Stories are Everywhere

I’ve been sitting here, staring at that blinking cursor and blank white screen trying to figure out what to write about. Do I write a piece of prose, a bit of nonfiction or fiction, do I write a poem about a tree? There are millions of ideas that float across my mind and like a school of fish they slip past quickly before I’ve had any chance to grab even one. Stories are out there and stories are within, the trick is to start digging away and just write what you see and damn the consequences.

Stories come from our everyday experiences, those seemingly small moments that we don't think are very important but when we begin to unpack them we see something of ourselves. Yesterday I had one such experience, a connection made with a man named George. George has been hanging out in our church yard, using the picnic table to have his breakfast and coffee. George is one of those characters that seem to gravitate toward the church. They are lost, lost in the world, lost in society and lost within themselves. He’s not a dangerous person, he’s not unintelligent, he’s just lost. That is something many people just can't wrap their heads around, that here is a man, who is educated, seems smart and yet can’t seem to find his way. Yet, here he is, struggling. In his mind, in his lostness, he is wrestling with God in his own wilderness. The spiritual struggle some of us go through as we seek our place in this craziness called life.

George and I have now spoken several times and with each conversation another layer of his complex personality is exposed. That he was married, that he was a lawyer, that he had gotten involved with a fundamentalist religious group, and with their blessing went over to Europe to begin a ministry of house churches. Along the way he lost his purpose, he lost his wife and children to divorce and he may have even lost his connection to family and friends.

I sit here, a conduit to God’s grace, a conduit that is in itself flawed by my humanity. I sit and listen, I can offer no quick fix, no special prayers, or some magical incantation, I’m not a Shaman or a mystic, I’m just the person God created me to be. There are stories to be told, to be written down and shared. Stories of our common humanity, of our need for one another, not just when things are going great, but also when we are traveling along a darkened path. Life is a struggle and for some, like George, it is a greater struggle. That is why we need to share these stories because if I were to I be honest, if we were to be honest, there is a bit of George in all of us, that small, scared child who fears what is under the bed or the monsters lurking in the dark closet. Our lives are connected in that mystery we Christians call the Incarnation, the Divine Presence of the Word which called us into being out of the dust.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing this piece, because there are moments when it is easy to get oneself lost. I know there have been those moments, when the darkness of my own mind has overwhelmed me and I found myself struggling to find the path. I don’t believe there is not one human being alive who has not faced their own dark night of the soul, who have wondered about the choices they made and the consequences of those choices.

I read something yesterday stating that what anyone writes is not something original, but mainly a reworking of age old stories. Stories of love, of death, of growing up and coming of age. We all have those stories in the deep well of our memories and it is my task to dip into that well and draw upon those deep waters. Some of the water will be sweet and fresh, and some will be brackish, but it all comes from the same well.

I can say with complete confidence that I am no genius. I struggle with my grammar, I’m unsure of punctuation and word usage, but at least I’m willing to expose these thoughts to the world. Creating anything, whether it is a piece of art, a poem, a story, even a life, requires taking a risk. It’s all too easy to sit on social media posting someone else’s words, it’s something else to post your own. Maybe it is because in taking a moment to try and see the world through the eyes of another, I have been granted a gift and that gift is these words that I write.

Friendship in the Age of Social Media

 Friendship, today that word seems to have taken on a new meaning. We have “friends” on Facebook, we are connected through Twitter and Instagram, I have followers of this blog as well as followers on the other social media platforms, yet, are they friends? Friends in the true sense of the word, the classic dictionary definition:

A person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance. A person on the same side in a struggle; one who is not an enemy or foe; ally. A supporter or sympathizer. Something thought of as like a friend in being helpful, reliable, etc.

 When I read the definition, I cannot say that I have many “true” friends on social media, while some are real in the classical sense of being a friend, most are acquaintances, people I have known in various stages of my life, but not close, not intimate. I could not share my inner thoughts with many, I could not share my own struggles and doubts, and recently I cannot even share my own political views. 

 I began really thinking about friendship after going out last evening with two of my oldest and dearest friends, Bill and Bob. It was Bob, Bill, Mike, Ted and I who formed the our small but close group. Our friendships began long ago when we were in high school at a time of peer pressure, the desire to conform, yet to also rebel, a time when one is trying to figure out the confusing signals that come with teenage angst. Bob, I have known since the third grade and he came into my life at a time when I was having difficulties in adjusting to a new school, new people, and also the lingering effects of tragedy at home. Our third grade teacher was, to put it mildly, was my Gorgon. In my imagination she was evil, a witch, a dark shadow that over whelmed all that I tried to do. Going to school then was my journey into Mordor and I was the Hobbit just trying to survive by keeping my head down. It was during this turbulent time that Bob and I became friends, hanging around together, going to each other’s homes and generally being boys. Mike, I would meet in our Freshman year at Framingham South as part of the Class of ‘69. He was one of five boys and his dad was a career Navy man so it was his mom who ruled their home. Mike and I would get together at his home after school, watch Dark Shadows and consume several cans of Hi-C fruit drinks. It wasn’t long after that when Bob, Mike and yours truly began hanging out together and by the time we reached our Junior year, Bill and Ted became part of our crew.

 Throughout the years we have all grown, Mike, Bob and I, all joined the Army together after we graduated in 1969. After basic we went our separate ways, with Mike and I ending up in Vietnam and Bob being stationed in Alaska. Bill and Ted went to college, where we lost contact with Ted, but the four of us remained close. We shared our joys, our struggles, our lives with each other. Even as we moved along, getting married, having kids, choosing our vocations, we remained close.

 There are so many stories to be told about our friendship, some funny, some sad, but all of them born out of our deep affection for one another. Now as we grow older, move into new phases of being grandparents and re-defining our lives, our friendship shows little or no sign of going away. Sure, distance, family and life do get in the way, yet, each of us knows that when called upon we can be assured that they will be there to support, give comfort and be that friendly ear.

 As I sit here and write, I feel a sense of loss in these deep friendships. With the advent of social media, and the accumulation of acquaintances rather than friends, I feel a deep sense of loss. Most of my Facebook “friends” are good folks, I like them but I could never share with them on the same level as I do with those four. Being an introvert and never one to put myself out there just to have friends, I find the whole thing, depressing. 

 Is it a part of the aging process? I don’t think so, having time alone, to read, write and be in that blissful state of solitude has its own reward. I also have that most beautiful of friendships with my partner and spouse, someone I can be me with, who knows my many foibles, yet, still loves me as I love her. 

Out on a Frozen lake

The sun sets early

on a cold winter night

as I set out 

across the frozen lake

looking up at the stars

clear in the cold darkness

blinking brightly

as the moon begins to rise

out there,

silence 

and I feel your presence

listening 

as the frozen sheet

groans underneath my feet,

alone, yet not alone

I am at peace

a peace I yearn for

once again

as I remember that night

out on the frozen lake

alone, yet not alone.

Lincoln Woods in the ’60’s

It was the annual trip

down to Lincoln Woods

where my dad and uncles

would stand over one of those outdoor grills

chanting their version of the fire song

wondering if they needed more lighter fluid while

watching and waiting for the charcoal 

to finally be hot enough 

to cook the burgers and franks

while another group played horseshoes

the clanging of the shoes against the metal poles

the cheers as someone got a ringer

the moans when a shot knocked it off

while my cousins and I would all run around

out in the fields playing ball or tag or hide and seek

getting bug bites and sunburns

and not stopping to notice

while ma and my various aunts 

would sit under the shade of the oak tree

all wearing the same style summer dress

talking about that one relative

who somehow seemed to be in trouble

it wasn’t until years later 

I understood what trouble meant

realizing that I was once trouble

The Child That Never Was

I could see it in her eyes

the memory of that day

as she lay in bed waiting

a doctor,

a nurse

she knew it wasn’t good.

The child died

it was that simple

the life carried within

was no longer.

She yearned to touch

to hold, to see

that which she had felt

all those months

even now

her arms ache to hold

that child she never saw.

The years go on

time does not always heal,

the small casket buried

holding her heart.

Silent Run

Today is the anniversary of the loss of USS Thresher (SSN-593). I wrote this poem several months ago as my shipmates on the USS Glenard P. Lipscomb (SSN-685) were gathering for a reunion. It’s for all those who risk their lives as they venture out into the deep and for the families and loved one’s who await their return home. 

Slipping under the waves,

into the hostile sea,

Standing together,

ever vigilant, ever listening,

plumbing the dark depths.

Sleeping in coffin like racks,

Dreaming of family and home,

standing watch in red light.

The sea silently going by

as we traveled through,

leaving hardly a trace,

Living today,

remembering those days,

we remember others,

on eternal patrol.

Brothers like us,

who stood their watch,

and also dreamt of family.

Sunday Evening Call

I make my Sunday evening call

to my mother,

being the dutiful son

and each week we talk

about the same thing,

how time goes by

not just goes by

but flys

in the blink of an eye.

She reminisces about dad

now ten years gone

about a marriage 

that would have been diamond

had he not left our world

but now all she has are memories

as she stares down her waning years

so I just listen to her

talk about dad and her,

about missing her great-grandkids

wishing we could live closer,

and as she rambles on

I wonder how I will be

when I reach that age

wondering the same,

as time flys by

leaving me only with memories

fading in the evening light.