“It is maybe most of all … silence that they are so intent to guard themselves against. And there is indeed a potential terror in it. It raises, still, all the old answerless questions of origins and ends. It asks a man what is the use and the worth of his life.” — Wendell Berry
It was probably ten years ago or so now when I first picked up a copy of Wendell Berry’s collection of essays, The Long-Legged House at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland with a good friend, now deceased, who had introduced me to Berry’s work some years before. Cliché, but I was immediately captured by the timelessness of his concerns articulated in this 1965 publication—a theme that runs through much of his work. His essay found therein, titled ‘Nature Consumers,’ along with chapter two, book one of Thomas A. Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, is among the few most influential pieces of literature I’ve ever read, having revisited each of these chapters dozens of times. It doesn’t have to be brilliant—it need only hit you at the right time and space.
They have each become so ingrained in my psyche that I find myself regularly quoting them and referencing them without actually referencing them—you know, when something becomes so familiar to you that it is less a reference than it is your own exhale. Many have heard me say, “We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself,” which comes straight from that chapter in Kempis’ Imitation.
Note: Ten years ago my little family and I were caught in a whirlwind (pun) of ‘life and death’. In the course of just a few short days, I learned that my wife was pregnant with our third child, visited my grandmother for the last time, flew to Houston just hours later for a wedding that occurred during Hurricane Ike and came home just in time for her funeral, then celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary two days later.
Below is a slightly edited and updated version of the eulogy I gave back then. I was 28 years-old at the time. I’ve tried to leave it in its original state as much as possible, focusing instead on making it readable, as opposed to notes for a presentation in front of an audience. Whether you knew grandma or not, it’s worth a read as so many eulogies and obituaries are, yet this one comes with extra… umph. – J.
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September 16, 2008
I don’t really know what I am supposed to say here; my experience with funerals is fortunately limited.
But, I was asked to give and I wanted to give some of my thoughts and memories concerning my my maternal grandmother. I had to prepare this on a whim last night at 3am (with mild jet-lag) so bear with me… I’m working on two hours of sleep, and the last many days, as you will see, have been… intense.
I have few childhood or teenage memories that don’t include my grandma. Indeed, I was very close to her. I feel lucky to have been able to really have two mothers in my life; blessed to be counted among her extended children.
These childhood memories do not go back far enough to remember any other home of hers than the trailer she lived in down by LaCamas Lake in Camas, WA—a very humble home; one that would act as my second for over 20 years. It was a home that I entered into too young to understand the social stigmas that come with the ownership of a ‘house’ that has wheels underneath it. It was in this home, with this woman, that so many of my memories were created. It was there and with her that much of who I am was formed.