USA :: December '96 -- May '97

Subject: Eulogy
Date: January 3, 22:55

10:00 Mesa, Arizona -- USA :: 02 JAN 97

As I thought about what to say today a proverb kept coming to mind. When we die our sorrows are collected and become a single leaf on the Tree of Sorrows, one leaf for each of us. Come judgment day, we all gather around the tree and choose one leaf--any leaf--and it is the sorrows represented by that leaf with which we live out eternity. Of course, everyone chooses their own leaf, no matter how grievous the sorrows they endured in life. I think this can help us deal with our loss.

But I didn't really want to talk about sorrows; that's not what my father was about. I want to keep in my mind that impish grin, that glint in his eye. Still, the image of the tree wouldn't go away, and I knew there must be something in it. So I exchanged sorrow for something I can associate with my father. The result was The Trees of Joy. Imagine it this way. There is a Tree of Joy for each of us and with every new joy experienced another leaf grows on the tree.

Well, my father had plenty to be happy about, a lot to be proud of. His Tree of Joy is tall, broad and bushy with leaves. I could begin enumerating the leaves, but where do you start? I look at all of you here today and see in each of you, the families and friends that were so important to him, the source of many leaves. Talking about just a small portion of the many happy occasions in his life wouldn't leave any time to talk about the rare magic that was his sense of Joy.

I will talk about one leaf on his tree and try to say something about him with that. In 1987 he was awarded First Officer of the Year by his airline. My father's always taken great pride in his ability to fly and this award was a particularly satisfying recognition. However, you can't win First Officer of the Year just by greasing landings and giving good checklist. The award is as much an indication of how much other people enjoy the experience of working with you. Apparently, other pilots and flight crew loved working with him, being with him. Some said he helped them be better pilots, even better people.

You see, my father's preferred method of adding leaves to his own tree was to foster the growth of other people's trees. His pride in receiving First Officer of the Year arose not so much from receiving kudos or honours but as an indication that he was indeed bringing joy into other people's lives. I have been watching and listening to his friends and family the last few days and I know all our lives have been a good bit happier, our Trees of Joy a good bit greener, for his presence. My own tree is tall and broad largely due to his green thumb.

Now he's gone and the last few days have been a bitter-sweet combination of feeling the loss and remembering his love. I've added no small sadness to my leaf of sorrows but it occurs to me also that my Father's magical sense of giving still nurtures my Tree of Joys. We all share him, and remember him. We tell each other stories about how he touched us, made us laugh, and with each recollection he touches us again, he renews the laughter and joy that were so much a part of his character. That's strong magic, to be able to leave a trail of joy in your path.

It's easy to understand why we choose our own sorrows from The Tree of Sorrows. Our sorrows and joys go hand in hand. To choose a different leaf, different sorrows, I would have to accept the joys accompanying those sorrows. I would be exchanging my Tree of Joy for another. I might avoid the sorrow of losing the father I love so much, but I would lose also the utter joy of having known him, of being raised by him. I won't trade that for anything.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~


High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the fumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

  graphical element John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

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