Sansaku: The Residue of Design

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


It’s not by accident I wrote about marriage yesterday, I was expecting a call. My friend’s son is going to be the preacher at his sister’s wedding. I don’t know how I missed the synchronicity.   It was clear case of complex causation.

I’m about to speak at my good friend’s funeral, which is a ceremony and like the marriage ritual, a Celebration of Life.   We know how the story ends, and my buddy lived a good one.   He was lucky.

Wendell has never been more alive than after he died.   We often talked for hours on the clubhouse balcony above the practice range.   He liked to philosophize and I’m surprised that’s not where I see him now.

One of those last times we played, he said his game was so bad all that remained was his mouth. That’s how I see him, looking down from above, like a Cheshire Cat.   Except, along with the grin comes the voice.

When Mary Ellen was planning the ritual, I said I’d tell a few stories and some of his quips. The Geezer, as we called him, might have been a really good golfer, but he was a world class lip and one-liner.

I need to confess that I took great advantage of Wendell.   He was born twenty years before me and was twenty years ahead.   Because we were similar in so many ways, I trusted him to guide me into my forties, fifties and now sixties.   I learned what kind of an elder I wanted to be from him.

When it came to picking a team, I was always quick to choose him.

But while we made different choices, our two borders, California and Colorado, were wide open and we traveled often and shared the best of both.

I mostly listened, because he knew the way I would soon have to walk.   He was generous with his experience, and I have nothing but praise.

I remembered a story this morning.   We just happened to be at the Animas Overlook up Junction Creek, when the Valley Fire started.   Mary Ellen pointed to some smoke, and since we had binoculars and cameras, we became witnesses in a court battle.

We’d gone up there to look across at the Missionary Ridge Fire, that was threatening their beloved home on Clearview.   In fact, they’d evacuated to a friend’s house and stored some of their prized furniture in our garage.

The next day, the paper had it all wrong and another friend urged we call the cops.  That’s how we ended up, the three of us, doing a day’s worth of depositions with a dozen attorneys.

Mary Ellen happened to mention Wendell kept a journal, and they requested he bring it.   While he gave her no end of grief about her act of betrayal, he couldn’t wait to show them.   He knew the odds were good it would include some amorous adventure with his wife or how he birdied the eighteenth hole to shoot yet another round in the seventies.

When it came my turn to testify, I had to ask, “Did you read Wendell’s journal?”   They all smiled and said, “He’s a lucky man.”   A single taste was all it took.

Wendell, however, wouldn’t have called it luck.   He knew what he was doing when he married Mary Ellen, more than sixty years ago. I often heard him say, “It’s not luck, it’s the residue of design.”


Sansaku: The Obituary

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


Last night, Chyako and I sat down with Wendell’s family and we went to work on the obituary.   I’m not a relative and feel like I trespassed.   But that’s not what’s bothering me.

I’m used to giving very personal feedback and I can easily go too far.   I will say things others won’t.

It’s not that I said anything I’m ashamed of or shouldn’t have, I just said so much.   I knew Wendell well and wasn’t inhibited. And I think I might have overwhelmed them.

Therapists learn early in their career, that people will often disclose stories and feelings, fears and fantasies, and dark secrets they have never talked about.   Wendell knew how to use therapy, and we had the advantage of that and being long-time friends.

He could hold complex and often contradictory feelings about others and himself.   He wasn’t afraid to share and since he kept a journal, he understood the value of process and reflection.

If Wendell’s wife and youngest son are both artists, so was he.   His stage was different.   He practiced performance art as a teacher, at parties, and on the golf course, which is where I spent so much time with him.

It was verbal, relational, and spontaneous.   He had a mouth, but could also walk his talk. A friend who stopped by last night called him Mr. Personality.

Golf can be a zen game, and he was a master – at least at our small town course.   Everyone who ever played with him knew this.

I’ve mentioned he often improved his lie or took a putt, but it wasn’t about the score.   He could shoot his age for ten years or more, starting when he was in his late sixties.

And I also mentioned, how golf undresses a man.   He had the eyes to see, and I was privileged to listen to the commentary.   And I was not immune.   While he had a great short game, I did not. “Colin, that was a great putt until you hit it.”

Even after I stopped playing golf, I would still walk the course with him.   He was approaching eighty and not the golfer he had once been.   He didn’t like being an old duffer, although we always called him the geezer.

I’ll be curious what Mark finally writes in the obituary. He was the one taking notes, and I was the one mostly blabbing.   You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

Wendell would have had a lot to say about it.   He was like that, too.