My Parents, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Newton, and James T. Kirk

To my parents, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary:

To mom, when I thought about you and about this day, I thought of Led Zeppelin, and of one Led Zeppelin song in particular, the song, “No Quarter.”

The phrase, “no quarter” is taken from ancient battlefields, where it means, essentially, “no mercy.” If a general declared that there would be, “no quarter: none asked, none given” in a battle to come, that meant no prisoners would be taken that day.

In the song, “No Quarter,” we hear the story of a band of warriors who are marching through a blizzard in the dark of night, on a desperate mission to save their families:

Walking side-by-side with death,
The devil mocks their every step. 
The snow drives back the foot that’s slow,
The dogs of doom are howling low.
They carry news that must get through,
To build a dream for me and you.
They choose the path where no one goes,
They hold no quarter,
They ask no quarter. 

For those of you who know her story, maybe you’re not too surprised that when I thought of my mom, I didn’t think of a sentimental poem or a sappy song. I thought of a song about warriors. Over the years of our lives together, of these fifty years of marriage, my mom was that warrior. Just to dial the nerd-factor up a bit, in life we often find that the night is dark, and full of terrors. When our night was darkest, and storm winds were driving in her face, walking side-by-side with death, the devil mocking every step, my mother asked for no quarter. Through long hours of work, doctor’s visits, scrounging for birthdays and holidays, taking care of her mother as well as her family, and even battling cancer along the way, she never waved the flag of defeat. She took no prisoners. Empowered by her faith, and her friends (many of you here today), and her own bright spirit, she worked for us, and played with us, and fought for us in a thousand different ways. 

And of course, it wasn’t all storm winds and darkness of night. When I was growing up, my mother could be counted upon to be silly, and irreverent, and unfiltered. She had silly and funny and wonderful friends like Joanne Hawes and Mary Gamble, among others. Along with our Granny Willie, she taught us about grace and never frightened us with talk of hell. Mom, you say that I taught you about grace, but the truth is that you taught me first, so I guess we taught each other. 

She was a happy warrior, in other words, for us and for many others in her life. She did these things to build a dream for me and you, and she did it. She was victorious. And I am forever grateful.



To dad, when I thought of you and of this day, my first thought was of Sir Isaac Newton. 

Dad, I know you don’t remember this, but one of my earliest memories of life involves you teaching me about Newton’s Laws of Motion, including the law that states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I couldn’t figure out how, if I were to punch a brick wall, and that was the action, there could be an equal and opposite reaction. Because the brick wall certainly wasn’t going to budge. So I tried it one day. I punched a block wall, and I discovered the truth. My punching the wall was the action, and my busted knuckles were the equal and opposite reaction. And I knew that Newton was right. 

You taught me about Newton’s Laws of Motion. You taught me about lift and drag and how planes fly. You taught me about the lives of stars and how black holes form. And I was hooked for life, becoming one of those odd people who go everywhere with books slung under their arms, just in case they might get some chance opportunity to read. Because for me a life of reading and discovering such treasures as these is the greatest life one could ever live. You gave me the joy of learning, and that joy has never failed me once.

And in a larger sense you, dad, taught me that for every question there is an answer, and for every problem there is a solution. To make all of this even more nerdy than it already was, you were like James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, taking the dreaded Starfleet Academy exam called the Kobayashi Maru. This is the test which confronts the cadet with a no-win scenario. It presents you with a life-or-death decision for which there simply is no solution. You have to take this exam to become a Starfleet officer, and every single Starfleet cadet fails. Except for James T. Kirk, of course, the only cadet in the history of Starfleet to pass the Kobayashi Maru test, to cheat the no-win life-or-death dilemma. 

With your faith and with your greatness of soul, dad, you overcame the no-win scenario. You came back to us from the dead. And all our lives I watched you solve problems, fix broken things, learn constantly, and respond vigorously if patiently to every challenge. In the darkest moments of my life I have never truly lost hope, because of you, because deep down I know there is always an answer, there is always a solution, there is always hope. 

And of course, by no means does mom exceed you in terms of silliness and fun. You are the reason that all the pets Jaime and I have ever owned have half-a-dozen names each; you are the one who taught me that when guests pull up in the front yard but we are in the back yard, we can simply drop down on our bellies and hope they go away; you are the main reason that people regularly tell me I should write a book about all the absurd and outlandish things I experienced growing up. For these priceless gifts and for countless others, I am forever grateful. 



I’m not going to try and assess my own life in light of yours, but I will say a few things about my sister Leanne. Growing up, Leanne was always the popular kid, beautiful, clever, smart, stylish, and cool. And I was the weirdo. That’s why it’s been one of the great joys of my life as an adult to see Leanne become every bit as weird as me, and ever weirder. Though I have to admit that she is still beautiful and smart and cool too. There was no diminishment in her, only addition. And I can say to you, mom and dad, whatever the worth of our lives - the unique individuals that we are - and whatever good we may have done or are yet to do, it all goes back to you in one way or another. 

And of course it’s not just about Leanne and me, or our families. You have been pillars of the community, friends to the friendless, servants of all, often working and helping your neighbors when you thought no one was looking. But we did see you, of course. I saw you, mom, always wrapping your arms lovingly around those people whom everyone else rejected. I saw you, dad, whether leading the church or repairing multiple carburetors for your neighbors in the basement at night, never too good to lend a helping hand and never requiring praise or money in return. We saw the years of sacrifice at church. We saw years of caregiving for beloved family members. We saw you loving each other through it all, through the good and the bad, through thick and through thin. 

These are all just semi-random thoughts of mine. There is so much more that could be said. But for now we will simply say that we have seen you, we bear witness to you, and we love you. Here’s to the volumes of good things we could say about these fifty years of life and love. Here’s to the volumes of good things still to be written. 

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