The first 13 years of my life were fairly normal; a farm boy living in a small town doing the things farm boys do, working, playing, going to school, church, participating in sports. That ENDED shortly before my 14th birthday. As I looked down at my mother’s near lifeless body, which was force-ably ejected after a head-on collision with another vehicle, I knew right then the life I once loved was gone. I was the first one on the scene. If it wasn’t for that hill that obscured the view of the collision, I would have seen it with my own eyes. But boy, did I hear it. That sound, the smell in the air, is as vivid today as it was nearly 40 years ago in June 1972. By July 11th, she finally succumbed and passed on from massive internal injuries. It took many years, but that was just the first obstacle I finally overcame.
You can too.
Four years later in 1976, at age 17, I found myself flipping in the air in a vehicle I was driving. Me and a couple of high school buddies, who had traveled from California to Kansas that summer on their way east, stopped by for a visit. We headed to a party outside of my little hometown at night in my father’s Ford Bronco. We never made it. I missed a turn, the pickup rolled, ejecting my two friends, one of whom lay partially pinned under the right front tire. As one friend recalled later, he swore up and down I lifted the front of the pickup using nothing but my hands so he could pull our other friend out. We all survived, but the friend who was underneath the pickup never played high school football again. He nearly lost his arm. Somehow, I overcame that obstacle as well.
You can too.
Less than 7 years later, after moving from Kansas to California, obtaining a college degree from San Diego State almost entirely on my own, I stood on the tarmac of the airport in Great Falls, Montana. It was January 1983, night-time, snow falling heavily, and I had no means of transportation. I’d arrived there for my first job out of college, lying on the employment application that I had a vehicle, a requirement for the job. I was desperate, almost out of money, and needed work badly. Walked 6 blocks to work for the first few weeks in the snow until I was able to buy an old used Ford for $500, using my first credit card. Wow, I thought I had it made. A $1,000 limit! I found a way, I overcame again.
You can too.
Now we’re in the year 2000, 17 years later. After a bitter and long-fought two year battle, I found myself divorced and granted residential custody of my two children, who were only 7 and 5 at the time. By then, I had moved up the chain of command at the local bank in my role as loan officer in the town where I grew up, a position I eventually held for 20 years. Meanwhile, I continued to oversee and manage a 4,000 acre dry land farm operation that raised wheat and grain sorghum, hiring a friend to handle the day-to-day labor. A single father who made sure his children were properly fed every day, took them to school, worked at the bank all day, and managed the farm on the side. I wore a lot of hats. Social life? What was that? All I ever knew was work. But I played too. Again, I just kept going.
You can too.
And then my whole world began to fall apart by early 2007, shortly after my children left to live with their mother. All those years of “play?” My solace was in the drink, it was where I found peace and comfort, a place to shut out the pain, the pain from all those years of hard work and worries, worries about my children, my work, the whims that mother nature threw at my farm operation. I was lost; emotionally, physically, spiritually, and deeply in debt from a series of unfortunate and costly errors in judgment. By June, 2008 I lost nearly everything, including my own life three times from catastrophic alcohol withdrawals. Lost my job, my home, my children, and my freedom. And as I sat there inside that 270 square foot concrete and steel cage known to it’s occupants as “The Bullpen”, after being arrested for the third and FINAL time for driving under the influence in 13 months, I thought my life was over. I really did. “This is a nightmare” I kept telling myself, “This isn’t happening!” It did. The man who was once the envy of his peers in banking circles, a well-respected farmer, loving single father, the man who hadn’t had so much as a parking ticket in TWENTY-FIVE years, was at the end of his rope. But I didn’t give up. Something deep deep down inside began to stir, an inner spirit guiding me, telling me “To get up, to keep going. You’re not finished yet.” I did. I overcame yet ANOTHER ending.
You can too.
What does all this mean to you? Does this inspire you? My story isn’t any more tragic than anyone else’s. In fact, in some circles, it might pale by comparison. There’s people “out there” who’ve gone through a LOT worse than I. I know this to be true. I’ve seen them face-to-face. I know them personally. I’ve seen 20 year old kids who having nothing left to live for. Their whole life has been nothing but hardship and pain. I’ve seen grown men, who were once at the peak of their profession, in the prime of their life, reduced to tears with nothing more than the clothes on their back and a few coins in their pocket. I’m dead serious about that statement.
Why am I telling you this? Is it to gain favor or sympathy? No! I can’t say that loudly enough. My only purpose and mission in life now is to take all of these experiences, both tragic and triumphant, all of the lessons, strength, faith, courage, and indomitable will to survive and give them back to YOU; overcoming my mother’s horrible death, overcoming a car crash and helping to save a friend’s life, the glory of putting myself through college, getting my first job with little more than what I could carry in my hands as assets, reaching the pinnacle of success both personally and professionally, and finally, overcoming the biggest obstacle of all; finding life after near death from a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.
So after reading this, look in the mirror, then close your eyes. Look at your life in your mind’s eye and if you wonder if you can keep going, if you can overcome all your worries, heartache, despair, and grief, of whatever kind or fashion, let my words and my story rest firmly in your mind, and then tell yourself…..
“I can too!”