Ode to Max

hummingbirdEven as I type this, I hesitate. Some things just belong in a quiet space, locked up and seen only by the key holder.

Then again, that’s pretty contradictory to all I’m about. I tell my kids to live out loud. I tell my friends to live out loud. I tell my clients to live out loud.  I sure as heck better do it, too.

So I’ll tell you my little secret of the week. I’ve been knee deep in studying metaphysical thinkers, specifically the writings of philosopher Ernest Holmes. Holmes hung out in LA in the 1920s with the likes of Albert Einstein and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was heavily influenced by Emerson’s writings and thinking. We have that in common because if I could sit and have a glass of Pinot with anybody in the world, it would be Ralph Waldo himself. (Turns out the first guy I kissed–by the same name–is a direct descendant and we used to have long, philosophical discussions back in the 6th grade which he recently reminded me about. Ralph, if you’re reading this, my sister-in-law Susan and I are looking forward to one of those talks Monday after next at Mama’s on Stockton in San Francisco. We owe it to Max.)

I’ve had a passion for original thinkers as long as I can remember. When metaphysics–ie. that which lies beyond what we can see–was introduced to me by Max Fagerquist, I was fascinated. Max was a large man who wore pretty much the same thing every day: a lemon chiffon turtleneck, a brown houndstooth jacket with elbow patches, non-descript slacks, and dusty cowboy boots. Each day he’d twirl a mint with his tongue, his wire rimmed glasses lost in the wildest eyebrows you’ve ever seen. He’d summon us to non-traditional class set ups (circles), with non-traditional questions (“Why ARE we here?” or “Are we really here?”), and challenge our first AP European class ever to explore the meaning of man from a completely unique vantage point. He made a huge impression on me and my friend, Kevin, and I’m sure many other adults who haven’t thought about him for 30 years.

This week, though, he’s very much on my mind. My mom cut out the obituary that said Max had died at age 74 in a care facility. I called the number. There would be no service. I called the high school where he’d taught. Nobody called me back.

In a synchronistic twist, a friend of mine was teaching a class I’ve wanted to take for years. I ran into her at the Ted Talks last week and she said, “I’ve so been thinking about you. I’m teaching this class and I think you’d love it. Come Thursday.”

I went. I had no idea this would be a continuation of AP European history, but there we were. In a circle.  Not teenagers, but 50 (60, 70) somethings.Talking about the meaning of life, metaphysical perspectives, Planet Epistemology. I could feel Max in the room.

The next morning I rose just before dawn and went out back to do my morning meditation. I like to get out there when at least three stars are left in the sky and stay until I can’t see them anymore. It’s my new thing. I closed my eyes and thought about Max–how I wish I’d went to tell him the influence he’d had over my thinking and writing. How I appreciated the risks he took with our class, his belief in us as original thinkers. How he’d encouraged me to find my own way as a writer and not copy others. He taught us how to question, not just accept. He believed we could do it and made us believe it, too.

When I opened my eyes, pink sky had risen above the line of tall oaks at the far back of our property. The stars were still visible. And in front of my face, one foot away was a steely gray hummingbird like the one up above. It reminded me of his eyebrows.

I laughed. “Well hello there.”

My next thought: hummingbirds don’t come out at dawn–do they? I knew it was a Max encounter.

What seemed like 5 minutes passed with fluttering wings just hovering. The sky turned all pink. There was no darting around in normal hummingbird fashion. He just stared at me with beady black eyes.

I listened. Finally he flew away. I felt full of joy.

I told my husband. I told my friend, Kevin. (They may both think I’ve finally lost it, but as I told them both, the older I get, the less I care. I have Max to thank for that.)

Just before I typed this blog (actually during, to be honest) I Googled the meaning of hummingbirds because I wondered, “Why a hummingbird, Max?”

Here’s what I got on my first look:

The hummingbird generally symbolizes joy and playfulness, as well as adaptability. Additional symbolic meanings are:

  • Lightness of being, enjoyment of life
  • Being more present
  • Independence
  • Bringing playfulness and joy in your life
  • Lifting up negativity
  • Swiftness, ability to respond quickly
  • Resiliency, being able to travel great distances tirelessly

Now, it’s clear. Thank you, Max, for continuing to be my teacher even now. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for our metaphysics class next week.

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2 thoughts on “Ode to Max

    • I kind of wondered if you had him. You would have dug him, for sure. And that’s a very nice wish. (In a recommendation letter he’d written for me to go to UCLA he wrote, “She’s definitely publishable.” From your mouth, Max.)

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