Goodbye Carl

This afternoon we said goodbye to Carl Goodwin.  At first I thought it would be odd to attend a funeral for someone I never knew.  Carl’s daughter Heidi is a good friend and we really wanted to be there for her.  As it happened, for the duration of the ceremony I found myself standing right in front of the granite marker  for Heidi’s Mom who had died in 1987, and as I gazed at that stone I was painfully aware that Heidi had now lost both parents.  I thought of my own parents, and I would give anything to have either or both of them back again, but I would not ever wish to give up the experiences that resulted from their passing from this life.  This journey began with a gift from my Mom.  We had driven the 320 miles to my folks house to visit her over a weekend knowing that this would probably be the last time we would see her.  We also knew that she was ready.  She had planned her own funeral, given gifts to all the grandchildren and had lived a long and fulfilled life.  About a week after we returned home, I awoke between 4:00 and 4:10 one morning (the digital clock said Four-Colon-Zero-Something) having just had a dream about my Mom.  She was standing next to her hospice bed and everyone was saying “You can’t stand on your own, you’re too weak!”  The last time we saw her she was too weak to sit up let alone stand, but in the dream she started dancing on one foot and said “I’m fine. There’s nothing to worry about.  Everything is just fine.”  I woke up laughing and thinking that I must remember to tell my wife about the dream because she’ll get such a kick out of it.  It was so like Mom to make everything “just fine”, to dispel any worries of those around her.  A few hours later I awoke again when the phone rang.  It was my Dad calling to say that Mom had died at about four that morning.

During the graveside service for Carl, I learned that he had defended his country in Northern France during World War II, had for over twenty years volunteered as a fire fighter in our town, worked in carpentry and boat building, but more importantly, lived a good and simple life and was loved by the many people whose lives he inspired.  I am more and more convinced that we will be saved not by famous and influential people,  but by those, like Carl, who most of us have never heard of – that if we can only cure ourselves of our obsession with the heroic and the celebrated, we will find all the help we need in those who live honestly, simply and with love.

Through the remembrances, the prayers, the three volley salute, the playing of taps and the All-Out signal from the horn at the fire station sending Carl on his way, I became aware that he was not unknown to me, that in fact those were not only Carl’s ashes waiting to be interred, but my own, and the ashes of all of us who will follow him.

I will not attempt to convince anyone that it was Carl who broke the overcast sky with that spectacular sunset sky at the end of the day, nor that the solitary cloud drifting by was his wave of farewell.  I will just say “Goodbye, Carl.  I’m glad to have known you.  Godspeed to you as you drift out of our sight and as your Sun Illuminated Vestige evaporates into the Vast Unknown.  Fare thee well, until we meet again.”

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