Sean Fraser

Grounded in some earthy, far away place, a man lay dying. I knew Sean when I was a young man and he remained my brother Jerry’s close friend. News that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease came as an anvil, a weight that could not be removed and a heaviness that made me gasp. His passing this morning at 47 years old breaks my heart and grieves me.

My wife and sister in law knew him in high school. Sue said he was down-to-earth and kind and compassionate even then. “That smile, those eyes,” she said. And she was right. Bright blue eyes and a smile that stopped one in his or her tracks–not a politician’s smile, not the actor’s smile, but a smile of love-one that was convinced that the very basic truth of God’s love in his life was active and moving and he was sure of it for you as well-even if you weren’t.

I haven’t seen Sean for many years and I only kept up with him through my brother, through the odd Facebook post. But he is gone now and while I am convinced of his salvation, his reunion with God, I am sad and reminded, as I have been too often lately, of the fleeting nature of this life. I grieve for his widow and I pray for understanding and peace.

No words soothe at times like this. Not even scripture can get through. Sean was young, full of life and love. I can’t fathom his family’s loss. But I’ll pray that there is peace and that Sean’s memory will remind us of it-as hard as that will be.

Onward.

Orange Skies and Gold Stars

Waves of humid heat rolled over the orange sunset glow from southwest to northeast last night. The perfunctory September pattern has settled in, with the twist of humidity. Often times, the temperature will increase to triple digits with 50 mph winds blowing from the desert west. The Santa Anas, as they’re called, are the least attractive thing about living in Southern California. For that matter, September and October are the worst weather months here–have been as long as I can remember. While I have one or two recollections of cold or even drizzly Halloweens, the vast majority of them are hot and dry.

With my foot still healing from tendonitis brought on by daily walks and bad shoes, I took tepid steps on a walk of a bit less than two miles last night, after the sun stopped pummeling everything and when a breeze, not a cool one, but a breeze nevertheless, kicked up and allowed for some relief. Simon the dog and I wandered down toward the little league baseball field where games were underway and we bypassed along the grass path in between two fields, one active and the other dormant.

Walks like these are more therapeutic than exercise, though I suppose I do get some physical benefit. As it is Labor Day weekend, I walked easily full in the knowledge that today’s holiday meant sleeping later than 5:50 am and that made me glad. I’ve made this particular walk dozens of times, but mostly at a faster clip than last night and so I caught more, saw more.

On a corner house as Simon and I rounded from the street back toward the park, I paid attention to something I had not processed before. I’m sure I’ve seen it before, but sheepishly hadn’t thought much about it. The house’s north side is perimetered with a wooden fence in a state of some disrepair. The gate, however, is relatively intact and sitting boldly in the center of it is a large gold star, probably aluminum or plastic, mounted firmly and hard to miss.

Gold star homes are known mostly to U.S. citizens as places who have lost a son, daughter, husband or wife to combat. One resident of the home has given his or her all and paid the price of fighting for their country. Regardless of your political views, or how you think about the fights in which our country engages, it is always humbling to see.

As I went by the house, I submitted to the sight and caught myself, involuntarily, saying a prayer for the family within and even genuflecting at the end-something I’ve caught the habit of doing over the past 20 years. I’m not Catholic, but I find that outward symbols of my faith–not for or to others-but to myself, help to remind me of who I am–and whose I am.

We have lost so many fine young people to the wars of the last dozen years. It is a price we pay alongside so many countries in the world and as we delve into the 21st Century, we seem not to learn the lessons of the past–and war rages on with impunity. Strong, popular leaders engage in it (President Bush was popular at the time) because it makes them more strong and popular. And weak and feckless leaders engage in it because it takes peoples’ minds off their weak fecklessness.

Political talk is all around and now suddenly, in the midst of an economy sputtering and spitting out workers like bad tastes, we are again on the precipice of yet another conflict in the Middle East. Death and more death dealt from a weak–or strong–hand, doesn’t matter. The results are exactly the same. The political ramifications matter less and less–and the human cost rises and rises.

Would that a day would come when Gold Stars are symbols of history, and not unutterable loss. Until that time, pray for peace…

Onward.