The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Chuck Smiley: Mentor and Friend

As we age it seems our thoughts more often turn to the past than to the future. The past, after all, represents a far greater percentage of our lives than does the future which, quite honestly, could be very brief indeed. And as we settle into a kind of quasi-retirement, our plans and hopes tend to focus on a less distant horizon. I also believe that, because our extensive pasts are brimming over with a lifetime of experiences, our thoughts naturally turn in that direction when we encounter something new. We measure the new by placing it alongside that which we have experienced and evaluate it accordingly. But it's not just our own experiences that enter into the mix, but the experiences of the special few who have had a major influence on us. 

If one is fortunate his life will be blessed by a few people who have freely offered not only their wisdom but also their encouragement, their advice, and their hope. And if one is extremely fortunate, that wisdom will always be timeless, that encouragement always positive, that advice always sound, and that hope ever fulfilled. I for one have been extremely fortunate.

My father, John McCarthy, is certainly at the very top of the list of those who changed my life, who changed me, always for the better. But there were others -- just a few others -- and right up there on that same list with my father was Captain Charles Boone Smiley, United States Navy, Retired.

Chuck and I cutting cake 1970
Several days ago I was going through some boxes filled with old documents and photos when I came across a photo taken back in 1970. It's a photo of my commanding officer and me cutting a cake celebrating our helicopter squadron's return to our home base at then Naval Air Station Imperial Beach in Southern (very Southern) California. The Navy has traditionally celebrated important events with cakes and since we had just completed the recovery operation for the Apollo 13 ill-fated lunar mission, I suppose a cake was in order. 

That commanding officer, Chuck Smiley, then already a mentor, eventually became a lifelong close friend. Interestingly, Chuck's wife, Sally, filled the same role for my young wife, Diane. Indeed, whenever Diane uttered the words, "Well, Sally said...", I knew that further discussion was unnecessary; all was settled; Sally had spoken. 

Sally & Chuck (2008)
Anyway, after finding that photo, I picked up the phone and called Chuck. He and Sally have made their home in San Diego for decades and I hadn't spoken to them for several months. As I punched in their number I felt a bit guilty for calling so infrequently. The phone was answered by their son, David, who informed me in a broken, grief-filled voice that Chuck had died only days before. He was 85 years old. At first I was heartbroken and could think only of the many lives, including my own, that would be emptier with Chuck gone. But then, after a wonderful, long chat with Sally, I realized that all those lives had been blessed by Chuck's presence, and that Chuck Smiley was still with us because he had influenced so many people in so many wonderful ways. Our lives weren't emptier; rather, they had been filled by this remarkable man.

Did two people share a greater love?
Chuck had suffered from multiple myeloma for a dozen years, which in itself was remarkable. I suppose I had simply concluded that he was indestructible, and would go on forever. But on those few occasions when he spoke about his illness with me, he revealed that he knew it would likely take his life at some point. In the meantime, though, he fought it tooth and nail. That was just the way he was. Simply to be in his presence was an ongoing learning experience.

C. B. Smiley: 1930-2016
For me personally, however, Chuck's most instructive traits were his deep Christian faith and his remarkable humility. The former ruled every aspect of his life and led Diane and me to ask Chuck and Sally to be the godparents of  two of our children. The latter taught all who served with him what it meant to be a naval officer. He never placed his personal ambition above the needs of the country, the Navy, and those under his command. Unlike many who "serve" today, Chuck Smiley was no careerist. And I suppose, from the point of view of some, he paid a price for that. Chuck, of course, would disagree.

A wonderful husband, father and grandfather, a friend like no other, a patriot, and a faithful servant in the Lord's vineyard -- how we will miss him! 

May The Lord bless you and keep you, Chuck. May His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May He look upon you with kindness and give you peace.

Rest in peace, Chuck. If I could bake a cake, I would.

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