Jos Claerbout Funeral Service
Jos Claerbout
Funeral Service

August 23, 1999
[Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neuman]

[Hebrew; Psalm 24:1-6]

The earth is God's and all its fullness.
The world is God's and all its inhabitants.
God founded the world upon the seas
And set it firm upon the flowing waters.

The way Jos died was unspeakably tragic. It was premature by decades, before the rich, full promise that he exhibited could be fully realized. And it was such an ineffably sudden death. Here one minute was an energetic young man, pulsating with life and aspirations and laughter. And here an instant later he journeyed from this reality.

How can we fathom such a premature and inexplicable transition? The Talmud tells us that the boundary between being and non-being, between life and death, is as thin as a hair's breath.

Who may ascend the mountain of the eternal?
Who may stand in God's holy place?
One who has clean hands and a pure heart
Who takes not God's name in vain.
One will receive a blessing from the eternal
A just reward from the God of deliverance.
Such is the generation of those who seek the Eternal One
Who, like Jacob, long for God's presence.

Fear not, for I am with you.
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you.
I will sustain you from my power, says God.

"We are born," says Samuel Beckett, "astride a grave. The light gleams an instant, then it is night once more."

Jos's death reminds us how frail are the foundations of our existence and therefore how much we must strive to cherish and protect it. As a moralist once said:

One broken dream is not the end of dreaming.
One shattered hope is not the end of hoping.
Beyond the storm and the tempest, stars are gleaming.
Still build your castles though your castles fall.
Though many dreams come tumbling down in disaster,
And pain and heartache move you down in years,
Still keep you faith and dare your hopes to master.
And never cry that you have ceased to dream.

jos with mom In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
We will remember him.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
We will remember him.

In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
We will remember him.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer,
We will remember him.

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
We will remember him.

At the begining of the year and when it ends,
We will remember him.

When we are weary and in need of strength,
We will remember him.

When we are lost and sick at heart,
We will remember him.

When we have decisions that are difficult to make,
We will remember him.

When we have joys we yearn to share,
We will remember him.

When we have achievements that are based on his,
We will remember him.

So long as we live, he, too, shall live.
For he is now a part of us,
As we remember him.



A poem by Shulamis Yelin:

I will say "Yes" to life,
and meet him in the market place,
between the stalls where all can see us consorting.
Tasting avidly
from all the baskets
and the many sacks of condiments and breadstuffs
and rich late summer's fare.

I will say "Yes,"
and join with him
the dancers in the public square
and tap out their rhythms,
gay and joyously articulate
of now.

With such a partner and in such a place, 'mid so much fullness, my gnawed-off heels will know new balance and support.

My hips will lightly bear the burden of my heart,
and shoulders entertain the sway and flow of fingers from my outstretched hands.

Let the tambourines
ripple out their music.
Let the market women point,
and loosely flap their red-lipped tongues.
I have learned a rhyme to blind their evil eye.
And if it works? What bounty!
And if it fails?
There has still been the journey to the fair!

[Hebrew; Psalm 23]
God is my shepherd, I shall not want.
God makes me lie down in green pastures,
Leads me beside still waters, and restores my soul.

You lead me in right paths for the sake of Your Name.
Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil, for You are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You have set a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You have anointed my head with oil. My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of God forever.


Diane and Jon, you have now experienced a parents' worst nightmare. And as a way to move through this moment, I'd like to invite you to take the hands of others who have been through this valley into the darkness. I'd like to offer a reflection written by Leonard Fein -- a writer who, like you, had to bury his child. This offering has some ease in it: an ease I hope you'll find amidst all these people who are here to offer their love.

No drunken driver.

No drive-by shooter.

Not by fire or by water or by sword or by beast or by any of the decrees of the tradition.

Instead, by fluke. By sudden lethal shadow without warning, a random event with no moral or social meaning. Hence, no sense of issue of justice or unfairness, no opportunity for anger or for outrage. Only sorrow and pain, and irretrieveable loss.

No words can or should stand between this father and his extinguished son; No tongue can mediate the event or the void that is its aftermath. Poetry brings no comfort, music no solace, nor language any understanding. He was alive, alive for 25 years and now for always, he is dead. And we, his parents, and brothers are forever bereaved.

No earthly power can change that. For us, for always, there will be the presence of an absence, the irrevocable presence of an infinite absence. And just now that absence crowds out most everything else. ...

And so whatever blessing memory itself provides, there is also the rich blessing that the curse begets: the embrace of a comforting community. That embrace, which changes nothing, means everything.


Is there a sorrow greater than this?


Let our silence reach out to the bereaved family and friends of Jos. Let their tears fall on us, let their anger break against us, let our love and our deeds speak for us.

In the presence of boundless grief, the poet said: [Hebrew].

"There is no longer a prayer on my lips."

Yet we must pray, just as we must weep, because we can do no other.

Oh, God. Be now with the stricken family of Jos. Help them to draw near to one another in their need for love and strength. Teach us to place our arms about them and to sorrow with them. Be with mourners in their grief until hope breaks through like a bud in a dark corner of the earth.

I'd like to invite those friends and family who have been asked to speak, to symbolically place their arms around the family by offering their words of reflection.

Joel Black
Jano Cabrera
Camilo Viniegra
Emily Wilska
William Beaver

[Joel Black]

jos and joel Jos was my friend. And I know he was your friend also.

Last Friday was just about the saddest thing that I ever expect to experience. This was not supposed to have happened. I mean, it's lunchtime right now and I'm thinking that if Jos was able to say these things, this is what he'd be saying at lunchtime:

He'd look out there at all of you folks, and the first thing he'd say is, "Look at all those beautiful people," because he always said that. Then he'd probably hug every one of you, and he'd touch every one of you, and he'd say something to every one of you, because he did that all the time. It's like he let everyone know that he loved everyone, first thing.

And then, we'd sit down and start talking, and then the ideas would be flowing, and this is like the second piece of Jos. These ideas are flowing back and forth, and we're just running around with ideas--and he'd originate; he'd bounce back ideas. It was just a great thing--he's a great man.

I guess I've been thinking for days and this is what Jos is about. He loved everyone and he shared ideas all the time. That's what he'd be doing right now if he could. I'll miss him so terribly that I can't even imagine it, especially since I've known him such a short time. But I know that you'll all miss him also. I'll just say goodbye.

[Alejandro "Jano" Cabrera]

What I'll miss most about Jos will be his stories. Jos always had a story. They were typically very funny--about the things he had done or the people he had met, and they usually would carry with them a lesson, a lesson he had learned. So with that in mind, I'd like to share with you all a story about Jos and a lesson that he taught me.

Jos and I lived together in Washington, D.C., in 1996. One day he walked into my room in a way that only Jos could walk into a room--with his arms outstretched, a big smile on his face--and he said, "Friend, I have an idea that you would be a fool not to want to be a part of."

I had known Jos for four years at that point, and I knew his ideas were a mixture of pure genius and sheer lunacy. But I was curious so I said, "Tell me about your idea."

And he said, "I have three words for you...that will change your life...and the life of everyone else who hears them."




And with the patience I hope to one day have for my own children, I looked at him and said, "What are you talking about?"

Jos had a vision of creating a table--a massage table--but not just any old massage table. He wanted it to collapse in on its own to such a degree that it would be the size of a small briefcase. His grand vision was to take this massage table from place to place, set it up in a matter of seconds, and tell people to, "Jump on!" And he would give them a massage.

Having known Jos I knew that if he was going to come up with ideas and share them with us, he'd have a specific role in mind for his friends, so I said, "What's my role gonna be?"

He said, "Just wait."

And so, over the course of the next few weeks, Jos began construction on this massage table. Turning an already more than cramped kitchen into his workshop, he built a massage table.

Two weeks later--now I had seen this come together in bits and pieces--two weeks later, he had a grand unveiling of the finished product. He brought me into the living room, sat me down, and there underneath a table cloth, was something.

And he yanked it [the table cloth] back, and standing there next to Jos was the ugliest looking table I had ever seen in my life. It had six legs, and by lightly yanking off the table cloth, it looked ready to collapse in on itself. And not by design.

And so I looked at this and with dying horror I realized what my role would be. And he looked at me and said, "Jump on!"

And I said, "No, Jos, I don't think anyone should be jumping around this table."

He said, "No, no. This is a firm table." And he proceeded to tap the air about two inches above the table to prove his point.

Well, I did jump on, and I did trust Jos, and the table didn't collapse. But it wasn't exactly how he originally envisioned it. It wasn't so much collapsible as much as it had to be taken apart by mallet and a hammer. And it wasn't exactly portable; being constructed entirely out of wood, it weighed about 55 pounds and was the size of a 27-inch television set. And rather than having a handle, he had to lug it around with a dolly. But as Jos often told me, "These, friend, are but minor points."

Jos built a table.

There are many others here who have their own version of the table. Some of you only think of it, some of you start it but don't finish, and some of you finish, but never appreciate what you've done. Jos recognized the table for what it was: a dream that he made a reality.

And that was the lesson that he taught me: Life is so precious, and in the time that you have, you have to take what your dreams are and make them real. That was the lesson that Jos taught me.


[Camilo Viniegra]

Like most people here, I met Jos at work. And in the first month I worked with him I suggested in a joke that we should get a couch. Of course, Jos took me very seriously and started working his magic to convince the manager that we had to get a couch.

So we went out to the Goodwill and almost immediately he spotted exactly what he wanted. It was an old, bright orange couch, and he loved it.

He sat down just for one second; he sat down and waited. And I watched him for about a half hour negotiate with all the workers there, in Spanish, to try to get it down from the eight dollars that they were asking. It would be unheard of to pay the full price!

So we brought it back to work, and we sat down, fully satisfied. And he turned to me and he said, "I'll bet, we'd make good roommates."

And I've been living with him for the past--almost two years--and it's been great. He's the best roommate.

I can always rely on coming home and finding a happy Jos. And from the moment I walked in I could hear him singing my name to the Simpson's theme song. He would always ask, "Who's my favorite Camilo?" And I would never know how to respond to that.

It was really wonderful living with him. He saw the good in almost everything. He just wanted to spread joy and I think he managed to do that for everyone. And I'll miss him. I'll miss seeing him in front of the TV knitting his toessels, telling me about his next crazy idea that he was going to make a reality. I'll miss him. I'll especially miss him when I'm home alone and realize that he's just not coming home. But I'm glad that I met him and I'm better off having known him.



Like many people, I had the pleasure of knowing Jos, unfortunately, only for a short time. But many, many stories will I cherish in my heart. And I'll always somehow keep in mind the intonation and the larger-than-life expressions that Jos carried with him, just by nature--just as a simple part of who he was.

One of the things that he always used to ask me--that would always throw me for a loop until I remembered it was Jos talking to me--he'd say,

"Renée, what color convertible are you going to get?"

I don't even like convertibles!

"Jos, why would I want a convertible?"

"To carry all of the gold bars that my ideas are going to bring you!"

It wasn't just an ordinary armored car, it was a convertible. And that was Jos.


I'm afraid I won't be able to keep my composure to actually tell you a lot of the stories I would love to share with you. But I would like to leave you with this single thought:

What color convertible are you going to need--it will certainly be one that is larger than life--to carry away the memories, to cherish and hold them--that Jos has so graciously given to every single one of us?


[Emily Wilska]

I just wanted to share three constants about Jos.

The first thing--whenever he saw me, he, being twice my size [Jos was 6'3"], would always engulf me in a big hug, leaving me about up to his belly button. But it was always fantastic and made me feel so good.

The second being that he was a constant provider of sheer wackiness, from his autoresponders to our previewers, to his crazy Web sites, to his toessels, to his phone number 614-STAG.

And the very final thing is that Jos never, ever wanted anyone to be sad. It's sort of hard to remember right now and sort of hard to deal with, but once we get through this--think what he would be saying if he were standing here, and remember that he wanted to bring us nothing more than joy. Thank you, Jos.


[William Beaver]

Well, I'm a bit older than the other folks. But the Claerbouts and the Beavers go back a very long way. Our children and their children grew up together, and our son David grew up with all three of the Claerbout boys. And it's been such a joy.

Two instances come to mind--first, of course, is Jos's sense of humor. And you can imagine with a last name like Beaver, and a sense of humor like Jos's, there was just an unlimited opportunity! And some evenings Jos would come over unexpectedly when we were having a glass of wine with the Claerbouts.

"Oh! It's the Beavers. The Beavers are here!"

And things would just go on with him in a routine.

And at other times we were fortunate enough to share the birthdays--Jon and Diane's birthdays--with the rest of the Claerbout family. And we would bring these silly little gifts over and Jos would just make over these gifts--we just felt like these gifts, you know, like we had just made the Claerbout's lives.

So, in addition, much deeper than the sense of humor, Jos was a bridge builder when it came to working with other people. And this world needs, and has benefited from, the bridge building. And it's just been a pleasure to know him. Thank you very much.

[Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann]

Unlike you, I didn't have the pleasure of knowing Jos. But as I sat with his family and heard stories of his life, surrounded by his writing, his pictures, and his hats, the vitality and creativity with which he lived his life was palpable. How dark it is to gather and to say goodbye to one who lived so briefly and yet with so much celebration and life. There are no right words. No answers to "why?" No easy equanimity to be found.

Jos's death brings together so many of you who loved him, who planned to share more adventures with him, who expected to be surprised and delighted by his next new project or passion. The radiance of his life and energy had no bounds. Jos's joy and irreverence touched so many people--those closest to him, and those whom he'd encountered for brief moments. Professionally and spiritually, Jos created webs. And like a spider's web--glorious, intricate, carefully wrought, but evanescent--so Jos's life was glorious but evanescent.

A spider spins in circles, building ever outward, and so it was with Jos. His rootedness in his family, his connection to the family, was always an anchor in his home. However far his adventures took him--Alaska, Ecuador, Mexico, Washington--he came home to share the bounty of his experiences with his family.

He was loving and playful in the family. Diane remembers that his first word was, "Mine!" And indeed, they were all his. They delighted in his antics and appreciated his infectious enthusiasm. He understood and played to the romantic young girl in his mom. He always knew if she had bought a new dress or changed her hairstyle, even after he no longer lived at home.

Affirming Andrew's assertion that Jos loved women, Jon described a recent visit with his mom, Jos's grandmother. She was sitting on his lap and he was knitting her one of his famous hats.

He reassured his grandmother that she would enjoy wearing his hat so much, that she would look so beautiful in this hat.

And as he spoke, and knit, she became more girlish and more beautiful, in appreciation of the gift of attention he had already given her, and in anticipation of the hat he was yet to finish.

And when Diane was preparing pictures for Andrew and Amy in anticipation of their wedding, Jos perused the photos and on the spot came up with limerick captions to show that they were fated to find one another.

His easy banter calmed many stressful situations, and he taught his family over and over how important it is to be playful.

Secure in his family, spreading his wings with their curiosity and encouragement, Jos wove another circle of connection. He learned in the world of work that more than information and skills are required. Friendships, life experience, generosity of time and ideals characterized his work. One of his college essays describes his forays into working in a bike shop in Alaska. Having claimed he could do anything with a bike, his interview consisted of a box being thrust at him with a dismantled bike inside. "Here, build this."

Twenty-seven hours later, Jos had the bike built, and the beginnings of an enduring friendship with the shop owner--an iconoclastic independent thinker, who challenged Jos and brought him pleasure arguing about ideas.

In that essay, Jos didn't say much about bikes, but he said a great deal about friendship, the value of life experience, and the richness that results from conversations about ideas.

More recently at WebTV, he worked as a web engineer, but what he really did was weave webs of relationships with his coworkers. As those of you who have spoken have attested to, he encouraged his friends to pursue their dreams, and his. To go to Venezuela, to push past shyness, to try new things. He loved his work, and he loved his coworkers. And he was appreciated in return.

Work stopped at his death, his friends accompanying him loyally and lovingly through the transition from life to death -- from vibrant life into silent death. And these same dear friends to whom Jos was a teacher about life, he became a teacher about death. These same dear friends are planning both a memorial in his honor and a month-long celebration of his life.

And what a life it was! Jos taught himself to be a web engineer and he taught himself to knit. His writing was amusing and effortless. He taught English in Ecuador, he worked for Habitat for Humanity, he did political lobbying in Washington, he worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, he worked as a farm worker in Mexico. He set up a web site for his hats and another for educating people about political issues. It seems as if there was nothing he couldn't do.

In time this turned out to be untrue. Despite assistance from Andrew, he couldn't build a bedframe--and, it sounds like, a portable massage table! And he never did master Icelandic. But in the realm of building relationships, and in the attempt to understand and master situations, he was peerless.

Even the outer reaches of his web was lavished with energy, humor, and pleasure. Even one-time encounters with Jos were memorable. A befuddled salesperson might be told by Jos, "Yes, madam, the particular wares you're selling look particularly fetching."

Or a cashier would be teased and flattered if Jos was there. Jos would put on a Broadway production to ask a stranger for the time. He developed a special banter with the hostess at his favorite Thai restaurant, sharing intelligence about Buddhist monks. He discussed music with cab drivers in Mazatlan. His sense of play brought pleasure to strangers. There was no one he wouldn't talk to, no inhibitions to constrain him.

He dressed as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and costumed in his imaginative hats. He boldly invited public awareness of the hats he knitted, untroubled that young men are not known to knit. And the hats themselves suggested zany associations like Cadillacs and dreadlocks. A comic once said,

"Remember that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

Jos took himself lightly and was an angel to so many--both those who knew him intimately and those who met him briefly. He flew through his life with ease and grace. Diane said that Jos had a perfect life, that his life was heaven. As we honor him and reflect on his life, we can find a glimmer of solace in knowing how much life he packed in such a short time. How many lives he knit together in his too few years.

Today, the web Jos wove gathers to comfort one another, to share his short but beautiful life. To say goodbye, but also to say thank you. To pledge to live more fully in the shadow of his death.

Jos's heart failed him only once, mechanically. Spiritually, emotionally, it was a finely tuned instrument, open and reaching out, and inviting others to be open to wonder, to laughter, to adventure.

The Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer recited in memory of those we have loved and lost, was originally recited after studying the Talmud and in the name of one who has died. It was intended to attribute the teaching to the loved one. The Torah of Jos's life, which comes to mind, is a line from the book of Psalms:


Teach us to treasure each day.
Teach us to treasure each day.
So we may open our hearts to wisdom,
Teach us to treasure each day.
Jos's heart was open to wisdom. He knew to treasure each day. Let us all learn this Torah from Jos, treasuring each other, opening our hearts to all that he was, and all that he loved, and all that he created.


May Jos's memory always be with us a blessing.


The traditional prayer that asks that one we love be sheltered in the shadow of God's wings is called El Malei Rachamin. And I'd like you to rise as I read it first in English, and then translate it to Hebrew.

Oh God, exhalted and full of compassion, Grant perfect peace in your shelter and presence among the holy and the pure To the soul of Jos Claerbout, Who has gone to his eternal home.

Master of Mercy, we beseech you, Remember all the worthy and righteous deeds he performed In the land of the living.

May his soul be bound up in the bond of life. The Eternal One is his portion. May he rest in peace. Let us say, "Amen."

[Hebrew; chanted]


Read Renée Gentry's complete unabridged funeral.

Read more about Jos's amazing life.