Friday, January 30, 2009

Death Don't Have No Mercy


January was a cruel month. It started with the Feast of the Holy Name which was very cold. I was thurifer and a bit grumpy (even without much of a real hangover) and managed to spill the precious Omani frankincense all over the carpet during the first censing of the altar at the Sung Mass when I tried to get the MC to hold the boat closer to the bowl and we collided in midair. We had a rather small crowd but God was glorified and afterward I had a nice brunch at Carmine's with my old pals from SMV, Walter Morton and his newly baptized wife, Miyoko. They are both at St. Paul's Carroll Street now and enjoying that quaint conservative haven.

The Feast of the Epiphany was especially wonderful, with Lionheart providing the music. They sang the Obrecht Missa “De tou bien plaine” in exquisite style. I was able to enjoy the service from the Zabriskie pew for once and it was most refreshing. We had a good crowd and a lot of visitors. Spirits were high and Fr Blume was looking forward to a nice week or so in Paris.

Who could have guessed that four days later we would be mourning the sudden tragic death of Nicholas Kau, 18 years old, who somehow fell from a 9th floor window early on January 10th. I had seen Nicholas grow up at St. Ignatius and was sad to remember having thrown away one of his Sunday School drawings of a Station of the Cross a few years ago during one of the cleanup days. Nicholas was born on Easter Sunday 1990, the third son of Randall and Elizabeth, two of our long-time members. I remember him as such a sweet boy, always with a big smile. In recent years he had been quite a star in the theater as well as on the athletic field at Trinity and apparently had quite a fan club there, where he had graduated last Spring.

There were about 300 people there for the Friday night Vigil and 518 people there for his Solemn Mass of the Resurrection on January 17, many of them young people. Even Murray Kempton did not have so many people at his funeral. We spent several days getting ready for it. It was imperative that we get the library cleaned up so that we could have people up there during the Vigil, so I spent two evenings in there getting things straightened up and tossed out, with the help of our sexton. We got rid of some dilapidated chairs, several old computers, quite a bit of accumulated paper and debris, and by Friday morning it actually looked like a nice room, although still in need of major floor work.

On Thursday I had to spend a bit of time negotiating for a couple of porta-potties for outside since we only have 3 johns in the whole place and were expecting at least 500 people for the funeral. Fr Harding was in charge of preparations since Fr Blume was on vacation and not getting back until Thursday night. In the midst of deciding which johns we wanted and when and where we were going to put them, Fr Harding's beeper went off and he had to rush down to the famous Miracle on the Hudson plane splash to be a fire chaplain. Luckily his services were not much needed that day.

Friday I took the day off and we spent most of the day getting ready for the Vigil that night. We had a lot of work to do to get the place ready. There were several people arranging flowers (since it was white Mass of the Resurrection flowers are allowed) and I spent about an hour getting the bier lights looking nice since they had orangish beeswax all over them from All Souls, and I had to melt it off with the heatgun. Friends from the Tribeca Film Festival donated their services of a professional AV crew that set up a whole system to pipe the service down to the undercroft with two big flat screens. Another friend had a catering service and sent over 150 decent folding chairs to set up down there for the funeral and they were all used. That was a first for us, to have the need for an overflow capacity, but it worked pretty well I hear. They also brought some things to make the undercroft look a little more pleasant and another friend had some beautiful and heartbreaking pictures of Nicholas enlarged and put up around the room.

It was great to see Fr Stowe again and he preached a wonderful and very appropriate homily, although he fell victim to the sacristy ghost who made off with his vintage Wippell surplice sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning. We look forward to its reappearance someday but in the meantime Fr Stowe is quite bereft since he had been ordained in it in 1970. It was good to see Fr Parsons also and we three strolled down memory lane a bit before the Vigil. It was great to see several other old friends that had been away for awhile, although it is very sad that it takes someone dying for us to come together again.

The day of the funeral was the coldest day we had in quite awhile and I felt sorry for those who had to venture outside to the john. I was thurifer for the Mass of the Resurrection and it was quite amazing to come down the aisle looking at such a full house. I don't think any of us had ever seen it that full. We even had about 25 people seating in the Lady Chapel. It got so crowded down by the bier during communion that two of the glass votive lights got knocked off and smashed, spilling wax and shards of glass all around. Just when we had the first one cleaned up, the second one went down. Somehow it only seemed an appropriate background to the many sobbing teenagers who mourned poor Nicholas and gathered around his family with condolences. It was surely the saddest funeral I had ever attended at St. Ignatius, and there have been some sad ones. But the Mass was just ethereal, with the choir (mostly not our regular choir but some splendid hired voices) doing the Victoria Missa Pro Defunctis after opening with Morley's Burial Anthems. After the Commendation someone sang Loch Lomond and then a firefighter played the bagpipes at the procession. Nicholas was a great lover of all things Scottish and also all things Hawaiian. He had just had a wonderful vacation in Hawaii over the Christmas holidays with his grandmother where he basked in the warm sun that he loved so much. She sent three beautiful leis made of hundreds of petals of different flowers which were placed on his bier. The altar flowers were birds of paradise and other tropical plants. It was all so heartbreakingly beautiful, I was glad I had a lot of smoke to hide behind.

We learned of the death of former parishioner and semi-famous editor Tom Congdon in early January also. He and Connie had retired to Nantucket in the early 1990s and I was glad I had been to see them a few years ago in their quaint Nantucket house on Pine Street, near St. Paul's Church. We remembered fondly their Easter Even parties at their 87th Street townhouse in the late 1980s. We would get out of the Vigil around 1:30 am and head over to a royal feast with endless champagne that often lasted until around 4:00 am. Getting up for Easter Sunday was not so easy, and once the MC of the day never made it, so Fr Stowe suggested we start having the festivities in the Undercroft and it was never again so much fun as it was at the Congdons.

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