I want to appreciate everyone who has come to honor our son today. Jared was a good man, and I imagine he’d be very pleased to know that he had so many friends. And very embarrassed to think that some of you have given up significant moments in your own life to honor this moment, however unexpected, difficult, even tragic that it is.
We all tell the story differently, I suspect. I know that’s been true in my life anyway as I talk about the significant moments in my life. I’m sure it’s the same for you.
For me, Jared was a “Three Mile Island” baby. Bev and I lived just a few miles from the power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania when the worst nuclear accident in American history blew what many people still say was “moderate amounts of radioactive gases and iodine” into the atmosphere.
Say what you want to say about our government’s capacity to tell less than the truth—I think it was the Christian ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr who argued that this was the nature of government, to tell less than the truth—we experienced it. The Philadelphia media market had us packing our bags and fleeing to the hills! The Lancaster and York media markets closer by argued that everyone should stay put.
It was in this craziness that Jared was in utero during that time and I always thought that some of his personal issues sprang from that horrible moment in American history. A surgical intervention at age five, give or take, fixed his kidney issue. The drug Cylert fixed his school attention issues—though a funny family story points to a surprising number of pills he didn’t take, found many years later in the crevasses of a rickety kitchen table and in the ancient hems of the living room drapes.
J, or Jared, or “Dr. J” as I called him, after a Philadelphia basketball icon of the time, grew up to be the man I thought he would become. “Strong, wise and kind,” the exact words I used to pray over him while he was asleep in our New Jersey, Carson City and Portland houses. The other children, Rachel his older sister and Josh his younger brother, probably now curious as to what words I spelled over them while they slept.
Each of our kids were put or sent to bed at an early hour, but each were permitted to read until they fell asleep. It taught them to love books at an early age, brightened their sense of conscience or responsibility about the world, and exposed them to people who never would have been a part of our dinner table or family vacations. These writers were their “virtual friends” I think, long before the word became popular. Jared knew the formative influence in my own life was Ralph Waldo Emerson, and while he didn’t cleave to his voice or concepts like his older sister later did, he found a similar voice encouraging his individuation and growth in the science fiction writer, Kurt Vonnegut.
I now wonder if I shouldn’t have left more Bibles sitting around the house—not really, but you get my point as I’m just as satisfied now to have Hafiz, Rumi or the Bhagavad Gita in my own home. But a number of Vonnegut volumes sat in my personal library and were no doubt the first volumes read in a life-long pursuit for personal truth and perspective.
Jared was a Humanist. Do not let the trappings of this service fool you. He wrote for his youth pastor, Alan Guffey the following, when church and family pressures asked if he was going to become an adult member of the church he grew up in:
I have been going to church since I was born. I received an infant baptism from my father…the pastor here at Valley. [But] life at home is “free” when it comes to religion. For example if I felt the need to switch to the Roman Catholic Church, I don’t believe my family would have a problem with that. Much of a problem anyway…
And save for his grandmother, an ardent anti-Catholic because of how she was raised, it would have been fine. As fine as it was in later years when he told me that he was a Humanist.
“I am too,” I said. He already knew that.
“What do you think of the American Humanist Association?” he asked.
“Probably a good organization,” I replied, intrigued that my son, considered by some in my family, never myself, to have been a special education student. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I’m thinking of joining it.”
Humanism is a philosophy of life that holds that theism, or a belief in God is generally irrelevant to the ability or responsibility to lead an ethical life, or to strive toward personal fulfillment, or to aspire to the greater good of humanity. I’m paraphrasing a statement by the American Humanist organization with which he was most endeared, and of which Kurt Vonnegut was its Honorary Chairman.
Jared didn’t talk about a belief in God, not much anyway. Because it simply wasn’t important to him. He believed that kindness and compassion spoke more strongly than any scripture—a thought he and I shared in later years. And he was, simply said, and I’ve heard this from many of you this past week, “the kindest person I’ve ever met.”
To paraphrase words that were said of Jesus himself, he was a “human one.”
Jared weathered a great many church services over the years, serving as the church’s sound engineer, attending youth groups or making friends. “Because that’s what we do,” I said. “It’s not because I’m the minister. It’s because our family goes to church together, in the same fashion that it eats together or plays together.” And I imagine that he’s kindly and compassionately tolerating this one.
When Jared placed a portion of the neighborhood twins’ baptismal speech in Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater on his website with an absolutely hilarious picture of himself as a child, I checked it over the years to make sure I was staying focused on what was most important in my own life.
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.
“It’s an odd speech to make over a couple of infants,” as someone has said, “but it’s playful, sweet, yet keenly precise in its summation of everything a new addition to the planet should need to know.”
And I want to say publicly, “Thank you J. You turned out to be a very wise man.”
One of his friends told me the other night that he was “a very old soul.” And say what you might say about a religious tradition different than your own—that he had cycled through quite a few lives to become such a superlative human being—he was in fact that.
My brother likes to say that younger people who lose their lives somehow burn brighter than those who live their seventy or eighty biblical years of hardship and heartache. Maybe so. But this I know, I was blessed to have him as a son. And you were blessed to have him as a friend, or father, or help mate.
And we could do a lot worse for a friend or mentor.
If you know me, I mean honestly know me—not in the sense of a father, or friend, or former pastor, but know me—you know I pay attention to things. The name Gregg means “watchful one.” And I’ve always been that way. The last couple of nights, deer have come to the field behind our house in St. Helens. To a softball field in the middle of a small city, and peered through the cyclone fence at our house. The medieval dictionaries that describe such magical phenomena say that deer are a symbol of Christ. And the synchronicity of it all—if you believe in such things—mean that God is watching over us.
Whatever God is, or whatever you believe God to be.
It’s my hope that God is looking over our son Jared now. And if the scriptures are to be believed—and this is a fervent hope for many of you—then while you and I may hurt, while his family and friends have been, in some horrible way, harmed by such a senseless tragedy and death. It’s going to be okay.
And to that, to whatever extent it is helpful, I want to say “Amen.”
Eulogy and service, February 18, 2012. My oldest son, Jared died climbing on Mt. Hood, February 6, 2012. At the service, the following video about Jared’s life was presented, by his brother Josh.