A woman whose name I cannot remember told me something I'll never forget. She said, that you can never tell how something you write will affect someone else. She meant it in the most positive way, saying I had written something that inspired her. And since that day some 15 years ago at a meetup in the SF Bay area under the rubric of Howard Rheingold's Brainstormers, I have remembered to keep a high, healthy respect for all of my readers. Another thing I remember is to never underestimate the power of chance.
This evening, I am compelled to recognize one person in particular and several others. As is my convention, I protect their identities - which means I'm going to have to give them pseudonyms. As I think of it, I can only think of one name for my primary guardian angel and that would have to be Xavier.
I met Xavier about 4 years ago in a creole restaurant in an upscale black neighborhood in Washington DC. He had been a longtime reader of Cobb, my blog, and had contributed a fair bit. He was ex-military and was having some health problems of his own. That was clear when I saw him, and I say it as if it were obvious, but I had never in all the years head him complain about it something that obviously slowed him down. There was nothing about our online experience that gave me to expect that he might roll up in a wheelchair, and as I try to reconstruct the memory - there is nothing to reinforce its presence or suggest it in his personality. There was just the surprise of it. If it was actually there.
These days Xavier watches over me on Facebook. I don't know it; I couldn't guarantee it, but I sense it. If I were to disappear, he would notice. If someone were to challenge me in court, he would be my character witness. I'm not certain of it, but I feel that it is true; Xavier watches out for me.
I don't know why. We are perhaps kindred spirits. Perhaps we take joy in similar things. I've never bothered to really ask, but I don't want to. I don't have to. Even if I'm making this whole thing up in my imagination, it remains something I expect to be true. I try to do right by people and those who understand that principle will reciprocate, not necessarily out of any high falutin' duty. They just do. That's how I feel about this certainty that Xavier cares. He just does.
When I was a kid, the oldest of five and nearsighted and fast and skinny and bold for my age, I wanted an older brother. Somebody to tell me the shortcuts. My father was something of a New England fish out of water in California, but he never broke ranks with the old school. I lived among rougue fatherless roughnecks. My father wore horn rim glasses and never cursed. He never lifted weights. He never cheered for the Dallas Cowboys. He never pined for a V8 Mustang. He was as blisteringly severe as Professor Snape, but unlike Snape, he never lost his composure. He was not the kind of man to ask embarrassingly stupid questions, even when he was in a mood, as he often was, to be perversely goofy. I could have used a big brother, instead I just got over it and tried to be one. I protected myself.
And now, 40 years later, by chance I have a big brother, of whom I ask for nothing. I have become accustomed to asking for nothing. I wonder if I have passed that trait onto my children. My son makes enormously boneheaded mistakes, and he doubles down before he knocks on my closed office door. I am writing like the patriarch Lannister, minding greater affairs, and reply in monotones. I get him to fix things, but I would fix them. I fixed my own mistakes. I own myself too much perhaps. It took me a while to care about what people misinterpret about me. I was 35 before I managed to grow a human interface complete with smiles, genuine warmth and a lack of condescending judgment. Finally in 2003, I decided to write with some personal purpose and Cobb was born. I think it grew me some big brothers.
I thought I was complete but still missing a few pieces that didn't much matter. There was something martial in me I never fully realized. I took more pride in my father's military service than he did. But now I know another reason why. He tried some military discipline in me in an incident he describes but I could not remember. It reduced me to a snivelling diaper, and so he swore off it. Yet I felt only the backbone of it in my upbringing and the pride of seeing his panoramic wedding photo in full dress uniform. I remember him telling me the struggle he had as a black man in the USMC of taking his ceremonial sword off base. Having to petition my CO would have made me bitter. My father conformed into another shape and reserved his harshest criticisms of me whenever I drifted near the idea of service. He was in that way the ex-Marine that Marines often brag they never become. Where there was no pride for him there remained discipline and principle, and I grew up on those disciplines and principles which inevitably lead me to where I am.
You see he couldn't resist introducing me to Robert Ludlum. And say what you like about its literary quality or formula, at the age of 19 I dove right in and that world completely replaced Robert Heinlein. In this way, having grown up the oldest son of a reluctant marine, I identified completely with Jason Bourne. The analogy extends as well to my Black Nationalist upbringing as well. I was forged in a forcefully forgotten world.
And so my big brothers, my blog readers, my Facebook friends are military men. I have connected in principle to a shooter in Utah, an active duty father in Colorado, several disciplined martial artists, a CIA operative, a couple submariners, a big old bear from Texas, and a man who has named himself after a secret weapon. They have reminded me, without coaxing, of something that I deeply am yet remain uncertain what to make of it. Still, I may be the recorder of our times, and do them some service as well. To the extent I am a writer and my words reflect what we all see similarly, I will continue my part.
You know who you are. Thank you.