“My family and friends are the best thing I’ve known
Through the eye of the needle I’ll carry them home
Days turn to minutes
And minutes to memories
Life sweeps away the dreams
That we have planned” Mellencamp, Minutes to Memories
By Ryan Hilligoss, June 7, 2017
The Things We Carry
Words can have powerful meaning and significance. On a daily basis, we talk and listen to hundreds, thousands of words during our workday, through our friendships and daily encounters as we walk through life. Words wash over us from the radio, television, the printed word, and on on. Thousands upon thousands turn into millions. Many of those go in and out without reaching us or making any impact. However, if we stop and listen, some of those words reach us at the perfect time, the perfect place in our lives and send us off into another direction and force us to stop and consider life anew.
Recently, I sat on a patio having a nice, unhurried conversation among friends, surrounded by trees, fragrant flowers, bushes and good company on a beautiful, quiet summer evening. Early evening, the time of the day when the world slows down and you can unwind your mind and body from a long day of work and activity. Early evening, when the sun starts to set and turns the leaves a different color, sunlight falling at a low angle muting the world around. Ancient coins, relics and totems are passed around and explained. Coins and bracelets carried and worn by Israelites, Italians, Africans and Irish 2,000 years ago sit in the palms of our hands like secrets from days gone by. Did a peasant walking the streets of Rome 1,800 years go ever consider the possibility of people long in the future carrying the same coin? The sunlight reflects off a beautiful cross and chain necklace.
I stare off into the woods behind the house. Woods made of scrub bushes, black locust trees, and a meandering, shallow creek. My brother Sean and I used to walk these woods back in our childhood, what seems like a lifetime ago in one sense, but also just like yesterday in another. We walked these woods on spring and summer days, walking for the sheer joy of childhood, unencumbered by life and the burdens of adulthood yet to come. We walked the woods on winter nights, with snow filling the ground, carrying our sleds looking for one more hill to glide down before heading home in the dark.
A very kind, humble man tells stories of his life experiences, travels, and lessons he’s learned during his time here. Tales from Greece, Germany and Switzerland flow as easily as wine from a bottle. He once was invited to give a speech in Switzerland and sat next to astronaut John Glen. They shared their past as pilots in the Marines. When someone from the event tried to interrupt their conversation, John Glen turned and said, “Excuse me, I’m talking with the Major here, I’ll be with you in a minute. ” In recounting all the people he’s known in his life including family, his professional life and his military experience, he stopped and said, “I can count on two hands the people I have known who if I called and needed help, they would be here tomorrow. Those are my true friends.”
His statement made me stop and consider my own life, not as a competition, just as a measurement of what I have in life. My mind quickly worked through my immediate surroundings. My father and mother and brother. My aunts and uncles, cousins, distant cousins. My professional colleagues. My friends I’ve known through baseball, living in two parts of the state, high school friends. My friends I’ve gotten to know through the power and glory of music. My friends from the Bruce Springsteen, E Street Radio, concert experiences. Some of these I’ve never actually met in person, but some are ones I have gotten to know very well, spending time with them in person, often communicating with each other about music, but also about life and misfortunes. My list of those I can call friends that would show up tomorrow if I needed help knows no bounds. In fact, many of them have already helped me many times already in various forms and would do so again if asked, without judgement or concern for themselves.
As I’ve struggled through some hard times in the last few years from my own personal issues as well as those around me, it’s been the power of music and the love of friends and family that have helped steady me and guide me through. Kindness and support can come in many forms. Large gestures such as a free ticket to a concert, or small, meaningful gestures such a random phone call or email or regular text messages just asking “How are you doing, what’s going on in your world?” To the person sending them, it might not be much, but to me the recipient, they meant the world that people I know care enough to reach out and say in the end, in one form or another: I care about you and want you to be happy. My brother Sean passed away almost two years ago, and I don’t think he knew how much he was loved by those around him. It was obvious by the efforts of family and friends to attend his services and all the kind gestures and words, that he was truly loved and had impacted the lives of so many. A woman we did not know came to his visitation and told my father that through Sean’s work in the probation department, he had saved her life, literally by putting her on the right track in life, getting her the help she needed, and without him, she wouldn’t be here today. While Sean wasn’t given that while he was here, I’ve been fortunate enough to be rewarded with kindness, warmth and compassion thousands of times over.
They Belong To The By and By
I am not alone in struggles. As the late, great comedian and human being Robin Williams once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Tragedies of every manner have struck many around me. Friends and family have suffered serious health issues themselves or their family members. Cancer, heart failure, leukemia, blood clots, breast cancer, diabetes, car accidents, etc etc. Too much heartache and sadness to count. And yet, we persist, striving to find a better way in life, a better way to behave towards and around those we love. We strive to learn from our past mistakes, avoid them in the future when possible and to live a full, happy life, taking in all the world has to offer. We carry the aches and pains, the slings and arrows, the tragedy with us as we live out each day, never forgetting those we lost along the way, but looking for a brighter future, looking for a land of hope and dreams. Leave the mistakes in the past, they can’t be solved, the past will solve itself.
With all these troubles, it’s very easy to fall into depression, guilt, regret. It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves, but in the big picture, I can say I live a full,blessed life already. While billions around the world struggle for the basic necessities of life such as clean water, food, shelter, clothing, I have all that I can ever need: a roof over my head, all the clean water I want, I can walk into 5 grocery stores within 5 miles of my home and buy anything I want or need at a moment’s notice, 24/7. I have two beautiful, healthy, smart, funny, and engaging kids, my Graham Ronald and Aurora Eva Rose. I have a father who is still here and healthy enough to be engaged in the lives of his kids and grand kids and entertain all those around him. I have a mother who, while she struggles with health issues of her own, still worries about her kids and tries to help anyone she can. I have a loving brother who shares many of the same passions as me along with my sweet sister in law. I have many aunts and uncles and distant family members who love me for who I am and who all enjoy being around each other as much as we can, sharing life’s experiences whether through a baseball game, a concert, a family reunion or often times, just sharing a meal together, discussing life, movies, music, sports. Often times, we talk around a lot of the things we want to say but can’t bring ourselves to say aloud. No matter the subject or the amount of words we might speak boil to this: I love you and care about you.
From Minutes to Memories
The picture above was taken at Busch Stadium in St.Louis, Memorial Day, 2017. The Cardinals lost to the Los Angles Dodgers on this day, mired in a dismal baseball season so far. The weather was extremely hot and humid as St.Louis summers will be. 80 degrees felt like 100 with the humidity and sun baking us in our seats like Pillsbury cookies. The Boss Man’s Born In The USA blasted from the PA as a video tribute to our service members rolled on the giant video screen. We were all there together, family and friends, enjoying the day and enjoying being alive, at least for one more day, hopefully many, many more. The picture captures us at one particular moment in time, and we’ll be able to look back on it later in life as how things were, but we carry each other in our hearts every moment of every day. As Mr. Mellencamp says in the song, “My family and friends are the best thing I’ve known, Through the eye of the needle I’ll carry them home.” It’s easy to get lost in life, but with a little help from our friends and family, we usually make our way through the woods and back home. Thank you.
Thank you roll call: Lew Trigg, David and Sarah Reed, hank Weaver, Tracy “Big Sky” Thomas, Deborah “What’s Up Doc” Hewitt, Shawn “my brother from another mother” Poole, Dawn Leinenberger, Jeanette “Queenie” Amadeo, Billy Planner, Jeff Calaway, Patrick Canny, Jen Roscher, Barb Greenwald, Sharon Hardin Eaton, Judy Lendsey, Ginger and Jo, Brittany, Karin Lefferson-Witt, Nick and Meg Piazza, Dave Buerstetta, Matt Moritz, Jarrie Lesure, Jennifer Conley, Jim Rotolo, Dave Marsh, Vincent Rockwell and everyone else at E Street Radio, Jane “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” Arnone and all of our friends from The Wild and Innocent FB page on Friday nights (many Friday nights this was the best two hours of my week). The Boys of Summer, all the boys in SYB and Titans whom I’ve had the privilege of coaching. And the kids of South Prairie whom I was given the gift of time to work with on a regular basis in their classrooms along with my kids. If I’ve forgotten anyone, I apologize, no harm intended.
Thank you to Bruce Springsteen for giving us your gift for the last 50 years. Your music has been a constant companion and source of inspiration for me and has helped create a community of fans like I’ve never seen. People, sometimes complete strangers, who genuinely love and support each other. Thank you to John Mellencamp, Jason Heath, Randy Newman, Miles Davis, Ella and Louis, Willie Nelson, James McMurtry, Josh Rouse, Steve Earle and so many others who have brought me happiness in dark times through the beauty of their art.
It may only be rock and roll but it feels an awful lot like love.