Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Strong The Circle We

It breaks my heart that for the third time in just short of 48 months, another Brother has left us. David Singleton, for whom my pledge class was named, left us far too soon along with Carolyn Keller (Fall '89, passed Sept. 2009) and Karen Mitchell (Spring '89, passed Oct. 2010). It does not seem real, still, that we've lost three of the finest people I've ever had the occasion to know.

But this week, I have been reminded of my time in Alpha Phi Omega. Allow me to turn back the clock, even if only here and in my mind, to early September 1987. I had been in school about 2 weeks and wondering at times if I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. I knew a whole 5 people on campus, besides my roommates and the Peer Mentors who'd ushered me around at orientation -- a girl named Rita (whom I met at orientation), a guy named Bryce who was from my home county, another guy named Kirby who was hanging out in the pool room and who might have been at orientation with me, a girl named Jennifer who I met at the welcome back dance, and Lisa who was my HS classmate. I wasn't adjusting very well to my roommate/suitemates. We were in an off-campus apartment because Housing had overbooked and they basically rented these on our behalf. But we had an RA/RD just like every other dorm -- with a lot more freedom. But I needed some guidance and structure. I enjoyed my classes, but was floundering.

I remembered quite a few of the Peer Mentors had mentioned that they were part of a group called Alpha Phi Omega. The whole idea of Greek stuff was not appealing to me at the time. My roommate was pledging a sorority and treating me like a complete pariah because I wasn't going Greek. Another suitemate was pledging a different sorority and the third was absolutely bereft because she couldn't pledge this year as a provisional student. But this group seemed different. I happened to see one of the Peer Mentors as I strolled across campus that day, and she invited me to the A Phi O rush party that afternoon.

When they told us more about what they did -- lots of community service, while developing leadership skills and forming lifelong friendships -- I was very intrigued. I went back the next day -- only to discover that one of my old friends from another school was there too!! Finally, someone I really KNEW! I met some other people from nearer my hometown .... including some chick from Greer who seemed pretty cool. And that was that -- I decided I would pledge.

I came back to our apartment, very excited for the first time since I'd gotten to campus. My roommate immediately derided my choice: "UGH! Really?" to which AW (my pledging suitemate) told her, "Okay, you know something? Maybe it's not for you and fine. But this is the first time her face has lit up in two weeks, so just let her enjoy it. It seems to be right up her alley, regardless of your opinion." I still like AW to this day.......

The decision to pledge has been one I've never regretted. From it, I gained the opportunity to make a difference during a time when I could have easily lost my way. I learned to lead projects and be part of a leadership committee. But most importantly, I not only gained lifelong friends, I gained brothers, in the truest sense of the word.

Did we always agree? No.
Did we always get along? Of course not.
Did we love each other? Yes, very much so.

If I were stranded on the side of the road in St. Louis, I could call Tina -- whom I have not physically seen in 25 years -- and if she couldn't help me herself, she would point me in the right direction. If my flight from Seattle to home were cancelled and I had no place else to stay, I could call two brothers there and either have a place on their sofa or they could again help me figure out what to do. And if by some odd chance a brother were stranded in my hometown, I would offer them the same -- a ride, a sofa to sleep on, or just to go there and sit with them until their assistance arrived, maybe even dinner on me. Whatever it took. This is brotherhood.

I've watched their babies come into the world and grow up and are now heading to college (or in college, in some cases). I've cried as they've posted news that a parent has passed. I've rejoiced in their good fortunes, and prayed for them when it hasn't been good. This is brotherhood.

This week, we said goodbye to David. And one of the brothers had a phenomenal idea. She created a Facebook group called the Virtual Circle. You see, at the end of every weekly meeting, we would form a circle and sing our Toast Song .... it even contained the lyric: "Strong the circle we....." Nowhere was that more evident than in our Virtual Circle this week. David's funeral was Tuesday -- so her idea was that on Tuesday (especially for those of us who could not make the funeral), we would do a kind deed, remember the beauty and joy in life, and somehow memorialize it, dedicating it to David.

I had jury duty (and lucky me, was in the middle of serving on a jury) -- no way could I get to the funeral. On Monday, when we got to the jury room, we noticed that the snacks they'd mentioned were basically potato chips and Little Debbie cakes. Sorry, but no, not for me. And I remembered that one of David's last photos that he'd posted were of his homegrown figs. So the idea hit me to take some in, and some other fruit as a healthy snack. Of course, the store I went to (given the time constraints) didn't have fresh figs. A farmer's market would have, but none were open at that time...... So I just got a variety of things -- nectarines, apples, bananas, oranges -- and took them to court with me. It wasn't much -- I wish I could have done so much more, and I plan to take the opportunity to do so later this week. But it was what I could do at the time.

We came back to the virtual circle and told what we'd done .... there were beautiful stories: a mom taking her daughter on a walk around Charleston, the city David loved (and so many of us); flowers given to employees, photos of gorgeous home-grown flowers, the kind David would have loved and used in some of his arrangements (an avocation he pursued in addition to his regular job). Remembrances and poems, pictures of days gone by. Realizations of what our friendships have meant to us, though time has marched on and our pictures have changed.

Earlier today, I wrote this at the Virtual Circle page, in a response to a thank you for the brother who started the page: "There are quite a number of you I never got the chance to meet in person.... Just a picture on the wall in a composite. This week it feels different, and for that, I thank you!" And I mean it. It really does feel like David -- in life and in death -- has brought people together.

When I think of them all -- Carolyn, Karen and David -- I think of brothers. They were three people who loved life more than anything, whose laughter and shenanigans and warmth and caring were evident in every action. I can only hope to live up to such a legacy that they have left.

Godspeed, David, until we meet again. Keep Carolyn and Karen straight, will ya? Wait a minute .... you three have probably already started playing tricks on all us brothers. We who remain are in for some serious shenanigans afoot. Watch out, David -- your heavenly cell phone will be full of "Shotgun Selfies" and Karen will be good until she sees a cow in a pasture: that's why we call her Mookie!

And strong the circle we, for all time.

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