Jay Phelps, RIP

22 05 2008

One of good friends from high school died over the weekend, and his family asked me to say something at his funeral.  I hadn’t seen Jay in several years, as he had pretty much isolated himself from most of the friends he had in those days.  But even though I hadn’t been close to him in later years, I still kept up on him though his family, and I was very sad to hear of his passing. Although he lived the life he wanted to live, I mourn not only his passing, but the lost of his gifts and his intelligence.  And even though we may have felt that he wasn’t using his gifts in ways we could understand, I still believe that he was capable of great things, should he turn his mind that way.  For those that knew Jay, or were part of those glory days in high school and college, I have reprinted here the euology I gave at his funeral.

Jay Phelps

When I first got the news, I was, like you, shocked and saddened by this tragedy.  Like everyone, the news was cause for reflection on Jay, on my friendship with him, and on the impact he has had on our lives.  I was honored when Sheldon asked me to say a few things about Jay today, and I spent some time thinking about how best to celebrate Jay’s life.
There’s a book whose story I think lends itself to helping us understand this kind of tragedy.  In Speaker for the Dead, Orsen Scott Card writes about the practice of having someone research the life of the person, and to tell the story of that person, with all its ups and downs, with all the small triumphs and tragedies intact.  The purpose of the Speaker for the Dead is not to glorify the life lived, but to help everyone, even those closest to him, to understand the life lived.
Now I don’t pretend to be able to explain Jay’s life or to comprehend all of its complexity.  But I would like to reflect on those things that made Jay the person he was and what Jay was able to teach us in his short life.
What I remember most about Jay was his intensity.  Every thing Jay did or attempted was done with a drive to do the best, be the best, and reach the farthest.  And it was always his passion to reach beyond the ordinary, to go further and do more.  After our marching band won the first of several state championship, it wasn’t enough for Jay just to have been a member of the band, he wanted to contribute more.  I remember sitting in the living room at Carol’s house on Rymark with Jay and with some of our band mates, trying to arrange a version of “Holding out for a Hero” for the band to use in some future show.
I also remember Jay as having a desire to create.  I don’t think it really mattered what he was creating, it was the act of creation that was important.  He was an excellent photographer, for example.  I remember one morning in the basement when we set up all of the equipment and spend the morning taking some really outstanding picture of one of our dear friends from high school, Sarah Hyde. I still have one of those photos, so you can see what I’m talking about.  But it wasn’t only photography.  Jay’s quest to create led him to electronics and computers and programming and music and games and fishing and his boat and probably half a hundred other things I’m forgetting. But the common thread in them all was an intense desire, almost a need, to create something, to express that intensity of purpose and desire that drove him.
I also remember Jay as being a person that needed to connect with people, to be part of something larger, whether it was band, playing games in the basement for hours on end, or just hosting friends to watch movies or talk about life in general.  Jeff Fluharty mentioned earlier that Jay always wanted to join in whatever his friends were doing and enjoying, to experience part of that joy.  Some of the best times I can remember from my high school and college years were spent in that basement, with the red shag carpet, playing games and hanging out with friends.  I know we all took that time for granted, as all teenagers are wont to do, and I wanted to take a moment now to thank Carol for allowing us to all spend that time together.  I know it was important to Jay, and to Sheldon, and it was important to me.
Jay was not a religious man, but he had, I believe, a deep sense of spirituality that he expressed in his own fashion, like the times he participated in the Young Life program.  I also have a picture somewhere of Jay as Jacob in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  Even though we won’t have a formal prayer service or religious observance, I would like to ask everyone to take a moment in silent reflection on the life of Jay Phelps, and the lessons his life has for us all.
Thank you.

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One response

22 05 2008
Sarah (Hyde) Sakas

Michael,

How many hours DID we spend in that basement? I know I spent more time there than at my own house those years. Even though I too had not seen Jay in many years, I had always and will always consider him one of my dearest friends.

I have so many fond memories of Jay that I intend to share with Carol in the near future.

Excellent Job on the eulogy!

Sarah

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