Monday, May 30, 2011

A hero on the pool deck....

I met Brian and Rachael a few weeks ago

on a Caribbean cruise I took with my mom.

Before I even noticed Brian's leg,

I was struck by the obvious adoration between this couple.

Rachael just glowed in Brian’s presence

and seemed to have a protective nature about her.

Brian definitely looked like a man in love,

but there was also a certain sadness and hesitation about him.

They were both settled into sun chairs on the pool deck

when I first saw them.

A few minutes later when he moved his beach towel

I saw Brian’s leg.

It was a curious contraption of metal and sockets

with a brown sandal fixed to a plastic bare foot.

Mom and I happened to be sitting pool side

a few chairs from Brian’s when the cruise director announced

a "Mr. Sexy Legs" competition.

I had no sooner turned to my mom to tell her that I hoped Brian would enter

when I saw Rachael encouraging him to put his name on the list.

He kept shaking it off,

but mom and I supported Rachel with a “thumbs up”

and vigorous motioning for him to get up.

Reluctantly, Brian put his name on the list and got in line.

We watched several men strut their stuff down the deck.

Some were funny,

some were embarrassing,

but none of them had the impact that Brian did when he his walk began.

At well over six feet tall

I imagine that Brian probably wasn’t very graceful on two legs,

but as he made his way down the deck

with his newly learned gait,

he became more beautiful with each stride.

Almost everyone on the pool deck stood and cheered for him

and people were lined up against the upper deck railing

most of them with their hands in the air clapping for Brian!

At that moment

Brian was our friend,

our son,

our brother,

our husband.

He was every soldier who didn’t come home

and every soldier who was still there fighting.

We all wiped away tears

as he made his way over to where Rachael was sitting

and gave her a big kiss before getting back in line

to await the judge’s decision.

I spoke with Rachael as we were waiting

and she told me that Brian had lost his leg only seven months ago

and that he was still insecure about learning how to move around

in his prosthetic leg

which he got for Christmas.

This cruise was her way of celebrating how far he'd come

and to lift his spirits.

What we originally thought would be good for Brian,

turned out to be an amazing lesson for all of us watching.

We saw a hero whose bravery had remained strong

through the physical battlefield of Iraq

and through the emotional battlefield

of recovery.

His heroism inspired in us

a new appreciation for the price of freedom.

We shed tears as this American hero

took several steps toward healing himself,

but what we didn’t count on

was that with each step he took,

something in all of our hearts began to heal as well.

Many of us were brought face to face

with the silliness of our own insecurities

as we watched this soldier face his in a big way.

After what we saw on that day

how could any of us ever again say

that we can’t do something out of fear

or because of the risk of embarrassment?

Courage inspires courage.

Many men in the audience were veterans of past wars.

Their bodies bore the scars that told the stories

of the price of freedom in their own lives.

Grey headed wives stood beside these men,

their scars of worry were better concealed

but still as painful.

Like so many intangibles

the bond between people who have gone through similar tragedies

is as evident when they talk to each other

as it would be if they were tied together by a big unbreakable rope.

When you witness people with this kind of bond,

it is undeniable.

It is also essential to our emotional well- being

to relate to other people on the deep level of shared experiences.

Hearing “I’ve been there son”

from war veterans must have soothed a part of Brian

like nothing else could.

Brian received a metal that day for winning the "Mr. Sexy Leg" contest,

but his biggest gift was being embraced by an audience

whose appreciation was evident in their glistening eyes,

their standing ovations,

their hugs and handshakes.

In the middle of the Caribbean Sea

amidst steel drum bands

and umbrella drinks,

I watched a broken man be put back together

one "thank you" at a time

and I watched a hero

make better Americans of us all.

The change in Brian was immediately noticeable.

Over the next few days I rarely saw him alone.

He was always greeted with handshakes

and engaged in conversation.

That hesitancy that I had seen in him before

was replaced by a broad smile,

a head held high

and what looked like pride to me.

Later that week

on the very same pool deck that he had introduced himself

to a ship full of strangers,

Brian got down on one knee

and proposed to Rachael.

She said yes!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

both sides of the coin....

The first stop on our Caribbean cruise was San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I was so excited to visit my first island.

We found a great spot to watch us dock.

My first impression of San Juan

was that it was very congested and

kind of dirty. I could not believe how many cars

were packed onto one narrow street!

I did really like the colorful buildings though.

The balconys on many of them

reminded me alot of New Orleans.

It was dreadfully hot on the day we were there, even at 5:00 pm.

Mom and I walked the streets for a bit

and visited some local shops.

Because we docked on Mother's Day

which is a big day in Puerto Rico,

alot of the attractions were closed.

So after getting our fill of

what was accessible by foot,

we went back to the ship before dark

and enjoyed a party under the stars on the pool deck

that evening.

Stop #2 was a beach day!

We docked in St. Thomas which I thought was

stunningly beautiful!

The water was a gorgeous turquoise and

the beaches were almost as sugar white

as Pensacola's beaches are.

I would love to spend more time on this island.

I was surprised at the prices of the homes
there. Even the ones with fabulous views

were listed at around $600,000!

We took a tour with a guide who dropped us off at

a local beach. But first she drove like a maniac to the top of a mountain!

In St. Thomas they drive on the other side of the street

but they have American cars so their steering wheels

are in the same place as ours.

It would take some serious getting used to

if I had to drive there!

After the gorgeous views on the mountain,

we descended into a slummy looking neighborhood.

It definitely didn't look like a place tourists would go.

Our guide told us that the best beaches to visit were the local ones and

Coki beach was definitely local!

As soon as we rounded a corner,

we were relieved to see that

it was indeed a beautiful beach

and there were other cruisers there as well.

Mom and I ordered fruity rum drinks and

a fish dish that is common on the island.

I'm not sure wha thte fish was called,

but it was soooo good!

We snorkled and enjoyed the water at Coki beach.

They gave us a dog biscuit to break up under water

as we snorkled

so that we could see the fish close up.

On the surface, I didn't think we'd see much

because even though the water was pretty clear,

there didn't seem to be much fish action.

As soon as I went underwater though,

I was greeted by dozens of yellow and blue fish

who apparently loved dog biscuits!

Our third stop was Samana, Dominican Republic.

We were given a tour through typical neighborhoods

in Samana. Our guide kept telling us that we would see other people

from our boat on the tour.

The deeper we got into the back roads

the more he told us that.

We were beginning to think that he was

just telling us that to keep us calm

so they could eat us!

I was even starting to size the guide and driver up

to determine whether I or another tour mate could take them,

but alas, we saw lots of other cruisers

and our fears subsided.

Tourism is the only industry in Samana

and the people struggle for everything they get.

I saw the skinniest dogs I have ever seen there

and lots of children eating fruit off of the trees in their yards.

There were children everywhere

and all of them wanted gum or lolli pops

from us.

Mom brought a bag full to give away.

Local helpers assisted us across creeks

as we walked through the "jungle" to

see a waterfall.

The locals walk beside you the whole way

ready to assist you if you need help navigating the rocky part of the path.

They had hopes of getting a tip for their guidance.

I think my helper was in training

because I had a 13 year old boy hold my hand the entire way.

At the beginning a woman said something to him in spanish

and he grabbed my hand and didn't let go.

Mom and her helper Naomi walked in front of us

and Naomi often looked back and laughed at

my helper who was holding my hand even on long stretches

of flat ground.

I'm sure that woman told him, "Grab her hand and stay with her

so you can get a tip" or something like that!

I did tip my funny escort.

The shacks that the people of Samana live in

are in stark contrast to the beauty around them.

They live with so little which is such an eye-opener

to us Americans who have been blessed with so much.

I would love for my kids to experience something like this

and see first hand how other cultures live with so much less

than we do.

In St. Thomas, I felt like I was in shopping heaven

and I found so many things that I wanted to buy.

In Samana all I could think of was what I wanted to give.

Samana was my favorite port.

It was so meaningful to me to see both sides of the coin.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2 mommas and a cruise ship!

For Mother's Day this year my mom and I went on a 9 day

cruise to the Caribbean!

It was so fun getting to spend so much time with her.

We stayed up late at night talking

and laughing like girlfriends do.

Being able to just relax and have a good time

was such a blessing for both of us.

Before we even hit our first island,

I knew that this was going to be

a week of fun.

On our second day at sea

mom decided to judge the

"Mr. Sexy Legs" competition for a reason I will

share in an upcoming story.

It was hilarious watching all of the guys

strut their stuff,

or whatever stuff they thought they had,

and it was even more hysterical watching

my mom's reaction!

She was having a great time

even though she was way out of her comfort zone!

She was responsible for picking
the most athletic legs winner
and had one of four votes to decide the overall winner.

The over all winner is part of a story I am going to tell
for Memorial Day,
so I won't spoil it by adding
any photos of him yet.

Now judging is one thing....
competing is a whole other ball game!
Before she knew it, mom was in a line up
for the "Best Biceps" women's competition!
Because she has been a judge, she and her fellow judges
were automatically entered into this contest.

I know when she woke up that morning.
the last thing she thought she would be doing
was dancing down the pool deck
in front of a cheering audience and four judges!

But she turned on that charm of hers
and did it anyway.
I am so proud of her!
(and I'm super happy
that I have the photos to prove this!)

Telling the stories of our cruise is far too involved for one post, so
I will break it up by island/day
and will post the photos and details all this week and next week.

Until then,
blue skies and umbrella drinks for everyone
and a little steel drum music too!