I never wanted to write a sentence that made anyone cry…principally, me.
Several months ago, I uncharacteristically emailed Fayhee, querying topics for forthcoming issues of the Gazette. Having already labeled the 2009/2010 ski season The Winter of Little Fun, I hoped to envelope myself in any subject matter while evading the painful reality of two more knee surgeries –a direct result of too much collective fun. Doubling down on the prescribed ration of Percocet and several glasses of Pinot Noir, it felt I was well on my way.
Several friends had suggested the Gazette’s obituary for “the last great ski town in America” was long overdo and I frankly wondered. Crested Butte was once marketed under that label and whether the town or the label itself had suffered their individual demise seemed to be a local debate worth processing. Too much time in Them Thar Hills had made me callous and unconscious of the outside world. This is generally a good thing; however, my time in the woods was working negatively against a better sense of awareness. When reality outside of journalistic introspection slapped me in the face with a cellular brick, I was reminded that the world is only a phone call away.
Many in and around the Berkshire, Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains felt the honor of knowing Scott Murray. If you met him once, you wouldn’t forget it. People always say this person or that was the nicest guy or the best girl. Scott simply was. On May 26th, 2010, one of our best friends sailed into a beautiful, albeit brutal sea and out of the arms of too many friends to number.
It had been a long time since my armor showed scars from life’s battles. Initially, tears burned like a chemical poison, not like the watery tears of laughter, familiar to so many memories with a great person. Much the way I’ve heard the first cut is the deepest, I felt the first tear sting the most; after which, eyes blaze like embers as the heat and salt grow cooler and less irritating with every dawn and every drink. Is it even possible to truly see, in any meaning of the word, through the initial blurred sting of unacceptable loss?
Death is the heaviest word. It always comes at a cost. What may ease so many of us that knew Scott was his perception that death may not be so heavy, and that it certainly isn’t the “end” of anything. Whatever “It” is, Scott seemed to have figured it out long ago.
I should explain the use of “us” in this piece is you. You, the mountain inhabitant, the river rat, the powder hound, the fun seeker, the reader and learner; because, if we spend enough time in the woods, hopefully we all meet a person like Scott-one that raises our expectations of ourselves and makes us better people by having known them.
There will never be space large enough to list what knowing Scott has taught us. Patience, dedication, kindness…, but the attribute that continues to stand out most was his dedication to fun. Scott hunted down and tackled varying forms of fun and adventure with a drive that never tired.
Hands down the most gifted athlete I’ve ever known, Scott Murray was, without question, the best. He was the kid picked first on the playground and he retained the playful demeanor of that child, pairing it with a wealth of worldly knowledge and a sense of self that exhumed confident humility. Be it: hockey, skiing, kayaking, climbing, running, biking, sailing or any one of a host of talents; the bottom line was if Scott took up your sport, you were immediately second best.
Anger has taken longer to diminish than pain. A large part of me wonders if it ever will. Anger might be the only fuel keeping this middle-aged tractor in the field and grinding. I’m pissed off. Pissed off at all of the same crap anyone that’s ever lost a close friend is pissed about. Anger stems from unanswered questions. “Why” is the question I know will never go away; yet, I can accept the lack of an answer to why and write it off as another mystery in a universe too great for me to have the right to understand. No, not why. I want to know who. Is any one or greater being responsible? I don’t traditionally believe in God, but if he or she is in any way liable for the loss of my friend; I not only believe, I loath. My confusion and anger goes so far as to actually feel I have the right to hate a God I don’t even believe exists. If I could blame something or someone, perhaps accepting would be an easier task.
Strangely, I’ve always felt a sense of presence by the departed whispering to those of us still here-wherever here is. I feel the company of great friends every step of the path. It may be peculiar for an atheist to be a spiritualist, but I permit myself a pass on this one as I don’t profess to know a whole hell of a lot about either ism. Part of me wants this pain to linger on in fear that memory of our good times will pass along with it. Deeper still, I know there’s no way that could ever happen.
Scott was also the strongest man any of us have ever known. Even in the final moments on the beach, with no vital signs, he had the strength to come back and hang on in the ICU for a remarkable three days, seemingly allowing adequate time for family to arrive and say a final goodbye to a truly larger than life brother and son.
Yet, as strong as you were, even you fell, making it really hard for the rest of us to take another step for fear we might fall. You seemed to show no fear. We’re not supposed to fear. We were raised, a generation within the culture, lifestyle, and product endorsement of No Fear type companies. At what point, or age, does the value of the very people with whom we surround ourselves outweigh the rush of the moments we’ve shared together? Should things ever have been any different? If we re-evaluate and alter our personal course of life, in reaction to a fellow warrior falling beside us, don’t we greatly reduce the opportunity to meet more of the very people with whom outstanding friendships grow?
So, we spent hours, which turned to angry days and long months, pondering the value of friendship. Who are your friends and why? Are there cannots among friends? Can one not be friends with their boss? Or, their spouse? If you can be best friends with your dog, certainly a value can be put on the friendship one feels for someone they deeply respect and admire, yet we never say it. Nobody wants to come off a big pile of mush when we’re all out getting amongst the fun, right?
What I found is the greatest worth is friendship itself. It has to be. Like a flower in a crack of granite, the seeds of friendship grow in unlimited and unexpected places, often times against nature’s odds. Friendship grows between co-workers, teammates, competitors, even family members. As a boy, I’d go fishing with my old man and there was never a doubt he was my best friend. Later, my eldest brother lived in a fraternity house adjacent to my high school. I remember how cool I felt crossing the street and hanging out with him as a friend, rather than the annoying little brother. I had earned it. I had grown from the seeds of being that annoying sibling to the honorable position of friend. Even now, my wife remains my closest friend as we grow together.
There is never a time for selfishness. On the other hand, there’s no way to word some kinds of pain with any other term than want. I want to ski with my friend again. I want to feel the sun scorch us as I fall back on the banks of the river, laughing until it hurts again. I want to never again feel the loss of someone too good for words. I want someone to explain to me why the good really do die young and why I hate Billy Joel’s music so much. I want to look at this fucked up world through hopeful eyes, rather than the weak, blurry mist I’ve muddled through for months now. Most of all, I want one more great moment together with the gift of knowing this one is the last.
Scott used to say, “Go Big or Go Home.” He said it and lived by it every day. So, I owe it to him, and to myself, to live every good or bad moment of every day to the full potential today’s sunrise afforded all of us. If there were never bad this deep, how would we know good? We’re reminded of this with every warm and every cold breeze.
Another thing Scott often said was there are no Do-Overs. It was a quick, smart way of reminding us that today is a day of endless opportunity and we should all go have as much fun as possible right away. Playing in the outdoors with the guy, we were thankful for the opportunity to watch him wait up for us. A top level telemarker, together, Scott and I crested some remarkable peaks in the same step when he could have easily been back at the car drinking coldies before I even approached the summit. The Do-over is a want as well. I hear Scott’s vibrant voice yelling at me to pick up the pace and remember what was good, rather than searching and wanting for something that can never be again. Revel in now and realize how important now is.
Every day offers a new way to see what has always been around us. We savor our time in the breeze as fresh air is the cure-all for our souls. I simply sought a moment to note. Life delivered a deeper respect and value for the present and those with whom we spend it-our friends.
As sure as I hear your voice in every wind crusted peak, I know most bad passes to good. We’ll have the strength to summit, the drive to win and the power to move on as taught to us by the best.
I’ll see you in the white room every time. Until then, I’ll try to smile when I miss you most and continue our promise to breathe deep that rare and precious air at the summit.
I miss you, my friend.
Scott Michael Murray 2/2/1971 – 5/26/2010