from the editor
If I didn’t have the photograph to prove it, I’d never believe the air could be so thick with snowflakes—fat, wet crystals luxurious in their six-fold symmetry, tumbling onto noses, eyelashes, tongues. We are laughing, there in the courtyard of a Cistercian convent in Moravia, giddy with the happenstance of the moment.
It is March, late afternoon, the light fading, and we are dancing with joy before Heaven’s Gate. The stone carvings on the gothic portal are from the 13th century: sober-faced apostles flank an enthroned Christ, and row upon row of intricately carved leaves and flowers arch overhead.
In the photograph, the two women wear silly fleece hats—Rebekah has donned a black and orange superhero’s mask, replete with horns; Ellen, the Jersey-turned-Boulder girl, sports a turquoise jester’s cap. Tim wears a cowboy hat. The trio had known each other for two decades. As for the silly fleece hats, Ellen had brought them from Colorado so that all of us would be sure to have headgear. (I, the unseen photographer, wore the pointy toque of an oversized elf.) Ellen knew that Tim would have a hat of his own.
The tumor in Tim’s head was discovered around New Year’s. The radiation treatment made all of his hair fall out. His new look: a goatee and a Stetson. His new mission: savoring the weeks and months he had left on this earth, traveling to new places, seeing old friends—ergo, a couple weeks with us in the Czech lands. He was on steroids now, and his appetite for life, and for food, was astounding. When he’d landed in Prague after 13 hours of travel, we’d headed, at his insistence, straight for a smoky, working-class pub in the Zizkov district.
From Porta Coeli, we walked to a nearby hunter’s restaurant: stuffed falcons, fox, and ferrets adorning the walls, alongside the mounted horns and heads of bigger game. On the menu: wild boar, bear, and more types of deer and elk than I knew existed. And Pilsner Urquell on tap.
Tim was 39 at the time. He lived in Marin with his wife, Jane, and his daughters Erin and Claire. He’d see his 40th birthday in November, and on New Year’s Eve, he lay in bed, surrounded by extended family. They were singing Moravian hymns. And then he died.
These are some of the memories that have come back to me since I read Marty Stortz’s essay that appears in this issue of the magazine. You may find yourself, as I did when I first read it, with tears in your eyes. And you may find yourself asking questions about what it is that matters most—the ties that bind and the life well lived: with joy and wonder at creation—and, too, where we might find courage and grace in our daily lives. And how we might show these qualities, through gestures large and small.
Keep the faith,
Steven Boyd Saum