Jeff and I enjoy stargazing. You’ll often find us out on the front lawn sitting in our sling chairs facing the southern sky. Especially during meteor showers, and on nights with a moonless sky.
Recently, we were sitting under the stars in the middle of the night, looking up at the Milky Way, so visible on this particular night. It was as if the stars were a carpet. Up was down. A strange feeling.
So many of the stars we can see are no longer there. They’ve been gone for hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years. We, on earth, are just seeing the light they generated when they were still molten, gaseous, spinning magnetic field generators. But, in fact, they have, in some cases, been long gone since before dinosaurs roamed the earth.
And it got me thinking. What kind of light will I leave behind when I am no longer scurrying along the surface of the earth. Will I have left a trail so that, even though I am no longer physically here, others might know that I was? And will I have made enough of an impact to warrant a thought or a mention, even in passing?
I guess I am thinking of this now because of Jeff’s and my conversation this morning. His stepfather, Andy, passed away last week. Although Jeff has always referred to him as ‘My Dad.’ Jeff knew he had passed before being told.
‘I had a dream about Andy. We were in a boat and he told me I needed to get out now. Then he just drifted away out onto Lake Washington into the fog.’
Andy entered Jeff’s life after his own father had suddenly abandoned the family under thoroughly messy circumstances. After a few years, Jeff was a kid in serious need of a Dad. Enter Andy, who taught his stepson to snow ski, coached his baseball team, taught him to water ski, and took him on canoeing trips. Instilling in a tall, awkward kid, confidence. He always believed in Jeff. Trusting a 16 year old kid to take out his ski boat, right after he got his driving license.
Andy worked for Boeing as an engineer and encouraged young Jeff’s interest in computers, bringing home equipment from work and letting him use it.
When Jeff returned from the Air Force, Andy got him involved in the Boeing employees white water club in Seattle, where Jeff ultimately became a white water rafting river guide. And it was through those folks he took up white water kayaking.
When Jeff’s son, Ryan, was born Andy threw himself into the job of ‘Papa’, what Ryan has always called him. They were buddies and spent many summers, weekends, and vacations doing so many of the things Andy used to do with Jeff.
When my son, Nick, and I entered the picture, Andy welcomed us with open arms. He never needed shared blood to determine family membership. Never made us feel like we didn’t belong. He treated Nick like he treated Ryan. Although, Ryan was always the apple of his eye.
When Jeff outfitted each of our kids with dry suits, life jackets and helmets, and took them out on a river when they were 9 or 10, it’s because Andy did that with him. When they all got skis and snow gear for Christmas, it’s what Andy had given him one holiday. It was Andy who taught Jeff how to be a Father.
Like all of us, Andy had his quirks and foibles. He could be maddening and crazy-making. Never ever go out for Mexican food with him. He would guard the chips and salsa like a hockey goalie, keeping them all for himself. But he was a perpetually smiling, optimistic person who was a fierce, loyal friend. And the man loved to dance like no one I have ever met.
The last time we saw Andy was four years ago. He was moved from assisted living to a rest home after a bad fall. He had dementia and no longer knew who we were. Andy had always been a smiling, chatty guy, and dementia did nothing to diminish that. He smiled at us through the visit, and seemed interested in who we were. But there was no longer a flash of recognition.
He was tough until the end, fighting off Covid last year, as it spread through his rest home. But, it seems now, it was his time to go – at last.
‘What’s the biggest memory you have of Andy?’ I asked Jeff this morning.
Jeff smiled with tears in his eyes. ‘There are too many. I can’t pick just one.’
Even though he is no longer here, the light Andy cast lives on in those whose lives he touched. I know this because I live with one of them, who spent the morning reminiscing about him.
Andy changed everything for Jeff’s life trajectory. And while sad to hear of his passing, Jeff is of the firm belief that Andy stopped by to say his Goodbyes on his way to the other side. And in a boat, no less. It couldn’t be any other way.