"I'm a thankful man for every turn…"
Dateline: The Journey…
Barb and I had just dropped Ashley off at the airport, grabbed a quick dinner at a local deli, and were heading home on I-84 West.
I look at the digital clock in the 4Runner dashboard, hmm, holding the phone with my left hand to me left ear, I turn my head slightly to my right and mouth to Barb, "It's Ashley."
Barb looks at me quizzically, she doesn't say anything, I don't say anything, but both of us are thinking the same thing…that was a pretty quick flight to Baltimore.
"Dad…I'm at the airport."
I mouth to Barb…"She's at the airport."
To Ashley I say, "Wow you made so great time, how long before the connection to Austin."
"Dad…" she starts to talk but pauses.
Immediately, unconsciously, the 4Runner starts to slow down, I'm driving in slow motion, Ashley has said nothing but it's a pause every parent fears, something is wrong, in slow motion I turn to Barb and as she senses the speed slowing down, she reaches her hand out to my arm on the wheel.
"Dad…I'm in Hartford…back in Bradley…"
I look at Barb, mouth nothing, can't.
"Dad can you come get me….please."
Barb grabs the passenger door handle as I drift over 3 lanes to an unknown exit coming up. To Ashley, to no one the only thing that comes out of my mouth is this, "Why."
I am half up the exit ramp before Ashley can tell me.
"Dad…it's like…it was like one of the engines on the plane blew up or something and a huge fireball shot down the side of the plane…the pilot came on and said we had to turn back…"
I turned to Barb.
I couldn't speak.
Barb kept asking, "What," "What," "WHAT'S WRONG WITH ASHLEY."
I couldn't answer.
I was shaking.
"WHAT'S WRONG WITH ASHLEY."
"She's okay, we have to go pick her up at Bradley, she said something happened to the planes engine, caught fire or something and they had to make an emergency landing back at the airport."
Coming to Thankful, I84-W Exit 43.
"…on every highway I've been down…"
"db, you got a minute."
Toledo Bend, Many, Louisiana…Friday.
The wind was howling, I was standing behind the stage, standing by myself, watching the bags while hiding from the wind.
"db…I need to tell you something."
And with that on of my closest friends on the tour, Kelly Jordon, motions me away from where I'm standing, motions me back into the wind and away from anyone else.
"db…I haven't told anyone 'cept Keri…but I need to tell you…db I have cancer…skin cancer…it's serious db."
And standing in the full gusts of Toledo Bend, I felt all the wind knocked out of me, felt my body starting to cave in on itself.
"I have skin cancer, on my shoulder here, I go back to the doc as soon as we get back home."
All I really heard in that sentence was one word, and the word stabbed me, a painful paper cut on my soul, and the word was, "We."
"We," meant more then Kelly. "We" meant his new bride, "Keri," We meant the newborn child she carried within. "We" also meant the two Kelly's I knew, the "me" Kelly, before marriage, before fatherhood, and the "we" Kelly, the one who now stood with his hand on my shoulder.
The one who just told me he had cancer. Kelly, the husband. Kelly, the daddy. Kelly, the friend.
And the Toledo Bend wind battered my face.
And on a tiny freshwater peninsula saltwater ran down my cheeks.
Coming To Thankful, Toledo Bend, LA, Cut To 30 Day.
"…every mile I've lost, every crossroad stop…"
"I'm calling for Don Barone."
There is no face on my cell phone, normally if you call my cell phone and your face doesn't pop up, I let the call go into Voicemail.
"This is Don."
But I answered this call because even though it didn't have a face, it had an area code I recognized.
"Don…this is Dr. Rodgers…I just got the your blood work test…Don it shows a high PSA level…."
"Uh huh….doc I'm at the B.A.S.S. All-Star even in Montgomery, Alabama…PSA Level?"
"Don normally when we see PSA's in the level yours are at, usually that's a good indication of something wrong, may times….Prostate Cancer."
Three feet from me, Gerald swindle was on stage making the crowd laugh, he saw me standing off stage and shot me a quick grin, and I just look at him, say nothing, my eyes say nothing, I'm frozen in time, frozen in space, frozen inside.
I'm still holding the phone to my ear as my doctor tells me about Prostate Cancer, as he talks I realize I now have a hyphenated name, Don Barone-Prostate-Cancer.
To my doc, I say nothing, just hang up on him, and start to move towards the crowd, "db…can I get you to sign this for me…"
So this is how the universe plays hardball, bang…you might have cancer…bang…can you sign an autograph…bang you're alive…bang you're dead.
"Thanks db, love your stuff man, keep it up."
Coming To Thankful, Montgomery, Alabama, B.A.S.S. All-Star Week, Day 3.
"…every storm that turned me around…"
"I'm Kevin, Kevin Oldham….nice to meet you."
He stood before me, dying.
I stood before him, trying not to cry.
"I'm Don." As I said it my lungs took a double breath, I felt my hand tremble as I reached out to shake.
And Kevin shook my hand, shook it with both his hands, leaned in and softly said, "Can I call you db."
All I could do was shake my head, don't know if I shook it up or down or not, felt like it was spinning in circles.
I had never before for a moment met this young firefighter, this young husband, this young daddy, but from the moment he held my hand within his two hands, I felt, I felt, weird, but I felt like I had just met the older brother I never had.
I'm so-so on liking people. VERY so-so on liking people I don't know, wary, you can't be in this business and not be wary, or you'll be quickly in another business.
Then, in the split second he let my hand go from the grasp of his two, he looked at me, and in the crowded hotel, in the noisy hotel, it was just us, me, and a complete stranger who at that moment was just weeks from his death, and he didn't blink, and I didn't blink, and my lungs didn't double clutch, and he smiled and in a soft voice that boomed through my soul, he said to me, "It's okay man, everything is okay."
And for the rest of my life, I will think, and I don't care what anyone else thinks or says about it, but until Kevin and I meet again, I will think, I will KNOW, that moment, less than a heartbeat in a lifetime of beats, that smile, those six words were not about the man who said them.
Those six words were for me.
Those six words were for what was about to come, not for Kevin, but for me.
Brought to me by an older brother I never had.
The exact second Coming To Thankful…came for me.
"…oh, it's better than I could have planned…"
For most of my life, I've had no idea what most of it was about.
My plan was pretty much to just show up, and live it. Be here, see what happens. Try not to jerk it up too much.
For the most part, life didn't notice me much, life was always looking the other way as I came by.
Which was fine with me.
To those I love, I apologize for not being great, not being horrible…just sort of, you know…being. I was there like the clouds in the sky are there.
Somewhere a long the line, being, became life. As long as I'm still being here, being there, and everyone else was, being, as well, I took that to be life.
Coming To Thankful happened when I stopped just being, and became a PART of life. Connected, involved, from out of the stands to onto the field of life.
Coming To Thankful happened when, being, was lost.
From my friend Kelly: "I was scared to death, SCARED TO DEATH, I had planned not to be scared when it was my time, but it didn't work out that way, db…I was so scared."
For this story I asked him a question I had never asked him before, "Why me dude, why tell me you had cancer."
"Hmmm," was all he said at first. Two more "hmmms," then "I knew in my heart that I needed to tell somebody and something told me that you, you would get it."
Turns out I did, turns out Kelly knew as well.
"When the doctor told me I had skin cancer I was scared to death but not so much about me….about….about….you know….about…………..them."
Coming To Thankful, is always, ALWAYS about them.
You haven't come to thankful yet if it is just about you.
"I thought, not now, not NOW, I just got married…a daughter that hadn't even been born yet…not now, can't do that to them."
"db, you find your priorities right quick, and my friend your priority is not you…it's them."
"…it's made me who I am…"
To know where a man is going, you need to know where he's been.
I've been alone, in a crowd.
A loner, to outsiders.
A loner, to myself.
A mirror, a reflection of life, what you want is what you got.
I believe, find it impossible to not believe it, that everything is connected.
String theory, probably.
I'm not sure something directs all this as much as something just gets out of the way.
And allows us, encourages us, to look.
I believe the act of letting us look for ourselves, is faith.
Kelly: "Dude, now more than ever so, I find, life is such a gift, so fragile of a gift, and because of that I find that I am now have a whole different perception of people, I find myself accepting people more now for what they are, and how special everyone is than I ever felt before."
Me: "Do you think in a weird sort of way that you having cancer, getting cancer when you did, prepared you more for marriage, more for being a dad, again I don't want to offend anyone, it's a horrible disease, and it may be nothing more than that but…."
"But db, it changed me….I know it made me a better husband…a better father…I am much more engaged with my daughter Ruby…with my wife Keri…I don't want to miss a thing."
I'm thankful that I could hug and kiss Ashley on earth and not have to live with the fact that I wasn't holding her, comforting her as she fell out of the sky.
I'm thankful that when my doctor called to tell me that I might have cancer, that in the crowd of the All-Star Event, was my wife Barb, at the only event she came to all season, she was there to catch me falling.
I'm thankful that Kelly came to me because he thought I would understand because now both of us will help each other understand.
All things are connected, all things happen for a purpose.
Which means I am VERY thankful for the older brother I never had, Kevin Oldham.
Because, somehow he knew.
Not that I had cancer, he was a firefighter, not a fortune teller.
But he knew, I was just showing up.
All things connected, all things a purpose.
From a man about to die, from him, here are his last words to me, "Embrace life my friend. Embrace."
Don't just be…be a part.
Coming To Thankful.
"…it's a good life; it's a real good life
and I'm a thankful man…"