Eulogies

Chris
Chicago Eulogy February 6, 2005

When our babysitter heard that my father had died, she started to cry. She had never met him but she is from Guatemala and had seen his film Out of the Silence about the battle for human rights there and was deeply moved by it.

She explained that her tears were for a man who would be inspired to make such an important film and said there should be more people like him in the world. She added that though he is gone he will live on forever in his moviesÖ

**

When I look back, I feel fortunate to have had so many wonderful years with my father. Growing up, the two of us spent a huge amount of time together and our relationship was as much like best friends as father and son.

At home, we goofed around in our kitchen playing basketball with the dinner leftovers, tossing them into the garbage can and making a mess. We took countless weekend trips with my friends out to an old rented farmhouse in rural western Illinois. And each year there was at least one travel adventure.

I remember the trip to Mexico when he let me sit on his lap and steer our rental car, where we went to a jai lai game, where we both got sick on a fishing boat and spent the whole morning moaning in the rocking cabin.

Though he was a single dad long before dads were expected to spend much time with their kids, I always felt like I was his top priority.

Through all of our experiences together, the most valuable thing I learned from him was how to be an engaged, caring, and loving father. There isnít a day that goes by when I am parenting my three children with Regan that I donít think about something he did with me.

When I miss him now, I pull one of my kids close and do something with them that he would have done with me, and I feel close to him.

**

I used to joke with my dad that though he had only two sons, he was a father figure to many people. Even as part of his career, he loved to mentor young people getting started in the business.

The day before he died, he spent the morning reviewing a film by Max Skor, a teenage aspiring filmmaker, about the violence surrounding the 1968 democratic convention. Maxís final note to my dad summarizes beautifully what Iíve heard from so many people about him:

As I look at your life Chuck, I am humbled by all the things you have achieved. You have two wonderful sons, grandchildren, and a beautiful wife. You have created wonderful documentaries that have affected thousands of lives. Chuck you have shown me what life is all about. Even though you have a health problem, you have still taken the time to talk to me and help educate the generation to come. Your ideas and impressions will stay with me forever. I canít begin to tell you how much I regret not spending more time with you. You are a man of honor and accomplishment and I hope I can leave a lasting impression on generations to come, like you have.

**

I know that people have been shocked by the suddenness of my dadís passing. He had a rare blood disease called Amyloidosis. He probably had it 3 to 5 years before being diagnosed in late October, at which point we learned that he likely had 3 Ė 6 months to live.

By my count, fewer than 20 of his family and friends saw him since he had a stroke back on December 23. During the last four weeks of his life, he was increasingly debilitated, unable to speak and swallow, barely able to walk at all.

While this may not offer you any relief, I want people to know that all of us in the immediate family, and most importantly Chuck himself, did have some time to prepare for this sad ending. In his final moments, he was surrounded my many of us, he was comfortable, and I believe that he was ready to go.

**

As you saw in the slideshow, we laid my dad to rest in the lagoon next to Stinson Beach. When I asked him about the film project he doing about the lagoon back in November he said

Thatís a film that has taken me deeply into nature. Later in life, doing my lagoon film has been a chance to get very quiet, very stoic, thoughtful, really study nature and bring it into myself and bring myself out into it.

Just the quietness of nature, and how slowly and rhythmically it moves, and how long itís been around and how itís going to be around for a long time after weíre gone. Itís made me much more peaceful and much more appreciative.

**

May his memory live on in all of us, in his movies, and in the lagoon that is now his home.

  • Chris, February 6, 2005
  • *********
    Stinson Beach Eulogy

    When our babysitter heard that my father had died, she started to cry. She had never met him but she is from Guatemala and had seen his film Out of the Silence about the battle for human rights there and was deeply moved by it. As she cried she explained that her tears were for a man who would be inspired to make such an important film and said there should be more people like him in the world. She added that though he is gone he will live on forever in his moviesÖ

    I have learned in the past month that my father meant more to more people than I ever could have imagined. From the postings on the Caringbridge website to emails, phone calls and the personal interactions Iíve had with his fans, he was truly a beloved man.

    I, of course, already knew this. I find it amusing when people approach me and say, "Chris, your father was such a wonderful man!" I feel like saying, "I know that, I spent 17 years living with the guy!" The only person who knows him better than me is Nancy, since she had 18 years with him!

    When I think back on all the great times we had together, itís not possible to summarize into a brief speech so Iíll try to focus on a few.

    Through all of our experiences, I learned from my dad how to be an engaged, caring, and loving father. And he taught me to ALWAYS look for the humor in any situation or setting.

    Since my parents were divorced and my brother was a lot older than me, my dad and I spent a lot of one on one time together during my middle school and high school years. We referred to those as the "bachelor years" and lived more like College roommates in our apartment on Crilly Court than like father and son.

    The kitchen was the center of our antics.

    Highlights included shooting leftover food into the garbage can which was located in a little alcove such that you could bank the projectiles off of two surfaces. That configuration encouraged extreme risk taking. The area on the wall above the rim of the trash looked like the floor of a pizza restaurant kitchen.

    We also played "pass the plates" whereby one person would stand at the drying rack next to the sink and hurdle the clean dishes to the other person located next to the pantry. There were surprisingly few casualties.

    For some reason, I think because the phone was on the wall in there, he always answered the callers with the same comical greeting. Does anyone know it? He would stand tall and stiff and bark, "Engine room!" No matter how confused people were, heíd always do that same joke and weíd laugh.

    Right up until the end of his life, he thought people should always be laughing, and if they didnít see the comedy in something heíd just keep making jokes until eventually theyíd figure it out.

    After his diagnosis in October, he was cracking jokes with the doctors at every opportunity, always looking to give everyone some comic relief from the tragedy that was unfolding. I have certainly inherited this from him, as I too am always looking for the irony of the moment that can be exploited for a laugh. Iíve also learned from him to be stubborn about it. If people donít laugh, itís not because the joke wasnít funny, itís because they didnít get it. So just keep trying Ö

    **

    On the road, my dad taught me how to travel. We took several trips a year, always without an itinerary. Weíd fly somewhere, rent a car, and drive around for a week staying in unknown hotels in little towns, discovering interesting things along the way that we never could have anticipated.

    In Mexico I remember he let me sit on his lap and steer the car down an abandoned highway. In Idaho, in the middle of the night we saw a car that had just been driven off the road into a rushing river. In Northern California we rode the Skunk Train.

    These meandering explorations would become the model for my travels as an adult, heading off in a general direction and working out the plan along the way. Surprisingly few people travel this way, but they should as it provides such a wonderful contrast to the way we live our routine lives at home.

    As a father, I seek the same depth of relationships with my three kids as he built with me. Regan and I are teaching them to explore and travel and laugh and crack jokes.

    We even shoot diapers into the garbage in the kitchen, but our trash can has itís own lid that we use as a backboard so the wall stays clean.

    **

    When I was young, I often remember waking to the sound of the typewriter. My dad was always writing. I figured he was working, writing movies. But it turns out that while movies are what heís known for, he wrote as part of his daily routine. Perusing his laptop, I recently came across some of his recent musings and thought Iíd one.

     

    Even now the crow at full caw,

    Protecting turf on the telephone line assured for another morning,

    Sounding so sweet.

    I take back whatever I said about he and his buddies,

    The poop they drop so skillfully from their sky perch

    on our car below.

    Later, out at Seadrift, Bear barks full throated, full-bodied,

    at something standing at the side of the road.

    A garbage bin with its lid up, a flash of sun across it,

    just ominous enough for him to notice, care, and defend.

    **

    Of course everyone knows my dad for his movies. What I have come to respect most about him as a filmmaker is that he never let business stand in the way of getting the important movies made. I remember stressful conversations in high school where heíd explain that he didnít have any projects lined up for the next several months and didnít plan to draw a salary for a while. Then a week later heíd be relieved because a big commercial film had turned up just in time. His ability to operate with that level of uncertainty about the business always impressed me.

    He seemed to operate two virtual production companies: one for profit, and one for not for profit. The commercial films covered much of the overhead which enabled him to do unprofitable but important projects about native Americans working to hold onto their history, the international struggle for human rights, or the Jewish fight for an independent state after World War II. His biographies of Marc Chagall and Martin Luther King Jr. are as inspirational today as when they were first made 20 years ago.

    The day before he died, he spent the morning reviewing a film by Max Skor, a teenage relative and aspiring filmmaker. Maxís film is about the violence surrounding the 1968 democratic convention and my dad, having experienced the brutality on Michigan Avenue first hand, is the main historian featured in the film. Dad was deeply moved by his Maxís work so I thought Iíd read Maxís final note to my dad that I read him in the hospital. I think it summarizes well what Iíve heard from so many people:

     

    As I look at your life Chuck, I am humbled by all the things you have achieved. You have two wonderful sons, grandchildren, and a beautiful wife. You have created wonderful documentaries that have affected thousands of lives. Chuck you have shown me what life is all about. Even though you have a health problem, you have still taken the time to talk to me and help educate the generation to come. Your ideas and impressions will stay with me forever. I canít begin to tell you how much I regret not spending more time with you. You are a man of honor and accomplishment and I hope I can leave a lasting impression on generations to come, like you have.

    **

    Finally, while I donít want to dwell on my dadís illness, there are a few things about it you should know. First of all, he had a rare blood disease called Amyloidosis. If we look back at some of his health issues, it is likely that the disease had been growing in him for 3 to 5 years. By the time it was finally diagnosed in late October, the only question was whether he would live 3 months or 9.

    I tell you this because from his experience I have learned that if you have a health issue and you donít know what is causing the problems, get to the bottom of it. For years he saw doctors who couldnít diagnose it. Thatís not to say that anyone could have, since this disease often goes unnoticed until it is very advanced, but you get the point.

    By my count, fewer than 20 of his family and friends saw him since he had a stroke back on December 23. During the last four weeks of his life, he was increasingly debilitated, unable to speak and swallow, barely able to walk at all. By the time he departed, he was ready to go as heíd already lost the life heíd enjoyed so much.

    While this may not offer you any relief, I want people to know that all of us in the immediate family, and most importantly Chuck himself, did have some time to prepare for this sad ending. In his final moments, he was surrounded my many of us, he was comfortable, and I believe that he was ready to go.

    **

    Today we laid him to rest in the lagoon. When I asked him about his burial back in November heíd said, "I would love to have my ashes scattered in the lagoon and Iíd like to do it on an incoming tide. I want some of me to stay there and the rest of me can wash out, `cause the sea is the sea but the lagoon is where my heart is."

    In looking for a poem to read as we scattered his ashes, I turned to one of my oldest friends who knew my dad intimately and he recommended one named "The Peace of Wild Things", by Wendell Berry.

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

    **

    In talking to my dad about the importance of the lagoon film he said:

    Thatís a film that has taken me deeply into nature. Later in life, doing my lagoon film has been a chance to get very quiet, very stoic, thoughtful, really study nature and bring it into myself and bring myself out into it.

    In Chicago, we did it in our weekends houses. And now Iíve kind of got it, instead of on weekends, every day of the year. Looking out right here to the ocean and up there to the mountain, and the soft spot thatís the lagoon that has become so close to my heart.

    Just the quietness of nature, and how slowly and rhythmically it moves, and how long itís been around and how itís going to be around for a long time after weíre gone. Itís made me much more peaceful and much more appreciative.

    [Addressing his grandkids he addsÖ] I have no doubt that youíll come to nature in a way thatís sooner and stronger than I did growing upÖand just know that thatís a great place for you to be.

    **

    My dad would not have wanted me to end on such a solemn note. So Iíll leave you with this thought.

    The next time youíre at home feeling blue about losing him, I want you to grab some really gross trash, so it really counts if you miss, take a few steps back from the garbage can in the kitchen, and recite the following while taking your best bank shot, "Olin drops backÖ3Ö2Ö1Öhe shoots, and scores!"

    May his memory live on in all of us. And in his movies.

    Chris, January 24, 2005
    *************************

    Richard

    1957. New London, Connecticut. Two brothers at a cloverleaf on an interstate. A diverging of courses steered. Both aware that we were branching out from the common trunk that had been our growing up together. Chuckís poignant poem recalled it well.

    1983. Chicago. Sheila and I bound for Longboat key in Florida. Chuckís words echoing again the sense of separate directions, again from common soil where weíd grown. "A different cloverleaf, the sentimentís the same. A milestone, a departure. A close and an opening. Change, " he wrote then.

    2005. Buttonwood Harbor, Longboat Key, Florida. I walk the concrete seawall in the quiet, windless January afternoon. Overcast, sea birds fishing, and Iím recognizing how the brothers came together again. Drawn to the nurturing environment of shallow estuaries, where life emerges continually and renews itself.

    Another cloverleaf, another departure, another close, another change. Itís hard for me to see an opening now. I think Iíve got something in my eye.

    Richard

    *****************************

    Peter's last letter to Chuck......   11/21/04

    Dear Chuck:

    Your heart is failing.  Though not likely, it is possible you could die at any time.  And so I write as you have written to me over the past 30 years, to reflect and to say I love you.

    The other night I went through 30 years of letters from you.  I have them in a file.  The early ones, typewritten on the Selectric.  Big orange O on the bond paper. 

    The letters are poetry.  Rich with imagery, insight and empathy.  They reflect the physical and emotional weather.  They show a deep interest in my inner life and an unpretentious willingness to share your own struggles. 

    It was not inevitable that our bond would be so close or endure so long.  It could have been a cool dťtente.  We could have become estranged after Crilly.  Instead, my own children feel a connection to you that sets you apart from their other grandparents.  It is the most fitting tribute.

    I remember well the early days.  Vroom at the SuperX.  The walkie talkies.  The blue arrow.  The bike.  The Green Underground.  Like Dick Butkus, you plugged a hole.  My Dad was gone.  But you were there for me.  In the alley, post patterns into the post.  Throwing the Duke in traffic.  BB as Bob Jeter in the park.  Stuffing the Steif ball.  

    It was the every-dayness of our life at Crilly that changed me.  I often wonder who I would have been if I had not been your son.  Subtle changes have a profound effect projected into a lifetime.  

    Throughout my life, no matter how down I was, I always felt you were proud of me.  Proud of my struggle.  I always felt love and support.  It is a wonderful thing for a son to feel.

    It is a tribute to my Dad that he did not feel threatened by my relationship to you.  I think he understood that you played a role he could not.  And you were able to get close without fearing you were treading on ďfatherlyĒ turf.  You were the best of both worlds:  I saw you as my father but was unburdened by the biological baggage of the parent-child relationship. 

    My father had to love me; you had a choice.

    I write to ensure a closure.  I write because the act of writing for us has been a way to memorialize our special relationship.  I write because I wanted to say how very much I love you, have loved you, and will forever cherish our relationship.

     

    Peter Bensinger

    **************************************************

     

    Gary Wood

    Chuck was one my best friends.  Chuck and I became friends when I discussed the idea of doing a film on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Chuck took to the idea like a duck to water.  As a result he produced and directed the film “Out of Silence- The Fight for Human Rights”.  One of the former deputy directors of Amnesty International upon hearing about Chuck’s death wrote me and said “Chuck’s contribution to human rights has had a profound impact on how we understand the genesis of our work.   Chuck brought new energy, excitement, and vision that reminded me of why I am doing this work, why it is important.”   I remember how excited Chuck was in his low key and humble manner when he told me about how the film was being watched in villages in Guatemala without electricity by hooking up the VCR to car batteries!  Chuck understood the need for documentaries- the witnessing of the human spirit to bring peace and justice to the world.

     

    I was attracted to Chuck and I’m sure the same for you… to his inner beauty, his gentleness, his softness, his passion, his compassion, his deep sense of justice, and his values.  I remember years ago Chuck and I talking about an old and a somewhat forgotten European Jewish tradition of writing ethical wills.  We were both fascinated by the idea of writing down for our heirs our values, our pearls of wisdom, & our hopes for the next generations.  Chuck’s life and work was his ethical will…his legacy.  I would also like to suggest that he has given us a road map for his ethical will with his film titles.  

     

    The film the “Gift”- no matter how old you are it is never too late to give back, be creative and make a difference- Chuck at 68 had already started on his next documentary.

     

    The film  “Box of Treasures”- tradition and ritual- the special bottle of 1865 cognac bequeathed to Chuck and used to toast the births of each grandchild and spreading of Chuck’s ashes.

     

    The film “Out of Silence”- belief in the basic human rights of freedom and _expression

     

    The film “In Our Own Hands”- stepping up, taking risks, taking action 

     

    You can see Chuck’s message to us:  out of silence, …in our own hands, …with our box of treasures, …we have gifts for family, friends, and the world.

     

    After the holocaust, Israel decided to recognize those non-Jews that risked their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazi’s. These rescuers are called the “Righteous Ones”.  Chuck spent a life time rescuing us from the dark side of the world to bring us into the light of our humanity. He was a righteous one.

     

    And finally, I have spent the last two weeks looking at pictures of Chuck with Nancy and our family. One of the pictures I like the most is Chuck and me standing together at Stinson with Chuck kissing me on the cheek.  We loved each other like brothers.  For me, I can find some peace in knowing that I had a golden moment a couple of months ago to see Chuck alone, to discuss his illness, to talk about life, how much he cared about Nancy and how concerned he was about work for Libby, but more importantly we were able to say we loved each other.  Chuck, I miss you. Your spirit will always be with me in my life.

    **************************************************

    Poem Read by Lesly Robinson

    CROSSING the BAR 

    By  

    Alfred Tennyson, Lord Tennyson 

    Sunset and evening star,

    And one clear call for me!

    And may there be no moaning of the bar,

    When I put out to sea, 

    But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

    Too full for sound and foam,

    When that which drew from out the boundless deep

    Turns again home. 

    Twilight and evening bell,

    And after that the dark!

    And may there be no sadness or farewell,

    When I embark; 

    For thoí from out our bourne of Time and Place

    The flood may bear me far,

    I hope to see my Pilot face to face

    When I have crossed the bar. 

     

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