Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Living Wake

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For the second time in less than a week, I've lost a friend in Tucson's traditional dance community. Craig Tinney, guitarist for The Privy Tippers, passed away this week in his sleep at the chronological age of 60, but a real age of many years younger. As many of you know, a motorcycle accident last year left Craig paralyzed from the neck down, but his heart was anything but crippled, even as he rolled around in a specialized wheelchair.

I got to know Craig from his gigs with We Make History, playing our Civil War and Christmas balls. Then I started coming to TFTM's Saturday contra dances, and as I saw him on the floor in his colorful shirts, he saw me in my colorful historic outfits. He especially liked it when I wore my Highland attire. "Put some swords down for this man!" he said of my kilt and plaids. One time he plucked out a Scottish tune during the pre-dance warm-up, and I did an impromptu Highland Fling.

A few weeks ago TFTM put on a special music and dance benefit for Craig, which blossomed into a festival of music and joy. Outside, people gathered and jammed with the bluegrass musicians. Inside the main theater, bands were playing every 20 minutes. People put their signatures to a silent auction inside the gallery. And upstairs in the cabaret, just about every inch of floor was occupied with contra dancers, including myself. As the dancing continued, I started to feel the warmth -– just like at the We Make History balls.

So did Craig. Friends crowded around him all day, and I finally got to see him after the dancing. He was in the green room surrounded by more of his close companions. I came dressed as a Scotsman in his honor. He noticed me and recalled for the gathered how I was so enthusiastic at the balls, dressing up and bringing my joy to the floor.

“GOD didn't just put us here to be good,” he said. “GOD put us here to be happy.”

Craig had been learning to be happy again, through the paralysis and nights in the hospital and through the frustration that he couldn't even shrug his shoulders. Inside of him I knew he longed to strum again. His presence and conversation brought tears to my eyes as he talked about recovery. He sometimes wished GOD would take him away, but now he was surrounded by his friends who were submerged with him in their mutual love of music and dance, and all was right.

They raised a lot of money for him. He needed $5,000 for a hospital bed. They got it and then some. I'm sure the silent auction and the food sales brought in a lot of cash as well.

After the benefit, I walked down the street to where I had parked and noticed a line standing outside Bring's Funeral Home, presumably part of some memorial. I couldn't help but think of the irony. Craig could've died from that accident, but he lived longer, much longer, and here we were, having a living wake for him while he was still alive to see it and know how much he was loved. I never expected he would leave us so soon.

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