During the week of the start of Desert Storm, I was attending a week-long “Train the Trainer” workshop in Oldtown, Alexandria just down the road from Washington DC. There was a small sub group of us that sorta bonded together a bit and we spent the few evenings we had eating dinner together, talking. I remember only three people from this group; a slightly older, bubbly talkative woman who worked at Mead, (also in Dayton at the time) a much older gentleman who would never have a definite opinion about anything and a Jamaican man about my age who hardly said anything, but had that really calm, relaxing energy. (a stereotype, I know but it was true.) I don’t remember any of their names.
On that Wednesday, Jan 16, we decided to venture out toward the river to catch some dinner. We found this upscale bar/restaurant that supposedly served pretty good hamburgers so we walked the ten or so blocks, got a table right next to the ragtime piano player and ordered. Shortly after our food came, the television switched over to President Bush (41) and the place came to a dead hush. Moments later, we were told our nation was at war.
And that moment of silence seemed to last forever. Even longer than it took to watch the North tower fall on 9/11.
The piano player started playing again, somewhat tentatively at first and the room eventually composed with that sort of fake “life goes on” feeling that you screw onto the front of your face to convince everyone around you that everything is going to be fine. We ate in near silence, none of us really finishing our sandwiches.
We went out into the cool Virginia air for a walk and found ourselves leaning over a railing, overlooking a marina that looked like a perfect postcard. The Jamaican sighed slightly and said softly to himself, “I could commit suicide right here.”
I could feel the woman from Mead back away slightly as she glanced at me, her eyes saying “this man is crazy.”
I didn’t react, but I knew exactly what he meant. I was feeling the same thing, but perhaps not the exact words. But after hearing him, I don’t think there could have been any words more fitting.
Over the past nineteen years, I have been fortunate to have experienced a half dozen or so memorable scenes like that marina. And each time his voice played in my head, softly whispering, “I could commit suicide right here.”
I would never have shared that voice out loud with anyone as he did. They would have misunderstood. The few people I shared this story with did misunderstand, so I quit telling it.
With the exception of that one Jamaican, I thought there was nobody else could see scenery like this. Until I read Don Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. And it seemed urgent that I not only tell this story, but I write it down.