I took my niece, Bekah, to New York City Saturday. We walked through Time Square on our way to Radio City Music Hall. The city buzzed with all the sights and sounds I’ve come to love about New York. Bekah and I held hands as we hustled through the crowds so we wouldn’t lose each other. The naked cowboy was playing his guitar. Elmo and Oscar ran away from Sesame Street to work over the tourists with photo ops. A drum line played away in full uniform. I could tell Bekah was a little relieved when we moved past the chaos and as we rounded a corner, I saw The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. On the drive up, Bekah mentioned that she wanted to visit a church while we were in the city, so I pointed it out to her. It wasn’t until we stepped inside that Bekah told me why she wanted to visit a church – so she could light a candle for her Uncle Keith.
In the quiet dark of the Episcopal church, my Catholic niece touched the match to a candle away from all the others already burning. “For Uncle Keith” she whispered to me. It was so fitting that she set him apart – in life, he was a stand out in the crowd. We walked out and that dreaded burning sensation started in my eyes so I put on my sunglasses despite the clouds. Bekah filled me in on how she had already lighted 5 candles for her grandparents and her great grandparents in New York, but never had a chance to light one for him. I was beyond the burning sensation, but the beauty of sunglasses is being able to smile without any one seeing what your eyes are really saying.
Keith was always a little harsh about death. Phrases such as “What can you do? It happens to everyone.” and “So, their gone. Move on” and “Get over it” and “You can’t stop it” would crop up whenever someone we knew passed away. I don’t think he really believed what he was saying. I’m sure he said those things to buffer the emotional impact. In his last few months with us, I know he fought for his life and yet readily stated that he wasn’t afraid to die. When we were in the cancer center at the University of Maryland Medical Center, he kept telling the doctor that. “I’m not afraid to die, Doc, but I have everything to live for. A beautiful wife and children I’m so proud of. I’m going to fight this.”
Even Keith would have lost his harsh words in that church. He wouldn’t have been able to conjure up a “shit happens” while his Zen step-son got his Led Zepplin tattoo to honor him. Keith would have been rendered silent at the sight of his son’s tribute tattoo which reads “Have Faith in Me”. He wouldn’t have even been able to muster a “bite me” as Kitson read the Episcopal prayer while we delivered him to his first stop on his bucket list. His Methodist raised wife never would have gotten a “Cherish, what is this nonsense” as she asked for the Rabbi on his last days. Because he knew that regardless of our deities, our houses of worship, the beliefs we carry – we are all still part of the human spirit. We send out our prayers in our own way in honor of that spirit, the same spirit that helped Keith fight to the end. I am witness to all of this and rejoice in the knowledge that a few steps away from the glorious noise and bustle of New York City, a candle burns for Uncle Keith.