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  • Reverend James Squire

Address at memorial Service for Will Walker

                                   


Photo by Aaron Burden



Homily at the Memorial Service for

                                    William Mudd Walker III

                                    Episcopal Academy, ’89 and Princeton, ‘93

The Reverend James R. Squire, Hon.

St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wayne, Pa

March 23, 2024

Matthew 10:39                  First Corinthians 13

 



In a conversation with Will some months ago when he was at the Cleveland Clinic, we talked at length about his medical challenge, his cancer, and the resulting unbearable pain that he was experiencing, but out of his pain he said, “When I am over all of this, I am going to write a book about what I have learned.”  I thought that’s what a good Episcopal Academy and Princeton student would automatically do! I asked him what the title would be. He said, “Why Not Me!” Life is a two- edged sword. Everything, including this book title, cuts both ways…that is what the existentialists say…rain is necessary for the soil to produce food for life. It can also drown someone in an excess that becomes a flood leading to someone’s death. It is a paradox, something that can be a self- contradiction in terms. Jesus expressed it as the heart of the Gospel, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

 

Why not me! We talked about that being a perspective that we all should have. Suffering doesn’t come to just the few but to all. As Rabbi Kushner put it, “Tragedy doesn’t have a ticket into our lives. It has a box seat. It is already there waiting for us to encounter it.” He said it in the strongest way of a vibrant spiritual life knowing that Vine Deloria, an American Indian theologian and author, said that religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell while spirituality is for those who have already been there. Will was a spiritual person whose disease was the very definition of hellish. There was not a moment of self-pity. In fact, his chief concern was Syd, his rock and the love of his life, his children, Wyatt and Brooks, his sister Emily, his dad Bill, and mom Margot and his friends. Emily literally moved in to his hospital room in his final days as a general to do battle with her brother against an enemy threatening Will’s life. No surprise there as she was the first woman student spiritual leader of EA in our 239 years and since we went coeducational in the 1974. She was elected by her peers and faculty. There were many friends. Two I will underscore. Both from EA, Paul Landaiche, who was like a brother to Will whose wife gave birth this past Thursday to a son who has been named Will, and Bo Young who knew Will literally from the beginning days of life as toddlers and later in school together at EA. Our school was a place of forging friendships as well as Princeton, colleagues in business as well as friendships along life’s way with people he met. Will was a people magnet. That was his otherness!

 

I have to underscore the importance of Syd in Will’s life, described so eloquently by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “and now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” A measure of a purpose filled life is to have someone such as Syd love you with a love that knows no bounds…to love and be loved passionately… is a mark of a marriage well lived. That is what Syd and Will experienced. Their devotion to one another stands as a signpost for the rest of us to what some refer to as living “the good life” marked with purpose and a desire for the best for our soulmate. She was ever present by his side.  His friends knew this, some sixty plus descending on his hospital room from literally all over the world during one week from as far away as Shanghai.

 

When I am with someone suffering as Will was, we learn what the essence is of the person who captures our psyche and soul. Will put the needs of others…friends and family… before his own.

 

But in our journey together, I noticed something that happens sometimes when someone is confronting suffering and death.

 

Why not me! came to mean something else…that something was his essence as well…Why not me… meant to him why can’t I achieve what I want for me and for others by showing courage beyond what most people can do to face and endure suffering? He talked about leaving the chemo behind and trying alternative ways of reaching his goal of pain relief and yes even cure. In the title of John Guenther’s book, Death Be Not Proud, Guenther wrote about the death of his son reflecting in the same fashion as Will reflected. Death be not proud, words taken from John Donne’s poem, “Death be not proud as some have called thee; mighty and dreadful, for thou art so: For those whom thou think’s thou dost overthrow; Die not poor death; not yet canst thou kill me; one short sleep past, we wake eternally; and death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die.”

 

We always in these moments think back to the memories. That thought of the past is bittersweet because of those memories and feelings of love. We feel such sadness and remorse today. Ironically, I can’t remember when Will wasn’t smiling during his student days at EA, at times with that mischievous smile that we know, but there is peace knowing his words to me that “he lived a full life as he approached,” as he put it, “a crossroads for a decision.” We sometimes forget that the original meaning of a crossroads cuts across a main road. In his case, a main highway of love, laughter, agony, ecstasy, meaning, and purpose as he drank from the fuller cup of the love of faith and family and friends.

 

He is at peace as he knew that he was leaving you all, his words, “in the good hands of one another.” He knew you all were the “best” as he put it to me. Death be not proud. But Sid, Wyatt, Brooks, Emily, Bill, Margot, and friends and other family members, Will was so proud of you. That pride worked both ways. When I sat with Will’s dad, Bill, before he came out to see Will at the Clinic this last time, he said, “I am so proud of who he was and how he lived his life.”

 

To love and be loved that fiercely is the greatest gift as that love rests with that peace that passes all understanding that is given to us by the Lord God himself that leads to eternal life.

 

That gift of love and God’s gift of peace says;

Grief is a passage not a place to stay

Grief is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith

It is the price of love.

 

Will raised one question on his Episcopal Academy Senior Yearbook Page. It was “Who are you?” Who are you?” There is a clear answer today by the way he lived his life.  It is just three words, a simple phrase, Why not me! perhaps with two meanings, a person who is other centered, no better than anyone else, an equal among men and women, and a person who lived his life with courage through unimaginable pain that said, “Why not me! Why not me!” to persevere and live yet another day.

 

Why not me! is his parting gift to each of us today. To remember that all people are created equal in the image of God in the good times and the bad times and a model of how to live life with unbounded love and courage. But here is the bottom line for all of us. We can write his book by the life we live.

 

These two sides of the coin of Why Not Me! was the currency with which he lived his life. That is what we celebrate today!

 

His last words to his mom when she entered his room during those last moments of his being lucid were “Hi mom!” His last text to me was, “I will save you a seat in heaven, kind sir! Much love always, Jim! God bless you!” His legacy to Syd, Brooks, Wyatt, and family and friends are his words/exchanges that will be remembered and heard in our souls until the end of time.

Amen.

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