THAT NONE BE LOST
novel written by: James Edmund Magner, Jr.
Publisher’s Preface by: vicque fassinger
Perhaps the best way to introduce this novel – which continues to astound me more and more each time I read it – is to share with you portions of a letter I wrote to its author, James Edmund Magner, Jr., who first brought the manuscript to me in 1999 - thirty-some years after he wrote it - and wanted to know my estimate of it and if I thought it would be worthy of publishing. He told me it was about his experience while as an infantryman in the Korean War. Since I have known Magner for over 20 years, I had no doubt that the manuscript he handed me early that summer would be as insightful and thought-filled and distinctly-magneresque as all of his books of poetry I had come to read, and hear him recite, and appreciate, and internalize over the years. I knew it would be a uniquely-told story because it was written by Magner; but because I was still quite overwhelmed with despair and darkness since the death of my dad in 1998, I could not focus or concentrate or give much energy to anything – let alone a manuscript written almost 40 years ago about a lost war that occurred in some foreign land long before I was born. I couldn’t think about much. Except my dad. I couldn’t focus on anything. Except that my dad was physically gone from my daily life and that somehow, unbeknownst to me, the sun was still shining each day and people were still hustling and bustling and whirling like dervishes on the streets in the city.
I was stunned by the normalcy of the world outside my window. The sadness that loomed over me changed my perspective on everything - it shaded my window, limited my view, constructed my wall. The melancholy, the grief, the emptiness I felt from the death of my dad, from this profound loss in my life - and the loss of all the other relatives and people I knew and loved who had gone before me - overwhelmed me, suffocated me, stifled me, stopped me stone cold on my life’s venture-filled path. My dad was gone. Other souls that I had connected with while they were alive were gone. Loved ones of friends and acquaintances were gone. My dogs Blue and Bo were gone. My Aunt Lana was gone. Henry’s friend, Joe Cole, was gone. Joyce’s mom, Dorothy, was gone. All of my grandparents were gone. Jennifer’s dad, Ken, was gone. Santo’s mom, Frances, was gone. Perry’s dad, Arduine, was gone. Wanda’s son, Gregory, was gone. Jackie’s husband, Larry, was gone. Mark and Rena Moss were gone. 54,000 individual American soldiers serving in the Korean War were gone. The going went on and on and had gone on for years. For thousands and thousands and thousands of years. And when my dad died on Groundhog’s Day – when he was gone, I was gang-tackled by my emotions. It was enough that I could crawl out of bed each morning, dress my soul in black, set my machine – bound for the Blue Flamingo - on cruise control, and then, somehow, make it through each day’s cast of clients and the blitzkrieg of I-need-it-by-yesterday projects.
So while I knew, and would confidently bet my last peso, that what Magner handed me that afternoon last summer was a unique and creative historical novella of the Korean War, what I did not fathom, and what I had no way of knowing until many nights later when I finally found the energy and the focus to take the manuscript off my bookshelf and read it in its entirety one cold, star-filled, cloudless night – was that this manuscript I beheld was a treasure chest overflowing with long-lost, misplaced, and forgotten priceless heirlooms of light, and of hope, and of joy, and of love. It was a truly brilliant work of living art. It was wisdom literature. Magner’s magnum opus. When I finished reading the manuscript that night, I was speechless. I was blown away.
As I had many times before and many times since, on August 30, 1999 I met Magner for hot hors d'oeuvres and manhattans and conversation and reverie at Pizzazz - a local watering hole just a frisbee’s whirl from John Carroll University’s campus. I had thought perhaps that night, as we cranked the elbow and admired the finesse of the players in the evening’s baseball game, that I would be able to tell him what my reaction was to his masterpiece – how his words written so long ago had the ability, nearly forty years later, to open the sealed, shaded windows of my walled world; how the words in his manuscript took me outside through the open window into the living where my tears could mix with rain and create a cool, refreshing concoction called Reprieve! A reprieve from despair, from sadness, from feeling utterly lost and hopeless after the death of my father and the loss of my faith. A reprieve bestowed by sharing with and connecting with another’s life, another’s fears, another’s feelings. By remembering, by reflecting upon, by engaging in conversation about, by meditating, by individualizing, by praying, by celebrating life, by living each moment of each hour of each day precisely in the moment in communion with all – and thus, intrinsically knowing, understanding, that those that have gone before us are not lost, are not gone, are not dead.
For love is stronger than death.
But that night at Pizzazz, the words wouldn’t come. In fact, it wasn’t until months later, after many other conversations and moments with Magner, that my estimate of his manuscript finally did come - and in the form of a letter.
excerpts from that letter
…jim…when you ask me - humbly, quietly, and patiently - what my thoughts are of your manuscript - THAT NONE BE LOST – I become speechless. I struggle before you to find words that will most assuredly and most wholeheartedly and most succinctly capture my feelings, my thoughts, and my reactions regarding this masterpiece, which means, intrinsically - my feelings, my thoughts, my reactions regarding YOU. You are this masterpiece. THAT NONE BE LOST is your story; it is my story; it is every soul’s story; it is the communion of all the words and feelings and thoughts and fears of all the kings of youth who have gone before us and all the beautiful babes yet to be created by the convergence of a butterfly and a locomotive. It is the testimony of a young soldier in the Korean War about to die as much as it is a guidebook, a bible, a sworn statement of what it is to live life fully, completely, utterly. It is artistically and simply and beautifully distilled and concentrated language of love expressed so wonderfully by YOU, by the waltz of your heart and your mind to the song in your soul. So you ask me what my estimate is of your work. What I think of it. I sit there…next to you…and one with you, and the words I want to use to express my feelings of this masterpiece don’t come. They stir and swirl to the tip of my tongue but instead of letting them flow freely forth for your ears and your heart to be warmed and affirmed and assured, I swallow them whole… (but) I want you to know right now, this moment - how utterly and truly and wonderfully…blown away I am and have been by THAT NONE BE LOST. And it is your work, your life, your existence…that has blown me away to a place no longer among the wandering but to a terrain with trees rooted deep beneath mother nature’s soil - with branches reaching out to embrace all of life – all the flightless caterpillars who transform into wildflower-hopping butterflies, and all the calming, graceful deer, the orchestra of birds, all the insects and the critters that only show themselves to those who take the time to see, and all the sacred scared souls who understand but cannot speak – the old man who had his legs amputated and lived behind the spumoni shop, the blind woman left alone, the clubfooted man who set the condor free, the chinaman frozen in the hole, all of them - the tree of life embraces and comforts and loves all of them. All of us here - blown away to this safe haven of love & affirmation. THAT NONE BE LOST - You - have blown me away to that holy place… THAT NONE BE LOST IS AN AFFIRMATION OF LIFE. Of everyman’s life. When we remember, when we capture moments in our minds, when we share those moments with others, when we remember those that we love, those that we have not met but know, intrinsically - when we remember them, they are not lost. They are not forgotten. They live and dance and boogie forever in our hearts and our minds. I fear these thoughts and these words don’t come close to expressing my feelings of your work of art. It is filled with alliteration and poetic words that ease into cool water-colored scenes of moments in the lives of individual souls and then c-r-a-s-h into life’s manmade shit and then r-e-l-e-a-s-e into love and oneness and affirmation THAT NONE BE LOST. Every story, every paragraph, every sentence, every word in THAT NONE BE LOST is a life of its own. When I read, “the distance was about 200 miles of slow going and the wind chill that day must have been forty below. By the time we got there, we could hardly move; it took us about 20 minutes to unhinge ourselves from the frozen sculpture that we made and from the only heat of the world, our human bodies” - I laughed out loud. When I read that part I laughed out loud. I put the manuscript down, envisioned that site and laughed out loud. And then I went on to read, “McKenna, who was driving one of the forward jeeps, jumps out after two hundred miles and looks at me, a refrigerated splint, and laughs” - I smiled and I shook my head sideways - not in disbelief, but in affirmation. When I learned that McKenna, too, thought that scene was funny, I knew I was right there with him. With you. It felt good in my belly, in my heart, in my soul to laugh out loud in the middle of a serious-as-shit moment. THAT NONE BE LOST is brilliant; it is awesome; it is soul-stirring; it is heart-wrenching; it is beautiful; it is joyous; it is real; it is hopeful; it is the affirmation of all of life itself - not only the guys out there in the front line, in the freezing cold, but also every man. I cried the first time I read THAT NONE BE LOST. And I have cried every time I have read it since. It is not fiction. It is non-fiction. It is real. It is life. It is death. It is affirmation of all life and communion with all souls. Christ comes in odd shapes and crouches beneath the bridge . I learned a very, very long time ago from you that others live on in our thoughts and in our words. Always. We affirm their existence, their love, their energy when we think of them, speak of them, remember them. Though my tears that flow so freely and so often are a concoction of sadness and joy, I affirm the lives of the loves that have gone before me in every moment. For the living and the dead, that none be lost…
Told through keen observations, vertical jottings, childhood memories, and heart-wrenching moments of life, love, and war captured in a lyric symphony of words and jotted in a journal just days before death crosses the 38th parallel in the form of warfire and abruptly ends the young life of infantryman John Mannix - the story’s protagonist and a prolific writer of a journal that is - decades later - read, internalized, celebrated, and intrinsically understood by Rod Griffin, another key character in the story from another time and another place who, having lost his job, his child, his wife, his girl, and his connection to anything real, wavers at the brink of emptiness and utter despair just prior to beholding the young infantryman’s long-lost journal, That None Be Lost is the story of the contributive oneness that exists between all people – the connection, the participation, the coincident that combines all of us – the living and the dead – in this process called life.
Just as each individual wave within the wondrous life-filled ocean crashes, slides, eases, touches, affects, transforms, connects, and communes into all the waves that have come before it and all the ways yet to follow – all contributing to the oneness that is the process of the energy and the life of the sea - so too, do we crash, slide, ease, touch, affect, transform, connect, and commune with all souls in this life - all the souls that have gone before us, and all the souls yet to follow. And in that contributive oneness, we connect beneath that one glorious sun star that shines its guiding light upon us all – all creatures, all souls, all graves, all oceans. We are all warmed and touched by the same source – wherever we may be at any given moment – whether crouched beneath a bridge, shivering down deep within some hole in our lives, at a wailing wall, or holding on, like Ishmael perched atop the Pequod’s crow’s nest, amid life’s storms. The contributive oneness of it all.
That None Be Lost is a wondrous, enlightening, hope-filled book for everyman, for every person who has ever felt disconnected from humankind. It is a story with interwoven themes, movements of dissonance and lyric flight. It is for every person who has ever loved and felt they had lost that love to death – in whatever guise it sported as it crossed that parallel line. For any individual who has been balancing on the brink of utter despair and about to be swallowed up by the sea of sadness, That None Be Lost is the Queequeg-coffin-turned-Ishmael-life-buoy. It is the affirmation of every man’s life. It is a raw, real, historical, philosophical testimony of life and death - of youth destroyed through meaningless war and of old age sustained through enduring love, of the bond between all souls – past and present.
It’s been just a little over twenty-four months since the death of my dad - which, of course, means very little because only love is stronger than death, not the passage of time. It’s been 50 years since the death of those thousands of individual soldiers in the Korean War – each with his own name, his own identity, his own personality, his own family, his own fears, his own talents, his own experiences. Individual souls, not statistics in a history book. Two years. Fifty years. For all of us left behind, it’s not the passage of time that affects us, it’s the moment the heart’s beat stopped that the clocks became disconnected and the chapters changed in our lives.
So though my soul is still covered in black, and I rarely brush my hair, hardly ever wear my shoes, and often nap beneath trees when I am drunk with fatigue and stumbling with sadness, I know now I am not completely empty, I am not utterly lost. I am among the living and in that living, I still boogie with joy like there’s no one watching because I connected with my dad while he was alive. And that makes the celebrating and remembering of his wondrous life and all the lives of the others that have gone before me that much easier and that much harder. Connecting with the living. Because our loves, our losses, our memories, our stories, our thoughts, our lives are constantly crashing, sliding, easing, touching, affecting, transforming, connecting, and communing with the living. And the dead. All part of the process that none be lost.