The Simplicity of Indra’s Web
Morning Dewdrops on a Spider’s Web
I was out of town, on the last day of a week-long conference, continuing professional education conference in thanatology, when I received a telephone call from a funeral director with whom I frequently work. Would I be back to do a memorial service for a young man who died suddenly, unexpectedly. The FD would not have more details until Saturday. The memorial in the presence of the cremated remains would be on Monday afternoon. It was very tight but I would do it.
On my return on Saturday, I immediately called the FD to get some information and then called the family to arrange for a time for a family conference, when we would discuss the deceased, his life, and the family itself. What I learned in the course of that family conference was not only helpful but daunting. The deceased lived in Turkey, taught English there, had a young wife and a four-year old son. He had come back to the United States to meet with friends from around the world, from Turkey and even China, to a sort of extended family reunion a reunion of international brothers and sisters, a truly joyful occasion. S. went to sleep and never woke up.
The planned joyful reunion had taken a tragic turn at a number of levels, and now we had to memorialize his life and legacy.
S.’s life, his family system, his travels, his ability to love and be compassionate, his young family created an Indra’s web of interconnections and relationships: each one reflecting the other infinitely and, like a spider’s web adorned with morning dew, touch one and the entire web vibrates.
The sharing was daunting and lively. Father, aunts, uncle, wife, 4-year old son all sharing impressions, joy touched by grief.
I was working under extraordinary time constraints and the material was overwhelming. The family, furthermore, noted that they wanted something spiritual but they did not practice any organized [viz. institutionalized] religion. Their faith tradition was Christian, Methodist, Catholic, and Muslim. The mourners were international and even more diverse in their belief traditions, one of the deceased’s closest friends was an Orthodox Jew. The complexity of the situation required careful simplicity.
This homily, I hope, reflects the attempt to engage that careful simplicity to capture S.’s legacy: Compassionate Love.
Bismi Allahi arrahmani arraheem
In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.
Ecclesiastes 7:1–14; Psalm 42; 1 Corinthians 13:1–8, 11–13; Matthew 25:31-46
Green is the color of truth, of hope. If Sean taught us anything it was the truth of our freedom to love. We lose track of that natural state of humanity, the inborn freedom to love, to hope in divine promise; living in hope is to be kind, compassionate, joyful, cheerful, uninhibited to care and to love. That’s the freedom to love with purity of heart; to give the unconditional love we experience in children and in animals. In those innocent creatures, the evil ego hasn’t yet corrupted the spirit and they are free to love —unconditionally. That’s the love that Sean shared and the love I think he sought to receive from everyone, whom he touched with his grace, his humor, his smile, is gentleness. He not only had the grace to give love unconditionally but the rare grace to receive love unconditionally.
Whereever you look you in this room now you cannot help but experience him. In his father Jerry, his aunt Carol, his uncle Stan, his aunt Barb, but especially in the loves of his life, his soul – friend and wife Muazzez and his heart and soul, his son Ulustan. Close your eyes and think Sean and you will fill with light and love. Sean is a divine gift who was freely given and who freely gave to all without bigotry and judgment. Sean is a gift that continues giving. Sean saw good everywhere, loved everyone; it’s a tough act to follow but we are
Jerry tells the a very funny but illustrative story that goes like this: Jerry was a single parent raising Sean in a little patio home in Phoenix. They were a normal father and son. But something happened that raised Jerry’s curiosity. You see, Jerry kept finding that is toaster was a terrible mess most of the time. And when he came to clean it one day it was just full of gunk and, ya know, pieces of toast. Jerry says to Sean, “Sean, what’s going on here, do you know?” And Sean says, “Dad, you know, that butter is so hard and it tears the bread.” Sean was about 10 years old at the time but that was Sean. The butter was hard and Sean had a solution to it.
Carol shares a story about Sean when he was a little younger than Ulustan. Carol was in medical school and was preparing a report on Piaget and child development. Centering on Ulustan — Carol tells me that Ulustan is the spitting image of Sean at that age — I can more vividly picture the situation. But, anyway, the story goes like this: At about Ulustan’s age children are more linear than volumic, their thinking is still a bit undeveloped. So Carol is in med school and has a project, and Sean is part of it. Carol has a bowl of soda and a tall thin graduated cylinder. Well Carol takes the bowl of soda and pours it into the graduated cylinder and Sean responds, “Wow! Aunt Carol, look at all that soda!” Well, point made. That “Wow! Aunt Carol” stayed with Sean even into his adult life. Sean always had a sense of awe, a sense of childlike wonder. What a gift. If only we could aspire to that gift.
But before this turns into a eulogy rather than a homily, let’s look at what Sean means to us in terms of how we ought to live spiritually and how a good life, the time allotted to us to live here in this world, benefits us and those whom we touch.
The Holy Quran teaches that [Quran 3:145] “No one dies except by God’s leave, at a predetermined time. Whoever seeks the vanities of this world, we give him therefrom, and whoever seeks the rewards of the Hereafter, we bless him therein. We reward those who are appreciative.” No death, therefore is “untimely” or without profound meaning. It’s in the divine plan and we are left to make meaning of the life of the deceased, not to curse the darkness of his loss. Light, not darkness, is Sean’s legacy.
Our readings today may come from Christian Holy Scripture but are echoed and paraphrased throughout the sacred texts of almost every religion in the world: Freedom to Love, Freedom to be Compassionate, Freedom to Be.
Our readings teach of the importance of a good reputation at the time of our death. That’s the legacy we leave behind. Think now of Sean. Funerals remind us that we all must die; think of your legacy. Think now of Sean. How joyful and cheerful are we, how quickly do we anger and hold a grudge. Think now of Sean.
Ecclesiastes teaches us that when times are bad, we should be cheerful, when times are bad, think what it means, find meaning in difficult times. Sean embodied the ethical concept of “Judge to the side of merit.” He never said a negative. He had not one prejudiced bone in his body. Instead of seeing something with anxiety or fear, he saw it as a chance to learn. He sought meaning in the situation. That’s Sean’s legacy.
Our Psalm today speaks of a deer and streams of water. There’s something about Sean that embodies that image of the gentle, beautiful, deer longing for streams of living water. Water is a metaphor of life, of comfort, of purity. As Sean longed for life, gave comfort, and represented a pure spirit, so too the Psalm is so appropriate to today’s situation. Many of you traveled here from Turkey, from China, to celebrate, to be festive, cheerful, to a reunion of friends. Was all that spoiled by what we could see as a tragedy? Perhaps not but only if we seek a much deeper meaning in the events of last week, a meaning that we find in that Psalm,
“When I would cross over to the…house of God, amid loud cries of thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival. Why are you downcast, my soul?”
We therefore call today a celebration of life, not a doom and gloom rite filled with dull dirges. Hence the Hawaiian shirts!
Barb read a lovely poem that was requested by Julie Blatz, Sean’s stepsister, The Broken Chain. Read one way it’s a statement of loss; read in the language of Sean, it’s a statement of hope.
“In life we loved you dearly / In death we do the same…For part of us went with you / The day God called you home…And although we cannot see you / You are always at our side.”
While part of us may have gone with Sean, part of Sean remains with us. Now I have to share this beautiful statement with you: Little Ulustan put it quite succinctly: “I don’t have my daddy any more but I have his shirt, and I can smell him. Mommy, we will be without daddy but he will be in our hearts all the time.” That’s the wisdom of a four – year old; that 4 – year old can teach us adults volumes!
Jerry shared with me yesterday that he taught Sean to treat everyone as he would want to be treated. That way of living was well learnt by our Sean and he lived it every day of his life. If we take anything home with us today, let’s take the message of Matthew’s Gospel, a Gospel that describes the ethics of Sean’s life:
“What you did to / for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to / for me.”
As Carol pointed out yesterday, the great mythologist Joseph Campbell put it this way: ”When you reach out to touch another creature, you reach out to touch God.” We, each of us, is a mask of God, and if I understand the meaning of Sean’s life, Sean believed that, too.
But today’s theme is Love and that theme couldn’t be clearer than how St Paul teaches it: If we could speak all languages of humans and angels, without Love we would be nothing. If we could move mountains, without love we would be nothing. We would gain nothing unless we love others because,
Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.
Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered.
It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.
Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.
Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.
Love never fails!
That’s the lesson Sean Gerald Wakeley lived and the lesson Sean Gerald Wakely leaves with us. The best tribute we can pay to Sean is to aspire to live his legacy of Love.
I’ll end with a nugget of Turkish wisdom shared with me by Muazzez, who tells me that in Turkey it is a tradition to plant a fruit tree in memory of the deceased, and when the tree blossoms and bears fruit, and when we eat that fruit, we remember the deceased and pray that God blesses them. Sean is such a tree and we savored his blossoms when he walked among us, now we savor his fruits that he bore in life and which now provide us with nourishment. And so we pray for God’s blessings and mercy for him.
Peace be to you!
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