Hey Dave!

If you’ve ever ridden the roller coaster of nostalgia that is channeling your past in current endeavors, you know how quickly it can become disorienting.

At first, it seems like a fun thing to try. And so you strap yourself into a non-threatening and colorful car that will take you along the ups and downs of your checkered past—don’t worry, everyone’s is: checkered, that is.

That initial ascent is exactly that: an exhilarating by way of excruciating ride upward toward the known unknown. Prior to the summit, all of the anticipation is positive. All of the vibe is giddy, Even though extreme trepidation builds in the pit of your stomach’s pit, you casually wave it off in lieu of impending “fun” times ahead while you plan to explore everything in your rearview mirror.

It’s only when you summit and stare down that first daunting plunge into madness that you begin to begin to realize what you’ve done. And at that point…well…there ain’t shit you can do about it other than hang on for dear life.

When I drink, I write,

When I write, I drink.

Or, something like that.

Or, all of that.

I have the most outlandish ideas during these flights of G&Ts…err…I mean…fancy.

One such flight…err…I mean…night, it dawned on me to write a love letter to my pastor. Not my current pastor, mind you, the pastor of my teenage epoch. As a Buddhist—Buddha being an everyday human dude and all—I have no pastor at the moment.

Inconsequentially, he [Pastor Dave] also married me and my initial wife. But that was a mistake. Not his mistake, mine, ours, and so on. My parents were each the first of their families to get divorced. I was the first grandkid to get divorced.


For the purposes of this rapidly devolving debacle, let’s not include that chapter. The only chapter that matters is the one I wrote in my latest novel. There was a scene that took place in the church of my youth. It was a poignant scene not only in the book but in my actual non-fictional life.

A half-dozen G&Ts into the evening, I decided to write him a letter, an email actually. I emailed my old church and they gave me his personal email. Thank God he’s retired! He has most assuredly earned at least that.

Anyway, after the church forwarded my initial query to him, he did reply. It was a generic pastoral reply: polite and caring. He even admitted to remembering 15 y/o me, which warmed my heart at the time. My reply, which has gone unanswered to this moment follows.

Maybe I crossed some line?

Maybe I was too honest?

Maybe he just couldn’t care less at this point (I couldn’t blame him less)?

I did put a fair amount of effort into the epistolary exchange. I tend to want to preserve these anomalies. So, that is the purpose of this pointless post.

From: Pastor Dave
Sent: Wednesday, February 22, 2023 3:18 PM
To: Blake Donley
Subject: Greetings!

Hi Blake! [some person] from [some church] forwarded me your email and request. Sounds like you have had some challenges of late. I remember you and have had occasional contact with your dad and step mother in recent years. I checked out your site briefly and see that you are quite the gifted writer. I suspect you have a very loyal following! Feel free to contact me at this email. It’s nice to connect after all these years!



From: Blake Donley
Sent: Saturday, February 25, 2023 9:46 AM
To: Pastor Dave Olson
Subject: Re: Greetings!

Hey Dave!

First and foremost, how are you? The last time I saw you, I was getting married for the first time. It’s been a while, literally. I truly hope all is well with you and yours.

Next, thanks for commenting on my writing (or even reading it). I started writing in earnest again after my divorce in 2010. But it was not until 2017 when I decided to write a novel. That first attempt got interrupted with what turned into a pair of novels. I’ve since returned to that initial foray, and I’m nearly finished with that initial novel. As you may have guessed, it’s loosely based on my relationship with my father. More broadly, it’s a story of fathers and sons and trying not to retrace your parents’ footsteps but falling in lockstep despite oneself.

Anyway, in writing it, I’ve done a lot of exploration of the past. It’s been nostalgic, and bewildering, and downright trippy at times. Much of it harkens back to the decade of the ’80s and rambling around the big empty rambler on Christmas Lake. There is a key moment in the novel that occurs in a fictitious [some church], which I not cleverly named [some church]. I was going off the premise that there have to be at least a hundred “[some church‘s]” in the U.S. alone.

Writing is a whole body/mind/soul exercise for me. Writing that church scene shook loose a gazillion memories. Most were from, what was for me anyway, the mystifying and terrifying confirmation years. But in contrast to the unpredictable and near criminal behavior of my fellow confirmees, you were quite literally the Rock of Gibraltar.

Likely, I was slightly ahead of my peers from a developmental—heavy on the mental—perspective. Plus, I was a shy introvert whose intuition vastly outstretched my perceived toughness and endurance. But even then I could see how completely preposterous your job truly could be at times. For example, a weekend retreat at [some local stupidly expensive private college] when you were tasked with wrangling a slew of teenage ne’er-do-wells to get some sleep when most had plans to the contrary.

My mother was (and still is) a master of biblical quotes. She’d often describe people with “The patience of Job.” Whatever is more than that, that’s what you had back in those tumultuous and confusing (for me) days.

Anyway, there was one weekend retreat to a camp that I want to say was in Wisconsin. As you can well imagine in ’87 (or ’88), taking 60 almost high school co-ed’s to a camp in the autumn was gonna be a slog for the poor chaperones. An while the weekend was disastrous on many fronts: bras up the flagpole, kids out smoking in the woods, animal skulls in the toilets, no one ever wanting to sleep ever, etc. You somehow managed to remain sane, and calm, and unimaginably patient. I guess that’s the job. You did blow up at the usual suspects causing commotion one too many times in the wee hours in the boys’ cabin, but I’d have gone much further than you did when stretched to the extreme limits you were.

That particular weekend, you and the staff did an exercise where we all wore paper bags on our heads that indicated our “role” in the exercise. We all were then tasked with walking around and acting toward each other in such a way that the person wearing the bag could guess our assigned role.

The genius aspect of this exercise, which by the way could never be done today, was that the roles given were the opposite of how the kid in the bag behaved in real life. My bag, if I remember correctly read “Bully”. Predictably, the other “bagged” kids in the room acted scared toward me. And quite obviously, this is the opposite of how I felt that entire weekend.

This is one of those moments in life that stays with you forever. In fact, I can recall the room and the setting, and the reactions of my fellow confirmees. But, it was also transformational for me. You see, the power of that exercise is that it leveled (so to speak) the bolder of the bunch, and it lifted (so to speak) the meeker. And in that, it was perfectly biblical. Maybe that was the point, but I promise you it was lost of most. On me, however, it was not.

There are snippets of time, in his lifetime, that are pivotal. That was one such snippet. Not only did I feel understood in that I was given an opposite role that perfectly fit, but I felt seen. That was rare in those days. Like really rare.

As I was writing my little novel that likely no one will ever read, I decided I needed to reach out to you and let you know that you made a massive impact on teenage me. And there weren’t many who did. You exhibited a “gentle strength” that I rarely saw. Maybe it was the times, but strength in the ’80s was a literal notion. Wisdom and grace were not yet recognized as the superpowers they are today. And yet you were an OG, at least for me.

I never saw myself being a pastor. But I promise you I am a better father to both my (high school) daughter Karli and my son Nate, because you were my pastor. Your example was impactful in ways you could’ve never imagined 40 years ago. For that, you have my eternal gratitude.

Writing this book has taught me to call out the excellent humans who have helped me along the way. You are one, for sure. I’ll be forever in your debt for the gentle guidance you provided and for the grace you displayed. Few look at a pastor and sees a superhero, I do. Thank you for making the road a bit less rocky. It meant a lot. It’s not forgotten, and it’s always bouncing around in my writer’s mind.


To-date, there has been no reply. This could be as the result of my blathering being correctly categorized as spam/junk. Or, there could be a more purposeful reason. I guess I’ll never know. And sometimes, that how IRL goes…

Some of this will be in Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

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