Saturday, March 6, 2010

An Honest Voice

""You're wishin' too much baby. You gotta' stop wearin' your wishbone where your backbone oughta be!" -Richard from Texas.
The world lost an extraordinary and honest voice this past week when Richard Vogt, a man made famous as, "Richard from Texas", a real life character in the memoir Eat, Pray, Love passed away suddenly in his sleep Thursday. His prominence would have been markedly less were it not for his implausible ability to shelf the appeal for pretty words and plainly say what he was feeling - a notion I sadly feel is fading into obscurity more every day. Among his many brilliant witticisms he said, "Sure those gremlins still gnaw at my heels but I keep kicking them aside". And isn’t that the objective anyway – to be better than what’s getting the better of us?

A little known fetish of mine, of which I am very proud, is my fascination with the origin of phrases and by fascination I mean I find it interesting not that it occupies time I don't have. In the 1800’s boots had a kind of tab or loop at the top known as bootstraps which allowed the wearer leverage in pulling the boots on. The phrase "to pull yourself up by your bootstraps" was conceived to metaphorically refer to an impossible mission or to convey the idea of bettering oneself without the aid of external assistance. It was the equivalent of saving oneself from drowning by pulling ones own hair.

Improbable though it may be, I like the suggestion of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and Richard Vogt must have too. His hard-hitting cowboy love had a candor and truthfulness that made anyone who heard him want to do better for themselves. Some people have the ability to comfort others while not allowing them to go headlong into the chasm of self pity. These are the people who truly care for us.

In my experience there are three types of nurturers: the Enablers, the Hallmarkers and- in deference to the character we lost- the Cowboys. The Enablers need our depression. It’s a pillow top mattress into which they can contentedly fall. Our weakness minimizes their own, so they comfort us in our time of need all the while ensuring we become more deeply mired every step of the way in our own circumstance. The Hallmarkers are the card senders. Sorry for your loss. Their concern is genuine, but your pain does not supersede their children’s soccer schedule. The Cowboys are those who allow us to feel, but then spend the energy and invest in us enough to pull us out and back into the light.

Many years ago during our first misstep into foster parenting we were in the process of losing the first baby we set out to adopt. This was a baby born to a drug addicted mother and prior to the turn of events we were told by numerous attorneys that this adoption would go through. I will pause here to tell you that, as the parent of biological children, I can say unequivocally that the love you feel for a child you have raised from birth -biologically yours or not- is the same. Losing this baby was killing me slowly and surely. At this stage we had been told that the baby would be placed with biological family that had surfaced and had expressed an interest in adopting her. (Foster parents have no rights in this case.) During a candid and emotional conversation with the DCF Resource Coordinator, AKA “the woman who had gotten me into this mess”, she gave me a piece of the best advice I have even been given. A bit of cowboy logic, if you will.

She suggested I pick a sensible timeframe that was fair to me and to my family - three to five days- and allow myself the privilege of falling apart. She invited me to be reckless within reason, shop excessively, cry, scream, eat, whatever I needed to do to grieve, and then, pick myself up by the bootstraps. I think about that little girl often now and there was additional grieving that needed to happen, but the concept worked and the advice was compassionate and sound.

Things do not always turn out as we plan. Fields that looked wide open from the sky turn out to have barbed wire fences stretched across them as we attempt to set down our troubled airplane. People we trusted with our hearts sometimes unexpectedly mistake those very hearts for baby fur seals. And, as Richard Vogt’s Texas eloquence offered, the gremlins do continue to gnaw at our heels. But even when we don’t feel safe and our back is exposed during one long mad season we do have to persist and keep kicking them aside.

"Everyday when you wake up ask yourself, 'Am I going to be happy or miserable today?' Take it from me -choose happiness - I always do." - Richard from Texas*

*quotes were taken from

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