DAN: As far back as I can remember, my mother had a limp. When I was in elementary school, she used to lean on me and call me her “walking talking cane.” Then one night she got really ill and had to go to the hospital. I was maybe seven or eight. It turned out to be pneumonia but the bigger impact was that when she returned home, she had lost the use of her legs and had to use a wheelchair. She could no longer lean on me. In fact, she had to lean on others to help with routine, day-to-day activities.
DAN: Welcome to Redefine U. I’m your host, Dan Baum.
It’s hard to believe our first season is coming to close. We covered a lot of territory this fall. I want to thank the many guests who took the time to join me this fall, and thanks to our many listeners. It has been overwhelming and gratifying to hear the feedback from so many different places — in fact, we’ve found that we are overseas and have listeners in many different countries, which is really exciting.
We’re going to take a slight departure this episode. I would like to recap and reflect on what heard and learned this season. We spoke to wide range of individuals facing a number of different situations. Rather than have a guest this time, I thought I would share some of what we heard while introducing a few of my own experiences.
So let’s begin with our premise, that throughout our lives, we are challenged to change our thoughts, beliefs or even who think we are. We heard that echoed by everyone we spoke to.
What is interesting is that sometimes it is proactive – as we heard from Amanda, Seth, Marshall and Jen.
AMANDA: “Why me? Why should I do that?” And it’s like “Why not you? Why not be the person that gets out there? You have a voice and you have a message.
SETH: I went from not having a clue of what I wanted to do with my life to having a fairly
MARSHALL: What you learn from one thing applies to the next. It was like a building block, like a foundation.
JEN: But my gosh, living life as a seven when it could be a 10... Or my gosh, what if it was even higher?
DAN: At other times, we are forced to make changes by necessity — what we might term a “lightning strike moment” — job-loss, a family member’s addiction or traumatic injury. We heard examples of this from Mike, Denise and Robin.
MIKE: It was difficult for me because as I said I was out of school 30-plus years. I was unsure, not afraid, but just unsure of what was going to happen.
DENISE: And so I wanted to say, “where could I help? Where could I do something and make a difference for people who are suffering with this?”
ROBIN: This is what it is. I can't change what happened. And we're gonna make the best of it.
DAN: When faced with these moments we find ourselves at a crossroads. At that moment, it does not matter if we have chosen a path or find ourselves on a new one, we have questions. We find ourselves asking what now?
This notion of being at an intersection in our lives resonated with me because I’ve seen it many times starting when I was pretty young.
I could so relate to Robin’s story because I watched a similar process as my mom went from walking to a wheelchair to being confined to a bed, unable to move from the neck down. It turned out that she had Multiple Sclerosis or MS, which effects the nervous system. This discovery and the continued loss of movement was our family’s lightning strike moment.
At times like these, we may not recognize that we have choices. Whether we have embarked on a path or one hits us out of the blue, we can get stuck and think that choices have been taken away from us and there is only one option available.
ROBIN: I used to say to people, I didn't have a choice and then I reached a point where I said I did have a choice. I had a choice completely in everything. I had a choice whether to put her in an institution. I had a choice whether to look at this negatively or positively. I did have a choice. And I made the right choice.
DAN: Of course, as a child, these were not the kinds of things that I thought about. I internalized the worry, the anxiety, the fear without being conscious of doing that because on the outside, I wanted to help. I wanted my mom to get better and would do anything I could to make that happen.
It was my parents who were faced with the big choices. Now that I am old enough to understand that, as a husband and father myself, I can see better what my parents had to wrestle with. My dad was a career naval officer and commuted to Washington, D.C. every day. So at first, he hired private-duty nurses. When that became complicated, including the narrowness of our halls making it difficult to move around in the wheelchair — basically, our house was not designed to support my mom’s needs — my parents decided that my mom would move in with my aunt and uncle in South Carolina just outside Charleston which is the area where my parents met and where I was born.
But my dad and I weren’t going along. I was still in elementary school in Northern Virginia, hundreds of miles away. In a hyper-connected world, it’s hard to picture that staying in touch was challenging back then. There was no internet, no social media, no Facetime. Long-distance phone calls were expensive. And traveling between South Carolina and Virginia was worse, especially during the school year. And, of course, my dad had a full-time job with the Navy.
So he came up with a rather ingenious solution. One night at dinner he brought a portable tape recorder and we recorded our conversation as though my mom were with us. We talked about our day, what was happening at school or around the neighborhood. Then we popped it in the mail and sent it to my mom. In turn, she recorded herself with the sounds of the house in the background: the comings and goings of my aunt and cousins, the dog barking, even a bird chirping. It was a little weird at first, like having an audio pen pal, but we came to depend on those recordings to stay connected, hear each other’s voices and feel like we were together despite the distance.
Which brings up another important point that we heard in our conversations, that the process of redefining is not typically a one-time thing. It’s continuous.
NICOLE: The process of recovery is ongoing. We're always growing and we're always developing. So whether or not we have issues or life is great, you should always be evolving.
LORI: Redefining ourselves isn’t one act. It’s a progressive act. What we know about the brain is the more that you do something, the clearer the path is. So the brain's comfortable with that. And we can coach the brain to change, or to open up a little bit.
DR. PHIL: The moment that we stop learning is the moment that we become sedentary and we don't grow, right? So keep learning. Keep your eye on something different. There's always a different angle to whatever it is we're looking at.
DAN: My family’s situation continued to unfold over time. But having my mom in Charleston while we remained in Virginia was not sustainable. We seriously explored moving to a bigger house, and then moving to Charleston, but at some point, my dad decided, no. The best solution was to bring my mom back to Virginia. This was a relief to me because I liked where we lived and didn’t want to leave my friends. What I didn’t know was that my mom would not move back in with us. She moved to a nursing home.
Long before the development of the assisted living industry, traditional nursing homes were the place where people were left to die. I was around 11 or 12, so not quite middle school but close. It was pretty creepy. Old people. Frail, boney, offending sounds and smells. It was like a house of horrors.
As you might imagine, this caused a rift in our family. My dad believed it was the best solution for us. It goes back to choices – our family had choices, including one I hadn’t considered growing up – my dad could have left us. He could have accepted orders anywhere in the world. I could have moved in with family in Charleston. That was a very real possibility. And no one would have faulted my dad for serving his country. But he chose the opposite. To request orders that kept us together. To serve us while also serving his country.
In many respects, hearing what other people have faced or are facing can be comforting. I have certainly found it inspiring to know that others experience similar, if not same thing that I have or could experience. It means we are not alone. No matter our circumstances, others have faced similar situations and succeeded. I share my own story in that spirit.
LEON: It's very easy to feel isolated, particularly if you're not willing to share your story, right? Or be in an environment or in a group of people where you do make yourself accessible to some of those others who are experiencing some of those same things.
DENISE: One thing that I admired about a lot of my classmates that were in recovery, they weren't ashamed. They would just come out and tell their story, and I would put my head down and say, "Mm-hmm, mm-hmm."
But they were like, “it’s OK. We all have a past. We all have a story.”
And one day, I just opened up and I was able to share. And I was in a non-judgement zone. They just allowed me to be me, and it made me feel so much better.
DAN: How many times did we hear that we don’t have to embark on this journey alone? That there are people willing and able to help us. I’ll take it a step further – we can’t go it alone. It’s not in our nature. We are social creatures and even when we think we’re flying solo, we have wingmen – and women – right next to us, encouraging, guiding, coaching along the way.
I’m not sure why I thought growing up that we have to go it alone. Maybe because my dad looked like he was shouldering so much on his own (the rock on which our family was built). Maybe it’s a guy thing. We believe that it’s our job to be tough? Or maybe it’s a different label – we heard from Mike, for example, that it’s very common for those in the military not to ask for help. They’re accustomed to being the helpers and not asking for assistance for themselves.
In our family’s case, we were hardly alone. Quite the opposite. We had nurses, neighbors, friends, extended family – especially my family in Charleston. In the nursing home, we had even more helpers, more nurses, orderlies, friends, family even strangers who came to visit. It took a village to support my mom and to raise me. And I am forever grateful.
LORI: So, when we look at the most successful people, honestly no one does it alone. You must reach out to others to support you.
DR. PHIL: I'm very conscious of the fact that every step and every opportunity in my life has come as a result of an influence from someone else. I have lots of role models that have shaped my life and given me direction and given me inspiration. So that notion of giving back and gratitude for what we have and the privileges that we have has been an important milestone and marker for me.
LEON: I continue to have mentors. I don't think one mentor is enough. I have expert mentors. Or whatever area in my life I want to see grow, I need someone who is an expert in that area to guide me through in that way.
DAN: How easy it could have been for me to get lost in the shuffle. My mom needed and deserved a lot of attention. But my dad shuttled me back and forth to soccer practice, to the nursing home, scouting events, and back to the nursing home, swim team and then nursing home. I had a typical suburban upbringing, full of activities, friends and thankfully, love. Lots of it. It happened to include a number of additional trips to spend time with my mom.
When you put all of this together, what does it mean for us? My answer is opportunity. At any age and stage of life, we can – in fact we must – redefine ourselves. Many crossroads equals many choices throughout our lives. We have choices.
I admire my parents so much for the choices they made: for their courage to face head-on the changes we encountered; their commitment to each other and to me; and the love they expressed in word and deed. My dad’s definition of love was doing for others. He rarely, if ever, said the word “love” out loud. In fact, his favorite phrase was “actions speak louder than words.” And his actions spoke volumes.
One of his actions was to buy a chair kind of like a lazy boy on wheels that allowed us to push my mom in a reclining position up and down the halls. My mom dubbed the chair “Cleopatra’s Barge” and it allowed her to go anywhere — to the chapel, to bingo where her nurses won trinkets like socks and after shave, which ended up in my stocking – outside under the gazebo to enjoy some fresh air, and even to our home for the holidays.
My mom’s definition of love was attention. Listening (what else could she do but listen?) which she did with her entire being, especially her heart. Checking in on others. Dictating letters to friends and family. Directing others to buy gifts for me, my older siblings, my dad and other family and friends. She could have become bitter and angry – and there were occasional flashes of that – but instead, she chose to turn her attention to others. In other words, she chose love.
Upon reflecting, I realize I had choices too. I could have rebelled and followed a very different path. When I see the mental health issues that young people face today, the opioid crisis we discussed with Denise and Dr. Williams, I think back and wonder how I made it through my teenage years unscathed. I count myself very fortunate for the choices I made, thanks to the incredible role models of my parents. And again, I thank the many other people – so many people – who helped us along the way.
We have come full circle to the beginning premise of this podcast: knowing that each of us faces crossroads throughout our lives; that when – not if but when – that happens, we have the opportunity to redefine ourselves; and that we cannot do it alone, what does that tell us about our role in the lives of others?
I saw it in my parents and we heard it over and over again: We can help others on the journey, when they reach a point in their lives, a crossroads, we can be the ones to help them redefine themselves. That is the natural ebb and flow of life. It’s a beautiful journey. Sometimes frightening. Sometimes messy. Sometimes joyful.
With each story we have heard this season, I ask our guests how they have redefined themselves. So it’s only fair that I ask myself that question. I have redefined myself and continue to redefine myself throughout my life.
In the context of the story I have shared, of growing up, I am struck by something we heard this season – that we tell ourselves stories. And for that reason, we can rewrite our stories. For me, I have layers, stories within stories, such as this notion that we have to go it alone. Thankfully, I have rewritten that one. This podcast is a really good example – I am supported by an amazing and talented team.
But there is one story that I still struggle with. It’s rooted in fear – that the next shoe will drop. Sometimes it’s overt and sometimes it lurks in the background, but it’s always there, a sneaking suspicion that something bad will happen, that things take a turn for the worse. If I truly embrace this notion that we can redefine ourselves, that we can rewrite our stories, what is there to fear?
SUE: We need to know what's ahead of us. We need to be able to see where we're going, and predict the endings, even though the irony of that is, as Kathryn Schulz talks about in her TED Talk videos, we hate to know what the end of a movie is going to be, or the end of a book before we read it, but we always want to know what the end of our thing is going to be.
DAN: It reminds me that my mom used to have a framed saying that hung on her wall in the nursing home. It read: I am not afraid of tomorrow because I have seen yesterday and I love today. How appropriate for someone named “Hope.” She embraced that philosophy and lived it fully. She redefined motherhood for me and my dad demonstrated what it means to be a father and a spouse. Together they demonstrated the true meaning of love in word and deed. So what do I have to fear? I’m still working on that one.
When we embarked on the journey of our podcast, we had no idea where it might lead. We were curious and wanted to explore. We have discovered along the road some wonderful gifts in the form of wisdom and inspiration.
And as we have explored in this episode, the journey continues. It’s a process. Even when we think we have crossed the finish line, there will be another race and there will be others willing to cheer us on.
Which brings us back to our first episode: to our friends, Robin and Corey. You may recall that Corey has become a runner and dreams of running in Paris. Well those who love and run with Corey have decided to make that dream come true. Next September, Corey will be running in Paris. She doesn’t know it yet, but Robin has a plan of how to tell her and she wanted us to be a part.
DAN: Well, hello Corey.
DAN: How is everything?
DAN: So last time we all met and we talked, you told me that there was a place you really want to run. I said what's next …
DAN: Paris. Just like the shirt you have on of the Eiffel Tower.
COREY: Uh-huh (affirmative), yeah.
DAN: Well I wanted to hear a little more about that because I think we have a little update and have some guests who are going to join us today.
ROBIN: We do.
DAN: Some special guests.
ROBIN: We do.
In the first podcast when Corey, as you said, indicated that she wanted to run in Paris. We've got some great friends that we're going to try to make this happen. And they're here today.
DAN: Okay, here they are!
ROBIN: These are your-
HOWIE: Hey sweetie. Hi sweetie.
COREY: Paris! Paris!
DAN: -your wing men.
DAN: Howie and Jen.
Jen: How are you?
DAN: So what's the news?
JEN: Yeah, I have something for you.
COREY: What?! What?!
JEN: This is your ticket.
COREY: What?! Yay!
JEN: It's your ticket to Paris.
HOWIE: I'm coming with you.
ROBIN: Even more awesome thing is if ASA and Team 360 weren't awesome enough in the running events. It's the relationships that people will go to any lengths to make things happen for your child.
DAN: That's fantastic.
COREY: We have to pack, mom!
ROBIN: We have to pack!
COREY: Uh-huh (affirmative)!
Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College.
Our executive producer and creative director is Allison Baumbusch.
Our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte and our writer, Amy Carr Willard.
Others who helped with this podcast include Angie Hamlet, Alicia Renehan, and Ben Pierce.
Special thanks to all our guests this season. An additional thanks go to those who joined us today: Robin and Corey Ward, Howie Cohen and Jen Roussillon.
Find show notes, how to subscribe and other extras on our website: aacc.edu/podcast.
And please join us in the new year. We’ll be back with season 2 on January 22.
I’m your host and creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.
DAN: So Corey, is that a wrap?
COREY: Uh-huh (affirmative). That's a wrap!