Strangely, there were no tears. I didn't even have the urge to cry.Perhaps it's because of my personal understanding of the death of the body simply being a continuation of the life of the soul in spirit. I did find myself missing our friendship and thinking about all that had transpired during the many years since we'd met. Literally, a lifetime has gone by. We'd both moved around the country teaching or serving new congregations, and our personal spiritual practices had changed from the one we shared in the beginning of our relationship. Our paths cross-crossed from time to time: there were a lot of near misses when we could have sat down for a meaningful conversation, but we just nodded and smiled knowingly instead.
Now Joe was gone, and the flood of memories began. I want to remember everything we did together, every little nuance, because in the back of mind I know this is it for our earthly relationship. I tend to compartmentalize events in my life (I think we all do), and so for me reviewing a relationship it always seems like I've taken out a VHS tape with the person's name on it and punched the "play" button.
And so the my personal version of "Life With Joe" flickered across the movie screen in my mind: Our first lunch in a very hip bistro; the exhilaration and exasperation of me teaching school for the first time and bouncing ideas off one another for graduate school; fussing over the minute details of worship services and the idiosyncrasies of older colleagues in the clergy we deemed
politically less aware than we were-and therefore, less cool ( Ah youth, the time when you're pretty sure you know everything!);
being frustrated when our personal differences and viewpoints collided and we couldn't change the other ones mind no matter how we tried; and finally,the things we both did that the other couldn't quite understand but accepted out of unconditional love.
Joe came along when I was in my early 20's and I still felt very much like a little flat dot with nothing to distinguish who I was yet. As a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio, he had quite literally been one of the people I watched on TV and listened to on the radio who sang the politically infused folk music I grew up on, and I was thrilled to be able to expand on those ideas during our conversations in person. Joe had been there marching on Selma for equality and during all the demonstrations concerning the Vietnam War, and later speaking out on fair housing and women's issues a generation before mine, and I idolized him because he not only taught me so much about the injustices in the world he inspired me to figure out real solutions in order to be of service to others.
He also taught me how to honor the irreverence and humor within me. In a particularly inspired moment one Christmas Eve, I whipped up a feline-sized cope and miter on my sewing machine for his cat Cardinal Fang ( his moniker came from Monty Python, all the rage then) to wear during one of Joe's infamous parties. Fang, I'm sure, was unimpressed, but everyone else reveled in my divine madness, and much to his chagrin, he made numerous appearances at parties to bless the masses with milk and Friskies and raised paw. It was during one of these Bacchanalian fests that I smoked some very fine-quality hash for the first time and discovered after a marathon session of barfing in the backyard that my future in the fine art of toking would be non-existent. Thereafter I would be forced to retreat to the kitchen where I was safely out of reach of the plumes of Demon Weed. I honed my skills at pot scrubbing while everyone else mellowed out.
It wasn't all politics, religion, and socially pretentious parties-we had our quiet moments, too...The day Joe returned from officiating at a funeral and nonchalantly dropped the most exquisitely perfect red rose bud that I had ever laid eyes on into my hands."Thought you'd like this," he announced cavalierly," Don't get gooey about it". I still have that rose carefully wrapped in a tissue and pressed in a Bible. Joe was demonstrative and lavish with his friends; my treasure trove of birthday gifts included a copy of a Byzantine cross from the Met Gift Shop, a vial of pure attar of roses from a trip to Romania, and a wonderful silver Lookenbooth brooch. The material things, as special as they are, simply underscored the depth of our mutual affection at that time; what I find most endearing was the thought that was behind the selection of those things. It was more important to make the other smile than to try to be impressive or pretentious. And the greatest gift of all: he rescued me from a life of abuse and set me on the path to a courageous (and not entirely misspent) life of adventure. Thank You, Dearest Joseph.
The open letter that Joe wrote when he left us included the lyrics from a Bruce Cockburn song, "...You get bigger as you go, no one told me...I just know." And so it is: we live and learn and grow-up and grow old. Our consciousness and understanding of social justice, our spirituality and our journey all expand and get bigger as we travel along life's highways and paths less taken. Because of this and through it all, we, too, get bigger...bigger than our limitations, our dreams and our plans. Bigger, because we expand with the Universal Source. Bigger, until we expand beyond our temporary mortal shells and once again become the dust of our earth and the stars.