It's difficult to submit to the death of a loved one, except that one has to. For a while, I felt Gayle was cheated out of a decade of life that should have been his, if there were moral order in the universe, or at least in biology. He lived right; he loved and was loved by God, his wife, his child, and his fellow man. He was a straight arrow. He should have had a retirement, a chance to play with all the brass and wood and glass and tools and curiosities he'd been squirreling away for decades. He should have had the leisure of reflection, the chance to put down his thoughts after a lifetime of successful leadership in religious education. He shouldn't have been the one to suffer the slings and (what seemed to me) every last arrow of outrageous fortune in the last four years of his life. So I was unable to approach Gayle's notes and records until the grief had ebbed sufficiently, and that took some time.
If I were to summarize Gayle's life in a couple of sentences, I'd say it revolved around giving guidance to people, most of whom sought it, and some of whom did not (I'm thinking of recalcitrant students and parents). He was in the business of finding and dispensing wisdom, which is a passing rare gift in our time. Giving guidance is different from giving advice, of course. In giving guidance, one has to listen exceedingly carefully, and factor the desires, goals, and values of the individual, to balance where they want to go (or think they want to go) with what you believe is the wise and ethical course of action (if there is one). In addition to this great talent he developed, or was bestowed, Gayle left people wanting more. He did this when he was alive, and that scarcity is sorely felt in his death. I'm not ashamed to say I feel lost without his guidance. His absence makes my own demise easier to take, because there is much less in life to relish, now that he is gone.
But as I turned to this project, I was cheered and amazed by much. And other things surprised me no longer. I'm no longer surprised that Gayle died at what's considered a relatively young age by today's standards, because Death has been hunting him his whole life. The timeline of his life is filled with close calls: a life-threatening mastoid infection followed by a risky surgery in the 1930s; a lightning bolt; a plane crash; a waterfall; a loose wrecking-ball trailer grazing him at freeway speeds; a tumor; being shot at with rifles; a kidney cancer; and finally a brain cancer. I'm amazed he made it as far as he did. Even though he was in debt to Death for many a year, he still lived beyond his threescore and ten.
As I sort through Gayle's garage of treasures, his retirement trove, well, I have to admit that most of it is junk. Nice junk, mind you, and I like it, but it's junk all the same. He might have enjoyed tinkering in his shop and restoring antiques, but he might not have. He regarded his creative time as recreation, a way of refueling for his work, not an end to itself. Also, his interest in things mechanical had waned gradually since the '80s. He was on to weightier pursuits of the mind.
Now regarding his time to reflect and to write from his years of experience. For me that was the most bitter omission. Like him, I value knowledge above all else. I had been hectoring him since his cancer scare in '94 to set down his thoughts, to consider writing a book on his philosophies of education and principalship. I was concerned that the hard-won knowledge of his craft, and experiences of his life, should be in some way preserved. He would respond, "Ok, Ok!" and I thought he was putting me off. Imagine my surprise, when I finally opened his computer files in 2004, to discover that he was writing and thinking about the great themes of his life. They are in an abbreviated form, and unorganized, but the important and fundamental concepts were all set down in his notes, waiting for me--and you--to discover them. And so I was surprised by joy. I hope you are too! Please join me in a backward glance, to "sum his count, and make his old excuse."