by C.J. Kirkland on September 16th, 2015

Maybe the best time to quit is when late-payment notices outnumber the “Thank you for your payment” slips. Or when those whom you hold in highest esteem repeatedly ask that you please consider getting a real job and start pursuing a career worthwhile.
 
Perhaps the best time to quit is when you’ve grown tired of fear lurking over your shoulders:
Fear of never achieving the success for which you have sacrificed so much.
Fear of losing it all after having finally made some progress.
 
I assume the best time to quit is when you begin to feel enough years have lapsed during which you’ve put off vacations, delayed making “special” purchases and tried to convince yourself that being a true artist means truly embracing pauperism.  
 
I’ve wanted to quit many times. I actually did quit sometimes.  But being married to an eternal optimist (though he would argue he’s a realist) meant there was never enough fuel to flame my pity parties so eventually they fizzled and I got back to work.
 
And so now we spend our days doing what we most love to do and actually make money doing it. We live in beautiful homes and are able to provide for our son much of what we never had growing up. There are times I look around and still can’t fully comprehend how we got from there to here, other than to consider two pressing things:
 
He never quit which meant WE never quit.
 
“There but for the grace of God go I.”

CJ

by C.J. Kirkland on September 10th, 2015

​While working out this morning Beyoncé’s song “Irreplaceable” came on. I always think about my friend Tonia when it plays because this is the last song to which she and I danced. With our arms raised and index fingers pointed high in the air, we swayed back and forth on the side of the road at Smith’s Point Fish Fry in Freeport, Bahamas.
 
“You must not know ‘bout me, you must not know ‘bout me,” we belted out to the unsuspecting passersby, nearly falling over from laughter (us, not them!) Less than two years later my friend was gone.
 
I can’t say she lost her life to cancer. I say instead that cancer is the vehicle God used, even if inexplicably so, to get a head start on spending an eternity with one of his favorites.
 
In some ways, we didn’t know ‘bout you, Tonia. We didn’t know the incredible strength you bore within, a strength that had steadily grown with each unfair and unkind hand you had been dealt. It is what made you laugh at my cheesy jokes when Claudine and I visited you, even as you lay there in excruciating pain. To be honest, I didn’t know what else to do other than what you and I did so well: make each other laugh.
 
Some of us didn’t know that the reason you externalized your hurt so boldly is because you internalized so deeply the love that you felt for those around you. For all of us, in all circumstances and in all things, hindsight is 20/20. For some of us the perfect vision of who you really were, and are, manifested only after you could no longer be seen.
 
Even today, Tonia, I see your smile and hear your voice, “you must not know ‘bout me…” My sweet friend, in many ways we didn’t know. But we know now. 
We miss you.
I miss you.
You’re irreplaceable.

by C.J. Kirkland on March 16th, 2014

Sometimes I weep. It used to be a source of shame for me until two words finally helped me conquer that self-condemnation.
 
Jesus Wept.
 
I weep because my best friend has to beat this cancer. There are a few things we’ve put on OUR Bucket List over the past twenty years that haven’t yet materialized. I am certain we are supposed to see Hillsong perform live in Australia before we’re too old to look cool at a Christian rock concert.
 
I weep because my husband has to get his Golden Globe. Or Oscar. Or whatever big industry award awaits him after he’s landed his dream role. Because the magnitude of the sacrifice determines the magnitude of the reward and I don’t know anyone else, personally, who has sacrificed so very much. We are still discussing whether or not he’ll do a back flip on stage.
 
I have explained to my son that the tears he sometimes sees are Happy Tears. I cannot believe for miraculous healing with a sorrowful heart and I cannot believe for miraculous breakthroughs with a bitter soul.
 
So sometimes I weep but after all these years I have finally found the Happy in those tears.

​CJ


by C.J. Kirkland on January 1st, 2014

1.  We’ve all had them: the days on which you open your eyes and sigh, knowing that it is just going to be one of those days. Or, your day has been going great up until a point when it all just falls apart and you don’t want to deal with anyone or anything that is part of that day. My son had one of those days recently. We were out later than we should have been and he became this fiery ball of energy- something that evidently happens when toddlers are exhausted beyond exhaustion. A few days later a person who had been present during The Meltdown proceeded to tell me of his concerns that my son’s behavior may be evidence that he will not be a well-adjusted adult. After shedding a few tears (because this statement hurt me in the depths of my heart) I pulled it together, gathered my thoughts, and allowed wisdom and common sense to take hold. My son was going to be just fine because not only is he JUST THREE and prone to having a few meltdowns here and there, but having a bad day did not make him a bad person. He is entitled to it, just like the rest of us. And with that I allowed my soul to rest on the notion that this vibrant, energetic, smart, witty, funny, compassionate kid is going to be just fine.
Because having a bad day does not make you a bad person.

2.  I stubbed my toe recently and it took everything in me to not scream out the profanities a la The Dad in A Christmas Story. Instead, I hopped around on one leg, clenching my teeth from the pain that was shooting up every nerve in my body. My son stopped what he was doing, walked over to me and said, “Mommy, I’m sorry.”

At times you may see someone in pain and there is really nothing you can do to ease that pain, other than to say, “I’m sorry.”

I was having an eye-to-eye conversation with my son, explaining to him why it was wrong to throw a Hot Wheels car across the room. After our discussion he immediately said to me in his sweetest, three year old voice, “Mommy, I’m sorry.”

Sometimes it’s swift. Sometimes it takes a while to materialize. Once it happens, when it happened becomes less important than the fact that it did happen.
Just say: I’m sorry.

3.  I have been blessed to be the recipient of unconditional love in my lifetime. Through trials and misfortune, through victories and achievements, there have been some who have stood by me regardless of the season. In ALL of my seasons (read Ecclesiastes 3) they loved me. LOVED me. And at times I did not quite understand how they could. I knew the person I was, and that I had a lifetime to become the person I wanted to be. It was often beyond my scope of comprehension that I could be loved for the person I am. Then I had my son and understood. There is nothing he can do, nothing he can say that will change the immense love I have for him. There is absolutely nothing that can separate him from the love that is embedded in my heart, spirit and soul (read Romans 8:38 for a more detailed description). It also appears that he feels exactly the same way about me! In all the infinite wisdom of his three year old self, my son reminds me every day:
Unconditional love is…unconditional.

CJ


by C.J. Kirkland on December 14th, 2013

Dear Moms,

Apologies sometimes don’t come easy for me so please forgive that it has taken me this long.

I’m sorry for being that person who looked at you with the Eyes of Fire when I saw you sitting with your baby in the airport terminal, awaiting our flight. While chatting away on my mobile phone the pleasant, laughter-filled conversation was interjected with the bitter “Ugh, I hope that woman and her baby are not seated next to me on the plane.” I gave you the Stare of Death as you walked down the narrow airplane aisle juggling baby, diaper bag and carry on, my blood pressure rising as I prayed that you would not sit next to me on this flight of unassigned seating.

How self-centered of me.

I’m sorry for telling the person standing behind me in line at the grocery store that you needed a lesson in Disciplining Kids because you sure were sucking at it right now. All I needed to do was pay for my three items and go about my busy day. But here I was stuck behind you, your child throwing a tantrum because he couldn’t have one of the dozen chocolate bars strategically placed at check-out for our enjoyment. “Is it really that hard for her to control her kid?” I asked the stranger behind me. “What that kid needs is a good old-fashioned whooping!” I exclaimed. The stranger and I nodded our heads in agreement, as if we were practicing for a synchronized swimming team. “In fact, if that were my kid, he would surely not behave that way because I’d know how to discipline my kid.” The stranger and I would chuckle and puff our chests out just a little more, confident that we were better people than you, confident that we would make better parents than you.

How asinine of me.

Please accept my apologies for being the person who summed up your entire parenting philosophy and implementation of such based on the two hour interaction I’d just had with you and your child at our mutual friend’s birthday party.  In between sips of wine I rehearsed all of the child psychologists I studied in college and tried to decide which would be of most help to you. And when your child had a meltdown towards the end of the evening, I rolled my eyes so hard they nearly got stuck in the back of my head. “Did she seriously bring her kid to this party? Is her kid seriously disrupting the party right now? Aargh. You know, I’ll just attend Adults Only parties because having kids at parties is insane. This is for the birds.”

How judgmental of me.

From the deepest parts of my heart, I am sorry for always saying how superior So-and-So’s child was to yours. So-and-So’s daughter would never scream in public. So-and-So’s son would never writhe around on the floor of Target after being denied a toy. So-and-So’s son would never wrestle with another boy over a stupid little toy truck when there are five others scattered about. So-and-So’s daughter would have been able to sit on the sofa, for hours, entertaining herself while the adults around her enjoyed themselves at the birthday party. So-and-So’s son would never, ever do anything that would set my eyes on fire, force me to dust off my child psychology books, or ponder attending a party at which children would be present. Because So-and-So’s child is perfect. At least he was during the 480 minutes I spent with him this year, so obviously he’s also that way during the other 525,469 minutes.

How illogical of me.

You Moms would often tell me that there are some things I just won’t “get” until I become a Mom, too. You were right. It was not until I became a Mom that I realized how self-centered, asinine, judgmental and illogical my frame of thinking had been towards those of you with children. I had no idea of how hard you worked at trying to be the best Mom you could be. It never occurred to me that your blood pressure rose even higher than mine when you boarded an airplane, or that you had already read gazillions of child psychology books- and still had not mastered defeating the onset of a toddler tantrum in Target. I never imagined how many tears you shed in the privacy of your home after being told by someone how perfect So-and-So’s child is and how, perhaps, you could learn from So-and-So about how to parent the right way.

In closing, I want to throw in a very personal apology to someone whom I love and admire tremendously, particularly as a Mom. Nikky, do you remember when we were on our way to the store and I made you turn the van around and take me back home because the twins were crying? I saw the frustration in your face as you tried to calm them. I saw the slight tremor in your hands as you pulled out toys and snacks, reaching for anything you could as you tried to soothe them. I didn’t even offer to help because I was too wrapped up in Me and my so-called agony. I am sorry. Forgive me for my lack of compassion. Forgive me for my lack of understanding and lack in even trying to understand. I know better, now. Because now, I am a Mom, too. 

by C.J. Kirkland on August 20th, 2013

It is a place where people can add you to their lives as friends without really being your friend. The neighbor who rarely speaks to you can be vocal in your life by clicking the Like button- or not.  It is a mecca for those who have mastered the art of being passive-aggressive: their status updates filled with reprimand for The Person Who Shall Remain Unnamed.  Photos and posts are made Public so that the extraordinary life being detailed can reach beyond the circle of Friends and Friends of Friends. Then, she logs off and sobs into the very hands which moments earlier had written of a life that could not possibly warrant sobbing of this kind. Broken hearts and spirits are masked by re-postings of captions set against graphics that exclaim “I don’t give a f*#k,” “I don’t need anyone but me” and “I can do bad all by myself.” I Check-In with friends at establishments that were once beyond our reach while singing the catchy Drake loop, “Started from the bottom now we’re here; started from the bottom now the whole team’s here.” But you may mistake my gratitude for arrogance because emotion cannot be conveyed through black words against a white computer screen. You’d have to look into my eyes and listen to the inflection in my voice to understand just how low our bottom was and just how much these Check-Ins really mean. Your birthday is celebrated more at this place than any other. You awaken on the Big Day to hundreds of well-wishes that quell any negative thoughts you may have had about getting old. Sorry, older. It is a place where dreams are shared, encouraged and followed until they are realized. And though it’s easy to stay here, sometimes it’s good to leave. You can always come back.

CJ

by C.J. Kirkland on July 7th, 2013


by C.J. Kirkland on April 8th, 2013

The Mexico license plate grabbed my attention. I wondered what this van was doing here in Memphis, so far from its home.  My answer came a few weeks later when I pulled into one of my usual morning parking spaces to drop my son off at school. The van made a left turn in front of me and I saw written on its dark windows in large, white letters, “We beat cancer!” Before I could stop myself, emotions got the best of me and a tear rolled down my cheek. I thought about my best friend who, over two years ago, was given less than a year to live after her stage IV cancer diagnosis. She’s still here, fighting. They beat cancer. She can beat it too, I whispered.
Several days later, unable to forget about the declaration I’d seen that morning, I mentioned it to someone at the school. “Oh yes,” she said. “That family had a son here in the primary environment. He attended while his sister got treatment at St. Jude. But they’ve gone back home now.”

I wish I could have seen that family before they left to share my excitement in reading those white words plastered across that maroon van. I wish I could have thanked them for refueling the hope in my heart by sharing with all who would take notice the miracle that had just manifested itself in their lives.
 
Less than two weeks ago I received a party invitation from a MMS mom whom I have admired since the day we met. I digress briefly to share that her smile and laughter, willingness to lend a hand and sincerity in trying to make you feel better during one of “those” days never gave indication to the journey on which she’d been for the past few years. She became my own personal example of selflessness when I learned that the mom who made me laugh on the days I felt least like laughing was a mom whose young son, for the past three years, had been battling cancer.

Now, back to the party invitation...
 
In bold, black letters written on my Angry Birds invitation it was announced that this was a “NO MO CHEMO Party!” Unlike the family with whom I never got to share my excitement, I believe my loud piglet squeals after reading the invitation demonstrated to this mom exactly how I felt. The next afternoon, I stood amongst other well-wishers in the St. Jude cafeteria to celebrate this dynamic mom-son duo. The magnitude of the occasion was captured perfectly with the Angry Birds cake.  “You win,” it said.

And therein lies the miraculous end to this family’s three year journey. Yes, Zane: You win! 

by C.J. Kirkland on January 1st, 2013

CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute is an annual broadcast that honors individuals who have made remarkable and extraordinary differences in the lives of others.  I watch it every year and marvel at how much each honoree has contributed to our world.  They are selfless, fearless and full of faith.  I have often pondered about whom I would nominate for this honor if given the chance.  This year my list of candidates is led by one individual whose contributions to my life have been nothing short of miraculous: Julia*.

In 2011 the woman I have called my best friend for nearly two decades was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer.  The doctors told her she would probably live another year- with aggressive treatment.  When she called me with the news I listened to her surprisingly calm voice on the other end of the phone.  Before I had the chance to question her demeanor she bluntly reaffirmed her belief in God and said that her faith remained unshakable.  I hung up with her a few minutes later and cried uncontrollably.  My faith just wasn’t as strong as hers. I believed in miracles, though I must sheepishly admit I often asked that they be prefaced by something I can see- a sign, an indication of sorts that God was going to move.  Julia had seen nothing but charts, markers and the lips of doctors telling her she was living out the final days of her life on this earth.  Thus, as far as my human eyes could see, there was no indication that God was going to move.  But Julia turned her back on all that she saw and chose to believe in the evidence of things not seen.

My best friend has spent the past year not only fighting for her life but fighting for mine as well.  She refused to allow me to give up on writing, amidst the growing stack of rejection letters.  When I hit a roadblock she sternly advised: Believe.  She sent me Bible verses and inspirational readings from her mobile phone while she lay in bed too weak to move- a side effect of the treatments she had begun to combat the cancer.  Like Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David, Mary and Elizabeth, I found in Julia the true definition of friend and the unbreakable bond of ordained friendship.  In fact, we have often stated that she is my Elizabeth and I am her Mary. 

This year my hero is a woman who took the twelve months she was told she had left to live and used those twelve months to make an incomparable difference in the lives of those around her.  She showed us that strength is getting up in the morning and making breakfast for your children, after you have spent the night lying next to the bathroom door, too sick to move too far away and too weak to climb back into bed.  She showed us that faith is ignoring the audible voices dictating what we ought to believe and listening the inaudible Voice telling us to just Believe. 

A few months ago, and several months past her one-year window of remaining life she was given, one of the doctors treating Julia called and told her that the cancer was now in remission.  The charts, markers and lips uttering the words to her could offer no logical explanation.  But Julia had stopped operating under the umbrella of logic a long time ago.  In fact, she had stopped operating under that umbrella when the doctors told her that her second child, born with severe to profound hearing loss, would be plagued with developmental problems.  That child is now a gifted student who has risen above all medical expectations without a logical explanation. 

Indeed, I believe in miracles though I must sheepishly admit I often ask that they be prefaced by something I can see- a sign, an indication of sorts that God is going to move.  When I sit down and reflect on the journey my friend has taken over the past year, I realize that God had actually given me plenty of signs and indications that He was going to move.  And so, in the midst of my friendship with Julia, my Elizabeth, my soul finally understood the necessity of believing in the evidence of things not seen. 

CJ


*name changed to protect privacy

by C.J. Kirkland on December 27th, 2012


by C.J. Kirkland on December 11th, 2012

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
~John Wooden, legendary basketball player and coach


My son’s vocabulary has increased dramatically in the past few months and he has begun to repeat much of what he hears me say. One of the phrases he’s picked up is “go, go, go, go, go.” The first time he said it, we were heading out the door on our way to school. I laughed aloud, realizing that on this particular morning, he beat me to the punch. I am usually the one saying “go, go, go, go, go,” as I rush out the door, later than I’d hoped to leave. When we pull alongside the curb in front of the school, I hop out of the car and rush to my son’s door. I hurriedly open it, then scramble to get him out of his car seat. I silently hope that today he won’t drop Thomas the Tank Engine and Percy in the grass because my bending down, picking them up, wiping them off and giving them back to him will add another two minutes to my tardiness. Alas, there goes Thomas. And Percy. After they are both safely back in his hands, I grab his wrist and estimate that we will now be only twelve minutes late. But he must stop and admire the beauty of the fire hydrant. I try to mask my impatience with a smile as other parents pass me with their children walking briskly en route to class. My loud sighs do nothing to convince Luke that we should get going, as we are now already thirteen minutes behind schedule. I exhale loudly, but Luke is completely oblivious to my timetable as he giddily admires the butterfly in the bush. With no choice but to stand and wait, I look across the street. A parent opens his car door and gently lifts his daughter onto the curb. His son then exits the car and he slowly places his son’s backpack on his shoulder. There was a noticeable calm about this parent, something so serene in his demeanor towards his children. “He’s just having a really good day,” I thought to myself, before turning my attention back to Luke- who by now was walking snail’s pace up the sidewalk to his class. 

Perhaps out of subconscious curiosity, I watched this father and his children numerous times following that day. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the rapport he had with his children on what I deemed his “good day” was the rapport he had every day I saw them. If his daughter dropped her toy, he patiently waited while she picked it up. Then, he assuredly placed his arm on her shoulder as they continued walking. He engaged in conversation with his children, seemingly soaking in every word they spoke- blissfully unaware of the passage of time. This stroll up the sidewalk, around the bend and into the classroom carried meaning in it for him. While I was overly concerned with how quickly Luke and I could arrive at our destination, this father appeared to relish in the journey. I watched from afar. I watched, giving no indication that I was watching. And that is what made this father’s rapport with his son and daughter so much more poignant for me.

As this year comes to an end my heart has embraced the grace and mercy by which I made it through. Now my heart turns to what lies ahead. I want to be more compassionate, more giving. I want to stop more and admire the simple beauties around us, the way my son does. I want to pause long enough to see the butterflies. I want to pass the character test. 

As we walked up the school’s sidewalk one morning, I told this father that I plan to nominate him as a candidate for Parent of the Year, though I neglected to tell him why:

I would nominate him not only for what I watched him do, but for what I watched him do when he wasn’t aware that anyone was watching. Because that is the true test of a man’s character.

by C.J. Kirkland on November 12th, 2012

My husband and I both spent much of our childhood living below the poverty line. We weren’t aware of this at the time as our caretakers, particularly our grandmothers, always made sure our needs were met. My grandmother worked two jobs so that I could attend one of the best private schools in The Bahamas- Kingsway Academy. During the first semester of my senior year (and ranked in the top ten percent of my class), I gathered my college applications and took them to my guidance counselor for approval. She looked at my neat stack, containing addressees such as Brown, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Spelman. Then she looked me directly in the eyes and said I should consider applying to “lower-ranked” schools that cost less because I could not afford the tuition at any of the schools in my stack. She was wrong and she was right. She was wrong in telling me I should not apply to the very best. She was right in that I could not afford the price tag of that very best. I applied nonetheless. In the spring of my senior year I was awarded a full academic scholarship to Spelman College. My scholarship story was born.

Somewhere in Memphis is a young child full of endless potential, living below the poverty line (in fact, since Memphis is the poorest metro area in the nation I would guess there are many children in this position). Alongside this child is a caretaker who wants the very best for her and one day decides to visit the Maria Montessori School, hoping that poverty won’t get in the way of potential. The opportunity for a scholarship story is born.

A family whose child is attending MMS may be okay today, but that could change tomorrow. Tomorrow a job is lost; an entire savings account is wiped out by a Ponzi scheme. Tomorrow a husband and father weeps when he learns of his wife’s Stage IV cancer diagnosis and then learns that their health insurance won’t cover the cost of treatments. The tuition check was always on time but tomorrow, tomorrow with its sudden unemployment, vanished savings and chemotherapy, there will be no check to give. The opportunity for a scholarship story is born.

Every day there are stories in the making at MMS. It is a magical place where children living below the poverty line are learning alongside children of the Memphis Elite. It is an embracing place in which families being beaten up by life’s unfair rules find solace in the eyes of their child whose enlightenment has gone uninterrupted. The Silent Auction held this past Saturday ensures that a place such as this continues to exist in a world such as ours. 

Life’s imbalance dictates that not every child in need can be the recipient of an MMS Scholarship. Not even my alma mater, with an endowment fund of over $291 million, can offer help to everyone who asks, needs, or deserves. But your generosity this past Saturday means that at least for some, the story will begin- or continue. 

I am so very grateful to Maria and the MMS family for being authors of stories that may otherwise have never been created. On behalf of those to whom you give, thank you. Thank you from a scholarship recipient who was pulled up from beneath the poverty line by someone who gave potential a chance.

by C.J. Kirkland on October 15th, 2012

​When my husband was nine years old he went on a Father/Son Cub Scout fishing trip to Cane Creek Lake in Arkansas. His father could not go with him that day so his grandmother went instead. She was the lone woman present at the all-male event. He won the trophy that day for “Biggest Fish”.

Whenever my husband retells the story of his Big Day, the vivid memory of his catch is accompanied by the equally vivid memory of his father’s absence.

I thought about this story while shadowing Fletcher one day during his outdoor lesson with some of the MMS students. While the students sat on the water’s bank Fletcher taught them about catching fish. He demonstrated with his fishing rod how to throw the line. He talked about patience and persistence in waiting for a fish to take the bait. Fletcher told them how a quiet atmosphere will yield a good catch. The students listened intently to every word and simultaneously watched the water for any glimpse of action. They were all so excited to be there and so enthralled with the day’s lesson. As I watched the all-boy group interact with each other and with Fletcher, I began to feel a bit outside my element. There was some sort of male-bonding thing going on and frankly, I just didn’t quite fit in. That’s when I realized that there was more to a father/son fishing trip than just a father and son going fishing. And for some sons, for now, sitting on the bank with Fletcher is the closest they will get to that fishing trip.

Some of our MMS fathers can’t take their sons fishing because their work carries them hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away. These fathers sacrifice physical presence so that their sons have a solid roof over their heads, a full plate on the table and an education at a top-notch school. Some fathers are off protecting our country, for months on end, ensuring that the very streets their sons walk to school every day remain safe and protected.

Some of our boys at MMS don’t have fathers who can take them fishing because “like a comet blazing ‘cross the evening sky, they’ve gone too soon”.

Some of our boys’ fathers cannot take them fishing for reasons too complex, too intricate for me to make any attempt at explaining.

My husband’s grandmother did not take the place of his father. She just gave him the chance to throw out his line. He walked away with a trophy engraved with “Biggest Fish” and a lesson in perseverance. Fletcher does not take the place of any of our sons’ fathers. But he gives them the chance to throw out their lines and learn lessons along the way. 


Fletcher Golden is the Outdoor Guide at The Maria Montessori School in Harbor Town.

by C.J. Kirkland on September 10th, 2012

At the end of the day, first thing’s first.

Before I begin working on the new assignment - deadline tomorrow, I read a bedtime story to my son.

Tonight, his book of choice: Dinosaur Roar.

Before I dissect the article - written two days ago, I lay my son in his bed and pull the blanket over his little legs.

His blanket of choice: Cars, set against a blue backdrop.

Before I attempt to fuse together scattered thoughts and floating ideas into one coherent piece on paper, I kiss my son goodnight and sit next to his bed for a while, keeping watch as he falls asleep.

Because  at the end of the day, before looming deadlines, necessary edits and impending pieces, first thing’s first.

“At the end of the day,  my most important title is still Mom-in-chief.”  ~First Lady,  Michelle Obama


by C.J. Kirkland on August 23rd, 2012

​“Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” was a hugely popular disco song released in 1983 by the group Indeep. Many years and many remakes later every time I hear it I still sing and dance along to the infectious tune. The music and its lively beat always held my attention more than the words themselves- but that flip-flopped last night.

Because last night, a DJ saved my life from a broken heart.

That DJ was Dr. Jen, veterinarian and owner of Utopia Animal Hospital in Memphis.

My Cairn Terrier, Rudy, was knocking on death’s door when I took him to Utopia. The cause of his life threatening condition was an enigma. When we arrived at Utopia we were in our third week of mystification and Dr. Jen would be the third veterinarian to see him. I sat in the exam room and heard her speak of all the tests she’d run to try and get to the bottom of it but I wasn’t really listening. I was lost in reminiscence of the life my family and I had shared with Rudy.

Rudy used to lay at our feet during dinner, when meals consisted of Ramen noodles and whatever filler item was on sale at the discount grocery store. He lay at our feet when our white porcelain dinner plates were laden with prime cuts of beef and the highest quality of sides purchased at the gourmet, organic grocery retailer. Rudy was just happy to see and smell food, caring little about whether it was discount-fare or fine dining.

Rudy loved sticking his head out of the window of our used, oil-leaking, engine-smoking car just as much as he loved sticking it out of our brand new, two-door sports car. All he cared about was feeling his nose cut through the fresh air as we drove down the streets of Los Angeles; he cared nothing about the vehicle transporting him through those streets.

I began sobbing, thinking of all the great times we’d had with this little furry creature, and some of the profound lessons he’d taught me:

~gratitude in knowing that though we had little, we had.

~faithfulness in times of struggle and times of prosperity.

~appreciating the complex simplicities in this life, such as feeling the fresh air cut across our noses.

That day I tried coming to terms with the pain my heart was experiencing. I tried coming to terms with the reality that my time with Rudy may have come to an end. In between the thoughts and tears of despair I wished that I would have paused and given thanks more often for all the ways in which he had blessed me and my family.

But then, a DJ saved my life from a broken heart.

And she solved the enigma of Rudy’s life-threatening condition. In fact, she would not stop-did not stop-until she had done so.

I can think of only one way to thank the DJ: by installing a super-sized disco ball in Utopia’s lobby and keeping the hit song by Indeep on a repeat loop.

Utopia is located at 1157 Madison Avenue. Dr. Jen and her stellar team, including Dr. Smith, may be reached at (901) 746-8758

by C.J. Kirkland on July 26th, 2012

In the end, he paid with his life so that my son's life could be better.

by C.J. Kirkland on June 6th, 2012


by C.J. Kirkland on May 25th, 2012


by C.J. Kirkland on May 13th, 2012

“I don’t care what anyone says.  You are a writer.”
           -my Mom

A mother will take all of your doubts, fears and insecurities and turn them into a force of inspiration.  She will tell you to stop saying “I can’t” because you can- you just need to start somewhere, anywhere.  If you call her and, through the tears, say you don’t believe in your talents anymore she will be more stern than comforting. 
“Wipe your eyes,” she’ll say. 
“Get it together,” she’ll instruct.
“I believe in you,” she’ll reassure.
“You must believe in yourself,” she will demand.
A mother knows exactly what to say to make you feel as if you can conquer the world, no matter what comes against you, no matter how many times your work is rejected, no matter how long it takes you to accomplish your dreams.
Because Mother knows best.
Thank you, Mom, for exemplifying all that a mother is.
Thank you for believing in me and for making me feel as if I can conquer the world.
I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.



by C.J. Kirkland on April 15th, 2012

​In the absence of grace mankind suffers. In the absence of extending kindness and favor to one another mankind suffers through acts rooted in fear of the unknown and judgment of the unfamiliar. On February 26th, 2012, mankind suffered. 

George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenage boy. Mr. Zimmerman saw Trayvon, a person whom he did not know, walking through the gated community of which he was the neighborhood watch captain. He was overcome with fear. He saw a young boy with whom he was unfamiliar and whose style of dress was perhaps unfamiliar to that gated community. He cast judgment. Against police advice he followed Trayvon and as the distance between them grew smaller, the fear in Mr. Zimmerman’s heart grew larger. That night, Mr. Zimmerman withheld grace and caused Trayvon’s blood to stream alongside the very rain from which he was seeking cover beneath his hoodie. 

A simple act of kindness would have eradicated Mr. Zimmerman’s fears and judgments when it unveiled that he had been in pursuit of a teenage boy whose only intention was to get home safely with his snacks. Had Mr. Zimmerman taken a moment to set aside his fears and instead initiated a call of courtesy to Trayvon he may have avoided adding to the suffering of mankind. Today a mother suffers because she will have to visit the gravesite of the child she carried, gave birth, loved and nurtured for seventeen years. A father suffers because he has lost a son, and there is no greater bond than that between a man and his son. Mr. Zimmerman also suffers because his heart and mind will have to bear the burden of having carried out the murder of a young boy whose only crime was walking to the store to buy a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. 

And so this is the point at which we hope that grace may abound. This is the point at which Trayvon Martin’s family will have to extend to George Zimmerman the very thing he withheld from their beloved son and brother: grace. No, he may not deserve it, but that is, in part, the essence of grace. It is an unmerited act of kindness, given from the depths of a merciful heart. 





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