Every Time I Sign My Name
There were a few things I knew about my cousin Chuck when I was growing up. He was cool (mostly because he was older than me). He attended “the county school system”, which meant that he got more snow days than I did. He got to eat “Boo Berry” or “Count Chocula” cereal every morning, at least that was my impression from what I was offered when I spent the night with my aunt and uncle. His neighborhood had a swimming pool, and in that neighborhood, either legend or fact, lived some kid with a BB lodged in his leg from being shot by a BB gun by another kid making targets out of those who rode the streets.
I am unsure what we spent most of our time doing, but I do remember hiking a ridge behind his house once or twice, as he told this or that story. We drew a lot, and we did child-like things which always had an adult-like urgency and were of great importance. There were collectibles in his room which had a window facing the backyard. And he had bunk beds. Holy Cow! Without describing him any further, you can understand why, that back in the day, and that to this day, I was and am completely impressed with my cousin Chuck.
One day while I was at his house, as a child, he gave me some paper and a pencil, and I knelt down to use the bottom mattress of his bunk beds as a desk. He taught me how to write some cursive words. He knew a secret coded font called cursive. Again, how could I not be impressed. He would show me how to write some word and leave me to practice (as a parent now, I realize this might have just been a way to get some peace from my constantly asking what our next great adventure might be). And then it happened. He taught me to write my name in cursive. I practiced. I showed everyone I knew. I was proud. And if the truth were told, always in the back of my mind when I sign any document, I think of Chuck.
Later years found us exchanging jokes and stories from high school at family gatherings. He came to my parents house with his new Volkswagen and cool stereo system. We rode around listening the “The Outfield” and “The Cars”. He was at the same university as me for a year or two until he graduated and once we rode together through downtown Knoxville to scope out his first office space for what would become a nationally known marketing group. In some years he struggled, and in some years I struggled, to find our way in the world and to determine what purpose we might serve. Our paths were not the same, but our souls remained connected in some strange way.
Recently we had coffee and realized we had not seen each other over the past ten years. In a world with social media, it never seems that long, but it had been that long. We first hugged, we then caught up briefly, and then he began to help me with ideas for a program to help homeless and lower income individuals. I could tell he cared about it. I could tell he had thought about it. I could tell that he cared about me. After all these years, it was obvious, that he both cared about people, and me. And it was obvious we had never stopped considering one another, and that we never stopped surrounding each other with love in our minds, our thoughts, and hearts.
Sometimes you hear a thing and all you can do is gasp. Sometimes a story told by another makes you pause, reflect, and want to give the world a hug. We all have stories. Stories are not what make us unique. How we tell our stories make us unique. The stories we replay in our head like they were on Netflix, the feelings that surface when we watch them again in our mind, and how much truth we assign to our ability to recall events, are all indicators of what joy we afford to living the present moment.
If you have time to spend on memories, might I suggest you pick a good one? If you have the option of pouring over the past, and if you have the time, pepper in a sense of gratitude. Whether you use your downtime to conjure up images of being graced with goodness, or whether you use your downtime to create a list of wrongs that have have befallen you, nothing about what has happened in your life changes. If a story makes you feel bad, tell it from another angle. If a story stirs a joy inside you, replay it over and over.
Chuck and I spent some time on memories that day. Mostly good, and some difficult to speak, but all with the understanding that the Divine works through everything, regardless of our opinion of that “everything”. The simple fact of the matter is, we both are from the same proverbial cloth. No matter what we have chosen in our professions, our personal lives, or our pursuits of hobbies, we want what is best for others, and we know, that but for grace, we could be in anyone’s situation at any time. He only said one thing that day that I just could not wrap my head around. He said, “Sorry it has been so long”.
I have never understood the concept of sorrow. I have never understood the notion of forgiveness. If he felt any concern that it was somehow his fault that we had not seen each other in ten years, surely I bore the same responsibility. Both sorrow and forgiveness require some bit of retrieving an event from the past, that keeps us from enjoying the present, right now. They are necessary things for some, but only serve to bring us to a place where we see that we are all only starting each day with grace, and the way to make that grace grow, is to afford it to others.
The response in my mind to his being sorry it had been so long, went something like this… “It has not been that long. I think of you often. I offer you love often. I am thankful for you often. I realize what a great man you have become and how much happiness you have created in my life, in the life of others, and in this world. Whether we have seen each other face to face, or whether only our intentions each day,in different parts of the world, were the same, I remember you kindness… every time I sign my name“.