A couple of years ago, after reading a eulogy I wrote for a fellow Vietnam combat veteran who also suffered from PTSD, Lionel “Chuck” Nosenchuck, the leader of our writers’ group, said, “When I die, I hope someone writes something like that about me.”
That’s when I should have started writing about Lionel. I could have submitted the eulogy to the group for critique, a public act of thanks to the man who helped me so much. I could have enjoyed watching his face and demeanor as he read my tribute to him, observed how each word impacted him, making him wince, ponder or even laugh out loud.
Climbing those stairs to get to our meeting room wasn’t easy for Lionel. Visiting him in the hospital years ago, his wife, Gayle, told me about his congestive heart and the fluid that often needed to be drained. “Chuck” always arrived early for our meetings and I did, too, so we could talk. When our members arrived, Lionel welcomed each one by name, passed the sign-in sheet and was ready to discuss writing. He expressed interest in every genre and tried his best to help each of us.
Before I began writing, I often punched holes in walls when I was angry and cursed those around me. When I tried to verbalize my emotions, peaceful words were impossible to find. Frustrated, I would quit talking and seethe, trapped in a cycle of violence destructive to my family, my job and myself. When I tried to read what I wrote, tears would come and I would freeze, choke up and stop. Lionel would give me a moment to see if I could recover and when I couldn’t, he would finish reading my piece while I dealt with my pain.
Lionel and the Northside Writers’ Group helped me to communicate. Finding words to express strong feelings, articulating and recognizing the beginning, middle and end of a story helped others to understand me, and me to understand myself. This process proved to be very cathartic. I often remarked that our writers’ group was a cheap alternative to therapy. Dr. Larry Beahan, a psychiatrist, usually chuckled: “My bill is in the mail.”
Percolating and bubbling inside of us, we all have stories to tell. Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here and where are we going? Lionel’s stories teemed with life and death, heroes and villains, hope and despair. In his battles to help others, he won some and lost some, but he always pushed toward goodness, truth and love. He also taught me to listen, to hear words and know their meanings, literally and connotatively; to watch the impact words have on others.
“What’s the main message you want to communicate?” he’d ask. “Can you rephrase that? How can you say that so it’s easier to understand?” In his criticism, Lionel was always constructive and compassionate. Here’s what he brought to me and to our writers’ group: communication, compassion and understanding – the pillars of peace.
Lionel died on Sept. 10, 2012, and I miss him greatly. So does every member of our group. We continue to meet at 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of every month at Crossroads Lutheran Church in Amherst. Anyone who wishes to share and improve his or her writing is welcome. Our website is northsidewriters.com.
Thank you, Lionel, for improving my life and thank you, Gayle, for supporting his efforts all these years. Before it’s too late, write, tell your stories and express yourself.