We get horrified. We get sad. We get voyeuristic—we want the details. We get angry. We want this never to happen again. We blame. It goes away. And it happens again.
We’re doing something wrong. That’s what I know for sure. I have opinions about that, but everybody does right about now; it just sort of stinks to get on a soapbox right at the moment. I think it probably matters more to talk about all this a couple months from now.
So instead, here’s how my gift of a weekend went.
It began with catching parts of various eulogies from various bigwigs for Muhammad Ali. Ali—along with Dr. Martin Luther King—opened my eyes about race when I was a boy living in an all-white suburb that was populated by a lot of people who’d moved from Chicago during white flight. The phenomenon that was Ali made me begin to reckon with a lot of stuff—primarily that counter to comfortable wishful thinking, the Civil War hadn’t put the evil of slavery or racism behind us. More generally, it taught me that at any given time, things aren’t really as they appear. I also learned about great resolve and courage in the face of a veritable mob of angry, hateful people.
I’m grateful, and the better for, having lived in Ali’s times.
Saturday, Beth and I drove to the suburbs for a memorial service for her cousin Randy, who died this past February at the age of 61. There were no bigwigs speaking, just loving brothers with poignant and brief memories. And Randy’s former husband and lifelong friend, Mark. I knew and liked Randy for a variety of reasons—one being that he, like Beth, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child. They experienced a lot of the same stuff—including the early death predictions by physicians with the bedside manner of frogs. They had an important bond. (In the end, it was pancreatic cancer that did Randy in.)
But I learned a lot about Randy and his family at the service. For one, that his family—at a time when such things were not openly accepted—recognized and accepted Randy’s sexuality pretty early on. Which probably had a lot to do with what his partner Mark talked about—that Randy had helped Mark accept himself. I got the distinct feeling that the support Randy got from his family was a gift he passed along to Mark.
Sunday night Beth, her sisters Marilee and Bev (in town for the memorial) and I went to Honky Tonk Barbeque in the Pilsen neighborhood to see The Fat Babies. I’m not a big traditional jazz fan. (In bygone days it was called Dixieland.) But these guys are something else. For one, they’re young by tradjazz standards, for another, they’re just fantastic musicians. And they draw a young crowd that dresses and dances the part. It’s a happy, celebratory scene every Sunday evening. And it’s … free!
I’m surely not going to ignore what happened Sunday. I couldn’t really, even if I tried. But I can’t help but feel that the way we have learned to react to these things in some way feeds them.
And so, what I’ll remember most about this weekend are Muhammad Ali, Randy Moos, and The Fat Babies.