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 your pain because you too are my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.
Today, a dear friend, Rob Dubois, Author of Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime of War told me a story about a young girl who felt lost and hopeless and left her life up to one last event. Rob spoke from his heart with far more detail than I share here, but these words as I remember them bruised my soul: She wrote a long note to her parents, and the last sentence said: “I’m going to the mall. If one person smiles at me I will not kill myself.” Not one person smiled at her. Not one.
I came home to read an article shared by a friend on Twitter. Matthew Hoh wrote in The Huffington Post that a study released by the Department of Veterans affairs in early February, states that Veteran suicides have now reached twenty two (22) per day. Nearly one soul per hour every single day! Mr. Hoh writes, [Our recent] “…wars did not kill 6,500 Americans, but rather 13,000 or 20,000…”
It is so easy to turn away from this and say, with compassion, we just cannot save them all. We have lives to lead, places to go, things to do. But in my heart I hear this truth: What if a gentle touch of our hand, or our willingness to stay and not turn away from their pain, or the moment it takes to pick up a phone, send a text or a Tweet or a Facebook message was the exact moment that changed a life?
What if we passed a broken soul and shared a smile…
Because there is true 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 could not 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
Share a smile today, reach from your soul and touch a life.
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.
The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. Please call if you or a loved one needs help.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013
“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 of the torrential rhythm of our 31 year existence.
The truth is my marriage to Steve was not unlike locking myself in a cage with a hungry wolf. I did that once. Like my marriage, it was frightening and painful, joyous and loud and I knew I’d probably get eaten alive, but something – the slow dance and chance at survival – made it worth the risk. Wolves mate for life. I always kept this detail close to my heart, because to use the term “marriage” with wolves and warriors is fairly laughable. The union of Navy SEAL and the woman he weds is the igniting of a fire that burns white hot until it doesn’t anymore. In the wild the same premise holds true. Only a very few survive.
I did. And it had everything to do with Grace.
When I banged the cage open on this life, I was hell bent on my vision of a handsome prince and grand adventure as a 20 year old bride. I had no idea I would find instead an emotional rock fortress surrounding a driven man full of passion, honesty, pride and skill — with all the social grace of a troll. I suppose that might be a bit unfair. He did have an “on switch” used to charm world leaders and children, but he did not tolerate small talk or suffer idiots. Secretly, I found this endearing and useful.
And sure, it is always easy to rewrite history after the fact, but Steve really was one of the best of the best. Before real world news events and the former administration started leaking secrets about these men at work, Steve did his job as a Navy SEAL in complete silence. Most of them still do. He was trained and raised, so to speak, by the Frogmen of Vietnam and he did not sway for an instant from those lessons.
At first we lived as two young souls in a vacuum of subjects never to be discussed, which worked against every cell of the female in me. Women like details. We gather information, talk it through, report back in even more colorful detail and we like to be heard. Men could live their entire lives without sharing details. Steve listened well, but there had to be one of the following life sustaining events to look forward to shortly after his listening card was full: food, hard work, fun, sex, sleep. Shuffle as necessary and repeat. I was lucky to get complete sentences out of the man and even then, we talked around the obvious. That his job was dangerous, from training to deployments to war, was not up for discussion.
So we found other things to talk about and because we fancied ourselves madly in love, coming home to me was always his safe haven. I had his physical body, but after the initial welcome and the soft place to land, I continually had to clog and slog and pull my way through a thick dark muddy abyss with just a glimmer of hope that some semblance of the mental and emotional Steve might come home too.
For long moments after I gave birth to a child or brought a foster child home the murky fog would clear and this wonderful, weeping man who exhausted all of us with his playfulness and fierce love would appear like a long clear blast of cool air. Nothing was off limits when Steve had a child to entertain. His stories of adventure, replete with extraordinary detail, hands waving through the air and voice booming, could enchant children for hours.
Don’t think I didn’t ding him on this. I’d wait until all the kids were tucked in and asleep and say, “That was some detail there with bombs and booms, undersea exploits and cliff-hanging escapades. Do tell…”
With a huge grin, he’d ask for a sandwich or some such thing and say, “I made it up.”
I can’t stress this enough: Men like food, hard work, fun, sex, sleep. Repeat. Women like details.
Then he would leave on another deployment and I would hit face first into the wall of reality and the long hard climb back to unity. The man who left me was never the same man who walked through the door.
I truly believe I survived because I grew a spine of steel, reached deep and found an abundance of unconditional love, leaned heavily on impenetrable faith, rediscovered my fierce independence and matched Steve’s passion and resistance with my own fighting wild spirit. But perhaps it was simply Grace and to borrow Rumi’s words: Destined lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.
After 32 years of living on the edge of death and two more years working for a contractor, Steve fully retired. We owned a small ranch in North Carolina, a few horses and had a full on dream for a house full of grandchildren and the creation of a safe place for his Brothers to come to when they were done with their part in saving the world.
A few months later he finished a 16 mile bicycle ride and died of a massive heart attack at the tender age of 55. On that day two sheriff deputies arrived at my door and handed me a yellow sticky note with the acronym “D.O.A.” written in pencil.
Steve died as he lived, on his own terms with no fanfare or drama.
And my initial dreams of a fairy tale marriage? They never did come true. But something much larger than two people in love erupted into this world and I am forever grateful for such Grace.
I’ll carry on his dream in the very same way that I still get down on my knees every day and thank God that not one of us can live the way we want to because God does not let us get away with it.
We do not love on our own terms.
Be grateful in all ways for fierce love and wild abandon because at any moment the people we love can disappear just like this:
You are here. Now you’re not.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Each morning the dogs and I step lightly when we cross the memorial pathway leading to the beach. Walkway or not, to me it is a sacred place and the three of us stretch left and right and forward like children playing an awkward, slow-motion hopscotch. Selah, still learning this tender pace, does more of a leap, slide, and pounce. But it occurs to me that she could very well be playing with little souls, so I lighten my hold and let it be.
I woke up today feeling like a novice at life. In my dream a man asked: “How long have you been who you are?” I was terrified and oddly embarrassed and I barely knew what to say because there, in my dream, I was not sure if this was my first attempt at being or if I’m still waiting to begin. I answered: “Not long enough to be perfect at it.”
Still restless and drowsy from the dream, I was arguing with fear when a bit of rising sun sparkled off a memorial stone. We all stopped. Selah dropped, Spike sat and I read:
6/24/1968 ‘—‘ 2/1/2011.
For Sam. Loving husband, father, and son.
He lived his dash.
I don’t think any of us have time to waste not “living our dash” because we are afraid we won’t be perfect at it.
Grace really does meet us exactly where we are.
And there is magic here for all of us, in that moment when light begins.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013
When I was six years old my favorite secret place was the flat top of a 20 foot boulder known as the Rim of the World. Sometimes when the sky and trees blurred to deep blue, I could spread my fingers out on both hands and gather stars.
I imagined they were tiny bits of divine sacred love.
I’d tuck them into my pocket with some saved M&Ms and for the next few days I’d hand them out one at a time.
My small friends always accepted my gift, tucked it into their own pocket and skipped away pleased with the treasure.I never had to explain.
Teenagers and adults with sad eyes and sour lips shook their heads and walked away.
Those who needed it most never believed that love is as simple as an evening star in the palm of a hand stuck to a chocolate M&M.
I still do.
This is the story of Bucket, a three-legged, huffy little dog with blue eyes, shaggy white fur and silly brown speckles. But I can’t tell the story of Bucket without telling the story of Kyle, his beloved imperfect boy.
Kyle was five when he became our official tag-a-long. Danny, my best friend, and I knew Kyle was sick with leukemia – but to us, Kyle was simply Danny’s little brother. He was small for his age, and his left leg was much shorter than his right, but his most entertaining features were the freckles on his ears that looked like connect-the-dots, and his full head of red hair, with a dollop that stuck straight up from the crown of his head.
One Monday, just toward the end of summer, Danny and Kyle’s Mother announced that Kyle could come along with us on one of our adventures. Danny beamed, as though he’d been entrusted with a precious treasure. We were only seven, but when Kyle’s face lit up and he hobbled off to get his shoes, it made everyone in the room get goofy smiles and their Mom’s eyes sparkle like glitter.
Still, in the late 1960’s the seriousness of life lasted only until the next opportunity to play and of course, because Kyle was Kyle, we treated him like any little brother long before this milestone day. We called him “runt”, “slow-poke” and “Opie” with the love and affection that only a brother and his tom-girl best friend could show. He’d laugh it off, stick like glue and never give up. Secretly we were pleased because Kyle was special and perhaps some of that special would rub off on us. Plus, we were fascinated by a kid who was smarter than all of the encyclopedias in the school library, and he did not attend school.
We hiked to our favorite adventure spot in the woods; a small meadow surrounded by pine trees and vacant cabins. We had just started to gather wood for our “fort” when Kyle dropped his handful of sticks. “Do you hear it?” he asked, “Something sounds afraid – a tiny cry that goes up at the end like a squeaky sigh. Do you hear it?”
Danny and I laughed. Kyle loved to tell stories and this day, bright blue and warm, was no different from the rest, except that Kyle was with us outside.
Kyle limped wildly toward the pile of leaves. We both heard it then – just the slightest sound – like a broken bird in the wind. Danny cocked his head and motioned for me to follow him, but by this time, Kyle was waist deep in the leaves, “Here!” he yelled, and we both ran full out toward the boy holding up a large metal bucket.
“Kyle, be careful!” Danny yelled, “It might be a squirrel or a raccoon and they bite and Mom will kill me and…give it here!” Danny was clearly more afraid of his Mother’s wrath than the mystery animal in the bucket.
Kyle held his free arm straight, palm out. Danny stopped short. “Shush! You’re going to scare it, now shush!” Kyle warned. Before we could stop him (and honestly we didn’t try), he high-stepped his way from the leaves, reached into the bucket and brought up a ball of quivering fur. “Hello,” he whispered, and even as he said it, even as he placed the tiny fur-ball on the ground and we gasped at the wobbly three-pawed stance, Kyle grinned and shouted, “Look! He’s absolutely perfect.”
Once home, we all crowded at the kitchen door while Kyle announced to his Mom that God had sent him a puppy with only three paws to keep him company for the rest of his life.
Bucket – aptly named – wiggled from Kyle’s arms then, plopped onto the linoleum and did a lopsided pitter-patter across the floor. Their perfectly coifed Mom, in her pressed and pink paisley dress, actually kneeled on the kitchen floor to greet Bucket. Something was way off. We all stared dumbfounded when she burst out laughing and wiped tears from her eyes.
From that day, Bucket was Kyle’s shadow and protector. Kyle read Huckleberry Finn to Bucket and it was downright creepy because Bucket always barked at the good parts. When they watched the “Andy Griffith Show” together, Bucket danced to the whistling tune and then he’d fetch Kyle’s small fishing pole. This always caused uproars of laughter for anyone watching.
We played “go-fish” and Bucket tapped the cards with his paw when it was his turn. On our adventures or just around the back yard, Kyle and Bucket had the same walk-and-wait gait that made us all (even Kyle) laugh until our bellies hurt.
Shortly after the school year started, Bucket began to meet us at the bus stop and as we stepped off the bus, he’d bark twice and run home. We came to learn that these were days Kyle didn’t feel well and Bucket was sent to tell us he couldn’t play.
On good days, though, Bucket would meet us and turn two circles, sit, turn two circles and run back to where Kyle stood, waving and yelling happily, “I’m good today, you guys! Real good.”
One year later, I sat alone on my rock thinking about how to pray and what the rules were for miracles. Kyle had not been on an adventure in two months and now both his parents and Danny and their Grandma were down the hill in San Bernardino at St. Mercy’s Hospital.
I rolled onto my stomach and stretched myself across the sun-drenched rock to peer over the edge, just as my best friend’s bicycle clanged to the ground twenty feet beneath me. I was surprised because Danny knew this was my private place and I had never let anyone sit on the top of the Rim of the World with me, especially a boy. He leaned his head back to look up at me, not bothering to swipe the tears that leaked from his swollen eyes.
“Kyle died,” he whispered.
My throat crowded and my eyes stung. I couldn’t talk, so instead I reached down and held my hand out. Danny climbed up easily and took my hand. He held on, we both held on, even as we scooted across the rock, even as we lay down, side by side. He murmured that we must be very close to heaven and then we cried together until the tree limbs and light sky above us blurred to dark blue, until a tiny bark drifted up to us in the night. We rolled to our stomachs and peered over the edge.
Bucket turned two circles, barked again, turned two circles, sat and stared straight up past us to the night sky.
“Kyle must be feeling real good in Heaven,” Danny said.
I began to believe in miracles at the tender age of seven.
Now you know the reason why.
There are little dreamers in our presence. Let them be, let them feel through their pains, let them dream. Be their safe place. Hold their hand.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2011
“The Warrior knows that he is free to choose his desires, and he makes these decisions with courage, detachment, and – sometimes – with just a touch of madness.” ~Coelho
We all have to rise to our destiny, embrace miracles and accept Grace. I am absolutely sure of this now. Not so much twenty-two years ago. Back then, I was still trying to “steer the river,” hell bent on forcing life to gather round and listen up. I was in charge. Twelve years into a marriage with my handsome Warrior, raising children on my own for most of each year and hell bent on saving the world, miracles and Grace had to damn well wait until I put them on the schedule. I never knew what was on the other side of the proverbial door, so I kept it locked. Pretending I had it all under control was survival.
Still, Grace sneaks in under doors we were told as children not to go through.
This is the story of Aaron.
On January 8, 1991, I picked up a one day old infant from the hospital and brought him home as our sixth foster baby in as many months. At 4 pounds, 9 ounces, he was a tiny soul without a name. His skin was sallow; he had no muscle tone, could not eat and would not sleep. At just over a week old, he died three times in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I watched his little eyes open to find me each time he was revived and I knew, right then, I was in way over my head.
Truthfully, there was nothing noble about our decision to become a foster family. Rather, it was the only reasonable and legal conclusion to a series of events I set in motion in 1989 with nothing more than an abundance of love and irrational passion. After two solid weeks of news reports citing teen girls giving birth and throwing their live infants in dumpsters or remote parks, I placed an ad in the local paper with our address and these words: Unwanted infants can be dropped on my doorstep, no questions asked. Ring the bell and leave. The police called first, then Social Services, then Steve’s Command, and then… well, Steve, and all hell broke loose. No money, no time, kids of our own, my full-time writing gig, and the little fact that he was gone most of each year were all excellent points. So I compromised with the law and Steve by cancelling the ad. Six months later we were certified as therapeutic foster parents.
I do believe Steve felt the full impact of my unorthodox ways on that glorious morning in mid-January when he walked through the door to find our two homemade children, two toddlers he had never met in person and a very sick, addicted Baby Boy strapped to my chest in a sling.
Even under normal conditions, the rhythm of reentry after deployment or missions is an uneasy dance. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that this unusual welcoming committee might just be the equivalent of shock treatment. I held my breath, and for a moment – in slow motion – I let my mind wander through memories of prior homecomings. True, we fancied ourselves madly in love so coming home to me was always the safe haven. Physically he was home, but after the initial welcome and the soft place to land, I had to clog and slog and pull my way through a thick dark muddy abyss with just a glimmer of hope that some semblance of the mental and emotional Steve might come home too.
When shouts of “Daddy’s home!” and twirling hugs took over the room like a long, clear blast of cool air, I exhaled long and slow. It was a sight to behold ~~ this wonderful, weeping man who once again exhausted all of us with his playfulness and fierce love.
And as for the nameless Baby Boy attached to his wife, well, it was love at first sight.
I thanked God right then and there for a man who knew my wild and stubborn ways and loved me anyway.
Steve stepped into home life again as though he’d never missed a day. By that afternoon, he and our older kids had named the baby Aaron Timothy (after Team Brothers, of course), our two foster toddlers had attached themselves to his legs and for the weeks and months that followed, we were both “on” 24 hours a day. Aaron had to be fed with a dropper sized bottle every hour, attached to a heart and apnea monitor at all times and rushed to the hospital every few weeks. We also teamed up against doctors who told us in no uncertain terms that Aaron could not thrive and would not live.
Steve would have none of that business. Right away, he took it on as his personal mission to design a tiny personal training routine wherein he would lay Aaron on his lap and move his little arms, legs and torso several times a day to help build normal muscle tone. He designed a crib setup with a sling so Aaron could sleep at a steep incline to help with apnea, and made a head support out of riggers tape on a door-jam jumpy swing to support Aaron’s head. Then he painstakingly held Aaron steady in the swing, with monitor attached, to simulate a “jump” and “push” to build little thighs. The very first time Aaron pushed off the floor under his own strength, two of Steve’s teammates were at the house and the roars of celebration nearly brought the roof down and caused all of us to burst into tears. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a wild, exuberant moment of three giants, one woman and a bunch of kids weeping with joy.
At 5 months, Aaron weighed eleven pounds, could hold his head steady and push our hands away with his legs. Undeniable miracles to us, but doctors were not impressed. In unison they shook their heads, looked at each other, and scientifically presented their prognosis: “Don’t get too attached,” one said, “multiple congenital heart defects,” another said, “lungs malformed,” one said. Almost in unison they said, “You need to be prepared.”
If my hands were not already occupied holding Aaron I might have put them over my ears, closed my eyes and babbled nonsense over their words. Instead, I looked all three doctors straight in the eye and said, “Not one of you is God! And if I ever hear of any of you telling another parent their child is going to die, I will…” which is when my throat tightened, so I stomped my foot and burst into tears.
A rapid string of nervous sound came at us from all three doctors about keeping Aaron at the hospital, calling social services, addicted babies, syndrome babies, nothing medically to be done, these things happen. They were truly good men with huge hearts who felt helpless, but they could not see past their medical training to notice the very hand of God. I do not usually lose my bearing, but I was so overwhelmed my tears turned to heavy sobs. Steve stood, looked at me, looked at the doctors, and said, “Aaron is not going anywhere but home with us. We’ve got this. Thanks.” What he actually said contained a few more expletives, not so much directed at the doctors, but to the situation, and we all understood the meeting was adjourned. The doctors blushed, I managed a grin, and we left.
On the drive home my “what-iffing” began while Aaron contentedly cooed. My stubbornness had placed us in this moment. I wasn’t sorry. But I did know with every fiber of my being that our family life had turned into a constant stream of emotions wrapped around children and it was all painful in some way. Joy, sorrow, love, and fear became so exaggerated, so deep and sharp that we were left raw and yes, in pain. I don’t think the human heart is designed to beat outside the body, but once you have children, by any means, that’s exactly where a parent’s heart is — beating forever on the outside and continuously exposed. I said all of that and more, aloud, while Steve remained eerily silent and Aaron’s cooing enveloped us like a song sent to smooth and comfort.
That evening I arranged for a nursing team of babysitters and a much needed date night. We spent the evening at a Team party and in adult conversations that did not include diapers or homework or doctors. I should probably note here that we did not have civilian friendships with other married couples. We had Teammates because Steve’s “brothers” were the only people he could talk to who understood him without censure.
It worked wonders, or so I thought.
Anyone who knew Steve knows he did not whisper – ever – which is why I had to lean as far right as I could with both hands on the steering wheel and say, “I can’t hear you. Are you sick?” He answers, but the sound is breathless and I do not actually hear words. When we pass under a street light I glance at his chiseled profile and watch one tear drip through his mustache and onto his lap where he holds his hands, palms down on his thighs. He stares straight ahead, shoulders back, chin up and my heart starts to race. I look up just in time to avoid hitting the curb.
“Pull over,” he roars; his normal voice.
I turn into the first driveway I see, put the car in park and turn off the lights. It does not escape my attention that at 1:00 in the morning I’ve pulled into an Izuzu dealership. We are invisible, a silver Trooper idling among a sea of silver Troopers. I get a sudden urge to soften the air around us, ease whatever hurts him. A nervous giggle bubbles up and out and I say, “Okay, there’s no need to cry. Right here, right now, while we’re hiding in plain sight.”
“Jesus,” he says. The slightest grin sparkles in his eyes when he takes my hand in both of his and places it firmly against his chest. Then he looks straight into me and says, “I was praying. And it’s a big deal so pay attention. Are you paying attention?”
I nod. I can’t speak because the air around us is heavy and I’m scared to death.
“We’re adopting him. Aaron. He’s as much a part of us as those two we made. You good with that?”
I nod. Relieved, frightened, exhausted. But I sense there’s more.
“At the hospital, while the docs were babbling and you were crying, I prayed. And I’m praying now. If He takes all of my strength so that Aaron can live, it’s fine. I made the deal and I expect He’ll take me up on it.”
I’m stunned. Making a deal with God is serious business if you believe in such things. Steve did. Uncomplicated and exact, as in every other area of his life, Steve held firm to a belief that a man had to be true to his word, especially to God. He did not believe God responsible for the all the bad in the world; rather, man was accountable for bad choices and ego driven atrocities and weak men in the end blamed all the crap on God.
Steve never blamed anything on God. I don’t think I understood the depth of his faith until that very moment.
“I don’t think it works like that, Steve. Aaron will live or he won’t, but God is about love. I don’t think it’s a this-or-that kind of deal.”
He says, “This is about love. So I call it a deal. Either way, it’s about love. Just tell me you’ve got it. You need to tell me you’ve got this… no matter what happens to me. He’s ours now. ”
I say, “I’ve got this.” And I did.
Our date nights were never boring.
Aaron is now a 6’4” handsome young man. He turns 26 this January 7, 2017. Fairly famous, he is one of 400 people in the entire world still alive with a complete absence of pericardium, multiple heart malformations, pulmonary fibrosis, Marfans Syndrome, Asperger’s spectrum and myriad other issues he deals with daily with a presence that lifts joy.
He truly is our miracle who ignites souls and shows us where love lives.
Never doubt that we all walk among angels ~~ be it Warriors or Tender Souls.
Watch for miracles. Accept Grace.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2016. All rights reserved.
For those who see
Every loss now breaks the heart
Just a little bit more
Until we are left with only
That life goes on
Beyond our touch
Ever present like a tiny
Breeze that seeps into sleep
Through an open window
And sooths the soul
And if we catch it,
A silver ribbon
Of Grace arrives and
Carries us on in waking moments,
As we move,
As we walk,
As we pray
As we weep,
As we live.
And you remain in the sweetest corners
Of our broken hearts
Bound together with hope
That you are safe
And free and there,
For those who see.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2012
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 one of the floating dots. The silk flaps around like a rag doll, whips at the sky, but does not catch the wind. Red stops pacing and emits a long, fretful sound somewhere between a moan and a bark. The Platoon Chief beside me angles his binoculars just so and shouts “Buk!” my husband’s nickname.
My throat closes, my breath stops and the chatter around me turns heavy and distorted. I lock my knees because standing seems impossible and blessedly, Red is solid against my left side. I lean into him. The spiraling cloth crumbles away and it is agonizing moments before a small chute mushrooms out, catches the wind and snaps dangling legs to attention. Still, Steve is dropping far too fast. I do not even have time to make an entire “deal” with God before Red bolts from my side and runs flat out toward the drop zone. This is against all rules and some small part of my brain thinks of calling him back, but I don’t. Instead, I watch, as if in slow motion, Red skids sideways into two black boots a microsecond before they hit ground. Legs fold like a dance movement and two bodies (large dog and man) drop into a long controlled roll, tumbling over and over before they both pop upright, tangled in line and parachute. I glimpse Steve hunched over, hands on his knees with Red beside him, panting. The men around me cheer, curse, run. I drop to my knees, then to all fours as the air leaves my lungs and the world turns black.
This is where they find me. I half-wake to a mixture of dust and dog breath. Red laps his long wet tongue up the middle of my face. From a distance I hear, “Happy Anniversary, honey.” Both Steve and Red are smiling (I’m sure) as though this impromptu anniversary gift, indeed, the world tilting on its edge, is hysterical.
That was my third anniversary gift and now – 31 years later and after living through his death – I’m sure Big Red saved my husband’s life that day. Of course, the law of physics might not support my certainty, but believe me, it was just the beginning of this courageous dog’s gift.
We adopted Big Red shortly after our first son was born. Every kid needs a dog and we fell in love with his sparkling brown eyes and deep red coat of fur. We were told Red was bred to win top prizes in dog shows. But his head was too big according to some ridiculous rule, and at just over a year old, he was dumped with a Retriever Rescue Group. None of us – the rescue group – or our naïve young family – realized the extent of Red’s training until years later, but looking back, it was glaringly obvious.
From the first night in our home, Red adopted our baby son. He politely watched me place his new dog bed in a corner of the kitchen and after a quick drink, curled up and lay down. He watched as we ate dinner, during baby bath-time and story reading, but as we tucked our little one into his crib, Red left the room and returned dragging his dog bed by his mouth. He carefully placed it at the end of the crib and Red’s bed (or new versions of it) remained in that spot through 16 babies (two homemade, 1 adopted and 13 foster babies) and seven different homes across the country. On his own, Red taught each of our children how to walk him before they were big enough to see over his back. No kidding, he would retrieve his leash from a basket and heal to their little steps around the back yard.
With an uncanny sense, Red always knew to be gentle with children and outright frightening to unwelcome strangers. Often, when Steve was deployed, I would watch Red’s reaction before opening the front door to someone unknown. He was right one hundred percent of the time.
On one occasion, I was distracted and opened the door to our new foster daughter’s boyfriend. Before I had a chance to say hello, Red sped past me, jumped at the boy and had his jaw locked around the young man’s right arm, then twisted until the kid fell to his knees, screaming. I froze in horror for a brief moment – until I saw the weapon – and then, with far more bravado then I felt, I lifted the gun out of his useless hand and called the police. Terrified, he admitted that our foster daughter had stolen his “black book”, thinking it was a list of girls. It was really a list of his drug deal connections. Red held the boy down the entire time, and released only when the police arrived.
But the most memorable save happened during Red’s last year of life. Our youngest son was only an infant and barely two month’s old – attached 24 hours a day to a heart and apnea monitor, which alerted with loud beeps when his heart or breathing stopped. Most of the time, the alerts would require only minimal stimulation for Aaron to respond and the family (including Red) was well used to the sound. In 1991, Red suffered from arthritis and was partially blind, so he stayed on his bed a good portion of each day. That particular morning, during nap time, I decided to vacuum and was nearly done with the upstairs when Red ran from the bedroom and grabbed my hand with his jaw. He growled and whined and pulled and the instant I turned off the vacuum I heard the alarm of Aaron’s monitor. Aaron was nearly blue. I administered CPR and simultaneously phoned for help. Red stayed by my side the entire time. Aaron is now a 21 year old, 6’3” handsome young man. Red passed away 11 months later, one week after Aaron was well enough to be without his heart and Apnea monitor. I think he planned it that way.
Never underestimate the power of faith or the lessons Grace brings through experience in life. Even that which hurts the most.
I know this much is true: Steve, along with his Brothers ~~ Warrior Angels all ~~ are busy holding babies now and Big Red is keeping an eye on all. They will live on in me and with me forever. Such Grace.
Today I did my first 5K ever in honor of a very special young man. It is a glorious Thanksgiving Day 2012. Gratitude abounds.
God Bless the children with Grace infused strength. They show us where love lives. Hooyah! William Yancey. Walk on….
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 so long that God gives in and gives up and gives you back and we can do our forever again. Instead, I took our forever as my own and wrapped its precious fragility with memories and scars. And now we know it was never safely bound by hope or adventures or things.
I give things away now – two at a time – because it is not my place to convince others they don’t need things.
Things are ephemeral. Like me on the side of the cliff in Sperlonga with you on billet. Half way up I lose my strength, then my grip. I scream, “I need something!” And you laugh. Laugh! Sure of yourself, sure of me. You roar, “You don’t need one damn thing but me, baby. Suck it up. Climb!” And I do. Sobbing and spent I stand on the top of that cliff with bloody hands and legs and shout, “You’re supposed to save me, you ass!”
You say, “I just did.”
These tiny scars are white hot tokens of my strength.
The children carry their own scars. One returned to balancing himself in the ocean, in currents strong with peace. One remains strong in faith, has no fear and lives without a net. And our youngest wears his strength softly cloaked in a soul so tender I’m reminded where love lives.
They circle me carefully now because I am alone in this forest, wild and fierce.
And I am stronger than I have ever been.
To remind me of this I keep my missing in a box under our bed packed with memories that fill me up. The things of our forever may never be the same, but the rough edges of my grief have been smoothed away into missing.
Still, your spirit softens and delights me like the memory of waking up from afternoon naps to find your hand on my heart. I say, “What?” and you smile that smile and say, “I was missing you.”
White hot love.
In a box now… to remind me that if we had our forever again
I would still hold the map upside down and prove to be the worst navigator in history. This would piss you off in no small way, but I’d make you laugh until you cried at the abundance of life when we find ourselves on a goat trail in France.
And I would still throw the level down and dance through the pasture to All Summer Long while you toiled over a horse fence. Sure, you’d yell. But your heart would smile until your arms reached out. Then, I’d make you dance with me because… really, honey, level is all in perspective.
And I would still love just to fight and fight just to love like the very first time was the very last time every single time.
I do not know the exact moment our forever became my missing, but as it turns out, missing is not a thing to be put away or given up or ignored.
Missing is an ember hell bent on igniting a white hot strength for life.
Lynnette Bukowski, All rights reserved June 2012 ©
What good does it do to wrap up our heartache and loss, fear and anger, even joy (if it appears to be boasting) and hold these emotions captive for a private showing, preferably behind closed doors with a licensed keeper of secrets. It’s a cultural norm and a family tradition and I make no judgment at all.
I just don’t follow the rules.
I’ve come to know that where there is damage and pain there is also truth to be found. And when one of us somehow finds our way out of the abyss or the tunnel or the woods, we need to share our way out or through.
With the World.
It comes with risk, this story telling. Still, I release my life and lay it bare for the entire world to see that it may provide one widow with the strength to go on, the endurance to love an impossible man, cherish a thrown away child, inspire a lost soul to find a way, or hold tight to the edge of a cliff until help arrives.
Live Out Loud
And freedom rings.
Imagine two massive boulders, each thirty feet wide. One formed a seat ten feet off the ground; the other sat perfectly perpendicular, reaching twenty feet into the sky. We called it The Chair, a giant granite lounger overlooking miles of agrestic field, scrub brush and wild oleander, far enough from our Southern California neighborhood to keep parents’ duped, but for our youthful bodies, a short ten minute hike. It was there, with my back against solid granite and my legs stretched out tanned and shapely, I smoked my first cigarette.
I was 16 and righteous. Still, I stole the pack of Tarranton 100’s, full strength filtered, my father’s brand, from the pantry in the kitchen. I wrapped it in tissue and shoved it to the bottom of my oversized bag and announced that I was heading to Katy’s house. Mom, chronically distracted, never noticed what she didn’t want to see.
The Chair held our crowd of six comfortably. The last to arrive, I made my way to the exact middle of the rock, sat down and inhaled the late summer air , salty with eucalyptus and sweet from oleander in full bloom. Donald passed out plastic cups filled with Strawberry Hill wine and as though reverent to unspoken tradition; we sipped in silence so as not to interrupt the choir of cicadas.
I wasn’t acting on a dare. And thinking back, had I been goaded, I would have dug myself in to a staunch no-smoking position. Rather, I was irked at the labels assigned to me by my friends: logical, practical, proper. It didn’t matter what they meant. The adjectives screamed boring and controlled, different from my cool and clever friends. So, acting as though I knew what I was doing, I pulled the pack from my bag, lightly tapped the top against my palm, peeled off the sliver of protective cellophane, and slid one sleek cylinder out with my fingertips.
Donald sat to my left, our 18 year old token adult. He smoked in front of his parents and dazzled us with his sap green Nova and bad boy looks. Claudia, sweet and tame, sat next to him with her legs folded under her, eyes wide with expectation. On my right, Tom and Katy sat side by side, legs tangled, holding hands, pretending to ignore my induction into sin. But I could see Katy blinking, almost twitching, as she stared straight ahead into the falling light. Katy was like that, nervous and theatrical; probably thinking the rock might crack and split, swallowing the whole of us all because of my indiscretion.
Mentally, I disappeared for a moment. I was six again, a small girl on a different rock on the top of a mountain a hundred miles away. I could see the world below, or what I knew of it, and a vision of my dad with his arms extended, a cigarette dangling from his curved mouth while smoke spiraled up and away. I would run straight at him and jump, wrap my arms around his neck and breathe in the sweet, acrid smell of tobacco, the scent of my childhood. I blinked, held the filter between my lips, closed my eyes and ran my thumb and forefinger down the length of the taught thin paper.
The strike of a match broke my daze and I opened my eyes. Donald held the flame to the tip and I pulled in a breath, coughed, and pulled again, coughed, until smoke drizzled from my mouth and out my nose and my eyes stung until they watered.
I liked Donald, but he wanted something from me that I wouldn’t give up. Instead, I offered him the cigarette. He shook his head slowly, patted his shirt pocket, “No,” he groaned the word, staring at me with his mouth slightly curved, as though he’d just turned down a sexual favor.
I could still back out. Stub the burning end against the rock and say I tried it, didn’t like it. Even then, I was stubborn. They knew it and I knew it, and the wine was sweet and the smoke dizzying and for just that moment I had a tiny surge of rebellion; 16, carefree, pulsating with life, and tasting freedom.
Three thousand miles away and thirty six years later I wake up remembering that evening on The Chair so vividly that I can feel the rough warmth of the rock on the back of my legs. I roll over to tell Steve of my dream and know right then the cruelest part of death is that it happens again every morning.
This wave of grief leaves me restless and lost and what I want is beyond where I can touch. It is crushing and breathless and does not fade even as I shrug my coat on over my pajamas, pull on my boots, and gather dogs for the morning walk. I feel betrayed and wild and overcome with the want of a cigarette, something I have not wanted for many, many years. And I know just where to find one.
I stay the dogs at the door and go in search of Steve’s backpack – perfectly intact from the day he died – months ago now. I touch each item, reverently at first. His knife, a pair of socks, a rolled t-shirt, an extra clip full of ammunition, a length of Para cord, a flashlight, his cell phone with the last number dialed. Me.His final words swirl in my head: I’m off for a bike ride. I’ll call tonight. Love you… A surge of anger rises and I see a flash of the medical examiner’s report in my mind’s eye: Excellent physical conditioning, lungs clear. No head trauma. Cause: Sudden Cardiac Death. Six months before he died, Steve took up smoking one cigarette each evening. I didn’t argue hard enough. The thought, when it reaches me, tells me he knew something inside of him was irretrievably broken. And all over again I am pissed off at God. How could he build this strong, larger than life, hero of a man who gave every ounce of his life to others, and not bother to heal an inheritance of rotten arteries? It’s as though he always lived on the edge of this one final challenge.
I claw through the rage until my fingers wrap around the renegade pack of stale cigarettes and, righteous with emotion, I slip the pack and a matchbook into my pocket, slam open the door and think, Janis was right… maybe freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose.
I stomp down the porch steps, across the yard and fling open the gate to our back pasture. The dogs remain by my side until I realize I’m holding my breath and with a long exhale I raise my hands and they bound away, excited about bunnies and bushes and sticks and all the adventures life holds in the new day. I cower from their infectious circle of joy. How dare the world keep spinning.
As if sensing my mood, Cowboy, my paint gelding saunters up and together, silently, we watch dawn peek over the top of the farthest hill. Deep pinks and brilliant purple frame the sky and tiny shots of light glitter through what’s left of the leaves.
We know this path, all seventeen acres of trees and ponds and open pasture. The breeze is slight, the air crisp and fallen leaves crunch under my boots and Cowboy’s hooves like a private morning symphony. The other three horses join us and single file we march along, stopping only long enough to throw a stick. I want to breathe in their peace and the fresh air of the morning, but indulging in such calmness means I have to give in or let go or give up.
A large oak marks the half-way point of our walk and I stop to lean against it. I want to lay down right here, curl back into sleep and wake up again next to love. Instead, like a defiant child I pull a crushed cigarette from the pack and strike a match. I have not smoked in years and inhaling assaults my throat and nose and lungs. I imagine this is what hell feels like from the inside out. The soot invades the deepest part of me and escapes in an explosion of putrid fog. When the dizzy hits I slide my back down the trunk of the tree and collapse into a sobbing mess.
The dogs form a half-circle around me and inch forward until their paws rest on my thighs. The horses edge closer too. Cowboy nudges my pocket for a treat, but in my angst I forgot to replenish my pockets. The only thing I hold in my hand is a smoldering cigarette and his disappointment is palpable. I stub it out in the dirt and say, this is what grief is, this tragic, angry, sniveling mess of despair. They barely care. He moves closer and nudges my shoulder with his nose. And as though he’s conveyed some unspoken message to his herd, the other horses all look up and I catch the gleam of their eyes, noses wet from dewy grass and the rising sun shadows their faces into long silly grins. The dogs alert and give chase to a deer – all except Spike – who returns with a stick and a full body wag. Cowboy snorts and pulls his hoof through the dirt. It is his way of calling bullshit on my pathetic attempt to conjure up something meaningful wrapped in rebellion.
I cannot help but smile. And I am more than slightly taken by God’s wondrous work with creatures who talk to me, lovingly nudge me and coax me out of a long ago dream and into the only moment they know. There is no going back. There is only now, right here and their absolute truth: play, work, eat – but mostly Love with every breathing moment. Anything else is smelly and pointless.
Like His creatures… we are here to live and love with purpose every day.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2012
Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance writer, the founder and director of LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat and the proud Widow of a Veteran Navy SEAL. She presently lives in Virginia Beach, VA
I was startled awake this morning by a vision of Steve reaching down to pick up our daughter in the aftermath of a little girl catastrophe.
The memory pulls at me like a secret, whispered in a language I do not quite understand.
I stumble out of bed, brew an espresso, collect tennis balls and Spike and try to ignore the very real detail that Sheri is overseas and the entire world is on fire.
It matters not that I am distracted or half asleep. Our tradition is to stop on the memorial brick path to the beach for a moment of silence in reverence for the beloved souls remembered here. As I lean down to unleash Spike, I read aloud the inscription on the paving stone beneath us:
“Dan —- September 16, 2010 – ‘Dad, I miss your strong shoulders.’”
My intuition is relentless.
My rational mind thinks it might be easier if messages from Heaven or the Universe arrived as ink on notepads or lipstick on the mirror.
But my intuitive moments – like this – nourish me, tickle every nerve ending awake and flutter kick at my heart. When I open myself up and make space my intuition is an excited puppy nipping around my heels to let me know in vivid sunrise detail that Sheri is looked after from Heaven as on earth.
And once again, life is rich and juicy and fascinating.
Deployment Note written to our then 3 month old daughter:
“One day your Mom is going to teach you about love and how to walk in high heels. I’ll teach you how to spit, shoot a gun, repel down a cliff and stare a boy down. Perfect these lessons and the world is yours, baby girl. And when you’re afraid, just reach out. I will always be holding your hand. Love, Dad” ~Steve Bukowski
I like to dance deep in the woods down trails where people on mountain bikes pass me yelling “On your left!” and I laugh out loud with a wavelike rush of joy as they slow and turn their heads and nearly crash into trees because, really, who dances to no music and laughs out loud at nothing?
They peddle away and I realize deeply that my breath is the only thing I want to keep up with.
It is enough that I like to eat ice cold orange wedges and let the juice run down my chin and sing out loud in the car with all of the windows open and wear red high heels with nothing special and paint sky’s the color of lemons.
There is Grace in the sunlight through the canopy of green leaves and I continue my dance.
“Hover over Me God”
This is my prayer when life becomes deeper than words.