Posted by: posthaiti | February 2, 2009

for Jordan

it pains me to have to write this, but it must be done. Jordan Nagler is dead. and it’s shocking.

Jordan was 30, the youngest son of Roark Nagler, my dad’s best friend from the US Merchant Marine Academy, where they both went to school in the early 1970s. he was found at 4 in the morning lying at the bottom of some Hollywood hotel pool. this was back in October, but i just heard the news. touching tributes can be found here and here.

the first time i met Jordan, he was 5 and i was 9. every summer for the next several years, Uncle Roark and Aunt Pat (they weren’t related, but close enough) came to visit us on our farm. they’d stay a week or so, and i guess it was like a vacation for them: soaking up the summertime heat and humidity of small-town Wisconsin, surrounded by exploding trees; orange, moonlit nights; massive amounts of stars almost breaking the sky apart; steaks on the grill; and best of all, the chance to work with my dad, shoveling manure or bailing hay. my dad would take any and all help, and i remember Uncle Roark looking pretty flushed, maybe about to pass out, most of the time. and after the day’s work: the scent of manure invading the kitchen, the buzz of crickets engulfing the entire house, maybe the sound of a record player, of white wine, of memories old and new.

the new was us, their kids. what i most remember about Jordan was his karate moves. he had started lessons and liked to show off when he came to visit. in fact, he was pretty good for a 5-year-old, and he used to demonstrate on the top of our living room coffee table. i don’t remember much else about him, except that even at 5, he was loud, liked to talk a lot, and seemed to have a lot to say.

the next time i saw him, i was in the middle of my masters program at Columbia, and he was living on Long Island. Uncle Roark was in town and we all met up for dinner and drinks in Union Square. Jordan had grown up, but so had i. he talked about his job and his girlfriend. he and Roark seemed pretty close, and for the first time in a while, i realized how much time had passed, and how quickly — and unexpectedly — it can.

his death is quite shocking, actually. my paternal grandfather, who everyone called Whitey, passed away in the early morning hours of New Year’s Eve last year, and i got a call from my stepmom relaying the news as my flight landed in Atlanta. actually, i got a voicemail, which was somewhat even more disturbing. again, i got a voicemail from her about Jordan: he was found at the bottom of a pool at some fancy Hollywood hotel. he had passed before dawn.

i didn’t go to my grandfather’s funeral. it wasn’t that i didn’t care about him or my family, but now i regret it, in a way. in the way that someone moves without telling you, or takes a vacation and never comes back. the fact that Jordan could never have woken up that morning and told himself, this will be my last day inhaling and exhaling on planet Earth — well, it’s jolting. it could SO happen to any one of us. without warning. just like that.

how many seconds of each day do i spend stressing, squirming, trying to peer through the walls of perception to get a better look at life? a friend of mine from California used to make me laugh, frequently spouting his succinct philosophies on life: Jeanene, he’d say, take it easy. ‘life is a series of small pleasures: a cookie, a cigarette, an orgasm. enjoy it, kid.’ i keep waiting, wondering, will the sky turn green today? will the sun become the moon? my days of wondering, waiting, analyzing — how could Jordan, how could any of us, have known that he would no longer be in that place the next day? our place. THIS place, of practiced taking-for-granted. and, where is he now? a basic question, yes, but one that seems a lot less nebulous in the face of this event.

i didn’t go to Whitey’s funeral. and, i wish i had, considering that i don’t really feel like he’s gone. i mean, i understand that he’s dead, but there’s something irrational, deeper, that says, no, he’s not gone. and i think it has something to do with skipping out on that process of mourning, a process that centuries of human beings have institutionalized. i always wondered about commemorative event, like baptisms, marriage, funerals. what, really, was their purpose besides feeding our sense of “should be,” which i assumed was just a nagging byproduct of being socialized. i did go to my mother’s dad’s funeral, and have a completely different idea of well, where Grandpa R. is AT. i know that he’s definitely not HERE. i remember my uncle weeping, and that is one thing that continues to seal the permanence of it. when it comes to Whitey, though, i’m not sure where he’s AT. is he still here? is he hiding in some cabin buried in the trees along the backroads near where i grew up, or down in some posh resort in the Keys? is he playing nonstop rounds of golf somewhere? of course he’s not, but it sure feels like he’s not actually gone.

in Haiti, funeral processions were walked by people wearing white, not black. i was able to catch a glimpse of a funeral taking place one afternoon on the way back from a mud site. from the top of the taptap, i could see the church — delapidated, as most buildings were — and in front of it, a group of mourners. what took me off guard was that they were all wearing white! white? doesn’t white signify hope, rebirth, renewal? well, yes. and isn’t that what death is, actually? it’s ironic that Westerners would cast a shadow, literally, on death: it’s the end, you’ve got nothing and nowhere else to go, welcome to an eternity of dirt, darkness, and well, nothingness. but wait: isn’t nothingness, as defined by Buddhist monks, the epitome of successful meditation? isn’t nothingness what monks strive for, what Nirvana actually embodies?

some pictures of the funeral, thanks to Aaron, and one of the photog himself. thanks for the great images.

funeral1
funeral2
funeral3
funeral4
aarondavis

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Responses

  1. That is one fine looking moustache on that photographer, Aaron.

    • indeed! it’s like he was in some ‘stache contest or something…


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