Thursday, April 30, 2009

'Yesterday's summer'

A few hundred miles from here, an old friend is dying.

He's wrestled the cancer bravely and long, finally choosing to stop chemotherapy ten days ago. He's at home now, surrounded by family and being given medication to keep him as comfortable as possible.

It's been at least 25 years since our paths last crossed, but in our late teens and early twenties we were tight. We worked at a summer camp together, played guitars and sang together, celebrated and wept together.

When I drove west to Montana in 1978, the summer that first took me to Kintla Lake, he was my co-pilot. We undertook the cross-country odyssey like a couple of adolescents on holiday, ditching itineraries in favor of exploration. Our stream-of-consciousness journey took us off the beaten track to places like the Strato Bowl and Jewel Cave, lonely highways and greasy diners.

Beyond the adventure itself, I treasure the conversations we had while we were on the road. That trip, and the days he lingered with me in West Glacier before returning home, shine in my memory.

I recall the first song he wrote, the title of which appears at the top of this post. I wrote the bridge, which he never did like.

It's a different piece of music, however, penned by John Dawson Read and made (relatively) popular by Michael Johnson, that's been playing in my head over the last week. The voice I hear is that of another friend from our youth.

A Friend of mine is going blind, but through the dimness
He sees so much better than me
And how he cherishes each new thing that he sees
They are locked in his head, he will save them for when
He's in darkness again
I can picture several of us sitting around a campfire, trading songs.

And this friend of mine, he plays guitar & sings his song so well
And he sings so much better than I
He can sing you any pictures in your mind
He will sketch them out in rhyme, draw the details in the lines
And he'll colour it in time

And Oh how he loves his guitar, & it loves him
And they play so much sweeter than me
As if to say that come the day that he can't see
He will have at his command so much beauty in his hands
That the loss won't come so hard

The music is as poignant as the memory, intersecting perfectly with how I'm feeling about my friend today.

His wife has created a Web forum that allows his friends and family to post messages of support. I've been reading through those messages, laughing and crying and remembering, more than once interrupting Mrs. KintlaLake to read aloud something that couldn't possibly make sense to her. She's very understanding.

A couple of days ago, I noticed that as we hold our friend in the embrace of abiding love, we hold each other, all of us together again.

In our giving, in our loving, we've made it possible for him to present us with one last gift.
Won't you sing, Tommy Davidson, of things that you have done
Sing of silver seagulls sailing into evening's golden sun
Sing of city streets & villages & people on the run
Tell the people how you know it, Tommy Davidson

Thanks, old friend. You remain in my heart. I wish you peace.

Lyrics from "A Friend of mine is going blind" (1975) by John Dawson Read. An mp3 is available for free download on JDR's website, here.