This is another wonderful tribute to Jack Gilbert — showing his great sense of humor — written by Sean Gaffney. I’m reblogging it here to have a place I can go back to, to remember … and smile… : ) Thanks, Jack… (And thank you, Sean…) Long live Jack’s book club!

Sean Gaffney

Tonight was set aside as book club night, which won’t happen as Jack is unavailable.

This year represents the 20th anniversary of the founding of Jack’s Great Book Salon; I’ve only been on board for the past ten.

Book club has really thinned out since I joined (Jack insisted that it wasn’t because I joined…), which had an unusually positive side benefit for me personally – there were the occasional meetings when the rest of the group would drop off, and so the evening would be just Jack and myself.

I am realizing today what a true blessing that was.

In the interest of full disclosure, I thought of dropping out of book club a couple years back, but kept re-upping for another year just for the guaranteed monthly hang out time with Jack.

Jack’s sense of humor wasn’t the knee-slapping variety, but rather a wry wit. When scheduling…

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“Jack, Tonight’s Book Club…”

It’s easy to get lost in tribute messages, because you want to remember… You don’t want to ever forget good people, and certainly don’t want them to move away to a far-off place… But letting go is part of taking hold of life, including all the must-haves we don’t want… This past Monday, March 26, 2012, around 7:45 p.m. Pacific, our friend Jack Gilbert left us, something we definitely didn’t want…

So many beautiful tributes keep rolling in about him… I knew Jack as the leader of a wonderful book club… I also knew him as one of the instructors for the Act One writing program in L.A. — and considered him a friend I wish I’d known better… I think we sometimes are so focused on keeping our own lives going, that in the middle of our own daily challenges, we often lose sight of the people around us. We appreciate them, but I don’t think we always invest enough in their lives. But Jack did.

He was kind, intelligent, insightful, loved to laugh, loved God, and loved people; he was an encourager to his fellow wanderers on this big ol’ planet. As my friend Christina said, he was like a father figure in so many ways. I think she’s right. Although I never consciously thought of Jack as a dad, it makes perfect sense. His nurturing qualities fostered so many great relationships.

While scrolling through the messages, I learned much more about this friend of ours, including about his love of traveling, his adventurous spirit, and his overall passion for living. But one particular shared memory stands out for me… A former roommate of his, Johnny, said that once in a while, Jack would carefully lead their elderly apartment manager outside to look up at the stars through a telescope… Maybe it’s because I’m now my mom’s caregiver, but that picture of a younger person helping an older person star-gaze is so precious… I bet they had great conversations about life and God and the universe while looking for the Pleides or some shooting stars or even the North Star…

Inside that building is where we had our book-club meetings. Barbara Nicolosi had introduced me to his group — “Jack’s Great Book Salon of L.A.” — when I first moved to town, and it became one of the highlights of living in the Valley, even though I couldn’t always be a regular participant, even though I only lived five minutes away… Jack’s apartment was also right down the street from where the Brady Bunch front-of-the-house exteriors were shot; he loved to share his knowledge of where to go and what to see — and the tourist in me loved that. Warner Bros. was close by, and CBS was right around the corner.

The first month I joined, I’m pretty sure Bram Stoker’s Dracula was the novel up for discussion. And it’s been one of my favorites ever since. Jack knew good writing and good stories inside and out, and the goal was to read the classics with appreciation — and to have fun digging in and mining for gold. He had such a way of extracting the humanity from a novel, seeing the hearts and motives of the characters. He asked just the right questions to lead the group in great conversations and analysis. And the chosen novels, and sometimes stage plays, usually had film adaptations. We’d watch film clips, and would once in a while journey out to a restaurant or pub that fit the theme of the story. Christmastime included watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was tradition. I loved time-traveling through stories with this group!

Later, when I moved back to the East Coast to help my mom, Jack let me create a Facebook page for the book club. We use it to supplement our group’s email discussions for those of us who can’t be there in person. Once again, there were times when I couldn’t actively participate, but just a couple weeks ago, I posted that I’d be back soon, and had planned on joining everyone for Pride and Prejudice in April… But now … Jack won’t be there…

It’s all so bittersweet… You know your friend is alive and well in Heaven, and probably having the time of his life, but there’s a place that was his here, on Earth, and that space can’t be filled by anyone else in the same way; that person and his place is unique, just like each one of us… I think he would say that we all matter, and that if any one of us went missing, it wouldn’t be the same … but that for the time we’ve been given, we have to keep on living, really living, the best we can — and to see life as an adventure, and to remember everything that’s important, even looking up at the stars once in a while … that we need to think about those far-away places…

Another member of our book club, Sean Gaffney, said I could share what he wrote. It’s perfect:

Jack,
With all this hoopla, don’t forget you postponed book club to this Thursday night. No more postponing, I have some things from Quixote that I have to ask you about – like how much we need people devoting their lives tilting against impossible odds to make the world a better place; what it must be like to give oneself over madly and completely in the service of others; how it must feel to know when you’re laid to your rest that the world is much better for this, that one man still strove with his last ounce of courage and reached the unreachable star. I figure you’ll have some significant insight to these questions.
Until then, my friend.

And that’s who our friend Jack was. And if he could, he’d be there this evening for Sean and the L.A. book club… Cortney and Susan and I, three of the club members from a distance, have already decided we’ll keep this book club going in Jack’s honor…

And you know what? I bet God really was going to answer the thousands of prayers going up for our friend in the way we had hoped… He heard us all even before a prayer formed on our lips, and His heart was moved… He saw Jack’s brother and 93-year-old father, and Janet and her family, and His heart was beyond moved… They say there are no tears of sadness in Heaven, but I don’t think that applies to Jesus… I think His heart is still moved to compassion for His children still on Earth, probably more than we realize…

Starting at 7 p.m. Pacific this past Monday, 45 minutes before Jack entered Heaven, his friends gathered to pray in the Act One offices. People had been praying since his hospitalization of course; my friend Sr. Marie-Paul and all the nuns in her order were praying; Jack was on countless prayer lists; my friend Leilani and I even prayed over the phone together over the weekend, linking coast to coast, praying that his illness and the pneumonia would be kicked out and replaced with perfect health, but this was another collective gathering on Monday night. And through the Internet, prayers went up around the world at that time too.

I remember turning TBN on to play in the background while I prayed — and, at one point, some man talked about going to Heaven and then returning to Earth to tell others about it. And I wondered, hoped it would be a good sign for us… Please don’t make that “Heaven talk” be a sign you’re taking him…

At another point while praying, I felt a burst of joy — that’s the best way I can describe it — and I wondered if that could be a good sign for us … but deep down, I was thinking it might be a good sign for Jack instead…

But I kept praying, intent on maybe “swaying” God with all the other prayers going up for healing, asking Him to change His mind like He did for Hezekiah, if He was going to take Jack, but ultimately praying for God’s will… But still… I kept praying with everyone else, only to find out right before 11 p.m. that as I was asking the Lord to keep him here, he was already there…

Part of me, I admit, had said, “C’mon, God… We all know you can do this… It’s so easy for you… And Jack’s such a wonderful person… You can take him Home later, can’t you? Please, God? I mean, I bet most of us have been claiming in your Name, and quoting all the Scriptures that deal with faith and healing… And surely our faith’s bigger than a mustard seed, and… Surely, all these prayers make a difference… Right? God? Father God? Jesus? Holy Spirit? Right? Please…”

But you know what? Knowing how big God’s heart is, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if maybe while Jack was in the hospital, and right before his journey on Earth was almost finished, Jesus was talking with him. And maybe their conversation went something like this:

“Jack, a lot of my kids are praying for you right now, you know…”

“Yes, Lord…”

“And they’re going to be heartbroken tonight if…”

Just then, something distracted Jack, and he looked over Jesus’ shoulder — Heaven in the distance caught his eye…

“So…,” Jesus continued, “I was thinking that maybe…”

Jack smiled and laughed a little…“Are you kidding?!”

And so Jesus and Jack set off for Heaven together on yet another adventure…

Well, that might’ve been how it went. I’d like to think so anyway… Maybe he couldn’t resist running off to a new far-away place that looked amazing even from a distance … a place that, as my friend Susan suggested, might be full of libraries and new book clubs to start, where you could even invite the authors… A place you’d have to get to by flying up through the stars first…

If it happened that way, I don’t think we would’ve looked back either, if we were in his shoes. Not because we would want to leave the people we loved here, but because there was a big reunion party to go to, a banquet, and work to be done and new places to see and old friends and family to hug again… And more parties to plan … for us, for later… Everything Jack did was in service for others…

And talking about banquets makes me remember the first conversation I had with one of Jack’s colleagues, David Schall, the founder and director of Inter-Mission. As he looked around the Act One banquet hall, his thoughts seemed to be in a different place… At that moment, his eyes were full of memories of somewhere else… He told me that he had already seen everything that was in that banquet hall, including the details of the silverware and napkins, that God had given him a vision. He said God had told him that this banquet would be happening and that all He had promised would be fulfilled… A couple years later, God took David Home too, after he arrived for church one Sunday… I know David was one of the friends who greeted Jack up there, and by now they’re probably busily and happily working on new projects together. It’s never the end in God’s Kingdom…

There really are happy endings, but those of us who know Jesus have to remind each other once in a while of what He said… That those forever kind of happy endings that we crave are waiting for later… We’re pilgrims here, and this Earth is not our forever home… But one day, we’ll see with clearer eyes, and if we cry, it won’t be because we’re sad. One day, we’ll see Love Incarnate face to face, and we’ll see all our friends and family who have gone on ahead of us, like Jack…

And if Jack could read to us from a great piece of writing to comfort our hearts, besides Scripture he might choose this:

“Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effect
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

(This sermon, “The King of Terrors,” was spoken by Henry Scott-Holland, the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, at St. Paul’s, on Whitsunday 1910, while the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster. Published in “Facts of the Faith,” 1919.)

P.S. — Jack always challenged the writers to enter NaNoWriMo and ScriptFrenzy. Last night I checked both sites. I hadn’t been to the one for NaNo in quite a while … and when I opened the “Writing Buddies” page, there was “WINNER!” right next to Jack’s picture. He had met his goal. Truly, he has indeed met his goal now… Also, on the ScriptFrenzy page, the title of the screenplay Jack was going to start in April had the word “Starlight” in it … and it was categorized as a “romance/romantic comedy”… I thought that was just perfect … and I bet he’s getting ready to start on it soon, way up in Heaven…

See you again, Jack… ’Til then, please save us all seats in your writers group and new book club… We’d love to hear your answers to Sean’s questions. And please, let’s revisit Pride and Prejudice and invite Jane Austen. And The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien. And Henry V and Shakespeare. And … well, the list is endless, isn’t it? : ) I think you’re having a really good time up there… We miss you, but we’ll see you again, dear friend, just around the corner…

This Last Full Day of Winter…


It’s hard to believe the last few days have been the last official days of winter — and here we are on the very last full day of winter. Spring arrives at some point tomorrow, and then we’re thrown into a brand-new season. So out with the old, in with the new… So many challenges lately. But I choose to see them as stepping stones to wherever it is I’m supposed to be going. I’m still choosing joy along this journey also. Most days, I have a crying time, having a release of what’s heavy for that day, giving it to God, talking to Him, and then moving forward. Some see tears as weakness, but for me, it’s a way of releasing whatever it is… God says He sees each tear we cry and knows exactly how many.

“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.” (Psalm 56:8, The Message Bible)

Even though He doesn’t always run to the rescue the way we want, it’s good to know He’s keeping track of everything… He’s got a plan, a good plan. I have to keep trusting Him, and watch how He works everything out, in His timing, in His way. I know deep down that in the end, it’ll be worth it…

Well, today I raked up eight bags of pine straw (see pic). Yes, out with the old and in with the new… There’s a garden that needs planting…

Good-bye winter! I will miss some of your days… And it was a great last full day of your season… But I look forward now, to this new season of springtime…

(I had hoped to get this in before midnight … but because I’m not asleep yet, I’m still considering this March 19. ; )

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Actually, I think I love them all. I believe in celebrating each day — and if a certain day turns out to be a holiday too, well, all the better. But I also love the Irish culture and my Irish roots.

No, I’m not 100 percent Irish. In fact, I’m pretty much a “mutt.” As an American doing genealogy research when time allows, I’m finding so many nationalities in my blood: French, English, Spanish, and Welsh on my dad’s side — and Scottish, Irish, Dutch, and German on my mom’s side. And going back farther, there’s Norwegian, Italian, and possibly Jewish, plus more. I guess my ancestors traveled quite a bit. ; )

But back to the Irish. I remember when visiting England and Scotland, before I knew all these roots, I had a strong pull to visit Wales and Ireland. Because of time and money, I wasn’t able to then, but those two places are still on my list.

To celebrate today, my mom and I watched Celtic concerts (Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder) on PBS and enjoyed nontraditional Irish fare — but green — spinach pizza and guacamole with chips. : ) Plus Irish soda bread and green tea earlier. I also brought out my inner child and looked for four-leaf clovers; although I didn’t find any, I’m sure they were there, hidden among a thousand. It’s nice to know that the treasures of life are always around, and that one day they’ll be illuminated, in perfect time, in perfect fashion. I’m just happy knowing there’s still more to discover.

I hope you had a great St. Patrick’s Day too, even if you don’t have one drop of Irish blood. I also love Greek food and culture, but I still haven’t discovered any Greek family members, but still hope to. ; )

Just in case you’re not sure how to make guacamole, this is what I do:

Peel and cut up one large, ripe avocado.
Add lemon juice, minced garlic, sea or pink salt (use all organic ingredients).
Use a spoon and mix it together. Mash up some of the avocado and leave some chunks.
Dip into it with organic chips and enjoy!
(I don’t use a recipe, so just experiment with the ingredients until you find the taste you like. Some people like to add extras, like onions and lime juice, but I just like this simple recipe.)

Newness…


Here’s the new oregano pushing through again. Absolutely love seeing new growth…

Springtime is my favorite season, as it reminds me of hope. Newness growing out of the old, becoming its own… I love the symbolism of it all. And although the new year was the start of new resolutions, springtime is a huge reminder of new things in store…

Today, my mom and I will plant tomato and basil seeds, plus some others, in little peat pots. And with care and attention, they’ll grow and flourish.

And that’s what I pray for all of us. That we give ourselves the care and attention we need, that we help those around us, and that we all grow and flourish together.

It’s not even officially spring yet, but it feels like it. Well, actually, today feels like early summer, with temps in the 70s. Love that sunshine… Love the hope of newness!

Like A Gentle, Fierce Giant…


An unexpected, unseasonably warm and sunny day had rolled in, carrying a slight breeze, a bunch of seagulls, the sound of soft waves touching the shore. On this day, it was like life was put on pause as my friend Brian walked along the beach with his 5-year-old son. For that segment of time, there were no worries about unpaid bills, looking for more work, or stretching a few dollars at the grocery store. Not one heavy topic existed. Just sensory overload of sun and waves and…

“Why did God send Jesus?”

Brian stopped and stared at his son. He told me later he had no idea how to answer that. This little short guy, this 5-year-old, looked up expecting an answer. Brian said he was stumped — because all his knowledge about Scripture wasn’t going to work this time.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I don’t want to think. Sometimes I think too much, and the days are heavy enough without having to attempt to answer theological, philosophical questions. Especially from someone who’d only be satisfied with a simple explanation. ; ) But back to my friend’s predicament…

Thankfully for Brian, before he could even attempt a word, his son’s attention was caught by a flock of seagulls. They were up ahead, sitting together, facing the ocean. The little boy loved birds. He loved watching them fly. And he especially loved when they were down on his level. Brian kept his eye on his son, watching as he happily and cautiously got closer and closer to the birds — and then, in a fit of exuberance, ran screaming with complete joy, trying to join them in their inner circle.

But the birds flew away.

And his son dropped to his knees, and cried huge tears, the kind only a 5-year-old can produce in an instant of utter hurt.

“Hey, hey, Buddy!” His dad ran up and scooped him in the air, into his arms. “You’re okay. What’s up? What’s with those tears, huh?”

“They flew away, Daddy!”

“Well, of course they did! You’d fly away too if some giant was chasing you. Wouldn’t you?”

The little boy thought for a moment, as another tear fell down his cheek. “But I’m not a giant.”

He set his son down, and they both sat on the warm sand. Brian held him as they looked out over the ocean. A barge was in sight now, along with a sailboat. He kissed his son’s head and wiped another tear away. “To them you are.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” Brian looked down the beach, where the seagulls found another place to congregate. He stared at them for long time, as his son dug holes in the sand with his toes. They sat there like that for quite a while, not counting time. Brian let the heaviness of the day in a bit… The bills, the job search, providing… He said a little prayer. He knew the One who listened. He knew that even on a bad day, God was still good, like an unexpected warm day in winter…

Brian looked toward the seagulls again. He wished nature mingled more with humans. It would’ve made his son’s day, if only they had stayed… And then Brian said it dawned on him — the answer to his son’s question…

“You know what you asked me before about Jesus? About why God sent Him to us?”

“Yeah.”

“You still want to know?”

His son nodded and looked up with bright eyes.

“Because He knew if He came down here as Himself, we’d all run away…”

“‘Cause He’s a giant, right?”

“Right.”

“Like I’m a giant to birds?”

“That’s right.”

“I wouldn’t run away from Jesus though. Would you?”

“Nah…” Brian answered, thinking about the times he actually had…

“That’s nice of God,” the little boy said.

“Yeah… That was very nice…”

I’ve since heard similar stories from others, and know God speaks to all of us in the same — and in different — ways. That story will always be special to me, as it reminds me of another facet of our Father’s undying Love for us … sending Jesus so we wouldn’t be afraid of Him when He approached, so we could see Him up close and walk with Him and hear everything on His heart … and find out we’re on His heart… The One you’d call Friend and Protector, who’d die saving you if it meant you’d live with Him forever… The One whose Kingdom isn’t on these shores, but who owns it all anyway — who’s bigger than bills, and jobs, and provision, and illness, and despair, and everything else that plagues the human condition… I’m so grateful… Even when life doesn’t turn out the way we’d hoped… Even on bad days, semi-bad days, and those that are just mildly bad, I’m so grateful for Jesus… Of course, there are the good days too, thank God… And He’s right there in those as well… Like a gentle, fierce Giant…

The accompanying photo is of my friend Alicia Calmes, used with her permission (www.aliciacalmes.com).