Thursday, March 25, 2010

Water Lilies

Easter is the Big One when it comes to holy days.

I like Christmas better than Easter, because I’m sentimental.  I like watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story”, and between those two films, I have a substantial hook to hang my stocking capful of sentimentality on.

Not to mention Jesus being born so humbly and quietly in the back slums of Bethlehem, under a lone star, never mind his miraculous conception or his sweet young parents. 

And then there’s the music, both sacred and secular, from “Joy To The World” to “The Christmas Song”; I can sit down and play just about any secular Christmas standard for memory, and ad nauseum.

Christmas gives us memories that are carried forward for years.  Heart-warming or blood-chilling, Christmas leaves a mark.

Yet Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is what really matters most to Christianity.   There’s nothing sentimental about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.   It’s not warm and fuzzy like the cotton cloth you want to wrap the baby Jesus in.  Holy Week is more of a spiritual emotional journey- Hope welcomed and celebrated, Hope betrayed, Hope put to death, and Hope coming back to life in victory.  Nothing sappy about that.

Easter is a holy day, not a holiday.  No one fondly recalls a particular childhood Easter, but more likely will lump the egg hunts and Easter baskets of the past into one collective Easter memory.

I can’t remember any Easters before Easter 2008.  I remember ‘08 because it wasn’t all that long ago, and because the newness of love was in my life.  I picked up my Southern Born woman in the early-ish hours and went to Christ Cathedral.  I don’t remember anything of the service, nor about the lunch I’m certain we shared afterwards.  Neither of us was in a particularly resurrected mood, and the weather was grey, but I remember that I was with her, and glad of it.

Easter 2009 was a good one.  My dearest companion went with one of her daughters to an early sunrise service, put on for the homeless; they were eager to hear Del Rio, a homeless preacher who’d spoken in years past.  They liked the sound of his name, and they repeated it soulfully, as if the name “Del Rio” tasted like barbecue in Memphis, rolling around in their mouths.

Much to their disappointment, Del Rio didn’t show.  A seminary student spoke, lofty and intelligent, perhaps condescending, and certainly without the soul of Del Rio, thus disappointing the two Southern Born Women.   Following the sunrise service,  they met me at the Cathedral, where, trust me, nothing tastes like Memphis. 

The sanctuary was packed with Belle Meade socialites dressed to the nines, a few homeless folks, regulars, and irregulars.  The Bishop delivered a fine sermon, and the choir was accompanied by a brass section, and my memory was vaguely stirred with the singing of “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today”,  Easter’s most popular hymn.

After receiving the Eucharist, we skipped out, and took the younger SBW to her father’s church, which sits piously above a buzzing Nashville neighborhood called Green Hills.  Ninety minutes later, we had read the New York Times and shared a pot of Lady Grey tea, and headed back up the hill to retrieve said daughter, upon which we encountered her father and his new girlfriend, as if to highlight the new season that Easter represents.

Finally, we got to the only thing that mattered any more on this fine Easter Sunday- the restaurant where we had made brunch reservations.  My daughters arrived, along with their cousin Dave and his wife Liz, and my brother David and his wife Lynda, who were visiting from Washington State.

Sitting there with David, I realized that although we don’t look much alike, we share traits which our father passed on to us.  For example, we both get misty-eyed when we speak of sentimental or holy things.  My brother relayed the theme of a sermon he’d recently heard, one in which the blues were exalted, along with gospel music, and the idea that a life well-lived can’t have one without the other.   It was an idea that resonated with all of us, and as he told it, I thought, he’s got tears in his eyes, runs in the family.  

This wasn’t a new discovery to me, but a recoginition that he’s always done this, and so have I, but when did Always begin?  Were we this way before divorce and failure made more merciful men out of us?  The more I think about this, the more I come to believe that it’s a mere function of genetics than anything else, because Dad was the same way, and he hadn’t been broken by divorce or failure; he’d lived a wonderfully successful life when it comes to marriage and family, and just plain living.  

I was a child when I first took note of Dad’s easy tears.  We were at the movies, watching the end of Old Yeller, when I realized that even grown men could cry.

I wish my eyes didn’t tear up when I’m moved.  I find this trait to be an inconvenience, a distraction, and a betrayal of sentimentality. 

I wonder if Dad, too, was annoyed by his propensity to moistened eyes when he felt the weightlessness of being loved. 

Since my father apparently bequeathed his misty eyes to me, I accept the gift as something which must be intrinsically wonderful, because he certainly was.

I grasp onto anything which might put me in Dad’s league.  So much of my behavior pulls me away from the kind of man he was, a pure, unvulgar, beautiful human being with an amazing capacity for tolerance and understanding.   I know he loved Mom like no one else, and he loved his children in such a way that we each thought we were his favorite child.  And, despite my broken, vulgar, unsubtle ways, I do know how to love.  And I got that from him.

When Dad died in 2006, I choked up, but didn’t weep.  His Alzheimer’s had taken him from us long before his heart had stopped beating, and I felt that I had already grieved for him in those preceding years of loss.  I thought that it was fitting for him to depart so close to Thanksgiving, as I was truly thankful that his suffering was done with.

There was a month long gap between his death and his funeral, giving me plenty of time to collect myself before eulogizing him. 

On Christmas Day, my daughters and I, along with their mother, boarded a plane and flew to Providence for the service.  E and the girls stayed with her step-mother, while I bunked in at the Providence Radison with Rob Grant, a close friend of most of my life. 

My brother David and I each had written eulogies, which we had kept to ourselves.  We knew we would far exceed the three minutes we were each alotted to give tribute, but neither of us was going to send Dad off without fully celebrating him

I was fully confident that I would ascend the steps to the pulpit and deliver my remembrance of Dad with a dry eye.  Within the first ten seconds, my voice was quivering, and I knew I was in for a difficult ride.  However, as The Funny Guy, I was able to laugh through my tears, and tell the packed house about the lovely human being we now celebrated.

Once, I said, I had visited Dad and Mom at their assisted living facility near Hartford, and Dad looked at me with an expression of familiarity.  At first I thought, he knows me.  Then I realized he probably thinks he’s looking in the mirror.   Those who remembered him saw the uncanny resemblance.

I spoke of Dad’s love of the New York Yankees, a brave position to take in the heart of Red Sox country;  I reflected on Dad buying David and me Yankee jackets and hats.  In a quiet gesture, Dad had marked his sons as distinctly his. 

As I spoke, my eyes weren’t misty; they were flooded.  I wept under the weight of loss, with the recognition that no matter how much I believe in the Resurrection, one day without Dad in this world may as well be eternity.  I wept for a world bereft of this vessel of goodness and decency, and wondered how Heaven could possibly need Dad any more than this old world needed him.

I wept as a man who looks every bit his father's son, but knows how fully his heart must be resurrected in order for the imitation to become real.

I am mindful of the notion that God Almighty keeps a bottle in which nothing evaporates; in which precious ointment, perfume, or oil may as well be treasured.

Lo, it’s filled with salty tears from misty eyes.


  1. How sweet are the tears that wash our hearts with love. You express your love and admiration of your dad so well. You are probably more like him than you think. Well done.

  2. If for no other reason than reading this post of yours, I am grateful for the connecting magic of Facebook. I will definitely pass this on to my husband, your high school friend. Beautiful and touching reflection. I'm happy that your post on FB led me to it.

  3. Phil, this was lovely. Of course I got misty, because that's what my dad would have done. We are lucky and blessed to have had fathers like ours. You pay him fine tribute with your words as well as your life. Oh, yes, you do. You're passing it down by loving your daughters with a tender heart. I just hope to God you haven't made them Yankee fans.

  4. Thank you, good readers!

    Bernie, I'm sorry to tell you that insofar as my daughters care (not much), they would affirm NY Yankee status.


  5. Phil--
    So, now when someone may ask me what 'written from the heart' looks like, this is where I'll point them. What a beautiful recollection. (by the way, did Rob Grant live on Nayatt Road?)

  6. Steve/Karen-
    Rob Grant indeed lived on Nayatt Rd. He is now in Lake Placid, and remains one of my dearest friends.

    Nice to hear from you; it's gotta be 40 years.

  7. My "gift of tears" was definitely not passed through on my Y chromosome, but it is something that reminds me that I am alive, I am human, I share the trait with Jesus, and that he'd rather have me be someone with a heart than looking cool. What tears me up thinking about my dad are tears of joy that he is finally learning how to dance, jump, and shout in the heavenlies.

  8. Great post, Uncle Phil. I have received that same trait. I remember thinking during your awesome tribute, "Wow, he can cry and STILL speak!" I unfortunately, do not have that ability. Once the faucet is turned on, the voicebox is virtually incapacitated and the only sounds that come out sound like high-pitched, unintelligible squeaks. I get this from my mother.

    Oh well.

  9. Dave, if you ever eulogize your dear ole uncle, go easy on the high-pitched squeaks!


Your comments are welcome, and I will try answer any questions, if possible. Thanks for reading! pkm