Friday, January 24, 2014

A Celebration of the Life of Scott McNiven

Scott's memorial service last Sunday was beautiful. I'd been looking forward to it for a long time, and it absolutely fulfilled my hopes. It's impossible to translate the experience to this blog, but I wanted to at least share the readings that were included in the service.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look.
And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greeting, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.
- Fra Giovanni, 1513

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Success, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one’s self; 
to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, 
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived –
this is to have succeeded.

“…You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot
unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death,
open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires
lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow, your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity…
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides,
that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance…”
- Kahlil Gibran

Just Now, by W. S. Merwin
In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks.

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Interwoven among the readings were reflections by people from Scott's life: his dad Sandy, his longtime friend Nate, his close colleague Dan, and me. Here's my reflection.

Scott, my love. My first love and my true love. I am so sad that you are no longer by my side, but I think that you can still hear me – if not my exact words, then maybe their echoes in my heart.

Scott, love became tangible through you. I remember the moment I fell in love with you. It wasn’t love at first sight, because I have a terrible memory for faces, and I actually didn’t remember who you were when you returned from a three-week trip to Guatemala. But I do remember our first kiss, and sometime after that – I can’t remember what time of day it was or even what season – I remember looking into your eyes and feeling an overwhelming joy to be with you. “What? What is it?” you asked, because I just kept looking at you, unable to stop smiling, not knowing what to say. I couldn’t name it at the time, but I think that day was the first time I felt my soul connecting to yours. I am so deeply honored and privileged that you chose me to be your wife.

Scott, your love became tangible through Clark. Early on, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to have a family, but I knew that you would be an incredible father, and that was what tipped the balance for me. The utter delight you derived from being with kids, your integrity, your appetite for adventure – I couldn’t let you miss the opportunity to be a dad. And what a dad you were. No one could make Clark laugh like you. No one had such faith in his physical abilities. You always insisted that he could stand the day he was born; you had him walking by 9 months, and he’s been running ever since. You indulged and encouraged his every culinary whim, like the time he asked for pesto on oatmeal for breakfast. I tried to dissuade him, but you said, “What’s wrong with that?” I really didn’t have a good answer, so I capitulated, and Clark ate every bite. Scott, I love being a parent, and I am a better, more relaxed and trusting parent because of you. Clark is such a light in my life. Your joyfulness and thoughtfulness are so apparent in him. He misses you and asks about you. He’s happy when I tell him that you aren’t sick anymore. He will always know that you love him. Present tense: that you love him so deeply.

Scott, your journey over the past year and a half has helped me to understand how each of us functions as part of a greater whole. I don’t understand all of it, but I get glimpses: how we support and strengthen each other; how we hold each other’s grief and joy; how we love one another. I know that I and many of my classmates will be better doctors because of you. Your remarkable selflessness made it possible for me to continue my medical education throughout your illness, and because of you, I have a deeper understanding of why we practice medicine. I will care for patients, and I will care about them. Because of you, I will love my patients more.

Even when you were very sick, you continued to support and strengthen me. You gave me hope – at first hope that you would recover, and later hope that Clark and I would be alright no matter what. You allowed me to see the breadth and strength of our community, the love that connects us. That Saturday morning when you were dying, I saw in my mind’s eye love from near and far pouring into you, helping you break your ties to this life. I saw love propelling you like a jet engine into the light of the next life.

You made love tangible in the communities you drew around you everywhere you went: in school, at work, on Ultimate teams, in Amherst and DC, Guatemala and Uganda, Davis and San Francisco. Many people here today have their own stories of how you brought love into their lives. So many people wrote to me about how you changed their lives. We are happier because of your humor and joy and goofy absurdity. We are less anxious about small things because of your ability to see the big picture. We are less judgmental toward others because of your open-hearted acceptance of us.

Scott, you made a difference in this world. Your death was untimely, incomprehensibly so. But that does not change the fact that the world is a better place because of you. Thank you for that. We love you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Libby,
Thank you for sharing the readings and your wonderful, detailed description of Scott. I can feel the mood that was in the room where Scott's memorial was held.
My love and big hugs to you and Clark,
From Gloria in Uganda