Rites of passage

As the day comes to a close and I prepare for bed, I remember the first night I spent on my own, property of the U.S. Government, in a bottom bunk in an old, wooden barracks at Lackland AFB, San Antonio.

I had no idea what the next day or month or year would hold, but I had made the decision. No one made it for me.

As I reflect on that first night, I recognize now that I knew very little about what it was to be in relationship to other people. I did not know what it was like to have very many friends. Nor did I realize that most of the women that were my “flight mates,” who were in the same basic training squadron that I was in,  had their own stories.  Perhaps, some of them were running away from the lives they had before the Air Force, just as I was doing.

Maybe they, like me, were just as clueless about who they really were outside of a family that did not really know them, as we tried to live up to (and break out of, simultaneously) the expectations of what we were supposed to be as women.

Forty-four years ago, I had a difficult time falling asleep in the old barracks with no air conditioning on a muggy Thursday night in San Antonio.  Two all-cotton flat sheets, a wool blanket, and a feather pillow with a cotton pillow case were all that separated me from the lumpy mattress on the bottom bunk of a metal bunk bed. The newness of being solely responsible now for my own decisions had my mind racing, and I thought back to earlier  that morning…

I had turned 18 just thirteen days earlier. I was now considered an adult. I remember not wanting her to go in with me. I told her that I did not. It was my way of letting her know I was a big girl and to cut the ties.
I wanted my mother to drop me off in front of the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Los Angeles, California. We got there before 7:30 a.m. and all I wanted to do is get out of the car, say a quick “Goodbye,” and pass through the doors…by myself.
All of the rest of the memories of the morning are foggy now, 44 years later. what I might say could very well hold some inaccuracies. I do remember that it felt awkward.
Today was the day that I pushed my mother away, declaring through my actions, that I was an adult now and did not need her…nor want her. Of course, I never said those words. Yet, is that not what we all do at some point in our lives when we “grow up”?
I was her firstborn, but now I was leaving. Abandoning the family…abandoning her, a 39-year-old single mother of four more children, ranging in ages of 14 down to 4. My father had left her only a year-and-a-half earlier for a younger woman who was only nine years my senior.
Today was also the day that I felt my mother gave her final push to get me out of her hair. I was an adult now and did not need her. She did not need me either…nor want me. Of course, she never said those words either.
In some ways, it felt like an emotional stand-down. Two generations of women, who had not yet learned how to say, “I need you. I want you. I love you. I am going to miss you.” It seemed so much easier to simply push away or push back.
Forty-four years ago today, I left home–my mother and my four siblings–to join the United States Air Force to serve my country. I loved my country.
I would not do things much differently than I did, except….I would have told my Mom that I was and always would be her little girl who needed and wanted her, and would always love her.
(Original story–“My rite of passage into adulthood”–as written by me and posted at MyLot, 23 August 2017 10:23 a.m. PDT )
As I prepare for bed tonight, many years later, it is still my racing mind that keeps me separated from the sleep that has always proved to elude me.
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Veterans Day Heartbreak and Plea to Younger Veterans

(Author’s note:  It is likely that there will be some or many who will disagree.  I ask only for us all to respect one another as we get into discussions.)

For anyone who has read my posts for the last several years, or who have known me for a few years or a lifetime, you know what I stand for, especially when it comes to service to others, patriotism, and my reasons for why I joined the military.  But today, I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness because of what has transpired in these last few days since the Presidential election this year.

I know that half of you who voted are happy about the outcome.  The other half are not. It was certainly a shock to everyone that Donald Trump–never a politician–would win over Hillary Clinton, whose life-long dream was to take the political path to the White House.

In all elections, there is a winner and loser, where the candidates are concerned.  There are always going to be those who are happy about the outcome and those who are unhappy or, better said perhaps,  ecstatic and devastated.

I, too, am disheartened by what I’ve seen in these last few days. But, before you start making assumptions about how I cast my ballot, I suggest you continue reading.

First of all, I will start by saying that I voted my conscience, which is what I have always done, and encourage others to do. I, in good conscience, could not vote for either of the two major party candidates. (The reasons behind my decisions are not important to share in this post. If you would like to get into a respectful discussion about them, I would be glad to do it over a cup of coffee.)

So, the reason that I am so disheartened is not so much about the outcome of the election itself, but how people are responding and reacting.

What I am observing in many situations is this:  People who are very vocal about wanting the freedom to say what they want and do what they want and be who they want to be seem to be some of the major offenders of doing it at the expense of the freedoms of others.  They are rioting, burning, smashing, assaulting, and killing others just because they are angry, enraged, and (perhaps a bit) spoiled, with no regard for the sanctity of the process. Instead, they opt for the hateful destruction of anything or anyone who is in the path of the rage. Sometimes, this is effecting some of the very people who agree with them.

One of the most difficult things I have seen is: Known  veterans are out there in the streets protesting, and allowing the extreme ugliness.

They are not the remaining World War II veterans or the Korean War vets. I am not seeing too many Vietnam veterans.  Of these groups, we are certainly raising our voices in  disagreement with what has gone on in politics these last couple of years. We are not the ones seeking out media cameras to get our 15-minutes of fame by smashing storefronts or setting fire to monuments or destroying cars because they (the cars) are there to be destroyed.

I am saddened that some people, who have no understanding of the price of freedom, are doing, some of them who have been in uniform.

Several years ago, I started to see a major change in this country, as it related to service to others.  When I would thank a young veteran for serving, there were some people who would answer, “I didn’t do anything for you. The last thing in the world I joined for was for this country or the people in it.  I just did it for free college.”

I try to impress on many of these young veterans that, even though they do not  think they have served  or maybe that was not their intent, what they actually did was serve this country and its people. It may have “fallen on a lot of deaf ears,” but I believe there are some who realized it. There are even some who always knew it, even though it is not popular to admit it.

There are many of those who are in our younger age groups with the same attitudes of doing solely for self, without regard to the common good for others.  Some are a bit less of more ill-mannered. This is not to say that all Millennials fit into this profile, any more than all we Baby Boomers are  alike either.  I know many  good and rotten folks in both age groups, and many in-between.

I just can’t seem to get over this overwhelming black cloud that is not coming from one party or another, but is coming from people who are now becoming the largest in numbers.

And I cry for this country.  I cry for those who are hurting and fearful. And I cry for myself, as a veteran, who would be willing to lay down my life to protect their freedoms, yet most would not do the same for one another and, least of all, me.

We do not have a perfect country or system. There are many things that I wish that I could change over the last few days, weeks, years, and my lifetime.

But I also know that I live in a country where we are still free to vote, disagree, protest, and share so much more that others can not do, by the nature of their birth.  All that is asked of us is that we respect order and, if we are to dissent, we do it peaceably.

It is my hope that those young people who have served, and understand what it takes to work together with people who think differently than they do, step up as leaders to help heal this nation and its people.  It starts with each of of us, as we seek to understand one another by getting into dialogue, rather than breaking laws of order.

To all my fellow veterans–the younger ones–step up.  Take the lead. Do what is right.  Not just what is for right now. You will make the difference.  And I thank you for your continue service to this country by doing so.

The Importance of November 10th

Most, who have had a relationship with the United States Marine Corps (USMC), know that November 10th marks the USMC’s birthday. Today is their 241st birthday.  So, I begin by wishing all of you who are Marines–“Once a Marine, always a Marine”–a very happy birthday. Semper Fi!

November 10 also represents something very important to me.

November 10th is Neuroendocrine Tumor (NET)/Carcinoid Cancer Awareness Day. November is Awareness Month for this cancer that has been previously considered a rare cancer. It is now being recognized around the world  as the day and month to build awareness of this cancer.

As many know bits and piece of my story with this cancer,  I am living with Stage 4  Neuroendocrine (aka Carcinoid) cancer, having been diagnosed in May 2012. There is no cure (yet).

As I have been told by several in the medical field that I have known, there was not a lot of teaching of this cancer during their time in medical school.  “Under an hour,” and “15 minutes” are two answers that were shared with me.

This cancer is generally misdiagnosed on average of 10 years, and over 90% of us, who are called “Zebras,” are diagnosed in advanced Stage 4 levels.

In my case, some of the things that I had heard suggested, tested for, diagnosed with, and/or treated for over a period of over 20 years were (not necessarily at the same time and in no particular order) : Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Diverticulitis, Asthma, and more.

I am not here today to rehash things that you can read elsewhere on my blog, but simply to let you know that today is a day that I want have you consider learning what you may not know.  I knew nothing (and I fear many medical professionals had no idea either) of this disease before my diagnoses in the spring of 2012.

I believe true learning comes from discovery, when we are challenged in some way to find out answers, rather than being force-fed the information.

So, my challenge you is to start by discovering a little today, by becoming curious enough to find out WHY we are called “zebras.” Let it begin there.

Then, I want you to encourage you to find some other bit of information that you find interesting about this disease, and then share this information on your social media sites. Begin by becoming aware, then by passing awareness along.

Feel free to share my story, if you wish, but I IMPLORE YOU to start by learning more yourself.  There are many people who are (were) walking around with this cancer and do  (did) not know it yet.

I am one of those people.

Please keep in mind that today, November 10th, is one day to remember to build awareness. Or to say, “Happy birthday!” to a Marine.  But we can have 365 days of building awareness. Or thanking a veteran.

It all starts with one day.  Today is the day to begin.

Check out these resources to start:

http://carcinoidawareness.org/  and  http://carcinoid.org

Zebra 1

 

A Sunday morning in Hawaii

HI SunriseIt was a Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941, much like today, and around 8 a.m. when Japanese planes attacked the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaii Territory. President Franklin Roosevelt went on to say that it was “a date which will live in infamy.”

That surprise attack killed more than 2,300 Americans, and it destroyed the battleship, U.S.S. Arizona, and capsized the U.S.S. Oklahoma. Other ships were sunk or damaged, and more than 300 U.S. aircraft were destroyed or damaged. The property and personal loss was immeasurable. And no one was prepared for it.

The following day Congress declared war on Japan and its allies, and in a few short days, war was declared on Germany and Italy. America entered into four years of what would become the “deadliest military conflict in history,” claiming more than 60 million lives around the world, including 420 thousand Americans, according to Wikipedia.com.

I have often thought about that day, which was 14 years before I was born. I heard the stories of war from my uncle who had served. I knew of the heartache of the battle-worn civilians who worried, and waited, and worked to support the war efforts. These stories and people are the reasons I chose to serve by joining the military at a time during the Vietnam conflict when it was no longer popular to do so.

HI Arizona MemorialI lived in the Pearl Harbor area for two years, 38 years after the air attack. I havestood on the Arizona Memorial, remembering those who gave their lives on that day in history, as 1,102 of them continue to “lie in state” in their sunken battleship coffin, the ocean floor their grave.

As a military musician, I have played many times on military bases for the Colors ceremony at 8:00 a.m. I can only imagine what the day would have been like for all, including those military musicians who also felt the fear and terror, as they played the National Anthem on their military station in the Hawaiian Islands before running for cover for their lives.

I think about those we send off to war, even today. Some might say that they serve (or have served), because we were attacked. Knowing what is right or wrong for us to do as a nation or as an individual is something that cannot predict until we are placed in a situation that requires us to make that decision.

We must always remember that there is a price to pay for war, just as there a price to walk away from those who attack us.

Today, on the eve of the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, let us never forget those men and women, military and civilian, who lost their lives that day and in the years to follow. They are the ones who paid the ultimate price.

memorial-708684_960_720

 

Veterans are a rare breed

As of 2014, 7.3 percent of all living Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives.The overall percentage varies by gender — 1.4 percent of all living female Americans have ever served in the armed services, compared to 13.4 percent of all male Americans. (Source: Veterans Administration)

Veterans are a rare breed. Each joins for a different reason. Many today do not fully understand just what it means to many of the old-timers like myself.

I joined the military because of the influence the World War II and Korean War veterans had on me. Many of the men did not agree with me, as they felt that I, as a woman, did not belong in the service.

I grew up hearing stories from people who remembered when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Others told their stories of escaping Nazi Germany. Many of them did not serve in the military, but felt indebted to those who did.

Coral USAFI joined the service at a time when things were changing. We were still in Vietnam. It was not sexy for anyone to join any longer. The romanticism of the “good guys going after the bad” was quickly losing its  appeal.

Yet, it was ingrained in me to be of service to others, especially “owing service to my country.”

Today, I still believe in service to my country, fellow man, and others who are in need. I am not quite the idealist as I was at 18-years-old. I also see things differently than those who are coming in to the military today.

Playing the cello pans with the Navy Steel Band in Summer 1983. (Photo taken by Navy journalist, name unknown)Yet, I am grateful to each and everyone who has made the commitment to join andbe ready to go into battle, if need be.  And I wish to honor all veterans today on this Veterans Day–those who have served before me, with me, and also after me.

Thank you for being willing to be one of the very few who has taken the oath of service.

It matters. You matter. At least to one old vet who remembers why we serve.

Memorial Day Significance Has Been Forgotten

The National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA
The National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

“Happy Memorial Day!”  

I cringe when I hear people gleefully share these three words as they wave their goodbyes and begin their long weekend.

To tell the truth, I find it offensive. It annoys me that that the American people have little clue what Memorial Day commemorates.

We have developed an overindulgent need in our society to display niceties. Then, there are many who are simply, by nature, complaisant.

There also seems to be an ever-increasing trend toward shaming or “guilting” others into bending-over-backward to ensure political correctness toward those who have served in the military. Perhaps, this is the reason most have confused Memorial Day with Veterans’ Day of November 11th.

Arlington National Cemetery Gravestones
Arlington National Cemetery Gravestones

The importance and significance of Memorial Day is to remember the men and women who died while serving–killed in war. Veterans’ Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

I did not serve in a war. Yet, this much I do know…

Memorial Day is a sacred day

Anyone who has served in a war zone does not need this reminder, for every day is a memorial day for them.

As a veteran, it is my duty to remind you that the sacrifice others have made is meaningless if you do not take the time to remember them.

We must, as a nation, recall and be keenly aware of those who have died to protect our freedoms of citizenship.

This day seems to have morphed over the years to become, to most Americans, another day off—a three- or four-day weekend to over-indulge, over-extend, and pull the covers over their eyes rather than soberly look at the sacrifices that have made for them so they have the freedom to do all of these things.  It has been turned it into a party that has absolutely nothing to do with honoring our country’s fallen men and women in uniform.

For the most part, this nation (and its people) have forgotten what patriotism truly means. We now take the freedoms we all enjoy and have forgotten that there were others who agreed to walk through death’s door to pay for that freedom.

Widow at the grave of her hero.
Widow at the grave of her hero.

Yet, when we honor our war dead, it is a way to preserve their service, sacrifice and memory. We have a moral obligation to continue to remember them all, so that this nation continues to do so for the generations that will follow when we are long gone.

Those who have lain down their lives came from all parts of this country—big cities, rural areas, coastal towns, Midwest, deep south, etc.—and they came from all backgrounds—blue collar, white collar, educated, uneducated, men, women, all races, and all creeds.

The bond that tied them all together was the loyalty to this country.  They loved their country and its citizens enough to serve, even when not always in agreement with the whys, and wherefores.  They became a band of brothers and sisters–a mish-mash of diversity in culture, education, experience, and gender—to show the world that they were united in their loyalty to the values for which this country was built.

We must remember those we have lost…those we have loved…those who have sacrificed their lives for those who would live long after they were gone.

Let them be gone, but not forgotten. 

Please teach others the importance of remembering these fallen heroes. Take the time with your family and friends to honor and pay a special tribute to these military members who cared enough about your freedom to lay down their lives for you.

flowers-14207_640It may be as simple as taking that minute of silence at 3:00 p.m. on Monday, wherever you are, to think about your freedom.  Or you could place small flags at the gravesites of fallen soldiers.   Attend a parade.  Support those organizations that put together programs to honor our veterans.  There are so many ways you can do this individually or as a group.

It is not an old-fashioned tradition that we can forget.

This is as pertinent today as ever, because we have Americans who have served in wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have lost more than 5300 men and women in combat alone since 2001, and we owe as much to them today as we did in wars past.

Memorial Day was not designed as a commemoration to mark the beginning of summer and our parties and barbecues.  It was designed to become a tradition to allow for the memories of heroic men and women to not be forgotten.

Not only do we owe this to our war dead, we owe this to our children and grandchildren.  It is up to us to continue to pass on the legacy of patriotism in our young people.

toddler-508666__180

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More from Coral:  Memorial Day and Why I am Annoyed

(Author’s note:  Originally written and submitted on 5/31/2010 at Associated Content/Yahoo Contributors Network. All rights retained by author when site closed. Revised for today’s submission.  All photos courtesy of Pixabay.com License: CC0 Public Domain / FAQ and free for use.)

One Veteran’s View of How Veterans’ Day Has Changed

As another Veterans’ Day comes to an end, I am grateful for the freedom I have because of the willingness of others to serve.  Whether or not it was done for the same reasons I chose to serve is irrelevant to me, but today I realized that society is changing, and the sadness I feel about it in regard to service is something I need to wrap my head around and try to reconcile in my head.

I did not go out of the house today, as I was feeling poorly.  I had every intention of going to the Veterans’ Day ceremony put on locally at our Fairgrounds Pavilion.

I did, however, get onto Facebook and was bombarded by Veterans’ Day messages every where.  Though it is always nice to know people appreciate military service, I wonder if the meaning behind the words loses something in social media overkill.

I popped into a closed group I am in for veterans and found myself pulled into a discussion thread where the story was of one vet’s coworkers deciding to honor veterans at work. They included a woman as a veteran who had joined, but due to (unknown) circumstances never was allowed to get out of the reception area. The one posing the question was highly offended at this inclusion.

The feeding frenzy began, as I watched the veterans talk of their entitlements, and being offended that someone else would get noticed for something they did not deserve.  There are nearly 300 comments on the feed.

They all missed the point.

I tried to put up a comment that would steer the focus elsewhere.  I also wrote another post tagging the original post writer, trying to get others to think about the situation a bit differently.  It received only a handful of comments and it seems that the post has been removed.  The points I made in that post were:

  • It is really not about the one coworker who couldn’t make it through and, if we make it about said coworker, then we give her the focus, as well as the energy and emotion to not accept the love, support and honor being given because of our being offended.
  • The REAL story here is that the other coworkers wanted to do something for those who served. I think that speaks volumes about the people who love and support. So, if one falls through the cracks and is lauded by those who don’t know better, so be it.
  • What matters most is that WE can look in the mirror and know the difference we made without comparing ourselves to those who do not matter in the grand scheme of life. Just like when we were in, we knew who were good leaders and who were not…the title or the rank did not make one a leader.
  • Choose not to give energy to someone who needs to include herself …eventually, as we all tell our stories, she will remain quiet because her story is different, and she would be “found out.”
  • Ponder this question: Did I serve for the recognition and the freebies it will get me because I am entitled to them? or Did I serve because I have the heart of a servant? Whether or not someone recognizes that (your) service, does not take away what has been (you have) done.
  • Become role models, as true leaders, to have others look up to you, even including others (who don’t always “deserve” it). By doing so, we may have an opportunity to understand others, and how we respond to them may be the first time in their lives they have been treated in a way that was different than being ostracized for what they were not. We may have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life because we choose not to dig in our heels to be “right.”
  • Whether or not the coworkers included her as they did does not negate the others’ service. They wanted to do something nice for those whom they believe served. May we all be able to receive graciously, rather than be offended by everyone who jumps on the “thank a veteran” bandwagon.

Later in another group, there was another post from a veteran who had mapped out where to receive all the “freebies,” then bragged about how he took a couple of bites and got to-go boxes so that they could “feed the family for free” that night.  This particular person also remarked that they did not feel it necessary to leave tips, because of what “was owed” to him for having joined the military.

When did we lose sight of what is truly important in life? Or am I just so old that I have lived beyond my time?

There has been a shift in this world that does not focus on others, but focuses on self.  Although I understand a need to care for self, at what point do we need to realize that, if we want this society/world to continue on, we must understand that doing for others (selflessness) is also important? Finding that balance in today’s world is becoming much more difficult.

Thanks to all of you who have served this country in a military uniform. It has made a difference. But, if you do not know the history and  what Veterans’ Day truly commemorates, please read about it at the VA website.

We must take care that we do not become the greedy, all-about-me people who allowed their own visions of grandiosity to do the unspeakable.

After all, is that not why so many of the veterans fought and died in the first half of our last century?  For freedom from what others were trying to do for their own gain and for their own egos?

41 years later: Freedom and independence was bittersweet

Forty-one years ago…

I was pulling into the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Los Angeles about this time early in the morning. My mother drove me, as I did not even have my drivers’ license.

I had few friends to speak of as I had not been allowed to forge the friendships that most kids do, so it was just my Mom and me. (I learned later that the friendship situation was not because of Mom, but I will tell that story later. )

A few days earlier, Mom threw me a surprise going-away party. Some of the friends/acquaintances I did have showed up, but for the most part it was attended by the adults who were my mother’s friends, or adult relatives, and people we knew from my mother’s shop, a Curries’ Ice Cream Store.

My parents were already divorced My father did not attend, and I am not sure now if he was even invited.

When I called him several weeks before my 18th birthday to tell him I wanted to join the military and needed his signature on the paperwork (women needed parents’ permission until the age of 21), he got angry and refused to sign it.

“There are only two kinds of women who join the military. Whores and lesbians. Which one are you?”

I did not know what either of those two types of women were (yes, I was that naive) , but I knew it was an insult to me.  I went to the dictionary to look them both up.

I called my recruiter and lied to him that I did not know how to reach my father.  I remember distinctly using the words, he abandoned the family.”  At 17, I suppose I felt  justified in using those words.

My paperwork was pushed through with a waiver for paternal consent.

So, here I was finally on my way to freedom from a crazy, mixed-up family to a life of me making my own decisions.  Of course, I see the irony in that decision today.

As my Mom pulled around the circle of the MEPS center, I remember not wanting to have her walk-in with me, but simply drop me off.  Secretly, I wanted her to put her arms around me and tell me that she did not want me to go.  I do not remember if she came in with me or not.

That whole day is a bit of a blur, though I remember raising my hand and taking the oath of enlistment. I remember a lot of paperwork. I also remember waiting around for a lot of time.

My clearest memory of that day is being on the airplane, my first plane ride. I was off to San Antonio to Lackland Air Force Base for Basic Training and was the day I, with many others, were off…

…into the wild, blue yonder.

One more thing that I remember very clearly of the day was my mother and I both crying at the MEPS Center, though I do not remember if it was in the building or out in the parking lot.  She did not generally show her emotion, nor did she speak a lot of it, either, but I will never forget her last words to me before I had to do all those things needed before I was processed…

“My baby is growing up.”

 

Do You Remember 40 Years Ago?

I do.  I remember back that far. I don’t think that I ever thought that I would be this old.  Funny, I don’t see myself as old.

But 40 years ago today, I was on a plane on my way to San Antonio Texas.  I had joined the military. Today, I found myself reminiscing in “Forty Years Ago Today.”

So many things have changed in the 40 years since I found myself in Basic Training in the August heat of Texas.

But one thing has not changed…

I am still the same person who gets teary-eyed and stands just a little taller when I hear the National Anthem  played or hear someone else take the same Oath of Enlistment  that I did 40 years ago.

What were you doing four decades ago?

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To read the full story,  “Forty Years Ago Today.”

Copyright © 2013 Coral Levang, and not to be used without permission. Article may be shared, if properly credited and linked back to this source.

Vulnerability and Keeping It Real

This week I facilitated a workshop at one of the military bases.  It was a small class of 18, mostly military retirees.

Anyone who teaches, trains, speaks, or performs to an audience knows that adapting to an audience is key to making it an effective experience for all.  I have learned that by being authentic and sharing the information needed using my (sometimes) gritty, direct approach to life and what it dishes out has worked well in the environment in which I teach. Perhaps, it is due to knowing that I must drape that grit in compassion and connection.

This week’s class was one of my toughest classes ever.  Not from a perspective of “bad,” but because it was one of the most emotionally-connected.  For three days, I was drained AND fortified.  At times when I thought I could not give any more, they gave back in ways that I never would have imagined.

I share my stories of struggle, connection, and triumphs openly.  I also encourage, coach, and (sometimes) push others to do the same.  I believe this is key to getting through whatever struggles we face, whether it is fear about not finding a job, or dealing with some of the crap life unfairly seems to dish out.

This particular group responded in ways that changed the character of the class. Yes, I still taught career transition material, but the approach to the curriculum was far deeper with these folks than I have ever experienced before.  Nearly half shared personal information with me that connected us on a level I have never felt to this degree in any classroom.

  • Four have cancer; others have other chronic medical issues
  • One is grieving the loss of a young son to cancer two weeks ago
  • One lost a father to pancreatic cancer; he is also a single, custodial parent to young children while serving in a deployed military
  • One spent a career teaching survival and rescue training, as well as having to go into situations himself to witness the very atrocities that war wages on humankind.  Yet, he still has heart and soul, and opens up to others to make real connection.
  • Others live with the fear of failure in the next step of their journey, having lost confidence due to lack of support from their so-called leaders.  Some mask that fear with bravado.

What strikes a strong chord with me, as I reflect upon the last few days, is that this group opened up so transparently in such a short amount of time, not only with me, but with one another.  Perhaps, it was one of the first times, some of them had ever uttered the words, their fears, told their stories out loud, or shared tears (yes, I cried with several people during some one-on-one moments) with a total stranger.

This changed me and how I delivered the messages that needed to be shared.  I was able to get to the very grit of what being human really means, and how we humans need to be okay in our own skin, whatever that means to us individually.

It is in telling our stories that we realize we are not alone.   And I, too, must remember that I must do the same, as I hold back and do not always show my most vulnerable, scared side of Coral.

I came across writer Ashley Boynes-Shuck whose personal blog is one I am enjoying tremendously.  I found her through an article shared by the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation.  The article, “What I Wish People Knew About My Chronic Illness,” is one of the best articles I have ever read.

Though Ashley’s struggle is not the same as mine, she shares the same sentiments that I have shared with many one-on-one in private conversations, with small groups in facilitative workshops, on-stage as a speaker in larger groups, and in several articles, blogposts, diary entries, etc. that I have left online for others to stumble across.  Yet, I have not been as courageous as Ashley, because I pick and choose what I think someone will want to hear, or I have concerned myself with what others will think of me as I lay it all out on the line. And lay it all out there is something Ashley does in her article.

Some of the points that resonated most with me–

“What I wish people knew about chronic illness is:

  • …it can be unpredictable.
  • …one day I may be fine, the next day, or next hour, I may not be.
  • …I may not look sick. I may look healthy and “normal.”
  • …I (don’t) discuss my health issues for pity, sympathy, or attention….(but) to help others who are dealing with the same hurdles. To inform. To educate. To be matter-of-fact. To explain. Not to get pitied, babied, or fawned over. Certainly not to be looked down upon or judged.
  • …with complex illnesses come complex symptoms and complications…an ever-changing journey.
  • One thing that is consistent and predictable…I will not rest on my laurels and watch life pass me by. I will do what I can on days I am well…strive to do so with determination and with a smile…try to stay hopeful and positive, even when I have a “down” day… I am human. We all have problems. We all hurt. We are all entitled to get frustrated now and then.
  • …when I am having a down or frustrated day, that I am not giving up. I’m simply expressing my feelings, and I’ll be back on the proverbial horse again soon.
  • …(chronic illness) it isn’t easy to deal with — but it also doesn’t have to rob those of us who DO deal with it, of an awesome life. Every day, I am grateful for the many good things I have in my life. In every bad day there is good, even if we must strain ourselves to find it.
  • …being sick and facing struggles and complications along the way hasn’t changed who I am for the worse — it’s probably changed me for the better. It hasn’t diminished my, or anyone’s, value as a human being.
  • …chronic illness sucks…but it doesn’t have to suck the life out of…any of us…I’ve persevered…and when it comes to chronic illness… I will ALWAYS continue to persevere…and you can, too.
  • What I want you all to know, no matter what you’re dealing with, is that you’re not alone.”

Telling our stories, sharing our fears and truly being vulnerable is not easy for anyone.  It takes some of us longer to trust ourselves and others so that we feel safe enough to do so.

Some of us do it through writing, art, dance and movement, and others through talking, sharing, mentoring and other engagement with humans.  We must learn to share our pain and fear.

And as exhausting as it may be, the joy and love that will come back to you is like nothing you will ever experience.

So to the new-found friends I made this week, I thank you for trusting me with your stories, and for sharing your heart, love and appreciation.

And to Ashley Boynes-Shuck, thank you for the reminder to always keep it “real.”

(To read Ashley’s full article click here.  To follow her blog to read more insightful posts, or to learn more about Ashley, visit her blog here.)

“Courage. Honesty. Acceptance. Loyalty. Forthrightness. 

A sense of humor…about life and themselves.

These are the qualities in my friends and acquaintances that I value the most.”

–Coral Levang

Copyright © 2013 Coral Levang