OLD FRIENDS, BROTHERS TOO/TWO
When I met you you were seventeen
Now here we are in our seventies
Wondering how it all went by so fast
Thinking back on all the stages
All the people, songs, and places
The time it took to learn it’s love that lasts
There are families we’re born into
And families that we choose
How to describe us you and I
Old friends, brothers too
So here we are in June of 2021. The world slowly emerging from its Pandemic stupor. You and Connie coming over soon to celebrate in person the completion of the virtual journey we took around our lives in thirty letters. Looking forward to looking back one more time before going on to our next adventures.
The previous letter brought us to Kiesa’s wedding in September of 2018. A few weeks later The Brothers Four were treated royally on a visit to Thailand. Pat and I followed that up with a trip to India that included visiting the grandkids’ paternal roots in the state of Kerala. Thanks to connections I made on the Civil Rights Pilgrimages I went back to the University of Washington and got my degree in the Spring of 2019. A lot of years after you and I met at the U as members of the class of 69 and more than 50 years after I dropped out of college and replaced Mike Kirkland in The Brothers Four.
The Graduation Celebration turned out to be a landmark event. Lots of family and friends. Lindsey flying in from New Jersey to be there.
You and I singing again with the guys we sang with in college.
And the sign flashed out its warning
And the words that it was forming
And the sign said the words of the Prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in The Sound of Silence
Mike Kirkland back on stage for the first time in more than half a century.
I’ll never know what made you run away
How can I keep searching when dark clouds hide the day
I only know there’s nothing here for me
Nothing in this wide world left for me to see
But I’ll keep on waiting till you return
I’ll keep on waiting until the day you learn
You can’t be happy while your heart’s on the roam
You can’t be happy until you bring it home
Home to the Green fields and me once again
A moment when it was just you and I.
You’re my witness to this journey
To the road that I am on
All the times when I was up
All the ways that I’ve been down
Yours the voice that I am hearing
Yours the eyes that I can see
Where I go when I grow weary
Faith enough so I believe
There’s the story of the forest
And the tree I think that fell
Cause no one was there to hear it
I guess we can’t really tell
We all need a witness to the stories of our lives
I wanted to tell you I am grateful you are mine
Graduations are normally threshold moments welcoming the beginning of something. In this case closer to the end of things. Toward the end of that evening I shared some thoughts about that special moment.
At its best among the gifts that higher learning affords us is the time and a chance in a safe and challenging environment to grapple with essential, existential questions. Who are we? Why are we here? And what are we meant to do with our lives? What did I learn on my return? That shame can be a trailhead to grace. That in the end it is about faith and hope and love. And love is the greatest but faith perhaps the most important. And like it or not, know it or not, we are not alone. What we do is important but who we are is essential. And blessed are the defining moments that they may give us meaning and lead us to understanding. The last few sentences of my final paper are these: “This I know: everyone has a story. Everyone has value. I want and can be someone who tells my story and gives space and place and way for others to share theirs. I say this believing in our collective sharing that we may find the ties that bind and at the core of what we find may there be love.
A few weeks later The Brothers Four were off on a major tour of Japan. An Arigato tour. A thank you tour.
I finished a project called Remembering the Dream, taking songs and stories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s meant as a reminder of the best our country can be when governed by our better angels.
You kept making guitars and giving them away to kids.
The Brothers Four did some package shows with the Kingston Trio and the Limeliters, both of those groups recast with new members. The shows were similar to those we did when you first joined the group in 2004.
And then the Pandemic.
That meant the Monday after Thanksgiving we celebrated 25 years since that dark night not with a restaurant dinner but with a FaceTime get together that included Pat and Connie.
We had shared the first of these letters two weeks before that and every week since. Seven months now. Like a lot of things that involve love and time and intention it’s been amazing, surprising, and awesome. Connecting moments we were too busy living to make sense of at the time. Finally able to untangle the threads of 55 years of experiences and spin them into yarns. To take those yarns and the songs they inspired to somehow help us see who we are and how we got here. Giving us some sense and scale of how far we’ve come from the two kids who pushed back the furniture in the Big Room of the fraternity so we could wrestle. Wrestle with things we had no words for at the time. To see things that felt like failures or misses or coming up shorts at the time and realize in the end all of it helped get us to where we are now. In doing so to take a moment and realize how full “half full” can be. How lucky we have been and are to be loved when we didn’t feel we were deserving, when we knew we weren’t deserving.
In the first of these 30 letters I wrote this:
Thinking about our relationship I was thinking back to who we were all those years ago. One of those laugh until you cry memories. And then I thought of all the things I’ve learned since then…
The most important thing I’ve learned and continue to learn is how to love, and how to let someone love me, even the broken places, especially the broken places. I’ve learned that having faith in something is essential. That while hope may be optional, despair destroys. I’ve learned the importance of offering and receiving grace. To be forgiven and to forgive. The person hardest to forgive is often myself. I learned that what we do is important but not as important as who we are. While I’ve heard and believe we are as sick as our secrets, I’ve learned we can also be as healthy as the stories we share and the songs we sing together. I have learned the beauty of joy, the power of patience, the gifts that come with gratitude, and the satisfaction that accompanies grit. For a long time, I was unaware of the fear I was living in. Finding, facing, and freeing my fears taught me that I didn’t have to live in them, but I could learn to live with them. And once I learned that I learned of other things buried deep that had defined me that I could now define. In the process I learned there’s a price to pay to repair and redeem, though it’s nowhere near the cost of leaving unrepaired and unredeemed. I found how hard it can be to find and keep my balance. The only way I learned was to get up after I fell or failed and try again. I learned to listen for, to hear and to trust when something rings true. I learned the importance of truth. And kindness. I learned how long, lonely, and dark a night can be and the wonder of awakening to a new day where faith is strong, hope is high, joy abounds, and love abides.
Faith is strong, hope is high, joy abounds, and love abides
Those are some things I’ve learned in the years since I met you. Back when we thought we almost knew it all.
Among other things I’ve learned is the importance of friendship, and partnership, and something I can’t find a better word for than fellowship. I’ve been blessed to have good friends, collaborators, and to have found fellowship with a lot of folks. What makes our relationship unique is that it’s all those things in abundance.
There’s been some discoveries since writing those words in that first letter. Among the most significant, being able to understand and describe the path through life as a Journey of Love and Truth. And how our relationship with love and truth resonates through everything we do and all we are. Writing these letters also helped me realize the things about ourselves that challenge us the most can also offer us our greatest rewards. Through these letters I found the the connection between your dark night and my dad’s last gift and how the proximity of our near death experiences created invisible ties that bind.
Those discoveries helped me to find a better word than “fellowship” to describe a part of our relationship that goes beyond friendship and partnership. That word is KINSHIP. A word the dictionary describes as a blood bond.
As someone who was raised in the church, baptized as an infant, went through confirmation classes before my first communion, I continue to see the poetic power of the Sacraments and believe them to be outward signs of inward grace.
All of which leads me to say that besides being old friends we are brothers, too.” Kin. Yes, by choice and chance and circumstance. By countless shared experiences. By sharing the many stages of a life.
All the stages of my life you stood by me
All the disappointments and discoveries
I don’t know what’s waiting for us but I’ll join you in the chorus
All the stages of my life you stood by me
And then by something more. Something the eye cannot see but every spirit recognizes when they see it.
The last Christmas of Sands’ life he and I exchanged gifts. I gave him a University of Washington coffee cup because of all the years he was going to spend sitting at his desk drinking coffee and studying. He gave me a wooden plaque with words by George Webster Douglas.
What made us friends in the long ago when first we met? Well, I think I know; the best in me and the best in you hailed each other because they knew that always and always since life began our being friends was part of God’s plan.
The plaque has hung in my office now for nearly 40 years. While I may not believe there is such a plan, that plaque is something tangible of Sands around me. And his faith in what those words represent continues to matter.
Unbreakable bonds. Timeless ties that bind. As your mother said, we don’t always like what the other person does. And it doesn’t mean we always share the same beliefs. Yet we do share a faith. In each other. In love and truth. And everything that means.
Dear soulmate, old partner, how’d we get this far
In old cars and beer bars and no one to blame
The dream was to stay young until we keeled over
We’ve been young together grown old just the same
Now it seems to take more work the harder we play
And tomorrow is closer then some old yesterday
All those places we’ve been and the people we’ve me
I wish we’d known better but I’m sure glad we didn’t
Thought we’d go out in a great ball of fire
Get shot or arrested as we fooled with desire
Thought we’d be gone when the piper came round
Before life filled us up started slowing us down