The memorial mass for my dad was last Saturday, and I had an opportunity to speak briefly. I am not the sort to write out what I’m going to say ahead of time verbatim, so this isn’t a perfect reconstruction. It’s fairly close, though.
In my spiritual tradition, we often say this about our beloved dead: “What is remembered, lives.”
“What is remembered, lives.” It’s so simple, isn’t it? In the abstract, I’ve always thought of that as a very comforting thing. It feels like it should be easy to remember, because of course I want my dad to live on. I want him to be remembered and to live.
Well, after a little less than two weeks of this, I can report this: Remembering sucks. It’s hard. Not because there aren’t good memories and good stories. There are plenty of both. But sharing even the best stories reminds me that there won’t be any new stories about Dad…well, okay, we might make up some new ones, but they won’t be true. And remembering even the happiest times we spent together makes me realize all over again that those memories are a finite resource. We won’t have the opportunity to make new ones.
So. Remembering sucks, and it is hard. But I am also newly aware of how important that work of remembering is, precisely because it is hard. Dad’s was a life worth remembering. So, briefly, here are a couple of things I’ll remember about him.
The first took place right here. In high school, I served as a lector here at Sacred Heart. I remember one time, I was absolutely butchering a reading. In my defense, 21 years after the fact, I would like to point out that it was a very difficult reading, with lots of names and lots of “begats”. I still remember the expression on my Dad’s face as I stumbled through it. He had a look of complete exasperation that was really something to behold. Some of you have probably seen that expression before. I saw it…well, let’s say it was turned toward me pretty often. While he didn’t say anything directly, I eventually learned something from the experience. What he taught me with that look was that if I was going to do something to be of service, if I was going to do something that mattered, then I had to bring all of myself to it. I should have prepared more for that reading. I should have committed myself to it, if the work was that important to me.
The second memory is really a sense of generosity of spirit and welcoming that I always had from him. I’ve made a lot of choices that are different from the ones my dad made. I live a life that isn’t the one he chose for himself. But even so, I never felt anything but love and respect from him or from my mom. There’s a reason that Thanksgiving is, was, and always will be my favorite day of the year. It’s because no matter what, I was always free to bring whoever I wanted to join us for the holiday, and I always knew without a doubt that they would be welcomed and treated like family, without hesitation or question. That unquestioning generosity is amazing, and completely unique in my experience. If there is one thing from Dad’s life that I want to manifest in my own, that’s it.
There is one last thing that I’d like to share today, and I’ll admit that I’m a little uncertain about doing so. I mentioned before that my spiritual tradition and my dad’s were very different. As I’ve thought about it, though, I’m struck by certain points of intersection. There’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius that serves as a great example of that for me. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor in the 2nd century, and he was also a stoic philosopher. These words may not reflect Dad’s beliefs, per se, but they reflect how he lived, at least as I observed him.
Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
Thank you, Dad. I love you.