Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
And when that foghorn blows I’ll be coming home
—Van Morrison, “Into the Mystic”
It is the most humbling of engagements.
It is inevitable that the grim reaper comes to call. For those whose hand he is then shaking. For those who are near and dear and will feel the loss.
Last year has turned to this one in somber fashion.
A modest leader has moved on.
A despot thought evil has been bid adieu.
An icon has pranced his last soulful strut.
A friend who always looked for a better deal has learned the final one is exactly the same for all.
An old fella meandered slowly through Mid-City Mall. He stopped often to rest, then continued on. An acquaintance happened by, asking how he was doing?
“Still moseying around.”
“That’s a good thing, I expect?”
“Always a good thing.”
It is the nature of death’s presence that gives us pause. To reflect on the grace of each breath. On the manner of the deceased. On our relation with them. On ourselves. On mortality with its certain conclusion.
Gerald Ford, a simple man, found himself in the spotlight during a troubled time. History will forever identify him for what was, essentially, an act of forgiveness. Yet many vilify him for pardoning his felonious predecessor from criminal prosecution.
Some have dismissed his policies and inattention to foreign matters.
He was an easy man to satirize.
Yet, in the wake of his passing, the nation remembers with a soft heart. Gerald Ford’s humility helped heal the country. He was a decent man at a moment when our land needed that more than anything else.
Perhaps there was a deal to pardon Nixon. Perhaps not. It is of no consequence now. If it is true a person can be imprisoned by his or her shame, and that rampant discord will fester if not treated, then letting Richard Nixon off the hook was the right thing to do. For Ford. For Nixon. For We the People.
Besides, we can always ask them when we meet up. It is our fate that we all shall eventually be hanging out at the same coffee shop.
James Brown was as obstinate as he was talented. He was a black entrepreneur in the world of entertainment when that was an anomaly. He was Astaire with a double-time backbeat. He wowed the ladies. He beat his female companions. He melted hearts with one scream. He fined band members for a single missed note.
James Brown was, as we all are, more complex than any of us could know by narrow observation.
Faults and all, he made a difference.
What more can any of us ask as we continue to mosey around?
My recently departed friend would be upset that his name’s not getting the pub. He loved to see it in lights and headlines. But he’d smile when he’d hear he is being called Gerald Sooth. That was a fake identity known only to him, close friends and family.
And the Social Security Administration that he convinced to issue a card to this Harvey of his imagination.
Sooth always made sure he got his 10 percent off the top. And another 10 center cut. And 10 more from the bottom third.
Ever see the film “The Wheeler Dealers”? That’s his life story.
But his kids adore him, upon his passing relating tales of his unconditional love. And everybody with whom he came in contact has a story that makes them and the knowing listener smile and shake their heads.
He lived la vida loca.
As they are gone — Gerald Ford, James Brown, my compadre from back in the wacky days — we are left to wonder. Wonder how we will be remembered? If we will leave an imprint? Will those who know us smile at the mention of our name, be saddened at our passing? Will we be ready for the next journey?
The conclusions to be made seem simple.
Cherish each breath.
Do good deeds.
Fly into the mystic.
And as the Godfather of Soul sang in repeated mantra decades ago at the Louisville Gardens, “Shake the hand of your best friend, tomorrow he may be gone.”
Contact the writer at [email protected]