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Friday, July 25, 2008

Death

I gave the following remarks at Dad's funeral at Chalice Christian Church, I gave slightly different remarks at his service in Meadlawn Christian Church, where he was baptized, married, and ordained. Like almost everything from this week, I had decided not to post this. It seems some how vulgar to do so. But, I've since decided I want to keep it as a record. For those who weren't there, I want to share it. If it seems vain, it probably is.

Well, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. [Display Tab Can] When other people who started drinking Tab in the 70’s abandon it for new colas, colas without saccharine, colas that, you know, tasted good, Dad stayed true to Tab with an enduring, almost unsettling affection for the drink. We also, cannot remember him with remembering that physical characteristic about which he had so much pride. I’m talking about hat size, which, even with a full head of hair, was a mere 6-7/8. Of course, that means the inheritance he promised Jeff and Jay and me growing up, a 1/3 share of his extensive hat collection, is basically worthless to us, given our enormous, normal sized heads. [Rest very small hat on my head]

One evening when Dad was walking with Gary and me in Yorktown, he told us how he wanted to be remembered. He said that when people thought of him, he hoped they would smile. I think they surely will. They will smile remembering his charm and his wit, but they will also smile remember his uncommon kindness. A kindness that he did not only reserve for family or even close friends; but a kindness that he showered on anyone he came in contact with.

But if you will indulge me, I’d like to remember another aspect of Dad’s life. His favorite hymn that we will close the service with is Love Lifted Me. That is how Dad saw God working in his life, that is, lifting him up through the love of those around him. And he responded to that by lifting up those around him, with his love.

He started early, when he met a little girl in his Sunday school class who he tried to make realize how pretty she was & how smart she was. He raised his sons to have every advantage he could bestow upon us and was always there for us. He was a stalwart for his brothers to lean on in times of grief, most recently eulogizing their mother, which he characteristically began with a joke.

He reached beyond his family to lift people up. As a grade school teacher in a predominately black school that had no library, no class pictures, and a dearth of hope, he took his class to the public library; he brought in a Polaroid to give them pictures, and dressed in costumes on creative writing days: letting them know that he had not given up on them.

As a pastor, he baptized countless to members into the Church Universal and counseled scores of parishioners, even those who literally sought to have him fired, but he also started the first county-wide food bank in Lawrence County. He was instrumental in starting discussion groups in Delaware County to tackle race relations. How many refugees seeking a better life in this country did he resettle? He took work trips to the Navajo reservation, helped build a church in Jamaica, and indeed, he finally made it to Africa when he went on an information gathering trip to the Ivory Coast. In his last days, there was a disabled veteran who he was still helping with a few bucks when he could, even as he was in thick of battle with cancer. It is natural for children to see their parents as heroes, but Dad made it so easy.

In the end, though, he should have the last word. So as you think about him today, and for the weeks and years to come, make sure the first thing you do is smile.

3 comments:

James Parsons said...

Nothing vain or vulgar in the least. It's very generous, I think, to share your father's kindnesses with your friends. I didn't know him, but I think that through you and how you've made your own family and life, I can see a good deal of what he must have been. I'm glad that you would want to let people know where the man you are came from. Thanks for putting these messages up.

shadowfax said...

These talks are very hard to give -- hard both in the sense of challenging to put together and of course in the emotional sense. Well done, and I agree that to put his eulogy, your praise for him, out there as a memento and for others to read is in no way vain or vulgar.

I'm glad I got to read it.

Luke said...

I don't think I could do this. I'm amazed at your bravery that you could. Keep having those "metaphysical" conversations with your Dad. I love the image of you continuing to interact with him like that.

One of the things I have so appreciated about you through the harder times in my life is that even when you don't know what to say to me, you reach out and affirm your love. I love you, Jim.