Author: Joe Merkle

I’m So Grateful For Lifelong Friends


Friendship is the ultimate form of love
Someone you think the world of
A love connection between two souls
A bond written on sacred scrolls
Someone you think the world of

Friendship is a love connection
Deeper than human affection
Always there for you in the best of times
Saviors in your most trying times
While accepting all your imperfections

Laughing, crying, living, dying
Shouldering all that is terrifying
A lifetime of love, a bond unbroken
No words ever need be spoken
Friends, you are the wind beneath my wings

What is friendship? Encyclopedia Britannica defines it like this: friendship, a state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people. In all cultures, friendships are important relationships throughout a person’s life span.

How is it that encyclopedias always seem to find a way to make the most meaningful human experiences sound like a classroom lesson taught by an AI robot?

My definition of friendship: Friendship is a love connection. Deeper than a mere handshake or a kiss on the cheek. Time and space do not alter these bonds. Nor do years of separation. A true friend will gladly share your happiest moments and your most trying times. A friend no matter the circumstances.

To quote Lou Gehrig — “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” I have friends in my life that go back 65 years. I have more than a handful of friends that inspired the poem above. Many were in or at my wedding. And consoled me when my best friend, my wife, died. They have been there for the good and bad times. They will be in my heart for all time.

I continue to make new friends. I am gaining new experiences through them. Making new love connections. That is the ONLY REASON we are here. To spread love. To share love. Simply put — to be a good friend.© 2023 Joe Merkle All rights reserved. Originally published on

Her Most Prized Possession

The key

Photo by Konstantin Evdokimov on Unsplash

It was Abbi’s tenth birthday party when she received the greatest gift of her life. Though she didn’t know it then. After she opened all of her presents she couldn’t help but notice her favorite person in the world did not give her a gift. Her Grandpa Joe.

“Abbi. Come outside with me for a minute. I have something to give you,” Grandpa said.

A big smile crossed her face as she thought, it must be something really big he couldn’t wrap.

He reached for a simple envelope in his car and handed it to her. “There is no greater gift I can give to you my sweet girl. Treasure this. Always keep it close. A day will come when it will change your life.”

Abbi opened the unsealed envelope and found a small key attached to a simple rope chain. She took it from the envelope. “I don’t understand, Grandpa. A key? A key to what?”

Grandpa laughed. His usual highly contagious, guttural laugh. He picked her up in his arms and nearly squeezed the life from her. “Promise me you will keep this safe. When you are older this key will change everything for you.”

“I promise. Is it a bank key with lots of money? Or a key to my house I will have when I’m a grownup?”

“Oh no, my sweet granddaughter. It’s far more valuable than that. I wanted to give this to you now because I am getting older by the day. And of all my children and grandchildren you will benefit the most from it. Of that, I am sure.”

“Okay, Grandpa. I will keep it with all my other treasures in my special hiding place.”

Her twenty-fifth birthday was three weeks away. It was going to be her worst birthday. Abbi was holding on to her husband’s arm for dear life as they walked up to the coffin to say their last respects. She looked down at the man who resembled her Grandpa Joe. But it wasn’t him. The light that shone so brightly from within him was gone. Memories came flooding back. Sitting in his lap as he read to her. The first time he took her ice skating. Teaching her how to play guitar. The man had the patience of a saint. Always being there for her school plays. For all her graduations. Her wedding. For her life. And now he’s gone. She promised herself she wouldn’t cry at the service. It was a promise she failed to keep as she buried her face in her husband’s chest. He’ll never meet our children.

She went to her father, the spitting image of his father, Grampa Joe. “Oh, dad,” she said as they hugged each other tightly. He nearly squeezed the breath from her. Stirring another unforgettable memory. More tears.

Mom came to the rescue. Grabbing Abbi’s hand she said, “Come with me. I have something for you.” They stepped outside of the funeral home and went to her parent’s car. Her mom reached in and handed her the manilla envelope she had grabbed. “Your Grandfather gave us this on your tenth birthday. He asked that we give it to you upon his death. He said you will know what to do with it.”

Abbi was dumbstruck. My tenth birthday? The memory of that day came flooding back like a tidal wave. She had forgotten all about the key she was gifted with that day. But I know where it is! “Oh, mom,” she said while she squeezed her mom.

“What is it, honey? Do you know what’s in the envelope?”

“On my tenth birthday, Grampa gave me a key. He told me it was the greatest gift he could give me. To keep it safe. And that I would understand when I got older. I had forgotten all about that key. I’m guessing now that I’m older there is information in the envelope about the key.”

“Well, that sounds like something your grandfather would do. Let’s get back inside before our husbands get lost without us,” her mom said while trying to lighten the mood.

“What’s that?” Abbi’s husband Steve asked while pointing at the envelope.

“It’s a long story. If it’s okay with you I will tell you tonight when we get home.”

“No problem, Pooh.” She inherited that nickname when they first started dating when Steve found out she was a big Winnie The Pooh fan. She warned him back then to never use it in public.

Abbi and Steve arrived home late that evening. Emotionally drained and physically exhausted. They lay intertwined on the bed. Glad to be home. “I can tell your mind is going a mile a minute. What’s up?” he inquired.

“I can’t get my mind off that envelope.”

“So, open it. Do you want me to get it?”

“No. It can wait until tomorrow. I won’t get any sleep if I open it now.” They were both asleep in minutes.

Steve awakened to an empty bed. Slipping from the bed, he threw on some sweats and went on a wife hunt.

After searching everywhere, he looked in the basement as a last resort. There he found his wife. Surrounded by boxes she had brought with her when they bought the house. “I can’t find it, Steve. I can’t find the treasure box I kept when I was little. The key was in that box,” she mumbled.

“Let me help. Was it a cardboard box?”

“No. It was a treasure box my Grampa bought me when I was very young.” Drawing a picture in the air for Steve she said, “It was this big.” It had a keyhole with a key. All my treasures were in there.”

“Well, not all of them,” as he moved in to kiss her.

“Okay. So maybe not,” she smiled in response.

“Are you sure you moved it? Could it still be at your parent’s house?”

“I’m pretty sure I got everything out of there. It’s got to be here somewhere.”

“It’s okay. We will find it. Why don’t we do this? I’ll throw some breakfast together and you can see what’s in the envelope?”

“Breakfast sounds good. I like your plan.”

She sat at the table while Steve was creating pleasing aromas. Opening the envelope, she dumped the contents onto the table. “Oh my God. I can’t believe this! He saved every birthday card I ever sent him.” She stood up and took a card over to show Steve. “Look at this. I had to be like four or five.”

Steve looked at the card while Abbi leaned against him. It was no surprise that Winnie The Pooh took center stage in it. Hape berday Gapa was written in purple crayon. Her tears were streaming down his bare chest. “Wow. He really cherished you,” was his only response.

Mixed in with the cards she found a handwritten letter. She read the letter to her husband.

Dear Abbi,

I have loved you since the day you were born. Some things in life are unexplainable. Love is certainly one of those. Those instant love connections between two strangers. You shared with me the love you felt for Steve the instant you met him. I knew then you would marry him and have a wonderful life together. I knew the very first time I laid eyes on you that we would share a special bond. The key I gave you long ago is the key to this bond between us. I know if you are reading this I have moved on to better and brighter things. Don’t be sad for me. I am having the most amazing time with your grandmother. Now, down to business. You will find a small chest in the workroom of my basement. That key I gave you will open the chest. Do you remember what I told you when I gave you the key? That it will be the greatest gift you will ever receive? I might have exaggerated a bit. But not much. I hope Steve is reading this with you. I have inside information your family will be growing soon. Wonderful gifts are in your future. I’ve already met your children. I love you. I’ve always loved you. I will love you forever.


PS. If you lost the key just break the latch open. I won’t be needing it anymore.

Tom brought their plates over and kissed the top of her head before sitting down. “I should have bought stock in Kleenex,” he said while handing her a box. “Eat before it gets cold. Shit. We’re going to have kids. I mean that in a good way. He met our children?”

Taking a bite of the omelet Tom conjured up she said, “You should have been a chef. I’m so grateful I married a man who could cook. If you teach our children I may never have to cook again,” she joked.

“Uhm, no. As long as I’m alive you will be required to make your Chicken a la King.”

“Okay,” she laughed. “I suppose if I must. I’m going to shower before getting back to the search.”

“Yeah. I need a shower as well. I’m feeling dirty,” he said with a devious smile.

After some well-deserved sexual recreation, they both returned to the basement to search for the key. After hearing Abbi say time after time “I can’t believe I saved this stuff,” she jumped up with the key in her hand. “YES! I FOUND IT! Come on Steve. We need to get to Grampa’s house and find that chest.”

“This is hard,” she said as she unlocked the front door to enter her Grampa’s house for what could be the last time. She stood just inside the door. Scanning the room she knew so well. Trying to leave a mental image in her mind she would never forget. The painting of her grandmother as a young woman. Family photos scattered everywhere. And the Grampa smells. His scent was everywhere. Steve took her hand. “Come on, Pooh. Let’s go downstairs and find this treasure chest.”

In just minutes they found a small chest with a lock on it. The key given to Abbi years ago slid in easily. “I feel like we just found a pirate treasure,” she said while opening the chest.

Within the chest were books and journals. This is the greatest treasure? She put the books aside and began to examine the journals. Her grandfather journaled his spiritual experiences. Decades worth. Sharing inner experiences while soul traveling. She was mesmerized as she lightly scanned through one of them. “My God, Tom. Are you seeing this?”

Tom sat skimming through one of the books. It was titled In My Soul I Am Free. It was a first-edition print dated 1968. He picked up another titled Stranger By The River. The print date was 1980. Skimming through it he found many highlighted passages her grandfather must have thought were significant. “Listen to this,” as he read. “As long as the mind continues with thee in its present state, even the love for the beautiful, it is pouring its God energies into the external world and unbalancing Soul’s forces. So, I tell you to turn thy energies within and receive the blessings of God. Here’s another one. How does one reach the state beyond self? That state is beyond wisdom and beyond all but love. I tell you this when you have attained wisdom and gone beyond illusion, then you shall shine forth with splendor, as doth the sun shining upon the earth.” “Wow, Pooh. Maybe your grandfather was right. Just maybe you have been given the greatest gifts one can give.”

It all began to make sense to Abbi. How nothing ever seemed to bother or upset her grampa. He always seemed to be in a state of calm. He was in awe of the simplest of things life had to offer. She realized at that moment he had always been her shining light. “I miss him more than ever. I have so many questions now.”

“Listen to this one. All things will gravitate to thee if ye will let love enter thine own heart, without compromise. Love inspires the heart, first as human love. This is the love that desires to serve its beloved, husband, wife, children, family, friends, or human ideals, and things of this world, during thy existence here in this life. Then the heart becomes refined by selflessness and love possesses thee. He never talked to you about any of this?”

“Let’s get this packed up and take this chest home. We have the rest of our lives to digest this. And Tom? Be honest with me. Is this freaking you out?”

“Absolutely! In the best way possible. Think about this, Pooh. We get to give our children the greatest gift possible. And it all came from the love your grandfather had for you.”

“Did I tell you lately how much I love you,” she said.

“Yes. In the shower this morning,” he said with the biggest grin.

Abbi bought a lovely gold chain for the key. She wears it every day.

© 2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved.

Originally published on

The Office Halloween Party

Never argue with the boss

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

I hate fucking Halloween office parties. Or any office party.

I will be just one more employee pretending to be having fun while Susan, the company owner, revels in false praise from her drunken underlings. Just a bunch of adults acting like six-year-olds. I take that back. Worse. At least the kids are not drunk.

I made a terrible mistake last year when I went as the Jolly Green Giant. I thought it would be perfect, but it made it impossible to be inconspicuous when you are 6’5” and all green. I had nowhere to hide.

My only goal this year was to wear a costume so that I could disappear into the crowd without anyone knowing who I was. Something easy…hmmm. I got it. Casper! Casper the Unfriendly Ghost. One white sheet. Holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Five minutes and I’m done. And if I play it right, I can hide out in her laundry room and no one will be the wiser.

Five minutes into my costume project I realized I would never be doing costume designs in Hollywood. I couldn’t even make a damn Casper costume. I didn’t realize I could feel any more worthless since my wife left me. I was wrong. Now that I look back on this it was probably the Jolly Green Giant costume that was the final straw for her. That was a lot of work.

“Hey, Charlie.” Charlie is my big sister who inherited all our mother’s homemaking skills. “Do you have time to help me with a costume?”

Now you call me? Three days before Halloween when I am making the kid’s costumes? Really Jim?” At least she didn’t say no. 

“Sorry, sis. I thought I could pull this one off by myself. I lied. But it is super simple and will take you ten minutes tops,” I implored with my whiny baby brother voice.

“Oka-a-ay. I will be home all day. Bring what you have, and I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, sis. I will be there in an hour. Love you.”

“You better. I don’t do this for just anyone,” she joked.

One hour later I pull up to Charlie’s house. I almost didn’t recognize it. It looked like something from The Adam’s Family tv show.

Where do these people find the time to do this shit?

Her husband Shannon answers the door. I know what you’re thinking. Shannon? My sister and her husband should switch names. “Hi, Shannon. You’ve been busy,” I say pointing to the Halloween decorations. “Keeping up with the Joneses?”

“You know your sister. Halloween is her thing. And Christmas. And the 4th of July. And Thanksgiving. I should be grateful I get a day of rest for Labor Day,” he says in his still lingering Irish accent.

Charlie greets me with a hug as I come in the door. “This is it?” she says looking at the sheet I am holding. “I said it was simple,” I respond.

“Let me guess. You are going to find a bed at the party and go as Rip Van Winkle?” she said half laughing.

“Wow! That’s a great idea. I wish I would have thought of that. The guests would throw their jackets over me. It would be my perfect cover to be anonymous. But I’m not that clever. Just Casper.”

“Wow,” she says with a shit-eating grin. “You must have racked your brain coming up with that plan.”

“Hey now. I had to devise the perfect costume that was so boring no one would want to talk to me. And one where they could not recognize me. Hence, Casper.” I waited for her praise for my decision.

“Oh really? Just how does a 6’5” man hide anywhere? I think you did it. I think you’ve finally gone off the deep end, dear brother.”

I hate it when she’s right. “Don’t even. You have no idea how horrible these company Halloween parties are,” I say with all the vitriol I could muster.

Her sympathetic response? Laughter. Gut-busting, tears-down-your-cheeks laughter. When she finally contains herself, she gives me a big hug and stands on her tiptoes to kiss my cheek. “Okay, my antisocial little brother. Let’s get to it.”

Shannon and I plop down with some beers to watch the Bear’s game. He still prefers soccer over American football. Even so, we have become good friends. He is everything I hoped I would be. A great husband and father. Maybe someday some poor, destitute, Hollywood starlet will see what a catch I am and take pity on me. One could hope.

The night of the dreaded party arrived. My boss Susan loves to put her beautiful multimillion-dollar home on display for us peons any chance she gets. She even had two greeters by the front entrance dressed as Elon Mush and Jeff Bezos. The gods she prays to every night.

When I walked into the three-story-tall foyer, I realize my costume choice was perfect. Not a soul turned to check me out. Of course, we all had to walk what seemed like two blocks to get to the “party” room. During the enlightening trip, we were all exposed to Susan’s wealth dripping from the walls. I would be okay with it if it weren’t for her let me rub this in-your-face attitude.

While all the attendees begin to mill around “the Ballroom” I wisely use this time to scope out the best hiding spots. I even begin to formulate my escape plan. If I could talk King Kong, Godzilla, and Puff the Magic Dragon to run interference for me I think I could make it out alive. Yeah, I know. Not very imaginative costumes. Not like mine.

Butlers were roaming the room like chess pieces on a checkerboard offering glasses of champagne to the huddled masses. I, being a huddled mass, quickly took advantage of said offering. Now where would I find a nice cubbyhole to hide in, I wondered.

I was on my trek for a hidey-hole when the queen of the ball made her entrance. I have to say I was shocked. I suspected Cinderella in her ballgown flowing down the two-story staircase. Instead, the one hundred or so people all stared at her in shock. Her costume was…wait for it…Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter. Just what this party needed. Another ghost. In truth, the costume was amazing.

As she floated down the staircase her eyes were like guided missiles looking for an unsuspecting target. One she could attack with her Moaning Myrtle malevolence. She hit the floor and floated directly at me. I was trapped, my back against the wall. Wishing I could do a Casper escape and just walk through the wall.

“You. What are you supposed to be?” And the interrogation has begun.

“Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

She looked me up and down. Charlie did what she could, but it was unquestionably one of the worse costumes at the party. “Do you work for me?”

“Yes. In accounting.”

“Did you not see the memo that stated no one was to wear a ghost costume? Now, look what you’ve done.”

“I’m sorry Myrtle, uh, I mean Susan. I didn’t see that memo.” I swear to God she was about to put a hex on me. And then a miracle happened. No. Really. An honest to God miracle. She laughed. I mean, like a real laugh.

After her giggles came to an end she looks me up and down and says, “That is one bad costume.”

“Thank you. That is what I was going for. Trying to be inconspicuous.”

“How’d that work out for you,” she said with a smile.

She was freaking me out. I knew she had no clue who I was so why was she being nice? “Too early to tell. So far you are the only one here that has noticed me.”

“Okay accounting guy. Do you have a name?”

“I’d rather not say.” I was smiling by now but I doubt she could tell through my costume.

“H-mmm. I guess I’ll just have to fire everyone in accounting,” she says in her I’m the boss voice.

“You’d do that?” I blurted out in surprise.

“In a hot minute,” was her response.

Well at this point I’m thinking I already lost my job so what the hell. “I guess everything they say about you is true.”

Her eyebrows raised nearly to her hairline. Her eyes were prepping to shower me with dragon’s flame. “And just what is it they say about me? And who are they exactly?”

I realized I had let my pending job loss get the best of me. Now she will go on a witch hunt to find all those that have ridiculed her. “I’ll be going now. It’s been nice working with you,” I lied.

She stepped in my path—a dangerous thing for a 5’8” thin woman to do. “If I could rip that costume off you right now I would. I want to meet the man that would talk to me like that.” Here’s the weird thing. There was no anger in her voice. She wasn’t even using her I’m the boss voice.

I side-stepped her and began my two-block trek to the exit. I didn’t get more than five feet from the wall when I was yanked backward. She had grabbed my sheet and was trying to disrobe me. I spun and ripped the sheet out of her hands, causing her to lose her footing and fall right on her ass. For the first time since I first met her, I noticed it was a nice ass. I reached down to give her a hand up. She took it. She was so light I threw her right into me.

“Look, Susan. I really didn’t want to be here. I hate office parties where everyone is expected to suck up to the boss. This is my third one. So, I don’t have to tell you that this is true. I will be in the office on Monday. You can make a big display of firing me in front of the entire accounting department. Will that make you happy so I can get the hell out of here?”

“Your name?” she asked.

“Jim Rogers.”

“Well take that stupid costume off so I can see you and recognize you when you come to get fired.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m in my underwear underneath this.”

The big eyes again. She was biting her lips in a poor attempt to suppress a smile. The smile won. “Your serious.”

“What can I say? I run hot. Having this sheet on is rather suffocating.” I lifted the bottom of the sheet to my bare leg above my sock.

Now she is giving me one of those this man is totally nuts looks. “How did you ever get hired here?”

“I’m really good at ensuring your company is profitable. If you got off your high horse once in a while and met some of the lowlifes, you might know that.”

She grabbed my hand and said, “Come with me.” She led me through a maze of rooms to an elevator that took us to the second floor. Not a word was spoken. Now, what the hell is she doing? Is she going to throw me to my death?

She opened a door large enough for an elephant to walk through. “You first,” she ordered.

“Is this where you bury the dead bodies?” I joked. Not really. I was beginning to believe it.

“Only when I am done torturing them. Now take off that stupid sheet so I can see your face.”

“I am rather shy. I really don’t want you to know what type of underwear I wear.”

She points. “The bathroom is through that door. Grab a towel to cover your, uh, underwear so I can FREAKING SEE YOU!”

“Look. If I am going to be nearly naked in front of you, I think it’s only fair you strip down to your undies.” It’s amazing the feeling you get when you know nothing’s on the line.

“What? I just want to see your face. And besides idiot. Can’t you tell with this costume I’m not wearing a bra?”

“Honestly, I wasn’t checking you out,” I said. “You’re my boss. That would be inappropriate.”

Her arm flies up in a near-Nazi salute and points again to the bathroom. “Just do what you have to do so I can see your face,” she screams.

“Yes, master.” I clicked my heels and headed to the bathroom. How did I get into this mess? Just minding my own business and now I’m getting fired. I will never go to another company party. EVER.

I walk out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel to an empty room. “Hello?” My life flashes before my eyes. I scan the room for security cameras thinking she is showing this to everyone at the party. Fuck it. I head back to the bathroom for my sheet but before I could get there I hear another door close.


“I thought about it. You were right. I should not have asked you to strip down like that. Unless I was willing to do the same,” she said with the sexiest damn smile I have ever seen. Of course, the fact she was naked may have enhanced my opinion.

Never argue with the boss.

© Joe Merkle 2021

Originally published on

A Promise Kept

A Promise Cherished

Photo by Denis Agati on Unsplash

There are promises.

I promise I will be good today.
I promise to pick you up on time.
I promise to finish the laundry.
I promise to quit smoking.
I promise I will always be your best friend.

And then there are PROMISES.
December 18, 1976. On that cold December day in a suburb of Chicago, a young man and woman were just beginning to understand the most sacred of promises. To love honor and cherish till death do you part.

Yes. That promise. The “I do” promise. Not the easiest to keep. It takes work. More importantly, it requires deep, unconditional love to have any hope of keeping it.

How do I know this? Was it something I read in a book? Or an article like this?

No. I have lived it nearly all my adult life. I was that young man. A young man who made the most significant promise anyone can ever make.

How many promises have you made in your life that completely altered your life? Unselfish promises that while the benefits for yourself would be great, the promise made was for the benefit of another?

The opportunity for such a thing rarely happens in an average lifespan. Marriage and parenthood lead to many such promises. Some are broken. Some should never have been spoken.

The instant I said “I do” I felt the most significant change I have ever felt in my life before or after that moment. In a moment, one frozen in time, I was overcome with love that I could not have imagined at that point in my life.

A singular moment that will be shared for eternity. That and a mile-wide smile on my face when I think about it.

That is the promise we made to each other. No conditions. No limits. My advice to whoever may read this is simple. Love. Love like your life depends on it. Love like your lover’s life depends on it. It does.

Originally published on

Going Back Home

Ripping off the biggest bandaid

Photo by Ozzie Stern on Unsplash

Ten days from now I am heading to the Chicago area. Home. The place where the vast majority of my most treasured moments occurred.

This is it. The BIG BANDAID I need to rip off. I have never been so conflicted in my life. I’m looking forward to seeing many loved ones. I also know I will be surrounded by Nancy’s presence everywhere I go. I will see her in the faces of my children. My daughter is her mini-me.

This may surprise some of you. At my advanced age, I have never been on a road trip alone. Prior to meeting my wife I traveled cross country with friends. She and I had hit the road ten times. I have no pretenses this is going to be easy.

It will be one of the hardest things I have done in my life.

I also know it is something I have to do in this venture of self-discovery. I’ve already learned that grief does fade in time. It is replaced by its cousin, emptiness. The sense of loss. How do you replace such a large part of the person you’ve become? I have no clue.

I do know that my family and friends will be supportive and understanding if and when things get tough. I am intentionally going to make it get tough. To visit all the trigger spots in an attempt to have great memories overshadow the loss I will be simultaneously feeling.

Ripping off that bandaid.

As I write this I wonder if I am ready for this. Or if I’ll ever be ready for this. And I just got my answer…no. So I might as well get it over with. Take one more step into a most uncertain future. I look at it this way. I have a good chance I will be laughing more than crying. That is certainly an upgrade.

Thanks to all who have been following me on Medium for being my sounding board over this past year. My gratitude is boundless.

Note: This trip will likely keep me from spending much time on Medium. Again. Don’t give up on me. I have already promised myself to get back to serious writing and reading after this trip. Wish me luck.

© 2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved

The Day Before, The Day After

A sequel

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

This article is a sequel to Going Back Home.

The Day Before

The day before I left for my trip home to Chicago I had grave reservations. I almost backed away from the trip, afraid to face what was surely going to be tough times. I would be constantly reminded of the person that no longer walks beside me.

At the same time, it had been too long since I have seen my children, grandchildren, and other family members there. I knew I would get plenty of love and laughter. Two things I desperately needed.

Then I realized what this trip would really be about. Moving on. Ripping the biggest bandaid off. It was in fact a selfish move on my part. This trip was for me. And although loved ones would benefit from my appearance it was me who had the most to gain.

I was fortunate that on the first day of the trip I went to an Eckankar event. For those not familiar with Eckankar it is a spiritual path based on the science of soul travel. Simply put, gaining inner self-awareness as soul. So the event was very uplifting and sent me on my journey feeling blessed.

Day two was the trip to Chicago. Eight hours on the road. Alone. No copilot. And yes, it sucked. But, I have nearly mastered the art of holding back tears. It came in handy on this trip. When I was within an hour of my destination, a trip I’d made many times, I had a strange sensation. It did not feel like I was going home. This was immediately followed by the realization that I will never feel home again. Home is not a place. It’s a person.

I arrived at my oldest child’s home on a Sunday afternoon. Chris and his wife Kristin greeted me with hugs and smiles. My 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter Scarlett had her doubts. I had not seen her for over three years. It was the first time I got to meet my 8-month-old granddaughter Savannah. Scarlett warmed up to me by day three and Savannah is one smiley, little girl. Love all around. They were wonderful hosts.

On my second day there I spent the day with my daughter. I took her on a tour of my life starting with the first home I remember living in. Taking her to all the places I lived in, where I met her mother and fell in love, and the history of us. It was a wonderful day for both of us. Both laughter and tears. Kelly is my wife’s minny me.

In the following days, I spent time with old friends, my brother, sister, nieces and nephews, and cousins. It was all wonderful with much laughter. And moments I could barely hold back the tears. It wasn’t right she wasn’t there. Everyone loved Nancy. You couldn’t help it.

I then realized on day three that my son’s home is about a ten-minute walk from the first home my wife and I purchased. It was a condo. Bordering the condo complex is a park that we walked in with different dogs through the years.

Every morning I walked the park and condo complex to get my three miles in. It was a means of self-torture to some degree. But, that’s the selfish reason I made the trip. To walk that walk. Pain is a byproduct of ripping a bandaid off. It’s worse when you have hairy arms. And even worse if you have gray hairy arms.

The Day After
Upon returning home from my trip I immediately realized it didn’t feel like home either. This confirmed my suspicions earlier that I will likely never feel “home” again. The first night I was busy unpacking, going through three weeks of mail, and otherwise keeping busy before bed.

Day two was everything I expected it to be. Really, really hard. It was a tortuous reminder that I was alone again. It came as no surprise. What did surprise me was my response. The realization was that behind that bandaid I ripped off was a gaping wound. Then came a terrible backslide into self-pity, a sense of loss, and the desire to totally withdraw from life. I just don’t give a damn. I pretend, play the game, and try to convince myself time will heal me.

I realize to become human again will require a supreme effort on my part. That is highly unlikely to occur. Not anytime soon. Not until I actually find a reason for wanting to occupy this body.

I have spent hours over the last month or so attempting to write and publish more on Medium. Most of the time I sit and stare at the screen. My heart’s not in it, which most likely shows while reading the few things I have published. To be honest with you the readers, and myself, I have no idea what my future holds. I want to write. These days, I think my brain is too occupied with just keeping me breathing. What a waste.

Peace. I haven’t felt that in nearly five years. Would I even recognize it if it slapped me in the face? I rather doubt it. Like everything in my life. So what is my goal now? I am going to try to do my best to write myself out of this dark place. Wish me luck.

©2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved.

I want to once again express my gratitude to those here on Medium that has been so helpful to me in these trying times.

Your Shadow on the Wall

Dancing in the dark

Photo by Martino Pietropoli on Unsplash

I’m just another ghost
In this lonely ghost town
Searching for what I’ve lost
Hoping to avoid a meltdown

Streets that once contained substance
Now avenues of by-gone memories
Oozing ethereal persistence
No longer resembling terrestrial reality

I drift among the pictures hung
Upon the hallway walls
Where many songs were sung
When your touch was my cure-all

Now it’s your shadow on the wall
I see it plainly, a shining landmark
My love’s port of call
As we dance in the dark

©2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved

Originally published on

You Can Only Be You

That is a good thing

Photo by Ben Robbins on Unsplash

As a child, I dreamed I wanted to be Superman, The Flash, Spiderman, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Zeus, Davy Crockett, Tarzan, Zorro, Paul McCartney, and others. It is my firm belief that I was not unusual. There is nothing like a child’s imagination when it comes to creating fantasies. Or is there?

Then we leap into the world of teen madness. The Twilight Zone, where children’s dreams go to die. Yes, the brave new world where that horrible word responsibility enters our vocabulary. I am a firm believer that the average life span of a human should be twelve years. Yes. I know. There would be fertility issues.

As a teen, I wanted to be…uh-hmm, hell if I know. Though I was a good athlete, I was not going to get drafted by the Yankees. I was average. I managed to get good grades without trying. I was socially adequate without trying. I found girls attractive. But not enough to have to convince me it was worth the effort. The greatest achievement I attained in high school was having a modicum of success without trying.

Realizing this I began to ask myself challenging questions. What’s the point of all this? Why am I here? What am I missing? It certainly was not love. I lived with and was part of a loving family. I was not destitute. My family was typical middle-class. Back when that meant something. So, I decided to go on a mission in my junior year.

A spiritual exploration. I was raised Catholic even though my parents seldom went to mass. Did I believe Jesus was the Son of God? Well…yes. But no more than any of us. I considered him and his message to be from a highly enlightened soul who chose to be a coworker with God and make the supreme effort to share his spiritual knowledge with the world. Not unlike many such souls that have walked this earth since the beginning of time and continue to this day to work behind the scenes to help us all.

I and a good friend of mine explored Buddhism for some time. I began to see a common thread. Highly evolved souls that incarnate on earth do not seek earthly rewards. If they do attain material riches they are not attached to them. In Buddha’s case, he walked away from great wealth and influence as a prince to live the life of a beggar taking charity from others. This raised an interesting question in my mind. Does one have to give up the pursuit of material things to reach spiritual enlightenment?

Then one day I was in a bookstore exploring the spirituality section and came across a book written by Brad Steiger, In My Soul I Am Free. In it, the author spends many hours with Paul Twitchell who was the modern-day founder of Eckankar. It delves into the life of Paul and discusses in length the teachings of soul travel and so much more. It has come to light through the years that Steiger was being Steiger and some of what he relates in the book is rubbish. But in the end, the result was bringing to light a most important message to the world. We are souls and we don’t have to die to experience it.

I was given a gift that day in 1972. The most precious of gifts. The realization that I am soul. Not that I have a soul. I am soul. Temporarily using this body. This changed my life in so many ways. It began to slowly sink into my thick skull that it was not an accident I happened to be in that bookstore on that day. That my life was about to drastically change. Scary stuff for a nineteen-year-old. Finally, I had something worth trying.

This all led me to my exploratory years. Those young adult years when everything is on the table. College, sex, drugs, alcohol, travel, work. It was a busy, exciting, life-altering, period of my life. During all of this I had read In My Soul I Am Free several times. Each time brought more moments of enlightenment. Was it the book? Or was I awakening to the fact I am soul? Or both? I can’t really say. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It all led to a most amazing life.

A life filled with great love, adventure, misadventures, and a greater understanding as to why I have been so blessed in this life. It really is a simple formula. It goes like this. Love God (by any name). Share God’s love.

In good times and bad times. All the time. Realize you are soul using a body to accelerate your learning curve. We learn the most from the lessons that test us. Each lesson is just a step toward graduation. There are always teachers guiding us, placing us in positions that test our resolve which eventually opens us up to greater understanding. Most often we lack the awareness of their most generous guidance.

How does one gain that awareness? Do you remember when you first learned to drive? Your parents or driver-ed teachers guided you and helped you master what would become an amazing world-changing event. Your outlook and understanding of the world around you grew exponentially. You traveled to places you had never been to.

It is no different when traveling the inner worlds. Spiritual guides help us maneuver through amazing, consciousness-raising experiences throughout higher planes that exist for the benefit of our enlightenment. Most often this is done in the dream state. Why do they choose this task? Love. And so one day we may follow in their footsteps.

On earth, as it is in heaven.

So often throughout human history ignorance and misunderstanding of the role these advanced souls play in our journey home have shined a light on the purpose we are all here for. To learn to rise above ignorance, prejudice, and hate. We will continue to return to the physical plane for countless lifetimes until we learn the only lesson worth learning.


© 2022 Joe Merkle All rights reserved.

Originally published at

Come With Me

Sail the cosmic seas

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Venus ignored the gusting winds that were trying to turn her long dress into a sail. It did not make her descent down the steep, grassy hill to the shoreline any easier. She was consumed by the Siren’s call, “Come with me. Sail the cosmic seas,” which held her in a hypnotic spell. She was helpless to ignore it. She was no longer in control.

As she neared the shore an oarless rowboat appeared from the mist. “Really? This is the best you can do?” Venus questioned her unseen tormentor. “We are going to sail cosmic seas in this thing?”

No answer. No reply was forthcoming. None was needed as a spectral form appeared in the boat, holding his hand out to encourage her to board.

Okay. I’m either losing my mind or dreaming. In either case, I can either cower and run for cover or accept the possibility I am about to have a grand adventure. Hm-m-m, what to do?

Now Venus was never one to run from a challenge. At the age of twenty-five, she had already traveled most of the globe and had extricated herself from some precarious situations.

This should be interesting, thought Venus as she grabbed the helping hand and entered the boat. She could not help but notice the wind instantly died down as she stepped into the boat. At the same time, the spectral form morphed into a man. He appeared to be fortyish with short-cropped black hair and eyes so dark they seemed to contain all of creation within them. Even though he wore a monk’s clothing from centuries ago she could tell he was chiseled. Despite his odd appearance he looked familiar to her.

The man spoke. “Hello, Venus. It is nice to formally meet you.”

“Do I know you? Have we met before?” she asked.

“Many times. Am I that unforgettable?” he said in jest.

For the first time in her life, Venus was speechless. I would never have forgotten meeting this guy, would I? she thought. “Okay. Which one of my friends put you up to this?”

This was greeted by a guttural laugh from the monk. “It was a group effort. You have many more friends than you are aware of. They all have your best interests at heart.”

“Okay…okay. I’m getting weirded out here. Can you get me back to shore please?”

“Look around Venus. You will find there is no shore. But you may leave if you desire.”

Venus looked down. The boat was gone. The water was gone. They now stood on a path leading towards a white marble building that appeared to be…a temple? I must be dreaming. I just need to wake up she thought as she pinched her arm.

“Take a step back. Look around you. Does anything look familiar?” said the monk.

Venus took a few deep breaths to calm herself. This helped her to realize that she did not feel threatened in any way. As she took in her surroundings a sense of familiarity began to sink in. Not the now I remember this place so much as I feel as if I have been here before. “Kind of,” was her reply.

“I don’t know your name, but you know mine,” she said.

“I apologize. Rebazar Tarz at your service,” he said with the slightest bow.

She could not explain to herself why his name seemed familiar to her. “I have to say sir that this scenery does not look like any cosmic seas I might have imagined.”

“Hm-m-m. So, you have imagined cosmic seas?” he said with a smile.

“I guess so. Like I am floating in space. Bodiless.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“At first it scared me. Then I had a profound sense of freedom. I never told anyone about this before.”

“Excellent! You will make a fine pupil. Let me tell you about myself and those that work alongside me. Many others and I are what many would call Godmen. Simply put, we have reached the state of God-consciousness. Our only objective now is to help others do the same. We have been helping you along the way for many lifetimes.”

Venus could not help herself. She broke out in laughter. “You have the wrong girl. I am not religious. You need to go save someone else.”

Rebazar laughed along with her. “We are not in the business of saving anyone. Nobody needs to be saved. We are simply guides that walked the path and share our knowledge with those that are ready to attain higher states of consciousness. This knowledge is never shared with the masses. Most are not ready to walk on a path that challenges your every step. Nor is it smooth sailing. But the destination is indescribable.”

“You have a choice to make Venus. One is you can return to your globetrotting on the planet earth. I can tell you now all the seeking in the world will not satisfy you. You are a restless soul that needs more. Your second choice is to allow me and other guides to help you obtain the greatest of gifts. To know that you are soul. The choice, as always, is yours to make.”

“How do I know you are who you say you are?” she asked.

Instantaneously she was alongside Rebazar looking at the Milky Way galaxy from a point of view that somehow made them appear to be above it. He points to a star and says, “That is your sun.” Immediately they were hovering over the sun while he pointed to Earth. “That is your planet. Keep in mind this is the least spectacular plane of existence created by God.”

Upon returning to…wherever she was, Venus could not find her tongue. How does one respond to this?

“The offer is good for all eternity, Venus. As I said before, it is always a choice each of us must make. Only the bold inherit heaven. It is not an easy path,” said the serious Master.

Venus had been in predicaments like this many times. The first time she went ski jumping. Sky diving. Swimming with sharks. She could have turned her back on all of them. Venus never turned her back on anything exciting.

“I’m in.”

“Walk with me. Your next classroom session is about to begin,” said the monk as they walked towards the Golden Wisdom Temple.

Originally published at

A Lover’s Fairytale

Image from Stock Nation Royalty free

He was in no hurry. On a beautiful day such as this, every moment was one to cherish. The breeze was rustling through the palms ever so gently as the white willow wisps of clouds painted ghostly shadows on the gently rolling hills.

It had been a long time, lifetimes to Paul since he strolled through the narrow cobblestone streets of this tiny seaside fishing village. The villagers were just now beginning to start their day. The women could be heard in the houses trying to stir their families into action. Most of the men were already out to sea, hoping for a good catch to bring to market.

Paul left the road, taking his time strolling out towards the hillside that overlooked the azure waters. He stopped on the hilltop to enjoy the ocean breeze in his face and the gulls frolicking overhead that instilled a feeling of great inner peace and oneness with creation within him. He had forgotten how good it was to relax and not take the world so personally. After all, I’m just a traveler at a rest stop, not the conqueror of empires.

The laughter of the children playing on the beach that spread out below him snapped Paul from his revelry. What greater joy could be found than in a child’s laughter. And then he saw her. From this distance, it was hard to tell if she was one of the children. Round and round she raced with the kids, laughing and splashing in the surf that caressed the white sand beach. “I do believe this merits investigation,” he said to himself. Without further hesitation, he ripped off his shoes and ran down to the beach.

Paul was stunned. She was drop-dead gorgeous. She had a timeless beauty that would have been stunning in any century. Her long blonde hair and soft pastel dress lent an air of radiance about her. As she approached him her large green eyes and marvelously sculptured lips broke into an irresistible smile that could melt the polar ice cap. The web was already cast, and Paul was the contented victim.

“Hi, there. A beautiful day is it not?” said a voice that could make angels jealous. While Paul tried to find his voice all he could do is shake his head in the affirmative and grin stupidly. “Would you like to play tag with us? Oh, I’m sorry, let me introduce myself. I’m Keeri, and you are?”

“P-Paul,” he managed to stutter over a still handicapped tongue.

Keeri had a questioning look in her eyes, thinking to herself that Paul must be new around here for she could not remember seeing him before. And she would most definitely remember that event. As she studied him more closely she came to the conclusion he was attractive, h-m-m, extremely attractive, she thought. He stood about six inches taller than her, she being five foot nine. His body was, well, perfect. He had deep-set blue eyes that exuded a penetrating strength but a sense of serenity at the same time. His chin was strong with a sexy cleft, his nose slightly bigger than ideal, and his brown hair looked as if it hadn’t been cut for some time. But it was his smile and lips that caught her attention as she found herself wanting to kiss them a few thousand times at this very moment.

“Sure”, said Paul. I’d love to play with you, and, uh, the kids.”

As they played and laughed and shared their love of children their admiration for each other grew. Their glances grew longer until they could no longer keep their eyes from one another. No longer did they hear the water lapping on the shore or the gulls screeching overhead. They became a world unto themselves, living for the moment, afraid to ask questions better left unanswered.

Never had either of them felt such a powerful connection before. It was as if there was no beginning or end to this crazy love, it was simply waiting for fulfillment.

Keeri took Paul to one of her favorite secluded spots along the shore. With the sound of the water breaking on the shore, they spent what was left of the morning making love and making friends. Keeri then suggested they grab a morsel of food and some homemade wine.

As they wound their way through the mostly deserted, narrow village streets Kari asked, “Where are you from Paul?”

Paul stifled a laugh and replied, “Well to tell you the truth I’ve never lived in one place long enough to call home. If I had to pick one I guess it would be Chicago.”

“How about family, friends, or maybe a wife?” laughed Keeri with a mischievous gleam in her eye.
“No family alive. A few friends scattered all over the globe. Negative on the wife.”
“Sorry about your family. I never did catch your last name.”

“Winter, what’s yours?”


“Have you lived here all your life?” asked Paul.

“Since I was three. We moved from Minnesota. My parents have been dead for some time now. My older brother and sister got me through my teen years. And, they have the scars to prove it. My sister married and followed her husband to St. John’s and my brother John went back to the States. It gets lonely sometimes but there are always stray sailors coming ashore to entertain me” joked Keeri. “Here’s the place I call home.”

It was a small but quaint bungalow with colorful red bricks that matched the cobblestone road that led to it. “Come on in and take a load off,” said Keeri. Paul had other ideas and swept her into his arms and carried her through the small living area into the bedroom. Several hours later as Keeri was throwing some dinner together she asked Paul, “Have you been on the island long?”

“Just got in yesterday,” was Paul’s brief customary reply.

“What do you do that requires so much traveling?” she asked.

“I’m a writer.”

“I didn’t know writers traveled so much. I know, you’re a travel writer, right?”

Trying hard to suppress a laugh Paul said, “No-oo. I was a news journalist for many years. It was a very exciting job at first, but it became limiting in the sense that the media considers all the negative aspects of life as news. It was becoming harder and harder for me to smile and laugh. So I quit, bought a sailboat, and set out looking for fairy tales to write.”

Keeri just sat staring into his deep blue eyes which reflected a certain ageless quality while trying to figure out just what she was getting herself into. “You’re a strange man Paul Winter. I’ve known you for less than a day and I love you like I’ve known you for lifetimes. I feel like a giddy school girl.”

Paul’s typical blunt response, “Hey, let’s eat and head out to catch the sunset with some of that wicked wine of yours.”

“Sounds good to me.”

They both ate in silence, consumed with the notion that something very special was happening. Paul had never known love such as this could exist for him. God, she’s beautiful. She is so alive. I’m the firewood and she’s the match.

On the other side of the table for two Keeri was bubbling over with wonder over this whole crazy affair. Nothing like this had ever remotely entered her mind. Never had she met a man with such quiet strength and at the same time such an easy laugh. He had a contagious laugh that was irresistible. And the eyes, so mysterious, as if there were so many secrets he could share if only…

“Dinner was awesome. What fish was that?”

“Mahi Mahi, with coconut rice and my homemade mango salsa,” smiled a proud Keeri while she twirled like a schoolgirl.

“Wow! That was so amazing. She can cook too!’ exclaimed Paul with a laugh. “Come on. We’re going to miss that sunset. Grab the wine and let’s head for hills.”

It was an idyllic evening. A warm tropical breeze toyed with Keeri’s hair, which seemed on fire, reflecting the crimson hues that were painting the sky with reds and oranges. Not to be outdone, the thin, wispy clouds were mirrors reflecting the beautiful colors.

“It’s as if God has painted a picture for us tonight,” said Keeri. They sat there on the hilltop in silence, awed by the spectacle surrounding them.

Paul, lying on his back, began to write something in the air with his finger. Wondering what weird thing he was up to Keeri could not hold back her curiosity. “Now what are doing?”

“I’m writing our initials in the sky,” said a very serious Paul who may have been feeling the effects of the wine.

“A little tipsy Paul?” laughed Keeri.

“No, really, come here and I’ll show you,” stated the still serious Paul. With Keeri lying next to him cheek to cheek Paul pointed to a cloud in the sky and said, “there, you see it? Plain as day, K.S. and P.W.”

“No,” said a suspicious Keeri who was beginning to wonder if she fell for a madman.

“Watch, I’ll trace it for you.” He took Keeri’s hand, pointed her finger, and began to trace their initials. Now it seemed to Keeri, lying there in total wonderment, that their initials were forming in the clouds. “Yes, yes I can see them now!” exclaimed Keeri.

Paul rolled over, giving her a big kiss, looked deeply into her eyes, and said with a snicker in his voice, “Who’s feeling a little tipsy now?” With that he slapped her fanny, leaped up, and began to run down the hill laughing, not forgetting to grab the wine on the way.

Keeri followed screaming, “I’ll get you for that!” When they were both exhausted they fell on the beach laughing in between gasps for air.

When she was finally able to squelch the giggles Keeri asked, “Please take me to your boat. I’d like to see where the famous Paul Winter, spinner of yarns, makes his home.”

They took their time getting to the pier where Paul’s boat was docked. “What’s her name?” she asked as they mounted the deck.

“The Winds of Mer Kailesh.” “Where’s Mer Kailesh?” asked Keeri. Paul responded with a glimmer in his eye, “That’s another fairytale. Come on, I’ll show you around.” After a brief tour and some moonlight skinny-dipping, they sat on the deck finishing the wine while being lulled by the gentle waves caressing the boat.

“Stargazing is lovely for a while, but let’s go to bed,” whispered Keeri seductively. “Yeah, I’m really tired,” laughed Paul.

Keeri rose along with the sun. She had not slept all night thinking about this strange and wonderful man. She found some paper and a pen and began to write.

Dearest Paul,
Never have I known love could reach such heights. My time spent with you was like heaven on earth. It is funny, but I was afraid I would fall in love with you and be crushed when you left. But I’m aglow and blushing with a radiance I’ve never felt before. My love for you will never end — I think you know that. See you when I see you.
Love Keeri
PS Write about us. It will make a great fairytale. She walked down the small pier feeling silly, laughing out loud. Besides, I get seasick. And I did see those initials.

Paul’s effort to open his eyes was like a drawbridge struggling to raise its heavy load. For someone who rarely drank alcohol, the wine had certainly taken its toll. “Hello, anybody home?” There was no response. Maybe she went for a swim. He saw the note Keeri left sitting on the deck chair and began to read it. Amazing. I’m sitting here for this great depression to descend upon me, and all I can do is sit here with this silly smile on my face.

Paul dove into the crystal blue waters for a swim, thinking all the while of the love that had blossomed in him. The perfect lady on a perfect day. He dried himself off and picked up the note and read once again. PS Write about us, it will make a great fairytale. “Yes it would,” he said to the seagull gliding overhead, sure it was Jonathan. He picked up his pen and wrote.

Lover’s Poem

When we meet
We shall touch the stars
The little children will laugh at us
And to each we shall teach love

And we’ll float on the soft summer breeze
I’ll carve our initials in the clouds
And in a fleeting moment
That which is not tangible shall succumb

And our love will become inimitable

Will explore the silver moon
And search for the silver man
And we’ll mix the colors on the palette
And paint the world

Then we’ll say our goodbyes
And no regrets will there be
Only happy memories we share
And our initials in the clouds

Dedicated to a Golden Lady with eternal love
Paul Winter

Originally published on