When A Man Loves A Woman

I had just turned 39 years old when I fell in love with Selena.  I knew it was love because that’s when the song started playing in my head.

When a man loves a woman…can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else…

It’s the Percy Sledge song about—well, you know.

According to Percy, when a man loves a woman he tends to do things that are out of the ordinary.  At least, out of the ordinary for Mr. Sledge.  In addition to having the inability to put his mind onto anything else, Percy’s girl had him doing such things as spending his very last dime and sleepin’ out in the rain.

My entire life has been like a really long movie playing in my head.  There are heroes and villains; triumphs and tragedies; and sometimes it’s fiction, based on actual events.  Most importantly it’s full of music.  It’s not a musical, but it has a fabulous soundtrack.  In my brain, such that it is, there is a song for almost everything.  All it takes is a keyword, an event, or a certain person and, as Steve Miller might say, Abracadabra…a song.

Selena is really special to me.  She’s my whole world.  So while there are probably dozens of songs that I associate with her, the Percy Sledge song was probably the first.

Of course like I said, Percy’s girl had him goin’ broke with his head in the mud; and in the end, she sucked the soul right out of the poor man.

She can bring him such misery

To be clear, Selena wasn’t like that at all.  I was wholly smitten and only the first line of the song would play at the appropriate moment.

When a man loves a woman, can’t keep his mind on nothing else…

pannellbytes; duane pannell; selena pannell; love graffiti

In 16 years, that song has played a lot.  It will undoubtedly play when I am a little resistant to something that she wants me to do.  And don’t misunderstand, it’s not because she’s making me endure something horrible, or even unpleasant.  Many times something really cool happens.


Discovery of one of my all-time favorite movies was borne of just such an event.

Me:  So what are we watchin’?

Selena: The Princess Bride

My Brain:  Princess?  Sounds like a kissing book.

Me: Oh…?

Selena:  Don’t worry, you’ll love it!

My Brain:  When a man loves a woman…

Reflexive resistance isn’t the only thing that can trigger this song.  I’ve had it start in moments of trial.  Not big trials, I’ve got a different song for that.  I’m talking about small trials, like trying to get Selena a present, or getting something done that I know that she’ll appreciate.  A little obstacle rears its ugly head and for encouragement the song plays.

When a man loves a woman…

Whatever the task, it soon becomes easier because Percy just reminded me that no matter the difficulty, I do love the woman.

I may live to regret sharing all of this information.  Sometimes I disclose too much in an effort to give a story context, but I want you to know what’s going on when Percy Sledge starts singing right in the middle of my story.  If you knew me as well as Selena knows me, you would know that this is a risk I constantly have to take.


Once upon a time, early in our relationship, Selena put me on a project.  We were settling in for movie night at her apartment and she was preparing snacks.  She thought it might be nice to have some Kraft Philadelphia Dip to go with our assorted veggies and crackers.

“They have several different flavors,” she said.

“I’ll get two. What are your favorites?” I asked enthusiastically.

“How about dill pickle and urban spice?”

“I’ll be back in a flash!”

I raced to the closest convenience store, determined to earn boyfriend points for efficiency.  I ran inside and found a small assortment of dips.

Dill pickle, urban spice, dill pickle, urban spice, dill pickle, urban spice

“Crap, they only have dill pickle!  That’s okay, I’ll try the 7-Eleven!”

7-11; ponoka; pannellbytes; duane & selena pannell; 3000 miles to eternity

Store number two was also a bust.  They too had the dill pickle, but not the urban spice.   I was discouraged and quite certain that impressing Selena with a quick return was no longer in the cards.  The simple errand had become a challenge.  But my sweetheart wanted urban spice!

The song began to play.

When a man loves a woman…he comes back with the dip she wants…

I decided to up my game and go to the closer of two grocery stores.  Once again I ran inside hoping to find the elusive condiment.

Dill pickle, urban spice, dill pickle, urban spice, dill pickle, urban spice

The store was bigger but all they had was the same variety as the other two stores!  Of course, I would make the trip to the only other grocer in Ponoka, Alberta but I could sense that failure was becoming a real possibility.  Thank goodness Percy Sledge was there to remind me of the reason for my effort.

When a man loves a woman…he goes to the last dang store in town…

My heart sank as I arrived at the dairy case of my last hope.  The fourth and final store had only the same variety as the other three stores and NO URBAN SPICE!

I would have to call Selena and confess my failure.

“What’s taking you so long?” she asked.

“I went to four stores and none of them had the Urban Spice,” I said, sounding like a bad boyfriend.

“Do they have the Dill Pickle?”

“Yeah, I can get that.  What else do you think you would like?”

“What else do they have?” she asked.

“Um, let’s see here.  Besides Dill pickle, they have Onion, French Onion, Jalapeno, and Herb & Spice.”



There was a moment of silence to adequately observe my ineptness.

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll just go pay for this and I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

I could sense that she smiled sweetly.

Urban Spice.  The official potato chip dip of the ‘hood.urban spice; pannellbytes; 3000 miles to eternity; duane & selena pannell

When a man loves a woman…

~Duane Pannell aka Majestic D

duane pannell; pannellbytes; 3000 miles to eternity


No Regrets for a Redneck Russian

Every successfully recovering alcoholic knows that we should never revel in the ‘glory days’ of our addiction, and I won’t. But we do get homesick for what was real and good. Just because we are not our best selves and living up to our potential does not mean that there weren’t genuine good times and love amid the chaos.

This is about one of those times.


It’s a cool, spring morning.  I feed our horses and then steal a moment of serenity for myself.  As I look across the valley below our high desert home, I whisper the abbreviated prayer that I say when it’s getting late and I should be off to work.  “Thank you,” I say, “It’s a paradise that I can’t deserve.”

But something…

Horses, snow, Tag & Duchess, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, mountains, Redneck Russian

Maybe it’s my inner redneck.  I look at the still heavy snow on the Colorado and Utah mountains and think how warm it must be in Savannah.  Warm enough I’ll bet, to put the boat in and spend the night fishing without getting too cold.

One thought leads to another and I soon find myself 30 years back in time.

My brother-in-law Darryl was an avid fisherman.  Up until we started fishing together, the only things we really had in common was, I was married to his sister, and we both liked to get drunk.beer, fishing, two guys, river, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

It was a little past noon on a Friday when Darryl showed up at my job.  We had planned to go fishing for the weekend, but I hadn’t expected him to show up that early.  “Let’s go,” he said, “I told ‘em you had a family emergency and need to get off early.”

We walked back through the big warehouse and into the office area, making our way to the front door.  My boss stepped out of her office and wished me well, “I hope everything turns out okay,” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” I said, trying to look sorrowful…or disturbed.  I wasn’t quite sure how to look since my ticket out had not yet been revealed to me.

I don’t know what concerned me more; that Darryl had told my boss that my mother was at the hospital, about to have emergency surgery, or that he had parked the truck directly in front of the building with a boat full of coolers and fishing gear.

“You worry too much,” he said, “They’ll forget all about this by Monday.”

It wasn’t true, of course.  People asked me how my mother was doing for six months after that.  I had to lie my way through her follow-up visits and physical therapy.  I really was a bit of a worrier, but still managed to turn her fake medical condition into at least half a dozen more fishing trips.  Darryl didn’t have such inhibitions.  Rumor had it that he hadn’t been to work on a Friday in several years.

When he put that truck in gear he started talking about fishing.  Darryl was selling and I was buying, and any concern that I had about my job was soon a faded memory.  I had the attention span of a gnat.

But his passion!

Darryl could’ve been driving me to my doom and I would willing go.  It was his way.  It didn’t have to be about fishing.  No matter what we were about to do, he could convince me that I was about to have the time of my life doing it.  Lucky for me his idea of good times was not anything too illegal.  Hunting, fishing, and sleeping under the stars was all he ever really wanted out of life and everything else was just the necessary drudgery that got you to the next trip.

Darryl was a terrible driver.  That’s not an insult; he knew he was a terrible driver.  He turned and looked at me and with a mischievous grin and said, “You know what…?”

Before he finished what he was about to say the truck went off the pavement and slid in the gravel.  He had a bad habit of driving in the direction he was looking.  He got us back up on the pavement and swerved a nice serpentine pattern along both sides of the two-lane until he could regain control.  Lucky for us there was no other traffic.

“Dude!  Dang it!”  I said as I arched my body off the seat.  I had spilled half a beer and it made a nice puddle beneath me.

Darryl laughed but hadn’t really changed expressions.  He continued talking as if nothing had happened. “You know how you drive along one of these old rural highways and you see a locked gate?  And you know that the road that leads off into the woods on the other side of that gate—how you know it goes somewhere good but you ain’t got the key?”

“Yeah, ” I said as I sat back down in the cool puddle of beer.

“Well, today we got the key!  Braswell’s gonna take us to a black water lake up here that hasn’t been fished since 1949 and it’s just full of lunker bass!”

Mike Braswell was a guy that Darryl worked with and I had never met him.

“Hey!  You know what would be funny?” Darryl asked.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s pretend like you’re new to the country and don’t speak very good English.  See how long it takes Braswell to figure it out” he laughed.

I can be just as immature as the next guy and thought it to be an excellent prank.  We played around with a few voices, and although my fake Japanese was far superior to any of my other voices, we settled on fake Russian.  I could do the voice, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t fake looking like I was Japanese.

We met up with Braswell and followed him out to the lake.  It was so beautiful there.  It ‘looked’ fishy.  Big, moss-covered cypress trees growing throughout the lake; gators, snakes, frogs, and mosquitos.  It was paradise.

cypress gardens, south carolina, alligator, swamp, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

We put the boat in the water right away.  Braswell and brother Darryl were giving me pointers as we fished.  Darryl was giving me pointers because I’m a city boy; Braswell because I was Russian.

I played the part well and I totally had him on the hook, but every now and then Darryl would get tickled.  He would burst out laughing, and just when I thought he had ruined the joke, he’d turn to Braswell and chastise him, “Don’t make fun of him, man!  He’s not from around here!”

Georgia, jon boat, michael braswell, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, fishing, Redneck RussianBraswell, the good-natured guy that he was, would apologize—leaving me to keep my composure.  And so it went, into the evening.  Fishing, drinking and being Russian.  Oddly enough, the more beer we drank, the more convincing my character became.

I’ve seen a lot of evenings pass away, but none like the reflection of a Georgia sunset on that pretty black water.  We caught several bass and even got a glimpse of some wild pigs running through the swamp.  A couple hours after dark we sat around a campfire on the bank and roasted some hot dogs and told lies.

We all told lies, but in fairness, I had to tell lies—I was a fake Russian.

The night might have been quiet, but for a Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette playing over and over again in the truck.  I think Braswell went out in the night to cast a few times, but we were all mostly asleep after midnight.

The other guys were stretched out across the front seats of the trucks, but I awoke with a cold dew on my face right at sunrise, laying in the bed of one of the trucks.  The hangovers don’t last long when you drink beer for breakfast, and with no one around to tell us not to, that’s just what we did.

crappies, mississippi, fishing, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

It was hard to keep being Russian while all that nature was making life so sweet and real, but I maintained character.  It was around lunchtime when Braswell suggested that we take our stringer of fish and cash them in at a market in town.  This began our longstanding tradition of cashing in our Saturday afternoon catch.  We called them ‘Liquor Fish’.

I elected to stay back and let them go to town without me. “Go comrades.  I am to fish, and possibly take nap,” I said in excellent broken English.

We pulled the aluminum jon boat up to the spillway and we all got out.  When they got into the truck and pulled away, I decided to go back to the boat and resume fishing.  It may have been the hot sun, or it might’ve been the beer, but somehow I misjudged my step into the boat.

The boat tipped, and when it did, it immediately gulped up about 30 gallons of water.  I don’t know what happened next—the whole thing is a bit of a blur, but in my panic I…well, I sunk the boat.

It might not have been so bad if I hadn’t, in my own efficient way, taken the time to untie the boat before trying to get in. As it was, I had no idea how deep the water was at the spillway. I could only guess that it was much deeper than we would be able to salvage if I let it go.

iron rod, hand, hold to the rod, fishing, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Russian Redneck

So there I hung.  One arm gripping an iron rod on the spillway; the other arm trying to gather all the gear that was floating away. And down below the water’s surface, between my legs, was our boat.  I wasn’t entirely sober, but I was doing some serious cipherin’.  Those guys had just pulled away from our camp and would be going to Adrian, several miles away; selling fish; buying liquor; driving back.

‘I will probably drown way before they get back,’ I thought.

It was hot, but I wasn’t in direct sunlight.  I was holding on to the most important stuff.  A couple of coolers and a big tackle box were floating nearby.  If I could just hold on until they got back, this whole situation could easily be rectified.

My face was all sweaty and I was feeling kind of sleepy.  I dipped my face down in the cool water in an attempt to get my bearings.  I had no sense of time.  I tried singing songs to distract myself, but the stress of holding on was apparent in my voice and made me feel even weaker.  My legs were really cramping from holding the boat.

Just when I thought that I could hold on no longer, I saw the truck! I started screaming for help!  They heard me right away and came running. 

“The boat!  It’s down here!” I said, as they were grabbing the gear.  I got a bit of an adrenaline rush and between the three of us we managed to save most everything, even the boat. When the danger had passed and relief set in, we were on the ground laughing.

“So…were there pirates?” Darryl asked.

“No.  No pirates…”

“Were you trying to hide the boat from us?

I expected that I would probably never live down the day that I sunk the boat, but I was too relieved to care.  They continued to give me a hard time about it for a few minutes when Braswell got a real serious look on his face.

“You know what I noticed?” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I noticed that you speak perfect English when you’re about to drown.  That’s what I noticed.”

Darryl and I had forgotten about our little prank and we all had a good laugh.


I hate that I can’t remember the details of all the adventures I had with Darryl and my good friend Michael Braswell.  We parted ways long ago.  I left Georgia in ’88 and never went back.  I quit getting high and drinking in 1990 and my life changed so much for the better.  If it were possible to separate out the bad from what was good, I would sure love the chance to go back.

But in a way, this week I did go back.  Thanks to modern technology and Facebook,  I reconnected with Braswell.  He’s had some medical issues recently, and maybe he’s feeling his mortality.  I woke up to a message from him that said, “If you ever come to Georgia, the place on the Ohoopee would really like to see you again.”

Braswell Lake, Georgia, sunset, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

I told him, “Dude, you’re gonna make me cry. I tell my wife and my little boy about the black water and the cypress trees, the alligators and the HUGE crappie, and what I can remember of my adventures with Darryl and Michael in the south Georgia wilderness. It seems like a million years ago and my life is so different now. I only wish I could be there with you guys again…sober.”

Braswell told me that 12 years ago he got sober, and he’d love to have me come down.

“Darryl finally got sober, too.  October before last,” he said.

I guess that’s why this story has been on my mind all week.  Our dear friend Darryl passed away in October of 2014.

It’s not smart to have regrets.

We all need our struggles to be who God wants us to be.  And I do love my life as it is today.  But what a sweet thought it is to me, to think of what it might be like to spend a day at that beautiful lake in Georgia.


With my good friends.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Back Story – Teens Raised by a Single Father

While getting to acquainted online, I learned from Duane’s profile that he had three children – teenagers!  My own children had friends who were expert in the art of sabatoge. One young lady ruined the girlfriend’s laundry and keyed her car, among other devious acts designed to break up her dad’s budding relationship.

Duane was raising his son and daughters and seemed like a great dad, but I really had no idea what his children would be like. I only had my second-hand experience and imagination as a guide. Then he sent me this picture, with his commentary found on page 61 of our book.

teen glamor pannellbytes

“Do these kids look too good to belong to a guy like me or what? Don’t let their good looks fool you; they’re quite rotten. I have promised them that because of their evil ways I’ll marry a wicked stepmother. You don’t know any wicked, single women I could *hook up with that happen to be LDS, do ya?” 

When I met Emily, Mallory and JR, I got to know another wonderful thing about their dad. They were bright and funny and happy, not at all like the teen terrors we hear about all too often. And they welcomed me into their lives without reservation.

As a step-mother who never had occasion to help raise them, I have the deepest respect for Duane and the wonderful job he did as a single father. It’s amazing to me even today, that not one of those teens was ever disrespectful or unkind to me in any way. As adults, they are still really cool, fun and incredibly caring and thoughtful. All step-parents should be so lucky.

After a stint in the Air Force and some time in Utah, JR is back in Virginia, working and being a devoted dad. Mallory is in Kansas, married to a helicopter pilot and makes being a stay at home mom to two little boys look easy. Emily graduated from college with two degrees and lives and works in Washington state with her husband and their golden lab.

*Hooking up back then did not mean what it means today!!

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story



A Look From Both Sides of the Generation Gap

‘Listen to your elders’ was my first thought when I read a Facebook meme the other day that asked, “What 4 words would you tell your 17 year old self?”  That thought was immediately followed by another thought that said, “Your 17 year old self would never have listened.  You’re too old to talk to him.”

generation gap; thunder vs. lightning

Selena and I went to church yesterday in Lacombe, Alberta.  It is the ward we attended when we lived here 10 years ago.  Since it has been so very long ago that we attended here, it is no wonder that I would wander into the wrong room for my priesthood meeting.  I probably sat there for a full ten minutes before I realized that most of the men in the room were at least 15 years my senior.  After chastising myself for having a lack of simple observational skill, I decided that the least disruptive thing to do was to just stay where I was.

It is quite likely that the lesson that I would have been privileged to participate in (had I found my way to the correct classroom) would have been the exact same.  Same lesson; same book, but when the title of the lesson is ‘The Elderly in the Church’, can it get any better than just sitting among them?  It was like Sensurround® courtesy of the High Priest Quorum.

old people sign; generation gap

This lesson was about the role of the elderly in the family and in the church.  How we should appreciate the experience and wisdom of our old folks.  So as the younger men monopolized the discussion, and the older men dozed off, I began daydreaming about being in a tropical paradise with my hot wife…

Ha!  Just jokes.  Wanted to see if you were paying attention.

It was actually a very good discussion with thoughtful comments and everyone participating.  But my mind did begin to wander.  The teacher asked someone to tell a story of a time when he was given counsel by an older person and what it was like for him.  As the man began to tell his story, I found myself unable to relate, and soon, a million miles away in thought.

Oddly, this same thing happened to me a few weeks ago.  In a similar meeting, with similar circumstance.  A man in my ward began to tell a story, in which he was talking to his father about a problem that he was having.  He was about 17 years old, the youngest of 10 children.  His father was an older man, maybe in his 60’s.  He spoke of how when he would be working with his father (a former bishop), that his father would begin a conversation with him.  He said that his dad had a way of getting him to talk about anything that was on his mind and how, “…there was nothing that [he] was afraid to talk about with [his] dad.”

I regret to report that I have no idea what was said after that sentence was spoken.  In both instances, my mind began to search the vast archives to find a story in my history that would relate.  In both experiences, I left the meetings to continue pondering these things for the rest of the day.  I don’t believe that it is mere coincidence that this has happened to me two times in a matter of only a few weeks.

Certainly I’m not the rare exception.  In my circle of friends, we spent most of our time making sure that our parents were in the dark about all of our activities, that was a given.  To contemplate sharing our thoughts with the parental units represented an even higher betrayal to teenager-hood.

defiant boy; generation gap; attitude

My thoughts though, took me beyond simple teenage rebellion.  I had an odd belief as a child and I’m not quite sure where it came from, or when I had finally forsaken it.  I believed with all my heart that grown people had exhausted all the fun there was to have in life. Any advisement that I received from one of their kind was to be considered suspect and simply an effort, on their part, to deprive me of my right to fun.  I remember telling my father once, as he was trying to prevent me from making a huge error in judgment, “You admit that you did the exact same thing at my age?  So what are you now, a hypocrite?  I’d rather be anything than be a hypocrite.”  I can only imagine the frustration of my father as he looked at my smug mug glowing from, what I considered to be, superior debating skills.

I was even more cynical when it came to the elderly.  It seemed to me that every old person that I knew, was a church goer.  The malfunction of my brain had convinced me that old people were only ‘religious’ for one reason:  They were hedging their bets.  They knew that their time was winding down and they wanted to be in good with God before their time was up.  In my mind they had no greater assurance of the existence of God than I did.  Again, all hypocrites.

Time proved the fallacy of many of my beliefs.  Over the years I have met plenty of elderly people who had no desire to cozy up to God for a last minute appeal for salvation.  In fact, I’ve met some who seemed to have a downright disdain and hatred for the god they say doesn’t exist.  Yet these same elders will still offer up counsel to the younger generation about the way certain behaviors can cause a person grief.  No doubt some of these old folks can give faulty advice, but it still remains, their motive isn’t to cheat anyone out of having a good time.  It’s seems many of the elder generation have a genuine desire to help the younger avoid the pitfalls of fast living.   Repeated witness of this phenomenon over the years has proven my youthful theory, like so many of my other youthful theories, to be full of holes.

generation gap; old lady talking to boy with mohawk;

As for trying to warn children as a parent of the consequences that some behaviors can bring—I have a totally different perception of that look on my father’s face.  It wasn’t just anger (although I’m sure anger was the dominate emotion), it was also fear, disappointment, and frustration.  I have looked into the eyes of my child (children) and thought, “Can I not speak, or can he not hear?”  The barrier between me and my precious child is palpable and yet I know full well that it is imaginary, because I have to resist the nagging compulsion to reach out and smack him.

I hate to disappoint anyone who has followed me through this odyssey of thought waiting for the moment that I would reveal the long anticipated solution to what has been commonly called ‘The Generation Gap’.  Ha!  Generation Gap.  The definition of that word to my generation meant ‘we’re too hip for you to understand’.  Luckily we owned that particular terminology; we now realize how stupid the definition was and we let it die with some other groovy jargon from the 60’s and 70’s.  Whatever it is, it’s real and wisdom born of experience tells me that it cannot be overcome, at least not completely.

What I know for sure is this:  no matter where the standard for acceptable behavior is set, human beings will fall short of the mark.  If set as a high standard, most people will not meet the best mark.  If you set the standard low, it likely that some will meet and even exceed the mark, but many, many more will not even meet the low bar.  So it’s important that we have expectations that encourage us to be our very best.  If called upon in life, as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, coach, or otherwise as a mentor to a young person, we should not shy away from big expectations.  Young people will often bleat like little lambs when anything is expected of them.  Why not make it worth the grief?

I also know for sure that there is no tried and true method in the history of man that will overcome what sometimes appears to be an impenetrable wall to communication between the youngsters and the oldsters.  How many of us have witnessed the dynamic of a family, with say 5 children, and four of the children do real well in life, but that one seemed to be on a collision course from the moment he began to walk? “Such a nice family, how did that one end up in jail?”

It goes the other way too.  The whole family is a wretched mess, but that one child overcomes all the obstacles to become someone that everyone is proud of.

artistic man showing child the way; generation gap

It could be because this line of thinking began and ended in a priesthood meeting, on both occasions, that I arrived at the same point.  I try not to have regrets in life, believing that all of our experiences serve a purpose, but I do lament that I was such a cynic.  As an adult, I have had several mentors.  Men of experience; men of letters.  I have respected them for their accomplishments, but I have mostly appreciated them for the way they conduct themselves every day; their example.  Until I know of a better way to communicate with the younger generation I’ll let this be my guide:  I’ll be the best example that I can be, and those that will hear, will hear.  I believe it was in a conference talk that I heard a remark that put things into perspective.  The speaker said that even the best father of all, our Heavenly Father, lost a third of his children.

Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Forgiveness: For Mental Health and Sobriety

Many of the things that I had to learn to overcome addiction were foreign to my nature as an addict.  Chief among these was the ability to forgive.

…and [Jesus] taught them, saying…

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”  (Mathew 5:2 and 44)

My first year of sobriety was a strange new adventure.  I had managed to graduate from preteen, to teenager, to young adult, and then to adulthood without ever really facing life’s challenges sober.  I appeared to be a 30 year old man on the outside, but on the inside was an excitable 12 year old, spontaneous and passionate.

I took a job with a local man that owned his own truck.  He hauled explosives and ammunition for the government and he needed a co-driver.  I had to be certified to handle sensitive materials and we were required to be armed.  Al, my new boss, paid for my training and background check and provided for my food and hotels.  Within a few weeks we were on the road.

semi truck at night; forgiveness

I was to be paid a percentage of our contracts.  He showed me his previous year’s settlements and I was looking forward to making a higher than average income driving a truck.

We had not been out on our first run for very long when I started to suspect that Big Al was an alcoholic.  Every hotel that we stayed in had a bar, and it appeared that he knew the location of every strip club on the eastern seaboard.  Being around Al and some of his antics was not a trigger for my delicate sobriety. It was actually the opposite.  His obnoxious behavior seemed to strengthen my resolve to stay sober.

One day, as Al was driving, he reached over to my side of the cab and grabbed the book I was reading right out of my hand.

“Whatcha readin’ there, Hot Shot?” he said.  Al was about 30 years older than me and never called me by my given name.

“It’s the Bible.  Hand it back,” I said.

“Why are ya readin’ that for?” he said, as he reached back across the cab.

“Just am,” I said. “Didn’t think it would be an issue.”

“Well, it’s no issue. I was just wonderin’.”

I had been reading the Bible as part of my journey to sobriety.  I don’t know that I was embarrassed to be reading the Bible, but I wasn’t prepared to make a big deal out of it.

We rode in silence for a few minutes.

“You know, all judges are going to hell,” Al said with his most authoritative voice.

It took a moment to register.  I wasn’t sure that I heard him correctly.  “What?”  I said.  “Wait…what?”

“That’s right.  All of ‘em.  District court judges, State Court judges, Supreme Court judges.  All the judges.”

I was staring at Al in disbelief.  He took his eyes from the road for a moment and said, “Judge not!  Lest I judge you!  It’s right there in the Bible.”

“Al, I don’t think it means…”

“In fact,” Al interrupted, “If you go by that book, there’s just about nothing you can do to avoid goin’ to hell.  Tell a lie…go to hell.  Shoplift a box of animal crackers…go to hell.  Have sex…BOOM, go to hell.  We’re all goin’ to hell.  That’s why I say ‘just live like ya want, cause you’re just going to end up in hell.”

Sadly, that was not the dumbest discussion that I ever had with Big Al.  He would argue until my head hurt, so maybe it was not such a bad thing that our relationship was short-lived.

I had worked a full six weeks and the day had finally arrived to get my first paycheck.  We were standing outside Al’s apartment when he handed me the check.  I should have known there was a problem when his wife made an excuse and left.

“Three hundred dollars?!” I said. “Is this a joke?!”Man smoking cigar on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

“Yeah, I’m real sorry about that,” he said, “I had some unexpected expenses; bringing you on cost me some overhead.  I’m sure we’ll do better next month.”

“I don’t care about your expenses!  You said I would be paid ten percent of gross!”

Al just stood there.  “Sorry, but that’s all I got.”

“This ain’t over!”  I said, as I ripped up the check and threw it in the direction of his face.  “I put up with a lot of crap and I worked hard…this ain’t over!”  I turned and walked away, fuming.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was mad enough to kill and sad enough to cry.  Al’s drinking and hanging around clubs had never been a challenge to my sobriety, but suddenly I could feel a battle waging for my very soul.  All I could think of was revenge.

I’ll bet his wife would be interested in knowing about all the money he spends on strippers.

I’ll bet the feds wouldn’t be happy if they knew that Al was flipping his placards and driving high explosives through tunnels and over restricted bridges.

I also thought of vandalizing his truck and his apartment.  Maybe even doing something to his cat.  Stupid cat.

Smug cat on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

I didn’t know how to cope with what had happened.  I parked my car in town and started walking around.  I was rehearsing the event in my head over and over again.  I thought of the money I owed to other people and my bills.  I had promised to give my ex-wife money for our kids.  I cursed myself for throwing that money back in his face; it was money in my hand and I let my emotions rule me.  I had to act, but I didn’t know what I would do.

Hours passed and I resisted the desire to drink or get high.  I made the decision to go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  I knew that, if nothing else, I could vent my frustrations and maybe find some relief.  It was a good decision.  I found peace there and was able to see sympathetic faces.  When the meeting ended I felt a little better, but there was still no plan for how I would get satisfaction.

A young man that I knew approached me before I got in my car to leave and he said, “So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “Slash his tires?”

He laughed. “Yeah, you could probably do that.

Would you be open to a spiritual solution?”

“I’m open to having God smite him, if that’s what you mean.”

He laughed again.  “It’s an old AA trick.  Every day for the next two weeks I want you to pray for this man that cheated you.  Get down on your knees and literally pray that he has all the blessings that you can think of.  Even if you can’t feel anything, say the words.  Do you think you can do that?”

“I think I liked my solution better,” I said.

“It’s like this, my friend. You are going to hold onto this resentment and it’s going to grow.  It will eat at you like cancer.  That old trucker will be long gone with your money and never give you a second thought. Meanwhile, your hate will affect your very quality of life.  And then one day, do you know what’s going to happen?” he asked.


One day you’re going to drink or take drugs to get even with him.  It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what addicts do.”

I thanked my friend and went home.  In the coming weeks I knelt down twice a day and I prayed for Big Al.  Admittedly, I was not as sincere with my prayers as I should have been, but I did as my friend suggested and just said the words.

God,Praying man on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Please bless Al.  Bless him to win the lottery.  Bless him to get dates with supermodels.  Bless him that his cat lives to a ripe old age.


After a little time I got better at it.

Dear God,

Please bless Al.  Bless him with good health and a happy marriage.  Bless him that he can make a success of his business.


I don’t know if I went the full two weeks.  I forgot all about Big Al; that is, until three years later.  I was sitting at an intersection in town waiting for the light to change.  I looked at the car to my right and it was Al!  I immediately blew the horn at him and waved.  When Al saw me, his eyes got big and whoosh!  He ran the red light

Al remembered the money he owed me and fled, but I had peace.  My very first thought, when I saw him was of our talk about religion that day.  I had learned a lot over the past few years and I had answers for his questions; good and positive things to share with him.  The prayer exercise had worked.  The hate had been removed from me and I was well off.

Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘bless our enemies’ may result in softening the hearts of those who hurt us, but that is not a guarantee.  This command is for all of us who wish to live without anger and bitterness. To live in peace.Broken log pieces make peace sign on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Living sober is greater than just abstinence.  Practicing forgiveness relieved me of an agitation and a stress that I had lived with my whole life.  Forsaking resentment took away a portion of power that addiction had over me and has allowed me to have true sobriety.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story


Back Story – Chick Pics

Writing a true story seems to be a call for more information. Some of our readers, once having gotten to know the ‘characters’ send us questions like these; what do they look like, where are they now, and how do they feel about being part of our published story?

Well, how they feel will probably be scribbled down in some therapist’s notes and kept in a locked filing cabinet somewhere. But as for how they looked, well, today’s little nugget brings a smile to my face.

On page 59, I told Duane:

“Thought I would send you a pic of my little chicks. Auriana is in braids on the left and Savannah is wearing the yellow shirt.”

3,000 Miles To Eternity Little Chicks pg 59

Duane’s response on pg 60:

P.S. Do you have eyes like that? Did they get that look from you? How will I ever know without a picture for reference? If I can post a picture of me eating a live mouse, you can share a picture of you that features your eyes!

Auriana has become a photographer whose creativity manifests especially with still subjects, like food and scenery. And Savannah is busy saving lives as a registered nurse.on a neuro ICU in northern Alberta.

3,000 Miles To Eternity Little Chicks Grown Up

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Back Story – How Not To Attract A Typical Wife

With online dating becoming more mainstream, a great deal of attention is given to creating a great profile that will not only garner interest from quality, potential soulmate candidates , but give an accurate portrayal of the spouse-seeking individual.

Duane included this picture in his online profile album.  It took a special kind of, uh, special to overlook the obvious and find the amazing man on the other end of that mouse. .

*We pulled it out of the archives because we’ve had requests for pictures to go along with some of the stories in the book.  Happy Throwback Thursday!

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

A Remarkable Life Do-Over

There was no doubt my life had taken an unexpected detour when I looked at the two books lying on my night table.  The Wisdom of Menopause by Christianne Northrup and What to Expect: The Toddler Years by Heidi Murkoff were unlikely companions, but a perfect illustration of my life nine years ago.

I was newly married for the second time and 41 years old when I got the news.  I was pregnant.  I WAS PREGNANT?!  I thought all my eggs were dinosaur eggs.  I was wrong!  After my sister talked me down from the ledge, pointing out that nobody was sick or had died and reassuring me that this was good news  I was able to embrace this unexpected, yet distantly familiar experience.  The tiny source of my world being turned upside down’s next oldest sibling was thirteen.

I do believe most people thought I was crazy, but politely kept that to themselves as I continued my work at a small hospital in rural Alberta.  My grandmother was keenly interested in the fact that I was pregnant again and confided in her soft, low voice that I was the same age she was when she had her last baby.  My own mother  (and my husband’s biggest fan) was actually giddy.  My dear husband was thrilled enough for the both of us.  I confess I had my misgivings about the prospect of starting all over.

As I began to resemble the watermelons I was compelled to devour in copious amounts at all times of the day or night, the overwhelming nausea subsided and we prepared for a baby.  Our future was uncertain, as plans to move to southern Alberta turned into a move to the United States.  For three months after our precious little boy was born, we even lived  in my mother’s basement until our relocation south of the border.

 We laughed about it then and marvel now, how at our age, we were treated to a rare and remarkable do-over.  We were making our way with not much more than love and experience.  We were newlyweds with a baby, changing our boy on my mom’s ironing board in the basement hallway and starting over with very little in the way of material things.  Oh, and we were in our 40s. As one of my friends so aptly put it, “…having our own grandchildren”.

As reluctant as I felt at the time, I am equally sure now of the ‘rightness’ of the privilege of having a baby with my dearest love.  I’ve been more relaxed and ‘present’, knowing now how quickly the years fly by.  My oldest daughter and mother of 3 of our grandchildren has remarked more than once that, “Nathan got a way better mom” and she’s right.

I know what things matter (shutting off the computer and going for an impromptu hike, complete with snacks prepared by the boy and safely stowed in his Scooby Doo insulated lunch bag) and what things really won’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things (believe it or not, dishes and laundry wait and there are years of yard work ahead on which to dedicate our time).

I know that taking care of myself and being as fit and energetic as possible must be a priority, because he deserves young parents even if they are old(er).  And I will likely color my hair until he’s left the nest, just so he doesn’t have to explain that I’m not his grandmother.  This, of course, is a personal choice and I bemoan the fact I will also likely miss my window of opportunity to naturally participate in the current fashion trend of sporting ‘granny hair’. I would never have imagined how having a child at ‘my age’ would enhance my life and even improve my health.

I have wistful regrets about my youthful impatience, inexperience and imperfections that my grown children will undoubtedly remember.  Alas, going back in time to make it all right is not an option.  I imagine they would probably benefit from a few sessions on a therapist’s couch… because of me.

Because of them, though, I can give their little brother the best possible mother (still ridiculously imperfect, but more patient and experienced).  Because of them, the boy has “a way better mom”.  And because of them, I’m not taking my time with him for granted.

Somewhere along the way, I held each of them on my knee… for the last time.  And there was a last time each of them came to me with a book to read, an ow-ee  to be doctored, a school assignment to be proudly displayed and fussed over.  I don’t know when those times will be for this boy, but I’m not taking them for granted.  Every time is going to be precious.

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Death Decorum – Don’t Ask How

“What happened?”  Or the dreaded alternative, “How did he die?” These are the questions I have come to shrink from in the days and weeks since the death of my 35 year old son –in-law.  I can only imagine how my daughter feels (now a 30 year old widow with 3 little ones under the age of 6 and all on the autism spectrum), when approached by sincere and I’m sure, well-intentioned people with these same questions.

I found out at church I’m not a very gracious griever.  I was approached more than once and asked one of these questions.  I felt like a trapped animal with no escape in sight. Neither answer I gave was satisfactory, either to them or me.  I still haven’t figured out how to ‘do’ deeply personal loss in public right, and haven’t had the heart to check Pinterest for ideas.

“Why do you want to know?” caused a bit of stammering, but a quick re-wording by her brought us back to the same place. “He was so young, what happened?”

*sigh* “His heart stopped.”

An audible gasp with a flash of shock made me realize I’d given the impression he’d had a heart attack.  I didn’t want to answer.  I didn’t want to feel like I had to answer.  I tried again, to clarify without really answering, “That’s what happens when people die.  Their heart stops.”

Still unsatisfactory.  This stilted conversation, no doubt intended to convey concern and compassion, only made me feel more alone.

We all have heard, at one time or another, about the stages of grief.  We know to expect denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We can read ad infinitum appropriate things to say or do when called upon to express a surprisingly awkward acknowledgement of someone else’s grief.  And yet, asking ‘how’ seems to have slipped through the cracks of death decorum.

I know I have done the same thing.  People are curious.  I get it, I’m a curious person, too.  For some reason, it’s not enough to know a tragedy has happened.  We want details. Maybe we feel subconsciously this will ‘connect’ us with the mourner.  Or maybe the raw details feed our primitive need to feel the reassuring relief that it’s not ‘us’ or ‘ours’.  I wonder, though, how many times have I unknowingly magnified someone’s grief by asking one of these simple questions?

Since our own personal tragedy, I’ve been rethinking how I approach someone who has been devastated by the loss, expected or not, of a loved one.  In an effort to help others avoid making the same mistake, and as a PSA for those mourning and just-trying-to-make-it-through-the-day souls, I’ve come up with three ideas.  I hope these will remind us all of another way we can show sincere care and compassion for the newly bereaved.

It’s okay not to know what to say and if that’s the case, say nothing.

One of the most touching gestures I’ve received in the last few weeks was the hand on my shoulder as I settled into my pew at church.  I looked back and saw the face of an elderly woman, with intense eyes.  She didn’t say a word, but I knew in that moment she knew and that she cared.  Not a word, but I could feel her concern. I’m going to remember how this tender acknowledgement of my pain made me feel and try to offer that gift to others.

Being curious is natural, but at this emotionally intense time, it’s not about you.

In the light of day, when no death is imminent, can any of us honestly picture asking this question in good conscience?  We simply don’t know if the burden of grief feels infinitely more intense because murder or suicide, accidental overdose or a fatal error in judgement by the deceased or someone else involved caused the untimely demise.  Err on the side of caution and compassion and focus on the mourner’s feelings, not your own.

Grieving family members may not want to confide in you, and that’s ok.

If you have not been included among the inner circle privy to details, you need to respectfully consider a couple of possible reasons.  It could be that you are not considered close enough to warrant that type of confidence.  It may be those who are suffering through a loss may not feel ‘safe’ to share. Reluctance to trust us with intensely personal information may come from a fear of it being treated as common neighborhood gossip to a deep-in-the-core desire to be loyal and protect the deceased. We may feel like it’s our business, but unless offered, patience would be well advised.  Putting someone who is already mourning in that position can not only intensify their pain but may well compromise your relationship for years to come.  These are the moments that embed themselves in one’s memory.

The very nature of life itself includes death and we will all assume the role, sooner or later, of comforter and mourner.  And we will all face the same tragic awkwardness in each role.  Now you know how.

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Welcome To Recovery

I watched you come into our room for the very first time tonight.  I don’t know who you are, or exactly why you are here, but I can guess.

I know one of the most common reasons.  It’s usually desperation born of torment; you come seeking relief from the turmoil that you are experiencing now.  The world is closing in and you need some space between you and your immediate troubles, or things have been going downhill for a long time and you just can’t take any more.

Another common reason someone might wander into a 12 step meeting also has to do with desperation.  Someone they love is an addict or alcoholic and they want to help them.  I don’t know, that could be you.

It could be that the court sent you.  A judge has offered you a get-out-of-jail-free card if you’ll attend some 12 step meetings.  You want to endure whatever this meeting is about, get your paper signed, and get the heck out of here.

Maybe you’re just curious.  You’ve had some troubles and you figure there could be something, maybe some pointers, you could learn that will help you reset your course.  One or two bad things have happened and you’d like to avoid it happening again if you can.

I’m fairly certain it’s one of these.  If I guessed right, then I already know more about you than you know about me.

You’ll have to come back for a few more meetings before you start to know who I am, but there are some things that I can’t wait for you to know.

I would like to believe that if you knew some of these things it would help.  I want you to benefit from what is here, the power of this room, as soon as possible.  It’s frustrating sometimes, to know what I know, and know that you can’t know it all at once.

I have sat in that chair, the one you are sitting in now and looked at the faces in the circle.  I’ve wondered the same wonderings and thought the same thoughts.  If you’re like me, you looked around the room and decided that you have nothing in common with any of these people.  It’s not true of course, but it will take more than one visit to see just how much we share in common.

We call it a fellowship.  A special relationship of brothers and sisters, that often times never extends beyond the walls of this room.  We are more candid and honest in this room, with these relative strangers, than anywhere else in our lives.  It’s not because we like talking about our lives or our feelings so much, in fact it goes against our very nature as addicts; it’s because this honest communication is healing.  It’s healing for the one who shares and the rest who hear.

We are a support group; not group therapy.  While it is therapeutic, we are not analyzing you.  We don’t need to analyze. The nucleus of the group already understands the problem and we are familiar with all of the symptoms.  In fact, the better we understand 12 Step, the less likely we are to get caught up in the minutiae of each individual problem.  The better we understand the solution, the more we gravitate to experience, faith and hope.  We testify of the steps.

And that chair you sit in, it has a curse.  It can be overcome in just a little time, but it’s always there the first time you sit in it.  You look into the faces in the circle and you feel judgment.  There may be a little judgment, or maybe no judgment at all, but regardless of reality you will feel that you are being judged.

The curse of that chair begins to wear off with time.  Looking back at you are not judges, but members of the same fraternity.  Among us are those who have cheated on our spouses; some of us have lost custody of our children due to neglect or abuse; some of us face jail time for DUI or other offenses related to our addiction; and some of us have done things that we consider so bad that we dare not reveal them.  We know how bad it can be.  You cannot shock us.

Sometimes when you see an expression that could be taken for judgment or pity, you may well be looking at the face of true empathy.  Rarely in life do you meet people who can sincerely understand what you are going through, but in this room you will.  Not only do they understand, but they know that there is reason for hope.  In this room we are all witnesses to the miracle of recovery through 12 step.

Earlier I mentioned the power of this room.  It’s real.  It comes as a direct result of the broken hearts and contrite spirits of those who attend.  If for no other reason, we need each other.  The group draws that power like a magnet.  You don’t even have to understand what it is for it to give you peace and calm.  You don’t even have to understand it to commune with it and find inspiration.

I hope that this little chat has helped you to understand me and who I am.  Maybe you’ll find exactly what you are looking for in this room.  Maybe by understanding who we are, you’ll not hesitate to ask for help and suggestions.  I hope so.  My very best advice for this, the first visit, is to keep coming back.

 One last thing before I close.  You may be curious as to why I would take the time to share these things with you, a stranger.  It’s part of our philosophy in 12 Step that, I can only keep what I have by giving it away.  We come from a world that is cutthroat and every man for himself, but here my efforts to help and encourage you pay dividends of sobriety.  In this room you are just as valuable to me as I am to you.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story