September 27, 2012 —
I attended Frank Robisch’s funeral yesterday.
A man who played a significant role in my childhood.
As a child he defined all goodness from the apples to the pigs, from the hills to the valleys.
And in thinking about his life, at least the earlier part, it always makes me feel happy—makes me feel the kind of warmth one finds in reading a good book.
I visited Frank this past spring at his nursing home in Honesdale. He barely remembered me.
And after the visit I felt odd. I felt disconnected with humanity.
I didn’t know how to talk to Frank. I didn’t know how to relate.
While sitting next to him, listening, waiting, he seemed very far away and although he was kind, he seemed uninterested in my presence.
I felt bad. I felt I had intruded on his personal space.
I was happy to see him though.
Today, while looking down at Frank’s body, I felt close to him.
I didn’t feel I was looking at Frank though.
I felt I was looking at a great calm and in his body’s physical similarity there was the memory of a man named Frank—a man that was like a god—the kind of god that children find in their parents, or in farmers working in the distance who always appear to being do more than just farming, perhaps building arks that will save us all.
In the quiet that came with Frank’s passing, I discovered a new home to visit old memories in.
After visiting Frank’s body I turned around and was greeted by a friendly smile from my neighbor Dave Peters.
His smile assured me that I was home again. I felt warmth from this man.
Then at the cemetery I had a long conversation with a former dairy farmer, Richard Ferber.
Naturally, being in a cemetery, our conversation began with the local history, each chapter inspired by the next row of deceased mythological figures we came upon.
He told me about the history of these people and their families—the ones he knew and the ones he’d only heard story of.
Sometimes there was a quiet in between us and I felt a strong connection with Richard.
We walked and we talked and at the end of the path we both shook hands.
I was glad to have met Richard, I felt friendship with him, but I was nervous that I wouldn’t get another chance to talk with him in this way—with this intimacy and with this camaraderie.
I feared more than anything that the “fracking” situation would divide us, or stop us from becoming friends.
He wants to drill his land. I don’t want to drill mine. I couldn’t even say that aloud without fear of losing the chance to become friends with him.
What are our differences? What are their limits? Can we live together, be friends together and be different? How different? Where is the line? Where is the bridge?
After the funeral I drove up to my childhood home on Robisch Hill Rd., which the Reynolds family has recently vacated.
I looked at the broken window on the second floor and at the scattered remains of furniture strewn across the lawn.
When I looked at the house I missed the Reynolds and then my childhood, too, even though the house looked nothing like the one in my memory.
Suddenly death overcame me. The sky was grey, the dog house was empty and a wild cat darted into the bushes.
I looked to my land, full of potential, and then back to the abandoned house I hoped to return to—“I will transform this land and this house into a school, a place for all, for everyone to have the chance to learn about one another.”
Sitting here typing at my computer I strangely don’t feel nostalgic or sad, just heavy with responsibility for the work I feel ahead of me.
So many bridges that need building. So many words that need listening.
In the end, I really just love humans.
I love the human presence that is evil and good.
I love that we make mistakes, that we get angry, that we are passionate, that we love and laugh.
I love the complexity of who we are. I love what I don’t understand about us.
We are truly that aspect of nature that is beyond all logic. We make this planet the earth that it is, whether we kill it or save it.
[Frank Robisch passed away on September 1 at age 85. He was laid to rest on September 4 in North Branch Lutheran Cemetery, North Branch, NY. The author, Isaac Green Diebboll, born in New York City in 1989, is in the process of starting a school on his family’s property in the Town of Delaware to honor his father, John Joseph Diebboll, The Diebbolls and the Robisches were neighbors on Robisch Hill in the Town of Delaware. For information about Isaac Diebboll’s school, visit northschoolstudio.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]