December 17th, 2010
We all know that carpe diem means seize the day, but few of us know the rest of Horace’s phrase: “trusting as little as possible in the future.” As Christmas approaches, the days shorten, and the evenings seem blacker than ever, it is probably wise to keep the entire phrase in mind. This has been an especially cruel week, with the untimely passing of a relatively young colleague, Dr. Dave Dibbon, Dean of Education.
This week, hundreds of friends and colleagues celebrated Dave’s life at a moving funeral service. The Salvation Army Temple, a building few of us had ever entered, was a warm, welcoming cocoon on a miserable rainy day. The intimacy of the service honoring Dave, and of our connectedness to him and each other, was intense, emotional, and utterly necessary. In a season of rituals, this was one ritual we did not welcome or wish for, but one we needed to perform together, for each other and for his young family. As many of us observed afterwards, it is highly likely that Dave’s bright-eyed daughters will vividly remember the event, surrounded by colorfully gowned academics—including the president of the university—and appreciate the honour we all paid their father. That’s a memory worth storing against the darkness, to be sure.
As the presiding minister rather poetically noted, it is one thing to face the end at midnight, another to do so at 2:30 in the afternoon. It is the frightening, untimely nature of Dave’s passing that strikes so heavy and hard. Leaving the world at 52 just doesn’t seem natural. But, of course, it is for some, however difficult to accept. The Salvation Army service was marked by grief and loss, but it was also punctuated with music and laughter, and informed by a deep appreciation for Dave’s remarkable life. His leadership, his outreach, his community engagement, and his many contributions to a community of teachers and learners were noted, a theme that helped buoy our spirits, reinforcing a belief that what he did, and by extension what we do, matters.
Obviously, the minister knew he had a pretty mixed crowd of believers and non-believers on hand, with heavy emphasis on the latter, and so he sermonized, it seemed, directly, to the assembled academics, underscoring the incontrovertible absoluteness of an afterlife—based on a belief, it follows, in the absoluteness of the words of the Bible. As with all such arguments, it left logic and rationality completely behind, and was strong on conviction, passion, and faith. I do not think he managed to persuade any of the doubters among us, but I had to admire his grasping the opportunity to try. That’s his job, his calling and his duty. It is ours to question, to challenge and doubt. Let us say we parted respectfully, agreeing to disagree.
The point is that we were there to celebrate Dave’s life, to make meaning of it through an act of remembering, as members of a community of friends and colleagues. It is the stories of Dave’s life that will carry him forward for us and for his family. I am sure I saw many of Dave’s students in the pews, another sign of how continuity of life happens. That is as assured as most of us can be about a future, as the evidence piles up, in which one should wisely, practically, shrewdly have little trust.
Seize the day, indeed. This blogger will return in the first week of the new year, after a few weeks of doing just that. Have a safe, happy and healthy, holiday, everyone.