Just tell me what to do — Take small steps and breathe

Have you ever climbed a mountain?  I have.  It was one of the most daunting experiences of my life.  I was at a self-improvement retreat and I freely tell you if I had known what was involved, I never would have signed up.  The entire week was one physical test of strength and endurance after another.  I was middle aged, over weight and out of shape.  But I am not a quitter, and I did sign on, and I was determined to face every challenge laid before me.  And I also freely tell you I never would have made it had it not been for a young man named Danila.

I met Danila on the first day of the event. We were standing in line, checking in, when the woman handling room assignments called out, “I need a single woman to share this room.”  This devastatingly handsome young man, in his early twenties, with a French/Russian accent and a devilish smile on his face, spoke up and said, “I need a single woman for my room also.”  And the entire room burst out laughing.

Danni was on my team and for reasons I will never understand, we clicked.  The first challenge we faced was very difficult obstacle course.  I was terrified.  I was embarrassed.  I was ashamed of myself for allowing myself to get so out of shape.  I was trying desperately to make myself invisible when Danni walked up to me and said, “You can do it. I will help you.  We will do it together.  I will go first then I will come back and show you what to do.  If you listen to me, you will do it.”  And so we did it, or at least he did, and I tried.  Together we made it through.

And so the week went, the other exercises were challenging, difficult, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  I was feeling confident and rather proud of myself again.  I didn’t really need help.  I started to relax a little.  But then, on day four, there we stood with backpacks full of bricks and a big bottle of water, staring up the sheer face of a mountain.

We were told to choose a partner.  I began to reach for one person after another, but every time, someone else grabbed the hand in front of me until at last I looked up to see Danila next to me.  I said, “Hi, Coach” and he took my arm and said, “So, we are partners once again.”

“Danni,” I said with more than a little trepidation in my voice, “You need to understand something, I wasn’t always this overweight, something happened to me several years ago, an emergency surgery, and afterward they were supposed to do respiratory treatments, but they forgot, and now I can’t breathe well, it’s as if I have asthma.”  Danni just took my hand and said, “It will be fine, you’ll see, we will do it together.”  And he took my hand, “Concentrate on your breathing,” he said, “take small steps and remember to breathe.”

For as long as I live, I will never forget that day.  Up the mountain we went.  Danni never left my side, never let go of my hand, except to go ahead a little ways and scout out the best path, the most sure footing.  He came back with a walking stick me fashioned from a fallen tree branch.  “Here,” he said, “This will help you keep your balance.”  If I began to take long strides, Danni would say, “Why do you make things so difficult?  You always do it the hard way?  You must listen to me, take small steps.”  And when I forgot and began to take long steps again, he said, “When you fall, then you will see.”  And, when I did fall he said, “So, now you will listen to me?”  Then he asked if I was hurt badly and helped me up and checked for cuts and bruises.

We walked and walked for hours, over treacherous terrain, across streams and up cliffs, he held my hand.  Over and over, he repeated “take small steps, and breathe.” It became my mantra “take small steps, and breathe.”  When my legs began to cramp and he stopped to massage them so I could go on and I thought how lucky I was to have this wonderful young man at my side.

When my back pack became heavy, he took it from me and carried both his own and mine as well.  He carried my water bottle and stopped frequently to make sure I was drinking enough water and staying hydrated.  To make the time pass, or perhaps as a distraction, Danni would ask me, ”what is the name of that flower?”  And so I began telling him the English names for the flowers that I knew growing in that forest, Mountain Asters, Hydrangeas, Daisies, and plants, too, ferns, ivy, wild grapes and strawberries, and, of course poison oak.  “Be careful,” I called to the hikers behind us, “There’s poison oak up here.”  One of the women in our group told me later that she saw a goddess on the mountain that day, striding through the forest with her staff.  Then, she said, when I began naming all the plants she thought to herself, “She’s not just a goddess, she’s a medicine woman.”  And, in some ways, I felt like a goddess and a medicine woman, there was definitely something magical going on here, something strange and healing and wonderful and profound.

From time to time, as the day wore on, someone would ask Danila if he wanted them to carry one of the back packs for a while, but he always said no, he was fine.  I said, “He’s not fine, he needs to rest.”  But still he refused help.  He said “What you don’t understand is the weight of the pack helps me to feel how you are doing.”  There were other men (and women) that day that touched my heart.  There was Aaron who tied his bandana around my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes.  There was Jed who, when I cut my arm on a tree branch, examined the wound carefully and then pronounced it, “OK.”  But it was Danni who amazed me.

When we finally got back to our base I was exhausted, humbled, grateful and overwhelmed.   I told Danni, “In my entire life, nobody ever cared for me the way you did today out on that mountain.”  We walked back to the hotel together, and together we sat down to have lunch.  I told the other people at our table, “this man is an angel, sent from heaven, and don’t let him tell you otherwise.”

Selling a house can sometimes be as daunting as climbing a mountain.  I had a client who came not long ago with a very complicated situation.  He had just one request, “Tell me what to do”.   His ex-wife had stopped paying the mortgage which was still in his name.  He didn’t know because all the foreclosure notices went to the house where he no longer lived, until he and his new wife tried to purchase the home they were renting, and he got a good look at his credit report.  It was then that I got the cry for help.

He explained the situation, she had been court ordered to sell the house, and she did list it, but then refused to cooperate with her agent.  He didn’t know what to do, where to turn for help.  I had helped him rent his townhouse several times while we waited for the market to recover, so I was his first call.  My first recommendation was for him to go back to court.  I told him to ask for the sun, moon and the stars and see what the Judge would do for him.  “Ask the Judge to enforce the order requiring her to sell the house,” I told him, “ask for power of attorney to sign all the listing and sales documents and if you can, get me appointed as your real estate agent.  I have handled situations like this before, I am confident I can do it again.”  The Judge granted Michael everything he asked for and my work began.  We started up that mountain together.

First order of business, get a key, get inside the house and find out what we were dealing with.  It wasn’t pretty.  Like most owners facing foreclosure, the ex-wife had stopped any attempts at maintenance, or even cleaning I am sorry to say.  Michael hadn’t gone inside the house for years, and when we did, what we found was shocking.  My usual system of marketing a home for sale went straight out the window.   This was no ordinary situation.

There was at least an inch of dust on every surface.  The roof was leaking.  The kitchen was covered in a thin layer of grease.  There were gnats everywhere.  The plumbing was not functioning and the master bath smelled so badly you could barely open the door.  As we wandered through the rooms I could hear Michael sniffling.  I thought perhaps the dust was causing an allergic reaction.  “Are you all right, Michael?”  I asked.  His response was simple, “Tell me what to do.”  “As your friend, or as your realtor?”  “Please,” he said, “Just tell me the truth, what do I do?”

And so I did, I was brutally honest. I could hear the words of Danila ringing in my ears, “take small steps and breathe”.   Kindly, softly, gently I said, “Get your kids out of here.  This is not a safe or healthy environment.” I felt so badly, I was sure the ex-wife was depressed and over whelmed to allow the home to fall into such a state and I was determined to treat her with as much kindness and respect as I could and still get the job done. But, the children had to come first.  “Next,” I said, “We need to see if we can get the house as empty of ‘stuff’ as possible and try our best to clean.”

Michael went to court and got temporary custody of his kids.  I contacted the ex-wife and got her buy in to sort through the stuff in the house, dispose of what was no longer wanted or needed, and get a cleaning crew in. I was kind but firm.  This house had to be sold, end of discussion.  We signed the listing paperwork and I got a renovation specialist in to assess the damage.

It became immediately clear that the most likely buyer for this home would be an investor.  It was in a neighborhood of upscale homes so I knew it would attract buyers if the price was right.  As soon as it became clear there would be no cleaning crew, we put it on the MLS and I got busy.  I prepared a special flyer outlining everything that we knew needed to be done and the approximate cost of repairs. I prepared a market analysis showing the after repair value.  I contacted every investor I knew and brought them through the house.  And in short order we had multiple offers.

We settled on the best offer and now got to work emptying the house of its contents.  I wasn’t easy.  Michael was angry, hurt and concerned for the well being of his kids.  The ex wife, as I predicted, was depressed and over whelmed.  And the kids were defensive and protective of both their mother and father.  But, we got it done, with respect and kindness toward all.  We managed to work with the bank and at last we were able to close on the house with the least a minimum amount of stress considering the circumstances.

The day after the closing, I received this email, “I just checked my bank account and the HELOC is paid and off the books.  My wife and I have struggled with this house and situation for many years so seeing this account paid in full was probably one of the most relieving feelings I’ve had in a long time.   I want to thank you for all of your effort in helping us sell the house and more importantly, being a great person and point of support in advising us throughout the last very difficult few months. We both value your consummate professionalism and your compassionate ‘personalism’ that got us through it. This was a major cleared hurdle for my wife, the kids, and me and you were such an important part of freeing us from this emotional and financial hardship.  The townhouse is next.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you’ve done for us.  Best, Michael”

Michael and I had successfully climbed the mountain!

Suzanne MacDowell

Suzanne MacDowell is an award winning real estate agent with nearly 12 years of experience helping buyers, sellers, landlords, tenants and small business owners to achieve their real estate goals. Suzanne has been awarded the National Association of Realtors’ Short Sales & Foreclosure Resource (SFR), and Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR) Certifications as well as the 203K Renovation Loan Specialist designation. Suzanne was the top listing agent for EXIT Realty Gold Service for two consecutive years and received the Bronze Sales Award for EXIT Realty Gold and EXIT Realty International. Now Suzanne has brought her professional expertise to Century 21 Joe Tekula Realtors in Succasunna, NJ.

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