Starbucks at Grand Boulevard lit up like a firework when McKayla Hale came through the door! After picking up our buzzworthy beverages we sat and became instantly connected. Outside on the patio we settled – an “al fresco” girl after my own heart – not without interruption by some friendly regulars of the place. While I smiled in silent greeting and secretly worried I’d forget what we were discussing, she greeted the strangers with grace and exuded an obvious generosity and openness.
If you google her, you’ll learn a couple of things. She’s a wife. Actually, she’s the wife of a disabled combat veteran. She’s a step-mom. She has a (kick ass) podcast called Let’s Be Naked which she hosts with her close friend, Jenny Lynn Newell. She is a business professional. Before our meeting I knew (sort of) a lot about McKayla Hale. The thing I learned the most in my research before meeting her was not so much who McKayla was on her own, but what she does in conjunction with her husband, his life, his circumstance, his career. In my internet search rabbit hole I was able to read about his whole story and the sacrifice he made for our country. I knew about his personal challenges and triumphs in healing…. I knew that although I discovered all of that with the UTMOST gratitude and awe, what I couldn’t wait to do was ask her who SHE was aside from or even MORE so in addition to her husbands wife and supporter. It’s important to be perfectly clear that who a woman is in her marriage is absolutely an integral part of who she is as a whole. Whether we choose to play the 50/50 partner, the leader, the breadwinner, the supporter, or all of the above and then some, our role as a wife – just as our role as a friend or sister or colleague – speaks volumes to the type of human being we are in general. Perhaps this is why I was so impacted and intrigued about the most meaningful things I learned in my research; McKayla’s role in her marriage and the public challenges around that told me everything. THIS was a special human being. Selfless. Nurturing. A beacon of honest light and love.
“When you’re in the moment you just do what you have to do that day. There were days when we didn’t know what the next step was but, what do we have to do to just get through today?”
Love So Hard
When I was a child I had a crush on a cast member of the then-new “Real World” on MTV… when she was a little girl, McKayla crushed on a man who would soon become an American hero, mostly a stranger, then a friend again and then… her partner in life. McKayla’s ear is kept close to the messages of the universe, which is in my opinion, what allowed her to hear the call when a man with whom she had only recently reconnected faced a dire situation and needed an advocate by his side. Whether this situation called her or she was simply destined to become one of the most positive, yet realistically giving people I have ever met, is unknown. She is not only full of general gratitude and appreciation for the unique qualities and preferences of different people, but she is now and has always been a patriot. The love for people, the love for individuality, the LOVE for her country. McKayla Hale has got enough love to light up the Superdome!
Dare NOT to Compare
We often hear women say “I don’t know how she does it”. We observe them in the wild, having it all together or at least appearing that way. Sometimes it’s the visual of an organized closet, a successful career, healthy children, fitness, friendship… it’s the home baked snacks at the classroom meeting, the pinterest worthy decorations at the birthday party… there are many ways in which we downgrade our individual accomplishments by comparing our moments to those of the women around us. During this conversation I am guilty. She tells her story of adventure, love, trials and triumphs, being thrust into motherhood, moving cross country to a very tiny community away from a tight knit friend and family network and career… HOW has she survived, and HOW does she tell this story so gracefully? “People who don’t know our life… say, ‘oh, that’s gonna be really hard for you’…It was really hard, but it was also really worth it,” McKayla says about people’s opinion on her marriage to a man who is both blind and hard of hearing. Instead of feeling angry or disappointed by this statement she has a strong desire to share with people the ABILITIES of people with disabilities, reinforcing not only the tools available from technology to counseling but also reminding us as human beings to not pass judgement on any people on the basis of your perceptions on what they may or may not be capable of.
Take out of the equation the fact that McKayla Hale is married to a battle tested man who has lost the majority of his hearing and all of his sight and was then thrust into the role of stepmom, handling all with grace. In embracing this as her new life, she moved across the entire country from California to the Emerald Coast leaving a career she loved and her family behind. She went from reconnecting with a man whom she crushed on as a child to “all-in” as the now wife of a disabled veteran. I am certain the challenges before her were surely not on any of the vision boards or to-do lists she has created in her short but meaningful life. I am equally and unwaveringly positive that the woman sitting before me, though human, has a superhuman love in her heart. The ability to walk into a moment completely open to what it offers to you, and what you in return can offer to that single moment, is a fascinating and awe inspiring quality.
Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number
It’s been said when you stop learning, you stop living! On the same token, there is often a preconceived notion about who exactly is qualified to offer advice and guidance. Who is credible? Who has enough experience? Shall we start requiring life resumes from those advice givers to ensure they are appropriately equipped to have anything to offer? McKayla was open enough to share during our chat that she would be celebrating her 26th birthday just a few days later. Admittedly I was impressed by the intelligence, experience, and perspective she possessed at this age. As though she was in my 40+ year old head I found myself smiling and nodding fiercely in agreement to the answers to most of her questions.
Age was a topic that arose during two key points in our conversation. One was in the age difference between her and her 14 year senior husband. As she was learning multiplication and division he was already enlisting in the military. Yet that gap did not create any obstacles for the love they grew and now shared through their reunification. When I asked her how she feels people perceive her, or if she ever feels judged by other people, she said she sometimes feels prejudged or discounted because of her age. “A lot of women, when they find out my age, count me out.” She has heard countless times that other women in their mid twenties were experiencing a very different life, just breaking into adulthood with fewer responsibilities, more parties, a generally more carefree life. Certainly most were not married, not mothers, not global activists for Veterans rights and support for families of disabled Veterans… McKayla Hale’s sentiments echo the mission of EmCoWo… instead of counting her out because of the date on her birth certificate, perhaps women could lift her up and celebrate who she is in her unique and special 26 years of life on this earth. Perhaps we could share our 26, 41, 80 years of life with her and be equally accepting thankful for the story she has to tell.
Just as we might assume being married to a blind man has insurmountable challenges, we sometimes assume people of a certain age lack the experience or intelligence to be take seriously. In both cases we would be wrong.
Negotiation in Marriage and Friendship
Listening to McKayla discuss the mutual agreement, shared responsibility, and respect in her marriage was beautiful, but she admits it hasn’t always been that way. In her marriage McKayla has been able to negotiate through the winding path of what roles she and her husband play and despite what you may think about their challenges, she will tell you she won the lottery! “We [negotiate] back and forth and reevaluate what our relationship needs on a regular basis.” He cooks, and cleans up. Yes, girl – the lottery indeed! But we SEE you… and putting in the work is a beautiful thing!
Sometimes we limit our circles to the people who seem most like us. Sometimes we count people out because of their age, their marital status, what activities their kids participate in, what church they go to…and in McKayla’s case she has found people have often counted her out because of the perception of her family unit. Young bright woman, blind partly deaf man… apparently some people think it is difficult to befriend a wholly inside and out beautiful pair such as this due to their own assumptions about what that friendship might look like. The “unknown” is enough to keep people at arms length. “Different” is enough to spark curiosity about the enigma but not enough to share the same space in friendship. This hurt me deeply to think – what if I had never reached out to McKayle because I assume she is too busy helping her husband, or mothering her step-son, or because she is 26 years old? How sad.
Her attitude, and the peace she has found – clearly through a process and some of her own personal disappointment and sadness – is profound. “The women who are meant to be in my life are going to stick around… and it’s not going to be a struggle.” This woman has a LOT to give to her friends and she knows she brings value to her relationships. “I don’t do half assed friendship.”
McKayla shared a personal best practice that I have already implemented in my personal AND professional life and I REALLY hope that if you’re reading this, you will consider it too. I’m just going to say it… as women, we have a reputation in general of gossiping. I think as a broad stroke statement this is true. Not always maliciously we tend to talk to each other about issues, questions and concerns we have about OTHER PEOPLE. Maybe you mask it as “venting” or that you are working through something. But if you never have the intention of addressing it directly and resolving it, then you are just wrong. Dont. Do. It. Anymore!!!!!
“I’m not the person you come to to talk badly about our other friends so please just don’t come to me with it, because I’m actually going to encourage you to talk to them… If you need to vent, at the end I’m going to ask you what your commitment is.” By this she means – you are now on a deadline to go and talk to this person directly and I am going to hold you accountable for this. It may sound extreme, maybe even invasive. Maybe you prefer spreading negativity without resolution and creating a festering cancer in your relationships. Not this girl. Healthy friendships, ride or die, or nothing. Sign me up!
Front and Center
It is obvious that McKayla has something to share. Had I met her after a yoga class or when making a business transaction I am 100% positive that I would be compelled to get to know her – WHO she is – WHAT she is doing. As has been mentioned throughout here a major role she has played is in support of her husband in their beautiful relationship, parenting, and as business partners. She spoke about the travels they have taken around the country and the world raising awareness on the topic of support for disabled veterans and part she plays during these travels. She is often called upon to be the “translator” of sorts for her husband. In one particular situation they sat together at a table full of affluent hollywood power players. “What a fun opportunity,” I’m thinking, until I hear the purpose of this story. Everyone was very interested to hear her husband’s story. This was completely normal. Not many people have a survival story like his and I absolutely implore you to seek it out, learn about it, and support his cause! But this particular day she was called upon to hear the questions from around the table, and repeat them to him so he could answer. She was not asked about her life, her part, her goals, her story. She disappeared in plain sight, yet was graceful as with everything and became even more motivated to step out of the shadow, and into her own bright light.
She is a lover of knowledge and learning and is in the process of taking Nutrition classes. I made the assumption this was in relation to her business goals but in fact she is doing this simply for the knowledge, and to possess the ability to share this information with her friends and family, equipping her to facilitate their health and well being. In addition she has started an AMAZING podcast which was mentioned earlier. I listened to this podcast for hours and was delighted in the positivity. “Im finding my voice and I’m also going to use it and connect with other women.”
Before she ever landed here, making the Emerald Coast her home, McKayla was a pretty spectacular woman. However, the circumstances by which she arrived speak volumes to the character and fortitude of this woman. Who are you today? Maybe you are seen as a parent, a caregiver, a professional, a service provider, a great cook… a terrible cook, maybe? But inside of all those things, no matter what your age or physical abilities, or circumstances, you have a voice.