The dream is real… and I love you

Love, Steve

This is a story of encouragement and dreams alive and gratitude, but I need to take you down into the dirty with me before we climb back out and see the light.

I woke up this morning with three hours of sleep and money on my mind. When I’m overwhelmed, I pray first and then get to work on details. But the details today turned into another day of figuring out just how I’m going to stretch the checking account to pay property taxes due in a few weeks. This is always where my frustration starts to build.

I don’t know if every other non-profit in this city receives a break on property taxes, but we don’t. I do know there is an application process in place which goes before the city council and is rarely denied. I applied for a partial exemption from property taxes three years ago and my application was tossed. Not denied,simply tossed out and not heard before the council because one city council member doesn’t like me or what I do. I know this to be true because she rudely dismissed me and my vision for LZ-Grace in front of my daughter and mother across a meeting table, and a few months later had my application for property tax partial exemption removed from the city council agenda moments before I was to present my case. Apparently, I can house and feed farm-workers who help farm the land, but welcoming, feeding and nurturing combat SOF warriors as they decompress from war and trauma on ARP farmland was out of line. And don’t get me wrong, I don’ object to paying taxes. I object to unfairness and hidden agendas. I did have my say in front of council in 2015, but to no avail. Attorneys I reached out to afterward told me to keep my head down, my mouth shut and pay. And not to bother appealing the “toss out” or request tax exemption again because the city’s attorneys and Henley will break me.

Fair enough, except I’m me and a Frogman’s widow and that’s not how I get broken. 

Most importantly, God didn’t see it quite the way the attorneys did and so each and every six months when I have to scramble to come up with nearly $7K now, I do. And we farm. Horses and hops and hope and organic vegetables that we harvest and eat. We farm and we play and we rest and we pray and we discover healing and we speak life into loss and we love. On ARP farmland.

I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m a little bitter about entrenched politicians and their attitudes. I’m working on it. 

I did take a moment to thank God for the generous souls who have donated funds, stood fast in prayer and supplied grants to ensure that we continue to grow and serve. The dream is real because the entire family stepped up, the community around us put on their work boots, an Architect, Scouts and Dominion VA Power folks, Veterans and Active Duty, Firefighters, Police Officers, Deputy Sheriff’s, Realtors and neighbors surrounded us with help and dedication and grace. Amen.

Then I climbed back down into my pity pot and sloshed around, cried, worried, paid more attention to interruptions then details, got snappy with the dogs, irritated with my healing broken leg and ended up chucking all my work aside to mindlessly scroll through Facebook.

This is where He finds me.

Memories with photos and write ups from four years ago today. On November 16, 2014, 253 people joined me and my family for the Dedication and Blessing of LZ-Grace. The Patriot Guard arrived with American Flags in all their glory, esteemed speakers flew in from across the country and neighboring states to speak. Music played. The choir sang. The Warriors Fire-Pit, built by an Eagle Scout and his Troop, was lit for the first time. Prayers were said. Brothers reunited. On that day, five months after we moved in, most of the buildings were still in disrepair, the barn was empty, the fences were falling down, the weeds were out of control, and I had no earthly idea how I was going to pay for all that needed to be done and take care of our warriors, but none of that mattered because we all gathered for a most extraordinary day of hope and vision and life spoken into this sacred land.

As of today, November 16, 2018 – exactly four years from the Dedication and Blessing and 3.5 years since we opened our doors – we have welcomed 3,063 souls to the healing peace of LZ-Grace (1,098 individuals on site, 98 individuals remotely and 1,876 families and groups).

It was hard, hard work and painful lessons, but we ended most days with joy. Frustration and bitterness have no place in these blessings.

Perhaps someday I’ll return to the city, new application in hand and be granted relief, but for today, I’ll stand in gratitude for the blessings that we’ve been given and let God  work out the details with politicians who can dislike me and strong arm me, but have no say so over peace and grace and precious souls who come here – to the farm – as visitors and leave as beloved family.

Like a child being gently disciplined, I am reminded this morning that while paying the bills on time and keeping track of numbers is necessary, it is not my most important concern. My job is to be a good steward of and nurture the most fundamental part of our mission: peace and renewal for an individual’s body,mind, soul and spirit. To be a witness to these changes in individuals, up close and in myriad ways, is miraculous. Each person we meet here and talk to remotely brings an experience that encourages and teaches. We are still at war,but for a time – at a home away from home – on a farm – a life is saved, a marriage strengthens, a family blossoms, a career stays on course or a supported transition takes flight. 

Miraculous is the only solid form of measurement we need.

And this note on the fridge. Because the dream is real…and I love you. 

This is God’s Vision. Human hands can not shut it down.

God’s Vision

Living by Faith

Sheri wrote this last year toward the end of February. I tripped over it tonight… on purpose, I believe. I needed a bit of grounding and a reminder that all is well and unfolding exactly as it needs to in Divine time. True enough that living another’s dream, even when it encircles my own dream, is a huge responsibility. Reading this tonight reminds me that Steve is still very much here in soul and spirit – prompting, teaching, steering. How fortunate I am.

Steve LZGRACE

After two days of water pipes bursting under the house, I tiptoed around this morning listening for gushing water. All quiet. All clear. I tiptoed back through the kitchen checking the view from every window and poured myself a cup of coffee. Suddenly the memory of my father fixing water pipes emerged from light across the room and my body ached with nostalgia. The last Christmas we spent with my dad he spent hours fixing water pipes. As my mind pulled back to the present, my gaze tuned to the land again – backyard frozen, dog runs frozen, barn cat sentry sitting duty at his post in the crack of the door. He would have loved this farm. He would have loved the trees and the creek, the driveway and the deck. He would have cursed the broken fences but merrily stomped his way through the pastures to fix every single one. He dreamed of this.

We are living someone else’s dream and the onus is on us. We must be careful with it. He did not get to walk this property as a flesh-living man would step by step. His presence is ubiquitous and inescapable though, and his spirit fully alive in this place. PEACE is here. Drama is not allowed. Lies are not tolerated. Truth slowly ascends to the surface of souls and weak things are shattered, like glass, the fragility does not go unnoticed. But this place, the place my Father’s presence roams, is a safe place to crack. For in the quiet earth the soul is replenished.

It is a weighty, scary thing to be living someone else’s dream. You want to be worthy of it, worthy of their sweat and blood. You want to be worthy of the inheritance you walk in, the return of their investment. Not everyone has the luxury of living out their dreams on earth.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith are not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11)

— withLynn Bukowski.

Sheri Bukowski © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Founded by Grace…

Everything comes with risk, but when a Warrior lives through war and lands at LZ-Grace, it is to overcome, reconnect to family and community and achieve the peace that comes from within.

When we acknowledge and release what we’ve lived through and find connection with one another, our souls are inspired to hold tight to the edge of the cliff until help arrives; to live on; to use scars as road maps; and to pass strength and experience forward to all the world.

Grace is the voice that calls us to change and the power to pull it off.

LZ-Grace Promotional Video produced, edited and donated by Nanc Waters.

 It is with the love and generosity of our kind supporters that LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat can make a difference and begin the healing process.

http://www.lz-grace.com

Lynnette Bukowski All rights reserved ©2014

Honor, Live and Never Forget

Landing zone flagTo our First Responders across this great land, the many souls who have died as innocent civilians and brave Warriors since September 11, 2001, the families and friends who to this day miss and love, and to our living Warriors who continue daily to keep America safe,

LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat honors you today and each day.

We will Never Forget.

My heartfelt gratitude and special thanks to:

Our local Fire and Rescue Captain and Firemen;

John “Jack” Dye, NREMT-B, EMT Scott, and Maria Rataiczak for honoring us with your presence;

Loretta Morrison on bagpipes and the beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace;

Diane Van Campen for organizing and proving nourishment to all;

Sherry Van Campen, Toni Donlinar, Kristine Mynes, and Aaron Bukowski  for working so hard to prepare LZ-Grace for this solemn and beautiful day;

to an unnamed and loved individual for wisdom, magic and guidance;

and to Nancy Watters, for filming, editing and producing a brilliant video on a moment’s notice.

Over Coffee

Excerpt Chapter from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

Sunday Morning coffee porch

Love is a constant trying and reaching and failing and falling and trying all over again. ~LB

I am sitting on an antique chintz sofa at Blaylock’s Funeral Home waiting to receive your ashes. The lighting is soft and the artwork lovely and it reminds me of the Priest’s rectory and the disaster of marriage counseling and how beautifully that day ended for both of us. No thanks to the Priest.

When Bobby walks into the room and sits down next to me, my heart begins to race. I don’t know the rules or what words to say and out of the corner of my eye I see your image leaning against the doorframe with your arms crossed over your chest, chin up. Your lips are pressed together just enough to let me know you approve. My eyes blur with tears. It is impossible and morbid to think that your strong, chiseled body now fits into an urn.

“The engraving is beautiful,” Bobby says.

I wonder if there is a return policy – an undo – a please return his body to me because I cannot stand this for one more minute – clause.

“It is,” I say.

I reach out and trace the Trident with my fingertips. It is engraved with such detail and care that I feel you move through me and I take this as confirmation I’ve done this one thing right. The beloved “Budweiser” defines you, our life together and the ethos by which we lived, far better than the inadequate words I chose. To be fair, though, I would have had to use infinitesimal small print on all four sides and every square inch of the urn and even then, there are not enough words in all of history to describe you. I glance at your image in the doorway and think, “Don’t let that go to your head.”

I feel you smile and my memory reaches back to that sunset in Del Mar and our Del Marsecond beginning.

I watch you gather words; arrange them in your mind as you stir cream into your coffee. I can read your face like a sweet braille on the tip of my tongue. You love and hate this about me, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve always been at home in your silence.

When you look up and stare at me a hush falls over the world. You say, “I get mad and yell. It’s who I am. You know that. But no more fists through the wall. The furniture will stay intact. And you and our babies…always were and always will be safe.”

“I fear the rage, Steve. Not you.”

Your eyes are so tired. I want to kiss your eyelids, soothe away every pain of the last eight months, but I am not your savior and I am barely your wife. I keep my hands to myself.

You say, “I fear you…”

“That’s a lie.”

“It’s not a lie.” You reach across the table; place your thumb on the inside of my wrist and say, “I fear you will leave me forever. It scares me more than anything I’ve ever been or done or will do. Can we skip the counseling bullshit and just do… you and me again?”

The steam from our coffee rises between us in the shape of a promise.

Bobby touches my arm and asks, “Are you okay, Lynn?”

I blink; feel each beat of my heart as it drains the blood from my head. I fight the dizzy because I am desperate to answer you.

“Yes,” I say.

Bobby knows I am not talking to him.

He helps me to the truck and waits while I decide where to place your urn. The floorboard seems disrespectful and the backseat too far away from me. There should be some goddamn guidelines: How to transport your lover’s remains. I can actually feel your impatience and his unnerving calm. I decide on the passenger seat, buckle you in and climb behind the wheel, but my hands shake so badly I cannot put the key in the ignition. I’m angry. So angry I want to grab the urn, throw it in the bed of the truck and scream, “There you go, badass… that’s what you get for dying.”

The minutiae of death are stirring my crazy.

More than anything I want to drive three thousand miles to the hotel in Del Mar, book our room with the ocean view, and stay there for the rest of my life.

Instead, I drive to the only place I can think of where I won’t have to explain.

Your urn is heavy – or perhaps death is – but the heaviness soothes me, like a weight that holds me in place. I use both hands, back through the glass door and find a table in the corner where I place you just so – the back of the urn to the wall; the entrance and entire room in view. Habits die hard.

Mary-Beth weaves through the tables with a coffee pot and two cups. This week her hair is red and spun high on top of her head and her blue eye shadow matches her sweater. She puts both cups on the table, pours coffee into one and asks, “How ya’ holdin’ up, darlin’?”

We both glance at your urn. I say, “I know this is odd.”

“Nothin’ odd about it. That’s a fine looking urn. You just pick him up?”

I nod.

“Well then, seems just right to me. We’ve missed ya’. The gals and I was just talkin’ about the two of you. Always whisperin’ over coffee… and that man’s eyes… I’ll tell you what!  Had a look meaner than a caged coon, but always polite and tipped nice. We notice those things.”  She looks straight at your urn and says, “Just so ya’ know.”

I nod. Perhaps part of the sweetness of moving to a small town where nobody really knows us is this acceptance of how out of place we are and how quickly we blend in.

She fusses with napkins, leans in and says, “Deet’s and me, we barely have a civil word to say to each other after all these years. Gotta love the man, though. Works himself to death.” She clamps a hand over her mouth, “Oh, honey, that’s just a figure of speech, now. I’m not thinkin’ right.” She pats my shoulder, “I bet you two never had cross words.”

Our worst fight lasted eight months and grew to epic proportions, so out of control that I packed up half the house, both children and drove across country to figure it out.  I say, “Yes, we did,” and the tears begin to fall.

“Oh now, I’ve gone and made ya’ cry.”  She hands me a tissue from her apron pocket, “It’s fresh; just wrinkled. I’ll leave you be, Miss Lynn. Y’all enjoy your coffee and holler if you need somethin’.”

I take a deep breath as she walks away, tear open a Sweet n’ Low and hear you say, “Stop using that crap!” so clearly it brings a smile through the tears. All three waitresses and the scattering of customers stare at me.

It’s not like I didn’t do bizarre things while you were alive. I’m damn near famous for some, but bringing your remains in an urn to a small town café to have coffee with me probably tops the list. I don’t care.

I want to sit here and believe you are with me. I want the clink of dishes and random chatter and sounds of life because the silence at home is deafening. I want to remember every single word we said and all we did right, after how badly we went wrong.

You leave a twenty dollar bill on the table, pick up both coffee cups and say, “Follow me.”

I do. Down corridors and around corners until you open the door to an ocean front room and the sound of crashing waves rolls over me. I want to disappear, just here, with you. It’s been so long.

I step out of my shoes, remove my sweater; suddenly determined.

“Later,” you say, “Talk to me.”

I shake my head.

“Use words,” you say.

“I can’t.”

“Then tell me what you can’t say.”

I watch you sit down in the chair, coffee in hand. You cross your legs, perfect a smug posture and try to hide a smile.

I won’t win this one. I know it and you know it. I drop down on the bed; stare at the ceiling and exhale, “Fine. Here’s what I cannot say! It frightens me when you disappear right in front of me. When whatever it is takes over your body and pulls at my strength. I cannot say that in seven short years I’ve mastered hiding my own desires and wants and needs in my emotional closet so as not to disrupt your life when you’re home.”

I turn my head and look over at you. You do not look up. Your hands are on your knees and your head is bowed and I want to crawl into your lap, but I stay where I am.

I take a soft breath and continue, quietly, “I cannot say that I feel insignificant and unworthy because I can never find the perfect balm to soothe you or the exact words to pull from you the seed of your angst. That without reason, I began to believe I am that seed and I want to deny my own thirst so as not to grow the weed. I cannot say… that I have enough love for both of us if you would just trust that enough to let me crawl in to the place where you need comfort.”

I hear you cross the room, feel you lie down beside me. You take my hand and in a voice so soft I can barely hear your words, you begin, “I cannot say to you that I am scared to death and fear nothing. That I want my own things and my own time and my own space and need to be with my own thoughts until I know what I’ve seen and what I’ve done and who I am is all one and I am solid again.  I need sex for my hunger and food for strength and I don’t want to talk or think or be and I can’t love and I can’t feel and I never know if any of that will come back and I need you to wait.”

You wrap yourself around me and whisper, “I cannot give you up or let you go or leave you behind. And I love you beyond all reason and I cannot stand your tenderness or your tears when I’m like this and I cannot make you understand the difference.  I cannot say I am afraid of your love.”

I say, “I wonder, if you lock anger in a box, does it stay there forever? Does it stay there long after your gone? And who opens it in the end?”

You roll over and stare at the ceiling for a long moment and say, “You do. And you bury it in the sand.”

The ocean took the rest of our words and drowned our hurt well into the night.

Mary-Beth stands at the edge of the table and studies me, biting her lip. When I look up at her she asks, “Are you hungry, honey?”

I shake my head.

Silently, she refills my cup, pats me on the shoulder and walks away.

“I don’t know how to deal with his intense and unexplained anger,” I say.

The priest considers me, steeples his fingers, sighs deeply, “And what is it you do to make him angry?”

“I… Perhaps I’m not being clear…” I look over at you, at the hint of an ‘I told you this wouldn’t work’ on your lips. I sit forward, “He. Wakes. Up. Angry…. He. Comes. Through. The. Door. Angry!”

“Entirely true,” you say.

The priest nods at you, looks at me and says, “I see. And so, it must be something you’ve done. Come now. Think hard.”

I want the secret code from God to unlock your soul and calm the fire inside you. I want guidance and help. I’m entirely sure I do something every three minutes to make you mad, but that’s not why we’re here. There is anger and there is this… this furious rage. How do I battle an unknown terror that eats away at your soul, puts your fist through walls, and frightens our babies?

“I’m done here,” I say. 

From the hallway I hear, “Go with God, Son.”

I think: God better have a separate car.

You come out smiling, take my hand, and say, “To be fair, the Monsignor doesn’t have a clue what it’s like being married to me.”

“He doesn’t have a clue what it’s like being married. Period!

“Point,” you laugh.

I let go of your hand. “There’s not one damn thing funny about this. Is it me, Steve? Is all that rage, all of this because of something I did?”

“No. I told you that when you left. I’ve told you that every week since. It’s gone, over, locked down.”

I want to believe you.

You take my elbow, open the car door and say, “Buckle up, I have an idea…”

The words remind me of us before the fury; before life became wrapped in anger, before I bolted like a frightened child. I am so lost without you. I close my eyes while you drive and silently ask God to skip over the middle man and just give me the key to your peace.

He does, but He makes me wait until we’re at a hotel coffee shop in Del Mar.

I wonder now if death would be easier on us – the living – if we knew the answers to all the questions we can never ask. Was life enough? Did you feel loved? Were you relieved when the angels came and said, ‘Well done, Son, let’s go home now.’  But more than anything, I want to know in your last moments, did you think of me?

Steve's Urn

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Scandalous

Excerpt from: Love is Born in Giant Fields of Crazy (Married to the SEAL Teams ~Lessons in Love)

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. ~Lamott

Palomar Mountain - Our Oak Tree

At your ‘Celebration of Life’ I sit in the front pew a hand-reach away from the flag-draped casket with your still body inside. I try to concentrate on our daughter, poised and elegant as she delivers her Daddy’s eulogy. Every once in a while I see you behind her, your hands on her shoulders, but the vision fades each time I blink. Damn the Xanax or whatever they gave me to handle the day. I don’t need “endure death candy” to survive. I need you not to be dead.

Yesterday, a crowd gathered outside our closet. I was inside turning circles, touching your suit jackets and flannel shirts and casually said, “I need you to choose the dress, dammit.” I am positive I heard you say, “The red one,” but when I plucked it from the hanger and turned around there was a collective gasp from my Southern friends. They passed tissues, warned me away from creating a scandal, shook their heads and insisted on black.

I wish now I had worn the red dress. I try to stay present in Sheri’s words, but all I can think of is you alone in that box and your absolute hatred of being bound up in choker dress whites and trapped. I want more than anything to stand up, pry open the lid and unbutton the uniform so you can at least relax a bit while we do this thing – this pomp and circumstance – this telling of stories about your life that I so desperately need to hear.

When Carl stands at the podium so overcome with emotion he can barely speak, I consider calling the entire thing off. Everyone can go home. This isn’t real. My vision blurs and my mind starts to skip. I know I appear properly present: shoulders back, chin up, hands folded in my lap. But when my knees begin to shake, and I cross my left ankle over my right and force myself to sit with a rigid back, I hear you laugh at my finishing school maneuvers. I’ll never know now why these idiosyncrasies entertained you so.

And just like that, something inside me shifts very subtly, so that all the empty spaces in my heart fill with memories, like water flows — into crevices so precious there are no words big enough to describe where I’ve gone.

I am standing alone in the dark on a country road next to my broken down Datsun B-210 waiting for you to save me.

You pull over in your roommate’s Corvette, jump out of the car like it’s on fire, open the passenger door and yell, “Get in,” which, of course, prompts me to say, “Go to hell.” I am so relieved you’ve found me I want to cry. But I can’t give in and we stare at each other for a long moment through the dark before I grab my things, saunter to the car and slide into the leather seat. Warm and grateful, I sit silently while you drive and lecture me about my stubborn ways: singing back-up for an idiot Elvis impersonator even after you told me he was bad news, driving my derelict car on deserted country roads, wearing high heels.

“High heels?”

“It’s three in the morning, you’re broken down on a deserted road and you have no protection and no shoes to walk in and you’re miles – forty milesfrom home. Jesus, you drive me crazy!”

I think: pot calling the kettle and I’m not giving up the heels, so I remain quiet until the silence between us becomes too loud.

“How did you find me?”

You glance at me, downshift around a curve and sigh so loudly your breath fills the car, “I will always find you. You’re in my blood.”

I fell in love with you that exact moment. I might have known it before then, felt it swimming around in my head and heart, but it was right then that I knew.

We drive for over an hour, up and down hills, through canyons and around crazy curves until you stop at a country store to buy me coffee, yourself a Pepsi and donuts smothered with powdered sugar and wrapped so tightly in cellophane that it takes ten minutes and your knife to rip open the package. High on caffeine, covered in sugar, we make it to the top of Palomar Mountain before the sun rises. The dawn is quiet and smooth and we are alone in the world. It is a perfect moment and I let you talk me into making love on the picnic table in the cool breeze under a giant oak.

Tim is talking now, telling a story about how you taught this young officer from the Naval Academy to always “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” There is an easy cadence to his words. I can just barely hear his voice through the chatter of waking birds. I think – just now – being folded in your arms as the sunlight peaks through the oak leaves above our heads is the right thing to do.

Like a dance movement, you are up and dressed before I even notice the crunch of tires on gravel. You wrap me in the poncho-liner; pull me up, brush a kiss against my lips and whisper, “Smile,” just as a Ranger’s truck pulls in. I do, but only because I’m a little awe struck at how easily you approach the driver’s open window, lean in and chat, like you own the surroundings. When the Ranger tips his hat at me and says, “Morning Ma’am,” I manage a dignified smile. I’m quite sure he notices that even my bare feet are blushing and I look away first, stare at the tree and imagine what the inside of a jail cell looks like.

Your grin and swagger as the truck pulls away annoys me. I feel as though I’m the object of a little “outdoor fun” discussion between two men, and my absolute relief at not being arrested blooms into anger. I am not easy and this was not a joke. I bolt off the table, cuss at the gravel digging into my skin and find you standing in my way, legs slightly apart, arms folded.

I glare at you.

I am absolutely sure I see tears in your eyes when you say, “I told him you were the mother of my unborn children.”

Dear God, you take my breath away.

I wonder now if that oak tree still delights in our presence.

You are incorrigible. On this day and in this moment, making me relive this memory in such detail that I have to grab the seat of the pew and laugh out loud, which instantly wakes me into the present moment. Carl has stopped speaking and stares at me, concerned.

Perfect. The room is silent. I can feel two hundred eyes on the back of my head. For a moment I imagine the local Sheriff is going to stand up and arrest me for indecent behavior at a funeral. It matters not that I’ve appropriately worn black and I’m the widow. I feel exposed; scandalous. I hear your distant laughter and I bite my lip to keep from laughing with you. I manage a weak, “I’m fine.”

If they only knew.

Carl nods and begins to talk again about you as only Brothers can; calling you out for being a supreme pain in the ass and at the same time praising your life word after word. So many of your Brothers are here and they each take a turn to tell their story of you – this larger than life man. They don’t know the half of it. I hear stories you never told me and remnants of those you did. Carl stands again, chokes back tears, and asks you to prepare the final Platoon in Heaven and wait there until he arrives.

He steps down and tenderly presents me with the small flag. He climbed to the top of a building in Jordan with that flag – thrust it to and fro – and folded it himself.

This is more than I can bear and you know it and pull me away.

While taps play you dance with me on the roof of our home in Gaeta and between sips of champagne convince me that you alone arranged a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.

Mag’s had your draped flag flown over BUD/S and as they take it from you, I whisper, please be careful. I’m not sure they hear me because I’m dancing in mud and watching your eyes and trying to be very, very quiet in our secret place. They fold it, one exact movement after another and when they hand it to Carl, I ask you to wait… just for a moment or an eternity.

He steps close to me, leans in and says, “You should have worn the red dress,” and I know this to be true.

I hold your folded flags tightly against me and allow my soul to stay wrapped in your arms on the top of a distant mountain years and distance away, while I take one step and then another. The aisle is long – miles long – and it is dark and I am broken and I need to find my own way. It occurs to me then that I have such a long way to go before I am home again with you. I stop, look down at my pretty black high heels, step out of them and leave them right there on the chapel floor.

Black high heels

Scandalous, I know.

You were always right about the heels.

I thought I wouldn’t live through it. But I did. I learned to love the places you left behind for me. ~LBukowski

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013, December. All rights reserved.

Sharing Strength

holding_hands-1418(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.”

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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)

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

There’s A Little Wild In You

WolfExcerpt 

“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

LZG_logo HR Please visit www.lz-grace.com and https://www.facebook.com/LzGraceVeteransRetreat for more information about how Steve’s dream lives on.