Sunday, October 10, 2010

Remembering Dwight Eastman

Remembering Dwight Eastman, October 2, 2010

Given at a celebration of his life.

(Dwight passed away after a three year battle with cancer on September 20, 2010)

Gathering in memory of the death of someone very close is always a moment of sadness and reflection. But these can also be very positive and powerful moments of transformation. We can create new kinds of relationships even with those we’ve known for a long time. We can entertain and embrace new thoughts that emerge from reflection on the life of the person who has left us. We now have the opportunity for that transformation as we celebrate the rich, complex, and passionate life of Dwight Eastman. Not too many like him will come our way.

Dwight was my oldest and best friend. I first met Dwight in the fall of 1985 while he was running with Michael Schlesinger on Logan Blvd. They were both eager to recruit me for the Logan Square 10K race they had organized. Shortly after that first meeting, Dwight and I ran together. He was far more experienced and faster than me, and very competitive—egging me on to do more that very first day.

He was also incredibly engaging and interested in me, in who I was, in what I thought, and in where I was going. In that early run we shared values, ideas, and experiences with a level of detail and intensity that normally happen years into some relationships and usually never with most we know. That was the beginning of a rich, deep friendship that we shared during the core of our adult lives.

We ran, typically 3-4 days a week—mostly hard, sometimes long and slow, sometimes fast and short—always with a discussion about ideas and life. He introduced me to the marathon and the triathlon. Dwight, Michael, and I launched our running team—the Psycho Geezers—in 1986, when we thought “40” was old. This gave way to long swims in Lake Michigan before the sun rose on Wednesday mornings, the winter solstice celebration and 10 mile runs on icy roads at Elvira’s farm, the 80 mile River to River Relay Race, and later to climbing in the Tetons and Wind River Range in Wyoming. A month after his surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, Dwight and I did the Chicago Triathlon together. Despite everything else that went on the lives of two men, there was a predictable 5 or 6 hours a week of intense exercise, laughter, engaged debate, and thoughtful exchange.

When Dwight was diagnosed with cancer, my initial reaction was personal anger. I had always assumed Dwight and I would grow really old together—and despite all the ups and downs—we would continue our exercise—even if feebly, extol the virtues of the Psycho Geezer program, and talk and laugh about life. Over the last three years the anger has left and been replaced with a thankfulness that I had such a good friend who left me with thousands of memories that I can pull from at any moment.

Dwight was unbridled in his embrace of competition. Sometimes it was expressed in a soft smugness—other times a bold explicit challenge. It was deep in his character. For some, competition is a corrosive force creating wounds that don’t heal. When we see it so strongly, it can lead to suspicion. With Dwight, it was an overwhelming positive and constructive part of his character. For us, it created a bond that made us both stronger. He always set a high standard—commenting that the race or run we were in “wasn’t no frigging tea party.” The competition always exposed weakness but in a spirit that encouraged positive examination and growth. He was the first to step into new and daunting territory—the marathon, the triathlon, the Big Shoulders Swim, icey cold water—providing us with the motivation and inspiration to do what we had previously thought was impossible.

In addition to his competitive passion for life, he also had wisdom and a discipline that will always influence me and the way I approach life’s challenges. And I’m sure that he had the same influence on many of you.

In one of our first discussion, he told me that “We live in the realm of imperfection”—a simple reflection that still gives me a way to understand, to adjust, to accept the complexity and difficulties in life that always co-exist with the positive, the affirming, and the predictable. Sometimes I thought it might be a rational for making a mistake or doing harm or, more likely, he was stating the importance of forgiveness for all of us in the course of long lives.

In more dramatic fashion, he gave me a call following the meeting with his doctor when he learned of his cancer and its severity. He said without hesitation or even drama, something to the effect—“As Buddha says, it’s the best day of your life when you know your execution date. It frees you to focus on the truly important things of life.” I was, and remain stunned by his statement and the absolute knowledge that this is how he lived the last three years of his life. He was accepting of the changes in his life and body, in his capacities, and in his narrowing range of options. But he retained his courage and determination; his optimism and good will; and his eagerness to see all of us, to know what we were thinking and to know how we were doing. He focused on his deep affection for his family—all generations and connections-- Elvira, Jason, Risa, Matt, Moira, and Jasper; his sisters Susan and Anne and their families; and for his loving partner Angela. I know there were more difficult times than I saw, but I do know there was in Dwight truly remarkable spirit that rarely wavered for long. We will all be stronger in our focus on what is important in the inevitable difficult stages of life, because we knew Dwight.

And then in the last few days when the option of a true quality of life had ebbed, he exercised the complete control over what he could--so nothing would extend the difficulties for him and the heartbreak for those close to and gathered around him. The struggling subsided and he stepped into and embraced a peaceful, calm transition.

We should all be so strong in these difficult yet normal and predictable stages of life.

I feel so honored and rich for having Dwight in my life.

In the realm of imperfection, the brightest star sometimes burns the quickest.