Tag Archives: Friendship

Love Thy Neighbor

With the mass shootings in San Bernardino and the Presidential Candidate responses there is an increase in fear being perpetrated throughout the United States. Along with the fear there is an increase in anti rhetoric that is not new to our society but so disappointing that even after all our past mistakes we have yet to really learn from them. I have been told much of my life that the reason we study history is so we can learn from our past mistakes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did?

Love Thy NeighborThis morning a friend shared this image on Facebook and it made me remember several things. One of those things is that within my circle of friends we don’t engage in the fear and the anti rhetoric. Another is that I am happier when I am ignorant of the bad things transpiring upon our little planet. Another is that there is really very little I can do about those bad things other than be a good neighbor to all of my brothers and sisters that I happen to meet upon my journey.

This past week I had the occasion to drive into Inglewood for the trial of a family member in the Juvenile Court, which in and of itself is not a happy event. On this past Wednesday morning I had taken the Florence Avenue off ramp of the Harbor Freeway and was surprised by the number of homeless encampments that bordered my route. That afternoon I attempted to take the Harbor Freeway and was further surprised by the homeless encampments I saw at my tortoise speed that lined the bridges over the Freeway.

On Thursday morning I took Interstate 10 to La Brea Avenue and crossed over and into Inglewood and was taken again by the evidence of homelessness. I was intentionally early, however, and was able to sit on the Library Square, write some poetry, and reminisce about a time more than forty-four years ago when my girlfriend and I visited that same library, dined at a favorite nearby (but now long gone) sidewalk café, attended her piano recital at Inglewood High School, and even got stuck at the top of a Ferris Wheel on All Fool’s Day at the St. John Chrysostom Catholic Church on Florence Avenue.

As the SigAlert app on my phone showed that the freeways were horribly congested when I left for home Thursday afternoon I took surface streets, starting with Manchester Boulevard, through neighborhoods I haven’t seen in decades. I passed by the Forum where my girlfriend and I had gone to see the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, and Martha and the Vandellas. I crossed over to the Imperial Highway and drove through the south side of Watts and later recalled that it was in August of 1965 when, only a few days shy of my eleventh birthday fifty years ago, I had watched the flames and smoke that engulfed that community from the rooftop of my home. As I continued alongside the crawling 105 Freeway on the Imperial Highway I found no evidence of violence in that community but what I did see was even more evidence of homelessness to a scale that I found staggering and was barely beginning to comprehend.

Now, I do not know what effect I can have on the issue of homelessness, other than we do give to Habitat for Humanity when we feel we can. And, although none of us can fix the homeless problem alone each of us can be a good neighbor as I was reminded Thursday afternoon on the second floor of the parking structure across from the Juvenile Court. I had opened my car door when a black man about my height and age called out for me to wait. He approached me rapidly causing a twinge of stranger danger, stopped inside my comfort zone, then turned and pointed to the backpack he wore – presumably to let me know he did not have a permanent residence. When he turned back to me with a smile he said: “Today is my birthday. Please, do something nice for me.” I nodded, extracted my wallet, and withdrew a few dollars and gave them to him. His smile was recompense enough but my new friend went to where a car could come around the corner unexpectedly and safely guided me out of my parking space and waved me on my way.

Happy birthday, my friend and neighbor.

Sweet Friendship

My wife and I went to visit the Huntington in San Marino this past weekend and I’ve been trying to remember the occasion of my first visit and what my memory has suggested is that it was on a field trip while I was in the sixth grade and attending the South Bay Junior Academy in Torrance. That would have been in 1966 and I was, to say the least, awed by the experience and fell in love with the Japanese Garden and the portraits of The Blue Boy and Pinkie, for which I envisioned a deep love between them such as what I felt for my classmate Bonnie Jean.

The Huntington remained in my mind although I did not possess the means for a revisit for several years. I turned fifteen in August of 1969 and the following month my older brother and I went halves on the purchase of a motorcycle and since he was then serving in the Coast Guard that meant the bike was mostly mine and one of the first places I rode to was the Huntington where I refreshed my memory of the two young portraits then ate lunch on the grass beside the Koi pond.

On my second motorcycle ride to the Huntington a week later a young woman who either worked or volunteered there stopped me by the gift shop and bookstore to ask about the red book I carried along with my sack lunch. I was embarrassed by her curiosity at first but explained it was a book of Romantic Era Poetry and featured such poets as Coleridge, Scott, Moore, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Hood, Landor, and Praed. I also explained that I enjoyed sitting by the Koi pond to eat my lunch and read poetry. Diana joined me that day and I read some of my favorite poems of Keats and Shelley to her and then she borrowed my book and read to me some of her favorite poems by Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Byron.

During my fifteenth year I was to make frequent trips to the Huntington and my new friend Diana, who was a full-time student at Pasadena City College, would join me by the Koi pond. She introduced me to a cadre of poets I hadn’t yet experienced like Charlotte Turner Smith, Mary Robinson, Ann Radcliffe, Ana Seward, Felicia Hemens, along with many others. In time we even became brave enough to read each other our own poetic creations and congratulate each other on our brilliance.

Now summers melt into fall, which ices into winter and then thaws into spring and with that last change of seasons into the following summer my Huntington friend went off to University and I set about on the path of finding myself and transitioning into manhood. In that year of sweet friendship the two of us never went beyond first names, nor did we ever exchange phone numbers or addresses, and we never met anywhere other than at the Huntington. What we did exchange was a love of the Japanese Garden, of the Romantic Era Poetry, and the gift of each other’s voice.

As I think back to those days when I normally disguised and hid myself behind different personas and pseudonyms I recall, that to Diana, I was Sam, not Steven or Nick, but just me unmasked and to her I bared my innermost feelings through my own Lyric Poetry with all its angst and pain as she in turn did with me, without judgment, without condemnation, without obligation, and given the human condition for what it is, that was a rare experience.

Now, forty-five years later, I still possess that 1934 printing of Romantic Poetry and, the truth be told, it is one of only a handful of artifacts I retain from my adolescence. While the memories of Diana’s face and voice have dissolved into blurred reflections with the passage of time, the memory of that sweet friendship fortunately lingers and I am grateful for how it helped to shape the character of the man I became.

Sharkie

When we lived in the mountains some years ago some members of the family wanted to acquire some tropical fish. We, of course, gave in and purchased an aquarium with all of the requisite accessories; air pump, rocks, castle, and so on. We also purchased two goldfish; one of which was rather ornate and the other quite plain by some standards. We followed the pet shop preparation directions and added the two fish to their new home and watched as they explored and became acclimated to their new environment.

That night was no more unusual than any but, when I awakened the next morning, I walked downstairs to discover the frilly goldfish floating on the top of the aquarium while the other seemed to be more than just a little despondent. I removed the dead fish and continued to observe the survivor while preparing breakfast. When the family assembled for the morning meal bringing all their ruckus and commotion the remaining goldfish seemed to improve and followed all of our activities from his vantage point inside the aquarium.

I had decided to christen the survivor Shark Bait, but after a few days my wife pointed out that the little fellow did not appreciate the demeaning moniker and suggested we change it to Sharkie, which we did. Our mighty goldfish seemed to approve and as the days and weeks went by it was more and more apparent that Sharkie was a member of our mountain family. So much so that we discovered that when the house was empty the poor thing became depressed and lethargic barely floating in his tank. In fact, when we came home from one outing or another and quietly opened the front door we could easily observe this behavior but once he heard us approaching his perch on the pass through between the kitchen and dining room Sharkie would excitedly splash the surface of the water and wait for me to raise the lid and position my index finger over the water where he would surface and kiss it, sometimes several times.

Sharkie’s happiest times seemed to be when we were in the kitchen preparing meals, in the dining room eating, or in the living room where we would either listen to music or watch television. Sharkie had a vantage point to all three because what we called the dining room and living room where just two sections of the same great room.

Sharkie was with us a three short three years, which I understood to be a rather full life for his particular kind but, in those few short years, our little piscean friend taught us many lessons. One of these was that all creatures great and small seem to have their own unique personality. Another, was that human eyes are not the only ones that mirror the soul.

Yes, it was a sad day that morning I walked downstairs and found our steadfast companion floating on top the aquarium water like his sister had done several years before and yet, some twenty-five years later I still think of our little friend, the lessons he taught us, how much he meant to us, and how much we meant to him.

Friendship. It’s one of the important things in life.

Always Their Best

We follow a path that we often wish was not quite so strewn with rubble and pocked with hidden adversity.  Sometimes we look back from where we started out and are amazed that we made it as far as we have without suffering the ultimate calamity and wonder why so many we loved along the way did.

 When I was thirteen I greatly admired the daughter of one of my father’s friends.  She was several years older than me, sixteen at the time, and I thought she had everything going for her.  She was not only one of the more popular girls at her high school but was intelligent, beautiful, felicitous, and sophisticated.  In other words, she was a role model for this confused and angry boy who was trying to make sense out of the painful world he was born into.  With the myriad of questions boiling out of my heart some might have seen me as a pest but Marsha never treated me as a nuisance and answered my questions about the years to come the best she could.

 We continued on our different paths and occasionally shared the same lane for a few moments now and again when our families came together.  On one of her forks she stumbled into a deep pit when her family fell into hard times and I watched a once happy friend, mentor, and teacher grow sadder and more despondent with each passing day and, I thought at the time, it was to be expected.  The family lost their income and their house. She lost her identity along with the material and continued to fall deeper into despair.  I remember going for a walk with her one day and about all she would do was stare at the sidewalk.  I had no questions for her that day and she had no answers.  That Sunday afternoon walk of silence was to be the last time I saw her alive because the very next week, on her walk to the high school, she stepped off the curb and into the path of a bobtail truck.

 I did not understand her desperation at the time and here, nearly a half-century later; I still don’t fully grasp it.   I’ve heard people say that suicide is that ultimate measure of cowardice but I don’t believe it for a moment.  Being one who has contemplated it, but unable to follow through, it seems so much more the opposite.

 Some years ago a very wise man told me: ‘If you accept the fact that everyone you meet is doing the absolute best that they can with what they know and have at the time then their actions won’t seem so disagreeable.’

 That one bit of advice has served me well over the years.  No, it doesn’t stop the tears that come along with the memory, or the image, of an old friend no longer here, but it helps me to understand that she, like the rest of us, was doing her very best at the time.  It also doesn’t keep me from wishing that someone could have seen through her pain and offered her that little extra to keep her going on – but then, all the others were doing their best at the time with what they had.

 Sometimes our best is not good enough and sometimes we look back upon the past with perhaps a little guilt, a little shame, and maybe even a little what if.  Well guilt, shame, and what ifs do not change the past but can hamper our progress and cloud all of our right now’s where everyone is always doing their best, everyone is always giving their best, and everyone is always their best.

Time Travel

I returned abruptly to the present at 6:08 am. It was painful to say the least. In fact, I continued to lie in my bed until 7:30 hoping to reclaim just a small piece of the wonder that I had been enjoying.

I was way back in the yesterdays with my first best friend, the first person I remember loving, and that one person that once asked me for something that I did not possess at the time. In last night’s escape we journeyed on the back of my time machine from the southern Arizona desert, where a praying monk once blessed us while bats gathered nectar from the night blooming flowers of the saguaros, to the Canadian Rockies where Alberta and British Columbia are divided by some of the most spectacular scenery on our little planet. What a Joy it was to pilot my Magna through the mountains with her once again holding tight about my waist, combating the wind by shouting into my ear on the Trans-Canadian Highway; Yoho, Golden, Kimbasket Lake, and her long hair blowing in the wind. Freedom, as it was meant to be.

I once read an article by a physicist who claimed that time travel was theoretically possible but it would require more energy to pull off than was contained within our visible universe. That is probably a very good thing as I loathe imagining how much more we could screw up with our simian brains. I for one have never really been able to wrap my mind around this dimension of time because, from my perspective, there is only the eternal Now and this human construct of time is simply a yardstick by which we measure the distance between events.

But, I’m thankful for my little time travels when I’m fortunate to be blessed by them. To be able to once again enjoy the company of those whose corporal experiences were cut way too short is nothing short of a miracle. Carol took her own life on Monday, December 13, 1976 and there is not a day goes by that I don’t have a thought and a prayer for my first best friend.

Escape

Concealed from life in dreary black linen
Abject love lies in endless decay.
Robbed of life by that curious demon,
On shadowy wings of Cimmerian gray.

Legended by ancestral states, to usher
Journeys to unfamiliar lands, where helpless
On the shores of your Stygian master,
You yearn for love you cannot possess.

Haunted by a silent phantom, my vague
Apparition of virgin splendor
Resurrects anew our relative plague
Released forever from social dolor.

In suicide a life is squandered,
Surrendered, but, forever remembered.

Samuel Thomas Nichols
January 31, 1979