Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Mission of Love

The other day, thinking about my friend Dave, a Neil Diamond song played in my head.

I rummaged through my CDs, found Three Chord Opera and selected A Mission of Love. It’s jazzy, happy, and heartfelt. I know it’s about losing a relationship, but the words rang true for the Caring Bridge set up for Dave: “We got a friend in a hole/we got to help get him out/this is a glorious day/we’re on a mission of love.”

Then I got online and went to the Neil Diamond site. Somehow I found the YouTube video list of his performances and watched a few. The duet with Barbra Streisand, though out of synch with the music, mesmerized me. The connection between them was so electric, so sexy, so palpable it filled me with yearning. I could watch it only once.

It brought up memories, good and otherwise.

In 1980, on a run from Oregon to Maine and back, I memorized the 12 Greatest Hits album. It was a dark time in my life and that tape along with a couple others probably saved my life.

A year or so later, a coworker and I talked about our favorite musicians. I claimed Neil Diamond and Paul Simon.

“I don’t get either of them,” my coworker had sniffed.

I wrote her a poem.

She said she didn’t understand
Neil Diamond/Paul Simon -
the words don’t rhyme,
make sense to your mind,
fit into the party line.

I said you must sip, savor,
then swallow them whole –
musical soup for the soul.
Your heart understands
when your head lets go.

I wrote some other poems using words and song titles from Neil Diamond albums, but most are lost to me now.

For me, Neil, Paul and others (the Beatles come to mind) – somehow condense experience into lyric poems set to music, the words as wonderful as the tunes. For me, they have captured the changing essence and the essence of change through the last fifty years. I often catch myself singing one or another of their songs because the lyrics are perfect for the spot I’m in.

But Dave’s situation reminds me that, healthy as I am, I do have an expiration date. Like kids who participate in Make a Wish programs, my wish – rather than go somewhere exotic or do something crazy – would be to meet Neil Diamond in person, to thank him for saving and enriching my life. And then faint dead away!

At the store yesterday I found another Neil Diamond CD, his duet with Streisand included.

Neil – you always bring me flowers!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rainy Day, Dave Ashleigh

Rain yesterday. Thick, misty, silent except for the sizzle of tires on wet pavement. Heavy, yet not cold.

It matched my mood, gray and grumbly.

On Friday, I woke with my friend’s name in my head. Six-thirty. Far too early to call, so I wrote Call Dave & Marty on a sticky note and began my daily routine.

I made the call before eleven. Marty answered.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m fine, but Dave . . .”

NOOO! My head screamed while I listened to Marty explain that Dave was diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia last week and was now undergoing chemo at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. She urged me to call his cell number.

Dave was my buddy throughout high school.

We dated just once when we were freshmen. We barely spoke that night and he seemed to avoid me at the party we attended. I wondered why he seemed so different from the wry, sparkly guy I knew – and got into trouble with – in Spanish class.

A few years ago, I learned the truth. That evening, he had a horrible case of gas. “You’ve been a family legend,” he told me. “Everyone knows the story of my date with Becky Darling* – cutest girl in the freshman class.” (*my given name)

Our classroom fun didn’t end, though, often earning us stern looks from teachers.

He dated a girl from another high school; I had a series of steady boyfriends. We graduated and went on to college – me to Oregon, Dave to junior college then UCLA with a scholarship in water polo and swimming.

My mother tried to arrange for him to meet my plane at Christmas my senior year, the one time my flight was diverted to Burbank. He visited me in Oregon later that year, when UCLA swam against Oregon. I think he met Marty about that same time.

He went on to participate in Olympic water polo, not once but twice.

We lost contact until our 45th reunion – a small picnic I helped coordinate. That’s when I met Marty. That’s when I was reminded what a gem he is, how blessed I am to know him. And, now, how pissed I am that he’s ill.

So, the rain yesterday gave me an excuse to be grumpy. It allowed me to be the negative voice at my book discussion group. It gave me time to understand why I had hacked up the vines by the back fence two days before. It washed the world shiny, freshened the air.

I pray that the chemicals they’re feeding Dave will wash him clean and well.

Rainy Day, Dave Ashleigh. But the sun's gonna shine soon.