While the World was Crumbling, Mine was too.

While the world was crumbling
What you didn’t know….

As I sit here in my house coat (yes, you read that right- think Kmart special) I have reluctantly accepted that I am currently forced to overlook fashion for functionality. In fact, there’s a lot that I’ve overlooked and learned to let go of this past year.

If I could pinpoint when it all started, I would say it was about a week or so before my birthday last year (March 2019). I felt like I was in the fittest shape of my life and was feeling better, and stronger, than I ever had physically. Emotionally, I was still grieving multiple, significant losses in my life, and all within a very short amount of time. As a result, I chose to pour myself into work and became even busier (something my husband didn’t think I could possibly do) and tried harder to be even more positive and productive in all areas of my life. I had set my intentions on continued personal and professional growth, and improved self-care.

Like most birthdays, my wish was simple. I wanted to get up early and spend some time alone to watch the sunrise while taking inventory of all that I was (and continue to be) grateful for. I looked forward to spending the day with my greatest gifts (my children) and had planned to enjoy a nice dinner out with my husband later . *We always have cake together as a family. I had this fancy dress that I found at a Goodwill. I’m sure there are some who are reading this right now in shock…GOODWILL!?!? I could go out and buy something at a high-end boutique (and I have if I fell in love with something) but I just happened to stumble upon this dress months before, and while it wasn’t something that I would normally wear, there was something about it that intrigued me. The bonus was that it was BRAND new and still had the expensive tags on it. For what it cost at a thrift store, I figured, what the heck, and just hoped that one day I would have an occasion, or find a reason, to wear it. The fact that it fit like a glove when I got it home, felt like it was meant to be.  So, even though it was fancier than what I would normally wear out for a birthday dinner, I decided then and there that it was what I would wear for my birthday dinner. I dropped it off at the dry cleaners and looked forward to wearing it.

I had been working out hard (circuit training, Barre classes, and my usual daily walking). I had cut out certain foods, eliminated gluten, and was trying to improve my diet. I felt strong and lean, and as always, continued to rely on my positive outlook and maintained my attitude of gratitude. It was just a week before my birthday, and my husband and I (after attending a middle school matinee play) decided to take the dogs for a quick walk around the block. My foolish decision? I wore flip flops. We didn’t get very far (just 3-4 houses away) when one of our dogs crossed right in front of me as I was mid-step, and I found myself unable to stop. My swift, forward momentum caused me to fall over my dog and roll onto the ground. As I gathered myself and took inventory of what hurt, I knew something was wrong. My big toe, which had slid off the flip flop (in what was probably a desperate attempt to save me) had firmly planted and gripped itself onto the cement while the rest of my foot and my body rolled over my dog. My big toe in a position I had never seen before, was now pointing in a full 90-degree left angle, while the rest of my foot, stiff and straight in pain. I had severely dislocated my big toe and had sustained multiple fractures. I was put in a cast, given crutches, and then eventually transitioned to a boot. Of course, the big dinner plans and the fancy dress would now have to wait.  “Not the end of the world” I told myself and others. As I slowly healed, I was told my big toe would never be the same. Turns out, the big toe holds a lot more weight and significance than the other toes, and one of my fractures happened to be right at the joint where it bends and much of one’s balance rests. I was told to expect arthritis and accept that it would never have the same range of motion or ability to bend again, and even though it would also likely to always be swollen, I thought, and responded many times when describing how my injury came about, that “Things could always be worse.

Boot days
Out of the cast, and onto the boot

As May rolled around, I hobbled through my day with a boot on my foot, anxious to get back to some semblance of my regular routine. The one-year anniversary of the loss of my close cousin AND my dear friend, were weighing heavy on me. A party was planned to celebrate the life of my friend, while my quest to search for goodness and meaning (especially in sad times), left me focused on keeping her memory close to me.  All the while, I was preparing for the kid’s end of the year festivities, which I’ve always tried to make special for all of them (mine and hers).  There were volleyball clinics, camps, and road trip adventures that had long become tradition, and this year was no different. Looking at the calendar, the days were jam packed with upcoming events, monumental occasions, and fun trips.

Amidst end of the school year activities and various events, I continued to check off my growing “to do list” which included the kid’s well visits, as well as my own. There were dentist appts, annual physicals, athletic and camp forms to be completed, and those dreaded (but never put off) annual female appts. It was just days before the one year anniversary of my dear friend’s passing that I made my way onto the elevator and headed up for my annual mammogram. It was like any other day, and the experience was just as riddled with anxiety as each and every one had been before. I continued to answer emails and texts regarding upcoming graduation procedures, speeches, and other program details while I sat in the waiting room waiting to be called back. In the next room, some women read books or flip through magazines, some scroll through FB, and some just try to get some work done. I think everyone prays in their own way in this room, but ironically, most don’t talk to each other. We all just do what we do to pass the time in this awkward waiting area of robe clad women.

I had accompanied my late friend to many of her appts, treatments, and various tests, and was by her side when she left this world. She was a beautiful force so strong, and our bond so close, that I felt a part of me left with her the morning she departed this world. We shared many, many important, funny, and serious conversations, and had lots of adventures, but there was one thing that she often said to me that always left me feeling uneasy.  Often times, throughout her struggle, or at time when I would help her with something, she would stop, look me in the eyes, and say; “Shane, this will never happen to you” and while I was always quick to stop her from saying it again, or tried to change the subject, she would continue to say it over and over. She said it all the time! “This will never happen to you, Shane.” When I would ask her not to say it, she began to follow it up by saying “but if it ever did, I only hope you have a friend who is as good to you as you are to me.”  I cannot write, think of, remember, or read these words without crying. It’s something that brings on such an overwhelming amount of emotion and leaves me with such sadness and many questions.

Gift
A gift to me from my sweet, JK. She certainly changed my world.

As we prepared to celebrate her life, and after having to go back for additional views and tests, I heard those dreaded words as I was lying on the exam table. I felt like I was in a bad dream, except I wasn’t. The nurse’s eyes filled with sorrow as those words were delivered to me, and as I looked down at the boot on my right foot, I thought…. “Yes, I guess things REALLY could be worse.” The moments and days that followed that one were a blur, yet I recall EVERY hazy detail. I had multiple ultrasounds, biopsies, scans, and MRIs, and was given pamphlets and patient information on a disease that I already knew too much about and was way too familiar with! If I saw one more pink ribbon, I was going to scream!!!!!!! I hated the color PINK!!!!!

As I awaited additional information, I went to the gathering at my friend’s house, put on a smile and held it all in, but the pain was almost paralyzing. For one, I still couldn’t believe it, and two, I didn’t want my loved ones, or the ones whom I love like my own, to experience any more pain or fear. I was physically there, but it was as if I was floating just above the noise and the many conversations being had, yet I was not truly a part of or present in.

Somehow, I made it through the party and the overwhelming pain it served to remind me that she was no longer here, but also of the fear and confusion I was now facing alone. I went home and cried, but not for long. I had things to do and I wasn’t going to let this interfere with, or take away from, any upcoming celebrations or special moments. I sat on many soccer fields, participated in carpools, held play dates, hosted parties, arranged events, went to meetings, and continued to go about my day as though nothing was wrong.  I was still waiting for more information, and I just prayed that it would be something I could overcome.

The Lord will fight for you
And still I became…..

I remember one particular day where I had just had 2 additional core biopsies (painful bastards) and was wrapped in compression dressing and ice packs. I left the hospital and drove directly to an end of the year retirement dinner. Afraid I might even be late, I called the organizer of the party to alert them of my possible delay, but ended up making it on time and proceeded to deliver a speech for our retiring teachers on behalf of the Board of Education.  As I arrived and made my way around the room greeting everyone, a teacher-whom I love, approached me and proceeded to give me a giant hug. As much I needed and wanted that hug (especially in that moment) I could hardly hold back my tears and was afraid that they would start streaming out. However, as soon as she hugged me, I could hear and feel the crumbling of the smash activated ice pack in my blouse, which jolted my attention back to keeping my composure and forcing my tears to retreat.  My only thought then, was that I hoped she didn’t feel or hear anything too. As I walked around the room seeing so many friendly, familiar faces, I couldn’t resist hugging those who extended their arms and warm embrace, but I did so gently and slightly at a distance. I remember driving home hoping no one noticed.

The excitement of the 8th grade dance was in the air, while my stomach was in knots.  I took Lainey to get her hair done for the big night, and as we pulled up to the salon and parked, I accidently bumped into the car behind me and scratched their bumper. “SERIOUSLY!!!” I thought?!?! I have NEVER done that in all of my years driving. I wanted to fall apart right then and there, but as I looked over and saw my daughter sitting in the passenger seat, I held back my tears and just said “Great!” and proceeded to write a note with my name, number, and an explanation of what happened, and left it on the windshield. We went into the salon and I stood back and watched her get her hair done. She looked so beautiful, so grown up, so excited and happy. Meanwhile, I was hanging on by a thread. Partly because of all that I was dealing with, and partly because of the immense amount of pride and joy I had as I watched her beaming with anticipation and excitement about the evening ahead. Thoughts of what the future might hold flashed before my eyes and I had to stop, redirect my thoughts, and put a smile on my face….for her.

We got home and she began getting dressed for the big night.  What an emotional roller coaster! Oh, and the woman whose car I accidentally bumped into earlier, happened to call me during my daughter’s big reveal – the completed, put together look of dress, hair and accessories. Timing, and more unwanted distractions! The woman thanked me for leaving the note and even commented at how most people wouldn’t have done that. She told me that she was going to get a few estimates and would let me know the damage. Ironically, a week or so later when I met her at a Starbucks to give her cash, she admitted to me that her husband told her that she should have given me the highest estimate. He said “Why not get the most money you can out of her?” but how she told me that she explained to him that in speaking to me on the phone, she could tell that I was a kind and honest person and she wouldn’t want to do that to me while reminding him that I didn’t have to leave the note at all. I considered telling her (a stranger) about how my life felt like it was falling apart, but I didn’t.

But back to the evening of the 8th grade dance….

While my daughter was getting dressed, I explained to my husband what had happened and used the unfortunate example to show my daughter (and my other 2 children) how doing the right thing isn’t always easy (honestly, it often sucks) but that it’s important, and it matters.  How I kept from falling apart that day, is beside me – although I know it came from up above. So, it was onto the next task at hand.

When I agreed to photograph the 8th grade dance a few weeks earlier, of course I didn’t know then that my heart would be in my chest worrying about, and waiting for results. My husband was upset with me and pleaded with me to cancel as he reminded me of how heavy my camera was.  He said that “someone else could do it “, and while I was sure that someone else would/could have, I didn’t want worry or fear to stop me from doing what I committed to, and wanted, to do. So, I padded my bra with more disposable ice packs to help with the swelling, and set out to capture every moment and memory I could of these best times. Although in pain, I snapped more pictures of laughter, precious moments, and special bonds than I think I would have, if not for what I was going through. My only disappointment, was that after I took all of those great pictures and spent hours editing them and putting them into a shareable album, I was told that they couldn’t be distributed to the students or families because not everyone had signed a waiver with permission to be photographed. As insignificant as it was in the grand scheme of things, my heart sunk even more because I had purposely pushed through my pain and my circumstances to capture beautiful memories that now, I was told, might never be seen. Well, when I’m no longer in my position of public service, I will be sure to share them….or if you want them sooner, those 2019 GW graduates who elected not to allow their child to be photographed, will need to give me permission.

What a special night it was.

With the 8th grade dance now behind us, my oldest daughter, my first born, was about to walk the stage in her cap and gown, and I was to give the speech to the 8th grade graduating class. “How could I possibly do this?” I thought. My nerves were in my stomach as I worried about what might be and what the tests would show. I was an emotional wreck just trying to hold it all together, but for her and my other children, I had to do it. I gave that graduation speech with more ice packs and Tylenol for pain, but also with more conviction than I had ever felt before. With each and every word I delivered, I prayed the message that I wanted to impart, would be heard and felt by all. To have an opportunity to give a graduating class, words to live by, became an overwhelming and highly motivated test of my emotional capacity and deeply driven desire to make it count.

2019 Graduating Class Speach
Make it count!
GIGANTIC LOVE
The best, most needed and wanted hug!

After getting through all of the end of year activities, soon birthday season was upon us in our house.  My husband’s birthday (end of June), then the 4th of July, then my son’s birthday (July 5th), and then my oldest daughter’s (July 15th).  I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s celebration, so I just kept getting through each day, day by day. We did, however, plan a much needed, long overdue night out in the city to celebrate my belated birthday, and I DID finally wear that dress!

I did get to wear it, and we celebrated right before my 1st surgery.

Soon, I began to prepare for my next big hurdle. I wanted to open up to a few people close to me (and I tried!) but I soon discovered that some weren’t available – whether it was emotionally or physically. While I was deeply hurt by this, I thanked God for the few who were.  Outside of them, I depended on myself, leaned on my husband, and relied on my faith to keep my attitude positive and my mind clear and focused. While many were asking how my foot was doing, I was secretly preparing for a bigger, more serious surgery. I received a surgery date of July 22nd (there’s some painful irony here).  It wasn’t until the night before my surgery, that I finally told my children. We were sitting in a church parking lot about to head into mass, and I just explained that mommy was going to have surgery to have something removed. I didn’t go into a lot of details, but just said that they found something and I was going to have it removed. “No big deal.” “Nothing to worry about.” “No reason to tell anyone anything.” There were some questions on their part, but my strength and my will to be positive, seemed to calm them and their fears. My husband drove me to the hospital early the next morning, and they then went down to VA to spend a few weeks with their grandparents. It doesn’t run in my family, but genetic testing gave me peace of mind as a mother for the love of my children and care for their future health. I elected to have a double mastectomy, and my life changed in more ways than one.

I chose not to tell anyone because I wanted to protect the people I love. I didn’t want my pain to become anyone else’s pain. I didn’t want my children to worry, nor did I want other children whom I love like my own, to worry. I also didn’t want the world knowing my business and risk unwanted negativity entering into my life, family, or home. I wanted to protect and shield the ones I love, and decided that it was my choice and my survival guide. There’s no right or wrong way – it’s a personal choice that is not easy for anyone to make. If my own family didn’t know, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it wasn’t public information. As difficult as it was for me, I did open the door to a couple of people and let them in on my secret. It’s amazing how different people are, and how these differences become more visible and intensified at times like these. Over this past year, there were a few times that, I will admit, I didn’t pick up the phone or answer a call because I knew the person on the other end would sense or know something was wrong. I’m sorry if anyone felt I was being aloof, but now you know why. On the other hand, I will also admit that there were many times that I had hoped or thought the phone might ring, but it didn’t. There were many times when I felt invisible, forgotten, and certainly lost, but I believe that’s all part of the journey.

After surgery, I was scheduled to undergo radiation and then be done, but after a thorough discussion with my amazing team of Drs, and my strong desire to be ultra-aggressive, we decided to throw chemo at it too. Not everyone agreed that it was “necessary” but since protocols change and vary by Dr, I chose to do more, rather than less, and feel blessed to have a Doctor who treated me like he would one of his own family members. So, the plan changed (like many of my “plans” this past year), and I would now start chemo first and then do radiation.

On Sept 11, 2019 (18 years from the day I was working in NYC and spared from the destruction of a national terrorist attack), I began 12 rounds of chemo and lost every hair on my body except for the hair on my head. I opted to try the “Cold Cap” – a cap that literally freezes your scalp so that the chemo doesn’t reach your hair follicles. It’s extremely uncomfortable and very painful in the beginning, but I felt it was worth trying because I didn’t want my kids or others to know what I was going through and cause them any additional worry. I had a friend who went with me for my first treatment, and a friend who was with me for my last – albeit through the window due to COVID. My poor husband showed up to one of my sessions in the beginning hoping to surprise me and bring me some food, and I got upset with him because I didn’t want him to see me like that. I didn’t understand my reaction any more than he did, but we both did by the time it was all over.  Outside of that, every week, I went by myself (not because my husband didn’t want to be there with me) but because I chose to do it alone. I knew he had work and other responsibilities, and I didn’t want what happened to me, to be forced upon him anymore than I could help it. I didn’t want him (or anyone) to see me that way. I don’t want to be seen differently because of it. As a result, I didn’t tell any of my family about any of my subsequent treatments. I felt it was irrelevant and I was doing what I had to do. I was cared for by some of the most amazing nurses and talented doctors, and met many amazing people and patients along the way. I even have many who now follow me and my writing. One of the most touching moments throughout my treatment, was when I was walked back to my chemo chair and a nurse pointed to one of my writings that had been framed and hung up on the wall in my “regular” chemo area. They said that they thought it belonged there, and told me that long after my chemo was done, they thought it would help inspire others. Insert more tears here.

At the very same time, my oldest daughter was working on her Silver Award for Girl Scouts, and completely unaware that her own mother was undergoing chemo, chose a project to uplift those undergoing treatment.  She decided to create self-care bags for those undergoing chemo and other forms of therapies.  She handwrote and decorated inspirational notes and put them in individual bags, along with Chapstick, fuzzy socks, hard candies, word games, headbands, lotion, hand sanitizers, gum, pens, and notebooks, and distributed over 30 bags to the VERY center in which I was receiving care.  The nurses (all keeping my secret) loved her idea and many patients were so touched and appreciative – several were moved to tears.  From this experience, she even made several connections with patients who had written to her (and even met in person) to tell her how much of a difference her thoughtful gesture and kind gifts made. As I drove her there and witnessed the love she was giving, the care that was felt, and the hope that was renewed, I couldn’t help but have tears in my eyes as my heart overflowed with such pride.

After losing all of my body hair, I decided that I should shop for wigs just in case the cold cap didn’t work. The hair on my head was thinning a bit and I wanted to be prepared. As I sat in a wig fitting chair overwhelmed and surrounded by countless styles, lengths, and colors, I tried on a few, and surprisingly, was pretty calm throughout the process. Standing around me were several people who worked there (think of a bridal fitting but TOTALLY different vibe!) Some were handing me different wig options, another explaining that they could cut or style any of them to suit me, and finally…..one asked the question that they all seemed to want to ask – “So, who did you bring with you today?” I simply said “No one. I wanted to do this alone.” A friend did kindly offer, but I declined. Without skipping a beat, I went on to try on all different colors, lengths, and styles, until I found the one I would keep on standby should I need it. It was a strange feeling and an awakening in many ways.

Wig shopping – just in case the cold cap didn’t work

While undergoing treatment and using the cold cap, I could only wash my hair once a week, couldn’t use a hair dryer or other styling tools, and was forced to let my hair air dry.  It wasn’t too bad, but I did feel self-conscious – especially on our wedding anniversary when I wanted to look my best but just had to let my hair air dry. I became creative with makeup, crafty with clothing, and familiar with fake eyelashes. I found it extra challenging to tend to my hair and various side effects while attending/hosting meetings and traveling to various Conventions, but felt one of the toughest tests would be keeping it from my dad  – especially when I attended a dinner at which he was being recognized for his educational achievements/contributions, and inducted into the NY State Middle School Hall of Fame. My guest appearance and proudly delivered speech at his well-deserved, hard earned induction, was a heartwarming surprise because of Barbara’s help. I was so happy to be able to pull it off for so many reasons.

With Fall in full swing and so much going on, I decided it would be best if we didn’t have our annual Halloween party. As much as I wanted to have it (and technically, still could have) I decided that I wanted to spend time alone, enjoying my family. I booked a trip to Disney where we made many memories and had a lot of fun. I even got a little creative and was able to find a way to combine this special family trip with some needed visits with another special young woman whom I love. And of course, I got to see one of my dearest and long-time friends and her family, who live nearby. I felt some were disappointed or upset with me for not having the party, and it hurt, but I moved on. I had no choice.

All the while, there were times I felt misunderstood, taken for granted or advantage of, disregarded, judged, and overlooked. As a strong woman, I could handle it, but as a parent who kept a secret to protect her children, I found myself biting my tongue many, many times. There were instances…..boy, were there instances that I felt immensely hurt or disrespected by snide comments or assumptions formed by some who thought they knew me, my family, and/or our circumstances, but who had NO idea. With each cringe and hurtful cut, I turned my cheek. I watched as some adults behaved more like children in various situations, and I simply walked away. I felt many expectations were imposed upon me that I didn’t necessarily want, but I fulfilled them anyway.

I finished my 12 rounds of chemo the day before Thanksgiving. The timing of everything during my journey has been QUITE meaningful. My first day of radiation was on New Year’s Eve. Yet, another tradition of mine, recreated and transformed. For 25 days/25 fractions, I would drop all of the kids off at school, and then drive myself to undergo radiation. No one was the wiser, but I was feeling conflicted, confused, and kept searching for the reason and purpose in His plan. Throughout my journey, I have most certainly been surrounded by my many angels. I have seen them, felt them, and heard them whisper in my ear. From finding feathers that remind me, to watching butterflies, cardinals, and hummingbirds float by, to simply spotting the goodness and beauty that exists, even in pain, I have found comfort and taken refuge in my faith and my ability to recognize the presence of angels – both walking and floating around me.

I am so grateful for the handful of people who have been there for me (my 3 Ms in particular) who have respected my wish for confidentiality, while offering prayers and positive affirmations. Those who reached out to me this past year, unaware of anything, showed me that they were thinking of me, and it did not go unnoticed. The simplest gestures meant more to me than anyone knows.  Whether it was a last-minute invite out for drinks that I couldn’t make for some made up reason, a text suggesting we try to get a date on the calendar to get the families together, or just a quick message to say HI, it mattered.  Many times, I found it incredibly difficult to keep my secret, and I considered opening up more, but either felt it was not the right time, I didn’t get a response (or at least before I changed my mind), or circumstances made it near impossible – i.e. friends losing loved ones, conflict of every kind imaginable, and of course, COVID. I’ve always found it difficult to ask for help (mainly, because I really don’t want any), but the positive support of genuine, caring people was/is different. Since I didn’t want any help though, I accepted that I had to do without some of the added support, but I felt it was the right decision for me and those I love. I would hold onto my pain and keep it to myself if it meant sparing anyone else hurt or worry. There was enough of it in the world already.

Although my chemo was completed, I continued on with another form of treatment every 3 weeks.  This lasted a full year from when I first started. If you follow me and my writing, you might see some more meaningful posts during these times, as I often used my treatment time to write and post inspirational things that were a result of some of my most profound or moving experiences. There are MANY I didn’t post. If you read them now, you may see all new meaning in many of them.

On January 13th, 2020, I was sitting outside one of our schools preparing to lead a Board of Education meeting, when I received a call from the man who became the dad I never had, and I, the daughter he said he always wanted. He called to update me on some recent happenings. They had just arrived in FL where he and Barbara traditionally escaped the east coast winters to enjoy the sunny weather, but before unpacking, made a stop at the ER due to some ongoing symptoms he had been experiencing.  We had just had lunch a few weeks prior, and he was now telling me, very matter of factly, that he had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He told me not to worry and that the prognosis was good and that he would rather have treatment is sunny FL than come back to NJ for it.  I held back the tears, caught my breath, and remained positive because I know the power of the mind and the direction in which our thoughts can lead us. As I hung up the phone, I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and headed into the school to lead our meeting.  I never said a word to anyone and kept his secret, because like me, he was a very private man and didn’t want sympathy.

It all happened SO quick. On February 4th, I boarded a plane headed to FL to give my final goodbyes as he was moved to hospice. I walked down the hallway, never wanting to be in another hospice facility again after losing my friend, and as I exhaled deeply, tears rolled down my face and wouldn’t stop.  A nurse just down the hall happened to see me, approached me, and proceeded to hug me. She offered to sit with me for awhile, but I politely declined as I didn’t want to waste a single moment or prolong what I knew I had to do. As I wiped my face and shook off the sadness, fear, and anxiety and left it outside of his door, I then walked into the room, and with a cheerful voice and a smile on my face, said “Hi Dad! I made it.” We held hands as I told him all that I wanted, and needed to say (except for my secret) and he passed peacefully that night.  As I showered in their guest bath, I stood there in complete shock and disbelief, as my radiated skin was peeling off in layers as the water ran over me. I had just completed radiation the week before!!! Had I not started and completed it when I did, I might not have been able to get there to see him and say my goodbyes because of the consecutive, daily radiation sessions.

My last day of radiation! Little did I know the news I would receive the very next week!

Throughout this entire experience, I have said “I don’t understand” more times than I can count. I have NEVER asked why though, because I know that we may never know, and quite honestly, why NOT me? It could (and does) happen to many people. I just kept saying to myself “I don’t understand” over and over again. I cried with Barbara as we made service plans, shared memories, and handled necessary things in the days that followed. I never told her either. Why? How could I? As I flew home, I was stopped by the TSA for a pat down. The woman asked me if there were any areas that were sensitive, as she proceeded to explain the process in which I was already well aware of. As I stood in the middle of the airport security area with my arms outstretched, “palms facing up” and legs spread out, I finally crumbled as I simply pointed to my chest.  She asked me what was wrong (initially with a bit of an attitude) and I just told her that I had a double mastectomy, had just finished chemo and radiation, and that I had flown down to say goodbye to my dad who had just died. She said “Oh, honey” and as she expressed her condolences, said “He will be watching over you, dear.” All I could say was “I know, but I never told him.” Of course, he knows now.

In our time alone, as I sat beside his bed, holding his hand, I reassured him that I would do what he always “instructed” me to do…….”TSC of YSS and LYL” which meant-“Take special care of your special self … and love ya lots!” I just couldn’t grasp that only a few, short months earlier, I was giving a speech for his induction, and now would be writing and delivering his eulogy. Both were an honor and a privilege I remain grateful for, as his life, and the impact he had on mine, was a gift that was easy to write about, albeit painful.

The flight I didn’t want to make. The goodbye I wasn’t ready to give.

I arrived back in NJ and went directly from the airport to our school board office for an important meeting. Again, no one knew the pain I carried or the burden I bore, but staying busy and doing what I believed to be right was how I coped. Through meetings, calls, challenges, everyday life issues, work, family matters, bullies (kids and adults), pandemics, then virtual graduations, community discord, and then just pure ugliness from people…I have been challenged physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. All that I could do, and the only control I had, was to focus on what I believe in – the power of perspective, the need for positivity, and the importance of love.

While the world hailed nurses and essential staff during COVID, I was already thanking God for them and how they made my treatments, and various challenges, easier to bare.  While some people complained about work, I became “non-essential” and worried about the limitations that small business health insurance presented, and prayed to God that my Drs and various treatments would be covered. I prayed my husband could continue to work, but at the same time, worried about his daily exposure and what that could mean to me and our family. While some might have thought I was a “mean mom” to keep my kids distanced longer than others, I had my reasons, and when Ioosened some of those rules, I had my reasons too. While I have friends of different political parties, of many different beliefs, backgrounds, lifestyles, and cultures, I have never judged or loved anyone any less for who they are, and my good, true friends, have never loved me any less for who I am or what I believe.  However, I have watched as some have allowed anger and rage to engulf them and have witnessed so many quick to cut with their tongue and sling insult at others and our country. I have been through my own hell and I’ve seen a lot of ugly things. I’ve felt a lot of pain and I’ve tried hard to minimize the amount that I’ve shared with others. Yet, I have been exposed to the spiteful spit of others impulsive reactions, anger fueled motivations, and devisive language and behavior. I have tried hard to maintain my dignity, integrity, and have never compromised my character or my convictions while respecting others at the same time.

This past year hasn’t been easy or pretty. In fact, it’s been one of the loneliest, scariest, and most trying (yet most enlightening) experiences of my life. One of the hardest things to do (especially in today’s world) is to smile, be patient, and show compassion, but it’s the only thing that I’ve been able to do, because I know (I have always known) that it’s what matters most! For some, they will always sit in their anger, resentment, pitty, and blame. Some will continue to make assumptions about people, their lives, and be quick to pass judgement, show disrespect, disregard, or make excuses for bad behavior, but I will not. I cannot change the hand I’m dealt, but I AM responsible for what I do with it, and whether or not I choose to play fair or nice.

When I started painting rocks and placing them all over town earlier in the year, I did so because I knew that if I was secretly hurting, there were many others who were too. As tension grew and voices became louder in the world, it seemed the feelings and goal of loving and respecting one another were lost and disregarded.  In spite of (and maybe even more so because of) my own personal struggles, I have felt even more compelled to speak up and contribute some positive perspective and some much needed understanding and rationale. While I have been secretly overcoming my own obstacles, I have been disheartened by some of the things I’ve witnessed, yet overwhelmed and encouraged by those who refuse to stop putting love out into this world.

Sadly, some have allowed their hearts to become so callused, that they believe their actions to be justified or excusable rather than accountable. I have witnessed more disrespect, whining, complaining, over dramatizations, and angry outbursts than ever before…..all affecting me now more than ever before too. While the world was crumbling, mine was too, but as hard as it was, (God knows how hard) I did not /would not, allow my circumstances to be a reason or an excuse to be ugly, mean, or disrespectful.

On July 28th, 2020, I checked in for my second surgery. It was an intensive 10-hr. surgery, and I spent 5 days in the hospital. As I have throughout this entire journey, I made some amazing connections with people of all walks of life, backgrounds, and beliefs – not because I was a patient (because these connections have continued beyond hospitals and Drs offices), but because people connect by heart through love and compassion. What your heart holds, dictates whether you are motivated to unite, or fight. Peace, happiness, joy, and gratitude, exist only when you believe in, live by, and are an extension of them.

On Wednesday, August 12th, I not only had 4 drains removed, but I completed my very last treatment and I rang the bell! My nurses clapped for me. People in the parking lot who couldn’t go into the facility to be with their loved ones during their treatments, clapped for me, and my friend who drove me because I was unable to drive due to surgery, clapped for me. I might be walking a little slower, still not able to drive, but I’m making my laps again and still seeing the beauty that exists!

I had the GREATEST Doctors (one whose photo still needs to be added-my AMAZING PS), the BEST nurses, the most LOVING family, a couple of CARING friends, the most POWERFUL Angels, and the ULTIMATE God on my side! I was blessed by so many unexpected connections, conversations, “no coincidence” coincidences, and many moving, memorable, touching experiences. I am a different woman, and I think I might even like this version better than the previous one, scars and all.

Ringing the bell!

I am now on the road to recovery (although I have a surgery or two ahead of me) but I am so grateful for my life, for my healing, for my husband, my children, my family, and for the heart that God gave me to see people and truly connect with those who love like I do – deeply, fully, honestly, and without reservation or discrimination.


I am a warrior. I want and need NO sympathy. I’m going to be OK and I will not engage in ANY depressing or negative talk. As I write this, I have yet to tell my kids that I had chemo and radiation, but I will before I share this with anyone else.  All that they need to know now is that Mommy is OK and positive thoughts, prayers, are always helpful, and more love, kindness, and compassion is needed all around. 

If you know me, you know that I am a lover, a peace keeper, and a kindness spreader through and through, but I am also not naïve, and I know that there are those out there with ulterior missions and agendas in disguise. My armor is on! As much as I wanted to leave this next part out, I decided to fully embrace the freedom of letting it all out so…..to any haters, negative, pot stirring, conflict driving crazies, may this serve as a warning to stay far away from me! You have NO idea how strong I am, and my threshold for BS, meanness, or negativity has reached a point of zero tolerance. There is only love, light, and acceptance allowed near me, my family, and those I love.

If you’ve made it this far, you may be asking why I decided to share this all now, and I guess the answer is for many reasons. Most importantly, it’s because I’m healthy, thank God. Is it all over? No, but it’s gone, it’s out, and I’m here. I’m also tired of pretending. For someone who lives as open, honest, and authentically as I do, this has been so hard for me to keep to myself. For another reason, I think in a world that is filled with so much anger, confusion, and blame, I wondered if maybe now would be a good time to share a little personal perspective with others. Ironically, this was the theme of the speech I delivered virtually to this year’s 2020 8th grade graduating class – Perspective! While I could have complained and aired all of my worries, inconveniences, and stress, I was (and remain) very much aware of the fact that there are many others who face battles and difficulties, and some worse. Rather than whine and complain over delays, cancellations, or missed celebrations, I have been keenly aware of how precious life is and how a little perspective, can change everything. I’ve watched people complain over having to wear masks, or how their travels plans were postponed, or how their parties had to be altered. I didn’t blame anyone for feeling the way they did, but I certainly had a different view and was grateful for what I had. When COVID hit, I had my own fears and had to avoid exposure and overcome challenges that some actually laughed about-unknowing the dangers that I faced. Again, I didn’t hold it against them, but growing within me was this feeling that perhaps when everything was over, maybe I was meant to do something, say something, or use my own experience to open the eyes of others.

So, I guess I decided this would be part of my testimony, NOT my story.  Ironically, the day before I went in for my latest surgery on July 28th, I was signed by a book publisher! Again….timing!!! This chapter of my life (this past year) was not part of my story or part of the book I was signed for, but perhaps it was meant to be. It certainly isn’t the whole story, but the experience has brought me, not to the end of the book, but to the beginning of my new life.

The truest example of someone’s character and heart, is not what they say or do when things are good or going their way, but how they react and respond when their world is upside down and chaos is all around them. Not that long ago, I carried kindness rocks in my pockets and dropped them all over town. While I can’t carry too many rocks in my pockets right now (I will soon enough), I still hold a lot of love in my heart. I hope in my “test” you find the testament. The testament of not using heartache, unwanted pain, or situations that haven’t gone the way you wanted or planned, to be an excuse to live a life of anger or blame. I haven’t done everything right, I’ve made mistakes, and I’m certainly not perfect, but I’ve set out to do everything for the right reasons. In the midst of pain and struggle, there IS light and purpose in everything if we are open to seeking it.  If you can’t find light, be a light. My comfort is knowing that my pain was not in vain IF it matters, makes a difference, or helps someone else. This is just a small part of my journey. The book? Now, that’s a story!

May health, happiness, and love be with you all, and may compassion and kindness prevail in a world where “darkness and despair must never have the last word”.

The power of kindness….pass it on!
My place of peace with my homemade sign of words to live by: “Have Hope, Spread Love”

Rise with the Sun: by Shane Svorec

“Rise with the sun
Let your spirit unfold
Open your heart
To a dream you put on hold
Renew your hope
Find comfort in a new day
Let go of what you can’t change
Believe you are more than what you face
There is no competition
You are in this race alone
Set your mind on the finish line
And dig deep for the strength you own
There is magic within you
You just have to believe
There is purpose in every action
And in every action, we come to be
Life is a mystery
Not everyone is for you
Just follow your heart
And to your own self be true
Settle with the sunset
Be at peace with yourself
Tomorrow is a new day
Be still, and know all will be well”

The Greatest Gentleman

The Life and Legacy of Tom Kane

Dad10

Hello. My name is Shane Svorec. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the girl Tom walked down the aisle on her wedding day. It truly was “Unforgettable” (which happened to be the song we danced to at my wedding) but as magical and monumental as that day was for me, it was all the days I shared with him before and after that one, that I cherish most. I met Tom when I was a student at Nyack Middle School. To this day, I still find it a challenging story to explain. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really sure how it all began, but somehow, somewhere along the way, a wonderful bond was formed. I remember having lunch with him in his office on many occasions and we would share things about our day. Having lunch with your principal might not sound like a popular choice among middle schoolers, but it was the highlight of my day.

After middle school graduation, we maintained our connection through letters, cards, and phone calls. It was after college graduation that we began getting together again for lunch, only now our lunches were longer, the food was better, and the topics of conversation were many. While we got together for various events and special occasions over the years including birthdays, Baptisms, special dinners, housewarming parties, Halloween at Four Seasons, and most recently his induction into the New York State Middle School Association Hall of Fame, it was our lunches that I really looked forward to and cherished the most.

For over 33 years, our lunch dates became our official “check-ins” on each other. We would sit and talk about everything, from life, kids, work, which room Barbara was rearranging, travel plans, and social calendars. It was over these lunches that I discovered just how much Barbara and I were alike. Our desire to have things just right, our decorative urges, our love of adventure, and our busy social lives. There was a certain sparkle in his eye when he spoke about Barbara, and as he filled me in on all that she was doing “these days”, he would say that he was tired just thinking about all of it.

As I sat down to write this, I struggled with how to begin – not because I didn’t know what to say, but because I have so much to say.  How do you describe a person who has touched so many – leaving footprints too big to fill, let alone follow in? It was at this point that I thought about all of our lunches and the countless stories he’s shared with me over the years.  The more I thought about the relationship I was blessed to have with him, the more I realized that it was because of our special relationship, that I was able to have a sneak peek into all of yours. Through his colorful stories, humorous pictures, and descriptive letters, I can easily speak to the importance of all of you.

Over the years, I learned a lot about his family- his mom, his dad, his beloved sister and her family- including his niece, nephew and their children. His dad was a mailman and so he always seemed to have some quip or fact to share with me about the United States Postal Service, a sort of “Did you know” series came to be.  Punctual, reliable, and organized would appear to be strong traits in his blood line. His mom was a kind and gentle woman, and I got the feeling whenever he described her, that his sense of pause and affection was inherited from her.  He shared stories about his sister-from childhood trips to the circus at Madison Square Garden, to various vacations, and even coastal weather reports and storm evacuation plans if needed. He always kept me updated on how things were going down south with the family. He was proud of where he came from and who he was related to. I got to know the kids in the family (both on his side and Barbara’s).  Through our many conversations, I always knew what they were up to, the grades the younger ones were going into, and what they all liked and enjoyed.  He was very proud of his niece and nephew, and then of his great nephew and nieces!

I loved hearing stories of when he was a Brother and the great friendships he made, and still had. His words to me- “How many people can say they’ve had friends for over 65 years!” His days in the Bronx sounded like something out of a movie and I was always enthralled in the many chapters that made up this period of his life. There were endless stories about former students, the good, and the challenging ones he never gave up on.  I heard all about the time he was invited back to a 50th class reunion and how special that made him feel.

I enjoyed hearing stories about when he worked at the Mental Health clinic and how challenging and emotionally draining that job was. As a Carly Simon fan, I was interested in learning that Carly’s mom, Andrea Simon, also worked there and therefore Carly would stop by and visit from time to time. He told me that Andrea used to call him “Thomas darling”.  I was updated regularly on various home projects and the many stories that accompanied them. His appreciation for a particular handy man named John, was always noted.  Oh, and the many holidays spent with Barbara’s cousins were sure to be fun and filled with lots of laughs. He took comfort in knowing that Barbara had such a loving family who they spent time with regularly.

When the seasons changed, I could anticipate photos of their yard decorations, and in them, could feel the pride he took in the home (or as he called it “Casa Kane”) that he shared with Barbara.  If there was an event at Four Seasons, you could bet that I would receive a run-down of the details (not only in my very own copy of The Voice) but in his excitement for, and dedication to, all things relating to this friendly community they called home. Whether it be the big job of handling lights and sound, hospitality for various parties, treasury positions, or the annual pool opening festivities in which I learned hot dogs are a VERY big deal, he was proud to be part of it. I recall GIANT fears over a very large tent as planning for the 20th Anniversary Celebration was under way, and I felt privileged to receive a “revolutionary copy” of an article that never made it in The Voice regarding cameras in the clubhouse.

When he and his co-writers were busy working on the book, Advisory, I would get updates on their team approach and their unique system of writing, and then sending their portions on to the next person. Then, of course, the many meetings that took place at various locations before it was published. He enjoyed working with this team and was very proud to share this great achievement with them. I felt like I knew their friends intimately as he shared with me the great pleasure he found in their frequent gatherings and many dinners out. Of course, the day wasn’t complete without a stop at the Beanery, and I too, would come to know and love this special place where everyone knew his name.

He spoke of former colleagues and teammates with great passion and joy, and whenever he mentioned several secretaries, he would describe them as if they wore super hero capes. He had great respect and appreciation for those he worked with and always filled me in on who he had an opportunity to catch up with “after all these years”. When it came to NYC, I could always count on him to give me honest reviews of all the Broadway shows they went to see and the restaurants that Wowed them.  Of course, the added convenience of using Broadway Ray made these evenings out a breeze. Oh, and the stories (and pictures) of when he marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade- Ye Gads!  What a great toy solider he was!

Of course, there were the many conferences that he attended and the countless presentations and workshops that he gave in hopes of inspiring and supporting other educators. A song by one of his favorite artists could be inserted here: “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash.

He took every opportunity he could to invest in education by sharing his knowledge and experience with others (and for the years that are often overlooked and need the most attention).  “This We Believe” is what HE believed and the memories he made and the efforts he invested both in NY and NJ, were ones he was so proud of and honored to share with esteemed colleagues.  He was a proud Irishman who enjoyed an occasional Margherita. And Barbara, oh, how he worried about her when she had the dizzy spells. From Chiropractors to resetting inner ear crystals, he would take her anywhere to find her some relief.  All of the worrying he did was relieved when they took their first flight after that long, disruptive bout and she did well. Sometime later, he would also develop a short bout of vertigo, and his correspondence to me came from what he dubbed “Dizzy Land”.  He admired Barbara’s social abilities and loved how she always made their house a home.  He found her to be the most beautiful woman-even if he didn’t say it often.

He talked a lot about faith, beliefs, and the churches they attended (both in NJ and FL).  Born and raised Catholic, he discovered a great love and respect for the Episcopal church and admired that they had women deacons and pastors who he really enjoyed listening to.  He always remarked at how welcoming everyone was in this church.  He shared with me the volunteer missions for the homeless that he and Barbara had become involved in while in FL, and how he enjoyed being able to help and give back. I became very familiar with the “Groupie News” and enjoyed hearing about the time he met Dorothy Day when he was the Director of the Day Juniorate.

It seemed when the cold wind began to stir, talk of the “Snowbirds” travel plans would ensue, and I was sure to receive a well-documented itinerary for reference. He loved going to FL, enjoying the warm weather, watching the sailboats come and go, and the palms trees as they swayed in the wind.  The only thing he loved more, was Barbara and sharing every great adventure with her.

Tom Kane was a man of character, integrity, and deep conviction.  He had a giant heart and a giving spirit. If he loved someone of some thing, he talked (or wrote about it) in great lengths and with deep passion.  We shared a love of Willie Nelson, and just like good ole Willie who transcends and connects with the most diverse groups of people from Dolly Parton to Snoop Dog, Tom found a way to connect with everyone from many different walks of life.  He was one of the most observant people I knew. A people watcher, a date keeper, and a note writer, he paid attention, showed affection, and made people feel special. 33 years of lunches, letters, and other correspondence have now become a recorded testament of this as he shared with me an awful lot about who and what he loved.  I couldn’t possibly write about every person in this room or about every story that he ever shared, but I hope that each and every one of you know that as much as he left an imprint on your hearts, you left one on his.  I have never known anyone to show such care and thoughtfulness for others.  If you were fortunate enough to have been cared for or loved by him, you are a better person because of it. The power of his presence now lives on in all those he touched, and his influence will forever be a gift to those who received it.

As I read through some of the comments that people shared on my post about my Hero, there were so many that stuck out, yet all conveyed such fondness and respect for the greatest gentleman. Relatives, friends, former colleagues, students, neighbors….they all shared a similar message, and that was that he made the world a better place.  He truly was my Hero and I will forever be grateful to call him my Dad.

His last email to me began like this:

“Our morning routine includes, opening the floor to ceiling vertical blinds…I call it unwrapping the day…and if there is a soft breeze the palm trees wave good morning to me.”

His beautiful imagery offers peace in our time of loss. He has earned his reward in Heaven ten times over and now enjoys the views he so loved. As we go on, I urge you to remember the ways he inspired you, to think of how he cared for you, and cherish why he loved you. Carry his memory forward and lead with his zest for life. Never underestimate the power you possess to change someone’s day, and thereby, impact their life. He epitomized what’s possible if one only takes notice and shows care for another. He has taught us all how to live a life of great meaning and purpose.

In celebration of his life and in honor of his great memory, I leave you with this Irish Blessing:

“May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

 

TSC of YSS and LYL Dad,

Your Daughter….Shane 

And to beautiful Barbara, the love of his life…..

 

 

Unforgettable

The Little/Big Pieces – Why sorting through them over and over again is so important.

Ready, set, go!
Carry only what you need and refuel often.

A child dumps his entire toy box out onto the floor, and our stress begins to build. We just “contained” the mess, and now it’s strewn all about again. The never ending exercise of picking things up and putting them away is a fruitless effort. Or is it?

What a lesson this tireless exercise teaches us though, if only we sit back long enough to observe.  Amidst the “mess” lies a stark parallel to our life as adults. In the overwhelming pile of “things” on the floor, we notice that there exists items that we use/need everyday, and those that we don’t use very often, but we treasure very much and can’t seem to part with. Inevitably, there’s always some trash mixed in there too. If we truly want to feel good about our efforts, we go the extra step and throw it all away then, instead of putting it back in the toy box to deal with later. 

And then…..there are the little pieces. The smaller items that once were part of something bigger, but somehow became separated, and are now just random bits and pieces of something larger that they are no longer connected to. 
You know these pieces. They are the ones that fall to the very bottom of the toy box and are often forgotten about until that day comes when we actually need them, but then can’t find them. We often overlook and underestimate these “little pieces”, not realizing that without them, we are just holding onto bigger things that are incomplete. We hold onto all of these little pieces in hopes of, one day, reconnecting them and making them whole again. 


What’s most noticeable though, is that it’s these little pieces that can often be the most valuable. If you’ve ever watched a child dump out his/her toy box and stumble upon a small, seemingly insignificant piece, and hear them say “Oh!!!!! I’ve been looking all over for this!!!”, you know the gratification that is felt in that moment. Yet, we dump these boxes out over and over again, pack them back up, but rarely put any effort into actually sorting through the pieces. Eventually, we get tired of moving these random, misfit pieces back and forth and all around, and we decide to throw them out, only to find the part it belongs to long after it’s gone.  

Our lives are a lot like an overfilled/unorganized toy box or tool chest. We do our best to keep it all contained, we hold onto various pieces that no longer fit or appear to belong, but think “one day” they might. We often overlook all of the little pieces that fall to the bottom of our containers, and our priorities, only to find that they were the most important after all. 


If we don’t take inventory of broken, missing, or incomplete pieces, we often lose sight of some of the most valuable parts of our life. On the other hand, if we find that we’re carrying around lots of odd and end pieces that we no longer need, use, or enjoy, it’s time to let them go. We get too comfortable in the process of clearing things from our sight and throwing them all into a box to deal with later. However, in order to truly move forward in a positive and productive way, and allow room for the right things to be stored and appreciated, we need to practice “picking things up and putting them away” over and over again. We need to take inventory regularly.

So, today, make a commitment to make room, clear the clutter, and find those small pieces in your life that need to be reconnected and made whole again. This is how we make space for the things we truly love, cherish, and need in our life. 

“Live Better. Learn More. Laugh Harder. Love Deeper. ” Shane Svorec #thelookupgirl

Recognizing Angels With Broken Wings

Overcoming Fear and Learning To Fly Again

It was one of those days when every second was accounted for.  From pick-ups and drop offs, to appointments, practices, and even a game in between, I was nearly out of breath just trying to get to each destination on time.  As I headed back out to pick up one of my daughters from soccer training, I realized that I had (for the first time that day) a little extra cushion in my schedule – a whopping 20 extra minutes to get there.  I took a deep breath, exhaled my stress, and admired the beautiful, warm colored sky as the sun set before me.  I even snapped a quick picture (not my finest photography as I was forced to take it from inside the car) but it was just the reminder I needed at that moment.

Remembering to stop and take it all in

Having driven less than a mile, and just minutes from my house, I came to a stop sign just past a nearby overpass that brings you to a T in the road.  Stopped in front of me was a car that had appeared to be waiting for the opportunity to turn.  With the left blinker illuminated, I knew the car was going in the same direction in which I was headed. I sat there and watched the cars go by, and when a free space presented itself, I naturally expected the car in front of me to go.  It didn’t, repeatedly.  My tired and hurried reaction was to utter to myself “Come on already…go!” I wanted to honk my horn after a reasonable amount of time had passed, but I didn’t. The left blinker that was once flashing on the car in front of me, had now turned to hazard lights.  Squinting, I tried my best to “zoom in” to see if I could pick up on any clues, either in body language, or by observing some telling activity of the driver, i.e. Did the car stall? Run out of gas? Was it a new, or elderly driver? Did the car break down?  Etc.  However, all I could see was a woman putting her hand on her head.  I couldn’t decipher if it was out of frustration or distress.

I made the decision to drive around her.  I could have very easily driven passed her, made the left, and been on my way (it was a strong consideration), but as I pulled around her, something told me to stop and put my passenger window down.  As I pulled up alongside her at the stop sign and waved to get her attention, she sheepishly put her window down as I asked her if everything was OK?  Realizing the woman was probably somewhere around my age, I asked, “Do you need any help?”  With eyes that held a combination of fear, anxiousness, and embarrassment, she responded: “This always happens to me at overpasses. I know it’s silly, but I get nervous, and then people start honking at me and rushing me to go, and then I can’t.”  I immediately knew what was going on and told her it was OK and that it wasn’t silly.  As I attempted to reassure her, I said through my window, “I will help you.”  Her eyes and facial features immediately showing a sense of relief, she smiled back and thanked me.

By this time, cars had begun to line up behind her.  I knew we had to move quickly.  I worried that I might need to get in her car and drive her through the intersection, but then realized that I couldn’t leave my car where it was, so I asked her what I could do to help her get through the intersection.  Cars began to beep and I could see she was breaking down.  I told her again that it was ok and that I would stay with her and help her make the turn.  The next words out of her mouth touched my heart in such a way, yet confused and concerned me at the same time.  With a look of trust that reminded me of a toddler learning to walk with just a promise of open arms to catch her, she thanked me and said with a big sigh of relief, “OK. We will turn together.”

Immediately confused and slightly panicked, I knew that if I truly made the turn with her, I would be turning outside of the lane and facing oncoming traffic, while she would be in the right lane.  As the cars honked behind us (likely under the impression that we knew each other and were just holding everyone up as we chatted) I made a quick judgement, eyed up the road and traffic flow, and waited until there were no cars coming in either direction.  “GO!” I quickly yelled out of my window, and she did.  She really did want to make the turn with me, so once we both made the left, I quickly got in front of her. 

Phew! Crisis diverted and everyone was safe.  Just up ahead, the single lane turned into two lanes and she proceeded to drive up alongside me and asked me what my name was at the stoplight.  I told her, and then asked hers.  She thanked me profusely and said that I had been a guardian angel to her that day.  What normally seems to take forever (a light to turn from red to green) had been just enough time for her to tell me through our windows, that she had gone so far out of her way to avoid overpasses that she felt silly because where she was going would have been so much closer if she had been able to follow a direct path.  She told me that she was going to her favorite clothing store in a nearby town and asked me if I knew if she would encounter anymore overpasses before reaching her destination.  I knew she would, and now, even more concerned and sympathetic to her real fear and anxiousness, I asked her if she would feel more comfortable if she followed me there. She was so grateful, and kept saying over and over again that she didn’t want me to have to go out of my way, but I simply told her that it was “Not a problem.”

I kept a slow and steady pace, but quickly realized that she preferred to go even slower, so I just kept looking in the rear view mirror to be sure she was OK and still behind me.  The thoughts that were going through my head as I watched her through my rear view mirror were overwhelming.  I was prepared to make an emergency distress call if necessary.  I now felt a sense of obligation to her safety, and the safety of others.  She drove very well, just very slow.  Instead of feeling impatient and worrying about where I needed to be, I found myself cheering for this stranger while my inner voice went from “Come on already” to “Come on…you can do it.  We’re almost there.”

Knowing we were about to approach another unavoidable overpass, I slowed down and moved over to the right lane so that I could be alongside her.  I already knew that she felt comfortable doing this “together” so I banked on this strategy.  My heart raced as I watched her in my rear view mirror and could see her anxiety was building.  I just kept saying to myself (as if somehow I could transfer courage to her with my mind and willpower) “Come on…you can do it” I said. She got through the intersection (Hooray!) but then stopped right before the overpass and proceeded to put her hazards on again as her hand went back to rest on her head.  Now positioned ahead of her, I felt helpless.  I put my hazards on too, and then put my car in reverse in an attempt to get closer to her.  I put my window down, and gave her the thumbs up and waved her to move forward and follow me.  I did this for, what felt like an excruciatingly long time, before she very slowly began to inch forward.  As she got closer to me, I pulled into the right lane so that she could be in the left lane alongside me again.  As I looked behind us, it was uncomfortably clear to me that we were now the unofficial pacesetters of all traffic going over the Rt. 17 overpass at that moment.  Cars were building up behind us as she very slowly drove alongside me and casually shared with me through her open window how much she loved me.  It’s amazing how natural it was for me to return to this stranger an “I love you, too.”

Relieved that she was now calm and focused on getting over the overpass, behind us though, the other drivers were throwing up their hands and their facial expressions were getting more and more angry and tense.  I didn’t want to rush her too much and jeopardize getting stuck on the overpass, but I could see that if she focused on me and my consistent conversational reassurance, that she would make it over, albeit at a frustratingly slow pace to everyone else.

When we finally got across the overpass, I told her that she did a great job and that she should be proud of herself.  I then asked her if she knew where she was or if she needed to me to get her closer to the center of town.  She was a bit turned around with all of the back roads that I took, so I opted to continue driving/leading her all the way.  When we reached the center of town, I pulled over to the side of the road, and again, she pulled up next to me.  I asked her if she knew where she was now and she replied, “Yes, this is great. Thank you so much, Shane.”  She then said, “I’m going to say a prayer for you tonight” and with that, I was completely overwhelmed and touched.  “And I am going to say one for you” I said in response.  What she said next, solidified my initial feeling that there was a familiar element and spirit with me.  She told me that she had “just gone to Reiki that day to help clear herself of all of this” and that she knows that she has to take small steps to start to try and overcome it.  My reason for stopping earlier, and then feeling some strange sort of connection, had now become very clear to me.  In her eyes, I saw something very familiar, but as soon as she said Reiki, I said “You know, we were meant to meet today, right?”  Shocked with delight, she said “Really?” and I very quickly mentioned something about a very special friend of mine and Reiki (but didn’t elaborate because the cars were beginning to build up behind her again) and with that she said “We HAVE to connect! Please look me up on FB.”

I drove off from this surreal and eye-opening experience with a million questions running through my mind, but also with a huge smile on my face knowing that there are no coincidences. I’ve been trained and have all the credentials to handle an emergency situation like this, but somehow, this one was more personal and it felt more familiar.  I had forgotten about time, where I needed to be, or what I had to do next.  It was an experience that left me seeing (and feeling) the world as she did.  It was this tendency that I have to recognize and be able to take on a transferred view, that made me stop and think about ALL of the people in this world who are just trying to survive.  Survive obstacles, trauma, fear, tragedy, circumstances, situations…..

I have no doubt that divine intervention was at work that day, and any part that I played in it served to reinforce to me the need to slow down and keep my eyes open to what my heart has always known – EVERYONE NEEDS SOMEONE.  Everyone needs support, reassurance, love, kindness, and understanding.  To ALL of us who are in a hurry to get somewhere, perhaps this is a little reminder that it’s not about WHERE we are going, but HOW we get there, and WHO we meet, and choose to help along the way.  Their destination may not be the same as ours, but our journeys cross for a reason. I’ve always believed that detours and delays lead us to where we are supposed to be, but this experience truly reinforced it.  Delays and detours lead us to the people we are meant to meet, and teaches us lessons we are meant to learn.  On that day, I not only made a new friend, but I found within her, a familiar one who reminds me often of the importance and purpose of precious, small moments that leave big marks on our hearts and in our lives. 

Recognizing Angels when they appear, is one of the greatest gifts I’ve known.  By keeping our hearts open to find love and beauty in all of life’s circumstances, we discover the true purpose and power of connection.  It is in these moments that we see glimpses of our loved ones and recognize the presence of Angels who teach us how to help others the way they help us.

For more information on driving phobias and who you can call when in despair, see link below. Many states offer the same service. 

https://www.philly.com/philly/news/acrophobia-bridge-driving-escort-delaware-new-jersey-philadelphia-20180411.html