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

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

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

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
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

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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Humphrey Bogart said it best in the movie Casablanca,

“We’ll always have Paris…”

I say it today, though I’ve never been to “The City of Light”…nor have I strolled through a vineyard in Provence. I doubt I will ever peer over the cliffs of Normandy, or hear the surf that once pounded the shore with the crimson remains of so many brave souls.

But shortly after the change in the millennium, I fell in love with the voice of a lonely friend as she stayed not far from the shadow of the Eiffel Tower… while her feet left a barely visible set of prints along the banks of the River Seine…and  the fragrance of baguettes teased her nose after a summer shower, and tempted her palate, begging to be shared with a flute of sparkling wine, crisp apple slices, and a stash of cheeses with names I cannot pronounce.

I saw her off for a six week trek across the land and sea, for a trip into the past… into the vineyards, cobblestones, galleries, narrow side streets and country roads that are France…her rite of passage as taken by others before her.

It has been a long while, so the details of her journey are misty to my memory… but not the wonder of discovering our hearts peering into the nights beyond either shore, and far past the horizon… the search for the familiar serenading of the senses, for the familiar scents that had been her and I, then the two of us together.  She was nowhere in sight, but I felt her presence everywhere I roamed in my solitude.

Perhaps as I passed beneath a non-descript overpass, on an unremarkable stretch of highway, she may have been taking a journey through history, while her taxi or walking shoes took her through the Arc de Triomphe. While stranger’s smiles, in the most romantic city in the world, may have tapped on her heart’s door, the reminder of my certain adoration and growing fondness, here in our desert hamlet, pounded with determination for passage to a place neither had been before.

When infant dawn splashed over the morning sky, with hues from nature’s palette of reds filling the eastern sky and giving new shadows to the purple hills of the fading night, I knew that afternoon shadows were growing long in the French countryside.  Here, on the avenues of rustic towns she ventured, while making lasting memories of the beauty at hand, with a sense of history urging her on alone…and with the knowledge she might never wander these paths again…all the while a presence of growing liaison between our two gypsy souls calling her heart home again.

While she broke her evening bread and held a letter from home against her homesick, aching breast, I was greeting the day with weary eyes and an envelope full of fresh words about the day before, and the night of distant intentions, about to be postmarked and sealed with a kiss, then sent off across the cool Atlantic.

While she wandered the Louvre and silently gasped at the beauty and wonder of works by the likes of Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci, perhaps the quiet smile of The Mona Lisa filled her with a sense of mystery and awe.  I am certain I was enamored with the vision of her simple smile and the eyes that nearly vanish when joy invades her being over simple pleasures like “treats” at DQ, or “scenes” from next week’s episode of ER.  To be sure, Paris in July is magic and might come but once in a lifetime, but in the midst of all this worldly travel, the two of us were discovering there really is no place like home when someone you love is waiting there anxiously.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, I busied myself with pulling weeds from her lawn just to be closer to her somehow.  As she strolled through a market in Provence, after an early morning train carried her from the city bustle and left her with a camera full of photographs, and as the wonderful chill of a morning breeze filled the air with conversations it carried and caused the leaves of the olive trees to softly rustle, maybe the breezes were my thoughts and love on the wing, reminding her of all that awaited her when she made the journey home.

And as we both pondered what the other might be doing at a given moment, words for tomorrow’s letter were spilling over in the hearts of the two of us.  Perhaps a pen was being set down momentarily to empty a hand that would wipe away a knowing tear, or reach for another serving of yesterday’s letter…like a sip from a glass of last night’s wine to greet the dawn, clinging to every passage that filled the cup with sappy declarations and promises of hour long hugs upon her return…over and over I would drink it up till I became intoxicated with emotion, loneliness and anticipatory longing.  This was a slightly guilty pleasure since no liquor, ale, or wine had passed over my tongue in over a decade, but the metaphoric spirits, in the form of her words, filled me, nearly drowned me, and left me reeling with familiar warmth and an aching desire.

France and Washington state share nearly the same latitude on God’s earth, lending to their innate ability to produce quintessential wine grapes, amazing sunsets, and inspirations for lovers of all things natural, beautiful, fragrant, tasty, and romantic.  Straining out to the west of Normandy, the granite isle of Mont Saint-Michel stands vigil in the Atlantic waters, reaching out to mariners and all sentimental souls alike…pointing to the British Isles and the last leg of her journey abroad.

When the object of my attentions and desire at last took leave of Bordeaux country for a final time, and spent a week in the green country of Ireland, she toured castles and the sources of legend and Celtic tunes and lore. Then a weary traveler bid farewell to Dublin and, an ocean crossing later, was greeted by first the east, then the west coasts of our fair land.  Finally, as July faded and August debuted, I traveled to a terminal to collect her at last.  I remember the fragrance of airline-conditioned air following her, and accompanying us home, through the mountain passing and safely home to our desert abodes.

The drive marked the end of one journey, the beginning of another, and the eventual culminating of our last summer together.

Now it’s nearly three quarters of a decade later, half past “0 dark thirty,” and I’m still waiting for my phone to ring again. I long to be awakened from the sleep that hasn’t found me yet. I long for the pad of air delivery paper that lay next to my bed, which I penned my heart upon, pouring out prose, poetry and love like Cabernet into a Dixie cup…mailing it off nearly every morning shortly after dawn.

On the shelf in my bathroom stands a long empty bottle that once held cologne she brought to me from France.  I call it “Far Away” because I can’t pronounce the name.  I remember the homecoming and the scent she gave to me.  And I yearn for the swelling of emotion and growing anticipation of her next words, either spoken or written, the journal of her days abroad.  I miss her taking me through the places that for me existed only in movies and novels.  I miss the most romantic, extended moment this poet ever had…when we had only a continent and an ocean between us…but I had never been closer, felt more embraced, never felt more comfortable, even while knowing that our reunion held no promise of forever.  Still I knew that I would forever hold fast to the memories and moments, to the absence of a hand to hold, while I walked at her side some five thousand miles and nine time zones away.

And, oh my God, how that trip we took together, yet apart from each other, has saved me time and again…rescued me when I’ve nearly stopped believing in romancing, walks in the warm rain, and slow dancing.  I step back a few years to the most endearing of times my heart has ever known. I return to a fantasy that invaded my reality, gave me inspiration for some of my fondest work and most
heartfelt intentions to meld with the ink in my pen and the faintly-lined paper that would soon somehow find her and speak softly to her in English among the foreign speaking souls all around her.

I have no regrets, only thanks for the elation and honor of an epic moment shared…for the words that all these years later flow once more through my hands, an old friend revisited, refined, and aged to perfection like vintage wine. Again I enjoy the twinge of pure intoxication, look out over the eastern horizon, and remember when…and thanks to Bogart and Bergman, and a time spent apart from one I loved, I quietly look out into the night…and softly utter,

“We’ll always have Paris…”

Matthew Lyle Landsman, July 2008.

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Hi Boo…I just went to the bank and got out a few of the dollars the job put there. I noticed the avenue by my house was full of cars and folks walking to an unknown destination.  It had to be more than just a yard sale as the volume of the pilgrimage was too large. I saw an estate sale sign as I rounded the corner and headed to the bank.

I walked over there after I got home…to a place a half a block away at the end of a cul-de-sac, nestled among tall trees and rounded drives. I have lived in the neighborhood for eleven years and had never ventured, nor even really looked down that drive. I figure these folks had wanted and earned their privacy. Yet
I ventured down the drive today, curious…

I’m sorry I went.

I feel as though I violated sacred ground…felt my skin crawl a little.  I saw the books and tools, the diversity of life…the places traveled, the art, the worn pan in which she cooked his eggs…the coffee cup over which a soul
pondered the morning and day ahead…the sources of music that may have
accompanied private dances.  I trod upon worn floors that kids, and likely grandkids, had learned to crawl, then walk upon.  I saw a corner with an easy chair and a desk where a lifetime of bills were paid…a collection of ancient tools and instruments with which a living was made.

I saw a house…a beautiful home…a place where lives and loves had grown.  I saw a collection of dusty testimonials to the wondrous circle of life which we are all in the midst of…and I felt both full and empty. I tiptoed through the rooms, aware I was practically treading upon a grave…or an impromptu shrine that was being looted by bargain hunters…

And I thought of my own family…the great house and home my parents shared and cared in…and I thought of you too…then I kept my money where it belonged, tucked away…and instead said a prayer that in the end, my parents’ lives are honored and validated with a little more dignity…

I walked away from that house a slightly shaken and wiser man…and finished the coffee with which this whole journey began.

Matthew Lyle Landsman

August 22, 2008

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Dylan Thomas wrote:

“Do not go gentle into that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Just after dawn on this relay morning I woke up with that line in my head…woke up with the recent memories of the luminary lighting ceremony, the benediction prayer, the soft strains of “Amazing Grace” sung by Penny…the team leaders carrying the flames that moments later would illuminate the names of loved ones who had fought and either won, lost, or were continuing to fight the good fight against their cancer.

In the time during the struggle my family endured alongside my stricken mother, and the time that has passed in the following years, I came to realize that the patient isn’t the only soul who is forever affected by the indiscriminate nature of cancer. I have been forever touched inside, by not only the loss inflicted by this worst of all diseases, but by the loss of innocence it forces upon us, the loss of sleep it continues to impose on those left behind, and the loss of understanding we search for to somehow justify the senseless suffering that cancer imposes on the victims, the family members, friends, neighbors, and caregivers, both young and old.

Last evening I witnessed a collective raging against the dying of the light…a glow encircling the track not unlike a halo of defiance sending out the message that, despite the heartlessness of the beast, a gathering of names, of stories, of prayers, and of faithful travelers in the still of evening spoke out against the forces of darkness.  We will not go gently into that good night. We will bring our own light; a message of will and determination to break the cycle of impending darkness, of deprivation and sorrow, the anger and time stolen from our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

So we assemble in a show of oneness and undying determination against the never resting cycle of degradation and deprivation of life and lives consumed by this demon called cancer. And we vow to carry our vigil from dusk, thru the spell of darkness, until we all emerge again in the light of the infant dawn. We are a collection of friends and strangers with a kindred spirit and a common bond. We form a family of veterans in the good fight to end this relentless march of darkness looming from beyond the shadows and staring down upon us all.  We are an eclectic combining of individual candles shimmering into a collective raging flame of diligent souls who “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Shortly after the silent lap and as the stadium lights were still doused, I stood at the side of a stranger, peering into the candlelit night and up into the bleachers at the side of our battleground. From a vantage point to left of the bleachers, I could easily make out the word “HOPE” spelled out in assembled luminary bags in front of me.  But the next word appeared as a menagerie of glowing bags without reason or definition. The stranger there with me offered up the explanation that the second word was “hard to see”, but that it read “CURE”.

At that very moment my poet’s heart recognized the gravity of the moment, the irony of the jumbled word eluding my understanding…just as the cure itself lies somewhere out there still…in another collection of nights…other relays…in the misty light of a long awaited and very welcome dawn. Or perhaps cure will debut as flashes of blinding lightning bolts in the velvety midnight sky. Until that day, we will have to rely on each other for the light, lean on God for the light, resort to the lingering light of the memories of our loved ones lost to the celestial discharge. Before the cure becomes a reality, rather than a hard-to-decipher encryption in the metaphoric bleachers before us in a hope-filled night in June, we will continue to circle the track to join hearts, hands, prayers, voices and share stories.

Harry Chapin used to sing of life being “a circle with no clear-cut beginnings, and so far; no dead ends.”  He spoke of having a “funny feeling that we’ll all get together again.”  In the case of our yearly relay and the reasons for our holding it, Harry’s words were sadly prophetic. I love the camaraderie of this annual event. I look forward to us all gathering to reminisce our loved ones lost, of the battles won by survivors, and to just share in the essence of knowing the experience as we do.  But I mostly look forward to being able to look back in retrospect on the day when cures to the multitudes of cancers were found…when our diligence was rewarded with success and we are able to honor the loss of our loved ones with validation of our efforts to find those cures. Right now the circle of cancer in our lives is presenting us with far too many dead ends, and the discovery of the illness presents us with stark and solemn clear-cut beginnings. I join all of you in hoping that the only dead ends we find are the ends of a search for the cure…to the beginning of gathering in celebration and looking on our June gatherings in retrospect, rather than as a vigil continued.

Until then, I will join you in providing the light after darkness falls, in the circling of the track, in the joining of hearts, prayers, voices and well intentions…to rage against the dying of the light…and the circles in our lives ending with sorrow rather than continuing with jubilation. I am honored to join you all in the good fight, and to not go gentle in that good night, but to continue fighting until the dawn brings us victories and validations for the lives perished and rewards us for nights of sleep lost…

Be well, and continue to relay, until we need relay no more.

June, 16, 2007   Matthew Lyle Landsman

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