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Monday, August 11, 2008

The Things That Matter

I debated all day whether I should post the eulogy that a professor I know and his wife delivered for their 8 year old son's funeral last week. Their son died in a rafting accident. I didn't want to be tacky by mixing up a family's pain with fitness products. But, really, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this blog is not just about fitness. My hope is to inspire others and myself to live our best life in spite of the obstacles and hardships that come our way.

This touching and heartbreaking eulogy reminded me that life is in the details and it helped put life and everything in it into perspective. Suddenly, my quest for a six-pack or the fact that I may be losing my hair (yikes, I know!) didn't seem all-important; living a healthy and balanced life did.

I finally decided to post the eulogy after thinking how these words, probably the most important words these parents (the professor is a writer) had ever written, could touch and have a profound effect on the lives of others. In Owen's death, I thought, he would be able to share the preciousness of life.

Wishing you all the best,



The Eulogy Delivered by Owen's Parents

We have been blessed with two great sons: two wonderful, rich, amazing, magnetic boys. For us, it’s always been about the two boys, Julian and Owen. But one of them is gone, and now we have to say goodbye to Owen and then learn to live without his huge presence — while knowing that he remains in our hearts.

Owen had something special, an inner core, an inner richness, an ability to uncover patterns, to detect minute shifts in moods or colors, to feel things and people. All of this makes his loss even more difficult. But it also makes it all the more important, for us, to capture the multiple dimensions of Owen’s presence.

Owen could be an intensely private person: playing games in his own imaginary world, reading, closing the door of his room or taking frequent trips to the bathroom. He guarded his space. But he also engaged people around him, talked, asked questions, debated, negotiated. He was such a charmer, shy at first but then so engaging with adults, especially if it was about sports. He would ask our friends pointed questions about their jobs or marriage prospects. Owen loved to be alone with people. He would be in his own world, come into yours for a while, then retreat back into his. That’s what he needed — the independence and the attachments, but on his own terms. Owen was fearless — ready to take risks and push himself to the limit. And yet he had fears: fears of sleeping away from home, of sleeping alone, of sleeping period.
Parenting Owen was the richest, most challenging and yet exhilarating job — challenging because everything had to be negotiated, justified, explained, but exhilarating because he was so smart, always a step ahead of us in the mental gymnastics. He liked to have his way but recognized the force of evidence and superior arguments. At the end of the day, we generally reached a compromise and we, his parents, had learned something in the process. Being his friend, his relative, his teacher must have been equally rich and rewarding.

Owen was in some ways a serious, intense boy— always thinking, conceptualizing, quantifying. His brain was wired with numbers and series and patterns. He memorized our credit card number a few weeks ago —it made him so proud, especially when we told him to forget it! Or, the way he went to sleep: always on his side, eyes open, looking out into emptiness, thinking. He was a ‘24’ champ and obsessed with baseball stats. In the morning, we often encountered a zombie in the hallway, who picked up the Times, sat on the couch, eyes half-open, and studied the box scores before going to the bathroom.
As serious as he was, Owen was so much fun. He loved games— board games, pool games, gin, rack-o, mental games. He would come up with jokes: “Knock, knock. Who’s there? F. F who? F you.” We'll miss playing our "to ten" game in the pool, even though Owen changed the rules constantly.

Owen was a sports nut. He was a devoted little leaguer, a great arm and a strong batter who had a deep understanding of the nuances of the games. We don’t remember him ever making a throw to the wrong base. He discovered basketball this year and my favorite sound, while working in the office, was the pounding of the ball of the pavement as he dribbled and threw shot after shot. Owen was a huge baseball fan: first the Yankees, but he was leaving them behind, for they are such losers, getting into a whole at the start of each season, barely making the playoffs, then going out in the second round. So he chose the Cubs this year (if they win the World Series, it will be special in more ways than one). Watching baseball on TV with Owen was a learning experience: he’d tell you why such a player was bunting towards first or third at a given point in the game. He watched the All-Star game until 2 AM a couple of weeks ago and even though Dan Uggla had a horrendous game, he kept him in his own fantasy team. He loved Cooperstown so much that he wanted to live there. And Playstation and Sportcenter and baseball cards were key parts of his life — always with Julian.

Owen was so lucky to have a brother like Julian, who showed him the way in the sports world, who was a true companion and a best friend. Owen admired Julian more than anyone — that’s why he always did what Julian did, sometimes to Julian’s annoyance. There was only one person who could make Owen do what he did not want to, and it was Julian. Julian will miss Owen’s presence but we know that his friends will be there to help him and take a little bit of Owen’s place.

Owen was prickly and cuddly at same time. He was a big complainer — and could be stubborn and bossy — a family trait he inherited from both sides. We once watched him play touch football on Houston ballfield. He had to be the quarterback — and he always was. He had a very good arm, but even more determination.

But he was the softest child: so sweet with little kids, whom he would take by the hand to our basement to play games. He loved to hold hands and always insisted on doing so while hiking. He loved to kiss and cuddle and hated, hated sleeping alone. We were bracing ourselves for tough teenage years and a succession of girlfriends. The girls he liked to play with, like Lucy and Ayden and Alice, were strong, spirited, and so sweet inside

Owen was so aware of the world around him and of himself. He had an amazing sense of smell, he could always guess what we had just eaten, even when he was 2 years old, and noticed that his mom always wore the same shirt when she traveled, even when she didn’t know it herself. He was tough and yet fragile — and he knew that all so well. One day, he threw a fit on the tennis court, for no good reason, and stormed off. Having caught up with him twenty minutes later, we told him that he’d been wrong. Didn’t he know it? Yes, he answered, but there is no way he could have admitted it. “I seem tough on the outside,” he said, “but I’m fragile inside.”
Because he grasped his frailties and because he was so determined, Owen always worked at making himself a better person. He had an issue with sleep-overs far from home and he was working on it, he wanted so much to get over it, he was making progress, but he knew it would take time. It was one of our summer goals. He did not reach it, but there were so many small victories this summer — a summer during which he matured so much:
—Owen attended a new day camp and was contemplating the idea of going to sleep-away next year.
—He biked all the way to the soccer field, but along the creek, not 212, which was too dangerous. And our 10-mile bike trip in Park City last week. It was hard, and his dad had miscalculated the headwind on the return leg. We rationed water, and when it got really tough, we talked about Descartes and dividing difficult tasks into smaller parcels. Owen and Julian liked the idea and both made it. It was a glorious achievement.
—Treading lightly — with his body and his person. Not stepping on toes — figurative and symbolic.
—Ordering a salad rather than steak as an entrĂ©e
—Making sacrifices and thinking of others. When his dad told bad jokes, he would laugh boisterously then say “Look Papa, I am making a sacrifice.”

At this time, we could be angry about what happened to Owen in Utah, the circumstances of the accident, the negligence that may have been involved, or the fatality. We will no doubt feel anger, but not today, and, we hope it will not be our dominant emotion either. We are shattered by the loss — present and especially future, for Owen would have become a remarkable man, father, and citizen of the world. Owen always had ideas and plans for things he wanted. We are so sorry that he won’t grow up and reach his full potential. He would have made a difference in the world — as he already had at home and at school.
Owen lived his life to the fullest. He embraced it. On the river the day he died, he shrieked with glee when the rapids became faster. After one of them, he turned to me and said “This is the best day of my life.”

Both of us have always been aware of the fragility of Owen’s presence among us. We just felt it, independently, in ways that escape rational explanation. When he was alive, we treasured every moment with him because we sensed, somewhere, that they might not be eternal. Now, we treasure the memories of Owen and the knowledge that his life was short, but rich, that it reached out to others around him and made us all better, smarter, more self-aware, and happier. Owen looked into himself and into the outside world with penetration and feeling. He sought understanding while remaining aware of his own frailty and limitations. He embraced the beauty and efflorescence of life while understanding its darker, impenetrable side. If Owen has left us a legacy, then this is it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This really pulls at my heart this morning Barbie. I hope these fine people have a strong group of friends to support them in the next year as they struggle with their loss. Thank you for sharing this with me as it reminds me of the important things in my life as well, and how things can change so fast. My son has Aspergers Syndrome, and many of the traits your friend describes in his son I see in my son as well. His words are something I will look at again to remind myself how special our time with our kids is. Thanks again so much for sharing this with me.