Sobriety in Paradise

December 10, 2010

Here is the tribute I wrote for my godfather’s memorial celebration last weekend.  Carl was a major mentor for many people, especially in the world of Twelve-Step programs.  He was my late father’s closest friend, a huge influence on me as an adolescent, and he guided me in recovery from codependency issues a couple of decades ago.  Carl died of emphysema in mid-October, just before my pilgrimage to India.  We had been closely connected for 36 years.

Celebration of the Life of

Carl Fritz

December 5, 2010, Taos, New Mexico


Brother of my father’s heart.

father of my own heart,

which made of you my god-father,

nuestro Tio Carlos,

you have been a living stream

of goodness in my life,

and now your presence has been distilled

to a luminous thread

that brightens

the very fabric of who I am.

If I were to believe in such things –

If I were to believe in anything –

I might picture you now

playing cribbage with my dad

at some heavenly card table

in  a one-room celestial house

made of Taos mud,

a pinon fire popping in the wood stove

lifting cups of rose-hip tea

or jars of red wine

(There is no sobriety in Paradise, nor drunkenness),

John Prine drifting from the vigas,

the Sangre de Cristo range

bathed with Christ’s friendly blood

spreading like a prayer

when the two of you

fresh from mutual winning

step out onto the porch

for a harmless cigarette

that you have rolled with your

other-worldly fingers.


You pull a poem

out of your astral pocket

and read it to my father,

one of the many you sent to me

during the years after he died,

parenting me with poetry

as he had tried to do.

You took the whole brood of us

into your tio’s heart:


my brother

another creative genius

who danced with some of the same sirens

that lured our father out to sea

and abandoned him there,

but mercifully,

and with your gentle intervention,

released my brother to swim

(against the current)

back to shore;


my mother,

sister of your heart,

one of the many women who loved you,

who carries memories of you –

sublime and ridiculous –

like bright beads on the string

of our family history:

you in a top-hat in 1973 or 4

driving up to fetch our father

for a road trip on which,

deeply stoned in the Deep South,

you were stopped by a cop who took one look

at you two and

shaking his head in disgust

banished you back to New Mexico;


my sister

the one who called you Uncle Carl

the only grounded one among us

who you praised for having the courage

to refuse to be a tormented artist

in this difficult world.


There were years of grief and longing

in which you consoled me

with lines from Rumi:

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.

Give your life to be one of them;


Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.

How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling

They are given wings;


years in which you guided

my prematurely weary feet

with 12 steps of perennial wisdom

so that I could navigate my way home

from exile among men

who bore striking resemblance

to my father and you.

As I would walk back to my car from your house

another lost seeker would drive up

for your darshan,

just as another had been leaving when I arrived.


You guided each of us back to sanity

and something like happiness


as you were taught to do in your lineage

that you had nothing to do with our recovery.


You taught me other things too:

how to make the best green chile stew

anyone has ever tasted –

I’m famous for it now –

and key-lime pie,

chicken breasts wrapped around blue cheese,

sugary iced coffee with half-and-half,

how to draft a magical chart

with 4 quadrants

to draw good love into my life:

upper left,

what I must absolutely have in a relationship;

upper right,

what I will not put up with

under any circumstances;

lower left,

which qualities I would like for him to possess

but am willing to negotiate;

and lower right,

what I’d prefer not to have to deal with

but in the big picture could let slide.

It worked.

I am happily coupled

with a man who fit nearly every criterion,

a man my father would have loved.


I miss you, Tio Carlos,

the jewels of wisdom

you forwarded to me,

sometimes including me on an email list

of a dozen other lucky friends,

sometimes meant just for me,

which made me feel special, and specially blessed.

I watched you grow more still

more fully washed in wonderment

as you watched your body wind down

and your soul heat up.

I told you that I counted you among

that circle of wise elders

that includes Ram Dass and Stephen Levine,

beings whose primary proof of holiness

is their deepening contentedness

with each moment

exactly as it is.

and you said,

Who me?

But you were that kind of enlightened.


It’s all so much simpler than I thought,

Tio Carlos:

a good man or woman

to watch the sunset with,

something delicious

that you prepare with your own hands,

a stack of good books next to the bed,

and another beside the comfiest chair

in the living room,

generations of children to love,

friends who tell the truth.

I wasn’t quite ready

For you to be gone,

Tio Mio,

but you were,

and so I cannot be sad.

Struck with awe, si,

brought to my knees

by the majesty of life and death,

of your life and your death,

and mine,

but you have left me

with a quiet joy,

a cup I can drink from

whenever I am thirsty

for the unconditional love you gave me,

and gave us all.


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