My Thanksgiving post on November 24, 2016 was titled, “A Short List of Small Gratitudes.” It was a random list, peculiar to me, of small, even silly things that make me happy.
This is not the time for a list of smalls.
As many of you know, Glen’s and my wonderful brother-in-law, Jim Wilson, lost his footing upon this Earth on January 29th as the result of an accident (find “Remembering Jim Wilson” here, and a full obituary by journalist and family friend Samantha Wright here). Jim was the husband of Glen’s sister, Denise. On Saturday, February 18th, Glen and I attended his wake in Ouray, Colorado.
Jim was a longtime member of the Ouray Elks Lodge #492. His wake was held in the Lodge’s historic 1904 building.
In the middle of bright, crystalline February.
In the sheer and sometimes perilous San Juan Mountains.
But these facts didn’t deter the attendees, who came flooding from across the United States into tiny Ouray and up its quaint Victorian Main Street.
I have a lifelong history of avoiding the difficult, the unpleasant, whenever possible. Of rarely grabbing the bull by the horns, or staring hard facts in the face. The prospect of making this journey scared me. Winter weather in the mountains can be bad enough, and the emotional landscape seemed even more hazardous. But the impact of the trip was unexpected. I can’t speak for Glen, but for me, the 1,000 miles we spent together in the car, driving from Central Texas to Colorado, felt like ritual, like sacrament. Each mile that we climbed higher toward Ouray, it seemed as if I came a little closer to a painful, grudging acceptance of an event that I’d spent the previous three weeks denying, because I was unable and unwilling to stare it down.
Yes, the wake was hard. Very hard. The Lodge brimmed with an outpouring of love and grief so raw that it was wrenching to witness. But there was humor too, because when people are sharing affectionate recollections about Jim Wilson, there’s going to be laughter.
So where is my large gratitude in all of this? It’s that for a few hours I was allowed—or privileged, or permitted—to have the opportunity to be a part of this throng of people united in paying tribute to the astonishing, vital force that had passed from the world, leaving it a little emptier. In those few hours, Jim’s presence in that building was almost as strong as it had been in life.
I wish there had been no such occasion for our gathering. But for whatever reason—Fate?—there was. And I feel fortunate that I could be there in Ouray, just one of the people who love Jim and Denise, turning out in droves.
To return to small things for a moment: Remember the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and It’s All Small Stuff? It was written by the late Richard Carlson and first published in January of 1997. The book was about keeping things in perspective, and how not to get too angst-y over the unimportant minutiae in life. Okay, that’s fine. The book held some good advice and food for thought. But the second half of the title has always infuriated me. Whatever point Carlson was trying to make there, in my opinion it’s a fatuous, wrongheaded statement, and I disagree with it completely. It’s not all small stuff. Not even close. Jim Wilson’s family and friends have just endured some very large stuff indeed.
“But,” we might ask, “in the great blue-black eye of the universe, aren’t all of us small?” Of course we are. But that doesn’t mean we don’t matter. As long as we are here, each of us living a life unique to our own experience of the physical world, I will never grant that we don’t matter. Whether for good or bad. And I have faith that some intangible speck in us—call it consciousness, soul, spirit, whatever you like—will always survive beyond the body’s end. Always.
Here’s what I think: We are the microcosm in the macrocosm. We are the parts reflecting the whole.
As above, so below.
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