Our Inner Evolution is Essential

“My life as I lived it had often seemed to me like a story that had no beginning and no end. I had the feeling that I was a historical fragment, an excerpt from which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. My life seemed to have been snipped out of a long chain of events, and many questions had remained unanswered.”

“Man cannot compare himself with any other creature; he is not a monkey, not a cow, not a tree…Like every other being, I am a splinter of the infinite deity…The life of a man is dubious experiment…Individually, it is so fleeting, so insufficient, that it is literally a miracle that anything can exist and develop at all.”

“Recollection of the outward events of my life has largely faded or disappeared. But my encounters with the ‘other’ reality, my bouts with the unconscious, are indelibly engraved upon my memory. In that realm there has always been wealth in abundance and everything else has lost importance by comparison…Outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience.”

–Carl Gustav Jung, from his autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections.”

Had these quotations not been excerpted from Jung’s autobiography, they might easily have been included in my own accounting of my life. If you are unfamiliar with the many fascinating and illuminating writings of the famous Swiss psychiatrist, I highly recommend that you review them as well as the many scholarly analyses of his work. There are many volumes of his writings and they are often scientifically intense and technical generally, but I have found much within them that helps to clarify the importance of examining and exploring our inner life.

Jung’s emphasis on his own inner experience in his autobiography was unsurprising to me once I began to absorb the context in which he described his outer experiences. Reading back in his collected works after I finished “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” I found a passage about “the eruption of unconscious content,” that struck a familiar chord with me:

“Way back in 1973, as a young man embarking on the journey of a lifetime, I experienced what Carl Jung described as ‘the eruption of unconscious content,’ which compelled me to seek the path I continue to pursue to this day.”

It also “…led to the creation of a document entitled, ‘The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.’ Although I did not recognize it as such at the time, I gradually came to view the experience as a pivotal event in my life, and I have spent much of the time since it occurred attempting to decipher its message…I recognized at this point that all I had endured, suffered, and learned prior to that day, had created the foundation for all that was to come.”

We are experiencing a particularly stressful time now across the globe, and many of us are starting to question the circumstances of our lives and to re-evaluate our emphasis on what is truly important. It’s unfortunate that we are experiencing such a serious situation right now, and the losses that families and individuals are enduring as a result are tragically taking a toll on our well-being everywhere you look. There are also stories of recovery and of the heroic efforts of many individuals and groups to help others during this time, and unless you place your focus on the broad range of events taking place around the world, you might suppose that there is little cause for much optimism going forward. It’s important to seek balance in our view of all this and to take whatever steps are possible to mitigate the harm, and to promote the safety and well-being of our fellow travelers whenever possible.

Reflecting as I often do on the responses I receive from those who visit and read here, it seems that, in some small way at least, the sharing of ideas and the expression of both the tangible events of my outer life and the movement of the spirit within me, can encourage others to be introspective as well, and in that sense, the entire path of my own recognition of an “inner evolution,” which began so long ago, has led to this moment in time, and to much of what has been posted here on John’s Consciousness. Especially during this time, I would encourage everyone to use the time in distancing from each other physically and maintaining vigilance in isolation when that occurs, to give serious consideration to giving additional attention to contemplation and what we used to call “soul searching.”

“Without the darkness of the storm, the sun can call nothing to life…Since day and night contain the seeds of one another, there is no darkness unrelieved by the coming dawn, and no stark, sun-ridden day without her stash of mystery.” –M. Holden

Jung quite often addressed the contrasts of light and darkness in his writings, and as M. Holden pointed out, he agreed that “…we subdue the chaotic, uncontrollable elements of the natural world at the price of its fertility, just as we cast out the darkness in ourselves at the price of our own wholeness.” Jung found his interests in psychiatry and noted in his autobiography that among his friends, he encountered only resistance to the subject–a curious, hard resistance that amazed him, and wrote, “I had the feeling that I had pushed to the brink of the world; what was of burning interest to me was null and void for others, and even a cause of dread.” My own inclinations align more closely with philosophy, while being passionately interested in the cognitive science of consciousness. At the heart of the challenges in bringing these ideas together, is not so much the resistance that Jung spoke of, as it is the element of uncertainty, which is only truly possible to dispel and experience subjectively. There are certain aspects of human consciousness that can only be verified “experientially,” but not tested “empirically,” and there are also empirical studies being undertaken which can cast “light” on the subject of consciousness, that are not experienced directly. It is my belief, that when combined, these sometimes disparate elements could very well produce a more encompassing view.

The Flames of Life

As I write, there is a single candle burning in front of me, its flame dancing in the corner; the light bouncing off the wall behind it and beside it sends tumultuous shadows dancing across the wall. A selection of beautiful music accompanies the swirling shadows. At the heart of the candle, at the very center of the flame, where it appears to be white hot, I consider how my life is like the wick, slowly being consumed by the flame. A common candle burning in the darkness clearly has the advantage of being so small and yet still representative of fire in all its manifestations. Like so many similar phenomena in the world, in the extreme, not all flames are as comforting or as benign.

The wild fires burning in California and Australia are the opposite in every way. The consequences of such extremes are not at all like the flames on a birthday cake; the sight of such dangerous extremes do not make us feel the same way a collection of candles can as they cast a beautiful, shadowy panorama around a room. Even a campfire or a carefully controlled bonfire wouldn’t qualify as anything more than a benign pleasure deliberately chosen.

Fires can be destructive and lethal. They can be the result of negligence or deliberate malice. They can be initiated by lightning in remote areas where they clear away the dead trees and undergrowth, thus making possible the renewal of a natural balance in a natural setting. There is a clear connection between our intentions in igniting a flame under certain conditions, and the havoc which results when control is lost or momentum is gained in other conditions. The full range of possible scenarios can alter in significant ways, the future consequences of whatever choices are made and whatever results occur.

In the same way, our lives consist of both deliberate choices and happenstances from the realm of what is possible. They also can be altered significantly by how we envision our futures, and on what aspirations and opportunities are either present or absent.

Visions and imaginings are potentials—possibilities not certainties, but when I arrive at that place where these potentials exist within me, I cannot easily tear myself away. I linger there, not wanting to relinquish the potent inner affinity for the ideas embodied in that state of mind. So often, I struggle to sustain the momentum gathered during these episodes, to relish the sensations they produce, to savor the moments of bliss which sometimes occur, and to cherish the memories they can sometimes create. We live out our lives as they unfold, having made a whole host of choices along the way, which did not include a broad range of other choices, which could have altered our trajectory through the life we did choose.

What we seldom consider is how even the smallest changes to the course of our lives can potentially represent enormous consequences to the path which results. What if the world had gone in a different direction or what if my life had been even slightly altered in a way that did not include certain subsequent events? It seems likely that moving forward at that point would have a totally different direction and a host of other subsequent events. The visions and imaginings in my mind’s eye—my vision of the future—both remarkable and beautiful, and not without pain and suffering—those tend to come along no matter what choices we make—but I believe that no matter how we envision our future lives, if we carry that vision with us; hold onto it and follow it through whatever pain and suffering we encounter, embrace the moments of joy while we continue to persist in the face of adversity, we may then be able to look back and recognize a degree of fulfillment of that vision.

Part of my vision of the future is to help to inspire the upcoming generations, to look more deeply at life, to try harder to make the life they envision to be realized, to expand, and to blossom. In order to do this, one must fall in love with life, and embrace what is possible; the realm of possibility is wide. It contains all possible outcomes—all that is possible—and I want to dive head-first into that realm, to explore, to discover, and bring to the world, that which I uncover.

And so I am grateful to be in the presence of this little flame in the corner this day. I am the beneficiary of the light, the dance, and the white hot center, which is the center of me; we are consumed by life, gradually if we are lucky, and for a time, our light burns brightly, especially in our youth. If we are fortunate to arrive in the later stages of life, we can look back on numbers of days, hours, minutes, and seconds, where a flame illuminates everything.

Celebrating Life and Love

By coincidence, all day today, I was working at my part-time job, which places me in a position of interacting with a large number of random people, and as I am naturally inclined to be social, as the opportunity presents itself, I try to engage each one in a brief conversation, mostly as a polite way to greet them and maybe get a smile out of them. Apparently, marking this particular day as one in which we celebrate love in all its many forms; love clearly was on the mind of just about everyone. Most often, the exchange would be brief, and took the form of well-wishing and polite banter, but several of the exchanges, while also positive in nature, revealed a different layer of attention to the subject of love, including a few which required diplomacy on my part to acknowledge the gestures, without slighting the intention of the well-wishing, but also maintaining the appropriate demeanor. As I contemplated my responses in the brief minute or so in which they were required, it occurred to me that the subject was fairly challenging to address under these circumstances, and upon completing my shift, I began to consider the subject at length.

There’s almost no telling how love will unfold in our personal lives or as we move through the world-at-large. As we progress through our lives, we all seem to arrive at our own understanding of what it means to love someone. We learn first about love from our parents or primary caretakers whoever they end up being, and often it’s amazing to us as adults what sticks with us through all the changes and stages of growth we go through. In some circumstances, where our lives are most often in balance as we grow, we learn to appreciate the love we are given, and have a fair idea of how to demonstrate our love based on these experiences. For most of us, though, the balance is often tipped in one direction or the other, and it can take a long time to appreciate how other people might differ in their understanding of what it means to love another person.

It seems to me that, as a rule, we are far too rigid in our views of what reasonably might constitute a loving relationship between parents and children, amongst siblings, between extended family groups, and between the many different levels of friendship that we encounter as we age. Our best friend in grammar school can still be our best friend in our adult life, or they can vanish from our lives for any number of reasons, and every variety of circumstance can either contribute to the longevity of friendship or make it impossible to continue, just as every other sort of relationship can experience long periods of enriching and enduring affection, or be lost or mitigated by extenuating circumstances.

I have often encountered circumstances in my life, where people have inspired me to feel a loving connection in one way or another, but who have a difficult time understanding how it could be that such a connection is even possible. I have often thought that there should be some guidance in our educational system, particularly when children are approaching adolescence, to begin to appreciate the many different varieties of emotional connection that people feel, and to broaden the definitions of love across the whole spectrum of human interactions.

history of the world

The amount of time in which a life takes place, which includes everything from a few moments to, at times, nearly a century of life, is one of the least important measures of a life. Each of us is given a certain amount of time to live our lives, and none of us knows in advance how long it will be before we must relinquish our lives. This is the very nature of life–uncertainty. In some ways, uncertainty DEFINES life. If we knew about everything that would happen in our lives in advance, and the exact moment when life would end, there would be no mystery, no wonder, no sense of anticipation, no expectation, no reason to try anything. Because life is unpredictable, it is worth getting up in the morning to see what will happen! Life is about potentiality. When we DON’T know what will happen, or how long we will have to do anything, it’s up to us to discover how our lives will unfold. It is always sad, as an observer of life, when we see a life that is, from our perspective, cut short, before it has had sufficient time to unfold in the normal way. But really, each life, no matter how long it is, is precious, and worth every effort to live each moment fully, for however long we have to live it.

I do not claim to be an expert. I am not a scholar, or a magician, or a superstar quarterback. Even though I attended two universities for more than four years, I haven’t turned my education into a platform for expertise or exploited those opportunities into a particularly abundant life. What I can say about my life, given the measures we normally apply to accomplishments in education, in my case at least, the results were not especially impressive, but my life EXPERIENCES have been extraordinary.

Every memory I have is precious to me. I have been the father to six amazing children. I have served my country in the military, traveled to Europe for two years, and met many extraordinary people. I have experienced great joy, as well as terrible sadness. I have experienced hunger, deprivation, loneliness, bitterness, rejection, loss, and just about every sort of unhappiness imaginable, but I have also been a witness to and a participant in spectacular experiences of loving; I have attended feasts, and eaten at fine restaurants; I have vacationed in beautiful natural settings; I have attended family reunions with some of the most fabulous people on the planet; I have been satisfied in many different ways, and cried tears of joy as I held precious newborn children in my arms.

I could go on, but you can see from just these few examples that no matter what we accomplish in our lives, when it comes right down to it, what we EXPERIENCE is what means the most to us; it’s what hurts us the most; it’s what drives us and what slays us; what we experience is more important than what we accomplish almost always, and all the skills and knowledge we acquire, as vital as these aspects are in helping us to function in and to understand our world, we must BE IN the world and experiencing our lives in order to make any good use of any of it.

The dynamics of each unique personal relationship has always been a subject of interest for me, especially since I began to explore the nature of human interactions as they relate to our very human spirit. As we make our way through our lives, we probably encounter hundreds of other individuals through our educational and social circles, but normally only a very select few become particularly significant to us in one way or another. We generally become aware of these connections when proximity permits sufficient opportunity to do so, but proximity alone cannot account for the development of close, personal (and dare I say…spiritual) connections, particularly those which endure across great distance and long years. While there are many different foundations for our unique relationships, and much that is not necessarily self-evident regarding the psychology which supports them, the existence of a powerful personal and emotional affinity for another clearly infers a greater degree of connection not explicable by simple biology, psychology, chemistry or mere chance.

As is the case with the many forms and degrees of love which we celebrate today, there are also other more subtle and more mysterious forces at work in our lives, some of which we may eventually comprehend and predict reliably, and others that are part of the life of the human spirit within us. The power to alter our lives at any time is within our grasp. We have the means to evaluate and discern which choice is best for us. We can choose to act in our own self-interest, or in consideration of what is in the best interests of others. Depending on our choices, a whole variety of alternate realities are possible.

If our minds are simply and only the result of neuronal functioning and the basic electro-chemical balance in our brains, then none of us can be held truly accountable for our actions, since we are at the mercy of brain chemistry and the endowment of adequate neuronal functioning. My contention is that while we are clearly dependent on a nominally functional nervous system to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings, the delicate balance of brain chemistry and neuronal functionality only provides a platform from which we can launch our lives as cognitive creatures.

Our current social structure in the Western World has evolved significantly in the last hundred years or so, and we are beginning to understand and appreciate the value of our unique personal relationships as part of a broader and completely natural social adaptation, which has been part and parcel of our continued evolution as a species since upright humans first walked the earth.

What I have Come To Understand

“When someone enters your life unexpectedly, look for the gift that person has come to receive from you. I have sent you nothing but angels. Others see their possibility in the reality of you.”

–Neale Donald Walsch from his book series, “Conversations With God.”

Have you ever been momentarily captured by the strains of a melody in a song or musical piece that you were hearing for the first time?

 

Have you ever stumbled upon a broad vista or panoramic view while hiking and been momentarily overwhelmed by how beautiful it was?

 

Have you ever held a newborn child in your arms and marveled at the miracle of a new life?

 

There are many examples of extraordinary events that can occur in our lives, which are unexpected or have unexpected effects when we are made aware of them, and it suggests some sort of connection that exists between people and places, and the realization of a degree of resonance that can exist even without prior knowledge of or exposure to specific stimuli.

Over the course of my nearly seven decades of life, and considering the number of extraordinary events that have punctuated those years along the way, you might think I would have become a bit more adept at deciphering them when they occur these days, but life always has opportunities for learning and expanding our understanding and awareness, and right alongside of the challenges and struggles we often face each day, if we are fortunate, we also encounter moments that lift us up and result in degrees of enrichment we never expected.

 

Reviewing the positive and negative events in the world at any given time, it can seem that one or the other may be dominating, but as I consider what has been most often the case for me personally, on balance, I would say that trying to understand the character of each has been one of the main reasons I have been driven to investigate our very human nature, by both researching the many aspects of subjective experience and consciousness, and comparing them with my own experiential reality to raise my awareness of the extraordinary aspects of being a living, breathing, human being.

It also has occurred to me that I may be so thoroughly out of sync with the times—an outlier in the modern world—that any hope of progress toward my goal of raising the awareness of what I have come to understand about the world-at-large may be overly optimistic. Nearly all of my responses to individuals who, for one reason or another, impress me as being extraordinary or potent in some way, seem often to be inexplicable in temporal terms, and attempting to express the importance of these interactions sometimes creates a degree of confusion or uncertainty as a result. I have long since passed that point in my life where refraining from expressing my honest responses to others in this situation feels like the correct thing to do.

 

Since crossing over the mid-sixties in age, I am painfully aware that I can no longer suppose that there might be plenty of time left to engage in genuine expression of my feelings. Naturally, most of us have no idea how long our lives will be no matter what age we have attained, but it becomes more apparent in the upper ranges of human aging that, even barring unforeseen circumstances, we still realize more readily how precious life has become, especially in view of the smaller portion of life one might have to experience and to share our insights.

The events of my life have been particularly instructive in this regard, since I often refrained from freely expressing my genuine responses to individuals in the past, and I realize more clearly now, that tomorrow is not a guaranteed gift for any of us. If there is a feeling we wish to express, or an experience we hope to share, it becomes a matter of greater urgency, since there are fewer tomorrows within which to do so.

I understand that others, especially those who are not as familiar with these ideas and who are not approaching the age of seventy, as I am, may not fully appreciate this urgency in the same way that I do, but I cannot change the arrangement of the circumstances which exist currently, and must act upon the urgencies which present themselves to me in a way that is responsive to my own character and disposition. There is now little time to waste in hedging or delaying expression.

 

 

While I acknowledge that others also have their own circumstances to consider, as a general principle, I tend to defer to the inclinations of those with whom I interact. Conversely, I also no longer feel as though my own inclinations aren’t worthy of attention either. I express whatever it is that I feel in as measured and considerate a manner as I can, and if the response is positive, I allow the interaction to unfold as it will, and if not, I am fond of saying, “I am easily discouraged.”

I normally rely on mutual agreement to determine whatever degree of sharing might take place, and would not ever seek to impose my own inclinations on anyone. Many times, the initial circumstances which ensue upon meeting an individual who captures my attention in a big way, far from being automatically engaged, are now much more likely to prompt caution at first, at least until some reciprocal response is detected.

Once it becomes clear that there is sufficient encouragement to continue, I usually will, and if it becomes clear that continuing would impose some difficulty, I tend to step back or away from further interactions, recognizing that anything other than a positive response must be acknowledged as well. The real challenge comes when the individual is uncertain or vague in their response, and doesn’t give a clear indication of a negative or positive response. In cases like these, I tend to err on the side of caution, or, at the very least, refrain from any overt response, until such time as a more definitive indication is forthcoming.

Over the years, I have become a better observer of body language, facial expressions, and other circumstantial indicators, and have learned to better trust my own instincts. Self-doubt is still a factor in some cases, particularly when the interactions are intense or disproportional to reasonable expectations, but having suffered through a number of emotionally agonizing consequences from miscues or misunderstandings, I am far less inclined to go where angels fear to tread.

All of these machinations and interpretations of previous encounters still haven’t prevented me from suffering to some degree when an extraordinary individual arrives and presses me to respond in a more immediate way. The recent encounter with a “kindred soul,” which prompted the creation of the previous poem, was similar in character to some others, but, as the poem indicated, it was surprising in its complexity, and stunning in the degree of delight it produced with no apparent outward cause.

These are the truly mysterious kinds of unexpected encounters that occur so infrequently, and strike with such suddenness and intensity that I am typically thrown back on my heels, holding my breath, and uncertain as to how it was even possible.

In this case, I was fortunate to have time in between encounters to consider what my response might be, but even these advantages seem to have failed to prevent me from feeling completely confident in determining just what my response should be. Clearly, the initial response warranted an additional opening to the interaction which occurred several days later, but I am now beginning to wonder if I have tested the patience of an angel.

Underneath all of our temporal inclinations, beyond the considerations of brain physiology and neuroscience, and in spite of uncertainty surrounding the basic understanding of our subjective experience, the human spirit remains for me the “élan vital,” at the heart of all contemplation of human nature, and I savor the delight of interacting with every positive moment, and strive at all times to learn from the others, and to grow and share what I have come to understand.

 

Your Web of Joy

     
The moment our eyes aligned
I instinctively held my breath;
Ordinary time collapsed and condensed
While I read your face.
Our smiles blossomed simultaneously
Like silly twins looking in a funhouse mirror;
The sweetness of your spontaneous response was met
With an avalanche of reciprocal harmony.

 


Days passed with no encounter;
Hours dragged and pulled as usual.
Wistful recollection had begun to fade
When you suddenly reappeared;
Like an earthbound angel with hidden wings,
You were unable to prevent the natural beauty
Of your robust lifeforce from pouring out,
Filling the crucible of my heart and soul.

 

Portrait of a Woman by Abbey Altson


Effortlessly, with the radiant, glowing gift of your glance,
You disabled all resistance, lifting my spirit
Beyond my own tentative grasp;
Momentarily undone, I fumble with my words–
Stunned at the recognition of a kindred soul.
Calm descends swiftly on the realization,
That I have somehow been captured completely,
Blissfully, in your web of joy.

 

© January 2020 by JJHIII24

The Dance of Memory

Le Moulin de la Galette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

There is a thread running through the coincidental events of late in my daily travels. As I notice them, I try to integrate these events into my broader perspective; being careful not to place too much emphasis on any single coincidence when attempting to decide what the implications might be. Unlike Icarus, I have no interest in flying myself recklessly toward the sun.

What stands out, though, upon reflection, is the connection between all of the coincidences, which has only become possible for me to notice more readily now through repeated experience over a fairly long stretch of time. My awareness of these links helped me to understand that I was experiencing aspects of my existence, which had no corresponding temporal source. As a very young boy, I knew that something “out-of-the-ordinary” was transpiring within me, and that I was viewing the world in a way that others did not seem to see. Even as those early years were accumulating and leading me toward my future, I wasn’t fully aware of what might be responsible for the extraordinary nature of my experiential awareness of non-material phenomena. It is only now, in reconsidering those events, and in view of my increased awareness of the events taking place in my present life, that the significance of what we often describe as coincidence is finally beginning to reveal itself.

It’s interesting to me to go back and read some of my earlier writings, when I first started to become aware of this parade of synchronous events and intuitive sensations that had been occurring all along. I often expressed surprise and delight when life seemed to bring me together with people and locating me in precisely the right venue for dealing with whatever I was struggling with at the time. There were certain periods of my life where they seemed to be coming at me on a regular basis, and other times when they were few and far between, but as I progressed in my understanding, and knew the feelings well enough to recognize them more readily when they appeared, I also began to appreciate that having these experiences were in some way necessary, just as it was necessary to have gaps in between at times, in order for me to figure out just what the importance of them might be.

Recently, I was reviewing one such written account of an encounter with a young woman, when I was a young military man stationed in Massachusetts, and it illustrates well how the power of these special connections can affect the flow along our path in life, and why time in between can be equally important in discerning the significance of each event:

The Dance

Painting of a Woman by Abbey Altson (on the left)


“Her eyes were dark—like a deep summer nighttime sky—and her flowing dark brown hair framed her face in such a way that I could not help but wonder if I might eventually get to kiss that face. She was radiant and beautiful in a way that stood out more than with other women in my limited experience. At the time, my typically low self-esteem would not have permitted me to imagine myself at the local neighborhood festival slow-dancing with her. Beautiful women had never seemed much interested in spending time with me over the years. I always thought that I just wasn’t that interesting or flashy or whatever it is that a man has to be to get a date with a beauty like her.


My confidence was never really able to get off the ground in cases like that, but in this case, I was surprised to be standing with her, talking to her about the festival, and actually found the courage to ask her if she would be willing to go with me. When she said “yes,” I could hardly believe it.

I arrived to pick her up a few minutes early. She was in a pretty white dress with thin shoulder straps and she looked like an angel to me. We greeted each other with a hug and, for a brief moment, when we were standing together still in the embrace, she smiled at me widely.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“It’s a lovely evening, and I haven’t been out in ages.” We both laughed and I told her it should be nice for us both.

When we arrived there weren’t many people on the dance floor, but the music was lovely—a live band playing a good variety of popular songs—and after a few minutes to get reacquainted, we finally stepped out on the dance floor. It was a lively song. I honestly don’t remember what it was because at that moment I could only wonder how it was even possible to be dancing with the beauty in front of me. I loved her laugh. It was infectious and sweet, and she seemed to enjoy laughing in a way that makes you want to laugh. We seemed to spend a fair amount of time giggling at one thing or another, and we were having a really good time.

Suddenly, standing on the floor listening to a story she was telling me, the band started to play a slow song. This time I remembered the song, because after just a moment of the beginning being played, she just reached out, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to the center of the floor. They were playing, “I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons),” one of my favorites from Nat King Cole. When I grabbed her hand and placed my arm around her, I must have had a huge smile on my face, because she seemed amused.

“What?” I asked.

“You seem so happy,” she replied.

“Well, I am,” I said. “You really look nice tonight, too,” I added.

After just a few seconds of silence, she replied, “It makes me feel special to be here with you.”

She pulled me closer, and we were suddenly cheek-to-cheek. My heart started racing. The music was swelling right along with my heart. She placed her hand on the back of my neck, and my whole body began to quiver slightly. I felt her embrace tightening, and it relaxed me a bit. I pulled my face back slightly and looked her in the eye. There was a slight hint of her perfume mixed with the warmth of the evening air. Our bodies were pressed together, and our embrace allowed me to notice the contours of her body, which was warm, and soft, and fit perfectly in my arms.

She seemed completely comfortable with my hand placement, and when my right hand slid down her lower back, she didn’t seem to mind at all. The dance was heating up.”

I wouldn’t have occasion to think much about how this event would matter to me until some years later, when I was waiting to depart America for an assignment overseas. We had exchanged letters for a time after my reassignment, but our correspondence dropped off after a while, and when I was about to embark on the next phase of my journey, I thought of her and that extraordinary dance, wondering if it really even happened at all.

Some months after arriving overseas, I received a letter from her announcing her engagement to another guy, and while it made me feel a degree of melancholy at first, unbeknownst to me at the time, it would set the stage for one of the most intense love affairs of my young life.

In the New Year, I will be writing more about this period of my journey, and elaborating further on the importance of these synchronous events as they ebbed and flowed in the years that followed. Extending to all my readers and visitors here best wishes for whatever holiday you celebrate, and hope you all make the New Year in 2020, not only memorable, but the best it can be.

Letters Between A Young Man Serving Overseas And His Mom at Christmas

Since I personally have direct experience in being away from home on military assignment during the holidays, I felt compelled to share with you an excerpt from an historical exchange, which took place at that time, by way of excerpts from two important letters, written while I served overseas in the winter of 1975, between me and my mother.

November 29, 1975

My Dear son,

First of all, we received your recent letter, written while on duty today. I was very happy to receive it, and all read your letter with feelings of concern, yet also happiness. It is hard to explain. We all love you, and hope that the time you must give to the Army goes as quickly as you would wish it to go…in spite of everything.

(What follows is a section of that letter, which contained my description of the experience of being on duty at the border station.)

“Dear Mom and Dad and everyone,

By the time you receive this letter, I will have returned to Augsburg, with the mission completed. I won’t be able to send it until I get back. We are on a border site mission, which means that right now, your son is sitting about 5 km from the East German border. We are on top of a small mountain from which you can see into East Germany. Right at this particular moment it’s snowing pretty well, after having snowed yesterday about a half a foot before it stopped last night. It’s really quite cold; however, I am relatively comfortable considering the circumstances. We work in shifts so no one is out in the cold for too long. When we finish work for the day, they drive us into a nearby town to take showers and have a few beers. It’s really not too bad actually.

The one thing I really wanted to tell you all about was the feeling I had last night as I watched the snow fall over the other side of a large barbed-wire fence that separates the East Germans from the free world. It’s not a spectacular scene really, but the implications, at least for me, are very graphic. The fence itself and the area within about 50 meters are lit up like it was daytime. Every hundred meters or so, you see a guard tower with the East German border guards sitting up there just watching you watch them. There was hardly a sound to be heard.

The snowfall seemed to make everything peaceful, and I began to think a little bit about just what it must be like to live on the other side of that fence. How does that East German soldier feel about his lot, and how he must wonder about what I’m thinking? Needless to say, it was a very sobering moment. I thought of you all, just at that moment and I have to admit I cried just a little bit and wished I was home. I was tired and cold and I guess a little lonesome for my family—a feeling that I learned to appreciate a while ago, emphasized somewhat by my surroundings; one that I could not have known without having had the experience.”

(Back to Mom’s response)

“By the way, I mailed a Christmas package. A couple of things are to be opened immediately, but others should remain until Christmas. It’s hard to be away for the holidays, son, but remember, we are thinking of you, and when you are home again, we shall have the biggest homecoming party you have ever seen!

The whole house is starting to become active with secret shopping and the Christmas Spirit! Your sister tells me, “It’s building!” We have our nativity scene up on the mantel piece. We are hearing more and more Christmas songs on the radio. Stores are decorated and it’s cold out—down to the low 20’s tonight. No snow yet!

We expect your sister and her family on Christmas Day; both your brothers will be here Christmas Eve also. We have a limited Pollyanna because both married children, plus our military son, will not be here on Christmas Eve. Your older brother is going to cut down the tree tomorrow. The girls and your younger brother are going with him. We expect to trim the tree Sunday.

Everyone is getting excited as usual. They all have come to me at different times and said how much they miss you, and how much they wish you were here for Christmas. My dear son, your mother thinks of you often and also of our talks in the kitchen when you were home. They are a great comfort to me. I love you and miss you.

God Bless You, with Love…Mother”

As you can see from this exchange, the circumstances for me and for the whole family were affected by my assignment and deployment, and while the situation wasn’t anywhere near as dangerous or difficult as those brave soldiers serving in combat zones, the stresses and responsibilities are still daunting in their own way. I know my parents and siblings were worried about me and missed me. It was difficult to be away from home for so long and through times when we were traditionally together, but it was vitally important work that we were doing in defense of our country, and at the end of it all, once that duty was finished, the lessons learned stayed with us.

In the photo above, at Christmas time one year later, my parents and four of my siblings came over to visit me in West Germany, and we were joined by the German family who hosted me in Augsburg, more than making up for the lonely Christmas the year before.  My German friends understood well the important American values held by our family.

Being far away from home, during the holidays especially, our appreciation of the freedoms we enjoy in America, and the love we have for our families and for our way of life as Americans, become something more than just words on a patriotic poster, or in some speech by a politician. The deeper meaning of our values and our heritage as citizens of the United States comes into sharper focus, in a way that just reading about such things could never impart.

The changes you go through, the challenges you face, and the altering of your view of the world, acquired as a result of participation in the defense of your country overseas, regardless of the motivations you may have had when you entered the service, will very likely stay with you for the rest of your life, just as they have for those of us who have served in the past.

We all recognize that the sacrifices made by our military men and women in uniform are necessary in order to fulfill their responsibilities, and we must support them unconditionally in their endeavors.  I recommend to all military folks out there to be sure and write or communicate in some way with your loved ones. Take it from me, it’s the best way to get you through whatever comes.

May God bless them all and keep them safe always, and continue to bless the United States of America!