Friday, November 27, 2009
I didn't take math my senior year of high school. Mostly because I hated math class and math homework. No wait, not mostly. Entirely because of what I just said. To make it worse, math was always early in the morning, my first or sometimes second class, and I'm not a morning person. If I had forgotten about a math test, or had not studied for some other reason, I simply wouldn't go. I didn't see the point in sitting through the test and failing it. What I would do instead is take a walk next door and grab a big ol' American griddle-prepped breakfast at Nation's. Nation's is set up like a classic little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Just enough room to sit at the counter, or grab a booth along the wall. There would be two guys chopping, flipping and generally artistically slaving away at the griddle, and a middle aged woman with a button-up dress who would take your order and pour your coffee. But I don't drink coffee. I was the kid who didn't need to shave yet, ordering O.J, or just water with his flapjacks. Sitting at that counter, I felt older, more mature, rebellious, but also paranoid that someone would ask me why I'm not in school at 9:15am on a Thursday. But that never happened. I could feel their glances though, and i knew I was surrounded by adults that were having a ball putting my story together in their heads. I wonder if they even came close. I bet they did. I didn't have a complicated back story. I was skipping school because I hated math. Simple enough.
George Washington cut down his father's cherry tree, but it's all good, because he told the truth. I never really got that story. I think it was poorly relayed to me as a kid. He still cut down the cherry tree and he probably shouldn't have, right? Did he have compulsion problems as a kid? Seems especially dangerous when the unbalanced child in question is wielding a hatchet. All's well that end's well. G.W. turned out to be a pretty swell guy, and did quite a bit of good in his life with the gifts that were given him. Maybe that's the lesson in the story after all. Not honesty, so much as that there's hope for all of us, even if we seem like retarded destroyers early on.
My dad was a bit of a hooligan as a kid too. He'd steal flowers from graves at the cemetery and give them to his female teachers to make up for a missed assignment. He'd skip school just to throw lit matches off the roof of Montomery Ward's and pretend that they were burning airplanes crashing to the ground. I don't know how much of it is true, but there is even a story of him busting open Washington D.C. fire hydrants to ward off police during confrontations with the Black Panthers. Who knows how big that fish was when the story first started. No idea. But my dad turned out to be a fantastic husband, father, professional, outdoors man, host and leader. He was one of those people that people can't help to look up to, even if he did stand only 5'9". His memorial service stood as a testament to the man, the myth, the legend, and left no doubt in anyone's mind that his good influences continues to work, even though he is gone to the other side.
So, I hope I'll be alright. I am my father's son, and I've come a long way since high school, thank goodness. This morning, I ate breakfast in Boulder at a place called "The Village Coffee Shop." Classic little coffee shop type of place with a griddle behind the counter and booths against the wall. The guys at the griddle reminded me of Nation's. Only tonight, I don't have to study for a math test and make up a fake doctor's note or something to weasel my way into explaining why I wasn't where I was supposed to be, and why I should be allowed to take a test for which I've had one extra day to prepare. Tonight, I think I'll play guitar and maybe write a song about American griddles and the nostalgic paranoia that a coffee shop breakfast still ignites in a 27 year old's heart.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
But there have been moments when I'm by myself and the nostalgia turns to the present, then rotates onward and points toward the future. That is what knocks the wind out of me and still makes me cry. Missing the next 50+ possible years without him makes me sad. Feeling for my mom and my 16 year old brother is worse. Knowing my kids will not know their Grandpa Mark (or whatever we will call him - Opa?) makes me so sad for them and I sob at the thought. Unlike the rest of us, they will have no cherished memories of him. Just our stories. But they will be plentiful, let me assure you.
Photos are also tear-jerkers. What a gift photos have been in the past 16 days. What a gift the internet has been to share and store those photos. But they're not easy to look at. Like a moth to the flame. So enticing and inviting, but they burn.
Right now, I'm alone in my hotel room, in Bellevue, WA, visiting for work. Mom and Dad lived here for a short while before I was born. Daniel was born a few blocks away in 1979. I came next, three years later, but by then they had landed in California. Everything reminds me of him. I even sat alone and ordered a non-alcoholic beer tonight as he used to on rare occasion for a quasi-rebellious treat. I never really understood that, but sitting here in Bellevue, eating dinner at the bar, it felt right.
Here I am again, "enjoying" a few photos of him and crying. Getting it out of my system, but not feeling the grief and longing dissipate from wherever it's stored inside. I'm simply sharing it with the hotel desk and Kleenex without depleting the supply I have.
What a manly man I am.
Let's get all these admissions of tears out of my system now, and then get passed it, shall we? It might be therapeutic to chronicle some of my cries since hearing of his surprise departure. I don't want to forget these feelings. Again, the masochistic moth.
- The first was while waiting to board my plane in Denver, reading facebook comments and emails of others that were grieving his sudden passing. Read more on that special experience in my post entitled "Mark Dow Forsyth."
- The second time was on the plane to Philly only an hour or two later. I asked Jaime to download Bill Frisell's recording of "Shenandoah" on her iPhone while we drove to the airport. I listened to it twice through while sitting in my aisle seat in the plane and could not stop from sobbing. I didn't bother holding it back much, even though I was in close quarters with everyone else on the full flight. Music will do that to me. My dad and I both love that song. Especially my dad.
- The third was when I sat and read my dad's will the next day. My dad, the boy scout, kept a "Prepardness Binder" of his recently updated will and even an outline of his desired memorial service, among other important documents. Reading about where he desires to have his ashes scattered cut me to the core. I bawled at my mom's dining room table as I read of the places he would like his sons to scatter his ashes. It was as if he was writing to me - Mt Shasta, Half Dome, a beautiful coral reef, a catch-and-release trout stream - but I know it was for all of us. It was very touching for me and the amount of emotion caught me off guard.
- At his memorial service on Tuesday, November 10. But not until I walked up to the podium and faced the hundreds of people there. I said "I love my dad," in the present tense. That was it for mister tough guy that day (see #5 and 6).
- Throughout other people's words during the wonderful memorial service.
- Right after the benediction, a bagpiper stood and played "Amazing Grace" at the only volume bagpipes can (an element specified in his memorial service ouline). There was no holding it back. If the purpose of the service was to thrash the congregation with the spirit of my father and his presence we will miss, it was the perfect end to the service. Like reading my dad's will, it caught me completely off guard. The music pierced my guts and knocked the wind out of me from the first note. I was not alone in that reaction. It was a communal, almost tangible spirit that swept the entire chapel at once. I've never felt anything like it. Ever.
- The very next Friday I was back in Boulder. It was a tough day for me. It wasn't easy going back to the hustle and bustle of "normal" work on Friday and by that evening I was physically drained. Jaime and I drove into town Friday night to run some errands. The darkness outside, and the hum of my tires on South Boulder Rd. were enough to morph my thoughts into tears. Jaime encouraged me to pull over, but I kept going, and I cried all the way to REI, of all places. Oh boy, how that place reminds me of him. What memories I have of going to REI with my dad as a kid and walking out with the coolest toys, even if it was a simple plastic compass or a few yards of nylon cord. Later, when I got a job there after high school, he would come "shopping" on my shift. I always loved that. Greeting him in my green vest. Eventually he would rib me for liberally using my employee discount on myself and supposedly surpassing his cool gear collection, although I'm sure I never did. Yeah, being back home in Boulder, as if life was supposed to be back to normal, and then going to REI that same day - that was tough.
- The next night I read through some letters and cards he sent me while I was serving a mission in Germany for two years (age 19-21). They had been stored in a trunk in Doylestown, PA, but I brought them home with me last week. I went through photos online again. That's was enough. I missed him so much.
- And here I am in Bellevue. I've been here for three days and I've been very busy with work, but tonight I opted out of a team / vendor dinner and post production wrap schmoozing and celebrating to spend some time with myself. I walked around downtown, grabbed some dinner, and came back up to my room. I read Francesca's blog post (my sister in law) and I lost again. I'm glad I could spend this time, again, "getting it out of my system."
I know he's cranking away at an important job on the other side of the veil, and I trust in God's wisdom as well as the eternal nature of our family. That faith and knowledge is not shaken by his death. On the contrary, it's strengthened. Even so, I have to remind myself it's okay to grieve. Mourning is love. So bring on the love. I haven't been much of a crier, especially in the last 6 years, but I'm getting used to my eyes stinging now.
Irrespective of age, we mourn for those loved and lost. Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with divine commandment: “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.” (D&C 42:45.)
-Russel M. Nelson
I am so lucky to have a stellar family. We will all miss him so much.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Eulogy for Mark Dow Forsyth
Delivered at his memorial service by Daniel Forsyth on November 10th, 2009.
Mark was born on December 3rd, 1955 at the Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, UT. He was the fourth of five children of Gordon James Forsyth and Nadene Dow Forsyth. His family moved to Arlington, Virginia when he was three years old and he spent the rest of his youth there. He grew up playing clarinet in the family jazz band as well as in the Metropolitan Police Boys’ Club Band.
Mark’s mother Nadene was a school teacher and she played lead saxophone in her band “Nadene and the Nu Tones.” Nadene passed away in 2001. Mark’s father Gordon is here with us today and worked for the Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. prior to retirement.
Mark received many blessings throughout his life, but none that he cherished more than his wife, Elizabeth. I cannot count the number of times my Dad told me how lucky I am to have such a wonderful, loving mother, and on a daily basis he openly expressed his love for her to us and to her. We all honor you, Mom, for the loyalty and love you gave to your husband, and for the joy that you brought to him throughout his mortal journey.
At 19, Mark served a volunteer mission in Taiwan for two years, where he learned to speak Mandarin Chinese. It was during this time that he began to realize his remarkable ability to influence others for good. He entered a certain city where the Church attendance was dwindling. Armed with a message of happiness and with love in his heart, he put all his efforts into reviving the faith of that small community. Only a few months later, he was sent to his next assignment, and as he arrived at the train station, he was met by a sizeable crowd of grateful converts to the gospel of Jesus Christ to see him off.
Throughout his life, certain convictions were formed and fixed in my Dad. He believed that we should strive to know and do the will of God. He believed that a life of service to others was a life well spent. He put the needs of others before his own needs – always. He believed in the power of prayer and in the virtue of obedience to a higher power. His knowledge and wisdom were not retained only by him, but were shared with all who came in contact with him.
After his mission, Mark met the love of his life, Liz at Brigham Young University and they were married in the Oakland, California temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where Mark continued his career in investments, and where they raised their four boys.
Mark believed in working hard and playing hard. He excelled in his work and his computer screensaver currently shows a scrolling text that reads “First Things First.” He was highly respected in his profession and helped many people along a path to financial success. The morning after his death, he would have been traveling to a business conference in Texas. As the news of his death spread through the conference attendees that morning, many tears were shed and the entire conference took on a much more somber tone. The sheer number of people he has helped and influenced for good in a professional setting is remarkable.
When it was time to play, Dad was an avid outdoorsman. He loved to scuba dive, snow ski, rock climb, and kayak. He loved to skeet shoot, mountain bike, fly fish, and backpack. When I was five years old, he took me on a 12 mile backpacking trip. At one point we lost the trail and spent a few hours with our map and compass trying to find it again. When we finally found it, he let me think that he couldn’t have done it without me, and I felt like I had saved the day. Sixteen years later, he and I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. I have many fond memories of campfires, bike rides, playing catch, and fishing trips. I also have a memory of a trip to the emergency room after my Dad got a fly hook stuck in his scalp while learning to fly fish. That was the first of three reluctant visits to Tahoe Forest Hospital needing a fly hook removed from his skin. As the years went by, the adventures only got better.
Family togetherness was very important to my Dad. One tradition in our family was to hold hands around the dinner table as we prayed over the food. The moments between grasping hands and starting the prayer would often turn into an awkwardly comical situation when guests were present, because after we were holding hands, Dad would start talking about something. We didn’t want to interrupt him, so we would just hold our guest’s hand until the conversation was over, or until someone exclaimed, “Dad, let’s pray already!”
On one family trip when I was about 10, we went skiing with two other families in Lake Tahoe. One of the boys who was about my age at the time did not wear any eye protection during the first sunny day of skiing. That night, his eyes hurt so badly that he could not sleep or see very well and began to cry. Dad put his hands on the boy’s head and gave him a blessing, telling him that his eyes would recover and that he would get some sleep. Before the blessing was over, the boy was asleep. He happily skied the next day – after buying a pair of sunglasses.
In 2003, Mark moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania for an upgraded employment opportunity. While there, he was called to be the Branch President for a group of young single adult church members. Mark immersed himself into this calling completely, spending his evenings counseling these young single adults in every aspect of their lives. He provided a Christlike example to them, and I know that for many of them he is like a second father. His sudden and tragic death took place while coming home late at night from his counseling meetings where he again showed his amazing ability to influence others for good.
Although my dad only had four biological sons during his time on earth, there are more that think of him as their second father, or in some cases, their only real father figure of their youth. He took in and looked after many people, especially his sons’ friends and peers. Those who know Mark best know him to be the ultimate host, always caring for those with whom he shared his home, whether it lasted only for an evening, or multiple years. His hospitality emulated the words of his favorite hymn, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” He always shared his bread, his drink, his coat, his home, his healing and his life with his fellow man. May we strive to use our talents for the good of others, just as Mark used his talents to make each of our lives more special and meaningful.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
To be honest, I'm still not sure what to write, or how to express what I feel. For those that are not aware, my dad died in a motorcycle accident last week, coming home from counseling meetings as Branch President of a Young Single Adult Branch of the church. Below are the short remarks I shared at his memorial service on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009. This will have to do for now.
Eric’s remarks at Dad’s memorial service – 11.10.09
I have five minutes. I can’t do my memories or feelings justice, but I hope to give you a taste how my dad has rubbed off on me.
I love my dad. He always took an opportunity to teach a life lesson. I’d like to share a couple of my life-lesson memories with you now.
Even as I observe all the love and admiration the masses have for my dad, and waxing nostalgic on the things he taught us, the way he led us, and the wise example he gave us, nobody would disagree that it was in fact my dad who was lucky to have my mom, more so than the other way around. My dad would be the first to say it.
My dad was at least as blessed to have my mom in her life as we were to have him in ours. One of the most important lessons he taught me was that I should strive to convince a woman of my mom’s caliber to be my wife. I know my brothers agree and took that challenge to heart. Daniel, Jonathan and I are lucky men…and we’re all looking forward to meeting the girl my little brother Ian will someday be lucky enough to marry.
My dad was hugely instrumental in nurturing my great love of the outdoors. We took many backpacking, camping and paddling trips in every season. They have become some of my favorite moments in life, and one of my last wishes before I left on my mission at 19 years old was to go on one last backpacking trip with my dad. He obliged and we had a wonderful time hiking into a beautiful lake high in the Sierras less than a month before I left for the Missionary Training Center. Earlier in my teenage years, my dad and I climbed Mt. Shasta in California twice. On our first trip, we camped way above the tree-line, waking up before dawn in our attempt to reach the 14,162 ft. summit. As we stood there in our crampons and headlamps, ice axes in hand, staring up at the steep dark glacier looming above us, he said “It’s die time.” I enjoyed pulling out that phrase on future adventures, and always thought of my dad when I did.
This was Labor Day weekend and the summer sun had left huge sun pockets in the glacier, making the climb difficult. Essentially, we had to climb up boulder after boulder of ice. At a certain point, I was tired and uncomfortable, thinking the altitude may be getting to me and I began complaining to my dad, suggesting I may need to turn around. We stopped for a rest and I remember his words to me very clearly. He looked me in the eyes and said very seriously: “You don’t understand what you’re capable of.”
We continued on much further than I would have had I been left to my own immature impulses. Eventually, a thick fog rolled in near the summit and we were turned around by a ranger as the whiteout made it too dangerous to climb higher. As we made our way back down, I was glad that the weather and ranger turned us around high up on the mountain, and not my lack of ambition. That trip changed my style of hiking and climbing for the rest of my life and taught me a valuable lesson that I try to apply to every aspect of life: Do I really understand what I’m capable of? Am I selling myself short?
This last Sunday, President Coltrin remarked to the Susquehanna Branch how President Forsyth had a remarkable gift for always seeing our potential, much more than our shortcomings. How true that is. Even when he was a little tough on us, that toughness was rooted in his vision of our potential, not his frustration of our weaknesses.
In closing I’ll share an experience I had just last week. I first got the news of my dad’s passing early on Thursday morning. I immediately booked a flight out to Philly to be with my family. Sitting in the terminal in Denver, waiting for my flight, I thought of my dad and read comments on the internet of those that were also grieving his passing. I began to sob and shed the first public tears since hearing the news. But my thoughts were on my dad and it didn’t take long for my tears to be interrupted by my own laughter. There I was, wiping my tear soaked face with my sleeve. Dad would certainly have used this as another opportunity to hand me his handkerchief and remind me how practical it is to always carry one in my pocket. It felt like he was beside me in the airport, reminding me, but also comforting me and I smiled through my tears. I was grateful for the chance to laugh at myself and remember him fondly, even in the small things.
Even if I do a lousy job of applying his handkerchief advice, in the last six or so years I have come to notice how much my dad has rubbed off on me. If anything good can come of his departure, I hope we will better apply the caring example he has set and make sure we aren’t selling ourselves short. He would want us to recognize our full potential. (Romans 8:16-18)
Life with him is so much richer than it will be without him, but I am so grateful for the knowledge I have that our family is eternal. I look forward to those eternities.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Jaime's allowed to kick it anytime after July 24th, 2076. Just not before then. Maybe she'll exit on her birthday a couple months later, if she wants. That way she can get a cat in the interim and enjoy that for a bit. But again, not before July 24, 2076. Not on her life. Pun intended.
Just thought I'd let you know that's my plan, so when it happens I can nonchalantly say I told ya so. For all you who will be around, see you then.