locks(Vsetín, Zlinsky Kraj, Czech Republic)–It’s been almost a week since I turned another year older (I must figure out how to keep Facebook from revealing exactly HOW much older). Actually there’s lots of birthdays in January for some reason. I’m blaming my birthday on the end of the war (choose which one you want). But there it is for good or ill or for justice and the American Way. That last part harkens back to a simpler time when I thought I could really fly…but that’s another story. (Of course later, in the ’60’s I was able to fly. Remember a few years ago when Pluto was unclassified as a planet? Well, let me tell you, it IS a planet. I’ve been there.

For some unexplained reason I have been thinking about the Doors recently, especially their song “People are Strange.” It’s one of my favorites and when I saw them in concert in the early 70’s in L.A. that anthem live (as well as “Crystal Ship”) blew me away. Just in case you are wondering, I can honestly tell you that at that concert I was fully present and accounted for. The lyrics of “People are Strange” are simple:

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

In a way that’s kinda true. Especially if you are in a place where culture, language and even “looks” are different. It remains so, “when you’re a stranger” but, in time it may slowly disappear once you become familiar with the surroundings. You arrive, you look for familiarity, for comfort for the usual. Things that you figure to be things like home. When those things don’t look or sound familiar, then the place may become “ugly.” When I arrived over 5 months ago to this land in Eastern Europe, I really didn’t know a soul. Sure I had emailed people back and forth and had established a sort of relationship, but this relationship was electronic not physical. It’s a kin to having a 1,000 “friends” on FaceBook more than half are people you don’t know, or know hardly at all but they seem to know you and “like” your comments or photos. This happens without either person having any physical in-person conversation with the other. That’s a big difference.

This place has never crossed into the zone of “ugly” for me. Far from it. Being a gazillion miles away from family has, from time to time, brought me “down” as the song goes, but never down and out for the count. I can chalk it up to the various people I have met over the last months some of whom I can genuinely call “friends”. This has changed the “ugly” of stranger into the “beautiful” of friendship. I can honestly say, that I have endured (although that’s not quite the right word) these months with a quiet joy that friendship brings that has me looking forward to each new day. Sounds a little unrealistic I suppose, but there it is.

When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange
When you’re strange
When you’re strange

The “faces” that come out of the rain are my colleagues and students whom I have learned to appreciate and indeed love over these months. Contrary to Morrison, these are good faces, sincere faces, funny faces and accepting faces. I don’t demand much and I live very simply and perhaps these have made me more open to the possibilities of long-lasting relationships. Friendship to me is turning on a light in a dark place. I tend to be a thinker and reflector type person. That has it’s good and bad sides. If I live too much in my head I can begin to believe that my inner reality should correspond to my outer reality. You know, the kind of thoughts that are filled with “shoulds”. The trouble with that is I can begin to believe that I am better than…whatever ro whomever. Thinking like that, to me, really would make me “ugly” to the people I work for and work with like the stranger Morrison sings about. I cannot imagine doing that. I balance being alone, without being lonely, with activity that engages me and other people. I know, in 2 to 3 years no one will “remember my name” but not because I’m strange (although there’s a good argument to be made here) but because of physical absence. I guess that’s the way it happens in life. But, you know, that is quite all right. For the time being, I need to be out of my head and into whatever I am doing, teaching class or hanging with the homies on a Saturday afternoon.

If I was talking to my friend Jim Morrison, I’d tell him “yeah, Jim, we are all strange at one time or another. And the beautiful thing is, we can be strange together”. That’s a concept that will get me out of the rain.

…and so it goes…