So Long Old Pal
Today, I had the opportunity to drive to the coast of Maine for work. It was a beautiful day for a drive. The sun glinted off the sea under clear skies. Today’s weather was a stark contrast to yesterday’s drive under overcast skies spitting rain. Today’s agenda was preferable too as yesterday afternoon was to say goodbye to Sean. I awoke with a headache yesterday - either from the anticipation of the funeral or because of the pressure from the rain. Maybe both. It was so humid, the kind of day where you break a sweat while trying to dry your hair. I would lie down on my bed and look at the ceiling in between getting ready. I’d stare up at the sky through our skylights and will myself to keep going. To get ready. To do the hard thing. Driving to the church, I couldn’t help but want to take that steering wheel from my higher power. Playing “what if” and “let’s make a deal” and “let me be in charge” are habits I fall into. If you haven’t tried this, I don’t advise it. It never works. When I was growing up, I would want to strike “deals” with my mom as well. It got to the point where I would say, “Let’s make…” and my mom would cut me off with a terse, “No deals!”
But yesterday I was like, “Well. What if Sean wouldn’t have gone to Scotland? Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten meningitis and then he would still be here.” This is an absurd line of thinking for many reasons. He went. He got meningitis and he isn’t here anymore. When I arrived at the church, with minutes to spare, I ducked into a pew that happened to be across from Sean’s friend Michelle. There are no coincidences. Thankfully, Michelle waved me over. I had thought I was cried out the week I’d heard the news. But bearing witness to these things makes it all real and final and hard. “It’s brutal.” Michelle offered. It was.
The service closed with a eulogy from one of Sean’s brothers. I chuckled at something he said - surprised to hear his family experienced him in a way familiar to my own experiences. He never hung out long enough… The recessional hymn, on a day that coincided with Father’s Day, was How Great Thou Art. I chuckled aloud, raised my eyes heavenward and asked, “Are you serious?” That hymn was a favorite of my dad’s. I later mentioned this to my mom who reminded me that we just marked 21 years since my dad’s passing. It’s crazy how time falls from our hands and we’re simultaneously aware and unaware. Yesterday, as I glanced at the faces of those I’d worked with years ago alongside Sean, I was aware. Most of us are a touch grayer with lines where we didn’t have them before, years earlier. Someone remarked, “Sean would have liked this - us, altogether. He wouldn’t have been interested in being a part of it but he would have liked it.” When I later recounted this story to Andrea, she laughed, adding, “He’d be off in the church, examining an ancient relic.”
I’m glad Sean’s journey took him from Massachusetts to California to Scotland. His reach wide and his stay never long enough.
So the sun shines on his funeral just the same as on a birth, the way it shines on everything that happens here on Earth. It rolls across the western sky and back into the sea and spends the day's last rays upon this fucked-up family, so long old pal. The last time I saw Alice, she was leaving Santa Fe with a bunch of round-eyed Buddhists in a killer Chevrolet. Said they turned her out of Texas, yeah, she burned them down back home, now she's wild with expectation on the edge of the unknown. Singing oh, it's enough to be on your way, it's enough just to cover ground, it's enough to be moving on.
Home, build it behind your eyes, carry it in your heart, safe among your own.
They brought her back on a Friday night, same day I was born. We sent her up the smokestack, yes, and back into the storm. She blew up over the San Juan Mountains, she spent herself at last.
The threat of heavy weather, that was what she knew best.
- James Taylor, Enough to be on Your Way