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 My Brother

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Poet Laureate


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PostSubject: My Brother   Tue Oct 16, 2012 10:19 am

The following is the eulogy from my brother's funeral, as written by one his dearest friends. I just wanted to share these words with you, my friends. I have blocked out his name with XXXXXXXXXXX.


In thinking of a verse of scripture to begin this brief meditation on the life of a good friend, a valued colleague, and a great teacher, I looked through a lot of Bible verses from both testaments. I finally settled on Ecclesiasticus 44, from the Old Testament of the Catholic Bible. It’s called “Eulogy of the Ancestors” and I read it first way back in 1975.

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies.
Leaders of the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions: such as found out musical tunes and recited verses in writing: rich men, furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations. All these were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.
And some there be which have no memorial; who perished as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain forever and their glory shall not be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace but their name liveth forevermore.

Joseph Conrad, in his famous novel, Lord Jim, described his protagonist over and over again as, “He was one of us.” J.D. Salinger in Catcher in the Rye, echoed Conrad with his sigh, “He really was.”

“He was one of us. He really was.” What two phrases in the English language describe XXXXXXXX better than these? And, at the same time, he possessed more edges and facets than any finely carved diamond. In the summer of 2001, as we attempted an assault on Capitol Peak, an extremely beautiful through treacherous fourteen thousand foot mountain in Colorado, he read from Steven Pressfield’s magnificent novel, The Hot Gates. This is the story of King Leonidas and the Spartans facing certain death at the hands of an overwhelming Persian force. And as Greeks were known to do, in the cold night before the final assault, Leonidas and his senior officers began to debate the opposite of fear. What is the opposite of fear? One proposed courage. Another responded that we might fear to demonstrate anything but courage. And after an evening of argument, the Spartans agreed that the opposite of fear is love. We may fight courageously in fear of our reputations but love requires complete and total commitment to an ideal untrammeled by any other emotion and that includes fear. Some of you may be surprised at my memory of XXXXXXXX but as he often said, “I’m a redneck intellectual.”

And that was true. He brought to me a new way of seeing the world, blending the practical with the idealistic, of muscle and mind contributing equally to the way life had to be lived. For this reason, I can honestly say to you that he was as fine a climbing instructor as I’ve ever known. He was not completely and technically proficient but he just oozed comfort and security as he got people to step beyond their usual lives. I think defying gravity is a bit unusual. XXXXXX could see a difficulty and act efficiently without a lot of drama and almost no emotion. Once, many years ago, one of our students had an epileptic seizure on the side of Mt. Yonah, over in Georgia. Without my having to say a word, XXXXXXX grabbed a junior instructor and bolted for the gate a mile away. Somehow—and I never wanted to know the details—XXXXXXXX, his colleague, and a school van arrived at the scene within about 20 minutes. The next day, we all left for The Shoals. XXXXXXX knew he didn’t know squat about treating a seizure but he knew how to get around or through a Forest Service Gate. And this was how he lived. He knew what he didn’t know and wasn’t ashamed. But when he knew, XXXXXXXXX could be a real live force to be reckoned with.

Our friendship and collegial relationship began oddly enough. He sat in a Western Civilization course I taught at Northwest-Shoals Community College. XXXXXX reveled in a gruff exterior and then surprised me with the level of his intelligence and his ability to ask the right questions. Sometimes I didn’t have the right answers. So one late November, he told me he wanted to work for the outdoor program, I explained he’d have to take an Outward Bound course to qualify for employment. I imagined XXXXXXXXX would spend a couple of weeks that winter slogging through heavy snow dog-sledding and cross country skiing in Minnesota or climbing ice in Colorado. No, he found a sea kayaking course offered by the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in the Florida Keys. Ever after he chortled at having gone on a winter cruise.

In the outdoor program at the college, I never really found a place for XXXXXXXX. He just fit in wherever. But after two or three courses, while we hired him as an instructor with students, he mainly served as my chief confidant, advisor, and, when needed, severest critic. XXXXXXX once said, “I may not be right all the time but I’m there all the time.” And this describes his life perfectly. This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent piece on developing military leadership. The author, a professor of English at Annapolis, Bruce Fleming, makes the bold statement, “Leadership can’t be taught, it can only be modeled.” By that Dr. Fleming means “demonstrated” and in course after difficult course in all sorts of weather, facing mind-boggling situations, XXXXXXXX did exactly that. People wanted to follow him and as a result, XXXXXXX talked very little but did a lot.

The one place where he did talk lay in the realm of ideas. This began innocently enough around the spring of 2000. He asked me what I knew of the Stoic philosophers. I gave him the standard answer, that stoicism was less a philosophy than an approach to life’s experiences, blah, blah, blah. He thrust Tom Wolfe’s recent book, A Man in Full at me some days later and said you need to read this to understand the heart of the stoic mind. How could I say no? The central character of Wolfe’s book—at least central to understanding XXXXXXXXX—is a physically tough young man who, despite his best intentions, can’t help but teaching himself and then others, ideas. Wolfe’s character discovers, accidentally, the wisdom of the stoic philosopher Epictetus whose approach to action in response to others is, “you will do what you will do and I will do what I will do.” When I put Wolfe’s book down, I read all I could on this long-dead Greek who suffered slavery in Rome, and then revised my lectures to plug a significant gap in my own poor preparation. In turn, I taught XXXXXXXXX Ockham’s Razor: “It is vain to do with more when less will work just fine.” This is applicable to writing, to outdoor pursuits, and to teaching.

Sometime in late 1999, XXXXXXXX introduced me to the writings of C.S. Lewis. I only knew of Lewis as a writer of fairy tales. But XXXXXXX knew a lot more about Lewis than his fictions about Narnia. C.S. Lewis was the greatest Christian author produced in England in the 20th Century. Consider this passage written after his wife’s horrible death from cancer.

…..God love us, so he makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world, and know that our true good lies in another world.
We’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what makes us perfect. The suffering in the world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.
For believe me, this world that seems to us to be so substantial is no more than the shadow lands. Real life has not begun yet.

I believe that everyone of you here can attest to XXXXXXXX's overwhelming sense of loyalty to his friends. XXXXXXXX helped me a number of times at my house doing everything from chopping down a tree to hauling trash. My mother insisted that XXXXXXX serve as a pall-bearer at her funeral. I honored her wishes. He drove to Birmingham on a stormy day to help me carry out her last wishes.

And so we are here, gathered for the service of a good and decent man who, I suspect, never realized the extent of his goodness or the depth of his mind. His loss is our collective loss, for all of us have our own set of memories of XXXXXXX who worked hard, played hard, and, above all else, honored all of us with his time on earth.

“To serve; to strive; and not to yield” has been the slogan of Outward Bound. It comes from the last lines Alfred Tennyson’s epic poem, Ulysses.
Come my friends. Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds to sail beyond the Sunset and the baths of all the western stars until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down; it may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles, and see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but still strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

And that is the XXXXXXXXXX I knew, part adventurer, part teacher, part intellectual, but always and all over, good friend.


When I read back over the above I am struck repeatedly by the following, ......the wisdom of the stoic philosopher Epictetus whose approach to action in response to others is, “you will do what you will do and I will do what I will do.”

While my "handle" may have started as a joke between some of us on another forum, as I have stated many times before, I see Ubu as nothing more than my personal statement of "you be you and I'll be me" and I am again humbled by the legacy of our father. He started my reading at a very early age and I, in turn, started my brother in his readings. From that, and the example of his life, we developed into men with deep feelings of empathy for our fellow man, or so I believe.

I feel that the words not only convey the life of my brother, but also stand as a testament to our father and his life. "Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us"

Forgive me for my ramblings.


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PostSubject: Re: My Brother   Tue Oct 16, 2012 11:03 am

A very touching eulogy!
Again sorry for your family's loss.
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PostSubject: Re: My Brother   Tue Oct 16, 2012 11:07 am

Absolutely wonderful! Hug
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PostSubject: Re: My Brother   Tue Oct 16, 2012 11:12 am

No ranting there. I appreciate you sharing this with us so much!! What an eloquent talk about an amazing man, and your father is proud of his sons...that I can assure you. Hug
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PostSubject: Re: My Brother   Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:04 pm

Thank you for sharing that Ubu.
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PostSubject: Re: My Brother   Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:45 am


Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glint on snow
I am the sunlight on ripening grain
I am the gentle Autumn's rain
When you awake in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die

Mary Frye, 1932
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PostSubject: Re: My Brother   Wed Oct 17, 2012 5:02 pm

Thank you so much for sharing that, C. Those words blessed me more than you will ever know. I am really not a cry baby, but I was certainly moved to tears. Those are words of healing and wisdom. No matter what this life brings, good can always come of it. Love you, friend. (((huge hug)))
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