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On Living with the Loss of a Son in Wartime. Written and first published on Memorial Day, 2003

My name, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve never met anyone else with the same name. I know about one other man with my name, but we’ve never met. I’ve seen his name in an unusual place. This is the story of how that happened.

It was an August Sunday in New York City in 1975. I’d decided to bicycle from my apartment on East 86th and York to Battery Park at the southern tip of the island. I had nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since moving to the city in 1974, it seemed like a destination that would be interesting. Just how interesting, I had no way of knowing when I left.

August Sundays in New York can be the best times for the city. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their clients and most of the other professional classes. The city seems almost deserted, the traffic light and, as you move down into Wall Street and the surrounding areas, it becomes virtually non-existent. On a bicycle, you own the streets that form the bottom of the narrow canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it is still cool with shade. Then you emerge from the streets into the bright open space at Battery Park.

Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A few people are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of people on the lawns of Battery Park. Everything is lazy and unhurried.

I’d coasted most of the way down to the Battery that day since, even though it appears to be flat, there is a very slight north-to-south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and got one of the dubious Sabaretts hot dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.

We were in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”

The twin towers loomed over everything, thought of, if they were thought of at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam notwithstanding, America was just about at the midway point between two world wars. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. The only war we knew of was the Second World War and the background hum of the Cold War. It was a summer Sunday and we were in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.” . . . .

Continued now at The Name in the Stone

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When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won’t walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady when I lay down my fears, my hopes, and my doubts?
The rings on my fingers, and the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thought, love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

Lord knows, they haven’t done much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south through Georgia grain?
Or tropical rain?
Or snow from the heavens?
Will I join with the ocean blue?
Or run into a savior true?
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night, straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
And no hard feelings

Lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me

I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies

[THIS SITE — AND ITS ARCHIVES — WILL BE MAINTAINED FOR TWO YEARS FROM THIS DATE. AFTER THAT “DIGITAL DUST TO DIGITAL DUST.”

BTW: I’VE NEVER STOPPED LOVING YOU, JUSTINE, MY DAUGHTER. No hard feelings. Remember me, from time to time, to my granddaughters.]

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Open thread 2/21/24

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Open thread 2/19/24

I took this photo on a trip to Rainier with Gerard back when he lived in Seattle:

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Open thread 2/16/24

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Open thread 2/14/24

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Open thread 2/12/24

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Open thread 2/9/24

Here’s a video that Gerard posted back in November of 2020:

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Open thread 2/7/24

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Open thread 2/5/24

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Open thread 2/2/24

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Open thread 1/31/24

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Open thread 1/29/24

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Open thread 1/26/24

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Gerard’s death. Love and RIP.

I only took a couple of things home with me from his place. Here are a couple of his characteristic hats, and a bottle of cologne.

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Open thread 1/24/24

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Open thread 1/22/24

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Open thread 1/19/24

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Open thread 1/17/24

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Open thread 1/15/24

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Open thread 1/12/24

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