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By Joscelyn, Apr 11 2017 01:32PM

As I approached my evening destination, I opened the theatre's large glass door and stepped into the bustling entry way. Concession stands and ushers lined the open hall leading to the main theatre. Around me, people were nicely dressed and mingling in clusters. Taking in the energy and excitement, I leisurely made my way to my seat. Taking an evening to watch a musical was a first for me…something that seemed fitting to experience of this good news journey. Having made the decision three months prior to leave a successful reporting career to embark on this mission, I found myself feeling right at home being present for the opening night of a musical entitled Call Me Crazy.

The energy of the nearly full house was electric. I felt the buzz resonate throughout the theatre. The hum of the crowd gained momentum as the opening curtain drew near. Settling comfortably into the plush red seat, I watched as the lights began to dim and the audience silenced, sitting wide-eyed in anticipation.

The piece was captivating right out of the gate, a masterful musical display. The storyline was riveting, yet humorous. As the characters unveiled the obscurities found within everyday life, I burst out in stitches of laughter. With their unique attributes, each character seemed to outwardly portray the real struggles within their individual minds. As the show went on, from behind a humorous and outrageous cast of characters was revealed a powerful message, one of a crisis of humanity, from the standpoint of the instability of personal emotion. Taking time to immerse myself in the minds and outward struggle of each character, it became very apparent that their radical and crazy behaviors were presented as a means of protecting their own fears and self-interest. The show portrayed the duality created when life lived from a crazed self-protective state was vigorously imposed upon attempting to live with compassion and open communication.

The musical's opening night concluded with a standing ovation and an encore salute by the entire cast. As the crowd slowly shuffled their way out of the theatre debriefing on the show, I set forth on a mission to find an usher with the request to speak with the production's director. To my great surprise, my wish was granted. I was welcomed to take a seat in a comfortable oversized chair located in a small room adjacent to the main theatre. There, I awaited the director. The walls were painted a deep blue, which offered a sharp contrast to the bright red furniture. Both the atmosphere and my anticipation had me abuzz.

It wasn’t more than ten minutes later when a spunky woman walked in through the door to greet me. Her attire was funky, raw and made an artistic statement. Her curly hair was delightfully wild. She reminded me not as much of a director, but more so of a rock star...a musician.

"Sam, I'm Kadence." Her voice was rustic and her handshake firm. "I was told you wanted to speak with me, and I heard that you come with good intentions," she said with a wink.

As we sat down, I brought Kadence up to speed on the good news journey, and how her production resonated with me on many levels, given my recent life choices. She offered me a drink, as she grabbed one for herself from a small fridge in the far corner of the room.

Cracking open her beverage, she said, "So, if you're traveling the country discovering why people live as they do, I'm guessing you'd like to know why I wrote such a production?"

Kadence was upfront and firm, yet open and genuine. I simply smiled, gently nodded and allowed her to continue.

"Sam, this piece is a compilation of the absurdity of my forty-five years of experience on this earth. It was inspired by everything from the harshness of my upbringing, to the fanatical man I watched have out at a coffee shop owner one day for no seemingly good reason. I am inspired by craziness as much as goodness."

As she imparted some of the tales and occurrences that led to the creation of each scene and character within her musical, Kadence revealed that she herself was the voice and instrumentalist behind the grippingly diverse musical soundtrack. She had the innate ability to sing everything from soft melodic notes to deep brash tones, and proficiently played eleven different instruments.

"I absolutely must know how you came to find your talent! Did it come easily to you?"

"Easily in terms of naturally picking up anything musical, yes…but not so easily in terms of finding my way to a life where I was free to express myself through music," she said.

In a real and raw a tone as I had perhaps ever heard, Kadence took me back to a childhood filled with abuse. She depicted times of fleeing from dangerous situations and spending hours caged in within the frigid pitch black of her basement, where should we consider receiving a meal to be a blessing. She was abused on a daily basis and felt fully insignificant.

"I found solace in song Sam. I sang quietly while lying in my bed before my mother would grab me from it in the middle of the night. I would walk through the woods to get to school and rewrite the lyrics to the songs we all knew as kids. I sought out safe surroundings and went to a place within myself where I was free to be expressive by making a song different by adding a new beat. Those times were few and far between in my childhood, though they were my saving grace. My early life was about trying to sift through the abuse and chaos to think about who I was. There was no opportunity for concern about who I would become. My life was about survival."

I felt my heart sink. The three hours musical that I had just witnessed was raw, funny, and delightfully real. Never would I have imagined it being rooted in a time of such pain and struggle.

"How did you pull yourself up from the impact of such an early life?"

"It wasn’t easy. It happened because I was able to develop my early abilities to find creative ways to express myself, and because I found some very supportive people along the way," she replied.

Kadence went on to share a story that began her leap into a more confident and expressive existence. In grade one, her class had choir practice as a part of their regular schooling. Her music teacher was a very scary, rigid and cranky man. In spite of a home life riddled with the threats of frightening authority figures, Kadence allowed herself to cast away her fears and simply sing with everything inside of her during their practices.

"I'll never forget the day that he halted our entire practice with the words, ‘Stop! Who did that?’" Her voice imitated that of a rigid old man. "He finally singled me out. As it turned out, having my teacher identify me wasn’t a bad thing. He said I had something called vibrato, a rich tone that he heard amidst the voices of all the other children."

Within a matter of days, Kadence was placed with students six to eight years older than her and asked to be a part of a special presentation of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Every day, she would walk through the woods and practice. When it came time for the actual recital, a kind teacher surprised her with a navy blue skirt, a white blouse, panty hose and brand new black patent leather shoes so that she could be dressed just as nice as all of the other kids in the show.

"I was always poorly dressed, and my hair a tangled mess. I hardly knew what to do with a brand-new pair of patent leather shoes! I wore that outfit and felt so proud singing my heart out during the show....and I then quickly gave all of the clothing back to the teacher after the performance, for fear of what my mother would do to me if she found out what I had done."

“You had to hide from your own mother? I can’t even imagine Kadence.”

She nodded, as tears brimmed over her eyes and silence filled the room. “I was nine years old when I finally managed to escape from home.”

The day she fled, her mother nearly tore the snowsuit off Kadence's back. Her clothes shredded, she ran as fast as she could to her best friend’s house. “She opened the door to find me standing here, bruised and in tears. I remember her parents helping me get cleaned up. After they fed me dinner, my friend and I sat down together. She asked if she could pray with me. Religion was far beyond anything that I knew, but I remember sensing goodness in the world when her family welcomed me to stay with them for the weekend."

Fleeing the brutality of her home life was the initiating factor in a very transient life for Kadence. Within a single year, she was shuffled amongst nine different foster homes. It wasn’t until she was twelve years old that she was finally taken in and adopted by a family. "They taught me morals and the values of family...and they opened up the musical possibilities in my life. They had instruments all over the house, everything from drums to bongos. Their two kids had no interest in touching them…I had every interest. When I was thirteen, my adoptive family bought me a guitar for Christmas. Shortly after, I added a harmonica to my collection. Over the years came the bass, drums and mandolin became a part of my musical life as well. When no one was around, I taught myself how to play. Other musicians inspired me along the way. When I was seventeen, I passed a busker playing in the city market. His song inspired me to move past the life I had known and begin to experiment. As soon as I turned nineteen, I left my foster home and I tried to find my way with schooling in various facets. I got my own car, and even found success in selling real estate! However, I learned the most from becoming part of a band and touring the country.”

Kadence was brave, fearless. She shared her riveting story with such confidence. Sitting back with my drink in hand, I sat wide-eyed and welcomed her to carry on.

"For several years, I got to learn about the business side of booking gigs, and I found momentum and inspiration from every experience of being in front of those crowds, night after night. That was where I truly began to find myself."

"Incredible. How is it that you found the strength to build a sense of confidence in yourself after all those years of having been beaten down?"

"It happened gradually, with time. As I hit the road and started to play more gigs, I came to realize that I wasn’t an outcast because I was an insecure artist. For many, there is a fear associated with getting up on stage. The stage is the physical representation of a platform for self-expression. But once you get up there and realize people like what you do, you feel a sense of acceptance. The experience fuels you. You go back home and begin to compose and practice that much more."

"The musical equivalent of building toward cadence."

"Ha. I suppose so!" she replied with a big smile.

"What's your cadence, so to speak?"

"What's my point of pause in the melody of my life? That's an easy one Sam. My daughter is my cadence.

She is bright and driven. She helped me become independent and realize what I was truly capable of in this life. She grounds me."

Never would I have imagined that such an authentic and inspiring person, or such a painful past, lay behind a production that showcased an abundance of rawness and purposeful humor. Even as a reporter, it was almost difficult to mentally craft questions to relay the incredible depth to Kadence’s messages. I felt grateful for having taken the chance to ask to speak with her.

"How it is you are able to look back on the brutality of your childhood and use it to contribute to a masterful piece such as Call Me Crazy?"

"There is irony in the production's title that best explains the answer Sam. The term crazy can be used to loosely describe how we feel without the mental toughness to endure everything that life throws our way. Craziness can also be how people perceive us when we are willing to risk big and strike out on our own, defying the limits of our past.”

“Obviously, you had the mental toughness.”

“I was lucky to have intelligence on my side during everything I went through. It allowed me to be strong enough to not have my spirit crippled. I could see the way out, and I kept moving toward it. In my heart, I knew that I had to find a place where I had the freedom to fully express myself. Without that mental toughness, who knows what may have become of me. I am thankful for having enough strength to choose empathy and kindness, two traits that are key to me. Being a director allows me to musically showcase the life that I have come to know, and the crazy life that I averted.”

Kadence went on to share how her decision to only accept a life of freedom of expression led her to find her way not only to expressing on a stage as grand as one of New York's most respected theatres, but also in a home life that supports and promotes open communication. Through her years on the road playing, she had fallen in love with a fellow musician.

"One of the best things in life is waking up to someone feeling as though you look absolutely wretched and having them tell you that you look beautiful. I'm so lucky to be loved and supported every day, in every way that I chose to express myself."

Kadence smiled as she shuffled her wild curly hair back out of her face.

Smiling back, I asked, "Where you do wish to take your life going forward?"

"Actually Sam, I've recently founded a new purpose in my life, which I feel ties every part of my experience and existence together. With the profits from this production, I will be funding a new charity. The group will support the purchase of instruments and music lessons for children who cannot afford those luxuries…those modalities of artistic expression. I want to create opportunities for the less fortunate, for those who have to go to school with unkempt hair and tattered clothing, just as I did. For all the children who come from homes that may be broken or lack support. My sole wish is for youth to be able to find solace and themselves through music, should they so desire to do so.”

"That's a cause I would happily support!"

"I thank you Sam."

I sat back in reflection. The first instrument that found its way in to Kadence's life had been the drums. All along, in spite of every physically and emotional beating she had seen and attempted diminishment of her spirit, she chose to beat to her own drum. Deep within, she knew who she was all along. She knew that she had to cut through the woods on the way to school to find solace and sing. She attracted a foster home filled with musicality. She left the schooling that was expected of her to pursue a life as a musician and radio broadcaster. And she put together every beat within her heart and the tones that spelled out her life to create a masterful piece of work that brought the crowd to their feet on opening night.

"Has anyone ever called you crazy Kadence?"

She let out a hearty laugh before composing her response. "I left a perfectly good broadcasting role to write this musical. There were plenty of times where I wondered if I was crazy for wanting to express myself and how I uniquely saw everyday life. Here's how I see it Sam: If there isn't anyone who sees us each as crazy, then we're probably not fully expressing ourselves. To be true to our unique absurd nature is to be an individual that some people will think to be crazy. It took a lot of time and effort, but at forty-five years of age, I can say that I fully accept myself as a person and an artist. I can reflect back on the life I lived and not feel angry. I believe that as long as we can grow from our experiences, there is hope. Sometimes what we learn makes us wiser, sometimes it makes us a bit crazier…but no one ever said that a little crazy was a bad thing. It's all about how we chose to express it."

Rising from our seats, we exchanged a warm hug. Kadence was so raw and real. She was evidently the kind of person who could sit with you and tell you countless crazy stories, bringing the characters within each one fully to life. Our time together felt as though it had brought me more fully to life. As we parted ways, Kadence returned backstage, and I headed back out onto the streets of New York.

Light snow fell from the sky as I made my way from the theatre. Walking along, I found myself humming “Snowflakes are falling on my head, they just keep a falling on my head.” Picturing Kadence as a young girl walking through the woods singing at the top of her lungs, I added my own rap beat and belted the tune within my head aloud, without any concern as to whether passers-by thought me crazy.

The Good News Report ©Joscelyn Duffy, 2013-2017



Coming Soon: Chapter 6: FREEDOM

By Joscelyn, Apr 4 2017 01:19PM

The snow crunched beneath my feet as I approached a quaint bungalow at the end of a small-town terrace on the outskirts of the country’s capital. The white siding made the structure gently fade in the background of the scenic first snowfall of the year. The blustery wind swept the light snow against my face as I approached the home where a family member had arranged a meeting between me and Basil. After a knock on the door, I heard a gentle “come in.” Kicking the snow off my boots, I opened the creaky door and stepped inside. To the right of the entranceway, Basil slowly rose from the kitchen table and made her way over to greet me. Scurrying beside her were two Lhasa Apsos.

Shuffling her feet along the wood floors in a pair of oversized slippers, she welcomed me to join her in the living room. Walking through the archway that divided the kitchen and living room, the bright white nature of the snowfall cast through full-length windows. As we took in the outside view, Basil looked at me and smiled. “This is where I sit and watch the sun rise and set, the storms come and go, and the winds of change blow in. This is my little piece of heaven.”

Basil’s home was quiet and peaceful. There were many aspects to the environment that felt like stepping back into simpler times decades ago, times when we weren't engulfed in technology or continuous noise and when hard work equated hard physical labor. The home had begun to show its age, though it was so obviously steeped with character and history. There was even a rustic nature to the thick film of dust that covered the wall of family pictures.

One large photo centered in the middle of the left wall stood out. I would have placed it in the 1950s. Noting the directly of my gaze, Basil chimed in. "Redmond and I were a good-looking couple back in the day!"

"You were indeed."

Basil gestured for us to sit down on the large brown couch that faced the windows. As she settled with her two pups cozying beside her, she shared with me about Redmond, her husband of seventy-five years. Like Basil, he was strong-willed, yet gentle and caring. He had spent his entire forty-five-year career in the navy. For months at a time, he would be out at sea while Basil stayed at home raising their two boys and upholding her countless community positions. Shortly after their boys left home, they moved into this home. “Redmond and I enjoyed a peaceful life here for nearly five decades…until three years ago when he was suddenly diagnosed lung cancer. The treatments and illness proved too much for his frail ninety-five-year-old body. He passed within just six months of diagnosis.”

“I’m sorry Basil.”

It was difficult to grasp how it would feel to have shared seventy-five years of one’s life with someone, and to then have them slip away so quickly. I asked Basil how she was doing without Redmond by her side.

“Some days I forget that he is actually gone. It often feels as though he's just out at sea and will be back in a few months. On occasion, I even see him standing in different corners of our home.” Gently clutching the wedding band that dangled from her dainty finger, Basil looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I know that I will see him again someday soon, and I'm ready for that day."

Basil shared that there was nothing she had left undone or unsaid in her life. Her days, once filled with community activism, athletic adventures and family functions, had become centered around a trip to the local coffee shop every day, in the late afternoon. “I most definitely have slowed down. I don't quite have the energy I once did…but I suppose that might be expected at ninety-seven years of age. Still, I refuse to stop until the day this world decides that it's my time to leave.”

Basil had a part-time caregiver named Viola, who came by three times a week for a mere few hours at each visit. She refused full-time help, even with her boys living hundreds of miles away. If she needed anything, she felt comfortable calling her caregiver, or her neighbors. With the exception of help with any lifting or cleaning, Basil continued to live very independently.

“For many years, my boys have wanted me to go into a retirement home. They said it would mean easy care and proper nourishment. My home nourishes me Sam, and I couldn’t bear to leave my babies,” she said, reaching across the couch to caress the two bushels of fur next to her. “These two are my world. Ever since Redmond left, it has been pretty darn quiet around here.”

"You don't fear death or being here alone?"

"Fear death? Not at all. I'm perfectly ready to retire this frail body. It has served me very well in all that I've seen and done in this lifetime. And I’m ready to see Redmond again."

While she didn't dread dying, Basil made it abundantly clear that she did not want to be in a hospital on her “way out.” “They are just such cold, sterile environments. No one wants to be there, especially if it's the last place you get to see. I had to be there every week for six months watching poor Redmond become weaker and weaker. I don't want to be there ever again."

Basil had done well to avoid being hospitalized throughout her life, though it was often by choice. Within the past decade, she had two heart attacks, with her most recent being just six months ago. She knew it was a heart attack, because of the feeling was so similar to the first. For most people, such an experience would be incredibly frightening, sending them or their loved ones to immediately call an ambulance. Not Basil. Her second heart attack came one spring morning while she sat at home alone. She opted not to use her emergency call button to connect directly to 911.

“I wasn’t dying. I just had a heart attack.”

It was all I could do to not just laugh in amazement at her tenacity.

She continued on to tell me that after resting all day, she waited patiently for her neighbors to arrive home from work. When they did, she called to calmly say that she was quite certain that she had a heart attack that morning, but was feeling much better. The neighbors ran over and did their best to convince her to allow them to call an ambulance, though Basil refused. She met them half way, agreeing to have a doctor come to the house to ensure that she had stabilized.

There was relentlessness, and then there was sheer unshakable stubborn determination. Basil was most definitely seemed to fall the latter category. While her perseverance had kept her alive and well, it had also kept her from giving herself permission to ask for help from anyone. "I'm slowly learning. I was once able to do it all, but I can't anymore…. There was that one time a few months back where I fell and bumped my head. There was some blood.”

Her neighbor had gotten the call when Basil pressed her emergency response button. The younger woman next door ran over to find traces of blood around the home, and evidence of Basil’s attempts to provide herself with the necessary first aid to patch a gash in her head. There was no bargaining to be had this time around; the ambulance was called. Basil complied.

"It turns out that I've needed more and more help these last few years. It's harder to chase the dogs, go outside, or take care of lifting things around home. I'm doing my best to humble a bit and ask for help," she said with a wink.

Perfectly depicted through Basil’s one-hundred-pound frame was how strength defied physical ability. While humility occasionally knocked at her door, she had remained incredibly tenacious. In addition to wanting to live independently in her home and take care of her two four-legged friends, she also wanted to continue driving, to the dismay of her sons.

“They have been trying to get me to give up my license for years. They didn't think it was safe, and have made their concerns known. Just because I can barely see over the wheel shouldn’t mean that I surrender the luxury of driving and going for my daily coffee! I’m still pretty darn sharp, and my car was my freedom and means of getting out to briefly visit the community and world outside of my home.”

“It was?”

“Yes, past tense. My boys got their wish. I told them I would surrender my license when I turned ninety-six. The truth is that it was becoming harder to focus on the roads, even on my best days. And so, last year, on my birthday, I stopped driving…though my surrender wasn’t very graceful.”

Curious, I welcomed Basil to continue.

“A few close calls on the road didn’t stop me from wanting to make one last trip. I was going to miss my freedom behind the wheel. That morning was filled with birthday festivities, and more visitors than I had seen in months. It was late afternoon when I set out…a time when I typically would lie down for a nice long rest. I didn’t want to sleep Sam. I didn’t want to miss a minute of my birthday, and my last day of driving. A special friend was coming over for dinner. He was a fine man, and I wanted to buy something nice for us to enjoy. I remember going into the store, picking out a casserole, and setting off back home with Bruno in the car. He was sitting with his paws up on the dash, enjoying the drive…and then I just lost track of time.”

While driving down a narrow highway, Basil dozed off. Her car quickly veered off the road, breaking through a small bridge and tumbling down ten feet into the nearby lake.

“The details of what actually happened only began coming back to me while I was in hospital. Initially, I only recalled being very wet, and really having no idea how the police officer had gotten there. It all happened in the blink of an eye."

Taking a moment to focus, as if transporting herself back to the crash, Basil explained that it was only a matter of seconds before she looked out her window and saw a police officer standing right beside her partially submerged car, up to his neck in water. He pulled open the car door and rescued Basil and Bruno moments before the car became fully immersed.

“That man was my angel,” she said.

“Were you frightened?”

“Only for Bruno. I thought I had killed him when he flew into the windshield during the crash. He was lying limp on my lap as we sank deeper into the lake. The truth is Sam, as the water rose, I sat there recalling what I had heard comedian Rick Mercer say about what to do in a submerged car. ‘Seatbelts, window, children, out.’ Here we were going under and all I could hear was Rick saying ‘People don’t think of the window was a place to exit…unless you grew up on the Dukes of Hazzard. So class, we are showing that the only way to open a door once under water is only when the car is entirely filled with water.’”

There was Basil, relaying the story of what could have been a horrific event, and she was giggling. As we sat, she took a long, studied look at a picture of Redmond that stood proudly upon the bookshelf. She glanced back at me and smiled, petting her pups, Bruno and Rufus.

For most of her life, Basil had seen herself as invincible. Even now, as she felt ready to leave this world, the world was obviously not ready to see her leave. Her streak of invincibility continued. By some miracle, the police offer had been driving directly behind her that day. When she drove off the side of the bridge, he immediately dove into the lake and rescued her.

“I only vaguely remember being put into the ambulance. Did you know that when Rick got out of his submerged car in the show, he said, ‘Would it be rude to ask one of the ambulances to go for Tim Hortons (coffee)?’ I didn’t make it for my daily coffee. They took me directly to hospital.”

Before leaving the crash site, Basil had asked the paramedics to take Bruno to her neighbors' house. He was a little shaken, but had escaped major injury. As for Basil, she was taken for x-rays and diagnosed with two small broken bones in her neck.

“You drove off a bridge, plunged into a lake and walked away with two small broken bones?”

“I can’t tell you how, but yes. The doctors kept asking me how it had all happened. I couldn’t remember. I just kept wanting to tell them what Rick Mercer had said, ‘That looks like a lake, but the GPS says it’s a road!’ I couldn’t explain how I had ended up in the lake. I wasn't a very willing patient. As you know, the hospital is not my favorite place to be."

Within a week, Basil returned home from the hospital and was determined to never go back. Her caretaker began to make more frequent visits and her neighbors were always watching over her. “They were all amazed when I walked into my home on my own, wearing only a neck brace. The only two things I lost that day were the casserole in the trunk, and my license. At last check, both were somewhere at the bottom of the lake. If Rick were here, he probably would have said to me just what he expressed in his video, ‘Let that be a lesson to you…never leave your homes!’ I never did make my date that night, but I don’t regret going out for one last drive.”

Her sense of humor was dry and seemed to perfectly reflect her fighting spirit. She concluded her story by explaining that the crash reports showed that the angle at which her car dove into the lake had kept the air bags from deploying. The police officer said that the impact of the airbags alone could have been enough to incapacitate her frail ninety-six-year-old body.

"Someone or something was guiding the car that day," she said.

Her will to live on was truly incredible, and her work here was obviously not yet complete. Driving her car off the side of a bridge and into a frigid lake seemed to be just another notch in Basil’s proverbial belt, and another story to add to her decades of incredible tales.

"I can't say there's much I haven't done now!"

"This is true," I agreed.

“Some have called me tenacious, and others feisty. I think at the end of the day, the word that fits best how I have lived and wish to continue living is determined."

"Your determination drove you through life, and right into a lake."

"It did indeed."

Basil and I spent the rest of our visit looking out the big windows. She was calm, yet focused, seeming at peace with everything. Gone were the worries, tribulations and duties of every day modern life. She was content with the simplicity that had returned to her days and the direction that her life took, while refusing to surrender her tenacity or willingness to risk. Free from any fear, she continued testing the limits of what was possible, even with her dwindling energy and physical abilities.

As the late afternoon drew near, I thanked Basil for sharing her time and spirit with me. She had taught me so much about what it is to truly live with fearless determination and embrace each day as if it could be our last.

Two months later, I received a call about Basil. She had invited her neighbors and a visiting relative to come and join her at her home one evening. For hours, they sat around drinking red wine and joking like teenagers. They toasted to life. The next morning, Basil moved on to be reunited with Redmond. She had passed just as she intended, at home, in peace, on her own accord.

The Good News Report ©Joscelyn Duffy, 2013-2017


Join in next week for Chapter 5: "EXPRESSIVE"

By Joscelyn, Mar 28 2017 05:13PM

For years, I had forgotten about how refreshing and freeing it felt to simply be outside in the open air. The good news journey had inspired me to begin doings things that I hadn’t done in years, or ever before. As I stood beneath the bright blue sky, there was so much to take in and enjoy. Everything felt unobstructed and simplified. Even with the chill of the early November air, being outdoors in a picturesque park felt like the perfect place to be on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The park was set on the outskirts of town, and was highlighted by multiple trails that jetted off into the denser woods and led back to the open grassy terrain at the heart of the grounds. Strolling along, I made my way down through the gravel pathways. Opting to randomly follow a narrow pathway to the left, there was a lightness to my step, as my feet happily carried me along.

The trees had shed the majority of their leaves, allowing the bright sun to cast through their branches highlighting the terrain with shadows that seemed to bring everything further to life. Alongside the trail was a large stream, which was rushing heavily after the significant contribution of a recent rainfall. Several minutes into my trek, the stream opened up onto a beautiful lake that glistened in the early afternoon light. At I stood at the foot of the lake and peered right, I was captivated by a beaver’s dam of significant proportions. It had to be a good forty feet in length, stacked several feet high. Seeing its configuration took me back to learning about the beaver as a child. They built their dams as protection from their predators and were prolific and strategic builders.

After an hour of sauntering further along the trails and admiring nature’s wondrous creations, I made my way back to the park’s open area. As I emerged from the dense woods, the sun’s rays beamed brightly upon my face. For so long, I had felt as though I hadn’t had time to sit and enjoy nature. Today, I did. I chose to.

The bench nearby was occupied on one end by a woman who seemed to also be very much enjoying the refreshing November afternoon. Her stature was slight and her energy light. Her short gray hair glistened in the sun’s glow. Approaching the bench, I asked her if I may join her.

“Most definitely,” she said.

“What a beautiful day to be outside.”

“You have no idea!”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Would you believe that for years I was fearful to step outside, under the big blue sky?”

Before allowing the reported within me to take over with an abundance of questions, I extended my hand her way, formally introducing myself.

“Riley,” she offered in return.

“Please, do carry on. You were afraid to step outside?”

“Just over fifteen years ago, I went to bed one day and I didn’t get up. For five years, I lived in my bedroom and saw only my husband and two children…when they came up to see me. Things got so bad that I even debated moving from the bedroom into the smaller confines of my walk-in closet.”

“Wow.” I found myself momentarily speechless, attempting to imagine what it would be like to never leave home, never see the world, or never learn from and relate to others.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what propelled you to remove yourself from the outside world?”

Riley was a delightfully warm woman. There was something in her eyes that welcomed me into her world, to share in her story. Shifting her body to face me, she began to open up as if she had known me her entire life. Her childhood, she shared, was filled with traumatic experiences, all of which she did her best to simply tuck far away inside of herself. As the pain built up inside, so too did the walls around her. “One day I simply came to fear being outdoors. The world outside of my bedroom felt so big. I felt unprotected and exposed. The pain was so bad that it felt as though the skin had been pulled off my body and all of my nerve endings were exposed. It was too painful to be seen. I wanted to become invisible. And so, I barricaded myself inside of my home and began to build literal walls around me…boxes, books, you name it, I built it. If I was feeling insecure, I sought out an additional barrier of protection within the confines of my room.”

I couldn’t have begun to imagine what it would be like to feel so terrified as to reach a point of having to create a protective barricade around oneself. And yet, thinking back to the beavers, there in nature was an example of a species that had done so with conscious intent. The correlation made Riley’s response seem like a natural protective means…a natural response to her fear.

“What did your family make of your barriers?”

“I remember my daughter saying to me, ‘Mom, why is there so much chaos around you?’ in reference to the outlandish barriers that I had put up. I told her that it was because the physical chaos reflected my state of mind.”

“So, you were aware?”

“Aware, yes…but not sure of even where to begin dealing with everything that had been bundled up inside of me for so long. The best I knew how to do in that moment was barricade myself inside, to self-protect. When things got really bad, my life was like continuously living in survival mode, attempting to make it from one moment to the next.”

“What got you through such a tumultuous time?”

“My faith helped a lot.” Her tone changed, sounding more reassured. “Having been taught by nuns growing up, I always remembered them telling us ‘When you suffer over anything, make your suffering mean something.’ After decades of holding all of the pain from my childhood trauma inside, I finally reached a point of being willing and able to face it. Twenty-five years later, I finally got there. One day, all those emotions that were bottled up inside me just exploded, like a pressure cooker. For the first time, I let myself cry and feel the hurt. And from that point onward, I let go of all the baggage I had been carrying for so long.”

The power of Riley’s words moved me. She spoke about her experience with such grace and ease that it almost undermined the strength that it would have taken to face such pain.

“Were you then freed from your walls?” I asked.

“I learned that we find our way back to life slowly after something as traumatic as my childhood and five years spent living in a bedroom. My first step came one sunny Wednesday, after I faced what I had long held inside. I didn’t consciously plan on taking that step…just all of a sudden, I was simply able to leave the house. That day, I went directly from home to the car, in the trusted care of my husband. We drove, though I couldn’t yet bring myself to get out of the car.”

Riley was very endearing in how she spoke about her husband. She shared that he was the one person with whom she always felt safe. When she was able to begin venturing outside of her bedroom and her home, she did so only in his care. He was her “safe person.”

“’I know when you are ready, it will all disappear,’ he used to say to me during my toughest days. I wouldn’t respond to anyone who tried to push me to get back to life outside of my room…but Roy never did. He is the most compassionate person I know. I feel so blessed to have someone who loves me unconditionally, just as I am.”

“That’s beautiful Riley.”

A slight breeze had begun to blow in the afternoon air, as the sun continued to shine upon us. Around us, people came and went, disappearing on and emerging from the multitude of trails. I could see how the intricate nature of countless trails could easily lead someone to become lost, or at least feel lost. It wasn’t always easy to find one’s way back.

“Were there many steps you took to get you to where you are today?”

Riley let out a big exhale, as she turned to me and smiled. “Many. I remember watching a daytime television show one day. They were teaching the audience how to cook a multi-layered dessert dish. I decided to cook it right along with them. I made the dish and thought to myself, if I can do this, I can do anything! After the show, I walked out her door, on my own, and got on a bus…for the first time in years. The truth was, I didn’t plan on getting off the bus. I could only hope that it had a circular route and would take me directly back home. Instead, that bus led me straight to an opportunity to volunteer, as a way of reincorporating back into the outside world. The route came to an end at a shelter next to the food bank. For the next year, I got on that bus each and every day, to and from my new-found role of getting out and preparing food for others. There were times when things got easier, and there were also times when things got tough again.”

“How did you manage when things got tough? How did you keep moving forward?”

“I’ve always believed that God never gives us more than we can handle. If I felt like I couldn’t handle what I was given at any point in time, I just passed it over to God and asked him to carry the burden for a while.” Riley paused and let out a peaceful sigh. “I just knew that I had to look for the silver lining. Sometimes I had to look long and hard, but it was always there.”

At age fifty-five, Riley invested eleven thousand dollars to go back to school. She graduated from an administrative program and landed herself a position with a local law firm. She wasn’t there two weeks, however, when her father fell ill and she had to leave her job to take care of him. As she continued to share, one thing was clear…she had a relentless drive to continue breaking down the barriers before her, while being attentive and nurturing of herself and those she cared for. Just as the sunlight had brought the trail alive with the dancing shadows of the trees, she had find a way to always see the light, without fearing the shadows.

“I found my way through the days when I could have so easily buried myself back in the safety of my room, and arrived to a point where I finally felt ready to restart my life. After ensuring that dad was well and happily settled in a senior’s residence, and mom in a nursing home, I found myself standing on my own two feet. I then questioned what it was that I wanted to do with my life!”

“And what did you decide?!”

Riley’s delightful spirit shined through as she went on to share about how one day she saw a poster for a training program for the “older” labor force. “I decided to step into the breach. This leap was my attempt to break the barriers of the life that I had known for five years, and move forward to the life that I truly desired. It wasn’t easy though. I was very, very afraid of taking the big step of setting foot into a training course with other people, far away from the safety of my home.”

“I can imagine.”

“My husband offered to drive me to the front door of the training center every morning, and pick me up every night. The very first day of classes, the first person to sit next to me became my best friend. He was quirky like me, and immediately helped me feel safe. I felt as though I had met a soul mate, and I was extremely grateful. I now had two incredible people supporting my progress, edging me forward.”

“And did things get easier for you from there?”

“They did, though sometimes I needed a gentle push. There also continued to be times when I was truly tested.”

One day in class, the instructor told Riley and her classmates that they would have to make their way across the road for a special session. “I told our instructor that I simply could not go across the road. Without any awareness of my condition or history, she gently replied that she would see me across the road in a few minutes, along with the rest of the class. I’ll never forget stepping foot outside of the doors of the training building and looking across the street. I was numbed by the feeling of sheer terror. I still needed, or thought I needed, the shelter of buildings, even if my being in the training building was a huge leap from being barricaded in my bedroom. Standing there, I didn’t dare look up at the big blue sky. It was far too vast and frightening. All I could do was look straight ahead at my destination. And then, five steps at a time, I started to make my way to the other building…alone, outside, for the first time in years. One, two, three, four, five….”

Closing her eyes, Riley took a deep breath. “I remember completely freezing at the intersection. I had to cross the street, but I didn’t know how…or even if I could. The only thing that got me through was remembering what my grandmother had told me: ‘If you can make it half way, go forward. There is no point in turning back.’ Half way. Keep going. One, two, three, four, five…

It was as if Riley was reliving her experience before me. I could feel the shakiness and hesitancy of her words.

“When I finally made it across the street to the other building, I walked up to the instructor and gave her a huge hug. She hadn’t known anything about what was holding me back from being able to walk to the other building on my own, and her gentle push to make me take that step resulted in a giant leap. That night, I called everyone close to me to tell them what I had done.”

“What an amazing feat.” I couldn’t help but smile from ear-to-ear. The strength and courage that Riley found within herself was inspiring.

“Did you ever think you’d be getting that much from the training program?”

“I sure didn’t Sam. Those few weeks of training helped give me true confidence in my abilities. What I learned with that amazing group of people is forever a part of me. Those people are forever a part of me. Their gentle pushes helped me be ready to step forward, and move toward what truly loved, which was working and being with people. Go figure.”

“Wow. You love being with people, and yet were tucked away from everyone other than your husband and children for over five years?”

“It’s true. People fascinate and energize me. It’s something I had forgotten. I had to reach a point of being able to remember. And now, I am free to pursue that fascination because no longer is there anything holding me back. No pain, no hurt, no insecurity. I have a new-found confidence and I am ready to find a great job. For now, though I may not have wealth, I surely have many riches.”

“Absolutely amazing Riley. Your strength and vivacity are contagious!”

“When we are willing to let go of our pain and fear, anything becomes possible. There are many subsequent blessings that unfold,” she said.

Extending my hand upon hers in gratitude, I thanked Riley for her willingness to share her story of extreme courage with me on the park bench that day. Here she was, sitting so comfortably outside, under the vast open sky, confident and at peace, living without borders. Whoever would have guessed that a casual Sunday stroll through the park would have turned into such a magical encounter. Riley was so charming and genuine that her every word left me feeling as though I had taken the journey of her life with her.

As we parted ways, I found myself drawn to travel back down one of the wooded trails along the stream. Something was calling me back to the lake, though I didn’t know if I could make it there and back. The trek seemed longer than before, my legs admittedly adjusting to lengthy walks. Looking ahead, I thought of what Riley had shared. Half way. Keep going. One, two, three, four, five… Rounding the bend to the water, I stood in the sunlight and admired the intricate nature of the beaver dam once again. Within me was a new appreciation for how much effort and focus it must have taken to build such a sizeable protective structure. Letting out a sigh of gratitude for being a part of Riley’s story, I simply looked up at blue sky, in all of its vast possibility. As my eyes found their way back down to the ground, from out of the dam swam a beaver. I watched as it safely and peacefully made its way up the lake. 

The Good News Report ©Joscelyn Duffy, 2013-2017

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