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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


Richard, Arif, Kahlil - - - and Doug

------ What did he see in me that I didn’t see in myself? He wasn’t my teacher, he was my friend’s, so why were he and I even talking in the first place? He walked right up to me and asked me if I liked poetry. What was a 16-year-old boy to say? I didn’t even have to think before I gave my reply. “No!” The question prompted visions of my English class and the endless quest to try to determine what the teacher’s manual said was the “correct” meaning to Chaucer or Donne, Browning or Longfellow.
------ He seemed surprised at my answer and responded with another question. “You like Cat Stevens don’t you? Isn’t that poetry?”
------ “No. That’s just music.”
------ He went on to dispute my reply and gave a brief explanation why he considered my favorite songwriter to be a poet. I must admit that it sounded intriguing to me, but I still wasn’t overly thrilled when he revealed the intention behind his original question. He had recently gotten a tape that he thought I would enjoy and wanted me to borrow it. The tape was a recording of Richard Harris reading Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” backed by a musical score composed by Arif Mardin. I knew of Richard Harris. He was one of my mother’s favorite actors and she absolutely adored his “MacArthur Park” album.* Arif Mardin’s name rang a small bell in my memory, after all, I grew up in a band director’s home. But this guy with the funny name came completely from left field.
------ That night, like most nights, I listen to my beloved Cat. But this time I had a different insight into the very reason his music had moved me so. I’d always known the songs spoke to me; I’d never considered that they had meaning. By the time Doug brought me "The Prophet," I was at least ready to give it a try.
------ The tape captured my curiosity almost immediately. I loved the sound of it. It was mystical and alluring. My friends, lacking an accurate means to describe me always seemed to default to a popular term at the time; “cosmic.” I still don’t know what that means, and I recall that far too often it felt like an insult, but I believe the image they were trying to describe was captured quite well in this recording. I had no idea what the text meant, but something about it certainly struck a chord with me. I began to listen to it constantly, as much for the aesthetic experience as anything else.
------ I began to talk to Doug about it from time to time as he’d come to the school to teach saxophone lessons. I remember him holding his thumb and index finger very close together and saying, “Each time I hear it I get that much more of it.” I recall thinking that I’d better listen more, or harder, or something.
------ It wasn’t long at all before I had it memorized. I remember a time in one of the conversations when I had to correct Doug for misquoting it. He quickly replied, “You have all the quotes, I have the meanings.” I felt like a child. I felt like I had so very far to go. I was a spiritual pygmy. But a very strong desire in me told me that I had found my path. Or to put it more accurately, I must quote the text itself. “Say not, ‘I have found the path of the soul, but rather, I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
------ In time, like Doug, I began to pick up bits and pieces of the meanings behind the glorious words. Mostly the meanings became clear through experiences. I’d encounter a situation, feel what the moment was telling me, and the sounds of Gibran’s words would echo meaning in my soul.
------ Almost as quickly and mysteriously as Doug had entered my life, he was gone. I recall feeling very alone and misunderstood one evening many months after I’d last seen him. He was the only person I could think of to call. I knew I had dialed the correct number. The voice on the other end of the phone was familiar, and he recalled the people and events of my life, but the man I was now talking to was not the Doug who had inspired me to find the soul walking on my path. By the conversations end, I got the very real feeling that the shoe was on the other foot. I had called him in a time of need, but now I found myself desperately trying to lift him up. After saying goodbye, disillusioned, I hung up the phone and once again felt very alone. It seemed as though my friend was dead. Or had he ever existed at all?
------ It wasn’t until much later that I came to realize that in a very real sense I had drawn Doug into my life. I’ve often heard it said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” The soul I met walking along that path was not Doug at all, but my own soul crying to begin its journey. And oh what a magnificent journey it has been! I have often looked back at that time in amazement. The whole relationship was so unlikely, and many of my “friends” did much to discourage it. But it marked the beginning of a handful of amazing relationships, some likewise discouraged by well meaning but shortsighted persons. If soul-filled, loving relationships with kindred spirits are dangerous, then call me a spiritual thrill seeker with a death wish. Or isn’t it really a Life wish?
------ I’ve often thought it strange that I have made no attempts to find Doug and thank him for encouraging me to open my eyes and heart when I was so young. I also went many years without making any effort to find a recording to replace the one that had long ago worn beyond repair. But thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I now own a crystal clear CD of the recording. I listen to it from time to time when the fog rolls in. Like a beacon, it lights my path; and the reunion is fulfilled when I meet the soul walking there and we magically... mystically... perhaps "cosmically"... embrace.

* I must admit that the song "The Dancing Girl" that is part of "She is..." came about as my version of Richard Harris' "Dancing Girl" on the MacArthur Park album. I didn't steal the song, just the idea. Mine is very different.

© 2004 The Trill House