Meet Me by the Bridge, Son

Today, I’m going to drop the Socratic Dialogue/Shakespeare Play literary frames and write a bit more personally about a recent experience of mine. Of course, there will be a bit of etymology involved. This is a blog that deals with etymology, after all. But it is, in fact, the Wyrd that I want to focus on this time–the surreal world of Jungian synchronicity and the interplay in consciousnous between words on the one hand; and on the other, events and beings out there in the “real” world that seem to have no causal relationship to each other, save for the profound personal meaning it all has to me.

On a Wednesday evening (November 20th, 2019) around 9:30 PM, I was leaving my martial arts dojo and I saw a cat, line of sight in front of me, dash out into the street on a collision course with a car. There is nothing I could have done to stop that car from hitting the beautiful beast. The cat tried to save himself, turning frantically back in an instinctual flash toward where he had come from in that mad dash. Alas, he almost made it, but the car clipped the cat’s head and wheeled obliviously on its way. The driver did not notice the vehicular cat slaughter which had just been committed.

Witnessing violent, terminal things is always a little shocking, but I tend to have good reactions and fairly steady nerves in high stress situations. I saw the cat was still moving and that another car was on a trajectory to hit him a second time. I immediately darted into the street myself, hoping the driver would see me, and do what most people do when they see a person stepping into their car’s path–swerve. The driver must have seen or otherwise sensed me, because the car did swerve. It was just enough that the cat didn’t have to have its body further desecrated beneath the grinding wheels of a fast-moving, totally oblivious juggernaut of destruction. If I couldn’t save his life, I could at least save his dignity.

I guess in retrospect, the cat looked more like a Norwegian forest cat. Image from the Spruce Pets and there are more pictures of gorgeous cats HERE.

I gently picked up the kitty and walked with him to the other side of the road, laying him down on a manicured lawn among the bushes and a cedarchip-landscaping design. As I examined him I found he was in tact. His body whole. At least outwardly. He had no visible signs of bleeding or compound fractures. He looked very much to me like a good kitty friend of mine, Tristan (whose name means sadness), the most regal and handsome Maine Coonish fluffy fella you will ever see on Pleasure Point. The resemblance, of course, brought me to the deepest hallows of sorrow in that moment. He was twitching in an eerily slow manner. The blunt force trauma had done him in, and I could tell by his changing breathing pattern that he was going to die.

In the accelerated time-frame of mere minutes I passed through something like the classic model of the seven stages of grief; talking to myself, to the cat, to the Universe, to any being that would listen. “No, no, no kitty, you’re going to be okay (Shock and Denial). Come on, little buddy, hold on and maybe I can get you to a vet (Bargaining).” I was crying (Pain and Guilt) as I muttered these things breathlessly, beneath the dim light of nearby street lamps. I should have acted more quickly, though I don’t see in retrospect how I could have. I can’t recall if it were misty that night or not, though my memory wants it to have been. “Fucking careless people (Anger)!” He lay on his side, breathing rapidly, and I pet him (the Upward Turn). I pet his sides because I knew his head had been hit and that it might be painful to him if I touched it. He was so soft. So beautiful. So loved. It was obvious he had humans that honored and took care of him. But he had no collar. I couldn’t call his people to give them the anguishing news that their feline companion had been slain. I didn’t want him to die alone. So I kept petting him.

That morning my family had gotten news that my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Never adverse to symbolic metaphysical musings I wondered if this whole scene had something to do with my dad (Reconstruction and Working Through). After a time, as the cat’s breathing began to slow, I began to repeat to the little fella, “Die with dignity, Kitty. Die with dignity (Acceptance and Hope).”

And the bellows of his life stilled.

I picked him up and placed him deeper into the bushes, so no kids or deranged adults that happened to walk by would mess with him. Saying one last goodbye, I continued the walk back to my truck in somber silence. I had no thoughts. No reflections. No currents. It was as if my mind had been struck by a speeding zen koan. A hit-and-run moment of Gnosis. It was a strangely peaceful feeling, and I have been having strange epiphanies ever since. Perhaps, some of them will make their way into this blog soon.

Later that night, recounting the story of the night’s sorrowful event to my constant companion, she asked if the cat had a name. I said, “No, it didn’t have a tag, or I would have called his humans to give them the bad news.” She said, “Well, do you want to name him?” That idea hadn’t occurred to me, to name a dead kitty. But it felt right to do so. As soon as I accepted that notion the name, Bristol, popped into my mind. “Bristol?” she asked. “I have no idea why. That’s the first thing that came up.”

Left to right: my dad, James A. Roberts, my mother, Bess Roberts; my sister Beth, who had to deliver the news, and me. I honestly can’t remember the year.

At around midnight, my sister called to give me the news of our father’s passing.

Now, this is the part of the post where we do some etymology, because of course being the curator of this blog, I am always interested in these things, especially when they have such personal meaning. Before we get to that: I listen to a podcast I’ve mentioned before called Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio. The host Miguel Connor in keeping with the Gnostic spirit always encourages his fellow seekers to “create your own gospel and live your own myth.”

I’m going to do some gospel writing and mythologizing now.

Bristol is a town in southwestern England that sits on the confluence of two rivers, the Avon and the Fromme. According to etymonline.com the original word for this city is spelled, Brycgstow, and was coined in Old English from the Anglo-Saxon roots for bridge and stow. The local dialect of English has a phonological rule that tacks on an /-l/ in the word final position when a word ends in a vowel. That is fancy linguistics speak for when a word ends in a vowel, Bristolites add an “l” to the end, and call it good. This same site informs us the meaning of the name Bristol is “assembly place by a bridge.”

I have no ties or affinities with the city of Bristol so far as I know. No proclivities or inclinations toward anything Bristolish that I can recall, but the etymology of the place name struck a chord in my soul. “Assembly place by a bridge,” (I’ve also always had a strange thing for bridges) in my newly mystified mind, turned into “meeting place by the bridge,” because I was already forming this idea that, somehow, my dad’s spirit was in that cat as I pet him out of this world and into the Other. I wasn’t able to be with him at his bedside for his last day on earth. I rather imagine that his soul had come flying to find me, and probably my brother too, for we live far away and could in no way humanly possible have gotten there in time to say goodbye. Just like I couldn’t have gotten to that cat in time. From when my sister sent the news of the PET scan to the time my dad died was about 14 hours in my estimation.

Image and description from Wikipedia: ” Sarpedon’s body carried by Hypnos and Thanatos (Sleep and Death), while Hermes watches. Side A of the so-called “Euphronios krater”, Attic red-figured calyx-krater signed by Euxitheos (potter) and Euphronios (painter), c. 515 BC.”

On Friday, I was cleaning the mats at the dojo before the noon class. I like my mat cleaning time. It gives me space-time to do mindfulness meditation in the vein of Thich Nhat Hanh, or listen to podcasts. That day I was listening to a podcast and the narrator began speaking about the Greek god Hermes. Anyone who has even a marginal interest in either mythology or astrology knows that Hermes is “the messenger of the gods,” but this anthropologist chose to use the word bridge. Hermes is a bridge between heaven and earth (though the narrator may have actually said ‘underworld’). But it doesn’t matter whether he said ‘underworld’ or ‘earth,’ the association of semantic fields in my mind instantly yielded this idea:

The cat, Bristol, was the meeting place by the bridge between heaven and earth for me and my dad.

In my research on the name Bristol, I, of course, went down internet rabbit holes and learned that someone actually tried to breed a cat called a Bristol. It didn’t work out, but the Bristols that did make it to this space-time continuum are so beautiful! Imagine from: http://bib.ge/cats/open.php?id=2420

For that, Bristol, my father and I thank you. Thank you for letting me meet my dad by the bridge before he went “beyond to seek the truth.” And thank you for being his surrogate for our last moments together.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that my dad and I were close. Our relationship was stormy when I was younger and could best be described as distant in my adulthood. Nevertheless, we did have our moments of genuine love and affection, and he did do some things for me that I am grateful for; most of which are deeply personal, but a few I’d like to share are :

One, he took me to see Star Wars when it first came out. I was 5 years old at the time. This may not seem like a big deal, but our family belonged to a rather bleak and dreary protestant church that had an injunction against seeing movies. My dad facilitated my first act of rebellion against an over-arching and domineering control structure in my life. One that caused me enormous pain. At least intellectually it did, but also quite a bit of spiritual pain for reasons that I may never discuss. It’s largely due to that Star Wars imprint, I think, that I began to question the dogmas of Church and Empire. A look at some of my other posts and you’ll get the idea of the ripple effect that this simple act of non-compliance on my dad’s part has had on my life.

Image courtesy of https://unsplash.com/@andreamaraldg

He also took our family camping. A lot. Taking us out of the choked and choking structures of industrialized civilization and into the wilderness where we could have some kind of communion with the True goddess of this world, the Earth herself, was probably the best thing my father ever did for me. To the extent that I have any good childhood memories, they are filled with deep forests, glistening lakes, beautiful waterfalls, provocative desert petroglyphs, and glorious mountain observatories. The kind with humongous telescopes perched atop them; their glassy monumental eyes pointed at the velvet heavens and the glittering diamond-encrusted constellations in the vastness of space. Which is where I hope he has gone now.

My dad and I at one of my graduations, can’t remember if this was for my B.A. or M.A. in Linguistics from UCSC, but it would have been either ’98 or ’00.

At home, my dad was always messing around, tinkering with building various things: telescopes, computers (before the Mac and the PC!) It seemed to me his favorite place to shop was Radio Shack (R.I.P.). One of my mom and dad’s major running arguments was that he was supposed to build her a robot to do house cleaning! The robot never materialized. My mother who has also passed–I’m sure she would have loved for him to build her a rumba!

I have mentioned that my father and mine’s relationship was stormy. We fought a lot, my dad and I. Not physically (well, almost, a few times…but it never really came to blows). But we argued quite willfully and frequently. He was an angry man for a lot of his life. In retrospect, I can’t say I blame him. He was an honest man. There is a lot of terrible injustice in the world and misfortune about which to be angry. Though, he always seemed to be angry about money, or lack thereof. And I would be lying if I told you I didn’t at some point in my life blame him for some of my emotional scarring. I blamed him plenty. But, my dad, as I have said, was an honest man. He sought me out to ask my forgiveness for his part in all my childhood traumas and misfortunes, perceived or real. I forgive him. I forgave him a long time ago. He did the best he could under the circumstances. We are all flawed in some tragic sense. That isn’t just Greek drama, that’s real life. But it takes a great spirit to humble one’s self and ask forgiveness. Sincerely. Earnestly. Frankly. Which he did. And that will always be my greatest memory of him.

Sitting in People’s Coffee making some social media updates I ran across this post from one of my favorite German thrash metal bands, Kreator:


Needless to say, it was a heart-wrenching jolt of tearful emotions that followed. Another one of those, what I have termed, “Logo-synchronicities.” I had the sense my dad was speaking to me from beyond the grave, but I am not quite able to discern his request. “Why are you in a state of unrest, dad?” I wonder. “Is there something you want me to do? I forgave you a long, long time ago in a galaxy not that far away. What is it you need?” These things keep popping into my mind. Or maybe it’s the cat, Bristol, that wants me to do something. I don’t know. I have my suspicions about why my dad might be in a “state of unrest.”

At any rate, the metaphor of the cat’s last moments of life in some holographic sense resembles aspects of my dad’s life. He tried to save himself. He quit smoking a long time ago; at least 30 years ago, I reckon. Just as the cat tried to save itself and recoil out of the way of the oncoming death machine. But in both the cat and my father’s case, it seems, via the mindless, careless habits of the human condition, death comes ripping. My father’s lung cancer must have come in some part from his decades of chain smoking several packs of cigarettes a day. I’m sure he was also exposed to some gnarly chemicals in the Navy or in his post-Navy civilian life working for defense contractors. I was born at White Sands, New Mexico, after all; an Army base chiefly famous for having conducted several nuclear bomb tests before my arrival on this earth. Who knows the actual carcinogenic agent responsible for his illness?

I imagine that when my father got the results of his PET scan that morning–lung cancer, metastasized to his whole body–he made a decision to die quickly and with dignity, instead of going through the degrading and painful process of chemotherapy, which may have been difficult or useless due to a range of other health conditions he had. And, also, like the cat, my father had some humans that honored and took care of him. My sisters were there with him on his final day, and had, indeed, been his chief caretakers through most of his later years. They said he seemed to be at peace and resting when they had left him that evening. He did not appear to be in pain or otherwise uncomfortable. They are saints, Barbara and Beth. Thank you for taking care of our dad.

One of the last family photos taken before my mom passed away. Left to right, starting with the top row: myself; my brother, Duane; my sister, Barbara; my mom; my dad; and my sister, Beth.

I hear my nephews, my brother’s sons, are going to secure an American flag that has flown over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. for his funeral. And he’ll have a 21-gun salute. My father, who gave most of his life to this country through his service in the Navy, will like that. I imagine his response to this would be something like, “Hey, all riiiiight.” He had a particular way of saying that.

So it is that after a lifetime of pain and hardship, triumphs and failures, heartbreak, divorce, setback, mental and physical degeneration, love and hate; and all the other vicissitudes of life, you can die with dignity, Dad. Die with dignity.

And someday when it’s my time to go, I’ll meet you by the bridge, Dad.