- The maple tree on my route, which had been butchered last week, all its branches lobbed off, and which I had expected to be taken down, in fact remained standing until today, a huge, limbless thing, an obscenity. It seemed particularly blasphemous to cut this tree right as it began its autumn transformation, the Sugar Maple’s moment of glory. But today, the whole thing was down, leaving only a big stump. And the workmen began dissembling the majestic black oak in the back yard. On Saturday I saw the owner and asked him why he was having all his trees destroyed. He said that they made his house so shady that it was mildewing, that his home was being ruined. I saw that his siding was, in fact, mildewed and that his roof had some greenish stuff on it. Thinking about it, though, I figure that this house is around forty years old, the trees well over a hundred. The cost of removing these huge trees must be considerable. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to just repair the siding and the roof? It probably would not cost more, and it would certainly last the rest of his life (he is sixty or so) and at least he wouldn’t be giving God the finger. To be merciful, the man lost his wife a year or so ago; he may be suffering pains that I cannot comprehend.
- People keep telling me that I look young for sixty. Maybe, but when I look in the mirror I just think that I sure look old for me.
- I have become increasingly socially awkward. The problem is that while I have never liked crowds, I do not now identify with any segment of the population enough to feel at home anywhere. That used to be the saving grace of socializing, the “Yay us!” moments. But these days Catholics drive me crazy, most of them, conservatives drive me crazy, liberals drive me crazy. The Orthodox, in the rare event that I find myself among them, also drive me crazy. And don’t even get me started on the evangelicals, let alone the fundamentalists. I fear I am becoming a crank. If I go to parties, even parties for my kids, I end up standing around alone and awkward, or at the very best making the smallest sort of small talk, bored out of my skull. Or I inadvertently say something that offends someone. I have some introverted friends who are braver than I, who never go anywhere, who don’t care if they are perceived as rude or snooty. I envy them, but am burdened by the weight of The Way I Was Raised, which is to be polite and friendly, however that goes against the grain.
- I am at an age where a couple of times a year or so I hear that a friend from long ago has died. And so a few days ago, via a Facebook obituary, I learned that an old friend, Kevin Carpenter, had made his exit. While I always feel sad when I hear such news, Kevin’s death affected me deeply. I wondered at this, as while we shared a lot of time and altered states together when we were young, we were never really close; indeed, I don’t ever remember having a one-on-one serious conversation with him until a few years ago, when we reconnected on Facebook and sent several private messages back and forth. I realized that my reaction was tied to the fact that Kevin was four years my junior. While four years difference in age is meaningless now, when I was 18 or 20 it was a big deal. Kevin always hung around older people, and he assumed an air of serious coolness to make up for it. But I thought of him as a kid, and always felt protective of him, even when I was, technically, contributing to his delinquency. As with a lot of my hippie friends, I gradually lost touch with Kevin, at first because their excursions into harder drugs coincided with my spiritual quest, which culminated in an embrace of a sort of hippie pentecostalism. Unlike some of my Jesus Freak brothers, I did not write off my old friends, but as we had less and less in common we spent less time together, and when I left Michigan for the final time, in 1982, I lost contact with them. Then, a few years back, a young couple we know moved to the west coast and told me that if I signed up for Facebook I could see photos of their children. And so I did, and a few days later was greeted by a message from someone I had not heard from since high school. How he found me I have no idea; my name is not uncommon ( a quick white pages search show there are 777 people listed in the US named “Daniel Nichols”, which is a cool number) and I did not even have a FB profile photo of myself at that time. But find me he did, and through the ensuing network I quickly rediscovered a lot of people I thought were long gone, reduced to memory. Including Kevin. I learned that for him the wild child phase was not an adolescent moment, but a pattern for his life: he lived in a lot of places, travelled widely, never settled, and never married (though his obituary noted that “He enjoyed family, travel, golf, woodworking, and the company of women”). There are a lot of pictures on his Facebook page of him with small children, nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. Somewhere along the line he picked up hepatitis B, which led to congestive heart failure. He told me, when we had reconnected, that the doctors nine years ago gave him one year to live, but that he had baffled them all and always rallied after a decline. He seemed to always land on his feet, and spent the final years of his life on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Washington, living in a beautiful place, working on an organic farm, building greenhouses, and surrounded by loving friends; he was immensely likable and made friends easily. Of course, he no longer looked like the long haired kid I knew when young; indeed he came to resemble the Dude from The Big Lebowski. In one of my many communications with him in recent years he responded to something overtly religious I had posted on FB. He said that he did not know if God existed, but that he had a deep reverence for the mystery of the universe. Like a lot of people who fancy themselves atheists or agnostics, he was rejecting, not so much God, as a primitive notion of God. He, in respecting the nameless Mystery, was closer to the mystics than those who think they are God Experts, and who are certain about everything about Him, the kind of people that Pope Francis says reduce faith to ideology. I am pretty sure that Kevin found mercy as he embarked into Mystery…So this song is for you, brother:
- Young Kevin, on right, around 73; Mike Middleton, on the left, died of cancer a few years back. Damn