During the orientation of my first night meeting all fifty or so students of my small, private college, I found an empty chair next to two young men who would later become some of my best college friends. One was named Adam, who ended up being one of the only classmates I kept up with after college. The other’s name was Joey Holloway.
Joey and Adam were talking about the lyrics of a Mumford and Sons song called “White Blank Page.” They were discussing the Christian themes found in the song, and Joey pointed out one line in particular that goes, “Can you kneel before the King and say ‘I’m Clean.’ ?” That conversation led to the beginning of a great friendship, but it also gave me a glimpse into Joey’s heart.
Joey and I got paired up in our Creative Communication class, so we spent a lot of time together discussing whatever was on our minds. I quickly learned something about Joey: He took art seriously. He took his art seriously, to the point that it made others uncomfortable when they didn’t take it as seriously. I, on the other hand, loved that about him, because it went both ways with him. He took other people’s art seriously, including mine. I enjoyed talking with him, because he viewed storytelling the same way that I did. He probed stories and tried to find out what exactly it was that they were trying to say or do. And when it came to his own stories, he always had something in his mind that he was trying to bring across, and it mattered to him whether or not people believed his stories.
At one point in our Creative Communication class, we were tasked with creating a powerpoint on something that described our partner. Joey’s favorite movie was A Few Good Men, and there was something he saw at the heart of that movie that formed a deep conviction in him. He cared deeply about making sure his name was never tarnished. He wanted everything that he put his name on to be something of value, something honorable. That stood out to me more than anything, so I did my presentation on the importance of protecting a name.
* * *
My college season was brief, and when it was over, I left behind a handful of classmates that I knew I may never see again, as the college was around five hundred miles from my home. Joey was there the night I left, and that really was the last time I saw him. Sometime later, about a year or so, I found out that he had been hit by a train.
The news of it shocked me, and I soon tried to write something down that might help me remember some things about him so that I wouldn’t forget. I started to write a song about him, and the chorus ended up going like this:
“Where can I find a few good men?
Where has the time taken all of them?
Where can I find the words to say?
Is there a light at the end of this holloway?”
At the time, I didn’t really know if a “holloway” was an actual thing. It sounded like it could be, but I wasn’t totally sure. I just knew that I wanted to include as much about him as I could, and the most powerful thing I could think of was his name. I thought on it for a while, and in time I decided to change it to something else.
T.S. Eliot has a quote about poetry that I think about all the time. It goes, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” Recently, I stumbled upon an article that proved that quote to be true.
The article’s title is what struck me: Holloways: Roads Tunneled into the Earth by Time. Naturally, I had to find out more. The focus of the article was on sunken lakes that had been formed over time into tunneled roads that looked like massive, dried up riverbeds. As it turns out, there’s a name that’s given to them: Holloways. I read on and found out that some holloways had even been used as shelters in war time, such as one in Maryland called “Bloody Lane” which was one of the battle locations in the Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War.
When I read the article and saw the pictures, I immediately thought of Joey, and when I think back to my initial reactions in writing the song about him, I think about what T.S. Eliot said about how poetry communicates.
I can’t think of a better word to describe the mark Joey left on me, and I think it’s a word-image that does well in describing others who have passed on. When one person deeply touches the life of another, it’s as if they are pouring out their spirit on them. To me, that’s what friendship is—a river that rolls and bends, rushing through us, filling one with the spirit of the other. And if that is the case, a separation in that friendship leaves a holloway in the one left behind, or sometimes in both. But such is the nature of rushing water; it carves out its way through the land that it flows through, and when the water recedes, the land bears the mark.
So too do we bear the marks of all who have touched our lives. It may be true that we are continually hollowing out one another with our lives so that in time, we are no longer merely ourselves, but are instead shaped by the endless holloways made by others. If that is true, then I think those most touched by friendship eventually become open floodplains, receiving the lives of others with greater ease than before, so that the floods of friendship continually rush through them until nothing remains but the impressions of all those who have come before.