For me, music always has been a trigger for memories. I was listening to one of my favorite songwriters, Mac McAnnaly, the other day. It took me back to a time in my life when I lived with five other guys, all who were divorced, except me. We called the place Menagerie Farms, for apparent reasons. We would sit around, drink beer, get depressed, and listen to Gordo Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, or Mac. Mac told the most truth I knew at the time, all about my love and hate of things Southern. The boy could turn a phrase to the point of my envy. I remember one line in particular about love and marriage: Don’t be swearing on the Bible, cause anything’s liable, to change your opinion on love. Man, I wish I had written that line. I sure knew some folks who lived it.
This weekend, I was with some fraternity brothers for our annual December gathering. I try to get as many folks as I can to come back to Atlanta, to remember our days in the Sigma Chi fraternity at Emory in the 70’s. Each year, a different collection of my menagerie convene, each year a variety of stories get remembered, a new set of embellishments take center stage. We meet at Manuel’s, the quintessential neighborhood bar, on Friday night. Margie Maloof is always kind to set aside the renovated Eagles Nest for as private a place as any group can get in Manuel’s. On Saturday night, we gather for a great meal with spouses/partners to celebrate our friendship through time. It is a highlight of my year.
This year, Jeff from New Orleans, reminded me of a favorite story that occurred during one rush meeting I chaired. It spoke to both the pain and comedy of our embeddedness of being in the South. Speaking of the South, Peeler, from Mississippi, reminded me of a particular brawl we started and then escaped at Denny McClain’s old bar in the basement of the Georgian Terrace. Peeler’s medical license and my priesthood ordination might not stand up to the details. Luckily for us, phone cameras had not been invented, social media not even imagined.
There are a few memories that I wish were on film, fresh for remembering. But the colors would have certainly faded by now, lacking the embroidery that our memories have stitched to the mere facts. As I learned in Texas, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It’s so much more fun to listen to the tales retold, in a Mississippi drawl or a New York clip. How rich to hear those old stories regaled by old friends, some bald, some bent, some battered…..but friends spanning decades.
We always bring up the cooking and mothering of Ethyl and Pearl, the painting the E lion, a football championship with a pass from Rob to Deuce, to Phillips over the middle for a last minute touchdown. Streaking at Agnes Scott. And there were the host of girls/women who claimed and claim a place in our common mind. Sweethearts past, sweethearts present. Good times we shared, hearts broken, dreams followed, deferred, or altered…..or in my case, altared. It was Jim, from Florida, who pointed to a truth that was evident to all but needed to be said, “There is something about this group that transcends the years.”
That “thing” is our shared experience, of learning how to be a person with an identity all our own, of mastering a bank of knowledge under pressure, of struggling to be a friend and learning about loyalty that transcends genetics, to looking for love in all the right and wrong places, to testing our world view to see if it stands up to the exposure to the new, the different. How consequential it was to go to this particular school, in this peculiar culture, at this consequential time. And deciding, in whim or wisdom, to be with this group of folks who will share this defining time. What a long strange trip. I feel blessed.
I had a great weekend. Saw some folks I had not seen since graduation. Talked to my Baton Rouge friend about guitars and thrilled that he found the perfect Martin at Maple Street. Encouraged by a classmate who had gone through the same physical therapy I am enduring. Connected with one of my favorite human beings who shares my love of Big Sky and Montana. Gave thanks for a brother who passed away this year, bringing a smile of gratitude for his being and presence. He had planned to be with us last year, but the rare snow event kept him away. It’s a reminder that life plays for keeps, particularly as we clock more trips around the Sun.
In this season, my hunch, memories will emerge for you. Through music that transports you back to a special time. Memories, through gatherings, planned or unplanned. Smells. Visuals. Prose or poetry. All can spark your memories. Enjoy them.
Let me suggest you take the time to remember. Pause. Allow a silence in your day to flush out hidden memories. Write. Journal.
Reach out to someone who is far away, in space, in time, or both. Give thanks for the gift of relationship that is in close proximity. Take the time to give thanks for the very gift of life, and all it brings. As St. Ferris of Buehler reminds us: Stop. Take a look around. Things are moving pretty fast. You just might miss it.