(Today I received a copy of the eulogy delivered at the interment of my father’s ashes in the cemetery of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Albrightsville, PA. My stepmother was find enough to send them to me.
This was my reply.)
29 June 2016
I received your letter with the copy of the eulogy at St. Paul’s today. Thank you for sending it.
Although it’s been almost five months, I still find myself crying from time to time whenever I think of my beloved father. Today was one of those times.
The one thing I never told him, and the one I wish I had, was that he was my hero. Although we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on many things, he was the one who inspired me to be firm in my beliefs. He often thought he was a failure at being a father; I remember sitting in John’s living room in Berkeley, California, one year and him telling me that he knew there had been many times when he had been too strict with me. My reply was that there were many times when he let me get away with things I would never have let my own daughters do.
I think Dad’s biggest disappointment was that none of us followed him into the ministry. I cannot speak for my brothers, but in my own case it was because I would have forever been trying to measure up to the high standards he had set…and knowing that in my own mind, at least, I’d have found myself wanting. Sadly, I was never able to find the right words to explain this to him.
It’s funny how families change from generation to generation. Their mother and I raised our daughters to be seekers of the truth, to stand up for what they believed in, and never to let anything hold them back. As a result, they grew up and rejected most of my core beliefs, and changed their religion. Yet I could find nothing wrong in this, nor even complain about it because, after all, it is exactly the way we raised them.
Joyce, I’m 66 years old now. I have struggled with clinical depression since birth. Add some PTSD, ADHD, agoraphobia, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder into the mix and I am truly amazed that I have managed to last this long. My life has been a long series of half-starts and failures. I cannot look at my life objectively and point to anything I have accomplished or succeeded at. I have been in and out of psychotherapy and hospital psychiatric wards. I have attempted suicide so many times that I’ve lost count. And yet…
“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.” William Faulkner, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1942.
These words are just as relevant today—perhaps even more so—today than they were in 1942. We live in a world where religion—originally devised as a way to unite people—is used to separate and divide them. It is a world where wars are being fought over which pre-literate society’s book of myths is truer than the other one.
We live in a country where you can be pro-war, pro-capital punishment, pro-hate, pro-racism, and still be considered pro-life. A country that was founded my people in order to exercise their rights to practice the religion of their choice, and whose descendants now use those same religions to deny other people their basic human rights. A country where a legislator can earn a quarter of a million dollars a year for working less than 2/3 of the time, and then say that $7.50 an hour is too much to pay a single mother who works 60 to 70 hours a week just to feed her child.
We put bumper-stickers on our cars that say “HUMAN RIGHTS ARE GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS” when we mean MY rights, and screw yours, Jack.
It’s a country where the Supreme Court has ruled that broadcast news media have the right to lie to its viewers (I’m looking at you, Fox News). A country where blowing the whistle on criminal wrong-doing by the government is itself considered a crime.
Our society loves to blame victims. The only way that I can understand why we do this—despite what every religion teaches us—is that we are only religious when it suits us. I honestly believe that no member of any religion—be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism or whatever—reads their sacred scriptures. Rather they treat them like a software End User’s License Agreement: nobody reads them; we just scroll down to the bottom and click “I Agree.”
And so I write. I write every6 single day of my life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a letter, a journal page, or a blog entry. I write to keep my sanity. It is the only form of long-term therapy that I have found to be of consistent benefit to me.
It keeps the demons at bay for just one more day. And puts off once more the question of “to be or not to be,” for as Hamlet told us,
“But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”
Forgive me, Joyce, if I have introduced dark clouds into your otherwise-sunny day. I’m afraid that this letter has turned out to be—like so much of my writing—a rather cathartic therapy session.
I miss my daddy. Even when we weren’t speaking to each other, I still loved him, and I missed him. Thank you for being such a wonderful part of his life, for the joy and happiness the two of you shared. And thank you for being a loving grandmother to my baby girls.
With sincere affection and gratitude,