Thirteen years! In and of itself thirteen years even to my 38 year old mind does not seem like such a long time, but when I am reminded of the numerous changes I have spent on the road a whole lot louder than I was then, and now that some of your own changes have been plugged into the equation, I am smacked with emotion. After several eager dialings over the course of these years to metropolitan Houston directory assistance to confirm that you still maintained a telephone in the area, I finally found the courage to ring you up, facing whatever destiny our two paths had reckoned. Certainly delighted I did, reassured by your innate friendliness, although I must admit. I never expected news of a debilitating cerebral stroke nor the loss of your Christian wife to another man. Unsure of your own willingness to presently discuss with someone of my distance these two very personal issues, I will not press for details, but whatever strikes your fancy within your own comfort levels and timing.
Even as I hastily type out this preamble to what shall certainly evolve into a lengthy dispatch, because my own natural stimulus leaves no stone unturned, no ambiguity unanalyzed, no shadow unembraced, once I discover them hiding under a rock, a leaf, a building, a field of arguments no man has ever built and they came running, particularly after all these years of silence and personal migrations, reconfigurations, makeovers, retoolingI feel my language in this letter will never wholly match in faithfulness my spirit to explain those matters of choice which simply cannot be explained with tiring the reader. Some say I never get to the point. As an old journeyman land surveyor I celebrate the linethe line made of up infinite points, intersecting points, points of curvature, end points, beginning points, random points, topological points, non-existent points, hidden points, blocked points, coordinate points, and error, accumulative error. I take advantage of this knowledge.
Beyond outward appearances, inward cesspools, or the algebra of faith, it is easy to admit that my flesh has never been able to trigger its own comfortable purposes; my pawning gnawing spirityearning forcefully toward some sort of systematic success never quite available however carefully transcribed to me in secret languages beyond the scope of others, even my devoted wife’s stunted curiositystill rages against my body proving an easily recognizable quantum that the body has spent a lifetime stifling the spirit and the spirit a lifetime of trying to void the body.
Trajectory failure, one chapter at a time, as only a man of unquenchable thirst can survive is not only an interesting sentence, it does not erect imaginary fences either. The apparent loss of God the Waterbearer is rank speculation and dog tired dogma, the two strong vices which still snarl my flesh, and its façade like immeasurable strands of thread wrapped around a burning man, yet they still engage and tempt me into feeling justified in rejecting what’s leftover of love's devices, the word itself having degenerated into merely another cultural pathos. That is to say, the cult of love, as it instructs and subsequently withers (or puddles) the individual psyche into parasitic perversions symptomatic of or fluid to a basic yet unraveling (diluted) meaning of life, is the story of the self-replicating worm colony feeding upon the cold marbleizing carcass representing the association between love and death gone untold. Mostly.
While appropriate honor is certainly intended, I mention this only to emphasize your timely importance in my life. I was a fledgling 23 in the Texan autumn of 1978, still perky from the jarring experience of marrying and separating from a Jehovah Witness twice my age heavy with three kids, when we first surveyed together under the tricky financial wings of lovable diamond-mouthed Larry Godfrey, two extraordinary surveyors charged with the task of laying out the figure eight track at the City of Houston Police Academy and other site preparation tasks at the airport next property line over.
I lived and worked in Houston precisely three days plus one year. I gave away most of my possessions. Everything in my apartment in fact, save my books, music, and the short change of clothes I could fit into my car. Leaving on March 11, 1979, the day after my brother’s wedding, I set out to explore the nature of God, myself, and the way, only a few days after you baptized me at my request in that sad moonlit apartment pool in the southwest sector of the city in which we were then livinga wide open city still growing by a thousand people a week, a high stakes city still burbling in a the last big Texas oil boom, a sprawling segregated city that claimed to be the nation's fifth largest at that time, a wildcat city of mighty skyscrapers, whipping freeways and mile after mile, neighborhood after neighborhood of busy, treeless parallel and perpendicular lines paved in spectacular unwavering concrete grids, nostalgic signage, barrios, gringos pushing & shoving a 40/40 population wheelhouse, a city which I would only return once more after I left this time in my Blue Devil 305.
Bare minimums were code. A secluded sandbottomed lagoon wrestling with beauty offered itself for skinny dipping and the daily summer bath. Loneliness was sometimes a factor at Lofton Creek, alone as I was, caring for the unflappable birds and tending the fields of manure-fertile raw vegetable goodness I planted. Youthful polarity provided the future with great purpose as I craved to learn the ways of the intellectual, the saint, the poet, the madman whom the world, Jew or Gentile, could not force its indistinguishable patterns onto without the consent of the governed, daring to transcend each and every stone cast upon the pond, walking the walk, talking the talk, bending and bowing to the rays of the constant light within. Ah, such is the reverie of an uncouth youth seeking to belong to himself.
Landlord and his wife, the Earl Wilson's, who lived in their National Register Tabby home ten miles away in town, would occasionally bring out a mess of rockshrimp and a feast of the few would be promptly called. Fellowship, tangency, and the delicate prospering of a solitary man’s vital era ranked among the finest times I have ever achieved and was common to each visit and each conversation we shared, a genteel but unaffected mutual regard very much like our own. Earl Wilson, who later passed away of a heart attack at the tragic age of 55, had in truth and in spirit, become my second personal mentor. The second elder in whom I would be able to listen to or confide in without some sort of spiritual grudge match fostering my intelligence. Of course this is aside from what I would continue to scan heavily from books and other media accounts. My fifteen months at Lofton Creek were a gentle canvas of leisure, painted with a measuring schtick spoiled only by a natural intolerance to any perceived decline or stagnation. Was I not being groomed by the All-Purposeful Lord for great things, greater things than this? Like Elisha, I wanted more.
Soon enough though, an unchecked overwhelming sense of urgency pervaded my serenity. I spent afternoon and evening reading book after book checked out from the library in the town from which I had graduated highschool, six years earlier, the town where the landlord and his wife lived. The urgency of succeeding somewhere somehow sometime soon in a way that matched what I believed where my strong points, kept me at odds with the seclusion of my near perfect pastoral lifestyle. Regrettably, little has changed in that regard even now. Studies among the exegeses of Tolstoy, Schweitzer, Pascal, St. Augustine, Van Gogh, Cayce, Goethe, Tillich, Gibran, Pascal, Rousseau, Paine, Durant, and other biblical and ethical commentators filled my head with all too many strange transfixing questions and all too few answers, presaging an addiction to the printed word which still haunts me.
I'm not what one might call a naturally happy person, George; not terribly unhappy, but not particularly happy, not in the same way that I would describe you&$151;you George Rounthwaitethat wonderful impish but manly grin, a grin I could hear and could almost see over the telephone that morning you returned my call, a grin that is shaped by the ever resourceful spirit which lives within you. And yet in defense of my own robust spirit, I can never concede that I am unduly deprived of God’s intent in when weathering whatever shades of depression and simple joy I experience. I accept my local joys and those spells of dark seclusion which work to direct my life in ways most citizens, believers and pagan alike, in our culture find less than ambitious to say the least, and dare assert I, speak more to their own faulty judgment than to my own sense of frailty.
In short, I feel I am a healthy neurotic, now as I was as a child, a struggling, inept, argumentative teenager, a terrible twentysomething, and so now as a twisting thirtysomething, a solitary seeker of unbiased unprotracted truth and justice of what's happening, righteousness and compassion among those I intersect, guided not by my own sense of self-worth but by a hovering sense of duty, not quite positive everything I effect is going to put a smile on God’s face, but secure in the knowledge that without that healthy dose of doubt, purpose would then be defined as beginning and ending with myself, an absurdly brutal concept to which I’ve never long subscribed.
Why then all the straining psychobabble first before I begin detailing the struggles, the contours of my individual path? Because unappended details unfortunately are easily cut and quartered into categories of right and wrong out of context without supportive evidence. Because I have no wish to parade facts in front of someone who historically may not approve. And because I am neither here on this earth nor this page to shame anyone who is genuinely unprepared to understand the ways I feel called to manifestthat God in his own good sense may fulfill all the promises to those who have prayed for understanding and ultimate peace according to His previous messengers.
Selling the car was a major decision I actually made rather easily once I decided it was time, that my reasoning was solid. Mr. Rounthwaite, I loved that car, it was my pride. Therefore it had to go. Remember when we drove up to Tulsa from Houston to visit Oral Roberts University a few years earlier? Blew a flat as we were pulling into campus. Act of God, you said. I eventually left the serenity of Lofton Creek and Florida in September, 1980, for hurricane-tattered Corpus Christi to help my brother Clydeat his requestbolster his fledgling roofing company, and return me to respectability from slacker life I suppose he and his wife might have discussed. My Blue Devil 305 ride rolled on tiger-grip Hercules Honcho tires, Gabriel shocks. Gabriel riser shocks to tell the truth. Took pride in it. Put 96K miles of artery on odometer in thirty-six months that I owned it. Had but five when I picked it off the lot.
It still frequently pops into my dreamlife now, some fourteen years after I sold it to a Jacksonville dealer for next to peanuts. In my dream it’s invariably parked in a public lot somewhere when I discover it, and usually in the perfect shiny blue state it was in when I sold it. But I do recall a recent dream when in route to nowhere in particular I casually stumble upon a burned out shell of blackened steel and crisp memories, and I knew it was my old car, ready for the resurrection and a pure nature. In this dreamlife, I always manage to steal it back successfully, without incident, and drive off into the sunset, so to speak, with no remorse, no concern for its current owner, simply radiant that my inner self has renewed the fecund energy this dazzling dance of road machine represents to my subconscious mind. Obviosuly this dreaming of one’s earliest prized and therefore most pleasureable possessions is not rare. Yet no other figurative symbols of my life except maybe the house I grew up in from the age of six to thirteen recur as often as does that car.
Turning away desirable girlfriends, worldly possessions, and normal occupational ambitions came unnaturally easy to me, but in the spirit of diminishing returns, I carefully worked to steer as best I could from perverting the paradox of faith along the lines of what one might call humble arrogance back over to its converse formarrogant humilitya decidedly common open trench planted with razorsharpened spikes and mirrors many pretenders seem incapable of dodging in their eagerness to appear to self and others as profiling God’s Own Image of Himself. And so Corpus Christi on the bay would become the next corporeal stage upon which my lifelong collusion with the spirit of man versus beast would manifest its theatre deep into my being.
Fifteen months as a hermit in the backwoods of my beginnings had taken their toll. I was no longer fit to be a businessman. Lasting only four months with my brother, I finally quit his company because of what I considered unsportsmanlike price-gouging practices. Although his rates were very competitive, it just seemed to me that hard times justified hard times for all, not accelerated pricing schedules when business was booming due to a recent storm. We parted friends and have become even closer as the years tear back the youthful packaging to reveal two pensive beings bartering the spectrum of ideas with earnest achievement at opposite poles of brotherly nature. But I had become uncomfortable with financial success at the expense of others even to the point of resisting due payment for my own labors. My common refrain for a period was, “Just pay me what you think it is worth.” Obviously I was opening myself to exploitation, for I was never the slacker, but I could not excuse myself in this war of wages. Finally, after a decade of fighting a losing battle against my own nature to appease the temperament of business, its capitalistic pressures urging my own strong will to succeed (paralleling family and peer considerations)only recently has it became crystal clear to me that I simply have not been called to embrace the American business routine. That this anticommercial strain of business acumen is not by any means unique to religious zealots, I was aware, and careful to acknowledge prevalent economic bidding as worthy of men’s attention and God’s grace, quite unlike some in the political arena who have always seemed a bit revolting to me.
My brother has since returned to Atlanta, divorced, gone bankrupt, started another company, and remarried. His high profile roofing and remodeling company will gross over $3 million this year. Eighteen or so of his company’s advertising billboards grace Metro Atlanta’s highways. The high ornamental fabric of his lifestyle is in good taste and worthy of a poor man’s envy. My brother Clyde never graduated from junior high.
At sixteen he made a remarkable breakthrough in his life via a popular rehabilitation program, learning to read and speak there, although he still does not read much outside the Wall Street Journal and roofing or contractual specs. He does not truck with religion or the standardized version of God, although he is quite an introspective, let us say, spiritual man. After years of juvenile delinquency he saw the proverbial light, although it certainly took years for the complete transformation, in both the social grooming and personal hygienic senses, as well as for the full juices of his mental capacities to kick into overdrive.
The ensuing fact that he is quite the classical handsome man, while certainly adding to his notorious vanity, does most assuredly favor his strong faculty for self-confidence and secular direction as he makes his way among worldly affairs. Everyone pegged me for the smart brother, the rich brother, the glorious brother, of us six. Christ, said I, was not the one.