“Like an island in the sea, I’m drifting your way and you land next to me. Will you stay the day?” – Phil Keaggy, “Like An Island” from “Getting Closer” album, 1985 on Nissi Records.
Go ahead, say it. I’m okay with your first thought. It’s blurry. I’ll give you another observation. It’s old too. Therefore, it should be blurry. I’m thinking it was my mom’s Instamatic camera. (You may have to Google that one)
It was the spring, possibly April of 1978. We were part of a rather large high school choir tour landing in Nashville, Tennessee. It was our last choir tour for the four of us seniors. We would perform here and there, including our final UIL high school choral contest for the year. On the way we toured Graceland, Elvis’ home, in Memphis. He had passed away just a few short months before that. We would take in the sights and sounds of Nashville, also taking in the Country Music Hall Of Fame where some of us bumped into the beautiful Crystal Gayle. (She did make some brown eyes blue.) It was mapped out that there would be four of us crammed into a hotel room. I was grateful to be teamed up with some of my closest friends.
Allow me to introduce to you some iconic people in my life. I have a reason for it, bear with me.
From left to right: Mike, Mark, Myself & Tommy, from the class of ’78 at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton/Farmers Branch, Texas (north Dallas area). Before we settled and unpacked, I had the idea to take a picture to stamp our time together. At the final couple of seconds before the shutter clicked, I said something like, “Hey, let’s look like we’re thugs looking for trouble.” That statement became prophetic, I’m afraid. We wasted zero time for the usual shenanigans and pranks, most of which I can’t tell you about. However, one in particular haunts me. We had trapped one of our pals outside his locked room next door in only his nice white underwear. We had persuaded him to be brave enough to step outside in his jockeys for a five second count. With some collusion with his roommates, the poor soul took the dare but then heard the door shut behind him. (What’s worse, we were on the outside second floor with the walkway and doors facing the busy parking lot below.) Pretending to feel badly for him, we opened our door just enough for him to run to it for sanctuary, only to slam it in his face, while he was invited to the next room with an opened door, where his fate was the same. We didn’t let it go on too long….really. It was hilarious at the time, but now, in all of my maturity…..NO, IT WAS A HOOT!!!! Poor guy. I actually had remorse about it later. Then there would be the famous pillow fight where one of us obtained an unintentional fabric burn on the cheek. (We got in huge trouble for that one.) Today, we look at this picture that we’ve shared with one another and realize, by today’s standards, it looks more like an album cover for a young garage band.
I hear you loud and clear. In your most bored tone you’re saying, “Fine, but why is all that important enough to write about?” In response I would refer to a phrase above. “…iconic people in my life.”
If I were to spell-out my fondest memories concerning these men, each person would have their own novel. I won’t do that here, but I will point out some threads from the enormous fabric of recollections.
On the right, Tommy. We became solid blood-brothers in our freshman year. We were both rough around the edges in some areas and, to be frank, tough as nails. We were in the same Tae-Kwon-Do school, together morphing into the world of kickboxing before kickboxing was cool in American sports. We worked-out together and sparred privately, as well as in sessions at the dojo. Notorious for after school raids of his mom’s stash of frozen tater-tots, we knew our way around her deep fryer, all before she got home from work of course. We were runnin’ buddies in all seasons through high school. Starksy & Hutch had nothing on us. We always had each other’s backs and never stole each other’s girlfriends. (LOL) Again, there’s so much I could tell you about our adventures, but I would have to have you silenced. Not long ago, Tommy was at my side at my near-deathbed. Standing there looming over me in his now white hair, that day I was reminded of our in-tune hearts. We’ve both seen our share of health issues and many, many sorrows in adulthood. We remain close friends to this day.
To your left in the shot, Mark. Like Tommy, Mark and I became good friends during our freshman year. We were all talented musicians/singers and had lots in common when it came to making music. Unlike me, Mark was given the gift of songwriting. He has penned many through the years and I always enjoyed listening. He was my #1 choice for a duo partner on vocals. He played back-up guitar for me when I needed a good guy on the ax. I could always count on him. When I couldn’t sleep and had the urge to hit Denny’s for an overnight patty melt, I would call him up, “Hey man. You wanna go for a late night salad or patty melt?” No matter the time, I would drive over and off we went. One night, God would arrange us to be at Denny’s during the wee hours when we saw another high school friend there highly intoxicated. He wanted to drive home. We left there, escorted him home and put him to bed. We left a note for him to know just how he got home and that his car was safely parked in its place. (That would be the last time we would ever see him alive again. He passed away not too long afterwards.) However, we both knew we saved his life for that night. Fast forward, we were the best man in each other’s weddings, (his lasted, mine didn’t). He became a champion of adoption and foster parenting through the decades. He has been a pastor in Iowa now for many years where he should remain mum before his congregation lest he shares too much about our times together in the 70s.
To the far left, Mike. I’ve never personally known a more talented musical individual in my life. Mike was blessed with an amazing gift of musical abilities that placed him in the Paris Conservatory of Music. We all had a terrific sense of humor, but he had a very dry wit that could make White Sands, New Mexico jealous. With a stone face like a poker pro, he could blurt out an unexpected one-liner that had everyone in stitches within earshot. Overlooking his musical genius, he knew how to blow you away with one wisecrack. Involved in band, jazz band, orchestra, music theory and choir, there wasn’t an instrument he couldn’t play, a song he couldn’t transpose or arrange, or a pitch he couldn’t decipher. When I needed a horn section for a song for my band, I always counted on him and his abilities. We lost track, but I heard back in the 80s he was in France working his music wizardry for the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, I wish I could tell you about his latest composition. Many years ago, still in his 20s, Mike fell victim to a horrific car crash just outside Paris. To this day, I mourn the light that was snuffed out and taken from us. It forever broke our hearts.
Too many of us don’t realize that we are made up of our moments. We are formed by our times. We are shaped by our days of experience. How we need to remind ourselves of this fact. It has been said, no man/woman is an island. Have you ever endeavored to examine the idea, the picturesque power of that phrase? An island has its own limited mineral sources, its own limited trees and animals. It has its own fruits and flowers, as few as there may be. The beaches are exclusive, no matter how beautiful and rich with sunshine, but lonely in the broader view all the same. It is geographically pruned of allies without connectivity. Its one tsunami away from being erased off the map. Yet, across the causeway, some distance away, there is the mainland, a continent endowed with a wealth of vibrant fanfare, music and love. Its commerce, its glorious community, its outreach is known firsthand and admired by those linked with it. It is separate from the island’s attributes, while the island itself is void of the influence of the mainland’s depths, width, length and heights with its vast array of endless potpourri of lifestyles, genetics of creation and schools of thought. Lewis and Clark would understand the greater adventures of the mainland.
I have found there is something to be said for “old love”. I was at a loved one’s funeral in July of 1981 who was taken in a plane crash. He was a world renowned kickboxing contender and my martial arts trainer. Taking inventory of those who packed the funeral home’s chapel, I saw I was seated not far from Chuck Norris, an acquaintance in our circle of fighters. We listened closely to the reverend officiating when he said, “If you didn’t know the man, just look around the room and see his imprint on all of us here.” He was right. We affect one another. We may not realize it, but we invest in one another. Sure, sometimes in a way we ought not to go. But I can say now, I have been “added to” by my friends of the soul. As we continue to learn about how life works, it always seems to surround those we love who go through it with us. When we intersect, our roads veer and detour. Our journeys, in retrospect, were fashioned and wondrously altered because we met and meshed with a stranger. Your influence on me matters. My influence on you matters. It may surprise you that it is an ancient notion.
Yes, the photo may be blurry, but not in my mind, nor ever will it be. In fact, each time I recall the truths learned from those friends it adds fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself…” – St. Paul (Romans 14:7 ISV)