It was quite a sight: sweet, tender… My ruddy-Irish, burly cousin with the dancing blue eyes and hip musician’s elevated flat top playing children’s tunes on his sax to my three-year-old great niece and nephew. They huddled together in a chair, hands pressed tight to cover tender ears while Chuck tried to constrain the import of his huge brass instrument–made for volume like a thoroughbred is made for speed.
When I was a child, we would visit my cousin’s house often. His Mom’s kitchen was hands down my favorite place to be on this earth. It was a feast for the senses: exotic smells bubbling over from pots on the stove; ready, generous hugs; laughter, and always…always music. Not just some timid background, mood-setting gesture, but no!– in-your-face, loud, spirited music (usually jazz: that wonderful, honest amalgamation of love, joy and pain.)
I remember a warm summer evening, sitting around the fire pit in their backyard. The whole family was there–all, except Chuck. He was inside practicing his sax. He was pretty new to it, judging by the squawks and squeeks assaulting us through the open windows. He had to know it wasn’t too impressive yet–but still, the music played on.
About ten years later, when Steve and I were in L.A. for seminary and grad school, Chuck lived with us for awhile. I have fond memories of staying up very late so we could visit when he was done with his music classes and gigs. We would enjoy popcorn and late night comedy while he wound down from the stresses of his demanding music training. It sounded so hard, and we could sense his frequent frustration. But he didn’t give up. No, the music played on.
In fact, his hard work, combined with musical gifts and a rare depth of “soul” (for a white guy!) all came together to bring him to his dream career, playing music professionally all over the world.
And then, when we were all in our thirties, full of momentum, caught up in careers, and brimming with confidence and hope for the future, everything stopped. Chuck’s older brother Mike, living in China at the time, fell from a staggering height to his death. Silence. Burning shock. (In hindsight, this would seem like such a strange foreshadowing to me, as the parallels to Steve’s death are so profound.)
The evening we heard the news, Steve and I went to see my aunt and uncle. We were so struck at the quiet of their home. No music. Of course not. The grief itself was deafening.
And a few years later, when cancer stole my beloved, music-loving Aunt and we all gathered for her service, Chuck bravely stood to play. I could feel her beaming with pride as he belted out her favorite tune, “Georgia.” Such pain, yet the music played on…
Since Steve’s death, Chuck has been particularly sweet to me. On his most recent visit he patiently educated me about tech skills–unlocking the mysterious inner workings of my computer. He also got our TVs up and running again (a big score with my daughter Ellie!)
But more importantly, through his hugs, humor and steady, loving presence, Chuck models a resilience of spirit that we so need to witness–a reminder that, even after slamming up against unimaginable loss, we can go forward with love, even joy. We need to move out into life and grab on to our visions, our dreams, and the music because it most definitely will still be playing on!!!
Love you, Chuck!