Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Religion is, at its root, the unprovable belief in an invisible man [who] will fuck with you until you understand just how much he loves you.” - skippystalin

* * * * *

Skippy’s definition is a pretty good one, as far as it goes. As he puts it, “If you take any major faith out of its cultural and historical context and set it up on a compound in Texas, it would look awfully silly and dangerous.” I can’t argue with that, especially the silly part, being part of a religious tradition that includes hundreds of complex, niggling rules and regulations; and as well involves, at a specific time of the year, parading around holding tree branches and fruit.

Whether or not that is more ridiculous than some of the practices of other major faith traditions - eating God comes to mind - is left as an exercise for my Esteemed Readers and their individual consciences. Ridiculous, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

But in my mind, what you believe is not nearly as important as what you do... and one of the most important functions of any religion is how it helps its adherents deal with the most difficult life events. At the top of that list has got to be death, because that is the gateway to that Undiscovered Country none of us knows a whole lot about.

These are a few of the thoughts I had as I sat next to She Who Must Be Obeyed in the local Catholic church, saying farewell to a friend of very long standing.

* * * * *

Well, I went to the doctor
I said, “I’m feeling kind of rough.”
“Let me break it to you, son:
Your shit’s fucked up.”
I said, “My shit’s fucked up?
Well, I don't see how!”
He said, “The shit that used to work,
Won’t work now.”

- Warren Zevon, My Shit’s Fucked Up

* * * * *

We had met Mike and Patricia back in the old neighborhood, twenty-nine years ago. Along with several of the other local residents, we formed a loose confederation of friends that managed to stay in touch and intact despite numerous relocations and the occasional divorce. Together, we’ve watched our children grow into a small mob of young men and women; now we’re seeing weddings and babies, another generation beginning anew. And together, we’ve dealt with various medical scares... and we’ve dealt with loss. Now we were dealing with it again.

Mike was a true Son of Georgia, having grown up in Commerce and being graduated with a Georgia Tech degree. Very successful in business - he was a senior executive in The Southern Company - he nevertheless retained his salt-of-the-earth prankster demeanor. When he found out that he had pancreatic cancer, rather than curl up into a ball and die, he fought it tooth-and-nail for sixteen months. Alas, in the end, it won.

We sat there in the church, SWMBO and I, surrounded by the Old Gang, grieving along with Mike’s family. His wife, Patricia; their two sons David and John; his brokenhearted mother. The priest conducted a Mass of Remembrance, a church ritual that is (to SWMBO and me) strange and yet strangely familiar, given that so many elements are rooted in our common Abrahamic tradition. And so it was that our old friend was ushered into that Final Passage.

Afterwards, we went back to Mike’s home and did what people do when they lose a friend or family member: find solace in each other’s presence. Our mutual faith traditions teach us to comfort those who mourn, after all... and isn’t that what makes humans more than mere animals? That - and the curiosity to ask what is behind that dark, impenetrable Veil of Mystery.

If Heaven is being amongst that which we love the most, Mike’s Heaven will be filled with family... plenty of Georgia Tech basketball players... a whole lotta sand, sunshine, and sailboats... and maybe even a little beer.

[Me, I have no idea what awaits us, and I’m not in a big hurry to find out.]

Mike was, in his own way, fortunate. He left us all too soon, but he lived a full life up until the very end. I will miss him. Requiescat in pace, big fella!

Sails at Sunset

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