The Working Title Is…Forever Thankful

I had one of Oprah’s AHA! moments this week, and it happened when I logged on Facebook.

My gaze was first drawn to the sponsored ads on the right side of the screen. Come to think of it, it’s a miracle I had my AHA! moment at all because the impetus was nestled between one ad tempting me to “learn how Bloomfield Hills moms earn big money working from home” and another claiming to have “the secret to losing belly fat.”

(What the hell am I clicking on that Facebook marketers are somehow peering through the window of my soul?)

The ad in the middle was for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. I clicked and found myself reading beautiful stories about children being adopted by loving families. Many of the children had spent considerable time in the foster care system prior to being adopted.

November is National Adoption Month, and this foundation, named after the Wendy’s founder and adoptee, is dedicated to finding “forever families” for children in foster care.

A picture of the cutest little guy wearing one of those old-fashioned newsboy caps accompanied one story. It was a comment someone wrote under the post that led me, first, to an audible gasp, and then to my AHA! moment.

The comment said something like, “He’s so cute. I can’t imagine someone didn’t want him.

Whoa. Mind blown. And then came my AHA! moment realization…..

My mother was the original spin-doctor, the original Olivia Pope; that is, if Olivia Pope did all her gladiator work from a rotary dial phone in the kitchen.

You’re confused. I don’t blame you. Let me fill in some important blanks.

I was given up for adoption at birth and spent the first six months of my life in a foster home.

For as long as I can remember, my mom–my adoptive mom, the only mom I ever knew–celebrated the loving sacrifice my birth mother made in choosing adoption. This choice was always referred to within a framework of gratitude and enveloped in words like “selfless” and “heart-wrenching” and “courageous.”   Each and every one of my birthdays began with a prayer of thanksgiving to my birth parents who made the “love-filled realization” that I would be better served being raised by another compassionate family.

It never occurred to me that I might not have been wanted. Never. Ever.

I was raised in a home where gratitude fueled our every action, softened every disappointment and persuaded us to make a difference.  My mom’s positive spin helped define me as a person and has enabled gratitude to serve as a foundation of who I am.

Which explains why now, as a grown woman just a smidge out of my 30s, the possibility that I might not have been wanted is on my radar for the very first time.

I did the math as a kid. I knew how to subtract nine months from my early June birthday, so I always assumed I was the unplanned souvenir of a love-filled summer romance.

When I got older and embraced my Irish heritage, I entertained the possibility of being the byproduct of a pre-Chappaquiddick Kennedy-clan member love affair.   This caused me great angst because I was sure the day would come when John Kennedy, Jr. and I would meet and fall victim to a mutual love-at-first-sight only to later learn our bond was doomed because we were, technically, related.

My spin-doctor mama prevented me from daydreaming a back-story rooted in any number of horrific, violent or salacious circumstances. And it made all the difference in my life.

Had I not been swathed in gratitude, I could have traveled a path of bitterness, resentment or mistrust.

My mom wasn’t privy to the details of the first six months of my life, but she was intimately aware of later challenges I faced, and the common thread that she wove through every one of my days was one of gratitude.

That thread remains strong even now, nineteen years after her death.

And for that, I am forever thankful.



The Working Title Is…Heaven and Howard Stern

The self-proclaimed “King of All Media” has been labeled a narcissist, a misogynist and a pig. Before moving to satellite radio, the undeniably provocative and controversial radio host amassed more than $2.5M in FCC fines for airing material deemed indecent.

He can be crude, his guests often lewd, his callers notoriously rude, and yet, strangely enough, I love the dude.

I am an avid listener. Many years from now, when my grandchildren ask what I remember about the horror of September 11, I will begin by telling them that as I dropped their mom off at pre-school, it was Howard Stern who told me a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.

Does he gross me out sometimes? Totally. When he travels a path I find less than entertaining, I exercise my right to change the channel. But I change it back when the naughty stuff is over because the man is truly a gifted interviewer.

Aspiring journalists, broadcasters, even those studying human resources, psychology, law enforcement and future litigators should study his craft. It is beautiful to “watch” the verbal dance through which he draws people into his web of interviewing genius. Guests, who have clearly stated that they do not want to address a specific topic, will spill every bean…and then some. He is disarming, engaging and cleverly persistent.

I’ve heard him claim to be an atheist or an agnostic. I’ve also heard him admit to praying when he’s scared or sick or during his co-host Robin’s recent battle with cancer. I’ve heard him deny the existence of heaven and offer his opinion that our death is like a computer being shut off. The End.

This week, Steve Carell provided a fascinating interview. During the conversation, Carell described himself as a devout Catholic, and Howard dove into the whole God/heaven/hell discussion.

You could almost hear the sweat beads dripping off Carell’s publicist’s brow as soon as the topic turned to religion. They were probably prepared—even hoping– for Stern’s signature dirty talk, but instead he went to the core of religious belief.

Howard Stern was respectful in his line of questioning, and Steve Carell offered a perspective that resonated as the musings of a fellow Cafeteria Catholic. He struggled, as many of us do, to offer an explanation on those issues he accepts on faith alone.

This interview got me thinking. People who gain strength and define their character through spirituality or organized religion accept certain things on faith alone. Belief comes without empirical evidence or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and often, faith defies logic.

So what if we set our faith aside for a moment and took Stern at his premise? What if when our heart stops beating, it’s over. Done. Finito. No afterlife. Nothing. All a big scam.

If heaven doesn’t exist (which it does) and it fails to make good on the promise to eliminate all suffering and pain, or falls short on being a place of perfect knowledge, comfort and joy (which it won’t) then the fact will remain that people of faith spent their lives committed to creating a bit of heaven here on Earth.

It’s an old argument in the atheist vs. theist debate, but age doesn’t diminish accuracy.  Atheists appear to be devoted to advancing debate, but I’m hard pressed to find any measurable, collective positive impact they desire to make on our world.  And they always seem so cranky.

Faith based organizations make a palpable impact on our world.  Almost 20% of all US hospital beds are in faith-based medical systems.   Students are being educated in more than 1,200 faith-based colleges and universities and 16% of all K-12 students are educated in faith-based schools including Jewish, Christian and Muslim programs. The largest private foundations donate upwards of $70M annually to support faith-based social service programs aimed at making a difference in our communities.

Acknowledgement even extends to government. The opening paragraph of the 2012 annual report of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief reads, “Without the contributions of our faith-based organization partners, (we) could not have achieved the extraordinary impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the past decade.” It goes on to say, “Faith Based Organizations have long been symbols of hope to millions of people.”

Hope is powerful.  I have watched as people struggle to put their faith into words, but are able to put their faith into practice with relative ease when it comes in service to others. And so I will continue to work to make a little bit of heaven here on earth, and I will support others in their attempts.

More than a narcissist, a misogynist and a pig, Howard Stern seems to be a little lost and seriously lacking in self-esteem. You don’t have to be a gifted interviewer to figure that out.

I hope he can find peace in his heart without having to find definitive answers to his questions because that, quite frankly, is heavenly.


PS: Check out Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The episode featuring Howard Stern is funny. And sad in a way too.