Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Legacy

"So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” (Shakespeare – Sonnet 18)

As most of you know, I have lost my best friend this year. Sure, I have many friends, we all do. But we all have that one person, that’s not a relative, that’s not forced by life or heredity on us, that we choose and pick our own selves to be our friend. It’s a conscious and troublesome search, but when we finally make that choice, it’s like we’ve arrived in this heaven-like place, and nothing can quite go wrong from there on out. It’s much like we must have felt like in the womb, or in mom’s arms when we were a month old! Secure, unconditional love, and acceptance! More than anything: acceptance! Just safety to be whoever we are around them, and assurance that they can return that favor as well.

He has left us on February 21st and I cannot say the pain or the emptiness that he has left with me has diminished or filled at all yet. I know, I know: it’s not been a year yet, and he was a huge presence and a great person, I need to give it time. But still.

To this day, I have moments when it doesn’t register that he is gone; it does not register that I cannot pick up the phone and call him to give him a hard time about … anything … or just talk about dogs and cats and the weather with him!

I have been playing around dialogues in my head that we would have, when we’d travel, or when we’d find the next best joint for mashed potatoes, or the next best sweet tea flavor – and they are unfortunately going to remain in my head … He loved children, and I would so have wanted to share the wonder of holding my nephew in my arms with him! He would have probably have sent a “slugger” onsie with me to Canada for him! Or even a baseball bat! Most definitely!

Every single day of my life, at one moment or another, he seems to be ever present!

And I have found out that that presence is not mine alone: his family, and many other friends have organized baseball games, and trips and opened a scholarship fund in his memory. The ones left behind have all stayed in touch, and we have been thinking of each other and him on his birthday (July 25th), we have talked about him, and exchanged stories about who he was, and how different he was for all of us, but in essence, how important to all of us! The fact that we had ever so different and diverse stories on him made us realize what a complex, multi-faceted and whole person he truly was!

This past weekend, one of his good friends (R.) organized a memorial mention of him on the baseball stadium in town. Several co-workers attended, and some of his family, as well, and his two brothers threw the first and second honorary pitches that night.

Jeff's brothers waiting for the go on the pitches

It was a beautiful night, one that even Jeff would approve of: a Southerner who hated the sun (he would argue that the sun hated him!), he would have loved the cool night we had once the sun set on the Grasshoppers Stadium (I’ll call it that, after our local team, although the name keeps changing according to whomever the sponsor bank is that year).

While the honorary pitches were thrown, the announcer went through a brief description of who Jeff was, written by his friend, R., and how you can contribute to his scholarship fund, a sport writing scholarship, with the University of Virginia, while the scoreboard showed pictures of Jeff, his black lab mix, Floyd, and of some of his passions: like The Phillies, and other baseball game pictures.

Scoreboard mention: Jeff and Floyd

It was one minute in time when my heart pretty much stopped and I felt, once again, that maybe he’s there. Baseball was his life. And his love. It was so fitting to commemorate his recent birthday during a baseball game! He’s covered The Grasshoppers numerous times, and he’s listened to the National Anthem, one of his favorite tunes, ring loud on this stadium so many times! He brought his dog to the nights where the stadium organized “bark parks”, so the dog can socialize with other dogs and so he too would be exposed to baseball, you see - maybe?!

To me, it was truly a night just for Jeff. So fitting! The best birthday present we could think of, and I am sure he would agree with that! So, thanks, R. and thanks to his family and folks who came and were there with his spirit!

I’ve had many moments like that since he’s been gone: when I went to DC this summer, when I went to his brother’s house, when I got the word that his house sold, and so forth …

I cherish and treasure those moments! It’s what I have been left with – surely, not enough - it’ll never be enough - since he’s been gone.

And in that moment I was grateful once again to Jeff! He loved harmony. He loved friendship. His dad said at some point that his family was his friends, and once you’ve become his friend, you truly felt that! You truly felt like he’d do anything for you, and will give himself whole just to make you happy.

And this extended family of his continues to live on, even after he’s moved to a higher realm than us. This weekend, more than anything, I have felt the sense of fellowship and friendship that Jeff left behind. It’s wonderful to see how folks who would have definitely not met otherwise, coming from all sorts of walks of life, and cities and states (Raleigh, Durham, Winston, Maryland, Colorado, Greensboro) were sitting there, watching a baseball game (Jeff’s favorite, of course) and chatting and catching up, and sharing Jeff stories.

That is one of the most treasured times I have spent this year! Meaningful hugs from his family almost stopped my breath and made me tear! Every second of this Saturday night, I thanked him for those bonding moments we all shared!

One of his co-workers said at some point, half sarcastically and half caringly: “We won’t let this guy go, will we?!” – well, yeah – we won’t! Why should we?! He’s given us himself. And a great lesson of love, giving, patience and courage. And on top of everything: he’s given us each other.

We all, that we’ve been mourning his passing, have found that we are not alone. That the world is an intricate web and that we’re all connected! That nothing is ever random! He’s united us in pain as well as in laughter, when we recount endless numbers of stories about what a great friend, brother, son, co-worker, life partner he was to all of us. He’s taught us, now, in his absence, that we all can make or break each other … And so far, we’ve been making it through the tragedy of losing him because we’ve been there for one another.

Sometimes I feel guilty and selfish: I feel like through keeping him alive, we’re trying to heal ourselves from hurting so excruciatingly bad for losing him. But I think he would approve! I know he would! The one thing he was most worried about was everyone’s pain that he might cause by leaving us and how he can prevent that from happening. And if keeping him in our thoughts, prayers, activities would heal that pain, he would graciously, as ever, sign off on it!

I just wanted to say, once more, a big huge THANK YOU to Jeff: for everything he’s given us, even after he’s left us: a group of friends, and his family to call our friends, and to share memories in his name with. That is the ultimate gift, I believe, so generous and so him!

The Grasshoppers did poorly. Just like The Nationals in DC this July, for his first memorial game get-together. But like Jeff would say: “It’s just a game. There are winners and losers. Someone’s gotta be one or the other”. And off the field, in the stands, I feel like we’re all winners, because we’ve all known him. And he’s put his graceful hand print on all of us before he’s waved us “good bye”. Such a blessing!

Again, the only thing I can say is: “Thank you” – for the gift, love, inspiration, and friendship. Thank you for ... you.

A beautiful evening and night

1 comment:

Walter said...


Thanks for this... for all the love for my brother that you so movingly express. We had such a good time down in Greensboro this weekend with you all... during & after the game, and of course this morning. Having a chance to throw out that ball felt once-in-a-lifetime as well, and in a way it is another gift from Jeff that I will always treasure.

By the way... the link to my website (and info on the scholarship) only seems to work with 'www' in the URL, so like this:

Thanks again... and come up and see us sometime!