Alex’s older sister McHale read this note at our gatherings this past weekend for Alex.
I have such fond memories of being a kid with Alex in the forest and home where we grew up …playing in the creek together, building little dams so we could watch the water pool up, collecting snails, traipsing through the snowy forest, my friends and I outfitting him in my dress-up clothes during slumber parties, snuggling into bed with him on one side of my dad and me on the other so we could read bedtime stories.
As we got older, I remember some competition and typical sibling rivalry, heated discussions in the mornings when we were getting ready for school- me spending way too much time (and hairspray) on my bangs and Alex pulling on a pair of shorts even though it was January.
But as we reached adulthood and pursued our interests, I found myself almost surprised at how much our passions aligned. Although we pursued them in different ways, Alex and I were both teachers, both shared an appreciation for words and language, both loved the joy and challenge of being active and pushing ourselves physically. Beyond shared interests, we shared values- the importance of family, an appreciation of nature, the value of hard work and perseverance. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given we both grew up with the same amazing parents, who taught, and instilled in us, many of these values
But I was always impressed- and proud- by how deeply Alex embraced all of these things, the passion and intention with which he lived. As a teacher, he embraced his students and was personally invested in them as individuals. As a reader and a writer, he had a deep wisdom and a way of putting words together such that the thoughts seem completely obvious and exactly what I had been thinking, and at the same time also help me see the world in a totally new way. As an athlete he was amazingly disciplined and accomplished feats that were often unimaginable to me. As a lover of nature, he was always one to venture off of the beaten path, and to discover and appreciate treasures that many people didn’t notice.
In recent years, Alex and I bonded over running. As with many things, Alex took running to an entirely different level than I did. While I ran marathons, he often ran much longer distances, with thousands of feet of elevation gain, and at a pace several minutes per mile faster than mine. I will always treasure our runs together in the forest, sometimes talking about life, other times just running together in silence, soaking in nature.
Alex and I often spoke before one of us had a big run, and I distinctly remember three pieces of advice he gave me that I continue to appreciate. One was in response to my worries about running up hills- he said something that helped him was envisioning little birds, lifting up each foot as he ran. Alex was also the one who taught me the value of a mantra, especially when you need a little boost- repeating a short, inspiring phrase that helps to establish a sense of rhythm and provides an emotional lift. Another one was as I was preparing to run my first 50K trail run, which he had urged me to do, and which got me hooked on trail running. I explained to him that I was worried about not having the energy I usually get from big crowds in a road marathon. He assured me that I could draw just as much, if not more, strength and energy from nature. He was right- the trees and other life around me on the trails gave me all the energy and boost I needed, and in a way that also brought a sense of peace.
While I will deeply miss feeling Alex’s feet hitting the trail next to me, I know he will always be running along beside me. He’ll be the one who helps me reach the top of the seemingly endless hill, the one who urges me to speed up just a little even though I’m feeling tired, the one who reminds me to breathe in the scent of the forest and to feel the energy of the trees.
I’ve thought a lot about what it means to honor Alex, to keep him in our lives, especially because I want Kaya and her little sister to know their uncle. In some ways, they will honor him without even knowing…like the way Kaya can spend inordinate amounts of time playing in icy mountain lakes; the way she zooms around on her skuut, a gift from her two uncles, with such joy and determination; her enthusiasm for downward dog; her love of nature.
In addition to continuing to talk about Alex, I’ve also realized that honoring him means becoming a better person myself– helping to share his qualities that I appreciate and admire the most, with my daughters—and with the world. It means
- Being true to myself
- Pushing myself- setting my goals a little higher and putting in the extra work to reach them
- Showing people little—and big—acts of kindness
- Appreciating the world around me- recognizing and treasuring the special moments, even, or perhaps especially, when my days begin to feel routine
- Sharing creativity…perhaps through a poem or story, a new recipe, a picture, a yellow marble…
- Taking time to be quiet, to reflect, to just be
I encourage all of you to remember that Alex is always with us, and to honor him by embodying his qualities that you most admire. In these ways, even though he is not physically with us, he will continue to be in, and touch, our lives.