A Trojan & A Spartan

Preface: Remember the Trojan War that started when a Trojan prince went to Sparta and abducted their queen? Well, this is kind of like that; except this time the Trojan was a college boy and the Spartan queen was Miss December.

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You have to have a union before you can have a reunion. Feel free to quote me on that.

Typically when I think of a reunion, I think of a group of people striving to be thinner, healthier, happier and appear more financially successful than they really are. You know, kind of like in Facebook World. But, as I discovered this weekend, that is not always the case.

Late last week, around the office, people were asking, “Big weekend plans?” You know the routine. My answer for this past weekend: “Why yes, we’re going to my Amazing-Missus’ high school reunion.” Typical reply: “I bet you’re thrilled about that [wink-wink].”

Actually I was looking forward to it. This was not my first gathering with the Bixby High School Class of 1972. This group reunites relatively regularly, and although I’m an outlier of several sorts, I’ve always been welcomed. Of course, why wouldn’t they, I am married to their Miss December (no centerfold involved), according to the 1972 Spartan Yearbook. And I am happy, blessed and humbled to say, that Miss December and I hold the title of being Married The Longest to the Same Person among this cohort.

How Miss December got out of the house without her mother seeing that dress...?

How Miss December got out of the house without her mother seeing that dress...?

I am a few years older than these youngsters; proud Senior ’69 and only a few years away from being a 69 year-old senior. Not only am I older, but I didn’t even attend their school. Worse yet, I attended their biggest rival—the school just across the river. I was a Jenks Trojan.

If you’ve ever been around an Oklahoma University football fan, you know that if they see someone in a red shirt they will holler, “BOOMER!!” in hopes that the person will respond, “SOONER!!” In that spirit, if a Bixby Spartan hears the word “Jenks”, they reflexively reply, “Jenks Stinks!!”

Although it’s been many years since I attended a Jenks football game, as we gathered for the first of the reunion activities, a tailgate party at a Bixby Spartan football game, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat creepy and disloyal; like I might feel at a Re-elect Trump rally.

But this had nothing to do with old school rivalries or the fact that Bixby beat Jenks in football this year for the first time in 40 years. This was about re-unioning, re-membering, re-calling tales of simpler days; basically re-collecting.

In the last event of the weekend, a few of her classmates picked up guitars and provided a soundtrack of sorts for the reminiscing. And as a bonus, these guys were good, really good. I thought to myself, “I wish I had brought my drums.” One of my favorites of the night was Eric Clapton’s “Old Love”, somehow apropos for such a time as this. 

At one point, in that last event of the weekend, as they were scanning yearbooks of their youth through their bifocals, I thought about standing and admonishing them to remember the words of the Old Testament:

“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.” Ecclesiastes 7:10

Or, for those who don’t speak King James:

“Don't long for ‘the good old days.’ This is not wise.” —New Living Translation

But surely it can’t hurt to reunite every few years and rekindle, can it? Sitting as an outsider watching the Bixby Class of ’72; NO, the answer is no, it can’t hurt a thing. After 45 years these people weren’t worried about waistlines, bottom lines or goal lines. They were just humans being human for a few hours.

As my Amazing-Missus said her good-byes and we left the reunion, I thought of this Beatles song, and her, and me, and Spartans Class of ’72, and the Trojans Class of ’69:

"In My Life"

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

In my life I love you more

 

Recollections

rec·ol·lec·tion |ˌrekəˈlekSH(ə)n| noun

the action or faculty of remembering something.
“to the best of my recollection no one ever had a bad word to say about him”
a thing recollected; a memory.

As I write, I’m listening to a song called “Recollections” by Miles Davis and band. It’s 19 minutes of free jazz and one of my favorites. I tend to be mindful of having a soundtrack to life.

This week I roadtripped to Nashville. I prepared for the trip emotionally and spiritually by listening several times to Loretta Lynn’s new record, “Full Circle”. The trip represented a sort of full circle for me. I was visiting Floyd and Ann Craig at their beautiful home in Nashville, AKA, The No-Agenda Retreat Center. Riding shotgun was my dear friend and mentor Doug Manning. Driving up from Atlanta to join us was my “brother” Gene Chapman.

For me this was a re-collection of people who have been there in some of the most pivotal times of my life. We spent hours recollecting and remembering the past better than it was. (As we’re apt to do.)

Back in the early 70s I was going through a crisis of faith and calling. Floyd was my go-to guy during this and he introduced me to Doug. If you’re interested in more of that story, I’ve told a bit of it in a post last year about this time. Gene and I met a few years later as I was seeking to live out my calling on the other side of the crisis. I've always felt I could be completely real with Gene.

Hopefully you get a sense of how important these guys are to me, as are the recollections that have rushed in through being with them again.

photo by Krystal Brauchi

photo by Krystal Brauchi

I also hope that in the midst of the bunnies and eggs and chocolate and ham this weekend, you will re-collect your friends and families and that there will be good times of story-telling and recollecting.

Most of all I hope for a time of anamnesis for all of us.

anamnesis |ˌanəmˈnēsis| noun
(from the Greek word ἀνάμνησις meaning reminiscence and/or memorial sacrifice), in Christianity is a liturgical statement in which the Church refers to the memorial character of the Eucharist and/or to the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. It has its origin in Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me”, (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25).  -- Wikipedia

Anamnesis is just a fancy word for recollecting, for remembering, but that is powerful stuff. I heard a doctor speak one time about remembering. He explained that when someone loses an appendage, let’s say a finger, it is called “dismembered”. He said that when it is reattached it should be called “re-membered”.

That’s what happens when we remember: we reengage, we reconnect, we re-member and we recollect. That’s why families and friends gather and stories are told; to re-member.

At our No-Agenda Retreat in Nashville, we all gathered around a table for lunch in a restaurant. Floyd asked, “Do you all remember the way Grady Nutt used to say the blessing before a meal?” Grady Nutt was a special guy to all of us there. Grady, unfortunately died in a plane crash many years ago, but we remember him.

So Floyd led us in the blessing, just as Grady would have done. We all joined hands and Floyd said exuberantly in a voice loud enough for all to hear, “He’s done it again!!!!”

What a beautiful acknowledgement of the provision of God. It was so wonderful to re-collect and recollect.
 

Morphing, Again

You know how sometimes you sort of come to the realization that somehow you’ve changed; somehow. It just sort of happens gradually, sneaking up on you, like getting older, gradually, maybe you don’t even know its happening.

Then there are those times that something happens and you are changed more suddenly, like when you’re first married, or your first child is born, or you have your chest sawed open to fix an issue or two.

Last week we went on a roadtrip through the south: Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. On our trip we toured the Civil Rights Institue and museum in Birmingham. We visited the Carter Center in Atlanta, a museum and the presidential library of President Jimmy Carter. Then we toured the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, with our son/soldier.

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“When I consider the small space I occupy, which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here?”  —Pascal, Pensees, 68


Each of these museums marked seminal moments of my coming of age. With roots in the south and being from Tulsa, Oklahoma, I grew up seeing the ugliness of racism. One of my first jobs was driving a school bus for the Tulsa Public Schools during the integration of schools. My route included picking up black children in north Tulsa before daybreak and driving them miles and miles south to the “white” schools. I hated the unfairness of it but had no better solution to offer.

I really believe Jimmy Carter meant well. I believe he had integrity and compassion. You can still see it in the way he lives his life to this day. I applaud his fairly recent commentary condemning the narrow, blind, dogmatic view of women in much of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Infantry Museum was sublime. It was breathtaking—not necessarily in the sense of seeing something awe-inspiring, like Multnomah Falls or the Grand Canyon; more like breath-taking when you have the air knocked out of you. The message is overwhelming: the cost of war in terms of young lives is too high. The price of freedom is incomprehensible.

We saw pictures and artifacts from all the wars like World War II in which my father served; the war of my generation, the Vietnam War, a war in which my only involvement was to protest it. And now standing with my son in his army uniform, trained and willing to serve in whatever hellish movement is bubbling up now.

I am so proud of him and so grateful for his service and the service of those who have gone before and those who will take the oath next. I am also afraid.

I wish you could have been with us when he and those of his company said the Soldier’s Creed in unison at the tops of their voices:

I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I WILL ALWAYS PLACE THE MISSION FIRST.
I WILL NEVER ACCEPT DEFEAT.
I WILL NEVER QUIT.
I WILL NEVER LEAVE A FALLEN COMRADE.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.

All of this has changed me somehow. This Memorial Day is different than any I’ve lived before. It is more than a day off work and an excuse to throw some burgers on the grill.

Maybe I’m still “coming of age.” Maybe there’s hope for me yet.


Free At Last

Years ago I was in Pineville, Louisiana, to speak at Louisiana College. They put me up for the night in a wonderful old hotel in downtown Alexandria, The Hotel Bently. To enjoy the wonders of historic buildings you have to endure their old quirks and failings. Sort of like you have to do to enjoy the wonder of us old "men of a certain age."

Unfortunately, for the Hotel Bently, while it had undergone some rehab and modernization, the elevators were still on the to-do list. So, returning from my speaking engagement, I returned to the hotel and boarded the elevator. It made it up roughly two and half floors and quit. I was stuck on an old elevator; tired and hungry.

Fortunately, a phone had been added and it worked. The rescue took 30 minutes or so, which seemed like three hours or so. The doors were manually separated and a ladder was lowered into my little prison. I climbed free. The Freedom was sweet indeed. 

The hotel manager was on hand for the rescue, full of apologies he was ready with vouchers for free drinks in the hotel bar. "Oh, that's okay," I said. "It wasn't your fault and anyway, I don't imbibe." He asked what they could offer for the inconvenience. "How about some of those little bottles of shampoo and conditioner." I said with a smile. He looked at my bald head, but missed the irony. We finally agreed on a room-service burger and fries.

Just a few weeks later I was scheduled to speak at an event in Tulsa. Again I was staying in a downtown hotel, but a modern one. I don't remember the name of it but it involved two trees. (a Mitch Hedberg joke.)

I remember using my recent elevator saga in my talk to illustrate the sweetness of freedom. The next morning I was at breakfast in the hotel restaurant. At a table near me, were three older men and two women. The men were wearing military style caps and I noticed POW patches on the caps. Then I noticed many more in the restaurant. Turns out it was a reunion of a group who had been prisoners of war together.

When their breakfast arrived, the fun, rowdy conversation stopped. They joined hands and one of the men lead them in a prayer. He was thankful for the food, the company, but most of all for FREEDOM. I watched and listened and thought: how could I possibly think I could understand freedom from the context of being stuck in an elevator. 

I learned that a heart, truly grateful, has truly known hopelessness, emptiness, fear and despair. 

I can't truly empathize with those who have made, as we say, the ultimate sacrifice, because I never have. But I can remember them; and the lives of their loved ones left behind, fractured by their passing and injuries.

The price is so high.