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  • Edgar Mahaffey

Blog Post #8 Eulogy and Poem


So, in Blog Post #7 I mentioned that I'd post the poem and eulogy that my sister read on my behalf at my father's funeral. The poem was written the night before my father died (and after I'd learned that he was going to be dying within the next day or so). Not sure if my sister will ever see this, but thank you for reading it for me. I can think of no one I'd rather have read it and I can think of no one our dad would rather have read it. You did right by him and you did right by me. Thank you, Sherri.




To Be Read at My Father’s Funeral:


We step together into the night air,

Followed only by our front door’s click.

Headlights pass like ethereal flare,

On a simple porch made of simple brick.


This isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last,

regardless of warmth or cold.

From plans of the future to memories long past,

These talks are a shaded manifold.


Lessons come from his position,

Signal fire started by lighter’s flick.

His cigarette burns first, that’s our tradition,

On a simple porch made of simple brick.


Ice clinks into the side of his glass,

Liquid in and wisdom out.

How incredibly quickly time can pass,

And quicker still the passage of doubt.


The smell of bourbon escorts wise tobacco,

A cloud of nicotine begins to grow thick.

He inhales, face lit by reddish glow,

On a simple porch made of simple brick.


Some nights reserved for laughter,

some nights reserved for scold.

But then every single time after,

These talks left me feeling bold.


You encouraged me to explore,

And I learned of our world’s glories

And as I traveled shore to shore

All you requested were the stories,


But one day I brought to you,

A small piece of the world.

And from that day our family grew,

As you met that wonderful girl.


In one summer so much you taught her,

And instantly there was a click.

It was there, she became your daughter,

On a simple porch made of simple brick


It wasn’t easy, dad, some of those nights,

And it took me so long to understand.

But it was worth the hurt and fights,

To realize you were a complex man.


I know it wasn’t easy, dad, teaching your son to be free,

And those lessons did not come quick.

But that didn’t stop you from changing me.


Now we’ve switched, it’s your turn to be free,

Free from the pain and free from the sick.

But I’ll always remember how much complexity,

Came from a simple porch made of simple brick.



EULOGY


There were countless nights where my father and I would start talking—him seated at his computer chair and me on the green sofa that ran along our living room window. These conversations could begin with me asking for advice or him noticing something in me that he wanted us to explore. Sometimes they were started just because we were talking about sports. How strong the San Antonio Spurs looked that year, whether or not Steve Nash had a chance at winning the MVP, or if that kid LeBron James would ever be as good as people were saying. But one thing every one of those talks included was my dad saying this sentence:


“Let’s step outside a minute.”


He was a smoker, as many of you know, and he enjoyed nothing more than conversation while standing outside and having a cigarette. Sometimes he’d bring his drink with him and I’d hear the ice dance against the glass as he set it gently on the railing. Then I’d hear the strike of his thumb against the lighter chamber followed by a deep inhale. A long pause would bring the night to a stand still before his exhale called our talk to resume. This is where my father taught me. This is where I learned who he was. And it all started with the same phrase.


“Let’s step outside a minute.”


Those of you that knew him through A Slice of Italy or Fratelli have definitely heard this sentence. And you know that when you heard it, the conversation was about to go somewhere. He had no mind for small talk and even questions that appeared to be simple were actually thoughtful attempts at opening you up. “How’s your family?” was one he often asked, but if your reply came with an eye-roll or a sigh, he’d press the question. If you showed any emotional reaction, he’d give you the opportunity to explore why. Countless people he worked with have told me how much he helped them process things and he did it in the most gentle way possible: asking questions and listening. My dad was the best active listener I’ve ever met. He would pick up on the slightest details in a conversation and use it to ask a question. He gave advice, too, when he thought it appropriate, but the strategy he used most was simply to listen and ask questions. And that’s how he operated: strategically. From reading “The Art of War” with me several times when I was a kid, to teaching me chess and dozens of different strategy games, my father taught me the value of thinking. At his core my father was two things. And one of them was strategy. The other, as many of you know, was love.


Strategy was his method, it was how he approached all problems. But love was his reason. Love was both his destination and his journey. The way he blended these two parts of himself was incredibly unique. I’ve never heard anyone use the phrase “strategical love” before but I think it fits. Every time I talked with my father he asked me questions. “What have you learned recently” was his most common. But he always had others. He asked me about my job and my writing, he asked me what I was doing for fun and whether or not I thought he’d enjoy it, too. When it was a new video game I’d tell him about it, he’d say it sounded interesting but later when I logged into Steam—the gaming platform we both used—I’d see him logged in and playing one of the same games he’d been playing for years. For me, that’s been one of the hardest parts of his passing. When we’d see each other on Steam, we’d message each other sometimes. We’d talk briefly and then go back to whatever we were playing. I’ll never see him logged in again. We played a lot of similar games and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to play them again because it just hurts so much knowing he never will. Civilization—a strategy game, of course—was his most played and just seeing its name brings back memories. But he’ll never play it again. And I don’t think I’ll ever really accept that.


But this isn’t about my own pain. Funerals are for remembering. And when I think about how my dad would want to be remembered, he’d want this day to be one last opportunity to teach. One last opportunity to change a life. And I can think of no better way to strategically love all those in attendance than by encouraging you to take one of my father’s favorite phrases and making them yours. Find time in your daily life to ask someone to step outside a minute. Start with those closest to you. Find a way to question and listen. My father very seldom waited for his chance to speak. No, he told me several times: “In a conversation, one person is talking and the other is learning.” And that’s how he viewed listening. Not as waiting to talk, but as receiving information. And the reason he did that was because it was a better way. Listening is far more rewarding than talking and it’s one of the deepest, simplest ways to show love. It expresses a value for the other person in a way that no other act can compare. It isn’t just the art of remaining quiet, but the art of paying attention. So I want to end with this. If my father impacted you in any way—big or small—take this as his final lesson. As often as you can, find an opportunity to listen. Show them they matter, show them they’re valued. Find someone you care about and use my father’s words.


“Let’s step outside a minute.”

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