Memorial Service for Mark J. Salvati (By Rev. Chuck Blair)
We gather here today to honor the life of Mark Salvati. Born in Bryn Mawr and delivered by C. Everett Koop, a man who would go on to be Surgeon General, Mark was a miracle baby, not expected to live. But live he did in more ways than one.
And what did that living look like? It looked like unconditional love and perspective. These frankly are uncommon gifts. Of course, they are not hard to talk of, but unconditional love and perspective are hard to live, and live them he did.
Unconditional love. It was striking in talking to the family about how common this theme presented itself, and it did so in big ways and small. How many here received calls from Mark? Several heard from him daily. Several heard from him when he was “… just in the area and wanted to see what you were doing for lunch.” And we heard from him – from “Gloria the favorite niece”, to Guam, to Cadillac Dave, to Mommy Dearest, Glow Girl, Muffie, Big Vern, Hazel, Stella, Coal Miner’s daughter – we heard from him. Some heard from him as their rock, others a true friend, for some as a second father.
That love evidenced itself beyond just keeping in touch however. It often included food, lots of food, copious amounts of food, as well as red wine. Guests were just that – guests – and often traveled home with leftovers. Soups were an apparent favorite – Chili, Gumbo, Tortellini. There are probably a few leftovers still sitting in some of the refrigerators of those here today.
And important to note that at the core of that unconditional love was a love of his wife Brenda and their two children Christina and Michael. Brenda and Mark met and married young – 19 and 20. Their young age was of such worry that one concerned family member assured them she would say special prayers for their marriage to work – and it worked for over 30 years. Must have been good prayers! Brenda spoke of how Mark often prepared her breakfast for her in the morning, occasionally remarking on how he added extra sugar to her tea just to make her “a little more sweet.” One must smile with great joy at that and the fact that he often called her “smokin’ hot.”
What he offered his children, Christina and Michael, growing out of that love, was something of immeasurable wealth as well. Aside from being their biggest fans, he offered perspective. Perspective is not easy to come by. We often fool ourselves by what we call “real.” The anxiety is “real”, the frenzied activity becomes “real”, and accumulating a boatload of possessions becomes “real.” One is left with the feeling that these were not “real” to Mark.
As such, the perspective he offered was one that held simple yet deeply profound truths. Imagine living into “There is more to life than this. Don’t sweat the small stuff. See the larger picture. It is going to ok. There are good days and bad. Don’t hold a grudge. Relax. Breathe. Ride a Harley.” Of course not everyone would agree with Mark and the voice of reason, and as a man who disliked conflict and yelling, in those situations he could often choose to simply go to bed.
Mark was not without areas of struggle. This is a man who felt deeply uncomfortable with change. He also was not beyond complaining. Hearing him complain, one individual remarked, was how you knew everything was ok with Mark. One must chuckle with what his thoughts on the recent Federal budget debate must have been.
He especially struggled as his health increasingly limited his ability to work, to contribute in overt ways in supporting those around him. This was a man who liked to fix things, and his circle of life was becoming increasingly circumscribed as health worsened. That had to have built frustration. On Tuesday of last week, the day before he passed, he found out that he qualified for disability benefits through Social Security. I don’t think he would have wanted to us to hear that as a “poor me” but as just part of life.
And what then is the new life that Mark is waking to right now? From a Christian New Church perspective, Mark is coming more and more into a realization that his time on earth has some to an end. Met by kindred souls who will help him find his way home, now is not a scary time. It is a time of peaceful assurance – a time of great awakening, a time of seeing in a much broader and expansive way than we are able to see in this life. For a man who constantly reminded others to “see the big picture”, he is REALLY seeing the big picture.
He is seeing all he shared with his beloved wife Brenda. He is seeing his two beloved children in ever-deeper ways. He is seeing what all of you, gathered here today, meant to him – why you were in his life, and why he was in yours. As is often said, when we die our “life passes before our eyes.” Maybe it is connection that passes “before our eyes” – connections far deeper, far more purposeful than what we could imagine seeing with our earth bound eyes.
And where is Mark headed? Though we never know someone’s eternal destiny, we do know, from our New Church perspective that the angels ask those who have recently died, not “What did you believe?” but “What kind of life did you live?” I don’t view this question as asked with the scathing critique of judge but I see it asked with the gentle eyes of souls who lived well. What would Mark answer?
Well, his life DID answer that question. It answered the question, “What can we be for each other?” – which is THE Christian question, THE human question – with a simple answer. What can we be for each other? Mark answer as lived it – A LOT. For those who can say A LOT, there is one eternal home – Heaven.
That does not of course mitigate the pain the family is feeling at such an unexpected loss. What I can offer is that yes grief will take you. Some days will seem surreal – like walking through water. Other days will yield happier times – maybe even laughter as you remember Mark – what he found funny, what he would have smiled at – like the anchor thrown overboard without a chain to tie it to a boat. And you will adjust not to life as you knew it with Mark before but you will adjust to a new normal of life without his immediate presence.
And maybe Mark’s words are the most comforting as you search for the new normal. Mark’s words: “There is more to life than this.” There is more to life than this! This life is so precious, so critical, and it one piece of very large picture. That includes deep breakings – passings so abrupt and harsh that they leave us twisted in pain. And those ironically maybe where God creates His biggest miracle, a miracle in which we get to experience in the deep suffering the intimacy that God intends. For the simplest message of Christianity is that loss and hurt do not have the last word. When one hears or experiences the outpouring of support, and yes food, for the Salvati family what is it that we are witnessing? Simply put, we are witnessing as willing participants the intimacy God intends.
And you will see Mark again. We all get our turn at this “death” this thing. Imagine the kind of heaven Mark will be living in. We wake slowly. Dear friends surround us. We hear there is a Folk Festival at the end of road this weekend. You are invited to someone’s house. The house is full. Of course the furniture has not changed since 1981 but who is counting. You may even notice the bathroom – painted coral just in your honor.
The top shelf of red wine is open. The soup is on. And there is Mark, smiling. Overjoyed to have you home again. With great joy, he says, “I told you there was a bigger picture.” And you dance.
Rev. Chuck Blair