Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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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. 🙂


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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.


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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.


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Sixteenth anniversary

Early in the morning, sixteen years ago today, dad went home to be with mom.

Studying a map. But there’s no roadmap to heaven.

We said, sadly, that she sent a semi-truck to collect him; she’d been gone five months and they hadn’t been apart for that long since the early days of their marriage when dad got drafted into the army.

1954, he’s in the army now.

So today my family and I think about him. And them. And wish it all could have been different.

1961, the whole family.

But there is comfort knowing they are together for always.

The way I like to think of them, laughing and happy.

When mom came down and collected him that morning, sixteen years ago, I imagine he was glad to see her but worried about leaving all of us.

1990, still had fourteen years of marriage ahead of them.

So I’ll remind him, you both raised us well, rest easy; we’re doing just fine.

See you both again someday.

50th wedding anniversary on Lake Michigan.


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A political smile is not an oxymoron

This week President-Elect Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation. This made me more than smile. It made me grin and then sort of tear up.

No matter your politics, if you have an issue you want your government to understand, it’s akways a relief when you find someone willing to listen without judgement. And you all know I have some truck safety issues I’ve been trying to get heard for the past sixteen years.

The last four years have been frustrating as safety advocates were not welcome to the table at the Department of Transportation. Numerous requests for meetings were ignored or flatly denied. In past years we’ve been able to meet with the Secretary, but not in the latest administration. I don’t know that it would have changed anything anyway.

So I’m relieved that the President-Elect has nominated a person that appears willing to listen to all sides of an issue. I watched Buttigieg during the debates and found his comments to be thoughtful and measured. Calm. Just the kind of person I’d like to present my facts to.

I have high hopes that the person nominated for the Admistrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will also be willing to listen to safety’s side on all the issues. I think if we remind Buttigieg that safety is in their title and therefore their main responsibility we might have a shot.

Anyway…this was my biggest smile of the week. I hope his confirmation goes through without a hitch. I know he’s had some issues when he was mayor. I know he’s young. I know he doesn’t come from the trucking industry (and for me, that’s a plus), but he’s wildly intelligent, compassionate and personable.

He can learn the industry stuff. After all, the families of the thousands killed and injured each year learn it the hard way. It’s got to be a lot less painful to learn it just by being willing to listen.


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Shenanigans on my deck

I’ve started putting some seed along the deck railing for the birds, and by default the squirrels.

The downside is that they are making a mess and I’ll have to go clean up after them soon. The upside is that they make me smile every day. And seriously, who doesn’t need a few smiles during these scary times?

We’ve been slowly getting over the virus, though both husband and I still have difficulty taking a deep breath.

I tried playing my clarinet a couple weeks ago but didn’t have the air to do it. Maybe that would have been the case after weeks of not playing anyway. Or maybe it’s the result of covid. It would probably be good respitory therapy to play a little every day even though it sounds, well, to be honest, bad.

I’ve been reading too much facebook, too many dog friends have crossed over the rainbow bridge lately. In particular, Sarah the bookstore dog, who I’ve met a few times and who was always glad of a head scritch and posed for me without demanding a treat. I will miss her.

And Nico, a sheltie I’ve never met in person but who showed up in my FB feed every morning with a greeting and sweet semi-worried face. I will miss him too. And the other shelties, so many, including Dallas and Dakota, I will miss hearing about all of them.

2020 has been a year of loss and I don’t suppose all that will just stop on New Years Day. But there are bird and squirrel shenanigans happening daily on my deck and there are vaccines on the way.

All told there is reason to hope. And even smile.


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In preparation of Giving Tuesday

It’s become a bigger and bigger thing, Giving Tuesday. Put on by Facebook, it’s a day when nonprofits post about their organizations and ask for friends and familiy, and friends of their friends and family, to give a little to help. There are all sorts of nonprofits, and each one has a worthy story to tell.

Long time readers know our story, but we’re coming up on the anniversary and tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. It seems like a good time to tell it again.

In 2004, early in the morning of December 23rd, my dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver while on his way to the Atlanta airport with a ticket in his pocket to fly north for the holidays.

That’s the short and shocking version. The long version is just as shocking once you realize how preventable dad’s and so many other crashes are.

After dad was killed, and while we were trying to get our footing, someone found the Truck Safety Coalition online, and through them we found a truck crash lawyer who knew exactly what to do to protect our rights. Suddenly we had help.

And once all of that was settled some of us found that we wanted to help other families too, so we joined the Truck Safety Coalition to talk to folks who were facing the same sorts of challenges we did. We have two goals; we provide support to families who are just as shocked as we were and we educate lawmakers about the dangers on our roads. By doing both we provide a place for people just like us, living with unimaginable pain, to use their grief to make our roads safer.

It’s complicated, I know. Nothing is black and white, every regulation has unintended consequences. But every family I’ve talked to in the sixteen years since dad was killed wants the same thing we did way back then – we just want fewer families to have to go through the loss and grief we went through.

Just over 5,000 people died in truck-related crashes in 2019. Over 125,000 people were injured and trends are continuing to go up. Every time we hold our Sorrow to Strength conference I meet new families who are in the middle of crushing pain.

There are always new families.

Truck crashes are not Republican or Democrat, they don’t recognize any particular religion or faith, don’t care about race, ethnicity or gender. Truck crash survivors and families of victims who come to us for help become members of our truck safety family, and we know that within our family we are understood and supported. Even sixteen years after the crash.

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. I’ll have a post up on Facebook asking for donations to CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) which along with P.A.T.T. (Parents Against Tired Truckers) form the Truck Safety Coalition. Both CRASH and P.A.T.T are 501c3 nonprofits, and this year because of a Covid Relief Bill (the CARE Act), everyone is allowed to use up to a $300 charitable donation as a tax deduction even if you don’t normally get to deduct charitable gifts.

So I’m hoping some (OK a lot) of you will consider making that donation. This year we have two anomymous donors who are matching the first $10K we raise on Tuesday. So your $1.00 donation will actually give us $3.00!

Thank you for reading this, and looking at pictures of my dad. My brothers and sister and I miss him every single day, and always will. Sadly we know there are thousands of new families, just in 2020, that are missing their family members, or dealing with traumatic injuries too.

Please help us help them.


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Death of a woodpecker

You all know how much I love birds. Any birds, really, but especially the birds at my feeder. I like to think they love me too, they certainly are all waiting in the trees above our deck every morning as I put out seed.

One of my favorite visitors.

One of my favorites is the red bellied woodpecker. He lords over the feeder, picks a favorite seed and flies up into the trees to eat it.

Then he’s right back.

So you can imagine my horror yesterday afternoon when I saw him dead on the deck. He’d obviously hit the window, hopefully was killed instantly before he knew anything.

My heart broke.

I was so upset I took Katie to a park for a long walk among the fall foliage, but that’s another blog post. When I got home I buried my beautiful woodpecker boy under a rosebush in my garden.

Final resting place.

I was sad all night, and this morning considered not putting out any seed. I felt like my woodpecker’s death was my fault, for enticing him to my deck in the first place.

So you can imagine my delight when this showed up.

“Got anything to eat lady?”

At first when I saw that red head I was afraid this would be my guy’s widow. I was still filled with remorse. But this one is a male too, and instantly began lording over the seed.

“I stopped by to make you smile!”

I caught my breath as he grabbed a seed and flew up into the trees. Fly that way, little buddy, fly away from the house.

Thanks for stopping by, stay safe!

You are healing my broken heart.

I’m thankful for the morning visit.


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What is true

I know that science is true.
I know that Covid 19 is everywhere.
I know that washing hands and staying away from crowds will slow the spread.
I know that wearing masks when you do go out will protect others.

I know that spending extended months away from friends and family is hard.
I know we’re all experiencing Covid fatigue.
I know we’re feeling constrained, our personal rights being trampled.
I know we’re feeling sad and overwhelmed and frustrated and tired of it all.

And I know we want it to just go away like the President has promised it will.
But that’s not the truth.
We haven’t turned a corner, we aren’t out of the woods, it’s not going away.
There isn’t a magical cure available for anyone to use.

I know there is no end in sight, that the numbers of cases and deaths will continue to rise.
I know that unless people begin to care for each other and respect the science we are stuck with no hope but a vaccine that might come next year.
I know the vaccine, even when it’s ready, won’t be easy to administer to every American.
I know that some people won’t want to take a vaccine pushed through the approval process.

I know that 218,000 people have died of Covid related illness in the US alone.
I know that because one of those people was a family member of mine.
I know that hundreds of thousands of families are strugling with those deaths.
I know that spouses and children and grandchildren and friends are all experiencing deep grief.

And I know it didn’t have to be this way.
I know that I will always place blame on the leaders of our country for not putting together a national plan, for dismantling the process that was already in place, for lying and offering false hope.
I know that blaming doesn’t fix the problem and blaming doesn’t make the pain go away.
But I know that those 218,000 people who lost their lives deserve to be honored, and the countless hundreds of thousands of people left with dilbaitating illness after suffering the disease will need help.

I know that our country is up to the task.
I know that we can look beyond ourselves and do what has to be done.
I know that we can see family in zoom meetings, send virtual hugs for as long as it takes.
I know that we can wear the darn mask.

Because this is the America I know. The strong yet empathetic country that can accomplish anything.
The country I know can come back from the brink of destruction.
I know we can turn this around.
I know this is true.


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A moment of grief

I’ve been away on a three day adventure and I have many things to share with you. But on my return drive, after seven hours of photography interspersed with driving, and one exit away from home I turned on the radio to listen to the news. I’d been out of contact with the world; I wondered what might have happened while I was gone?

And the first sentence uttered by the newscaster was something about “pancreatic cancer” and “her” and “28 years on the court.”

I couldn’t, for a moment, wrap my head around what that could all mean. I knew. But I didn’t want to know. As reality slammed into my brain I pulled off the freeway, found a parking lot, and cried.

RBG was a hero to me and most women I know. A role model. A beacon. Hope.

I know she wanted to stay on the court until after the end of this year. We all wanted that too. But we have to respect the fact that she was 87 and in poor health, and though she was a fighter, sometimes things are not in our control.

As I watched some of the tributes last night I saw a small clip from the documentary about her. How her mother had died when she was 17. Seventy years ago. Seventy years since she’s seen her mom, had a conversation. A hug.

I had to smile. Just think of them together again, the amazing conversations they must be having right now! And the hugs! I’m pretty sure there were hugs when Ruth arrived.

So that’s what I’m focusing on today. She’s with her mother and other members of her family. She’s no longer in pain, she deserves her rest. I send my condolences to those friends and family still here. She left a huge hole in their hearts, and in the hearts of a nation.

Many of us are mourning her today and that’s only right. Next week is soon enough to get to work mitigating the damage her empty seat may cause our nation. We have work to do to honor her legacy.

Change is hard.
(photo credit, CNN)