Eulogy – June 20, 2011
Before I speak directly of Lou, I want to relate an ancient Jewish folk tale. According to this tale, before a child is born, it is ignorant about what we call our world or conscious life. Yet, it knows everything about both the great mystery, the ground of being that we call God and the energy that animates life, the energy we call “spirit” or “soul.” It knows the unity of all things, and is conscious of its secure place within that unity.
However, to function in our finite world of limited time and space demands a different state of consciousness. And so, before the child begins its journey through the birth canal, an angel appears, places a finger above the child’s lips, presses firmly, and says to the child, “forget.” Feel above your own upper lip. The indentation of the angel’s finger is there for everyone.
According to this wisdom story, every child is born having lost the clear knowledge of the grand mystery out of which it has emerged. Yet, an unconscious thread remains, connecting each of us to that mystery and intended to draw us back upon death. Perhaps sensing this fragile connection, we struggle to discern the knowledge the angel commanded us to “forget.”
Lou and I met 37 years ago when my family and I moved into the Memorial area, around the corner from Lou. Although Lou and Trecia were a decade younger than Suzann and I, and thus a good bit hipper and cooler, over the years we became friends both as couples and individuals. We watched each others kids grow up.
Their oldest, Oliver, was the same age as our youngest, Garreth. They quickly became big neighborhood buddies, hardly separable for many years. Over the years, Lou and I spent time, shared our stories, our joys and good times, as well as our frustrations and concerns.
When Suzann and I moved to the Rice area about 18 years ago, Lou and Trecia bought our Memorial house and moved their family there. Certainly to my great benefit, Lou and I remained friends. Then, when my son Garreth became a young adult, his shared interests with Lou led to an independent friendship between them as well, thus ofr Suzann and me another link to Lou.
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When we observe people and talk about their characteristics, we make it seem as if we are describing something static. We tend to hear our descriptive words and those of others as setting a person in stone, despite the fact our life experience teaches that we are all changing and moving — reacting to what we learn, what is around us, what confronts us, what delights or confounds us.
Like each of us, Lou was complex, multifaceted, sometimes paradoxical. We all carry this paradoxical make-up — unique and often admirable, yet flawed — certain while uncertain — searching and shifting, yet wishing mightily that we could just stop and become one desirable thing, whatever we might imagine that one desirable thing to be.
But life refuses. We can’t just stop. Although we may appear constant in some respects, we are in a state of perpetual flux.
What does this have to do with Lou? At least from my experience with him, he did not sit around and talk about a life philosophy or overarching perspective. What he did do was deal with his life experiences through his actions. If you wanted to know who Lou was, you needed to pay attention to what he did — how he interacted with those around him.
So, for the purposes of this memorial, I offer two primary observations of Lou. The first is the most significant constant I observed in Lou’s life.
An image best conveys this constant. The image is of Lou, with a broad smile and his arms open wide, moving to embrace you, resolutely bursting to show you his affection — whatever the surroundings or circumstances — moving to show that affection both by the simple words, “I love you,” and by the unabashed physical act of a firm and prolonged embrace.
One on the receiving end can hide from this intimate display through cynicism, or one can learn from it. I must admit, at first, I experienced both responses. Yet, the openness and enthusiasm of this simple “fact of Lou” quickly overwhelmed cynical reaction and left me with a choice — either deny Lou’s humanity or return the embrace – this gift – and learn from it.
Before knowing Lou, I don’t think I had ever encountered a male who would be so honest and demonstrative about simple affection toward another male. If initially I reacted at times with defensive surprise, I soon came to understand that the constancy and strength of this expression was Lou’s greatest gift. By this gift, Lou quite simply enlarged my humanity through the expression of his own. With his example always in mind, I do the best I can to apply this gift in my life.
However Lou waxed and waned in his life — up or down, forwards, backwards or sideways in any number of ways — this genuine demonstration of affection – both physical and verbal – was his most abiding constant. Whatever flux there was in other respects, this “fact of Lou” was always present. Perhaps Lou’s thread — his link back to that mythological angel and its mystery — was more certain than that of most; perhaps this affectionate embrace was its manifestation.
If this embrace was the most demonstrative aspect of Lou’s affection, he nurtured and displayed that same affection in other, smaller ways. Lou loved to create and give tokens that expressed his sense of connection and love. Meetings with Lou — whether occasioned by a special event, such as a birthday, anniversary, or holiday, or simply a casual visit — were invariably followed by a mailed note of acknowledgement and thanks. It would not be a store-bought card with a generic message, it would be a thoughtful personal note. This practice never struck me as simply learned manners. Rather, it always felt like a natural expression by Lou of both gratitude and affection.
In later years when we all had become computer literate, perhaps the expression would take the form of an electronically conveyed photograph of an event, a vacation, or most likely in recent years a grandchild. Even then, however, the handwritten notes remained a constant.
My favorite manifestation of Lou’s giving, however, was the receipt of one of his handmade music tapes or, in later years, cds. Some of these have disappeared over time, but I suspect my music cabinet still contains at least a half dozen of these very special gifts. Some of these marked birthdays or anniversaries, some would appear just because we had talked about a particular performer Lou liked whom I was unfamiliar with. A week later, here would arrive a tape of that performer’s music. Not a store-bought tape, but Lou’s home-made choice of his favorites.
In recent years, as Lou’s health failed, the time-intensive music gifts understandably ceased, but the cards and notes and photographs — these gifts of affection from Lou — remained constant until almost the end.
If for me, this openness of affection — expressed in so many ways — was Lou’s abiding constancy, what most struck me about his movement and change? There were many examples. After all, I knew him from age 21 until his death. I saw a tentative, young independent photographer take a giant leap and become the confident founder of a successful company that pioneered in the stressful and highly competitive field of litigation support. I saw someone who, at least by my lights, was a pretty hardy partier become a person highly dedicated to good health and physical fitness.
However, the abiding memory of Lou’s change I will remember is the evolution of his personal courage. Each of you who knew Lou well can provide your own examples as specifics of this evolution. He met the trauma and threat of his cancer with acts of personal courage that were stunning to me.
This is not hyperbole. To me, how Lou dealt with his demonstrable circumstances as his illness began required significant personal integrity and enormous courage. If I ever doubt the observation that we grow primarily through our adversity, that doubt will be dispelled by recalling the last period of Lou’s life and the affirmative courage and personal integrity he embodied.
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There are archetypal, mythological angels that symbolize our link to mystery, but there are also real persons who act as angels — carriers of grace in our lives. Lou was such an angel in my life. From my observation, I think that each of Lou’s children –Oliver, Peter, and Claudia — were angels in Lou’s life. As in every parent-child relationship, there may have been ups and downs, but I know that Lou loved each of them unconditionally and considered each a gift of grace in the true sense of the word. Although his relationship with Michelle’s children was short, he told me how very fond he had become of them as well and how pleased he was that the two families came together as they did.
And then there were also small angels — Oliver and Beth’s three little girls. His first grandchild, Annie, meant the world to Lou. As his health deteriorated, he regretted that fate would not allow him to spend the same quality time and bond to the same degree with Annie’s younger sisters, Sarah and Mary Margaret. He fervently wished and struggled to live long enough so that at least Annie would have a lasting memory of him. He expressed this often. In a way, this seemed his driving motivation.
As with the grandchildren, in Lou’s final years Michelle was also a gift of grace. What a difference her close and supportive presence, her calm manner, made for Lou. All of us owe Michelle a debt of gratitude for her place in the last chapters of Lou’s life.
* * * *
I began my remarks with an ancient Jewish wisdom tale. Let me end with a similar tale from the Chinese Taoist tradition. In this tale, at the time a child is born it is connected to every person it will ever know in life by an invisible, slender red thread. That thread is not severed by the death of either the child or those others to whom it is connected. It is always present, although unseen.
This thread may be frayed by time or long separation; it may become tangled and knotted by hostility, anger, and acrimony; it may be stretched by great distance. Yet, it is always resilient, always connecting the child to its unique portion of humanity.
So, we have two stories from different wisdom traditions, both about connection — stories about what links us both to the originating mystery of existence and to that small portion of humanity in which we live our lives.
Each of us has been irrevocably connected to Lou by the red thread of the Taoist tale. Even though we will miss Lou – his humor, his manner of being in the world, his openness of affection, his grand spirit and kindly soul – we remain connected in our memories.
I trust as well that Lou has been drawn back into mystery by the connecting thread in the Jewish tale, and that he now remembers well all that the Angel told him to forget.