When you’re 13 years old, the last thing you ever expected or needed was four days of unending tears. Add an equal amount of anger, and I can’t begin to fathom how far down the anguish must have been. I was never there to help him. And even if I had been, I doubt he could’ve reached my outstretched hand. I was simply too far away. The well of mourning is a dark and tiresome place to be.  It’s simply a matter of time before, eventually, you begin to see some light.

Nile Copeland found himself in that well the moment he returned home from school, and was greeted by three police officers in his living room. The news was not good.

His father, Ken Copeland, would not be coming home that night, or any night thereafter. He had just been killed in the line of duty while serving an arrest warrant for a violent crime.

Nile doesn’t remember what he picked up, but he does recall throwing it with everything he had. Anger and mourning are a fierce combination, and to even think that you can demagnetize them would be a foolish thought. Although destructive, it’s best to give them the right-of-way, and let them run their course

*           *           *

Three weeks ago, I crossed paths with Nile, his three brothers, and his mother.  They were on their way to a benefit concert to raise money for the family.  As his personal trainer, I had been wanting to touch base with Nile, but wasn’t sure when the time was right.   It had only been 18 days since his father’s passing, and they had been subjected to a number of formalities that are followed in observance of a fallen police officer.  The brotherhood among officers is tight.  No two cops ever need to know each other to form a fraternal bond. It exists upon first recognition of their professions.  And when one of their own is murdered, the fraternal bonds only becomes stronger.

The week after I saw them, I trained Nile for the first time since his father’s death. Due to his condition of spina bifida, he is restricted to a wheelchair.  My job is simply to keep him strong. His mother, Sheila, had brought him. From what I could tell, she was holding herself together fairly well, as she told me about the avalanche of donations that had spilled into their home, and mentioned several fundraising benefits that had been organized to raise money and ease the family’s financial burdens. I mentioned I had written a tribute to her husband that had run in the local newspaper. She said she had been so out of the loop regarding articles about Ken, and hadn’t read anything, but asked me to send her my story.

And that’s when I detected a slight pause in her speech—the recollection of her loss.  One of the many that would occur in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.  I shifted the conversation to Nile and his training, and suggested we get started.

As he entered the weight room ahead of me, I looked back at Sheila walking away. What she must have gone through the day she learned the news.  It’s beyond comprehension. We lose something so priceless from our lives, and its vacancy yields a far greater weight than we could have ever imagined possible.

*            *             *

Nile was born with a type of spina bifida called myelomeningocele.  It is when the backbone and spinal cord don’t come together properly during development in the womb. He’s confined to a wheelchair due to the severe weakness in his legs.  Despite that, he possesses a number of qualities that immediately steal your attention away from his physical condition:  his personality, his intelligence, his keen interest in the animal kingdom, his wit, and, never to forget, his smile.

Prior to meeting him, I knew very little about lizards, tarantulas, and snakes.  But if you spend enough time with a kid whose entire family has a strong interest in those animals, you start to appreciate the excitement and intrigue for their pets.  I have always had a big dislike for spiders.  Keep me a few hundred yards from them, and I begin to feel comfortable.  However, Nile has a way of easing my aversion toward arachnids.  He has a tarantula whose body has a hint of blue.  Right there I’m thinking, Okay, I love the color blue, so I’ll give this big spider some credit for being likeable.  And before you know it, Nile is educating me about their behaviors, their feeding habits, and their quickness.  The kid’s in 7th grade, but I swear he should be teaching college biology.  

So, this is how it goes when I strength train Nile:

With free weights and cables, he goes through a series of bicep curls, hammer curls, triceps kickbacks, high-pulls, front presses, lateral raises, pullovers, and close-grip cable pulls. To strengthen his legs, he is able to maneuver his body out of the wheelchair and situate himself onto the leg press and leg extension machines.

Then comes the part that doesn’t excite me, but thrills him to no end—he gets to throw the ten-pound medicine ball at me.  Good lord, the kid can throw.  He propels that ball as if we are the last two competitors left in a merciless game of dodgeball.  Each throw is accented with a cunning smile—one that is intent upon getting the best of me, or making the worst of me.  For all I know, it’s a game called “aNILEation!!”  The purpose of the game:  destroy your opponent.

It’s one of many exercises designed to help strengthen his core.  So, there I sit, shielding my face as he launches the ball from ten feet away.  We can’t help but laugh as he continues the onslaught.  And I can’t help but see how much enjoyment he’s having.  He loves the possibility of me missing the ball and getting blown off the bench that I sit on.  And if there’s one thing that Nile could use in his life right now, it’s exactly that—a hefty dose of fun.

For an hour I get the blood pumping in his arms and legs.  His heart rate climbs as the weight or repetitions increase.  A little bit of heavier breathing is a good thing for him.  I have no intentions of diverting his mind from anything. The loss of his dad is still very close in the past.  But if exercising gives his mind a reprieve, then so be it.

And though we laugh each time he fires the medicine ball at me, I can’t help but have sympathy for what must be running through his mind…

The memories of his dad.  The anger toward the man who took his life.  The understanding that his mom now needs every ounce of love that he could ever give her. And knowing that he must be there for his brothers when times are tough. Nile is in many places at one time.

His father is now gone—and forever untouchable—but Nile’s bond with him will never be broken.


Copyright Ros Hill 2018


Goodbye, Ken Copeland

It’s 7:30PM and dark.

You sit in your car in the grocery store parking lot and stare at the side of the building, as the tears well in your eyes.  Cars and shoppers pass by, but nothing steals your attention.

Earlier in the day, you had a friend take a photo of yourself, standing by two large garbage dumpsters at your town’s Activity Center. In your hands were a pair of running shoes—the same running shoes you had written about in your previous story titled, Wonder. This photo was to accompany a follow-up story about finding your shoes—to tell your readers about how they had spent the last two weeks on the feet of a college student in Wharton, Texas.  About how the kid doesn’t even prefer running shoes, but much prefers boots.  After all, he’s going to school to be a certified welder.  You were going to tell the story about how you had left your shoes out by those dumpsters to dry in the sun after your morning run.  About how you had driven off and left them behind, only to be found by a man who would later give them to the kid from Wharton, who, just happened to be visiting the Activity Center that day.

And through a series of odd events and coincidental conversations, someone would recall the details of your description of your lost shoes, and surface with the answer of their whereabouts.

And then, today, your shoes arrived.  And you were all prepared to write the sequel to Wonder.

But, then, the details of that story became completely insignificant, as did the photo.

Because today, a friend of yours was killed in the line of duty.

*                    *                    *

I’ll wonder about Ken Copeland for a long, long time.  I’ll wonder about his wife and kids, but mostly his son, Nile, who I train, and is, for the most part, confined to a wheelchair with spina bifida. I’ll forever think back on Ken’s last words to me: “Ros, Nile loves you.  You’re the best with him”.  And how can I not stop thinking about his son, when you know fully well that “the best with him” will never be there to rub his hair for one last time?  How can I not think about Ken as he would marvel with Nile at his pet tarantula that has turned a slight hint of blue?

Four years ago, I met Ken for the first time when he was working routine security during my daughter’s high school basketball game.  The instant I saw his smile…that instant…I knew this guy had it—the gift.  He could lighten up any room with just his smile.  For ninety minutes, I stood with him at the end of the basketball court, and we talked like buddies who’d been separated for years.  The conversation flowed and never dipped into boredom.  I drilled him with endless questions about his experiences as a police officer, and he answered them as candidly as I never expected.  I just let him run with the stories.  And why not?  I mean, he was the model of sincerity.  Of committed fatherhood.  Of being just a great, great guy.

*                    *                    *

And so I parked my car outside the grocery store tonight and stared at the side of the building.  I needed a place to stop and let my eyes pour.  That’s where I started writing this story.  It’s where emotion was riding heavily on my shoulders at each tap of the keyboard.  It’s where I found myself wondering about the fragility of life and the cruelty that can harbor within it.

So much travels through your mind when you suddenly lose a friend.  So much emotion sweeps through you, that it becomes nearly impossible to handle.  But you aren’t his family, and that thought alone—thinking of them—just levels you.  And you aren’t Nile, and the helplessness just eats away at you because you don’t even know how to begin to offer your sympathy.  The kid’s rock was taken away from him, and all of us—to be forever missed.

Goodbye, Ken Copeland.  I’ll never stop wondering about you.

After all, you are a wonder.

Copyright Ros Hill 2017


The Accident

All it took was the unavoidable collision of his pickup truck into the side of the car that had pulled out in front of him.  He didn’t know it, but in the instant of steel violently kissing steel—that moment of sheer terror—he was about to rediscover just who he was.

Seventy-eight year old Sadie merely wanted to get home.  Four turns and she’d be there.  For 62 years, she’d never had an accident.  She’d nicked her bumpers on a few parking lot light posts, but nothing of any real significance to qualify as damaging.  The first turn required crossing three lanes of the highway.  Her car would barely make it past the first lane.

There was no time to accelerate.  No time to brake.  No time for prayer.  Time was up.  The pickup suddenly appeared.  How she hadn’t seen it, was beyond her.  But there it was at 60 mph, and horrifyingly unavoidable.  She braced herself for what might be her last day as the truck T-boned the rear driver’s side door, sending her car into a tail-spin.

Somewhere along the way a cervical vertebra in her upper neck and several ribs fractured, but it was her conscience that was absorbing the brunt of the hit.  The truck had gone airborne, and she could hear the terrifying roar of its engine as it lifted off the road. Dear God, what have I done? No matter the damages, no matter how minor or major the injuries, or how fatal an ending, she would be held responsible.  Especially in the worst case scenarios, her conscience would never rest, but forever be burdened with relentless and undeniable blame.

The pickup helicoptered counterclockwise for 360 degrees, before smashing into another pickup that had been waiting to turn left into where Sadie had pulled out.  In the ensuing silence that followed—after the glass and vehicle debris had settled, and fluids were forming puddles—three drivers sat in their vehicles in shock and uncertain what their immediate conditions were.

Thomas, the 38-year-old driver of the pickup that had hit Sadie, wiped deployed airbag powder and glass fragments off of his arms. There were a few lacerations near his wrists and forearms, but nothing serious. His door opened without difficulty, but the passenger’s side door was a different story.  It was nearly bent in half due to a heavy, direct hit from the front of the second pickup. Thomas could see the other pickup’s driver who, miraculously, smiled and gave a thumbs up.  He returned the same gesture, then swung his legs out before standing.  Inspecting his truck, and then giving himself a full look-over he said, “What a miracle.”

Then he remembered the woman.

He remembered her look just before impact: sorrowful eyes, a heavy brow, and downturned lips. The look of someone lost in fright and remorse.  The back half of Sadie’s car was practically unrecognizable. It was mangled, crumpled and twisted, and would have been the death sentence for her granddaughter who had opted out of the ride to grandma’s house.  There was no sign of Sadie as Thomas approached her car.  He looked around to see if she might have been ejected, but then heard a moaning sound. On her side, and in the passenger’s seat, lay Sadie.

“Ma’am,” said Thomas, “Are you okay?”

“My neck.  Something’s wrong with it.”

“Well, don’t move.  I’m calling 9-1-1 now.”

“How’s the man in the pickup? I pulled out in front of him.  I just didn’t see him coming.  Dear, God, I—”.

“Ma’am, I’m okay.”

“Jesus Christ. I hit you?” she said, in a voice overcome with emotion. “And you’re walking?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m fine.”

“Are there other people? Was anyone hurt?”

“There’s only one other man, but he’s okay.  I hit his truck after yours.”

“Oh, my God, what have I done?”

Thomas leaned into the car and took Sadie’s hand.  She responded, squeezing tightly. “Please don’t let go,” she said, “I need you to understand how sorry I am.  Are you certain no one else was hurt?”

“It was just us three.  No one else.  You’re banged up the most, so let’s focus on you, okay?”

“Please don’t leave me.” she said. “Please stay with me. I don’t want to be left alone.”

“Ma’am, my name is Thomas, and I’m not leaving you.”

“I’m Sadie, and I know you’re not. I’m not going to let go of your hand.”

*                 *                *

Thomas was 12 miles away from his double-wide mobile home which sat on a two-acre plot of land that he had purchased years ago.  It was bought with the full intention of being a temporary residence while he built his dream house—a small house, a simple house, and a place to dream of one day becoming his very own.  But life got in the way, filled with a history of poor decisions.  There was a time when his carpentry skills were paving the way for financial stability. It was a time when work was abundant, because word had spread quickly about just how gifted he was.

And just as quickly, or so it seemed, he lost touch with nearly everything.  Mounting debts and a failed relationship splintered any hopes of fulfilling his dream.  Once he lost his focus and drive, the carpentry business went as well. There would be too many long nights when he couldn’t sleep, and would sit outside in an old aluminum lawn chair.  He’d gaze at the stars and wondered how was it even possible that in a universe so overwhelmingly expansive, his life could be of any value. And, yet, how real it was that his feeling of worthlessness could overpower its vast enormity.

He’d once met a woman—his first love.  They’d met at a carnival—just two people strolling on their own around the amusement rides.  By chance, they had been seated together on a Ferris wheel.  Small talk led to laughter, which led to a hotdog stand, which led to exchanging phone numbers.  Two months later, she moved in with him, and two months after that she moved out.  No explanation of any kind, just an ambiguous hand-written note, succinct enough to crack his heart.


 Just finding a pen to write this is more burdensome than I could ever imagine.  Trust me, the pain is deeper than the cut I’m now giving you.  I have a past that you have no knowledge of, and it will forever remain so.  I never intended for things to end as they are.  I can only wish you the best with whatever comes your way.  Hopefully, it’ll be someone of far greater worth than I.


The note was forever indelibly trapped in his brain, and for no one to see, but him.  To the end of the earth it would follow him.  Even measured against the size of the universe, it would always be larger.  Three o’clock in the morning, and sitting in that old aluminum chair, he’d wonder not so much about how far away or how many stars there were, but rather what was it about himself that couldn’t keep her grounded next to him. It wasn’t a matter of her mysterious past that was to blame, instead, it was him.

He was 12 miles away from home, and thinking of nothing more than what his life had become: a day-to-day realization that he had reached a point of little value.  His self-worth, like everything else around him, had crumbled.  So, he thought, this is life at the bottom.

And then he hit Sadie.

*                    *                    *

Inside the ambulance, a paramedic secured Sadie in the portable cot. She was wearing a cervical neck brace, and was holding Thomas’s hand as he sat next to her.  Though he said he felt fine, it was suggested he still get checked out at the hospital as a precautionary measure.

Somewhere along the way—far back down the road before the accident—Thomas lost touch with what he was capable of. He had lost sight of what made him a great carpenter, and instead only saw the pitfalls of his life that were clouding any chance of returning to the man he once was. While taking responsibility for Sandra’s leaving didn’t help matters, in the ambulance, an unexpected change was taking place—a resurgence of self-worth.

Hardly a word was spoken between the two during the trip to the hospital, and hardly a word was needed.  Though Sadie’s mind was a whirlwind of disbelief, regret, and sorrow, there was the newfound sensation of peace as well.  There was no doubt that the accident, and everything it entailed, was her fault, but no one had been seriously injured.  That was something she could very much live with.  Vehicle damages mattered none, as they could be repaired or replaced.  Shattered lives don’t share that luxury.

And there Thomas sat, holding the hand of someone he knew nothing about. He noticed dirt under her nails, and asked if she were a gardener.  “All my life,” she said. “Nothing beats working with your hands.”  The carpenter in Thomas couldn’t agree more.   Was Sadie, in some unknowing way, sending him a message?  What if, he thought, the collision was more than just an accident? 

At times, when the ambulance went over even a slight bump in the road, he could feel her grip tighten, needing the reassurance that he was still there—that he wasn’t going to leave her—that things would be okay.  She had made a horrible mistake, but needed his acceptance in forgiving that mistake.  Without uttering a word, Thomas did just that, and wrapped both of his hands comfortingly around hers before watching the tears drop from her eyes.

Indeed, the universe is big, he thought, smiling.  And with plenty of room to make a difference.


Copyright Ros Hill 2017

The Remedy

It’s not often that I come along and steal your attention, but I felt compelled. So I stole it in such a manner that whatever it was you were doing, was temporarily forgotten.

And there you were, on your little blue marble, with an ability to predict down to the second when, where, and how long I will occur at varying locations. The evolution of your science leading to such predictions is highly impressive.

I hope you saw something different as you looked through your viewing glasses. I hope you saw evidence that it’s the simplest things that give you pleasure, such as being caught in wonderment of the apparent live chemistry of my shadows. And while you cautiously stayed clear of letting your naked eyes view the intensity of my dangerous light, you were completely drawn to my primal and short-lived beauty.  So many laborers around your country shared their welding masks for others to safely stare upward into the darkening daylight sky. Some things just can’t be passed up.

But I’m curious about something—your large corporations. Please tell me they stopped production to let your workers witness my presence. Please tell me they pulled the plug on their robots, conveyor belts, and assembly lines. For just a few minutes, is it possible they cared a little more about the alignment of two magnificent spheres in the sky and the lasting memories they would generate, and less about units sold per minute, and the revenue they would generate? Wishful thinking, I’m afraid.

I saw employees of small companies stepping outside.  All of them exhibited the excitement of anticipation.   There was clearly a difference in community between small and big businesses. Relationships in your smaller companies demonstrated a more cohesive atmosphere, whereas the larger a company’s workforce, then, exponentially, the greater was the disconnect between employees.

From my perspective, it was truly the relationships between your people that caught my attention.  As you were looking at me, I was looking at you.  And, oh, the wonderful things I saw.  There was sharing, smiling, and, for many, the giddiness of witnessing something new.  All it took was a darkened lens to look through, and millions of your people were suddenly united.

And to think that I had the ability to make an impact on people—that my infrequent occurrence touched lives.  In particular, two people stood out most:  A therapist and his client.  It was a dire situation in which the client was suffering.  His bloodshot eyes welled with despair.  His life burdened with depression.

“Take hold of yourself, John,” said the therapist. “This will all pass.  You just have to accept that, and let time do its healing.”

“But, I had no idea the fallout.  I had no idea the repercussions,”  John replied with his hands trembling as he then buried his face within them.

The therapist was without words.  He had counseled as best he could.  John’s rebound truly was at the mercy of time.  But time did not always comply fast enough.  Pain and suffering lingered in the tedium of time’s relentlessly slow pace. Especially in the dark insomniac hours of sleeplessness.

Dark, thought the therapist. Dark!

“John,” he said, looking at his watch.   “We’re not too late!”

“For what?”

He stood up and helped John out of his seat.  “Come with me. You need to see this.”

“See what?”

“Your remedy, John.  Your remedy.”

As they made their way outside, the therapist grabbed two pairs of viewing glasses from a nearby table. “Here,” he said, handing one to John. “Put these on, then look up at the sun. I’ll do the same.”

Less than a minute later they were standing in a parking lot, looking at me in awe. And for the first time in who knows how long, a smile widened across John’s face. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “Absolutely beautiful.”

“Keep looking at it, John,” said the therapist. “Take it all in. Total eclipses are not only rare, but pass quickly.”

“It’s stunning,” said John. “This is just incredible. I’ve been so locked up inside my head lately…well, for quite some time, that I’ve lost touch with my surroundings. I had no idea the eclipse was coming. I’ve been buried in the dark.”

The therapist smiled. “It’s funny…the potential of darkness, and the effect it can have on us. Here we stand in its shadow as it steals our light, and we welcome it with unanimous approval.”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” said John, “But I do suddenly feel better. I feel lifted, if that makes any sense.  Like I’ve gained some sort of clarity.”

“It makes all the sense in the world, John. Perfect sense.”

It wasn’t long after, as daylight returned and darkness faded, that my time came to an end. And in my parting minutes I had the privilege to watch John do something that I’m sure he never saw coming…

Holding onto that smile, he continued to look up at me.  And in a moment of newfound clarity, he took a deep breath, and then silently mouthed the words, “Thank you.”


Copyright Ros Hill 2017

Watch Over You

It was the day after Christmas, and my car was the only one in the parking lot. Morning light was just arriving as I sat on a curb to tie my running shoes. I had my iPod playing “Watch Over You” by Alter Bridge. The song moves you in so many ways, and I have listened to it more than any other song in my collection of over a thousand. My intent was to run four easy miles with nothing but Alter Bridge turned up. I think I ran ten strides before I stopped, turned around, and walked back to the car to put my iPod away. I have no idea why I did that. Though later, I did wonder.

*       *       *

I took the trail along the river that cuts through town. I was not just the lone runner, but was the only person to be seen. Three sounds could be heard: the crunch of the gravel beneath my feet, birds chirping in the trees, and my breathing. Eventually, the trail turned and took me away from the river, leading to a long straightaway that ran adjacent to a street. On my left was a baseball complex, and on my right was a neighborhood. It was there that I heard the fourth sound: a woman’s voice.

“Excuse me….excuse me,” she said from across the street. Her voice was weak and sounded desperate. She was in her mid-30s, forty or so pounds overweight, and was pushing a two-seat baby stroller. As I crossed the street, I watched her wipe some tears off her cheeks.

“You okay?” I asked. The stroller was occupied with an infant and a child no more than two-years-old.

“I need to get to Siesta Mobile Home Park. Do you know where that is?”

I used to be a UPS driver in my town. There’s not a street I don’t know. “That’s over on Uhland road,” I said. “Kinda far from here.”

“How far?”

“At least two miles.”

Her face dropped. She was exhausted. She might have come from the nearby bus station, or had left a domestic dispute from within the neighborhood. Perhaps she hadn’t slept much all night with two restless children. I could speculate for hours, creating endless scenarios that would’ve led her to this moment. But I had no idea, nor did I know how long she had been walking that morning. Though I was curious as to why a mother of two was out at dawn, crying, and not knowing which direction she should travel, I didn’t ask. I was simply concerned with her current situation. But my options for finding help were few. Neither of us had a phone. I knew no one in this neighborhood, and the streets were silent. To give her directions to the mobile home park would entail many street names and turns. In her condition, it was very unlikely she was going to retain the information.

“Look,” I said. “If you see a police car, wave it down. That’s your best bet. I’m sure they can help.” And that was all I had to offer. I felt empty. Here was a woman in a helpless situation, shuffling through town with no idea where to go. I pointed her in the general direction. She thanked me for stopping before we parted ways. In an hour I would be home, taking a hot shower, while she would be…well, there was no telling.

I continued my run on the trail that led around the baseball complex. The fields, dugouts, and concessions building looked as dormant as the bare trees around them. Winter was here. Just what exactly was her story? Why the tears? How lost was she? I could only assume her Christmas was not much to talk about. When was the last time someone had given her reason to smile?

As I contemplated those questions, and rounded one of the baseball fields leading to a small parking lot, I found my own reason to smile. I came upon a police car. What were the chances?

On this quiet morning, as criminals and mischievous people were sound asleep, the cop was taking a break. As I approached his car, he rolled down his window.

“Excuse me, officer. I have a question.”

“Well,” he said, “I’ve got an answer. What’s up?”

I told him about my encounter with the woman. I said that she appeared legit—that she wasn’t putting on an act or fronting some kind of scam. She truly seemed lost and in need of assistance.

“Well then,” he said. “I’ll check her out.”

As he drove away, I resumed running, reconnecting with the trail that, again, continued along the river. This portion of the trail gave me an open view of the cop. I slowed my pace as I tracked his car approaching the woman and the stroller. Stopping alongside her, he rolled his passenger side window down. She leaned over and spoke while pointing in the direction I had told her to go. Moments later, he got out, walked around to her side, and opened the back door.

This was when I came to a stop, as emotion knotted in my throat. I watched him take the stroller as the mother situated the two children into the car. I thought about my iPod—about those first ten strides I had taken before making the decision to put it away. The only times I have ever returned to the car to not use it has been due to threatening rain. Other than that, I continue on. And what song did I last play that stayed in my head until I met the woman?

“Watch Over You”. How fitting was that?

I had come to a “Y” in the trail. If I went right, it would take me further along the river. I chose left to go past the cop car. The mother was bent over, adjusting her children in the backseat. She would never see me again. Whether or not the cop had mentioned me in their discussion was insignificant. All that mattered was the last sight I caught of him as I ran by: a reassuring smile. Even if a day late, it’s a beautiful thing witnessing the spirit of Christmas.

The song, putting away the iPod that later allowed me to hear the woman, the suggestion for her to wave down a cop, and then the cop. Sometimes a sequence of events can leave you speechless, but wondering. And because it’s greater than you can comprehend, you just have to stop and marvel at the unexplainable.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

Thank You, Sammy Hagar

If someone were to have offered me $100 to not have a two-minute conversation with a woman  I’d never met before, I would’ve turned it down in a heartbeat.  A $500 offer? Getting up there, but I would’ve turned it down as well.  Though chances are I’ll never see her again, you can still keep your money.

She was a stocky woman behind me in a grocery store check-out line.  Next to her was a girl about 13 years old.  The woman, in her mid-50s, was hunched over the handle of her grocery cart in such a manner that looked as though she might have been giving her back a break. It was 9:30PM, and she had that end-of-a-long-day look—her face drab and expressionless.  Her entire body just waiting to get home, heat up a frozen pizza, then collapse on the sofa. No need to prepare for bed.  Just drift off to sleep. In a moment of wrongful judgment, I actually thought: Has her life always been this way?

A couple in front of me paid for their groceries, then left.  As I took the position in front of the credit card terminal, and the cashier began to scan my items, something happened that completely changed the scene.

A song began to play.

And as it played, a delay with the cashier occurred—a malfunction with his register. The delay took about a minute for him to fix.   When I look back at this moment, I wonder if it’s even remotely possible that this malfunction was more than just a coincidence.  That it happened for a reason. Because without that extra one minute, I’m confident the ensuing magic would not have happened…

As the cashier tinkered with his register, the song could be heard throughout the store’s sound system.  I noticed the woman and the young girl began tapping their feet.  Moments later they both began to quietly sing the song’s chorus:

How do I know when it’s love?

I can’t tell you, but it lasts forever.

How do you know when it’s love?

It’s just something you feel together.

When it’s love

“Good ol’ Sammy Hagar,” said the woman to the girl. “Or was this Van Halen?”

“It’s Sammy Hagar with Van Halen,” I interjected. “This is from their OU812 album.”

This woman with the presumed aching back, and long, tiresome day, and who lacked enthusiasm—she lit up a smile too big to be measured. “Of course it is!” she said, energetically. “You’re right! This is OU812, and it was recorded at Studio 5150.”

“You know about 5150?” I said, completely surprised.

The woman throws her head back, laughing with astounding joy.  She is an absolute bundle of happy warmth.  When was the last time I saw a smile this exuberant? When was the last time I missed the mark by so much, judging someone’s state of being?

“Who do you take me for?” she laughs. “I grew up with this music. Big Sammy Hagar fan. My daughter here—she had no choice…it’s all I listen to.”

I asked her if she was aware of the group Montrose that preceded Van Halen. I think her laugh doubled in volume.

Montrose!? You are too much!” she said.  “Of course I am! Sammy Hagar sang for them. Songs like “Space Station #5” and “Bad Motor Scooter”.  She was now laughing uproariously. “This is way too much!”

We are both caught in the moment.  Smiling and laughing as we stumble over a shared interest that, in itself, had miraculously and invitingly arrived with open arms.

Her daughter continues to tap her feet.  Her hand slaps gently against her hip in sync with the song’s beat.  Her genetic coding is imprinted with an obvious character trait passed down from her mother:  a priceless smile that snatches your attention and elevates you to a higher place. Her eyes are nearly shut as she continues to sing:

You look at every face in a crowd

Some shine and some keep you guessin’

Waiting for someone to come into focus

Teach you your final love lesson

I’ll never forget that night. All two minutes of it. Meeting a woman whom I had pegged as tiresomely mundane. A woman who couldn’t possibly have anything to offer—to change me, to wow me.  In truth, I wanted that cash register to be a difficult and time-consuming fix. I didn’t want to leave that moment.  I wanted to bask in the surprise of what this woman had given me:  a simple but remarkable conversation from out of the blue.  In fact, it wasn’t so much what was being said that filled my spirit, but more so bearing witness to her energy.

The cash register repaired, I paid for my groceries, then turned to her. “You have a great, great evening.” I said.

“And you,” she said, laughing one last time. “You have an even greater one!”

*              *              *

At first she was a face in the crowd. Then she kept me guessin’ until I watched her shine. And that’s when everything came into focus.

Thank you, Sammy Hagar.


 Copyright Ros Hill 2016


The Bridge

The two of them had been into the second day of a road trip to Colorado when they got caught in the storm.  Dark ominous clouds encircled them with foretelling pea-green hues suggesting imminent tornado activity. They were on a stretch of road in the Oklahoma panhandle, surrounded by the flat rural farm land. No houses or buildings in sight. The only change in scenery was a small bridge just ahead that spanned a creek.

Until then the unexpected arrived…

It was the billboard. They had seen it two miles past. An ad for a Super 8 Motel. Like a flat rock being skipped across a pond, they felt it touch and go off the roof of their car, before it spun out of control, taking a sharp turn and wrapping itself like a large paper napkin around a telephone pole.

Looking out the rear window, she grabbed his forearm as she spotted the tornado.  It was a half mile behind them. Not monstrously wide, but rather serpentine with a long narrow funnel whipping side to side, as if intentionally striking targets: telephone poles, road signs, and the billboard. Debris of all kinds were hurled out of its fast rotation. Without question they were its next target. As it closed in, he made a decision he didn’t have time to think over. He brought the car to a sudden stop atop the bridge. “Get under the bridge!” he yelled, “it’s our only chance!”

Grabbing their phones, wallet, and purse they bailed, leaving the doors open as they ran towards the concrete bank leading down to the creek.  Neither of them had seen a tornado before, and were now caught in its appetite for prey. The sound of a freight train was no exaggeration as many people had described them. Its horrifying roar seemed to escalate as they slid down the steep bank. Find a ditch and lay low. That was always the advice he’d been told. The creek was shallow, maybe a foot deep. There, some ten to twelve feet below the bridge, jutted up against the bank, they lay in the water. If they were to survive, this was the only conceivable place it might happen.

It was a defining moment when their eyes met with despair. All that remained of their vocabulary was, “I love you.” Repeatedly. They held hands then tightly embraced each other to create more weight as one object instead of two. Insignificant to a tornado, but they figured why not.

The water splashed around them as dirt swirled and fell. The charge of the serpentine was deafening and intent on nothing more than its natural duty to destroy. They could hear the bridge creaking, on the verge of splintering.  It was as if it was fighting for its life with its concrete footings doing everything possible not to be uprooted and sucked up into the virulent sky.

The creek was rising in the downpour. Shattering glass and pulverized steel could be heard as they looked up and saw their car being hurled hundreds of yards into a field beyond their sight. Its lift-off and flight seemed to defy physics. And as quickly as its tonnage disappeared, the moment seemed akin to something resembling science fiction. The tornado howled, pulsating sound waves of anger through their bodies as it madly excavated the land. It was born here, marking its territory and claiming jurisdiction by its own laws.

And then a change in the weather.

As if it were thinking, as if it became curious about altering its own direction, the twister made one last sweeping pass before moving on.  This creek, this muddy water sanctuary below a determined bridge, had saved them, low enough to evade the destruction above. Was it luck or fate that brought them here? The answer was irrelevant, for they had made it, and there was no end tonight. They had survived. This was, in fact, a beginning. The start of realizing just how vulnerable life is, and how fortunate they were to still be in it.

They climbed back up to the bridge. The mangled remains of their car lay in a field, like it had been dropped from the atmosphere.  Their phones, wallet, and purse were down stream, let loose in their huddled prayer to survive.

For five minutes they watched the tornado plow southward before it, almost instantly, dissipated like an act of illusionary sleight of hand.

There they stood: clothes caked with muddy water, and debris-speckled faces. Their car was destroyed. The trunk ripped open—its contents strewn about who knew where. No money, no phones. They were two survivors holding on to the most valuable possession they had: life.

The Super 8 Motel billboard wrapped around the telephone pole was flapping in the wind. They looked at each other and chuckled. “Think they’ll buy our story?” she asked.

He smiled while wiping dirt off of her face. “Won’t know until we try.”

Down the road they walked, hand in hand in the rain—and, though never to forget, leaving the bridge behind them.


Copyright Ros Hill 2016

The Last Day

I can only hope that my final moments in this life will be spent living instead of dying. By that I’m referring to my mental state, not my physical. Of course I’d like to have the best of both worlds, but given the choice, I want to be aware—to be cognizant of my surroundings. Even if I’m destined to be confined to a hospital bed, I want to be able to ask the nurse to please turn the light off as she leaves. I want her to know that what I said wasn’t a metaphor to be interpreted as her playing the part of Death, encroaching to forever turn off my light. As I acknowledge the dispelled notion of such a metaphor, I hope that she will respond with a chuckle. Because, after all, is there really any better way to enter darkness than immediately after making someone smile?

But what if you are dying? What if your sickness is getting the best of you? In my previous story I mentioned my Uncle Ike who had lived a very full life immersed in the medical fields at Duke and Vanderbilt universities. His last day of life was not comfortable, as he had been experiencing a considerable amount of pain.  My mother was in his bedroom that night when he asked her, “What is today’s date?” She told him, then asked why he wanted to know that. He said, “Just want to know the date I’m going to die.” Here he was, the scientist in his final hours of life, and wanting to collect the facts before he took his last breath.  Information that he would never retrieve, but important information to him at the time, because he was alive, not dying.

He needed the medical attention that only a hospital could provide. When the paramedics arrived, he was strapped onto a gurney to be loaded into an ambulance. He knew there wasn’t going to be enough oxygen to make it to the hospital on time. This was it—he was going to arrive unconscious. His final words to his family were: “Be sure to shut down the oxygen tanks…you don’t want to have the house blow up while you’re gone.” He was now the scientist, the man watching out for others, the man coherently thinking in the right direction, and the man who would never relinquish his unrelenting style of dry humor.  He was just engaged in, and keenly aware of, his surroundings.

Again, he was alive.

I am not a scientist.  My lifeblood flows with creative juices.  While I see the facts of life, I have a tendency to dwell on the what-ifs of impossible wonders.  My mind travels to many places obscure, and somehow, within the obscurity, I find normalcy.  My Uncle Ike, however, would comically just roll his eyes and, in effect, say to my mother: “Lucy, this child of yours—he was certainly born half-baked.”

So, if I may be so lucky to have all of my faculties together, I wonder what my last thought will be before I die. Will I be so lucky to engage in something creative?  Perhaps an interesting perspective will strike me to such an extent that it will later be recalled that… ”He left us with the quintessential Ros.”

Go ahead, sheath me in discomfort and confine me to a hospital bed. But at least give me a window so I can gaze at that portion of the world.  Maybe I’ll see a young bird attempting to fly, and that will remind me of the Wright brothers, who will remind me that creativity and science can be beautiful partners.  And the word science will remind me of Uncle Ike, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’m in the exact point in life where he learned of the date that he died.  I’ll smile, because, like my uncle, I’ll be in a place of full clarity.  And what better way to enter darkness than immediately after a smile.

“Nurse, I’m going to get some sleep now. Please turn off my light.”


Copyright Ros Hill 2016

The Smile of Connie Cabello

You could write a laundry list of all the things my Uncle Ike was associated with pertaining to the medical industry.  He was Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at Vanderbilt University, had been the CEO of Duke Hospital at Duke University, and was president of the International Society of Nephrology.  He lived a very comfortable life that allowed him to travel the world.  He was one of the privileged few who flew at 1,334 mph in the supersonic Concorde jet from New York City to Paris in 3 1/2 hours.

He would eventually buy a nice boat for him and his wife to enjoy the waters of Naples, Florida. Time to simply get away.  Of course, it was dwarfed by his friend’s yacht.  The same friend who would donate millions of dollars to Vanderbilt.  Uncle Ike knew a lot of people whose financial holdings were very well off, and he too was fortunate to enjoy an affluent lifestyle.  All of these people, including himself, worked hard for what they earned. Nothing had been handed to them.  But if I had to tell you what his greatest success was, I wouldn’t hesitate to say it had nothing to do with money, but rather it was his ability to stay humble.

It was near the end of his life when I found myself sitting with him in his living room in Nashville. He had taken on a stubborn and rare form of lung disease. His house was loaded with massive oxygen tanks. He mentioned how he’d been wined and dined all over the planet.  He talked about many of his travels and the various dignitaries he had met.   Yet amongst all the wealth and important people that he had encountered, he came to find there was one group of people that he was particularly fond of. And that was the custodians.  He said, “They are real people. They tell it like it is. They aren’t ashamed of their jobs, and they’re proud of themselves.”

Uncle Ike paused for just a moment, then smiled as he shifted into his classic dry humor tone, “But the real reason I’ve gotten to know the custodians is because they have the keys to open every door on campus.”

As I laughed, I couldn’t stop thinking about a similar admiration I had experienced some fifteen years earlier—that of a short, bubbly Hispanic woman in Seguin, Texas.

*          *          *

Connie Cabello was a custodian. She worked at the radio station where I produced commercials and was a disc jockey. I wasn’t the most skilled DJ, as I can recall numerous times I would leave the studio to go chat in the lobby with a 45 record playing, only to forget that the record was playing. It didn’t take but the duration of the song until I heard over the in-house speakers the sound of the turntable needle playing nothing but unrecorded vinyl.

Seguin is a small town where many of the citizens had names of German and Czech descent. I, of course, did a brilliant job of butchering their pronunciations—managing to screw up during the most opportune times.  Like obituaries.  I mean, seriously, here I was announcing their last great farewell on the airwaves and what do I do, but pronounce their names like a preschooler being asked to say “antidisestablishmentarianism”.  The phones rang off the wall as if I had butchered an American eagle.  Reading the daily obituaries became a mind-shuddering experience.  Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up! That was the mantra that incessantly played throughout my mind as I waited for my microphone to go “On Air”.  And, of course, I’d screw up.

It seemed that every time I stumbled across a vocal blunder, Connie Cabello was there to throw me a smile.  And it was that first smile I caught that I forever put in my pocket.  Like the first dollar exchanged in a new business’s first sale—mounted on the wall in a framed display.  To this day, her smile beaming through that studio window is as new as the first time I saw it.

She quickly became that one person who I looked forward to seeing when I went to work.  When I did the midnight shift, she’d stop by after having had a little too much to drink while dancing the night away at the local Hispanic dance hall.  I was basically running the FM country station on auto-pilot as all the songs were taped.  No more vinyl that I had to cue up and screw up.  Everything ran through a computer playlist.  All I had to do was watch the monitor, and pull wired news copy to read at the top of the hour.

It was a sort of babysitter job that allowed me one great luxury:  to hang out with Connie.

If we weren’t laughing, we were digging up anything to laugh about.  She introduced me to all the latest Tejano music and, of course, Mexican food.  We began cooking for each other, sharing recipes on Saturday nights.  I, being the white boy, would bring her spaghetti.  She’d cook me her homemade pork-stuffed tamales warmly wrapped in corn husks that basically blew my socks off.  Soon I said to hell with spaghetti, and became addicted to her Mexican treats.

One night Connie stopped by the station with just a few tamales, and told me she was going to stop eating them, that she needed to lose weight.  She noticed that I ate a lot of salads, and asked if they would help her shed the pounds.  We had a long talk that night about weight and healthy eating.  Her excess weight was (to coin a phrase) getting under her skin.  She had had enough, and wanted a change.  Connie realized I was someone she could confide in, someone she could trust to share her frustrations with.

A few years later, I stopped working at the radio station.  I had caught the travel bug.  I was single with no ties, and so I boarded a plane and went backpacking throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.  I was half the globe away from Connie, but she would still pop into my head, even at the oddest times: going for a run in a safari base camp, fishing on the Zambezi River, awestruck at Victoria Falls, or standing at the very tip of Good Hope to watch the Atlantic and Pacific oceans collide.

As the years passed, Connie was always someone who I would call periodically.  She wanted to know all the details of my family.  She was highly inquisitive.  If you didn’t have a question for her, she’d endlessly fire them at you.  I wrote her Christmas holiday letters, about anything and everything, often enclosed with family photos.  Unable to read English, she had her daughter read them to her.  She made a few trips to my house where she’d stay well into the night, laughing the majority of the time.  She was approaching her seventies, but her energy level didn’t indicate any such aging.  She came over for a couple of Thanksgivings, always arriving with plenty of her prized homemade tamales.

Life got busier, especially with our kids being highly involved in youth sports. Everything exponentially   exploded into back-to-back full days and weeks, and for that matter years.  But Connie was still merely a phone call away. The excitement in her voice rose skyward when she heard me on the other end. Half of it was in Spanish, which meant I didn’t understand half of what she was saying, but I fully felt all that she was saying.  Her sincere voice—it had a way of settling softly into your heart.

The day arrived when we received a call from one of her daughters.  Connie had passed away.  The warm and ebullient gift named Connie had expired, but only in its human form.  I’m pretty certain the magic of Connie is still circling this planet in some form or fashion.

The entire drive to the funeral home in Seguin, I kept telling myself:  I can handle this.  The parking lot was crowded.  A lot of people had come to offer their condolences.  I can handle this.

 As I entered the funeral home, one thing was immediately evident: I was the only white person.  And at 6’4, I probably appeared even whiter.   The looks on their faces said: Certainly you have the wrong place.  A woman approached me and said, “Excuse me, may I help you?”

“Yes, I’m here for—” I looked at her, and stopped mid-sentence. I could see it…her eyes.  In fact, her voice…remnants of Connie were addressing me.  This Hispanic woman had a familiar friendliness about her as well.  And how familiar it felt. “Yes,” I said, “I’m here for Connie Cabello.”

“And you are?”


I’m not sure I could have measured the fragment of time that passed from when I said my name to the time I saw the first tear fall from her eyes.  And in that sudden wave of emotion, she was already holding my hand.  Her chin quivered just before she released a trail of tears.  We were both in a place neither of us had anticipated.  She was one of Connie’s daughters.  “You’re…Ros?” she said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Ros,” she said, ”You—“  She was struggling to talk, her throat gripped tightly with emotion.  She took a deep breath, collected herself, then continued… “Ros, you were all my mother talked about. I mean she couldn’t stop talking about Ros.  You were her magic.”

She guided me towards the main gathering of people. “Look,” she said to them, “It’s Ros!”

My name quickly circled the room.  Hands extended towards me from all directions.  Hugs from people I had never met.  A reverent blanket of warmth filled the air.  But I was a bit taken aback by all the attention.  Sure, I knew Connie, but we all knew Connie.

I met the entire family and Connie’s closest friends.  And each time I made an attempt to talk, the words just never made it out.  I knew I had impacted Connie’s life, but never to such a degree that I would be rendered unable to speak.  I had no idea how much I had influenced her life.  Her daughter told me that after I would call her, she’d go to her collection of family Christmas photos that I’d sent over the years, and just smile.  She couldn’t read a lick of English, but when her daughter read her my letters, she shut out the world and permanently tucked my words inside her heart.

I’ll never forget being in that room.  I’ll never forget the sudden and unexpected pang of regret that pierced my heart.  What I would have given to have one last minute with Connie—to thank her for allowing me into her life.  I wanted to give Connie all the credit in the world for bringing those warm tamales to the radio station.  She didn’t have to do it, but she did because she was a giver.  I wanted to thank her for being the greatest audience of one on the other side of that studio window as I comically danced for her to cheesy country songs.  Give me one more minute and I’d tell her how magnificent a sight it is to see two oceans clash at the very tip of Africa—a moment where I held her safe in my memory.

Referring to my Uncle Ike as he would say of the custodians of the world:  In addition to having all the keys to the radio station, Connie never relied on wealth to give her value, and she was not ashamed of her job.  She did, however, rely on one thing that never failed to succeed: her smile.

Connie…wherever you are…I’ve still got that first smile you gave me, tucked away in my pocket.  I take it out now and then to remind me of what a difference you made in my life.  And you know what?

I can handle this.


Copyright Ros Hill 2016