When I started blogging I made the semi-conscious decision to blog about anything and everything. Well, that decision is backfiring on me today. What happens when something happens that is big moment in your life, but writing about it is both painful and exhausting? Not writing about it though would be worse, because you want to get the moment down on paper. You need to remember it, but more than that you need to lay it out in the correct arrangement in your head.
My good friend Bret Smith died last Saturday June 7, 2009.(http://www.neal-tarpley.com/obituaries.htm) He was a pilot, who had built his own plane. He and his wife Alex were at a party and he was giving airplane rides. Sharing the love of flying was one of his favorite things. The plane went down during one these rides, killing Bret and a passenger.
Bret and Alex were two of the first people Daniel and I met when we moved here to Rhode Island. Daniel and Bret worked together at CVS. Bret and Alex made my first year bearable. Bret was always having fun and play-dates with Alex and the kids helped drag me out of a period of post partum depression. It’s hard to hide post-partum depression from a psychologist but I did my best.
I remember hearing about great Friday night parties at his house; his barn actually. Bret had built his own barn and upstairs was a little sport bar-like nook. I keep wondering when we would get invited to these get togethers. Eventually, somehow we did all become friends. There was a little group of what I called “expatriates” Four families working for CVS, not originally from Rhode Island. Bret was from Tennessee, his wife; Alex is from Wellesley, Massachusetts, Daniel and I from Virginia, Jeff and Amy from Washington State and Jeanne from Walpole, Massachusetts. We shared kid’s birthdays, holidays and fun weekends together, because we didn’t really have family in the area. It was nice to have someone to talk to, who understood what trying to assimilate into Rhode Island felt like and it was nice to have friends in a place that did not yet feel like home.
The amazing thing was Bret never did assimilate into life in Rhode Island. He just took all of what he knew of Rhode Island and made it assimilate into his life. Somehow, he managed to find the only piece of Rhode Island that looks like Tennessee and he bought the land and made it his. When I drove there for the first time, my first thought really was, “What just happened? One minute we were in Suburban RI and now we just entered the back woods of TN?!”
He and Alex had restored this great farmhouse and filled it with cool stuff and lots of love. They had this library ladder that was the stairway to the play loft for the kids. It was totally cool and totally nerve wracking at the same time. We all had kids under the age of six and they all had to get up and down that damn ladder. It caused severe mommy panic for me but my girls loved it.
When someone you know dies, I think it is human nature to review your relationship. I guess it is our feeble attempt to store up memories and try to hold on to ones too important to let go. One of those memories about Bret is that he was always smiling. Really, he was always smiling and he loved life. People say that about everyone who dies, but Bret really did live life to the fullest. He was always having fun and pulling other people along, so they could have fun too. He loved people, he loved parties, and he loved music and flying. He was the kind of guy that thought anything was possible and because of that he really did accomplish most of what he dreamed. He also made you feel like you, too could do anything. Nothing was out of reach to Bret. I remember the day he told me that he had gotten a magazine article published. It was a great piece about flying with Alex. I was so jealous. Here I was trying to scratch time to write and he just met and editor, submitted and they printed his piece. Just like it was the easiest thing in the world. Then I read the article and it was a really good and I realized I couldn’t be jealous of him, it just wasn’t possible. I was just happy for him because there he was doing one more thing he loved.
He loved his family. His wife is an amazing person is her own right, but together they formed Bret and Alex, the dynamic duo. Adding to that Georgia and Elvis, you had a most amazing family. I think this is the most heartbreaking part, that Georgia and Elvis will have to grow up without him and that he will miss out on their growing up. He would have loved teaching them to drive, seeing them date, sending them off to college and hosting weddings. He would have been the most awesome grandpa on the block. How cool would it be to have your grandfather fly planes?
He was also a great storyteller. When he told stories from his childhood, he would have a room full of people laughing so hard they were crying. He was the friend everyone wished for. He was fun, he was thoughtful, and he was generous. He just made life better; which when you think of it we should all be trying to do.
When he and Alex moved back to Clarksville, Tennessee, they left a hole in neighborhood. I loved getting Bret’s e-mail about the Smith adventures in Tennessee. Now that he is gone from this world it feels like a crater. Who could ever fill his shoes? He was one amazing person, who touched so many lives.
I have spent the last week thinking and praying for his family, I can’t imagine the sadness they must be feeling. How do you get past this or are you supposed to? I honestly have no answer. This is one of those times in life when you just have to breathe and get up in the morning and do the same thing tomorrow and hope that hurts less. These are the times when I let go of whatever my finite mind can come up with and let God in His infiniteness take over.