Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal: Moments That Justify My Life: Ten Years After Grandpa Novak's Death

Yesterday, for whatever reason, I was in a mood to listen to my own music and had Life and Other Impossibilities playing. For some reason, the song "On My Way" was catching my ear or mood and I replayed it once or twice, suddenly realizing in the midst of that replaying that that very day – something even close to that hour – was the tenth anniversary of my Grandpa Novak's death, and more precisely the news of his death catching up to me where I was in the midst of helping pack Kevin for his move from Laramie, Wyoming. In the midst of the move, with most of my money spent on the airfare out there, and with Kevin relying on me for help, I didn't feel I could make it back for the funeral. I still feel guilty about that to this day: as though somehow I could have fulfilled both obligations, and that no matter what, in those situations, you always make it home.

I was in the midst of helping Kevin pack, and he and Sarah, his girlfriend at the time, were both wonderfully supportive and accommodating to me in that moment, even letting me withdraw back into the bathroom and walk-in closet area where I had taken Dad's call about Grandpa's death, just because I needed some time of just pure isolation before I could even process someone else's sympathy. A day or two later I had been sitting out on Kevin's porch, enjoying the sunset air and light, sitting with Kev's mellow-voiced Takamine six-string, giving some outlet to what I was feeling and thinking while Kevin was taking care of some business.
The summer that my grandpa died
I journeyed way out west
A time to think. A time to mourn.
For seeing what was best.
To see that my horizons
had yet to be discerned
To come to be comfortable
that I'd so much yet to learn.

The land was broken. The land was fenced.
Was it open or was it tamed?
The long Wyoming highways
are really a narrow range.
But the sky was vast and conquering
of every borderline:
life and death, time and space
and maybe yours and mine.

The old man at his rest now
This young man on his way
No set destination
I'm just here today....

Grandpa was a character
a stubborn, solid soul.
Up was down, blue was red
that's the way our talks would go.
The man could try the patience
of a stone, that much is true
But he built a family, he built a home,
hell, he even built a school.
Kevin walked up after a while, and listened sadly or soberly while I played out what I had written, watching my chords closely. He then took the guitar and began playing the song in a rich, difficult kind of picking that added so much depth to the poor strumming I had managed to that point, the same style in which we would, a little over a year later, record the track in Nashville, in the first of the then-unexpected sessions McGlinn would set me up in for producing my CD.

I often joke that it can be a bit of trial to have so many good friends who are pshrinks: Kev, Erik, and Julie. But the truth of it was that it was with a rare sensitivity, both personal and professional, that Kevin listened to me on the rest of what became our famed (among us, at least) "Road Trip", distinguished from all other road trips as "The Road Trip." Talking through my grandfather's death, finally filling him in in detail on a big breakup I had gone through earlier in the year, and talking about my own uncertainties for the future as I now was balanced between the PhD route I had always planned and my unexpected love for the high school teaching I was doing, was matched by talk in just as much detail about the circumstances of his own life that I had been witnessing. And this trans-continental conversation, with its attendant imagery culminated in the completion of the song as I was on the bus back to Notre Dame/South Bend from O'Hare after flying out from Massachusetts once the cross-country road trip had been completed:
The mountains stand together
yet each peak is alone
I rode on with my brother
and our thoughts were not our own:
Highway conversations
past and present scenes
Hopes fears jokes regrets
All that our lives might mean

The old man at his rest now
This young man on his way
No set destination
I'm just here today.
I'm just here today.

I sought my own emptiness
'cause a friend said that's what I fear
And the rhythms of the world
they brought that silence near
And here on bus near journey's end
I grope for words to cast
my feelings into sculpted thoughts
to make some wisdom last

Oh grant that leaves may comfort me
as I blow on my way
Oh clear from me this summer's haze
let me see the depth of day
And bring at last that pleasure's smile
that simple, subtle grace
of seeing in each moment
my God face to face

The old man at his rest now
This young man on his way
No set destination
I'm just here today.
I'm just here today.
Possessed of a new iPhone and its attendant technological gifts and powers, I sent Kevin a text yesterday, after all this memory ran through my ears and my head, thanking him for being there in that moment. In a minute or two, he responded,
"Hey bud. My pleasure.... As I got this, I am taking a break from a 30 mile ride around the mountains... seeing the view you did 10 years ago. Poignant, I'd say."
I'd say, too. We passed through Jackson Hole for the first time each on that trip, little knowing that Kevin would be coming back to Wyoming in just a few years to marry and to make a home there. The mountains still stand together.
Tags: family, friends-notre dame era, moments that justify my life, musical, old stories, personal, technology, the renaissance men, travel-2000 road trip

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