— From EF —

OK, great, we’re wet. Like all of NorCal, we got a lot of rain, very fast, not exactly the Armageddon being trumpeted all over the news, but it was certainly assertive. I think folks forget that it’s supposed to rain here in December, and sometimes it rains hard. We’ve seen worse here, but this got the hype.

I appreciated the hype, though, because we were ready. When we lost electricity at 5 a.m. Thursday, we had the candles and the jugs of water and the charged batteries at hand. The gas burners worked, so we had oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins (and walnuts and chopped apples) by candlelight while we played music through our iPod’s battery-powered speakers. I’m almost embarrassed by our lack of hardship.

But I needed the oatmeal, because I hadn’t slept all night. We have a huge cottonwood at the back of our lot, and for a long time it’s been radically infested with mistletoe. Right, that’s supposed to promote kissing, which is truly cool, but these aren’t cute little bunches tied with red ribbon. They’re big heavy clumps that are weakening the tree. If the whole thing keeled over, it might guillotine our house. So I spent the dark hours welcoming the tumult of the rain but fearing the howling wind, waiting for that devastating crack and apocalyptic whump.

Didn’t happen. After first light, I took a quick look and thought everything was OK. Later, I saw that an old backyard apple tree, long a hollowed husk, had toppled over. Poor little thing, it was tired and ready to go. The lubrication of water had released it.

And I thought of a friend who was a luminous presence in the lives of many. He fought his cancer for a decade, and when it became clear that the end would come soon, he went into high-wattage mode. He wasn’t going to dance with cancer, he was going to dance with death, and it was going to be a great conscious passage. The ultimate flamenco.

And for a while, it was. Then the palliative care became sadistically bureaucratic, and he suffered unnecessary agony. Finally, release came.

During the memorial celebration of Bill’s life, there were tears, laughter, and love — truly a celebration.

And I thought about our little apple tree, how valiantly it had stood upright after its time had passed, and how I didn’t grieve its falling. It had earned its rest.

— From CB —

Gratitude. It’s so easily neglected, so easily distorted. A woman writes of preparing good dinners, consumed absentmindedly by a man. “I wish he could find some way of saying thanks,” she writes. And King Lear cries, “Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend!”

We may feel empathy with the woman, but it’s hard to feel the same for Lear. Sure, we feel he’s being treated abominably, but his demand for gratitude turns us off. I demand that you love me or at least say you do — not the best relationship strategy. He’s been so long in a position of command that he can’t comprehend that his heirs will use it with the same absolutism. To him, they’ll take care of the busy work and he’ll still be king, but on vacation.

Both the harried woman and the disgruntled king have a true need: in their minds, they have given a gift and they need . . . what? At the very least, an acknowledgement that it’s valued. Otherwise it’s like kissing someone who makes no sign that the kiss has been felt. The life in the heart of the gift is killed.

What’s not mentioned is the tragic emptiness of the man who eats the dinner or the sisters who digest the kingdom: what they’re missing. As soon as we’re prompted in the social skill of “Now say thank you!” we learn that it’s an obligation, a price to pay. So we learn to pay it with counterfeit bills. The audience indicts Goneril for hypocrisy when she spouts to her father, “I love you more than words can wield the matter. . .” but she’s doing nothing different than the kid who knows she has to write a thank-you note to Auntie Ethel for a gift she doesn’t want from an relative she barely knows.

How far that is from a gratitude that can fill the hearts both of giver and recipient. The dinner is exquisitely prepared and the beautiful kingdom is rife “with plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,” but both have become commodities, leaving only bitterness. Lear senses the sting of ingratitude, but until the final act, in his reconciliation with Cordelia, he’s never tasted the overwhelming savor of gratitude. In that scene his emotion — his discovery — is as deep as Scrooge’s transformation. Sadly, there’s no time left to order a turkey for the Cratchits. Death cuts off the carol.

It’s left for us to rediscover and resurrect.

— From the Fool —

The other day this guy bumped into me, and then he swore at me for being a fool, and lifted up his fist, but I didn’t have a gun.

And I saw this car that was speeding and went right through the red light and he didn’t stop to apologize, but I didn’t have a gun.

And I saw this kid waving something around that looked like a cap pistol I had when I was a kid that was a genuine official Gene Autry Six-shooter cap pistol, and the kid turned around in my direction, but I didn’t have a gun.

And there was a nut-case out in the square yelling that he was gonna kill that damn Moby Dick when he found him, and he yelled a number of death threats against whales, but I didn’t have a gun.

And I saw this mom in the Burger King and her little boy was howling and she told him to stop but he didn’t, he just went on howling and she jerked him by the arm but he kept howling and she couldn’t do a thing about it because she didn’t have a gun.

There were some other people taking out their car keys or reaching for their wallet or peeling a banana or trying to open their apartment door or standing there big and fat without any good reason for it, but I lacked adequate armament to deal with the situation.

Maybe I should have called the cops. They could handle it.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014

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