As everyone here probably knows, Paul was a smart-ass.
When we were kids, there was a well-known singer named Kate Smith. For the younger folks in the audience, she was our grandparent’s age, and had risen to fame in the ‘30s. In our lifetime she was mostly known for a rafter-shaking version of “God Bless America,” and she appeared on TV semi-frequently to sing it.
Paul hated her; hated her singing that song. It just got under his skin. Naturally that dislike was fodder for teasing by the rest of the family. “Oh look, Kate Smith’s on Mike Douglas today” or some such was sure to get a rise.
I hadn’t thought of that in decades, but as we were pondering music for the service and the video, the thought crossed my mind to include Kate’s “God Bless America” as one final family in-joke.
Don’t worry, the urge passed.
But yes, he was a smart-ass, even more so than the rest of us. He always seemed to have a quip or a punch line to a situation. He had a good sense of humor and comic timing, yes, but more than that, he had a quick wit.
He was also a born story-teller. It was one of the most Southern things about him and one of the things that drew people to him … and it was one of the aspects of his personality that often caused problems.
Towards the end of his life, Winston Churchill said, “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
And so with Paul. He was just a big personality – big humor, big intelligence, big appetites, big capacity for making friends wherever he went. Even as a child we used to say, “He never met a stranger.”
As a kid, one of his best friends was James Clay, the Chief of Police who lived across the street from us. Once we were camping and he struck up a friendship with a gorgeous girl in her late teens. It didn’t matter who you were or what age, he was the ultimate extrovert.
Paul had a big capacity for generosity and exuberance and fun, but also a big capacity for questionable behavior and flashes of anger. He often ended up hurting or rejecting the people he loved or who loved him.
That’s not something to sweep under the rug. Considering Paul’s life and his passing requires an honest gaze at the contradiction that was the very definition of him.
But here we are, here we all are, in the end taking care of him as best we can. Dale, Kellie, & I appreciate all of you here today, and all of the people who have offered their condolences.
Despite the troubled life he led, and the especially troubled last year or so, he was making imperfect, faltering steps towards righting the ship. In the last few months Paul did, unusually, thank us for the assistance we were trying to offer, so I know he would have appreciated your being here as well.
We shouldn’t be here at all; this gathering should have taken place many years down the road. It seems especially cruel that we ended up here in what was the biggest transitional period of his life.
But, as Gilda Radner said,
I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.
We started the service with Ashokan Farewell. This bittersweet piece, written in the style of a Scottish lament, was used extensively in the Ken Burns documentary series The Civil War. Paul was a history buff, and was especially interested in the Civil War, so this seemed more than appropriate.
Wanting to nod to Paul's love of country music, while including a religious piece, the service included Willie Nelson's version of Uncloudy Day.
The last piece, Over the Rainbow, was Paul's favorite song.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.