Caitlyn Jenner helped me get to where I am now

Who’s to say what will move someone from inaction to action, what will come along and inspire us to reach for the brass ring, what will allow us to finally jump a hurdle and flat-out run for the finish line?

I thank Caitlyn Jenner, in part, for where I am now.

Oh, I know a lot of people will jeer this post, but I don’t care. I’ve never really been big on living my life based on what people think about what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, who I am doing it with, and whether I do anything or not. I march to the beat of my own drummer. I know where I was and I know where I am now. Even better, I know where I am going, and it is awesome.

I was working in a dead-end job (four pay cuts in five years just to keep the same position), with ever-increasing job responsibilities each year and ever-decreasing care and respect for my health and welfare from my superiors. That job was sapping my energy and strength and robbing me of my ability to be the happy-go-lucky person I have been throughout most of my life.

I’ve had some rough times in my life and I have made it through some real traumas. Some of them would have felled a lesser person. I have brought more than one counselor to tears while relating some of those hardships. But I am and have always been one of those pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kinds of people and I have done that and moved forward, even when my mind or heart didn’t quite want to.

I try to live life on my own terms and I have left bad and what I consider borderline-abusive relationships behind, and that was what that job had become. After nearly 11 years, I was making just a tiny bit more than when I was hired, I was working way more hours than I wanted to (and anybody should) and doing far more than the job for which I had signed on.

I was at my desk one day in that environment – editing four newspapers owned by a company that was making millions of dollars but couldn’t seem to spread much around to its employees – when I overheard one of my staff members say something about Bruce Jenner becoming a woman.

Now, when I was a little girl, Bruce Jenner was a god. He was THE golden boy. Many of my friends were planning to grow up and marry him one day. (I, on the other hand, had a thing for musicians and bad boys, a trait that, sadly, exists to this day, which might be part of why I’m still single, but that is a topic for another post. Maybe.)

As a longtime journalist (I was bitten by the writing bug in elementary school), I have a curiosity about all things. As a black sheep and misfit toy kind of girl, I am always interested in other people like myself who are marching to their own drum, no matter the rhythm and whether or not others agree to the beat.

So it was with interest that I listened to this co-worker talk about Bruce becoming Caitlyn. The topic of the discussion was an upcoming scoop (Journalists LOVE scoops!) in “Vanity Fair” magazine about his, or rather, her transition. I could hardly wait to get that magazine in my hands. Every day for the next week, I stopped by at least one store to see if it was in yet.

I found the magazine one morning on my way to the office, but I had to wade through a 10-hour workday before I could sit down to read it. And even though I was exhausted that night, I curled up in bed with my favorite (It has been for many years) magazine and read this deeply personal and painful, but very well-written story.

And somewhere in that text were these magic words:

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.’”

I was stunned. This was someone who had won a gold medal, lived a life filled with riches and dreams-come-true, or so I thought. But there it was. At age 65, Jenner was saying that whole life would have been a waste had she not jumped off the cliff to try to fly her way. Well, that idea unsettled me greatly, and then the words sank deep into my soul.

My plan had always been that once I was “done” with newspapers, I would find a nice little home away from the limelight and the big city and write what I wanted to. The plan was to write a series of children’s books and a short list of other books, mixed with whatever writing I would need to do regularly to pay the bills.

But when would I be done with newspapers? Was it now, when it seemed they were done with me? Long story short, I looked into my options and found that it was time to go. And although it at first seemed impossible, as I started daydreaming and planning and praying, doors opened that weren’t even there weeks before. I was on my way.

I quit that job nearly two years ago and moved across the country. I’m making less money than I have in decades, but I am my own boss, doing my own thing on my own terms. I don’t have a lot, but I have enough. And for the first time in my life, enough is OK with me. Some months have been scary, but I have kept marching and sticking to my path. And interesting and cool things have happened to keep me going. I decided back when I moved that I would give myself a year, and then determine whether I needed to go back to a job. Well, I am glad to say, not yet.

So, whenever I hear Caitlyn Jenner’s name mentioned in the news, or I see one of those memes that say she is not courageous, I say “thank you” out loud to her, for being incredibly brave and for unknowingly setting all types of people, myself included, on their true paths.

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Titanic sinking was tragic, but USS Indianapolis survivors battled starvation and sharks

By Kat Merrill Edgar Harrell holds a model of the plane that first began rescuing USS Indianapolis survivors from the sea.

By Kat Merrill
Edgar Harrell holds a model of the plane that first began rescuing USS Indianapolis survivors from the sea.

It’s hard to imagine that many people have not heard the story of the RMS Titanic.

The largest Olympic-class ocean liner in history up to that point struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage April 15, 1912, and went down in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Because she didn’t have nearly enough lifeboats on board for all the passengers and crew, more than 1,500 people froze to death and/or drowned that night off the coast of Newfoundland.

That was a terrible tragedy, but so was the wartime sinking of the USS Indianapolis, a story about which you may not have heard.

The heavy cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine just after midnight July 30, 1945, in the last weeks of World War II. Of the nearly 1,200 men that were on the ship, an estimated 900 survived the blasts from two missiles and went into the water. They were cold and soaked with oil from the ship, and many of them were injured.

But because the ship wasn’t given an escort by the U.S. Navy, to which it belonged, no one from the American side knew that the ship had been hit and she therefore wasn’t reported missing. For five days, the men battled the cold of the Philippine Sea, their injuries, the lack of food or drinkable water and, even more horrifying, sharks.

One by one, the men, many of them really not much more than boys, drowned, died of their injuries or were attacked by the sharks. When they were finally rescued, there were only 317 left.

I recently had the honor to meet and speak with one of those survivors, one of only 23 still alive today.

I can’t remember a time in my life when a crowd of people was as silent as they were on this night, when Edgar Harrell spent nearly two hours recounting those terrible days, one by one. I was so stunned by the story, and so mesmerized by Harrell’s retelling of it, that I didn’t take a single note. Several times during the former Marine’s talk, I realized my mouth was literally hanging open. I wasn’t the only one.

Harrell was only 20 years old at the time. He’s 91 now. Hearing him speak about the experience, shaking his hand and thanking him for his service were among the best moments of my life. I bought his book, “Out of The Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis,” and he signed it for me, saying, “God’s best to you. Semper Fi.”

U.S. Naval Institute Alfred Sedivi, the USS Indianapolis' photographer, died in the disaster.

U.S. Naval Institute
Alfred Sedivi, the USS Indianapolis’ photographer, died in the disaster.

Harrell’s appearance was part of the opening of a traveling exhibit of photos from the ship’s photographer, Alfred Sedivi, who took photos of the sailors and Marines during their time on the ship. He also “captured the aftermath of the battles on Tinian, Saipan, Guam, Tarawa and Iwo Jima,” according to the U.S. Naval Institute. “His photos survived the war because he secretly sent them home to his family until the days before his ship’s fatal mission.”

He also gave them to his buddies, who also often sent them home.

The photos are moving and poignant, and I was brought to tears several times while viewing them, thinking about the fact that most of the men in them didn’t survive the ordeal.

A treat that night was that the people in the audience were the first to see the trailer of the coming film “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” starring Nicolas Cage. I will definitely be at the theater to see it.

You can learn more about the exhibit and the ship here.

And you can learn about and purchase Harrell’s book here.

U.S. Naval Institute The USS Indianapolis

U.S. Naval Institute
The USS Indianapolis