Looking Death in the Face

A person holding their hands in front of each other.

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a surprise birthday party. My wife & I expected to be eating at a local restaurant with my son & daughter and when we arrived, there were about 12-15 people looking to celebrate the fact that I was born & the role I played in their life. It was impossible that evening for me to forget the role a young woman, named Cindy, played in my life. The date was October 26, 2014 and I was on the Princess Emerald cruise ship leaving London for a 17-day cruise. We had just left port a couple of hours earlier and had gone down to eat dinner with several other people assigned to our table. About half way thru the meal, a piece of unchewed steak, somehow, lodged in my throat and would not budge. Unable to breath, I tapped my wife on the shoulder and pointed toward my throat. She yelled loudly, “Tommy’s chokingâ€! Cindy, who was sitting beside me, jumped up, came around behind me, and started performing the Heimlich maneuver. Of course she was successful or I wouldn’t be writing this article. I guess the point I’m making in all of this is that people weave in and out of our life, some play an important role, others not so much, and them some can be the reason you continue to exist. That is the role Cindy played in my life. Thanks to her, I belong to an exclusive club, a group of people that have looked death squarely in the face and then someone, or something, interceded and allowed them to continue to exist. As I write this article, I have been on this planet for 27, 769 days. If it weren’t for Cindy, it would have stopped at 26, 903 days. You probably know that, given the circumstances, I really do enjoy my birthday. Ella Maillart said it best: ‘It is always our own self that we find at the end of the journey. The sooner we face that self, the better”.

I received a letter the other day that informed me that a “Hale Family Reunion†was being planned and wanted to know if I was interested. I can’t recall ever missing one of those wonderful events. Our last one was, perhaps, ten years ago, and a lot has happened since then. A lot of the Hale family has crossed over to the other side but there are hundreds of us still alive and we always have one heckuva time when we get together back in them-thar mountains. Yup, you guessed it, I was born and raised a hillbilly and darn proud of it. I’ve been gone from there nearly 60 years but that place is always going to be home to me. When I go there, I step back into a time that was simple, where people honk their horns if they see you standing out in the yard, or stop to talk to you while you’re sitting in a restaurant having a meal. People that will ask “how ya doing?†and really want to know. When I’m home, I can’t use my cellphone because they have no signal, but I don’t really need a signal because the people that want to talk to me come by for a visit, or I go visit them. Now tell me, isn’t that much better than any conversation you’ve ever had on a phone? There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Teach a child to choose the right path and when he is older he will remain upon itâ€. The Hale family taught me to choose the right path and I believe I am still on it.

  • Last summer I posted bond for a neighbor’s son so he wouldn’t have to spend the summer in jail. RW is one brick shy of a load, but he’s a good friend. He was arrested for shoplifting and denies that he intended to leave the store with the items in his cart. His trial had been postponed many times and each time he has a court date I show up to give him much needed support. Unfortunately, I am the only one there to do so. RW is a simple man in his mid-fifties that roams the streets during the day smoking cigarettes and looking for work. He spends a lot of time in our local library while charging a cellphone that he purchased at Walmart. As he tells me, “My phone is how I keep in contact with my clientsâ€. It always brings a smile to my face when he says “clientsâ€. I use RW around the house to cut our grass and do odd jobs and though he only charges $5/hour I pay him $10, and sometimes more, depending on his needs. My son does the same when RW works for him on Sunday’s during my visit. For all practical purposes RW is homeless and he alone is responsible for that, but again, he is mildly mentally challenged. He knows right from wrong but just makes bad decisions. I am reminded of Matthew 25:43 – “When homeless, you gave me no welcome; ill-clad, you clothed me not; sick or in prison, you visited me notâ€. I try to keep that verse in mind in my relationship with RW and know that God sees, not the face I present to my earthly family, but what is inside me.
  • I decided last week that I wanted to make some changes to my website (www.tommyhale.net). It was exactly one year ago this month that I hired a guy in Micronesia (somewhere in the Pacific Ocean) to build that site for me. It took a couple of months to construct and, I must say, it has been a pleasure to have. I decided I wanted to learn how to change things on the site to include new ideas so I decided to take an online class. I finally found a free class that I thought would “fit the bill†and signed up. I am a little more than half-way thru the classes and I have learned a lot, but there is a deep-seated fear I have that I’m going to mess things up really bad when I start making the changes. What I’m attempting to do emotionally is change the fear to enthusiasm (joy). After all, what is the worst thing that could happen: I cripple it to the extent that it is no longer operational. And how does that affect my life? In the scheme of things, very little. I doubt some close relatives would even be aware it no longer exists and very few of my friends, excluding you of course, would necessarily care. I think that as we travel thru life it is important to put things in perspective by trying to determine how the event we dread will clearly impact us. I suspect that most of the time we will only be a little sad and most of us can handle that very well. Ray Mungo said it best; “The experiences you have had are your own greatest treasure, well worth the remembering and retellingâ€. I’m hoping this experience turns out to be that way.
  • I am currently listening to a book on tape by Amy Poeler titled, “Yes Pleaseâ€, and thus far I have enjoyed it greatly. She has a unique ability to make me feel as if she is talking directly to me and no one else. It seems like she has invited me into her home, put me in a comfortable chair, gave me something good to drink as I snacked on finger food, and started telling me about her life. Granted, this is a one-sided conversation, with me nodding here & there as needed, but what a wonderful way to spend part of your day. The other great thing is, I can turn it off when I tire of our one- sided conversation, and then pick up where I left off on another day. True, this is a view of life from a woman’s perspective, but as a husband, and father of a daughter, I want to know life as a woman sees it. I guess my first glimpse of seeing life thru a woman’s eyes was looking at life thru my mother’s eyes. I remember seeing the sadness that pervaded her being as she lost the love of her life, my father, to alcoholism. She always tried to protect my brother and I from his addiction but it was too immense to be hidden. Some things we can tuck away and kept out of sight, but somethings are too overpowering to be concealed. If you know of Amy Poeler (SNL/Parks & Recreation) and think you would enjoy her book, you can get it on Amazon for $10. She does curse in it but I wasn’t much offended. Oh, by the way, I have a joke to tell you about good intentions: At a dinner party a shy young man had been trying to think of something nice to say to his hostess. At last he saw his chance when she turned to him and remarked, “What a small appetite you have tonight, Mr. Jonesâ€. “To sit next to you,†he replied gallantly, “would cause any man to lose his appetiteâ€. I must say that I have had those moments a time or two.
  • My wife and I have two wonderful next door neighbors (John & Mary Beth). Occasionally we go out to eat and the time we spend together is always cheerful and filled with good conversation. All four of us are septuagenarian (of the number 70)and have accepted our declining health during our 70+ years on this wonderful planet. I really hate the word that describes people in their 70’s. I easily remember being a “teenagerâ€, a “thirty-somethingâ€, a “senior citizenâ€, but I profoundly dislike being a septuagenarian. Within a few years, if I’m lucky, I will be an octogenarian. That sounds a lot better to me. That other word makes me feel as old as Methuselah. Back to our neighbors, Mary Beth is a retired school teacher and all around wonderful human being. She loves communicating with friends and family via her iPad and occasionally it, her printer, or TV will give her & John a problem they cannot resolve. She has nicknamed me her “guru†and proudly tells her friends about me. I think what she isn’t aware of is that, secretly, I enjoy the praise she gives me. It certainly makes me feel good that I can help those wonderful people solve some of the minor problems they encounter. Reminds me of something I heard a long time ago, “God picks your family but you pick your neighborsâ€. We did a great job!