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Sunday, November 1, 2009


jr's chair

This morning at 8:30 I learned I'll never see Jr Maxwell again in this world. Major sorrow. Major joy. Sorrow for me. Joy for Jr. Though I did what I could to keep him living, even into his complete helplessness, this time of the spirit leaving his body was inevitable. I was making it possible for him to die in his own bed taken care of with care from the heart. Like I said before, I was given Jr by God to serve as I would serve the Master, to serve as the Master himself. God knows Jr very well, knew what was ahead, sent one of his children to help him in his need. I could not allow Jr Maxwell to die of despair in a lumberyard. If I had died from some of the stress involved in looking after Jr, I'd have died happy.

It is a happy experience for me to have the opportunity to serve so honorable a man. Jr is the only man I've ever known I would call wise without hesitation or fear of contradiction by anyone who knew him. Wisdom and knowledge are quite different. Knowledge is got second and third and fourth hand. Wisdom is got only by experience. I believe Jr chose the path of suffering for this lifetime. Suffering is the fast lane in one's spiritual path. He's had it to knock a bull to its knees at least 5 times. There are other great sorrows in his life too, but nobody ever heard Jr Maxwell moan and groan about any of it.

Where what goes around comes around is concerned, Jr is known all over Whitehead for going around with his tractor and blade after a snow clearing driveways all day, refusing any pay. When it was time for the gardens to be plowed, Jr went around Whitehead on his tractor plowing gardens for people who couldn't do it themselves. Would never receive a cent for it. And this was just a little bit of it. Anyone needing any kind of help, Jr was there. Elvira Crouse, who knew him since they were babies, said his was a life of compassion. This one word defined Jr to her satisfaction. And mine.

It may have been the sorrows in Jr's past that kept him in the present moment. He didn't like to talk about the past or think about it. The past is over and done, gone as if it had never been. There is only the present and you move into the future with no idea what is there. Jr Maxwell lived in the present moment right up to the spirit leaving the body. It was a part of who he was. It doesn't feel right to say was. It still feels more like is. Perhaps living so in the present gave him the presence of mind, focus, that made it possible for him to do everything he did very well with attention to detail. He was a master bluegrass banjo picker, master tractor mechanic, master bulldozer operator, master welder; everything else he did was done with the mastery of paying attention.

Jr was a man of his culture. Whitehead was his home. Laurel Springs, Piney Creek, Cherry Lane, Glade Valley were other places. Alleghany County was the borderline of his interest. He cared about nothing beyond Alleghany's line. The same as he lived in the present, he lived in Whitehead. Whitehead was home base. His band the Green Mountain Boys played at Whitehead Community Center benefits every year for so many years it was tradition.

Physically, he was a tiny man, as small as Ralph Stanley, a little thing. But he never seemed so small, the same as Ralph Stanley, to me. It was only when he would leave the house and I'd see him outside with his walker, a small, tiny man, hobbling to the car. It shocked me every time. In the house he was full sized. Only outside I saw how tiny he was. Even when I got used to his broomstick legs and arms, bony shoulders and ribs, he still seemed full sized to me. By full sized I suppose I mean the same size as me, like there was no difference between us until I saw him at first walking carefully to the car, then carefully using a cane, and hobbling with a walker to the car, then rolled in a wheelchair to the car for a doctor's appointment, then unable to leave the house.

This evening when I left down at Jr's and drove to the house to spend my first night in four months with the cats, TarBaby especially stressed by my absence, I opened the car door, stepped out and heard an owl hoot in a tree nearby. It felt like a message from Jr. I realized that all day I'd been hoping for a message from Jr in whatever way and when he chose. Whether or not it can be proven empirically is of no consequence. I heard it and felt simultaneously it was from Jr, as if it were his voice, so I believe it was. I hooted back to let him know I heard, to say howdy.

I have wondered from time to time what Jr was waiting for, taking so long to linger before letting go. It wasn't like he was attached to any one thing or even the body that was holding him. The heart just kept on going. This day is my first day in the mountains 33 years ago. It is, in effect, a birthday, an important birthday in my life, right up there with the day I said to God, I will follow. When I found the mountains, meaning the mountain people, I found my self. The night before, I drove up the Parkway in the densest fog there is, pea soup, 5mph, head out the window looking at the yellow line beside the tire. I felt at the time it was the passage from my old life to my new life.

I have a feeling waiting to this day might have been Jr's gift to me of his gratitude for helping him in his difficult time. I mean at the level of our soul connection. I could say with certainty it wasn't his conscious decision, because his conscious mind didn't work. Like I believe he spoke to me through the owl without evidence that would stand up in court, I believe he waited for this date because it is such an important day for me. Now it has double importance. Now it's a really big day. And he made me a citizen of Whitehead.

I had to refuse the offer to be a pall bearer. Even if Jr would have wanted it, I couldn't do it, though I know he would honor my reasoning. I don't want to feel the weight of my friend. When I did it for Tom Pruitt, the feeling of his weight, Tom dead, was on the verge of unbearable. With Jr I have to beg off. I cannot bear the thought of feeling his weight dead. My arm still feels the sorrow of holding Tom's weight. I can't add Jr's to it, the same as I could not watch the Hospice nurse clean him. A moment I saw was her lifting him, an arm under his knees, one under his ribs, knowing how much it would be hurting him alive, and I saw the Pieta.


  1. so sorry TJ....he is resting in a much better place!

  2. I admire your spirit and humility. So sorry for your loss, but am happy at the sense of gratitude you seem to feel for the opportunity you had to made better Jr's last days.

  3. What a gift you were able to give Jr, to sustain him in his last journey, to be an advocate for the kind of life he wanted to live until the end. And what a gift to give yourself--to fully experience this deep human connection without turning away from the pain and the beauty that is in that pain. I respect the place you have been coming from in your care or Jr. and appreciate that you have chosen to share this in such meaningful writing. May you continue to find peace in the dark, as well as the light.

  4. Sunshine in IndependenceNovember 11, 2009 at 2:24 PM

    I had seen an Alleghany paper last night at the Diary House in Independence and saw Jr's obit. I was sorry to see it but glad his suffering is over and he's finding me a good fishing hole when I met him again. I am sorry for your lose but glad for his gain.