Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Story Of My Life

Sarah hands me a present with the explanation, "This is something for you to do for me and Che so we'll always have it."

It's a book ... "The Story of my Life", full of blank pages with questions at the top like ... "What did you do that your parents didn't want you to do? Did you get caught?"

I could write an entire book on that question alone!

"Well," I exclaim flipping through the pages, "I'll do it ... and hope Che reads it for the first time at my funeral and it makes her laugh out loud and that makes you mad at first but then you laugh and she doesn't get in trouble."

We laugh and a few days later Sarah asks if I've started.

"I will," I explain ... never one to give a simple "Yes" or "No" answer ... I delve into other things I'm writing, where I'm stuck, things I'd like to write and the favorite things I've written.

"That's a 'No'?" Sarah sighs, overly frustrated with me.

The next day I begin answering the questions and now have really gotten into it.

While I've covered a lot of this territory in other things I've already written ... I've never done it in this particular way ... with the conviction I could very well be dead by the time Che gets around to reading it ... if I even finish it!

Mortality's a bitch to the 60 year old Dad of a 6 month old precious little girl!

Ah well ... "it is what it is" to quote my Mother ... as I thoughtfully write what is a love letter to my wife and our daughter.

My story's got everything ... lots of sex ... little bit of drugs ... overdose of rock-and-roll.

There's incredible highs ... devastating lows ... betrayals Judas could never have managed ... an undying love of the Ocean ... trips around the world ... sandy bottoms ... ducted taped hearts ... whole lives that broke ... and broken lives made whole.

At it's core though it's my journey to get to Sarah and make Che ... against all conventional wisdom!

Thank God it's not done yet!

I'm still working on it ... rearranging priorities ... making new plans ... dreaming new dreams ... casting off the pains of the past ... completely embracing the pleasures of the present ... hoping there's one more day to celebrate now.

Sarah also told me we have to redo our will now that Che's here and she'll make all those decisions.

I think my only real contribution will be the film rights to the story of my life.

If it's ever made into a movie, in the right hands, Sarah and Che will make lots of money which would please me immensely.

Should that never happen though, I hope it makes Che laugh at my funeral and when Sarah makes eye contact with a death stare ... they burst out laughing together ... and know how very much alive they made me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Family Meeting

"All right! This family meeting is called to order."

"Growl."

"Stop growling dammit!"

"They're dogs honey," Sarah says.

"Whatever!" I answer rolling my eyes. "You two have gone absolute nuts since the baby's been born."

Goddess plops on the tile floor, lays her head on her paws and yawns.

Winston, The Little Gay Dog (TLGD), wearing a fuzzy black jersey with pink letters reading, "I play baseball for the balls" stands at attention, ears perked and watching me intently.

"You are so gay!" I sigh.

Winston flashes a smile with the whitest teeth I've ever seen.

"Since Che's been born you two have been insanely jealous and acting crazy! It's got to stop!"

Neither dog moves.

"Goddess," I snap, grabbing her face while staring in her eyes, "You've got to stop knocking over the trash can at night and eating everything in it. The kitchen's a freaking mess and the noise scares the baby."

Goddess licks my hand flashing her golden eyes.

"And you! ... you little son-of-a-bitch (and I mean that literally), stop protecting us from anything that moves! It's annoying and we hate it!"

Winston, TLGD, curls up and licks his genitals.

"I don't think they're listening," Sarah sighs.

She's right.

She's always right.

"Get out!" I frustratingly exclaim to the dogs.

Neither moves.

"Now!" Sarah says and they jump up rushing outside.

"Well that didn't work!" I sigh.

"You tried," she lovingly replies squeezing my hand on the kitchen table.

The dogs scratch the screen on the back door wanting to come back inside.

"Don't you dare!" Sarah says staring at me.

"What'd I do?"

"As soon as I walk out of this room you'll let them back in."

"I will not."

She leaves.

I let them in.

"Guess who's not the Alpha in our family" she sings from the other room.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I'll write when I can

"What do you do all day?"

Taken aback, I assume she knows.

"Mostly I take care of Che," I answer pointing at the five month old baby.

"Did you talk with anyone today?"

"No," ... "Wait! Jeremy and I had a nice chat".

"Nobody else though ... unless you count those Che and I visited with on our walks ... Susan ... Ray rode his bicycle beside us carrying his grandson and we talked about Cuba ... but other wise I haven't spoken with anyone."

There's silence.

"I wrote Monty an email."

Smiling, we move on to talk about the good and the bad of island living.

Long after it was asked, the question lingers.

"What do I do all day?"

Today started at 12:30 am when I drag myself out of bed to turn Che over so she'll go back to sleep ... resumes at 4:00 am when she wakes and I feed her four ounces ... at 6:00 am I startle myself awake from a dream squeezing Sarah who yells for me to stop ... after a quick outside shower, I kiss my wife who's showering inside, see Che's still asleep and make the quick ride to The Breakfast Club for coffee and back home turn on soft music, post a status update and pour my wife's Orange Juice.

Sitting with Sarah we watch Maddie, the clueless 15 year old who knows everything, play with Che while getting herself ready for school.

They rush out the door and it's just me and our baby.

Eating apples, she gleefully dances and smiles strapped into her chair listening to the Beach Music I crank when the girls leave.

Bath time's fun as I pour soapy water over Che's head and she makes faces and laughs.

Music time follows as I play guitar and sing as she laughs, dances and screams in delight if I get loud.

Throwing her in the magnificent stroller with speakers we listen to "The Boat Drunks" strolling down front, on the beach and around Back River until it's nap time.

When she sleeps I eat leftovers and fire up the computer, see what's happening in the world and if Che sleeps a while I write ... it takes a few days to finish what used to take a couple of hours ... though I'm no longer in a hurry.

Hearing her cry, I sneak beside the crib, rub her leg and ask, "Is my little girl needing her Dad?"

She smiles without seeing me melting.

The afternoon is sort of the morning in reverse.

I feed Che ... we play ... take a long walk to the Pier ... run into Uncle Johnny O who asks the baby to pull his finger ... meander back home ... start dinner ...wait on the girls ... greet Sarah at the top of the stairs and then it gets crazy!

It's girls, homework, boy drama, clothes explosions, crashing calendars, unbelievable things people do at work, interpretation of Catholic dogma in the real world, number of police stops/searches on Tybee Island, United Airlines and understanding Sean Spencer.

Occasionally Sarah and I steal a moment here or there.

My days are full of Che ... working on our tans during long Beach walks ... making up stories for her ... enjoying her enjoying me ... genuinely having fun in Church in a Bar ... and when the outside world intrudes into ours, I say "No" more than I ever have in my life.

At sixty, I feel good about the things I given to make the world a better place and it's a fascinating part of my journey to now be in a place where a little baby girl, and her mother, the constant distractions of three girls, bemusement at the ways of the world and the wonder of the Ocean fill me up.

Of course I've had to empty out lots of other things to make room.

Che and I are lathering up with Coppertone ready for our Beach walk!

I'll write when I can and let you know how it goes.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

NOT The Drummer

"He's gonna play drums right?" Bob asks, tuning his guitar befre Bar Church.

"Who?" I ask.

"Bill Berry," he answers.

"He doesn't play the drums," I scoff at the image.

"I thought he was the former drummer for R.E.M."

"Who told you that?"

"You did!"

"I did not," I say. "I said he's NOT the former drummer for R.E.M."

"Why would you say that?"

"BECAUSE HE'S NOT!"

Church talk can be so exhausting.

"Look," I explain, "A long, long time ago Bill Berry traveled a lot, got hold of some stationary embossed "From God" so shortly afterwards, I started receiving letters randomly postmarked from around the world explaining to me why I was going to Hell for this reason or that ... it drove me crazy trying to figure out who was behind it ... until one time I was Bill's house and he went to the bathroom so I searched his bedroom and sound the stationary."

"That's pretty funny," Bob laughs.

"It was not," I snap. "I had to get him back, so I started writing him letters ... all from the same address but postmarked "Daughters of America's Revolution" ... and the drummer for R.E.M. is named Bill Berry but it's not the same Bill Berry as my friend and I explained it to him in a letter."

"And that got him back?"

"Well no, but I thought it was funny."

Huh-huh," he says strumming a song bored with my explanation.

At that moment, Monty Parks burst in the Bar wheezing, "Where is he? I want to shake his hand."

"Who?" I ask.

"Bill Berry."

"I have no idea," I reply knowing my old friend has disappeared as he's apt to do whenever needed.

"Oh," Monty sighs, taking the dog walking him elsewhere.

As Bar Church begins, Bill Berry strolls in from The Breakfast Club, spies the food spread on the Pool Table and fixes a plate of Sam Sahr's Shepherds Pie.

"We are called to feed his Sheep," he explains.

Shaking my head, I marvel at our friendship ... humble and eternally thank for it actually ... I love the man ... and know how rare it is to have someone who's always there.

Bill's on island to meet Che and hang out with Sarah but broke away to see Bar Church for himself.

"What'd you think?" I ask driving us home afterwards.

"Bout what?" he answers.

"BAR CHURCH!"

"That's some damn good Shepard's Pie," he says licking his fingers.

"Jesus," I sigh.

"You think Sarah and Che are up?" he asks.

Afternoon Prayers

"Oh Micheal! Is that your grandchild."

I'm holding Che, our five month old daughter, in the front yard on an idyllic island afternoon when his car pull slows to a halt and he asks.

My initial reaction consist of a verb followed by a pronoun.

The pronoun is "YOU!"

I refrain from verbalizing my initial reaction, stoll to his open window and introduce Clare Hope Elliott.

The old man's red face is scaly as flakes of skin fall on his shirt as he burst into tears.

Instinctively I jerk Che back.

"May I hold her?" he cries.

Sticking my arms towards him, he place his cheek next to hers and she coos.

"She kissed me," he screams ... then burst into tears again.

"What is it?" I ask hugging my daughter tight.

"I don't know," he sobs. "I do know," he continues pushing himself. "I'm sick. I'm selling my house. We're moving ... I've been here my whole life ... but we can't afford it anymore ... selling everything ... leaving the only place I've ever known ... my wife ..." and his head collapses onto the steering wheel.

Che recently discovered she has a voice and loves to gurgle, a warm, wet, sloppy release of happiness from deep inside, and take this moment to do so.

His head snaps to attention.

"Your granddaughter's beautiful!" he says wiping tears from his red face causing more flakes to shower his dark blue shirt.

"She is," I sigh.

"Will you pray with me?" he ask, appearing more seven than seventy.

With one hand I hold Che and the other I hold his and in the middle of the street on a warm spring day, I invite God into the unfolding mess.

His phone rings and keeping his eyes closed, he tightens his grip on mine saying, "I ain't answering!" so I finish the prayer.

"Thank you," he sobs.

"Yeah," I answer.

Che gurgles again.

"She's beautiful," he sobs away.

  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Flying Higher Than A Kite

Pulling the chord to the Lawn Mower I get nothing.

Repeatedly I jerk the chord until Sarah says, "I've never seen anyone do that before to an 'Easy Start" mower."

"Must be broke," I reply whipping sweat from my brow.

"It's only a year old, You sure you have gas in it?"

"Of course I have gas in it," I snap, leaning over to check.

"It must be the spark plug, I'm gonna ride my bike up to Chu's and get one."

"That'll take you all morning," my wife sighs strolling back inside.

Chu's is the closest thing to a Department Store on Tybee Island and if you know where to look you can most anything ... except they're forever moving things around so nothing's ever where it was last time you were there.

I love riding the bike around the island and slowly coast down Tybrissa to the Beach into the Parking Lot "down front" before taking a right by Spankey's to the back door of Chu's.

Strolling inside I literally stumble onto a man putting a kite together on the floor.

"Micheal Elliott!" he exclaims, jumping up and startling me to jump back. "It's like the Holy Ghost just showed up!"

Never being called that before I don't know what to say ... "Hey."

"Remember me?" he grins. "From Grace House?"

Grace House is a homeless shelter I helped start in the late 80s and, over time, I met a couple of thousand of people there.

"Oh yeah," I said not recalling him at all, but I'd received a message from someone from back then on Facebook who was coming to the island so ... this must be him.

He embraces me leaving the kite sprawled across the floor in front of the cash register.

His text indicated he and his wife would be on Tybee and would love to "catch up" as his life's completely different and it's thanks to me.

Words shoot from his mouth as though it were a machine gun and I catch he's in management at Publix, lives in South Carolina, his wife's German, they're going kite flying on the Beach, she want to meet me and they're coming to Bar Church to make it happen.

I'm exhausted when he finishes.

Smiling, he retrieves the kite, embraces me again and skips outside in the bright, windy day.

Strolling the aisle I see they've moved the Spark Plugs again so I wander around thinking.

There was a time I believed I was changing the world one person at a time, immersed in a revolution to end homelessness in a country as great as the United States only to learn our nation doesn't mind them at all.

Neither does the Church for that matter.

In the scheme of things we didn't make much of a difference.

But, like the little girl throwing starfish that'd washed on the shore back into the Sea, we made a difference to some.

Thank you Darin for reminding me. It was a joy meeting Wilma and it's joyfully humbling to witness someone who's come so far to fly higher than a kite, enjoying every second of this gift of life.

Finding the Spark Plug, I find myself smiling as I make my way home to Sarah and a Lawn Mower that may or may not crank.   

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Catching Up

Micheal Elliott seems to have gone stealth and in addition to hiding from the public he now only sporadically post his blog which no one seems to have noticed. The blog was populated with the heartwarming characters who comprise Micheal's life ... Winston, The little little gay dog (TLGD) ... Goddess who's typically stoned ... The Cat Lady who lives with Feral Cats ... a drunk Guardian Angel ... and Bill Berry, not the former drummer for REM, but the other one.

Perhaps Micheal's most infamous blog was "Jesus: The Rolling Stone Interview" in which he asked the Savior ... "Beatles or Stones?"

While no one misses Micheal, these characters and topics remain dear to many! In addition there is a new baby ... Che, who thus far has not denied he is her father.

We recently caught up with Micheal before Monty Parks Tuesday Night Acoustic Jam, a collection of people with guitars, drums and a fiddle, to find out what in the Hell is going on!

"Is Goddess Dead?"

Why would you think that? I mean she's 80 in dog years but Sarah (Micheal's wife) has her on some crazy organic diet causing her to act like a puppy and crave cat food which she steals from our next door neighbor.

"The Cat Lady?"

Yeah ... the Cat Lady who's apparently dumped her string of lovers and is back to moaning with the cats at night ... she did get a new bathrobe though ... but it looks and smells just like the old one.

"How's little Winston TLGD?

The little Son-of-a-Bitch, and I mean that literally, is fruitier than ever, still wears little wife-beater tee-shirts with slogans like "If you don't like Gay People Hate the Straight Couples who keep having them!" but he's insanely jealous of the baby.

"Che!"

Yep, our baby girl is something.

"Are you really her father?"

Can you think of anyone else who would name our baby Che? It was actually Sarah's idea because she's our little revolution! I was walking her yesterday and someone yells, "How long you had that?" ... pointing to the stroller. "Four and a half months," I answer ... "The rest of your life is planned!" he snears ... "Nothing about my life's been planned!" I answer. "Che's the latest wonderful proof! Why in the world would you want a plan?"

"I see. Your Guardian Angel?"

Drunk.

And angry.

She's angry too.

"You haven't talked about Bill Berry in a while."

It's the craziest thing. Bill's actually on Facebook now and even though people are understanding he was never the drummer for R.E.M., they love him. It makes me kind of proud cause I've loved him a long time and as far as I know he only knows how to beat one thing.

"How's your lovely wife Sarah, who wasn't available for this interview so we had to talk to you ... how's she holding up being married to you?"

Hmmm ... she's fine ... at work ... wearing a stunning Ivanka Trump dress she got at The Dollar Tree.

"Well thank you for catching us up."

Aren't you going to ask how I'm doing?

"No."

Oh.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Post Death Planning

Tom Petty tells the story of Roy Orisbon dying and George Harrison calls to check on his friend.

"I'm alright," Tom sighs. "just numb."

"Aren't you glad it isn't you?" the former Beatle asks.

After an awkward moment, Petty laughs answering, "Yeah!"

While honesty is refreshing, it's sometimes not in good taste to say what you really think regardless of how true it is!

Ultimately Harrison fought for life with alternative treatments until his time finally came to the obvious conclusion ... Living's better than dying!

Sarah often gets mad over my cavalier attitude towards death.

It's going to happen and I don't worry about it too much.

This isn't to say I'm in a hurry as I find life fascinating, joyful, frustrating and always unexpected that it'll take an entire a lifetime to explore all the facets of being here.

I'm fond of describing the number of lives I've lived, constant reincarnations during the same lifetime ... the growing up in a small town life, High School and the discovery of sex life, married in College life, Fatherhood as a child life, radical Seminarian life, Corporate Life, Jet set life, author and public figure life, Suddenly-Single Life, Beach Bum wanna-be life, Happily married with Children life ... as my rebirthing continues into my sixtieth year.

It's both funny and true that each of these life episodes came to an end, tiny episodes of death shoving me on to the next adventure in living.

Lots of folks remain focused on what was rather than moving on and, while there are certainly people and things I miss, and it's hard as Hell to put one foot in front of the other, I'm living this new life now that's radically different from each of the others.

I try to celebrate the good times and people I've been blessed with mixed with gratitude for surviving the bad times and near death experiences.

Of course the grand finale of every life is the end ... not much different from a play, song or movie ... and they finish in a blaze, abruptly stop or continuously repeat an every softening refrain until it's over.

Working with Hospice made me realize mechanics of the end are all the same and it's what we bring to it that makes a difference.

I'm also trying to learn from the life I've lived so far and, it seems, there's already been a lot of little tiny deaths preparing me for the big one.

Some things are going to end, never to be repeated, recovered or resurrected. People will forget my greatest accomplishments, accolades and achievements though they may occasionally be referenced. Those I believed would always be with me won't and when all's said and done, it'll just be me being carried off the stage.

But each time a part of my life came to an end and it was just me starting over, there's never been an ultimate finality because ... something else happened ... and like a Timex Watch, I kept on ticking!

Making it funnier is each subsequent life I've lived has been better than it's predecessor!

So while I'm glad it's not me yet, I'm not too worried.

This song keeps running through my brain ... O Bla Dee! O Bla Da! Life goes on!

Just as I had no idea how it did before, I have none of how it will when I die though looking back it seems I've been training for it my whole life.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

One Hell of A Story

For years I was pretty compulsive about devouring books one author at a time. The first was C. S. Lewis ... I read "The Screwtape Letters" and I was off polishing off everything he'd ever written plus several biographies of him. At the time I was in College.

Lewis led me to J.R.R. Tolkien and there's so much more than "The Lord of the Rings" and he led me to Charles Williams, he and Lewis' dark friend writer.

The 3 formed a group called "The Inklings" cause the didn't have an inkling of an idea about much anything. They met for lunch and pints every Tuesday at "The Bird & the Baby" and read each other what they'd written that week ... sort of a literally Acoustic Jam.

Then it was Hemingway. God the man was crazier than most anyone but he could surely write. I really began to learn how to write from him, copying the ways he did it and forever striving for the "one true sentence."

One of the reasons I like one sentence paragraphs to write a blog is the never ending search for simple, complete honesty in as few words as possible.

He wrote the shortest novel ever!

Here it is.

"For sale! Baby shoes. Never worn."

Doesn't that send your mind reeling?

Afterwards it was John McDonald and the world of Travis McGee, a self-described "salvage consultant" who recovers others' property for a fee of half of the worth.

Travis lived on "The Busted Flush", a houseboat won in a poker game moored in Ft. Lauderdale. There are 21 novels and I plowed through them all and to this day want to live on a houseboat.

Somehow I juxtaposed this with theology, especially the Third-World brand with authors mostly unknown in the United States ... Gutierrez, Dorothy Solee and ... Leonardo Boff ... who teach if salvation's coming we'd better get started helping it by overthrowing social, political and economic oppression ... which naturally led me to Che Guevara.

At the same time, I found Frederick Buechner ... my favorite author ever ... who happily bounces between fiction and non-fiction, combing his life dark through lenses of faith in a God who exposes himself beginning in a father's suicide and leaves one longing for  what's next.

Around this time, I wrote my own books ... ten of them all told ... combining ... or stealing ... elements of each of these heroes of mine.

"Your problem," a Publisher tells me, "is you won't stick to one subject and build on it until you get it right. That's why we won't do your next book."

"But I don't want to write what I've already written," I counter.

"That's how you build your audience ... your buyers," she snaps over lunch in an elegant restaurant that sat on top of a mountain with panoramic views of Pittsburg and the Allegany and Monongahela Rivers.

I didn't listen to her and it's probably why I'm not a famous author.

I kept writing what I wanted to write.

Just like I kept doing what I want to do.

Sure there are things I should have done though I'm not sure I'd be any better off.

"Your writing is so honest," I'm told as Sarah, Che and I march in the Tybee Island St. Patrick's Day Parade with our friends John and Judy.

 It's nice to hear because it's so hard to write that way.

Course it's hard to live that way too.

And I'm not saying I always do.

Sarah and Che remind me though, along with a Holy Host of others, that stringing together one true sentence after another makes for one Hell of a story.

Maybe even one Hell of a life!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Never Too Old To Learn

In the check out line in Publix, I'm pulling items out of the cart when a man rushes up to admire Che, our 4 month old daughter resting in her car seat in the buggy.
"Can I eat her feet?" the grey haired fellow asks through a smile.
"What?" the clerk and I ask at the same time.
And he proceeds to imaginary chop on her toes.
Che laughs and coos.
He's magically transported into another world full of joy.
Sarah Elliott, the clerk and I can't help but laugh.
A baby is an easy thing to love. Never asking for anything or chidding, a baby is beautiful to look at and fills one full of hope even if things are bleak or desperate.
Not everyone loves them of course.
"Glad it's you and not me," I'm often told or when Che cries in a crowded restaurant it's easy to tell who loves babies and who doesn't.
Yesterday I stroll her to the Beach and we sit in a swing as I point out cargo ships, channel markers, seagulls and let her play in the sand.
Traditon holds God came as a baby as an example of how to love someone unconditionally and receive it in kind.
The older we grow the less we're unconditional about much anything.
Babies remind us though if we let them.
Who could have guessed that after 60 years of making my mark in the world, I still had so much to learn about love.
It's a good thing you're never too old unless you choose to be.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Unlikely Love Story

"Do you believe it?" she asks with blue eyes blazing full of wonder.

"No," I softly answer in utter disbelief.

Our heads almost touch as we kneel side-by-side on the floor staring at the bundle on the sofa.

"We have a baby," she smiles.

"We do."

The blanket around our daughter kicks and a soft squeal emulates like a happy sigh, "Aahhaaa ..."

"Do you believe we have a baby?" she asks, her eyes blazing now into mine.

"I don't."

"Me either," she grins.

Yet the physical embodiment of our love giggles, toothlessly grins with blazing blue eyes of her own, keeping us mesmerized and wondering what in the world were we thinking!

I read Millennials  wait to have babies so we fit right in though in our case, we've both "Been there! Done that!" yet like Sarah and Abraham in the Bible, we had a baby way after conventional wisdom dictates.

But ours is the most unlikely of love stories anyway so the miracle of a baby born to the already father of three grown-ups and the mother of three pre-pubescent girls getting married shouldn't come as a surprise!

Before her girls were born, we'd worked together for a year. We were both recently married, she to another Northerner and me to a refugee from Alabama, had different cultures, expressions of faith, senses of humor and purposes in life.

Yet working together, the chemistry clicked and we made magic until she returns to Fundamentalist-Religion-Land in Houghton, New York while I seek refuge from a bad marriage in the Caribbean as much as possible.

Ten lonely years pass.

Out of nowhere she calls and, after impossible obstacles were overcome, we stood alone on the Beach one night after the fireworks and ... caged love erupted ... sandy kisses opened the first door.

It wasn't easy.

I was a drunkenly obstinate bachelor and she had three little girls to protect but ... by God's grace and stubbornness on both of our parts ... we somehow overcame.

Our love was like seeds we discovered in desperate need of the other but fragile and in danger of blowing apart by the winds of societal expectation and individual selfishness.

On the same beach we shared the first sandy kisses we married surrounded by the few who believed love's possible in spite of the odds.

Lots of family and friends didn't come.

It was okay ... we had each other.

Over the years, in retrospect, we've worked hard stripping away defense mechanisms, exploring our scars and giving space to grow and accept each other's quirks, craziness and differences.

"Can you believe it's been five years?" she asks after we put Che to bed.

"No," I reply lost in her blazing blue eyes.

"I can," she shoots.

"Yeah, well," I laugh. "I bet you can."

"Can you believe we have a baby?" she asks in the dark as we lay in bed.

"No."

"Me either."

And we fall asleep blanketed in more love than we've ever known.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Holiness In Publix


I'm in a hurry to pick up Cassidy, the ten-year-old, from school so I throw Che, the four-month-old, over my shoulder to rush in Publix to purchase Alfredo sauce and Pita pockets for Maddie, the clueless-fifteen-year-old-know-it-all.

It's 2:59 and Marsh Point Elementary School lets out at 3:10 so the middle school can let out right after because the High School lets out right after that creating a cluster-fuck of traffic built around poor planning, buss schedules and parental inconvenience, so I have ten minutes.

Che loves when I'm running and she's bouncing and slobbering on my grey UGA tee shirt as I race down the aisle.

"HEY!" he gleefully screams.

He ... is a rotund, African-American with a baby's smile, pushing a broom which he steers away from my feet.

Stopping on a dime, frustrated because I'm running out of time, I glare at him.

His baby smile grows and large brown eyes glisten.

"AHHH," he gasps, taking my own breath away.

"I'm going to have one," he smiles. "Can I please hold her?"

I stare at a child in an overgrown body, happily working, wearing the Publix green on a head too large for the cap.

Che smiles and coos, leaning towards him in my arms.

He claps and eyes me in desperation.

And I hand him our baby.

"Hold my broom," he smiles as he takes her.

Time stops.

Tenderly he cradles our tiny Cherub in thick black arms and they share a language I don't understand.

Shoppers shove loaded carts pass as I watch the two touch foreheads and share a laugh.

It could be a minute but it feels like a thousand years.

"Thank you," he cries handing her back. "I can't wait until I can ..." and his voice trails off into another time and place.

Salt water's running down my cheeks as Che resumes slobbering on my shoulder.

Not knowing what else to do, the three of us hug in the middle of the Bread section while people stare.

I'm not certain how but the next thing that happens is Che and I watch Cass walk across the street with a hundred of her friends under the careful watch of the Crossing Guards.

She's oblivious because she's staring at her phone ... just like the other hundred.

I have no idea how we made it on time.

Che and her friend took forever and neither were in a hurry to let go.

"Hey!" Cass bellows climbing in, absentmindedly throwing her backpack on me to climb in the back with her sister, "how was your day?"

She's just being nice because she's cooing over her sister, sticking a bottle in her mouth and critiquing how I dressed her.

"You wouldn't believe what just happened," I answer driving away.

Honestly, I still don't.

Holiness doesn't hit as much as it slaps you in the face.

My face still stings.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Picking Lent Apart

So what are you giving up for Lent?

Father Qudo Sarduci, the famous Priest and reporter for "The Vatican Inquirer," answered ... Menthol cigarettes.

A friend of mine gave up the last bite of food on his plate for every meal!

What about wearing clothes that are too tight and draw attention only to your body if you don't have the body for it?

Or buying fruit to eat better and then watching it rot in the Fridge?

Flexing your muscles while looking at yourself naked in the mirror.

Popular ones include refraining from drinking ... drinking to excess ... smoking while drinking ... doing weed while drinking to excess ... getting caught doing any of these after you've already told everyone you're giving them up for Lent.

The number one thing people give up for Lent, year round, is getting married ... again.

Where did giving up something for Lent come from?

Let's start with the Bible.

... okay nothing there!

Yep, the Bible doesn't mention having to give anything up ... nothing about Mardi Gras ... Ash Wednesday ... repentance ... fasting ... self examination ... only fish on Friday ... Beads ... Bunnies ... or Easter Eggs.

So why do we do this stuff?

Especially if it's not even in the Bible!

A little more than 100 years after his death, Ireanaus of Lyons ... an early Church Father ... wrote that in France ... not Israel or the Holy Land but FRANCE OF ALL PLACES ... that some ... NOT ALL ... commemorated the Jesus' death by not eating from 3:00 on Friday (when Jesus died on the Cross) until Easter morning (when he rose ... and according to the Gospel of John immediately had a fish fry on the beach).

To remember Jesus suffering they took to skipping supper on Friday, didn't eat at all on Saturday and probably started the first Breakfast Buffett on Easter Sunday!

That's how it all started!

It's a pretty nice way of honoring someone who loved them so much he gave his life to prove God is always present because love is always present ... even in the darkest of times and worst of circumstances.

Here's where the story gets interesting.

The early Church believed the best strategy to grow the faith was taking over Pagan Holidays ... so it was decided to have Easter on Spring Solstice ... the beginning of good weather when everyone's happy surviving winter and the beginning warm temperatures are a perfect time to make everyone understand Jesus came back just like the blooms on the plants and the leaves on the tree.

It wasn't just Easter because they also moved Christmas to Winter Solstice to symbolize Jesus coming during the darkest, coldest of times ... even though Jesus was actually born around April ... it was more important to grow the Church.

The whole 40 day thing came about around 350 years after Christ died ... predicated upon Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the Desert, it raining for 40 days and 40 nights on Noah, Moses wandering around the Wilderness for 40 days and a lot of other times it took 40 days/years to accomplish something in the Bible.

Of course there's no sense of time in ancient Hebrew so claiming something was 40 days/years simply meant a long time.

Stretching Lent from Ash Wednesday (also not in the Bible) to Easter required more Church attendance and if you're giving up something to show your faith then it makes sense that what you'd have spent on alcohol, smoking or downloading Porn would be given to the Church.

Over the ensuing Centuries, Lent's been refined along with Easter to become what it is today ... a huge ass Party on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday when faith is proclaimed by giving up French Fries when you order a Big Mac.

It's ironic that Lent and Easter are more popular than ever but Church participation continues to wane to the lowest attendance ever.

In the end, if you find giving up something to illustrate your desire to identify with and commune with things bigger than yourself ... the suffering of Jesus and the love of God ... Lent's as good a time as any.

Here's the thing though.

Like everything else, Lent comes and goes and it's you who remains and the question becomes "Which you is remaining?" ... The one giving up things to better identify with and commune with things bigger than yourself ... or .... are you someone who's just visiting bigger things for a little while?

That's the question of Lent.




Micheal Elliott
February 26, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Birthday Wish

The Professor's late for class so we sit bored yet anxious for him to arrive so we can get it over with but the minutes drag on.

"I'll handle it," a husky classmate wearing glasses, a white shirt and trousers, not jeans, says climbing out of his desk and leaving the room.

Immediately he rushes back in, hair askew, glasses in hand, shirttail halfway out, one hand in his pocket jiggling change with a broad plastic smile on his face.

"How's everyone doing today?" he perfectly mimics the voice, face and mannerisms of our Prof.

Of course at that very moment our Professor rushes in to witness the spectacle and it's hilarious when the husky guy realizes it ... stops ... steps away from the podium and explains, "We know how you hate tardiness so I went ahead and started for you."

Husky guy takes his seat.

"I like this guy," I tell myself.

After class he tells me his name's "Guy."

Of course it is.

That's my first recollection of Guy Gains Sayles, Jr.

Quickly becoming friends we hang out, argue life's purposes, take classes together and form the greatest damn Spades players in the history of the Baptist Student Union where we regularly cheat to win.

Guy was in a hurry to get to the ministry so he finished College in 3 years to get on to Seminary where he excelled ... save for one near fatal flaw.

In a moment of religious zealousness, he calls as I'm enjoying my 5th year of College to say I should come to Seminary too.

"Alright," I say without giving it much thought and we're reunited in Louisville, Kentucky.

I'm still uncertain of what I brought to our friendship ... crazy antics, exposure to obscure rock-n-roll, intense competitiveness on the racquetball court, profane humor and laughter.

Guy gave me direction without letting me know, lots of questions, intensity in the classroom I'd never witnessed before and he taught me to cook biscuits-and-gravy (the man can flat out cook).

He can also flat out preach and to this day remains the best I've ever heard.

It's been more than a decade since we've seen each other but we both, along with his lovely wife Anita, turned 60 this year and that's as good a reason as any to pause, look back for a moment at our lives intertwined for a while, leaving us different ... and better I think ... than had we not fallen under the other's spell.

All those years ago we bravely and naively embarked on changing the world and, well we have, except in much smaller and more meaningful ways than we believed then.

I do know that much of who I became in life, the things I've accomplished and the people I influenced for better or worse, is because of Guy.

He's not to blame of course as he had no idea what he was doing but more than anyone else Guy set me on the path finding God.

It's taken me through multiple marriages, a 30 year stint helping others help themselves, the magical world of writing and a dance of faith often on the thinnest of ice ... to a life full of children, drunken Guardian Angels, a journey to whatever's next and a love I never knew I could have.

That's what I've received on my 60th and it's a shame I don't have anything to give you in return.

Regardless, Happy Birthday old friend!

Happy Birthday Anita!

What a ride we've had.

Thank God it's not quite over yet.The Professor's late for class so we sit bored yet anxious for him to arrive so we can get it over with but the minutes drag on.

"I'll handle it," a husky classmate wearing glasses, a white shirt and trousers, not jeans, says climbing out of his desk and leaving the room.

Immediately he rushes back in, hair askew, glasses in hand, shirttail halfway out, one hand in his pocket jiggling change with a broad plastic smile on his face.

"How's everyone doing today?" he perfectly mimics the voice, face and mannerisms of our Prof.

Of course at that very moment our Professor rushes in to witness the spectacle and it's hilarious when the husky guy realizes it ... stops ... steps away from the podium and explains, "We know how you hate tardiness so I went ahead and started for you."

Husky guy takes his seat.

"I like this guy," I tell myself.

After class he tells me his name's "Guy."

Of course it is.

That's my first recollection of Guy Gains Sayles, Jr.

Quickly becoming friends we hung out, argued life's purposes, took classes together and formed the greatest damn Spades players in the history of the Baptist Student Union where we regularly cheated to win.

Guy was in a hurry to get to the ministry so he finished College in 3 years to get on to Seminary where he excelled ... save for one near fatal flaw.

In a moment of religious zealousness, he calls as I'm enjoying my 5th year of College to say I should come to Seminary too.

"Alright," I say without giving it much thought and we're reunited in Louisville, Kentucky.

I'm still uncertain of what I brought to our friendship ... crazy antics, exposure to obscure rock-n-roll, intense competitiveness on the racquetball court, profane humor and laughter.

Guy gave me direction without letting me know, lots of questions, intensity in the classroom I'd never witnessed before and he taught me to cook biscuits-and-gravy (the man can flat out cook).

He can also flat out preach and to this day remains the best I've ever heard.

It's been more than a decade since we've seen each other but we both, along with his lovely wife Anita, turned 60 this year and that's as good a reason as any to pause, look back for a moment at our lives intertwined for a while, leaving us different ... and better I think ... than had we not fallen under the other's spell.

All those years ago we bravely and naively embarked on changing the world and, well we have, except in much smaller and more meaningful ways than we believed then.

I do know that much of who I became in life, the things I've accomplished and the people I influenced for better or worse, is because of Guy.

He's not to blame of course as he had no idea what he was doing but more than anyone else Guy set me on the path finding God.

It's taken me through multiple marriages, a 30 year stint helping others help themselves, the magical world of writing and a dance of faith often on the thinnest of ice ... to a life full of children, drunken Guardian Angels, a journey to whatever's next and a love I never knew I could have.

That's what I've received on my 60th and it's a shame I don't have anything to give you in return.

Regardless, Happy Birthday old friend!

Happy Birthday Anita!

What a ride we've had.

Thank God it's not quite over yet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Forgiving My Guardian Angel

A halo of charcoal white smoke floats above her head as she points the lit cigarette towards me while guzzling a tall boy Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Mesmerized by the halo when she loudly burbs it startles me.

"Holy Mother of God," she slurs, "will you calm down."

Pasty white skin sharply contrasts oily black hair, bloodshot aqua water eyes and a dirty white robe slips over one shoulder almost exposing her left breast.

"Is that mustard?" I ask pointing at a brownish stain on the robe.

Slurping a bourbon chaser, she nods.

"It looks like the Shroud of Turin," I say.

"Shut up," she snaps.

"If you hook up with Joel Osteen or T. D. Jakes you could probably make a lot of ..."

"SHUT UP! she snarls crushing the empty beer can on the table.

"Listen," I say accustomed to her angry outburst, "times are still bad no matter what the politicians say and everybody can use some extra dough. You'd make a ton being an angel with a sign from God on your robe of mustard in the shape of the Shroud of Turin. Those minister Dudes would probably let you keep 40% or so."

"Why do you torture me?" she asks taking a sip from a fresh can that magically appears out of nowhere.

"I'm trying to help," I answer sitting back with bare feet propped on the back deck on a warm winter night under a bright sliver of Moon.

"Let's be honest," I press, "you look emaciated for an Angel. What kind of food you get in Heaven? Is it like the Golden Corral except with good food?"

"Why me Lord?" she croaks before taking a long drawl of beer.

"Plus as a Guardian Angel" I continue paying her no attention, "I assume you get special privileges and can cut in line whenever you want."

"Jesus Christ!' she hisses, "I'm here to tell you something but you won't shut the ..."

"WHAT?" I demand sitting forward.

Sighing, she downs another bourbon before retrieving a crumbled piece of paper from the filthy blue stole draped around her neck, which she straightens on the outdoor table, clears her throat, spits a lougie over the railing and reads, "For unto you is born ... er ...well ..." she falters.

"Are you telling me you were supposed to be here when Che was born and you didn't show until now?"

She nods without speaking ... or drinking.

"You're sixteen weeks late!" I say incredulously.

"I've been busy," she replies like a teenager in trouble with  her parents.

"WITH WHO?" I bellow. "Jimmy Cochran? The man sees imaginary Cows running threw his backyard!"

"Special assignment," she answers without making eye contact.

"Oh Pl-Leeze!"

"To Che!" she says standing, "Salute!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I say waving her away.

"Oh come on," she pleads, "please forgive me."

"Let me get this straight! My Guardian Angel needs forgiveness because she's too busy to work me into her schedule."

She nods and sheepishly says, "Damn cute baby!"

At that moment Che cries from her crib.

"You did not!" I say accusingly.

"Gotta go!" she says disappearing leaving crushed cigarette butts and beer cans, "Special Assignment."

Strolling though the darkness to get our baby without waking Sarah, her voice appears out of nowhere, "Oh and Micheal dear! I'd appreciate it you just kept this to us. I'd hate for it to get out I wasn't somewhere I was supposed to be."

"Not a problem," I say, getting our precious little girl, give her the bottle, smiling Devilishly. "You're forgiven."

Monday, February 13, 2017

Missives Directed At Me

A friend writes me "letters never meaning to send."

Emails he calls "missives" are used as his outlet to chronicle, complain, deconstruct and analyze what those in his life are doing to him.

"Most of it's too angry and venomous so I put it in a special folder and never send them 'cause it's most helpful to write it out but I don't want you to see how nasty I can get."

"Fascinating," I say not knowing how to respond.

The missives I do receive are thoughtful, provoking, full of insights peppered with irony, sarcasm, personal revelation and humor.

While I'm curious as to the "really large file" of unsent things, over the past year we've developed a rich, intimate, transparent and mutually fulfilling dialogue ... an almost forgotten commodity in today's world.

Nowadays everything is instant and shallow, quick to be used and forgotten because of our rush to arrive at the next necessary thing.

 Sadly this includes friendships, most of which are now managed via text, Instagram, Facebook, Facetime and Phone calls.

To take time, stealing it from the constant demands others hurl at us and that we place on ourselves, to thoughtfully communicate with just one other person is ... pretty frigging radical now.

On the rare occasions we're actually together, a mischievous telepathy occurs through glances and smiles without the use of words.

It's like two old friends and one says, "Remember the time ..."

"Yep," the other replies before the first can clarify which time and both erupt in laughter at the same thing.

I don't know how to explain this but it definitely happens.

There's lots we disagree on though we're civil, often poking fun of the other's beliefs but some magic happens by which we're both better informed than before.

We may not change the other's mind but we certainly enhance each other's position.

The biggest thing I've gained from his missives, both the sent and the unsent ones, is how much I've missed ... AND NEED ... friendly dialogue rooted in trust that I can say whatever or hear outlandish ideas that are safely sent and received ... considered ... discussed ... reaching conclusions far better than I'd ever arrive at alone.

Leonardo Boff, one of my hero's, is a Central American Catholic Priest censured by the Church for being right ... a seemingly consistent thing among the Pontificate.

Summoned to the Vatican to declare his intentions, kneeling in front of the Pope himself, Leonardo was to show his obedience by kissing the Pontiff's feet.

In an upright fetal position, Boff takes a handkerchief from his pocket and shines the gold slippers John Paul I wears before, ever so swiftly, touching his lips to a foot.

Two great symbolic gestures seeming to contradict the other.

"I'd rather walk in the company of believers," Boff said afterwards, "than in the solitary security of my convictions."

These days everyone seems to live within the solitary security of their convictions.

I am thankful for my friend who shoots missives attacking the securities solitude creates, often altering my convictions and leaving me better, and happier, then I was before.

It's a shame there's not more of this in the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Beach Bum I Want To Be

It was a schizophrenic life for decades ... successful and public career juxtaposed with the desire to be a Beach Bum.

Home is an island so when I was off I looked like a Beach Bum spending most daylight hours in the sand, drinking beers, deeply tan, grilling fish at supper then shagging to live music at night.

Truth be told I was merely a bronzed weekend warrior.

The vast majority of my creativity, energy and time was being successful at work.

On weekends I'd pretend to be who I really wanted be but couldn't quite pull the trigger.

Becoming a true Beach Bum is a lot like becoming a Monk ... you gotta give up a lot of stuff to focus only on the Holiest of things.

Monks take vows of obedience, stability, conversion of life, poverty and chastity whereas Beach Bums roll with the tides, move slow, bask in the sun, never have enough and forever chase members of the opposite sex.

A Monk aims to strip away everything from life except God.

A Beach Bum habitually loafs on a Beach enjoying life.

My problem is I'm too wired and my mind keeps going when it should shut down and relish in the beauty of the Sun casting glistening diamonds on the calm early morning Sea.

And I care too much.

People ... unjust officers ... litters ... liars ... sanctimonious leaders ... lazy workers ... and those who take more than they give get under my skin, setting a rage on fire.

I hate the rage ... it keeps me from being who I want.

It's less these days because I stay at home with our baby while my wife works, the girls are in school and I'm forced to exclusively focus on the needs of a three month old.

She's pretty easy most the time ... throwing me loving looks ... devilish smiles ... dancing eyes ... joyful shakes of her tiny body and the slurping, breathing sounds while drinking the bottle with intense blue eyes staring into mine.

She's got rage too ... I swear it's from her Mother ... but when Che lets it out there's no consoling her until an Angel whispers in her ear and she gracefully falls asleep.

The breeze has picked up though it's 70 degrees and I stand at the foot of her bed in bare feet, black running shorts and a "Willie Nelson First Aid" tee-shirt.

Our child breaths beatifically ... taking my breath away.

It's hard to do nothing but love what it's front of you with everything inside.

It's why I've never truly become a Beach Bum.

But this child ... and her Mother ... and the Salt in the air ... waves crashing in the distance ... Seagulls laughing ... Dolphins smiling ... Sun setting to the music of choirs of mussels popping of the Marsh at low tide ... they make me want to be something I've never been ... and I've been lots of things.

"Yesterdays are over my shoulder ... there's too much to see waiting in front of me," goes an old Hymn.

"Maybe I won't be a Beach Bum," I softly confess to our daughter.

"I'll be this instead."

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Precious Stuff

My skins deepens brown and I'm please looking like the self I imagine.

In the past we'd escape to aqua blue waters for hot sunshine to tan while cold wicked winds blew from the north east.

Inside the open sliding glass doors wearing black running shorts, an old UGA tee shirt my bare feet dangle from kitchen table.

"Goddess," I say to our dog curled up on the tile floor, "this is the way winter should be."

I hate winter!

As a sometimes Christian in the real sense of the word, I don't mind paying the Devil his due ... this hasn't been a bad winter.

Some bitter cold days caused me to cuss everything and everybody around but, truth be told, it's been pretty mild. I've come nowhere close to the bar of vulgarities previously set.

Temperatures are ranging from barely 80 to almost 40 but I take more outdoor showers than not in the mornings and that's the true barometer to judge a cold day.

That being said, I'd still rather to be in Key West, Orient Bay SXM or Porto Buelo, Panama.

I'm out of sorts with the world these days.

Perhaps it's the world that's out of sorts with me.

Either way's fine.

The world's gone crazy and I just got back from spending decades trying to save it.

What keeps me sane these days is my wife, our three-and-a-half month old baby girl and ... I don't know ... the things I believe in ... a loving God who's got plans ... peace, love and rock-and-roll.

Mostly, I hear of an angry, pissed off, discriminatory God these days whom I've got no use for and certainly who's got no use for me.

So it's with great Thanksgiving the days are comfortably warm enough for Baby Che and me to sit on the Back deck basking in a blazing sun looking like the eye of God, leaving our bodies transfigured from white to brown.

If you mix red and yellow with black and white I figure you end up with a bronze, rested, happy content person with a smokin' wife, beautiful baby, lots of friends who play good music, drink beer and cook out at the Beach.

Precious Stuff!

Obviously I'm not there yet but I'm working on it.

A tan in the middle of winter is obviously a good start.

I figure it's why my Loving God's warming things up in the middle of such cold times such as these while the pissed off Deity's dominating the nightly News, Internet, religious services, political meetings and music not performed live.

The world can sort itself out.

I'm gonna sit in the sun listening to Che laugh, wait for Sarah so we can sort out the plan that unexpectedly led us to here and leave all that dark stuff inside.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Conspiracy of Love

Kathy doesn't remember the first time we met but I do.

My bike coasted to a stop beside the screened porch that is my "Man Cave" where she sits in a faded baby blue Terry Cloth bathrobe sipping coffee.

"You must be Micheal," she says with a sleepy million dollar smile.

"Yep," I reply and she hugs me, spilling coffee on her robe which makes her laugh.

Grinning, Rick meanders out saying, "This is her."

The way he says it is pure joy. High school sweethearts until life took them in different directions where they married, had children and worked until ... love refused to be separated any longer and now, they are finding a way.

Having no other place to reunite, and little money to do so, Rick asked if they could meet at my place and stay in the extra room downstairs.

He and I are friends, work together and I'm a sap for a love story so it was a no-brainer.

What I mostly recall is the way they looked at each other, always with a smile, a sense of delight they finally taken the chance, damn the cost, to be together.

After that first weekend tryst, I often saw them on the beach holding hands, toes touching in the sand, drinking beers basking more in themselves than the sun.

She was late for their wedding leaving Rick and I hanging in the hot sunshine on the south beach crosswalk, me in a black robe and he in a suit.

Half an hour later, Kathy laughs and, unable to contain himself, Rick rushes to walk her up the crosswalk ... to Hell with keeping Bride and Groom separated until the actual ceremony! ... they'd had enough separation.

God blessed us that day because someone had set up chairs, an arbor and candelabras in the sand for another wedding but no one was there so ... we used them ... surely a gift from Heaven.

That was a long time ago but I still see the unbridled joy tainted with crazy caution to the wind resolve to make the most of every moment they have left together.

Today is Kathy's birthday but she doesn't know.

Rick says, "We are good ... Living a simple life ... Kathy is in the later stages of Alzheimer's and we just plug along as best we can ... She is still my heart and soul ... I am blessed to have her."

Sometimes I get pretty pissed off at God and this is one of them.

Then again "God is love" John says in the Bible and if love is what Rick and Kathy have then God is part of them too.

So Rick whisper in your lovely wife's ear and wish her "Happy Birthday" for me ... kiss your heart and soul too  ... count your blessing again today.

One of my blessings was to be a small part of your conspiracy of love and I remain honored, privileged and humbled that it was me y'all chose to get this party started.
 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Set Apart

"I'm going to do an old song with a different melody," she announces seriously betraying a joy hidden inside.

Half-way listening between sips of drinks, funny whispers, tuning guitars or trying to figure out what to play when it's our turn, she states ... "I only do Christian songs."

My attention zones away from the distractions of the room to her.

Vaguely familiar, I can't place her ... dressed completely in black to further disguising her joy ... she's all business ... almost prayerful ... in that pregnant silence before singing.

Grimly delivering an Angelic version of an old Hymn with a new tune with lots of "Hallelujahs" thrown in, it's a beautiful juxtaposition of a promise given but not yet received.

The applause afterwards is heartfelt but we quickly move on to a participatory Austrian drinking song with lots of laughter.

My focus intensely remains on her.

Retrieving a half glass of beer she takes the tiniest of sips, stares at it, lays her guitar down to make her way to her ... I don't know who he is ... but they touch as she gives him the glass before making her way out of the room.

He smiles and takes a gulp.

She returns with water and dances in place to the happiness of the drinking song.

Flashbacks fire as a machine gun is stuck ... Bible Youth Camps, Revivals with 70s Pop songs, Sword Drills, Church Choir ... praying for the sinners and their drunken car wrecks ... vowing to never get high or have sex.

Like the others, I gave my testimony, made the bold proclamation I'm Christian and ... felt guilty as Hell when I got high and had sex.

Decades later I remain a believer but am much more demure about it.

It's what you do and not what you say.

Reminded of a past long gone, I admire her spunk and wonder what it'd be like to talk to her five years from now when her beliefs have changed with experience.

We continue to sing, enjoy community, laugh with occasional heartfelt moments as she takes her seat trying to fit back in ... though she's set herself apart ... so I watch as she smiles but draws inside.

Having proclaimed her faith, she seems uncertain of what to do next as the joyful expressions of music, laughter and friendship fill the hearts of everyone present.