And On the Eighth Day, She Rested (One Hopes!)

 

Patty’s Wall     Latest Mosaic Tile Installation by Daviea Davis of Pittsburgh, PA
For closer view, click twice, use sliding bar at bottom of screen to move image.

TODAY, in fact a few minutes ago, I was busily trying to step into my “lawyer” shoes (with this being a Monday and all), when I received an e-mail from my one-of-a-kind friend Daviea Davis, who has become (among many other things) a celebrated artist in glass mosaic in her native Pittsburgh, and far beyond.  She’s not quite on the Breakfast cereal boxes up there yet, but her work is in the airport, a number of other public places, private homes, and God-knows-where-all else.  She is making the world a more sensational place.

She also teaches the art, spreading her enthusiasm for its gifts, and has used it for healing, working with young people too close for comfort to the very edge of that vortex known as a “life of crime.”  (She has also confessed a tad of discomfort at the beginning, sitting in that room trying to pull off the whole teaching thing with the youths eying all those shards of sharp glass with an alarming level of interest.  But things worked out fine, and in  fact one of those very youths from an early class has since risen to the Governorship of Pennsylvania.*)

Anyway, her e-mail said: “This is a 24 foot by 4.5 foot glass on brick wall. It was created and completed in place over 8 long long days. I am sunburned, sore, and satisfied. ”

I just wanted to say “I’m proud of you, D,” and pass on your Light.

Thank you.

*Outrageous falsehood, but certainly interesting if true.

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For Katy, with Love

For my friend Katy Raits.  Current Park Ranger & accomplished “translator” of the Everglades in any number of Human languages.    Proud grandmother.  Timeless Sojourner of the Spirit.  Wife and Soul mate to my bud Eric.  A true blue blessing to many.

(Illustration after N.C. Wyeth’s “All Birds Have Homes,” McCall’s Magazine, 1928)

MAYBE one day I shall share her story, or we, ours.  We’ve talked about that, and spoken of possibly doing a web log on the subject, because life is sometimes stranger and more wondrous than fiction (by far!), and God knows there’s an abundance of existing material: story, graphics, you name it.  She showed it to me once; the astonishing whole of it filling a big fat accordion-type folder.  Big enough (it turns out)  to help serve as ballast back when the winds were blowing hard, and from unpredictable directions.  There was a time when she used to take it with here everywhere she went, she told me.

(I hope to God that’s not still true, as she tromps through the Godforsaken Everglades, laughing at the razor sharp and ravenous saw grass quietly waiting to devour, as patient as it is deadly; crossing wide streams by leaping from the slimy, scaly back of one bull gator to the next; fully engrossed in a paperback novel held in one hand, while casually dispatching a 20 foot Burmese Python with her standard-issue, razor sharp “filet ‘o Snake” blade held tight in the other.  (OK, maybe I exaggerate, slightly, but she did tell me that her job duties actually include capturing HUGE, sharp fanged, and incredibly powerful snakes with her own two hands! As Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry is fond of saying, “I am not making this up!”))

I suppose in a way I’ve started backwards, with an illustration preceding the tale it might accompany.  But that makes no difference, because though the story involves an epic journey of sorts, it certainly begins in Love, and will end (if ever) exactly back where it began.  The destination might finally seem a very different place, even entirely unconnected to the dark point of origin, as if a sequence of footsteps unbroken had not led exactly from one to the other!  But they have.

And if you stop to think about it, it is those differences alone that tell us how far we’ve come.  They are also the gold (of the kind that stays, and never fades) redeemed unknown or unrecognized along the way of the long dark nights, the unbearable crucifixions of Fear, and lonesome seasons of wintry storm raging inside, that no glowing hearth might warm, nor anyone else even see. If we but had the vision to see, we might be comforted “in the meantime” by a sweet assurance that in the end, not one bit of it is wasted. All loose ends come together, though at times we certainly cannot even begin to fathom how that is likely to happen.

Time is the reason for the beauty of the long road, said one poet.  (Or perhaps I dreamt it, because I’ve never been able to find the quote!  If anyone out there could help me “awaken” with a source or even some vague notion, I’d appreciate it.)

And so here we all are, alone and struggling, yet part of one great shimmering whole. Not wandering in meaningless circles or constantly butting our aching heads against hard dead-ends as it seems, but possibly faithfully acting our parts according to some choreography necessarily beyond our present ability to perceive, or comprehend.

So, as long we’re wandering around the Promised Land like idiots stumbling lost in a vast desert, why not celebrate the love in our lives,  if necessary first taking the time to recognize it?  And what might happen if we actually dare risk consciously opening up our hearts, for more?  (It’s not like I have answers, necessarily; I’m just asking!)

Thank you for being there. Thank you for being.

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Blessed are the Myth-Makers: The Marvel Comics Bullpen, Snapshots in Time.

                                                                          Illustration P. Crockett

QUITE unexpectedly, I have fallen back in love as an adult with the comic books I so loved long ago and far away, as a boy of 12-13. Exactly how or why I honestly cannot say. All I know is that the fire of passion for the damned things (and I mean everything about them) that once burned so hot and close to center, and that in time I came to believe done, has burst back into full flame. I don’t need to ask why; I’m having too much fun, and meeting along the way some truly wonderful people. I’m certainly having an experience!

clip_image002Batmobile P. Crockett 1st Grade, 1966

Now, suitably enough for a post on comic books, the grand plan here is to simply enjoy looking at the pictures! They, much more than any words I might throw at them, are the real point and the reason I sit down to write.

I recently chanced upon two sets of photos published by Marvel Comics, the first in 1964 and then 1969, of the gifted folks that together made up its ever-evolving “Bullpen,” as editor Stan Lee dubbed the dynamically creative production team that put out its growing number of books each month. As it happens I came across the later one first.

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The Fantastic Four is Born.

I’d not seen it before, and it took my breath away.  I knew most of the names well, more than a few having themselves become the stuff of legend.  Yet I lacked the first clue as to what they’d even looked like. I became surprised by the force of my curiosity.

clip_image004Young Peter learns the harshest of lessons: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

IT IS a paradoxical thing, for this most “public” and shared of rituals– the savoring page by turning page of the latest issue of one’s favorite title—nevertheless seems somehow a most intimate experience. On some deep level, it seemed that these people captured in the photographs were no strangers to me. But who were they? I found myself studying the images as if they might contain some kind of important clue to a mystery, or a piece of some greater puzzle.

I imagined that others might also be curious, and enjoy them. Thus, this sharing. The first set, weighing in at two pages, debuted in the quintessentially Marvel classic shown below, cover date January, 1964, art by Jack “the King” Kirby and Steve Ditko. Many of the major characters enlivening the Company’s pantheon were already taking shape, but in most cases, just barely. Even so, the self-proclaimed “Marvel Era of Comics” was definitely underway.

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HERE, on the two pages that follow, is the “ground floor” team, around late 1963.

Bullpen A_e

bullpen B

BEFORE jumping rudely forward to 1969, I must take the liberty of including one member of the Bullpen conspicuous in his absence: Steve Ditko. Here he is:

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The photo is borrowed from http://www.steveditko.com/, where anyone interested can learn more about this colorful and apparently sometimes challenging character. All that aside, however, it must be noted that he not only contributed loyally and steadily to Marvel before there actually was a Marvel (in its predecessor line, Atlas Comics), but during the “Bullpen years” made some signature and truly extraordinary contributions. He is fully credited with and acknowledged for his creation of the character “Dr. Strange,” but might well have made (far and away) one of the single greatest contributions of any one person not only to Marvel, but to the entire field of comic book art, from its inception to this day. It is he that may have given us the one-and-only, utterly spectacular Amazing Spider-Man!

Notwithstanding his official recognition as “co-creator” of the character with Stan Lee, a designation now (and probably forever) enshrined in the archives of untouchable history, it is quite possibly true that “no Ditko= no Spider-Man.” Over the years there has been some “back and forth” on the question, etc., yet I believe that probably to be the case. Why? Simply because of the following credits from Amazing Spider-Man #19 (splash page shown above), drawn by another but always unmistakably scripted by Stan Lee himself:

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Since in the world of comic book legend no birth certificates are generally published or required, the above recognition of Ditko’s “paternity” by Lee himself (it seems to me) carries persuasive weight on the question.

clip_image002[12]Self-Portrait, Steve Ditko Napping

In any event, that possibility alone earns him a place of high honor forever in the Marvel Universe and in the larger world it has so affected, because it seems difficult indeed to imagine the Marvel world complete without one conspicuously smart-mouthed, agile, and daring Spider-Man with whom we might remain so perpetually amazed!

clip_image003First appearance, August 1962. Cover by Jack Kirby.

MOVING right along to 1969, and without further commentary, you are invited to simply enjoy on the four pages to follow images of the bullpen of a most unique place and time. I have spent some time giving my best shot at clarifying and enhancing the pages as originally published in an unreceptive medium, and hope that they might inspire, or bring you a moment’s pleasure.

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3

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4

AS they say, we make plans and God laughs.  Right here is where the story ended.  “At last!,” I thought, “it’s ‘put to bed.’”  Hah!  And it was, for almost two days!  Then friendly reader Dennis, of Ottawa, Canada saw the piece, and was kind enough to volunteer the following images of the bullpen of 1975, scanned from his personal copy of the program of the First Mighty Marvel Comic Convention held in New York City at the Hotel Commodore on March 22-24 of that year.

Thank you, Dennis!  Here we go:

That’s it, for now, at least!  Thanks for stopping by.

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Coconut Palm Lullaby: First Painting of 2012

Around age nine, while walking through the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels.

              –On William Blake, http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/116

LAST NIGHT, in a single sitting, my first painting of 2012 was born on wooden board.  So my personal “New Year” has now begun in earnest, and I will take this opportunity to extend heartfelt wishes for you and yours for good health and blessings uncountable, today and throughout this year and in those to come.

Alan has the garden illuminated so beautifully it seems (at night especially) an unearthly place, abounding with  quiet wonders that surprise and delight.  The other night I took the time to simply get away from the computer (!) and head outside to wander a bit, to be embraced by the thriving jungle garden and remember that overhead there is starlight. I sat for a while, and let my mind ramble, and became suddenly aware of a sound that had been there, all along. It was most gentle, and partook of ancient rhythms.

I heard the soft night breezes rustling through the palm fronds high above, pianissimo, as a harp loved by fingers. It was like music.

It did not care in the least whether any were there to listen, or not.  To my weary mind it sounded a lullaby, but just as likely it might have been part of some great timeless chorus of praise eternal, just because.  (In the same sense as our heartbeats.)  Who can say?

Whatever the case I heard it myself, and am fully content with the mystery.  And I am grateful.

I hope you enjoy the painting. Thank you.

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First, Some Art.

 

WHY not start with art?  I’m still refining this technological boondoggle, but click on the image below and you’ll be led… somewhere!  I’m still working on this one…so please pardon my existential dust  : )

Palm Song, Nocturne    P. Crockett

Hope you enjoy the view.  Nothing ever remains exactly the same, for better or worse, yet we tend to forget.

Words, words… what is one to do?  Please, just enjoy the pictures.  May they delight and refresh you.

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Moon Rising, Miami Evening

 

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Capturing History, Before It’s Gone.


Cocoanut Grove, 1880’s

Return to Wainwright (Park) __P. Crockett

SOME of my greatest adventures happen when I venture outside into the world armed with my easel, palette, and paintbrush.

Several years back I came across this wonderful wreck of an old Coconut Grove home on a corner of increasingly busy Tigertail Avenue, and felt immediately drawn to paint there. I loved it all the more because it so obviously didn’t belong among the new “nouveaux” McMansions popping up like some regrettable fungus, everywhere. Its state of “wild grace” spoke volumes about what the Grove had once been, and was now being lost, a little bit and everyday, forever. The year was 1993.

I thought the place deserted, but it was not.

The painting is called “Welcome to the Peacock Inn,” and here’s why. In the middle of my second session, an old man as disheveled and inspired as the ground he walked upon suddenly appeared out of nowhere, only a few feet away, a large square bandage covering his nose and big ‘ol shotgun at the ready. He stood his ground, glaring at me menacingly. “This is a first,” I thought, my heart pounding like a drum. I raised the paintbrush in my hand and said something like “Don’t shoot, I’m only an artist.”

He immediately responded, “Don’t be alarmed. I just carry the weapon for self-protection,” and proceeded to approach and graciously introduced himself. “Sorry about that,” he offered, “I didn’t mean to make you nervous.” “No, it’s all right. I understand,” I told him, knowing the neighborhood, and also feeling grateful that I would apparently have more time to live!

And so we fell in to conversation. Despite the awkward introduction, he turned out to be a dear old man with a big heart, heavy laden with memories. As my Grandfather used to say, “his best days were behind him.” And he knew it. He asked if I’d like an iced tea and the day was indeed still and hot, and I said I would very much, thank you, and we talked for a while before he courteously excused himself so that I might once again proceed with my painting, in earnest.

I have always loved old people, and the way they have time for you, and the way they can sometimes feel on fire to pass along incandescent memories of a once-golden horizon now grown small, and cold. This man, now my host, relished an opportunity to speak with a much more recent Miami native about the “old Grove,” and to explain how different things used to be. As it turns out, he and his wife of many, many years lived in a small house toward the back of the jungled property, with far too many cats. His wife was “a Peacock,” he explained, meaning a member of one of the earliest and most prominent pioneer families to have undertaken the task of “settling” the wild, heavily forested slice of land along Biscayne Bay they came to call Cocoanut Grove.

Stranahan Hammock __P. Crockett

Before the City of Miami even existed, pioneer Charles Peacock, recently arrived from England along with his wife Isabella and their three sons, settled in Coconut Grove and in 1882 opened the Bay View House, later called the Peacock Inn, the first hotel in the area. Set in an absolutely pristine hardwood hammock (or forest) alongside the crystal clear and fish-filled waters of Biscayne Bay, the comforts of the Inn attracted a wide variety of visitors from all over the world, including scientists, authors, and nobility. The place was something of a human “rainbow,” with black workers that had relocated from the Islands and come to help build the place and then work there (in the process establishing a once-fine neighborhood in the area), Seminole Indians casually dropping by to trade, and a mosaic of others.

Mrs. Cypress Charlie Photo by Kirk Munroe Ca. 1880.  As may be evident, she did not wish to be photographed.

 

 The Peacock Inn, Turn of the Century

 More than a few who came to visit wound up making the Grove their home, including yacht designer and wrecker Ralph Munroe whose home, The Barnacle, is now a state historic site; homesteader Flora McFarlane, Coconut Grove’s first schoolteacher and founder of the Housekeeper’s Club (now The Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove); and author Kirk Munroe. 

The Billy Family Photo by Kirk Munroe Ca. 1880

SO, my host proceeded to explain that when the time had come to demolish the aging wooden building (as seems so inevitably called for by the ravenous and insatiable hunger of “progress”), he and his wife had prevailed upon the crew to salvage at least part of this building they must have come to love. And so it had been destroyed with some measure of care, and portions of it used to craft a home. The place had been built of famous “Dade County pine” harvested in the area, after all (and first-growth, to boot), an extremely fine quality of lumber that was not only absolutely beautiful, but also (and this is important) so dense as to be nearly “termite proof.” (A typical “victim of its own success,” the fine wood can no longer be found for sale, new. Only recycled, if you’re lucky.)

The Peacock Inn, Glory Days

Also, with that area as popular with boaters as it was, young men came to build the boats. And they knew craftsmanship as it had been taught to them, a way of life with an aspiration toward excellence running right through the heart of it. No cutting corners, period. So one can imagine the Inn was built well. And yet: to me, it seems a given that the place was held together not so much by nails and mortar, as by love. Or, put another way, hospitality.

Bay View House (Peacock Inn) and the Community Trail (Coconut Grove : Miami, Fla.), ca. 1885. Dinner Key is in the background.  (Credit: Ralph Munroe Collection, Historical Museum of Southern Florida.)

 (Just imagine it: having been out on the wild bay fishing, or off in the tangled forest, you have made your way back to the Inn and the light is fading near day’s end. You are tired, hungry, and alive. The Earth is as young and as clean as it will be ever again, though you cannot know this.


But the wildness of the place is very real: of course there are the mosquitoes and the no-see-ums, the rattler and spade-headed water moccasin, and then of course the bears and the roaming panther, and God only knows what else. So the warm golden light you see pouring from the windows of the old Inn means something, and if you’ve approached from inland it must be awfully nice to once again lay eyes upon the great deep blue expanse of bay, and to stop for just a moment and feel the cool salt breeze on your face, even in the dead of summer.

And at the same time the gentle hum of conversation and laughter floating out from within promises another evening of easy communion, a sharing of good hearty food and drink (if you’re lucky), before laying down to dream.)

Wainwright Hammock P. Crockett

So “progress” had inevitably come calling, and there this family had stood, caught in a singular moment on one of the inumerable and relentless grinding cusps of history, the “fault lines” between past and present, and thus future, that in some ways define this area. They watched an epic and yet everyday event: a curtain that others could not even see was falling down forever all around them, erasing all they had known and once held precious.

What “progress” fails to ever mention or make clear is its cost: that forevermore we will wonder where exactly we have come from, and grandchildren, unless they are very lucky indeed, might never be able to even begin to comprehend what daily life might have been like for their grandparents when they were young here. Is that not of utmost importance, somehow? This I feel, more than understand.

“Drinking Cocoanut Water”

So the family had moved the fragments of what had been to the site, an early and inspired recycling piecing together a home in which they might carry on. But even that had been many years past. Now it was all gracefully (but completely) falling apart, being inexorably reclaimed by nature despite its stubborn endurance. I believe that pained him. “It looks like it must have been an excellent house,” I said. “Oh, it was,” he agreed. He fixed his eyes upon the broken glass of an upstairs window, as if a child he loved were still there waiting for him to come home from work, face pressed against the glass. For a moment it was easy to imagine the sound of a ringing dinner bell, to catch just the muted outlines of the soundtrack of a family living out one of its days, to smell the smoke wafting on up through the coral rock chimney.

“Wish you couldv’e seen it, in the day.” “Wow,” I said, “me too.”

One hears all kinds of stories about Miami, some of which are actually true. As it turns out, this one was. And not only was this fading glory in Coconut Grove part of the Inn, it was part of its very heart center. Here is a photo of the Inn recording a celebration of Christmas, 1886, with “all residents of Bay Biscayne present”:

I wound up completing three paintings on the site, and am still occasionally recognized at some garage sales, etc. as “that guy who was out sitting by the side of the road painting that old house,” for Tigertail Avenue is heavily traveled. Yet even the wonderful wreck I painted is now several years gone and but another memory, a generic McMansion (with even a tiny kidney-shaped pool squeezed in) having taken its place, crowded on to what once had been the front half of a luxurious expanse of land.

Gone.

The Painting Site, Today

And in the passing years I’m sure my kind host and his wife have also both ascended to their heavenly reward, for in many sad ways they no longer belonged here. Hopefully they frolick once again, young and laughing and overfilled with the sheer promise of it all, in virgin forest fronting the most beautiful blue and crystal-clear bay you can imagine, forever.

God bless and keep them both. May they rest in peace.

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“By a Bay Now Called ‘Biscayne'”: a Painting Progresses.

By a Bay Now Called “Biscayne”  ___P. Crockett

ONCE again revisiting the site of the Devil’s Punch Bowl freshwater spring along the shores of Biscayne Bay, this time with the benefit of a little time travel, and imagination.  Here you see taking shape a scenario that easily might have once been, yet now seems so…. dreamlike.

Was it we who began dreaming of a teeming metropolis here only decades ago , when the area now bisected by I-95 and US-1 must have seemed only a sliver of thick green jungle floating improbably between the vast flat flowing waters of the Everglades in every direction “inland,”and the Bay’s blue horizons to the East?  In those days, the very idea of a modern, “magic city” taking shape in the ancient fastness of the subtropical wilderness thriving there must have seemed utterly audacious, or ridiculous, or both.

Just as likely, it might have seemed, the Emerald City of Oz and its tall spires of glittering jade would suddenly one afternoon appear there intact, offering no clue as to how, or why, it had come!

YET the vision indeed took shape and form, and continues restlessly to do so today.  Anyone or anything perceived as standing in its way has not been tolerated.  In a sustained and notable tantrum of Human hubris, nearly all of the ancient rhythms of the waters and lands of the place, of a richness, variety, and abundance we can now scarcely imagine, have been systematically, persistently, and ingeniously undone or dismantled.  All things must give way to the coming order, in this case modern man’s  “better idea.”  So has it always been.

Neither the native peoples nor any animals were considered, much less consulted, and any dissenters worthy of note pushed promptly and summarily to one side.  The biggest dreamers remained willfully blind to the wisdom of the place itself, even though that exactly, and nothing more nor less, is what had called them to the grand vision in the first place.  The art of “listening” was not high among their considerable list of skills, nor was (for that matter) even asking any of the great and important questions. They were far too occupied with the thrill of manifesting to stop and consider.

Considering the vastness, crazed diversity, and veins of rich paradox running all through this  Great Dream of a new kind of metropolis now ready at last for its own place in the sun,

and the countless visions, creations, and re-creations that together formed the  unlikely constellation of its being,

one must at least pause to wonder why exactly it had to be that neither the native people nor the panther that had both once thrived and belonged here, even co-existed side-by-side for millennia, could ever be given even the smallest place within the new vision.

Yet the answer is clear and comes all too quickly: the very idea is foolishness, for we were afraid.

Things that fascinate and repel with their intoxicating danger!

Water under the bridge with respect to the Natives that long preceded the people today called the Seminole  and the highly endangered Florida Panther, perhaps, but might we now be free to act in a different and wiser manner with respect to the future challenges and clashes of culture that seem so inevitable in a world growing ever smaller?  All I can venture to guess, with some certainty, is “Yes, we might be.”

That will be up to you, and to me.

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My Nephew Jackson, on Gay Marriage.

 

My sister Lisa’s family: Jackson Paul Hampton Cole sits between Mom and Dad Casey.  Daniel Crockett Cole on far L.

A COUPLE OF WEEKS back I called my sister Lisa, who’s made her home in Arlington, TX, trying to figure out where on Earth our wandering gypsy parents might have temporarily touched ground.  So we chatted a bit.  “Oh, that reminds me,” she said.  “I meant to tell you about this essay Jackson wrote.  He’s applying for college now, and the other day he brought to me this essay he’d done on ‘gay marriage.’  It’s not like I suggested the topic, or anything.  He chose it completely on his own, and I think he did a good job with it. I’m proud of him.”

“Well, that makes two of us,” I said.  Then again, Jackson has always made me proud.  Starting from the inception, with his name.  I can imagine no honor greater or more profound, nor one more daunting, than for one of your blood, younger, to carry your name while you’re still around!

1993.

Then, as I’ve watched him grow over the years, I’ve seen taking shape a truly fine man.  He’s the kind of guy people tend to like, because he’s a mellow fellow with no axes to grind, and he enjoys people.  He is loving the ladies, and they are loving him right back.  He keeps his eyes and his heart open wide, and seems uninterested in judgment.  He excels at athletics (a hellacious High School quarterback),yet can be as gentle as he needs to be.  He is also fundamentally kind, and brave enough (for example) to call out his peers on bullying behavior at school in favor of some tortured soul that, quite probably, no one had ever before stood up for, and who will almost certainly never forget Jackson.

No one told him to do that, either.  He took a stand because he could, and because it was the right thing to do, all the way around.  Jackson had their respect.  The bullying stopped.

 

2004.  Jackson is the animal in red taking the boy with the football down.  Back then, he said, “Mom, that guy wasn’t going anywhere.”  We both thought that was funny.  He didn’t!

Now, back to the essay. Lisa said “And by the way, he writes about you in it.  You know what?  I’m gonna get my hands on a copy, and send it on.”

So, she did, and it left me completely thunderstruck.  With his permission, of course, I wanted to share what he’d written, and part of the reason was to offer to all of you an important and inspirational reminder that you just might be touching more lives, or perhaps be more of an influence for the good in any of them, than you might have the first clue.  It is our relationships– family, friends, and others we care about– that give life its savor, even make it worth the living.  Yet for a number of reasons, it seems as if the larger part of that which is truly and essentially important in this regard often goes unsaid during our lifetimes.

The heart-wrenching oratory of eulogies well spoken is fine, as far as it goes, but it seems there must be a better way.  And Yes, there clearly is, and maybe the true challenge lies in its very simplicity: just do it.  Why?  No reason is the best reason, because it’s free of agenda.  Just because. As singer/songwriter James Taylor put it, “Shower the people you love with love/ Show them the way that you feel.”

Such sharing, too, might really make a difference. These are hurtin’ times, and simply offering up an acknowledgment of gratitude that is sincere won’t cost you a penny, yet just might leave another that you care about feeling much richer than before.

(Sorry if it sounds like I’m preaching here. Truth is, I’m clarifying for my own benefit a point that on the one hand I hold to be of ultimate importance, yet on the other, have no doubt that I could practice better and more consistently in my own life.  I am not on the “outside” of this one, with a megaphone in hand.  It’s much more like I’m having a serious and highly personal conversation with myself, and inviting you to join in because both the sentiment/ ideal and the struggle to truly embrace it, are universal. I am simply inviting you to listen in on the conversation, because the subject is important. (And if you are taking the time to read this, I am hugely appreciative.)

Without further ado, here is Jackson’s essay.  The words are his, any “illustration” or related captions, mine.

Topic B (Freshman)

Choose an issue of importance to you—the issue could be personal, school related, local, political, or international in scope—and write an essay in which you explain the significance of that issue to yourself, your family, your community, or your generation.

An issue that is prevalent in our society today is that of gay marriage.  Should marriage by homosexuals be acknowledged under the law, or should marriage in American society be reserved solely for heterosexuals? Gay marriage is a touchy subject, but having a gay uncle who is a real person, with real emotions, and not just a caricature on a television show, I have come to understand that they should be allowed to get married and adopt kids.

I grew up in Arlington, Texas, and attend Baptist church every Sunday like many good Christians. I know that many of the people I go to church with are nice and loving people, but their inability to see gays as anything but objects of derision, and not flesh and blood people, causes them to have anything but a Christian-like attitude toward people like my uncle.

L to R: Brother Whitney, Lisa, and Cowboy Paul.


My Uncle Paul and mother grew up in the heart of Miami, Florida in the late 70’s.

Anita Bryant, undertaking the long and rocky road to Glamor. Advertisement, Miami News, 1971.

Lisa and me, at parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary Celebration.

No one would even begin talking about gay sex until the early 80’s, and that discussion sadly only involved AIDS and its massive infliction on the burgeoning gay population. During this time period in his late 20’s, my Uncle Paul came “out of the closet”, and told everyone he was a homosexual.

That man who came out of the closet is the reason I got baptized and wanted to be closer to Jesus.  Uncle Paul shows the love of Jesus better than anyone I know; he carries the light of Jesus everywhere he goes. If he can lead a boy from Texas to become a Christian than why can’t he marry the man he loves if they both want to?  God has given all of us the promise of happiness on earth if we believe in Him.  The pursuit of happiness through marriage should not be reserved for heterosexual Christians when God has clearly made this entire other group also in His image.

My uncle marrying another man, I promise, won’t hurt anyone, and most people won’t even know he’s married unless they make an effort to look at his ring finger.  (And if someone wants to look at his ring finger so they can judge, than that person is acting hatefully and is probably unhappy with his or her own life.)   I am not making a commentary on whether being gay is “wrong” or “right”.   Jesus teaches us that just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re evil, or that you’re “going straight to hell in a hand basket”, as my mother is fond of saying.  Having attended a Southern Baptist church my whole life I can say without a doubt there is more evil in some of the people I see singing and praying than in the gays they presume to judge.  However, in that same church I have come to know people who do their very best every day to walk with Christ, to live and love according to the example he set for us.   My Uncle Paul is like those people.

I am glad that through my uncle I have been shown the truth, and that I can influence people to be more accepting of lifestyles that may not fit the “ideal Christian mold,” if there is such a thing. Hopefully, one day America will no longer prohibit its men and women who happen to be gay or lesbian from becoming happily married with their soul mates.  I believe that the institution of marriage will be made stronger as a result, and not weaker, and we will all be the better for it.

_______________________

When I finally tracked down my parents in New York City and shared with them the essay over the phone, they were both proud, as well.  Dad (being Dad) said “Hell!  That’s not going to get him into Oral Roberts University!”  I laughed.  “And that’s a bad thing?  Somehow I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”

Thank you, Jackson, for everything.  I know you’ll wind up at the right school, and they’ll be fortunate to have you.

Love,

Uncle Paul

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The Prayer of Horses: A True Story

 

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A BIRD perched that day within the thick green canopy of the great old trees draped in Spanish moss, peering downward, might have witnessed an unusual gathering far below. All of the horses were there, as usual, but today they were silent and still, and even, quite extraordinarily, appeared to be united in a common focus. They stood casually circling a tall blonde woman wearing blue jeans and a button-down long-sleeve shirt, untucked and cuffs folded up. Her name was Debra, though that word was of small significance to the animals because they knew well her soul.

Debra, listening.

In the stillness, she stepped easily from one horse to the next, at her own pace, rubbing their sides, tousling their manes, looking into their eyes.

Any such hypothetical bird might have taken wing hearing only silence below, but a “meeting” of sorts was transpiring. It might have been the notable heat that day, or the woman’s admittedly fragile state of mind, but that afternoon they communicated as easily as if by thought, and nothing about the experience seemed remarkable to her, at all. Robert Frost wrote in a poem “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” and in that very sense she was now home, standing there barefoot on the green grass with no roof overhead. She was home because she was surrounded by the only ones who had been able to really reach her, in her hour of greatest need. They had not only reached but held her here, as a matter of faith placing themselves between her and the gaping oblivion she saw awaiting, in their devotion and tender vigilance exclaiming “Not on our watch!”

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Besides: if she imagined that the horses, as much or more than she, needed in that moment to thus be given voice and be heard, she would have been entirely correct. And who was she to get in the way?

“WE love you as one of our own,” they said to the woman named Debra. Her eyes watered with tears as she reflexively crossed her forearms, placing both hands gently upon her chest as she turned to slowly drink it all in. She loved them right back, almost as much as the children she lived for, yet quite naturally in a completely different way. A few years before, she had been trapped for too long within the carefully spun web of an utterly toxic relationship, helpless and frozen. Precisely as per the spider’s plan, she’d become poisoned to the extent that she could not care if she lived or died, nor for that matter even ascertain with complete certainty whether she was still among the living. “I must be,” she recalled thinking to herself in one of the long, dark spells that might have been day or night, or some awful gray sequence of both, “otherwise it couldn’t possibly hurt so much.”

YET against all odds she had been guided back to the horses that had once meant so much to her, and in that most critical hour they had held her fast and saved her. Today, independently and joined in council, they affirmed her place within their hearts. Horses can be trusted well, for they have never learned to lie, and in any event find great difficulty in even grasping the concept.

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And it may be just as well that they communicate in a language more sublime by far than any cobbled together of gross, clumsy words, for few humans indeed are gifted with the depth of heart to comprehend their message. They speak a subtle and various tongue partaking of the physical, the clear whinny or snort given voice only the smallest part of it, and know subtle nuances of the warmth or hostility of touch. Theirs is an ancient kinetic wisdom that we can only imagine. They know all too well what it is to be wholly misunderstood, even invisible, and with none to hear their cry.

They all dream of running free, when at last given a chance to close their weary eyes and sleep. Their experience has taught them struggle, patience, and immeasurable compassion. When Debra had first come back to them, utterly broken of heart and spirit and hanging by only thinnest thread, it seemed to her as if they had somehow known she was coming that day, and stood gathered and waiting. They had come right to her. Horses “know what they know,” and understood immediately that their friend’s heart was indeed close to shattering completely. Far too close. It can be a truly terrible thing to see, sometimes, for they feel much. And they loved her.

 

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Though in that moment it seemed that their hearts might burst for sorrow, they would not turn away. Surrounding her as if in embrace, as horses will sometimes do, they quietly opened wide in spirit to receive her into the fold of their ancient communion. That was all they had to offer, and also their very best, and it was given freely and without hesitation. They knew not exactly how to proceed or where to “go,” for that was not particularly how they thought, anyway, and she stood among them very nearly beyond even their empathic reach. Yet they loved her, and knew that sometimes caring and being there is the best gift that can be offered.

The reasons or facts of the situation do not matter. What Debra needed above all else was hope. Yet what she most needed eluded her, and in the light of cold reason she found only dead ends, cold and hard. In time, even the fading notion of that imagined refuge itself mocked her without mercy. She had given up. Almost! Yet she had somehow known to come back to the horses…

 

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Maybe she sensed it and maybe not, but these fine animals had made a solemn promise to That Most Sacred to love and to protect her, always. (Because they are honorable without fail, and absolutely resolute once a promise has been made, they are frequently misunderstood as aloof and unreachable, or even uncaring and disinclined to promise, at all. Yet here the horses are being badly misunderstood: they are in truth exercising their “horse wisdom,” and giving due respect to the inviolable weight and honor of a commitment once made.)

In time Debra came to understand that she had most certainly been blessed, even in that very darkest hour in which salvation had been least expected, for something in her heart assured her that their promise was good, and forever.

And so it was. Though past has surely folded gently into the now, the starting point of all becoming and the birthing place of creation and all potential, still yet the promise remains. (The notion of time itself seems in the horses’ manner of thinking both abstract and completely useless, for they remain attuned to and remain grounded in only that which is real.) Even now they await the promised coming of her great new day, as they have always, and will so abide for as long as it might take. Happily, and with pride immeasurable.

 

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WHAT Debra failed to see almost completely, then or now, was the gift she had been to them. Because of her: the constancy and depth of her shimmering soul, the gentleness of her touch and whisper, the purity of her heartbreak, they knew they were not alone, and greatly comforted. They knew that she longed for freedom at last, always (as did they), and that she had “done her time” in the dark valley of the utterly solitary, and had stumbled along its twisting turns as best she could for what seemed a woeful eternity, accompanied only by despair.

They had themselves trodden before her the sere terrain of that bleak place with no horizons to be seen in any direction, and knew it all too well. Her arrival at last thus bespoke valediction, and even hope! All shadows suddenly fled for them, though Debra in her brokenness could not then even begin to understand this. It seemed that the brilliant Light that she carried within, earned so dearly, lay behind her, and thus outside her field of vision. Though a hunger for that grand elusive light filled her very being, despite her best efforts all she could make out before her were shadows, long, deep, and grim. She could not know that the very darkness of the convincing shadows bespoke a hidden promise, of the great and brilliant Light that followed wherever she went, and that was their source.

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BECAUSE of Debra, everything was different. They saw no fences. Only the clouds floating idly past in the ever-open sky above, the good green grass under hoof, and a world transformed because someone in it understood them. They have intoned always ancient horse prayers on her behalf, their hearts full and lifted upward by the very idea of her.

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“Keep your dreams alive,” they offered in encouragement, for they had not forgotten the ancient wisdom that any true miracle of healing is never just once. How could it be, indeed, when wounds could be so very layered, and slow to heal? Just as they knew that after every stumbling fall they would rise again from the ground, for as long as they could, no matter what, they understood the attending of the healing spirit as “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes. And then some.”

“Remember what it is to ride free,” they asked of her. “To race through the air together, joined as one, upon a world itself always in motion, and thus find our place! To first gallop and finally soar into full flight, awake and in motion and truly alive!”

 

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A chestnut-colored mare and her foal joined in nudging her gently, as if to emphasize the point. It might seem only a moment,” they continued, “but it is something more. Don’t you see? That moment offers an opening!” A chill passed through Debra as she pondered the idea. “It’s true,” she suddenly thought to herself. Though she couldn’t voice the realization, exactly, she thought “If I know music in my life at all; if ever I have tasted true poetry in the passing hours of a lifetime, it is exactly in the rhythm and motion of just such moments.” And she remembered that she did know music, and poetry, and realized that the sweetest and most enduring gifts tend to arrive quite gently, and are often missed upon first arrival (and sometimes long thereafter) simply because they come so completely unexpected.

 

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Though she could not know it, Debra had in truth had been carrying the horses even as they’d thundered forward carrying her. That knowledge had been quite obvious to the horses, however, and lent a particular sweetness to the experience. To their keen ears, the steady beat of each galloping hoof celebrated glorious destiny itself, and sounded the fulfillment of some great ancient promise. The percussive moment was blessed and complete, and the gold of its memory helped sustain them in the long dark nights that inevitably fell, unannounced, and throughout the meaner seasons.

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They had waited long for her return, in a spirit of patience far beyond our ability to even understand, and here she now was! Their attention remained wholly fixed upon her. “Please remember,” they repeated. You must! For if it has ever been true, even for a moment, then so it is always.”

“We all forget,” they reassured her. “There is no shame in it. Just be easy with yourself, and remember what you have known. There is naught else you need do, to see you through the hard times.”
“We will run free again, together,” they promised, and Debra’s very heart was gladdened with a joy beyond reason. In time, she observed that the dark shadows of teeming despair, as aggressive, determined, and finally smothering as green kudzu, could take no real hold where the Great Promise still lived.
Oh, that moment!” they softly whispered, almost as if to themselves. “Just remember the glory of it!

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“Never fear,” they promised, “we shall await you. And not just once. Always. Until the end of time, if necessary, for such is our pleasure.”

“You are ours,” they breathed in gratitude before turning away to graze in some golden grassy field no man has ever seen (and yet closer than one’s heart). “And so we are blessed. We love you, because you first loved us.”

“You are now and always have been, a gift.”

 

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                                                       For Debra          With Love      Oct. 5 2011

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