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Just One Shoe

I noticed the shoe just after dawn. It was lying on the gravel in a weedy, deserted parking area.

It certainly wasn’t the only single, abandoned shoe I’ve ever noticed. Over the decades, I’ve seen more lonely shoes in random places than I can possibly remember.

But this shoe caught my attention because it triggered a memory about something that happened in almost that exact same location last summer.

In both cases, I was peddling my bike down a straight stretch of road after conquering a particularly long and steep hill.

But that time, I wasn’t alone on the road. Instead, three bedraggled teenagers with two suitcases and an extremely, unenthusiastic dog were trudging along the shoulder. As I rode by, the boy yelled at me to stop.

My curiosity outweighed any concerns I should have had, so I obeyed.

“Hey, is this the way to Oregon?” the boy asked. In one hand, he was holding a rope that was tied loosely around his poor dog’s neck. One of the suitcases sat at his feet.

“Where?” I asked. We were currently standing on a rural road in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. People with no motor vehicle generally don’t ask directions to a state that is 2,500 miles away.

“Oregon,” he repeated.

“The state?” I asked.

One of the girls gave me a look I knew well. It’s the one every teenager gives a clueless adult.

“Yes,” she said. “We are going to the state of Oregon.”

When I asked why, I was rewarded with the same look again. “Because we want to,” she replied.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, that’s a really long way to walk.”

“We’ve already come all the way from Hagerstown,” the boy announced proudly. “Are we going in the right direction?”

Since Hagerstown was only 20 miles away, his efforts to impress me weren’t very successful. At the same time, they were heading northwest. So that’s what I told them.

They seemed satisfied with my answer, thanked me, and continued their walk down the road. On my return about 20 minutes later, they were still trudging along. I waved, and they waved back.

Shortly after I passed them, I noticed one of their suitcases on the side of the road. My first thought was that it must have gotten quite heavy. My second thought was relief that at least they hadn’t abandoned the dog. And my third thought was to wonder how much more they would abandon before they simply abandoned hope of getting to Oregon.

Or maybe, against all odds, they actually did get there.

I’ll never know.

For a few a days after our encounter, I paid attention to the news in case there were any reports of three missing or runaway teens. There weren’t any.

And so, I forgot about them. At least, I forgot about them until the sight of that shoe last Monday morning reminded me of the discarded suitcase, those kids, and of impossible dreams.

For years, I’ve considered single, lost shoes – or other personal items – on the side of the road as a mystery. I’ve never understood how a person could just lose one shoe or why they wouldn’t go back to get it.

Maybe what I’ve been missing is that, to the owners, the shoe wasn’t important. It was an item that could be replaced. For them, going back for one thing wasn’t nearly as important as moving forward down the road of life – wherever it may go and toward whatever dreams they were following.

Personally, I’ve spent too much time looking for things I’ve lost only to lose sight of where I wanted to go.

But this past week, the sight of just one shoe served as a reminder that getting where we want to go sometimes requires letting go of what we already have.

Stop Making It About the Money

(Domenico Stinellis/AP)

So yeah. First Lady Melania Trump wore a really expensive jacket during her visit to Italy last week. The Dolce & Gabbana she sported in Sicily basically cost as much as I make during an entire year.

Stop right there.

I hope you didn’t start calculating my salary along with my education and my years of experience and then judge me based on my earnings.

But if you did, I understand. That’s what most Americans do.

We tend to equate the size of a person’s salary or bank account with success. If someone makes a lot of money, that must mean they’ve done something right… they’ve applied themselves and persevered. And if they are poor?  They obviously need to try harder.

In reality, that’s completely ridiculous. I’m not rich for a lot of different reasons: I wasn’t born into a wealthy family and having a high paying job was never my priority. I wanted to do work that I found satisfying and meaningful, which is how I landed in social work. I will never garner a big salary, but I’m actually a very hard worker.

On the flip side, Melania Trump became a model and then she married a super rich guy. Those were her choices, and I shouldn’t judge her for them just as I hope people don’t judge me for mine. If she weren’t married to the President of the United States, the cost of her jacket certainly wouldn’t be making headlines nor would people be citing her expensive choices as reprehensible in light of her husband’s proposed budget and stance on social benefit programs.

Don’t get me wrong.

I understand the outcry. I too am completely appalled by Trump and his proposed budget. And yes, I admit that I can’t help but believe that Trump has no sympathy for the poor partly because he can’t relate to their situation.

But equating the size of the Trumps’ bank accounts to his proposed budget is as irrelevant as claiming our social and budget problems are the fault of poor people who don’t try hard enough. President John Kennedy and Senator Jay Rockefeller also came from wealth,  yet they always took into consideration the least among us.

Being wealthy and being able to pay $51,500 for one article of clothing have nothing to do with a commitment to help our less fortunate neighbor.

Being a person of wealth doesn’t mean you lack compassion for the poor any more than living in poverty means you expect society to support you. Of course there are rich people who only think about themselves just as there are poor people who want to “live off the system.”

But stereotyping and making assumptions does no one any good.

Money doesn’t define us. The way we treat our fellow human beings does.

Our role in life is to support each other and to call out those who don’t. It’s that simple.

Some of us can help because we have plenty of money to meet our own needs and enough to help others. Others can give our time and our God-given talents to mentor, teach, or guide those who need extra assistance. And all of us can raise our voices in support of those who need us most.

It’s just not about the money.

It should never be about the money, and none of us should care how much anyone else spends for clothes.

With that said, I have to admit that even if I had $51,500 to spend on one jacket, it would look absolutely nothing like Melania’s, which I think is ugly and obnoxious.

But there is nothing wrong with judging an item of clothing.

It’s the people who wear the clothes who shouldn’t be evaluated based on appearances alone.

In the Bushes

Amid the multitude of facts, opinions and news stories whirling around Donald Trump’s latest bizarre, unprecedented and seemingly self-serving action (that would be the firing of FBI Director James Comey if you aren’t even sure to which of his latest actions I am referring), one piece of the story has lingered with me.

I just can’t shake the image of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes to avoid a direct confrontation with reporters seeking more information.

I have no doubt my obsession is linked to a memory from my childhood and my need to uncover the truth.

My story begins when my parents purchased our house in a rural, Central Oregon town  As part of the transaction, they had gotten a history from the seller, whose family had been the original owners. According to my mom, the seller’s father had “died in the bushes.”

I was six years old at the time, and the line of ornamental bushes that spanned the front of the house ran directly under my bedroom window. For months I was obsessed with the fact that a man had died in those bushes.

I would crawl under them trying to find any sign of either a dead body or, at least, some indication that a man had spent his last moments there. Even though I got nothing, I kept searching in hopes that some clue as to the man’s fate would emerge.

Then one day, my mom found me in the bushes and asked what I was doing.

“You said the man who used to live here died in the bushes,” I told her with all of the solemness that first-grade me could muster.

She had no idea what I was talking about. Only later did I discover that she had used the term “in the bushes” as a euphemism for alcoholism.

I’m now fifty years old, and I’ve never heard anyone else use that term in that way. But that doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the term “in the bushes” has stuck with me for 44 years because it represents my passion for always pursuing the truth.

Which is why Sean Spicer ducking into the bushes to avoid facing reporters is not only completely ironic, it is more revealing than any lie Donald Trump could ever tell.

People in the public eye want to tell their side of the story. They want to share their opinions and the opinions of those they represent. They want to show evidence of what happened in the bushes and why it happened.

Unless, of course, the bushes are just a way of hiding the truth… be it the ugly truth of an addict who succumbed to a disease or that of an unqualified businessman who bedazzled voters with his wealth, his double speak, and his complete disregard for the truth.

But here’s the thing: when six-year-old me finally got the real facts from my mom, I stopped wasting my time under bushes and decided to devote more time to climbing trees.

Because when you climb trees, your perspective is so much better than the one you get crawling under (or hiding in) a bush.

And not only can you see what is actually occurring around you, you are also putting yourself out in the open for everyone else to see.

And that is what truth is all about.

 

Close EnCOWnters (Pun intended)

Here are a few of my favorite things:

  • Animals
  • Riding my bike
  • Taking time to enjoy the awesome beauty of nature
  • Having a good story to tell

Here’s what I’m known for:

  • Having random weird stuff happen to me on a regular basis

Thankfully, that random weird stuff often involves animals that I encounter as I’m riding my bike while enjoying nature. Those events, in turn, generally make for a good story.

Take, for example, what happened Wednesday night as I neared the end of an otherwise uneventful 16-mile bike ride. I was zipping along a flat, straight stretch of road that runs parallel to a large cow pasture when something unusual happened.

I’ve ridden by that pasture hundreds of time, and the cows have never demonstrated the least bit of interest in me. Even when I’ve belted out Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes such as “Oklahoma”and “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin” they have remained unimpressed while they chewed their cud.

But not on Wednesday.

On Wednesday I didn’t even have to sing to grab their attention. In fact, I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. I was just peddling along when a big white cow with black spots started chasing me.

I’ve never seen a cow move that fast, and I wanted to know why.

And so, I stopped to ask.

But the cow didn’t provide any explanation as to why she felt the need to stalk me.

When I went up to the fence to question her, she didn’t udder (pun intended) a sound. Instead, she started licking me.

She licked my hands. She licked my stomach (or at least my shirt over my stomach). She licked my leg (or at least the pants over my leg). She licked my shoes then she licked my ankle (she really licked my ankle – not just my sock).

She even tried to chase away the other cows who, like me, had become curious as to her motives.

But, after I scolded her for not playing well with others, she allowed the other cows to join us at the fence.

I literally had a whole herd of cows at my fingertips when I finally realized I needed photos to document my whole “cow whisperer” experience.

Taking pictures on my phone with a herd of cows jostling around wasn’t exactly easy, but I got a few.

Not until I got home and was looking at those pictures did I realized two things.

First, not one photo captured the essence of the moment. Sure, some gave a glimpse into it, but none captured the actual experience. That’s because truly magical moments have nothing to do with what is seen by the eye and everything to do with what is felt by the heart and soul.

And second, I’ll probably never experience something like that again. No matter how many times I ride my bike by that field and no matter how loudly I sing to those cows, they will probably never come running again. (My singing might actually make them run in the other direction.) But even if they do come running, their actions won’t be nearly as remarkable. Remarkable moments, like remarkable people, can’t be duplicated. And, like people, the more unique they are, the more they should be treasured.

But here’s the thing: whether or not the cows and I now have some kind of undefinable relationship, they are now on my growing list of favorite things.

And anyone or anything that goes on that list will forever be part of not only a good story but of my life story. And that, in itself, is magical to me.

 

 

 

Pictures at the Porta Potty

Some people would have been offended by the text message I received yesterday morning:  “Every time I see a porta potty, I think of  you, Trina.”

That text was quickly followed by one from the other person in the group: “Me too.”

But I wasn’t upset. Instead, I texted back “It’s my legacy.”

And I wasn’t kidding.

For the past few weeks, a porta potty has literally been keeping me sane during long, stressful hours at the office. And it hasn’t just been a constant source of entertainment, it’s been a reminder about humanity and finding joy wherever we can.

When the porta potty first appeared outside the Catholic Church directly across the street from my office, I was confused. I wasn’t sure if the church was providing a new public service or was having plumbing issues.

As it turns out, it was both.

The church is having its bathrooms renovated, and the porta potty is the interim plumbing solution.

And while I’m fairly certain it was never intended to be a social gathering place, I am absolutely convinced no one thought it would become a source of entertainment. Yet,that is exactly what it has provided for me and my colleagues. (Although I have no doubt that they are more entertained by my obsession with it as they are with what is actually happening across the street.).

But I’m not the only one who has become fascinated by its popularity. While I was pondering why it had become a social gathering place, one of my colleagues had started a running tally of all of the random people using it.

We also wondered about the shoe lying outside of it on a Monday morning, which prompted a story
about a wine bottle that had been in that same space during church services the day before. We watched municipal employees and homeless individuals take advantage of the same service.

One day, we noticed that the trash cans lined up near it resembled the children in the “Sound of Music” singing at the command of, well Maria Van Porta Potty.

The rest of the office was highly amused the day I cringed in embarrassment after two men looked up at my window and waved  as I snapped yet another picture with my phone.

But, most importantly, we’ve laughed at our (my?)  obsession with the blue box across the street.

And I’ve  needed those laughs.

My job involves working with people who are already disenfranchised at a time when they are being threatened and marginalized more than ever. The office budget is tight and getting tighter. I have to deal with tough situations and difficult people on a daily basis. And yet, that porta potty has provided several reminders:

  1. Even though life sometimes stinks, it is sometimes, gloriously comical.
  2. No matter how our culture divides and labels people, in the end we all have the same, basic needs.
  3. One of life’s greatest mysteries remains the puzzle of those single shoes left in random places.
  4. Other people are incredibly interesting when they think no one else is watching.
  5.  Laughter isn’t just the best medicine, it’s the best way to get through life. Finding joy in the mundane, routine, and sometimes difficult challenges of life isn’t optional. It’s an absolute necessity.

I know the porta potty will soon disappear from my life, but something tells me I’ll find some other source of entertainment. It is, after all, a matter of survival.

A 50-Year Legacy

feet-out-windowI was  hanging out my office window, which is on the second floor of a rehabbed old house, when the thought struck me: “Is this really going to be my legacy? Is this the way people will remember me?”

To provide some perspective, my office sits directly across from the Catholic church, next door to the Presbyterian church, catty corner from the public library, and less than a block away from the town square. Since I have a corner office with two windows, I almost always having a view of something interesting happening

From nuns doing the Macarena on the front steps of the Catholic church, to numerous political protests, to pedestrians being hit by cars (yes – pedestrians  and cars plural – it happens more often than you might think), to the priest wearing a skirt (he swears it was a kilt), I have a great vantage point – and some pointed commentary – on all of it.

I also have an insatiable curiosity, which means when I have questions or concerns, I simply fling open my office window, lean out, and yell to whomever I think will answer.

My colleagues and the regular passerby have come to consider this normal.

But on the particular day in question, I was yelling at a stranger whom I’d never before seen. He was walking an adorable, large, white fluffy dog, and I felt compelled to meet him (the dog – not the man).  So, I opened the window and asked.

The dog looked around confused. The man looked around confused. And, realizing that neither of them knew from where the request was coming, I told them to look up. They did, and I was invited to come on down for a meet and greet.

That’s when the thought struck me. “This might be how some people will remember me – as that crazy lady who was compelled to yell at a total stranger in order to meet his dog or who shouted questions from a second story window at the church custodian across the street.”

And then another thought struck me – “Who cares? At least that is an interesting way to be remembered.”

I’ve been thinking more and more about such things recently.

That’s because today is my 50th birthday.sunset

I am now a half a century old.

Statistics show that I have more years behind me than I have in front of me. My potential to accomplish great things will become more and more limited as the next years rush by me.

In other words, dreams of becoming the next great American novelist are now fading in the same way that hopes of suddenly blossoming into a great beauty faded at age 25.

But these superficial desires have been replaced by something far much more realistic.

Fifty years of living have taught me that life isn’t about my being embraced, or even appreciated, by the rest of the world. Instead, it’s about embracing and appreciating the world I’ve been given while, at the same time, never accepting that it can’t be improved.

It means I will probably always laugh too loud and talk too much because my enthusiasm can be overwhelming. It means my innate desire to share everything I’m thinking and feeling will always require my friends, colleagues and acquaintances to tolerate listening to yet another “Trina story,”  and it will mean I will always break into song whenever a song lyric is used in conversation.

It also means I will cry too much, defend the underdog, rally against injustice and never, ever let someone else make me feel guilty about my beliefs.

And if all of that, along with penchant to make friends with every dog I encounter, yell out of office windows, and constantly stop to take a photo every time I think the sky looks amazing, then so be it.

That is my legacy,  and I consider my life well spent.

The Bad Relationship

bad-relationshipWe’ve all been there.

We’ve had friends in relationships that we know are unhealthy for them.

To us, the problem is so obvious: our friend is being manipulated, or lied to, or charmed by money, good looks, popularity or power.

We know that our friend is being used by someone who doesn’t have his/her best interests at heart, and we try to warn them.

But they don’t want to hear what we are saying. “The relationship is special – you just don’t understand,” they tell us. “They are in love,” they say. And sometimes they even accuse us of being jealous.

When the relationship falls apart, our friend asks, “why didn’t anyone warn me?” And, because we care about our friend, we stifle the “I told you so,” and support then in their time of need.

Recently, I realized how many Trump supporters are like those friends in bad relationships. I’ve read articles about how the more we try to be rational, the more the more they cling to their presidential choice. Trying to argue using facts is pointless when they trust only information that affirms their own belief system.

They are so wrapped up in their sense of triumph, winning, and ideology that they refuse to see who Trump really is, how little he cares about other people, and how he is using lies to appease his base of support.

In other words, staunch Trump supporters are still in the honeymoon phase of their new, yet dangerous, relationship.

But in this case, I can’t accept that I will someday be forced to stifle an “I told you so.”  That is simply unacceptable.

Unlike other relationship choices, this one not only affects me but has a devastating impact on those who have lived their lives trying to overcome poor relationships with people in power.

Individuals who have been marginalized because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or even country of birth have too often been on the losing end of bad relationships.

And since many of the individuals who chose that relationship for them are actually delighting in those struggles, I must say this to Trump supporters:

  • I’m done trying to convince you that you are being manipulated.
  • I will no longer warn you that our President does not have your best interests at heart.
  • And when things go south, I will not say “I told you so,” nor will I expect you to say “thank you” for all I did to try to save you from this relationship.

Instead, knowing that I fought hard for everyone, despite their bad decisions, will be good enough for me.

On Size and Class

During the musical Chicago, two of the main characters, a sensational murderer and a corrupt prison warden, sing the song “Class” while they drink whisky and smoke cigarettes. Of course the scene is intended to be ironic as neither of the characters is the least bit classy.

Maybe this should be the theme song for the Trump administration.

After all, the lyrics started running through my brain when I saw a comment on social media about the Trumps at an inaugural ball. ” It’s so nice that our kids can see class and sophistication in the White House” it said.

Wait?inaugural-ball_li-2 What? Our kid didn’t see class and sophistication when President Obama was in office?

The Obama’s family photo should be in the dictionary under the definition of both class and sophistication,especially considering their obvious love for each other, the respect they show for all individuals, and their lack of scandal during eight years in the White House. And yet, this person was insinuating otherwise.

I couldn’t understand why, and I wondered in what alternate universe that person was living. We may have differences of opinion about  politics, but the statement wasn’t even grounded in class-in-white-housereality.

The Trumps have a lot of money, but the president’s behavior has been anything but classy. I don’t think bragging about grabbing women’s genitals is classy. I don’t think using hateful language to garner support is classy. I certainly don’t think calling people who disagree “enemies” is at all classy. And even though I promised I wouldn’t drag Melania’s name into any of my issues with the Trump administration, I don’t know in what universe a first lady who posed for nude photos could ever be considered more classy than Michelle Obama.

obama-clasAt some point, I realized this person either a) was a racist or b) had been brainwashed by the Trump propaganda machine, which has apparently been fervently trying to pretend that the Trumps are classy just as Trump has been pretending the size of his inaugural crowd was large and that he didn’t actually lose the popular vote.

Sadly, I’m familiar with how aging, white men can be obsessed with the need for one-upmanship. I’ve witnessed it too many times. I’ll never forget being forced to endure two older white men comparing the best meal they had ever had by noting price and restaurant. The discussion occurred in my office at a nonprofit where a colleague and I were doing a lot of hard work for very little money.

My co-worker and I quietly went about our work as the bragging grew louder and the men grew more animated. When they finally left the room, my co-worked snipped, “why didn’t they just drop their drawers, compare size, and be done with it.”

At the time, her comment was a funny reprieve from an annoying and uncomfortable situation. In hindsight, it spoke volumes about how men like Donald Trump view the world. They are so obsessed with proving their own superiority  that they don’t see the reality right in front of them.

What such men don’t understand is that the size of an inaugural crowd doesn’t define their ability to lead any more than the size of their bank account can make them classy.

Class comes from holding your head high despite adversity and being gracious in the face of defeat. Class comes from biting your tongue rather than having to eat your words later. And, most of all, class comes from focusing on treating others with respect rather than spending time worrying about how others treat you.

Class is definitely something that belongs in the White House.

I only pray it finds its way back there sooner than later.

The Worm Farm, Freedom of the Press, and Journalistic Integrity

worms-2I’ve never had a life when a pressing news story might not interrupt  it.

When I was about four-years old, my mom would get me up before dawn and we’d walk to a kiosk-like structure (to this day I have no idea exactly where we went) so she could scrutinize a bunch of dials and jot numbers in her notebook. When we got back home, I would stand at her feet twirling the cord on the rotary dial phone that was attached to our kitchen wall as she called radio station KRCO with the local weather report.

That was the beginning of her journalism career, which would span more than four decades.

By the time I entered kindergarten, my mom didn’t go anywhere without a pen, a reporter’s notebook and her camera.  She sought out anything and everything that could be meaningful in a small town: government meetings, human interest stories, horrific accidents and political issues. And I tagged along while she pursued that truth.

By the time I entered junior high school, I had been chastised for not shaking Senator Bob Packwood’s hand appropriately, had gained a more thorough knowledge of human behavior from a bunch of open-minded hippies at a commune, been a passenger in a small plane performing some scary dangerous aerobatics, and been the human subject in one-too many staged photos. Because if my mom wasn’t writing a story, she assumed the role of photographer for her friend Carolyn Grote.

And that’s how my best friend and I ended up posing for a photo with a man who thought worm farms would be the wave of the future. And, to add insult to injury, the newspaper didn’t even get my name correct. Apparently, when my mom had submitted the photo in her usual forthright manner, she had noted that I was the photographer’s daughter. At some point in the pre-computer era of information transfer, I became the writer’s daughter and my last name changed.

I noted my anger in the scrapbook in which I documented everything I considered important in my life – from class photos to reading awards to wedding announcements. I obviously felt quite offended that a newspaper, an institution I had come to believe was all about the truth, would get my name wrong.

Forty years later, I am not only amused by my childhood indignation, but I still strongly believe in the integrity of institutions that are truly dedicated to pursuing the truth and sharing that truth with the rest of the world.  I also know that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing who have built their business on the backs of genuine truth seekers.

There are businesses that market themselves as news organizations but have little, if  no, interest in the truth. Instead they exist solely for profit or for political purposes.

There are people who market themselves as journalists but are really only peddlers of muck.

And there are citizens who will believe in anything that justifies their own belief system while dismissing anything else as fake. Even worse, they have begun to label journalists as dishonest or self-serving.

I am now married to a journalist and as a journalist’s wife, a journalist’s daughter, and as the mother of a journalism student, I am angered and frightened by the inability to distinguish between truth and lies.  I also know that some people don’t believe I can make a non-biased case for journalistic integrity.

But for those who will listen, I can tell you the truth about real journalism.

Real journalism isn’t about making people happy – it’s about helping people better understand the world in which they live and to make the decisions accordingly.

Real journalism doesn’t fit easily into a family’s schedule. My husband keeps crazy hours, and my mother never knew when a breaking story would tear her away from her family.

Real journalism doesn’t involve turning  information that comes from only one source into fact. Real journalism requires more than one source and documentation. Anything less is just a quote from someone who may or may not be telling the truth.

Real journalism doesn’t recognize holidays. Every year, I see the social media posts about stores that require employees to work on Thanksgiving or other holidays. No one ever suggests that journalists should ignore world events to eat turkey or open Christmas gifts. My mom and husband often worked on Christmas because, well, someone had to.

Real journalism is careful to distinguish between opinion pieces and news.

Real journalism is about accountability for those who deliver the news as well as those who read or hear it.

And real journalism is about uncovering the truth and sharing that truth with others no matter the implications.

And now, that pursuit of the truth is in jeopardy.
Last summer, I had the privilege of attending an event at the National Press Club. While I was there, I saw an announcement that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump had banned the Washington Post from having access to his campaign.trump

And that is the day I got really, really scared.

There is a huge difference between cracking down on fake news and cracking down on legitimate news sources. Those legitimate sources are what make the difference between living in freedom and living in oppression. And those who control the media control access to the truth.

It’s time we  all begin to evaluate from where our information comes, arm ourselves with that truth, and defend those who share it with us.

Anything less is just not American.

The Gift in the Dead Man’s Email

rip-laptop-2About ten years ago (before social media reconnected me with people who I never thought I’d hear from again), I received an unexpected email at work.

It was from a guy I’d known more than a decade earlier and who had faded into my memory like the vague shadows of a rear view mirror. He and I had once run in similar circles, but I’m fairly certain we never had a conversation that endured more than five-sentences. He’d certainly never occupied much, if any space, in my conscious or subconscious mind.

Which is why, when I’d received a chatty and rather lengthy email from him, I was more than just a little surprised.

He’d contacted me after reading a newspaper article in which I was quoted. He hadn’t known that I lived in the same town where his daughter and ex-wife resided, and seemed genuinely excited to re-connect.

I responded, and we exchanged a few more emails.

And then he died.

I learned about his death in the same way he’d found me – by reading about it in a newspaper article in the local paper. He had been in a head-on collision after apparently falling asleep at the wheel.

At a glance, there’s nothing particularly meaningful about this guy who was a small part of life, then wasn’t, then was again, then exited it completely.

We hadn’t been close nor do I imagine we ever would have been.

And yet, his random appearance after so many years then his abrupt disappearance after only a few days have stayed with me. Perhaps that’s partly because they serve as a reminder of how random and fragile life is. But they also suggest something more essential about how we live our lives.

We never know what the implications of our simplest interactions with others may lead. Acknowledging the presence of the quiet person in a group or sharing a smile don’t seem like  grandiose gestures in a world overwhelmed by people who scream for, and often get, attention.

But then again, maybe they are actually bigger and more relevant than any action on a stage, or screen, or political platform can ever be.

Mark’s email all those years ago was a surprise because I never thought there was much worth remembering about me in those early days of my adult life. I certainly didn’t think someone I barely knew would reach out to me more than a decade later.

Yet he did. And even though our interactions were brief, he gave me something in return: a new-found understanding of my relevance in the past, in the present, and in the future.

As the Year 2016 ends and the Year 2017 arrives, the majority of my friends and acquaintances are glad to say goodbye to a year in which so many people died and the future of our democracy began to crack. Because of that, they are fearful of what 2017 may bring.

And yet, in truth, we can’t really live if we spend our energy in a soup of regrets, resentment and concerns about the behavior and actions of others.

All we can do is follow the Golden Rule and treat others in a manner that no one can criticize. And sometimes, when we do that, our actions may stay with others long after our own memories of them have faded.

A guy I once barely knew taught me that.

Rest in peace, Mark.

And rest in peace 2016.