Fifteen years and one week ago, friends and family gathered here in this very church to witness my father give his blessing for my husband to marry me. Today, we gather here once again, to begin a different but no less important new chapter in our lives. We are here, in sadness but also in loving celebration, to walk home the spirit of Jon Russell Moris. This is our time to share memories and stories that remind us, now and as we move forward in healing, of the great man Jon was: a father, brother, teacher, artist, writer, intellectual, mentor, leader, and fiercely outspoken individual.
In the words of Matthew Fox, a spiritual leader and a bit of a rebel soul: “We can take inspiration from the people who have gone before us… We don’t need to put them on a pedestal; we need to adopt them as templates for our own lives. That way our activism” – and I would add our sense of purpose –“will come from a deep place that is ultimately about a love for life. That is what sustains me: knowing that, whatever the outcome, I have stood with those who love life.” Today we gather as one to celebrate someone who genuinely, thoroughly loved life.
We exist in a deeply connected web that spans far beyond our everyday lives. Certainly, this became clear from the huge outpouring of condolences that our family received after Dad died. We are still registering the deluge of goodness he left as his legacy: thousands of students he mentored and advised, who moved into their professional careers and never forgot the strict, yet caring way he challenged them; myriad colleagues who benefitted from his advice, citing the sharp insight and formidable knowledge that Dad dispensed freely; friends from around the world, bridging a lifetime of experiences, shocked to their cores at the news of his sudden passing. Each message was an embrace from a vast universe I scarcely realized existed, but has now become an integral part of my own story.
Dad’s spirit was born free, and this is how he remains in my heart. I hear him in my chuckles and those of my children. I feel him hovering by the bookshelves with his reading glasses perched on his nose. Dad dwells in the mischievous chipmunks we feed on the porch. He’s up in the bedroom over the garage, clacking away on his typewriter. He’s sitting on the porch drinking his hundredth cup of daily coffee. Dad is everywhere. His death does not change this.
For the last seven years, I’ve had the good fortune to live in Utah and develop a strong relationship with my dad. But it is the little idiosyncrasies that I hold dearest in remembrance. Dad never hesitated to pick up a marked-down chair from Ikea – or, as he would say, ee KAY uh – and deliver it to me as a gift, whether I needed a chair or not… a reflection of his ample generosity as well as his appreciation for discounts and Swedish meatballs. (I recently learned he delivered chairs to all his friends, too, as a means of guaranteeing his own place to sit when he came to visit – it makes me smile to think how many gaudy orange Ikea chairs must populate the greater Utah corridor.) From him, I inherited a fierce love of books and especially of language. Dad was a true polymath; his mind drew connections between and across people and ideas, so that if he lent me – or better still, gave me – a book or gift, his loving thoughtfulness revealed itself. Dad encouraged me to express myself through writing, advice that I took to heart, because he meant it earnestly and because he recognized writing as a gift. And, though I laughed him off, for many years I was terrified that he would actually fulfill his promise to submit erotic fiction to Playboy under my name.
Dad understood me in a way that few others do. Even our rare silences were companionable. I made many friends in high school and college on the sole basis of being his daughter. And I never questioned it. People didn’t have to like me, but if they admired Dad’s twinkly-eyed charm, I happily befriended them. I just thought, “Oh, so you like my dad? You must be pretty okay.”
I have always felt honored to be a Moris, to be my father’s daughter in a family with a legacy of faith and humanitarianism. I would not be here if it wasn’t for my Dad and his parents. I am not thankful for the giant, Dad-shaped hole in my heart, but I am rich with blessings from and memories of Dad, and for those gifts I am intensely grateful. I stand with those who love life, and I stand with Dad.
© 2015 Julia Moris-Hartley