire.  But my self esteem and life remained intact, strangely strengthened and peaceful.

Then I found out, and perhaps always knew, that the value of touch is as necessary, valuable and mandatory in our lives as air. The touch of a soldier with acute PTSD reaching out to me by phone with exciting news.  He had made a forty five minute speech to sixty Rotarians.  His topic - PURPOSE. (Please see blog entry - ROSES IN THE SNOW.) He had made a huge step.  The gentle, assured, and compassionate touch of a friend on the phone deep in his own problems, yet loving me and caring at a distance with his voice.  The obsurdity of my little blind comedian of a dog running in circles and lunging into my lap as I sneezed multiple times, thinking it was time to play. The warmth of Kelsie's head on my knee as I sat at the computer for hours on end.  The treasured touch of a friend's kind, supportive and concerned words to me, wanting to 'make it all better' and not certain she had.  Touch. The call from a Lieutenant Colonel, shortly to be deployed to Iraq, just to tell me she loved me and supported me. Despite my pain I found myself surrounded by love.

Life is a circle not a merry-go-round.  Pity simply emphasizes the distance between people where no relationship is possible.  Compassion requires intimacy and compassion brings people together in a mutual process. Using my light to illuminate dark places in others has always been my salvation. It is the place where I feel most alive. Many turn their light inward and bask in the darkness of their own soul.  What a pity. 

Then others struggle valiantly to escape the darkness. Yesterday my enemy became my greatest teacher, as I watched two dogs, Chase and Kelsie, use their light and mere presence to illuminate the light in a young U.S. AirForce Lieutenant named Ashley in the Fisher House at Lackland AirForce Base. As we walked into the home to "Oh look dogs," the reason was clear why we were there.  

Ashley, a young woman in her twenties, never took her eyes off of the dogs.  I explained to the group assembled that these were therapy dogs and were most supportive of our military suffering from PTSD.  To the side I heard Ashley, almost inaudibly, whisper, "I have PTSD."  She sat down on the floor and encompassed both dogs with tears pouring from her eyes.  For a moment she had found her home, her safe place, and non-threatening love.

In a pale pink sweater with a grey scarf wrapped around her neck and flawless complexion, she looked like a model.  Cell phones came out and cameras flashed at the recognition of the most precious kind of love.  Pure and clean and true and uncomplicated.  Chase snuggled up close and rolled over onto his back.  With ears laid back this teddy bear of a lab showed Ashley that life was safe in this time and place.  Kelsie laid down next to her and placed her head on her leg to provide further warmth and comfort with her touch.  With multiple other people in the room how did these dogs know Ashley needed them the most? 

Ashley's story is long and tumultuous.  She spent time hospitalized in Landsthul, Ramstein, Walter Reed and arriving at Wilford Hall at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX, literally with no clothes or luggage.  But the only place she wants to be is in Belgium with the man she loves and will be marrying, as soon as they are able. We ate Mexican food prepared by the USO for the residents of the Fisher House ( ), we talked, we listened, we shared, and we witnessed, as a little light opened up a dark place in Ashley's soul.  She held Chase close, as her tears turned into an exquisite soft, almost angelic, smile. She felt safe in our presence and shared with us that her fiance has a brain tumor and his anticipation is 'quality of time together not quantity.'  I was once again reminded that life is made up of moments, and it is in these moments that life is found - and great love. 

Ashley shared with us that she needed an anacronym that provides her comfort - SACOATA.  When you are around enough military everything must have an anacronym!  This one she made up to give her strength, confidence and hope.  "Supreme Allied Commander of all Things Awesome." 

Funny how she ultimately ended up helping me on this Thursday night.

I would have missed Ashley, if we had never met!

"Life is like a banquet, and some poor suckers are starving to death. Live- live - live."

Rosalind Russell
Auntie Mame 1953

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