Friday, November 1, 2013

All Souls' Day: A Time of Remembrance

All Saints’ Day is a day to commemorate the saints. Traditionally, during the All Saints' Day  service,  names of those who have died in within the past year are called out in anticipation of All Souls' Day on November 2.   All Souls' Day has been set aside to remember our fellow pilgrims who have crossed over to that “undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.” These are the "thin times," days in which we can easily move into those "thin places" where according to Celtic spirituality the other world lies incredibly close. 

With each passing year, there are significant sojourners who have parted from the present company of friends and family; people who have heretofore shared an earthly path.  And thus we grieve, “but not as those who have no hope.”

This year I have twice stopped my usual activities to mourn the deaths of friends within my own age group. It is yet a further reminder that there are no guarantees about tomorrow. I would like to take this time as we approach All Souls' day to call to remembrance two friends who have died.  Whether or not you take the time to read my own remembrances, please take some time to remember those within your own circle who have died this year. Take the time to get quiet, call to mind your loved ones who have died. Be still and enter in to that sacred thin space where extraordinary communion is possible.

*   *   *

Carlton Bartlett was just a year and a half older than I. In high school we were in the same youth group and he was quite talented musically. I can still recall with delight the best high school assembly program that I ever witnessed at Dadeville High. It was the day that the FFA string band performed for the entire hour. Carlton was lead guitarist as well as lead vocal. He brought the house down with his rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The band further electrified the audience with “Wipeout” in which Jimmy Evers held his own with a magnificent drum solo. I think I was in the tenth grade at the time. Carlton was a gentle fellow and a good friend. He is the one who gave me the only formal guitar lessons I ever received. It was in college that I began to make real progress on the instrument, but it was Carlton’s foundational instruction that allowed me to master the instrument. From that day to this, I often think of Carlton when I pick up my guitar to play a few chords. I saw him only on a few occasions after I left for college, but I always remembered Carlton fondly and was saddened to learn of his passing at the age of 60.  His was the gift of music.

*   *   *

Dan Cookson was a year younger than I. He was from Hannibal, Missouri. We met in Mill Valley, California where we were both students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Dan was an easy going fellow with a ready smile. He was one of those people who elicited a positive response from everyone he encountered. We were friends throughout seminary and roommates for a brief time. We had some classes together, went on choir tour in the Northwest together, explored the rocky Northern California coastline and one day hiked to a place called Mount Vision north of Mill Valley. We both served on mission overseas, he in Okinawa and I in Hong Kong. One week he visited in Hong Kong and we saw some sights and ate snake soup at a little shop on a quaint street in an old section of the city where no one spoke English.

Best Man, 1985
After we both returned to the States, Dan came to visit in Birmingham and was best man at my wedding. He went back to California where he did social ministries and then became a leader in church planting for the California Baptist State Convention. A few years ago Dan, who had never been a smoker, developed lung cancer. He went through rounds of chemotheraphy and was given the all clear. Then a couple of years later he got the chilling news that the cancer had returned. He continued his work while he underwent more rounds of treatment. Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer in April of this year. He is mourned by his wife Tammy and their three children, Danielle, KC, and Kyle. Not surprisingly, there was a huge outpouring of condolences and remembrances from the many people whose lives he had touched. I had not seen Dan since my wedding day 27 years before. We lived in different parts of the country and carried on with our respective lives, but I felt an emptiness as in a brother’s departure.

It was a two or three months after his death that I had a dream about Dan. I dreamed I received an email from him giving guidelines on how to honor those who have departed this life. Next in my dream, I was at a gathering outside in the evening near the beach. Dan was there with his bright eyes and warm smile, wearing a subdued checkered shirt and gray slacks. Apparently there had been talk at the gathering concerning the email I received from Dan about how to honor the departed. My brother-in-law was also there in my dream. He asked me how it was that my friend had an interest in honoring those who have passed. “Oh,” I quietly told him, “Dan is one who has already crossed over.” I looked back in the direction where Dan was standing with a few other people. He stood with his arms folded and he looked my way, nodded his head and smiled. With that, the dream ended. 

Later I remembered one of the last communications I received from Dan. It was when he responded to one of my blog posts in August of 2011. He referred to one night when we were students and he had me in stitches as we were going into San Francisco in his old truck (which he had been driving ever since he wrecked his little sports car). There were yellow rubber dividers between the lanes and Dan found out how flexible they were as he drove his left wheel over them as we approached the bridge.  Divider after divider went down only to immediately spring back up with a ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. It was late, hardly anyone else was on the road, and I was rolling back and forth on the passenger side, cackling with laughter. He was pushing the boundaries, so to speak. We were young, you know. 

I would like to close my remembrance with Dan’s own words to me on my blog:

It is nice hearing from you, especially your heart. It may have seasoned with age over the years but it is still the same Charlie I knew and love. In your sonnet you speak of boundaries, structure, guidance, and the paradox of metaphors. I have learned to deal with these over the years, maybe excelled too well at conforming to expectations. Getting married, starting a family, pursuing a career, all these forces shape our actions and thus have their affect on our lives and dreams. In my heart remains that Missouri country boy in his ’52 Chevy pickup truck running over the yellow tube dividers on Doyle Drive leading to the SF Golden Gate Bridge asking, “What barriers?”    I offer my poem in response to your sonnet:

 An old car!
A boy jumps in-
The sound of engine roaring.

The first soft rain!
Enough to feed the dying grass
And the Prickly Pear’s pain.

In the Moondoggie’s cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die.

No one travels
Along this way but I,
This spring evening.

In all the Sea Fog of May
there is one thing not hidden -
the bridge at
Coronado Bay.

The sun’s last beams
thoughts and loneliness;
into the ocean, flash of green.

Night appears, then clouds
and bring to lovers a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

Sea Moon:
around the ocean beach I wander
and the night is gone.

California's child -
The car he starts & it grinds,
and gazes at the key.

No gas and no joy,
and he is standing, walking
all alone!

Won't you come and see
loneliness? Just one kiss
from the girl Mariah.

Church bells die out.
The fragrant jasmine remain.
A perfect evening!

                                ~ Dan Cookson  

Daniel Cookson, June 27, 1955 - April 30, 2013

Carleton Bartlett and Dan Cookson, two friends whose lives were shorter than any would have wished. May light perpetual shine upon them, and may peace be upon their families.



  1. Charles, this is a stunningly beautiful post.
    Have you published a book of your poetry? You should.


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