Duck Out of Water

Lori R. Keeton

“What are you doing here?”

This is the question that immediately popped in my head when I saw two ducks wandering around my work parking lot.


It wasn’t until I put my car in reverse to leave that the cliché popped in my head- “like a duck out of water.”

In the days that followed, each time I saw them I found myself wondering the same things:

How did you get here?
Where do you belong?
Do you know how to get back home?

I think those ducks bothered me so much because I know exactly how it feels to be lost- really, really lost.


If I were required to provide a disclosure statement to people when they met me, “No sense of direction” would be at the top of the list.

Actually… NO SENSE OF DIRECTION (Closer)



I can go somewhere 100 times and still need GPS to find it. And the days before GPS were even worse. I cannot tell you the number of hours I spent pulled over on the side of some unmarked road with a map awkwardly resting in my lap trying to figure out which way was up (literally).


My mother has drawn more maps than Rand McNally. Her maps for me start with a dot labeled “House” that has a line running from it that literally goes from our door to my destination with landmarks I will recognize marked along the way- “Target,” “Mall,” etc.

Yes, it’s THAT bad.

Suffice to say, I understand all too well how those ducks must have felt in the parking lot.

Truth be told, even though most people don’t fall into the NO SENSE OF DIRECTION category like myself (thank God- who would give me directions if they did?), I suspect we all know what it feels like to be lost- in our careers, our relationships, our lives.


There are many things I like about Easter- a day off from work, an excuse to eat candy and the return of white pants to name a few.

But most of all, I love Easter because it answers so many of the hard questions…

How did you get here?
Where do you belong?
Do you know how to get back home?

It is a celebration of the ultimate map- one that even I can understand.

It is a reminder that we are never too lost to be found, and that there will always be someone waiting to lead us back to our water.

Happy Easter.


Con·ta·gious by Lori R. Keeton

adjective: contagious
1. (of a disease) spread from one person or organism to another by direct or indirect contact. 2. (an emotion, feeling, or attitude) likely to spread to and affect others

“Are you contagious?”

That was a common question posed over the last couple of months in Charlotte as we experienced our version of a bad winter (translation: a little ice and snow) and all the colds that came with it.


As science was never my strong suit, I am certainly no expert on germs. I just know that my mother put the fear of God in me that I would die instantly if I were to drink after another person or sit on a public toilet seat without first putting down toilet paper.


What I find truly fascinating is not how we transmit our illnesses to each other, but how we transmit ourselves.

As an associate at a large law firm, one of our favorite “tricks” was to go into the offices of “mean” partners after hours and call our colleagues’ extensions and leave voice mails from said partners’ phones.

Our friend/victim would arrive at work the following morning to the obnoxious blinking red light – which is bad enough in and of itself. When she hit the “Message” button and heard “Message Received at 8:20 p.m. from _________________” (insert name of pompous, insecure, corner office jerk here), the day got much worse.


Just their names could ruin an entire day.

Powerful stuff.

What do people think when your name shows up on their phone?

Does it ruin- or make- their entire day?

When a text with your phone number pops up, does the recipient instinctively roll his eyes and think “What now?” or smile in anticipation of what they are about to read?

I laugh every time I am around a girlfriend of mine who has the sound of a clock ticking as the ring tone for her significant other. It fits his Type A plus personality perfectly.

What would your ring tone be?

A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse once told me that she always takes a couple of minutes to be sure that she is calm and in a positive mindset before she picks up any of the babies because they immediately respond to whatever energy she emits when she holds them. If she is upset, they get upset. If she is calm and happy, well, so are they.


Likewise, anyone who has had a very ill loved one has likely heard the speech about not getting upset when you go into their hospital room to visit: “Assume they can hear and feel everything around them.”

And that’s the irony I guess. On the one hand, our spirits are so powerful- an invisible calling card that impacts everyone who encounters us. On the other hand, we are also incredibly susceptible to the spirits of those around us.

As a result, we must not only be cognizant of what we are spreading with our souls but of what we are catching as well.

What part of yourself do you share when you walk into a room?


And what part of those around you do you take with you when you leave?


“Are you contagious?” You better believe it- and so are they.

Be careful. It’s powerful stuff….


A Fresh Pair of Eyes

Lori R. Keeton

“Can you look over this for me? I have been working on it for so long that I really need a fresh pair of eyes.”


I cannot tell you the number of times I have said that through the years to my mother, my classmates and eventually my colleagues.

Whenever they review a piece for me, they inevitably find something I missed. A comma that should be a period. An extra space. A missing word.

It’s maddening- especially for an English major.

manuscript 070523a

It’s also quite strange how we can become so familiar with something that we literally see things that aren’t there and fail to see things that are.

And it’s even stranger that this phenomenon is not limited to reports or briefs or blog entries.

It applies to everything in our lives.

I was recently talking with a group of friends about small gestures of kindness that meant a lot to us. One insanely beautiful woman (who, thank God, is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside) shared with us that a stranger had stopped her and told her how nice she looked in the color she was wearing that day.

As she recounted this story, I could sense how genuinely appreciative she was for this person’s kind words. All I could think was “How on earth could someone telling you something so obvious be meaningful to you? Of course you look pretty in that color. You look pretty in EVERY color.”

However, after the conversation ended, I realized that I had never actually told her how pretty she looked on any particular occasion. Not because I did not notice or because I was jealous (which of course I am- but again, she has the whole nice thing going for her so you can’t feel THAT jealous) but because I assumed she already knew.

How often do we fail to tell someone something- how pretty they are, how sweet, how talented, how smart, how inspiring or what a good ___________________ (sibling, mother, aunt, doctor, student, friend, artist, listener, spouse) they are- because it is so apparent to us that we just assume they already know?

And how frequently do we forget to tell ourselves these very same things?


Ironically, we have a hard time seeing the good in ourselves, but we fail to tell others of the good we see in them because we assume they already know.

In a very real way, we have all been working on it- our lives that is- for so long that we sometimes need a fresh pair of eyes to tell us what is really there.

Whenever my mother reviews something I have written, she points out the missing commas and the misspelled words just as I have asked her to do- but she is also sure to tell me everything she likes about the piece. And that part of the conversation always seems to last a lot longer than the part about the errors.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 10.57.35 AM

As we embark on a new year, I encourage you to take on the challenge of being a fresh set of eyes for those you respect and care about. Give them the gift of telling them what is really there. And when you do, be sure to share everything you like about the piece- and allow yourself to be shown the same.

Happy New Year.


Changing Seasons

by Lori R. Keeton

The trees in Charlotte are gorgeous right now. Everywhere you look there are red, orange and yellow leaves- a reminder that Fall is officially here.

For a shopaholic like me, it is also the time to set aside an entire day to switch out the dresses and sandals in my closet for pants and boots.

Though I am thrilled to give up swimsuits for bulky sweaters, I am also a little sad to see the days of seemingly endless sunlight and patio time with my friends come to an end.

As I thought more about the changing seasons, I was reminded of the passage from Ecclesiastes about there being a time for everything:

“There is a time for everything,
 and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

I typically hear that passage read at baptisms, weddings and funerals.

If this were a Highlights magazine, this would be the time to ask “Which one is not like the others?”

Births and weddings are exciting– beginnings are exciting. They are like a big, blank page that you can decorate however you choose. The sky is the limit. The hope of all that could be fills the air.

But when the page is filled, when the music stops, when the marriage or the friendship or life itself ends, our hope often ends as well. In our grief, we tend to forget that just as babies and marriages carry with them an element of what could be, so too do endings.

In a month or so, the leaves on the trees will be gone. In their place will be grey, barren tree branches. We will have all but forgotten the beauty of the reds and oranges. We will swear it is the coldest winter ever.

But before we know it, it will be Spring. And the trees will be green and filled with gorgeous blooms. We will all but forget the grey, barren branches.

As you watch the seasons change, remember that our seasons- and the seasons of those we love- change too. And when the branches are grey and barren, don’t forget that Spring- and a host of could be’s- are just around the corner.

changing seasons

Just Happy by Lori R. Keeton

I came home from work seven weeks ago to a message on my home phone.

For whatever reason, I am one of the last remaining people who cannot get comfortable with giving up my land line.


The irony is that though I can’t get rid of it, I often forget to even check it for messages because anyone who knows me is going to call my cell phone anyway. Go figure.

But on this particular day, for whatever reason, I remembered to check it and actually had a message from someone other than a telemarketer.

The moment I heard the woman’s overly cheerful, scripted message, I felt an instant and intense wave of nausea.

She hadn’t said anything was “wrong.” In fact, she spoke so calmly that I could almost convince myself that everything was fine.

But I knew better.

A phone call from the radiologist’s office less than a week after your annual mammogram is not good.

I had heard the horror stories too many times.

They don’t call to say “nice boobs” or to commend you for showing up for your appointment. There just aren’t gold stars for participation as a grown up. (Too bad.)


Because it was after hours, I had to wait until the next day to call back.

At 8:30 the next morning, I was (still) wide awake and pacing the floor- dialing the phone number for Charlotte Radiology every two minutes so I could speak with them the second they opened.

I was exhausted from the ongoing battle with my thoughts. While I initially decreed (to a grand audience of one- me) that I simply would not think about the possibility that something was really “wrong,” that edict lasted about as long as my willpower to eat healthier and exercise that generally arrives every Monday morning and is gone by the afternoon.

And once the notion that “something” was “wrong” seeped into my brain, my thoughts quickly careened out of control to worst possible scenario land.

“I am fine. This is just a fluke.
You aren’t fine. You are sick.
They called the wrong person.
Why shouldn’t it be you?
I have to stay calm. I have to have faith.
You should have done more, been more.
I have lots of life left to live.
It’s too late. It’s over.”

In spite of the fact that I am surrounded by argumentative/difficult people (a/k/a lawyers) on a regular basis, I have never debated an opponent more frustrating than myself.

The morning phone call with the radiologist’s office went as you would expect it to go. I actually felt sorry for the lady I talked with as I thought about how many tearful, panicked women she spoke with on a daily basis who begged for information and reassurance that she simply could not give.

“Saw something suspicious.”

“Need you to come back in for more tests.”

“There will be a radiologist on site to meet with you.”

No, no, no.

The week between the phone call and the appointment literally felt like years.

I only told a few people what was going on as I didn’t want my spoken words to give added life to the monster under my bed.

I tried to go about my daily life as though everything were “normal,” subconsciously hoping that if I pretended hard enough, the universe would simply follow my lead and resume the regularly scheduled program known as my life.


But that didn’t happen.

When the day of my appointment finally arrived, I drove 40 minutes in the pouring rain.

Once I arrived and got checked in, it hit me that as much as I had hated the uncertainty of the last week, I might hate the impending certainly even more.

When the nurse called my name and took me to an examination room, she opened my folder and began scanning it.

I tried desperately to read through the stoicism of her face.

“We called you back because the radiologist who read your mammogram saw something… in both breasts… that concerned him.”

I did not cry. I did not move. I don’t even think I breathed. I just looked at her as though she was speaking a language I did not understand.

Had she just said both breasts?

What kind of idiot doesn’t even consider that possibility? My job is analyzing risks for God’s sake. Come on.

I had a million questions- but none I felt prepared to have answered at that point in time- so I just nodded my head and did as I was told.

I spent the next hour having my breasts contorted into every possible shape and machine- X-rays, ultrasounds, 3-D images.

I am confident there are now more photographs of my breasts than even the Kardashians can claim.


Every few minutes, the nurse would take the films to the radiologist so he could review them and decide what else he needed to see.

She was nothing short of amazing. In spite of seeing hundreds of women like me every month, she managed to make me feel like she was my personal cheerleader.

When the radiologist finally had everything he needed, she came back in and told me he would be in to talk with me in a little while.

It felt like a really big little while.

“You’re okay.”

Those were the radiologist’s first words when he opened the door and came into my exam room.

(Pretty sure my personal cheerleader had told him I was one of “those patients” (i.e. she is about to lose it- skip the niceties and get to it)).

I have never been more thrilled to hear such an average description of myself.

In spite of the good news, I found myself unsettled and uncomfortable in the weeks that followed. I kept replaying it all in my mind- hoping that it would inspire me- no- that it would force me- to do something drastic- give up my career, cash out my 401(k) and move to Italy where I would live off cheese and Gelato and spend my days writing and my nights drinking wine….

The cheese and Gelato part? Check.
The wine? Check, check, check.
The other stuff? Not so much.


It would have made for a great story.

But it wouldn’t have been my story.

The truth is that what I was terrified of losing during that week wasn’t some future life, and the regret I felt wasn’t over things I hadn’t done.

The fear was of losing the life I had- and the regret was for not having appreciated every single second of it.

We push ourselves so hard to be better- to keep obtaining and attaining.
We read self-help books, set goals, make resolutions.
We criticize those who seem content to stay where they are in life and label them as “lazy.”
Our future plans, our desires, the half empty portions of our respective “glasses” are frequent topics of our conversations.


When is the last time someone asked if you were happy and you answered “yes”? No qualifications. No “buts.” No “whens.” Just yes.

It’s an incredibly blurry line-
When your “want list” is empty, are you being thankful or are you settling?
If you are content with your life, is that a reflection of gratitude or of a fear of change?
Are we really striving to be better or are we creating future contingencies for happiness to justify being unhappy today?

I don’t know the answer to those questions.

And I am not sure the answer is the same for all of us.

But I do know that I don’t need a villa in Italy or fame or fortune or dramatic changes to be happy.

happynowblue hydrcake2

Sleeping late makes me happy-
as does a day at the pool with my family,
the first cold sip of a 20 ounce diet mountain dew,
going to Target,
watching people reunite at airports,
an empty day on my calendar,
falling in love,
blue hydrangeas,
completing a crossword without looking up any answers,
reading a good book,
my grandmother’s caramel cake,
drinking wine with my friends,
writing for no reason other than that I feel like it,
hearing “You’re okay”–and realizing that God has given me another chance to fully appreciate the amazing life He has given me.

I am happy with the regularly scheduled program known as my life.

No buts.

No ifs.

No whens.

Just happy.


A Bag of Chips by Lori R. Keeton

As more details emerge about the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the coverage becomes harder to watch.

These sorts of stories move so quickly from a sterile “breaking news” alert on ours phones- missing plane, 298 people on board- to something much more raw and personal.

Once the individual stories of those lives that were lost begin to be told, none of us are immune from the pain and suffering such a tragedy brings.

There is the grief we feel for those who have died- for the loss of their lives, their hopes, their dreams.

The sympathy we feel for their parents, their children, their partners, their students, their siblings, their friends.

The collective sadness we as a society feel over the loss of their continuing contributions to the world we all share.

It is overwhelming to consider the impact that the passengers on board who were AIDS researchers had- and would have continued to have- on the health of our population.

And who is to say what incredible things the eight, ten and twelve year old siblings who were traveling with their grandfather would have done or the 25 year old Indiana University student who was working on a research project to help cancer patients and people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease when she boarded that flight to go on her vacation.


Who is to say?

If you had been on that plane, what would they say about you?

What would your paragraph read?

What would you want it to say?

Several years ago, I went to look at the remnants of a car that had been involved in a horrific accident for a case I was defending. The driver had died within minutes of the crash. I felt a great deal of anxiety as I made my way to the lot where the car was being stored.

Would there be blood? Would there be an odor?

Though I had seen many injured people through the course of my career and visited countless accident sites, I had never actually seen the place where someone died in such an immediate way.

Once I arrived and got over the initial shock of how damaged the vehicle was, I was surprised by what bothered me most– a bag of half eaten potato chips sitting in the cup holder between the front seats.

I could not stop looking at it.

After I left the scene, I never told another soul about that bag of potato chips or how much it impacted me.

I felt silly that something so small and seemingly inconsequential could cause me such angst.

But the truth is, I still think about that bag of potato chips nearly every day.

I think about how the victim’s day had gone prior to the accident-

whether she thought about wearing a new dress but opted to save it for another “more important” day,

whether she had a chance to really talk with her children before putting them on their bus or simply hurried them out the door,

whether she kissed her husband goodbye or bickered with him for leaving his dishes in the sink (again),

whether she talked on the phone with her best friend or let her call go to voice mail thinking she would call her back later,

whether she laughed out loud,

whether she felt guilty for eating that bag of chips,

whether she was happy with the life she had made for herself.

What would your answers be?

What would your paragraph read?

If there is anything to be learned from all the sadness, it is that they are all “important days.”

Don’t waste a single one of them.


Michelangelo, the Sculptor by Lori R. Keeton, the Writer

When I recently traveled to Italy with a group of girlfriends, I was so excited to experience Italian culture– the gelato, the pasta, the wine tastings…. (Is anyone seeing a pattern here?).


What I was not excited about was Michelangelo.


Long before we arrived in Florence, I hated him on principle. I hated him for the same reason(s) I hate homecoming queens, captains of football teams and head cheerleaders.

head cheerleader

I find their smooth, obvious, well-lit life paths to be too easy and too vanilla and… too different from my own.

Of course, the second we arrived in Italy, I was inundated with Michelangelo.

Statue of David postcards, figurines, greeting cards, posters, playing cards, t-shirts. They put that statue on everything.


As if that wasn’t bad enough, our cab drivers, tour guides, waiters, concierges- an incredibly diverse group of men and women who came from all over Italy-managed to all have one thing in common…. They all worshipped Michelangelo. “He’s so talented, so brilliant, so accomplished,” blah, blah, blah.

Really? How do you say “so annoying” in Italian?


Then, we went on our guided tour of the Uffizi and Acccademia Galleries.


It seemed that no matter what we were viewing, there was always a tie in to Michelangelo. Some tidbit about his life or his art that our guide just had to share. At first, I found it, you guessed it, annoying. To try to to link all the other artists’ work to him in some way seemed unfair to me. As if they weren’t being given their due all because Michelangelo a la Captain of the Football Team, Most Talented, Most Likely to Succeed had to overshadow everyone else.

However, as I learned more about the story of his life, I began to see that while I had convinced myself that his success had come easy and his fame was so large that it had to be undeserved, I was judging him based upon the one page, glossy, made for television version of his life (i.e. the Facebook version) that left all the struggles, the risks and the disappointments on the cutting room floor. And it is those parts of his story- maybe of all of our stories- that made both the art and the artist truly beautiful.

And it was also those parts that compelled me, while everyone else stood marveling at the statue of David, to sit down and write the life lessons I would remember from Michelangelo.

1. Don’t spend your life doing something just because you are good at it. Find what you are passionate about and be true to it- and true to you.

“Michelangelo, the Sculptor.” That is how he signed his name. He wanted to communicate to everyone (and maybe even to remind himself) that he was a sculptor. Apparently he was a pretty good painter (some ceiling somewhere I believe?) and thus the world wanted him to be a painter. But there was a small problem with that- he hated painting. His passion was sculpting. In fact, other than that ceiling, he only painted a handful of paintings in his entire career. Because he was a sculptor. And he knew it.

2. Be willing to do what you are good at to get to do what you are passionate about.

I think my feelings for Michelangelo began to change when our guide explained the story behind the Sistine Chapel ceiling. She explained that Michelangelo was working on his dream project- Pope Julius II’s marble tomb. It was to be three stories and have forty statutes. It would involve years of doing exactly what he loved- sculpting. However, as funding began to dwindle, Julius asked Michelangelo to decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling instead.

Though he hated painting, he accepted the project and spent the majority of his time from age 33 to 37 working on the Sistine Chapel. Can you imagine? Being pulled from your dream job to your nightmare job for four years? But he did it. And he did it damn well. Because he knew that it was the necessary means to get to his desired end.


3. Keep your sense of humor.

I think we all have chapters in our lives where it literally feels like nothing is going right. Not the big stuff. Not the small stuff. Not the in between stuff. Your alarm doesn’t go off so you are late for an important meeting… You run out the door with a run in your panty hose and a stain on your jacket… and you get a flat tire on the way there and it starts to rain while you are trying to change it (or, let’s be honest, trying to find someone else to change it) and… You get my point. In these moments, I never know if I am going to burst into tears or laughter. Usually, I end up doing a little (or a lot) of both.

I would imagine Michelangelo had to feel that same overwhelming sense of “THIS is BULLSHIT” a time or two (or ten) while painting that damn ceiling. So how did he endure four years of it? I would say his sense of humor had to play some part in that based on a poem he sent to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia where he described the toil the project was taking on his body by saying “I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture.” He went on to complain that his “stomach’s squashed under [his] chin,” his “face makes a fine floor for droppings,” his “skin hangs loose below [him]” and his “spine’s all knotted from folding [himself] over.” And he ended by saying “I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.” Can I get an amen please?

4. Don’t give up.

No matter how old or jaded I get, I still hold out hope for the happy ending. It’s all those fairy tales I was fed as a little girl. I may not know what “happily ever after” means, but I have some ideas. And in this case, I wanted the tour guide to tell us that Michelangelo returned to work on his dream project and it turned out to be even better than that ceiling (I like to refer to it that way out of respect for Michelangelo, the Sculptor) and he was totally vindicated and he took out billboards all over town that said “MICHELANGELO, THE SCULPTOR. GOT IT?” and Julius was sorry he ever asked “Michelangelo, the Sculptor” to masquerade as “Michelangelo, the Painter.” Well, that wasn’t exactly what happened.

His dream project, the tomb, never received the critical acclaim that those ceilings did. Not even close. BUT, the tomb was finished- albeit on a smaller scale than originally intended 40 years after the project was commissioned…. Regardless, there is a lot to be said for valuing yourself and your dreams enough to keep returning to them and to finishing something purely because it matters to you. Take that, Pope Julius.

5. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

When I googled this quote to give proper credit, I realized it was attributed to many different people. Really though, the most important person who ever said it was my stepfather so don’t even worry about those other people. Whenever I would call home upset because some partner at work had yelled at me, demeaned me, took credit for my work, etc. (Doesn’t working in a big law firm sound grand?), Dean’s response was always the same. He would let me go on (and on and on) and then he would calmly and quietly say “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” Period. End of story. The phrase is now legendary in our family, and I like to think he feels pride from Heaven every time one of us reminds the other of this valuable edict.

In the case of Michelangelo, the phrase immediately popped into my head when our tour guide told us that the rumor is that two other artists, Donato Bramante and Raphael, were sour grapes over Michelangelo getting the tomb commission and so they convinced Pope Julius that it was bad luck to have his tomb built during his own lifetime and that Michelangelo’s time would be better spent on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. They told him this knowing that Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter and thus they thought he would likely fail at painting the ceiling.

Nice try, bastards.


6. Make it work.

Tim Gunn was right- sometimes you just have to make it work. It may not be what you expected or wanted, but it’s what you got. So make the best of it. In the case of the statue of David, two different artists before Michelangelo had attempted to carve the statute from the mass of marble that had been selected for it. There was a ten year gap between the first artist and the second and then the marble sat for 25 years before Michelangelo began working on it. In fact, the marble was described in an inventory before Michelangelo began work on it as “a certain figure of marble called David, badly blocked out and supine.” When the overseer for the museum decided to call people in to examine the marble and try to get the statute made, Leonardo da Vinci and other well known artists declined the assignment because they found it too risky. 26 year old Michelangelo convinced them to give him the job.

Can you imagine how he must have felt on that first September day early in the morning when he showed up to begin his work? There he was-26 years old having signed up for a job that far more experienced artists had declined. He must have sat and stared at the enormous block of old marble that has been been cut and chiseled on by two prior artists and thought “What the hell was I thinking?”

Apparently the design he chose for David was driven in large part by the limited amount of good marble with which he had to sculpt.

Surely he had to have periods where he wondered if he could possibly pull it off.

But, he certainly made it work, didn’t he?

make it work

7. Don’t be afraid to be different.

One of the things that made Michelangelo’s David statute so unique was that he chose to depict David before the battle with Goliath- sling shot in hand, a look of sheer determination in his eyes. The two prior portrayals of David- Donatello’s and Verrocchio’s- had depicted him after the battle with Goliath’s head as proof of his victory. His decision to do it differently was initially met with much trepidation and criticism. But doesn’t it seem as though most great things are?


8. No one is perfect.

As I thought back over my dramatic shift from Michelangelo hater to the president of his fan club, I tried to pinpoint exactly what it was that made me like him so much. His creativity, his bravery, his determination, his resolve all factored into it. But, I am a pretty hard critic. I don’t think any of those things would have tipped the scales were it not for the last detail that I learned about Michelangelo. Critics have written extensively about how anatomically accurate the statue is- the veins, the bones, the muscles, the brows, the pupils. A particularly incredible feat when you remember he did all this with marble. However, there is one major thing about the statute that is not accurate. In fact, it is downright wrong…Michelangelo sculpted David as being uncircumcised. David was Jewish and history tells us he would have definitely been circumcised. But Michelangelo lived in Catholic Italy and his knowledge and understanding about Jewish customs and circumcision would have been very limited as would his access to circumcised models.

A glaring mistake amongst all that perfection. Isn’t that glorious?


So now, when I look at photographs of the statue of David, I see a masterpiece. But I see so much more than that.

I see a 26 year old man sitting alone staring as a mass of marble thinking “What have I gotten myself into?”

I see his contemporaries trying to sabotage him.

I see his critics shaking their heads in disbelief at this young artist who foolishly thought he could succeed at something so risky.

I see an excited artist showing up to work on his dream project only to be told there has been a change of plans.

I see a person who endures a job he hates in order to pursue his true passion.

I see a perfectionist who wants desperately to be perfect- but who nevertheless makes mistakes- because he is, after all, only human.

I see a young man-scared, unsure and unproven- preparing for battle- and I see a young artist that was doing much the same thing.

And that is why I love him.


The World’s Hardest Job by Lori R. Keeton

An advertising agency in Boston recently posted a fake Director of Operations job listing online and in newspapers. The ad got 2.7 million views, but only 24 people responded.

Those applicants were shocked to learn what was required of them: more than 135 hours per week, constant mobility, keen coordination and adept communication. Plus, no breaks, no holidays off, and no pay.

Doesn’t sound like a job anyone in their right mind would want, does it?

Nonetheless, billions of women have taken on this job– the job of being a mother that is– and made it the cornerstone of their lives.

Since moms “know best,” I think we tend to believe that it goes without saying how much we appreciate them.


But, on this Mother’s Day, I want to take the time to say it to my mom and all the moms out there.

Thank you….

For the sleepless nights you endured,

For the tears you wiped away,

For the vomit and diarrhea you cleaned up,

For the “boogeymen” you chased away,

For the skinned knees you bandaged,

For the broken hearts you mended,

For the songs you sang us and the books you read us,

For the late night assistance you provided Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy,


For the singing, dance and voice lessons you carted us to without complaint (on your part that is),

For the seemingly endless recitals you attended,

For the piles of laundry you did,

For the breakfasts, lunches and dinners you made us,

For the book reports and science fair projects you supervised,

For the mommy tracks you maneuvered,

For the slumber parties you chaperoned,

For the high roads you took because you knew we were watching,

For loving us even when we were utterly unlovable.

Thank you.

And to my mom in particular…


Thank you …

For letting me sit on your hospital bed so you could brush my hair every day for the many weeks you spent there when you were sick,

For leaving little presents for us to open for each of those days you were away,

For understanding why I had to have a night light,

For my “I Shot J.R.” t-shirt,


For the gingerbread house you brought my fourth grade class,


For my Madame Alexander dolls I loved so much,


For my Michael Jackson birthday party that I begged to have,

For saying “you’re washable” whenever I got my clothes dirty,

For saying “you’re better than that” when I am tempted to do the wrong thing,

For saying “you’re going to be okay” whenever my heart is broken or my feelings hurt,

For the late night phone calls you (still) take when I need you,


For working two jobs so we could have a better life,

For taking my dreams seriously,

For living your dreams so I know it can be done,

For pushing me to be my best while also accepting me as I am,

For making me feel special and important and loved each and every day of my life.

And for the millions of other things- big and small- that you have done with me, for me, because of me and in spite of me.

Happy Mother’s Day…. I am so thankful God chose you for the job.


Missing Puzzle Pieces by Lori R. Keeton

As the countdown begins for me to head to sunny Florida to celebrate Easter, I find myself torn between the excitement of seeing my family and the dread I feel over the month of April.


My stepfather’s birthday is April 11. He died on April 23.

It’s a lot for a single month.

A lot indeed.

As I have thought about it, I don’t think it’s the dates per se that get to me.

The truth is that Easter is hard because it is the only holiday when we are all together- my mom, my sisters, their husbands and their children.

In the same way a missing puzzle piece is most obvious when there is only one, I feel his absence most when the rest of us are together.


The parts of the conversation that would make him laugh.

The debates among my sisters and me that he would interrupt (to agree with me).

The eye rolls we would share over my mother’s head when the choir sang one song too many at church.

The chocolate covered hands of the children that would be proof positive that their “Grandy” (what they named him because he gave them so much candy) had secretly passed out Hershey’s Kisses when their parents were not looking.

There is a place for those moments in the scripts of our lives that cannot be ignored.


I think of getting off the plane for Easter break every year and him being there waiting for me at my gate (pre 9/11). Post 9/11, he would be at the closest spot he could possibly get without security arresting him. Even though everyone else waited for their loved ones in their cars outside baggage claim to avoid the hassles of parking, security, etc., he would never do that.

He wanted me to know how happy he was to see me.

And to this day I don’t step foot in an airport without thinking about it.

It was worth the hassle I guess.

And my thoughts go beyond Easter….

I think about receiving newspaper clippings about 401(k)s, books I needed to read, advice I should consider.


I think about getting handwritten letters on his official General’s stationary long after the rest of the world had switched to email.


I think of countless pairs of reading glasses tucked away in every drawer, of large Hershey’s bars stored in the refrigerator for late night snacks, of worn boat shoes stationed outside the back door of our house.

I think of his words of praise when I succeeded- and more importantly, when I didn’t.

I think of how much he adored his grandchildren, how proud he was of his children and how much he loved his wife.

But as sad as the loss makes me, when we are all together over Easter laughing as we recount stories of missed curfews, badly behaved pets and family vacations from hell, I am reminded that he is still very much alive.

He exists not just in our memories but in our present lives- in our chosen careers, our senses of humor, our beliefs, our compassion, our resilience.


And as I watch my niece and nephews grow up, I realize that his legacy will live on far beyond my sisters and me.

I grieved for each of them when they lost their Grandy. I wanted so badly for them to have someone who waited at airport gates for them too.

I think I grieved most for my youngest nephew, Max, because he never got to meet his Grandy. My sister was pregnant with him when Dean died.

But every time I look at Max, I cannot help but smile.

He is the living embodiment of Dean.

When we took Dean’s pictures from childhood and compared them to Max’s, it was impossible not to see it…. The hair, the eyes, the dimples, the mischievous looks in their eyes. The love of life that radiates from each of them.


There was no need to grieve for Max. Their bond goes far beyond any wordly connection that any of us will ever understand.

In some sense, I guess it is appropriate that Dean was born and died so close to Easter- a time when we celebrate the victory of life over death.

Because I know that he lives on- in this world and the next one.

May the message of hope that Easter brings allow each of you to feel and to see and to celebrate the life and legacy of your own missing puzzle pieces.

Happy Easter.

“He is risen… He is risen indeed.” -Luke 24:34


Love and the Big Bad Wolf by Lori R. Keeton

A while back I went with my friend Jami and her children to see “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.” It is the classic tale we all grew up with, but it is told from the wolf’s point of view. It is presented as a trial with the wolf as the defendant and the audience as the jury.


As I listened to the wolf explain what happened on that fateful day with those three little pigs, I couldn’t help but think of the criminal defendants featured on the news from time to time who have those incredibly… creative/farfetched explanations for why they were found a mile from the crime scene with a bloody knife that was covered in the victim’s DNA and so on.

I wasn’t buying it. No way. I KNEW the story. I had heard it hundreds of times before. That wolf was big and bad. Period.


I looked around the audience expecting to see a room full of children who were as reluctant as I was to believe what the wolf was telling us. Instead, I saw little faces nodding, heads turned to the side deep in thought and mouths agape. I couldn’t believe it. Were these kids really going to believe what the wolf was telling them? Hadn’t they listened to the story when their parents told it to them? Was I surrounded by future criminal defense lawyers? Oh no.

At the conclusion of the trial, the children voted-and found the big, bad wolf NOT guilty. It was O.J. all over again as far as I was concerned. But, the children exited the theater with smiles on their faces and did not seem the least bit concerned with the popularity of their collective decision to set the wolf free.


I thought about the play again when I was flying back from celebrating my 40th birthday in Las Vegas. After several days of… pretending it was my 21st birthday, I was exhausted and determined not to strike up a conversation with my seat mate on the return flight to Charlotte. I am one of those unlucky people who seems to always gets stuck sitting next to some chatty Cathy who talks to me the entire flight. On this particular day, I told myself I was going to remain firm and not feel one bit guilty for ignoring the stranger beside me. As I slid into my seat and fastened my seat belt, I turned my entire body towards the window (as much as one can turn at all in the tiny coach seats) and planted my face into my book. No one could possibly believe that I wanted to speak to them or listen to them. No one.


A couple of minutes later, I felt my seat mate getting into their seat. I refused to even peek at him or her to ensure my wall of silence was not permeated. And then I felt them tap my arm. At first, I just ignored it- it could be incidental contact- right? The seats are really small these days. And then I felt it again- more insistent this time. I took a deep, annoyed breath and lowered my book…. There sat an adorable little girl who could not have been more than ten years old. As soon as I looked at her she said, “Thank goodness I am sitting next to you. I was so worried I would get stuck next to someone mean.”

And the wall of silence crumbled. (Side Note: It is in these moments that I am 100% convinced of God’s sense of humor.)


She proceeded to tell me about her school and her siblings and boys (at least we could agree on how yucky they are) and her teachers and her house and her dog and her cat and whatever else popped into her mind.

As she talked, I kept wondering who would let this precious child fly alone? And when she told me stories about her family, I was a little taken aback by how much responsibility she seemed to have at such a young age. Clearly her parents were not up to snuff. Very sad.

About an hour into the flight, a man approached our aisle and started talking to her. It was her father. I just stared at him as my silent judgment kicked into full gear. He was on the same flight with her and did not even bother to book their seats together or ask me to switch with him? What kind of parent was he?

When she got up to go to the bathroom, he sat in her chair and thanked me for playing with her. He also explained that her two younger siblings were on the flight as well, and he was seated between them several rows back. He could not sit with all three of them and so he put her- the eldest- alone, but in the closest seat he could get. He was traveling alone with them because their mother was very ill- too ill to make the trip.

The second he told me the reason behind his child being alone, I was overwhelmed with shame for having judged him. For having assumed the worst about him. For having not even considered that there could be a legitimate reason why she was seated on that plane without a parent beside her that had nothing to do with her parents being bad people.


I thought of the play again just a few weeks ago when I was in the check-out line at Whole Foods. The woman in front of me was taking forever. She was asking to pay for orders separately and then asking to put certain things back. It was insane. Did she not realize a huge line was forming? It was lunch hour after all. And the longer it went on, the more passive aggressive I became- stomping my foot, rolling my eyes and sighing deeply- determined to make this self-absorbed woman recognize her selfishness.


Once she finally checked out, I got up to the cashier and put my things down. By that point, the manager arrived to figure out what had caused the delay. I heard the cashier say to him in a quiet voice “She was paying with food stamps and so she couldn’t get all the things that she needed.”

After I got over the sadness and shame I felt for having made what had to be an incredibly embarrassing situation worse, my thoughts again drifted to that wolf and those seemingly sweet children who were willing to listen to his side of the story and ultimately set him free.

And I thought about my job as an attorney- and about how our entire legal system is built on people presenting the same facts in different lights.

I thought about the time I listened to one of my juries deliberate (from a mock trial) and about how I literally wanted to jump through the phone and strangle them as they took my presentation of the case and ruined it by inserting their own experiences into the mix and allowing them to cloud the picture I had painted for them.

I thought about some of the mass catastrophe cases I have worked on where one person has suffered an ankle fracture and believes their life is over and then another involved in the same accident is paralyzed from the neck down but so thankful to be alive. How I wish the two could meet sometimes.

It all comes down to perspective.

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, we are bombarded with commercials and cards and billboards about love. If we were to believe the hype, love is about candy and flowers and lingerie and diamonds. While those things are wonderful, I think that to truly live love, I need to spend less time fantasizing about Godiva chocolate and more time thinking about how I can readjust my perspective be more like the children at the play that day.


Because those turned heads, those nods, those open mouths- and most importantly, those open minds and hearts- were love. Pure and simple.


It is both the easiest and the hardest kind of love.

The easiest because we have the opportunity to practice it literally hundreds of times a day with those we know and those we don’t.

And it is the hardest for the very same reason.

It is choosing- yes, choosing- to assume the best about people instead of the worst.

It is sitting still for a minute instead of jumping to conclusions.

It is listening.

It is giving people- all people- the same kind of compassion and kindness and consideration that you want them to give you.

And ultimately, it is embracing the possibility that the man on your flight or the woman in line in front of you- or your sister or your friend or your spouse- or even the big bad wolf- isn’t nearly as big or bad as they may seem.

That, I believe, is living love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

“But the greatest of these is love….”