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Tuesday
Feb192008

Wings of Warmth, Pools of Sorrow…

The day after my mother died, I woke disoriented. We had been estranged for years, so it wasn't the loss of a day-to-day presence in my life -- or even someone who'd been part of my thoughts. And yet, I had to grasp the notion that I now really, truly, absolutely was an orphan… the end of the line… the last of the vein.Somehow, numbly and without thinking, I drifted through the day. A day I recollect almost nothing about -- except my best friend's sister's second child was christened, it seemed like there were no chaise lounges at the Colony Hotel's Florida shaped pool and I did some laps across the street at their quiet pool when the sun wasn't searing my flesh in that slightly cool, definitely blunted, but deadly way of early fall.

Lying there limp, it was another one of those moments -- in a cranberries-strung-on-fishwire-holiday-garland kind of way -- a moment unnoticeable, yet defining of who I'd come to be. Suspended with no expectation, not even the passage of time registering, and yet it was a moment full of every moment to that point.

There is nothing to do. Beyond stay in the moment.

And that is how I've come to live these last few weeks. Stay in the moment. Know there's nowhere to go where anything will change. Do what is required. Be hypervigilant for joy and beauty. Seek what is good. Hope it will lift. Have faith that it will.

In the blur of what has passed since, much has past. Recognitions of what had to go unseen -- and the wreckage of every moment shattered by the knowledge. It is an almost nails scraping flesh from one's bones sensation, but the numbing that sets in holds, so it's more a heightened state of shock.

A zombie-like existence with polaroids and postcards dangling before one's eyes and in the back of one's mind… It is a deal made with the conscious to survive the shock and the pain, an order out of chaos that is neither wanted nor invited, yet must be endured to be survived.

There are -- in the wake -- moments of reclamation along the way. People who emerge or return, found like buttons in the deep pocket of a coat, fallen off, but kept to be reattached {rather than merely lost or forgotten about) when a moment presents itself to do so… The riches emerging from sorrow, offering solace and the sparkle of renewed friendship.

My friend Ben, always audacious, appearing at the front door with a bottle of French red and a wry smile. He knew my mother, had had an ongoing relationship with her -- one that may've included miles of missed details, but certainly a definite appreciation of the force of her personality.

This was a man introduced to me more than two decades ago at my very first Fan Fair, a once downhome gathering of the hillbilly stars and the tribes who adore them out at the hot and dusty Tennessee State Fairgrounds, by a talented not-quite-popped-yet musician named Vince Gill who said, “Anything you won't say, she will… and anything she won't say, you will.”

Vince Gill was soothsayer. Though my friend Ben and I have less than no sexual attraction, we have had adventures, Christmas shopped, commiserated, been thrown out of bars (we were so much younger then), been used as bait (well, me) and bodyguard (well, him) on more than one occasion. Our lives interwoven, our truths polemic, our intense passion for living defining.

But Ben grew up and became a wine broker. I remained a polisher of stars, a confidant of the famous, a writer of all that I saw. In the gap, the friendship faltered -- not out of indifference, but just the actual physical demands of demand, schedules and location.

One draw of the cork, though, and two lives pour from the bottle with the bruised/blood colored liquid.

Sorrow binds people together.

Nothing quite like the valley of the disconsolate to learn about surrender -- and floating to the top when there's no fight left inside. My friend Ben, whose father died in the past year, understood… and he appeared.

As did seeming strangers with deep intimacy and phone calls from friends who recognized the abyss-depths of my emotions. Seeming polarities, intertwined in the notion of finding some refuge from the storm -- or the offer of haven unknown until it arose in a moment.

Once upon a time, golf pros would take me to Nighttown , a boite in the intellectual stronghold of Cleveland Heights, to make me feel grown-up. But somehow I ended up there with a man my own age, trying to recapture some innocence and youth lost -- tales spun of the gaps between what was seen, what was known and what was imagined.

Cavernous distances that can't quite be closed with red wine and stories, laughter and tears. Yet somewhere in all of that, there is enough genuine hope and a willingness to show and be seen that a connection can be forged, one that embodies the notion of who someone might have been with the courage of getting to where they are today.

In the midst of it all, a phone call… from a singer of songs, a dreamer of dreams and a companion of the farthest reaches checking in. Knowing all that had transpired with the death and the loss, Rodney Crowell had battled his own raging flu -- and was now emerging from the miasma to see how his “dear one” was coping, to remind the woman who'd closed down her father's house a few years before with a last letter written from his favorite chair listening to the Grammy-winning songwriter's “I Know Love Is All I Need” with its opening line of “I am an orphan now…” and the recognition that it is in dying that we are set free from our mortal shackles.

Indeed, it is.

And it is in living, breathing, loving each other that we become so much more vibrant. In our pain and that ache that throbs our veins, makes breathing such an iron-forged-act of will, that we recognize the power of those things we feel.

With lunch over, there are still a few hours to be killed. Moments to waste in a way that makes them precious -- recapturing what wasn't with a net of what is ephemerally permanent. It is the actualization of a line by never-quite-huge-rocker-yet-local-hopesafe Michael Stanley that reminds us to be present in the minutes and the seconds: “All you get to keep are the memories/ So you better make the good ones last.”

Cold sweat on a green glass bottle, five dollars fed into the jukebox. In a bar with picnic tables littering the floor, scuffed felt pool tables and neon behind the bottles, it is confessions of doubts and what ifs, you didn't knows? and oh, you're kiddings. It is the innocence of Hansel & Gretel, a time reclaimed that wasn't quite lost, just never actually experienced.

It is Aerosmith's “Dream On” played through tinny speakers, and the hollow sound of a cue ball striking a 7-ball. In that suspended time, nothing is important, everything resonates and the years wash themselves of everything but what matters.

What matters…

That's what death shows you. The things that end up being erased and the things that come to the top are object lessons in truth and value. It is the nightmares that shiver you in your sleep, the things that go unseen that become absolute “don't”s in how we walk through the world, but also burdens that become too heavy to continue to carry and too intense to continue to hold back.

Sometimes marinating in innocence and wonder, the easy sweetness of nothing more than right now, there is a clarity that emerges. There is an intense past of shared memories -- the roll of a fairway, the feel of a wood floor in a school cafeteria, the bands that were raging, the way being young and not knowing was so thrilling… and that is plenty.

As the miles and years roll by, that basic reality gets lost. It's not something you can hold on to, nor something that can exist beyond those rare suspended moments. But it was real -- and it can come to life in the shared recollection, shine and shimmer with the mother of pearl essence of something truly precious.

In a pool of grief, those moments are refuges from the anguish. In that clearing of the sorrow, you realize how lucky you are to be able to even see it, taste it, touch it. You're thankful for that beaming smile, that nod of recognition -- and you know that you can somehow go on.

It's like putting in The Houston Kid, listening to “I Know Love Is All I Need” again. It is a song that releases the pain and keeps the best intentions. It offers a notion that whatever torture there was, it's over -- and the lost soul is, perhaps, getting the peace they dreamed of.

It reminds you, too, that love is something that is created out of appreciation, recognition and embrace. We find love along the way… companions for the journey who see us as our better selves and inspire us to grow in that gentle glow.

What we find, we sow… We harvest crops of people who make our lives tender when it hurts, and we try to offer what we have in turn. For Rodney Crowell, calling from Nashville in the wake of the funeral for a friend's mother, it was one more cobblestone in a journey that had been co-mingled most of my adult life… and yet, it was a milestone as much as a rock used as paving.

If Guy Clark sang “old friends they shine like diamonds,” it is so. Not much needs to be said in those moments. It is understood -- and just the sound of a voice that is known by heart is plenty. The profundity is as simple as the lost soul turned up: it is understanding that without words, this person understands your pain, your heart, your reason -- and they want you to be okay.

Faith in the falter. Faith in the other's ability to rise. They know, and you know they know. Like when Pooh reaches for Christopher Robin's hand only because “I just want to be sure is all…”

There is something about the concrete, the tangible that is more than plenty. Nothing more is really needed. Just the there. And in the there, there is everything. Perfectly absolutely all of the solace, the compassion, the mercy that salves us 'til we can make it on our own.

And so more time and tears have passed. Sorrow rises and falls, ebbs and flows. It is what it is, and as the tides recede again, it becomes more an act of knowledge than blind faith -- but, whether it's knowing or believing, there's the trust that this, too, shall be weathered with grace, dignity and love. In that, one can let whatever happen however it needs to. That is the greatest truth of all in a valley that seemingly has no end.

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