Grateful Heart Monday

Good day and welcome to another entry of Grateful Heart Monday where gratitude begins each week, which for today is for my recent visit to the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania vicinity for my dear friend Keith’s memorial service.

As I mentioned in an article a few days ago, probably the most important piece of gratitude I took away from this trip was how the memorial service truly was truly a beautiful celebration of Keith’s life. But given I was in the Pittsburgh area for two full days surrounding the funeral, I found a lot more to be grateful for, like even in my actual drive there.

I’m not a normal fan of driving these days, mostly because I get uncomfortable pretty quickly sitting in a car seat with all my physical pain issues, but man, the hills and valleys and all the foliage is simply amazing in Pennsylvania! With Ohio driving being mostly just farmland and flat, it was a welcomed treat to see a lot more of God’s natural creations all around me. I was especially impressed with the rivers I crossed high over and the huge hills that loomed above me as I drove through them. I fondly thought much about all the houses perched way up on top of those hills that looked so serene. I couldn’t imagine how amazing it most likely was to wake up to a cup of coffee and sit out on a porch overlooking such pristine views!

Once arrived at the Springhill Suites I stayed at, which was in a section of the locale called Pittsburgh Mills, the general manager Matt and his assistant manager Jesse were very helpful to offer a number of restaurant suggestions where two proved to be true gems. The first was going to the original “Primanti Bros” in the Strip District of downtown Pittsburgh. There, I got a pretty amazing cup of super spicy chili and followed that with their world-famous grilled pastrami sandwich that was piled high with coleslaw and fries and cheese all within it. The second suggestion was a place called the “Mighty Oak Barrell” in Oakmont, PA, which was unique in that the owners converted their home into a restaurant and began making homemade scratch meals every day for guests. The concept continues many years later there and it almost felt like I was eating with their family during my meal which was rather comforting. There I ate a delicious flatbread pizza filled with homemade sausage, bacon, caramelized onions, eggs, and cheese, as well as some tasty homemade pastries that accompanied it.

Of course, I ate more than twice while I was away on this trip. One of them came through a suggestion from the grill cook at “Primanti Bros.” and was located further into the downtown area. Called “Sierra Mercato”, which was essentially a three-floor building with three separate concepts of restaurants, I dined on the bottom floor that opened up onto the street, mostly because it well-known for being a homemade meatball factory. In all honesty, I’m not normally a big connoisseur of meatballs, but the homemade traditional meatball sub I had with provolone and marinara sauce, along with a side of fried parmesan brushed brussel sprouts, had to have been amongst the best I’ve ever tasted. All of it was so amazing that I actually packaged half of it up and stored it in the cooler I brought to bring home to my partner to try!

Beyond the meals I dined out at, I mustn’t forget mentioning two of the dessert places I visited during my trip as well. Being a huge dessert person, I always look for unique sweet treat places to go to when I’m out of town. The first I found was in Pittsburgh and was a joint called “The Milkshake Factory” which I’ve decided is now at the top of my list as the most incredible milkshake ever. There I had a death by chocolate peanut butter milkshake that was so thick I needed a spoon to finish it! The other dessert place is even more noteworthy to mention and was found in Oakmont, nearby the “Mighty Oak Barrell” I had one of my meals at. “The Oakmont Bakery” is its name and is about a football field long length of just about any delectable treat you could ever imagine, from cakes to cookies to donuts to pastries to chocolates to well, you get the picture. Everything is made fresh and I must admit, I got pretty overwhelmed trying to figure out what to buy and take home with me and what to try there. I ended up gorging on a dark chocolate raspberry mouse cup that was so rich I got a sugar rush and then took home several chocolate donuts, a s’mores cupcake, a slice of chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, and a huge cinnamon roll.

Even though it’s not specifically known for dessert, I should perhaps make another honorable mention of a place I went to for a cup of coffee and a sweet treat the night before I left. It was approximately 4 miles outside downtown Pittsburgh in a section called Lawrenceville. There I grabbed a decaf mocha latte and homemade cookie at The Abbey. What made this place memorable is that it’s formerly a funeral home that was converted into a bar, grill, and coffee shop. Much of the décor was kept from that and the pictures on the wall came from a number of horror movies that carried the funeral home theme, like the picture of Jack Nicholson in The Shining that was on the bathroom wall where he was in the bathroom in that movie talking to the ghost butler.

Last, but not least on this list of gratitude from this trip is how I’m exceptionally grateful for my friend Lee Lampos, who was also a friend of Keith’s and in our old board games group in the Washington D.C. area. He was the only one available to come meet me for the funeral. I was thankful for his company and support during the weekend trip. We shared a lot of great stories and memories after not having seen each other for ten years since I moved away long ago and I know his presence made for much of the blessings and gratitude I experienced.

So, even though this trip away to the Pittsburgh area had a solemn occasion underlying it all, I was able to take away from it far more gratitude than I originally thought I might and am truly grateful to have experienced as many blessings as I did throughout it all…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Thought For The Day

Quote #1

“How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?” (Carson McCullers)

Quote #2

“The song has ended, but the melody lingers on…” (Irving Berlin)

Quote #3

“As is a tale, so is a life: Not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” (Seneca)

Bonus Quote

“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” (Tecumseh)

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

The Funeral That Was Actually A Celebration Of My Dear Friend Keith Genest’s Life…

This past week I was in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania vicinity for my close friend Keith Genest’s funeral. While funerals are often thought of as somber occasions, I decided it felt more like a celebration of his life instead, and maybe that’s simply because so much of the service itself was far different than any other funeral I’ve ever attended.

Right off from the onset, sitting there in the very large and extremely modernized St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Lower Burrell, waiting for the service to begin, I was amazed at how the inside of the building reminded me more of a fundamental Christian church given its huge half octagon set of pews, a hefty section for the choir and live band, and the massive video screens that hung over the pulpit area showing pictures of my friend Keith on them grinning and holding an extremely sizable Dunkin Donuts coffee cup.

It didn’t take long for me to see that this funeral was going to be far different in a good way, shortly after sitting down, when a gentleman kicked things off by singing “I Can Only Imagine”. I got a ton of those spiritual goose pimples during it, because wow, could this man sing and move the masses! Not too long after he finished, I was pleasantly surprised that the first reading was taken from The Book of Wisdom, which is from the Apocrypha. For those who don’t know what that is, the Apocrypha contains a set of controversial Biblical books that are not included in the versions of the Bible that most churches use these days. I have to admit, I found it kind of funny watching people squirm in the pews around me, scratching their heads, and asking each other what the Book of Wisdom was. If they only knew just how much more knowledge was beyond those standard pages of the versions of the Bibles they normally read, I think their minds might actually explode!

I was so thankful that Keith’s sister Michelle asked me to do the second reading, which came next and was taken from a chapter in 1st Thessalonians. Although it was a passage from those standard versions of the Bibles most people read these days, it still nonetheless was an interesting selection to read and pleasure to enunciate, mostly because it included a reference to the archangels, something people often forget exist.

I think I was most impressed though with how the Priest handled the main part of the service, as his message was not the usual boring one that I always seem to hear at funerals about how the person will be missed and blah, blah, blah. Instead, he shared a story titled “Five More Minutes”, which was about a kid and their father hanging out at a playground where the kid kept asking for five more minutes to play and the father kept on granting it. When asked by another parent in attendance why he kept doing that, seemingly giving the kid full control, the father simply said he’ll never have those five minutes again and soon the kid will be off in college, never to be seen on that playground again. The Priest correlated that to how Keith was, and how Keith up to his very last breath gave the most to those he spent each of his five minutes with. Ironically, I’m not sure if the Priest really even knew Keith, but that truly was how Keith lived his life with anyone he spent it with.

I must say that the most moving part of this service came right after the sermon and was something that hit my heart quite deeply. It was when the same gentleman who sang “I Can Only Imagine” sung “Ave Maria.” I felt so much of Keith through every inflection that came out of his voice. His vibratos moved me so much that I found myself looking around the pews to see if maybe the veil might drop for me somehow where I could see Keith sitting nearby smiling at me like he always did whenever we were together.

When it came time for communion, although I know I’m not supposed to do it in a Catholic Church because I’m not Catholic and also because I’m gay, I did it anyway, because I believe Christ welcomes everyone to the table. And honestly, I’m glad I did. Because the prayer I said afterward kneeling on that bench, as I slowly took the last bit of the bread of life into my body, stirred my soul with great tears of joy and love for my dear friend Keith who I will always miss.

The closing eulogy was a fitting end to a funeral that never really felt like a traditional funeral from the start. It came from one of Keith’s old government bosses who spoke with zest and invigorated zeal about how much Keith made an impact in his life and everyone else’s on his team. The “Gentle Giant” he described Keith as was totally spot on, as Keith would never hurt a fly and yet his 6’6” stature and booming voice usually seemed to intimidate just about anyone at first glance.

After the service was over, I didn’t find myself crying tears of sadness, like I normally would at funerals of past. Rather, the tears that fell were ones of joy where I was reminded of how blessed I am from having had a 20-year friendship with a guy who always stuck by my side no matter what. Touching his urn of ashes and staring at his picture next to it before I left, I said my final goodbyes and asked for Keith to wait for me in Heaven so that I may get one more huge embrace from him again.

So yes, Keith’s funeral felt more like a celebration of his life, instead of a typical somber occasion, and honestly, it’s my deepest hope that when the day comes for my passing, that the service held on my behalf will end up being hopefully equally as uplifting as this one most definitely was…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson