The day we buried Richard I had a bit of a headache. Maybe I hadn’t eaten enough that day, or maybe a cross word or two had fallen on my ears and had crossed into my heart leaving me colder than even the 22 degrees outside would have me be.
The day we buried Richard I had just done a baptism. A beautiful baby boy. He was asleep when the water touched his head, and didn’t make a sound even as I smudged oil on his brow and lifted him high for everyone to see with claps and cheers and tears.
Had I been at Richard’s last moments a similar thing would have happened: oil, tears, lifting his spirit high. No clapping, of course, just reverent silence. But still, transformation. Something new.
The day we buried Richard I went quickly from morning services and put myself in my office. Sometimes we can fake it, and sometimes we can’t. Today I couldn’t fake it. I didn’t want to be around people too much. It wasn’t in me.
Richard and I met at the local coffee house, The Grind. A place of legend in Lincoln Square, and in my own story, as it was the first place I went when I started working at the big cathedral on Wilson and Campbell. I got to know the baristas and the owner and the regulars. When my son was born they made a card for us, hand signed by all the baristas and the owner. I knew every name.
Now as we wait again for another birth, they always ask about it. I inspect the mugs on the shelf because I know Levi makes them, and he is dating one of the baristas. Liam was gone, but now is back. Happy to see him again. And Claire made the Christmas decorations lining the walls. This is a place I know like the playgrounds of my youth.
Richard sat next to me at a table one day five years ago. He was 80 years old that first day he talked to me. He was not shy, and no topic was off the table. Politics, religion, literature, art, music; all were fair game. And not in the competitive way people talk nowadays. Richard longed to know and to teach, and brought out those two qualities in the willing conversation partners.
So many of us only long to learn what we already know. “Please, tell us the things we already think so that we’ll know we’re correct!”
When he stopped coming to the coffee shop I became worried. Tara, the owner, clued me in. She was visiting him, as were many of us, at the new sterile room he called “home.” He had some of his books, and though Parkinsons had taken some of his stability, he still held his mind.
The day we buried Richard I saw some tears. He had no family to speak of, save for those of us he brought under his maven wings from The Grind. Bradley, the lawyer from Minnesota. Tara, the shop owner and lovingly unwitting community builder (did she know that this would be her world when she started to serve coffee?). Rose, the sweet woman who lived above him who loved fiction and fairies. Michael, his roommate of 30 years. Nathan, one of the first baristas at The Grind who remembers Richard from the “old days” of 2004. John, whom none of us knew but who had performed in a play with Richard, in Gaelic mind you, back in ’78. Liam, who served him coffee with good cheer.
Richard had a knack for languages that would make most professional translators reach for their tools of the trade. He was that good, recently embarking on learning Arabic in these last years. German, French, Gaelic, Greek, Latin; his mouth was a globe.
The day we buried Richard we had no body. We had no ashes; they weren’t yet prepared. We had some pictures and we had some tulips and we had some coffee and eats. We buried him much in the same fashion as we lived with him: over conversation, beauty, reflection, some good back-and-forth, coffee, sweets, and fresh flowers which are almost always found at the front bar of The Grind.
Churches would kill for community like this. And some churches kill this type of community.
And as we all left one another there were hugs and plans to get back together and “let us know when the baby comes!” and a deep sense that we had done something right by someone we all collectively loved and knew from sitting around little wooden tables and little wooden chairs as coffee from ceramic mugs steamed up into our faces.
“So, Richard, what’s new?” This is how I’d usually start talking to him after my glasses stopped fogging. And after everyone left I said it out loud in the little chapel. To myself, to God, to Richard, and to no one in particular.
And in the moment I thought to myself that the little headache and the cross word that still lingered in my ear needs to go ahead and fade away, because life is not meant to be spent around those sorts of things. There is coffee and conversation and eats to be had, and prayers to be said.
The day we buried Richard was today.