The Burial of Chet Kasmarski
December 14, 2019
“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.”
Frank and Tina found Chet’s high school yearbook entry on Ancestry.com. It is an wonderful picture of him. He was so young, and you could see the Chet-sparkle in his eye. His hair was greased up and slicked back, coat and tie on. He always looked good, even hauling brush, he dressed well. Here is his hat that he would wear sometimes. I have a great picture of him, Tom Payne and me with black hats at Shrove Tuesday, one of his high points of the year.
That picture of him, seventeen or so, so young. The text reads “Science fair winner. Coin collecting. Intends to be a chemist. Enjoys fishing. Nice. Enjoys watching T.V.” The life and promise in that face, in his whole class there in Westchester County, New York.
And then Viet Nam happened. I am modeling life with Chet. Within the first five minutes of meeting him, Viet Nam came up as it did in most any conversation I had with him. Viet Nam figured into everything for Chet, be it some story from there, sparse in detail, but fresh in his mind, or of his annual gatherings with guys from his unit, or just his walking through the world, it was always right there, Viet Nam, right in the front of his mind, fifty years on, it was always right there.
Now Chet had a full life, full beyond Southeast Asia. He had friends, long time friends. Marilyn and her sister and brother were looking for him on Thanksgiving, that’s how we learned that something was amiss. He had love interests. He had art, both in his home and in his heart, he worked at the Schnitzer for many years and was a nearly life-long member of the Whitney. He had this church. Being as far from home as he was, this was his home. How often he would be puttering out back, always trimming something. He had this big rubber bucket full of cutting things. A cigarette in his mouth, a pair of shears in hand a lot of blackberries went to their reward by his hand, a lot. He made sure a lot of plants got watered in managing the irrigation system. (Sounds minor, but God help us with Chet gone, that irrigation system and those rhododendrons are going to be someone’s end). He took care of the memorial garden with Mike for decades. Next week we are greening the church, decorating for Christmas with boughs and holly, and Chet and Mike were the greeners, collecting the trimmings, fireproofing them, telling us where to put them. It is not going to be the same next week.
He loved this church, the building, what we stand for, what we do. He led the outreach commission for years, giving a lot of money to a lot of organizations here in Eugene and around the world, making both better places. He monitored pledges for years. He’s been leading the audit process. And he hasn’t been around on Sundays as much the past two years, but his heart was here, especially for the old farts, as he lovingly called them, the men’s group he organized. They’ve had a hard year, Chet is the fourth who has died since last October.
This church was all tied up in his life. I helped to clean up his apartment and send things back to his sister, and he had bulletins and annual reports, and diocesan newsletters, I think the whole collection of the old Tune In newsletter and the bulletin to what surely was every funeral he attended here. There was a stack of them.
He had a full life, he did, a good life, and Viet Nam was always there. I don’t know what happened to him there. Maybe it was something he saw, or heard, or smelled; maybe it was something that happened to him; maybe it was something he did. I heard a lot of his stories, he was in the armored cavalry, so as a Marine tank guy myself, we knew about a lot of the same things, but I don’t know specifically how he got hurt, but he got hurt in Viet Nam, badly. His mind, more likely his soul was grievously wounded over there.
Chet was a broken man. Caring, loving, kind, extremely generous, and broken; tragically, I think in the end, fatally broken. He didn’t take his own life like so many of his brother and sister combat vets have, do, but he was alone in the world, and that caught up to him. He had us, and friends, family, Viet Nam guys, and the folks at Theos, and Barn Light, and Full City. (He was very sad when the Beanery on 5th closed). But when he wasn’t out and about, he was home, and he was alone. His fought his addiction, and won, except the smoking, (which he was working on, or at least thinking about working on) but he didn’t take care of himself. He had a little stroke last year. He had the throat thing, cancerous nodes on his larynx. He didn’t keep weight on. He didn’t take care of himself very well; he couldn’t.
It is all about trauma, the trauma he carried. There was a lot of it and he carried his trauma like a soldier: relentlessly, year after year, up steep hills, across deep water and through boot sucking mud because what other choice did he have? He wasn’t going to hurt those who he knew loved him. His faith was strong in its way. He was ever loyal. But oh, the burden he carried…
I always found Chet very easy to love. You didn’t want to get into an email-based conversation/argument with him, especially about anything remotely political (I honor him by not making this homily a missive against the horror of war and its consequences fifty years on). And the things he ran, watch out! Be it the Outreach Commission, the property committee (which he led for years), a variety of aspects of our financial ministry, he had an agenda in every sense of the word. And he worked hard. And he gave everything he had. And he will be, he already is, missed.
What do we do? We who are left behind by this humble, loving, broken man of faith, what are we supposed to do? Well, what we are supposed to do is do what Chet did: get up each morning, drink some coffee, do what needs doing, drink some more coffee, give what needs to be given, drink a little more coffee, and head home. He traveled back East at the holidays to see his sisters Noreen and Delores and a bunch of friends in the NYC area, he talked about visiting his niece who now lives in Australia, he gathered with his Viet Nam buddies when they gathered, but other than that, Chet gave. Day in, day out, Chet gave. Chet served. Chet was loyal. Chet was faithful. Chet was loved, rough edges and all, Chet was loved, beloved of God, and a whole bunch of God’s people. May we, may you do the same with the grace that he mustered after all these years. Fair thee well, Chet. May this final rest be in the hand of God where no torment will ever touch you. AMEN