Thurman P. Woodfork
ON THE DEATH OF ANOTHER FRIEND
When a voice goes quiet forever, you sometimes expect it to be there still for you to hear. You find yourself listening for it to cut across the silence, resuming old conversations left dangling in the expectation they’d be picked up later.
You turn, looking for an opinion that will never be offered again. Realization returns with a lurch. And you wonder – are you still there, somewhere… Can you still see me? I hope you know I’ll never forget you.
I remember watching the rose bush through the front window after my brother Harlan died, and telling myself, if it starts to nod in the wind, then Harlan is in Heaven. As I watched intently, the bush began to move back and forth slowly, then more vigorously. I was content. Perhaps I had willed it to move.
But from that day on, there was a little part of me where I would forever be alone. No one would ever walk close beside me there again, no matter where I went. Inside me, some of the light had gone out forever. My brother, my confidant, my friend and protector, had inexplicably, suddenly left me alone and bereft in the world. People don’t have heart attacks at nineteen.
Death had brushed me closely for the first time. But I was only seventeen, and for a long time, as the years passed, there were no more such deep, heart-wrenching losses. But then, nobody else was ever allowed that close again. Time does not necessarily cause one to forget, but it does teach acceptance – and caution.
I did remember my grandmother’s death when I was a small child, but mostly because of my father’s grief. I remember him sitting on the front porch, holding me on his lap with his arms around me, saying nothing while he waited for the coroner’s men to take his mother away.
I only remember her as the old lady who wore long dresses and high-buttoned shoes, and who stayed mostly to herself in her bedroom. She did not like my mother. Occasionally, she would invite me into her room for buttered raisin bread.
One lives; one watches and examines the world, makes choices and decisions – which paths to take through life. I watched people kill each other, for no good reason I could see. But I had made a decision to take the path that led me to war; so I accepted where I was for that year until I was able to leave.
For many years afterward, I declined to attend funerals. I prefer to remember the living people I knew, not the shells they no longer inhabit. Shakespeare was wrong; blood and destruction never became so familiar to me that I smiled, unfeeling, at its grisly handiwork.
As I grew older and into middle age, childhood friends began to depart, overtaken by years and various illnesses. Then family members: my father, then a niece, then my mother, then my oldest sister, then an older brother – with friends and acquaintances interspersed among them. Now I watch my oldest brother with brooding eyes. Although dependent upon a motorized chair to travel for any distance longer than half a block, he remains as independent as a hog on ice.
Why, I sometimes wonder, did God place us here as mortals, and teach us to love, to have compassion, to depend upon one another, when sooner or later we’ll inevitably be separated? Separated with the hope we’ll eventually reunite with friends and those we love on a different plane.
Such things are truly unknowable. But it’s not pleasant to watch friends and family slowly weaken and die. I’ve decided even thinking about it further is futile, so I’ll stop here.
Life, as some sardonic soul wryly observed, is a bitch… And then you die.
©Copyright September 3, 2009 by Thurman P. Woodfork
THE BLESSING OF CALHOUN COUNTY
Calhoun County’s lights are dim,
The summer night is still;
A solitary figure looks down
From the top of Tina Hill.
A soft breeze begins to stir;
A tender song rises on the air,
And from the moonlit sky above
There descends a celestial stair.
As the figure mounts the stairs,
She pauses to look down again,
And from her being emanates
A benediction for all her friends.
The residents are awakened,
By all the church bells ringing;
They sit and listen in silent awe
To angels’ voices singing.
Then silence returns once more;
To sleepy people it was a dream,
But over the county forevermore
Shines a shimmering golden beam.
©Copyright September 3, 2008 by Thurman P. Woodfork