Archive for August, 2009

Words about Frank Cook

Friday, August 28th, 2009

For those of you knew him, my long-time student and friend Frank Cook recently died (perhaps from Neurocysticercosis). I wrote this about him on the plane ride home from his memorial service.

(Note-like most of what I write this is probably more about me than Frank, and I have not wavered from writing what I feel to be true about Frank within the context of our long-term relationship. This is a warning.)

I’m in the airport, on my way home after flying to Asheville, NC for Frank Cook’s memorial service. Frank Cook is dead. Good-bye Frank, I miss you already.

I am tired, but feel good about my last minute decision to scrap a bunch of plans (sorry Bevin) and moolah and go to this event. In the midst of all these last minute preparations and travels, it all feels a bit unreal. And I get the feeling that some distant day I will reflect on Frank and be thankful to have been a part of this event with so many of Frank’s friends and family. So many of them are my friends too. I reckon this speaks to the nature of Frank’s and mine relationship, that is, our relationship to each other, our relationships with the people we meet and share time with, and with that abiding fascination we both shared about plants.

I am coming to learn how much Frank meant to me, thinking about his future absence in my life. It is sad to imagine being at the Rainbow Gathering, treating leaky butts and buggy feet, and not having Frank show up with his big deep rumbling voice, giving me a hearty salutation. And of course our immediate discussions on the plants around us. The plant families, genera and species as well other aspects of the local flora, with Frank generally being enthused about something plant-world like. It could be some plant we have not seen before together (perhaps a Saxifragaceae or an under-explored species of Ligusticum). But generally Frank would be excited about the diversity, meaning just glad to be around the plants, wherever we were. This of course was a balm to the stress I would be having treating people in the first aid station. Here was a fellow plant-enjoyer. And a friend as well as solidifying our long-term relationship with the ever-growing panoply of plants in our lives.

When it comes to the number of plants actually seen I don’t hold the metaphoric candle to Frank. What with his worldwide travels and devotion to seeing a member of each family of plants. A worthy goal and enviable to me. Not that I would choose his lifestyle; constant traveling and having a personal relationship with the likes of Malaria, Ross river virus, and any number of bacteria, viruses and protozoa infiltrating his tissues. And eventually infiltrating his good brain. Shit. It’s not like I haven’t seen Frank look and cough like the specter of death wasn’t a few feet away polishing her nails and waiting for the soon-to-be corpse of this good man.  But of course he would fight back, stubborn as the former jock he was, and look reasonably good again. Perhaps a bit thinner (also enviable during this metabolic slow down in my life), but the coughing would decrease, and his pantheonic energies would rise again.

It was his enthusiasm, wasn’t it? His personal engagement with life. His constant admonishment to live. Or not just live, but to be engaged with your life. “Look around you!” I don’t know how many times I have heard Frank herald this call. “Look around you!” he would say to all those attending his words. “Look around you!”, and indeed we did, and would see whatever it was that we saw around us. Generally I saw plants, the plants around me. And I would smile that smile that comes from having a connection with my environment and knowing the plants by their names. “Hello Pinus ponderosa” I might say quietly. “Hello Veratrum californicum” And these hello’s came to me after hearing Frank once again give voice to see those ‘beings’ around us.

Ah yes, the word ‘beings’. This drove me crazy. I’m not sure why, perhaps my instinct to not lump all of life together. Or perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to spirituality. But the ironic aspect is that this particular wording caught on. For the past few years while giving plant walks I hear participants talk about plants as ‘beings’, even using the inflection that Frank gave. This is another way that Frank lives on, offering another way to view and describe the plants around us. The term now has an endearing quality, hearing Frank’s voice through people uttering this word.
  
Now. I guess even here, in the busy Charlotte airport Frank might be saying to look around me. But it would be entirely different. It would show Frank’s more critical, judgmental side. We would be looking around us here and seeing people hurrying about, not really seeing the humanity around them. Seemingly closed, purchasing crap food from feckless industry dispensers, he would probably pontificate about the pointlessness of this type of lifestyle and their inability to see around them. Frank and I might get into one of our many arguments here. But even if our voices got raised, we would end with a faux toast to the stream of individuals passing before us, wishing them all well as they passed by.

Frank’s life was a well-lived one, no? This guy met thousands of people, many of whom lives he altered. I can surely vouch for this, as people often tell me how much Frank has changed their perspective.  (I reckon I am some kind of Frank Cook sounding board). And I like to hear it. I am proud to have been a teacher in the continual learning process of Frank Cook.

Frank the Human.  At the memorial we all learned this well as family members and friends stepped to the dock on the pond and spoke their recollections of Frank. And what a Frank he was. It seems that Frank has always been an intense (understatement, right?) individual. Focused. And idealistic. I liked those qualities, along with all the other aspects of the Frank experience. I generally appreciated the humanness in Frank; his foibles and frailties as well as obvious strengths. I guess they make me feel better about my own. While Frank was often a larger-than-life person for many, it was the human Frank I watched grow for 15 years that I now hold in my heart.

I am appreciative that I got to watch Frank grow into his most recent, ever-expanding, incarnation. Watching Frank struggle with parts of himself, looking to accommodate competing aspects of his psyche and body. Bully for you Frank, integrity does not come easy, and the struggle for it is also an inspiration for all of us trying to be better people.

Good-bye Frank Cook. I did not get to say it while you were laying in the hospital bed dying, but I am saying it now. To myself, but that is where you live now for me, in the neurotransmitters and neurons that make up my thoughts. I am glad you are there.