An Education Gives You Great Possibilities

by Neal Lemery

September is a time of new beginnings. Vacations are over, and we are back at our daily routines, our work, and, for many of us, our education. Kids wait for the school bus, excited, and eager for a new year of adventure. They feel the possibilities in the air.

Community college is part of that excitement, that feeling that dreams are possible, that each of us can keep growing and learning, becoming better equipped to live our lives, and make a difference in the world.

“Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility.” — Oprah Winfrey

We’ve all seen lives change when young people go on to college, and adults return to the classroom, to gain new skills, and, more importantly, a new perspective on what we can achieve when we learn new ideas and gain new skills.

I recently took a young man to college, helping him to walk through the door, enroll in classes, and chart his path to a promising career. His big smile told me that continuing his education and challenging himself to grow and apply his skills in college was the right move for him.

Because of the generosity and thoughtfulness of charitable people in the community, he received scholarships to help with his student loans. His dream became a reality, and he is now on his path to achieve his possibilities. He felt valued, knowing that his education and his future were something that generous people think is worthwhile.

Already, he is coming up with new ideas and fresh approaches to the challenges of his profession. He will continue to build a strong community, and to give back what he has been given, a chance for a new life.

When we help fund a scholarship, no matter what the amount we give, we give a helping hand to young people like my friend, giving then a chance to improve themselves, a chance to fully realize their dream. We make a better community. Indeed, as Oprah Winfrey says, this is sacred work, being able to help a person transform their life.

I see the fruits of such generosity everywhere in our county, people working hard, raising families, and making a difference, all because they had the chance to go to college, and improve their lives. When we make that dream possible, when we give of our time, our encouragement, and money for a scholarship, each of us changes the world, one person at a time.

September is an exciting time, and a chance to make a difference in a person’s life, offering all of us a lifetime of rewards, and possibilities.

For more information about the TBCC Foundation and planned giving, contact Jon Carnahan or Heidi Luquette at TBCC, (503)842-8222 x 1010. and click on “foundation”.

Neal Lemery is president of the TBCC Foundation, and a returning TBCC student.

(published in the Tillamook, Oregon Headlight Herald September 3, 2014

Gift Suggestions for Father’s Day, Gifts That Make A Difference

Father’s Day is coming, but I’ve already received my presents. And, I’ve given some, too. There’s no place in my life for ties. I’m not a golfer, and I don’t need cigars or fine whiskey. I don’t have dads around anymore to celebrate Father’s Day with, but I do have sons. Sons need gifts, too, and they need to be part of celebrating fatherhood.

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”
—Jim Valvano

“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.”

—Johann Friedrich von Schiller

There are a lot of sons in my life, young men I listen to, and talk with about their lives. My task is giving them what I hope are some good examples of how to live one’s life, and how to grow into healthy manhood.

I take time for them, listen to them, hear what is truly on their minds, their fears and their dreams.

My most important gift to them is a steady, sincere belief in all of their possibilities. If they sense my intention to completely and unconditionally support them in their struggles to be good sons, to be healthy, productive young men, then I have done my job as a friend and as a father in their lives.

I show up, and I am present in their lives. I listen, I try to understand, I am with them in a bit of their journey in life. Other men in their life, other fathers, aren’t around, and aren’t there for them, when their journey gets a bit tough, when they’re not sure of their way in the world.

I’m there. I fill up their mug of coffee, and I look into their eyes. I’m open to hear about their lives, and I care.

Sometimes, there’s awkward silence, and sometimes, there is a torrent of stories and emotions. Sometimes, we just sip coffee and play cards, or talk about the weather, or what they are doing in school. But, even then, we’re reaching out to each other, learning how to do this fathering dance, and opening up their hearts.

These sons need someone to believe in them, to give them that sense of importance they need to find their place in the world, to be confident in who they are and where they are going.

I give them my heart, and I listen to their stories. I cheer them on, and am the quiet, steady voice in their corner, urging them forward, letting them know they matter.

I receive a lot of gifts back from these young men, these sons who are going out in the world, and making a difference in their lives, and making a difference in the world.

They are taking on the tough issues, and working hard to change their lives, moving ahead, and taking on the tough jobs to reorder and reshape their lives. They are in school, working in demanding jobs, having meaningful relationships based on love, mutual respect, and self actualization.

They are reshaping their lives, and helping others change, and become the person they want to be.

They’ve learned to ask the tough questions, and to reform their attitudes and their ambitions, growing into healthy young men, and truly being productive.

They are believing in themselves, and seeing all of their possibilities. They take on their struggles, their self doubts, and they are learning to not listen to those voices in the past that told them they were failures, that they weren’t good enough. Instead, they are the believers and the preachers of love and compassion, the builders of a healthier family and a healthier community.

These are the gifts that matter. These are the gifts on my list for Fathers’ Day.

—Neal Lemery, June 10, 2014

Outside of My Prison’s Walls

“Even though I’m out, I can’t seem to make my own decisions. Six years of someone else telling me what to do, where to go, how to act, and now I can’t seem to move ahead in my life, and do what I need to do for myself.”

“It’s like I’m still in prison. I’m still behind the walls,” my young friend told me, as we were deep in conversation about his life and where he was headed.

Yet, aren’t we all still behind the walls, the walls we make ourselves? Don’t each of us have that fear of moving ahead, and taking on our hard issues, and that tough challenge of having our own walls to climb over?

Life has a way of moving along, and we don’t often see ourselves in control of the directions we are taking, or our ability to find our own path. Our jobs, our families, our friends all seem to be the movers and the guides in our life that are shaping our daily lives, and where we are headed.

I like to think that I’m purposeful in what I do, and what my action plan is for the day, the week, maybe even the year. But, my daily routine and my usual “to do” list means the day has a lot of routines, and I end up responding to other people’s agendas more than my own, long term, “what is good for me” list.

And, often, other people’s expectations of me can soon turn into my own prison walls. Just playing follow the leader and letting other people’s plans and needs fill my day becomes pretty easy, and pretty comforting. I don’t have to think much, at least the thinking I should be doing about where I’m going in life, and who I want to become, and the dreams I want to realize and achieve.

I let the walls get built up, and I get comfortable with that, instead of speaking up for myself, and finding that voice inside of me that talks about my dreams and my goals.

Some philosophers would say that each one of us is living life in the prisons we’ve built ourselves, too afraid of taking charge, and finding the ladder to climb over the walls, or to search out the key to the lock to the gate.

I think I’m free, free to go outside and smell the fresh air, and walk down the road, or meet a friend for lunch, or mull over an idea and speak my peace about a hot topic. Yet, my daily routine and my well worn path in the road of life is pretty comfortable if I let others do the thinking and gently prodding me into going along with the plan for the day.

After all, it is easier to just nod my head and grunt an “uh, huh” when someone pontificates an idea that my heart is telling me needs to be challenged, needs to be explored at some length. That would take some work, and I might offend the other guy, and end up getting deep into a serious and thought provoking debate. And, I might actually learn something and find some flaws in my own thinking. I may even have to take some action, and get out of my routine.

Or, not. Just let their thought slide by, and I go along with the flow.

“Don’t rock the boat,” my grandmother used to say.

Yet, I recall she was pretty opinionated, and wasn’t shy about challenging some popular ideas and politics in her day. She wasn’t a model prisoner inside the walls society had built in her day, and she was good at teaching me to think outside the box and not take the usual way out of a dilemma by simply going along with the flow, and not rocking the boat.

A few weeks ago, I listened to Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian social activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was a young medical student when a civil war broke out in her country, devastating her family and community, and halting her promising medical career. She wanted to break down the walls that kept her country from seeing an alternative to war, terror, and lack of opportunity for women and children.

She didn’t have an army, and she didn’t have money or power.

“But, I had my voice,” she said. ‘And I used it. I spoke up, every chance I got.”

She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she wouldn’t let any walls, any thinking that social change was impossible, get in her way. She told the stories of the women and children in her country, and she talked about non violence and civil disobedience. She challenged and she provoked, and she taught and she argued.

She used her voice and moved her country towards peace. She made people think, and pushed people out of their ruts, helping them find the keys to their own prison gates, and to find their freedom and their true destiny.

Leymah Gbowee didn’t start down that road with the idea that she’d win the Nobel Peace Prize someday. She simply wanted her country to be at peace, and for her family and neighbors to be done with war, and to live in peace. She spoke up, using the only tool she had, her voice.

My young friend is finding his voice, and I see a lot of other people finding their voices, and finding the keys to their own prison gates. Folks are moving out into freedom, out into the sunshine outside of their own prison walls.

Neal Lemery, May 14, 2014

Precious and Painful

Life is precious and wonderful.

I learned that lesson again this week, a week of turmoil, grief, and new beginnings.

A good friend, suffering from a deadly, debilitating disease, moved on out of this world, taking charge of his life, and saying his good byes, and teaching us about life, its joys, and the wonderment of each day. His final days offered new lessons to me about courage, and what one person can achieve in their life, about relationships, and the sacredness of a simple act of kindness.

I never got to express everything I feel about him, but then, we never do. Life is like that, never having enough time to really fully communicate what another person means to us, how precious is our relationship with someone. Too often, we live in the moment, and dance around the profound, the universal truth of the gifts others bring into our lives.

A family member ended their life, leaving us with deep questions, and the pain of sudden grief, paradoxes, and the reopening of old wounds, and old questions about life. Pain wracked my heart, bringing me closer to family, and reminding me of the importance of how we all need to care for and parent the survivors. Two young children now don’t have a mother, but they do have our family, and we have a deeper appreciation of the time that we have with each other.

I helped a young man being released from prison. I walked with him out of the prison gate, having him hear that metal slam behind him, and I drove him into the rest of his life. Five years behind bars, ten years of foster care, two failed adoptions, the emptiness of no one visiting him these last five years.

We loaded up all of his worldly possessions into my car, and drove off into the early morning gloam, the heavy rain attempting to drown our joy of that moment, and the prospects of a bright life ahead for this young man.

We greeted the dawn at the beach, his first view of the ocean in five years, his first hour of only the sound of the wind and the waves, not sharing the dawn with twenty five other inmates in a prison dorm.

There was ice cream with breakfast, and buying a new book by his favorite author, and a long drive through the forest, where each turn in the road offered yet another view of the world, without bars and fences.

We dealt with bureaucracy, mind-numbing forms and questionnaires, more waiting, and more interviews. Yet, in all that, I witnessed his courage, his determination to move ahead, and begin his new life. He knew where he was going, and he was prepared to forge ahead, on his own at last.

Through his eyes, I saw the world anew, and got a glimpse of what opportunity and hope can mean for one’s soul. When all things are possible, and when you now have freedom to move ahead, and to take your first steps into a new world, to create your life, and move towards your dreams, then life is sweet and amazing.

I walked with him, sitting in the dank waiting rooms of the probation office, transitional housing, the world of food stamps and public assistance. I felt the cold stares of the security guards and the bureaucrats, their unfeeling hands as they searched me, judging me as a suspicious troublemaker, labeling me without knowing me. This was just another day of institutional life for my young friend, and he flashed me a grin, letting me know that you can endure the labeling, the indifferent bureaucrats, and mind-numbing waiting, because today was his first day of freedom.

At dinner, we toasted his freedom, and the future that he now held in his hand. He chatted with the waitress about looking for work, about being young and moving to the big city. He laughed and grinned at the idea of a menu, and a linen table cloth, and a candle on the table, real silverware and real plates. And, when the giant piece of chocolate cake was too much for him to eat, he laughed at the idea of taking the rest home to his new room, a midnight snack just for him, to eat it all by himself, his first night sleeping alone in five long years.

This week offered me many lessons, and many voices on how life is precious, and wonderful, and not to be taken for granted. In all of this, I played many roles, and was called upon to be the best of friends, the best of uncles, and the best of the driver and companion of a young man whose world was opening up, his life ready to fully bloom in the glories of the coming spring.

Neal Lemery 3/30/2014

A New Start

A new, strong day, being with a young man’s first day of freedom, after seven years of prison. He, bravely stepping out, moving on, as he sees the ocean for the first time in a third of his life.

We stop to pray in the forest, me blessing him, asking God to let him move ahead, now free and clean of past teenaged mistakes, to move on, being healed, forgiven, loved. We find no words to speak, only hugs tell our feelings, the winter quiet catching my tears.

We journey five hours, back in time, but also new possibilities, back to his roots, him ready for a new start, new beginnings. We marvel at geese overhead, sunlight on the beach, possibilities of work, new friends, life without walls, anything being the dreams he has.

Hope, love, forgiveness now real words, real potential of his tomorrow. He steps away from me, one last hug telling me he is ready, now, to really fly, my young eagle.

I leave him, all his possessions at his feet, in the new rain, halfway house a big first stop on this, his first day of freedom.

Young eagle, wings outspread, flaps slowly forward, leaving me, wet cheeked, driving away, now alone, me, a witness today, to courage.

Cold Morning Walk

The essence now in that envelope
between night and dawn,
the eastern sky silent through pure white spectrum,
everywhere crystalline frost, its task to bejewel
fallen leaves and winter twigs,
and share itself with

deep silence,
until my soul opens up and
sees the all that is here
just, and only, now.
I need only

Moving through the silence, only my
white breath moving, only my shoes
beating a faint cadence in this between time,
I become one with this world,
space where everything can be the future
if only I dream it, and move towards it.

—Neal Lemery 12/4/13

This New Emptiness, Filled

Go, and create, you said
with your eyes, a few words spoken into my soul—
You have something to say, something to offer,
and the world needs to hear it.

Impatient, almost,
you always checking on my progress
to move, to contribute, to change this world,
your words pushing my procrastination.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

“When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
― Mary Oliver

You left us too soon, yet,
and yet, your words
to live fully, with passion,
echo throughout my being
in the silence
left in your passing
into the beautiful, the mysterious

—Neal Lemery, June 2013

In memory of and tribute to my friend, Judy Allen