So now that the Heartworks episode of Returning the Favor has aired we can talk about it! Here are some of my behind-the-scenes thoughts about the experience.
I was fooled the whole time
The whole entire time I thought we were recording footage for a documentary that may or may not ever be released. I was just hoping we’d at least get a video for our website out of the experience. I probably would have sworn less during filming had I known (well, let’s be honest, probs not). I had NO idea it was a real show until the very, very end. As in, not until Mike literally said “This is not a documentary, this is a show called Returning the Favor.” How did I not know this show existed before??? It’s brilliant and so needed in today’s world and Mike has my dream job! I kept saying to him throughout the day, “Listen Mike, I don’t know what you’re up to these days, but you should do THIS is as a show. You should go around to non-profits and get their missions out into the world to inspire people!” Mike said it sounded like a good idea and he would talk to Jacob about it. I was not satisfied with this answer and made a mental note to reach out to him after filming to make sure he was following up on the idea because I felt very strongly about it. At the end of the day, I was able to take this call off of my to do list.
Cramming my incessant talking into one episode
Two days of interviews turned into a 26 minute show. Thank you, RTF crew, for capturing what we do and inspiring others to live the way we were all living after September 11th …all in 26 minutes.
My three daughters had only seen videos of their Uncle John once before, on Thanksgiving Day of last year. The videos of John and their cousins were a very powerful part of the show for them. It’s just been too painful for our extended family to hear his voice and watch him move, so it took us 18 years to do so. It’s the reminder that for every historical event we watch unfold, there are real families directly feeling a forever loss. The over-stimulation of news feeds can dull this truth for us. It’s why I always, always pray for the people I see on the news. I know what it feels like to be living the loss that is on the other side of a news story. What if we were all praying/sending love for people every single time we watched the news?? This would be a game changer and sending love would help us manage the barrage of news stories coming into our consciousness day in and day out. What if we were all witnessing the news, breathing, praying, and letting the story move through us to a higher source rather than keeping it stuck in our own heads? I know that the prayers from all over the world help my sister and her four children get out of bed every morning in the fall of 2001. I wish this same experience for everyone during loss and struggle. We have the power to do this.
So bummed Eddie had to miss this
The whole thing was an AWESOME experience…my husband Eddie and I are huge Mike Rowe fans because he seems to use his talents towards encouraging people to dig below the surface of things. We used to watch Dirty Jobs together in Boulder, so when I saw Mike walk in, I was completely and totally stunned. It was so weird to see this guy come out of the TV and be standing in Heartworks House. Then I was immediately sooooo bummed that Eddie was on a business trip and was missing it.
The famous people I have met in my life all seem to be souls who use their celebrity for causes and justice and this is true about Mike as well. When I realized a known person was involved in the “documentary,” I was just so grateful that it was someone who I could trust would be invested and passionate about what we were doing and who was there for genuine reasons. I mostly loved that he was someone that Eddie admires. A major part of why Heartworks is Heartworks is because of the way my husband loves me. He lets me be who I am and puts the mission of Heartworks above most other things on which our family focuses. If Eddie was an asshole I wouldn’t be able to focus so much on Heartworks. But because he’s a present dad and has a healthy life perspective that focuses on gratitude and service, it works in my house to be a mother of three kids with a side gig of philanthropy. The first thing I thought of was how Eddie would love this and in a weird way it helped me to feel grounded.
The other thing that happened when Mike walked into the Heartworks House was that I felt seen. I have had my head down for 15 crazy-obsessed Heartworks years. It has felt like I am going against the wave of separateness that has crept back into our culture as the passing of time quiets the intensity of the 9/11 experience. A guy like Mike Rowe, pretend TV friend of Eddie and mine, walking into an Advisory Board meeting felt like our little world of daily efforts was getting bigger really fast.
I’m a control freak
I have always been squeamish about film crews or journalists documenting Heartworks because I have some pretty legit control freak tendencies and feel so protective of our sacred work. But the RTF crew was respectful, loving, fun, engaged and sincere. Basically, the whole thing was a 2-day lovefest. We missed the crew when they were gone. It felt like when I cleaned my house up after my 30th high school reunion and missed my friends who had just left. Allison has the patience of a saint and conducted the most intelligent and depthful interview of my career, and ohhhhhh that singing voice!! Jacob was so genuinely into what we are doing and asked about of all the pictures and words hanging in my office. He even asked about the one written in my dad’s handwriting. Sarah and Lauren were smart, fun, and easy to be with. “Boulder Ben” as I came to refer to him as, stood behind the camera with such calm and focus. We talked about Boulder, CO and our love of the Rocky Mountains. During an interview he asked me to talk more about the “invisible push” that I depend on for decision making at Heartworks and for my own life. I looooove talking about the invisible push because I wish all of us were paying more attention to this inner voice and I love that Boulder Ben considered it a valid topic.
The crew sent me out for a two-and-a-half hour lunch with Holly, Kelly, and Kate. I was antsy and wanted to get back to talking about life issues with Mike, but every time I made a move to go back to Heartworks another appetizer, glass of wine, or chocolate cake came out of the kitchen. I had no idea I was being stalled in order for the Heartworks House makeover to happen. A glass of wine, girlfriends, and chocolate cake happen to be three of my favorite things, so the stalling tactics worked.
What got cut
When I watched the episode, there was a lot that was cut from the two days we all spent together. I know I talked waaaay too much and too long for everything to fit into one episode. There are so many aspects to our Heartworks mission that I wanted to share for the “documentary” I thought they were making. But RTF doesn’t do two episodes about the same honoree, so I will just tell you about what you missed.
We went to two other houses that day. First, we went to see Brigid, who LOVED having Mike sit on their front porch. Brigid told Mike the story about when her son Brandon was in the hospital in the middle of December due to complications from his kidney disease. She described how it felt to be driving home, exhausted and feel behind the eight ball as she drove past houses decorated for Christmas. This feeling added to the struggle she was already in. When she turned up her driveway, she saw a wreath filled with 60 women’s prayers on her front door. It lifted her in ways that brought her to tears telling Mike the story. The day of filming, when Mike, Holly, and I were visiting, Brigid’s yard needed weeding. I suck at weeding, so I sort of faked it in a way that Brigid still felt loved but that her yard didn’t benefit that much from. I was glad my fake weeding didn’t make the cut. But the time spent with Mike and Brigid on her front porch was transformational. There is something raw and healing about sitting on a front porch of someone’s home talking about faith, kindness, and the harsh realities of the human experience.
Then we went to see Linda and plant a rose bush for her sweet daughter Charlotte. Charlotte was a beautiful, 15 year old non-verbal girl who had compromised health every day of her life and had to be lifted out of her wheelchair. If you ask anyone who attended her funeral, just a month after filming day, they would tell you that the service changed and opened them. In one of the speeches, made by Linda’s friend Frank, he said that being with Charlotte had helped him understand what God is. How many of us can say we have done this for another human being? She was an extraordinary girl. We are grateful that the rose bush got planted while Charlotte was still here on Earth. Linda has since created an expanded garden around it. Very early in the episode, Melissa and I hug Linda, she has on a light blue sweater. The week Charlotte was buried, the RTF team sent her flowers. That’s the type of people they are who run this show.
Something else that got cut is Mike giving me a new iPhone! I had tried to call Eddie like 20 times that day but the phone I used to have sucked and the calls weren’t going through. We tried to face time him outside of Brigid’s house so that he could see Mike, but the connection was horrible. Mike kept commenting on the cracks and lack of power in the phone. My response to him was that I have a pretty damn good life because soldiers are in trenches, right now, protecting my freedom and I don’t have a chemo drip in my arm, so things like a new phone are not a priority. Clearly and thankfully, he disagreed, and I have to admit I am LOVING the new phone and it does make things easier.
The day of the filming was also a day that we have two flag ceremonies with our local veterans group, Post 7858. They come to the Heartworks House and raise the flag in the morning and lower it late afternoon. A group of us gather to honor these men and then they come inside and we get to serve them breakfast and dinner. All day I was a freak-a-zoid about the “documentary” filming maybe getting in the way of feeding the veterans. Turns out, of course, RTF and my board members figured it all out behind my back and RTF paid for the men to have dinner out in town that night (they couldn’t be at Heartworks because of the reveal). I love that probably the reason the ceremony scenes got cut is because RTF already focuses so much on veterans that it didn’t need to be included. This calms me to see how many episodes are dedicated to veteran causes. As I always say, “Everything I am doing today is because a veteran sacrificed for my family.” Care and support for our veterans and military needs to be more in the forefront of our everyday consciousness and RTF helps with this.
The show also didn’t show the complete house makeover which included wallpaper, and I loooove me some good wallpaper. I would NEVER have ok’d money to be spent on redecorating (because of the whole soldiers in the trenches and chemo drip thought process) so I feel so happy for all Heartworkers that our space is now so beautiful.
And last but not least, they left out me falling up the stairs at the reveal! Thank you again, RTF! As I got out of the car Mike said “Grab my arm,” and I shooed him away and proceeded to wipe out trying to get up the stairs to all my family and friends. Mike offered his arm again with a sarcastic, supportive comment of “I saw that one coming, that’s why I said take my arm.”
Getting to see Mike’s mom speak at a book signing made my day, even though the crew whisked me out of the bookshop early to make sure his parents didn’t blow his cover! Peggy Rowe is a published author at 81 and an example of full life living. It is so powerful that her memoir About My Mother: True stories of a Horse-Crazy Daughter and Her Baseball–Obsessed Mother, tells stories about her own mother and a love that never needs to end. Peggy Rowe is reminding us that the passage of time and even death does not defeat a love that is shared. Death doesn’t take away memories or lessons or love. Thank you Peggy for the reminder.
The apology I owe
I had no sense of time while the RTF crew was there. My sincere apologizes to my daughter’s soccer carpool that I forgot to pick up. I have to admit though, I loved being able to use the old “I got kidnapped by a reality show and lost track of time” excuse.
My control issues again
The process of being surprised by RTF and then waiting for three months to see the outcome was a torturous lesson in letting go and surrender. The Universal Flow has been asking me to practice these concepts pretty friggin’ consistently over the past three years. To truly let go and truly trust is one of the most challenging and freeing aspects of life. I leaned on trusted friends, my board members, and Eddie every time I had a freak out. These people helped me every time I freaked out and kept reminding me how awesome and real the crew was. I turned to gratitude everyday for three months…Thank you, God. Thank you, trust. Thank you, Returning the Favor.
Our hope for the show’s impact
The best part of the whole thing is that our idea of living with the heart and mindset that we all had in the weeks following September 11th is being shared with thousands of people. Real change will occur if every person watching this episode accepts the invitation to look inward and then give outward from his or her own life losses. The more we invoke the invisible experiences that we are tempted to stuff down in our everyday lives, the more we will all heal. Instead of looking to churches and politicians to create change, cultural concepts will shift only when we shift. This is what Heartworks is about. We aren’t waiting for the next tragedy to happen to bring us back together. By coming together in the “in-between tragedy spaces,” we are given the chance to live fulfilling and love-filled lives. We would love everyone to join us in this movement towards a more peaceful world.