I think the best year of my life was when I was thirteen.
When I was a thirteen, my family lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. To me, Sioux Falls was the most wonderful place on earth, and my friends at Patrick Henry Junior High School were among the best friends I have ever known.
One night that summer, some of my friends and I decided we should lie in a circle on the grass in Chris and Phil’s back yard.
We placed our heads together, fanned out like the spokes of a wagon wheel, on a big green army blanket.
Lying there, looking up at the stars in the night sky, I think we became our true selves for a while, sharing our 13 year old thoughts with each other.
Patricia, said, “You can’t whisper just any old thing to the stars.”
“Only the most thoughtful and beautiful ideas are good enough, and I think they need to remain private for them to become real,” she said.
“If we should come back after we die, Charlie said, “I think I would like to be a strong white horse, so I could run to the farthest horizon without getting tired.”
“I would be a magic cat, and become invisible whenever I felt the need to disappear,” whispered Shirley.
Rich thought he might come back as a spiky hedgehog, because he doesn’t like too many people around him.
Jack suggested that maybe he’d come back as a skunk. “I don’t like crowds, either,” he said.
“The world is so beautiful, and life is so short,” said Janet. “Yes . . . it is,” she whispered.
Gael, a violinist in the school orchestra, asked, “Can you hear it, the music of the stars?” and she sang part of a melody, very softly.
Gael told us that sometimes, when she plays really beautiful music, she feels the presence of God, and thinks to herself, “It’s you again, isn’t it? It’s always you.” That’s what she said.
Looking up at the night sky, it occurred to me, “Sometimes, it can feel so good to be small,” and I said, “Thank you.”
Later that night, we decided it was time to get up, and head for home.
Somebody said that stars and the night sky “know things” and have a way of reminding people of things they need to remember.
That night is the best night I can remember from the year when I was thirteen.
Then it happened. When I was fifteen, my father accepted a new job, and we moved to Minnesota. I had to start all over again at a new school.
I really did miss my friends in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Sometimes, I think about that starry night, when I was at peace in the presence of my friends, the year I was thirteen.
Chris and Phil’s back yard is still there, and Gael’s words are still as powerful today as when I first heard them so many years ago.
Now, I am becoming ancient on the outside, and am very grateful for my quiet, unlisted life.
More than 50 years ago, when I was as a young officer in the U.S. Navy, I was a cố vấn (advisor) in the Vietnamese Navy river forces.
My guys and I conducted combat operations on the Vĩnh Tế Canal that forms the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, and on the Sông Cửu Long, River of Nine Dragons, the Mekong River delta of South Vietnam.
In those days, “unusual” things could happen around us without warning at any time, suddenly immersing all of us way over our heads in harm’s way.
Now, many years later, flashes of memory from those days may suddenly begin to swirl around me. The air stops inside me. Within my thoughts, I know enough to say, “Okay, Lord, what do you want me to learn this time?”
Inside the noise, Gael’s words whisper softly behind me, and I can hear myself saying out loud, “It’s You again, isn’t it? I know it’s You. It’s always You.” Eventually, a gathering silence returns to calm the moment.
I just smile quietly to myself, thinking, “My Lord, why do You do this? I am the least of Your creation, yet You are generous with me.” Finally, quietly, I say, “Thank You, Sir. Thank You from the core of my soul.”