Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Was




The most disturbing word in memorial services is “So-and-so was…” Putting your loved one in the past tense is a seismic shift in reality. That word jarred me each time someone else stood up to talk about my beloved friend and musical soulmate, Francine Hament. (See blog “Sweet Mystery of Life.”) Those photos above are a mere month old, the last time I played with Fran, a piece she requested called Cavalleria Rusticana. I reached out at the end to take her hand, never suspecting that it would be our last moment at the piano together.

Not all cultures believe in past tense when it comes to death. Places where the presence of the Ancestors is felt as a perpetual present might still say, “Fran is…” instead of “was” and why not? As long as they are called forth in memory, they are perpetually present, albeit in different form and substance. A simple shift in verb tense doesn’t bandage the wound of absence, but perhaps offers a soothing ointment of remembrance that nothing ultimately is gone as long as it lives on in our hearts. I know that sounds dangerously close to a Hallmark Greeting card and there’s nothing I despise more than softening the full power of language to comfortable little clich├ęs. Sorry I can’t find the words now to say it better.

Some of my written eulogy at the service was taken from the “Sweet Mystery of Life” blog, but I did add the following at the end. It felt right to read this in company with our family and fellow residences and other loved ones and of course, I was weeping and gasping out the last paragraph or so. How this woman touches my life (note verb tense!). Here’s what I said:

“When I play these songs now, I can so clearly hear Fran’s voice singing along. The other day, I heard a song called “I See Your Face Before Me.” In the spirit of Fran, I changed the words:

I hear your voice before me, singing in every song
While I play, I hear it, this is where it belongs.
It doesn’t matter where you are, I can hear how fair you are
I close my eyes and there you are, always.
We shared so much magic, I felt you saw me too
That’s why there’s nothing tragic, in all these thoughts of you.
It seems that love will haunt us so, knowing that we miss you so
We can’t erase your beautiful face before us.

How I wanted to run over and share it with Fran and hear her say, “We’ve never sung that one before!” And now, the unimaginable has happened and I say to myself, “We never will sing this song together.” And that’s about as sad as sad can be.

But how lucky I was that our paths crossed as they did. No better way to end than with two song titles: The Song Is Over But the Melody Lingers On and Francine Hament, everybody in this room know how true this next song is: There Will Never Be Another You. Thank you for blessing us with your presence. May you rest in peace and enjoy some time in that other world with Frank and Bing and Ella and Louis. They’re so lucky to have you. 

And so were we. And so were we.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

General Sherman Talks to Zadie


I’m used to the surprising questions of 5-year olds, but Zadie took me aback when she asked, “What is war?”

Imagine the beautiful innocence of not knowing that word. She’s already worried about police shooting her Dad, but she knows nothing of that most tragically consistent human phenomena we call war. What to say to her?

I’d like to tell her that war is our failure to live up to our better selves, our brute animal instinct married to our deluded warped mind that entices and invites and requires us to create unbearable suffering and wreak havoc in the name of some deceived notion of God, country, truth and promise of a glorious future. It is not our nature, but the miscarriages of our nature. In my simple world, most wars would be avoided by an education in thought that burns through false promises, an education of the heart that can’t bear to demonize the other, an education of soul that finds power in beauty and one’s own spiritual force and can’t imagine harming another beautiful soul. It’s an education in the aikido moves of taking the frustrations, angers, disappointments, betrayals that are, yes, inherent in human relationships and playing them out through sports or music or shared work, things that harness our fighting instinct and the thrill of battle and play them out in benign forms.

I know the evidence is overwhelmingly against these ideas. I have been blessed to—so far—avoid the personal experience of war in my home territory. But in my lifetime, wars have not slowed down—from the Korean War to Vietnam to Chile to Kosovo to Nicaragua and El Salvador to Kuwait to Iraq to Afghanistan, just some of the wars with U.S. involvement and many more without—war has been constant in the world theater. It’s not a play any sane person would choose to buy tickets to, but the shows keep running on and on and the ticket line is around the block.

I just finished Anthony Doer’s magnificent novel, All the Light We Cannot See and it confirms what every book or movie on the subject leads me to. This is not right. This is inhuman. Yes, people rise to glorious moments of tenderness and bravery in the midst of horror, but why do we keep signing up for the horror?

Turns out that Zadie went on to other things in the conversation and my answer was saved for some future date. But if I had to answer her simply and honestly, I think General Sherman summed it up.

“War is hell.”

I prefer heaven. And you?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Season of Miracles


Just went with the grandkids to The Grotto in Portland, an impressive Catholic Sanctuary with beautiful gardens, a labyrinth and lovely meditation room with a view. Scattered throughout were statues and stories depicting the various sorrows and glories of the life of Jesus. Some of which included the many miracles associated with his life.

On November 27th of this historic month, I can confidently say that no miracle of the past could hold a candle to the miracle we need in this moment. No immaculate conception, no walking on water or water turned to wine, no fishes and loaves and no resurrection would be more miraculous or more important to humankind than the miracles we need now. I can think of three that would qualify:

1)    The Electoral College chooses not to ratify a raving madman who lost the popular vote by a significant margin.

2)    Recounts are held in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida, revealing that in fact Hilary won the Electoral College votes.

3)    Most miraculous of all, Saint Trump reveals his true secret nature and discloses that his entire candidacy based on hate and false promises and division was in fact a ruse to hold a mirror to the American people showing what we have become. And having been voted in by hate, he will lead by love, appoint intelligent, qualified and compassionate people to his cabinet and apologize to all those he insulted as part of the game.

Those are the miracles we are waiting for. Anyone listening up there?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Ice Cream Conspiracy


About a month ago, I had the good fortune to visit the grandchildren in Portland. Zadie and I took a special trip to Powell’s Bookstore and topped it off with a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at the store nearby. So today when her Mom, Aunt (Tita) and Grandma (Mima) were bonding with a Barre 3 work-out, we took another trip to Powell’s. Naturally, Zadie remembered the ice cream, literacy and sweet treats forever linked in her mind.

“Well, Zadie, we’re going to have lunch right after this and it’s not a good idea to have ice cream before lunch. And it’s your Aunt Talia’s special birthday lunch and she would be a little sad if you didn’t eat anything.”

“That’s okay! I’m always hungry. I can have ice cream and lunch!”

“Okay, Zadie, here’s the deal. It’s true that we had so much fun last time looking at books and sharing a treat and part of my job as your Pop-Pop is to spoil you. So let’s go to the bookstore first and then we’ll get a small cone, but let’s keep it a secret. Let's not say anything about it when we meet up with Mom, Mima and Tita. Okay?”

“Okay!”

Zadie was great in the bookstore and true to my promise, off we went to our special spot. She got a chocolate brownie cone, buckled herself in the car and armed with several napkins to erase the evidence off her face, off we went.

Success depended upon timing. Zadie was about halfway done as I went over the Hawthorne Bridge headed to Division and 32nd. By the time I reached Division, she was down to the last few bites. So far so good.

Next step was to wipe off all the chocolate on her face. At each stoplight, I directed her where she should wipe and by the time we parked, she was looking pretty good. She got out of the car and closed the door and I exclaimed, “Wait! The dirty napkins are still in the car! We have to get them and throw them in the garbage!” I unlocked the car, she gathered all incriminating evidence and handed it to me. Down the street, we could see the three gals heading towards us. “Zadie, we need a garbage can! Quick! Into this store!” We threw away the chocolate-smeared napkins and then went into the doorway of the place next store to hide and jump out. I checked her face once more, gave her a high-five and said, “Remember, it’s our little secret.”

As Mom, Mima and Tita walked by, we jumped out and surprised them. Fun! They all hugged Zadie and said, “What did you do with Pop-pop?”

And without missing a beat, Zadie said:

“We had ice cream!”

I guess honesty is the best policy. At least when conspiring with a five-year old.


Birthdays

Today I’m wondering how the math of November minus 9 ended up measuring the circumference of my circle of family and friends. For reasons defying any logic, there are a lot of significant birthdays in this month.

For example, my own Dad Jim’s was November 19th and my father-in-law Ted’s was November 18th. Along came granddaughter Zadie after both of them were gone and she landed on Ted’s date, the 18th.  Three decades earlier, my first nephew Ian was born on November 25th and the day after his 1st birthday, my daughter Talia was born on the 26th. 18/19 and one week later, 25/26, seems like some mystical Kabbalahist puzzle. Add to that other pairings—two friends on the 8th/9th, another pair on the 20th/21st, current Intern Jessika same as Talia tomorrow and the plot thickens.

Well, as interesting as the numbers are, the people are more so. The Buddhists say that a human incarnation is a precious gift not to be squandered. Which means making the effort to climb the mountain of human possibility with an eloquent body, a caring heart, a curious mind, a hearty spirit and relentless determination to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday in all of the above. As good a description as any of my daughter Talia, my cross-fit-yogic-basketball-playing athlete, loving teacher, friend, aunt and more, steady reader, eloquent writer and imaginative thinker, hard, hard worker and mover and shaker. Words, like numbers, do not suffice, but still worthwhile to try to praise and bless this young woman who works side-by-side by me at the school. Such blessings.

So this moment to hold hands in a ring with my Dad, Ted, Zadie, Ian, Talia, this inner circle of blood connection surrounded by the next circle of friends and give thanks for it all. And then out we go into a rainy Portland (3rd day) to celebrate Talia’s special day. The sun may not appear in the sky, but I always feel its warmth and light in her presence.