The following is adapted from the eulogy I gave for my precious son, who died in a fire at his apartment on March 1, 2012. He was just 24 years old.
I want to talk to you about Jonathan, my son, about his life and the kind of person he was. I have been struggling to find the right words. I remember when he was a baby, and a toddler, and in grade school, and high school. I remember holding him in times when he was sick, or scared, or tired and times that he was happy and silly and we wrestled on the floor. And for every memory I have that suggested a trait that described him, I have another memory of another point in his life when that trait didn’t describe him. For days, everything I came up with was not the Jonathan I knew, was not the Jonathan who I treasured and loved. The Jonathan I want to tell to you about.
I also kept coming back to the last time I saw him. He’d come over to the house to play a new board game that he’d gotten with me and Benjamin. After that, we watched an episode of the show Firefly. That show was quite possibly Jonathan’s favorite TV show of all time. It was a science fiction show set in space aboard a ship called Serenity. I started thinking about what it was that might have attracted him to those people. The crew of the ship Serenity really weren’t epic heroes like in Star Trek or Star Wars. The captain, Malcolm Reynolds was certainly no Jean Luc Picard or Luke Skywalker. He was no saint. But he wasn’t exactly a sinner. Over the course of the series you found out that he was just a basically decent guy, an independent guy, living life on his terms.
And then it hit me. That’s the kind of person my Jonathan, the Jonathan I remember, the Jonathan I loved, that’s the kind of person he was. Not a saint. Not a sinner. Just a really decent kid trying to live life on his terms.
And having said that, now I think I can talk about the things that made Jonathan unique in all the world and they won’t come across as a caricature.
First, he was great big brother. I’m not sure how many 24 year old men would spend huge blocks of time on a regular basis with their 16 year old brothers, but Jonathan did. He’s the kind of big brother I wish I’d been, that I wish I’d had, when I was a kid.
Some of you may know Jonathan as a student of martial arts. What you might not know is that he’d been interested in martial arts since he was little. He used to watch the Power Rangers and the Ninja Turtles on TV and talk about wanting to learn karate. We made him do soccer for a few season because it seemed more social, but it was clear that his heart wasn’t in it. We signed him up for tae kwon do lessons when he was 8 and he’s been training almost continuously since then. Jonathan was a brown belt instructor in the International Kenpo Karate Organization and was preparing for his black belt test at the time of his death. In honor of his commitment to the discipline, Jonathan’s instructor, Michael Seigel, and other officials in the organization have since awarded Jonathan his black belt.
Jonathan also loved video games. Whether it was on a dedicated gaming system or a computer, he was fascinated with them. I remember having a conference with one of his grade school teachers who told me that she was forbidding him to write any more school assignments on video games. She said that she knew he played soccer and went to movies and tons of other things, but all he ever wrote about were video games. He maintained that love all his life.
Jonathan was bright. He was placed into gifted programs in grade school and academically I don’t think I ever saw him break a sweat. I know that some of his teachers challenged him and inspired him, but I don’t think any of them ever found his limit.
I think the last few years were some of the happiest in his life. He was on his own with a job he loved and the future looked bright. He was exploring everything and laying out the terms by which he’d live his life. I’m so proud of the man he was becoming.
I’d like to finish by sharing a bit of a book that means a lot to me. It is the story of a little prince, who leaves his home on a journey to find out what’s important in life. Along the way he comes to Earth, where he meets a fox who teaches him the value of taming, of befriending, another person…
“My life is very monotonous,” he [the fox] said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But, if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps will send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please – tame me!” he said.
So the little prince tamed the fox. And as the hour of his departure drew near –
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”
All of us who knew Jonathan have our own personal wheat fields. As his father, I’d like to make just one request of you. Every so often, take a few moments and go down to your wheat field and spend just a while listening to the wind in the wheat...
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