…May I say that I have loved me one or two
Of the people in my past, fading faces in a waking dream
And though they never seem to last very long
There are faces I remember from the places in my past
I said all the deadhead miles, and the insincere smiles
Sometimes I can laugh and cry and I can’t remember why
But I still love those good times gone by, hold on to them close or let them go, oh no
I don’t know, I just seem to sing these songs and say I’m sorry for
The friends I used to know
(from Places in My Past, James Taylor)
I write all these stories from my past. Why? I’m kind of on a mission. I just finished reading a book, “A Year to Live – How to Live This Year as if it Were Your Last”, by Stephen Levine. I’ve been reading it for about 4 months. Hard to find time to read when you’re reading nearly 7,000 Cowbird stories during that time. I admit it – I am definitely a Cowbird addict. I still don’t feel like I read enough Cowbird stories. I want to read them all. This, I can assure you, is not possible. But, I do try. That’s a lot of stories to read. But, I don’t even hold a candle to Ben or Kathy Weinberg in that department. Not that anyone is keeping score, or anything! We’re not competitive. No…not us! (I hear you snickering there in the corner, Ray. Stop it! Keeping me honest and all...)
But I digress. Back to a year to live. So, now that I’ve finished the book, finally, it is time to commit to this year to live business – time to set a “due date”. Mine is set. It’s August 20th. That is the day that I have to live to. Each day between now and then will be the last day I have for that particular day. So, for instance, today is the last August 23rd before my “due date”. I need to make the most of this day. This one is made even more special as it is Kathy’s birthday (that's my wife, Kathy Bridgeman). Not just any birthday. This is a big one. The 5-0. She’s o.k. with me saying the number out loud. She’s living on bonus time. A number of years ago, she was having trouble seeing past 46. Now that she’s made 50, she’s actually glimpsing the 70’s. That’s good progress, Kath, but I really need you to get to 92, at least, ‘cause I’m shooting for the century mark, myself, and I am not about getting back out there on the market and doing the whole dating thing again. Once in a lifetime was plenty enough for me!
Which brings me back to these stories I write. Part of what Levine stresses is doing the life review. Looking back, and getting it right. People talk about near death experiences, where their life flashes before their eyes. This is about getting a jump on that process. Why not take the time, while you have it, to do that life review, and while you’re at it, clean up any unfinished business that might be lingering back there? For me, writer and story-teller that I am, I’ve told and re-told a lot of these stories a bunch of times. Many a story has long since been packaged into a neat little story box of the way I remember it, and the way I’ve retold it dozens of times, designed to fit into this larger story I tell myself about my life. Some of the stories, through the retelling, take on a life of their own. Is that the way it really happened, or is that the way I remember it, because that’s how I’ve told it so many times?
As I go back and explore some of these stories, I’m also trying to get them right. I’m not as concerned with the nitty-gritty details, as I am with what was going on – what was my motivation? What was I thinking? What is the perspective I’ve gained through the years I’ve had to reflect on them, and if this was indeed to be my last year on earth – is that how I want to leave these stories? So, I’m looking back, just a little bit, just whenever something prompts me to look, and where something doesn’t ring true in that neat little box I’ve left it in for years, I’m just taking it out, dusting it off, and trying to get it a little bit closer to the truth. Whose truth? My truth. The truth of the other players, if that is possible. If there happens to be anything there that still needs some cleaning up – things that didn’t get covered when I took my 8th and 9th steps in the program, or in subsequent attempts to clean up my past, I may even do what I need to do to clean it up. Make it right. It’s never too late to do this, as I have discovered. It can be incredibly healing.
I think of when Dad wrote his letters to me about coffee pot parts, of all things, and his memory of treating me like shit as a young boy over them, and how badly he still felt, how that haunted him each morning, 30 years later, thinking about how he treated me whenever he got up to make his morning coffee. I had long, long since forgotten the incidents that still haunted him daily, and long since forgiven him other transgressions I did remember him doing, and my initial reaction was, “THAT’s what’s bothered you all these years – COFFEE POT PARTS??” And, yet…those letters brought such an incredible amount of healing to me, caused me to break down and let a flood of tears flow through me, to know that my Dad loved me that much, that even then, he thought so highly of me, and just didn’t know how to tell me then. Telling me so many years later brought so much healing to that 11 year old inside of me that still thought his Dad, then, thought he was shit. I just cried again writing this. It still brings healing to me. Dad really loved me, even back when he would tell me I was no damned good. He was just kidding around. Didn't know how it hurt. He fixed it, late in life. It's never too late.
I seem to be drawn a lot to things that happened 40 years ago. 1972. It was one hell of a year. From Monika, to Alice, my wild house party, to new adventures in New England, to Mary, Martha, Amy, bad trips, suicidal journeys, depression, presidential campaigns, coffeehouses, retreats, and love misunderstand and gone terribly wrong, to losing my virginity to a wild hippie chick – that was a year that had the whole spectrum of life stuff, and whose boxes had several layers of mold and dust on them when I first stumbled upon them in the attics of my mind.
Maybe this is my way of participating in my 40 year class reunion. It’s in a little over a month. I’d thought about it, but I’m not going. I don’t recognize any of the names on the list of those who have RSVP’d for it. Besides, it’s the weekend before our 2 week Hawaii Cruise. It’s all the way up in Connecticut. I think I’ve pretty much covered that year in stories, now. There were a number of insights that came up in the process. I was surprised by some of the things I discovered, long since buried and forgotten. They didn’t hurt me to uncover them again. Didn’t hurt anyone else, either. They brought some healing to me. I’m working on some residual clean-up that they brought to light still needs to happen. It starts with me being clear on what I did, how it may have harmed another, and me acknowledging my part of it, and being willing to clean it up. The rest is up to the universe. I won’t go looking for the individuals, at this stage, 40 years out. But I will be open to them. If they are somehow drawn into my sphere, I’ll be ready to do what I need to do. I also believe that, the healing does occur, whether or not you get that opportunity to do it in person. By knowing the truth, and letting it go, it heals.
I’m looking for a hard-headed woman, one who will make me do my best
And if I find my hard-headed woman, I know the rest of my life will be blessed, yes, yes, yes.
I know a lot of fancy dancers, people who can glide you on a floor,
They move so smooth but have no answers, when you ask them “What’d you come here for?’
“I don’t know!”
I know many fine-feathered friends, but their friendliness depends on how you do
They know many sure-fired ways to find out the ones who pay, and how you do…
I’m a-looking for a hard-headed woman, one who will make me feel so good
And if I find my hard-headed woman, I know my life will be as it should – yes, yes, yes
(Cat Stevens – Hard-headed Woman)
One other note about these past journeys in story. As I recall these past fits and starts I had in the area of trying to find that person with whom I would share my life. Good God, I went through a lot of failed attempts at it, a lot of hopes dashed, some that backfired on me, and just as many that I wasn’t where the other person was and didn’t see and feel what they did, or at least, didn’t have the courage to put it out there on the line when they did, and vice a versa. Reliving some of these does take me back there for that time that I think about, and craft the story of the time. I do re-experience some of the emotions. They are a part of me. But, I do so in the security of knowing that I always come back to today – to the incredibly satisfying life I have today. To the relationship that I’ve found with my “hard-headed-woman”, Kathy Bridgeman (nee Daley). To the relative ease with which we found each other (well, it was relatively easy on my part – I resisted and avoided for as long as I could, then when I realized resistance was futile, just relaxed and let it happen!).
And I know that I am, indeed, a lucky man! My life has been most blessed. Yes. Yes. Yes. It has.
Happy Birthday, Baby! You are the love of my life.
Photo: Daughters of the Confederacy, Charleston, SC, taken on my morning walk this morning.