A Letter to Pat Conroy

My Dearest Pat, March 8th, 2016

Read and Edited by Maggie Schein, Written by Bernie Schein.

Maggie’s Intro:

My father –or one of them (I must be a terribly difficult daughter to need two such father figures) –Bernie Schein, is in Venice right now with my mother, which is a good thing. I am not sure his heart would have survived this. Forever competitive, Bernie wanted to be in Heaven too, with his best friend and his soul mate – his proof to naysayers and skeptics of love, that time, enough salted tears, hearty hugs, fierce fights,  and life lived truly together forges of elements  of connection that can’t be destroyed by anything.  Not even death. Not even geography. From his heaven on earth in Venice, he asked me to read this letter to pat, and for you all, from him.  Wish me luck.

Bernie’s Letter:

My dearest Pat,

I know we’ve said goodbye to each other more times in the last several weeks than either one of us might have imagined only a short time ago. Such is the nature of the obsessive-compulsive Jew who can’t let go and an Irish Catholic blowhard with a heart so big I imagine it now dwarfing the universe. They’ll love you up there: Peg and Don, Stannie, Mom and Dad, Gene, Doug, Tommy, Nancy Jane, all your loved ones. You’re regaling all of them right now, I have no doubt, they’re so happy to see you.

You had to have been dying to see them, since you did.

Frankly, my guess is your arrival on the scene at St. Peter’s has even God opening his arms with a grin to match yours and a heartfelt embrace. If he hadn’t needed a good laugh and some personality up there, you’d probably still be here driving all of us crazy.

When we last said goodbye to each other, I told you my heart and soul will always be with you, as yours will always be inside me. The advantage there, as I’ve reminded you on countless occasions, is yours. Needless to say, mine will make you a better person.

Your love, so inspired, so generous and warm and such a pain in the ass, that’s what I’ll miss, Bubba. That’s what I’ll miss. Your humor, which is so pathetic. Please, some new material, you’ve got time up there, mentally telegraph it it to my imagination.

God, did we laugh.

And Lord, did we cry. My friend, my friend. My soul mate, my inspiration, my muse, my Devil’s Advocate. You care so much, I feel it. Yes, you could be a jerk, we all know that, but in the final analysis, when all is said and done… I remember we were talking to James Dickey’s sister, Pat Dickey, in your study in Atlanta, about “character”, about seeing people accurately. At that moment you challenged me to look around your library and tell you the most important book of MY youth.  (Famous All Over Town had not yet been written.).  You’re Laughing at that last comment right now, from heaven. Yes, Heaven, where the dead come alive and have a great time laughing at us all, mere mortals, stupid people, fretting over nothing, right? Tell me, are we endlessly, over the long haul, fretting over trivia? You’ll tell me when I see you, which I hope and pray is a Fucking long, long time from now. I don’t miss you That much. This whole thing scares the hell out of me. As for the book that most influenced you, let’s let that hang for awhile. We’ll come back to that.

We had Great conversations, you said, during our last goodbye. We did, we did.

Except when you wanted to talk too.

I know, you can’t help it. I’m funny. But indeed we did, profoundly deep ones in our shallow age: we talked about everything, about ideas yes, but they could bore us if disconnected from people. Boy, did we talk about people., about who we are, about what motivates us, about Beaufort, our country, our society, friends, enemies, your stupid relationship with the Citadel, your stupid relationships with everyone, even your relationships with old friends like Freddie you hadn’t seen in  40 years. All played even until the end a prominent role in your mind.

Truth is all that mattered to you, which I found sometimes a pain in the ass. But we discovered that Ignorance is not bliss, that What you don’t know can hurt you, and that sometimes you had to do unto others BEFORE they did unto you. And though we created our own reality, that Reality made us both a bit paranoid. God, did we hate critics of all types. Unless we were doing the criticizing, which we did all the time.

We visited Dachau in the summer of ’68, when we assured ourselves with great authority—our own—that we’d change the world. Your conclusion: People were basically evil. Mine: No, their leaders were, but people were generally basically good. We had no idea, back then, our views were reflected not so much by Dachau but by the way we felt about our fathers.

Your life has been as painful as it has been joyful. I know that. Back then I didn’t believe you, when you talked about your father. No one did. Because you lied all the time, hell you began lying for a living. Pat’s exaggerating, like always, I told everyone. Until you painfully and relentlessly simultaneously sacrificed, discovered, and realized  yourself with the Truth, the only way you could do it, publicly, through your art, and when you did, you saved and warmed the hearts of the lives of so many people—Yes, eventually, even your father’s, The Great Santini’s. You taught your father to love. Let me correct that. He always loved you, the only way life would let him, the only way he knew how. But you taught him to love with love, with humor, with warmth and tenderness. Pat, you taught your father to love. Your father. The Great Santini. And you think he was a war hero? He was, but you, Pat, became his. You had to, it was a matter of survival, and you did it with relentless love. You made him see. You made us all see, Pat, and what you and I discovered was that indeed we were both wrong, after Dachau, weren’t we? The history of the world, all the emotions of every human being who ever lived, is in the heart and soul of each of us. Not either good or bad, but good and bad, and thank God for that. To look the other way, to deny, that is what makes us evil. The Truth does liberate.

Let us return now to your study, your library, in Atlanta, where we are talking

with Pat Dickey about “character”. The most important book of my young life?

Standing right there in front of me, third shelf down. Remember?

LIVES OF THE SAINTS.

Subtitle: “The autobiography of Bernie Schein”

Come on, you know that was funny. You can never keep a straight face with me. No one can. Right?

Your mom’s love poured out of you your entire life. And the love of so many…I think, Pat, in all honesty, you are a saint. A shithead sometimes, but overall, a saint.

I love you, Pat. My heart, my soul, forever.

God’s getting a kick out of you now, probably even more so as you tell him stories about me. Please, resist that urge. I can hear Him now: “When’s Bernie coming, Pat? We need Bernie Here!”

Please explain that patience is needed here, Pat. That No, we don’t need Bernie, not for a long, long, long time, thank you. And don’t encourage Him just to piss me off.

I speak now to you, family friends, admirers:

Pat asked me, knowing what was coming, to  “take care of everybody.” He loved so much, so expansively, which is why he was loved so much. He cared so much. He cared for us all, but of course, no one did he care for like his beloved Sandra, his truly beautiful daughters, so beautiful, in every way. Jessica, Melissa, Megan and Susannah. He was so proud of you. When he was sick in the hospital and back at home and I was entertaining everyone with my formidable wit, you girls thought: Oh, good, he’s enjoying Bernie’s humor so much, but that wasn’t entirely accurate. He was enjoying your  enjoying my humor. While you were enjoying me, looking at me, he was enjoying you, looking at you. He loved so much. And like you, I love him so much. Pat will always be with us, inside us. And I promise you, as I promised him, I will take care of you. In fact, I can assure you, I will probably be a monotonous pain in the ass because even though it no doubt leaves you cringing in despair, it reassures him and makes him happy. So, up yours.

Kathy, Tim, Mike, Jim, Carol…I’m here, and I’m here for you to take me out to dinner as often as you like. Too bad we no longer have his credit card, but, hey, Mike just sold a house. What a brother is Pat, what a brother. I adore all of you, all of you. You’re the best, far better, I used to tell him, than he was. He liked that.

I want to close by saying to everyone whose heart he has touched, whose soul he has comforted, and whose mind he has expanded, to all he has understood, inspired and loved  through words and his actions, to all his family, friends, and readers…

You have been in the presence of greatness, you have been in the presence of one who dared to be great.

Pat, you will live forever our hearts, souls, minds. And I pray we are worthy to live now in yours..

He was a great artist—a great writer, a great teacher, a great friend– because he was a great audience. Writing, teaching being a good friend is truly listening, turning your attention on a person so vividly it expands their image and vision of themselves. He made me  feel great, not that I didn’t already. Still, that’s what love is, isn’t it?

Eternally, I love you, Pat, always and forever, wherever you are, my beautiful, beautiful friend. I’m with you, my friend, inside you, OF YOU, YOUR HEART, YOUR SOUL, AS YOU ARE with and IN MINE. FOREVER.

2 Comments

  1. Bernie – Your letter is magnificent; it’s hard to say more without being maudlin; friendships like this are excruciatingly rare. I’ve been a fan of Pat Conroy’s writing my entire adult life. I drove four hours to attend his funeral last week, and while was there I heard your name over and over from the people I met. Driving home, I resolved to write a short tribute of my own, which I would like to share with you: https://medium.com/@mark.mcdowell/final-respects-for-pat-conroy-60bc4946ec0c#.lt06m5ro1

    Reply
  2. Benie, this was a great tribute. I wish I could have known him the way you did.

    Reply

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