Friday, December 31, 2010

#293: My Friend, the Beautiful Lunatic

My friend Alan ended his fight with cancer today. He had been in a coma since before Christmas. He had a stroke and never fully recovered, though our friend Alycat was with him in Nashville, and is sure that he heard and understood when she told him how much we loved and were praying for him. It's a happy day for him, a sad one for us. But as much as I want to be sad, I can't help smiling every time I think of him.

He was the doctor on duty when our first cat, "Uh-Huh" collapsed on the examination table. He held her in his hands and gave her CPR for several minutes until it became clear that he would not be able to restore her breath, even with his own. He was there again when little "Mo," the eternal kitten, arrived at the back door of the hospital. Our little man was gasping for breath and his mouth was turning blue. This time, Alan was able to bring our cat back from death. In the years to come, he would do that many times, for many people's animals. One cold afternoon, we took turns with the shovel in our backyard digging a grave for a cat who had to be euthanized, but whose family could not bear the thought of strangers disposing of her little body. We stood around the grave and prayed for the spirit of our fellow creature. One winter morning, he heard a terrible scream from under the hood of his car when he tried to start it. A cat had crawled up underneath for warmth and was horribly wounded by the turning machinery. He took her to work with him, performed reconstructive surgery, nursed her back to health, and shared his home with her for the rest of her life. Another night, standing in his bathroom, he heard a forlorn meeowling coming from the tree outside his window. He opened the sash, stuck a litter pan out into the rain, and in jumped little Maggie the crazy Southern Gothic cat who lives in our attic and howls out the window to frighten passers-by on sultry summer evenings. How can you be sad when you remember a life like Alan's?

After his painful divorce, he lived with us for a while. Though he eventually moved out, he would come and go in our home like one of the family. He would show up with a six-pack of beer and a goofy grin and we would all get drunk and play scrabble. Once, he accused Mrs P of being a witch because of her uncanny ability to quiet  and communicate with even the most furious animals. Also her ability to consistently whip our tails at that infernal crossword game. Another time, after a bottle of wine or two, we laughed ourselves silly as Alan lifted Mo up in his bony hands and gently tap tap tapped his little kitty head to the ceiling of our living room, over and over again. Trust me, had you been there, you would have found it funny, too. Mo has forgiven, but never forgotten this event. He still refers to our friend as "Bloody Alan." Then there was the night in our living room when he taught Mrs P's boss' nine year old son to roll up his pants, raise his knees, tuck his hands under them, and make farting noises by kicking his feet up and down. I have never been able to duplicate this. If I had not seen it, I would not believe it possible. Maybe it's something you learn at camp like whistling through your fingers or spitting through your teeth. I never saw Alan do either, though he could thwack a watermelon seed across the yard with uncanny accuracy.
Alan asked me to read at his second wedding. I used to do this all the time, whenever anyone asked, but since nearly every wedding I have graced by intoning "The Greatest of these is LOVE," has resulted in an unhappy divorce, I've given up the practice. His may have been the last. He never had any kids of his own, but he loved his step children and he loved being a dad to them. It brought something holy out of him that just didn't show when he was sitting our our back porch flicking beer caps at the back of Mrs P's head.

One night, on the feast of St Francis, Alan came to St. Martha's to participate in the blessing of the animals. Though he was not a member of our parish, or even an Episcopalian that I can remember, he moved reverently among dogs, birds, cats, and one very puzzled pony. He laid his hands on each head, just as the priest did, and blessed them as brothers and sisters. After the service and the obligatory pot luck supper, (always an adventure when the parish hall is full of animals,) Alan spoke about what it meant to minister to the suffering of animals and the people who loved them. He talked about the painful decision to end the life of a creature you love, and the kindness inherent in that decision. He read one such story to us from the book by James Herriot that he said inspired him to become a vet. Though he was one of the silliest men I ever met, he treated his work as a holy vocation to serve God's most helpless children. Alan could be exasperating, but he was a very difficult man not to love.

I hate that he died fighting cancer. God forgive me, but there are a lot of other people I would rather see dead. That's not my call, I understand. Cancer doesn't choose us any more than we choose cancer. We just sort of bump into one another and our crazy story plays itself out. I don't try to make sense of his death. I grieve for the laughter I will never be able to share with him again. Not in this life, anyway. I grieve for the families who will not know his tender touch when it is time for them to decide when their beloved pet has suffered enough. I want to be sad about all this.

But then I look into Mo's kittenish eyes, now 15 years old and usually tired, but still afire with the life he once came so close to losing. I stroke Maggie's back as she sleeps on my lap in  her chair by the attic window. I glance at the spot on the ceiling where a pair of pointy ears once tap tap tapped until we were all weeping with laughter, (all of us except the cat, of course.) I know I should be sad. But whenever I think of my friend, the beautiful lunatic, I can't help smiling.

God bless you, Alan. You loved all creatures, great and small. Some of them you delivered from death's door, others you helped tenderly along to heaven. I know they're all glad to see you tonight. I can only imagine the scene when you arrive at the gate and all those cats start rubbing your legs at the same time. I can't wait to see you again myself. I'll bring the Rolling Rock in green long-necks. We can lean against the wall and flick caps at the back of St Peter's head while you teach me that leg-farting thing.

Till then, my brother...



  1. Oh, Pennsy, what a lovely tribute to your friend! I am sorry for your pain here on earth, but agree, God has the most endearing new angel. I can just imagine your Alan up there with St.Francis himself, swapping stories and laughing, laughing, laughing....

    Thank you.

  2. Alex fowarded this to me today......I loved it! Tracy Ross Harr

  3. Tracy, Alan was one of the most wonderful men I have ever known, and a treasure of a friend. We are both blessed to have had him in our lives. Peace to you and your family.


Label Cloud

mrs p Cancer running lifting weights LIVESTRONG at the YMCA treadmill weight nutrition depression God Living Strong at the Y injury YMCA dogs mom walking radiation Weight Lifting cardio friends program theatre body fat long slow run love One for the Five aches elliptical race resistance bands stretching 5K Acting Jeff Galloway chemo doctor family mental health Church Pittsburgh Marathon bluegrass fundraising inspiration patience personal trainer recovery Flying Pig Marathon Jesus Johns Striders Race Report Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon bipolar frustration kentucky knees measurements morning promatx yoga Christmas Marathon Pennsy's Greatest Hits cats clothes heart rate hope lance armstrong life molly poetry rest side effects steelers swimming 10K Actors' Guild of Lexington Blog CT Scan Coach Carrie PET Scan cross training exercise fear feeling good groin healing ice cream livestrong nausea powerlifting run/walk/run stair climber surgery Cancer Fighter Cold Gear Hills Iron Horse Half-marathon Job LSR Mum Nike+ Shamrock Shuffle 3K achilles advent arboretum bmi bodyweight exercises changes charity circuit training cycling dad deadlift diabetes encouragement experts give up goals horses interval training jake kettlebells lean body mass new rules of lifting pacing personal best plateau prayer recumbent bike research shoes sleep strength teeth therapist toe video Blood Easter Endurance Funeral Garmin 405 Homecoming House Insurance Juicing Keeneland Legacy Night PR Pennsyltucky Pittsburgh Relapse Run This Town TRX Training Values aflac arnold ben-gay bench press chafing christian compression shorts dentist dreams faith fat fatigue foreclosure good day half marathon hospitality javarunner john's run/walk shop lou schuler new year nurse pains peg tube powercage progressive resistance. racing rain rapture reboot runners world squat sun block supplements team pennsy tired weather will rogers work #3rightThings 9-11 ACSM AIDS Aquaphor Blessings Bluegrass 10K CSN Cancer Boy Cedar Hill Charles Dickens Class of 82 Classes Colby Road College Compassion Courage Crowdrise Cystoscopy Dee Diet EFM Epiphany Fall Fartlek Fat Man Fat Sick and Nearly Dead Frankfort Gadgets Gramma Grampa Gratitude Grete Waitz Guest HITT HIV Hell Holding Hands Holy Saturday Homer Horse Capital Marathon IVP Ice bath Jacuzzi James Taylor Jesus wept Joe Cross John Izzo Joy KY LaDonna Leg Day Lent Lessons Lexington Little Pennsy Mental hospital Midsummer Night's Run Mindfulness MobileFit Negative Splits Old Frankfort Pike Pilates Podrunner Pre-race Priorities RICE Railrunner 10 Miler Random thoughts Resurrection Reunion Run Bob Run Run Report Run Review Run for the Gold 3K Running Form Running for Sabrina STUPID Shakespeare Skip Brown Speed Spinning Summer Of Speed Sunrise Supersets Tao Te Ching Thank You The Wall Three Right Things Toxic Passenger UK UK basketball Urine Urologist Victory Walk of Shame Warrior Westminster Whole Foods Wind Words Zumba ace bandages addicted agony alwyn cosgrove america anger antibiotic anxiety awake back baseball blood clots blood pressure body glide bonhoeffer books brad calories chinup colonoscopy consistency crazy cycles dentures dip dr. google dumbbells elevation facebook failure farts feet fight for life fitness forgiveness frankenpennsy fun getting started glucosamine glutes goal gremlin grenz grumpy hair hamstrings hiccups high school hot ice incarnation indian food jogging john lennon joint legacy trail liniment lunges machines maker's mark medicine ball meds mercy motivation motley fool music nature neighborhood new balance nike noah numbers pennsyltuckian periodization persistence phlebitis postmodern prison professional boundaries progress psychiatrist pullups pushups quads ramble rememberance renewal road running ronnie coleman rowing safety sauna scan-ziety sexy shopping shorts shower sick sleepless snow socks spandex star trek statistics steam room steroids stiff strained muscle strap strength training supination support surgeon survive swackett swiss balls table technology tempo terry bradshaw testicular torsion text thai food that's fit the five thighs walk breaks warm up water fitness water jogging weak wedding ring wellness wife winter workout writing yardwork