Saturday, November 21, 2009

One day to Make a Difference....

A teacher who brought her Sunday school class from Russellville to Little Rock to volunteer at the CARE free health clinic.

My friend and traveling companion from Danville, Beth Coger (dark pants in center of photo), waiting to transport patients to their individual doctors.

A small portion of the 1200 volunteers at the Free Health Care Clinic in Little Rock today.

Me (center) with two new lovely friends, waiting to register patients.

What common denominator would bring together 1200 Arkansans of various ages, from different cities, backgrounds, races, religious beliefs and political parties on a beautiful Fall Saturday when the Razorbacks were playing their last home game just a few miles down the road? What could possibly unite this wonderful cross section of Americana, all dressed in red t-shirts, jeans and comfortable shoes and cause them to assemble to help their fellow man? Would it surprise you to learn that it is the same cause that has viciously divided this country for weeks?

Health care for everyone was the call that beckoned each one of us to the Statehouse Convention Center today, and for those of us who volunteered to work at the event, it was an experience that went beyond memorable and rewarding.

Even though some of our state-wide media outlets advertised the event as "controversial", none of the volunteers or over a thousand of people who needed, and received, medical care today looked at it that way. There was a desperate need, and these 1200 volunteers came together in a non-partisan, non-judgemental way to fill that need.

I can't remember when I have been more proud of an elected official as I was of our Lt. Governor, Bill Halter. Mr. Halter, his lovely wife, and the top tier of his staff were there when the doors opened and they worked until after dark when the doors closed. All were dressed in their red "volunteer" t-shirts with nothing to differentiate them from the rest of us except their personal name on the mandatory identification badges. They each worked in the "trenches" doing the exact same jobs as all of the other volunteers. They registered patients and showed everyone the same respect Mr. Halter is given each day in his office at the State Capitol. Some people knew who they were, some didn't. And that didn't seem to matter because they knew today wasn't about them, but about the people they had come there to help. What we did know was that Bill Halter had procured the site and promoted the event tirelessly through the local and national media and on his website. As I listened to his brief pep talk to the volunteers right before the doors opened, I realized once again that this was a young energetic politician who actually "gets it".

Each of us working today had up close and personal hands-on contact with the patients. We each heard heart breaking and heart warming stories.....stories none of us will soon forget. What may or may not surprise my readers is that the majority of the patients I registered today between noon and 7:30pm were employed, but could not afford health insurance. Of all of the people I interviewed today, only two had a personal physical. The remainder either went to the emergency room or did nothing at all when they needed health care.

The misconception that this Free Clinic would be for the homeless, illegal immigrants, or other people trying to ride the system is simply not true. Many of these people were hardworking Americans who could not afford insurance or their employers did not offer it, or had recently been laid off due to the downturn in the economy.

On the drive home tonight, my friend Beth and I wished that everyone who does not believe or acknowledge this segment of our population exists (or conveniently chooses to ignore them) could have spent just one hour with us today. It would have been for them, as it was for us, a life changing experience.....and one we are so grateful for the opportunity to have been a tiny part of.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Seinfeld Moment

People who travel for a living have a saying: "It's all about the upgrades".

Book your airline flights on one or two carriers throughout the year and you rack up all sort of frequent flier miles, free companion flights and priority upgrades to first class.

Stay in one hotel chain over 200 nights a year and gain platinum status which allows you to receive automatic upgrades to the best rooms and suites and an obscene amount of bonus points for free nights in any of their properties around the world. And when you book your many rental cars with the same agency and have a clean driving record, they give you free upgrades, lightening-speed check-in, and preferential treatment.

Therefore, it was no surprise when we stopped by the Hertz desk at the Tampa Airport last Wednesday, gave them our name, signed a piece of paper and were told that we had been given an upgrade. The whole process took less than 60 seconds. What did surprise us was when we located our car slot and found a brand new Cadillac DTS (the HUGE model). We burst out laughing and simultaneously said "Seinfeld"!!!

Anyone who has ever lived in Florida can tell you that the "unofficial" state car for the enormous retired population (mostly migrated there from the North) is the Cadillac.......the bigger model the better. Larry David even wrote several episodes of Seinfeld centered around Jerry buying his retired parents in Florida a new Cadillac.

We stood in the parking lot and had a discussion about whether or not to keep the absurdly large and opulent car, but once we opened the doors, we became enticed by the intoxicating new car smell and the luxurious leather seats that wrapped around us like a favorite blanket.
The back seat was the size of our sofa and a flat screen television would have not seemed out of place there. The trunk could outfit a condo-size kitchen, or someone's entire wardrobe. It was just too much to turn down, especially when we were only paying for a "normal" car.

So off we go down the interstate, counting how many similar cars we passed, giving up when the number passed 50. Dennis observed that most of the ladies sitting in the passenger seats all had the same gray or white helmet-style hairdo.

People driving these cars seem to belong to some secret club where the rules require that the members smile, nod or politely gesture to fellow Cadillac drivers. They are a very friendly bunch.

As we made our way down the 2 1/2 hour drive from Tampa to Ft. Meyers on a beautifully clear November afternoon, the bright blues of the sky and water glistening off the flawless silver Cadillac exterior, we felt warmly welcomed into Florida's oldest club.

A Friday Afternoon Drive

Driving across Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Sarasota, FL.

I can't seem to find the words to describe the beauty of this......

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Irish Wake at an Italian Restaurant

Death has a way of bringing the most unlikely people together for a like cause. And in this scenario, tonight two attorneys, a businessman, an artist/actor, a retired priest, an adopted child and I came together to celebrate the life of a lady we each loved in our own special way.

It had been a long seven days since our beloved Hazel had passed away and each of our hearts was heavy with the loss of someone who was larger than life. Everyone admitted to tears in private but was attempting to maintain an exterior that didn't lend itself to a public display of grief. There were things to do, roles to play, business to take care of that dictated proper decorum, and after all, with the exception of the child and me, these were grown men. Somehow, we all knew that if we could just make it through the week, tonight, things would be much better. So we gathered at Hazel's favorite restaurant, dragging our grief through the door like a weight almost too heavy to bear.

We toasted her memory with a glass of wine and a picture of her I had taken several months ago in that same restaurant with a glass of wine in her hand a a smile we had all seen a thousand times before. As we each began to share our memories, we learned a little more about the woman we thought we knew so well. We listened, we shed a few tears, we hugged....but mostly we laughed. We laughed long and hard at the antics of this wonderful person who had taught us all to laugh at ourselves above all else. I don't think she ever took herself too seriously and probably got a bit frustrated at the rest of us when we often did.

Despite working every day until a few years ago when she could no longer drive and enduring the pain of the loss of a husband and daughter, she loved life. She knew the meaning of life and tried to milk every once of it from each day. And how she did that was the subject of the stories we told. Hazel looked for the humor in everything, and if it wasn't evident, she would create it. Life was never dull when she was around.

Maybe that is what each of us fear the most......where will that spark, that sparkle come from now that she has left us? Will we fade into mundane lives now that she isn't here to point out the folly of it all?

After several hours, we said our goodbyes with gratitude for the therapy the evening provided. On my long drive back home, it occurred to me that this was the sort of evening Hazel would have looked forward to all day. She would have planned this sort of gathering and invited these exact same people to this exact same place. And for the first time in seven days.........I found comfort.

Rest in peace my dear will never be far from my heart.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bob's World

I have often wondered what Bob the Beagle would have done had he ended up in a family that forced him to live outside, hunt, or do something to earn his keep. A family that didn't understand he is to be rewarded with a Beggin Strip for letting a human pet him or for going to the potty or just as a routine bedtime snack.

Bob is cold-natured, or pretends to be, so he has a fleece jacket for cold days when he accompanies me to the post office and for afternoon naps, he has not one, but TWO beds tucked under Dennis' desk, complete with a blanket. It makes legroom for Dennis a little sparse, but Bob is certainly comfortable.

I guess we all eventually end up doing what we are supposed to do, in the places we are destined to be, with the companions that are meant for us. And after 7 1/2 years, Bob has definitely got us trained very well.

Or, we think we are........but he may have a little more educating to do before he gets us exactly the way he wants us!

Gotta go........I think my typing is disturbing Bob's nap.