January 31, 2011

A Box Called HOPE

Last June, I wrote a piece entitled “Inspiration/Hope and Two Young Men.” In that particular piece, I described a story of a young man I met one night in Liberal, Kansas in March, 2010. For those who haven’t read it, I’ll give you a short summary. The young man had just caught his first DUI and was sentenced to attend an intensive in-patient rehabilitation program. The night I met him was his first day there and the look in his eyes is one I’ll never forget. You know the one, the “deer in the headlight” look. He was scared. Later, as the group members were discussing their individual plights, I clearly remember this young man’s story. Since he was new, hesitant, and fearful, it was very brief. At the end though, he sort of looked down at his feet and softly said, “I guess all I can do is HOPE.” The rest is history. I literally JUMPED out of my chair and began excitedly telling him and everyone there the thought that popped into my mind when I first met him, long before he spoke that word. My mind was telling me, “Man, this kid needs some HOPE.” As I spoke, I could tell everyone there was clearly hanging on every word and when I finished telling him and everyone to hang on, to humble themselves, that they were not ALONE, to find the ONE thing that will keep them on the path to clean living and stick with it, several members got up and clapped. It was one of those spine-tingling “moments” and I could see the young man’s demeanor totally change as I left. Where there was once a deer, there was now a look of HOPE in his eyes.

That brings me to what I’d like to discuss with you. Recently, the news media discovered “The Homeless Man with the Golden Voice.” Ted Williams was living near freeway underpasses. One day, someone in their vehicle stopped to talk with him and just so happened to videotape the conversation. What happened next everyone knows well. The video went viral on YouTube. Before long, Ted was being bombarded with job offers around the country. Everyone wanted the man with the golden voice to pitch their product. And nearly everyone in the country was quick to jump on the bandwagon. After all, we all love the underdog and here was a man that INSPIRED us all. He gave us HOPE. Sadly, in a few short days, we all found out what happened next. Turns out Mr. Williams has a drinking problem. Bad enough that, after interviewing with Dr. Phil on television, he agreed to check himself into rehabilitation. What I find peculiar about that is this. NO ONE bothered to mention his name anymore; not the news media that hyped him, not even all of those people all over the country who were so quick to cheer him on, even on Facebook. It was like, “Oh, he’s a drunk. Well, I don’t want any part of THAT.”

Which brings me to another man, and this one EVERYONE knows. Charlie Sheen is the hit actor on the sitcom called “Two and a Half Men.” Turns out good ‘ol Charlie has a drinking problem too, in addition to an addiction to cocaine. His shenanigans have been plastered all over the news for months and continue to be, even AFTER he also checked himself into rehabilitation like Mr. Williams. Why? For some reason, it’s human nature to take some sort of satisfaction when we see someone famous like Mr. Sheen falter.

The point of this story however, isn’t to discuss why we choose to ignore one man while talking all day about the other. The point is substance abuse doesn’t discriminate. It knows not race, color, creed, social, or financial status. As it’s written, “It’s a cunning, baffling, and POWERFUL disease.” The point is also how WE as a society and as individuals choose to REACT to those with it. Do we simply ignore it as in the case of Mr. Williams? Or do we tromp all over Mr. Sheen, merely because he’s rich and famous?

Are any of us perfect? “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Yes, people like Mr. Williams and Mr. Sheen deserve our attention, but where our attention is misguided is when they, and people like them, fail. We must remember they’re only human. Everyone makes mistakes, including you and I. And yes, humility is critical for both of these gentlemen. I’ve seen and heard Mr. Williams on tape and, I can assure you from personal experience, his words are secretly laced with denial. Mr. Sheen’s own actions are screaming denial. When they do reach that state of humility, have dropped their walls of pride and fear, and honestly admit to themselves, their God, and their fellow man of their problem, is where WE come in. We have to be there to give them forgiveness, pure unconditional love, even food or shelter if needed, all wrapped up in a box called HOPE. After all, that’s all any of US could wish for in life and isn’t that all WE would wish for our fellow man? We’re in this thing together, homeless or famous, we should REMEMBER that.


January 30, 2011

A Message For YOU

As the one year anniversary approaches since I created this blog, the website at gustoramblings.com, and the platform on Facebook called “Gusto” that’s used to launch some of my “Ramblings”, I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few things to those of you who follow these outlets.

First, I want to extend a big THANK YOU to everyone. To be honest, and as I pointed out early on in this endeavor, I had no idea where it would lead. All I know is I woke up in the wee hours early one morning in April, 2010 with a vision. A vision to share some of my experiences, thoughts, and musings in the hope of inspiring my fellow man in whatever way God saw fit. As I reflect back on this past year, it never ceases to amaze me what gifts He continues to bestow upon me. Today, there are 16 “followers” of the blog and 108 members of the “Gusto” Facebook page. Since the blog’s inception, there have been nearly 4,300 page views of the blog from people representing 26 countries around the globe, including the following: the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, Russia, Latvia, Hong Kong, India, the Netherlands, Poland, the Philippines, Hungary, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Israel, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, France, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Brazil, Sweden, South Korea, and Finland. The Facebook page also continues to grow on nearly a daily basis, which is a particular source of pride for my-self. After all, Facebook is the most widely used social outlet on our planet, which today has well over 500 MILLION subscribers from every corner of the Earth. More importantly, it was where I first began venturing forth into my “new world” beginning in early 2009, where I rediscovered old friends from years gone by and, MOST importantly, Facebook in the oddest of twists, is how I indirectly met the love of my life, Natalie Ryan-Ramirez. Natalie wasn’t even on Facebook herself when we first met and, had it not been for a good Facebook friend of my own who invited me to the Celebration of Life Natalie held for her late husband in May, 2010, I never would have met her. For that reason alone, I'm again blessed, honored, and humbled indeed to be a part of this forum.

Looking forward, and many of you know this, there is still the notion of turning Ramblings into some form of book for publication, perhaps a collection of short stories, or even in the public speaking arena. All of this though, I’ll leave up to God. He brought me here and it’s my duty to follow Him now! I also feel it incumbent upon me, now that so many are following, that I uphold myself to the highest standards of moral and ethical values as I continue to share with you some of my thoughts and musings. I know many of you have been a HUGE source of strength and inspiration for me and, believe me when I tell you this, I rely to a GREAT extent on your feedback. I therefore strongly urge you to share with me some of your own stories if you wish. In addition, I welcome your comments, suggestions, and input on any topics you may wish to bring up for discussion. As you know, my life is an open book. I made this decision consciously. Reason being is, unlike the “Anonymous” group I was once part of on a daily basis, I choose to live my life OUT LOUD, because I’ve seen first-hand the personal benefits for doing so. God has been very good to me in this regard. As “they” say, “the proof is in the pudding”, and I’m a living example of that philosophy, culminating with one of the biggest blessings I’ve had in my life with the LOVE of my life!

Finally, I would ask this of you. Please, if you would, share this blog, website, and the associated page on Facebook with whomever you wish, particularly those whom you might feel would benefit from it. My mission is to INSPIRE. Like one of the “Gusto” fans told me over the phone one day, a lady I’ve known since childhood and with whom I went to school with starting when we were in Kindergarten back in Kansas, “Gus, if what you write about helps just ONE person, you should be thankful.” She nailed it!! May God Bless you ALL!


January 28, 2011

Kansas - Home Where the HEART Is!

Today is her birthday. She’s 150 years old. When she was born in 1861, she became part of a nation about to embark on a bitter Civil War. In the days and years since then, she’s seen several more wars, survived the Great Depression, nearly choked to death from the grit of her own soil during the Dust Bowl, gave birth to many great natives included President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, and countless others too numerous to mention. SHE is KANSAS.

Today, she is known as the “Wheat State”, the crown jewel of states centered in the HEART of America’s “heartland”, the breadbasket of the world. To the rest of the world, she is best known for the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, a movie that needs no explanation. That’s the universal appeal she attracts to herself.

But Kansas is so much more than that. The reason I know is because I was BORN there and that’s where my HEART will always be. Though I live now in an area of our nation known as “paradise” to many here in Southern California and elsewhere, I’d like to tell them and everyone else, don’t EVER judge a book by its cover. Make NO mistake, Kansas has its own forms of “paradise.”

Two days ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Moving On.” In that particular chapter, I described some of what my life was like during my stay in Kansas, but only highlighted a few short months during 2009, a time when I was about to discover that “moving on” and leaving her would be best. I’d like to expand on that topic now, in addition to talking a little more about my home state.

I believe there’s a common thread here. Many times over the past nearly three years, I’ve spoken often of HEART when it comes to describing my own life, both now and in the past. I believe it’s no coincidence that I was born in the state that’s located in nearly the exact center of America, in the middle of America’s “heartland.” Kansans can be described in many ways but one I firmly believe all who were born there that we ALL share in common is our HEART. THAT’s what Kansas is all about.

My own memories of Kansas, of course, can be traced back to childhood. My sisters, all FIVE of them, and I grew up together on a farmstead located 2 miles west of Tribune, Kansas. It was here that many of the memories stay alive in my mind’s eye. Being the only boy and growing up in a house with ONE bathroom and five sisters all scrambling to look their best every morning before school led to a LOT of challenges! I’ll spare you the details on that but you can probably surmise that the great outdoors was not only my playground, but where I spent much of my time working. I recall getting up very early every day before school to feed the horses, make sure the grain feeders were working properly for our hogs and, in the winter, chopping ice on water troughs for the animals to have something to drink. In later years when my Dad expanded the hog operation to several hundred animals, he’d get me up at sometimes 4 in the morning before school so we could process a semi-truckload of 35 pound baby pigs hauled to our farm all the way from Missouri. Dad would stand near the back gate of the truck to push them into the chute, King, our Australian Shepherd dog would nip at their backsides through cracks in the chute to further them along, and at the end, it was my job to make sure they all jumped and took a bath in the “dipping vat”, a sort of large concrete tub built below ground filled with anti-lice solution.

But as I grew older to a teenager it was harvesting our wheat crop that got into my blood. Today, I can STILL smell the ripening of grain, can FEEL the anticipation and excitement as the day drew near when we would pull our combines into the field to begin a frenzied job of getting the crop out of the field before mother nature could take her with hail. Wheat harvest in Kansas is a VERY special time. Trucks scurrying around everywhere, getting out to the field at daybreak to “service” the combines before cutting started when the humidity came down later that morning, then staying in the fields all day, sometimes until 10 or 11 p.m. at night. Long days filled with excitement when the yields were good, disappointment when they weren’t, but still enjoyable, especially at sunset. If you’ve never seen a Kansas sunset during wheat harvest in June, I’m here to tell you it rivals ANY you’ll see anywhere in this country, including Southern California.

It takes a LOT of heart and courage to live there. The weather can be brutal, at once excruciatingly hot in the summertime and frigidly cold in the winter. And the wind. Oh, the omnipresent wind. It never stops, or so it seems. But when it does, and believe me it stops more often than one might think, is when Kansas’ beauty REALLY shines. Sitting outside on your porch on a warm summer evening, gazing at the stars unblemished by smog or pollutants. The smell of the air after one of those infamous summer thunderstorms. It’s as clean and fresh as on the day God created the heavens and the earth. Listening to the wonders of nature at night; crickets, frogs, coyotes howling in the distance, the faint hum of irrigation engines as they methodically produce power to push center pivot sprinklers over thousands of acres of corn, and the rhythmic hum of a well-jack on some far off oil well slowly pumping its precious crude to the surface. Watching fireflies dance in the dark, seeing a full moon as bright as one can possibly imagine. These are all memories that are still vivid in my mind and I will carry for the rest of my days. Kansas is truly, “Paradise”, and home where the HEART is.


January 27, 2011

Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd (With Lyrics)

Moving On

Imagine you’re on a 10-speed bicycle. You’re on a two-lane highway near a small town in Southwest Kansas. It’s summer, sometime in July 2009, it’s 6 p.m. and the temperature is still near 100 degrees. There’s little traffic, the road is flat, with a slight breeze in your face. Your pedaling at medium-speed, sweating profusely, and listening to classic rock on your headphones. Then it happens. “Your” song comes on, “Freebird” by the legendary group Lynyrd Skynrd. That’s when you “kick it” into high gear and pedal as fast and hard as you can all the way through the song. Your mind and legs are in rhythm with the music and AT THAT MOMENT, you forget how hot it is, how stiff the wind is blowing, how tired your legs are. All you know is you HAVE to stay in high gear completely to the end. You’re FREE.

When I returned to Elkhart, Kansas in late May 2009, it was exactly one week to the day shy of one year since I was there last as a free man. For the next 9 ½ months, it was “home” again. I had a job and, most of all, I had “Mr. Mongoose”, my 27-inch bicycle. I used to joke around with friends and family during that time, that wherever I went Mr. Mongoose went. And it was true. I would ride every day, sometimes 10 plus miles, no matter what the weather. Heat, wind, cold, even rain. Of course, one of the biggest reasons was the obvious physical benefits but, what I discovered was there was something else it provided. It was a release. A way to express my FREEDOM. It gave me peace of mind.

Fast forward to today. It’s late January, 2011 and Kansas is a memory in my rear-view mirror. I’ve been in Northern San Diego County for nearly a year now and my bike is in the garage, replaced by my legs walking along the beach as often as I can, expressing my freedom in a different way. I remember clearly what I said to a lady counselor this past July. She gave me a bit of a surprise really with this question, "What do you do to recharge your batteries?" I paused for a long time and then calmly said one word, "Movement." But as I wrote the first paragraph above, the memory of being on that bike back in Kansas is vivid, and will remain so for the rest of my life. The heat, the wind, the sweat pouring off me, the legs pedaling as hard as I could push them, and the lyrics of that song, “Freebird.” At that time, it didn’t have the meaning it does today. All I know is I loved the speed! But I digress, it’s the lyrics that “speak” to me now. Here they are:

“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be travelling on now, 'Cause there's too many places I've got to see. But, if I stayed here with you girl, Things just couldn't be the same. 'Cause I'm as free as a bird now, And this bird you cannot change, Lord knows, I can't change. Bye, bye, it's been a sweet love, Though this feeling I can't change. But please don't take it badly, 'Cause Lord knows I'm to blame. But, if I stayed here with you girl, Things just couldn't be the same. Cause I'm as free as a bird now, And this bird you'll never change, And this bird you can not change, Lord knows, I can't change, Lord help me, I can't change. Won't ya fly-y-y freebird, yeah!”

For me, the “girl” is Kansas. I’ll leave it up to the reader to interpret the rest but, basically, it was time for me to leave her. It was a long courtship, lasting all but 10 years of my life. I was born there in 1958, left there in 1975, returned in 1985, and left once more in 2010. But it was the past five years from 2005 to 2010 that will be forever etched in my memory. A tremendous amount of life-changing events occurred during that time, and not just for me. My decisions affected my children, my family, my former co-workers, many friends, clients, and probably dozens of people I’m still not even aware of. Unfortunately, some of these decisions were not for the best and, like the song says, I was to blame. For that, I paid a very dear price. Those of you who know my story don’t need me to go into the detail of that. I nearly lost everything, including my very LIFE.

There IS something different about me now and that’s where my life runs counter to the song’s lyrics about change. I HAVE changed and not just bits and pieces. It’s been a re-birth and I think my brother-in-law from Florida put it best when he saw pictures of me one of my sisters showed him that was taken in Tucson in the summer of 2009. He said, “It’s not just a renovation, you look RESURRECTED.”

You hear it all the time, it’s time to “move on” and move forward in a positive way. Though I firmly believe in those words, I also hold the belief that one day I will return to my home state and make an entirely different impression upon her. Not to move back there mind you, only to visit as I did this past August when I returned to my hometown in Tribune. I remember seeing many people there and felt many eyes sizing me up. People could not only SEE the change, but they also FELT it. I know this because of comments made by several people when I was there.

I’m not sure what the future holds about returning to Kansas again, only time will tell, and it’s all in God’s hands now. What I would like to tell everyone there in my hometown is this. My HEART will always belong to you and though I’ve “moved on”, don’t ever think I don’t remember. I want to tell them that it’s a BIG world out there and though many people think Southern California is “paradise”, in reality, paradise is wherever you are, including Western Kansas. I want to tell them that people change, including me. I want to share with them the glory and awesome power of being “resurrected.” I want to tell them ALL of the story that’s transpired since I left there in July 2005. I want to tell them that there is ALWAYS hope, no matter what your circumstances or who you are. I want to tell them to not give up. I want to say, NEVER say never! I want to tell them I love them.


January 25, 2011

Grieving is Living

If you’ve read my blog, then you know the primary purpose is an attempt to inspire others through sharing some of my own life experiences, as well as hopefully gaining some inspiration from others. This particular post may not “fit” that definition per se, but it’s one that I hope will give you an insight into the “grieving” process we all experience at some point in our lives. Before I begin however, I want to state unequivocally that I am neither a trained counselor nor do I propose to be. On the other hand, I would suggest that people like myself, people who have experienced this emotion first-hand, may be able to offer a unique perspective to this topic, unlike those of us who haven’t dealt with it directly.

When someone hears the word “grief”, or rather “grieving”, most people associate that term with the loss of a loved one who has passed on from an earthly life into heaven. As you might suspect though, grief can take many forms, even among the living. For instance, my own journey over the past few years in recovering from an insidious disease caused both myself and those close to me to experience all phases of this emotion. Of course, there's many types of grief; job loss, break up of a relationship, divorce, health issues, financial concerns, family issues, and so forth. People who grieve usually follow the 5 classic stages psychologists describe roughly as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

For years, I was stuck in the denial stage with my disease, primarily because of two factors, pride and fear. Once those walls of pride and fear were torn down though, I quickly worked through the final four stages, although I must admit, I lingered in the anger stage along with denial for quite some time. But once I reached the Acceptance stage is when I was finally able to start picking up the pieces of my broken life and start slowly rebuilding them.

Today, I’m still in that process. And that’s one of the unique things about “grieving.” In a perverted sense, it NEVER ends! And that’s okay! Reason being, we never reach a full state of perfection in life or ever fully “recover” from grief. That’s why we are called human beings. We are not God. But one of the most important things I’ve learned through this whole process, if not THE most important one, is that there are those I hurt emotionally that STILL, to this day, in spite of nearly 3 years of making my amends, have not ACCEPTED those amends. You see, though it is ME that has the disease, I learned that the people I loved the most in my life contracted it as well by virtue of my actions! Once I realized that when I was honest with them and made my amends, I could NOT control whether they would accept them. This had been a very hard lesson for me. My own father would hardly speak to me for over a year but thankfully, today we are back on good terms. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for others in my life whom I love dearly, the names of which will remain anonymous for now. Only time will tell what happens with them and that too is beyond my control. That’s God’s job, not mine. I’ve done what I could so it’s time to move on in with life in a positive way from this day forward.

Which of course leads me to what most people associate with this emotion. My own experience with the death of my mother nearly 39 years ago is something I still carry within me to this very day. I want to make this very clear though, I choose not to feel sorry for myself that she’s gone, but to rather USE those memories when she was ALIVE, in reaching out and helping my fellow man. Death of a loved one does strange things to people and many times, they stay stuck in either denial, anger, bargaining, or depression, and may NEVER reach acceptance. This is another cold hard fact of life.

But there’s GOOD news! All of this is simply a part of LIFE. Whether you’ve lost a loved one through death, experienced the pain of personal or professional tragedy, or merely going through “tough times”, there is always HOPE. Have faith in God and in yourself that eventually, all will be well in your life again. As long as you are able to recognize that grieving is a part of living, and to be aware of what stages of the grief process you’re going through, your life will be rich with joy and happiness once more. There are many tools and resources available to help you through this process. Allow me to tell you one that helped me.

When was in Elkhart, Kansas nearly three years ago, I read a book by Stephen Baldwin, youngest of the Baldwin brothers of acting fame (remember Alec Baldwin?) Anyway, the book is entitled “The Unusual Suspect.” In it, Stephen describes his life and how he happened to find Christianity. There was one part and quote I’ll never forget and it goes something like this:

“Each morning when I wake up I ask: God? Tell me how, what, when, or where I can be of service to you today.”

After I read that book, I began repeating that phrase every day when I awoke. Point being, it’s when we HELP others is when we find HELP for ourselves. Service above self. Being kind to people in your world, and everything that word means, in spite of all the GRIEF you may be experiencing, is one of the best ways to overcome it. That’s God’s gift to us as His children. Try it, it works!!


January 20, 2011

Divine Intervention

Back in September 2010, I wrote a blog post entitled “I Can’t”. For those of you who have read this particular piece, then you know it was one widely commented on and one of the most viewed stories so far in “Ramblings.” Of course, the main message was what we are capable of as human beings when faced with tragedy or life-altering experiences. One of the stories I mentioned in that post was one that goes back nearly 35 years, a story of three young men whose lives were changed forever by an auto accident in Kansas in 1976. One where I was driving and two friends from California who happened to stop that summer night in Tribune, Kansas, my hometown, and who were injured as a result of this accident. One friend, in particular, was severely injured. He was a fellow classmate at Torrey Pines high school who was also on the football team along with my-self. Because of this accident, he never played football again. His good friend, Paul Salgado, who graduated a year ahead of us in 1976, was also injured, though not as severely. This is a story about that man, a man I lost contact with shortly after the accident until, suddenly, I met him again this past May. Brace yourself, this is a story that will give you goosebumps!

When I moved back to Southern California in March, 2010, I had been invited by a good friend  to attend a funeral memorial in late May held in honor of Willie Ramirez, with whom I went to school with at Torrey Pines H.S. in Del Mar, CA. My friend told me there would be people there with whom I’d gone to school with, many that I hadn’t seen for over 30 years. As it turns out, the memorial was held over a year after Willie’s death, who contracted cancer in late 2008 and passed away shortly thereafter in April 2009. When I arrived, I was absolutely stunned at the number of people there and it was evident this was a man who had led a remarkable life. His wife Natalie, her family, and his own, had planned this memorial for months, and what transpired that day will be forever embedded in my memory.

When I walked into the banquet room where the memorial was held, the FIRST person I met that day was none other than the same man who was jettisoned from the front seat of my father’s Ford Bronco the night we were in that accident nearly 35 years prior, the LAST time we had spoken with each other. We locked eyes on each other and I knew it was him. I called out “Paul!”, we shook hands, and I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He smiled broadly, and simply said, “Gus!” But wait, it gets better, much better!

Turns out Paul just so happened to be Willie’s BEST friend who was being honored that day with the memorial! He was also one of the featured speakers that day, along with several other classmates and people I once knew. And THAT’S where I first laid my eyes on the woman who would eventually become the love of my life, Natalie Ryan-Ramirez. Natalie and Paul have been very good friends for over 30 years, and the one I last saw flying headfirst out of my Dad’s Ford Bronco nearly 35 years ago. But, that’s just part of this story and here’s where I get tears.

After the memorial in late May 2010, I never heard from Paul again. At least up until 2 weeks ago today and only because of something Natalie did. One of the things I began encouraging her to do not long after we starting dating in June, was to start her own Facebook page. After all, she had one created in Willie’s name as a way of attracting people to not only his memorial, but more importantly, as part of her cause in keeping his memory alive with the website created in his honor; Keeping Kindness Alive. Furthermore, she is an accomplished speaker and writer herself and has such incredible gifts in inspiring others that I felt she could use Facebook as a platform to share of herself. But that’s only a small part of this story. When she finally “came out”, so to speak, and created her own Facebook page as a birthday gift to me in late December, it was just one small step in her bigger plan on making our relationship known to her family and friends. So, shortly after this first step, she took it upon herself to send a personal email on January 1, 2011 to many of her friends and family, describing her life since her husband’s passing and the budding relationship she had begun with me. One of those friends, of course, was Willie’s best friend Paul, the first one I met at the memorial, and the one I remember oh so well from that tragic accident years ago.

Three days later, on January 4th, 2011 Paul’s response to Natalie and I arrived via email. Here, in part, are some of his own words, with my own editing of names and details for privacy reasons:

“I lost my best friend a year and a half ago and my emotions got the best of me.  I would be driving down the road and then all of a sudden I would start to cry.  I wouldn't even be thinking about him or anything in general.  I guess my subconscious would tell me that there was something deeper inside me that needed to be expressed.  I also believe that it is time to share with you something deep inside of me that has come out since you, Natalie, wrote to me about you and Gus a couple of nights ago. I got the letter and I felt so many things. I was sad that this was the realization that my friend is truly gone. And I was happy that you had found someone that could truly be your soul-mate (I wasn't sure that you would allow this into your life). This brings me to share a story with you both.

I also lost a good friend about 35 yrs ago. I was traveling cross country with a friend right after high school my senior year. We drove to Las Vegas then to Utah, then one morning we drove from Grand Junction, Colorado to Tribune, Kansas. It was a good 750 miles in one day. We were determined to see a good friend of ours from high school.  Many people have heard this story and I would like to shorten it a bit so I won't go into too much detail. We met up with this friend in a little town in Kansas and we were all excited. We were pushing and punching each other, just doing what boys do. We were just so happy to see our friend. We didn't know what to expect in this little town. Our friend said that we could go out to a party out of town for the evening. We decided that the party was a good idea. So we jumped in our friend’s blazer and drove off to a party around sunset. We were on a gravel road going around 60 miles an hour. We were still punching and pushing each other and then it happened. There was a curve up ahead and it was too late. Our truck rolled and flipped a couple of times. I flew through the roof, the truck landed on my friend from California and my other friend was still in the truck holding on to the steering wheel. We all survived! I couldn't have imagined the grief that was to come to my friend who was driving the car since he lost his mom to a car accident when he was 13 years old. Yes, that friend of mine in Kansas was Gus Rowe. That night was probably the longest night of my life. All of our lives changed in the blink of an eye. The ambulances, the doctor’s office, the rush to a hospital 80 miles away. And the worries of your friends and their good health all came to mine. What was going to happen to us. It was time to grow up. That accident turned us from boys to men. And all the responsibilities that came with it. A few days later we all parted and came back to San Diego on different terms.

 I came home to my warm and loving family and friends. My California friend went to the hospital and recovered. Gus came out west a couple of months later. My friend and I would get together here and sometimes we would run into Gus, but every time we saw him it felt different. I believe that he felt responsible for what had happened in Kansas and he wanted to say that he was sorry. Sometimes I saw him and I felt that it was best if I stayed distant, so he wouldn't feel that way. That's when I knew that I lost a good friend, a friend for life, 35 yrs ago. What I really wanted to say is, Gus it was an accident! I could have just as well have been driving that night and the same thing would have happened. It wasn't just your fault, we are all to blame for that accident. We were riding high on adrenaline. If something didn't happen then, it probably would have happened later. Some things we cannot control in life because we are not in charge. Things happen for a reason. Our friendship fizzled and I guess things just couldn't be the same. But I knew that Gus was a great guy and life for me would be best if I went in a different direction. Of course that was both of our losses. Now 35 yrs later I lose a friend only to gain another friend in his place. Funny how things happen.

Gus (my soul brother), that day 35 yrs ago was a nightmare and I feel your pain. I would like to reach out my hand and renew the good friendship that we could have had, had it not been for that accident. You know that they say that the eyes are the windows to the soul.  And you can always see Gus' soul in his eyes. It’s a beautiful thing. And Gus on another note, Natalie and I have known each other for 30 yrs, so I will always be looking out for her, if you know what I mean. Enough said. I know that you two will make each other happy. There is only one other person whom I think could make her this happy after life with my best friend, but he is already taken (Me). I know that it is the right thing that the two of you to have found each other. I really think this is a miracle, I really do.  So to my soul brother and sister, I must go now. I am glad I got that off of my chest.”

Two men, separated by tragic circumstances for over three decades. Two men, who then saw each other face-to-face once again 35 years later at the memorial for one man’s best friend and the other who “just happened” to show up at this man’s memorial, eventually to fall deeply in love with the woman with whom they were all connected with in spirit.
Do I believe in “Divine Intervention?” Do YOU? I think we know the answer.



January 3, 2011

NEVER say Never - DON'T give up!

The email arrived shortly after 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve 2010: “Your license issued by the California Department of Insurance's (CDI) Producer Licensing Bureau is now ready for you to print or download to your computer.” Sitting alone in my bedroom that evening, I sat there and gazed at those words in stunned silence. After over FIVE months of nearly non-stop work at getting licensed, the moment had arrived. And then I got up, went outside where I lived, looked up into the dark Christmas Eve sky, and thanked God once more for the blessing He had bestowed upon me. It had been only 5 nights earlier when my daughter had arrived from Virginia for a 12 day stay with us for Christmas and I thought He had given enough to me then. NOW I had TWO gifts for Christmas! Check that, THREE, counting the woman I Love!

Most of you who read my blog know one of my favorite sayings and beliefs is “Never say Never.” If there was ever a moment when that belief held true, it was now. To give you a perspective of how that works, at least from my point of view, I’ll recount a series of events that started shortly after I graduated from the University of California San Diego’s Accelerated Paralegal program in late June, 2010.

By early July, it had become apparent the job market for paralegals in San Diego County was tougher than I imagined and frankly, tougher than what I was led to believe by those who represented the program at UCSD. Although I was confident and had a strong resume, I was also realistic, given my age and certain “background” issues. I had to keep my options open and continue with another phrase and belief, always thinking “outside the box.” Then, in late July, after several interviews with the same insurance firm, I was offered a position as an independent “contractor.” In other words, a salesman. The last thing I ever imagined myself doing, or so I thought. Trouble was, it WAS an intriguing position; I’d done my research on the company, the product, the people, and the commission structure and was sold on the concept. I accepted.

So began a series of events that still astounds me. First, I had to complete 52 hours of on-line course training to even qualify to sit for the State exam. But that was just the first of many more obstacles and roadblocks to my goal. Shortly after I was hired, the company I signed on with indicated I had to obtain what is called a “Section 1033 waiver” (waiver) from the State in order to even take the exam. They were concerned that, with my legal issues stemming from my DUI arrests in Kansas nearly 3 years prior, it would prevent the State from allowing me to even obtain a license. What the company failed to realize and what the State eventually did too, was that the waiver only applied to violations of law dealing with fiduciary matters and what I was guilty of 3 years earlier had nothing to do with that. By mid-August, I had completed the on-line courses and was still waiting to hear from the State on the waiver. By then, I was getting agitated about the whole thing but I wasn’t about to give up. So, I grabbed the bull by the horns, spent several hours on the phone with the State, and finally got the attention of a gentleman with the CDI’s legal department. After explaining at some length via email that my prior acts had nothing to do with violating public trust as it pertains to fiduciary matters, he said I didn’t need it to begin with! So, onward and upward, right? Wrong.

After notifying the insurance company who had hired me of this event, they quickly scheduled me for the State exam on September 15th. Of course, I passed. Then, I began a two week training program with them on September 17th. They also told me that, because of my legal problems in Kansas 3 years prior, I had to send the CDI all of my background paperwork along with my license application for approval. I was told this whole process would take up to 30 days and to expect my license my mid-October. By the time I finished the training program in late September however, my gut was telling me something was wrong so I called the CDI inquiring about my license status. I was told they had received my application and background paperwork but had forwarded it to their legal Licensing Background Bureau “for further review.” That’s when I put a halt to going out in the field with my assigned supervisor for the insurance company as part of my training. As I told her, if the CDI was going to piss backwards on my application, I didn’t want to waste any of her time nor mine. And then I got a letter on October 7th, a letter that said it would take up to 30 days for the secondary review and further, not to call or inquire about my application status, since they wouldn’t return my calls anyway. So….I waited. And waited.

Finally, on November 12th came a letter from the CDI. I opened it and the word DENIED jumped out and waylaid me in the chin. I’ve said many times that our level of serenity as human beings is inversely proportional to our level of expectations, and though I had TRIED to keep my expectations low, this was a MAJOR blow to me psychologically. I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I been completely forthright with the facts, I had even sent a letter explaining my actions and ALL the steps I had taken over the previous 2 years to prove I was worthy of holding a license. I'd served my time, completed out-patient counseling in record fashion, was released from probation requirements nearly a year early, and most importantly, hadn't had ONE drop of alcohol in my body for well over two years! At that point, I think most people in my position might have given up, thrown in the towel, and tried another career option. In fact, MOST people with a “non-person felony” on their record wouldn’t have tried to get a license in the first place! I’m definitely NOT “most” people. I play to win and absolutely HATE losing, especially if I sense even the remotest of CHANCES.

What next then? Why, do the only thing I could! Started working the phones, researching the CDI department’s rules on-line, and found out there was an appeals process. After talking with a nice lady with the Licensing Background Bureau and receiving her instructions on the appeals process, I laid out my strategy. First, I had to get letters of recommendation from as many people as I could to go along with my own letter of appeal to send to the CDI’’s Assistant Chief Counsel. Plus, I figured these letters would have to come from people with some clout so I chose the Chairman of the Board of the bank where I worked for over 20 years, an attorney friend of mine in California I knew since high school (who is also coincidentally, one of my biggest Facebook “Gusto” fans!), and two other individuals from Kansas who dealt with me directly while I was still in the “system”, as it were, two men who could vouch for my character and integrity while completing all the legal requirements imposed upon me by the State of Kansas in 2008. Finally then, on November 26th, I sent my letter (a convincing one, or so I thought!) along with the recommendation letters. My spirits were high and I was more confident than ever. I was told it would take up to two weeks to get their response. Try a week.

On December 6th, another letter. “The department has received your appeal and sees no legal basis for granting a reconsideration of our previous order. Therefore, the order stands and your application is DENIED.” So, I’m thinking at this point I’m screwed, right? WRONG again! At the bottom of the letter is the name and direct phone number of the aide to the CDI’s Assistant Chief Counsel who signed the letter. So, on December 9th, I call this gentleman and we have a lengthy discussion, one in which I remained diplomatic but also remained steadfast in my belief that their decision was “unjust.” I remember him saying I was basically out of options and wished me luck in the future. Still, I didn’t give up. Shortly before ending the call, I asked him one last time to please forward my concerns to his superiors, namely the head of their legal division. After I got off the phone, my girlfriend who was present at the time and who was privy to the conversation, said simply, “I don’t understand why you’re not a millionaire. You’re so PERSUASIVE.”

I went home that evening, and ACCEPTED it in my mind. I was done fighting. I’d done EVERYTHING in my power and I’d lost. Then, a miracle happened. I came home a week later on December 16th and found a certified letter from the CDI. In it, these words stood out: “The department has reviewed your letter of reconsideration and appeal and hereby revokes our previous order of denial. You are therefore issued an insurance license by the State of California effective December 14th.” Speechless yet again. Do miracles happen? Do you believe in the power of prayer? The power of God? The power of what is humanly possible if you only believe in yourself? To not give up and to NEVER SAY NEVER?

On December 22nd, the gentleman with whom I spoke with on the 9th, the same gentleman who had sent me the letter denying my appeal, the same gentleman who took my concerns to his boss, called me and said this: “You got an early Christmas gift. Congratulations. I took your concerns to the head of our legal division, he reviewed everything you sent one more time, and changed his mind.”

Tomorrow I start my new job. Officially. After over 5 months of not giving up, never saying never, I WIN and baby, it feels GOOD!!