Back from a funeral and gathering afterward where I saw many old friends and wish I’d had more time to talk to each and every one. Lots of poets and artists and a few generations of them. And lots of extended family of the deceased, some I had met before but most newly met, warm and gracious folks all.
Most memorable line of the day (besides the elegies—Emil reading four lines of Ted Berrigan’s poem THINGS TO DO AROUND PROVIDENCE written decades ago:
“The heart stops briefly when someone dies,
a quick pain as you hear the news, & someone passes
from your outside life to inside. Slowly the heart adjusts
to its new weight, & slowly everything continues, sanely.”
and Ron Padgett reading riffs he wrote taking off on a couple of Dante’s sonnets, which were about as beautiful in many ways as a poem can get, but I don’t have them to quote so you’ll have to take my word for it, and George’s nephew spontaneously sharing about George’s hands and how they made things and how his, the nephew’s hands reminded him of his father’s and George’s hands and the things they have made—again, I can’t remember exactly but heartfelt and necessary) but, after that, the most memorable line was the ending of the sermon from the new pastor of the German immigrant built CHURCH OF THE HOLY REDEEMER on the lower Eastside (a church built in 1850, so, as Bob Holman pointed out, could be the one Whitman refers to downtown, since it would have dominated the area back then when most buildings were no more than two stories), Father MacDonald, after talking about the reading from the Gospel on the parable about the day of judgement when the righteous are rewarded because, as Jesus says, they fed him when he was hungry and clothed him when he was naked etc. and when they protest that they never encountered Jesus in their lives, he tells them that “what you did for the least of these, you did for me” etc. and Father MacDonald says it’s all about being kind, which is, he says, “why we’re here, apparently!”
The way he ended the sermon with that “apparently" in a real New York accent, simple and to the point and almost thrown away, was almost stunning.
After the reception, in the taxi I had to grab to make it to my train back to Jersey on time, the cabbie told me he has to work two extra hours every day to make what he used to make and pointed out all the empty cabs around us as we raced up Sixth Avenue in late afternoon when, he said, people would usually be fighting for taxis. Now, he says, it’s the cabbies fighting for customers.
Most artists and poets I know have lived a lot of their lives either in poverty or close to it, so these hard economic times are no surprise to most of us. But for others, it's getting rough out there. In my little community, there are numerous people I know who are facing immediate foreclosure on homes worth much less than their mortgages.
There are rumors of attempted suicides and marriages heading for separations and divorce over financial stress, people who thought they had solid investments for their kids and for their own old age, now forced to face moves to an unknown future much less economically secure, if at all.
I see it in Penn Station where the homeless have increased in just the past few weeks, in the empty stores in our little town, and the lowering real estate prices even in many Manhattan neighborhoods.
But life still goes on. Many great things came out of the Depression, not just art and writing and movies and music and plays and musicals, but individuals finding strength they didn’t know they had and families forging bonds much stronger than in good times.
Even the 1970s, when New York was broke and broken in many ways, so much vital creative energy and production was generated by that hard decade in the city. I was happy and am still grateful to have been a part of it.
From all the signs, things look like they will get tougher before they get better, so what better time to show signs of what that solid simple man of the cloth reminded those at the service today life is all about, “being kind, apparently.”