Sunday, August 28, 2011

The End

And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

The flight home from LAX is a two-parter, made more thrilling by the waits to see if my stand-by tickets will produce actual seats.  I snag the last spot on the last flight of the day from Denver to KC and then question my luck when I walk across the tarmac and see the jet.  I am no longer the Class A Nutbar aerial neurotic I used to be, but I whip out my dying phone, snap a picture and text my mother, ‘Propellers!’  

The flight is what you might expect, but I am not.  The bumps and turbulence which lurched through me on Thursday’s flight west are such a distant memory I’d have climbed on a helicopter if that’s what was waiting. I disembark at KCI, retrieve my carry-on, and head to the sidewalk to wait for Daniel, my days away rotating like double dutch ropes in my head.  Where to jump in?

The problem with art, be it writing, music, dance, or clay, is that life is large; its beauty so exquisite that words drag and dances muddy.  On August 16 our friend Don DeJardin slipped out of his skin and walked into another existence, an act that defies description, a hole in the universe that does not repair.  Sorrow that carries with it the dearest kind of fellowship.

The DJ’s entered my consciousness in the summer before 6th grade.  I was skittish, having experienced previous dual family vacations that ended in tears and vows of Not Speaking.  But this one was different from the start--a large family whose offspring cleared dishes and included the younger ones in Mother May I; parents who asked other people’s children questions as if they cared about the answer.  

They were sophisticated Philly dwellers who were nonetheless delighted by a vacation to the fishing and tsotchke hamlet of the universe--Branson, Missouri; the capstone to this glorious trip being a trail ride and steak dinner in the Ozark mountains.  Don, at the time the GM for the Philadelphia 76ers--a fact so lost on me it is as if it did not exist--did manage to register in my child’s mind as a can-do guy, so when he appeared at the trailhead in stiff Levi’s and a red bandanna around his neck, I fully expected him to do rope tricks later in the evening.  Had I known the closest he’d ever been to equine life was the mounted police in his native Queens, I might have been watching a bit more closely when his horse (the only undeceived member of our party) headed for an exit through the woods.  

The ensuing years brought a move from the right to the left coast, one final baby dropped from left field, and a surprise shift that took my own family to the golden state where visits to the house on Lombardy Road became more frequent.  You never knew who might show up in the kitchen for breakfast, join you for a Dodger game, or drive to the grocery store because three more friends had arrived before dinner.  It’s the place where I learned the joy of making room.  According to Don and Sondra, you could always set another plate at the table.

The legacy of such a life is its own reward.  It is the rare man whose sons-in-law weep for his loss, a testimony I observed through my own tears, the rows in front of me filled with friends and memory.  Years had separated us, yet the ensuing days delivered DeJardin life in its most familiar and intoxicating form--intimate conversations, side-splitting laughter, a natal celebration, trips to the grocery store, and a table packed elbow to elbow, save one.  In death, as in life, Don was bringing us together; my own family, other friends, his children and grandchildren and the bride of his youth still living in the shade of that magnificent tree.

The propellers whir and darkness falls as we fly above the plains, a beautiful sunset recalling the joy made possible when we choose to embrace the journey and not fear it.  The loss is whole and my words are part, but this much I know--somewhere in paradise there is a tall man in a red bandanna with a very big grin, making more room at the campfire.