Hello co-travelers who have joined me on this quest for what Hope Is! I trust this finds your travels thus far have been enjoyable, inspirational, and rewarding.
I have so much more to share with you this month!
If you are new to our journey, let me offer a couple of tips for how to hike the distance with me. I have been fortunate to take my time walking the path; approximately 30 days to be exact. Just like the adventure of walking the Appalachian Trail, or the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Grand Italian Trail of 3, 832 miles, there is a rhythm and routine to break the distance into manageable miles. Manageable miles to be kind to one’s body for the ability to go the duration. To be fully present with the sights, smells, and sounds that surround the path. To wholly experience the transformative opportunities that the journey offers.
I’ve been fortunate to walk this path for 30 days. You don’t have to walk the path in one sitting. You certainly can if you want to. I am confident you won’t negatively harm your body if you walk the journey all at once. (smile) I offer that you can read what will soon follow over a few days, or even over the next month until the next quest is sent to your inbox in March. Honor you most of all in what feels best. My only wish is that however you decide, it is a meaningful journey for you as you visit the locations of what
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In that way that every moment does not hold coincidence, each moment a puzzle piece that has a fit with future pieces, or with pieces already snapped in place, my quest continued when my phone rang on a Friday, not even an hour later after an enjoyable lunch with my mother.
The caller is in the winter of her life, later nineties to be exact. The caller is my friend. She was calling to thank me for her bouquet of flowers I had sent to her in celebration of her birthday. I have been blessed only a few short years to have gained her friendship. We met when I was introduced to her and her husband so that I could write their life stories.
Their stories of immigrating to the United States shortly after WWII ended. Soon after both had survived the brutalness of the war. Eating a cookie that she had made for my visit to hear their stories took on a whole new meaning to me as I listened to what it was like to eat so little, if at all, for days. For weeks. To march thirty-five miles in the bitter winter cold with little food. And little clothing. With shoes that took on a whole new level of worn thin. Eating that cookie that was made from her hands, that learned to bake from the generations before her. Her mother. Her grandmother. Her great grandmother. Admiration the tone to her voice, love the melody in which she spoke her story.
Perseverance. Will. Resilience. Faith.
I asked my friend how she was doing, anxious to hear the tone in her voice that would accompany her words. Would they match? Would I hear her say I’m alright with tiredness? Happiness? Practicality? Discouragement? Peace?
Well…I feel like I don’t know the world anymore, she replied.
Her answer caused me a momentary falter on my hopeful quest. If my friend is saying this after experiencing chapters of life in which I cannot even begin to imagine, what does that say about the world now! This thought the rock creating the reason my feet were stumbling.
We continued our dialogue as she shared that her family was doing well and asked about mine. She asked about my writing. (I am blessed with her unconditional encouragement!) She asked about my travels. I shared about my quest. I asked her what Hope Is to her.
She shared that she lies in bed often praying and thinking about her life. She has a photo by her bed of her family – children, grandchildren, great grandchildren – when they were younger. There is much to be hopeful for, she exclaimed.
In the next generations.
Hope is meaningful conversations with each child. Once again, I could hear in my friend’s voice the beautiful tone of admiration and the melody of love. And the sweet sound of pride.
My friend then shared about one of her friends who went to Kentucky to offer support to those now grieving loss after the tornado devastation. My friend shared her friend’s experiences that her friend was among individuals who had lost everything and yet what these individuals were demonstrating most of all was so much hope for the future.
Perseverance. Will. Resilience. Faith.
And Hope Is
Listening. Listening to others’ stories. Listening to each other. Offering listening.
Her friend couldn’t bring back things these individuals had lost. But she could hand them dignity, empathy, and the value of being heard and seen.
As I listened to my friend share, my heart full of gratitude to have gained our friendship as a puzzle piece to complete the picture of my life, I was reminded of my mom sharing her recent experience at the grocery store when we were sharing our lunch only an hour before my friend had called.
My mom went to the store to get saltine crackers and as she was going through the checkout line, the cashier asked her if someone was ill. (I’m not sure about for you, but I grew up, as I think this cashier did, too, with saltine crackers the food to turn to when sick.) My mom responded thankfully no, and then became the listener as the cashier shared about a sister’s illness. My mom’s grace-filled comment to me was that she needed someone to hear her and I’m glad I could be that person.
My friend planted a precious seed that Friday when she shared what Hope Is to her.
During lunch that day with my mom we were reminiscing about a life changing event that we both experienced together when I was a young girl. Though it wasn’t the first time we talked about this particular chapter of our lives, what my friend did was open my ears to hear differently as I reflected on what my mom had shared. I started listening to my mom’s perspective not as her daughter, but as a life story listener-writer. I began to see not through a daughter’s eyes, listening with a history shaped by and with her mom’s words. I set aside my perceptions, learned biases, and thought patterns and started becoming curious to hear a woman’s life story filled with wisdom and experiences shaped by what was going on that influenced her perspectives, beliefs, biases, and thoughts.
I became someone from one generation wanting to preserve memories and ensure that I was doing what I could that my mom would see the hope in my generation paving the way for hope for the next ones.
The meaningful narratives rich in lessons we can learn from and mine that we can help this brilliant, magnificent diamond we call life be the best shine it can be.
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My friend had mentioned the crisis in Kentucky.
My quest would lead me to an organization that knows that crisis well.
And the multiple crises associated with mass shootings.
A collapsed condominium.
A mud slide.
Raging fires in California.
HOPE AACR – Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response
HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response – Comfort in Times of Crisis (hopeaacr.org)
Serving others in a time of need.
A quote by one of the HOPE AACR board of directors.
A quote embodied by every extraordinary response team I had the sacred privilege of meeting and talking with on my quest.
I first learned of HOPE AACR through a special friend who is a team with Sunny and with Oreo, two therapy canines certified to bring smiles and comfort to children, senior citizens, college students, and those who are healing from past traumas. Along the journey of my friend, Sunny, and I co-presenting the healing power of canines to audiences (before Sunny’s little brother Oreo was part of the family), my friend and Sunny began working on their certification to become a crisis response team part of the HOPE AACR organization. Fast forward to a few months ago and I had the privilege of being one of the sponsors for HOPE AACR to hold their annual member education event.
Like the quote by Elizabeth Gilbert reads in her book Eat, Pray, Love, “I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems…long ago…a circle in the sand, exactly around the spot…standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen”. That I would find HOPE AACR on my quest for what Hope Is was calling to me before I met the wonderful teams.
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Giving back to community.
This is what hope is for Connie and Zelda, a crisis response team who were first inspired to be so when a school shooting happened in the state where Connie and Zelda live.
I am only a parent of fur and pawed children so I cannot begin to know all that a parent feels when hearing the news of an unimaginable violation of a space in which they are trusting that their children will be safe and that the only fear their children might focus on is will I pass the test? Or will she say “yes” if I ask her to on a date? I cannot imagine what a parent feels when their children learn fear for their lives.
For Connie, a mother of two children who were teenagers at the time of the horrific news for the state in which she lives, her choice became how to provide comfort and serve a community in need.
As I listened to Connie share her story, I was remembering the Cherokee Native American legend about the two wolves, and which one is fed. Feed such things as fear and anger. Or feed such things as kindness, empathy, humility, and compassion. What I kept thinking was how Connie and Zelda found a way to see and see again. What I mean by that is there is a burning wish that school shootings cease and there is a multitude of perspectives on how to bring these to an end. Each perspective striving in their own way to bring about what all perspectives have in common which is end the devastating shootings. The perspectives fighting the rage of an act with the rage for change. Rage begetting more rage.
From my perspective, what Connie and Zelda do, along with their colleague teams also part of HOPE AACR is trying to defuse rage. They try to insert compassion, offer nonjudgment through unconditionally listening fur ears, and open the doorway to begin not only a healing journey for each individual person, but for a community collectively. That rage won’t beget more rage, but that the stages of grief and healing can eventually beget meaningful change.
Feeling the sadness, and
Witnessing the moment there is an ever so slight and gentle lift.
Where HOPE AACR provides comfort is in helping take pain away for people to deal with their grief and pain.
Connie shared about deployments. Suicides. Shootings. A landslide. It is some of the most meaningful work we do. It can be very sad and very intense; we get so much more out of it than we are giving. When deployed to a location, support is given not only to victims, families, and communities. Support is given to first responders and not only in care for their experiences with trauma and grief. Connie increased my awareness when she shared that a first responder who may be serving from another state away from home gets to feel a reduction in homesickness by petting one of the crisis response canines. Zelda, for example, offers normalization and a reminder of these first responders’ home lives.
Petting a canine.
Petting a dog increases oxytocin in the person, and in the dog. It is a chemical that helps us feel
Love and Hope.
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Being the one at the end of the leash.
How time is spent serving between the dashes.
My quest led me next to Nick. And Cricket. And Blizzard. And Kayak. And Ischgl. And Katie Lynn.
Adorable, sweet, Cricket is in training, not yet certified as an AACR member, in infancy as well in gaining her therapy certification. Cricket is the one to now carry the torch forward Kayak’s role as the 3rd portion of the Trifecta that makes Nick and his wife a whole team serving their community with therapy dog support. Cricket the one to now place paw prints on those in need when crisis strikes.
Before Cricket is Blizzard. One and one-half year-old Blizzard has passed his therapy dog certification and is now in training to be a HOPE AACR dog this summer.
Before Blizzard was Kayak. Until lymphoma became the stop sign for Kayak, her indication that her work was now done, and she had done exceptionally well fulfilling her purpose for this life.
Kayak had a sister named Ischgl. Ischgl had been serving her purpose as a leader dog for a blind friend of Nick and his wife. Then Ischgl became a therapy dog and HOPE AACR certified in service beside Nick, his wife, Kayak, and Katie Lynn. Ischgl is the senior member of the Trifecta now and continues to serve well as a HOPE dog for those experiencing crises and disasters. Once a leader for those who needed additional sight; now Ischgl is serving those whose sight has been blinded by the pain of trauma and loss.
I anticipate Kayak and Katie Lynn have wonderful conversations now sitting across the Rainbow Bridge, remembering the many lives they both touched for the better.
I anticipate Kayak and Katie Lynn routinely express their gratitude to their oldest brother, Gunner, all one-hundred-thirty-five pounds of him, for he was the reason Nick and his wife began their therapy dog service journey. Their big brother had passed away from lymphoma before Gunner had a chance to join the ranks of therapy and crisis response and Nick’s home was now too quiet and too empty.
A street fair with a booth about therapy dogs, a visit at a rescue for Golden Retrievers, and an introduction to a 3-year-old golden with only three legs led Nick and his wife to HOPE AACR This 3-year-old whose fourth leg was amputated when she had bone cancer as a puppy served eleven years as none other than the wonderful Katie Lynn.
Katie Lynn served up until the final days of her life on Earth. An abandoned puppy who once had the world try to teach her hopelessness the first eighteen months of her life, a young fur ball who lived a rescued life until she met Nick and his wife, lived until she was fourteen. Katie Lynn had brought hope through forty deployments to schools for teacher and student deaths. She brought hope to the Navy Yard Shooting victims in September 2013.
While on Deployment in Washington D.C., Katie Lynn was approached by a woman elegantly dressed all in black, her face pained in deep anguish. This dear in pain soul stroked Katie without saying a word. Her hands caressing Katie. Katie doing what Katie always did best, sitting without judgment and giving someone the ability to feel love. Without words spoken, Nick witnessed the anguish slowly soften in the face of this dear woman. At a certain point in which time moves only according to the heart, this woman got up and walked away.
Nick had the privilege of learning a chapter of this dear woman’s story a couple of years later. At the moment this woman came to Katie Lynn, she had just returned from the seventh funeral of victims of the mass shooting. As this dear soul shared to Nick, Katie Lynn gave me the will to go on.
Paying forward the will received to give another the will to carry forward.
This dear woman further shared with Nick that Katie Lynn had inspired her and her husband to rescue a dog. The first night they had brought the dog home, the dog put his head on the pillow next to this woman’s husband and in that moment, two more souls found the ability to go on.
The circle of life.
Loss through cancer led Nick and his wife to the next chapters of their service-oriented hearts. Kayak may have only been seven while Katie Lynn was fourteen. But in the dash between when they were each born and when they each left Earth, they fulfilled purposes to give all whose lives they touched
The wills to go on.
It’s the circle of life and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love, ‘till we find our place, on the path unwinding – from The Lion King
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Steve and Henry.
Something for people to grab onto.
California fires. The Las Vegas Shooting. Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Pediatric oncology wards
Peer support work with the sheriff’s department and first responders.
To name only a few.
Over 725 calls to serve.
And they’ve only just started.
For each call to service Steve and Henry receive is one more lifeline of hope tossed into the waves of crisis and the aftermath of trauma and grief.
Henry was one of eleven brothers and sisters. When Steve and his wife looked down into the sea of golden fur balls, they were greeted by mischief, those scared of their own shadows, and one peace maker.
The peace maker came home with Steve and his wife.
In the first six months of his life, Henry lived well the meaning of his name, ruler of the home. Or perhaps better said, ruler of his future service teammate, Steve. Fast forward to puppy class, an instructor saying your dog would make a great therapy dog, a father in-law’s cardiac rehabilitation that included therapy dogs as part of the rehab process that sparked Steve’s attention, and well, as they say, history is now in the making. Therapy dog certified. HOPE AACR certified. Peer Support Specialist.
In listening to Steve’s story, that included his retirement from serving as a first responder for thirty-five years, I was reminded of a time I was part of an eighteen-month assignment as a grand juror. During orientation a federal attorney shared his story that included why he enjoyed his work. As a federal attorney he could present for right or wrong; he did not have to represent someone to the best of his ability even if he knew they might be guilty.
The ability to fulfill a life of service with the freedom to not be required to judge.
Steve still bravely and compassionately leans into the experiences that most would find hard to expose themselves, too. I still see death and destruction. His calling to serve during the most horrific or sorrowful times of need is an essence of Steve. Yet, now, he can be called to the scenes of crisis and not have to take in the surroundings for guilt or evidence; with his unconditionally listening and loving teammate, Steve can bring compassion, acceptance, and
A lifeline of hope.
Less as more as a handler.
Steve and Henry responded to one of the California fires that burned down a whole town in a day. Henry the leader innately knowing when someone is in need led Steve around an old store that had been set up as the crisis relief center. As Henry led Steve past a partition, Henry immediately veered left and walked up to a gentleman sitting down. The gentleman never looked up but began telling his story to Henry. His story of physically pushing stalled cars out of the way to make it home to rescue his wife 8-months pregnant. His story of his fifteen-year-old dog in the truck with him who did not survive the stress. As if Steve was not standing there, this gentleman spoke his most vulnerable heart to Henry’s unconditional presence. Then, this gentleman rose, in true gentleman fashion he reached up and tipped his hat and simply said have a good day.
No words needed to give someone the lifeline they need.
Simply catching the tears
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Grace in one’s own healing journey.
Grace with a cold nose and pawed feet.
What can I do to support anyone who also experiences the loss of a child?
Yet again my quest found me receiving the sacred privilege of talking with another HOPE AACR team. Lee and Grace.
A serving heart was already nudged to think what can I do to help? The headlines read WALDO CANYON FIRE DESTROYS. SHOT AT PLANNED PARENTHOOD. BLACK FOREST FIRE DEVASTATES.
There must be something I can do to help!
And then the unimaginable. The unnatural order of what we plan for in life. What we hope for in life.
Lee cannot walk in anyone else’s shoes, for as she wisely says everyone grieves differently. Yet, Lee’s empathic and gracious heart knows grief. For eight hours, in which at the end of those hours Lee stood at the crossroads between life before and never ever again to be the same, Lee wished for two things most of all. Lee wished her son to live without the need for the life support machine she was listening to every second of those 28,800 seconds that filled up 8 hours. And Lee wished she could hug a dog.
But no dog was at the hospital.
Only Grief sat by her side.
And it was not meant to be that her son could continue to live.
Holding on to the tiniest of threads as the nudge becomes a scream, I have to do something to help!
In the form of pawed feet, a cold nose, as a trainee through the prison rehabilitation program.
Lee didn’t pick out Grace’s name. It had already been given to her.
In that nothing is coincidence way life magically flows.
Giving meaning to tragedy.
Lee and Grace’s certification as a therapy team leads them to such places as hospitals and to Safe Passage (an organization who serves children victims of violent crimes). As a HOPE AACR team, Lee and Grace have been deployed to shooting tragedies and traumatic aftermath of devastating fires. For seven weeks Lee and Grace served a grieving community grappling with the loss of 10 lives in the Boulder King Scoopers shooting. Through Lee’s coordination, twenty-five HOPE teams responded with empathy, support, and unconditional listening and care in the form of fur and pawed feet.
Lee and Grace responded to another tragedy when six lives were lost in a shooting. Lee and Grace responded to a community in need when the Marshall Fire destroyed 1000 homes. Some of those homes contained pets.
Focusing on how one can help instead of focusing on feeling helpless.
Lee and Grace responded to the victims of the fire with grateful hearts they could help bring comfort. Lee didn’t think about her own evacuation from her home, a home sitting at the edges of the raging flames. Fortunately, Lee’s home was spared.
Lee and Grace are able to help others on their grieving journeys. Including attendance at funerals where Grief sits in every seat. As others find healing, Lee finds healing on her own journey. Lee found a way to breathe again with the gift of Grace; Lee found a way to turn the loss around to bring positive gains. If even one life now deeply grieving can be turned around with Grace, then Lee’s son’s life was not lost in vain.
As Lee shared her story, I listened with the ears of someone who believes that space does not separate us from those we love, on this Earth and those above. I am someone who believes that we are given signs and messages if we choose to see and hear. Lee shared a time that she and Grace were called to attend a funeral of a young man who had been killed in a car accident. Lee gave me the gift of sharing her heart when she talked of how hard it was to say yes to attend. As Lee viewed each picture of this young man, the face she felt was looking back was her son.
And then Lee felt a release, as if she was being wrapped in her son’s embrace and he was communicating all is ok, mom. Like so many other times, Grace was there to soak up the tears of those in attendance. In this moment, as Lee was simply holding on to the leash for Grace to do her work, grace was given to Lee.
Offering hope to others that they can find happiness again.
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Hope provides life, as wisely shared by Raquel and Bungee and Pickles and Ruffles. Three cold noses, twelve pawed feet, and two hands at the end of three leashes.
Raquel shared how when being trained for suicide, hopeless is the key word. Someone may experience barely living to living an extraordinary life. It can vary day to day, moment by moment.
Volunteering with dogs to provide more hope to people during or after a traumatic event. Or just on a normal day.
Living life like Ruffles.
In the moment. Living with her heart. Our heads get in the way of hearing from our hearts. For Ruffles, it’s all heart.
Living life like Bungee.
He makes people laugh.
Unconditional love. By the therapy/ crisis response canines. For the therapy / crisis response canines.
Raquel shared about the responsibility as a handler to always have awareness. Of one ‘s own resilience on a given day to absorb the pain and trauma of others. And of the canine in service. Do I have resilience today at my end of the leash and does the dog want to do this on their end of the leash? One needs to stay mindful and aware enough to not make [the dogs] do something they don’t want to do, even if the handler wants to do it with all their heart.
Bungee, Pickles, and Ruffles tell Raquel what jobs they want to do. They know by the color Raquel wears what job is ahead. One of them doesn’t eagerly run for the vehicle if it is an assisted living assignment. Another might prefer the elementary kids when they are receiving their vaccinations. A symbiotic relationship of give-give, listen-listen, honor-honor. Or I should say give-give-give-give, listen-listen-listen-listen, honor-honor-honor-honor, for they are an extraordinary team of four working together to generate nothing but positive energy for
Having a positive impact while on Earth.
Not by avoiding the negative that occurs on Earth. Such as when mudslides or a shooting occurs. Or a mountain rescue is necessary. Or the opportunity presents itself to focus on suicide prevention or tend to first responder well-being. But by showing up when the negative does occur to move the moment for someone from barely living to
Taking steps toward living an extraordinary life.
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Along this month’s quest journey, I received an email from the Fetzer Institute. Among what they were sharing included a link to listen to an interview with Desmond Tutu. (https://onbeing.org/programs/remembering-desmond-tutu/) It was an interview that had been conducted in 2010. The invitation to listen to the interview included who inspired us with his example of ubuntu, his deep faith, and abiding hope.
Did someone say hope? (smile)
As I listened to his laughter as he answered questions and shared his perspective, I was reminded of reading his book No Future without Forgiveness when I was earning my MA in Organizational Leadership. I started to remember reading about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as one of the most significant healing steps taken for South Africa Apartheid. I remembered how this commission had as a primary mission to hold the space for people to share their stories without judgment, no matter the magnitude of the story as the one trying to forgive or the one seeking forgiveness.
I recalled that I had used quotes from his book for papers I had to write. What quotes had resonated with me I wondered? They included: Justice, restorative justice, is being served when efforts are being made to work for healing, for forgiving, and for reconciliation. (pp. 55). It involves trying to understand the perpetrators and so have empathy, to try to stand in their shoes and appreciate the sort of pressures and influences that might have conditioned them. (pp. 271). Believers say that we might describe most of human history as a quest for that harmony, friendship, and peace for which we appear to have been created (pp. 264). It struck me that there were many people walking around who looked so normal but who were in fact carrying a burden of anguish and grief (pp. 101).
I listened to the interview and heard his wisdom, if you’re devoid of hope, then roll over and disappear quietly. At no point will evil and injustice and oppression and all of the negative things have the last word. At the center of this existence is a heart beating with love.
Listening to another’s story
Never losing faith that the last words to be had will contain hope and love.
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Next was the travels to a TEDx webinar titled Finding Hope in Hopeless Times. The webinar featured author Wajahat Ali, sharing about his book Go Back to Where You Came From: and other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become an American. During the webinar, Wajahat shared about when he was preparing to give his TEDx talk The Case for Having Kids, having just learned that his three-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
During this webinar, Wajahat shared how he moved between imaging the worst and striving to believe his daughter could be cured. He would play out in his mind what it would be like to grief the death of his daughter. He would play out in his mind the image of her growing up.
Tie your camel first. Translation. Focus on what you can control; let go of the rest.
Invest in Joy. It is like a muscle that needs to be exercised and developed. Be disciplined. Commit to it.
Invest in Hope. Write your own story; be your own narrator. Find the plot twist. When a page turns, a better story can come.
I refuse to give up. I refuse to give that inheritance to my children.
Two years later, Wajahat shared with us, the audience, these three actions.
And he shared how his daughter is now five years old, a thriving happy, fully in remission child growing up.
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I will leave you with this last visit on our travels to seek what Hope Is.
Al Van Humane Society. An organization that gives hope to hundreds of cats and dogs every year.
to work and support beings that won’t be able to return the favor.
Hmmmm…it seems to be a theme as we have traveled these past weeks.
To be of service to others at their greatest time of need.
When dogs or cats come through our Intake Center, we have no idea of their outcome through our shelter. All we have is hope that they will find their perfect home and be able to rest easily where they are safe and warm. I would say with confidence that hope is something that gets each of us through every single day, especially the more difficult days. – Stephanie, Al-Van Humane Society
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Of course, Ginger and Kutana always like to add their messages to each monthly communication. This month they send you wishes that your next few weeks offer you relaxation and contentment.
And of course, most of all, hope.
The greatest thing you will ever give to the world is your commitment to leave what you find in better condition than the way you found it. Leave a single light in a place where there was once darkness so those coming behind you may see further and begin where you left. — Tonny K. Brown
If you have enjoyed this month’s message, please pay it forward to others. They can also subscribe to future emails by visiting www.christinehassing.com. Encourage others to share what Hope Is. I welcome sharing their input in future messages!