Celebrating a Life: A Tribute to Mr. James Woods, September 21, 1996

Mr. James Woods

Mr. James Woods, April 26, 1911-September 15, 1996


Celebrating a life . . .


Terez’ choice of words for the program is so appropriate for this morning because my memories are filled with his smiles and joy.  I will not remember him sadly for he was not a sad man.  He wanted others to share in his joy and the only fitting honor we can bestow him is to invite others to join in this celebration of life.


That is why we are here today.  For celebration is not a solitary act.  It is a congregation, a gathering, a feast.  And Mr. Woods knew how to hold a feast.  He transformed the basic, often mundane act of sustenance into an act of jubilance.   Not just of his great gift and God’s bounty, but of each other’s presence.  Of his many gifts, I believe his greatest lay not in the kitchen, but in his ability to remind us of how special every moment is and can be.


Celebrating a life . . .


In celebration, we want to share with those dearest to us and nothing was dearer to Mr. Woods than his family.  I remember the way he would look at his wife—in a loving way that their many years of marriage had not diminished, but had made flourish.  I remember his insistence on making his way upstairs, though weakened with illness himself, to check on his daughter, his “bit of gold” and to make sure that she ate.   I remember him feeling comfortable enough with me to entrust the care of his “bit of gold,” his cause for celebration.


Celebrating a life . . .


I will remember Mr. Woods best for his stories.  Weekend afternoons in the basement, or in the summer, in the garage, spent listening to his travels to North Africa, the Caribbean, and across the country while letting his rolls rise or smoking a turkey.  He was inspired by the great things people could accomplish once setting their minds to the task; from building massive cruise ships and monuments to political action and simple acts of kindness—all having the power to touch our hearts and change our lives for the better.  He always had a moral to pass on, a lesson to teach, a virtue to celebrate.


Celebrating a life . . .


Even at times when others would be hard pressed to see the good, Mr. Woods always found the proverbial silver lining.  Every morning this past summer, we would talk about the previous night’s baseball game.  No matter what the outcome or the performance of the players, particularly his favorite, Albert Belle, he would always sum up our discussions with “Well, you can’t expect them to win them all.”  No matter how tired he might have been or how much pain he might have felt, he never complained.  He merely reminded us that it could always be much worse and that there were others far worse off than he.  He had lived a long and full life.  He had gotten to do and see all the things that he could have wanted.  And he was with his family.  A reason to celebrate.


Celebrating life!


I often have to teach twelfth-graders Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus.  In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was cursed with the task of pushing a heavy boulder up to the top of a high and steep hill.  But the peak of the hill was very narrow so every time he reached the top, the stone would roll back down the other side.  So he spent eternity pushing this back up the hill only to watch it roll back down and start over again in a never-ending cycle.  Invariably, someone gives me a long, hard look and asks me incredulously, “Why does he keep doing it?”  Camus’ answer is that in order for this to make any sense at all, you have to imagine Sisyphus happy.  My students have a hard time buying this and, I have to admit, for a long time so did I.  But Dad could imagine him happy.  He clearly understood that actually making it to top, if even for the briefest of moments, was a feat worthy of celebration.  All of the toil that preceded that moment was merely preparation for that time of celebration.  This special insight is why his is “our piece of gold.”  This is why I felt proud and honored to have known him and to be treated like a son.  This is why I celebrate.


Click here for a pictorial tribute.