Too true are the aphorisms by which he said, “God is little if God is big; if big is all, if all is some, if some is any at all.” And he spoke like this (circuitously), even though he was berated with beers to stop the nonsense and say a straight word or two. He often left the bars lathered in sudsy ale.
On this Saturday, his head was cocked, eyes simmering in their sockets and half the fire put out. But there was an ember or five still lively. It was a recalcitrant warm set against the overwhelming cold of a dry country winter. And not having a thing to eat (save a rind of cheese not quite five months old), he had little else to do in that drafty hovel but contemplate and snooze.
Which is how it all came to be. It has been said of thinkers that living life is the cure for their cerebral ailment, but when that luxury is denied, they wallow in thoughts until the thoughts become a substitute for living. Now it was the case that Meeker ran a shop on the corner of Eldridge and Pine, and it did him some good—both financially and cerebrally—but ultimately failed to make a profit. It’s hardly an attractive sale, taxidermy, and few had use of it in such a small place. What was caught was eaten and the furs or skins turned to carpets and clothing. Any extra was sold and that was the honest truth. It might have done Meeker a better service to barter and sell the skins he acquired, but he insisted on being happy. Which meant, to his warped and somewhat creative mind, that stuffing the ugly creatures with a bit of this or that (rice, beans, hay, and the like) was the answer to life’s search for happiness. It didn’t help his cause to mount a large chipmunk in the window, eyes bulging out of its head in such a way that would put the great fear of God in you should you chance to walk by.
As can be imagined, the shop lasted but a few short months and Meeker was forced to sell the few skins and furs in his possession. Even the chipmunk was disassembled and given to a friend. He couldn’t bear to have evidence of his failed enterprise.
It was after so many months of having hardly anything to eat, no means at his disposable, and rarely any friends that he came to be a masterful hermit. Tucked away in a slowly-deteriorating house on the outskirts of the town, he would spend his days foraging for broken wood and light whatever semblance of a fire he could. So we found him on this Saturday churning through thoughts like boats on a dyspeptic sea.
Until it flashed across his mind and, wet with drool, he snapped his head forward and stared brightly at the ever-dying embers of the fire.
“I’ve got it!” he managed to slur, wiping the wetness from his lips. What he got was anyone’s guess, but it nevertheless afforded him a great celebration. So great, in fact, that in place of the usual one plank of wood that he fed the fire, he gave it two. And then proceeded to waltz around the room stockingless and filthy. All he wore was a raggedy, oversized night gown and a floppy night cap that had more holes than a block of Swiss cheese.
Lusty, resonating bass ushered from the cracks in the window at such a volume that the neighbors on all sides could hear him belting and wailing the unknown tune. The world knew of Meeker, and knew to ignore him mostly, so they simply shrugged their shoulders and continued on with supper.
But Meeker would not stop. His strides across the splintered planks of the floor grew wider and his leaps higher. And though his toenails were long and caught on every other plank, and though the splinters dug deeply into his heels and blood stained the dusty wood, he didn’t seem to mind. Eyes wide, a smile brimming on his face, he circled and pranced and bellowed with glee! Until, in the very last moments before midnight, he collapsed back in his chair in front of the fire. There were flames flickering now, a growing heat emanating from the great hearth. In the din of the music and dancing, he had hardly noticed the moonshine piercing the window. And now, appropriately, it blanketed his face with its lustrous smile. There was no quiet in his eyes or doubt hidden in his face. The despondent Meeker had somehow fallen away. And though he was exhausted, and bloody, and hungry, he was never more happy.
He was, however, a bit too hungry. It was that sort of hunger which starts a day without food and then hushes the appetite. But it had been quiet for too long. His grumbling stomach gave way to its fate, and there in the moonlight on a quiet Sunday morning in the haze of winter, Meeker died of starvation.
* * *
There were a few who gathered for the dirge, but not many. I, with my eulogy scrawled on old newsprint from the basement, was one.
It is plain enough to say that Meeker was a friend. Though we hardly spoke before he died, I think it is fair to say we once enjoyed a very close friendship. I wish that I could say I understood the man and his busy mind, the way it turned corners without warning and came to conclusions I couldn’t ever follow. But there must have been something deeper there to know, because he was a very true friend. When his once great dream of a shop closed its doors, I was the one who received the chipmunk that stood in the window. I never knew quite what to do with the thing, but I’ve kept it since that day. I think, in Meeker’s memory, I will stuff it again and set it in my window.
You see, this was a man of thinking and not so much of speaking. Because, where there are so many and so complicated thoughts, words can hardly do them justice. Can I say that stuffing animals with beans and rice and hay was what he lived for? I think it was only a distraction. And never was he happier than when his thoughts had taken leave of him and he could simply live.
They say he died in the moonlight, a smile on his face. I can only imagine it was because he finally found a way to stop his thinking. And when that plague had finally left him and happiness revealed itself, that was the day he died. Nature is a cruel beast, but at least we can learn something from the man.
You see: I think he would have wanted us to feel a bit more than we think. I think—no, I feel that to be Meeker’s legacy. May he truly, with a quiet mind, rest in peace. And may we all, God help us, live in peace.