December 5, 2009

Go gentle into that good night, Geoffrey Dylan Thomas

The miracle is this - the more we share, the more we have.
Leonard Nimoy


I can still close my eyes and remember vividly the smell and the wetness of the summer grass as we lay on our backs in the darkness, side by side in Mira Vista Park. So vividly, in fact, that as I recall it now I feel like it's entirely possible to reach over and find your hand to hold.

"See the cluster of bright stars there?" you indicated with your outstretched arm. "Look at the darkness between them and concentrate, concentrate on it and it alone," you told me as you tried to take me image by resplendent image through your near-death experiences. Most people think that in death you move towards brightness, you explained, but in your experience it was not that way.

By this point, you'd died numerous times. Born with a defective heart, you needed immediate and innovative surgery -- the kind that gets written into textbooks. You were famous before you even knew how to say your own name, my friend. I recall with astonishing clarity how it felt to run my fingers along your scars; the zipper running the length of your chest that indicated where you'd been forcibly thrust apart to gain access to your ailing heart; the portal where you'd been outfitted with the device that would suggest (and I use the word with trepidation) the only beat you ever did follow. It was on the operating table that you'd found yourself so terribly alone, and yet so terribly free... a freedom that, ironically, begged to be shared. And so on that summer night as Antioch slumbered you tried to show me your death, artfully crafting the words that painted a picture of your experience. I followed along with my imagination, indeed believing I could see what you described.

Geoffrey Dylan Thomas, I hope your final j
ourney exceeded the magnificent and wonder you described to me that night.

~ ~ ~

Our first "date" found me clinging to you from the back of your motorbike. We meandered along the winding county backroads -- deep wrinkles through the soft skin of the gently rolling California hills. This time of year the grasses were young and tender (as were we) and there was a chill in the air. I thought I'd never stop shivering but I also didn't care. On and on you drove, up the back way to the top of Mt. Diablo where we stopped to eat what we'd brought along. You showed me a cool place to hike, and after around or about "4:20" you told me the story of the world, Geoffrey style.

You owned everything you talked about -- the people and the places. You could form these things into something almost tangible, something that could be held in your hands and distributed to those who cared to listen. As a result everyone could own a bit of it, and thus own a bit of you. Everything about Antioch, San Francisco, Berkeley, Black Diamond Mines, Mt. Diablo, Stinson Beach, Little Manuels(!), the river, the bridge, this house, that park, etc... I learned from you, Geoffrey. You taught me to fish, to play cards, to drive a motorbike, to smoke and drink, and things I can't mention here because it would make my father blush! It was you that drove me to Martinez to get my driver's license, and it was with you that I blew up the engine of my dad's car trying to drive up the hills of San Francisco. You showed me that a good way to spend a day was to take a blanket and some bongos to the middle of a wide-open park and play along with the sounds of the turning earth -- sounds I didn't know how to hear until I met you. When I think of you, Geoffrey Thomas, I think of playing in the rain and long drives all over California. I think of the besto pesto at the Waterloo Cafe, mismatched socks, lots and lots of pot smoking, lots and lots of loving, and one really big, hateful, horrible, hurtful, horrendous argument. You were right, by the way, and I should have told you that sooner. I'm sorry.
~ ~ ~

My own heart aches to know that yours eventually failed you. Thanks to the forethought and kindness of an unfortunate stranger, you were given a few more years to truly touch people's lives. I wonder how you felt in those first few moments after you woke up from the surgery. Did you wake and listen for the familiar clicking of the artificial heart valves? I wonder if you mourned their absence. I wonder how you felt to know you now marched to a new beat of someone's indescribably extraordinary gift.
When I think of you, Geoffrey Thomas, I think
of the the mysteries of life and death and how you regarded them with equal reverence. When I think of you, Geoffrey Thomas, I think of how you taught me and others to hear the earth's heartbeat through rhythm and song. How beautiful it is then that you led the members of The Heartbeats to tell the miraculous stories of life after heart or lung transplants through the rhythm of drums and bongos.

Geoff, when I think of you I think of a lot of things, but in the end I can sum them all up with one word: life -- for you were so full of it. You embraced it and took command of it because you knew what most of us still can't fathom: it is only borrowed... and for too short a time.

♥ You will be missed by so many people, Geoffrey ♥

~ ~ ~