October 7, 2008

Evan's Memorial Service Speech

Many of you have commented that you'd like a copy of the speech that James Schwartz made at Evan's funeral. Here it is. There is also a copy of Evan's eulogy on Tymon's blog.

Evan Johns Memorial Service
September 27, 2008

I’ve heard it said that that flame that burns briefest burns brightest. Now, I don’t know if that’s a true law of science or physics. But as a metaphor to describe the short, sweet life of our beloved Evan, I find those words to be among the truest of statements. It’s so difficult and confounding when one so innocent, so pure, so young as Evan is taken from us, just when his fire was growing brighter and ever more brilliant with each passing week. And oh, what a bright flame!

I think you’d agree, wouldn’t you, that to know Evan, one must know his wonderful parents, Bridget and Tymon, and his band of brothers: Graeden, Elliott and Jett. And in this regard, compared perhaps to most of you, I’m a relative newcomer. When I first met Tymon and Bridget, they were both single. They had come to a church social function, and Bridget’s mom, Pat, was introducing me to them. My family and I had moved to Snohomish only a handful of months before, and I was the new bishop who didn’t really have a sense of the legacy, traditions and personalities in the ward. With a very straightforward tone, Pat introduced me to Bridget by saying, “Bishop, this is our youngest daughter. She’s not active at all in the church. Could you do something about that?” I was taken aback at this brash and direct comment, and I’m sure I stood there with my mouth wide open for what seemed like minutes. And Pat kept the perfect game face…nothing but a stern look of a parent on a mission. And Bridget played along! Finally, the corners of Pat’s mouth turned upward and she let out a hearty laugh…I’d been had! Bridget was serving, if I recall, as the Relief Society President of her student ward at the time. Well, that experience was all I needed to begin to understand and love the Fawcetts and the family that became the Johns family in Snohomish 1st ward!

Shortly thereafter Bridget and Tymon were married for time and eternity in a temple of God. And shortly after that, the new Johns’ family goal of single-handedly birthing and raising a boy’s soccer team or two went into full swing.

Now, I’m sure I can speak for all of us here when I say that we love those Johns boys, all four of them: Graeden, Elliott, Jett and Evan. They’re particularly special to the Schwartz family. Two of my kids “broke their babysitting teeth” with Graeden and Elliott. We’ve loved watching Graeden grow and turn from an unbridled, bouncy ball of raw energy who would use these handrails up to the stand as a Jungle Gym during Sacrament meeting into a more tamed Kindergartener who now has a sense of what it means to be responsible and reverent. He’s the perfect oldest child.

Our 18-year-old who’s now a freshman in college, Michael, has a particular soft spot in his heart for the Johns boys. They always energize Michael and give him a reason to smile, laugh and feel loved. During this past summer, Michael attempted to grow a goatee. In my eyes, it looked like every 18-year-old’s attempt to cultivate facial hair…it wasn’t something to write home about, if you know what I mean. Full of bread crumbs and partially-eaten french fries, etc. During a recent Sacrament meeting, Elliott came over, sat on Michael’s lap, and started to caress the few hairs that were to be the goatee. Elliott then asks Michael, “what’s this?”, pointing at the goatee. Michael whispers, “It’s a goatee.” Elliott looks puzzled, and then he begins to examine and scrutinize Michael’s fuzzy chin more closely, for several minutes on end. “You mean,” he finally asks Michael in a puzzled tone of voice, “there’s a goat in there??” I told Michael afterward that maybe Elliott’s question wasn’t in regards to what he saw...maybe it was what he smelled!

And like many of you, it’s been so fun to cuddle with Jett and watch him grow. He’s been the perfect community baby, so well natured and accepting of everyone. I love watching his affection for his family…for his brothers, parents and grandparents. And, as Jett has found his voice more recently, I’ve snickered as he repeatedly calls out “where Papa?” when looking for his grandfather in midst of quieter moments in Sacrament meetings.

And then there’s Evan, who was the perfect mixture of all of his brothers. He was so sweet, so tender, so fun-loving, so accepting. You could just tell that he had ultimate trust in his brothers and parents and family by the way he looked when he was with them: content, cheerful, just happy to be here. Seeing, for example, Elliott with his arm wrapped around Evan on a recent occasion really captured for me the essence of their feelings for one another and of Evan’s charming, gleeful personality. The boys were walking out of the chapel one Sunday, and Elliott had wrapped his arm gently around Evan’s neck like young boys do…I think it’s the “buddy wrap”. It wasn’t quite a half Nelson, and I’m sure it wasn’t the most comfortable for Evan…but what did he care? He was with Elliott. And Elliott had this intense look of The Protector on his face…he was obviously determined to deliver Evan to some pre-determined destination, and he wasn’t going to let anything or anybody stop him in this mission. And there was Evan, totally carefree, glad to be along for the ride, broad ear-to-ear grin, a look of complete confidence in his brother’s care; a look that communicated the purest trust one human can have in another. And you can only develop that trust---even as a young child---when one’s home and family is filled with genuine love, selflessness, honesty and goodness. As with all of the Johns boys, Evan was certainly a by-product of a family and home environment that cultivated that love, and fun, and trust. A home environment whose chief architects are Bridget and Tymon.

One of my last images of Evan was just a week or so ago, right here in this chapel, when Tymon was juggling Evan in one arm and Evan’s bag in the other. I asked if I could help carry the load, and he handed me Evan who had just woken up from a nap. Upon realizing suddenly that his dad wasn’t his sherpa, he immediately turned toward his dad and stretched out his arms, calling for his father. It was that image of Evan with outstretched arms calling for his father that came to my mind when I learned of Evan’s passing this week. I had wondered if that scene had been repeated as Evan passed through the veil and into the next phase in his eternal existence.

Although 15 ½ months is such a short time in which to get to know someone, those who were fortunate enough to know and embrace Evan had their lives enriched, and we will always remember him for his happy spirit, his full smile and his bright eyes. He was a clever and curious boy, who sought to befriend everyone. He loved to be loved, and we love him. And while we know that Evan is now in his Heavenly Father’s care, we miss his warm and engaging heart.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that strange and sometimes conflicting bundle of feelings that we experience when a loved one passes away unexpectedly: mourning, sorrow, pain, guilt (perhaps for the “coulda’s”, “woulda’s”, “shoulda’s”), anger, maybe some fear --- hopefully we also feel some peace and hope. Peace and hope because Evan’s existence hasn’t ended – it’s not all over – but is merely a new chapter. His body has stopped its physical functioning, but his spirit – that eternal essence that really is Evan – lives on.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches and declares that Evan didn’t just burst into existence when he was physically born here 15 ½ months ago, but that he---like all of us---had existed in a pre-earth life, as a spiritual being, prior to his mortal arrival. He, like each of us, is a literal child of God. Not only are we created in God’s image, but because He is our Father, we have the potential to learn, grow and progress to become more like our Heavenly Father. In short, our Father in Heaven has laid out a plan for us whereby we can fulfill the measure---the purpose---of our creation, and gain a fullness of joy…even with---or perhaps because of---the harsh challenges and perspective-altering and life-changing trials of our mortal experience.

And so, Evan has started a new phase in his eternal journey. His wiry body, which for such a short time housed his spirit, will return to the earth. But his body is not only that which is Evan! His spirit, his real essence – his personality, his character and characteristics, sense of humor, way of looking at and understanding things, the feelings he has for others – his spirit lives on, and will return once again to that heavenly home to live together with God, his and our Heavenly Father, His Son – and his and our Savior, Jesus Christ – and his loved ones. Perhaps this is best spelled out in a short metaphor:

Imagine for a moment that you are about to cross the country on a train. You get on board, and as the train starts you find yourself sitting next to a fine person who is making the same journey that you are. Since the trip usually takes almost four days, you begin a serious attempt to get to know each other. You find that you have much in common, and by the time the train steams into the darkness at the end of the first day you feel a remarkable closeness and begin to feel that the relationship you are forming may be the most important part of your journey.

After a sound night’s sleep in the Pullman car, you rejoin your friend and the two of you spend another day relating to each other and experiencing the journey together. Your rapport grows still stronger, and you find yourself feeling a little sorry that the day passes so fast. By the second night your train is deep into the flat middle plains, and as you fall asleep you are thinking about the things you want to find out and talk about with your friend the next day.

In the morning you return to your seat and find, to your dismay, that your friend is gone. When you inquire, someone tells you that he got off during the night.

Got off during the night? But he had a destination very near your own, and you had planned on having the next two days with him, and there was so much more left to say! Suddenly you realize that you never did find out quite where he came from or just who he really was, and that you never did learn why he was on the train or exactly where he was going. Worst of all, you realize that you don’t know whether you’ll see him again – that you don’t know how to find him or contact him.

The feeling is a mixture of sadness and frustration which together produce something in between bitterness and anger. Why did he have to leave? Did someone or something make him leave? Should you be upset at him for leaving or at someone else who made him go against his will? It’s not so much that he’s gone, it’s that you don’t know where he’s gone and you want so much to see him again.

At that point the porter comes down the row to your seat. The message he leaves is very simple, but changes night into day and bitterness into joy. He tells you that your friend was indeed going to the same place as you – that he was going there to see his father. During the night the train received an emergency message which instructed your friend to get off the train at the next stop and catch a plane to get home more quickly, because his father needed him right then. The porter leaves you a phone number so that you can contact your friend a soon as you arrive.

The simple message of the porter turns your frustration into peace. You are still sorry to miss the two days of discussion you had anticipated with your friend, but your sorrow is no longer bitter or blind; rather, it is sweet with the knowledge of where he is and the assurance that you will see him again.[1]

In short, that is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

1) Our origin is a divine one – that each of us is the spiritual offspring of a heavenly Father, that we existed before this earth as spirit beings, that we were distinct individuals with characteristics and attributes that we brought with us when we were born physically to the earth…

2) Our purpose on this earth is to gain experiences that help us to understand God and to do our best to become more like Him – even in the face of (or perhaps because of) trials and adversity. That is, to learn to become more loving, more selfless, more patient, more caring…

3) Our destination is to return as families to Him and His Son – our Savior and the One who sacrificed so that we might live forever – to enjoy the degree of happiness, peace, joy, contentment that He wants us to have and which He has. The kingdom of heaven is a place where we will continue to progress, develop, and grow eternally.

Your son, grandson, brother, nephew, cousin, friend – Evan Coburn Johns – precedes us in this journey. He enters the eternities uninhibited by pain or mortal discomfort. I imagine he misses you – each of you – dearly. He’ll miss seeing you, and yet is comforted that he’s taking part of you with him for the way that you have contributed to his life here.

And you…YOU…will always have a part of him with you. I imagine his words to you would not be so much “goodbye”, but rather, “till we meet again”.

[1] Dunn, Paul H. & Eyre, Richard M., The Birth We Call Death, pp. 29-31. Aspen Books, 1999.

1 Riveting COMMENTS:

  1. Thank You!
    Aimee and I both wanted a copy.
    We love your family and continue to pray for you all!
    And Beautiful baby girl!


Go ahead. Comment.
You know you want to.
And I love hearing from you.

Design by April Showers