Once In A Lifetime


Chicago, 2002

In the fall of 2001, I had received a proclamation from the Olympic Torch Relay Committee awarding me a spot on the team as a support runner, flanking the person actually carrying the Olympic Torch. Still paralyzed from a stroke 2 years earlier, this was a real ‘no-brainer’. I couldn’t do it. I had no running motion. I had no stride. I didn’t even know if my brain could process a running motion. I remember feeling uneasy. I had never done that before, quit without even trying. No, I couldn’t run, but I had 100 days to learn how. Once again, I would jump in without knowing how deep the water was and, once again, I would find myself in circumstances I’d never dreamed of. All I could do now was practice, practice, practice.

And boy, did I practice. Day after day. Week after week. But still, I couldn’t find it, the running motion, I mean. I hesitated calling the Committee and gave myself until the last minute to pull it off. A young friend of mine, having just graduated from the business school at the University of Chicago, asked me what my ‘cut-off’ date was, when I would decide or not decide to do this. I was thrown back by this assessment. I simply pointed out that there was no way of knowing if you could do this or not until the last possible moment. Life had taught me that much.

Sadly, the day before the Relay, I realized that this was not meant to be. I had found a quasi-running motion, one that would have gotten me through a small relay, but I had pushed myself too far too fast and had injured my challenged leg. I remember feeling disappointed, not for myself, but for those in my situation who were told from the beginning not to try too hard, to accept their lot in life and not to expect too much from themselves. Then as well as now, it was a feeling that made me sick.

Later that night, I called my brother and gave him the news. He just listened, then he said: Remember when you were a kid, even those bigger and stronger were slower ‘cuz you always ran with your heart. Well, do that now, run with your heart. Try that, Mick.

The following day, I showed up at the Relay two hours early and explained my situation to the woman in charge. She was ticked. But what they did was put me at the end of the Relay hoping no one would notice that I was unable to run. I was to flank a man by the name of John Payette. I didn’t know him. He had never laid eyes on me. But, I’ll tell you this much- somebody Upstairs had a hand in this. I thought that the woman in charge had explained the program to John, that I couldn’t run. But, as soon as they lit his Torch,-ZZZIIIPPPP- he took off running. And I stood there frozen.

My wife stood there in shock and so was my brother. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I looked up and saw the parade was passing me by and without even thinking about it I just put my head down AND STARTED TO RUN. I caught up to John in about a ½ block and he yells over his shoulder that he wants me to run next to him. I know he’s breaking the rules. I’m supposed to be one step behind and one step to the outside. So I move up, he looks at me and he hands me THE OLYMPIC TORCH. He let me carry it almost the entire way. He gave me his moment in the sun. Knowing that he’d probably never be able to run with the Torch again, I asked him later why he had done that, he just shrugged his shoulders and said it just seemed like the right thing to do.

All of us, at one time or another, will decide to do one thing and then find ourselves questioning our own decision. Make sure you do all the necessary prep work and burn that decision onto your psyche and then you will find an inner-strength to do that which is impossible. Maybe then, the Heavens will conspire to send someone special into your life to help you along your path and they will be able to hand you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is why it’s always best to believe in ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES.

At least, that’s the way I see it. MLPROKO(2011)   www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 8:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Father’s Love


Chicago, 1980

I am awakened about 5 a.m. from the bed shaking uncontrollably. I try to focus my eyes on my wife. Dressed in a ski jacket and under a down comforter, she’s freezing IN JUNE. She’s also as white as a ghost. She had done this the year before, too. She was hemorrhaging internally. I flew out of bed, ran into the kitchen and called a neighbor. Our daughter, 17 months, would be waking soon and need someone there. I didn’t wait for an ambulance. I had my wife at the hospital in less than 10 minutes. ‘I got a bleeder here’, I barked as I helped her through the doors. The emergency room nurse wanted to know if I was her doctor to make a diagnosis that quickly. ‘She had an ectopic pregnancy last year and now she’s having another’. Luckily for that nurse, she jumped to attention. In less than a minute, there were 5 people working on my wife. The nurse told me to wait in the waiting room. I remember that I just wanted to drive my fist through something. I waited for less than a minute when the nurse walked in and told me that they were taking my wife up to surgery right away. Now, I stood there frozen. SONOFABITCH! I could still see all these people running around, but I had no idea what was going on. I had to trust these strangers with my wife. And then, I started to pray.

After another 5 minutes, the nurse walked in and told me that my wife was upstairs being prepped for surgery. I remember just looking around the room for an answer or something and then I asked her where the chapel was. Two minutes later, I was in the chapel and I was praying to whoever would listen. I needed God’s help and I needed it NOW. Then, it hit me. I had to ask her dad for his help, too.

Dr. Pete had died 12 years before from lung cancer. He was quite a guy. Very handsome and built like a bull, looked like a Greek Adonis. Always wore handmade Italian silk suits and alligator shoes when he was at the hospital, otherwise you’d see him in his golf clothes. But the guy couldn’t stand me. Nope. I was 16 when I met his daughter and she was only 14. No, he didn’t like me one bit. But now, I needed him. So I started to pray, telling him that our daughter needed her mother, that there would be certain things that I, as a father, would not be able to help her with. God, I’m telling you, I poured my guts out for about 5 minutes and then I lifted my head and he’s standing right in front of me wearing a blue-green scrub gown. He smiles at me and says it’s not her time, she’ll be all right, then he touched the top of my head and was gone. A sense of peace came over me and I knew that she’d be fine. That’s when things got very interesting.

What I didn’t know was that when the nurse had sent me to the waiting room, they had already had lost my wife. She had flat-lined. They revived her, put her on the elevator to take her up to surgery and they lose her again. Once more, they bring her back. They exit the elevator, start the surgery and they lose her for the third time. But now, she’s standing at the top of the surgical theatre watching them trying to revive her, looks across the theatre and sees her father, Dr. Pete. She starts to move towards him but as he moves away, he’s getting smaller and smaller. Finally, she yells at him Daddy, wait!! He turns and looks at the one he used to call Princess and says ‘It’s not your time, my love. Go home. Take care of Mike and Sara’. They did revive her again and after removing 8 pints of blood from her abdomen, she would be fine.

I was able to put all of this together about a month after it had happened. I had not mentioned it to my wife. I didn’t want her to think that I was going goofy talking to spirits and all. And she had not mentioned it to me for the same reason. But, honestly, when she told me that she had seen her dad, I have to admit that I was reluctant. Knowing how Dr. Pete liked to dress, I had to ask her what he was wearing. ‘A blue- green scrub gown, why?’ I kid you not!!

We’ve been together now for 39 years and I still try to make her laugh everyday, just like her dad used to. Through it all, we’ve been there for each other and that’s the way it should be. But, you can rest assured that there are those who do indeed watch over all of us, take it from your Uncle Mike. At least, that’s the way I see it.

Take care. MLProko (2011)   www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Mosaic of Your Life (and apples)


‘Every person, every place, every thing was placed into your life for a specific reason and/or purpose’, she said. If I heard my grandma say that once, I musta heard it a thousand times. You know, when you’re growing up, you hear these kinds of things. But as you get older, they start to make a lot more sense and take on different types of meanings. God, I really loved being around my grandparents; the things I learned, the things they taught us (knowingly AND unknowingly), the fishing, the trips to the ballparks and, of course, all the laughter. All of them were very simple people but, boy, could they laugh. And teach. Most of the time, the teaching was a result of something else that you were both doing at the time and they’d drop these little pearls onto your imagination.

My grandma would be working in the garden and I’d be helping her and she’d tell me to look at the different plantings for bugs, the little aphids. And I’d start to complain about the bugs. What good are they, gram? And she’d tell me that all of God’s creatures had a job to do here but the off-handed lesson taught was in diligence, that, yes, we had our own garden and plantings galore, but it was up to us, through due diligence, to take care of everything. Or my grandfather would take me fishing and quietly talk about whatever needed to be talked about and, again, with much laughter (quiet laughter but laughter just the same). Sitting on that pier watching the Fox River silently move on past us, I learned about patience. No, none of theses lessons were going to change the world as we know it, but what they were meant to do was to give you an insight as to how you were to react to that world, how you would stand up to that which you would confront on a daily basis.

Every person, every place and every thing were there to make up the mosaic of what we call life. All of this would seem insignificant to a child, somewhat fleeting, but one day, perhaps in your next life, it would be explained to us how our lives interplayed with all the others that we were blessed with meeting. Each person might carry a color significant from all others. Each place that you were able to witness would add a hue that no other color could match. Every thing that you were able to partake in would add the depth to all that you had witnessed before. While this might be seen as an over-simplification of a known reality, your mosaic would be like your own private jig-saw puzzle—if one piece was to be missing, your puzzle would never be complete.

Along with the garden, she had a number of fruit trees on the property also. I would pick the apples for her homemade apple pies. Every now and then, I’d sneak one of the sour apples and cut it up. Prior to eating it, I would remove the seeds, line ‘em up on a plate and then eat it. Now, she watched me do this time and time again, lining up the seeds on a plate. ‘I just wanna see how many seeds there are in each apple, Gram?’ One day, she looks at me and says: ‘You can count the number of seeds in each apple, but not even the smartest man in the world knows how many apples there are in one seed.’ I can still hear her saying it in her kitchen, not even the smartest man in the world….

I have been blessed with meeting some very special and very wonderful people in my lifetime, people who have added a great deal of color to my mosaic. But, it’s the tutelage and the awareness that I received from my grandparents that put that all into perspective. For all of that, I have been blessed.

At least, that’s the way I see it.  MLProko (2011)   www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 5:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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Don’t Teach ‘Em, Just Remind ‘Em


Even in his early 70s, he was ram rod straight, medium in stature, thin, maybe a few inches shy of six feet with these massive hands. Some say he used to be a professional ballplayer. Others say he was an actor. You might have imagined him as a dancer because there was such a grace to his movement. But first and foremost, he was a gentleman—soft-spoken but his quiet presence could fill an auditorium. I was eighteen or nineteen, filled with rage and questions that could not be answered, however, he saw me as something special. No, wait, let me clarify that: he saw everybody as something special. That was just the way that he looked at the world. His name was Harrison. Never thought to ask him his first name, I just called him Mr. Harrison. I knew him only briefly and that was over 40 years ago, but the impact that he had on my life is still paying dividends today.

He used to hang around one of the coffeehouses in our village. I’m guessing he was retired. Can’t say for sure. Never really talked about himself. But when he talked about you, you’d think that you were the King or Queen of England. You might have been the president of the bank that was just across the street or you might have been a street sweeper, it didn’t matter, he treated all people the same. See each life as a sacred and precious gift. That’s how Mr. Harrison saw you. He’s the one who taught me about magic; no, not that kind of magic, the kind of magic that exists around each of us on a daily basis. Too many people are so caught up in what they’re doing, they fail t’see all the magic occurring right here right now.

We would talk at great length about any and all subjects and after a while my rage would bubble to the surface. He was nice enough not to be put off by it, explaining that most kids my age were in the same boat. I got the feeling that when he was younger, he, too, was filled with the same angst and unanswered questions. He could teach without teaching and he could preach without preaching. As you get older, Michael, your spiritual awareness will start to expand. Let it. See where it takes you. I think you’ll like what you find.

There were other times, over a cup of coffee, when others would join in on our conversation and Mr. Harrison would study me, watching how I’d interact with others, my use of language, how much I listened and how much I talked. People are very comfortable around you, Mike, I think it’s ‘cause you’re very nurturing, even at a young age. Always remember that. Keep yourself honest to people. You have so much to offer. When you lose the rage and the hate, you will touch many lives. Learn from them.

Y’see, Mr. Harrison knew that we were all brought up essentially the same way being taught basically the same thing. So, there was no sense in trying to teach anybody anything just like there was no sense in trying to preach to anybody about anything. His message was just remind them the things that they were brought up with. It’s so simple. All people are basically good. They want what’s best for their families. They want to be appreciated and most will try to leave a mark here on earth. Don’t teach. Don’t preach. Just remind ‘em. Make ‘em feel special about themselves.

Of all of the characters that I have met in my lifetime, none has had the impact on my life that that quiet man did. How is it that I had all but forgotten him? And why should I remember him as I start a writing career? Therein lays the answer. I had been forewarned: Don’t teach. Don’t preach. Just remind ‘em.

And I will. Mike Proko ©2011   www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 10:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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