Goodbye, dear friend

We buried Norman today.

His friends and family gathered in Stanton for his funeral, and I’m fortunate enough to have been invited to be part of the service, both as a speaker and as a pallbearer. It was a touching tribute with kind words being shared about the man (or, perhaps more appropriately, The Man) we all loved so much. I was especially fond of his son-in-law Barry’s talk, which included a quote from Yoda (“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.”) and this essay by Robert Hastings called “The Station”:

Tucked away in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision in which we see ourselves on a long journey that spans an entire continent. We’re traveling by train and, from the windows, we drink in the passing scenes of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at crossings, of cattle grazing in distant pastures, of smoke pouring from power plants, of row upon row upon row of cotton and corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our conscious minds is our final destination–for at a certain hour and on a given day, our train will finally pull into the Station with bells ringing, flags waving, and bands playing. And once that day comes, so many wonderful dreams will come true. So restlessly, we pace the aisles and count the miles, peering ahead, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Station.

“Yes, when we reach the Station, that will be it!” we promise ourselves. “When we’re eighteen. . . win that promotion. . . put the last kid through college. . . buy that 450SL Mercedes-Benz. . . have a nest egg for retirement!”

From that day on we will all live happily ever after.

Sooner or later, however, we must realize there is no Station in this life, no one earthly place to arrive at once and for all. The journey is the joy. The Station is an illusion–it constantly outdistances us. Yesterday’s a memory, tomorrow’s a dream. Yesterday belongs to a history, tomorrow belongs to God. Yesterday’s a fading sunset, tomorrow’s a faint sunrise. Only today is there light enough to love and live.

So, gently close the door on yesterday and throw the key away. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad, but rather regret over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.

“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less (note: Barry changed this to reflect Norman’s own interpretation, making it “Laugh more and cry more.”). Go barefoot oftener. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we
go along. The Station will come soon enough.

As for me, my job was to open the service with a short prayer and a few remarks detailing the family’s request to spend the day celebrating Norman’s life. I tried to use a few of his favorite things (Lost, Pink Floyd) and phrases (He would often say “Yeah, I can dig it”). This is what I said:

Lord, thank you.

Thank you for blessing our lives with Norman Watson.

Thank you for his gift of love, his appreciation of life, his ability to make us see the world with wide-eyed wonder, respect and admiration.

Thank you for allowing us to share the moments, both big and small, with a man who somehow made each of those moments just a bit better.

Losing someone like Norman will no doubt be difficult, and Lord, we ask that you provide your love and guidance on Darlene, Debbi, Rusti and the rest of Norman’s family and friends. We take great comfort knowing that we have Norman’s spirit with us the rest of our lives, and we hope to share the goodness of his soul, his beautiful essence of being, with the rest of the world.

These things we pray in Jesus’ name,

Today, our hearts are heavy.

This is natural. We are, after all, gathered to say goodbye to our friend, Norman Watson, a man who meant so much to so many, as evidenced by each of you here today.

At the family’s request, however, we should not view today as a day of sadness but rather as a day of celebration. We come to celebrate a life that brought joy to each of us, from the way he lived each day to the way he said goodbye in the end. We come to celebrate that Norman is now free from cancer. We come to celebrate that Norman is now able to experience what’s on the other side, from the bright sunshine of heaven to the dark side of the moon.

And knowing Norman, this is the way he would want it. This is a man who looked into the eye of the island and what he saw was beautiful. Today, we try to see that beauty ourselves.

Today, our hearts are heavy, but let the rest of us rejoice. This is for you, Norman. I hope you can dig it.

Hallelujah. Amen. Let it be. So be it.

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