Monday, April 09, 2007

The best in others—and ourselves

The memorial service for my friend Dan McDonough last week revealed great truths about him—and about us.

After the service, in my deeper awareness, I was literally speechless. I choked up with tearful emotion when I tried to express my feelings for Dan to Av, Dan’s wife.

Most of the service consisted of Catholic ritual and readings from the Gospels, but when Dan’s son, John, himself a priest, spoke, he reminded us of the gift Dan had been for all who knew him.

As I noted in an earlier post, Dan had been my editor in Longview, Washington. Over time we developed what I came to consider a two-person “mutual admiration society.” His admiration seemingly for my writing and thinking; mine for his editing and integrity. In the decades after I left the paper, our rare visits reflected the same respect. I always felt uplifted after our encounters.

What John revealed was that Dan held everyone in that same high regard. He saw—and nurtured—the best in each and every person he encountered.

Dan’s life was rich with affirmation and, yes, love, and he was grateful for every moment of it. As John told us, Dan often exclaimed his wonderment that he had been granted such a life.

John shared with us just how deep and wide Dan’s affirmation of others ran. When a priest in the Longview parish was discovered to have molested children, when a member of the congregation was found guilty of the murder of children, and when all turned away from these men for their heinous crimes, Dan wrote them in prison; Dan sought to address their humanity, to affirm their souls.

When I’ve tried to give a shorthand answer for the purpose of our brief time here on Earth, I often fall back on “To leave the world a better place.” There is nothing profound about the statement. It just has a ring of truth, however mundane.

I have never offered a means to achieving such an end, but I realize now that Dan lived one. It’s this: To say and do that which brings out the very best in others—and in ourselves.

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