Sansaku: Transubstantiation

from a series of posts by Colin on Best Slowly. Each posting is a walk, a sansaku, about 500 words long


If you have a good friend, you’ve had to apologize at least a hundred times. Had I called Wendell in the last few days before his death, I would have apologized one more time.

Chyako and I had been up in the Northwest for a couple of weeks, and I hadn’t called him as soon as we returned.   I knew that he knew we were back.   I had planned to call on the day he died.

The two of us had a comedy routine we often played out on the phone.  I’d call and he’d say, “Do I know you?” He pretended to give a cold shoulder, especially when it wasn’t.

“Yeah,” I’d answer, “it’s your very good friend who doesn’t call as often as he should.”

I didn’t mind he scolded me.   I needed his forgiveness more than he needed mine.   It meant that he cared and I liked that.

About this time, he’d say, “Wait a minute, my editor has something to say.   Mary Ellen wants to know if you and Chyako can come for dinner.”

Wendell and I made a strange pair.   He had an almost aristocratic polish and wore his clothes well.   Polish is not a word that’s ever been used to describe me.   I’m more scuffed up, and while we both wear visors, I wear mine for a different reason. It’s my hair.

Being elderly did not come easily to him.   Neither of us identified with being old, and Wendell was one of those endless summer and forever young types.   Before him, I had never seen anyone walk so tall or look so good with a fractured spine and a walker.

His medical problems began with a bout of A-Fib, and a few years later I had an episode myself.   We both have sensitive hearts, and our talks deepened after that.

He knew his body was coming undone, but he suffered the indignities as gracefully and as wittily as he knew how, he complained and worried with an elegant sense of humor.

As always, I studied him.

We’d known each other for years, and then I got married.   Since both of our wives are artists, the circle of friendship tightened.   He was proud of being Mr. Mary Ellen, and I was proud of being Mr. Chyako.  But he was far more faithful.  He let me know, “This is my four thousand and fortieth art opening. How many for you?”

When he visited me at home, he often asked about an article he had read in the latest New Yorker.   He knew I didn’t subscribe, but assumed that I read it just the same.

One of the last articles I remember we discussed was a history of the DSM, which is the diagnostic manual for psychological problems.   He could easily have been a therapist; he understood that it’s not the problem, it’s the person.   He had both brains and smarts.

Wendell liked to stand in the corner closest to the potluck table and wine.   So when I speak at the funeral today, I’ll probably do a reading from the six essays I’ve written.   The image is clear, it’ll be like a potluck and wine tasting.

Wendell knew that I brought Mexican beer and guacamole to potlucks.   I seriously doubt he could have guessed I’d be bringing the bread and wine.   It’s time for the transubstantiation.


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