by Andy Weddington
Tuesday, 18 June 2013
"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree."
Alfred Joyce Kilmer
Alfred Joyce Kilmer
Late Saturday past afternoon, my wife and I attended "A Celebration of the Life..." honoring a friend, Christine, who died the previous Monday.
I first met Christine 11 years ago shortly after reporting for duty aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. That first meeting - she was friendly, engaging, welcoming, smiling - happy. She had a twinkle in her eye. And I don't remember her being any other way when crossing paths thereafter.
Christine was the wife of one our community's "old guard" Marines. He retired a colonel, before I was commissioned, and is amongst a handful of the "old guard" Marines - officer and enlisted - I've been fortunate and privileged to befriend; these are the Marines - Old Corps - who had a big hand in building the Combat Center. These Marines, the old breed, fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
But today's brief comment is not about those Marines. Perhaps another time. Yes, their day will come.
Today's comment is about a short story one of Christine's sons told during the Family Member Remembrances segment of her service. Needless to say, his tale caught my attention; I've been thinking about it since.
Her son began by telling the assembly of family and friends of a recent visit home - he'd just returned to his parent's house after a morning walk in the desert to find his mother about to begin her morning walk. He volunteered to accompany her. Christine welcomed him and they began walking the perimeter, some 300 yards, around their property.
Not too many paces into their walk, Christine stopped and began reciting the multiplication tables, "1 x 12 is 12; 2 x 12 is 24; 3 x 12 is 36...". Her son thought it odd but his mother explained it was a way to maintain mental agility. And so they continued to walk.
Again Christine stopped. This time she placed a foot atop a rock and enthusiastically recited, with accompanying gestures, a memorized passage (Shakespeare or Bible, I forget).
So mother and son continued to walk with occasional stops for Christine to carry out her plan, her routine, for exercise - to strengthen body and mind. States and state capitals was another stop. And there was more.
Finally, Christine stopped at a tree and just stood there staring. Taking note of no overt action and silence from mother, he asked, "Mom, what are we going to do here?" To which Christine said something along the lines of, 'Just stand here and look at the tree. It's not the same as it was yesterday. Nor the day before. Nor the day before. It's different and I want to know what those differences are.' So there they stood and looked and looked. And looked some more.
Not until the Celebration did I know Christine was an artist, an accomplished musician - a keyboardist who liked to play the organ and play it loud, and sing. And that she had once been a volunteer, a docent, at the local art gallery. Now a comment she once made to me praising and enjoying the color in my paintings makes sense.
But back to the tree, and thoughts that have occurred to me.
Christine understood the tree was not a 'thing' but a 'process' - not a static object but a living, ever-changing 'event.' And she was committed to stop, take careful note, and determined to "see" what change(s) had occurred since her last walk.
Why in silence? Because the event, differences within and between events, and words are mutually exclusive - there is no necessary correlation. The experience is what the experience is - differences detected stand for what they are; alone. Nary a word need be said. In fact, speaking - even mental labeling - is noise interrupting the art of "seeing." Why destroy joy brought about by one sense with static from another? Right! It's lunacy. Silence, please, in order to "see."
Her son's story, that example, is precisely my approach when teaching people, whether beginner or advanced, to paint - which has nothing to do with the mechanics of painting and everything to do with "seeing."
Emerson (Ralph Waldo) comes to mind, "The years teach much which the days never knew."
For 92 years Christine "saw" our world. How fortunate her children, and grandchildren, to have learned from such an extraordinary woman; the enlightened are rare. And now they have days to honor her by living her lessons.
And I bet her Marine learned, and saw, a thing or two, too.
Christine departed life leaving all whose lives she touched a simple but complex lesson, a gift really - as nonchalantly passed along by her son: Take time to "see" - for change is constant and the difference between events matter. The difference between the simplest of events really matter.
Bravo! Christine. Regrettable, we did not meet sooner - nor have more time to visit for I could have learned much from you. But wiser still am I, as are all, and learning more even after death.
Virginia Christine Proudfoot
16 Dec 1920 - 10 Jun 2013
Now rest, Christine, rest. But play your organ - loud, and sing for pure everlasting joy you've earned and still will bring.
As the officiating pastor so reminded, Christine is not gone - she has transitioned. Now it's upon the living to keep her alive, albeit, if only in spirit. Let it be.
And so take comfort Max, family, and friends - not to fret - for perhaps during a walk and a stop to look, at a tree or even the sea, it will be Christine you will see - as now and forever she is free. Yes, look. Look. And look some more - for there she will surely be. And different still the next time you walk and stop to "see."
Christine planned her services - to the letter. Her family complied - though disobeyed instructions of no photographs nor stories. Both brought her alive.
I did not take written notes of all the light-hearted stories told by four of her five sons that were present. So, regrettably, I do not remember most to do them justice. But one of her sons, during his remembrance, tactfully pointed out things that had yet to be invented when his mother was born - one was bubble gum. The soft laughter, easing heavy hearts and drying tears, in the tiny church nice.
Another son told of a granddaughter who asked her dying grandmother what she thought the most important thing in life was - to which Christine replied, "Work hard. Tell the truth." Ah, yes, the principles of this forum. If only everyone received such wisdom and put it to practice - especially those entrusted with "leading" our country. Five words that could change the world. If only.
Christine was a remarkable human being. She was an educated woman. A confident woman. And a woman who continued learning, and teaching, until the end - computers challenged but did not frighten her, as another son told. Christine was a strong, accomplished, and opinionated (so I've heard) woman. And she was a patriot! Her first husband was killed in combat on D-Day - leaving her and their infant son. She remarried - a Marine! Who then went off to war in Korea. Think about that. Love, yes. But courage, too. And she had five more sons during a span of eight years. One, I happen to know, a friend, is a retired Marine.
1. Kilmer published "Trees" in 1913 - a couple of months shy of 100 years ago. Records indicate the opening quote, the first two lines of his famous poem, were first written on 02 February 1913.
2. Pablo Picasso, "It takes a long time to become young." Known as a painter, sculptor and more, he wrote poetry and tinkered at the keyboard and probably sang, too. He died at age 91. No doubt, Christine was familiar with Picasso. Perhaps by now they've met!
3. Man, alone, is a time-binder (a concept from the field of General Semantics). If only we "see" and learn from those who walked and "saw" before us.
4. Regular readers of this forum know my interest in, passion for, Chaos Theory - nonlinearity - from the behavioral perspective not the complex, confounding mysterious mathematics. To truly "see" is as simple as observing the "tree" - such is life - an event not a thing. But simple is never as simple can be. For words get in the way. So, yes, look. Look. And look some more; as did Christine, in silence please. For as Auguste Rodin is have said to say, "The only thing is to see."