An old friend who married my cousin is linked up with me on facebook. Actually, I am linked up with quite a few people there. She recently placed a few old pictures of my brothers and her up on her page. After I commented on them, she stopped by last week and shared some of the old school annuals that she had after finding out that I did not have them. She left them with me to pick back up this week and I spent some time looking at them.
I marveled at my size. In my early high school years, I was very small. Standing less than 5 feet, I was nicknamed Pixie. I poured through the pages and many of the memories of the time flooded back into my mind. I saw where I excelled in speech and drama and remembered how later on in my high school years, I left both of those behind as I struggled for......acceptance.
While absorbing the pictures, two faces stuck out. Probably because they were so popular and easily made it in front of the cameras. I believe they both were considered the most popular in their respective senior classes. Their confidence still showed in the smirks on their faces. I remember my sometimes disappointment that I could not garner some of the respect that they had been honored with.
Now, forty years later, I know of both of these men and the lives that they have lived. One of them has the same or similar bold attitude that he had back then. Except now, others see right through it and his respect has long gone. I ran into him at a recent reunion and marveled as I watched him try and be that same person while others seemed to smile as he attempted to gain our respect that he had lost.
The other man changed after going to Vietnam. Upon his return, his whole attitude on life changed and he threw away all of his old reminders of his youth and chose to live a rough life. So harsh was his life that when I saw him a few years back, I did not recognize him as he looked 20 years older. He lost many of his friends and now lives in a bus at the end of some road.
There are others but these two men garnered much of my attention as at one time in my life, I envied them and wanted to be like them. So much so that in my later high school years, I left behind my speech and drama, still searching for that.......love and respect.
Yesterday, I sat with a group of my fellow vets who are working to prepare for the sending off of our old friend, Phil. As one of them passed out the proposed list of events and speakers at the funeral, I realized something. I was the only speaker there who was not a Marine. As I looked around the table, I made another observation, I was only two of ten who were not and the other was invited by me.
As those thoughts invaded my mind, the last Marine walked in the room. He handed me a folded brown paper bag. At first, I wondered what it meant but soon fell back on a one of my last conversations with Phil. He told me that he wanted me to have his two Hawaiian shirts. He had given instructions on how he wanted them washed, folded, and presented to me in a folded brown paper bag. This was my official presentation.
I gasped as I realized it and the smile of the man giving it to me met with mine. The others on the table stopped talking and stared, one of them asking what the significance of the bag was . My presenter told them that it was a present from Phil and I opened up the bag and showed them with tears welling up in my eyes, two freshly washed and folded shirts.
Last night as we prepared to play poker, Zin and I talked of the morning meeting and the shirts. I told him how I am not sure when I will be able to wear them. I know that when I drape one over my shoulders and button it up, I will always see the smiling face of my friend. I thought of wearing one at his service but opted not to as we all want it to be a respectful time and I will wear a pressed white or black military shirt.
I told Zin something that had weighed on my mind during the day that being the fact that I was the only non-Marine speaking that day. Zin looked me in the eye and told me, "It is because he loved and respected you, Lyle. Hell, we all do.".
My mind wondered a bit as we talked and others joined our conversation that soon turned towards poker and other things. I thought of Bill and Bob and my struggle for acceptance way back then.
I pondered on just the past couple of weeks and the many times that people had shook my hand and thanked me for what I do. What I do? Sometimes I struggle with my response as while I am taken and deeply affected by it, I don't see it as any thing that big......I am just being me.
In many ways, I am still that same little boy that I observed on those pages printed over 40 years ago but it took a lifetime to learn one of life's biggest lessons. Don't try and be what you are not. Just be you and accept who you are. Not all will love you...not all will respect you....but you will be much more content.
I have a great life. I am married to a beautiful wife. I have many friends who I see sometimes daily. And I am truly and deeply thankful for all of it.