Oh Captain, My Captain
David and I exchanged our first hello thirty-two years ago and said goodbye sixteen years ago.
I suspect he might appreciate the symmetry of the numbers. I imagine we would have had some interesting conversations about whether life is filled with a series of random events and coincidences or if there is any sort of predestination involved.
When I think about it I wonder how different the conversation would have been at 19 or 20 versus 25. That is because at 19 or 20 life was an endless highway filled with possibility and at 25 we found out that brain tumors sometimes touch our worlds.
I didn’t know much of anything about them and I don’t claim to be any sort of expert now but I can assure you I couldn’t have pictured a time sixteen years later when I wouldn’t get to tease him about not being able to apply science to every aspect of life.
It is hard to believe my children only know him from pictures or that I never got to try to convince my son who hates roller coasters to let Uncle David fly us around.
“O Captain, my Captain.”
Many people associate that line with Robin Williams and rightly so, Dead Poets Society was excellent. I remember it for a variety of reasons but one of them is because I saw it with David.
I am fairly certain it was before he joined the Civil Air Patrol but I really don’t remember. What I do remember is the business card he gave me that identified him as CAP and how I liked to tease him.
“O Captain, my Captain, will you drive us to The Apple Pan we have a hankering for a burger. But before we go I must see you go through your flight check. This mighty Volvo might have bad flaps and the hazy day might require not one but five flashlights.”
It is impossible not to smile thinking about so many of these moments and the silly things we did.
Every time I think about spraying shaving cream into his hand and then using a leaf to tickle his face I start chuckling. David had an excellent sense of humor and his pranks were rarely as simple as that one.
Man oh man, he was not happy about waking up to discover a face full of foam and when he got me back, he got me good but that was ok. That was part of the joy of camp.
Camp was where we met and where many of the bonds of our friendship were formed but not all. I could tell you many stories about a summer in Israel, youth group activities, using his telescope to see Halley’s comet when we were 17 and so much more.
But I’ll save those for our circle of friends and those people who knew David and can really appreciate them. I’d rather take a few minutes here to share some other thoughts about things I learned.
We were 25 when David had his first encounter with this thing he told me was an astrocytoma. I remember him telling me about the days before his surgery and some of the telephone calls with him.
It was summer and he was in LA for a short visit. Soon he’d go back to Boston for graduate school and I’d go back to work but while he was in town we’d try to hang out.
What I remember the most vividly about those days was his telling the story about what happened. Deep voice, authoritative manner and assorted pieces of medical and scientific fact all thrown in.
I listened and I asked what I thought were smart questions. I asked about the future and he assured me they would keep an eye on him. I asked him if the treatment would affect his ability to have children and he told me he was prepared for that.
“I am going to make a note to make sure I see you wash your hands before I shake them again.”
He laughed and life went on. He went to back to Boston and I did my thing here in LA. We kept in touch as we always had and I made a point to ask how he was doing.
There were a few incidents along the way but he assured me he wasn’t nervous. As time passed I saw him at all of the expected events, my wedding, the wedding of friends and we’d get together in between those whenever we could.
I never believed there would be a hard end to it all in our twenties because he told me he figured he would make it until at least our fifties or sixties. When I asked him if that bothered him he said no because he was certain science would make some tremendous advances.
What I Learned From David
I don’t know how far medical science has come since we said goodbye to David. I haven’t any benchmarks to use to say whether the growth is significant or not.
What I learned was different.
I learned to pay far more attention to the moments we share with people, especially those we care about. I learned to ask deeper, more probing questions about life.
David might have had a more realistic idea of the outcome. I would have liked to have at least offered to share the load of that weight. It was his choice and his right to do as he wished, but I still feel badly I didn’t get to offer to help in some way.
He helped me recognize the importance of going after what we really want and not waiting for someday because someday might never come.
Every time we go to camp I take my kids to David’s observatory. I tell them a story about David and then tell them I hope they have the kind of friendship that goes the distance and that they should try to be that kind of friend.
When I think of David I see these bright images of us in so many different places. I don’t know what comes next but I have my ideas.
What I am certain of is David is responsible for ensuring I understood the need to do our best to live our life every day and in that he didn’t just impact me, but my family.
David might not be physically here, but he is not gone.