my christmas eve on a greyhound bus

We passed farmhouses with windows wrapped in white lights, houses that were never intended to be this close to a highway. Houses that once stood like solitary trees on the plain, but tonight surely shuddered with the wheels of the bus grating against the interstate, amidst the hopeful rattling of reindeer hooves on the roofs.

‘There are lives inside’ my quiet voice said from the very last row of the bus, the one adjacent to the bathroom. I was sitting in the only seat that still had an empty seat next to it. I have a certain quality that often encourages people not to approach me or sit down next to me. They usually tell me this later, once they’ve substituted their initial impression for a more nuanced truth.

So I sat alone without so much as a temporary friend at the back of the bus plummeting up Highway 75. The low hum of casual conversation became a soundtrack as I stared at the flashes of road and snow against the passing headlights and a scene from Forrest Gump played across my mind, the one where nobody lets Forrest sit down next to them.

Until Jenny says in her small southern accent ‘You can sit here.’

And at that moment in the scene, my own quiet voice said ‘You can sit here’, and in the next moment I felt something push up against my lower leg. I thought maybe it was someone’s bag or my own backpack that had fallen from its perch next to me.

I looked down.

There was a dog.

The guy and his golden retriever had managed to deflect the couple of inane comments that people threw his way after someone asked why he had a dog with a vest on a bus and he said ‘for emotional support.’ He’d sat down somewhere in front of me and his dog had settled next to him in the aisle.

But now the dog wasn’t in the aisle. The dog had gotten up and moved down the aisle and into my row and past the space under the empty seat, where there were no feet, to rest his head across mine.

A minute passed before the guy realized his dog was missing. He got up and turned around to see the golden tail poking out from the floor of my row and he walked back, apologizing in embarrassment. I told him the dog was fine and ‘it’s all good.’

Because it was.

The guy nodded and went back to his seat and I watched the houses become farther and farther beacons between each other as the snow blew sideways under the occasional porch light.

I reached down and rested my hand on the dog’s head and this time my quiet voice said ‘Thank you. And Merry Christmas.’

He looked up and gave a single thwack of his tail against the floorboard.

And we rode on.

Manny is what matters

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This is Manny. He’s a 94-year-old WWII veteran. He sent in this picture because he and his family loved For The Sender : Love Letters from Vietnam.

Among other things, I tried to get endorsements for this book, but felt like i didn’t get much support from the corporate system that had supported me before.

System energy is interesting in that way. When the system feels like you aren’t feeding it enough, it stops feeding you and moves on to other things.

And this photograph makes everything about that system not matter at all.

Manny is what matters.

Thank you, Manny.

For your service and your lesson.

And may your holiday season, and all of our’s, be a peaceful one.

the power of the ocean. and you.

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The ocean can heal deep wounds and bring a peace that’s hard to find anywhere else. The For The Sender Holiday show this past Sunday was a special one… with your help, we raised enough money to fund an entire surf camp for veterans next summer. Soldiers who’ve never experienced that healing power of the ocean are going to get a chance, because of you.

During that show, the ghost of a Vietnam veteran floated out through an old radio on stage. So did the voice of his daughter, who wrote letters to him back in time, searching for answers. I sang a song from behind the eyes of the soldier, and Molly sang from the daughter’s heart. And we moved on with the night because there was so much talent on stage, so many other songs to sing.

And this hasn’t been announced officially yet, not until after the first of the year, but Molly and I will be doing all the new songs, and that radio will be playing the Love Letters from Vietnam that inspired the music, on February 29th at the North Coast Repertory Theatre.

There are only 150 seats available and if you want to join us, message me and I’ll send you the ticket link.

I brought two of the veterans from the new book up on stage Sunday night… they are separated by decades and wars but the one thing that has helped heal them both is surfing. And that’s what brought us together one morning in the ocean not far from my house.

From attending the show on Sunday to buying the book, thanks again for helping make that experience happen for other soldiers.

Here’s to some joy in 2016.

The Little Girl in The Pink Jacket

I was on a plane just before Christmas not long ago when a little girl in a puffy pink jacket became what will be my eternal Christmas reminder.

 

Maybe she can be the same for you, too.

 

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“Do you believe in Santa Claus?”

 

The question came from the little girl in a puffy pink jacket sitting next to me. She had been in my seat by the window when I boarded the plane and I had told her as much, so she fumbled with her seatbelt and had already slid over to the aisle before I realized how Grinch-like it was for me to tell her she was in my seat. She probably wanted to look outside.

 

So I asked her if she wanted to sit by the window and she said yes please and thank you and scooted back over. I settled into the seat next to her as she pulled out a beat-up Hershey’s chocolate bar from her coat pocket. She unwrapped it, broke off half, and held it out to me.

 

“Do you want to share?”

 

She introduced me to her stuffed animal and we spent the flight playing Rock Paper Scissors and talking about the important things. She asked me if I was married and then why I wasn’t. She guessed my age and I guessed her’s. I showed her a picture of my horse and she asked me if I was sure my horse wasn’t really a camel.

 

She asked me if believed in Santa and told me she’d asked him for three things: to be good, to be able to study hard, and to be with her mama forever. But she knew she was getting something else too, because she had peeked in a bag her mama had brought home a few days ago.

 

She asked me what the tallest mountain in the world is and I said I thought it was Mt. Everest.

 

“Do you think God sits on top of it and watches over me and everyone?”

 

I sat there for a second, looking at this little girl whose face was shining and curious and real and beautiful and so full of promise and gratitude and sharing and love and all these things I think I’ve sometimes lost. All these things that were now being given back to me by this angel sitting in seat 7E.

 

And I told her yes, yes I think He probably does.

 

The plane touched down and rolled to a stop and she crawled over me into the aisle. As she started to walk away she turned back to say that it was nice talking to me and she hoped I’d have a Merry Christmas.

 

And then she was gone.

 

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

 

If he can look like a little girl in a puffy pink jacket, then yes.

 

I do.

Ranch and Coast features FOR THE SENDER Holiday Show

For The Sender: Love Letters from Vietnam

Author and singer-songwriter Alex Woodard will celebrate the launch of his third book, For The Sender: Love Letters from Vietnam, with a special holiday concert event at the Belly Up Tavern on Sunday, December 20 from 8-10pm, where Woodard will preview some of the new songs in the accompanying album releasing on February 12. Woodard’s new book and album reveal the heartfelt story of Sgt. John K. Fuller who served in the Vietnam War. The book encompasses Sgt. Fuller’s remarkable correspondence he had with his daughter, powerful stories of service and sacrifice, love and redemption and the power of forgiveness. This one-of-a-kind show will feature Woodard along with a number of Grammy-winning, platinum-selling artists and local musicians, including Jon Foreman, Molly Jenson, Jordan Pundik, Jack Tempchin, Sean Watkins, Nena Anderson, and Graham Nancarrow, among others.

For The Sender: Love Letters from Vietnam

“Through the power of music and storytelling, I am honored to have the opportunity to share Sgt. Fuller’s incredible stories about his military service, challenges and triumphs, and bond with his daughter, Jennifer Fuller, to the world. Storytelling is a lost art and something that should never be diminished,” says Woodard. “In this specific book series, I imagined myself as Sgt. Fuller and put myself in his shoes when I wrote and produced these songs. Bringing his experiences to life and sharing what he endured through the book and through the music is something I am very passionate about. I hope the book in addition to the 13 songs in the album are felt by and relatable to the veteran community in the most authentic way.”

 

In partnership with Switchfoot’s BRO-AM Foundation, proceeds from the holiday show, along with additional donations, will benefit Team RWB’s surf camp next year for veterans. Furthermore, a portion of proceeds raised from the book will be donated to veterans’ causes featured throughout the book, including Shelter to Soldier, Team RWB, and the Swiftsure Equine Therapy Ranch. General admission tickets are priced at $18. (www.bellyup.comwww.forthesender.comwww.alexwoodard.com)

For The Sender: Love Letters from Vietnam

I found a friend

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I went looking for a friend who would have sat in the living room in 1968, telling stories to a young military wife about the war in Vietnam.

I wanted that friend to tell those stories again, in voices like ghosts running through the love letters from Vietnam that her husband sent home almost five decades ago.

Voices like ghosts, because after he came home, the soldier’s voice was silenced in a shotgun blast.

Until his son brought his words back to life.

I found that friend. She’s almost fifty years old, too. And she’s almost ready to tell stories of service and sacrifice, love and redemption, and the power of forgiveness.

You’ll hear from her at the For The Sender show later this month.