Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Happilana

My uncle and friend died a week ago today.

He was more than a mere uncle, though. He was a world-class pianist, a vintage VW mechanic, a whiz at electronics, an explorer, a thinker, a man of God, and a good friend.

When I was in college, Uncle Steve and Aunt Beth lived about an hour away. I would come to visit them to get my clothes washed, have a meal, and participate in whatever crazy scheme Uncle Steve had going on at the time. And there was always something going on - working on an old car, rehabbing an old pinball machine, grilling 100 chicken quarters, helping someone move - something. There always seemed to be things he got himself into that were simultaneously hilarious and awful. People had a lot of memories of Uncle Steve.

I went through some hard times in college, and even though he was busy with his own interests and his own family, he took time to visit with me and make sure I was okay. At the time, I didn't appreciate that enough.

As I look back at Uncle Steve, it occurs to me that his exploring spirit was an effort in knowing. He didn't just look at a map and say he "knew" a place. He didn't read notes on a page and say he "knew" the music. And he didn't just talk with a person and say he "knew" them. He explored. He was interested in the side roads, the hole-in-the-wall places that only the locals knew about. He was interested in getting off the beaten trail and exploring the tops of mountains. He was interested in making music musical, of having it express emotion and devotion. He didn't just know how to play piano - he knew the piano. He didn't just lead the music, he developed a connection between the music and the hearer. In the same way, it seems to me, he wanted to know people in a way that was deep and meaningful, and worked to make that happen. He wanted connection.

At his wake, people poured in for hours. I've never seen anything like it. And at his funeral, the theme of connection was evident. So many people were touched by him, and will remember him fondly. I know I will.

I despise platitudes, if for no other reason than they try to soothe the act of mourning. Ecclesiastes teaches differently:

"It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.

Sorrow is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.

The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure."


I'm frequently guilty of knowing about things and people rather than knowing things and people. As my heart goes through this time of mourning, I pray that my mind will be drawn back, time and time again, to what it means to reach for connection.

Sleep in peace, my dear uncle.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ben, I know how important he was to you. I am so sorry about his death, what a young guy. He had health problems when we were in school didn't he? Were you able to go home for the funeral, it kind of sounded like you did.

Lorri

stephanie said...

This is a beautiful post about Uncle Steve. I'm so glad we all got to be there this past weekend. Thanks for posting your thoughts about him here.

Christy said...

You have my deepest sympathies, Ben. God Bless.

Benjamin said...

Alethia:

Yes, I was able to go to Monroe for the funeral, though I almost didn't make it. Flights are pricey and I'm a one-income family now.

He did have some heart problems, but you'd never know it from being around him. He always seems to be going full throttle.

Steph:
I'm glad we could all be there, too.

Christy:
Thanks so much. He was a good friend, and hard to bury.

Anonymous said...

From Aunt Lou - Ben, I am glad that you had the opportunity to be blessed by Steve - indeed glad that we all were blessed by his life. Thank you for sharing you special thoughts and observations about him. I know how special he was to you. We will all miss him and grieve him in our own way, but I appreciate your eloquence in expressing in part what you've lost and what you've learned. God bless you.

Grandmomma Susan said...

Dear Ben, thank you so much for taking the time and resources to be with us for Uncle Steve's wake, funeral, and Liz and Josh's wedding. It was heart wrenching. Dad is still struggling; he will hear a song, catch a fragrance, or see a sight that reminds him of Uncle Steve,and it is as though it was today all over for him. It was such a blessing and honor to know Uncle Steve. I'm so glad he was there for you in college, and that you truly got to know him. God obviously needed him in Heaven. The timing seems so shocking. I'm so glad He is God and trust that His Perfection will become evident, but if I never see it, I am comforted that God is in control. I pray that His will is done through this event. To God Be The Glory For The Things He Has Done! Thank you, again, for being there. Thanks also to Melissa, Madelyn, and Greyson, as I know they missed you. I fully appreciate what a sacrifice it was for your family. It meant the world to Dad to have all his children there. Thank you.

Catherine A said...

Hey Ben, I thank you and your wife and little ones for the sacrifice of your being there. It meant a lot to everyone. I am comforted by your thoughts and love reading your take on Uncle Steve. He was such a dear uncle and heaven is even sweeter knowing he is there. God blessed us through Uncle Steve's life.