April 8, 2009
Good afternoon and welcome. My name is Scott Ainslie. I have been asked to say a few words now and to help facilitate the service this afternoon.
I am grateful to be among you today – to mourn the loss, and to celebrate and honor the life of Whitney Smith.
Three years ago, our mutual friend, Michael Millard, gave me Whit’s address along with a very gentle, but unmistakable nudge to write.
Whit and I became friends the old fashioned way: through letters.
A gifted writer, Whit began – and ended – our correspondence with candor and intelligence, humor, humility, and always with his characteristic clear-eyed and openhearted gratitude.
Not a month ago, on an early Spring day not unlike today, he wrote:
“Looking around me, it’s amazing to see how the glory of Spring is able to permeate the thickest of walls and highest of fences. Drainage pipes stretching across the ceilings of the coops provide a perfectly secure nook for robins and doves to build their nests, which they are already busy doing. And the troops of ants, beetles and caterpillars, which at most times would be an offensive sight to behold, at this moment are a welcome sign of the changing season, as they cautiously venture from the cracks in the concrete.”
We feel his absence keenly. Today – our grief is new. And sharp. It can turn on us.
But the very clear message that Whit sent out to us, before he lay his body down, was meant to encourage us not to use his life – or his death – to do ourselves or each other harm (something that in the chaos and disorientation of new grief often too easily happens, and something that would be a profound misuse of his life and memory). Something that he very consciously and deliberately tried to prevent us from doing.
So, today – together, we will begin the process of filling in the space – long held for Whit – with our memories and love for him: honoring the steps and missteps, paying careful attention to one and other, and to his Spirit.
Today, in stories and songs, in his words and ours, we offer to one another our gratitude for having had time here – under this sun and these stars – with him.
Climbing out of adolescence to adulthood is never easy. But, Whit’s particular mountain was higher than most.
Whit became a man – a kind, thoughtful, and loving man – while confined in the Federal Pen. at
And he did what the very best of us too rarely do: he lifted himself up out of the brutal circumstances surrounding him and became, in his own words, “a man who values and protects his sense of honor and duty” – to his friends, to his family, to himself.
Let us all remember – as has been noted by others here today – that Grief is not a medal, a commemorative souvenir of the battle to be worn on the chest or preserved on display in a shadow box on the wall. It is the process by which we reassemble our lives.
Time does not heal all wounds. (Left alone, Time makes many of them worse.) But healing takes time – and a strange combination of indulgence and attention.
We are mapping a new world – under unfamiliar stars – without Whit.
As they become familiar we must let Grief – that Dark Horse – wander a little and mark where it goes. We must learn the lay of the land, taking care neither to rein it in too soon, nor to let it get away from us altogether.
Patience, awareness, and compassion are our tools – for ourselves, and for each other.
Today, we have begun well. Let us continue together, offering each other our ears and our support – and being grateful for Whit’s presence in our lives – as he was so openly grateful for each of us.