Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Remember Christmas...

The other evening, when taking a break from political coverage on C-Span, my mind wandered back to early childhood when, in the days before Christmas, my father would tuck me in. Invariably, I would ask what he got me for Christmas, and if I could see the presents.

For a seven year old, a dream deferred means having to wait 12 hours. "They're under the tree," he'd tell me. "Can I see them now?" I'd ask feverishly. "Wait until morning; they'll be there in the morning;" he patiently tried to explain that, more often than not, good things are worth the wait. I marvelled at his powers of persuasion which prevailed, and first thing in the morning, I'd race down, hungrily strip the gift wrap, and delight in the surprises. Though, for the life of me, I'm not able to recall the contents of any.

As fate would have it, in yesterday's mail came a letter from one of my father's oldest friends containing a eulogy delivered, nearly twenty years ago, at my father's funeral, by another dear friend of his, a retired officer in the military. Seldom do we have the pleasure of seeing those we love through the eyes of another.

Arguably, there are no coincidences in life. While a copy of the eulogy is with my special papers, and has been for years, for some reason, maybe having to do with Christmas, I was meant to read it again, now.

My father was an unpublished writer who told my mother, who he met at a dance, that he was a poet. A poet, indeed, and with a sense of style! He had taken all his pay as a master sergeant, in the army, and bought himself a Jaguar and, while he may have had holes in his socks, he made a point of driving the most magnificent cars.

The day my father came to meet my grandmother for the first time, Grandma Rose pulled my mother aside and asked what kind of work he does. My mother's response was unambiguous: "He's a poet!" Grandma shrieked "A poet! They don't make any money!" My mother, the youngest of seven children, and the daughter of immigrants, grew up, in poverty, on the lower east side. Back then, especially in her neighborhood, dreams were optional with the vehicle.

The depression, as well as demands of feeding a family, beat the poetry out of my father, but nothing could touch his soul, or his infallible sense of humor, so while I have no gift wrap, or tree, I am posting this eulogy as my present to him:

"I have the special privilege and honor of speaking with you about my friend--David Stahl.

David was many things to many people over more than 70 years: son, brother, husband, father, uncle, nephew, cousin, acquaintance and friend.

I have known David only 5 years, a very short time compared to most relationships, but long enough to know and value his friendship. Long enough to trust his judgment. Long enough to know I could depend on him. Long enough to feel the warmth and comfort of his concern.

Being with David was so enlightening. We shared many activities: walking, dining, movies, tennis, conversation, and all of them were good times.

And from these shared experiences, you appreciate the uniqueness of David Stahl; an erudite, sharp and wordly mind, cheerful but subtle humor, a multi-faceted person whose work experiences knew no boundaries. A man of great self-confidence...was there anything David couldn't do?

The only thing I can think of was that David could not swim. And now we know why he went into the army where he claims to have existed on bananas because the food was so bad.

Yes, David Stahl had the strength of his convictions, and you knew how David felt on an issue. And once his analytical mind explored the alternatives, he took decisive action and stayed the course. David was tough when he had to be. A man of quiet solid strengths...a man of principle.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said --"who so would be a man must be a non-conformist." Was that not David? A bit of a non-conformist, on one hand, and the man it takes to be one on the other.

And equal to these strengths was David's warmth, softness, and modesty. While David may have been somewhat reserved in his display of affection, he was a sensitive and caring person, a gentleman, a friend who shared with me his concerns and love for his wife and daughters.

A person's character is the core and mainstem of one's life. If what he has been to me for 5 short years is an indication of the total person we know as David Stahl, then I am most fortunate to have enjoyed his friendship. And, while I would have treasured a lengthier relationship, it would not have made it any better--longer, yes, but not better.

I shall miss you, David... I am so thankful to have walked with you David Stahl."

And I am thankful for this moving tribute to one who succumbed to mortality, and anonymity, too soon.

In what was to be my father's first letter in more than 30 years, he wrote: "Silence is the refuge of emotion." Until now, in deference to his respect for silence, and my own, I have not written much about him as he might cringe were he to know that I am writing, and posting this. My father thought of himself as "an ordinary man," but it is in the ordinary that we find that which is timeless. It is in the ordinary, too, that we find that which is heroic. And, for now, there is one less unsung hero.

For the life of me, I still can't recall any of the surprises left under that tree. That may be because what there is of my father in me is his greatest gift of all.

David Darwin Stahl -- (born: Darwin David Stahl)
January 31, 1918 - April 25, 1989