Text of homily given by The Rev. Dr. Park at the Service of Celebration & Burial for Ron Walker. An audio recording of the service is also available – homily begins at approximately 16:50.
“Five Things I Wish I’d Known 25 Years Ago”, a workshop by Ron Walker, Educator. This white paper was among the many articles and accounts that landed on my desk or filled my inbox from March 4 on. It is poignant, to say the least, to read these dramatic and heart-filled ideas around what it looks like to be a teacher and to teach others to hone their teaching craft in the aftermath of his final days that were so often characterized by deep disappointment and personal agony.
If “this” were all there was, then truly today would be a desperately sad affair. In Father Stuart’s Easter Sermon last week he recounted a conversation during pre-school chapel with a young 5 year old who refused to believe that Jesus died. “Jesus just couldn’t have died,” he insisted, “because Jesus always wins.” Indeed, the mystery of the Cross is that Jesus wins by dying. And it is this victory that sustains us as we try to make sense out of a death that seems to scream that “all is lost”, when in fact the story of Ron’s life in Christ continues.
You might be curious about what the five things are that Ron wished he had known sooner; important truths that he learned from the youth with whom he worked and for whose sakes he struggled to help them find their paths.
First, we thrive in fellowship with others who share a sense with us that life has purpose. It is important to keep company with folks who are headed where you are going. Second, the sooner you figure out what really matters in life, the better off you are. Save the bullets for the elephants, as my mother would say. Third, we all have a duty to protect the young, to guard their vulnerability, to help them make their dreams come true, and to ensure that they grow strong so that they are able to take their place in the world as valued contributors. Fourth, we must honor the elderly; regard their tenure on earth and accept the wisdom that they have to give us. Finally, we need to recognize that at all times each of us is moving from young to old and safeguarding the dignity of each person is critical to the wellbeing of all persons.
The strength of these precepts lies not in the degree to which any of us ever accomplishes them completely, but rather in the pure goodness that they hold before us, always challenging us to challenge ourselves, to push against sloth, and to strain toward integrity. A snapshot at any point in our lives will produce a picture that represents only that period, and is not a picture of the entirety of our lives. For that broad view, only God’s panoramic lens can show the true measure of any of us, with virtually all of us glad for eons of continued growth in God’s nearer presence.
It will take time for all of us to recover, and even years from now, we will realize how Ron’s death as well as his life has shaped our lives. It will involve tears, which we must allow. Some crying will be out of a sense of sheer loss and some out of sheer anger. We must talk to each other. Ron did not move in and out of people’s lives like a butterfly on a gentle breeze, but rather like a bulldog with a thunderstorm in its jaws. Some characters have a way of being bigger than life. Ron was certainly one of these characters. Though he never had children of his own, many young people found in him a muse that helped them understand their own parents better. And the world is the grateful beneficiary of his influence, producing at least one priest thus far, numerous teachers, researchers, and just good citizens.
Though he chafed at what he considered to be the annoyance of ordinary rules that govern all of us, he was equally belligerent in his advocacy for the welfare of the young persons who, for whatever reasons, struggled against ending up in the margins, discarded.
Whether your story is one of being drenched by Ron’s thunderstorm or one of being refreshed by it, each of our stories will eventually connect because that is simply the way stories work, and then begin to offer answers for each of us.
Someone once described trying to deal with a suicide as carrying around a backpack filled with heavy rocks. One day the weight feels like regrets, another day it feels like anger, another day like sadness, but every day it feels heavy.
But, it won’t always. Your presence here today is a witness to all that Ron strove to achieve – strong community, room at the table for each person, and a sacred place to struggle with serious questions for God. I pray that, in the best sense, each of us will continue to uphold each other in this journey, and that our continued community will make space for those who need encouragement to receive it and those who feel lost in despair to be comforted in knowing that nothing – NOTHING – can separate us from the love of God, not even death.
For those who feel you have been abandoned or that you were unable to help, I believe I can safely assure you that Ron would say that you did help, and that he would want you to keep going. Is it aggravating that he would encourage you to keep looking for answers when he apparently gave up? Yes, absolutely. And I hope you will talk to each other about that, and be able to allow that, in the end, the person you looked up to was a person you could have looked eye to eye with, who struggled with his own limitations, limitations that did not however limit his ability to wish the best for each person in his care. In the end, it’s ok to worship the quicksand that any of us walks on.
There is an important lesson here that I’d like to think an educator like Ron would appreciate. That the lofty goals we strive toward in life have intrinsic value that outlive whatever failures mark our attempts to reach them, and that even through our failures – perhaps largely owing to them — others can gain immeasurable value to assist them in their own strivings.
In sure and certain hope of the Resurrection, I believe that Ron is at last drenched in the “oil of gladness instead of mourning”, and that on his shoulders he now wears a “mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” And knowing Ron’s love for the question, I’m pleased to know he will now enjoy all the time he needs for finding answers.