I make a lot of promises to myself and while I’m not very good at keeping all of them, I’m glad (and sad) that I was able to keep this most recent one.
In April, I was talking with a friend in Houston, Texas named Corey with whom I’ve kept in sporadic contact for about eight years. We were having a catch-up conversation when he mentioned that his father had finally succumbed to the cancer that he’d been suffering through for at least a year.
That’s just one more person who has been claimed by “this fucking disease” as another friend of mine whose father died about a year before Kelly did said at her wake. Corey and I compare notes on our therapy process often, but I’d say he’s way further down on the atheism scale than I am. He’s angry, and hurt, and alone, and it hurt me to know that he’s been doing all this hurting by himself.
So when he said that with a little bit of the money he and his sister had gotten from his inheritance, he wanted to fly me down to visit him over the Memorial Day weekend, how could I say no?
I had another, perhaps more ulterior, motive in taking six days to leave New York City and travel to Texas. It has been a very long time since I’ve taken a vacation longer than four days that hasn’t been related to family, work, anime conventions, or all three at once and I wanted to be a little selfish for once. The day job is alternately frustrating and rewarding, and I knew that I needed to be able to recharge my emotional reserves enough to face a long summer season of slow sales, made even slower by this weakened economy.
And finally, after Kelly died and after I decided to stop working for anime conventions, I also decided that I wasn’t going to say to a friend, “Oh, we should hang out again sometime” and not do something about it. As I wrote in the very first entry to this blog, because I decided to wait until their house was finished, I didn’t get to see Kelly happier in Washington state than she had been when she was living in California. I am glad and grateful that I can say that I did get a chance to speak to her on the phone before she died and that I did get to tell her that I loved her—
—but I still regret not making the plans (or saving the money) to go and visit when I could and vowed that I would do both the very next time that opportunity arose. So it was with a very light heart that I boarded a plane the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend to fly first to Austin where I’d stay with another friend for two days before driving to Houston.
Harris O’Malley is a comics artist I’d met in 2004 at the Small Press Expo where we debuted the very first issue of Smut Peddler for which he’d contributed a story. We met again at another comics convention in Arlington, Texas and from then on our friendship was cemented. In-between almost annual trips his family would take to New York City or other comics conventions where we’d meet, Harris would always gloat about how awesome Austin was and by gum, I was going to see it for myself!
At the same time, though, Harris is also someone who’s survived having someone he loved die from cancer, his father about seven years ago. Like me, he was raised in a religious tradition (Episcopalian) but his slide away from organized faith started in a different way. In his own words, these days he’s a “messiah for hire,” but that also mostly means that he’s a Taoist and a ordained Universal Life Church minister and can be hired to perform awesome alternative wedding ceremonies.
And yet, going to visit Harris first reinforced the first lesson I learned from Kelly’s death: although you may be very sad when it happens, when someone you care about dies, you can eventually learn how to live with the loss in a gracious but humorous way.
When I got to Houston, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with Corey because he had to work most of the weekend. When casting about for ideas of how I could keep myself occupied while he was at work, I remembered another friend I hadn’t seen in ages. Like Kelly, I first met Rod when I was skipping my history classes in college to surf the Internet and create fanfiction stories with other people my age who were in colleges across the country.
At the time, Rod was a computer tech at the University of Houston and was also one of the very few actual Filipino people I considered a friend and not my parents’ friends’ kids or a cousin. We drifted apart once we’d graduated and I moved to New York, but when we spoke on the phone, it was as if not a single one of the over 10 years we’ve known each other had passed. While eating sushi at one of the more upscale places, I asked him how things were with him and that’s when he told me that a beloved cousin of his had died last year at the age of 23 from some weird viral infection.
Like me and perhaps most every other Filipino or Filipino-hyphenate who lives in the U.S., Rod was also raised in the Roman Catholic church, but he still believes in God. It’s been really hard on him and his family, but as he told me some rather funny stories involving him, the other seven pallbearers, and having to perform some acrobatics in order to avoid stepping on other people’s headstones as they took her body to its final resting place, I could see that he’d reached some level of peace about her death, and it really made me curious.
As we stood outside the restaurant with him patiently waiting for me to finish my cigarette, I blurted out, “How is it that you can still believe in God and be a Christian after all that?”
What he said to me is that it helps to not take the Bible as the literal “truth” of what happened in the world, which is a conclusion that I’ve already come to accept. But the rest of it he still believes, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the strength of the sacraments.
I asked him for clarification later, and this is what he said:
What the literalists miss the point of—and what the greatest value of the Bible is—is that at the heart of it all, God wants us to be Nice to each other. This is a universal truth, transcending pretty much everything. Be nice to each other, be decent human beings, treat others as you would like to be treated. When you see religion focus on this, and not on the nitpicking about details of tradition, protocol, and such, you can see how positive faith can be.
[My cousin] Jenna, at her young age, managed to come to terms with her faith and had embraced it. And because of it, she managed to make the transition from insecure teenager to kind-hearted, head-sure and foot-strong adult. And in death, it made us feel assured that she had earned her place in a better place.
I remember this quote from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series: “Go then, there are other worlds than these.” Pretty sure she’s in one of them now.
I think this is something I can live with as well.
I hope it can be enough for Corey.