A Tender Heart.

photo 3-11

Last Saturday afternoon, a number of Paul’s and my family and friends gathered at Gethsemane Lutheran Church to celebrate his life and mourn his death. The speakers were dear friends of ours: Mark Liebenow, the minister who married us in 1998; John Serna, Paul’s best friend from high school; Mason Woo, friend from Brown and the best man at our wedding; and Joanne Engquist, pastor of Gethsemane, who was with me during the last two days of Paul’s life. Ray Price, bagpiper at our wedding, and my former bandmate, played, as did pianist Anita Anderson.

I have an mp3 of almost the entire service (apparently the bagpipes didn’t pick up!), and I will figure out how to upload and link to it soon.

In the meantime, here are the thoughts and memories of Paul that I shared.

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I’ve spent a lot of time recently wondering how I could begin to capture the Paul I knew and loved, and what he meant to me, in just a few minutes. We knew each other for almost 33 years, and were together for 21 of those years. I realized that I could talk ‘til y’all were fidgeting in your seats, ‘til my voice gave out, and I’d barely have touched the surface. So I decided to tell you just a couple of stories, one from the beginning and the other from near the end of our years together. I chose these stories in part because they include some of Paul’s writing, which I love, and because they capture one of my favorite aspects of Paul: his enormous, tender heart.

Paul and I met on Valentine’s Day, 1981, which seems fitting for the beginning of a long love story. There’s a funny bit of story around our first meeting, but I’m not going to tell you that now. More than a few people here know it, so if you haven’t heard it, just ask around today and you’ll likely find someone who’s willing to share it with you.

Instead, I want to tell you a story from about a week later. That day, Paul gave me a card with a drawing by artist Richard Stine. A man stands next to a large rock, his tongue pulled out of his mouth by the rope knotted around it, the other end of which is tied around the rock. He is, literally, tongue-tied. The caption reads ‘Man struggling with an inability to properly express himself with words.’ We hadn’t known each other long, but I already had a sneaking suspicion that having a rock tied to his tongue might be the only thing that could keep Paul from expressing himself quite ably with words. And, in fact, the entire inside and back of the card were covered in very sweet words about… well, the sort of things you write when you’re in the first blush of love, and the smallest things make you happy. I’m not going to share all of them, but they ended like this:

But when he tried to figure out how to say this to her, he felt all awkward, like there was a rock tied to his tongue and this guy called Stine walked by and drew a picture of it and put it on a card, which our hero gave his friend to show how he felt, knowing she’d understand, and glad that she would, and glad that he knew her and glad that she existed and glad for the day and just plain glad.

[There was a bit of extemporaneous speaking here, as I didn’t manage to write anything down beforehand, about love, and cancer, and our coming apart and eventually finding our way back together again. You and I will both be able to hear it on the mp3; I hope it made sense.]

When Paul was diagnosed with oral cancer early in 2004, we started writing a blog to keep our family and friends updated on what was going on, both medically and emotionally. After the medical crisis was over, we continued writing, because Paul had always been a writer, and I had become one. In May of 2005, after hearing a song that moved him, Paul wrote this on the blog:

I’ve always been a sappy, idealistic kind of guy, the kind of guy who loves Frank Capra films because he wants to believe in goodness, and who wishes that the news from the Senate this week had been a bit more like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Luckily, Kimberly is pretty sappy in her own way, so neither of us has to be embarrassed when we get misty-eyed about a TV show. Since my lymphoma, I’ve developed an added dimension of this, which, for the lack of a better term, I’ll just call ‘the weepies.’ There are some things that can trigger tears streaming down my face before I know it. My near-death experiences have left me with a clear channel straight to my unfiltered emotional heart, and every so often, something can zip right down that channel and hit a switch, and out come the tears.

It’s not always tears of sadness, or pain. In fact, to me the interesting thing about these tears is that they are often so many things at once, happy, sad, grateful, grieving. I wasn’t kidding about that clear channel; this is undistilled emotion, before it’s gotten fractionated into happy or sad. Depending on the trigger, it may have more a flavor of one or another identifiable feeling, but it’s never, ever simple.

Songs seem to be good as triggers, and there are some that get me weeping immediately, no matter what mood I’m in. One of these is the Louis Armstrong version of ‘What a Wonderful World’, although just about any other version will do. After what I’ve been through, the awareness of what it means to simply be alive to experience the world is powerful. I always think it’s funny when that song comes on the radio, because there it is, a happy, optimistic song, and there I am with tears running down my cheeks, barely able to speak, because it is such a happy song.

When Paul and I ran off to Hawai’i the week before his surgery last November, we went on a helicopter tour called Volcanoes and Waterfalls. Neither of us had ever been in a helicopter – or over a volcano – so we were excited. Because helicopters are loud, everyone was fitted with noise-cancelling headphones and microphones; the only way you could hear yourself or anyone else speak was when the pilot turned on the mics. For most of the flight, the pilot played a soundtrack through the headphones. As we lifted off, the first tune in the soundtrack was the theme from Hawaii 5-0. While we circled over the volcano, spotting two small active lava flows, the music was fiery and heavy on the bass.

Then we turned and flew toward an area where upland rivers drop over cliff after cliff on their way to the ocean. As the first waterfalls came into view, the soundtrack changed to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s gorgeous medley of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World. As Iz began to sing “I see trees of green, red roses, too,” I turned to look at Paul. His blue eyes were bright, and tears were running down his face… as they were down mine. (He was right that I’m pretty sappy, too.) We smiled at each other for a long, leaky moment, silently mouthed one of our terms of endearment, ‘sap’, and turned back to watch the wonderful world below us.

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When I finished reading, I asked everyone to stand and join me in singing What a Wonderful World. There were more than a few tears, including my own.

I see trees of green, red roses too.
I see them bloom, for me and you.
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white,
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night.
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky,
are also on the faces of people going by.
I see friends shaking hands, saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying, “I love you.”

I hear babies cry. I watch them grow.
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

12 thoughts on “A Tender Heart.

  1. It was a wonderful service – simple, yet moving. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when we sang “What a Wonderful World.” Thank you for putting so much love into organizing the event.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there and look forward to hearing the MP3 whenever you get to it. You’re both such eloquent writers and it’s very moving to read.

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us, Kimberly. It sounds like a lovely celebration. Sending you love across the miles. xo

  4. Dear Kimberly, The memorial for Paul sounds like it was Beautiful tribute to Paul. Wish I could have been there.
    What A Wonderful World has a special meaning to our family too. When Suzan was on the radio she played that song every year on GDaddys birthday and when Brad married ,He and Gaggy danced to it. It tugs at my heart when I hear the words. Sending you my love.
    Caralyn

  5. The bagpipes didn’t record??? You see, we DO need microphones sometimes 😉 Thank you Kimberly for inviting me to be a part of this very special event.

    • I haven’t listened to it yet, Ray, but that’s what Joanne told me. Thank you so much for being here. xoxo

  6. I am so sorry I didn’t make it, Kimberly (our house has been dealing with one illness after another).

    I know I told you the story of Paul being there for me in 2008 when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He knew I needed to be with people, but couldn’t talk yet, so he and another friend (who had lost her parents to cancer) sat and had a beer with me at Folklife, nearly silently as it turned out. What you may not know, is that my father and I danced to that very song, the Louis Armstrong version, at my wedding. Somehow, the fact that it was/is a favorite is not even a little bit surprising to me. I will now have an even more special place in my heart, not to mention even leakier eyes, when I hear one of my favorite songs play.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful stories. XOXO

  7. I don’t think I could have sung the song! The tears were streaming just reading your thoughts. I always liked that song and now it will have more meaning to me.
    I’ve been trying to connect to anything on line since Sunday (I think it was a router problem). Wish I could have joined everyone. Family and friends are the most important part of our lives.
    Aunt Martha

  8. Kimmy: I’ll never hear “What a Wonderful World Again” without thinking of Paul and you flying over Hawaii. Thank you for sharing that beautiful memory. Sending you love and hugs across the universe. Thank you for posting this as we were very sad not to be there with you to celebrate Paul’s wonderful life.

  9. I, unabashedly, was one of those family members who were very weepy, sappy and tear filled. While I love that song, I could not get out but a few of the lines because of the HUGE lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. My cousin Paul meant the world to me.

    I was in college when Paul battled cancer for the first time, I remember one call when it was thought he may not make it and I should prepare for that. Nothing worse then hearing those words come from your grandmother’s mouth. Thankfully he was the strongest person I have ever known – as well as the brightest. Not just a matter of IQ but his spirit. His physical self may have left us…his spirit lives on in each of us, as John Serna put it…The Force. May it be with all of us….Always

  10. What a beautiful account, Kimberly. I will look forward to hearing it. And what a beautiful, harsh world it is. Love you.

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