I am not in any condition to write a deeply reflective post today. Yesterday Dan Bates, my closest cousin (we are both 61) died entirely unexpectedly, maybe of a heart attack, maybe of a stroke.
Dan was a passionate man who threw himself fully into life. He was a lawyer from Gardiner, Maine who waxed enthusiastic over the poetry of E.A. Robinson, who painted and sculpted and gardened, who published a doggerel epic about the 2004 Red Sox comeback playoff win against the Yankees, who was so filled with civic spirit that he decided to run this year for the Maine state legislature (he was the kind of Republican that every Democrat should want to work with), who embraced justice and fought hard for it.
Right now I feel the full senselessness of it all. I am Tennyson mourning Hallam and finding that any attempts at meaning are trumped by primal pain:
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
I think of his wife Beth and of his two sons Jeff (just married) and Peter and imagine them experiencing the raw agony of W. H. Auden’s “Stop All the Clocks”:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
But more than anything, I find myself thinking of the lyrics of “Danny Boy,” Danny being what I called Dan when we were growing up. The song is not about Danny Boy’s death, but in my current state of mind I hear, in Danny Boy’s leaving, our own loss. It is as though Dan is disappearing into the Maine mountains, maybe into Tumbledown where we used to hike. He has followed pipes that we cannot understand. and his “come ye back” conjures up visions of a reunion that I pray awaits us:
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
Dan, I will miss you.