There’s an interesting tale about the guiding principle behind my view of existence: that there is a Power in this Universe which is able to do immeasurably more than all we could possibly ask or imagine. And I’ll be telling that tale down the road a bit.
But for now, it’s enough to understand that my life has not taken shape the way I thought it would. No, it’s better than that, and in wildly different ways than I would ever have conceived. So my story is really about how that Power has manifested itself in my life—how it has intruded into, shaken up, and redirected my life.
My story proper starts with One Big Epiphany—my “OBE”—which changed its tenor from one long struggle against that Power into an adventure back toward it.
There were a lot of minor heroes during my “dark years” leading up to the OBE, though—people who shaped me in profound and positive ways. And I’d like to tell you a little bit about them here, if you don’t mind.
My oldest friend is Stephanie Cortes, who from second grade on never failed to stand by me—no matter how nerdy or unpopular I periodically became. In fact, I don’t think it every occurred to her that I might have been nerdy or unpopular. So I learned an awful lot from Steph about what it means to be a faithful and true friend.
When I was in third grade, my brother Bob suffered a traumatic injury that left him bedridden for nearly a year. During that period and in the years immediately after, Bob transformed from playmate to a real Big Brother who looked out for me when I really needed looking out for—even when he was on crutches. At his wedding rehearsal dinner, I jokingly remarked that he was more tormentor than mentor, but that was a dig based on resentments that I would develop as a teenager. I would be remiss in not crediting a huge chunk of my character development to Bob.
During my sixth grade year, Roger Stewart fostered a class environment that, for the first time in my life, made me feel like it was good and safe for me to be me. That was no small thing. Roger was an unbelievable teacher.
About that same time, West Seattle Christian Church youth group leader Dave Davolt took me under his wing. He was the first adult to treat me like a friend, and was in many ways my week-in-week-out male role model for several years. He also gave me my first real creative shot at acting, a very formative experience.
In eighth grade, I had the first of many encounters with math teacher, free spirit, and raconteur extraordinaire Janice Kunitsugu (who has also gone by myriad other names). The love of living still infuses that woman, and it’s hard for that not to rub off.
In 1975, my sister Elane became my friend as well. The event was highly significant, as that makes her the family member I have been the closest to the longest. And it was quite a transformation—one that I’ve never quite understood. Suffice to say that she was the first of my family to “get” me, not just respect me—and perhaps that was mutual. You’d have to ask her.
In ninth grade I established the two male friendships that would have the greatest impact on me. First, Randy Sartin and I learned together how to be intelligent, talented, and fun. I’m not sure who rubbed off on who more, but it sure felt mutual, and the dynamic continued unabated for years and years.
Somewhere along about the middle of that year, Tim Stevens gravitated himself into my circle of friends—and it was a darned small circle. But I learned one huge, huge lesson from Tim over the years, one that I first glimpsed with my brother Bob: some people let their environment and circumstances shape them, and others take the bull by the horns and envision greater things, reinventing themselves as the need arises. Because of my own survival instincts, I would take that notion into a pretty destructive direction, but in my post-OBE years I would often reflect on Tim’s self-assertion and think, “Hey, I can do that, too.” Re-invention of self is such a powerful thing.
The last of the Great Friendships I formed during that period was with Claire Foster—the ball-of-fire brain and valedictorian/cheerleader/homecoming queen who counted me a good enough chum to accompany me to Senior Prom. Respect was a value we shared, I think, and it’s one that’s lasted a lifetime. She helped me see that sometimes being a good guy does, in fact, pay off.
In my college years, while I was divesting myself of the conventions of religion (if not faith, entirely), the first of many lasting bonds—and probably the most influential—that I formed was with Dave Stark.
Dave was the first person I ever met who read philosophy for pleasure. And he was a darned good conversationalist. But the most startling thing about Dave was that, though he was a Christian, he wasn’t the least bit afraid to have real, probing, two-way conversations with atheists. Dave did not live in a world with “enemies.” In that regard, he was probably the most Christlike person I had ever encountered. In other regards, he was also a boatload of fun, and would become my partner in adventure for years to come. Years later, we would both agree that the scene in The Return of the King with Sam and Frodo on the slopes of Orodruin after the destruction of the Ring—at “the end of all things”—reminded us a great deal of… us. I’m really not sure which of us is Sam and which is Frodo—and maybe that’s the point.
Also that same year, as a sophomore, I met Shari Campbell. I first took notice of her because she put her name on her dorm door in Old English script. A kindred spirit. Turned out her folks, like my mother, were also of Pennsylvania Dutch roots, and we shared a lot of laughs about the odd turns of phrase we had both heard growing up. “What do you want me do? Stand on my head and stack bee-bees?” That kind of thing. But Shari was also the first person I’d ever met who really seemed to live out the principles of the Sermon on the Mount daily—quirks of personality aside. We connected on a great number of levels, and I aspired to be the kind of man a woman like her would respect. Too bad for her I did not become that man until years later!
My penultimate companion and partner in crime (almost literally) I also met that year. John-William (JW) Smith, like Dave, was a Freshman that year—fresh off the boat from Spain, where he had been raised by expatriate parents with ties to Washington State. He was an R.O.T.C. boy far, far from home and friends, and when he started showing up regularly to the movie nights I planned for “The Morgue,” as we affectionately referred to the “quiet” floors of the dorm in which we resided, we clicked. JW is simply the most die-hard loyal friend a person could ever hope to have. And it helps a great deal when you both enjoy humping 40-pound packs through the wilderness together… and campfire-roasted hot dogs, and dutch-oven pizza, and endless games of cards.
Finally, in my final year of college, John Adami entered my world. Perpetually cheery and positive, he made me see the darker side of myself casting a shadow in the rosy glow he emitted. We enjoyed (an awful lot of) hard cider, the Seahawks, Mazatlan, and a host of silly games. He also loved Jesus in a way that I did not, and a way I kind of resented. Probably because I did not love myself.
By the time I left the University of Washington and began my serious descent into self-indulgence and a misguided sense of independence, these were the people who were helping me keep my head above water. However, since they were all of my age and of similar interests, they also certainly abetted (and benefited from, no doubt) my spendthriftiness—a central character flaw that helped feed my sense of invincibility and my cockiness.
But they also, each one, nudged me along the path to my One Big Epiphany. Each one, wittingly or unwittingly, has been the Finger of God.