Wednesday, October 26, 2011

After Life

by Drew Martin

There is a touching scene in the film My Architect when the director, Nathaniel Kahn, rollerblades around his father's genius Salk Institute, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, California. Its architect, Louis Kahn, designed some of the most intriguing buildings in the 20th century. Oddly, he also kept three families. Nathaniel seldom saw his father; the film is a search for him in the architecture he left behind.

The rollerblading scene is special because Nathaniel is a grown man but the institute's large, central plaza and his carefree movements offer us a scene of a father and son playing together.

I witnessed such a moment firsthand this past weekend. I was in Richmond, Virginia for a great uncle's funeral service. This patriarch had a house at a creek off the James River where there are huge family gatherings every Fourth of July and other legendary parties. The main attraction was always waterskiing. The service seemed incomplete but afterwards we all changed out of our formal attire and drove down to "The Creek." One of the granddaughters and the only son of this man put on wetsuits and took to the water, skiing elegantly up and down the creek, which has an exotic southern look worthy of alligators.

The son is a 65 year old man but I still remember him as the young man who patiently taught me to waterski when I was a kid. On the single ski board on Saturday he looked like a teenager, cutting through the wake, reaching down to slice the mirror-smooth creek water with his fingertips. It might seem odd to waterski on the day of your father's funeral but everyone there witnessing this understood why it was important.

A body may be in an urn or coffin but the spirit of a person is unbound and everywhere. My relative, skimming over the surface of the creek in the golden glow of the sunset seemed to be immersed in his father, pulled by his father.