Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The first thing in my Facebook news feed yesterday was the image of my best friend Dina and her buddy since high school, Frank Hutton - my friend grieving his death. I never met Frank in person, but in a very special way we met on another level in 2011 when he asked (via Dina) if I could polish up a personal story he'd written down. The experience touched him, changed him, turned his world around. The story brought tears to my eyes and changed me too. On this past Saturday, January 23, 2016 I messaged him to ask if I could have permission to include his story in a book I'm writing about such things - angels, love, and our invisible connection to each other, even when not connected by physical location. Frank messaged back, "Absolutely!" with a thumbs up symbol. I thanked him and said the story still gave me "warm fuzzies" and he offered another thumbs up. I'm honored to have met Frank on the level that he allowed me to see a tender side, a vulnerable part of himself. I am honored to share his story here with all who love and are missing him now...may this give you a smile and may he live on in your hearts.

“It had been a rough year.  I was lonely, raw from a very painful divorce, and though the sun shines brightly most days in Florida, my perspective on life was pretty bleak.  I was not proud of the part I played in bringing my marriage of 23 years to an end.  It was clear that I’d been heading down the wrong path and realized I needed to make changes, using my past mistakes as a guide.  Once I became willing to change, some pretty amazing things started to take place and I will do my best to re-create those events for you here.    They say good things happen in three’s…

 In December of 2010, I went to drop off a holiday donation at Labrador Rescue Retrievers.  Pat and Lewis, managers of the local chapter, met me at the door with big smiles and ushered me in. We exchanged Christmas greetings and as we talked Lewis excused himself so he could take “Rolo” for a walk. 

When Lewis opened the door to Rolo’s crate, the full grown, brown lab took off across the room, came right over to where I was standing, and sat down next to me. I looked down at Rolo and he looked up with big, sad eyes.  Lewis said, “Frank, I think you have a new pet.”

Lewis was right, and the timing could not have been better!  Within a week I brought Rolo home and we’ve been the best of friends ever since.  He’s been a great companion; someone to love and care for who returns love to me unconditionally just when I need it the most.  It’s so easy to love this huge-hearted animal who is so patient with me and knows when I am feeling blue.  A smile comes to my face and I automatically feel better when he follows me around. Sometimes I look over at him during one of our frequent car rides and realize that this four-legged canine taught me how to live again. 

Rolo is just one example of how I believe a higher power interceded to help me get through what I was going through at that time.  Though the sun shone brightly one June afternoon, things appeared dull and dismal to me as I drove home after a day’s work as a fire investigator.   Since coastal Florida offers a number of opportunities to pass by a beach, I often pack an extra set of clothes so I can rinse off the soot and grime of the day in the beach facilities. That Friday I also hoped to wipe away some of the gloom, regret, and loneliness I still carried at times.

On this particular day, after my shower, I found an empty bench facing the ocean, sat down to breathe in the fresh, salt air, and enjoy the view.  I will never again be able to pass by that spot on Flagler Avenue without remembering what happened next.

As I watched the waves crash and wondered what to do for a late lunch/early dinner, a dark cloud of despair still hung over me. I heard a young child’s voice in the distance and turned to look in the direction of the sound.  There I saw a young mother and her small daughter, laden with bags, walking toward me.  They were within a short distance of where I was sitting when I heard the child tell her mom, “Mommy, you left your coffee in the car.  Go ahead and get it. I’ll wait here.”  As young as she was, maybe about six years old, her mannerisms were very adult-like.

The child was dressed in a bathing suit, hat, and flip flops, and held her armload of little girl necessities.  One bag with a rainbow design on the side was filled with brightly colored, plastic beach toys.  About 5 Barbie dolls peered out through the clear sides of the other bag.  Her mom wore a sundress, also in rainbow colors.  In my line of work you have to be detailed, understand what you see.  That day, my investigative skills allowed me to remember a lot of detail that would later prove quite valuable.

The mother said she would only be a minute, told the child to wait, and promptly left the area to return to her car. I turned back to look at the ocean and continued to mull over what to have for dinner, thinking that the child and her mother would soon be on their way.  Only a second or two later I turned again toward the place where the child last stood waiting and to my surprise she was sitting right next to me on the bench!

The child looked up at me and smiled, her blondish hair waving in the breeze.  “Mister are you going to the beach?

“I don’t think so,” I replied.  I’m just sitting here on the bench, enjoying the view of the ocean.”

“My mommy is taking me to the beach.  We’re going in a minute,” she informed me.  “She just went to get her coffee because she left it in the car.”

“Looks like you packed well for the beach and you’re going to have a good time!” I said.

“Yes,” said the little girl. “I am.  In this bag (the rainbow bag) I have some plastic toys that I can fill with sand and make castles, and in this bag (with the clear sides) I have my Barbie dolls. I want to build a castle for each one of them. I’ve been looking forward to this all week and I’m very excited! And if I am good my mommy is going to take me into the water!”

Then, in a very serious tone the child asked, “Mister, would you like to be my beach buddy?  I have several beach buddies but it looks like you could use one. Beach buddies help each other out.”

I was stunned by her directness and insight at such a young age.  At the same time, my head was reeling with thoughts of what might come next and I looked around to see if this was some kind of joke…like someone from Candid Camera would suddenly rise up out of the sand and say I was on the show.  Then I thought, “Oh no!  What if Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC is hiding somewhere and he jumps out, shoves a microphone in my face, and says,   ‘We see you talking to this little girl, do you know how young she is?’”  Then I’d be hauled off to jail or something.

But it wasn’t that at all. This was much more.  It was far from a coincidence or chance meeting.  Somehow it seemed that this child could see inside of me to the loneliness and pain I still felt from my recent separation and divorce.  

Then came the biggest surprise.  This old soul, disguised as a little girl, reached into one of her bags and pulled out a multi-colored rock.  “This is my buddy rock, I want you to have it and as long as you have it good things will happen to you.”

I hesitated.  “Well I don’t know, I think you should keep it.  It’s a beautiful rock and if it’s brought you good luck and friends you might want to keep it.”

But she insisted, “Someone told me long time ago that if I see someone who needs a buddy rock to give it to them, and not only will good things happen to me, but the person who I gave the rock to will also have good luck.”

How does one so small measure “a long time ago?” She then told me to open my hand.  How could I say no?  She placed the rock into the palm of my right hand and said, “This is yours now.  Things will be better; I know they will.  That’s how it works!”

I thanked her and promised, “I will protect the buddy rock and every time I look at it I will think of you.  If I see someone in trouble I will pass the buddy rock on to them.”

“Mister, that is what the rock is all about,” and with wisdom beyond her years, she left me with one last instruction, “Once you feel better, and when it’s time you’ll know it, you will give the rock to the next person.”

This kind of experience was new to me and I was still inclined to look around nervously, expecting I’d be in serious trouble when her mother returned and saw a strange man accepting her precious rock.  But it didn’t happen.

As her mom approached I thanked the girl again and told her to have a good day.  In a matter of seconds, mother and child walked hand in hand, toward the beach entrance.  I looked away for a brief instant and when I turned back both mother and child were gone. I scanned all around the beach for at least five minutes, but they were nowhere to be found.  It was as though they had simply disappeared in a puff of smoke!

At the time I didn’t think too much of it, but later on I thought how could they have disappeared so quickly?  All I know is that after receiving the buddy rock, my outlook was a lot sunnier. The girl, wearing a rainbow outfit befitting a super-hero of sorts, chased away my dark clouds.

Within three weeks of having the buddy rock the strangest of strange happened and again I do not believe any of these occurrences to be “coincidence.” In my family it is no secret that for personal reasons my oldest sister, Charon, and myself did not get along for a many years.  I made plans to go to a party at the local firehouse in a town where my other sister lives.  I called to ask her if it would be ok to stay at her place.  She agreed and also made a request that I try to patch up the bad relationship between Charon and I.

It had been many years since Charon and I last talked…bad blood, as they say and it seemed impossible that anything could ever mend the rift between us.  My other sister mentioned to me that Charon was in fair shape health wise and asked if I would be willing to talk to her. Without hesitation I said yes. 

Though we had not spoken to each other for years, during the 10 days I visited, a new relationship blossomed between Charon and I.  I can’t explain it, but our time together went surprisingly well. We talked every day and continued to mend the fences that stood broken between us.  We’re still building this new friendship and it’s working.

I am coming to the full realization of how one small event, taking place in mere seconds or minutes, can change your life for the better if you allow it to.  As I type this story, I have Rolo at my side and the buddy rock is safely stored in my SUV where it will remain until the day comes when it’s time to place it in someone else’s hand.  Every time I see it there, I remember the small child and her mother appearing to me surrounded in rainbow colors, at a time when I was being swallowed up by an inner storm.  In my mind, it became obvious that they were more than human, sent by some mysterious higher power…angels maybe? Though the conversation between that young child and I lasted only a minute or two, her wise words and generous gift of the buddy rock will remain etched in my mind for a lifetime.

The effects of that one good deed continue to be revealed.  Part of my plan for healing has included what is now almost seven straight weeks of attending church and by the time you read this, it will be more.  For most of my adult life I avoided church, only going for weddings or funerals.  But now I want to go; to participate on every possible Sunday that I can.

What I offer to those of you who read this, who may be going through what I’ve been through is this:  When you are in a bad situation, maybe it’s time to take a step back, take a really good look at how you’re doing things, and realize how you treat yourself and the people around you.   We all make mistakes and choices that are not in the best interest of ourselves and others.  But by being willing to change, and really working at those changes, I believe good things will start to happen for you as they have for me.  Things might just turn out better than you expected and you’ll be glad you made the choice to change!”

Blessings and Love,