A Dog, A Downpour And “The Look”

A Dog

I hate the rain – and when I say “hate” I’m not talking about a mild aversion to it. I’m talking about a passionate dislike that actually makes me both anxious and angry. To understand the source of this admittedly unique and troublesome character trait you would have had to have known me as a child. You see, from sun up to sundown (and often well past sundown!) I lived outside. Whether my neighborhood friends and I were playing a pick-up game of basketball, football, Speedball, Hoseball or baseball or I was smashing tennis balls against the garage door or hitting golf balls in a nearby field, I seldom spent more than 5 consecutive minutes indoors during the day, unless I was eating or, you guessed it, it was raining! And I hated to be indoors, so, when it rained, as it often does in South Florida, I transferred that hatred to Mother Nature.

Things didn’t change much as I got older. Most of what I still enjoyed (playing golf, playing tennis, coaching little league baseball, walking, doing yard work, shooting baskets, etc.) were outdoor activities that didn’t mix well with the rain – and sitting around waiting for it to stop just didn’t sit well with me. In fact, I can recall more than one occasion where, in an effort to show Mother Nature who was the boss, I enlisted the help of friends to squeegee water off little league baseball fields so that games wouldn’t be cancelled due to rain. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the importance of rain – the fact that we, the animals, the grass, the flowers, heck the entire Eco-system depend on water to survive and flourish – which is why I have no problem with it as long as it falls between 8 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. Otherwise, I have no use for it!

Consequently, no matter how brown the grass may be or how long it’s been since it last rained, you’ll never find me joining the chorus of co-workers who revel in mid-afternoon thunderstorms like they’re a beautifully wrapped Christmas present: “We really need this rain!” “Thank God it’s finally raining!” “My lawn’s been waiting for a good soaking!” You will, however, find me checking the local radar and scanning the morning and afternoon skies for threats of rain before heading out for a long walk, a round of golf or an outdoor sporting event.  In fact, in the hundreds of walks I’ve taken over the years, I only recall getting caught in the rain twice and both were passing showers.  Fact is, most of the time you can anticipate and plan for storms – at least the big ones!

But every now and then, they catch you off guard. Like a thief in the night, they sneak up on you seemingly out of nowhere. This Thanksgiving morning was one of those times. I’d gotten up especially early (5:15 a.m.), while it was still dark outside, to take my daughter’s dog, Syeira, who I’m babysitting, for her morning walk, because I’d planned to travel to Orlando to spend the day with family and needed to be on the road by 6:30 a.m. As Syeira and I headed to “her spot” several hundred yards from the entrance to our apartment, it was obvious it had rained during the night, but the air seemed calm and clean. Any dark clouds were hidden against an especially black backdrop.  I was already dressed in the outfit I’d ironed the night before and ready to head out the minute we got back.

Just as we arrived at The Spot, however, the skies opened up – without warning. In an instant, Syeira and I were literally soaked to the bone! It was as if God had singled the two of us out for the Ice Bucket Challenge but, in a moment of good-natured horseplay, had decided that instead of a small pail of ice he would dump an entire swimming pool worth of water directly on top of us. We were caught in the deluge wholly unprepared and unprotected. There was no place to run and nothing to be gained by running. Ten years ago, the little boy in me would not have handled that situation well at all. I would’ve pitched a fit, inside and out, been bound up with anger, anxiety and frustration and almost certainly allowed that moment to ruin my entire day.

Worse yet, if challenged, I would’ve had little trouble marshaling the evidence I needed to support the “ruined my day” piece. I mean think about it, of the more 321 million people in the U.S. how many found themselves standing on the front lawn of an apartment complex with a dog at 5:15 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning in the middle of a torrential downpour? Exactly! And then, of course, there’s the fact that my freshly pressed clothes were ruined (at least for the day!) and that the time spent ironing them and on looking “just so” had been wasted – not to mention the impact that drying off and cleaning up not only me, but the dog, would have on my schedule and the stress associated with the prospect of (God forbid!) my being a few minutes late.

Truth is: I likely would “gone there” again this time had I not glanced down at Syeira The Swamp Rat and seen the look on her face. It was a look of fear, uncertainty and confusion, a look that said “I’m watching and I’m waiting. ‘Watching’ because I don’t know what to make of all of this and I’m hoping you do. ‘Waiting’ to take my cue from you as to how I should respond. Is it time to panic or time to play? Are we stuck here or do you have a plan to get us out, to take us home where we can be dry and warm and safe.” It was so innocent, so adorable and so disarming that I couldn’t help but smile. As I did, I could’ve sworn I saw her exhale! Seconds later, she playfully shook herself off, as wet dogs are want to do, which sent even more water all over me, but only served to broaden my smile.

When the two of us started back to the apartment, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I’d seen that same look on my children’s faces through the years and responded with anything but a smile – of all the mishandled moments of its kind; of the times I deluded myself into believing that with enough careful planning and micro-managing, I could insulate them from the storms of life, only to miss out on countless opportunities to simply hold their hands and their hearts in the midst of them and offer quiet assurances that the dark clouds and the rains they brought with them would pass; and of crises, large and small, that too often were met with anger, frustration and impatience, when what was needed, indeed what they were silently crying out for was softness, empathy and understanding.

“They too were watching and waiting”, I thought to myself. I’m just not sure they ever fully exhaled, let alone felt like they had “permission” to get in a good shake!


“Do You Have A Minute?”


“We are all just waiting for someone to notice – notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage.” Rachel Macy Stafford

Despite the fact that the number of unique monthly visitors seem to tell a different story (Facebook – 900 million, Twitter – 310 million, LinkedIn – 255 million, Pintrest – 250 million, Tumblr – 110 million, etc.) and that the population of available platforms is growing rapidly, there are still lots of people, especially in my generation, who look upon Social Media with a jaundiced eye (okay, 2 jaundiced eyes!!!). Having never sought to understand it, let alone experience it for themselves, these folks are nonetheless convinced that if Social Media hasn’t already permanently defaced the fabric of our society, it is well on its way to doing so. In their mind, time spent posting, pinning, tweeting, snap-chatting, attending a Google hang-out, vlogging, blogging and vining would be much better spent in face-to-face conversation over a cup of tea or coffee at a local café, out socializing or playing with friends, reading a book, taking a walk, exercising – in short doing just about anything else. I know, because not so long ago, I was one of those people. In fact, in my book, I made a rather impassioned plea imploring my readers to “step away from the multiple keyboards that populate their lives and allow themselves to be fully (i.e., emotionally and physically) present in the lives of others.” And I still fervently believe in the indispensability of in person, one-on-one human connection.

But, at the insistence of my publisher, I decided to stick my little toe in the Social Media waters (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+ and blogging) back in 2013 and I’ve never looked back. During that time, I’ve witnessed the power and the promise of Social Media. I’ve watched inspirational women like Glennon Doyle Melton assemble a world-wide army of “Love Warriors” that now numbers in the hundreds of thousands, who, in a matter of hours can transform the holiday “Wish Lists” of 100’s of families in need into “Dreams Really Do Come True” Lists or raise hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight for a single family near financial ruin as a result of the unexpected loss a loved one. I’ve also had the privilege to see equally extraordinary people like Rachel Macy Stafford, Kari Kampakis, Amanda Magee, Anne Lamott, Dr. Kelly Flanagan, and Garth Callaghan – to name just a few – use Social Media to inspire and transform hearts on a grand scale – none of which would be even remotely possible were it not for Social Media. On a personal level, Social Media has given me a front row seat to life-changing displays of courage by everyday heroes, a vehicle for interacting directly with state and national legislators on critically important issues, a means of affirming acts of selflessness by celebrities and others and a way to respectfully call out acts of cowardice and ignorance by people who should know better.

Don’t get me wrong. Social Media has more than its share of shortcomings. Among them is the fact that it’s become supersaturated with people and businesses trying to market themselves and/or their products. It also provides a mostly unregulated space for hate speech, bullying and the promotion of ideas and ideologies that many would prefer didn’t have outlets like these at their advocates’ disposal. In fact, even the most avid of Social Mediaphiles have had moments where they’ve questioned its usefulness, as did this Twitter friend just the other night: “Y’all, why are we on Twitter? What’s the endgame? Twitter is an interesting community, but we’re also assuming that random people on the internet care to hear us pontificate about our lives. We’ll never meet the vast majority of the people we chat with, and nothing really takes the place of ‘real’ friends. At the end of the Twitter day, we’re still getting drunk with our computer and going to bed alone. Not sure what the point is anymore. If I delete or deactivate, then what – my scope of the world is simply narrowed (for better or for worse)? The reality is I’m just one random person who really likes cats and makeup, and occasionally rants. It might be time to let it go. But I might just be acutely lonely right now and mopey and too far up in my head.”

I’ve had those moments myself – many times. Moments when I wonder whether the time I’ve dedicated to writing more than 100,000 words worth of tweets, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram posts, etc. has been time well spent, especially when those words are met with silence as they often are. But every now and then, usually when I least expect and am most in need of it, as I was in the wake of my friend’s suggestion that we just shut it all down, I am reminded of the opportunities Social Media affords to be there in another’s time of need, to step into the void, to notice, to validate, to offer a word of encouragement and maybe even plant a tiny seed of hope. No sooner had one friend finished her friendly anti-Twitter “rant”, than a second sent me this note, via Twitter messenger:

“Hey, Don. Do you have a minute?”

And then, without waiting for my response this:

“I hate to be a burden, but I need a dad tonight.
I need someone to tell me it’s going to be alright.
I need reassurance that the sun is going to come up tomorrow.
I need to be reminded that I’m good enough.
I need a heart so filled with love that it has no space to be ashamed of me.
I need to know I’m not a disappointment.
I need someone to check under the bed and in the closet and tell me it’s safe to sleep.
I need to know I’m someone’s pride and joy.
I need someone who will listen without judging me.
I need to know I’m loved and that I matter.
I feel worthless and abandoned and alone – and I’m tired, so tired of fighting.
Please tell me that you’re out there and that you have a minute . . .”

“I am,” I wrote, through a sheen of tears, “and I do”. Then, without a second thought (and with gratitude for Twitter) I hit “Send” just as fast as I could.

Truth is: We all have a minute and, thanks in large part to Social Media, sometimes that minute and a willingness to open our hearts and listen is all it takes to make a difference and hold the light for someone struggling to find their way in the darkness.


“Sorry I’m Late To The Party”


“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” William Shakespeare

There are a lot of things about the eating disorder mind I likely will never understand, nor, I suspect, will anyone else who hasn’t lived with it. But there is one piece that I do get – a sentiment shared by many whose lives have been abruptly interrupted by these and other officious intermeddlers, especially for extended periods of time – and yet I’ve never been quite sure how to respond when confronted by it. It’s the sense among those in recovery, often rooted in friends’ Instagram, Periscope, Facebook and other social media posts, that their “unafflicted” peers are miles ahead of them in Life and that they (the sufferer) have little or no hope of ever catching up. It’s a demoralizing, at times debilitating mindset, but like most of the thoughts that populate an eating disorder mind it’s also a distortion of the truth. The challenge for me has always been how to articulate why that is in a way that not only convinces, but empowers those whose vision of self is clouded by that Big Lie. That is until a week ago, when I learned, via FB, that one of my favorite people on Earth, Marjorie Mims Dempsey (“Miraculous Marjorie” to her friends), crawled for the first time – at 13 MONTHS!

You see, ordinarily infants begin crawling between 6 and 9 months (I only know that because I looked it up on Wikipedia!), but there’s nothing “ordinary” about Marjorie. At 2:08 pm, on October 8, 2014, Marjorie fought her way into this world – all 1 lb., 15 oz. & 14” of her. No sooner had she arrived, however, than she was whisked off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, where she would spend the next 2 months fighting for her life. The mountain was steep. Born at 27 weeks, 2 days, Marjorie was just on the other side of the point at which doctors and families often have to make unthinkably difficult decisions because of the medical and developmental risks involved (tinyurl.com/pcp5h3f). But Marjorie, her family and her medical team would have none of that. It was never about WHETHER Marjorie would go home. It was about WHEN she would go home and how she would thrive when she got there. For 68 often scary, but always hope-filled days, Marjorie put on a clinic on “How To Do Life One Day At A Time”, on its preciousness, on the power that resides in daily declaring yourself worthy of it – on overcoming, on courage, on perseverance and on the resiliency of the human spirit.

On December 15, 2014, Marjorie “strolled” out of Wolfson and headed home for the holidays. Had it ended there, the story would be noteworthy, miraculous and inspiring enough. But less than six (6) months later, on May 27, 2015, Marjorie was back at Wolfson Children’s, this time on its Pediatric Oncology floor diagnosed with cancer – neuroblastoma (in her liver and adrenal glands) to be precise. The fight was joined again and, again, Marjorie rose to the challenge. While the adults in her world struggled to come to grips with the weight of the diagnosis and the intense emotions attached to it, Marjorie, thankfully oblivious to that piece of it (save for her mother’s tears spilling onto her cheeks) resumed the role of Warrior, of Life Grabber, of Braveheart, of Teacher, of “Whatever-It-Takes-Let’s-Get-It-Done-And-Move-On-er” – and move on she did. After several more heart-wrenching trips to the hospital, 2 rounds of chemo, too many scans to think about (and a few thousand prayers), Marjorie again waved goodbye to her team at Wolfson and, on October 22, 2015, she headed home.

And then it happened!

On November 3, 2015, almost 13 months to the day after her birth and nearly half a lifetime (re-read those last four words) after most of her FB friends had long since passed the milestone and were well on their way to walking, little Marjorie crawled a total of two feet – one uncertain, but deliberate inch at a time – for the very first time tinyurl.com/prbxly4 By then, she’d spent almost a third of her life in a hospital – much of it in Plexiglas incubator or tethered to a chemotherapy drip – while her friends were out partying at the local Gymboree. Truth is: Marjorie has every reason to be bitter, to feel sorry for herself, victimized, cheated, like she’s gotten the short end of the stick, as if she’s a failure – heck, maybe even a tad ashamed that it took so long to accomplish something that to most seems so basic. And yet, there’s not a hint of any of that in the video. In fact, it’s just the opposite – pride in place of shame, excitement rather than despair, effusive joy in lieu of bitterness or self-loathing, and determination instead of defeat. I see it in her smile, her eyes and her priceless chest thumps!

“How is that possible?” I wondered. How is it that someone can pass through such a dark place and come out on the other side so eager and enthusiastic to pick up where they left off, almost as if nothing had happened? “Maybe she’s just not old enough to know better,” I reasoned. After all, she’s only 13 months. And then it hit me. Maybe it’s precisely because Marjorie is only as old as she is that she DOES know better. Maybe her unworldly-adorned soul knows intuitively the truths that those who struggle to pick up the pieces of a life interrupted by adversity, especially those suffering from eating disorders, have so much trouble embracing:

That comparison is the thief of all happiness;*

That fighting for your life is nothing to feel guilty about, let alone be ashamed of;

That it takes immeasurable courage and strength to fight (and win) that battle;

That every battle scar earned along the way is intended to be a badge of honor – not a source of embarrassment;

That self-worth is not defined by others’ standards and expectations;

That sometimes progress is measured in grams and inches – not leaps and bounds;

That, on the path to overcoming, the only step that matters is the next one;

That each of those steps, no matter how small, is a cause for celebration; and

That the search for reassurance that we are enough “as is” begins and ends in the eyes of those who know us best and love us most.

Above all else, Marjorie has learned to be at home and at play in her own skin – a body that already has summited not one, but two once seemingly insurmountable mountains.

If I’m right (and I think I am!), then the good news is: There’s likely a Miraculous Marjorie inside each and every one of us just waiting to be discovered (or re-discovered as the case may be) and to be set free.

I don’t pretend to be very good at deciphering the words of a 13 month-old, but I’m pretty sure Marjorie’s video-taped message to the world is as clear as the twinkle in her eye: “Sorry I’m a little late to the party guys. I’ve been busy fighting for my life!”


*Jennifer Siebel Newsom

A Coincidence Or An Epidemic?


Over the past several weeks, I’ve had conversations with four very different women, from four entirely different backgrounds, at four very different stages in their life journeys, all of whom, for very different reasons, regrettably found themselves confronted with virtually the same unfortunate predicament: Someone in their lives who professes (or once professed) to care about them either already is disparaging (or is threatening to disparage) them to others in their respective circle of friends or colleagues and, in one instance, in the eyes of the public, by vindictively spreading falsehoods about them, impugning their integrity or challenging their identity as person, mother, wife/ex-wife and business professional. Given their disparateness, I would have expected each of the women to have very different reactions to their situations. Oddly, however, they responded in virtually the same way. Initially, there was an almost paralyzing fear that the “audiences” to whom their respective tormentors were intent on presenting this distorted and, in some instances, blatantly false image of who the women were would actually believe the hate-filled messengers and either think less of or disassociate themselves from the women. That, in turn, engendered the second response: An all-consuming desire to strike back – to mount an aggressive “defense of self” directed first at the hate-speakers and, ultimately, at the “audience” of the hate-speak in order to “prove” that they were not the person others were intent on portraying them to be, that they were a good person, a good mother, a good wife/ex-wife, a good worker, etc., even if it meant getting down in the gutter with the venom-spewers and slinging a little (or a lot) of mud themselves.

The fear piece is easy enough to understand, I suppose. None of us want to be subjected to attack, especially when It gets personal, when it strikes at the essence of our identity, either personally or professionally or both. It’s hurtful. Over time, such attacks wear us down, play on our own insecurities, make us question ourselves and, ultimately, have the potential to heap even more shame and guilt on what too often already are shame-saturated and guilt-ridden souls. Believe me, the “haters” in these women’s lives (in all of our lives for that matter) know these things and use them to their advantage. They are consummate manipulators. They wield shame, guilt and fear like Thor wielded his hammer. The question, in my mind, is why do we “insist” on vesting others with so much power over us? Why do we do allow what others’ think about us, rightfully or wrongfully, to have such a profound impact on our view of ourselves? Why does what others do or say matter so much, let alone drive us right into the dirt with them – slingshots in hand? Moreover, what could possibly be gained by our striking back? What “standard” is there that will enable us to “prove” to others, let alone those predisposed to believing what they will, that we are a good mother/father, a good wife/husband (or ex-wife/ex-husband as the case may be), a desirable boyfriend/girlfriend, a competent, if not exceptionally talented, employee? And how will we measure whether our “defense of self campaign” has “succeeded”? The point is there is no such standard (at least none that I’m aware of), nor does any yardstick exist for measuring such “successes.”

What is the alternative? Here’s my suggestion: Take a deep breath and a big step back. Then, putting humility on the shelf for a moment, pick up a pen and a piece of paper and, under the heading “What I Know To Be True About Me,” take an honest inventory of all the positive attributes of your non-physical, authentic self. My inventory, for example, included the following: “I’m courageous. I’m honest. I’m sensitive and responsive to others’ needs. I care. I’m compassionate and empathetic. I have the ability to inspire and motivate others and to instill a sense of hope in seemingly hopeless circumstances. I’m resourceful and a good problem solver. I’m creative and a good writer. I have a good sense of humor and am able to see the humorous in life. I am faith in action. I’m bright. I’m a good dad. I have the capacity to be a good and loyal friend. I’m a good kisser (just had to throw that in there!?!). I’m passionate and persistent. I’ve become a good listener and more patient. I try not to be judgmental. I am other-centered and good at giving. I’m a little weird at times – and a lot more imperfect than I first realized (ouch! – not gonna lie, it wasn’t easy putting those last 9 words on paper!!!). I’m warm and unselfish.” Here’s the key: Those who know you best and love you most, know these things to be true about you – and that’s all that matters – that and that you know and believe them to be true and that you cling to them when you are under attack, whether it be by another person or an equally insidious and powerful adversary like addiction, an eating disorder, loneliness or depression. Because, chances are, you will never be able to prove them to those who are unwilling or unable to see the truth about you or, worse yet, who see it, but are commitment to obscuring or trying to destroy it.