Tuesday, September 15, 2009

About the 'best' man

My dear friend Jack died while I was away. He and I both knew he was dying, so when I left I asked him to think about living until I got back. He said he would consider that. But then he got to go home and I knew once he did that, having spent all his energy on getting to the point of 'going home to die' he wouldn't waste any time moving on.
I talked to him on the phone from North Carolina the day before he died. He told me he was so joyous to be 'home' and also told me he didn't think he could keep his promise to wait for me before he went 'home' in a different way. I was in a motel in Fredricksburg VA, watching college football when Jack's daughter called me to let me know her father had died. It was 10 p.m. on a Saturday. I was back in CT by 2:30 the next day. All he needed to do was live another 16 1/2 hours and I could have seen him again. Not much to ask--think about how short a time 16 1/2 hours is in the scheme of things....
But all that is about 'me'. Jack was on a different schedule. God bless him and I know how God has blessed me by knowing him. Lordy, lordy he was about the best man ever...
Through his dying I got to mourn my father--which I never did properly over 20 years ago.
I was with my father in the hospital--St. Raphel's in New Haven--just before he died. We'd had a wonderful conversation...his dementia had lifted like the fog is burned away on winter mornings...and we spoke in hushed and profound ways. Then I told him I needed to go home and he said, I swear this is true, "I'm going home too...." I only lived about a 10 minute drive from the hospital and I was half-way home when I realized that what he said wasn't a false and mind clouded statement, but the truth. I almost turned around to go back but didn't.
When I walked in our house the phone was ringing. It was the hospital to let me know my father had died. My daughter, 8 or 9 years old, came over and hugged me and said, 'you are an orphan now....' Out of the mouths of babes...
I went back to sit with him until the funeral directors came. He had been being shaved by a black nurse when, she told me, he sat up, almost being cut by the razor and said, "I have to get out of here", and laid down dead. Not bad 'last words', I'd say.
While I sat with him a Roman priest came by to ask if I'd like last rites. I told him I would like that.
My father was a racist and a virulent anti-Catholic. When JFK was running for president, my father asked me if I knew what would happen if Kennedy was elected. I didn't know, so he told me, 'they'll freeze holy water and make Pope-cycles', he said, laughing. I didn't get the joke.
So, he died being shaved by a black woman and was given the last rites of the Roman Church. Don't tell me there's no such thing as irony.
And I never mourned him in the way he deserved--the man who raised me and gave me life and taught me many things. Jack has let me do that important work.
And I mourn Jack--my mentor and friend and ally and priestly guru. And knowing he was one of the best men ever, I have come to realize my father was that too.
God bless them both.
Orphaned again.


I love pelicans about as much as I love anything...well, probably there are a couple of dozen people I love more and oysters on the half-shell and a good Pino Grigio and dogs...most of them, but not the little ones people carry in a bag and who seem so unhappy. But pelicans are up there in my hierarchy of things I love.

Oak Island is one of the most prolific breeding grounds of Brown Pelicans on the face of the earth. There are literally hundreds of them there--flying down the beach, diving into the water, floating like ducks on the ocean. I spend a lot of time on Oak Island watching the pelicans do all that. I really love them. And I spend a lot of time on Oak Island telling the people in the house with me about my insights and speculations and imaginings about pelicans.

I happened to say out loud that I'd like to be a pelican for a day. My wife waited the kind of interval you always wait at the beach just because everything slows down there before saying, 'no, you wouldn't like that....' After about 4 minutes, the normal time for a response when you are facing south on the Atlantic, hardly thinking and drinking a little Pino Grigio and watching another couple of dozen pelicans glide down the beach, I responded, 'you're probably right....' I've sometimes thought I'd like to be my dog for a day, but I know for certain I wouldn't want to be one of our cats for a day, or even a minute. I could, I imagine, extricate myself from my dog's mind with little trouble. Dogs are not deep or profound. But being in a cat would seduce me to stay there because they are so inscrutable and complex.

Another time, when I was waxing eloquent about pelicans--how graceful and also clumsy they are and how much I love them--my friend John said, in a random thought, "they don't know how much you love them...."

Astonishingly, I realized how true--like TRUE--that was. And, since I am given to pondering stuff, I pondered it for a while. Does anyone, any creature--besides your dog, who certainly understands--really KNOW how much you love them?

While we were away, my wife, Bern, and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. I sometimes ponder how much of that time we have truely 'been married'. That's a lot of years and stuff happens and the bond is, from time to time broken. I estimate that we have been 'truly married' for about 30 of those 39 years, give or take a year. But that's a hell of a long time to be loving someone. And I wonder if she really KNOWS how deeply and wonderously I love her.

Probably not.

We are all pelicans gliding down the beach, not aware of how deeply and profoundly we are loved.

You are welcomed to ponder that about yourself and God's love. I invite you to do that. And I would write about it except I am still, in my mind, sitting on that wondrous deck, watching pelicans that I adore and knowing they don't know. I'll leave the God's love thing for you to consider.

The island that wasn't there

So, for several days down on Oak Island--don't tell anyone about it, I don't want more people there....--I'd been looking out at the horizon at an island. I didn't quiet think it could be Bald Head Island since it was so close to Southport, but what do I know? During the day I could see parts of the island sticking up above the long away horizon--you can see for I don't know how far from Oak Island. At night I saw lights, thinking whoever was there was having a great evening--lots of seafood, good alcohol, music and mirth. The third day I pointed the island out to my friend, John, reading his Kendal...some sci-fi novel he downloaded in ways that confound me.

'It's a boat,' he said, glancing up only momentarily.

'But it has been there since we arrived,' I countered, 'it must be an island.'

'A boat,' John said.

"But there are lights at night,' I responded.

'Boats have lights at night,' he said, reading about some alien invasion of a world that doesn't exist.

'So why is it just sitting there if it's a boat?' I asked, thinking that would end the discussion and we'd both look at the island.

'Damned if I know,' he replied, giving me a look that indicated he was tired of wanting to talk about my island and his boat and wanted to read in peace about wierd stuff happening in a Sci-Fi world.

The next day, it was gone, after I'd told everybody it was Bald Head Island. Since islands don't normally simply disappear, except in science fiction, it had obviously been a ship, parked for several days off the coast of Southport for reasons no one I know could explain.

It is much like the dog that wasn't there, the island that wasn't there, except a dog is a creature and an island is a place. Creatures and places are different.

Since I have very few thoughts at the beach that aren't 'random thoughts', I had a random thought about the island. Here is what that thought was: "Damn it all, it was a boat...."

I'd lived 64 hours or so looking at an island that was a boat. What senses can I really trust? None, I'd say.

Realizing you can't trust your senses, that what you think is 'real' isn't, that the universe is more subtle and ironic than you can imagine....Well, that might be the beginning of wisdom in some subtle and ironic way....I don't know, but maybe....

the dog that wasn't there

OK, let me be frank...(actually I'm Jim, but never mind...). I think I'm posting something but the stuff that came up on my screen is different than before...I hope it works.

Sitting in the gazebo down at the end of the long walkway from the house we were in on Oak Island, I settled in beside my friend. He was reading on his Kendal--is that how to spell it? And I was looking down the beach.

A couple of hundred yards away I saw a dog that I thought was tethered in the sand near the rising tide. The dog didn't move but his ears blew out in the wind. A big dog--probably a black lab--sitting extremely still as the waves came nearer and nearer.

I said to John--my friend's name--'look at that poor dog, how can anyone do that to a dog?'

John looked for a while and said, 'maybe we should do something, that seems cruel...'

I got up and crossed the dune to the beach and started walking toward the dog, imagining myself liberating him/her and giving his/her owners a stern talking to about how to treat animal companions. I was going to be stern and threaten to call the ASPCA and make a scene on the beach and maybe even take charge of the lab and bring him back to our house.

The setting sun was in my eyes, I must confess, since Oak Island faces south and we were East of the poor dog. But I was building up my indignation, righteous I assure you, having left my dog back in CT, when I realized it was one of those short beach chairs with a towel on it. The edges of the towel were the 'ears' of the dog I saw and the chair itself was his/her body. I turned back, realizing I had become upset and discombobulated by a dog that wasn't there.

Seems to me that is a metaphor for a lot of stuff. We--you and I--become upset and angry and self-righteous, I think, about a lot of 'dogs' that 'aren't there'.

The whole nonsense about the health care reform--people screaming and whining and complaining about dogs that aren't there.

The next time you decide it is ok to yell out, "you Lie" about something, take a walk closer--this is just me talkin'--and see if the dog is really there....I'll do the same. We'll all be better off, I suspect....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.