Update — A Kindness Project: Hall a Day Season

The project in its full form is as follows:

I do not want my kindness to be in hindsight.

As I’ve mourned recent deaths and mulled my own mortality, I’ve thought about what I’m putting into the universe.

I do not like the bitterness I’ve developed.

As the world rages around us, mostly thanks to the hate waged by the current administrations, I find myself boiling inside, my cynicism growing while my eyes are rolling.

It’s not healthy.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s not happy.

As I hold my son and hug my wife, I am overwhelmed by love. I’m reminded of why I care so passionately about this world. I will continue to fight the good fight, to rebel and resist, but I also have a new project in mind.

Starting today, I plan to write little notes of public appreciation to people who do things of meaning to me. It could be as big as stances they take or as simple as the music they have turned me onto.

Thanks for indulging me. I offer to you The Hall a Day Season.

Day 1: Jeri and Kevin Compton

This tiny woman stood on a concrete ledge in a light rain, drawing a number that secured my spot in line for a Springsteen concert.

“That’s Jerri Compton,” Chad Birch pointed out with a name I’d heard for a person I’d never met.

I quickly learned that she and her husband Kevin are two of the nicest people on this planet. We became fast friends, bonding over a shared love of music, soon realizing we’d been next to each other at several concerts before meeting each other.

As they celebrate 20 years of marriage, I thank them for all concert (and food!) memories they’ve been a part of with me. Mostly, I adore the way they interact with my family, from my wife and son to my nephews (who think they’re THE coolest).

I agree with my nephews.

Day 2: Courtney Fischer Schonberger

We asked for a few suggestions. We ended up with a detailed guide to Paris.

When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon, which included time in Paris, I reached out to Courtney because I’d seen a few social media posts of her in the French city. We thought we might get a restaurant recommendation or two, perhaps a can’t-miss hole-in-the-wall. What we got was a lengthy email describing multiple spots, including when to go and specific things to watch for when there.

It made a honeymoon even more wonderful. I will forever be grateful.

Courtney also shares two of my loves: the music of Wilco and sharing stories of the best of humanity. As a reporter in Houston, she can be found in the middle of any catastrophe, letting viewers know about the people who are helping others. Her work lets us sing for those who would otherwise go unsung.

It’s music even more wonderful than Wilco.

Day 3: Sean Mullaney

An unsure kid, at his first job outside of the comforts of helping family in his hometown, found himself both overwhelmed and bored beyond belief. Fortunately, this kid – me, of course – found a bespectacled, buzz-haired adult (who was really just barely older, but this was a Lexington resident, so a BIG CITY MAN) who not only took pity on the new hire, but found common ground.

Sooooo much common ground.

Sean Mullaney and I shared a love of many things, but three stood out: Star Wars, the Beastie Boys and absurd comedy. Sean, at that time in the mid-1990s, had an obsession with Star Wars that I admired, often leaning on him to teach me about the far-flung fan theories. He was my internet before the internet. He had tracked down obscure Beastie Boys tracks and told me about seeing them live in concert. “This must be what living in the city is like,” I thought.

I’m sure our co-workers either hated us or barely tolerated us. Imagine walking into in-depth conversations about Empire Strikes Back or Paul’s Boutique. OK, maybe both of those things are more common now, again, this was before the world wide web was a world wide phenomenon, so everyone surely thought we were isolated geeks. It would be years before the geeks inherited the earth.

 

It’s been years now since I’ve seen Sean in person, although we stay in regular contact through Facebook and email. I still picture him as that kid checking in on the radio DJ who was perched on a billboard opposite our store, waiting there until UK, mired in a losing streak, won a game.  I know he has changed, though; the world today has changed many of us.

 

I hope Sean doesn’t get too angry, too hopeless, too “not Sean” from things. One of the reasons I started this project is so friends like Sean never forget the things they’ve done for me. I mean, this is the guy who provided me with clips he’d recorded of the radio show I used to host with Aaron Saylor and Cory Graham. Thanks to Sean, some of those memories now exist outside of just our heads.

 

Star Wars taught us that good ultimately defeats evil. It also taught us that the heroes can also experience setback after setback as they fight for what’s right (and the Beasties, of course, taught us to fight for your right to party). Yet, we still rebel.

We have to.

 

So, Sean, there’s only one way to possibly end this: “May the Force be with you – always.”

Day 4: Tammy Lusby Mitchell

When Tammy Lusby Mitchell announced her run for Georgetown’s city council, I knew two things about her. First, she is the daughter of George Lusby, Scott County’s retired judge-executive and a man I met in my first week in Georgetown 20 years ago and who has remained a friend throughout.

 

None of that would have mattered, though, without the second thing I knew about her: she supported a Fairness Ordinance for Georgetown.

 

Through that campaign promise, she earned my support and that of many others, enough to put her onto the council and to eventually cast a vote in favor of fairness, helping it pass 5-3. I imagine some of this comes from a lesson passed down from her dad, one he no doubt picked up growing up on Second Street or perhaps while fishing in his beloved Elkhorn Creek: doing the right thing is always the right thing.

 

As Georgetown continues to grow, I appreciate people like Tammy who are helping ensure it grows for everyone.

Day 5: Chuck Ginter

Things I know about Chuck Ginter:

1. His eulogy for his father, believed to have been off the cuff and definitely from the heart, is STILL spoken about in awed tones for its raw emotion and humor.

2. He fights for others, metaphorically. His Facebook page is filled with his love for anyone who needs it. He’s a major advocate for LGTBQ+. Check out his livestream from Lexington’s Pride Festival as his son performs on stage. Chuck yells “That’s my boy!” while beaming with, well, pride.

3. Chuck fights for others, literally. Now, I can’t say for certain he’s scuffled with others for trashing those mentioned above, but if that war breaks out, he’s the first person contacting.

4. Every Thanksgiving, he and his wife Shelly open their home to anyone who wants a meal with a family. No questions asked; just love given.

5. He is my friend.

I’m grateful for all those things

Day 6: Elayne Hollinger

Elayne Hollinger told me I have soul, and I’ve mentally framed that compliment so I can think about when my spirits dip.

For more than two decades before her retirement, Elayne was a health educator specializing in sex education in schools. She has talked about safe sex, abstinence, diseases, pregnancy and more, sometimes with open arms (and minds) from parents, sometimes with complete resistance. Through her graceful demeanor, she could break down that parental pushback, working with them to protect the kids.

It’s that skill set — knowing communication succeeds by listening — that let her reach tens of thousands of kids in her career. She didn’t talk AT them; she listened and heard them. She talked WITH them.

And that, friends, is true soul.

Day 7: Mariah Rogers

An imaged popped up on Instagram as I waited to see Wilco.

Mariah Rogers, a Powell Countian I’d never met but knew through social media, had used my Facebook profile picture as the basis for a piece of art, and it, combined with Teddy Ray Lacy’s caption of “When a simple knee surgery goes too far …” lifted my mood even higher just moments for the concert.

It features electricity jolting from the bolts in my neck and a forehead scar showing I’m some sort of Frankenstein’s Monster, yet with glasses and a beard (I’m not sure how the undead-turned-to-reanimated-living have facial hair, but I’m also not a scientist).

I enjoy following Mariah’s updates on social media – her pictures with her lovely children show a world embracing creativity and love. Sometimes I want to hug her posts.

Mariah always seems to have interesting musical selections pop up on her Apple Music profile. I might not always like what she’s listened to, but the ratio of good-to-bad is heavy to the good side.

I look forward to seeing what project she comes up with next.

Day 8: Kyle Moody

I met Kyle Moody once, briefly in Kroger, on a Fourth of July weekend. I had on a Captain America shirt, he had on a Springsteen shirt, and that was more than enough.

As my wife introduced me to her long-time friend, he instantly quizzed me on my favorite Bruce albums (non-Born to Run variety, because, well, Born to Run). Since then, the pop culture similarities run deep (Weezer, Lost and The Sopranos have inspired many Facebook messages), and I always await his book suggestions (seriously, go read Fleishman is in Trouble).

And while that’s more than enough for me to have full appreciation for Kyle, it’s his thoughtful approach to teaching college students that elevates him. He’s always seeking ways to introduce them to new ways of viewing material, whether it’s a show they’ve seen countless times or a movie they’d never heard of before.

Recently, he reached out to his social media friends to find better ways to reach a special needs student, trying to find the best way to make the classroom environment comfortable for them.

As the son of a teacher, married to the daughter of a teacher, those who educate others are dear to me. I’m thankful people like Kyle look to find ways to engage everyone in the room.

Plus, ya know, the Springsteen stuff.

Day 9: Karen Graham and Teresa Spencer

They have been two of my biggest cheerleaders, starting at a younger age and increasing as I’ve aged and taken on new responsibilities as a husband and father. I can always count on a kind word from them, whether it’s on a post about the need to choose love over hate or on a picture of my son.

 

Karen Graham and Teresa Spencer are two of the kindest people Powell County has ever known, and I bet you can’t find too many people who ever walked into the county clerk’s office or the middle school who came away with a bad experience. They have served the community for many years, helping people of all ages (and in Teresa’s case as a middle school teacher, often in the most confusing times of adolescence).

 

As a new dad, though, I marvel at the trust they placed in me as a friend with Karen’s son/Teresa’s nephew. Cory Graham and I have been like brothers since he was 15, starting when Aaron Saylor and I were launching a second season of a radio show in Stanton. I can’t imagine letting an impressionable teen pal around with a college kid, but that’s the faith they placed in me.

At the time, I never realized the responsibility I had, or the impact it could have on Cory. Now, almost 25 years later, I hope they realized the impact they have had on me.

Day 10: Dr. Julie McKee

Whenever I called Dr. Julie McKee for a quote or two during my days at the Georgetown News-Graphic, she behaved in a way that I carry over today in my current job at Lexington’s health department.

1. Always talk to the reporter, no matter the topic. Good news? Talk. Bad news? Talk. Your job is to inform the public, and you can’t do that if you don’t talk.

2. Be mindful of deadlines. If you can’t be interviewed in time for publication, your information won’t make it to the public.

3. If you aren’t the proper agency for the topic, help find someone else who can speak to it. Be a conduit of information.

 

Dr.  McKee is a true servant of the public. She understands the importance of public health, whether it was in her days leading a health department or now with the state’s dental program. Her daily goal is to make Kentucky just a little bit better than before.

 

And she does exactly that. As much as she’s passionate about her job, it’s her compassion for others that makes her truly shine. She looks for a connection with the person she’s talking to, knowing that finding that bond can lead to true, meaningful communication. She works to lift others’ spirits, fights for those who need assistance and places value in voices of those with something to say, even if they’ve not always been previously heard.

 

I’m glad she is always listening.

Day 11: Amy Baker

I sat talking with Amy Baker when someone walked to us to make introductions to the woman trailing close behind.

“This is Amy, and she’s here every week to talk to you if you’re interested in entering a recovery program,” the person said.

 

Amy greeted her and asked if she’d like to talk.

 

“Not today,” the woman responded. “I have to leave, but I’ll see you next week.”

 

Amy, with more than 20 years of social work, including helping people enter into recovery, has seen plenty of see you next weeks.

And she’s always there the next week. Because that is Amy.

 

The next time the woman visited, she repeated what she’d told us previously: “I don’t have time today … I’ll see you next week.”

 

That happened for a few visits. But then one day …

 

The woman exited a room and walked to where Amy sat. “I’m ready to talk to you.”

 

Amy Baker has helped hundreds of people enter into recovery programs. Amy Baker has saved lives and reunited families. She has seen people at the lowest parts of their lives and has given them a hand and hope. She did it last week, she did it today, she’ll do it next week. And the next week. And the next week. And the next …

 

That is Amy.

Day 12: Ashley Nunn

Angela and I needed a spot for our wedding reception, so not just any spot but the perfect spot.

It needed to be large enough to accommodate about 40 people but small enough to remain intimate. We wanted it to be cozy, a spot for everyone to feel like family.

The Slainte House on Georgetown’s Main Street would be perfect, but since our wedding was on a Sunday, the pub would be closed. That’s a major problem.

Except it wasn’t.

Ashley Nunn met with us, and despite having never hosted a reception AND undergoing upstairs renovations at that time, made sure we knew everything would be perfect.

And it was.

Ashley and her husband Matt, who are Slainte’s owners, not only worked the event, they completely blended in with our guests. Though providing service, they chatted with everyone, making new friends (and with Chelsea Nolan, getting connections made for future musical performances).

Ashley told us that when Slainte opened, they wanted it to feel like a welcoming spot for Georgetown. Looking at how they’ve grown to be an active part of downtown events, including a block party after this year’s Finley 5K, they’ve accomplished that goal.

We are happy Ashley made them part of our story, too.

Day 13: Brandon Byrd

My first official date with Angela saw me crash an outing she’d already had scheduled with her friend Brandon Byrd. They had plans to see a friend perform in a musical, and after a spontaneous invitation, I found myself heading to Nashville.

I was nervous about meeting Angela, of course, but I was also nervous about meeting Brandon. As one of Angela’s dearest friends, his judgment on me would no doubt weigh heavily on any decision she’d make about a second date.

One moment caused me stress, though: I had on colorful, striped socks, and Brandon commented with a simple “nice socks.” It could be heard as a sarcastic barb or as a genuine compliment, but with his dry delivery (and my complete lack of knowing him), I had NO IDEA and therefore fretted.

Later, Angela assured me he meant it nicely because if he’d been dogging the socks, he would have texted her with jokes.

I’m taking her at her word because Brandon has since joined us on other excursions while in Nashville, and Angela has, obviously, married me and had a baby with me. I’m not sure she could make that level of commitment with someone with bad sock selection.

I’m always thankful for Brandon’s presence on that first date. Not only did it help take off pressure by having an extra person to talk with, he is a truly excellent human, which made the conversations more colorful than my socks.

I’m glad I will always be indebted to him for that.

Day 14: Lee Insko

Over the past few days, I sat with my baby son and watched parts of Springsteen on Broadway, fitting in a song and story or two whenever possible as his schedule allowed. There’s a surprising lack of downtime for a 6-month-old, but between napping, feeding, diaper changing, outfit changing (after pooping through the previous outfit) and playing, I would sit him in my lap and sing along to him.

 

I thought of Lee Insko every single time.

 

A little over two years ago, when the Springsteen on Broadway tickets first went on sale, I was not among the lucky few who got the passcode making me eligible to even TRY to get seats to a show. I was decidedly bummed.

 

One morning at work, I got a call from Lee, and since he never calls, I assumed it would have to be important.

 

Yeah, kinda.

 

“I’m on Ticketmaster right now and have tickets to Springsteen on Broadway,” he said. “Are you interested?”

 

Before knowing the minor details like what date, how much, seat location and the such, I said yes. I more likely shouted it, perhaps incoherently, but Lee got the message.

 

It turned out, he got pretty lucky in the system and was looking at fifth-row seats. He could have sold them at markup of many times the face value, but offered them to me at cost. It was such a simple act of kindness, but it meant the world to Angela and me, especially as we now used the show as a reason for a mini-honeymoon to New York.

 

Since then, I’ve tried helping people get tickets to shows that are important to them. Having experienced firsthand the joy Lee provided, it’s a way to express my thanks to him by giving to others. When I am able to help, I also share the story of Lee, in hopes they will continue to repay the favor to others and keep the chain alive.

 

So, when you can, get on Netflix and watch Springsteen on Broadway, preferably with a loved one if possible – the stories about fathers and sons are especially poignant. When it’s finished, reach out to someone in your life who is kind and giving and let them know how you feel.

 

Following my own advice, Lee, this one’s for you.

Day 15: Kenny Faulkner

Kenny Faulkner peeked through the blinds to see what the commotion was in the parking lot.

 

“Look at that jackass getting his car towed,” he reported to us with a laugh.

 

Then he looked back outside and sprinted out the door.

 

We rushed to the window to watch as Kenny, who turned out to be “that jackass,” plead with the tow truck operator to lower his car. Kenny, who at that time stood maybe a couple inches over 5 feet, wagged his finger in the driver’s face, his arm stretched high as the other guy calmly watched. I’m pretty certain there was some foot stomping; honestly, I can’t even recall what happened to Kenny’s car as most of the memories were overtaken by our laughter.

 

That remains one of my favorite Kenny Faulkner stories, in a world full of Kenny Faulkner stories. From his dry wisecracks hanging out at Delta Gas in the mid-1990s, to this hilarious story about an unsatisfyingly short Cher concert, the stories about Kenny or from Kenny have reached legendary status.

 

Which is, of course, natural for Kenny, who is kind of legendary himself in Powell County.

 

Kenny loves everyone and everyone loves Kenny (and if you don’t love Kenny, I don’t want to know about it because it will cloud my view of you). Check out his Facebook page sometime to witness all the smiling pictures with the people he adores.

 

Years ago, Kenny lost his legs because of a rare flesh-eating virus (and seriously, WHAT THE ACTUAL MULTIPLE EXPLETIVES DELETED?), but, for the most part, he hasn’t lost his humor. Sure, there are days when he voices his frustrations and sadness, but again, rare flesh-eating virus.

 

What will always remain, though, is Kenny’s love of others. He is a vocal support of equality for all, and even when people reply to his posts with venom, he tries to reach out to them with more love.

 

He likes to tell me he’s proud to be my friend, but the pride truly belongs to those who get to be friends with him.

Now, ask him about the Cher concert!

Day 16: Jessica Kelley

Jessica Kelley and I butted heads almost from the moment we met.

 

In hindsight, I’ve grown to realize it wasn’t that we didn’t like each other but was more about always hoping to find something cool to recommend that was just a liiiiiiiiitle bit cooler than what the other had recommended.

 

Now, I know enough to just go with the recommendations and let myself be entertained by whatever band, show or movie she shares. She’s right more than she’s wrong.

 

Her social media, though, isn’t the primary reason I appreciate what she does for the world. I adore the way she lifts up her children, giving them the space to be themselves and celebrating what makes them unique.

 

Those pictures are nothing but love.

Day 17: Cari Allen

Find yourself a friend who will leave a shopping cart in the middle of the grocery and hustle to your aid, no questions asked based on the urgency of your voice.

 

That’s exactly what Cari Allen did for me one night long ago (well, maybe a few questions asked) when I called her near midnight (I had questions, as well, primarily, “Who goes to the grocery at midnight?”) because of date gone horribly wrong. Short version: a woman got fall-down drunk on a first date, wanted to drive herself home, refused to let me call her a cab, allowed me to drive her, tried opening the car door while on New Circle Road, started smoking and argued with me that she could do whatever she wanted because it was, in fact, her car despite the fact we were in my car.

So I called Cari to help corral her.

 

As much as I’d like to say I owe her for that, the stories it has since provided her I think more than cover my favor tab. Still, it was a testament to a great friend (even if she was just the Michael-Jackson-eating-popcorn meme by that point).

 

But what REALLY makes Cari stand apart is how she helped a stranger to her, in part because the person was a friend to me, but mostly because her heart always wants to help people who need it. I can’t type more now because I don’t really want to cry at the moment, but check it out: https://strother.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/a-touch-of-magic-its-kind-of-fun-to-do-the-impossible/.

 

It’s a moment that made her like family to those friends, a connection that still carries today.

 

They could probably call her at midnight for help.

Day 18: Cory Graham

Almost everything I need to say about Cory Graham I’ve already said: strother.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/dear-charlie-an-open-letter-to-my-friends-newborn-son/.

 

Today, though, I want to acknowledge the risks he took first by following his inspirations to create art, then by building up the nerve to share it with the public. For any person who creates anything, those can be difficult steps. Inspiration hits at unpredictable moments, followed almost immediately be an inner voice shouting “YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO DO THIS.”

 

In 2017, when I started my daily sketches (www.facebook.com/strother.kevin/media_set?set=a.10154450391308138&type=3), part of the plan was to help myself get over what people thought of what I could create. That said, I watched the likes and comments on each one, often agonizing over ones I felt were overlooked or wondering what I could do to improve. Even with something designed to toughen my skin, my inner doubts ran rampant over any artistic security.

 

I mention that because last year Cory started creating his own art, blending painting, photography and graphic design into his own perspective on the world. Some of it is devoted to profiling people in Powell County, while others put a focus on those in power who need to recognize that responsibility.

 

Tonight, it all comes to fruition, as he is part of an opening installation for PRHBTN Exhibition 2019 (www.facebook.com/events/221591502082269/), where he joins more than 130 other Kentucky artists. Even while part of this, I have no doubt the voice in his head will be nagging him and shouting “YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO DO THIS.”

 

Join me in shouting even louder to Cory: “YOU ARE!”

Day 19: Willow Hambrick

I am always amazed by the work of Willow Hambrick.

A brilliant writer, activist, mother, leader and wearer of many hats, Willow will watch for injustice, then carefully work with others to help resolve the issue. When there’s no easy solution, she connects people, knowing many backgrounds can unite to find new ways of thinking to erase old ways of acting.

Today, as we celebrate fairness, pride, equality and love in Georgetown, Willow doesn’t stand alone in her efforts, but because of what she’s helped do, she’s ensured no one ever has to stand alone.

Day 20: Georgia King

Georgia King made a mean tuna salad.

To get the full effect of this statement, imagine it spoken aloud, followed by an actual growl.

Every time I saw Georgia, one of us would do this, starting in my early teenage years when I’d spend afternoons at her house with her son Chris and we’d have the aforementioned tuna salad (growl).

Like many of my friends’ moms, Georgia was an extension of my own family, a person my parents trusted with my life. It was a trust well earned and appreciated. Georgia let me join with her mom, the amazing Reva Carter, and Chris on trips to Gatlinburg and visits to Lexington, where she broadened my exposure to Chinese food, creating a love of the cuisine.

Georgia died Friday after a battle with a mysterious brain disease that baffled doctors. I last saw her in May at a graduation celebration for one of my nephews. I’m thrilled she got to meet my baby son, who wasn’t even 2 months old at the time. We hugged, and I got a chance to tell her how much I thought about all the love she showed me and how I hope my son has people like her in his life.

We also talked about Chinese food and a mean tuna salad.

You best believe we growled.

Day 21: Victor Palomino

Victor Palomino is a gifted artist, working in many styles to share whatever inspires him.

My favorite medium of his, though, is what he does with radio, using Lexington Community Radio to help share stories important to the city’s Spanish-speaking residents. By sharing their language, he shares their voice, giving amplification to a group that is increasingly pushed away by existing national forces.

Victor is also highly skilled at working with interviewees to make them feel comfortable behind a microphone. He eases them into conversations, reminding them it’s just the two of them talking. I’ve watched several people who were scared to talk on radio become people who eagerly volunteer when Victor needs someone to interview.

I’m glad Victor knows everyone has a story to tell and works to help them tell it.

Day 22: Elizabeth Short

My mom arrived with an armful of diapers and wipes for Harrison, probably some food for Angela and me, and a small bag tucked away.

 

Inside was a tiny crocheted cap, a special delivery from Elizabeth Short, someone I’ve not seen in person in many, many years but stay connected through Facebook and Instagram. Having followed the pregnancy online, she knew our baby boy was home and wanted to make sure his tiny head was warm.

 

As much as I hate – haaaaaaaaate – social media most days, this reminded me of how it can connect us. A handmade gift like the cap meant someone took their valuable time, applied the talents they’ve cultivated and created a little work of art. Again, I should note this was for someone they barely know outside of a screen.

 

The hat serves as a little reminder of the best of all us and how we should spend more time lifting up others. Even when our baby outgrows the hat, I hope he remembers the rest.

Day 23: Teresa Revlett

When introducing me to her friends, Teresa Revlett likes to tell them I’m her oldest son, then watch them puzzle over the math while trying to determine how they never knew about me. It’s a fun game to witness, but it’s even better when she explains while not a blood relative, we are like family, which is why I call her “Momma T.”

She’s had that nickname for 15 years or so, our paths crossing from our journalism jobs (fun fact: her youngest son once introduced me to his grade school class as his mom’s boss, which was decidedly not the case, but we rolled with it). Over those years, she and her family (every single one of them have the title of One of the Nicest People You Will Ever Meet) have comforted me on sad days and joined me in celebrating my happiest moments.

Last night, Teresa watched Harrison while Angela and attended a Celine Dion concert. When I first asked if she could help with him, she texted back “YES” before knowing the date or time, saying she didn’t care what was on the calendar — she’s move it to hold this boy.

She refuses to accept anything as a payment or thanks, even turning down an offer as simple as a platter of Galvin’s cheese fries. She told us she’s glad to help, and holding our sweet baby is reward enough.

While we agree and know it certainly helps that he’s so lovable, it’s mostly because Teresa is so loving. It’s a role that suits her to a T.

Yes, to a Momma T.

Day 24: Nell and Greg Earwood

One of the best unintended benefits of having a son is I no longer have to dance around what to call Angela’s parents. Although they are 100 percent OK with it, I’ve never been fully comfortable calling them by their first names, Nell and Greg, especially since her dad has a doctorate and Dr. Greg sounds like a TV showing coming this spring to CBS and Dr. Earwood is absolutely too formal (and as a retired minister, the Rev. Dr. Greg Earwood is vetoed if only for a lack of succinctness).

 

Thanks to Harrison, they are now Nana and Granddaddy.

 

I worry about this because despite being with Angela for more than five years now, they still intimidate me. In part, I’m afraid he will remember a time I ran into him at Kroger, long before I knew his daughter, and I stumbled over my words, sputtering something about Louisville and wondering if he understood I could actually string together coherent sentences. The man speaks Hebrew, and I could barely eke out English, so that encounter haunts me to this day.

 

Mostly, though, they intimidate me with their generosity. From the first moment Angela brought me to their house to introduce me as a suitor, they have welcomed me – with open arms and an open refrigerator. Anyone who has had Nell’s cooking knows that her food is a major player in the family dynamic, assuming you’re good with butter and sugar, which I most certainly am.

 

They are, quite simply, the two kindest people I have ever met in my life. It’s common to hear people complain about in-laws, but I’m hard pressed to find much at all to criticize. He’s a Yankees fan, but no one is perfect.

 

Tonight, Angela and I will join in a celebration as her dad gets honored by the Oates Institute https://oates.org/2019-oates-award-banquet-registration/?fbclid=IwAR3vG91YttN3ER6TyZQlkfUY0jy17dr9HUs2Nj3OOS5RKHkTWYsH2hHUq7k) for a lifetime of pastoral care and service in helping others. I can personally vouch for how much they have helped me. I shouldn’t say they intimidate me with their generosity; they inspire me with it.

 

I’m fortunate Harrison has them as Nana and Granddaddy.

Day 25: Teddy Ray Lacy

Teddy Ray Lacy can, at times, be a bit of a lout.

 

That’s just part of the package of being his friend and, honestly, something you probably should expect from someone with a name that sounds straight out of a movie (John Martin once needled Teddy Ray by telling him “Your name is Teddy Ray but you’re not a Theodore Raymond,” to which we can all agree is accurate).

 

The larger part of being his friend, though, is knowing he sticks up for the underdog. A trip to Nashville solidified my appreciation of Teddy Ray Lacy for the rest of my life. I’ll try to provide the short version:

 

While in town for a concert, we unexpectedly ran into friends from back home and joined them at a karaoke bar. I walked outside because someone sang “Wagon Wheel,” and Teddy Ray stepped away from our table, most likely to put in his request for “Purple Rain. When he returned, our two friends were ready to leave.

 

We hadn’t been there long, so Teddy Ray pressed as to why, and after some hemming and hawing, with a few unlikely excuses tossed in, our friends told us they’d accidentally bumped a neighboring table, thus causing (no exaggeration) a few drops of a beer to spill onto the table. The guy at the table, who appeared to be on a first date based on the conversations we’d overheard, had puffed his chest out and made a huge deal over it. Our friends, who are among the sweetest men you could know, apologized, yet the dude kept on berating them to impress his date, who I should note was thoroughly unimpressed.

 

Having heard the reason for leaving, Teddy Ray told them to take off their jackets and to not leave our table. He walked to the offending table, plopped his arms down, leaned over toward the guy, said hello with a smirk, then sipped his beer while staring a hole through the dude. He said one phrase: “I heard you met my friends.” More smirking. More sipping. More staring.

 

The guy turned to his date, stammered an excuse for ducking out and left. Later, the crowd went wild for Teddy Ray’s “Purple Rain.”

Day 26: Jackie and Adam Baker

I first met Jackie and Adam Baker when they worked as reporters in Lexington. They always impressed me with their skills at highlighting humanity in their stories. While neither remain in journalism, those skills still shine daily in their work in Cincinnati.

I enjoy the ways they are brightening the world for their family, which brightens it for my family, your family, all families. I especially love watching their love for each other — they are constantly lifting each other up, praising their work and reminding us of the importance of the bonds in close relationships.

They are consistently challenging us to be better, to do better, to support others, to love others.

Let’s follow their lead.

Day 27: Zack Hightower

Zack Hightower has no idea how much he has made me laugh.

Between his podcast, his social media updates and general test messaging, he cracks me up regularly, bringing his unique angles to movies, TV and music. He is gloriously goofy with a sharp wit — it’s humor dumb AND smart, a combination dear to me.

I admire his cross-country move to work in LA, and his stories always bring joy when I see he’s shared a new one. I hope he keeps them coming for many years. His fans in fans in Kentucky anxiously await what’s next.

Day 28: Carrie Transue

Through multiple posts and private messages, Carrie Transue made it very clear: I need to watch Schitt’s Creek.

 

With a shared love of similar comedies (seriously, our messages were mostly gifs of Arrested Development moments before being overtaken by Schitt’s Creek), when she tells me I should watch something, it goes immediately into the queue, usually bumping past other options. Such was the case with Schitt’s Creek, and, of course, Angela and I loooooooooved it.

 

I’m fairly certain Carrie not only knew we would appreciate the comedy but also would be fans of the overall societal commentary. It’s a true celebration of love and of self, with characters that move past clichés and areas far more meaningful. It’s not uncommon to watch through tears of laughter and joy.

 

On a personal level, Carrie was one of my biggest supporters in my foray into sketches in 2017, and I still get the occasional note encouraging me to tackle an issue of the day. It’s a small act, but I carry it with me every time I put a pencil on paper.

 

On an even more personal level, not too long after Angela and I shared the news of her pregnancy last year, Carrie sent a note detailing Imagination Movers and their incredible acts of kindness. Whenever I need something emotional to offset the anger of the world, I go back to that note and am reminded what good deeds, kindness and love can do.

 

It’s a powerful reminder from a friendship I’m happy to have.

 

I’ll go search for the appropriate Schitt’s Creek gif.

Day 29: Jennifer Holbert

I’d been in Georgetown a few months when I got the newspaper assignment to write about a club of moms and their involvement in an event promoting safety. The interview subject and I haven’t stopped talking since that day.

 

Jennifer Holbert and I instantly connected, and over the past 20 years, we’ve leaned on each other during good times and unbearably awful times. We have shared cries, laughs, lunches, desserts and arguments, we’ve made googly eyes at the other’s baby and we’ve helped each other move. After one of my knee surgeries, she met my mom and exchanged numbers, making her still the recipient of one of my mom’s regular butt dials.

 

One of the greatest honors of my life came from one of the saddest periods of hers. When her husband Greg died unexpectedly in September 2004, she asked me to speak at his memorial service because I was a writer who always made him laugh. I joked during the service that they only asked me because the other options, who were famous national writers, weren’t available. We know the truth is that had Jennifer reached out to them, they would have showed up – she is a force of nature who finds ways to get things accomplished.

 

I have no idea what else I said during the service; I can only recall the sight of Jennifer laughing through her tears. It’s a fitting image, as she’s seen me that way too many times to count while helping me navigate through dark days.

 

I do, however, apologize for my mom’s butt dials. 

Day 30 Mark Royse

Mark Royse indirectly started this project.

 

One day last year, I sent Mark this note in a private message: “Thank you for being a voice for the unheard and for being an advocate for love and inclusion. You are not in this fight alone, and I’m thankful to know people like you are out there making the world a better place.”

 

As this year wore on, I realized I wanted to celebrate people like Mark with others, so I stopped the private messages and went for a more public route. Despite the change, I 100 percent stand by what I told Mark privately last year. He spends every day (and I mean this literally – it is part of his daily job, but it’s also now part of just who he is) helping people in Lexington share stories through his work in community radio. These stories and reports are from people and for people who have been historically underserved and underrepresented. It is a huge joy to be part of it.

It’s also a huge joy to know Mark.

Day 31: Daniel Kelley

Daniel Kelley is an excellent writer.

 

He has a novel about zombies (seriously, look up After Life) with a sequel on the way and is a prolific (and talented) fantasy sports editor/writer/guru. He has written about fatherhood, bad television, the Die Hard movies and more, capturing each with his fondness for wordplay, a combination of clever and corny that I love and will always love.

 

One of my favorite things he ever wrote came from his time in Oklahoma, a brief stint likely made briefer because of his words in a column about love and equality with support for same-sex couples because love is love is love. Check it out when you have a chance and know that he took so much heat and criticism for daring write these words: https://www.duncanbanner.com/you-love-who-you-love-world/article_94fb2ffe-90d3-586a-877f-bf921d082c5d.html. I’ll repeat what I said then, he showed the Sooner state to be Oklahomophobic.

 

My favorite pieces of writing from Daniel, though, are our daily texts. We only worked together in Georgetown for about two weeks and have since been in the same room together probably less than 10 times, yet he is one of my closest friends thanks to these messages. They’re about baseball and other sports, movies and TV, politics and wondering if the world can recover. He’s a sounding board for big talks about fatherhood and a proofreader and joke-tweaker when I can’t find the right words to write.

 

I love when I have a joke with so much wordplay that I know it will cause a one-word response: “Dude.” It can mean “this is good” or “this is bad” or “this is so bad it’s good.” Whatever. It’s a great response, even when I have to follow up to confirm which way he meant. I will always appreciate a “dude.”

 

Mostly because Daniel Kelley is a good dude.

Day 32: The End

I started this project as a way to celebrate the kindness others have shown me over the years. It’s not a complete list, of course — too many of you have been so incredible that this could go on forever.

Alas, the daily component of it must come to an end. Thank you to everyone who has sent notes of thanks and/or encouragement. I’m happy people got to read about some of the fantastic friends in my life. I hope each of you will share your appreciation of others in some way, whether it’s a public post or a private message. Take time to lift up others.

As the project ends, I want to give one final shoutout to the unnamed people I know: those in active recovery from addiction and those struggling with their emotions. We all know this: life is hard. What you are doing each day, by taking the continued steps to stay sober, by recognizing their own battles or sometimes even just getting out of bed in the morning, takes courage and strength. I applaud you. I support you.

There is a huge network of people on here who care about you. No matter how dark today gets, please please please remember these words I like to share from Jeff Tweedy (and sung by Mavis Staples):

“You’re not alone

Every night

I stand in your place

Every tear

On every face

Tastes the same …

An open hand

An open heart

There’s no need to be afraid

Open up this is a raid

I wanna get it through to you

You’re not alone”

Thank you, friends, for joining me on the project. Let’s go make the world a better place.

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