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While thinking of the best way to say thank you to the amazing people who came to help me in a time of need, it occurred to me that what I had to be thankful for was bigger than I thought. Not only did a community come together to help a friend, but through their generosity and kindness, they put something even more beautiful into the world. Something that will ultimately change more lives than one.

I’ve always believed that a single act of kindness could live well beyond that one act. That act, no matter how big or how small, becomes a spark of generosity that brings out the best in everyone it touches. It can be left to fade away, or it can find a place in people’s hearts and grow into something brighter. In time, that spark can become something much bigger, and it can live forever.

Whether you perform an act of kindness, receive kindness and generosity from others, or bear witness to other people giving of themselves, you can choose to be part of keeping that spark alive. There are people who think that many of the overwhelming challenges that some people face are too great to overcome. They figure one small act of giving won’t make a difference anyway. Some people give up ever even trying altogether. What they didn’t figure is that one day they may feel like something is missing from their lives. They might try to fill that empty feeling with money, fancypants things, or excuses. The truth is, the only way for them to get what they need to fill that void is to remember how to give. Giving of yourself makes your heart whole again. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that a single act of kindness and generosity, no matter how small, can change lives, give hope, and inspire others to take that spark and ignite something incredible.

This is a story of one woman who needed a spark of hope, just a glimmer of brighter days ahead. Instead, I was showered in an act of kindness that could light the night sky.

Not so long ago, I blogged freely about my neurological challenges. Just before my trip to Mayo Clinic in 2011, the progression of my condition began to accelerate. I found myself in increased pain, neuro-related symptoms, and periods of significant mobility deficit. When I began to notice the beginning of cognitive changes and episodes of memory loss, one of my neurologists insisted on a new EEG. Fucking epilepsy. (For fuck’s sake.) That’s when I stopped writing about all my medical bullshit. These changes were happening too fast for me. I was trying hard to accept the new challenges, and I spent most of my energy hiding my symptoms from the public eye. I had gotten very good at hiding it. Still, many plans were cancelled, many meetings rescheduled, and some days I would work out of my home so no one would have to see me at my worst. I guess I felt that if I shared what was happening, it would make it all very (too) real for me. I wasn’t ready for that yet. Plus, complaining about my shit when everyone has their own shit to go through makes me feel like an asshole.

It took many months for me to make a decision about applying for a service dog. Every time I considered filling out the application, I’d convince myself that I didn’t need it, that I could handle everything on my own, that I was stronger than my disease. It took a long time to decide to do it, but some very good friends reminded me that accepting help is another form of strength. If I do everything in my power to keep myself active and safe, then I win. Then I’m still stronger than my disease. It also gives me the opportunity to show my children that it’s okay to accept help when you really need it, and that everyone needs help sometimes. If you let your pride get in the way, nobody wins.

Due to all of this neurological fuckery, we budget a significant amount of our income to my medical care. We’ve always managed to take care of this expense by carefully managing our finances and tightening our belts, so to speak. Unfortunately, a service dog was not something that we could fit into our budget. Asking for help was uncomfortable, to say the least. When I sent an email to my family and closest family friends, my stomach was in knots. When my friends Kate Barrie, Amy Kant, and Mare Aehlich wanted to fundraise for a service dog, it took me some time to be ok with it. It was their encouragement and support that got me to stop feeling like I was going to barf at the thought of letting everyone know how my condition had progressed. So, on Sunday October 15th, I agreed to let them do whatever it was they had up their sleeves.

On Monday October 16th, I was texted a link to a “Sara’s Sidekick” fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo, and I actually lost my breath for a moment. The fundraising amount kept growing higher, and the words of encouragement and love were overwhelming. Once the fundraising goal had been reached, people kept giving to help other disabled people receive a service dog. I cried. No, I sobbed. (I’m talking big time ugly cry, y’all. Big. Time.) And so, I wanted to share my story with all of you, and try my best to thank the people who helped make all of this happen, even though it is sure to fall short.

To The Amazing People Who So Generously Donated Towards a Service Dog:

To say that I am grateful for your support and generosity (not only for me, but for other people who need assistance) is a gross understatement. I am so fortunate to have such amazing people in my life. I am overwhelmed and humbled. I will never find words to express my gratitude properly, so I’ll do so by carrying the spark you all have created and passing it on to other people who find themselves needing a little help, and I’m grateful for that too. With all of my heart, thank you. xo

To Kate, Amy, & Mare:

The three of you already know how much I adore you. You all inspire me to be better every day. Your unwavering support and friendship is such an incredible gift, one that I never take for granted. The spark you lit has already grown into something amazing. Thank you. I love you. xo

I love you turkeys. All you turkeys.

As ever,

Sara

P.S. I know this post was super long. Sorry. (Not sorry.) You were like, “Oh shit, she’s getting all sentimental and serious again. I should pee and grab a snack before I start reading.” which was quickly followed by, “What the fuck is she even talking about?” and topped off with, “Gross.” I’m totally ok with all of that.

P.P.S. I’ll eat you up, I love you so.

P.P.S. This is my favorite band, (and one of the greatest songwriters, Guy Garvey) singing a song that makes me think of all of you. Thank you for always receiving me with open arms. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for letting my sense of ‘home’ take up residence in your hearts.

Perhaps the best apology in the history of the second grade. Largely because it incorporates a haiku. This was sent to my daughter, Grace, from her classmate, Owen, after he very publicly proclaimed that she has “buck teeth”.

Actual text reads thusly:

To Grace:

I’m very sorry for what I said about you having buck teeth. I know this will never happen again. Here is a haiku to show that I care.

I’m very sorry.
I’ll hope that you’ll forgive me.
This is how I care.  

Your friend, 
Owen

Owen was immediately forgiven, and Grace now keeps the note in her jewelry box. Excellent work, Owen.

Second Grade Apology Haiku

A letter came today. In the midst of a very trying week, in between conference calls, speaking engagements, and an overstuffed Inbox, it appeared. A letter with the power to calm a worried heart, provide much needed perspective, and offer a reminder of how much we all really need each other. One little letter.

The past few weeks have been disappointing. My neurological disease(s) continue to fuck up my groove, now causing issues my endocrine system. I’m spending more time in hospitals and doctors’ offices than I have in the last two years combined. We are planning and strategizing and preparing for battle. Some days it’s disheartening, frustrating, tiring. Other days, I just slam a gallon of coffee and give it everything I’ve got. (And then I blast “Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” by the Geto Boys on my car stereo and think, well shit, I’m still here, I still got this, B. This is some serious badassery. I just gotta keep doing what I do as long as I can do it. Because I’m lucky to be here.) So, there are good days, bad days, and everything in between, but generally, it’s been a tough burden to bear. And then…

A letter came.

Across the country, a five year old that I have never met has just come out of another neurosurgery. He has one of the conditions that I have, a tethered spinal cord with syringomyelia. The amount of pain and suffering that this little guy has endured, and will endure, breaks my heart. Through this blog, and a little help from a dear friend, this family in Oregon and I were brought together to support one another. I have a unique advantage in being able to help this little guy’s parents understand symptoms, treatments, prognoses, but also to be a sounding board, to try to offer advice on how to approach treatment options, and to be a source of strength and comfort whenever I can. We write, we speak on the phone, sometimes, we cry together, out of frustration and concern for a really great little kid. Today, this little guy’s dad wrote me a letter.

I won’t post the actual letter here. I want to maintain the privacy of our correspondence. Sometimes, words are too precious to share. What I do want to share is the reason for the letter.

Simply this, that they are grateful to have someone like me help them navigate this journey. That, because of the knowledge I can offer, they can (and have) saved their son additional pain and suffering. That it’s so incredible that a woman they have never met in real life could be so pivotal in helping them fight for their son. They think it might be God. They thanked me for being the messenger.

I cried in a way that I haven’t in a long time.

I don’t believe that I deserve accolades for helping others. I do believe that everything happens for a reason. If I am meant to live this life, with the challenges that I’ve been handed, so that I could make a difference in the life of a wonderful little boy who has his whole life ahead of him, then I accept my fate with *gulp* gratitude. I have always refused to feel sorry for myself. I refuse to be a victim to my condition. Because of what I’ve been through, I have the power to help others. That is worth everything.

A letter came today.

It opened my eyes to the power of reaching out and helping someone just because you can. That letter healed a spot in my heart that I didn’t really know needed mending. It brought me renewed perspective, it brought me some peace. It brought me news of a successful surgery and the hope of relief for a little guy that really needs it.

We need each other, all of us.

As Ever,

I’ll eat you up, I love you so.

Last month, I was given the opportunity to bring a much loved blog-post-turned-movement-of-inclusion to the stage as part of the Listen To Your Mother Show, created and directed by Ann Imig and sponsored by BlogHer. I was so excited to share it with the audience at The Barrymore Theater. For those of you who may have seen the video, but are not familiar with how #MustacheLove came to be, read Mustache Love, Redux: Continued Growth. If you’d like to read the original post, click here.

Enjoy the video of Mustache Love, then come back to the LYTM YouTube Channel often to see all of these amazing writers read, writers from Madison, Austin, Spokane, Los Angeles, and Valparaiso…take a few moments and bear witness to their stories.  You’ll thank me for it.

Listen To Your Mother 2011 Madison Cast

Photo by Funky Monkey Photography

Note:

I drafted this post last Summer. I filed it away with a pile of of the “maybe someday” posts. The idea behind this post is simple, and so is the anecdote. I hesitated to publish it earlier because it felt it was *too* simplistic. then I had a “That’s the point, DUH.” moment and decided it was time to let this post fly. Enjoy.

I often think of my dad when doing business and building professional relationships. Social media growth has made me realize that I channel him more than ever, mainly because of a newfangled confusion over “the right way” to utilize social networks to build relationships, grow your network and your business. Folks want to make it seem pretty complicated. “Make sure you tweet links to your content at specific times, specific days, stand on your head when you tweet to get more RT’s…” While I love the analytics folks and I do get that patterns can be identified and leveraged when sharing content, none of that crap is the most important ingredient in building your social currency, reach, and trust. Recognizing that social media has allowed us to create a powerful word of mouth community, in much the same way our grandparents did within a small town, might be a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s time to go back to some old school thinking…

In recent years, I’ve brought up the idea that social media is really just helping us find (and be) “a guy for that” in a much larger (online) community . Throughout my father’s life, he has always had “a guy for that”. Whether it was a new car, a guy to come help hang drywall, a lawyer, a Las Vegas casino manager, a plumber, or the guy with the best garage for drinking beers and re-building hot rods. In his business, his vendors were always his “guys” too. He referred business only to the dependable, hardworking, honest guys.

Why? Because he liked them. He trusted them, and he knew he was giving a solid and valuable recommendation.

He also wanted to make sure that “his guys” got as much business as he could send. He wanted to see them do well. They always returned the favor. These guys built word of mouth networks that stretched worldwide. And it wasn’t just built on “what’s in it for me”. It was built on relationships, trust, and the occasional liquid lunch.

In my life and my work, I have my own network of “guys”. I’m the “guy” for many others. That’s how I approach building a sustainable network to grow relationships, reach, and business. Through the magic of the interwebs, I use social media tools to connect with “my guys” and see where I can be someone else’s “guy”. It’s been working since the dawn of time, the internet doesn’t change the heart of the matter. It’s about people. Making real connections. These connections can become real life conversions. If you aren’t a total douche, it’s a pretty good way to grow your business and tap into new networks.

For those of you that live and die by ROI, I have a story for you. (An example of “personal ROI”, if you will, but it demonstrated the potential power of your network, when built on nurtured relationships and trust. It had a tremendous impact on me.)

My grandmother died six years ago. My grandfather and all of my grandmother’s friends had passed before her. My father, my mom, my aunt and all of the children and grandchildren formed a receiving line at the foot of her casket. We figured maybe a few long-time family friends might come. It would be mostly quiet, and we’d just stand there and hold on to each other. This day was one of the hardest of my father’s life. And, although he would never trouble anyone for help and support through the day, the look on his face showed the need. The morning began quietly, as expected, but in the first hour something changed.

One by one, my dad’s “guys” began to file in. They all came. The plumber, the electrician, the lawyer, the used car dealer, the hot rodders, the Harley dealer, his vendors, everyone. They filled that chapel. Full. These guys and gals were more than just the sum of the functions they performed throughout the years. They had become something bigger than that. Over time, these people were many different things to my father, they were his “guys” in some capacity, and they knew how to give and take so that everyone grew. When my dad needed support most, they came and gave back something he had earned with each of them, respect.

My dad is retired now, but certainly active and social and still enthusiastically (and FREQUENTLY) referring business to his “guys” (and his “guys” kids!) whenever he gets a chance. His guys have earned it.

What would a network of “guys” like THAT mean to you? To your business? To your life? The next time you are fretting about what time of day to post something or how to tag something properly, stop. Stop fretting. Start talking. Go find YOUR guys.

NOTE:

FACT: Once my dad reads this, an email will go out to all of his guys, with a message like, “Sara’s talking about us again…it’s probably all over that Facial Book thing…”

AND: Last year, Chris Brogan posted a video on his blog of me talking about my dad and his network of guys. My dad and his guys had never heard of Chris Brogan before. Now they think he’s a freakin genius, for two reasons.

1. Chris *gets* what they have been doing their whole lives, and it works.

2. Chris put “Paul’s kid” on his blog, so he must be a damned smart guy.

On Sunday May 8th, I will bring Mustache Love to The Barrymore Theater in Madison, Wisconsin as part of the Listen To Your Mother Show.

I wrote Mustache Love after my daughter told me about being teased for having a “little mustache” at school. Earlier this year, I auditioned for the LTYM Show with the piece, was cast in the show, and am now preparing to unleash the love upon a live audience. Reading over the piece in preparation for the show reminds me of how a little blog post, on a lesser known blog, somehow turned into a movement of inclusion and would inspire a community to come together and stand vigil over a friend in trouble.

It began with a hashtag. My homey, @TheBusBandit, retweeted my blog post and added #MustacheLove to his tweet. The response to the blog post was huge, both on Twitter, on the blog, via email, or in person. So many people showing the hairy-ass love, and sharing their own versions of #MustacheLove. The mustache was different for everyone. For some it was their weight, others, bucked teeth, acne, height, skin color, the list went on and on. Everyone had a “mustache”. Everyone.

#MustacheLove became more than just a blog post. It was a common thread, a right of passage, the act of breaking free of what is “pretty” or “normal” or “handsome” or “good”. It was acceptance. It was courage. It was reminding each other that we’re all okay, just as we are. Because as grown as we are, we still forget sometimes.

Then came the mustaches. They came from everywhere. Mustache jewelry, mustache window clings, mustache pillows, mustache photos, a group of my running buddies ran a route in the shape of a mustache just to make me smile. In 2010, I needed #MustacheLove more than ever. I had two major surgeries, needed to ask for help more than I ever had in my life, and had to come to terms with a very different kind of “normal”. The months after the first surgery brought a roller coaster of highs and lows, emotionally and physically. Three months later, I needed another surgery. I talked a good game, but I was scared, pissed, and tired. I was gaining weight, I walked with a cane due to my deteriorating gait, and I looked sickly and shitty all the time. As much as I knew how to help my daughter deal with self image issues, I started feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. And I knew better, right? Sigh.

Then something happened.

I logged into Twitter the night before my second surgery to find that hundreds of avatars had been slightly altered. There, I found the usual faces of my Twitter feed, with one addition. Each one of them was wearing a mustache. A friend had created a Twibbon that overlaid a wickedawesome mustache over all of their beautiful faces. That night, #gosarago was a trending topic in Milwaukee. It was a glorious mustache vigil that I will never forget.

On Sunday, May 8, 2011, I will read Mustache Love to an audience of hundreds. And it isn’t the same Mustache Love that I wrote almost a year and a half ago. The words are the same, with some small additions and edits, but it feels different. When I talk about the day I made the decision to let my own (impressive, btw) facial hair grow (for 6 months) to show my daughter that good people will love you no mater how hairy (or heavy, or buck toothed, or pigeon toed…) you are, I won’t just be thinking about the good people who will love you in spite of your mustache.

I’ll be thinking of all the people who will wear one for you.

Everyone on the internet always seems to be doing an awful lot of talking. Always. We talk about ourselves a lot. It seems we spend a lot of time thinking (talking, blogging) about ourselves, our businesses, our children, our issues… Anyway, there’s just a lot of talking.

Maybe not enough doing (?)

And not just doing so that we can talk about what we did on our blogs.

Just doing.

I get scolded a lot for not blogging frequently enough. I feel really flattered that anyone cares to read what I write. But lately, I feel like doing things more than I feel like talking about doing things, or talking about the things I did.

I think that’s ok. I think it’s ok for you to let your blog go dark for awhile so you can go do things.

To be honest, there are quite a few people that might benefit from taking the time to get out of their own heads for a while. To take it a bit further, there are others that would benefit from taking the time to take their heads out of their asses for awhile too. but I’m not going to talk about that today.

I’ve got some doing to do.

And I’m probably not going to report back about any of it. At least not for awhile. ;)

Later Gators.

This post is for the Twitter folks that wanted to see what my creepy hotel room looked like.

The following pictures were taken in my hotel room in the Wyoming dessert, during an ominous January storm.

I’m fairly certain that not everyone who has entered this room has lived to tell the tale.

During my stay, I woke in the middle of the night to unidentifiable sounds, only to have an inexplicable wave of fear wash over me. It occurred to me, more than once, that this is the sort of room that one might go to consider shooting oneself in the face. I stayed in this room for three nights. On the third night, I found an old, bloody bandage underneath my bed. Kinda made the Luminol jokes on day one seem slightly less funny.

 

There was no 1408 at this lodge. I got the next best room number.

Creepy misty pool.

Luminol, anyone?

I did not open any of these drawers the entire time.

This light fixture swung for no reason.

Ghost chair.

Creepy hotel bathtubface.

My kids aren’t perfect. My kids brew beer. *drops mic*

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