Sunday, August 11, 2013


Daily I review the obits in the GF Tribune.  If the person is from the Blackfeet rez, whether or not enrolled, I clip the piece, stick it to a card and file it.  Sometimes I file others in the state.  Today I cut out the obit for the amazing Great Falls mother (Jeanne Elizabeth Bartsch) of a UU in Bozeman (Susan Backer) who is much like her mother.  This week I cut out the obit for the wife of my neighbor up the street.  Valier’s population is old and cards record a number of people on our street, but nothing like the number of dead on the rez.  (No one in Valier has been murdered since I got here in 1999.)

Two recent deaths not on the rez were from my past and could not have been more different.  Neither will fit on my filing cards, so they’ll have to go into a folder.  One was the movie star Karen Black (74) and the other was the cartoonist Stan Lynde (81).  Both were gentle, imaginative, hard-working people who were each married four times.  Black had a son and Lynde had eight children.  People are always fascinated by the interplay between private life and presented work.  I have no insight into that, only a few memories that don’t really add up to anything.

I began to read “Rick O’Shay” when it was first published and continued always whenever I had access.  In Browning when the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife opened a gallery room in 1962, the first show we hung was enlarged Rick O’Shay comic strips. Both Bob and I dearly loved Stan, though we kept calling him “Rick”

The memory that means the most to me came after I returned to Montana in 1999 and attended some shindig for writers.  I was discovering that people had me pegged as an adjunct to Bob Scriver, a surviving remnant who was no longer useful and had no other identity.  I was wallpaper.  Until Stan recognized me and came to sit by me, visiting as though we’d just been together a few days before. THEN people saw me. When the Charlie Russell auctions first began at the Rainbow Hotel -- well-lubricated with champagne -- Stan’s wife at the time and myself, both of us little more than teenagers formally gowned for this major event, wandered down into the basement and enjoyed a game of tag in the echoing storage hall until a majordomo caught us and shooed us out.  I told Stan.  He smiled and named the wife with rueful affection.

Karen Black attended Northwestern University’s famous theatre classes at the same time I did but she was only there two years.  We were in the same play at one point -- I think maybe “Queen of the Rebels” -- and while we were waiting during rehearsals she read my palm.  She was fully conscious that her voluptuous figure and Siamese cat eyes gave her an eerie aura.  She said that my lifeline predicted I would have a life-long passion (which we thought meant a man) that was broken in the middle and that the creases under my pinkie meant I would have children but that part was vague and she couldn’t tell whether there would be three or four of them.  It all came true.  (The man and Montana are conflated; the children are his grandchildren, one deceased.)

My Valier neighbor is a Jehovah’s Witness so when we met on the street I said his wife was in a place better than this one, which made him smile.  Oddly, the cartoon sheriff  “Rick O’Shay” was a church-going Christian whose pastor was “Jubal Lee”, the cartoon version of Stan’s real pastor, but it was “Hipshot Percussion”, the gunslinger, whose Sunday sentiments, out there in the mountains with his horse, evoked far more reverence than any human institution.  Not quite nature worship either, but respect for the world as the Face of God.  Whenever I had a bulletin board, a Sunday “Rick O’Shay” strip seemed to be on it.  My Bozeman friend’s mother was a sturdy Episcopalian; the daughter was a sturdy Unitarian Universalist.  It was not the content of these women’s faith that counted so much as its expression through community.  

And what about Karen Black who was in so many horror and free-spirit movies?   (I know nothing about her formal religious affiliations.) The French would not have a problem with the venue nor would they consider it “downscale”.  They recognize the transcendent and sacred in all its forms, even underground and defiant, as horrifying as catacombs.  It’s Americans who have the silly idea that only the conventional are religious and that faith means only that you must follow the rules.  Neither do the French puritanically demonize sex.  Hedonism can be a respected choice.  As my mother said on her deathbed, “I hope the next world is as much fun as this one was.”  The French respect nihilism (meaninglessness) and France is where Catharism (the world is evil) bloomed.  But those ARE meanings.

The shift from father-fixation on the Creator to the “works” focus of Creation, has left us with a problem, usually phrased as a-theism or sometimes called “deus absconditus,” the god who abandoned us, which is the opposite of the “deus machina” which is rescue through the intervention of a supernatural being.  Our explorations of outer space and inner DNA have challenged our “humanism”.  Our evil deeds insist we are a-human, which is to say “inhuman.”  The horror side emerges when we realize that the Cosmos includes but does not give special status to humans.  The Milky Way will not lower a basket containing a god as in Greek drama.

But it’s all theatre, isn’t it?  Acting training teaches us to look at the unique person in the specific context -- not at all the position that psych (which is cleverly disguised missionary work) takes in trying to make everyone “normal,” a concept so slippery that the official shrinks’ handbook of definitions changes all the time, by VOTE, not by ART which would call us to inhabit humans and all else with our hearts.  One can’t do rational scientific research on death.

The little boy asked, “Do dogs go to heaven?”

The wise man answered, “We don’t know, but we should act as though they did.” 

We feel as though these beloved people are still alive somewhere, so we should act as though they are.  It could be as real as anything else if we feel it to be so.   The boy, who was in a hospital bed, went gladly to meet his dog.  Maybe.  There was no obit.

No comments: