Saturday, December 08, 2007

Scattering Robert's Ashes

I did not make very adequate photographs of our day saying farewell to Robert Minichiello, but others took photographs too. It is like the final luncheon arranged by his older brother George...

...that is, that the photos will be various and partial as were all of views, from separate angles and out of separate times, of Robert. As people remembered him, our partial views gathered toward a more complete portrait of Robert than any of us had separately. There was even the portrait from the man who knew him when both were children, running about the streets of Boston and discovering that no prank escaped the surveillance of the mothers and grandmothers who scan the street from their window sills.
Robert's younger brother John read Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, pointing out that you can read that verse as being about that minority of people, like Robert, who take that other road, away from the main road that most people take. John toasted his brother:

And there is a new Bobby in the family:

Before the luncheon we gathered among beautiful redwoods where George released Robert's ashes...

as Robert's niece Wendy read an Italian blessing, and his friend Joan Chapman read this wonderful Buddhist meditation:

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous True Mind.

Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.

So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.

We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

Paige and Kim:

Wendy out of focus:
Sky on one of Robert's later paintings, in Oakland:

From a period of over 40 years, I am recalling just a few of the moments that make me thankful to have known my friend Robert Minichiello. I am especially grateful for all that Robert taught me creatively and intellectually, and for giving me the very foundation for whatever self-esteem I may have. Was I ever angry and unreasonable? No, that was only Robert. But now I remember differently. I remember him seeing that my Irish temper was about to get the better of me and his taking charge to head off some moment when I was about to act-out in some crazy way.

How many hundreds of times did Robert play erudite disk jockey, placing one after another of his well-preserved records on the turntable – a distinguished selection of classic music – so that I could write and he could paint or draw in the spell cast by the music. Then we would share what we had created and get drunk with shared ideas.

After the worst of my muggings, Robert led me to the neighborhood swimming pool every few days until movement through water relaxed the rigidity in my traumatized body – Robert was a tender caregiver to me and many others over the years.

There was a Chrismas morning in the 1970s that was emotionally intense at the time, but now sounds like a comedy. In an argument with my boyfriend Michael, I somehow broke his large aquarium of tropical fish, flooding our entire apartment in an instant – fish flopping everywhere, Michael screaming, “Don’t move! Don’t move!” for fear that I would step on one of the invisible crystal fish.

I felt saturated with a guilt as heavy as the wet carpets I dragged from the apartment. It was around 3 in the morning, but I walked down the street and awoke Robert and his girlfriend Kate Hills where they were living. They took me in and comforted me and assured me that I wasn’t really a monster even if I was a killer of aquariums. Some years later, in a letter describing some other adult’s temper tantrum, Robert wrote, “It reminded me of the Christmas fishbowl incident.”

So many moments, but I’ll choose one in particular that felt very special to me. We were on a houseboat in Seattle where friends of Robert welcomed us San Franciscans as if we were visionaries worthy of mingling with these vibrant young Seattle artists. One of them, Linda Beaumont, another gift Robert brought into my life, had already completed some of the public art projects that she has continued to create until this day. Robert was dancing with Kate Hills, whom he was first living with in Seattle, and I was dancing with Linda Beaumont. There was a pause between records, and, in a moment natural and easy, Robert and I turned and began to dance with each other. Billie Holiday was singing, “I’ll Look Around…until I’ve found..someone…who laughs like you.” I assume we were behaving just as men in other countries behave, dancing together without self-consciousness, just two old friends, happy to be reunited after a separation. But then from the corner of my eye I became aware that people around us were smiling beatifically, pleased with a simple expression of friendship between two men that, unfortunately, seemed unusual. It was a brief but luminous moment that could only have happened with a man like Robert, not crippled by the strange attitudes and sick conventions of our native country.

As Billie foretold, “I’ll look around,” but I know I will never find a man whose gifts are equal to those that Robert gave.


kimy said...

james - thank you for sharing such a beautiful tribute. I feel that I have met him and have had my life graced by his remarkable spirit. who knows maybe in another plane perhaps I can now go up to him and say thanks for from what I learned through your memories I can say he left the world and the lives of his friends better off and more beautiful. your stories show he was a person not afraid to show support, love and humor - and he sounds as if perhaps he was a master of re framing. he truly was a man who gave gifts of incalculable value. xx k
p.s. and thanks for sharing the beautiful buddhist meditation.

kimy said...

the mouse has a wee gift for her friend the elephant over at her place...wander over and check out the 12.17 post.