Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sister, thou

Here's a picture of a friend of mine, Teresa, holding her grandson:


I miss her.

I don't know that I have anything constructive to say, or any real reason for posting about this, except that I don't think that she & and her daughter should go unremembered.  If you know the Morgan family of Seattle, through their music or just because, then I think anything as simple as good wishes have the power to help.

Here are the words to a song:

Sister, thou art mild and lovely
Gentle as the summer breeze
Pleasant as the air of evening
As it floats among the trees.

Peaceful be thy silent slumber
Peaceful in the grave so low
Thou no more shall join our number
Thou no more our songs shall know.

Dearest Sister, thou hath left us
Here thy loss we deeply feel
But tis God that hath bereft us
He can all our sorrows heal.

Yet again we hope to meet thee
When the days of life have fled
There in heaven we'll joy to greet thee
Where no farewell tears are shed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Story of the Amazing Day, Part 3

So one of the shepherds looked down the table to where my friends Barry and Diana were sitting, and he said: "For you--because you are in love--I want to give you the most valuable thing I have."
He pulled out a knife.
"This is all I have left from my father, and it's not just for you, Barry.  It is for both of you."

While our jaws were hanging open, Barry said, "I can't take the knife."
John took an aside from translating to tell him that he had to take the knife.  The shepherd would be dishonored if he didn't.  So Barry stood up--in this intense moment and next to these weathered men he looked like a little kid in a Dick & Jane book or something-- and walked to the other end of the table where the shepherd stood.  They shared an intense eye-lock and handshake, the kind where you grip elbows and clap each others' backs, and they exchanged a Euro-style kiss on the cheek.  And Barry took the knife.

"Wait, wait!" The shepherd said, "You also must have the case.  I made it out of one of the goats I slayed."  He used the word slayed--or more accurately, John used that word while translating.
"Smell the inside--it will smell like that for a hundred years!"

So the sheath was also passed over to Barry, who said:
"Can you tell him...that I made a coonskin cap?  And that...I'm really going to use this knife?  Like, I'm REALLY going to USE it?"
Hilariously, John's short answer was--no.  Which sort of makes sense--why would you explain about this animal and a hat with a tail on it, and Daniel Boone and stuff?  But I also wonder if John thought that this comment--if added to the inevitably inadequate thanks--was just a little too twinkie.  And I think we were all thinking some version of the same thing, that there's no way to properly thank or repay in a moment like this.  And also, that there was no-one at that table who needed a knife more, every day, than the man who had just given his away.

And then the really incredible thing happened.  Sergo--shaved bald head, red t-shirt, red jeep, ex-gun-runner Sergo--stood up.  He pulled his knife out of his belt.  He took it out of the case.  The blade was black and teflon-looking.  And he threw the knife into the table in front of the shepherd, with these words:
"This is yours now."

I can safely say that I had never seen anything like it.  I was agog.  I think we were all agog, and maybe a little tipsy.

When I looked back on it, even later that same day, I tried to work out just what it was that I saw.  Why I thought the same thing wouldn't happen in my country--or at least not where I could see it.  I couldn't help thinking that it was like something from another time.  That maybe throwing the knife into the table is something I would read about Robin Hood doing, or Sir Gawain, as a side-plot to one of those romantic stories.  It was like an example of the old-fashioned "courtesy" we don't really set stock by in the U.S.  I don't think that was the whole shape of it, though.  It's not a question of time, it's a question of...culture, I guess, and it struck me as a matter of the economy there.  Sergo was the most well-off native Georgian there.  John the American ex-pat didn't carry a knife.  When we as a group felt at a loss as to what could happen next, and uncomfortable about how damn rich we all were compared to this Shepherd who said he would give his life for us, it was Sergo's responsibility to step up and make the situation a win-win--to uphold Courtesy or Honor or whatever.  And Sergo's the one who ended up knife-less, BUT he also ended up generous.  I can only imagine that there's some kind of bond between him and the shepherd now.  I got the impression that Sergo is an influential person in that part of Georgia, and I'm ignorant enough not to know what that really entails.  It's probably meals like the one we had that create and maintain that influence.  Or maybe, as more than one person I've told this story to has suggested, they all had a laugh about it after us naive Americans went home, and John paid the actors.

The shepherd pled with us to stay the night.
"I would light a fire beside each one of you!  I would slay animals and we would have such roasted meats!  We would sing songs into the night!"

We were pretty caught up in the moment, and most of us were ready to do it--but in the end, concerns about the cold (ten thousand feet, remember?), our lack of gear, our lack of a way to notify the rest of our group, and--as Sergo took me aside to point out--fleas, put us back on our horses and riding once more past the dogs, over the stream, down the mountain, and back to the guesthouse.  We stopped at a tiny village of stone houses and little girls passed us cups of water to drink.  I was really nervous because I wasn't very good at controlling my horse, and I didn't want those dang adorable kids running around near the hooves, but it was OK.  Surreally, from somewhere in the village some loud music was playing (probably a car stereo, that was a popular method of radio-listening): this Kylie Minogue song.

On the last few hundred yards, John asked the group if it was OK with us to finally let the horses go and gallop back to the guesthouse.  Ho ho ho.  Was it.  It was so exciting--horses apparently enjoy running full speed at the very edge of a steep drop-off, and also gaining on other horses and getting super close to them to pass.  I loved it.  Even the gravel hitting my face made me feel like a badass.  I just hoped they would stop when we got to where we were going, but of course I needn't have worried.  Safe and sound, and breathless, we returned with a story on our lips.