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Reply To: Reflections Upon a Hawaiian Graveyard,” with John Bonaduce, Ph.D.”


Thanks for the reminder, James, that this is indeed memorial day weekend and would be pretty heedless of me to reflect upon my graveyard experience in Oahu without this context.

What is a cemetery if not a curated set of mnemonic triggers, as you called them, designed to summon to our waking sensibility those we have lost to the deep sleep of death? Where we lie, in the end, says a lot about us. Usually, it is the last piece of real estate that matters and there is usually an unhelpful platitude or two, like a caption, meant to capture the essence of the person. Faithful spouse. Loving father. Beloved grandpa. None of these are real triggers though. Or, if they are, they are powered by their own inadequacy. Every spouse falls short in some way, every father has his missteps. Well, let me bring this strange thought into the realm of your response.

I wrote for M*A*S*H (hey, how cool that one of credits has little stars between each letter) as a direct result of my father’s lessons in writing. He didn’t teach me a lot of life skills. He never showed me how to swing a bat or field a grounder. He did not give advice about guns like “aim high, then lower you sight.” We never played poker. I don’t think he knew how. And he never yelled from the sidelines, “Play through the pain.” But he did tell me that a story is told through its subplots. And he did tell me to “hide the exposition.” And he also told me that if I can’t hide the exposition, give it to a subordinate character.

I would like to visit Dad’s grave today but I’m in the last day of isolation from Covid (I promised myself not to mention that but two weeks confined to quarters is really getting to me…).

Dad’s epitaph reads: “Written By Joseph Bonaduce.”

I kid you not, James. I chose it. My family had no objections. I would have ordered a plate which read “Beloved Father,” but I think that does not quite say it. It is not the mnemonic trigger I want and need to conjure the man. There is an intended pun, though unarticulated because, you see, we television writers are either featured in the “opening” credits or the “final credits.”

Obviously, this was indeed Dad’s “final credit.”

Folks like Campbell and Jung can “go to their graves” content that, in Horace Mann’s words, they have contributed something of value: “Be ashamed to die,” he said, “until you have won some victory for humanity.” What a colossal burden for the rest of us to be ashamed to die until we have actually brought some great boon back from the journey. Campbell, who described such boon givers, qualifies as does Jung.

I guess that was not the only grave I visited that weekend. I went to the Pearl Harbor memorial. And, again, there is a relation between the intention of the memorial and its greater meaning. The men who lie forever entombed in the steel carcass of the Arizona call upon our deepest patriotic sensibilities but what a shame if that is where we stop. We are always ready to concretize the mystery in some half-way house of shared values like Patriotism, and, well, that’s good for memorial day weekend. No need to trip ourselves up unnecessarily with the bigger questions of war and peace. The correct optic is a fluttering flag, no bigger than a page from a paperback. A cub scout saluting. Only the meanest spirit would find fault.

But Campbell’s idea of a memorial, which he described eloquently in one of his late lectures, quite literally involves a pointing finger. Literally, a finger pointing to the sky as if to say, “Yes, that is where it came from. That is where the atom bomb fell on this sad town of Nagasaki.” The peace memorial was a place where, in Campbell’s estimation, recrimination had no place and where the aftermath of war is never reckoned in winners and losers but in the resolve that no power on earth should ever be used against another people.

Again, James. Thanks for the context. This is my way of observing Memorial Day from the isolation of quarantine.