Sunday, April 6, 2008

Write to Heal

Have you seen the movie, Freedom Writers? It spoke to my heart big time. Within 2 weeks, I had seen the movie 6 times, read The Freedom Writers Diary, saw Erin Gruwell in person, and read her memoir, Teach With Your Heart. I cannot remember when someone's life work had such an impact on me.

I have been doing a lot of "work" to get back in touch, sensitive touch, with my heart. My passions were driven from me at a young age. Instead, I pursued what others thought was right for me. "You know? You're really good at blank. You should be a blankety-blank." Thanks!

You can probably guess I've never really been satisfied with my career choices. I thought work was something I did so I could enjoy life with the rest of my time. I'm tired of waiting for the balance that never comes because I'm not that easily satisfied. Rather, I'm going to pursue the passions of my heart and have faith that doors previously unseen will fly open to beautiful skies. I will exercise my write to heal.

The first step in that process, though I've written bits before, is to thank Ms. Gruwell for the tremendous encouragement she has unwittingly given me to chase my dreams. Below is the letter I wrote her just today.

Please let me know your thoughts on this letter, Erin Gruwell, the Freedom Writers, or your own personal story of suffering and/or triumph. Also, please share this blog with others, too. We all have the write to heal and here's an opportunity.

Dear Ms. Gruwell,

I had purchased your memoir, Teach With Your Heart, when you came to speak and sign books in Vineland, NJ on March 26th. I just finished reading it yesterday. I think I cried at least once in almost every chapter. It was a very touching and beautiful story! Thank you for sharing such a personal and significant part of your life.

In the book, I learned of the loss of your father. I'm so sorry. I lost my father as well, and he died very suddenly, too, from a heart attack. It started with a phone call from my stepmother, Christina, only this call was at 3:15am, and she wasn't calling to inform me about his death, she didn't know.

I could make out what she was saying although she was crying over the phone. She’d been crying for a while. While visiting her parents in Pennsylvania, she was not having any luck trying to reach him since the time of his last appointment. She asked if I could go over and check on my dad. I said, “Of course,” trying to remain calm, especially for her. I wanted to convince us both that there was no need to worry. We simply didn't know anything for certain, yet. Maybe he just accidentally left the phone off the hook.

On the twenty minute drive over there, I had to fight back the tears so I could see the quiet, dark road. I had a horrible vision of finding his body floating in the pool. "No!" I scolded myself. "Don't imagine the worst! I don't know yet what I'll find."

His house was tucked back in the woods about a hundred yards. Driving up the packed gravel driveway, I could see that the house was eerily black. There were no lights on: no porch lights, no night lights, nothing. I don’t recall if the moon was out. I could hear Rusty barking from upstairs as I walked up to the side door like I had done so many times before. I had an extra key and let myself in. I knew something was wrong. At first, I thought he didn't make it home. Maybe he slept somewhere else. But why would Rusty be trapped upstairs? I was more puzzled than worried at this moment, but only slightly.

My confusion disappeared in a flash, however, as I entered his bedroom and turned on the light. From a distance he looked like he was sleeping, flat on his back. I quietly called out, "Dad!" a few times. No movement. I thought, “Why is he sleeping so heavily?” Perhaps he drank too much on his golf outing that day. As I crept forward, I saw that his eyes were slightly open and that he was not breathing. Panic set in. I started crying hard as I ran to his side of the bed, blubbering, "no, No, NO!" I grabbed his wrist to feel for a pulse, sobbing. His wrist was cold, but that didn't deter me from firmly holding on to it, unintelligibly praying that even a faint pulse would be felt. Nothing.

We had become best friends within the last year. Prior to that, it was a struggle, to say the least. My parents divorced when I was less than 5 years old. I grew up with my mom. At first, visits with my dad were usually about doing something fun, like water skiing in the summer or cuddling together with him, my brother, and my sister to watch Frank Capra’s "It's a Wonderful Life" while sipping hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.

In high school, however, that dramatically changed. My mom was "cool" and my dad was not. More accurately, my mom represented home and let me do whatever I wanted. My dad extended an invitation to live with him and my stepmother and was the disciplinarian. I chose the comfortable, easy way. That decision became the foundation for my rebellion.

After high school, I realized I needed him and his lessons, but my rebel ways were deeply entrenched. My real wake up call was not his environment or lectures. It was an auto accident that nearly killed me. I was not at fault, merely in the wrong place at the wrong time when a drunk driver fell asleep at the wheel. Seconds earlier or later this would not have happened to me. My father was reassuringly by my side during my recovery. Since then, my appreciation for him grew significantly.

I fought the tears as best I could. I had to call Christina back to let her know. Even though there was a phone next to the bed, I ran downstairs to call from the kitchen. I don't know why. Maybe I just didn't want to be in the same room with his lifeless body when I talked to a live person. Maybe I just didn't want to see my father, dead, so I could instead focus on what I had to do. Maybe I just didn’t want to believe that my father had died.

I dialed the phone through heavy tears, pausing to make sure I was pressing the right buttons. When Christina picked up, I was already pacing, impatient after just one ring. I began sobbing again and blurted, "I think he's dead," intelligibly as I could, wondering why I said, "think." She became hysterical. So did I.

Next, I managed to focus enough to call the police and my uncle, my dad's older brother. While waiting for them to arrive, I avoided the bedroom and wandered around the rest of the house. Looking out back, I noticed the pool was close to overflowing and that the water from the hose was still running. He was filling the pool for the summer. He didn't plan to die, but he did. I didn't plan to begin crying again at that moment, but I did.

Erin, I don't know how you made it through your speech the next day. The grieving process had just started. Perhaps the only thing that enabled you to stand and talk was what you expressed in one small statement of your memoir, "I went to another place."

I know of such a place. For me, it's in my head, deep in my thoughts, and tucked away from my heart. It’s logical and feels safe, but it's not genuine and I've been there too long. What I've learned of your life, your passion, and of the Freedom Writers has brought me back home, where my heart has been waiting patiently. Thank you for showing me your heart so I could recognize mine.

I’m humbly grateful for your continued dedication and wish you all the best for the Freedom Writers Foundation. It all started for me with a movie I rented (and since purchased) called, Freedom Writers, and my journey is far from over. Seeing you in person at Cumberland County College was a cherished moment and almost surreal.

I’ve made several starts in the recent past to write meaningfully, but then other things became more important. You’ve taught me by example that giving from the heart is important. Now, I'm encouraged to prepare for endurance and truly share the depths of my creativity and passion through writing; something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. In turn, I hope others will find the courage to be honest with themselves, grow from the experience, and share the amazing discovery. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

Sincerely Yours,

Dwight Hurych