Friday, January 16, 2009


Everyone needs someone. You can desert civilization and wander into the desert or the forest and give up relationships forever, but you'll end up eccentric and lonely, mumbling to yourself and nursing old grudges best forgotten. This kind of resentment gave birth to the Unibomber, who left his family behind to work on his dissertations and stun the world with his violence and anger toward the establishment he had forsaken, wallowing in his madness.

While some periods of loneliness are good for the soul and nothing replenishes the spirit like a walk in the woods or a climb to a mountaintop, too much solitude...unless one is Thoreau and is writing classic novels about it....can result in rancor and bitterness. Thus, we humans cling to our mates, nurture our children, and usually become a part of a community of some sort, needing the comfort of other people around us. We may have different backgrounds, different outlooks, different beliefs, but when the chips are down, we share a common humanity.

When I was a child, living on the Farm, I was usually surrounded by people. Occasionally I would take to the orchard to spend a few hours alone. I would walk through the pasture and pause by the apple trees, perhaps climbing the gnarled branches to sit for a while. Then I would wander down by the lake and toss a few pebbles in the water. Why are people so fascinated with the water when it is rippling from the impact of a stone? We stare at the rings, these miniature waves we have caused, and somehow it reminds us of human relationships, the water reaching out to form a ripple, then widening into a single big circle, perhaps like the circle of life, first births, then living through joys and sorrows only to reach our deaths. After these circles have calmed, the water is serene and peaceful, as if that stone had never disturbed its tranquility, just as life goes on long after we are just a memory.

My family was big, boisterous, good-looking, generous and sometimes foolish. We got together on Sundays and would form baseball games that ended in mayhem and make ice cream that melted like nectar in the mouth. We gathered around the old piano and sang. My brothers plucked their guitar strings and harmonized. Like most families, we had our arguments and these were usually loud and lasted for weeks or even months before they were forgotten.

For several years, Hubert and Bud had a falling out of some sort. I forget the reason, but I think it concerned money. Family arguments are usually over money or who did what for Mom and Dad. This one concerned money and both of them were adamant that the other was dead wrong in his reasoning. The controversy was enhanced by the fact that Connie, Bud's wife, insulted Gerry, Hubert's wife's painting. Gerry painted several pictures and one of them hangs on my wall today, a prized possession, and I think she was quite talented, if I am a judge of such matters. Connie made a remark about a painting that Gerry resented, which kept the fireworks going.

For a while, we divided into two camps. Bud's group, who agreed with Bud's reasoning, and Hubert's assortment of supporters. For me, it was catastrophic, for I adored both of my brothers and to see them refusing to stay in a room with each other was traumatic. One had to be on guard at family gatherings to make sure that one wife or the other was not neglected. I would sit by Gerry and talk for a while, then sneak over to Connie for a chat with her, hoping my methods were not noticed.

Because both Hubert and Bud were the mainstays of our family group, for a while, the family gatherings diminished. Then it was decided to carry on with all of our meetings, hoping that the two would reconcile.

Reconcile they did. Bud began to show the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, his hands shaking, his speech faltering. His condition was upsetting and how tenderly we would help him from the car and into the house to a chair. To see this man, who had always been sturdy and agile, begin to lose control of his movements was difficult to bear. Then, all arguments forgotten, all resentments banished, at his side was always Hubert. Patiently, he helped Bud move around, always gentle and helpful. If caring people could halt that disease, Bud would have flourished and regained his health.

One cannot halt the spread of a disease where no cure has been found and the remedies are often more deadly than a cure. Bud took medicine that made him seem immobile, that froze his face into an expressionless mask, that made his walk even more faltering. It was an agony to watch him slowly regress, but the day finally came when Connie was unable to keep him at home.

Bud stayed in a nursing home just a block from his home, and Hubert was a constant visitor. They did not talk, they did not recall their years together, but sat in silent harmony. These two brothers, so close in their boyhood, did not have to talk to share their emotions. In the touch of a hand, Hubert could convey his love for his brother and his sorrow that their happy, carefree years were over. As I watched them, I always saw the two boys on horseback, riding through the hills and paths of the woods, yodeling and calling to each other, brown from the sun, their young, lithe bodies swaying with the movements of the old plowhorses they rode.

If either of them could reach through that dark curtain that separates life from death, if either of them could speak to us today, I know that they would regret those years of not speaking, of letting some problem become more important than their friendship. Perhaps it is a lesson we all should learn as we travel life's highway, threading our way through the traffic. Perhaps each of us should take a moment today to do what Jesus commanded, "Forgive!" That highway is difficult enough to maneuver, without adding the burden of grudges and resentments. The intricacies of family life are sometimes a bumpy road, with potholes lurking in the path ahead.

We all need someone, every one of us. We grow up, forget the joy of being young, of having a close friendship with another young traveler, settle into adult life and start collecting our good times and our bad. We weather the storms along the way, and sometimes that highway of life is slippery, with a deep ditch looming ahead. We can fall into that ditch and mire down in the mud, or we can pull ourselves forward along a smoother path.

Sometimes, when life seems glum and challenging, with a day that has been filled with rude people, recalcitrant cars and overwhelming bills, I think of those two happy boys riding the wilderness of trees and brush in the sunshine of a long gone summer day, and I see the two old men in a nursing home, one in bed with a terminal disease and the other sitting faithfully by his side, and I know that there are some things worth fighting to keep, some things too precious to forget. How fortunate are those who do have somebody to ride beside them on that perilous highway and sometimes take over at the wheel.