It was quiet inside the tent. Tensions of his nightmare returned fears . . . fire. . . unbearable heat. . . someone shouting . . . he had to . . . must . . . ?
The dream startled him awake. He hurried to slide into jeans and long-sleeved, navy print shirt. Billie and Quirt were waiting for him beside a small fire with tin mugs in their hands. The sun was bright overhead but they said there was still time to reach the breakfast circle.
The day was one of spectacular beauty. Trees wore their brightest green boughs. The air danced with bursts of earthy scents, embracing as the angels of air and sunshine encircling the land could make it. It was time for signs and wonders.
Pancakes, potatoes, carrots and oatmeal came around in the huge stainless steel pots and coolers carried by the food volunteers. After a welcome ceremony of praise, the people enjoyed the flavors of fresh food and rejoiced with others.
After the breakfast, Billie and Quirt, who had been impressed by a woman who explained post-traumatic stress better than anyone they’d ever heard, led Lance over to the place where she’d be speaking.
In a little meadow encircled by trees, people of all ages, about forty of them, had formed themselves into a circle and were pleasantly chatting with one another.
A pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman made her way into the center of the circle. She stood before them with the quiet presence and confidence of a skilled teacher. The people quieted.
“Welcome everyone,” she said. “For those who don’t know me, my name is Alexis. This morning I’ll be talking about Life Lessons Nineteen and Twenty from my Pay Attention series.
“I especially like Nineteen: To have a friend is one of the highest and best prizes in life. This is a big task. Many people forget that friendship is a verb. It is an activity. It needs constant input to survive and thrive.
“A good friend is like a Ferrari car, sleek and exciting but high-maintenance. If you look after them and care for them, they do stay appealing.”
She paused, letting the people would acknowledge one another’s special friendships.
Lance, Billie and Quirt, men who had developed one of the tightest human bonds during Vietnam, nodded to each other. Quirt said, “She’s talking about us.” Within each man was a commitment to being such a friend.
“You must get something of value from them and they must get the equivalent return from you.”
Lance considered Alexis to be five foot two, if that. He found her low voice hypnotic, effused with pureness and clarity. Her comfortable manner drew him in a powerful way. Sunshine swirled around her petite, thin figure.
She wore a simple long, yellow cotton frock that had a collar and hem made of paisley print, wore no jewelry, had no visible tattoo and was not wearing shoes. Her hair was dark brown, long and straight in the back; with the sides pulled together and held up on the back by a large barrette. Wispy bangs hung over her forehead.
It was her eyes which beckoned, dark and blue as the water flowing in the nearby creek, lightening more in the buttery warmth of the sunshine but often changing into darkness.
Lance knew she was in pain. He checked himself. He must not miss a thing she was saying,
“Seek friends who are pleasant to be around and then you’ll feel the same. When you fall on hard times, a friend is there when you need them. If you have to do something boring, difficult or challenging, it goes more smoothly because you’re doing it together.
“They’ll get you to laugh and not be too serious about life, even if life is serious. Such a friend reminds you of the person you’d like to be. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘First you must be friend to yourself because if you don’t like yourself you can’t be friends with anyone.’
“Now, onto Life Lesson Number Twenty which teaches that we can learn to enjoy our own company. Don’t be afraid to be alone. Relish it. When you are by yourself, the main thing is to recognize that when a negative thought comes, replace it immediately with one that is positive. It’s the Twenty-first rule in the series: the law of attraction.
“To be alone can be a great revelation. It’s a perfect way to see yourself as you are. Aloneness is a wise teacher. It highlights your weaknesses but offers new strengths.
“Solitude can bring joy if you let it.
“Remember you were born adorable; you were curious and open-minded and filled with joy. Continue to be the same today. Don’t live without singing songs that you wish you’d have sung. You’ll find joy if you live in the moment and not be thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. Just be focused here and now.
“I thank you for your kind attention. It’s been a pleasure to be with you. If anyone has questions, I’ll remain here to speak with you.”
The audience clapped enthusiastically. Several people jumped up to surround her. The guys were ready to leave so Lance couldn’t find out why she was in pain.
The cosmic currents working that day were so powerful that they would sweep Lance and Alexis together into the most meaningful of all friendships. In spite of the fact that there were thousands of people at the Gathering, Lance would find her again.