Tag Archives: friendship

A service I am now glad to repay

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Patrick died in an alcoholic haze of shame, resentment and relief,
wondering, I suspect, where along the path it had all gone wrong,
yet knowing he had no answer. Long ago, he had befriended me,
and when I needed it—but did not expect it—he had been kind to me.
He was my friend.

Do I know as little as he then—me, now, with all my memories?
And will I, these years on, question myself to the grave’s edge?
Yes, probably—we all have our Irish to carry, we poor debtors, we do.
So goodnight, friend Patrick, I am here for you, let it go and sleep well.
You’ve earned it.

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Many years ago, when I had just returned to Newfoundland from Africa, newly married and near broke, Patrick Kennedy hired me to a job that I loved and which set the course of my career. He was a jovial, friendly fellow (among other things, I recall we shared a love for Bruce Springsteen) who was always willing to talk, always willing to help, always quick with a laugh and a quip. To hear recently, after all these years, how bitter and tragic was his end saddened me very much.

John Waters is a well-known Irish journalist who got sober in 1989. He, better than anyone else, has captured the heart of what it is to be Irish:

“Drinking [to the Irish] is not simply a convivial pastime, it is a ritualistic alternative to real life, a spiritual placebo, a fumble for eternity, a longing for heaven, a thirst for return to the embrace of the Almighty.”

I grew up with alcoholics all around me and swore off drink when, at seventeen, I became a Bahá’í. For this and many things else, I have thanked God ever since. I know too well the devastation addiction brings.

Thank you for reading A service I am now glad to repay. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in my home in Connecticut. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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To see all the better

As you go, raise up old friend,
that lamp higher. And if in so doing
the shadows cast darkest at your feet,
well is that not but the way of the world?
You said yourself that we are meant to stumble
the many noble paths as we walk them.
Now is just the time to laugh about it.

This poem was written for a dear friend, Carl Russo, just after his passing. I met Carl and his wife Jane when they came to our home some years before to repair our piano.

A Vietnam veteran, Carl had, like so many before him, suffered emotionally after his tour of duty; his post war years were marred by excessive drinking and drugs. He fought his way out of this morass with hard work and a deep probing questioning of God in general and Carl’s place in the spiritual world in particular. He was a great reader of Buddhism and we often discussed spiritual matters late into the night.

Just before Carl passed away (from pancreatic cancer, probably developed from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam) he was able to re-discover his Jewish faith and to be re-enrolled in his birth religion. It brought him a calmness and serenity as the time for his leaving this world came closer.

Whenever I think of Carl I see him as the Happy Buddha, content at the end, knowing the door was opening, not closing, and not at all regretful of going through it. I clearly remember him in our last meeting a few hours before he passed away; he smiled deeply and warmly and thanked me profusely for our friendship. The cares and woes were gone and a new adventure was beckoning. No wonder I felt his laughter as he went.

Thank you for reading To see all the better. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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In the wind

She moves, I think, through haunted air
distractedly,
while everyone else, madcap, breezes by,
quit now of worry
and missing the memories and hopes
that lie thick all around,
lingering.
But what breaks her heart is, I fear,
what left her for dead in the first place,
so I pray
that it’s not over, and yet it is,
that it’s not over, say what you will,
that it’s not over, you are not drifting,
I will stand with you wherever you land.

A major life changing crisis is a difficult thing to survive and manage. The feelings and emotions are so intense and the risks so very real. But once it is over—well that’s the question, isn’t it—is it ever really over?

Certainly from the viewpoint of people on the outside of the event there may come a time when, for them, the crisis is past and life returns to normal. But for the person at the apex of the crisis it continues to be not just what they went through, but what in the end it means to them going forward.

Such were my thoughts when thinking about a dear friend who had gone through such an event. I instinctively knew there would come a time when the world would carry on, but that that was the precise moment when she would be at her most vulnerable, when she would most need a friend to tell her that she was loved and that she would be supported when she needed it. Someone who was not, “Thank God that’s over, ” because it is, but it isn’t.

I remember my friend telling me that she did not want her crisis to be the event that defines her; she was more before it happened and would be more after. And yet, how can you not review your life, review where you are, review where you’ve been, think about where you are going, after a crisis?

In the end, no matter how much you empathize, no one can understand more than the person who is living it, what they have been through and what it means. But what you can do is pledge to be there for them, whenever and however and whatever they need. You cannot live someone’s pain, but you can always help them live it and survive it. That is what friends do.

Thank you for reading In the wind. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Patrick (plus also Marian Burnett’s “After Seven Years”)

Patrick didn’t wait for me,
how like him to go on first, alone.
He was to me the essence of touch
made into flesh and bone—
his laughter, robust and yet so light,
had a way of bursting out
and rising up through the hole in your heart
and resting there, lingering long after
the echoes had departed.
I could, and did, take him with me
everywhere I went, but still, I confess
I can’t quite grasp it yet,
wherever did the time go?
It was as if the jingle jangle
got to be too much for him
and now, here in free fall, I wonder
what it was I missed that he caught
and looking at thought, no more?
Sweetest man, you probably told me
but I wasn’t listening just then.
I am now.

Marian and Patrick Burnett were my best friends in university, all those many years ago. A young Bahá’í couple, they opened their home and hearts to an awkward, shy, newly minted Bahá’í youth just arrived into the big city. They were wonderful and I quickly came to think of Pat as the older brother/best friend/spiritual guide/mentor that every young man needs.

Pat was amazing. Smart, wise, strong, experienced, kind, generous and funny…gosh, so very, very funny, with a wonderful, subtle sense of insightful humor. And too, a wonderful taste in music. Much of the music I listen to today was guided by him; he had an incredible ear for good music and was the first to teach me to slip through musical genres to look for the magic of emotion in the layer below.

Let me share just one story about Pat. My mother loved him (she loved to cook and he loved to eat so they were a pair made in heaven) but, still he was outside of her sphere of experience. Then, one year, she became quite ill and spent quite a bit of time in a hospital where Pat, and often Marian, were rigorous about visiting her. She told me years later that there were times when the drugs would knock her out and Pat would be the last thing she saw as the light faded, sitting there reading a book, and he would be the first thing she saw as she came to some time later, “Still reading his book!” she would say, and picking up the conversation just where they left it off. After that she loved Marian, and especially Pat, with a devotion that she held for few outside of family (and not many even in that group.) He was thereafter her Pat and Marian, and that was that and God help the poor person that did not love them too!

Sadly—and I confess this was all my doing—after I graduated and moved away we drifted out of contact. (Of the many faults in my makeup, the fact that I have trouble sustaining long distance relationships is the one that betrays me the most.) The odd email or call is no replacement for being face-to-face and able to hug and to touch and to laugh.

The day that Pat’s son, Justin, was able to find me on Facebook and to tell me the sad news of his father’s death, was a hard one for me. As I was trying to take it in, I could hear my mother, long since passed, with one of her tropes, “Only the good die young!” And while that may not be true, what is true is that he was far too young to be gone from us. I still appreciate Justin’s kindness and tenacity in tracking me down, but I am not surprised that he did; he is very much, I think, like his father and his mother: kind, considerate and loving. I wish I was closer to them both to know him better.

Thank you for reading Patrick. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

January 20, 2013 Postscript:

Marian, Pat’s beloved wife and someone I am lucky and proud to call a dear, dear friend, recently shared this beautiful poem with me and then graciously allowed me to add it to the original post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

After Seven Years

All there was before the shock
I have been clearing, sorting,
using the best
for my foundation.

He was the one
who introduced me
to the Maker of Blueprints
and encouraged me to build
My spire toward heaven

The poem Patrick, and the notes that accompany it are © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poems and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

The poem After Seven Years is © 2013 by Marian Burnett; all rights reserved; it may not be reproduced in any way without the written approval of the author.

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