What makes this post different from all my other posts is my reference to a personal matter: I am making this exception to honor a very close friend who died just about two weeks ago. I hope this tribute will also comfort friends and family. Jack Rodney, 57, died of cancer on April 4th, 2014, near Seattle, Washington the same age as I.
Jack was adept at spotting humor in absolutely everything, including death, and I owe some of my own humor radar to him. Shortly after I was ordained in 1992, he would joke, “Does this mean you can now officiate at my funeral?” Little did we know that this practically happened, much much earlier than we had in mind. Instead, there is this post, as well as an “in memoriam page” the publisher let me add to the book just two weeks before it was due to “go live.” Upon hearing about that, our mutual friend Ross couldn’t resist saying, “Jack got the last laugh: he died just in time to get his name in your book.”
Jack not only joked on any subject, but also used humor as a weapon to disarm. If anyone insulted him such as by calling him a jerk, he would simply say the magic word, “thank you.” I would call him “jerk” or worse just to hear his rejoinder. You gotta admit: that is pretty original.
He had various odd jobs –very odd; one was unwittingly working at the same radio station with Rush Limbaugh before he was well-known. Rush was a disk jockey under an alias, and Jack was finishing up high school. It so happened that Rush had asked Jack to get something for him from his car, and Jack saw his real name written on some papers in the trunk. Years late, Jack remembered the unusual name when he heard of Limbaugh’s fame.
Then Jack Rodney settled on teaching high school. His career was an especially rich source of material to regale his friends with. One great anecdote had to do with substitute teaching. One time he reported to a unique situation, where he was instructed to show up at a special room for several students without being told what subject to teach. Jack looked around the room, which was nicely decorated and comfortable. And the students seemed cheerful and friendly enough, especially to a sub. Jack figured that they were being rewarded by not having to study, and so he thought up some ways to enhance their reward. He called in for pizza and ice cream, and played Beatles songs on his guitar for them. (By the way, other than wife and children, the Fab Four were his passion, and he wrote a book about life lessons he had learned from them.) So the students and Mr. Rodney himself of course, had a fabulous time. There was just one little “technicality” though in how he carried out this substitute teaching assignment: the school principal had sent those students to that room for punishment.
I paid tribute to Jack by saying these few words at our local synagogue just before Passover: “Holiday times can be bittersweet. On the one hand, we remember the good times we had with loved ones at Seders and other events. On the other, these events can trigger our grief anew, and make their absence all the more keenly felt. We want to remember them, but by doing so we pay the price of engaging in more grieving. But this remembering keeps them alive in some sense. What I mean is this is the time to stop and take stock of the lessons they have taught you, the blessings they have bestowed upon you, and what they have meant to you in the past and now…Their good deeds are like ripples, whose effects have spread throughout the cosmos… As we express our grief, and by virtue of that expression, the seeds of spiritual healing can begin to quietly grow.”
PS : My husband has subsequently (April 30) written a tribute to Jack on his own blog. The link to the tribute is: http://truecontrarian-sjk.blogspot.com/p/reminiscence-of-week.html