Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Written

On Friday, September 8, Shawn McCauley — one of my oldest and closest friends — died from a sudden heart attack. He was 36 and in his prime. Army Veteran, Scout Master, and an all-around Nice Guy. His brother asked me to write a eulogy for his funeral. The words came, even though I wish the situation didn’t warrant it.

The following is what I said today, sans edits. Read this, then hug someone close to you and tell them you love them.

We called him Stone.

I never knew Shawn all that well as a kid. I met his brother when we were in high school, that hormone-awakened moment in time when kid brothers weren’t cool. Never shunned, but never quite fitting in, he decided to go his own way, doing something none of us would ever do. He joined the Army.

That got me scratching my head. Shawn? The Army? I don’t know what he was looking for when he enlisted, but he got it… and then some… and then some more. I was amazed, coming back from college to see him chucking around tree trunks at least as tall as I am.

Yet like a stone, some things in him did not change. How could one man have so much strength and muscle, and yet snatch a moth out of the air without harming it? I know he was a Combat Engineer in the Army, a job where the first thing you learn is explosives are never your friend. That sort of thing mandates a steady hand and a delicate touch, but to be that gentle with another living creature is another matter altogether.

Strong and steadfast. In the years I knew him, he never cursed. He didn’t go about it with some aura of self-righteousness… he just didn’t do it. He truly was someone who could lead not by example, but by being. It’s why it was a joy to be with him — you could let your hair down, cut loose and he’d never chide or judgee. Not even a disparaging glance. He knew who he was and that was all there needed to be said or done about it. It’s what made him a leader, and it’s one reason why he bonded so well with the Scouts he worked with.

His resilience was something of a quiet legend. During Shawn’s medical crisis, he lost a lot of himself. I can’t speak for anyone else here, but to wake up unable to even read is something that chills my very being. That sort of damage can lay a person low, trapping oneself in a deep despair. Not Shawn. He made the effort to be as functional as possible — to be everything he could be. And he made it happen. He beat those odd. There was one side effect. It made him the most ruthless card player I’ve ever known — seriously, Shawn was a two time U.S. Champion at the card game Munchkin — a comically conniving and cut-throat card game — and he played that game without mercy. Yet whenever he won, you never felt shorted. He won gracefully with a smile and you always had a good time at the table.

The greatest thing about Shawn, however, was his simplicity. I’m a writer. My mind is often fixated on alien landscapes or sweeping plains or terrifying vistas as a means to escape the world. Shawn managed to see the wonders in the little things we see every day. Moths, frogs, fish and eagles. Mountains and forests, trails and rivers. He took it all in and saw that it was good; a sense of innocence without ignorance. I think that was his greatest virtue, some hint of the Divine that many of us feel that we’ve lost and would give anything to get back.

I am not a man of strict faith. I look to Scripture with more questions than answers, I alter my views to fit the facts. Knowing Shawn and how he saw the world, I know this: where he is now, he is in a better place at peace and he is whole. The green fields of Elysium — or maybe even Valinor — lie before him, and Stone carries a pack full of water, a sturdy walking stick and our love. And somewhere in the afterlife the Grim Reaper is nursing broken ribs — all of them — for coming to call too soon.

Thank you, and God Bless.