Memorial at Mt. Pleasant

April 26, 2009

Dear Friends,

Going back to Mt. Pleasant without Roger was tough. I knew it would be because it was the place we considered home together through the different phases of our lives for 21 years. But having the company and support of friends and family-many of whom had shared good times with us there on the hill-for the memorial and the days before and after eased our return. Thank you for not breaking faith-you are making all the difference in getting us through this.

Our friend Andy Nagy-Benson led the memorial service. Marshall Cross, Sean Bourke, and Greg Felt shared their thoughts, and Paul Giamatti read an exerpt from an essay by James Baldwin that he had read at our wedding. I’ve copied a few of these below and will add the others later this week.

-Nothing Personal by James Baldwin; exerpt read by Paul Giamatti

THE LIGHT THAT’S IN YOUR EYES / REMINDS ME OF THE SKIES / THAT SHINE ABOVE US EVERY DAY – so wrote a contemporary lover, out of God knows what agony, what hope, and what despair. But he saw the light in the eyes, which is the only light there is in the world, and honored it and trusted it; and will always be able to find it; since it is always there, waiting to be found. One discovers the light in darkness, that is what the darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found, there is light. What the light reveals is danger, and what it demands is faith. . Pretend, for example, that you were born in Chicago and have never had the remotest desire to visit Hong Kong, which is only a name on a map for you; pretend that some convulsion, sometimes called accident, throws you into connection with a man or woman who lives in Hong Kong; and that you fall in love. Hong Kong will immediately cease to be a name and become the center of your life. And you may never know how many people live in Hong Kong. But you will know that one man or one woman lives there without whom you cannot live. And, this is how our lives are changed, and this is how we are redeemed.

What a journey this life is! dependent, entirely, on things unseen. If your lover lives in Hong Kong and cannot get to Chicago, it will be necessary for you to go to Hong Kong. Perhaps you will spend your life there, and never see Chicago again. And you will, I assure you, as long as space and time divide you from anyone you love, discover a great deal about shipping routes, air lanes, earthquake, famine, disease, and war. And you will always know what time it is in Hong Kong, for you love someone who lives there. And love will simply have no choice but to go into battle with space and time and, furthermore, to win.

I know we often lose, and that the death or destruction of another is infinitely more real and unbearable than one’s own. I think I know how many times one has to start again, and how often one feels that one cannot start again. And yet, on pain of death, one can never remain where one is. The light. The light. One will perish without the light.

I have slept on rooftops and in basements and subways, have been cold and hungry all my life; have felt that no fire would ever warm me, and no arms would ever hold me. I have been, as the song says, ‘BUKED AND SCORNED and I know that I always will be. But, my God, in that darkness, which was the lot of my ancestors and my own state, what a mighty fire burned!

In that darkness of rape and degradation, that fine, flying froth and mist of blood, through all that terror and in all that helplessness, a living soul moved and refused to die. We really emptied oceans with a home-made spoon and tore down mountains with our hands. And, if love was in Hong Kong, we learned to swim.

It is a mighty heritage, it is the human heritage, and it is all there is to trust. And I learned this through descending, as it were, into the eyes of my father and my mother. I wondered, when I was little, how they bore it – for I knew that they had much to bear. It had not yet occurred to me that I also would have much to bear; but they knew it, and the unimaginable rigors of their journey helped them to prepare me for mine. This is why one must say Yes to life and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places; nevertheless, there it is; and if the father can say, YES, LORD, the child can learn that most difficult of words, AMEN.

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have.

The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

– James Baldwin, from Nothing Personal (1964)

The letter Sean wrote to me the night Roger died; read by Sean
Dearest Lisa:

Time seems to have stopped over here. That’s a good thing for a change. I thank Roger for that and for so many other memories we shared: trips to Brandon in his old Honda Accord listening to Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan; watching Ned Dooley look happy as a clam in jeans and a Chicago Bears hat on the ice etched Yankee ski hill – trees blown and frozen sideways at 10,000 below zero between gusts. I think it made him homesick; driving home from rock climbing on the back of his old BMW motorcycle and dozing off on the freeway. That was the day I dug the mosquitoes out of my front teeth and the back of my eye balls and decided that motorcycles were not my bowl of cherries; Pakistani adventures some of which should remain unmentioned; and a Mexican voyage where he convinced me to drink yet another bowl of sopa de ajo (garlic soup) on all 3 volcanoes – he told me the garlic would help dilate my capillaries and ward off frostbite. He said that some famous Polish climber, Jerzy Kukuczka, the only one but Reinold Messner to climb all the worlds 8,000 meter peaks but way cooler and more manly than Messner because he didn’t have any of the sponsorships, the funding, the entourage, well this Kukuczka guy swore by the sopa de ajo – it was Roger talking, I hated the stuff but I believed him and so, to the disgruntlement of the bunkmate above me, I gulped it down at every opportunity; early morning hockey on an old frozen New Haven pond – that brought the Brandon boy out of him, especially when he scored – and a breakfast one day after just such a jaunt when he told me about the death of his father and how that had affected him. Roger had such depth and substance, a quiet side, and indomitable strength and I always felt privileged that he trusted me with that information and shared with me his pain and vulnerability.

Years later, we made hobo hot dogs by a quiet Colorado creek under the willows with the Felt family; Later again, we broke bread with the beautiful and spirited Izzy while overlooking the boats on back bay, Vashon Island. Not long after, it was scallops, salmon, and frisbee at the Hutch with old friends I wish I saw more of. Each time, my cheeks and abdomen squealed as the magic of old friendship, belly laughter, and simple pleasures filled the air. And time stood still.

Special moments with friends like Roger standout now as a reminder of what really makes life precious and worth fighting for. No one knew more and no one fought harder, Roger Kenna. We love you and we salute the fighter, the lover, the intellect, the friend, the patriot, the climber, the organizer, the father, the husband, the brother, the son, the kindred soul that made him special to you, friends and family.

One last gift Roger gave me – the gift of the Karakoram Mountains, a place in far away Pakistan that I’d never heard of but had somehow always been dreaming of. Of course Roger knew all about it and more. And of course I drove him slightly crazy there with my humming over yet another dal and chapati dinner and my sprightly, surely annoying calls to mount his trusty bicycle to climb further towards the 17,000 foot summit – he grew to hate that two wheeled blister maker and was relieved to spend a day at the border resting his bum and reading Graham Green’s The Quiet American while I tried to stay out of a Chinese prison. But the mountains, love of the mountains we shared in spades and those massives were like nothing we had ever experienced – a Mecca, a glimpse at the heavens, humbling in their stature, grandeur, and pulchritude.

And you, Lisa Kenna, are a Karakoram mountain in my mind – equal in stature, grandeur, and essential beauty. In the brief time I had the privilege of watching you care for your husband, I saw nothing but calls for awe and admiration. He loved you as deeply as anyone ever could have and you were a living hero, an angel’s visit to him day in and day out. Don’t ever doubt that. I only observed you for a moment but your strength and dedication were a paragon and inspiration and, trust me when I say this as a doctor who has spent some time with people in their trials, way more rare than you’ll ever know. As James Baldwin said in one of your wedding readings, “The sea rises, the lights fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”

Lisa, Mimi, Izzy, family and friends, your love and dedication were the ultimate gift for Roger. His gratitude knows no bounds. No one ever broke faith and in some numinous way that I can feel here today, his torch still burns, his light still shines through Lisa, the girls, and through all of those who loved him. I miss you Roger. I love you. I wish there could have been more of the simple pleasures together. But I am grateful for your gifts, feel privileged to have known you, and will treasure and celebrate always those precious times that we shared.

Love,

Sean

Remembrance by Marshall Cross
When I think of Roger, I can’t help but smile. In my heart and in my memory he is alive and well, and he always will be. I see him, cherub faced, dressed head to toe in adidas practicing the pele rainbow trick over and over again. I hear him shouting to me from around the bend on the Crick below the Pulp mill bridge, “ Catchin nuthin?” or regardless of what he caught exclaiming, “By the jesus, that’s a rainbow trout!” I see him proudly holding the only good trout either of us ever caught on an opening day on Otter Creek. I see him laughing hysterically about Xgung Woo and Aunt Hazel and the dog while trying to read to me National Lampoon’s “Christmas 59”. I see him floating in the rapids below the falls, paddle in hand, too angry to talk because I’ve managed to flip the canoe in March. I see him behind the wheel of the blue dodge pick-up. He is tanned and flecked with paint listening to NPR and singing some ditty about a fifty-seven chevy and a tank full of gas over and over again just to drive me crazy. Or he is on a ladder and yelling damn! or Whoops! Or oh no! just to see how many times he can get me to come down off my ladder and see what hasn’t really happened. I see Roger and Lisa laughing as they twirl each other around the gym floor the night they agreed to chaperone a high school dance. I see Roger rock climbing with those crazy glasses taped together in the middle looking like one of the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slapshot. I see him climbing effortlessly, confidently, purely happy to be dangling from his fingers and toes 500ft off the ground. Or I see him jumping back and forth across the bonfire on New Year’s Eve, hooting in triumph. And that is how I always want to remember him; Strong, full of life and adventure, laughing, among the people he loved.

On Roger, read and sung by Greg Felt

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Roger and whenever I do, I always picture mountains. His love of the heights, be they the low cliffs we climbed in college, the shawanagunks we tackled later, the volcanos of Mexico, the Kharakoram, or his beloved Green Mountains, his affinity for them was succinctly described in the title of a time-worn classic we found we both owned early in our friendship – Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills. He embodied the characteristics of a mountaineer. Up before the sun. Striding through the dales and along the ridgelines. Stopping often to admire the view. And when the ascent became more severe, the obstacles a mixture of hard rock and cold ice, unpredictable, unforgiving, he did not falter. In this last year, when his path grew steepest, he retained that mixture of foresight, caution, prudence and optimism which the high places demand. Conserving his strength, he slowed from the montaine gait of the lowland hiker to the step-lock-breathe, step-lock-breathe of the determined alpinist. I did not witness the final pitch. But his approach to this last climb was deliberate, measured, heroic – walking a block with his friends to find them a burrito, a mile-long circuit over and under the freeways of Seattle, looking for Steelhead from a boardwalk along the Snoqualamie River. The meaning of the mountain seemed to change for him this year. I know it did for me.

As a child, I had a recurring nightmare wherein the rear wall of my bedroom was actually a rocky cliff face. As Roger’s nightmare, his ordeal, played out this image returned to me. It didn’t bring with it the terrifying discontinuity of the dream. Rather, it appeared as a revelation. We talk about the 800 lb gorilla, or the elephant sitting in the corner. Here was something even bigger, more out of place – the mountain in the house. Outside the confines of a childhood bedroom and the child’s mind within it, the image became less one of a destructive intrusion and more a realization that there is something always there, the mountain, mortality brooding in the corner. One’s home is indeed on that mountain, clinging to that slope, founded upon it. Our friend James Shifren described this transitory state when he wrote:

“Home is a bivouac,
Some pegs in the mountain”.

As I have walked with Roger through this last year of his life, it has become clear to me that what makes life so valuable, so very worth the living, is its finite quality. The gods may have resided upon Mount Olympus but that was a hollow, if eternal, existence compared to the temporary, poignant, and aching quality of our own.

For Roger’s family, this loss is almost unbearable – husband, father, brother, son. For his many contemporaries, we grieve the loss of a dear and unique friend. A man we were proud to know. Someone who had a way about him, who could show us the way. For many of us forty-somethings, his diagnosis, his struggle with both disease and cure, and his passing a month ago were incredible. Here was one of our own, and one of the most robust, brought low before his time. Not by violence, or accident. But by mortality. And so while the specifics have haunted us, the greater meaning of Roger’s final year is even more unsettling, even more powerful. As I look around here today, at so many friends from earlier times, the truth that Roger brought into focus, whether it appears as some African animal or a steep and jagged mountainside, is simply that I will bury you, or you will bury me. There is no other way.

Roger experienced the mixed blessing of mortal time. On the one hand, his time here with us was cut painfully short. On the other, he had some time, compromised as it was by his condition, to spend with friends and family. Over weeks in August, he had overlapping visits from about eight of us Yale friends. I think we nearly pushed him over the edge, exhausting him even as we tried to “help”. Those visits led to a series of emails and phone calls, a reconnection among friends long-separated, and the realization that relationships like these trump the trivial urgencies of our daily lives. Last fall I talked to Roger about this, remarking that if a silver lining could be found, it was in the wake up call he had provided us. He seemed very pleased, in his modest way, to have been a catalyst for awareness among so many of his friends. We may each, at times, lose sight of the truth Roger brought home with his life and his death, but as a group we must never forget. Let mountains always be a reminder, of our great friend Roger Kenna and the great truth of mortality he has laid down before us.

Well I went down to that river,
I asked the ferryman, what’s on the other side.
He said there’s a mountain, and a mountain climber,
Come aboard, I’ll take you across the tide.

May the circle, be unbroken,
By and by, by and by,
We leave a footprint, the faintest token,
Of our journey beneath the sky.

When I reached that distant shoreline
The mountain climber stretched out his hand.
He said I grabbed us a wineskin, and some summer sausage,
Let’s find a high point and get the lay of the land.

(Chorus)

As I followed that mountain climber
My legs grew weary and we stopped for a rest
We sat together, with a gentle feeling,
And watched the sun settle low in the west.

(Chorus)

I asked him why, do you climb this mountain?
Because it’s there, I thought he would reply.
He said it’s not about this mortal mountain,
It’s because I’m here, and I’ve got to rise.
(Rise Roger)

(Chorus)

First, there is a mountain
Then there is no mountain
Then there is.

Goodbye to Roger -Caleb Kenna
As I look around this wind-swept hill and look into all your faces, I see Roger reflected in your eyes. You have traveled so far to affirm and celebrate my older brother’s life. Your presence here today at Mount Pleasant means so much to us.
To Andy – thank you for your friendship, which started in Mrs. Kosty’s freshman year English class at Loomis Chaffee School 25 years ago. Your irreverent humor and down to earth accessibility makes me want to almost become a churchgoer. It makes one believe in the divine when you have your best friend of a quarter century helping me say goodbye to Roger.
On the one hand, I want to say come under the tent and get warm and dry. On the other hand, as Roger might say, “Quit yer bitchin!” If Roger were here today, he’d be wearing a gore-tex jacket armed with a list of things to do around the property – stack the wood, cut brush, light a bonfire! So it is in that spirit that we gather to remember Roger.
When you went on a hike or a climb or canoe trip with Roger, you quickly learned the value of thorough preparation, steady determination and mind-numbing endurance. I remember how I’d be somehow persuaded by Roger to load up our bright yellow Mad River canoe on our blue dodge ram pickup truck and head over to Roger’s Rock, a sheer cliff coming straight out of Lake George. There I’d be, hanging off a cliff with my leg pumping like a sewing machine, scared out of my mind, and Roger would be there leading the climb, very patiently explaining every move and how to put in each piece of protection. Roger was lead climber, piecing together moves up a rock face, reaching ever upward with chalked hands and placing protection into cracks and fissures. To some people this pastime might sound crazy and to be honest, most of the times I was doing these climbs with Roger, I hated it. But the reason I hung off a cliff in the freezing rain in Chamonix was to spend time with my brother.
Connected by a forgiving and strong rope, we scaled moderate routes in Vermont and New York and the Southwest and later did an alpine mountaineering trip at La Grave in southeastern France. As we were crossing a glacier and roped one to the other, Roger suddenly fell through a hole in the snow and disappeared into a crevasse. I self-arrested and plunged my ice axe into the snow below me and stopped Roger’s fall. He was hanging by a thread over a deep dark abyss.
Without Roger I would have never had these amazing alpine experiences. The truth is I was moderately awful climber and didn’t have what it takes for the big challenges, but I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for my climbing adventures with Roger. In general, Roger could be a little reserved and sometimes impatient, but when it came to rock climbing, Roger had the most patient and enthusiastic teaching manner possible. You always felt safe with Roger.
From the beginning Roger was my compass. He instructed, teased, entertained and advised me. He never failed to remind me that my name, Caleb, means “faithful one, or dog”. He liked the “or dog” part and often accompanied that pronouncement with a swift chop to the solar plexus or by pinning down my elbows with his knees and dangling saliva near my face. We certainly took the dog part to heart and measured time with our family dogs Angus and Shobe and Buster to Suttree and Red. I always admired the loyalty and sheer joy in life expressed by dogs.
A few months before Roger died we were reminiscing how when we were kids and our dad died, a girl on our school bus had teased us relentlessly. I got angry and smashed her over the head with my tin lunch box. Rog said that was the first time he was proud of me. I felt honored by that admission.

From Roger I learned that no matter how hard the going gets, you lead by example, putting one foot in front of the other. Only through hard work and perseverance do we reach our summits. Your example of strength, determination and stoicism will always and forever guide me. To mom and Lisa and the girls, we will lace up our boots, zipper up our hoods and climb on with Roger’s spirit in our hearts.

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10 Responses to “Memorial at Mt. Pleasant”

  1. Yael Says:

    Lisa,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post these. At Roger’s memorial, I was deeply struck by the beauty, love, and wonderful memories in all of the remarks, and am again upon reading them. Such love is a monumental and deserved testament to Roger, you, and the girls.

    With love,

    Yael

  2. Gail Wing Says:

    Dear Lisa,

    I stopped in at the Blog site today and was very glad to find the texts that you posted of memories that were shared at Roger’s Memorial Service. They were beautiful to hear and now beautiful to remember. I’m sure others who could not attend will be happpy to read them, also.

    You, Amelia, and Isabelle have been frequently on my mind. Also Connie and Caleb and your mother and sister.

    Meeting Paul Giamatti prompted Nelson, Sharon, and I to get to the theater to see “Duplicity.” I think I’ve become a fan. Others have recommended more movie titles, so I know they have noticed his talent, as well. His reading of the Alec Baldwin essay was beautiful. I didn’t know that he read it at your wedding. It is powerful and moving.

    I remember hearing that there was to be a memorial service at The State Department late in April. I hope that was meaningful,as well.

    Just wanted you to know that I was here thinking of you and looking for an unobstrusive way to connect. Thanks for your posting.

    Cousin Gail

  3. Alexandra Baker Says:

    Dearest Lisa,
    Just wanted you to know that I really appreciated that you shared the readings from the memorial service with those of us who were unable to attend. I was still in WA but I received several reports about the memorial from my Middlebury friends and everyone found it very moving. I was there in spirit.
    I think of you often and hope that time will ease your pain.
    I hope you will come to Vermont again and I will have a chance to see you.
    Fondly,
    A. Baker


  4. Thank-you for sharing these Lisa. They are beautiful. Roger was very loved. Please know I have been thinking of you all and hope that you are coping as best as you can.

    Sam xx

  5. carol and otis Says:

    Dear Lisa,

    Thank you so very much for sharing. It’s especially meaningful since we were unable to attend the memorial service. Our church friends often ask about you and the girls. Please know we hold you close in our hearts and keep you in our prayers.

    Love, Carol and Otis

  6. Ernie Reyes Says:

    Dear Lisa, Connie, Amelia and Isabelle –

    It was very nice to see you all again, even under the circumstances of my trip to your lovely home. Brandon is such a beautiful place. The memorial service for Roger was truly a celebration of his life; and in the faces of all the people that were there, I saw how loved he was. It was most especially wonderful to see smiles on the girls’ faces, on yours, Connie’s and Caleb’s. I’ve still been thinking about all of you since I left Brandon, but not the least worried – with all the wonderful support around you, you will all be ok. Thank you for sharing your home, and your beautiful memories of Roger. We will always be here if you need us.

    Love, Ernie, Gina, Izzy, Christina & Anna

  7. Michael Slackman Says:

    Dear Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Michael

  8. Ken Nash Says:

    Dear Lisa,

    Thank you for posting several parts of the memorial service and the photos. We look forward to reading the remainder of the remembrances by Roger’s friends and classmates. And thank you for sharing the photos.

    Roger was strong, intelligent, talented, loving and helpful to others. Most importantly, he was devoted to his family.

    We hope to visit with you this summer when you return to Pittsford. Please come to our garden

    Ken, Suzanne and Jennie

  9. Bev Loos Says:

    Lisa,
    I just finished reading some of Roger’s site. Your story is so like mine. My husband died on March 6th after a year long battle with leukemia. We were trying for an umbilical cord transplant, but he never got into remission. I understand the heartache you are feeling. If you a need someone to talk to please contact me. You and your beautiful family are in my prayers.

  10. Catherine Says:

    We are all thinking of you, the girls and Roger today.


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