Growing up in the desert taught me to look for beauty and wisdom in not-so-obvious people and places. These are my reflections as I try to live into that lesson in my family, in my church, in my politics and in the world.
For the past week or so, I have been making my way through a list of bills, various banking/savings accounts, the water department, the electric company, the public library, Amazon, and the myriad places we had joint accounts or he had a separate account to let them know that he has died.
No he won't be checking out any more books from the library, or downloading books into his Kindle, and please remove his name from this account and from this listing. . .
How unexpected it was to find that simply asking that his name be removed from various accounts, lists, bills, etc. could hurt so damn much.
Oh, I know it has to be done, for accurate record keeping, for tax records, to prevent fraud, etc., but it feels way too much like erasing him from my life. It has been completely exhausting and emotionally draining. My chest has ached so much I thought for a while I might be getting sick. But no, it was simply the very real, very physical pain of an aching heart.
I'm fine until I have to once again say the words, "He died on December 11." On some calls, I can say it with barely a tremor in my voice. On others, though, I barely manage to choke the words out. And I never know which it will be. My emotions blindside me all the time.
I've learned to just say, "Please hold on,"and then put the phone down and breathe for a moment before I resume the conversation.
I very much appreciate the way most of the people I've dealt with have been kind enough to be business-like and focused on the task at hand. Perhaps they have dealt with this situation enough to know that if they offer their sympathy and condolences I'm liable to fall apart and start weeping into the phone or onto the counter and I really don't want to inflict that on them -- or me. As it is, the phone sessions always seem to end up with all my dogs clustered under the desk on or around my feet in a comforting pile of fur and love and shared grief. It takes a great untangling of legs and tails and fuzzy feet for me to just stand up.
Then I turn for solace to the task of thanking people for remembering him in so many kind ways. People have made donations in his memory to organizations he cared deeply about, and I so appreciate that.
If you want to do this too, I would ask that you donate to the parish where he was serving when I became an Episcopalian -- St. Luke's in the Meadow Episcopal Church, 4301 Meadowbrook Drive, Fort Worth, TX, 76103 on the east side of Fort Worth. If you want to donate online, do so at https://episcopaldiocesefortworth.org/online-giving/. Just note that you are giving to St. Luke's in his memory, and the money will be sent to them via the diocesan office.
And if you are looking for a place to explore a relationship with God, and learn how that can inform you relationship with your neighbor, like I was, St. Luke's is a great place to do that.
Gayland being installed as rector at St. Luke's in the Meadow.
Gayland was rector (the priest in charge) at St. Luke's from the mid-80s to the early 1990s. We worshiped together at St. Luke's in his retirement (I still do). The current priest, the Rev. Karen Calafat (who Gayland loved), presided at his funeral. The congregation continues his work of "making and keeping human life human" in this neighborhood, this city, and this state. They feed the hungry, care for the weak, embrace those on the margins, love the vulnerable, help the children, and welcome the stranger. They worship together, break bread together, hold one another close in gentle care. They are a diverse bunch who truly believe, as did Gayland, that God loves absolutely everybody -- no exceptions. They aren't a large congregation, but their impact belies their size. Still, they can use additional resources and Gayland would LOVE to know he was helping with that.
And I would love knowing his work continues even as his name disappears from so many places.
By Matt Tillett (Flickr: Cooper's Hawk) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
There was another hawk today, this time on the patio behind the farmhouse. I saw it fly down onto the back patio as Daisy dog and I were returning from the vet early this morning. Then the hawk took off and swept over us about three feet above my head, looking directly at me. It hesitated as if it were about to land in one of the big trees in the driveway, but then soared on and up and out of sight.
A hawk. Again. This time it was a Cooper’s Hawk. Or maybe a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They look a lot alike.
Beginning in about mid-November, I began seeing hawks everywhere – in the sky over I-30, in the trees in Oakland Park, soaring over Harris Hospital, on light standards beside highways and in store parking lots, even, once, in the birdbath right outside the big window where we sat to watch TV. Hawks don’t usually come to birdbaths.
I’m Irish, and Celtic lore is full of animal symbolism. Great meaning is attached to hawks. And the Celts aren’t alone in this - ancient Egyptian artists showed the human soul as a hawk that flew out of the body and lived on in that form. Hawk was sacred to the sky god Horus. The Greeks associated Hawk with Jupiter, first among the gods. The Celts associated Hawk with Bran the Blessed, a warrior, king, and god.
The old stories say that when a hawk appears, pay very close attention to everything, because hawks carry messages from Other Worlds. A hawk is a signal to both beware and be aware. Makes sense, doesn’t it, since a hawk is a formidable predator. One ignores raptors at one’s peril.
In the old stories, the appearance of a hawk means something important is about to happen, for good or ill, and you need to be ready to take action, to step up and lead. “A circling hawk foretold both victory and death,” Celtic lore site said. The Celts also believed a hawk was a sign that one needed to examine one’s life.
If the universe was trying to tell me something, it wasn’t being very subtle, was it? But ancient symbols aren’t much for subtlety.
So my beloved dies, I am left bereft, and hawks are still hanging around? God knows I’m paying attention. I am certainly examining everything, because if there’s one thing I know, it is that I cannot restart my life. I have to reinvent it, figure out a new way to be in the world as me alone, not as part of us.
Oh, he will always be part of me, for sure. But his hands are not there to reach for, his shoulder is not there to lean on, his eyes aren’t there to gaze into, his mouth is not there to kiss, his ear is not there to whisper into, his body is not there to lie next to in the night. His voice is not there to bookend each of my days with “Good morning, my love. What does your day look like?” and “Good night, my love. Sleep well.”
He no longer notes my coming in and my going out, no longer seeks me out in the garden with a drink to tell me he’s been missing me and shall we sit and talk for awhile?
Even as I move in the same spaces he so wonderfully inhabited, nothing is the same. And it will never be the same again.
So I choose to consider these current hawks as couriers sent by him, winged bearers of messages of love and courage and strength and vision.
Today, the wind is from the north and the sound of the chimes hang in the icy air.
Today, he's been gone a month.
Since he died, I have lived alone through the Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the First Sunday after Christmas and New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Epiphany, and the Feast of Julia Chester Emery, a badass woman of God.
I have lived through a month of opening my eyes every day to the knowledge of his absence and on my lips the lament, "How can you be gone?"
How can such a vivid being, such an effervescent spirit, such a brightness, be simply . . . gone?
And yet his presence is everywhere in this one-of-a-kind place we created together - in the art on the walls, in the stuff crammed in the cabinets, in furniture we chose, in the bricks of the patios and walks, in the spaces of the garden.
He loved the garden, and had come to love it even in its winter bleakness. He learned to appreciate how edges that summer foliage softened into invisibility reappeared to let us see the bones of the garden, the lines of the huge ancient trees, the flow of the walks and the shapes of the flowerbeds. It is easier to see the garden as a whole, to see how one garden "room" plays off against the other spaces. That's why, in winter, we would often bundle up and walk the garden and brainstorm new projects for the spring, arguing and laughing while we drew figures in the air, paced out shapes, each making the case for why this idea would work better than that idea.
As he lost weight, cold bothered him more and more, so we didn't do much walking in the last weeks when the temperature began dropping. But the ideas never stopped -- until he did.
Now the dogs and I walk the garden without him, missing him in this bleak midwinter.
In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow In the bleak mid-winter, long, long ago. Our God, heav'n cannot hold Him nor the earth sustain Heav'n and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. In the bleak mid-winter, a stable-place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. Angels and archangels may have gathered there Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air But only His mother in her maiden bliss Worshiped the Beloved with a kiss. What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb If I were a wise man, I would do my part Yet what I can, I give Him - give my heart.
The death certificate has arrived, a rather ornate bureaucratic piece of paper, not unsimilar to a birth certificate. It means the State of Texas now officially acknowledges the death of one of her native sons, a piece of paper to be used as proof of death for the various bodies who need to see such a thing.
I am not one of those bodies. My body aches with the knowledge of his death, vibrates with the pressure of his absence, wanders aimlessly in the spaces in which his presence is still palpable, sits in his chair holding his grieving little dog, inhales the scent of his soap and aftershave and is shocked at the rawness of the loss.
I opened his closet door yesterday and nearly fell to my knees at the impact of familiar scents, textures, and colors of clothes, all meaningful only because he wore them. Slamming the door shut startled the dogs and sent the cat running, but didn't stop the waves of pain. I stood short of breath for a moment, dizzy with the need for oxygen, and him.
So I organize the kitchen, a place set up for the use mostly of a 6"1' man who was, well, a pack rat, a man who never met a plastic storage dish he didn't love, or had too many extra cans of corn or beans in case the zombie apocalypse hit east Fort Worth and we had to hole up for months on end. Or, more likely, feed the 20 or 30 people he would invite over for some celebration and remember to tell me about only on the morning of the party.
The kitchen was his territory -- I was simply the person who vainly attempted to keep it in some order.
I am only 5 feet tall, so now there are many things I simply can't reach without my tall person. So I have been divesting myself of plastic vessels, donating canned goods, and dumping mysterious lumps of frozen stuff from the back of the freezer, all the while talking to him along the lines of "What were you thinking, my love, when you saved all this stuff?"
This divestment has freed up space on lower shelves for the glassware, plates, bowls, etc., that I need to prepare my own meals now that my creative inventive nutty personal chef has ambled off to other feasts in other places. That and a sturdy stool insure that I can at least access all of the cabinets, shelves, etc, on which are stored kitchen paraphernalia.
The problem is, who cares? Without him here to share meals, to talk with over our food, to share stories of the day, to read bits of the news to, to laugh with, why bother? The food was just the platform on which we daily reinforced the structure of our marriage, binding our selves more closely together with each morsel of our lives generously shared, savored, and valued.
Gayland's memorial service was on December 15, 2017, at Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Worth. The Rev. Bruce Coggin was the preacher, the Rev. Karen Calafat was the celebrant. The video includes the readings, the complete eulogy, and the intercessions.
Eulogy for Gayland Pool
Trinity Church, Fort Worth
Friday, December 15, 2017
“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
I cannot begin to count how many times I have said those solemn and amazing words in the past half century, starting down the aisle of some church to start the prayers we say for those who walk on from this life and into the great unknown where one day we all will join them. And every time I have done it, I’ve thought to myself, “Young man, if you don’t believe those words, you’d better act like it, no matter.” That’s because, I hardly need point out, we’re talking about life and death here, the Biggest of the Big Questions we all contemplate at some point. Life. Life! If you believe in God, you know it’s God’s greatest gift to us, including us in the divine purpose, in God’s . . . notion . . . of the fullness of his creation. I think most people love life, even when it’s rank with challenge and duress. I know I do, and I’d bet all of you here do as well. And people who don’t believe in God, they love life too; they may not name it the way Christians do, but they live it with just as much gusto and gumption. I reckon that even people who decide to end their own lives on earth do so more out of disappointment than anything else, just unequal to the struggle of living. Oh, I think we all love life.
I know for sure Gayland loved life. And how! He was into everything, curious about everything, often delighted, seldom bored, poking his nose here and there, sometimes until you wanted to scream. Katie says he was wonderful to travel with for just that reason. Me, I dunno. I know that once I drove us down to a funeral in Hamilton, a right smart piece down the road, so Katie got him up and out and in the car in plenty of time. Decided we’d grab breakfast at McDonald’s in Glen Rose and buy gas. Just wanted to get on the road. Well, there’s not a McDonald’s in Glen Rose, thank ya, so we pulled in at the Subway. Immediately Gayland had to get to know the high school girl who served us, all about her family, her cheerleading, her this, her that. By the time I got us out of there he knew her pedigree by heart, I was fit to kill, so mad in fact I flat forgot to buy gas. Along about Chalk Mountain the unhappy facts dawned on me: too far from Glen Rose to go back, too far from Hico to go on. I knew there was an ancient gas station just beyond Chalk Mountain on the right where you could then buy Dublin Dr. Pepper, and I hoped to God it was open. Pulled up and Gayland was right out the door, into the little store attached, straight to the back wall checking out the different jams and jellies for sale. Here I was about to pass out from vexation, and he’s . . . well, that was Gayland. He loved life. But. We are here today because Gayland’s life with us is over, came to a rather speedy—and Katie tells me entirely peaceful—end Monday of this week along about midday. Death finally caught up with him. I think of Emily Dickinson’s little poem that begins, “Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me.” I reckon Death deserves to take a lap for that. Whatever’s the case, Death found him, and for all practical purposes that was that. So we gather today to pay honor to his life and love and the memories we treasure. We’ll laugh and we’ll weep and we’ll just be quiet. In the presence of Death, a great silence falls. Or should. I know when I walked into that hospital room only a few minutes after Gayland died, I could hear the silence of the heavens ringing in my ears. A life that loved life here on earth had slipped into eternity.
Now, at this point in funeral sermons we are often treated to a catalog of the Dearly Departed’s many virtues plus a glittering necklace of sweet, formulaic palliative and uplifting aphorisms, all meant to comfort and lift up, all about how Gayland is now with the One who loves him best, is relishing the greater presence of God, is praying for us, is renewing acquaintance with the horde of people he loved and many of whom he himself sent off into glory at countless gatherings like this one. And I have nothing against all that, often do it myself. But not today. I think with Gayland I need to be a little more specific, because there was nothing formulaic about the man. He was complicated. He was layered. He was not infrequently controversial. I know, because my own dealings with him go back to 1966, and for most of the half century since then, we have been close friends. Not always, of course, and for a while we were estranged; but God helped us past that, and most of the time . . . well, we knew so much on each other that either of us could have put the other in jail! So I speak with some authority here about the way I knew Gayland. I know that many of you here knew him every bit as well, maybe better, and you would have other points to make. I just want to make three. The magic number.
First, let me say it plain: Gayland had guts. I used to see him mainly at diocesan gatherings, conventions and other clergy gatherings, and I promise you the very minute a convention, say, got reared back to pass some resolution roundly condemning this or that bunch of people they didn’t cotton to, Gayland would be on his feet, calling out the hypocrisy and the bigotry and the intolerance of the whole smelly thing. I remember asking myself at the time, “Man, does he know who he’s talking to? He’s gonna get crowned!” And you know what? He very often did. Others would rebut and laugh and ridicule him right there on the floor, and we’d all hunker down for the beheading. Never scared him. Not once. And the next convention and the next and the next, he was there raising particular Cain if he smelt . . . well . . . hypocrisy, bigotry, intolerance, phobia. At times the reaction from those he called out got personal and right ugly. Did not faze him. I remember him saying once, “You accuse me of something, and I might just turn around and own up to it. Then what are you gonna do?” Where’d that gumption come from? I think Gayland behaved that way because he thought Jesus would have done the same. Resisting that kind of evil was just in his spiritual DNA.
Second, many (including me) found the young Gayland theologically . . . dubious, un peu louche. I can remember him going on and on about this or that theological point which the ante-Nicene fathers had dealt with sufficiently and finally and to my own complete satisfaction. That was the young me when I knew a whole lot more than I do now. But I, like others I consorted with, tended simply to dismiss Gayland as a lightweight, a top water, blown this way and that by every wind of tainted doctrine. Do I sound like the fourth chapter of II Timothy? Well, that’s the way a good many of us thought about Gayland. Over time, however, after life turned off my Supercilious Override function, I noticed something. Gayland actually read pretty carefully. I learned that he, like many of us in the mid-sixties, got and read Bishop Robinson’s Honest to God, even if the seminary faculties scowled. Beside that we listened furtively to the noise coming out of our seminary in Austin, the “God is dead” stuff that caused many of us to run screaming from the room, gathering up our theological skirts so all that heresy didn’t splash up on us. And then, of course, came Bishop Spong. I remember telling scandalized parishioners that I was “glad the good bishop was asking those questions, but I wish he wouldn’t do it out in public.” Well, Gayland’s attitude and response were different. He paid attention and did not dismiss the tender-as-your-eyelid nerve endings of a theology trying to come to terms with an existence in which so much of centuries-old orthodoxy was plainly at odds with undeniable circumstance, the bed-rock facts of life in a world often bent on its own destruction. I don’t really have a notion what Gayland’s eventual theological conclusions were, don’t know if he ever came to any. I know we both agreed not so long ago that neither of us had really made his mind up about God yet. And that awareness of the friction between theological formulation and first-hand experience of God and of life with God made it possible for Gayland to talk with people who doubted their own faith, who had no faith, who believed in no God at all or hated God—no matter, Gayland could hear them without judgment, and the openness that some might call laxity let countless people whose lives he touched make headway on their own pilgrimage to whatever destiny lay in store for them. Where did that come from? I think Gayland thought Jesus would have listened before he prescribed. Jesus chatted theology with the woman at the well, for Heaven’s sake. Gayland chatted theology with all comers, though maybe happier with a gin and tonic than with a bucket of well water. He never weaponized God, and that’s something we could all emulate profitably.
Third, Gayland loved life without the gnawing need to improve it dramatically. In his play The Fugitive Kind, Tennessee Williams set a character, a woman, Carol Cutrere, daughter of an old, rich, corrupt family, some four or five years past her prime who spends most of her time careering an old Jaguar convertible along the back roads of Three Rivers County, hitting the juke joints and looking for love in all the wrong places. From time to time, however, she repents on steroids and becomes what she calls “a church-bitten reformer.” Well folks, Gayland was not a church-bitten reformer. Oh, he had a keen moral code and sensitivity to be sure, but he didn’t go about forcing it on others—unless, of course, he spotted hypocrisy and that lot. No, most of the time Gayland was “live and let live” in a clerical suit. If you go look at the hodge-podge of stuff he collected on his travels over the years, you’ll see what I mean. Everything from truly fine art—paintings, prints, sculpture, other artifacts—to odds and ends from building sites or trash dumps or wherever. If he liked the way it looked, he threw it in his kit bag and noodled on. One of the most interesting pieces of . . . well . . . art on his and Katie’s compound is a busted pool table top.
Broken pool table slate as art
I used to say, “Gayland has a thousand ideas a day, and two of them are good. So pay attention.” He loved the variety of life, especially exuberance and flourish, though he could fall silent in the presence of transcendence and just . . . soak it up. Some might call that a kind of spiritual and moral dilettantism. Dilettante. Usually not a nice word. Someone I respected tremendously once turned it on me. But you know what? Just like Gayland, you accuse me of that and I may just own it. It’s an Italian word, and originally it means someone who enjoys. What’s wrong with enjoying? It takes a cynic to turn the word dark. Gayland made no imperious demands of life. He just enjoyed it, and that made it possible for him to be at ease with high and low, rich and poor, all God’s chillen. He loved being with rich people, and he loved being with people without a dime to their name. What caused that? Oh, something in his childhood, no doubt, but also I think because he knew Jesus behaved that way. Got in trouble for it too. Gayland was comfortable over at Rivercrest, you bet, but he was just as comfortable at the Night Shelter across town. A truly genial spirit.
Well, that’s some of why I admired and loved Gayland and will miss his company. You all have your own version of that, though perhaps not so long-winded. At any rate, it’s time now to turn our minds to the matter at hand: resurrection. We bandy the word about almost reflexively, sort of glossing over what is usually our considerable confusion about just what it means. We all live with lots of resurrection, regeneration, both in nature and in our own lives. We see things die, we see things come to life, we understand the concept in general terms. But when we talk about Christian resurrection—“the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”—what does each of us believe that means? Likely most of us here grew up in fairly standard Christian homes and learned of a three-decker universe in which good folks went to heaven to play harps on golden streets and sing psalms with Mamaw and Papaw and Aunt Laetitia and Uncle Verl. Most of us likely have found that less than satisfactory over time. But what replaces it? What happens when we die? Does each of us survive personally and individually? Lots of the world doubts that; Eastern religion rejects it entirely. But the questions persist. Will I know me after I die? I know I’m not much, but I gotta tellya, I’m the only me I’ve got. I want to live. But when I look at the images from the Hubble telescope my courage collapses around my feet and turns to skim milk, and I wonder who I think I am, hoping to survive as li’l ol’ me amongst all that welter of time and space and creation. But I hope against hope, because I really want to know about the Big Bang. Who banged it? Why? Where’s God going with all this? I really want to stay in the game. I figure you do too.
Well, Jesus says we can. All the scriptures we read at funerals say we can. Job says we will see God face to face and not as a stranger. Paul declares that neither height nor depth nor things past nor things to come can separate us from the love of God. John tells us today that Jesus is the good shepherd who comes to find us and fold us with his own. Jesus says he is resurrection and life, life caught up in the Father’s own life and love. The creed says that the kingdom prepared for us from the very beginning will have No. End. When the disciples in the upper room doubt him, Jesus asks, “Would I lie to you about something like that?” Well, know what, I don’t think he would, and armed with that promise, this pilgrim gathers his soul up in his hand and does his best to trust that affirmation. I just hope that when my time comes, I’ll have the presence of mind to say, “Lord Jesus, take me with you.” Yes, in faith I believe in the resurrection, and in faith I claim it for Gayland.
Katie says that just before Gayland slipped away, he took two deep breaths and shifted in the bed. Bishop Terwilliger used to say that death is a meeting with someone you know. I could suppose Gayland saw Jesus reaching for his hand and said, “Oh, there you are! It’s about time. What have you got to show me?” Faith tells me they’re about that right now, and I’d bet Jesus is having as much fun as Gayland is.
Now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed, as is most justly due, all honor, power, might, majesty, and dominion henceforth and for evermore.