Fathom Mag

Published on:
October 28, 2019
Read time:
4 min.
Share this article:

Winter Birds and Brother Bourdain

While I trust the blond-haired chief meteorologist who told me snow’s on the way, I trust the dark-eyed Juncos more. We’ve known one another longer. They are legion in our suburb when winter comes. That, for me, is a plus to living in the suburbs. For those wondering, “Can there any good thing come out of the suburbs?” I say, “Come and see.” Junco hyemalis. Dark-eyed Juncos. Most people call them snowbirds. I call them “little peckers” for, “it’s what we do that defines us.” (Rachel dropped that truth-bomb on Bruce in Batman Begins.) As of yet the Juncos do not appear to be bothered by my slang name for them, but I suppose they could change their nut-sized minds at any time. I just counted twelve on our back patio. No, make that thirteen.

But before I considered the Juncos, I woke with Rome on my mind, specifically the neighborhood of Trastevere, on the west bank of the Tiber. My family and I spent four wonderful days there a couple of years ago. What prompted thoughts of Trastevere this morning were last night’s online peckings around Bourdain, specifically Anthony. In an episode of “No Reservations,” Bourdain visited a secret restaurant in Rome—since revealed to be Roma Sparita in Trastevere—to indulge in a plate of cacio e pepe (his favorite pasta dish). He lauded the dish so good that he would give up several important life experiences (including a handful of acid trips and reading The Catcher in the Rye) to eat it again. Oh, brother Anthony.

While I trust the blond-haired chief meteorologist who told me snow’s on the way, I trust the dark-eyed Juncos more.

As best I can tell, my two-fists-sized mind wandered to Bourdain last night because those sun-shorn days are coming. Winter—the literal which often leads to the figurative. In addition to the blond-haired and the dark-eyed weather heralds, I’ve felt it in my own bones, that primal nudge to gorge and hoard then hole up. And while that’s a created inclination, for those of us who bleed melancholily that inward turning holds the danger of losing our grip on the tie that binds us all together, which means possibly losing ourselves, in those hibernating days. Somehow, in ways that passeth my understanding, Anthony Bourdain found himself lost and terribly untethered in the cold. I don’t want to lose myself, but it is sheer hubris to believe I couldn’t. Therefore, I am trying to pay attention as best I can, to keep track of myself.

I’ve noticed I frequently mention Frederick Buechner in these columns. You’re welcome. When Buechner was ten years old, his father committed suicide. The note he left behind read: “I love and adore you but am no good.” For years, when people would ask him how his father died, Buechner would say “heart trouble.” That seminal loss shaped all of Buechner’s life from that moment on, and most assuredly all of his writing. And while he wrote fiction, non-fiction, essays and even poetry, I hold all of his writings to be memoir—the attempts of a boy trying to find his father, and both of them their way home.

“Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”
– Telling Secrets: A Memoir

A long time ago in a universe fah fah away called Texas, I attended seminary, and even graduated with a Masters of Divinity degree. Ugh, talk about hubris. I can remember lectures and discussions and after-class conversations where big ideas around big doctrines were batted around and dissected and parsed and hard pressed on every side. I look back on that time with a fond affection, I believe it was where I was meant to be. But that was then, and now is now, and I must tell you when it comes to those “homiletical pronouncements” (Buechner), I find I have little to no energy for them. In other words, I don’t give a flying fig. But I am quite interested in flying Juncos.

I don’t want to lose myself, but it is sheer hubris to believe I couldn’t.

You see, to be able to trumpet loud and clear a specific atonement theory but not be able even in a still, small voice to tell me bits and pieces of your own life that Christ’s atonement made possible in the first place is a loss in my book. The same would go for holding an airtight stance when it comes to young earth creationism but not knowing much if anything about what was going on when your very young self made its grand entrance into this world for the very first time. Again, that’s a loss. We’re all the poorer for it, and maybe you the poorest of all. 

By the mercies of God, as best you can, keep track of yourself. Tell us the things you love. And the things you hate. Tell us your favorite pasta dish and where to find the recipe. Tell us that one place you’ve visited that was so magical that if given the opportunity to go back, you’d drop your proverbial nets right here, right now, and go. Tell us what superhero you’d be if you could be one, and why. Tell us the name of that person who died in real life before you got the chance to meet them in real life, that person who some nights strangely feels closer than a brother. Tell us what you are most afraid of losing, or finding, or both. Tell us where you live. Now tell us where or what or who home is, and how you’re trying to find your way there.

I confess, that’s what stumps me when it comes to Bourdain. He was a storyteller extraordinaire. Some days the glass darkly is too dang darkly.

There comes a time to commit
yourself to the scripture of matter.
A season to seek second
the words of God and become first
a disciple of his handiwork.
A time to study the historical context
of aunts and uncles. A time to translate
your dreams playing close attention
to correct tense. A time to read
the evening skies from right to left.
Hide all these turnings deep within
yourself so that as time flies and days
pass you might not sin in vain.         
John Blase
John Blase preached for over a decade but then he thought he’d go where the money is, so he started writing poetry. He’s a lucky man with a stunning wife and three kids who look like their mother. He lives out West but he’ll always be from the South. His books include The Jubilee: Poems, Know When To Hold ’Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood, and All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir (co-written with Brennan Manning).

Next story