People Moving On and the Soundtracks of Our Lives

I wish that the people I love would stop dying. I mean, it’s not like we’re even old yet. Today I waited all day for the phone call to come that he had passed… that his pain was gone… that he had returned home. But it didn’t come. So what I have now is the knowledge that he’s in a hell of a lot of pain… with what were described as morphine burns on his lips that keep him from being able to eat.

I continue to pray that the Lord will just take him home. But I don’t know if prayers count when one is totally pissed off about the situation.

Six months ago, he was a healthy man. He smoked too much, but other than that and some back pain that no doctor could seem to find a cause for, he was healthy and smiling — a God-fearin’ man who knew the bible better than most people I know… yet never crammed it down anyone’s throat.

He and I see most things from opposite ends of the spectrum. He’s a republican – and a Bush-man at that. He’s more Christian Right than most people I’d engage in political discussions with. And he’s a Yankee’s fan to boot. Yet despite my leftie perspective, he has always been a gentle debater (we left the most charged issues like abortion off the table). And no matter how much banter and betting there was before a Sox/Yanks game, he never said a word after the Yankees were triumphant. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word.

What we share is a great love of music. While he loves the blues the best… and I prefer the uplifting reggae/hip hop/jam bands… we both love good old rock and roll. It seems to be as much a part of who he is as who I am… which has been the thread that binds us. Hell, it’s not even thread. It’s rope; the big, thick rope you’ll find on a boat that’s been weathered smooth and soft.

About a month ago, it became clear that the chemo wasn’t cutting it and he chose to go the hospice route instead of pursuing other options. Strangely enough, someone had the idea of throwing him a party. Even more strange was that all of us, most importantly him, agreed to it.

Now what the hell does one bring to a goodbye party for a great guy who was leaving way too quickly and way too soon? There was only one thing I could think of… music.

I have made literally dozens of mixed tapes and their modern equivalent on disc. Most of the early ones were my half of the conversation between my true love and I as teens… the words we were unable to say out loud, but could share through the lyrics of Dylan and The Stones… Cat Stevens… Pink Floyd… The Doors and others. Could I make a mix for a dying man? I could certainly try. And I did… painstakingly in the week before the party. This is what I came up with:

1. Sometimes – Michael Franti & Spearhead (Live in Telluride from 2004)

2. If I Could – Phish

3. Take My Hand – Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama

4. Grateful – Wyclef Jean

5. Learning To Fly – Tom Petty

6. Way Over Yonder – Carole King

7. Joyful – Taj Mahal

8. Days Like This – Van Morrison

9. Feelin’ Free – Michael Franti & Spearhead

10. Son Of A Preacher Man – Joan Osborne (Live from Delta88 – the old blues club in NYC)

11. You Can Count On Me To Do My Part – Van Morrison

12. Opposites Attract – Susan Tedeschi

13. Keep On – Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers

14. My Sweet One – Phish

15. If You Need Me – Wilson Pickett

16. Eyes Of The World – Grateful Dead

17. Carry On – CSN&Y

18. With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles

19. Ain’t That A Lot Of Love – Taj Mahal

20. Never Too Late – Michael Franti & Spearhead

I got to the party about an hour into the two that had been planned. He already looked exhausted and was flanked by his wife on one side and another dear friend who had tears streaming down her face on the other. I approached as unobtrusively as possible, put the disc in front of him, kissed him on the cheek with my hello… and then stepped slowly away.

It was the strangest party I’ve ever been to in its awkwardness and yet its joy. The mix was by far the most challenging I’ve attempted… and, to be honest, I don’t even know if he listened to it, as that was the last time I saw him. But I hope he did. Most of all, I hope he did… and found some spark of joy, some measure of peace.

I hate to have to say goodbye but I wouldn’t want to keep you here in pain, either, my friend. Thank you for reminding me how fleeting life is and not to postpone joy or love.

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