Let’s Just Call This One “Manny”.

   This is a true story of an awe-inspiring miracle, and the sequence of miracles leading up to it. This life story is my own personal testimony, an inference of a higher power: a first hand account of miracles that lead to miracles that intertwine with other people’s lives, whom have, all, been guided with their own personal path of miracles that lead them to another’s…and so on. I believe that there are no coincidences; that everything that happens in our lives, good or bad, is meant to happen for a purpose that we may never understand. 

This is the story of a bully, no different from any other bully, at first. A bully is a bully is a bully, period, but this story has a very different ending. Because this story ends so different, I will protect his name,. Instead of calling him “The Bully”, though, Let’s just call this one “Manny”.  My aunt Kathy and cousin Katie, who live only a few units from me in the same complex, were having problems with one of their neighbors intimidating them for the previous five months, and he was gradually becoming more and more aggressive, until, one night, he took it too far. While I will not get into the details of the argument, I will detail the behavior, which is completely unacceptable, for ANY reason. He was being a bully, plain and simple. That’s where this story begins:

It was another “Saturday night, Golden Girls get together” (As I would always refer to it.) Nearly every Saturday, after five o’clock mass, without fail, all of the ladies on my wife’s side eat dinner, together, and meet back at one of their homes for a few hands of cards (Three to Thirteen, they always play.) around the dining room table, filling the house with conversations and memories, gossip, and an endless amount of laughter, and they had been doing the same, nearly every Saturday for over sixty years. (not including a few very short times in their lives where one or the other of them moved away. While there were times when a person may not have been able to be at that table, it was not long before they would all do whatever was necessary, so that they could all be together, again.) Each time they came together, you could see the unbreakable bond, and for someone outside of that, looking in, witnessing the love that they held for each other was comforting and heartfelt. I would, generally, listen from the couch or another room, thinking, to myself, how awesome it was to be surrounded by that kind of love. It was reassuring to watch such a love and unity shine in the spirit and hearts of, what truly was, family. I was hopeful and grateful , even more so, that they were, now, a part of my family, and they would pass this unconditional love onto the hearts and souls of my children.

They absolutely  adored my children, and there is nothing more promising, to a caring and devoted father, than to watch his children’s face light up when they are surrounded by people who shower them with the kind of love and affection that they always do. I absolutely love that my children get to spend time and get to know where they come from, it may help them to discover who they are, by learning where they came from. Also, I am so grateful and happy that so many people love and want to be a part of their life.

Four generations were there that night: My wife’s grandmother, Dorothy Kane or “GiGi” (whom was 94 at the time.), My mother in law, Sheila, and her twin sisters, Kathy and Sally, my wife’s cousin, Katie, (daughter of Kathy, and, also a twin.) as well, of course, our two children: Tegan (just three years old at the time.) and Baby James (not quite a year old, yet.).

I had dropped the kids off so they could all spend time together and went to the gun range to get in a little “practice time.” The battery on my phone had died, therefore I had not received any of the calls or texts that they had been sending me. (which is a good thing) When I arrived to pick the kids up, however, I came to find all of the ladies out front, visibly shaken and completely out of sorts. My little girl wrapped her arms around me, crying as they took turns telling me what exactly happened while I was away.

Apparently, “Manny” stopped at my Aunt Kathy’s doorstep and beat on her door. Upon answering the door, they were confronted by “Manny” immediately getting in my mother in-laws  face screaming forcefully, scaring the ladies, making the dog bark as he coward in the corner, and completely frightening my little girl so that she was crying until I got there. Also, he did this in front of his own family, who were crying in fear too. (My daughter referred to him as the monster for the next few days and was scared, even at home, that he was coming to get her.) I showed no emotion as I comforted my family and, very relaxed, got the kids in Grandma’s car. I waved them goodbye and told them I would be right home, I just had to take out Aunt Kathy’s trash. Once they turned the corner, the kinder softer me was nowhere around.
He had been making threats to them for a few months, leaving notes on their car and even leaving notes on their door, comfortable that they had no idea what vehicle he owned and certain that they had no idea where he and his family lived. What he did not know was that immediately after he initiated his first threatening contact, I learned what condo he lived in, what car they drove, where he worked, where he went to church, what school his children attended, and the names and locations of most of his relatives. (thanks to a few good friends in the complex and social media) I kept all of that information in my back pocket and, respecting my Aunt Kathy’s wishes to not get involved, I did nothing. He had no idea just how much I knew about his life, and I, until now, never had a reason to bring it to that level. Now, though, it had become my focus to rip that comfort from under him and call him out for the coward he was. (at least, I thought he was.) I was determined to make his children see the same monster my children saw, and to let them know that growing up to be a bully is horrible, because it makes you a weak and mean person, and there are people out there that they will, someday answer to.

I went to his doorstep and beat on the door like a hammer. He answered the door, face to face at last. “Manny?” I asked.
“Why, who are you?” He asked.
I laughed aloud and looked him deep in his eyes. “My Aunt and my cousin live downstairs. It was my mother in law that you just got in her face…but most of all, It was my little girl that you scared and made cry…and there ain’t no coming back from that one.” I answered as I came closer and closer toward his entry way.
He was speechless and surprised as he slammed the door shut in my face. I beat on his door again, and said these exact words: “I’m here mother–, and I’m not going anywhere. No matter  where you go or what you do, I’m gonna be there.”            I ran back down the stair well and headed to my car, only after being stopped by cousin wanting to know if all the ruckus was me.
I chuckled and confirmed with a nod, not really saying anything further. I, then,  drove home to be with my family.

About an hour or so later I told my wife I needed to go out for some fresh air and she made me promise I would leave it alone.
I lied.
I returned to his door and knocked again. “I’m still here mother–. There is nowhere you can go that I wont be. No matter what, I’ll always right here.” Then I walked back downstairs and went back home. Just wanted to remind him that I was there, and there was nothing he could possibly do to get rid of me now. (I was careful, though, not to make any actual threats that could get me in any trouble.)

Since I knew his work schedule I told my wife I had to move my car the next morning, and waited by the front gate for him to leave. I timed it within only a matter of minutes, as I watched him recognize me waving at him drive right past me, trying not to look in my direction. I smiled and waved yelling out for him to have a nice day at the office. (only I was very specific about his place of employment, so that he understood that I knew where he worked.) I wanted to make certain that he knew that I was everywhere, and the only option, now, was to leave my family alone.

Since I have a talent for writing, I went home and wrote a letter describing everything he had done. (only, I am a creative writer, so I added a few minor details that might have been a bit exaggerated, painting him an absolute monster. I had intended on delivering them door to door, posting at clubhouse memo board, posting at his church, and even outside of his office. (it detailed his real name, his address,etc.) My last flicker of humanity towards another father flashed and I gave him the final chance to leave well enough alone. One more slip, however, no matter how small and I would completely destroy EVERYTHING in his life. (The ONLY reason I gave him so many chances was because it would have ruined  his family’s life forever. I don’t believe in paying for the sins of a father. At least, I hope not for my children’s sake.)

A couple of days later I was taking the trash to the dump when I saw “Manny” and his family leave their building and walk all the way to the other side of the complex, where he had been parking, evidently, to avoid any further confrontation. The moment I saw him i shut the rear door to my jeep and leaned back with my Oakley sunglasses pulled down, my arms crossed, as if I Had been waiting for him. He noticed me from the corner of his eye but wouldn’t even look in my direction. I stood smiling, but silent, as he was with  his children and I knew, for certain, he was not going to cause any problem for my aunt or my cousin again. He drove away and I continued unloading the trash feeling happy, for him, that it need not go any further.

I was finally hopeful that he might find whatever each man seeks to find that changes the way he looks at the world. Mostly, I was lifted from being the lesson of people’s intolerance for cruelty that his children may, one day, have to learn. I let go, and asked for my family to do the same. We all agreed to let go and not harvest any more anger, as I was able to assure them that he would never interrupt our  lives again. While he may not have learned his lesson, and one day may again be a problem, he isn’t our problem to deal with anymore. The anger we hold inside manifests itself into a dark resentment, fueling our need for retribution, so much that we become a part of what is wrong with the world today. We become unrecognizable. Eventually, everyone answers for what they have done. Walk away with a smile on your face thinking about that old wheel coming back around, and take comfort in knowing that you didn’t do anything to make it come back around for you.

Fast forward almost six weeks of ever seeing or hearing from “Manny”…
I walk out of Aunt Kathy’s place, after just eating Katie’s famous mushroom melody, (burp) and who is backed up unloading his SUV with bottled water but “Manny”. I kept walking toward him looking him dead in the eye, but this time with mind hand out to shake his. I broke the silence by saying “You’re still my neighbor brother.” He was quiet for a moment and he embraced me like a war veteran would the first time seeing his unit commander since the day they left that filthy desert.
Tears poured from his face onto my shoulder as he gained his composure and was able to speak.
“I owe you, your family, everybody a big apology. I mean everybody.” I took him aside to settle him down and replied
“No, I’m good, but I agree you owe my Aunt and my mother in law one. They would like that. And I would greatly appreciate that, too”
Something weighed heavy in his heart and I let him know I was there to listen to him, but I was not prepared for the power in what came next…
“I want to thank you.” he said while giving me another hug.
I just listened.
“You saved my life” he continued.
I was overcome with happiness with the thought that I could have impacted someones life that much.
“No” He explained “You don’t understand. I wasn’t me these last few months.”
He continued to explain how he had gotten into a financial bind and, at the same time,  two of his siblings couldn’t pay their bills and his sister started getting into trouble, making bad decisions that cost her job and then she lost her house so she just left her kids at their parents house, and their dad is sick. Then he explained how his job had been unusually slow and his wife was unable to work, plus they just had another baby. He told me how he had been going to church twice a week but he had so much in his head that he didn’t hear a word they said. He was in a downward spiral and the pressures of being the one guy that has to take care of everybody, with no help turned him into somebody totally different.
He admitted to me, man to man, that he was a monster and just took it out on anyone and everyone that wasn’t his family. And he broke into tears when he talked about the way he treated my family. I gave him my forgiveness and my blessings to let him know it would all be okay and he sat down on his bumper and hit me with a ton of bricks.

“That night.” He painstakingly recalled. “That you came to my door. After I screamed at your family my wife took the kids and went to her moms. And left me because of what I had become. And that was the only thing that I had left in this world. I didn’t want to live anymore. So I went to my bedroom and grabbed the great big knife I keep by my bed and sat on the couch just working up the nerve to kill myself. I cut myself a few times on my arm just to start and then i put the blade to my throat and sliced it twice, just enough to bleed. I sat forward and prepared myself to make the final cut. I was all alone and there was no one to stop me so I reached out to the only one that I knew could hear me and I asked him forgiveness. I closed my eyes and I prayed aloud to him. I said God, there is nothing left for me here anymore. I have nothing and I am nothing. I have nobody left to turn to. I’m asking you, lord give me one reason why. Tell me how am I going to do this by myself. I asked him one last time for a sign, a reason not to,as i pushed the knife harder and harder against my throat. And out of nowhere, a pounding at my door. I dropped the knife on the floor and answered it and there you were standing in front of me. I wasn’t alone.”

I got goosebumps up my arms and neck as I remembered the rest of that night:
When he slammed the door on me, I shouted from the other side: “I’m here mother–, and I’m not going anywhere. No matter  where you go or what you do, I’m gonna be there.”  I was careful not to make any direct threats so that I couldn’t get in any trouble. Just so happens that at that very moment in time, those words were the exact words he needed to hear. What I was saying and what he heard were the same, yet, completely different.

And then later that night,  “I’m still here mother–. There is nowhere you can go that I wont be. No matter what, I’ll always right here.” I wanted to remind him so that he could be afraid, but it only reminded him there was nothing to fear.

The next morning I was right there as he headed to work.

Then, two days later when his wife came back to him, I was right there by my jeep, one last reminder that God was still there for him.

He believed that I was his reminder that God is always there, and I believe it too. He got his family and his life back together and started participating even more in his church, and he deserves it.
He apologized to my family, with tears in his eyes and extended his love to them. He even brings Aunt Kathy cases of bottled water, from time to time, just because.

Not all angels have wings. Not all angels have passed. Not all angels are anything remotely close to being an angel. Pay attention, there are miracles surrounding each of us every step of the way, we just might not know for what purpose we must walk the path we walk.

Brian D. Stout

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Dear Papa: A letter to heaven

Tegan wanted to take a quick minute just to write you a letter today. 

A line or two, just to let you know we thought of you, as we do so many days. 

“But daddy, we have no stamps. How are we gonna send it to him” she asked me with concern

I assured her, not to worry,, they charge no postage where Papa’s at.

So she Pressed the letter to her lips and sealed it with the sweetest kiss. Then she helped to tie it to the string of her very favorite balloon. 

“This way, when he gets it, he’ll know that it’s from me” she said. “Besides, I want papa to have it as a Gift”

And she slowly let it go, and watched it dance up to the sky. We both watched, intently, as it faded into the distance of that deep blue endless sky.

Silently she stood there, deep in thought. “Daddy” she said, as if a question had her stumped. “Yes baby” I softly answered. No question, however, followed as I had expected. Instead, she wrapped her arms around me and I lifted her tight in my arms. She kissed my cheek and gave a smile. “I love you” she, finally, added. I smiled back and returned the kiss on her cheek, and answered “I love you too” 

And sometimes that’s the only logic or understanding you need. I gloated all the way back into the house. Not only in the sweetness that she had shown in that whole experience, but that my little girl was a believer. She held back whatever question may have gone through her mind, and let it go to faith. What a Gift, she has, already. (At two years old)

The search begins within

I dream of a world that respects all mankind…
Although that which I seek, I may never find.
Without hatred or intolerance; we simply let each other be.
While we might not understand, we just agree to disagree.
Walking side by side, hand in hand, that’s not what I’d expect…
Just walking through a peaceful world with a mutual respect.
A world devoid of judgement, but not devoid of sin.
If you, too, seek a world as such, you must start your search within.

Brian D. Stout

A Mothers Day Dedication ( for Colleen)

If, once I’m gone, I should not be allowed in heaven. Promise you’ll remember me as the man I am today.
To my wife, without you, I would be nothing. She pulled me from my wreckage, and saved me from myself. You, truly, saved my life, therefore, I have always stood committed to protecting you through yours. We bring out the best in each other, and we bring out the worst in each other. We are EVERYTHING that the other is not…we are exactly what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. “Ride or Die” sometimes our absolute loyalty is the ONLY thing that kept us together, but it was that loyalty that formed the foundation for the house we’ve built along the way…stone by stone, into the awesome house it is today. Every moment that defines the man I have become begins with you. I love you, more than you could ever know! Every bit of goodness in my soul, every bit of hope and faith in my heart, every bit of kindness and unconditional love in my spirit, belongs to you. You created a good and decent man in me, and then gifted me with purpose. There are no words to describe what light I see you in…but you are everything but the wings!

Brian D.Stout

See Also: Heaven at a glimpse