The world is a little darker today. One of my lights went out. I lost a longtime friend unexpectedly. We hadn't spoken lately. I still can't fathom how it happened, but I do know that he was too damn young and he's left behind a massive hole in the lives of his wife and all those who loved him.
There are a few things he taught me that I want to share with anyone listening. First, when you see rays of sun shining down from behind a cloud in clearly defined shafts, that's called God Light. Pass it on. Two, learn to give hugs that people will feel for the rest of their lives. Hugs are tossed around, they're half-assed with a single arm, they're given too frequently to have meaning. Don't get me wrong, they're great. But they're greater when people still remember exactly how they felt years and years after you gave it to them. I have a few I can count that have stayed with me... his was one.
When I was a kid he was like an uncle. The coolest kind. He loved rocks, and taught me so much. We'd go to Kemmerer, WY with him each summer (me, my dad, and my kid brother) and dig fossil fish in a quarry he leased from the state. We dug up all kids of stuff, had a million inside jokes, and played in the dirt for hours. Some of the choicest pieces in my personal collection came from that quarry, or from his generosity. He always gave us $60 each to spend at the local rock shop after our week of digging, in exchange for our child labor. It seemed like so much, I didn't even know where to start... always a little embarrassed, always looking to get the coolest thing, always so grateful. He bought so much more than just rocks, he was buying us memories to last a lifetime. Fossils are impressive to me because of their longevity... it's like living forever.
The fish below is one of the most beautiful gifts I got from him. It's a Priscacara (ancient Perch-like fish) from the Green River Formation. It hangs on the wall in our house and I think of our fun together each time I see it. Giving up stuff like this is one of the things that scares me about the mere idea of possibly moving into the van. While Humboldt feels like home because it's cozy and filled with memories, it doesn't have room for the mementos that celebrate the treasured moments of my life. I know memories do that, but I worry that the moments of daily life will eventually push those into deep storage, taking with them the emotions they evoke. I guess I'll never know if I don't try, but it's still scary to think that my happiest (and saddest) times could become so remote.
My mom hardly ever went with us. We stayed in a shabby motel, wore dirt like a second skin for days on end, ate poorly prepared pioneer town food, and wore dirty clothes. He was always there a few days before us, and I remember one year he was lamenting the state of his laundry. He said he had to chase his underwear around the room with a stick before he could get them back on. That mental image has made me giggle for more than a decade.
When we'd find fish, he'd frame them up, get the rock saw, and cut them out. He called it 'dust and noise' and we'd flee the area for a time. When this dust settles, we'll go back to the new normal - hopefully having learned from a life cut too short and the searing regret of missed opportunities. We'll get used to the lack of noise, and use that silence to reflect fondly.
I think my friend would be honored by my sadness, but he wouldn't put up with it for long. He'd tell me what we already know and struggle to make a reality - love always, play constantly, chase joy.