Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thoughts On A Funeral

It started out with us all seated, and facing a stage where John’s portrait stood, on an easel, his bright eyes and big smile there, once again. Just the picture brought back good memories, and happy times. Then, the burly bagpiper started down the aisle, dressed in his Scottish kilt, playing Amazing Grace, as a dirge. Tears welled up in my eyes, as I watched the bagpiper slowly walk down the aisle, followed by about one hundred of John’s family.

The several hundred people sat in silence, as the last notes of the hymn echoed off the rafters. Then, the minister, John’s best friend from seminary, spoke of John’s ministry as a wedding celebrant and funeral officiant. He asked all of those in the audience who had been married by John or who had attended a funeral where he presided, to stand. About half the audience stood.

I had known John as a city manager, a community leader, and an activist. Yet, a big part of his life was ministering to others. As people spoke, I realized he had been a night chaplain at the San Francisco jail, the acting director of the San Francisco Museum of Erotic Art, a publisher of philosophy, a Vietnam war protester, and a folk singing, beer drinking theological student. He had also been a grandfather and a traveler, a fisherman, and a beach walker. Oh, he had been the beloved city manager, and the popular mayor, and had a host of other titles, positions and honors, but those seemed not so important today. Today, we celebrated his spirituality and his passion for the world.

His friend spoke of an old Scottish custom, when a great person died, to engrave on their tombstone, “Here lies all of him that could have died”. That spoke to John’s contributions to the world, and to what is really important about a person’s life on this planet.

His friend spoke of John’s changing theology, and his belief that the beach is really a church, and the ocean is really an altar. He read a Native American prayer, and we could all hear John’s voice in that reading.

In the funeral program, the family quoted Emerson:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you live here. This is to have succeeded.”

All of these words, all of these images sank into the audience, as the entire room paid rapt attention to the speakers, and to be fully present in this event, this celebration of a life lived richly and well, a life of public service.

His friend read a number of letters, including one from the Governor and one from a secretary, and one from his wife, who related how he had ministered and comforted her when her first husband had died. Another friend spoke of John’s counsel during a hard time, and his compassion when his wife had died several years ago. His niece spoke of his kindness to her throughout her life, including memorable expeditions to the beach, to watch the sunset, and how her wedding day was so special because he officiated at the event. Her tears became our tears as she struggled through her reading.

We ended the service watching over a hundred photos of his life, accompanied by many of his favorite songs. As the crowd milled around, nibbling cookies and visiting, sharing memories of John and how he impacted our lives, I realized that today, not only did I celebrate the life of a good and inspiring man, but I came away appreciating each day in my own life, and that each day is so important. We must live our lives fully and with passion, and to express our love in every act of every day.

I walked away in silence, and tears came often on the drive home. I had lived part of my life in the presence of a great and loving man, and he had touched so many lives. Today, I am blessed, and I realize, again, that I am loved.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

People's History of the United States

Here's a great book! The People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

Some of the history is known to me, but even areas of some familiarity are greatly enhanced by his comprehensive analysis, connections to other events, and newly discovered, or almost never reported stories.

Zinn covers and analyzes what has gone on and is now going on in our culture and our people, and his views are refreshing and stimulating. He challenges the status quo, and does it with informative and captivating information, stories, and events that the corporate media has ignored.

This is well worth your time!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

John Williams

John Williams was my friend. He was everyone’s friend.
Last week, he died unexpectedly, in the midst of a very active life, serving and improving the community he loved: Cannon Beach, Oregon. His latest job titles included Mayor and president of the local historical society.
His accomplishments, and work and service history in the community can easily fill three or four pages.
Yet, I will remember him for his ever-present decency, compassion, and genuine interest in solving problems, encouraging leadership and public service, and for his ever-present smile and contagious laugh.
John took an interest in everything and everybody. No one was unimportant to him, and he was not easily impressed with someone’s title, authority, or power. He was always striving for the best in a situation, and encouraged others to think outside of the box, and to find ways to make a difficult situation a “win-win” for all involved, and also for the community.
In the last few years, he has served as the interim city manager for the cities of Wheeler and Rockaway Beach, Oregon. In doing so, he inherited divided and argumentative public forums and thorny issues, and quietly, gently turned the discussions and heated arguments into a search for answers and conciliation, and mutual respect.
John Williams is a synonym on the Oregon Coast for public service, decency, and respect. His untimely death leaves an enormous void in our communities, and his gentle effectiveness will be missed. Yet, his memory and his good works will be his real legacy.

May, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bill, again

He couldn’t wait to tell me of his
first day on the job--
“It was easy,” he boasted.
“I already knew how to do the work, and I even
trained two other guys.”

His grin lit up the room, as he told me of his day,
“Nineteen bucks an hour.”
He’s going to pay off his bills, and move into a
house next week, getting his life in

A week ago, he was homeless, cold --
Hungry for more than the food we shared that morning,
as April ended with a shower of icy rain and snow,
and he not even having a car to sleep in.

Today, his five dollar bike from the thrift shop gets him around,
and he tells me of the food in his apartment, and the
mattress on the floor, and
“Its my home, and I’m moving ahead.”

“Its amazing what you can do when someone believes in you,” he grinned, and
shook my hand.



Just a bit of frost on the lawn this morning,
the sun already up at 6:30, even before the coffee--
The tulips are not yet blooming, and the daffodils are just now
fading, the crabapple

It’s the first week of May, and the garden still
Waiting for the rototiller, waiting for the muddy ground to start to
Dry out, after the rains and snows of March and April.

The hills still have snow, though the grass has finally
Started to take off, and my lawnmower is calling me today,
But the begonias and the fuschias still sit in the greenhouse, the
Patio pots still empty, not yet ready for their summer color.

My old fleece sweatshirt still my jacket of choice
this first Sunday in May, feeling