Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Memorial: Mom and Dad's Thoughts

So I'm back in New York a day later than expected, storms having prevented travel on Tuesday, and seriously complicating it on Wednesday. Nothing like bad weather to turn a two hour plane-ride into an epic battle with the elements. Okay, so by 'battle' I mean a direct flight getting turned into a layover in DC, where the connecting flight to LaGuardia was delayed for two hours, with another two and half spent sitting on the tarmac. Not exactly the Odyssey, is it. Still, I was a tired wayfarer when I got home. It felt like I'd spent the day wrestling with the yard arm or the topsail or the bo'sun (mmm, wrestling with the bo'sun...) or whatever, to reach port. I slept like the dead, and today my body is killing me.

What is the deal with airplane seats, anyway?

We had the memorial for James on Sunday, and as you can imagine, I have many thoughts to share regarding it. First though, I want to honor a request from my parents. My family and I have been touched by the outpouring of love and support, and frankly we were unprepared for how much this blog was a venue of connection with so many of you. Dad asked if he and Mom might share some thoughts here, to make sure that expressions of their gratitude was spread as far as possible.

"HELL No!" I said, in response. "What are you thinking? Get your own damn blogs! This one is all about me. ME!"

Of course, I kid. I was thrilled to have them as guest writers here, and told them (and Mary) that I hoped they'd let me know any time they wanted to guest post. I will admit I was a bit bemused to realize that they didn't really read the blog much previously. Here I've been deliberately omitting detailed, X-rated accounts of all my sexual exploits, not wanting to scandalize my beloved parents, only to learn I could have been sharing every salacious detail with you, without concern for their tender sensibilities.

Again, I kid. There have been no sexual exploits. There have been no salacious details. Seriously. Virtually every exciting event in my life in the past three years has been recorded here. Said events have just mostly involved trips to the park. Clearly I do not live a life of epic proportions. I'm okay with that.

Babble, babble, babble. Here's what each of my folks said at the memorial.

Mom spoke first.

"A number of you in this room are James's friend because he wouldn't let you not be. After he'd shown up a dozen times, beaming, to ask if you'd changed your minds, you gave in. It was either play games with James or join the witness protection program. We'll take you on any terms. Welcome to the circle of James Lacey's friends.

"I've played Othello with him. It's a strategy game in which you have to look -- and think -- ahead. He was quite young when he began to beat me. About a third of the way through he'd get a half-smile on his face which told me as well as words that it was all over. He began to beat me at Scrabble so often that I had to pretend I'd gotten bored, when in reality I was just humiliated.

"He met his match, though, in Scrabble games with Susan Castator, the longtime Earlham photographer. It is our impression that he didn't really mind losing Scrabble games to Susan, who routinely racked up scores of over 300. He recognized a master.

"They found each other when she was 86, and he began driving her to the grocery store once a week. I hope there are several among you who remember them: both wearing flat Irish caps, the driver a foot taller than his passenger, riding in her Tweety-bird-yellow 1964 Mustang convertible, which he adored.

"He and I shared a love of carpentry which had descended from my grandfather through my mother. Our end products tended to be massive and rough-hewn. He's lately been learning new refinements from his landlords, Dan and Jan Sims. There is a half-finished labyrinth in their garden in which he had a part. He was learning how to make a ceiling smooth before he was done with it, because Dan rightly wouldn't let him get away with "that's good enough." Dan, I very much fear that James learned "that's good enough" at his mother's knee.

"He had some specific ideas about heaven; he hoped to find his grandparents there, as well as all of our pets who have gone before.

"Present with us today are two of his dearest friends, with whom we have formed new ties. James Gill is here with his parents, Martha and Jim. He was James's passenger on Saturday the 6th; he held him as his life ebbed away. And Matt Dilworth, who had arrived for their usual Saturday afternoon of gaming, put his arms around Paul and me when the terrible news began to come. From now on, James and Matt, your parents will simply have to share you with us."

--Margaret Lacey.

Then Dad spoke.

"Thank you for being with us today. We, James’s parents and
siblings have been wonderfully sustained by the phone calls, e-mails,
letters and cards we have received from so many people, from so many places
around the world, telling us that we have been in their prayers and–in the
phrase Quakers so treasure–that we are being held in the Light. Many of
the most tender messages begin by saying that they have no words, that
words are inadequate to give comfort. That is the simple human truth, but
we want you to know that your very wordlessness helps us in our
grieving. It is honest and genuine and comes from the deep places in your
own lives, and nothing can be more loving or wise than that. Clumsiness,
being afraid to say something that might increase the pain–we have all
experienced that wordlessness when we have tried to express our
fellow-feeling with someone who is grieving. So we say we are sorry and
wish there were more to say–and some day there may well be–but right now
the genuineness of the sorrow is the true foundation to build on. Some who
have written tell us of losing a son or daughter, a brother or sister, and
say that they are feeling the sorrow with us. Parents who have lost a
child tell us that they never get over the loss, but they learn how to knit
a life together, incorporating the loved child into the changed fabric of
life. We do not want to get over losing James in this life. We will
always speak of him in the present tense.

"Many who have called or written to us did not know James
particularly well, and you were writing out of love for us. Thank you for
your caring. Others know James in ways that the rest of his family had no
idea of, and hearing about him from you is an especially wonderful
gift. We have met people we only knew by name, who have told us James was
a best friend. We have heard stories of his kindness, his goodness and
steadfast friendship that confirm, “yes, that is our James; the person you
know and love is the man, the son and brother that we also know and love
and will cherish for as long as our lives continue.”

"Our family wants to celebrate what we do know and cherish about
James. He is the youngest of our three children. Perhaps it just has to
happen to the youngest that they are over-awed by how much wiser, quicker,
funnier their older siblings and parents are, even after they have caught
up and made their own place as adults among adults. James loved us all,
but when he was young he must have found it hard to believe he was keeping
up with this very verbal family. Those who know him best will recognize
that when he was excited, he would speak very rapidly. We would tell him
to slow down, and he would, but then the words would quickly reach gale
force again. Maybe the youngest can’t help thinking, “I have to hurry or
my turn will be lost.”

"James also liked to tell long, detailed stories of what interested
him or had just happened. These could turn into epics. When he was
younger, he would sometimes realize he was losing his audience and then
rush even faster to get the story out. Once, when he was perhaps 8, he was
telling us one of those jokes that third graders think they just invented
today, but the rest of us know have been told since cave-boys reached third
grade. We all knew the joke, so we also knew James was going to get the
punch line wrong. But he was happily at full gallop and unstoppable. We
began to laugh, and he thought he had us in the palm of his hand, so he
went on, and we laughed harder, until he produced his punch line, then
realized it must have wandered in from some other joke.

"You know how it is in families–the joke that didn’t work becomes
an even greater success, because it recalls a time of great joy
together. This is a rule in comedy and in life, I think: The worst jokes
become the best if you tell them often enough. They accumulate all that
love and happy memory.

"James was a collector, and a museum curator at heart. From
childhood, he loved to browse in antique shops and find some small thing
that pleased him. Sometimes the object would be the start of a gathering
of similar things--cameras, books, dishes and pots. As an adult, he also
amassed a whole lot of game-associated paraphernalia and a lot of just odd
gizmos which he always organized attractively for his personal museum. I
think what one of the things James liked about collecting things he found
interesting, is that they gave him a sense of fullness and intrinsic
value. He was not an obsessive collector; he didn’t have to have one of
everything, certainly not the most expensive things; but I think he liked a
sense of abundance in life.

"I want to speak about one such enthusiasm, James’s collection of
prisms, for I think a prism is an almost perfect symbol of that pleasure in
unearned plenitude. Prisms are wonderful, miraculous things. Hang them
where the sun hits just right and you get a rainbow; set the prism to
shaking and perhaps you get several rainbows dancing across the room. A
prism never wears out. As long as there is sunlight, there is the
possibility of rainbows. James loved to place prisms in every well-placed
window, so at the best moments his rooms would be a-dazzle in
rainbows. Some of his finds are displayed in the Wyndohmn Room, and we
invite anyone who shares James’s love of prisms to take one.
Think of how powerful to the imagination it is to see a real
rainbow in the sky. I think of William Wordsworth’s poem “My heart leaps
up when I behold/ A rainbow in the sky....” That’s the poem that ends “The
child is father of the man/ And I could wish my days to be/Bound each to
each by natural piety.” The rainbow in Wordsworth’s poem links adulthood
to the perpetually enriching springs of childhood, days bound together by
natural piety, the gift of always being capable of an openhearted, joyful,
affirming, childlike embrace of the world. That is our James.

"Remember the story of God’s sending the rainbow as a sign to Noah
that humanity would be spared another flood. There the rainbow is a symbol
of grace. If we see it arching across the sky when sunlight follows a rain,
we receive it as a promise, a wonderful fleeting gift of beauty, a
miracle. A room filled with rainbow after rainbow dancing around the walls
is an understandable miracle–oh, those are the prisms–but it is a miracle
nonetheless, a miracle of light and beauty. Mary says James loved
refracted light. When the living light of the sun hits the prism glass at
an angle, it bends or refracts the white light into the spectrum, the
invariable sequence of colors that lies within the white light.
Why does James’s collection of prisms so comfort me? Well, it
links me to the Gospel of John, the affirmation that the Divine Light
enlightens everyone who comes into the world. It gives me hope that our
souls are immortal and may one day be reunited. The Ocean of Light is
greater than and flows over the ocean of darkness and death. That is the
Light, I believe, we mean when we say we hold one another in the
Light. When I do that, I consciously try to imagine someone bathed in
sunlight, radiant in the daily light and in the Light that can infuse,
warm and transform the human spirit. To say we hold someone in the Light
is such a promise of loving human fellowship, of active goodwill toward others.
Our experience of James is of a man of strong principle, a
courageous commitment to love and justice; an honest and generous person,
a peacemaker, above all a loving caretaker of other people. He never lost
his essential innocence, but he was no pushover. We hear from so many
people confirmation of what we know of him ourselves: he knew how to be a
friend, he knew how to love others wholeheartedly; he knew how to forgive
the meanness, slights and hurts he experienced. He had his sorrows,
especially the disappointments of his hoped-for profession in museum
work. We have seen him in tears and have wept with and for him. But he
also knew how to weep for other people’s suffering, and to help dry their

"James was and is a child of Light. Above all, I think he had a
great gift for happiness and was a source of happiness for others. He was
fortunate in his friendships, and he knew how to be a steadfast and
dependable friend. Some of you are among his precious and sustaining
friends, and his family is very grateful for your part in his life.
One more comment on James’s collection of prisms. The everyday
miracle of the prism enlarges that favorite Quaker image of seeking the
Light. It is another gift our dear James gives me. We can hold one another,
the living and the dead, in the Light. The Light can shine through us; we
can reflect it and even refract or bend the Light to one another, and in
God’s transforming love we can receive the gift of the rainbow."

--Paul Lacey


Those of you unfamiliar with Quaker (silent/unprogrammed tradition) services may not know that the meeting was then opened up for anyone in the room who was moved to speak. Many did, and their (your) words resonated deeply. I won't try to recount every message; doing so would be impossible, I'd be sure to leave out some of the most moving thoughts inadvertently. But as Dad said in reference to the cards and letters, the memorial messages rang true with our feelings about James. The man you all knew and loved was the same one we did.

It feels like another blog post or two about James is still percolating up from the depths. This past month has been full of lessons and reasons for gratitude. I'll share those thoughts when they come. Thanks again to all of you for your love, prayers and support. It helps.


Greg said...

Patrick, I will happily read or listen to every word you have about James within you...and yet, I look forward to a time when I can read your posts without ended up in tears. Here's hoping my tears mean that you are crying less.

BTW, now I know what moved me to buy that pair of crystal prisms last weekend. Now all I need is a little sunshine.

Peace, pal.

EB said...

I went to a Quaker meeting for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I'd intended to go for a long time but was prompted to go now by your most recent blogs, and it was a wonderfully good thing for me.

Your parents' words are so moving and thought-provoking, thank you to all of you for the inspiration.

MartininBroda said...

Patrick, I’ve just decided to leave without a comment, but I can’t; I’ve looked at my last mail full of spelling mistakes and inappropriate thoughts, but I only want to say this, the words of your parents and of course your own words are full of thoughts one have to think about before saying anything, but the greatest thing is one get’s this feeling, it is all good. Wish you all the best.

Birdie said...

Each of you in your remembrances have offered smiles with your tears. It will always be so. We are joined in the Light, here and hereafter.

Java said...

The distillation of memories, happy times, silly stories, are the precious rainbow-tossing prisms of your love for James. It is in these rainbows that James lives on.

I'm glad you made it safely, if wearily, back to NYC.

Marta said...

tears again ... i really want to see you.

thanks for sharing your parents' words. and of course, as always, yours.