September 12, 1998
Jay was the only child of his parents. His mother died when he was only thirteen. Jay cherished and cared for what little biological family he had been given on earth. His cousin Monica became like a sister to him, and their love for one another was precious to both of them. When Monica’s two sons, Sasha and Valia came along, Jay took on the role of godfather.
Jay was a very good and loyal son who looked after his aging, widower father. As a teenager Jay learned to cook for his father and himself, and over time he became an exquisite chef, famous for his recipes. In recent years, every other week or so, Jay would drive down to Tom’s River to make Sunday dinner for his father. On Thanksgiving he would bring his father up to Monica’s house, and together he and Monica would cook an elaborate feast. Christmases were generally spent quietly with his Dad, and having Jay there, his Dad would be content. Jay’s Dad was extremely proud of his only son: “My son the doctor,” he called him.
With very little biological family of his own, Jay cultivated an extraordinarily large extended family of friendships.
His wide ranging interests and his sense of adventure led Jay to cover a lot of ground in his forty years on this earth, and along the way he made scores of very real friendships.
Jay had an unusual capacity to relate to whoever life put him in contact with. He would find a place of connection with every person. Jay did not require people to mirror his own lifestyle and values in order for him to befriend them. He always seemed to find a way into a person’s heart.
One of the remarkable things about Jay was his commitment to sustaining his friendships over time. He put out a lot of energy to nurture his friendships. There were countless phone calls, messages left on answering machines, and e mails for the simple purpose of staying in touch. With Jay friendships did not fade away as his life moved on; instead, they tended to grow deeper. You recognized in Jay a quiet strength. He was always there when you needed him. You could count on his love.
Often Jay would be the catalyst of a group of friends — the one who would initiate a gathering of friends for an adventure. Jay would always know a certain trail to hike with beautiful views, or he would know just the right restaurant to dine at in New York. He would always have the outing planned out perfectly. When Jay recommended something, you knew it was good.
He made you laugh. As one friend put it, “He always made me laugh, and I’m not the sort of person who laughs easily.” He seemed to find the humorous side to every situation, eve when the situation seemed otherwise rather bleak. Although Jay was a man of passionate convictions, he was, at the same time a very light person. In his interactions with people, Jay did not take himself or his life overly seriously.
There were friendships from high school, from his freshman year of college, from his time at Turtleback Zoo, from Veterinary School, from his work at Merck, and from his many volunteering commitments. He had skiing friends, ice skating and dancing friends, hiking and camping friends, friends from his time out west at the National Outdoor Leadership School.
For the most part, these various circles of friends did not overlap. And yet some of you have described the sense in which, although you had never laid eyes on some of Jay’s other friends, you felt like you knew them. Jay’s friendships were so much a part of who he was, and you had heard from Jay the stories of his friends’ lives. And now in his passing on from this life to the next, you have finally been brought together to meet face to face.
When there were major decisions to be made, Jay sought the counsel of you, his friends. With your help, he carefully examined all the factors involved in the decision with which he was confronted. It was as if within the overall circle of his friendships Jay recognized that there was knowledge and wisdom enough to face any situation, and he did not hesitate to draw upon it. He viewed his life with remarkable clarity. He was always clear about what was important — and what wasn’t.
Though I very much doubt that Jay would have expressed it this way, he embodied an almost mystical vision of the connectedness of all life. It was that same vision given to Noah of old after he released the dove into the sky. Noah gazed up at a rainbow in the sky and perceived that God had made an everlasting covenant with not only human beings but with every living creature. Jay lived out of an underlying assumption that all life is sacred, that the earth and all God’s creatures deserve our care and respect.
And even as he was, I think, in some sense a visionary, Jay was also immensely practical. Monica suggested that a theme of his life was “Just do it.” Where many of us might have good intentions, but fail to act on those intentions, Jay went ahead and took action. Many of us might feel for the hungry children of the world, but be simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. Jay, in contrast, without any fanfare took steps to sponsor a five year old girl in Bolivia. Jay knew he couldn’t help every hungry child in the world, but he realized he could make a difference in the life of one hungry little girl living far away named Anabel. And so he did.
Jay’s innate sense of the connectedness of all life gave him a passionate concern for the well being of animals. From an early age, this deep empathy led him to aspire to become a veterinarian, in order to equip him to be of practical help to animals. As Jay persevered with his friendships, so he persevered with this goal of becoming a veterinarian, which in many ways is a more formidable goal than that of becoming a medical doctor. In 1983 Jay received his masters of science and biology from Fairleigh Dickenson, and then ten years later, at the age of thirty-five Jay finally achieved his goal of becoming a veterinarian, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania.
Over the years Jay gave an enormous amount of his time volunteering in places like the Plainfield Vetenary Center, the Education Center of the Staten Island Zoo, Liberty Science Center and most recently at the Raptor Trust in Millington. An excellent teacher, Jay presented lectures at Merck and other settings to raise consciousness about environmental concerns. He gave talks to school children about animals and their habitats. Oftentimes these children were from the inner city, having had essentially no personal encounters with wildlife. Jay would give them the experience of holding in their own hands a bird, or a snake, or a raccoon, or some other living creature, thereby giving them the opportunity to make an intimate connection to wildlife for themselves. He used his vetinary skills to care for injured and orphaned birds, helping to nurse them back to health so they could be released back into the wilds. At Merck, where Jay worked as the Associate Director of Clinical Development Studies, everyone knew him as the “animal doctor” and would come to him with questions about the health of their pets.
Recently a neighbor of Monica’s had a mother cat in great distress. She was in the process of giving birth to kittens, and one of the kittens was stuck between life in the womb and life in the world. The cat couldn’t be moved, and the neighbor couldn’t find a veterinarian who made housecalls. She remembered that Monica had a cousin who was a vet, and in desperation asked if he might be willing to talk to her. Jay got on the phone with this woman and told her what to do to care for her cat. But Jay knew that the mother cat would need antibiotics to survive the ordeal, so he drove fifty minutes from Whitehouse Station to Denville to deliver some antibiotics which the cat required. He refused payment from the neighbor, and instead provided her with a list of animal friendly organizations to which she could make a donation.
If Jay believed in the work of an organization, he would make himself available to serve in whatever manner necessary. Although he held a doctorate, he considered no task too menial if it furthered the cause. He was unassuming — a truly humble person.
Jay possessed unusual integrity and honesty. Both professionally and personally, he adamantly refused to take advantage of people, even though life presented him with plenty of opportunities to do so. He was a “gentleman” who treated all people with respect.
Jay never ever held himself up as being anything special, but of course, you know, he was. If he were here today in bodily form, he would probably be saying, “what is all the fuss about?!” He never tried to impress people, but paradoxically he was, in his quiet way, an enormously impressive person. If you met Jay, and spent any amount of time with him, you could not help but be impacted by him, though perhaps in a way you would not at the time recognize. In recent days, I suspect, ash each of you has reflected on your memories of Jay, the ways in which he did impact each of you personally have become more and more vivid.
Although Jay was not a practitioner of formal religion, he was surely a man of deep faith. Jay had total certainty that life continues beyond death, and that this new life was good and beautiful. He did not fear death. He was, in fact, looking forward to finding out what life beyond death would be like.
The love he has for you, his family and friends, has not died. He loves you still. It is an everlasting love.
Over the past week there has been recounted by several of you a sense of Jay’s ongoing spirit and presence with you in life. Some of have recounted peculiar coincidences. A friend and co-worker at Merck described the exceptional appearance of a blue jay fluttering outside the window of Jay’s office. You now the special rapport Jay had birds. Would it not be in tune with his charming sense of humor for him to arrange for a blue Jay to show up with a message of comfort and assurance?
“Look at the birds of the air;”
“They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father cares for them..
Do not worry about your life!”
There is terrible pain for you in Jay’s sudden departure from this world. But there is also opportunity. It is appropriate for us to ask at this time, “What now would please Jay?” And having asked the question, the answer, of course, comes to us in perfect clarity. It would please Jay if each of us in our own personal ways would carry on and embody the vision of life that he embodied these past forty years —
that same vision that he devoted so much time and energy passing on:
that there is an underlying connection between all life;
that animal life as well as human life is sacred;
and we are intended to live in harmony with the earth;
that the people we are given along life’s way are given to us to cherish and care for and
learn from — they are not here for us to use and abuse.
Visions do little good in this world unless we act on them. So just do it.