Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Passionate Life of an 'Inexorable Self'

The memories and tributes about Simeon Hyde, Jr. enthralled, inspired and entertained us at his memorial service last Saturday. Our Quaker Meetinghouse's worship room was packed to its walls, and then some. Many attending were in the adjacent library listening intently to the distant stories and praise they could discern through the open double doors.

Sim died the day after Christmas at age 92.

Or I should say his body finally gave out.

At the memorial, Simeon Hyde’s spirit was strong. It remains so among us.

I joked the next day that we could have easily “pulled an all-nighter” in Sim’s memory. The sailing stories alone would have taken us past midnight. He was an intrepid recreational sailor before and after he was a young World War II naval officer whose aircraft carrier, The Wasp, was torpedoed and sunk.

Later he taught English for 23 years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and at one point served as the acting headmaster.

Then Sim radically changed directions — a mid-sea correction — and become an architect. The wee hours of the memorial morning might would not have been enough time for stories of Simeon’s steering a major addition to our meetinghouse into being. In his late 80s, he pondered and prodded every detail. A stairwell banister was remade not once but twice before it got Sim's approval.

Then there was the water colorist who flourished in his later years. And the meticulous furniture craftsman. Samples of his work — including an exquisite wooden music stand — were on display in our social hall.

In our often undisciplined Quaker community, Sim brought order, leading the meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee and the Worship and Ministry Committee. More than once he stiffened the backbone of a hesitant clerk, including this one.

The man was everywhere. And while throat cancer had stolen much of his voice, he pressed on, making his advice and wisdom known.

Frequently, he and I would literally huddle, me with my hearing problems straining to hear him. He with his ravaged, gravelly voice struggling to make his a point.

Given the memorial service’s rousing and at times rambling review of a life so vibrant, I confess I was grateful for the respite between Saturday’s memorial and Sunday’s worship.

Not surprisingly, the ministry about Sim resumed unabated when we reassembled for worship.
Overnight, perhaps in my dreamy subconscious, I distilled my affection and admiration for Simeon.

I must have met him when he was a teacher, for I was a student at Andover when he was there in the late '50s. He was well into his 30s and I was a raw teen. I never had a class from him, but some of my raucous friends lived in the dormitory where he and his wife, Ann, were house parents.

It wasn’t until I joined our Quaker meeting here in the late ‘90s that we became acquainted and grew to know each other. Someone, hearing of my prep school past, must have said, “Well, you must have known of Simeon Hyde. He’s over there. I’ll introduce you.”

I’m not particularly good with names, but “Simeon Hyde” is an exclamatory name not to be forgotten.

And so we greeted one another, and our lives intersected after decades.

He was in his 80s when we shook hands. His grip was a firm, enthusiastic clutch that cemented us.

I’ll spare you my own stories (unless you insist...) and simply say my distillation from Saturday's memorial to Sunday's worship came down to one word: passion.

Here was a passionate man. Passionate about life, about work, about our meeting, about our meetinghouse, about doing a job spot-on right, about his craft (including the sailing kind) and about his art.

On Sunday at meeting I stood to praise his passion. “Look at those paintings hung in our social hall downstairs,” a urged fellow Friends. Simeon Hyde's watercolors are landscapes of swirling, spirit-infused color. The autumn trees are whirlwinds of orange and yellow.

“Imagine Sim, passionate at his easel, passionate about the scene before him, passionate about brush and palate, passionate for the those with whom he would share the ... passion.”

On the memorial service’s program is a passage that Simeon must have chosen for the occasion. It speaks of man and spirit.

But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the maintruck higher than the kelson is low? Delight is to him — a far, far upward, and inward delight — who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self.”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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