December 21, 2012
I arise in the dark of the shortest day of the year. A yellow cat curls on my desk; a candle burns at my side. I sip black coffee. The world is still here, unperturbed by the predictions of foolish people who seized on distortions of Mayan myth to foretell yet another Hollywood-style End of Everything.
We do not have to reach so far for tragedy. It is enough that a child in my city of St. Paul pulled out a loaded gun from beneath his father’s pillow, aimed it at his younger brother and pulled the trigger. It is enough that a young, profoundly sick man murdered 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, Connecticut. And night after night, it is enough that long lines form at the homeless shelters in the bitter cold of Minnesota December: people waiting for a chance at a bed—decided by lottery—or a place on the floor.
How can we not despair?
Piles of Christmas gifts will not comfort us, nor will the unceasing holiday music that pipes from every possible sound system. There is always something underneath, something waiting past the snow, the darkness and the sadness of our world.
My friend, Michael Murdock Murray knew that. Perhaps that is why he exited this world this morning, when the tumor on his liver finally overpowered him. Solstice: a good place to end and to begin.
Michael and I grew up together in the tiny town of Baudette, seat of Lake of the WoodsCounty, perched on the border with Ontario. Bright, well-read and quirky, with a wonderful sense of humor and a beautiful singing voice, he was one of my best guy friends, part of the tribe of my home town with whom I talked politics, listened to the Fugs, danced, skinny dipped. One of the people I knew I’d be friends with forever, because we had things in common that transcended our having been raised in the same place.
He caught up with me this past January at a reading I did at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. With him his two daughters, Susan and Ann, the latter an attorney like me and pregnant with her second child.
Michael was adopted. The birth of his first child transfixed him. “The first person I’d ever seen who was related to me,” he said. He raised the girls, largely on his own, cooking for them from the vast organic garden he grew every summer, and made a living as a school counselor.
He called me a few months ago when a visit to Mayo revealed that the tumor had grown too large to allow a liver transplant. He was getting thinner, and his voice was becoming huskier.
He got to celebrate Thanksgiving with his girls at the house of his sister, a nurse, who was by then taking care of him. And then he started to go away, like the light in December fading toward the 21st day.
Now I excavate old photos of Michael. I pray for real gun control and for a world in which everyone has a warm bed at night.
I know the light will return, minute by minute.