Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Remarks at the Memorial Service for Dr. Omar Khalidi

Memorial Service for Dr. Omar Khalidi

Let me welcome you to the MIT chapel. We gather to honor and remember Dr. Omar Khalidi. He was a friend, a mentor, a scholar, a librarian, a father and a husband. He was also much more. In the days following his death, I have read the words of people across the world who have responded to his passing.

“India has become a little poorer with the passing of Dr. Omar Khalidi.”
“(His) voice will be sorely missed.
“I lost a dear mentor today. And the Indian Muslim community—one of its intellectual guiding lights.”
“(He was) the voice of the Indian Muslims during some of their darkest hours,…”

I do not doubt the truth of these words because on of the things I wanted from Omar was to learn from him. We had been talking about something that we might do together as he stitched the next chapter in his life. It was an intriguing possibility for me; for him it was a chance to do what he had done for a long time, a chance to teach someone who needed to learn what they did not know about a corner of the world he knew very well.

As is often the case here at MIT Dr. Khalidi was better known beyond our walls than he was here. That is a sad reality for many who labor in realms removed from science, engineering and related disciplines. Belatedly today we remind one another how much he was loved, how highly he was regarded. We do that because human kind is often left with limited weapons in our contest against our mortality.

Our best response to Omar’s passing is to share with his family the grief we all carry. Their burden is even greater than ours for they knew him in so many different ways: beyond professional accomplishments, beyond words on paper and we will realize I believe that what have lost with Omar’s death is much more than we thought. We lost a friend, but also a teacher; we lost a window on the world that we cannot replace.

Our time together today is a time to reflect on what has happened and a time to begin thinking about the holes we must fill. What happens here will help; what happens after we leave and gather over coffee and tea in W-11 is part of the process and that is what it is: a process that will go on for along time and always hurt. I am reminded of Emily Dickenson:

THEY say that “time assuages”,—
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.
Time is a test of trouble, 5
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no malady.

And in this case there is a malady; time will not assuage but we who carry on will do our best work in honoring Omar’s memory by having eyes that see a larger world, and hands that do greater work.


How Can We Understand Death?

What can we know of death, we who cannot understand life?
We study the seed and the cell, but the power deep within them will always elude us.
Though we cannot understand, we accept life as the gift of God. Yet death, life’s twin, we face with fear.
But why be afraid? Death is a haven to the weary, a relief for the sorely afflicted. We are safe in death as in life.
There is no pain in death. There is only the pain of the living as they recall shared loves, and as they themselves fear to die.
Calm us, O Lord, when we cry out in our fear and our grief. Turn us anew toward life and the world. Awaken us to the warmth of human love that speaks to us of You.
We shall fear no evil as we affirm Your kingdom of life.

Gates of Prayer, 624

December 3, 2010