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.

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