Post from Seattle from years ago. Thought it was worth reposting if I am not breaking the rules
My folks have a place on Beaver Lake. The house sits on a hill that leads to the lake and a boat dock. I sit on the back deck and watch hummingbirds fight over a feeder, a family of deer make their way slowly through the trees - leaves crunching under-hoof. Vultures and hawks and even eagles cruise low over the water, coast in the thermals and perch in the bare limbs of the fall trees, exuding an arrogance and sense of place. Sometimes a sad sack pack of dogs, mutts that aren’t wild but sort of wish they were and like to pretend, will mingle and linger. Their leader, a part husky whose name is Max and lives down the street, literally barks orders to his smaller, homlier cohorts, who trudge around like petulant teenagers, unhappy with their lot in leaders but resigned to their collective fate. It is, to use a fancy and snooty sounding word, a tableau.
But a tableau is static and this is not. It moves continuously. The images and the feelings they evoke are fleeting in time, each moment so infinitesimally small they don’t have a beginning or an end. They exist on a continuum, impossible to nail down or to experience out of the moment. This is why we take pictures of these things or why I write about them.
But the pictures and the writing are weak and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to etch in permanence things that truly exist only in the moment and that disappear like smoke when we reach out to grasp them, to hold them, to own them.
Victories in sport, championships, have a permanence that most of life lacks. In some ways I think this is why we want them, because they are things that cannot be taken away. They can be grasped and held and cuddled in slightly inappropriate ways. They last forever, or at least we imagine they do.
But championships are rare and elusive and even those we have won lose some of their tingle over time and clinging to victories long past is not only unseemly it is ultimately unsatisfying. It is covetous by its very nature and its joys and perfections are blurred and smudged by later losses and failures.
My point is this. Obsessing with the ENDS, with the destination, will ALWAYS end up unsatisfying. The things that satisfy us, that truly fill our gaping holes, the things that COMPLETE us, exist only for moments. They are fleeting, an ever moving tableau.
I started writing this on Sunday morning. It was a kind of response to the tone and build-up of the LSU game - so much hand wringing and speculating about possible outcomes and BCS implications, entire threads about the ways we will get hosed. Actual complaints about what some unseen and quite possibly imaginary persons MIGHT do IF we pull off an UNLIKELY win.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the build-up. I love the trash talk and speculation. I love thinking about the ins and the outs and all the possibilities. But at some point the disconnect between the possibilities and the actual here and now becomes too great. It begins to diminish the moment, THIS MOMENT.
So anyway, that was the genesis of this column. Then I heard the news about Garrett Uekman and I stopped writing, not sure that any piece of writing about football really had any meaning in the face of that tragedy.
There is a walkway, a path, from the lakehouse to the water and I walked down it Sunday, not long after hearing the news.
Its not a long path, maybe 30 or 40 yards, but it is a wonderful place. It winds across a hillside as a means of limiting the slope. Branches and limbs, bare and leave-less, arc overhead forming a porous canopy. Stones mark the walkway on either side, they are grayish-green with patches of lichen, irregular in a way that manufactured stone can never be. Some are chipped and some worn smooth by water. Each is an individual but they form a distinct collective, unique in their way.
The path itself is gravel, fine and almost dusty. The fallen leaves of the season completely cover parts of it.
While the metaphorical import of walking the path didn’t escape me, it wasn’t the symbolism of the path that struck me. It was the path itself and its shaded beauty and peacefulness that reminded me to simply BE AWARE, and to enjoy the things right in front of me, because that can be a very difficult if not impossible thing to do.
I don’t want to make this about me (Who am I kidding, I make everything about me. It is all I know how to do.) But I do want to make it about what I have learned and am learning.
I am not a stranger to death. I have dealt with it directly my entire professional life. I have been hands on for expected and unexpected deaths, the deaths of young and old, the unimaginable deaths of mere infants and the thankful passing of those who have lived many, many years and now just want peace from their pain.
Nine months ago my 42 year old healthy wife laid down for an afternoon nap and I took our then 9 month old baby off her hands and went to get my stepson from junior high. Without going into too much detail, when I went to wake her 2 hours later she was dead. Her heart just stopped and even an autopsy couldn’t really explain why.
There were moments there that never really seem far from my conscious thought. The unnatural tilt of her head and parting of her lips, her half open eyelids and lifeless pupils that responded to nothing I did.
I cannot adequately describe the things that sit with me when I am alone at night, watching my baby girl sleep. Sometimes the images and events of that awful day invade and I can’t keep them out. The feel of her chest and ribs as I tried to create a pulse. The taste and total lack of response from her mouth and lips as I tried to force air in her lungs. The cracking sound of my voice as I told my stepdaughter to call 911. The otherwordly screams of her and my baby as they saw what was happening.
I don’t know what to do with these thoughts when they come. There is really nothing to do except experience them, live in them for a moment, own them.
The thing is that as real and as powerful as those memories are I don’t want them to dominate my emotions when I think of my wife. It is an injustice to her I suppose, but also to me, and her kids, and my baby girl.
Her death was an ending. We all have them. Everything ends. But the ending didn’t define the story, it is only a tiny part. It is that STORY, the entire narrative of time spent with her, the good and bad and indifferent, that deserve my attention, not the undeniable fact of her death. It was the journey that mattered and my biggest (and most useless) regret is that I wasn’t more present, more directly involved from moment to moment, in that journey.
The same is true for Garrett Uekman. I didn’t know him but I know this. He was a 3 dimensional person with flaws and wonderful traits just like the rest of us. Too often we flatten and compartmentalize our memories of someone who dies too young. They become a figure of tragedy and sentiment rather than the full and deep person they were. His life was a story, an infinite series of tiny moments, of good and bad and indifferent, of little ripples in time. Those moments, those ripples are the important thing for those who knew him.
It has taken me a long time to learn this. It is wonderful to make plans and work toward goals and destinations. These things are important and vital. But in the end the destination doesn’t matter too much. It is how we got there that matters. It is the Journey. Celebrate it.
Our kindest hopes and deepest sympathies to the Uekman family. I want to say it gets better but that isn’t really true. It gets different. It gets bearable.