Eulogy for my father and the silent courage of a true hero

In the play Julius Caesar (II, ii, 30-31), Shakespeare once said, “When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”  

Thomas Purcell is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Twitter: @LotusTom

Thomas Purcell is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Twitter: @LotusTom

The reason I say this is because this year the comet ISON will appear in the sky in one of the most spectacular astronomical shows ever seen in our lifetimes. Coincidentally, in the year of my father’s birth, 1940, the comet Cunningham made an equally spectacular appearance.

These two events act as bookends to what was an equally blessed life.

While my father was not a hero in the traditional sense, he was nonetheless representative of a kind of heroism rarely talked about these days. It’s a heroism that is symbolic of the generation he came from: stoic, principled and noble. Today, our heroes are reflective of the world we live in. Today’s heroes come from great events, tragic circumstances, and sports figures.

Yet, true heroism can come from a very different place; from the silent courage it takes to go to work every day, to provide for a loving wife and for children and their needs. The courage to always put their needs ahead of his own needs, to set aside personal aggrandizement for the humble, to willingly submit themselves to  the daily grind needed, to afford those he cared about, a quality of life that few had access to.

We went to private schools while Bill worked the thankless job of building tunnels in the ground to provide clean drinking water to the people of New York (a job that also provided for millions of others he would never know).  He was an Operating Engineer working the cranes above New York in the bitterest of winters.  And when the city he grew up in, began to wither and die, he moved us to the sunny shores of California, to provide a fertile ground for his family to blossom. He sold cars, working a slave’s hours so that his wife could live in a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood there; and when God saw fit to shake the foundations of those mountains, he once again took the family to safer ground here in Arizona.

I have never known that sort of courage; to put family needs before one’s own. To place myself second to those I loved.  That kind of heroism is of a different generation, of a different state of mind. To provide for family, to prepare for any unforeseen eventuality, to live vicariously through the joys of his family, is something that is so rarely seen any more and is so desperately needed by a weary world. His disappointments in life were met without complaint and without regret; he was a man who looked forward, not back.

If more acted in this manner, the whole of society would be better for it, as I know my family was.
Even in death, as he fought for life when cancer had ravaged his body, he refused to die until his loved ones granted him permission to do so. He could not bear to act selfishly even as death claimed him. His legacy was not of a man who runs into burning buildings, but that of a man who builds the buildings in the first place.

This heroism is the legacy of my father.

Just as Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar of comets heralding the coming and going of princes, he wrote about the passing of heroes. This passage from Antony and Cleopatra (Act V, Sc. 1) describes it best, and it applies to my father, as much as it did for Marc Antony.

“Shake with terror when such words pass your lips,
for fear they be untrue
and Antony’d cut out your tongue for the lie!
The breaking of so great a thing should make
A greater crack: the round world
Should have shook lions into civil streets,
And citizens to their dens: the death of Antony
Is not a single doom; in the name lay
A moiety of the world.
And if true, if for your lifetime,
boast that you were honored to speak his name even in death.
The dying of such a man, must be shouted, screamed!
It must echo back from the corners of the universe.
“Antony is dead! Mark Antony of Rome lives no more!”

Sometimes, heroes are given to us in the form of an ordinary man.

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  1. richardbaris says:

    That was wonderful Thomas. Just wonderful.

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