Friday, June 10, 2016

AJ Gooch, In Memoriam

This eulogy was written for ADF's magazine, Oak Leaves, following AJ's death at the end of February 2016. It is late to the public, but I want it preserved here on the blog. 

Let us take a moment to write about our good friend… our brother... AJ Gooch.  He passed from life due to a suspected pulmonary embolism following minor surgery on the 28th of February, 2016, at the age of forty-eight. He is survived by his son and daughter, Madoc and Sydney, and wife Stephanie, and by the work and worth of several organizations and communities of which he was a central part.

We met the Gooches at Stone Creed Grove’s Summer Solstice of 1998. Madoc was in a stroller, and the young family was searching for a spiritual home. The sense of accord was immediate, and the family threw itself into ADF, and into the local Grove.

At that time AJ’s back-injury disability, the result of an auto-accident and subsequent surgeries, was not as severe as it would become. Throughout the years that we knew him AJ fought against ongoing nerve and structural difficulties, which produced chronic back-pain at levels that we guess were well beyond what an uninjured person might suspect. He faced medical predictions of life in a wheel-chair, but he never arrived there; largely, we thought, due to pure cussedness, but also due to the care of his family and ongoing alternative medical attention. AJ seldom allowed his pain to interfere with his mood, and handled the pain that his efforts produced privately; we consider him a fine example of a bad lot well-handled.

AJ and his son Madoc
AJ was, maybe first of all, an organizer. When we met him he was finishing a long term as the Seneschal (administrator) of the local SCA Barony, where his interpersonal and political skills had allowed him to see that group through a difficult change of leadership. He was also the ‘Lord’ of a small but noisy household – a matter of personal loyalty and tribe, more than bureaucracy. His work in the Current Middle Ages had given him broad experience in organizing events large and small, handling an all-volunteer membership work-force, and generally herding cats. From the first he was ready and willing to share those skills with ADF. AJ served nearly ten years as Senior Druid of Stone Creed Grove, helping us grow and solidify our work. He became a partner in the Grove’s effort to develop Tredara as a Pagan resource, and his absence will be deeply felt in those ongoing efforts, as in all.  Our local organizer cadre being fairly incestuous, AJ and Steph also quickly became organizers for the Starwood Festival. While his son was young he took charge of Starwood’s Children’s Program, and now-adult members of that community will remember him as that big, nice guy that helped them have a great, if different, ‘church-camp’ experience.

AJ’s skill with children (some called him the baby-whisperer) was an example of the kind of heart that AJ brought to the world. A big, tough-seeming young man, he possessed a core of empathy and open-heartedness. He was the sort of fellow that spent time on the phone and in person with friends, just getting his broad shoulders wet, helping friends process their bad times and enjoy their good ones. Certainly AJ enjoyed good times, and his ability to bring life to a party had as much to do with his openness and easy respect and affection as his skill as a bartender, grillmaster, and host.

AJ, Liafal & I at the Winterstar Ball 2015
AJ was also a man of art, and arts. A craftsman in metal and wood, he expressed musical talent especially as a drummer and didgeridoo player. He developed his high level of natural talent through casual workshop instruction, but especially by hours of real practice. (I admired him for his success at mastering circular breathing.) AJ will be remembered in Cleveland’s alternative community as the organizer and host of the “Thursday Night Drum Jam”, a venerable meeting that AJ revived and preserved for many years, bringing it out of living-rooms into notable public venues.

All of these things came together in AJ’s personal priesthood. AJ had a desire to serve the gods and spirits, to work magic, and to serve the community spiritually as well as by organizing. His charisma and forthright face made him a fine public ritualist. He was ordained in ADF in 2010 and, while he did not complete the scholastic work of ADF’s training program, served as a priest in fact in Stone Creed and the surrounding Pagan community. He was dedicated to Brigid, both of the Arts and the Hearth, and to Manannan the Wise. He served as a chief, a diviner, and as the occasional voice of inspiration, bringing such things as the Oath-ring custom to SCG’s local religion.

A person can have many sorts of luck. AJ lived with the bad luck of his injury, but he lived, and lived a life he often enjoyed. He was blessed with a family that he loved, and with an extended tribe that he loved as well, in all its motley qualities, and which loved him in turn. His memorial was attended by over three-hundred, all drawn by the departing light of AJ’s life and work. We lit the Fire of his final offering (well, not final…) in the fire-altar that he mortared with his own hands. His life was short, it must be said, but it was not quiet or without reward. The wise also say that luck comes from strength, and it was AJ’s strength - of body, heart and character – that made his life shine brightly, and that will keep his memory equally bright in the hearts of those whose lives he touched.

May he Roam In Pride, wherever his fate takes him.

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