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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Marina

 


  I’ll call her Marina. She has cut my family’s hair for quite some time now. She is an energetic ball of Polish energy. Her accent is heavy and she talks non-stop. Her commentary is humane and can be incisive, witty and often illuminating.

  As she worked and we talked, the recent election came up. I discovered she had voted for Trump. I was a bit surprised. She is somewhat political and an immigrant. She said that she understood he was “a little crazy” but that when he said something, whether good, bad or indifferent,

 “I believe him. The other one … not so much.”

 If Marina is anything, she is inherently kind. She is a doting mother, devoted wife, hard working, well read, exercises and paints powerful abstracts as an avocation.

  She shared with me that a while back when she worked at a large salon her co workers had gotten wind of the fact that she was “probably going to vote for Trump.”

  “They joked and teased. At first it was funny in a way but before long, it wasn’t funny anymore.”

 In broken English, her eyes misty, she described how the “joking” became mean spirited. I will not belabor the point here. What this dear soul described to me was nothing less than shaming.

  “I come from a country where people are afraid to speak up.” She said.  “When I came here to America I thought that was over but with this I realized that I was concerned and somewhat afraid. It wasn’t so much what they said, though it was bad … it was how they began to say it.”

 As this election has brewed, I have discussed it and shared with others. I have been, I think, overall evenhanded, calm, issue oriented. If I am honest I must say that I did discount Donald Trump as “unqualified and unfit” to be President of the United States. Now though, I think that I also disqualified the feelings and ideas of those who shared that they were going to vote for him.

  I recall one day when a friend said he was voting for Trump that I teased and joked. I will be making an amends.

  According to the laws of our country this man has been elected President. My task from here forward is to be a voice of reason and consensus at every opportunity. It’s like a fighter who loses a fight he was expected to win. I have a new respect for my opponent and I know that I underestimated him. More importantly I underestimated the dissatisfaction a large body of folks have with the status quo. This now will be my motivation. This will be my cause. Before, I would have said that I was “progressive” and inclusive. Now, I will work harder to treat ALL people’s views with respect and deference and I will listen with more care. 

  I believe in more than just America as a nation. I believe in the CITIZENS of America and I know that the day a kind, loving, intelligent even patriotic and legal immigrant CITIZEN of this country is afraid and shamed because of her political leanings and judgment that WE have much work to do.

  I’m a combat veteran. I wasn’t gung ho or anything. I was just there and I did my job. One thing weaved among the fabric of all the sailors I knew. We were there because folks were being denied the right to live  as they wanted to, speak their peace, have a choice of who was to govern them . We understood that all the endless nights and blistering days … all the labor and fear and sweat and blood was for them and so that those at home could be free to do the same.

I offer a sort of prayer if you will.

I beseech thee … citizens … to believe not in party ideals or personalities but in America. I call upon each and every person to buckle down and do the work of nation … community … God, Allah … whatever Higher Power is your guide.

I beseech thee Brother and Sisters of freedom to raise your mighty sword in the name of righteousness and the dignity of ALL mankind.

And I pray that no matter our leanings … no matter win or lose … the most important thing in our lives is to protect and defend the principals and process of our great nation.

Do it for your loved ones, yes … but also do it for those you might despise because as Jesus said to his disciples, 

"whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers … that you do unto me"

Amen

Friday, November 11, 2016

We Remember

 
  I have thought of you often over the years. When I was a child we scurried through the woods with our muskets made of sticks imagining tri-cornered hats and knee britches. We pretended to be like you: valiant and brave, resisting the redcoats from behind rock and tree.

  Later we played with our blue and gray plastic soldiers, each the size of a bullet. We organized field battles. Cannon were lined up aimed at ranks of men as they moved forward into the maw.

  One day the Indians surrounded you as you stood back to back … holding out. I saw the Indian warrior too. It was just as good to be an Indian sometimes.

  Years passed as I watched you fighting in the movies. I devoured each scene as from every branch of military service you offered your lives in the name of God and country. Honor and dignity would swell in my bony chest. I wanted to be like you.

  I saw you on television crouching through the jungle. The helicopters brought you in with guns blazing. Then they came and carried you away … sometimes prostrate … bleeding.

  I went on a ship far away. No, I did not stare death in the face as you did. I saw its wake. I tasted its devastation. I sensed its presence but I did not have to smell its breath as you did.

   I saw the look in a young marine’s eyes as he readied to go “in country” on a night recon. I still see him there in the top rack like a small child in a man’s body looking over the bunk bed rail when he thinks the “boogey man” is in the closet.

  I saw you when the high school hero strode into the VA office.  For a moment he knew me … then he saw something in the air … he was remembering. He forgot what he came for then turned and walked away … head down … mumbling to himself.

  I saw you in your wheelchair at the local pub. We drank too much as you tried to forget the moment you became broken.

  Today I see you in the deserts, mountains and cities; fighting, protecting, healing, building.

   I see you at the stoplight, in the park, in the pew at church.

  You are revered and held high in our minds and hearts. Regardless of politics or history, right or wrong, you have sacrificed for the benefit of your fellows.


   When I was a child, I pretended to be like you … valiant and brave. Wherever you are …  please know this … we remember. We see you with our hearts. We are eternally grateful.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Eulogy for Randy

Randy and I met in an English class when we were 12 years old. There was a quick and obvious bond. A large part of that bond was that we loved our fathers but they both drank. I feel that it’s important in sharing about Randy that you are aware of this.

These men could be like Jekyl and Hyde.  It was confusing and cause for much fear and trepidation. This commonality fused our bond and created a bridge out of adolescence and into adulthood that lasted a lifetime.

  Lillian said to me not long ago … “just tell the story,” so I’ll do the best I can.

Randy wrote a short fiction thing once and came up with this sort of alter ego. He called himself, “Shieldwolf Scardonkey.” What the hell? Right? It was just a sort of nonsensical rambling but was funny in a weird way. It was our code phrase for many years after. Shieldwolf Scardonkey …

That’s just the way he was. He was Saturday Night Live before the one on television. He possessed this sort of goofy humor combined with a pragmatic mind. Clever … curious … and one might say a tad persistent.  

One day I went to his house where he had moved in with his Dad and Randy was framing out a soapbox derby car. I would have told you we weren’t soapbox derby types. Clearly I was mistaken in Randy’s case.

“Why?” I asked.

“You’re kidding, right? This is the coolest thing EVER.”

Next time he talks me into checking it out he’s got it to the slicked out stage.

 “Wanna see me get in it? THIS THING IS AERODYNAMIC, Man!”

So he wriggles and squirms and curls himself into this lanky ball peering out the cooped up space with his gold rim glasses fogging up, grinning from ear to ear …

“See .. SEE??”

“Yeah, Buddy … I see. Let’s go do something.”

He finished that freaking car and raced it. He finished 3 of them I think. Little to no help. I had always heard it was a Father/Son sort of thing  … but no …this was mostly just him. I thought he was crazy. I believe today that this was representative of Randy’s faith in himself.  His faith and determination in his own ability to accomplish anything he set his mind to. Thing is … there were no pep talks … no “Leave it to Beaver” warm and fuzzy stuff. This was pure ingrained   … will.

He did the same thing with a motorcycle when we got back from the Navy. He didn’t know anything much about motorcycles other than he had the raggediest Sportster ever when we were in San Diego. As far as I could tell, he just decided because some guys we knew were riding Harley’s he wanted to build a custom bike. So he bought a burnt out hull, had it stripped and sandblasted and over a period of years, built it in the little tool shed beside his house. He had a local biker and artist paint the tank. It was a clipper ship on a burnished brown and gold background.

Then he rode it in all his glory for a time.

I’ll flash back a little, if you don’t mind.

After we graduated from high school we were loading trucks at UPS at night and going to UNCC during the day. After a particularly grueling hot night, he came sauntering up with that sort of sideways, head cocked, walk of his with this huge grin still wearing the hair net we had to wear to keep our long hair from getting caught in the conveyors and shouted above the noise …

“I know a way we can go to Hawaii, FREE!”

We could talk each other into almost anything.

So we joined the Navy in the waning years of Viet Nam. In part to see the world and part to gain the GI Bill for college. The recruiter said Great Lakes was the best choice for boot camp because it was colder so they didn’t do a lot of marching. Cold was one of the understatements of our lives. It made sense at the time … but this just happened to be December … just outside of Chicago.

Many might not know that Randy was in the Charlotte Drum and Bugle Corp for many years. He marched in Thanksgiving Day Parades and football games and such.

They made him a formation leader in boot camp because of it. If you can imagine Randy barking cadence and marching alongside a company of like garbed men with white leggings and gray helmets.

One day we were standing in line outside the chow hall.

They’d constantly scream at us, “Nutts to butts, you idiots, NUTS TO BUTTS!!”

 I hope that doesn’t offend anybody but honestly that s about the least vulgar thing they screamed. Turns out it was helping you stay warm. Looks like they could’ve just said that.

It was 30 degrees below zero with the wind chill factor. They had shaved our heads and issued uniforms and boots a size or two too big. My ears and fingers had gone past pain into numb and I looked over at Randy in the line beside me. He was laughing his ass off.

“What the hell?” I sort of mimed.  He’s got tears streaming down trying to laugh quietly, shoulders shaking. So he whispers so I can barely hear … “you look so miserable. It’s hilarious.”

And suddenly … things didn’t seem quite so bleak.

We were aboard the USS Blue Ridge together for a year or so. We did a West Pac, which is a 9-10 month tour of the South China Seas. Guess I could write a book of all those stories. Good ones too. Probably most not fit for mixed company though.

We were in “deck division” … “deck apes”, we were called. We had waived “A” school or submarines for a shorter enlistment.  Randy did not fit in well here. He was a bit different than this crowd. My guess is he simply did not harbor the violent nature that seemed to be a prerequisite for the job. Of course, as was always his way, for the life of him he could not understand how anyone could not like him … hell … adore him.

“What’s not to like?” he would say. Or , I” I don’t get it. Whats’ their f—king problem?”

Eventually he left the ship because of the kidney thing. He finished a medical tour and went aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. He managed in true Randy form to finagle his way into the ships’ media center. So he ended up writing copy and doing some rudimentary film work for the bulk of that tour. These people he got along with. He kept up with them for many years after.

We separated from the Navy and returned home where we attended community college. Finishing there he went on to Chapel Hill. After that we would see one another a couple times a year and communicate by phone about the same.

One day he came by my place of business after some time had passed. He’d said on the phone he was riding his motorcycle so I was a little taken aback when he showed up and was “bloated from the prednazone”, he said.  He was a pale representation of the always boyish ruddy, Randy I had known.

That’s the first time I recall seeing the dragon like vein running down his arm. I was somewhat alarmed. Yet he laughed and joked and in no time it was as if nothing had changed. Today I see that this was Randy reveling in what I have come to believe was his abiding hope and assurance of a positive future.

He had met Lillian and was finishing law school. He would make his permanent home in Raleigh. Randy as most know endured 2 kidney transplants, years of dialysis, medical problems like rainfall … one after the other never knowing when the next storm would come. Seldom did I hear him complain.

I asked him once how he did it … how he maintained such a positive outlook.

He responded with that almost diffident tone that he could have sometimes,

“ What d’ya mean? I just do what I have to do. It’s not like I have a choice, ya know.”

So he built a life here in Raleigh with rich friendships, a successful legal career and a beautiful relationship and marriage with Lillian.

A couple months ago his brother Tim contacted me and told me Hospice had been called in. I called Randy concerned. He told me he wasn’t ready to die.

“ I like it here. I LIKE being alive.” He said. “I just want to keep waking up and having one more cup of coffee with Lillian.”

It was a turning point for me in my awareness of how he had lived this difficult life of his. We had always argued about God and theology. I called him an agnostic. He refused to label himself.

You see … Randy believed in people. He believed in humanity. I suppose a better label would have been “humanist”.

As was his habit, he admonished me for not having visited him in Raleigh. So I went.

I expected the worst but he rallied and took me on a tour of the town. He showed me his life. The houses he had lived in with now funny stories of crack addicts in the bushes and friends visiting. Problems and joys. We walked through part of a historic cemetery as he explained that Lillian had included it in one of her citywide scavenger hunts of which he was both fascinated and proud. This was a recurring theme. Randy was enormously proud of Lillian.

When we returned to his home, he was tired but stayed up a while. As he rose to go to bed he looked at me and said in earnest … shaking his head,

“Ya know … I got dealt a sorry deck of cards.”

I knew he was exhausted but it was the first time I’d ever heard him say it.

The next morning I came downstairs. He acted as if it was “just another day in the neighborhood.”  We ate a bit and Lillian and Randy began to set up the dialysis machine.

Lillian put on the light blue surgical gloves and Randy sat in the chair. The morning light was soft … the air seemed gentle. I will always remember them there, speaking to one another in hushed tones … working together … Lillian tapping the gauges … Randy directing her, though I suspect she did not need it. They were a team. If they suffered you could not tell. It was like a slow dance full of love and tenderness.

I was struck dumb and still … watching the miracle unfold. Yes a miracle … a miracle of science and technology, no doubt … but that is not the miracle I mean. I was a witness to the miracle and perseverance of love.

You see, that’s what Randy had really showed me that day on his tour of his life in Raleigh … and then I came to realize that’s what he had always shown me… ever since that English class. He had showed me his love.

He had always been altruistic. He was going to save the world, end wars, bring government to bear on the ills of the people and help create a world where people existed to help those in need.

Randy loved his family. He loved his friends. He was always the one that sought friends out … visiting, spending time, sharing. He wanted to know … “how’s so and so? Have you seen this person or that?”  I think He loved living more than anyone I have ever known. Most of all … he loved Lillian.

We came here to the Rose Garden that day. It was the last place on his tour. I was watching him closely for signs of fatigue. He was wobbly … his face a bit mottled with beads of sweat on his upper lip as he looked across the garden and spoke,

“If there is such a thing as a spirit… then mine will come here. This is where I want my ashes to be … if possible. This is where I married Lillian.

At this juncture, I will be so bold as to quote scripture. I can see him rolling his eyes as I say it.

1st Corinthians 13:13

"Three things will last forever— faith, hope and love --- and the greatest of these is love."

I came here today to praise Randy Scarborough. In writing his eulogy I rediscovered something I had forgotten. Randy was an expert at loving people. He loved you without you thinking about it. He gave of himself without show. He was a master of being good company. He was interested in life and you and all that you knew or did or practiced.

This is the part where many say… “We will miss him.” I’m not going to say that … because I feel his presence. I see him grinning there with that languorous stride … and I know that you can see him too. We will see him in our memories and in our thoughts. We see him right now with our hearts and we all know that he will be with us and us with him …

Forever ...

Amen

Friday, September 23, 2016

Riots Downtown


                                      



There are riots downtown. Another black man has been shot by police. People from every point of view are angry and upset  and I’ve had a powerful, spirit filled day. Two black folks have shared with me.

Charles said.

“All I know is my Dad was in the Army and there are “rules of engagement” for this stuff. I’ll have to just wait and see if they were followed before I make a call.”

He took his check and we parted amicably as we always do and have for years.

Mrs. F came in to pay off her car. She was bubbling over as usual.

“Everybody needs to quit all this craziness and stop hating. I went to a prayer meeting at church last night and we prayed for EVERYBODY.”

Alamin, a young, hard working, conscientious African American male I recently started doing business with brought me a client. When he left my office he grinned over his shoulder …

“Later, Brother.”

I was born and raised in the South. In spite of that I have found my way to a place of equanimity based in my love of God and humanity. I have my fears and doubts but I refuse to hate or judge anyone based on the color of their skin or anything else if I can help it.

I struggle not to be angry about violent behavior. I cannot tolerate attacks on the innocent or unsuspecting but I do not hate and will not. We are all children of God. We must live according to that one fundamental truth and nothing else.

If you are angry … get a permit and protest peacefully. If not … the authorities will deal with it the best way their protocols allow.

In the meantime most of us will do business. We will work with one another. We will become friends based on our ethics and our personalities. And we will leave you to your anger in the hopes that you too will find a way to live in peace.

It was a long and difficult day and too late for us to cook so I rode through Wendy’s drive through. There was a young black man working the window. He was tall with long braids and a couple of visible tattoos. I suppose if you saw him in a dark alley it would at the least give you pause.

Watching the young folks through the window work (all within my view were African American) I got misty all of a sudden … just tired of all the hate. I know that what’s happening in downtown Charlotte is not representative of most people. I have lived and worked with folks of all races my entire life, including the military. For the most part we have just been friends or not but treated one another with dignity and grace, as the Lord would have us do.

As the young man handed me the bags of food I couldn’t help it. I shot him a peace sign and said,

“I love you, Brother.”

I expected a luke warm response at best. I mean what the hell, some old guy in a black “beamer” saying I love you?

“I love you too, Sir.” He grins a warm look then returns to punching numbers into the next order looking much like a young boy.

We are all upset. A person has died and many have and are being hurt. I know from half a life lived that way, that anger and violence only breed more anger and violence.

As a grizzled old soul I implore you to reach out … touch a person of another race or religion with the love in your heart and I’d be willing to bet. you will discover that we are all no more or no less … than the children of God.


Peace.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't Say



Don’t say, “Get your nose out of those books.” If you say that you can’t come with me. No matter how hard you try you couldn’t slay the dragon for the queen who’s afraid. You couldn’t board the three masted barque bound for Tai-pei on the high tide. Ill climb the masts and dance on the yardarms into the China Seas. I’ll look back, wind in my hair and clothes, and think of you there in your soiled memories with fences all around. I’ll gaze at the old woman stooped with the yoke of water buckets, black frock, dingy alley, smelling like ancient musk and remember your scowling admonishment.  When I reach the frozen peak in Katmandu I’ll remember you saying, “You can’t” and I’ll know. “Don’t say” means, “I can’t, so I need for you not to go.” 
“Don’t say” only means that you could not know
 because you believed all the fences that they built.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Burn Faced Child


What damning price war demands?
A burned-face child scars mind’s eye,
And we doubt our humanity.

Exploded lives erode our faith.
Mothers scream in the night
Their agony of tormented loss.

Whispers haunt our dreams.
Silken and hoary breaths beseech
Our wayward path to doom.

Four horsemen storm the road
To hope, dashed upon the rocks
Of an endless sea of blood.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Randy

   When I was 12 I met a guy at school. We were bespectacled, thin, somewhat mischievous and became best friends. I could paint for you so many moments over the years. Both our fathers were scary, violent alcoholics … our mothers beleaguered victims.
  We spent ridiculous amounts of time together because together we felt free… safer somehow, though of course we did not discuss these things.  
  We tried high jumping when Dick Fosbury introduced his over backward “Fosbury Flop” during the Olympics. Randy was able to jump fractions of an inch higher than me. We ran a bit of track. He had a longer stride so could edge me out usually. He took great pride in these things. I suspect it was his sense of competition that gave him the edge.  We played hours of tennis. Here I was his match. That caused him much consternation.
  Our birthdays a day apart. By ourselves on a scorching summer birthday diving off Buster Boyd Bridge over and over until you complained your head was sore. Next day you had an uncharacteristic part right down the middle.
  The white 63 Ford Galaxy XLT that always needed a muffler. 
  Eventually we attended UNCC and loaded trucks at night. One particularly grueling evening after work he sauntered up and shouted,

        “I know a way we can go to Hawaii FREE!”

  After much agonizing and animated conversation we joined the Navy and went aboard ship to the South China Seas. Each queue, each evolution and each moment we desperately made sure that we stayed together. We were more than brothers. We were each other’s strength, comfort … hope.
  Subic Bay. San Diego ... the day I was riding on the back of that raggedy Sportster of his with a full leg cast.  He insisted I leaned the wrong way and made him dump it in the middle of traffic. I lay there laughing as he cussed and struggled it upright.
  Then he began to have kidney problems. He separated from the ship and began a litany of medical problems that were to last some forty odd years. Two kidney transplants, years of dialysis, skin cancer, diverticulitus … you name it, this guy had it. Along the way he graduated Chapel Hill law school, met the love of his life, moved to Raleigh and built a life with her.
  We would see one another once or twice a year and speak on the phone about the same. He was a clever man … humorous. When we were young, people found him “goofy”. I just though he was funny as hell. He was one of the most stubborn and determined people I have ever known or heard tell of.
  Not long past things got rough and they called in hospice. He’d always admonished me because I’d never visited him in Raleigh, so I went. I did not know what to expect so was braced for the worst.
  I rang the doorbell and heard a rather weak,

     “Come on in.” I swear I  heard him mumble a grouchy, "dammit".

 Pushing open the heavy wooden front door I spied him down a corridor pushing a walker … stooped yet grinning weakly when he saw me. We spent a wonderful day together. He found energy his wife Lillian described as "unusual". He took me on a tour of the Raleigh he had known. We sat in the car with the a.c. blowing.  I had purchased a massive bowl of fruit at "Peoples Food" and brought two forks. We laughed and shared it. It was nice he had a good appetite.  He showed me his life. The houses … historic sites … a smaller house that he and Lillian had gutted and were redoing.

“The dialysis machine will sit here in this recess and I can talk to Lillian while she works. See how it looks out over the roof into the trees?”

 I gazed upon what he would see … the dappled light filtering through the gnarly oak and wondered at his intrepid nature. He was planning. Hospice be damned. He was going to keep, “having one more cup of coffee with Lillian.”

 Today, I rose from dawn meditation ready to begin my practice. The cell phone dinged signaling a text. It will always be there in my mind's eye in the early morning light.

   “Randy died yesterday.”

 A part of me has left this world … yet in some ways I can see him more clearly now. Flying backwards over the bar. Stretching those long almost flat-footed legs out in the 880. Grinning from under his gray helmet on refueling detail. Arms spread, showing me and musing,

  “The dialysis machine will go here so I can talk to Lillian.”

 He wanted his ashes spread over The Rose Garden. That’s where he and Lillian were married. It was the most spiritual thing I ever heard him say,

 “This is my favorite place. This is where I feel my spirit will be when my body is gone. If there is a spirit. This is where I married Lillian.”

 You’re probably not gonna like this, Randy … but tell God I said hello. He’s been waiting for you a long time. He told me you were coming … whether you wanted to or not. Turns out that though we argued and discussed and fussed and ruminated much, it was never about the intellect. He was always there ... eternally written ... in your heart.


All my love ... forever.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Sailor Once


 
I was a sailor once, upon the sea,
Gazed on horizon, examined me.
Rising storms embraced the roll,
Teeming water, held my soul.

I hammered and climbed, reached
And pulled and leaned into the wind.
Lifted, shouted, hauled and swung,
Bold heart to windward bend.

I was a sailor once, dolphins at the bow.
Albatross soared the wake we’d plow.
Spraying salt would pervade my breath,
Reflected moon spoke watery death.

I was a sailor once, far. far away.
A sailor once, red sky at day,
A sailor once, no sight of land
A sailor once upon God’s hand.


Foreign ports and narrow eyes,
Piercing doubt, mischievous lies.
A sailor once, I rode the sea.

A sailor once ... will always be.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"For the Love of All Mankind"


 My parents were from small, rural S. C. It was a farming community, mostly cotton and watermelons. Many of the field hands were black. Often growing up the hired help was also black. As a young freckled boy, I just figured black folks were poorer than even us and therefore fell to doing the labor that white folks didn’t want to do.

  I seldom heard any form of derision though yes at times someone would make a disparaging comment about the intelligence or motivation of black people. It strikes me now that even then I was conscious that because they were poor they lacked resources for education, nutrition, and cultural motivation. The climate was scorching hot, the work grueling, and the pay poor.  How would one not move slow … perceive a need to manage strength, harbor resentment towards the source of their suffering?

  There were no blacks in my grade schools. There were two in what we then called Junior High School. My last year of high school federal forced busing for integration was passed. We were the last graduating class that was not forced to bus to other schools.

  There were fights and riots. We managed to resolve them with a minimum of damage among ourselves thanks to a few peaceful “hippies” that set an example of tolerance.

  When he first appeared on the scene, I did not care for Dr. Martin Luther King. Most in my circles felt the same.  He was “rocking the boat.” …. “Stirring up trouble.”
We had always got along with black folks. What was all the noise about?

  In Junior High School they passed out a mimeograph sheet of terms we were no longer supposed to use. “Negro” was out, “black” was the correct term. I found it ridiculous yet complied out of a sense of civic duty.

  Then came the television news. I, like so many, could not ignore the cruelty of white folks spitting and cursing at a lovely African American child in a light colored dress walking the gauntlet to school. I could not ignore German Shepards being set loose on black folks in suits and ties and Sunday best.

  Then I began to understand. The status quo had been fine with me because I experienced nothing negative from it. Now I did. Now I saw the injustice. Then I heard,

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

  Then they killed President John Fitzgerald Kennedy … and Dr. Martin Luther King …
 and Robert F. Kennedy … and I knew. We had ignored our prejudice and our fear. Those with the courage to expose it were destroyed.We had brushed it under the rug as an “inconvenient truth” while black folks were tortured and murdered and lynched from trees and worst of all while they were subjected to the worst indignity of all … denial of self worth.

  When I was a wee boy my Mom and Grandmother sent me down to Joyner’s grocery for a loaf of bread. It was a small town and Mama Laney lived across the street from the High School. Joyner’s was just a couple of blocks away but it seemed like a trek through the Sahara that day. Coming back I held the bread up one handed as long as I could. I didn’t want to cradle it for fear of their warning,

 “Don’t squish it like you did the last time, Honey.”

You see the loaf was so long that I had to hold it straight out. After exhausting both arms I was resting and an old black man came up.

“ Reckon I could help you out, young 'un?”

“Oh YES, please. You sure could. I gotta get this loaf of bread back to Mama Laney’s.”

“I just happen to know right where that is.” He grinned a gap toothed smile.

 So he took the loaf of bread, grasped my right hand and walked with me.  I was surprised at the rough, callused, leathery feel of his huge hand encircling my tiny white fingers. I noticed though that his palm was much the same color as mine though he was black as night.

  We stood in front of the house and he asked,

“You gonna be ok from here little fella?”

“Oh yes sir. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

 My mother tells the story of looking out of the window and seeing me standing there with the bread looking up into the face of that tall black, man talking as I was prone to non stop do. She has shared, that though startled at first, she quickly realized that the exchange was harmless. When I walked in I told her what happened. Her and Mama Laney just chuckled at my precociousness.

 I, on the other hand have never forgotten him.

Years later I sat at a desk and listened to a lesson on “the love of all mankind.”

The speaker concluded his lesson with a quote. It never ceases to echo at the core of my being  …

      “Free at last! Free at last!
                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

I can only pray that we as a nation choose freedom ... rather than fear. 

 

Friday, July 15, 2016

"Uncle Don"


 
 Our Uncle Don, died yesterday. He had been a U.S. Paratrooper as a young man. A rookie had “stolen his air” and he fell breaking “damn near every bone in my body.” They told him he’d probably never walk right again. After quite some time in the hospital he lumbered through another 62 or so years … stomped really, sort of like a friendly gorilla.

 He and eleven siblings were raised in rural S.C. You might say the five boys were scrappy. Nobody wanted to take on Don though.

 He was passionate about fishing, boxing, golf and family and was definitely not adverse to a friendly wager. He loved to laugh. He had a way of teasing you that would make you feel special … like he was letting you into this man club he was a charter member of.

“Bubba, I CAN lend you some money for some new blue jeans if you'd like. Looks like you could use it.” (big grin here)

 There’s like a jillion cousins. He cut all our hair for years and wouldn’t take a dime. You couldn’t force it on him. I hid it on his counter one time. Couple of days later, Dad holds out the cash,

“You ougta know he’s not gonna take it, Bo.”

 I went to visit him toward the end. I’m grateful I beat hospice. I was able to say goodbye.

  “I’ve got too many things wrong, Scotty,” he whispered.

  “As long as my little wife is taken care of, I’d just as soon drift away now.”

 “I knew he was in pain. No way he’s going to complain though.”

 We made sure he was the first to cut our son’s hair too. They’ve always asked about him now and then. You gotta love Uncle Don.  He has a place on our wall at home. I’m glad.

You see, this whole genetic thing’s kind of a trip. When I think about the boys coming into their own I have to figure if they end up being like Uncle Don … I’d be just fine with that. A guy could do a whole lot worse.

Don Hicks … tough, loyal. Truth is … he was sort of a hero to a red headed, freckled boy. Hell … still is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

“Another Cup of Coffee, Please …”

                                  


 Hospice has come to my best friend since adolescence home. He’s been on dialysis every other day for three years. We went in the U.S. Navy at the tail end of ‘Nam on the buddy plan. About half way through our enlistment he started having kidney problems.

 Fast forward 2 transplants, skin cancer, lung cancer and various sundry ailments, torments and treatments later and there you have it. We have had an ongoing discussion over the years on matters of the spirit, God, religion and such. He’s a self-proclaimed agnostic.

  “I’ve just always figured … we’re here and then we’re not,” he said on the phone the other day.

“The thing is,” he continued, “ I just want to keep having one more cup of coffee with Lillian.” (His wife and caretaker) “I just want to look out this window and see another sunrise.”

 “I know you’re tired, man.” I said.

 “Oh yeah, I’m plenty tired and you wouldn’t believe how frail I’ve become but I LIKE it here.”

  I’ve always wondered how he kept on; transplants, dialysis, hospitals, doctors, shots and needles, pain and discomfort. Not just for while but for his entire adult life. His comments have echoed though and I see a hint of the source of his perseverance.

  I’ve always believed in an “afterlife”. No doubt … no friction … just and evolving faith that assures another reality … another place of expanded awareness that I can call “resting with God.” So if I was suffering like Randy I’d just want to go home, I think. I’d want to let go of the pain and surrender into the universe that is abiding faith.

  For him it is an end. For me, I suspect it would be a new beginning. So I’ll go see him three hours away most likely to say goodbye. We are both survivors of violently alcoholic fathers. I think we became codependent for many years. If I could give him anything it would be the hope and assurance that it’s not over. He gets another chance … another cup of coffee with Lillian.

  Guess I’ll just tell him I love him though. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Standing Over the Marsh


The roar of rolling waves is like distant traffic on this balmy morn.
Sunrise clouds, a nuclear mushroom billowing from earth’s bowels.
Black bird flaps towards me delivering his message of my calling.
The egret’s pure white wings slow motion whips rising over the green haired marsh of earth and mirror black water,
Weathered wooden walkway reaches into the distant trees.
Sea decay wafts, not unpleasant through my brain.
 I can feel in my gut the pollution filtering through the mud and reed.
I stand grateful over this delicate balance ... nature at work.
Near silence rests here but for the distant rumble of ever rolling waves licking at our illusory bastion of solidity
They permeate my mind’s eye, milking the sand.
Lush green truth, eternal, waiting buxom, reeds of life, feed all God’s creatures.
Sun’s light casts reflection and shadow that speak to our bashful psyche that is hiding like a petulant child behind the skirts of Mother Earth.
A community of marsh crab with overdeveloped pinchers like some super hero tennis players lurch about in this times square of mud … holy feces enriching our lives.
I was born here upon the sea and marsh and to them I will always return ... 
as the crow caws me home. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Day 2016


Image result for memorial day
 

  I see you lying there in your own blood wondering why and I know. You went to war. Old men decided there was no other way … so you left your fields and stoops.  You took a gun and joined your fellows.

  War … man’s inability to coexist,

  War … stealer of youth,

  Whore of uncontrolled desire that sets men against men in horrible struggle when all any would do is feed the children.

  War … the hateful remnant of a tear stained letter resting soaked in your garment as you lie there dying.

  Rest and leave your weary heart upon this earth that we might raise it in tribute to your sacrifice.

  War and remembrance must be forever intertwined. Should we forget we will all lie bleeding. Though “thank you” be so little to say to you and all your loved ones we can only bow our heads in gratitude.

  Would that your gift instill in us the desire to wage peace rather than …

  War.
 Rest in the peace that we could not sustain and know ... We remember.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Jesus Freaks




                                                  

  It was our senior year of high school 1972. Tensions were razor sharp. We were the last senior class to not be included in the now Federal legislation that began “forced busing” of children to public schools. The government wanted to promote racial integration.
  This was before the proliferation of guns among young people as exists today (2016) yet rumor was that many were armed with knives, brass knuckles, pipes, girls with razors hidden in their afros and such things. 
  As usual the primary instigators gathered their respective cronies. White youth milled about on the concrete commons outside the cafeteria. The blacks gathered on the grass below the wide four or five steps leading down from the commons where the “Jesus Freaks” usually liked to sit cross-legged in soft laughter and subdued camaraderie.
  We were not novices to fist fighting so were prepared though not vocal. My small group was standing clear of the “rabble rousers”. A pang of consciousness troubled me over this ignorant display of mob mentality. I could only muse, “ There’s got to be a better way.”
  Just as the anger was reaching a crescendo, one of the displaced “Jesus Freaks” (white) walked out onto the grass and reached out his hand to a petite black girl in bell-bottom jeans and the requisite afro. After a pregnant pause she took his hand. The pervading roar of animosity subsided.
  He whispered in her ear, kneeled down on one knee and she stepped nimbly over and onto his shoulders. He stood with his lanky frame, long brown hair, dirty jeans with vest and gazed up at the crowd with soft, clear, blue eyes. The chocolate woman-child on his shoulders stared in kind, black eyes sparkling in the sunlight … both smiling.
  I recall the sudden frog in my throat and a welling of tears as I watched transfixed … afraid that someone might see the weakness of my sorrow. Or was this joy?
  The opposing masses from the commons area and grass moved toward one another. We were breathless. First a hand shake then a hug and in just moments most were dancing and riding shoulders and singing much to the glaring chagrin of the rabble rousers. 
     I know today that my tears were not weakness. I know today that it was no accident that a youth that had been branded a “Jesus Freak” was the catalyst for peace. There were no more riots that year at our school.
  Would that all nations and all colors and all religions could ground themselves in the message of Christ. Would that our driving force be like the compassion and love of those two, bright eyed youth on a crisp and sunny day in 1972.

Namaste …