THE SEVENTH NOEL: ON THE EDGE OF THE MYSTERY
It's New Year's Eve somewhere. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Mother of God. It's a holy day of obligation, so don't be missing church unless you're a protestant or an atheist or, like some of my friends, both. If you're an ignostic (that's an ignorant agnostic ) or even an intellignostic (really, you get it right?), just go on and go, learn to say the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) if for no other reason because you will learn to say the phrases "after this our exile" and "to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve."
I mean that beats the heck out of what I call the just sayin' school of prayin':
"Lord we just want to just ask you just that you will just help us just be strong so that we can just stand up for you, so we're just thankful that you are just so just good to us and just . . . ."
I know. Somebody put the author out of his misery.
Anyway, we are on the brink of the new, at the edge of the old, teetering on a thin place and moving in a kind of liminal space (thus, the partying) between the same old song and dance and all new performances, yet unscripted. We spin dizzily as the bottom of the past and the known drops out, finding ourselves falling or leaping into the mysterious future.
Some fall. Some leap. But all must make that journey.
I think of my brother, my Noel, our Noel, and his willingness to leap and risk and wonder to make the life he never could have had without doing so.
One day in the hospital, when Noel wasn't communicating, Gordon told a story of their daredevil younger days in Colorado. Though Noel was the younger brother, he took the lead that day, as he often did in most things other than singing.
He drove his four wheel-drive up to a closed mountain pass and showed Gordon an amazingly beautiful valley of packed snow. They looked down and admired and Noel said, "let's ski down it."
They had the ride of their lives, nearly half a mile to the bottom, screaming and laughing all the way down. No doubt, praying the Salve Regina as well. They stood in the basin trying to catch their breath and looking at each other. Finally, one of them (Gordon doesn't remember which) said "Oh Shoot!" I'm pretty sure it was shoot. "How are we going to get back up?"
Obviously, they were Texas boys at heart and didn't always think those Colorado things all the way through.
Well, the boys realized that the only way back up was to walk, but that was near impossible in the deep snow and on that steep incline, especially when Noel broke a binding and had to make the climb somehow in one ski and one boot.
Gordon says they were less than half way up when they first heard . . . the howling of the wolves. No shoot.
I must pause here, dear reader to say something about story telling. The only thing less reliable than a story told by a Ricke is a story told by a Ricke about another Ricke. In this case, we have a story told by a Ricke about another Ricke telling a story about another Ricke. On the other hand, you can trust me. On the other other hand, I'm not so sure about Gordon. But he said wolves, so I'm going with it.
At that point, they both screamed "oh shoot!" out of respect for the sensitive readers of this Noel. And they both kept yelling "shoot!" and "fiddlesticks!" and "what a silly mess this is!" all the way back up the mountain.
We were laughing hard in the hospital room since most of us had never heard this story before. And Gordon was really enjoying telling it. If you know him, you know. I'm sorry to say, though, that I don't remember what happened about the wolves. I mean, I know the boys escaped because living through the crisis is a prerequisite for a story-teller. Unless it's fiction, and as I said, this isn't exactly that, having some facts mixed in with it. Let's just say this story is faction or fict.
Anyway, as our protagonists climbed higher and higher, escaping White Fang and companions, they noticed that the four-wheeler which Noel had parked at the edge of the snowy trail was slipping off onto the slope itself. Apparently Noel ran and jumped in it and popped the clutch and drove it out of there and they all drove back to Denver for some hot cocoa beverages. I may have made that last bit up. I know the vehicle was slipping down the slope and they made it home.
I wanted to tell that story. I asked Gordon to help me with some details, but he hasn't sent them on. Maybe that means he made it all up to begin with. I don't think so, though. I think it probably means he's busy. When I find out the facts, I'll decide if I like them and if I do, I'll work them into this fine story.
Gordon's story in the hospital did, though, capture the spirit of our brother. I see him at eight years old, confidently casting his line in to the surf at Padre Island. Only to find that he had hooked our father's shoulder instead. With one of those three-pronged hooks. Dad was surprisingly kind to him for the rest of his life.
I see him standing barefoot on the streets of Denver, a fifteen-year-old Jesus freak, talking to and arguing with and captivating the smart and pretty sinners he encountered.
I see him standing on a roof, roofing; or head under a car hood (or a bathroom sink), fixing; or busy in the kitchen, cooking up a new dish for the family. Little known fact: Noel was the first boy ever to take Home Economics at Denver's East High School. Why? To get from here to there. Or maybe because no other boy had ever done it.
Noel could do stuff, all kinds of stuff. But what I'm really talking about is this. Noel tried to do stuff. He wasn't afraid to try. He wasn't afraid of taking a risk. He figured that he was pretty smart to begin with and that he could probably figure out what to do with most things. Even if sometimes he had to say sorry Dad.
Wolves behind him, a sliding car ahead.
Texas behind him, New Jersey ahead.
The old life behind him, a new life ahead.
The single life behind him, marriage and children ahead.
None of the aheads above carried a guarantee. None was without risk. All were worth it.
He's moved on now, past the threshold space of the hospital and the liminal time of dying. The edge of mystery, where he was, is where we are.
He, now, knows or does not know. Lives or does not live. Sings "Salve" to the Queen of Heaven or is silent forever.
We stand now where he did once. We ski and slip and move and break things and repair things and cast our lines into the future. Risking unexpected catches. Making memorable stories.