Somebody has to go polish the stars,
They're looking a little bit dull.
Somebody has to go polish the stars,
For the eagles and starlings and gulls
Have all been complaining they're tarnished and worn,
They say they want new ones we cannot afford.
So please get your rags
And your polishing jars,
Somebody has to go polish the stars.
The last ten days have run together like sidewalk chalk in the rain. Finding out Cliff was gone was unbelievable. Being so devastated and heartbroken, seeing my friends in the same sad shape, was horrible. I was in some wretched limbo; I couldn’t seem to get anything much done at work or at home. Some of you are wondering how this is different from any other week. I’ll get back to you.
Yet for all the blur, so much has happened these last ten days, and I have learned a great deal about my friend Cliff, about healing, and about the nature of things. This past Monday, I attended a memorial service for Cliff. Well, I and most of the citizens of North Carolina. It wasn’t a memorial service, it was Cliffstock! Friends and strangers alike supported each other. Still, it was a sad, solemn occasion, and I was trying not to melt down. I turned my attention to one wall where a slideshow loop was running pictures of Cliff at different stages of his life. This seemed to be a good way to take my mind off my sadness. Instead, it was an unexpected trip down memory lane.
Cliff and I were both born in 1969. In one picture, there stood Cliff, probably 5 years old, against his parents sofa on Christmas morning. But I wasn’t looking at his amazing smile, or the stacks of brightly wrapped gifts. I couldn’t stop staring at that SOFA! My parents had that sofa! You children of the 70’s know the one…dark green fabric with huge gold and red flowers all over it. ACK! The next slide was Cliff wearing a pair of vertically striped pants from JC Penneys. I know this because my brother had the exact same pair…wide bell bottom legs with a high waist and they came with a huge wide, white belt that was like a boob job for your pants. And then there were the pictures with the 80’s hair. In all of this seriousness, I managed a smile. But I guess it was okay. Cliff was smiling in all of the pictures. He was always smiling.
The following day, I went with my boss and two dear colleagues to the funeral service. It was Cliffstock, the sequel. The church was lovely and it was packed to the rafters. Greg sat on the aisle, then me, then Larry, and June. I knew it would be emotional, and realizing that none of us had tissue, I excused myself to run to the restroom to get some toilet paper. I figured it was better than nothing. I was wrong. I darted into a stall to pull off a bit of paper and it wouldn’t tear! I tugged and yanked but this stuff was like two-ply vulcanized rubber! I pulled and wrestled and huffed and puffed until finally, I had nearly pulled off the whole roll. I walked back into the church carrying the ten pounds of toilet paper like it was a small baby. June turned around and her eyes got wide. I won’t even tell you what she said. It was so snide. As the service commenced, Larry went to pull off some tissue to dab his eyes and strained a muscle trying to tear some off. He finally got a piece the size of a postage stamp, and then got huffy with me. And you really wouldn't believe what he said. Whatever. It wasn’t my fault. Later, I saw a colleague across the aisle crying. I started to hand him the tissue, but I realized he would probably think it was a bad novelty gag thing, like fake dog poo, or those handshake buzzer things. So I made Greg give it to him. No sense having someone else mad at me.
Aside from all of the issues with tissues, the service was beautiful. Many friends from work are part of the Celebration Choir, and as they filed into the church, I could see them wiping away tears, heartbreak on their faces. Yet as they sang, their expressions turned to joy and they healed people through music. And Cliff’s minister gave a beautiful eulogy. He reminded us that although Cliff is gone, the love that he had for us, and we for him, is still here.
After I got home that evening, Jenda wanted me to read to her, so I let her pick out some books. The first was about Tutankhamun, and it contained a quote from ancient Egypt. “To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.” Smiling, I turned to the second book by Shel Silverstein. We read the poem “Somebody Has to go Polish the Stars.” It’s interesting, the nature of stars. In many cases, stars undergo changes and cease to exist in their ‘star form’, but the light that they emitted as stars is still travelling to earth through space and when we look up in the sky, we still see their light. That thought resonates with me.
So this week I found some new friends, and found some common ground with the one that I lost. But I guess I shouldn’t say that I lost Cliff, or anyone that I have loved for that matter. None of us should. We must speak their names so that they live, not just again, but forever. Even though their stars are different, we still bask in their light. So go outside, lay in the grass and look up at the night sky and the stars. And remember that they are not just stars. They are holes in the sky, where the spirits of Cliff and all of our loved ones shine down on us from Heaven to let us know that they are still with us, they still love us, and they are happy. And I can tell you, in these last ten days, when I have looked at the stars, they have seemed much brighter.
Thank you, Cliff.