Will You Join Me?

Will you join me?
We’ll find a place where the tales are peaceful and the heroes worthy.

You too must be tired of the hate our brothers and sisters incite.
We can escape this realm of confused enemies and conflicted allies.

Our trip will be direct.

A journey past injustice and a crossing at the edge of outrage.
Morality will be our compass and righteousness our guide.

Will you join me?
We’ll find a place where patience is pursued and forgiveness perfected.

You too must be tired of the selfishness practiced by our brothers and sisters.
We can explore together the enduring lands of humility and responsibility.

Our trip will be direct.
A roadway toward revival and a bridge of self-control.
Faith will keep us afoot and conviction will hold us steadfast.

Will you join me?
We’ll find a place where fear is captured and love reigns absolute.

You too must be tired of the indifference our brothers and sisters preach.
We can build a new home that houses wisdom and truth.

Our trip will be direct.
A stop at honesty and a bypass of ignorance.
Compassion will lead us and integrity will be our companion.

Won’t you join me?
We’ll surely meet trials and our travels will prove arduous,
But our trip will be wrought with pure intent.

Won’t you join me?
We may stumble upon frustration and our labored hearts may ache,
But the distance is necessary and the urgency can’t be ignored.

Won’t you join me?

I cannot stay after seeing what I've seen.
My place among this broken world has expired.
I am now due to live the fortunes granted by courage. 


Water's Widow

In the densely wooded grounds of a gracious estate, lived an accomplished dowager- a woman chronicled by her skills and talents.  She was capable in her earlier life, but now the estate that once aided the dowager’s independence caged her instead.
Each morning she walked through the overgrown foliage and below the thick boughs of the century old trees to reach the tepid lake’s edge. In her youth the water rippled and flowed as the surface reflected blue skies, but through the years the water dulled and brought with it an unrelenting fog.
In search of a clear skies beyond her limited, blurred sight, the dowager climbed into a rowboat docked along her boathouse each day. She rowed for hours and only came to shore for the midday meal and when the light began to fail. Family members assumed her love of the land, but more importantly, her love of the water motivated such a routine, but the dowager found no joy in rowing. You see, her talents and skills were lost in the fog many years ago, so she rowed out of a compulsory need to find the clarity that would bring back her former aptitude.

When family members inevitably prompted her with questions over mealtimes, asking about her time on the water and her walks through the woods, the dowager could never find the words to explain the terrible burden rowing had become. The intangible qualities that once filled her personhood- her talents, her skills, her congenial spirit- had abandoned her and left only a shell. Often the dowager chose silence instead of attempting to choose the right words in response.

Without ceasing, she made her trek through the woods and boarded her rowboat daily.  Some days the dowager would row to the middle of the lake and witness a clearing in the fog. Hopeful, she would remain in lucidity, relishing her small triumph as long as possible before sundown required her return to shore.  Most unfortunately, those favorable days were followed by days of impenetrable fog.

The dowager spent years rowing and eventually forgot what she was searching for on the water altogether.  Her family encouraged her to continue to row, because in their ignorance, they believed rowing defined her. 

One morning, the dowager headed toward the boathouse as usual and began her habitual practice of rowing from shore to shore over and over again. It had been ages since she last saw blue sky peek through the fog.  It had been ages since she remembered to look for blue sky.  It had been longer still since she had had a glimpse of her former life.  She didn’t return for the midday meal that day. The dull hunger pains couldn’t compete with the fog’s force. The dowager rowed and she rowed and was completely engulfed by the fog.

The dowager never landed another shore.  She was not only lost to herself, but she was now lost to the world as well. 

More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease
Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive health condition in the nation.

Not only are women more likely to have Alzheimer's, they are also more likely to be caregivers of those with Alzheimer's.

In her 60s, a woman's estimated lifetime risk for developing Alzheimer's is 1 in 6. For breast cancer it is 1 in 11.

In 2013 my mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Growing up she attended every sporting event, sewed all our special occasion clothes (including but not limited to prom dresses, wedding dresses, and Easter dresses), she worked behind the scenes of musicals and plays, she gardened, she read, she cross-stitched, and she played the guitar. My mom no longer does these things; she is no longer the same woman who raised me. That is the cost of this disease.

Find out how you can support Alzheimer’s Disease research at www.alz.org.

Photo credits: Rebecca Reale

Singled Out

Dear Married and/or Coupled Friends and Family Members,

It has come to my attention you are confused by my ongoing singleness. Though I appreciate your genuine concern, I do want to clarify that though finding a partner in life is something I look forward to, I’m truly doing okay on my own. To make things easier for our next encounter, I’ve created guidelines to consider before advising me on my love life.

1.       When trying to convince me of the legitimate gift that singleness is, it’s best to describe it in a way that doesn’t sound like a life threatening affliction. “Singleness can be caused by heart disease, heart attack, and/or lack of the cardiac organ, often known as THE heart. Treatment for singleness includes doctor-prescribed exercise, regular visits to dating websites, routine salon work, and a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens.”

2.       The integrity of your advice is put in question when you talk about the gift of singleness and in the next breath mention an eligible bachelor you’re acquainted with.

3.       Better yet, avoid talking about the gift of singleness altogether. I know it’s meant to be encouraging, but anxiety bubbles when I realize that due to my lack of contentment, this “gift” must surely be broken and in need of receipt and fool proof return policy.

4.       Please refrain from making crazy cat lady jokes. It’s not only insulting because it makes me feel like not having an active love life destines me for social awkwardness, but also, it’s insulting because if anything I’d be a crazy dog lady.

5.       Understand that just because I’m single doesn’t mean any and all attention from a man is welcomed. A girl still has standards.

6.       On that note, do not tell me it must feel good to have men honk and cat call while I’m running around town. There’s nothing alluring about a stranger shouting out the window of his car or slamming on his horn like I’m some sort of wildlife that stumbled onto the pavement. I dare you to ask me if I’m interested in dating you after that stunt.

7.       There really are days when a glass of wine at home is better than a mediocre date at my favorite restaurant.

8.       When at a wedding don’t look to me like it’s my obligation to stand in a group of young women and wait for flowers to be thrown in my face. One, if I’m gonna get on the dance floor when “All the Single Ladies” starts playing, that’s entirely between me and BeyoncĂ©. Two, if I wanted to compete with other women for trivial material possessions, I’d participate in the dreaded Black Friday each fall. So grabby.

9.       I don’t want to hear about your success stories or your friend’s success stories or your friend of a friend’s success stories with online dating. I’m telling you the man’s a creep with a girlfriend on the side, trust my independent investigative skills and let it go.

10.   It’s confusing when during one conversation you tell me to maintain my standards, but by the next you suggest I broaden my horizons because I may be too picky.

11.   This is an easy one. If you don’t find him attractive or interesting, there’s a good chance I won’t. Take a deep breath and admit your error.

12.   When I’m talking about my desire to be in a relationship I’m just looking for a listening ear. It’s advised you don’t provide advice unless it’s requested.

13.   Suggesting to hold off on buying that great new kitchen appliance I’ve been eyeing up because I could simply register for one when I get engaged is not a valid suggestion.  If I followed that line of reasoning my house would be empty and my shelves bare.

14.   Please don’t try to make marriage and long-term relationships sound like court appointed life sentences.  If it was really that terrible, my guess is we’d be starring in the next generation of Golden Girls together.  I call Rose

15. If there's a man in my life worth talking about, I'll tell you. You don't need to ask me if I'm dating someone new each time we meet.

16. There's nothing wrong with me. My identity is not defined by romantic relationships. My identity is defined by my faith, my family, and my passions. When the right person comes along, I'll welcome him gladly, but until then, I maintain that I'm exactly who I'm supposed to be in this moment in time.

I hope these guidelines will provide some basic framework for future conversation.  Wondering what’s left to talk about? Ask me about my job, my hobbies, even my dog.  I’m confident our next chat will be rich and inviting.


Your Single Loved One

Proof of the Extraordinary

I’ve recently been given the opportunity to take women who have hit just about every stumbling block in life-addiction, abuse, poverty- and support them through a life changing transition into sobriety and law abiding behavior. In preparation, I decided to Google the phrase “real women success stories.” I was hoping for inspirational testimonies from relatable women. Instead, I pulled up page after page of results listing weight loss programs and products.

(Before I continue, I do want to acknowledge that there are very admirable individuals who have taken on the difficult task of becoming healthier people.  There is reason to celebrate this feat.  My intention is not to belittle their personal achievements, rather, to argue there are far too many successes our world is altogether failing to recognize.)

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the results. It’s no secret that our culture, especially in the United States, measures success by external appearances and superficial qualities. Regardless of this well-known observation, I was insulted. Maybe it was the feminist in me, or maybe it was simply my disgust with marketing tactics that shame people using the guise of personal empowerment.  

Out of natural curiosity, I next typed in “real men success stories.” What I found left me both relieved and angry.  Men too were targeted by the same weight loss programs as women, though not as excessively. I was relieved because it revealed females were not the only gender feeling pressure to conform to such empty terms of success. I was angered, however, because as a nation we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that only certain successes are worthy of public praise.

I disagree with Google, or at least the relevance of the results it provided. If I’m charged with the responsibility of advocating for women in their pursuit of progress, I don’t want examples of the superficial. I want proof of the extraordinary resilience and determination of ordinary people.

Women who shatter the stereotype that engineering is men’s work and design bridges like the best of them are successful. Men who sacrifice every earned comfort to care for sick loved ones are successful.  Women who patiently teach and reteach children with autism how to socialize and communicate are successful. Men who guide the development of tolerance and diversity in our systems of higher education are successful. Women who travel half way around the globe to promote the unifying benefits of visual art are successful. Men who spend days on end in arid climates to drill water wells for those with access to none are successful.

These are the successes worthy of public praise. This is the proof of the extraordinary.

The Better Business Vindicator

It was my weekend to work. It was quiet and I was feeling productive.  As I meandered around the building, collecting the equipment from our former phone and cable provider, I realized the new equipment from the new provider wasn’t working properly, for the umpteen time mind you. Could it really be broken again? Tinkering with the cords, cables, and boxes, I was convinced it was simply a fluke, but with extreme displeasure I discovered fear was actualized.

Having a lack of connectivity wasn’t the basis of my fear; rather, I dreaded the unavoidable phone call to the company’s tech support department.  I was all too familiar with tech support. There had been mix-ups, typos, mishaps, bungles, boo-boos, oversights, underestimations, misjudgments, snafus, and anything else that resembled a mistake but wasn’t actually defined as such, since the initial installation.

Dialing the phone number, I grabbed my pad of paper that had every number and name I’d used in the last month of communication with this company. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally the automated voice answered and began asking me questions. I responded using short, one syllable words while emphasizing my robotic intonations. She didn’t understand. I repeated myself louder, abandoning the robotic mimicry altogether and welcoming my irritated assertion.  I was put on hold.

Finally the line was live again, but there was silence on the other end. Generally it’s at this point in the unpleasant interaction when all the pleasantries are exchanged, but there was nothing to listen to, therefore nothing to say. Tempted to hang up, I decided first to reach out into the silence and hope, a term I use loosely under the circumstances, for a response.

“Hello?” There was a long pause.

“Hello! And good afternoon. My name is Mr. Anderson.”

Not a Brian or a Jeff or a Kelly? No. it was Mr. Anderson.  Capital “M” little “r,” Anderson.

The man’s voice was so staccato and artificially toned I thought I was speaking to another pre-recorded voice, but alas, he was alive and all too well. Mr. Anderson continued by reminding me to stay on the line after our conversation for a brief (five minutes isn’t brief enough in my opinion) survey and he informed me that our call might be monitored or recorded.

Prolonging the process, Mr. Anderson, looking for clarification, asked, "And your last name is Hamel?"

"Yes." I answered, already annoyed by the conversation and having no interest in reciting facts that had already been established.

With confusing amounts of enthusiasm, he replied, "Wonderful and glorious and Happy New Year!"

(Literally. Mr. Anderson said those exact words. I wrote them down verbatim because they were so bizarre.)

My initial reaction was of amusement. I cracked a smile even. But my pride, no my principles, won out. It was at that pivotal moment I realized I could no longer sit idly by as phone and cable providers all around this great nation so cheerfully sold such terrible products to trusting citizens.

I pulled a mask from my purse, tied a tablecloth around my neck, and I became the vigilante this world needed- one that righted the wrongs, combated the seething criminal underworld, and guaranteed all paid for services were met with quality products and customer care. It was in that moment, and thanks to Mr. Anderson, my nemesis, I became The Better Business Vindicator.*

*This story is 100% true up until the genesis of my superhero alter-ego.    

And the Whole World is Buying

The morning sun shredded through worn curtains. The girl stretched her arms above her head and squeaked out a sigh. Her sister woke to the sound and rolled toward the wall, avoiding both the girl and the daylight.

Grabbing a rag that had been soaking in sour water atop her dresser, she wiped along her neck, across her face, and under her arms.  The girl dressed herself in a red skirt with yellow stripes and a shirt with a yellow screen-printed daisy. Her feet were dusty and the pink toe nail polish was chipped. Summer was reserved for colorful skirts and flip flops.
The girl walked downstairs and met a few others in the kitchen. They worked to set the table and to prepare hot cereal. Moments before the food was ready to be served, a curvy, grayed woman and her male companion approached the table and sat down with a heavy thud.
The grayed woman grabbed the girl’s wrist, “You look tired. Did you sleep?”
Smiling at the woman who provided a thorny home for both her and her sister, she did not respond.  Not everyone slept well under the grayed woman’s roof, but the girl savored her sleep. Her thoughts were sweeter and her body was stronger while she slumbered.
The morning dulled.  The girl and her sister took turns brushing each other’s hair and tying it back into braids. They pulled the blankets over their shared mattress and set the girl’s doll and her sister’s stuffed rabbit on top. The grayed woman called for the girls and they met her at the bottom of the stairs. She inspected their hair, checked their teeth, and asked them to turn in place before shooing them out the door.
Once on the sidewalk the girl and her sister linked hands. The girl brought her sister’s fist up to her lips and kissed it gently before letting go. Her sister’s eyes were wet with tears. The girl’s eyes were stale with detachment. The girl turned her back on her sister and began to walk. She could feel her sister’s terror as she stepped away in fear and obedience. She continued to move forward until she could no longer see her sister’s small frame.
“What’s your name?” a man in a four door sedan asked as he pulled over. His car idled as he waited for the girl’s response.
With a shy expression, the girl countered, “What would you like it to be?”
Though his words attempted to exude tenderness the man replied with a cold stare, “Cute. Tell me your name, honey.”
The girl answered and swallowed hard.  She walked closer to the passenger side door, peering inside. Her eyes darted from the air freshener sandwiched between the cushions to the dark leather saddlebag on the floor. She looked at everything but the man.
The grayed woman appeared and stepped next to the girl.  The man and the grayed woman traded small talk. He grabbed a few bills from the pocket of his bag and tossed them on the seat closest to the open car window. The grayed woman gathered the loose bills and the man opened his car door. Without any further exchange of words, the girl climbed inside. The man was pleased with the simplicity of the girl’s surrender. The girl counted her breaths and closed her eyes.

There are 27 million slaves worldwide.
17,500 people are trafficked into the US each year.
There are roughly 200,000 slaves working in the US right now.
Modern-day slavery grosses $32 billion dollars each year.
Four children are sold into slavery worldwide every 120 seconds.

Consider joining the work being done to end modern-day slavery.