James Gandolfini Funeral: David Chase's Full Eulogy and Other Goodbyes
I read once that the opposite of strength is not weakness – that the opposite of strength is vulnerability. But that one can only be as strong as one allows himself to be vulnerable.
Our beloved James’ ability to remain vulnerable, to keep his heart open, in his life and in his work is what allowed us all to feel connected to him, to feel that he knew our struggles, to feel he knew our own hearts, to feel like he was reaching across the room or through the screen to touch us in our tender places and to teach us to be OK in our own humanness.
A lot has been said about James’ work. He was a master. As his friend and creative collaborator for over 25 years, I can attest to that. He worked hard. He was disciplined. He studied his roles, and he did his homework with his scripts. He used his brilliant mind to ask the questions that would prepare his heart for each scene. But when the scene started, James came into absolute presence and allowed himself through an act of faith to fall into the unknown. Trusting that an invisible net would rise up to break his fall and carry him to an unchartered place, a place he could have not predetermined in his own mind.
Most of us have heard or believe for ourselves that James was one of the best. That he strove for excellence in his work. I witnessed that. But what you might not know is that he strove equally for another thing. In his small home office that he referred to as The Cave, where he and I worked late nights on the next day’s scenes, this other thing he strove for was to be able to accept himself on the occasions where he fell short of his intentions.
At these times, I would remind James of his own words to me. When we were acting in a basement theater in the Village in the '80s. We were standing backstage, nervous. He was on one side of the stage. I was on the other. I was trying to sequester myself, doing my acting thing, and he yelled over to me while the preshow music was blaring.
“Aston, what’s the worst thing that can happen? We suck?”
These were liberating words of wisdom. His knowing that in order create well one must be willing to make a mess of things. One has to be willing to miss the mark. One has to remain vulnerable, and to be willing to be seen as human. Every day, over and over again.
In my last conversation with James, he told me why he was turning down an offer for a movie that shoots this summer. He said it was more important than it’s ever been to spend the summer with his family and friends on the Jersey Shore and in California. He said, “I don’t want to lose any of the time I have with Michael and Lily this summer. Quality time, time with family and friends – that’s worth more than all that other stuff.”
May we come into presence here in this beautiful space to celebrate James’ life, to be with you, Deborah, with you, Michael and Lily, with you, Lisa and John, with all of his family, with all of his friends, with everyone who loved him. James’ dear friend Trixy commented the other day on how fitting it was that his service would be at St. John the Divine, a space that is big enough to hold his huge heart and spirit. I agreed with her then, but now I think we should be on a mountaintop under the expanse of the sky and the heavens with nothing surrounding us, save our Creator.
Another friend commented, “This is going to be a tough week." I said, “Yes, but this is the easy part. The hardest part will be, how will we live the rest of our lives without James, Jamie, Jim, Jimmy, Buck?”
Perhaps we will do this by allowing ourselves to do as he did in his work. We will struggle. We will trust. We will let go. We will fall into the unknown. Trusting again that we will be delivered to a new understanding.
James, my big teddy bear friend, I miss you now. I will miss working with you and playing with you. I will miss the way you made me laugh. I will remember that you never were embarrassed by how loudly I laughed. I will miss your silly fond messages, your funny emails out of the blue, your poetry and your impromptu original songs. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for allowing me to love you. Thank you for loving me, and thank you for loving all of us.