|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 9/20/2019
Occurred: 7/18/2009 6:00:00 PM
|Topics/Keywords: #ClassReunion #Florida #Metaphysics #Spirituality #St.Augustine #St.JosephAcademy||Page Views: 4229|
|We visit the family graves and those of some friends.|
It didn't take Michael and me long to shower and make ourselves presentable for tonight's second class reunion event. But after we had done so, we decided to stop by San Lorenzo Cemetery, which is just a couple of miles from my sister's house, to see my mother's grave. Michael and I rode together while Zach rode with Louise and Mikey, her husband, since I would need her to show us where the graves were. (An earlier visit with Michael had proven fruitless.)
Louise led us to Mom's grave. I was uncomfortable with her saying things like "Here's Mom" and "Gramma and Grampa are over there," because I know that neither of us believed that; yet little Zach with us was being exposed to the lie that we are our bodies.
As old as San Lorenzo Cemetery is, it is in fact the third Catholic cemetery in St. Augustine. The first was closed after a yellow fever epidemic in the late 1700s, and the second, at the Mission of Nombre de Dios, was never really suitable because of its proximity to the water. When San Lorenzo was opened in 1892, many families moved their deceased from the Mission to the new cemetery…because they didn't want their families to be separated in death! You would think that Catholics, of all people, would be aware that there is no separation in death and that it completely doesn't matter where the bodies are buried...but this is just another example of a phenomenon I have previously observed, that religions teach A out loud, but with a subtext of B which contradicts A completely. Therefore, members of the religion proclaim A, while living B.
How else can anyone who claims to worship a god of love, participate in war? Ever? Under any circumstance?
In any case, we then strolled over to my grandparents' graves. They are next to each other, which goes to show how out of it I was when Gramma was buried—I was absolutely certain her coffin was in a completely different part of the cemetery. But there they were.
Grandpa to the left, Gramma to the right. But there is another grave to the left of Grampa's, and oddly, it belongs to a deceased schoolmate of mine. Given that I am here in St. Augustine to attend a class reunion, it was inevitable that my thoughts would turn back to fifth grade, when I first met the young man buried next to my grandfather.
"Whatever you do," my Mom warned my sisters and me, "don't talk about the Civil War!" I was in the first months of fifth grade, and didn't know there'd been a Civil War. It sounded like a poor idea to me. "And don't talk about slaves, or colored people, or Yankees or Rebels." I had no idea what she was talking about. The last time she'd been in Florida was in the 1920s, and whatever had inspired these fears, she had clung to them.
And now we had moved to St. Augustine, Florida, and I, being a ten-year-old sponge, simply absorbed all these warnings without question.
So, imagine my reaction when, walking to my new school, I was met by one of my new classmates outside the fence. "Are you the new boy?" she asked.
"I guess so," I replied.
She nodded in grim satisfaction. "So," she queried, "are you a Yankee or a Rebel?"
My breath froze. Mother had given no advice on what to say if someone else brought up the forbidden subjects. "Neither," I answered finally. "I'm from the planet Krypton."
One can only get away with that sort of thing in fifth grade. Although I suspect some of my former classmates might still think I came from another planet.
I was faced with about forty new faces and it took time to get them straight. One was a young man named Gary Drake. Our relationship started out well enough. If allowed to do so, I preferred to remain in the classroom during recess. It was more fun for me to draw or write than to try to play ball. Gary saw me drawing something and said, "You should talk to Tommy Tutten. He's a really good artist."
So, I made an effort to talk to Tommy. He was a good artist, better than me. His drawings were beautifully shaded in pencil; mine were more comic book style.
But then I blew any hope of continuing my friendship with Gary.
I overheard our teacher telling Gary that his grades were low and he wasn't trying. I certainly wasn't intended to overhear this, and, having done so, should never had indicated I had. But the energies that shape our lives will not be denied. One day shortly after, Gary and I were again alone in the classroom and I brought up the subject of his grades. His grades! I didn't even do it nicely. I could have offered to help, for example. But I did no such thing. I insulted him, baited him. For some reason I thought this would help galvanize his desire to learn. I have no idea why I thought that; no one had ever tried such a method on me. I don't even know why I thought it was my duty to fix him. Maybe it's a trait of people from Krypton.
All I know is, I made an enemy that day. And, the next day, Gary challenged me to a schoolyard fight.
I had been in a sort-of fight once before. I was in first grade, waiting for the school bus, and an older boy—probably third grade—started pushing me into the path of oncoming cars for no apparent reason. I grabbed hold of his sweater, so that when he pushed me, he was dragged along. That rather spoiled the fun for him, and he abandoned the attack.
At home, I told my parents. My father was plainly pleased, but my mother was not. No boy of hers was going to be involved in a schoolyard brawl! It didn't matter to her who had started it or what the consequences might have been had I not defended myself. Mother lived in a simplistic, black-and-white world. Fighting was wrong. My father, trying to hide his proud grin behind a stern expression, immediately agreed with her. So that was that.
Now, here I was, about to be drawn into another of these forbidden battles.
At lunchtime, Tommy was sent to fetch me. I followed him to the back of the schoolyard where the nuns never went. I had no idea what to expect. We didn't own a TV; I didn't even have the example of Beaver Cleaver or Ricky Nelson or Opie Taylor to draw on. There was a small crowd of boys waiting for me. Gary was already there. He pushed me. Someone else had sneaked behind me on hands and knees; I fell over him and landed on my butt in the hot Florida gravel. I got to my feet and was pushed again. I was not going to hit Gary back. That would be fighting. I couldn't stop what he was doing, but I didn't have to do it back.
On the other hand, I didn't have to stick around for it, either. I saw an opening and took off, running. My house was just about three blocks away. I raced to it, my feet seldom touching the pavement. By the time I got there, I was so out of breath I almost threw up. I told my mother I was sick and had to stay home for the rest of the day.
The next day I dreaded going back but couldn't convince my mother I was still ill. All the kids knew that I had run from a fight and made sure I knew they knew it. I kept a stoic demeanor, refusing to discuss the matter. Gary didn't hassle me the rest of the school year, partly because I stayed inside during recess and went home as quickly as possible after school.
But, that summer, I discovered the evil I had put in motion wasn't over. I bumped into Gary at Woolworth's one day. I greeted him pleasantly, but he actually punched me right there in the store! Management quickly evicted us both; Gary's mother showed up and she dragged him away before he could finish the fight. I spent the rest of the summer at home, leaving only in the company of family.
And I dreaded the start of sixth grade. The idea of going back to the same building with Gary every school day filled me with the deepest horror. My nightmares were of taunts, schoolyard fights, runs for home. My appetite waned. I had headaches every day. But it was the sixties; no one asked me what was wrong and I saw no point in telling anyone.
Finally, the September day came. And Gary was nowhere to be found. He had transferred, it turned out, to public school. I had worried myself sick over nothing.
I thought it was over; and yet, I still wasn't completely free of the monster I had created. The next summer, we moved to a house a half mile from St. Augustine beach. One day I was at a hamburger shack with my pal, Ricky Martin, when Gary showed up again. Ricky's presence may be why Gary didn't attack me again. But he wanted to. "The next time I see you," he said, darkly, "I'm going to kill you."
As a fifty-something man, I now understand a whole lot that I didn't as a kid. One of the things I've learned is the existence of karma. People tend to find each other in lifetime after lifetime, to complete lessons that weren't finished the first time around. A seemingly minor cause can trigger a vendetta. The real issue lies lifetimes back, unremembered by the conscious mind. Gary's grudge against me had now gone way past anything reasonable for the insult I had given him. But karma ensures the threads of our lives would remain in close contact.
I didn't see much of Gary in the next few years. Being old enough to drive kept us from bumping into each other on the sidewalk, I guess. And in 1967, my relationship with Gary seemed to end permanently. He was killed in a car crash. I don't know the details. I know I struggled for years with the guilt of being relieved at the news. Bad news for his family, obviously; but now I would be able to shop or go to the beach without fear of a sudden, humiliating confrontation.
And yet, the threads of our lives would continue to intertwine.
Months after Gary's fatal car crash, my grandfather died. He and my grandmother had moved to Florida with us after my father's death. Grandpa was buried in San Lorenzo Cemetery, at the time the only "white" Catholic cemetery in St. Augustine.
He was buried next to Gary Drake.
San Lorenzo isn't that big a cemetery. Surely they had some sort of logical order in which new graves were filled. It's not like a resident could move out. Surely other Catholics died in the intervening months. How was a space reserved next to Gary's grave? How did it come to be filled by my grandfather? I can't answer these questions with logic. I can only observe that these relationships are preserved by some force too subtle to explain. Call it synchronicity. Call it what you will. Just don't pretend it's meaningless.
Gary's gravestone contained his name, and birth and death dates. And a phrase: "We Loved Him So. My Jesus Mercy." His parents, broken by the loss of their beloved son, had requested that extra inscription. Obviously, the Gary they knew was not the one I had known.
When I wept for my grandfather, I also wept for the Gary I had only known briefly, the one who had introduced me to Tommy Tutten because we both liked to draw. Somehow I had triggered an issue that effectively killed that Gary for me, long before the Gary, whose parents loved him so, lost him to a car wreck. And now, every time I visit the grave of my grandfather, I also visit Gary's.
I was ready to leave the cemetery, but Louise suggested I check out the gravestones of the nuns. They are all together, not far from my family's graves; but, being in a hurry to leave all these maudlin feelings behind, I decided to drive. When I stopped the car and opened my door, I found I was directly opposite a grave I'd never even known was there.
When I was in fifth grade, I took piano lessons from Mrs. Capella, a widow who lived across the street from us. It was on her front porch that Pam Prichard explained to me exactly why I was a creep. She was a widow whose soon lived in the upstairs apartment of his mother's house. Mrs. Capella gave piano lessons to kids for 50¢ a half-hour. Virtually everything I know about music theory I first learned from Mrs. Capella. And this was her headstone.
In 1970, I paid a visit to Mrs. Capella, my first as an adult. It turned out we both had an interest in spirituality—at that time I had recently discovered the work of Edgar Cayce, and she already knew about it. We observed that the odds were good that she would precede me in death; and we agreed that whichever of us should die first, would attempt to contact the other afterwards.
In 1972, I began studying Spiritualism. Most Spiritualists, especially mediums (Spiritualist priests), have a "spirit guide" they know by name who feeds them information. Usually spirit guides are exotic personages, such as Indian princesses or Egyptian princes. When I began receiving information, I asked for the name of my guide, and was given the name, "Bess."
The name meant nothing to me, except that it didn't seem to belong to an Indian princess. So I asked my mentor, a medium named Marguerite, who Bess might be. She didn't hesitate a second.
"Bess was your music teacher," Marguerite told me.
"My music teacher?" I repeated incredulously. "No, that was Mrs. Capella." My mind went back to her screen door, which had her full name engraved on a plaque on it. "Mrs…Elizabeth Capella." I paused. "Bess is a nickname for Elizabeth, isn't it? But Mrs. Capella isn't dead."
I didn't know it, but—she was. That'll teach me not to read the obituaries!
I haven't bothered getting information from a spirit guide in many years, though I still think kindly of Mrs. Capella, who had found a way to fulfill her promise. And now, with this seemingly random stop at her gravestone, which I had no idea was here—I never knew Mrs. Capella was Catholic!—she had managed to get my attention again.
In much the way Tommy Tutten, the classmate Gary Drake introduced me to, had done.
A few years ago, I decided I would look up Tommy Tutten. I hadn't thought of him in years. He, like Gary, had left Cathedral Parish School for public school. After graduating from high school, he had become a popular local musician. He and I once sang an impromptu duet on a cable access TV show. Maybe he now had a web site or email address listed. But the only two results from Google that I got were from the local newspaper. It seems Tommy had gotten a job there as a graphics designer. But, on April 8, 2001, he was swimming at the beach when some kids lost control of their raft. He swam out to retrieve it, but suddenly seemed to be in some kind of difficulty. He drowned.
I was stunned. I didn't know. We hadn't been the closest of friends, but we had been friends, with art and music in common.
If the world is a random place of meaningless occurrence, then perhaps the patterns we see are there simply because we humans superimpose patterns on everything. That's what the atheists tell us. I can't imagine what an atheist's world is like. It must seem so barren compared to the rich tapestry I perceive all around me. All the threads of all these lives, interwoven in such a way that no other interpretation can be reasonably suggested. Here's Gary, my nemesis, buried next to my grandfather; and there's Tommy, who thoughts of Gary led me to look up on the Internet, and who died on a date of particular significance to me.
You see, Tommy drowned on April 8th.