Wednesday, July 05, 2006

7. Sing Me A Song

It is difficult to believe that Mario and I have been friends, a couple, almost as long as Gregory and I were together. And it is now going on – what? – eight years since Gregory’s death.

Helena, who was 12 then, has turned 20. Gregory completely missed her teen-age years, her blossoming into womanhood, which he would have enjoyed. My two boy cats, which he lovingly tormented, are now stiff, old men.

But Gregory is “forever young.”

That was one of his favorite songs. An anthem, really. It underscored his commitment to fitness, eating well and taking care of oneself. When we first began going out, his skin was so luminous, his body so lithe, that I was concerned that he might be too young for me. Only later did I learn he was two years older than I.

Once, he was grilling outside on my patio as I was preparing the “inside” food.

Gregory hears Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” playing on the radio and impulsively grabs me from the kitchen and starts twirling me around in an impromptu dance. This, from someone who would rather sit on a fire ant mound than dance. What a wonderful moment it was, our bodies bending and swaying as one.

“Forever Young” was a song we would play at the memorial service, a wretched organ rendition by a musician who “wasn’t familiar” with the tune. The memorial service consisted mostly of tributes to Gregory and memories of him, from his Little League teammates who marveled at his intensity even at an early age, to those, like me, who were close to him on the eve of his death.

Some of us read our own, and some were read by a priest that Gregory’s mother insisted participate in the service. I remember this one from a business client: “Gregory’s passion was helping others help themselves. Gregory had vision that was clearer than most people. He had the ability to look at chaos, real or apparent, and see a path to order.” Little did this man know – little did I know – that Gregory had spent a lifetime honing that skill.

But the moment that took everyone aback occurred after we thought the remembrances were over. Out of nowhere, this lean, handsome black man in a neatly tailored suit bounded up to the pulpit and begged our indulgence. “Please,” he said, waving a crumbled piece of paper from his pocket. “I didn’t have time to write what I wanted to write.” We had asked people to submit remembrances in writing so that we might not only read them, but print them in the program.

“Please,” he said. “I would like to offer this tribute to Gregory for all he did for me.”

The chapel fell silent.

And then, out of one soul’s depths arose this sonorous baritone: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me….” A capella. Like a river of music, bubbling up from an ancient spring in an aching heart, and gathering strength before erupting into a full-blown torrent of raw emotion.

Without prompting, other voices began to chime in. Until the chapel was filled with soaring, keening voices, melding as one. Undulating, rising and falling in waves of hope and love and grief and despair.

When he was done, the man bowed his head and walked silently back to his seat, soft tears at the corner of his eyes. In that moment, there could not have been a more perfect gift – to Gregory, to all of us.

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