Bill lived a life that was easy to celebrate--long, with a happy marriage and three deeply good men for sons. A life full of opera, and scientific research, and three decades of music advocacy on the local school board. He outlived my grandfather, his older brother, by almost 40 years, and for all that time, he did his best to stand in my grandfather's stead for our little branch of the family. I have only one memory of my Calvert grandfather, very fragmentary and perhaps just an extrapolation from family stories. Bill, though, I have at the piano. I have him there right now. He's playing one of A.A. Milne's songs from Hums of Pooh:
Halfway up the stairs
Isn't up and isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery.
It isn't in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run through my head.
It isn't really anywhere.
It's somewhere else instead.
I've been singing that song a lot lately for Gareth, who would spend all day practicing his upstairs crawl if I let him.
My mom's sister got me sorting through my memories with a purpose. "I tried cursing God," she said, "but that didn't really work. I concluded that the only thing to do when you lose someone whose loss is unacceptable is try to become more like them."
What would that mean, to become more like Bill?
He told me a wild story once about his local school board's quest to hire a new superintendent. They thought they'd found the right person, and the next step was to travel from their coastal Connecticut town to the Appalachian bits of western Maryland to see the guy in action. On the way, Bill and his fellow search committee members suffered delayed and redirected flights, rental cars breaking down in the middle of nowhere late at night, a storm of three inch hailstones, everything short of a rain of frogs. After the hailstones episode, I said, "If I'd been on the search committee, I'd have wondered whether that might be a sign we were chasing the wrong guy."
"Oh, no," Bill said mildly, "it was a test of our faith."
The perseverance, I've got. It's the equanimity to go with the perseverance that's kind of hit or miss. My perseverance is fueled mostly by pure ornery stubbornness. Maybe I can figure out how he fueled his. Whatever it was, its burning was clean, steady, and bright.