Too young to die

Tomorrow is bittersweet. It’s Father’s Day, which for many offers a host of mixed emotions.  Sons and daughters who’ve never know their dad or did and he abandoned them. Perhaps you’re one of those who have yet to forgive yourself or still navigate the hurt feelings between you and your kids. Others of you may long for the dad who is no longer here. What remains are the memories of precious moments you shared and the longing for one more embrace. Still for every broken family or those who’s fathers have passed, there are millions who celebrate the joy of being a father, stepfather or having a dad you can still hug and love. Whatever the case, tomorrow is the day to celebrate fatherhood. It is also the anniversary of the tragic death of my youngest brother Seth, who fell asleep at the wheel of his car early on the morning of June 16, 1999.  This is a day I celebrate the wonderful fearless young man he was.

I think of him often. Sometimes I feel his presence while I am hiking along the coast in West Marin, or in a gust of wind on a hot summer day refreshing my soul with a cool breeze.

Today I had an opportunity to share a poem written about Seth.  As I began to read, I felt a calm chill on my cheek. I knew he was with me. He never lived long enough to become a dad, but had he, I am sure he would’ve made a great father.

In honor Dads everywhere and for my brother Seth, this poem is my gift to you.

Happy Father’s Day.

SETH- courtesy of Matthew Barash
Seth Langwell Circa 1998- Photo, Matthew Barash

Too young to die

Too young to die

I’ll never forget the day mom called

That rainy Sunday when Seth ended it all

Life was too much for him to bear

Gave up too soon

his passing there

Asleep at the wheel

crashed into a tree

Why? Oh Why,

I cried.

Why did he have to

die?

Perhaps he’s better,

Perhaps he’s free.

Time it’s said heals all wounds

Bullshit is what I really think

I’m sad and don’t know what to do.

I cried myself to sleep last night

Prayed for my brother,

To see the light.

Perhaps he’s in a better place,

Above the swaying redwoods

In heaven,

Or,

at least,

I hope,

in a sacred place.

Oh Tenuous Life, Fly Away Cary, Fly Away.

Today I reconnected with some old friends from my youth. We gathered to pay our respects and say farewell to yet another “valley kid”, Cary Smith, who had been taken far too young.

The more days I walk the face of the earth, I realize how very tenuous life is. I am also reminded of how insidious the disease of drug addiction and alcoholism is. It is truly “…cunning, baffling, powerful.” Though I don’t know the exact circumstances leading to the demise of my childhood friend, I do know how easy it is to fall prey to addiction.

But that’s not what I remember about him. I remember that he always made me laugh and made me feel welcome.

When I was still partying, I recall showing up to a party feeling incredibly uncomfortable. I was shy. Booze helped me overcome that, but so did my friend Cary. With sweaty palms I scanned the room looking for someone I could talk to. There on the deck, Cary stood sipping a beer. “Langwell! What’s up?!” he shouted, waving me over.

“Have a beer,” he said, handing me a kegger cup.

Instantly, after a beer and my friend reaching out to make me feel welcome, my anxiety dissipated.

That was many years ago. I hadn’t seen him in well over 30 years. When I read his obituary two weeks ago, I felt raw.  He, too, was fifty-two. It could’ve been me.

Now, I stood alongside the stables at Dickson Ranch in the crisp fall air, swapping stories and catching up with some friends whom I had not seen in over 35 years. Unlike the parties of 30 + years ago, I felt at ease. I didn’t need to drink.

As I was getting ready to leave, my friend PJ asked if I had a copy of my book that he could buy. As I handed it to him he asked if it was going to make him cry. “Yes.” I said, choking back my own tears.

We hugged and said goodbye.  I drove away with tears in my eyes. Ten minutes later, as I traveled along Nicasio Valley Road, I reflected on the loss of my own brother, and others and thought how grateful I was that I have been forsaken. Just then, I looked up to see a white car speeding toward me at at nearly eighty miles-per-hour on the wrong side of the road. I slowed, breathed, and let out a sigh of relief as the driver safely passed back onto the right side of the road.

What if I hadn’t looked up?  I could’ve been another statistic of yet one more “valley kid” taken “too soon.” But today was not my day.

My thoughts turned immediately to my friend who had passed. He is suffering no longer. I pray he is now at peace.