I’m writing this from a Java House in Iowa City, the one over on the west side of town that’s now part of this mini mall that, when I was in high school, was a field of wildflowers. Come to think of it, the Java House did not exist when I was in high school. I remember going to the one downtown during my first winter break home from college and thinking how pretentious it was. Sometimes I still think that, but given the hours of my life that I have now spent idling away in fancy coffee shops, I should admit to being either pretentious or hypocritical myself. Or both.
When people say, “I just couldn’t keep it to myself,” they usually mean that they have good news (or even the Good News). Mine is not good news. I’ve been pondering a good deal lately about the nature of online communication and whether, when we post something either good or bad, we are doing so in order to be informative or in order to garner accolades or condolences. I haven’t come up with an answer, but I have realized that, for me, the online world and the regular world have bled into each other so much that I can’t always separate out what happens in my real life into distinct parcels that fit neatly into pre-printed grids. I was always fairly good at coloring inside the lines when I was a kid, and I used to hate it when I made mistakes. Some years later, it seems to me as though mistakes are pretty much the currency we trade in, if we’re honest.
Friday afternoon, my godson, Phelim Andrew Thurston, the son of my oldest friend in the world, died suddenly. He was not quite eight months old.
When I was last in Iowa City, my mother, our friend Alice, and I held a baptism for Phelim in my mom’s house. I never got to take a formal picture of us all, and there are more pictures of Phelim’s older brother, Imriel, in that set than of Phelim himself, who was at that time still quite tiny and hooked up to a monitor. He was born prematurely and spent several weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit, and some months after that connected to a monitor. He was given a clean bill of health after that, though, and seemed to be thriving. You can see him flirting with his mom in this little video.
I got the news Friday afternoon when I got home from work. Before dawn on Saturday I was in my car and headed to Worland, WY, where I got on an eighteen-seat plane with three passengers headed to Denver by way of Laramie. I got into Chicago that afternoon and was practically apoplectic at seeing gas for $4.39 a gallon on the cab ride to my grandmother’s, where I spent the night as I was exhausted beyond measure. It turned out to be just as well, since I wouldn’t have been able to leave that day anyway.
I generally fly to Chicago because it’s almost always cheaper than flying to Iowa, and in this case there was the added bonus that I’d be able to use my mother’s car, which was at my grandmother’s because my mother had left it there when she took the train out to Boston, where she’s spending a month learning about street ministry. The difficulty lay in the location of the keys to my mother’s car, which, after numerous phone calls (including one to Triple A to get the car unlocked, because at one point we thought the key was in it), we finally learned was on my cousin’s dresser in his apartment, which was all very well except that he was in Peoria for the weekend along with the other people who might have had a key to his place, and we had to wait until six o’clock last night for them to return so that we could get the key so that I could drive to Iowa City, which is only about three and half hours away. I got in late last night, after the extreme disappointment of stopping at the Mobil Mart in Rock Falls for a doughnut only to find that not only do they not have Krsipy Kreme doughnuts any more, they also had no doughnuts of any sort at all. (And Firefox, apparently, accepts donut but not doughnut. Gar.)
I’ll be here for a week, at least. I am extremely grateful to my director, Frances, for telling me to go ahead and take off and we’d figure out my timesheet later, and to my coworkers, for covering everything in my absence.
And thank you to all of you. Those on Twitter got this news a few days ago; this is the first time I’ve been able to sit still for long enough to write the rest of it down. If you are a praying sort, please say a prayer for Caitrin, my friend, for baby Phelim, and for Imriel, Ileana, and Delaney, his older brother and half-sisters, and Sam, Phelim and Imriel’s father. And thank you all, again.