In 2015, I started a semi-autobiographical novel as a retirement project to share some of the successes and stumbles in my life with my children and grandchildren. Plus, I’m sedentary by nature, so the idea of doing nothing for hours, months or years except sitting in a chair and wiggling my fingers was very appealing.
I thought I would start my story by reflecting on my adventures as a college student on spring break in the Bahamas. We arrived a few days after Martin Luther King had been killed, and the Bahamian Progressive Liberal Party (“PLP all the way, man!”) was on the verge of gaining political control.
I was overwhelmed by the Island’s poverty when a missionary invited me on a jeep tour to see “te real Bahamas.” His school looked like a run-down prison camp for children, perched behind a beach of ugly coral. I was impressed that he shared an airplane with two other groups so he could commute to his other church in Bimini. (While doing research for the book, I learned that Dr. King was a frequent visitor to Bimini where Ansil was his fishing guide.)
That night, my buddy and I were picked up hitchhiking by a drunken police inspector who vividly explained to us how “we don’t torture prisoners, we just scare the shit out of them.” Then he drove up us up a steep hill to see a beautiful view of the Nassau harbor from the half-built home he was building for his wife, who had just told him she wanted a divorce.
I originally planned to write only one novel, and would end it by revisiting my struggles as my mother’s caregiver, borrowing from what I had previously published as Caregiver Stories and Stress Solutions.
As I started to write, I knew I also wanted to reflect on:
- how playing music had weaved its way into not only my romances and my parenting, but also my work in mental health, health care, spiritual care and end-of-life care
- how the Satisfaction Skills (awareness, appreciation, assertiveness and acceptance) – which I learned while working with teen patients at Buffalo Children’s Hospital – had helped the teens reduce the use of both prescribed pain meds and illegal drugs while while helping to bolster their immune systems through better stress management
- I remain astonished that these same four skills also improved my marriage, deepened my spirituality; and enhanced my ability to forgive. It also reduced my bouts of ‘stupid-vision’ (i.e., seeing just the bad about myself and others when I’m fearful) and enhanced my ‘super-vision’ (i.e., making better decisions because I can see both the good and the bad about myself and others).
- To learn more about the Satisfaction Skills and how two poem can help you solve each piece of your Wellness Puzzle (emotional, social, physical, spiritual), please download this free workbook for seniors, adults and teens: Less Stress, Better Health and More Love. I’ve published it under a Creative Commons license so anyone can use, change or improve any of the content without seeking prior permission.
- my disappointment when – as I graduate student – I couldn’t find a glimmer of Christ when I travelled to the Holy Land – as well as my delight when, a few days later at a sidewalk cafe in Tel Aviv I experienced the Spirit all around and within me (as told at the beginning of Paul’s story in “The Epidemics’}
- my ongoing bewilderment about my encounter with about a hundred Christs who were shopping for Christmas at the Main Place Mall (presented as Donna’s story in “Friendship.”)
- the success of the dozens of Forgiveness Workshops my wife and I conducted where the participants overwhelmingly agreed that the Satisfaction Skills could help them to deepen forgiveness toward themselves (100%), others (89%) and God (95%)
I also wanted to use the novels to shine a spotlight on what I liked about the United Methodist Church, plus express my opposition to their discrimination against homosexuals and gay ministers, as well as their lack of respect for other faiths.
My writing went well for the first six months. Then I read that Pope Francis had visited the September 11th Museum at World Trade Center. While there, he viewed a Bible found fused to molten metal in the rubble of the Twin Towers. It was open to Christ’s “turn the other cheek” message of forgiveness.
“What?” I thought. “Forgive the terrorists who killed thousands that day? No way!” I was so shocked that just the thought of forgiving them made me sick. My characters in The Trilogy felt the same way.
Over the past seven years, that jolt and some related soul-searching stimulated my story to grow into three novels: Friendship; Too Much Can Kill and The Epidemics. Two of the characters that I met in storyland (Donna and Susan and their struggles with rape, deceit and homophobia) became so compelling that I didn’t get to the storyline about my mother and me until the third novel.
The Friendship Trilogy focuses on three questions: “How did that Bible get there?” and “What does it mean to forgive yourself, others and God in an era marked by civil rights, the Vietnam War, same-sex marriage, terrorism, polarization and pandemics?” “Which epidemic is the most harmful? Opioids, COVID or fear?”
My characters search for a life of love on a journey that takes them to the Bahamas, the Holy Land, Athens, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, Vietnam, Manhattan, Buffalo, Grand Island, Niagara Falls and Washington, DC Readers will go inside a storefront drug abuse clinic, the Buffalo Homicide squad, folk music venues, a faded ballroom where Islamic Sufi dancers are whirling and laughing; the birthplace of Christ; the executive suite of a large managed care organization; Christian and Eastern retreat centers; the White House; and the Capitol during the January 6th insurrection.
I hope you enjoy the journey!