Saturday, November 29, 2014

One Month Today

It's been one month today since my marriage of just over 6 years ended in divorce. This may not make much sense, but most of the time, I feel like there's so much I could say and yet so little worth actually saying all at the same time. At any rate, I persist in these scribblings to help me get things straight in my head and, to borrow the legal parlance, to have a record to examine and learn from going forward.

It's beyond a cliche, but I really am trying to take the post-divorce process one day at a time. At least so far, I haven't had too much in the way of truly bad days filled with stinging regret or overwhelming grief. That doesn't mean those hard days will never come, it's just that they haven't shown up yet. Now that I think about it, part of the reason for the seeming shortage of really bad days since the divorce is because I experienced and survived so much of the trauma that is more frequently associated with the post-divorce process during the breakdown of the marriage and during the legal process of the divorce itself. Even if I never verbalized it, I'm pretty sure that some part of me knew that, by drinking the grief and pain cup down to the very bottom as my marriage was disintegrating, I would spare myself some post-divorce pain and grief on the back end. To be sure, those days where I knew the marriage was breaking irretrievably apart were difficult beyond anything words can describe. There were, among many other things, endless hours of self-doubt, wondering whether I was crazy, and questioning if I was overreacting. Those things were very bad, but the searing pain of knowing that, as much as it broke my heart, that I was right in knowing that there was nothing I could do to save the marriage was even worse.

There's no one post that can really cover everything that goes along with a divorce, so maybe the better option is to focus on where I am right now, at this moment. Anyone who knows me knows that I love music, that it speaks to me at a depth I am hard pressed to explain to anyone, and that when song lyrics express what I'm feeling, I'll usually just quote the lyrics because there's no need to try to reinvent the wheel when somebody else has already said it perfectly. Today's lyrical wisdom comes from the song, "A Little Bit Stronger", by Sara Evans. As a younger man, I never used to like country music even a little bit, but as I've gotten older and lived in Nashville for a while, I've come to discover that one of the things that country music does very well is setting heartbreak and all that comes along with it to music. As the title suggests, this song is about someone trying to live, survive, and put the pieces back together after the end of a relationship. I won't quote all the lyrics verbatim, but the song starts off describing the process of just getting up and forcing you to do all the things that need to be done (getting up, getting ready, going to work) to make a life for yourself, especially in the aftermath of a painful break-up. The lyrics that describe what I'm feeling now begin:

"It doesn't happen overnight.
But you turn around and a month's gone by,
And you realize you haven't cried.
I'm not giving you an hour or a second or another minute longer.
I'm busy getting stronger.


And I'm done hoping we could work it out.
I'm done with how it feels, spinning my wheels,
Letting you drag my heart around.
And I'm done thinking you could ever change.
I know my heart will never be the same.
But I'm telling myself I'll be OK,
Even on my weakest day,
I get a little bit stronger."

There's so much good stuff in there it's really hard to pick just one thing. One of the main things that made my marriage so hard to walk away from is that neither of us are bad people, and I think we genuinely did care about each other. Unfortunately, it occurred to me one day that we'd reached an unbreakable stalemate in our marriage. There were things that both of us wanted, desired, and needed that, for any number of reasons, the other person could not or would not provide. Even though my now ex-wife despises this word, some of those things were deal's just that I'm the only one of us who would call those things what they were and do anything about it. The overarching theme of those lyrics and the song itself is to just keep pressing forward, even when it hurts, so that time and space away from the relationship can allow you to heal. I thought of this song because it has been one month today since the divorce, and I really do believe that, as more time passes and as I spend less of that time thinking to much about the past and things that I can't change, I will get a little bit stronger because it's already happening.

Although I don't see it happening anytime soon (and it shouldn't because it's not fair to get into a new relationship until I'm sufficiently healed from the divorce), a big part of the motivation to get a little bit stronger every day is to get to a place where I am healed and whole enough to love again. As counterintuitive as it may sound, with everything I've learned from my marriage and divorce, I believe that I'm even better suited now at 35 to choose a better marriage partner and have a better marital relationship than I was at 27. I've always thought of myself as a hopeful romantic, and I still see myself that way. I believe as deeply as I believe anything that one of the main reasons God put me on this planet is to have an outstanding, awe-inspiring marriage, one that reflects how He loves the church and serves as a shining example that marriage is the closest thing to in-person, intimate relationship with God that humans will ever experience this side of heaven. I want and intend to be the best husband and father I can possibly be one day, but if I don't put in the hard but necessary work to get healed right now (every minute of every hour of every day), that will never happen. With a lot of faith, hard work, and God's help, I am becoming the husband, father, man of God, and ambassador for His kingdom that I am called to be, and I am excited beyond measure to see what God has for me in all of these realms. I will end this post with my fervent, ongoing prayer for my life:

"Lord, Your will and Your plan be done in my life and not mine...may Your hand and Your guidance be upon me...and give me Your spirit of peace and calm to accept the things You have for me...Amen."

Friday, October 31, 2014

Parallels, Experience, and Knowledge

One of the primary benefits of getting older is living long enough to see parallels in life. It's a potentially sanity saving thing to have enough life experience to be able to learn from history, and in so doing, to be able to both avoid repeating similar mistakes in the future. More than that, having lived through enormously difficult circumstances before can either be crippling (if the focus is only on the current crisis and the long journey of survival and recovery ahead) or enlightening (by providing comfort in the firsthand knowledge, not mere speculative optimism, that you have gone through your own personal hell and survived). My divorce became final two days ago, and based in part on the events recounted in this post, I know beyond a shadow of any doubt that I will survive, thrive, and be a better man, husband, and father in the future.

Before I get to the story that is the subject of this post, I would be remiss if I didn't make clear that the biggest reason that I have hope for the future is my faith in God. There simply are no words to adequately thank Him for His mercy, grace, and love. I will be the first to admit that I have fallen short of His glory in my marriage and in my life as a whole on more occasions than I care to remember. I am both blessed and profoundly grateful that His love and salvation do not require perfection on my part. Father, I can't and won't promise that I will never fall short of your standard again. However, what I can and will do is to trust you, to ask forgiveness when I fail, and to bring it all (hopes, dreams, fears, failures, and beyond) to you. I once heard it said that God can take anything except our silence, I believe that's true. Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to do a better job to communicate with and to spend time with Him, and I definitely intend to do just that.

OK, so on with the story. It is the late summer of 1997, I am 17 years old (turning 18 in August), and I have just graduated high school that May. I have a full academic scholarship to attend college at Middle Tennessee State University ("MTSU"), which is about 45 minutes away from the small town in which I attended high school. At this point, I've been dating a girl I will call "AP" since about midway through my junior year, and I have a decision to make. It's a decision that many young people have had to navigate at this point in their lives...whether to stay with their high school sweetheart or whether to split up with them and go to college single.

On the "stay together" side of the ledger, there were quite a few reasons to try to make it work. Since AP would still be in the same town where we met, 45 minutes isn't that far a distance. She was a good person, a great friend, and a positive influence on me in many ways. Moreover, young love though it was, AP loved me unconditionally, and I know she would have been faithful and would have done everything in her power to make our relationship work. Perhaps the most difficult part of this list to deal with was my desire not to hurt her because she had been so good to me during our time together.

There were also some valid arguments on the "split up" list of reasons. First and foremost, my father was in no financial position to help me stay in college if I somehow lost my scholarship. Accordingly, I knew that maintaining my scholarship had to be my first priority, and that it would require a virtually single-minded focus (especially early on until I got the hang of college life), thereby leaving little time to dedicate to a long-distance relationship. In addition to academics, I had also been an All-Region football player in high school. Although my football talent did not earn me an athletic scholarship, I still wanted to know just how good a player I was and how I measured up against Division I athletes. As such, I planned to try out for the college football team as a walk-on, which would leave even less time for my relationship with AP. Further, I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit that it was thrilling almost to the point of intoxication knowing that I would soon be meeting and exposed to an entirely new universe of smart, interesting people (yes, including women), some of whom might becomes professional colleagues, friends, or even love interests. Finally, even though MTSU was only 45 minutes from my hometown, given how naive and inexperienced I was with so many things, that college campus might as well have been on Mars. I expected that my college life in a suburb of a mid-major metropolitan city (Nashville) would be quite a change and a culture shock from my small hometown, and while it was not on the level of change I would have experienced in New York or Los Angeles, I wasn't disappointed. It was, at once, scarily unknown and incredibly exciting.

Based on the tenor of this post, it's probably not too hard to discern that I chose to break up with AP shortly before I left for college, but it wasn't an easy decision at all. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do (especially at that juncture in my young life), and I absolutely dreaded communicating my decision to AP. There were many nights before I left for college that I laid awake, staring at the ceiling and praying earnestly for guidance as to what I should do. Once I'd made my decision, I had more than a few moments of doubt, stress, and heartache as to whether I was doing the right thing. Hell, even after I'd informed AP of my choice and had already moved to MTSU to start college life, I had more than a few doubts as to whether I'd made the right call or not, and I did experience more than a little grief and regret at the pain my decision had caused.

The ultimate deciding factor led me to choose the "split up" door was where I saw my life going and where I hoped it would go. Having lived in my small hometown longer than anywhere else I'd grown up, I knew for a fact that opportunities for the kind of life, opportunities, and successes I hoped to have were, to be charitable, extremely limited. More candidly though, I'd seen more than a few smart, talented people get sucked down and irrevocably tied to that suffocating little town to the detriment of their future, and I knew as certainly as I knew anything that I didn't want that future for myself. Unfortunately, I knew that every moment I spent with AP trying to maintain a relationship would be time I spent looking back toward a life, place, and future that I didn't want and time that I couldn't spend being present, living in the moment during my college life, and focusing on the future I did want to build. As it turns out, I made the right decision to split up with AP, and that decision is still paying dividends even to this day.

Looking back on my break up with AP so many years ago reveals many similarities to my recent divorce. I've heard it said many times that the seven year mark is the most common fish or cut bait time for married couples. In my case, that turned out to be pretty accurate. My now ex-wife and I were married for just over 6 years, and if our dating and engagement period is included, our total time together was about 7 and a half years. As with my high school relationship with AP, after the amount of time my wife and I were together, I knew pretty well what I had and what I didn't have in my marriage. I knew what my marriage was, what it was not, and in too many sad ways, what it would never be. At that point, my only real decision was whether to consciously choose to stay in the marriage, knowing that the future would contain copious amounts of suffocation, unhappiness, and a profound lack of fulfillment. No matter how painful it was to end my marriage (and it was more painful than I'd ever imagined), I knew that would be a pittance compared to the pain and unhappiness of wasting years that could never be better spent or lived again in a dysfunctional, destructive marriage that was inevitably doomed to failure. Also, the fear, doubt, uncertainty, and sleepless nights that came with the decision to get a divorce were many orders of magnitude more scary and stressful than the high school break up decision because the stakes were so much higher.

Comparing an average high school relationship to a marriage is like comparing a grass hut with a dirt floor to the Empire State Building. Spouses have their lives, careers, financial futures, and more wrapped up in one another, whereas high school dating partners usually don't. Additionally, there's the old "devil you know vs. the devil you don't" issue. My now ex-wife and I had our share of problems, but we were and are both fundamentally good people, and there were more than a few good things about our relationship. For example, we were good friends and had a lot of common interests (and maybe we should've always been just friends), our perspectives on the outside world (politics, current events, etc.) were pretty similar, and we ran a pretty solid household together for better than half a decade. I mention these things because there's no guarantee I'll find those things and more in another woman, or even that I'll ever find someone I love enough to get married again. However, because I made the hard choice to end my high school relationship, I met and had relationships with several high-quality women and solid people (CL, TWC, and yes, even my now ex-wife) who taught me a lot about life, about myself, and who made me a better man.

I'm still very early in my post-divorce journey. It wasn't easy to make and to follow through with the decision to end my marriage, but I believe in my heart that it was the right call. I have no idea exactly what my future holds, and I do know there will be more than a few hard times, but I've lived long enough to know, trust, and believe that there are so many more incredible times to come and so many amazing people to meet that I can't conceive of right now...and that, dear reader, is more than enough to help make life worth living. :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

D-Day (It's Been Too Long...)

According to this blog, it's been 4 years and 6 days (counting today) since I've written anything. Like many other good things in my life which have fallen by the wayside during that time, more than 4 years between writing and posting is just too long. I'm certainly a little biased, but I'm not a bad writer, and re-reading some of my older posts makes clear to me that at least some of them served a therapeutic and healing purpose. I have no idea how often I'll write going forward, but I will probably do a little writing from time to time in the future, even if only to help get things straight in my head.

I am writing this post just before bedtime on Wednesday, October 29, 2014. Today was a day that will live in infamy...the day that no married person or couple should ever have to experience. At just after 10:30 A.M. this morning, the Honorable Philip Smith in the Fourth Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee, granted me a divorce from Althea Penix, my wife of 6 years and 25 days, on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Typing that sentence is absolutely heartbreaking beyond anything I can put into words. Divorce, while sometimes necessary, is an awful, excruciating process that I would not wish on my worst enemy.

I will likely have more to say on this topic in future scribblings, but for now, I'll just settle for trying to capture my feelings on such a life-changing day. Above all else, I wish more than anything Althea and I could have worked things out in a way where we both could have been happy and fulfilled in our marriage. For any number of reasons, that simply wasn't possible, and that's why today became necessary.

With that said, I am glad that the legal part of the divorce process is now over. Especially in the beginning, when it first became clear that our marriage was not going to survive, there were far too many angry and hurtful words spoken going both directions. While understandable given the circumstances, that didn't make the legal process any easier. As a fair-minded person, I genuinely try to give credit where it is due, and in this regard, Althea deserves some credit: notwithstanding the incredibly rocky and unfortunate beginning to the divorce process, she eventually did calm down enough to see that there is life after the legal process and the divorce, and that both of us would be better served (financially and otherwise) to come to a settlement agreement. She could have made the legal process much more painful and expensive, but she made a mature, logical decision not to do so, and it is to her everlasting credit that she made that choice.

In closing, I'll admit that I have been kind of all over the place emotionally today, and frankly, I expect that to continue for a while. The hopes and dreams that Althea and I started out to achieve as a married couple will never come to pass now, and that is unbelievably sad. Short of death itself, divorce is probably the second biggest loss and separation from love that we as humans can experience. Because divorce is a loss, it is only natural that the grieving process must occur in order to move on from that loss. The 5 most generally recognized stages of the grieving process are: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness/periodic depression, and acceptance. No one can say ahead of time when those stages will run their respective courses ahead of time. All I know is that I experienced some of all of these stages prior to and during the divorce process, and that I will certainly experience them again as the healing process unfolds.

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life, and I look forward to seeing what it holds.

Marriage of Chris Whittaker and Althea Penix
October 4, 2008 through October 29, 2014 (R.I.P)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Velasquez Whips Lesnar to Win UFC Heavyweight Belt

When the UFC first started as an organization, the heavyweight division was a joke. Other than former wrestling great Dan Severn, it was a collection of out of shape has beens and circus freaks like Tank Abbott. Even after the UFC blew up after the first Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonnar fight, the heavyweight division was still terrible. Its main contenders were 6'7" Tim Sylvia (who won mostly because of his height), Randy Couture (who was really a light heavyweight), and Minotauro Nogueira (who had great jiu-jitsu but little else). Over the past few years, the UFC has truly added some top notch heavyweight talent. The big four in the heavyweight division are Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez. Lesnar has proven to be among the biggest draws in company history, and all four of these guys are big, strong, and talented. At UFC 121, challenger Cain Velasquez took on champion Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight belt in perhaps the biggest and best heavyweight fight in UFC history.

Coming into the fight, Lesnar had only lost once (via submission to Frank Mir) and Velasquez was undefeated. After losing to Mir, Lesnar knocked out Randy Couture to become champion, knocked out Frank Mir to avenge his only loss in the UFC, then defeated number one contender Shane Carwin via submission. Meanwhile, Velasquez had just been steamrolling anyone in his path, including a highlight reel knockout of Minotauro Nogueira, who almost never gets knocked out. Coming into the fight, the conventional wisdom was that Lesnar and Velasquez both possessed elite wrestling talent that would essentially be a wash, so whoever did better in the stand up game and/or submissions would probably win. Being the champion and outweighing Velasquez by about 20 pounds, Lesnar was slightly favored to retain his belt.

Having watched almost every UFC pay-per-view event over the last several years, I had watched almost every fight these two fighters had fought. Based on their performances in past fights, I thought Velasquez would probably win, but I didn't expect him to dominate Lesnar the way he did. In Lesnar three fights prior to Velasquez, he did get better as a fighter. Against Randy Couture, he was able to use his reach and strength to keep Couture off him and eventually knock him out. Against Frank Mir, Lesnar was able to take Mir down at will, avoid his submissions, and use his long arms to pound Mir out. Of most concern was his fight against Shane Carwin. For the entire first round, Carwin was able to take Lesnar down, and he just rained down punch after punch on Lesnar for the entire round. However, coming out of his corner to start the second round, it was obvious Carwin had nothing left in his gas tank, so Lesnar was able to take him down and submit him to retain his belt. The thing that stood out most about the Carwin/Lesnar fight was Brock's lack of stand up game and his inability to take a punch. Carwin is a hard puncher, and he landed some solid shots on Lesnar, but it shouldn't have caused Lesnar to flop and flail around the cage the way it did. It truly looked like Lesnar had never practice how to take a punch in camp, and that would prove to be a disaster against a cardio and punching machine like Cain Velasquez.

Right after the bell rang to start the fight, Lesnar charged out of the corner and threw a wild knee that missed badly. After circling each other for a short time, Lesnar was able to land a take down against Velasquez. Unfortunately for Lesnar, Velasquez was able to pop right back up, and that was the last good thing that happened for Lesnar in the fight. Once back on his feet, Velasquez rocked Lesnar with several hard shots to the head and took him down. Unlike Shane Carwin, Velasquez had too much cardio endurance to get tired and allow Lesnar back into the fight. In fact, when the referee finally waved off the fight in the final minute of Round 1, Velasquez didn't even look like he was breathing heavily. For perhaps the first time in his entire career at any level, Brock Lesnar was manhandled and dominated from he opening bell until the fight was mercifully stopped. There are now enough talented fighters in the UFC heavyweight division to give Cain Velasquez some competition, but he is an absolute beast and he is here to stay. Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar has a ton of work to do if he intends to get back into the mix to regain the heavyweight title. Specifically, he must improve his boxing, he must learn how to take a punch and not fall down, and he has to learn to get up off his back as quickly as possible once he hits the ground. Still, this was a great fight, and I am sure it made the UFC a ton of money.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Titans Take Out Raiders in 2010 Season Opener

Since Althea and Grace had never been to a NFL football game before, I decided to get the 3 of us tickets to the Titans' 2010 season opener at home against the Oakland Raiders. The game was a lot of fun, but it was incredibly hot for mid-September, and that was made worse by the fact that our seats were in the upper level. Sometimes, it seemed like we were 10 feet away from the sun, and that was miserable. We were all covered in sweat by the end of the game, and it's possible I might have a sunburn. Note to self: when attending Titans' games in the future, go later in the season.

Because the Titans started 0-6 in 2009, it was important for them to get a win as soon as possible in 2010, and they did so by defeating the Raiders 38-13. Chris Johnson continued running like the elite back he is, racking up 142 yards and a late touchdown to ice the game. The Titans' defense made some good plays and harassed new Raiders' QB Jason Campbell into multiple mistakes. The game wasn't as much of a blowout as the score suggests, as the Titans didn't really put the game out of reach until Chris Johnson's 4th quarter touchdown run. Still, there were some things that could cause an astute fan concern as the season goes forward. First and foremost, Vince Young still looks like a mediocre, inconsistent quarterback. Even though he has improved somewhat, he still leaves too many plays on the field. Also, the defense made too many stupid penalties an didn't take advantage of all the mistakes Oakland made. The Titans seem to have some potential this year, but they will have to play better against better teams if they expect to make the playoffs.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

8/28 Restoring Honor Rally

Fox News TV host and talk radio show host Glenn Beck was the primary organizer of a rally in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 2010 called "Restoring Honor". At first, I wasn't really inclined to go because I thought it would be just another political rally, which did not interest me in the least. As the event got closer, I listened to Glenn talk about the rally on his radio program. The more I heard, the more interested I became.

Perhaps the biggest draw for me was Beck's repeated insistence that this would not be a political rally. As proof of that, he begged rally attendees to leave their political signs at home, and asked that they only bring themselves, their friends, and their families. Second, Beck said the purpose of the rally was twofold: to call Americans to restore honor to their lives and to honor the troops. Beck's definition of restoring honor included asking attendees to get all the lies out of their lives, to decide what they believe in and where their faith lies, and to live accordingly. He also admonished attendees to prioritize their lives around things that really matter, especially family as a whole and teaching values to their children. In terms of honoring the troops, the rally served as a fundraiser for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charity that raises money to provide college scholarships for the children of Special Ops soldiers killed in action.

Based on the stated purposes of the rally, my own sense that this was an event that would be attended by huge numbers of Americans, and my desire for a sort of restoration of faith and hope for my mind and soul that America will make it and is not doomed, I decided to attend the rally. I went to Beck's website and located a group leaving from Nashville to go to the rally after work on the Friday night before the rally the next Saturday. Most of the major hotels were booked solid, and the lowest priced hotel I found was more than $ 300 for a single night, and that was before spending a penny to get to and from D.C. The group on the website, on the other hand, planned to drive overnight (meaning that no hotel room was needed), attend the rally the next day, and drive back to Nashville after the rally (with a plan to get back in town by 3:00 A.M. or so Sunday morning). I initially thought the group would be making the trip in a big bus or at least in a mid-sized tour bus, but due to logistical issues, it turned out to be a group of 7 of us going to D.C. and back in a Dodge Grand Caravan. The tour organizer was a nice husband and wife team who owned a local taxi business, and they did all the driving, so it could have been worse.

We actually left Knoxville a few minutes before 5:30 on Friday night, and we made fairly good time the whole trip up. We stopped in Greeneville, TN and ate a late dinner at a truck stop, which wasn't the best idea and gave me stomach problems later, but hey, that's travel food. We hoped to get into D.C. before 6:00 A.M. to beat incoming traffic and to get a good place in line for the D.C. Metro Rail, which would take us to less than a mile from the rally site (the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), where we would walk the rest of the way. We got into D.C. just after 4:30 A.M. and ate an early breakfast at McDonald's, then made our way to the Metro Rail station. We decided to park at the station on the side of D.C. closest to Virginia and a little farther away from the rally site so we wouldn't have to fight D.C. traffic through the city to get going back home. That turned out to be a smart decision. We slept in the van until about 6:15 A.M., then we got in line for the Metro Rail. It was a good thing we got a good spot in line, and that the station we chose was the first on the route (which contained approximately a dozen stops total) to the rally site because the metro rail ride alone took over an hour from our stop to the rally site. Beyond that, looking at the inbound traffic, all the interstates and highways were essentially a parking lot, and I had no idea whether those folks stuck in traffic would make it to the rally on time (it was from 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.). We thought we were packed in pretty tight at the stop where we boarded, but as we made stop after stop on the way to the rally site, people kept packing in more and more tightly (just like sardines) until no one could move and no more people could fit on the train. I'm fairly certain that was a safety hazard that would have killed us all in the event of a fire or crash, but thankfully, that didn't happen.

We got off the train at about 8:30, and it took about 30 minutes to walk to the rally site. D.C. is a beautiful city if you look at the scenery and don't think about the fact that the folks who work there (allegedly on our behalf) are spending us into bankruptcy. The closer we got to the rally site, the more dense the crowd became. I took some pictures of the massive Washington Monument on my phone. It really is awe-inspiring when you consider that it was built 200 years ago before almost all of modern construction technology as we know it. Next up was the World War II Memorial, which has each state in the union represented with a state-specific stone to honor the contributions of the soldiers from that state to the war effort. After that memorial came the Reflecting Pool, which led up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The water of the reflecting pool was dirty, but it was still a beautiful sight to behold. The stage for the rally was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but we couldn't get close enough to see it with the naked eye because of the density of the crowd. Fortunately, there were Jumbo-trons every so often starting at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial back past the end of the Washington Monument. The sound system turned out to project fairly well, but it was somewhat hard to make out what the speakers said when they spoke more loudly.

After some tough navigation of the crowd, we were able to find a spot for the 7 of us about halfway between the steps of the two memorials and right next to the Reflecting Pool. Earlier in the morning, the sun was bright, but it was breezy and comfortable. However, much like the subway, the rally itself was packed in tight with attendees, which multiplied body heat exponentially. The rally began with Glenn Beck speaking. He thanked the crowd for coming and told us briefly about how the rally came together. He said the timing of the rally (on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech) was originally coincidence, but he came to believe it was divine providence because the substance of this rally had so much in common with Dr. King's legacy of peace, faith, and non-violence. He said he would be presenting awards to several people who stood out for their charity and service to others (among other things).

The next part of the program was conducted by Sarah Palin. Although the media used her presence to try to claim this was a political event, Palin (despite her annoying accent) was just the opposite of political on this day. She first spoke about the experience of being the mother of a soldier, then she introduced several soldiers to the crowd. She told the heroic story of each soldier, including Retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell of Operation Redwing fame, and the crowd gave each soldier a rousing round of applause. Next, the mother of a fallen Special Operations soldier came out and spoke to the crowd about the love and support she received from the Special Operations Warrior Foundation after the death of her son. Once she told her story, Glenn Beck joined her on the stage to plead for donations to the SOWF. Beck asked everyone there to get out their cell phones and to text a $ 10 donation to the SOWF. It seemed like 9 of every 10 people at the rally did just that. Later that weekend, I learned that the rally raised over $ 5.5 million dollars for the SOWF. At $ 10 per donation, that puts the number of attendees at least in the hundreds of thousands.

The next and final part of the program was the presentation of awards to the honorees of the rally. The first award went to a black pastor with several decades' experience in the ministry. He spoke of a legacy of peace and service, and thanked Glenn Beck for his faith, for organizing the rally, and for the award. The next award went to St. Louis Cardinals' (MLB) slugger Albert Pujols. The award had nothing to do with Pujols' baseball exploits and everything to do with his faithfulness and love for his family, and for his tireless community service to the St. Louis community. Pujols spoke of his humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic, his great appreciation for all the success God gave him, and the importance of using his blessings to bless others. The last speaker I saw, and in my mind, the highlight of the rally, was Dr. Aveda Kin niece of Dr. Martin Luther King. She was under tremendous pressure from the professional race-baiters (think New Black Panther Party, NAACP, etc.) not to attend the rally, but she did anyway. She too thanked Glenn for organizing the rally, and said that her uncle would have been proud of the rally because it stood for people coming together based on content of character rather than skin color. After she was done speaking, the tour organizer's wife was getting sunburned and she was sweating profusely. She decided to go back to the van with half an hour to go in the rally, and because I was suffering pretty badly from the heat myself, I decided to go with them. We made good time getting back to the van (arriving about 2:30 P.M.), and we took a nap while we waited for the rest of the group to get back to the van (they made it back about 4:00 P.M.). The entire group left D.C. about 5:00 P.M., ate dinner at a Chili's in Virginia about 8:00 P.M., and got back to Nashville about 3:30 A.M.

Here is what I took away from the rally and the trip: 1.) Driving 16 hours one way by car (32 total hours of driving in 48 hours) sucks. That's a game for someone much younger (late teens or early 20s) because I haven't been that sore in quite a while.; 2.) I will definitely be bringing sunblock and an umbrella (at a minimum) to any future rallies I attend. I also might be willing to sit a little further back if I can get some shade from the sun.; 3.) This rally stood in sharp contrast to the pathetic Al Sharpton event just down the street. The racist reverend's rally might have had a few hundred attendees at best, and I am fairly certain the idiots who took the stage after the Glenn Beck rally was over wearing Tea Party shirts and trying to insult Democrats to get on camera and make the Tea Party look bad probably came from his event.; 4.) The crowd estimate for the Beck rally from CBS was 87,000. That's absolutely laughable. The area from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial past the Reflecting Pool back to the Washington Monument holds 200,000 people, and it was packed full. Each of the side areas on either side of the Reflecting Pool holds between 100,000 and 150,000 each, and both of those areas were packed full. When you add in the various smatterings of people back past the Washington Monument, I think Glenn's estimate of between 500,000 and 650,000 attendees is much closer to the truth. His claim is bolstered by my math above regarding the donations to the SOWF. If 9 of 10 attendees each gave $ 10, then approximately 550,000 people attended this rally.; 5.) This was the most well-behaved, civl crowd of this size I have ever seen. Looking beyond all the families with small children at the rally, there was not a single arrest of anyone attending this rally, and the grounds of the rally site were just as clean (or cleaner) than when we got there. All the trash was in designated containers or trash areas, while the grounds themselves were immaculate. Look at any leftist/progressive rally a fraction of that size, and similar claims can not be made.; 6.) I got what I came for at this rally. Before I attended the rally, I felt an ongoing sense of despair at the direction of the country, and even worse yet, I felt alone. That is not the case any longer. Now I know that there are huge numbers of other like-minded people out there who want nothing more than to live and raise their families in peace and freedom without being terrorized and having their wealth and freedom stolen by their own government. It gives me hope to press forward and keep fighting for the America I have come to know and love, and faith that God has truly blessed America and that we hold a special place in his heart. For those reasons, I consider it a blessing to have been able to attend this rally, and I am glad I went.

In closing, I should also say a special thank you to my wife, who agreed to hold down the fort at home and gave me her blessing to go the rally even though my plan to attend materialized on short notice. I don't ask for many things, so when I say that something is important to me, my wife is pretty good about trying to make it happen for me. That's not something every married man has at home, but I do, and I am thankful for it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Marcus Luttrell Live

Anyone who follows the heoric exploits of the bravest soldiers our military has to offer knows the name Marcus Luttrell. He wrote a book about his harrowing experience in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2005 called "Lone Survivor", and for anyone who hasn't read it, I can't recommend it strongly enough. Although I would almost never otherwise link to the Huffington Post because of its political bent, its story about Patrick Robinson (the author who helped write "Lone Survivor" with Marcus) is simply too good not to link to.

As July 4th approached this year, my thoughts initially turned to the same things most Americans think of on that day: great food, fireworks, family, freedom, and a general sense of pride and patriotism. Beyond those things, something began gnawing at me this year...something that made me want to experience this uniquely American holiday at a deeper level and in a way that wasn't all about me. Late last week, I found out that the Mid-South Tea Party was holding a rally on July 4, 2010, and that Marcus Luttrell would be their keynote speaker. Even though I hadn't really planned on it logistically or financially, I knew I had to go. I should also point out that my wife was kind and understanding enough to let me go. Fortunately for me, she knows that I don't really ask for very many things, and that when I tell her something is important, that it means something to me on the inside, she will generally be cool with me going. It's not something every married man has, so I truly appreciate that about her.

Thinking back to yesterday, it was July in Tennessee, which meant it was ridiculously hot and humid, and the place where the rally was offered little in the way of shade. That didn't really seem to matter to the attendees, and there was a palpable buzz in the air awaiting Marcus's speech, even through the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled banner by the crowd. After a couple of cold drinks, it was Marcus's time. For anyone who doesn't know the high points of his story, they can be found here, here, and here. Still, there is nothing in the world that can compare hearing it told live by the man himself.

Going into this, I didn't know if Marcus was going to tell pieces of his story, the whole things, or something in between those two. It turns out that I got more than I could ever have hoped for. Not only did he recount the story of Operation Red Wing, he was kind enough to tell us about some of his childohood in Texas and a few of his experiences in Navy SEAL training. Here are the things I remember most from that day: 1.) Despite hundreds of people in attendance, the blazing sun, and over an hour of speaking from Marcus, I could literally have heard a pin drop the entire time. Everyone was absolutely riveted listening to his story...there was no one going to the bathroom, no children crying, no sodas being opened...nothing. The only exception was the occasional click of a camera from someone taking a picture or two.; 2.) Some of the details from the story were absoluely mind boggling: one of his teammates being blinded by gunfire yet still fighting until being overwhelmed by Taliban fighters; another teammate who was shot multiple times but who managed to call in support before he died; despite a broken neck from multiple falls down the mountain, Marcus having the presence of mind to draw maps on his leg to provide U.S. forces with critical intelligence if he made it out alive; and perhaps most incredibly, Marcus's revelation that he wrang out his socks and drank his own sweat and even sometimes drinking his own urine to stave off dehydration during his seven mile crawl to recovery and ultimate safety. 3.) It was evident that this man, this hero, was and is still heartbroken from his mission, and that he suffers from tremendous survivor's guilt. Lt. Michael Murphy (one of the SEALs killed in his operation) was Luttrell's best friend, and it was clear that these men were blood brothers who loved each other. At the end of his speech Marcus choked up as he recounted his promise to himself and to God at the end of his mission that, although there were times he knew death was coming and some that he might welcome it, if he survived, he would tell his story so that his friends would be remembered and never forgotten.

Like the word "love", the phrase "it changed my life" is badly overused these days, but I can safely say this was a life-changing experience for me. In addition to enhancing my already immense respect for our fighting men and women, it gave me a more human perspective on the struggles through which they suffer so that America and its citizens can be free. It was an honor and a privilege for me to hear Marcus Luttrell speak, and he will remain in my thoughts and prayers for as long as I live. God Bless you Marcus, we love you.