Life is Short

13 Nov

One of the things I believe is that life is short.  It’s not a statement, it’s not a theory, it’s a fact.  I figured this out when my aunt passed away about the same time as my dog, Midnight and both of them had passed way before their time.  A few weeks ago I’d have to face that fact again.

When I first met my buddy Mark’s parents I was pretty blown away.  They were some of the nicest most honest, down to earth people I’ve met in my life.  They raised three of the greatest kids to have walked this Earth, really just fantastic people.  Anyone who has met them will tell you that.  When I first met Mark it was probably around 22 years ago, now that I think about it, that pretty much makes it more than half my life ago.

I had walked up to the information booth at the Aquarium because I had a job interview there, Mark was in the info booth, if I remember right he was about 17 then.  He was so polite and courteous that at first I mistook it for sarcasm.  You have to remember that I grew up in Gardena with a lot of characters like myself, guys that would tie your shoelaces to chairs so you’d drag the desk when you got up or drag bottlecaps on the ground with your feet so they got red hot and then burned it into your skin :).  When I got to know Mark later on and met his parents I figured out where he got his polite demeanor.

The first time I met his parents, Mark, Chris B (who we always called “spooky”) and I were working on a computer project.  It would have been the first touch screen interactive computer program that any marine aquarium had on exhibit, way before even Monterey had one.  We had worked on that program for a long time and one night I was at Mark’s house and we were doing some programming.  His parents warmly welcomed me into their tiny house, and they sat in the living room while we worked late into the night.  I saw his sisters Lisa and Angie working in a small room doing homework and I wondered why they didn’t return to their rooms and go to sleep.  I actually didn’t realize it until many months later that they all were living together in a one bedroom house and we were in the only room.  Mark’s parents never said anything or tried to get me to leave, they were so supportive in our project.  They always have and always will support their family and friends.

It was only a short time later that they bought a huge wonderful brand new house not too far away.  I remember going to that house many many times for parties or just to visit.  Mr. and Mrs. T would always warmly welcome me and were always interested in what I was doing.  I’d run into them at schools I was teaching at when I was still doing outreach, and every time there would be a cheerful “Hi Chris!” and a warm handshake or hug to greet me.  It was always the same and it would remain that way for years, even though I hardly saw them, when I did bump into them it would be like I had seen them just yesterday.  I would talk to Mrs. T often about being single, because for years I was having the worst time dating.  She was always supportive and would tell me what a catch I was, I’d laugh and try to change the subject.  I knew that deep down she worried about me.

It would be many years later when Spooky gave me the worst news.  “Mark’s mom has cancer, she just got diagnosed, it’s untreatable and spreading and they think she only has a few months or maybe less.”  I was stunned, I was blown away, I don’t even think she had retired yet and she was way to young to leave this earth.  I talked to Mark and he told me, “man Oak I don’t know if she’s even going to make it a couple of weeks, she’s at home now but she’s unconscious”.   I didn’t know what to say, cancer claimed my grandmother the same way, you just don’t know what to say because you don’t want to admit to yourself that they aren’t coming back.

I knew I had to visit her before she left.  It was really hard to return to that big wonderful house and see her unconscious in that bed with all that equipment hooked up to her.  It was hard to miss that hug and that cheerful voice, always welcoming me.  I had so much that I wanted to tell her, but I was choked up and couldn’t say it.  The tears had already welled up in my eyes before I had even knocked on their door.
I talked with Lisa, Angie and Mr. T and they tried to take my mind off it and assured me she wasn’t in any pain.  I wanted to sit next to Mrs. T and tell her about my life.  I wanted to tell her how thankful I was to have met two great parents and tell her what a great job they did raising three of the greatest kids into great adults who are now raising families on their own.  I wanted to show her my wedding ring with all it’s carvings and pictures and let her know that I finally found a fantastic girl who put up with me enough to marry me and that everything in my life was okay and that hopefully someday I’d be even half as great a parent as they were.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I said my goodbyes and a few days later learned that she had passed away.

I was really glad that I had a chance to see her, the day the memorial came I was glad that I had a chance to see the family and chat a bit.  I watched her grandkids running around and hoped that she could see that the full circle had come complete, somewhere, inside those kids are her genes, in a way she’s immortal now and that gave me some comfort :).

Like I said, I always tell my friends that  life is short.  I always say, do what you want to do, when you want to do it, because you never know when you aren’t going to be able to do it anymore.  That’s my philosophy in life and I try to live it that way.  That’s why you’ll see me diving in the middle of the night by myself or taking a day off to go to Disneyland with friends instead of working on my house or taking time to chat with friends who are having a tough time.  My goal is to not be one of those guys who you hear saying, “ah I wish I had made more time to do…”.

After the service I loaded up my car with my dive gear.  As I drove along the coast I thought about all the things I wanted to say to Mrs. T and after I suited up I stood near the water’s edge and whispered a thank you, told her I grew up okay, and said a final goodbye.

That day would turn out to be one of the best spearfishing days of my life.  The seas were flat that day and although it wasn’t exceptionally clear the conditions held well and I saw a variety of reef fish.  I took a breath and held it, dipped my fins and dropped to the sandy bottom and saw the clear shape of a big halibut.  I backed off a bit, steadied my wong hybrid and clicked off the shot and stoned it, something that would be repeated several times over the hour or so I was hunting.  Before darkness fell, four fat halibut slung over my shoulder and I made my way out of the water.  I turned again and watched the sunset and whispered a “thank you Mrs. T” and then made my way back to my car.

Life is short, don’t forget that…

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