clarity by way of greg kinnear

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Ten years ago, I bought a puppy. The seller charged me twenty-five extra dollars after watching the pup stroll across the dog infested room straight to my feet. He chose me. I picked him up and paid the fee.
I was nearly three months pregnant when I took this pup, now named Sam, to his new home. Six months was too long to wait to start mothering. One week into Sam’s parentage I learned that my unborn son had an unsurvivable genetic disorder and time would take him from me.
Sam’s status within my otherwise empty arms grew exponentially.
After losing my son Noah to stillbirth in 2006, I reeled into myself shielding away the platitudes and soothing words; well intended, but unhelpful, everything sounded too cliched to count.
Four years later, Todd Burpo, a man from my hometown, published a little book called “Heaven is for Real”, which I heard about and ingested as acknowledgment that the world in which my Noah lived had been witnessed and here was proof. Of course heaven was real, it absolutely must exist because that was the only chance I had to hold my boy. So thanks for that and hey, he’s from Bartlesville? Cool.
No less than half a dozen copies of this best seller crossed my palms. Two were gifts, with explicit instructions to read it, it would help, did I know the Burpo’s too had lost a child, their story would be soothing, and still I steadfastly refused to open the front cover.
The other four copies I shoved with unfounded conviction into various donation boxes.
I clung to my dog and moved forward.
Then. Years later. A movie was in production, a movie based on the story I’d eschewed for so long. Great, I thought, good for them, it will inspire others.
But. I learned that Greg Kinnear would star as Todd Burpo, the father of the boy who’d seen through the curtain into Tomorrow.
I must tell you I am a huge fan of Kinnear. I’ve seen all of his movies and always thought he was under appreciated for his inordinate acting skill. And his smile, that’s pretty special, too.
But dang, it was hard to waller, and waller I did, in my ignorance of this little boy’s whole story. I fought the pull of this cinematic venture. When ads aired on tv, I turned the channel. I ignored internet touting, interviews, movie stills, all of it.
A recent Redbox Friday turned my tides.
Something made me rent it — I travelled to three different Redboxes to get a copy, three, which is no small feat when living in the Out There –  and Someone made me watch, in three installments because I hoped quick partial exposures would lessen the inevitable tears.
To finally get to my point: while watching the film, one particular character unnerved me. She was bitter, angry, and I wondered at her vitriol; she was so judgmental and mean. How could she not believe in heaven when once I thirsted for it’s presence? Then I realized I disliked her because she was me. She had lost her son and was furious at God, I understood that completely, but she was jealous of Todd because his son had lived while hers had not.
My brain was illuminated. Unlike the movie character, I wasn’t jealous of Todd for his son being alive, I was jealous of Colton, the four year old boy who saw Heaven. He was privy to a glimpse I’ve begged for for ten years. I crave seeing my son. I want him to know how often I wish for him, that I hope he isn’t angry with me because I didn’t handle losing him. I stepped forward, I handled nothing. I was a coward.
To see Noah, to hold him, to talk to him, for that … I was jealous.
Colton’s experience is beautiful.  It broke my heart along old fault lines but healed the fractures with a new hope, a reborn faith that my little one is okay and please oh please not mad at his mama for needing to let him go, for not going with him, for living, and for holding on to a canine as a tether to Now.
After the movie I sat and sobbed, and as I did, two tiny paws touched my leg until I finally stopped to stare into the understanding, we’ve-been-here-before eyes of my sweet Sam. Full circle.
Egads! What a heart rending day, and I owe this new clarity to Greg Kinnear.
Yes, and to Todd and Colton. But frankly, mostly to Greg Kinnear.

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part three of riding along

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Last installment, and then I’ll leave you alone.
Okay. So I sat with my police officer friend in a busy emergency room ward, people coming and going, lots of activity, and my friend’s perp is all over the place emotionally. He’s mad, subdued, arrogant, apologetic; he’s a rollercoaster.
Then he goes off track.
He assumes the Belligerent Victim position, and my friend had to get cross and show her hand. While she was promising to cuff him to the bed, the patient pushed his boundaries, and awful horrible terrible me, I was thinking, “Do it. Do it. Do it.”
Fortunately my friend is trained and calm and took it down before he went Full Tasmanian Devil, and before I knew it, the Perp Under Glass became the Dude Double Whammied to a Hospital Bed.
Throughout the four hours, he tried to get sympathy from the Civilian Ride Along — that’s me — and fortunately I knew I was the one with the armed friend, so I played along, answering his queries into my general health and listening to his apologies for his random behavior, though I wished again and again that my favorite po-po — haha! I hope I made up that term, that’s funny — would show him a third pair of cuffs.
Finally my friend was able to turn the newly inbound patient over to the fresh officer on third shift, the one now hitched to the arguably burdensome task of telling the perp that he was to be committed to treatment.
But that wasn’t our problem.
Sometime during the evening we stopped into a local German eatery for a hot meal and a quick chat. Quick. We shoveled it in and hit the mean streets again, which was great, for about an hour. While sitting on that hard chair in that bleached environment, my dinner reached into my innards and squeezed until I considered asking for a quick antacid from a scrub clad anyone. I asked my friend about her own gastro conditions and I wasn’t alone in the agony, but she was armed, so she seemed more likely to get aid should it be required.
After leaving hospital confines, we were thirsty and hot, under caffeinated, but mostly just thirsty, so we drove to the convenience store where I magnanimously offered to buy my friend in uniform a soda — I know, I’m the last of the big spenders — but whose clerk said, “Nah, she’s free, she’s in uniform, but yours is eighty-nine cents.”
Yup. I was one classy date.
We whisked back to the station, where my friend did ever so much more than possible paperwork, and she was cut loose for the night.
Two a.m.
I was wired for sound.
On the long ride back to the Out There, my adrenaline rush shut it’s valve. Suddenly I was freezing cold in the conditioned air and more tired than I really had a right to be.
Lesson learned for next time: take a blanket. And if a sweet German lady says, “I know what you need,” and orders for you? Don’t eat it.

P.S. Truly I saw a world I realized existed but chose to disbelieve. Most of the people I saw this evening were in peril, in conditions they had created by their own hand: over indulgence in chemicals, in poor judgment, in black dark conditions I know nothing of. It’s a scary world I peered into for an evening but in which officers live each night. They deal with it through humor and sarcasm, as evidenced by radio and email transmissions I was privy to for the evening; it’s a thin veil.
Thank God for humor, for comradery, for excellent training and supreme judgment, for quick minds, quick wit, and forever having others’ backs. And thank God for bravery, the likes of which I’ve taken for granted until now.
And for sweaters. And caffeine. And extraordinary people on the planet.
And also thank God for books and calm libraries and gentle readers.

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riding along, part deux

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When last I left you, I was regaling you with my tale of Ride Along in the City with the Chick from Out There — that’s me — and I was plastered in a bucket seat after a high speed chase. I now resume…

My ears were still full of blood whoosh and my officer friend had moved on. Emails were zinging by, the computer voice calling “New message, New message,” again and again. Her radios were yelling, the air conditioner was maxed at high. Chaos reigned. It was…Fabulous! And before I knew it, ZOOM, we were off again seeking a dude in red who had scared local business owners.

I’m keeping my eyes peeled — peeled, people — out the windows seeking shades of red, when I notice my friend is typing on her keyboard with both hands, driving with one knee, her face smooth as porcelain and un-bedewed as she hurls us forward toward something red. We were the bull, people. Ole!

She stopped at the business, she asked pertinent questions, she hopped back behind the wheel and we were off again, but a little slower, so to catch sight of clothing of red.

In an ancient once-Sonic drive through parking lot we whip around for a U because Eagle Eye Officer has spotted him. I see it, I think, but  before I can say, “Um, I believe that’s an oleander…” we are back in the street and voila, there’s Dude in Red.

“Whu…how…push…,” said I, as my friend approaches and speaks and crisis and cuffs…

And before I can finish saying, “…oleander,” I’m sitting in a squad car with a cuffed person under glass.

Uh…

I said nary a word, but I adjusted the air vent, aiming it backward toward the holes on either side of the plexi. It seemed the kind thing to do.

A couple of quick conversations later, my favorite officer is driving the three of us to the local hospital for a quick checkup.

Within a half hour I went from incorrect identification of local flora to sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the hallway outside of an apprehended dude’s ER room on a busy Wednesday night, all beds full, desperately in need of coffee and a ladies’ room.

I was NOT in the library anymore…

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