Category Archives: compassion

Writing about that scene from ‘This is Us’ reconnected me with the real-life mailman who made a difference

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Receiving a letter from our former mailman made by day.

When I wrote a blog post about how the scene with the mailman on “This is Us” touched me, it was personal. I wrote about how my late mom and her mailman, Glenn, became friends, and how he mourned her death along with us. That scene brought it all back.

My dad, who had Glenn’s address because they still exchange Christmas cards 14 years later, wanted to share the post with him. While it – amazingly to me – was being shared thousands of times on Facebook by fans of the show – my dad went the more traditional route.  He printed out a copy of the post I wrote, put it in envelope, and mailed it to Glenn. Which seemed appropriate, of course.

My dad got a letter back a few days later. You know, one of those-handwritten things on lined paper that mailman deliver. My dad sent me the letter, which brought more tears, as Glenn recalled the conversations he and my mom had over the years.

“I believe I learned more about compassion, integrity, politics, and strength of character through adversity than I gave,” his letter said.

Glenn said he watches This is Us and had seen the episode with the mailman. It turns out someone he knows in North Carolina had seen the story I wrote on the Huffington Post, realized it was about him, and forwarded it to him the day before he received my dad’s letter. Of all the people who read that post, knowing that Glenn had seen it meant the most to me. It had never occurred to me that he would.

He remembered with fondness the people he met during his career as a mail carrier.

“I will always cherish my years on my route, with untold memories of the wonderful people who lived there,” he wrote.

Many of those people are my lifelong friends who grew up in the same neighborhood. Several of them commented on Facebook that they remembered Glenn too and recalled kind interactions he’d had with their families.

“I too, had Glenn as my mailman, and FRIEND for years,” one of my good friends commented. “It’s amazing what a difference a seemingly insignificant or random person can make in our lives! He became like family to our family, during a difficult time of life as well.”

Another remembered him making up the difference when a letter arrived with postage due.

I guess it’s not as uncommon for mail carriers to get to know their customers as I thought. Bill Chott, the actor who played the mailman, also quickly learned how much the tender scene meant to people. He was flooded with Facebook and blog messages from people who loved his portrayal, some of whom shared stories about their mail carriers. The Postal Service even interviewed him for a story.

But still, Glenn is special. Though injuries he sustained during years of delivering mail in the rough Alaska weather forced his retirement and move to a warmer climate, he still connected with people. He helped run a food bank, raising as many as 1,000 pounds of organic vegetables per year to feed the hungry. He volunteered at a prison and with a hospice. None of this surprises me.

It’s a gift to have the opportunity to let people know they mattered to you. Now that I had his last name, I wanted to reach out to Glenn personally, tell him why I wrote the post and how he had touched not only our lives, but many others. I thought about looking him up on Facebook or trying to find an email address.

But first, I mailed him a letter.

Read the post that started all this.

(If you liked this post, please consider sharing it.)

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‘This is Us’ mailman stars in heartwarming anti-bullying film about miracle dog

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Bill Chott plays an unlikeable character who finds redemption in Marshall’s Miracle.

Fans of the Bill Chott’s mailman on This is Us hope he’ll back on the show in the future. But those who can’t wait for that to happen can check him out in the heartwarming but lesser-known movie Marshall’s Miracle.

After getting to know Bill a little through a previous post and subsequent interview, I wanted to see more of him, so my 10-year-old son and I rented this sweet family movie. (It’s available on Demand and on Amazon.)

Inspired by a true story, Marshall’s Miracle shares the adventure of Finn, a 13-year-old boy who has become the target of bullies at his new school. Finn feels hopeless and lonely until he discovers the injured Marshall being held by a dog-hoarder in deplorable conditions and makes it his mission to rescue him. In the end, Marshall leads everyone to a place of change, forgiveness, and friendship,

The uplifting movie teaches important lessons about bullying and animal cruelty, and it’s great for families and kids. (The worst word in it is “darn.”) Some might find it a little schmaltzy, but I’m a sucker for sentimental and sappy, so I loved it.

Chott captured the hearts of America with his brief but deeply affecting scene on This is Us as the mailman who holds back tears when he learns his friend William had died. Since the episode aired a week ago, he’s been overwhelmed by the response and deep affection millions had for his character. Fans have started a campaign to bring him back to the show.

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“You going to be OK?” Chott’s Gary asks in this touching scene from Marshall’s Miracle.

In the movie, Chott plays a totally different character, gruff and grumpy, stuck in bad situation as his wife keeps bringing home dogs they can’t properly care for. But he shows the same tenderness This is Us fans fell in love with when he worries about the injured dog, Marshall, then defies his wife and lets Marshall go.

“I enjoyed the chance to get a bit gruff and play Gary,” Chott said. “I’m usually the nice guy, and he is a mostly unlikeable guy with a moment of redemption. It’s also my only role with a beard. I grew it to look a bit less like a baby-face and a bit more rough around the edges. I kept the beard for a year, so Gary stuck around with me a while after the role ended.”

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Lauren Holly and Bill Chott face reality in Marshall’s Miracle.

Lauren Holly, perhaps best known for Picket Fences, NCIS and Dumb and Dumber, plays his wife.

“That was a really unique opportunity,” Chott said. “She doesn’t often play that kind of character either, so we both had a chance to stretch a bit.”

The disturbing topic of animal abuse is well-handled, and how Finn and others respond to Marshall reinforce the movie’s theme: Don’t give in to bullying. Be strong, be courageous, and be kind.

That message resonated with Chott.

“I grew up being bullied from time to time, since my family moved a lot,” he said. ” I was always the new kid. I like the way Finn’s story echoes Marshall’s story. They’re both victims of bullying and they’re both able to overcome that adversity.”

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The real Marshall

Chott filmed near his hometown of St. Louis, and he joined the real-life Marshall and his owner, Cynthia Willenbrock, who wrote the book “Marshall the Miracle Dog,”  at a Special Olympics event. In real-life, the three-legged Marshall and Cynthia have visited more than 1,200 schools, nursing homes, and children’s hospitals to share his story of courage and the will to overcome. He also encourages people to see beyond a person’s disability to what they are capable of accomplishing.

“Marshall immediately inspires empathy because he wears the scars of his former abuse and neglect on the outside,” Willenbrock told me. “When Marshall so lovingly hops right up to every stranger, he has this way of busting open those internal wounds in all of us. Without words, Marshall lets us know we are all enough, exactly as we are.”

Willenbrock is pleased the book and movie helped spread the anti-bullying message, and she partnered with 4-H to make the Marshall Mentor Program available to schools. You can learn more about Marshall’s impact in this video.

“I’ve been fortunate to never see an animal who was abused,” Chott said. “I have a real soft spot for pets, especially dogs. My wife, Sam, and I lost our dog Wally shortly before we found out we were expecting our daughter Isabella. A puppy is in our future, I’m sure.”
Those who love dogs, love Bill and want to see a wholesome film with an important message, should definitely give it a try. It encourages perseverance and standing up for what you believe in.“Sometimes life seems pretty hard,” Finn says in a speech. “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle happens.”

That’s a message we should all remember.

Watch for Bill’s next guest appearance March 28 on Trial and Error, and read more about him here:

Why the mailman on This is Us brought me to tears

Everyone’s favorite mailman Bill Chott tells us about the man behind the This is Us scene that broke America’s heart 

A toast to the moms and the motherless

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On the last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom, I gave her a keepsake box, with a Maya Angelou quote on top:

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”

That box now sits on my dresser, holding some of my most precious mementos: photo of my kids, my mom’s charm bracelet, the hair clips my stepdaughter and I wore at my wedding.

On Mother’s Day 10 years ago, my husband gave me a jar of baby food. We had just learned that I was pregnant a few days earlier. Yesterday that little baby scored a couple runs at his baseball game and a touchdown at flag football. Today he gave me a handmade card:

“Thank you for being so supportive of me, caring for me, and giving me so many opportunities though my years so far. I know how hard it is to take care of a kid, so I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done.”

That one’s going in the box.

And my beautiful stepdaughter is about to have a daughter herself. She was the first one to make me a mom when she came into my life 15 years ago, and soon she will make me a grandma.

That Maya Angelou quote is fitting for this holiday, which is wrapped in so many memories and emotions. On this day reserved for Moms – who, let’s face it – will still be doing laundry or changing diapers, packing lunches and checking homework – we all have reasons to celebrate, and reasons to mourn.

Many of my friends are without their moms today too, some for the first time. And there are the heartbroken moms who have lost their children and women who long for babies of their own.

This Mother’s Day, I had brunch with my husband and son. They toasted me and gave me flowers, and I felt their appreciation. Thanks, guys. I love you.

And I thought about my mom, of course, because so much of who I am today I owe to her, and I will always miss her. I thought about all the strong women in my life who are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, single moms, nieces, cousins.

As we make our way through this life, becoming mothers and motherless, I will take Maya’s words to heart.

I adore you. I cherish you.

 

 

New Year’s Realizations

My New Year’s resolutions are always the same: get in shape, be smarter financially, be more organized. Drink less wine and eat more kale, yada yada yada.

I still want to do all those things, but I’m taking a different approach to 2016. Last year brought a lot of big changes in my life, and I’ve had some time to think about what really makes me happy, what fuels me. Some of it has surprised me, and it’s exciting for me to discover that I am still learning and growing.

As I was thinking about the New Year and the many facets that can lead to happiness, the “4 Cs” kept popping into my head. My summer job during college was working at a jewelry store, where I learned a little about the 4Cs of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, and carat.

So here are my 4C realizations (not resolutions) for 2016:

I need to create. Whether it’s a few words on this blog, working on the novel I really will finish writing,  a professional project that fulfills my creative side or a cool experiment with my son, using my imagination inspires me. I will devote more time to it this year. (But don’t expect anything too crafty.)

I need to contribute. Whether volunteering at school, collecting pennies for uncompensated children’s hospital care, sending toys to Syrian refugees or buying groceries for someone who has less than me, these small gifts mean more to me than the recipient and teach my son compassion. Giving back rewards me, and being part of something bigger than myself grounds me. I will find new ways for my family to give this year.

I need to crack up. I love laughing out loud. My friends are hilarious. My family makes me giggle. I need more of those laughing to tears, side-aching, sore cheek moments in between the rushing, the working, the worrying.

I need to connect. I value my longtime friendships with my most trusted friends, and I’m grateful for growing connections with fellow moms. I need to make time for coffee dates and happy hours and family gatherings and date nights with my husby. Having people in your life you can truly count on, who you can fully support, makes all the difference.

I know that when I’m pursuing these core beliefs, other good stuff follows. I’m even craving spinach right now instead of chocolate. At least that’s what my creative self is trying to tell me.

What are your New Year’s Realizations?

Moments of kindness that moved me

You know those moments- like  when someone cuts you off in traffic or a stranger makes a condescending comment -that instantly change your mood?

My husband saw a woman throw a conniption at the pizza place over the amount of cheese on her extra cheese pizza. The other day, a woman berated my sweet barista because she couldn’t charge just 1 cent on her loyalty card so the customer could earn a star toward a free drink.

Now, when you’re nice to your barista, you get surprises like this:

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In a world so often uncertain, filled with hatred and violence and sadness, small interactions have a profound effect on our moods. We never know what a stranger is dealing with, and no one knows what you might be going through. How lovely to encounter and share kindness.

Here are a few small moments this year that turned my day around, made me smile, and restored my faith in humanity.

The soccer-playing cabbie

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I was rushing to the airport to reach one of my best friends whose mother had just died. I was scrambling to cover all the responsibilities and activities in my absence. One friend was picking my son up for soccer practice while I was waiting for a cab to the airport. The cab driver arrived first and had to wait for a few minutes. Instead of starting the meter, he got out of the cab and played soccer in the street with my son. Instantly eased my stress and made our goodbye much easier. I wish I had gotten his name.

The forgiving parking attendant

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When I picked my dad up from the airport, I paid for the parking and walked a short distance to the car. I have a system for keeping track of those parking tickets, but this day, the system broke down. Somehow between paying my $3 at the self-pay machine and reaching the car, the ticket had disappeared. I dug through every nook and cranny in my purse, retraced my steps, and resigned myself that the parking was going to cost an arm and a leg. The cashier took pity on me and let me leave without paying. Bless her.

The conscientious key-finder

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After my brother got home from a Thanksgiving trip, he couldn’t find his keys. Searched everywhere and called people in two states trying to track them down until a friend saw a post on Facebook. Turns out someone found the keys near the truck where it had been parked. Not only didn’t he steal the truck, he made efforts to find the owner. Good for him.

The nurse with the big heart

Just be kind

I was at the doctor recently, and the kindest nurse checked me in. She was wearing hot pink scrubs and a bright smile. As she prepared to check my blood pressure (after asking in a gentle voice if was ok for her to do so) she put a stethoscope shaped like a heart on my arm. I commented on her warm demeanor and told her I could tell she was a caring person.

“There’s so much going on in the world, people are on edge,” she said. “It’s important to spread kindness.”

Amen.

 

Hope blooms

It’s a rainy, dreary day in Seattle, with Halloween and darker days just around the corner. I’ve heard a lot of sad news this week, and I’m preparing to help one of my best friends say goodbye to her mom, just as  she did for me.

And I found this today:

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Despite the blustery wind and pounding rain, this gorgeous flower continues to thrive.

My husband gets me fuchsias, my favorite, every year on Mother’s Day. I love the bright ribbons of color that wrap underneath the petals of another shade, and the small, ordinary-looking buds that explode into cascading hues.

They seem so delicate, but these have been hanging for more than five months, surviving summer’s extreme heat and fall’s chilly nights. Still there are buds hidden among the wet, yellowing leaves, just waiting to pop.

It made me think that we are not as fragile as we feel sometimes. We can hold on through the storms, clinging to the branches that hold us up, and find we are stronger than  we thought.

Hope blooms.

People in wheelchairs deserve to be seen

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I hardly see the wheelchair in one of my favorite photos of my fun-loving mom and my aunt.

I hate that seeing a wheelchair always reminds me of my mom.

She was so much more than that chair. So much more than the monster called MS that she lived with for 30 years.

But whenever I see someone in a wheelchair, or a hopelessly inaccessible bathroom, or a store you can only reach by taking the stairs, I’m reminded of my remarkable mom, who was dependent on a wheelchair for too many years before she died too soon almost 13 years ago.

Sometimes the chair was all people would see.

Sometimes it made this vibrant woman invisible.

I thought about that this weekend while we were at our city’s Halloween festival. We admired the creative costumes, screamed through the haunted house, and trick-or-treated at the shops along the way to the town square for the dog costume contest and the wiener dog races.

A crowd gathered around the small cordoned-off area to watch the tiny four-legged racers. It was hard to see, and kids crouched down at the front while adults stood behind. A man wheeled up and took a spot behind the children.

Soon, a woman appeared and stood directly in front of him. She kept looking around, I assumed, to make sure she wasn’t in anyone’s way. She never noticed the gentleman in the wheelchair behind her. He kept trying to peer around her, to get a glimpse of the action, but he never said anything.

Finally, I touched her gently on the shoulder, letting her kindly know she was blocking his view.  She was embarrassed, she felt bad, and of course she apologized.

“I didn’t even SEE him. I didn’t even SEE him,” she kept repeating.

She didn’t even see him.

My mom would never have been alone. My amazing dad or one of her kids or a friend would have been there to push her forward and make sure she had a clear view. This man was by himself. I don’t know him or anything about his circumstances and really have no right to speak for him.

But I saw him.

And I saw my mom and all the times airport security wanted her to stand up to be searched, all the waiters who tried to get us into a booth rather than seat us at a table she could easily pull up to, and all the salesclerks who looked over her head and asked me if they could help me find something. I thought of the numerous times my Mom was using her electric scooter on our walks and someone jogged by, cheerfully but thoughtlessly saying they envied her ride.

I remembered the times she didn’t want to make a scene when we couldn’t get somewhere she wanted to go, and the times she made a joke about it.

“Watch out for the crazy driver!” she’d laugh as I pushed through department store racks placed too tightly together so she could reach the sweater she wanted to try on.

I’m grateful for the strangers who would hold the door for us, who would help us negotiate a curb where there was no ramp, and especially thankful to those who greeted my mom, instead of avoiding her eyes and looking to me.

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My mom and me, before MS.

Because she was someone you wanted to know. She was a funny, smart, and resilient woman who loved shopping, football, and politics and could debate with the best. Before the disease ravaged her hands, she played a mean piano, and the former English teacher and music school owner inspired her children to play music, to write, to sing. She fought hard and worked hard and loved much and never stopped trying.

She was so much more than that damn chair.

Please remember that the next time you encounter a person in a wheelchair.

Just see her.