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Spring 2015

Sense of Loss
by Robb
Scott, Ed.D.


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The Silence Isn't Yours Anymore

Photo of Kirk Dean Auston at Lake Pomona in August of 2012

A close friend took his life and I have been trying to process what has happened and what it means for me as I go forward in my life. We barely knew each other in high school, but once we both arrived at the university, we started to find we had in common a love of literature even if our conversations about this topic inevitably turned out to be arguments, with his logic pitted against my intuition. Whether walking on campus through the snow or floating on lakes and rivers, this conversational motif was maintained season after season, year after year, during nearly four decades of durable friendship, with many of our exchanges over recent years occurring via cell phones and e-mails.

Photo of John Scott talking with Kirk Auston in summer of 2013 on the lawn in front of the Nelson-Atkins Museum

On this past March 23rd, my friend Kirk posted this short poem by Walt Whitman:

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat,
Death's outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would'st surely die.)

I am not inclined to venture any guess regarding whether there is a connection between that poem and my friend's state of mind leading up to his death on March 29th.

A few weeks ago, we were on the Great Lawn in front of the old Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City, Kirk leaning back as if the hedge-row were part of a sofa, as we sat on the sidewalk, looking up at quotes etched above the entrance, high above us. Here is one quote, by Victor Hugo, I remember discussing that day:

The soul has greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist. It is by the ideal that we live.

My friend took issue with the sentiment of that statement, and I will not further characterize our conversation, because it would certainly be unfair for me to try now to gain a rhetorical advantage in his absence that was rarely if ever attainable for me in our actual debates. Suffice it to say, Kirk explained to me that he could no longer understand why people bothered to create art.

Photo of Robb Scott and Kirk Auston at Thanksgiving, 2013

When you lose a conversational partner whom you have been able to count on just being a phone call away for years and years, at first it feels like the sensation a person has after losing a leg, where the brain and nervous system continue indicating the limb is still there.

I am also reminded of a passage in Thomas Hardy's novel, The Woodlanders, where Marty South's ailing father is so vexed by the sight of a giant elm tree outside his bedroom window that Marty's fiance, Giles Winterborne, has it cut down one evening, and the old man, upon waking in the morning and not seeing the tree, dies from the shock.

My friend Kirk and I went pheasant hunting together the past several years, and we have also gone sailing on a number of occasions in the not too distant past. This year, during my cancer treatments in Kansas City, he sacrificed his time for three weeks serving as my caregiver, and even tried to teach me how to meditate.

We sat cross-legged on the edges of our meditation pillows, with backs straight and "holding the ceiling up with our heads." Squinting through nearly closed eyes, we focused on an area about a foot and a half in front of us on the floor. Kirk had a nice gong-sound app on his phone, which indicated the start and end of a 10-minute session, while we each counted from one to ten over and over again, trying not to let any thoughts of anything interfere with this simple counting procedure.

Photo of a stone Buddha statue off Kirk Auston's porch at his place near Pomona

As part of teaching me about meditation, he sent me an e-mail one day, with this poem composed by Foyan, who lived from the year 1067 to the year 1120:

Whatever you are doing,
Twenty-four hours a day,
In all your various activities,
There is something that
Transcends the Buddhas and Zen Masters;
But as soon as you want to understand it,
Itís not there.
Itís not really there;
As soon as you try to gather your attention on it,
You have already turned away from it.
That is why I say you see
But cannot do anything about it.

My friend Kirk rescued a motley looking dog about two and a half years ago, and ended up spending a lot of money at the veterinarian's to finally get the animal's severe case of mange cleared up. He called this white dog "Basho," and it was obvious how much he cared about her by how often he "complained" about how big the dog was getting, how much food the dog ate, and any number of inconveniences he suffered on account of this beast that finally grew to weigh 120 pounds.

They took long walks around a nearby lake early every morning, and Basho was becoming a real companion for Kirk, who has nearly always had a dog (usually beagles) for as long as I've known him.

Photo of Kirk's dog Basho at Lake Pomona in late 2013 or early 2014

Then, a year ago, in March of 2014, Basho died. A neighbor friend of Kirk's found the dog and buried her for Kirk. Here is what Kirk wrote about his feelings related to this event: might not be surprised to learn that when Bash died, it only took me an hour or two before everything connected to him, toys, food, bones, lease, brushes, were in the trash can. I wonít pretend I donít miss him, I have pretty much the same feelings as everyone else. But expend more effort dismissing them as irrelevant.

My wife wanted us to get a dog and take it to Kirk as a gift, and maybe we should have.

My friend Kirk was one heck of a lawyer. During his ten years doing criminal law in Kansas City, he argued 22 jury trials, and never lost one. I know he was proud of that because he mentioned it to me on several occasions. During his 15 years in corporate law in Oklahoma City, he was so effective that when he tried to retire and actually announced he was leaving and moved back to Kansas, the company had grown to depend on Kirk's services, especially his expertise in reading contracts, that they kept him on payroll for another year and a half before they could find anyone to replace him.

Photo of Kirk's Harley parked at his favorite Kansas City restaurant Photo of Kirk's sailboat docked at Lake Pomona

One of the songs at his funeral was George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," and I was happy today to receive a recording of my daughter playing that tune on an acoustic guitar. I can only think that she must have had Kirk in mind as she was strumming, since he was truly not only my friend but a great friend for our entire family.

I wrote a poem last week:

The day we couldn't find anything
and laughed ourselves silly
that's what I want to remember
not the fact you are gone

Conversations never quite resolved
always something more to say
picking up the phone and dialing
but you're not there any more

So this is what it's like
when communication just stops
nobody gets the last word now
who am I even writing this to?

Hundreds of little messages
what makes sense, what's funny?
quote of the day, photographs
did this, saw that, wondering...

Didn't see this coming, my friend
even the silence isn't yours

Article by Robb Scott, Ed.D.

2015 ESL MiniConference Online

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