It never ceases to amaze me, never fails to continually cement my belief that we are all interconnected. Happenstance, coincidence, fortune, serendipity; call it what you will, but I call it bunk. I firmly believe that all of those weird little things that happen to us were always meant to be, and luck ain’t got nuthin’ to do with it.
Last evening, I’d planned to head in to my hometown to see a friend’s band, Ugly Dog. Unfortunately, I’d had an awful headache since early yesterday morning, and was questioning if a night out – guaranteed to finish late – was a wise move. However, once Don, lead guitarist for Ugly Dog (and my neighbor and buddy) called to say he’d be over at 8:15 to pick me up, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go.
The headache persisted, but I was seated with a fine group of people, enjoying the conversation. Started chatting with a guy named Dave, and we discovered we both grew up in Burlington. I went to Central High School, he went to Nelson. Casually he mentioned that his sister is a secretary at BCHS. I wondered aloud if she were working there waaaaay back when I was attending and asked how long she’d been there. “Oh, a very long time” he responded. And so I asked for her name.
Now, I’ve only ever known the name of one secretary who’d worked for the school. She was a lovely individual, always had a sweet smile on her face, and I’d met her back in ’78, when she’d been the Brown Owl of my brownie pack. I adored her.
“Lynn Gray,” he said. And sure enough, that was the name I’d had on the tip of my tongue. Thus a happy chat ensued about what a small world it was. Made me forget my aching noggin for a bit.
What I just shared with you, dear readers, was a mere tidbit, a preamble for the big story. Now, my friends, is where it gets a bit bizarre. Thinking retrospectively, perhaps my conversation with Dave happened so that what came next didn’t completely short-circuit my brain.
The band was just finishing their first set when a lovely, tall, 20-something blonde approached them to request a song. The moment I saw her, I was struck with a feeling of familiarity and an emotion so strong that I was momentarily stunned. I knew I had to find out her name, to confirm what I intuitively knew was true. As I approached, I heard Tony, lead singer for the band, ask her her name.
“Julia.” She said. “Julia Shrive.”
A little while back, as some of you may recall, I posted a birthday message for Scott, a dear friend who had suddenly passed away on February 14th of this year. I’d known Scott since we were in grade 9, and he’d been one of my best friends, despite a 15-odd year period we were out of touch (brought about by youth, pride and folly). When I reconnected with him several years ago, we both apologized for past assholishness, and were instantly friends again. Scott was my go-to guy for irreverent and immediate cheering up, and he never once failed to get me smiling again. In fact, at one point during his funeral service, the emotion of the day and of those around me began to wear down the thin veneer of composure I was trying desperately to maintain. I started to panic, because I had been asked to read a poem, and the last thing I wanted was to lose my cool beforehand and become a weeping, soggy mess at the podium. So I did what felt natural. “Scott,” I addressed him in my head, “Say something. Say anything. I need to keep it together, if only for today. Be a pal. Get me through this.” Immediately, he responded, “C’mon, you big pussy! Suck it up!”
It was exactly what I needed, and I proceeded through the reading and the rest of the service with a grin on my face.
Returning to last night. Julia Shrive is Scott’s eldest daughter (he has two other beautiful children, Elizabeth and Sammy). While I have always known all about Scott’s kids (because if he wasn’t talking about his awesome wife, Steph, he was bragging about them), she and I had never actually met.
I tapped Julia on the shoulder and she turned, a pleasant and inquisitive look on her face. I stammered out something about having seen her and thinking I’d recognized her, and then introduced myself. Her face registered the same stunned shock I’d felt moments earlier. Without a word, she grabbed my hand and led me through the crowd, searching, presumably, for a spot we could sit. (I’d like to mention at this point that we must have been quite a sight. Julia is a good head taller than me, with legs up-to-here. I was scampering behind her like a wiener dog, just trying to keep up while avoiding falling over my own feet.)
I can’t speak for Julia’s impression of the next forty-five minutes, but for me it was one of the more wondrous moments of my life thus far, looking into Scott’s daughter’s eyes, talking to this articulate young adult about someone we both knew so well, yet in wholly different ways. It was like finally getting the complete picture of him; me telling stories about he and I as goofy 16-year-olds (and maturing into goofy 40-somethings), she relating love-infused tales of the man who was her father, his formative and enduring influence on her, his adult roles as soul-mate to Steph, and adored dad of three remarkable young people.
I have many reasons in my life to feel grateful, but every once in a while something unexpected happens that makes you realize what pure gratitude feels like.
Scott, my dear friend…I knew well before yesterday that you were beloved by those around you. You drew people to you because you’d always had that something, that undefined and yet tangible quality that made you who you were. I don’t know exactly what forces were in play that put Julia in my path, but that connection has made me that much more certain that you are right here with us, participating in every moment. I am so much better for having known you as I did, and for being given this most recent gift that allowed me to see a side of you hitherto unknown to me.
With that, I will leave you with The Wailin’ Jennys‘ ‘Away, But Never Gone.’ It encapsulates everything I want to convey at this moment; that despite physical absence, the soul remains ubiquitous and eternal.
Scott and Julia, 2012
The moon’s on its way to its nightly shift
The frogs fill the creek below
The tall grass waves a farewell to the day
The wind moans sweet and low
The heron tucks his head in his wing
The fish in the lake float along
The sun sinks from sight
Away but never gone
The dawn brings the dew like a thousand jewels
A nest rustles high on a bough
A blue egg stays warm in the cool of the morn
Under a red breast of down
The clouds turn and stretch, the moon checks its wrist
gathers itself with a yawn
And winks to the sun
Away but never gone
And all o’er the world as it turns and it turns
the stars twinkle off and on
And we come and go
Away but never gone