dafremen You meet so many interesting characters at the flea market/swap meet. The cast of characters is as colorful as an Arkansas autumn and no less touching to the observant soul. Brother Ray touched my soul. He is a good man with a good heart and a kind smile, who lives in a place just beyond the reach of the innane and mundane details of everyday existence. Brother Ray is a preacher. Brother Ray is a teacher. Brother Ray is a student of life, a doctor of the soul and perhaps most recent and to the point, Brother Ray is my friend.
Every weekend, in a 15 by 20 foot space at a Denver Flea Market, I attend a little religious service. It is my weekly dose of humility, reality and communion with a fellow seeker and a kindred soul. There are usually only two in attendance, Ray and myself, but the service and sense of community is no less for it's short list of participants. Here I will post the moments that have begun to touch my life in very profound ways. These are the moments that move and restore. Today I begin a journal of the words that pass between myself and Brother Ray.
dafremen "Neither sex, nor drugs nor rock and roll have anything on the place I have seen, Ray. It is the gyst of my longing and THAT, my friend, is the core of this excruciating wait to find that place again. I have been to heaven and back, and the taste on my mind remains."
I was trying to explain the source of this need for escape. Trying to touch upon the depths of my desire to be with God again. A singular expression lit his face. Ray KNEW.

With a smile that demanded nothing less than one of my own, Brother Ray pulled a shiny bit from his bag of truths.

"Ahhh grasshoppah!", Ray grinned, "There is a box that you should see someday. It is about THIS big."

His hands described an object about the size of a 'C' cell battery.

"This box is made of the blackest stone that you have ever laid your eyes on. Blacker than the blackest night and twice as cold. If you were to open the lid, a light would shoot out from the top, streaking toward the stars.. continuing on forever. If you were to open the box in a mirrored room, it would zig-zag, bouncing and ricocheting without end."

Ray animated the notion with large, quick gestures that made his gray dreadlocks dance in a surreal and serpentine chorus line. Ray is without a doubt, a storyteller's storyteller.

"Now if you're REALLY, REALLY GOOD", he continued, squinting down into his fist, "and you put your eye up to the top of the lid, doing things just the right way, the light will shoot into your brain, energizing your entire nervous system. Nothing in the world can compare. Nothing you could know."

Ray grinned, removing the stubby cigar from his mouth, "But first, you must find the box."

Delighted, I smiled and we shared that moment for only a moment, until I just had to know: Did Ray really know, or was I the fortunate victim of a stab in the dark?


"Yea Daf?"

"You ever think that maybe WE'RE that box?"

Another unmistakable look, and again Ray removed the cigar from his mouth.

"Most profound, my friend. Great profundity there, indeed."

Ray knew.
dafremen "Yea, same to ya pal!"

The man had called me a bozo because he felt I had driven too close to his table. I was having trouble with what my friend would call the nafs. People were irking me to the ends of my patience, and the timing couldn't have been worse. Patience was something that was in short supply and high demand that morning.

"Grummba Mrumba drrma...grrrr"

Where was that peaceful, gentle soul that had inhabited me not 5 months ago? Where WAS my soul and why was I so out of touch with it and its endless fountain of patience?

Church was what I needed, and the only church I know of that had ever fit the bill of my necessity lay somewhere in the middle of this huge parking lot full of vendors.

"Where", I wondered, "is Brother Ray?"

I found him somewhere in Row K. He'd managed a rather tasty corner spot, and so was looking as content as could be this particular morning. (Ray looks as content as can be EVERY morning..)

"Good morning, Ray!", I said with an already soul-soothing grin on my face, "How the heck are ya?"

"Daaaaf! Good morning my friend. Isn't she a beaut?", he crooned, gesturing with a dramatic sweep toward the sky, "Aren't they all?"

"Yes indeed, Brother Ray, yes indeed."

"And how are you today my friend?", Ray asked casually.

I didn't answer, but instead made a request.

"Ray..speak to me of PATIENCE."

A smile crossed Ray's face. He was a storyteller this man was, and nothing seemed to delight him more than the opportunity to weave a good anecdote from his endless supply of sage advice and rainbows.

"Ahhhhh patience. Yes, I know a method that will teach you to be infinitely patient. When you are done with this method, you WILL know patience."

"Do tell."

"First, you must fast for 3 days. Do not eat anything, drink only water."

"Oh yea. I'm aware of the power of that method."

"No, but wait! There is more." Ray adjusted his cigar in a half veiled attempt to hide the twinkle in his eye.

"See, at the end of the three days, you may eat until you are full."

"You mean stuffed to overflowing?"

"No, no...just full until you think that you've had enough, that's all. You may eat as much as you want, but there is only one catch."

"And THAT is..?"

"You must go out and buy a big bag of unshelled sunflower seeds, and open them one at a time in order to fill yourself", Ray burst into a cascade of contagious chuckles, "By the time you are full, my friend, you WILL know patience."

I almost peed myself laughing.

Again, this man had pulled from his medicine bag, just the salve I needed to heal my longing. It turned out to be a PRETTY beautiful morning after that..and really..aren't they all?
dafremen "Good Morning Brother Ray!"
"Goooood Morning Daf! How the HECK are ya?!"

Ray, as usual was in the best of moods, and as usual, it was contagious. I smiled.

"Doing pretty damned good now, Ray."

"Well GooOd Daf. Whatcha up to this fine morning?"

"Nuttin much. Just wondering if you might have a story to tell me."

Ray's eyes twinkled with a casual delight that seemed twice as sedate as I knew it wasn't.

"Why sure Daf, let me see...a story. Howz about an old Sufi story?"

I smiled. Ray's connection to Sufism had been pretty obvious to me from the beginning. Ray was a Christian by faith, but there was so much Sufi in his thoughts and way of carrying himself that I wasn't as surprised as I suppose I should have been when he began to weave an old Sufi tale regarding the futility of judging the moment.

"It seems", began Ray, "that there was this farmer who had a son. His son had a horse and see he loved that horse very much, because he had grown up with the animal."

I sat down, Ray knew his way around a story and this time was no exception:

One day, the son comes running in the front door screaming for his father.

"Pa! Pa!", he cried, "Come look!"

It seems the horse had fallen into a ditch and broken both of its front legs, and so the farmer put the animal out of its misery and turned to comfort his son.

"Isn't it horrible Pa? Isn't it though?"

"Welll..I don't know", said the farmer.

The next day, they were in town when a horse trader came into town. He had some fine animals at reasonable prices. The farmer told the man of his son's loss and the man was so moved that he offered to sell his finest animal for the price of his most inexpensive. The farmer took him up on the offer.

A neighbor overheard the transaction and said to the farmer, "Wasn't it a stroke of good fortune that you lost that broken down old nag? Look at the amazing price you've gotten on this fine anmial. A stroke of good luck indeed, don't you think?"

"Welll...", said the farmer, "I don't know."

A week later, the farmer's son was riding his new horse when the animal, not full trained, and quite spirited, threw the boy, breaking both of his legs.

The same neighbor heard of the boys accident and came to offer his sympathies.

"Oh, my dear friend. Isn't it HORRIBLE what that animal did to your son?"

The farmer looked at him as calmly as could be and said simply, "Wellll...I don't know."

The neighbor was incredulous. Here the man's son had two broken legs and he didn't seem to think that it was horrible at all. He left shaking his head.

Two days later, war broke out. The military liason came into town, looking to draft all of the young men of eligible age into the service. Everyone's sons went off to war. All of them except the farmer's son.

Again the neighbor came by to chew the fat. "Isn't it amazing", he asked, "that your son was spared by that lucky accident?"

"Welll..", the farmer replied, "I dunno."

At this point, I had gotten the point. Each event is simply event. And WHOSE to say which are blessings and which are curses except the Almighty? Who indeed? I wondered where this story was going...but Ray just went on...and on...and on..

"Then the news came back from the front. They had all died, to a lad. Only the farmer's son had been spared. His neighbors, in their grief, turned to lash out against the farmer in rage. They arrived, a mob with pitchforks and scythes in hand to seek revenge against the farmer."

I was getting the feeling that this could go on I asked: "Ummm...hey Ray...does this story ever end?"

"Welll", Ray said, grinning from ear to ear.."I dunno..."
dafremen The Story of Brother Sandpaper

Brother Sandpaper, no doubt you've met him, is that person that always rubs you the wrong way...even the sight of them.

You can't do any right by Brother Sandpaper, and it raises your hackles to think about him.

Well one day, Brother Ray is at a gathering, and who should camp (for the month) right in front of him...but Brother Sandpaper.

Day after day, Brother Ray, would look upon the face of this person whose very profile was a SNEER.

After about a week of this, and as his patience was wearing thin, at the insensitive, loutish, mean things that Brother Sandpaper would do and say, Brother Ray sat down to commune with the Spirit ask it, why?

Why did you do this to me Lord? What is the purpose behind this horribly annoying person?

And the Spirit answered him:
"Why Ray...I sent Brother Sandpaper to you as a gift! He is going to help you smooth away all of your rough edges."

"Help me?", thought Brother Ray, "You mean Brother Sandpaper is here to HELP ME?!"

From that moment, he couldn't help but see Brother Sandpaper in a whole different way:

Brother Sandpaper was his FRIEND!

The next morning, he brewed up some fresh coffee, and as brother Sandpaper came out of his tent on that cold morning...

Brother Ray greeted him with a smile...and offered his friend a cup of coffee.

Brother Sandpaper looked at him with suspicion, but grudgingly accepted.

And why SHOULDN'T he be suspicious? After the way Ray had treated him..his friend!

Acting like he was an irritant..when he was just there to smooth away those rough edges..hmph!

For the rest of the stay...Ray treated Brother Sandpaper like what he was...his FRIEND, sent from above to work on his rough edges.

Soon...those rough edges were worn away. And Brother Sandpaper wasn't quite so abrasive anymore without those rough edges to catch on.

And to this day...they are the closest of friends.
daf There aren't many things that get a man like Ray down. He's a blaze of hope on a hopless day and his smile, toothless though it may be in parts, is a thing to warm the most people-weary souls.

Still smiling though he was, today would be one of the saddest of my life. Ray was moving on.

"Gotta head out East, Daf.", he grinned, "Mrs. decided to leave me after 9 years and it hurts too much to stay."

I hurt for him so badly. I hurt so badly I couldn't talk to him. And I couldn't talk to him because I was going to miss him, and so I started to ask him how much he wanted for things.

What a horrible feeling it was. Here was perhaps my very best friend in the world, who was leaving, and the only way I could bring myself to stay and share his pain was by offering to buy things from him.

Ray saw right through me though, and he told me not to worry, that our paths would cross sooner or later. Of this he was quite sure.

As our day at the flea market drew to a close, all but the very last of the stragglers was gone. The tarmac empty of people, with trash strewn out like the wreckage of some giant airship while the "dumpster divers" popped in and out like pelicans hunting for fish, I looked at Ray, my brother, and hunted for the words to say.

For another of the very few times in my life, they were not there. So I hugged him instead and wished him well.

After hanging his "polymorphic aerodynamics duffel" from the spare tire for better gas mileage, he got in the van, smiled and waved, then drove away, leaving me with a final lesson:

There are many things in this world that we think we want, many that we'd jump through hoops for. Still, in the end, it is the people that touch our lives that create our most tangible connections to this existence.

And I know some how that no distance can tax the cord that binds my deep respects and fondest thoughts to my brother, our Brother Ray.
daf I miss you Ray. And I've lost your number. 080514
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