It is almost impossible to summarize a life. I’ve tried many times in eulogies as a pastor to do this, but here I’m faced with someone I’ve known my entire life—and whom I’ve greatly loved and admired. And he’s my dad. All that makes the whole thing entirely more difficult.
Among other things, I will have to pass over my dad’s growing up near Seattle, his service in World War Two, his work at Syntex Corporation and Top Spin Tennis, his incredible dedication to his two sons and especially his treasured Ruth (which is legendary to me in its own right).
But there’s one additional problem: I’ve already poured my heart into a eulogy I wrote for the Enterprise-Record’s obituary section. As Donald Fagen of Steely Dan once sang—in one of my father’s favorite songs of theirs, “Deacon Blues”: “I cried when I wrote this song. Sue me if I played it wrong.” Well, I cried when I wrote those words. So now, maybe my words are played out, and I’ll have to turn to my dad’s own. To his famous aphorisms, or as we like to call them, Thomisms.
Marcus and I have put our brotherly brains together to remember a few of the choicest selections. I hope they at least summarize two aspects of his personality—that he was both humorous and philosophically profound.
- “You shouldn’t give the gift of a car without tires.” (Quick translation: Don’t do something half way.)
- “The easiest thing to produce is a pile of garbage.” (Quick translation: Slovenly behavior multiplies.)
- “Sometimes pounding nails just makes more holes.” (Quick translation: A solution that hasn’t worked a few times isn’t the right one. Don’t keep trying. Try another strategy.)
- “Never pass a drinking fountain or a bathroom without using them.” (Quick translation: Take care of bodily needs when you can. It makes life better.)
- “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down. And while you’re lying down, why not sleep?” (Quick translation: Why overwork? Or work smart, not hard. Or rest is important for good work.)
There was one semi-Thomism, at least as far as I recall, that we wrote together. It was sometime in grade school, or perhaps high school, after a frustrating day of fixing either the engine on my mini bike or go-cart, or replacing spark plugs in my parents 1971 Mercury Marquis. We simply failed at the job before us. So we regrouped and tried to learn from the event. As a result, we came up with a three-part conclusion: Always be sure to have (1) good light, (2) the right tool, and (3) enough time.
|Not exactly like my Sears mini bike, but close enough|
Being trained as a preacher, it’s worth a moment’s reflection (and homily on each).
(1) Good light (be sure to see what you’re working on): One of the things my family can tell you is that I’m obsessed with flashlights, and in fact, any kind of portable light. I think light—the way it changes darkness into visibility and even revelation—is miraculous. Maybe I can blame my obsession on this saying. In the case of that particular repair job, it was light that would have guaranteed we had the wrench firmly on the bolt so we didn’t strip it. But I do think there’s something metaphysical here—Einstein told us that the velocity of light is the great constant of the universe; and the Bible, that it is light which God pronounced and which began the whole shebang. As a Christian, I affirm that in Christ we see God’s light and power over death, as well as the promise of light over darkness, which is shown in the Resurrection of Jesus (and which we celebrated at Easter, in the same month as my dad’s death). There were times that my dad, like many of us (maybe even all of us in certain moments), was concerned that he don't have enough light to understand the mysteries of death and what was promised beyond this life. Over the past few years, I saw my dad’s concern about death gradually diminish, and an increasing faith bring with it tremendous peace, which carried him to his final breath.
(2) The right tool: This indeed is a bit of a variation on a classic Thomism, “Sometimes pounding nails just makes more holes.” Sometimes you need the right tool to get the job done, and it isn’t a hammer. But there’s something more subtle—one of the things we discovered is that, as amateur mechanics, we often didn’t possess the right wrench to turn the oil drain, for example, and that’s why we failed. We also comforted ourselves with this: “I could have done a good job if we had the right tool.” Moreover, at its best, this is a statement of realism and humility—sometimes the problem isn’t you, it’s the tool, but conversely, don’t think you can do everything because you’re so tricky—in fact, you cannot accomplish the task without the right implement. And above all, don’t be too cheap to buy what you need! That would be a violation of the principle—which admittedly is not an original Thomism—“don’t penny wise and pound foolish.”
(3) Finally, enough time (don’t rush the repair job): Dad, I’m gonna say that there would never have been enough time with you. But I’m going to simultaneously confess that that statement arises from a bit of greed and a notable lack of realism. Everyone has their span of years—you sure outdid the “threescore and ten” (or seventy years) the Bible lays out as our common allotment. And all the good years we had together is one of the things that gives me peace in your passing. Yes—though sometimes I don’t feel it—it was enough time. And now we let you go. Thank you everything… including the Thomisms.
I’m thankful to you for all your kindness, wisdom, love, inquisitiveness, humor, and dedication to mom, Marcus, me--to our familes--to all those here, and all to those others you touched with your ninety-one years of life. May you now rest in peace. Amen.