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It may not be true for millennials, but we Senior Citizens recall our parents admonishing us to get our elbows off the dinner table. As children, we never questioned that rule. Back then, failing to blindly obey might result in being sent to bed without supper.

But now that we’re grown, it’s a valid question, isn’t it? Why can’t we put our elbows on the table? Who made up that stupid rule, anyway?

Well, there are a few theories, one being that it originated with sailors who wrapped their arms around their plates to keep them from sliding off the table when they were riding out rough seas. That was fine and dandy when they were aboard ship, but landlubbers didn’t look favorably on seamen, who were considered rude, rowdy, and more than a little dangerous. So when sailors, out of habit, put their elbows on the table to guard their food it tipped off the locals to their occupation. Not wishing to associate with such rabble, the good folks either left the premises or challenged the seafarers to do so. Naturally, brawls often ensued, which made the innkeepers and pub owners unhappy. They, in turn, would then ban sailors from their establishments. Seamen soon learned they had to change their habits if they wanted a meal and a place to sleep while they were in port. Hence, they reminded each other, “Keep your elbows off the table.” That sounds to me like a plausible explanation, but other versions better account for the longevity of this rule of etiquette.

In medieval times, kings hosted feasts to honor visiting nobles. Everybody in the kingdom received invitations to attend. Royalty and honored guests were seated in comfortable chairs at what we now refer to as “the head table,” while folks of lower stature took their places on benches that flanked long tables. Packed in like sardines in a tin, they didn’t have room to rest their elbows while they ate without invading the space and disrupting the meals of the people on either side of them. Jostling a neighbor could result in violence and nobody wants to eat their dinner with swords and daggers flying around. Besides, guarding one’s food left the impression that one was starving and His Majesty did not look fondly on those who gave his honored guests the impression that his subjects were not well fed.

All these centuries later, it remains rude to interfere with one’s tablemates’ enjoyment of a meal. That means keeping those elbows off the table so you don’t crowd other diners. It also means you should obey other rules of mealtime propriety. In case you have forgotten, (or, sadly, were never taught), let’s review a couple of the big ones.

Your napkin should be placed in your lap as soon as you are seated and remain there when it isn’t in use until everyone at the table has finished eating and the entire party is ready to disband. If you must leave the table for any reason, the napkin should be placed in your chair after you excuse yourself.

And should the reason for interrupting your meal be a need to use the restroom, please refrain from announcing your destination.  Simply say, “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a few minutes. Please, continue eating while I’m away.” Seriously, the others probably don’t want to know where you’re going or think about what you’ll be doing.

This brings us to another point. Everything that detracts others’ comfort and enjoyment is a no-no. Don’t play with your utensils, tap your fingers, or touch your hair. And for heaven’s sake, don’t mess around with your cell phone.

Despite many restaurants’ practice of wrapping a fork and knife in a paper napkin secured by a self-adhesive paper band, that is not the proper placement of utensils. Long-standing tradition dictates that forks are situated to the left of the plate; knives and spoons to the right. They are arranged in order of usage from the outside in toward the plate. For example, the fork farthest to your left is typically the salad fork. When salad plates are cleared, salad forks should accompany them. The next in line is for eating your following course. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

By the way, proper placement of your cell phone is out of view…with the ringer silenced.

This last rule of etiquette is likely the most difficult to follow in our technology-mad times. And it shows.

A few weeks ago, dear hubby and I stopped at a popular restaurant for lunch. The place was busy, so we put our name on the list and retired to an alcove to wait. During those fifteen or so minutes, we began to observe not only the other customers waiting for tables, but also those already seated and within sight. Approximately 75% of our companions spent the entire time gazing at screens, making calls, checking emails, and God only knows what else. Sort of rude to the others who were chatting with each other to pass the time, don’t you think?

As if that weren’t bad enough, scanning the booths in view of the waiting area revealed at least one person at every table also staring blankly and thumbing at a smart phone – or worse yet, talking on their cells. Some were evidently having difficulty hearing the person on the other side of the call because they spoke loudly and often uttered phrases like, “Say that again. I have a lot of background noise here.”

Heaven forbid that people having pleasant mealtime conversations should interfere with their enjoyment of their mobile devices!

Wait. Isn’t that backwards?

I feel certain Emily Post is rolling over in her grave. I think Miss Manners would insist that way of thinking is quite the opposite of polite social conduct. If these refined ladies had been present in that restaurant, I suspect they would have been appalled.

I was.

I wanted to shout, “Hey, you! And I mean all of you. Put your phones away.”

“And get your elbows off the table!”

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Although the title might lead you to believe otherwise, this is not a political rant. It’s not about left, right, and middle.  You won’t need to defend the party of your choice or debate liberal versus conservative views.

It’s all about soup…bean soup, to be specific.

I unscientifically polled my social media contacts with one simple question: What is your favorite cold-weather food?  Although a small percentage named other comfort foods, the vast majority of votes went to soups…even if I counted chili as a category unto itself.

Some folks craved tomato soup (preferably accompanied by grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwiches), while others wanted something beefier or chock-full of vegetables. A very small number mentioned the famously medicinal chicken noodle. But not one person voted for bean soup.

That surprised me.

Thick, creamy bowls of beans flavored with ham served with a side of hot cornbread fresh from the oven always meet with approval at our house on a cold winter night. And I doubt there is a more budget-friendly soup a home chef can stir up. Dried beans are an inexpensive source of protein and they have a shelf-life just short of eternity when stored properly. Add some of that leftover holiday ham, a few staple vegetables, and some crucial spices and you can produce enough hearty soup to generously serve 4 to 6 people.

You might wonder by now what bean soup has to do with politicians. It’s simple. Bean soup has been on the menu in the U.S. Senate cafeteria daily since the early 1900s. That is, except for September 14, 1943, when World War II rationing left the chef with insufficient beans. This was big enough news to hit the pages of Washington Times-Herald. According to a 1988 speech made by the Honorable Senator Bob Dole on the Senate floor, the bean crisis was short lived.  He stated, “Somehow, by the next day, more beans were found and bowls of bean soup have been ladled up without interruption ever since.”

Two official recipes for the soup can be found on the Senates’ website if you’re a stickler for authenticity. But dear hubby and I don’t need five gallons of the stuff, so here’s how I make it.

What you’ll need:

1-1/4 cups of dried white beans (I use either navy or Great Northern)

7 cups of cold water (plus extra for rinsing and soaking the beans)

1 small ham hock (or ham shank, or ham steak)

1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and diced

3 stalks of celery (including leaves), split lengthwise and chopped

1 large or two medium potatoes, washed, peeled, and diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or pressed

1-1/2 teaspoons of salt (Don’t skimp. Potatoes and beans absorb salt like mad!)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch of ground nutmeg

(My Mom swore cloves kept the beans from causing gastric distress. I don’t know if that’s true, but it couldn’t hurt to include the spice, so I do.)

What to do:

Before you do anything else, spread the beans in a colander and pick through to remove any little pebbles that might have hitched a ride in from the field. Next, run cold water over the beans, stirring and massaging them with your hands to make sure they’re soil-free. Dump the beans into a large stock pot, rinse the colander, pour the beans back into the colander and rinse them under cold water again. Give your stock pot a good rinse, too.

The next step is to soak those beans to soften them. This process also helps to break down the sugars they release…compounds that contribute to the digestive issues some folks experience. Pour the beans back into the stock pot and cover them with water by 2 to 3 inches. Bring them to a rolling boil over high heat, give them a quick stir and let them continue to boil for two or three minutes.

(You know that old saying, “A watched pot never boils.”? Well, I find the reverse is also true. Don’t walk away during this brief period because as sure as you do, the pot will boil over and leave a mess. Who’s going to clean that up? You are, of course, so let’s avoid that crisis.)

Okay, so after the two minute boil, remove the pot from the heat and cover it with a snug fitting lid. Set your timer for one hour. While the beans soak, you can do all the peeling, chopping, and measuring of the other ingredients…probably with time left over to put your feet up and enjoy a cup of coffee. Just don’t forget to put the diced potatoes in a bowl of cold water. We don’t want them turning that icky purple-brown color they get if left to their own devices.

When the timer buzzes, check the beans. They should have puffed up to about twice – maybe three times – their original size. Carefully pour the beans back into the colander and rinse them again to discard all of the soaking liquid.

If all the above seems like too much time and effort, substitute 4 cans of drained and rinsed Great Northern beans (approximately 16-ounces per can) for the dry beans.

 Now we’re ready to make some soup!

Place the beans and ham hock in the stock pot and cover with 7 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then dial back the temperature to produce a gentle simmer.  Drain the diced potatoes and add them, along with the onion, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, cloves, and nutmeg. Stir the soup occasionally and remember to watch that pot now and then to avoid boil-overs. Continue to reduce the heat as needed so the simmer won’t get ambitious and escalate.

After the soup has simmered for an hour, remove the ham hock and let it cool for about 15 minutes so it will be easier to handle. Discard the skin, bone and fat and dice the meat. Return the ham bits to the soup and simmer another 15 minutes.

The potatoes should have softened sufficiently to have broken down and thickened the broth. If not, use an immersion blender (or a good old-fashioned potato masher) to create a slightly lumpy, but thick and creamy texture.

As for that side of hot cornbread, that’s a recipe for another day, so rely on your favorite box-mix for the time being.

Just for the record, your senator probably is full of beans. And that’s not a political statement.

Surely I’m not the only person on the face of this earth who is plagued by tasks, chores, and projects they never seem to have time to accomplish. As a writer, I work from home…which means that little chores like planning meals, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and others too numerous to mention get woven into my work day. Sometimes it’s difficult to partition the time I need to spend on literary works-in-progress from homemaker responsibilities. This creates a problem I think all full-time employed people must face from time to time.

One day, after digging one too many times in my Lazy Susan cabinet looking for a can of diced tomatoes that I knew was hiding in there someplace, my frustration reached an all-time high. No, not just frustration…anger. Self-anger. And self-shaming. I launched into a veritable flood of negative self-talk, knowing full well that cussing my own hide wouldn’t do a blessed thing to solve the problem. Tomorrow, I told myself. Tomorrow I’m going to clean out that cabinet and reorganize it so I can find things for a change.

You guessed it! By the next day other, more pressing issues arose. If I didn’t do laundry and get some shirts ironed, dear hubby would have to go to work naked. Yes, I let it get that bad. So, off to the laundry room I scurried without a thought about the condition of my food storage cabinets. As I pulled towels from the dryer, a black bath sheet fell to the floor. When I picked it up, the thing had so much white lint attached that it looked like a polar bear. Glancing down, I realized that sweeping and mopping the laundry room seemed to be another “never have time for it” task. Tomorrow, I told myself, tomorrow I’ll take time to scrub this entire area until it shines.

Funny how tomorrow never comes, isn’t it?

A few days later, I sat down to update my calendar for important appointments I knew my feeble mind wouldn’t recall unless I wrote them down that instant. As I gazed at the blank squares, it occurred to me that there were lots of “tomorrows.” I just wasn’t making good use of them.

That’s when the idea struck me. I needed a prompt. Something to remind me to do all those things I never seemed to get around to. A list, perhaps?

I fired up my laptop, set up some columns in a document and started cataloging all the things that drove me crazy…but always when I didn’t have time right then to address them. Two pages later, the solution came to me.

I cut the list into small slips of paper…about the size of the fortunes that come in Chinese cookies…folded them, and put them in a jar. I vowed that at least once a week I would grab a random slip from the jar, stop what I was doing, and tackle whatever was written on it.

Since some of the projects would involve acquiring supplies, I figured Friday would be a good “Pick One Jar” day. That way, if gathering the materials I needed ate up all my available time, I would feel like I’d at least made a start. Then I could work on finishing them up over the weekend. If scheduling conflicts arose, I would pick first thing Saturday morning.

I was serious about this approach! In red ink, I wrote “Pick One” on every Friday square on my calendar. All set.

Some of the tasks, naturally, require fair weather. One simply cannot till the garden plots when temperatures are below zero and snow is falling. Those, I allow myself to stuff back into the jar. But that doesn’t give me a pass. I keep drawing until I come up with a chore that is do-able without Mother Nature’s cooperation.

As other “must-dos” occur to me, I’ll add them to the jar. That way I’m not actually procrastinating. I’m scheduling a task for a day when I have time to devote to it.

Wow! This system has already done wonders for my self-worth. I feel like the heaviness of the world has lifted from my shoulders.

I just wish the bathroom scale would reflect that as physical weight loss.

Mile Marker Zero

Time has no meaning at Mile Marker Zero. Why, then, Officer Aiden Connolly wondered, why, do the worst calls always come just before end of watch?

***

06:40 hours. Another twenty minutes and it would have been a day shift guy flipping on the lights and siren. Some other cop would be accelerating down the entrance ramp and careening onto the interstate at a hundred miles an hour. Another twenty minutes and Officer Aiden Connolly could have called 10-42, end of watch, and dragged his exhausted ass home to his wife and kids instead of hauling it toward a rollover wreck.

Steam from the radiator and smoke from the engine compartment swirled together into a fog. The grey shroud wrapped a young Latina woman as she backed away, confused and frightened, from the overturned tangle of fiberglass and steel. Trembling arms crossed her chest in a desperate self-embrace; her face contorted in a soundless scream. Officer Connolly followed her horrified gaze to her bleeding, mangled doppelganger.

“Come with me,” he said, wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders.

Another twenty minutes and he would not have been escorting the beautiful Latina to the portal at Mile Marker Zero.

***

06:45 hours. Another fifteen minutes and a day shift officer would have been consoling the mother of the twelve year old boy who hanged himself from the garage rafters because he couldn’t face another day of bullying. Another fifteen minutes and Aiden Connolly could have called 10-42 and been home in time to hug his own twelve year old son before he left for school.

The skinny kid with glasses and a twisted neck stood beside Officer Connolly, watching his sobbing, grieving mother grasp at his lifeless body while the paramedics tried to comfort her. Realizing that his suicide merely transferred his pain to the one person in the world who had always given him unconditional love, the boy wished he could take it back.

“Let’s go, son,” Officer Connolly said, patting the boy’s shoulder. “There’s nothing more we can do for your mother.”

Another fifteen minutes and Aiden Connolly would not have been the officer transporting this young suicide to the portal at Mile Marker Zero.

***

06:50 hours. Another ten minutes and somebody on days would have been rushing to the home where the little girl lay lifeless under the wheels of her father’s SUV. Just ten more minutes and Officer Aiden Connolly could have called 10-42, gone home, kissed his wife, and told her and their kids that he loved them.

The child clutched the leg of his trousers and sucked her thumb. Officer Connolly choked back emotions and stroked the blond curls framing her cherubic face. They watched EMTs work frantically in a futile effort to revive her.

Lifting her and cradling her against his chest, he said, “Baby, it’s time to take you home.”

She pointed her pudgy finger at his badge and said, “Shiny.”

Ten more minutes and somebody else would have had to carry that angel to the portal at Mile Marker Zero.

***

06:55 hours. Another five minutes and some dayshift cop would have been making the traffic stop on the intoxicated driver. It would not have been Officer Aiden Connolly directing the drunk to remain in his vehicle. Some other officer would have been struggling for control of his duty weapon. Somebody else would have felt the impact of the bullet that struck his temple.

Five more minutes and Aiden Connolly could have called 10-42, end of watch.

***

07:00 hours. Somewhere in the distance, bagpipes are playing Amazing Grace. A tearful dispatcher is calling for all units to cease radio traffic.

For a full sixty seconds, no sound disturbs the airwaves. Her voice cracks with grief when she breaks the silence. “This is the final call for Officer Aiden Connolly, DSN 777, who was fatally shot in the line of duty. Officer Connolly served his community with courage, valor, and integrity. We are grateful and proud to have served with him. We shall never forget his ultimate sacrifice. May he rest in peace.

“Officer Aiden Connolly, you are clear to go 10-42, end of watch. Our respect and admiration accompany you to your permanent duty station at Mile Marker Zero.

“Godspeed, sir…godspeed.

“All units may resume radio traffic.”

***

Time is meaningless at Mile Marker Zero.

Why, then…why do the worst calls always come just before end of watch?

Chapter 3 – Ghost in the Mirror
“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” – Stephen R. Covey

Days and nights transposed themselves and faded one into the other. There was no distinction between dream and reality and only a thin curtain separated unconsciousness from awareness. A figure in a long, blue robe drifted across my field of vision. Were my eyes open? Was I seeing this phantasm or experiencing a fragment of some reverie?

As the fog of sleep lifted, I became acutely aware of the stranger walking silently through the room, seemingly unaware of my presence. Who are you? I arose and followed the figure down the hall and into the bathroom, but as soon as I stepped inside she vanished. Confused and frightened, I pushed aside the shower curtain. I was half expecting to hear the eerie, slashing violin notes from the Psycho shower scene and genuinely fearful of finding a maniac lurking there with a butcher knife.

The tub and shower were vacant. I was alone in the small room. Where did she go? Previously skeptical about all things paranormal, I didn’t relish the possibility that I had seen a ghost; yet there seemed no other logical explanation.

While washing my hands I glanced up and caught my reflection in the mirror. I examined the cold and seemingly lifeless entity whose dull gray-green eyes stared back at me without a hint of recognition. Who are you?

Chris DiGiuseppi, guest blogger and co-author of The Light Bringer, shares with us an interview he did recently with the Tom Hill. Tom is an author and life coach, and a generally amazing person.  I am very excited to be among the 10,000 people in The Movement you’ll read about in the interview. I encourage you to visit The Tom Hill Institute website and join us in making 2013 an incredibly successful year.

Following is Chris DiGisueppi’s interview:

Tell us about yourself and your background?

I was born and raised on a turkey farm in Kirksville MO.  I spent 26 years in education where I ultimately worked for the University of Missouri as the Director of Missouri 4H Youth Program where I oversaw 100,000 young people, 20,000 volunteers and 37 staff members.  I left the secure life of academia to take a chance on a career in real estate at the request of a good friend which caused me to relocated to Georgia.  From 1986 to 1994 I went from being a franchise sales person to owning the real estate sales rights of three entire states that brought in approximately $3 billion in sales annually.  I sold my company in 1999 and devoted my life to coaching others on the techniques I used to bring me success.  I am now moving forward on my newest endeavor to start a movement where 10,000 people push toward their life goals – starting in January 2013.    

You’ve been very successful in life, who or what was one of the greatest influences that pushed you toward that success?

Two people inspired my success – Jim Rohn and my wife, Betty Hill.  Jim Rohn laid the foundation for creating the life I really wanted.  His value centered motivational principals gave me a firm and practical base to foster the confidence I needed to believe that anything is achievable.  My wife, Betty Hill’s unconditional confidence and love reinforced the drive that I needed to reach the goals I set – she believed in me before I did.

In your opinion, what separates truly successful people from those who fall short of their goals?

In 1994 I studied people who were truly successful and I found 6 characteristics that separated those who excelled at success and those who fell short.  Those characteristics are:

1.     Committed to personal development

2.     They are committed to learning – readers and listeners

3.     They are networkers – they connect to other people

4.     They have studied principles of other successful people

5.     They had the discipline to carry out those principles

6.     They get the odds in their favor throughout every aspect of their life.

 

How do you attribute spirituality to reaching goals?

Spirituality is our true inner self and until we get in touch with it we will always have a void.  True happiness is not achievable until you connect spiritually.  In my lessons for success one of the primary basics is spirituality.

You’ve talked about professional growth being an 18 month cycle.  Can you elaborate on that theory and what it means?

In 1965 Gordon Moore was quoted as saying “The speed of a computer chip will double every 18 months.” Based on this principle I discovered that it applied to successful people whereas peaks of success seem to come about every 18 months. 

You are 76 years old and still run marathons.  Is that something you also achieve through the same principals you utilize to mentor and coach others?

Absolutely, the discipline, persistence and resilience needed to train and execute the plan to achieve the goal is the same as what I apply to every endeavor, as they are universal principals.  These are the aspects that I aspire to pass to as many people as possible – it is my purpose and ministry. 

 

You seem to be a person who has a strong faith and also believes in the “everything happens for a reason” theory.  Have you ever had a traumatic or life threatening experience which you endured that affirms this belief?

About 1957 I was riding a Harley Davidson 54 down an old two lane asphalt road which had a 90 degree turn to the left leading to a bridge that ran over a deep ravine.  The bridge was narrow and only one vehicle to pass over at a time.  I made the turn then noticed a large plumbing truck entering from the other side.  There was absolutely no way for me and that truck to traverse the bridge together.  I slammed on my brakes and went into a skid and knew that I could either go off into the ravine or aim for the truck and close my eyes.  Closing my eyes, I waited for the impact but nothing happened.  When I opened my eyes I found myself on the other side of the bridge and the truck was gone.  To this day I cannot tell you how I made it across or where the truck went.  I have no idea how I survived unscathed but I guess God had other plans for me.

 

You have this new endeavor to start a movement where you are going to help 10,000 people achieve their life goals.  Can you tell us about this about this?

In the summer of 2011 I woke up with a message in my mind which told me that I was going to touch 1 million lives within the next 6 years.  I had no idea what it meant or how I was going to do it.  This wasn’t something that I wanted to do or had set as a goal but it was imbedded in my conscious thoughts that morning and seemed to be a distinct clarity of purpose.  About 3 months went by and I had forgotten about this vision until a friend of mine named Gary Baker called me and offered to be my manager.  I had never had a manager nor ever thought that I needed one, but Gary began to articulate this grand plan for me to move toward impacting lives on a large scale.  The vision came back to me as I began to put the pieces together from that morning three months prior.  Today that endeavor has evolved past my wildest imagination into a life changing project that will touch the hearts of many people.  I have witnessed the personal growth and development of many amazing people which has led me to believe that we can now move the masses toward incredible accomplishments.  This January I will be launching this movement to motivate 10,000 people to reach their life goals based on those things that I’ve used to be successful in my experiences and join this incredible network.  The resources that we’ve accumulated are vast and diverse which yields unlimited success. 

 

If people are interested in partaking in this movement, how do they join?

Visit my website at www.tomhillinstitute.com.  This will truly be a life-changing experience.

 

You are a published author who participated in writing on one of the Chicken Soup books.  How will this endeavor help other authors

One of the aspects in writing is building initial confidence.  I remember two friends of mine who came to me back in 2009 with a manuscript that they were skeptical to show anyone.  Through coaching, mentoring and utilizing the amazing people I have come to know in my network they surpassed their goals.  Today they have two published books and an agreement with a production company for a T.V. series.  As I’ve said to many people, one person who’s attracted to you because of who you’ve become can change your life forever – it really works!

 

You have had a great deal of experiences in your life and seem to have acquired wisdom from those experiences.  In closing what advice would you give to people who want to live a fulfilled and purpose driven life?

Determine your priorities.  This was the first things I did after studying Jim Rohn which pushed me into a billion dollar business.  After much truthful reflection I found that my successful order of priorities are as follows:

1.     Spirituality

2.     Health

3.     Relationship

4.     Emotional

5.     Intellectual

6.     Financial

 

Then set your goals based on your priorities!!

After my encounter with Death, there was a ghost in my house. I knew she was there because her reflection in my mirror terrified me. Pale and lifeless with dark rings encircling her eyes like the black sky surrounds a full moon this specter was as ghastly as any horror movie leviathan.  The phantom resembled Frankenstein’s monster with staples in her half-bald head and angry black sutures closing a blood-red slash across her throat. Although I didn’t recognize her at first, I eventually came to understand that she was the new me. This fiendish atrocity was the person who had survived a ruptured cerebral aneurysm and was now embarking on a quest to return to the mythical land of Normal.

That ghoul no longer haunts me.  From outward appearances, most people would not take me for a brain-damaged aneurysm survivor. The dent in my forehead and the C-shaped scar just above my hairline are disguised by a stylish twist on the old comb-over camouflage. My thoughtful neurosurgeon strategically placed the incision giving him access to my jugular in a pre-existing wrinkle in my neck, so it really isn’t all that noticeable.

Certainly I am one of the most fortunate patients. I am still able to speak and did not suffer any paralysis resulting from the blood that rushed like a raging river into the space between my skull and my brain.  Functioning at a relatively high level, I continue to work as an author, freelance writer and editor.

My right hand has been known to spontaneously throw a cocktail on the nearest unsuspecting victim without seeking my brain’s prior approval. While that tremor still bothers me sometimes when I am tired or feeling stressed, I have learned not to trust my shaky right. Since my left hand rarely spills a drink, this deficit usually goes unnoticed by others. I have come to accept the fact that no matter how hard I focus and regardless how many exercises I do to improve it, my balance is always going to be a bubble off of level. My occasional inability to speak the correct word in the appropriate context is usually overlooked by everyone but me, although it still serves as a source of amusement to certain family members. I have almost mastered the normalcy game. People who did not know me when the bleed occurred have no idea I nearly died from one of the most devastating and unpredictable of health events: a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.

Somewhere in the world an aneurysm ruptures in somebody’s brain every 18 minutes. Neuroscientists believe that approximately 6% of the U.S. population has undetected cerebral aneurysms. That’s about 18 million people! Every year roughly 30,000 Americans experience subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) due to brain aneurysms. Between 10% and 15% of these patients die before reaching a hospital and over 50% will pass away within the first thirty days after the rupture. Of those who survive the first month, about half suffer some form of permanent neurological disability.  One can only imagine how much wore the statistics must be in third world countries where access to modern health care is severely limited.

Women are statistically more prone to having cerebral aneurysms than men. Depending on the source, the estimated ratio varies between 2 and 3.2 to 1. Aneurysms can be present and rupture at any age, but most are detected between the ages of 35 and 60 when they either become symptomatic or burst. Sometimes developing as the result of a blow to the head, aneurysms are frequently congenital, as was my case. These circulatory time bombs tick away, waiting to explode.

Early in my recovery, I was urged by fellow survivors to write and publish my story on an Internet website, but I did not do so. I was tired of telling and retelling the story and hearing how lucky I was to be alive. Aside from that, the act of putting it all into words on even virtual paper seemed far too painful. Staring into the hollow face of Death was not something I was eager to relive.

More than a decade later, I realize that relating my experience might offer hope to others. My book, Normal, might help recovering brain aneurysm survivors to better understand what is happening to them – and that they are not alone in their struggle. Hopefully my story will provide caregivers insight into the experience and help them understand why we survivors behave as we sometimes do.  Perhaps some of the coping mechanisms I have discovered will provide some slight advantage to in individual searching for ways to manage life in the aftermath of brain trauma. Maybe medical professionals reading my book, Normal, will derive a deeper appreciation of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual impact strokes have on their victims. Regardless how astute they may be on the physiology of this condition, even the best doctors cannot fully comprehend what it is like to be the patient unless they have experienced it for themselves. By setting aside my embarrassment, my fears, and my long-standing belief that if I can just act normal I will be normal, I aspire to offer hope and support to people who are facing new obstacles and trying to get their lives back in order.

Embarking on this endeavor was every bit as painful as I anticipated it would be. There is much to be said for leaving difficult times behind and focusing on the future. I’ve become adept at faking normalcy, wearing the illusion like armor that shields me from the insecurities that continue to haunt me. Even so, ignoring the scars does not negate the reality of the wounds.

If Normal brings hope and encouragement to even one person who is fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds, I will have accomplished my mission. If my words increase cerebral aneurysm awareness, encourage research, and promote patient support, I will have met my goal. If this account provides one miniscule step in the direction of early detection and treatment to save even one life, I will be elated.

My message is simple: Never give up the fight.

NORMAL is currently available as an eBook on Amazon (U.S. and U.K.), Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, eBookPie, Kobo, and Copia.

 

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