Thursday, February 28, 2019

Another view

Next Wednesday is Ash the journey to Easter is near. Here's a view from long ago about Easter.

The View from Above the Close
                      Easter and the Big Cat…

          Less than two weeks ago, as I’m writing this, we had to put euthanize our “big cat”.  Vincent had been with us—part of our family—for 13 years. He was a huge gray cat who, in the last few years, had grown fat and lazy—but remained, as always, sweet natured and affectionate.  He was the kind of cat that is always jumping in your lap—heavy and unpleasant as he was. Had Bern and I imagined how quickly Vinnie’s  life would have to end, we may not have knocked him off our laps so many times….
          Well, that’s not true.  He was heavy and emotionally demanding and had a habit of digging his claws into my legs when he jumped on my lap.  I often pushed him off and would still, even if he could be back with us.
          Vincent wasn’t a pleasant cat to live with.  He’d run to the basement whenever people came over and hide until they left.  Some people who have been at our house many times never saw him.  He was the cat we “made up” and had no evidence for…he was a cat just for his family.  When he was just a kitten, we had another cat—a big yellow cat named Pajamas, a sweetheart of a cat—who would spend hours cleaning Vincent.  When Pajamas got hit by a car and stumbled into the bushes to die on a cold winter day, Vincent went to the basement.  He stayed there for days.  We’d carry him up and make him eat, then he’d retreat to the basement again.  Don’t tell me animals don’t mourn.  Vincent mourned his buddy Pajamas for weeks and was never the same again.  Before Pajamas died, Vincent was aggressive and loud and independent.  But from that cold winter day on, he was calm, sweet and needy.  And he never learned to clean himself—Pajamas did it for him.  So he was always dirty and unpleasant.
          On the way back from the vet’s, with Vincent in a box in the backseat, Bern said, through the first of many tears: “He was a pain-in-the-butt cat…”
          We both smiled and laughed and cried.
          I dug Pajama’s grave alone.  We found him just as Bern was leaving for work and taking Josh to school in New Haven.  This was almost a decade ago.  So I dug his grave, tears streaming down my face and snow swirling around me.  The earth was hard and unrelenting.  When we brought Vincent home—mercifully killed by the vet’s needle because of extensive cancer and feline AIDS—Bern and I worked together on his grave.
          We have a cemetery of pets in the space beneath our back deck.  Annie is there as well as Pajamas and Vincent. Several guinea pigs as well.  And Goose, our other yellow cat—we have great yellow cats but not much luck with keeping them alive—is buried there too.
          Anyone who shares their lives with pets will have lots of sad days and lots of graves to dig.  We human beings outlive most of the creatures we share our homes with.  Sometimes I think the pain is too much to risk.  And then I remember how wondrous they are—what unmotivated and unconditional love they give—and then I know we’ll dig other graves before graves are dug for us.  We’ll weep profusely each time and miss them terribly.  But there is something humbling and humanizing about sharing your life with other creatures.

          At any rate, the day after Vincent had to die, Bern said something about how she thought that the best heaven of all would be a place where Pajamas could be cleaning Vincent again.  And I’m hard pressed to disagree.

          Theologians might have some issues with such sentimental thinking.  And people who’ve never had pets might think it daft.  But Bern is right—I can’t imagine a heaven worth being in that didn’t include animals and two creatures as connected as Pajamas and Vincent should be connected always and forever.  The Kingdom must have room for pets.

          The next day I got an email from Bern’s Brother, Dan, who is a member of the Alexian Order of brothers in the Roman Catholic Church.  Dan is a psychiatric social worker for a religious order that specializes in health care. His message consoled us about the loss of Vinnie—and went on to say, “at least Vincent and Pajamas are playing together again.”

          Well, if an Episcopal priest and a Roman Catholic brother can agree that heaven’s like that, it must be so.

          Easter is that time when we have an opportunity to imagine how all the pain of death can be washed away with joy.  Easter is a time when “dead things” need not stay dead.  Easter is the time when all the rules and assumptions about death get turned upside down and inside out.  Easter is the time when God simply went into the tomb and made Jesus—who was dead—alive again.  Easter is the time when we can dare to imagine life beyond life, eternal and abundant life.  Easter is full of eggs and lilies and balloons and good things to eat and chocolate and old, sick cats who are kittens again, washing each other and playing together in a eternal spring afternoon on grass too green to imagine beneath a sky too blue to speak of when nothing else matters but the wonder and gift and blessing of being alive….

          Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia….

                                      Joyous Easter,   JIM  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The scariest thing

The scariest thing in Michael Cohen's testimony today came at the very end--in his closing statement he said he wasn't sure there would be a 'peaceful transition' if Trump lost in 2020.

That, he said, was why he was willing to come forward and tell what he knew before going to jail.

Imagine that--no peaceful transition to the next president....

Open insurrection by his supporters? His refusal to leave the White House? Need for military intervention to bring in the newly elected president?

A truly horrifying scenario.

And if he really believes that, we should all be shaken.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Deep breath

The President is in Viet Nam--half-a-world away and tomorrow his 'fixer' will testify in public before a House Committee.

Maybe he'll just stay in Asia when Cohen is through talking.

Well to be wished.

Things are so crazy the last two years that it is hard to focus on what isn't crazy.

Never in my lifetime have so many things seemed unhinged in society and politics.

I've watched the video of President Obama at a Duke basketball game several times, wishing as hard as I could wish that he were back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Would it be so.

Can we last until the 2020 presidential election is my question?

And what happens between the election and January if the Democrat wins? That crazy guy is still in charge for two months before the transition.

"Lordy, Lordy!" as Lina Manona Sadler Jones, my maternal grand-mother would say.

"Lordy, Lordy!" indeed.

Prayer and meditation are good ideas these strange days.

And deep breaths.

Lots of them.

Monday, February 25, 2019

call tonight

I got an unexpected all tonight from Mike, my high school friend and college roommate, off and on.

I haven't heard from him for 20 years or so.

I won't go into what we talked about--children, of course, and lots of other stuff. I respect his and my privacy.

But he was my best friend in high school and roommate in college and his call came out of nowhere to me.

The past is not dead and gone.

It comes back.

His accent, from living in Knoxville, Tennessee, hasn't changed much. Mine, after nearly 40 years in New England, has been modified.

I still ache that we haven't been in touch for so long.

He is still my friend, though our lives have been so different.

I felt younger after talking with him.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

few dry eyes

Today my sermon was as awkward as I thought it would be--loving those who hate you is a big 'ask', Jesus.

But we had a healing service as well and I sort of made it up on the spot. There were 30 people or so and we were having church in the parish hall to save heating the church for an hour. All of us in a small space--so I anointed the person next to me and he anointed the person next to him, all around the room until all had oil on their foreheads.

Then we found a way to all hold hands, everyone touching two other people, and I prayed about how we were all laying hands on each other and asked God's healing grace to be among us and between us and to give us health and wholeness and the peace the world cannot give.

Then we had the peace and I realized there were few dry eyes in the house. And that realization made my eyes mist up too. The peace must have taken over 5 minutes for only 30 people because people were passing it with such affection.

I was truly moved by how moved the folks at St. James were by an improvised and made up on the spot way of having a time of healing.

How healing it was amazed me.

God works in "mischievous ways", my dear, late friend Remitha Spurlock used to say.

So true. So true.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

tomorrow's sermon

I'm not going to write a sermon here. I'm not even sure what I'm going to say, but two of the lessons challenge us in troubling ways.

The Hebrew Scripture lesson is from Genesis. It tells part of the story of Joseph, in Egypt, giving life and hope to his brothers who sold him into slavery.

And in Luke, Jesus tells us the 'hard news' of "love those who hate you...turn the other cheek...if they take your coat give them your shirt as well."

Joseph's compassion toward those who made him a slave is difficult enough. But to 'love those who hate you"?

Luke is my favorite of the 4 gospels in the Bible. Luke is the 'compassionate' gospel writer. But 'love those who hate you" is asking a lot more than most of us are able to give.

I'll struggle with it until I stand before the folks at St. James, Higganum--then I'll struggle out loud.

And it will be a struggle, I give you that.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Good night, my friends

Another long day, as they all are in this era.

Lots of stuff to be upset about and rail against.

But it's near the end of February and it is cold.

We need to calm down and chill out and get some much needed rest.

So, just for tonight, let the whole nightmare of the presidency and all the other stuff go.

Have some wine and go to bed and read a book until you want to sleep.

Is that so bad?

I don't think so.

We need a break. It's cold and there are blankets on the bed.

Relax for the night.

Sleep and pleasant dreams.

See you tomorrow.

It will all be still here. Don't worry about that.

But tonight, 'don't worry' at all.

Good night, my friends.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Bananaman

The Bananaman was my first try at writing a "novel". I found this attempt at a second draft--as far as it goes, in my documents. I only have the full thing in hard copy. Maybe some day I'll type it out and let you see it. But for now, all you get is the beginning of a second draft.

     The Bananaman                         


                                                     Jim Bradley

          The first time Richard ever saw Ela was in the closed stacks of West Virginia University’s Library. She was sleeping, sitting on the floor, leaning against the back issues of The Sewanee Review. All this happened on the eighth floor of the library where they kept all of what Richard’s dear friend Tom Rutledge called “the Lit-Ter-A-Chur” books when it was close to 11 p.m., just before closing, and Richard had abandoned his carrel and was roaming the dimly lit stacks looking for a book.  Actually, he wasn’t looking for “a book”, he was looking for The Book, the one that would fill him up and make him whole forever, the book he always imagined finding, the book that held the secrets he longed to know—secrets of the heart and soul, because Richard was, above all else, a poet at heart and poets are eternally searching. He had almost despaired of finding that book, but that night, in late September, he walked the aisles of the stacks, searching…. Richard’s searching had become almost frantic since it was the autumn of his junior year of college, the year he would turn 21 and be a man.
          Unfortunately for him, Richard had no idea whatsoever what it meant to “be a man”. And Ela, now only a few yards away from him, leaning back against a bookshelf, dozing off, needed, of all things, “a man.”
          Soon they would meet—for better or worse, and with equally ridiculous hopes and expectations. Then they would talk on the plaza outside the library as most of Morgantown tucked in to sleep away on an September night in 1968. And, quite frankly, nothing would ever be the same for either of them again. Not ever.
          But we have jumped ahead of life. Life has its own rhythm and flow and we’ve ignored it. Back in the moment, we have two people on the eighth floor of a University library about to encounter each other for the first time. We should go back there.
          In 1968, the Library at West Virginia University closed at 11 p.m. as if people stopped reading books, stopped searching for knowledge, stopped wanting to learn an hour before mid-night. Since Richard was a library rat, he knew the signs of closing. At 10:50 the lights went dark and then blinked on again. And at 10:55 the lights in the stacks blinked off and on three times. Richard often wondered if the lights were on a timer or if someone’s job was to blink them to warn of closing. He would stare at the librarians, wondering which one had to find the switch to flip once at 10:50 and three times at 10:55. What a job!, Richard thought each evening since he was almost always there when the lights flickered.
          But this night in particular—in the midst of September—Richard had been waiting for the second warning, carrying his book bag full of reference works on Spencer and Trollop and Beowulf like the good Honors English major he was, looking for The Book for a while, never knowing what he would find would be Ela instead.
          This is, after all, a misbegotten meeting between two people who will find each other and lose each other and almost find each other again, but not. They are not meant to be together—not in this world at any rate. They are so different from each other that we should ache for them, knowing as we do that this will never work. It would be wondrous and romantic if their love could overcome the vast expanses between them and their worlds. But, since this is real, their love will not be enough—or, if it could be, they would squander it and waste it and never say what needs to be said or do what needs to be done to bridge the chasm between the son of a coal miner who will be an Ivy League professor someday and the daughter of an advisor to the President who will give up her due rewards to become a social worker in West Virginia. Richard and Ela will pass each other going in different directions. Their lives will be full and productive and good: especially “good” since both of them are remarkably decent people. The time they share with each other will be tinged with magic and hopefulness. And it will never find fruition. It will die on the vine. It will never be what it could have been. More than once, Lord help them, they will miss by a mite that is just as much as a mile. However, it is worth the telling, what happens to them after this night in the stacks of a University Library on a hill above a river in the northern part of West Virginia. Worth the telling and worth the wondering too—the wondering of what might have been.

“Once softly, October….”

          She was lovely. Richard would remember that as he was checking out his books at the main desk and thinking about what he needed to do before he slept. The thought would come to him all at once, full blown, while he watched the elderly librarian-lady imprint a return date on the cards she was inserting neatly into the little pockets inside the books he would carry home and read, mark and inwardly digest. “Ca-chunk” went the little tool the librarian-lady was using, and just as Richard was asking himself what the imprint device with ink pad and movable rubber numbers was called, the thought exploded into his mind and his heart, perhaps even into his marrow and his soul.
          She was lovely….
          When he turned the corner of the stacks, he almost tripped over her legs. She was leaning up against the bookshelf asleep, her legs crossed and across the aisle. She was tiny, fairy-small and wrapped around a book as she slept. In his mind Richard thought, “what a fickle fiend Fate is: to send me The Book wrapped up in a sleeping girl.” And deeper than that, in some damp place where things really matter, Richard saw the face of that sleeping girl and knew she would haunt his dreams forever. He noticed her extremely short hair—blond, he thought in the dim light of the library, though later he would think it almost white and only whispered with blond—and her small, fine-featured face. “Like a Loris or a Lemur,” he thought to himself, “like some small night-creature that begins with an L.” She was wearing a shapeless sweat shirt, gray with small, dark, gothic letters spelling out “RADCLIFF” and faded, too-big jeans. A hint of shin showed pale between her jeans and white socks covering feet inside well-worn penny loafers. “Cordovan”, Richard thought, involuntarily, about her shoes, fascinated as he was by the word and by a color that, so far as he knew, did not exist in nature.
          But all that thinking was in a little used part of his brain that simply observed and recorded. The electrical impulses in his frontal cortex weren’t registering any of that—and he wasn’t, in the moment, taken by her loveliness. What caught his conscious attention was that the sleeping girl was cradling a book against her breasts as she dozed away at closing time. “The Book,” Richard thought in the most reptilian part of his brain—the part that dwells on survival and food and reproduction and safety. “This might be The Book,” he thought, “and it is ‘a sign unto you’ from the gods who conspire to make me whole.” (Richard actually thought those thoughts, though he imagined, later, that he was reading back into the experience. But what besides those primitive thoughts could have caused him to reach out and take the book between his thumb and forefinger, blowing on her face until she moved her hand and he took the book from Ela’s grasp, brushing her breast with the back of his hand, waking her from her slumber, causing her to open her slate-gray eyes and stare at him?)
          “Excuse me,” Ela said, staring up at the man who was holding her book and looking not a little confused—so confused he didn’t seem to hear her. He was too busy noticing what a whore Fate had been to him. The Book was written in French! “Excuse me,” she said again, louder this time, “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
          Richard shook his head. His face, Ela thought, was as fresh and clean as a mountain stream. He was far from handsome, but there was something “wholesome” about him, something she found attractive even in the dimness, something worth wondering about.
          No stranger to the accents of West Virginia, Richard knew from the girl’s one sentence that she was a “foreigner”. He was quite adroit at accents and before her question registered clearly, he was pondering where she could be from: “Philadelphia? No. Maryland somewhere? Not quite. New England, maybe there….”
          “Pardon me,” Richard finally said.
          “You’ve got my book,” Ela responded, chill and threatening.
          Somewhere near Boston, Richard thought to himself, ignoring the aggressiveness in the girl’s voice. But something else….
          “You grew up in Boston,” Richard blurted out, “but you went to school somewhere else, somewhere further south. Where?”
          Ela squinted up at him. “I want my book,” is all she said.
          “You were asleep, I didn’t think you’d mind,” he said.
          “I wasn’t sleeping,” Ela told him, fiercely.
          Richard handed the slim volume back to her and shrugged. “It’s in French,” he said.
          Effortlessly, like some slim animal, Ela stood up, holding the book next to her.
          “Of course it is. Becket.”
          “Pardon?” Richard said.
          “Samuel Becket,” Ela told him, coldly, flat and hard. “He wrote in French.”
          She turned and moved away from him. She did not so much walk away as glide, with an instinctive, inbred gracefulness of night animals. As he watched her go, crazed by the cosmic irony that The Book was written in a language he could recognize well enough but not read, Richard subliminally shivered at the faint scent of vanilla the girl left in her wake and wondered, somewhere deep within himself if large, unseen creatures had started to move to leave him frozen in place. He thought, without intending to, about long walks, coffee at some shop, things he had never imagined. And all of those thoughts were tinged with the smell of vanilla and gray eyes the color of December clouds.
          The second blinking happened and time passed before he tore himself from his spot and took the elevator to the main floor. He thought he saw her going through the revolving door, but it may just have been the smell of vanilla—like an ice-cream soda, that seemed to envelope him just at that moment. “Waiting for Godot”, he realized, was what the French words he’d read on the cover of The Book had said. “Beckett, of course”, he thought, because when he fanned the pages the words had formed short sentences separated by white space and magic. Someone he’d briefly met could read the play in French. He smiled, involuntarily, emptying his bag of the books he needed to read in front of the librarian-lady.
          “Sorry,” he said, as the books scattered across the surface and skittered toward the elderly woman.
          She looked up and didn’t smile. Then she started checking out the books, carefully clicking a date on each lined card before sliding them back toward Richard. She knew him by sight and by his University ID. Always in the library. Always with books from the stacks that tumbled toward her in a wild profusion so she could mark them and slide them back. “That accent,” she thought, considering only the one word sorry that Richard had spoken. “Southwestern Virginia? Eastern Kentucky?” She would never know how close she was and how fascinated Richard would have been, being a devotee of accents as well, to know she could almost place him from the one word he’d said. The librarian never asked and, therefore, never knew. Close calls often go for naught.
          While Elsie French—the librarian’s name—was wondering about Richard’s accent, Richard was suddenly, completely, unexpectedly consumed with one thought: She was lovely. His heart beat a different rhythm. He felt lightheaded and scooped up his books, pouring them into his bag, slipping on the tile floor as he tried to turn, his eyes on the revolving door, just now slowing to a stop, hoping he could catch up to the vanilla smelling girl who could read French and apologize for inadvertently touching her breast when he took her book.
          Then, remembering his raising, he turned back to Elsie and said, “Sorry to be in such a rush.” And she knew in that moment—with just those extra words said in his distinctive accent—that  he grew up within 50 miles of Beckley, West Virginia, which was off by only four miles. So she smiled.
          (What Richard did not know was the librarian-lady’s last name. French. And “The Book” was written in French. And the girl could read French. And Richard grew up in French, West Virginia, exactly 54 miles from Beckley. Had he had all that information he might have torn through the revolving door with a little more vigor and urgency. Such coincidences are nothing short of magic. But, when it is considered, the vigor and magic and urgency in Richard was quite enough already.)
          Outside the air was slightly chill and the sky was full of stars. Richard emerged onto the plaza outside the library and spun around looking for the girl. Weeks later he would reflect back on that night and think: “I didn’t find The Book but I found The Girl.”  And he was right in many ways, ways he would never know or realize.
          There she was, standing by the wall in front of the acre of Lawn that led down to University Avenue and then, sharply, down the hill to the River. For years afterwards, Richard would remember that there was a full moon that night and that Ela was bathed in moonlight as he approached her. It wasn’t true, unfortunately. That night was cloudy so the stars he saw were in his heart and the moon, a mere sliver, was in his soul. It was actually quite dark where he found her. She was holding an unlit cigarette in her thin fingers and looking out across the river to the factories on the other bank. Richard stared at her for a long moment.
          “Do you have a light?” she asked, softly, distracted by whatever she was seeing in the distance.
          “Pardon,” Richard said, when he found his breath again.
          She shook the cigarette and handed him a book of matches. “Light mine,” she said, “if you will.”
          As he took the cardboard match book, his hand grazed hers. A month later he would attribute a great deal to that first touch (as if he had forgotten the back of his hand against her breast when he stole her book.) In the moment, he scarcely noticed.
          The match exploded and she took a deep drag to light her cigarette. Ela would teach Richard to smoke in the times to come, among other things. In the amber flame of the match he saw her face for the first time. Years later, being honest with Johanna, the woman he loved, his wife, the mother of his child, he considered telling her about how lovely Ela’s face looked in the match glow. Wisely, he choked that awful truth back and told her a harmless truth instead. And he never forgot.
          “What’s going on over there?” she asked him, expelling smoke, looking across the river where windows in the factories were red-hot and burning.
          “I don’t know,” he said, looking where she looked. “Something to do with glass, though that might not be true. Maybe the room is just on fire.”
          They gazed across the river and wondered what was going on in the red hot rooms.
          “I’m sorry, you know,” Ela finally said, dragging on her cigarette.    “Pardon?” Richard said.
          She smiled at him for the first time. “Are you hard of hearing,” she asked, “or do you just like the sound of ‘pardon’?”
          “I’m a mountain boy,” he said, bolder than he’d ever felt in his life. “What we mountain boys say when we don’t understand is ‘pardon’.”
          She just stared at him, as if he were a puzzle to solve or a problem to understand, which, actually, was true for Ela.
          “Further north,” is all she said.
          “Par….what?” he asked.
          “I did grow up near Boston. But I went to school further north of there—New Hampshire actually.” She watched his eyes.
          “But your accent…” he began.
          “I roomed with a girl from Richmond for three years at boarding school,” she said, “we talked a lot.”
          He grinned—which was actually his best feature, a grin to break the heart of the hardest woman. Ela was not immune.
          “You do accents?” she said, near laughter at his grin.
          “Well….Among other things….” Another grin, more potent than ever this time.
          “I have to go,” she said, quickly, knowing how important it was not to bask too long in Richard’s smile. She turned to glide away.
           “I was asleep,” she said, pausing, not looking back.
          “So you lie,” Richard was trying to hold her, keep her from gliding away.
          She turned toward him. “You still have my matches.”
          He fumbled through his pocket and found them. “Close cover before striking”, was all he could think for a moment. She took the matches and turned way.
          “I steal,” he told her, longing in his voice.
          She shook her head several times. Her back was toward him. “I lie and you steal, quite a pair. No way to start a relationship,” she said. “Can you ever trust me?”
“Should I?” Richard asked softly.
“Should you what?” Ela said, never looking back at him.
“Trust you.” He answered.
 “That’s for me to know,” she said. And then she was gone.
          Richard stood in the gathering chill for a long time, staring at the stars and moon he could not have seen because of the heavy cloud cover. But forever after, he remembered moon and stars and Ela.
          The thing hard to imagine in such a love story as this is that Richard, for the next few days, almost forgot about the girl with the book who smelled of vanilla and smoked Marlboro cigarettes (though he did remember her brand somehow). It is possible to forgive him because he was, after all, reading Spencer in large doses and early British novels and dealing with what was necessary to put out the students’ literary journal because he was the editor—the first Junior ever to editor the “Spirit”. Plus, he lived in a dorm on the Main Campus with Freshmen because he was one of the “dorm counselors”—something few Juniors had ever been either. The Freshmen on his floor were, so far as Richard could tell, Neanderthals from the far-reaches of West Virginia and Pennsylvania and Ohio and Kentucky. Madmen all, he thought. And they consumed his time and attention—like his classes, like the magazine. He had things to do, duties to attend to, papers to write, books to read.
          Fox and Trotter—two of the freshmen—had destroyed a bathroom on his floor on Friday night after a round of Fraternity Rush drink-a-thons. Richard liked them, animals that they were, and had spent much of Saturday dealing with the Dean of Student Affairs and the maintenance men in Arthur E. Boreman Hall trying to keep Fox and Trotter in school while they slept off their remarkable, almost mythic hang-overs.
          He called home and talked to Vernon and Susan, his parents, back in French, almost telling them about the girl he’d met in the stacks on Wednesday night and how the starlight fell on her shoulders as they stood outside and briefly talked. But he didn’t. Instead he told them about his classes and about the food in the cafeteria and about the football game he’d missed because of the disaster in the bathroom. And he listened as they repeated the litany of illnesses and deaths and hard times back in French, where—it seemed to Richard—nothing ever turned out as well as it could have. And then he read some and wrote some and slept.
          On Sunday morning, Richard repeated his normal rounds. He stopped in at the little Greek restaurant across the street from his dorm for some scrambled eggs and a grilled roll. He paid Plato, the youngest son, who was the hero of any student who actually studied and understood Western Civilization, for his breakfast. Then he went to church at Trinity, the Episcopal Church a block away. Richard had left his Methodist upbringing as a Freshman when he discovered the Episcopal faith by accident, drug to Trinity by a girl from Parkersburg he knew from a Freshman Honors class. Tina disappeared in the midst of the Eucharist. Richard was consumed by the liturgy and ritual and richness of the language of Anglican worship. He and Tina never dated, but Richard became an Episcopalian, confirmed by the Bishop in his Sophomore year of college. He was, if nothing else, a faithful man and attended church every Sunday.

          After the last prayers and postlude he wandered around campus because it was an unusually warm Autumn. And in his wanderings, he happened on the great lawn in front of the library. And there he saw her, smoking a cigarette, making sketches on a pad, squinting against the morning sun.
          He had not “thought” of her for four days. He had dreamed of her, in dreams he never remembered, each night. So much of what happened between Richard and Ela was subconscious that it is difficult to tell their story. But it must be told.
          So you must know that, filled with the Anglican version of the Body and Blood of Christ, empowered by the sacrament, stepping out of his shy, mountain-boy path, Richard crossed the Lawn and plopped himself on the fall grass beside of Ela. He waited.
          As Richard waited he suddenly and unexpectedly remembered a poem he had written when he was 15 years old. He thought he had long ago forgotten it, but it came back, all new.
                   Soon will come the chill, the cold.
                        It is upon us, at the very door.
                        Winter conquers all—and all is lost.
                        The warmth is lost forever.
                        Life and love are but memories.
                        And yet today there is a warmth
                        A warmth we do not deserve.

                        But we must embrace it and love it.
                        We must reach out to it and rejoice.

                        Before November and the freeze,
                        Once softly, October.

          It was a terrible poem, full of the kind of longings Richard imagined were not part of his life any more. But there it was. And there she was—this Girl beyond imagining, right before him, sketching one of the oaks on the Lawn, paying him no attention.
          Her delicate hand, holding the cigarette now, flicked across the page with a pencil. She was left-handed, Richard noticed, wondering how that might be, if she’d been disciplined in grade school, criticized by how her arm embraced the desk as she tried to print. And now she drew. It wasn’t the oak at all, but it was an oak—some tree in her memory or vision, more wondrous, stark and unforgiving than the actual tree.
          She laid the pad aside, finally and handed him a book of matches so he could light another cigarette for her.
          She inhaled deeply, astonishingly deep, holding the smoke within her until she began to let it out as she spoke.
          “You’re all dressed up,” she said, trailing smoke above her head.
          Richard noticed he had on a jacket and a tie. He always did for church—something he hadn’t noticed before since it was simply part of him.
          “Church,” he said. “I’ve been to church.”
          She seemed vaguely interested, he thought. She leaned her fragile head to one side, stretching out her long, lovely neck. “What cult are you?”
          Confused, Richard answered, “pardon?”
          She laughed, freely and electric, like the air that October Sunday. But Richard noticed that though her body laughed, there was next to no sound. Her laughter was silent, haunting, just out of reach.
          “I’m sorry,” he said, “about the ‘pardon’. I know you don’t like it. And I don’t know your name. I’m Richard and I’m an Episcopalian.”
          Ela rolled around in a joyous circle, sitting on the grass. This boy, she thought, is nothing that I need; but I want to know him….”
          She tossed away her cigarette and fell backwards in the grass. Her legs were still crossed in front of her and she spread her arms out wide to either side.
          “He’s not there, you know,” she said.
          “Who?” that strange boy asked.
          Ela laughed inside and her body shook. “God, Allah, Jehovah, the Bananaman, none of them, nobody….” She said, still laughing.
          (This is the first moment when all that happened, all that was to be and can’t most likely be changed, could have shifted away and been different. In a moment all this happened inside Richard: he was shocked and dismayed by Ela’s words, he was convinced—on some level—that nothing would ever come of this moment, and…and, he was hooked on her, her audacity and verve and shear energy. And, let it be known, he was shocked into being by the way the color of her eyes matched the stones, gray and ancient, of the library, by the way she looked like some creature you couldn’t tame or hold, by the way the laughed without sound, by the very being of this girl whose name he still did not know. So he didn’t leave. He stayed. And the truth be known, he already loved her.)
          “Who’s the Bananaman?” is all he said.
          “That’s for later,” she smiled and said, “and maybe never. We’ll see.”
          If we had been watching what we would have seen for a long time was Ela in the grass, smiling and Richard sitting beside her and her sketch pad off to the side, between them. For a long time, that would have been all we could see.
          Finally, Richard said, “I love your drawing of that oak.”
          She stirred in the grass and sat up. “It’s a maple.”
          He grinned and she was swallowed into his grin. “No,” he said, “it’s an oak tree. I know from the shape and the few leaves still left. My father could tell you from the bark, but not me.”
          “You’re a ‘shape’ and ‘leaf’ man, I take it,” said Ela, sitting up, looking from her sketch to the tree to Richard.
          “Mostly,” he said. And if Elsie French had been out on the Lawn instead of hid away in the library, when Richard said “mostly”, she would have known he grew up further south of Beckley than she imagined before.
          And if Richard had been listening to Ela’s accent rather than falling in love with her—hopelessly and hopelessly in love with her—he would have known, from the few sentences she said that her roommate at St. Paul’s hadn’t been from Richmond at all, but from Tidewater Virginia somewhere, a place so unknown and forgettable that she had said she was from Richmond. Such intimacies as that are oft forgotten on Spring days that fall, inexplicably, in October when the sun is bright and warm and you are younger than you’ll ever be again, younger than anyone ever could deserve. You’re that young and already that in love.
          After what seemed to both of them to be a long time, Ela finally said, “My name is Ela, Ela Dunning.”
          “Like Ella Fitzgerald?” Richard asked.
          “With just one l. I don’t know why, but Ela with one l.” She smiled at Richard and into the midday sun. And she was lovely.
          “I’m pleased to meet you Miss Dunning,” he said in his deepest Appalachian accent, “I’m Richard Lucas.”
          “Mr. Lucas,” she said, savoring the words in her mouth, finding them sweet to the taste. “The sentiment is mutual.”
          And they both smiled, neither knowing, not for a moment, the sweetness and joy and pain and disappointment and memories this moment in the pale October sun would bring. Not for a moment could they have known that. But they were young—younger than anyone ever deserves to be. And though they would almost find a love for the ages, a love beyond imagining, a love that would endure forever…although they had several moments to find that kind of love and never did…it was enough in that moment.
          And they couldn’t have known or imagined what they were in for…it would be sweet and joyful and painful and remembered always in their hearts. Just that moment on that Lawn before that Library, near that river, waiting for something to happen next, Ela and Richard couldn’t have been happier. And that, after all, is something to be devoutly wished.
          “Want to go for a walk?” Richard asked, already scooping up Ela’s sketch pad, already imagining the joy and hopefulness.
          Ela touched her face. Years later, Richard would remember that simple gesture and smile.
          “A walk might be good, Mr. Lucas,” she said.
          So they walked until the October sun waned and dimmed and set. They walked until they were fully in love.

Nothing happened to Richard, ever....
          Richard David Lucas, only child of Vernon Lucas and Susan Brown Lucas, was someone nothing ever happened to. Something happening to him that was extraordinary or transforming would, most likely, have seemed like a mistake to him. He was loved by and devoted to his parents. He was the type of fellow almost everyone likes and some admired. He never felt confounded or betrayed of put upon in any significant way. Nothing much ever confused or annoyed him. Years after his time loving Ela, he would reflect on his blood from time to time. There was no part of his DNA that did not originate in the British Isles. His poetic sense came from the Irish parts of him. His calm from his Scottish roots. His sweet reasonableness from the peasant stock of Kent.
          Richard would have been hard put to tell you—when he was a boy becoming a man—about what made him happy. “Happy” wasn't a term he connected with readily. It would have been equally difficult to discuss his sadness. Richard rode gracefully on the rail between powerful emotions. He hated no one he could think of and loved but a few. He mostly simply 'liked' people and his life and how things were turning out. He felt a profound and universe sized emptiness only because he thought there must be somethng--'the Book' or the aphorism or the key, clue, cloud parting Truth that would make him completely Whole and Right. Mostly, though, he felt he was as close to Whole and Right as people get to come. He imagined that if he found the Deep-Down-Meaning of it all, he might turn to white light and cease to exist as he did.
          And Richard David Lucas preferred his existence greatly to not existing at all.  Back in 1968—eons ago as things go—he was 'seeking' but not 'longing', not in any existentially painful way. He didn't mind being who he was and when and where he was. He had no concept of 'boredom' in the way his friends all discussed it endlessly. He wasn't sure the world was dying to get better—in fact, the world as he knew it was, for the most part, comfortable and copacetic (though, even as an English major, he may not have known the meaning of that word in 1968.) If you looked up “well adjusted” in some cosmic dictionary in the autumn of 1968, there just might have been a picture of Richard along with the definition. “Easy going” didn't begin to fill in his blanks. Though he didn't think in terms of being 'confident' or having a healthy ego, by virtue of the way people evaluated such things in those days, Richard was the poster boy.
          He had a girl friend of sorts—and since the two of them were an enigma to everyone in French, West Virginia—the 'of sorts' part was what most people focused on. They weren't passionately in love. In fact, they seemed to be best friends who dated. Rosemary Ball was the only child of the man who was Richard's father's boss. Alex Ball was the General Superintendent of French Coal Mine. Vernon Lucas was the Mine Foreman. Everyone—over 200 men--'men' literally in those days—who worked in the coal mines of French, worked for Vernon Lucas. Vernon Lucas worked for Alex Ball and whatever concept of the Almighty Vernon had. The two progeny of those two good, fair men were born within seven days of each other, grew up next door—though Rosemary's house was the 'big house' of brick at the end of the street and Richard's house was the wooden frame house, with more rooms than any other of the wooden houses on the street.

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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.