Friday, January 9, 2009

FIELD NOTES: Special soil...

The day of the funeral

We are thankful for the sun today even though its rays are not rays, but icicles. As we drive up the long cemetery road in the black limo, there are sailors frozen in the landscape reminding me of the little sailor from my parents’ 1945 wedding cake top that I used to play with. I wonder if the bugler standing next to the flag pole will get his lips stuck to his instrument. I see four more in a line over the horizon readying their rifles. It is not the part of nature I seek to observe, but it will be observed none the less. As we calculate how we will navigate the frozen ground from the car to the green carpet, my mother worries that my father would not have liked putting us all out like this on a January day, but I want to see the flag on his casket and the marker on his grave because, even though only a fraction of the world knew this man in his eighty-eight years, it will be made known to the entire world that he was a veteran of the Second World War…and that says a lot….

Not that I didn’t know it before, but with my father’s passing, it comes to my forefront that being a teacher (in any capacity) is the greatest service there is. As the Chinese Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu puts it: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In my experience as a Head Start preschool teacher, I can say with certainty that any child would be lucky to have a father like mine who is capable of preparing you for the world, who questions you, but lets you question him as well, who warns you of mistakes, but lets you make them on your own anyway, who doesn’t give you answers, but tells you where you can look them up. It’s astonishing how much he taught me and, I suppose, I have to give credit to his generation – the one that came out of a great depression and war - as well as the immigrant community he grew up in that never whined because they knew about bootstraps, the horns of bulls, where the buck was supposed to stop and that the impossible just takes a little longer. I hugged and kissed him, but he was not a “hand holding” type. I knew he was telling me he loved me when he asked how the car was and if the outside faucets were turned off for winter and if the mortgage was being kept up-to-date and when he fixed my appliances. It is a fact that he did not get everything he wanted; most of the “luck” he was allotted at birth went to the coin toss that took him to the gedunk for ice cream instead of putting him in the path of the torpedo that struck the USS North Carolina. In his retirement we sometimes ribbed him by calling him an “old fart” or a “stick in the mud” as he confined his world to clipping coupons, tracking down senior discounts and broken things to repair, doing crossword puzzles (in ink!) and watching the UCONN Huskies on TV…or Animal Planet…or Suze Orman. But we knew from his stories (the ones he was willing to tell) that he had had his fill of “adventures”…and that there was too much plastic in the world because it was harder for him to repair things now…I don’t quite know what he is doing in heaven, because there can’t be much to “fix” up there, but I know when it’s my turn to go through those pearly gates, they will be swinging smoothly, evenly and with nary a squeak.

We stand like tents in a downpour – holding up unless the sides are touched – but... Taps must be played, the rifles fired, the flag folded with mechanical protocol and placed in my mother’s hands along with the eight shells that were just fired. As cold as it is, as hard as it seems, there is an affirming landscape that presses our feet to the ground. I recall telling a young Ugandan student of mine who was relating a Sponge Bob cartoon segment to me, that Sponge Bob doesn’t get hurt when he falls down because he is not made of flesh and bones as we are. “Well, we are made of soil. Not what you see here,” he said in his accented English as he gestured with a sweep of his hand and a finger point to the air, “but special soil. From Heaven.”

Death is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland: Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room, I am I and you are you, Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, Speak to me in the easy way which you always used, Put no difference in your tone, Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow, Laugh as we always laughed, At the little jokes we enjoyed together. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effect, Without the trace of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant, It is the same that it ever was. There is unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind, Because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, Somewhere very near, Just around the corner, all is well.

Kucinskas Family Tree Online

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