Hope & Gratitude – 2008

December 15, 2009

2008 | Read more...

Written responses may have been edited for clarity or brevity.

Carl Anderson With a little help, a family blossoms

Jessica Bachus Grieving ... and taking action

Sue Beachman A photograph preserves memories

Tracy Boykin A wink at the right dancer

Molly Brown An illness brings new perspective

Sara Cardwell A bus ride makes a big difference

Valerie Carter-Cole Breaking apart to open up new possibilities

Wendy L. Clark Loving Hugs

Rachel Drummond An adoption from China

Colleen Elliott An adoption story

Joseph Figaro A meeting with a stranger changes his view

Jessica Foreman Finding and giving love

Andres Galan Getting out of gangs

Mary Goodsom A volunteer gets "hooked"

Charlie Hickman Clowning around ... seriously

Kathy Hunninen A lesson from the past

Janet Kilby Lessons on living from someone facing death

Barbara Knafelc Slowing down to see the blessings

Ellis McFadden Caring for one, then many

Carole Pirri A life lost but a life saved

Lisa Roll Remembering a patient and loving father

Colleen Scissors "Colleen, Colleen"

Rachel Shapiro Her daughter is her guide

Janet Sheridan An Appreciation of Christmas Catalogs

Kate Smiles Nurses and doctors make a difference

Diane Sontag "God Bless Skye"

Tracy Steen Living every day

Pilar Stella Strength out of challenge

Tom Tonelli A student teaches a teacher

 

Read 2007 Stories of Hope & Gratitude


Carl Anderson, Denver
With a little help, a family blossoms

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
My life was very different a year ago. With only a duffel bag and a bag of food to my name, I was traveling across downtown every day looking for a job and a place to live. I moved to Denver a few weeks earlier from Colorado Springs. My wife was eight months pregnant and living in a halfway house. If I didn't have a job or a place to live in Denver by the time she gave birth, our baby would be given to social services. I'd hit rock bottom, had no where to turn and was looking to God for a sign. He gave me that sign one December day in the form of Ray Washington. Ray was working for a Denver non-profit, The Road Called STRATE, at the time. He was spending the day walking up and down the 16th Street Mall handing out information on his program. Curious, I asked him if he could help me. Ray told me to come to his office the next day. I was so desperate, of course I did as he asked. Ray and The Road Called STRATE did more than just help me -- they turned my life around completely.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
They gave me interview clothes, a list of jobs I was qualified to apply for, bus tokens and access to a food bank and the Internet. With Charity House, they also helped me find a place to live within a few short weeks. I was hired by Swift the same day I moved into my apartment. My daughter was born on February 4, 2008, a few weeks early, but because of my new life situation, I was able to take my wife and baby daughter home with me. My life has not been without its challenges over the past year. Kirelle, our young baby, suffered from pneumonia and bronchiolitis a few weeks after she was born. The realities of having a new baby in the house have also presented difficulties for my wife and me. And, I spent the first few months of my daughter's life commuting two hours a day to and from Greeley - time spent away from my family. Now I work as a supervisor for a local satellite TV company and can spend every morning with my daughter while also providing for my family. The moment I met Ray, I knew my life had changed. I was going to be given the chance I desperately asked God for. The opportunity to give my wife and daughter the life they deserve. Now, and together, we are a family.

Story Index


Jessica Bachus, Denver
Grieving ... and taking action

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
My life was forever changed January 23, 2007, when my second child Kenzi was stillborn. Four weeks before that, twenty weeks into my pregnancy, I found out that Kenzi was missing her lower left hand due to amniotic band syndrome. However, we believed that I would be able to carry her to full term. That belief was shattered when I realized Kenzi had stopped moving. I went to my doctor and she confirmed my worst fears. My labor was induced and Kenzi was stillborn the next morning. My little Kenzi was beautful! Her face was that of her older sister Bailey. Kenzi was perfect. I held her and grieved as all my hopes, dreams and future with her had died. I told her how much I loved her and how she would always be my little angel. Then I said goodbye. I will always remember that day as long as I live. The precious moments I had with Kenzi that I will never have again.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
Kenzi changed my life even before she was gone. Knowing she had a limb difference did not change how we felt about her and it did not change that she would have the same things that her older sister had. Kenzi made me stop and think about every situation from a different point of view. By looking at someone or a situation you never know what their struggles may be. You will never know the pain they may have experienced and you should not judge. The loss of Kenzi sent me into a spiral of grief. How would I overcome the loss of this child? It does not matter that she did not take a breath on earth. She is my daughter and she was born. We knew each other and we had a connection and I had to grieve that loss. Though I will never be over the loss of Kenzi, I can honor her and her memory and give back. Kenzi made me realize that out of my loss, my tragedy, my grief, wonderful things could come.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
There will never be a day that goes by that I do not think about Kenzi. However because of her and because of my loss I created Dolls for Daughters in December 2007. I knew my husband and I would have bought Kenzi her own baby doll for Christmas so I decided it would be a great idea to collect them and give them back to the community. With less than a month before Christmas, I reached out to the community and offered to donate dolls to four organizations and they agreed. With the help of family, friends and perfect strangers we were able to collect over 300 dolls last year. This year our goal is to collect 500 new dolls and donate them in the community. Our website is www.dollsfordaughters.com.

Story Index


Sue Beachman, Craig
A photograph preserves memories

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
There is a photograph in my home that has become more treasured as time slips by. It's not a particularly good-quality picture. My son, Brendan, and our dog Eddie, are almost hidden in shadows. Tom (my husband) and his parents Dick and Juna squint into the afternoon sun. They have all just returned from a day of car touring the area around Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Our dog Eddie is almost embracing Brendan as he kneels on the grass. But it is the pure look of joy stamped across Tom's father's face that draws one's gaze. Dick Beachman looks every bit the Irishman as he laughs into the camera's lens. His Irish tweed cap shades his right eye, but not his left. He stands relaxed, tall, and just a bit portly. For a man who seldom smiled in photographs, the delight on his broad face is impossible to miss. The great love of his life, Juna Mae Beachman, holds tightly onto his right arm, partially hidden behind him. She too sports a stylish hat. A beret that I bought at the 2002 Winter Olympics four years prior.

This moment captures a protective and loving partnership that began with a young injured Marine officer meeting a beautiful Navy nurse in a hospital during World War II. Their love story continued with 6 children, 11 grandchildren, and 63 years of marriage.

They are both gone now. Dick died last February of a massive heart attack, and Juna is lost in the fog of Alzheimer's disease. For the past few years, Dick clung to life fiercely through heart bypass surgery, and prostate cancer. He became thin and feeble. His goal was to care for Juna on his own as long as he possibly could, and he was faithful to his bride until the very end of his life.

Juna is in an Alzheimer's care unit in Denver now. She just celebrated her ninety-first birthday. Everyone loves her happy and carefree spirit. But she doesn't know us. And she has no memories of her beloved husband. We remember them for her. And this treasured photograph captures a suspended moment when their great love for each other defied the ravages of time.

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Tracy Boykin, Denver
A wink at the right dancer

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
I found my husband on a computer dating site. I "winked" at him in October, '05 because he was a dancer, and I wanted to go dancing. I had just smashed my nose in a stupid accident, was recovering from an alcoholic marriage and a bankruptcy, and really needed change in my life.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
Mark is one of the most grateful, positive people I've ever met. He has friends in every corner who love him. I've never heard a negative word said about him. His influence has changed my life and sent me in a different direction. It is wonderful.

Story Index


Molly Brown, Boulder
An illness brings new perspective

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
I traveled to India and my trip-of-a-lifetime turned into a life-altering illness. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital in India, a week in a hotel doing outpatient physical therapy, relearning how to walk so I could get strong enough to get on a plane and fly home to Colorado. Spent the following eight months on crutches, not knowing if I would ever walk/function normally again.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
My entire life perspective has changed. It has tended more towards the macroscopic. I feel immense gratitude and happiness in my life daily. I get, on an experiential level, how short life really is and how precious each moment is. I feel like I am not really afraid of death anymore.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
This change is relevant for any time, past or future, but especially as I witness people working hard to pay debt and keep up mortgages, rushing from one place to another, not really conscious of the gift their lives really are, because they are too busy to know this truth.

Story Index


Sara Cardwell, Fruita
A bus ride makes a big difference

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
It was a dark and stormy Chicago night in the winter of 1968. Sounds like the opening chapter of a Charles Dickens novel, doesn't it? It was the Friday before Christmas as a matter of fact. I worked at night from 6:00 PM to whatever time we in the Subscription Department of Time-Life magazines, then located on North North Michigan Avenue, were able to leave. This night, despite the heavy holiday subscription volume, we were able to leave at 11:00 PM. My husband had driven with our children to his parents in Wheaton, a far western suburb of Chicago. I was hurrying down Michigan Avenue to catch the last Chicago Northwestern train to Wheaton. Anyone who has ever lived in Chicago knows how cold the wind shrieking off Lake Michigan can be in the winter. I was trotting along as fast as I could and I was freezing.

A Chicago Transit bus pulled up beside me. It was empty except for the bus driver. "Where you headed?" the bus driver asked me. "I have to get to the Chicago-Northwestern station to catch the last train to Wheaton." I replied. "Get on", the bus driver said. "Um," I said, "I only have enough money for the train fare." "Doesn't matter. Get on." So I stepped out of that late, dark, windy, bitter Chicago night into the light and warmth of the bus. The driver took me directly to the train station, stopped, opened the doors. "Merry Christmas," he said. "I don't how to thank you," I said gratefully. "Merry Christmas," he repeated. I made that last train to Wheaton with a little time to spare.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
As we will all remember, the late summer of 1968 was a terrible one for Chicago. The city was fractured, divided, friends had become enemies. Everyone was suspicious and no one wanted to appear vulnerable or extend a helping hand. But in the face of all this tension, racial and political, one person was willing to go out of his way, at Christmas, to help me when it surely mattered the most. It didn't matter to him that he was black and I white. It didn't matter to him that I had no money for the fare. It was the gesture of another person who was, as I was, working late into the night. All that seemed to matter to him was that he was going to get this tired half-frozen woman to the Chicago-Northwestern station to make that last train to Wheaton.

This man's gesture has stayed with me for 41 years. It may sound lame but it's made me sensitive to people whom I might be able to help in some way. Perhaps it's sending a card, making a phone call, remembering a birthday or anniversary, making a meal or delivering a casserole. Life's picture is made of small details.

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Valerie Carter-Cole, Littleton
Breaking apart to open up new possibilities

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
July 2nd of this year, I lost the greatest gift and joy in my life - my only child, Shane. He was my son, he was beautiful, he was very well liked by those who knew him, he was extremely gifted in many areas, he was in tremendous pain and he took his life. It felt as if my own life was taken as well; I felt as if I could not survive the pain. He left no note explaining why; but I needed no explanation from him for his choice. I was all too familiar with the path of despair that he was on and the feelings of hopelessness he was experiencing. And I was helpless in this excruciating suffering that each of us was feeling. I could find no way to help him and it broke my heart. He was bipolar and his doctors had not found the crucial combination of drugs to prevent the torturous seesaw of mania and destructive depression. I was familiar with this; it had taken me over eight years to find the solution that finally calmed the stormy waters of my own bipolar hell. And I ached for Shane.

As I tried to find peace with Shane's loss, I felt as one being tortured with no end in sight - the pain of missing Shane now and in the future I imagined; the awful guilt that I should have been able to prevent this terrible loss. My mind was in a constant turmoil of self-condemnation and despair - "I didn't do things right," "I was a poor mother; a good mother would have prevented this," "I wasn't there for him when he needed me." The list was endless. I bounced from thinking that he is now at peace to wondering if it is possible that he is in a worse hell. I felt as if I would disintegrate from grief.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
At the same time my thoughts kept returning to a Wayne Muller statement that out minister, Randy Kittleson, quoted during Shane's memorial service. "Within sorrow, there is grace. When we come close to those things that break us down, we touch those things that also break us open. And in that breaking open, we uncover our true nature." I knew there was something very valuable in those words; they touched me immediately. But exactly what did it mean? I knew that I was broken down. I was crushed. I was extremely sorrowful. The person that I thought myself to be was lost. So where is the grace?

I looked to nature. An acorn must break and disintegrate to start its new life as a stately oak tree. A chrysalis must break open for the beautiful butterfly to emerge. What was my butterfly? These thoughts crowded my mind for what seemed an eternity. And then I began to sense it. I first realized a kind of peacefulness that began, ever so slowly and somewhat randomly replacing the pain. I felt a new kind of strength - I was surviving. Shane was emerging to me as his whole self - not just a victim of life or my son that committed suicide - but a complicated individual that gave me joy from the second he was born until the moment of his death. I saw his strengths, his weaknesses, his bliss and his pain. Thornton Wilder once said that "What is essential does not die but is clarified." And the essential that was me was also becoming clarified. The beauty of life despite the losses and pain gradually shone through to me as the sun peaks through the dark clouds after a storm.

As I looked around my world with my "new" eyes, I saw the grace that Wayne Muller had spoken of. I became more aware of the beauty of nature - and its ability to teach us about ourselves. I viewed my fellow human beings in a new light - our natural kindness to one another, our nurturing of the young and the needy - and it made me more kind. One again I felt joy in my relationships and gratitude for the beauty of their being in my life. I moved from feeling sadness and pain when thinking of Shane to feeling graced by having him in my life for the time that he was here...and his presence with me forever. I realized that the depth of my pain - my "breaking down" - made me more thankful for the wonder of the time that I had with him and all of the things he taught me. A piece had been torn out of my heart- it was broken - but the vacuum is being renewed with grace. The pain of Shane's loss will never go away and many days are extremely painful. Each day is a new day without him and tempers my thoughts of the future. I think of something else that Thornton Wilder said, "The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude." And I feel extreme gratitude for Shane and all that he was; and, as odd as it may seem, I can honestly give thanks to him every day for the new me that is germinating from the broken soul that I was.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
I look at our world situation today and must say that it is definitely broken. The national and world economy, wars, genocide, lost jobs, hopelessness appear to be worsening with each day. In this broken state each of us could look to "uncover our true nature." This is valuable on a personal and global level. Introspection about what we really are and what we really need might possibly change our reaction to situations that are beyond our control. For grace is always there, we only need to uncover it. The only thing that each individual can truly control is his or her actions and reactions to things that happen around them. And by taking control on that microcosmic level a certain sense of power is attained. Power diminishes fear and creates confidence.

Story Index


Wendy L. Clark, Littleton
Loving Hugs

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
I received a forwarded letter written by a U.S. Military officer deployed at the time in Mosul, Iraq. He told of the children who ended up in the Military Outpost hospital after an insurgent bombing. All of the children had someone with them(friend, neighbor, family member), except one little Iraqi boy; he was brought in alone, and was in the U.S. military hospital for a month; no one knew what had happened to his family-dead, or alive? I wanted to do something to bring children like him some kind of comfort, and a cuddly soft stuffed animal was the answer that came to me; something that a child could hug close and hold onto to bring them comfort, and help ease their stress.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
That little Iraqi child was in the "foreigners" military hospital, surrounded by what might have seemed to him to be the enemy, speaking a foreign language, etc. He didn't have anyone he knew there to turn to for comfort. He had been injured in the bombing of their town's marketplace when he was with his family shopping for groceries. The emotional well-being of children is often overlooked, even by Humanitarian Aid groups who have the best and highest of caring intentions. Finding some way to help support a child's emotional needs is critical to their present and future happiness and well-being.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
There are so many wars and intense challenges going on all over the world right now. Americans are perceived as being very self-centered, and as being gross consumers. However, while there are selfish people in America, as everywhere, Americans as a whole are very generous, caring, giving good people! We as a culture give so much of what we have of our abundance (created by the hard work and good work ethics of most American individuals and groups) to help others around the world. This should be celebrated, magnified, dignified, and be made aware of more than it is. I continue to be in amazement and awe at the good that people are willing to do to help our non-profit organization, Loving Hugs, Inc. get more 'hugs' to children in need around the world. Americans care, and we care tremendously despite the perception and continual insults we receive from people of other countries and cultures.

Story Index


Rachel Drummond, Highlands Ranch
An adoption from China

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
We (my husband and two young sons) adopted our daughter Jasmine (Li Mei) from China. She is the stunningly happy, loving, charming, engaging, determined, driven and intelligent. I don't know what we expected from an almost three-year-old legally blind child with albinism, but we didn't expect those things because she'd been terribly neglected and nearly starved. She was 14 pounds when we got her, still got all her nutrition from a bottle and was too weak to walk. And yet she was happy, curious and loving from the moment we met her.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
Going to China we all became aware of the heterogeneous nature of China's people, the incredible history and culture of her birth country. How cruel people can be by deciding to not feed a child, to neglect her. How loving in leaving at the orphanage doors with bottles and blankets, hoping for the best for a child that would certainly be unaccepted by her local society. Her nanny that held and loved her. People in China had much the same reactions to her that people do here ranging from gazing at a strange curiosity to pity for us for our "disabled child," praising us to be so noble as to "rescue her and take her in," as well as the people who see her as she is, amazing and wonderful and the completion of our family. She fills a Jasmine-sized-hole that we had.

Before we adopted we heard so many horror stories of attachment, sibling rivalry, overwhelming physical and mental needs, heartbreak. Instead, we had two loving boys who adored her immediately, taking on their big-brother roles with enthusiasm. She fit into our lives so naturally, it was stunning. Our hopes for this risk were rewarded beyond anything we'd imagined. It reaffirmed my belief in following our "collective family heart" despite fears, worries or negative advice.

Story Index


Colleen Elliott, Denver
An adoption story

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
I had been told at a young age that I was adopted. I grew up in a family of 7 boys. My adopted mother wanted a little girl so bad and had tried 7 times to get one that they finally gave up hope of having one naturally and adopted me. I was adopted when I was 6 months old.

When I turned 18 my mother told me that I should try to find my mother, she told me that she knew that my mom must think of me every day. I was always fearful. I was born in 1965 and the adoption was completely closed. I wondered if I found her what her life would be like, if she had ever told the people in her life about me or if I would be this deep dark secret never told and someone to never be revealed. It would certainly mean rejection for me. The fear of the possible rejection had always paralyzed me to some degree.

In 2003 I randomly went to an Internet adoption sight and posted a listing, stating everything that I knew about my adoption. I knew I was born in Denver at the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers. I knew she was young and attending college in Wyoming. I knew the name she gave me that was listed on the adoption papers, "In the adoption of Toni Wilson" it stated, and that was about the extent of my knowledge. I never received any response from my post to that site, until 2008 November 23rd.

Two days before Thanksgiving I received a voicemail from a woman named Kristin. She told me that she was a volunteer search angel and that she had been talking to my birth mother. Of course hopeful, scared and skeptical I returned Kristin’s phone call and learned that indeed my mother and I had finally found each other, a connection had been made after all the years of being disconnected. I learned that she had been looking for me since I had turned 21. Her birthday is 4 days after mine, so it was not hard for her to follow my growth.

We began our communication in baby steps; we began by writing emails to one another. We were both so scared. The first thing she told me was that she had been dreaming of this day for a long time and that she would tell me anything I wanted to know. The first thing I told her was that I held no anger or animosity towards her and that I know it must have been a very difficult decision for her to give me up. I knew that it was a decision that she made out of complete selfless love for me. I also told her that I have had a good life, I was raised with a wonderful and loving family and I am blessed with good health and amazing friends.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
I have often thought about who is this woman who gave birth to me. What does she look like, would I recognize myself in her if I saw her? What is my heritage? Is she a good person? What was her life like then and now? How has her decision impacted her life? What are her interests? Did she ever think of me?

Now all of these questions and others are getting answered. It is like finding a book, an undiscovered incredible read that once you begin you cannot put down. Our story has just begun and has given so much joy to her and I and to all the wonderful people involved in our lives. Her friends have known about her 20-plus year quest to find me and are relishing in the emotional hope and joy. My friends have been overjoyed and ecstatic. Everyone has shed tears of joy and happiness. I have always considered myself fortunate and thankful especially during the holiday season. This new chapter in my life has made that appreciation grow exponentially.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
This reunion between my mother and myself has been the absolute best Christmas gift I could ever receive and has made my Thanksgiving 2008 a special holiday to always remember. The event truly has put the perspective of Thanksgiving and Christmas in the true light that they should be held in, to be thankful for those special people in our lives and to recognize that they are truly the gifts we receive not just every year but every day.

Story Index


Joseph Figaro, Denver
A meeting with a stranger changes his view

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
A stranger made me reconsider my faith after the sudden and unexpected death of my wife this past January. Annette (my wife) and I first met in 1998 in Washington, D.C. We got married in 2001. We had what we often talked about as a perfect marriage. We moved to Denver in 2005 to pursue my PhD at DU. This January, she called me to let me know that she was waiting for the light rail and while on the phone she told me that she felt like she was about to pass out. As soon as she said that, she collapsed and died. It turned out she suffered a brain aneurysm. She was 31 years old and had no symptoms that we knew of.

Last month I was at a Firestone getting my car fixed and a young woman came in for her car. She sat opposite me and started to read something. I asked her what she was reading. She replied: the Bible. Then we got into a conversation and she asked me if I read the Bible/believe in God. I told her that I used to but not really any more. She asked why and after some persistence on her part, I told her about my wife. Then she told me about what happened to her boyfriend, how he died while playing basketball. His death or to be more precise, touching him in the casket made her believe that there is more to this life.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
Her story and the way she said it made me pause and rethink about my rejection of God for the way in which my wonderful wife died. She was a strong believer in God and since her death I've been wondering about God and questioning His existence/presence. The young woman invited me to her church, which I've attended a couple times. The accidental encounter with her has put me back to a place where I can think more rationally about my situation and my faith.

Story Index


Jessica Foreman, Denver
Finding and giving love

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
I grew up in a choatic home, my father was very depressed, and his health was constantly getting worse due to failed kidneys. My mother got a traumatic brain injury from a car accident when I was 12, and she had a hard time just working to get food on the table for us. As a teenager, I was miserable, my depression just got worse when I moved out of my parent's house at 18. I was lonely and broke, and already becoming jaded. I didn't even remember what it felt like to be happy. When I looked into my future I didn't see anything but working and paying bills.

Then, my second semester of college, I became friends with one of my classmates. He made me laugh, and we eventually began dating. His name is Zak and he has now been my boyfriend for almost four years. He has made me feel things I hadn't felt since I was a young child, passion for life, amazement, and the most impossible joy. He has given me strength and encouragement through some very tough times, always with a smile on his face. Loving him has opened my heart to the world again.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
When I started college, I hated people, I hated my self, I could never see the good in anything really. I felt guilty if I was happy about anything or if something went well for me. I didn't feel that I deserved it. I was scared to do well in school, scared to find a job that I liked, and scared of having any close relationships with anybody. When I met Zak, I immediately noticed that he exuded happiness and joy everywhere he went, and that made me feel good. As we became more close he slowly taught me how to allow myself to be a happy person. I started to want to work harder at my job and school, because for the first time I could see a bright future ahead of me. Eventually I knew that I loved him, and that he loved me. This is what has changed me more profoundly that anything else. Being able to give somebody all of my love, has broken down the emotional barriers I put up around my heart, and I feel love towards the whole world. I can see the beauty in everyday life, and everyday people.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
In our time, people are having to come into contact with one another less and less. I think that this decreases civility and the sense of community with our neighbors, and others we see regularly. I think that many people feel alienated from the rest of humanity, due to the advances in technology of the past century. Feeling alienated like that makes the general attitude more dog eat dog, and more hostile than before. Being in a loving relationship has helped me relate with the people I encounter every day. If a stranger does something that makes me mad, now I remind myself that they aren't just some jerk who did this to me, they have loved ones who they are kind to. I picture them hugging their significant other before leaving for work, or laughing with their friends, and I feel compassion for this stranger because I know that they aren't that different from me after all.

Story Index


Andres Galan, Denver
Getting out of gangs

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
My "homie" from elementary school. He was my best friend from elementary and middle school. In 5th grade, I decided to join a gang, and then I got him into it in 6th grade. One summer day, he and I were walking from the store to my house, and we decided to take the alleys to be safer because if you walk on the streets you are seen easier. On our way home, this car passed by us, and I noticed it was a car from another gang. I recognized one of the guys in the car in the passengers seat, so I started walking down the alley. We thought we would be able to get away easier by jumping a fence or something. We were in the alley and the car came up on the end of the alley, and they started shooting at us. When I heard the second shot, I realized it was coming from behind us. I went to grab my friend, but he was already shot. I did something very stupid, and I hid while he was laying in the alley dying. Once the car left, I just held him and he died in my arms. I started questioning myself. I still remember his last words. He said, "Tell my mom I love her, and that I wouldn't have joined the gang if I knew it was like this."

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
After this happened, I had to go tell my friend's mom his message. I saw her eyes and her emotion turn from "Hi, nice to see you" to "I hate you, and you did this to my son." That made me realize that I never want to have another friend have to say that to my mother.

I was ashamed to be a gang member because I knew how much that it would hurt my mom to hear the news I told my friend's mom. Because I felt I didn't have anyone to talk to after my friend died, I stayed in the gang for three more years. I was stubborn and depressed, and felt that I didn't have anyone to talk to in my family, so I stayed.

Then one night, another "homie" of mine overdosed at a party we were at together from shooting up heroin. This time I was able to see that a lot of the older gang members were trying to make us do more severe drugs. I stopped hanging out with the gang, and isolated myself. I stopped talking to everyone. At the time, I was really addicted to weed because I could smoke it and think about all the good times I had before I joined the gang. I realized I had to grow up too quickly. One day in high school, I got caught with a (marijuana) "roach" and I was suspended. I came back and made the same mistake again, and I got another ticket. I got put on probation for one year, and that helped me a lot. It made me get away from the drugs, and I realized that my family was actually trying to get me away from the gang. In the end, joining the gang was not worth it. I lost two of my closest friends, and I lost a brother trying to get out of the gang. I have seen people die, and the only time it really affected me was when it was my best friend.

Today, I am feeling relieved that my story will save other kids from joining a gang. It may seem cool at first, but when you see a friend die, it breaks your heart. You become heartless. I can gladly say that I am happy I left the gang life, because if I didn't I would be dead. I am in high school and working on getting my diploma. I have good relationships with my family and friends. In the future, I want to go to college, if it's possible, and maybe join the Army. I am interested in becoming a person that helps other teens realize that gangs are not a way of living, but that it's a way of getting yourself killed.

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Mary Goodsom, Denver
A volunteer gets "hooked"

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened
I was unhappy with my life in general. I was waking up on Monday and wishing it was Friday. After some discussion, my husband and I decided that I should quit work and take some time to decide what I wanted to do with my life. During my time off, my sister-in-law, who had spent many of her childhood years at the Tennyson Center for Children, dragged me to the Center to help wrap Christmas presents one year. The Center works with kids and their families to overcome crises such as abuse and neglect. That night, I was introduced to the volunteer coordinator, and have been volunteering at the Center ever since.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
I eventually began to mentor children, among other volunteer activities. I have kept in touch with all of the children I have mentored after they have been placed in foster homes. However, while they were at Tennyson, during the holidays, I would pick up the child that I was mentoring so that he or she could spend the holidays with my family. Every year, I tried to pick up “my child” earlier and earlier. I was trying to avoid the other children, who would beg me to take them also, as they wanted to spend the holidays with a “real family” too. Eventually, I couldn’t emotionally handle it anymore and my family stepped in and decided that we could have our “family Christmas dinner” at the Center. With the help of my family, friends, and my family’s friends, we cook dinner and bring gifts for all of the children at the Center who would have no where else to spend Christmas.

We again had our “family Christmas dinner” at the Center this year. This is something that I could not do alone; it takes my entire family and our friends to put the dinner on. So far, I haven’t taken another career path. Having my dream house or other material things that used to seem so important now don’t seem very important in the big scheme of things. I work part-time at three jobs, so that I can finance my volunteering at the Center and be free to volunteer during the hours they need me. As long as I am able to, I plan to keep doing this. Hopefully, the economy will not become so bad that I’m forced to return to work full-time, and not be able to spend the time that I do at the Center and with the children. Working with the dedicated staff at the Center and the children has not only changed my life, but the lives of my entire family as well.

Story Index


Charlie Hickman, Rangely
Clowning around ... seriously

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
I went on a clown trip to Russia in 2002. We visited children's hospitals, orphanages and other places of suffering in Moscow. This trip changed my life by teaching me about living a life of love, not as an abstract idea, but as a central pillar of my life. Since then I have traveled to Moscow every year to be a part of a children's summer camp. I ended up getting married to their accountant and this summer we traveled with our 11-month-old son. At our camp we have children from Ossetia and children from Chechnya (lots of trouble between these two cultures) and we work to make them friends.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
Traveling to Russia gave me a unique perspective on American culture. What I thought was normal human behavior (things like ambition, peanut butter, and health concerns) I now see as strictly American. The kids I work with in the summer camp don't have the opportunity to go to school. Then I teach in Colorado to children who have (relatively) everything they could want and they feel like school is torture. The children in Russian state care are often malnourished and very well behaved because they are abused and don't feel free to act like children. This changed the way I view kids in American schools with behavior problems. I see it as less a problem then evidence that the children are free and feel safe to be acting childish. My outlook was also changed because I saw a lot to be grateful for (post offices, American DMV, paperwork reduction act)....

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
I think that we need to be reminded to be in the service of people all over the world for our own health and happiness. I think this work is the direct opposite of war and failing diplomacy. We are waging peace, connecting with people face to face and building bridges.

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Kathy Hunninen, Georgetown
A lesson from the past

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
The African-American women of Memphis in the 1960s who were the foundation of the sanitation workers union, AFSME, and marches; who were the backbone community of community protests, organizing and marches, and who led the teachers union and marches.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
My life was forever changed by experiencing at a young age these events and seeing Memphis's brave African-American women taking leadership positions, defending those positions and sacrificing individually for the betterment of all. And, oh, the gospel and protest songs that accompanied every march. Unknown to me in the 1960's, my gratitude has grown with age for the life-framing influence of these women. Their beauty, strengths, songs, commitments and sacrifices to this day have remained the foundation of my world view.

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Janet Kilby, Boulder
Lessons on living from someone facing death

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
I am deeply grateful for Dorothy Cameron, who is dying with extraordinary grace in this holiday season. Dorothy, or Mutti as family calls her, was my mother-in-law for 25 years. After my divorce, she continued to love me and would not allow me to drift away. Now, a year later, her generous heart, long physically weak, is giving out.

On a recent morning, after I spent the previous night with her, Dorothy was on the phone five times to five of her long time friends. Each time she told them this: I have some news for you I wanted you to hear from me. My heart is getting weaker. My doctor and I talked about surgery and other interventions and I'm tired of fighting it. So, I'm refusing extra surgery and measures and I've called in Hospice. I've lived a long and wonderful life, celebrating 88 years this week, and my life is still wonderful! I am completely at peace in my heart. The family has been caring so well for me this last week, taking turns being with me day and night. The Hospice social worker came on Tuesday, and we hit it right off! They are quality people! The Hospice nurse is great too, she even trimmed my toenails! What more could you want? Yes, yes, I'm welcoming visitors and it would be lovely to see you.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
Mutti has such capacity for love and tolerance. She has long been my role model in aging, cultivating circles of friends: from the community garden, church, marathon bridge, potter's guild, yoga and weights class. Yes, this frail woman, less than 100 pounds with plenty of health challenges, has an incredible social network. My 20-something daughter stayed with her last night, and told me this morning, "Mutti has a more active social life than I do!" I am so grateful for Mutti's place in my life. She has transformed her passing from a time of solely grief to a time of inspiration and hope.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
One of the clearest lessons I see from this is that over the years, Mutti has been affectionately tolerant of her friends quirks...openly acknowledging that she has plenty of quirks herself. As families gather together this holiday season, I'm remembering how important it is to shine the spotlight on the good in people, to cultivate long term relationships and family ties.

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Barbara Knafelc, Littleton
Slowing down to see the blessings

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
My first granddaughter was born 10 weeks premature. She was at University Hospital for the first 61 days of her life. I spent every day that I could with her, just holding her, rocking her. It made me really aware of how fragile life is. I made the decision to slow down and appreciate little things more, to be grateful for more than I had been. I try to remember this promise every day.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
It made me grateful for all my blessings. People today seem to be in such a hurry - in the car, in the store, everywhere. I believe we need to slow our lives down, appreciate all our blessings, our families, our friends, the people who perform services for us.

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Ellis McFadden, Denver
Caring for one, then many

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
A friend from the Denver Gay Men's Chorus was diagnosised with AIDS, in 1982, with little hope and little support. While not a close friend I started visiting Roger regularly and we grew closer. Not much was known about AIDS then but I wasn't afraid to visit or hold him. I continued the visits until he died in December of 1983.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
After Roger died I began volunteering at Colorado AIDS Project. I was in the Buddy Program, visiting clients offering support and help. I have worked with about 25 buddies as they got sicker and died. With the new drug therapies I have known my current buddy about 15 years, now mostly giving emotional support. While visiting people with AIDS was sad it was not depressing. I certainly feel I get back more than I give. I feel that I looking for new ways to help the community keeps me motivated. I am continually reminded of how many helpful people there are everywhere. I have been led to political activities too for example working with Equal Rights Colorado, Colorado Stonewall Democrats and Human Rights Campaign.

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Carole Pirri, Denver
A life lost but a life saved

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
Carole Pirri, who lives in Colorado Springs, was living a happy and normal life in 1995, until the day she went in for a routine physical and was told that her liver wasn't functionally well. Three years later, her condition worsened. She was visiting the hospital on a weekly basis, she couldn't drive, couldn't work and was too tired to walk more than 10 feet. She was no longer able to live a healthy life and doctors told her she needed a liver transplant. She was put on the transplant list and over the next five years, she waited.

Twice doctors called and thought they had a liver for her, but both times the organ wasn't a match. In May of 2003, Carole's doctor told her she wouldn't make it two more weeks without a transplant. Just days later, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Carole received another call saying a liver had come in that doctors believed would be a match. The transplant was successful and immediately after waking Carole felt a world of difference.

That same Memorial Day weekend in 2003 changed the life of Melody Connett as well. Police arrived at her door Saturday evening telling her that her only daughter, Jill, had been in a car accident. Melody rushed to the hospital and learned that Jill would not survive.

Some time later that night, Melody and Jill's father were approached by Donor Alliance about donating Jill's organs. Jill and Melody had spoken about donation and Jill had the donor heart on her license. However, because of the extent of her injuries, only her liver could be donated. Jill's liver was given that next night to Carole Pirri.

The year following Jill's death, Melody took part in Donor Alliance's annual race in support of organ donation - the Donor Dash - and has participated in the race every year since. During the 2007 race, a friend of Melody's saw a woman and her daughter walking in white shirts with computer photo printouts of Jill pinned to their backs. The woman was Carole Pirri. Carole and Melody, who is from Englewood, are now great friends and speak together on behalf of organ donation. They celebrate the Donor Dash as their anniversary.

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Lisa Roll, Denver
Remembering a patient and loving father

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
For 25 years I had what all my friends wanted, what everyone wants but few people ever get: the perfect father. He was a man who was loving, patient, wise, funny, creative, thoughtful and terribly smart. He was hit and killed by a drunk driver and since his death I strive to only remember what I loved about him not how painful it was to be with him the three weeks in the neurotrama ICU before he died. My mother, sister and I want to only carry with us, what we loved about him so much, everything.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
His love and patience has seeped into me and everything I do. I am a graduate student in the field of autism and even though sometimes my work can be extremely challenging I always have and always feel the patient hand of father on my shoulder when I feel stressed and overwhelmed. He has taught me not to pity others but to help them. I feel I would not be in this field without him as a model and certainly would not be as good at it as I am without him to guide me.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
I've noticed that there are only a handful of people that have been married for over 10 years or so--I have friends under 30 that have been divorced twice. It's hard to make a marriage work, so I've heard. But my mother and father's relationship was really something special. They met and got engaged after 3 weeks of dating and got married within 3 months of dating. He loved her like no person I've ever seen love anything. He adored her for 33 years and everyday of my life, for 25 years, I saw what it was like to be happy and in love. After seeing that kind of love and grace I knew I would never settle for less. In these days, I think that's pretty special.

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Colleen Scissors, Grand Junction
"Colleen, Colleen"

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
My son and I were traveling home from a family funeral in St. Louis. We had a 6 a.m. flight, and had called for a cab the night before. Our cab driver was there waiting for us when we got to the lobby. It was a shiny red cab, and from the moment we got in, he started playing a trivia game with us. He asked us which states had capitals named after presidents. He asked us to name the presidents all the way back to FDR. He entertained us the entire way to the airport, and so I was digging through my wallet looking for the right change to give him a generous tip. He dropped us off, and we thanked him for an entertaining ride.

When we got to the ticket counter, and I went to get my wallet out, it was gone. Immediately, I knew that it had fallen from my lap, and most likely in the cab. It took us about 30 minutes to convince the airline to let me aboard my flight without identification. I had no idea what cab company we had used, and we were pressed for time to get on the plane in any event. As my son and I were heading through security to the gate, I heard someone calling, "Colleen, Colleen." Running down the ramp was our taxi cab driver, a huge grin on his face, and my wallet in his hand. He had gotten home, and just happened to see my wallet. He drove all the way back to the airport with it. I hugged him and kissed him and started rummaging through it, intending to give him a tip, when he said to me, "your money is all there."

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
I really didn't expect to get my wallet back. And when I did, it broke my heart that he thought I was concerned he had stolen some of my money.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
These are hard times. We tend toward cynicism. This man was so kind and good that he took time out of his day to help me. And then, sadly, he, too, fell pray to cynically thinking that I thought he had taken my money. I realized from the event that we all should work harder to expect goodness from others.

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Rachel Shapiro, Denver
Her daughter is her guide

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
My youngest child was born when I was 44. She was alert and strong so I was shocked to find that she had Down Syndrome. I was also terrified.

When I was young, people with Down Syndrome were put in institutions; you rarely saw them in public and when you did it was with parents who look old, gray and haggard. So I looked into the future with this child with fear and trepidation.

My daughter is 14 now and although it has not been an easy ride, I can honestly say I am a different, happier and kinder person because she is in my life. She is the person all of us wish we could be. She never experiences envy or jealousy, she never gets angry, she is never mean or unkind and she never worries about what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. She is totally Zen. Living with her has taught me to appreciate a person for their strengths and overlook their weaknesses. I am so grateful to her for showing me what is really important in life.

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Janet Sheridan, Craig
An Appreciation of Christmas Catalogs

Did an event or person change your life in a powerful way? Please describe what happened.
Living a television-free life, long miles from town, my brothers and sisters and I weren’t familiar with Christmas wish-lists drawn from store displays and TV commercials. We wrote letters to Santa based on the Christmas catalog delivered to our country mailbox. I remember wondering why Santa Claus created a catalog showcasing the goods his busy elves produced, and then published it under the name of Mr. Montgomery Wards. Was he ashamed of his work?

In mid-November, the Wards Christmas catalog arrived to hosannas of joy. It died a quiet, rumpled death by the New Year. In between, it dominated our holiday season. We vied for the opportunity to walk the snow-crusted quarter mile to our battered box to get the mail. The fortunate child who ran home waving the catalog in the air, was also its first reader; the first to touch its slick pages, breathe its acrid smell, and read its glowing descriptions of toys, candy, and clothes. Brawls broke out as we battled over who would get to study it next. For five weeks, the increasingly bedraggled catalog circulated from grimy hand to grimy hand. Mom reminded us daily, with less and less holiday spirit, that we couldn’t read it at the dinner table. We condemned the unknown ne’er-do-well who dropped it in the bathtub, rendering several pages unreadable—at least we hoped it was the bathtub. At night, when we should have been asleep, excited comments were whispered from bunk bed to bunk bed about the treasures it contained.

Having seven children and little discretionary money, Mom told us Santa Claus had a five-dollar limit per child. It made sense to us that Santa would have a budget—our family did. So we made lengthy lists and agonized over whether to eliminate Mr. Potato Head or the Little Women paper dolls. We sought one another’s advice and argued the merits of our selections. Once Bob tried to convince me to request a pair of cap guns in a fringed holster, telling me I would be the toughest girl in second grade. Carolyn ended our red-faced yelling before it turned to fisticuffs, by suggesting that perhaps Bob could be the cutest boy in fourth grade if he ordered the princess crown on page 16. Finally we made our decisions and wrote our letters:

Dear Santa, I’ve been good. Bob hasn’t. Now for the important stuff. I want the dollhouse on page 56. The two story one, please. I want all the plastic furniture and people if they don’t cost extra. Love, Janet

When we had money from picking fruit or hoeing the long rows of sugar beets grown by neighbor farmers, we shopped for one another from the catalog. After a few weeks, its sticky pages were marked with mysterious codes known only to their creators.

One year, Bob tormented Carolyn and me by putting our initials next to several items in the catalog, leading us to think (A) he wasn’t very bright and (B) those were the things he might buy for us. A week later we noticed he had circled in red crayon, one item for me--a half-pound box of cherry chocolates—and one item for Carolyn—some bright plastic beads. I daydreamed about biting into a chocolate, feeling the ooze of the thick juice, the crunch of the cherry. And then eating another, and another, and another, as many as I wanted, because they were all mine, and I didn’t have to share unless I wanted to. And I wouldn’t want to. Bob whooped with laughter on Christmas morning as we ripped open the presents he had given us only to discover nothing that he had marked. Carolyn found a sampler set of twenty-five tiny tubes, each filled with a different perfume, and I had a winter hat you could stick your ponytail through—completely inedible.

A few years later we moved to town with its multiple shopping opportunities—Forseys Five and Dime and J.C. Penney’s. The Montgomery Wards Christmas catalog lost its importance, and our use of it gradually drifted away. It seemed to me that with its disappearance, much of the anticipation of the Christmas season vanished as well. I found I missed the shiny catalog, the snowballing excitement that arrived with it, and the whispered conversations that flowed between our beds.

Specifically, how did that event or person change your outlook?
My memories of the breath-stopping fun of Christmas, unique to childhood, revolve around the Wards catalog. I remember our use of it much more clearly than I remember playing with what Santa eventually left me. But what shaped me for the future in our catalog shopping, was the annual practice of dreaming large, listing wants, debating possibilities with others, paring the list, and finally settling on something within the given budget, something we could afford. That early shopping habit has stayed with me for purchases both large and small.

Is there something about today's times that makes this change especially relevant now?
Because of my mother's $5.00 limit, I know I can make any adjustments in my purchasing necessary to weather the difficult economic time we are in. I also know that applying spending restrictions to myself or those I love can be a beneficial, even enjoyable thing. I think it is a lesson our world could use right now. Christmas is about th

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