I realize this is the second letter I’ve sent to you this week, but I’ve got something on my mind, something important, and I believe such important things need to be said while its still light outside, so to speak. So here goes.
I’ve had a hard time shaking off the death of the beautiful writer Brian Doyle. Back in November he found out he had a “big honkin’ brain tumor” (his words) and early Saturday morning, May 27th, he died. He was 60 yrs old, Winn…60 yrs old. My lord.
You know I just turned 50 in March, and while I’m not at all preoccupied with death, I have found myself thinking about it every now and then, or at least more often than I have in the past precisely because of crazy sad stories like Brian Doyle’s. Could something that swift and tragic befall me? Well, if it could happen to Brian Doyle then it could happen to me. Now you know me, I don’t ever, ever, ever want to die. If I have to make an exit I want to be caught up in a whirlwind or something and skip the rigors of mortis altogether. No, I don’t like thinking about stuff like this. But its been on my mind a bit.
So simply for the sake of argument, let’s say something like that did happen to me in the near future. I found out I have cancer. I’m in a car wreck. I get hit in the temple by a foul ball at a Rockies game. I die. Here’s my ask. I want you to officiate at my funeral. I want you to be the one that stands among gathered family and friends and speaks the words appropriate for such a teary moment. You’ll have to be balls to the wall brave because there are a fair number of people who love me, Winn (I live in gratitudinous amazement at this), and they’ll be sadder than sad, a few even likely beside themselves. But I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t believe you have the grit for such a task. For when I die I want a pastor to point the nose of my skiff in mercy’s direction. And that’s what you are, Winn, a pastor. That, and my dear friend.
Now I’ve no desire to script what you say, I trust you. But for god’s sake don’t let anybody play that mopey Sarah McLachlan song about angels. All that makes anybody think about these days is emaciated puppies which would just make things worse. No, but maybe Willie Nelson’s “Hands on the Wheel.” That one squeezes the heart’s chambers, no doubt, but the way the lyrics talk about “going home,” well, its just about the most perfect song ever. That song always makes me think of Robert Redford’s character at the end of The Electric Horseman, job completed, thumb out trying to hitch a ride home. I like that closing image.
Aw, who am I kidding, I would like to suggest a few thoughts for you to share. Actually, maybe just one, pal. Look those folks in their watery eyeballs and tell ’em, “John said, ‘Gratitude is the ultimate aphrodisiac.'” ‘Cause it is.
Please don’t feel the need to wear a tie on that day. But I do kinda like that derby hat I’ve seen you in lately. Its a good look for you. As for the rest, like I said, I trust you.
If it should happen, and I hope it does not, but if it does maybe think about my somber request this way – you’re Captain Woodrow Call and I’m old Gus McCrae and in a sense I’m asking you to ferry me back to Texas, back to Clara’s orchard, that place of best happiness. You see, agreeing to do this means you’ll have to travel back to Colorado (you’re welcome) and you’ll have to interact with a colorful cast of characters (my family and other friends) and I pray all that will ease the deep sorrow you’ll carry in your own bones, ’cause I know you’ll miss me too, pal. But I’ll be in that next place, which you and I believe is going to look a lot like this place…
Please print this letter out, keep it in a safe place, just in case. My hope is you won’t have to make good on it for a long, long time. But in this life, where beautiful and terrible things happen, you never know. You just never know.