Rainy Morning Letters – Moon Dance in Baguio (revisited)

It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all. ~William Jones

Late at night we gossip about small events and the largeness of life. The darkness softens and I am nearly asleep when I remember one last thing I want to tell you. You know this about me. How my thoughts swirl and settle until they are ready for my voice. My final sigh, just before words, is always your cue to reach for me and hush me with a kiss.

“Tell me tomorrow,” you say.

Just before dawn you pull me around you and love me awake and whisper, Tell me now, and of course I can’t remember what I was going to say… seven long years ago.

I burrow under the guilt and try so hard to remember my one final thought and that one final day. The way the corners of your mouth turned up waiting to hear my thoughts, the way your beard scratched my skin, the way you moved in just the right way so I fit like a perfect puzzle piece against you and where that beautiful thought takes me is back to the beginning.

WhiteFeather LBJ MoondanceI’m on stage looking into lights so bright they blind me. I wait for the thrill to kick in, the adrenaline rush, and the wave that fills my lungs and lets my voice rise. I’m edgy tonight and the lyrics I need feel trapped in my throat. The bass vibrates through my bones as the opening bars to Van Morrison’s Moondance backdrops the club owner’s introduction. I hear, “Welcome Whitefeather…” and the drum brush strokes soften the bass and the piano chords kick in and it’s time to let go.  I grip the microphone with both hands, breathe deeply and sing, Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance…. And there you are front and center – blue eyes blazing – with the stars up above in your eyes… I stare at you and sing with my eyes open and you seem to wait for the lyrics, You know the night’s magic, seems to whisper… and hush… before you ask me to dance.

In the middle of my song.

Because you already knew I’d say yes.

The audience thought it was part of the show, the band thought it was kick-ass, and you… well, you were always the master of calculated risk. You still are. You step into my space and back into Heaven as though you’re simply leaving for work.

I hope I can fully learn how to live in both worlds.

In this world the dawn pulls at me and I lie very still and wonder aloud, “Don’t you think that two souls connected must take turns being alive? You know, like pearl divers do. Whoever is on the surface must count the air time left so the one below can dive freely.”

I so often feel the tug on the line these days. Are you counting my breaths?

When the dogs coax me awake, I get up and wander through the house toward the scent of brewing coffee and in the dark, I trip over a pile of photographs waiting to be packed. I flip the light on and the two photos I find under my bare foot make me know without doubt you are still very much alive – somewhere – calling the shots. One is of me, posing for a band shot and the other is a distant shot of your antics on the way to our platoon honeymoon in Baguio.

I have no idea who said, I take nothing for granted now. A photograph is as precious as the moment it became a detail, but they are lovely words and poignantly true. I place the photos on the table, pour coffee and take the dogs out into the dawn.

Somehow, through your magic, I look over and you are dangling off the top of a giant Lion’s head carved into rock on the way to Baguio in the Philippines. You grip a piece of the carved mane with one hand, reach out to me with your other hand and say, “Don’t close your eyes.”

I close my eyes and wonder how I let you talk me into this.  Steve Baguio

While the platoon yells encouragement from twenty feet below, I worry about how I look in these jeans and, of course, falling to my death, and I shout at all of them to close their eyes and get back on the bus. Of course they ignore me and stay where they are; ready to catch both of us if we fall.

I reach across to you and hold on with both hands.

Lynn Baguio

 

I find a foothold and then another and you lower me slowly into the waiting arms of your Brothers. You follow me down and when you reach for me a cheer goes up. Your grin and their antics let me know what kind of honeymoon I’m in for and you whisper just to me, Never be afraid to live on the edge, babe, I’ve got you.

I wonder now if you knew then I would never be tied in and to do this alone I’d have to live on faith and grip life with both hands.

In this dawn, the weight of you gone is so heavy. Grace is the only hold I can find.

Inside, I leave the lights off and sit cross-legged in the center of the floor surrounded by half-packed boxes. I try to imagine how I will make sure with this final move that your tenderness and presence of strength is gently moved and firmly planted at Grace. What size box do I use for living dreams and night whispers and favorite songs?

Steve LZGRACEI touch one photo and then another and God says, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved. And I begin to understand that I am the container, my heart is the wrapping, and nothing will fade if I keep all of this within me.

There is nothing left to do but keep dancing. And by dancing I mean living. And by living I mean step by tiny step. I know this much is true now: we do not become all of who we are until we’re forced into it. Hemingway called it, “a grace under pressure,” which suits me these days, but I believe he meant it as a strength that rises up when we’re faced with a larger than life challenge.

This is mine: taking your impromptu visits, our memories and our dream and using them all to step into my future.

I’ve got this with both hands and enough of you in me and around me to love whatever gets in my way until it ceases to be an obstacle.

What a marvelous night for a Moondance… 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

June 2017 update: It has been three years since I woke in the wee hours from this dream and each day that followed has been a whirlwind of miracles, generous hearts, and tremendous hands-on help from family and Steve’s “Brothers”.  I’ve met brilliant new life long friends and united with old friends who, as I do, care deeply about our Warriors finding a bit of peace in the midst of 16 years of war.  Through God’s Grace, since March 2015, 383 souls have graced this land. Never doubt  that miracles are real. With Steve’s spirit urging me on, I will continue to grow and hold dear, this sacred place of rest and renewal.

To learn more about LZ-Grace, please visit http://www.lz-grace.com. Thank you for your prayers. 

LZG_logo HR

 

 

One Red Maple (by Sheri Bukowski)

Red MapleYears ago my parents moved to the country and bought a little farm. 17 acres…trails…ponds…horses… grass.
It was a place of respite, a place my father found peace during and after 32 years of military service. He went to work remodeling, building, designing and mowing, all with the dream in mind of having his Brothers (his team guys) and their families come WHENEVER they wanted simply to rest from the world. When he went to plant the beds in front of the house he decided he wanted a huge red maple but there were none anywhere. My parents drove hours and hours looking for a nursery for this ONE baby red maple to grow in the front yard.

When he died- leaving piles of wood, flooring, his brand new jumping horse and a thousand little dreams unfinished – my mom and I would look at that tree and laugh. “At least he got to plant the damn tree.”

Nearly four years have gone by and the vision to build a retreat for our Brothers in service grew in my mother’s heart. And it grew and it grew, and things started to happen. We found a property further south and looked at it- it was gorgeous and out front was a statue of St. Francis. The plantation wasn’t available yet but we knew St. Francis was a sign. He was once a warrior who devoted his life to the service of his brothers. Who found rest and Peace, and God … outdoors, in nature, protecting every living thing.

Two years went by and with the statistic of 24 Veteran suicides a day, we were feeling the weight of this need. When we LEAST expected it, we happened upon a property that fit EVERY SINGLE NEED we had for this vision. It had been reduced from $2.1 Million to $995,000. Already it looked promising and as we toured the 35 acres of gorgeous oak, pine, ornamental pear trees, standing at the end of the line, as if leading an army, was this one red maple tree. About the size my dad’s tree would have been if he were alive. The only one in sight. The only one in over 38 acres around us and we knew.
We just knew.
From that point every single corner we turned was another sign – even a woodworking room with lumber ready for rebuilding- as if he picked up the pile from our old house and dropped it off at the new place just so we felt at home.

Oh yes, and there in the back of the property, hidden in clover, looking at the muck of our back bay, a small statue of St. Francis looked on, minus an arm and with a gape in his core. It was a grotesque coincidence, that our dream was to help veterans regroup and regain life after 13 years at war and here was this man, a veteran warrior, with a hole in his heart, just needing a hand. St Francis

I started to weep.

We simply could not afford this on our own. We called family, our friends called friends and long story short – between an amazing guy in Beverly Hills, a Brother Frogman and world renowned star,  and a few other divinely set-up people, within DAYS our offer was on the table and ACCEPTED.

Within hours we had $100,000 for our deposit and the contract was signed but there was one more condition – we come up with $90,000 more to put down not because they were trying to deter us but simply because of regulations. So – here we are – 10 days from closing and we are in need of oh you know, just an extra 100K.

We believe this is supposed to happen and we have no idea how. It’s brought a community of people together already which I believe is a miracle in itself, but we need more. So friends, please pray. Please share with those who have a heart for our Veterans, and for this dream. Please give if that’s what you can do. And if you have insight, vision, thoughts, ideas, let us know! It’s just the beginning and we need all the chutzpah we can get.

#LZGrace #OneRedMaple #Wehealtheliving

Please donate here: http://www.gofundme.com/91nmbk

LZG_logo HR

Sheri L. Bukowski © All rights reserved

 

The Power of Sharing Strength…

helping(Sharing Strength was posted on August 6, 2012. I have revised the original in light of recent events because… much of it bears repeating)  

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

Warriors of the Heart

Steve &  Aaron
Steve & Aaron

“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.Steve and Aaron1

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.

Into Your Hands We Eventually Fall

For those who see

Every loss now breaks the heart

Just a little bit more

Until we are left with only

Faith

That life goes on

Beyond our touch

And remains

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,

Just there

For those who see.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2012

 

The Color of Courage

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 waREDtch 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.

Steve and Aaron1
Home from Deployment ~ Aaron and Steve

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.

By Lynnette Bukowski
© 2012