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Archive for November, 2009

I have always called him Little Terry. It is a term of endearment. Terry came to be a part of my life over 21 years ago. I was young, he was younger. I think we came to be friends quickly…He was dynamic, full of world-changing ideas. He was filled with a soul that defied his few years among us, yet youthful and brimming with wide eyed wonder all at once. He was an honorary big guy in a not-so-large body.

Terry was a fisherman.  He loved the search…the ritual of the chess game between him, the waters, the winds, the weather, the light, the currents, and of course, the fish.

Not long after our meeting, Terry found himself having to prove himself a worthy adversary, not unlike the fish he tried so hard to lure, hook, and draw from the depths beyond the bank or the bow. I witnessed him facing adversity of health, of career, of human frailty, of potentially spirit-sapping misfortune…Terry used these rough patches as incentive to fight against the metaphoric hook and line that seemed to be attempting to reel and steal him away from a good life, a productive life, a normal life… and at times, away from life itself.

But Terry, being a fisherman himself, was well aware of the tactics of the adversary that threatened his own life journey. At times, it seems he had been caught unaware and was nearly hooked and dragged from this world. But as a fighter of the good fight, he always managed to break free, to cheat his moment of fate time and again. Terry fished, and learned from it and grew wiser and wilier through it all.

I felt Terry looked up to me. I used to think I mentored him, set an example, encouraged and incited hope in him. He admired my stature, longed to be my height…to tote the loads I could muster at our place of work. I used to think he wanted to be more like me.

But in truth, Terry taught ME about toughness, about strength, about perseverance, and about overcoming long odds. He taught me about a lot of things after I got to know him. He rarely had two breaks in a row, yet even in the midst of rough times, he rarely missed a beat when it came to friendship. I learned resilience and was inspired profoundly by his will. I soon became an admirer of his, and ours became a friendship of mutual respect and admiration.

I have heard it said that if you feed a man a meal, you feed him for a day. But if you teach him to fish, you can help him to feed himself for a lifetime. Terry was my friend, and he was a teacher in his own right. Terry’s life taught me that life is like fishing…that it is at times heartbreaking, tough, and often leaves a soul hungry and empty-handed. But he also taught me that there is always another day, another spot that holds promise…that there is reason why it is called “fishing” and not “catching.”

It took me all these years to understand he had, in fact, been mentoring me all along. He showed me that a fish could care less if its opponent was taller, stronger, or any other number of self-appreciating traits. He taught me that one needs patience, desire, fair breezes, and a willingness to find that simple joy is in the fishing itself, even when there is little or no catching going on.

To be sure, there have been many occasions when Terry has been caught himself, and perhaps battered, but never outfoxed and landed. He was as much a wily old fish as he was crafty old fisherman.

Terry did finally get beat at his own game, but he did so while planning his next day of fishing. John Lennon said that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I find myself needing to amend that thought with another…while you’re busy making your plans, the Good Lord may be making his own plans for you. In which case, should God’s plans come to fruition, the conclusion of life may be what happens. Evidently, the Lord needed a fishing buddy, so he called on Terry to cast a line out with him.

There was much more to Terry than fishing, but then there is also much to be learned from the simple act of casting a line over water and sending a seeking hook into the depths. Every day we cast out our intentions and aspirations over the water, and every day the life beyond this one is casting out its own, in search of all of us…luckily, we usually elude the bait and tackle for the better part of ten decades…although some simply can’t evade the inevitable but for a short while.

To sit and remember the good old days, one has to have once lived them. And we should be thankful always…even for what was in the past, or has simply been taken away in an untimely fashion. To have been blessed with a gift even if only briefly, is still a blessing…even when it is viewed in retrospect.

I think that Terry might have felt the following regarding his life:

I have fished the very river that has heard my confessions, absorbed my tears, nourished my body, and quenched my thirst for water and for life. The river has become a part of me, and one day soon I hope to become a part of the river itself. I will take parts of you with me to the river I love so. I will see all of you again somewhere down the road. In the meanwhile, I will fondly peer out along the banks of that river and hope to feel you there. I hope you feel my spirit too…

With the last of my breath having left me, the sum of my treasure will be entombed in my stilled heart, and assembled there at my resting place. I hope the assembly is large, and glad to have known me. I hope the bounty of their personal treasure is swelled with my contribution, and that they too see the value is in the life we live and not piled about your properties.

If there is a twinge of an empty feeling that finds you when a cool breeze sends a chill, or when a line in a movie sends you to a desolate place inside, it is just Terry paying you a momentary visit.

Terry has joined with those already gone on ahead of him. He will see the rest of you at the grandest reunion of all. You’ll find him fishing…wearing a baseball cap and vest…nursing a can of something cold, with a pinch of something behind his lip…and a bucket of pan-sized small mouth to fry up for you later on. His hands will be filled with rod and reel, his face will wear a smile…and his heart will be at peace there by the shore of that river. Be happy for him…

As for me, I’m going down to the bank of that river, I’m gonna cast my line out over the swells, and hope for lot of fishing, and regardless of whether I get a bite or not…I will be glad and thankful to simply be convening with the spirit of Terry while he sits next to me there, healthy again, and whole once more…casting out his own line…not just to pass the time, but to make the passing of time a gift, and a lesson on how life ought to be lived…patient, thoughtfully, and with eager anticipation of the nibble or strike at the hook.

Terry is off fishing, he’ll be fine.

Thank you Terry for teaching me to fish and, in turn, how to live life.

Vía con dios my friend.

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There are only memories,
where a garden used to grow. Some days I think she’d like to plant
a flower here, a snow pea there. Mostly she just rests and remembers…but
her memory isn’t always clear.

The rows she sowed still
remember her, the touch of her fingers, and the feel of her hands. But
the recollections of springs of the past are fading fast.

You will do well to
find the roses you hung to dry long ago. The connecting again with some
memories will one day be all that’s left to know.

And though the fields
have gone to weeds, long ago forgotten the touch of tilling, the water,
and the seeds…There is the scent of green, of life of love. It lives
on in you…you are the flowers now…grow proud and tall…
 

Matthew Lyle Landsman

Summer 2008…

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There’s a memory in my kitchen, hanging
over the sink. It teases me on a regular basis…each time I get a drink.
While I run the tap till the cooler water flows, the origin of it taunts
me, its faded petals and fractured leaves look down on me as the mystery
grows.

I’m not sure why I hung it there, nor
how long ago. There’s no clue except that a lot of time has passed
since there was still velvet in the petals, dewdrops on the leaves,
and a lingered scent.

Time and again I’ve heard it said,
“If these walls could talk…” In this case it is so…the wall
is trying to say something, but just what, I simply do not know.

It’s just an old rose in a dusty sandwich
bag…and also so much more. Once there was a reason I hung it there.
There was a day of relevance I wanted never to forget. Was it a moment
of pleasure, or of pain? There was perhaps a night of new love being
born, or a day when one met our maker and my world was drenched in life’s
proverbial rain.

How else do we mark such days? We stash
mementos in drawers, marks on a calendar, pictures on side tables, and
always we have songs. We absent mindedly leave things in the pockets
of a Sunday suit, a funeral program, a theatre ticket, a celebratory
cigar, a trace of life enjoyed, ended, or began.

But upon this wall I made a declaration
of a resolute sort to mark the time and remind me of it several times
each day. I’m not sure if it’s meant to urge me to smile or to miss
someone. In silent vigil it rings out with sorrow and joy alike.

A rose on the wall may mark a birth,
a celebration of a first dance, a marriage, a growing love, a faded
love, a last day on the job, a time of praying, first for life to be
saved, then for it to end swiftly and mercifully. It reminds me to not
take those in my life for granted, to live and not just live vicariously.
In not so many words, the writing is on the wall. A faded rose that
leads to prose…A metaphor for a floral visual aid to jog my memory,
which isn’t quite what it used to be.
 

Matthew Lyle Landsman

July 2008

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 She gave to me springtime in the dead of winter…and brought hope back to me when I’d misplaced it. She gave me life when mine was faded and splintered.

I gave her a simple compliment from my heart…about heaven-bound long legs and eyes that took me away to an ocean known to me only in magazines…then she took my breath away, and replaced it with music from Jim Brickman. A gift of piano, promises, cello…evening bliss and Sunday afternoon slumber as the keys told our story…

And I…I gave to her three guitars with a sense of southern style and abandon…a Simple Man called Mr. Breeze called on her on occasion…accompanied by piano like only Skynyrd knows how. And we journeyed to Alabama on a Free Bird…and we danced private dances in her living room, without really moving…just a simple swaying to the music…Brickman’s “Secret Love”, or Skynyrd’s declaration that; “go find a woman, and you’ll find love…and don’t forget son, there is someone up above…”

We danced there in the dark without moving our feet…but our souls were moved…and our hearts pounded in unison…while our ragged breathing grew urgent, and in spite of the silence at the music’s end…there were still a thousand drums and five hundred violins that played within…and while the encore raged on, there played a chorus of the tiny deaths that visited both of us when the harmony and acoustics were just right.  She looked at me through the same tears with which I viewed her, and quietly we both spoke at the same moment, as life crept back into us and our heartbeats returned to a survivable rhythm… We said simply to one another; “I hear cellos”…

Matthew L Landsman

 

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Please do your very best stay in touch
with each other. Give heartier handshakes, let conversations linger.
Have an extra coffee or two with your loved ones after those too rare
family meals. Let there be an added half hour of goodbye loitering when
two or more of you gather. Hug tighter; be generous with your gifts
of time, with your love too. I am told that you’ll never see a hearse
towing a U-Haul trailer to a funeral, so sacrifice a few dollars earned
thru too many hours working away from family and friends. The only things
you take with you are memories; the biggest things you leave behind
are your legacy, your love and smiles, and the echo of your laughter.
Make sure they are bountiful and always fresh and recently replenished.

Please take good care of yourself, take
one more walk and have one less drink or cigarette. I need all of you,
and we all seem to need more of each other more than ever before. I
Hope we can love one another more deeply, be sincere in our greetings
and farewells.  I pray that Christmas and other faith filled days can
see a return to their roots – and linger past the designated days.
If someone crosses your mind; find them, call them. There are reasons
for those thoughts and memories returning to us. Follow through. You
can never make up for time lost once someone has gone on ahead. And
always part on glad terms, just in case that parting with another ends
up the last that either you or the other is left to live on with. Go
on by leaving folks with a hearty hug, rather than a scowl and a grudge.
 

Matthew Landsman

Autumn 2007

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Ours is the story I have yet to write.
Yours is the hair I yearn to smell after the fading of light. I am yet
to tread the water one sees within the depths of your eyes. I'm still
looking forward to reminiscing over our first dates and seeing the rose
you picked for me hanging over my sink while our fondness grows and
the blossom dries.

I look forward to knowing how you like
your coffee, and whether you are crystal flute or a Tupperware tumbler
kind of girl…and if you know the vessel holds no bearing on the content
as long as the heart is warm and the breezes are fair.

Do you wear a spritz of perfume even
when you're alone…just in case I might happen by? Will you bury your
nose in a pillow that smells of my cologne just to bring me closer to
you when we spend time apart?

Will I be the first call you make no
matter if the news is troubled or glad? Will your waking moments find
you reaching to find me as we are the first thought that fills your
mind?

And will your heart forget its rhythm
when you realize you are hearing what will be "our song" for
the first time? At the moment it happens, will you pull your car to
the shoulder and have trouble dialing my number because of the mist
that fills your eyes?

It is true we have yet to meet, but I
know you're out there searching too.

If these things aren't bad for you to
be around…let it be me…The poet in me awaits you.
 

Matthew Landsman

Summer 2008

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Let me take you back a little over thirty
years ago, to a warm nite on the tenth of June in the year of our Lord
of 1977.  We had gathered for one last time in that well used auditorium…for
an extended moment of celebration, of reflection…for a collective
embrace between nearly a hundred graduates, and our relieved (and in
some cases; amazed) families and friends gathered there. At the time
this was the culmination of our most awesome moments to date. At the
time I had no clue that night would end up influencing my person for
the balance of my life. I only knew I wanted to speak well for the lot
of you, to choose words reflective of the occasion, that the rest of
you could relate to and embrace for that night and hopefully; for all
time.

No pressure whatsoever for my first ever
speech and meaningful composition…

You were a captive audience that night,
my partners in learning and those who joined the lot of us. Tonight
I speak to you with renewed appreciation of the essence of classmates,
replaced now with sentiments such as friends, compadres, and pals, old
and new.  

I did know my time in our little town
was a precious commodity as my family was to leave here within days,
and I would follow them a couple short months later.

Much to my thankful amazement these words
that had been lost to me for the better part of three decades were recently
returned to me by one of you who saw it fit to preserve not just the
thoughts of a seventeen year old word smith, but as a vital part of
that special night and of our history together. I had resigned myself
to thinking that not only might I not see a lot of you here tonight
ever again, but that the words themselves had been lost somewhere in
the shuffle of all the miles and years we’ve put behind us. I know
now as I realized then that the seemingly impossible is attainable as
long as I stay close to all of you and faithful to these words I shared
with and for all of us…on that magical and momentous night so many
years ago…
 

Graduation Address from
Your
class speaker ~ June 10th 1977
 

These are the feelings I hold inside
about the past four years and I believe all the seniors would like to
convey the same message.
 

I have a feeling deep in my heart
for all of the people here. When I came here a child, my mind was full
of mysteries and I looked at the world and its people with awe. I wanted
the answers to those “whys” I asked.
 

I found many good people to explain
the world to me, and good friends to talk to when I began to understand
the world that sometimes brought me down. With them the world was a
beautiful place, full of sunshine. Even the rain outside couldn’t
dampen our youthful spirits.
 

A lot of those people have reached
the top and struck out on their own, as we’re doing now. I miss them
but I hold happy memories of them, and now I can truly respect them
for their achievements.
 

There’s a group of people that got
here every morning before we did. The people are the administration,
they’re beautiful people. They understand the feelings and attitudes
of youth and worked overtime so we could get all out of life there is
available. Along with my parents they somehow made the mountains of
adolescence seem to shrink and become lessons in life, rather than setbacks
and disappointments.
 

The spirits in the hearts of
our people is unsurpassable. In sports we saw many victories and losses,
but we never gave up, so we couldn’t be defeated. Where else could
teams be formed and perform in mud where others have grass and asphalt?
It’s not money spent that makes winners; its hours spent and determined,
ever-trying hearts. We were too proud to be defeated.
 

Most of the
“whys” I asked before have been answered, the mysteries uncovered.
I will miss the people I’ve grown to love. I will always remember
this most fantastic journey. I’ve learned that success is possible
and not step on people as I climb, no matter what heights a person reaches,
it’s important to take time to say thanks before going on your way.
 

In the past four years I’ve come
as far as the ten before. I have good
memories in my head and knowledge in my head that can’t be measured
or traded for gold. It’s all too precious and beautiful.
 

These have been the best four years
of my life and no matter how far life sends me; the undying spirit of
’77 will live in my heart forever.
 

Some of those thoughts were prophetic,
but to be sure, the meaning of them has changed profoundly over the
years. It has taken me all those passing years to realize the real message
of what was taught to me in high school.  Those collections of moments
have become metaphors that still teach me today. Memories of certain
experiences and staff members still enlighten me even now. For those
gifts I give belated thanks today. For some other moments I carry remorse
and I offer long overdue apologies…

Some faces are missing from the crowd
not only for tonight, but for the rest of time, I have done my best
to recall the last time I saw the souls now lost to us, to remember
the last words exchanged, the etching of what will have to serve as
reminders of them until we meet again somewhere beyond the bounds of
this lifetime…

I recall Brad, our own number 77…menacing
those on the other side of the line of scrimmage poised in front of
him, and sending shot putts and javelins into orbit at track meets always
held away from our home grounds. Not only did Brad wear the jersey with
our proud year upon his back, he was the first to leave us, first to
become a lesson of the hardest kind, having perhaps taught the rest
of us well enough to have helped us avoid his fate ourselves. Brad’s
last words to me were “I know you’ve got it covered, but I’ve
got your back no matter what happens…”

I believe those words still ring true
today…

I recall Doyle, also taken too young
from our ranks. He too prowled the line and backfield at those ballgames
of yore. He also prowled the nights with me as we tinkered on a ’63
Impala, or worked equally as diligently to find the bottom of a bottle
of home made wine…or whatever beverage was available to under aged
connoisseurs of anything that would cop us a buzz. Tony Hill, Doyle,
his son Christopher and I all broke bread together one last time shortly
before Doyle was to go on ahead of us. I will miss my friend…

I recall too, the invulnerable smile
of Karen Self, always an inspiration in the face of adversity. I remember
last seeing her at one of our reunions, then hearing of her having found
the love of her life and being married and at the top of the world when
she was taken from us. Through the mist of those memories of not so
long ago, I feel her life was a venerable example of how to embrace
the moments that are given us, and live them to their fullest. Let her
life and loss not have been spent in vain. Live by her example.

If there be others out there who are
gone, they were a part of the whole, a part of our class and they are
missed in spirit. They are the twinge of an empty feeling that finds
us when a cool breeze sends a chill, or when a line in a movie sends
us to a desolate place inside. Had I known what lie ahead I might have
been a little melancholy and perhaps had added a “via con dios”
(go with God) to my graduation address in ‘77…
 

This isn’t a memorial service but I
wanted to pay homage to all of our class. I will see those three
and the rest at the grandest reunion of all. Salute…

I think at this stage in life few of
us need be reminded that life is often short, to not take any days for
granted, to never turn down a chance to dance with your love…to visit
your siblings, parents, and kids every chance possible. Listen to Garth
Brooks’ many thoughtful songs in case you’ve forgotten, or maybe
just a few of my words.

I am reminded of a favorite saying of
mine. “Though no one can make a brand new start my friend, starting
now, we CAN make a brand new end…” In March of this year I made
a simple promise to myself to find as many classmates as possible and
just gather their stories and contact information to share among us.
I made a simple pledge to make this reunion a little more inclusive
and perhaps personal too. I got more than I ever imagined out of the
task, and found a larger role in the process of organizing this reunion.
For the first time, I’ve gotten to know some of you again.
The experience has given me new friendships with some I barely knew
in high school.

I can still hear the echoes down the
hallways of that long abandoned school, feel the warmth of your being
as we brushed shoulders in a lunch line or rolled eyes at each other
in the midst of a boring lecture in some ancient class on even more
ancient history. Through the years as I have ventured down as many other
halls, sat dutifully at other desks, broke bread with whoever was a
part of my days, and toiled at the work put in front of me…I have
felt parts of our years still with me, imagined your faces in a crowd,
longed for the innocence and the unbridled joy that being there with
you could bring. While I’ve always lived in the moment, I also find
myself clinging to fragments and shreds of tired memories and trinkets
of our times together. Today, I’m here to replenish my supply, to
fill my heart and raise my glass to you again before I resume the journey.
When I leave here this time, I will have looked each of you more deeply
in the eye, held an embrace longer than in the past, and let your words,
your expressions, your collective essence embed a little more meaningfully
into my soul.

For well over thirty years I have lived
near the banks of the Columbia River. I have followed the river from
its origin at the Columbia Ice fields in Canada, to its merging with
the Pacific at Astoria. The river has heard my confessions, absorbed
my tears, nourished my body and quenched my thirst for water and for
life. The river has become a part of me.

In 1973, I became a citizen of Rainier,
I eventually became a Rainier Columbian as I was embraced by one, then
some, and finally by most all of you before those four years came to
pass. Today I am proud to say I am and always will be a Columbian to
the core. I shan’t travel along that river, nor feel a raindrop, or
learn a lesson without a symbolic “Captain Columbian” at the helm,
and without feeling the encouragement from my class to stand up and
speak my heart and mind.

The life times spent with you still flow
through my veins like the river past my desert town, and downstream
here past Rainier. You are all part of my foundation now, part of my
journey that will eventually empty in a celestial ocean of sorts. I
am proud of what we’ve accomplished and endured both together and
apart. I have not forgotten my roots, nor to thank those who’ve helped
me along the way. Though I left here some thirty years ago, the spirit
of this hallowed place I took with me. The soul in me is bursting with
the well seasoned pride from my times at the old Rainier High.

I’m taking all of you with me from
now on. I’m going to embrace this re-validation as your class speaker.
To borrow some words from a song I listened to when I still wandered
those halls, played in and attended the games, and lived the life with
all of you…”I’m holding onto things that used to be, holding onto
things that again will never be…and I’m always gonna hold onto you…” 
I will see some of you down the road; I will fondly peer out into the
night along the banks of that river and hope to feel the rest of you
there. I will do so with love in my heart, and I will remember you…I
renew my vow and declare now…The undying spirit of the Class of ’77
still lives in my heart, and will continue to…for the rest of my part
of forever…                                                                                                         
 
 

Matthew Lyle Landsman                                                                  

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