Enjoy Every Sandwich

Cemeteries are cram-packed full with people who had other plans that day. Reservations for dinner, a movie ticket in the pocket. A refrigerator with new groceries. A sink with dirty dishes.

We all know this deep down, but the occasional reminders can nonetheless surprise. “Always wear clean underwear,” a clichéd cartoon version of a mother tells a clichéd cartoon version of us in a clichéd cartoon version of a conversation that never really happens. But the end comes in a moment, and it is always dramatic, even when it is mundane.

(I suppose it is never mundane for the person who experiences it, but I have not yet been there, not even been near it, and no one who has had the end moment has made a verifiable report about it. Tsk-tsk. Where are their priorities?)

I’ve written a couple tributes to departed friends (“Matt Coleman,” “Requiem for a Sponsor“), and I suppose there will be more, which is the sad/happy fact that anyone who continues to insist on breathing must accept: You will meet people and like/feel indifferent to/love/hate them, sometimes all at once. It’s confusing … and it isn’t at all. I continue to insist on breathing and I meet people every day and come to love them; I have the fantasy that at the end (MANY, MANY YEARS FROM NOW) I will have said so many more hellos than goodbyes that the job of catching up will keep us all here for a bit longer.

The first time I set foot in my friend C.B.’s new apartment, a year and a couple months ago, I did his dishes, and we found food in his refrigerator that one friend who was going to stay behind and feed his cats could eat. One load of laundry was still spun-wet in the washer and one was dry in the drier. Cheese was out for guests who were not supposed to be us. He was 90 miles and a universe away in a hospital and was gone a couple days later. He had had a few strokes a couple nights before, which were witnessed only by his two cats. He was 52, which is an existential wrong.

Everyone has a friend who is the last one they expect they will bury; C.B. was that one for a lot of people. He was a fitness freak. Whenever I stood beside him, it is possible that I was the next friend they’d expect to …

And we found a piece of paper. My memory is that the sketch at top, squiggles of a figure facing a sunrise or a sunset, was in pen, hand-drawn by my secretly artistic friend. I photographed it, and I thought I took the original with me (there were a couple copies), but today I could not find it to take a better photograph of it. Perhaps he does not mind; perhaps he does. (“Brudda, ya couldn’t hold onta my one poem?”)

And under it he wrote a poem which I know to be his because “To screw up, to be terrific” just sounds like how he sounded. After a while, your friends and loved ones can probably write the simplest things—your shopping lists, say—”just like how you sound.” I hope that some faces leaped to your mind on reading that; I am so lucky that I think this about several people in my life.

It is a simplified “St. Francis Prayer,” that poem that was not written by St. Francis and is only about one hundred years old, but who in the great goddamn cares, because it expresses ideal thoughts that us non-ideal humans ought to aspire to always and even sometimes attain. (“… Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved as to love.”) It is that older prayer in action, enacted. Like my late friend, C.B. Always in action, but his is now a completed act.

Meditation by Morning Coffee 
Open your eyes,
Be excited about today.
Feel it, smell it, touch it, taste it. It’s
One more day God has given you to sing,
shout, cry, smile, laugh, and get dirty.

To screw up, to be terrific, to ask for
help, and to be helpful.

To pray, to be the answer to someone’s

To love and to be loved.

The photo (click for full size):

The above first appeared this spring. The title comes from a phrase the terminally ill Warren Zevon gave to David Letterman 10 months before his death. “Do you know something about life and death that maybe I don’t,” Letterman asks. “Enjoy every sandwich,” was the reply.

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