Below is Dr. Craig Gemmell’s eulogy of Lucas Wheeler ’18, delivered at the September 16, 2017, service for Lucas at the First Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts.
My name is Craig Gemmell. I’m head of school at Brewster Academy, where Lucas arrived this past Sunday for his senior year.
Our collective experience having had Lucas in our lives is kaleidoscopic: we each saw him through our own unique perception-shaping lenses, yet some common themes have melded together, producing a beautiful, colorful image of who he was.
Some have described Lucas as fiercely devoted to friends and ideals and place and family. Others have described Lucas as being guided by an unwavering moral compass, one that derived from the combined, mysterious interplay of nature and nurture.
Still others have described Lucas as loving, clever, bright, kind, funny – wildly so.
I arrived with Lucas in the fall of 2015 – I as a new head of school, he as a new sophomore.
We got to know the place together. My most salient interaction with Lucas came when he was in disagreement with a particular school rule. Instead of merely griping about it with his friends, he came into my office and sat and talked with me – really talked. He named and owned his values strongly – clearly – precisely, yet he was immensely respectful.
After making his case, I thanked him and went on to say that his argument, focused on how the rule was not pertinent to his life was compelling – and convincing – with a singular problem.
“What?” I asked him, would the school be like without that rule?
We talked about all of the structural and cultural problems that would be created without this particular rule. He paused and thought.
Then he looked at me and stated simply: “I get it – this is a rule that has a purpose and I’ll not break it.”
This is where our relationship truly began. He didn’t let go of his beliefs; rather contextualized them. In that one moment, I was wildly impressed.
I suspect – and surely hope – he knew how much I trusted and respected him.
Moments after, Lucas offered his hand. And after we shook and he left, I was on the phone with Andrew to tell him what a spectacular son he and Deb had raised.
So I ask those of you here – who are not a part of the immediate Brewster Academy family – to imagine what it was like for our community to lose such a boy: one so powerfully and positively influential to our culture; one who loved and was loved profoundly; one so on the path to being a good and great man.
With the news that Lucas had passed, I was crushed. Just the night before, I had gathered the school to talk for our first All-School meeting of the year.
We discussed our central theme of the year – kindness – and I shared the specific ways that kindness is made manifest in community: kindness is an expression of care; and I thus asked everyone to take care of one’s self, to take care of others, and to be swept up in care taking and to make it the core work of one’s life.
In gathering the school after Lucas’ passing, the discussion of the night before became very real … very quickly.
Grasping for wisdom, I was reminded of Nabokov’s pithy words to his student who came to him afraid of being unprepared for exams.
Nabokov’s response to his student was simple:
“Life is beautiful. Life is sad. That is all you need to know.”
These words rang in my ears all week.
In a way, these words became our core curriculum. For in the midst of our anguish, Lucas’ passing highlighted what many among us here already knew: Lucas was a rare and special boy, one who had truly grown into himself at Brewster Academy and helped others do the same!
In this way, he represented a full expression of the promise of youth and of the power of kindness, caring for others, and for our community,
And in the midst of our anguish, at least in part because of who Lucas was, a bit of magic happened on our campus this week. Magic – like Lucas’s magic silver jacket – a jacket capable of reflecting any light in the darkness.
Let me tell you about just one bit of that magic among many:
Early Friday morning weather rolled in sometime during the pre-dawn darkness; we awoke to rain. Dohrmann Circle – our campus epicenter – with its bricks and stones and central fire pit – always looks a bit different to me when wet.
Yesterday morning, it looked even more different, dappled as it was with with bits of shiny white wax here and there.
I instinctively smiled at those waxy spots and delighted in thinking about how the wax will work its way into the cracks and abide.
Thursday night, just shy of 300 Brewster Community members held bright, drippy candles as we sang and talked and cried in a real and metaphoric circle, kid and adult, young and old, suddenly alike more than different.
Before we started, there was thunder and lightning over the lake, present but distant enough for us to be safe.
Then as the sky quieted, emotion rose, beauty paired with sadness.
In the midst of it all, my mind’s spin slowed – finally – even as I held my iPhone up so that Andrew and Deb could watch our vigil via FaceTime.
Leaving the gathering, the words of dear Tommy, Lenny, Henry, Byron, Joe, Jake, and Gina melted together with the broader emotion into a vague wistfulness.
I walked campus until late, when it seemed like our kids were settled, and as I walked, the weight of the week seemed to lift, giving way to a greater sense of awareness.
Grey Zeigler’s (Class of 2017) rendering of Hallelujah, which she sang earlier that evening was on repeat in my head. I kept focusing on the last verse.
Baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Yesterday morning, passing Dohrmann Circle, I could see ever more clearly the paired sadness and beauty of our love for dear Lucas. I could see our hallelujah – broken yet a hallelujah nonetheless – sadness and beauty.
Ours – everyone in this room – and all who love Lucas but could not be here – ours is to seal that in, to seal that broken hallelujah in, wax it over, hold it close, knowing that doing so will keep a part of Lucas close, through rainy nights and bright days to come; though in its flawed perfection love might not be a victory march, loving remembrance is our way forward. It is our only way forward.
Thank you, Lucas. God bless you, Lucas –
and keep all who love you safe.