Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Finding my way through it all......

I live my life through songs and I am a big lyrics guy, while the words are not mine it speaks for me and the feelings it create cannot be expressed in words.

On the stairmaster I had selected a random playlist and James Taylor paid a visit...

"I've seen fire and I've seen rain, I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end, I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I would see you again...."

Thank God for memories....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Life is a marathon...and it is not just about running

Find your marathon...
"Our life must contain mountains or marathons or their equivalent, else we will not be sure when we have reached our potential.
The person who descends from a mountain is not the same person who begin the ascent. Nor is the person who finishes a marathon the same person who started the race." George Sheehan

This quote and photo is on the wall in my office, the photo is of Wes and I after completing the 1993 Marine Corps Marathon. It was my first and I got there by training with Wes running basically all around Marietta...a lot! It was not Wes' first marathon but he assured me I could run one and our training runs were full of conversation as well as quiet moments of reflections. It took our minds off the effort. Our runs together were the most memorable and where our bond was forged.
I can still feel the incredible elation of finishing that race and the sight of Wes at the finish line cheering me on as always.

I still owe Part 2 of when we met and how we started running but working in my office and staring at the photo and quote lead me to write a quick post.

Overall, to me a marathon is not always about running, it is taking on a challenge where dedication, persistence, hard work, commitment and never losing focus on the end in sight. Anyone who has been on such a journey physically, mentally or both is never really the same. There is so much to learn from such an effort so my suggestion is to find your marathon(s) and take the journey....you will view the journey of life in a different light full of meaning and purpose.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wes Jones.......

I need to write this for a number of reasons as well as a number of people who want to know more about Wes. There is no way my time with him can be captured in a single setting because there are so many stories, so many lessons learn, so much laughter. Throughout my writing will reveal an insight on both of us; I may be off on some of the details but right on with the meaning.

This song has been in my mind all week and I think it is a great start to explaining and sharing my feelings about Wes and our our friendship.....I am so glad our path's crossed in my lifetime because my life was tremendously enriched by our friendship.

We may never pass this way again....Seals and Crofts

"Life, so they say, is but a game and we let it slip away.Love, like the Autumn sun, should be dyin' but it's only just begun.Like the twilight in the road up ahead, they don't see just where we're goin'.And all the secrets in the Universe, whisper in our earsAnd all the years will come and go, take us up, always up.We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again.We may never pass this way again.Dreams, so they say, are for the fools and they let 'em drift away.Peace, like the silent dove, should be flyin' but it's only just begun.Like Columbus in the olden days, we must gather all our courage.Sail our ships out on the open sea. Cast away our fearsAnd all the years will come and go, and take us up, always up.We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again.We may never pass this way again.So, I wanna laugh while the laughin' is easy. I wanna cry if it makes it worthwhile.We may never pass this way again, that's why I want it with you.'Cause, you make me feel like I'm more than a friend. Like I'm the journey and you're the journey's end.We may never pass this way again, that's why I want it with you, baby.We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again.We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again. "

Wednesday morning, October 7th, came earlier than normal, for some reason I could not sleep thinking I had double booked a work appointment. I went downstairs to check my schedule and the clock read 3:15am.
I had made a scheduling error so while making note of it to correct I checked my e-mail, there was an e-mail from a friend of mine I has met many years ago, Janet Krebs who was a good friend of Wes and Trish.
The subject line read something about Wes and Trish’s friend and to call her in the morning with the words, “it’s important”, somehow I knew something was wrong, something bad and I had trouble falling back to sleep.
When I called her the next day she confirmed my premonition, that my dear friend, brother, and mentor had died suddenly, I was speechless and in total shock. I think the first emotion that came over me was guilt, lots of it. I had not seen Wes since October of 2000, when we met up to ride down to Peachtree City for the annual 15k race and I was using it as a warm-up for the upcoming Chicago Marathon I was training for. As always we met that morning and talked incessantly on the way like we always did, we had not seen much of each other through the years but we could always pickup like there was never a gap in our time together.
So, the guilt was for not making more of an effort to meet up since October 2000 though we always said that we would. We kept in touch via e-mail and I always made a point to reach out to him on his birthday, May 11th, to say Happy Birthday and do update him on my life. He mentioned earlier this year that we should meet and go to the latest Rocky movie where we could have some laughs but it never happened. I do remember and I think it was this year that I sent him an e-mail telling him that he was a special friend, the big brother I never had and how much I appreciated him. While not knowing the exact time I wrote that I do know that I did express those feelings. My assumptions were that he was very busy and I chuckled a lot about the fact that he and Trish had young twins but I knew the both of them were happy and consumed with parenthood. I also know that Wes had broken his leg and it was a long healing process so maybe subconsciously I put off getting together for maybe those reasons. I was so wrong.
I heard from Trish Wednesday morning and it was bittersweet to know she was desperately trying to reach me and she gave me the affirmation that I had been his best friend. I think that hurt as well because I was feeling like I had not behaved like a best friend so it added to my many emotions.

The wake or visitation also showed me that others knew of our friendship as well by the comments they made. I walked up to his casket and smiled when I saw him in his trademark gear, hat included and I know it is a clique but he truly looked as though he was sleeping.
The funeral was nice and I enjoyed hearing stories of his life since we last saw each other with neither story being anywhere near unfamiliar; everything that was said about him I knew and had seen it many times in the close to 30 years I have known Wes.
While it did create curiosity on my part of the “lost years” I crave to know more about what he was doing throughout the last 8 years. So I am sure there are many who would like to know about some of the earlier years and how we became friends. I know that writing this will be therapeutic to you as well as comforting to myself.

The Early Years

First, a little about me to set the scene….when I was 14, my mom took me to the Marietta YWCA so I could apply for a job. I was asked where I would like to work and for some reason the pool was my choice, maybe it was after viewing the current female swimming instructors out on the deck that day. The oddity of it was that I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO SWIM! I had played baseball every summer prior so our coaches always told us to stay away from the pool and save energy for practices and games.
I was to start off being an assistant to teaching the tots classing in the shallow end (of course). As I started that summer I also had the opportunity to take classes in between my teaching and I took every class. I worked hard at it when I was not teaching or taking a class I was practicing. I worked through all of the courses and know that my gift of teaching beginners was given to me by being able to relate to the feelings of a beginner learning to swim. I worked myself up through being a lifeguard and American Red Cross Swimming instructor.

I cannot remember the exact year that I met Wes but know it had to be around 1979. I was teaching a lifeguarding course, maybe my first alone and in it was this older quiet guy with long hair. He had piercing eyes and a soft smile and he was in my class to be recertified. I was a bit intimidated at first because I knew he had more knowledge and experience but you would not have known it. Wes went through the course and this is where one of his natural traits first appeared. He helped me teach the course by volunteering to be the victim when I was demonstrating a rescue procedure. His innate ability to teach, guide and lead was apparent as he helped me without showing me up.

Wes was new in town, a teacher from Rome at the time I met him, I later learned that he had attend Berry College where he played (very well) soccer and tennis. It was in that class that our friendship was born. When we were not in class he would come by to swim and we always enjoyed each other’s company.

I cannot recall the how we got to the topic but I am sure we were discussing dating but somehow we got on the subject of interracial dating probably because I mentioned who I was crazy about at the time and the fact that she was Caucasian came up. I think I was waiting for a reaction from Wes, I knew he was from the South but had no reason to think he had prejudice tendencies. He immediately got animated and his eyes got that bright sparkle! He told me that he was a bit relieved because Helen who he had told me about and had made some trips back to Rome to see was African American! We were both feeling each other out and we laughed so hard that night. He liked Helen but she was older and had a child, he felt that was too much for him I recall.

I guess that was the defining moment of friendship, as a matter of fact I know it was because I knew that evening we galvanized our friendship and went about learning details about each other’s life.
I found out he was Physical Education teacher in the Cobb County School system, he worked exclusively with special needs children. So, I thought to myself; that explains why the Red Pinto he was driving was jammed pack with gym toys of all sorts!

Shortly after that he got a job at the “Y” and we hung out more at the pool getting to know each other. I am sure during that that we saw lots of movies because we always referenced funny scenes and quoted funny lines, on queue we could break into a reenactment of something we witnessed that would split our sides. Richard Pryor, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and many others. One of our favorite movies we frequently saw and used material from was “Kentucky Friend Movie”, look it up….we also saw a number of Bruce Lee movies. We had a lot of fun with our Adult, swimming classes at night; we had so much fun with our adults loosening them up after seeing fear in their eyes as they took the steps to learn how to swim. We had them cracking up and coming back for more lessons with their friends. We also started teaching lifesaving courses together and we took that on with all that we had. We were determined to have the best prepared lifeguards by the course end. We would always work out in the pool getting each other ready by swimming laps the perimeter of the pool with our heads out of the water….holding the 10lbs rubber brick over our heads while we were treading water or swimming laps with it on our hip on top and under the water. We practices active rescues, blocks escapes and releases on each other trying the best we could to make the maneuver as tough as possible. This would show our students that we lead by example. Wes always came up with the class water sessions designed to get the class in shape. He insisted that we get in the water and swim laps with our class….always! We took the ladders out of the deep end to make water polo goals where we split our classes into teams and played a very physical game where it was prohibited to touch the sides. We were crazy but he had great classes.
We would also do a class event outside of the pool, usually a raft excursion on the Chattahoochee or white water rafting on the Chattooga…we had some great times and we had good lifeguards coming out of our courses.

I always remember Friday nights we would guard the “family swim” night where we would be available to help any of our students whether they were in the beginner’s class or Lifesaving class with additional work and practice. Usually it was a quiet night and we always took bets on who would show up the last hour and make us stay until 9:30pm. One of us would make a dash across the street to Cedric’s Fish and Chips where Hush Puppies were .5cents a piece, we would buy a bunch and that would be our dinner or precursor to a movie we would head out to afterwards. I do remember there was this family who always came on Friday nights….the last hour urgh! We called them the “Butt Family”, there was the mom and dad plus two girls and they all had really big butts! (and no, they were not my shade.) It was really funny to see….we laughed a lot with each other, about others and of course about ourselves.

Wes was stoic and there were times when we just sat and watched things around us, silence was okay at times. One thing about Wes, he was a GREAT LISTENER and I learned a lot about him that summer, his mom was a great teacher, his father was a quiet man, an Olympic caliber “marksman”, that he grew up in Beaufort, SC and was influenced by his mom as well as the author Pat Conroy, and I think he was one of Wes’ teachers. I could see a lot of Wes in the character of one of Conroy’s Books, “The Water is Wide”, I suggest you read that and I think you will see for yourself what I am referring to. Actually, it was Wes that introduced Pat Conroy’s writing to me and some of the stories behind his writing. Wes told me that he worked in and around water most of his life whether working on a shrimp boat, swimming or diving. He had a younger brother he was proud of named Ray, who was in the military and a nationally ranked weightlifter, Wes was fond of and proud of Ray. He had a sister named Darlina that I met later and he was equally fond of and saw often.
That “my friends”, as Senator McCain would say is how Wes and I path’s met, this is where his maturity, gentle nature, thirst for life and laughter influenced me tremendously. I will say again and again that I am honored to have been his friend.
This was just the foundation of our friendship so there is more to come….I miss him so much…….