Big John’s Eulogy   Leave a comment

[1] Good Morning.

On behalf of Anne, Hugh, Iona and the rest of Jack’s family,  I would like to welcome each of you to Gates Camp.  Thank you for being here.

Thank you also and welcome to all of Jack’s extended family and ancestors to our time together.  Some who are with us and some not.  In particular, Anne’s parents, John and Marge, and Hugh’s parents, Hugh and DeAnne.  In addition, Hugh’s sister Catherine in from Ireland and John, Anne’s brother and his wife Bevin and their children Will, Sophie and Alexis.

I would like to invite us to begin by bringing ourselves fully here today by participating in a smudging ceremony.  Smudging is an opportunity to have some silence together as we take in the scent of sage from Las Trampas where Jack spent his last few months.  Smudging denotes the importance of coming together, particularly on this occasion.  It promotes the beginning of healing and was a ritual that Jack had taken on as a personal practice.  It asks us to come fully into the present moment, to not worry about the past or be thinking about the future but to bring your whole self, body, mind and spirit into our time together.

Thank You.

In thanking you all for being here on behalf of Jack’s parents, I would like to begin by in turn thanking them.   Anne, Hugh, Iona, if I can speak on behalf of all of us here, we thank you for the gift of your son Jack.  It is clear that from a very young age, Jack was fully seen, fully supported, gently guided and deeply loved and we thank you for the true gift he was to each of us.

When I first received the call from my friend and partner at the Open School Scott Bain that Jack had died, I recall first saying, this is not an option.   I had just spoken with Jack the Thursday prior on the phone.  He called to let me know that he had found a wonderful place to land down in Las Trampas, New Mexico on a farm where he was learning so much about living with and from the land….and that he had found love.  The call was gift as it was full of the wonderfully typical topics one would have when you talked to Jack…..what mountains have you climbed?  What are you learning?  What trees have you hung out of, do you still have my fleece pull over?  The call ended with Jack saying, well Big John, as usual, we could probably talk forever but we better get some sleep.

And then the usual thoughts that so many of us have had after a good talk with Jack….why am I not living my life like he does?

There is nothing right about being here to celebrate Jack’s young life and I would like to invite us, as we co-create this ceremony together today that there may indeed also be nothing wrong…this is an invitation for there to be no shame, no blame….just what is and an opportunity for us to begin the process of healing from this devastating loss.


When Jack was twenty years old, he gave me a copy of In the Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander.  I remember thinking, I should be giving a young man of his age this book.  The book looks deeply into technological advancement in contrast to earth based, indigenous peoples and the deep wisdom of their ways.

Jack kindled a deep friendship with the Earth.  He had become a true partner with nature and he fed his soul in wild places.  I recall standing in just about this spot after the first week of staff training for camp counselors, Jack came to this camp upon his graduation from the Open School.  I could sense in him a real need for training to be over.  He asked, when do I need to be back?  I said on Sunday at 3:30.  A few moments later I saw him head west with a small bag, sandles on his feet and some sort of beef stick….from his Dad’s shop I am sure.  When he returned on Sunday, I asked him where he had gone, he said, up there…..he spent many days and nights up there, not in it or on it but in deep relationship with those mountains.

The other day Hugh told me a story about Jack.  When he was a young boy…5 or 6, Hugh and Jack had come upon a pile of old TV’s down in Denver on a walk.  Hugh, being the conscientious, progressive parent that he is, said Jack…have you ever broken a TV?  They commenced to gather stones and began exploding the TV’s.  Soon, a security officer began coming toward them and Hugh said Jack, we should probably stop now.  Jack said, Dad, he is still far away and we have some more rocks here in the pile….let’s finish them off before he gets here.

It is truly and understatement to say that Jack O’Neil was special.  He graced each of us with his joy, his precosciousness, his deep love, his intellect, his big, soft, lanky hugs and a smile that lit up your heart.

I have come to stop believing in coincidences in my life.  The awareness that we are in the Easter season, the season of re-birth, resurrection, a coming back to life, the awareness that the continuum goes on, is some solice in the face of Jack’s passing.  Native peoples, who we all have been at one time or another, believe that the dead do not go somewhere else but that they do indeed stay with us. I have been enjoying my recent conversations with Jack and look forward to many more.


Jack built and or found community where ever he landed.  There are folks from so many of these communities represented here today, The Open School, Paper Bird, folks from his time in Washington, Ireland, his HS Soccer team, Gates Camp, and Gemini Farm.  He was fun to be around.  His joy contagious, his heart big, his mind inquisitive and awake, his soul seeking and his hands always ready to be of service, to work hard or to just hold.  There was a time when Jack was in South America that he and his friend Kevin hitched a ride on the back of a flat bed truck with a local man.  There was a language barrier to be sure but people just knew that Jack was a good soul, so this man pulled over and put some fresh cut steaks on a grill along the side of the highway and they all sat and ate.  Jack had great fun relaying this story when he got home.  Good, fresh, healthy food that connected him to people, culture and his stomach where real passions for Jack.

Jack loved beauty and he evoked that in a special way in each of us.  As we say here at Gates Camp, he fed the Good Wolf.

He was a voracious reader and writer in his beautiful hand made journals.  His desire to learn, in a self directed way was a shining example for his peers and the many who looked up to him.  Jack’s Adventure Passage was read to the Open School student body recently.  His voice shone through and reminded all of us of the essence of true learning.

I would like to close by saying that Jack did not seek out hero’s, nor, do I think did he want to be one.  What I believe is that he lived an authentic life of meaning and out of that he woke something up in each of our own hearts to follow suit.  I think he would like knowing that he did that for us and that each of us would go through this ceremony today and in each of our days knowing that we all have this capacity…not just Jack but each of us.

Anne, Hugh, Iona, we are all here for you.

I would like to invite Tyler to come share with us a song he has recently composed for Jack and our time together today.


Posted August 8, 2011 by anniespence

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