Sitka Soup for the Soul

How do we imagine life leading us somewhere, and the randomness of it all. The synchronicities and consequences of our actions? Unless we, looking over our lives, reflect on who we are, and how we got to be this person, we might miss the importance, the value others have had on our thinking, and as a direct result, our lives, and experiences.

This world lost the presence of a great soul Easter Sunday morning, while so many of us were celebrating the resurrection of one, I found myself reflecting on the loss of another. Will Swagel and I met at New York University – we grew up barely 20 miles from each other on Long Island, but it took 18 years of life for our sacred contract to bring us together. The day I walked into room 601 at the Brittany Dorm on 10th St. was one of those rare occasions where, when you meet someone you feel a connection, in the minds eye, that goes back centuries, millennia. Thinking back, it may have been to the wisdom schools of Greece, because to me, it was as much philosophy (love of Sophia – knowledge) as it was friendship. It was Will who put Isabel Hickey’s book Astrology: A Cosmic Science in my hands. He introduced me to the poetry of Joni Mitchell, and Marshall McLuhan’s – The Medium is the Massage, James Joyce, Beethoven’s Symphonies, and there is the night to remember in New Paltz, NY, under a icy, starlit winter sky, where we concluded that Prometheus may have given us fire – but that “Man took the fire, and there was hell to pay”.

Will was born in the sign of Aquarius, the water barer, in the crisp cold electric air of winter, and I a Scorpio, a fixed water sign – ice … We had a connection. Aquarius, Hickey says, is the most human sign of the Zodiac, and while we all have flaws, Will’s humanity lives well in my mind; He freely shared whatever was his to offer, he had a unquenchable thirst for knowledge, a love of the arts, and literature, and of course his own self-expression in his assenting voice and always through his writing.

In the 1970’s everyone drove Volkswagen’s, and another connection we had was “Jerome” (named after Jerome Ave in the Bronx, NY) a sky blue 1967 VW Beetle – any collector today will tell you they were the best year made and he proved it. When we left NYU, Will and his two closest friends, Renee and Jerome left to go on a cross country adventure, while I turned wrenches at at Bell Bug works and listened to John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High. But our bond remained and not more than 6 months after they returned Will and I were roommates again on Misty Road, Rocky Point, NY – Cats and kittens, lot’s of maryjane, and endless conversation about the meaning of life. We both drove our beetles, rode my motorcycle, and listened to a collection of LPs, many of which I still do. We read a lot and we never owned a TV. It was the end of the Vietnam era, and our country was changing, as were we – leaving Misty Road to continue our education, me to the car dealers, and Bill to SUNY New Paltz, to finish his degree.

And so we grew, up and apart, but there were letters, photographs, phone calls, and families to raise. I admired his move San Francisco, he knew what was right, and did it, he knew how to love, and shared it well.  I always felt our connection, no matter the years, a phone call always brought us back to our own Ode to Joy.

Step by step he was lead to Sitka – the old Russian Capital, this Russian Jew, who got beat up when he was a kid for killing Jesus, found his home in Sitka. The ocean, the nature, the people. I always felt a warmth from him when he talked about his life there. The place that held him warmly in its heart, as I know he felt the same.  I can only wonder at what fond stories his neighbors will tell, but I do know this man, who lives as a brother in my memory.  He will be missed, by me and by people I will never know, in ways too numerous to describe, except that we share a common bond; We knew the man, his sometimes sly laughter, his cigarettes, his unbuttoned coats, who wrote ten times ten thousand words, touched just as many hearts and will live lifetimes over and over in all of our hearts.

12 thoughts on “Sitka Soup for the Soul

  1. My heart hurts for yours. I recently finished The Great Alone, a story of salvation in the vast mystery of Alaska. The man you describe surely found his way home. You blessed his days…

    • Their is so much of him that shaped my thinking. We did affect each other, yet remained ourselves too … he will be missed. The Great Alone sounds interesting. Thank you 🙏

  2. Peter, my condolences on the loss of your friend. This is a wonderful tribute to him, and no doubt he’s still with you in spirit and you’ll meet again. I know how hard it is though, to lose a dear friend. May you continue to take comfort from the good memories. 💙

  3. Peter, thanks for sharing this. I am so sad to hear that Bill has passed. He was a big part of my growing up it is hard to think that he is no longer in this world. Do you know how he died? I feel as if a little part of me just died hearing the news

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s