Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dad's Celebration Speech (Jon Eben Field)

Roger Michael Field (b. March 2nd, 1945 – d. Oct. 28th, 2012)

            Roger was many different ways for different people. For some, he was the silent, patient listener; the person to whom they could come and share their concerns and always find warm reception. He would hold whatever the weight or load, so they could come to realize what they needed was already within. For some, he was the writer who could discover the beautifully apt word, phrase, or rhythm for expressing an emotion, meaning, image, or sense. For others, he was the teacher who would calmly ask questions until by dint of his focus and the warm sharing of his example, they came to understand. For others still, he was the administrator who calmly held a school together day in and day out, year after year.
            My father was a person who embodied kindness, patience, love, honesty, wisdom, humour, and brilliance. And now that he is gone, there are days when the world feels a little emptier. But there are also many, many more where his presence rings around us like the sparkle in his blue, blue eyes. I had the privilege to know him as a listener, a writer, a teacher, and, yes, even as an administrator. But through all these layers of relations, he was always my father.
            Recently, a friend of mine asked, “What did you and your dad do?” and, for a moment, I was struck dumb. We did not hunt or fish, play or watch sports, go canoeing or hiking, rebuild antique cars, or any of the other things through which I imagine fathers and sons bond. It took me several moments, but eventually I said, “We talked.” My father and I had a conversation that filled my life. Dad was willing to have a conversation with almost anyone about almost anything. He was open. And I feel uniquely honoured to have had my conversation with Roger containing the degree of intimacy he invited and breadth and range of awareness he offered. And I’m sure you feel the same.
            We spoke of art, poetry, meaning, beauty, love, grief, and madness. We spoke of birds, of the “rightness” of a word, of the joy of numbers, of possibility in life, and, of course, we spoke of death. My father was an adventurer in life and words. And as you know, it was always a pleasure to meet him wherever he was wandering because that is precisely where he was.
            In my mid-twenties, I experienced a crisis. Let us speak truthfully, “I went crazy,” and ended up in a psychiatric ward in the Abbey Lane Hospital. The dedication and resilience of my entire family allowed me to return from those dark abysses. But early on, I remember Dad, after working all day at Mt. Uniacke, would drive into the city, come up to my room, and check me out of the ward. As we walked down to the “Summer Savoury” cafeteria, I would try to convince him of all the terrible things I was certain I had done. Walking by my side, holding my hand, he would patiently listen as we picked out a muffin (lemon or blueberry) and a juice (always cranberry), and then we would sit alone and talk.
            Day after day, he would listen to the stories I had concocted to explain why I felt so horribly. And at some point in these conversations, he would say the same two things. First, he would recite a line from bp nichol’s Martyrology that says humans are “approximate and conditional.” And in the search for the certainty of my guilt, this possibility kept me alive. And at the end of our conversation, when I tried to convince him once more of my wrongdoings, he would calmly reply, “Jon Eben, I think we will have to agree to disagree about this for today.” We continued to have these conversations until I was as certain of who I was as he was.
            Roger’s greatest gift was his attention. When he listened, he was nowhere else, and when he spoke, he spoke to you alone. Dad was a gentle man with an immense reservoir of love and fathomless patience, and if I learned anything from him, it is how being present and aware allows others to be free. He was willing to get out of the way and help however he could. His friends were given the gift of his loving friendship. His family was given the gift of his brotherhood. My brother, sister, and I received the gift of a very wise and present father. And my mother was given his most passionate love. To finish, I would like to read the very last poem Roger wrote:

One thing about being in this bed
if this is the place where I will die
is the panorama of the view
and the fact that you can tell
where the sun is located
every day that you can see
its rise and set
and it matters to me
to know this
to be located somehow
on this earth of ours
that we ride around on
until we all arrive at
and come to our own ends.

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