Message of the Owl

When I woke that morning, it wasn’t apparent to me what was wrong, but my body and mind were unusually heavy and I was unable to shove off the covers and put my feet on the floor, an attribute not typical of this early-morning and enthusiastic riser.

While I waited for my body to inch to life and my eyes to adjust to the 5 a.m. darkness, I realized tears were pouring down my cheeks, wetting my pillowcase and sheets. The tears were hot and filled with grief and fear. Overwhelming anxiety filled every cell of my being and imprisoned me inside my mind, and my heart was so sad and heavy, I wondered if I had died and gone to hell.

I had felt emotional darkness in my life, but those times had been typical human response to an injustice or tragic abuse of the mind, body or spirit. That morning however, I didn’t know what triggered the imbalance and I was perplexed by its force and timing.

My head throbbed, my body ached and experience told me the day was going to be a challenge to navigate alone. I grabbed the phone from my bedside table and dialed the number of one of my dearest and closest friends who has walked with me through previous days like this.

Her initial response to my cracked voice was concern for my wellbeing. In her wisdom, she allowed me to sob without judgment of my tears. She didn’t move to fix or question anything; she simply sat with me on the phone and held me gently in her energy of caring compassion. When my tears subsided, she suggested I go back to sleep and promised to check on me later.

I fell into a fitful sleep with the intellectual knowledge I had a friend who cared about me, but the emotional presence of isolation and abandonment.

When I woke for the second time that morning, the heaviness in my heart made it difficult to breath. I forced myself to get out of bed, walked to the shower and soaked in the hot stream until it ran cold. Dried off and dressed, I called my friend and asked her to meet me.

At the coffee shop, I handed her my calendar to review and cancel my appointments.  As she flipped through the month, the reason this particular day was so dark was instantly illuminated.  The day was March 24 and it was the anniversary of the day my divorce was finalized. Coincidentally, the same date three years later was when a man I considered a great love exited my life.

My intellectual mind had processed the breakups; but the subconscious and spiritual elements of my being had not yet found the grace and wisdom to release the negative self judgments left behind by the “failed” relationships.

I sat with my friend and let the sobs jar loose the stories and cultural imagery of who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to want. I had been telling myself for years that I was different and unworthy of love because of where I’ve been or what I’ve known.  But through the tears, the story that I didn’t deserve to be fulfilled revealed itself as the great lie.

I recognized this reality no longer had a place in my life and I decided it was time to set the story free. It was time to invent something new. I wiped my face, gathered myself, hugged and thanked my friend and left the coffee shop. With newfound awareness and strength, I chose to let my schedule stand and meet with two potential clients.

I stopped at my home office to gather materials and contracts and center myself before my appointments. I sat in quiet meditation and asked the universe for courage and a sign of hope.

As I drove out of my development, an enormous and unusual bird caught my eye.  It was flying low and close to my window and seemed out of place in that time and space. I didn’t recognize the species but watched it curiously flop its wings, thrusting forward in an awkward movement.  I pulled my vehicle to the side of the road as the bird flew upward to land on a low branch.

I stepped out of my vehicle and walked toward the tree where the giant bird perched. As I inched closer, the bird’s head turned 120 degrees and its eyes fixed on mine.  It was a gaze that made the darkness of the day melt away; a human-to-owl connection that cannot be explained, except through the power of a story.

I had never witnessed an owl fly in broad daylight and I knew the message of this beautiful creature was intended for me. I returned to my office, curious about the significance of its presence in my life. I learned the following:

“… An owl teaches us how to embrace our personal darkness without fear.  Active at dawn and dusk, owls are sometimes referred to as the night eagle, a messenger from the darkness and a guide through all the mysteries that it contains.

Owls are sometimes thought to come to those that are about to die.  This does not mean a physical death as much as it means the letting go of some part of yourself that is not serving you.

Owls guide us through the dark tunnels of fear, change and uncertainty to the brilliant light shining at the other end.

If the owl appears in your life thank it for its willingness to guide you through its shadowy realm to the other side of promise and joy.” (

I honored my commitments for the day, found the courage to manage my appointments, and ended the day with two signed contracts.  One of those clients later became the bearer of a magical and mysterious pumpkin that makes this story more meaningful and profound.

That evening, I buried the past and what I had made it mean. I wrote in my journal that I was lovable and worthy of great love.  I must have written it a million times before it finally sunk in. I realized through that exercise that I am not a piece of property; I am no-more-or-no-less-than any other human; nor am I crazy because I have an opinion or an idea and can see and understand things others might not notice.

I wrote that I am not a contaminated by-product of failed relationships; nor will I allow myself to be labeled according to the people in my life or defined by the things I do or do not own.

I shifted the part of my story that made me believe ending a relationship meant I was a quitter and incapable of trust or commitment.

The truth is that recognizing, speaking and acting on our truth is what makes us powerful and honorable, even when it goes against the grain of what our churches, families or society tell us is appropriate or acceptable.

I now viewed the end of those relationships as powerful new beginnings.  I let go of the judgment and embraced the powerful perspectives of acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude.

March 24 has become a day of celebration for me. I take a moment to pause and give thanks for the lessons of those relationships and the subsequent “owls” that have entered and exited my life.

Living as a Gypsy

I applied for a job with an “adventure company” and found myself in a hotel conference hall with several other applicants.  Joe, the manager, was our interviewer and began the demonstration with a motivational pep talk that rivaled speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr.

This “adventure company” called themselves JLM Promotions and were recruiting people who could easily strike up conversations, wanted the freedom to travel, sought adventure, and were comfortable taking risks.

If the truth in advertising rule applied to recruitment, the demonstrations and ad would loosely translate to: “fly-by-night company seeks people willing to cold call, live out of their vehicles, travel to Mississippi and Arkansas, and potentially get arrested for soliciting.”

In my youth, however, Joe the Manger’s motivational approach had me leaping out of my chair with excitement as he offered me the position of new recruit.  I was instructed to report to in the following morning at 7 a.m.

I met Joe and six other sales people at the hotel breakfast bar. They were mapping out “territories” and talking about their adventures from the previous day.  Joe introduced me to the crew and assigned me to train with Tim.

Tim wore a cowboy hat, jeans with cowboy boots and a rodeo-style shirt with snaps.  He left the top three snaps undone, exposing too much chest hair, particularly for digesting scrambled eggs and toast. He spoke slowly, drew out his vowels and pretended to be from the south.  When Joe introduced us, Tim leaned in, tipped his hat and called me, “ma’am” with an exaggerated southern drawl.

He held his cigarette in between his forefinger and thumb and blew his smoke out of the corner of his mouth.  He bragged that he was the best salesman with the adventure company and told me how much money he made.  When his breakfast check arrived, he handed it to me, winked, and said, “ya’ll take care of that for me, won’tcha ya hon?”

Startled, I looked him in the eye and said “cowboy, did you just call me hon and ask me to pay for your breakfast? He smiled and said, “Thanks darling, you’re a peach.” He sauntered away while I wondered why somebody so rich and supposedly talented needed to be so arrogant.

I paid the breakfast bills and walked out to the parking lot where his blue sports car was parked.  His hatchback was filled with boxes of the bakeware and his Iowa plates confirmed his phony southern accent. He told me to, “hop in and hang on for the ride of my life.”  From the passengers seat I listened to him brag about his charm and uncanny ability to sell his “goods” in less time than the other guys.  He promised we would have plenty of time to soak up the sun.  I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of spending time with Tim soaking up the sun, but thought it best not to burst his enormous ego bubble. On the way to his “territory” he practiced his pitch and told me how the business worked.

The idea was to stop at random businesses and give them the line about an overstocked product and the good deals the company was offering to avoid the cost of shipping the product back to the warehouse.

His pitch went something like this: “Howdy darling.  We had a show down the road and this here bakeware was left over.  Instead of taking the time and expense to ship it back, we’re ‘letting it go’ for only $38 bucks a set. He would only talk to women and feed them garbage lines about their fantastic cooking.  He would flirt and flaunt and I couldn’t believe this guy thought he was smooth. He would finally reach the point in the talk where he asked, “how many would you like, ma’am?” I wondered to myself if this really worked.

At noon, he had smoked his way through a pack of cigarettes, but hadn’t sold a single set of the over-stocked bakeware from the show down the road. He blamed the town for the lack of sales luck, so we left his original territory and drove an hour to shake it up.  We found ourselves in a smaller town where Tim told me it would be easier to sell “less worldly and less educated” folks.

By nightfall he still hadn’t sold a thing. Agitated by the cigarette smoke, his phony southern accent that disappeared when he smoked, and the constant yammer and bragging, I asked him if I could try my hand at sales.  He mocked me, but pulled into a gas station and handed me the glossy pitch sheet.

I approached the man behind the counter and had a brief conversation about the gas station business. I modified Tim’s pitch and showed him the glossy sheet.   I told him about Tim and the dilemma I had found myself in.   When I went out to the sports car to grab a sample box, Tim was smoking a cigarette and seemed annoyed that I had gotten my foot in the door. I took the box inside, showed the guy the goods and negotiated a price for the bulk.

I went back to the car and unloaded the boxes.  Tim refused to help carry boxes, which only strengthened my case with the buyer. When I had delivered the last set, I asked my new friend if he could throw in a soda and a candy bar because my boss in the sports car was too cheap to buy me lunch or help me carry the boxes.

He glanced at Tim and encouraged me to take whatever I needed.  I returned to the sports car with a Kit Kat and diet mountain dew and handed Tim the check for the goods.  He asked if I had gotten him anything and I said, “yep, I paid for your breakfast and sold all your goods. Take me back to my car.”

When we pulled into the parking lot at the hotel, Tim thought it best we leave the details of the day to him and keep the secrets of the day between us. At breakfast the next morning I listened as Tim described the “guppy” who bought all the goods, giving no credit to the gal who made the sale.  When the other salesmen asked how I liked the gig, I told them I thought I could handle it.

When the waitress delivered the breakfast checks, I pushed mine across the table to Tim and said, “you’ll take care of that for me, won’tcha hon?” I winked and walked out to my car.

I was a member of the “adventure crew” for more than a year and look back fondly on what I learned through my travels.

I’ve learned the United States is beautiful and diverse and affords Americans the luxury of prosperity and freedom half the world may never know.  I’ve learned that people can spot a phony and relate to the authentic.

I’ve learned that the pursuit of money should be secondary to the pursuit of purpose and that life is too short to avoid taking risks and looking for adventure.

Recently, I’ve learned that operating from a place of arrogance or fear is never powerful, but acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude are powerful perspectives.

Ten Throws

When I was eight years old, my parents signed me up for city league softball.  We practiced twice a week and played Tuesday night games.  My dad was the assistant coach and it turned out I had inherited his athletic genes.  I had a strong right arm, great hand-eye coordination and quickly took to the bat.

The faster the pitch, the further the ball would sail. My base running, however, was painfully slow.   Many of my “home run” hits turned into singles or doubles because of my lack-of-speed.  My mother tried to focus on the strength of my bat, but I would overhear her talking to other parents about my slow motion run.

My teammates compared me to a cartoon character attempting to run through Acme glue. During one game, I was on second base when cleanup Lori hit a home run and literally walked the bases to touch home plate inches behind me. Deep down, I was embarrassed by my slow speed and compensated with my defensive performance on the field.

I was competitive and hated to lose. I wanted to be where the action was. In this league, it was infield. I played third because I was one of the few who could make the throw to first. I eventually moved to short to cover more ground. I did this by diving, not by running.

When I was ten, my dad moved me to a more competitive league. We would scrimmage local teams during the week, and traveled to tournaments in St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis and Des Moines to play teams from all over the country.

My dad was one of the coaches and generally headed up practices. We always arrived early to set out gear, run bases and get my arm warmed up.  When my teammates arrived, he drilled us on the fundamentals and pushed us to run until we nearly puked.  He was like an Army sergeant and goofing around was banned from the field. This was serious business and he would scream and hit line drives at our heads to keep us on our toes.

For fear I wouldn’t have enough energy to excel, my dad wouldn’t allow me to swim or bike the days I had a game.  Softball became my life.  My summers were no longer about having fun and hanging out with my friends. I missed slumber parties and swimming parties because I was busy traveling with my team. I didn’t take gymnastics during the summer because my time was spent at the ball diamonds.

At tournaments, my father would argue with the umpires on pitches and yell at us from his third base post to “look alive.”  If we were on-deck and didn’t have a practice bat in-hand before the batter in front got to the plate, we would run bases after the game as punishment.

I could see parent’s reactions and after a while, could sense my teammates aggravation with my father’s intensity. I wasn’t invited to ride with other kids to tournaments and we didn’t go out for pizza with the team. No longer was the game about the team camaraderie or the spirit of the sport, it was about winning and advancing to the regional and national tournaments.

Each year, my dad took me to get a new glove and spent weeks breaking it in.  My dad would massage oil into it to soften it up and he made me sleep with it wrapped up tight under my mattress to get it to fit like a glove. My dad’s intensity increased with every season and I was becoming bitter by the imbalance in my life. I resented the stupid, strict schedule and was ashamed of my dad’s temper. I began to lose focus and care less and less about playing. I wasn’t giving my best and it showed up on offense.

We were facing faster pitchers and I was striking out more than I was hitting. I was playing outfield and hating every minute of every game.

Sensing this, my father did what every good father would do – drill me with more softball practice.  One evening in the ally behind our house, my dad made me play catch. The drill was to throw ten consecutive throws into his glove, without making him move an inch to catch it.  If I got nine perfect throws and number ten was too high or low, we began again at one.  My shoulder was on fire from exhaustion and my head and heart were on fire from spite.  I could taste the bile coming up from my stomach and my veins popped with hatred. The more he made me throw, the more pissed off I became.  When the streetlights turned on, I realized the only way out was to get ten in a row, without error.

In my mind, I pictured each ball aimed perfectly for his head, fantasizing he would miss and be knocked unconscious. Even with my arm throbbing, the speed of my throws increased as I attempted to sting his hand.  Unfortunately, that never happened and I eventually threw ten perfect throws. Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I felt defeated and powerless.  In bed that evening, I prayed for lightening to strike our house and kill my dad.

The next summer, I refused to play softball.  I wouldn’t play catch with my dad and spent my time swimming and biking with friends.  In the evening, though, I was forced to go to the ball diamonds and watch my younger sister’s team play.  As much as I enjoyed my freedom, I realized I missed the sport.

I went back to the city league and played for my friend’s father’s team. I shined on the field and at the end of the season, won MVP, but still wasn’t invited to the team pizza party. I later found out it was because the coach didn’t want more sideline advice from my father. Regardless of my potential and desire to play, I chose never to play competitive softball again.

Years later painful memories emerged as I watched my son play baseball for a maniacal parent who volunteered to coach.  I watched with anger as he stripped the fun from the game by drilling the boys with practice and discipline. I verbalized my discontent and nearly pulled Cameron from the team. Instead, I made it an opportunity to demonstrate to my son what it means to commit to a team and respect authority, even when it wasn’t pleasant.  As the season progressed, I had several conversations with the coach about his technique and strategy and learned what fired him up. As it turned out, he sincerely thought he was doing the right thing, regardless of the obvious misdirection.  My son had a terrific season and eventually earned the team’s sportsmanship award for his kind-hearted ways, but that’s another story.

I realized my reaction to the coach’s intensity was triggered by the unexpressed anger and frustration of my youth. I began to examine the experiences of my youth from a detached emotional state and with some help, re-shaped my stories and moved from discontent to acceptance for the coach’s involvement in my life, albeit unbalanced.

Most importantly, I forgave my father and found I appreciated his intensity and perfectionism; attributes he has clearly passed to his children. I realized I am no different than my dad, and for this I am learning to be grateful.  The same intensity that drove him to coach, was the same intensity that drove me to quit.

We’ve both mellowed some and approach life with sensitivity, but I’ve come to appreciate our passionate ways. We are never halfway about anything and that has served us well.  Some will never understand or relate to it, but others connect to the stories in a deep and meaningful way.  Love or hate it, we are driven to push beyond where we’ve been, whatever that looks like for us. My dad did the best he knew; and I’ve done the best I know, and through those experiences, my life has taken shape. By accepting, forgiving and loving him, I accept, forgive and love me.

Forgiveness, Acceptance and Love are Powerful Perspectives — qualities that begin with awareness and move toward love.