In all the photos, there you were, right in the middle of the gathering. Often surrounded by kids, and almost always wearing a huge smile. My favorite photo of you though, is an old, black & white one, and it’s just you. A young high school athlete, looking confident, about to go on a date, standing in front of a first car. A 1950 Ford.
We went through some tough times, the three of us, with you leading the way by example. Somehow, even working two jobs and extremely long hours, you were always there. There were dance recitals and football games; you must have rushed through the entire day, but there you were, off to the side, quietly watching.
When you couldn’t be there, you found someone who could. I often wondered at that sacrifice. How difficult was it for you to allow someone to stand in for you? There were camping trips, fishing trips, outdoor adventures that you knew fueled a flame, yet you had the bravery to allow another to strike the match. I never asked you about that, and I never told you, that I knew all along, that it was you who provided the tinder.
There were a lot of sporting events, however. Williams Arena, Mariucci, Memorial Stadium, The Met, the Dome. We ran the gamut. We sat in the rain, in the cold, in the sun. We saw the first Hobey winner in action. We tailgated. We watched as the goal posts came down and were carried across the parking lot, but you wouldn’t let me liberate your seats, even though I brought a tiny socket set for the occasion. You were the one to give me that set in the first place, which I may have reminded you of at the time.
I followed a different trail, and I know it was difficult for you. Every year, my eyes seemed to search a little further west, and eventually I found my way to Alaska. That fact did not thrill you, but you tolerated it, as best as you could. Every year you came up, and every year I hoped you would see what I saw, feel what I felt. Then one year, we were sitting at the gate, waiting for you to board the airplane for the flight back to civilization. That one had been a fun visit; we had gone all over the state, and we had met a lot of different people. You said, “I get it now. Alaska suits you. You belong here.” That was probably the best gift I have ever received.
Our paths have diverged now. Advice I will have to obtain from the archives. Luckily for me, the archives are full. Pictures may be few, but memories run rampant. Life is a short game, but you played it extremely well. You taught a lot of people that kindness was a strength, and wisdom something hard earned, tainted by experience.
I do not have any answers. Mostly there are only questions right now, and a huge empty void. Over the years, I have shared a poem with a few people that I originally found by reading Ernest Gann. The poem is often attributed to Henry Van Dyke, or the Rev. Luther F. Beecher. Take your pick, but for me, it originated with Gann.
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze,
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of her destination.
Her diminished size is in me, and not in her.
And just at the moment
when someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
there are other eyes that are watching for her coming;
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
“There she comes!”