Monday, October 05, 2009

a funny thing happened on the way to south carolina

I'm still in South Carolina and I will be flying home, tomorrow.

This trip has been an amazing adventure for me and I want to record some of the things that have happened so I don't ever forget.


The shuttle driver was supposed to be at the door to pick me up at 5:35 on Thursday morning. When they had not arrived by 5:45, I could feel the back of my neck break out in to a light sweat. To distract myself, while I waited, I did a mental inventory of everything I had packed. For some reason, I remembered that I wanted to bring some of my "BE AMAZING!" bracelets back home, so I could hand them out to friends and relatives.

So I grabbed a bag of 100 and shoved them in to the outer compartment of my bag. Then, I resumed my panic attack. Because my flight was due to leave at 7:30 and I knew we had two other passengers to pick up and it takes at least 30 minutes to get in to the airport without traffic, and security at the airport early in the morning on a work week is nothing short of brutal.

We were going to be late. I was going to miss my plane. I would have to catch another flight. I would never make it back in time for the funeral services that were scheduled to begin Friday.

Commence knots in stomach.

I moved myself outside, to the sidewalk, and tried calling the shuttle company. "I knew I should have taken an earlier shuttle," I said aloud. "Or at least, driven myself." But just then, the shuttle van pulled in to sight. The driver climbed out and he was a large man, with a long beard, thick glasses and tattoos covering every inch of skin from his sleeveless elbows to his wrists. He briskly greeted me and told me to take the passenger seat, while he loaded my suitcase in to the back.

Once he climbed in to the van, panting heavily, he slowly dialed his location in to a hand held device and then, pulling up a tiny screen on his computer, determined that the next pick up was just three houses away. The second passenger was also standing outside their home, gripping their cell phone, clearly poised to call the shuttle company.

When the second passenger climbed aboard, I said good morning and cheerfully asked how long they had lived in the neighborhood. Because, well - I've lived in this neighborhood since September of 1997 and this was the first time I had ever seen this man, living only three doors away. Surely he must be new. But much to my surprise - or rather, blatantly obvious antisocial dismay - he has lived in his house since November of 1997.

Welcome to suburbia living in San Diego.

You don't know me. I don't know you.

While our driver entered his second pick up in to his hand held device and pulled up the third location, we briefly traded stories about our tract homes. (Better known as the ticky tacky little boxes and they all look just the same.) The dysfunctional shower in the master bedroom (he has the same issues we do), poor quality windows (both agree they are totally crappy), total lack of insulation (yes, brrr), and how it's possible that we don't know each other when we've lived three houses away from one another for the past 12 years?

Pathetic, indeed.

I told him that it was now on my list to make sure I knew everyone on my block, and I'd aim to meet someone new, once per month. The three of us concurred that it so easily happens that we get busy with our own lives and in the process become clueless to the people and world around us.

Our shuttle driver slowed to a stop and was pulling out his map. "Alright, let's see where are we going?" he asked no one in particular.

He scrutinized the page for a few minutes and while I watched the green digital minutes tick by on the dashboard, and could feel my mouth go suddenly dry, I reached over to take the map while trying to helpfully suggest, "Maybe I can figure it out?"

Without protest, he handed over the map and grabbed a flashlight out of the glove compartment which he clicked on and passed to me. With a florescent light in one hand, and a ripped Thomas Guide in the other, within a minute I pinpointed our location and another minute later, identified the street where we were heading. Then, I rolled down the window and shined the light on each passing street sign until I could see where we needed to turn right, left, left and right again.

Once we arrived, our third and fourth passengers were standing outside of the house and the sun was visible in the east. While the driver was loading our passengers, I happened to look around the dashboard and noticed a shuttle license and registration. My drivers named was George. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 375 pounds. He was born March 18, 1962.

We loaded our final passengers, George slowly recorded in his device that all of the passengers were secure and our trip to the airport commenced.

As we drove out of the neighborhood, I started to make small talk. I was curious, how early does George have to get up in the morning? How long is his shift? How many miles does he typically drive in a week? As we were talking, he informed me that he typically starts his shift at 2 AM and runs five or six shuttles a day. He's run one shuttle already, but he has an eye appointment later in the morning, so this would be his only shuttle of the day. Then he pointed to his coke bottle glasses.

"So, you're going in for an eye appointment?" I questioned. "Are you considering lasic?"

Turns out, George was recently diagnosed with diabetes and the eye appointment is to make sure that his vision has not been impaired. Once he told me that, he added that he is considering gastric bypass surgery, because he really needs to lose weight.

My interest was piqued. "In addition to the bypass, what are you doing to lose the weight?" I asked. He told me that he is seeing a personal trainer and trying to adjust his eating habits. For 20 years, he was a truck driver and in the process of logging more than 2 million miles on the road, he developed an affinity for fast food drive thrus. Now, he is trying to eat out less and eat more fresh foods. It hasn't been easy, but he really wants to make a concerted effort to begin living a healthy life, because his whole life he has been plagued with one challenge after another.

Then he told me that he is a recovering drug addict. He was addicted to cocaine for at least 10 years. He's been clean for 16 years. Just as I was about to tell him kudos!, he told me that his 20-year old daughter, who had epilepsy, died just last month. She had a grand mal seizure while she was strung out on illegal drugs and she never woke up.

While I sat wondering what to say, he continued that in addition to being diagnosed with diabetes, and losing his daughter, within the past month, he was also diagnosed with bladder cancer. Currently, he 'only' has three tumors which appear to be stable, but he requires annual exams for the next three years, and then once every two years for the rest of his life.

Then he softly whispered that this past month has been so awful for him, he's considered turning back to drugs - or putting an end to it all.

He continued to talk and I tried to listen while doing my best to not pass any judgement on this man or what he has been through. Instead, when there was a break in the conversation and he said, "I cannot believe I just told you all of that", I told him that spilling the beans to an absolute stranger can be wonderfully cathartic.

Then, I told him that everyone has a purpose in life and he needs to figure out what his is. For some odd reason, I had no reservation telling this man, "George, I absolutely do not believe that you were created for the sole intent of cocaine and double cheeseburger consumption. I will bet that if you focused just a fraction of your energy on trying to make something positive come out of the tragedy surrounding your daughter's death, you might be able to reach and effect a host of individuals who are going through a similar situation. Feeling like you are all alone, against the world, can be terribly overwhelming. Take it from me. I have four children born in two and half years."

During all of our banter, the passengers in the back are carrying on their own conversations, oblivious to what we were talking about in the front. And when we arrived at the airport, my airline was the first drop off.

As I climbed in to the back to grab my suitcase, I opened the small zippered compartment on my bag and pulled out a large "BE AMAZING!" bracelet. As I handed George a tip - I also handed him the bracelet and I said, "Listen, I hope that you will wear this little band and remember that YOU are in charge of your life. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift - that is why it is called the present. YOU can do anything you set your mind to TODAY, and the only one that is stopping you, is YOU."

As I stood there, wondering when Studs Terkel and Tony Robbins had taken up residence in my psyche, George put on his bracelet, smiled, wiped a tear away from his eyes, and then threw his huge bear-like arms around me, almost crushing my rib cage.

While he was hugging me tightly, he said, "Thanks for taking the time. You helped reading that map and this little pep talk is just what I needed."

When George let go, I looked in to the shuttle and the other three passengers were staring at us, undoubtedly wondering why the driver was hugging me and what he had in store for them.

My neighbor from three doors down called out to me through the open door, "Look at that! You've just met two new people in one day. Now you're set until Christmas!"

And then he said to George, "Dude, I really hope you're not expecting a hug from me."


  1. That was a beautiful story.

    Feels good to help a person who is down ... even if all you know how to do is listen, huh?

    The bracelet will probably pick him up every day for the next 20 years. Atta girl.

  2. Be amazing? YOU are truly amazing.
    You take the time that so many others wouldn't. Myself included, I hate to admit. Carry on being such an inspiration to all of us around the world.
    Kathryn from Jakarta

  3. Again, lost for words. You may have saved that man's life.
    In your spare time, you may consider motivational speaking!

  4. Emma in Amsterdam10/5/09, 7:03 AM

    That made me wipe away a couple of tears, on the other side of the world.

    Good thing you wrote it down straight away!

  5. I think it sounds just like something your Uncle Bill would do. I'm sure he would be proud and I think it was a really nice and sweet thing for you to do. It sounds like just what your driver needed.

  6. Wow, that is an awesome story. It brought tears to my eyes. You are AMAZING!


  7. You are... amazing. I wish I knew you "in real life." You inspire me so much.

  8. Your Uncle Bill would be so proud of you

  9. You're the stranger I want to walk past on the way to work.

    I hope George finds his strength. Life can really suck, but it's what you make of it, right?

    You're one inspiring lady.

  10. Jen that is such a sweet touching story. You are so amazing, what a sweetheart you are. George will never ever forget you and he is definitely in my prayers now. Bless his heart. So many people do feel like they are one against the world and that is what brings them so far down and they can't get back out. Your pep talk was God speaking to him, he needed that and you delivered. You are an angel.
    Love, Denise.

  11. Jen, you truly are amazing. What a great story. :)

  12. Awesome Jen. Just awesome. Sometimes I am so wrapped up in the chaotic details of Life, I miss all of those people around me that need exactly what George needed: an ear, a hug and no judgement.

    I remember hearing (reading?) once that one of the things we'll experience on Judgement Day, is all the joy we've given, all the pain we've caused, all the points in our lives where God protected us (while we probably whined about something), and all the opportunities we missed out on loving/ministering to others.

    This is an opportunity that you did not miss. I will attempt to keep my eye open for more as well. Thank you for helping me refocus. :-)

  13. Wow.. what an *amazing* shuttle ride! The man reminds me of my friend Hobbes... so many similarities right down to the diabetes, the drugs, and the cancer.

    I love things like this, little proofs that we are walking the path we are supposed to be on.

  14. YOU are amazing. My kids love their bracelets. They arrived on Saturday, Thanks.

  15. I love that story - thanks for sharing!


  16. Very cool Story! Brought tears to my eyes! You are an amazing person!

  17. You made the world better that morning. Not just for George, for all of us. Bravo.

  18. That's so awesome. And a really great reminder that we have NO IDEA of the things that people are struggling with when we meet them. You could have just sat there angry and upset that you were running late, complained to the company, and possibly gotten the man written up or fired, which would have no doubt contributed to his mounting feelings of inadequacy and loneliness... which could have easily led him back on the track to addiction.

    Thanks for that reminder.

  19. Bless you Jen. We never ever know exactly when we are going to make a difference in someone else's life (And therby make a difference in your own). We will however sometime make a difference.
    This brought real tears to my eyes... uhmmm Thank you?
    Have a safe trip back home.

    I hope you said Goodbye to Uncle Bill for all of us... oh maybe that was Uncle Bill channeling through you?

  20. One of many cuzzins!10/5/09, 2:36 PM


  21. Your uncle would be proud of you, Jenna. I suspect he has taken up residence in your psyche right alongside Tony and Studs. It was fitting that you should cross paths with George on that of all days---for you and for him. YOU are amazing.

  22. beautiful. I think you definitely picked the right shuttle time.
    BTW-I have enjoyed reading your blog for a while now-often you provide me with a pick-me-up for the day.

  23. Jen, how amazing was that. YOU are awesome! There are no accidents. You were meant to take that shuttle.. to change that mans life.
    You rock, Jen! bSo glad you took the time to write this down!

  24. Love this post, Just AMAZING!

  25. I just love this story!

    KarenM in NC

  26. Jennifer PM10/5/09, 5:12 PM

    What an amazing story. I'm so glad you had good connection and he felt he could share his story. Going through all of that and not having someone to share it with would be incredibly hard. He was the perfect recipient for one of your bracelets!

  27. You are amazing, Jen. I am sure this was a wonderful tribute to your uncle Bill, and it surely makes you some miles more like him.

    I hope that sorrow goes away and your family finds peace after this loss.

  28. That made my heart smile, I'm so glad you took the time to write it down.

  29. Girlfriend? That was awesome.

  30. Hey, I am trying to make a donation for the blocks giveaway, but it's not letting me. I think the site is down?! Help! Thanks. :-)

  31. :*) a perfect good deed in the spirit of your Uncle Bill; you are amazing. You done good!

  32. Awesome. You did your uncle proud. There is no greater way to honor your uncle then to emulate him.

    (Carolyn's Boards)

  33. Kim from NH10/6/09, 1:08 PM

    Jen, I can only echo what everyone else here has said - You are Amazing! My bracelets arrived today, and please thank Charlie and Elizabeth for the awesome picture. It is hanging on my fridge.

  34. WOW! That's an awesome story. Beautiful. Thanks for being who you are and inpsiring us all.

    Love, Marg.

    I wanna be amazin too! ;-)

  35. Everyone else has said it already, but you ARE amazing! You are working so hard to raise funds for cancer research to save lives and in your spare time you may just have helped George save his life! You've got a bit of your Uncle Bill in you. Keep letting his/your light shine!
    PS: we received our bracelets Saturday and we all love them. My girls put them on and haven't taken them off! The small size is soooo cute!!

  36. That story made me cry. I also poured out my heart to a stranger already and I know that it does help a lot so I guess you made a big difference to George's life that day.

  37. I'm with Samantha. You NEED to be in motivational speaking. I ignored my kids whining and one on the potty so I could finish that wonderful story.


  38. WOW!! That is an amazing story. See you were meant to grab those bracelets and if he hadn't been late you never would have been able to go back and get them.