Jack & Lucky Chapter 14, Part 3

As suggested, when Jack learned about the loss of Lucky, his boyhood companion, he was deeply saddened. He could not have left Italy to attend the funeral service in any case. There is a certain compounding of the sadness when such delays occur, however. It’s wrong twice. You’re not only saddened by the loss, you are also tortured by not having been closer, more in touch. You suffer a feeling of being isolated and left out. There is a sense of hopeless desperation that attaches to the need to morn properly for someone that two months’ delay only exacerbates. So it was for Jack.

He was too far away to do anything except react internally at first. He didn’t eat; he didn’t talk; he didn’t work; he didn’t read; he just got up and dressed and stared out the window. It was as if he were looking for his cousin to return. Finally he ended his misery by recording the impressions that crystallized during this meditation. Over time, he wrote a letter of condolence to his Aunt and to Lucky’s sisters which he also kept in his journal.

Jack shared the same conclusion that Dan Bailey had developed but in a more generalized way because he was writing about his own life too.


Today I want to explain what I mean by this statement. Two months ago when we lost Lucky I was still in confusion about many things. I didn’t understand the beauty associated with the mystery in our lives. Today, I am better prepared to respond to this sadness. Lucky’s life was of great value to me and I want to explain why.

Have you ever experienced those times when you talk to someone, or someone asks you a question, and you respond, but afterward you wish you could have said something more. You wish you had the capacity to say what you really felt at that moment.

That probably happened to all of us, certainly to me, the last time we saw Lucky. I said goodbye and good luck, but that didn’t begin to adequately summarize the feelings I had for him. So today I have to do second best and tell everyone else.

Now, in thinking about his life I reflect on just how much that life meant.

This statement is about the best I can do to summarize how I feel:


Usually you don’t get a second chance to say what you should have said or tell someone how you feel, so today I have to do just that anyway. I what to explain what I mean by the mystery in Lucky’s life. I what to share what I wished I could have said to him and suggest some of the lessons we can learn from his life.

Lucky was one of those people who did have the capacity to really feel and talk about the emotions he had, often bluntly. Sometimes he would just blurt it out, but that’s not all bad. Lucky could speak his own mind, it was a natural gift. Lucky could feel deeply and spontaneously. He could say what he felt in simple unencumbered language using words we could all understand.

He was a simple person with simple needs. The only thing he really needed to create his identity was that pair of black engineering boots he wore. Yet, for all of us, his life was full of mystery. Even for me, I probably knew him as well as anyone, and for his family and sisters who no doubt loved him without knowing why they should, Lucky’s life was a mystery. His life was an exciting mystery, just like each of our lives is an exciting mystery.

If we could look at Lucky’s things, his possessions, this mystery would not be obvious. We tend to evaluate people by their belongings. We define people by what they do, what they have, what they display or how cleverly they speak. But these are really the trivial details of a person’s life. Trivial means that you can measure it or touch it, not unimportant, but easy to explain.

Lucky had stuff like we all do. He loved his bike, he called it a "Hog," his boots, probably a few other things, we’ll never know all the details. But this is not entirely uninteresting because we all have a natural gift for curiosity, Lucky had that gift too. He owned books; he read magazines, listened to music, and he watched the TV a lot, just like we all do. But that isn’t what really makes a person’s life important, because there isn’t any mystery there.

The mystery in a person’s life is not something that can be defined, like in a dictionary. The best we can hope to do is to try to explain it, give examples or maybe write poetry about it. Since Lucky didn’t hanker to poetry, I’ll stick to examples.

Our sense of mystery about Lucky’s life doesn’t come just from the fact that we didn’t have a chance to spend time with him during most of his life. I spent a lot of time with Lucky in high school, and, in part, that is how I come to appreciate the mystery not only in his life but in my own and in all our lives. Lucky’s life has taught me about the nature of that mystery. Because it seems so obvious in his life, he has made me aware of the same mystery all around me. It seems the more we know about someone the greater mystery they become. It is that very mysterious nature which we all have that attracts us to each other–each in an intriguing but different way.

Even if you could look at Lucky here in this room, you would probably wonder what there was so mysterious about him. He was rather short, 5′ 5" or so, not too big. He stooped when he walked; that was one of his most prominent characteristics. Sometimes his hair was long; sometimes he had it cut short. Most of the time he shaved. He had excellent eyesight. So where’s the mystery?

Take another example. Think about the music we listen to and the music he loved to play. Soft music is very soothing, but he loved fast, loud music just as well. If there was an interesting melody in the air he could play it by ear. He played fast notes and slow notes, some high notes and low notes; he arranged these in his mind as he progressed. How could he do that? Another mystery.

When he shared his life and music with me it was interesting and enjoyable. We can agree that his music was artistic. But what about it makes you appreciate it as a form of art? Not just the tempo or the melody, not just the way it’s played, certainly not just the way it looks on a piece of paper as sheet music. He never liked to read music although he knew how. There is an element of that music that connects to you in a mysterious way that makes it interesting. Because we use it and enjoy it and appreciate it, we can agree that music is important.

Now what about Lucky’s life? Most of our family didn’t know him well enough to have played checkers with him. You never heard him tell his silly jokes or laugh. You probably didn’t watch wrestling with him; that was just one of the passions of his life. I grew up with Lucky and he influenced me. We played, laughed, fought and cried together and for that I count myself fortunate. But we can all appreciate and cherish the mystery of his life just the same.

In that sense I didn’t really know him any better than you do. In fact, we can all share this mystery. Take it with you. Keep it because it will never disappear. If you do, you can begin to appreciate what makes his life important and interesting.

I don’t want to think about Lucky’s death, because that is trivial too. Death is something that happens to all of us eventually, so that makes it less interesting than life which is different for each of us. We make a mystery out of death, but it’s much more simple than that. That’s one very important lesson we can learn from Lucky: that death is very simple. In life we find the mystery. Maybe Lucky knew that too, because he knew he would die sometime but he wasn’t overly concerned about it. He died actively as he lived. [Jack was never made aware of the actual ignominious circumstances.]

But Lucky was concerned about living his life well and enjoying his circle of friends and particularly his family. Even though they didn’t realize it when he was young, he told me so. That’s an important lesson we can learn from Lucky’s life.

It’s not so easy to live well though, at least not for most of us. But we create most of our own problems and we create the complexity in life for ourselves, usually because we get confused by the difference between what’s important and what’s not. We don’t have the capacity to see through all that the way Lucky did. Too often we ignore the art and mystery of life, the really interesting part.

Many people go through life confused about why they are here and what they are supposed to be doing. Lucky was given the most important information about his life by his parents. He retained that and followed it as much as he protested their authority. Most of what we need to know we can learn by just looking around us. We all have family. It was obvious to Lucky and it should be obvious to all of us that we need family and friends and they need us and that gives us all one kind of purpose: to help our families.

We all have talents. Lucky had many talents. He earned some medals in the service to his country; he had a job and a family of his own. He worked hard and was productive and always tried to carry his own weight. So he lived a life full of challenges with only a modest income and little leisure. But he used his talents. He entertained his friends. He balanced his time between family and his own concerns. So one lesson we need to learn from Lucky’s life is that we should use our talents wherever that takes us. We should share our personalities with each other because that’s what makes families work. That’s what makes society work better. That’s what creates economic and social order all around the world. That’s what Lucky knew how to do in his own way.

There’s no one solution to the mystery of life that fits all of us. For each the answer to the questions "Why live? Why work? Why serve?" may be different. Part of the art of life is to find that unique answer for ourselves. But, if we can learn a lesson from thinking about Lucky’s life it will help us find our own answers. It will make his life especially important, much more important than his death.

Most of us in our family believe in some religion. I don’t think Lucky was particularly concerned about religion. I don’t say that to be negative, quite the contrary. Consider this: We have all had the opportunity to look at the angelic face of a child when they’re asleep. When children are awake something happens; they’re not so innocent anymore. For some reason older people aren’t so cute when they sleep. Some of us make noises when we sleep, our faces get wrinkled, or we frown, or we don’t always smell so good. We loose that mysterious sense of innocence. But children are always beautiful and serene …especially when they’re asleep.

Lucky’s personality was like that too. He never got old in my memory or dishonest or clever. He never lied or cheated that I’m aware of. He wouldn’t move the checker pieces behind my back when I got up to go for a drink. His outer self wasn’t always clean; mechanics get greasy, and sometimes he didn’t smell so good, but his inner self was always energetic and beautiful. He never really asked the questions that perplex some of us, for which we gain solace in religion. As I suggested just a minute ago, Lucky understood his purpose in life. Most of us learn that purpose from our religious teachings. If he ever asked the question "why?" he never asked me. I think he knew why. That’s another reason his life is important and interesting, because he didn’t have to ask the question.

I wish I could have discussed all this with Lucky when we had our last conversation. Lucky could have probably explained all of what I have said in just a few words. Lucky understood about infinite regression too. He used to like to hold up one mirror against another mirror on the wall and watch as the images disappeared ever smaller.

In some very special ways he was very bright. Scientists look farther and farther into the stars asking the question "Why?" and "How?" was Universe created. They look into the atoms and the space inside the smallest atom to try to discover "How?" and "Why?" Earth is as it is. What is the purpose of our lives; why are we here? And when we have an answer we can ask why again, an infinite regression of the question why?… just like those two mirrors that face each other and the reflection gets smaller and smaller but never comes to an end.

Lucky didn’t really seem to participate in that dilemma, but he wasn’t any worse off. He seemed to understand that the most challenging thing about life was to learn to enjoy it. You can’t learn about or appreciate the mystery of life by just looking at the facts of nature. You can’t understand the mysterious beauty of Lucky’s life by looking at his photos, no more than you could by holding his lifeless body. If I did that, I would most certainly cry. I would likely howl uncontrollably like a lone wolf. Some day I will cry. But now I’m just dry and empty.

You can’t understand the mystery of the art in music by looking at the sheet music. But you will understand something of the mystery of Lucky’s life just by looking at the expressions on each other’s face when we meet and discuss his life.

You can’t understand the mystery in life by chasing dogmatic answers. It doesn’t matter much to our lives if we ask the question "Why?" once or a hundred times; we always get the same kind of answer. There is always an infinity beyond that last answer. At some point we are inevitably forced to stop asking and accept some reasonable course of action. There is a point at which conversation inevitably fails and we have to stop talking and just feel and appreciate the most important mysteries around us.

So don’t feel sorry for Lucky if he never asked the question "Why?" Only feel sorry for yourself if you go through life continuing to ask that same question over and over without discovering the beauty in nature that surrounds you. Life, like music, is a lot more interesting when we learn to enjoy the beauty it offers.

One way to appreciate the beautiful mystery of life is by loving each other and sharing our lives with someone like Lucky. That offers another explanation of why Lucky’s life was so important and should have been interesting to us all.

We will miss Lawrence Murray, even though he may not have made a very large impression in our lives. His death is over, the mystery of his life, however, will never end. His life will remain with us forever because it is part of our own lives too. It can never be undone. We can feel something of that sense of mystery each day when we share this same emotional connection we feel toward Lucky with all our families every day.

I hope you will be able to understand what I’m trying to say, because his life was important to me. In contrast, his death is trivial. That mystery is what makes each of our lives interesting and important too.

Jack’s tour of duty as a missionary was nearly complete.

The logic for the early release was to allow those returning to school a chance to arrive and register for the winter term. Jack had put his name on that list not bothering to mention he planned to work during the Winter term and enroll for the Spring term. What they didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt them, he reasoned.

By Sunday evening the end was so close that Jack could practically reach out and touch it.