BY JAN HAAG
pleasant enough, but without
willing to lecture,
but seldom able to converse;
but mostly without laughter
good word and seldom used.
He meant well and was,
for the most
part, kind and considerate.
As he lay dying of leukemia,
what he would like for his death
--before his death, really
and he said:
Now John was always pretty much
seemingly content with his studies
and his search,
books and teaching religion --
So "Friends," was his last request.
It was his last wish
to come out of his study,
to join the crowd,
to have people
to know and to chat with,
people to laugh with and cry with,
Julia could supply that,
O, yes, Devayani,
Julia was good at
You were a continent away,
so you didn't get invited to
be one of the friends
for the eight months of visiting and
watching John blossom into gregariousness,
Only in your mind's eye,
now, two years later,
can you see John's remote face begin to open --
like the statue in the National Museum of Japan
whose face is
dividing down the center
revealing the face beneath
grace, beatitude -- friendly, in love
with the sky and the earth, or in
John's divinity began to
on the people,
drawing them out of their homes,
out of their
families and fears,
out of their lives to dance at his death,
fulfill his request -- Julia's request, really, for
the parties and the meetings,
in the hospital, and in the garden
their blue house in Suwanee,
and occasionally for coffee, out
She accepted, or rejected
the dozens of
invitations to others' houses
for others' suppers,
strength, pacing his down hill path.
Through his work,
professor at Emory,
John had met the Dalai Lama, had invited
speak at the University.
Julia heard His Holiness was to be nearby
during a few days of the eight months
it was taking John to die.
Julia asked him,
the Dalai Lama,
to come by -- to spend a little
as a friend, with John,
and the Dalai Lama, of course, did.
He won the Nobel Prize for Peace,
and he deserved it.
Arriving in his limousine
with his guards and entourage at the
isn't it odd how, in this world,
we wouldn't dream of
letting a holy man go about
in solitary peace --
to visit another
And, O Devayani,
you asked, "What did he say?
What did they talk about?"
Julia laughed, "O, you know, 'How are
'How are you feeling?'
And bits of philosophy about
-- which John knew well, for he had spent a
in his study studying the Buddhists and the Hindus,
Christians and the Moslems,
quietly, away from the crowd, thinking,
no doubt, as you do, Devayani,
Is He? She?
He? She? Why?
Who are we?
Where did we come from?
Where are we
What are beliefs?
Where did they come from?
Questioning the Eight Noble Truths,
and the Ten
Questioning La illaha illa 'llah
no God but God.
Looking into Zen and Meditation,
and the Tao,
contemplating the life of Sufi
and Sadhu, saint
Dervish and Aesetic,
Confuscianism and the New
He visited India several times.
And you wonder, O Devayani,
did he talk about these
things with the Dalai Lama,
before you ask the question,
you know the answer:
By the time
a dour man grows old enough
and certain enough of his imminent death,
you are quite certain he
doesn't need to "compare" religions any
He wants "Friends" --
the motion, emotion, swirl, action,
color of life,
just to see it, just to hear it.
The wondering is
has had its time and its place,
separate and satisifed,
dour and unresponsive
-- only a little
to the breaking of bread and the making of love,
the high joys of laughter
heard across the lawn
and close up.
O Devayani, he talked,
you are sure,
more than he
about feeling fit and feeling bad,
about having a good
with this one
and a difficult conversation with that
mostly to Julia.
He blossomed, in his desire for
into a friend.
Perhaps into The Friend that Rumi speaks
the companion to be with all the days of your life,
the last half circle.
In eight months, 248 days,
a lifetime of
friendship poured into his life,
arranged by Julia, gladly.
far as friendship was concerned,
he had never asked for much.
called and cooked, and created all the intimacy
of a lifetime of human
of communities and caring.
She did what she could
and it was enough.
Lukemia is a slow death, but not a bad one,
weakening, slipping away day by day --
eight months and eight days
from diagnosis to death, budding,
like a new plant, a spring plant,
into the knowledge
of human happiness, the human happiness
puttering through life,
without study, without being shut in an
without being closed in and afraid,
without being too
shy to ask for
the hand of a friend,
the smile of compassion,
touch of love from almost perfect strangers
who became friends over
because he asked them to,
or Julia did. "Ask and ye shall be
O Devayani, you know it is as simple as that.
courage is in the asking.
John asked, and he was given.
asked, and all were giving.
O Devayani, you have a vision of their big
house, and the big wild garden easing down to the
turnips and tulips and lilacs, in eight months you can
all. Great tables of foodstuffs
and favors, desserts and
a canopy under the sun. John and Julia
has been and what will be
Going down to the river --" Way Down
Upon the Swannee
River." It seems as mythological as the song,
fashioned and hilarious,
sentimental and sacrificial.
lying down at night next
to the cooling body of her husband,
to the cooling heart of love,
warming for one last
time to love the
-- loving the eyes and the hair,
the mouths and the
laughter of friends,
even the hands of enemies,
parading past in
the gigantic extravaganza of life.
Life is no more than the blood and
guts of a body,
hot sprung from the womb of creation
in the ooze
and slime of birth.
It falls away in the sleep of breathing,
less and less,
"Do you miss him?" O
Devayani, you asked of Julia,
for you knew of their rocky course
through the ages of marriage and children
and almost divorce,
and the troubles, the troubles, the troubles.
But you didn't have
to ask, for already,
you knew that with his last request,
redeemed a lifetime of aloofness,
of not being cut according to the
pattern of her fantasy.
He was just John, lonely like the rest of
and, on the eve of his last leave taking,
willing to ask for
granting Julia the grace of giving,
doing what she could
do so well.
For 248 days they were in sync,
He asked for what he needed,
and it was what she could give
best of all.
Did he know that?
Was that part of his
Or is that just the web of the universe? --
knowing what one can give
the other wants to
knowing that its hard
to get human attention,
dramas ultimately take us to death.
O Devayani, all roads lead to
death and rest,
and old molecules released to dance.
-- by asking for what she could give --
dour John released Julia into
affirming her gifts to go on.
she ask for at death?
Copyright © 2000 Jan Haag
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
BY JAN HAAG