IN 1871, A PROMINENT Chicago lawyer named Horatio Spafford suffered a great loss with the death of his son. So profound was Spafford’s grief that he sat down to write a hymn that is one of the most beautiful and endearing American hymns. Spafford titled it, “It is Well With My Soul,” and this is how it begins:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Today we gather here to attempt to find a way to reconcile ourselves to the death of Daniel Zavala Jr. so that we too can say, whatever our lot, it is well with our souls.
I am here because Carmel, Roel and Corina asked me to make some remarks on behalf of their family. I am deeply honored to have been asked. And I think that Danny – staunch conservative that he was – would have enjoyed the sweet irony that they asked his most hard-core liberal uncle to do this. But he probably would have considered himself lucky, given that his siblings were also considering placing an Obama bumper sticker in his casket.
The fact that I am representing the Zavalas and Palomos does not, in any way, imply that today, in this house, there is Danny’s family and Sandra’s family and other families. Because, on this day, we are all one – one family, together in our love for Danny and united in our grief, and united in our pain over his death.
The sacred book tells us that there is a time for everything, including grief and pain and tears. Today is one of those times. There may be those who will tell you that this should instead be a time for celebration or joy, because Danny is now in a better place. While we can indeed find consolation and joy in that, we should not pay too much heed to those who seek to convince us that we should not grieve, that our hearts should not ache, and that we should not cry. For our loss is real, our pain is genuine, and it is something that we feel deep down in the very core of our existence. We will do ourselves no favor – and we will not in any way honor Danny and his life – if we do not allow ourselves to give voice to that pain.
However, even as sorrow unites us, we are also united in the certainty that every one of us is a better person for having had Danny in our lives. Last night, Pastor Dino spoke eloquently about the certainties of life. Well, this is one of those certainties for us today: Danny touched us all, and he influenced our lives, in different ways and in different degrees.
Just yesterday, for instance, when I went to the flower shop, the shop’s owner told me that Danny was one of her best customers. “He was always buying flowers for his mom,” she said. “For her birthday, for Mothers Day, for holidays, or just because.”
That was Danny: doing good things for people, just because.
I would be dishonest if I were to claim that I was among those who knew him well, for Danny was born almost two years after I left this town. But over the years – through his mother, his siblings, and, lately, through Facebook – I have followed his life’s path, his growing up, his becoming a man, his getting married and becoming a father to his boys. And how he did his best, with Sandra, to be a good and loving parent to them (I think that you’ll agree that what we saw and heard during last night’s service, in the moving tributes from his two older sons, tells us that they indeed succeeded).
And, all we have to do is look at Daniel III, at Nicolás, at Adrián and at Xavier and see Danny’s personality reflected in their beautiful eyes, their generous hearts, their kind souls, their curious and creative minds, and in how they embrace life and all its rewards and frustrations with zest, eagerness, and unbounded and fearless joy, to affirm that Danny’s life was a meaningful one. It is in such knowledge that we can find joy. It is what we can celebrate, not just today, but for the rest of our lives.
DANIEL ZAVALA JR. was a human being, and he was therefore not perfect – not a perfect father, husband, son, brother, or friend. In fact, he would probably laugh at any attempt to portray him as perfect. None of us – all imperfect – expected him to be. He lived, after all, in a sea of imperfect humanity in a world far from perfect.
But it was in how embraced his own imperfections – his humanity – and how he tried to live the best life he could, to the fullest, in this challenging and imperfect world that made him the good man that he most certainly was – the good man that Danny and Nick did such a wonderful job of describing last night.
No one will ever be able to take from his four boys the memories of the many ways Danny found to relish life and how much passion he put into it and how important it was for him to live it the way his soul dictated.
That Daniel Zavala Jr. loved his family and his friends and life itself – and that he was loved in return – is irrefutable.
That his life ended way too soon is what brings sorrow to our hearts and tears to our eyes.
That we are all privileged to have been a part of his life, and to have him continue to be a part of ours, is what will allow us to say soon that it is well – it is well with our souls.
And it is what brings us here today to say, “Gracias, Güero.”
– Juan Ramón Palomo
Crystal City, Texas
November 27, 2012