Seeking and gradually, gradually finding

I was not expecting to get sick during my tenure in San Diego. I don’t know, there’s something about warm weather that seems anathema to a cold. Colds are always equated with rain, snow, wind. I’m from Oregon where we have all that. Especially the rain. Foolishly I always think that warm weather begets health. Foolish me.

But I think I’m getting over it. My laryngitis is almost over (San Diegans are bemoaning that fact). I have more energy and don’t feel like sleeping constantly. Guess it was just rest that I needed. I slept thirteen hours last night. My body was obviously telling me something.

In less than two weeks I will be returning to Oregon. I don’t have mixed feelings about this. I’m enjoying my time here in the Southland. Enjoying seeing old friends, many of whom I’ve not seen since the 80’s.

I’m enjoying visiting old neighborhoods and hangouts. I drove down Pacific Coast Highway (PCH to us “locals”) and marveled at the changes in Huntington Beach and reminisced about all the hours spent sun-worshiping on the sand.

I still have a handful of people to squeeze into my visit. I had hoped to spend more time with some people, but it’s not to be. Who knows? Perhaps this trip will be replicated in the future.

But I’m ready to go back. This trip was insightful for me in a way I couldn’t foresee. Back in March I spoke with my dear friend, Isabella, who was going through some tribulations. She urged me to come and visit to help her through her turmoil. The seed had been planted.

I started considering it. I felt it would provide an opportunity to get away, clear my head and see some old friends, all the while helping another old friend through a difficult period. It seemed like a win-win.

After discussing the whole thing with her, it was agreed I would stay for the month of May. After the decision was made, I began to consider the possibilities for my book. I allowed myself to dream that perhaps I might be able to make the right contacts. I even concocted a fantasy of standing outside movie studios handing out books in my “Listen to Bob” t-shirt. I would favor women as my recipients since they respond the most to my book.

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Secretaries and receptionists would become attached to my story. They would steal looks into the book when they were supposed to be working. Water cooler discussions would be held on the complex relationships. Others would want to know more about this mystery book.

Eventually, the conversations would filter up to the ivory towers of decision-making. Movie executives, looking for the next big thing would fight each other over this story–this next Philomena. I would be wined and dined and sign a record-setting contract. The next night I would be featured on Letterman.

It all made sense to me.

But it didn’t work out that way. (Does it ever?) We make plans and God laughs. It was pointed out to me that giving away my book would set me up for the potential stealing of my story which I discussed in an earlier post. Disappointed, I pulled back from that idea.

Yet I was strangely okay with it. Wasn’t my primary objective to come down here to help an old friend, not obsess over a pipe dream?

Indeed, as I was driving down Interstate 5, I had hours and hours to contemplate the weeks that were facing me. I thought about Isabella and how I might be able to help her; I only had vague knowledge of her struggle. Nevertheless, I stepped out in faith that I might be able to be of some help.

And as I drove down the interstate I prayed and I told God that I would not force anything regarding my life. I would not try to make things happen for me, for my book. I would just allow Him to guide and show me what there might be waiting for me in Southern California–if anything. If it were just to help a friend, isn’t that enough? If it were to be for something more, then show me. I’ll try to be pliable.

And I’m gradually getting my answer. I’ve spent my whole life in Oregon, save for the eight-something years I lived in Southern California from 1982-1990. I returned to Oregon a different person, a different man, something that was sorely needed in my cloying, self-conscious life. And after returning to Oregon in 1990, life progressed, regressed, digressed as it does for everyone. As the years turned to decades, the time in Southern California seemed less like a memory and more like a dream. Had I actually lived it?

My good friend, Dave, told me at dinner the other night that, during this trip, I was on a journey to make sense of my time in Southern California and the impact and meaning it had on me and on my life, bracketed by my years in Oregon. He said that I needed everything to work together seamlessly. While my time in Southern California in the 80’s might have been an aberration, it was, nevertheless, important and meaningful. At least this is what I read into his three word comment. (feeble joke)

And he’s right. He nailed it on the head. As I’ve been driving around on all these freeways, visiting all these cities, eating dinner with all these friends, I’ve understood that God had a purpose for this trip. A purpose for Isabella. A purpose for me.

The years in SoCal have often felt almost ghostly, dissipating further and further into eternity. Yet the images remain as do the experiences and, most definitely, the relationships. And I’ve been trying to make sense of them. Sounds stupid, but that’s me. Stupid, I guess. Always trying to glean yet more meaning, squeeze yet more understanding from the most basic of experiences of life.

I realize that I’m not cut out to live in an environment like this, no matter how much I might like to convince myself that I’m all that and a bag of chips–urbane, sophisticated, dripping with élan, moving effortlessly among the glitterati exchanging witty repartee.

I like my relationships. I like my alone time. I like sitting in a coffee shop in a rainstorm, reading the New York Times.

I like wine tasting in crowd-free boutique wineries. I like the exoticisms of life, but I also like the simplicities. I love both, but only want to live in one.

And that point has been drilled home, but the years spent here still seemed to be a vision. Discussions with my loved ones down here erased that.

It was my friend Dave, the one who opened my eyes. He told me of a time when I reached out to him when we were only acquaintances, relative strangers, sitting next to each other in the church choir. The details are irrelevant, but he had experienced a major life trauma. And I was the only one who reached out to him. A relative stranger, a man who spoke to him on occasion while rehearsing a high “E” in the choir tenor section.

He told me that he believes he is where he is today, twenty-six years later, because of me. His life is better than he could have imagined, better than he’s ever had it. I was stunned. The words didn’t ring true. He was being nice, that was it.

Yet he was adamant. His wife concurred. “He talks about this all the time”, she said. In my usual way, I tried to keep the words from sinking in, from having the effect they should have, the effect they’re meant to have. Which is what I usually do.

It was too generous. Too considerate of him. It couldn’t be true. He had to be yanking my chain. Perhaps he saw I was searching and wanted to lift me up? But that’s not his way.

So, I guess, rather than pursue something as frivolous as success for my book, I got what I actually prayed to God for–something He wanted, something I certainly wasn’t expecting. I got a 2×4 to my temple about value and reaching out to help someone and the impact twenty-six years later.

And it’s not just about Dave’s comments. His comments were most influential. But even the smallest conversations with friends and cousins are having an impact.They’re helping me piece together the fading images of the 80’s spent in Southern California.

I mistakenly tried to find those images by driving through old neighborhoods that had been re-built. I visited old job locations that had changed. When change occurs in Southern California, it’s on a gargantuan scale. And seeing those immense changes made it difficult for me to find those images. I only saw outlines.

I had been looking for the wrong things, I guess. Memories to make sense of life, to make sense of the years spent down here. Years of fun, yet years of agony. Years of loneliness, yet years of some of the greatest experiences of my life. A time of growth, but also a time of ignorance.

Instead, by allowing myself to be pliable, I was able to grasp onto the right images, images I didn’t expect to see. Rather than glossy, sunny days of SoCal in the 80’s, an image of me, racing through life, racing away from pain. Struggling and wrestling with demons yet trying my best. That was my image of myself anyway.

The image being expressed to me is that of a young man who displayed moxie, friendship and professionalism yet still had time to reach out to someone desperately in need. Even if that person wasn’t a close friend. And look what happened. What goes around definitely comes around and not like we usually think.

Dave isn’t the only one who was blessed twenty-six years ago.

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