I. Am. Enough.

Growing up, we visited my maternal grandparents at least  twice a year – at Christmas and during summer vacation.

Ugh.

Mom? Dad? If you’re reading this, I’ve realized that Mt. Carmel did more damage to me than he-who-shall-not-be-named. I think that Mt. Carmel is the reason that I ended up being the perfect victim for someone like that man. I don’t mean this in an accusatory way. I’m trying to share an epiphany that, strangely, makes me feel better.

Anyway.

Mt. Carmel. Where to start? Mt. Carmel was a school. That also offered boarding. Its founders and builders make Baptists look like frat partiers. Seriously.

Anyway, Mt. Carmel is what people today would call a cult or a sect. Thankfully, once my mother left home for college, she never went back there. OK, she never went back there to live. Unfortunately, we went back umpteen times to visit.

And so, at the tender age of – wow, probably 3 or 4 – I learned that I wasn’t “enough.”

I wasn’t “good enough.”

I wasn’t “Christian enough.”

I wasn’t “well-behaved enough.”

I wasn’t dressed “appropriately enough.”

I just wasn’t – ever … enough.

I learned this from my grandparents – you know, the very people who are supposed to dote on you and spoil you.

I grew up in the Nazarene church. Again – ugh. Once I left home I didn’t go to church for decades. Because honestly? I really got tired of being – and feeling – that I wasn’t “enough.”

And then I joined the Presbyterian church.

Things went well until… I learned that I didn’t “attend church enough.”

I wasn’t “involved enough.”

I wasn’t an “active enough member.”

And so on.

Churches. You wonder why you are bleeding people. It’s because you constantly make them feel as though they “aren’t enough.”

The fact is, I AM enough. And I don’t need a church to affirm that. I’ve got a great psychologist and a support system that says that I am doing OK.

And I BELIEVE that I am doing OK. I’m not where I want to be yet. But I’m getting there.

Churches – until you start recognizing that, for some people, just making it to a pew is an accomplishment, you will continue to see a decline in your population.

I never wanted to go to church to prove that I was “enough.” I just wanted to go to church knowing that I would be accepted – regardless of what I was capable of giving.

I am enough. I always have been. It’s just taken me 40-plus years to realize that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So let’s talk abortion…

When I was in high school, two of my “church friends,” as I referred to them back then, had abortions.

Both had gotten pregnant by the same guy, a free-wheeling asshole who attended our evangelical church. Both girls had parents who – back then AND now – adamantly opposed abortion. And yet …

… When *THEIR* girls got pregnant, those same parents rushed their daughters to abortion clinics. The whole church knew. But it politely turned a blind eye.

And then there was me – the 15-year-old who unfortunately drew the eye of a 24-year-old man who had flunked out of college. “Would it be so bad if you got pregnant?” he whispered into my ear, as I lay crying after yet another episode of unwanted sex.

Yes. It would have. And I would have aborted that fertilized egg – or fetus or whatever the far right is now calling it – in a split second. I hated my “boyfriend.” I hated myself. If he had succeeded in implanting something in me, I probably would have contemplated running away or suicide. Please note: the evangelical “boyfriend” was physically and sexually and emotionally abusive. He did not deserve a child then. I’m told he and his future wife later adopted one. They did not deserve that child. I know what he put me through. He never, ever should have been allowed the privilege of raising a child – not ever.

In my 20s, when I was working as a reporter for the Odessa American, my friend Melanie and her brother introduced me to a friend of her brother’s. We had just arrived at Riley’s Roadhouse, just before closing. We had just enough time to order a bloody Mary for each of us.

I was date-raped that night. I’d only had one drink. But I later learned that at that time, a lot of young guys in the area had come into possession of Rohypnol, the date-rape drug.

The next day, I tried to make an appointment with my female primary care doctor. But she wasn’t in. Instead, I got some old white man.

“Would it really be so bad if you were pregnant?” he asked, before refusing to write a prescription for the morning-after pill.

Desperate and panicked, I tracked down my regular doctor at home. She immediately ordered a prescription not only for the morning-after pill but also an anti-nausea medication… just in case.

Do I feel guilty? Nope. I didn’t then. I don’t now. I’d just been victimized. And whatever was in my body was no more than a teensy mass of cells. I bled out those cells and I was not – and never have been – sorry.

I went on to have two beautiful children with my husband.

They were wanted and planned for. Their father wasn’t an abusive pedophile. Their father wasn’t someone who drugged a 26-year-old single woman. Their father is a wonderful man I met at age 30. When. I. Was. Ready. And. Able. To. Have. Children.

I’m sharing this story because I think that all too often, the so-called “pro-lifers” want to think that women who seek abortions are “slutty” or “loose” women who “asked for” what happened to them.

Instead, you should be asking – “Who are these men who drive women to seek to terminate their pregnancies?”

But, of course, you won’t do that. Because it’s never the guy’s fault.

Go ahead. Seek to criminalize abortion. Seek to make those who have had one appear to be “bad women.” In fact, most times, we were victims. We did what we had to do to survive.

And I ask you to ask yourself – what if your daughter came to your with stories similar to mine? What would you tell her? What would you do?

 

PTSD: The bad and the ugly

I suffer from PTSD.

Whoa. I actually said it. To someone other than my psychologist and primary care doctor. Kind of a big deal, y’all.

PTSD is really sucky in that it totally ruins the things many of us love most – like sleep. I don’t sleep. I stay up as late as I can, hoping that by the time I do fall asleep, I will actually stay asleep. Oh, and also that I’ll be too tired by that point to dream. OK, scratch “dream.” What I mean is – “have nightmares.”

Why am I sharing this? Well, because my psychologist says that it’s high time I start writing again. Also? She says I’m kind of hard to get to know – meaning that I hold people at arm’s length and laugh a lot – or make jokes – about really stupid, inconsequential shit while never really sharing much of myself.

I’ve argued that it doesn’t seem fair to the nice folks out there to subject them to the dark, cobwebby portions of my brain, but hey – if you’re up for the ride, then who I am to tell you that you aren’t tall enough to board the roller coaster?

Also, I’m kind of hoping that my fellow PTSD sufferers won’t feel so alone.

So here’s what I’m going to share tonight:

On average, my blood pressure hovers around 155-160 over 100-112. Even more disturbing? I’ve been on blood-pressure medication for about four years now. I’m 48. And up until a knee injury this past year, I’ve always worked out at least four times a week. We don’t eat out much, so I can’t blame the diet either.

Up until late 2013, my numbers were great. But then, it seems, my 20-plus years in newspapers – all spent covering all sorts of really horrible stuff – coupled with my near death in the Chihuahuan Desert – turned that innocuous little arm cuff into a harbinger of impending doom.

Since then, I’ve gone to therapy. Continued exercising. Revamped my diet multiple times. And still – nurses insist on checking my blood pressure two or three times per doctor’s visit, because – surely, the reading can’t be accurate? Maybe I’m stressed? Maybe it’s higher because I’m sick?

“Let’s just check this one more time, sweetie. Uncross your legs, please. Now just try to relax.”

The numbers, however, don’t budge. And, according to recent research, they don’t lie.

The results of medical studies released this year clearly state that PTSD actually can cause hypertension. Doctors may find this surprising. I don’t.

PTSD isn’t just a mental or emotional condition. It’s an adrenaline system gone completely awry. I describe it as living in a state of constant fight-or-flight syndrome. You’re primed – ready to do anything to ensure your survival – even when you’re tucked snugly into bed with the only apparent threat being the knowledge that your alarm will go off in six hours. And yet. Your body insists that something is about to go dreadfully wrong and, by God, you had better be ready to fight off whatever that something is.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

Luckily, this is the year I decided it was time to actually fully embrace and address the PTSD. Which is how, two weeks ago, I landed in the office of a psychologist who has spent most of her career working with veterans.

My first assignment? I was to start using Headspace. You can access it on your computer or install the app on your phone. I have to admit that I was skeptical.

But now – after two weeks? I love it. It’s becoming part of my routine.

Thus concludes tonight’s installment. In my next report, I’ll share the ugly details of what it’s like to be afraid to fall asleep and WHY the mere thought of sleep is such a source of stress for PTSD sufferers.

 

Life is for living – really. I promise.

This morning, I went to a church – at the members’ request – to talk about what happened to me in the desert.

As always – I stressed the following: On the one hand, my experience left me hyper-aware of my mortality. On the other, it blessed me with a “So-the-fuck-what” mentality.

Here’s the thing. I now know that we don’t necessarily get some sort of forewarning of our impending doom. In my case, I went from admiring pretty yellow, waist-high flowers to nearly dying alone in the wilderness. Just. Like. That.

For a long time after my rescue, I fixated on all the ways in which I could suddenly die. At the same time, I suddenly had this amazing focus on all of the ways in which I could LIVE.

What does it mean to live? It means being you, even when being you makes other people uncomfortable. It means finding humor not only in the ridiculous, but in the many ways in which we try to take ourselves so seriously. It means eliminating unnecessary worry and drama from your day-to-day existence so that you can actually enjoy the experience of living.

It also means figuring out what really actually matters. It means calling “bullshit” on people. It means doing what’s right for you – not what is expected of you. Why? Because ever since the desert, my expectations for myself far exceed what anyone else could come up with. At the same time, I have to counter those expectations with an understanding of what I am capable – or not capable – of doing. I spent a lot of quality time with myself during my time alone in the wilderness. I know me. I know what I can do. I also now recognize my limitations.

So I tell you what I told church members this morning – my perspective regarding how I live my life is forever changed. I don’t expect everyone to understand it. But I do expect myself to do whatever I need to do to be true to … me.

The most transformative moment of my life was the afternoon that I was forced to accept that I was likely going to die alone – in the wild – without being able to offer any “last words.”

I vowed then that if I lived, I would speak up. For myself. For my family. For friends. For strangers.

It was only when I was lost in the wilderness that I finally found my voice. And I intend to use it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Desert Love Story

It is April 28, 2017, the eve of our 16th wedding anniversary, and we have marked the occasion by returning to the place where we almost died together 3 ½ years ago.

Earlier this week, Rick and I also visited the place where we were married, just as we have each year since a justice of the peace pronounced us man and wife on a hiking trail.

This is a love story – no, a love triangle, really – involving an adventurous couple and a place dear to both parties.

First, however, I must introduce you to the Chihuahuan Desert, which is as ruggedly beautiful as it is hostile to human interlopers.

It is in this region of southwest Texas that the Rio Grande River makes a sharp turn – known around here as the “Big Bend.” There are two parks in the area: Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. Both parks encompass the vast Chihuahuan Desert – the third partner in our marriage.

As a single, young newspaper reporter for the Odessa American, I covered Texas’ Big Bend region in the mid-1990s. I fell swiftly in love. Something about this desolate and inhospitable area spoke to my most private self, the part of me I don’t share with even my closest friends. What appealed most was the absolute silence. Here, I could put my brain – constantly steeped in chaos it seemed – and my life on hold for as long as I stayed.

Rick, meanwhile, often visited Big Bend National Park on his days off from the San Antonio newspapers at which he worked as a photographer. He was captivated by the area’s inapparent beauty. Photographing Big Bend requires a searching eye and curious mind. Rick always has loved a challenge.

When Rick and I met in 2000 at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, we quickly discovered that each of us had remained enamoured of the Big Bend region since leaving Texas. Six months after our first date, we exchanged vows at Big Bend National Park on April 29, 2001.

We return each year, sans children, to revisit old haunts, as well as to search for new ones. The desert is full of surprises – if you know where to look.

On those early trips, Rick and I made love and argued with equal passion. Over time, as we settled into a daily, domestic partnership, we whittled away at and polished all of those jagged edges that define young relationships.

What we forgot was that the Chihuahuan Desert was under no such obligation. It remained just as prickly and unpredictable as when we all first met. And honestly, that’s part of its enduring allure.

On Oct. 1, 2013, Rick and I were at the national park when the federal government closed down. We broke camp and headed to the neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park, new and unfamiliar territory to us. We found a beautiful, albeit solitary, campsite and congratulated ourselves for our refusal to give up on our annual rendezvous with our beloved desert.

The next day, on Oct. 2, 2013, we set out on what was supposed to be a day hike. Instead, we embarked on what turned into a death march through every single circle of hell. By the end, we were bloodied and feral, desperate for water and oblivious to the hundreds of cactus needles embedded in our legs, feet, hands and lips.

What happened out there seemed to us at the time to be a betrayal. Why had our desert, a place we had long loved, suddenly turned on us?

April 25, 2017, Big Bend National Park

This year, we started our annual anniversary trip at the national park, a place where happy memories still reside, with plans to end it at the state park. It seemed fitting – a chronological journey from where – and who we were – to now.

Our first day at the national park, Rick and I hiked a new-to-us desert trail. All the while, I kept an anxious eye on the gauzy clouds that only barely masked the sun. Scanning the terrain on either side, I searched for anything – a mesquite tree, creosote bush, cactus, even – that would offer shade once the clouds dissipated.

Nothing.

It took an hour to hike the 2 ½ miles that led to a large rock decorated with Native American pictographs.

Rick shot photos. Then he poked around the jumbled clusters of rocks, hoping to spot something else that would hint at this area’s storied past.

“We need to go,” I insisted. “Once those clouds disappear, we’ll be hiking all the way back without any shade.”

“Hang on,” he replied. “Just a few more minutes.”

I continued to watch the strip of gauze in the sky as it stretched into a thinner and ever more transparent film over the sun.

Rick,” I said again, this time in a trembling voice. “We have to go. Now!”

I took off at a near run, my Camelbak backpack – still heavy with water – riding on my shoulders. A satellite tracking device with an SOS button remained securely tucked inside. One push of that button would summon the nearest law enforcement agencies and search-and-rescue teams.

Still, I maintained a frantic pace, ignoring burning legs and lungs.

“Hey, slow down,” Rick called from behind. “You’re using too much energy too fast.”

Above us, the clouds shredded and separated. I felt it then, that searing desert heat I had feared.

There’s got to be a tree, a bush, something.

Ahead of me, I could see the road and cars that were mere specks. Our truck was parked there, at the trailhead. But to get to it, I would have to cross a tortured landscape that shimmered with heat.

You are fine. This is the national park, not the state park. You have plenty of water. You have an SOS button. Get it together.

Abruptly, I sat down. I dropped my head and tried to slow my breathing. Rick stopped and stood over me, leaning on his hiking stick.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I feel so stupid.”

“We need to keep going,” he said.

“Just give me a minute.”

And with that exchange, eerily similar to one we shared 3 ½ years ago in this same desert, I fell back in time.

12:30 p.m., Oct. 4, 2013: Big Bend Ranch State Park

“Babe, we’ve got to keep going,” Rick said. Stooped over his hiking stick, he spoke in gasps as he struggled to catch his breath.

We’d been stopping and starting and stopping all morning. Each time, I begged for just a few minutes’ rest.

“Are you ready?” Rick asked again.

“I can’t,” I told him. “I’m done. I’m just holding you back. You have to leave me. You have to go.”

For 2 ½ days, we had been lost in the Chihuahuan Desert after setting out on what was meant to be a day hike at the unfamiliar state park.

We spent the first night on a cliff overlooking a steep canyon. The second day, out of water and worried about heat stroke, we hiked only during the morning and then spent the afternoon plastered against a large rock, moving in sync with the rotating shade it offered. Desperate for liquid, we cut open the pads of prickly pear cactus and lapped at juice from the pulp.

That evening, Rick spotted a cottonwood grove in yet another canyon. We used our last reserves of energy to scramble and skid down to it. Just as the sun began its slow slide behind the mountains, we staggered into the grove. There, we found a tiny spring.

The next morning, we refilled our aluminum containers with water and set out yet again.

Around 12:30 p.m., I spotted a low-lying mesquite tree that offered more shade than most. That’s when I stopped, sat down and told Rick to leave me.

I didn’t cry. If I had, he wouldn’t have gone. My voice wavered only when I asked him to tell our children, Ethan, then 8, and Amanda, 10, that I loved them dearly and had done my damndest to get back to them.

That evening, Rick finally made it back to the trailhead.

Forty-eight hours later, search-and-rescue teams found me sprawled – naked and incoherent  – underneath the mesquite tree.

April 25, 2017, Big Bend National Park

Rick waited patiently while I tried to pull myself together.

“Look,” he said. “You can see the road and cars from right here. We have plenty of water. We’re fine.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s just that there’s no shade and I’m scared.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “We shouldn’t have tried this hike.”

“It’s OK,” I said.

This is not that time. This is not that place. We are not the same people.

Shakily, I stood up. “Let’s go.”

As we trudged toward the trailhead, a thick layer of clouds scudded across the sky and hid the sun. My panic ebbed away.

It was then I recalled a conversation with a state park employee. I met her about six weeks after my rescue, when Rick and I returned to the area to hike out to the mesquite tree that had sheltered me.

“You’re the woman who was lost,” she said, inviting me to sit down over iced tea.

“It must feel really special, to know that you survived something like that,” she continued. “In its own way, the desert protected you. It gave you its cactus. It gave you the spring. And then it gave you the tree. You see that don’t you?

“It took care of you.”

Anniversary Eve, April 28, 2017, Big Bend Ranch State Park

After driving out to the trailhead where we began our ill-fated hike in 2013, we fill two glasses of wine and watch the sinking sun paint the sky various shades of pink and red.

For years, Rick and I were an intrepid team of journalists, out to conquer any assignment we were given. And for years, we came to Big Bend determined to conquer the desert by choosing hikes that would challenge us physically and mentally. We claimed a victory each time we hobbled back into camp – sore, sweaty and hungry.

I’m more cautious now. Even so, I still have panic attacks when hiking. What I’ve learned is that while I can face my fears, I will never conquer them. When I was lost out here, my brain reprogrammed the most primitive, reptilian part of itself to ensure that – if I survived – I would never find myself in such a dire situation ever again.

As the shadows deepen, I look toward the mountain cut where I was found. My wedding ring is still out there, somewhere. It fell off of my withered finger while I was alone under the tree.

After my rescue, I considered the loss to be a sacrifice to the desert – my ring for my life.

Now I’m inclined to think of it as a pledge to do right by the mistress in our marriage. She was never meant to be tamed. She was never meant to be conquered. Rather, she was meant to be loved – not in spite of her needles and thorns and scabrous edges – but because of them.

IMG_1778

Sunset on April 28, 2017, at the trailhead. Photo by Rick McFarland

For lack of water, shelter and food …

… I would have died.

When search-and -rescue teams found me on October 6, 2013, I had been in the Chihuahuan Desert for five days and four nights.

I was just a few hours from death, according to the doctors who eventually treated me in El Paso.

Try to imagine being so thirsty, so very desperate for water, that you would try to suck the pee from your shorts.

Try to imagine being so thirsty, so very desperate for water, that you would take a knife and slice open your arm six times… just so that you could “drink” your own blood.

On October 6, 2013, I was airlifted out of the Chihuahuan Desert to a hospital in El Paso.

I was in the ER for six hours, because doctors couldn’t decide where to put me.

“I’m worried about your heart, lungs, kidneys and liver,” an ER doctor told me flatly.

At the time, I wasn’t worried. I had been FOUND. I had been RESCUED. Everything would be FINE.

By the time I was admitted to the hospital, I hadn’t eaten for four days.

According to one of my friends, who had been dispatched to cover the story of the missing reporter-hiker, I spent my first night at the hospital begging for food.

“The little doctor said I could have chocolate pudding!” I insisted to medical staff. (Bear in mind, by that point, I was hooked up to a morphine drip. The doctor in question was maybe 5 feet tall.)

I still remember my first meal after all of those days in the desert … a watery cereal, green Jello and a carton of sweet milk that was supposedly loaded with vitamins. Best stuff I’ve ever ingested.

For lunch, I got a plate of spaghetti. Heaven.

This is what I want you to know. Unless you have ever been truly desperate for water, food or shelter, you do NOT know what our fellow Americans AND immigrants suffer through.

When I was found, I was hypothermic. The temperature the night before had fallen to 37 degrees. It was two days before I stopped shivering.

I spent my time in the hospital requesting every type of drink imaginable: water, milk, apple juice, grape juice, orange juice. I wanted all of it.

Why am I reliving this? Because I want you to know that to almost die from lack of water, shelter and food is an excruciating way to go.

Because I want you to know that, even now, I am so glad that 2013 wasn’t the year that Rick and I decided to take our children hiking and camping with us.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like to watch our children suffer from dehydration, starvation and exposure to the elements.

I made Rick leave me for two reasons. One – I believed he still had a shot at making it out of the desert. Two – dying truly is a solitary process. I didn’t want him to watch me die.

I can’t imagine having to watch Rick or my children die due to a lack of water, shelter or food.

And yet.

Americans … or at the very least .. our new administration … are more than willing to let refugees (mothers and children) die rather than let them into our country.

No. Unacceptable.

God bless the ACLU. God bless those who know that this is NOT right.

And if you’re one of the few who is OK with this. … well, I question your humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We don’t have the luxury to despair

So tomorrow. Wow. Who ever thought it would really, actually happen?

I keep waiting for someone to leap out of the shadows, yelling, “You’re on Candid Camera!”

If only.

So what do we do now? We gather with like-minded people. We come up with a plan of action. We follow it. We support one another. We support democracy. We ACT. We do not throw up our hands and give in to despair.

This is a critical time for our country. For democracy. We cannot wallow in our grief or cower in our homes.

I’ve always lived, well… loudly. I overshare. I gush. I rant. I laugh VERY loudly. I tell you about every single feeling that I am feeling. There are some who criticize. They say I should tone it down, be more respectable, take the crazy down a notch or two.

Well, too bad. Because I’ve been like this ever since my teen years. I don’t see me changing anytime soon. Especially when raising hell is so much fun. (Also? It’s much more productive than sitting quietly on the sidelines.)

Do I make you uncomfortable? Good. Because we are entering a period of American history that requires that we be pushed out of our comfort zones.

Trump may have (accidentally) coined “bigly.” But I’m stealing it. He’s referring to “big league.”

I, however, am referring to living this life just as loudly as possible. Bigly, in other words. For the next four years, I promise to live bigly… in my devotion to America, to democracy, to freedom of speech, to our future generations.

Bigly? Yep, I’m going to live bigly. Much to the detriment of the man who first uttered the term.

 

 

 

 

 

The might-have-beens

The other night, as I sat in the parking lot at Kroger texting a friend, there was a rap on the window.

A too-thin woman with graying, long, curly hair smiled apologetically.

I rolled down the window.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But I’ve got three kids – and you can check this out for yourself because they’re sitting in that McDonald’s over there – they’re sitting just to the left of the door – but I had to leave my husband because he threw the 4-year-old across the room. I need $14 for a cab, and – ”

“I’m so sorry,” I said, and gave her what I had, which was $10.

And then I pulled out, preparing to head to my Zumba class. On the way, I passed the McDonald’s. Impulsively, I pulled in.

Are there kids in there?

I got out of the car and wandered inside. There weren’t any kids. The McDonald’s was practically empty, save for a group of four adults.

Was I indignant? Angry?

Nope.

Why?

Because there might have been three kids in there, one of whom had been assaulted by his father.

Because that woman might have been someone who had summoned the courage to leave an abusive relationship.

And for me, that’s enough.

I was in an abusive relationship from age 15 (almost 16) until the day I fled town and transferred to another college to get away. I was once the kid … well, teenager … who got thrown across a bathroom and into the shower.

In my mid-20s, I volunteered at a Rape Crisis & Intervention Center/Battered Women’s Shelter in the Texas panhandle. Most memorable was the night I picked up a woman and several children from a  gas station parking lot. A police officer was there, and he was clearly impatient to be done with the family standing out front.

The woman didn’t speak English. She had four … maybe five? … children. They were likely a migrant family, as the town I lived in was home to hundreds of people who flocked there each year to help harvest corn, cotton, soybean and any number of other crops.

I drove a two-seater Isuzu pickup. Somehow, however, we managed to get everyone crammed inside. The youngest child, a toddler, sat on the floorboard at his mother’s feet.

I dropped them off at the shelter, filled out the necessary paperwork, and called for one of the counselors. And then I went home, to my snug little house and my dog, Molly, grateful to be independent, on my own, and not living in fear.

I grew up as a privileged white kid. I had no idea what that woman’s background was, but, having written newspaper stories about the migrant families in that part of Texas, I had a pretty good idea of what she was up against.

And that, my friends, is why I freely handed over $10 to a woman the other night who may or may not have had three traumatized children.

Because she might have been in the same situation I once had to flee.

And I might have been the one who gave her what she needed in cab fare to get away from her abuser.

Several years ago, after a day at the pool, the kids and I stopped at Jason’s Deli to get takeout.

Since the kids were still wet and in bathing suits, I told them to wait in the car. On my way in, a tall woman with elegant features stopped me in the parking lot.

I don’t remember what her circumstances were, only that she wanted to know if I would buy her a salad.

“Sure,” I said, and we went inside.

While I waited for my takeout order, she meticulously assembled a salad. Then she asked the cashier for an extra cup for water.

On her way out, she thanked me, explaining that her father was in the car and that she was going to share the salad with him.

When I left a few minutes later, she and an elderly man were huddled together in a four-door sedan, sharing that salad. We exchanged waves as I drove by.

What I’ve learned over the years, however, is that it isn’t the money or food that means the most to those who ask us for help.

It’s being heard. It’s being treated kindly. It’s the human interaction.

So many people live in the shadows or on the fringes of our society. When they venture out, it means the world to them to be able to converse with a friendly stranger. Or to be treated with dignity.

I felt compelled to share this story because of the extraordinary time we now find ourselves in. It’s so, so important to hold on to what makes us decent and human.

2017: The year we find our way

When I was lost in the Chihuahuan Desert, I spent those long, cold nights finding comfort in the night sky.

Out in that part of Texas, there is no light pollution. You can see the Milky Way and falling stars galore.

On the third night, when I began hallucinating, that Far West Texas sky was the backdrop for everything I thought I saw. I truly believe that the reason I survived is because most of those hallucinations and their accompanying storylines focused on being found.

I spent two nights utterly convinced that searchers knew where I was. I just had to make them understand that they needed to come and get me because I was too weak to walk. (I did a lot of shouting at cactus and rocks that, at times, looked like human figures.)

I wasn’t just hoping that I’d been spotted by that helicopter. I believed — no, I KNEW — that all I needed to do was be patient and wait. And that’s what I did — for two days and two nights.

As we usher in 2017, I think back on my time in the desert and long to experience that kind of passionate belief again.

Right now, all these people are wishing one another a happy new year. Exclamation point! Confetti! Yippee! 2016 is dead and gone!

And I’m that petulant, fretting child off in the corner, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes as she mutters, “What’s so great about it?”

Because while 2016 was a hideously crappy year, I fear that 2017 is when our country begins a dark and frightening new chapter of American history. I don’t even want to open the book, honestly.

But I must. You must. Because while a small segment of America is writing this first chapter, there’s nothing keeping us from writing the chapters that follow.

Except, that is, for our despair. We can’t let that happen.

I’m not making any resolutions this year because, fortuitously, I embarked on some new endeavors long before the presidential campaign came to its divisive end. It’s my hope that what I’ve helped start will flourish and provide just one of many safe spaces that will be needed in the years to come.

Yes, years. We’re in it for the long haul, folks. This is not the time to be a commitment-phobe. If we’re to preserve the fabric that makes up our democracy, we have to keep those ragged edges from fraying any further. I compare this election cycle to throwing a daintily embroidered bit of cloth in with the bath towels and turning the dials to “hot” and “heavily soiled.”

Preserving democracy involves much more than making the usual promises at the beginning of a new year.

It involves finding other like-minded people with similar goals. We need to boost one another up out of this pit. And when one weary soul’s shoulders give out, someone else must step in to do the lifting.

It involves refusing to allow others to normalize what emerged from this election cycle. I culled my Facebook friends list yet again because I can’t afford to let people I’ve always liked and respected attempt to convince me that I should get over it and move on because this is “just politics.”

It isn’t just politics. What happened already has allowed hatred, racism and misogyny several new means for insidiously creeping into our everyday lives.

Nothing about this campaign or election was in any way “normal.” We must ensure that 2016 was an anomaly, not help make it the new norm.

I felt terrible about some of those unfriendings. But my Facebook page is MY page. I’m tired of the debates and arguments and attempts to make me accept what has happened over the past year. I’m tired of people trying to cover coal-black hatred with a veneer of supposedly genteel pastels. They can slap on five coats and I will still see through it.

They say “sexist.” But what my teenage daughter heard during the campaign was “pussy-grabber.” Even she, at (almost) 14, knows that “sexist” is a wildly ridiculous (and vain) attempt at a euphemism.

This isn’t about political parties. It’s not elephants vs. donkeys. I know just as many from “the other side” — whichever side you happen to be on — who are horrified by what surfaced in 2016.

This is about defining human decency and what makes us Americans.

This is the time for action. This is when we create safe spaces for those who will need them. It’s when we reach out to those who want to help preserve what we know to be America. It’s when we gather — whether to plan or eat or just laugh together — because we will draw strength from such gatherings. It’s when we donate to good causes and good journalism.

So as we enter 2017, here are my wishes for you, my friends.

I wish you courage. I wish you determination. I wish you the ability to shine and laugh through the dark times. I wish for new and deepening friendships as we work together in the coming years.

And lastly, I wish for you a chance to sprawl on your back and gaze at the Milky Way … and to experience how it feels to truly believe in something — even when all circumstances point toward doom. I want you to know what it is like to be surrounded by chatter and laughter, to be covered in blankets and given water, after being found, alone, in a vast desert.

God bless you.

No, wait.

God bless US.

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You know you are a Girl Scout leader when …

You find glue sticks in unusual places … like melted onto the front seat of your car.

You use empty cookie boxes as extra storage space at work.

Your co-workers use empty cookie boxes as extra storage space at work.

You have more markers than a pre-K teacher.

You make sure there’s a bottle of wine waiting for you after troop meetings. Especially because you have one girl who passes out at the sight of blood and a child who asks, “What is God?” at your first-ever meeting.

The number of photos of your scouts rivals the number of photos of your family members  — even during the holidays.

Little girls run up and hug you during school field trips or parties.

Parents enthusiastically acknowledge you at the grocery store, even when you are decked out in your Zumba party attire.

Your husband groans, “Oh no … another meeting?” when September arrives.

— Dedicated to all of my Girl Scout friends and volunteers

Never forget: What we do does make a difference!