It was an emotionally draining day. Today I had to face, head-on, saying goodbye to a friend. Now that I’m home, done driving, done working, done talking and listening, I can sit quietly and let some tears come, and yes, be a little maudlin on my own time. I’ve gathered enough gray hairs to know that it’s important to share perspective to work through a loss. Especially if the empty space is left by a person of Seth’s quality. There simply can’t be enough words. So indulge me.
Seth, you were truly one of a kind — one of the most invigoratingly, maddeningly brilliant people I ever met. You were blessed with the most wicked sense of humor and, much to the amusement and sometimes surprise of those around you, one of the least effective “mental governor switches.” You always let us know what you thought, even if it wasn’t popular or gracious. And usually you were right.
I’m reminded of the many ways you could completely flip the world on its head with a new perspective. Usually this involved the introductory phrase: “Hey, I have this crazy idea….”And then you’d proceed to explain, top to bottom, a totally genius approach to a problem others of us weren’t even sure how to sum up. And when you did it, your brow was never furrowed. You were always smiling. If we were on the phone, I could even hear that. I could hear the smile in your voice because you knew it wasn’t that crazy. You’d worked it all out, the logic was right, and that was beautiful to you. So of course you would smile.
And you knew how to treat bad ideas too. I always thought you had a gift for not confusing the problem of bad ideas with the problem of bad people. Certainly there are both; you just never mixed them up. When I had a bad idea, I never felt like your dismissal of it was dismissing or belittling me. You’d just explain why the idea was wrong.
You’d cock your head to the side, just so. But your eyes would stay on mine; you were still regarding me while already gutting the idea with the razor of your intellect. “Hmm, are you sure that’s what you want to do?” you’d ask. “Because I’m pretty sure it’s not.”
And of course you’d smile that impish, wickedly infectious smile.
Almost invariably, you’d follow that with a better counter-idea.
Of course, it was always about more than being right to you. It was about doing the right thing. So how can I argue? And thus, back to the drawing board.
Look, you weren’t a saint. Of course you weren’t. OK, yes, we’ve all said wonderful things about you. All of them were true, within, I think, an acceptable margin of error attributable to the terrible proximity of loss. But you were more than that. You were a flawed, complicated human being, like everyone. There’s lots of things about you I still don’t know and never will. (Damn this unforgiving world for ensuring that. ) There were a special few who knew you better than anyone else, and the cost of your loss is higher for them; I don’t envy them for it.
But I think they’ll back me up when I say you were sometimes annoying. Grouchy. Impatient. You didn’t make it easy on someone who was busy, or wearing rose-tinted glasses, or couldn’t catch up to your thought processes, which, by the way, ran at the speed of a runaway ICBM. Honestly, I’m not completely sure you slept; you might have been part bionic.
But I always knew those sometimes irksome qualities showed how much passion you had for what you did. And that passion made it easy to get past my own issues and see the big picture you were looking at. You inculcated everyone around you with that passion. Because it was always about the big picture for you. That was reflected in how much you cared about everything. About our work, about the world, about life. You wanted things to be better. Not just for us, for everyone, everywhere. You wanted to make the world a better place. And you did.
Even over the past few years, as you and I were working on different things, and not in touch as often, I still had your voice in my head. Infuriatingly often, in fact. I’ve realized this week how often, when I’m trying to devise a solution, whether technical or social, to some difficulty, I picture you and ask myself, “What would Seth think about this?”
And that Little Seth in my head, more often than not — which I’m sad to admit will give an idea of the quality of my ideas versus yours — would cock his head to the side, while looking at me, and shoot me down. But always with a smile.
Oh, Seth, you left so big a mark on the world, none of us can see all of it yet. We can’t comprehend it.
I think trying to understand the web of our myriad connections to the world is like standing in the incomprehensibly large footprint of a behemoth. From our vantage point now, we look at that web as if we’re navigating a canyon. All we see are cliffs, mesas, pools. We climb our way around them, looking for meaning, looking for design or form, and we don’t find it. We can’t see it because we’re enmeshed in it daily. We don’t understand all the ways that each of us touches so many others. Only those around us will know, when each of us is gone.
But one day we’ll have better perspective. Perhaps, as some believe, it happens when we die. Personally, I think it happens when we live truly thoughtfully and fully, with wisdom and peace. And maybe it’s not in a flash of light or dark. Perhaps it’s subtle, gradual, and we don’t know when we reach that point, only that somehow it ended up in our rear view mirror. Like when you’re driving — or biking! — and realize that, while in complete command of your vehicle, you somehow got lost in the sound of the wheels and the wind in your hair, and blissfully passed right by the turn you meant to make.
Then, on that day, when we have that perspective, that enlightenment: Then, I like to think, we’ll look down at the swoop and curve of the land. We’ll survey the mesas and arroyos that represent our own lives, and those who have touched us. The curve of the river. The strata of the soil. And then I think that footprint reveals itself. And also revealed will be the intricate and immense footprints left by all those who have touched us.
Looking down at that landscape of our lives, I think, will be like waking from a dream. We’ll say, Ah, now I see, and cock our heads just so, and smile.