Do You Know Peyton Manning?

I got that question and these pictures from Jenn, an Air Force wife, trying to help her friends who lost everything in the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. I asked her to explain.

Peyton Manning autograph in post-tornado rubble

A favorite picture found in the rubble of the Brown home.

The Brown Family home. Mom, Dad and son were here during the tornado.

The Brown Family home. Mom, Dad and son were here during the tornado.

The Brown Family

Jenn met the Browns when they were all stationed in Alaska. Robin Brown and Jenn were both teachers’ aids in the same school. Jenn’s husband and Steve Brown were both Airmen and the kids were friends too. In every branch of service, there’s a lot of moving. People come in and out of your life all the time. But because military life is so all-encompassing, the friends you make become family and stay that way despite time or distance. In civilian life, you may or may not feel this way about former co-workers and neighbors.

When the tornado hit, Steve, Robin and their son Caleb were in a shelter below their home. Their daughter Megan was a few blocks away and took shelter there. Other family members were horrified as they watched weather updates and saw the tornado heading towards the Brown’s street. With raging winds ripping apart their home beam from beam above them, Robin had doubts that they would survive. Steve did his best to be reassuring. They all prayed.

After the tornado passed, they realized they were trapped in the shelter. They smelled gas and it became more and more difficult to breathe. Caleb was able to get a text out that they were alive and needed help. Megan ran past block after decimated block to find her own home reduced to rubble, but at least she knew her family was alive. It took 45 minutes to dig the Browns out. Those minutes felt longer. But the entire family felt lucky and grateful to still have each other.

“I feel helpless”

If Jenn lived nearby, she and her family would help clear rubble. And cook food. And take them in. And do anything they needed. The fact that she can’t do these things makes her feel helpless. “I know they’re strong people, but they’ve already been through so much with Robin’s stroke and all. I wish I could do something for them.”

Then Jenn found out about the, “buried treasure.” Amazingly, as the Browns searched through the rubble, Steve found that a few precious items had survived. He found a bible that his grandmother had given him. He found his Air Force shadow box, a gift he had received when he retired after 20 years of service. And he found something else that meant a great deal to him, an autographed picture of Peyton Manning that he had bought at charity event at an OKC Thunder game. The picture was beat up, but at least it wasn’t completely gone. To Jenn, she had found something that she could DO. She could try to get that one special thing, “back to normal.”

When you have nothing left, recovering a special item touches and strengthens your heart in a tremendous way. It’s something to hold onto as you begin the long process of rebuilding your life.

Do you know…

I do not know Peyton Manning. I asked a friend in advertising who used to work on a major beer account (I figured beer…NFL.) but he didn’t have a connection. Linked In says Manning is out of my network (no surprise.) Another friend of Jenn’s had already sent a message to Manning’s website and thus far, there has been no response. So I figured I’d write this post and ask my readers.

If you know Peyton Manning or you know someone who knows him, please forward this post or email me so I may reach out. Of course, if you’re reading this and you are Peyton Manning, that works even better. In that case, I would add:

“Mr. Manning, as you can see, the Browns are going through a tough time. I’m hoping you can help Jenn do this kind thing for them. I’m hoping you can replace your photo and sign it again. With all that the Browns need, it may seem strange to request this. But I know having something they loved restored to them would lift their spirits. And that may be one of the most important things of all right now. If you would like their contact info, you can reach me here: gina@ginaleftthemall.com. Thank you for your consideration.”

Some help and little things

If anyone would like to help out in other ways, some friends of the Browns started a giving page to help them rebuild and the Red Cross is in Oklahoma trying to help all of these families who lost so much. Simply click the links to learn more or take action.

In many posts, I talk about how much the little things mean to our deployed troops. How a cup of coffee or postcard sent with a few kind and encouraging words is an incredible morale boost. But you don’t have to be deployed for little things to have this effect. I think it applies to any tough situation. There is a long to-do list for the Browns before they get even close to, “replacing treasured autograph.” But if we can make this happen, I think it will make that long list feel just a little bit lighter.

*********  UPDATE 05-29-13, 5:51p.m. EST: OMG! WE DID IT!!  *************

Sports Anchor Lionel Bienvenu at ABC News Channel 7 KMGH in Denver, was able to reach out to Peyton and they will get another signed photo to the family!!

JENN:  I am truly at a loss for words! My husband says for the first time ever (laughter) THANK YOU to Channel 7 and THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who made my friend and her family feel cared about and loved and so touched in the midst of these nightmare days for them.

There have been a flurry of emails, messages, and people going out of their way for this project over the last 1.5  days. I will have more details and thank you’s on the next post, but please know that I am incredibly grateful for all of your efforts!  xoxo, G

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Don’t Forget Snowballs For Memorial Day

Burgers, beer, sunscreen…on Memorial Day Weekend there’s shopping to do, beaches to umbrella and pools to cannonball. Even so, I’d like to suggest one more thing to the list: snowballs. Specifically, Snowball Express, a charity that serves the children of men and women who died serving our country. Since Memorial Day is meant to honor these men and women, doing something for their loved ones seems like a fine idea.

A Snowball’s chance

Snowball Express, “creates hope and new memories” for children of the fallen by organizing special events for them. It’s a chance for these kids to have fun and be with other kids in the same situation. Also, the families get to see that they are not forgotten or alone. Past events include baseball games, magic shows, and concerts.

Now you know

The number of people in active duty is small, about 1% of the population. So not everyone in the other 99% knows someone in the military. Sometimes, the meaning of Memorial Day can feel far away, like a history lesson instead of both our collective past and present. If that’s the case, I’d like you to know someone this day is for, Pfc Jesse Givens. I found his last letter to his family on the Snowball Express site. It inspired them even further in their work. It brought me to tears. (Reader note- if you have a loved one who is deployed right now, I’d skip to the next section.)

22-April-03

My family:

I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings though and well if you are reading this….

I am forever in debt to you, Dakota, and the bean. I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you. I would like to think that I made a positive difference in your lives. I will never be able to make up for the bad. I am so sorry. The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when you quit taking life so serious and smiled. The sounds of a beautiful boy’s laughter or the simple nudge of a baby unborn. You will never know how complete you have made me. Each and every one of you. You saved me from lonliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never dreamed existed. I am proud of you. Stay on the path you chose. Never lose sight of what is important, you and our babies.

Dakota you are more son then I could ever ask for. I can only hope I was half the dad. I use to be your “danny” but no matter what it makes me proud that you chose me. You taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile again. You taught me that life isn’t so serious and sometimes you have to play. You have a big beautiful heart. Through life you need to keep it open and follow it. Never be afraid to be yourself. I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play. I hope someday you will have a son like mine. Make them smile and shine just like you. I love you Toad I hope someday you will understand why I didn’t come home. Please be proud of me. Please don’t stop loving life. Take in every breath like it’s your first. I love you toad I will always be there with you. I’ll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life.

Bean, I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I know you will be strong and big hearted just like your mom and brother. I will always have with me the feel of the soft nudges on your moms belly, and the joy I felt when we found out you were on your way. I dream of you every night, I always will. Don’t ever think that since I wasn’t around that I didn’t love you. You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love. I love you as I do your mom and brother with all my heart and soul. Please understand that I had to be gone so that I could take care of my family. I love you Bean.

I have never been so blessed as the day I met Melissa. You are my angel, soulmate, wife, lover, and best friend. I am sorry. I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A lifetime’s worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with you. Please keep our babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone. Take care of yourself, believe in yourself, you are a strong, big hearted woman. Teach our babies to live life to its fullest tell yourself to do the same. Don’t forget to take Toad to Disney World. I will be there with you. Melissa I will always want you need you and love you in my heart, mind, and soul. Do me a favor, after you tuck Toad and Bean in, give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside look at the stars and count them. Don’t forget to smile.

Love Always
Your husband
Jess

A Memorable Weekend

Here’s to making wonderful new memories this weekend and honoring some old ones. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll be having a Snowball with my burger.

Blue Sky

photo courtesy of Tinyspitcracker

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Look For The Helpers

Boston Marathon bombing (NBC Evening News)

Boston Marathon bombing (NBC Evening News)

Soldiers complete Boston Marathon, then rush to help

Soldiers complete Boston Marathon, then rush to help (Yahoo News)

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” –Fred Rogers. As the news unfolded in Boston, I thought, Mr. Rogers was onto something.

In my last post I spoke of worrying about my family in Guam (thank you North Korea) and how, like many military families I have met, I didn’t want to watch the news.  I clearly requested, “an outbreak of world peace.” The bombs in Boston are the opposite of this. Clearly, I am not in charge.

Living in NYC, it’s not hard to imagine what the folks in Boston may be feeling right now. But rather than focus on heartache, I am going to follow Mr. Rogers’ advice and look for the helpers. Be inspired by the kindness of strangers. By the first responders who rush in and the everyday people who reach out, whether carrying victims or the thousands who offered their homes to those who were stranded. And, as always, by our troops who help us face every danger near and far. (Update- In the news, we could see many troops or vets simply leaping into action. The yahoo news article captures a few of the ways how.)

I’m going to “fight” this moment by trying to increase the kindness quotient. I especially would like to do something for the family of the 8-yr-old boy, Martin Richard. As I dropped off my 8-yr-old daughter at school this morning, surrounding by the entire 3rd grade, the loss really hit home. I found out a fund has been set up for families and other ways to help here.

Invincible

At the end of the day, there will always be some things that cannot be destroyed. The strength we give, the love we share, and our ability to help one another through anything are among that which is ever invincible.

© Gina left the mall, 2013