Sometimes reality sneaks up on you, grabs you by the collar, slaps you in the face and stage whispers: “This is it, Bub. Ashes to ashes. Dust to Dust. Thus has it ever been.”
Until then, life is not a circle. It is a frayed knot, and you never know where any strand will lead or end.
We have just returned from a weekend in Denver, where we met up with friends and family of a man I met nearly 50 years ago in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. We went to Denver to celebrate the too short life of Audie, who some us called Max because the Thais could not pronounce Audie in any recognizable way.
Audie was the first to arrive at the Royal Thai Air Base near the Mekong River in Northeast Thailand to work on McNamara’s Wall — a futile attempt to interdict the traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Freeway through Laos into South Vietnam. Then came Ben, and then I. They and others in our hooch showed me the ropes and welcomed me into their small group that provided support so far from home, as well as the opportunity to rouse rabble, hoist a few and smoke ’em when we got ’em.
The three of us rotated back home a year later and all ended up in Colorado. We reconnected. I met their families and they came to my wedding to Janice. After a couple of years we headed off on different career paths with our families. Audie, the art teacher, and Ben, the computer geek, linked back up a few years ago and have stayed close — no, inseparable. They did not catch up again with me, who had bounced around the country, until the advent of the Internet and email nearly 20 years ago.
That email arrived nine days after my wife of 25 years had died of cancer. We reconnected, and they gave support, shoulders to lean on and solace.
During the intervening years there had been divorces, marriages, births, deaths, tragedies and successes. We’ve kept in touch since then, though too infrequently. Audie and Ben and their wives came to my wedding with Jo.
Audie recently was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter.
The weekend celebration of his life culminated Monday morning with a brief Air Force memorial for Audie at Fort Logan National Cemetery west of Denver.
At the memorial, Ben read from “The Prophet,” a short book of philosophy that we had all devoured in that late 1960s smokey hooch with a three-foot diameter styrofoam peace symbol on the wall and Jefferson Airplane blaring from the stereo.
I might have picked a passage from another book we all doted over and claimed to grok:
“The Universe was a damned silly place at best … but the least likely explanation for its existence was the no-explanation of random chance, the conceit that some abstract somethings ‘just happened’ to be some atoms that ‘just happened’ to get together in configurations which ‘just happened’ to look like consistent laws and then some of these configurations ‘just happened’ to possess self-awareness …
“Random chance was not a sufficient explanation of the Universe — in fact, random chance was not sufficient to explain random chance; the pot could not hold itself.”
― Robert A. Heinlein,
Did random chance land strangers in the same hooch in that same strange land and intertwine their lives and loves and hopes and dreams?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but … just before the memorial, a procession of family and friends’ cars had pulled up to a staging area to await an escort to the site of the memorial. I got out of the car and began reading some of the gravestones of the generations of veterans buried there. I was startled to find in the second row of the 165,000 stones a familiar name of a World War II Navy veteran who had died in 1965: Mulhausen, my late wife’s maiden name. I looked on the back and there was her mother’s name and the date 1992.
Janice and I had gone to Denver for her mother’s funeral but I had not recalled where she had been buried.
While stopping to celebrate the life of a friend, there was a confrontation with the continuum of fate.
As Max always said: Pax vobiscum.