Gravity of Silence

Without a sound, harmony flooded the room.  It was as if sunlight perched the acoustics of the moment.  The gravity of silence shattered.  The question left me awestruck.  What happened next has never left my consciousness.

The year was1993.  The month was April.  It had been a whirlwind month for me.  I was a volunteer Co-Chairperson for a local agency’s awareness program.

I designed a series of events that had a group of individuals speaking across Denton, Texas.  Constructing flyers and contacting various media sources, it was the first time I used the skills I learned in high school theater.  This time, it was only me who had to make the show go on.

I found individuals willing to share the secret and break their silence in public.  From a candle lit ceremony by the Texas Women’s University to the One O’Clock Lounge in University of North Texas’ Student Union Building, a panel of experts on their experiences told their stories.

In an effort to reach audiences in different settings, a plan was developed to bring a program to my residence hall.  With the help of a Resident Assistant (RA), Tara, we plotted to rearrange a proven format to appeal to busy college students.

Typically, a panel openly discussed a topic and the audience could later ask questions.  Our panel would comprise a lady who was sexually assaulted by a stranger, a college student who was raped by an acquaintance, a mother who survived the incest experienced as a child, and a man who lived through a rape at the hands of a trusted family friend.  Along their sides, a female therapist brought in the healing perspectives of counseling.  Plus, I felt it was an imperative to have a professional to be present for the survivors as the emotional drain it must have taken to recount their stories.  I organized the events and added in local statistics to provide transitions to carry forward each event.

Some places only brought a trickle of attendees.  Each venue had a unique set of dynamics for asking questions.  Even for a handful of people, the panel gave their all.

I may have heard the survivor’s story but each time, an aspect caught my attention and tugged at my heartstrings.  Amplified by microphones, the individual would share the most intimate of details of being violated and the heroic strides made with the help of a compassionate counselor.  I caught myself at a loss for words too many times to count.  The format had a set time and routine so the panel could know who would speak next.

Tara and I brain stormed and planned to make the experience less formal.  “Girls only?” was flushed out and quickly pinball’d into exactly what we wanted to deliver for the residents.

Blankets and pillows would replace the chairs.  Rather than a panel/audience, we would sit on the ground and be in a circle.  The old hardwood floors of Bruce Hall would keep everyone on the same eye level.  With only a sketch of what could be, we promoted the event for a month ahead of time.

We had no idea if anyone would show up or even be interested.  Some venues had passersby and lots of foot traffic.  This would be closed door and males off limits.  “Should I be there?” I pressed.  Tara measured that I was the organizer and wouldn’t distract anyone.

“Plus, there is Jon on the panel and we have to keep him,” Tara justified.

The female RAs personally invited their residents on the day of the program.

A couple of hours before the event, we cleared the room of chairs, moved the piano against the wall, and brought some comforters to lay down.  Word spread and suddenly it was a pajama encouraged activity.  Residents in fuzzy PJs and slippers took pillows and teddy bears into the room.  A female RA stayed at the door and kept it closed so the participants could feel secure their privacy was respected.

I did have to turn away a couple of males who were insulted the activity was only for females.  They pointed out the hypocrisy of my admittance to the program.  I leaned forward and in a calm, firm tone I said, “This program isn’t about you and me.  My friend, I need you to understand that we need to show some reverence for the bravery of the ladies who have shown up.  I need you to show some honor as a man and walk away please.”

The sun had lowered by the time of the event and the rooms old chandeliers illuminated the room.

A little past the start time, the room was uncomfortably quiet.  Over 80 female participants sat and laid on huge pillows that filled the space.  In a soft tone, I introduced the local agency’s services and speakers for the evening.  Tara shared the purpose for the program.  The female college student, who was raped by someone she knew, spoke first.  Jenna’s approach was different than she had told her story at the other events.   She bared her soul about the struggles she had following the assault.  Her hand flopped down upon the pillow she held in front of her.  Frustrated by the instincts she had minimized before the rape.  Her fingers picked at the edge of the pillow cover.  Jenna presented her feelings like the delicate petals on a flower face open for the group to behold.

The images & words hung in the air for a few moments gently replaced by the story of a  mother of two daughters.  As a child, Terri’s father molested her and her grandfather violated her younger sister.  The family norm was the abuse and nothing was unusual for the children as the expectations were to please the desires of the patriarchs.  It was not until high school that Terri learned that it was not a daughter’s role to perform such “duties.  Suicide attempts and substance abuse plagued. her twenties.  Motherhood had her seek out counseling and  sobriety.

Sensing a transition, Jon dovetailed on substance abuse to discuss how he chose to handled being sexually assaulted by an older man while Jon was in his early teens.  Questioning the assumptions people made about Jon’s sexuality fueled years of self-medication with alcohol and the implications on his Faith.  His story centered on how society blames the victim and cast judgment.

The last survivor to speak was a reflective mother of three who was repeatedly raped by a burglar who had been watching the routine of his perspective victim for days.  Noticing a theme of how others coped following their violations, Dixie exposed her journey into counseling and the forgiveness she had for her rapist.  Dixie exemplified the strength one must have to prosecute the man who terrorized her for hours while her children slept in the next room.

The counselor, in a tie dyed top, explained the process and program available to any student at the University and  spoke of the admiration she had for the courage of the survivors to give the honest accounts of their stories.  Her casual attire blended nicely with the relaxed atmosphere of the dorm and the evening’s proceedings.

Girls with stuffed animals clutched in their arms sparsely shared experiences and which survivor said something that resonated with their own story.  A girl off to my right asked the most daring question of the night.  “This may be inappropriate to ask but…how many of you…how many of us…have been through what they talked about?”  She looked around the circle.  She nervously raised her own hand.  Another girl beside her lifted her hand.  Then two more hands were held up.  Teddy bears and pillows were released in order to claim they, too, had remained silent about their past.

A wave of courage splashed through the circle as every woman had her hand raised except for exactly four ladies.  Harmonious vibrations glowed out like beacons that signaled it was safe to share the secret held tightly for years.  Their hands held up and open as if they released a balloon filled with hope and carried up in the winds of unity.  The gesture was silent but the collective action produced a symphony of thunderous clatter.

“We never talk about it.  If we don’t say anything then others won’t know that they are not alone,” she exclaimed.

More stories were shared and the program ended with a sense of community & bonding that transcends any words I can articulate.

I escorted the panel members to their cars and thus ended Sexual Assault Awareness month for April 1993.  I rushed back into the dorm and processed the overwhelming success of the program.  Tara & I could have never envisioned the empowerment of the participants.

Additionally, one could not imagine my surprise when I was summoned to the local agency the following Monday afternoon.  A complaint was filed with the Executive Director that I discriminated against a male student.  The denied participant’s demand was I be removed as a volunteer.  It didn’t matter the breathtaking synergy that generated in that program; alas, I walked away from those offices and began a quest to do something more.

The program was recognized by the University of North Texas Housing Department for the excellence in Resident Life programming.

Later that summer, I volunteered for the Women’s Center of Tarrant County but I didn’t come alone.  A good friend,, Tara, joined with me to be Rape Crisis Volunteers.  We teamed up to meet women and children in the hospitals in Fort Worth following a sexual  assault.  We could read a room and each other’s mind.  She would work with the survivor and I would process with the family members.  Some times, we switch roles depending on the circumstances.

Tara graduated and we lost touch.  She’s now a Director of Resident Life for a large university up north.

A candle was lit that night.  I believe all of us carry that warmth from that experience within us.  Even though some of us didn’t raise our hand, we shared and honored in that spontaneous gesture of empowerment to reclaim a stolen part of themselves.

#SexualAssaultAwarenessMonth #SharingTheSecret #BreakingTheSilence #WomensCenterOfTarrantCounty #RapeCrisis #UniversityOfNorthTexasHousing #BruceHall #GravityOfSilence #OnlyMakesMeStronger

Tide of Change

After a particularly violent storm, an older gentleman happened upon the scene while on his morning walks along the beach.  The shoreline was littered with starfish baking in the morning sun.  Overwhelmed by the shear number of crustaceans, it appeared the coastline was covered for as far as the man could see.

His attention was drawn away as he saw a small child run from the sand and then wade waist deep to release a starfish back to the water.  For several moments, the elder observed the school aged kid perform this routine over and over.

The gentleman shuffled over to the young’un.  “What do you think you are doing there kid?  There are thousands of them.  You’ll never make a difference.”

After hearing the man’s proclamation, the child reached down to pick up a starfish that lay in front of the sand covered feet of the man.  “To this one, Sir, to this one, it makes a difference.”

Passers by joined the older man and child to return the stranded starfish to the sea and a new chance at life.

The parable has many symbols of society.

I sat at the bedside of a woman that was homeless.  I had the forms and checklist I needed to help guide her through with as much compassion I could convey.  Her hair was wiry and sealed in weeks’ worth of grime.  Her skin, porous and leathery, had bruises and small pebbles ground into it from the assault.

As a sexual assault crisis advocate, I was training a college student volunteer.  As a male, I had to have an escort that was female to avoid  any concerns of the survivor.  It was made crystal clear that I was never to have physical contact with the survivor.  Given the trauma a female could have endured through the sexual & physical assault, it was the aim to empower the survivor to have control over her body.  Even a casual touch could trigger a protective response.  Tears traced down her weathered face as she grabbed my arm.  The clasp sent waves of sensations throughout my body.  “Why would anyone want to have sex with me? WITH ME!?!?!  Look at me!”

In seconds, I flashed to a conversation I had weeks earlier.  “Are you sure you want me to do this?  Aren’t I the last thing a woman would want to see?” I asked the Coordinator of services.

Melody was a Southern lady that bragged she collected gaudy costume jewelry.  She always dressed in nicely pressed clothes.  The Virginia Slim cigarette that she pulled from her lips had her ruby lipstick smeared on what used to be the white filter.  She kept her sunglasses on her head like a RayBan tiara.  Melody was a mix of Dixie Carter from Designing Women and Flo from Mel’s Diner.

“Chad, I want them to see not all guys will hurt them.  Especially, I want you to be there for the kids,” Melody said after she took another sip of her sweet tea.

In a blink of an eye, I refocused on the lady in the hospital bed.  Her eyes almost swollen shut showed her weary soul.  I acknowledged her right to her body.  “No matter what, no one should have violated you.  You didn’t deserve to be hurt.  I am sorry.  May I squeeze your hand?” I asked.  She moved her hand from my arm to my hands.  I took her dry, cracked hands in mine.  “You are a beautiful person.  I am sorry this happened to you.  You are special.  Thank you for trusting me to share about what you experienced.”

I was reminded of the parable recently..  We, as a society, can turn our eyes away from opportunities to be that young child full of enthusiasm.  We can play the role of the wise elder and unknowingly discourage a generosity of spirit.  Conversely, we can, also, be inspired to join in to fight the good fight.  We can be the passerby who witnesses a scene of encouragement and be an agent of change.

Each day we interact with someone, we have an opportunity to help bring healing.  Even if it is just for a moment in time, it is vital to not be too busy to make a difference.  Our efforts may not be able to change the tide.  For one soul, in that moment, we can make a difference.

In Search of…

“Do you have lamb gyros?” I asked every Greek sidewalk bistro.

Jennifer & I walked the Plaka.  Nestled in the shadows of the Acropolis in Athens, for centuries Greeks walked the cobblestone streets in search of entertainment, trade for goods, and the meaning of life.

Our quest proved to be more of a challenge as every place did not have lamb gyros.  The headlines of 2011 encompassed the Arab Spring and the cultural casualties from the harsh  austerity sanctions forced on the people of Greece.  Our tour should have had fifty to sixty people but only seven of us dared to keep our reservations.

On our second day in Greece, the five other tourists had ventured to see the Oracle at Delfi.  Seasoned travelers, we knew there would be more adventure if we explored Athens on our own.

With a baker’s dozen of “NOs” from the sidewalk callers out front of the cafes, we searched undeterred for our ultimate prize.  “Do YOU have lamb gyros?” I queried the man out front of the empty patio restaurant.

“You are from America, yes?” the gentleman shot back at me.

“Yes,” I stated baffled how he could know my nationality.

“No lamb gyros in Greece. Go to America. Eat Lamb gyros.  I have good food here.  Come.” he related in a staccato tongue.

The table and chairs rocked back and forth atop the uneven stone dining area.  The guy brought over utensils and napkins.  The table top was worn down past the varnish.  I ran my finger over the grainy wood in an attempt to appreciate the moment.

The man squeezed my shoulder with his hand and proposed, “I will bring good food.”  His hand tapped me twice as I heard him walk away.  We had no idea if the food would be eatable.  Our intuition lead us to trust he was honorable and could back up his ambiguous claim about his culinary talent.

As we awaited whatever cuisine would be brought to us, we people watched.  Two men hurried by.  Each had wooden poles with leather purses draped on hooks.  The satchels bounced as the men awkwardly shuffled onward.  A few seconds later, Jennifer & I heard a low murmur of a engine echo through the walls of the open marketplace.  A Greek police officer slowly putted through on a Honda motorcycle with the strobe lights flashing.

As Jennifer described the stone faced officer, we pondered if the two events were related.  Our intrigue deepened as the two men tried to stealthily flee  in the opposite direction away from the motorcycle officer.

“Gypsies!” our dining host proclaimed as he placed a bottle of water upon our tabletop.

Almost like a rehearsed dance, the motorcycle chugged back by at a snail’s pace.  The officer could have walked faster than his motorcycle.  It appeared the officer was in no hurry to bust the counterfeiters who probably planned to take advantage of some unsuspecting tourist.

As our delectable, traditional Greek food arrived, the sounds of music reverberated down the ancient passage.  Our host went back to the kitchen as the music got louder.  Several children rushed in front of our table.  A tiny, frail girl with a jeweled metal headdress that jingled and sparkled as she danced.  A smaller child stood beside her with a Casio keyboard cranked up to ten.  The gaunt  girl finished her jig and held her delicate hand out for a tip.  Jennifer placed a few Euros in the gypsy girl’s hand.  Wasting no time, the band of youngsters started to run off.

Our host returned from the kitchen and placed a plate on a table where he intended to sample his homemade delicacies.  The foreign girl approached the seated man and pointed to his plate.

His stern expression and forceful “no” shocked us.  We assumed that this scene may play out daily; however, the kid just wanted to eat.  Before our feelings got bent out of shape, the man reached into his pocket and handed her a twenty Euro bill.  The girl’s frown vanished and a beautiful smiles beamed from her innocent face.  Her eyebrows flare upward as she sings out her declaration off gratitude and performs an impromptu dance.

His generosity added a flavor to our mediterranean morsels of yummy goodness.  This owner/chef showed us that we picked the correct location to dine as we found a kindred spirit.  In a decision to not go with the flow, our side excursion gave us a lively memory of that moment in time.

Off the beaten path, our thirst for an authentic experience of the native culture has yielded some of our best memories.  As tourist are guided to a planned display, our traveler’s instincts drive us down side streets to absorb the local atmosphere.  You can be assured our Greek restaurant owner got a hearty handshake and equally generous tip.

As ancient Greeks pontificated universal truths in the Plaka, Jennifer & I found that smiles transcend all languages.  During times when the seats of his bistro were empty and he thought no one would witness his act of kindness, we observed one universal truth that while one’s plate may be full, there may be those who have no plate at all.

Take a Risk!

“Damn, he sent both of you after me?” I thought to myself.

I had evaded phone calls and a note put into my locker.  I had walked away from theater in 1990 to pursue a new high school endeavor: get paid for making copies for a national copier store.  I had no beef with Chris or Cindy.  In fact, all three of us had starred in the same one act play.  High school, for me, had awkward transitions and this situation was one of them.

“I don’t want to audition.  I am not interested,” I protested.

“Let me tell you what the part is, ok?” Chris negotiated.  I shrugged.  “Hacky is the second in command to the captain…”

“Not interested,” I restated.

“Chill, Dude.  he gives the orders to all of the deck hands,” Chris went on to explain.  I shook my head ‘No’ throughout his summary.

“Chad, I know he wrote the part for you,” Cindy added.  The “HE” was Craig Brewer.  He was the writer, director, and star of the production.

Puzzled, I inquired further, “Seriously?”

With a sense that my resolve started to crumble, I blocked out what Chris detailed until I heard, “…Irish Story Teller…”  He unlocked the cypher and had my attention.

As a child, I had always been fascinated by story tellers.  The attention to details and leaving bread crumbs for the listener to follow.  All the other positives to go after the role of Hacky were a blur as Chris secured my promise to audition.

Twenty four years later and unemployed with two Master’s degrees, I was stuck in one of those life transitions once more.  Chris and our friend Julie encouraged me to consider public speaking since the non-profit world had passed on my job applications.  Both friends promoted the benefits of developing a blog and work toward public speaking.

Again, I found myself reluctant and the two friends kept me focused.

This blog is a reframing of past events.  I search for the Universal Truths, the villain, the catalyst, and the resolution.  The heroes do not always win but usually something is  learned from the experience.

I set a goal for myself to write and submit a story.  I wasn’t certain who or where.  I binge listened to story telling podcasts like the Moth and RISK.  Like a far away star lighting up the dark sky, my dream to take the stage and tell a true story.

I wrote up an authentic account of a miraculous occurrence that happened in Egypt after I lost my sight.  I was so anxious that I sent it to the host of RISK without any contact information or explanation.  The producers were interested and asked me to record the story.

Jennifer, Perry, & I went over to my Best Man’s home & studio.  Rudd had given me some focused suggestions for the story.  My internal plan was to record three takes.  The first one was to be a throw-away.  I gave myself the freedom to mess up but I’d tighten up the loose ends for Take Two.  Most certainly by the third take, I should be primed and ready.

After the first take, I finished with tears in my eyes.  “Man, I am sorry.  I’ll do better on the next take.”

“Nawh, Man.  That was it right there,” he assured me.

We listened to the audio playback.  While I would have have altered a couple of things, the story was heartfelt and captured the experience I wanted to convey to the listener.

We sent the digital copy to the RISK producers and waited.

In my youth and haste of adulthood, I would have swung for the fence.  A lifetime can be lived in a day.  The journey can be missed if all that is sought is the destination.  I wanted to savor and fully recognize  this precious moment.  I recorded a story.  I got to spend the day with two dear friends and Jennifer.  I got to relive a fantastic memory.  If the story ended here, my cup was full.

The producers said they thought the story was quite good but did not fit the RISK esthetic” for the type of podcast.  The email went on to express that their interest was peaked by an element of my original story.  The producer asked if I would consider writing a story about the deeper  element.  Those words clicked and I understood the challenge.

If my story was a tire, it was a solid road tire but they needed a rugged off-road one.  They wanted a story for a specific type of listener.  I recorded the new story and got offered a slot on the February 14th event in Dallas.

A few days before the event, I got an email from the host Kevin Allison.  A master story teller, Kevin and another story teller founded the RISK podcast.  People would get on stage and, in front of a crowd, would tell a story they never thought they would dare to share.  RISK has stories that stretch the listener by exploring the depth of an experience where someone took a risk or is taking a risk by sharing the story.  Often with graphic language, crude subject matter, and risqué ventures, the podcast is not for the easily offended listener.  I heard stories where a person described being sexually assaulted, the loss of a family member, and the moment the person’s mortality was threatened by a gun, an accident, or cancer.

I hadn’t the foggiest idea what to expect at a live story telling event.  Nervously, we went to the venue the night before to locate entrances and identify a spot where PearBear might need to park.  We asked if we could purchase a couple of tickets for two friends; however, the show was sold out.

“Sold Out” rang in my head earlier that week.  On some level, I imagine twenty people at a smokey, stale bar while a story teller gestured and waxed poetic with a microphone.

Not so much a monologue, a story has an arc.  For me, I labeled certain parts as pivot points.  I wasn’t certain the words before or after but I knew where to turn the story and bring the listeners along for the journey.

I had to go back to the loss of my sight to revisit emotions buried with time and distance.  I spent the morning listening to songs I sang during that period of time.  A song called “Crawling In The Dark” accurately portrayed my despair.  Wisely I had removed it from my Playlist.  I sobbed as I reached back to handle the feelings of vulnerability and isolation.  The experiences like spices pushed to the back of the rack.  Perhaps I might use these sensations as I recount the story to pepper and zest what I prepared in front of an audience.

An hour and a half before call, Jennifer & I got to meet Kevin.  Kevin has a melodic voice that draws out certain syllables and emphasizes particular words.  I found myself hang on his every sentence.  A total gentleman and professional.  Kevin set me at ease and was a gracious individual throughout the process.

 

I had three friends that we were able to get into the show and Jennifer sat with them.

The show began with the RISK show song.  After Kevin warmed up the crowd, it was my turn.  So many things could have gone wrong.  I flashed to that scene of Rockstar where, on the singer’s debut performance, he tripped on stage.  At the moment I readied to take the stage, there were uneven steps going up, a door frame, a curtain, and then a sudden step down.

My survival instinct kicked in and I visualized successfully navigating to the microphone.  Kevin grabbed my arm and guided me to the mic.  My lungs emptied as I heard my voice amplified through the speaker system.  I grabbed the microphone off the stand and caught my breath.

I  let go of Perry’s harness and had his leash attached to my belt.  Earlier in the day, we had doubled our normal length of our route to a 10k in order to tucker him out.  Luckily, PearBear only peeped out between the speakers.  Exhausted, he laid down for my entire story.

As an homage to Hacky, the Irish Story Telling character that sparked my interest, I planned to season one line with the Irish accent I cultivated 26 years ago.

I got off stage and could not remember if I hit my pivot points.  In fact, I was not secure that I even dropped the breadcrumbs for the audience to follow along.  It was reminiscent of those times when I arrived at a location after a long car ride yet had no memory of the actual drive.

One of the other story tellers recounted a couple of my pivot points that he thought were original and appreciated my perception of   life.

I stayed backstage during intermission as I imagined I would be unable to hear with the crowd’s chatter.  Truthfully, I was introverting at the time.

I got the privilege to visit with Kevin during the down time.  Certainly a character, he is a tender soul with an appreciation for the opportunities life presents.  In that shared space, I saw how he is a self-actualized person.

The last story teller had a dynamite piece that was jaw dropping and had me intrigued to what happened next.  I could not believe I got to perform on the same stage with such high caliber story tellers.

Jennifer & my friends came backstage after the show.  Still numb, all I could do was smile and thank them for coming out on a Sunday night.  The experience didn’t feel real.

On our way home, Jennifer played me the audio she captured on her phone.  I may have struggled a few times but I am proud and pleased with the results.  Once more, if the story ended here, truly my cup was full.

On the morning of February 22, 2016 I was up early to prepare my coffee for the day.  Jennifer is usually asleep so I pick an audiobook or podcast to center myself.  My podcast app said there was a new RISK podcast so I began it.  “Hey, folks.  This is  Kevin.  On this week’s episode of RISK, you’ll hear Chad Duncan…”  I screamed out!

I had no idea my story was in consideration for the podcast.  Yes, I knew it was recorded.  My friends said it was good but I had no sense that it was good enough for RISK.  The podcast, that inspired me through the isolation of blindness, added my voice to the chorus of other story tellers.

Then I heard that Ray Christian was, also, on the podcast.  Unbelievable.  When I first described to one of my friends, who happened to be in the audience, about the RISK podcast, I used one of Ray’s stories as an example of an outstanding story teller.

At this point, my cup overflowth.

Chad Duncan, Story Teller…

I began the year with the intention to find a way to tell a story in front of a live audience and my dream came true.  What do you do when a dream has come to fruition?  According to the modern philosopher?  Samuel Hagar, “Dream another dream.”  That’s a story for another day…

With a few days to reflect how all of this occurred, I have to give credit to my friends & family who encouraged me.   I have those type of people who speak the truth.  I rely on their perspective and willingness to push me beyond my comfort zone.  Being surrounded by individuals who bring the best out of me only makes me stronger.

Perception

 

The Quest Within A Question

For three weeks, I had been going to the domestic violence/sexual assault recovery center.  I was checking out books from their library in an effort to know if I had done the right thing.  On one particular day, I was checking out the fifth book when the organization’s clinical therapist asked me to come to her office.  I just knew I was in trouble.  I bet that my presence had offended a female client.

I was 19 years old and not wise to the ways of the world.

“I am a therapist here and I noticed that you have been coming here for several weeks,” she remarked.  I was certain that she was about to ask me to never return.  “I wanted to give you an opportunity to know that if you needed to talk with a professional about something that may have happened to you that you are welcome to speak with me.”

“It didn’t happen to me.  It happened to a friend of mine,” I explained.

“Ok, so what happened to your ‘friend,’” she inquired with emphasis on the last word.  It was clear she thought I was the victim and afraid to disclose.  Once we had cleared up the misperception, I went back to my original purpose.

“My friend was raped,” I said.   I was in her dorm room to find out how her date went that night.  She told me what happened.”

I detailed what my friend endured during the rape.  “I have read all of these books and I can’t find the answer to my question,” I exasperatedly said.  “I want to know if I was wrong.”

“Wrong about what?” she puzzled out loud.

“After she told me she was raped, I asked her if I could give her a hug.  She said she could really use one of my hugs.  Was that wrong?  Aren’t I suppose to not touch a girl after she’s been raped?”

The therapist answered my question, “That was perfect because you gave her the choice and control over her body.”   My friend was able to reaffirm her physical boundary.  “So you read all of those books to find that out?”

“None of them could answer my question and I didn’t want to have made things worse,” I stated.

“You really care about this, don’t you?” She inquired.  I nodded affirmatively since my emotions locked up my words.  “Would you like to volunteer?”

These stranger’s words set me on a course where my life would no longer be the same.  I never conceived that a man could advocate in an area I thought men were forbidden.  Let’s face it, men cause the violence and I could play a role in the healing process.  I volunteered for three years conducting training, answering crisis calls, and holding support groups for family/friends of survivors.  I have worked in the social services/education arenas ever since that day the therapist posed that question.

Some twenty years later, I am employed as a Case Manager doing Social Work with the goal to end domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not a Women’s issue; although, the majority of the voices for change have been female.

The organization’s president, where I am employed, has the goal of ending domestic violence.  I had the same thought when I heard my favorite Social Work professor declare that she wants to end poverty.  “Yeah, right!” I thought both times I heard these unrealistic proposals.

Just like the original debate that needled at my heart some twenty years ago, I have mulled over this question: How can I help to end domestic violence?

I don’t have an answer as of yet.

My intentions are to read everything I can, talk with stakeholders, be open to opportunities to grow, and do my best to treat each client with compassion.  The answer eludes me and I choose to embark upon this journey.  With the resources I have, I will use my voice to speak up.  I will use my body to stand up for what is right.  With my ears, I will actively listen to those in need.  I will use my hands to applaud those who need encouragement.  With my heart, I will love my wife and our family.  I will use my feet to exercise and work off the stress such a question may generate.  Lastly, I will use my brain to identify the avenues towards a freedom from domestic violence and unlock the shackles that bind families into generational cycles of abuse.

While I am only one person, I have the opportunity to be that individual who can help guide a survivor to safety.  I will search for the answer how to end domestic violence.  I know this expedition will be full of mental and physical challenges.  Each passage I choose shall provide a wealth of experience and growth that only makes me stronger.

 

 

Angels Among Us

“I have seen so many van fundraisers crash and burn…”

Julie wrote to me October 4th, 2014.

“The reason they failed is they didn’t have your friends,” I confidently stated.  Sometimes my words get ahead of me.  A twinge of fear splintered down my spine after I sent the email.  “I am not going to let you think about this too long.  We have to get on this soon.”  In my heart I asked if I couldn’t make it happen, could the failure dissolve the friendship.  I elected to take the chance because the stakes were too high not to act.

“How much work could it take to raise a few thousand dollars?  We’ll find some dealership willing to get rid of some cargo van and have the accessibility ramp strapped on for a few hundred,” I thought to myself.

I wrote an email, got it approved by Julie, and sent it out to almost eighty Facebook friends.

Dear FVHS Friends,

I am writing this on behalf of our friend Julie Jones. Julie is a staple (maybe a glue) of our FVHS Theater/Choir “experience. While I became aware of Julie outside of theater when she ran over my foot as she shifted from fifth to sixth gear, we have all grown to love her for so many reasons. Julie is a talented writer, advocate, and cheerleader for anyone who needs a boost.

I am asking you to give a little of your time to accomplish something that needs to get taken care of by us. Julie has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I am no expert or even a novice at describing what SMA is, I can tell you that the experience is devastating to the person and the loved ones.

SMA can cause numerous critical health conditions, which we have learned from being around Julie, are not her defining characteristics. Some days are worse than others and even the “good” days are exhausting. These “limitations” only bolster Julie’s loyalty as a friend, a contributor to positivity, and a fierce sense of humor.

Each of you have talents – specializations- gifts….we need you!

The twenty-five year old van converted to transfer her wheelchair is the only method to get her around. Well, it was the only realistic way. The van has finally broken beyond repair.

Julie is Not one to live the lavish life, the van’s air conditioning had gone out years ago. Mechanically, Julie’s mother & father had to strategize the best routes to Specialist appointments to bear the least burden on the van and keep Julie from becoming physically overwhelmed.

Julie is articulate, dynamic, powerful, strong, hilarious, thoughtful, spiritual, and worthy of our attention.

We need a group of people willing to coordinate, collaborate, innovate, and a bunch of other words I had to look up on Thesaurus.com Julie is not a charity case and certainly does not wish to be pitied. Honestly, in the time I’ve known her, she has conducted herself with honor, pride, and eloquence.  

We need some dedicated folks willing to create a campaign to replace “Old Smokey” (as Julie fondly referred to it). Internet research is being worked on to find a used van with wheelchair accommodations. We have estimated a dollar amount and a GoFundMe page is in the works.

THE REASON we need a group of people, is Julie cannot do this endeavor on her own. This is a serious need that has a time urgency.

We need your particular talent & creative resources. Whatever it is that you know how to do, we need it. We need someone to organize, create a campaign, reach out to people, search the InterWebs, UpLoad YouTube videos or the little tricks you’ve learned over the years. Maybe you know someone in FV or the area who can film & put together a simple YouTube video and/or channel. Maybe you are an artist or you are good on the phone…we need you!

Maybe you are a Spoke’s Model (Barela),, know someone at a dealership who is willing to donate a van, you can write & sing a song (yeah, I just said that), or know someone who knows someone who is willing to help. 

Please respond to the group, to Julie, or me (DuncanLMSW@gmail.com) The plan is to meet up via phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook, and any other way that is good for you. 

The goal is reachable, the results are tangible, and the choice is yours.    

From that original email, an old friend who is an experienced crooner responded with floating the idea of rewriting the Paul McCartney song, “Band On The Run” to “Van Doesn’t Run.”  The campaign came to life.  Michael lived on the East Coast.  Julie lived on the West Coast.  I lived somewhere in between.

Several other friends stepped forward with ideas and the willingness to help.  Barela, a graphic artist and maven, offered his services.Although he had one full time and two part time jobs, he volunteered to take a huge lead.

I started to call organizations, leagues, associations, collectives, schools, and any other institution I could Google.  I knew I would hear “no” but I did not give up.  I had no feet on the ground near Julie.

Fredricka, retired and lived around the corner from Julie, began an old fashion, reliable ground campaign.  She contacted all the groups she knew and blanketed the area with flyers Chris designed.  I am not exactly certain how many hours she spent but she was definitely a Godsend.

A good friend, Rudd, offered studio time if I could find a singer to record “Van Doesn’t Run”.  A local singer offered and then cancelled.  Later the singer scheduled and then cancelled, again.

Thoughtful of the resources, it was suggested that a novella Julie wrote be an incentive and a publishing company did the layout for free.

The team launched the IndieGoGo fundraiser.  Right off the top, we got a $1000 donation from a Fountain Valley High School alumni.  Steve, the alum, offered the proceeds from his Taco Bell profits on a Saturday.  Lots of angels descended on that Taco Bell to show their support.

Barela’s wife, a talented driven writer/producer/publisher, offered incentives for any donation.

People donated $5 to $500 from across the globe.  Someone we never met nor connected to in anyway donated from an island somewhere in the South Pacific.  We checked the total daily and were astounded by the generosity of friends and strangers.  Two classmates who worked to become a Hollywood actor and writer/director/producer, donated large sums.  They asked their Social Media friends to help out, too.

A caring reporter, employed by the LA Times, began to write an article when the guy who came up with the Van Doesn’t Run idea sent a video clip that was a game changer.

The clip was of him driving and he sang an acappella version of “Van Doesn’t Run” in one take.   It was incredible.  The energy and buzz was intoxicating and contagious.  The donations poured in.  Along with the Likes on our Facebook page, other friends stepped forward to write letters and share Julie’s situation.

People, who wanted to be a part of this movement, joined in.

Rudd, the studio engineer, worked behind the scenes to find a singer to do a studio version of “Van Doesn’t Run” and sent it to me out of the blue.  Rick Urias gave up a few hours to sing the song all for a family he had never met but he could help in his own way.

As we neared twenty thousand dollars, Julie and her father were introduced to an organization that equipped vans with wheelchair accessible hardware.  There was a used one that would meet Julie’s needs and would last but it was over forty thousand dollars.

A whopping $10,000 donation came in from an anonymous donor.  We were speechless.  We called each other, laughed, and cried.  The random acts of kindness of friends and strangers dumbfounded all of us.  Just under our thirty thousand dollar goal, we shot passed our goal by one of the team members.  Fredricka, who had done so much already, decided to bring “it” home.  I can say that for the first time, I knew the feeling of being “overjoyed”.

We clawed and scrapped to meet our new goal of forty thousand dollars.  It is a lofty goal that can take some organizations a whole year to meet these benchmarks.  IndieGoGo gave us sixty days.

Only several grand away, a Texas TV station did a piece about the friendship between Julie and me.   FVHS alumni, Elizabeth & Brian, donated a large sum that was matched by a couple in Texas.

The goal was met in sixty days with a lot of hard work, frustration, gratitude, wonderment, kindness, and a desire to help a family out.

Individuals stepped up who didn’t have to but they showed they cared.  Everyone who gave money, Liked our statuses, shared our page, and gave of themselves will always be angels in my eyes.

We can look at the goal as the miracle but that’s only one aspect.  We were part of something special.  However we could, we brought the thunder to make a difference.

I am most certainly a different giver.  While I used to give to large charities, too often the goal was to see how much the goal can be surpassed than last year’s goal.  It seems like a bottomless pit.  Giving to an individual can change a person’s life.  Several angels kept the team encouraged to continue onward and upward.

I was so blessed to be a part of the campaign.  I got to witness the angels in all of their forms add to the miracle.  I am glad that I could be a part of such a purpose.  Consider the last part of  my original email where I asked if they could write or sing a song.  Imagine if I limited the language.  One idea springboard’d to another.  We all have special talents and gifts.  When we use those gifts for a higher purpose, I think we earn our wings.  You have something to contribute.  All of us have a particular quality that adds value.  You will never know just how you can help until you get involved.

I hope to inspire you to be a part of something that touches your heart.    We need more individuals to join the collective of agents of change.  Taking the time to offer what I have only makes me stronger.

 

 

In the Heart of the Beholder

“You are so inspirational!”

As a person with a disability, it has been explained to me that the phrase is demeaning and I should be offended.  Well meaning, able-bodied individuals express how inspirational certain individuals with disabilities are to them.  The inspired person usually says something to the effect that if they had to deal with that disability, they would kill themselves or never leave their bed.

I am supposed to join lockstep with my brothers & sisters with disabilities.  I will not rebuke such statements.  If you are inspired by me walking with Perry, I am grateful.  If you find my disposition uplifting, I am thankful something I did inspired you.  Even if I really did nothing and they find inspiration, it warms my heart.

The world is filled with soul stealing sadness.  We can choose to see the horrors and tragedies.  It is easier to be overwhelmed in the dark than focus on the light.

As the saying goes, “Rather than curse the darkness, I will light a candle.”

One candle may not be much of a source of light, but the more candles that can be lit; the brighter things will be for everyone.

It may be due to the fact blindness for me is not total darkness.  My blindness is an over abundance of pulsating flashes, puffs of electricity, and swirls of colors.

At the beginning of losing my sight, I fixated on what I could no longer do.  Every article I read had a theme how “Pat never let their disability slow them down.”  Stories like that are unrealistic and set me up for disappointment and frustration.  Even making a cup of java in the morning was a challenge at first.  I couldn’t even start my day without letting my disability get the best of me.

Like everything in life, I gain confidence in what I re-discover I can do.    If this unearthing process inspires you to do more, Amen!

If at the end of my life, people could only say one positive thing about me:  “Chad inspired folks…” then I would say that my life was one well lived.

How many ideas were inspired by a different perspective or point of view?  I think the advocates for disability awareness have taken correctness too far.  Inspiration comes from music, silence, fear, happiness, heartbreak, and the mundane.  Inspiration is in the heart of the beholder.

Who would have thought that Andy Warhol would be inspired by a can of Campbell’s soup but he was motivated to the point to paint it.  Inspiration is energy.  It is excitement.  If something I can say or do gives a person the perseverance to continue forward, then I am overjoyed something I did or wrote brought positive change.

I am going to keep headed on my path in life.  If my journey inspires you or just a detail provides a spark to fight through your struggles, my mission will be accomplished.

A person shared a true tale with me that she recently had too many things go wrong in her life.  It felt like the end was near.  With no options, the person walked around the apartment complex.  Day after day, the person paced the parking lot.  A lack of electricity, job, transportation, food, or hope had her soul restless.

An older lady called out.  “Oh, Honey.  You look like you need a hug.  Come here, Darling.”  The older lady embraced a stranger in need and changed the course of events.  A single candle of hope pierced a world of darkness.  That one interaction lit a path of possibilities.  One person made a difference and, now, I pass the flame to you.  The decision to open myself up, and share stories of hope, only makes me stronger.

The Caterpillar Effect

In a larva mound, a curious caterpillar noticed some of the others in the process of building a cocoon of sorts.  The purpose for such a commitment extended past any terrestrial understanding.

The caterpillar became engrossed in the daily activities that needed to be completed.  Things went on without time to worry about what could be.  Intentions were grounded in what could be seen and reached tangibly.

The caterpillar focused on the climb up the tree, foraging for the next meal, and the descent back down the trunk.

Why should anyone sacrifice what they could actually be doing instead of remaining in a chrysalis?  “Why give up on what I can do now?” the caterpillar pondered.

The caterpillar continued on as normal.  On a climb to the end of a branch, the caterpillar admired a butterfly that danced through the air far beyond the end of the leaves where the caterpillar could see.  On the way down, thoughts surrounded life outside the tree.  “What more could there be out there for me?”  With no answers and an abundance of questions, the caterpillar found contentment in efforts that yielded results as opposed to brood on possibilities.

Along life’s journey, a friendship was struck with an enlightened caterpillar that had lived a full existence.  She knew the end of her life was near.  The sage offered her advice to the curious caterpillar.  “You have to want to be a butterfly so much that you are willing to no longer be a caterpillar.”

For the year in a half that followed graduation, I stayed in my neighborhood with my guide dog Perry.  Each day, we took on the variable challenges a winding route would provide.  I applied for jobs, spoke with friends, nurtured ideas into concepts, and read books.  A friend shook the tree a bit and invited me to attend an ethics workshop for Social Workers.  From that opportunity, I began to seek out more adventures.  There was life beyond the branch I safely traversed.

I loved Social Work so much that I knew I needed to apply those skills even if I may not get paid.  It was June 2015; I had not conceived the idea that I might be unemployed for this long.  If a year passed once more and I had not ventured from what I knew, I would regret the decision to stay safe.

I remained in familiar waters by applying for jobs, writing, and doing small volunteer tasks from time to time.  Wasn’t I supposed to be vigilant about any new position and be the first to apply for an opening?

I offered my services to an organization where two colleagues, whom I hold in high regard, were employed; I committed to volunteer at least once a week.  After all, the organization needed to know they could rely on me.  I worked as hard as they did to allow me to keep up with the sighted Social Workers.  I could not stay away.  I wanted to know more.  I sought to be stronger personally and professionally.

Like a chrysalis, I amerced myself in the environment.  I was no longer content to stay on “the tree” from before volunteering.  Turns out volunteering was a type of cocoon.  What was, morphed into what will be.  Although comfort and temporary happiness were sacrificed, my confidence fluttered with my new, sturdy   wings.

This will be my first full week as a paid Social Worker for an organization dedicated to end domestic violence.  I sense the metamorphosis.  While there was certainty and predictability previous to volunteering full time, I am driven to explore what the world has to bring a life on a wing.  The willingness to sacrifice and remain committed to positive change only makes me stronger.

A Lesson in Physics

His long hair was wiry and never seemed to be tamed by a comb.  Streaks of grey peppered his hair that stood out like a troll doll.  His jet-black beard matched the length of the mop that appeared to defy gravity.  His pressed button down shirts were neatly tucked into his slacks.

Mirrored aviator sunglasses, popular in the late 80s and early 90s, were secured to his face that added to the overall mystery of this white guy who had not once spoken to anyone except a controlled statement of greeting.  He would give a single nod of his head to acknowledge one of us, “Good day.”  He had always passed by the entrance to the dorm without a change in his blank expression.  No one ever met his roommate.

The desk clerk told us his name was Carl.  Carl walked extremely slowly.  Each step was heel to toe precise.   His symmetrical paths on the sidewalk baffled the group of college freshman that lived in Clark Hall at the University of North Texas.

Carl walked with his arms behind his back.  His left hand clasped his right wrist.  The only time his left hand was not attached to his right wrist was the times he used his left hand to open the front door to the residence hall.

Curiosity got the best of me one day and I asked if he wanted to take a seat with us outside.  Carl turned slowly and said, “Most certainly.”

I nervously asked where he lived and he replied.  “You know where I live.  You live down the hall from me,” he spoke in a measured pace.

The group hurled a flurry of questions like there would be no second chance to pose our queries.  Carl was eighteen years old and a Physics student.  I silently wondered if his increased IQ points caused his hair to prematurely gray.  It took me several minutes to connect his physical similarities to Albert Einstein.  With the barrage of intellectual inquiries, I threw out what I really wanted to know.  “Carl, why do you walk so damn slow?”

He turned his head, paused for a few seconds, and stated, “I’m in no hurry.”

Inconceivable! I retorted, “But what if you are late?”

Without a moment of hesitation, “Then I am late.  Hurrying won’t change that fact.”  Carl had brought logic to an irrational battle of wits.    Carl’s stripped down eloquence caused a chain reaction of new possibilities.  In my mind, to be late was bad and to be even “more late” was “badder”.  I was the hare confident in my assumptions.  Carl was the turtle.

For the rest of my freshman year, I observed Carl take his calculated steps and he would occasionally sit with me to drop bombs of provocative reflection and universal truths.  It was the first time I realized I could choose my reaction to events.  I could respond rather than react.

I never saw Carl smile.  Additionally, his sunglasses were always on his face.  He had a stoic peace about him.  Our conversations made a huge impression on me.

Twenty-five years later, Carl’s words and nature remind me to view the world through a different lens.  Solutions do not have to be complicated.  Sage advice can come at any minute by the most unexpected messenger.  Valuing the opportunities to absorb new perspectives only makes me stronger.

 

A Bumbled Perspective –guest blogger Miss Cozette Clark

I have (another) problem.

It’s an amazing blessing to have so many people praying for Beeing Hopeful and donating to help the Women of Hope. A lot of people have been asking me about the bees. Usually I tell them the bee efforts are going well and our current plans for the future. However, now we’ve had a problem and the bees are not good at all. In fact, we are even worse off than when we started.

Our hive is a filthy wreck. The damaged hive led to infestation of termites and wax moths, which meant spoiled honey. It’s no wonder the bees have been testy. We needed to clean the hive so Dad and I hatched a plan. We would take one box and empty it of its honey. Then we could repair and repaint the hive box. After that we’d move on to the next box, transferring the combs from the current box into the refurbished box. From there we could clean out the next hive box and we’d do that for all three boxes. This method worked great on the first box we tried. We took the box to a separate location and set up three large floor fans. We were able to harvest a large amount of honey without getting stung. We set the box aside to wait for the remaining bees to leave then we got right to work and fixed it up. We thought we were doing great, we had honey and a clean hive and we were ready to move on to the brood box. The Langstroth hive (the kind that we have) is made up of wooden boxes and the bottom is called the brood box. This is where the queen lays all the eggs so that the eggs are separated from the honey. So when we were going to transfer the combs, we would also be looking for the queen. We took the clean hive down to where the others were and set up our gear. That’s when everything fell apart. Literally.

The box was filled with propolis, a black sticky substance that the bees make to use as glue. It’s everywhere! We can barely pull out the combs and when we do, they break apart in our hands. It’s easy to see why; termites have made tunnels through the frames themselves. The bees have been trying to keep them together with massive amounts of their black “homemade” glue. The combs were so old, they were almost black, and there are hardly any eggs and no queen to be found. Many of the combs have grown together so she might’ve been in there but there was too much damage already to try and break combs on purpose. We managed to get a few combs into the clean hive but many were destroyed.

I had no idea what to do next. We couldn’t take the combs, even though they had some honey in them, they were too old. We could discard them but we were afraid the bees would starve, because we had taken too much honey already. The only thing we could think of was set the honeycombs in the space between the boxes.

Any beekeeper reading this might cringe but honestly I was grasping at straws and I fully understand that I made the wrong call. We left the box we emptied to wait for the remaining bees to leave and we would come back next week to get the hive to clean it up.

Isn’t it funny how much can happen in seven days? Days seem to get longer everyday, (even though we live on the equator so they don’t) but still weeks are gone in a flash. We went down to check on the bees and to collect the empty hive and what we found almost made me sob.

The bees were gone. Wax moths had built their nests on the comb we left sitting. Wax moths eat and destroy combs by building cocoons of their larvae and burrow tunnels throughout the comb. The mere thought makes me want to puke. Also termites had retaken their territory and their tunnels ran all throughout the hive. The pests drove our suffering colony out for good. I knew that this was always a possibility; I just never thought it actually would happen.

Now that I really think it through, this is mostly my fault. We shouldn’t have left the combs sitting there and we should have moved the hive away from where we knew the termites have built a nest. But maybe this is a blessing in disguise, now we can have a fresh start with a new colony. We can begin at step one instead of step 46.

So what is our step one? We still need to clean out the hives and get rid of the pests (since the writing of the blog post, the wax moths hatched and are crawling all over the hive. It makes my skin crawl to think about it). From there, we’ll move the hives to a new location closer to our house and build stands to prevent termites from climbing into the hive.

Then we have two options. We could wait for swarming season, around March, and hope that bees find our baited hive. Or we could ask to take bees from a fellow beekeeper here where we live, but his bees are even angrier than ours were and we’d have to find the queen. Both options come with pros and cons, we are thinking we’ll do both and see which works best for our hives and us.

With our three boxes, we’ll start three different colonies, which will help with honey production in the early stages. Later on, we can build more boxes to go on top with frames that can fit a honey extractor. Then things go back to business as usual, bees foraging and making honey as we harvest it and create products.

Yes, it is frustrating and I know it’s mostly my fault. I feel like I’ve wasted a gift. A “no longer colonized” hive is just one more thing to worry about on top of the never-ending list. But I am very lucky to be in contact with some successful beekeepers. When I told them my problem, they offered very helpful advice and encouragement. So even though the little head start I had is now gone, I have hope for the future of Beeing Hopeful. Our plans have taken a few steps back, but isn’t that where you get a clearer vision? God hasn’t forgotten us or our bees that have found a new home. And with high expectations for these next few months, I think we’ll go even farther than we ever thought we would.