One Cup Bitter, a moving essay by Randal Jentzen

December 31, 2016

The author in Tehran, Iran, November 1976

Forty years ago I traveled a great distance and saw many things and places. The highlight is always the people we meet along the journey. In this case, we were asked to have a cup of tea with an Afghani storeowner. We sat on the rug in his shop while he prepared the brew. He served the piping hot tea and told us how to hold the sugar cube in our mouths and during each sip; the sweetness blended with the subtle flavors of the tea, resulting in a perfect and exquisite experience. When we finished, he asked if we wanted another. Then he sat with us and told us that in his family, they drink the second cup bitter, thus there was no need to use sugar.

I think he could tell from my expression that I did not understand. He said, we enjoyed our first cup and we enjoyed each other’s company. He said the second cup reminds us that life is not very sweet for so many people and we do this in honor of those less fortunate. I understood what he meant….I thought.

Four decades later, my plane arrived late in Philadelphia. We had faced inclement weather all day and were forced to divert to Harrisburg to refuel. I was six hours behind time. When I tried to hail a taxi, my driver was eager to assist me. He said I was his fourth call in fourteen hours. The weather caused more than my plane to divert. We had a thirty-minute ride to my destination. It was late, but I could tell the driver wanted to talk. Within minutes he talked about what life was like in his village and the villages of his region of Afghanistan. I sensed the longing in his tone. The life he knew was extinct…except in his mind and in his heart.

“When we were boys, just young teens, we walked to a neighboring village. It was not long before someone stopped us and asked where we were from. We told the stranger our village. The man invited us home and told us we could stay at his home and that he had extra carpets we could use. He invited us to dine with his family. It was not long before the neighbors heard about the strangers and they brought food to make sure there was enough. They invited us to be part of their lives and took us to prayers and to meet others within their community. We were not strangers nor could we buy a meal.”

I asked him if he still had family over there. He said, “Yes, but nothing is the same. I miss my home.”

He blessed me when we arrived at my destination and told me that my plane being late may not have been a bad thing. He left Afghanistan some time after the Russians invaded and worked as a driver in New York. He said he had a passenger late for his plane that he seemed anxious and seemed distraught when he arrived to the airport after the plane’s departure and had missed his flight. He said, “Do you know what flight he missed? He missed TWA Flight 800.”

I wished him a good night. I will likely never see this person again, though he left a lasting impression in my heart.

There are many things in this life to celebrate. The biggest is family and friends. The world is brimming with beauty and wonder, but there is a dark side of the picture. There are places like my driver described that now only exist only in memory and there is the hope of better times and for the strength to endure the hard knocks and challenges that lay in our path.

I just finished my second cup of coffee. I drank it black.

I wish everyone a wonderful and blessed New Year and hope for better times and for strength to endure the challenges, though seemingly unbearable.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  Numbers 6:24-26

Randal Jentzen, Trier Germany, November 2015

Author Bio:

Randal Jentzen is a native New Mexican, a full-time medical provider, and enjoys reading, cycling, and travel.

Those Who Wait

August 28, 2015

Joyce’s grandmother, Viola Eacret Plummer, stands between her two surviving sons, Bill Plummer (Joyce’s father) on the left, and Jimmy Dale Plummer. Her eldest son died in New Guinea in 1943.
Joyce’s grandmother, Viola Eacret Plummer, stands between her two surviving sons, Bill Plummer (Joyce’s father) on the left, and Jimmy Dale Plummer. Her eldest son died in New Guinea in 1943.

Those Who Wait

by

Joyce Faulkner

It’s mid-February, 1945.

I imagine her – sitting in a chair by the window.

The cold sun sinks behind the trees outside but she does not turn on the lights. The dark holds no comfort, but it does hide her icy tears. In the gloaming, pictures of her two oldest sons sit on top of the console radio a few feet away. She leans forward and twists one of the knobs. The tubes glow. Before the announcer can say much, she turns it off again. She covers her face and rocks back and forth in her seat. Life was never easy for her – but it had been fun. Now fun tastes wrong. So does love. So does hate, for that matter. They told her to keep her routine – but that doesn’t seem right either. So she sits in that chair every day – waiting.

Joyce's Uncle DG is buried at Fort Smith National Cemetery
Joyce’s Uncle DG is buried at Fort Smith National Cemetery

The condolence letter from President Roosevelt made my Uncle DG’s death official – but not real. He didn’t die in battle – he was run over by a truck somewhere far away with an unpronounceable name. They buried him where he died. There was a war to win before they could send him back to my grandmother.

Nanny’s grief was still new, when her second son, my eighteen-year-old father, entered the war. All she knew was that he was with the Fifth Marine Division – and the Fifth Marines were engaged in a fierce fight with the Japanese on a little island known as Iwo Jima. Newspapers reported heavy losses – thousands killed – many more thousands wounded. With one child dead and another in harm’s way, all Nanny could do was wait – and fret.

So it is again. Anxious families display blue star flags in their windows. They check computers for emails from children who are half-a-world away in towns with unpronounceable names. They program cell phones with ringtones – and leap to answer that special one or swallow back tears when an unfamiliar tune sounds.

They remember cuddling apple-cheeked babies with gummy smiles – or chasing wobbly bicycles on first-day-without-training-wheels rides. They touch prom night pictures with the tips of their fingers and tell stories about the day their children graduated from high school or college. But, sometimes, fear taints the best memories like snow obliterating tender shoots. Will their precious boys and girls be the same when they return? Will the darkness of war blunt their sparkle? Will they come home at all? Torn between devouring and ignoring the news, they wait and wait – and wait.

Not long ago, a man that I have never met messaged to say that his son had died in Iraq. For him, the wait was over. I stared at the IM, wondering what to say. Whatever the reason, however it happens — to lose a child is to lose a dream. I wanted to reach out to him, but sensed comfort wasn’t appropriate. His agony was a bonfire that needed to burn itself out. He just didn’t want to be alone. I waited – an anonymous node on the internet — thinking about my grandmother, sitting in her chair – waiting for her boys to come home.

–30–

Author Joyce FaulknerAward-winning author Joyce Faulkner is the daughter and niece and wife of veterans. She writes about things that move her about life. She is a past president of Military Writers Society of America and is the cofounder of The Red Engine Press. To read more about Joyce’s work, please visit her website at www.JoyceFaulkner.com

 

“Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” republished in a new anthology from Potomac Books

Fighter pilots.

I’ve written about them often over the years. About their hell-raising good times at the Officers Club, living life to the fullest…on the edge of the envelope at a speed faster than the rest of us.

I’ve written about them at other times, too, when they have slowed down to a snail’s pace. When a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black veil because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. A young wife is widowed, a child left fatherless, an older couple wandering around confused, their future of grandchildren and the good life destroyed in a fireball. “Weren’t we supposed to go first?” they ask.

So when my essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” first appeared in the pages of Air Force Times, March 16, 1992, I felt a sense of joy mixed with sadness. Joy because I was happy to have another byline in a national publication that treated me like a professional, but the sadness came from the fact that once again I had written about loss­­––the loss of fighter pilots dying in peacetime training missions. This subject would be the driving force behind my debut novel, The Final Salute, first published in 2008.Remembering Forgotten Fliers in AF Times & Red, White & True anthology kathleenmrodgers

Fast-forward twenty-two years later and the republication of my essay in a prestigious new anthology titled “Red, White, & True,” released from Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. Edited by Tracy Crow, a former Marine Corp officer and an award-winning military journalist and author nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, this provocative and powerful collection presents thirty-two true stories about the enduring impact of U.S. military service from WWII to present. The writers include a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a novelist with a New York Times Notable book award for 2012, and a writer seeing his name in print for the first time.

Today, I take pride in the fact that my story made the final cut as it “passed for review” in front of Tracy Crow and her editors at the University of Nebraska Press. Sometimes my job as a writer is to give a voice to those who are no longer living. In my own small way, I help keep their legacies alive. In Chapter 3 on pages 16 – 20 of “Red, White, & True,” I give a voice to the names of too many good men who flew west before their time.

This collection of powerful true stories would make a great gift.

To order, please visit potomacbooksinc.com or call 800-775-2518

Amazon

Amazon Kindle

Barnes and Noble online and in some bookstores around the country:headlines from anthology and origianl

 

 

 

“A Good Story” by Joseph Durepos

 Joseph Durepos, executive editor/trade acquisitions at Loyola Press, has penned a moving essay about his dad. I’m delighted to spotlight Joe on this week’s blog. As an aside, Joe and I both graduated from Clovis High School, Clovis,  New Mexico. 

Joe and his dad
Joe and his dad

A Good Story

by Joseph Durepos

My dad read to me a lot when I was young. We always had a storybook going before bed. Later, I asked him why he read to me so much. He said that if you can find your way into a story, you can often find your way out. That sounded pretty Zen-like coming from Dad. I’m not sure I understood it at the time.

Several years later, I listened to poet Robert Bly talk about fairy tales and why they’re so enduring. He said something very much like my father had. He made his point by talking about certain doctors in Europe who worked with patients in psychiatric wings of hospitals—many of them troubled by bad dreams and feelings of inescapable panic.

Frustrated by their inability to reach these patients, the doctors began reading fairy tales to them before bed. Startlingly, many of the patients reported finding doors in nightmares where there were only walls before. Others saw light where there had been only darkness. Some patients showed marked improvement in moods and a lessening of agitation.

If I’m honest with myself, I didn’t always appreciate my father’s gifts, but I did always love him. He was an orphan, and his childhood had been tough. He lived in a foster home with lots of children moving in and out. The woman who ran the home liked my dad and raised him as her own. But there was nothing easy about growing up as a foster child in an orphanage in rural Maine during the Depression.

When he turned 17, he graduated from high school and immediately joined the military. It was a perfect marriage for him; it offered him structure, a way to find himself in the world, and a good job for almost 30 years.

My dad was a military man. A stoic. He rarely complained, certainly not about personal pain. In his world, unless you were down for the count, you just kept on keeping on.

Late on September 10, 2001, I got a call that my dad wasn’t doing well; I needed to come home right away. I flew to Albuquerque that night, met my two sisters, and drove to Lubbock, Texas, where my father had been taken to the hospital.

We arrived at the Texas Tech University Medical Center early on the morning of September 11. All eyes were on a small TV in the corner. Within five minutes I learned that my father was dying, probably had been for some time but hadn’t sought medical attention until he collapsed under the pain. I learned that all flights had been grounded. I learned about the hijackings, the attacks, and the estimated death counts. It was all too much to process at once. But I realized we were living in a story within a story: my dad’s story and our family story, but also the larger story of that day’s horrible events. This is how my father would have wanted me to make sense of the craziness.

We lost Dad less than four months after that terrible Tuesday. My father wasn’t a religious man, but he believed. As he drew closer to death, he spent quiet moments praying with his prayer book from childhood and reading novels. He told me that stories can make transitions, even difficult ones, possible. Then he winked and said he was simply finding his way out of the story. When he died, he was serene.

My dad never had a chance to read my first published book. It was a book about Saint Paul. In the first chapter, I talk about being part of the larger story of the faith that we live as Christians. It’s a vast, enduring story of salvation and redemption. Each one of us plays our part in the unfolding. It’s a concept I know intimately because of my father.

I’m in publishing today largely because of the love of stories my father nurtured in me. My dad loved that I became an editor and a writer. He would ask about my work and smile proudly. I still see that smile in my dreams, and I wake up happy. It’s a good story.

Bio:Joe Durepos 2013

Joseph Durepos is the executive editor for trade book acquisitions at Loyola Press, where he has worked since 2002. He’s published over 300 books, including New York Times Best Selling authors Fr. James Martin (My Life with the Saints) and Joan Wester Anderson (In the Arms of Angels).

Durepos has also worked as an independent literary agent specializing in religion and spirituality titles.  Titles sold include No Greater Love by Mother Teresa and The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer both with worldwide sales of over 500,000 copies.

As both an agent and editor, his books have been New York Times Best Sellers (The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly) and Publishers Weekly Best Sellers (The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and I Like Being Catholic by Michael Leach & Theresa Borchard); they have also won Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of the Year awards (Prayer is A Place by Phyllis Tickle and My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J.).

Durepos lives in Woodridge, IL with his 18-year-old American Eskimo, Sasha.