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President Donald R. Eastman III

President's Remarks

Eulogy for Laura Gorman

Dr. Donald R. Eastman III

Delivered at McArthur Gymnasium
Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida
March 7, 2006

The words of the prophet Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible are strong, strident, harsh, and hard. His words, and the response they demand, are painful, rigorous and unyielding. It is his job, as a prophet, to tell us truths we do not want to know.

His hardest words, perhaps the hardest words in the entire Christian Bible, are these:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow
from heaven, and returneth not thither,
but watereth the earth,
and maketh it bring forth and bud,
that it may give seed to the sower,
and bread to the eater:
so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth:
it shall not return unto me void,
but it shall accomplish that which I please,
and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led
forth with peace:
the mountains and the hills shall break forth
before you into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree,
and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree:
and it shall be to the Lord for a name,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55: 8-13

There is no accounting and no solace but time for the untimely death of the beautiful Laura Gorman. There is no fairness in it, no lesson to be learned, except the lesson Isaiah teaches.

The lesson has two parts: The first is that God's ways are not ours; God's thoughts and understanding are not ours; and so we will not know - because we cannot know - what sense this death makes; why things happen as they do; or what God's plan is for any of us. If we believe that God is in charge of a benevolent world then we will believe that God makes sense of it - but nevertheless, we cannot.

Our response to that is, rightly, anger and outrage as well as sorrow and regret.

The second part of the lesson is this: that the words of the prophet will prosper; that the thorns and briers of our lives will produce fir trees and myrtle; that no matter how foreign and impenetrable the acts of God are and no matter how alienated we are, we shall not be cut off.

This too, a millennia later, is the lesson of the story of Jesus and Lazarus. As the Hebrew Bible, sufficient unto itself as the Holy text of Judaism, becomes the first half of the Christian Bible, we know that that each of the challenges of Isaiah will be answered by Jesus. Answering Martha, the sister of Lazarus, who lies dead in his tomb, Jesus says:

You brother will rise again . . .
I am the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in me, though he die,
yet shall he live, and whoever lives
and believes in me shall never die.

John 11:23-26

We shall not be cut off.

The poet, Wendell Berry, puts this mystery this way:

The tomb is empty. There is no death
Death is our illusion, our wish to belong
only to ourselves.

If we believe in the Christian promise that death is an illusion, then we must act on it, we must demonstrate that Laura now lives on in those who knew and those who loved her.

Isaiah is a hard and sorrowful taskmaster; but what I believe is this: Regardless of whether we believe the historical or spiritual validity of his words, we must act to make them true. Not for Isaiah's sake, but for our own. We must act to take strength and love from Laura's example, from her smile and her delight in living, from her best self, and employ our memory of that best self to make our community a stronger community and our world a better place. That is the only way we can do Laura lasting honor, the only way we can make her name, in Isaiah's words, "an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."

May God bless Laura Gorman, and her family, and all who loved her, and may we bless them too by how we live our lives and how we love each other, our College, and our community. Amen.