It’s Just the Price I Pay

If I have learned anything, it is that there is a price to everything.

I used to measure that cost in terms of money. What does it cost me? Can I afford it?

Later, becoming more aware of a limited amount of the energy that I have within, I measured it in terms of how much energy something consumed. Is this worth the expenditure of energy?

And now as I age, and more aware of the limit of the time I have, I am finding myself deciding whether something is worth my time.

Bottom line, everything has a price: money, energy, or time.

How do you count the cost? What is the most important factor in determining the price you are willing to pay?

Recently, I have been reflective on the price I am paying on some specific things, namely on the things I care about, that I am pouring myself out for.

I have differentiated three areas in which to focus: person, parent, and passion.

As a parent, it is perhaps the most easily discerned as I see this as my primary responsibility that I have taken on. And, as a human being living in the world, my passions are those projects or causes that I have chosen to invest my time and energy in.

Let me turn in this week’s article with Person.

Relationship is that thing one invests in as you go through life. There are the “given” relationships that come with the territory, such a parents and other relatives. These relationships, by nature, are not chosen. Sometimes, you can’t believe how blessed you are in the relatives that you gifted with at birth. And, sometimes…..not so much.

I want to focus this week on the personal relationships that are chosen, starting back in the neighborhoods you grow up in, in schools where you begin life and figure out who you are, businesses that you interact with while doing life, institutions in which we live, move, and have our being. I have particularly been reviewing the relationships I had in my early life, of playing sandlot ball, afternoons on the golf course, riding bikes in the woods, lazy days at the pool.

I am shocked at how many deep, vibrant memories that swirl when I take time to remember. Last week, I was thinking back on my days in an elective class in urban geography at Briarwood High School in East Point, Georgia… my home town, found strangely, not east, but in South Atlanta. I could not remember the first name of the teacher, Mr. Cason, so I did the current American thing: I googled him. It took me down the rabbit hole into the cyber cavern of data. To my surprise, I came across a site that listed about a decade of students, faculty, and staff from my high school. I found the information I sought: his name was “Bob” Cason. But there was so much more. Senior pictures for five classes prior to my graduation, and probably ten classes beyond.

The site contained the “senior” pictures, collated for a reunion site for Briarwood, my high school that no longer exists except in our hearts and minds. The photo images prompted memories of people that had receded in my mind. As I perused the photos, smiles seem to resurrect as I would remember important exchanges that had formed my thinking and being. And yet, the years had put distance to the relationships that simply faded the value in my “now”. I have kept up with a few, in fact, taking pains to do so. But most are lost in a blur.

And there are pictures of the faculty, the teachers and coaches that made such an important impact on me. There were those specific teachers who seemed to invest time and energy in me as a developing person. Marie Day, the librarian who introduced me to her godfather, Dr. Benjamin Mays, and opened up the whole hall of African American scholarship and literature. Miss Plant (Audrey), in the office, who was from the central casting of Designing Women, who authorized my late passes to Padgett’s class, and was quick to pass along the latest gossip….those wacky teachers! Becky Hinkle, who captured my adolescent hormonal attention, with her enthusiasm for literature and her Katherine Ross looks. And Phil Hood, whose coolness made it okay to be smart and inquisitive. When I review my list of teachers and their fossilized photos, I am filled with gratitude for the investment that they placed in me.

At the same time I am struck by the notation on my class pictures of the red-lettered “Deceased”. I have noted the flood of friends who died between our graduation day (held in the infamous Municipal Auditorium that housed Live Atlanta Wrestling, iconic rock concerts that tuned my ear, the Atlanta Symphony, and evangelistic crusades) and the end of my freshman year in college. Automobile accidents, overdoses, depression are hard on transitioning adolescents into young adulthood. The impact of those deaths that initial year in college was profound, leaving me with an existential grasp of the sophomoric motto “Carpe Diem!” Retrospectively, that’s what I did, which proved to be exhausting, and led to my own post script of running on empty.

Those were the cards I was dealt, which seems meager when I listen to friends who went to Viet Nam, or grew up in poverty. But effect me it did. said Yoda.

I wound up investing energy in my college relationships, particularly those in my fraternity. Living with guys for four years tends to either forge strong bonds of friendship OR learning how to keep folks you dislike at a comfortable distance, even before a virus pandemic. I did both.

I lived at the Sigma Chi house for three years, connecting with some amazing people who had a broad variety of talents and interests. These guys came from all over the country, from Shaker Heights, Ohio to Koziusko, Mississippi…..explaining the names connected to those locales respectively, Greenbaum and Peeler.

And I have worked hard to maintain those relationships, convening a gathering each year in the first weekend in December at the fabled Manuel’s Tavern, the home of my Adjunct Political Science professor, Manuel Maloof. It was there that I met many of the movers and shakers of Atlanta, and many of the leaders of the remnant of the civil rights movement. The fact that there is a reserved parking space for clergy fills me with a bit of pride.

I have been blessed to have good friends wherever I have lived.

In Decatur, while I was learning my chops and figuring out this thing called “love”, I had an amazing group of folks who were trying to make sense out of being South of God, and yet wanting to find a faith of freedom and joy….live it every day! was our motto. My cadre of youth leaders set the pace with how I would come to define community in my future. And my group of roommates at Menagerie Farms on Medlock taught me many lessons that can not be recorded. Wendell, Russell, Eddie, Malcolm, and Bill were quite the menagerie, not to mention Brandy, my English Cocker, and Mr. Poe, the ghost of the former owner of the house.

At the Cathedral, there was a whole cast of characters that I shared my life with, beginning the day with prayer, gathering around the sacred coffee urn, meeting in untold numbers of meetings coordinating our common life, conversations with Judson, amazing evenings at the Cowart’s playhouse, and late afternoon debriefs at Gary and Vern’s penthouse roof garden. It was a magical time of Anglican formation, Southern style.

And, Tyler, Texas. Probably provided me the best male friends I have ever had. My fivesome golf group that played every Thursday, was a tribe that provided the kind of community that is hard to find these days. The parish itself both gave me relationships that affirmed the goodness of humankind and broke my heart. And in the wide community, I learned so much from my quixotic partners who joined me in tilting at the windmills of a traditional town that was struggling to become a city.

Coming back to Atlanta, I found a group of teachers who cared deeply for the children and adolescents they were charged to educate. They embodied the caring spirit and DNA that my friend, Elliott Galloway, installed in the school’s beginning. Providing leadership as the school stepped up to the upper-tier of prep schools in Atlanta made a difficult setting worth the journey. And I was blessed with a number of loyal, creative co-workers who tried to stretch the sense of stewardship to include both the parish and the school.

My latest group was a collection of engineers, consultants, physicians, and nurses who I worked with across the United States in the work on process improvement in healthcare, trying to make the care more compassionate and the work more efficient. It’s been exciting to journey to spend time in new locales such as Los Angeles, Montana, Iowa, Michigan, Winston Salem, and Chicago…to name a few. Urban, academic, and rural settings provide diverse cultures, ways and means of getting things done, and caring for people.

And now, I am on an island in low country Georgia. My friend, Pat Conroy, wrote rhapsodically about the seductive quality of low country life. COVID has slowed my entrance and investment, but the future is promising. I have been attending two different parishes here, thanks to Zoom. Christ Church, a historic parish dating back to the origins of the Wesley brothers and the English colony in Georgia, has been a long-time haunt of my time spent here in the Golden Isles. But, I have discovered another parish, St. Athanasius, located in downtown Brunswick, with a rich heritage of community and service. An embarrassment of riches, I might say.

Brunswick intrigues me as I explore my new city. The bifurcation of blacks and whites, rich and poor, raise old familiar questions. And the present, pressing issue of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery here in Glynn County freshens the winds of racism and privilege, and begs me to engage once again. I am looking forward to building relationships of trust that will allow for the kind of dialogue that is deepening and life-affirming.

Just tonight, I went for dinner with an old friend, Mark Jones. We were introduced a long time ago, his father a Methodist bishop, but his talent was an artist, and playing drums for my band and my productions of Godspell. Mark is also one of the funniest people of the planet. We actually once took twin girls on a double date to a college formal. And we both wound up marrying Druid Hills girls. I don’t think I have ever had a better friend, as he is loyal to a fault in having his friend’s back. He reminds me why the price I have paid for relationship with persons is worth it. We were in each other’s weddings, and have made a point of staying close. He has given me care when I needed it, and I have returned the favor. He has been a gift.

It’s timely that tonight, over a meal, a sacred gathering, we celebrated our connection through time. As I mentioned, I lost a number of my early relationships to death, which tinges each relationship with a note of reality. Every time we invest in a relationship, we are making a connection that promises, if but for a moment in time, to move us beyond our isolation and loneliness. The relationship is symbol, sacrament, to a deeper reality of connection, a holy, spiritual bond. And yet, the connection is interrupted by space, time, and finally by death. It’s the real price that one pays.

A line in French poetry that I learned long ago goes like this: Partir, c’est mourir un peu. In East Pointian translation: to part is to die a little. It’s the price we pay in the connection, knowing that it will end eventually. We invest our time, energy, and treasure And yet, in my retrospective view from this mirror of my investments of connection, it was worth the price of admission. It’s just the price I am willing to pay. How about for you?

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