Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Three Beautiful Things 09/29/18: Red Barn, Celebrating Louise's Life, After the Service at Lynn's

1. I started the day with a refreshing stroll to Red Barn Grocery where I drank a couple cups of bracing and tasty coffee and enjoyed a cinnamon raisin bagel. I had my camera with me for my stroll, but nothing quite moved me to take any pictures. I'm in a slump. I have to believe that I will snap out of it soon.

2. I arrived at the Lane Community College Longhouse around 12:15 for the 1:00 Celebration of Life for Louise LeClair Jackson Harrison. I was fairly certain it would be a very well attended service, and I was correct. Louise and her husband, my longtime friend and colleague, Jeff, have many circles of friends -- friends in the local Native American community, friends and family from the reservation in LePush (where Jeff and Louise met), friends from their longtime involvement in the Oregon Country Fair, friends from LCC and the Univ. of Oregon, Grateful Dead friends, Head Start friends, moth trapping friends, test proctoring friends, and more. I couldn't begin to approximate how many people attended, but the longhouse was full.

It was a full afternoon. I left the Lane Community College Longhouse a little over six hours after I arrived. The celebration began with an Indian taco dinner. Younger people who helped make the dinner had been instructed to save the elders in the room a trip to the Indian taco bar by serving them at their tables. I was getting ready to stand up and head back to the counter to make an Indian taco when suddenly a plate of food appeared in front of me. I suddenly learned that I am an elder. That really felt good.

During and just before the meal, I enjoyed reunions with what seemed like a couple dozen friends from LCC. It was invigorating to see people I hadn't seen for over four years like Jose O., Kate S., Dennis G. and others as well as people I often see when I visit Eugene like Margaret, Michael, Lynn, Pam and Michael, Russell and Anne, Kathleen, Linda, Rita, Jennifer, and others.

Best of all, Jeff and I shared a long and silent embrace; I'd been longing for this moment ever since Louise died back in August. Now that Jeff and I live so far apart, we don't see each other often and this reunion was especially moving, given the circumstances and given recent correspondence that had passed between us. It's a great relief to know that I will be periodically returning to Eugene during the eight months the Deke will be working there (starting about Nov. 1) and to know that I will have time to visit Jeff privately and have opportunities to really talk.

After everyone finished dinner, the celebration of Louise's life got underway with a combination of Indian Shaker songs and prayers, a short eulogy, and an uplifting slide show. The largest chunk of time was devoted to a completely open-ended open floor time during which many, many people came to the front of the room to bear witness to Louise's love, wisdom, prophetic gifts, healing gifts, other spiritual gifts, mentoring, deep influence and love of fun. Louise's son David poured out his grief by playing his flute. Other family members and friends lamented having lost Louise and sent her on her way to the next dimension of existence by drumming, chanting, singing, praying, and ringing bells. 

When the testimonies ended, the service shifted into a Candlelight Service with more songs and prayers and the celebration ended with a family giveaway. I left with a vivid multi-colored blanket, kitchen utensils, fruit, candy, a coffee cup, a cap, a washcloth, a bandanna, and other gifts.

3. As Lynn, Pam, Michael, Kathleen, and I were about to leave the Lane Community College Longhouse, Lynn invited us to her house for wine and snacks. I gladly accepted. It was a lively evening with a lot of discussion about the prime years of our days teaching at LCC and what has developed in our former work place in the last few years.

I came away from this conversation feeling proud that for several years the faculty of the English Department worked earnestly over many hours of hashing out things to create a cooperative work environment, driven by idealism and a desire to work together as friends and colleagues. In those prime years, I trusted people I worked with to a degree I had never known before in a workplace and I deeply admired my fellow teachers.

I am grateful that I got to be a part of this undertaking for so many years. I hear that the sense of idealism, earnestness, cooperation, and investment in decisions made, as often as possible, through consensus has eroded, possibly disappeared. That's disappointing.

But, way more important than what has deteriorated in the English Department at LCC is what has endured -- I made friends for life, friends I love to eat, drink, yak, and gather together with. Our care for and enjoyment of each other extends way past having been teachers together; we developed more in common than just teaching a common discipline. That on days like today, we could be counted on to join together and not only see and talk with one another, but extend our love and support to our grieving friend, Jeff, is remarkable and a source of great satisfaction and joy for me.

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