Joe Cryns and the Ugly Hawaiian Shirt


No more Hawaiian shirts, but what's up with that hat?

“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Remembered

This man shows up at an early San Diego New Warrior Training Adventure in an ugly Hawaiian shirt and he’s reluctant to make the commitment needed to enter the training.  He struggles but participates even though he has doubts.

After the training this man shows up at the “graduation” celebration in Olivenhain again wearing an ugly Hawaiian shirt.  Once more he’s not sure if he wants to participate, especially in the suggested follow-up groups.  After kicking the dirt and jawing for a while he participates in the celebration.

A week later this man shows up at the warehouse in San Diego where we stored the training materials between trainings and where we conducted the post training Integration Groups (I-Groups).  Again, this man shows up in an ugly Hawaiian shirt expressing doubts about this “work” being for him.  At this point I bribe him and he makes the commitment to participate in the eight week I-Group program.

This man was Joe Cryns.

The world is a better place because Joe made those decisions back in the early 90’s however reluctantly and I’m a better man for having had the privileged of knowing him.  Joe’s passing last week is a blessing in that he no longer suffers from the cancer that was attacking his body and a great loss for his family, friends, and those who won’t have the great joy of having their lives “roughed-up” by Joe.

In a recent Blog Posting, “The River Flows Through Me,” I pass along the metaphor, provided by a recent retreat leader, of our dysfunctions being a raging river that is excavating deep emotional grooves in our souls.  In that article I suggest that what is needed to change the course of that river is someone or something to “disturb” the flow and change the course, radically and in a positive direction.  Joe was someone who could “disturb” your life!

Many of the postings since his death talk of Joe’s irreverence, his mischievousness, or how he didn’t follow the “rules.”  They are all correct, Joe was all of that and more.  Once Joe was able to throw off the shackles of his “ugly Hawaiian shirt life” and discover his true self there was no stopping this man from helping others to do the same.  Joe didn’t “color outside the lines” because he wanted to be an anarchist or nonconformance, he did whatever was necessary to “disturb” the person who was struggling, as Joe had, by finding out who they were and what was working and not working in their lives.  And Joe always accomplished this with joy, humor and compassion.

The compassion and sensitivity of Joe is not often discussed but he had a great capacity for both.  You get past the bravado and elfish playfulness and you find a man that cares about life deeply.  Two stories from past New Warrior Training Adventures in Edmonton Canada paint the picture of this side of Joe Cryns:

Trainings in Edmonton always included several members of the local native tribes and this particular training was no different.  Early in the weekend, probably Saturday, a staff member, a native, came running to me and another senior staff member saying that we had a serious problem, the training participants from the tribe wanted to kill Joe!  We tried to calm the man down but he was serious and he began to educate us “guys from the States” that when someone touches a medicine man they must die.  What?  What medicine man?

It turns out that Joe had gone up to the medicine man who was a training participant and gave him a hug, not realizing that the man was considered sacred and should not be touched.    Joe was attracted to his man by his sacredness and not knowing the “rules” authentically expressed his compassion for the man in his own honest way.  Joe was thinking about the man, not the labels or cultural stereotypes and I’m not sure he wouldn’t have still offered the hug even if he knew the “rules.”  Joe wanted to share his love and passion with this man at any cost.  I don’t remember how we resolved this matter other than the obvious – I do remember how Joe owned his actions and stood up as a man.

The other situation I choose not to elaborate on the actual event other than to say that after another training, or it could be the same one in Edmonton (they all run together for me), a group of us where staying at the late Gordon Walinski’s (I apologize for not knowing the correct spelling) house in Edmonton.  We all had flights back to the States on Monday so Sunday night after the training we decided to “party.”  Again, the details about this night are not important in fact I can’t remember who was there except for Gordon, Rich Grahalva and Joe.  What is important was that I experienced a side of Joe that night that I’d never seen before – the speechless, humbled and sensitive Joe Cryns!  That night I discovered that underneath all the bluster, bravado and masculine joking Joe was a humble and sensitive man with depth and caring that most rarely got to see.  For those of you who knew Joe just imaging him speechless and transfixed, incapable of action and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Thinking back on these and many other treasured experiences with Joe I realize that I don’t think of him as having been irreverent, mischievous or undisciplined.  I don’t remember just  the jokes, the bravado, the teasing, the playfulness – What I see and will always remember about Joe is that he was a Man, no adjectives necessary and no more ugly Hawaiian shirts!

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About rightthoughts
Husband/ Father/ Grandfather/ Architect

2 Responses to Joe Cryns and the Ugly Hawaiian Shirt

  1. doctornoe222 says:

    Right on, Bob. When the email went out yesterday I said “Joe Cryns kicked my ass into consciousness on my rookie weekend in ’92, and went on kicking butt over the world. What a fierce, gentle soul, the roughest, toughest big daddy (huge daddy) of us all.”

    Joe Cryns
    Joe Cryns
    Joe Cryns

  2. Hello, Bob, good to hear your voice again, even though only in the blogosphere, and even, sadly, in this context. Joe was a powerful presence in those trainings I attended as a beginning staffer back in the 1990s, and I’m grateful to him for what he had to teach me of himself and his own inner strength and integrity. I, too, have found in the daily writing practice a great way to be in touch with myself and keep myself on track. You can find me on The Buddha Diaries. Also, two recent books, “Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce,” and, just recently, “Mind Work.” I’ll add you to my blogroll. With love and blessings and good memories, Peter

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