I’ve had someone rolling around in my head. His name was Travis. I use past tense because I knew him a long time ago. I’m sure what I knew of him was limited then and has only been distorted by memory and time. Still, he was an interesting character with a unique, defining trait that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Travis and his trait came to mind this week for the first time in many years. It felt significant, personally, and possibly worth sharing with a bigger circle.
Travis had a habit of saying “God Bless Ya.” He said it in a very particular way and he said it a great deal. This piece is about that expression. What I think was behind it, how it came back to me out of the blue, possibly about the power of blessing and letting go of that which we don’t understand or immediately cherish.
To start, I want to share a little about Travis.
I met him in grad school in San Francisco. A fellow Midwesterner, I never found out what brought him from Iowa to the coast or how the place had changed him. When I met him, he was well into his studies, was rail thin, had a scraggy, impressive, sandy blonde beard, and may have been easily mistaken for a homeless man as he stood in his t shirts and worn jeans from a distance. That assumes, though, that you had found him at a rare, still moment. He was the departmental assistant so he was often running around before or after class to help a professor prepare materials. When he wasn’t helping the faculty, he was engaged with classmates delving further into ideas that he had encountered in class or in the drafts of papers that he had read. Unlike myself, he didn’t display a frantic, overworked, how will I get everything done energy. But, he pulsated energy. It appeared something like excited teenagers who were entering a concert venue where their favorite rock group was about to perform. Travis was in love with the sprawling conversations that arose from the coursework, with the eclectic mix who had chosen an even more unorthodox program, and with the larger, vibrant city that it was embedded in. There was something about Travis that attracted this rich diversity to him. It seemed that he was always good for a story about the person he met on the bus or subway or at the grocery story that was unpredictable. And, he would engage with them about anything–politics, religion, hallucogenic drugs, the intentional community he hoped to build one day, and a variety of alternative lifestyles and practices. Somehow, even innocent grocery store line conversations could turn into an earnest exchange of ideas about the world and how it could be. And tension could build within those earnest conversations until some ideological impasse had been reached. Time and time again, Travis would end the conversation by saying, “God Bless Ya Lady” or “God Bless Ya Man” and walk or skip away.
I heard Travis retell many stories out there. I don’t ever recall thinking that he was an instigator–someone who enjoyed riling others up grinding an axe. And, I don’t think that he was a comedian–retelling stories of the people he encountered because he thought they should be judged or scorned or turned into a soundbite. I believe he was an ideological revolutionary–engaged in study of philosophy and the cosmos and ecology and alternative ways of knowing because he desperately yearned for a better world. I think he engaged with all sorts of people because he knew he could not bring about that world in isolation, that it could only come with sharing ideas, understanding how they connected with others, and dreaming together. He often failed–which led to the tension in the conversation–but he didn’t lose hope or sew acrimony. That’s where the “God Bless Ya” came from. I think I t was his way of trying to put a clean karmic bow tie on a conversation. He never explained it, but my best guess is that it could have been interpreted as:
I have no idea how you can actually believe what you’re saying or that these actions are ok. But some people assume I’m crazy, so, who am I to judge? Years from now, maybe we’ll both know the truth, like the big TRUTH, and have some peace that comes from knowing it. For now, just know that I’ve enjoyed talking with you, that this will be rolling around in my head for a while, and that I bid you no ill harm. And, I’m kind of hoping we both see things differently and more fully the next time we get into this type of conversation. Until then, take care of yourself and farewell.
His “God Bless Ya” was sincere, warm, generous, and true. He was a joy to be around, to argue with, to talk politics with, to commiserate with. He was wonderful, and I wish I had gotten to know him better.
So, what brought Travis to mind after all this time? A text message. It was the final text in a series of texts that put me in a funk. Whatever meaningful, constructive conversation the sender and I had been engaged in had clearly ended. I felt stuck most of the day and then Travis came to mind. I could see him standing before me, saying the words, “God Bless Ya” to both myself and the person I was so frustrated with. For no logical reason, it changed how I felt. I tried to amplify the affect–closing my eyes, imagining that I was offering a blessing instead of just receiving it–and things improved even more. Half a dozen “God Bless Ya’s” later actually brought me a smile.
Something about Travis and his expression felt like a key today. It feels as useful as Jim’s stop light prayers (which I hope he’ll write about sometime) and I’m going to try it on for a time.
If you’re going through a thing, I hope this story of Travis or a tool buried in your own past can help you move forward. Whatever you’re up against, God Bless Ya.