Category Archives: Blog

The Paradigm Shift

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The murder of 22 (at the time of this post) in El Paso, Texas, by a white supremacist supporter of Donald Trump signified the shift for me. Since Trump announced his run for the Presidency, through the date of the shooting, I’ve avoided directly confronting supporters of Trump. I’ve decided I can no longer sit on the sidelines and, through my inaction and silence, not actively ostracize those who maintain a cult-like fondness for the racist that was elected in 2016.

It was entirely predictable that Trump’s rhetoric would cause bloodshed, and El Paso is perhaps the most unambiguous example of this. One need only watch one of his rallies when Trump laughs at the suggestion that hispanics be shot for seeking asylum, then further asserts that “you can only do that in the panhandle,” to understand the naked racism that has been slowly revealed in the office of the President.

I’d be remiss, however, if I was to lay this at his feet entirely. He is, in fact, more of an opportunist than demagogue, who has been coddled by the more sinister, calculating forces of the Republican party. The election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of Fox News precipitated recent events and a cursory examination of these events reveal their causative effects.

That said, in my opinion, the United States has reached a tipping point. A point at which those of us who recognize the symptoms of fascism, indeed the frightening parallels between Mussolini’s rise (another not-too-bright opportunistic grifter) and that of Trump, have a deep responsibility to sound the alarm…at any personal cost.

I’ve been hesitant to lose friends over this, but that ended with El Paso. I will call out, and challenge any of my friends that support this man and this destructive administration. The time for silence is over, and frankly, I’m ashamed I’ve waited this long. I will mourn friendships lost, but as I learned this summer in Dr. Alexis Herr’s class, “The History of Fascism,” the most common denominator in the rise of the fascists regimes was consent. The quiet acquiescence of the populace who found the actions of their leaders offensive, but were unwilling to take the personal risks to challenge them.

I lost a friend this weekend when she took exception to a relatively benign post condemning Trump on one of my social media pages. Her objection included a personal attack (as so many of his supporters seem to favor), so it was a relatively easy decision to block and ostracize her. But I knew at that moment, that it wasn’t enough. I need to challenge these people. Not in an ad hominem manner, but in a direct, and fact-based condemnation of their support.

Frankly, based on past experience, I know how this generally ends, and I suspect I’ll be employing the block button more frequently. And that’s not something I’ve been willing to do. The lives lost last weekend changed that for me.

Consent is no longer an option.

(image courtesy of my friend Joe Rose)

 

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Tears of Joy

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On Sunday, May 19, 2019, I lingered with my fellow BA candidates backstage at the Greek Theater on the UC Berkeley campus. We were awaiting the presentation of our faux Bachelor of Arts degrees in English–from the top-rated English department in the country. It was a time to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in two years. People who shared my first English 45B class. People, who like me, wondered if we’d ever see this day.

I (re) started school at Los Angeles Pierce College in the Spring of 2013, intending on obtaining a Certificate in Addiction Studies. Instead, I caught the academic bug and set my sights on entering UCLA and majoring in English. But somehow, UC Berkeley accepted my application and I moved north to begin a two-year journey as a transfer student that can only be described as an intellectual meat grinder.

Cal is a different beast. What it lacks in school spirit (and Pac-12 football talent) it more than makes up in academic and intellectual rigor. My two years here have been a series of bipolar panic attacks. That I have no business here. That I’m an imposter. That I’m too old. That I will write the next great American novel while hobnobbing with the elite of the literary world. That I WILL fail the class I’m currently in.

I’m guessing I’ll fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum as I begin my journey applying to grad schools.

Cal is home. Cal is grade deflation and holding on tight to your cell phone while walking on Telegraph. It’s wondering if the mentally ill homeless person walking into your class has a knife or gun to wondering if you too can win the Pulitzer Prize someday. Cal is a microcosm of all my hopes and nightmares.

I’ve not ONCE regretted my decision to forgo UCLA (my lifelong dream school) and go to Cal.

We’re told to line-up stage left and begin our descent into the orchestra pit. Pomp and Circumstance erupts from the speakers. And so does the sky. God lets loose with a 3-minute micro cloud burst that soaks graduate and family members alike. A rising crescendo of cheers and cries break loose from my graduating class and before I know it, my eyes are filled with tears. I’m on the verge of sobbing as I take my seat in the downpour. Every late night, early morning angst about that test, that next paper, has culminated with a cleansing rain from heaven that makes it all worthwhile. And before the Chair of the English Department begins to speak, the rains stops. The anointing of the Class of 2019 is complete.

Fiat Lux


Pissing in the Wind

It’s how I feel every time I tweet at Donald Trump. I know damn well he’ll never read my sparkling words of wisdom, but I find it cathartic nonetheless. This poor excuse for a man (much less leader of the free world) is ripe pickings for any of us to unload our sheer disbelief at the things he says and does. That the movie Idiocracy would morph so soon caught most of us off guard. Tweet rage is a thing. And I’m knee deep.

Here’s the thing though–I’m tweeting not just because I’m angry, but because I want to be part of the solution. I want to do my civic duty and engage my elected representatives. I’ve sent letters to my House and Senate members and received the standard BS form letters in response. I understand and appreciate that my carefully worded sentiments are simply transformed into a database checkbox, but, at the end of the day, I know that I did my part.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m misdirecting my anger. Those specific House and Senate representatives are on my team. Similarly, Trump is an anomaly. A treasonous grifter that doesn’t give the first fuck about the welfare of our country. He won’t blink an eye while he destroys our Republic to further his own financial self interests.

It’s the damn general Congress we should be directing our wrath at. It’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the uber-slick, ultimate Washington insider who could have Trump served on a golden platter at the drop of a political box hat. This guy runs the show in Washington as long as our dysfunctionally gerrymandered Senate maintains their engineered Republican majority. And while I’ve rage tweeted him lately (again, not expecting anything other than selfish catharsis), it’s pretty clear that he’s not willing to grab the wheel of the bus Trump is driving off the cliff in the service of his own psychotic vision of conservative supremacy. Paul Ryan. I’ve already wasted two words on that impotent moron and won’t bother discussing his pathetic impotency.

But at least I know exactly who to be angry with. Trump is a symptom–an opportunistic grifter, controlled by his handler in Moscow. Incapable of anything remotely ethical or patriotic, any attempt to reach him is useless. But the co-equal branch of government, the US Congress, still has some folks that may have retained a scintilla of morality and are not yet beyond the reach of impassioned discourse.

So folks, while I will likely retain my rage at Trump as a guilty pleasure, my real attention will be turned to the US Congress. In the absence of a shock and awe Mueller indictment orgy (a boy can dream), they are our best hope of plugging the holes in this desperately sinking ship.

Don’t @ me bro.


Thanksgiving 18

I’m unemployed. I’m in debt. I’m at least 20 pounds overweight. My arms and face are covered in small wounds. My future is uncertain…at best.

I couldn’t be more thankful.

I’m in my senior year at UC Berkeley and I’m unemployed because I’ve been able to finance school and living expenses primarily through scholarships. I’m in debt because I’ve been fortunate enough to only have to take advantage of a small amount of federal loans to help with school so far. I’m 20 pounds overweight because my life, during each semester, consists of riding my bike 7 miles round-trip to school and then spending the next 4-8 hours snacking on crap foods while I study or write essays. As I write this, I watch the blood flow from the back of my right hand from yet another bite from the rescue kitten we took in a little over two months ago. My future is uncertain because I’ve been blessed with the potential opportunity to stay at Cal an extra year and prep for grad schools. I’m planning on pursuing an MFA in creative writing at any number of schools across the country.

I share this journey with a woman of unparalleled patience and tenacity. My partner has supported my transformation to reentry college student with gusto; she herself has recently entered a Masters degree program.

I want to write. This semester, I’ve taken several courses that have actually given me the tools to do so. I am incredibly blessed to be in a class taught by a world-renowned author who is endlessly generous and encouraging. I was able to “write-in” to a class taught by Joyce Carol Oates next spring, and although I won’t be taking her class because of logistical issues, the fact that she awarded me one of only 15 spots in her class,  based solely upon my work of fiction fills me endlessly with hope.

I am a fifty-seven-year-old work in progress. I’m petulant, I rant, I get scared, I get angry. But eventually life corrects my course through a series of incidents that reminds me how damn lucky I am.

On the morning of November 8th of this year, I awoke to a series of news alerts describing a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks. My hometown. The location of the shooting was a bar that I knew very well, on a night on which I also knew my 22-year-old son frequented. After frantically confirming the well being of both of my children who still live in T.O., I began to unexpectedly sob as I woke my girlfriend to tell her of the news.

And two weeks later, my eyes are still filled with tears as I count my lucky stars that my son wasn’t killed.

A lot of tough stuff has happened to me in my life…things that other people have remarked that they weren’t sure they could have survived.

On this Thanksgiving day, a day that has come to take on a depressingly sad meaning for me in light of my studies of American history, I want to celebrate my life. My extreme gratitude for the things I haven’t lost:

My children

My girlfriend

My mouthy kitten

My health

My family

My friends

Most of all, I’m grateful to be writing this. I’m grateful for another day on Earth where I get to “be.”

Thank you to whatever force/spirit/entity/wavelength that protected my children that night. That has protected me through some rough waters.

Thank you for my life.


40 Years Ago…

…I was finishing up my junior year at Agoura High School. Last Thursday, I spent nearly 3 hours in a classroom composing (frantically scribbling would be a more accurate description) 18 and 1/2 pages in a Green Book for my Shakespeare final at the University of California, Berkeley. Thus ends my junior year at Cal…

In the immortal words of David Byrne: “How did I get here?”

40 years ago I was a Fire Department Explorer with the LA County Fire Department. I was planning on taking an EMT Course at LA Pierce College the following year that I might increase my chances of finding employment as a firefighter. I did. For 16 years I was a Firefighter and eventually Fire Captain after previously serving 5 years as a first-responder Paramedic in Ventura County. I found my niche. Dream fulfilled. I had set a goal and attained it. Game over.

40 years ago I thought this was how it’s done. Plan meticulously, account for all variables, work hard: goal attained/life made. In the ensuing 40 years I found out, sometimes quite painfully, that isn’t how life works. At least not my life.

40 years ago, if someone had time traveled and told me what the reality of my life would be 40 years later, in all honesty I probably would have ended my own life. If that entity would have informed me that my life will be traveling down the path it eventually took, I can guarantee that I would not have had the courage to take another step.

40 years ago, I could not, in a million lifetimes, expected my life to turn out the way it did.

40 years ago, I would never have expected to be writing this. 40 years later.

40 years ago, armed with supernatural foresight, I would never have chosen to take another step. That would have been a tragic mistake.

40 years ago I was about to embark on a life beyond my wildest nightmares and expectations. I sit here today and as sure as my pulse bounds, I can say without reservation that EVERY SINGLE tragedy and trial in my life was crucial to making me the man I am today. If that same time traveler offered me the opportunity to change my destiny–knowing what I know now–I wouldn’t change a thing.

40 years ago I embarked on a journey called my life. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t fathom what it would entail (despite my meticulous planning). I consider myself to be blessed beyond measure by whatever entity/spirit that guides our universe. I am wonderfully imperfect and struggle on a daily basis, but I can stop and be eternally grateful for what I have.

And 40 years later, that’s what I am: grateful.

 

 


First One in the Books…

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I rode my bike home today after my last final exam in something of a mental haze. For the last 13 days, I’ve spent between 10-14 hours a day studying for finals…at the number one public university…IN THE WORLD.

I still don’t quite believe I go here despite evidence to the contrary.

To say that my first semester here has been challenging is to state the obvious.

There have been negatives:

  • Being constantly mistaken for a parent, faculty member, or worst of all…professor.
  • A financial aid system that makes the IRS look like a beacon of compassion and customer service.
  • A housing facility that has paper thin ceilings and provides power to the units on an “as needed” basis.
  • A crippling pervasion of the imposter syndrome.
  • Freshman that are smarter than any other human life forms I have ever met.
  • There’s a murder or robbery in our proximity about once a week.

There have been positives:

  • Being constantly mistaken for a non-student allows me to navigate the tables at Sproul Plaza in record time.
  • I am currently unemployed and surviving THANKS to the financial aid system at Cal.
  • We live in an awesome one bedroom, family housing unit that is much less expensive than anything else we could afford in the east bay.
  • The incredibly brilliant and intellectually imposing faculty and support staff here have gone out of their way to remind us that we belong here. I’ll corroborate this after receiving my grades, but so far so good.
  • There are no positives to smart freshman.
  • We haven’t been murdered or robbed yet.

All in all, it’s been a ride. But a day has yet to pass when I haven’t taken a moment out of this frenetic pace and thanked my higher power for the fortune of being allowed to study at such an austere institution. It’s not BS…this place is the real deal and to be a part of something so incredibly vital to our country’s history and development is something I will never take for granted.

I love Cal.

 


Day 2

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I’m sitting here on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. As an undergraduate student. Specifically, I’m on the fringes of Lower Sproul Plaza. From where I sit I spy the steps from where Mario Savio ignited a movement decades ago…when I was in kindergarten.

 

But I’m not so much in a place as I’m in an organism. A living, breathing organism. Sitting 3 feet from me is the smart Korean young woman–clothing and make-up impeccably styled. A few moments ago, as I lunched, my personal space was invaded by a young Chinese man, acutely unaware of the fact that he had made me physically uncomfortable as he nearly knocked my food off the table. He was simply sitting down to eat—as he has done so many times in his own crowded culture and space. And he respectfully and quietly ate his meal. Profoundly unaware of the “American” cultural rule he had broken.

Berkeley will never be a place for me or for any American that has heard of it. When I was admitted, I needed to look on a map to find the “place” where the organism lived. As I sit in the heart of this living phenomenon I witness the fluidity of the movement—the suburban Caucasian freshman, Jansport slung over his shoulder, plodding to his next class. I see the first-generation Hispanic student, defiant and proud, staking his rightful place in this body, this being. Here now is the Japanese boy in the library, painstakingly reviewing an encyclopedia on American History…that same part of the body, that same student earlier asking the renowned professor if the class he is taking will be too hard for an ESL student.

I was assigned to a Facebook group for Transfer students. Yesterday, after the first official day of classes, the posts generally reflected a profound angst—an anxiety concerning if we really belonged here. Is it too hard? Are we really supposed to be here? Can we make it? Are we imposters? Will this body, this organism, like a white blood cell attacking a foreign invader, reject us?

I felt none of that. As a 56-year-old white male, I felt at home. Yes, the coursework is brutal. Yes, the academic expectations are astronomical—far greater than any we have previously experienced. But I feel home. This is what I’m drawn too. This is what I crave. This body. This intellectual curiosity. This beautiful mixture of cultures, and ethnicities and ideas. This…” place”.

That is not to say it has been a seamless transition. Just as I experienced discomfort with the student at lunch, I’ve also felt discomfort in the long lines and the nearly total invasion of personal space in the ill-fitting lecture hall seats. I’ve felt, generically, out-of-place based simply upon my age–a disparity that I’m reminded of by some young person or administrative employee here on a nearly daily basis.

But these are small prices to pay for admittance to this body…to this organism. To this center of intellectual growth. Without question, aside from the birth of my children, my first few days here, attending lectures, and peacefully reflecting on this campus dynamic have been the happiest moments of my life.

Fiat Lux…

 


No…I’m NOT that guy…

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So I’m here. I’m an officially registered UC Berkeley undergraduate student. I’m a Bear. A Golden Bear.

Yesterday, I participated in day-one of the largest orientation session for new students ever to be undertaken by an institution of higher learning. Let’s just say there were some glitches. Any undertaking of this scope is bound to be flawed, and this one was no exception. One thing I’ve already learned about Cal is that while the “systems” may be flawed at times (okay, a lot), the humans behind these systems are humble servants who genuinely care about their students. It’s truly awe-inspiring to witness.

Here’s my beef: during a wonderful and quite inspiring welcoming address from Chancellor Carol Christ, she mentioned some of the age ranges of students…from a 14 year-old, to a 64 year-old. Fair enough. Right up until the last event of the day.

We were herded like sheep into Memorial Stadium to set a Guinness World Record for the largest human letter formation (http://www.dailycal.org/2017/08/15/campus-breaks-world-record-for-largest-human-letter/). All good despite the logistical and technical snafu’s. However…remember the fun fact from the Chancellor? About the oldest student?

On five separate occasions I was approached and asked if I was THAT guy (turns out it’s a 64 y/o woman).

Now I’m the furthest thing from a snowflake, and for the tenure of my college career I’ve experienced the inevitable looks on the first day of class from my fellow students wondering why I’m sitting with them and not beginning the lecture.

I get it.

But at Cal I’ve been asked by staff on two separate occasions if the documents I was processing were for my student…my child.

And then last night…

After the first query, it got to the point that when stranger started to engage me I calmly said, “no, I’m not that guy.”

So being a Wonder bread white guy my whole life I’ve never experienced…being different. It’s an interesting perspective.

I strive to represent older (we are officially termed “non-traditional” or “returning students” or OWL’s–older, wiser learners). But we are proudly called “curve killers” too…something I take a great deal of pride in.

You see, embracing higher education with some life experience under one’s belt is an entirely different animal. The subjects come to life…they have meaning and context…they are real.

I’m a proud “non-traditional” student. I’m okay with the funny looks and awkward questions. But others may not be so thick-skinned.

Let’s remember, life doesn’t end after 40 and societal roles are just that…roles, not realities.

GO BEARS

 

 


#Berkelly

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So the “Berkelly” thing happened on the day I announced on social media that I had been accepted to UC Berkeley. My friend Greg tagged me as “Berkelly” in my Instagram post. I’m honestly not one to toot my own horn or draw attention to myself–yes I know this is a personal blog, thank you very much–but somehow the tag felt…right.

Much like the decision to finally commit to Cal. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s take a leap back–

Agoura High School, 1979. I’m graduating from High School and all my friends are going to UCLA. I felt a nagging urge to join them, but dreams of becoming a firefighter pushed aside the ache–for a while.

My first college class was my senior year at Agoura HS. I took an EMT class at Los Angeles Pierce College.

Fast forward, Spring 2013. After a career in the fire service, I’m looking for another direction. As documented elsewhere in this blog, I thought a career in drug and alcohol treatment would be rewarding. I enroll in the Addiction Studies program back at Pierce. Shortly thereafter I start working in the field, and while your mileage may vary, I find the industry to be long on financial outcome and short on actual treatment. I’m disillusioned.

What I’m surprisingly inspired by however is my US History class at Pierce. After decades away from academia I need to write a research paper. Throat tightens, sweat glands on overload…I get this:

IMG_0036 This was it. This was all it took. Validation. The fire was lit. These words from my instructor changed the course of my life and resulted in the picture you see at the head of this blog post.

I immediately sought the advice of a school counselor and began my transfer program. Since the ache to attend UCLA had never quite subsided, I set my sights on transferring. The next two semesters found me enrolling in english and history classes. My transcripts were reflecting all A’s. I eventually started the university enrollment process and my counselor advised me to make some other choices beyond UCLA.  I decided to add UC Irvine and UC Berkeley in as whims. Irvine has a world-class english department, but Cal is recognized as having the BEST english program in the country. So naturally there was no chance of me being accepted. In fact I embraced that thought so firmly, I took absolutely no prep courses at Pierce for the major, clearly still under the impression that it was a wasted enrollment fee (an academic price I am paying my first semester at Cal).

I also applied to USC (my girlfriend’s alma mater) and Stanford (and was told by my counselor that this was truly a long-shot as their acceptance rate for transfers is only one percent).

Along this path, my counselor introduced me to a recruiter from Columbia University. He encouraged me to apply. I did.

My last year a Pierce was characterized by the loss of nearly $800 in application fees, documents, tests, and materials. Yes, Stanford made me take the SAT again–that experience could easily be a subject of another blog post in and of itself.

Lots of work on my UC personal statement ensued. I had to take the english-only portion of the 2013 SAT for Columbia.

Decisions were due in April of this year. But Columbia was notifying in February. On the day of their notification, I opened the web page…I read the words from the dean saying that he would like to congratulate me on my acceptance to Columbia University. I was reading this to my girlfriend over the phone. This was as far as I could get into the first paragraph before I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. I had been accepted into an Ivy League. My life had been a series of struggles and opportunities to overcome adversity. These words put me down. I was so proud. The inspiring words of my US History teacher paved the way for my acceptance. I had been mentored. I had been inspired. Education matters. Teaching matters. I am a living and breathing example of the power of education and mentor-ship.

Now thoughts of moving to Manhattan danced in my head. The music ended on that dance when the reality of the cost of attendance intervened.

April came. I was accepted to UC Irvine. Awesome! If UCLA doesn’t come through, I’ve got an option.

April 26. 5 p.m. UCLA is set to release their announcement…I got in!!! I immediately donned the UCLA cap that I purchased a year prior and put it squarely on my head. I had vowed that it wouldn’t touch me until I got in…that day had arrived. I was over-the-top! My nagging ache since 1979 had been satisfied…I was finally a Bruin.

Almost as an afterthought, 48 hours later I opened Cal’s admission page to see that I had been accepted. I was incredulous. This wasn’t part of the plan! And their offer of financial aid was highly competitive.

Less that a week later my mom died. She was in the Bay Area so I decided to at least make a campus visit to Berkeley so I could justify my decision to attend UCLA…

I set foot on campus on a Friday morning. I sat in Sproul Plaza by myself. It was overcast. It was quiet. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t know right then and there that I was home. I took a guided tour later that day and attended the Chancellor’s welcome the next day, but honestly, it was a formality. I was home. I felt it in the core of my being. UCLA had always been my dream, but I was walking on the campus of my reality…my future…my home.

Berkelly was home…

I was awaiting 2 more acceptance notifications. USC had requested my spring grades from Pierce prior to making their decision, which I found odd since I had carried a 4.0 GPA throughout my tenure at Pierce, but nonetheless I provided them (4.0 cumulative) and found out three days ago that USC had indeed accepted me.

But Stanford was the only significant roadblock…I received a letter from them stating that although I was highly competitive, and they wished they had more space, I did not receive an offer of admission.

Within two minutes I committed to Berkeley.

I’m a Golden Bear. My girlfriend and I move to Albany in July. I’m about to enter a buzz-saw of grade-deflation and challenges that I’ve never experienced. But I’m beyond excited. I plan on earning by BA in English, possibly double majoring or minoring, and then finding a doctoral program upon completion.

I’d love to steer the focus of this blog towards my experience as a non-traditional/returning student at Cal. But we shall see…I will do my utmost to report from the front lines AFTER I get all my assignments completed.

To those of you who have patiently followed my adventures, I thank you. You are all part of the community of inspiration that has made me a Bear.

#gobears

#berkelly


Here’s to you Mom…

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Transitions are tough. Change seems to be the primary cause of fear and unrest in our world. But change and transitions are a fundamental fabric of our being.

My mother died this morning at 10 a.m.

Josephine was born in 1922. She married my father and had three children. I was the youngest…the mistake.

My father died in 1989. My father was my mom’s world. My ex-wife and I invited my mom to live with us after my dad’s death and she became part of my new family…she was Grandma to my step kids and to my two new little ones. It gave her life. It rejuvenated her spirit and passion. It also was a blessing beyond measure to have her around my kids at a particularly challenging phase of my life.

I divorced my wife and my mom went to live with my older brother. He and his wife earned their saints wings for the years they took mom in. She could be difficult. She feared change.

My mom and I had a complex relationship, as all parents/children do. It created a lot of guilt for me as she grew older that I resented her worldview and bitterness. I wanted her to be different. I wanted her to be happy. And I was angry at her because she wasn’t.

I loved my mom.

I found out she died this morning while riding my bike. I had just passed a convalescent home that had been the source of guilt for me every time I rode by (i felt guilt that I didn’t have the financial means or stable enough lifestyle that I could prevent her also from being in a convalescent home). As I passed I had the unwavering feeling that she had died.

The phone rang 5 minutes later. It was my brother…

I spent the rest of the ride cycling through tears. I prayed SO hard that mom and dad are reunited. She deserved that. She deserved peace.

Transitions are hard. I’m okay with my mom’s passing. It’s what happens. I just hope she can feel the warmth of my dad’s hand in hers after so many years apart…

 

 


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