“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common–this is my symphony.” William Ellery Channing

Jarvis Streeter

I met Jarvis Streeter in 1988. He was teaching a course on Theology at California Lutheran University where I was a student. The January interim term was a month-long period where students either went home or could take a course that was a little bit more “loose,” a little more focused in one area. Jarvis’s course was on popular culture and religion and had a primary focus on the Latter Day Saints and their history. As with all things Jarvis taught, it was fascinating.

This was the beginning of a fire-forged friendship that would cross so many of life’s milestones that the bridgework is worn with memory and time, the varnish of wooden planks and trodden ground carried across many ravines, rivers and crevasses. One summer evening, late after I’d helped Jarvis and Susan with various moving chores, we sat in his living room listening to Jethro Tull in one of the many incarnations of Jarvis’s ever evolving, ever escalating audio passions of a stereo. He taught me to listen to every note, to every lyric and to challenge it with my ear, to feel it in my chest and to ask myself whether or not it worked, whether or not it chose me.

I fell in love long before I met Jarvis. I didn’t know it then, but meeting Susan Thompson in 1984 would have more of a deep and lasting impact on my life than anything else I’ve ever experienced. And it was for this reason that I introduced her to him, as though he were my big brother, capable of bestowing his blessing and with it, permission to marry the woman who I have carried a torch for for going on 30 years. She loved him and he her. Jarvis’s wife, Susan, too accepted Sue and Jarvis agreed, rarely for him at the time, to officiate and lead our wedding at the Chapel at my alma mater, Cal Lutheran.

He stood before us, seeing my sweat and Sue’s shaking knees and he looked at us both and made a face and in his best Peter Cook voice from The Princess Bride, mouthed, “Maawwwaiiige!” We both laughed and fell at ease as we committed ourselves to each other. He and Susan invited Sue and me over often in those early days, sharing our lives together, drinking wine and talking, laughing and enjoying each others company.

When my daughter, Shannon was born, Jarvis, Susan and Megan came to the house in the first month. Megan helped us give Shannon her first sponge bath. Shannon screamed the whole time, the way small babies do. I believe that to this day it had a profound impact on Megan, but I’ll defer to her on that. When Shannon was a toddler, Jarvis sat down on the floor and played with her. As Shannon grew older, Jarvis and Susan engaged her in conversation and she grew to love them both.

Jarvis and I had fist-on-table pounding arguments. We’d drink together, often in the early days, and in our freed inhibitions talk politics and culture and we vehemently disagreed on many subjects. I grew more conservative, more libertarian as I grew older. He did not. But we never-not once-lost our patience with each other. Jarvis always loved me and I him. I deferred to him and he to me and we validated each other, though at times both of us in the pit of our stomachs knew the other was wrong.

I’ve heard so many of Jarvis’s friends say that he was the smartest man they knew. I will add to that chorus. Much of what I love about the world of literature, the world of ideas, was forged against the sharp iron of Jarvis’s seeking countenance, native wit and sheer willful learning. He never let me relax. Our mutual love of Shakespeare both taught and validated the other’s. It was Jarvis who led me to be involved with the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company and it was Jarvis who reacquainted me with old friends and mentors from my college days, all of whom were as close with him as I was. Jarvis made friends easily, kept them for life-long wearing and counted it a sin to lose one. He would not sacrifice truth and honesty, but he would seek to love and be loved as it was his greatest truth.

He believed most of all that God in the world meant love. He taught that, he lived that and his extraordinary humanity, as one friend called it, was tempered by his pursuit of how best to live out the credo that if God was love, then life was His greatest gift. But he was also a man of science and a man who wrestled continually with the notions of where science and Theology meet, not where they diverge.

Jarvis loved his wife, Susan deeply and he loved her daughters Nicole and Megan as if they were his own. He knew that whatever root of love he was seeking, it began first in establishing his family as the primary source of all else in his home and life.

During all the years I knew him, Jarvis made me feel like I was one of his closest confidants, most loyal sidekicks and even his family. But he made all feel that way–I was no different than the many legions of men and women who can-and will-tell the same story.

My bachelor’s party just before Sue and I got married was an overnight camping trip not too far from where we live up highway 33 to Lake Casitas. Jarvis came along with my mates, Scott, Shawn, Edd, Chris, Roger, Andy and Keith and me and he shared a tent with Shawn and me. We drank, we played, we sat on a boat on the water, we laughed and ate, had a great deal of fun and Jarvis felt at home, he told me. He said it was the best bachelor party he’d been to in a long time, perhaps ever-or at least that he remembered.

When we found out he had pancreatic cancer in 2011, it was a shock, a rude and interruptive black dream that shattered preconceived notions about which end of life was up. Jarvis never blinked. Open and honest, faithful to his purposes, he said, “it’s a matter of biology. It happens in the world. The question is not ‘why me?’ The question is, ‘why not me?'” He faced what he knew was an early death with a kind of grace that I may never see again. He was humble in the face of it, still asking questions, still seeking God’s face and accepting that his lot was his lot. I suppose someone had to do that–because I surely cannot.

Jarvis died at home peacefully on December 23, 2013. He is survived by his loving wife, his step-daughters, father and sister. But he is also survived by me-and so many other friends who cannot imagine a world without him. I’ve already begun talking to him and asking him why. He hasn’t answered. I’m assuming he’s busy finding the answers for which he sought so long. I’m sure he’s busy seeking out and proving that love moves the world. And nothing else does.




A Christmas Memory (with apologies to Truman Capote)

In the distant corners of my Christmas memories lie the hard charging ghosts of Midwest cold and snow, east coast relatives and Pennsylvania ponds covered in ice fit for skating. This time of year comes around and though most of my life has been spent in Southern California, I still expect snow, cold and quiet nights through the slip stream of Midwest mythological enchantment-that perfect place and time that, perhaps, never existed, but now is immortalized in my childhood dreams when I lived in Illinois and then Pennsylvania.

With a week left before the break, I find myself there again when night comes. Right now, temperatures here are in the 80’s-though it will cool off as the week moves along. But it cools at night and the Christmas lights come on and my daughter, who has never had snow at Christmas, waits with as much anticipation as any snowbound child would do to believe in sleighbells and jolly old elves. At 12, she knows better, but the mythology is potent and fun-and harmless and even a bit delightful.

One of my favorite singers once said, “no one writes when they’re f*&#n’ happy!” Yet, here I am doing it. It is harder than I imagined. It’s so much easier to give voice to angst and sadness. Happiness is a voice that is sounded from rooftops, but writing it means keeping away from those cliches and trying to make it your own.

I don’t like the weather. There-that’s easy. Kvetching now. I don’t like 80 degrees and blowing winds this time of year. I’m unhappy when it’s t-shirt weather in December and I say that knowing many who read this will scoff at me as their coffee goes cold after 8 minutes out of the pot and the windchill factor drops into negative territory.

But I don’t control the weather and I find that complaining about it has as much effect as complaining about the fact that the sky is blue.

One full week of school to go and then two glorious weeks off from it will go down well right now. My experiment in teaching Shakespeare’s Hamlet to my seniors using the Folger method has been a right success and overall, the kids loved it as much as I did. I heard them wandering out into the hallways repeating lines from the play and talking to each other: “Do you think Ophelia committed suicide or was it an accident? Was she murdered?” I heard that throughout the day Friday and it was a gift to me–a Christmas gift worth more than any I could ever receive as a teacher. Let the students discover the text for themselves and help them by guiding them, not telling them what it means. Let them struggle with words and meaning and read them over again if for no other reason than to find the joy in the way things are said.

While various cold and flu bugs pass through the house to keep things interesting, I’m reminded that this too will become a Christmas memory. That’s as it should be while new ones build and maybe even top it. For now, though–it’s a gift to be inside of it and realize it is something special.