Imagine waking up each day with an identity, a home, and a purpose in life. Now imagine that in the space of a short, impersonal judicial hearing, your identity as a father, husband, neighbor, and breadwinner are torn away, and you are left to wander among the wreckage of your life.
As chaos surrounds you, you become painfully aware that you now have to begin all over. Friendships need to be developed. Relationships with your children need to be reset and redrawn. The new everyday normal is anything but. Your spirit needs to heal, to be recharged. Trust, hope, and the willingness to open oneself to a second chance at love and fulfillment must find their way through the hurt.
Follow the narrator as he details his struggle with divorce, loss, and the tug of his heart; straining to open itself to a new and loving relationship against the fear of loss again. Journey into his past, and see how the lessons he learned early in life have impacted him in ways he could never have imagined. Take a front-row seat as one man finds a sure path to happiness and a fulfilling life within the framework of a mended family fence.
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The Wonder of You
By Raymond Burchyns
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Raymond Burchyns
All rights reserved.
"They leave us now to the way we took ..."
The words quoted above are from a poem called "In Neglect" written by America's premier craftsman of poetry, Robert Frost. They reflect his attitude about his choice to take his own path in life, most especially in the choice of a life's partner. Against the strong objections of family and friends, Frost chose to follow his heart, a choice he never regretted.
And, so with me. I had been looking for my perfect fit, my 100 pounds of clay. Fortunately I found her but not without some difficulty, about which more later. But for the moment let us begin at the end.
It was a beautiful, sunny day that found me wandering aimlessly. The legal system had set my sails and cast my fate to the winds. I wasn't navigating all that well and aimlessness had become de rigeur, so to speak. Suddenly from nowhere a lightning bolt struck me squarely in the ass. As the smoke cleared I found myself rubbing the affected spot vigorously. My mind had not entirely cleared when I heard a rumbling sound and then a powerful voice addressed me: "Yo, knucklehead, when are you going to stop by my shop and pick up that hundred pounds of clay I sculpted for you. Or do I have to find another way to get your attention?"
I looked around, thinking that someone was playing an unusually good trick on me. Then, as my mind cleared completely, I knew that this was no earthly gambit; I knew with a certainty that what I was dealing with was supernatural. Even so somehow I realized that the spirit moving within me was not evil. It had to be heavenly and that being the case my Jesuit training kicked in immediately—best obey the Lord's command for your arms are far too short to box with God-- had been drummed into my psyche by Fr. Dan Corbett in religion class at Brooklyn Prep. And so I trotted off to see what the Lord had made for me.
When I entered the workshop my heart caught in my throat. Magnificence surrounded me surely but the most heart stopping was this beautiful woman. Her smile was warm enough to melt even the most jaded and hard hearted of men; her voice was sweet, her eyes a deep, haunting brown; her skin was translucent and her figure—well, it's best to let the rest of the world go by, so to speak. I was astounded but managed to squeak out, "WOW!" Looking back I don't think she was measurably impressed by my command of the English language. In any event she walked over to me, held out her hand and led me out the door and so began our life's journey.
As we began life together I discovered that she loved many of the same things I did. I had always loved the beach—the combination of sun, sand and surf somehow for me made heaven seem real. I was filled with a joyous wonder to find out that my hundred pounds of clay was actually my little surfer girl. Her love of the beach exceeded even mine. For the first several years of our life together we spent nearly every summer weekend at one beach or another. We would get up early, prepare a sumptuous picnic lunch and scram for the beach. Our New England coastline offered a pirate's treasure chest of choices. The cool Maine waters would find us, mouths agape, just staring at the craggy cliffs being kissed by the Atlantic Ocean; in New Hampshire we would wander along sandy beaches bracketed by the small communities dappled along the beach road. Massachusetts gave us Cape Cod where we would stroll thru scenic towns after spending a day in the warm waters. Every time we went to a beach my heart would jump at the sight of my little surfer girl in her bathing suit just lighting up the whole scene.
We discovered the special beauty of Rhode Island. From Federal Hill in Providence to the mansion walk in Newport, Rhode Island became a destination point for us. I did not think my little surfer girl could have made any day more special than any other until we discovered Moonstone Beach. Named for its shape and the many large stones and dunes which gave it its special ambiance, Moonstone Beach also had one other attraction—it was a clothes optional beach. Now this may be somewhat off center to many but the reality was much different. The folks who spent time at Moonstone were a very diverse group—families to singles, artists to lovers of volleyball---this beach offered a sense of peace and tranquility to the more than 5,000 who spent weekends there.
And so one day we went to Moonstone. My little surfer girl sat on the sand, her body bronzing in the sun. I would look at her and not see her per se but rather the beauty of the Great Author's hand. I felt no sense of discomfort or any sense of shame—just joy in the moment and gratitude to God for giving me this, one of His greatest blessings.
And when the sun became uncomfortable my littler surfer girl would get up, take my hand and together we would race into the water. Her joyful laughter would mix with the sound of surf crashing on the shore. The combination was a symphony Beethoven would have written had he been alive to experience the moment.
We floated in the water and slowly we reached out and held one another. As we came closer together her arms wrapped around my neck and her legs gently encircled me. All around us our fellow swimmers bleached out of our conscious sense; the sounds of laughter from the folks on the beach faded gradually and the sailboats seemed to drift away. There was only the two of us. The waves slowly rocked us and then the heavens exploded in a burst of happiness and contentment. Time was suspended for both of us. As things came back into focus I saw God's knowing smile. And I knew how great indeed He is. I promised myself I would never forget just how precious a gift I had been given.
Our life together continued to unfold. The beach gave way to the inexorable tug of routine: work, children's activities, community involvement, tag sales, and general family matters. Through all of the busy turmoil my hundred pounds of clay handled things flawlessly. Indeed she morphed once again—from my little surfer girl into Alice Kramden to my Ralph. Many were the times that I managed to tie Gordian knots which required her skill to undo. It wasn't intentional—I just seemed to subscribe to the ready, fire, aim theory of solving problems—a theory which never worked out well for me. But she was always there to undo whatever the damage might have been, and with a smile—although as the years and incidents passed her smile did begin to tighten.
At home I would sit in my easy chair and she would wait on my every need. I didn't ask or even expect her to be so accommodating—it was natural on her part. And because it was so natural on her part I slowly drifted into the self-indulgent mode and became unfairly demanding. In fact I even found a small silver bell which I decided to ring whenever I needed her attention.
Women are odd in some ways, as I found out. The bell was not such a good idea—one of those Gordian knots I referred to earlier. When I rang it she turned to me and lit into my behavior. For such a small girl she had surprisingly healthy lungs—and here I am not referring to her breasts, not that they aren't surprisingly healthy themselves. Her words came in a stinging torrent and all I could do was to sit in silence.
When she took a break from detailing my odious behavior I rose from my chair and began to rustle up a defense. I was certain that I could defend the indefensible quite ably. But as I began to draw breath a sudden realization came to mind. I knew that if I engaged my mouth without turning on my brain I would surely ruin our relationship. Up to this moment my hundred pounds of clay had always been gentle, loving, caring, and devoted to making my life happy. Now I knew that if I followed my usually selfish and foolish impulses I would surely change our relationship for the worse, and permanently so. What would she think of me? How would she relate to me? And worst of all, when the years fully unfolded and I was finally out of her hair, having been stamped by the Obama Establishment as "shovel ready", would she have carved on my headstone in large letters: "Here Rests My Beloved Husband Ray—Stiff At Last", thereby letting the whole world know that as time went by so did my erections? No, that would be an eternal embarrassment. So rather than risk the loss of happiness, not to mention the revelation of a future family secret, I surrendered the silver bell, told her I was terribly wrong—which I was—and asked her to forgive me. Her eyes softened and her voice returned to normal. She asked me to sit and relax and a few minutes later brought me a steaming mug of hot chocolate. With extra marshmallows. And my little part of the universe settled back to its usual state of equilibrium.
The years passed with a subtle gentility. Graduations blended into engagements and then to weddings; as time continued its relentless pursuit of eternity, grandchildren came along and we became typically silly and very indulgent. Then the grandchildren grew to teenagehood and we dropped in importance. Oh, Nana always counted in their lives while I, I became the family embarrassment, the somewhat rusty ATM Machine. Finally the day arrived when I became old. The parade of years stopped at my front door, knocked, and I was obliged to join the tramp, tramp, tramp.
Here my hundred pounds of clay morphed again. Now she presented as my little old lady from Pasadena. On that day she eased me into the car and, tires burning, she pulled out of the driveway of the home we shared and headed for the freeway. Entering the freeway without a glance at possible traffic coming toward us, she pressed the accelerator until she achieved her normal cruising speed---85mph. After a few minutes she eased the car onto the exit ramp. She slowed the car down at the top and I saw a sign which simply read "God's Waiting Room" with an arrow underneath pointing to the right. As a courtesy to the heavy city traffic, my little old lady from Pasadena resumed our trip at a mild 67mph with only a few unexpected lane changes. The police in the car chasing her finally gave up in frustration.
We arrived at our destination and an accommodating staff helped settle me in. My room was airy and cheerful and, as I soon after noticed, so were my sons-in-law who had come, along with the rest of the tribe, to see me off. I looked down and saw that each had a right foot poised over my oxygen hose. I thought that a sensible precaution in the event I lasted beyond my expiration date. After all in my view a backup plan is always a wise precaution. I know that may upset some readers but consider: that we die is an immutable fact; how we choose to die, with dignity and calm, or with a craven clutching on to a passing finiteness provides the context in which our loved ones deal with their feelings. Why make it hard on them? I much prefer to have my family deal with the emotional high of joyful remembrance rather than the sadness of loss and hopelessness.
My eyes grow weak and all I can see is my hundred pounds of clay. My mind quickly recalls all the joy she brought to my life. I realize that I would not have missed one second of it for the world. I sink deeper into that quiet peace death affords and the smile on my face frames my final thought: she had me at the first hello and held me in her arms, safe and warm, until the last goodbye.
The next instant finds me in a strange place. The aches and pains of old age are gone. The bounce in my walk and the spring in my step are back. I feel invigorated. Ahead of me I see a set of magnificent gates stretching far above my line of sight. I join a gaggle of similarly young folks and walk toward the gates. My turn to enter finally comes and I am met by a fellow named Peter behind whom stands a respectably large winged fellow named Michael. This fellow, Peter, is somewhat upset. As best I can understand him, I am an unwelcome intruder. It seems I don't measure up to some standard or other. Before I have a chance to respond I notice a familiar figure seated at a bar sipping a beer. It's Pop.
I call out to him; he turns on his stool, sees me and puts down his glass and comes over to me. He begins speaking without any of the niceties, saying to Peter, "You're not thinking of letting him in, are you?" jerking his thumb in my direction. He continued "When I got here you promised me my rest would be eternal—not with him here", again nodding my way. With that he turns and heads back to the bar, takes his seat, picks up his glass and takes a long pull; he puts the glass down and I see it is still full. Then I notice a sign over the bar: "Paradise Bar—Home of the Bottomless Glass". I can hear him muttering—just snippets but they include "... messed up three days of cement work", ... "cost me a year of my fire department pension", ... "girls I would never let his mother meet".
And then my mother comes by. Hope! She would never let her third born lose his place in line. Like any mother she'll fight for me. She comes over to me and says "What did you do to upset your father? And what is this about girls I would never meet?" I turn a bright red and walk back toward Peter.
As in life, so in afterlife. I proceed to begin tying a grand Gordian knot using my mouth in the best Ralph Kramden fashion. As a result this fellow Michael deposits me unceremoniously on my ass in the less desirable part of the road leading to the Gates where I remain for some time.
Feeling aimless for the first time in a long while, I sit miserably on the side of the road. And then I spot her. My hundred pounds of clay is strolling down the road heading for the Gates. She is young again and her figure is, well, heavenly. She passes me by and goes straight into what I now know is heaven. Peter welcomes her with a hearty hug and immediately has her fit for her wings. My nose pokes through the Gates and I feel a longing like never before.
The rest of the newly dubbed saints move on but my hundred pounds of clay engages Peter in what looks to be a heated discussion. After a few minutes Peter throws up his hands and beckons me forward. I pass thru the Gates and have my wings pinned on. I am speechless. I finally give voice to my question "how?" and my hundred pounds of clay smiles cutely before answering: "Well, I explained to Peter that you have a good heart but a terrible way with people; I promised him I would keep you under my watchful eye; in return, I had to agree that your wings would be sprinkled with a hefty dose of brimstone." It seemed a fair trade and, as she takes my hand, I notice some saints passing by. They sniff the air and catch the distinct smell of sulfur. They shake their heads sadly and mutter among themselves about how she could have done so much better for herself. I start to respond and then stop, realizing they are right—my hundred pounds of clay could have done so much better.
As we pass the throne room I catch God's eye. He gives me a kind smile, a knowing nod and calls out to me "Not bad, knucklehead, not bad at all." I am pleased at the notice, although I do worry that some planet or other may have collided with some other planet while He was distracted by my passing. But then I think—"what the hell, that's not my problem." My hundred pounds of clay takes my hand in hers, smiles radiantly at me and asks what I would like to do for the rest of eternity. I can't respond. But I am finally and totally and forever happy.
And so, dear reader, that is the end of my story—a happy end indeed. But if you are interested in the whole story you will have to trouble yourself to turn the page.CHAPTER 2
"Kick him, stomp him, step on his face." ~Vincent Sheehan
A strange way to begin a chapter, politically incorrect and violent on its face. Well, perhaps. But I believe that these words capture vividly the context of the justice system juxtaposed on the rights of the individual, as we will discover. But first let me offer an explanation of the words, the young man who ginned them up, and the meaning behind them.
James Earl Jones, the noted American actor (as much noted for his magnificent voice as for his commanding presence on the stage and screen) had a memorable line in the film "Field of Dreams." After seeing the appearance of long dead ballplayers bringing their special kind of exuberance to the diamond, he turned to Kevin Costner and, speaking of the thousands who would gladly pay to attend a game, he said, "The memories will be so thick they will have to brush them from their faces." When I remember Vinnie Sheehan I reach up to my face and brush away the thick fog which covers the memories of those long gone days of youth.
The New York of 1960 was a far different place than it is today. Oh, the skyscrapers are still there and the hustle and bustle remains but the vim and vigor of those days has been replaced with a softer touch. Now people spend time walking and texting; then people were more mindful of the fellow or gal next to them—not that they engaged in discourse. Rather they looked upon one another as possible opponents in the race for a train, a seat on the bus or the next cab. At the same time they saw each other as a member of a special pack—"Noo Yawkers" who could take anything and give it back in spades. It wasn't that we were impervious to harm; it was just a fact that we could take a punch, although Walter O'Malley dropped many of us to our knees when he kidnapped Dem Bums, taking them to Los Angeles where they became sun tanned celebrities of a sort.
The working class ethics of Brooklyn were replaced by easy going poolside martini swilling. The fact that their uniforms never got dirty was overlooked by the fans who arrived around the 4th inning and left by the 8th, their faces wiped clean of the tortillas, burritos, and the occasional hot dog consumed during the game. Worst of all the dogs were devoid of hearty brown mustard—Grey Poupon was their choice. Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe put it best when, speaking of Grey Poupon, he opined that everyone in a real town (he meant Boston, but it applies equally to New York) knew grey poupon was something babies left in their diapers. Yes we were staggered by the loss of the Dodgers but in 1962 redemption came in the form of a prayer: "Let's go Mets."
Excerpted from The Wonder of You by Raymond Burchyns. Copyright © 2015 Raymond Burchyns. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Special Note Of Thanks, ix,
Chapter One: In Neglect, 1,
Chapter Two: Kick Him, 10,
Chapter Three: Miracle, 26,
Chapter Four: Little Surfer, 50,
Chapter Five: Think, 60,
Chapter Six: True Love, 74,
Chapter Seven: Kids, 90,
Chapter Eight: All You Need, 119,
Chapter Nine: Sixty Four, 134,
Chapter Ten: God's Word, 155,
Epilogue: Every Day Girl, 171,