Eulogy delivered at Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Annapolis July 9, 2005
There are many of us here who talk about providence or proof of evidence of God. On Monday, July 4 however most of us felt nothing more than a void or a lack of evidence of anything close to holy. In less than 24 hours a man dearly loved who devoted himself to naval service, combat and the advancement of human freedom around the globe dropped on the floor after church from an aneurysm and died on the same day in our country’s history the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Most of us who sat on the lawn across from the Naval Academy yard watching the evening fireworks weren’t thinking about freedom. At the moment it was an odd coincidence and an interruption to our grief. We wanted the world to stop and grieve with us and instead it celebrated. We told ourselves it was heaven’s light and angels not fireworks who tore open the evening darkness over our heads – a blast through the barrier between here and there to take our man Captain John C. Bajus home.
John Paul Sartre once said, “Nothingness haunts our being.” Nothingness is the void in our lives experienced in absence, loss, shame, guilt, hatred and loneliness. To be human is to know the void. People fail us, we fail ourselves. In the midst of our voids our primal longing for meaning takes over and we search for something to hold onto, anything to be assured there’s to more to our lives than what meets the human eye.
The first time I met Mr. Bajus I was 12. My eyes caught the smile and the rosy pink cheeks. His daughter Lynn and I went to school together. I remember the triplets and like Lynn and all our Severn classmates I remember the man who hugged me and acted as if his world stopped for mine. Twenty-six years later my young family and I moved in around the corner from his house the one I played in with Lynn as a child. Now his adult neighbor I learned his world did stop for mine. In fact it stopped for anyone who knocked on the door, rang the phone or sat down next to him at church or a park bench. Immediately he’d ask, “How are you?” and reach out a hand. Most of the time what mattered was his simple human touch, hand gesture or smile. Stranger or foe, friend or family, it didn’t matter. You mattered.
One night when we left the Bajus home, we passed the mailbox. It read, “J.C. Bajus.” My husband stopped me and said, “Look – J.C.” “J.C.” were the same initials of the man John Bajus tried to be most like and the one he prayed to as he drove submarines and needed a power outside of himself to direct him away from enemy mines in the sea.
An 18th century Enlightenment scholar once said with brilliance that the places of the void become the very face of God. John Bajus was a man with quiet dignity who moved with a quiet grace into the voids that filled our lives. I bet nearly every one in this room can think of one moment when John Bajus filled a void for you. A time when you didn’t have someone to take you to a movie, go fishing or the time you needed an advisor, confidante or mentor. Wherever John Bajus went and whomever he talked to, he filled a void. He became a grandfather to our children, a father to my husband. He served hot dogs to 12 little girls at my daughter’s 5-year-old birthday party; he’d simply walked by and stopped during his afternoon walk. Sometimes he sat on my front step and told me stories. He knew how to fix things, cars he’d tell me. Mostly, I often thought, he knew how to fix people.
It’s not easy to capture an entire human life like John Bajus’ in one speech. The task is made all the more difficult when a person like him is of a seed different than the rest of us. These are the ones who fill the voids in our lives without noise or fanfare. The ones who simply pull up a chair next to us and ask, “How are you?” and mean it.
If Mr. Bajus had one wish my guess is he’d wish more people came to church. The church we are in today he helped to found. There are many people who never go to church because it’s “church.” But to Mr. B, as we called him, Jesus Christ is not about a building or a mere person who walked the earth 2000 years ago. Jesus Christ is about human freedom, a person who came to die so that all of humanity despite ourselves can be made free and learn how to live and how to be different than who we are now. Jesus Christ is the person who sees the alcoholic, abused, prostitute, swindler, murderer, poor, impoverished, and oppressed not as they are but new and unstained and who they will be. John Bajus looked at each one of us the same way.
It’s said some people come to church and are converted to traditional Christianity, others to honesty, but the most committed Christians are ones converted to a deep love of God and man. John Bajus was a Christian converted to the deep love of God and man. For his brief time here, he showed the world the face of God. There was no odd coincidence that he died on July 4th. Without John Bajus many of us here who would never be able to say we saw what it looks like to be a human being who is truly free.
On July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams signed the Declaration of Independence John Adams retired to his farm in Quincy. Here he penned and whispered his last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Little did he know Thomas Jefferson died at Monticello the same day – July 4th – a few hours earlier.
Odd coincidence or proof of evidence? Three men who committed themselves to preserve freedom and who believed that all men are created equal went home on a day that means something. It wasn’t any ordinary day with no meaning. It was Independence Day. After all, Mr. B., you’d never die on a day that would leave a void but a day that assured us of more – a day filled with fireworks and song and remembrances of bombs bursting in air. This is the fanfare God’s humble servant deserves – and a day for us that gives us proof through the night that John is still here.
John Bajus survives.