Figured I would rewrite this for all those out there mourning today’s SCOTUS decision. Get over it !!!

A Late Boomer's Guide to Life

Getting Over The New Normal

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin

In her 1969 Book, On Death and Dying, Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes the five stages of grief.  Over a 27 year career marked by mergers, acquisitions, and perpetual change, I have come to accept these five stages as necessary rites of passage that humans must endure as they navigate the inevitable shoals of change. It seems we all must endure denial, anger, bargaining and depression before we finally break through to acceptance.

While we all intellectually agree that our healthcare system is broken and is in profound need of change, most preferred that all the heavy lifting required to reduce healthcare costs as a percentage of US GDP, occurred on someone else’s watch.  As Woody Allen…

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My Blackfoot Whispers

AUTUMN 2006 Blackfoot River
AUTUMN 2006 Blackfoot River (Photo credit: Doug kueffler)

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters.  ~ Norman Fitzroy MacLean, A River Runs Through It

In the summer of 1981, I worked as town boy and ranch hand for a small guest ranch tucked into a great stand of cottonwoods, aspen and pine at the confluence of Montana’s Blackfoot and Clearwater Rivers.  I was given this gift and, like so many that are wasted on the young, didn’t fully appreciate it until the experience had been swept from my hands like so many granules of sand. 

Montana is a rugged place.  The Blackfoot valley was carved by an ice flow fist formed in the Pleistocene period by a great glacial lake.  In this less traveled part of America, people live in respectful harmony at the foot of mountains that can be penetrated only by logging roads and on horseback.  Some places in the adjacent Bob Marshall Wilderness remain untamed and only tolerate those who choose to pass through.  And for the experienced angler, the Blackfoot ranks among the Madison, Frying Pan, and Fire Hole as sacred places to practice the mystical art of fly-fishing.  

I had fished for perch, blue gill, sunfish and trout in local lakes as a boy, but never held a 9 weight switch of graphite rod that whipped neon line out across the water in a great rolling sine wave.  My first day on the river, I watched spellbound – the last of a fisherman’s line hesitated, silent in the air, his monofilament leader attached to a microscopic artificial caddis fly that would alight gently on the ripples.  As he stripped his line toward the shore, a flash of brown and red shot through the green riffle of water as a brook trout rose to attack.  There was no bait, no shrill cry of victory nor creaking of a rusty reel.  There was only sweeping wind, a splash and an ancient struggle as the angler landed a three-pound, 18-inch fish on a silk thread capable of snapping once two pounds of pressure had been applied. 

Netting the fish was as much an art form as the act of hooking him.  Yet, within minutes, his creel was opened and the fish was deposited to be served within two hours for dinner.

The Blackfoot is a magnificent and reckless flow of water that cascades 137 miles down from Rogers Pass atop the Continental divide — some of the wildest land in the contiguous United States.  Fishing consumed my waking hours.  My friend and I called it “Stalking Big Daddy.”  Although chores on a working ranch never truly conclude, on brief breaks and on our one day off a week, we would ride rusted bicycles down long dirt roads through sagebrush and chaparral, bumping along with fly rods, creels and nets.  We carried an insect net fashioned from a metal coat hanger and cheese cloth, which we would sweep beneath stands of cottonwood along riverside reeds, catching insects and hoping to match our fly patterns to the color of the captive bugs. Big Daddy was the term we used to describe the biggest fish in the river – a fifteen pound brown that lingered in the shadows of the cut river banks near our ranch. 

Our heroes that summer were curmudgeonly anglers who would don neoprene waders and work the river’s edges and runs — whipping home tied, wet and dry flies with the precision of a lion tamer.  As the trout would jump, tail and sip at the confederate lures, we would stand at a respectful distance trying to emulate the effortless bullwhip strikes of line that would extend across the water, dropping flies into places no larger than a postage stamp.  Big Daddy was there, watching us from underneath a shelf of rocks and branches. 

Fly-fishing was our new religion and these ancient fisherman had become our reluctant clergy.  They would shake their heads in condescending contempt as we shook at branches and tore at tree limbs that had snagged our back casts.  A retiree named Bud patiently taught us roll casting and how to read a dead drift. It seemed an innate obligation that they pass on this knowledge to the hungry neophytes who caught more leaves and sticks than trout.  John, a local rancher, scolded us to understand that each day the river changes, so you need to know how the water will guide and place the trout you want to catch and release.

We became part of that river, spending hours wading its shallows and sand bars, often stopping to watch an osprey, eagle, moose or white-tailed deer hesitate for a moment then melt back into the deep forest.  Each trout that rose to our fly had the potential of being Big Daddy.  If you were fortunate enough to hook a phantom brown or cagey cutthroat, your fishing partner would stand in silent envy, torn between not wanting to acknowledge your superiority as a fisherman but tortured by the need to know what fly pattern you were using.  “Black ant?” he would say nonchalantly, looking down river.  “You say something?”  I would smile, and then finally confess to the Wolf Hair Caddis. 

Twilight lingers forever in the Montana summer.  The dry, warm air slowly rises, giving in to small pockets of cool air that rush like phantoms down across the river at night.  The “early evening boil” was something to behold, as the trout would once again rise to feed.  We stood, silent silhouettes, swaying rhythmically with dark cords lashing quietly against a pink and purple sky.  Suddenly it would be dark, and we would pedal by moonlight to the cabin we shared with wranglers who worked the corrals and led the guests on horseback rides. 

Late that summer, I arose at four to take guests to the airport for an early morning departure and saw what looked like great wavy spikes of white light rising into the sky.  Dawn was still an hour off, but these beautiful sheets of light moved and swayed – blown by some magic celestial wind.  It was my first glimpse of the aurora borealis, and it is burned into my memory against the jagged skyline of the great Swan range.

As I get older, many of my senses have dulled while others have seemed to sharpen.  I sometimes stop to just listen as the wind rakes pine trees that guard the adjacent woods. I can almost hear the dry Montana wind sweeping down  pushing the tops of the pines, and shaking cottonwood and aspen leaves until they quake with exhilaration.  The river moves tirelessly and is restless, always eager to lean somewhere beyond the bend of an adjacent dirt road.  The Blackfoot is like the course of my life, creating new banks, patterns and places for others to hide and watch. 

The river provides for everything that lives along it and ministers to anyone who takes the time to listen closely to its sacred theology.  It flows back to me at night in my dreams.  I am always standing in the river, the weak morning sun streaming over the trees.  Just out of the corner of my eye, a faint riffle and flash.  A trout rises.  I roll a cast across the sequined water, squinting to see if I landed the fly on the narrow run that eddies into a deep pool.  A large brown belly turns as the white mouth gapes for the fly.  It is only eight in the morning and the Blackfoot whispers to me that there is no rush.  We have all day.   

Bi-Centennial Rex is Coming: Be Ready By Reading T-Rex By The Tail –

T-Rex By The Tail; Volume I

 Image

Authored by Michael Anthony Turpin 

When 81 year old neo-conservative Karl Patton dies, his four sons must gather up his bones and dredge the river of their own lives lived in the shadow of their father — the T-Rex.

“The T-Rex father possessed an abnormally large mouth from which he would chew out loud, belch, curse, and devour any weaker form of life. He possessed a great sweeping tail that could strike with unusual dexterity, hitting anything, including his own children, for the slightest infraction. His arms were unusually short, which precluded him from washing dishes or changing diapers. He was the perfect machine-an eating, sleeping, and working automaton preprogrammed to control every aspect of his white-picket world. The T-Rex father was fashioned out of reptilian conservatism, while his partner, the She-Rex, served as his alter ego. In an epoch of profound social climate change, the T-Rex father would have devoured his young rather than yield to sacrifice them to a softer ecosystem of collectivism. She-Rex served as his interpreter and voice of reason, helping her companion defend their family against a frontal assault from change, battling the corrupting elements of the antiwar demonstrations, oil embargos, drugs, terrorism, racial strife, assassinations, pandemics, and urban decline.”

As the boys gather to break the news to their mother who is suffering from early stage Alzheimers, life takes a turn for the bizarre and forces each son to come to grips with their birth order, personal biases and comical shortcomings.

For anyone who has wondered whether today’s parents are indeed a more evolved or devolved version of those who preceded us, grown up in a household fashioned out of conservative timber, felt the sting of a belt or heard the roar of creative profanity, this eulogy to the last great age of Jurassic parenting will have you feeling right at home.

To Order:  T-Rex By The Tail
Publication Date:
Jun 20 2012
ISBN/EAN13:
147515156X / 9781475151565
Page Count:
244
Color:
Black and White
Related Categories:
Fiction / Family Life
 

To the Class of 2012 – “You’re Not Special, Yet”

facebook
facebook (Photo credit: sitmonkeysupreme)

It’s that time of year where we throw another 3.2 million high school minnows into the deep end of life’s ocean. It may feel a little crowded for you scholastic sardines, but there’s actually plenty of room to kick, so splash away.  It’s impossible to offer any advice this week without acknowledging another graduation speech that got a lot of press this week past as English Teacher David McCullough Jr. had the audacity to tell a group of seniors from Wellesley High School that they were not special at all – even though he had given some of them passing grades in his class.

          “Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.”

Mr. McCullough went on to frame your demographic reality in stark terms. “So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.“ ( Actually, that’s 6800 people which slightly improves your odds. He also did not mention that at least half of them sleep with a goat at night.  But hey, McCullough does not teach math and gave many of these same student an A in his class)

Now some of you seniors are thinking, “I never professed to be anything special and it’s been hours since I have tweeted anything profound. GTFO, dude!” On the other hand, some of you might be elated to think that somewhere you have 7000 twins running around and will try to pull together a Twitter group where you might agree to “meet half-way” for a rave on some South Pacific atoll.

What Mr. McCullough was saying has been on the mind of an entire generation of parents who are now a tad worried about how they have raised their beloved Millennials.  Our greatest fear is that we have loved you so much that we have not prepared you for your first fist-fight with someone who has less to lose than you do.  While you exude self-confidence, we wonder if we are preparing Pickett at Gettysburg or the French at the Somme. Are we pumping you up with illusory élan or are we infusing you with an energy that will sustain you during the inevitable tough days that lie ahead?

Of course you are cocky. It is human nature that every generation feels superior to those that preceded it. CS Lewis called it the “Snobbery of Chronology”. With the benefit of hindsight, you can judge us more accurately than we can judge you. You have the facts to prove it. You can see every one of our generation’s gaffes, miscues, political blunders, hypocrisies and prescription medications.

The only thing we can do is growl back and warn you that life is not all green lawns and Chinese take-out. Personally, we grew up with parents that hit first and asked questions later. Everything was our fault.  If the stock market dropped, we got the belt. We had chores that paid less than minimum wage and had to do them before we could breathe. We did not walk through eight miles of snow to school. We rode our bikes uphill – each way – through the damned stuff, which was pretty tough because a ten-speed does not get much traction on ice.

Our fathers did not attend many of our scholastic events because they off practicing their swearing and forehand spanking stroke. Moms carried the load and still do. Dad’s now help more, hit less and only swear at the MSNBC and after 11pm at night when everyone has gone to bed. We now use “I messages” which seems so counterintuitive since we were told during our youth that it was not about us.

Secretly, we know that you are just like we were — excited, clueless, capable of achieving great things and ready to commit momentous acts of stupidity.   We like your style but wish you’d put down the phone and look at us when we ask you a question.  We like firm handshakes and a periodic offer to help do the dishes. And here’s the good news: you may not be as special as you think but you have the capacity to be as special as you want to be.  Your challenge is to discover what  “special” means and whether it allows you to still use your iPhone.

It is natural to be self obsessed when you are young – especially when you can consistently fit into your pants after drinking a milk shake. If we had Facebook when we were your age, we would have posted thousands of photos of ourselves. For most of us, there are only a handful of grainy photos from high school and college that look like something you would see in a “In Search of Sasquatch” special on Nat Geo.  Facebook is fine and although we won’t buy the stock — we are too scared to own equities. We do like the portal as it helps us see what you did last night.  Unfortunately, everyone else can too including college admissions counselors and your future employers who will note that by day you were a model kid and by night, you were a truck without breaks.

A lot has changed since you arrived in 1994.  That year, NAFTA was passed and did more to help you avoid yard work than any piece of legislation since the 1916 Child Labor Act. When you finally started to sleep in your crib, we snuck out to see a movie called “Forrest Gump”.  It was about our own loss of innocence as a nation. While the Moms were crying for Tom Hanks, we snuck in to see Pulp Fiction. When you hear us say ” Zed is dead” and then laugh manically out loud,  you need to understand that we are still punch drunk eighteen years later from no sleep and that Pulp Fiction just seems to make us feel like life is going to be ok.   Your Mom still does not get Quentin Tarantino.

Former President Richard Nixon died in 1994. “Tricky Dick” was a complicated guy – sort of like that friend of yours who you want to like but they keep doing self-destructive things. We lost Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the crown jewel of American royalty whose style and grace taught a generation of women how to be elegant without speaking. She had more Grace Kelly in her pinky than Kim Kardashian has in her entire trunk.

Yup, 1994 was a good year. Mostly because, you showed up. We smiled at every gurgle and wondered whether it was a real smile or just gas. We gladly took you everywhere because we did not want to miss a thing. Along the way, a lot changed.  Everything started moving – fast.  Economic bubbles burst and the world got hot, flat and crowded. Terrorists showed up. Technology made everything real time and changed the social contract we had with life where we had always just assumed everything would be there when we wanted it and that we could step off of the merry-go-round whenever we felt queasy.

But you made it all worth our while. Yes, that “whump, whump, whump” over you was not a South Central LAPD helicopter, it was us. You were raised under our constant surveillance and as such, had a harder time doing great things or blowing it.  You had to mislead you into thinking you had done great things so you would not try to sneak out at night.  You did anyway.  You learned the consequences of adolescent screw ups were now a lot more severe and that rumors that once moved like molasses could become viral scandals that could ruin your reputation faster than a fat man chasing an ice cream truck.

A few tips;

Make a gratitude list every day; learn how to delay your own gratification; don’t apologize for being American; find a hero; read Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Watch a western and allow yourself to disappear into the mythology of what made America great. Remember there are still endless possibilities in the world – you just may need to ride your horse a little further south to find them. Our gift to you was life, what you make of it will be your gift to us. Be happy. Be kind. Always go for the guy’s nose in an alley fight. Learn how to do a good job even when you do not like what it is you are doing. Clean out your closets. We don’t want to see you on Hoarders.  That would really embarrass your mother.

Remember, you are today’s special but every day the menu changes. Stay strong, have fun and don’t ruin your chances for public office at your first college party. We need someone in Congress who will be looking out for us when we are wandering around town looking for our missing bag of string.

Dad Duty

There are three stages of a man’s life:  he believes in Santa Claus, he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, he is Santa Claus. ~Author Unknown

It was a chilly Northern California evening, as I finally settled into the great green chair in the family room.  It had been a long day – church school, hiking, playgrounds, muddy dogs and an avalanche of diapers, nuks and mushy Wheat-A-Bix crackers.  It was now 9 p.m. and it was my time.  The second half of the 49ers game was kicking off, and the last of my feral children was nodding off.  As I fell into the deep cushions, a blood curdling scream echoed down the hall.  “Pi-yo-yoke!”  “Pi-yo-yoke!”  It was my two-year-old and it sounded as if the furies of hell had been unleashed in his room.  I rushed down the narrow corridor just behind my wife.  It was worse than I had expected.  His beloved companion Pinocchio, the stuffed toy purchased during our fall visit to Disneyland that was never, ever far from his side, was missing.  He was an inconsolable knot of anger, thrashing like a worm on a hot sidewalk and then suddenly going stiff with a form of frustrated rigor mortis.  As my wife tried to gently lay him down in his crib, I made a move to slip unnoticed out of the room and sneak back to watch the 49ers game.  I’ll just leave you two to sort this out…

“I can’t find his stuffed Pinocchio,” my spouse yelled frantically.  She turned and whispered reassuringly to the apoplectic child, “Here’s kitty, honey.”  He shrieked louder, tossing the tabby away with agitation, and fell back into the crib in twisted agony.  “Shhhhhhh, sweetie.  You’re going to wake up your brother and sister.”  I stood there, helpless, the UN observer – well intentioned but overmatched.  “Don’t just stand there, Michael.  Go find Pinocchio!”

As she tried to console him, I tore apart the car and house.  I could hear the cries from inside and cringed when new voices join the chorus.  I rushed back inside with one of the stupid faces I wear when I am adding no value to a situation.  “Wait” my wife blurted. “I know where Pinocchio is.”  She hesitated as if retracing footsteps.  “We left him at the reservoir today when we went for our walk with the kids.  We have to go get him.”  I knew instantly what it meant when we was used in this context.  It meant I (we) was about to drive through a frigid, muddy night to a rural reservoir and go hunting for a stuffed toy.

Thirty minutes later, I was trudging up a steep slope choked with weeds and soft mud.  The state park had long since closed and there was no access except by foot.  I slipped and drove my knee six inches into the soft dirt.  My foot suddenly disappeared into a mire of fresh mud, finally yielding my sock but keeping my loafer as a memento of the journey.  I pulled the destroyed shoe from the wet swamp with a heave and a few choice words.  I stumbled on to the hillside plateau and was soon moving along the ribbon of walking trail that paralleled the ebony water.  I spied the play structure, but my imagination started to play tricks on me.  It was, as the poet Frost described, “a night of dark intent.”  It was the perfect place for a serial killing.  I could just see the shadow of the 6’8” sociopath with a hook for a hand, dangling Pinocchio from his sharpened prosthesis.  “Looking for something, mister?” The probability of a serial killer actually swinging on the sets near my son’s toy was close to zero, but that did not deter my paranoia.  I rushed to every corner of the play area with no success.  As I dejectedly turned to hike back to my car, I noticed the silhouette of an alpine hat and a jutting proboscis propped up on the picnic table.  Geppetto had found his wooden boy.

Eager to be home, I fell down the hill, ripping my sweats on a rock after getting tangled in the roots of an oak tree.  As I tumbled on to the street, I approached my car to find a parking ticket tucked neatly under the wiper blade.  I grabbed it in disgust and drove silently home.  As I crept into the house, I heard the familiar splash of the kitchen faucet and the tinkling of dishes being cleaned.  “Great,” she whispered, ignoring my ripped pants and single shoe.  She walked down the quiet hall to place the stuffed boy in Cole’s crib.  “He fell asleep just after you left.”  They say “comedy is tragedy plus time” and I can now chuckle about my winter midnight hike at the Lafayette Reservoir.  I was not laughing at the time; I was feeling totally put out.  I now realize it was all part of dad duty.

Dad duty changes with each generation as society and social patterns shift.  I love to take the starch out of my Father by dredging the comedy and mild dysfunction that has settled deep in the tributary of our lives.  Yet, I’ve always known he had no higher priority than his family.  I often refer to his generation as the “Dad’s With the Big D.”  They were benevolent dictators, masters and commanders.  Martial law, a strong hand and absolute respect were prerequisites to survival on their tightly run ship.  A Big D Dad was shaped by hands scarred from a Great Depression, world wars and the sense that each generation could improve on the work of those that preceded it.  Life outside his neighborhood was reported through newspapers, magazines and an illuminated radio dial.  Fear was a stranger always lurking in the shadows as polio, communism, war and poverty made a person conservative, patriotic and self-reliant.  My Dad intuitively knew that anything worthwhile was earned and that only hard work could overcome limitations and barriers.  The price he and other Dads paid was occasionally missing milestones that marked their children’s progress in the world.  Yet, they never wavered.  It was their duty.

Dad duty now dictates that a “good” father make every recital, sporting event, choral concert and life moment to be certain we’re supporting our kids.  The commanding general has morphed into a more benign therapist who hovers in a helicopter above each child broadcasting carefully crafted messages over a PA system.  These dads are modern-day wranglers who must actively participate in guiding every head of the herd as it moves inevitably west.  While the new age dad’s job description may have more fine print, the pay remains the same.  Your compensation?  A first dance with your daughter at an Indian Princess outing.  That first hit in tee ball.  Introducing a new book or place to your child and watching them revel in the experience.  The realization that vicarious joy is deeper than personal satisfaction and that being dad means loving unconditionally; your heart has bandwidth that you never imagined.  It crystallizes a concept of the universe where a higher power loves you, blemishes and all, and wants only the best for you.  It helps you understand the precious gift of being responsible for another person and it magnifies your respect for other parents.  Having my own children finally helped me clearly see the man who was my Father.  He was, and still is, a parent with enormous integrity who refused to ever forget that his family was his top priority.  His greatest joy was vicarious as he helped guide and support the success and happiness of his four boys.

They may call it dad duty, that’s an oxymoron.  The chance to serve as a father is perhaps the greatest gift any man can experience.

It’s Okay, You Can Breathe Now

William H. Schwab Center for Information Techn...
William H. Schwab Center for Information Technology at Norwalk Community College’s, West Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Socrates

It was a steamy Saturday summer afternoon in 2003 as we drove home from Rip Van Winkle Lanes where I had treated the kids and their friends to bowling and pizza. As turned north off the Post Road, my daughter shouted to the car, “We’re passing the cemetery; everyone’s gotta hold their breath.” I had a rare epiphany that it would be a bad idea for me to take part in this game as my lung capacity had diminished since my days of holding my breath through the entire Santa Monica tunnel in the West Los Angeles of my youth.  I would have a hard time explaining to my wife and auto insurer how I passed out and drove into the living room of a residential home.

On this particular afternoon, I breathed through my nose and inched ever so slightly over the speed limit to allow the children to avoid a haunting. Every adolescent exhaled at the exact time as we reached Norwalk Community College. One breathless little girl confidently informed the car, ”Guys, always remember if you can make it to NCC, you can breathe.”

I would pass our local community college a hundred times over the next nine years – never understanding or appreciating that it  was a place where oxygen was flowing back into the lives of individuals who had held their own breath – delaying dreams under the burden of poverty or circumstance. In the last twenty-four months, I have watched NCC transform through its capital campaign and expansion, reaching towards an even higher purpose – nourished by a community, its own selfless faculty and the NCC Foundation, a non-profit seeking to ensure that where ever there is a will to learn, we will always find a way to accommodate it.

Two weeks ago, Norwalk Community College’s respiratory nursing program graduated 34 students. Their average age was 32 years old. They were a diverse group, hailing from fifteen countries and speaking eleven languages. They had overcome incredible odds, difficult curriculum and their own doubts. They beamed and exhaled – understanding that they had achieved another milestone in their climb to greater opportunity and an improved standard of living. The graduates pulsed with a life-force guided by an urgency to give back to a community that had offered them a hand as they lifted themselves above their own situations. They were eager to help fill the void that will widen in the next twenty years as a percentage of an aging Boomer population succumbs to respiratory conditions common to the elderly –chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia.

My friend, Mike Hobbs and Jane H. Kiefer, Executive Director for the NCC’s Foundation had arranged for me to meet a cross-section of current nursing student and recent graduate nurses. I met Tashia, a single mom and fourth year student who returned for her degree at age 34; Maria, a nursing graduate and veterinary oncologist researcher; Nick , a new father and former IT employee who felt a deeper calling to serve in healthcare, Elizabeth , a nursing graduate whose calling was fueled by the energy of her faculty; Eliana, a respiratory care graduate who was racing to get her diploma before delivering her own baby; Victoria, a respiratory care student who was driven by desire to make a difference; Grace, a determined and inspired mother of five who overcame barriers that would have defeated anyone with less conviction about her own potential and Dorcas, a mother of three, who had to defeat language limitations, and the strong gravitational pull of obligations that prevented her from rising above her circumstances. In her journey from minimum wage to graduate, she made a $ 6.10 wage stretch far enough to ford a river of doubt – fulfilling her dream to be a nurse and serve others.

In many instances, the NCC Foundation and NCC faculty combined to provide support for these students helping them through challenging course material, life events and circumstances that would have caused others to let go of their dreams. The heroes in this story are real people – the students and those teachers that would not let them quit. For some, it is a hard to believe chapter in a fairly tale written by countless Fairfield County families whose contributions to the Foundation helped underwrite the dreams of these students in a time when budget deficits threaten to condemn more to lives that fail to reach find their potential.

As we sat in the soft breezes of a perfect spring day, I was moved by their quiet determination and personal pride. I sat next to Tashia, a single mother who recognized that she alone held the key to her own future. An honors student from Westport, Tashia was the first in her family to attend a four-year college but after three years of college, she ended up pregnant by a high school sweetheart and was unable to continue school as a single mother. She needed to go to work and recognized that she had to subordinate all her dreams to provide for her child.

As Tashia focused a new career as mother and wage earner, she became critically ill – ending up in and out of the healthcare system. It was a chance encounter with a nurse that she changed the course of her life.

“At one hospital, a nurse took an interest in me and told me I should go to become a nurse myself. She just looked at me and told me “I can see you doing this, it may be in your soul”…She asked me questions, got to know me and I began to trust her. Knowing how much she impacted my life, I wanted to do more with mine.”

The road to a new career in nursing as a working single mother seemed impossible. But she was not to be deterred. A will to fulfill her purpose was burning and the naysayers, who told her she had one too many obligations to change lanes to a new life, only reinforced her determination.

“I was told it was impossible. However, I didn’t listen (to the critics) because I had no choice. I was determined to finish nursing school and work full-time while being a single mom to a preteen. Doing it any other way wasn’t an option. I worked extremely hard so (my employer) would not let me go. Luckily, I have an amazing boss that has done everything she can to keep me on as full-time. I remember it was about this time that I discovered the movie “The Secret”. It was where I was inspired to maintain positivity in my life. When I spoke about school, I never said ‘if I pass’, I always say, ‘When I pass’.”

She took one class each semester while working full-time. She had to delay her own gratification. Life was about making sacrifices and earning the chance to take another class. I thought of my own community and felt so inspired by a woman who wanted to work so hard for the opportunity to work harder. The ambition to be a nurse could only be accomplished one step at a time and there was no way of finessing the vertical difficulty of her climb.

“I began with Humanities ( and earned a chance at ) to Chemistry to Anatomy and Physiology I and II while working full-time as a supply chain manager at a growing local company. Work was just as stressful as schoolwork but I somehow managed to finish up my prerequisites. I nearly (ended up) homeless. Out of the graces of God, I found a home. I had to complete this program. There were tears, fears, life changes and incredible setbacks, but with the help of my classmates and the help of the school resources – supportive nursing staff, the wonderful women from the FE$P (NCC Foundation) program etc., I was able to succeed. This year I was nominated by a nursing chair for an award, ‘Women of Promise and Distinction’. It was a proud moment and it made me understand that it had all been worth it. I was incredibly honored and surprised! My motivation is my daughter. NCC has given me many things but I believe the biggest (life lesson) has been (to never give up) hope. I now have a future.”

Tashia is just one of thousands of continuing education students attending NCC each year. The leaders I met did not claim to be extraordinary; but treasured their accomplishments and the commitment they demonstrated to improve themselves. They understand that everyone does not succeed and that having a chance to take part is merely table stakes in the game of life. They don’t feel anyone owes them anything but they understand the obligation they have to make something of themselves to repay the acts of unconditional support that were provided at critical times of their journey.

For anyone who cynically still wonders whether the support for community based organizations makes a difference in people’s lives, they need look no further than the intersection of Richards Ave. and West Cedar Road. It is the nexus of will and willingness. It is where an entire community of souls can exhale knowing they have made it past the graveyard of dreams.

I have already come up with a new tag line for NCC: “Norwalk Community College – It’s Okay, You Can Breathe Now.”