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After life

After life

by Wolf Pascoe on March 7, 2012

What fights with us is so large. What we choose to fight with is so small. — Rilke

Lately Nick and I have been thumb wrestling. We’re fairly matched, but he cheats anyway and licks his thumb when he thinks I’m not looking. It slips out from under mine when I try to pin it.

We can go ten, twenty minutes of thumb wrestling on the living room couch. It’s a lot easier on the tender parts than full-body wrestling.

When we’ve had enough, it’s the same satisfied, connected feeling between us. We’ll lean back and sometimes he’ll rest his head on my chest. We were a long time resting that way the other night.

He said, “This is heaven.”

I was thinking the same.




Years ago, Nora and I watched a Japanese movie called After Life. People after dying arrived at a sort of hotel way-station. They were allowed one memory to take with them into eternity.

Once a person decided, a crew re-staged and filmed the moment, and the person could move on.

I have many memories of Nick in my arms, and Nora in my arms, and all three of us entwined. But perhaps because Nick, Nora and I are still making memories, I wouldn’t choose any of them yet, at least not from this look out.

If I had to choose now, I’d reach for something unreachable. A part of my past so remote and inaccessible it seems that only God himself or the devil could offer it up to touch again.

The desire for it makes me crazy.




I was sixteen, at summer camp, in love with every girl.

Friday evenings, white shirts and blouses for Sabbath services in an outdoor chapel bordering the creek. We sat on log benches and poplar trees swayed around us and sycamores above. But this is not the memory.

After services everyone traipsed in twos and threes through the canyon twilight to the dining hall. We sat at long tables with our cabin mates and counselors and ate fried chicken. There was joy and noise and laughter. But this is not the memory.

The memory comes after the dishes were cleared, the tables wiped, and songbooks passed out.

Chuck, the music director, assumed his place at the piano and paused, waiting for quiet. Then he sounded a chord or played a brief intro, everyone rapt. Three hundred voices became one.

And we sang.

It went on for an hour. Bible songs, camp songs, folk songs. Justice. Brotherhood. Joshua, King David, Ruth and Esther.

O heavenly choir! What will be at the coming of Messiah?

It was harmony and communion, faith and grace, all I hope ever to be part of.

It was good. It was good. It was very, very good.




The day after my mother died, the rabbi, who was as near a sage as any I’d ever met, came and asked my sisters and myself about our memories of her.

I wanted to be diplomatic.

“Well, there’s good and bad,” I said.

He was silent a moment, then said, “You know, there’s very little good in life without bad.”

Just so.

I want to say something wise here, such as that every moment contains both heaven and hell, and it’s our desire to hold on to things that can’t be held on to that makes us think the two can be kept apart.

I think of that lost summer at camp, those voices disbursed by the wind, and it fills me up sad. I hold Nick in my arms and want to cry for the lonely boy I was. It’s when I’m in these places that I think everything is so beautiful.

Everything is so goddamn beautiful.



Lost Horizon



Sweet Child of Mine (Capital Children’s Choir):





What’s your moment? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara March 7, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Such a wistful post, Wolf. When I was in middle school, all of the youth groups in the surrounding Baptists churches would get together every Sunday evening for a “Sing Out” – your memory reminded me of those nights. I loved joining voices with all of the others, singing praises!
And this beautiful rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine” has me looking at that child I used to be – I’ve never thought of it that way.
What would my memory be? Ah, too tough to decide. But I do want to watch that movie!


Wolf Pascoe March 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Wistful, yes. I have been committed to the Fresno Home for the Wistful.


Kristen @ Motherese March 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm

As is this, my friend. Most especially this.


Wolf Pascoe March 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Thank you, my dear.


david March 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I too was a ‘lonely boy’ and reveled in that same connection, the same community after dinner.
Chuck at the piano, or a counselor with his or her guitar,
the songs, Oh the songs! and dances on the plaza in the dark night,

and yes,
“It was good. It was good. It was very, very good. — Yabba bim, cheery bim cheery bom!”


Wolf Pascoe March 7, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Ah, David, yes. You were there!


pamela March 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Your posts always help me find those old, sweet memories as well. I too get filled up with sad (lovely, that!!) and I am not sure why. Maybe for innocence lost? I went on a walk this morning before the sun was up and I passed a willow tree just starting to get green. I remembered how in college my first real boyfriend sent me Robert Frost’s “Nature’s First Green is Gold” poem. Sad, sad sad and happy. Beautiful.

Jeez – why do I always tell you these STORIES in the comments???


Wolf Pascoe March 7, 2012 at 7:58 pm

What writers do, it is.


Privilege of Parenting March 8, 2012 at 12:11 am

This is so, so beautiful and resonant and evocative, even if my memories of camp comprise a quasi hell to counterbalance your heaven (http://bit.ly/oGFz8Q) and yet truth be told, there are so many lovely memories of bogs and frogs and caves of tree roots by the lake and the fact that I think of those times so often make them important in a way that goes beyond good or bad. Maybe it’s that sad grasping of the dimly conscious, painfully conscious, animal trying to coax soul into our time-ticking moments, sublime moments when we don’t have to choose one because they’re all here in all their damned and godly eternally transformative beauty.


Wolf Pascoe March 8, 2012 at 12:20 am

“Good and bad are in my heart
thought I cannot say to you
which is the better of the two
for they never are apart.
I am one, I am the other,
and the devil is my brother . . . ”

I can’t remember the poet, but I can’t forget the words.


Privilege of Parenting March 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm

And Ariadne is our Sister and the whole thing’s a family affair.


Planner2015 March 9, 2012 at 12:28 am

What can I say … you’ve nailed it so perfectly. That “the child is the father of the man” (or mother of the woman) is becoming clearer to me as time goes on. You’ve shared something with us that is at once tender and sad, yet so beautiful. Isn’t this the essence of being? Yet we see things through our own exclusive lenses. I never went to summer camp — we were too poor. My father was largely absent. My mother later confessed it was she who kept him away. Summer camp, with the frogs and bogs and tree roots by the lake, and camp sing-alongs was out of my reach. But my mother loved me so much she nearly smothered me. It seems your mother was different. That is hard to fathom through my lens… but for your writing that reveals another perspective altogether. The outcome? Your recounting gave me a glimpse through your lens. Something I would never see without you taking the time to tip it my way. Thanks seems very weak at the moment.


Wolf Pascoe March 9, 2012 at 12:47 am

Your sweet response is thanks enough. I love this writing process, when it works.


6512 and growing March 9, 2012 at 8:41 am

I’m enjoying your writing voice. (I read your piece in The Sun last winter. Bravo!) A favorite memory is my dad dolloping pancake batter on the griddle built into our stovetop on a Sunday morning. All the little drops that would form into a tiny pancake were for my stuffed animals.


Wolf Pascoe March 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Beautiful, Rachel!


BigLittleWolf March 9, 2012 at 11:53 am

How extraordinarily fortunate the three of you are. In a way, with these many moments filled up with the best sort of sorrow.


Wolf Pascoe March 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Fortunate sorrow? I am pondering . . .


Chopperpapa March 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I’m still making mine, I have lots of life ahead of me and have become more intentional about living it.


Wolf Pascoe March 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm

“Grow old with me,
The best is yet to be.”


Whit March 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm

This is fantastic, Wolf, just fantastic.


Wolf Pascoe March 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Hey, Whit! Thanks for stopping by!


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