Michael was kind enough to allow me to share what he spoke at Whit's memorial service:
I am the family guitar maker. Some years ago I built a guitar for Jeff which later figured in one of Whit's "escapades." When Jeff told me about that, the conversation led quite clearly into an important friendship with both father and son.
Whit and I wrote many, many letters to each other over the last four years. Until last year when he was placed in solitary confinement, we enjoyed as many phone calls as he was allowed. I was also lucky enough to be able to visit him at Terre Haute once. I'm sure he got a lot of flack from his fellow inmates about hugging that grizzly geezer when I was leaving.
I am speaking today because Whit's Dad has asked that I do so, this from his belief that somehow I understood Whit fully. I am honored.
I love Whit Smith.
The almost universal questions are "Why?" and "What might I have done to change this?" We've all asked; many of us are still asking.
Whit is someone for whom I have enormous admiration. He was thoughtful, generous and kind. He was brilliant, curious, and magnificently creative. Please.....examine his body of writing. He was courageous beyond my ability to comprehend.
When I met Whit, he had really begun to ask himself (as a grown man), "So, what IS it with me?" He saw the trail behind and asked "Why?" He did NOT Understand. He asked these things fully and honestly. There was no "right answer"; he wanted the truth. And he did most of the work of understanding the why and wherefore of his life, which most of us do between the ages of 25 and 50 years, in the four years from 20 to 25. He began, in all facets of his life, to take full responsibility for himself, his choices, and his actions.
If you need any measure of the quality of the man, I ask you to envision a 20-year old learning this in the context of the hell which is Terre Haute F.C.C. This is an extraordinary human being.
But even the most extraordinary of us have our doubts, that place wherein we ask ourselves and all creation: "Am I worthwhile, a WORTHY human being?" There must be enough unconditional love in a child's existence to fight off the doubt that each of us will eventually encounter in life.
Over the last year, I watched Whit as it became possible to him that he might spend a very long time in prison. In light of that, I believe he chose the only option he had. He did this bravely, with dignity, and, I believe, with as much kindness as he could toward those he loved.
Whit and I talked a lot about death over the last year. My father had been very ill for some time. He died five days before Whit took his own life. In Whit's death I see nothing unkind, no parting harshness to anyone, simply an acknowledgment that what he had in store did not give him what he needed.
This is a man who knows himself very, very, well, perhaps better than many persons several times his age.
For Jeff and Kathy:
We practice Forgiveness awkwardly, sometimes desperately, on others, usually in the silent unrecognized hope that we can come to forgive ourselves.
I know you well, my friend. There will come a time when you will hold your grief as a sacred duty. Please, let it pass. Be kind to yourself, to your amazing family, and to Diane. Perhaps most of all, to Whit. Take Joy in who your son is. You deserve nothing less, and he was, and is, a miracle.