Rainy days. Time paused. And lovely memories…
It is the perfect morning to lie in bed and cuddle with the memory of you. Through the window glass the trees shush, their leaves yielding to clear drops, one after the other, sometimes two together, as though you are watering my heart from your Heaven.
The roof dulls the sound for a moment until it spatters over the eaves and creates blistering drops on the deck, like sizzling bacon. I think: bacon and three fried eggs and a sliced tomato. A lazy weekend morning and I serve you one of the few gifts you would accept from me.
At this moment – right now – I feel your solid chest against my back, your right forearm and calloused hand resting on my hip, your knee pushing gently against the back of my thighs. You are right here. If I turned, I could lay my head against your shoulder, push…
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There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life, or you are the one who will change theirs.
The story I’m about to tell you is true. It is the story about an inspirational man, his equally inspiring and beautiful wife, and his son, William, who surpasses all of us with his will to overcome, thrive and live.
None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty. The guilty would be me. I’d like a pass because I was in mourning, but the truth is, that’s bullshit. Each of us decides every day to live or give up, to make excuses or take responsibility. It sucks that the love of my life died on me. I’m still a little mad about it.
The difference now is this: I no longer use his death as an excuse, but as my driving force.
Exactly a year and a half after Steve died; I packed up my home for the 22nd time in 34 years and moved to Virginia Beach to feel something familiar around me. I don’t have young Navy SEALs traipsing through my house at all hours like I used to, but the community of Steve’s living Brothers is close enough to me here that I feel their comfort. Still, less than a year ago I was still in a deep fog, barely unpacked and still driving around from point A to point B without knowing how I left or why I arrived.
On one such day while driving down Virginia Beach Boulevard, I heard a distinct recognizable voice telling me to turn and check out a small gym close to the corner of Great Neck. I made a U-turn, pulled into a parking space and laughed aloud at the (then) name of the gym: “Face the Pain”. Clearly, Steve lived (and died) for sarcasm. Ironically, had I not heard his voice on that day – at that exact moment – I would not have turned, I would never have noticed the gym, and I would not have met Billy Yancey.
You should probably know that for 31 years Steve was my built in personal trainer. He designed programs to suit me, challenge me and piss me off. I never trained exactly the way he thought I should, but he never stopped believing in me or my abilities and to thank him for that faith, I (mostly) did what I was told. I was not, however, his BUD/S student and I made that clear in no uncertain terms every chance I got, which somehow encouraged him to buy a stupid little bell and taunt me with it. I admit here and now that I may have caused a certain “bell” to fly across the room a dozen hundred times or so, but I digress…
The ugly truth is this: When Steve died, I quit everything. I was breathing, barely, and I would have stopped that too if I could have figured out a way to do it without hurting my children. I lost my mind and I didn’t care. I lost my health, my magic and my self. I didn’t care. Grief is a skilled liar and I came to believe there was no point to anything. I sat down and did not move for an entire year believing that Steve was gone and I was done. Purposefully, I paid no attention to my health. I gained “mourning weight” and a “screw it” attitude and I did not care.
And then I met “Mr. Pain,” a.k.a. Billy Yancey. Billy is the creator of Anabo, the owner of Anabo Nutrition and Fitness and my friend — not always an easy task. Since that fateful day, I have come to know him as a stellar husband, an extraordinary Papa, and yet another man in my life who takes absolutely not one ounce of shit from me, which is fairly unbelievable because I can hand it out with mighty force.
Billy is no ordinary man and no ordinary personal trainer.
Meet Billy Yancey, #2 Corner-back, United States Naval Academy. During his Navy football days he had three (3) interceptions against the University of Toledo and one (1) against the Quarter Back of Notre Dame, Rick Mirer, at Giants Stadium.
I hear there’s a Navy – Air Force game tomorrow, October 5, 2013 and it’s on! I thought this might be an appropriate time to brag about my personal coach.
FEAR THE GOAT!
FEAR THE PAIN!
And oh yes, did I mention he was also Mr. Virginia 1999.
So damn glad to know this man, his gorgeous wife, Lisa, and his beautiful son, William.
Be inspired by William here: http://www.wavy.com/news/local/va-beach/virginia-beach-boy-defies-the-odds#.Uk8R2_pTLIg.email
http://www.zombierunva.com – Register and run to support William!
And… GOOOOOOOOO NAVY!!!!!!
If you are in Virginia Beach and you need a workout program that will kick your butt backwards, forwards and sideways… check out Anabo Nutrition and Fitness Gym at the Corner of Great Neck and Virginia Beach Boulevard. For more information contact Billy@TheAnabo.com or open this flyer: [ANABO – Billy Yancey]
By Lynnette Bukowski © October 4, 2013
Found a letter tucked into a book I have not opened in four years. There are messages of love… everywhere.
At 3:00 in the morning I decide to confront a certain foot locker that a year ago took two men to move from the barn to my bedroom. Until now, I did not have the nerve to open it, but I cannot lie in bed and look at it for one more moment.
I turn on a light, pry open the lid and laugh at the perfectly organized assortment of goods.
Now, the rule for this 22nd move in 34 years is to sort every last thing and either keep, toss or give away. Since I’m moving 3000 sq. ft. plus barn into 1600 sq. ft. and a shed, the 3 pile strategy is an absolute must. But in the wee hours of the morning I am suddenly and adamantly opposed to rules. And, it appears, I’ve developed a situational case of A.D.D. with a twist.
This is what actually happens…
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A limited number of these custom cuffs were made exclusively for LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat in loving memory of our 31 heroes killed in action on August 6, 2011.
To order, visit the donation page at www.lz-grace.com or email me at email@example.com
Each cuff is made of quality bronze, silver and gold plate, molded in dies, touched by craftsman and may be ordered in Brass or Silver. The cuffs are hand crafted; Size: 7” x 11/2”
The cost is: $135.00
100% of the proceeds will go to grow LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat, a place of respite and renewal for our newly transitioning Warriors.
A portion of donated funds may be set aside by LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat to benefit the children of our Fallen Warriors.
A 501(c)3 Application is on file with the IRS…
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A rainy fall morning and I am suspended between words and oil paints…
Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love
When I least expect it the missing burns white hot just under my skin and I fold myself in half, wrap my arms around my knees and wait for it like I’m a kid on a toboggan racing down an icy hill with fat trees in my path. Time slows into long, long moments when I know I’m going to get hurt, and badly. And I do. But I steer into it now because the impact kindles my strength.
Like I’m Firewalking again, I feel your presence. In spirit, you watch and wait until I stand up and move on and I hear, “Hooyah, Babe!” when I need it most of all.
Silence does have a sound.
And there is no statute of limitations on missing.
I still want to curl into a ball and wail loudly and for…
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The only time I actually cared about my age was when I was 16 and wanted to be 21 just so I could sing at a piano bar in an elegant dress. No kidding. I accomplished that at 17 and it wasn’t all I dreamed it to be. Drunk people talk loudly, and Billy Holiday songs were not all the rage in the ’70’s. So I moved on to college and an all-girl band, fell madly in love with a Frogman and tripped through this fairly extraordinary life with the idea that a surprise should be behind every corner.
My husband dubbed me his Perfect Mess. I told him I was his Elegant Mess. Believe it or not, we discussed the terms for two days. I won. That was long before “hot mess” was vogue.
He thought my need to be surprised was silly… but I was never disappointed. Not once.
In fact, the year before Steve died he kidnapped me, blindfold and all and I ended up at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina on the back of horse for two days. The man had his ways…
My birth date each year becomes more precious because I gather these memories and use them to push me and guide me and look forward in a way I’ve never done before.
This year I’ve decided that I am all the ages I have ever been…
I wish this for all of you…
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
This video was produced and directed by Sheri Bukowski, with Stephen Bukowski and Aaron Bukowski. Pure Love….
Perhaps all we can do is pray… to relieve the agony of the mothers and fathers around the world, from whose arms their child was taken. May Grace hold them and surround their broken hearts.
Excerpt from Love is Born in Giant Fields of Crazy: Lessons in Love
“Our faith itself is a potent force. When faith in love and its miraculous authority becomes a thought form that guides our thinking, it turns into an extraordinary power that transforms our lives.” ~Marianne Williamson
This is what it feels like to watch someone I love fall out of the sky: I tilt my head back, shield my eyes from sun glow, and watch tiny specks drop from a plane so high, I cannot actually see it in the cerulean blue sky. I only hear a distant drone. Big Red, our 120 pound Golden Retriever, begins to pace around my legs in a tight circle. The behavior is so unusual for this markedly obedient dog that I sense something’s off, but I keep my eyes skyward, fascinated now by a long, colorful cloth spiraling up from…
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You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.
a cool ribbon
of crisp air to embrace me
like you used to do…
So for a moment
I am still wrapped
In your love
A warm blanket
between dreams and the
real wooden floor
where my bare feet
step lightly at 3:00 in the morning
and on this path
I can tip-toe my way
to the cool breeze and
breathe you in
just enough air to return to this life radiant
with the light by which I serve.
I am like the autumn leaves now,
As though we are all passionately
with sacred ground.
September 6, 2013 © Lynnette Bukowski
We finally find her sitting in a cluster of delphiniums, eyes closed, smoking a cigarette. Wisps of her silver blue hair blend so beautifully with the flowers that the only way we know she’s in there and alive is by watching puffs of smoke spiral up through the lavender blue blooms.
The young man next to me leans forward and in a deep lyrical voice says, “The sun is nearly up and I brought apples. May I help you, Grace?”
A slight, wheezy sigh emanates with a puff of smoke, “Is that you, Shelly?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” The man is a foot taller than my 5 foot 6 inches. His stature is massive, but poised, as though he stands at attention, except for the apple he holds in each hand and the flush of color in his cheeks when his bearded face looks down at me and says, “Sheldon. The name is Sheldon. Will you hold these?”
I nod, take the apples from his hands and watch as he reaches into the blooms and effortlessly lifts one hundred pounds of Grace into his arms.
“I dropped my cig,” she says.
“Life’s a bitch,” he says.
She throws her head back and laughs while he carries her like a young lover down the walkway. I follow behind, apples in hand. Gently, he places her in the middle of the bench and sits next to her. I sit on the opposite side and exchange a knowing smile with Sheldon. I’m not sure what we both know, but it feels to me in this moment as though we’ve known it for a long, long time.
We both know Grace. She is saucy, short; 93 years old and befriends those of us who are brave enough to approach.
I was sitting on this exact bench thirty minutes earlier when the stranger, Sheldon, walked out of the dark and stood close enough for me to see he looked frightened. When he spoke his voice crumbled into panic, “I cannot find Grace. Will you help me?”
I had a moment with God, then. O’dark-thirty, I am alone with no gun and no dogs and not afraid. Explain, please? It was not outside the realm of possibilities that I was seeing a man who was not there and talking to myself, but suddenly I knew exactly of whom he spoke. Also, he had an apple in each hand. It was a woman, not a state of being he needed help finding.
While we searched, he told me that he sat with her every morning to watch the rise of dawn. He could not remember how many days or weeks or months now, but it had been awhile since he’d arrived back in CONUS. He says this as though I simply know what he’s talking about. I do, but I keep it to myself. He’s distracted, but methodical, looking under trees, behind fences, sweeping his hands through thick rhododendron bushes. I ask, “Have you checked her house?” He stops and looks at me for a long moment, and then he shakes his head; continues the search. His voice ebbs and flows as he tells me that sometimes he stays awake all night just waiting to leave his empty house and make it here – to the bench. She is his saving Grace and he is the deliverer of treats. This morning: apples.
Grace squeals like a delighted child, “Here we go!” I am back in the present moment and cannot help but smile at her enthusiasm. Her feet do not reach the ground. She crosses one ankle over the other and swings her feet to and fro while the three of us sit and watch the sun rise and send bursts of light over the water. She chomps down on her apple and talks with her mouth half full. “Shelly,” do you know my friend, Lynn? She’s a writer and building a place for you boys to find a little love when you’re home.”
I open my mouth to respond, perhaps clarify her statement, but Grace interrupts, “Oh, don’t be so darn formal, Shelly,” She scolds, takes another bite of her apple and talks while she chews, “Shelly here – this young strapping Navy man – fancies killing himself. Damn fool if you ask me.”
I audibly catch my breath; hold it.
Sheldon leans forward, puts his face in his hands and mumbles, “Grace… I don’t think… ”
“Don’t you shush me, young man. I’ve had just about enough of this balderdash. I’m old. I hide in flowers to sneak cigs. I need to tell someone else about you …” she takes another huge bite of apple, chews for a moment and continues, “…because I’m not leaving this earth until you find your footing again. And I need help.” She takes her tiny hand and smacks it on his thigh. It sounds like a painful pop, but he does not flinch. “How many ways to kill yourself are we up to now…. ten, twelve?”
“Grace,” I begin… I hardly know what to say, but I see Sheldon lean further into his hands and I can feel his discomfort.
“And you be quiet too, young lady. Let me have my say.” She giggles, swings her legs, licks apple juice off her wrist and continues, “You never show up here without your dogs. Ever. Why today? I’ll tell you why today. I need some damn help. As if the hand of God delivered your pretty butt right to this bench. That’s right… I asked for you and not five minutes later I watched you walk by those delphiniums, head hanging, deep in thought.”
She turns from me and leans her body against Sheldon. “You are a dear young man and too full of life to give up. I don’t need you in Heaven. I’ve got plans… and they don’t include some young swashbuckler. I need some damn rest. Now… you tell Lynn right here about your panic attacks. Go ahead…”
“Grace, too hard… you’re being too flippant about something so difficult… “My words stumble out and catch on a sob. I have no idea where the tears came from or when they began. I wipe a sleeve across my face and look up to see Sheldon staring at me, tears rolling down into his beard.
The 93 year old sitting between us tosses her apple into the sand and with far more strength than I think possible, she grips my thigh with one hand and his with her other hand. “Look here, you two. There is no time left to talk about the weather and trip over words.”
Sheldon nods, resigned, and begins, “Other people imply that they know what it’s like to be like this… to be home from the hate …but not home at all, to go through a divorce…fuck me, I was barely married… ” He takes a long, deep breath, “Sorry…bout my language.”
“We’re not worried about your words. Say them all,” Grace says. She pats his leg, rubs her tiny hand on his arm. I swear she’s making clucking sounds to comfort him. I am so taken in by his words that I cannot move. I let the tears drip down over my lips and watch as he physically rocks forward, then backward. A self-comforting move that comforts me.
“… Except maybe that other people are generally caught up in their own lives,” he continues, “They don’t see. My wife didn’t see what she did not want to see. Gone. Left. I can’t make her stay or make her come back and I don’t think I want to. Not afraid… I’m not afraid of dying. I want back out there. I want to work. I don’t want to live, I want to go, work, do. I’m afraid of living, not dying. Afraid of sleeping… when my heart starts to pound in my chest and my fingertips go numb and my mind starts this rapid movie and my vision blurs and there is not enough air. Never enough air and the entire space collapses into a single thought… all the thoughts swirl into a single thought and there is nothing else but that thing – as if I were seeing it through a gun barrel…”
“… and I’m tiresome. People cannot abide being around me. They think they ought to, and they try, but I know and they know that I’m tedious beyond belief. I’m irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and there is no reassurance good enough. And I’m scary as hell. Look at me. People don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, and those who do… they’re still out there doing what I need to be doing and just so you know,” he glances at Grace, “they too have their own 12 ways of dying.”
He stops talking as suddenly as he started and stares at me. Dares me with his eyes to get up off the bench and run. I don’t. I stare back. I think I might get up, walk to him and hold him for whatever time it takes for his heart rate to ease, but that seems too bold in the moment. We’re strangers – emotionally glued together now by an incredible woman named Grace. I have nothing to say because every single word he said is true. It’s the truth. And the only thing I know to do – honestly do – is sit with the words and him and Grace and let the sun fully rise.
Grace claps her hands together and chuckles, “Good. Now I can die in peace.”
Her words break the spell. Sheldon turns his full body towards her and smiles, “Old woman, you better have your fine self right here on this bench tomorrow morning. I’m bringing cherries.” He leans a bit towards me and grins, “And you… if you’re brave enough to show back up, I’ll bring tissues. You have snot all over your face.”
And just like that we go from death and despair to laughter while Grace sets a meeting time for tomorrow. We exchange phone numbers and awkward smiles and then Grace hops off the bench like a teenager and says, “Bring me some cigs tomorrow morning. I think I’m all out.”
“Not in your wildest dreams, woman.” Sheldon laughs. He hugs me quickly, sincerely, and then takes Grace by the hand to walk her home.
I’ve been aware from time to time of finding new corners in my mind and heart. Some of those corners are incredible and take my breath away with the beauty they store. Others seem too dark to wander through alone. Perhaps that’s the point. We are none of us alone when another soul is willing to walk into the dark corner with us, hold our hand for a moment and turn on the light.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013
The dogs and I came upon a young woman lying on the beach this morning. Selah did a puppy bounce around her waiting to be adored, but the girl did not stir or move or react. In the predawn she looked like a slight shadow, very young and curled around herself, but as I kneeled next to her I saw the distance in her wide open eyes. She stared out into the surf and might have been dead except for the intense shivering.
I took my sweatshirt off and put it over her and sat down in the sand.
In this beginning of the second half of my life I have learned to listen more to my intuition and my heart, than to my head. So I did not dial 911 or yell for help. Lights were on in a few of the oceanfront houses, but it was just us…
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“There’s a little wild in you,” Steve used to say. I think he believed I needed the wild to come up fighting and scrapping amid this life that he led, as though this crazy ingredient was necessary to be the woman behind the warrior. He had a point. It takes a little wild to travel 10,000 miles away from home to marry the man I love in the middle of a monsoon surrounded by a Platoon of Navy SEALs armed with votive candles and a liquor-laced, a capella rendition of the “Wedding March”.
Steve’s passion for me was quiet and real, but his first love, the Brotherhood of the “Teams” could barely be contained. It vibrated just under his skin, hell bent on eruption, and flowed into every corner of our lives. I would learn soon enough that the stormy night in October 1978 was just the beginning…
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(The original Sharing Strength was published on August 6, 2012. I share it here today for those who have not read it… with the hope that all of us can join in prayer and support for the Families and Brothers of our Fallen)
Iron sharpens iron. As one man sharpens another. (Prov. 27:17)
This is the miracle of human connection: we do not need to be in the same room, the same state, or the same country to reach out our hands and lay bare our hearts and say, I stand with you stunned – in silence and prayer, I will hold your hand, I will share your tears, I will take the impact of your pain as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel this loss because this too is my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.
Five years ago the world lost 30 brave men and Bart, a Warrior Dog – all heroes – aboard Extortion 17 in Afghanistan. The families, friends and loved ones of the fallen are scattered across the country and globe and while it is impossible to reach each of them in person or by phone, entire communities have come together to raise funds, show support and share in the grief of loss.
There is such comfort in knowing we are never really alone.
It is a poignant reminder of the first time in my adult life I learned this lesson.
On September 25, 1978 I began my drive to work from Coronado to San Diego. Half-way across the Coronado Bay Bridge, a perfect 230 feet above water, sun glanced off my windshield and created a tunnel-like view of a small plane as it clipped the underside of a passenger jet and dropped from the sky. I slammed my foot on the breaks and stepped out. As cars on the bridge screeched to a stop behind me, I stood and watched with horror as the jet banked away, paused, and began a nose down dive. The sky shrieked wildly until it didn’t. For one brief moment I imagined the plane was landing, until it hit the earth and exploded into a pluming black cloud. Movement around me slowed to half speed, then quarter speed, as if the air in the blue sky had thickened with sorrow.
Those of us watching from the bridge began to scream; the sound inhuman, swallowed whole by the eerie howl of a sudden hot wind. The heat roiled in my stomach and I bent over where I stood and vomited. A man, a complete stranger, came to me and held my head, smoothed my hair back. He made kind sounds, non-words that echoed through the blood buzzing in my ears.
I don’t remember the drive to the crash site. I do remember following my stranger’s silver Mercedes as though it was a lifeline, a reality I needed to stay with. We parked blocks away, but we felt the heat, even then, as he took my hand. We ran, or he did. I stumbled beside him, keeping pace with the sirens, praying, passing stunned people who staggered into the streets. A wall of heat and smoke stopped us and we stood, useless.
My stranger fell to his knees then, pulling me down with him, crushing my hand to his chest while he wept; long crawling gasping sounds. We huddled there in the street on our knees, and between sobs he told me that he’d been running late, on his way to the airport to pick up his daughter. She was 25, working in LA and coming for a visit. Surely, she’d forgive him for leaving her stranded. He whispered the last words and I put my face close to his, looked into his eyes and took the full impact of his words.
I felt then like elderly people must feel when they forget who they are, where they are, what shoes are for, when each gesture calls meaning into question, unbuttoning a button, breathing. I was 20, a mere child, but I forced myself to understand we were taking turns, as people do, in sharing strength.
I learned later that the 727 was carrying more than six tons of fuel, much of it in the wing tanks. The news reported that from the moment of impact with the Cessna, it took just 17 seconds to transform PSA Flight 182 from a fully functional airliner into a mass of burning wreckage encompassing four city blocks. The crash destroyed 22 houses in North Park, and killed 7 residents, as well as all 144 people on board the jet and both pilots in the Cessna.
Jeff told me later that he knew his daughter was on the plane the moment he witnessed the impact, but that tending to me and having me with him gave him the strength he needed to “keep the fist out of his gut long enough to know, without a doubt, that he couldn’t save her.”
Jeff and I remained friends from that day on. He was finally able to go home to his daughter in September, 2002.
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as true strength.” ~Sales
Aboard Extortion 17 that day were 17 of my husband’s Brothers – U.S. Navy SEALs. It is this brotherhood of men and their families who sustain the families of the Fallen in any way they need. That support will last a lifetime. I know this because they sustain me today as the widow of a veteran Navy SEAL. Without a doubt, on August 6, 2011, my husband Steve and many of his Brothers welcomed all 30 – and Bart – into a brotherhood that lives on in Heaven as a Platoon of Warrior Angels. Grace meets us where we are.
“There is tenderness in the presence of true strength; it fairly grips the soul and stays long after the moments fade, years I think. Perhaps even a lifetime.”
Lynnette Bukowski ©2012
Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance author and artist and the Founder/Director of LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Warrior Retreat. (www.lz-grace.com)