“The best things in life are free”

In last week’s column, I was fired up after a parent filed an official bullying complaint against a Texas high school football team for beating his son’s team 91-0. I vowed to come back for part two this week on how the anti-bullying campaign has gotten out of hand; however, I’ve had a change of heart and see no need in another rant. Life is too full of blessings for me to focus on things that have the tendency to spike my blood pressure.

In addition to the ranting and raving in my column, last Friday was significant for more pertinent reasons.

Early last week, I was asked to speak briefly to the Campus Life students at Opelika High School. I was all in, even after learning they met at 7:07 a.m. Yes, that’s 7:07 a.m. in the morning.

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I am not a morning person. In fact, one of the reasons I left Active Duty Army is because I had to wake up early every single day. I often say that I left the Army for three reasons: I hate waking up early. I hate shaving, and I hate running. Well, those were the first three things I did every single day, so change was in order. Rest assured, I didn’t shave last Friday morning and since I wasn’t being chased by a pack of wolves, I sure as heck didn’t run.

The students were raising money for a worthy cause, so it was the least I could do. They had the option of supporting any cause they so desired and they chose to support the Wounded Warrior Foundation. By God’s Grace, in spite multiple tours to Iraq, I am not a wounded warrior but have many close friends who are.

Most of the students in attendance had loved ones who’d served in the military. One of the girls wasn’t sure which branch in which her granddad served, but, according to her, he was “one of the water people.” I assume he was in the Navy.

These kids touched my heart.

They also touched my wallet.

They were selling handmade bracelets, so I walked out of there with three of them…and I don’t even wear bracelets. I’m such a sucker for kids supporting a great cause.

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After leaving these impressive young people, I proceeded toward the Birmingham VA Medical Center by way of US Highway 280 passing the sign for the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alex City en route, which got me to thinking.

I entertained a group of female Veterans at the Breast Cancer Survivor’s Luncheon at the Birmingham VA. To my credit, I made them laugh but I was overwhelmed by the love and kindness they showed me.

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Because of the audience, I waived my fee, but as I told them, nothing in life is free. I expected to be paid in hugs before they left and boy was I ever. I’d never been hugged and kissed so many times in my life.

Notice the scarf, my new favorite accessory.

Notice the scarf, my new favorite accessory.

They stated that they were blessed to have me there but it was I who was truly blessed on this particular day.

It’s an old cliché, but the best things in life really are free: love, hugs, and extra gravy. I used to include air on that list, but it now costs 50 cents at some places.

As I was driving home, it dawned upon me to contact my cousin who works at the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home to see if there was anything I could do for them. She stated that many of the residents were in need of shoes.

The Campus Life kids and the breast cancer survivors inspired me to take action; therefore, I did, but I couldn’t and didn’t do it alone.

It was just an idea, but with the incredible and overwhelming support of my friends, new and old, local and afar, we raised enough money in just three days to send 115 pairs of men’s Reebok Velcro-strapped walking shoes to the residents of the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home.

As you can imagine, it takes a while to gather 115 pairs of Velcro shoes but our hope is that they get there by Veterans Day.

There are also two females residing at the home, but only one can wear shoes. We didn’t forget about them. A friend from North Carolina ordered a pair of New Balance Velcro-strapped sneakers for one, while a friend from Florida bought a pair of slippers for the other.

My friend from NC sent these my way to give to the lone shoe wearing female at the Veterans Home.

My friend from NC sent these my way to give to the lone shoe wearing female at the Veterans Home.

I received donations ranging from $5 to $337.50. Every dollar was just as important as the next and every cent will go to the home.

I was asked to speak to those kids for a reason and now we know why.

Oh, I gave my three bracelets to members of the Midfield High School JROTC who were also in attendance at the survivor’s luncheon. I didn’t need the bracelets, because I now have a pink one, along with a scarf, given to me by Evelyn, one of the survivors. She, of course, gave them to me for free.

Every one of these kids said they planned on going into the military after high school. I'm proud of each of them.

Every one of these kids said they planned on going into the military after high school. I’m proud of each of them.

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I will always cherish my gifts and memories of this wonderful day, which is proof that the best things in life really are free.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. Jody can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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World Suicide Prevention Day

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Suicide Lifeline

Today (September 10) is World Suicide Prevention Day.

I wrote this on Sept 10, 2013, but it is as relevant today as it was back then, perhaps even more so…

I believe every suicide is preventable.

Most people who commit suicide want to live. They want help. They are looking for reasons to live but oftentimes we miss those signs. We need to listen and be more aware of what people are saying.

Just because someone is having a bad day or going through tough times doesn’t mean they are thinking about suicide but it’s still our obligation as friends, family, coworkers, and leaders to listen intently for that call for help if it exists.

It’s very difficult to ask, even in role play during the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) that  I’ve had, to ask if they are considering suicide, but it’s a question that MUST be asked. No euphemisms, either. No “are you thinking about hurting yourself?”  You can gently work yourself up to it, but eventually the question MUST be asked: Are you thinking about killing yourself? (or something along those lines)

If they say YES, it’s important to remember that it is not about you, so no matter how opposed you may be to suicide, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU! They, at least for the moment, see it as a viable option, so it’s important for you to step out of your comfort zone and understand their dilemma. Hear their story and understand their reasons for suicide because if you shut them out, they’ll shut you out and the conversation will go nowhere.

Understand their reasons but listen for their reasons to live because they may not be able to hear it themselves. Their mind is often so clouded that they are unable to see the good things in their life. When they mention their kids, their spouse, their dog, their whatever,  that’s your opportunity to pounce on that. Let them do most of the talking but support that turning point.

Oftentimes, that’s all they need. Again, their mind was so clouded that they couldn’t see all the positives in their life.

It’s a mild comparison, but when I worked at Kroger, I’d have 499 awesome customers but that one jerk would mess up my whole day. I should’ve been focused on the 499; instead, I was focused on the one.

It’s also important to find out what their plan was and to disable that plan. If it was to use a gun, we need to take that gun and ammunition. If it was to drive a motorcycle into a tree, we need to take those keys.

We need to put that person in contact with someone he or she trusts to talk to about such a sensitive matter, if it’s not you, and then get the professional help they so sorely need.

It’s important that the individual knows the safety plan that you’ve agreed upon and can tell you the plan before you continue, whether you accompany him/her to the next step or (if you have a warm and fuzzy) send them on their way.

This is just the down and dirty, the Reader’s Digest version as we say in the Army.

I typed it up with the quickness so if there are mistakes, I apologize.

The important thing is that in most cases suicide is preventable and in most cases that starts with us, not the person at risk.

You don’t have to be an expert. I’m certainly not. You just have to care.

Thank you!

Jody

PS: We need to keep working to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking mental health care.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He continues to serve in the Alabama National Guard and is a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visithttp://www.jodyfuller.com.

The Teacher that Changed my Life…Forever

This week was Teacher Appreciation Week, so I want to share a story about the teacher who had the biggest impact on my life.

In the first grade, my bus was late on the very first day of school, so I got to class late.

1st grade

1st grade

The education of Jody Fuller was not off to a good start.

In the second grade, I played hooky for seven straight days. The nurse called my mother to ask if I was ok, and I was just fine when the nurse called; however, when my mother had to leave work to come home to get me, well, I was no longer fine.

I have three tours in Iraq and I am fine but I still get flashbacks from the beatdown I got that day.

I remember standing in the hallway at Jeter Primary telling Mrs. Floyd how sorry I was for skipping school. We were both crying. It would not be the last time I cried with a teacher.

I was runner-up in the spelling bee in the fifth grade at Pepperell. I misspelled the word goalie. I’ll never forget that. At the time, neither hockey nor soccer was big in Alabama, so I was clueless. My friend Adam was crowned the spelling bee champion by spelling the word goldbrick.

I never really enjoyed school the way I should have. In fact, I always missed the maximum number of days but somehow managed to maintain decent grades up until my sophomore year.

When I tried, I did fairly well. If I remember correctly, I had a 3.2 GPA going into my junior year. Unfortunately, the older I got, the less I tried. I was more concerned with having fun and doing whatever I could do to make people laugh.

My GPA dropped faster than Manti Te’o’s draft stock after the revelation of his fake girlfriend.

I had Mrs. Mount my sophomore year for biology and again my junior year for anatomy and physiology. She was such a great teacher. One quarter in biology, I had the second highest grade in the class. It was just one quarter but still…

I had so much respect for her that I still performed satisfactorily in her class my junior year.

During my senior year, I took chemistry. I never did grasp it and never learned the periodic table of elements. I knew salt and potassium but that was about it.

Class of 90

Class of 90

When final exams came around, I rolled up into class with a number 2 pencil and a pillow. I quickly filled out my Scantron form with the number 2 pencil by spelling out the words A BAD BAD CAB DAD three or four times before turning it in.

I thought I was cool. In hindsight, I was an idiot.

I then laid my head down on the aforementioned pillow. The plan was to sleep for the next couple of hours.
At least that was the plan but those plans quickly changed when Mrs. Mount entered the room by happenstance.

In the Army, we call that a FRAGO.

She noticed that all the other students were deeply engaged with their final exams while I was deeply engaged in dreamland.

After a quick chat with my teacher, Mrs. Mount snapped her fingers and instructed me to come with her. She walked me back to her classroom and then into her office in the back of the room. At least, I think it was an office.

She lit into me but did so in a caring and concerned manner. I told her I wasn’t overly concerned with school because I planned on staying with Kroger after high school or getting on at one of the local plants.

All those local plants are now closed. All of them.

She told me how smart I was and that I would be wasting so much potential if I followed through with that lackluster plan. She encouraged me to go to college and to chase my dreams.

Before it was over, we were both crying like we’d just watched a marathon of Little House on the Prairie.

I’ll never forget that day.

She didn’t have to do that. Technically, she wasn’t one of my teachers that year, but once a teacher, always a teacher.

I attended Opelika City Schools all the way through and was very fortunate to have been taught by so many wonderful and caring teachers. Dr. Hannah, Mrs. Davis, and Mrs. Leonard are three that immediately come to mind but there can only be one favorite and that was Mrs. Mount. More importantly, she was the most influential.

I did go on to graduate college and I continue to chase my dreams.

College graduation with wonderful and supportive friends (from L-R...Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea)

College graduation with wonderful and supportive friends (from L-R…Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea)

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I guess I’ll have to change that online security question.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all the educators out there. Thank you for what you have done and for what you will continue to do. You are making a difference each and every day.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.