Culture vulture

From Annecy, France

From Annecy, France

Photo By C. Owsley Rain

Go, Johnny, go!
Way long time ago, about 600 years before the recently celebrated birth of Jesus, my pal Lao Tzu, whose job was keeper of the imperial archives of the province of Honan in China, sat down and did his best to summarize the wisdom he had acquired over the course of a long life spent observing the processes of the natural world as they relate to the procedures and protocols of human society.

Legend has it that as an old man Lao Tzu left civilization to ride out into the desert to die, because he was sick at heart at the ways of men, when the gatekeeper at the last outpost of civilization he would pass begged him to pause in his journey long enough to write down his teachings for posterity. The resulting book, Tao Te Ching, consists of 81 short pieces, each depicting a different aspect of the Tao, a word that Lao Tzu employed to refer to the nameless and ineffable fundamental essence that underlies and supports every aspect of reality.Chapter 35 reads:

All men will come to him who keeps to the one,
For there lie rest and happiness and peace.

Passersby may stop for music and good food,
But a description of the Tao
Seems without substance and flavor.

It cannot be seen, it cannot be heard,
And yet it cannot be exhausted.

My pal John LaPado and I never discussed Lao Tzu or Jesus or Buddha or the Tao. The closest we ever came to a spiritual discussion was a phrase we passed back and forth in assorted situations during late-night conversations that involved acknowledgment of shared perceptions of inexpressible cosmic truths.

LaPado’s crystal blue eyes would gaze out of a serenely—and perhaps a tiny bit sardonically—smiling face, and he would say very quietly, in a sort of amusedly melodramatic stage whisper, “We’re the only ones who know.”

The moments when that phrase rose to the surface are among the most treasured of my passage through this life; and my friendship with John was a gift of inestimable value.

As I told another good friend, Aaron Standish, when I heard about John’s passing: Few people pass from this world with the love of so many trailing behind them like the tail of a comet.

I’m sure LaPado would have gotten a self-deprecating, slightly exasperated chuckle out of having such purple-tinged, sentimental prose used to assess his effect on the community of friends and family who are currently mourning his passing, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

‘Bye, John. Catch ya on the flip side.

We’re the only ones who know.

Suggested listening
Bob Dylan, “Every Grain of Sand”