Memories of Mark

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Remarks by Allan Hanson at the graveside service for Mark Larson, July 24, 2010

Louise and I know Mark primarily in the context of the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, in which all three of us have been members for decades. One of the strongest impressions I gained of Mark is his commitment to open-minded dialogue. He wanted to make sure that anyone who had a point of view was encouraged to express it. Thus he would become uncomfortable in LCPJ meetings if the more shy people seemed to have difficulties participating in discussions that were dominated by the more verbal ones. He recommended a procedure where those wishing to speak would raise their hands and the Coordinator would recognize them in order. Again, at a vigil or demonstration, he might show up with a large poster with the words “What do you think?” He wanted passers-by to stop and talk with him about the occasion’s topic.

Mark was a regular participant in the LCPJ’s leafleting activities. We hand out leaflets twice a year. One is downtown right after Thanksgiving, when we encourage holiday shoppers not to buy toys of violence and war. The other is at the post office on April 15. The goal here is to draw people’s attention to the huge portion of our national budget that goes to the military, and to show them how U.S. military spending exceeds that of the next several nations combined. We think income tax day is a teachable moment for this particular lesson. For both of these occasions, Mark probably holds the record for passing out the fewest leaflets in the greatest amount of time. The reason, again, is his desire not just to give people the information, but to talk about it with them.

Something similar happened with the leaflets’ text. People like me favored brevity: a slogan or pie chart on a half-sheet of paper that people could grasp in a glance. Not so Mark. He would show up at our planning meetings with detailed dissertations on the topic which, if the type font was small enough and the margins narrow enough, might fit on both sides of a full sheet of paper. He didn’t want people just to take cursory note of something. He wanted them to think carefully about it, and he was always ready to talk about it with anyone.

Mark Larson was truly a model of the kind of human being we would all like to be:

He was kind and gentle, but not weak.

He was reasoned, but not didactic.

He was committed but no fanatic.

Mark is sorely missed. We will not soon see his kind again.

                Conversations With Mark                 by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

                 My self will be the plain,

                 wise as winter is gray,

                 pure as cold posts go

                 pacing toward what I know.

                                     — William Stafford

1.

Say, did you travel far enough west to see who lives

in the vacant houses? Did you stop for a lunch of apricots

and hard luck? Was it raining all the way, a panorama

just before and after the storm at once? Are your dead

friends within earshot? Is there much of a climb to get to the next

large rock with a view, and does your knee still hurt? Did you stop

being afraid in a darkness glowing like polished lapis?

When you close your eyes, are you still alive?

2.

In the still air right before the front arrives, I listen for you

but can’t make anything out. I remember the camp at

Tuttle Creek, how cold the water was, and how we all brought

the same jugs of apple juice on sale at the co-op.

When the edge darkened and spread over us, you sang,

always so much louder than you spoke. “Home on the Range”

turned to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” and when the sun

blanched the ground back to August, we washed the dishes,

our stomachs full of Mike’s pancakes. I was 22, you were 50,

and this was just the second of dozens of such weekends, the rain always

near or upon us, the circle small or large as we stood

near a make-shift kitchen, holding hands, calling out our crow

song that perched us together — “Kaw! Kaw! Kaw!” —

your voice a river of tone, hunger, surprise and earnestness.

3.

Your garage held old paint cans, foam mats for a bed, a used

boxspring, three broken wooden chairs, a child’s metal pail,

my bike, an old refrigerator, an uncle’s disregard, a corner

of despair with a high wide shelf of joy, several coffeemakers

which may or may not work so well, a tin box of buttons,

six large boxes full of very slim jeans and t-shirts left over

from the dorm runs, your father’s silence, a plastic eagle clock,

empty jars good for canning, whatever your mother said to you

that did such damage, snow tires no one uses anymore, the miles

between you and your young man self, a computer monitor

from 1991, a Thanksgiving platter with a slim crack,

a broken heart behind some boards, still ticking, still yours.

4.

Mark is on our front porch, leading on the railing,

talking cattle with Gary. Mark’s plate is on the shelf.

Mark walks toward 8th Street from the library, thinking

the rain will hold off a few more minutes. Mark gets into

the backseat of the big gas-guzzler, six of us with plenty

of legroom as we head toward Vancouver. Mark’s letter

is in the paper again. The phone rings at the wrong time,

and it’s Mark. Mark is sitting on the ground with us

beside Castle Rock in autumn. Mark is climbing onto

the train, heading west. Mark’s postcard just arrived —

having a great time in San Francisco. Mark is back

for another party, carrying a paper bag of lettuce

and three half-empty bottles of dressing. It’s Mark’s turn

in the circle, and sitting on the couch, he tells us it’s time

to listen to each other. Then pauses. We lean into

the center just a little, listen to one another breathe

and the wall of cicada wave after wave enclosing us.

5.

The horizon fools me, seems to be an ending

or beginning, when really it’s not even a line

across sky or time. I listen in the space between

grasshoppers and birds, air-conditioner on,

air-conditioner off.                     Something will come

as it always does, deaths will be sudden or not,

and that will seem to matter because my mind thinks

“horizon” while the round earth thinks “breathe.”

Mark is around the bend. No matter, the conversation

goes on. The clouds build in the west, storm or

fall apart. The end of summer leans into us in such a way

we cannot imagine ourselves outside of it. When

I open the door to go outside, a moth flies out, not in.

A hackberry butterfly, weeks behind the others, lands

on my chest, and the cottonwood leaves, the cicadas,

the blue heat of this moment all keeps breathing,

each moment pacing toward what we know

because of you, without you, with you.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. daniellassman
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 20:31:09

    Here is a eulogy Ellen Gold, read the day of the funeral service:

    July 24, 2010

    “Today we have come together to celebrate the life and grieve the death of our good friend, Mark Larson. I know Mark would be pleased and maybe a little surprised to see so many people here. In his will he wrote that after his memorial service he wanted a big party with live music. So he welcomes all of you.

    When you opt for a green burial, certain facts of life mean that people need to act expeditiously without much time to prepare. But later in the year we will hold a more formal service for Mark at the Unitarian Fellowship. I hope you all can come.

    Mark was active in many causes—when I talked to a friend of mine about the burial, she said, ‘Oh, I wish I had those wonderful letters he wrote to the Journal World.’ Mark was good about writing letters—and he was careful not to write too often.

    It’s chacreristic of Mark to wish for a green burial. He was active in many causes, but particularly in caring for the earth. At the Unitarian Fellowship building, a side walk leads from the parking lot to the doors. Mark planted flowers along the sidewalk and whenever I see them in bloom, I think of Mark.

    Last Sun., July 18, 2010 the Unitarians planned to take a walk on Akin Prairie. It was so hot that only Mark and Marie Wilson actually took the walk. Afterwards, Mark reflected on the prairie and wrote:

    :
    Why go to the prairie?
    It’s our natural heritage living in Kansas, living in this region.
    There’s often a beauty and sense of calm in spending time in the prairie, or in any wild area.

    I like the apparent randomness of wild areas. The orderly rows and subdivided fields have not overtaken this place; it just “is.”
    Study might show it’s not altogether random. Plants are adapted to niches in soil and moisture.

    One of the adaptations is long-rooted plants, roots reaching moisture 10′ or 15′ below the surface.
    Finally, the native prairie peoples—the Pawnee, the Kanza, Osage, and Wichita—learned which plants were food, which could be medicine, as well as signs of nature we’ve mostly lost.
    We’re like kindergartners visiting a park. Enjoy this diverse treasure still growing in our midst. “

    Reply

  2. Joyce E. Rizzardi
    Aug 24, 2010 @ 18:54:09

    I’ve known Mark since 1999 and found him to be a kind, helpful and caring person. He helped me move in early 2000 and treated my possessions with tender care. He recycled the trash that I cleaned from my storage unit. Through the years, we participated together in library discussion forums.

    He also supported me when I prepared to receive a new left hip. He encouraged me to go through the surgery and discussed how his first knee replacement helped him reduce his pain and become more active. Finally I scheduled the surgery at LMH on July 19, 2010 on the same day that he had his other knee replaced. I did quite well with my surgery, but I still am shocked at his passing on. We talked to each other on the library stoop for the last time. He offered for me to park my car at his house while I had my surgery. I appreciated his kindness and caring that he showed toward me. Thank you so much for making up this website so that we can share our experiences of knowing Mark. He certainly was a beautiful man with a heart of gold and is sorely missed.

    Reply

  3. janice melland
    Aug 24, 2010 @ 19:55:48

    I love the community/friend pictures b/c they place Mark in a context, a co-created reality and that’s how I think about Mark…his various causes and communities were a huge part of his identity ….while simultaneously he was a single solitary man as well. Wow, the pix of Bob Laing and Hannah Liebengood hark back to another era! I”m so glad to see pix of Rob Kammeyer (in several hairy manifestations!) and Homer..Mark was deeply affected by Rob’s death in February; I remember holding hands with him and crying together at Rob’s funeral svc. Mark left a message for me the week before his surgery wanting to get together to talk about the packages of letters and mementos Rob’s mom has been sending out to many of us recently. I remember being SO impressed with Mark’s physical therapy discipline before and after his first knee replacement surgery…I worked out in the same gym and he put me to shame! So many thanks to Dan Bentley and Daniel Lassman for putting this site together.

    Reply

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