Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #12 or so:
The Things We Carry (for Love)
Ben Camino had a big date tonight. As Crazy45 might say, I have very big dates. The biggest dates. The best dates. All the dates.
No, not that kind of date. Those are filed under the heading of a previous existence, the absence of which compel Courtney Gorman to give Ben advice about his pathetic so-called love life.
Still, a big date. A very big date. The best date.
Obvs, the date is December 14, dearest friends. And that means there are only eleven more days of Advent and then Advent, the time of waiting will be over (yay!), and we will simply have to wait however many thousands of years from Christmas Day to the Apocalypse until maybe (we hope) we can experience some of the peace and joy we were told we should be waiting for during Advent. This particular weirdness, of course, is the baseline meaning of "Ironic Advent."
By "the date" I also mean the annual date I have with my sweet friends Cindy Gorman and Courtney Gorman (that's a guy's name, don't make fun). Cindy and Courtney are the parents of three lovely children, Chelsea, Grace, and Tripp. Tripp was my student once upon a very short time. We became very close during that short time. As Cindy likes to see, we connected.
Tripp wanted to be a writer and, well heck, so do I. So we had that in common. And we both tended to look at life a little sideways, a little . . . ironically. Tripp died suddenly in late November of 2011, and, due to the relationship we had developed, the family asked me to speak at his funeral. I have written all about this before in a piece called "Trippy Advent."
If you'd like to read that piece, you will need to hit backspace until you come to the highlighted words "Trippy Advent" (you just passed them). Then click on them. And pray to the stars above that the link isn't broken. That's what I do, and it works about 23% of the time. If you pray to the stars first.
A few weeks later that year, in December, we met for dinner and conversation and consolation and gifts. And we might have had a little too much to drink. Every December since, we have done the same.
It feels like we have fallen into a nice little rhythm. Cindy eats some fish, drinks wine, and gives me lots of sympathy. And talks a lot about Tripp. Courtney eats raw-ish meat, drinks beer, and gives me advice about my love life. And talks a lot about Tripp. I complain about the cold, dark universe, drink almond milk (some allegations in this piece are just that, allegations), and talk about Tripp.
Also, we laugh. A lot.
And yet. And yet. There's a sadness at the middle of it all. The laughter, the advice, the sympathy, the gifts.
We can talk all we want about Tripp, and it's a joy to do so. But he's not here. He's missing. Gone.
I don't like that. And I know that they freakin' HATE it. But they keep moving. Forward into the fog as my dad used to say.
That isn't the absolute worst description of the life of hope and faith I've ever heard. My father had a way with cliches. I've written about him quite a bit, but do us both a favor, just google Ben Camino, Ironic Advent, Charles. It might work. And it'll save my setting up another link.
But we don't go forward alone. Or at least we need not. Of course, we can go with other folks/friends/loved ones/scared, scarred pilgrims huddling close to us for warmth. That's part of why the Gormans and I get together every December. Why I call my sister every day. Why we love our dogs (and some people endure their cats).
Then there are these other things. Not people we can huddle with because those people are gone. They can't huddle. They can't breathe. They are missing.
But they leave things behind. Tripp left an imprint on Courtney and Cindy and part of what I love in them is the Tripp in and on them. And I think it's part of what they endure in me. My Trippy-ness.
More than that. There are the Tripp things. The leavings. The relics. No, not exactly the bones or the blood like the relics medieval pilgrims venerated of their favorite martyrs.
But other things. I still have a sheaf of Tripp's papers in my office somewhere. I gave most of them to the Gorman's to hold on to. And I do mean to hold on to. His books. His Fender guitar, which they keep in his room right where he kept it. And lots of other things. All the things.
I know about this. This is my (spiritual or not) practice too. I have flowers on my dashboard, Clif bar wrappers in my window, and many other physical items which are primarily embodied memories. Or the memories of bodies of people I love(d).
One of the greatest of these is my momma's banjo. An old Silvertone. She bought it through the Sears catalogue. I learned to play stringed instruments by playing it. And, last year, I liberated it from my brother's closet, and brought it back to Indiana to play it.
First though, I had all the original strings (which dated back to my mother's ill-advised attempts to learn to play) taken off and bagged up, one for each of her children. Tenor banjos have four strings, in case you are wondering. Each string has my mother's skin cells on it. And mine from when I was nine, which is also sort of strange.
Tonight, I got a new relic. Something unbelievably amazing. Something with Tripp Gorman's skin cells and germs still on it. His mandolin. He wanted one so he could learn to play "Amy" by Pure Prairie League, which was Cindy's favorite song. Ironically or providentially or just coincidentally, it happened to be my mother's favorite song too. That and "Morning Has Broken."
I can still remember Nita putting "Amy" on the stereo while she held a cup of hot coffee to her head, as if she were transfusing the caffeine into her system by osmosis. Weird. Beautiful. My mom. Listening to "Amy." And she never learned to play that dang banjo. But she did fool around with it. And I learned to play it.
Tripp never really learned to play "Amy" or the mandolin for that matter. But he fooled around on it a little, according to Cindy. Now I have it. And tonight I tuned it up and composed a little ditty. I called Cindy and Courtney to listen on their bluetooth while driving home. It made them happy I think.
I don't (yet) know how to play "Amy" but I can play a new song I call "Trippy." I will carry the song, the mandolin, the skin cells, the germs, the relic, the embodied memory of Tripp with me into whatever foggy forever might await. I will hold it dear. It will console me. It will also make me sad.
I can't fit it on my dashboard, but soon, I hope, I'll have a recording of "Trippy" playing through my car stereo, like other musical memories that haunt me and hurt me and huddle with me as I move forward. Into the fog.
When I get everything in this universe figured out, I will include a link to the song so you can hear it. A little bit of Tripp for your ears. In fact, the link will be right here (you might need to download the file, but it won't bite you).
Anyway(s), may all our dates be this lovely.
Forward. Banjos, mandolins, dead flowers clutched to our battered hearts. Drive safely Cindy and Courtney. And hold on tight.