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Jed Like Me
I think you'll enjoy this tale of truth and fiction.
My name is Jed.
I haven’t enjoyed this year too much, but each year brings peaks and valleys. It began with my winter of discontent, when I got laid off from work, but as it’s progressed I’ve watched winter sports that began with the death of a 19-year-old athlete who was quickly accused of being inexperienced. That funeral for a friend I never knew bothered me when watching the video only once and hearing the sickening thud of flesh and bone colliding with iron and steel. How can a man, young though he may have been, be inexperienced at flying down the sides of mountains, on manmade tracks, at speeds of incredulity, with his body in tip top condition, not be experienced? It was an act of terror in its own right without the need of a human being strapped to a bomb. I mourned for this friend unmet, but his experiences seem more consequential when compared to the sliders who only waltz through life at a metronome’s pace...tick tock...tick tock...tick tock, and 1...2...3, 1...2...3...tick tock...tick tock.
It was my winter of discontent, but now I have content. When Nodar Kumaritashvili flew into eternity, like a moth into a flame, his life was extinguished but his passion will not soon be lost on the world, or his Georgian homeland. His was the flame of life that burns in us when we are young, or not so young, even when we are old. The flames of life we carry sometimes burn out or like so many of us they just smolder like old sex and cigarettes.
We had to suffer the loss of a World War II veteran grandfather, who’d known many children from their births, midway through January. I never knew that he was at the holocaust camp of Dachau when its captives were returned to liberty till I read his obituary. I should have seen it in his eyes—for when visiting the camp twice myself, once in ’84 and then again in ’86, my own glare into the orbital spaces of eyeballs and ovens should have been enough to realize that he had seen the real horror in the moment, in the true terror, of brutality. But some things we don’t talk about and some things we don’t explain—and some things we just hold on to by a thread because it is by that thread that we hold on to ourselves—the thin line that keeps us attached to our realities.
Then in February an old girlfriend, who is still a friend, called me up early on a Sunday to take her to the hospital. It was a gold medal Sunday for a Canadian hockey team but a man that I never knew, having only met him for a short period of minutes, couldn’t be found to take his girlfriend to the ER...so I did it. I found out two days later the man I never knew was lying on the floor of his laundry room—he, too, had hit his proverbial wall and a vessel burst and an old girlfriend’s heart was broken.
My name is Jed. Jedediah Willcome. I never liked my Christian name--Jedediah. Till I looked up the origins of Jedediah; the meaning of my name.
Last week, I sat at the computer and putzed around on Facebook. I did a little IMing with an old friend, who is not old, only to discover that she had gone skiing in March with her beloved of many moons. He hit a tree and, much like the somber ending of Sonny Bono so long ago, her beloved died on impact.
I was left with only condolences and kindnesses to say, for I knew how happy she had been with this love of her life. It has been through this yet another addition to this parade of endings that I have learned to befriend, behold and be attentive to—with kindness and gentle calm for the broken survivors who must carry on.
It was right about here that a tune started repeating in my head. I don’t know why.
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died.
(Lyrics by Jim Carroll August 1, 1949-September 11, 2009...another friend who died, died.)
I don’t usually roam about the Net looking for reasons why these ideas, songs, feelings of hope and loss tie themselves together but I remembered that the lyrics that were slamming like a freight train coming down a mountain, clickety clacking in my head and I wanted to know why friends and death were wound so tightly together.
I found out that the song Jim wrote was initiated by a friend poet, a contemporary of his named Ted Berrigan, who used the same line in his poetry that keeps putting the nails in the coffins in the song’s refrain.
I like the idea of synergistic creation. One wrote the poem, another evolved it to become the renowned punk song and silver screen theme music. Friends working as one passes to the next creating a quintessential memory for all our friends who’ve died. Perhaps I can put it into prose again. What the hell, everything is cyclical.
Jean was the frail 89-year-old mother of a friend of mine whom I’d met on a few occasions at the family home. I never got to know who she really was till friends and family spoke eulogizing her and remembering a strong woman who during her days was a vibrant, disciplined voice and piano teacher, a successful and memorable drive up burger joint co-owner with her long passed husband and choir director to seniors and youths alike. I hardly knew Jean until a few of her friends through voice and video showed me a life’s montage. The sliding tick tock of time had only caught up to her in the waning years of her long life.
My name is Jed. The reason I never liked my Christian name was because it sounded like Dead, Dead, Die AHHHHHHHHH! JED DEAD DIE AAAAAhhhhhhh! I could hear the Grim Reaper bobbing his head every time my mother shouted my name out from the front stoop. I would turn to look and see if the darkened shroud was stalking me as I ran to the supper table. It took me years to break my mother of the habit and just call me Jed.
When I took another moment to look into the history of my name well into my college career I learned something. My name derived from the Hebrew dialect, even though my parents were staunch members of the First Baptist Evangelical Church, and I discovered it meant Beloved Friend of God. Of course, my last name being Willcome the research was unnecessary, and I took a whole new outlook on the handle my folks had pasted on me since my birth.
I was a beloved friend of God who will come—whether it’s the funeral of a friend, a friend I hardly knew or an appointment I’ve made with beloved friends to create a future memory. I will gladly come.
I have learned to like being Jed like me.
It was on my thirtieth birthday when my father approached me calmly and said, “It’s time.” My father was constantly away on business when I was growing up and as life became busy in college and work, women and song that my reason for being came to its final revelatory fruition.
“Do you know who you are?” My father began.
“I am Jedediah Morte Willcome.” I responded.
“Do you know who you really are?” My father questioned once more.
“Well, I know what my name means, the only dilemma I had in figuring out Morte was easily solved when I googled it only to find it is the 70,770th most popular name in the ol’ U S of A. As far as number of people with that name it’s like a one in a million name. Arithmetically, the order of the letters in that number add up to a fine prime of 71 which makes it mathematically comparable to words like Amazing, Flashy, Smart, Tough, Vigor, Trained, Prised, Exalted and Acheiver. You know what Jedediah means and Willcome is easy. So I know what my name means—and at this point in my life I think I know who I am as much as anybody. Why?”
“You don’t know who you are. However, you are correct about your middle name. Remember now the day you read Morte D’Arthur, the English tale of King Arthur’s end. Morte is a word in Portuguese, in Spanish, in French—it is a universal word in many languages—as you are universal...or soon will be.”
“Okaaaay, Dad. Who am I?”
And this is when it got weird.
“You are my son—in whom I am well pleased. But you are much more than you are now. It is true you are a beloved friend of God. But, and I mean a big but, you are not who you think you are.
“You are every man’s, and woman’s and child’s friend when they need you most—or rather you will be—for so have I been since the time my father passed the family business to me.”
“What family business, Dad?” I queried with no understanding that there ever was a family business. We never talked shop. We talked sports and weather, politics and taxes but we never talked about bills being paid or money earned. This was pissing me off. I just knew he was about to tell me about his dreary life of being a travelling mortician—and I wanted no part in that kind of family business.
“Every four hundred years from the beginning of time, my son, each of our forefathers has had one seed to plant and many plants to harvest.”
“We are not farmers, Dad, what the hell are you talking about? You’re never home—you’re out and about taking care of business, whatever business it is, I know that.”
“You’re right, we aren’t farmers but we are harvesters. We gladly reap what God has sown. We are His friend and we are the last I hope of an old order. An order that has been carried out for as long as there has been life. In the book it speaks of us... “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
“Man, you sound awfully grim—delusional actually...what...”
“Do not interrupt the Grim Reaper, my son—for behold you are the firstborn son of Morte itself. Death has become you—and I hope you are the last in this long line—for my time has come. I have served my four centuries and even death has to take a rest.”
“But, Dad—this is crazy talk—and I don’t...”
He never let me finish that sentence. He just turned and in the twinkling of an eye I was draped in an obsidian shroud with a scythe in my right hand—my father walked into a splinter of brilliant lightning that swallowed him whole.
That was my tutelage—and I am coming for you, my dear reader, one day until that final day comes that this old order is done away and tears will flow no more.
God, I hope I never have a kid.