Paul Schlegel Eulogy, December 13, 2015
Paul Martin Schlegel, July 29, 1963 - December 7, 2015
The first time I saw Paul Schlegel he was laughing.
It was the first day of 7th grade. We were both members of a set of classrooms called "team zero." I had just spent a very traumatic year as an isolated, abused and mostly friendless 6th grader.
And on the first day of 7th grade, there was Paul: Laughing.
I don't remember what he was laughing about. But that was the thing about Paul. He so often saw humor where no one else saw it. So often, even in difficult times. Or even quite often, when it was inappropriate. But he knew humor was often inappropriate. And he loved to laugh.
Paul made me laugh. I'm sure I laughed more with Paul than I have with anyone else I've ever known.
Let me remind you of a couple of examples of his humor. I know it's not everyone's sense of humor, but it sure was mine:
- Seven days older than me, Paul would often tell me, "I'm your elder!" and jokingly demand my respect. He did this over and over. For years. For decades. And he laughed every time.
- When my wife found her birth mother after 38 years of separation—a joyous occasion—Paul was happy for her. But he couldn't resist saying "When Fawn called her, were her first words 'YOU AGAIN?'"
And Paul laughed at the absurdity of life. In the late 1990s he visited me in Wisconsin, and we went to a crazy "attraction" called "the House on the Rock." A collection of collections, put together by a madman, we spent the afternoon laughing at the absurd displays--a life-size ceramic horse, apparently talking on an old-style wall phone. Room size music boxes that demanded money to work, then barely scraped out the most pathetic sounds. He found it all utterly delightful, and we laughed the entire afternoon. Paul laughed at the absurdity of life, and inspired others to do so too.
As you know, even as a child Paul was a brilliant musician. I would often sit and listen to him play the piano, at my house or his. He would write songs making musical jokes or with oddball humorous lyrics, about events at school or simply things he found funny.
I remember when he was working his way through learning how to play the piano score of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." It took him months to get it, and he worked on it every chance he got.
At one point I was listening to him play it, and he looked over at me, while still playing the complicated music before him. He held my gaze for a ridiculously long time, while still playing. Finally he said, with that timing and ironic tone only he had, "Hey, I'm sight-reading!"
His oddball humor certainly got him—and me—into trouble. Teachers were constantly telling us to settle down. Even as adults, after he had joined the ManKind Project, the Fraternal Organization we both became a part of, we were at a banquet together and someone asked, with more than a little exasperation, "Do we have to separate you two?". That was the story of our lives together. When I was with Paul, we just couldn't stop laughing at everything. It sometimes made people nuts. But Paul showed me that the laughter was worth the trouble it caused.
Paul taught me a lot about laughing. I hope we will all remember, once our hearts have had some healing, to laugh in remembrance of him.
Paul Inspired me
Paul was better at things than I was. Usually a LOT better. But he used his superiority to inspire me to reach to higher heights, not to lord it over me. I never once remember Paul bullying me or being condescending because he was smarter than me. It simply would never have occurred to him. It wasn't in his nature.
We both loved comic strips, and in 7th grade he constantly drew a comic character he called "Spot." A little guy made up of all head, with feet and arms and no body, Paul drew comic strips telling stories and unfolding adventures and, of course, making jokes.
As would be a theme in our relationship I followed along, drawing comics of my own in his style, making similar jokes. We often went to each other's homes after school, sometimes drawing comics for hours. And laughing.
Paul inspired me to create, and carried me along in the wake of his creativity.
While you know Paul was a brilliant musician, you may not know that, as a child, Paul was also a pretty good amateur magician. This was another activity I followed him in.
As usual, Paul was a better at it than I was. Especially when it came to "slight-of-hand" tricks, which took real skill, he left me in the dust.
But my following along never bothered him. Again, he was happy to have me with him. At 13 and 14 we'd take trips on the bus to downtown st. Louis to a place called "Devoe's magic den" to buy magic tricks, and in some small way explore the city.
The man who owned the Magic Shop, Mr Devoe, was a highly skilled and respected magician. He also was rather gruff, something Paul delighted in making jokes about (though he was always respectful to his face). One time an employee at the magic shop was demonstrating a trick to us, which failed. The proprietor took the trick from the terrified employee, and asked him "Why didn't it work?!" with such menace that Paul remembered it, and would often growl "Why didn't it work?!" at me, even once we were adults.
Paul and I did a lot together. But the truth was was it was usually me doing things with him. And I'll always be grateful for his example and inspiration.
So much of Paul was unselfconsious. He didn't think about making me laugh. He didn't think about inspiring me. And he didn't think about his generosity. He just was.
Two days after Paul took his life, another friend of mine attempted to take his, and failed. Visiting him in the hospital, I asked him, "Why did you do it?" I wanted to know, "How can I understand this?"
"In those moments of darkness," he said, "Your mind stops working right. Things that don't actually make sense start to make sense to you. It started to make sense to me to take my own life, even though now I see it made no sense at all. But in those moments, it seemed to make sense. My mind wasn't working right.
"But most important," he told me, "you start to feel--wrongly--as if you have no choice. I would never have tried to leave the people I love had I had thought I had a choice. I love my family more than anything. I would never let them down if I thought I had a choice." He was quite passionate on this point. "Your friend's mind wasn't working clearly," he told me. "He would never have done this if he thought he had a choice. He would never have left the people he loved if he thought he had a choice. He was wrong, but he must have thought there was no other way," he told me.
Which brings us to the tragedy. We, in this room, know there was another way. How many of us in this room have thought over the last few days, "If he had called me and told me he was going to do this I would have been there?" But such is that bleakness, that darkness he experienced, that it does not ask. It starts to make sense to do what he did, even though it makes no sense. He started to believe there was no other choice, even though there was. And so we are left with the grief...
and with each other.
It's sometimes said that grief suffered together brings people closer, and grief suffered alone tears people apart. I don't mean we can't have private times of grief--of course we all do. But the more we speak of him to one another, the more we share our memories, our feelings, our processes as we go through this, the more we can come together, instead of being pulled apart.
Over the past few days I keep returning to a memory. It was fall, 7th or 8th grade, and I had spent the night at Paul's house. I awoke early, as it seems one so often does as a kid at a sleepover when there's nothing else to do but lie in bed and wait for the others to wake up.
As I said it was fall, and we were in a room with many windows, and leaves were falling. In all my life, I'd never seen so many leaves falling, and I never have since. I lay there for two hours, the light growing brighter, with leaves falling, falling, falling, so hard and so fast, like a snowstorm of leaves, as I waited for my friend to wake up.
I think of those leaves now as I think of my friend Paul. I believe all of our hearts are connected, in life and in death, and that each of us can feel past death to the hearts of those we have lost. Your mileage may vary, but that is what I believe.
And when I remember those leaves falling, and the feeling of waiting in that still space, I feel like I can reach my heart out to his heart, even now. To feel past the despair and the hopelessness he felt to his deepest, most loving heart.
To his heart that still wants me to thrive. To his heart of his that still wants me to laugh. To his heart that still wants to inspire me. To that heart of his that still wants me to connect and love and to live a great life.
I encourage you, in the days to come—as best you can—to, from time to time, allow yourself to reach out with your heart to your best sense of Paul's deepest, most loving heart. To his "heart of hearts" that was so full of love, and humor, and creativity, and that shone with such brilliance.
To, instead of asking, "why did he do this," asking "How would Paul's deepest, most loving heart want me to live going forward? And how would Paul's deepest, most loving heart want me to remember him?"
I know I won't be laughing when I think think of Paul, for a while. But I think his heart would want me to remember him by laughing, and I know that in time, I will.
- Dmitri Bilgere