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  • My year began in the shadow of death, with a story about life after death, and proceeded to find me seeking life and resurrection of my spirit as I slowly recovered, through the process of grieving a tremendous loss, the most difficult loss of my life to date. I'd lost Mom the previous September, spending her last 11 hours at her side, and a good part of her last 3 months with her. I then subsequently lost two dear friends and colleagues, one unexpectedly and the other after a long, dogged battle, both way too young and far too close to my age to die. A good part of the year was learning to live in the world as an orphan, where death seemed always to be two steps behind me, or just up ahead, around the corner. I was three months into my journey of living a year as if it were my last. I was dedicated to living each day, each moment, to the fullest extent, leaving it all out on the field of life, holding nothing back from living ( I still am). It was probably my most heartfelt year, ever. For a guy who is used to living more intellectually than emotionally, this made it quite a difficult year to live - but one I wouldn't trade for the world. I somehow pushed through the pain and the grief and somewhere during the course of the year, I came up for air, and felt renewed and more alive than ever.

    In February, I finally met my first real Cowbirder! After being on here for almost a year, I was speculating about whether all of you were "real" or not - I mean, this community had become such an integral and intimate part of my daily life, and I felt like I knew so many of you, so well, and yet, I had never met one of you live and in person. But, no sooner had I posted a story about that, than Kristin reached out and said, "Hey, I think I work a few blocks from where you work in DC." We got together that Friday for lunch at the Department of Energy's cafeteria, then met again for lunch in March, on the eve of Sequestration on Capital Hill. Then I knew, for sure, that Cowbird was the real deal. She was even more fascinating live than she is in her stories. I've also become a big fan of her personal blog, Candy Sandwich, where she logs her daily journey through one of the more amazing lives I have ever encountered. The year would subsequently bring a number of more Close Encounters of the Cowbird Kind - a year when myth met reality, so to speak.
  • Also in February, I made a journey north into the snow country of Woodstock, Connecticut, for an amazing Retreat of the Tenth Leper Group of AA. After a winter of nearly no snow in northern Virginia, I got my snow fix in, arriving there shortly after a big blizzard had left close to a couple of feet of snow on the ground everywhere. My kind of place! The Retreat was so good for my soul, I really can't find words that adequately describe how that impacted me. I was just beyond grateful to my brother, Jim, for inviting me up for it. I quickly became a member of the Hartford group, despite the fact that I live six hours away. I consider myself their southern cousin. I had not been to an AA meeting in 30 years prior to that - I had just started going back to an Addicts Anonymous group that meets in Georgetown, DC, a couple of months before, all part of my being drawn back to basic 12 Step work. I've been in recovery since March of 1980, but not much involved with any 12 Step groups for the last 22 years, before this past year. Back into it somewhat now, there's a whole new dimension of life that this opens up that I'm blessed to have back. I feel pretty lucky to have found a way back into this work.

    We were looking forward to a week in Florida in mid-March, a chance to shake the winter blahs off our backs, me take in some Spring Training baseball games around Florida while Kathy enjoyed quiet time by the pool. Her job had gotten beyond stressful to being downright toxic for her, but she still believed in the program she ran for transitional youth. The day before we were scheduled to fly out, her 4 year-old grand niece, Noelle, was discovered to have a huge Wilms tumor in her abdomen, so we immediately cancelled our Florida plans and headed north to Lancaster, Pa, to help the family out in any way that we could. We wound up spending a lot of time taking care of Noelle and her little sister - Noelle and I played a lot of monopoly (that game will never be quite the same again, for me, after playing the "Noelle rules" version. That rocked!) I also got a chance to tour the battlefields at Gettysburg at the end of our time there, which was special for me, this being the 150th anniversary of that battle. My Great Grandfather was there, on the Union side, 150 years ago, and again 75 years ago for the 75th anniversary. I've felt a real bond with him the past couple of years, for some reason.

    We got our only real snow of the winter in our area upon our return to Virginia, and I promptly slipped and fell on my driveway, spraining my knee, the week before the opening tournament of our Spring Softball season. It was just bad enough to hurt like hell, but not too bad to play on. I was told I could play if I kept a soft brace on it, and went easy on it. I have a problem there. If I'm playing, I don't really know how to "go easy". Adrenaline kicks in as soon as I'm out on that field, and I don't feel a damned thing, other than my focus on the game. I just lose my "self" out there, one of the reasons I love the game, so. I mostly played at third base this year, the position that requires the most focus, as the ball is on you quicker and harder there than any other position, except maybe the pitcher. My knee remained problematic all year long, while I proceeded to have my best year ever, both in the field and at the plate. Go figure! My team, the Diamond Flames, won the championship in the Spring Season, my second as a manager, and about my fifth as a player. This one was especially sweet because we did it without our biggest gun, and without the guy who has helped me manage the team for the past 5 seasons, who had decided to hang up his spikes before the season.
  • One other stop we made on our way back to Virginia from Pennsylvania in March was to see our old friend, Deb, in South Philly. We'd seen her for the first time in 16 years the previous October at another friend's 50th birthday party, and as she told one story after another, I realized I was in the presence of greatness, when it comes to storytelling. I had told her about Cowbird then, but it hadn't really stuck. This time I mentioned it again, and told her she really ought to check it out - she was a world-class storyteller, and Cowbird had storytellers from all over the world. They seemed, in my mind at least, to belong together. This time, she got it, she checked it out, and like me, she got hooked on storytelling here. Neither one of us is quite ready to start up a Cowbird Anonymous group yet, but we know where to find each other if it ever comes to that! It has been a real thrill to have this long-time friend - I mean, when we were having our one and only child, 24 years ago, and we needed a second "coach" in the delivery room to keep me from completely driving Kathy crazy (and vice versa), Deb was the one we turned to. It was a no-brainer. She and I scoredthe intensity of Kathy's contractions in black marker on paper plates ("the European judge gives it an 8.5, while the Russian judge scores it 9.0). Cowbird has brought our friendship not only back together, but taken it to a whole new level. I always knew she could tell a tale, but didn't realize what a good writer she was, as well.

    In June, to go along with the theme of getting back to some of my 12 Step "roots", I visited some old friends at the 17th East Coast Converntion of N.A. in eastern Maryland, These were the guys I lived with in Ivyland, Pa, 30 years ago, with whom I shared the experience of helping to write the Basic Text for Recovery for that program, and helped it grow nearly ten-fold in the Philadelphia area in the early 80's. I hadn't seen either of them in nearly 30 years, and had been trying to get together with them for the past couple of years. The reunion was really special, and we discovered that the bonds of friendship held strong, even after all these years. These were some special people who I shared a very special time with, which while crazy and chaotic as hell, was a moment in the life that was one of a kind. The reunion was sublime. We then continued on up the road to spend the rest of the weekend with another crew of old, good friends in Pennsylvania, the crew that used to come down to our house by the lake for entire weekends, helping us fix it up and playing weekend-long games of Risk, Axis and Allies, truly members of our "chosen" family, long lost cousins, brothers and sisters of the spirit, getting back together and reigniting the friendships. Deb, now a regular Cowbirder, was there, as was GeGe, who also became a Cowbirder. And to think, at the beginning of the year, I was asking "is this wonderful place for real"?

    July found us down in Debordieu (that's pronounced, southern-style, "Deb-a-doo"), South Carolina, for our annual week with the family there - this the first such gathering of the clan without Mom present - physically, at least. Oh, she was most definitely there in spirit, in our hearts and our minds, and in the ache of missing her that we all, each and every sibling, child, nephew and niece felt it, and we had the opportunity to be together and see that, despite being orphans now, we still had each other, and a wonderful time was had by all. I also managed to get together with Sean Poole and Terri Cabral up in North Myrtle Beach while down there, sharing a wonderful meal at a great bar & restaurant there, another Cowbirder made real, another answer to my question early in the year.
  • In August I had a most memorable moment, singing the National Anthem before a Major League baseball game at Nationals Park in D.C., with the Singing Capital Chorus. What a thrill that was! I got to spend the better part of a month and a half singing with the Chorus every Monday night, and discovered a new love - well, I've always loved to sing, but had never done it with a formal group like that. I know that I will continue that in the future, as it really was something I loved to do, and it gave me another connection to my dear, old Dad, who sang in choirs and chorals his entire life. I also ended my "Year to Live" exercise - after some negotiating about what day I would actually end it, my spirit knew that it had to be when I had initially committed to it, at the one year point. You can't negotiate with the ol' Grim Reaper. In that "in the moment" decision, I also felt like I had to give something up, if even symbolically, to acknowledge and mark the "ending", as I moved into my "life beyond". That is when I surrendered my writing moniker, "Hawkeye", which had been with me for 825 stories at that point. Hawkeye has lived on in "Hawkeye's Hall of Cowbird Fame", collecting the stories that most move me here from all over the Cowbird globe. However, rumor on the Cowbird streets have it that Hawkeye might be back. Hey, if J.R. could do it on Dallas, why not Hawkeye in Cowbird? It was all just a dream...yeah, that's the ticket! Stay tuned, my friends!

    Fall was a trip, literally and figuratively. We had one of our best trips ever, to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, me hobbled by a line drive shot that found my ankle the week before we left and gave us a brief scare, and I faced the possible end of my playing career. Thankfully, it was not as serious as it looked (toes turning purple and an ankle three times its normal size) - but, it did give me pause. Later in the fall, I found myself playing on a Seniors team for the first time in 7 years (I played on one back when I first became a softball "senior", at age 50 and 51, but decided I needed to keep mixing it up with the young guys, where I have thrived for 8 years). That injury might have convinced me that, though I can still play, I should probably be playing with men my own age. Let the kids do their thing - while, like Peter Pan, I may never grow up, at least when it comes to games and "playing", I am also into longevity. My idea when I started playing competitively again, at age 50, was to play Senior Ball, not with a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings. It just turned out that I still had enough game left in me to play with the young guns. O.K., dude, you proved your point - move on!

    Of course, we had the infamous Furlough for nearly three weeks in October. It started out terribly for me, but then I found a way to make my time off count, and was led to an opportunity that still fills my Sunday mornings with the joy of giving - giving my time to help those in need. This was a real turning point in my year. When we finally did go back to work, I had a new appreciation for my job, and I threw myself into it. Much as my then-current situation wasn't the ideal one, that played to all my strengths, I had decided to make the most of it, anyway, and now I find myself in a much more suited-to-my-strengths situation, just a couple of months later, with an opportunity for an ideal situation, close to home. Sometimes, you just have to wait out the bullshit until your ship comes in.

    Kathy did just that, this year. She suddenly and unexpectedly got laid off from the toxic job situation in April, and three months later, found herself in the ideal job situation, one which finds her saying, most nights upon arrival home from the job, "I really love my job." She really does. I told her the day she got laid off that it was going to be the best thing that ever happened to her, and it was. My son, J.B., also found himself in an ideal job situation, after going through a lot of bullshit to get there. He did what he had to do, and eventually found himself in a great job that he loves, and is perfectly suited to his skills and his love - theater.

    And there's still more to go...two more weeks of 2013, the Year of the Cowbird. Today, I tour the White House, for the first time in 13 years. I spoke there 4 1/2 years ago, the last time I was in the acting Deputy Chief Financial Officer role. It seems that White House visits go along with the job! This one is strictly a tour - that one was another one of those "moments" in the life. Either way - I'm sure there will be a story to tell about it when it's done. This year's story has been one hell of a ride. I wouldn't want to take this particular one again, but I'm very pleased with where it has left me.

    Rock on all you Cowbirders - let's give 2014 a ride for all its worth!
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