Eulogy or Effigy, that is the Question


His sanitized obituary might read as follows:

Alan Booth, 77, died September 17, 2010, at Oneida Extended Care Facility of congestive heart failure.

Mr. Booth was born May 5, 1933, in Brooklyn, NY, to Harold and Hilda (Squires) Booth. He graduated from Oneonta High School, served in the Unites States Navy during the Korean War, and then attended and graduated college at Syracuse. He moved to Annapolis, Maryland to work for Arinc. He retired in 1993 at age 60, moving back to his upstate NY home in Erieville, NY.

Mr. Booth was a member of and trained lay-speaker for the Methodist church. He enjoyed hunting, camping, hiking and reading.  He loved poetry, especially the chiefly Scottish dialect of Robert Burns. He was an avid member of the Robert Burns Society of Annapolis and recited many of Burns poems from memory at their annual meetings. He was a member of the Fenner Conservation Club and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)  Club in Cazenovia, New York. He is survived by 3 children and 10 grandchildren.

Cue the dragging-of-the-stylus-across-the-vinyl-record sound. The scathing obit might read as follows:

Alan Booth, 77, died September 17, 2010, at Oneida Extended Care Facility of congestive heart failure brought on by years of indulgent excess and gluttony. He loved his cholesterol-rich diet with a slathering of sugar and hard liquor. Well aware of his weight problems, Mr. Booth bought all the weight-loss programs advertised on TV over the past 50 years, including but not limited to: DVDs, Nutrisystem, ellipticals, cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, and a vinyl 78 rpm 3-record set claiming a Guaranteed Reduce Plan. All of these items may be found unused and, in many cases, unopened, in his home in Erieville.

Mr. Booth’s first 2 wives left him because he abused them. Information on his 3rd wife is sparse, although, she did abandon him as well. Mr. Booth had 3 children from his first marriage and deserted them when the divorce was final. During this time, he turned his brilliant mind to the realm of divorce and custody law, successfully minimizing the financial burden of being a father. Mr. Booth’s career never miss a beat through all this turmoil. He served in intelligence in the US Navy aboard the USS Witek during the Korean War. He went on to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

Mr. Booth loved dead poets more than his living children. And his poet of choice was Robert Burns, the 18th century Scottish Bard. Booth spent much of his time and money learning, reading, and memorizing Burns’ poetry and life.  On any given month, he would send the court ordered fifty dollars of child support and zero dollars in alimony while spending hundreds of dollars and multiple weekends on collecting antique poetry books and traveling to the latest Burns society gathering on various continents.

Mr. Booth would be remembered best as one who served his country; loved reading; valued education and learning; appreciated good poetry; enjoyed hunting, fishing, and camping;  and ate, drank, and made merry on every occasion possible. He will not be remembered as a devoted husband or loving father. As such, there are some in this world who will remember him as an abusive husband, who traumatized and abandoned his children.

Cue the dragging-of-the-stylus-across-the-vinyl-record sound.

Not because this is untrue but, rather, because it is unfinished. As with most things in this world, the truth of who we are lies somewhere beyond the sanitized and the scathing.

Yes, it is true, the two most organized areas of my father’s home were his library, where he attempted to quell his insatiable appetite for knowledge, and his liquor cabinet, where he attempted to quell the screams of his daemons.

Between these two rooms he would stop to rest in his living room. There he would take part in daily devotionals with a televised bible study leader. When both knowledge and alcohol failed to bring peace, Al, like many before him, turned to God. He did not arrive at the Christian God lightly, as his library boasted books from many, if not all, religions, including witchcraft and occult. Al arrived at the cross. Jesus met Al bearing much needed grace.

Al suffered sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his mother. Although he never called it sexual abuse. In this way, Al became stuck in grade school. Stuck is a word therapists and psychologists use to describe a psychological and emotional response to trauma (a.k.a, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Moving past such trauma is like voluntarily walking across a bed of hot coals. Children are especially susceptible to becoming comfortable with being stuck in a state of disorder for long periods of time. In Al’s case, that period lasted for the remainder of his life.

Becoming a functional, emotionally-balanced adult meant walking across that bed of coals. Becoming a loving husband and parent meant acknowledging and experiencing searing pain. Trusting anyone again, especially women, meant the impossible. Freedom lies on the other side of the bed of coals. Of course, the bed of hot coals works both ways, that is, anyone attempting to get too close to Al will inevitably experience the same pain.

It is on the dark side of this bed of hot coals, where I found Al — a cowering, weak, trapped, and traumatized boy who was too ashamed, too afraid, and too emotionally immature to show himself but for an few fleeting glimpses in his living room.

For example, there was the time, when we were talking about Christian theology in his living room, and he abruptly got up went into his library to retrieve one of the 14 different bible translations from his shelf. Opening it, he began reading aloud:

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Al’s emphasis, not mine.)  After flipping some pages, he continued.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As he read, tears filled his eyes. Jesus brought Al grace.

Then there was the time I wrote a poem for him for Father’s Day in 2005. As he silently read, what is probably his first home-made Father’s day card in over 40 years (and quite possibly the only one ever), he began trembling. Then crying. Then sobbing. He hugged me and then opened the card again and read the repeating verse aloud while sobbing: I was walkin’ in the dark in broad daylight.

Then there were the two times he insisted on me watching a taped episode of JAG with him. The episode, Second Sight, explores forgiveness. In Second Sight, Sarah MacKenzie’s father is dying and she must deal with the forgiveness of her abusive, alcoholic father. This worn VHS tape had obviously been played numerous times in Al’s living room. Here is a poignant clip from that episode.

But for these fleeting glances of the scared, insecure, little boy, Al’s life remained safely hidden in the dark while walkin’ in broad daylight. However, he was not cowering alone. It appears Jesus did the same thing for Al that he does for us all. He left his throne, walked across the hot coals, away from freedom and into darkness, to meet Al where he hid from the rest of the world.

Did my father, Al Booth, deserve such kingly treatment? Absolutely not. But then, this story is not about Al Booth. This story is about his rescuer, Jesus, who, in the early morning hours of Friday, September 17th, 2010, picked up a cowering, lonely child and carried him out of his dark world, across the hot coals, and into freedom.

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14 Responses

  1. I am praying for you and all of your family.

    I am so sorry, Ric.

    I do praise God for His scandalous grace.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Ric. Your sorrow, in many ways, is deeply felt.

  3. Really mixed emotions, but I am thankful for Jesus.

    Looking forward to a pickup someday myself.

  4. Redemption and forgiveness are the essence of Christianity.

    You have found it, I hope your father did as well.

  5. I am sorry for your loss Brotha Ric. i will be praying for your family during this time.

    God’s grace is truly amazing. None of us deserve it or are worthy enough for the horrible death He died but I am so thankful that He did–to save a wretch like me, like you, and like your Dad.

    Thank you for sharing this story in spite of the pain behind it. It gives me hope concerning my Mom and sisters who do not know Him yet.

    Love and blessings always.

  6. Thank you, everyone, for reading, commenting, and praying.

    • You are an amazing writer. This is a difficult time for you and the family. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  7. thank you. continued prayers, hopes, thoughts, and dreams…. everyday….

  8. Sorry for your loss and what appears you have walked through. This eulogy is very powerful and impactful. God Bless You as you move forward in your life.

    Wayne

  9. Ric, that is powerful. You are able to share your thoughts so eloquently, that is a gift. I know you are in great pain over the loss of your Dad, what conflicted emotions. he was a very complex man, your passion for poetry and literature was a common bond. Despite his failings, and we all have failings, he must have had a walk with Jesus whose grace will now sustain him. Those of us who were blessed with lifelong parents and siblings to whom we remain close don’t realize the blessings we have, not having to wrestle with the pain of abuse and abandonment. I can’t imagine. I hope that having some of the things nearby that meant so much to your Dad will help the healing process. Your introspection is quite stark, thankful you can bring it out and work with your pain. If there is anything I can do, please let me know.
    Jim

  10. Wow. I mean. Wow.

    I just met you via your comments over on Mr. Shore’s site. I came over here mostly because you are one of the few regulars (of those past few days) whose Gravitar leads to a blog of your own, and I was just fooling around. I don’t even care all that much for your comments, well, that’s not true, those few I read I found thoughtful and pleasant, just often dead wrong.

    And I still think you are dead wrong. Not in any provable way. Just that your faith and mine are very much different.

    But man, you are one bloody good writer. And this particular tale, well, it sure hits a lot of my nerves. Fuck, it hits me right into my solar plexus. Still gasping here.

    There is two things I wanted to tell you while reading this. One thing is – especially in the light of the vid clip you posted – that I envy you the time you had reconnecting with your father after those, what, 30 or 40 years. Mine is dead, and the angry shouts we exchanged when last I saw him when I was 12 still haunt me. Hell, they still condemn me the way I condemned him then.

    The other is this: We really do not see eye to eye on the subject of Jesus. I have no idea if he saved your father on the moment of death. This is certainly not the time to kick off some theological debate. But I can feel Jesus in this writing – eulogy, elegy, effigie, or all of them – in the forgiveness and love that shines through the lines from a damaged son for his damages father.

    I still don’t have the right words. I’m just in awe.

    • Wow. Your comment has me blown away, FreeFox. Whenever someone tells me, “But I can feel Jesus in this writing…” it’s like being hit in the solar plexus as you say. Well, for me it is. Thank you so much for your very kind words.

      I am sorry about the burden of your memories of your final conversation (argument) with your father. The 12 year old child, however, is not the one to hold accountable in that situation. I wrote a little about my own struggle with this here: Self-Love ≠ Self-Absorbed and In my dreams.

      It is not your fault.

  11. I worked at Arinc with Al and considered him a friend. I knew he had a checkered past, knew he had children but never knew much about that past nor his children. I did see him struggle when it came to religion and Christianity and was somewhat surprised to see how his faith grew and of his acceptance of Christ as his lord and savior.

    All I can tell you about his 3rd wife is that she was a librarian. I ran the engineering library at Arinc. Al was a frequent user. I knew had was dating a librarian. One day he came into the library and said, “I married the librarian.” It was not long before I realized that marriage was over, but I have no idea why. He did not say and it did not seem appropriate for me to bring the subject up.

    Al was always, as you say, intellectual curious, always wanting to learn more and he did love poets and poetry. When I visited him in Erieville the one room that he had completed in his renovation of the house was his library. It was beautifully done.

    I am sorry to learn of his passing as he was a friend. I am happy that he did find peace in Christ.

  12. Thank you, Bill, for your comment. I suspect more people are aware of Al the engineer / the sportsman / the poet-lover / the intellectual than Al the family man. He made many friends and I am happy for him in that regard.

    He did find a level of peace in this world and, I believe, complete peace in the next; both afforded only by his surrendering to Christ.

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