For Phil

3 01 2013

Phil Hall was a unique individual.  He was clever and quite smart.  Accompanied with that intelligence was a sharp wit and keen sense of humor, almost to the point his intelligence was hid under a sometimes relentless stream of jokes and a carefree attitude.  After all, why take something seriously if you can make a joke about it?

In Sunday School one day, Phil made a comment that would forever change the meaning of the phrase for me.  Our teacher had asked a question that has been asked in Sunday Schools around the world since the first Sunday School started.  The actual question was immaterial, though; I do not remember it exactly, but it had something to do with how we should treat each other according to Jesus and the Bible.  A simple, culturally and temporally transcendent question about human nature.  Phil responded that we should “Be nice.”

Phil had struck comedic gold.  In the coming weeks, months and years, he applied that phrase–be nice–to almost every Sunday School question that was asked.  How should we treat our elders?  Be nice.  How should we treat our fellow classmates and colleagues?  Be nice.  Why did Jesus not command the woman to be stoned?  He was nice.  Why did Herod kill thousands of infants in order to get rid of Jesus?  Herod was not nice.  See, Phil had found a phrase that could be universally applied to situations everywhere, even outside the Bible.  Your grumpy, arrogant, and thus ineffective boss?  He wasn’t nice.  Gandhi, he was a great guy wasn’t he?  Because he was nice.

Of course, being nice does not solve all problems, and he knew that.  We knew that, those of us who adopted the phrase as a joke even after the Halls had stopped coming to church events.  Under Phil’s intelligence and constant offhanded comedy there was another side, one that realized that to ‘be nice’ was very important.  Phil had an earnestness that I’m not sure he wanted people to see.  Through all of his struggles and orneriness, he was still earnest.

This young man, Phil, is dead.  I am not an expert on anything, and I cannot begin to explain why this happened, nor do I really want to; Phil’s death is nothing short of a tragedy.  I will not blame and have no authority to do so.

Some may feel that all of this is irrelevant now, that Phil’s bright light now extinguished too early is all that can be recognized.  I disagree.  We all die alone, and can take no one with us to the grave.  What we can do is touch other people’s lives, and we can change them for good or evil.  Phil’s life impacted mine.  Phil, though his unique blend of intelligence, humor, and sincerity, helped me to recognize just how important kindness–being nice–really is.  The world is a complicated place, yet somehow we can still apply kindness to almost every situation.  We can be nice, or we can not.  Phil’s life was worthwhile and to be celebrated because he influenced those whom he knew. 

So, in memory of Phil Hall, let us all forget our differences, our hatred, our selfishness.  Let us be nice to each other.  It’s what he would have wanted.