A Year Later: Deep Gratitude and a Progress Report

It was a little over a year ago when I had to do the most humiliating thing I’d ever done.  I had to use this blog to make a desperate plea for help.  I just recently read that post once again and it was painful to read.  Because the heart problems had prompted an early morning visit to the ER… and I could not get clearance to go back to work, I was newly unemployed, facing heart surgery, and stuck in Illinois, with my wife Tammy here in North Carolina looking for work.

The response was overwhelming, and truly humbling.  So many friends and family members came forward and helped us, making it possible for us to get through that long summer of 2011.  And our gratitude is never-ending.  At the time, I said I’d never be able to pay you back, but that we would dedicate ourselves to paying it forward.  I’m pleased to tell you that, finally, we’re getting on that road.

First, though… we’ve come a long way since last year, although there are huge challenges that lie ahead.  I have completely recovered from my quadruple bypass surgery; that operation was last July.  The only thing that reminds me of it is that the incision in my chest just itches like crazy sometimes.

We still live in the little apartment adjacent to my sister Kendra’s house, and our gratitude to her is unbounded as well.  As you may know, I now am hosting Morning Edition on WFDD, the NPR station at Wake Forest University, and have been in that position since late November.   They seem to like me pretty well there, and it’s a wonderful group of people I work with.

A few weeks ago, Tammy began CNA training, and will hopefully start work as a nursing assistant soon.  This is much more than a job for her… it’s more like a calling.  She’s tops in her class, and I have no doubt that she’ll continue her schooling and eventually become an RN.  This is the work she was born to do.  And she’s crocheted half a dozen lap blankets over the past few months.  We’ll be delivering them to patients at Hospice of the Piedmont tomorrow.  This is where my mom died two years ago.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned a great many lessons: about life, about love, about friends and family.  The experiences I’ve been through have made me adjust my priorities, and I now know what is important, and what isn’t.  Both of us have changed our lifestyles considerably from where we were just ten years ago.  In 2002,  I had a nice home in rural Pennsylvania, and a lot of “stuff.”   I was married to my now ex-wife, and I thought that’s the way it would always be.  A year and a half ago, I married Tammy (I won’t describe her pre-me life… that’s something that she can share with you if she wants to.)

Now, we have very little in terms of material possessions.  I drive a 1996 Chevy with 115,000 miles on it.  Tammy’s car has over 100,000 miles on it as well.  Since I was unemployed when I had my heart surgery, we have massive medical (and other) expenses that we will never be able to completely repay.  But I’m not complaining; we are truly blessed. We have each other  (the way we met was something of a miracle — and makes it pretty clear that it was meant to be.) we have wonderful friends, we have a roof over our heads and enough to eat.  And that’s plenty.

I’ve been urged for a long time to write about my experiences over the past three or four  years… put them in book form.  And I’ve started doing just that, little by little.  I try to write every day.  At the moment, it’s a somewhat disjointed effort, but I have faith that once all the pieces of the puzzle are present, it’ll just be a matter of sticking them all together in some sort of order.  Actually, it’s a pretty interesting story, I think.

Ultimately, what I’d like to do is to do some public speaking.  I discovered a talent for that a few years back… and I really enjoy it.  I want to tell my story, and use that to share the lessons I’ve learned.  There are so many of them: about taking personal responsibility, about forgiveness, about love and kindness… so many things.  And that’s how I hope to start paying forward all the kindness and support that you showed us.  I also have a couple of other ideas up my sleeve (if that’s not a mixed metaphor) but I can’t talk about them just yet.  Let’s just say that my prime mission is to find a way to be useful to others… to help those who need it to the best of my ability, and to always treat others with kindness and respect.  That alone goes a long way toward making the world a better place, I think.

In any case, again, thank you.  The help, kindness and support you gave us will never, ever be forgotten.  We feel very lucky to know such wonderful people.

Ask Steve (Beta)

Okay, I’ve been around for awhile, and I’ve had my share of life experience, so I thought I’d try my hand as an advice columnist.  Or blogger.  I got some people with current life crises to send letters to see how I might handle ‘em.  See what you think:

Dear Steve,

Not long ago, my husband left me for a younger woman.  I had no idea that he was not happy in our marriage.  And to make it doubly devastating, I now find out that he and his skanky new girlfriend emptied our joint account.  I have no job, and now I may lose my home.  I have no idea where to turn.  I am desperate.  What should I do?

End of my Rope

Dear End,

How terribly upsetting.  It must be very difficult to deal with.  I feel just awful for you.  Hope things get better!

–Steve

____

Dear Steve,

I’m 32, and have been doing the same thing for a living since high school.   I work in a warehouse, but am sick to death of it.  I’m married and have a couple of kids, and can’t really afford to go back to school.  I need to pull myself out of this career hole, and advance, but I can’t do it without training.  What should I do?

Confused

Dear Confused,

Gosh, you’ve sure got me stumped.  You’re  going to have to do something aren’t you?  Well, best of luck in whatever you decide!

___

Dear Steve,

I recently caught a co-worker stealing office supplies and equipment at work.  I know that if I mention it to him, he’ll just laugh it off.  But it’s just wrong, and it makes me angry to see him ripping off the company like this.  If I report it, I know he’ll get fired, and he has two small kids, and his wife is on disability.  But if I don’t, he’ll keep stealing and it’ll be on my conscience as well.  I don’t know what to do.

In a Dilemma

Dear In a Dilemma,

Wow, I don’t either.  Either way you go, it’s going to cause trouble.  I sure hope whatever decision you make is the right one.  Best of luck!

__

So… what do you think?  Do I have a future at this?

I’m Sorry, But I’m Going To Have To Let You Go.

It’s a shame, particularly to do this right before Christmas, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to let some of you go.   Why?  Because I like you.  And I want to keep liking you.  But you’re not making it easy.

Let me explain: I love Facebook.  Over the past few years, it’s allowed me to re-connect with old friends, and those connections have kept me relatively sane during the really rough times.  Facebook even made it possible for me to re-connect with Tammy, and we were married a year ago this month.  So Facebook has truly changed my life, for the better.  Much better.

When I first started on FB, I posted a lot of opinion stuff, and had more than a few heated arguments with friends, with whom I had political and philosophical differences.  And although they remain friends, I did not enjoy the arguments that sprang from my Facebook postings… or those of others to which I felt compelled to respond.  So I decided to keep any opinions that might be considered controversial, off Facebook.   Now, I find, it’s a pretty congenial place to be.  It’s sort of like a big party:  most people avoid topics like religion and politics because, well, it’s not polite to get into arguments in a social setting.  Makes other people feel uneasy.

Gradually, then, I set Facebook rules for myself: no controversy, keep it generally light and upbeat.  If I’m feeling down, it’s okay to share, though, because someone will come along and say something cheerful.  I even like those posts that some people find annoying: I just finished two slices of French toast!  They’re not offensive, and, well, it doesn’t hurt me to know that Charles or Bill or Pat enjoyed their French toast this morning. But if I want to get involved in a good rant, or a knock-down-drag-out argument, I’ll find another venue.  In fact, I’ve found several.

But some of my friends… some of whom I like, respect, and generally find to be good company, both online and in person, love to post rants.  Sometimes, and I know it’s not intended this way, they rip and slash and insult the very things I hold dear.  By proxy, they call me stupid, evil, or wrong for holding some of the positions I hold.  They’d never do that in person, but they rip to shreds some of the things I hold dear, and some of my deeply-held beliefs.  They don’t mean to get me all riled up, but they do.  And if they want to use Facebook as a place to rant and vent, well, that’s their perfect right.

But more and more, I find myself actually hiding their comments, so I’m not tempted to respond.  And I’m getting a little tired of it.  It’s like having to avoid the loud opinionated person at the cocktail party because you’re just there to relax and visit with friends.

So after careful thought, I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.  I don’t want to de-friend you, but I want to continue to like you, so that’s really my only choice.

And to be perfectly honest with you, I won’t even be fair about it.  If you’re someone with whom I’m likely to agree, and you choose Facebook as a place to rant and rave, your position on my friend list is safe.  Why?  Because, since I generally agree with you, you don’t get me all riled up, and it’s not difficult to keep on liking you.

I didn’t say this was fair.  I’m just doing it for my own self-preservation, and to keep my Facebook experience generally positive, upbeat, and fun.  If it’s not, what’s the point?

So, good-bye to some of you.  I still love you and I want to keep it that way.  I hope you have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, a Happy Hanukkah, and a Joyous Kwanzaa.  I hope you live long and prosper.  I hope you’ll stay in touch.

A Special Message of Thanks and Good News from Tammy and Steve…

Thanksgiving takes on a very deep and profound meaning for us this year.

It was a year ago this week that Tammy made the 7-hour drive from Woodstock, IL to Carterville, IL, and our lives together began. It was quite a story, and I wrote about it at the time. But the very, very short version is this: We’d met online when we both lived in State College, PA a few years ago. We had one date, and although we liked each other, went our separate ways – Tammy to Atlanta, North Carolina, and Illinois and me to Orlando, North Carolina, and Illinois. We met again on Facebook a year ago, reunited for Thanksgiving, and we were married on December 29, 2010. And, well, here we are.

A year ago, we had no idea what was ahead: heart surgery, unemployment, uncertainty, and a move to High Point, NC. Truthfully, we’ve been through challenges that would have torn many couples apart… but we’re together, and stronger than ever. This poem, by an author whose name escapes us, says it all:

 The little boat of you and me

Went sailing on the deep blue sea

 We weathered winds and crashing waves

And we were strong and true and brave

And we were still in love

 So we kept sailing on the deep blue sea

The little boat of you and me

 In June, it became clear that I needed heart surgery. And because of the circumstances in which we found ourselves, we had no choice but to reach out to friends and family and ask for help. The response was overwhelming and humbling. And that’s why we’re writing now. Without your prayers, love and support, in so very many ways, we could not have come through this. And our gratitude is deep and boundless. We cannot pay back what we have been given, but we are now dedicating ourselves to paying it forward: In whatever ways we are able, we will reach out to others to help them.

We want to express our deep, abiding and everlasting gratitude to those who have helped us through their love and support… without you, we really don’t know what may have happened to us. But you lifted us up and helped us through some of the most difficult times of our adult lives. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Deep thanks to my sister Kendra, who has given us a place to live during these difficult times. Because of your help, Kendra, we have had a roof over our heads, and enough to eat.

We also want to offer our prayer of gratitude to God. There is no doubt in our minds that God brought us together, and has a plan and purpose for our lives. Our faith in Him sustains us, and makes us whole.

We have learned how fortunate we are. We have learned what is important in life, and what is not. We have learned about the power of love.

Now, for more good news: I’ve recovered from my surgery, and on Monday will begin a new job as the local host of Morning Edition on WFDD-FM, the Public Radio station at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Tammy is also now working as an Event Specialist with Advantage Sales and Marketing. Many challenges lie ahead, but we are confident that, together, we can weather any storm, and keep sailing on that deep blue sea.

To our incredible friends and family, have a wonderful and joyous Thanksgiving. Give thanks for what you have, and the life you enjoy. Give thanks to God. And know that what you have done is appreciated more than you can ever know.

Love,

Steve and Tammy

 

You Must Remember This. Or Not.

I was watching the local news last week, when a story aired about a holiday Festival of Lights.  This one is located at a racetrack.  Residents are invited to take the family to drive around the track and ooh and ahh at the illuminated displays and discover the real meaning of the holidays or some such bilge.  But one short sound bite popped out at me.  The guy who runs the display said, “We’re in the business of creating memories.”   I can’t stop thinking about that.

My first reaction was Really?  Creating memories?  Isn’t it more about living in that particular moment?  Memories would seem to be a by-product of that moment, and if it’s wonderful enough, then it’ll be remembered. 

But you hear that a lot these days.  About “making memories.”  And it occurred to me that what the guy said was quite meaningless.  And then it occurred to me further that a great deal of what we hear, particularly at this time of year is also quite meaningless.  Just after Halloween,  the Christmas… excuse me, I mean Holiday… decorations are trotted out and the commercials come on about what a special and wonderful time of year it is, and we’re all steeped in the fake meaning and wonder of it all, because the real meaning and wonder of what used to be Christmas is officially buried deeper and deeper each year.  We can hardly bring ourselves to utter the word “Christmas” publicly anymore.  In an office or other official setting, there’s a giddy feeling of danger and subversion when one refers to the “Christmas” party instead of the “Holiday” party.

I saw a commercial yesterday with an equally meaningless slogan.  I think it might have been for Hallmark:  “Traditions Are Special Occasions.”  That’s bad enough.  But it was followed by “Life Is A Special Occasion.”    Exactly what do these statements mean?  I’ll tell  you what they mean:  Nothing. Nothing at all.  But they sound like they mean something.

We live in a time in which we seem to try to create occasions, rather than let the specialness occur spontaneously… and that’s what makes a special occasion really special, not an artificial build-up of expectations and forced festivity.

I remember watching The Peoples Court a few years ago, when good old Judge Wapner was presiding.  Quite frequently, a bride and her mother would drag some poor schlub into court… generally a florist or a photographer or a disc jockey or a caterer… and sue him for a mistake made, which “Ruined what was to have been the most wonderful day of my life!”

Well, if you build  your expectations too high around anything, you’re bound to be disappointed.  In the case of a wedding, for example, isn’t the union of two people who love each other supposed to be the special thing, and not whether the florist promised pink roses but could only get red ones?

One of the best days in my memory is one that happened about 25 years ago.  A bunch of us went on a day cruise off the coast of Florida.  As we returned to port, we were sitting around a table on deck… it was about midnight, I think… enjoying drinks and conversation in beautiful weather.  There was laughter, and camaraderie, and joy.  And I remember thinking that it was one of life’s perfect moments.  I had no idea that night that I would remember it all these years later; that I do is simply a by-product of the moment.  We certainly didn’t board the ship that day with the idea of “creating memories,”… we just wanted to have fun.

And as for a tradition being a special occasion, I guess that’s debatable, depending on your definition of “special.”  I’d love to grab the copywriter who came up with that garbage and ask him or her exactly what he or she meant by that.  And he… or she… would have to admit that it means nothing; it just sounds like it does.  Sort of like those annoying “War Is Not The Answer” bumper stickers that were plastered all over Priuses a few years ago.  Doesn’t war being or not being the answer depend largely on what the question is?

And “Life is a Special Occasion”?   Please.  Doesn’t something become “special” only when compared with something else that’s not “special”?   So in that context, what does the statement mean?  Nothing.

We seem to cling more and more to phrases that sound like they mean something but don’t, and artificially built-up expectations to occasions and events that are simultaneously being robbed of any meaning they once had, and replaced with official joy and forced festivity.

Does anyone else find this sad and disturbing, or am I just being a Grinch?

Why I Should Replace Regis Philbin


In the past few months, as I’ve recovered from heart surgery and been looking for a job, I’ve had an opportunity to do some things I’d never done before.  For one thing, I’ve watched a bit of daytime TV.  Generally speaking, it’s horrible.  I particularly dislike The Today Show.   I’m not exactly sure why, but I always have to fight the urge to throw things at Ann Curry, and I couldn’t care less where in the world Matt Lauer is — as long as he doesn’t show up at our door.  Al Roker seems like a very nice fellow.  So does the front desk guy at the Marriott, but I don’t want to watch him on TV either.  They still drag Willard Scott out now and then to do birthday greetings for centenarians.  The segment is sponsored by Smuckers, and pictures of the celebrants are superimposed on a Smuckers Jam label.  Maybe it’s just me, but there’s just something a bit off-putting about that.  Although I’m sure I’ll be thrilled if I make it to a hundred, and Willard Scott is there wishing me a happy birthday on TV.  I’ll be surprised, too, because he’ll be 120 then.

But for some reason, I kinda like Regis and Kelly.  Especially Kelly.  I’ve often thought that she would be a terrific on-air morning radio partner.  She’s funny and quick-witted, extremely likable, and a huge improvement over Kathy Lee Gifford.  Kathy Lee is now on a late-morning extension of The Today Show, partnered with some equally annoying woman named Hoda, whose major distinction seems to be that she has the world’s largest nostrils.

And now that Regis has decided to retire after 97 years in television, I have come to the conclusion that I’m a perfect replacement.

I’ve been a broadcaster for more than 30 years.  Mainly radio, of course, but what is TV?  Just radio with pictures.  It means I’d have to sit up straighter and remember that just because I have an itch, it doesn’t mean it’s always okay to scratch.  Sounds easy enough.

I’ve had quite a few on-air partners in morning shows… male, female… and I think maybe a duck for a few months.  But that was back in the 70s, and some of those memories are pretty hazy.  Anyway, I’ve come to know and understand the importance of chemistry on the air, and I’m absolutely positive that Kelly and I would be able to create the magic that ensures a laugh-a-minute morning funfest.   Unless the topic was serious, then we could, I’m sure, do the frowny-faced morning somberfest.  I mean, we’re both professionals.

It’s not like I’ve never done any TV.  I used to do 90-second news capsules during the late afternoon movie on Channel 43 in Melbourne, Florida.  That was back when they had old movies on independent TV stations, so it’s been awhile, but I still remember how to read a Teleprompter.  I did a TV commercial for a law firm in Illinois.  And I’ve done public TV pledge drives.  So I know how to be on TV.  You just have to remember to switch off your wireless microphone when  you go to the restroom during commercials.  I learned that lesson the hard way.

They’ve been on-air auditioning several possibilities… the only one of whom I’ve heard is Dana Carvey.  He was okay, but did an awful lot of mugging.  I’m convinced that the only reason they haven’t called me is because they’ve never heard of me.  And that seems to be a surprisingly big obstacle. Still, though, it hardly seems fair.

But I really am the one they’re looking for.  For one thing, at the moment I’m out of work, but will be starting a job soon, so they’d better call pretty quickly if they’re interested. But I could start almost immediately.  I’d be happy to come in and follow Mr. Philbin around for a few days and pick up some pointers.

Plus, my friends either think I’m pretty funny, or they’re just being polite.  But every time I call them up late at night and say, “Hey, do you think I’m funny?”  They reply, “Yup. Oh my… look at the time!  Gotta go!”  And if your friends won’t tell you the truth, who will?

And because my wife is a cute blond, I have plenty of practice  sitting next to a cute blond.

See?

Oh, and I work cheap.  So if you happen to see Regis or Kelly, please ask them to get in touch, okay?  They’re not returning my calls.  Tell them that time’s a-wasting, and that I’m just about to begin another job.  There’ll be some free tickets to Steve and Kelly in it for you.  I promise.

Not So Happy Valley

I was just about to start writing, when this came from ABC News:

Legendary coach Joe Paterno said today that he is “absolutely devastated” by the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the school and announced that he will retire at the end of this season.

Paterno’s retirement after 46 years is the latest casualty of the Penn State sex abuse scandal.

“I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case,” Paterno, 84, said in a statement today. “I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.”

“This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life.  With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more,” he said.

Paterno, who set a record this year as the winningest coach in top level college football ever, said it has been his intention to “serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care.”

“That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can,” Paterno said.

That ends the stellar career of the man who is… or at least was… the most loved, admired and respected person to ever live in Happy Valley.  And while I join the Penn State community in its anger, outrage and sense of betrayal over the news that came out this week, my most overwhelming emotion is sadness.  Deep, deep sadness.  And, frankly, disappointment: not only in those who were involved in the disgusting Sandusky case, but in the reactions of some in the community.

The thing that bothers me most (in addition, of course, to the evil that Jerry Sandusky allegedly visited on his victims) is the immediate blood lust in its wake.  By the way, I use the word “allegedly,” because as a newsroom veteran, I cannot bring myself to do otherwise until he has been tried and found guilty.  And after reading the 23 pages of the Grand Jury presentment, I have little doubt as to the veracity of the charges.  But I have read and heard comments from those who say that everyone from Tim Curley to Graham Spanier… and that includes Joe Paterno… should be “hanged.”  And that’s just not right.

Leaving Curley and Schultz aside (and in my opinion, the charges against them are fully justified,) let’s look for a moment at JoePa.  From all reports that have been made public, he did what he was supposed to do:  reported the accusations against Sandusky to his boss, Tim Curley.  Did he do more?  We don’t know.  Did he make an impassioned plea that something be done?  We don’t know.  Paterno did not witness the alleged assaults, so it would have been pretty difficult for him to make a police report.  He and Sandusky are public figures.  How, exactly, would he have gone public with what at the time were  unsubstantiated, third-person allegations?  Really, what should he have done?  What could he have done?

Do you know that JoePa didn’t have conversations with others?  He knew (or thought he knew) Sandusky very well.  If such a horrible accusation is made against someone you’ve known and worked with for years, wouldn’t it give you pause?  Is it so hard to accept that perhaps Joe Paterno couldn’t quite believe that his friend and colleague  of so many years had such an evil and dark side?

Why are some so quick to believe that this man, revered by so many people, could coldly and cynically aid in a cover-up to the detriment of the boys allegedly victimized by Jerry Sandusky?  That this man, to whom education came first, who personified character and imbued it in his players would really, through inaction, knowingly endanger these vulnerable young victims?  Do you really believe that?   I don’t.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a football fan.  You know that I have less knowledge about the game than probably any other sentient North American male.  But even I was proud of the Penn State Nittany Lions.  And during my time as an employee of Penn State… and now… I answer Penn State!  when someone says We Are…   My wife, whose daughters are all Penn State graduates, just put new Penn State stickers on her car a few weeks ago, even though we now live in North Carolina.

I have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for Joe Paterno, and that respect and admiration is undiminished.  It will remain so until I have a solid reason to change my mind.   I do not extend that respect to Tim Curley or Gary Schultz, who actually could have done something.  And it would be proper for Graham Spanier to accept responsibility and hand his resignation to the Board of Trustees immediately.  It is only right that he should do so.

And Joe Paterno is doing the right thing by retiring at the end of this season.  But I hate to see him end such a glorious career under such an ugly cloud.  And I really think that those who have rushed to judge should take a deep breath, step back, and give it some thought.  Sometimes it seems that those who shout the loudest about what they would have done and what should have been done are trying to convince others, and perhaps themselves, of their own moral superiority.

No matter where we may be now, those of us who have lived in Happy Valley and been, even peripherally, part of the Penn State community, carry that with us with pride, and we always will.  We are hurt, angry and outraged.  But no purpose is served — the victims will not be helped — through an outpouring of misdirected hatred and vitriol.  Now, pull together, hold your head up, and show the world what being a Penn Stater is really about.  Do not let this define you, or Penn State.

Now and forever, remember:  We Are… Penn State.

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