by Bill Finger
Fall feasts date from the ages, when crops came to market and to a shared table of gratitude. Communities gathered to celebrate good fortune as well as mourn losses, to eat and be merry, to reflect on time together on earth. And, so it was on Saturday, October 17, 2015, as The Men’s Council gathered in its annual Fall Feast celebration, held at the Solterra co-housing Common House in Durham, NC.
This year’s Feast, “Celebrating an Inspired Life,” included poetry, games, good food and fun – and a celebration of Gregory Blaine, who has brought music and magic to our men’s community and to all who have been touched by his inspiring life in the face of severe illness.
New faces mingled with familiar ones, mostly from the Triangle but as far away as Boone and Charlotte. A scattering of children sparkled along with many wives attending this event, one of the few Men’s Council gatherings designed for all family members.
Outdoor group games in the afternoon led by Glenn Wing offered fun and fellowship, followed by a late afternoon discussion of poetry and inspiration, led by Lou Lipsitz. After the feast, at Gregory’s request, the 60 or so of us crowded in the Solterra house joined in an “Arts Café” – poetry, singing, and remarks of love and blessings. Larry Sorkin introduced this café of the spirit, inviting us all into a time of blessings for Gregory and for the community.
Images and emotions mingled through the evening. Take angels, for example. In a poem I wrote for Gregory, I called his storytelling “a thundering band of angels.” That afternoon, in his poetry discussion, Lou brought in the angels discussing “The Man Watching” by Rainer Rilke:
“What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament”
Lou encouraged us to think about Rilke’s image of the angels, reading the next section several times:
“Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.”
How often have we been willing to wrestle with the angels, that is, to enter into a challenge we know will take us deeper into our lives, not tempted by winning. Later, in the Arts Café, notions of defeat or victory floated away when Gregory sang, with haunting harmonies by Delores, his partner of 12 years.
Doli, as most call Delores, told the story of the day six years ago when Gregory’s fever grew higher by the day, they thought from tick bites. Finally, they went to the hospital, just one day before they had to move to a new house. The hospital told them Gregory had stage four cancer with complications. “Not a Sunday brunch kind of message you expect to hear,” Doli said, holding back tears.
As they matched wits with the angels, the kneading had indeed “changed his shape.” But her story quickly took a turn. Gregory made a call, she said, and the Men’s Center community appeared with pickups to help move, and that concern fell away. Six years have passed, with Gregory defying odds it seems, in this particular wrestling match with the angels.
Perhaps the music has sustained him. “The lilt of Gregory’s flute lifts my night into dawn,” I read from my ode, following Larry’s invitation to the mike as the Arts Café began. “I walk in anticipation, my spirit awakened with shafts of light.” My poem tells of Gregory playing his flute at dawn at the Men’s Council’s Spring Gathering, before leading us in a story at the lake-side amphitheater after a silent walk around the still water.
Whether picking or sliding on his guitar, playing his flute or didgeridoo or his own voice, music flows through Gregory connecting his heart to the passion of those listening. “All of us, the thousands who have heard the sound of his blessing, feel once more a bit lighter on our feet,” I said, turning to that pensive, welcoming face sitting with his guitar, before ending: “A touch of grace enters us with the sounds of the morning.”
Others followed with blessings and funny stories, a parade of humans touched by another heart. Together, we make our way on earth, through the nights of winter and into spring planting, along the full summer growth and finally to the harvest. To the feast.
Gregory and Doli, leading us all, closed with Amazing Grace, introducing it with the back-story of the sea captain whose heart was opened up and saved. Gregory’s guitar sounded the notes as sweet as bells in a church steeple, individual sounds crisp with an echo, tumbling along with the angels. Spirits filled the air, saving all the wretchedness that wanders into our souls and then with one more verse, holding forgiveness and finally acceptance out to us, with the welcoming hand of grace.
As we left, we all seemed to walk a bit lighter on our feet.
cover photo by Hilton Freed