Near 50 years ago Robert Lamm and his band Chicago wrote that hit song that still plays in my head. Only now I’m the lady with the diamond watch trying to beat the clock. Oh no. We’ve all got time enough to die.
50 years ago.
I went to a real high school in the 11th and 12th grades. Real high school-boys, regular clothes, dances and dates. The prom was entitled Color My World, after Chicago’s 1971 famed song. That’s a lot of years ago. Interestingly, this year, Chicago was the band hired for the local hospital fundraising gala. $300 a ticket. I wonder how many gigs they’ve played in 50 years.
Today an old friend died, Ken Blekicki. We had been friends for more than 40 years. What was that song really about anyway? We talked about it. I always thought it was about the changing time signature of the song. It went from 4:4 to 5:8 and then some. My friend was a musician, and he knew about time. He knew he had very little of it left.
When I sat with him at the hospital last week he told me he was soon able to solve the great mystery of seeing what was on the other side of the veil. The great beyond. He’s said it as if he were going to the grocery. There was no fear or anxiety visible. He was just stating a fact. He was about to start the next phase and he was going to be going, it was as if it was inevitable, so why complain.
That was Ken. And usually there was a joke in there somewhere. “I wonder if they’ll let me smoke there,” or “Better not bring me any green bananas this week.” In the meantime, he had had some very rough nights before they put him on the ventilator. They knocked him out with Jackson juice (Propofol), another musical reference that Ken would appreciate, and Nimbex, as a paralyzing agent to keep him from fighting the ventilator. Some gospel singers from his recording studio came by and prayed for him and sang to him. He visibly relaxed when they were singing to him, I knew because his heart rate slowed to a normal rhythm. (NB the hearing is the last thing to go. Remember that with an unconscious patient.)
But I had another drive-by with the Valley of the Shadow of Death this week. That was the midair collision of the de Havilland Beaver flown by Randy Sullivan of Mountain Air. My husband Mark and I flew with Randy three years ago when we were in Ketchikan, Alaska in that very aircraft.
And as they say in the infomercials,
But wait! There’s more!
We flew on Promech aviation’s turbine de Havilland Otter N270PA several years earlier in Ketchikan with Bryan Krill as pilot. On June 25, 2015, Krill crashed in Misty Fjords National Monument killing all on board. Our day on that plane couldn’t have been more fun. Everyone but my husband onboard was a pilot. And all of us marveled at how different Alaska flying was from anything we knew. Things like a United Airlines captain and I looking at each other when we flew 20 feet from a mountainside to tuck into a glacier lake. We both really sweated that one out. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat that day. I’m not sure what the odds were that we were on both planes, but I think it’s an eye-opener. I’m on airplanes frequently. In addition to being a pilot, a pilot for fun pilot not a pilot for hire pilot, I’m going somewhere every month. But the two Alaska crashes? That’s a chiller. I don’t think I will be excursion flying anytime soon.
But, about time? I don’t know. The song says, I don’t care. But I do care. I think when your number is up, it’s up. Is that fatalism? And why does that word sound so much like fatality? I think about what I can control what I can’t. I can make choices about things like excursion flying. But beyond that, its life on life’s terms. God knows, and He ain’t tellin’. I have to go about the business of living and let go of the outcome. That’s a hard one for me-I hang on tight and try to control. I think it comes from an out-of-control childhood. But I have to remember I have choices. One of my choices is to not join the Flying Wallenda High Wire Circus. You know, that no-net act that the family does across tall buildings, canyons and the like. Another is to say my prayers and turn my will and my life over to the care of God.
Do you have any idea how hard that is? I don’t want to be abdicator…. you know the type. You ask them what they want for lunch and they say they don’t know, but they’ll consult the Lord and He will lead them. Like sheep? To the Golden Corral restaurant?
So I got to thinking about that, and in the spirit of Ken’s humor, I looked up clever and double entendre named restaurants. Besides Redneck Heaven, and Sneaky Pete’s, here goes the following:
Soon Fatt, a take-out joint in Ireland. How about Hey Hey Hey Gina’s, or Dirty Dick’s Crab House, La Du Du in London, Hot and Crusty in New York City, Hung Far Low in Oregon, Big Wong in NYC, Nacho Daddy, or one of my new favorites- Thai Me Upp in Glendale California, What The Pho, Sake2Me Sushi, Burgatory, I Dream of Weenie, Lard Have Mercy- a pulled pig joint in the South, Nin Com Soup, but MY VERY FAVORITE that is an alternative to Starbucks in London, called, FUCKOFFEE.
I’d be really worried if God sent me there.
Alright, alright, alright. All kidding aside. Start talking about death, and you get to the age where your friends are beginning to die and you have to make jokes. It’s just too scary otherwise. Because, I am going to be getting on an airplane this Thursday, then another on Sunday, then another the following Thursday. Because it is what it is, and God’s time is not my time, it’s His.
We will have a nice sendoff for Ken. He was a swell guy. He gave so much to others from his big, big heart. After a long career as a music teacher in a high school, I am reminded of Mr. Holland and his Opus. Ken wanted those students around him to succeed. He felt successful when they were. He was loyal to them and they were loyal to him. He had Abbeyville Studios with his best friend Jimmy Easton, and spend his life making others sounds good. And good they were. Even if you were awful he would find some good in it as well as a hearty laugh.
Ken was the musician’s musician. He was technically excellent and he played with heart at the same time, even well into his 70s. He started out becoming a child star and he lost his mother in a plane crash on their way to a gig. The thread continues…weaving in and out of the story. He gathered his courage to fly again and believed that when your number was up, it was up. Long ago in the 70s and 80s, he had a darling dog, a West Highland WhiteTerrier named Stash, which meant Stanley in Polish, which was Ken’s heritage. Stash was a fearless little terrier, just like Ken. White hair, quick, humorous. And all heart.
Ken loved plays and all things theater. He introduced me to Stephen Sondheim, the music of Jack Jones, and Tony Bennett’s The Movie Album. He and I both loved the song The Shadow of Your Smile from that Tony Bennett album. The recording could not have been better. One day Ken brought an album over for me to hear. He had just seen the Broadway play and loved it. It was called “Starting Here, Starting Now.” It was also the title song written by Stephen Sondheim. I hope God is singing these words to Ken today.
Starting here, starting now. When we walk, we walk together Year by year, starting here. Starting now When we talk We will say the most with silence When we’re near Starting here
Now when you sleep You will dream a dream That’s free from care For now when you wake
I’ll be there. So be still Take my hand For the greatest journey Heaven can allow
Starting love Starting here Starting now Now take my hand
For the greatest journey Heaven can allow Starting love Starting here
Songwriters: Stephen Sondheim/David Shire/Richard E. Maltby
copyright Warner/Chappelle Music, Inc.