He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.
- Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Standing in my father's kitchen eating fistfuls of black forest deli ham and swiss cheese from the Hy-Vee (which I assumed is a pharmacy but now hope it's not), I look out the window at the blooming dogwood and get what he saw in this place. It's great. The neighbors and friends who brought the food over, all great. Those of us here in the aftermath, I like to think he thought we were pretty great, too. I worry very little about what he would have wanted now because I know he already carved out of life what he would have wanted.
Earlier in the week as I made my way from airport security down to the concourse the text from my sister came in: "Holy shit, its over." He stood so goddamn tall, and he cut a hell of a swath. Over the following days, bits from here or there would come in, outward condolences and praise for what he did, who he was, the greatness that he represented to so many. The gravity of this, measured against the approval I had always sought, the respect I had gained as a young man, growing, starting a family, all the warmth that I never really noticed as a child (he used to call me Gnat Boy because I was constantly assaulting him with jokes), my transformation into someone whose opinion had value, who could make a great martini and could entertain in a way that he loved.
I'm really not disappointed that I didn't get to say goodbye. Although I was on my way, I know he didn't want to be seen in a hospital bed as his last impression. The final conversation we had was cut short by some sort of phone issue, but things had been looking up that day, and the nurse had come in to wash his hair. He was practically giggling because it was so wonderful. "This is great," I'm sure he said. Although we were cut off, never said goodbye, never said I love you, I am okay with all of it because it's such a wonderful, absurd memory.
While on the phone in the confusing hours shortly after the 9/11 attacks, my dad, wit so sharp even when noticeably shaken by the chaos and bereft at the thought of lost friends, said the final thing that ever needed to be said about it; "It's like everyone you've ever known has just died." And it's true; one of those multi-layered truths that speak more as years go on. Now, as I sit at his desk in the basement studio of his home in Lawrence, Kansas, grappling with this, I can only muster the reflection I had on that Southwest flight out of Hartford shortly after his passing: It's like every hero has died - every great artist, every great writer, every great musician, and every great philosopher. Bob Mankoff said it best, I think, in his own memoriam: "Fuck! Jack Ziegler Is Dead!"
Goddamn it's beautiful down here, looking out the sliders onto the greens, peppered with strong trees. It's great.