Today I will be attending the memorial service of a friend recently lost, a lovely man who played a significant role in our experience of settling into St Augustine, of it feeling like home. Vito and his equally wonderful wife, Jane, were two of the first friends we made, and that was some serious good fortune right there. A very focused man, Vito’s actions were driven by his huge heart, and the story of how our friendship deepened is kind of a funny one, revealing much about both him and us. He approached us several months after we first met, and told us that he was forming a small group to do some spiritual journeying together. He thought we might have an interest and invited us to come over and hear more about his plans, even though we were leaving for a whole summer in Jerzey just a few days later. More out of respect and affection than anything else, we stopped by that night, along with two other couples.
Vito met us at the door with his usual warm hug, and handed us a schedule, committing all four couples to the next six months of bi-weekly hosting and meeting, with our Jerzey time factored in and accounted for. I think the other guests were as surprised as we were. That story could have ended badly, right? But the beauty of it, and of Vito actually, was in its sense of flow. It was hard to miss the humor in it, but we all just as strongly felt the “rightness” of the plan. Something good was happening here, and when the River is flowing right, the only wise thing to do is jump in and start swimming.
I’m so glad we did. Two of those eight remain among my closest friends here. It will be my honor to go tonight and celebrate a man who loved chasing the River as much as I do. He spent time in his last months making specific, thoughtful plans for his last service; as I said, a man of great focus. He wanted his friends to enjoy good food, good wine, and some bocce ball. Not a bad sendoff, and I appreciate a well-planned exit.
If you know me well, and even if you don’t, oddly, you may have heard me speak of my plans for my own final service. They’ve been in place for probably close to 20 years now, and I mention them whenever the topic comes up because, pushy to the end, I feel so strongly about the feeling I want to communicate one last time to those I love most. Some of the specifics are…. odd. There’s some audience-participation, some physical acting out, and without giving away too much, I will caution you not to wear heels to the service. I know there will be disbelief and/or reluctance, but I figure if I tell enough of you, someone is gonna force the issue, represent for me in my first absence. C’mon, y’all, trust me one last time. It’ll be fun.
It came to me when I fell for this song years ago, a song that seemed to encapsulate my own energy and passion for life like no other. For me, there was only one appropriate response to this song. If you know the song and my plans, can I get an amen?! I haven’t been to a ton of memorial services but I know that as much as we want a “celebration,” it’s hard to really get to that emotion on that day. Have no fear, friends, I’ve got it covered. Obnoxious even from the grave. Geez.
I listened to the song about a year ago, for the first time in many years, and was kinda horrified to hear how dated it was. It now sounds pretty “pop,” not my style at all. Some of the lyrics no longer fit as well; my journey has gone off the beaten path since then. I panicked a bit, and wondered if I’d have to actually change my plan, after bugging people about it for years…. Could I really let this song represent me? Can I really go out on a pop song??…. You laugh, but to someone who loves and needs music as much as I do, this is no small thing.
Interestingly, the artist is also a parent who lost a child, in a particularly horrible way. Life can take your breath away with its cruelty sometimes. He’s well known, and many people watched him survive, and go on, changed but unbent. “Struck down, but not destroyed.” That’s the thing: life comes at ya sometimes. But this song he wrote that means so much to me… it’s about the adventure we’re all on even as we travel down those rougher roads. Adventure is one of my favorite words. I wish I had the super power that could enable me to implant passion and joy into people who are struggling…or maybe are just missing those things.
I think I’m gonna stick with the plan. It just fits too well, with me, with my hopes for you in my absence. Yep, presumptuous to the bitter end. If my peeps come through, and you find yourself at my service doing…unusual things….remember how much healing there is in laughter. Remember the power of unexpected goodness in times of pain and loss. Remember how much fun it is to do crazy things, just for the joy. Let the river flow, y’all, in all of its crazy beauty.