When I scan patients in the CT room, particularly elderly ones, I find myself saying “Very good” a lot.  Not meant in the way, You did very good, but as in “very well.” 


What a hokey thing to say.


But it is emblematic of what Gene Brantley gave me—something I could have never taught myself, and something no one could have ever, I think.  And here is the translation: there is never anything wrong with heartfelt sentiment.  Never anything wrong in being kind to another human being, even if they don’t deserve it and never will deserve it.  Even when it seems damaging to the one being kind.  And that is a type of godliness I’ve never encountered in anyone else.


The day I became aware of his using that phase, which so much irritated me to begin with, was a day I remember so very well. It was a summer day in Davisboro, and we had been planning for a while to get up and go arrowhead hunting.  I was really looking forward to it.


We woke up reasonably early.  But we had to stop first for snacks, and I remember Gene going overboard with buying things for everybody.  And on top of that, it was getting later in the day with every moment. My usual self-centered dissatifaction was beginning to show.


But he didn’t let that bother him, or anything else.  “Very good,” he said.  The day was very hot, and he drove to all parts of the county.  I remember the cool dark shadows of the dirt roads going through woods and how thirsty we got.  The green leaves and red hills and azure sky and June clouds were beautiful.  I was amazed how at home he felt with every square inch of land he visited.  Whereas I remained in perpetual fear of being shot at, he knew everyone, or knew someone who did and assured me they wouldn’t mind our looking around their property.


It wasn’t a bountiful day, but occasionally one of us would find some fragment, to the others’ jealous taunts.  The moment was always inspiring; here, some thousand years ago, another human hand held and shaped this artifact.


He was at home with that too.  Whenever some squabble broke out (me and Sue, and Jeff and Brantley and Taylor were all there), he took it in stride, keeping everyone happy and together somehow.  The way a father does.  All humans—the here and now ones and the ones departed uncountable generations—were his kin.


“Very good,” I say now, my echo proud, my life forever changed.  And for the better.


These Days

as I think of Gene I return often to what I consider his notion of--if not the perfectibility, at least--the improvability of people. I think he mostly thought that if given a break, a person would do the right thing. And when that did not happen, I think he was genuinely surprised. My major fault--as I see it--is that I am not surprised. Or I do not let myself be surprised. But then, I look at my daughter, partly a product of Gene himself, and I at last begin to see signs of innate good and beauty in people. It is a testament to his character that I let a little corner in the fabric of my skepticism rip. I hope he's pleased with the change in me.

April 8, 2002