Looking out at the world through our own eyes, I think it is normal to believe that “most people” see what we see. At the same time, we all believe we are unique. This is, of course, demonstrably untrue. If each of us were unique individuals entire bodies of science would not work. Polling, statistics, psychology, criminal profiling, marketing, etc. We are all different arrangements of the same basic things, leading to groups of similar people. One can argue that our “souls” are different, but our minds are, by and large, most certainly not.
So I feel confident that there are many people like me out there. People who feel what I feel, see what I see, hear what I hear. As such, I have to believe that many folks can relate to what I am about to say.
From time to time I grow weary of the several thousand songs on my thumb drive. I go to Amazon and download a cd or two, transfer it, and listen to new music on my way in to work. This morning I downloaded a cd appropriately entitled “Now That’s What I Call 80’s Hits”. I fired it up and let it play while riding down the road. Somewhere along the way, “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins came on.
I was 16 again. My dearest friend, was telling me that she was leaving for college in Boston. I sat in the window of my second floor bedroom listening to this song. For four years this song was *the* song. It was the soundtrack of my life. Dana was the only one who really knew me at all…
A smile crossed my face as I considered the power of music to transcend time and space, and transport you to places long forgotten. I began to think about that line. “You’re the only one who really knew me at all”. The sights and sounds of a time long behind me came rushing back. Decision points and intersections were recalled to my mind. Things I said and did…images, faces, some with names, some without. “You’re the only one who really knew me at all….” That was my fault.
My mother asked me recently why I was such a hard ass in my youth. I explained to her that the peaceful neighborhood the adults lived in was not the same as the violent neighborhood I lived in. I ran in a pack. A wolf pack. And to show any sign of weakness to anyone, ever, was as good as asking for an ass whoopin’, or worse. So I became this cold, unfeeling person that no one wanted to mess with. I never got in a fight past the age of 13 or so, because I made it clear that you weren’t going home if you jumped on me.
Much like lying eventually trips you up because you forget who you told what, so too with being vulnerable. So, rather than risk flipping the switch at the wrong time, I simply broke it off. I once backed down the entire Glen Burnie High School football team because when they surrounded me outside the school I looked at the biggest guy there with no fear in my eyes and a knife in my hand and said, “If you’re gonna do something you best get started, lunch is almost over.”
Dana was the only person I knew at the time that I was completely sure would never hurt me in any way. So she was the only one who really knew me at all. Against All Odds was her song.
Somewhere in the middle of all that I met Thaeda and Tereasa. They came to know me over time as well.
Tereasa was the best friend of my girlfriend. When Maria and I finally broke up, Tereasa and I did not. Thaeda was the twin sister of Tena, a girl I briefly dated (and still know to this day). My introduction to Thaeda came in the foyer in front of the cafeteria. She was promoting the chess club. I walked up to her, sat down and said, “You know your sister is a real bitch”. I spent the entirety of that day sitting at that table playing chess and talking. We’ve been the closest of friends ever since.
Over all the years since then (29 to be exact) there have been ups and downs. Dana and Thaeda have remained. I intentionally cut off contact with Tereasa a few years ago, during a phase I was going through. I reestablished contact with her this morning. When she accepted my friend request and responded to the message I sent her I have to admit I cried a little.
I recently posted Hard To Love by Lee Brice to my wife’s Facebook page. Some guys do that kind of thing as a romantic gesture. I did it because it is true.
I have gone out of my way over the course of my life to be difficult. I have, with words and deeds, essentially punched my best friends in the face just to see what they’d do. Amazingly, what they did was stand back up and keep loving me anyway. I used to see that as weakness. I used to see it as a pathetic co-dependency, a desperate need to be accepted, a willingness to endure nearly anything just to be thrown scraps from time to time. Like an abused dog that still comes when you call it.
I realize now, and I guess I have for quite some time, how much more strength it takes to be them than it does to be me. I have purposed in my heart to be more like these people, and less the person I have been. That is, of course, easier to say than it is to do. Honestly assessing your own character is difficult. Identifying things that need to change and actually changing them, is monumental. Like turning the Titanic.
As is often said, every choice I’ve made along the way has led me to where I am now. Each day that passes contains decisions that shape who I am. There are a lot of days behind me…
But I have come to a place in my life where I have to be honest with myself. “A life well lived” is about more than making money. It’s about more than where you live or what you drive. It’s about more than “success”.
I have come to understand that a life well lived is one filled with friends and family. It’s about loving and being loved. It’s about facing pain, and fear, and failure, and coming through it to brighter days. It’s about extending your hand to someone you think might not take it and loving people who may not love you back. It’s about being open, and vulnerable. Because when you shut and lock the door to your heart as I have done, you block out the good as well as the bad.
Tereasa doesn’t have a song. She was a well worn jacket. There. Comfortable. Familiar. And I fear I took her friendship for granted, like finding my keys in the pocket of the pants I was wearing yesterday. I never thought of her in an emotional way, and so I never attached a piece of music to her. I’m going to see about changing that. Tereasa is the only person who has ever read all of my poetry. She’s my politics and religion debate partner. She’s the voice of reason when I’m being unreasonable. She was never afraid to confront me…and I needed that.
Thaeda’s song is My Sacrifice by Creed. “Within my heart are memories, of perfect love you gave to me. Oh, I remember. When you are with me, I’m free. I’m careless. I believe. Above all the others we’ll fly. This brings tears to my eyes….” You are, without question, the best friend anyone could ever ask for. You have been “home base” for me for virtually my whole life. When I get in too deep and lose my way, you are the place I head back to. You’re also the only woman to ever get me in a headlock I couldn’t get out of. 😉
Dana, I love you. Always have, always will. Since I was 12 or 13 years old. I still recall the first time I ever saw you. You have been the pure, loving, person I have aspired to be worthy of all my life. When we were young you’re song was Against All Odds. At one point it was “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon. Today it is When You Come Back To Me Again, by Garth Brooks. I have always been the ship out on the ocean, at the mercy of the sea. You have always been the lighthouse, shining to show me the way home.
My beloved wife Beverly…you have so many songs it would take a hard drive to record them all. Suffice it to say that you have literally been right by my side during some of the darkest moments in my life. Reaching out to take your hand has literally saved my life. I’m working on becoming the person you deserve. I have a long way to go.
EmmaLeigh, my oldest. You are the legacy that any parent on the face of the planet would be proud to have. So much more than I deserve, and so much more than I have any right to claim. You have somehow managed to take the few good qualities I ever exhibited to you and combine them with your mom’s best qualities. I take solace in the fact that with all that I’ve done wrong I must have done something right. Which is why your song is Butterfly Kisses. It was your song when you were an infant, and now as you grow in to an adult the words take on the sweet sting of truth. You will always be my first love.
Laura….my baby. I cannot help but grin at you. You are like looking in a mirror for me. You speak truth without fear. You see obstacles as challenges, and you overcome them. I watch with amazement as you tackle musical instruments, sports, acting, and all the other things I wish I would have done when I was your age. I know being the second child is not always easy. But, I want you to know that I am every bit as proud of you as I am of Em. You do not hold second place in my heart. You have all of it. Your song was, and is You’ll Be In My Heart by Phil Collins. I’ll be there for you always….just look over your shoulder.
It is a difficult thing to go from being a solitary individual, to a friend a friend would like to have. I don’t know that it is possible or even desirable for me to become an “outgoing” individual. I cherish my peace and quiet too much for that. But what I can do is listen more and argue less. I can just say what I feel more frequently, and be less guarded. I can learn from those around me instead of acting like I have all the answers.
I’m going to work on these things.