This post is about who Bob Church was to me. I’ve been goin’ back and forth, in a way wanting to write about this, and in a way definitely not. For starters, when I initially learned that he passed away April 29th after a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer, the feeling was- this isn’t my story, or my pain to share. And I hate that morbid feeling of being the one to pass on the news of death, especially when I haven’t given updates in this quarter about his joys and life stuff. That aspect of it, I didn’t want any part of. To my mind, it shouldn’t require death for someone to be newsworthy.
I really miss him, is the thing. And in a way, sometimes you may only know someone for a handful of months, but it’s more a relief than a sadness, like thank goodness I got the knowing in under the wire cus it would have sucked, totally, to have missed that opportunity.
I kind of recognized Bob early on as a kindred spirit when I saw a comment of his over at 1poet4man’s site. 1poet writes some really beautiful things, and they are often deep and thought provoking, and sometimes the comments on his poems have a rather grave and solemn air. In truth, sometimes the sanctified air after one of his poems tended to make everyone take themselves a little too seriously… do you know what I mean? It wasn’t 1poet’s fault, it’s just… some atmospheres make you feel so hushed and solemn, that things can get a little ludicrous.
It was one of those comment threads, and Bob bounced in and, with a rather apologetic nod to the author made an irreverent joke right in the middle of all that earnest hum-drum. I don’t know if he laughed but in my head he was chuckling at the discomfiture he created, and I pretty much stated my admiration, and followed him back to his blog to find out who this dude was.
Oh yeah. Goof. Total goof. Life wisdom was presented side by side with the raunchy, the nutty, the wild. Bob is someone who will dedicate hours of carefully crafted prose just to get you with the milk-up-your-nose twist at the end. His writing sometimes lays in wait like that, and other times the ridiculous parts are rife throughout the piece, with Bob carefully nurturing just that quality when he depicts human nature.
I was pretty thrilled. 1poet’s stuff was deep and awe-inspiring reading, but going to Bob’s site was like hitting Disneyland with your big, dysfunctional family after barely keeping it together for an hour in church.
And as the back and forth of ‘blog etiquette’ continued over weeks, he became a loyal reader and commenter over here. I came to sort of rely on the perspective behind his words. We had the kind of correspondence I’m infamous for, which is a little more frequent and reliable than shoving a message in a bottle and throwing it out to sea, but not by very much. What I recall is key moments when I either was way off the track and Bob wrote to clarify, or help if he could with what seemed to be happening (that I wrote about on here), a few completely goofy shared jokes and observations, and a few times when I really needed a trusted male perspective and was feeling a little lost so I risked it and tried writing him, and received the attention and wisdom that this many times father and grandfather had at the ready.
I don’t go around looking for father figures, or considering people I meet as family members on a regular basis, but that idea kept coming back when it came to Bob- ‘I wonder what it would be like to be a member of that family?’ It’s pretty rare to see a parent/kid relationship where they actually share the same sense of humor, or have a certain shared expectation and understanding of what family relationships are supposed to look like. Usually there’s a good deal of angst just cus of the dynamic, so being aware of that, I figured I was kind of just romanticizing the idea of what it would be like to have him as a parent, but the perception persisted of Bob feeling like family.
So when I thought he was really gone, when it had been weeks of silence over there, it really sucked. I didn’t get a chance to talk, to say that right. I could have known him more, it just really sucked.
And then he came back. When they made the medical decision to quit the chemo because it was doing more harm than good, Bob felt well enough again to write, and he wrote. Not on the blog, but in e-mails to his writing friends, ‘journal entries’, that we could respond to.
I should have responded to more, but I did respond. I did talk. I felt guilty for taking time and energy sometimes, when on his end those were in such short supply, but he told me not to worry about that. And in one of those e-mails he verified, or validated what I was having trouble putting into words. A few phrases that stay with me. I won’t quote them here, but if you’ve experienced in some way a father expressing hopes for his daughter’s happiness, you know the gist.
Recognition of family goes deeper than blood-lines. You maybe already knew that. I imagined it true in cases of adoption and marriage, but- in my experience this was a discovery.
So in some small part the story is mine to keep or to share, and I want to share the essentials. Bob lived. He still lives through a series of wonderful words. His life story is laid out in part, but you don’t have to read it all to know what he’s made of. He’s still laughing somewhere, I am sure. I just know he found a way to give St. Peter a hard time at the gate, and let him know what kind of jokes we tell around here. He was elbowing and grinning with a few guys, calling out ‘C’mon, we’re dying back here! What’s the hold up?’ like it wasn’t the gate of the hereafter but a line at Universal Studios. I’m not even interested in my version of heaven, it’s been highly informed by Bugs Bunny, but if Bob sent down an account of his impressions-
Boy, that would be something to read.
Bubba’s Thought For The Day:
It’s okay to tell a girl you like the way she walks, as long as you do it politely, and she’s not an amputee who uses those clip-on metal arm canes.
A favorite: Writing Outside the Box (especially if you like Brautigan)
(Bob really liked this song)
Dum Spiro, Spero
I recently returned from a joyous experience in a nether zone interspersed precariously between heaven and earth. During this time of reflection with family and dear friends, I re-learned my basic tenets of life and realized, once again, that all joy must be balanced against heartache, all revelry countered by piety, all beauty placed on our mantles be reflective of our understanding of the basest of human reality. No sooner had I started to sort my memories and categorize my blessings than a phone call reminded me that a friend now faced the grief of losing a loved one. In a flash, my perspective shifted and the halo I’d surrounded my family with suddenly seemed weak and penetrable as I groped for words of comfort.
Every day, every hour we teeter between nirvana and ruin, and no matter how smart, how accomplished, how esteemed our position or how deep our stores of wealth, we cannot escape our humanity. We can deny it, forestall it, or for a blessed few actually understand it, but we cannot prevail against it. All we can do is interpret it and enjoy it, whatever challenges it presents. It’s called life and those of us who still claim it should give as much of it as possible to others, because only by doing so will we ever hope to receive a richer version of it in return. It’s as close to immortality as any of us can ever hope to get.
-Bob Church, May 7, 2008