Say there, Burt.
Been a while, hasn’t it? Since April. Feels like that’s a long way back but I guess it isn’t. Time slips away when you’re not looking. Today gets turned into tomorrow, and nobody can’t help but get dragged along.
There’s mornings I still think you’re around. I see that old trash truck pull around the corner on campus and I think, There comes old Burt. Did that a lot back in the summertime too, even with the memory of your funeral still fresh. Back then it wasn’t so much seeing the trash truck as it was the sound of all those mowers. I’d hear one fire up outside the bookstore or down by the Administration building and I’d just wait, tub full of mail in my hands, for you to come on by. I’d wait so I could say hey and you could talk about your truck and how good the college looked. Nothing ever much more than that, just two guys passing the time. And then you’d always say, “Well, I gotta go make myself useful. Hey, I’ll see you.”
You remember that? I swear I can still hear it. Heard it back then too, last summer. I’d hear that mower and I’d think, There comes old Burt. And then I’d think, No, Burt’s not around anymore.
I don’t know for sure, but I’d say I’m not the only one who does that. We all took your passing hard.
Some people say those gone to heaven know nothing of those left behind. Others say the departed can see every tear and smile their loved ones offer. I hope the second is true. I hope you got to see all those people crowding the inside of that church back in April, the ones who knew you and loved you and called you a friend. You always said you were a simple kind of man. That might be true. But for a simple man, you sure touched a lot of lives.
Christmastime’s here, Burt. Crazy how that’s snuck up on us, but it has. I got to looking for you even more these past weeks. Everybody knew what time of year it was when December first rolled around and you started wearing that Santa hat. This was always your favorite holiday, wasn’t it? You always said Christmas was the one time of the year when everybody acted like they enjoyed each other.
So I guess this made it the perfect time for everyone at the college to gather last week and remember you. Because we miss you, sure, but also because we want to make sure some part of you remains even if the very best of you is now elsewhere.
Your boys in the shop planted this tree in your honor, out by the fountain and the fire pit, right where everyone can see. It’s a Norway spruce. You know all about evergreens, so I don’t need to say more. But I think it’s a fine thing they picked a symbol of both Christmas and eternal life—two things you enjoyed the most. They even put some lights on it. We’ll do that every year from here on out. That’s your tree, Burt.
And you know what I’ve been thinking? Having this tree here means you’re being useful still. This evergreen will be here long after the rest of us are gone. It’ll grow tall and wide and give shade in the summer and shelter in the winter. The robins will sit in its limbs and sing of spring. Come fall when all else looks dead and gone, you’ll still look green and alive. You’ll stand straight against the wind, pointing to the sky, reminding us all the way to home.
That little ceremony was a beautiful thing to see, Burt. The day as cold and damp and there were more than a few tears shed, but that’s how the beautiful things are—they hurt you in a way that makes you feel good. I like to believe all wounds heal eventually. If not in this life, then surely in the next. But that doesn’t mean those wounds won’t heal to a scar. That’s how it’ll be with all of us. We’ll get on because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’ll ride our todays on to our tomorrows. But I’m sure there will always be plenty like me who will stop by this tree and have a word from time to time.
In the meantime, though, I guess I better get going . . . make myself useful.
But hey, I’ll see you.