Sunlight shone through the leaves in a woodland clearing with a hand-dug grave at its center. My friend of 30 years' body lay in the bare pine box at the bottom. His friends and family quietly stood in the sunlight, gathered around the hole in the forest floor. In contrast with the somber sight, my friend's good-natured presence seemed to infuse the atmosphere.
He was in good spirits as he prepared to die, though his jokes and laughter were woven with tender tears. His emotions had become like a child's, deeply felt, arriving with force and departing without a trace.
"It's so hard to let go," my friend said in a tearful moment sitting on his bed, holding a beloved bialy with cream cheese, lox, and tomato, which he could barely eat. He had been speaking of his daughter, who is in her early 30s, and who I first met as a babe nursing in her mother's arms. "I love life so much," he said.
And then his characteristic scatological humor returned and he gave a tragicomic blow-by-blow account of walking crosstown to Grand Central with explosive diarrhea following a particularly difficult medical treatment.
Standing together in the forest, my friend's brother and sister, his wife and ex-wife, his mother and daughter, and the whole gathered tribe had the quality of a resonant instrument. He was a musician, writer, photographer, and publisher, and the assembled group was his final medium of expression. My friend was palpably present among us, or through us, as it were.
The amiable young rabbi and my friend had become close and he spoke of my friend as one who had tasted his essence. At the conclusion of the service, the rabbi asked if anyone wished to share anything more before we filled in the grave.
"This is what Craig said to me before he died," I said.
"'You are my friend. You are my brother. I love you so much. We will be together always.'"
I had to take some breaths between sentences, working to allow the roiling grief in my chest to expand into my body and the circle of people.
After a silent moment, the rabbi picked up a shovel and balanced a load of dirt on the back—a tradition expressing reluctance to bury the one who has passed—and dropped it into the grave. Then two more full shovels of dirt fell with a whump onto the clean casket. He passed the shovel to my friend's wife, who passed it to his mother, and then his daughter. Eventually everyone dropped three shovel-loads of earth onto the casket.
As the dirt piled in I pondered the meaning of my friend's last words—we will be together always. He had said it with such intensity and certainty. It wasn't a sentimental platitude. Rather it was as though he was expressing a statement of fact.
Logically the statement made no sense, for he died and I was still alive. At the same time, I felt his presence interiorly. I felt the characteristic vibration of my friend within myself and in the atmosphere of the group. Though his body had died he was there, in our midst. This was a paradox that added a poignancy to the event in the Tillson forest.
I realized then that there is a part of my nature that isn't bound up in the chain of time. There is something that just is, and in its is-ness will always be, and equally, always has been. In a word, it is eternal.
But eternity is not an infinite amount of time. Eternity is perpendicular to time, as a plane is to a line in the spatial dimensions. Eternity is all time at once. It is an arena of experience we share with the beings with whom we have a deep, essential connection. At that level of our nature we are, will be, and always have been together.
For me the implications of this realization are profound. Most importantly, it reminds me that every exchange with those I encounter is of supreme importance. There is nothing else but to give full attention to the person in front of me. This is the task of being embodied, while I still am.
The ritual of burial concluded but his sister and a friend and I stayed behind and finished filling the grave. We were joined by the cemetery caretaker, Floyd, who had dug the grave, and indeed all the graves in the cemetery.
Working in the dotted sunlight we added the final shovels of dirt onto the mound of the grave and stood in silence with our brother and friend. With the grief was also a knowing of the joyous truth of his words. We will be together always.
Craig Steven Gordon died November 1, 2023. I met him shortly after starting Chronogram in the mid `90s when he was publishing a magazine with a similar spirit called Real News out of his apartment in Woodstock. After that, he worked at Chronogram for a couple of years before moving on to other ventures. Craig was a beautiful man—smart, funny, and a seeker after truth. Craig was (and is) my friend. His recent work can be seen at Cgphotographer.com.