Alphabet is the parent company of Google and all powerful, but even though Google is everywhere, that is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about the actual alphabet, you know, A, B, C, D, etc., etc., etc. We learn the alphabet at the earliest age, and it’s re-enforced in grammar school by a very powerful reminder. It’s the seating order that we all were put in regardless of the school we went to. Our last names were alphabetized and we sat in alphabetical order. And for most of our grammar school years, we sat behind the letter before us and in front of the letter after us. For me, Pastina was squeezed in between O and Q.
I say that the alphabet is powerful, because this seating order, lasting in some cases for eight years, helped form the earliest friendships that we know. I know that sometimes, the kids sitting next to you could also be your tormentors, too. But I believe for the most part, we have fond memories of those years, and if you put your mind to it, you can remember who sat in front and behind you in grammar school. In my case, my two buddies (O & Q) and I wound up on the same basketball and football teams together for several years. One of the two effectively ended my career as pitcher in the Little League, when at the ripe age of about eight; I took a ground ball to the nose. But I took some pleasure in the fact that although he had bloodied my nose, he couldn’t make a left-handed lay-up to save his life!
To this day I consider both to be good friends, although I don’t see them much anymore because we live in different places. But when we do see each other, it’s always special. Do I remember others from those days, sure I do, but for some reason I remember these two, probably because they sat around me. I was also friends with a fellow whose name began with an A. He played basketball also and was very good. We had some disagreement one day and he bloodied my nose too. Now that I think about it, this seemed to be a recurring thing in my past! I don’t see Mr. A anymore either, but we were always friends and to this day my Dad sees him at Mass, and he always says hello.
I was also friends with an R guy. He was a bit hyperactive as a first grader; perhaps today he would have been diagnosed with some form of hyperactivity. Anyone who was in that class that year will remember the first grade teacher literally chaining this kid to the desk. Not making that up. He went on to become a doctor.
So it was in this way that we all began to put the building blocks of language together, first with the letters of the alphabet, then with small words, sentences, and paragraphs, followed finally by stories. And looking back, you begin to realize that they form the story of your life, and surprisingly started with the first letter of your last name. Recently, I saw Mr. O, we were in each other’s wedding parties, our families have known each other for at least three generations, maybe more, and he told me he had joined the ranks of the retired like myself. And I realized we had come full circle. As he was leaving, he hugged me and said, “I love you, man.” This coming from the guy who introduced me to the Grateful Dead four decades ago, and after being friends for over 50 years, I came to understand that the Dead were right, “love is love, and not fade away.”
And it all started with the alphabet, the circle is truly unbroken and very powerful.