Wednesday, November 08, 2006


My good friend "Bob" died on Sunday. His life for the last ten years or so had been a minor miracle, since they removed a good deal of several vital organs [stomach, pancreas, gallbladder and duodenum] in a complicated operation called, unless I am mistaken, a "whipple". He had been on dialysis for several years.

I drove back for the funeral, in spite of the fact that the service was at "our" church -- now officially "her" church. I had to pay my respects, and his widow is one of my oldest friends in the area. In my "hometown." And I guess part of me was hoping to see some of the people who had said I should come back and stay to see them, hoping that someone would in fact see me and invite me to stay long enough to have supper...

Lots of people spoke to me and called me by my name -- it's funny how that gets to you... Several clueless but well-meaning people asked surface questions about how I was doing, but it was quite clear that while I was out, my wife was not, and so I kept all my answers as neutral as possible. It was nice, I guess, to have so many people say they missed me, though the intensity of the messages sometimes seemed a bit over the top. I have learned to my cost the idiocy of thinking you have no friends -- the loss of this congregation, with which I was almost always on a war footing over various issues, usually around the actual meaning of our tradition, has hit me almost as hard as the end of my marriage. It had simply become my home. And now it isn't there for me, can't be there for me, anymore. And nobody "missing" me was going to change that.

But here was a funeral of a sort that will not show up again soon, or indeed ever again in a very short while. Bob was the product of a Baptist home in which a particular tradition, including particular hymns, had set the tone. We sang every hymn written between 1900 and 1910, or so it seemed, including my all-time least-favorite, Blest Be the Tie That Binds.

As I have said before, if I never hear that hymn again as long as I live, it will be OK with me. It is partly the syrupy tune, but more the syrupy lyrics -- the "sympathetic tear" always brings on an allergic reaction. But I think it is the mindless, or apparently mindless, exclusive equation of everything good with everything Christian, which makes me want to run screaming from the room. Any room.

But it was Bob's hymn, so I stood and sang. It was Bob's hymn, so I stood and sang and tried to mean it. How could a man who had striven his whole life to live so that his Lord and Master might find him a sheep rather than a goat on the last day, settle for such drivel? There was talk of all the amazing things Bob had done to help the less fortunate, all the ways he had harnessed himself to help various causes -- driving most of the other people involved with them around the bend in the process -- all the things he had done that merited remembering. His most senior friend, closing in on 100 himself, described Bob as a rose whose fragrance was the love he sent out into the world. Fair enough.

But Bob the guy who couldn't open his mouth without parroting whatever he had read on the op-ed page that day, Bob the guy who wouldn't let a subject drop just because everyone else was tired of it, Bob the guy who knew how to push my buttons, and spent years doing just that -- that Bob seemed to be passing into oblivion.

So, after the Ladies' Club president had risen to read her carefully composed remarks, I got up and said that I wanted to give his children a gift that had been given me at my own father's funeral: a high-school friend of my father's had stood up after a lot of pious farewells and said that he didn't recognize the guy anyone was talking about. I didn't lay it all on the line; Bob and I had been friends, after all. But I wanted the Real Bob to get his due. I think, if I am not wildly off the beam at interpreting looks, and I may be, that if looks could kill, both the hyper-positive minister and my wife would have blown me away without a second thought. But perhaps I am being oversensitive.

I think that by coming out I placed myself just out of Bob's reach. Bob was someone who would, I am sure, have been able to accept me as almost anything but gay, let alone a leather fetishist... like me, he viewed the world through moral-colored lenses. They just weren't the same color.

But I loved Bob. No, not
that way. But as one loves all the crotchety, cranky misfits who so clearly prefigure our own lot in later life. He was a great guy, and a constant trial to his friends [and his family] though no one else was tactless enough to say so. Every group needs a crank, and Bob had certainly filled that role over and over again; I guess I stepped up to that plate in "my" congregation once again, myself.

Well, that will teach them to say they missed me.

I will miss Bob. He sent me an e-mail when I sent out my change of address notification that made my blood run cold. Either he had put his fingers down on the keys wrong, or his brain was no longer processing what the keyboard had to offer, because most of it was gibberish. I took that as a clear sign that the end was near. It still came as a shock when it came.

The hardest thing for me was not just Bob's death; it was the way that I have cut myself off from all that was said at his funeral. No one will praise me for always doing the right thing, or being the complete family man, or leading his children by his good example. No one will sing a hymn to the 56 years of my marriage. No one will describe me as a model "son, husband, father, and friend." I have seen to that.

I have seen to that.

I hardly got to speak to his widow, and since I was on my wife's turf, I did not hang around long. No mingling with the community of the well-beloved this time... just a scattering of hymns and readings, and the stumbling speech of people who knew someone should say something, but without anyone really having anything well-said to say. No, it was not the loss of a family that hit me this time... it was the loss of a home. As Joni Mitchell sang so long ago:

You don't know what you've got till it's gone.
A house, a home, a friend. A Bob.

Well, once the family has packed up and returned to its scattered locations around the country and around the world, I will drive down and spend the day with his widow. And Bob will be with us. And, as someone said at the service today -- she was sure that somewhere, Bob was delighting in the election results.

Bob ran for president in 2004; his campaign slogan was: "Don't Vote for Me." But because he lived in New Hampshire, he could get early campaign coverage along with the rest of the other minor candidates, and he loved it.

Don't vote for me, either.
But pray for Bob's family, and for mine.

And hang on yourselves.
It makes life easier to know you are out there,
whoever you are and however you are doing.

1 comment:

  1. I hope someone writes a eulogy for me like you have done for Bob. "Nigel was a pain and he irritated the shit out of us. But we loved him anyway." You did right not to dishonour Bob with that nil nisi bonum crap.

    Your posts always move and interest me. And you know what? There *will* be someone at your funeral who says good things about you. You are still a father. You were a husband. And you have friends and will make more. Hou moed, vriend.