Love Abounding: Peaceful Journey, Paddy
“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
–J. R. R. Tolkien, from The Return of the King
Part of me has already said good-bye to my dear friend, Patrick, in the two years since his diagnosis of brain cancer.
Part of me never will.
Paddy died yesterday morning in peace and surrounded by love, especially his mother, his wife, and their 3-year-old daughter. His passing brings grief to all of us who were blessed to call him friend. But I want to talk about how he lived, not that he died, because it is his living that changed me and impacted so many.
I met Paddy in college. A month before he had his first seizure that indicated the presence of glioblastoma multiforme, I wrote to him:
“I was searching through some really old e-mails yesterday and discovered a bunch that we had sent to each other in 2003-ish. An online spirit support group. They made me smile and miss your voice (in writing or otherwise). It has been a long time since we have talked! Marriage, children, careers, establishing new homes in new places: these things take our time, and rightly so. Still, just wanted to say that no matter how much time passes between our connections, you will always be one of my very kindred spirits.”
Paddy’s spirit left this earth far, far too soon. The best I can say I have already written, in a letter for his daughter; our college friends combined our letters and photos into a book for her, that she may someday know her dad.
When I think of your dad, I hear his laugh. If he finds something funny, his infectious “heh-HAH!” bubbles up from his deep well of humor, and he rocks back and forth, slowly clapping his hands as the guffaws roll.
When I think of your dad, I see his blue eyes, crinkled at the edges over his ear-to-ear smile or focused intently and earnestly on whomever is speaking. His eyes indicate his desire for understanding, his immense compassion, and his ability to be fully present.
When I think of your dad, I think of this quote from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
“The creeks…are an active mystery, fresh every minute. Theirs is the mystery of the continuous creation…The mountains…are a passive mystery, the oldest of all…Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.”
When I think of your dad, I remember how he taught me to climb trees. I grew up as a city kid whose parents thought that trees around our house were dangerous, that woods were only a gathering place for illicit parties and a receptacle for broken bottles. At Middlebury, and later at Queechee and Plymouth and Great Barrington, I followed his lead, clumsily straining my arms to pull myself up onto branches the way he did so effortlessly. Once there, I understood why he loved this new perspective, being cradled in the arms of a tree after using muscle and grit and strategy to gain altitude, and looking out at the world through the leaves.
When I think of your dad, I remember how he played: tennis, soccer, skiing, biking, frisbee, hiking, running, swimming. I’m sure you know how he loved the outdoors–even at our New Year’s gathering in Great Barrington, before dinner we spent an hour or more on the basketball court near his house, slipping on the ice and playing basketball in the dark and frigid air. One of my favorite memories of senior spring at Middlebury is our hike up Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks. I was a pretty novice hiker, nervous about the slippery trail downhill, and he guided me all the way down, encouraging and offering a hand. Earlier that spring, he and Maya brought me swimming in the Middlebury River; I watched them splash in, buoyant and energized by the icy water. I leaped in, nearly had a heart attack at the shock of cold, and got out in minutes. He seemed so at home in the water: cold or warm, creek or ocean.
When I think of your dad, I remember our thoughtful conversations about spirituality, love, ambition. He introduced me to the writings of Terry Tempest Williams, Henri Nouwen, Wendell Berry. In 2003, he started a Spirit Circle with me, Jen Crystal, Elise, and later Maya: an e-mailed discussion of our lives, our struggles, our successes, our questions. How to change the world without ruining ourselves. How to make a difference–a real, systemic difference as well as personal difference. We talked about self-improvement. About how run-down we felt as young adults, eager to do good: save the environment, help children, advocate for the voiceless and powerless. How we weren’t sure we could sustain the level of energy we thought that goal required. I am happy to share any of his e-mails with you.
When I think of your dad, I feel his generous spirit, exemplified in his strong-armed bear hugs. He and his family opened their homes to all of us: we were not only welcome; we were family. He danced with me on my wedding day and became friends with my husband Alan. When I went through an emotional crisis, your dad sent me messages of hope and support and love. I hope we have been able to lift him up throughout his life in the same way he has lifted us.
When I think of your dad, I think about the work he has done: for Senator Houghton, for Orion, for the Aspen Institute. He has used his God-given gifts well: his gifts of thoughtful criticism, intellect, compassion, creativity.
Your dad lived the spirit of radical amazement: that constant state of wonder and gratitude that all of us aspire to.
Paddy was a fundamental part of my journey into becoming myself: that passage from teenager to adulthood defined by our passions, our failings, our experiences, risks, and loves. He taught me by being himself: asking thoughtful questions, living joyfully and in thanksgiving. It seems trite to say that all who knew him loved him, but I think that is the case for Paddy. His spirit of light shone through and illuminated the best in each of us.
I visited him and his family in Colorado last summer and processed a small part of his journey of illness with them. His wife, C., did what for me is unimaginable: helped her husband and best friend cope with dying while caring for their young daughter. C. poured out her grace, love, and strength to sustain her family through this most challenging time. Hers is a beautiful, courageous spirit, and I honor her here as I honor him.
C. helped him walk that part of his journey so that he could truly live every day of his life. He died with dignity, grace, faith, and above all, love.
This is what he wrote in an e-mail on Dec. 12, 2008:
“I wanted you to know that my beloved uncle…died last Thursday, and it has put everything else on hold. I flew home Tuesday, for the funeral Wednesday. It’s so extraordinarily sad. And yet, as always – the love rises up, covers the grief, rises above it – abounding, overflowing, covering us in light.”