Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Burns’

People. People Who Need People.

March 21, 2016

If we’re lucky, I mean truly lucky, every so often someone will come along and offer you the kind of unsolicited advice that amounts to a life talk. It might happen when you’re a captive audience, or it might be something tossed into play from the periphery of a fleeting moment in your day.
That advice? Well, it might come in the form of a sentence or two.
It might also take the form of a full-fledged conversation. Or, if you’re fortunate, it might be a series of conversations than span decades.

I can remember those significant moments now 30 and 40 years later.

The first time was when I was in Boy Scouts. I was at a weekend event and did something really impressive. Once accomplished I proceeded to strut about like a male peacock displaying his full regalia. I’m certain this deed was not nearly as impressive to those around me, but I was a teenager (which really ought to explain a lot). In the midst of this, one man, my best friend’s father, waited for me to finish then pulled me aside. “Ron,” he began, “whenever you do or accomplish something worthy of recognition let other people notice without bringing it to their attention.”

You know, that’s pretty heady stuff for a 12 or 13 year old. Lee Widner was one of those people who just did that sort of thing. While growing up he was, in some ways, sort of a surrogate father. He often encouraged me with expert subtlety to get those Merit Badges and seriously focus enough on getting my Eagle Scout, which I completed all the requirements for, but moved out of the state and territory before I was awarded this honor. (To make matters more complicated, when I settled and located another troop and scout master, Richard Brown he did the research and could find no information I’d completed the process. I learned of two stories later, though had no way of confirming either. One said the troop disbanded. The other story suggested a massive vacuum created by several assistant scout masters leaving because the scout master left. I’ll never know. And I digress). Point is, Lee took the time to provide me doses of attention ordinarily reserved for his son Brad. I have little doubt, in reflection, that he didn’t provide such doses of guidance to others. It was his nature, and no doubt sewn into his DNA.

The second person that saw something in me worthy enough to garner his attention was my history professor, Ralph Clark. Mr. Clark was the kind of professor for whom people took classes they didn’t need nor would apply towards their curriculum credits. In many ways I was reminded of him the first time I ever watched Dead Poets Society. You see, Mr. Clark took the time to talk about history and went so much further. He loved teaching as much as he loved history, and he loved history. After a series of lectures and facilitation in Honors Western European History he set up a road trip. Destination? Vizcaya (if you’ve never heard of this place, look it up).

I went to college in South Florida, getting both my Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree from institutions of Higher Learning. The Chateau Vizcaya was an hour away from school. I signed up and was glad I did. I love history and always have. But what Mr. Clark did transcended anything I’d ever Learned. We walked through the rooms and then went outside and walked the grounds, studying the architecture. Mr. Clark would point out an architectural nuance or an element that had been talked about in class and then quietly step back and watch us engage each other. That keen sense of awareness, of how history would resonate because we were not only exposed to it but we were talking and living it. He was no fool. He knew we’d retain more than he taught.

Last class of the last semester of my Associates degree with Mr. Clark. I was halfway through the room when Mr. Clark said, “Ron take a seat for a moment.” So I did. After the room cleared he came over and sat down next to me. “Ron? You’re about to go into the big leagues. I mean sure, you may have a professor that cares enough for you to get to know your name but in most of your classes your grades are going to be determined by a Midterm and a Final. Extra credit will be a thing of the past.”

He took the time to explain to me what I was getting into. Honestly I had no idea and simply justified his conversation as the rattlings of an old man. But he cared enough to take time out of a day no less busy than any other to talk to me. When he finished he simply said, “Well, that’s all Uncle Ralph has to say.” He retired and went to live in the Shenandoah Valley, a place rich in history. With his departure went a era.

Another advocate was Dr. Peter Roundy. Fifteen minutes into my first class I knew I had to take others. And I did. Much of my  electorate requirements were populated with courses taken where Dr. Roundy was professor. Our relationship developed into a genuine friendship. He travelled the world, gone for six to nine months at a time, teaching English in Thailand or some other fantastic locale. In a turnabout for memorable experiences, he told me once, over lunch, I was one of the only students that wrote him every time he travelled. I liked him and couldn’t help myself. His method for dispensing advice was simple: a few words here and there, doled out like chocolate sprinkles on a double dark chocolate cupcake. It was as if he’d see you starting to slip off the path and he’d turn you right again. Of course, if you were me you chose to bulldoze your way through life, only reflecting later on something said and remarking to yourself, “Oh. That’s what he meant.”

And then there was Christopher Burns. I have written much on the man that became my brother with a bond that could not be broken by words or actions. Every living creature should be so fortunate as to have someone in their life so generous. He was a general in my army, champion to my action, and quiet observer to my missteps. He was wise enough, as any oracle, to let me stumble.

An idea man, he often studied and dissected things (including me), looking for a way to make it better. I was fortunate to be the recipient of those talks, even if the ideas might take years to stick.

I still reflect on those conversations and wish I had the chance, especially with Christopher, to sit and simply talk, letting that wisdom pour over me like a comforting breeze. Those talks never truly resonated with me at the time. But that’s the thing with really insightful advice: sometimes it requires time to germinate, to find purchase in the rich soil of the mind. Many take heed and respond to the call quickly. Others like yours truly sometimes miss the opportunity to give such advice the chance to help us change direction. As a result, when it does seat, we’ve already moved on.

I guess my message is this to you, my dear reader. We need people like that in our lives. They give us contextual insight through objective eyes. They are sometimes our reset button. If someone comes along and gives you the sort of unsolicited advice that peels itself like a Foxtail Palm or an artichoke and reveals more every time you glance its way, here’s what you do: if you can’t actually listen, retain and immediately apply that information, at least try to remember the critical piece of it. Give that advice a chance, just as that person who cared gave you. In time, you’ll not only be applying some of those helpful hints and life coach adjustments, but just as good, you’ll discover someone who might just need a little bit of the same.

It’s another way of making the world better one deed at a time.


A Commitment to Memories

July 13, 2015

What do we have after everything is said and done?
The memories. And there’s a subtle beauty in this. Because that’s what we both take and leave.
Three years have passed.
How did that happen?

What happens in the time from when we’re children, blissfully unaware, to young Turks, immortal and eager to take on the world?
The blur is the pace by which we transition from twenty to fifty.
But you don’t realize it until you get there, turn around and question where it all went.
Ah, the joy of being a kid living on the edge of space, sitting ripe for the picking of moments.
How do the Fates arbitrarily cherry pick what experiences will be ours?
How do they determine the impact that is to be?
Really, this is rhetorical musing. The truth is, three years later and I’ll be damned if the emotional tax on your departure has been paid in full.

It’s not just the things we’ve done, the places we’ve been, the adventures we’ve shared, but it’s the other stuff.
It’s the disagreements, the disappointments, and the depression.
Too stubborn to look past the first, too proud to look past the second, and too, well, who knows what, as far as the third.
We did indeed hear those bells chime at midnight. We shared many a laugh.
We cried, we celebrated, and we swore we’d make the world a better place. We hashed out idea after idea, with the singular commitment to making certain who ever rocketed first took the other along on his coat tails.
We agreed to do all that together.

You might be just beyond my sight line, this temporary inconvenience, but this thought does little to adequately mollify the roller coaster of melancholy felt.
I am not a wise man, else wise I’d possess a modicum of the wisdom reserved for others.
I am not a sad man either.

So much has happened.
How I wish you could hold Addison Rose. She would make you smile from ear to ear a second or two after you realized what we’ve all figured out: she’s smarter than the rest of us bunched together.
I would willingly do all you asked and more to be able tell you, to your ears, that I finally finished my Bachelor’s degree. And when you’d give me a hug, that would be the time I’d tell you that a half century plus on the third planet from the sun seems like a good time to go to Grad school. We’d finally make good on our plans to join the Guild, or at least talk about it. I would be willing to sit through a viewing of The Vault, just to hear your richly infused laugh. That would be time together, and that would be good enough.

To tip a pint to all these things and more…

I am not a sad man.
I simply wish you were here to share these joys.
Hey? Take care of Fendi. He’s not like the rest.
I promise you that you’ll never want for love from him.

Christopher Burns – The Most Interesting Man in the World. Truly.

July 13, 2012
It’s been a hell of a week.
Andy Griffiths, Ernest Borgnine, & Christopher Burns.
please say it with me:
Christopher D. Burns, Esq.
Who are these people?
The first I never met; the second I met several times; the third was my brother.
I have to tell you I am absolutely in no frame of mind to do this but I can not suffer to remain quiet, my fingers are of a mind all their own.  If I am to frame my grief, better to do so through memory and catharsis.
So, a few words then for a poet, writer, genius, kin. A man whom, at the top of his game, saw none better.
In the passage of death we are often forgiving of the character flaws of those we lose.
Christopher was angry, passionate, and with a heart that knew no boundary.  He was truly an idea man.
He and I often reflected on how “we have heard the chimes at midnight.”
So many adventures, so much heartbreak, so many incredible memories.
No two could be closer had they drunk from the same DNA pool, sibling rivalries notwithstanding.
We would drive three and a half hours to drink nickel beers and dollar longnecks at the Cheyenne Saloon at Church Street.  That was living.
I never deserved his unrequited love, his enduring affections, his sage wisdom.  Yet, he persevered, refusing my stubborn efforts to alienate the world and on occasion, him.
I never had to defend his actions; he was never afeared to tell people what he thought.  In later times, when he kept getting kicked while down, I felt the need to let the world know what I thought. When the judgements would fly with much alacrity, how great a man he was.
It always began with the same sentence:  “I’ve seen Chris at the top of his game, and you’ll never meet a man better.”
He turned me on to Kahlil Gibran and The Prophet (and subsequently, to Kehlog Albran’s The Profit).  Buckminster Fuller, Alan Parsons, and Man Goat.  There was nothing this man did not know.
It was at The Dream Weaver Ranch he discovered his totem, nature, and through the sight of glowing eyes at the forest’s edge, the nickname BBBM.
You see, Chris was a big huge man.  Yet I never saw someone so terrified of something he couldn’t see.  I guess there’s a little of that in all of us.
I could fill a novel with our stories. No nuance or detail escaped his notice.
We never opened a pub, but we sure closed a few.
He was forever forgiving of my practical jokes.  Like the time mom insisted I take him shopping because he had little fashion sense (he wore black on black with black).  We walked into one of those boutique stores in Orlando years before I moved there and I convinced him the shirt he was trying on was perfect for him.  It was this screaming orange and yellow monstrosity which required a strong personality to wear.  He had the personality, but was convinced people were laughing at him (they weren’t).
Then there was the time I duct-taped a one gallon can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew to the rear bumper of his car.  He stopped at a fuel station to gas up and noticed a couple of girls looking at him and smiling.  He told me, “there I was looking at them, looking at me, and thinking, ‘I still got it.’  But then I wondered if there was another reason they were smiling.”  He told me he walked around to the rear of the car where he saw the big can of ready-to-eat stew.  All he could do was shake his head as he got in his car and drove off.
I snapped a photo of him one day, brushing his teeth, wearing nothing but his tidy whiteys.  And then I later taped said photo to the rear license plate of a friend’s motorcycle, who got pulled over by Gainesville’s finest. Fortunately the officer had a sense of humor and approached my friend by saying, “I think someone is having a joke on you.”
Chris had seen military service and action, yet just about climbed into my lap when we went through The Great Movie Ride and one of the Aliens appeared from the ceiling.  He was practically peeing from fear and I was peeing from laughter.
I taught Chris how to drift a car; the first time he did it was around a curb.  When I first demonstrated this, he was in the passenger seat and his son was in the back seat.
And his wife was on the curb ready to lose her mind until she realized I was driving. Oddly, she was okay with this arrangement.
His little boy said, “do it again.”
Chris simply got into the driver’s seat, and asked me to talk him through the physics and mechanics of the action.  He executed it perfectly.
And you never saw a greater hero that day than a father to his son.  Benjamin loved his daddy, and it didn’t hurt he had an uncle willing to help his pop get crazy.
Christopher saw practically every show I had ever performed, seen me do many of the stunts professionally for the first time, always proudly beaming.  He read my galleys, went to film festivals to support my early efforts and was always present with a smile and story.
I never have known anyone who could hold court on the nuances of Hamlet while simultaneously field stripping a weapon.  In fact, he knew a whole lot about everything whereas I knew just enough about  few things to appear smart.
Yet, for all his brilliance, I never understood why Chris held his own father in such high esteem. Any father would pray for such a son as my brother, but this father was unworthy. Chris always failed to live up to the man’s expectations, no matter how amazing his accomplishment. The man lorded over him some bizarre psychological ordnance that was a battering ram to his psyche, a bludgeoning instrument that slowly, inexorably chipped away at Christopher’s glimmer and greatness, until all there was left was tarnish.
But guess what? Even the finest art shows itself well with the patina of age and experience.
We had a falling out (my fault, naturally). But we managed to reconnect in short time. And it all began anew with no special words or acknowledgement I had fucked up.
That’s how he was. Never held a grudge. Someone or something would sabotage an honest effort and he still insisted on putting his best foot forward.
One night, on the roof of The Beacon, drinking some god awful piss of a beer, we had one of those epiphany moments. We made a point to go to this dive that carried the greatest variety of beer ever seen, and we would buy the worst named, nastiest looking bottles, and go back to his place, where his lovely wife would send us off to the roof with a “you boys have fun” wave of her hand and off we went.  And we would do the opposite of what any barley and fermented hop connoisseur would do.  Where the average imbiber would drink something delightful and say, “you really must try this,” he would take a swallow of some tongue curling liquid, make the most inhumanly grotesque face possible, curl his lips and say, “Snap. You have to try this shit.”
And it was that night I learned about one hundred proof truth.
From that point forward I ripped my chest open, so he knew my heart by its merit.  That was all it ever took, as if mundane conversation had transcended the ordinary, to become something greater.  It was one of those rarified times in my life where I realized I could talk to him about anything.  And I did. I have sought his wise counsel on a great many things and realize at the risk of apparent selfishness I have no idea who I will turn to with future questions from here on out.
Christopher – You were always a general in my army, always a beacon of light, always more than a shadow of hope.
A lifetime of experiences, and yet yours has been cut short.
And your absence is a vacuum upon that organ in my chest that tries to beat yet sounds more like a banging drum marking the time and passage of a great soul lost.
A Gibran quote for you, my brother.
“Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
 That is One Hundred Proof Truth.