Our father was a big man. Maybe not physically, but anyone who knew him knew he was intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally a very big man.
The three of us know all too well that most any question we asked always resulted in a broad smile and trip to the bookshelf. There, the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica was on display. But while many folks used to just have them sitting on the shelf, our collection got a lot of use. Dad would pull out one of the books, open it to a relevant article, and hand it to us. He’d say, “here – here is the answer.”
And that was what he always did. Dad encouraged us to read and then read some more; read as much as we could to learn as much as we could. Nothing was ever discouraged. I don’t think he ever told us not to read something, even if it was controversial or from a viewpoint different from his. We consumed writings that came from political viewpoints, philosophies, and religions different from ours, and his bookshelf then – like now – has books on every topic, written by myriad authors from all perspectives. They were and are all there to consume and learn.
But he wasn’t overly serious. As a family, we’d always laugh at funny caricatures, sing silly songs on cross-country drives, and watch wacky television shows with slapstick humor. He especially loved it when what seemed like low-brow pastiche hid a sharp-witted edge. He’d stop, point it out to us, and ask, “did you catch that?” then burst into laughter.
And wherever we were, there was always music playing in the background. Whether we listened to those silly songs or to Sibelius or Mussorgsky at great volume; whether we were going to the opera (before which we all had to read the synopsis as a family to understand what we were about to see and bring the librettos along to understand what was being sung between acts), music was always on.
And then there was the jazz. He loved listening to jazz, especially The Modern Jazz Quartet. To this day, the three of us still love their album “Pyramid Jazz”. We think Dad was a beatnik, and not just at heart. He often recounted his days at Rutgers, hanging out with beat poets and artists, and attending crazy “happenings.” When visiting New Brunswick, his eyes would look 30 years into the past as he pointed out where “the greasy spoon” was, where he’d have a late-night meal, or – and he would chuckle and shake his head – that “certain bar” used to be.
He was also a life-long outdoorsperson and a boy scout. Some of you knew him as a scoutmaster in his earlier life, but we remember him attending skaudilaager – the Estonian Scout camp – as the chaplain. And rather than staying in the cabins, he always pitched a tent and slept on a cot, just like every other camper.
Together as a family, we spent countless hours in the wilds of British Columbia, climbing trails through forests to reach a pristine alpine lake in the coastal mountains of BC, a secluded beach on Vancouver Island’s western shore, or the high deserts of the Okanagan. We went white-water rafting down the Fraser River, camped in the wild whenever we could, and (carefully) looked over steep cliffs on the top of mountains. And it wasn’t just in Canada. Once in Sweden, when we were at a church retreat in the country, we all went for a walk through the forests. As the sun began to set, we realized we were 12 kilometers from the place we were staying at. And in the twilight, we all made our way back and the forests and fields looked so different in the fading light.
To this day, we all still love being outdoors in nature, in mountains and forests, thanks to his passion for God’s creation.
And that brings me to our final and most important memory: Dad’s deep, abiding love for the Gospel of Christ. He was a pragmatic, northern-European Lutheran. We were never going to be perfect in this life, and life was never going to be perfect, either. Intellect would only get us so far, and eventually, in true Kierkegaardian, Christian Existentialist fashion, we’d have to take that step into the abyss – the leap of faith – and believe that something would support us. And it always did. That was the Cross of Christ, Dad said.
Most of our theological questions were answered with him pointing us to the Bible and what Luther said in his Table Talks, and if it wasn’t there, it was found in one of Luther’s sermons. Difficult debates on deep theological problems were simply answered, “much smarter men than us have grappled with this for two thousand years. Don’t let it worry you; God knows, and what matters is, are you living for Christ today?”
And that’s why, although we are all deeply saddened – crushed, even, with grief – we all believe without a doubt that Dad is in heaven, probably already asking God to answer every one of those deep questions that theologians have never been able to answer. Because his faith in the redeeming power of Christ saved him and has saved us. And so, we hold on to the hope, as St. Paul writes to the congregation in Rome, that “if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like His, we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” [Rom 6:5]
And that means we, too, will one day be united again with our dear, precious Dad.
Puhka rahus, armas isa. Tahame sind tänada kõige eest, mida sa oled meile andnud, mida sa oled meile õpetanud, ja kuidas sa oled meie elusid õigele teele suunanud. Meie armastame sind!
Maarit, Markus, and Matteus Vaga