Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The "Reverend"

I just got home from work, and almost before I knew what was happening I was down on my knees with my feet falling asleep, looking into the face of my housemate/landlord Robert, wondering what it is that allows for that feeling I get when we speak to one another.  It's funny, because I had food on the stove and I just turned the stove off when Robert started asking a question about a poem I gave him.  He said, "Every time I read your poem I see something new and beautiful." 
"That's a nasty thing to say to a friend, Reverend," I said to him.  Robert's a minister, who for all practical purposes in the current state of our popular culture, doesn't believe in God.  Which sounds as much to me as it does to you like a comic book character sketch.  People say to me all the time, that know Robert as a teacher, "My God what is it like living with someone like him?"  I either tell them, "A constant blessing," if they seem a bit dim, or "He's my friend so it's not like you imagine.  It's more about the way you are forced into the perspective of a person you love, than it is about sponging up wisdom from the wizened old Yoda like dude you live with.  Yeah he looks cool when he's holding his cane in front of him with both hands.  Yes he makes me smile involuntarily, like one of your own children, or a grandchild might.  But the harder you work at wisdom, rather like the physics of matter or something, the harder wisdom becomes.  So Robert and I settled on friendship a long time ago, and rarely ever imagine the other person as a useful source of data, or wisdom."  It reminds me of a priest I knew in Indianapolis who passed away six years ago.  He used to hide from his flock in a cigar store.  I was hiding from my life in there too.  The priest was very good friends with the manager of the store.  The main reason being that the manager of the store took his crappy life like a man.  He would never have bugged a priest about his total lack of happiness.  This made the priest appreciative.  This made the manager appreciative.  Positive feedback loop.  I am not unhappy, so it's not a perfect metaphor, but it's kind of a similar situation with me and Robert. He's not an Atheist, and is I suppose, embarrassed by what calling himself a Christian suggests.  He has been fired as a minister from Churches (probably for being a jerk about Jesus, eh?) too numerous to count, and was fired from Penn State for reasons I can't frankly imagine but probably have to do with being a bit more blunt about spiritual matters than religion usually prefers.  Of course, for all I know Robert may have done something really terrible to someone.  But I am willing to put my neck out in the supposition that my experience with him suggests to me a guy who err's way, way to the benefit of righteousness despite his DNA as a homo sapien.  In fact it is sport to imagine what poor old evolution does with a guy like Robert.  Were a burglar to hold a knife to Robert's throat, Robert would just laugh, and say, "I've been waiting for a girl like you.  I can't see terribly well, sorry."  

I'm going on and on about him because he is dying right before my eyes, and when it doesn't seem sad (sorry common sense: most of the time it doesn't seem sad when your around a dying person.  The human spirit is way to smart for that.)  it's a really serene process.  I figure very few people have the constellation of qualities and luck to die like my buddy Robert.  I don't know "how" to say it so I'll just say it this way, "It is cool to watch Robert die."  Yeah, cool like a Hallmark after school special.  Yeah, cool like a best sellar, Tuesday's with Morrie or whatever.  Yeah, cool like his whole life flashes before his eyes.  Old people are different.  I'll be different too, when the strength of my passion, desire, curiosity and agency all burn down to dimly glowing coal.  That's Robert.  He doesn't dodge the truth.  He hurts, and wishes he had more energy, and is depressed that he's watching TV while I might be writing a song or what have you.  I try to tell him that I admire his understanding of and analysis of TV sports.  I'm afraid my life has not been good training to make a better case for Robert's pastime.  But it doesn't matter.  He knows I admire his accomplishments.  And the nature of accomplishments is inherently past tense.  He could eat cotton candy all day and he'd still be the Reverend.  About once a week he says, "Andy, will you live with me until I die."  I used to waffle.  But what, after these last paragraphs, do you guess I say now?

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