Yesterday we attended the memorial service for a gentleman we had known for over 20 years. Chuck was 82 years old and left behind his wife Merilyn, four children, seven grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. He had led a full life and was loved by all who knew him. As I listened to the eulogy, I felt melancholy, not just because Chuck was gone, but because his passing reminded me again that the men of the greatest generation are leaving us, and that we, the generation of the self-indulgent, the instantly gratified, and the happiness-obsessed, are in charge of it all.
Chuck, like my dad and my wife’s dad and my uncles and others who came of age before the War, was a man of action. Taciturn and uncomplaining, he/they assessed what needed to be done and did it without being asked. They knew how to fix cars, put up walls and fences, install wiring and plumbing, and fish, hunt, and camp without designer clothes and appurtenances. Somehow they supported their families and educated their children without the benefit of personal organizers and the ability to communicate 24/7.
But more than the loss of their knowledge and competence, I mourn the loss of their character. They were generous, and they showed respect for each other, even and especially when they disagreed. Remembering the Depression, they did not cavil or whine. Remembering the War, both hot and Cold, they pulled together when it counted.
We, who have expectations of constant betterment, are unhappy when our life plans veer off course. We cling to our shibboleths rather than admit we were wrong. We elevate ourselves through witty putdowns and believe that our knowledge makes us superior. I, too, have felt and done all these things and more. And that is one of the reasons I trudge to church on Sunday, to ask for forgiveness and the strength to do better.
So, Godspeed, Chuck and Fred, Jack, Walter, Doug, Gerry, John, Tom, and many others whose memories I will always hold dear. In the sweet bye and bye we shall meet at that beautiful shore... © 2004 Stephen Yuen