(By Walt Williams) You have been trying to finish this piece for months but tragedy keeps intervening. There’s no easy way to write about the topic, you start and stop your story many times, deleting, rewriting, deleting, rewriting. How do you pay homage correctly?
You thought the story was done then you happened upon the body of Mario Perez lying on the ground with four firefighters administering CPR.
You were standing outside a facility you helped build and maintain so that local teens have a safe place to go. You feel guilty and partially responsible, you know you aren’t but you can’t shake the feeling. If only you had done more, more opportunities, more education, more training.
You want to learn from the tragedy, somehow create a positive result out of the horror. When a teen was shot and killed in 2007 it was a reality check for the community, a slap in the face with the wake up shovel. Stop focusing on drama and negativity and violence and anger. You hope this does the same.
It has been a summer of people passing and it has got you thinking about the dash. Robin Williams’ death was a huge depressing and unanticipated shock. Deets Winslow, the same. Unexpected, unfair, just tragic. You contemplate your own dash, the symbol of your life, what you’ve done, what you will leave behind, what you will be remembered for, the dash between when you were born and when you died.
What will your dash mean?
Dave Robbins was a Sonoma institution, bigger than life, known for both his musical style and his incredible personality. Always quick with a story, he once explained what busking meant to you thus forever earning the name Busker Dave. Your kids knew him as Captain Jack the very scary skeleton from Witchie Poo. Your first and only theatre stage experience was when you dressed up as a tree so you could hold your nervous four-year old during the final scene in Witchie Poo.
Dave had inadvertently scared your daughter and she was refusing to return to the stage unless you were there with her. During the finale Dave smiled his comforting smile and he and your daughter danced together. Many knew him as David Robbins radio host and local musical personality. His dash was full in his 62 years on earth. Death sucks though, no two ways about that.
Sierra Coffey also passed this summer. Thirty-two years old and just beginning her dash. You knew her when she was a student, bright, helpful, inquisitive, and strong. The world was wide open and then it wasn’t. That’s the thing about the dash; you never know when it will end.
Then there was Lorenzo Petroni who succumbed to cancer at the beginning of the summer. You were lucky enough to pick vegetables with him at his “Pile of Rocks” the name he gave Petroni Winery high in the Macaymas Mountains. Lorenzo would debate politics, tell stories, ask questions and always make you feel that he was interested because he was. He would then drive the veggies from the winery to his North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco. His dash was also full, a life well lived, one that grew from his start as a 19 year-old dishwasher to a man in full leaving a legacy like no other.
Barry Jett was also a great man. Family friend, mentor, outdoorsman, he is responsible for the deer head above your son’s bed. He lived in Sonoma for a few years in a little house on the East side where he would walk to Sonoma market for coffee, camaraderie and the day’s provisions. As he got older he moved to a care home in Marin where a couple of weeks ago he told his caregiver that he wanted to return to Sonoma for a fieldtrip,
“I always thought I’d die in Sonoma,” he said. Barry went to Sonoma Market, talked up a few friends, then walked out to the parking lot, had a heart attack and died. Ending your dash on your own terms is pretty rare.
You wonder what your own dash will be. How are people remembered? When your mother passed from cancer last year you cried your way through a speech about immortality at the funeral. How one lives forever in the actions they do and the changes they effect in others. Your mother will live forever in you and your children, always reminding you to set a nice table for meals, never drink or eat out of plastic, live honestly, help others, work hard and have fun.
You think about what your dash would be right now. You Google yourself and learn you share your name with an ex-pro basketball player and a realtor from Fresno both of whom are far more interesting than you. You think about your kids and if they will talk about your immortality at your funeral. You think about the last 5 years and how they have flown by, like really flown by, like somebody pressed a big fast forward button on your life. Good parenting takes time, money and constant work. The results are rarely Googleable.
You have an average of 82 years to live, 718,320 hours. You sleep 257,398 hours that leaves 460,922 hours to work on your dash. You believe Malcom Gladwell’s theory that you need 10,000 hours to master a subject that means that you can theoretically master about 47 different activities in your average life. 47 languages, 47 professions, 47 hobbies, 47 issues or whatever else you want to devote your time to.
Course you fill your hours with normal life stuff. Work, parenting, eating, TV, yard work (you once joked to your wife that your tombstone will read, “Here lies Walt, he kept a nice yard.”), exercise, watching cute kitty videos, hanging with friends, this is life. You are hitting a point in middle age where you realize; “Holy crap I haven’t done (insert life goal here)” and you’re starting to worry about your own dash.
You think about the creative fingerprints you have put on your small little town. SONOMAWOOD, “Better Out Than In”, Red Cow World, Summer Art Camps, Art night, Fieldtrippin and all the other slice of life stories you write for the local papers. Does it all matter? Or are you just screaming into the darkness? Twenty years of motivating and developing student minds is your biggest contribution plus those two little people at home who you have raised and nurtured into wonderful adolescents.
You think about the dashes of the heavy hitters-Einstein, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK, JFK: visionary people who changed the world. You wonder what other problems you could solve: world hunger, climate change, overpopulation, war, violence, cancer — so many issues, so little time. Maybe you will get started tomorrow.
Life is busy but you realize you can spare an hour per day to devote to your dash. You pick a “sweet spot” time in your day when you can be totally alone and all your faculties are firing. You think long and hard about what you want to do. You think about Mario and Robin and Deets and Dave and Sierra and Lorenzo and Barry then you sit down and start writing.
“You have been trying to finish this story for months but tragedy keeps intervening.”