Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Caroline's Tribute

This is a copy of the tribute I gave for my brother at the funeral.  

John Paul - My Superman

It feels like an impossible task to try to sum up my brother in a few minutes.  He loved hiking, cooking, traveling, and running.  But those were just things John did.  What made John so amazing was how he lived his life.  He was strong.  He was courageous.  He was funny.  He was loving.  He embodied so many virtues we’d all love to claim.  John may have seemed average to those who didn’t know him, but for me, he was my Superman.

When John was about 4, my Uncle Steve asked if he could be his friend.  John replied, “Sorry, I already have two friends - Papa and Superman.”  It’s a funny story, but it really is the opposite of who John grew to be.  His capacity for love was unparalleled.  I’ve never known anyone who was able to make friends and hold on to them the way John did.

John’s heart was enormous.  He made everyone feel that they were his closest friend and confidant.  I don’t say this to diminish anyone’s relationship with John.  I say this because John’s ability to love was that phenomenal.  There was room for all of us in John’s heart.  It was his super power.  He had enough love for us all.

Like John’s buddy Superman, he was also courageous. He was the most courageous person I’ve ever known.  I mean truly courageous.  He knew he was dying.  He knew these tumors would take his life.  He kept going.  He kept fighting, right until the very end. But before cancer, John was already courageous.  His fight with cancer may be our last memory of John, but it shouldn’t be our only memory of him.  He lived a fearless life.  He was intensely protective of his friends and family.  He was unafraid to show emotion. 

John couldn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he could jump: off of bridges (in Maine and Annapolis and who knows where else), into bodies of water because of bets, and from gondolas (in Switzerland) and cliffs (in the Alps and Lake George).  It’s how he lived his life – jumping in with both feet.

When we were kids, our bedrooms were right next to each other and we shared a wall.  Each night before we went to sleep we would knock on the wall and say, “I love you.”  That’s another thing about John.  You never wondered where you stood with him.  He wore his heart and his emotions on his sleeve.  If he loved you, you knew it.  If he was angry with you, you knew it.  Even if you didn’t have the opportunity to see John one last time, I doubt there is anyone here who wonders if John cared for them.

People were drawn to John.  His personality was magnetic.  He drew you in with his attentiveness and sincerity and then won you over with his humor.  One conversation with John and you were hooked. 

His humor was witty and quick.  He used it to defuse arguments or awkward situations or just to make you laugh.  John’s humor is what I will remember most about him - his ability to turn mundane moments into side-splitting adventures. It’s impossible to try to come up with simply one example that demonstrates John’s humor because every conversation he participated in was littered with sarcastic references, movie quotes or smart observational humor. He had the ability to be funny without hurting others.  Jokes were most often at his expense.

John could win an argument even if he was wrong.  He told me that the thing he hated about the iPhone was that it was making it much harder for him to win arguments when he was wrong (people could check his declarations immediately) - not that he couldn’t still win them, it just made it harder.

John was a good cook.  One of the last nights that we went out with John, we got sucked into a marathon of a TV show called “Chopped” before heading out for the evening.  I’m not really sure that the show is even that good, but John’s running commentary kept us all entertained to the point that we second guessed our original plans. We did eventually make it out that evening, but when John was around, there really wasn’t a need for other formal entertainment.

He knew random trivia. 

He loved the Patriots.

He could quote TV shows and movies like no one else and at exactly the right moment.

He was competitive.  After his last surgery, he told me that he was determined to beat my daughter, Lucy (who was 9 months old at the time) to walking.  When he did walk, he was so happy.  He sent me a video of himself taking unassisted steps with a note that said, “I pulled ahead of Lucy!” 

John loved running.  It was how he cleared his head and kept his cool.

John was humble.  I’ve heard that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he treats a waitress. I think you can tell more about a person by the way he treats his nurses and doctors.  Even during John’s last trip to the hospital he was polite and humorous.  He thanked the nurses and doctors for everything and apologized for requesting anything. 

I could talk about John for hours. Summarizing anyone’s life is hard, but it’s even harder when it’s Superman – someone who has lived such a rich and deep, even if brief, life. John did a lot of living in his 28 years. He often said that he never wanted to be anyone’s hero – but he was.  Simply by being John, he inspired us all to live better, fuller lives, and to not take anything for granted.  

As Mae West once said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

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