Oh the summer crush. There is nothing like it. I don’t know whether it’s the potentially fleeting nature of the relationship that makes it so intense. Perhaps a summer crush is special because it is accompanied by the exhilaration of seasonal freedom. Unlike the other nine months of the year, reason and obligation take a backseat to the vagaries of the heart in the summer. Maybe everything is amplified by warmer temperatures and the heady smells of suntan lotion, chlorine, and french fries from the snack bar. Whatever the reason, in the summer you sit a little closer, gaze a little longer, giggle a little louder, and love a little harder.
“I’m fine.” I don’t know how many times I have said that over the last 6 weeks since my father died. My father died. Those words still seem odd to say. Odder still that they flow trippingly off my tongue as if I were simply recounting where we went for summer vacation.
It is a well-established fact that I am a regular crier. I excel at crying. Happy tears, sad tears, exhausted tears, frustrated tears, nostalgic tears. They have all been a part of my weekly repertoire for 38 years. Sappy commercial? Check. Wistful memory of the boys when they were babies? You bet. Random song on the radio? Yup. Hard day? Too tired? Proud parental moment? Bad blisters? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. You name it, I have cried because of it.
When I was seven years old, a particularly fierce thunderstorm swept through town one night. One of those southern summer storms that shakes the walls of the house and the nerves of its occupants – especially the little ones. Sensing my palpable fear, my dad quietly took my hand and asked me to come watch the storm with him. I shelved my trepidation and accompanied him to the sun porch on the side of our house that had floor to ceiling windows.
As the storm put on a magnificent display, I sat on my father’s lap and listened to him quietly talk about calculating the distance of the storm by counting the seconds between thunder and lightning, why light travels faster than sound, and the origins of electrical pulses in the sky. Every time I jumped at the sound of a thunder clap, he gently put his hand on my forearm and immediately my heart rate slowed down. When the storm finally ebbed, I realized that I was completely relaxed.
There are certain special people in this world. There are those that do things on a grand scale for the whole world to see. And then there are those who quietly, but perhaps more powerfully, change the world through a myriad of tiny, seemingly inconsequential, acts of love. Acts of generosity done completely anonymously.
This man was one of those people.
This man was the smartest man I have ever met, and everyone who met him would tell you the exact same thing. His rapacious intellectual curiosity led him to read everything. Everything. From 19th century art to European military history to how Steven Speilberg filmed Jaws. He wrote his own crossword puzzles for fun in the middle of the night and could beat you in Scrabble with one hand tied behind his back. But when you talked to him, he made you feel as though you were the most interesting and intelligent person in the world. He had the answer to everything, but he always helped you figure it out yourself.