Orri Jay Putnam, January 9th, 1946 – November 30th, 2008: Lessons in Gratitude, Friendship, and Family

Yesterday Meg and I worked on Orri’s obituary, knowing he had only a few hours left.  Here is what Meg wrote:

Mr. Putnam, of Lake Wylie, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, diagnosed just eight weeks ago. A native of Charlotte, he was born on Jan. 9, 1946, the son of Harry and Nona Putnam. He leaves his wife, Dianne Waldron Putnam, a sister, Myra, his in-laws, Don and Meg Kimmel, as well as many nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, and a wide family of lifelong and newfound friends.

A graduate of the University of Georgia, Orri owned and managed the Plaza School of Beauty Culture following his mother’s death in 1981. He was successful in business, but his true occupation was friendship, one he tended with talent and steady care. Intensely proud of his heritage, he loved to entertain with homemade Lebanese treats. His interests were many—old cars and boats, model trains, history, architecture, and travel. He could tell tales, and did, and was likely to show up on your doorstep at any time, usually bearing a gift. A unusually generous man, he offered help in ways that meant the most, supporting educational goals and medical needs. He volunteered at an adoption center. Orri brought fun, life, and laughter into any gathering. His friend Haven Kimmel captures his particular grace and compassion in “Kaline Klattermaster’s Tree House,” a children’s book that features a hero named Osiris Putnaminski. He took care of business, but his legacy is one of joy, delight, and love. Orri, we are missing you from here.

dsc00069

I added: Orri had one of the most unique and pleasurable gifts one can find in a friend:  he was an elegant conversationalist, and one could never discern, from how a story began, how on earth it might end.  A story of his might start with how he acquired a certain rare car, and end up in a tiny saloon in a desert and a story he was told by the toothless barkeep.

Orri had refined tastes in all areas of life:  at the annual Kimmel/Boykin beach trip, he loved nothing more than to listen to live music played by his various family members.  He dressed impeccably, and could always choose the best entrée on a menu, as well as the best wine.  Merely by the life he lived, Orri taught invaluable lessons.  He taught that we choose our family, and then we love them as fiercely as possible.  He had what seemed an infinite number of friends, because he was a friend, rather than a man who expected friendship to come to him.  Most of all, Orri Putnam was an easy man:  he had an easy laugh, he was easy to love, he didn’t hold tight to a dollar.  His favorite saying was, “My heart soars like an eagle to see you again.”  Whatever blue sky holds his spirit now, we were all blessed to have known him as a brother, an uncle, a dear friend, the heart of our gathered tribe.

Here are a few of my favorite Christmas photos from a few years back.  Orri is carrying the full-grown Jeff Boykin on his back without breaking a sweat:

orri-xmas5

And I love these group photos because so many of us are gone now.  For instance, in the first photograph you’ll notice Obadiah standing at the edge of the photo:

orri-xmas2

. . . and in this photograph he is missing altogether, because he has fallen off into the bushes.  Please note the massive jocularity at poor O’s expense.

orri-xmas1

In that photograph are Meg’s dear, dear parents, Dick and Peggy, and since there is only room for one hagiography in each blog post, I will suffice it to say that they were beautiful, fine people who gave the world four of the best children imaginable.  They were old-fashioned and gracious, wonderful wits, and they adored one another all the days of their marriage.  We miss them terribly, as well.

~~~~~~~

Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”  I asked you to remember my mother in any small way to offset the unbearable pain she has suffered for two years, and this is the letter I received from her yesterday:

Dear one,

I have received some of the dearest, most touching messages from your blog babies. I am moved to tears by their kindness. Flowers were delivered from Caryl, Jack, Charlie Hayes, and they are beautiful. Right now they grace the room divider and brighten up the space with joy. It was such a sweet thing to do, especially since I love flowers so much.

I received a box of the most amazing sweets from Katharine McKinney of Evansville, and I think they are probably illegal they are so delicious. Thank god I’m not diabetic!! If I were I would still have to taste such scrumptious treats. Wasn’t that the dearest thing for Katharine to do?

I got a lovely card from Polly Kahl in Pennsylvania, and one from Liz Holmes in Virginia. Can you imagine hearing from strangers in such different places who send thoughts and prayers because they know you through your blog.

Sarah from PA sent a letter and a beautiful poem dedicated to her mother that touched me deeply. Clearly she is also a talented writer.

Brenda Diller from Prescott Valley AZ sent a gorgeous card and a Navajo Healing Prayer that I plan to recite often.

Gloria Geisendorfer from Washington state had a prayer for healing done by the priests of Sacred Heart at a Lakota Indian school. Beautiful. Gloria isn’t one of your blog babies, but her daughter is–how touching is that!  Gloria isn’t even Catholic, which made the prayer even more meaningful.

Linda Carter from Nashville TN sent a beautiful card and note, and her handwriting is so much like yours it made my heart stop for a second. It was a moving note.

Finally I got a card from John MacMullen at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

Haven, these are the dearest, most precious people in the world, and clearly they are not only fans of yours, but also friends of the heart.  I can’t tell you how much the cards, letters, flowers and sweets have meant to me. I don’t feel like a stranger to these dear friends, your blog babies.

I love you, little girl, and I appreciate the kindness of your friends to your mother who long since ceased being brave. I would prefer to be more valiant in the face of this ongoing pain, which resists all treatments, pills, potions, powders, lotions, gels, salves and creams.

Mama

XXOO 

havenkentdelonda

Here is Delonda at her most queenly, with one of my oldest friends Kent Shuff and me.  And she has never been more right:  you are friends of my heart – you have the same gift Orri had, of choosing whom to love and loving with all your goodwill.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again:  thank you, thank you, thank you.

Published in: on November 30, 2008 at 4:07 pm  Comments (135)  

LIES YOU LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL. OR SYNAGOGUE, OR ONE OF THOSE PLACES WITH THE MAGIC UNDERWEAR.

Dear Kate really does live up to her bakery epithet.  She has sent me some of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten.  But she also sends me gifts the likes of which you cannot imagine, and really . . . you know.  Don’t.   They’re sort of meant for the two of us.  This time she really outdid herself.  She got me a Noah’s Ark set from 1967, which happens to be the year of the Great Flood.  You know how the story goes, right?  God told Noah to build an arky arky, God told Noah to build an arky arky, BUILD IT OUT OF!  Hickory barky barky, children of the lord.  Except what he meant was, “I’m fixing to destroy the world except for a few animals and three human beings, two of whom are probably gay.”  That’s really sweet.  And remember how poor Bill Cosby, who is Noah, didn’t have a clue what a cubit is?  How COULD he?  He was busy on television and wearing his sweaters.

Kate’s gift made concrete what I had known for some time.  You see, I was married (all too tragically briefly) to one of the last full-blooded Incas in America.  (I am the other.)  In this photograph he’s wearing our culture’s ceremonial headdress, which happens to include my puggle, Puppa.

aztecsexhibitpixweb

His Incan name was Wears The Puppa Hat, or in English, Eddie.  Because I grew up in a series of Christian foster homes, I knew enough about the Bible to teach Eddie some of the stories.  He found them all very uncomfortable, even though many Biblical stories are shared by countless other cultures.  The flood legend is nearly universal; it seems that everyone wants to believe the planet was really hard-core drowned once.  Our conversations frequently went like this:

EDDIE:  Your God said to one person, this Noh, to build a massive ship because God wanted to destroy the world? 

BLADE:  Yep.

EDDIE:  But two of each kind of animal was to be spared?  Why?  Why kill all the people and the trees and all the rest of the animals, and keep just two?

BLADE:  Weird, I know.

EDDIE:  Were there women? 

BLADE:  There was Noah’s wife, and I think his children.  And his domestics, of course.

EDDIE:  But how did they repopu –

BLADE:  Best not to go there.

I lost my beloved Wears The Puppa Hat in a tragic accident; he was performing a ceremonial dance and . . . well, there was Incan makeup involved, which contains lead, and the sacred moccasins, made of gasoline and gunpowder.  His native dress was on fire when the dancing began, so that didn’t help.  I grieved appropriately, as our culture demands, and then I left our cave dwelling and moved to Durham, near Duke University.  This is the Inca way. 

For many years I didn’t think about the conversation we’d had about the Noah story, not until Kate sent me the gift.  I opened it reluctantly, to be honest, because I knew it would rekindle not just my grief, but memories of Foster Sunday School.  Little did I know that I needn’t have traumatized Puppa Hat, because everything I learned from the warty Mrs. Belcher was a lie anyway. 

The animals, they came on by twosies twosies, right?  WRONG.  Look at this:

2

The ‘lamb’ is possessed by Satan, and the chicken is the same size as the cow, who is standing on a ROCK.  I heard nothing about any rocks, did you?  Or consider this:

3

That pink-faced gorilla thing is probably quite accustomed to having his way with, oh say a PIG, right?  But that pig is fixin’ to show Magilla a certain barnyard trick.  Devil Rabbit hates everyone and everything, including the itty bitty lion cowering next to him.  What really blows my honker is that monkey.  I’m telling you, it is a monkey, and it’s about the size of a tiny thing, and it’s standing right there with a MASSIVE turtle.   The size of the turtle is ungodly.  It gets worse. 

4

That’s my sister in the red pantaloons, with her back to us.  I’d have a hard time facing the situation, too.  The pig is eating the lion, the mutant tortoise is on the move, and lurking in the background is a gargantuan BLUE penguin.  And here’s Donnie Darko with some prostitute – that’s nice.

5

And OH, are you tired of the Scientologists trying to get you to hold those metal things and give you literature that fills you with shame?  You might want to give that a rethink, because Xenu was on that boat. 

6

I was deeply disturbed, but I didn’t expect carnage.  I didn’t foresee atrocity, not until this:

71

I thought I knew something of myth, and the way it guides our understanding of nature.  I knew nothing.  When the pink-faced gorilla is the same size as the anteater, which is the same size as the hippo, and there are Faustian skunk-things and midgets in dresses, not to mention Cletus, one’s mind wobbles a bit.  But when a SOCK MONKEY enters the picture?  A sock monkey with dominance clearly on his agenda?  And just the one – not twosies?  I couldn’t help but remember the horrible moment in “Planet of the Apes” when Charlton Heston discovers a library, and he’s ecstatic to hold a book again, rather than just the leather hand of his apemate.  He opens the cover and the pages turned to dust.  I wept.  We were at the drive-in and I was sensitive.

8

By the way, the boat was only big enough to hold my sister and a couple miniature monkeys.  I’m glad she got away before the hideous reindeer arrived – they did NOT have Santa’s sleigh on their minds, believe me.

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 1:10 am  Comments (294)  

He Was A Man, Horatio. We Will Not See The Likes of Him Again.

orri-2_2

 

The Train Through North Carolina

            (for Orri J. Putnam)

 

What could contain more mystery

than the angle of that chimney

standing follied in a fallow lot,

no house; no guest; no cooking pot?

 

And what to think (it makes me nervous)

of the Holy Ghost Delivery Service,

its doors nailed shut, the windows blind?

Who’ll deliver the day’s sublime

 

and matchless grace?  or the pressing news

that a flood has left of nest of unreconciled shoes

in a fetid grove of tulip trees

(traumatized, bruised, dropping their leaves?)

 

If the Holy Ghost has gone under, I alone will report

that pregnant girls still stand on porches

studying the trains, both bearing unimaginable freight.

They linger like harvests harvested too late.

 

I’ll write that the cotton is ripe and Selma’s in tatters.

I’d describe the crumbling station, but it hardly matters;

there are points from which one may never depart

nor does one return.  It’s a Heraclitian art,

 

this traveling with you, my sweet friend.

For what if we discover the world upended

and beyond recognition, everything lovely lost

in a wave of surrender, such steep cost?

 

But you aren’t afraid to look:  it’s the same old ruins you’ve embraced before.

The overcome, the collapsed, the world, you, we so hopelessly adore.

Published in: on November 20, 2008 at 3:52 am  Comments (239)  

There Are Dirty, Smelly, Nefarious Yicky People In The World

Do I have any blog babies in Seattle?  I ask because three months ago I made a significant purchase on eBay, and the seller has vanished, the business he claimed he owned doesn’t exist, and my only recourse it to turn the matter over to the FBI Internet Crimes division (which I of course will do).  A police report has been filed.  I’m following the requisite steps, but I’d really like is to have a conversation with the man.  Just a civilized, delicate, Quaker conversation with the man.  Any help will be greatly appreciated.  You will not be an accessory after the fact.  Much obliged.

Published in: on November 16, 2008 at 8:49 pm  Comments (593)  

Remember When Obama Won The Election?

moorelandfriends

 

I’m really glad no one has ever told me shut up about what I learned in seminary, because honestly, without that education I would be useless.  I know a fair amount about poetry, knowledge that doesn’t serve me so much when the economy tanks (I can barely count) or when a tire needs changing or a pilot light goes out.  The combination of gas and fire:  scary.  Even when the subject is poetry what I know is of scant value, or . . . take this exchange, for instance.  Last night J. Shue and I were talking about something he was working on and I suggested he run it through My Patented Sonnetizer to eliminate waste.  He was unsure of sonnet structure, which I assured him he could learn quickly.  Learning the form and mastering it are separate categories, of course.  I recommended the text I use, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and went on to say, with a boastful tone, that I had recently whooped up on a villanelle.  (I should have mentioned that it was a villanelle about Ezra Pound.)  Jim looked up the definition of ‘villanelle’ and came back with:  “I especially enjoyed the last line of the definition ‘It is terribly obsessive and can bring out the emotions of any neurotic writer.’”  (Ezra Pound was the master of traditional forms, I also could have said.)  Then Mr. Shue went to bed.  I was left staring at those words, it is terribly obsessive (Pound is, of course, a metaphor – no, that’s not quite right . . . certainly he bears an enormous cultural weight) and can bring out the emotions of any neurotic writer.  (Seriously, if you know Pound’s astonishing body of work, along with his scandalous – and tragic – history, even attempting a villanelle was gutsy, and stupid, on my part.)

If I ran my life through My Patented Sonnetizer most of the fourteen lines remaining would be what I’ve learned from Quakers.  For instance, I encountered someone – a long, long time ago now – who believed that her mind shouldn’t be damaged by reading literature from or about the Holocaust.  OH CHIRREN.  May I just say that I was a skyscraper of dudgeon – not out loud, obviously . . . wait.  It’s possible a few words leaked out.  I forget.  But I sure remember what went on inside:  I became physically ill, I was so angry.  I had a difficult time continuing in the class I loved, because my stomach clenched into a fist every time I saw a person I had formerly respected.*

*Let the record show that she expressed this opinion with a great deal of conviction.

As I said, that was a long time ago.  But I learned something valuable from the fraught occasion.  Our stoked dudgeon is most high when we believe the cause to be sacred, regardless of whether it is.  For me there was nothing more holy than to bear witness to the suffering and death of twelve million innocent people – to have the courage to merely learn what they endured – and to treat the survivors of the genocide with as much respect as is humanly possible.  And I had a righteous argument to validate my opinion:  the survivors themselves wanted us all to know what happened, believing that we might prevent it from ever happening again. 

My colleague didn’t want to live with those images on her memory loop. 

While I’m not sorry for the years I spent diligently learning everything I could in both Holocaust history and literature, I’m far less assured that my doing so is much comfort to the dead, or that my effort will have any bearing on whether history repeats itself.  I was never going to participate in anti-Semitism, homophobia, the wholesale slaughter of the Roma, intellectuals, or children with learning disabilities anyway, was I, or I wouldn’t have been a student of those classes in the first place.  And if a tyrant rises to the office of Chancellor (without even gaining a clear majority of the popular vote!  imagine that!) in either our beautiful experiment in democracy, or in the Weimar of the imagination – can’t see how I’m going to prevent it by reciting my favorite Hasidic folk tales.  And it’s not my place to force a peer or colleague to take in the details if she would prefer not to have them, whatever her reasons. 

What a shock to discover there are people who will argue with the same passion about sports. The location of a ball.  Maybe a uniform, I can’t tell what the fight concerns at depth.  (Pound’s radio broadcasts out of Italy – this point is just not made often enough – during WWII, were the basis of his trial for treason.  He could hardly have been guilty of giving much aid or comfort to the enemy, since his addresses were grounded in economic theory, rather than political.  The Axis countries had their own Ministers of Propaganda – they didn’t need an American poet to explain anything to them.  His Italian was flawless, it should be noted.)

I’m not nearly so sassy these days.  I’m sure I still get the righteousness on, but it helps that there’s no one to hear it but my taxidermy.  Also?  BARACK OBAMA IS OUR NEW PRESIDENT.  It’s going to take at least eight years for THAT to get old.

Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 11:32 pm  Comments (386)  

If You Weren’t Mine, I Would Choose You

gayparents

 

I noticed on the previous post that little fires of wisdom and experience popped up as soon as a question was posed about childrearing.  Today I read a great article in the New Yorker called “The Child Trap:  The Rise of Overparenting” (I’ll include a link at the end).  In addition to her deft dispatch of the cultural implications of one current parenting style, Joan Acocella offers a summary of the new books on the subject.  I highly recommend the article. 

Heaven knows I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past 24 years thinking about how one goes about rearing an infant, a toddler . . . all the way up to that beloved 24-year-old.  I’ve only come to a few definite conclusions:

  • If you make a plan for being a mother or father before you’re face to face with an actual human being, um.  Well.  Good luck with that.
  • What works brilliantly with one child will most certainly not with another.
  • Play every moment by ear.  Allow yourself to be inspired by a guiding spirit greater than your own ego or your own needs.  Reinvent yourself, if necessary.
  • There can only be one adult in an exchange between you and your child, and if it’s not you, um.  Good luck with that.
  • They’ve got enough stuff. 
  • Good outside and play.  As Delonda said, “I’m going to take a nap. If you need me, try not to need me.”
  • Never, ever do their homework for them.  My guess is that you already passed the third grade once.
  • Never, ever do their homework for them.  Never complete any task that reasonably, ethically, fundamentally or otherwise is theirs to complete, or there are years and a world of hurt ahead. 
  • Empathize, empathize, empathize.  If you find yourself repeating some trope shouted at you in your past, you’re probably doing it wrong. 
  • Just ask them.  It’s really easy.  If you’re scared, I’ll give you some handy examples: 

Why are you sad?

Why do you think my decision is unfair?

What are you eating? 

No, it isn’t food, it doesn’t even LOOK LIKE food.

Where is the rest of your hair?

If that’s a hickey on your neck, you’re going to see the walls come down around you, child.

Why are your feelings hurt?

Tell me who you would like me to kill.

Have you been smoking cigarettes? 

Have I told you what my dad did when he caught my brother smoking?

Oh ho!  Yes, you CAN be forced to eat them. 

I gave you life, I can take it back. 

 

  • Allowing them to play on the dirty floor is cheaper in the long run than asthma.
  • Your children were not born to solve your problems, fulfill your ambitions, make you happy, love you unconditionally, behave as you would wish, share your opinions, love your God, or dance to your tune.  Of this I’m certain.  You’re brilliant people – you know why those children are here.  By the same token, you do not owe them a shuttle service, an ATM card in your name, or endless patience if they are acting the fool.  You owe them your deep and abiding interest.  Pretend every dialogue is holy.  Vegetables and shoes are necessary; everything else is a bonus.  Encourage reading – it’s quiet. 

 

Now I’d really love to hear from you.

 

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/11/17/081117crbo_books_acocella?currentPage=all

Published in: on November 10, 2008 at 9:09 pm  Comments (265)  

Commenters’ Emporium: The Used World Discussion

haunted-house-723712

You know the drill:  civility, intellectual curiosity, a love of your fellow man and woman.  Okay, that last bit isn’t necessary.  Some questions you might want to consider:

Is the true nature of God revealed to us, ever, and if so, how?

What is at the heart of prophecy?

What does it mean to be haunted?

The novel is written with a very specific structure surrounding point-of-view:  Claudia and Rebekah’s POV is always in the present, and Hazel’s is always in the past, but moving forward in time until it meets the present at the book’s climax.  Why did I choose this structure?

That should get you going.  Cheers!

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 3:56 pm  Comments (397)  

The Hallelujah Chorus

barack-obama-2

No matter our pasts, no matter our differences, we lived to see this day.

Published in: on November 5, 2008 at 12:29 am  Comments (479)  

Daylight Time, Age Unknown, Cannot Be Saved

 

If you are me, you can’t throw a rock without hitting Heraclitus.  He’s one of those foundational principles upon which so much else is built; opposable thumbs are similarly important, as are vowel sounds, and floors.  Heraclitus was from the city of Ephesus, where the school of philosophy was born, which is as strange and convenient as the fact that an orange is the color orange.  He seems to have lived in the late 6th century, which means nothing because how can it, and he said a lot of things I love or else they have somehow snuck into my thought processes so thoroughly that what he says and what I experience are the same thing.  He called the Big Thing, which I’ll get to in a moment, the Logos, which HELLO, means the Word, and I also call it that and so did John in the Bible, all of us.  How disastrous for me if he had instead called it Calculus or Jogging.  Nothing would make sense to me and also I would be out of a job. 

He is the Philosopher of Change.  Before him had been the Philosophies of Stuff, which posed questions like, “What is this?” and “Fire fire: dirtfire.”  To go from Stuff to Change was a monumental leap, in my opinion, because the issues of does some Stuff be everything and does some Stuff all of a sudden be different when you aren’t looking can never be answered.  There is Stuff we can’t even find, for heaven’s sake.  To look around and declare that everything is in a constant state of flux – it is the essence of existence – that was sassy.  He is most often quoted as having said no one can step in the same river twice – a flawless statement.  It’s so perfect one can never tire of it, one being this one, and it remains crystalline and sound, century after century.  Would he but have said it!  The translation is more accurately, “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow.”  So.  But it doesn’t matter because you CAN’T step into the same river twice, there is no same river. 

But what is this?  He was also the Philosopher of Unity of Opposites, and without this part we would have no humor.  Everything is in a state of flux, that’s a) but also b) things that are opposite are identical = c) everything is and is not all at once.  You know who else said this?  Monty Python.  A benign mentally ill young man I knew in college.  Jewel.  This part of his philosophy is summarized as The upward and the downward way are the same way.  THAT is a flawless statement, also mysterious and puzzling.  When I looked up the literal translation I found, “The road up and down is one and the same.”  To which one can only say, indeed it is.  Otherwise I would only be able to travel in one direction, and where would the road behind me go, I ask you?  All sorts of tricks and chicanery, like making the road roll up as I traveled (would get very big and obstruct rear view) or causing it to disappear entirely (that seems possible so I’m going to pretend I didn’t say it) would have to be used for the world to NOT be as Heraclitus described it.

There was only one thing outside his system, an everlastingness that was not flux or opposition:  the Logos. 

When I was in graduate school (the second time) (something I really like? graduate school) I read a poem so good I remember thinking the poet must have felt that he had done it, had pulled a star out of his pocket.  To get something so right:  for a moment, one’s mortality must be subsumed.  See what that is?  Logos.  Because one’s mortality is never subsumed, and it was a perfect poem and even if the poet was granted a moment’s thrill it was gone before he realized he’d felt it at all, and he was overwhelmed instead by the knowledge that he must find the next poem, or perhaps that he would never write anything beautiful again.  But the Words are divine. 

My friend Aaron showed it to me.  I remember it was at the back of a thick anthology.  The poem was called In The Heraclitian Living Room, and I knew the moment I read the title what would happen in it – I wasn’t sure how – and I also knew something was now impossible for me.  I would never have this idea first, because you can’t be the first to write the poem twice. 

As I recall, in the Heraclitian living room you rise from your chair to pick up your glasses and when you turn around the chair is gone.  The table where your glasses rested is in a completely different place.  In a sort of time-terror you try to gather up what you can hold, but as you do everything starts to flow past you.  The carpet becomes a river and you are standing on the edge of it.  The poem was dense, compact, irreducible.  Aaron was extraordinarily bright, by which I mean he was intelligent far outside the boundaries of normal.  I say this about very few people; there are very few such people.  We were in the same poetry workshop and as the semester progressed his poems became more and more difficult to comprehend.  They had absolutely no story in them, and it was impossible to connect anything to anything else.  It was not the human condition he was addressing.  In academia this is lauded.  In Quakerism it is not tolerated.  When I was in seminary, my second year, an incoming student very like Aaron arrived and I knew just by looking at him that he was one of them:  that tiny subset of humanity whose intelligence is so great it causes physical pain.  I never saw him at ease in the time I knew him, not even for a moment.  We had one class together and when he made comments they were so erudite and far-reaching even his voice was pain-shaded.  He was already writing his thesis, a huge project, and he was a perfect student.  Meeting for Worship was held every day and he was never late; he was in class before anyone else, had read 64 times what was required.  He was in the ministerial track, and the first time we were invited to hear a sermon of his the subject was a very fine point in a very obscure passage written by the historian Origen, and how it had been misinterpreted over time.

Shortly after the sermon, a professor came to me privately and asked if I would read one of the young man’s papers and tell him what I thought.  I sat in his office and read the twelve pages.  I said they were incomprehensible, and the professor nodded.  The young man had already been Eldered – taken in hand by an Elder in the Meeting who gently explained to him how he had violated the Gospel Order.  I knew this because the young man himself told me what she said.  I can recall the sentiment if not the exact words:  it is not in keeping with the Spirit to speak in a way that no one understands.  Such ministry is not merely of no use, it is false, and she suggested that he work harder on discerning what is of God and what is not.  A true leading to speak out of the silence would be one clear and simple, so that it reached the condition of as many in the Meeting as possible.  As he told me this story he was so confused he was flushed:  how could his genius be anything but God-given?  I suggested that his genius was not the issue; a spoken ministry is either true or it is not, and his were not true according to Quaker faith and practice, not then, and consistently not, all the way back to 1653.  He looked pained.

Sitting in the professor’s office I asked what was being led toward and it was as I suspected.  There was no division between students and faculty in matters pertaining to the group as a whole; the only time decisions were made without the consensus of the students was over budgetary issues and I don’t believe anyone complained, as coming to consensus over an institutional budget is similar to being slapped repeatedly about the head and ears with a dead chicken.  Now, in the matter of the young man, we sat in silence and considered the question:  could the imprimatur of George Fox and Margaret Fell be given to him?  Was there clarity on the issue?  Of course there was.  It was unfortunate and obvious at once.  You belong to the Religious Society of Friends when you behave as one.  In his office the professor had said to me, “We wouldn’t allow Wittgenstein a ministerial degree,” to which I had replied, “God, I would hope not.”

No one in the graduate program in English, graduate school two, would have dreamed of expelling Aaron because his poems spoke to no one, which was fine by me.  I liked him very much.  He had found a poem he knew I would love and it was a bullseye.  That is kindness and friendship.  He went on to the Iowa Workshop and was given the equivalent of the Barbie Dream Scholarship, and by the time he graduated from there he was the Something Or Other Title Holder (it wasn’t the shot-put, of that I’m fairly sure).  The title was the Big Poet’s way of saying Aaron was good enough to have her name attached to his.  I now own three of his books.  With all my heart I wish him success and happiness, and if those books are in English you couldn’t prove it by me.

I was trying to find In The Heraclitian Living Room the night the clocks changed.  I grew up in Indiana:  The State Where Time Stood Still.  We had no such thing as daylight savings (in my family we had no savings), because dawn is dawn and dark is dark.  I found the whole concept one big gobstopper, and now that everyone does it, including Hoosiers, I am still confused.  When I say confused I mean this is not good for me, in the mental health way.  I cannot, cannot understand what I am to do twice a year.  People have said to me “We gain an hour” or “We lose an hour” hundreds of times, and it sounds like madness.  Everyone is told to do this thing with clocks and so they do, and I find it a violation.  John said, when the October panic began, “You have no concept of what time it is anyway.  You don’t know what day it is or sometimes what month.”  You can bet I did NOT just leap in and say, “That’s nothing – I actually don’t understand what year it is,” because that would be too much information and nothing he needs to know.  I was searching for the poem online using various terms and patterns when John e-mailed me from inside the house to say, “Remember:  tonight there will be an hour you get to have twice.”  I had to close my eyes to stop prevent vertigo, or vertifaux, maybe, as it isn’t a vestibular problem that makes me dizzy – it’s things like wild violations of common sense, and pretending to tinker with time and space.  As I searched one database after another I had the idea that maybe I would try to replicate the hour exactly when it began again, doing the same things I had done before.  That failed for two reasons:  I am always doing the same things I did before, in some fashion, and I don’t know when this mystery hour began or when it ended or what the Logos of the Tempus is, to have the same hour twice.  The truth is I’ve been trying to find that poem for ten years now.  I just check periodically to see if it will appear somewhere, anywhere, as my room in the barn flows past me like a river.  I’ve known all along – although I hate to admit it –  I simply may not be able to read those words twice.

Published in: on November 3, 2008 at 12:36 pm  Comments (679)  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.