Who’s Douglas?!: 1 – A Master Mischief Maker

Who’s Douglas?!

A eulogy offered at Doug’s memorial service
(May Day, 2000)
Born March 3rd, 1930
Died Good Friday, April 21st, 2000

Douglas (May 1981)

A Master Mischief Maker

A little over a year ago, not long after Doug’s stroke, I happened to mention over breakfast that I was going to Roanoke to see him. One of the newer members of the community asked, “Who’s Douglas?”

That question stopped my spoon in mid-air, halfway between my bowl of applesauce and my mouth. “Who’s Douglas?!!” I thought incredulously. Someone living at Light Morning is asking, “Who’s Douglas?” It was, for me, a continental divide type of moment—the sudden, shocking realization that the torch is truly on its way to a new generation.

“Who’s Douglas,” I thought again, lowering my spoon into the bowl. Well, without Douglas, I would never have met Stanley, who is a pretty special person. Without Douglas, many of the folks living up and down this road wouldn’t have been able to buy their land. Without Douglas, Susan wouldn’t have mid-wifed all those babies in and around the county.

Without Douglas, Wax Statues would never have been written. Without Douglas, Lauren may not have been born, or would have had a significantly different childhood. Without Douglas, there’s a strong likelihood that Joyce and I would not have stayed married. And without Douglas, this community would almost certainly no longer exist.There are so many facets to this man. So many stories.

* * *

How do we know what we know before we know it?

I’m packing to leave for a course at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Massachusetts several weeks ago. Joyce is helping me pack. “What do you think Good Friday will bring you this time?” she asks.

I smile and shake my head. Good Friday has touched my life profoundly over the years—lying in a Seattle hospital as an infant, awaiting an Easter Sunday operation that would save my life; coming home to Joyce, early in our marriage, with the diagnosis of a malignant and incurable form of cancer; hearing that Tom Hinson, an elderly black man who had been my grandfather’s devoted helper and friend for decades, and who had rushed me out to the car where my grandfather was slouched after his stroke—hearing that Tom Hinson had been in a bad accident (he would die on Easter Sunday); and being present for the birth of my daughter, again on Good Friday, after Joyce’s intense, all-night labor.

How do we know what we know before we know it?

I’m in the kitchen at V.M.C., having arrived there for my course. I’m talking with Alta, an old friend. She’s a former mid-wife and is now feeling a strong inner calling to move more deeply into hospice work—a different form of mid-wifery. I’m telling Alta about two Ram Dass tapes that I’d just been listening to. One is from his first public appearance after his recent stroke. Having worked with death and dying for much of his adult life, he’s talking about what the experience had been like for him personally. The other tape, an earlier talk to a group of hospice workers, was called, “Death is Not an Outrage.”

How do we know what we know before we know it?

It’s Day 3 of the course. Good Friday. I’m finding myself distracted from my practice by a succession of impulses and images—undertaking an elaborate set of preparations in order to do my death well; calling my father and discussing his death with him; taking a tape recorder over to Stan’s and drawing out some of his many stories about Douglas; envisioning Doug’s future burial site on Temple Hill; contemplating his grave stone.

These numinous distractions bubble up from the depths from Good Friday through Easter Sunday. Now it’s Monday, the day after Easter. Day 6 of the meditation course. After lunch, Terrell draws me aside and asks if I could take a walk with him. In the normal world this request would be nothing special. At the meditation center, however, I’ve been on a vow of silence for nearly a week. And Terrell is course manager for the men. So this is official business.

I nod a yes. He asks if I’ll need a coat. It’s been cold for days. I touch the navy blue, wool shirt-jacket that I’m wearing. “This will keep me warm.” Douglas had given it to me years ago. It was from his navy days. The buttons have little anchors on them, which I like, because Doug and I have always been sea anchors for one another.

Terrell leads me outside and down the path toward the stream. It’s funny how the mind works. I’m aware of a passing thought—”Did I do something wrong?” Because Terrell’s role is to act as the intermediary between the teacher and the students. And the contact he has initiated is highly unusual.

It never even occurs to me that he is bringing news from outside. That’s how effective this environment can be in shielding students from their workaday worlds. In that moment, it never even occurs to me.

And yet, the night before, lying in bed after the lights had been turned out, drifting lucidly on the edge of sleep, I had heard footsteps go past the curtained-off doorway of my dorm room, and then pause. My mind immediately flew back to my last course—the middle of the night; the course manager’s flashlight beside my bed; he’s saying something about a phone message; and my daughter; and my needing to authorize the operation.

To my profound relief, as the sleep is torn from my eyes, I realized that the intended operation was not for Lauren but for Puck, her pet ferret. Puck’s death, which I learned about later that morning, unleashed an amazing torrent of grief. In the brief interludes of clarity between the tears, I intuitively knew that an old wound concerning my infancy, and my relationship with my father, had been re-opened by the news about Puck.

So when the footsteps had paused outside my room, late in the evening on Easter Sunday, I had wondered if another message was about to be delivered. But the footsteps moved on and I had fallen asleep. And had thought no more about it, even as Terrell leads me to an empty tent platform beside the stream.

I take off my shoes, seat myself cross-legged facing him, and wait. There have been some strong sits earlier in the day, and I am feeling especially well grounded in what this tradition likes to call equanimity. There is a sense of being fully poised in the present moment, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my body, waiting for Terrell to speak.

“Douglas passed on Good Friday.”

The soft glow of a smile spreads across my face. Of course. Of course. What perfection. What exquisite grace. The rightness of what is. The numinous, haunting, impossibly beautiful rightness of what is.

“There was some difficulty breathing. Stan was there. Stan’s O.K. He has friends with him.”

My smile deepens. I notice that Terrell’s lower lip is trembling.

“This is multi-layered,” he says.

Ah yes. He’s not sitting this course; he’s serving it. A big difference. I recall my inconsolable tears for “Puck.”

“It truly is,” I agree.

“Mischief right to the end,” Terrell says and grins. “Joyce was leaning across the vigil candle to move a plant away from the flame and her hair caught fire.”

I laugh with delight. Douglas was indeed a master mischief-maker. (He once told me, by the way, that while it was highly unlikely that he would ever marry a woman, should he find himself in that position, he would marry Joyce.)

“There will be a memorial service for Doug on the Monday after we get back. On May Day.”

The smile seems to be shining through my entire body. May Day. Beltane. One of the cross-quarter days. What a send-off!

“There’s an email from Joyce. You can see it after the course is over.”

“Thanks, Terrell. I’ll just sit on here by the stream for a while.”

He nods, gets up, and walks away. There’s no embrace—for there’s no physical contact at the center. And no condolences—for he can see that none are needed.

So I sit there, listening to the murmur of water over stone. Feeling the warmth of the sun. The warmth of Doug’s shirt. The warmth of my love for him. And of his love for me.