eatin’, trippin’ and rak’n

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I always thought the expression “eating your feelings” was a little silly.

That is, until my mom died.

Now I completely understand it.

Ever since June 16th, 2014, the day she died, I literally feel like I cannot stop eating at most meals. And by meals, I mean breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. I’m not going to get into this too much, other than I know this is a process and I’m working through this and many other “issues”.

Anyhooooo, in an attempt to make healthier choices and lose (I’ll even take maintain at this point!) some of the weight I’ve gained while eating my feelings, I decided to run on the treadmill this morning in the workout room. And, to clarify, when I say “run”, I mean that I jog at a somewhat faster pace for several minutes and then walk for a few minutes and keep rotating walking and running (er, jogging) for an hour. I used to be able to run for the entire length of time, but along with my eating habits, my workout schedule has really been in a slump the last couple of years.

I’m always amazed by how many thoughts you can have when you’re just staring at a treadmill display or looking out the window at the lake. Today, my thoughts sounded like this:

I cannot believe it was exactly one year ago that we were saying goodbye to Mom’s house. I cannot believe that both Vanessa and Patrick were there, and now they’re gone. I cannot believe how many people we’ve lost this year…

All of these thoughts were running through my mind when I heard Vanessa’s voice say, “You know I love you, right?” followed by her hilarious, one-of-a-kind laugh. Of all the people we’ve recently lost, she is the one I “hear” most often. I haven’t exactly heard Patrick just yet…he’s been a quiet presence…more like a shadow. Right after that thought, the song “Just Breathe” came on, which I sent to my mother-in-law, Carolyn, when she was sick and, therefore, I think of her every time I hear it. Within the first few notes of the song, I imagined her saying, “Hey! What about me?!” followed by her laugh.

Girrrrrlllll, you are trippin’ was my next thought.

I wonder if I’m the only one whose “inner dialogue” (i.e., hearing voices, seeing shadows, etc.) sounds/feels like this…I sure hope not. If I am, then I’ll need to start working on this along with an ever-growing list of issues.

Anyway…back to the treadmill, I continued with my workout and random, not-so-interesting thoughts and was doing really well when I suddenly became overheated. And not just a bit overheated, but the I’m going to pass out or get sick right here kind of overheated. I paused the display, slowly stepped off the treadmill and went to turn on one of the fans that sits in front of the machines. It wasn’t working so I tried to reset it, unplug, plug it back in, etc., still no luck. I gave up and when I turned around an elderly lady had jumped on the treadmill.

“Oh, looks like you had a pretty good workout!” she said pointing at the numbers on the display.

“Uh…well, I, uh…yes, thank you…I did. Oops, just have to grab my keys.” I stammered, reaching over the treadmill display and into the cup holder for my keys.

I can’t really pinpoint what I was feeling, which is part of my problem, but sometimes this kindness project presents itself at just the right moments. :o)

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How I feel today – except substitute “JB’s pizza” for cake (google images) : )

 


 

image#99. Let someone else use the treadmill. (RAK of the Week)

#98. Complimented a stranger on his (awesome) cowboy hat.

#97. Cleaned off counter at rest stop.

#96. Donated gently used clothes to Good Will.

#95. Wrote an encouraging note to a friend.

#94. Donated dog treats to pet shelter.
#93. Re-shelved cleaning supplies sitting in middle of aisle.
#92. Paid a compliment to a stranger at Stop and Shop.

cheering on amanda’s grace…

Something unexpected happened when I started completing NoochieRAKs this past summer…

I met the most AMAZING cheerleader.

Okay…maybe he’s not what you would necessarily picture when you first hear the word cheerleader. In fact, I’m 99.99% sure that he’d rather wear his Green Bay Packers jersey over a cheerleading uniform. However, I bet he’d feel right at home with a megaphone. :o)

While he’s not your typical cheerleader, he has made it his life’s work to encourage people both on and off the court, field and/or wrestling mat. He’s the kind of guy who would stand on the sidelines during a torrential downpour to watch you play, cheer you on up until the final second even when there’s no way your team can make a comeback, and coach you through some of your toughest, most un-coachable moments.

I am talking about Patrick “Noochie” Berg’s uncle – Uncle Dan.

 

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Uncle Dan

A devoted father, husband, son, brother, uncle and friend to many, Dan is a true person for others. While I’ve known Dan for over 22 years, it wasn’t until we both lost our beloved nephew this summer that we really got to know one another. I choose to believe that our Noochie had a hand in that, and I feel so fortunate to be the recipient of Dan’s uplifting spirit and words over the last several months.

 

While Dan and his family have endured incredibly difficult and sudden losses over the last year, he remains focused on others. He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it; it’s just the way he is.

This is the Berg way.

A freelance reporter and blogger for high school and college athletics, Dan was recently interviewing a coach at McHenry County College when an “In Memoriam” picture caught his eye. He shares,

While covering the MCC Women’s Volleyball team this past season, I came to learn about a fantastic young lady who was taken from us at a very young age.

Amanda Lynn Williams, a freshman from Rockford, who lived in Woodstock, died tragically while driving to school on an icy day last February…”

Dan was so moved by Amanda’s story, the joy she brought to others and the impact she had on her teammates, coaches and athletic director, that he has teamed up with her parents to help raise funds for the ALW Endowment Fund. This fund was created to raise money to help pay the tuition for another MCC volleyball player who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend and/or play for the school.

After the unbearable, sudden loss of a young person, there are so many ways a family can grieve. Amanda’s mother and father chose to channel their grief into kindness, grace, gratitude, thoughtfulness and the greatest gift for another student-athlete who loves the sport of volleyball. 

I can just imagine “Uncle” Dan and Amanda’s mom and dad in the stands cheering on this new player…Amanda’s spirit will undoubtedly be there too.

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Amanda Lynn Williams (photo credit: bergsworldlive.com)

 

 

Act of Kindness #87: Donated to the Amanda Lynn Williams Endowment Fund.

Last week, in honor of Patrick’s birthday, our family was giving out a few Starbucks gift cards to people who inspire us. While at the grocery store, we bumped into a former teacher and happily gave her one of the cards. A couple of days later, we received a thank you note in the mail from this (awesome!) teacher with a donation to our NoochieRAKs’ cause. She asked us “to continue to inspire through Noochie.”

So…it is through our Noochie and thanks to “Uncle” Dan, that we will pay this teacher’s donation forward to the ALW Endowment Fund. We are inspired by Amanda’s story and the strength, kindness and willingness of her parents, family and friends to continue her legacy by helping others.

A Message from Dan: Family and friends of Amanda Lynn Williams are hosting a fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings in Algonquin on Randall Road on Saturday, April 16th. Please consider attending, as the proceeds for the entire day will go to Amanda’s Endowment Fund. We are also asking that you make a donation of any kind or size to help make this event successful. We will provide signage at BWW’s to show attendees of your much appreciated generosity. Please help us remember Amanda by helping with the tuition of a volleyball player in need. Thank you very much for your help! Please click here for details: http://heyevent.com/event/wfojatdahx7bya/amanda-lynn-williams-endowment-fund-fundraiser

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Welcome to the Crew

 

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I walked into the church a little early. There was already a decent crowd gathering in the vestibule and starting to fill in the pews. The altar servers, deacon and priests were all busy prepping for the mass.

Holy Thursday Mass.

…probably one of the most important, complex and profound days of celebration in the Catholic Church. Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and the institution of the sacrament of priesthood.” ~Catholic News Agency

I was really, really nervous.

Oh, come on…what is wrong with you? All you have to do is say “Body of Christ” and carefully place the consecrated host into the people’s hands or mouths. It’s not that difficult for cryin’ out loud!

My inner pep-talks usually sound something like this. I don’t have a ton of patience with myself. If I was talking with one of my kids, friends or students, I’d be a little gentler and cheerful with my delivery, “You can do this! You’ve got this!” However, I didn’t have time to be patient, I needed to figure out my post. I sat in the first pew and a few of the regular Eucharistic ministers arrived shortly after me and were more than willing to show me the ropes.Thanks to them, I began to feel a lot less nervous.

When the coordinator originally asked me if I could make it to this mass, she also asked if I would like my feet washed. Seeing as though it’s been WAY too long since my last pedicure and my feet are really ticklish, I politely declined.

As it turned out, the washing of the feet was one of the most moving moments of the mass.

Because I had VIP/front pew seating, I was able to see exactly what goes on during this part of the mass, which I just cannot see from my usual spot in the back row. The priest poured water over the person’s foot, wrapped a towel around his/her foot to dry it off, and then he gently kissed the person’s foot. To see the priest kneel before twelve men, women and one child and perform this act of gentle loving kindness and service to others, was powerful and humbling.

When it was time for communion, I was sent to the side of the church to serve the parishioners. Unless you have done this before, it is really difficult to explain how sacred and special this moment is with another human being. I think that’s why I was so nervous…I take this role very seriously.

After we finished there, we worked our way back to the center of the church to assist the priests. My “mentor” told me where to stand and I waited. I didn’t get too many people lining up and I figured it was because they knew I was a “newbie”.

And then a veteran walked up to me.

After he responded, “Amen”, he smiled and said with a twinkle in his eye, “Welcome to the crew”. He caught me by such surprise that I giggled and gushed “thank you”. I only hope my extreme gratitude didn’t come off as inauthentic. I was truly grateful. I felt so proud to be welcomed to his crew.

Right after the veteran, a middle school student walked up to me, smiled and placed her cupped hands towards me. This smile. It’s exactly the same sweet and genuine smile she had for me over five years ago shortly after we arrived in this town. I had met this girl and her family at an Irish dance class and we would hang out weekly in the crowded Sportsplex. I’ll never forget walking down the hallway of my oldest daughter’s school, feeling nervous in the unfamiliar setting. I was trying to figure out where the cafeteria was located, when I heard a little voice call out, “Hi, Mrs. Riggs!”. There was this adorable blond-haired, blue-eyed girl standing in line with the rest of her class. She didn’t know that I was nervous that day or that it was so nice to finally be recognized in a school hallway…just like my days as a high school counselor or at my children’s former school. Her simple gesture meant more to me than a third grader could possibly even know. Her teacher put her finger to her mouth to signal “quiet”, but she still smiled. I haven’t seen her in years as she left the school a while ago, but we still recognized each other and I gave her arm a little squeeze. I’ll never forget her simple, yet moving gesture.

Shortly after her, one of the fifth graders from the school walked up to me. This boy has the most piercing blue eyes; he smiled in recognition and I smiled back and served the host to him. Just a few weeks ago, I had interviewed him for a school project. I asked him, “What advice would you give a 4th grader?” He responded, “FAIL means First Attempt In Learning”. Maybe his parents have drilled this saying into his head over the years or maybe he heard it from one of his coaches. In any case, now that he shared that advice with me, I can take it myself and pass it along to my own children. He’ll never know his impact on me either. 

Ever since I was very young, I’ve held onto the belief that people come into our lives for a reason and that it’s up to me to find that reason. The words spoken by the veteran, “Welcome to the crew” and that both of those children just happened to be in my line for communion during my first official time as Eucharistic minister, just couldn’t be a coincidence, could it?

At the end of the mass, we were asked to remain silent as it is a time of intense and solemn reflection. We enter into another’s suffering with the knowledge that there is light at the end of the darkness.

It was easy for me to “go there” – that is, to feel the suffering, especially that night as it was Noochie’s birthday and the first one we celebrated without him. It was a hard day for so many, especially his parents. I also missed my mom, who was a Eucharistic minister for years. She loved serving the sick and homebound…she would have been so proud of me.

I also think it is easier for me to enter into others’ suffering because I am constantly aware that I am surrounded by such bright lights. I know I am lucky. What a crew!

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#85. A young woman was nervously going through her purse in one of the self-checkout lanes at Target when I walked up. It turned out she short 10 cents on her transaction. When I gave the dime to her, she thanked me over and over again. :o)

#84. Wrote three letters for TWNMLL | The World Needs More Love Letters.
#83. Surprised a former teacher with Starbucks gift card when we saw her in line at the grocery store.

#82. Gave a gift card to a Stop and Shop employee at Starbucks.

#81. Helped a student with his service application essay.
#80. Let a woman who was in a hurry go ahead of me in line at Barnes & Noble.

the regret

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Last night, toward the end of a very productive writers’ workshop, our instructor gave us what initially seemed like a pretty innocent prompt:

“What is your biggest regret?”

I quickly turned the page of my little notebook and started writing furiously across the paper…

For some reason, I always imagine that this individual was a young woman taking her dog for an early morning walk on the beach. Maybe she was lost in thought, perhaps she was running through her “to do” list for the day or maybe she was just trying to calm her mind…the lake is the perfect place for quiet reflection.

But then she stops.

What the heck is that?

She starts walking again, more slowly this time, and as she makes her way to the other end of the beach, she is getting closer to what looks like a large pile of clothes on the shore. Her dog is also very curious about what it is and tugs on his leash so that he can get a better look

I stop writing and sit quietly.

I’m stuck.

How do I write about this regret?

I literally want to bang my head on the table to get it out, but I’m afraid I might scare these more composed writers who are quietly sitting around the table writing furiously about their own regrets. These are nice women, I don’t want to scare them – at least not yet.

I am slowly starting to recognize something…while I may put a lot out there, I’ve become quite the expert in compartmentalizing. That is, I file away my many errors in judgement, my most painful memories and my feelings in a “box” with the intent of dealing with it some other day. And like so many of the other things I file away, I eventually forget about it. That is, I think I forget about it, but it’s still there.

I’m beginning to think that I need some of this information and that “some other day” has finally arrived.

After sitting for a moment, I decided to cut to the chase and just write down the first regret that came to my mind and the one that has haunted me for twenty-two years:

I regret that never got to meet the person who found my brother’s body.

This may sound odd to many, I know, but I think of “her” often and wonder if she still thinks about what she discovered that morning. Does she have nightmares about what she found? Does she ever wonder about us? Is it protocol for the Chicago Police Department to follow up with the person who places the call to say they made a positive identification? Did they share with her that the “unidentified body” she found was a 19-year-old boy? Would she want to see a picture of my brother with his striking grey-blue eyes and ever-present Cubs cap? Will she ever know how grateful I am that she didn’t just keep walking?

I couldn’t possibly ask those questions twenty-two years ago, as I was quite literally paralyzed by my grief.

I couldn’t have known at the time that my inaction would cause me to wonder about this complete stranger for so many years.

Are we connected by my brother for a reason?

Does this stranger have any regrets?

I will only find out if I confront my own regrets.

doubt.

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photo from google images

 

I love my weekly writers’ workshop…I really do. Only this week…this week, I’m filled with doubts. I’m doubting my writing ability, I’m doubting my voice, I’m doubting my direction, I’m doubting my lack of experience in the small room filled with extremely talented, accomplished and lifelong writers.

Doubt. It can really mess with your head.

I mean, the other writers couldn’t have been any more kind, considerate and helpful with their responses to my writing or more accepting of the feedback I gave to them on their pieces.

Why, then, am I filled with such uncertainty?

After the workshop and while I made the 20-minute drive home, my mind ran through the laundry list of changes I need to make to my most recent assignment, what I need to focus on for next week’s homework, and my writing in general. The task is daunting and, as I thought about “the list”, I felt butterflies in the pit of my stomach and my pulse quickened. As if someone knew exactly what I needed, one of my favorite songs, “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam started playing. I turned up the volume and decided to try to take Eddie Vedder’s advice:

Stay with me… Let’s just breathe…

I need to take a deep breath and calm down my mind. I think part of my apprehension may be that while I am willing to start the grueling process of writing about my experiences of coping with the suicides of my brother, step-father and nephew, I am still keeping up a wall around myself (and I thought all the walls were down!).

In addition, I keep questioning why I feel so compelled to write about all of this in the first place. When I think about it…reeeaaally think about it, I think I know why…

I have noticed lately that while there is an increasing amount of information out there about suicide – warning signs and risk factors, statistics and treatment options – there is very little information about the ones who are left behind. While doing a preliminary search last night, I found this:

Each suicide intimately affects at least six other people.” (excerpted from dosomething.org)

According to the AFSP’s website, 42,773 Americans die by suicide each year. If we take that number and multiply it by those who are “intimately” impacted by a loved one’s suicide, that means that there are 256,638 people walking around suffering the pain of this type of loss each year. And remember, that’s “intimately” affected, which doesn’t even cover all the other people who may have felt some connection to the person who died.

After thinking about those numbers, I felt a little less doubtful of some of my efforts, however, I am still trying to figure out my purpose, my direction.

Again, as if the universe knew exactly what I needed, I received a message shortly after I returned home last night. A dear friend is struggling with a family member’s depression and suicidal ideation. She wrote,

…Thank you for bringing suicide awareness to the forefront of your life. It is quite comforting to not feel alone.”

How could she know that her words during her time of need, would make such an impact on me?

How can I still have doubts?

 

For more information on suicide awareness and prevention efforts, please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention|AFSP’s website: http://www.afsp.org

kept my word and the weekly rak-up

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As my mom would say, “Do you have time for one quick little story?” Two hours later, you were still listening, and there was usually a point or some connection (at the very end). And so it continues… :o)

Acts of Kindness #62. Kept my word.

A little over a year ago, I unexpectedly found myself getting my mom’s house ready to put on the market. After living there for 43 years, our family had accumulated so much stuff that it took several months to get it all cleared out. When I was finally making progress with getting furniture, antiques, clothing, knickknacks, books, old report cards, letters, art projects, yearbooks…her life, our life, out of the house, I started to bring in new stuff. I’m sure people thought I was crazy, but there was a method to the madness. I knew that the new pieces would make the rooms look bigger and more updated, which would be more appealing to the buyers (I’ll admit I’ve watched my fair share of home shows on HGTV). In addition, the new furniture was lighter and brighter, which, in turn, made the house look lighter and brighter after being so dark and heavy for so long. For me, it felt like it was time to make things right again in the house that had provided so much more than shelter for all those years.

One night while getting the kids ready for bed, I decided that I needed a full or double size bed for the large front bedroom. For the longest time, my mom only kept one twin size bed in that room. If you were a couple or a mother with small children, you either uncomfortably shared the bed or camped out on the floor with decade-old dog hair and terrifyingly huge dust bunnies surrounding you. The options were limited and I absolutely loathed staying there. So, in the middle of cleaning and clearing out, I decided I would spend $150 for a mattress in an effort to “stage” the room, but also because I wanted a place for people to sleep when we were there. I figured I would spend more money staying in a hotel or on therapy, so I said, “What the hell!” and went for it.

The next morning, I called “Sleepy’s”, a mattress place just a few blocks away from my mom’s house. The salesperson took his time going over all the options, including mattress styles, sizes, and prices. “It just so happens,” he explained, “that I have one mattress in stock, which fits your needs and it’s on sale.” I told him I would be there around 5:00-5:30pm that same day.

The kids and I went about our day as planned, except that we cut our visit with friends short because I told them I had to be somewhere around 5:00pm. As we were driving to the store, I could see dark clouds rolling in and knew we needed to get this mattress purchased and loaded up as soon as possible. I quickly pulled into the parking spot and walked in with all three (tired) kids in tow.

The store was completely empty and the salesman came right up to us, greeted me with a smile and said, “How can I help you?”. I mentioned that I had called earlier about the full-size mattress on sale. His face dropped and he said, “I’m sorry, I sold it this afternoon.” He apologized over and over again saying, “I get calls from people all day long saying that they’ll come in and they never show up. I cannot believe you actually came in to buy it. I’m so very sorry.”

Before John died and my perspective on life changed forever, I would have felt a little irritated or annoyed with the situation…but now I cannot help but look at the world through my “suffering” lens. All I kept thinking was – this happens to him all the time? People call him up, he takes his time explaining the various mattress styles and prices and then people don’t even show up? This was a man who took pride in his work and he was polite and helpful…  It makes me a little sad even now when I think of how quickly people dismissed him and the help he was offering them.

While the kids were testing out the “unlimited” positions on the various Tempur-Pedic mattresses, the salesman made arrangements with another store that was less than a mile away. We drove to the other store, picked up the mattress and loaded it up on top of the mini-van. The clouds were quickly moving in and it just started to drizzle as we sat at the last stop light just before my mom’s house. Somehow I made it to the carport and singlehandedly brought both the mattress and box spring into the house and upstairs to the bedroom before the torrential downpour. I made up the bed with the new sheets and comforter I had rationalized purchasing earlier in the day and our eldest daughter slept peacefully in the soft, comfortable bed with fresh sheets that night. Every time I walked up the stairs or passed by the room over the next several months, I smiled because that bed just seemed to complete the house. Day by day, the house was getting ready and I was slowly getting ready to let it go.

Fast-forward to last week…I called a car dealership to see if I could come in to look at an SUV. The salesperson, Mark, was helpful over the phone, asking about whether I wanted to lease or finance, did I have a trade-in?, etc. When we walked into the showroom Saturday morning to look at the car, Mark seemed a little surprised at first that we were there.

Of course, I immediately thought of the mattress salesperson and the importance of keeping my word.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t feasible for us to buy the car at this point, but we will most likely go back to him at a later date (and refer others to him as well)  because he was knowledgeable, honest and upfront with us. Mark, an older gentlemen with salt and pepper hair, glasses and a blue windbreaker, reminded me of someone. He was kind, had the most calm disposition and was patient with our kids. While he told us about the safety features, he also talked about his own three grown children all of whom he was very proud. He wasn’t trying to make the hard sell – he was more focused on building relationships. When we went back into the showroom to discuss numbers, he left the desk for a moment and I realized who he reminded me of…I turned to my husband and said, “He reminds of John.” Dave immediately agreed and we were both feeling a little melancholy after we left showroom.

In our daily lives, we are completing acts of kindness without realizing it all the time. This project continues to remind me of the importance of being kind to others. It helps me remain mindful that every life matters.

Regardless of how insignificant the promise, it’s important that I keep my word.

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#67. Wrote more letters for TWNMLL: http://www.moreloveletters.com/

#66. Held the door open for a woman (who then held the next door for me and my children :o) )

#65. Cashed in a couple birthday scratch-off tickets and gave one to the lady behind the counter.

#64. Let a man go ahead of me at the deli counter.

#63. Picked up trash in a store parking lot.

#62. Kept my word. (RAK of the Week)

#61. Held the door for a group of people going into a store

And speaking of keeping my word, a few months ago, one of my friends, Kim, sent me a link for “Because I Said I Would” an incredible social movement dedicated to keeping our commitments. Here’s the description from their website: We make and keep promises to end suffering, establish peace and build happiness. Our mission is to strengthen humanity’s will. We created the promise card to help hold people accountable to their commitments. Make and keep a promise to improve yourself, your family or your community. If you need a promise card to make the commitment real, we will send you one. The world needs you. For more information: http://becauseisaidiwould.com/

The Turning Point…

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photo taken from http://www.goodreads.com

 

My homework for the writers’ workshop this week was to answer the question, “What was the turning point when you decided to Choose Grace?”  I knew the exact moment and told our instructor that I would be happy to answer the prompt she gave me. Two weeks and MANY tears later, I only scratched the surface of that question. As it turns out, there wasn’t one specific moment, but a collection of moments that took place during the time my step-father, John, went missing and then later when he was found.

Many of my friends will remember my obsession with the children’s book, Wonder, by RJ Palacio, shortly after I went through that experience. At the time, I spoke with friends near and far about our favorite characters, passages and quotes throughout the book, especially toward the end (but I won’t give those away as I still recommend this book for all ages!). What I couldn’t explain at the time was that the most moving passage for me, was the following:

Hey, is this seat taken?

I looked up, and a girl I never saw before was standing across from my table with a lunch tray full of food. She had long wavy brown hair, and wore a brown T-shirt with a purple peace sign on it.

Uh, no, I said.

She put her lunch tray on the table, plopped her backpack on the floor, and sat down across from me. She started to eat the mac and cheese on her plate…

My name is Summer, by the way. What’s yours?”

When I read these first few lines in the “The Summer Table” chapter, I started to weep.

Not just a few tears, but a real ugly cry. I wasn’t quite sure why I had had this strong of a reaction to these particular words. I certainly wasn’t a middle school student and I didn’t know anyone with a facial deformity, like the main character, August. Why, then, was I having such a strong reaction to these characters in this book?

Still sleep-deprived, guilt-ridden and anxiety-prone, I started reading Wonder just one month after my step-father’s body had been recovered off the coast of Key West. The memories that surfaced during his disappearance, the desperate search and then the recovery were brutal. All of the feelings that I had pushed away for my brother, Brian, who also went missing, who we also searched for, and then later found, resurfaced with a vengeance.

The pain of knowing that these two beautiful and gentle souls had lost hope was indescribable.

While sitting there weeping uncontrollably, I realized why the words from Wonder struck such a chord. Brian and John were just like August. While they may not have had the complex deformities that his character had, they were suffering in other ways. Brian and John’s injuries were invisible. They, just like August, felt completely isolated in their pain.

In fact, we are ALL like August at one point or another. We ALL have something.

And, we all have the capacity to be like Summer. We all have the ability to change the course of someone’s day, someone’s life, with just one simple act of kindness. Or, as I like to call it: grace.

When I really thought about Summer’s seemingly simple act during one of August’s lowest points in the story, it triggered a whole series of questions, thoughts and even more tears. From the more book-specific questions: Would I have gone to the aid of an outcast when I was a kid? Would my children be brave or decent enough to do this as well? To the more personal reflections: Did I reach out to Brian when he needed me most? Did I do enough to let him know he wasn’t alone? Could I have saved John by reaching out to him sooner? Did I miss signs that he was losing hope? To the more philosophical question: What does the world expect from me?

Losing John seventeen years after losing Brian, changed me forever. I literally shattered into a million little pieces when I figured out his location: a terrible, heart-wrenching phone call that I placed in the middle of the night to the Monroe County Coroner’s Office provided the answer I prayed so hard not to hear.

I am different now and I look at others differently now too. It’s almost as if I am looking through a camera with a “suffering” lens. There are so many people who are suffering…so many of us who are fighting every single day to escape the pain.

The whole scenario with this fictional character, Summer, and her ability to Choose Kind, to help someone she viewed as suffering, or as isolated, just for the sake of being nice or helping another person, spurred me on my mission even more.

When I started reading the book, it had only been three weeks since I had made my own pledge in front of about 150 mourners at John’s funeral. I pledged that despite the most unimaginable and hopeless outcome, I had decided to “Choose Grace”.

What did that mean? What is choosing grace? As I explained in the eulogy that I wrote for John, it meant that I was going to choose to find the beauty deep within an incredibly terrible situation. I was going to live life the way John lived his life when he was well – with rose-colored glasses, a beautiful optimism, an urge to help others and a gigantic, hearty laugh. I decided that while I have a choice, I was going to choose grace.

Before all of this happened, I was not what people would describe as the PollyAnna type. I had experienced a bunch of losses and had become quite cynical over the years, but what I experienced during those weeks of John’s disappearance, search and the weeks following his loss, made me gravitate towards the other side. The bright side. There are so many stories of people who stepped up to help me find John. Every time I called someone new, I told them about who John was and explained to them our family had gone through this before with filing a missing persons’ report, searching for our loved one, holding onto hope despite the odds that were stacking up against us. There were just so many stories of people who were willing to do anything to help us – from the guy who said he would post flyers in Key West after he got off his 8-hour shift, to the sheriff who said he would hand deliver the note I wrote to the man who found John’s body. He did this after I explained that I never got to thank the person who found my brother’s body along North Avenue Beach. He understood that I couldn’t let this go again.

Despite the terrible outcome, deep sadness and the stress this put on our already fractured family, I had hope. I had hope that I could be like Summer’s character. Hope that my children would also “choose kind” when given the choice. Hope that I could help other people, even if it was just one person, from feeling alone…from losing hope.

When you are thrown into a chaotic situation, and you feel like you are spiraling out of control and losing your mind, you never know where you’ll find peace and inspiration. For me, it was during an incredibly difficult time from a special book with an important message: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

To answer my instructor’s question, my turning point was my breaking point.