Bukszoo’s Twisted Cheer ~

Most of my slightly ‘off’ ideas start with a spark of intrigue and/or rebellion, wander around trails in my head, pause for rest, pause for prayer, and then take off like I’m driving a Maserati down The Stelvio pass in Italy.

This particular idea took hold one morning after I opened and read eleven different ‘Christmas Letters’ from friends and family near and far. Well before the social media craze, I always looked forward to these letters (and still do), but this year – 1987 – I noticed a pattern:  Everyone wrote about the ‘perfect’ and left out the ‘real’.  Eleven times that morning I read about another year of blissfully perfect marriage, and how they magically afforded a new house above their pay grade in a perfect neighborhood where all their perfect children were enrolled in perfect schools making perfect grades in three different languages and were perfect stars of the spare-time sport, club or troop the perfect parents drove them to in the brand new perfect car?

And there I sat with a cup of lukewarm coffee at a kitchen table dotted with sticky something and bread crumbs swirled into a rather artistic pattern by a 7-year old. His version of “wiping down the table after dinner” chore. Here was my pause. How could I not smile? And I was grateful for the moments of joy in our adorable-as-hell (artistically cleaned) rental home on Orange Avenue in Coronado, which we could barely afford, and which may or may not have been as a result of the brand-new Raleigh Tour de’ France worthy bicycle for Steve to ride to work, because… priorities.

Clearly, we lived in an alternate universe: Sort of broke, artistically clean and mostly happy. We had a lot of ‘real’ going on. I’ll even admit here that my sweatshirt was on inside-out and my feet were frozen, but finding a warm pair of socks meant opening the dryer, which would wake up the dog and then the kids and my perfect writing moment would be lost. Sticky elbows and cold feet it was, as I raced my pen across paper.

And so, the annual Bukszoo’s Twisted Cheer was born.

I rhymed our ‘real’ (and my opinions) for 22 years, from 1987 to January 2010. I stopped writing it the year Steve died, but I can still see him grinning as he read every word and pretended to be annoyed with my candor. 

I tripped across my last poem a few days ago and decided to share our last ‘real’ to honor the memory of a man who made everything seem perfect in an imperfect world.

Merry Christmas to all and May Your New Year Delight You Daily…. 

HAPPY YEAR! (2010)

Four days after Christmas and all ‘round the house, ALL our creatures are crazy, yes, even the mouse,
Well, we don’t have a mouse, but I swear if we did, he’d be out chasing barn cats or in line to be fed.
The horses are neighing, one dog’s set on “bark”, thank God I have coffee and I can type in the dark,
At four in the morning, should the world not be calm? Welcome to Un-Ranch where it often goes wrong.

Hope your Merry’s still on and your Season’s still Bright, ‘round the world and in North Carolina,
No surprise here, I’m tardy again… c’est la vie… so Happy New Year from our little Norlina,
Go pour a cognac and take off your boots…’tis the time for the Zoo’s twisted cheer,
Of course if you’re saving up for massive tax hikes, I’ll understand if you just pop open a beer.

After twenty-plus houses in thirty-three years, it’s slightly shocking that we’re still on

Hawk’s Road,
But the “Money Pit” here is beginning to blossom, we’re no longer in the pack-transfer mode.
I think five years is planted, or at least digging in, the Zoo’s nearly from “around here” these days,
In this small country town full of big hearted folks, who don’t seem to mind much our strange ways.

The Terrorist and I (I meant Veteran, oh my) have grown quite fond of this wide open space,
I’m lobbying right now for a Ted Nugent bunker, a water board and a few cans of mace.
Oh my gosh, I’m just joking – or maybe I’m not – but either way I’ll be perfectly clear,
If the “O” and his gang keep maligning our Troops, it’s the moms and wives they should fear.
We rarely give in and we never give up and if we rallied they’d get down on their knees,
And that “apology tour” would be to all Troops, who still stand up for this Land of the Free.

See: https://www.stripes.com/opinion/dhs-went-to-extremes-to-sully-my-husband-s-name-1.91506

Really, you thought I’d skip politics this year? au contraire! Soap Box up and I’m full of glee,
Stewart! the war on terror is at our collective front doors, I think we’re stuck with that bastard ennui.
Still, I’m encouraged because by this time next year, they’ll run out of U.S. dollars to spend,
Hand-outs will stop and folks will stand up and we’ll take a look around DC’s land of pretend.
My liberal friends think I’m just being mean, but I’m really up for that Change and that Hope
Case in point, I hope to fire both sides of the Senate and House, and exChange Mr. Ivy-League bloke.
I’m calling up farmers, blue collar, small business, retired military who still employ common sense,
No Dems or Repubs, just real people, like us, who know the difference between a Trillion and Cents.

For those who are new to my seasonal cheer, I live out loud and don’t edit my views,
A short pause to disclose – my opinions are not necessarily those – shared by the entire Zoo.

Good thing Steve retired from gov contracts this year, now he works for himself and I don’t.
Turns out I’m a bit challenged with simple directions, well… it’s not that I can’t, I just won’t.
What difference does it make if I’m off by an inch, or I like to read while I hold up the wood?
Apparently a lot, ‘cause I’ve been fired on the spot, more times than I’ll admit or probably should.

Still, I nearly perfected my tractor driving skills, but that went south when I got stuck in the muck,
And though Steve was real peachy about getting me out, I concede that my tractor skills suck.
Between bugging dear Aaron on how he feels day to day, and following drill husband around,
They both cried, “Get lost!” so I applied for a job, and now I work for a Law Firm in town.

And don’t tell a soul, but the “hold-this-up gal” finds her respite when she drives off

 

and work starts,
Steve cleans and he shops and renovates all day long, and that damn tractor can sit where it’s parked.
For fun we ride horses, Big Ozzie and Zeus and let me tell you I’ve learned a lesson this time,
As in life, here’s a hint, keep your butt in the saddle, straight and balanced, it will work out just fine.
I still write late at night or by dawn’s early light and if I’m lucky, I’ll read a book from page one,
Our lively life is chockfull but sublime, and I can prove it with a semi-happy husband and son.

Speaking of Aaron, he’s doing quite well, takes life by moments and that’s the mystery of Grace,

I

He’s not much for schedules, or sleeping, or crowds, but at the end of the day finds his place.
Indeed he’s been gifted with an eye for the “lens”, taking photos that he posts on the web,
And this Spring he looks forward to a School for the Arts, we might just be talking “celeb”.
He still loves Euro Soccer and gaming ‘til dawn, and if we’re lucky we see him each night,
My best part of each day is coming home to hear him say, “Hey Mom, I was thinking, I might…”
Without really knowing, he teaches us forward — without fear, or “why me” or fuss,
“Grace meets us wherever we are, but does not ever leave us where it found us.” LaMott

Our Sheri girl’s here, she flew in Christmas Eve, for ten days she’ll be home with the Zoo,
Cross Country from Redding, California that is, raving hair and her dad’s eyes of blue.
The gal is so busy working three jobs at once, we normally chat late at night using “Skype”,
But it’s some kind of fun when we write on the run, even better that we can sleep while we type.
Have you heard about Transformational Development Agency (TDA) or Dr. Ayoade Alakija, CEO?
You will now – ‘cause Sheri’s her EA this year – and they’re both tootin’ smart, don’t you know.
Check them out (http://www.tdaafrica.com) and all that they do, it’s extraordinary, real life-changing stuff,
In addition, she’s Admin for Bethel’s Healing Room, as though changing the world ain’t enough.
Croatia, Iowa, San Fran and L.A., the travel bug must be passed on in genes,
But the stories she’ll tell, to her babies one day, will be full of delight and great scenes!
In between trips she works behind cameras and crew, filming concerts or great speaking minds,
I pity the poor fellow who asks her out on a date, because quite frankly she doesn’t have time!
Ipak mi kurzirati svjetski dan na pronaći ljepota , mi morati prijenos sa nas ili mi nađi prema ne.

Charlottesville’s still home for Stephen and Shawna, although life’s changing at a pace beyond fast,
They sold their spec house on a wing and a prayer, in the midst of the real estate crash.
Some call it luck, but it was undeniably skill, and perseverance can beat odds any day,
Between school and two jobs and Kavella, the cute, they still manage to fit time in to play.
The future holds all kinds of new and unknown and believe me these two like to go,
Soon they’ll be surfing big waves in Hawaii, or boarding slopes in the deep Oregon snow.
Whatever they dream, I know they can do, it’s an extra blessing bestowed to our crew,
I pray 2010 is an easier year, full of favor and life dreams anew.

Don’t fall off your chair, I finally finished my book, I’m now in “edits” per the agent from hell (joking…Jae),
If my brain stays intact and those red marks turn black, I just might have a novel to sell!
Eight years, more or less, I’ve been birthing this thing, full of mystery, suspense and intrigue,
Don’t worry a bit, I’ve changed your names and events, it’s all hidden in elaborate word weave.
It’s all fiction, I swear, as does the “team” — the asylum of nuts in my mind,
Perhaps this time next year, if I’m not blacklisted or jailed, I’ll wrap it and send it out signed!

There you have it, my friends, the news of the Zoo… a few opinions thrown in on the sly,
If you need us, just call, we’ll be digging our bunker, so leave a message or just drop on by.
The sun’s coming up and the horses’ a-light, racing shadows across open land,
The pond reflects hints, such a glimmering sight, a few birds chirp to warm up their band.
Trees welcome the wind and dance to a tune I can hear if I just take the time…
And as much as I jest, heaven knows we are blessed, with these moments of life in ’09.
Peace. Out.
May this New Year Delight You daily.
With Love and Prayers for our troops and their families around the world.
Happy New Year
from the Bukowski Zoo
Norlina, NC 27563

To my politically sensitive, Liberal Friends :
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. On behalf of my greedy, capitalistic country, I apologize for all real or perceived injustices on any country and take full blame for foreign domestic problems in said countries. To do my part to save the planet, I will show solidarity with you and join your efforts for improving the atmosphere, saving water and saving trees by the following actions: holding my breath one minute each hour, refraining from bathing and eliminating all toilet paper usage.

To all the rest:
A belated Merry Christmas and a just in time Happy New Year

NAVY SEAL WIDOW REALIZES HUSBAND’S DREAM OF WARRIOR RETREAT

Steve and Lynnette

NAVY SEAL WIDOW REALIZES HUSBAND’S

DREAM OF WARRIOR RETREAT

LZ-Grace, a Facility for Special Operations Veterans, Home

Breaks Ground November 16th

Virginia Beach, VA — Master Chief Steve S. Bukowski passed away suddenly in 2010 after serving thirty-two years as a Navy SEAL, but his wife Lynnette is carrying on the vision they shared together of a healing sanctuary for Special Operations Forces, Veterans and their families.

On November 16th, Lynnette will celebrate the groundbreaking and dedication of LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat in Tidewater Virginia.  The facility will specialize in recreational programs and alternative healing therapies for the purpose of decompression and healing through community rather than isolation.

“Four months ago it was an abandoned horse farm with peeling paint and overgrown

"Mema" Sherry Van Campen (89) trimming trees at LZ-Grace
“Mema” Sherry Van Campen (89) trimming trees at LZ-Grace

grass,” Lynnette says of the property, “but with the help of many good-soul volunteers and donors, it’s really shaping up.”  Even Lynnette’s eighty-nine year-old mother is pitching in – the five-foot tall octogenarian has painted walls and trimmed branches to the limit of her short reach.

“We want it to feel like home away from home for our warriors,” says Lynnette, “Steve and I frequently hosted gatherings of his SEAL brothers at our house, and we saw the healing that occurs when these men rest and reconnect outside of a war environment.”

Once complete, LZ-Grace will offer traditional and non-traditional services including:

  • Equine therapy
  • Service canines
  • Chiropractic
  • Yoga
  • Meditation gardens
  • Climbing
  • Kayaking and more…

 

The groundbreaking ceremony is by invitation only and will be attended by many in the Special Operations Forces community, Virginia dignitaries, community supporters, volunteers, donors and selected media teams from local newspapers and national television news affiliates.

“The outpouring of support has been humbling and wonderful,” says Lynnette, “Steve

Eagle Scout Project - Warrior Fire-Pit. Materials donated by Lancaster Farms, Belgard and Luck Stone!
Eagle Scout Project – Warrior Fire-Pit. Materials donated by Lancaster Farms, Belgard and Luck Stone!

would be thrilled.”

LZ-Grace Warrior Retreat Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose operations have relied solely upon the help and generosity of donors, volunteers and family members.

To donate, please visit www.lz-grace.com

ABOUT LYNNETTE BUKOWSKI

Highly versed in military family issues, Lynnette Bukowski spent over 15 years as a Navy Family Ombudsman and mentor at numerous Naval Special Warfare Commands.  She advised Navy families through the difficulties of disruptive deployments and loss of life and experienced those turbulent waters herself as the widow of a thirty-two year veteran Navy SEAL.  Lynnette was also a Court Appointed Special Advocate member and guardian ad litem, serving as a therapeutic foster mother to over a dozen special needs children.  She is now an author, speaker, mentor, mother of three grown kids and founder of LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat. https://gracebeyondgrace.com/about/

ABOUT MASTER CHIEF STEVE S. BUKOWSKI

Steve S. Bukowski was a graduate of BUD/S Class 91 and served over thirty-two years as a U.S. Navy SEAL and silent professional.  He was an operator, instructor and mentor with SEAL Teams ONE, THREE, FOUR, EIGHT, SDVT-1, JSOSE, and served globally at numerous other Naval Special Warfare commands. https://gracebeyondgrace.com/2013/06/21/heres-to-not-crying-by-sheri-bukowski/

 

one red maple
Flag flying at LZ-Grace in Honor of our fallen Warriors and all who serve.
Spike & Selah Meditation
Morning mediation with Spike and Selah
Willow Tree Limbs - Going Down
Volunteer Arborist Greg Walker clearing dead trees on the grounds.
morning ferns
LZ-Grace Front Porch
Lynn picking up Mema's tree-trimming debris
Lynn picking up Mema’s tree-trimming debris
St Francis
St. Francis with a hole in his heart and needing a hand.

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

 

 

LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat – We Heal The Living

Knowing freedom is to free someone else.

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.

Everything comes with risk. But if you’ve lived through war and find your way home to Landing Zone Grace (LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat) there is not one thing you cannot overcome and achieve.

When we release what we’ve lived through and find connection with other souls, we are inspired to live on, to use our scars as road maps, to reignite a marriage, to find safety again with family and friends and to pass our strength and experience forward to all the world.

Please consider supporting LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat. Our mission is service and our immediate needs are funding and an existing site so we can begin serving our Warriors as they come home in 2014.

Find out more about me and my mission to serve our Special Forces Warriors and their families here:

NRANews.Com Veterans Day Special Interview with Cam & Company

BBS Radio Interview with Leader of the Pack Susan Herbert and Mark German. Find them at http://www.H4Hero.com

Listen Here:

Blogs of War Special Feature

http://blogsofwar.com/2013/09/12/lynnette-bukowski-landing-zone-grace-veterans-retreat-preparing-special-forces-personnel-and-their-families-for-life-after-war/

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013 All Rights Reserved.

For more information, please visit http://www.lz-grace.com or email me at lynnette@lz-grace.com

Twitter: @BukowskiLynn and @LZ_Grace

Lessons in Cadmium Red

When my father died, I learned the value of heritage. When I was assaulted, I learned I was so much more than my body. When my young friend took his own life, I learned forgiveness. When my unborn babies died, I learned a boundless capacity for love. And when my husband died, I learned that my life was blessed. Of course, I did not recognize any of these lessons until long after the experience had passed.

This is the story of one life lesson…

At midnight on my 45th birthday I was knee deep into a bottle of Ménage à Trois wine and fascinated with my birthday gifts – tubes of oil paint and soft sable brushes. I dipped one brush into my favorite color – Cadmium Red – and made one long curved brush stroke. Proud, I held up the canvas and said, “Look at how beautiful! What does it remind you of?”  Cadmium Red Poppies

Steve looked at the canvas for a long serious moment and said, “My extraordinary patience… and the audaciousness of you.”

“Huh… I’m not sure you and the word patience belong in the same sentence. But I’ll give you extraordinary,” I paused, slightly confused, “Also, when I asked the question, I was thinking of those red poppies in the pasture.”

“I know.” His face was partially hidden behind a book, but I saw the grin in his eyes, “Think back… that exact flavor of red, o’dark-thirty, twenty years ago…”

“Oh.” I poured another glass of wine.

We spent the rest of the night wrapped up in memories. Specifically, this one:

I had not seen or talked with Steve for three months, so at 4:00 in the morning when he woke me from a sound sleep to let me know he was home, I did exactly what was expected; I rolled over, stuck my hand under my pillow and mumbled, “Forty-five, finger on trigger… you feeling lucky tonight?”

He said, “That’s my girl.”

Years earlier, we agreed on this exchange just in case it was not him sitting on the edge of the bed. The truth is I always knew it was him. His presence changed the air. But once, just after we were married, he returned home in the middle of the night and met the wrong end of a shotgun at the bedroom door.

I do not like to be scared. He did not relish being shot. Fair is fair.

Correct verbal response received, I welcomed him home, got up and made coffee and in hushed tones told him about the moments I saved.

“Sheri took her first steps, Stephen discovered baseball and Lego’s, I jerry-rigged the bathtub faucet to work around the stuffed Lego piece I could not dislodge, I was hired to ghostwrite for a psychologist, and… an 18 year old Danish Au Pair is asleep in the guest bedroom.”

He held his coffee cup suspended midway between the counter and his mouth and asked, “What’s asleep in the guest bedroom?”

Before I could explain further, the 5 foot 11 inches, legs-up-to-her-ample-chest, blue-eyed-blonde Hella, sauntered into the family room wearing only a Cadmium red tank top and matching bikini underwear. She stopped in front of him, did a full model’s pivot, placed her hands on her hips and said, “I am Hella. You are Steve, yes?”

Steve glanced at her, swiveled on his stool, leaned across the bar until his face was inches from mine and whispered, “You are the finest woman in the universe. Now that you know that, I’m going to kill you, slowly. What the fuck?” Then he turned back around and without preamble said, “Go put some clothes on. Now!”

It was the beginning of a hate-hate relationship between the two of them that lasted just over two months.

I should mention here that Steve did not ever mince words, his normal voice was at a volume just under a roar, and he did not flirt with women if I was anywhere in the vicinity.  He was both a gentleman and very good looking, so there was never any shortage of women trying to turn his head. But his head never turned because I am who I am and he was who he was. You can doubt that if you wish, but there truly are men and women who do not stray.

That said, I took a moment to absorb what I’d just witnessed: A young, beautiful woman had just presented herself to my husband as though I had moved her in solely for his pleasure. I gave the unsettling development half a thought and then dismissed the behavior as a cultural difference. I tend to be an optimist. Steve was a realist. I took a deep breath and explained why she was now in our home.

Hella had come to America two months earlier as part of an Au Pair program. I was told she wanted to increase her English skills, help with housework and provide child care in exchange for room and board. What wasn’t perfect about that? I needed someone to play with the kids while I was writing and we could not afford a babysitter. We could help her, she could help us. And okay, details were lacking as to why she did not get along with her first American family, but our neighbors – sponsors of many of these young ladies – asked for my help.

Steve’s sigh was room deep, “Babe… we need to talk about that “help” thing you have and… I do not think she’s here for the same reason you think she’s here.”

“Maybe not, but can we give it a try?”

He rubbed a hand over his face, gave me a weary smile and said, “Yes, we’ll give it a try.

Steve told me once that coming home was often more adventurous than his day job. I took it as a compliment. In reality, it was a testament of his fortitude.

I’ll admit this now. I used to collect people. Other folks collect coffee mugs or teaspoons. Not me. I amassed people who asked for my help without weighing who they were, where they came from or what they wanted from me. In the beginning, Steve was charmed by this quirk, then exasperated, and finally, resigned. Out of necessity, he became my scoundrel detector and I counted on his keen ability to “sense” a person’s demeanor and motive in minutes. I had this gift too, but I leaned toward giving scoundrels a chance. When Steve intervened, they were sent on their way before I had time to protest.

This worked well when he was home. Not so much when he was away.

Hella’s stay with us became a battle of wits and wills. She did not like housework, enjoyed cooking even less and during her third week in our home, she lost Sheri. Granted, Sheri was a pistol, but to this day I am not sure how a baby wearing only diapers can open the front door, cross a busy street and manage to toddle four blocks from home without a caregiver noticing her absence. Apparently, Sheri wanted a cookie and was mercifully intercepted by a kind neighbor who had both a cookie and my number, which is how I found out she’d gone missing.

I relieved Hella that day from all duties having to do with our children and, much to Steve’s delight; I set about working with her sponsors to have her sent home. It would take four more weeks.

bags packedIn all fairness, I still believe Hella was essentially a good girl, but terribly misled by two of her Au Pair peers. They advised her that American men tended to be weak and malleable. So, for girls who wanted to stay in America, but did not want to watch children, clean house or cook, the game plan was to win the man’s affections and thereby have all their wants and needs fulfilled. Wants and needs included an established man, a car to drive, money to shop and no rules and curfews.

When she finally broke down and admitted the game plan to both of us, Hella’s behavior made more sense, but I had to admit how badly I’d been duped.

Righteously, Steve only rubbed it in for the next twenty years.

It took me that long to learn how to balance my unrestrained capacity to see good in people with my own gift of discernment. And longer still, to notice that no matter how outrageous, traumatizing, unexpected, or agonizing, every experience we live through teaches us a lesson about ourselves or others.

How absolutely blessed I am to have been cherished by a man who knew my heart, endured my lessons and loved me still.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

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)

Memo from the Department of Just Showing Up

DSC_0003 (2)How is it that I find myself at 3:30 in the morning on my back porch with an old box of matches?  I ask this aloud to Spike.  He does not answer.  Instead, paw on my leg, tennis ball in his mouth, his brown eyes look up at me, hopeful.  The print is faded, but I can make out “Subic Bay Christian Serviceman’s Center” and on some dare to the full moon, I slip out one match, strike it, and marvel at the spark and fire, the sharp, pungent smell of thirty-three-year-old sulfur.  Spike is not impressed with this magic.  Still, my spontaneous grin ignites a full body wag and thumping tail and I cannot help but throw a high curveball into the moonlight and watch as he ducks under the fence and chases across the pasture.

Surely, it is no accident that on this particular night I woke up to rummage through a drawer for warm socks and came up with a memory so potent that time slips away in decades. I am so entranced with my memories that when my captive audience of one returns triumphant – ball in mouth – I cannot help but tell him the story.

In 1976 I lived in Coronado, California with my parents in a high-rise condominium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.   I attended college and worked as lead vocal in Whitefeather, a top-forty, all-girl band.  We played military base clubs and private parties four nights a week and I was rarely home before 3:00 AM.  It began in October that year, each morning at dawn – with only two hours of sleep – I woke to a crude, slightly entertaining mantra emanating from a group of men dressed in blue and gold t-shirts, tight tan shorts and combat boots.  They ran in formation down the beach, chanting their cadence, replete with original and rudimentary rhyme that echoed up six floors and into my head.  Most of the time I was intrigued, but after one particular week of very little sleep and finals looming, I leaned my head out of my open window and issued a stream of oaths.  Without breaking stride, every single man waved at me in unison, mocking my sunrise angst.  Thus became our morning ritual.

A neighbor educated me about these supercilious behemoths.  All were trainees or instructors at BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition School), a brutal training course for specialized commandos known as U.S. Navy SEALs.  It was several weeks before I had my first close-encounter.

During a private gig, and mid-way through my rendition of Moondance, the most ridiculously handsome, arrogant man I will ever meet, walked right up onto my stage and asked me to dance.  We spent the next year in heated debates disguised as dates.  During one such date he dared me to marry him.  I accepted the dare.

Years later, when he arrived from a mission just moments before I gave birth to our daughter, I yelled at him about his lousy timing and party-crashing habits.  He laughed, kissed me square on my panting lips and said, “I didn’t crash your party, I simply showed up to the rest of my life.”  The sweetness of that moment may have been lost to labor pain, but I digress…

In October 1978, Steve and I were married at 10:00 o’clock at night at the Christian Serviceman’s Center in Subic Bay, Olongapoe, Philippines during a monsoon.  Picture this: me in red Candie high heels, (I had them in every color) climbing alone into the back of an open Jeepney(a Filipino taxi) in rain and wind that sliced the sky open. When I arrived, the electricity was out but Steve was there, along with Sixteen Navy SEALs (slightly intoxicated), and a Navy Chaplain who stood wearily between my travelling companion and Steve’s best friend.  I stood at the entrance, charmed by the glow of the votive candles they held.  In unison, they began their own off key version of the wedding march. The room smelled of matchstick sulfur, wet clothes and grain alcohol, but I was delighted by their goofy smiles and I think I laughed aloud as I sloshed my way down the aisle with mud spattered up to my knees and rain dripping from the hem of my cotton dress.  Steve smiled that cocky, edgy smile, leaned in close and whispered, “See, all you had to do was show up.”

Exactly six hours later Steve and his platoon left for a three-week excursion.  Middle of the night exits and unannounced returns became the rhythm of our existence.  During our first year of marriage, we spent exactly 98 days together, no more than 15 consecutive days at a time. I found it fascinating to drill him on details about his trips and quickly learned that even my best methods of persuasion only worked for short clipped versions of his days (so to speak) at the office.  Eventually, we found other things to talk about. Every two to three years from 1978 on we moved across the street, the country or the world.  We lived in seven different states and four different countries.

Independence, while slightly force-fed, taught me how to run our family on my own for months on end.  And it never failed that just about the time the kids and I learned a new language or adapted to a new culture, Steve would show up on the doorstep and we would begin again the next adventure.

This is no sad story, I tell Spike.  He lifts his head, having long since curled himself around my bare feet, and looks at the small box in the palm of my hand. It is not a treat or ball and his obvious disappointment makes me laugh through my tears. Death is nothing at all.  Even now – so many months after Steve’s passing from this earth – he is urging me on to show up to life without him. This, I announce aloud, is beyond measure, a legacy much larger than our little universe of dog and broken woman in the wee hours of dawn.  This ancient little box of matches is a gift full of brilliant love and serendipitous moments.

Steve was right. Life is not complicated.  Rather, it is a sequence of surprises, both excruciatingly painful and full of glorious adventure mixed and stirred up in moments. We mere mortals too often obscure the steps and miss the moments, when all we really need to do is just show up.

 By Lynnette Bukowski © 2011RED
Lynnette Bukowski continues to show up to life each day as a freelance writer and artist. She is the Founder and Director of LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat and is always available to correspond with military widows and families of our fallen warriors at ljbukowski@gmail.com