Mel's Eulogy for Jason Zimmerman delivered at his memorial service on August 25, 2012
Jason and I had a fight this year. It wasn’t that unusual for us to disagree - that was almost the basis for our whole relationship really. But this one was a little more serious - probably because I was pushing Z a bit harder than I usually did. Pushing him into an area that he didn't want to talk about and he…well, he was being difficult. By way of an…..I was going to say apology, but it was really more an explanation, I wrote a post about friendship and what I feel constitutes the best kind of friend. This is part of what I wrote:
- To me the very best kind of friend is someone I have a great time with, someone I can laugh with (I mean really laugh).
- My best kind of friend is one with whom I can have open conversations, and who will prove loyal.
- My best kind of friend appreciates my good qualities but also tries to help me mend my negative qualities - kind of the personality equivalent of the friend who'll tell you when you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe.
- My best kind of friend encourages an honest and open dialogue and will volunteer to give (as well as receive) advice about different aspects of life not only because they care about me, but also because they want positive things to happen in my life.
-My best kind of friend is a source of inspiration and motivation and we can hopefully learn from each other's mistakes.
The next time I saw Z, he brought up this post. He had realized, of course that I had been, in fact, communicating with him via the internet when he hadn't been willing to listen to me face to face.
Z didn't always like what I had to say to him. I often wondered why we ended up being friends, why he always circled back to our friendship even when he (or maybe I) was being difficult. I have come to the conclusion that it was because I told Jason the truth about the way that I saw him - the tremendous good I saw in him but also the things that made me worry about him… and he somehow appreciated that. So I want to share some truths with you today about my friend Jason. I think he will be expecting that from me and be surprised if I did anything else.
Jason was always talking about how important his alone time was to him. But I never quite believed him because he was the cruise director for pulling people together and keeping people connected. After I stopped working at Sunset View, he told me (not so much asked me, but told me) that we were having dinner once a week...and we did, almost every week for the last five years. He was always the one that organized the Saturday morning breakfasts with the past and present Sunset View Colleagues. He was always the instigator for getting our sort-of-core Red Rock crew together for dinner once in awhile. And I know he stayed in contact too with people that had been important to him from years and years ago. He was a conscientious and thoughtful friend who remembered birthdays and anniversaries and other personal details. The relationships in his life were important to him, he didn't want them to fade and he made a serious effort to stay connected. It's something that I admired about him and an example that I need to take into my own life. Especially now that he's not here to do it for me.
Jason was one of the best teachers I've ever seen. Jason in front of a class was a sight to see wasn't he? Like a great basketball player or a great chef he would fast break and rebound and slice, dice, saute and present a feast of learning for his students. And he was a hard teacher too, right? He actually expected kids to do their homework, make progress and actually earn those bonus bucks. But in return for all those high expectations he would put on quite a show. It really didn't matter if it was math, or reading or science or P.E he was able to teach and entertain and magically, almost without even realizing what was happening, the kids would learn something.
It was magic.
Jason believed in magic didn't he?
He believed in the magic of games. When we would go to Red Rock, we would give all of the kids a bandana - for practical reasons. To keep the back of their neck from getting sunburned, or to put on their head if they forgot a hat, or to cover their nose and mouth if we found ourselves in a sandstorm. But I'll bet what most of the kids remember about those bandanas was that they needed theirs to play the bandana game with Mr. Z..
I don't know for certain if he was the one that came up with this particular game (though he did come up with a lot of unique games). But I do know that Z was the ringleader of the game. I sometimes thought that we could have saved ourselves the trouble of planning all the puzzles and books, and climbs and challenges for Red Rock. If we had played only the bandana game for four days, the kids would still have thought it was the best trip of their lives.
Jason believed in the magic of words. He thought that words had a enchantment and a music of their own and he loved to try and use words to convey a sensory experience and make you not just read but feel or experience what he had written.
He believed in the magic of a good book. I think that he believed that when you read a great story, it becomes part of who you are. And having the privilege of reading a book
out-loud was a chance for him to perform and interpret a unique form of art. And he really loved doing that.
He believed in the magic of music. Again using Red Rock as an example; A few years into the program, Jason came up with a tune on his guitar that we somehow decided to use as our theme song. I wrote some verses about some of the uniquely-Red-Rock experiences like eating mostly sand for dinner or crowded tents, but the really fun thing about that song was that each group, or clan, would come up with their own verse for the song and we would share all of those on our last night of the trip. It added a whole new level on top of anything that I had come up with and it was fun...it was just fun.
Jason believed in using all of these magical elements to create memories. Memories that became a part of who kids turn out to be and who we all turn out to be.
But like any great magician, he never wanted anyone to see behind the scenes - to see how hard it was to make those magic tricks seem effortless. Being in front of a classroom full of students, or any group of people really, did not come naturally to Jason. He had to work at it. It was something that he wanted to be great at, but it was also something that he wore like a coat...or maybe more aptly a suit of armor...a really heavy suit of armor. If you think he was hard on his students - that is only a fraction of how hard he was on himself. He would take every failure to heart. If a student wasn't progressing, he saw it as a personal failure.
At the end of the last school year, Jason wrote a post about how he worried about this. He compared his students to starfish on the beach that he would try to keep throwing into the ocean - even when so many covered the beach that the task seemed impossible. In this post, Jason mentioned talking to a friend who was trying to remind him that the value is in the effort, not always the outcome. I was that friend and I can tell you that Jason had a very heavy heart when a student was, as he put it, “content to laze in the blistering sands.” One of the last sentences he wrote in that post was to say that “we should never feel that our energies are wasted in trying to help another.” I was glad to see that he had written that, and I do hope he was at least trying to believe that bit of wisdom applied to him as well. I was always concerned that he would burn himself out in his endless quest for perfection. You see, despite the successes and awards Jason enjoyed and received he always wondered: Am I good enough, Am I cool enough, will they like me? I told him many, many times and if he could hear me now I would say again, Jason, you were good enough and they did like you.
One of the last things I was able to tell Jason...to write to Jason, was to remind him that we were never friends because I thought he was perfect. Any of you that ever saw us together knew that I was exasperated with him about 80% of the time. But in a strange kind of way, I'm grateful that he always knew that I wasn't expecting a perfect friend. I didn't need perfection because I saw first hand and was often a participant in the good that he accomplished in his life and it was valuable and it was real.
Jason was the most nostalgic person I think I ever met. As I said, he wanted to have memories, he wanted other people to have them too and he often used his beautiful photographs for that. I've never been a big fan of having my picture taken, but once in awhile Jason caught a picture of me. When Ian, my youngest boy was about 9 years old, I had painted a U.S. flag on his face. I honestly can't remember why now. It was during that period of time we had year-round school and I think it was during one of our Summer Inter-session programs. Anyway, Jason took a picture of me peering over the shoulder of my little patriotic Ian. Then, just last December, a few days before a 19 year-old Ian went into the MTC, Jason took another picture of us. No flag on Ian’s face this time, but the same pose in every other respect. Ian (probably thinking he was doing something nice) put those pictures in frame for me and gave them to me the night before he went into the MTC.
Jason always despaired a little that I wasn't as sentimental as he expected me to be, but I freely admit that I love those pictures and I am so grateful for them. They are a poignant set of bookends to Ian's childhood. I look at them every-day and I am flooded with the memories that were made in that 10-year span. I'll always be grateful for those pictures and for how many of those memories include my friend Jason.
- My best kind of friend is a source of inspiration and motivation and we can hopefully learn from each other's mistakes.
I have been inspired by Jason Zimmerman, and he helped to motivate me. I have learned from him and I hope that I will be able to take the best of all those memories I have of him and continue to learn. I think he'd like that.
So, good-bye my friend.
I hope that you've finally been able to take off that heavy suit of armor. I hope that you’ll be ready, when I see you again to have some of those open conversations, and I hope that you will find that I have proven to be as loyal a friend to you as you were to me.