Thursday, February 16, 2017


                        Looking through the notes accumulated over the years in the planning and thinking that go on behind these columns I call “HOME COUNTRY”, several thoughts come into my mind that might be worth sharing with you who are the faceless but ever-present friends who read it. Sitting here at my computer keyboard reminds me that this, the actual writing, is the “easy” part of the job I love. The long and often lonely hours of thinking, weighing and listening for a whisper of inspiration; of fighting the nagging “voice” that tells me I don’t have another story left in me, that the “mojo” is gone. That is what is hard. I was thinking about this exercise when I wrote the column titled Appreciating Moments of Mindfulness back on November 2nd 2015, and the month before with Listening to the Still, Small Voices.
            It is usually in the early morning hours, when it is quiet and peaceful and I can be alone with my thoughts that the “magic” happens; when it does. I was born into and grew up in a home where music was as ever present as the furniture, so I suppose it’s not so unusual that I should often turn to a background of selected song to enhance these searching moments. Not just any kind of music, but notes that speak to me of thoughtfulness, and the harmony of life at its most meaningful; soulful, peaceful and often haunting in its honesty. I confess that in recent months I have settled on the works of a particular composer, arranger and recording artist as a consistently dependable resource of inspiration of the kind that “speaks” to me when my heart is listening.
            Paul Cardall has been writing and performing music for close to twenty years and is well known across the country and especially in Utah and the Rocky Mountain West. He was born with only one half of a functioning heart, one of the 40,000 infants born with congenital heart defects in the U.S. each year. He endured numerous difficult surgeries and then experienced the long anxious wait on that now near- mythical list waiting for a replacement heart, upon whose beating he continues to write, arrange and perform today. Out of this came a unique awareness of the unfulfilled needs of this segment of U.S. health research and development, and the creation of the Saving Tiny Hearts Society the Cardall’s support. Even before I became aware of this charitable part of the artist’s life, I had noticed a quality to his music which imparted a sense of sympathy and appreciation of life that touches the very hearts of listeners. When I seek an hour of careful thinking and considering, I go to one or another of my half-dozen Cardall recordings.
            My favorite for setting a mood level which never fails to carry my consciousness away from the common and mundane and into a world where exposed hearts may be touched is a 2014 CD album titled (not surprisingly) Saving tiny Hearts. Each of the 14 titles which come together in this grouping contains the musical telling of a story, beginning with a personal favorite titled Gracie’s Theme, inspired by the true story of a much-loved little girl who, after all the preparation support and agonizing wait by her family, died during the heart transplant operation. A haunting quality which always speaks to me comes from another selection named simply Voices. The listener can write whatever story one wishes, but for me I always imagine I’m listening to the chorus of  thousands of tiny voices of cheery, happy, hopeful kids who had to leave us all-too-early because of childhood health events for which there is no available answer. Miracles, Our Love and Coming Home are titles on the same disc which tell their own musical stories.
            I and my family will always remember an evening long ago when we knelt together in our living room after being told that our four-year-old son would probably never live a normal life due to a heart defect. Then came our Miracle. Today that son runs marathons, travels the world, and is a grandfather
two times over.
            By the way, you too can help:

Sunday, February 5, 2017


            I met Jennie three years ago, on our annual trip to the Oregon seashore.  We enjoy the transit of the awe-inspiring Columbia River Gorge so much we usually stop only once, and then not until we reach The Dalles or Hood River.   On this occasion the old Cadillac slowed for an exit I hadn’t planned to take. I nonchalantly picked a convenient service station brand as I tried to explain to my passengers that we didn’t really need gas, I just thought we should stop.
            Oregon is one of those states where you don’t get to pump your own fuel, so accordingly a young attendant approached my door. I watched her remove the adjacent pump handle as she acknowledged my instructions. Probably no more then 18, her need for lots of dental work was a major “giveaway” for one so young. Despite an eager smile and an obvious will to make a good impression, I could see that she possessed a sweet nature, but was burdened by serious cares. Unless you knew one of my inner- most weaknesses, you would never have guessed that this brief interchange would mark the beginning of a hopeful but sad three-year relationship.
            As I pulled our car away from the pump and watched as the girl swirled away on a five-minute break, I said to my family something like, “that kid has big problems; I have to park for a minute.” Inside, I found the station manager, an overworked late middle-age lady who was about to become a special kind of personal friend. After assuring herself that my intentions were sincere, Mary Baker took me aside to talk. “You’re right on,” she said, “when you see the sweetness in that girl, and you are right about her troubles. She is one of these teen-age single mothers who come back to us after running off to California chasing a ‘big new life’.
            Getting to know Jenny took the help of Mrs. Baker – one of the few people the girl trusted. Even then I had to learn a lot about the wandering and damaged mind of a long-time meth addict even to survive a five-minute long --distance conversation. My family tried to discourage me from trying to help from the outset, but I couldn’t forget about Bella, the five-year old daughter whose father I would later learn was serving time for murder. If there was one motivator left in Jennie’s bifurcated young life it
was Bella.  After a number of moves and changes, “Jen” lost the ability to work 
once again along with the use of a borrowed (and illegal) car for commuting. Because of the immense distance between communities in her remote area, employment was problematic at best in her situation.
            I tried to regularly send her caring, encouraging personal email messages between phone calls and in return she would tell me the current length of her sobriety. I would occasionally slip a greenback into a greeting card and envelope but remained careful to never let it become an established practice.  With the approach of Christmas, I used the opportunity to talk with Jennie by cell phone about the kinds of gifts which would bring joy to her little girl, and then went on a story-book buying hunt. Shortly after that she had a change of address, and her life began what I had to conclude was another downhill slide.
            For a long time I listened to the sad “goodbye” signals of an inactive cell phone; a wavering farewell from one of God’s daughters I would have given anything to help. Reaching out is not always painless.
            I remain in email-touch with Mary Baker, and stop at the Oregon service station to wish her well each year, but as with me, she too has only a tear and a memory of a sweet young girl we once shared a piece of our hearts with.