"Take care of yourselves and each other, and always remember my motto:
It’s ok to work hard, as long as you play harder."
in an email to his parents 7/02
November 5, 2002
I live in Virginia and only saw Joe intermittently, like a Florida rain shower, during his life. Each visit was like a compressed time capsule of his growth and maturity over the intervening months and years. Yet no matter at what age I saw Joe, there were two constants: he was always in motion and he was always willing to take a risk or a dare. I sometimes wondered if Joe viewed sleep as an undesirable intrusion on whatever else he could have been doing with the time. Yet he was also blessed with a kind spirit towards those whose lives he touched and he loved to laugh.
My last long conversation with Joe occurred over the Christmas break in 1998 (was it really that long ago?). I had come down to Florida with my sons and was visiting with Joe’s family. I walked out of their family home and into the back yard. I saw Joe throwing a ball for their dog to go chase.
The glare of the Florida sun made me squint and Joe appeared to be bathed in an aura of sunlight, cascading through the trees. I walked up to him, “Hey, Joe,” I called, suddenly remembering the Jimmie Hendrix tune by the same name. We walked down to the edge of the property, past the bamboo and leaned on the top of the chain link fence. We stared out to the lake, which was a playground for the sun's reflection, dancing on the ripples.
“I understand you and your Uncle Rob had a little chat,” I commented.
“You’re not going to lay into me, too, are you, Uncle Skip?” His question was such an excellent way to “disarm” a potential negative conversation. He seemed like he was really good at it from years of practice.
“No, Joe,” I responded. “I don’t know the situation well enough to have an opinion one way or another. I just thought I would take the opportunity to get caught up with you and what is going on in your life. How is everything here at home?”
“Fine,” he said.
“Really fine,” I asked, “or was that a nicer was to say ‘none of your business?’”
Joe laughed and relaxed. When Joe laughed his face would light up and I could detect the mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Well I’m not home much since I’m at college. Mom and Dad used to get on me about being more motivated academically, but I’m doing ok.”
“It’s kind of challenging trying to match the accomplishments of a successful older sister, isn’t it?” I looked at him and he seemed to suddenly realize just how his life’s experiences and mine paralleled in a way. He had a surprised look on his face and was speechless for a second..
“You mean it was like that for you, too, Uncle Skip?” He seemed astounded by the connection.
“Listen Joe, your mother was very focused academically when she was younger. I was less so.”
We looked at each other and then broke out laughing. “Me, too,” he finally admitted as he laughed. I put my arm over his shoulder as we turned back towards the house.
“You know Joe, I’m sorry that we don’t live closer. I would have liked to have followed your life more closely and your easy going manner would have been good for my boys to see and emulate to some degree. But only to some degree,” saying the last sentence in a mockingly stern voice.
”I know, I know,” he responded. “Look, Uncle Skip, There’s so much more to me than all of that stuff.”
“That’s great Joe. I think what people are trying to say to you is that they would prefer you with even less of ‘that stuff.’” We laughed again.
“So how is college?”
“Man, Uncle Skip, I rule that town.” He spoke with the confidence that can only come from the vigor of youth and a somewhat limited definition of the term ‘rule.’ Joe seemed pleased with himself and he straightened up a little as we walked. “In fact, I’m already thinking of transferring so I can catch better surf.” Academics, it appeared was still not his number one motivation for anything he saw as a worthwhile goal.
“Well, Joe, I think you aught to go for it. There are many of us who are now much older who regret not taking the time to follow our dreams. Look here is some money for Christmas.” I reached in and gave him a large bill.
“Thanks, Uncle Skip.” We hugged and it surprised me. I don’t even remember the previous time he gave me a hug. But it felt good. We went into the house feeling connected to each other, perhaps for the first time in our lives..
I will always admire Joe’s spirit of adventure and his easy going personality. What a triumph of his life that he found a home and friends wherever he stopped for the night. I will never forget you Joe and I will try to find a way to put more dreams back into my life and encourage my sons to make their own dreams come alive. We will remember you and your free spirit. In our hearts and minds you will be forever young and always encouraging us to live our dreams as you did so well.
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