A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘And I thought that I’d found a light to guide me through’

Lake Champlain buffers New York, Vermont and Quebec. Garret K. Woodward photo Lake Champlain buffers New York, Vermont and Quebec. Garret K. Woodward photo

A soothing mid-fall breeze floats across my front porch, through the screen door and into the apartment, ultimately swirling around the writing desk facing a bustling Russ Avenue within sight. 

Lazy Sunday afternoon. Waynesville. I awoke late in the morning, only to finally finagle my old stereo system, coaxing it back to life by the second cup of coffee, the sounds of David Crosby’s seminal 1971 album “If I Could Remember My Name” on the record player, the melody “Laughing” echoing from the speaker and back out the screen door.

The fallen leaves from the maple tree in the front yard are bright yellow, orange and red. The yard to covered with a canopy of the third season of the natural cycle of Mother Nature. The favorite season of yours truly. Black crows squawking high up in the branches outside the window of the humble abode.

October sunshine sprinkling through what’s left of the leaves on the old maple. Bluebird skies and nothing do but let the fingertips roll across the keyboard with a slight ease found in the depths of inspiration from whatever may spark creative thought from the unknown ether.

I think of a favorite Kerouac line from his 1957 novel “On the Road”: “The bus roared on. I was going home in October. Everyone goes home in October.” I remember my mid-20s, bouncing coast-to-coast in search of stability in the realm of the written word. And I remember sending out a postcard from Arizona to my mother back up in the North Country with that exact Kerouac line.

Door-to-door, it’s about 1,000 miles from Waynesville to my folks’ farmhouse in Plattsburgh, New York. The Champlain Valley of Clinton County. The greater North Country of Upstate New York and Vermont. Split in half by the mighty Lake Champlain. Quebec and the vastness of the Canadian wilderness just above the nearby international border.

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Though my field-of-vision at the moment is focused on hauntingly beautiful dead leaves and the crisp air outside of an impending winter, one of much-needed solitude and introspective pondering, I can’t help but let the mind wander to matters of the heart back up at home.

I received a message from a former high school classmate of mine. We graduated together in 2003. Friends since middle school, teammates on the track team from then all the way through high school. Still keep in touch. He said, “Any chance you can write something nice for the Chazy kid? Small town Chazy needs a good vibe from the best writer I know.”

To be blunt, a 15-year-old from the tiny, tightly-knit community of Chazy, New York, took his own life this past week. A tragedy beyond measure. So little time on this earth for the beloved teenager. So much left to say and do, countless memories and moments yet to appear in real time and place now erased from the continuous universe. 

I find myself circling back to another Kerouac adage, “I have nothing to offer anybody, expect my own confusion.” Why must this sadness and heartbreak rear its ugly head? And why do bad things happen to good people?

You can drive yourself into madness overanalyzing the parameters of the human condition, actions and reactions to things we think, say and ultimate do — an existential crisis of sorts on an otherwise lazy Sunday. Gaze out the window onto the bright leaves and squawking crows, the sunshine that makes one person smile, the same cascading rays of light unable to break through the infinite sadness of another. 

Chazy is a place close to my heart-of-hearts. Families and friends that reside at the deepest of roots within my vibrant soul. It’s a town of farm fields and highly-competitive youth soccer teams. Blue-collar working class and damn proud of it. Summers spent swimming in the lake and playing in the woods, either on foot or via ATVs. Winters of ice fishing, hockey and snowmobiling. Hunting year-round, too.

And I think of those I’ve loved and cherished along my own respective journey that have taken their lives. Faces still vivid in memory. Like those in Chazy, I don’t have any answers or solutions to why these unimaginable tragedies occur — what more could be done, if anything at all? Being blindsided by the untimely passing of the young and the young-at-heart is, sadly, something every single one of us has experienced or will experience at some juncture.

What I can say is that it’s never been lost on me to always (always) tell those you love how much they mean to you, to be well-aware of moments together, to take mental snapshots of where you were and who you were with — to remember with gratitude how it felt to be there.

Truth-be-told, the grief of loss doesn’t go away. But, you eventually learn to not carry its weight, where you find yourself walking alongside it instead. Grief and what led to the grief will never really make sense to you and yours. Someday though, you will find solace in putting to rest your whirlwind of feelings, emotions and thoughts. 

Solace found through the profound appreciation of things like the fall foliage, of squawking crows in your front yard, passerby cars to destinations unknown, a David Crosby song filling up whatever space you currently inhabit. Of stopping in your tracks, if but for a moment, to look upwards into the heavens, knowing damn well of the beautiful faces of our past that reside somewhere out there in the great beyond.

It’s all beautiful and tragic, this thing called life. It’s all what you make of it, come hell or high water. It’s all organized chaos and spells of glorious silence. It’s all we have and it’s all there ever was, all there ever will be. Hold steady and remember that true courage reveals itself in our darkest hour — for that’s where your inner light shines brightest.

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1 comment

  • So sad about Chazy....his family runs my hardware store on route 9. ....so tragic....breaks my heart.....not fair!!!

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Friday, 10/27/2023

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