Like a lot of these letters, this one is long overdue. In this case, more than ten years overdue.
But here we are, and Marcia, Abi, John and I are here in California. This is the right time.
California. Where Michelle, Marcia you and I spent an October weekend on Lake Shasta – the water so cold that we had to put on our winter coats after we got back into the ski boat.
Where I never once beat
your cheating ass you at golf. Where we tried to camp in the middle of a Morro Bay deluge, but ended up throwing the tents into your Jeep (that you bought before talking to Michelle). Or camping at Big Sur or Big Basin or who knows where, and you taught Chris, Nate and Abi the proper way to dabble beer on their foreheads to fend off the Quanto Chinque Bird.
Where you and I got up early most Saturday mornings to be the first ones to sort through the clay pots at the Pebble Beach garage sales to feed our gardening obsession - without going broke on Lieutenant pay.
Where we explored Candy Cane Lane with you, Marv, Laura, Kristen, L-Loyd, and my three little kids one Christmas.
Where you introduced them to gamey time.
I’m not going bring you up to speed on Michelle and the girls. I'm pretty sure you know every single detail of their lives already. That Michelle has already told you so many times how deeply she loves you. That you’ve watched your beautiful little girls grow into beautiful, caring, women. That you’re so proud of Chloe. That you know she could have done literally anything after graduating, and she chose a job where she could make people’s lives better. That you get so much joy in watching Isabelle go after life with such determination and enthusiasm. Like her dad.
If people think about such things where you are, then you know you have a legacy in your family that most people can only hope for. It’s a legacy, that at my very best, I strive for.
Abi has asked about you often, especially since she got sick. She’s wondered how we became friends, and how you came to have such an oversized place in our lives.
I’ve told her the Oxford stories. That we shared adjacent townhouses in a complex built closer to railroad tracks than should have been legal. How you were the XO of the battalion of midshipmen. How I peaked at squad leader. How you ran a business with Chuck selling athletic shoes. How I worked for the university planting flowers. How you read Iacocca and The Art of War, and I read The Handmaids Tale and Bright Lights, Big City. How you were destined to be a flag officer. How surprising it would be for me to go a day beyond my four-year commitment.
Mostly, I tell her how unlikely we were to become friends at all, had it been up to me.
But it was never up to me, was it? You decided that we were friends.
And once you decided, you were kind of like that rain at Morro Bay. It arrived - uninvited. It was relentless. It overwhelmed the rain fly we had spent hours hanging between the trees. It was so loud that we couldn’t hear ourselves talk. It got everywhere. Literally.
Just like you. On all counts.
You recruited people to perform a sword arch at Marcia’s and my wedding. We hadn’t asked for a sword arch. Marcia didn’t even know what a sword arch was. She still talks about how it took her a moment to understand what was happening when she heard the six of you marching into the old stone church.
You insisted that Marcia and I stay in your place in Newport while we were waiting for our condo to become available. After we moved into our own place, you showed up for dinner without an invitation almost every night. You brought cigars to the hospital when Chris was born. You bought that week’s Time magazine, the October 29 edition of
the New York Times Wall Street Journal and every other conservative publication you could get your hands on to commemorate his birth. A few months later you insisted on being his first sitter.
While we were driving back from Pittsburg on Christmas Eve, you set up and decorated an oversized tree in our tiny living room, and filled our refrigerator with turkey and ham and a full feast. You gave Nate a giant stuffed alligator named Frankie – which I think he still has. (I’m not sure how he explained it to his fiancée.)
It was like that for over thirty years. In Oxford, Newport, Norfolk, Monterey, Hawaii, DC. It didn’t matter where we were. There you were.
One of the first calls I received after we got the news about Abi’s disease was from Toby. Your brother grieved with me first, then shared the story of his dear friend who’s in a similar fight, and who’s winning. It was one of the most important phone calls I’ve ever received. It was hope on a hopeless day.
Look, I know that wasn’t you on the other end of the phone, Todd. But I also know Toby would never have called had you not decided that you and I would be friends. He told me he was unsure if I even wanted to talk to him. But I’m pretty convinced that he called, at least in part, because he knew what you would have done.
You would have just done the thing. Just like you always did.
Last week I was in my early morning meditation/yoga class and had a moment. (I have no doubt that you find the image of me in yoga class both predictable and hilarious… Whatever.) Our instructor made a comment about our two most powerful emotions being fear and love. Then you showed up. Right in front of my mat. Looking me square in the eye.
I’m supposed to let these thoughts come and go. I tried to go back to my breathing, to feel the cool air on my bare arms, and to hear the sound of the ventilation in the room. Tried softening my gaze. None of that worked. You weren’t going away.
The rain was back.
We didn’t talk, but I know why you were there.
Before that moment, I had always thought you were fearless, but I know better now. I know now that you understood fully that Marcia and I might have rejected any of your unsolicited acts of kindness. In fact, I suspect we did, on occasion (the Christmas television adventure comes to mind). I’m pretty sure these rejections cut you – deeply.
No. It wasn’t that you were fearless. You understood the risks you were taking. But you might have been the most courageous person I’ve ever known. When given a choice between Fear and Love, you rejected fear and chose love. No matter how hard, you chose to serve. Chose to give. Relentlessly.
I think of August 11, 2007 differently today than I did last week. It’s indescribably painful for me to imagine the fear I now understand you were feeling that afternoon. But today, I better understand that you deliberately chose what you always chose. You chose courage.
This is the part of your legacy (non-family category) that I want you to know about.
That you challenge me to be overwhelmingly generous, and to be the kind of friend to somebody that you
were are to me. To give long, full-body body hugs. To share with people even when it’s uncomfortable (for me…for them.) To tell people how much I believe in them, and then tell them why.
To say to somebody (non-father/non-brother category),
I love you
(non-drunk, ”I love you, man” category).
I’m pretty sure that’s why you showed up at my yoga class. To remind me of what you are to me. To tell me sometimes you were afraid, but it didn't stop you. To remind me of your challenge, and to see how I was holding up my end of the deal.
Honestly, I fall short just about every day. But
because you were my friend because you chose me to be your friend, because of your confidence, I’ll keep trying.
Because nothing could make me prouder than to share your legacy with you.
I love you, Todd. Relentlessly.
P.S. We swung by your place on Spazier Saturday afternoon, and the owner's daughter was a little salty over her dad giving us that table. But Marcia was able to smooth things over.
Also, it was raining...of course.