2016: The Year Our World Grew Darker

Arnold Palmer, left, and Jose Fernandez (inset) were both lost to the world on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

Arnold Palmer, left, and Jose Fernandez (inset) were both lost to the world on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

Sunday was, perhaps, the roughest day of all.

The future was taken from us in the waters off Miami. The past faded away inside the cold, sterile confines of a hospital in Pittsburgh.

Jose Fernandez, 24, a Major League Baseball baseball player whose story of his escape from Cuba, and success at such a young age, caught the eye of sports fans young and old was killed in a boat crash in the wee hours of the morning.

Later that day, the great Arnold Palmer, 87, the man credited with changing how the general public looked at the sport of golf, succumbed while waiting for heart surgery.

The kid and the king.

Gone.

The year of our Lord — or 2016, as the calendar calls it — has been a tough one.

In a time where the world needs hope, we have people being taken away from us at an alarming rate. What stuns as much as their deaths, though, is the realization of what we’ve lost with each passing.

In the spotlight of our stages, Prince and David Bowie and their artistry could lift us up from the lowest of lows. Our hearts broke when we heard the news — two more days when the music died.

Muhammed Ali was the greatest not just because of what he did in the boxing ring, but the effect he had outside of it, through the rest of the world — a place that has grown especially dark in 2016.

Death after death has rocked the year the 2016, but it is not just those losses that have created darker and sadder times.

Every day, we are seeing innocent people dying by the never-ending wave of culture-created violence in our country.

We claim we’ve had enough, and we step out on the streets to protest. But, when those whose hearts are true and pure and care enough to try to fight back the right way, when they go home, we leave ourselves vulnerable to our lesser side who destroy not just the physical objects in front of them, but the hope of all of us who think somebody we’ll find a better way for us all.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter.

We are living in a society where nobody matters and, sadly, we prove it every single day in our actions as a society.

We walk down the street staring at our cell phones. Instead of talking to one another, we text. Sit down and visit? Why bother when we can just e-mail and stay home to Netflix and chill.

Until somebody else is loss and then we are shocked.

So, yes, we weep for our losses – for Prince and Bowie and Ali … and even Jose and Arnie … but we must soon start to weep for ourselves.

Once we mourn what we have truly lost, only then can we begin to heal.

And we need to heal.

Fast.

We have no true leader before us to step up and follow, so we wander, aimlessly, and as the world gets darker it grows harder for us to see our way.

Will it become so dark that we can no longer see our way back? Or the way forward?

There are still three months left in 2016 — one quarter of the year.

Anything is possible.

More people will die — famous, infamous, strangers, friends, family. When we think we can’t be shocked anymore, something will stun us into complete silence.

The world, I fear, will grow darker still.

I do try to find the light and sometimes there it is … in the smile of a child whose life is full of hope … in the embrace of friends and family … in that glimpse of something magical that is there for just a minute and then gone with the next waft of wind.

But that’s not enough.

I need more.

We need more.

Jose Fernandez came to this country full of hope. Arnold Palmer once raised an army and changed an entire sport.

Right now, we need an army of hope to light a path to tomorrow before its too late.

‘The passage back to the place I was before’

If you’ve ever been to a concert, you know that moment when the folks up on stage hit the first few notes of one of their bigger songs … suddenly, the crowd swells and rises to its feet, knowing what’s coming.

From the front row on the floor, to the very back row of the upper deck, thousands of people are ready to sing along.

It’s a hair-raising moment. The goose bumps tighten. A chill runs up your spine.

Through my 96 concerts, it’s a moment that has hit me countless times and it never gets old.

On Saturday night, though, I experienced a vastly different emotion … one that totally caught me off guard.

I attended Don Henley’s concert at Mohegan Sun Arena — “the best show of the year,” I called it — and for two hours Henley intermixed his vast work as a solo artist with the hit songs he co-wrote for the band the Eagles.

During the second song of his encore came the familiar intro to the Eagles’ legendary hit song “Hotel California.”

The crowd did as expected … it’s what crowds do.

My reaction, though, was different this time around.

Sure, the goose bumps were there. The chills. The hair of arms stood at attention. But there was also a catch in my throat. And I felt my eyes start to water slightly.

Then Henley began to sing …

“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair; Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air …”

Where did the emotion come from?

That’s easy.

The ghosts.

“Hotel California” is one of those songs that immediately takes me back to a time and a place, and gets me dancing with my one of the ghosts of my past.

A girl. The truest and purest of loves I’ve ever felt in my life and I was, what? 16?

But it was more than that, as well.

It was hearing Henley sing it live and in person from my seat in Section 15, Row G, Seat 1, and the realization that I should have heard it before, done by the Eagles.

I guess it was also the emotion of regret.

Twice, I had the chance to see the Eagles live.  Twice, I let both shows pass to do other things, with the thought I’d catch them next time.

Then, suddenly, in January, Glenn Frey passed away.

The Eagles — with apologies to Don Felder, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner, not to mention Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit — are … well, were Frey and Henley. They are … well, were the heart and soul of the band and without one of them there is no Eagles.

And, now, I’ll never get to see them play.

So hearing Henley do that song — and Henley has one of the rocks most recognizable voices — struck a variety of nerves with me. The emotion of my response is what surprised me.

The Eagles were one of the big musical voices of my youth. The middle school years. My high school years.

Their songs bring back a lot of ghosts. As such, many were sung by Henley’s voice.

And there I was in a sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena, surrounded by 9,000 others, only I wasn’t.

It was just me and my ghosts and I let the emotion overcome me for a few moments.

That’s the power of music.

The Miracle And Me: Meeting Talia … Finally

This is the story of a miracle. And a little girl  whose family won a place in my heart so many years ago.

It makes sense that Talia would find a place there, too. She’s an angel. Precious, precocious; a glowing ball of light in what seems to be a world that goes darker every day.

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Talia — real name Natalia, nickname Tallie — face-to-face on Saturday on a trip to my native Maine. She was everything I imagined she would be and more.

Her being a miracle is just the beginning. Her heart and soul runs so much deeper, even at six years old.

Those from Maine likely already know Talia’s tale.

A little after 4:30 p.m., on October 30, back in the year 2013, a gunshot rang out inside a Bangor apartment building.

In an instant, lives were changed forever.

Especially Talia’s.

The bullet ripped into her neck and, doctors said, “nicked her spinal cord.” It left the 3-year-old little girl paralyzed.

In the nearly three years since the investigation into what happened opened, there have been no charges brought forward by this accidental shooting.

But this isn’t about what happened in the apartment that day. Nor is about what happened in the early wake of that fateful day, as Talia’s grandparents fought for and won custody over her and her two siblings.

This is about a pair of blue eyes, and a smile and personality that won me over in a very big way on a Saturday afternoon at a campground in central Maine.

This is the story about today’s Talia and the hope of how tomorrow is going to be even better.

As a regular reader of the Bangor Daily News, I heard about the shooting rather quickly. When I learned it happened to the granddaughter of somebody very near and dear to my heart, I was heartbroken and devastated.

I knew this family extremely well back in my younger days, but even as we grew apart over time, I have found that the ties that bind always seemed to hold us tightly together in our love for one another and the memories we all had held so dear.

And part of what devastated me so deeply about this tragedy was knowing all too well the losses the family had suffered before — a daughter being snatched from the sky at age 26; a mother being taken away by cancer at age 46.

The one thing I knew as Tallie lay in a hospital bed, unable to breath without the help of a ventilator, unable to move, she had two of God’s best angels at her bedside.

I’m pretty sure those angels were with us on Saturday as I pulled up the campground of my friends for what I thought would be a quick visit and ended up being a day-long stay of laughter, memories, tears and Tallie.

And, oh my, that Tallie.

She is larger than life, even as she sits there in her wheelchair, a tracheotomy tube still in her throat … but now only to help her breathe while she sleeps. The family and doctors hope that will be coming out soon, as well, the next step in this little miracle that is happening in a family that deserves each and every special moment that finds its way to them.

Doctors once said they didn’t know if Tallie would ever walk again.

She’s taken 41 steps in therapy.

The little girl who was once on a feeding tube?

She’s feeding herself and, let me tell you, she’s a fan of french fries, but not a big fan of clams.

She still learning to use her arms and hands again, but I witnessed her literally tie a dog leash to her chair in the fashion of a hair braid.

And watching her work to push herself up, back into a sitting position from a spot where was leaning over to pet a dog, was simply inspiring to say the least.

Nothing is going to stop Talia from living live and finding the next miracle.

But I can’t say I’m surprised.

Her bloodlines — the ones that come from the family I know and love and admire so much — will never let her give up.

They are some of the strongest people I’ve ever had the honor and pleasure to know and the way I admire them is barely explainable by mere words alone.

I think of Lisa, the sister, the one who brought me into her family’s world … I think of Sandy,  the family matriarch, who accepted me with open arms and gave me place where I could always turn … and it still hurts so much to know that both were taken away far too soon.

But because of them, I can think of Joline and Robyn, the sisters who are carrying on their family’s strength and love, holding each other up and helping each other out … and I think of Wayne, Joline’s husband, once my nemesis, yet now a man I admire and respect.

And I think of Talia. Tallie.

I think of the bright blue eyes that glow when she smiles and that laughter that we shared as she tried to help me catch her “Mimi” making faces at me. I think of her strength and how she forges ahead not asking “Why?” and looking back, but asking “How?” and looking forward.

She’s a little miracle, sure.

She’s an absolute angel, too.

But what makes Tallie so great, in the end, is she’s a kid living her life and giving people she touches hope for the future along the way.