Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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On a mission in St. Paul Minnesota

Some of you know that last week my husband and I were in Minnesota. But maybe you don’t know why, so let me introduce you. This is Katie Burkey.

Katie’s photo courtesy of her mom Karen.

She was 22 when she was driving home from work, stopped in rush hour traffic, and hit from behind be a semi truck that didn’t notice all that traffic. That happened on September 6, 2017.

Her family and friends were and continue to be devastated. Such a beautiful life, so much potential, with a unstoppable future. Gone.

So on the first anniversary Katie’s mom said she could either sit at home and be sad and angry or she could try to do something productive. She chose productivity and Katie’s friends and family rallied on the state capital steps, looking for press coverage to not only bring attention to this kind of truck crash, but to push for more things.

Lots of people stood up for Katie.

One, there’s a bill in the Minnesota legislature to ban the use of cell phones while driving. Though they don’t know exactly what the driver of the truck was doing at the time of the crash, they presume he was distracted. The bill needs to be voted on and it needs to pass.

I did a short interview.

Two, the driver of the truck that killed Katie has never been charged with anything. At all. In over a year.

The Prosecutor has refused to press charges, even though the police who worked the crash presented the information to him and feel he should be charged. The Prosecutor says the crash doesn’t fit the definition of ‘gross’ negligence. He stands firm that gross negligence would have to include the driver being under the influence, or he left the scene. Neither of those were true. So he’s passed the case on to the city attorney who hasn’t moved on it.

Understandably the family wants the driver charged. Katie is dead and so far the driver hasn’t been held accountable for anything. They hope all the television the rally got will get the city attorney’s attention. I hope so.

The family asked if anyone at the Truck Safety Coalition could attend and speak. That’s why we were there and I felt humbled to have been asked. There were several other families that spoke about their lost loved ones, each story heartbreaking.

I was glad to meet Katie’s mom and aunt, grandparents, and friends. But I’m so sad that I met them in this context. I’m sending hugs to them all.

I wish I could do more.

Protesting lack of accountability,


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Grief gets all mixed together.

Today, in fact this entire week, has been filled with sad images on television.

Here in Detroit it’s been a week of celebrating the life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, who died two weeks ago. There’s been days of public viewing, with lines of people stretching for blocks, all waiting in heat indexes over 100 degrees to pay their respect. Her funeral is tomorrow. Local news stations seem to broadcast little else.

And Senator John McCain died last Saturday and the national news has been filed with his story, work and funeral arrangements. I watched his Arizona funeral today. One of the television pundits commented, as we watched the family file in, that she couldn’t imagine how his seven children were feeling at the loss of their father.

I silently noted that she must not have lost a parent yet. Because if she had she’d know how easy it is to imagine how they feel.

“You didn’t have your dad as long as you’d like, but you got everything you need from him.”*

Watching them during the service, and especially as they followed the casket back out after I was right back at my mother’s funeral, and at my dad’s a few months later.

I know the feeling of standing, knees weak, at the pulpit and staring out over a standing-room-only crowd wondering if I could get the words out. I remember how it felt to smile after, shaking hands, accepting hugs, while all the time feeling totally numb.

“This I promise you – you know you’re going to make it when one day you see an image of your dad and a smile touches your lips before a tear fills your eye.”*

I know the feeling of disbelief. I know that it feels like you’re walking through mud, how the days each last an eternity, yet fly by too quickly. How that final goodbye shreds your insides.

And then this afternoon, on a highway out in New Mexico, a semi truck had a tire malfunction and crossed the median, striking a Greyhound bus head on. There are multiple deaths. Even more injuries. Families are even now receiving that phone call.

The cycle of loss never ends.

Today I seem to be enveloped in grief. Old grief for my family, new grief at recent national losses. Stabbing grief at the knowledge that more families are, tonight, beginning their own personal trek through darkness.

But I know what Joe Biden knows. That tomorrow will be a new day and the sun will shine again. And those of us that feel the pain this deeply are the lucky ones. Because we knew true love.

And true love never dies.

*Quotes above are paraphrased from Vice President Biden’s eulogy for John McCain today. They touched something inside of me, because he was exactly right.


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Paddle away the blues

Sometimes being here at the house my parents built without them gets a little sad. Though it’s beautiful here it’s also filled with lots of memories.

Savoring the stillness.

Everywhere.

So the other evening, feeling a bit melancholy, I took a little paddle upstream. The evening was warm and still.

Mountains of clouds.

I spent a little time just sitting near the green trees, floating in the water, the clouds reflected all around me. It was just what I needed to fix my blues.

Green reflected in green.

Being a weekday it was quiet, all the weekend lake lovers had to go back to their jobs and city lives. But as I was paddling back to the house a big pontoon boat slid by me creating large waves that gently rocked my kayak. I waved at them. They waved back at me.

Rocking in warm waters.

Southern living. It’s a good thing.

The day’s clouds produced no rain for us. This time.

I headed home to wait for the evening’s sunset.

Perfect.

Pretty in pink.


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Truck Safety – the details

It’s a very busy place, Washington DC.


It all started when my dad was killed by a tired semi-truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel and didn’t see the traffic stopped ahead of him early in the morning of December 23, 2004.

Since them members of my family have been traveling to Washington DC regularly to tell our story and lobby for safety on our nation’s roads. This past week my husband and I were there again, talking to the staff of House Representatives and Senators, as well as people at the DOT, about the bigger, heavier, longer trucks that are once again being proposed by some in the trucking industry.

Riding the metro to the Hill on a beautiful day.

Back in 2015 double 33 foot trailers were proposed by the trucking industry, they say because of a driver shortage. What they didn’t say is that adding 5 feet on each of two trailers, hauled in tandem, made the entire truck 83 feet, 8 inches long. That’s similar to an 8 story building. Try passing that on a busy freeway.

We worked long hours and got back to the hotel after dark most nights.

They also don’t tell you that it will take longer to stop, that the back trailer doesn’t track correctly going around corners and that they’re harder to drive, requiring a special endorsement on a driver’s commercial license.

In one of the lady’s rooms, mid century modern makeup chairs.

There’s already a shortage of drivers, finding experienced drivers to haul double 33 foot trailers isn’t going to be easy.

Mountain sculpture in the Hart Senate Building lobby.

Aside from the safety issues, many companies ship their goods ‘intermodal’ meaning they move over land on rails as well as highways, and across the ocean on ships. The 33 foot trailers won’t fit on rail cars as they are configured now, and container ships may have to change the way the trailers are stacked as well. Some people fear that smaller transport companies will be forced out of business as shippers and brokers move to the more competitive larger trailers to ship their goods, regardless of the level of safety attributed to these trailers.

Waiting for a shuttle I thought the metro lines above were interesting.

There’s an appropriations bill in the House of Representatives right now. It’s the kind of bill that ‘must pass’ because it funds most of the Federally mandated programs across the country. Some members of Congress have added amendments to the bill that we consider anti truck safety. Allowing for a study of the double 33 foot trailers is one of these amendments.

It wasn’t all work. We ate dinner down on the wharf near an old torpedo factory that has been turned into an artist loft.

You might think that we shouldn’t be afraid of studying something, and normally I’d agree. But there isn’t much data out there on double 33s, they are running on some roads of certain states, but not many. We’re concerned that the trucking industry will fund studies of their own, and of course those will be favorable.

Right now the amendment is still in the appropriations bill. An amendment offered by another Representative to strip it from the bill failed by a few votes. So we have work to do.

We walked up and down a lot of stairs.

And this is just one issue. There are so many more that I want to tell you about. We worked all week on the Hill, talking about speed limiters, hours of service, underride crashes and the bill sitting in Congress right now, Stop Underride, that needs to move out of committee.

One afternoon we even got to take some time off and visit the national zoo!

We walked between appointments, from the House side to the Senate side of the Hill and back again, in the hot, humid air of summer in DC. It was hard. But getting the call about Dad was harder and I reminded myself how important this all is.

And yes we got lucky and saw the famous pandas.

I know truck safety is not everyone’s thing. And I know some of you will have differing opinions on how to solve the problem of truck crashes on our highways. I have so much more to tell you, and to show you, about our trip to DC last week. But this is already too long, too boring, and just a little stressful.

We had one peaceful evening on the Mall.

So I put a few photos in for relief — just in case you’d rather just look at cool stuff. I’m OK with that too.

Studying before an appointment.

I’ll tell you more about our work in another post. Stay tuned.

The flight home was thankfully incident free.


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Retirement interruption

I interrupt this retirement to go back to work in DC, trying to be a catalysis for change, trying to get people with power to stop and listen, to open their minds to the possibility of doing something a different way.

To open their minds to the fact that they have the power to save lives.

It’s no easy task.

It’s only Wednesday and I’m already exhausted.

Stay tuned.


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Flying back into the fray

We’re back in D.C., ready to work for safer roads.

Flying east with hope

We got in late last night; our flight was delayed due to mechanical problems. We arrived at the hotel long past dinner time having only eaten breakfast many hours prior.

The Potomac River gleams pink as we bank into D.C.

The hotel staff was helpful in finding us one last restaurant that would deliver though they were official closed for the evening. It’s nice when people go out of their way to be helpful.

Flaps up we’re in the Capitol now.

We can only hope the lawmakers we’ll be talking to about bigger and heavier trucks are as thoughtful.

Luggage in tow we’re going to work now.


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She is everywhere

In memory of my mom. She would have loved this Alabama spring.

Wisteria, in bloom all over. It’s invasive, but oh so beautiful.

Dogwood, such a sign of spring.

Redbud, crazy fushia glowing all through the woods.

There’s a whole bank of crowfoot violets at the end of her street.

I see her everywhere, but nowhere as clear as in her beloved flowers and birds near her home on the lake.

Feeding her ducks.


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Best of Carson

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Khalil Gibran

Hi there!

For many years one of the joys of spending time here at the lake was a neighboring dog named Carson. We’ve watched him grow up from a soft fluffy bundle of joyous energy …

OK, I’ll hold still for your photo lady. But be quick about it!

…to a soft fluffy sophisticated man about town of eleven.

You’ve been taking my picture for years! I just keep looking better!

Carson liked to visit everyone in the neighborhood, and he seemed to know when we were in town, showing up by the door to check in with us, sometimes meeting us at the car when we unloaded luggage. Each time he asked for an ear rub or a tummy tickle.

That’s a good spot lady!

He wouldn’t decline a treat if you happened to have one on you…

nom nom nom

…but mostly, for Carson, it was about a little loving, a little play. And the lake.

My favorite place to be – my lake!

His favorite thing to do was to walk along the shoreline, knee or chest deep in the water, hunting for those pesky minnows. When he found some he’d pounce on them and then grin.

There’s one over THERE!

All summer you could find him in the water. And year-round you could find him on a neighbor’s porch, getting some loving.

Hey Katie-girl…want to PLAY?

Katie wasn’t too sure about him visiting us. It wasn’t that she was afraid of him. But he was so big…and when he barked it was with one deep baritone WOOF! She always jumped.

She just didn’t know what to make of him, but the rest of us? We loved Carson. It didn’t matter that he didn’t belong to us, we all just loved him.

Is he still back there mama?

Carson was most famous for being the softest dog any of us had ever touched. And he smelled good. Yes he was a dog, and yes he loved to wade in the lake, the muddier the better, but he always started each day smelling good.

You still taking pictures lady?

I imaged he took a shower with his person each morning because he always used to smell like Irish Spring soap. This last week he smelled like some other shampoo, but he still smelled too pretty to be a boy.

Everybody loved Carson, the dog that smelled so good.

Sunset is my time to head for home. See you tomorrow lady!

Sadly Carson crossed the rainbow bridge this week, suddenly and without warning. I’m so glad he stopped by a couple times since I’ve been here this trip so that I got some Carson loving.

My last Carson loving.

But man. We are all so going to miss him. I look for him every time I leave the house, he was so often sitting on my porch. I look for him along the lake shore. I listen for his bark.

We’ll always remember you sweetie!

I am more than sad. But I’m trying to remember that I was lucky to know him.

Somehow it’s not enough.

Who wouldn’t love this face?


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A missing mom kind of day turns extraordinary

I started feeling melancholy last night, laying in bed staring at the ceiling in a house she and dad built a long time ago, surrounded by some of her special things.

All day today, as I ran errands in town, I felt a certain heaviness as I drove past stores we shopped in together, past the university where she worked.

Not much going on in the sky. Yet.

Heading back to the house late in the afternoon I noticed the redbud in bloom, the delicate purple-pink flowers shining against the still bare branches of the rest of the forest. She’d have liked that.

I thought I’d take Katie to a park, sort of a reward for patiently waiting for me all day. But she wasn’t in the mood, and to be honest, neither was I. I thought I’d settle for a nap. But I was restless and sleep wouldn’t come.

A gentle circle in the grey water.

So Katie and I headed out to the dock to sit and wait for the sunset. I wasn’t expecting very much, there were only a few clouds in the sky and the last few nights haven’t been very interesting.

Still. It was nice to be sitting on the end of the dock with my feet hanging down over the water and my Katie-girl laying tight up next to me. I was still feeling sad, but it was a peaceful sort of sad.

Circles within circles.

The water was still, reflecting the sky and clouds. I smiled, and watched the water move as small minnows just touched the surface, creating gentle circles that quickly moved outward.

I couldn’t see the actual fish, just the circles appearing like magic and spreading across the water. Soon there were circles intersecting other circles.

Expanding lines intersect.

I focused on capturing those gentle patterns. Katie fell asleep beside me.

I was so intent on trying to get those circles, trying to get the light right, the focus crisp. I almost forget to check the sky. But the sun waits for no photographer; the sky was beginning to show a bit of color. And I was starting to feel a bit better.

A little bit of pink turns up for the show.

But those little fish were still making circles and I wasn’t sure I had captured the exact perfect one. So I turned the camera back to the water.

And then I realized the circles were now pink. The water was pink. Which meant the sky must be…..pink.

The circles begin to glow

I looked up. And had to hold my breath.

Katie stirred and agreed to pose with the sky. She didn’t even ask for a treat. The sky was enough.

I can’t believe how beautiful this is mama!

It’s impossible to overstate how the sky this evening picked me up. I was laughing and running up and down the beach trying to capture it all.

Katie stood on the dock and watched me with a patient look on her face. She knows her mama and she was happy that I was happy.

No words can adequately describe this.

Thanks mom, for sending me the sunset tonight. I know you were there watching me watch it. It looked like something you might have painted.

For all I know you did.

Spectacular


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Red bird

Aunt Vi’s funeral was Tuesday. She looked beautiful, and though I know she was no longer there, I have to think she’d have been pleased by how pretty she was.

Pink was her favorite color.

She was so ready to move on to her next chapter that I could only feel relief for her. Still, it was hard walking past her for the last time at the end of the service. “I’ll see you soon,” I thought, words I’d often used as I left after visiting.

It was hard, too, to leave her at the cemetery, amid the piles of snow scraped from the ground to make room for her pink casket.

It was so cold that day.

She hated to be cold, and at the last nursing home she took advantage of having her own thermostat to keep her room toasty warm. Tropical, I used to tell her. “Are you too warm dear?” she’d ask me. “No, I’m just fine,” I’d tell her as sweat ran down my back.

It felt wrong to leave her in the cold now.

I knew she wasn’t really there, that she was already celebrating with family and friends, someplace filled with light and music and love and completeness. I knew this, but still.

A beautiful resting place for a beautiful lady.

And then, during the luncheon, all of us sitting in the rec room of the apartment building she had lived in for over twenty-five years, someone across the table from me exclaimed “Look! A cardinal!”

Sitting in a tree just outside the large windows sat a lone cardinal, staring intently at the goings on inside.

“You know Vi really loved cardinals,” I remarked. “She called them red birds.” The red bird outside moved to a different tree, still watching the people inside.

Maybe…just maybe.

The next day Katie-girl and I headed to Alabama in an effort to get away from the snow and cold. Midway on the trip we stopped in a tiny little town in Kentucky at a riverside park to stretch our legs. I took a short video of us walking along the river and posted it on Facebook. A nephew noted that he heard a cardinal in all the bird chatter I captured. Hmmmm…

I stopped by the cemetery on my way out of town the day after the funeral. The flowers hadn’t frozen.

And today on our final day of driving, at the last rest stop of the trip, Katie and I were walking along the top of a ravine. The sun was shining and we were enjoying it’s warmth when a cardinal swooped down low to a branch very near us and began to sing.

“OK!” I said, under my breath. “OK! I believe you!” And then the bird flew off into the trees. Mission accomplished.

She said she’d try to send me a sign that she was alright. I’d say she got her message across.

Loud and clear.

Buddy and all her birds are with her now.

.