There are times when I dream that I believe outside my door is the gateway to the city of doom; nevertheless, each night when I sleep, I open the door walking into another sphere of everlasting pain, mentally and physically. No one pushes me through the gate, I walk willingly, and I feel confident that I can handle the tragedy that I know will be waiting for me.
Tucked deep inside the confidence is fear; within the fear, there are secret things, distrust, and lies. The darkness is the evilest; a blood-red moon framed by the stars hangs above me. Hearing strange tongues, frightful and shrill, filled with anger, strikes fear into my heart. Sometimes I weep as the outcries reach my ears, as I do not have a stainless claim to my own life. I fear for the souls, even the depths of hell may refuse them, and they will be lost forever in the darkness.
I question, is there hope with death? Will we have memories of the earth and the lives that remain when we are gone? The souls I hear are loud, their tears are blood red, and each crawl in vile mud. I lower my eyes. Will they have rebirth if they lived in blaspheming? Is this terrible wailing their fate?
A bitter flood rushed over me as each passed to their final resting place. They seem conscious of their nearing doom. In this darkness, each was given a second chance to feel the love of God upon their faces, but they refused. Afterward, the ground broke from beneath their feet, and I seemed to be sinking with them to a senseless dreadful shore, and I am afraid that I will not wake from this nightmare.
Note from the Author: Hello Followers: Where am I on this journey which may end today or tomorrow; the time and place are unknown. The Cancer, Multi Myeloma, continues to take its toll on my body. I am fortunate that the mind has remained intact. This allows for my continuing to create my poetry and stories. For that, I am thankful. MM is slow and debilitating there, and as I have stated, there is no cure; Chemo treatments hold the devil’s disease at bay for now. In the meantime, I continue to fight with all I have to be a mother, grandmother, author, poet, and writer of life stories. Many of you know that my poems are based on life experiences and thoughts; the imagination appears to stay fresh even with the pain medication. I hope you enjoy the blog; I will continue it as long as possible. If you are interested in purchasing books, the addresses at the bottom of the blog will take you there. Have a great weekend, everyone.
The old blind man down the road is dying, he is kind and good, and the neighbors all know of his name. They say that after the war in Vietnam, his Country he would not blame. Family and friends all gathered around him in his final hour. I watched as people come to go their hands full of food and flowers.
His daughter arrived, asking me to thank them. Then she tells me that the old man is holding on to life. Waiting for his only Grandson. Her eyes filled with tears; my Son is in Afghanistan, and we have not seen him for a year. My father was in the military, too, a pilot in Vietnam, he came home, and for that, we were all blessed. The medals on his walls are evidence of him being the best.
We had only spoken for a moment when the sirens filled the air. It gave us both a scare. The parade of cars pulled up close, doors opened; uniform men stepped out, all with a military flare. Behind them walked a young man straight and tall, wearing his Air Force blues, like his grandfather he was a pilot, that alone said it all.
He went to the bedside of his grandfather taking his hand, giving him a small box and a sharp salute. The young man was proud of his grandfather. In the box were the medals that his grandson had been given in Iraq and Afghanistan, “These are for you, Papa, and thank you for teaching me to be a man.” This was his last Tribute. The grandfather closed his eyes, drawing his last breath, his job as Son, brother, father, grandfather, and service to his Country was done.
First, thank all of you for following “The Last Chapter.” No, this is not my last blog. I am a blogger sharing many thoughts, opinions, and theories with my readers. I write daily, creating poetry, short stories, and novellas. The title states my last blog; no, it is not me that I speak; it is my son, a published writer, mental health speaker, and the most mindful individual I know. He has written a piece called the last blog. I repost his work on my blog because I believe he has touched the hearts and minds of many as a writer, speaker, and special educator. Many have read these posts and “liked them,” while others comment on his writing. This is not his last blog; he is just taking a retreat. I always say if writers are knowledgeable in the needs of others, if only reaching one, much has been accomplished. When he returns from this well-deserved retreat and posts another blog, I will repost it in The Last Chapter. I hope many have followed him and will continue to do so.
This is it, the last blog. It’s not because I have nothing to say, but I have spent the past several months deeply reflecting. Let me explain.
I have been transparent about depression, anxiety, and trauma for several years. I share my stories and experiences and am vulnerable because I want to help others navigate their darkness. However, time has told me I am uncertain if anyone is listening. The silence tells me the stigmas I want to destroy that surround mental illness are alive and well, and I have now become exhausted from trying. I even sent out a quick survey recently, and the feedback was overwhelmingly people telling me they are not interested in hearing or reading stories about mental health. So, it is time for respite, to look further inward, and spend my energy on something different. Maybe I just need to give others a break from me. Give them a break from seeing my advocacy around mental health, which is led by personal experience and the traumas I have faced. Maybe it is too much. Maybe I am too much, so we all deserve a break.
The past year was one of the hardest I have had to date. I wrote about it often. I don’t regret sharing, but many did not read the writing. Again, I hope that if I shared my experiences with suicidal ideation, stress, depression, panic, anxiety, and trauma, others would connect.
My new novel was released on April 12, and my life went into a tailspin that night. I wrote about it in my blog, “Turning The Key.” I sort of put the novel aside, and so did the readers. My first novel was well received and still is, but the second was not so much. I was recently told by a bookstore manager that my first novel was selling well for them, but the second was not. She went on to say it is because people do not like reading novels in verse because they think it is poetry. I guess they missed the point. I actually think my second novel, the one in verse, is better than the first.
Then, another reality hit me recently. I realized that I have “friends” and family that have never even read or purchased my books. This stings a little, especially when they want me to help support them in their pursuits. They also have not bothered to read my blogs, so I ask myself, “Why bother? Why bother with any of it, and sometimes, why bother with them?” If people who say they care about me are not reading my stuff, why would anyone else?
None of this is meant to sound self-deprecating. I am not being critical of my values or my writing. I am not giving up. I will write every day like I always do. However, those musings will stay with me for now. In fact, I have written a third book and am currently in the editing process. Do people realize how much work, thought, and vulnerability goes into writing a novel? Sharing your deepest thoughts and your art is no easy feat. You put yourself in front of the firing squad for criticism and judgment. I sometimes realize what Vincent Van Gogh must have felt. People didn’t understand his message and what he was trying to tell them until he was dead. I get that. Though, I won’t be cutting my ear off anytime soon.
I have also experienced many people contacting me, asking me to meet with them or talk to them and help them. They expect me to have some great insight into their mental health. I have found they do not mind taking my time and do not stop for a moment to realize that several people ask me to meet them on a consistent basis, and if I met with them all, I would have no time for anything else. I feel bad for saying “no,” but I have no choice. That is why I share my writing. It is all there in words, paragraphs, blogs, and books. It’s there to be absorbed, and I have had people as far as New Zealand reach out and tell me my writing has helped them with their mental illness. Yet, most people who want me to meet with them have never read a word I wrote.
I have come to realize that I have always written my stories, fiction and non, for myself. I write for myself and what I want to get out of my mind and soul. I write because I need to. I have never wanted to write for a market, to simply sell books. So, my blogs have been a tool I have used to learn more about myself and my thoughts and feelings about life. My hope was that maybe others would gather something: a thought, feeling, action, or a moment of desperation, where they connected with what I had written.
I have not really been marketing my books as much as I once did. It took the joy from my writing. When I told this to my therapist, he said, “Chuck, you have always talked about how much you enjoy writing and sharing your stories with others. You have never mentioned that you wanted to be a marketer or promoter.” He, like he often is, was right. I despise marketing, selling myself, and constantly trying to promote my work. It’s too much pressure. Yes, it may hurt my sales, but if people find my books and actually read them, I believe they will like them and connect. Perhaps, like one young woman told me, “Your book saved my life, and I know I am not alone.” My older blogs will remain on my website. If people find them, then I hope it helps them. I wrote them so they would not feel alone. If it’s meant to be, it will be.
The funny thing is, I am writing this as my last blog, and maybe about ten people will read it. I appreciate the consistent ten for those that have read them. Perhaps, I am just tired or in need of a break. Maybe I am in need of a break from myself, and maybe you need a break from my ramblings too.
For now, I am going into a time of being mindful. I need time to reflect a little deeper on my life and where I am heading. I need to relook at my priorities and the direction I am going on this dusty road I am traveling. I need to take a glimpse into where I have been so that mistakes are not repeated. I need a journey, a pilgrimage, where I return wiser, older, and ready to inform others of what I learned along the way. I will be back, but I am now going into my own silent retreat. It’s time for renewal.
Again, this is not a pity writing. It is not a plea. It is speaking my truth as I always do through my words. Those words will now lay dormant for a while.
If you are reading this, and you are the loyal ones, the dreamers and drifters, the wanderers and soul seekers, and the survivors who are trying to build resilience and navigate your own darkness, please keep moving through your life mindfully, full of laughter, and remember you cannot have joy without suffering. Both are necessary.
Time has told me that my smile will return. It always does on to better things.
Flying with Broken Wings: The Life Story of Charlotte Jean Murphree
by Elizabeth Ann Johnson-Murphree
$15.00 NOW -74% off SELLING AT $3.91
Flying with Broken Wings is about the life of Charlotte Jean Murphree. Charlotte was not a famous person, in fact, not too many people knew her, but those that did knew there were many facets to her life. the book tells of fifty-two years of daily testing of her will to carry on and the misfortune she faced. As a baby and young girl, she was made fun of by schoolchildren, her progress was slow, but she never gave up the fight to overcome her disabilities. As an adult, she fought Cerebral Palsy, Living with Bipolar, Depression, and Schizophrenia disorders. Charlotte lived not only with herself, but she endured the “Voices” that lived within her for over thirty years. This book is about the beginning, her middle, and end of her life.
I think about him often. His wavy brown hair and blue eyes, with dimples that cave into an innocent face. Typically, when we talk, we are walking in the woods or sitting next to an old tree examining acorns, thinking it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.
I sometimes see the panic in the little boy’s eyes. His seven-year-old self longing for when he was six. It’s when it started, the abuse. I ask the boy to breathe with me and relax his thoughts as we mindfully walk, hand in hand. I gently offer for him to bring his eyes to the beauty that surrounds him. To sip on water from a bottle, and then reflect on how the water was once a cloud that drifted freely above our heads, through the sky, and never really disappeared, but continues. The thought relaxes him, that everything changes, but also stays the same. It’s a connection that I have with the boy. He was once me and still is.
We change through time. That is a given. If we are lucky our face has the opportunity to wrinkle and our joints become a little stiff through years of experience. Yet, we are also the child we once were. We can return to that child at any time and nurture them, visit, and hold them close, telling them that we survived and are living a life of exhaustive laughter. It’s our moment to show them that their fears of being stuck in the abuse they are enduring will go away; and that you will one day be strong, compassionate, and empathetic adult who leads a good life.
As I look down with loving eyes, I tell the boy that he will not be hurt anymore. He will grow into a man who will love a woman with all his might. As we stop our rambling through the trees, overlooking the horizon, I show him pictures of his mother to let him know that she made it to old age and she experienced laughter. I assure him with a gentle smile that he will make mistakes, and that is okay, but he will become a reflective man, one that truly cares for others and tries to show them through his words and actions. The boy grasps my hand and leans in. I can feel his warmth at my side and he feels secure in my arms. I am the man that he can trust. I survived for him. He has become me.
I recently filled out a form that they wanted from new teachers. It’s for the district’s Facebook page. A list of questions to get to know me and then share it with the community. One of the questions asked, “Why did I become a teacher?” As with most questions people ask me, I assume they want the truth, so I told them a story.
My journey into education started with a friend’s death. Well, maybe it started a few years before that, so I will come back to how tragedy made me a teacher. My wife is a teacher. She became one directly out of college. I would watch her write IEPs, plan her lessons late into the night, respond to emails from colleagues and parents, and constantly read books about teaching. It seemed to me like all she did was work, and for a few years, I honestly had to wonder why anyone would do this job? Then, I would hear her stories of how she connected with a student, and we would be invited to get-togethers or staff parties, and I would hear stories from other teachers about their students, some funny and some not. By the way, no one parties like elementary teachers do. They are a fun group of people. Mostly, I sat around in awe of my wife and her knowledge like I usually do, and occasionally the thought would enter my thick head, “Could I be a teacher?” I never had the confidence as a student to do it. Education majors take a lot of classes, and I have never liked going to school. The idea would leave me as soon as I looked at the requirements. Still, I listened intently to my wife, not realizing at the time that she would actually become my greatest mentor in education.
Then, after floundering around in the working world, trying to figure out who the hell I was, interested more in philosophy and writing than doing anything that seemed monotonous and putting money in someone else’s pockets, I ended up working with adults with intellectual disabilities. I felt like I was at least doing something good for the world. I also would work with some amazing people that I always thought had greater insight than the majority of us. I had a woman I worked with who lived in an institution for thirty-six years. She was non-verbal except for repeating her name every so often. She walked with a stagger from clubbed feet and had scar tissue that covered the sides of her eyes from self-abuse. It made her look like a boxer that had fought one too many rounds. She also had all of her teeth removed, more from knocking them out than decay. Yet, when I sat with her in a park, under a tree, the warmth of the spring breeze hitting her face, she would smile and gently take my hand. She seemed to be trying to communicate with me on a deeper level than most people I have ever met. She knew something. Maybe she was just celebrating her freedom and the simple things that life offered. There were times I would show up at her house, struggling from my own darkness and depression, and she would come to me and give me a big hug. It was as if her instinct was to comfort me, even though her paperwork said she had the “Intellectual ability of a two-year-old child.” I’m not so sure about that. Her ability to show compassion and empathy was on a deeper level than most. On this journey that I have been on, I have always kept in mind that people with disabilities typically have greater resilience, insight, and knowledge than we give them credit for. Their abilities rise above most.
Why did I become a teacher? Well, I struggle to call myself that at times. Oh, that’s not a self-deprecating or lack of self-worth type of statement. I sometimes look at myself as more of a guide. I became a teacher because six weeks before my best friend killed himself, in his often blunt way, he said, “What the hell are you doing with your life?” My thought at the time was, “I just picked you up from the hospital’s psychiatric unit for being suicidal, and you ask me that?” However, he was right. What the hell was I doing? I was broken. At the time, I had just turned thirty-four, and I was uncertain about what to do with myself. David continued, “You are good with people. You really should be a teacher or a school counselor. You need to go back to school.” After I dropped him off, I didn’t give much thought to what he said to me, but after his tragic death, and the emotional trauma that took over my very being, I realized my friend was trying to mentor me like he had done so many times before. I was uncertain and still am, if I am good with people. I just like to talk with everyone, listen to their stories, make a connection, and then move on. I wish I could meet everyone in the world just once, have a hike and beer with them and hear about their life, the parts that actually matter.
Through shaky hands and watery eyes, I filled out the application to become a special education teacher at a local college. It seemed like a good choice with my past experience. Mostly, I wanted to become the teacher I needed growing up.
I am unsure if I do this profession justice? There are teachers out there who read every professional book about teaching, and there are many who have done it for a long time and know how to plan a lesson according to their curriculum. There are some who love to teach their content and know it well. Many love to give assessments and others like sitting in resource rooms watching over kids doing their homework. There are some that like to coach sports and others who thrive off of extracurricular activities. There are many teachers that love school and always have. They have their own stories about why they became teachers, and many of those stories are about a teacher they had that inspired them. Most teachers were good, courteous students when they were in school, and they expect the same from their students now. All of these things are valid, and important and often make me feel like an impostor, a pretender, in a profession that “allows” me to be a part of them, to walk the same halls. However, most days I walk into the schoolhouse doors and feel like I am doing something wrong, trespassing in a place I should not be because I never liked school. Actually, I despised it! I have never been a teacher who loves reading professional development books and going to training. I have never been the person who thinks the curriculum is more important than the relationships with the kids.
I have been the intruder. The disrupter. The one who questions the stupid shit I see us piling on students. So, going back to shaky hands and watery eyes, and entering an education program while surfing through the terror of emotions that led to trauma, I went through the monotony of classwork to become a teacher. There is a plethora of stuff they teach in college that truly doesn’t matter and it does not transfer over to working with students. I even went back years later and sat through the mountains of classwork to get my principal license. I would often look around the room and hear the stories of the future leaders and once again wonder about my place among them. They all seemed so well-groomed in their responses. Again, most of the classwork did not transfer over. They don’t tell you in Educational Leadership classes how to handle ten girls fighting in the cafeteria, how to approach a kid who has a knife on him and safely confiscate it, or what to do when a student calls a teacher a “Fucking bitch” and then their mother and other administrators think it’s okay for that kid to return to class without a consequence. They don’t tell you how to handle kids who are wandering the halls, skipping class, and challenging anyone who redirects them, and they don’t tell you about the many students who will sit across from you telling you about their depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. They don’t tell you about responding to the child who has a black eye from getting hit by their father. You are not taught how to comfort a kid while they are having a full-blown panic attack in your office. Education programs do not tell you that you will have a young woman screaming in the hallways, “I want my fucking Cheetos,” hitting lockers and threatening the wide-eyed admin that is looking at her behind locked doors. They don’t teach you how to respond when she tells you she’s starving because her mother was taken to jail three days prior and she hasn’t eaten, and when she came to school late that the cafeteria workers denied her food. They don’t train you how to talk to other teachers when you know they are in the wrong and you now have to advocate for a student because the teacher will not budge about their wonderful assignment that they have regurgitated year after year. They don’t train you how to handle a parent that says they will sue you and take you to the papers because you are giving their kid an appropriate consequence for bringing in nineteen hits of LSD. They also do not teach you how to comfort a parent that is so desperate because their child is falling apart, having anxiety to the point where they are pulling all of their eyebrow hairs in front of their head, and attempted suicide the night before. The parent sits across from you, in need of your help because they are lost as to what to do and their kid mentioned that you were the only one they felt like they could talk to. The reality of what’s actually happening in the schools is not something they focus on.
I became a teacher for my friend. I wonder if he is somewhere looking down on me? Does he see his friend from someplace afar? Maybe a different plane where he is allowed to come and visit in some unrecognizable form, and he sees that I am a teacher like he requested? Is he laughing at my antics with the kids? Does he ever feel proud when he hears a student tell me I have helped them and made them a better person? Does he laugh when I just shake my head at much of the bullshit that happens in the schools and muffle, “It’s just common sense? There doesn’t have to be a whole training on this.” Hopefully, I have made him proud.
What I really hope is that he is smiling at me, knowing that I have done my best. That he knows I love my students, and that I love their families too, and have always tried to make them a part of all I do for their kids. I hope that he sees that I have put my values first and did my best to build relationships with the students that sit before me and that I have made many mistakes along the way, but I am a reflective educator and understand my imperfections. I want him to realize that I often think about him when I am having talks with students and staff about mental health. I want him to realize he had an impact on me and I have had to use the pain from his death to help others. My experiences are part of my lessons to students.
I hope my students, past and present, realize how much I care about them. I recently said to my class, “One day, years from now when you are living your lives, you may sit back and say, ‘Who was that guy who told me to go and live my best life and never let anything or anyone hold me back? Who was that man who kept telling me all of these stories and hoping I would remember the lesson from them? Who was that guy who told me to always believe in myself no matter what and to build passion and resilience for life because it will be needed? Who was that teacher?'”