Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The Path

Posted by Doug White under Personal, Uncategorized

For years we’d been walking down this path together. It was a comfortable path. There were few rocks to stumble over and the flowers were bright and filled with interesting aromas.

One day something changed. I ran to my wife, filled with concern.

“HONEY!”

“Yes, dear?” was her calm reply.

“There’s something in our path! I almost stepped on it! What is it?”

I grabbed her hand and ran to where I saw the thing in our path. It lay there on the ground. When it looked at me, it began to cry.

“It’s a Baby, sweetheart. She’s ours.”

“Huh? Really? Does it walk with us on this path?”

“No, silly. She can’t walk yet. We have to help her with her needs. For now.”

My wife picked the Baby up and with a smile carefully handed it to me. It was still crying. And it had a smell. “What on earth is that?”

“She needs changing.”

“Honey, I just want to walk down the path. This is going to change everything.”

“Exactly. And that’s okay,” my wife told me.

My wife changed the diapers on this new creature I found on our path and we continued on our way. I didn’t know what to make of this little person. She cried. She was hungry. She needed changing. It was a disruption to the path.

Until it wasn’t.

“HONEY!”

“Yes, dear, what is it?”

“The Baby! She walks!”

“Well, that’s a good thing, right?”

“Yeah, and she smiles, and she laughs and she likes to play!” I told her, filled with wonder.

“She’s not a Baby, anymore, Doug.”

“What is she?”

“She’s a Little Girl.”

“What do I do with her?”

“That’s easy. Play with her. Teach her what you know.”

“I don’t know much, hon.”

“You know more than you think. She’s waiting for you.”

I walked over to the Little Girl and grabbed her little hand. She took me down the path a ways, where the flowers changed into something marvelous. There were butterflies, and candy hanging off the trees. There were princes and princesses. There were fairy tales to explore and games to play. The path before us was filled with Imagination. This path was her part of our path and it was where I learned that this Little Girl was going to teach me, not the other way around.

“HONEY!”

“Yes dear?”

“There’s another one! Another Baby right down the path a bit!”

“I know, dear.”

“What do we do?”

“The same as before. We take care of it and carry it with us down the path.”

“What about the other one?”

“She’ll help. She’s got a new title. Big Sister.”

I walked over to the newest creature laying on the ground in our path. The Big Sister was standing over it, sizing it up. She bent down and poked this new Baby. It looked at her and laughed. Big Sister laughed back.

I bent down and picked this new Baby up and grabbed Big Sister’s hand. My wife grabbed her other and the four of us continued on.

“HONEY?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Big Sister is different! What is going on?”

“She’s a Teenager, sweetheart. It’s okay.”

“What does this mean? What do I do?”

“It means we have to be careful. She wants to travel down paths by herself. We have to keep an eye out.”

“For what?”

“You’ll know it when you see it.” my bride told me cryptically.

I walked over to the Teenager and grabbed her hand. She pulled her hand away but kept close by. I looked back and could see the path of Imagination behind us. I wanted to go back there. The Teenager came to a stop at an arc in the path. She stepped forward a couple steps.

“Is this it?” I asked my wife.

“It is. This path is called Boys.”

I didn’t like this path at all. It was filled with dark corners and thorns and thistles. I looked at the Teenager, “Why this path?”

“Because,” was her simple reply and she stepped into this path without hesitation.

I felt something suddenly in my hand. I looked down and saw I was holding an ax.

“What do you plan to do with that, honey?” my wife asked.

“Nothing. Unless I have to. And if I do, it’s all coming down.” I said grimly.

But, despite my instant dislike of that path, she managed to walk in and out of it without harm. For now. I knew however, that path would be one I would always keep an eye on.

“HONEY!”

“Yes, dear?”

“The Teenager! What is going on now?”

“She’s grown up. She’s an Adult now.”

“What does that mean? What do we do?”

“Honey, this is the hard part. Going forward, there’s not much more we can do.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

My wife grabbed my hand and walked me towards the new Adult who was staring down a path I couldn’t see. “Watch her,” my wife said.

The new Adult turned towards us, smiled, waved and then turned back to the direction she had been facing. She then took off walking down this new path.

“Wait!” I said and took off after her. I came to a stop as some sort of invisible wall appeared before me.

“Doug. This isn’t our path. It’s hers. We can’t go.”

“What do we do?”

“We watch. We pray. And we love her.”

“Is it enough?” I asked her.

“It’ll have to be, honey.”

As the new Adult faded into the distance, I looked down to the other person who had entered our life on this path. She had turned into a Teenager as well. I bent down and grabbed her hand. “Fine, but this one we can keep around for the rest of our path, right?”

That Teenager pulled her hand out of mine and like her Big Sister walked down the road away from me a bit. Not far, but enough to know that I wasn’t going to like what my wife said.

“No dear, she will have her own path to go down one day.”

I stood up and hugged my wife and we watched as the new Adult disappear from sight. I gave my wife a look, “What do we do when they’re both on their own path?”

“We continue down ours. Their paths will intertwine with ours again, I promise.”

“How is it that you know all this?”

“I’m a Mom. I’ve known this for a long time.”

“I’m not sure I can do this.” I said, trying to wipe away the tears in my eyes.

“That’s why YOU aren’t doing it. WE are.”

With that, the two of us, with the Teenager, continued on down the path.

Just Bob

Posted by Doug White under Personal

Veteran’s Day was this week and it was another good day to reflect on my time in the service so long ago. Nowadays, there are a lot of businesses who offer various specials to honor Veteran’s Day and this year was no exception. I always feel a touch guilty when I take advantage of those specials as I only served for four years – more than 20 years ago – and even then I never fought in a war. I don’t feel like I really deserve the same praise as people like my father do, because they fought and sacrificed in ways I’ll never be able to properly imagine.

But, I am honored by the things people say and do for me. This year was a little more emotional for me though. The reason why has to do with a man who I served with so long ago.

In my blogging and various writings, I’ve mentioned him before but not in super great detail. His name was Robert Bowens (or Bob) and he was one of the first Marines I met once I was assigned to my first duty station, Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

I had come to Camp LeJeune from Camp Johnson, North Carolina, which is not very far at all. I had gone to Camp Johnson to be trained in my position as Administrative Clerk. After I completed my training I was then ordered to go to Camp LeJeune and serve in the Headquarters Battalion of 2nd Marine Division.

I was understandably nervous my first day there. I’d been through a lot already since joining the Marines. I’d survived Boot Camp which even now, twenty-six years later still serves as one of the toughest things I’d ever done. Then I went to admin school and essentially learned a trade. And now, I was going to be finally doing the job for real.

But, I was still 18. I didn’t feel like an adult. I felt like a little kid in big kid’s clothing. I was sure I would look that way to everyone too.

When I walked into the office where I would serve, Bob was one of the first people I met, like I mentioned before. I didn’t know him as Bob at the time, he was Sgt. Bowens to me. Despite the fact that there was a significant difference in rank, he put me at ease almost right away.

Sgt. Bowens was one of the friendliest, most affable Marines I’d ever met in my few short months of being a Marine. I can still hear his laugh today and it makes me smile. He welcomed me to the office and put me in front of the desk where I’d be working.

As silly as it may sound, I had a pretty visible reaction to having a desk. It made me feel really grown up. Which I know now is probably pretty ridiculous. Sgt. Bowens took it in stride, he didn’t make me feel stupid at all.

Time progressed but within a short period of time, things changed drastically for me. I was moved into a different position and would be working as an administrative assistant for the Naval chaplain of 2nd Marine Division.

This meant, I wouldn’t be working with Sgt. Bowens anymore but we all lived in the same barracks and so I saw him often. We quickly became friends. Another friend of mine, Herb Middlemass hung out with us as well, as did a friend of Bob’s, Dan (or Don? I can’t remember anymore.) Rose.

We spent a lot of time doing what most young people do, in college or in the military. We partied. A lot. I’m not sure how I feel about that now, a lot of time has passed, but it’s what we did. The Marines worked us hard, but when we were off, we partied hard.

It wasn’t too long before Bob had gotten out of the Marines, but still would come to the base and hang out with us from time to time. This is when I learned something about Bob that I hadn’t expected. He was gay.

Keep in mind, that this was in the late 1980’s. Things were WAY different than they are now. This was prior to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ times of the Clinton years and so what this meant is that Bob had to keep his homosexuality a secret while he was in the Marine Corp or he would have been dishonorably discharged.

As far as how I felt about it? I didn’t really have a strong reaction to it one way or another. He was gay. I was not. I’ve been taught from my faith that homosexuality is a sin but I’ve also been taught that it’s not my place to judge. I’m not perfect at that, but with Bob, I just really didn’t care. He was Bob. He was my friend.

But, I worried about Bob. He had other problems in his life that I could see were having an affect on him. He drank too much. Way, way too much. He also had some issues with drugs. I was pretty young and I just simply didn’t have the experience or maturity to help him with that, if he’d even wanted my help.

It didn’t help that I also drank. I didn’t drink at the level he did, but I did drink and so that meant that when we were together, we were usually partying. My 21st birthday party was no exception.

We had rented out a cabana at the beach at Camp LeJeune and had invited everybody I knew and several more that I didn’t. People were coming into this party all night long, it’s a wonder someone didn’t get arrested as things got a bit rowdy. Truth be told though, I think the Marines has an expectation of rowdiness with their soldiers, so who knows.

Anyway, the next day it was just my core group of friends, which included Herb and Bob and a few others. Bob had been drinking all morning and had decided to go to the main part of the beach. He’d walked into one of the buildings and upstairs to where they were playing “The Electric Slide”, a song that was pretty popular at the time. I had followed him.

I am a pretty bad dancer and even with the song having a specific way to dance to it, I looked pretty stupid. I stopped and watched him instead. Bob had issues, but one thing he could do is dance. I remember smiling, thinking how happy he looked, just being Bob.

After awhile we had gone downstairs and I lost track of Bob for a second. When I turned around, I found him surrounded by several Recon Marines. They looked threatening and Bob looked mad. “Aw, crap!” I thought running to him.

These Marines had correctly determined that Bob was gay, more than likely by the way he was dancing. They were saying things to him that I won’t repeat here and he was responding back in kind. I grabbed his arm, “Bob, dude, let’s go.” I tried to tell him.

One of the Recon Marines looked at me and said, “Don’t touch him, you might get something!”

I don’t remember what I said that day. Probably something like “He’s my friend, leave him alone!” Who knows. All I know was he made me mad, I yelled something at him and I thankfully survived. Recon Marines are not known for their weaknesses.

Not long after that, I received orders for Okinawa and I left Camp LeJeune for the last time. I wrote Bob some and when I got out of the Marines, I even spoke to him a couple times on the phone.

Unfortunately, as often happens, I lost contact with him. I’d tried to look him up several times but couldn’t find him.

As the internet grew in popularity and use, I would occasionally plug his name into a search and see if I could find him. I never had any success. I had a bad feeling he might not be alive, but I could never find out one way or another.

That is until about two weeks ago. I’d been thinking about him again and I plugged his name into Google once more. I found an obituary for a Robert Lyndell Bowens of Newport News, VA. He had died after fighting a long illness at a friend of his home, whose last name was Rose. He served in the Marines during the time that my friend Bob did.

It was him. I know this. I knew Bob was from Newport News, his friend’s last name was Rose, just like Sgt. Rose from the Marines and it showed that this Robert served in the Marines too. It’s him.

The problem? He died 18 years ago. That hit me harder than anything. He died four years after I got out of the Marines and I didn’t know. I had not gotten a chance to mourn him.

How do you mourn someone who’s been dead almost two decades? Someone I know told me that for me he hasn’t been dead for 18 years, he’s been dead for 2 weeks. That may be why it’s hitting me so hard.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d kept in touch with him. He struggled with so much in his life. I’m not sure I was ever smart enough to help him with any of it. And sometimes, people just don’t want to be helped.

All I know was that this man took a fresh-faced kid from the Midwest and welcomed him into a scary part of his life. He became my friend when I needed one. I will always think of him with great fondness. I wish I had been with him at the end.

I was friends with Robert Lyndell Bowens. His life, as tough as it might have been, mattered. He mattered to me. And I will miss him.

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Posted by Doug White under Personal

I enjoy being around kids. Not always of course, they can be trying at times, but generally speaking I like spending time with them. My own daughters have been one of the best things that have ever happened in my life. I’ve loved watching them grow up and even though the teenage years have had their share of turmoil, I am not looking forward to the day where they each walk out that door on whatever path God puts them on.

Between my wife’s family and mine, I have eleven nieces and nephews, ranging in age from five to twenty-three, each of them unique and brimming with their own personalities. I have different relationships with each of them, but I care for them all very deeply.

I try very hard not to have a “favorite”. I love each of these kids and any time I spend with any of them is very special to me. But, I’m human and I have to admit, I do have one that I just seem to have a closer relationship to than the others. It’s my nephew Kyle.

I know that many will think that they know why I have a closer relationship with Kyle after the next four words. Kyle has Down’s Syndrome. “Well, of course, he’s your favorite, he’s handicapped.” you might think. And you may be right. Regardless, he and I are pretty close and I hope we always will be.

Kyle has been on my mind a lot in the last few weeks, specifically because the subject of Down’s Syndrome became a focus of a controversy recently. Richard Dawkins, scientist and author of a book disgustingly titled, “The God Delusion” came under fire for telling a woman – via Twitter – that the moral thing to do if she found out she was pregnant with a baby that had Down’s would be to abort it.

After being the receiver of quite a bit of understandable anger from people after this happened, he tried to justify his comments by arguing that he was talking about a fetus and not a person who is alive. Which even if I bought the argument that a fetus is not a person – and I don’t – his argument misses the point entirely.

Taking his argument at face value – if the “moral” thing to do is to abort a Down’s Syndrome baby, then the “immoral” thing to do is to allow it to be born. This indicates that he believes that all woman who don’t abort their Down’s Syndrome babies are by his definition, immoral. This isn’t just twisted logic, it’s flat out evil.

I remember when Kyle was born, in the spring of 2000. He was the second grand-kid on my side of the family, my oldest daughter being the first. My wife, daughter and I lived in Marshall, Minnesota at the time and drove to Lincoln, Nebraska so we could see this new baby that entered into our lives.

I remember going to my sister and her husband’s house that weekend and spending time holding Kyle and doing the traditional “oohing” and “aahing” everyone does over a newborn. Then, they sat us down, with my Mother, and shared the news. Kyle had Down’s Syndrome. I remember being in shock as I heard my brother-in-laws voice break. I’d never seen him that emotional before.

That night, I went to bed sad. I was sad for my sister. I was sad for her husband. But most of all, I was sad for Kyle. I had worked with mentally handicapped adults while in college. I saw the struggles they went through. I laid on my pillow and wondered what kind of life Kyle was going to have.

Not long after Kyle was born, he had to undergo heart surgery. Down’s Syndrome kids tend to have some issues with their hearts and Kyle was no exception. Fortunately, he pulled through that surgery very well and to this date, has not had any further serious health issues.

As the years went by, we’d come to Lincoln regularly and I quickly stopped worrying about what kind of life Kyle was going to have and started marveling at what a fantastic nephew I had. Incredibly outgoing, loving and so full of energy, he never stopped making me smile when I saw him. It’s an ongoing joke in the family, that although it’s been said that Down’s Syndrome people are very laid back and relaxed, that someone forgot to tell Kyle this! He is as energetic and playful as any of the other kids in the family.

Kyle is a very athletic young man. He’s played soccer, baseball and basketball and has held his own with kids very close to his age. He’s played in his school band for years and this year is a part of their marching band. He struggles to speak coherently, but he can read and write and academically is doing very well in school.

Kyle is not perfect. Having Down’s has not made Kyle faultless. He is at heart, a very typical boy. A perfect example happened recently. He took a picture of his sister, got onto his mother’s Facebook account and posted it, saying, “This is a picture of my stupid sister”. I bring this up, not to indicate that I think he did something awesome. I bring it up because it was sort of obnoxious, and if I would have had Facebook as a young boy, I probably would have done the exact same thing at some point. Because kids are wonderful and they can also be wonderfully obnoxious. Kyle is no exception to this. (For the record, his sister is far from stupid. But that’s a story for another day.)

I love this kid and although I don’t see him near often enough, I enjoy every minute I do with him. After the Richard Dawkins story, I had a strong urge to go visit my family in Lincoln and I hoped to get some quality time with Kyle. His brother was celebrating his birthday and wanted to go see a football movie. I’m not a big sports fan but I like movies so I went with them, their parents and another nephew of mine. Kyle sat next to me and I watched him, watching the movie. Which probably seems silly. But I watched him as the movie showed something he liked and how he would smile and silently clap. He got more out of that movie than anyone else in that theater. I’m sure of it.

Kyle is never going to be President. He’s not going to be super famous or become a neurosurgeon or something equally significant. However, neither am I. Kyle is going to be ordinary. Just like pretty much every one else I know and care about. This is not only ok, it’s absolutely wonderful. I hope I get to spend a lot of years watching him be ordinary. This would make me very happy. Kyle’s existence was not an “immoral” choice. It was the most moral thing that could have ever been done.