More than 100 people made it to the Bruce Chapel at the University of Houston yesterday afternoon, during the work day, for a memorial tribute to George. It was, in an odd way, a happy occasion, a welcome opportunity for many of the guests to get together for something other than a protest. The happiness was tempered more than a little bit by the shocking news of the devastating fire at Notre-Dame de Paris.
Memorial services have multiple purposes benefiting the bereft, but one purpose other than collective grieving that get little mention is opportunity to learn more about the life and works of the deceased. In George's case, those who have known him for any length of time know that he was a professor physics, but we might not know (and George was not the type to bend one's ear about it) the importance of his research or his unusual but effective teaching style.
Also, despite knowing George for just north of two decades, I had never known until yesterday what a demon he was at tennis and racketball. He may have urged and fostered cooperation toward achieving peace, harmony, and justice, but on the court he was all about the competition. Is this a contradiction or inconsistency in his personality? Others may see it that way, but no, not really. His colleagues who described his competitive streak hastened to emphasize that it helped his doubles partners and opponents improve their game rather than abandoning any hope of beating him and quitting in despair.
I wore a big Stein-Baraka 2016 button to the service—certainly not the only political statement visible at the Bruce Chapel—to honor the memory of a high point in the history of the Harris County Green Party. Our amazingly successful 2016 Presidential Nominating Convention took place right there at the University of Houston. George, a co-chair that year, helped out by coordinating transportation for the event; Kayleen and I both derived immense gratification from shuttling delegates to and from the airports as well as around the campus in a golf cart during those four blazing hot August days.
Two Memorials in Three Days
Two days earlier, Kayleen and I also bade farewell to Donald Smith, First UU member and tenor in the Sanctuary Choir since the 1950s, who left this earthly plane in February after his own bout with cancer. I not only attended but sang with the choir Don's requested musical send-off, "O Magnum Mysterium" by Morten Lauridsen. I was one of several folks who spoke briefly at that service, prefacing my reminiscences of Don by observing that living in community (like the Beloved Community we like to think we have at First UU) too often means learning the art of saying goodbye. It got me all choked up, but I recovered.
In my 17 years with the choir, four of my fellow tenors have "joined the choir invisible" as George Eliot put it. All four had reached advanced ages and ceased their choral activities when illness or infirmity made singing difficult or painful. All four had enormous positive impact on their professions—engineering, chiropractic, local business, music education—and their communities in Houston and beyond. Several others are still alive but have moved out of state; at present our tenor section is short-handed, and we have been borrowing a baritone and occasionally an extra alto for seven or eight years now.
Saturday afternoon's service was not as well attended as George's, just a few dozen other than choir members, but then it was even more unfortunately timed than George's on Monday afternoon. People have their Saturday plans, whether or not those plans include the Art Car Parade (the 32nd iteration of which happened at the same time, and where I would have been if not for the service). The Houston Dynamo also had a match with the San José Earthquakes during the Parade. I mean, don't these people know what's really important in life?