Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The House of Devonshire

If, perchance, dear reader, you have opted to incorporate this blog into your daily - or even occasional - reading regimen, I thought it appropriate/mannerly to introduce some of the players on my personal stage. This evening's Playbill sketch centers on my husband of 40 years, couched, I thought aptly (& after throwing the "I Ching") in the form of allegory, restful-bedtime-story variety.

This story happens a long, long time ago, or tomorrow. It happens in and around and beyond a beautiful castle called Devonshire. (Or, if you prefer, in the home of a cardiologist in Pittsburgh, PA) This was the home of King Philip, "the King of Hearts", his lovely Queen, Margaret Cecilia and the five children of the royal family. They were called Princess Margaret Mary, who was dedicated to duty, Prince Philip, affectionately called Laddie-Buck, Princess Kathleen, a carrier of love, Princess Eileen Marie who laughed often and with wisdom and Princess Mary Ellen, who rode her thoughts, groomed her dreams.

Naturally, each member of the family has a 'story' but this one is mostly about Laddie-Buck, the Crown Prince who, as you know, may do many things and have many different attributes but is always waiting and preparing for the moment when he will be King.

The castle was well-suited to this family. It was large, warm, exquisitely designed and constructed with many, many rooms, secret passageways, hidden stairwells and landings and no fewer than four levels as well as tastefully placed turrets - harmonious yet seemingly desultory in arrangement. It rang with laughter, this castle, and flowers - inside and out. By direction of the queen, each door leading to the exterior was fenestrated with a square pane of leaded glass that featured one lovely, violet-tinced tulip. So pleased was the queen with the work of the Belgian artisan who had created these panes, she requested one be placed in each window of the castle. The tulip, you see, symbolized friendship, good tidings. And they were beautiful. Queen Margaret embraced such things and projected them as well.

The castle also truly reflected the king who was a 'large' man and warm, wise and spiritually and intellectually complex. Like the castle, he was always revealing another and another unexpected side of himself. Now the daily goings-on in the castle was left to the Queen - of course. But King Philip lent his own royal hands to the gardens, on occasion. In fact, it was he who ordered that the periphery of the grounds be lined with Lombardi Poplar trees. "So tall and graceful, they reach like vectors to the heavens," he said, "but like us, they sway and continually turn slightly off course." The King also found special time for each member of the royal brood. They were each bound to him by a different and very powerful emotion. This was an essential and very loving king in his castle.

As you might expect with ones who are great, as he was, his personal qualities drifted, then settled like a beneficent fog over his kingdom. Like some opulent millionnaire, King Philip squandered preccious coins of personality among his subjects. What made this feat even more remarkable, was the fact that King Philip ruled over a land constituted of iron and it was given to him the power to permeate this hard and cold and usually unyielding substance. He accomplished this with his special talents and influence. King Philip was thusly vitally connected to his kingdom because he tended to and knew hearts. He touched and moved the people in this iron land by maintaining the very rhythm of their life source, the pump of their passions.

Many wondered what the core of his power and virtuosity was. Indeed, there was much speculation surrounding the life and deeds of this extraordinary king. "How is it our King seems always to have time for us?" "What manner of sovreign travels long distances after the sun has been bedded to calm one lowly, quaking peasant?" Philip, aware of their needs -and their gratitude - never counted his hours or questioned his energies. He hadn't the time. He also had a very special secret. And, we shall see how the relationship between his secret and his energy came to mold this story and the many lives it touches.

Now Laddie-Buck was acute, keenly aware of the King and in absolute awe of him. It was as if after each encounter with his father, the boy felt as though he had just walked across one corner of Heaven. Of course there is no helping the fact that the son of such a great one will be brushed with his many blessings. And although the boy did not realize it, Laddie-Buck was special. A dutiful, observant son, he saw how the king was always busy doing wondrous deeds, kingly deeds, and so he, too, busied himself, dedicating himself to the altar of God and of the King (and I suspect Laddie-Buck saw these as one and the same altar) in his very strenuous efforts at being the best boy, son, brother, man, prince and (Heaven save him from this last eventuality) king.

He was obedient and respectful to the Queen, attending always to his assigned chores - such as they were around the castle. He was kind and loving to his sisters, although he would never freely confess to anything beyond an imposed comaradery with them. But the King knew that it was Laddie-Buck, a sedulous and successful student, who read to Princess Margaret - whoe sight was congenitally impaired - late at night. and being something of an accomplished carpenter, it was this same brother who built houses for dolls and birds when Princesses Kathleen and Eileen prevailed upon him. Mind you, though, not ALL of his endeavors met with royal approval!

Once, the Queen recalled, she heard a muffled and disturbing olio of sounds coming from the children's wing. As she reached the landing, Princess Margaret's, "Mother's coming!" caused a precipitous but ineffectual hush of the noise. Upon entering the room, the Queen was met with the saddest of family portraits. Six year-old Princess Mary Ellen was perched atop a table, her eyes wet and her mouth bleeding. The other girls werecrying. Laddie-Buck, dry-eyed, stepped forward and solemnly allowed as how he had just extracted the little princess' top two teeth. It seemed she had had no coins with which to purchase a birthday present for the Queen. She refused to borrow or accept coins from her siblings but Laddie-Buck convinced her that coins from the Tooth Fairy were very much one's own. The teeth had been loose, Princess Mary Ellen was very grateful to her brother, and the Queen, although deeply moved, spoke to Laddie-Buck about taking too many matters into his young fingers.

Despite his involvement with his sisters, the young man much preferred to spend time with his dog, Serph and his 'oy' friends. He was happiest in the world of boys and became a skillful and player and worker at the things of young men. The King very much enjoyed watching his son play at ball games and tournaments. Laddie-Buck was twice-thrilled because he was pleasing his father while doing what he liked best. But his incentive went beyond his admiration for his father, For Laddie-Buck felt he had two obstacles to overcome. One was his size. You see swift and adroit as he was, Ladddie-Buck was short and slight although surprizingly strong and daring. The other problem (in his mind) was the King's frequent abscences. This left the prince in the constant company of the Queen and Princesses, a lamentable fact for him because he wanted to do the things of the man - lest he become more "Lady-Buck-like".

King Philip was present enough to notice that his boy was approaching adolescence having shown signs throughout his boyhood of being a fine scholar and - more importantly to Laddie-Buck - a naturally gifted and accomplished athlete. This was good. But there were other signs, observed with equal attention, about which the King was troubled. These signs seemed related not to actions, but to re-actions.

For example, Laddie-Buck's nose had been broken (three times) whilst playing ball. The King witnessed none of the accidents but received glowing reports about his son's demeanor: "King Philip. You can be most proud. Your lad never even winced during the bone-setting." And from the Queen, "He was so brave, dear. Absolutely no fussing.". And finally, "I didn't cry, Dad." The King was thoughtful.

Then, just before the Prince turned thirteen, Serph contracted an incurable and most debilitating fungus. The dog was miserable and had to be put to sleep. Laddie-Buck went with his father to deliver Serph to his executionors. He bid his friend a warm and gentle but tearful farewell. The King observed, "I know how you must feel, son. I cried when my boyhood pet died." "I'm a man, now, Father. Men don't cry." "You may be wrong there. I know Kings do." And so the boy prayed that night, "Dear God. I can't stand not having Serph but I know You needed him more. And I guess You know he likes honey, sometimes, and to play ball. An in case You made a mistake, I'm here every day after school."

In time, Laddie-Buck asked that the fourth level of the castle be prepared for him and made his personal quarters. This not only set him apart but made him more accessible to the gods - and less to his sisters, he reasoned. The King looked on. He was pleased. He approved. But keeping his secret ALWAYS before him, Philip knew it was time to test Laddie-Buck in some important matters of maturational and spiritual strength. Now, to do this, the King chose the avenue closest to Laddie-Buck's heart - sports. The young prince had consistently avoided one particular activity and was so pleased with himself and his achievements in all others, that he was a bit put out when the King suggested, "Laddie-Buck, why don't you go out for running? Cross-Kingdom if you don't think you're fast enough for sprints. I think it would be an excellent sport for you."

And, as was the nature of the Crown Prince, he bucked. He told the king that running wasn't even a 'sport', was no challenge, he hadn't the time or inclination for it and built his little case up and up whenever his father would discuss it. Now the King knew that it is very common for a boy to go through a period of figuratively 'throwing rocks' at his father. And further, it is the wise father who just ignores it. The boy is having to to let his boyhood die and he is angry and he throws rocks. "If his behavior is ignored," Philip confided to the Queen, "he vents his spleen, so to speak, and can then move on, his grief work done."

Of course, this was a very special, royal relationship, so you can be sure that Laddie-Buck's display of resistance was more along the lines of pitching pebbles than throwing rocks. It simply isn't done. But he made himself heard nonetheless. Philip watched as his son put away the things of the boy and readying to suffer into manhood. The King therefore kept after him. "WHY don't you want to run? Don't you think you can do it?", and so on. After many such proddings, when the time which was SO very right had come, he simply said, "I spoke with the coach. You're to be at practice tomorrow morning."

Laddie-Buck took the challenge - resentfully at first. He preferred team efforts. Running was a waste of time. You run alone. He felt pressured, hostile when running. He tried concentrating on math equations. He tried memorizing poetry. He practiced Latin declentions. But he tried hard and consistently and in a short time he was doing so well he knew, deep down somewhere, that his father had been right. The rhythm of running, to which he had never consciously attended before, was now putting him in touch with feelings he never knew he had before. In fact, for the son of the King of Hearts, whose entree to his kingdom was the life-giving, rhythmic beating of an organ so closely associated with emotion, Laddie-Buck hadn't done much feeling at all. Not until now. His legs, like his heart, pumped his feelings into his awareness. He was angry, proud, nauseated to the point of illness, exhilirated, sad. He laughed. And now King Philip could make ready to pass his crown, to reveal his secret, a little bit at a time.

You see, the reason for the tremendous energy of King Philip, the dynamic that made him the best at what he did, was that he had been given a weak heart - which was now finally failing. His wisdom had been spawned from this ironic knowledge. And because of it, he intuitively and intensely valued relationships, productivity, spirituality - all the things that touch and in-spire a wonderful castle and kindom and make them good and well. King Philip lived most fully and was there for himself, his family and his subjects because he lived with his death before his eyes, his love and strength always available to those who would see and use it. He gave it freely to those who could not.

And sensing that it was time to leave, he had to first be certain that Laddie-Buck could use the value of dying to one thing only to blossom and flourish into the next. The Crown Prince, it is hoped, will be able to give to himself - and then to his kingdom - all that has been passed on to and into him. Laddie-Buck used his tools well. He wasted no time. He was beginning to feel and respond to feelings. The King saw this as the young man ran and was grateful. He watched his son shed tears - in victory and defeat - for himself and his running-mates.

So, when the day came for him to go, he first sent Laddie-Buck off to run. (If he had not, the young man never would have allowed the father to go) Then he bid a couched farewell to each princess in turn and, leaving his beloved Queen at home to wait until she was needed, he went out to die. This was done so swiftly, was orchestrated so well, that by the time the Queen was called, the deed was all but accomplished. And it was right that his queen be there, to bear witness, to be able to tell his children and subjects that their father and ruler had departed in a kingly fashion, cradled in the loving arms of both worlds - those of his wife and those of his faith. The King and Queen prayed and then he was gone.

Now Laddie-Buck was to receive the news, that he is no longer the Crown Prince. Laddie-Buck, as well as King Philip, has died. And this is as it should and must be. The House of Devonshire continues. Long live King Philip - as long as it takes for him to complete his mission. When he learned to die, to let go, to cry, he - like his father, became a truly worthy King of Hearts.