Thursday, August 18, 2016

Do You Know Dave Gurney?

“Do you know Dave Gurney?”

I was barely 19 when I first met Dave at the LDS Missionary Training Center in Provo. Utah. I was to spend 8 weeks under Dave’s tutelage, preparing myself for the following 96 in Paraguay.

Dave was tall, handsome, and clean, an instantly likeable guy with bright eyes, a crisp wide smile, and a kind voice. After just a few minutes in his presence, I quietly assigned to him the role of mentor.

The Spanish portion of Dave’s lessons weren’t an issue for me; I had studied the language since Junior High, and not only could I conjugate verbs with my eyes closed, I also knew the difference between the familiar and formal. Spanish Rs rolled off my tongue like those spoken by Speedy Gonzales every Saturday morning of my childhood.

The language of a Mormon missionary, however, did not roll so easily off my tongue as the everyday words and phrases having to do with the purchase of ice cream, the location of the bathroom, and the color of apples. Although I had been born and raised in the church and had to that point never questioned its teachings, my faith had recently and for the first time been seriously tested by the news that my older brother was a homosexual. This shook my foundation, and I carried the weight and confusion of it and with me into the MTC, right into Dave’s classroom.

Dave was unique in that he commanded our respect by earning it, while at the same time lowering the barrier between student and teacher just enough for us to consider him a good friend where we to meet again someday. In time, Dave became more to me than a teacher and a mentor; he became someone in whom I could confide.

Every Saturday morning Dave would drag two of the classroom’s desks out into the hallway and spend a few minutes with each of us in one-on-one conversation. This may have been part of his assigned duties, but I have no doubt that Dave took the time seriously. We were young and untested, full of trembling confidence and far from home, headed to a foreign land that by all accounts was 50 years behind our own experiences when it came to just about everything. Dave did his best to settle our tremors, inform our fears, and answer our questions about an immediate future that held little in the way of certainties other than diarrhea, worn-out shoes, and lots of prayer.

During one of these Saturday conversations with Dave, after whining about missing my girlfriend, confessing to a palpable fear of tapeworms, and expressing my dislike for the communal showers in the MTC dorms, I felt impressed to share with Dave my concern that my family would not be together forever due to my brother’s lifestyle. Dave sat across from me, his knees pressed into the underside of a tiny desk, as I cried big tears and spilt my dark fears into his life. I had not spoken to anyone in such detail about my overwhelming confusion, my wavering faith, and the many broken emotions stemming from my brother’s rapid, and as I understood it at the time, voluntary fall from grace.

Dave listened to the very end of my worrying without a word of interruption or a care to the fact that we had by far exceeded the normal amount of time allotted to each of us during those one-on-one Saturday morning conversations. Floundering in a spiritual quicksand of panic and grief, I looked up at him with tears in my eyes, and realized that I had grabbed hold of my mentor’s ankle in a desperate attempt to save myself, without a moment’s thought to his own stability. The sharp pain of regret for my selfish behavior pricked at my heart.

To his great credit, Dave didn’t flinch, but instead smiled warmly, a reaction that will always stay with me. He didn’t judge my brother, counseling me to love the sinner but hate the sin, or make hollow promises about what would happen in the way of a miracle were I to serve my two year mission faithfully.

No, Dave simply listened to my fears, then looked me in the eyes with unwavering confidence and told me that all would be well; I was doing great, and had a good head on my shoulders.

As I flip through my mission journals more than two decades later, I laugh at the pages and pages written with such earnest yet desperate conviction. I wanted so badly to be spiritual, to have meaningful, life-changing experiences, and I wrote in my journal as if every day were a fulfillment of those righteous desires. I don’t remember so many of these supposed moments of feeling surrounded by God and heaven and all his angels without reading them, but I can relive with great emotional detail the personal interactions and experiences that I didn’t write much about, at least not in the flowery language meant for a prideful Sunday pulpit.

So what did I write about that long conversation with Dave?

“He is so good and I want to be like him when I get back. I love him.”

No emotional dredging equipment is needed when it comes to my experience with Dave.

The crowning moment in my apprenticeship with Dave came in the form of a prophetic visit to our classroom by his wife Katie and their first-born Taylor. I held baby Taylor in my arms and marveled at the thought of one day being a good and happy father to such a beautiful, bouncing child. I looked up at Dave and Katie, smiling and loving and tender with each other as they were, and in that moment the hope that someday I would have a family just like theirs took root within me.

On our final day with Dave, my classmates and I lifted him high above our heads for a metaphoric photo. It is a moment I will never forget. That photo is a happy reminder of a debt I simply cannot repay.

Not three years later, my mission in Paraguay finished and the tapeworms flushed from my system, I was driving to the beach in North Hampton, New Hampshire, seated behind the wheel of my little white pickup truck. A fiancé far more gorgeous, blonde, and happy than I had ever dared dream of loving me rode shotgun beside me. We would be married at the end of the year.

“Do you know Dave Gurney?” Elizabeth asked.

Her casual and very unexpected dropping of Dave’s name pushed me into a free-fall through fond memories.

“Yes, I know David Gurney! He was my favorite teacher at the MTC!” I answered, eager to know the how and why and when behind her question.

“He’s married to my sister Katie.”

My mind flashed back to meeting Dave’s happy family, holding Taylor in my arms, and my silent hope that I would someday have a family just like his.


In the years since the day Elizabeth asked if I knew Dave Gurney, I have come to learn that God doesn’t answer my prayers, no matter how humble, specific, earnest, and sincere I might be when uttering them. He does, however, from time to time, pay heed to my under-breath mutterings, coin-toss wishes, and silent hopes. While I retain scant faith in God’s fascination with the details of my daily life, I do know that he was paying close attention when Dave’s tiny family ignited a candle of hope within my heart 27 years ago.

Beyond marrying sisters and having three kids each, Dave and I are, in fact, almost nothing alike. Dave is successful, driven and goal-oriented, while I am at best ambivalent and wandering. I don’t work hard; I would rather sit on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder than climb it, and I haven’t earned much in the way of respect in this world. Over the years Dave has stacked achievements like cordwood, building up a large supply of success and security for his family, while I continue to stare up into the trees of life, mouth agape with awe and a wide, idle wonderment in my eyes.

But we remain friends and brothers, and Dave remains a mentor.

Several years ago, Dave and I met up during a reunion at the family cabin in the mountains of Utah. We picked right up where we left off, which meant that Dave asked a lot of selfless questions about how I was doing, what I was doing, and where I was headed. I have always loved that Dave still cares about me enough to show such interest, but in my heart I have always felt as though I have let my mentor down, because there’s never much to tell.

That year, Dave had managed to scrounge up a couple of bikes, and he asked if I’d be willing to take an early morning ride with him into the mountains behind the cabin. I wanted to sleep, but I got up and went with him, in spite of being certain that I would die along the trail from either exhaustion or a cougar’s bite.

After a few minutes of pedaling, I gave serious thought to turning back in order to retrieve my lungs from under the blankets where I must have left them. Not wanting to let Dave down, however, I dug deeper, sucked at the thin air, and prayed that the sidewalls of my heart wouldn’t blow out from exertion.

This past winter I spent some time alone up at the cabin. I wrote a lot, slept a lot, and thought a lot. News of Dave’s diagnosis and upcoming treatment weighed extra heavy upon my mind and heart one afternoon, so after packing a few snacks, a water bottle, and my pistol into a backpack, I headed up the same trail Dave and I had ridden together years before. This time, however, I took to the trail on a snowmobile. An overnight storm had dusted the trail with fresh white powder; it swirled about behind me as I sped recklessly up the mountain, dodging low hanging branches and sliding around curves at high speed.

The trail flattened out for a spell, and instead of pushing the snow machine even harder, I slowed to a crawl, standing as I rode to get a view of my surroundings. I stopped altogether when to my right I spied a grove of aspens, their leaves gone for the winter and their ankles buried in snow. The sun was low in the western sky, and her light partnered with those trees and a winter wind to cast long, quaking shadows on the white ground. I looked up at those towering trees and thought about Elizabeth, about our kids, and about silent, inspired hope.

Yes, I know Dave Gurney.

(Dave passed away on August 11, 2016 at the age of 49. I was honored to share the above at his celebration of life service.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Suffer the Children

Without warning it sneaks silent and deadly across the library floor on all fours, a foul smog curling and rippling across its demonic back, corrupting the air on its way to my chosen table. It rears up and hits me with a blast of rotten, fetid heat, charring my nose hairs and blurring my eyes.

I am marked like a territory; one of my three fellow library patrons sitting nearby has farted, floating an air biscuit that could war for its country.

My tee shirt gas mask pulled up over my nose, I set about profiling my quiet companions in search of the guilty.

Suspect #1

A tired-looking woman, sloppily dressed and frazzle-haired, she sighs as she reads the newspaper with a squint because she has forgotten her glasses, which are in fact perched on the crown of her head. I’ve seen her in here before, and every time I’ve imagined that she’s snuck away from a house crowded with feral children or visiting relatives, or that taken an extra long lunch in order to avoid an annoying officemate that incessantly clears their throat and listens to country music on their desktop speakers. Her soda cup indicates that today’s pursuit of quiet and personal time included a trip across the street; perhaps she consumed a few sulfur-cloud-inducing Egg McMuffins before her ritual hiding away inside the library?

Physical proximity: 8 feet

Probability of guilt: 9 out of 10

Suspect #2

A greasy young man wearing a swimsuit, tank top, and flipflops, his right leg bounces as if he were trying to set a personal best record on his step-counting sports watch while he struggles to focus on reading his book. Maybe he’s serving a summer school sentence in the library? Could his stomach be punishing him (and subsequently his fellow library patrons) for the over-inflated metabolic confidence of youth? I envision several slices of pizza, a bottle of Mountain Dew, and an ice cream sundae chaser making their way into his troubled stomach before his mother chases him off to the library to atone for his bad grades.

Physical proximity: 10 feet

Probability of guilt: 9 out of 10

Suspect #3:

An older man, his balding dome partially hidden beneath a clean and sensible baseball cap, his feet adorned with clean white socks and sensible shoes. Unlike the sighing newsreader, he has remembered his glasses, and is having no trouble seeing well enough to scribble into a notebook as he reads from multiple reference books open on the table before him. Unlike the greasy young man, his legs are calm, but he does squirm at the waist in apparent discomfort every few moments. Is carrying a payload he’d rather be rid of? Maybe he’s clenching the bomb bay doors closed, hoping to hold off his bombing run until he’s back in the privacy and comfort of his own bathroom.

Physical proximity: 12 feet

Probability of guilt: 9 out of 10

I am at a loss; while I want to lay blame on one of the three, there is no conclusive evidence, and I cannot pass judgment based on speculation. I return to my writing, half hoping that in the next few minutes a more vocal piece of evidence will present itself, thumbing its nose at but also pleasing the social court of decorum.

A few sentences later I am distracted by the muted sound of one hand clapping. I scan the surrounding area in an attempt to pinpoint its source as the sound settles into a steady, rhythmic, and somehow familiar thumping. It seems to be coming from behind the chest-high bookshelf to my left, and my curiosity begins to get the better of me. I stand and wade through the stale remnants of that dense, rotten, and invisible fog, making my way around the shelf, acting as though I am looking for a book.

I come around the shelves and see a woman sitting in a comfortable chair, a smile on her face and a blanketed bundle held against her chest. I try not to stare as she pounds her baby’s back like she’s the rhythm chief in a drum circle. My teeth clench at the sound, but I can’t help smile at the memory of burping my own children.

A wet burp erupts from the tiny bundle, followed by a break in the thumping that allows me to hear the tiny sigh of relief. A moment passes, and the thumping continues.

This woman knows her baby; there must be more air in there.

I turn to walk back to my table, and the baby farts. I can’t help it; my smile bursts into a laugh.

Case dismissed.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Lavender Scented Armpits of Phillip's Mother in Fiji

The cool waters off the coast of Fiji lap at my knees as I survey the wreck. The sun is at its peak, threatening me with heat of its mid-day fury, but my skin remains cool to the touch. A slight breeze tickles my nose with tropical scents carried from the island, and I imagine a beautiful tan island maiden fresh from a waterfall shower meeting me on the beach, coconut drink in one hand, a fresh pineapple in the other.

I am shipwrecked and alone, but a firm confidence in my ability to stay clean, fresh, and alive settles over me. I smell so good…

“Waddya think, Phillip, is this the one your mother was asking for?”

The sudden appearance to my left of a lady wearing a plain purple pocket tee-shirt tucked into whitewashed hip-hugging jeans hitched up to her sagging bosoms jolts me back to the deodorant aisle of the local Walmart.

“What flavor does it say on the label?” Her shopping companion, apparently named Phillip, asks.

Flavor? She doesn’t eat deodorant, this mother of yours, does she?

I look to my right; Phillip is wearing a timeworn fly-fishing excursion tee-shirt, jeans that are far too short for his canoe-bowed legs, and a striped train conductor’s hat that has seen a lot of rail.

“Lavender.” Comes the reply.

“That’s the one she likes; it reminds her of springtime,” Phillip states by way of duty and explanation, without a hint of nostalgia.

I put the stick of Fiji scented deodorant on the shelf and take a step back so I can keep an interested eye on Phillip and his shopping companion while at the same time trying to choose a new deodorant.

Deodorant has always been a part of my life. The spicy odor of a colonial clipper ship on a hard tack likely entered my nose on the wind of my very first breath, as my father leaned in under the heat lamps and welcomed me into this world. That old and spicy wooden scent led me through childhood as I followed my father around, trying my best to mimic his manliness.

No wonder then, that when I began to offend my family with the pungent odor of my budding puberty and was asked to take measures, I chose the same reliable spicy scent for my own armpits. While my friends guarded theirs with the right choice for young and active teenagers, I did my best to smell like a weathered sailor fresh from a whaling trip.

Why is Phillip looking at disposable razors and shave cream? His beard is full and bushy…maybe his lavender-loving mother shaves her upper lip…

As a teenager I used deodorant in excess, hoping to smell fresh, clean, and romantically appealing to any member of the fairer sex that happened to cross my path within breathing distance. It didn’t work; my eager deodorant application seemed to have the opposite effect, chasing girls away like mosquitos from a pool of DDT.

I owned a single pair of Levi’s jeans in high school, and that was a problem, because I felt that no other pair of pants could better hide my scrawny white legs. Wearing them five days a week was admittedly gross, but wear them five days a week I did. In today’s world dingy denim seems to demonstrate a willful indifference to etiquette that wins hearts, but thirty years ago it demonstrated a careless aversion to popularity that won solitude and insecurity. I had on more than one occasion tried to sneak them into a secret wash cycle on their own, but my mother guarded her laundry machines with unmatched vigilance and getting caught with my hand in her detergent had proven to be punishable by angry and humiliating lectures. I took to showering in my jeans whenever they got really bad, but they never dried fast enough in the humid Connecticut climate to wear the next day without chaffing. I spent many days trying to walk casually from my locker to my next class as though my inner thighs weren’t greenhorn-in-the-saddle raw and painfully swollen.

On one particular morning, facing a day in dark brown corduroys, I employed deodorant to my cause, applying it liberally to the fabric of my dirty jeans. I was hoping the powerful anti-bacterial ingredients and sea-going smell would mask the odors that my hormonal and junk-food consuming teenage body emitted into my pants on a daily basis. I didn’t think about my body’s metabolic warmth, and the fact that it would soon melt the deodorant into a greasy film, darkening the denim and making it appear as though I had emptied a full bladder into my beloved Levi’s. It didn’t smell like I’d pissed my pants, but I did walk the halls of peer pressure with an extra measure of self-loathing that day, followed around by an eye-tearing potpourri cloud formed by the blending odors of strong chemical clean and slowly developing puberty.

Why are there so many choices, and why are they so poorly named? Legend? What the hell does legend smell like? Urban? Commanding man? Dark Temptation? Who named these? Will they make me take a manhood test at the register before they’ll let me buy any of these? Will I have to demonstrate hand-to-hand combat skills or build a fence without using tools? Will I have to break-dance, grab my crotch, and spit on the floor?

As young children we rode many summers in the back of whichever van Dad happened to be driving at the time, making our way across the country to visit relatives we hardly knew for a few unforgettable days of genetically obligated awkward interaction. The summer sun stared down at us through any window our mother hadn’t coated with aluminum foil, doing his damned best to burn and broil us where we lay reading, napping, or playing. On one such trip I watched my older sister, who was physically mature enough to use deodorant, coat the backs of her knees with it, presumably to stop them from sweating. A few days later, under the assumption that the practice was something only women did for some feminine reason or another, I snuck into the bathroom and applied some of that same stick to the backs of my own knees. The initial cooling sensation gave way to an oily patina, which was soon followed by a dry chemical film that smelled like my sister and took a few frantic moments spent with soap and warm water to remove. I firmly believed that had my father discovered me there in the bathroom, the backs of my knees coated in feminine product, he would have spanked me silly and committed me to hard, manual, masculine labor in order to chase any interest in behaving like a girl from within me.

What the hell is oud wood? Is that a misprint, did they mean old wood? Who wants to smell like old wood dipped in dark vanilla?

I dry-shaved my armpits one year at summer camp, probably on a dare, but definitely under circumstances better left forgotten. The following morning I rubbed deodorant into that smooth, freshly scraped skin, and my screams woke the entire camp and anyone else within a four-mile radius. It was that same year that I retired the old standby deodorant with the clipper ship label and called up a new and modern scent made for a younger generation of upcoming men. At the time I wasn’t aware that there were stark differences between deodorant and antiperspirant, and so I didn’t know that I had begun clogging my pores each morning, stuffing metal and other chemicals into them with reckless and ignorant abandon.

Why are women allowed to smell like actual things? Coconut, Citrus, Flowers, these are things I can get my head and nose around. Wait, Macaroon scented? Isn’t that a kind of cookie? Hey, I want to smell like a cookie, why can’t they have chocolate chip deodorant for men? Or brownies, yeah brownies would be good.

Several years ago I decided that when I was in my sixties, I wanted to be able to remember not only my name and address, but my wife’s as well. I didn’t want my kids to feel they had to sew “If Found Call…” labels into my clothes, or tattoo my personal details onto my forearms. In the hope of preventing that from happening, I started using a more natural, less harsh, metal-free, and non pore-clogging version of underarm protection. As my armpit pores began to perform their normal sweating function once again after years of disuse, I hoped that no one would notice and then mention that I smelled different, and prayed that no one would notice and then say that I smelled worse. Self conscious, I walked around sniffing myself every few minutes, pulling at my layers of clothes and wondering if anyone would go home and thank their spouse for not smelling like the odiferous man they had been mis-fortuned enough to stand next to on the street that day.

Oh, deodorant, you are so much like prayer to me: on mornings that I remember to, I spin your dial, lift my arms, and coat my pits with your protective glaze, all the while wondering if your power over my bad odor will last the day.

And so passed several years of my life, with my insecurities reminding me to keep my arms pinned to my sides as much as possible and my brain reminding me that I was sacrificing olfactory confidence for its future sake. It didn’t help that I lived in New Hampshire, where the humidity in summer turns the best smelling armpits into cesspools filled with sweaty bacterial sludge.

The move to a drier climate in Utah helped, at least it did until a few weeks ago, when I must have hit some sort of man-o-pausal milestone. I suddenly couldn’t go ten minutes without wanting a shower and a clean shirt. I began sweating like I surely will on judgment day, and wondered if perhaps God had suddenly felt the need for a running start to his opening arguments against me.

I am tired of smelling like a sweaty patch of lemon grass that has been watered with the drippings squeezed from a Guatemalan factory worker’s tee shirt.

Phillip and his companion wander off down the aisle and out of sight. I am alone to face the many choices before me. I begin to wonder if there are deodorant sommeliers, experts on which brands and scents best fit with certain personalities or clothes. I picture a man dressed to the nines standing in the deodorant section of Walmart, his hair greased and parted tightly over his scalp, a pencil moustache under his long and upturned nose. Would anyone dare ask such a man for underarm advice?

A mother pushes her cart into the aisle. She crosses in front of me with a polite smile, delaying my decision for a moment longer. Her cart is loaded to the rim with food, and a happy baby drools in the seat. Three or four, or is it five kids follow behind her in a long line of chatty happiness. I watch as the woman reaches up and without breaking stride grabs a stick of deodorant, presumably for her husband, who has apparently summited Everest. She keeps on walking, her genetic train following close behind, and I am alone again.

Screw it; I’m going to Fiji.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Anger Management

Dear Jared,

It’s been seven years since you killed yourself. This past year has been emotionally tougher for me than the past few, and I have struggled with keeping my own life, so deciding how to mark this seventh anniversary has proven more than a bit difficult. I have spent hours staring at blank paper with tears in my eyes and heavy blood in my heart, sitting in the library, at the cabin, in bed, and in parking lots, wondering what I could possibly write that would make sense of everything I feel, persuade others to get help before they abandon all hope, and relieve some small measure of the mighty grief and pressing guilt that plague me to this day.

I considered writing a piece on the things I have learned over the past seven years about suicide and its impact on survivors, but everything I wrote sounded selfish and insensitive. For a few days I considered recounting my own emotional struggles over the past several months, but again, selfish and insensitive, with a touch of melodrama. I thought I’d write a short story about searching the shallow waters of the Lamprey river for your James Dean watch, the one that fell off your wrist during one of our canoeing adventures, but I found myself lost and alone in a canoe made for two, riding a tidal river of memories and paddling without success against a thick and salty current of regret.

I was told in therapy a long time ago that I would one day be angry with you, and that only then would I be finished mourning your loss and be able to move on with my life. A week or so ago I fell apart and wondered if that time had come. I spent some time alone in the woods, recklessly chopping down tall trees, shooting invisible targets with Grandpa Bond’s shotgun, and driving higher and higher into the thinning air on roads and trails that were not meant for careless drivers.

But I’m not angry with you, not yet. Maybe it would close some doors if I were, but for now they remain open, and I suppose that I am glad, because inside those rooms I can sit and visit the rawest of my emotions, the ones that remind me I am alive. In recent weeks I have caught myself seeking sensory overloads. Standing naked and sweating in the hot sun, banging my head against my fist, and staying awake until my head hurts have provided stark reminders of what it is to be alive, and a strange, cooling relief from everything burning inside of me.

Don’t fret and worry yourself over my situation, however; these frantic moments are few and far between. I have Elizabeth and the kids, and with them in my life I remain a fair distance away from that dark line, the one that you stepped over, the one that you crossed and kept walking away from until you were lost into a place from which you couldn’t make your way back. If only you had found someone like Elizabeth, someone to cling to, someone who you couldn’t bear to leave behind…

So, the kids are good…

Caleb is determined to write professionally, and that makes me smile. It helps that he is blessed with talent, more than I ever possessed at his age. He will improve with time, experience, and practice, and the world will know his name for it. He talks about you a lot, telling me what he remembers about you, and stories about my life after you died, but from his perspective. Caleb inherited so many of your mannerisms and ways of thought that I sometimes have to gulp at the air around me when I see you in him. I don’t think he minds when I call him by your name, a mistake I have made often, because he loves you, and because he know that his resemblance to you is that strong.

Hannah is a can of gas thrown on a gas-fueled fire, with gas raining down on it from a gas cloud above; she can’t stop, she won’t stop, and the world better stay out of her way. She won’t be completely happy until she is eating fruit and doing yoga in Bali, and I hope to someday visit her there and try my hand at both. A couple of weeks ago I shaved her head (at her request), and she looks beautiful. Being an independent teenager, she doesn’t allow much physical contact, and the time spent with my hands on her head and my fingers tangled in her long hair was like water to a withered sprig. She is so much like me that I feel a heavy guilt to think that I may have cursed her future, but I know that she will do better than I ever will at life.

Solomon is my sea anchor, stabilizing my worn and swaying vessel in white-capped stormy seas. The kid makes me laugh and pulls my lips into a wide smile on even the darkest days. He has a quick wit to accompany his scampy charm, and is loved by anyone who gets to know him, except for his school principal, for whom the boy has little if any respect. Solomon has smooth criminal moves fueled by a confidence that I would kill for, and yet he lacks any hint of pride or malice in his heart. He draws, he writes, he dances, he loves, and he jokes, all of them well, and I can’t wait for the world stage to throw wide its curtains for his one man show. Fortunately for me, he has made a conscious decision to stay young for the time being.

Elizabeth misses you. She is soft and quiet about you, holding her Jared moments close to her chest. I often wonder what my life would have been like had I embraced you without conditions from the moment I met you, the way she did. I admit to being guilty of stealing the limelight when it comes to grief over your loss, but she has never once accused me of being selfish in my emotional hijackings. She is patient with me, believes in me, and has permanently hitched her wagon to my sad, stubborn, aimless and weather-beaten mule, expecting a sudden strengthening of muscle followed by a frightening burst of speed towards the starting line of success. Her confidence in me fuels my greatest fear, which is that I will let her down.

As for the world, it marches on in your absence. Technology is outpacing thought, greed has all but broken the spine of necessity, and discussion is losing ground to contention. I love so much about this world and all it offers, but a greater and greater part of me wishes I had long ago followed my teenage dream of heading into the Alaskan wilderness to homestead. I hope that I have succeeded in teaching the kids (and in the process remind myself) that in the end, no amount of wealth, gadgets, knowledge, faith, or possessions will be counted when it comes time to determine whether you were a good person or bad.

I wish you were here to see the happier moments and share in the bouts of laughter when they come, because on most days they outnumber the sad. But you aren’t, so I will do my best to live well until we meet again. Fortunately, I am blessed to have a small but able crew that is willing to push me forward through the storms and the darkness. I will be forever sorry that I could not, that I did not, that I would not, do the same for you. It is my great regret, and I cannot truly make amends for it. Perhaps the best thing I can do is to find some measure of anger towards you in this life, so that our next time around can be as sweet, fun, loving, and thrilling as the first one should have been.

Tonight I will spend some time up in the mountains, hoping to see the bear that has taken to visiting the cabin in search of something sweet to eat. I spent a few nights up there alone this week, and I watched him the other evening as he lumbered through the green. I felt no fear as he came closer to me, only a reverent thrill at seeing him in his wild habitat. Free from any other care but that of achieving the happiness that would come from filling his belly, his innocence reminded me of your simple and sensitive desire to be nothing more than happy, filled with love from others.

This letter has been a bit heavy, and I don’t know how to end it, other than to say that I wish things were different. I wish I was writing you about our upcoming road trip through the southwest, and how we are going to chase tumbleweeds, climb colored mountains, and meet weirdos in strange and beautiful places.

But things are not different, and they never will be.

You know what? That kinda makes me angry…