Archived, February 2006
Maybe Mike is right when he says there is something to writing with a clear head.
That said, despite the obvious fact that this entry has been a long time coming, I’ve been staring at unintentional white space here for a very long time.
A dear friend told me early last winter that my grief at losing Gus was like a ball of string, layers and layers deep, the center uncertain, and with literal loose ends akimbo. And so each time I attempt to write this, my mind meanders in a million directions. Maybe it’s my old conditioning as a columnist, or maybe it’s that I’m never actually going to get back the brain cells I’m certain I’ve cried out, but I keep trying to categorize this last year inside some kind of pre-set rubric. An allegory. Certainly there’s a glib lesson to tie in. The lesson, I’ve come to accept, may just be that things don’t always fit neatly in your mind. There was no reason, there is no resolution other than the continuance of life.
I note, then, that I feel compelled to mark this “occasion” without any sense of how best to do so. I was tempted to write about me, and how this – the hardest year of my admittedly short life – has changed me. I was tempted to write about the dichotomy that comes from learning that things don’t have to be completely perfect to achieve happiness. About the balance between the gulf of sad and that continuance of life. But I won’t make this about me. I was tempted to write an abject tome of thanks to the people who have at times literally carried me through this exhausting year. The tight community representing my only remaining evidence of goodness. The people who have forged closer friendships ultimately resulting in the best kind of legacy. But I’d rather do that personally.
I don’t believe February 6 is a date we should mark permanently. We get a write-off this year because the heartbreak is still so raw. But we all know that marking this date annually would be utterly antithetical to Gus’ entire life philosophy. His birthday will make a much better celebration date.
I’m left with, then, the simultaneously joyful and wrenching option of writing about him. Which I can’t do. If you knew him, you hardly need me to count his myriad virtues (it is perversely tempting, though, to list the “quirks” – a kind euphemism for the fact that he was never once on time. Never.). And it is impossible to accurately record a feeling in words. And for me – for us – now, Gus is a feeling. I get it when I hear Frank Sinatra. When I see a Seabring. When I contemplate a crossword puzzle. When it snows. A million other times a day, awake and asleep. And even the most prodigious writer could not capture that blanketing sense of pure and abiding love, security and contentment.
Instead, I’m taking the (comparatively) easy way out, and have chosen to use other people’s words for the moment when I am most without my own.
A poem several close friends have sent to me in the last year, all with the same note it sounds like Gus.
When I die, I want your hands on my eyes
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me once more
I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny.
I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep.
I want your ears still to hear the wind, I want you
to sniff the sea’s aroma that we loved together,
to continue to walk on the sand we walk on.
I want what I love to continue to live,
and you whom I love and sang above everything else
to continue to flourish, full-flowered
so that you can reach
everything my love directs you to,
so that my shadow can travel along in your hair,
so that everything can learn the reason for my song.
And a passage of Gus own words, taken from his valedictorian speech at Santa Fe. I read this for the first time last winter, and remain just as amazed now by his wisdom.
My friends, this is your time. Nothing nor anyone has the right to take
this moment away from you. You fought for it, so never give it up.
Remember what this feeling is right now. Capture it and use it as fuel for
the rest of our lives. And when the times get scary, or things get rough,
because I guarantee we will all be tested one day, think back on this moment and
remember the promise you are making to yourself right now. Keep pushing
forward. Remember all the friends who have held and helped you out here,
the ones we are all afraid to let go of. They would tell you the same
thing — you must keep going. In the past I have spoken about how there
were times in the past two years when I wanted to throw in the towel and
quit. I wanted to give it all up, and just let happen to me whatever was
going to happen. It got pretty overwhelming at times. But I leaned
on you and asked you for advice. I am here today to return to you the
words you told me through all the nerves and all the tears. Never
Never quit smiling either. Cynicism is easy. It’s more
difficult to be truly happy and light. The world is full of cynics, they
are a dime a dozen. Stand out in the crowd. Smile and laugh and
actually mean it. When you are happy, don’t hide it. Let it shine so
that all of your friends scattered all over the world after today will be able
to see it and point it out to their friends and say with pride, “That light is
coming from my friend.” Keep each other’s names on the tip of your tongue.
When you speak that name, believe that they hear it.
The most I ever did for you, was outlive you
But that is much
Edna St. Vincent Millay