Fireflies in the Night

Published 1:56pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not long after returning from Vietnam, Faith and I moved to Tampa, Florida. I needed to try to find my place in a society that had changed drastically during the year I was away (or was I the one that changed?). That move was pivotal in our family history – I earned a masters degree, Faith a bachelors degree, we bought a house, our kids started school, etc.
When we moved back to Auburn, AL to pursue still more education for all of us, we decided to rent the house there in Florida, hoping to pay for it from the proceeds. For a few years that worked out fairly well. I had to go down and clean up after a couple of tenants, but thats just part of how things go when youre trying to get life jump started. The last renters, however, trashed the house, allowing the shower in the bathroom to jam and compromising the houses subfloor.
We concluded that it was time to fix the problems and sell the house. When we went down to accomplish this, we decided to look up a friend from graduate school days. Ray was working as a therapist in downtown Tampa, running a practice and another business from a big, old house in a neighborhood that was slowly becoming a commercial district. He lived in one section of the house, had an area where he did his therapy and another separate, area where his other business interests were housed.

When we arrived at Rays place on an early Friday evening, there was a gathering taking place (OK it was a party). It took a while to get Ray alone and to ask, So how are you really, Raymond?
His response has stuck with me over all these years, because since that day, it has always felt relevant to me. He said, Donald, Im just working hard and trying to live up to my Hippie ethics in a world thats got no ethics at all.
During the first week of November, 2009, another friend, Frank, from those days in Florida, passed through Tryon. He was on his way from Cleveland, where he has worked as a journalist for some 25 years, back to Tampa for retirement. Frank was an editor of Cleveland Magazine for several years, worked and taught at Kent State, and spent the last ten years of his working life as a journalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Frank is a brave man. At age 24, he had two heart valves replaced. Somehow, he was able to push through that trauma, secure his masters degree and move on into the world of work. He has since had two further replacements and is still going strong. Our sons grew up together during the time that we were living in close proximity. And weve stayed in touch through the years. Part of his bravery sort of repudiates that maxim that Ray dropped on me back in the 70s. He is one of the most ethical persons Ive ever met.
Franks recent visit to Birdland was an honor for us. He could have more easily taken a direct route to join his wife in Tampa, but decided to come this way and spend a couple of days with us. We were delighted to have those first few days of his new life (in retirement) spent here.
In one of our talks on the screen porch, the issue of how he wants to spend his new-found freedom came up. He wants to continue to write; but this time he wants to be able to write want he thinks, what he values, and how he feels about the issues he chooses to devote his energies to exploring.
I asked how different this would be for him and his answer deserves a wide audience. I wish that I believed that all, or even most, journalists have the same level of journalistic integrity. He said: As a journalist you have to report things as you find them and allow your readers to interpret their significance. Different people have differing values and a journalist cant impose his/her own on the readership. But Im about ready to take my stand. Now I can do that.
When I look out at the world we live in and see the corruption, the greed, the politicians exposed for misdeeds, talk show hosts and faux TV news anchors who preach but dont report, the obvious underhanded dealings of companies and individuals to the detriment of the disadvantaged, I am ashamed and discouraged. But at those low moments, I have some weapons to fight against the depression that threatens to sour my view of the world – Frank and Ray are still out there. They are like fireflies on a dark night. Each of these men is doing his best to live an ethical life in the face of those who have, as Ray put it, got no ethics at all.

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