Monday, May 12, 2008

For Jay Nowak

I'd known Jay Nowak since I was a kid. He was my father's friend, and later, became my friend. When I was 15, he took me to the Road Atlanta racetrack to ride with him on a warm-up lap in his Datsun 260Z. (Unfortunately, he had to take the lap without me.) The officials said I had to be at least 16 to ride in such an event. But, my dad and I watched him race. It's one of those memories that will never fade.

Today I attended Jay's funeral. He was only 57.

It's still a bit surreal to me, for I had seen him just last week. Jay had had a heart attack about a month ago. I was with him when the pains began. He had been recovering well, and getting on with his life, but it had weakened his heart so much that the second time it failed completely. I'm going to miss him more than I thought I would.

Jay's death got me thinking about my own mortality (as friends' passings and funerals are likely to do). It got me thinking because Jay was a lot like me -- independent, still single (after all these years), a bit impatient, quick-tempered, and in love with the outdoors. He was also very kind. If anyone ever needed a hand, Jay was there -- no questions asked. And, it was these similarities that made me take his death very personally. I began to consider the short time we are here on this earth, and what each of us decides to do with that time. It made me think that I need to make more of my days than I have been. To love more, to play more, to enjoy my time and to share that enjoyment with the people I love. Situations like this usually have that effect on people.

But, more than that, Jay's funeral got me thinking about how we choose to remember, and choose to honor, those that pass before us. His funeral was held in a church, in the traditional, dignified, Christian fashion. And, that's what many people want.

But not me.

Those kinds of ceremonies make me sad. They depress me, make me cry, and do nothing for remembering how great that person was.

When I go, I want a party. Maybe a big bonfire on the beach with all my family and friends. I want my favorite band to play. I want everyone to tell stories to each other that all start with "Remember when...". I want people to get drunk and divulge secrets, get pissed off, then laugh about it. To me, it's a time to celebrate a life, not mourn a death.

In New Orleans, traditional funerals start with a parade that runs through the streets to the cemetery. Music plays, people dance, and a life is celebrated. It's like a congratulatory salute saying, "Hey man! You did it! You gave your all and we appreciate you for it!"

Send me off with a raucous "Yee Haw!" And, remember me fondly. Save the sadness for someone else.

Jay had requested to be cremated, which I admire. Everyone has their own idea of how to be laid to rest, but I agree with Jay. Set me aflame as in the days of kings. Let my spirit ascend into the heavens with the smoke and the flames. There is no need for a pillow-lined coffin -- I won't be sleeping. I'll be dead. Honor my death by returning me to the natural elements from which I was made. It was this decision that made me recall a poem I had seen many years ago...

When I was in college, taking art classes, one of the requirements was to take a figure drawing class. And, one of the requirements for the figure drawing class was to visit the morgue so we could see how the human body was actually put together. I remember a lot about those visits, but what stands out most in my memory is a sheet of paper tacked up on the wall. It was a poem by Robert N. Test and it sums up my feelings on what to do with me when I go...

"To Remember Me - I will live forever"
by Robert N. Test

The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet neatly tucked under four corners of a mattress located in a hospital; busily occupied with the living and the dying. At a certain moment a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped.

When that happens, do not attempt to instill artificial life into my body by the use of a machine. And don't call this my deathbed. Let it be called the bed of life, and let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives.

Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby's face or love in the eyes of a woman.

Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain.

Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play.

Give my kidneys to the one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week.

Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a crippled child walk.

Explore every corner of my brain.

Take my cells, if necessary, and let them grow so that, someday a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her window.

Burn what is left of me and scatter the ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow.

If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weakness and all prejudice against my fellow man.

Give my sins to the devil.

Give my soul to God.

If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.

That poem sums it up completely. Follow that poem to the letter, throw a party when I'm gone, and celebrate my life.

Thank you, Jay, for showing me the way to go. I'll miss you, buddy.

1 comment:

Sandy B & Dick said...

The cycle of life...57 is too young to go. Sorry for your loss, but happy for the great memories. Celebrate while you can!...hugs, Sandy