James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater Chronicles

Eulogy for Robert Jason Wright

I delivered this eulogy today (or at least a version thereof—another couple of amusing anecdotes and asides made their way into the discourse) to the assembled mourners at the memorial service for my childhood best friend and first writing partner Robert Jason Wright, who passed away this week after a difficult, courageous battle with throat cancer. His suffering is over now, though, and he has the peace that I know in his final weeks he so desired.

As for me, I will now be spending some time working through my own grief, but tonight I may rest easy knowing that I’ve enjoyed the enormous, high honor of eulogizing one of the most influential people in my life, bidding him along on his ultimate journey: sailing not the seas that he loved, but rather the light beams of forever, where his spirit and essence will dance among the stardust from which he, and all of us, originate.

For Jason’s official obituary and suggested ways to memorialize him through donations, please go here.

Jenn McCallister and Jason Wright, December 2011

Jenn McCallister and Jason Wright, December 2011

I began today with a reading:

TAO TE CHING, Ch. 50

(Mitchell translation)

The Master gives himself up

to whatever the moment brings.

He knows that he is going to die,

and he has nothing left to hold on to:

no illusions in his mind,

no resistances in his body.

He doesn’t think about his actions;

they flow from the core of his being.

He holds nothing back from life;

therefore he is ready for death,

as a man is ready for sleep

after a good day’s work.

Here’s the good news: Time is an illusion. The past is gone, the future is a dream, and there’s only right Now. And endless and boundless well of Now. And because there is only the now, we may return to any particular now that we wish—a now we might have shared with Jason Wright. A happy now that exists, and that we can go to and be there with him again.

A dark joke: This is not the Lugoff-Elgin high school reunion I was expecting this year!

I think Jason would appreciate a little black humor. Those of you who remember my friend Robert Jason Wright and me, Donnie Mac, may recall that we spent a good deal of time laughing. Do you remember seeing Donnie and Jason crying? No. No you do not.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. We were not laughing along with you. You were not in our joke. And you were not going to be let in. Not unless you earned your way in by first enduring that sardonic, derisive, and knowing laughter of ours. He suffered no fools. I followed his lead.

One of my earliest distinct memories of my friend—a best friend, as he’d come to be—were of his relocation out of our third grade classroom to another section. He and another classmate had tested very highly, or shown great promise, or had met some such metric, and as a result received the distinct honor of being paraded away to take their place among the more advanced learners. I recall watching Jason, bright and happy, take a enormous stack of books and go to leave on what to me looked like a wondrous and mysterious adventure. These were the smart kids. These kids knew something I didn’t. Walking out of that classroom is a person to emulate, I thought in my eight year-old way. One in whom I should cultivate friendship. One from whom I could learn.

And which I would do, on both counts.

Later, Jason and I would not only become friends, but partners in crime—creative crime. For a while we drew comic books, but owing to an obsession we both had with M*A*S*H, the popular TV series (as well as the darkly satiric Robert Altman feature film), we tried writing our own version of the show, or the movie, or the novel on which it’d all been based. This experience represented my first steps along the storytelling path I’ve walked for the rest of my life. And he was there for that. Nurtured those instincts. Goaded them on.

And then one day we decided we were going one step further—we were going to actually film one of our episodes. We plotted. We planned. We cast the roles, taking particular pleasure in the casting the various young ladies who’d portray the nurses to our wearied, anti-authoritarian army doctors.

But alas, we never made our epic M*A*S*H movie—not only did the 20th century Fox executive we wrote asking permission coldly deny us the use of his trademarks and copyrighted characters, but making movies, we discovered, cost money. Required expertise neither one of us yet possessed.

But a bigger problem loomed: one day Jason finally said to me, “Donnie—even if we can pull this together, we all look like kids. We need to look like exhausted front-line Army surgeons. We need to have 5 o’clock shadows—what are we gonna do, rub charcoal on our faces?” I had known this was an issue. I hated to have to confront it, though. The idea of making our M*A*S*H movie had been such a comfortable and creative fantasy for me. So ambitious. A waking dream. That bubble-burster—that balloon-popper, Jason!

But that was okay: Jason wasn’t wrong—we were all of 13. We had peach fuzz, not the wearied whiskers and graying hair of those adult combat surgeons. I did try to argue that it would work. It would be cool. That the audience would get what we were doing. And be impressed by our efforts— especially all those beautiful young women we wanted to work with on the project.

Like I said, though, in his moment of balloon popping, he’d been right—literally: he was Jason Wright—and eventually I came to agree. It would’ve looked silly; it would’ve cost too much money; it was beyond our capabilities. The experience of trying and dreaming, however, would prove invaluable to me, and but for one or two of my own times of trial and tribulation, since that time of creativity I shared with him I haven’t stopped trying.

Many years after our fun, mutual childhood friendship, long after we’d lost touch in so many ways (but had both suffered similar conditions of addiction), in a raw and desperate moment we shared I got the occasion to tell him how much I looked up to him back in those days, how he’d taught me so much. I reminded him, and was reminded by his presence in my life again, of all that he’d meant to me. How I’d looked up to him. All he could say to this assertion was that for him it’d been the opposite, that it was to me to whom he had had looked for guidance. And to emulate. I shook my head ‘no.’ Told him I’d never be able to see it that way. And that stands, then as now.

That’s right: I present myself here today to report to you all that I still look up to him, only now it’s a bit more literal, because he is up there. And I always will look up to him.

One last thing: Say yes to life. And to love. Love is a frequency, and love is a vibration that we create inside ourselves, and the more love you feel and you give, the more you add to the overall loving and positive vibration that is the hallmark of our existence, and our reason for being. So make that vibration every chance you get. It’s a high vibration indeed—the highest.

A last reading:

O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!

Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip, the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

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About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest novel Let the Glory Pass Away releases in January 2017.

4 Replies

  1. Angel Prosser

    I didn’t know your friend Don, but the Eulogy was very heartfelt and so eloquently put. You did right by your friend. Robert Jason Wright, wish I had the chance to meet him. angel

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