Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Chills

Yesterday, the 20th anniverary of September 11th, I was reading blogs and putting together my own thoughts. By chance I read My OBT (One Best Thing), written by Donna, who posts one thing each day that she finds beautiful.

I confess I don’t read her blog every day, but if the title catches my attention I will.

The title of her post yesterday was “Homecoming” and it was essentially a link to a post written in 2019 by John Fox, a New York City Police Transit Chief, describing the homecoming of his nephew, firefighter Michael Roberts, who was killed on that fateful day.

I read Chief Fox’s account of the way Michael’s body was found on the day before his memorial service, and how the firefighter community brought him home. It’s a heartwarming, heart wrenching piece.

Then I finished up my own post, struggling with the words, realizing that I had nothing more profound to say, and linking back to my own post about a visit we made to the Memorial and the Freedom Tower five years ago. While I was linking to that old post I flipped through it’s images.

And suddenly stopped breathing.

Because there, in my photos, images taken years ago, was Michael Roberts.

Maybe there was more than one Michael Roberts killed that day. But I choose to believe that the Michael Roberts I photographed that hot July day back in 2016 is the same Michael Roberts I read about on the 20th anniversary of his death.

And somehow, even in the midst of sadness I had to smile.

Edit: I did some research on Michael Roberts the rookie firefighter that died on September 11. His middle name was Edward. He was born July 15, the day we were at the memorial. Hence the white rose. This was definitely the same young man I read about yesterday.


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Just too much

This morning when Katie-girl woke me at 4 a.m. to go outside I turned on the news to get the latest on hurricane Ida. I have a few friends in the path of the storm.

I watched a few minutes of roofs being torn off buildings and downed trees, utility poles snapped in half, blinding rain. My heart broke. Then the anchor turned to Afghanistan and the thirteen soldiers whose families are beginning their new normal and my heart broke again. And after that were images of the fires in the west. And then Corona virus hospitalization numbers.

After our storm last night.

I turned the television off.

Katie and I went back to bed. She fell asleep instantly, not burdened by worry. I lay there for awhile trying not to get sucked into despair.

But this morning, as I was fixing Katie’s breakfast (boiled chicken, white rice, Royal Canin kibble, green beans and pumpkin) I noted that the air felt fresher, the temperatures cooler than we’ve had in a very long time.

As she ate I went out to fill the birdfeeders.

Early morning of a fresh new day.

A little chickadee flitted around my head, waiting for his favorite feeder to be rehung. A hummingbird checked us both out, reminding me I needed to put fresh sugar water out too.

There was cool morning dew on the roses.

Ripe tomatoes were ready to be picked in the garden.

The sun was coming up and a kingfisher clattered through a beam of light, headed for the pond.

Yes, there are terrible, terrible things going on here at home and across the world. Yes today is a sad day, yesterday was a sad day, all of last week was terrible for so many people. Tomorrow might not be better.

But I am so lucky that when I take the time to look there is usually something good to find, even in the midst of just too much.

Watcha doing, mama?

And that makes me smile.


23 Comments

What’s the difference?

You all know my dad was killed in a preventable truck crash December 23, 2004, and that ever since then I’ve been a volunteer for the Truck Safety Coalition. Our mission is to provide compassionate support to victims and their families, and to educate people and policymakers about changes that should be implemented to make our roads safer for everyone.

And, you all know that change is slow and hard.

Many of you have expressed frustration in support of me and our organization’s effort, and here’s an easy way that you can help.

The Senate is taking up S. 2016, the Surface Transportation Investment Act (you have heard it referred to as the Infrastructure Bill) this week. They’ll probably debate into next week. Inside that bill is a weak attempt at getting automatic emergency braking systems (AEB) on trucks.

Due to pressure from the trucking industry, the bill only calls for this lifesaving technology to be mandated on new Class 7 and 8 trucks. Those are the biggest trucks out there, and yes it will be very good to have mandated AEB on the new trucks that size. But what about all the medium and small commercial trucks running around in our neighborhoods?

Last year there was a bill that mandated AEB on all vehicles. Doesn’t that make more sense? Car manufacturers have agreed to have AEB on all their new vehicles in the next few years. Truck cab manufacturers already offer it, but it’s not mandated and companies, looking to save some money, often order new cabs without it.

In case you’re interested, the cost of adding AEB to a new truck will run about $270 to $290. For perspective, the cost of a new Class 6 truck can be $90,000 or more. Seems a small price to pay for safety, don’t you think?

Based on new truck sales data there are about 500,000 new Class 3-6 trucks sold every year. New sales of these medium and small trucks has increased by 16% in the past 5 years alone. And many thousands of these trucks are running through our neighborhoods daily, delivering all the stuff we buy online these days.

Kids playing, people walking or biking, or just driving home through their neighborhoods are exposed to all the delivery trucks, all days of the week, early in the morning and late into the evening. Why would we not want these trucks equipped with available and inexpensive safety technology?

One last statistic. Small and medium trucks are responsible for 27% of all fatalities in commercial truck crashes. In 2019 there were almost 5,000 people killed in truck related crashes. So approximately 1350 people were killed in crashes with small and medium trucks. I don’t know how many of those were crashes, like my dad’s, where the victims were waiting in traffic and were struck from behind. But even if it’s only a few, are those lives not as valuable as the lives lost to crashes with huge trucks?

It should be a simple decision to mandate Automatic Emergency Braking on all vehicles, all cars, all trucks, no matter the size. That way, no matter the reason for the inattention of a vehicle driver, be it a medical event, distraction, or sleepiness, the vehicle can sense when something is up ahead and slow or stop before the crash happens.

If you were sitting in that car, stuck in traffic with nowhere to go, while another vehicle, car or truck, was bearing down on you, wouldn’t you be hoping they had AEB? I think about it all the time, maybe you will too, now that you’re heard about an easy solution.

So here’s what you can do. Call or email your two Senators and tell them that you want Senate Bill S. 2016 to require the DOT (Department of Transportation) to mandate Automatic Emergency Braking systems on all vehicles, not just Class 7 and 8 trucks. Tell them every life that can be saved should be saved, regardless of the size of the vehicles involved.

You can find the phone number and/or the websites of your Senators by going to this link. You put in your state and it will bring up your two Senators. You can click on them and go directly to their email contact form. Their phone numbers are there too, so if you’d rather call, you can. Just tell the person that answers the phone what your concern is. Don’t be nervous. It’s their job to listen to you.

We don’t know if we will be able to get all vehicles into this bill. But for darn sure it won’t happen if we don’t try.

Your voice is important, and I’m grateful, as always, for your support. Next time you see that delivery van zipping around your neighborhood wonder, like I do, if it has Automatic Emergency Braking. And look forward to the day, sometime in the future, when you won’t have to wonder about that anymore.

Thanks, dad, for being the inspiration for my work. You never gave up. We won’t either.


36 Comments

Mom musings

I’ve been missing my mom the past week or so even more than usual. Those of us with moms who are gone miss them every day, but sometimes the ache is just more profound.

A little poppy from our wildflower bed, in early morning light.

I’ve found myself wanting to give her a call. To ask her how she did so much with all of us when some days I don’t seem to get anything done at all.

I wonder how she kept her gardens up. I don’t have any memories of her weeding, though she had gardens in our house in Adrian, and again in Howell, and then in Alabama. I can’t keep up with the gardens we have, and I don’t have nearly the responsibilities she did when we were growing up.

The coreopsis lifts it’s face to the sun.

And meals. I know I’ve talked about this before, but how in the world did she manage to get a meal (or two) on the table for six of us every single day? I know we took it for granted and often asked her what was for dinner. I don’t remember ever reacting negatively to her reply, but just the question alone placed all the responsibility on her and she must have felt that weight.

Mama? I’ll wait right here while you take those pictures and think about your Mom.

When we were older, did we ever make a meal for the family? Sometimes on Sunday we’d make the coffee cake for evening supper. Wow, what a relief she must have felt, ey? One meal during the week where we made something, though I imagine she was there to supervise. I don’t remember ever working in the kitchen that she wasn’t there too.

The zinnia stands up straight and tall.

And let’s not even start talking about laundry. Though I remember knowing how to do laundry at an early age, I also remember mom sitting on the sofa with six growing piles of folded underwear surrounding her as she tried to match all the socks. It seemed to be never ending.

Just beginning to emerge.

I know we had Saturday chores, the vaccuuming and cleaning the bathrooms and probably a whole lot more that I can’t remember. I know the list on Saturday of things we had to get done before we could go off and do whatever kids did back then seemed long.

But I doubt it was that lengthy, and nowhere near the list she handled every day. Stuff we took for granted. Stuff we took for granted her entire life.

Red lantana can brighten anybody’s day.

I remember her finally coming down to the family room in the evening after she finished whatever chore she had attacked at the end of the day. We’d all be down there watching the big bulky television and she’d settle on the sofa between a couple kids, or next to dad.

And she’d instantly fall asleep, in what I realize now, was sheer exhaustion.

Light folds into the lilly blossoms.

She’d wake up at the commercials, because, as some of you may recall, they’d be louder than the television show they sponsored. She used to say all she ever saw on television were the commercials.

Once upon a time I thought she and dad were too old to up and move across the country when they were fifty, leaving everything they knew behind. Now I’m fifteen years older than they were then and I don’t think it’s odd at all to contemplate and even accomplish such an adventure.

So much glorious color at this time of the year makes me smile.

Mom and dad had plenty of adventures, both when we were kids, and after we had left home. But I think of those early years with all four of us and dad to take care of and I don’t know how she did it.

There are smiles everywhere you look.

I hope she knows that I recognize her work now and wish I had expressed that to her all those years ago.

I guess today is Mother’s Day in my heart.

It’s OK, mama. I think she knew.


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Every day is Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day, dad.

On this day when people everywhere are celebrating their dads, I celebrate you.

1953

I wonder what you’d look like today, at age 91. I can’t quite imagine you any other way than how I’ve always known you. You never seemed to change much, you never aged.

1959

But you will always be 75, the age you were when you were stolen from us.

I know I’m lucky we had you that long. I know plenty of families where people have been stolen or injured much earlier than 75. I know plenty of people whose parents were taken when they were much younger than I was.

1980

I know parents whose children were taken. That’s beyond anything I can even imagine.

1990

So I know we were lucky. .

2003

But I can’t help but wish you were here today.

Every day is Father’s Day, dad, because we all think about you every day.

But, I know you know that.


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Memorial Weekend Musings

I recognize that not everyone has a National Cemetery close at hand to visit. And I know I just shared with you the one near me.

It’s a new day.

But that was before volunteers placed flags on the graves of our veterans. Flags that glow when the sun is just rising on the Sunday before Memorial Day.

Adding color to the memories.

And because you couldn’t all get there I decided to go for you, and for me, to see those glowing flags and reflect for a moment or two what it all means.

Our local version of Arlington.

What does it mean, on this Memorial Day weekend, that so many people are on opposite sides of so many issues leaving no middle ground to talk?

Row upon row of lifetimes.

Yet, both sides profess to love this country, a country that allows for differences of opinions. Just, apparently, not those opinions so different than our own.

Nature’s flyover.

When you walk among the white headstones in the early morning light, alone with no sound but the birds and a distant train, you have to wonder if we’re all so very different. If maybe, rather than different, we’re just stubborn.

Quiet company.

Still. I know it’s complicated, I have strong opinions too. Things that seem so obvious to me. But, it turns out, things seem obvious to the other side too.

Talking louder doesn’t make you right. Or wrong for that matter. Just louder.

Expressing an opinion.

In this quiet place, on this quiet morning louder seems obscene. Even the birds and animals that roam here at night are quietly moving to the outskirts as the sun comes up, willing to give the place back to the humans for their special day. We might learn from them how to share the world.

Live and let live. Both sides. Everyone.

Time to move on.

It’s easier to listen in the quiet, and it’s quiet out here. So many people, so many families represented. So many stories to be told if we care to listen.

Missed every day.

The folks out here cared enough to give a part, or the whole, of their lives to keep this country safe. And strong. We should care enough not to harm it now. We need to stop yelling, trying to make our point, and quiet ourselves the better to listen.

Sometimes it’s hard to let the light in.

So many people are missed this holiday weekend. So many families bear the burden and deserve our respect and understanding.

Dreams, achieved or not, make the world worth living.

Both sides must move toward the middle in order to preserve what these families gave to us.

Both sides.

Life is made of shadows and light together.

It’s a choice we each have to make within ourselves. Find a quiet place this weekend and think about what it all means to you.

The light will always shine.

And if your family is missing someone today…know that we’re all out here sending you hugs.


32 Comments

Remembering Ricky

Katie here.

Mama said I could get on her blog to tell you about my buddy Ricky who crossed the Rainbow Bridge last week. He was one of the original dogs with blogs, and mama found his blog years and years ago when we were all youngsters. There were a bunch of shelties with blogs back then — Ricky and Misty and Miley and Reilly and Ludo and Morgan.

Mama thinks there were more, but she can’t think straight when her eyes are leaking.

Anyway, we noticed Ricky right away because he was such a dapper little man. So much sophistication in such a little package. Mama likes to call him Little Ricky, because he was tiny.

But he had a big personality.

Ricky had fun with agility, but he liked to do it his way. His mom worked and worked to speed him up, but Ricky was his own guy and took those obstacles at a speed he deemed appropriate. Especially, as we remember, the dogwalk where he liked to survey the entire facility as he moved arcross the top. Ricky, always so elegant, never felt there was a need to hurry.

Ricky was really good at learning tricks too, and for a time he learned a new trick every week. His mom posted videos of his latest accomplishments and we were always so impressed! He learned to hold things in his mouth, and spin to the left and the right, to play dead, and so much more. He was so smart, and he made mama and lots of other people smile every week.

In fact, Ricky was something of a celebrity, he had so many people that enjoyed watching him learn new things. I told mama that we should try to meet him, and she said she’d see if she could arrange it. And guess what? I got to visit Ricky two times! It isn’t often that a girl from a small town gets to meet one of her idols in real life, you know?

In fact, visiting Ricky was one of my very first big adventures, cause they lived hours away from me and in a different state and everything! It was on a trip to visit Ricky that I proved to mama that I was a good traveler!

Ricky was such a gracious host. He shared his house and his people and his beautiful yard with me without any protest. He was such a cool dude, we got along great because we ignored each other most of the time. He didn’t even get mad when I drank out of his waterbowl!

He was so polite and nice to me that when we stayed over night at his house I decided to invite him into our bedroom (OK, it was really his room, but he let us stay there) to do obedience with mama and me so that he could get some treats from her too. Ricky really loved treats.

And that first visit he took me in his car to one of his parks! I was so excited! Ricky, of course, was too cool to be excited about a car ride with a silly girl.

It was a very very beautiful park with a little stream at the bottom of a big gorge. We walked and walked, with lots of sniffing thrown in. Wherever Ricky sniffed, I sniffed; he was sharing all the best stuff with me!

And when we climbed back out of the ravine there were beautiful gardens and we sat close to each other on this little wall so the moms could take pictures. He was much more patient than I was with the whole picture taking thing. This was way before I contracted with mama about the one picture, one treat clause, so we ended up sitting for way too many pictures for way too few treats. But Ricky never got upset.

He was such a special boy.

I visited him a second time, and by then he had a little sister who was, of course, bigger than he was. We all went to a park together again and had a wonderful time. Ricky was so patient with all the girls, his mom, my mama, his sister and me.

I am so sad that Ricky had to go on ahead. But I can imagine him exploring the whole place, and finding the best sniffing spots, and where all the good treats are. And I bet he’s found Ludo and Reilly and Denny and Morgan and Misty too by now. Just picture it, all those shelties running and laughing and enjoying snacks. All those sheltie smiles as they play together while they wait for the rest of us to arrive.

It’s got to be one amazing place, over the Rainbow Bridge. I wish he could have stayed here with his mom and dad and sister, but I know he’s happy there too. He may have been a little guy, but he sure shouldered a whole lot of love from all of us who knew him.

See you later, Little Ricky. I’m so glad I got to meet you, and I’ll never forget your friendship. You were and always will be one classy dude.

-Love, your pal forever, Katie.


17 Comments

The internal debate

The debate churned within me as I watched the news last night and again today.  Another mass shooting, the second in the last seven days.  I watch the talking heads and the famlies from previous shootings arguing their positions on gun control.  I note, again, how similar their fight is to ours trying to get safety regulations in the trucking industry.

Let me say right up front that I’m supportive of at least discussing some gun control legislation. And that I don’t understand the entire complicated issue. But I do know the pain that family and friends carry with them as they walk the halls of Congress trying to get something, anything done.

Sandhill cranes in early morning light.

And who better to talk about possible soultions than the people that have born the brunt of the issue.

I don’t understand why any civilian needs guns designed for warefare. But mostly I don’t understand when purchasing a gun why a background check is a problem. So I’d like to close that loophole, even for private sales. Yes I get that a background check might not have changed anything in many of the mass shootings over the years. But there’s nothing to prove background checks haven’t averted mass shootings either.

It’s like truck safety. It’s hard to prove that we’ve saved lives. But I have to believe that the successes we’ve had at holding back bigger, longer trucks have saved lives, that getting onboard recorders to manage hours of service has saved lives. That just talking about safety around trucking issues with our friends and families has saved lives.

And geese too.

Just like background checks, we’ll never know whose life has been saved because a truck crash didn’t happen. We’ll never know how many live are saved because a background check kept a gun from someone ‘having a bad day.’

I know that someone intent on doing harm will get a gun regardless of regulations. Just like a driver, intent on making a profit can drive longer hours on less sleep and at greater speeds. But regulations keep the majority following safety protocols. And that saves lives.

Remnant

Think back, those of you my age or older, to when there were no seatbelt requirements. When they started being required we protested. They infringed our freedom to drive with wild abandonment. (It was the 60s after all.) But seatbelts saved lives and eventually we adjusted.

Background checks on all gun purchases can save lives, and those of us that want to own guns can adjust.

I know, I know, change is hard.

So what was the internal debate I’ve been struggling with? It was whether to bring this topic up at all. But two mass killings in a week are hard to ignore. One mass killing should be hard to ignore. Our government needs to stop sticking to party lines and have an honest debate.

Reflections

I think we are more than ready to talk about this. And we deserve that discussion.

Pictures today are from a several mile walk I took yesterday at the Shiawasee Nature Preserve. They are straight from the camera, without any editing, because my Lightroom library is still full and useless. I chose these to share with you now, because I don’t know when I’ll be able to edit again. And I didn’t want you to miss a bit of beauty during all the horrific news these days.

Sunrise

Let’s hope it’s a new day in Congress.

PS: I think you’ll have to click on these images to really see them, they seem pretty small in the finished product! Darn WordPress anyway. 🙂


16 Comments

Truck rant

(This was written in January 2012. It was sitting in my draft folder, never posted, probably because I was afraid of offending someone. Now, nine years later, the same issues are still being studied by the DOT. Other than mandating unboard recorders nothing has been accomplished there.)

Warning – this is probably not going to be politically correct.  And I remind myself that what’s put out on the internet stays on the internet.  Good or bad.  But I’m working on truck safety stuff again, which makes me relive some of the initial moments and days after Dad’s crash.  And some things just need to be said.  Out loud.  Emphatically.

I’m heading to Washington again, for more meetings with the DOT; Secretary LaHood, FMSCA Administrator Anne Ferro and then members of Congress, to talk about things that can be done to improve safety.  Sometimes it all feels pointlessly repetitive, like we’re just wasting time, ours and theirs.

But then I remember.

I remember getting the call at work.  I remember signing papers to have Dad cremated and faxing them to the funeral home from a retail UPS store the night before Christmas Eve. I remember suffering through the holiday cheer of the employees as I waited for my confirmation while trying not to cry.  I remember sitting in my brother’s Alabama living room the night of Christmas Eve listening to the county coroner explain what happened.  I remember not understanding.

And this is what I can tell you now that I know more, understand more.

I know that though Dad was the kind of guy that would fix things and make them better, dead is forever and dead can’t be fixed.  And as much as I want to I can never make my family whole.  I told my sister, a couple of years into this journey, that if we could save one life through our efforts with the Truck Safety Coalition we’d be even.  She said “No we won’t.”  And she’s right.  We will never be even, not ever again.

So we can’t fix the fact that Dad is dead.  But we can fix fatigued driving.  And though common sense says that the easiest way to fix fatigued driving is to lower the number of hours a person can consecutively drive, well, maybe I’m just a naive civilian.

I received an emailed response from Administrator Ferro to my own emotional email expressing my displeasure with the new Hours of Service rule.  She says, and rightly so, that reducing truck crashes will take a complicated combination of rules, a push toward safety from many fronts –  and that reducing the number of allowed hours would continue to be studied.  She assures me a reduction in consecutive hours of driving could still be on the table.  OK.  So let’s study this for another year or more.  Apparently the people that will be killed by fatigued drivers during this period of study are expendable…collateral damage if you will.

Or maybe they’re just the cost of doing business.  After all, the trucking industry is the backbone of our economy, don’t you know.  So what’s good for the ATA (American Trucking Association) is good for all of us.   Right?  Well maybe good for everyone except those of us who get calls in the middle of the day, those of us signing our family member away to a funeral home, those of us left with a hole that can never be filled.  Those of us angry in our grief.

I’m not apologizing for this rant.  It’s your choice to read or not read.  Comment or not.  It wasn’t written for you.  It was written for me.  Because I have to go back to Washington and talk to these people again about common sense safety issues.  And I shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t have to explain simple concepts to people that are in power and are supposed to be experts in their fields.  I shouldn’t have to exploit Dad’s death to get something done.  I shouldn’t have to relive the whole thing over and over and over so that they can justify ‘studying’ things some more.

Give it up people.  The time for studying and discussion is over.  We need some action.  People are dying.

I don’t know what more I can say.


26 Comments

What matters in the end

Yesterday was Inauguration Day. Depending on where you stand it might have been a wonderful, uplifting day or it might have been a tragedy. I have thoughts about all that swirling around in my head – they may or may not spill out eventually.

But that’s not where my head or heart are today.

Because, you see, last night, after a day where the world focused on the big picture, after the sun set in a show we haven’t seen here in years, once the world went still, my neighbor left this earth quietly, his departure marked only by family.

The end of an extraordinary day.

I tell you this not because it was a tragedy, though they will miss him fiercely, but because it reminds me this morning of what is important. It’s not the arguments over real or imagined fears, it’s not the friendships destroyed by political influence, it’s not cabinet appointments or policy changes.

What’s important, really, are the relationships we all have, with our family members, with our friends, with our neighbors. Those are what need to be protected, those are fragile, those will not last forever. Those are what we must work on now.

Last night the birdhouse our neighbor made for us many years ago fell from it’s tree. And last night our neighbor broke free, no longer in pain, no longer confused, no longer in tears.

God speed Jack, Katie and I will miss sitting on your front porch in conversation, or near the end, in communal silence, watching the world go by. She looks toward your house when we’re out on walks and will still tug me toward your driveway. Thanks for always giving her an ear scratch. She’ll miss your, “Whatcha doing girl?”

So will I.