×

Viewpoint: My neighbor Kahlil and the stolen urn


Friday, August 11, 2017

The name Kahlil Gibran may be familiar to many of you. He was born in Bsharri, Lebanon, but he lived for many of his 43 years in Boston’s South End, home at that time to a large Syrian-Lebanese-American community. His 1923 book “The Prophet” has been translated into more than 50 languages and has never been out of print.

I read the book when I was in high school and can still quote parts of it from memory. One of his essays, “On Children,” describes parents as “the bows from which your children as living arrows are set forth” and says that our children “are with you yet they belong not to you … You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” I didn’t understand the wisdom of those words until I became a parent.

On the subject of marriage, he said, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” And about friendship, “In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.” I especially like what he wrote about knowledge. “Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’”

In middle age, I came to know his cousin, Kahlil Gibran, who, like his namesake, lived much of his life in the South End. He and his wife, Jean, resided down the street from the Pianist and me, but that neighborhood was more than a collection of connected houses. It really was the street itself, where we engaged in serious conversation and did “night patrol.” So in a sense we all lived together. 

Kahlil, who died in 2008, was more than just a neighbor.  According to Wikipedia he was a sculptor, but in fact he was a force of nature.  He could create or restore or fix just about anything.  One of my favorites was an elegant hand-carved pool cue that housed a secret weapon.  Another was a violin that he actually made from scratch.  It takes a certain kind of person to undertake such a project, much less to produce a beautiful, varnished instrument and hear professional violinists bring it to life.

But the work I like best is his gift to the neighborhood – a sculpture of a young girl with a jump rope.  You can see it in the park at the corner of Warren Avenue and West Canton Street. 

We no longer live in the South End, but we keep in touch with our friends there.  Recently, Jean emailed that she had opened her front door that morning and “spotted something missing” – the wrought iron urn “that held a bright red mandevilla and trailing sweet potato vine.”  Gone overnight, after guarding the house for more than 50 years.

I guess a stolen urn is part of life in the city.  We once had one stolen.  But this was a special urn, the Gibans’ “personal symbol of life and love.”

Such a theft can take away an object but not the memory of what it represents.  Thinking about our friend’s loss, I remember that I once went into the garage and “spotted something missing,” my father’s fishing kit.  Decades later, I still mourn that loss, which represented more than just salmon flies and an Orvis reel.

According to “The Prophet,” “the righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the wicked,” and “the robbed is not blameless in being robbed.”  I’m not sure I get that.  I never should have left the fishing kit in the garage, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. 

As for the stolen urn, if Kahlil were here he would simply make a replica so exact that you’d never know the difference.  But he is gone, so Jean’s email took what can only be described as a “Gibranian” way of looking at things.  “Hope whoever ends up with it, waters it often.”

 

Joseph D. Steinfield lives in Keene and Jaffrey.  He is a lawyer at Prince Lobel in Boston and Of Counsel to the Law Office of Thomas R. Hanna in Keene.  He can be reached at jsteinfield@hannalandlaw.com.