Mark Twain coined a phrase many of us have heard before, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Don’t panic, I haven’t heard any of those rumors of late, unless people are doing a really good job of keeping them from me. Regardless, I’m here to say I’m still alive as of this writing and still trying to make each day count, as I hope you are. The reason I’m saying all of this is because I don’t want to worry you given the title of this piece. Any time I’ve heard the word “eulogy”, of course I’d think “who died?” I purposefully titled this entry a living eulogy because I decided to write it while I’m able.
I chose this idea for two reasons. The first is that I always want to excite, stimulate, and motivate my readers to be captured by the narrative and then self reflect on whatever meaning they wish to derive from it. The second is that I needed a chapter to provide a good closure, not for this blog, which I intend to keep writing for as long as I am able, but instead for a paperback book version of the blog (more about that later). What better closure than a eulogy to myself?
In writing this, I found it gave me the chance to say thank you to those closest to me now. It provided me a chance to ask forgiveness, to look at myself out of body, and to share my affections with the world at large. To me, it gives me a platform to share my feelings with a gathering I won’t be present for in the future, but one I can be present for now. And in writing it, it brought up great emotions, some quite sad, but for the most part, those of joy, contentment and peace.
Okay, let’s go.
“Greetings, all. I’m going to start by saying that the rumors of my death are still greatly exaggerated because this is my living eulogy and I’m here to deliver it personally. At the time when it becomes a legitimate eulogy, read by someone else, then I’ll keep it to a reasonable length, knowing I’m the one between now and getting to cocktails and food being saved for the funeral (you’ll have to go back to the jokes segment to understand this).
“I hope you’ll be reading this today not to grieve, but to celebrate life. I assume if this were the real thing, you’re here because at some point in our lives we connected and developed a relationship. For that chance intersection, I am so grateful. My life would not have been as rich and joyful without you. Before I go down a gushy rabbit hole, I’d like to get through a few thank you’s.
“First I want to try my best to express my deepest gratitude to Mary Ann who transformed me from an idealistic hippie who could not manage his finances to save his life into a pragmatic, caring person who helped build the Wittenberg dynasty. She was not just my partner for almost 40 years but also my best friend and compass. We did a lot together, not in just building an amazing family, but also building an amazing community of close family and friends around us. And above all, we had some really great times together traveling, partying, and relaxing. I know I’m painting a rosy picture here, but we did have a rosy life together. Of course this part wouldn’t be complete without the other side of the coin. I freely admit I was a big pain in the ass to live with. I was indecisive, non-committal, didn’t take all the responsibility I should have, stayed quiet way too long when we argued and definitely should have cooked more (which was a double edged sword since I made a hell of a mess whenever I did). For all of that I ask forgiveness. I’ll finish by saying that you were the best thing to ever happen to me and, given the chance, I would do it all over again without any changes, except maybe for the cooking part. Know that when the time comes, I’ll be staking out a nice neighborhood for us up there and promise I’ll wait before I decorate.
“Next is to my kids. Besides mom (duh!), you were also the best thing that happened to me. Being a father was something I knew I wanted to be. I hope I was a good dad to all of you. We had some real happy times together and some when we banged heads. Mom and I wondered if we’d get through your adolescence with a sound mind. Thankfully we adopted the measure of when you lower your expectations, your success rate goes right up. And since no one ended up in jail, pregnant, or addicted, we figured we were doing alright as parents. We also said that we brought up our kids to be strong and independent and dammit you went ahead and did it. That’s why we call you our non-conforming kids. We are proud of what you’ve achieved and when it’s time for me to leave, I’ll be confident knowing you’ll all have happy and productive lives. I will say I was hoping to hold out for grandkids, thinking I’d make quite a granddad, but hey, I can’t have everything. I’ll leave the grandparenting to mom. She’ll do a great job spoiling them and handing them back to you. I will say the bigger achievement you made was dealing with my really bad dad jokes. And when it’s time, take good care of mom. Don’t let her sit in the dark.
“Now to my family, not just my immediate family, but my inherited family. To my sister, I can’t say enough about the attention you’ve given me, from the time you schlepped me around with your friends when I was young and especially before, and certainly after, I got sick. You’ve spent time and money coming to visit and we had the best and most time we’ve ever had together. I remember when mom passed away and we both felt like orphans having lost both of our parents. That was when we started getting close again and it never stopped. I love you.
“To my adopted Italian family. I am so glad you welcomed me and treated me truly like one of your own. It also helped that we enjoyed drinking large amounts of alcohol whenever we got together. What could go wrong, right? Well, there was that Thanksgiving when we almost burned my house down, but hey, we had a good laugh like we always did.
“To my closest friends, you are my alternative family, the one I was able to choose. Over the course of 50 years, we joined each other in our simchas and tsurises (meaning good times and bad). You shaped my life by sharing so many experiences with me, from meeting at Camp Lymelight, through starting a food coop to moving to California and meeting through our kids in school. I was blessed with having you around me for all of these years. Friends are one of the most important things to me, outside of my own family, of course. We got high together, played music together, traveled together, introduced our boyfriends and girlfriends to each other, attended many Men’s Weekends and a few People’s Weekends together. But above all else, you supported us throughout our journey. You were there every step of the way, helping me and Mary Ann through this. And when it’s time, I hope you’ll continue to embrace Mary Ann so she can still be an integral part of our community.
“And to our temple. Mary Ann and I were introduced to it by friends who we met through our daughters shortly after we moved through the tunnel from Oakland. For over 20 years we’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people, some whom we’ve grown very close to. We wanted to give back and did so through involvement, from the ritual committee, being members of the Board, even becoming President and Mary Ann as First Lady of the temple. And let’s not forget my favorite contribution, The Tikvah Tones, our house band. You have all also been our spiritual foundation for the continuation of my Jewish identity as well as Mary Ann’s spiritual home.
“And last, but not least, to all of the musicians I’ve played with over the years. Music was a big part of my life and the hours of time playing gave me a pleasure hard to describe to those who don’t play. There is a magic that happens between musicians that brings them to an otherworldly place and I am grateful for the opportunity of going there with you.
“So let’s get down to it – the meaning of life. Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide says it’s the number 42, other great philosophers say the meaning of life is to deny it, to believe passionately in God, or to exert will to power, in other words, life is about purpose.
“I’ve always felt I needed something to pursue that would make me feel smarter, happier, or productive. Having lost my father very early in life, and my mother being old country meaning high expectations and little emotion, I had to grow up and become independent quicker than my peers. I had to be okay with missing out on the amenities of a true middle class American household. I soon found reward in work, both in school (which I was determined to complete), and in the part time work I had to do in order to survive on my own while putting myself through school. It made me unafraid of taking risks, a little easier getting over my early shyness, and gave me an early view into FOMO (fear of missing out). I drove myself to try new things, to be comfortable being alone, (which I never could get used to), and so my obsession to not just make friends, but to keep them for a long time.
“My three regrets, and really only three that come to mind, is not attending more baseball games, not serving in the Peace Corp and not achieving a level of musicianship that I really wanted to. Outside of that, a marriage of almost 40 years, three great kids, a circle of amazing friends, a closeness with family, an incredible community, achievement of career, traveling through at least 35 states, 25 countries, and eaten some of the best food on the planet, how much more can I really ask? I’ve read a lot of good books, listened to a lot of great music, seen some great art, experienced provocative theater, and seen both really good and really bad movies. I’ve ridden my bike thousands of miles, cross country skied a couple of hundred miles at least, hiked hundreds of miles through spectacular landscapes, and loved spending rainy Sunday afternoons in my garage with the garage door open playing music on my stereo having a cigar, listening to the rain and working on building one of my instruments. Or sitting in an Adirondack chair, next to the creek on Small Beach at Berkeley Family Camp with my family nearby. Or sitting at an outdoor table in a courtyard surrounded by white washed houses in the Southern Italian town named Cisternino, waiting for the waiter to bring grilled meats along with a bowl of roasted potatoes, salad, great bread and a bottle of wine on the table eating with Mary Ann and her Italian family. Or having the best hummus and garnishes looking over the bay in Jaffa with my Israeli family.
“I know I’ve been accused of always being the teacher and having to leave some sort of lesson. I’ll try to not be cliché-ish, though it’s hard because it’s been said so many times before. When you wake up every day, be grateful for everything you have, don’t overload your day, make it really count. Spend time with loved ones as much as possible. Do things that really make you feel good and accomplished. Be political because it really matters. Don’t be hard on yourself, you’re doing the best you can. And do the things YOU want to do. Why? Because you’re an adult and you can.
“Okay, that’s it. Keep me in your hearts because I keep you in mine. Party on Garth. Party on Wayne!”
So, what do you think? Remember, this is the first draft of my living eulogy. So far, we have stayed safe through the pandemic. We’ve managed to see our kids a lot, hung out with friends over cocktails, been on Zoom calls with friends and family. We’ve managed to just keep going, feeling optimistic, but not impractical. We try to extract some joy and pleasure out of each day, despite the unrelenting virus and the ravaging of our country by a megalomaniac and his enablers.
Given this day and age, I also see amazing love and resilience from my family, friends, community, and a majority of the population. I’m witnessing a new wakefulness that is battling against opposing forces. I truly believe that in my shortened timeline, I will witness a huge change in our immediate future where good will prevail, civil responsibility will triumph, inclusion will rise, and our country and personal lives will be such that I can feel at peace moving on (when the time comes, of course). As I have expressed throughout my writing, it’s not me alone who should feel a sense of urgency to live to our fullest purpose and joy. We should all guard against complacency and the mundane because we can’t tell when adversity might visit.
When I end each segment with “More to come…”, I mean it. I’ll keep posting on my blog as long as God and my body will allow me. And at the time I have to say, “D, D, D… That’s all folks”, you’ll be the next to know after my family and friends. Thanks for hangin’ with me through my journey.
And since I’m still here, I hope you’ll support me in my advocacy by donating to our team page for the East Bay ALS Walk at http://web.alsa.org/goto/harry.
More to come…