I miss you in the margins.

For Mom. I miss you. You were my very favorite kind of crazy.

yellowlamplight

My birthday hurt.

The holidays will be hard.

Mother’s Day will bring me to my knees.

But, more than those times, I will miss you in the margins. Those little places in life that shouldn’t matter, but they do.

When I’m walking to the parking lot and I don’t have to slow down to make sure you’re ok–that you are behind me and making progress. Knowing that if I stop to wait you will also stop and glare at me until I go again. No special treatment for you. No acknowledgment that your steps are slowing. That I might not have you forever.

When I’m shopping and wishing I had just lost you in the aisles like so many times before. Desperately hoping to find you around the next corner enraptured with an olive bar or a new kind of cheese. Or talking to some stranger about Le Mis.

When…

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Pumpkin is Life.

This was my very first blog!

yellowlamplight

I’m not sure I understand life yet.

I love it.

I love fireworks, and baby giggles and the way my dad looked out for my mom.   I love Christmas movies and trips to the zoo and putting my head on my husband’s shoulder.  I love life.  But, I am also aware of how dangerous it is.

There are weapons and bacterias and mosquitos that cause deformity in a baby. A baby. There are real, disgusting, heartless boogie men and people who know this and just don’t care.  There is meanness and knives and cars that wreck.

All of these contrasting things are true about life.  I adore it, but I don’t trust it. I never let my guard down. I really can’t.

In fact, I’ve been thinking lately that life reminds me of a dog we rescued once.  He was cute and little and we even named him Pumpkin…

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That peace.

I grew up as a daddy’s girl.  It was his side of the bed I went to as a little girl when I was sick.  It was his car I looked for in parking lots after school and his shirts I stole to sleep in.  When my family went on a deep sea fishing trip and everyone got violently ill, I left my mom behind and spent the afternoon laying on his stomach above deck with the sun beating down on us both.  Those sounds and smells of that boat–workers yelling and men casting heavy line out into those churning seas and that hot fishy smell- will always be wrapped up with some of my most precious memories of my Dad.  He was my person.

Because of this, I was always fascinated with his faith even when I didn’t share it.  It colored everything in his world.  It affected how he treated my mom, how he conducted himself at work, how he dealt with hitchhikers he happened upon.  Everything was filtered through his faith.  When I was 32 years old, my Dad was diagnosed with a horrible, rare disease that would eventually rob us of his voice, his wisdom, his smile and finally, on a sunny morning in June, him. Long before that morning, my Dad’s faith and I had parted ways.

I was as angry at God as a person could get.  My Dad didn’t deserve to die the way he did and I didn’t want any part of a God that would allow it.  But, the same wasn’t true of my Dad.  Through those six long years, his faith was the same.  Gentle. Sweet. Solid.

One afternoon in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby, I stood beside his car window and helped him pass the time until my mom and sisters were done shopping. At that point, he could no longer walk very well and having conversations with him was hard.  But, tell me I didn’t try?  I did.  Constantly. I knew I was in the last moments with my father.  My Father.  This big man that had always held my heart.  Anything he had to say I wanted to hear.  Anything.  So, leaning against that dusty door and with my hand on his I asked him, “Dad, is your faith ok? Are you angry?” Did I want him to say, “Yes”? Maybe.  That, I would have understood.  He had a right to be angry.  He was almost to retirement.  All of the things he had put off to raise all of us were about to happen.  Fishing trips, vacations with Mom, and more visits with grand babies. It was his time.  Instead, his granddaughter was pulling up his socks and his wife was shaving his face for him.  He had no control over anything.

But, he didn’t say yes.  Instead, he told me that sometimes he thought that all of this was happening because he still had lessons to learn.  A fine tuning of his relationship with the Lord.  Folks, I would like to say I absorbed what he was saying in a wise way.  But, I didn’t.  My temper flared on a level my Mom would have applauded.  “Dad, how can you even say that?  If you don’t have this figured out then none of us do! That’s the craziest thing I have ever heard.  You are perfect.” Except, there were cuss words involved. Lots of cuss words.  Normally, I would have never talked that way in front of my Dad, but there wasn’t any normal left to be had. I was just so pissed off.

But in that moment, like so many others, my Dad absorbed my immaturity with love and grace.  He slowly brought his arm from the other side of the car to pat my hand that was resting on his.  I can still see his big hand covering mine. And then, with his painfully slow speech he said,   “It’s ok.  My worries never touch that peace.” I knew immediately what he was talking about.  I had grown up hearing that phrase my whole life. When bills couldn’t be paid, when cars broke down, when Mom lost her folks, when He lost jobs. The peace that passeth all understanding.  It’s what my Dad treasured the most about his faith and I had no clue what it really meant. I understood the idea of it, but never the reality.  I cried that day in that Hobby Lobby parking lot and many times after that because I knew I didn’t understand.  And, then, my dad was gone.  A hysterical voice mail on my phone from my Mom confirmed it.  “We lost him Jean Ann. We lost him.” There isn’t a word in the universe that I could type here that would describe that feeling.  I woke up in a world every morning that didn’t contain my Dad.  He was gone.

I went to his funeral. Both of them. I listened to people talk about him.  The stories of him encouraging them and helping them and housing them and changing their lives and I knew it was his faith.  His relationship with his God.  A God that I had sometimes claimed, but didn’t really know.  So, I drove back to Houston with my husband and daughter and a empty heart.  I was swept clean and I had no idea what to do about it.

If you could read my journals from those days you would know how lost I was.  They are full of furious, one-sided, arguments with God.  It hurts me to type this, but I hated Him.  With everything in me.  I hated God and, to deal with that, I walked away from everything I had ever been taught and decided there was no God. But, I still hated.  Then, one day as I was driving down the freeway, a little voice presented itself to me,  “How can you hate someone who isn’t real?”

I’m trying to find the words to bring you into that moment with me.  How huge it was.

It was a dirty windshield, and a mini-van ahead with a “My kid is an honor-student.” bumper sticker, and the universe shifting on its’ axles and the beginning of everything that matters to me now. In that moment, my soul finally acknowledged that God was real and that I had to deal with Him. Really deal with Him.  Not pretend.  Not perform. Not promise. There was this real God out there who knew the real me and we had some things to work out.

I started back at the very beginning.  I was raised in a Christian home and attended more Sunday School classes than anybody should.  I went to Church Camp and Petra concerts and Friday night pizza parties at the local Baptist Church.  I knew the lingo but not the Lord.  So, I decided to fight with God for real.  I checked out book after book about every practiced religion known to man. I wanted to know what everyone else believed. I researched every “gotcha” I thought existed with the Christian faith.  I drove three hours to a particular bookstore to pick up a book I was sure would provide proof that there was absolutely no God.  It didn’t. Nothing did.

And, during that entire time, I took my daughter to church.  I was determined she would be in church even if I was screwed up.  I was hoping she could find what my Dad had even if I couldn’t.  Somewhere, in all of that turmoil, my journal entries changed.  They were no longer written to a God who didn’t exist and that I hated, but to one that was very real and that I needed.  I knew He was there.  I could feel Him.  Not just in church, or when I was reading my Bible, or when I got the best parking place, but in everything.  He was huge.  He was precious.  He was all I wanted.  But, I wasn’t sure He wanted me.

I couldn’t get past the feeling that I had somehow wasted the gift of being raised by my Dad.  And my Mom.  I had grown up in a home where God was celebrated and I had missed it.  Taken it for granted.  Treated it cheaply.  And, I had done so many things that I knew had grieved both of my Fathers.  In short, I sucked. And, again, I had no clue how to get past it.  I was stuck in a never-ending self punishment.  There was no forgiveness for me.  I was doomed to a life without God and I knew that was the worst thing that could happen to anyone.

Then, one day, that small voice presented itself to me again.  “Do you really believe I don’t love you?”  And, in an instant, I didn’t.  I didn’t believe it.  I knew God loved me.  And I knew I loved Him. And life changed.  Forever.

If I could, I would go back to that day in the parking lot and take my Dad’s face between both of my hands and I would kiss him and tell him, “Daddy, I feel it.  I feel the peace. God found me.” And, I would be telling the truth.

Since I lost my Dad, some really awful things have happened.  Happened even after I thought my family had endured all that we could.  My Mom got cancer and beat it. And then got it again. And, I cried in even more parking lots and elevators and, on occasion, HEB. And then, on another June morning,  I lost her too.  I’ve sat in an examining room and had my doctor, with her kind eyes and high- lighted hair, tell me I had Lupus.  I’ve buried friends and been helpless as I’ve watched others live through hell. I’ve watched the news and read Facebook and anguished at how we all hurt each other.  I’ve had to watch young people I love find really spectacular ways to hurt themselves and their future.  Divorce and affairs and drugs.  Miscarriages, abortions, floods and heartache.  The world is a scary, sad place sometimes, but, through it all, I have this little flicker of peace. A small place that says no matter what God loves me.

No matter what I do.  No matter what the President does or who the President is. No matter what my bank account says.  No matter illness or heartbreak or loss.  God loves me.

And, the really amazing thing, is that that knowledge is not just for me.  It changes who I am.  It changes the world.  Because God loves me, I am indifferent to no-one. I can’t be. Your pain is my pain.  Your problems are my problems. Your sin is my sin. We have to find our way together. We are His beloved.  All of us. And, yes, that includes you.  He loves you no matter what you have done or what you are doing this morning.

Throw it out there.  The biggest, darkest, most awful thing you have ever done and it is no match for God.  He can love it all away.  All of it.  Even if you’ve hated Him for a long time, and filled up little blue journals with page after page of how unfair He is.  Even if you’ve never taken one minute to stop and fight with Him or wonder about Him or even question whether He’s real.  Literally, no matter what, He loves you.

I’m not saying that it will be easy.  That you won’t still have a temper, or a sailor-mouth, or a drug problem, or a boyfriend on the side, but from the moment you enter into a real relationship with God and leave all else behind you will begin on a journey that will change you and the world around you. He won’t leave you where you start. And, for every success you have, you will want more. You will come to crave those moments that you find yourself more like Him and less like you. You will find yourself willingly walking away from everything you used to hold valuable for a closer walk with Him.

Someday, you might even find yourself, in a parking lot dying from a disease that takes you bit by bit, and you will still be talking to your lost daughter about the peace that passeth all understanding.   And, she will listen through her tears and hurt and foul language and a seed will be planted.  And, because the Lord adores you, it will bear fruit. And the Lord will let her be lost and angry until He finds her and changes everything.  Then, the true adventure will start.

And, through it all, that little flame of peace will burn.  The peace that passeth all understanding.  A precious gift from a Father who adores you and longs for you.

Richard

fullsizeoutput_296fI used to tell anyone that would listen that I never wanted to get married.  “I’m selfish,” I would say.  And, I was completely serious. I really didn’t want to get married. I didn’t want to take care of anyone and I didn’t want to risk that feeling where you are all in.  One hundred percent, no holds barred, in.  All of that felt way too real to me.  I wanted to care about fewer people and not more.  That felt safer. I was young when I got married, but I had already been to too many tragic funerals.  You could lose people you loved and that terrified me.

Then, one January afternoon at a church Super Bowl party, I met my husband.  I was seconds away from leaving to head to a bar and the crowd stood up and the people shifted and there he was.  Him.  I was introduced, shook his hand, and had an instant feeling of recognition.  “There you are.” my heart said.  I went home that day and told my Grandma I had met the man I was going to marry.  She shook her head and flapped her dish towel at me.  “Oh Jean Ann, you don’t even know if he’s a good one.”  But, she was wrong.  I did know.  I knew that first day I met him and I still know today.

I knew because I watched him take up his space in the world in that quiet, I don’t need the spotlight, way that he has and I understood how rare that was even that first day.  I knew because I watched him give his son permission to go outside to play and then, as we talked, watch him every second without making a big deal out of it.  I knew because I saw him check quietly with the single mom in the group to make sure she had money to cover her lunch at the restaurant we all went to.  That’s what he does.  He goes through life quietly, doing tiny things that mean everything to those lucky enough to live life with him.

I am blessed to be one of those people.  Through our 26 years I have been the recipient of so many small, calm gifts of love from him.  The day he called me in the grocery store and told me to add more pie crusts to my Thanksgiving shopping because he had just sent my Mom and sisters money to come for the holiday.  The moment in the elevator when we looked at each other over my Mom’s head understanding her cancer was back and it wasn’t going away this time. He never said a word, but he grabbed my hand to keep me from falling apart and told her she looked pretty in her hat.  She looked up from her wheelchair and grinned her famous mischievous grin and I breathed again.  The days he spent lining my Dad up with fishing gear and climbing a roof so Dad didn’t have to and mowing his lawn when he couldn’t.  All of the mornings that he has gathered up his keys and his wallet and made sure he had his mug of coffee so he could leave to go to work and take care of us.  He goes through his days taking care of his folks.  It’s who he is.  But, the thing I am most amazed by is that he will never mention any of it.  His good things are never talked about by him. He’s under the radar kind.  And folks, that is the best kind of kind.  In fact, he’ll be mad at me for writing this.  He doesn’t need a lot of fanfare.  He’s just solid and quiet and good.

But, in all fairness, I don’t think I always remember this.  I get irritated at him.  I want him to do things my way.  I’m a jerk. And, I don’t think I am alone in this.  I think we all tend to take our people for granted.  It’s almost a defense mechanism.  If we understood, everyday,  just how amazing the Richards in our life are it would be too much to take. Too much emotion to handle with chores and bills and everything else going on.  But, on a rare day, I think God allows me to fully understand what I have in my sweet husband.  And yesterday, his birthday,  was one of those days.  We had plans to go to lunch with friends that got rained out and then we lost electricity.  I had no present for him, because he couldn’t think of anything he wanted–even after a trip to the Guitar Center.  So, we ended up eating a fast-food burger and then he played his guitar while it poured outside.  It wasn’t exactly a momentous birthday.  But, the last thing he said to me before he went to bed was, “Man, babe, what a good day it was.  I got to go to church and facetime Everett and hang out with you and play my guitar.  It was one of those normal days that’s wonderful. ” Then, he smiled his smile and went off to bed. I sat in my chair tearing up and fully getting it.

He’s a keeper, this sweet man of mine.  And, so I will. I’ll keep him in every way I can.  Keep him the center of my focus.  Keep him in my prayers.  Keep him, as much as possible, from heartache.  And, hopefully, God gives me lots of days where I feel it right down to my toes how lucky I am to have met him and recognized him and to have stood there on that March afternoon with him holding my shaking hands in his warm, strong ones as we joined our lives forever.  He’s my guy and I am better and blessed because of it.  If I had any other wish for our future, it would be that I would become more like him.   I could do with a little quietness and gentleness. Less of a need for fanfare.  More good works that nobody ever knows about. I’m stealing his birthday wish and hoping all of that will come true.  Come to think of it, maybe it is his wish too. I say this because I think there is a good chance that I am difficult. But, even if I am (I am) he’ll love me anyway.  That is also what he does.  He loves me.

Thank God.

Literally.

Labels.

I have a friend on Facebook that I enjoy.  We have nothing in common.  I’m in my fifties and he’s almost half that.  I am a grandparent and married and have a mortgage, and he is young and single and just starting his career.  I am a Christian and he is an atheist.  On paper, we have absolutely nothing in common. We are probably on opposite sides of every issue that enrages people these days.  And yet, I like him.  I like him a lot.  He’s funny. He has a huge heart.  He’s someone who looks out for the underdog; whether they are furry or human. A few years ago, he started a campaign to create snack bags for homeless people he saw daily on his way to work. His humanity is warm and real and a balm to those who know him. And, I hope he feels this same way about me. But, honestly, I’m not sure. I’m not sure because I find myself wondering if he knows that every time he posts something really hateful about Christians he is posting it about me.  I am the person in the cartoon he posts of the Christian ignoring the orphans or ogling a young child out in public.  Every time he promotes the idea that Christians are hateful and hypocritical and disingenuous he is saying those things about me.  And, then I wonder, is that really his opinion of me?  Does he believe that I don’t care about people who are suffering?  Does he believe that I hate people?  Does he believe that I want to feel superior or am delusional and that is why I practice my faith? Does he, on some level and despite our friendship, hate me personally? Or, is it just easier to apply one label to a group of people and lump them all in together? I don’t know.  I do know that our friendship has included none of the things that he ascribes to Christians in general and I don’t think he would apply them to me, but the posts keep coming. And they hurt.  So, what do I do with this relationship?  Do I sever it? Throw it away?  I have no desire to do that. I don’t want to lose him.  Besides, if I apply that standard, I would also have to sever my relationship with my friend of a different political leaning.  If I were the person he posts about, I would also be morally deficient.  According to his posts concerning my political party, I am delusional and uneducated and don’t care about the less fortunate.  In short, I am a horrible person.  But, I know he knows that isn’t true. We have life memories together.  Laughter and tears and warmth flow between us.  And yet, he still posts things with a label that includes me.  Me.  The person he has known for years.  The person with yellowed pictures of him in my hope chest where I keep my most precious memories. His friend. Then, I find myself wondering if I do the same thing?  Do I post things that hurt people?  That labels them in a way I know isn’t true?  And not just any people, but people I love.  People I know. Know that they collect teacups, or spend Thursdays with their Grandma or will drop everything to help me if I need it.  I don’t want to buy the lie that they are bad people.  I don’t want to accept an opinion of them that I have not formed myself.  I sure as heck don’t want to promote someone else’s opinion of them.  I want to remember the faces behind the labels.  The memories.  The inside jokes. The humanity.  I’m not going to lie–this is a big job. A hard one. Sometimes, my finger hovers above the un-friend button. It would be such a relief to not sign into Facebook and see things that hurt me.  Or disturb me.  Or challenge me.  But, what would I lose?  I would lose friends.  People who are dear to me.  People who are more than their religion or life style or political affiliation.  So, I read the article or take in the cartoon and I grieve. I grieve for what we are allowing others to say about our friends.  I grieve for labels we are willing to apply to hearts we love. I grieve for all that we are losing. I grieve that we have lost the ability to disagree civilly. And, mostly, I grieve that I am a part of any of it.  But, I also accept that I really don’t want to miss the baby pictures or job announcements or first snowfalls.  So, I sign in everyday and hope for the best and try not to be part of the problem.  Try not to label and try not to hurt.  And, sometimes, I fail at all three.  But, hopefully, my friends love me enough to remember that I have a grandson I adore, and that I recycle and that I am a confirmed goofball. And, hopefully, they remember that we love each other. And that I would drop everything to help them if they needed it. And that I would much rather they debate me than unfriend me.

My friend’s sons.

fullsizeoutput_4530I met my best friend when I was eleven.  Awkward with boy-short hair and no clue how to fit into my new town.  That was me.  I had already survived a whole year in a small town where everyone was related but me.  To have her move in down the street was a godsend. I can’t tell you what it meant.  Obvious things like a place to go on long summer afternoons.  Someone to watch Bozo the clown with before school.  A best friend that would stay my best friend for decades.  Long past the moment we blew past that city limit sign for the last time.  What I didn’t know then was how much I would love her children.  Three boys.  A perfect foil to my daughter who was as reserved and bookish as they were wild and boisterous.  They all loved each other almost immediately.  Almost.  There were some adjustments and some bumps in the road, but now they are family. We go to their graduations and one-act plays and have watched too many basketball games to number.  They were all three in my daughter’s wedding and they were among the first people to hold her new son.  I have pictures of them all there proudly holding this little person wrapped up in a blanket with a tiny scrunched-up face. They look as proud as his mama. They look as proud as their mama.  They are the pictures of a family.  Not one any of us were born into.  But, one that we have all created by choice.  Created over hours spent around a shiny wooden table laughing and eating chips and salsa and talking about everything imaginable.  Created on New Year’s Eves when we all played games until we dissolved into hysterics and lost the whole point of whatever game we were playing.    Created through sweet text messages from awkward young men trying to comfort us as we were losing my mom.  Created by showing up for each other for the good times and the bad.  For new loves and lost loves.  For new apartments and moving days. For awesome concerts and long days shopping and trips to the beach.   When I look into the future, I see us all continuing to cross the miles and being ok with missing important homecomings for a wedding and lifting refrigerators and transporting crazy cats. When Everett turns one I will expect a family picture of all of us.  Smiling and gathered around this little boy that has become part of this crazy family we have created.  And, that will just be the first of many future family pictures. Family pictures that just get bigger.  We are adding people in.  Husbands and girl friends and other best friends and lots of dogs!  I love that.  Bring it all on. Messy and joyful and wonderful. We have two graduations looming and lots of exciting opportunities for everyone around the corner. There will be more moves, and probably some hard times and probably lots more dogs.  We will take it in stride and drive to where we need to be and celebrate or commiserate. We will be a family no matter what.  I know that for sure.  A crazy family that spent precious minutes and hours around a table eating Troy’s quesadillas and green dip and teasing each other and laughing and, most of all, becoming us. Us with our intensity, and inside jokes and ability to make any new person coming in stop for a second and wonder if there is a place for them.  There is.  It might just take a minute.  But, we are worth it.  I promise. We will drive you crazy, but, man, will we love you. And, sometimes, on a good night there will be a confessional. Trust me, you don’t want to miss one of those.

My friend Brenda.

Nobody would ever call me a feminist. No poster board signs decrying the treatment of women are stuffed in the back of my closet waiting for the next march in Washington. No pink hats in my past or future.  Nothing that would make Ashley Judd tear up or give a speech.  Honestly, I have known too many good men in my life to ever jump on the bandwagon of women are inherently better just because they are women.  I have known some truly awful humans that happened to be female and some truly great people who happened to be male.  I prefer to judge people by the quality of their character.  I want to know what their middle is made of.  This brings me to my friend Brenda.

Brenda has been dealt an unfair hand.  Her husband that she was married to for forty- plus years walked out on her.  He walked out on their history and future.  He walked out on their traditions.  He walked out on their kids and grandkids.  He walked out on the space that they had created together in this crazy, scary world.  Their safe little circle they came home to at the end of every day no longer exists.

In fact, it has been obliterated.  Brenda had no choice but to sell their home and furniture and Christmas decorations.  Mostly, everything that was part of that old life had to be sold to cobble together a future for Brenda.  A future and a life that Brenda certainly never imagined she would be asked to live.  It will be a future in an efficiency apartment in a new city with new doctors and new neighbors and even a new grocery store to get used to.  It will be hard.  And lonely.  And I’m angry that she has to do it all.  I’ve been struggling to understand how best to help my friend navigate this new path her ex-husband’s choice forged for her.  Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve done a good job.  I tried.  But, it’s hard.  It’s hard because it’s so huge.  How do you ever process the loss of over forty years with someone?  Especially when they choose to leave?

Sit with that for a minute.

It’s almost overwhelming.  To ask someone to do it at a time in life when most of us are slowing down and relaxing into our relationships is just mind boggling.

Then, the other day I was out shopping for presents for my sweet friend before she moved.  I happened to draw the most talkative cashier in the world as I was checking out.   She wanted to know who I was shopping for.  Were the gifts for Christmas?  Would the person be excited?  I was tired, and before I knew it I found myself telling her they were for my friend whose marriage had fallen apart after 44 years and that we were having a going-away party for her that night.  This nice lady with the Christmas tree pin just blinked at me.  She didn’t know where to go next in the conversation.  She shook her head and said, “She won’t survive that.”  I took my receipt and went to my car and cried.  But, somewhere in those tears came this small still certainty that has been growing ever since.

The talkative lady with the Christmas tree pin is wrong. Flat wrong.

Brenda is going to survive. I know this without a doubt. Heck, she already has.  She made hard decisions and sold her home and said good-bye to beloved neighbors.  She toured apartments and loaded a moving truck and is planning to spend Christmas in a new zip code.  My amazing friend is definitely going to survive.

But, more than surviving, I believe Brenda will thrive.  Her old house was one of her grandkids’ favorite places to be.  They had sleepovers and treasured traditions and I would bet money she will create that same feeling in her new apartment.  I’m going to guess her little guest room will be one of their new favorite places to be.  She and I spent afternoons cooking in her last kitchen.  Well, she cooked and I talked her ear off and then she sent me home with plates of treats.  Chances are that will happen again someday in her new city and her new kitchen, because she will make sure I feel welcome there and I can promise I will get tired of not seeing her.  She’s the kind of person you get in your car and drive five hours to see.  I believe she will find a new church and she will befriend her neighbors that need her and she will laugh and she will make new friends.

All of this will happen because, with everything that was smashed and shattered and taken away from her, nobody can take who she is in her middle away from her.  She is kind and family centered and a good friend.  She is Brenda and she’s totally kick-ass and I love her.  So, I guess I would make a sign and put on a hat and go march in a parade for her.  Not just because she makes me proud to be a woman, but because she makes me proud to be a human.  You got this friend.