To Absent Friends: Jim Schaefer

Jim SchaeferOur classmate Jim died on October 28, 2014 after a long illness.  Following is the eulogy delivered at Jim’s funeral:

Intelligence sometimes gets in the way. For all of us. Old George – Jim’s dad – always reminded us that Jim was the most intelligent kid in the family. He was correct. But I still can’t figure out that Xavier High School thing.

Sometimes, all of us think that we know better than God. We don’t. And we don’t always know what God wants of us. This leads to confusion. We forget that our job here in our earthly life is to learn the will of God for our lives – and then to live according to God’s will. I know this is news for all of us since, as a people of faith, we’ve only known this for a few thousand years.

So, yes, the later years of Jim’s life were filled with confusion. How do I love my kids and my wife and still follow the path that I want to follow. How do I reconcile that call to duty for our country and duty to my family? How do I use my education and skills, but still hang out with my buddies and party? Yes, Jim had issues. We know that. We all have issues.

Jesus spent a lot of time healing people with issues….

…Jesus says to us today: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is still with us here today ready to offer healing and forgiveness to all of us who have issues. One estimate is that two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching is directly or indirectly related to forgiveness. All of us have a lot to learn about forgiveness. So did Jim. If there is anything we must do today – right now – we need to forgive Jim and forgive ourselves. Both of those feelings are within each of us. The Gospel of Thomas has Jesus saying, “If you bring forth that which is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring it forth, it will destroy you.” Bring it forth. I know these feelings are inside us. We need to forgive Jim and forgive ourselves.

Jim is OK now. At the hospital, Father Dale visited Jim for the Anointing of the Sick, Laura and the kids prayed and cried, and we knew that Jim was good to go.

I’m a scientist by training. Jim was a lawyer by training. I was trained in the world of science where evidence needs to be evaluated, observations need to be confirmed and data needs to be scrutinized. Jim was trained to win legal arguments. So I could observe and record, and Jim could argue – and we could both be right – but we could both also get it so very wrong.

In our world today, we’re trained to think that we can know all the answers – if only there was a little more study, a little more funding, a little more focus, a little more polling data… – we’d know the answer. We’ve worked our way to the point of deceiving ourselves that we know – or can know – all the answers. We can’t.

A great big chunk of the world keeps telling us that if we believe anything beyond our scientific ability to observe, measure, record, quantify – anything beyond that is in the world of myth, superstition, folklore – or just plain stupidity and ignorance. A great big chunk of the world keeps telling us that if we can win the argument and gain consensus – then we are right and anything beyond that is the word of contrarians, naysayers, and deniers.

But real ignorance is ignoring a reality that we all know: there is something bigger than our human existence of observation and debate, something bigger than our world of science and argument. It’s written on our souls. It’s in our experience that we all have known and it is this: we DO know the presence of God. It’s real to us, or at some point we’ve known it as real. We usually don’t talk about it.

When you ask a child if they’ve ever experienced the presence and the love of God, you might be surprised at the clear and detailed description of a place and time when they have been sure of the presence of God. The day, the time, the lighting, the vision. We hear Jesus today saying to us: “although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

I’m convinced that Jim also knew the reality of the presence of God. How could you look at Alex, Jack, Cole and Tori and not see the presence of God among us? How could you look at a dying man – wracked with pain, who has the ability to humbly say “Thank you” to a sip of tea or a spoonful of applesauce? How could you not feel the presence of God in the grace of a family gathered around the bedside with death approaching.

Like Jim, we ourselves wrestle with so many questions about God’s presence. In the many struggles of Jim’s life, in Jim’s downward spiral, and back many years to the death of young James – whose funeral we celebrated right here in this place – and in the many ways we all wrestle with questions. We question God’s presence in the many human errors in our own lives and the lives around us. But as Christian, we are called to notice the presence of God in our lives and to respond to this presence of God in our lives. We are called to accept God loving and forgiving us – always.

So yes – I’m preparing to be a Deacon in the Catholic Church. Most of us don’t know that one of the tasks of a deacon in witnessing to our faith is to name the demons in our community. Today this community is this assembly of family and friends. The big demon is our reluctance to see – to really see – to constantly notice – the presence of God in our lives. And to respond to this presence of God in our lives. The good parts and the tough parts. The sublime and the ordinary. The Facebook-worthy and the boring.

I noticed the presence of God in the hours that old George spent with Jim in his many years of swimming. I noticed the presence of God when Mary Schaefer – who at the time had forgotten more about raising children than I’ll ever know – so seriously asked me for advice since teenager Jim – back in the 70s was running around the neighborhood with his gym shorts worn on the outside of his sweat pants. Yes mom, that’s normal. I know of the presence of God in Laura’s story of Jim holding Laura’s hand through hours of labor awaiting the arrival of Alex. I know of the presence of God in Jim’s insistence that he carry young James’ casket up the aisle at his funeral.

I noticed the presence of God near the end of Jim’s life when Jim did notice what Laura wanted him to notice – that we loved him and were present with him in his transition from earthly death to eternal life with God. I believe Jim now knows the fullness of joy when seeing the face of God.

I just wish God well with the many, many arguments that we all know will follow.

Thanks to our classmate Liza Kotlarsic for providing the text of the eulogy.


One thought on “To Absent Friends: Jim Schaefer

  1. Doug May

    This is a moving eulogy. Jim is not someone I would have ever envisioned entering a tailspin that devastated his family life. To me Jim was always good humored, sincere, intelligent and kind. He seemed to balance a well founded sobriety with zest for life making a demise very surprising from my perspective. Perhaps you think I did not know Jim that well and I admit he was not one of my closest companions. Nonetheless, Jim’s message for me is that we are all vulnerable and none of us are immune from circumstances that ultimately can jettison even our closest relationships. I am comforted that in the end Jim accepted the love of his family and only sad that it took some tragic twists for him finally to be in position perhaps where he could accept that love unconditionally. God bless Laura and Cole.


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