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Between Hell and Hope

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I woke up this morning and for whatever reason, I was thinking about my dad. He died a few years ago and some days, I can’t help but think about him. Today was one of those days.

He was always my cheerleader and life coach. When I’d hit a rough patch, he’d remind me to “suck it up” and that “Everyone has a story.”

Even in fourth grade, when I was the “new kid” attending a new school, and I was struggling to “fit in,” he taught me that any situation can be met with laughter.

I remember one particular afternoon, shortly after my family moved to Cape Cod. My dad greeted me at the kitchen door, sensing that I had had another bad day. His remedy for chasing my fourth grade blues away was to take my hand, lead me into the living room, sit me down on the couch and force me to listen to whatever he decided to play on the stereo. On this afternoon, he plunked himself beside me and as James Taylor began to serenade us, he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and started to sing along. My dad had a beautiful voice but I wasn’t in the mood to listen.

Being a typical 10-year-old brat, I vehemently protested and tried several times to leave, but each attempt was thwarted. Each time I’d try to get up and wriggle away, he’d pulled me back down onto the sofa and held me even tighter. He never missed a beat, smiling and belting out the lyrics from “You’ve Got a Friend” as I squirmed and pleaded with him to let me go. The more annoyed I became, the more comical it was to him. He chuckled and smiled, and theatrically kept singing. If anyone had been watching us, it would have made for some great, free entertainment.

All I wanted was to be alone in my room but my dad wouldn’t have it. He was determined to drown out JT and make it impossible for me to leave his side. Rolling my eyes, I finally surrendered and I felt “stuck.” I had no choice but to listen to my father croon…

“When you’re down and troubled and need a helping hand…and nothing is going right. Keep your head together and call my name out loud…and I’ll be there…” Surprisingly, in just a few seconds after I resigned myself to the fact that I’d never win a battle against my dad, I actually began to enjoy his attention. Before the song had stopped playing on the stereo, we were both laughing and singing along.

I’ve missed him a lot these past two years. Just like that 10-year-old girl feeling trapped on the living room couch, I’ve felt trapped; stuck between hell and hope. I could have really used my dad’s encouragement. Getting laid off from teaching, losing my house, struggling to start over…to say it’s been a rough patch is an understatement. It’s strange, but on days when I felt like hiding from the world by staying under the covers, he’d pop into my mind and I could hear him telling me “Everyone has a story.” or “Chin up, LuAngie, it’s just temporary. Things will turn around. Nothing is forever.”

Ain’t that the truth!

Read the newspaper and glance at some of the headlines. You’ll begin to see that the grass isn’t always greener. “Young Mother Slain” and the suspect happens to be her 15-year-old, mentally ill son; “Gas Line Explodes and Kills Eight People”; “Missing Teen” and her family fears abduction; “More Residents Fighting Foreclosure”; “Local Company Is Filing For Bankruptcy” and 2,000 more Americans lose their jobs; “Thirteen Year Old in Coma” after he was bullied by some classmates. Makes me wonder…

Do the hard times ever end?

According to my dad, they do. His famous line was “It’s just temporary, so keep the faith.”

It was 1987 and the two of us were outside on the family deck. He was smoking one of his favorite Cuban cigars. I was in my twenties, living in Newton and my trip to the Cape wasn’t planned. It was a Friday in May and I had just gotten my first teaching pink slip. I was feeling scared,uncertain about my future, so I headed down south because I needed to be in the company of my dearest friend, dear old dad.

After I shared my bad news with him, he decided to share a story from his past with me. It was the day he learned that he needed to resign from professional football. It was in the 1950’s and he was a leatherhead and a linebacker for the Chicago Bears. He had just gotten another knee injury but this time the doctor took one look at it and advised him that it was time for him to quit the game. “Lou, I know you love the game, but if you keep playing, you’ll spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair.” The decision to quit football devastated my dad. He loved the sport and it had been his life. He had played ever since he was seven years old, the son of an Italian immigrant who owned and ran a barber shop across the street from Jimmy’s Harborside, a popular eatery in Boston.

My dad grew up in a three deck-or apartment in the heart of Dorchestor and every day after school he’d meet up with his buddies to play ball. From an early age, people recognized his talent. He played in high school, then Boston College, and later for the United States Marines. When his service was done, he turned to pro ball but his time with the NFL was short lived. His heart would soon be broken after multiple knee injuries and one memorable visit to the doctor’s office. The doctor didn’t mince words and told him that it was time to pack it up.

My dad’s lifelong dream was always to play pro football. How could what he had worked so hard for be taken away from him with one snap of a finger? The thought of no longer playing football not only made him depressed, but it frightened him. He had absolutely no idea what to do with his life if he wasn’t going to play professionally. And what was life going to be like without football?

He was stuck between hell and hope for a while but he eventually found a new career, met my mom, raised a family, and knew happiness again. Leaving the Chicago Bears was not the end of the world after all, although as a young man in that doctor’s office, he had believed it would be.

Every once in a while, he’d stop telling me his story, tilt his head up to the sky and blow cigar rings into the spring air, for added effect. This made me smile. When he ended his storytelling, he didn’t use the usual “And they lived happily ever after” that he always had used when I was a little girl. This time he ended his story with, “Life is full of unexpected potholes, my dear. You just have to ride it out. The storm will eventually pass.” I listened and nodded. Deep down, I knew he was right but I felt I’d been dealt an unfair hand. I complained, “Yeah, but waiting out the storm is the hard part.” I can still see him smile at me, lounging on his favorite chaise and tilting his head back once again to blow a few more cigar rings into the air. Then he looked me squarely in the eyes and responded, “Quit your whining…Carry a heavy umbrella…I’m telling ya, this too shall pass.”

Now I get it.

Two years ago, I lost my job and then my life became a losing game of dominoes, where I helplessly watched each piece knock the next one down. It was a pitiful chain reaction leading to many sleepless nights and days filled with worry. My whole world fell apart, little by little, piece by piece and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Some days, I felt like quitting but it was at those times I’d think about my dad and visualize him shaking his head at me and smiling. He’d be telling his little girl, “Stop worrying. It’s temporary…it’s going to change…nothing is forever…it will get better.”

His belief that everything in this life is temporary is what helped me move forward.

Today, I can actually see the good in what I once saw as just plain ugly. In time, the disappointment and pain passed and new doors began to open. Writing and editing is a new path that I never would have followed if the first door hadn’t been slammed shut in my face. It has given me great opportunities and I’ve been able to meet so many interesting people who I can honestly say have taught me a thing or two, just by sharing their story with me.

Whether it’s through an interview, a meeting on Skype, or reading their newly released book, I’ve developed a new understanding about life’s complexities and daily challenges and how some people cope. Although every one of their stories is unique, they all share a common thread:

No matter who you are, rich or poor, famous or invisible, young or old, male or female, tall or short, ugly or beautiful…we all hit rough patches. It’s inevitable. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves stuck between hell and hope. My dad taught me that this is the time when you wait for the bell to ring. Then you muster up your strength and force “the fighter” in you to get back into the ring to take on another round. Failure isn’t an option. Winners are never quitters.

Here’s an inspirational father and son talk. Take a listen:

My dad, that NFL linebacker, who had taken some unforgiving hits, chose to rise up after every tackle. That last pile-up was a real blow, took the wind out of his sail and was completely unfair. It forced him to think creatively, adapt, and learn how to play a new game in life.

I learned from my dad that when life hits hard, you have no other choice but to keep getting up, even if your knees are knocking and your legs are unsteady. Learning to appreciate and love the life we’ve been given is much better than missing or crying over an old life that’s been lost. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.

He also taught me that with every loss, there is always something to be gained. It’s usually not apparent and not on the surface. You have to dig deep and look for it, but once you find it, you know all the effort was well worth it.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you might be someone who just got word that you need to empty your office desk by Friday, or you’re experiencing some other loss or tragedy. If you need a friendly reminder to take heart, then you clicked and landed on the right post.

Remember: “It’s just temporary.” Your luck has to change eventually.

So today I was thinking about my dad and felt the need to write about him. I’m very grateful that my dad taught me these life lessons at a young age and I’m hoping I’ve made him proud. I know that over this last rough patch, he’s been watching and rooting for me. Thanks Dad.

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About Luanne Stevenson

Published Ghost Writer; Freelance Writer
  • http://thecoffeeklatch.com/ Marianne Russo

    When one door closes another opens – it’s just hell in the hallway

  • Summer Said

    I just wanted to say your article touched me. It echoes my own situation quite similarly. Our father’s certainly gave us strength to persevere in the toughest of times.