Losing Andy

8084550131_22af3aeb7b_z“Andy Boy killed himself yesterday.”  My husband’s words felt like a punch to my chest.  Whooosh.  All the air is gone and instantly the world feels a little lonelier.

Andy and his wife, Andy Girl, were my husband’s landlords in Denver when we were dating and then engaged, 26 years ago.  In reality, they were his family, along with Ed, another wayward young lawyer living in their third floor.  Whenever I came to town to visit, they welcomed me into their family as well.  We were all young and establishing ourselves in the chaos of professional careers.  Andy was a small but mighty Jewish complement to Andy Girl’s beautiful Italian-ness.

Life happened.  They had children, we had our son.  We all worked really hard at living. We moved.  They moved.  Time went.  We kept track over the years.  Andy brought his kids to our condo in Copper years ago after a day on the ski hill, and we remarked at how wonderfully our children were growing up.  In my mind, he is still the man in his mid-20’s with the sideways, quiet smile – always up for a meat-centered boys’ night out that often included my husband.  My memories are of youth and hope and a deep love for the people in his life.

At the memorial service, hundreds filled the synagogue.  We heard his family share heartbreaking stories of Andy and his passions that verged on obsessions.  We heard of his love for his children and Andy Girl.  We learned that he had been tortured for years by dark depression and he had lost the strength to fend off the insidious, suffocating thoughts.  We felt the shattered hearts all around us, only just beginning to grasp that he was gone from this life.

The next evening we were invited to join Andy’s family and friends at his brother’s home.  The night was all about ribs, beer and stories of Andy told around a camp fire.  His family spoke of their love openly, tears streaming even as we laughed about his uniquely Andy Boy ways.  Friends came to remember him, from his high school days, his fraternity, his law school and the neighborhood bike shop.  We learned that he was the same man we knew in our youth.  His heart loved deeply, he would talk to anyone, he would take any poor soul mountain biking.  We also learned that he had an enduring love of IPA, worshiped the band Wide Spread Panic and felt an almost manic need to pull people into his life. Hearing this was both reassuring and troubling.  This cross-section of his life was consistent throughout, yet he lived with deep darkness.  This man who was loved and cherished by so many, who brought laughter and fun to such a broad group of people couldn’t see a place for himself in this world any longer.

We are heart-sick.  We liked knowing the world had Andy in it, even if we hadn’t seen him for a while.  We would have moved the earth to keep Andy in it. We spoke with our friends from that era, who have also been living these parallel lives, about honoring Andy by refreshing our friendships.  Ed’s son, sitting on the cusp of adulthood, heard his dad explain that the bonds he will make in the coming few years are unique and to be cherished.  They are pure, without the tarnish of grown-up weightiness and responsibility.

Losing Andy this week makes us aware of what we were too limited to realize when we were younger:  a true connection with another is precious.  We are privileged to have had such a connection with Andy.  Cheers, dear friend.

 

When Your Heart Isn’t In It

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Bode Miller, one of the greatest and most entertaining ski racers of all time, is on the verge of racking his race skis for the last time.  Maybe.  He’s leaning that way, they say.  At 37, he’s had a pretty good run.  His life has been full of winning, excitement, disappointment, injury, partying and living large as a celebrated global athlete.

The world watched him go a little crazy in his younger years, cheered him on to his Olympic and World Cup medals, questioned his choices and his lack of training, marveled at his ridiculous and raw talent, and watched his great performance and disappointing injury at the Olympics last year.  He went through painful back surgery this fall in hopes of skiing in the World Championships in Beaver Creek this month.

We all looked up the hill and hoped for more spectacular-ness from Bode as he started on the Super G course last week.  He was flying, leading the field.  Crazy and on the edge.  Classic Bode.  And then, he crashed.  It was horrendous to watch.  His ski sliced a tendon in his leg, requiring surgery.

In an interview afterward, he said he is considering being done as a racer.  He has two small children and a beautiful, talented wife.  He has priorities other than chasing a dream that he has already lived.  He can’t put the level of intensity into his training that competing at the World Cup level requires.  Sounds to me like his heart isn’t in it anymore.

I can relate.

Perhaps one of the harder things in life is knowing when to say when.  If the inner desire is gone, do you call it quits or push through?  Do you dig deep or throw in the towel?  When is enough enough?

If you walk away from something you have worked hard for and been successful at, something that other people are clambering to achieve, are you a quitter?  Are you ungrateful for what you have?  Will you regret giving it up?  Or will you be freed?  Will you be someone who knows yourself and lives accordingly?

Bode Miller’s body has been through the ringer, for sure, but he probably has a few more medals in him.  I’m guessing a lot of athletes would give some small body part to have the ability that he has right now.  And yet, he is considering giving it up even though the rest of the world is crying for him to stay in it. Good for him.

To thine own self be true.

If you’re in a profession for a certain length of time, it can become tiresome.  The shine wears off.  You get down-trodden, bedraggled.  Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to make a choice to walk away when we have a loss of heart?  We could have a sort of train track switch to shift us in another direction, triggered at that point when we just don’t have whatever it is anymore.  We wouldn’t have to confront the need to make a change — it would just be done for us.  No fear of second-guessing or regret.  No judgment.  That guy’s dragging big time at his accounting firm, CHING, he’s off to become a developer.  This one’s lost his curiosity as a surgeon, BOOM, he’s on his way to teaching origami.

Most of us don’t feel that we have the luxury of changing course when our heart isn’t in it.  We hang on much longer than we should.  Most of us are tied to the income, the status, the comfort of what we know.  We fear failure, we fear what others will think, we fear starting over.  We fear.  What would our world look like if more of us let go of the fear and followed our heart?